#SayHerName: A Digital Memorial

Say Her Name: March for Black Women and Femme Survivors | Photographer: Shae McCoy

Originally posted on Electric Marronage.

Over my desk hangs an image of Korryn Gaines, a 23 year old Black woman, mother, daughter, and sister, shot and killed by Baltimore County Police in 2016. On Juneteenth at the Say Her Name: March for Black Women and Femme Survivors, organized by Baltimore activists Amorous Ebony and Brittany Oliver, protesters said Korryn’s name alongside the many cis and trans Black women and girls who were also victims of police brutality. Some names were familiar, some names I never heard before. As we stood on the corner of North Ave. and North Charles St. in Baltimore, I realized that this was the first protest I’ve attended that centered on Black women and girls. Oftentimes, their names are barely shouted in protests and they become, as we seen in the case of Breonna Taylor, lost and forgotten within this movement.

The #SayHerName campaign emerged as a response to the invisibility of Black women and girls in conversations surrounding police brutality. Launched by the African American Policy Forum (AAPF) and the Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies (CISPS) in December 2014, this hashtag demands that the names, voices, and stories of Black women and girls be amplified for they too, are victims of police brutality. It is important to note that the #SayHerName is inclusive to all forms of police violence not solely those killed, but those who are physically assaulted and/or sexual assaulted. With the various forms of police violence enacted on Black women and girls, we must still demand and shout today, “Why are they continuously forgotten?” 

This digital memorial site was created to remember. It remembers the name of those cis and trans Black women and girls who should still be here today. This was a hard labor of love, if one can call it that. It was a labor of anger, frustration, sadness, and grief. Reading the stories, ensuring that I include as many names as possible, but knowing that there are countless others. Reading multiple news articles of how a district attorney or judge justified murder time after time after time again. Seeing mugshots as as the sole representation of a Black woman’s life, without knowing her smile or light. Reading the obituaries that share how a mother, daughter, sister, or grandmother’s life was tragically taken and the family and friends they leave behind. And remembering that the lives of 8 year old Aiyana Stanley-Jones and the unborn child of Charleena Lyles ended before they could completely begin. So this is my form of protest, saying the names of cis and trans Black women and girls louder–not just for folks in the back, but for those up front too.

TW: Police Brutality. Created through Twine, #SayHerName: A Digital Memorial centers on the all too many cis and trans Black women and girls who have been killed by the police or within police custody. The number of women and girls who are victims of police brutality extends beyond the 95 individual in this memorial. This site is an ever growing archive as I continue to add names and extend the project prior to 1984. To navigate this memorial, please wait for each page to fully load, after 6 seconds, a hyperlinked “Continue Here” or “SayHerName” will appear at the end of each page.

Artist: Ariel Sinha

Year 3: Lessons from a PhD Candidate


Me, 2020

I decided to take a hiatus from the blog during my second year of the PhD program. The summer before, I experienced loss after loss in my family and fell behind in school. Grief is difficult to work through. Some days you feel okay, some days not okay, but I wanted to continue with my blog. I missed y’all and thank you for the warm welcome back. 


I am officially a PhD Candidate. Last May, I passed my comprehensive exams, both oral and written. Now I am focusing on my dissertation project on Geraldine Louise Wilson and a few digital projects. During my first year as a graduate student, I wrote a blog post entitled—#BlkGradLife: Lessons From a PhD Student, Now, two years later, I provide further insight into life as a PhD Candidate.

Initially, I gave five pieces of advice—(1) Stay on top of your reading, (2) Talk to your advisors, (3) Continue to have a social life, (4) Stay in touch with your family, and (5) Talk with other students. Would I still stick to this advice now, yes, but with a few more additions.

Create a work schedule. At the moment I am juggling digital projects, writing a journal article, dissertation prospectus, and fellowship applications, and classes. Outside of school, I am pursuing other community projects. What am I saying—I have a lot on my plate. In order to balance everything, I had to create a work schedule and a writing schedule to stay on task. Ideally, I want to work/write for at least four hours a day. I do not find an 8-hour work day productive. At the moment, I work on research and outside writing items from Mondays to Wednesday. I spend Thursdays and Fridays simply writing. As for the weekends and evenings. . .well that goes into the next piece of advice.

Take the weekends off (if you can)/and weekday evenings. When I go home, I cannot do work. It comes to the point where it is quite impossible for me to complete work at home. My house is my space, my sanctuary, the place where I can lounge, not a place where I want to be stressed out doing work. It creates a nice balance and a time to turn off from school. My writing goal—a chapter per semester (summer included).

Check-In with your Advisor. Let your advisor know what is going on this semester. What are your goals? Writing schedule? What are you applying to? Also I had to replace an advisor, which was difficult to do…I also still have to have that conversation.

Do community work. Do more work, I know right? But being at a large research institution that has abused the poor and Brown/Black members of its community, I cannot simply attend and not care about the community I’ve now lived in for three years. So yes volunteer with a non-profit (that does good work), invest in the youth, support local activists, and support local organizations.

Find your crew! When I came into graduate school, I was the only woman and non-white person in my cohort. They were cool people, but not my people. So I begin to build my community outside of my cohort, program, and university. Folks who could encourage me, laugh with me, and just keep me motivated throughout the program. This year, I definitely have a strong crew of Black women who make the program 10x greater. We root for one another and push for one another. It is truly a beautiful thing.




#BlkGradLife: Lessons from a PhD Student


Graduation Photo by Vika Photography (Charlotte-based photographer)

For those who are new to my blog, welcome! I began my PhD journey this past September. These past few months have been long, but full of many lessons. This post is five pieces of advice I learned along the way to assist you in your graduate program whether you are working toward you masters or doctorate degree.

1. Stay on top of your reading. Regardless of your discipline, graduate programs are comprise of a great amount of reading. This was no surprise coming from a masters program, but in a PhD program you have to adapt to not only class readings and research reading, but also reading for fields/comps. Currently, I read two books a week for class as well as 2-3 books/articles in preparation for my field. This will double next semester as I begin my major field list and into the fall as I prepare for my two remaining fields. So if I fail to stay on top of my readings, I will fall behind in class, my field, my program, and basically life in general. So how do can you manage this large amount of reading? Speed-read/skim. Which honestly I failed to do in undergrad and my masters program. It takes a few weeks to master the art of speed reading and hopefully these tips will help.

Speed Reading 101 (created with tips from my advisors/PhD students)

  1. Focus heavily on the introduction and the conclusion (also any corresponding footnotes). What is the author’s thesis/main arguments? Research Questions? Historiography of the topic and how his/her book challenging and/or expanding the current historiography? Source material? (Write notes)
  2.  Read the introductory paragraph and concluding paragraph to each chapter. (Write notes)
  3. Choose one chapter to thoroughly read, specifically a chapter of much interest to you.
  4. Skim the remainder of the book paying close attention again to the introductory and concluding paragraph. It also helps when the author provides a conclusion in each chapter. Sometimes, you can “cheat” and read just that. 

I can do this in 3-4 hours depending on the book (some are too good or theoretical to quickly read); however, create your own speed reading process. 

2. Talk to your advisors. Luckily, I have two great advisors who are bad asses in their respective fields. Our communication began soon after I gained acceptance into the program and continued throughout the summer before I arrived to Hopkins. Although they are both relatively new to the department, I feel well equipped to succeed with both of their support and mentoring. And most importantly, they want me to succeed and it is amazing to have professors affirm that you are smart and that you belong at the university, especially when the space is white and male-dominated.

3. Continue to have a social life. I think we fall under this bad misconception where we equate graduate school to a life of exhaustion and seclusion from the outside world. I try my best, although it is inevitable, not to allow my stress or anxiety to build up in addition to my school work. In order to keep stress levels at a minimum, you have to create and STICK to a consistent schedule. My academic day begins early. My daily goal is to be on campus by 8:00am and I typically leave around 4:30pm (depends on my class schedule). If I met all my goals that day, I can relax, watch Greenleaf/Queen Sugar/How to Get Away With Murder, hang out with friends, and sneak a book in before bedtime. I also set a schedule of when to work on research papers, class, and personal research endeavors. Again, adjust this to your schedule and set your own personal daily and weekly goals. With this you can create a free day, a day to relax, read for leisure, and travel the city (or stay in your apartment all day and finally hit up that overflowing laundry basket).

4. Stay in touch with your family. The biggest mistake I made in my masters program was not staying in touch with my family. Now, I have a relatively large family, but it was still no excuse. What changed? My great-grandmother, who I promised to always call, passed away after Thanksgiving. By that time she was already sick and nonverbal. I really took the time to reflect on how much I prioritized my education over my family and realized something had to change. Communication does not always take the form of a phone call, if you live close by plan a surprise visit, write a card, send a text, or a Facebook message. No matter how you communicate, stay in touch.

5. Talk with other students. Make a study buddy, an advice buddy, a lunch buddy, and a venting buddy–in other words make friends. I converse with students within my program who provide tips on speed reading, note taking, forming a field, and navigating around the city. Also the random and much needed check-ins of how you are doing in the program is a great time to sit and say hey I am doing okay or hey I am not doing okay. They either been where you are or going through the journey with you. Smile a little and make friends.

Hope this helps. If you are a graduate student and want to add more advice, please feel free to do so in the comments section. If you are looking at graduate school as an option, feel free to leave questions.



Day 5: Birmingham (PART III)

Just FYI I took this trip back in June. So these posts are simply reflections. 


Carolyn McKinstry, one of the survivors from the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing (1963), signing her book While the World Watched

After spending the morning in Montgomery, our group traveled to Birmingham for the afternoon. We had the liberty of exploring the city’s Civil Rights Institute by ourselves, in addition to Kelly Ingram Park and the 16th Street Baptist Church. I was grateful for this as my emotions were already too high and some of the group members…well…I needed some distance.


I wanted to take a tour of the church; however, we arrived to the city too late. According to McKinstry, the church simply placed a wall up in front of the bathroom during reconstruction.

Journal Entry: 

I wanted to know what they saw? Did they even feel the blast? Was there pain? Did they cry or were they killed immediately? What were their last memories? Were they full of joy? These four little girls did nothing wrong. You hear people say they were at the wrong place at the wrong time. And I had to catch myself when I began to nod in agreement. They were in the most sacred, most “safe” place–Denise, Carole, Cynthia, and Addie Mae where in church. Yes, the church is suppose to be a safe, untouched, sacred place, unless it is a Black one. Back then and today.

I failed to realize how common bombings became in Birmingham. Between 1947 and 1965, there were over fifty bombings in the city. The bombings fell into three categories—Black homes, Black businesses, and Black churches. Speaking with McKinstry was Lisa McNair, Denise’s younger sister. The pain, you could still see the pain in both of their eyes.

A small detail that caught my eye while reading While the World Watched was the police response to the 16th Street Church bombing. When McKinstry wrote of her neighbor’s home bombing, she stated it took hours for the police to arrive. As she recounted the day of the bombing, she went outside and the police already sat up barricades. It is one of those “mysteries”, they knew and it took decades for the 16th Street Church’s bombing victims to get some form of justice.

Short post. My journal was left blank besides a few thoughts and questions. Day Five was long, the night even longer, and sleep never came.

Until the next post.

Day 4 (Cont): Selma and Montgomery, Alabama


Our tour group with civil rights activist  Joanne Bland 

Following our visit to the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), we continued day four with a visit to the Lowndes County Interpretive Center. This center is a smaller museum, yet again tells the powerful history of local people in Lowndes County, which sits between Selma and Montgomery, as well as the March to Montgomery. During the march from Selma to Montgomery, protesters rested in Lowndes County, one of the most racist counties in the state. In fact, a sign used to rest under the town’s welcome plaque stating–“The city doesn’t welcome you, the Klan welcomes you.”

We told them we’d be back. I promised them the movement was coming to Lowndes. … Of course they were skeptical. Didn’t really think we’d be back, y’know? … [Hulett] wasn’t at all convinced. He said, “Young fella, you one o’ them nonviolence folk? … If you do come back, you all gon’ have to find a different way to come in here.” I told him we were coming back, by any means necessary. He just looked at me and smiled.

— Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael)

Next city on the agenda: Selma

Selma, the city which filled the history books, was a city I wanted to avoid. It has  a heavy history despite being a really small town. On our journey there, I took a quick nap, yet awoke with a heaviness on my chest. A few moments late, our group’s leader announced, “We are about to head over the Edmund Pettus bridge.”

In Selma, we met Joanne Bland, who was one of the youngest marches on Bloody Sunday.

She showed us her city and its history, the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. We commenced our personal tour on the very slab of concrete protesters met on that Sunday, March 7, 1965. I will not spoil the tour, if you ever have the opportunity to go on one, but I will leave you with this. She asked us to remember the strength of activists like John Lewis, Hosea Williams, and herself. In times of frustration, she stated (this is all paraphrased), pick up the rock (from the concrete where our tour began) and get off your butt and do something. She took us around the city, showed us various historical sites, made a pit stop to get some peaches, and our tour ended at the city’s welcome center. There, Bland shared what she witnessed on March 7th and what she would never forget, the screams and the sounds of people’s head hitting the street. Oh America, the beautiful. Then it was our turn to walk across the bridge.

At first, I was quite nervous, but the strangest thing eased my nervousness. As we stood by the bridge I watched a mother walk across the bridge with her infant son. People have to walk across this bridge every damn day and although I am unsure of the city’s geography, I believe it is the only bridge to get on US-80 from Selma. But there we were, group’s photographers prepped their cameras, we got in rows of two, and proceeded across the bridge. I was not emotional. Honestly, I felt this sense of peace. The sun was shining, the Alabama River was calm below, and I simply reflected on American history.

We skipped the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute due to time and paid our respects at the Viola Liuzzo Memorial on US-80. And on our way back to Montgomery there was a rainbow stretched across the highway. A beautiful way to end a heavy day.

Journey entry:

Bland spoke about the screams. The young girl Sheyann (Webb) running. John Lewis said he saw death. Bland challenged us to remember our rocks. The rocks we took from the playground they met before embarking on the march to Montgomery. Bland said, “I knew we would not cross.” Despite the preparation for any predicted violence, nothing could ever prepare them for what they faced that day. I wish I could buy Bland that house she showed us on the tour, so she can invite activists to teach her tour groups and the community. I wish I could preserve that concrete slab they stood upon that very day. I wish I could restore the home of every activist that now stands in ruin. I wish they could have never faced death. I wish, I wish, I wish. 


I’ll post later about cameras.

Until the next post.


Day 4: The Equal Justice Institute(Part I)



Photo taken by the group’s photographer. 


9:00am    Equal Justice Initiative
11:30am  Lowndes County Interpretive Center
12:45pm  Lunch @ Popeyes
1:30pm    Tour w/ Ms. Joanne Bland 
3:00pm    National Voting Rights Museum and Institute (Didn’t go)
5:00pm    Edmund Pettus Bridge and Viola Luzzo Memorial 

The day began with a rush to visit historical sites in Montgomery. The rain dampened our schedule the day before, yet luckily there was enough time to visit the former homes and churches of civil rights leaders including Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Albernathy, and Johnnie Carr. Once downtown, our group visited the capitol building where the Selma to Montgomery boycott concluded with a speech from Dr. King. 

Our leader, Todd Allen, said something about Davis’ statue being up the steps; therefore, I made it my mission to kick it with two state troopers parked bellow. I did it for the people. Just down the block from the capitol building stood Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church. Designated as a historical landmark in the mid-1970s, the church holds a rich history. It was there Dr. King Jr. and others in the Montgomery Improvement Association, including civil rights leader and pastor Abernathy organized the city’s bus boycott. King also served as pastor for six years succeeding civil rights activist Vernon Jones.  

Following a brief self-guided walking tour, our next destination was the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI). Now if you are familiar with the work of Bryan Stevenson and his best-selling work Just Mercy, you are somewhat familiar with the mission of EJI. 

“The Equal Justice Initiative is committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, to challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society.”

Outside of their commitment to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment, EJI spearheaded several historical projects on lynchings including a digital project with Google about lynchings in America. This serves as part of the organization’s Community Remembrance Project. Its mission–“to recognize the victims of lynching by collecting soil from lynching sites and creating a memorial that acknowledges the horrors of racial injustice.” Their mission also extended into the collection of soil from each documented lynching site in Alabama. On the outside of the jars are names of a lynching victim, the date in which the lynching took place, and location. These jars rest on a wall in EJI. It is simply one wall; however, it is the most painful wall I stood in front of. I froze with tears in my eyes. I know and study America’s ugly past, but still I was at a loss for words. 

Journal Notes:

Jim Cross, March 3, 1900 Letohatchee, Alabama

Three blank jars with no first names, just the same last names and dates. A family was lynched. 

Many jars marked with the name unknown.

The wall of jars. They have a wall of jars from each documented lynching site in Alabama. A wall of lost stories, painful histories, and painful truths of this “great” America. Then comes a parade of photos. People no longer reflect or dwell in the moment instead we take photos. Then crack a joke whether we know what we stand in front of or not.

There are nearly 4,000 documented cases of lynchings with thousands of undocumented stories. What is it like to learn that the land you own, the land of your childhood, and the land where you and your children once played was the same land an innocent Black man or woman was lynched. Black bodies once swung from your trees. How do you reconcile with that knowing that your home is a national historic site of hate. 

Until the next post


Day 3: Albany, GA and Montgomery

It was my goal to blog once a day on the bus tour; however, each day was HEAVY and by the time we made it to our next hotel exhaustion set in. The tour officially ended on June 18th, but I made an effort to journal and keep notes each day. The next series of posts will be my journal entries and research questions I was left with each day. 



My journal became my camera.

That morning our itinerary stated the following:
8:30 am Depart from Hotel
8:45 am Charles Sherrod Civil Rights Park
9:00 am Ms Rutha Harris | Albany Civil Rights Institute
11:30 am Lunch at Cater’s Grill
12:30 pm Montgomery Sites | Holt Street Baptist Church | First Baptist Church | Alabama State Capitol Building | Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church|
Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church | Dexter Parsonage | Carr Home

Our first stop was the Charles Sherrod Civil Rights Park, named after a key leader in the Albany Civil Rights Movement. It featured four large stone plaques in a water feature. Various stones/bricks surrounded the plaque holding the names Freedom leaders and quotes.

Following our visit here, we went to our first museum of the day–the Albany Civil Rights Institute. I enjoyed learning more about the local people of the movement, those whose names failed to make it in our history books/lessons during Black History Month. I always reminded myself that this was a movement led by many, not a famous few.

We had the option of entering the museum through the ‘white’ entrance or ‘colored’ entrance. I waited for the moment when our tour guide said proceed and walked my Black self through the white entrance. Again, this was a museum documenting the local Albany Civil Rights Movement; therefore, I wanted to take the time to educate myself on this city’s civil rights struggle. I remember writing the name of Elza “Goldie” Jackson, a local librarian at Albany State College, fired for her involvement in civil rights. Dr. William Anderson, president of the Albany Civil Rights Movement, and his wife Nora Anderson. Danny Lyons, a 21 year old Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), photographer of the movement.

Upon finishing our tour, the group continued to the neighboring Mt. Zion First Baptist Church. SNCC Freedom Singer, Rutha Harris, sat at the podium. Now, this was my second time meeting Harris. I had the honor years ago of having lunch with her when she spoke at my alma mater. I asked politely if she was singing the “Dog Song” to which she responded, “Of course”. She began with the freedom song, “Oh, Freedom” and shared a bit of her story and involvement in the movement. Harris shared the soundtrack of the movement and made us sing and clap along (which was really hard for some people in our group). God bless those who cannot clap on beat. “Without music,” she stated, “there would be no Civil Rights Movement.” Her work continues today as she teaches a new generation of Freedom Singers. The first video is the last snippet of “Oh Freedom” and the next is a bit of the “Dog Song”.

“Oh Freedom”

“The Dog Song”

After a morning of history and singing, we moved to lunch at a famous local spot. Now this is where I entered pet peeve #298395, Northerners interactions with Southern cuisine beyond fried chicken. At one point I hit my mother’s favorite response when I asked what something was, “It is food and you gonna eat it and not complain.” I had to explain okra, collards, hot water cornbread, and pig feet.

As far as Montgomery sites, rain ruined the rest of our day and these sites where visited on Day 4.

Thanks for being patience with my post although the trip was a month ago. I will write up the next days as soon as possible.

Until the next post,


Research Questions/Thoughts: Harris listed another member of the original SNCC Freedom Singers–Bertha Gober–who she lost contact with. I will try to search for her whereabouts. 

Also curious about reading more into respectability politics and HBCUs during the Civil Rights Movement. Many students and faculty members supported the movement; however, faced severe consequences for their involvement. 

Summer 2017

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, standing and outdoor

My summer.

In early June, I returned home after finishing up 2 years at a university’s Office of Housing and graduating. In just a week, I took a train from North Carolina to Pennsylvania and began a week and a half Civil Rights Bus Tour (which I blogged briefly about). From there, I took a bus to Baltimore to secure housing before school, traveled to Harlem to visit my sister, flew out from JFK to Barbados, and returned home to make the move to Baltimore. Oh and I celebrated my birthday…I completely forgot.

I arrived on Friday; therefore, the last few days were full of unpacking and shopping. I can now say this little 574 square foot apartment is feeling more and more like home. It is still quite the transition especially with city traffic, but new city, new challenges. I am just happy to rest and to be still in one place.

So I will continue the blog with the remainder of the Civil Rights Bus Tour, Barbados, and summer research:)

Its good to be back.


Summer Reading

I moved back home for a few days before my summer travels –civil rights tour, birthday celebration week, and a trip to Harlem. By July, I will settle into my new place in Baltimore (speaking it into existence). A few months ago, I received a Barnes and Noble gift card from a former professor and last week decided to splurge on a few books. Most have been on my radar  for a while, but since I started my thesis I only read books research-related. Now, I will indulge in the following leisure/travel reads.

  1. The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas

Image result for The Hate U GiveThomas’ The Hate U Give is a young-adult novel speaks to racial relations in America. I caught eye of this novel through a review published by The AtlanticAs an activist, I am excited to read Thomas’ work and to pass it on to my little sister as she navigates her own thoughts on police violence and being Black in America.

Book description: Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

2. Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson

I know it may be shocking, but no I have not read this book. I was first introduced to Stevenson’s work through Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday where he basically laid out the foundation of his entire book. His story and his mission moved me enough to consider law school until I settled on history. Still, I will continue to protest and speak against the criminal justice system in the United States. Just not yet as a lawyer.


3. Go Tell It On The Mountain, James Baldwin

I started this book I believe in the eighth grade and I was not at the age to fully comprehend the greatness of Baldwin. I believe I was in that phase where I thought I was smart enough to read through the top 100 literature books (maybe one of those 100 books to read before you die)…I soon moved to Oprah’s Book Club List.

4. Playing in Darkness: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, Toni Morrison

Navigating my way through all of Morrison’s fiction/non-fiction works.

The Nobel Prize-winning author now gives us a learned, stylish, and immensely persuasive work of literary criticism that promises to change the way we read American literature even as it opens a new chapter in the American dialogue on race.

Toni Morrison’s brilliant discussions of the “Africanist” presence in the fiction of Poe, Melville, Cather, and Hemingway leads to a dramatic reappraisal of the essential characteristics of our literary tradition. She shows how much the themes of freedom and individualism, manhood and innocence, depended on the existence of a black population that was manifestly unfree–and that came to serve white authors as embodiments of their own fears and desires.

Written with the artistic vision that has earned Toni Morrison a pre-eminent place in modern letters, Playing in the Dark will be avidly read by Morrison admirers as well as by students, critics, and scholars of American literature.

5. A Beautiful Struggle, Ta-Nehisi Coates


I found this book on the shelf beside his most famous work, Between the World and Me, published nearly eight years before. I was familiar with Coates prior to the publication of his most famous book; however, I failed to realize he wrote a previous non-fiction book.

Excited to read this piece!

An exceptional father-son story from the National Book Award–winning author of Between the World and Me about the reality that tests us, the myths that sustain us, and the love that saves us.

Paul Coates was an enigmatic god to his sons: a Vietnam vet who rolled with the Black Panthers, an old-school disciplinarian and new-age believer in free love, an autodidact who launched a publishing company in his basement dedicated to telling the true history of African civilization. Most of all, he was a wily tactician whose mission was to carry his sons across the shoals of inner-city adolescence—and through the collapsing civilization of Baltimore in the Age of Crack—and into the safe arms of Howard University, where he worked so his children could attend for free.

Among his brood of seven, his main challenges were Ta-Nehisi, spacey and sensitive and almost comically miscalibrated for his environment, and Big Bill, charismatic and all-too-ready for the challenges of the streets. The Beautiful Struggle follows their divergent paths through this turbulent period, and their father’s steadfast efforts—assisted by mothers, teachers, and a body of myths, histories, and rituals conjured from the past to meet the needs of a troubled present—to keep them whole in a world that seemed bent on their destruction.

With a remarkable ability to reimagine both the lost world of his father’s generation and the terrors and wonders of his own youth, Coates offers readers a small and beautiful epic about boys trying to become men in black America and beyond.

So I am currently reading Men We Reaped: A Memoir by Jesmyn Ward, which is an emotional read, but a must read. I just finished last week Ayana Mathis’ The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, which was a good read although I skipped around a few chapters. I was joking with someone that everything I read, watch, or write has to deal with race and so perhaps in the fall I will branch out of my comfort zone, but for now:)


Until the next post,


(Updated) Chauncey Sawyer Flowers


In 1895, Harry and Nancy (Sawyer) Flowers gave birth to their first child, Chauncey Flowers in the city of Jacksonville, Florida. He is Rachel Flowers’ eldest brother.

One of the first items I look for in my research is a photo. I discovered a number of primary sources detailing his life, yet currently no photo (but there is still hope).

Unfortunately many of his children and even Chauncey himself passed away at a young age–Chauncey Sr. at the age of 41, Chauncey Jr. 46, Chauncey III 50, and Ernest at the age of 28. His wife Ernestine also passed away at a relatively young age, 48.

Chauncey Sr. migrated with his father and siblings to the Harrisburg region in 1913. Already eighteen years old, he worked odd jobs in the capital city until the city’s draft called him to fight in World War I. He enlisted in the 351st Heavy Field Artillery, an African American unit. Chauncey trained at Camp Meade alongside the seventy men of this regiment.


When asked ‘Do you claim exemption from draft (specify grounds)?’, he wrote of his sister and brother, both whom he listed as sole dependents. Despite his claim for exemption, Chauncey fought in WWI under the command of Colonel William E. Cole, Lieutenant Colonel Edward L. Carpenter, Major Eric Briscoe, and Major Wade H. Carpenter. The mayor of Pittsburgh praised the work of these men and stated:

When President Wilson issued his appeal, calling upon the people in these United States to rally to the support of ‘Old Glory’ there was a noble response. None was more spontaneous than that from the colored people of this nation. By their deeds they have written their names in golden letters in history….Those who bore arms for us were first in war. In peace let us show them that they are still first in the hearts of their fellow-citizens.

Emmett J. Scott, Scott’s Official History of the American Negro in The World War, (Chicago: Homewood Press), p 317


351st Field Artillery [African American] Troops on the Deck of the Louisville. Part of the Squadron “A” 351st Field Artillery, [African American] troops who returned on the Transport Louisville. These men are mostly from Pennsylvania.

From the African American Photo Collection @Ancestry.com

Chauncey served overseas from June 19, 1918 to February 16, 1919 (honorably discharged on March 5, 1919).


Post-war, Chauncey returned to Harrisburg and served in an organization for veterans of foreign wars. I am unsure of the nature of this organization; however, the Harrisburg Telegraph documented the group’s activity throughout 1918 (it held some significance).

He continued to work various jobs here and there, waiting tables, bar-tending, etc. According to the 1920 Federal Census, Chauncey resided in a boarding home along Daisy Street. In 1920, he worked as a waiter in a local hotel.


While living in the city, he met a young woman named Ernestine Hagins, daughter of Ishmael Hagans and Ella Watson. Perhaps they met at church or worked at the hotel together. Regardless of how they met, they married on April 21, 1920. A few months later, they welcomed their first child into the world, Chauncey Jr. (bn. July 10, 1920). Two years later, they had a second child, Margaret. Between 1920 to 1936, the family moved over twenty times across the city. Little is known about the family outside of their physical whereabouts during this time. Then in 1936, Chauncey Sr. passed away from pneumonia. His service held in the same church as his father’s funeral, Wesley AME Church.


At some point, the family moved from Harrisburg to Philadelphia before moving to Ernestine’s home state of Indiana. The Philadelphia Tribune published an article about a birthday party thrown for Chauncey Jr..



Will continue this family’s story in my next post.

Until then,