James Van Der Zee was an African American Photographer born in 1886. He was a pioneer during the Harlem Renaissance and is best known for his amazing portraits of black New Yorkers. The likes of Marcus Garvey and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson just to name a couple of well known and iconic figures from our past.
In addition to being an accomplished and nationally recognized photographer, he was also an extremely talented pianist and violinist in very tough times in American history. A time, during which many African Americans were denied basic rights, let alone an exploration of the arts.
It is amazing to think how much change and progress James witnessed in his life, having lived until 1983. We admire his commitment and dedication to the arts throughout a very long life. James has frequently been honored for his contribution to US History, especially in Harlem, NY and we honor him here today with a post to celebrate great Americans during Black History Month!
Black History Month is in full swing and we would be remiss if we didnt chime in and highlight some amazing African Americans who have inspired us. While there are countless people we could highlight, I thought I would stick with some people who contributed to Fashion and The Arts.
First up, is Author Richard Wright. Richard was born in Moxie, Mississippi in 1908 and was a major literary talent. He tended to write portrayals of youth growing up in extreme poverty and who often faced major hardships and racial persecution. Very apropos for the time and very close to his own experiences.
In fact his acclaimed novel, Black Boy was a memoir/autobiography about his own experiences growing up in the south and living in Chicago as a young adult.
He is best known for his book Native Son, which is commonly read in schools all across the US and I personally read it back in the 7th grade. It clearly identified a system that was so broken at the time and it really struck a chord with me. Wright was so disenfranchised during his life, that he actually joined The Communist Party and ended up living in Mexico for 6+ years and then later finished his life as an Ex-pat in France in 1960.
He is not often spoken about during BHM due to some of those political decisions, but he most certainly left an indelible mark on the literary scene.