Jennifer Lawson Photo by Vernard Gray
Our Washington in the 1960s The energy was palpable. Whenever we were in a room together, ideas ricocheted at a pace that could easily have been underscored by the music we listened to—John Coltrane, Pharaoh Sanders, Ornette Coleman, Charles Lloyd, and Lee Morgan among others. Staccato beats here, a soaring saxophone riff there, vocal yodels, or a rhythmic, steady, mellow, and soothing melody that evoked Africa, urban chaos, cosmopolitan synergies, and depth. That’s what my world sounded like, and that is what being at Drum and Spear Press in 1968 in Washington, D.C. felt like. The spirit of Black Power and Black self-sufficiency was radiating throughout the culture. In 1966, Stokely and Mukasa (Willie) Ricks had proclaimed “Black Power!” The Black Panther Party, based in California, was highly visible. James Brown shouted and sang, “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud!” and Nina Simone created a new anthem, “Young, Gifted, and Black”. Stokely Carmichael had moved to D.C. and developed a new Pan-African political organization, the All-Afrikan People’s Revolutionary Party, that would soon have him commuting between the U.S. and Africa. Marion Barry, a former SNCC chairman, had established a community organization, Pride, Inc., that would vault him to the mayor’s office. SNCC veterans Frank Smith, John Wilson, and Eleanor Holmes Norton were playing increasingly significant roles in the formation and growth of the D.C. City Council and establishment of congressional representation for city residents. Culturally, our D.C. in the mid-1960s was what one would imagine Harlem to have been during the time of the Harlem Renaissance. Artists in New York, Newark, Chicago, Detroit, and elsewhere began to interact and coalesce with artists in D.C. following the 1963 March on Washington, and there were constant discussions about Black art and Black thought. Some of these activities centered around Howard University, Federal City College, artists’ co-ops, and newly-created independent organizations such as Gaston Neal and Don Freeman’s New School for Afro-American Thought, Topper Carew’s The New Thing School for Art and Architecture, Lou and Di Stovall’s The Workshop, and Robert and Rosey Hooks’ D.C. Black Repertory Company. There was a lively intellectual and cultural community eager to share music, theatre, art, photography, and ideas with each other and a broader world. I especially loved the spirit that we brought to our work. We were young Black people who were not going to allow ourselves to be victimized or to be seen as victims. We believed in our own power, in our ability to assert ourselves and to resolve our own problems. I relished our sense of ability, of possibilities for a brighter future in spite of the odds. I woke up each day with a sense of purpose, a mission of things that needed to be done. I knew that my contributions were meager and limited, but Drum and Spear Press was a great place to use the skills I had. Universities across the country—professors, administrators, and students—were looking for books and materials about Black consciousness, Black culture, Black thought. The time was ripe for our new organizations. First came Drum and Spear Bookstore, with its extensive catalogue of available books for mail order or in-store purchase.
Drum and Spear Bookstore was the brainchild of a group of veterans of the Civil Rights Movement and scholars of African, African-American, and Caribbean history. Charlie Cobb had been inspired by a visit to Présence Africaine in Paris in 1967 to open a similar bookstore in the U.S. A group of former SNCC staffers joined him to do so in D.C. in late Spring 1968. In the midst of their preparations to open the bookstore, several blocks of 14th Street, N.W., where the store was located, were afire following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. The Bookstore’s first staff members would often refer to the smell of tear gas still lingering in books and magazines. It wasn’t surprising that requests for additional titles would pour into the bookstore. This led to an interest in providing new works to these burgeoning programs and educators through our own publishing company with global mail-order fulfilment. The Founding of Drum and Spear Press A few months later in Fall 1968, Drum and Spear Press was born. It was started by the same group that had created the bookstore, and we were all busy doing so much more at the same time. Washington seemed the perfect place for Drum and Spear Press even though parts of the city were still smoldering from fires that resulted from the anger that dominated the cityscape after King’s assassination. We were so focused on the urgency of our work that we could move through this dystopian landscape without being distracted by it. A Team That Makes It All Happen Drum and Spear Press and Drum and Spear Bookstore were both projects of a non-profit organization, Afro-American Resources. A grant of $10,000 that was crucial in launching Afro-American Resources came from the United Church of Christ’s Commission for Racial Justice, which was headed at that time by Reverend Charles Cobb, Sr., Charlie’s father. The board of Afro-American Resources included Charlie Cobb, Courtland Cox, Marvin Holloway, Curtis Hayes Muhammad, Tony Gittens, and Don Freeman (Baba Lumumba). Courtland, Charlie, Curtis, Judy Richardson, and I had all worked together in SNCC. The Afro-American Resources meetings that I attended were more like brainstorming sessions for new ideas, and the ideas kept coming. In its six years of existence, Afro-American Resources spawned at least two radio programs, two bookstores, an African news service, and Drum and Spear Press, a publishing company with offices in Washington and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
Judy Richardson, who was managing the Bookstore along with Tony Gittens, hosted one of the radio programs, Saa Ya Watoto, “The Children’s Hour” and played the central character, Bibi Amina, who regaled her listening audience with stories based on folktales from the African diaspora. We would gather in Mimi Hayes’ or Judy’s apartment at 1620 Fuller Street, N.W., and record the episodes. A group of us provided sound effects and voices for the animal characters that were often the focus of Bibi’s fables. Charlie Cobb and Kojo Nnamdi developed a straightforward news report covering the Pan-African world. Through Afro-American Resources, Charlie also developed a much-needed African News Service. Both men went on to longstanding, award-winning careers as journalists. Tony Gittens, a member of the board of Afro-American Resources, was the first manager of Drum and Spear Bookstore. Tony met Charlie Cobb, Courtland Cox, and several of the others shortly after finishing Howard University, where he had been a student leader in the protests and takeover of the administration building in March 1968 and an editor of The Hilltop, Howard University’s highly respected student newspaper. The kinetic feel of Drum and Spear Press emanated in part from Anne Forrester Holloway, who served as the primary editor. Anne later became U.S. Ambassador to Mali, the third African-American woman to be named to an ambassadorial post. In the 1960s, Anne studied African history, worked at the Museum of African Art as a lecturer, and then taught the first African studies class at Howard University. Anne’s husband, Marvin Holloway, was also a key person at Drum and Spear Press. He had been a graduate student in African history at Howard University and was a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies alongside SNCC veteran Ivanhoe Donaldson. Carolyn Carter, who had been a student editor of the Howard University Hilltop, was also a primary editor at the press. Other key people at Drum and Spear Press were Charlie Cobb and Courtland Cox. I served as art director for the press, designing layouts for the books, and creating graphics and artwork for their covers. I also researched and developed the concept and illustrations for Drum and Spear’s family book, Children of Africa.
I thrived as a part of the Drum and Spear/Afro-American Resources mix. In 1968, I was 22 years old and believed that we had the power and opportunity to make a difference through our actions. We were in the business of creating change, empowering Black people, and connecting people in the African diaspora. While our ventures could have been profitable, we were not focused on making money. Little emphasis was given to the financial and business operations, which would later lead to the enterprise’s demise, but at the time, we were constantly in motion, meeting with African diplomats, media entrepreneurs, scholars, political activists, writers, journalists, and community members. A Magnet for Diversity, Black Thought, and Bold Pan-African Ideas Drum and Spear Bookstore became an immediate destination. Some wanted magazines and newspapers they couldn’t find elsewhere. Scholars, educators, and students from the local colleges and universities regularly perused the shelves for works on African-American thought, literature, and books about the African diaspora. Diplomats from some of the many embassies located in Washington became regulars, especially those from African countries including Botswana, Tanzania, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, and the Caribbean. African-American women and men of all ages, eager to learn more about the African diaspora, made it a regular stop on their social and tourist circuit. FBI agents were also frequent visitors and maintained steady surveillance, which is documented in reports that can be obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). We knew they were there, but we kept our focus on the work. Black studies programs were being established at colleges and universities that had never shown an interest before. Discussions with African scholars, activists, and educators made a strong case for a publishing arm, and in the same can-do spirit that led to the founding of the bookstore, Drum and Spear Press sprang into action. Drum and Spear Press had its initial office at 2001 Eleventh Street, N.W., Suite 206 and moved later to 1802 Belmont Road, N.W., in the heart of Adams Morgan, a neighborhood that was vibrant, culturally diverse, and filled with characters. There was Big Ike’s Mambo Room, near the Ontario Theater on Columbia Road. The Omega restaurant, a few blocks west, served some of the best Cuban fare. The Astor. Havana Village. There was also a Middle Eastern restaurant where the owner lived in the restaurant and invited you into his salon for a meal and a conversation about whatever was on his mind that night. The bullet hole in the window of my apartment served as a stark reminder each morning of where I was. I lived in a building that faced Malcolm X (Meridian Hill) Park. My street was lined with embassies and retained some of its elegance, but one short block east on 14th Street looked like a war zone. Months earlier, a large part of this commercial corridor had been destroyed by the urban rebellions that came in the immediate aftermath of King’s assassination. The majority of us lived in the connected neighborhoods of Columbia Heights, where Drum and Spear Bookstore was located, and Adams Morgan, where Drum and Spear Press had its offices. It made for easy camaraderie and a collaborative workflow between the bookstore and the press, and easy communications with the nearby Center for Black Education, Federal City College, and Howard University. A Proud List of Titles
Drum and Spear Press published its first book, A History of Pan-African Revolt, by C.L.R. James in 1969. The book was an updated paperback edition of a classic work by James, a highly respected international writer. It is introduced with these lines, written by Marvin Holloway: “This book is a double landmark. It is the first publication of Drum and Spear Press. In these days when black people throughout the world are clamoring for self-knowledge, Drum and Spear Press has recognized the need in servicing this rising concern. For the author, C.L.R. James, the volume represents work that has spanned a period of thirty-one years. The bulk of this work first appeared in a monograph series called FACT in 1938. The author’s wisdom is time tested.” Marvin Holloway actively contributed numerous ideas and was largely responsible for the publication of The Book of African Names in 1969. Marvin’s face would light up each time the name of Chief Osuntoki, the “author” of the book, was mentioned. An inquiry into Chief Osuntoki’s heritage will lead one into a fascinating history of Yoruba culture, with journeys back into the centuries before Nigeria existed as a nation; it also includes the modern-day brilliance of the late artist Twin Seven Seven. The year 1970 saw the publication of Speaking Swahili: Kusema Kiswahili, a manual for language learning written by Bernard Muganda, who was originally from Tanzania and taught at Howard University. That same year, Enemy of the Sun: Poems of Palestinian Resistance, by Naseer Hasan Aruri and Edmund Ghareeb, was released and remains one of the most sought-after Drum and Spear Press offerings. Another of Drum and Spear Press’ most popular works was Children of Africa, also published in 1970. Courtland Cox and I designed Children of Africa using a similar collaborative process to the one we had used successfully in 1966 in Alabama to develop educational comic books that helped elect the candidates of the Lowndes County Freedom Party, also known as the Black Panther Party because of its distinctive logo. We developed Children of Africa with two levels of story: one for adults and one for children. To engage children in a more participatory manner, we made it a coloring book. We wrote the work collaboratively, and I illustrated it. Daphne Muse worked on it as well. On seeing the illustrations, artist Lou Stovall volunteered to create a special font for the headings with flourishes that elevated the work considerably. In 1971, Drum and Spear Press published The Struggle for Black Education 1968-1971, a collection of essays based on the work of the Center for Black Education, a related institution established by several Drum and Spear founders and faculty from the burgeoning Federal City College. Watoto wa Afrika, (Children of Africa) a Kiswahili edition of the previously published family book Children of Africa, was published in both Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and in Washington in 1971 with assistance from Walter Bgoya, founder of the Tanzanian publishing firm, Mkuki na Nyota.
We released annual calendars from 1970 through 1972 that were filled with dates related to political struggles. This followed the spirit, style, and format of a similar 1968 calendar that had been developed in Atlanta by SNCC. The theme of Drum and Spear’s 1970 calendar was “We Are an African People”; in 1971, it was “Africa for the Africans at Home and Abroad.” The introduction for the 1971 calendar notes that “while a timepiece tells us the time of day, a calendar tells us what time it is in history.” In 1972, the theme was “We Must Control our Land, Minds, Goods and Services, Defense”; it centers on the relationship of land to independence. Drum and Spear Press’ final publication in 1972 was Bubbles, a children’s book by Eloise Greenfield, a noted children’s author. It was illustrated by Eric Marlow, a Washington, D.C. artist who had also worked with The New Thing Art and Architecture Center. I valued my experience with Drum and Spear. It revived the strong bonds I had forged with this same group of people a few years before in the Deep South. I had grown so much from the time I started working with SNCC as a Tuskegee student in 1964, and I had become so close to these colleagues, with whom I had shared life-and-death moments. Tragically, we had been made closer by attending funerals of the far too many civil rights workers who had been killed. When I first arrived in D.C. in 1968, I mused aloud about needing a job so that I could live in Washington without devouring my savings. Anne Holloway kindly introduced me to Warren Robbins, the founder and director of the Museum of African Art, located at that time on Capitol Hill, in one of the houses where Frederick Douglass had lived at 314 A Street, N.E. Anne had worked at the museum and knew they were looking for a lecturer in African Art for groups of visitors ranging from elementary school children to diplomats. I went to the public library and did a cram course on African art and sculpture. Robbins and his assistant Lidia seemed impressed when I commented on the Museum’s Baule and Senufo works, identifying them correctly. I was hired. Now I could afford to move off of my friends’ sofa, rent my own apartment, and even manage to buy a used Buick sedan, driven only lightly by a friend’s elderly mom. The pay was low, but I was never a big spender, and my schedule allowed me to devote my free time to Drum and Spear Press. In 1969, Tony Gittens left his role as manager of Drum and Spear Bookstore and traveled extensively, purchasing African crafts and artwork to be marketed through Drum and Spear. Along with Anne and Marvin Holloway, he launched another Afro-American Resources venture, Wananchi Arts and Décor. They had at least two sales of Makonde and other original artworks at a Columbia Road gallery and at Drum and Spear Bookstore. Creating a Community Hub Ralph Featherstone became the bookstore manager after Tony left, and the team secured a larger space just around the corner at 1371 Fairmont Street, N.W. In the midst of my work for Drum and Spear Press, Ralph asked me to take responsibility for the interior design and décor of the new bookstore. I crafted the exterior logo for the façade above the doorway, created section headings for the various areas of the bookstore—history, art, children’s, etc.—and designed my prized feature, a mosaic representation of the continent of Africa on the floor just inside the entrance. The décor was in keeping with the “mod” color trends of the time: coral, lime, yellow, and turquoise, with grounding accents of browns and blacks to reflect the Makonde sculptures that we also used to decorate the store and were beginning to sell through Wananchi. Drum and Spear’s popularity grew in the new space, which was bright, welcoming, and able to accommodate events and crowds. Book signings with prominent authors made it a valued gathering place. Anti-apartheid work was growing, and relations between African, Caribbean and African-American authors and artists were making Pan-Africanism tangible. Tragedy Strikes I woke up early on the morning of March 9, 1970, to the shocking news that Ralph Featherstone had been killed the night before somewhere on a highway near Bel Air, Md. What a heartbreaking nightmare. He and another person, William (Che) Payne, were in Jean Wiley’s car when an explosive device killed them both. Courtland identified Ralph’s body. Later that day, Ralph’s wife, Charlotte Orange, contacted me and said she planned to have his remains cremated and wanted to take them to Africa for burial there. She asked if I would take responsibility for securing an urn that would honor Ralph. I was numb with grief but decided that the best way to honor my beloved friend was to create a work of art for him. Remembering how much he had loved the Africa mosaic in Drum and Spear, I decided that a hand-carved urn would be most appropriate. I got the dimensions of the container that would hold his ashes, found a miller in Kensington, Md., to craft an urn in his best hardwoods using the dimensions that I would need in order to put ornamental borders with African designs around the sides and the map of Africa atop, and spent the next few days busy carving. A young sculptor I knew helped and Daphne Muse gave great moral support. Charlotte and Don Brown headed off to Ikoyi in Lagos, Nigeria, where Ralph Featherstone’s remains were interred. I remained in Washington and spent time trying to figure out what had happened. After we got over our shock and upset, the activities at the press, bookstore, and Center for Black Education along with the radio programs began to impose their usual rhythms. Towards Pan-Africanism Courtland and Charlie were making headway on discussions with Tanzanian officials about the prospect of a publishing operation in Tanzania and about the 6th Pan-African Congress (6PAC). The Tanzanian government, under the direction of President Julius Nyerere, was excited about hosting the 6PAC and had the aspiration of creating a Pan-African cultural center there as well. The Tanzanian government donated a plot of land, and a West Indian architect volunteered to design a facility. I found his sketch of a spiraling building intriguing. Charlie and Courtland told me the 6PAC planning group needed someone to coordinate the architect’s work with the local artists and artisans. Additionally, there was growing interest in Tanzania in starting a publishing company and in Drum and Spear opening an office there. I took the fact that my apartment lease was ending as a sign and moved to Dar es Salaam in 1970. While the influence of the Afro-American Resources Group was expanding with the 6PAC, radio shows on WOL-AM, book sales nationwide, and visits from national and international writers and artists, the actual financial undergirding was weakening. Income from the businesses subsidized new projects and activities instead of building a strong reserve. Charlie and Courtland began to spend more time in Tanzania and other countries, working with an international coterie of intellectuals and political activists to organize the 6PAC, which was ultimately held in Dar es Salaam in June 1974. In Tanzania, Joe and Carolyn Gross, Willie Kgositsile, Monroe Sharp, Fredricka Teer, Beni Ivey and a host of others from the exile and expatriate communities worked together to support liberation movements in southern Africa. Bob and Janet Moses lived with their family on a mountainside near Arusha. Robert van Lierop and Bob Fletcher produced A Luta Continua, a documentary about the liberation struggle in Mozambique. There was a relatively large community of expatriate writers and journalists in Tanzania. The Ghanaian novelist Ayi Kwei Armah organized a group of us into a writers’ group that included Walter Rodney and Grant Kamenju. Ironically, Armah shared an apartment with Kabenga Nsa Kaisi, my dear friend whom I had met in Cuba in 1968 and had corresponded with since that time. They were my neighbors in Ilala, near the central market. Walter Bgoya was invaluable in helping arrange the translation of Children of Africa and its publication as Watoto wa Afrika in 1971. Drum and Spear Bookstore Expands to Downtown D.C. Back in Washington, Judy Richardson remained a central person in Afro-American Resources, working with Mimi Hayes to produce the radio shows. She also founded and opened a second branch of Drum and Spear Bookstore, Maelezo (1972-1973) inside the Health, Education, and Welfare federal building in downtown Washington. This store had come from a plea from Black employees at the agency, who wanted the bookstore there and arranged the logistics of obtaining lobby space for it. In 1972, after two years in Dar es Salaam, I decided to return to the United States to study media. Self-reflection during my walks along the beaches of Bagamoyo in Tanzania led me to consider that I had now spent several years of my life working in print, writing stories, drawing images, and illustrating material with the intent of improving the circumstances of people of African descent. No matter the geography, some of the challenges were consistently the same. We had been deprived of education, of even basic literacy, for so long that communicating in print limited us to those among us with an education. I looked at the appeal of radio, television, and film and began to think that the future of communications for education, for freedom, would be in audiovisual technologies, and we would be left behind if we relied solely on words on paper. I decided that I would devote the next years of my life to improving my skills. Moving on with the Same Spirit From 1972 to 1974, I studied film in New York City and received an MFA degree from Columbia University in New York. In 1980, I rejoined many of my Drum and Spear colleagues by moving back to Washington, D.C. Tony Gittens and I met again in the 1970s and married in 1982. Tony continues his commitment to making diverse perspectives of the world available through a film festival he founded over 34 years ago, FilmfestDC—the Washington International Film Festival. After a rewarding career of over 30 years in executive positions in public media, I retired and now volunteer in support of the SNCC Legacy Project, developing archival materials of the Movement to inspire and encourage younger activists to combat injustice and inequality and to preserve their own stories. Jennifer Lawson, SNCC organizer and veteran of the Civil Rights Movement, lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband Tony Gittens. Copyright © 2020 Jennifer Lawson. All rights reserved.
by Daphne Muse In the tradition of our ancestors, Drum and Spear Bookstore was founded by and staffed with intellectually amazing people whose activism was fueled by scholars, writers, artists, and activists across many centuries. It went on to become a combination bookstore, library, community center, and iconic cultural heartbeat. – Daphne Muse, 2020 My Early Years in D.C. and Nashville I was born and raised in Washington, D.C., and still consider myself a “Chocolate City Momma”. My dad worked as a clerk at the Pentagon by day and was a private butler at night and on the weekends. Mom was a clerk in the passport division of the State Department. Little did I suspect that my work at Drum and Spear would lead to the FBI threatening them on their jobs, but all my parents would say is that I worked at a bookstore. My initial introduction to African-American literature and the culture of the movement began when I was a student at Fisk University, and Professor Arna Bontemps hired me in 1966 to be his research assistant. My job included sorting through and organizing reams of clippings, correspondence, and manuscripts by and about writers whose names and works were all new to me, including Zora Neale Hurston, W.E.B. DuBois, and Gwendolyn Brooks. Brooks became a longstanding literary friend whose papers would be acquired by the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley because I had taken her to the train after a speaking engagement. Into the Movement Later, I was recruited by Mukasa Willie Ricks to work on the 1966 SNCC conference at Fisk while I was a student. I had been clandestinely attending antiwar meetings that were held by Diane Nash, James Bevel, and Jim Lawson, and I joined that movement. Had my aunt and uncle with whom I lived in Nashville known of my activities, they would have evicted me from their home. They were not on Dr. King’s program at the time and had been terrified by the 1960 bombing of Civil Rights attorney J. Alexander Looby’s home in Nashville. In April 1967, right after Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) spoke at Vanderbilt University, an uprising broke out on Fisk’s campus and the cops were called. I just happened to be in Fisk Hall at the time, and women were lining up Coca-Cola bottles and pitching them out the windows at the cops. I was right there with them in the shock and awe of that “bring it on” moment. After that incident, I continued to attend meetings and mimeograph flyers for events related to the Movement that were taking place on campus. A few of my fellow classmates were very actively involved in the Movement, including D.C. resident and real estate agent Phillipa Thompson Jackson and Arnette Whitmire. Welcome to Drum and Spear I was hired by Joe Gross, an engineer by training, who served for a brief period as a manager at Drum and Spear bookstore before he went off to East Africa to explore opportunities related to Pan-Africanism and the emerging digital world. I had gone into the bookstore to purchase books for the first-grade students I taught at Hines Elementary School in Northeast D.C. I also worked as a clerk and salesperson at Brentano’s Bookstore, America’s first chain bookstore, founded in 1853. Joe admonished me for working for “them white people,” so I quit that job and came to work for Drum and Spear in June 1968, within weeks after the store opened. That decision changed my life in ways I could not even begin to imagine, bringing me friendships that have lasted more than four decades, expanding my activism to a level 10+, and introducing me to the historically rich and vast world of Black lives and cultures across centuries. Tony Gittens, Courtland Cox, Judy Richardson, Charlie Cobb, Don Brown, Freddie Greene Biddle, Anne Forester Holloway, Marvin Holloway, Ivanhoe Donaldson, Mimi Hayes, Curtis Hayes (Muhammad), and Ralph Featherstone joined Joe in welcoming me into the Drum and Spear community with a hand of trust and confidence that astounded me, for these people did not know me. With a presence that was so much more mature than their ages, I thought Joe, Charlie, Ivanhoe, Courtland, Don, and Ralph were in their fifties, not because they looked like they were but because I could not believe anybody that smart could be as young as they were and bring such an astute analysis to their thinking. Anne Holloway was the most sophisticated young woman I had met up to that point and had a rather commanding presence. Judy, Juadine Henderson, Mimi Hayes, and some of the people at the Center for Black Education, including Cheryl Garrett, Geri Tate (Augusto), and Ivy Young extended the sisterly welcome. Jennifer Lawson and I first met when Courtland dispatched me to work with her and community organizers Ed Brown and Charles Bannerman on the Quitman County Literacy Project in the fall of 1969. We had formed an instant bond after landing in a field of collard greens on the way from Memphis to her home in Marks, Miss., where she had painted the kitchen orange and the bathroom purple. When she moved to D.C., we worked in the bookstore together. We also worked with Courtland on the creation of Children of Africa, an intergenerational children’s coloring book written and illustrated to counter neo-imperialism in children’s literature. Our working relationship evolved into a friendship of more than four decades, in which we now support and document the work of liberation as seasoned elders. The “University” of Drum and Spear I read voraciously to sell books with a knowledgeable voice and provide the community with the selections best suited for their purposes. I recall having to read Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth twice and often engaging in deep conversations with Featherstone, Courtland, Anne, and Charlie to address questions and provide historical clarification for me on certain books, for so much of the history and the underpinning ideology of the struggles were new to me. I tell people I got my real education at the “University of Drum and Spear”; Joe Gross, Charlie Cobb, Courtland Cox, Ivanhoe Donaldson, Jennifer Lawson, Ralph Featherstone, Don Brown, Judy Richardson, Mimi Hayes, and Ethel Minor were the faculty and scholars-in-residence. In addition to being a salesperson, I was a community liaison, especially with the educators who came into the store. I also worked closely with Tony and Featherstone on researching titles to order, handling customer relations, organizing events, and setting up booths to sell books at local conferences. There were a growing number of small Black presses whose publications were in high demand, including Haki Madhubuti’s Third World Press, Dudley Randall’s Broadside Press, Joseph Okpaku’s Third Press and Bogle L’Overture, a West Indian (Guyanese) publisher based in London. We worked diligently to keep their titles in stock. There were also several African publishers whose catalogues we ordered to stay abreast of titles coming from the continent, including the African Publication Society in London. When those publishers travelled to the U.S., they would come to the store with titles for us to purchase. We also had a working relationship with Una Mulzac, the owner of Liberation Books, who founded her bookstore in 1967—she carried on the tradition established by Lewis Michaux’s Memorial Bookstore, which was also known as “The House of Common Sense and Home of Proper Propaganda.” For children, we primarily carried books by African-American authors, including poets Lucille Clifton and June Jordan, Eloise Greenfield, and author-illustrator Tom Feelings. When we could get our hands on the rare, non-stereotypical children’s books by First Nations, African, Asian-American, and Mexican-American authors, they were included. Along with books, we carried poetry journals and magazines including Tricontinental, a fantastic publication from Cuba that featured a unique centerfold of revolutionary posters; Freedomways; Black Scholar; and a journal published by Présence Africaine, founded by Senegalese philosopher and Pan-Africanist Alioune Diop. The store also had a small cookbook selection that included Verta Mae Grosvenor’s wildly popular Vibration Cooking, Ebony Cookbook, and A Light Hand and Heart by Ruth Gaskins. I also brought back cookbooks and poetry collections from Trinidad, Guyana, and Suriname when Joe Gross asked me to join him and a group of Pan-Africanists to attend the 1970 African Society for Cultural Relations with Independent Africa Conference (ASCRIA) in Georgetown, Guyana. It was an Afro-Guyanese organization founded in the 1960s by author, politician, and radical activist Eusi Kwayana and dedicated to the revitalization of African culture in the Caribbean. This was another turning point in my life, for it opened the radical lens of African life and culture in Latin America. Drum and Spear carried a collection of beautiful notecards and portfolios featuring the works of artists such as Tom Feelings, Kofi Bailey, and Eugene White, which were always in high demand. Keeping them in stock was a real challenge, for the artists who produced them had limited funds for production. We also purchased some crafts and children’s books from Liberty House, a New York retail outlet for the Poor People’s Cooperation, a Mississippi-based Black co‑op. Half my salary went to purchasing books, posters, and other ephemera sold at the store. As a result, I would spend the next forty years amassing a collection of more than 20,000 books, 5,000 letters, and 35 portfolios of ephemera. 1Part of my collection, which includes some Drum and Spear material, is now housed at UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library and Emory University’s Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (1960–2013). A Magnet for D.C. Intellectuals, A Home for African Diplomats Along with the essentials of keeping the store running, the daily environment was filled with the voices of Black intellectuals, academics, politicians, writers, and artists, including author and historian C.L.R. James; Federal City College professor and scholar Acklyn Lynch; poets Larry Neal, Sterling Brown, Sonia Sanchez, Gaston Neal, and Amiri Baraka; then-Howard University lecturer in English Toni Morrison; and psychiatrist Dr. Frances Cress Welsing. Community members and children who came to the store to purchase books would often engage in discourse with staff and community intellectuals. Students who took classes at the New School and their parents and teachers frequented Drum and Spear. Other visitors included Edmund Gahreeb, one of the editors and contributors to Enemy of the Sun: An Anthology of Palestinian Poetry, published by Drum and Spear Press. He and some of his Palestinian comrades were especially close to Ralph Featherstone, who once presented me with some Al-Fatah stamps commemorating the Palestinian Liberation Front (1968) that the anthology’s editors had given him. I still have them in my collection. The African diplomatic community was very supportive of the store, including Walter Bgoya, then an attaché at the Tanzanian Embassy. Chief Lenchwe Molefi Kgafela II, who was Botswana’s ambassador to the U.S. back then, came frequently to shop for books on Pan-Africanism and children’s literature. He returned to Botswana in 1971 and became president of the Customary Court of Appeal. Then one day, in strolls Marvin Holloway with Amilcar Cabral, the Bissau-Guinean and Cape Verdean poet, diplomat, and revolutionary. He had just spoken at the U.N. Juadine Henderson and I were the only two people in the store, and we could not unlock our eyes from this revolutionary icon and hero, who was daringly handsome and wore an exquisite blue agbada! The trust vested in me and my duties continued to grow exponentially and included buying trips to Bookazine (wholesale book dealers in New York City), ordering titles for stocking the store, fulfilling special orders for conferences, and organizing book signings. During my time at the store, we hosted readings by Gwendolyn Brooks, with whom I became literary friends until she died in 2002; and Lerone Bennett, Jr., in whose arms I fainted when a tear gas canister was launched at the front of the store after a pregnant Black woman had been beaten by the police and an uprising had broken out. We also hosted Shirley Graham DuBois, widow of W.E.B. DuBois, who read from and signed copies of her memoir, His Day is Marching On. Belvie Rooks, who played a role in the founding of the Center for Black Education, and I hosted a dinner party at Frank and Jean Smith’s apartment, and Mrs. DuBois fell in love with the carp I baked. We stayed in contact, and in 1975, I invited Graham DuBois to speak at UC Berkeley, where I taught from 1972–1975 and again in 2000. In 1969, I worked very closely with Judy Richardson on the phenomenally successful launch of the Drum and Spear Children’s Art Contest. The contest tied in with Sa Yaa Watoto Storytelling Hour, which was produced by Mimi Hayes and aired on WOL-AM on Sundays at 7:30 p.m. Tony Gittens launched a very well-run PR campaign for the outreach to local businesses in support of our efforts, and Ed Murphy’s Supper Club on Georgia Avenue hosted the winner’s party. The winners included Crystal Dixon, James Duckett, and Cathy Howard. Classes from several schools in D.C. participated, including Parkview, Drew, and the New School for Afro-American Thought (The New School). 2Documentation related to the contest and other details related to the store and press are included in the Drum and Spear section of the Daphne Muse Correspondence Collection. I worked closely with Freddie Greene Biddle, who served as the bookkeeper for several months, to provide documentation for filing taxes and payroll. Our vision for the store was overridden by the contradictions of operating under a “crapitalist” rubric, further compounding the challenges of running it as a business versus a community organization. While it was seemingly endless work, we were some serious party people, too. We danced and discoursed over Marvin Gaye, Jerry Butler, and Aretha Franklin deep into the night. Charlie Cobb hosted legendary parties that lasted until sunrise. The rooms were filled with people not just from across town but those who’d bopped down from New York. Platters of jerk chicken, plantain, roti, and pots of peanut butter stew jumped up off the stove; I learned to prepare several of those dishes. Stokely Carmichael and Cleve Sellers would show up along with brothers and sisters from the Continent, including Zimbabwean activist Ndoro Vincent Vera and other folks jammin’ and droppin’ knowledge, simultaneously reflecting on the philosophies and ideologies of Julius Nyerere, Kwame Nkrumah, Jomo Kenyatta, and Négritude leader Leopold Senghor; and citing the poetry of Nikki Giovanni, Keorapetse Kgositsile, and Claude McKay. Charlie would also read poems from his own collection, Furrows. The FBI and Government Intimidation The “Trench Coat Crew”, aka the FB&I as Juadine used to call them, were regulars at Drum and Spear. J. Edgar Hoover had a visceral disdain for everything related to Black people, and our bookstores were especially targeted. University of Baltimore scholar Dr. Joshua Davis has done an exemplary job of securing documents related to the bookstore through the Freedom of Information Act. He details some of the documentation in his book From Head Shops to Whole Foods: The Rise and Fall of Activist Entrepreneurs. One of the first things Ralph Featherstone said to me was, “Never talk to the FBI.” I took him to heart, for I had my own detail led by an agent named Jim South. He and his trench coat cronies would come up in the store and flip books off the shelf, utter words of disdain for the books, and strut out. The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which we had a hard time keeping in stock due to the demand, especially rattled them. At night, they would follow me through the treacherous blocks of a drug-infested area I had to navigate before reaching my apartment in the comfortable neighborhood of Adams Morgan, about ten blocks from the store. I sometimes carried $3,000 on me from the day’s receipts. In hindsight, I had my own security detail, but I do wonder if they would have interceded if someone had tried to attack me. Probably not. I also think word on the street covered those of us who worked at the store.
Remembering the Remarkable Ralph Featherstone Ralph Featherstone—D.C. native, gifted former national SNCC Program Director, educator, and a most serious community organizer—commanded the full respect of everyone he worked with across the board. Even publisher Arthur Wang of Hill and Wang personally came to deliver an order so he could talk with Featherstone. I remember times Featherstone would leave the store to have lunch with investigative journalist and writer/publisher I. F. Stone. Once, Feather reprimanded me on my customer relations when I copped a big-time attitude with a white woman who announced she had come to purchase a book for “her” Black man. In 1970, I worked with Featherstone, Don Brown, and Judy Richardson for two days straight to move the store from 1401 14th Street, N.W., to another building around the corner at 1838 Fairmount Street, N.W. Not long after that move, Featherstone and William “Che” Payne were murdered on March 9, 1970, in an explosion in the car Ralph was driving along Route 1 in Maryland. Featherstone’s murder happened only weeks after we had celebrated his marriage to a D.C. educator named Charlotte Orange. On the day of Featherstone’s funeral, Jennifer Lawson, Charlie Cobb, and I kept the store open. It snowed on one side of the street, and the sun was blazing in the sky on the other. Jennifer crafted the urn for his ashes; they are interred in Nigeria where Donald Brown and Charlotte took them. Through his extensive network across the Continent, Marvin arranged the logistics of their trip to Nigeria. Featherstone’s murder turned my world inside out. I operated in a state of dazed confusion for months before moving to Phoenix, Ariz., to try and heal the hurt from his loss, which I mourn to this day. I continue to wonder what he would be like as a father and seasoned elder. More Intimidation In July 1971, a grand jury subpoenaed the staff of Drum and Spear to testify in relation to some alleged bombing charges at the Mozambican Interests Section. With representation by SNCC attorney Howard Moore, the “case” vanished as quickly as it appeared. I think it was part of a fishing expedition to frame, and of course ruin, the store since previous efforts had failed. My subpoena is in the archives at Emory. In the 1830s, David Ruggles—an abolitionist, writer, printer, and publisher—opened a bookstore in what is now known as the Tribeca area of New York. Ruggles’ store was destroyed by a mob and was under constant surveillance and attack; Drum and Spear suffered the same abuse. During the days I worked there, Drum and Spear was burglarized twice and set on fire once. The fire department was able to act swiftly enough that the damage was minor, and the burglaries resulted in some items stolen, but we did not keep money in the store. My Drum and Spear Family In 1971, Dad and Mom invited Charlie, Courtland, Jennifer, and Juadine to dinner. Dad served quail, and Charlie bit down on the buckshot left inside. While my dad was very discreet, there were times he would tell me to read something or say, “These are white people whom you need to know because they are shaping your life/your future.” They grew proud of the work all of us had done in the Movement, especially at the bookstore. Along with educating me far beyond what I had learned in the classroom, Drum and Spear grew my intellectual and historical landscape far beyond anything I had imagined up to that point. It also gifted me with great long-term friendships with Jennifer, Tony, Juadine, Charlie, Courtland, and Judy, grounded in the bonds we share for liberation, justice, and self-determination. When I moved to the Bay Area, my activism continued as the secretary for the legal defense team for the Angela Davis trial. My time at Drum and Spear also served as the launching point for me to teach at UC Berkeley and Mills College and establish myself as a faculty member who continued the ongoing struggle to decolonize the academy. I was so deeply influenced by the work Mimi Hayes, Judy Richardson, and I had done in developing the Third World Children’s Literature section at Drum and Spear that I went on to teach survey and writing courses at UC Berkeley and Mills College framed around the writing and scholarship in the children’s literature field. It also helped me launch the Right-on Rainbow Children’s Book and Film Festival; work on multicultural children’s literature projects for the Commission on Major League Baseball and Scholastic, Inc.; and develop related curricula for school districts across the country. I always will cherish the bonds forged and enduring friendships made with people who have continued to pave the road to freedom with their brilliance, tenacity, and vision. Daphne Muse is a veteran of the Civil Rights Movement, author, poet, and cultural broker based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Copyright © 2020 Daphne Muse. All rights reserved. Part of my collection, which includes some Drum and Spear material, is now housed at UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library and Emory University’s Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (1960–2013). Documentation related to the contest and other details related to the store and press are included in the Drum and Spear section of the Daphne Muse Correspondence Collection. [maxbutton id=”2″ ]
|↑1||Part of my collection, which includes some Drum and Spear material, is now housed at UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library and Emory University’s Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (1960–2013).|
|↑2||Documentation related to the contest and other details related to the store and press are included in the Drum and Spear section of the Daphne Muse Correspondence Collection.|