Poem for April 27: Ebon Dooley

[Ebon Dooley, born Leo T Hale, was a giant of the black arts movement in Chicago.  His published poetic output was small, but his influence within the arts community vastly exceeded his publications.  He moved to Atlanta where he was for 35 years director of the independent radio station WRFG.  He died in 2006.  His obituary in the Atlanta Progressive News is here.  The People’s Tribune carried an obituary which said in part:

Ebon Dooley, an activist, poet and revolutionary, . . .was born Leo Thomas Hale, the oldest child of Leo and Beatrice Hale of the small farming community of

Ebon Dooley

Milan, Tennessee. Son of a school-teacher and the grandchild of middle-class farmers, he went to Nashville’s Fisk University on an early entrant scholarship. Ebon’s activism might be said to have begun with his work as managing editor of the Fisk literary magazine and newspaper (which included Nikki Giovanni as a freshman reporter). He went on to further activism when, as a regional honors scholar, he entered Columbia Law School in 1963. In New York he saw two very different sides of the larger world, as a law school management trainee at Manufacturers’ Hanover Trust and as a member of the Law Students’ Civil Rights Research Council and volunteer for the Harlem community action project of Har-you-act. At the first Black Power conference in Newark, he was impressed by the Chicago delegation; unable to get a large enough scholarship to go on to graduate school in business after his 1967 graduation from Columbia, he went to Chicago as a VISTA legal volunteer.

Abdul Alkalimat wrote an appreciation of Dooley from which the following excerpt comes:

“The heart of Ebon’s Chicago experience was the OBAC (Oh-bah-see) Writers Workshop (Organization for Black American Culture), founded in 1967. It included future luminaries such as Johari Amini (Jewel Latimore), Haki Madhubuti (Don. L. Lee), and Carolyn Rodgers. The young writers were entertained regularly by Gwendolyn Brooks, whom Ebon acknowledges as one of his greatest influences. The Writers Workshop developed an aesthetic manifesto that was based on both artistic and social awareness. It particularly focused on the need to free black literature from the aesthetic criteria established for traditional Western works.. .”


The Mighty John Hancock Building or
The bigger they are the harder they fall

by Ebon Dooley

it was a normal day
in the Loop . . .

the sun was morning warm
and bounced spring sparkles
from neon billboards
above Michigan Avenue.
yellow cabhorns honked
and warned mini-skirted mannequins
away from curbs
and changing amber lights.

it was a tuesday scene
and rather quiet
for near/noon traffic sounds.
(the sharp fast sound of
high heels; and dull/worn
rubber soles
dragging on ruffled concrete)

lunch hour crowds
crowded the street.
(window shopping on the
Northern Slope) crowding
around Big John.
crawling
like millions of pink/plumb
ants
beneath Big John
when it happened. . . .

when the mighty Hancock
roared in pain
and sprawled
down the “magnificent mile”
when smoldering powder/smells
mingled in the air
with dust and bricks
and steel and glass and
concrete balls of fire

when burning bricks
crushed crowded corners;
and silver spears of glass
shattered spines
and pinned pink bellies
to the pavement

When Big Bad John Hancock
fell
and crumbled concrete
floated in pools of blood
it was a quiet day . . . .

it was a quiet day
when it happened . . . .

[From Nommo: A Literary Legacy of Black Chicago 1967-1987, An OBAC Anthology edited by Carole A Parks.  From http://underground-library.org/?tag=nommo The OBAC (Organization of Black American Culture) workshop was founded in 1967, initiating the greatest collective force in Chicago literary history. OBAC (Oh-bah-see) referred to Oba, the Yoruba word for king. Workshops ran from 1967-1994 and readings were staged as recently as 2007; “art for the sake of black empowerment was the principle.”]

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