Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Bay Area Black Quake

San Francisco Chronicle - September 6, 1972 via Genealogy Bank

Black Quake was the name of an amazing cultural exposition that took place almost fifty years ago (49 but who's counting?) in San Francisco. Also known as Black Expo. As announced in the San Francisco Chronicle on September 3, 1972, the event included “live performances by black singers, musicians, poets, dancers, and theatrical companies and exhibitions of the works of black sculptors and painters." Ray Charles and B. B. King headlined at the Civic Center! Of the advertised big names in music, only Gladys Knight was a no-show (San Francisco Examiner, 11 September 1972). 

Much of the poetry was radical and openly racist according to Christ Savaria in the University of San Francisco Foghorn (15 September 1972):
“The underlying theme of the poetry presented was strongly anti-white and expressive of black rebellion.” 

And Gordon Parks, director of Shaft, got heckled at the film festival by militants from Los Angeles (William Zakariasen, "Militants Shout Down Gordon Parks," S.F. Examiner, 11 September 1972). In such "polarized times," business and organization exhibits demonstrated wonderful diversity:

There’s a Marine booth AND a Black Muslim booth (selling bean pies) AND a Bank of America booth AND a booth where they sell coloring books aimed at black children. 
-- San Francisco Chronicle, 10 September 1972. 

Black Quake returned the next year when headliners included Buddy Miles, Barry White, and Richard Pryor. Founder Ray Taliaferro called the 1973 event "An infusion of positivism for the whole Bay Area" (Chronicle, 2 November 1973). But attendance in the second year was disappointing, especially for a jazz program featuring Donald Byrd that "should have sold out the Civic" (Examiner, 10 November 1973).

Perhaps misreading Augusta Melville's handwriting, Hershel Parker in Herman Melville: A Biography Volume 1 gave the name Black Quake to Sarah Morewood's unfortunate horse--that "fine young colt" injured in a railway accident, as Herman Melville reported from Arrowhead farm in a December 1850 letter to Evert Duyckinck. It's not really a name you would give a horse back then, if ever. More likely, as suggested previously on Melvilliana, the horse's name was "Black Snake." There's a real horse's name! 

Greenleaf's New York Journal and Patriotic Register - March 21, 1795
via Genealogy Bank

Looking further into this interesting and influential misnomer, I see both of the Bay Area Black Quakes happened when Hershel Parker was Professor of English at USC, 1970-1979. I'm guessing Parker would have been way too busy prepping for fall classes to travel so far north. The sacrifices of tenured college professors--who can tell? I mean, think of missing Ray Charles, B. B. King, Sonny Rollins, Bobby Womack and all at the '72 Black Quake. And yet, I can't help wondering if a tremor or two from that glorious California expo snuck into Parker's later transcription "Black Quake" from Augusta Melville's letter of December 21, 1850 to her and Herman's sister Helen. The letter in question is part of the Augusta Melville papers, only discovered in 1983 and now accessible online courtesy of The New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library. "Letters sent, notebooks and keepsakes" The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1841 - 1854. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/752fe150-5889-0136-238d-3dcc24fb54fc

My favorite part of the Black Quake story is how Michael Shelden took Parker's re-christening for gospel and ran with it. In Melville in Love (HarperCollins, 2016) Shelden pictures Black Quake as "a rambunctious horse with a name that suggested the thudding force of its galloping speed." A missed opportunity there, if the horse's true name could somehow have been implicated in the romance of Melville's involvement with his vivacious neighbor. 

Through the magic of YouTube, here's The Genius Ray Charles in Copenhagen only a month after the first Bay Area Black Quake. (A commenter has corrected the Denmark concert date to October 10, 1972.) 



Related posts: 
  • Black Snake?
    https://melvilliana.blogspot.com/2020/04/black-snake.html

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