Sunday, April 1, 2012
Anna Bishop, educator, Black historian
The Mother of Black History in Columbus is Anna Bishop. In addition to being an educator in Columbus schools, a singer, poet, composer, actress and tireless community activist, she was the author of Beyond Poindexter Village: The Blackberry Patch.
In 1982, the first of four parts of her writings were published by the Columbus Metropolitan Library. Beyond Poindexter Village chronicled the community that began after W.W.I when Black southerners moved north to take advantage of the industrial boom that was occurring in many midwestern cities. The Blackberry Patch was settled in East Columbus bordering Long Street, Mount Vernon Avenue, Ohio Avenue and Mink Alley.
According to the book, southerners brought strange customs and cultural patterns to Columbus. “On warm days different people came through the streets selling different things. The watermelon man drove a flat bed truck with a hand made sign that said ‘Georgia.’ You could hear him coming, singing, ‘Watermelon, watermelons! Georgia watermelons, red, ripe, red watermelons!”
Jake and Lena, Italian immigrants, had a horse drawn wagon and they sold vegetables. The people on Champion Avenue knew what Jake meant when he called out, “Epple, epple. Good, juicy red epple.” All of the people in the neighborhood would run out to get fresh apples, green beans, corn and potatoes.
One man rang a bright metal hand bell as he walked along the streets and all of the children ran out to the musical sound. The scissors grinder carried a contraption on his back that was machinery for sharpening knives and scissors, screwdrivers for umbrella repairing and for fixing things. He was their science and mechanics teacher.
When the rag man called out, “Iron, rags, glass,” the people in the Blackberry Patch knew they could exchange the things that they had been collecting in buckets around the neighborhood for cash. The rag man was the original recycling business.
In her four volumes Anna Bishop interviewed the golden agers, born in the south at the beginning of the century, who had the recipes that helped families survive the terrible times of the depression years. She documented the neighborhood business, theaters, nightclubs, transportation and personalities.
One fascinating businessman was James Albert Jackson, a successful feed merchant in the day when Columbus citizens kept small flocks of chickens in their backyards. He and his business partner opened the Empress Theater at 768 East Long Street in the 1920s. When a theater owner on Mount Vernon insisted on keeping Black customers out, Mr. Jackson said that he’d fix them, “I’ll build a theater better than any one in the United States.”
When the Ogden (Lincoln) Theater opened in 1928, the whole interior took you back to Egypt with marble pillars carved and painted to look like Egyptian antiques. The carpeting was plush and the Club Lincoln was where Sammy Stewart’s Orchestra performed and little Sammy Davis, Jr. was four years old when he made his first impromptu appearance onstage.
Anna Bishop passed in 2004, but the legacy that she not only left but documented continues to inspire me.