chester jr. higgins

Brazil, Bahia. 1990. A procession of worshippers dressed as Candomble orishas. The procession was led by Oxala, King of the Orishas, with Ogun, the Orishsa of Iron, following next to the beach outside Salvador, Bahia. The orishas are the dieties of Candomble, the Yoruba religion in Brazil.

© Chester Higgins, Jr.

Amiri Baraka and Maya Angelou

“Amiri Baraka was already the people’s poet when he answered to the name LeRoi Jones. We had a very famous photograph taken in 1991 by Chester Higgins, Jr. The photograph appeared in the New York Times. At the time the legend under said in effect, two of America’s great poets dancing a traditional African rite dance over the remains of Langston Hughes at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. I telephoned Amiri Baraka and said were you doing traditional African dance, he said, “No, I was doing the jitterbug.” I said I was doing the Texas hop and it became a Jet magazine centerpiece. Rest in peace my brother. I give condolences to everybody, because when a poet dies something hopeful in the national psyche disappears.”

- Maya Angelou, on the above photo after Baraka’s death earlier this year. (emphasis mine)

She was the best of us. THEY were the best of us.


(THX to Baratunde for the heads up.)

I don’t have a very eloquent tribute this evening for Dr. Maya Angelou. She is the reason I am a writer today - and a voracious reader. I read “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” like so many other young black girls and saw a reflection of myself in a book for the very first time. She is the reason I didn’t think it was nuts for someone who was a “serious” writer to also aspire to write and direct films because she did so. She had unmistakable gravitas, but I always found her just so delightful - and delighted: from reciting Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem “A Negro Love Song” on the Arsenio Hall show to dancing joyously with the late, great Amiri Baraka in 1991 as they celebrated Langston Hughes’ birthday. I’m grateful for Dr. Angelou and the life she lived tonight and I hope you will join me in celebrating her by telling me your favorite thing about her - a memory, a poem, a book - in the comments. Photos: On stage in 1954 by G. Paul Bishop. In 1991 with Mr. Baraka at the Schomburg in Harlem by Chester Higgins Jr. for the New York Times and in the late 1950s by G. Marshall Wilson.

Slavery and it's affects on the identifiable African...

“Slavery mixed up African tribal groups–deliberately isolating us from others who spoke the same language and eradicating our memories of the place in Africa that had been home. But because of this our blood has been mixed and our ethnic bonds have been spread wider. We African Americans (and Africans/people of African descent/black people in the Americas) generally do not owe particular territorial allegiances and do not have the associated ancestral jealousies that comprise much of Africa today.

Our very being embodies a Pan-African nature; we are predisposed to embracing all of Africa as home.”

Chester Higgins Jr.

Latif Nasser looks at the history of the New Year’s Eve ball drop:

“By the eighteen-eighties, new commercial technologies—such as those of the Self-Winding Clock Company, in Brooklyn—eliminated the need for mariners to recalibrate chronometers, and therefore the need for public time signals.

On land, however, time balls found a new audience. In cities, people set their personal clocks to them. So, too, did city businesses that relied on having the precise time, such as banks, coach companies, clockmakers, and playhouses.”

Photograph by Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times/Redux.


Nov. 12, 1993: A star to be placed atop the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center sat, on the printed page, alongside an article about Staten Islanders contemplating secession from New York City. Rather than rallying around the five-pointed symbol, New York voters were divided about their mayor — among other things — and thinking about shedding one of the five boroughs. “Had Staten Island not been part of New York City,” reported The Times, “Mayor Dinkins would have been re-elected on Nov. 2.” (Mayor David N. Dinkins lost to Rudolph W. Giuliani, thanks largely to the votes from Staten Island.) During the campaign, when one of Mayor Dinkins’s aides noted that Staten Island was swallowing more than $199 million more in services than it delivered in revenues, the idea of secession didn’t seem so bad. In the end, “It was the Mayor’s sentiment,” a deputy was quoted as saying, “that to save the city as the city, with all its symbolism and intangibles, we should find some other way to save the money.” Photo: Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times

The Book That Got Teaching Right

Samuel G. Freedman revisits Bel Kaufman’s classic novel “Up the Down Staircase”:

“I checked several online booksellers, and, sure enough, no current edition was available. So I grabbed a copy from the library, and as I plunged into it I realized just how sadly appropriate it was that the book had fallen into obsolescence. What place can there be for a book about the large struggles and little glories of a teacher, at a time when teacher bashing has become a major strain, even the dominant strain, of what passes for ‘education reform’?”

Above: Bel Kaufman in 2011. Photograph by Chester Higgins, Jr. / The New York Times / Redux