Juju Leaves in the Center of a Whirlwind: Black American Environmental Culture, shows how environmental relationships were primary in African American’s early experience in the United States and how capitalism and governmental policy affected African American’s relationships to the land. Juju explores how African retained spirituality and resistance emerged as themes in African American cultures. An investigation of these questions reveals how African American cultures in the “Deep South” and the “Midwest” between 1830 and 1939 negotiated externally imposed restrictions and demands in relationship to the land. The shifting ideologies and practices of individuals and collectives simultaneously asserted multiple ways of maintain self-defined and counter hegemonic cultural beliefs and practices. While exploitative environmental relationships were a site of injury in the forms of slavery and sharecropping, many African Americans maintained associations with the land as a way to maintain and achieve economic, physical and spiritual health. Through immaterial and material traditions, some retained from West African cultures, others adopted and transformed from European and European American cultures, many African Americans significantly influenced American cultural geography. The ways in which African Americans negotiated these multiple environmental experiences is the focus of this dissertation.
Chapters 1) Slavery, Resistance and Space 2) Physical Health and the Land 3)Social Healing and Nature 4) Acquisition and Properties 5)Retreat, Resort and Recreation 6) Urban Farm Movement
Through the genres of music, oral history, poetry, photography, primary text and visual art Johnson produced a History Art multimedia exploration of the Motown musical legacy and its context. In Rumblings of an Era, emerging musicians, artists, poets, and actors interpreted primary sources such as newspaper ads, oral histories, posters and liner notes to create and perform a retrospective interpretation of important themes, figures and events from the 1940’s to the present. In addition to oral histories that included well-known and lesser-known narrators, Rumblings also incorporated the oral histories of former Motown and current performers from the Velvelettes, Bertha McNeal and Cal Street. A version of the production will include McNeal and Street.
Breadcrumbs: an exploration of black LGBT queue Kalamazoo residents and their journey to finding the voice
SYNCOPATE: A MULTIMEDIA DOCUMENTARY SERIES (A NEW PROJECT FOR 2016)
This multi-media documentary series pursues the syncopation of culture, the groove just on the other side of the beat and brings together education, social science, arts, culture, history, science, cultural production, health, humanities, philosophy and life. Each show starts with an enduring question I have about a cultural expression. As I’ve traveled paths of thought and land, I still wonder about, aspects of American black history, especially in the Midwest. Whether it’s as a DJ, an American Culture PhD or a kid who loves social studies and knows about Zora Neale Hurston, readers, viewers and listeners will hear what I think I know about black resorts and farms, funk, blues and soul, authentic and authenticating social movements, labor and safe spaces in the Midwest. For what I don’t know, I’ve got very cool and knowledgeable friends and family who are variously degreed and formally and informally trained in the ways of the world. And if I’m still thirsty after drinking from those springs, I’ll seek insight as far as my budget will carry me. LISTEN NOW
The Radio Series Episode 1 Black Resorting in the Midwest In Black Resorting in Michigan, Dr. Michelle S. Johnson teams up with the curious and those in the know regarding resorts in western Michigan. In July and August, Johnson will record oral testimonies about Idlewild Paradise Lake, Twin Pine Roost, Eagle Lake West and Mecosta for the new radio/video documentary series, Syncopate. The first stop is Three Rivers on June 25, 2016 at 3pm. Johnson partners with former MSU student and community organizer andy Peterson and the George Washington Carver Center to begin uncovering and documenting stories of Twin Pine Roost, a destination along a mile of the St. Joseph River and accounts of lesser-known black vacation settings.
Episode 2 Intro—“Coming Home”-- retraces my journey on the paths of Zora Neale Hurston, inquires about her current legacy and follows my roots through variously autonomous spaces in Saginaw and Kalamazoo. In this story, I stretch my public arts, culture and history roots by “returning to the trunk” as my mother often advised me in my early college years. As I sit at the base of this tree self, the view to how I got here is clear through the lens of the academy, former Florida saw-mill towns and community initiatives and radio.
Episode 3 Community Spaces of the Industrious Saginaw/Idlewild/Detroit In the spring of 1999, I began as a collaborative initiative and gathered 90 hours of interviews and recorded 39 life history interviews of individuals that might otherwise be left out of traditional Saginaw history. This life story collection holds a wealth of historical narrative with first-hand of accounts of personal and ancestral fortitude. These women and men, who spent 20 years or more in Saginaw, illuminate the once booming automobile industry in the city and details experiences such as the shake room, burned bodies and iron inhalation. They also pass on memories of vibrant economic communities of Sixth, Potter and Wadsworth streets, the innovation of entertainment, importance of education, recreation and sports and the centrality of Idlewild. These voices lay out the importance of family, not ones that always followed traditional models of biological parenting, but a fluid and integrative model where grandparents, aunts, uncles, stepfathers, and step-mothers contributed significantly or took on the responsibility of nurturing the communities children. patterns and numerous other themes in American history. This episode highlights the life and context for Arthur Braggs, Michigan entrepreneur based in Saginaw and producer for emerging and established artists like Della Reese the Four Tops, Dinah Washington, Brook Benton, Billy Eckstein and Sarah Vaughan. In addition to charting the musical impact on the national circuit, we listen to the syncopated voices of other Michigan entertainers and hospitality workers like mc’s, show-girls, dancers and food and beverage servers in Saginaw, Idlewild and Detroit.
Episode 4 The Art of Black Politics and Space in Kalamazoo and Calhoun County Early summer of 2012, the Black Arts and Cultural Center commissioned Fire Historical and Cultural Arts Collaborative to complete a project that highlighted the voices of lesbian, bisexual and gay people of color within Kalamazoo. What became of that project was more than just a theater piece. Fire’s oral history leg, Voices, took the interviews of several area residents to create a dynamic experience involving history collection and performance called “Breadcrumbs: Journey to Authenticity.” The project addressed stereotypes and topics specific to the African American community concerning acceptance and expression of self, and confront homophobia with the community. This episode extends those voices into material gathered since then about black political movements from early Michigan history to the present. The Art of Black Politics listens from the side of civil war activists, state organizers, Civil Rights activists and lesbian, bisexual, gay, queer and transgender people of color seeking change for themselves and the world in Kalamazoo.