Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Great Grandmother

BOND: Now what about your great-grandmother? She's a great storyteller. How does that come to you? I mean, I'm sure she told you stories.

BARAKA: We used to sit out in the -- in Hartsville, South Carolina, population of about three – and it would be getting late. The sun would be going down, and it'd be my sister, myself and then my two first cousins. One of my cousins is the chairman of the -- the head of the Charleston, South Carolina, Housing Authority.The other one, Loretta, you know, Tommy's other one, Loretta, was the first black woman to have a column in California, you know, in a major newspaper, The Palo Alto Times. But we would sit out on the porch, all four of us, and our great-grandmother -- who died, by the way, at 112 or something. She died in a fire. She didn't die of natural causes, you know, she was cooking pies and something happened; she couldn't get out of there. But she'd be telling us all kinds of stories usually from the Arabian Nights. She loved the Arabian Nights. I don't know why she loved the Arabian Nights, although I thought that it was not "Open Sesame!" but she would say, "Open See-Sam!" So, for many years, I would say, "Open See-Sam!" But she would tell these stories and, man, they were fascinating. But what was really fascinating was that she could tell them like that. You know? And I'm sure some of those stories there were variations on what might have been variations.

BOND: Yes, I was going to ask. Did she put a twist on them?

BARAKA: I think so. I think so. I don't know. Like, you know, where the mountain would open up and the people was in their jugs, you know, and they were all robbers -- you know, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. Now I know that they were talking about the Church of Rome now -- because that's what Ali Baba means, you know, Friend of the Father.You know, like Papa -- but it was interesting that she would be focused on the Arabian Nights rather than what you would say the old black tales that you might hear, you know. That's what was so interesting. My other grandmother -- my grandmother in Newark, she would tell you the tales coming out of the South, while the one in the South was telling me stories about, you know, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves and, you know, the genie coming out of the lamp and stuff like that. I was -- I think I've always loved stuff like that, you know, slightly science fiction.