Baraka, Haley part of the Beat Generation

Whenever you’re in North Beach of San Francisco, turn right into the fiction and poetry section of City Lights bookstore and look up to see a classic poster of LeRoi Jones’ The Dutchman, prominently displayed.
City Lights is the most important ongoing manifestation of the Beat Generation, a phenomenon which took hold in the 1950s typlified by poets who refused to be bound to staid old traditions.
While taking the Beat Generation tour as part of the nine-day San Francisco Litquake, a massive literary festival with more than 550 authors, I took note that the tour leader did not mention Jones, whom we now know as Amiri Baraka. When I asked him why, he was not familiar with the name.
One need only look at one of the best descriptions of the period:
Leroi Jones, David Fitelson, and Norman Podhoretz, “The Beat Generation,” Partisan Review 25 (Summer 1958), 472-479 to get a sense of how important Baraka was in the movement.
Another great name we don’t associate with the Beat Generation is Alex Haley, who retired from the Coast Guard as chief journalist in 1959 while stationed in the Bay Area to pursue his career as a free lance writer.
His first piece for the Saturday Evening Post was a profile of Emile’s Restaurant in North Beach. The publication was particularly memorable for Haley because an editor of Curtis Publishing had helped his father, a Pullman porter attempting to work his way through college, by paying his tuition.
The Washington Post’s Jacqueline Trescott described how Haley told about the emotional meeting he had in New York with that editor once his article went in print.
“So when I had my first story published by the Saturday Evening Post, I went to New York for coffee with the editor., and I just started crying, put my hands up to my face because I realized if the man hadn’t helped Dad I wouldn’t have been there,” Haley said in a speech in Washington just days before he passed in 1992.
Recognizing how completely Jones and Haley, one of whom is still around, have been deleted from the accounts of the Beat Generation, at least on the ground here, makes it easy to understand how another group of Pullman porters were deleted from the history of the same area.
Sam King and Lew Purcell owned as many as six nightclub-hotels on Pacific Street during the first decade of the 20th century, including Purcell’s, which a 1921 San Francisco Chronicle article described as the birthplace of jazz.
They are the key figures in my historical novel Cakewalk, a spinoff of the JazzGenesis exhibitions I’ve presented in Los Angeles and now in the Visitor Information Center of the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The plot discusses how and why their legacies were erased.
We’ll be discussing how to counteract this ongoing pervasive phenomenon during the Fourth Annual Preserving California Black Heritage conference Friday, Nov. 12 at Marcus Books, 1712 Fillmore St.

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