Armchair Historians

Dr. Tara Green, See Me Naked and Alice Dunbar-Nelson

February 22, 2022 Dr. Tara Green
Armchair Historians
Dr. Tara Green, See Me Naked and Alice Dunbar-Nelson
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode of Armchair Historians,  Anne Marie talks to Dr. Tara Green. Dr. Green has recently published not on but two books, See Me Naked and Love, Activism, and the Respectable Life of Alice Dunbar-Nelson.

See Me Naked: takes a look at the lives of noted black women, including actress, singer, and activist Lena Horne, stand-up comedian Moms Mabley, teacher and Harlem Rennaisance influencer Yolande DuBois, and blues singer and performer Memphis Minnie, and how, despite their public profiles, discovered ways to enjoy pleasure.

Love, Activism, and the Respectable Life of Alice Dunbar-Nelson: about the love one Black woman had for her race, of men and women, and, finally, of herself.

Dr. Green writes that her Black Southern family immersed her in a culture of storytelling as a condition of her birth. She learned about their deliberate embrace of laughter and love as they navigated the everyday challenges of being Black in America. Their gift of cultural practices is her inspiration as a professor, writer, and mentor.
 
Dr. Green also says, her family inspired her to study the lives of Black folks through literature. She began her formal studies at Dillard University.

Today she is an African American Studies professor with over 20 years of teaching literature and culture. She is the author and editor of 6 books on the lives and experiences of African Americans in twentieth-century literature and film. Dr. Green is a recognized academic leader who is dedicated to building diverse, respectful, inclusive communities in higher education.

Resources:
Dr. Tara Green: website: http://www.drtaratgreen.com
See Me naked: https://bit.ly/3H1nldi
Love, Activism, and the Respectable Life of Alice Dunbar-Nelson: https://bit.ly/3gWrVPt
Twitter: @DrTTGreen
Instagram: @tarat.green
Linkedin: Tara T. Green

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Anne Marie Cannon:

Hello, my name is Anne Marie cannon and I'm the host of armchair historians. What's your favorite history? Each episode begins with this one question. Our guests come from all walks of life. YouTube celebrities, comedians, historians, even neighbors from the small mountain community that I live in. There are people who love history and get really excited about a particular time, place, or person from our distant or not so distant past. The jumping off point is the place where they became curious, then entered the rabbit hole into discovery. Fueled by an unrelenting need to know more, we look at history through the filter of other people's eyes. I'm Chair historians is a Belgian rabid production. Stay up to date with us through Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Wherever you listen to your podcast that is where you'll find us. I'm Chair historians as an independent, commercial free podcast. If you'd like to support the show and keep it ad free, you can buy us a cup of coffee through coffee, or you can become a patron through Patreon links to both in the Episode Notes. Hello fellow armchair historians. I'd like to begin by thanking all of you who have supported the show, whether through following us on social media recommending the show to family and friends, or by throwing us a couple bucks or coffee or becoming a patron through Patreon. A big shout out to Ruth, Alicia and Dana, who bought us cups of coffee through coffee, and a big shout out to our Patreon supporters. David C. Paul B Beverly N. Scott G and Andrew B. We see you and your support means the world to us. On this episode of armchair historians, I talked to Dr. Tara green. Now Dr. Green has recently published not one but two books see me naked and love activism and the respectable life of Alice Dunbar Nelson. See me naked takes a look at noted black women including dancer actress, singer and civil rights activist Lena Horne, comedian and actress Moms Mabley, an American teacher known for her involvement in the Harlem Renaissance, Yolanda Dubois, and blues guitarist and singer, Memphis Minnie. Specifically, Dr. Green looks at how despite their public profiles, they discovered ways to enjoy pleasure. Love activism in the respectable life of Alice Dunbar Nelson, is about the love one black woman had for her race of men and women, and finally of herself. Dr. Green writes that her black Southern family immersed her in a culture of storytelling as a condition of her birth. She learned about their deliberate embrace of laughter and love as they navigated the everyday challenges of being black in America. Their gift of cultural practices is her inspiration as a professor, writer and mentor. Dr. Green also says her family inspired her to study the lives of black folks through literature. She began her formal studies at Dillard University. Today she is an African American Studies professor with over 20 years of teaching literature and culture. She is the author and editor of six books on the lives and experiences of African Americans in 20th century literature and film, Dr. Green is a recognized academic leader who is dedicated to building diverse, respectable, inclusive communities in Higher Education. Dr. Tara green, welcome to armchair historians.

Dr. Tara Green:

Thank you happy to be here.

Anne Marie Cannon:

I just get right into my stick. And it's a question what's your favorite history that we're going to be talking about?

Dr. Tara Green:

And my favorite history is always talking about black women. So black woman his sexuality during the Harlem Renaissance.

Anne Marie Cannon:

And you have a book that is coming out or just came out?

Dr. Tara Green:

Yeah, so I have two one that came out in January, the other in February. So that first one is love activism and the respectable life of Alice Dunbar Nelson. And the second one is see me naked, black women defining pleasure in the interwar era.

Anne Marie Cannon:

Can you tell me a little bit about the second book, the one that's just coming out because I don't really know too much about that. Well, that book

Dr. Tara Green:

looks to examples of black women specifically, Lena Horne, Memphis many who was a blues singer and performer, Moms Mabley. It was a great comedian, and Yolanda Dubois, who was the daughter of the famous WEB DuBois and those women's lives Help us to have some understanding of how black women define pleasure on their own terms during that period, the 20s in the 30s.

Anne Marie Cannon:

So maybe you could talk a little bit more about the specifics of that concept of how they define pleasure during that time period.

Dr. Tara Green:

Yeah, well, at least three of the women were performers, professional performers. And so Lena Horne certainly had, all of the women have personal lives, but they had to deal with the scrutiny of being in the public. And all of these women were very public women, they were very well known and very well respected for who they were. I am interested in how they define pleasure in both their public and private lives. So you know, women can find pleasure in work. But they can also find the pleasure in their personal lives through nature. I also have a book out on Alice Dunbar, Nelson, and she loved nature, she would find pleasure in writing about nature, but also being in nature, and going to plays into movies. But of course, if she went to movies, she will see black actors and actresses. And so I've written about those performers, as well.

Anne Marie Cannon:

And you talk about this idea of pleasure, and I just started reading your other book, which is it's a long one love activism and the respectable life of Alice Dunbar, Nelson. And one of the things I wanted to ask you about that is the word respectable, and how it seems to, to me anyways, from the parts, I've read the book, it seems to have a double meaning there's respectable to the outer world. And then there's this idea of what is respectable. And as Alice gets older and wiser, she focuses more on what matters to her. But she also walks a fine line about this. So maybe could you talk a little bit more about this idea of respectability, and how you meant it in the book, and how it relates to naked?

Dr. Tara Green:

Yeah, well, all of them as black women had to deal with the scrutiny of what it meant to be respectable. And it was to perform in a certain way in public so that they would feel themselves or show themselves to be equal in terms of their peers who were not black, but also so that they could be treated a certain kind of way within the race, as they try to uplift the race. These were women who were either the children as as Alice Dunbar, Nelson was she was a child of a formerly enslaved woman, and other women who were the grandchildren of enslaved. So we had two generations during this period. And they had to define respectability on their own terms. So just because Victorian women like Alice Dunbar, Nelson was expected to dress a certain way where they're covered up almost from neck to toe. And of course, that would change during the 20s and 30s. That doesn't mean that you know, have a personal life where you have enjoyment with a partner, or multiple partners in Alice Dunbar Nelson's case that certain times in her life, or that you don't find enjoyment in joy, in the professional life, but also again, in the personal life, like I mentioned earlier, it could be listening to music. It could be engagement with nature, it could be through writing, it could be through meditation, and these women engaged in what I call pleasure practices.

Anne Marie Cannon:

And maybe talk a little bit more about how you identify what you identify as pleasure practices. It's not just sexuality.

Dr. Tara Green:

No, it's not because they're looking for ultimate fulfillment. And so to engage in sex with a partner can be something that's temporary, and one can certainly get enjoyment out of that, but also the kind of enjoyment that Alice Dunbar Nelson discusses in going into nature and it could just be something as simple as a ride in a car, which was a privilege for women during that time, especially for black women. And she talks about she writes about that in her diary. Whether she would go to this conference where black women are strategically planning what they're going to do to change some part of a something in a community or to put out a national platform, she would steal away, if you will, from those meetings and go on a walk in the park. So the pleasure practice was not only making sure that she had time for herself to, to, to walk, to breathe, to enjoy to what she saw, but it was also then later writing about that, so she could go back and read it and experience that moment for herself again. And then, you know, we she's writing for herself as an audience of one. But when it becomes a diary, and it's saved, and it's archived, then we can get some enjoyment out of that also.

Anne Marie Cannon:

So your source material for that book is her diaries as well as what what is out there about her public life? Right?

Dr. Tara Green:

Yeah, well, it's, it's a lot. So she was a wonderful pack rat. And that material was passed on to her knees, Pauling Young, who was a librarian who kept these materials because she wanted people to know about her art who was a historic figure. And those materials became they were sold to the University of Delaware's archival library. And so we find in those boxes of materials, they are scrapbooks that she kept. There are materials, so the diaries, but also so many letters that she wrote, or that were written to her, but some famous people of the time. And she also wrote editorials. And so a black newspaper collection that is digitized. has those materials available as well.

Anne Marie Cannon:

One of the things I noticed is in reading about Alice is you approach the subject matter without judgment, is that accurate?

Dr. Tara Green:

I tried to because I wanted to write a book that was through her eyes through her perspective. And I thought it was really important to do that, because all of this material existed. And usually when people talk about her it is because she was married to a famous man, Paul Laurence Dunbar. But she was she had this full and rich active life before she began corresponding with him, and most certainly for years after, and that those parts of her life have been ignored. So I wanted to bring it to the table and put it on the stage so that people would know what it was like for this woman who saw her life as important. Otherwise, I don't imagine that she will have saved all of that material.

Anne Marie Cannon:

One of the things that caught my attention in the book was to the survivors of domestic assault. And the ones who tried it took me a minute to get that. But the ones who tried and it hit me like a ton of bricks, why did you dedicate the book to two people who are survivors and who didn't survive?

Dr. Tara Green:

Because Alice Dunbar Nelson herself was a survivor of domestic assault in her first marriage, and she would go on to marry twice again, and to have relationships with women doing marriage and between marriage, but also know someone who was a relative whom I didn't know well, who also died as a result of being in a relationship where she did not survive. So it was important to me. And it is, it continues to be important to me, to make it clear that this is the story of a woman who survived being in a marriage, where she was assaulted by a famous man at a time in which women did not have much protection.

Anne Marie Cannon:

And what I love about that is that's only a blip on the radar of her life and you bring the fullness of her life out, aside from that event in her life, and I love that about the book. It's not about that. It's about the richness and fullness of a woman who, you know, evolves and grows and comes into her own skin and feels comfortable in it. what else what else do you want to tell me about your new book?

Dr. Tara Green:

Well see me naked eye Thinking may be suggested through the title is something that I really enjoyed writing. It is in conversation with love and activism because both books are about respectability. And both books are about black women who define what that meant to them. But I wanted to define, provide a definition of pleasure based on these women's lives. And so that meant that I wanted to look at a variety of black women. So not just these middle class black women who had graduated from college, the only one of the four who actually graduated from college is Yolanda DuBois. Because Lena Horne started very early in her career as a performer and so did Moms Mabley. So this was the first book that I was able to write, and I did write most of it, join the pandemic, so, so

Anne Marie Cannon:

you had an opportunity to dig deep,

Dr. Tara Green:

I had an opportunity. And it was important then for me to really think about what does pleasure mean, in a moment like this, as well, yeah. And so I was able to laugh Moms Mabley is, was just a wonderful comedian who got better and better and more popular. as she got older, I was able to sing and, and, and to do a little dancing, as I watched others, I just do maybe a shimmy or something, because I can't do any of the dances those people did during that time. But, um, this was the book that I had a lot of fun writing.

Anne Marie Cannon:

What attracts you to a history that you write about? Why this history?

Dr. Tara Green:

Yeah, well, because I teach and I'm a professor at a university. And so our students tend to not know, as much as we would like for them to know about the time period before they were born. And so when I talk about pleasure in the classroom, students are very happy to talk about some of the contemporary artists. But I'm always saying to them, a lot of what they're doing really isn't new. It may be expressed differently. But they've also done some study, and they understand. So I love to go back and to see where we were, and to see how those artists inspire us still today, how they opened up doors for hip hop artists, for example, to be able to make demands upon how they were profited off their work, and ways in which black artists weren't able to do as much of at the time. Because they opened up that door and said, I want to be here and that I want my name out there. And this is the way in which I'm going to do it. They open up the door and set the precedent for people who stand on those shoulders today.

Anne Marie Cannon:

Did you watch the Superbowl because as you're talking about this, I was thinking about the halftime performance and in for a lot of young people who are watching that. That's their history. That's history. You know, we're talking about Snoop Dogg. We're talking about Mary J. Blige. It's the progression of the history that you write about. I just got chills thinking about that. And how, as I was watching it, I was thinking that was back in the day. But what was really back in the day is what you've written about. And they opened the door for, you know, the, these performers. And yeah, I thought it was one of the best halftime performances. I don't know if you saw it or not. But

Dr. Tara Green:

I did. I watched that because it was so hyped up. So I wanted to see what was going on and who was going to be involved but even thinking about so then that's my generation. So even thinking about Mary J. Blige. She's often placed in hip hop, but also think about her as a kind of modern day blues singer. And some of our tracks easily Yeah, could fit into that. And so what Memphis many was saying about her needs and desires are certainly the kinds of words set to a different rhythm and music that we would find in contemporary music also, and, and so yeah, there's certainly a trajectory there.

Anne Marie Cannon:

Yeah. Oh, good. I'm glad you helped me tie that in because I knew there was some tie in there. And Mary J. Blige is also an actress because my boyfriend's like, I don't know who that is. And I was like, she's the one that was in that show about The people who came from the future and I can't even remember the name of it. She was like one of the men in black. But do you know which one I'm talking about?

Dr. Tara Green:

Yeah, I think it was on Netflix. I haven't seen that. But a lot of my students will say that they know her from power. Okay. Yeah. Probably said

Anne Marie Cannon:

a lot. She's very diverse. Yeah. Yeah. Anyways, that's we go off on a, we digress. So yeah, let's, one of the questions I like to ask my guests is where do we see this history in pop culture? Well,

Dr. Tara Green:

again, certainly, you know, we've we've already started covering that. And so if we think about that period, of really thinking about music videos, and going back, but I think about somebody like Queen Latifah, who played and the HBO film, Bessie. Now, Bessie Smith, is from this era, and Queen Latifah has said in interviews, how those women, those blues, women open up the door for what she's able to do so that instead of being told you take the 5%, that they can say, no, no, you take the 5%. And so how the industry has changed, but it had to start somewhere. And so someone like her, someone like Beyonce, who has acknowledged Josephine Baker, who was also of this era, all of these black women who have acknowledged in their own performances, these women from the past and who have been able to leverage the work that they did, in terms of being business women, and also being artists, we can definitely see that still reflected. And I think it's going to continue to be reflected as well. If there

Anne Marie Cannon:

was one thing that you could leave my listeners with, as far as this history, what would you like them to take away from the history?

Dr. Tara Green:

Well, I'd like for them to continue to look to the Harlem Renaissance look to try to learn about as many people as you can, from that era, there's also a new show that's called 4400. And which is a remake of v 4400. I can remember when that was on, and there was a character there who has come come to the present from the Harlem Renaissance. And so I get some, some of my own historical pleasure out of watching this character, and especially when they show that person who's trans going back to that era, so I am able, as someone who has an understanding of this history and understanding also the conversations that we are now having about sexual identity, to have, you know, my own pleasure in watching it, but also being able to offer a critique about the kind of accuracy of the language that's being used and a clothing that's being worn in the in the way that the hair looks. So the more that we learn, the more that we are able to really engage with the world that is around us.

Anne Marie Cannon:

Yeah, I like that. I get excited when I see something. And I think I'm the only one who's saying that even though I'm not, but like I know about all I know about that character, or I know about that time and it's fun. So is there anything else that you want to share with us that maybe I didn't ask you?

Dr. Tara Green:

I think that this has been quite comprehensive. I just say, enjoyed I want people though, to get on YouTube and listen to Moms Mabley I tell you if you're having a day where you need to laugh, listen to Moms Mabley

Anne Marie Cannon:

i'll link out on YouTube. I will link out where can we find you?

Dr. Tara Green:

My website is www.dr Tara t green.com. That's d r TARATG r e n

Anne Marie Cannon:

and the name of the book, both books.

Dr. Tara Green:

The first book is love activism and the respectable life of Alice Dunbar Nelson that comes out of Bloomsbury press and the second one both of them are available see me naked, black women defining pleasure in the interwar era. That's workers University Press.

Anne Marie Cannon:

I really enjoyed talking to you, Dr. Green. Thanks for being here.

Dr. Tara Green:

Thank you so much.

Anne Marie Cannon:

There you have it. Be sure to check out our episode notes this week for resources and I've included some fun links in there. Also to find out more about Dr. Tara green, and her new books see me naked and love activism and the respectable life of Alice Dunbar Nelson. This week, we're going to end with something a little bit different. Taking a page out of Dr. Greene's proverbial book, Mom, take us out.

Moms Mabley:

Gentlemen went out all over the world looking for the oldest man in the world. The oldest man living they want to find they went all overseas all over in Egypt. We come back in Mexico and they happen to look way upon one of them high cliffs, and they saw a little scribbled up man. The Savior. Oh vinnova says this must be the oldest man in the world. They went up there with a camera you know, and a mic and everything. And they said oh, how do you live this long? I know you've got to be the oldest man and what do you what do you do? He I drink some bottles of tequila every two days. And I get nine women see you say how old are you? He's young JD 900 You're young. I don't know I don't get that bended bang bad luck and tried going on a little vacation going down. No clouds same boat. So I went down baby getting the money. So Brad did random minded me round and newsmen to the bone to death. They there's a mall. Says you want some traveler's checks right on your right you won't. So I used to make the wrong had about $400 and traveler's check. He said what denomination mom? I said bad Adana you heard him give a boy lidded to death but then just have to go boo boo boo. me boy has to be a college debt fella mea Shane constitution back heard about the Constitution backwards. He said the Constitution backwards. So let me hear your sheet. Oh, no. To me. He said it backwards. He give him a Chinese newspaper. Gee. Let me read that paper. I looked at it. What did he say? Why did he say you're doing what I'm doing? Oh, let me both know how