Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Honoring Consuela Lee

The New York Times today recognized the achievements of Consuela Lee, with an obituary in the Arts section. The Times reviews her work as a musician and teacher, taking special note of her efforts to revive the Snow Hill, Alabama, school founded in 1893 by her grandfather William J. Edwards.

For a deeper look at this remarkable life, here is a tribute by Consuela Lee's daughter Monica Moorehead. And here is the website of the Consuela Lee Foundation for Music Education.

This coming weekend, Ms. Lee's family, friends, colleagues and former students will gather in Snow Hill for a memorial.

(On a personal note I want to say that though I can't be there, my heart will be. I had the honor of meeting and spending some time with Ms. Lee several times. One occasion was particularly memorable. Teresa and I traveled to Alabama to support and take part in the 100th anniversary commemoration of the Snow Hill Institute in 1993. All the events were inspiring and moving. Through them all flowed the seemingly unstoppable energy and life force of this determined woman who dedicated her considerable talents and energies to "preserving the integrity of African-American culture," as Monica puts it in her article.

This was my first trip to the South. Along with the Snow Hill activities, we got a chance to go to Selma. We drove across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where in 1965 cops viciously attacked and beat Dr. King and hundreds of others as they began a Selma to Montgomery march for civil rights. We also went to the National Voting Rights Museum, where we saw, among other things, an actual one of the literacy tests that were illegally used to bar Black people from registering to vote. The test was unbelievably difficult--not a single one of us would have come anywhere near passing it--which of course was the point. Although I'd read about all this, and as a kid followed it from afar on the TV news when it was happening, seeing the exhibitis in the museum firsthand had a big impact.)

Consuela Lee was deeply involved in the struggle against racism, from taking part in the Montgomery bus boycott begun by Rosa Parks' heroic act to all her work as a proponent of jazz as an expression of the African American experience and her decades of dedicated efforts as an educator. What an amazing life.