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Celebrating heritage


It is said that if you walk a mile in a mans shoes, you will  know the man. An exhibit viewing through this weekend at the Museum of  African American Art at the Macys in Baldwin Hills gives viewers the  opportunity to get to know 13 present and past civil rights greats by  the footprints of their granite and bronze shoes donated to the Martin  Luther King Jr. National Historic site in Atlanta.
The showThe  International Civil Rights Walk of Fame Exhibit (ICRWFE)arrives in Los  Angeles on the final leg of a national tour sponsored by Macys and  features footwear donated by inductees into the Trumpet Awards  Foundation which is a program of the walk of fame.
The actual  International Civil Rights Walk of Fame was established in Atlanta at  the promenade of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. The  product of the efforts of Xernona Clayton and the Trumpet Awards  Foundation (of which she serves as CEO and president), it consists of  individual tiles inscribed with the names and footprints of significant  individuals making sacrifices in the area of civil rights.
Claytons  laurels include work with Los Angeles-area drop outs in the early 1960s,  a close association with Martin Luther King throughout the Civil Rights  Era, and becoming the first African American woman to host a prime time  television talk show in a southern market in 1968 (The Xernona Clayton  Show which debuted on WAGA-TV in Atlanta, Georgia).
Past inductees  into the Trumpet Awards have included the late Prime Minister of  Jamaica, Michael Manley, South African clergyman and peace activist  Desmond Tutu, and the Indian nationalist and nonviolence advocate  Mahatma Gandhi. While the honorees, as denoted in its title, are  international in scope, care has also been taken with the exhibit to  recognize local figures who have made an impact on the struggle for  equality and the betterment of their fellow man, says native Angeleno  Sandra Lewis-Cooper, vice president and diversity development  coordinator for the Macys West Division of  Macys, Inc.
Towards  that end, inductees have included individuals involved with minority  progress in Los Angeles, like Councilman Bernard Parks, and  Congresswoman Maxine Waters. In keeping with the educational purpose for  which the project was conceived and to ensure it is more then a static  monument, an annual touring exhibit was inaugurated. This year it  traveled to Atlanta, New York City, Chicago, Washington, DC, and  Cincinnati before arriving in Los Angeles, the tours final destination.
Other civil rights leaders whose shoes are included in the exhibit are  Lerone Bennett, Jr., Senator Edward William Brooke III, Clayton, Sammy  Davis Jr., Mayor Shirley Franklin, Benjamin Lawson Hooks, Rev. Jesse  Louis Jackson Sr., attorney Clarence B. Jones, Congressman John Robert  Lewis, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, and the Honorable Douglas Wilder.
There  is also an old adage that you can tell a lot about a person by looking  at their shoes.  The ones on display here convey an implication of  sensibility because they consist largely of loafers and oxfords. The  notable exceptions are a pair of patent leather dancing shoes belonging  to Sammy Davis Jr., and a pair of black New Balance running shoes worn  by Jesse Jackson.
Like numerous other mundane articles of clothing  and devices for everyday usage, shoes have evolved from an item of  necessity into one that denotes achievement and status. For the upwardly  mobile, shoes can be a way of demonstrating standing amongst ones  peers, and yet among the enclaves of youth brought up in Californias  beach communities, arguably among the most expensive real estate in the  world, shoes are seldom worn.
In Los Angeles black community, each  successive generation may be distinguished by the type of foot wear they  remember from their youth. Having the right pair of shoes meant that  you were in the know, as well as an inkling about what clique you  aspired to. Middle-aged black men can rhapsodize at length about the cap  toe biscuits they wore to house parties on Saturday nights.  Others  who fancied themselves outlaws (legitimate or wanna-bes) might  reminisce about the croak-a-sacs (shoes made of burlap) worn while  kickin it with the homies.
In a larger sense, shoes can represent  success, in this, perhaps the most materialistic city in the country, if  not the world. Nowhere is this more evident than in the pervasive  influence of hip hop fashion on the mindset of the younger generation  with its objectification of sports apparel, especially athletic shoes,  along with the de rigueur gaudy gold chains and oversized watches. As a  result, an accompanying amount of criticism, has been generated over  media encouragement of the pursuit of ostentatious wealth by  disadvantaged youngsters who theoretically have few options available  besides the commission of criminal endeavors to acquire high priced  items. This twisted form of commodity fetishism may have reached its  zenith when a rash of shootings and murders were committed to obtain the  Holy Grail of ghetto style settersthe Air Jordan basketball shoe.
But  what about the shoes of our leaders, whose footprints have beaten a  path for freedom? They have inspired us to go beyond merely  filling  their shoes to creating our own imprint in the struggle for justice.  While there were certainly those who yearned for the next big thing in  shoe fashion, there were others who were quietly placing one foot in  front of the other, focused on marching for peace – oblivious to style  or comfort.
In 2004, civil rights activist Clayton hit upon the idea  of a collection of shoes worn by notable leaders at the global,  national, and regional level to represent the long struggle (or march)  toward equality, racial and otherwise. With all the attention focused  on the opulence of shoes, they are, still after all an implement for  walking and a method of locomotion, and in sharp contrast to the pursuit  of opulence and materialism commonly associated with shoes, the Macys  exhibit  Footprints displays the shoes of individuals who have made a  difference in the welfare of their fellow human beings or who were  marching towards progress.

The symbolism of shoes and the act  of walking
The presence of Rev. Jacksons New Balance running shoes  in the exhibit awakened the memory of one gallery visitor, life-long  inhabitant of South Los Angeles and alumnus of Jefferson High School  (circa the 1970s), Clarence Taylor, who shared a high school antidote.
During  that time Jeff had the reputation as one of the rowdiest institutions  in the Los Angeles United School District. The school got a badly  needed moral boost when Jackson, resplendent in a dashiki visited the  campus with Soul Train impresario Don Cornelius who wore a three piece  suit. Taylor said their presence on campus seemed unreal, and at the  same time uplifting because it signified that someone important cared  about those living on the east side of town.
During the student  assembly, Jackson was asked if hed ever felt dumb, and he related an  embarrassing moment while traveling in the Middle East when he, an  educated, sophisticated man, was reduced to using a small boy passing by  to translate Farsi into English. The sight of the Reverends well worn  shoes brought this back to Taylors memory.
Clayton conceived the  Walk of Fame as an on-going monument with room for future inductees who  have demonstrated a commitment towards the continued advancement of  human dignity and social justice. And the Footprints exhibit has given  people around the nation the chance to know these leaders in a  feet-on-the ground kind of way.

Echoes of our past
The  artistry of Palmer Hayden

By Gregg Reese
OW Contributor

Originally  from Virginia, Hayden was born Peyton Cole Hedgeman in 1890, and took  up drawing even before he started his formal education.  During a stint  in the army he took up the name which he carried for the rest of his  life when a superior had trouble pronouncing his birth name.  His tenure  in the service included tours in the Philippines and at West Point,  during which he engaged in artistic pursuits via correspondence courses,  and upon his discharge, he moved to New York to continue his studies in  earnest, first at Columbia University, and then at what is now Cooper  Union, before securing financial assistance to study in Europe for five  years.
Upon his return to the U.S. in 1932, he became a member of  the Work Projects Administration (WPA), a depression era agency set up  under Franklin Roosevelts New Deal to employ millions of people  (including significant numbers of blacks) whod previously been on  relief during that hardscrabble period.  Today, the WPA is remembered  for the huge number of high quality murals, posters, and other works  commissioned as well as the many artistic talents it nurtured who later  received world wide acclaim.
Hayden specifically committed  himself to the depiction of Negro life both in the rural south and in  the teeming metropolis of New York and Harlem particularly, which by  that time had become an intellectual Mecca for people of color and a  spring board for racial consciousness that led to the black protest  movement, which in turn fueled the Civil Rights Movement decades later.   The era is noteworthy for the efforts of writers, musicians, and the  like to celebrate black identity instead of slavishly imitating the  dominant European traditions.  Considered conservative compared to his  peers who embraced social realism as a means to effect change, Hayden  himself was none-the-less among the first to use African imagery in his  oil and watercolor paintings.
Among the images that stand out in this  exhibition are a series of oils dedicated to the legend of black folk  hero John Henry.  These 12 canvases, completed over a decade long  interval, depict various stages in the life of virtually the only black  figure from American mythology, culminating in his fatal duel with a  steam-powered hammer during the westward extension of the railroad.  The  subject of countless interpretations in film and song, John Henry today  stands as a metaphor for mans struggle against technology and the  inevitability of change.
The artwork on display is on loan from the  permanent collection of the Museum of African American Art, which  maintains a standing exhibit and gift shop on Macys third floor. The  show was under written by Macys, a proud original sponsor of the  project.  Embracing the philosophy that diversity is essential to long  range success in the future of any business organization, Macys has  developed a holistic approach to integrate their marketing strategy  with their placement of stores in the most varied locations of the  country, including Guam and Puerto Rico.