A Salute to Three African Titans

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Copyright © 2006 riceNpeas

Three inspirational contributors to the black experience died recently: Gordon Parks, Mortimo Planno and John LaRose.  Each of these men left behind a legacy which shall undoubtedly inspire a people for generations to come. Without the inspiration of each of these characters, Rice N Peas Films perhaps would not exist in its currents form, for it was with a little inspiration from the unique character and contribution of each individual that Rice N Peas found its voice.

Gordon Parks : 1912 - 2006

“My experience – though I would never wish it upon anyone else – has helped make me whatever I am and still hope to be. I have come to understand that hunger, hatred and love are the same wherever you find them, and it is that understanding that now helps me escape the past that once imprisoned me.”

Gordon Parks, photographer, author and filmmaker, was born in Fort Scott, Kansas in 1912.  Withstanding the obstacles of racism and prejudice, he was an accomplished photographer by the age of twenty-five.  Starting out as a fashion photographer, he gradually evolved into one of America’s most talented and influential photo journalists.  Documenting the plight of the needy during the depression and developing a body of works which now stand as an historical record of the social and cultural conditions across the United States during the 1940s and through the 1960s.

He crossed over into filmmaking in the 1960s, winning several awards and becoming one of the first African-Americans to direct a Hollywood motion picture. He is most notably remembered for his movie Shaft starring Richard Roundtree.

Mortimo Planno (Kumi) 1929 – 2006

“A lot of people died for the cause and we associate ourselves with that struggle. We don’t mind dying for the cause, because we know they are willing and able to get rid of us, those who they can.  But the struggles must go on. Aluta continua – the struggles must go on.”

Mortimo Planno, political and cultural activist, folk philosopher and spiritual teacher, was born in Cuba to a Jamaican mother and a Cuban father.  He arrived in Jamaica in the early 1930’s and grew up in the notorious Back ‘O’ Wall community of West Kingston. He came to national prominence in the 1950’s as one of the most articulate and vocal advocates of Rastafarianism and one of its earliest dreadlocked wearing followers.

Though rejected by mainstream Jamaican society, the Rastafarian Movement grew into a structured religion under Mortimo Planno’s influence and is now widely recognised throughout the world.

As an activist, he travelled the world, preaching against the evils of racism and imperialism and in 1961, led a fact-finding mission to Africa for the University of the West Indies. He was the spiritual teacher and advisor to Bob Marley and responsible for writing and contributing to the some of Bob’s first songs as a Rastafarian.

In 1998, the University of the West Indies made Mortimo Planno its inaugural Folk Philosopher and later he became a sinecure attached to the Institute of Caribbean studies.

John LaRose: 1927 - 2006

Publisher, filmmaker, cultural and political activist John Larose, was born in Trinidad.  After travelling and working in South America, he arrived in Britain in 1961, where he quickly set about establishing supplementary schools and cultural centres for the newly arrived immigrants to Britain.

In 1966, he founded New Beacon Books, becoming one of the first publishers of African descent in Britain.  In 1973, he co-produced Franco Rosso’s documentary Mangrove Nine, a documentary which exposed police corruption and brutality against one of the oldest black communities in Britain.

He went on to establish and lead many campaigns, ranging from police injustice, anti-racism and demands for equal rights in education for children of African descent.  He has been described by fellow activist and dub poet, Linton Kwesi Johnson as “the elder statesman of Britain’s black communities.”

It is this Gordon Parks photograph taken in 1967 of a poor Harlem family at a benefits office, that inspired the unobtrusive and candid style of the Rice N Peas documentary.