I did it! I completed a black history month article before February was over! 🥳
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Oscar Micheaux (January 2, 1884—April 1, 1951)
- Maria P. Williams (January 1, 1866—January 3, 1932?)
- Tressie Souders (February 7, 1897—January 17, 1995)
- Jennie Louise Touissant Welcome AKA “Madame E. Touissant Welcome” (January 10, 1885—July 22, 1956)
- Spencer Williams, Jr. (July 14, 1893—December 13, 1969)
- Honorable Mentions
- Related Articles
For this Black History Month I will be reading on directors, producers, and/or filmmakers before the 1950. I should issue a general trigger warning here as many of the films the people on this list made dealt with the reality black people faced during their time, which includes blackface, lynchings, and sexual assault among other things. I tried to link Wikipedia articles to these films when I could, or rather, when it was available, so you can decide if you want to watch the accompanying YouTube video to the movie if you want. I have not watched any of the films listed so please watch at your own discretion.
For what metaphysical subject I chose to analyze these people with, I chose astrology and mainly looked at their Mercury and Venus. Mercury because it deals with everything communicative or how something is conveyed, especially verbally, through the written word, and symbolically or through symbols. Venus has always dealt with the arts. Only modernly is film and photography more associated with Neptune now. I thought about including Neptune but since it is a generational planet, most on this list would have it in the same sign, and I felt that was too boring to read on lol. And since I have learned so much about what the seven classical planets signified in antiquity, I find this splintering of significations to the outer ones very unnecessary. In either case, enjoy the article!
Oscar Micheaux (January 2, 1884—April 1, 1951)
Born to former slaves in the small town of Metropolis, Illinois, Oscar Micheaux grew up helping his parents on their farm. In his youth into adult life, Micheaux also worked various odd jobs as well until he moved to South Dakota to become a homestead in 1904. Through the Homestead Act, Micheaux relocated to Gregory, South Dakota where he transformed his newly acquired 160 acres of land into a modest home and farm. However, this was very short-lived as there was massive drought throughout the Midwest that caused farming conditions to be difficult. Thus, in 1911, he sold his land. He stayed in the West, though, and looked for someone to publish his first novel.
Travelling back to forth between Sioux City and Lincoln, Nebraska, Micheaux eventually found a publisher in Lincoln, Woodruff Press. The Conquest: The Story of a Negro Pioneer hit the press in 1913 but anonymously, however, perhaps because it seemed very autobiographical in nature. The story follows a black man, Oscar Devereaux (Devereaux is Micheaux’s middle name), who moves from Cairo, Illinois to South Dakota to become a homestead. In the West, he struggles as a homesteader and endures a failed marriage to a black woman he didn’t love as he was in love with a white woman. The Conquest reflected a lot of Micheaux’s sentiments about overcoming racism as he espouses a “bootstraps” mentality and wanted to persuade other black people to move West and “do something for themselves” instead of be “victims.”
In the fall of 1913, Micheaux began to work on his second novel, The Forged Note: A Romance Of The Darker Races which was published by the Western Book Supply Company in Sioux City in 1915. A third novel came out in 1918 called The Homesteader. This novel caught the eye of The Lincoln Motion Picture Company, a film company created by Nobel Johnson and George Perry Johnson. It is considered to be the first all-black movie production company in the country and was committed to disrupting the white supremacist caricatures that populated white media.
Lincoln Motion Picture Company wanting to turn one of Micheaux’s novels into a film seemed like a fated encounter, but things reportedly went left. Micheaux wanted to be directly involved in the film’s production but apparently Lincoln did not. So, instead, Micheaux took matters into his own hands and decided to create the film himself. He created his own film and book publishing company, Micheaux Film and Book Company, and started shooting between 1917 and 1919. He financed this endeavor by basing his company in Chicago where he had developed connections to wealthy academics via his stint as a porter. Additionally, he sold stock in his company for $75-100 a share.
In 1919, The Homesteader premiered in Chicago to critical acclaim and press. The Homesteader was actually a reworked adaptation of Micheaux’s The Conquest and is considered to be the first feature length film by a black person. It is unfortunately considered to be lost to time, however.
A year later, Micheaux released Within Our Gates, which was created largely in reaction to the white supremacist movie, Birth of A Nation (1915) by D.W. Griffin. Within Our Gates sought to show the reality of Jim Crow that black people in the 1910s lived under. Understandably, however, this caused controversy. Showing the horrors black people had to withstand, including lynchings and TW ((incestual) attempted) rape by white people, was and still is too hard of a pill for the white majority to swallow. However, considering that there were several race riots erupting in cities with large recently relocated black populations at the time, like the Chicago race riot of 1919, it is a little more understandable why the film was shown with cuts or just outright banned from viewing at the time. There were, of course, protests to the film up until it was released as well.
Regardless, the success of Micheaux’s first two films allowed him to move to Harlem, New York and travel across Europe. Europe is where many of Micheaux’s films have been rediscovered. For example, a Spanish translated version of Within Our Gates was located in Madrid, Spain in the 1970s and was known as La Negra. In 1993, the Library of Congress Motion Picture Conservation Center restored the film as closely as possible to the original as a middle portion was lost and the rest was replaced with Spanish intertitles when the film was distributed in Spain in the 1920s. Watch below. Just a warning, I haven’t watched the film, so I don’t know when the attempted rape occurs nor the lynchings or if either are still in this restored version.
In Harlem, Micheaux continued to make films with many of them putting up-and-coming black stars at the time on the map like Paul Robeson and Robert Earl Jones. We also must not forget Evelyn Preer who acted in Micheaux’s first two films and became a very prominent black actress in her own right largely because of him. Some sources say she was one of the first pioneering black actresses of her time, the first black leading lady of silent films, or the first black actress to become a celebrity. She was often dubbed by her black fans as “The First Lady of Screen.”
Despite his success and ability to give black actors and actresses the space to fulfill their dreams, Micheaux’s company went bankrupt in 1928. This was due to the then impending Great Depression. However, thanks to some white theater owners, Micheaux was able to produce 20 more films before he returned to writing in his later years.
By the end of his life, Micheaux had written and directed 43 movies, 27 silent films, and 16 sound features. He also wrote 7 novels. Micheaux died at age 67 due to heart failure on March 25, 1951, in Charlotte, North Carolina, He is buried in Great Bend Cemetery in Great Bend, Kansas.
The lists below are copied from Wikipedia lol, but I went to YouTube to find as many films as I could. Watch them at your own discretion, however, as I do not know what they may depict. I kept the Wikipedia links, so hopefully they can inform you on what to expect.
- The Homesteader (1919) [lost]
- Within Our Gates (1920)
- The Brute (1920) [lost]
- The Symbol of the Unconquered (1920) [watch]
- The Gunsaulus Mystery (1921) [lost]
- The Dungeon (1922) [lost]
- The Hypocrite (1922) [lost]
- Uncle Jasper’s Will (1922) [lost]
- The Virgin of the Seminole (1922) [lost]
- Deceit (1923) [unknown]
- Birthright (1924) [lost]
- A Son of Satan (1924) [lost]
- Body and Soul (1925) [watch]
- Marcus Garland (1925) [lost]
- The Conjure Woman (1926), adapted from novel by Charles W. Chesnutt [lost]
- The Devil’s Disciple (1926) [unknown]
- The Spider’s Web (1926)
- The Millionaire (1927)
- The Broken Violin (1928)
- The House Behind the Cedars (1927), adapted from novel by Charles W. Chesnutt [lost]
- Thirty Years Later (1928) [lost]
- When Men Betray (1929) [lost]
- The Wages of Sin (1929) [lost]
- Easy Street (1930) [lost]
- A Daughter of the Congo (1930) [lost]
- Darktown Revue (1931) [mostly lost?] [trailer]
- The Exile (1931) [watch]
- Veiled Aristocrats (1932) [fragments lost] [watch]
- Ten Minutes to Live (1932) [watch]
- Black Magic (1932)
- The Girl from Chicago (1932) [watch]
- Ten Minutes to Kill (1933)
- Phantom of Kenwood (1933)
- Harlem After Midnight (1934) [lost]
- Murder in Harlem (1935) [watch]
- Temptation (1936)
- Underworld (1937) [watch]
- God’s Step Children (1938) [watch]
- Swing! (1938) [watch]
- Lying Lips (1939) [watch]
- Birthright (1939) [incomplete] [watch]
- The Notorious Elinor Lee (1940) [watch]
- The Betrayal (1948) [lost]
- The Conquest: The Story of a Negro Pioneer. Lincoln, Nebraska: Woodruff Press. 1913.
- The Forged Note. Lincoln, Nebraska: Western Book Supply Company. 1915.
- The Homesteader: A Novel. Sioux City, Iowa: Western Book Supply Company. 1917.
- The Wind from Nowhere. New York: Book Supply Company. 1941.
- The Case of Mrs. Wingate. New York: Book Supply Company. 1944.
- The Story of Dorothy Stanfield. New York: Book Supply Company. 1946.
- Masquerade, a Historical Novel. New York: Book Supply Company. 1947.
Micheaux had his Mercury and Venus in Aquarius in a loose degree conjunction. Both oppose Jupiter by degree and Mars by sign. Both also trine Saturn in Gemini by degree as well. By sign, they both square Neptune, Chiron, and Pluto in Taurus. Right off the bat we can see the “controversy” surrounding some of his films, which largely seemed to stem from the fact that he depicted issues that plagued black people, such as lynching, assault, and even colorism and how that impacted class amongst black people. Aquarius is the air sign that is most concerned about society as it is traditionally ruled by Saturn and is the last of the air signs. Modernly, Saturn is associated with the government, but in antiquity, Saturn was linked to the extremes of poverty and wealth and represented people who society deemed as bad or undesirable, which included the poor, of course, but also people who had a negative reputation (Obert, 2020).
Saturn in the ancient past also represented both ignorance and enlightenment with enlightenment more embodied by Aquarius and ignorance by Capricorn as they are diurnal (light = clarity, truth) and nocturnal (darkness = obscurity, deception), respectively. As the farthest of the classical planets, Saturn is darkness and coldness, but it also indicated wisdom, especially in relation to age, and a desire to pursue hidden knowledge. But Aquarius is modernly ruled by Uranus, the modern rebel planet. (Mars is the ancient rebel planet.) As such, this sign is often called “quirky,” “weird,” and “eccentric.” Modern astrologers go on and on about how Aquarius wants freedom but that isn’t necessarily true, or at least I argue.
Aquarius is fixed. Saturn ruled the opposite of freedom—it ruled restriction. It ruled prison time, one of the most prominent and consistent examples of restriction, and negative outcomes to legal matters. However, with freedom being modernly associated with Uranus (in antiquity that was given to Jupiter), we have an odd polarity within Aquarius now. Astrologer Charles Obert tackles this issue between Saturn and Uranus in his book, Saturn Through the Ages: Between Time and Eternity. He writes extensively,
In modern astrology the symbolism of Saturn and Uranus has been flipped on its head. The modern planet Uranus, the next planet out from Saturn in the modern cosmos, is cast in the role of the brave freedom fighter and rebel who fights and overthrows Saturn, and Saturn represents everything old, oppressive, outmoded and restricting. The original [Greco-Roman] mythology [of Kronos/Saturn and Ouranos/Uranus] has been reversed. Instead of Saturn overthrowing his father Uranus, we have Uranus the freedom fighter overthrowing Saturn. In terms of the traditional mythology it makes no sense. (2020, p. 147).
So, where does this leave us with Aquarius? Astrologer Kevin Burk sort of takes a middle road, saying that while Aquarius is not a rebel, it will support structures that uphold equality and freedom and oppose those that don’t (2001). We have seen this tension between Saturn and Uranus in recent times with the two squaring in the sky for these past few years. We’ve seen laws that we thought were untouchable and infallible get reversed at the drop of a hat like the overturning of Roe V. Wade, for example, but I digress.
For Micheaux, he was toeing that line between the past black people came from (during his time that meant from slavery to freedom or Jim Crow) and what the future of our race could look like (the mass migration North and West, and at the time of his death, the rumblings of the Civil Rights Movement) in his films. He depicted the lives of everyday black people but that very act was radical and controversial. No one had really done that before him. As such, he was pioneer (Uranus) but also left a remarkable legacy (Saturn) after him, clearly marrying the effects of Uranus and Saturn.
Saturn tackled the issues that plagued black people during his time: white supremacy and how it was internalized and reinforced amongst us. But he also fought against white supremacy by portraying our humanity via Uranus. Although some of his films are supposedly lost to time, his work left an impact. He was one of the many black people who make up black history.
Bennett, C. (n.d.). “Oscar Micheaux.” Retrieved from https://www.silentera.com/people/directors/Micheaux-Oscar.html
“Micheaux, Oscar.” (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.siouxcitymuseum.org/history-website/micheaux-oscar
“Oscar Micheaux.” (n.d.). Retrieved from https://naacp.org/find-resources/history-explained/civil-rights-leaders/oscar-micheaux
“Oscar Micheaux.” (n.d.). Retrieved from https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oscar_Micheaux
Maria P. Williams (January 1, 1866—January 3, 1932?)
Not much is known about Williams. It is believed that she was born in 1866 and was a schoolteacher in the late 1800s. She also reportedly traveled throughout Kansas giving speeches along with lectures on “topics of the day.” These included politics and social justice, which I’m assuming meant racial and women’s rights, but I can’t confirm this. At some point in her life, Williams permanently settled in Kansas City, Missouri and got into the newspaper business. She was the editor-in-chief for a weekly paper called New Era which led her to create her own paper called Women’s Voice. It ran from 1896 to 1900 and included stories and essays on “timely topics” such as Cuba’s fight for independence from Spain during the Spanish-American war.
At the turn of the 20th century, Williams continued to write, publishing a short pamphlet called My Work and Public Sentiment in 1916 which focused on social issues once more. Some of the money she made from the pamphlet went to “the suppression of crime among Negros” (Kubincanek, 2021).
This same year Williams published a memoir and got married to a black entrepreneur, Jesse L. Williams, who owned many businesses in Kansas City. One such enterprise was a movie theater that she co-managed with him. There, they distributed and released movies for black audiences. At some point, the two created their own movie production, The Western Film Producing Company and Booking Exchange. Williams was the secretary and treasurer and her husband the president.
In 1923, the couple released their one and only film, Flames of Wrath. It is a five-reel murder-mystery drama. It was directed and produced by Williams and even starred her, but the film was written by Samuel Ellison. Flames of Wrath was distributed to black movie theaters in the Southeast. It was considered to be lost to time until one frame was found by the UCLA Young Research Library in 1992 in George P. Johnson’s Negro Film Collection.
Williams and her husband never made any more movies after this as Mr. Williams died the same year Flames of Wrath released. Mrs. Williams is alleged to have remarried soon after. Much is unknown about her during this decade but in 1932 she was murdered.
The story goes that she was approached by a stranger who supposedly needed her help. The man alleged his brother was sick and when Williams exited her house to follow him, he shot her to death and left her on the side of road several miles away from her home. To this day, her killer remains a mystery.
Despite how short-lived William’s career in film was, she is considered to be the first black woman in the area. This is contested with Tressie Souders 1922’s A Woman’s Error, however. This seems to be over the semantics of a producer versus a director. Regardless, Williams’s spot in black history is undisputed.
When I was compiling my list, I didn’t check to see if everyone had an accurate birthday. This site I found gave an early January date for Williams, but I haven’t been able to find this date any place else except on IMDb. So, with that in mind, take all of this with a grain of salt.
Williams may have had her Mercury, which was retrograde, and Venus (and Mars) in the late degrees of Sagittarius. Sagittarius is the sign of philosophy thanks to Jupiter and is often interested in civic topics and politics as well because of this planet. Although we don’t have much to go off on, Williams’s early career as a teacher and her reoccurring stint with politics through her writings clearly showcases these Sagittarius placements. When it comes to murder-mysteries, though, Sagittarius is not usually the sign you go to. For that, you have to go to the previous sign, Scorpio.
There, Williams potentially had Saturn there. Saturn had many associations to the law since astrology’s inception. According to the ancient astrologer Vettius Valens, whose Anthology holds some of the oldest significations of the planets, Saturn represented “interminable lawsuits,” or “long-lasting punishments,” “restraints,” “imprisonment,” “chains,” and “accusations” (2nd CE/2022, p. 4; as cited in Brennan, 2017, p. 171). In this way, we can kinda see why Williams chose to direct and act in a story of a convict that escapes prison.
Scorpio is the sign of death, more modernly than in the past, however. It is a sign of intrigue. It likes to understand the motives of others, especially if they are heinous. This is the effect of Mars. Williams’s was in Sagittarius but her Saturn, which was ruled by Mars, opposed the modern planet of death and Scorpio’s new ruler, Pluto. So, we can potentially see why Williams took this thriller route instead of something more related to the social issues she previously wrote about. In either case, it is unfortunate that with her husband’s death and then her own murder that we couldn’t get more from Williams’s. Perhaps if she was given the opportunity to continue filmmaking, we could have gotten more mysteries from her or even socially aware pieces. We may never know but Williams is still an important tenant of black history.
Kubincanek, E. (2021, Feb. 28). “‘Flames of Wrath’ and the Pioneering African-American Women of Silent Cinema.” Retrieved from https://filmschoolrejects.com/flames-of-wrath/
“Maria P. Williams.” (n.d.). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maria_P._Williams
Morgan, Kyna. “Maria P. Williams.” In Jane Gaines, Radha Vatsal, and Monica Dall’Asta, eds. Women Film Pioneers Project. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2013. https://doi.org/10.7916/d8-twb8-2b84
Who2? “Maria P. Williams.” Retrieved from https://www.infoplease.com/people/who2-biography/maria-p-williams
Tressie Souders (February 7, 1897—January 17, 1995)
Born in Frankfort, Kansas as an only child, Theresa Ann Souders moved to Kansas City, Missouri after graduating high school and worked as a maid most of her life thereafter. Because of this, many do not know how she got into the filmmaking business. It is assumed that since she was in an amateur black play called Every Negro in 1918, that Souders at least had some passion for the theatrical arts. Regardless, in 1922, A Woman’s Error was released which was distributed by the Afro-American Film Exhibitors’ Company. Souders is said to have produced, directed, and wrote the screenplay of the film. Unfortunately, however, it seems to be lost to time.
From 1923 to 1926, it is known that Souders was in California, which led many scholars to speculate was because she wanted to get more into film. However, public records told a different story. It seems as though Souders continued to work as a maid and had a very short-lived marriage as her husband died two years into their union. Souders herself died just before her 98th birthday in 1995 in California. She is buried with her mother, stepfather and other family members in the Frankfort Cemetery in Marshall County, Kansas.
In 2001, The Tressie Souders Film Society was founded in San Francisco and was borne out of the International Black Women’s Film Festival (IBWFF). 7 years later, the IBWFF established the Tressie Souders Awards (“Tressies”), now known as the Black Laurel Awards. More than a decade later in 2018, the IBWFF honored Souders again in their “Tressie Magazine.” I can’t find much info on this, so it may be defunct. In any case, Souders’s legacy is clearly self-evident.
Because A Woman’s Error is lost to time, the plot of the movie is unknown. As such, it is hard to give an astrological reading on Souders. Nevertheless, she had her Mercury in Capricorn and Venus in Aries. The “firstness” of her achievement can be seen in her Aries Venus. A woman, much less, a black woman, creating something in a white, male-dominated field was unheard of during her time. (Although Williams’s Flames of Wrath came out a year after her own film.) Back when Souders was alive, Micheaux was the only prominent black person making films. To be a woman and give her unique perspective in this tumultuous landscape was definitely brave. But with her Venus in Aries, Souders had that grit. And it seemed like she wanted to continue to push the envelope with her move to California, but likely that intersection of race and gender stopped her.
Her Saturn was in Sagittarius and conjunct Uranus in Scorpio. This aspect can show how Souders sort of came “out of nowhere” when it came to her filmmaking. However, with Saturn squaring her Jupiter, incidentally the ruler of her Saturn, it wasn’t something that could be maintained, or at least, not without a lot of struggle. With planets in Gemini, I think Souders did want to continue to create. It is just unfortunate that she couldn’t one way or the other. But thanks to her other black women can have someone to look up to as they enter the film world and revolutionize it.
Morgan, K. & Dixon, A. “African-American Women in the Silent Film Industry.” In Jane Gaines, Radha Vatsal, and Monica Dall’Asta, eds. Women Film Pioneers Project. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2013. <https://doi.org/10.7916/d8-vt0f-1758> “Tressie Souders.” (n.d.). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tressie_Souders
Jennie Louise Touissant Welcome AKA “Madame E. Touissant Welcome” (January 10, 1885—July 22, 1956)
The oldest of six siblings, Touissant (sometimes spelled “Toussaint”) Welcome was born as Jennie Louise Van Der Zee (sometimes spelled as “VanDerZee”) in Lenox, Massachusetts. Her parents, John Van Der Zee and Susan Brister were butler and maid, respectively, in New York to President Ulysses S. Grant. Perhaps due to this esteemed status, Touissant Welcome was able to take private art and music lessons in her youth. At some point, she moved to New York City with her dad and some of her brothers. There, in 1910, she met her husband, Ernest Touissant Welcome, an inventor and entrepreneur. In a brownstone, the couple established the Touissant Conservatory of Art and Music. Their first ad was placed in the first edition of the The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s (NAACP) magazine, The Crisis, in 1910. Sources make it a point to mention that Touissant Welcome was the first black woman in Harlem to own a business. At the conservatory, she “taught oil painting and watercolor, piano and violin, bass and reeds” (Abbott, 2019).
The couple ran numerous other businesses together, including a magazine, a real estate company, and a photography studio. (Fun fact: Touissant Welcome’s brother, James Van Der Zee, was a famous photographer.) But what is perhaps more noteworthy is the movie production they created in 1918. The Touissant Pictorial Company made newsreels like most black film companies did in Harlem at the time. Their first major release, however, was a 12-part documentary series shown on two reels about black soldiers during World War I called, Doing Their Bit. This, like some many black silent films, is considered to be lost to time. However, some of Touissant Welcome’s art remains, although I personally couldn’t find much on the web.
She seemed to be passionate about the black soldiers in WWI as she created the Charge of the Colored Division: Somewhere in France, a painting depicting a black solider with his bayonet in the chest of a German soldier in 1918. During the same year, The Touissant Pictorial Company published A Pictorial History of the Negro in the Great War, 1917-1918, a memorial book that featured more of Touissant Welcome’s work on black WWI soldiers. The company also created and published one million patriotic postcards of black soldiers as well which are also considered to be lost.
After the war ended, the War Savings Stamp Committee accepted Charge of the Colored Divisions for use as a poster. “This would be the only painting accepted by the U.S. government’s National War Savings Committee made by an African-American artist to be used as a war poster in the War Savings Stamp and Liberty Loan drives” (Ahmed, n.d.). However, there doesn’t appear to be any known physical copies out there. A digital copy of We Are Doing Our Bit, a poster commissioned by the 1918 Liberty Loan campaign, survives, though, and depicts a black solider on the European frontlines. Posters depicting black soldiers were rare, understandably, as the U.S. army was segregated.
After this period, it seems like the Touissant couple didn’t continue to make films. Instead, all I can find is that Touissant Welcome continued to make art and teach at her conservatory and run her late husband’s real estate agency until she died in 1956 after a battle with cancer. Unfortunately, the conservatory was shut down by one of her brothers at the time of her death.
Some scholars consider Touissant Welcome to be “the first” black woman in film as well but this seems to be a less popular claim as more sources either name Williams and/or Souders. In either case, like these other women, Touissant Welcome is one of the early pioneering black women in the silent film era that left a mark on black history.
Although more of an artist and teacher than filmmaker, Touissant Welcome had her Mercury in Capricorn, which was also retrograde, and her Venus in Sagittarius. Neither Capricorn nor Sagittarius are really signs that are fascinated by the military or war. That is more the domain of Mars and the signs it rules, Aries and Scorpio. Touissant Welcome’s Mars was actually exalted in Capricorn and conjunct her Sun by degree and retrograde Mercury by sign. She also could have had her Moon in Scorpio, and South Node in Aries. Mars signified “force,” “wars,” “plunderings,” “violence,” “anger,” “fighting,” “bloodshed” among other things to Valens (2nd CE/2022, p. 4). In later traditions this was fleshed out to include soldiers, commanders, and other people associated with war and conflict (Obert, 2020).
So, Mars was pretty important in Touissant Welcome’s chart to some extent. With it more closely conjunct her Sun, we get this spotlight or valorization of black WWI soldiers. (The Sun in antiquity showed fame and celebrity and had the specific signification of “noble personages, honors consisting of pictures, status, and garlands” (Valens, 2nd CE/2022, p. 3)). With her Venus opposite Saturn and Saturn ruling her Mercury, etc., we can also understand the fascination with black soldiers and memorializing them in film and art. Saturn in antiquity represented people who were considered to be on the lower rungs of society and had bad or disgraceful reputations (Obert, 2020). Slavery and black people were and still are considered to be the “black mark” on American history and society. Since our freedom, white society has in various ways tried to wipe us out, and when they couldn’t, exclude and erase us. But by memorializing us in art (Venus), we asserted our existence and contributions. And sometimes white society was dispassionately receptive to this.
As was mentioned above, featuring black people on posters supporting the war was very rare. The army was segregated and had all-black units, such as the 369th U.S. Infantry Regiment, originally called the 15th New York National Guard Regiment. In Harlem, this unit was called the “Harlem Hellfighters,” and this is likely where Touissant Welcome first heard of them. The Massachusetts Historical Society website makes it a point to mention that the garment and weapons of the soldiers Touissant Welcome depicted in her We Are Doing Our Bit poster were inaccurate, so this fascination with these soldiers wasn’t necessarily precise. But I think that’s besides the point.
With her film and art, Touissant Welcome seemed to have wanted to celebrate and honor black people who were forced to put their lives on the line for a country who couldn’t care about them in any way. Perhaps back in her time, black soldiers were like celebrities or heroes in their own right but they weren’t treated that way by the larger white society. Maybe, because of this, Touissant Welcome wanted to preserve their legacy physically (Capricorn is an earth sign). She wanted them to be romanticized (Neptune trine her Mars and Sun by degree, Mercury by sign) like I’m sure white soldiers were. In this way, Touissant Welcome wasn’t just an artist, teacher, and filmmaker, but a historian. Like those black soldiers, we thank her for her service.
Abbott, K. (2019, Mar. 29). “Jane Louise Van Der Zee: One of the first black woman filmmakers in the country.” Retrieved from https://www.berkshireeagle.com/history/jane-louise-van-der-zee-one-of-the-first-black-woman-filmmakers-in-the-country/article_730ca680-cb2a-52c7-8896-b1b5c8940112.html
Ahmed, H. (n.d.). “Jane Louise Van Der Zee Toussaint Welcome.” Retrieved from https://hundredheroines.org/historical-heroines/jane-louise-van-der-zee-Touissant -welcome/
“Jennie Louise Touissant Welcome.” (n.d.). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jennie_Louise_Touissant_Welcome
Spencer Williams, Jr. (July 14, 1893—December 13, 1969)
Born in Vidalia, Louisiana, Spencer Williams moved to New York City in his teens. There, he was a callboy for Oscar Hammerstein, a very prolific German-born theater impresario. Williams also received comedian mentorship from famed vaudeville star Bert Williams. These interactions laid the groundwork for Williams’s later work in acting but before then, he attended the University of Minnesota. This was interrupted, however, due to the conscription for World War I, the first war that included black people in the draft. In 1925, Williams was honorably discharged. He moved back to New York City and started to focus on show business which led him to Hollywood, California.
In Hollywood, Williams cozied up to big names once more as he worked for Octavus Roy Cohen, a white writer who specialized in “ethic comedies” that primarily focused on black people. These were popularized in the magazine Saturday Evening Post, which he wrote for, and were later adapted by the producer Al Christie. In 1929, Williams actually worked under Al Christie and wrote the dialogue for a series of two-reel comedy films that had all-black casts. Called the “Christie Comedies,” these racist films focused on a white supremacist view of black urban life in Alabama. Williams acted in some of these movies, such as The Melancholy Dame [watch], the first black talkie film, and was kept on by Al Christie as a consultant, sound technician, and writer.
Williams also got work casting black people for Gloria Swanson’s Queen Kelly (1928). A couple years later in 1930, he did some work for Columbia as a supervisor for their documentary, Africa Speaks! A year later in 1931, Williams created his own short talkie film, Hot Biskits. Featuring an all-black cast, the film depicts a golf rivalry between two men. This film was considered to be lost to time until it was rediscovered in the Library of Congress Archives after 80 years in 2014. Watch it below.
In the late 1920s, Williams was also active in the theater world, taking a role in the all-black version of Lulu Belle in 1929. Before working with Al Christie and Cohen, Williams had some minor roles in other Hollywood films, like in Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928) [watch]. He also worked for the First National Studio in 1927 where he shot some footage for the film, The River.
Nevertheless, once The Great Depression hit, there was less demand for black short films, which led Williams and Al Christie to split. During the Depression, Williams struggled to remain employed, only getting small roles in films sparingly. But, despite that, he created the Lincoln Talking Pictures Company, not to be confused with the Lincoln Motion Picture Company, with a partner in 1931 which was self-financed. Nothing really came out of this company, however, due to the Depression. In 1939, Williams wrote the screenplay to and acted in the black Western Harlem Rides the Range [watch]. A year later, though, Williams wrote another screenplay, Son of Ingagi, which was a black sci-fi horror film based on his own short story, House of Horror. He played the role of a detective in the movie. Watch it below.
A man by the name Alfred N. Sack, who owned the Texas-based company, Sack Amusement Enterprises, was very impressed by Williams’s screenplay of Son of Ingagi and offered him the opportunity to write and direct a feature film. This film became The Blood of Jesus (1941) and was Williams’s breakout movie as Micheaux was the only black filmmaker on the scene at the time. As one can tell by the name, The Blood of Jesus involved the black church and is considered to be a religious fantasy. It was thought to be lost to time like so many other black films until it was discovered in a Texas warehouse in the mid-1980s. In 1991, The Blood of Jesus became the first race film to be added to the U.S. National Film Registry. Watch it below.
The success of The Blood of Jesus led Williams to continue to make films throughout the 1940s to fluctuating reception. In 1946, he moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma and formed a partnership with a man by the name of Amos T. Hall who was a lawyer and “prominent Mason” according to a Baltimore newspaper. In Tulsa, they created a school for veterans where they taught various things, including photography and radio. While teaching at this school, Williams was contacted by a broadcasting station to try out the role of “Andy.”
Andy Brown was the main character of the racist radio show Amos ‘n’ Andy which followed a group of black people in Harlem. In 1951 it was turned into a TV show by the same name. There, Williams was made known to white audiences for the first time. The show was considered to be the first television show with an all-black cast. While Williams occasionally wrote scripts for the program, he apparently clashed with Freeman Gosden, one of the co-creators of the show, over the portrayal of Andy. This resulted in Gosden’s exit to which he never returned. I guess he couldn’t fathom that a black person talked back to him.
In either case, the show went on for 78 episodes from 1951 to 1953 on CBS. But it was not without controversy as the NAACP tried to go through the federal court to stop it from premiering. Clearly that didn’t work (although it was finally pulled from syndication in 1966 due to pressure from civil rights groups over their offensive portrayal of black people) and once the show concluded, Williams and some of the other TV cast tried to go on tour in 1956. CBS stepped up, however, and said this violated their exclusive rights to the show and characters, which caused the tour to end prematurely.
After this stint, Williams apparently returned to stage production. His last credited film role was in the 1962 Italian horror movie L’Orribile Segreto del Dottor Hitchcock. After that Williams supposedly couldn’t get more roles, so he fully retired and lived off his military pension. On December 13, 1969, Williams died at the Sawtelle Veterans Administration Hospital in Los Angeles due to a kidney ailment. Because of his Amos ‘n’ Andy fame, his death was actually reported on by white media outlets like The New York Times. Of course, there was no mention of his work as a director. He is buried in the Los Angles National Cemetery as he was a WWI veteran.
He was almost forgotten to time after his death until scholars started to look into race films. This is because while Williams is more widely known for his role on Amos ‘n’ Andy, his work as a director and filmmaker was less prolific than Micheaux’s. It also didn’t help that many of his films were considered to be lost until the 80s like so many on this list. In either case, Williams is still apart of black history.
- Hot Biskits (1931)
- The Blood of Jesus (1941)
- Brother Martin: Servant of Jesus (1942) [lost; trailer]
- Marching On! (1943) [watch]
- Of One Blood (1944) [watch]
- Go Down, Death! (1944) [watch]
- Harlem Hotshots (Short Film, 1945) [lost? I can’t find it on YouTube.]
- Beale Street Mama (1946) [watch]
- The Girl in Room 20 (1946) [watch]
- Jivin’ in Be-Bop (Documentary, 1946) [watch]
- Dirty Gertie from Harlem U.S.A. (1946) [watch]
- Juke Joint (1947) [watch]
- Rhapsody of Negro Life (Short Films, 1949) [watch]
Williams had numerous planets in Leo, not surprising for someone who had a long career in Hollywood behind and in front of the camera. He had Mercury and Venus in Leo which conjuncted. They were also conjunct his Moon and Mars loosely by degree in Leo as well. Looking at Williams’s filmography, religion and the black church seemed to be big subject of fascination or exploration for him, at least to make three movies surrounding the subject (i.e., The Blood of Jesus, Brother Martin: Servant of Jesus, and Go Down, Death!).
Leo is not really associated with religion. Modernly, Leo is overly associated with creativity, at least in my opinion. Williams’s Jupiter was in Taurus which squares and overcomes Leo. His Neptune was in Gemini with Pluto which trined Saturn. Taurus, when it comes to religion, rarely questions things. Gemini, however, is the opposite as it ruled by the curious Mercury and is an air sign. (Jupiter is also considered to be detriment in Gemini, suggesting that the sign struggles with issues of faith, but I have increasingly called into the question the validity of “detriment” and thus don’t consider Jupiter to be such in Gemini.) Leo, because it is ruled by the Sun, brings things to light or provides clarity to things. The Sun in antiquity made people knowledgeable, so by extension, Leo was a sign that was considered to be intelligent in the past (Valens, 2nd CE/2022). So, we can make the argument that Williams was at least not shy or afraid of depicting religious subject matter that might have been sensitive topics to his black audience such as portraying Hell (i.e., The Blood of Jesus) or having a plot revolve around framing a preacher (i.e., Go Down, Death!). The sign opposition he had between his Uranus and Jupiter could also showcase this potential to scandalize, especially in relation to religious subjects.
But besides religion, music seemed to be another passion of Williams’s with some of his works perhaps better described as musicals, which featured some of the most famous musicians and singers of his time. Ironically enough, there was another man named Spencer Williams who was born in Vidalia, Louisiana who became a famous composer and musician. Music is seen through Venus. (From Valens: “fine voices, a taste for music, [and] sweet singing” (2nd CE/2022, p. 5).) Women were also seen through Venus to an extent. (The Moon seemed to be more closely associated with women than Venus in antiquity (Obert, 2020).) Women and the love affairs they had with men were a subject matter in some of Williams’s films (e.g., Dirty Gertie from Harlem U.S.A.), either as the stars or as the motivations of the male characters. With Venus sandwiched between the Moon and Mars, focusing on women and music is not surprising. In Leo, he put a spotlight on them. While there isn’t much on the relationships he had with women, the musical aspect of some of his films clearly stems from his work in the theater world.
Besides religion (Jupiter and Neptune) and music (Venus), Williams’s work was rather diverse as was the roles in the types of films he starred in. He wore numerous hats throughout his life and career, and for that, he is an esteemed part of black history.
Achieve of a Baltimore newspaper, Sept. 11, 1954: https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=-lVAAAAAIBAJ&pg=3248,665704&dq=spencer+williams&hl=en
Lupack, B.T. (n.d.). “The Blood of Jesus.” Retrieved from https://www.fingerlakesfilmtrail.org/about-the-blood-of-jesus
“Spencer Williams Jr.” (n.d.). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spencer_Williams_Jr.
“Spencer Williams Jr., Film Actor, Director, and Producer born.” Retrieved from https://aaregistry.org/story/spencer-williams-jr-actor-and-director/
Wartts, A. (2008, November 25). Spencer Williams (1893-1969). BlackPast.org. Retrieved from https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/williams-spencer-1893-1969/
Zora Neale Hurston (January 7, 1891—January 28, 1960)
Although I already covered her in my first black history article about authors before 1950, Hurston, during her anthropological work, recorded numerous things, some of which has been rediscovered. They were called Children’s Games (1928), Logging (1928), and Baptism (1929). I was able to find a YouTube video that has some of these takes. I’m unsure if they include all of her work, however. Watch it here. Here’s another one.
Dixon, A. “Zora Neale Hurston.” In Jane Gaines, Radha Vatsal, and Monica Dall’Asta, eds. Women Film Pioneers Project. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2013. <https://doi.org/10.7916/d8-qvay-6n29>
Alice B. Russell (June 30, 1889— January 1, 1985)
Better known as an actress and Micheaux’s wife, Russell produced three films in her lifetime, often alongside her husband. They include Darktown Revue (1931), Murder in Harlem (1935), and Birthright (1939). You can watch most of these films in the Micheaux’s filmography section.
“Alice B. Russell.” (n.d.). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alice_B._Russell
Morgan, K. “Alice B. Russell.” In Jane Gaines, Radha Vatsal, and Monica Dall’Asta, eds. Women Film Pioneers Project. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2013. <https://doi.org/10.7916/d8-hnkm-zc28>
Eloyce King Patrick Gist (October 21, 1892—? 1974)
Similar to Touissant Welcome, Patrick Gist made films with her second husband, namely religious ones, which is interesting because her husband was a Christian evangelical and she of the Baháʼí Faith. Regardless, the two made presumably three films: Hell Bound Train (1930) and Verdict Not Guilty (1933). A third film is suspected to have been made but its existence can’t be verified. After her husband died of pneumonia in 1940, Patrick Gist stopped making films. Instead, she spent the rest of her life writing. She published a novel and occasionally contributed articles to local D.C. newspapers. Patrick Gist died in 1974 while on vacation. Watch the movies in the links above. There are not Wikipedia articles on either, so watch at your own discretion.
“Eloyce King Patrick Gist.” (n.d.). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eloyce_King_Patrick_Gist
Morgan, K. “Eloyce King Patrick Gist.” In Jane Gaines, Radha Vatsal, and Monica Dall’Asta, eds. Women Film Pioneers Project. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2013. https://doi.org/10.7916/d8-0fdd-a762
Well, I finally did it. I made a black history month article and got it out before the month was over! Whoo lol! Anyways, if you liked this article, consider leaving me a tip on my Ko-Fi. I also have an Amazon Wishlist and Patreon.
Other Resources To Check Out
Brennan, C. (2017). Hellenistic Astrology: The Study of Fate and Fortune. Amor Fati Publications.
Burk, K. (2001). Astrology: Understanding the Birth Chart. Llewellyn Publications.
Obert, C. (2019). Saturn Through the Ages: Between Time and Eternity. Almuten Press.
___. (2020). The Classical Seven Planets: Source Texts and Meaning. Almuten Press.
Valens, V. (2022). The Anthology. (M.T. Riley, Trans.). Amor Fati Publications. (Original work published 2nd CE)
If you want a free but older digital version of Valens’s Anthology, click the link here.