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Hey, Carmela, next in line, listeners, I'm Tomingley MSNBC correspondent and host of the podcast Into America.
I wanted to share this week's episode with you because it's all about the little known history of a place that shaped Carmella's identity. Rainbow Sign, a black cultural center in Berkeley, California, that opened its doors in 1971 and welcomed the likes of James Baldwin, Nina Simone, Shirley Chisholm and the young black and Indian girl named Carmela.
In her memoir, Comilla writes, Kids like me, who spent time at Rainbow Sign were exposed to dozens of extraordinary men and women who showed us what we could become. I spoke with Odette Paola, daughter of Marianne Paola, who founded Rainbow Sign and also talked to Desi Jones, founder and president of Black Women Organized for Political Action, about the social and political moment that gave Rise to Rainbow Sign and the impact the center had on cumulous life.
So check out this preview. The first voice you'll hear is Miss Daisy Woods Jones describing black life in the Bay Area in the 1960s and 70s.
So you had a lot of brain power.
You have a loving genius. You had a lot of people who understood that change had to happen and survived the midst of the civil rights movement that was also going on to the south. There was all of this energy that was also going on in the Bay Area.
This was also a time when black women were raising their voices, helping to organize and all black political gathering focused on the black agenda in the late 1960s.
We were very much a part of that included those at one point, Maya Angelou, who spent a little time in San Francisco. And so we would meet and we decided we wanted an all black conference and we wouldn't let even the white media in. And of course, they thought we were in that meeting and sabotaging planning to have a revolution.
These activists were willing literally to put their lives on the line for the cause.
The movement was a part of your total essence. It wasn't just words of verbiage. It became a part of of who you were and your determination to act. We were really committed to die. In the middle of all that energy and black activism set the rainbow sign on the corner of what was then Grove Street in Derby, an imaginary line dividing the mostly white part of Berkeley from the mostly black part of town.
There needs to be a central place where artists of all stripes with black artists in particular, could come to a single place and be heard, seen, respected and appreciated.
Marion Poller and her husband Henry opened its doors in 1971. They died years ago. But Odette Paola is their daughter.
So my mom was a concert promoter, right, in the 50s and 60s and into the 70s. But taking that and wrapping it around and saying, all right, let us have our own space, that means we control this. You know, we can do what we want with it. We can widen that scope. It's a leap, but it's not that far a leap. It's like the next iteration. It was also the first of its kind.
And Berklee, of course, was the place to put this physical building.
And the name Rainbow Sign, I still did about it. She told me her mother was inspired by a lyric in the old black spiritual. Mary, don't you weep.
God gave Noah the rainbow sign. No more water. The fire next time. Don't move. That's the one and only Aretha Franklin covering it there, said the sister don't know, the lyric itself draws from a story in the Bible during the Great Flood. God gave Noah the rainbow sign, a hopeful sign of. She took that portion for Rainbow's End because she really did want it to be inclusive and she wanted it to be open and she wanted it to be large, not small, if that makes sense.
And she wanted people to be accessible. So you could go to Rainbow Sign and meet James Baldwin or Maya Angelou, and you just lived right around the corner. Right. Where else would you have that opportunity?
And also, it's a very interesting counterpoint to James Baldwin's book of essays in 1963, The Fire Next Time, which in so many ways was an indictment of the complicity of white liberals, especially in white supremacy. And take the first part of that lyric and say God gave Noah the rainbow sign. It does seem like hopeful and, yes, striving and reaching, not purely just an indictment.
Exactly. And that was absolutely my parents premise because it was not primarily a political statement, although if you had a political action committee, you might rent a room. Right. So it was an art gallery. It was a restaurant. It was a performance venue. It was a poetry venue. You could use a rainbow sign and whatever ways made groups come together more easily. If you enjoyed this preview, please search for into America wherever you're listening right now to listen to the full episode and I hope you'll subscribe as well.
New episodes drop every Thursday. Thanks for listening.