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In 1969 along with Dr. Jerry Ward and Charles Rowell, Tom Dent founded Callaloo,

A Quarterly Journal of African and African American Arts and Letters.                                                                                                                   

Tom Dent



Books by Tom Dent


Southern Journey / Blue Lights and River Songs / The Free Southern Theater


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Tom Covington Dent 

New Orleans Writer & Cultural Activist


Thomas Covington Dent (1932-1998), poet, essayist, oral historian, dramatist, and cultural activist, was born on 20 March 1932 at Flint Goodridge Hospital in New Orleans, LA. He was the oldest of three sons, including Benjamin and Walter born, to Dr. Albert Walter Dent and Ernestine Jessie Covington Dent. Tom and his brothers  grew up in a prominent socially aware southern family.

Tom's father Albert Dent was president of Dillard University and Tom was groomed to become a major figure in the Black professional world. In 1947 Tom graduated from Gilbert Academy, a college preparatory school for Black students located on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans. He then attended and graduated from Morehouse (B.A., Political Science, 1952). At Morehouse, Tom was editor of literary journal Maroon Tiger. He did graduate work at Syracuse University's School of International Studies (Maxwell School of Citizenship 1952-56) where he completed all of his course work leading to a doctorate.                                                                                                                                (photo right )  Albert Dent   

After two-years in the United States Army (1957-59), Tom Dent moved to New York and resided there from 1959 to 1965. He worked as a reporter for a Harlem newspaper, the New York Age (1959-60). From 1960-1961 he worked as social worker for New York Welfare Department, and then as a press attaché and public information director for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (1961-63), assisting Thurgood Marshall.

During his years in New York, Tom was active as both a political and cultural activist. In addition to his NAACP work, he was active around demonstrations at the UN and in other Civil Rights and anti-Colonial struggles. As a cultural activist in 1962, Tom was one of the founders of the New York based Umbra Writer's Workshop, the first major post-sixties organization of Black writers. More than forty books have been published by Umbra Workshop members who include Ishmael Reed, Calvin Hernton and David Henderson.   (photo left: Jesse C. Dent)

According to Kalamu ya Salaam, "Umbra (1962) was a collective of young Black writers based in Manhattan's Lower East Side; major members were writers Steve Cannon, Tom Dent, Al Haynes, David Henderson, Calvin C. Hernton, Joe Johnson, Norman Pritchard, Lenox Raphael, Ishmael Reed, Lorenzo Thomas, James Thompson, Askia M. Touré  (Roland Snellings, also a visual artist), Brenda Walcott, and musician-writer Archie Shepp." The Umbra group split up in 1964.

In 1965, Tom returned to New Orleans for a short visit decided to help out with the Free Southern Theater (FST), an activist community theater projectTom became associate director of the Free Southern Theater (1966-70),  organized performances throughout the South. Tom also founded the FST Writing Workshop, which eventually became BLKARTSOUTH. 

According to Kalamu ya Salaam, BLKARTSOUTH (co-led by Kalamu) "was an outgrowth of the Free Southern Theatre in New Orleans and was instrumental in encouraging Black theater development across the South from the Theatre of Afro Arts in Miami, Florida, to Sudan Arts Southwest in Houston, Texas, through an organization called the Southern Black Cultural Alliance."

Between 1968 and 1973, the FST Writing Workshop also published Nkombo, a literary journal. In collaboration with Richard Schechner and Free Southern Theater co-founder Gilbert Moses, Tom Dent edited the 1969 book The Free Southern Theater by The Free Southern Theater. 

Additionally, Tom was instrumental in founding the Southern Black Cultural Alliance (SBCA), in an effort to coordinate the activities of writers, thespians, and artists from through out the South. After leaving FST, Tom Dent would go on to found the New Orleans-based Congo Square Writer's Union and edit its journal, The Black River Journal ( Photo left, Tom and poet David Henderson)

From 1968 to 1970, Dent commuted to and taught at Mary Holmes College in West Point, Mississippi. In 1969 along with Dr. Jerry Ward and Charles Rowell, Tom Dent founded Callaloo, A Quarterly Journal of African and African American Arts and Letters. In the early seventies Tom Dent contributed articles and plays to the then fledgling Black Collegian Magazine. Tom Dent served as public relations director for New Orleans antipoverty agency (1971-74); awarded an MFA in creative writing from Goddard University in 1974 and in 1974 he was awarded a Whitney Young Fellowship. From 1979 to 1981, Tom was the Marcus Christian Lecturer in Afro-American Literature at the University of New Orleans. 

Tom Dent produced two books of poetry, Magnolia Street (1976) Blue Lights and River Songs (1982). Additionally, Tom wrote  a number of plays Negro Study No. 34A (1970), Snapshot (1970), Ritual Murder (1976), which is now considered a classic of New Orleans theater. Although written in the seventies, the play's theme and commentary continues to be relevant and productions remain popular in the nineties.  

As an indefatigable chronicler and oral historian, Tom between 1978 and 1985, conducted oral histories of Mississippi Civil Rights workers, and in 1984 conducted an oral history of New Orleans and Acadian musicians. The tapes from both collections are now housed at the Amistad Research Center in New Orleans. 

From 1984 to 1986 Tom worked as a writer on Andrew Young's autobiography, An Easy Burden. In the nineties, Tom worked with Dr. Ward on the Mississippi Oral History Project focusing on local Mississippi participation in the Civil Rights movement. (Left, Louis Edwards, Tom Dent, Jason Berry, Eric Ellie Tom Piazza)

From 1987 to 1990, Tom Dent served as the Executive Director of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation, which presents the annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. During the 1990s Tom traveled in the Caribbean and in Africa investigating cultural connections between the African-heritage cultures of the Diaspora and Africa. At the time of his death, Tom Dent was working on two journals, a collection of reflections on New Orleans and a series of personal essays on the connections and disruptions between Africa and African Americans. 

Tom Dent had a lifelong commitment to the goals and objectives of the Civil Rights movement. In the midst of all of his literary activity, along with Richard and Oretha Castle Haley, and Florence Borders, Tom Dent founded Voices of the New Orleans Movement, a group dedicated to commemorating the history of the civil rights movement in New Orleans. The culmination of Tom's Civil Rights documentation was the 1996 publication of his last and most important book, Southern Journey, which was his findings resulting from revisiting towns and cities which were major sites of Civil Rights activity and interviewing with former participants and their descendants. Southern Journey is the most eloquent and informative assessment of the victories and failures of the Civil Rights movement thus far produced. 

Although he could have had a successful academic career, like many of his peers who came of age during the Civil Rights movement, Tom Dent chose to dedicate his life to the fulfillment of social goals and group aspirations. Tom Dent literally lived and worked to document and accurately tell the story of his people's struggles, dreams, and achievements. Tom Dent's life serves as a sterling example of the socially committed cultural worker. 

Tom died of complications from a heart attack on 6 June 1998 at Charity Hospital in New Orleans. 

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Tom Dent Bio-Sketch



Born 20 March 1932 in New Orleans, LA; son of Albert (a university president) and Jesse (a teacher and concert pianist; maiden name Covington) Dent


Morehouse College, B.A., 1952

Goddard College, M.A., 1974

Military/Wartime Service

U.S. Army, 1957-59


African Literature Association

Modern Language Association


Whitney Young Fellow, 1973-74


Executive Director of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation, 1987 to 1990

Marcus Christian Lecturer in Afro-American Literature at the University of New Orleans, 1979 to 1981 

Co-Founder of Callaloo (literary journal), 1978

Editor of Black River Journal, 1976

Founder of Congo Square Writers Union, New Orleans, 1974

Public Relations Officer of Total Community Action, 1971-73

Co-Editor of Nkombo, 1968-74

Instructor at Mary Holmes College, 1968-70

Associate Director of Free Southern Theater, 1966-70

Public Information Worker for Legal Defense Fund (NAACP), 1961-63

Co-founder of Umbra Workshop (NYC) and Co-Publisher of Umbra (poetry magazine), 1962

Co-Publisher of On Guard for Freedom (political newspaper), 1960

Reporter for New York Age, 1959

Writings & Publications

Southern Journey: A Return to the Civil Rights Movement (University of Georgia Press, 2001)

Magnolia Street (privately printed, 1976 and 1987)

Blue Lights and River Songs: Poems (Lotus Press, 1982)

The Free Southern Theater (by Free Southern Theater; Editor with Richard Schechner and Gilbert Moses, Bobbs-Merrill, 1969


Song of Survival: One Act-Play (with Val Ferdinand, n.d.)

Ritual Murder: One Act Play (first produced New Orleans Ethiopian Theater, 1976)

Snapshot: One Act Play (first produced New Orleans Free Southern Theater, 1970)

Negro Study, No. 34A: One Act Play (first produced in New Orleans Free Southern Theater, 1970)


Anthology of the American Negro in Theatre

Black Culture

An Introduction to Black Literature in America

New Black Voices

Poetry, Short Stories, Drama



Pacific Moana Quarterly


Articles and Critical Reviews

Black American Literature Forum

Black Creation

Black River Journal

Black World



Jackson Advocate

Negro Digest


Further Readings about the Author


Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 38: Afro-American Writers after 1955: Dramatists and Prose Writers, Gale 1985

Who's Who Among African Americans, Marquis, 1998-99


Callaloo, November 4, 1978

Drama Review, fall, 1987

New York Times, June 11, 1998, p, B12

Washington Post, June 11, 1998, p. D8

World Literature Today, autumn, 1982

Xavier Review, Volume 6, No. 1, 1986


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I wrote a few articles for the newspaper [The East Village Other], one of which was a blast at the owner of The Metro, who’d hired some plainclothes thugs to monitor blacks who attended poetry readings there. He’d previously threatened musician Archie Shepp and his “Goldwater for President” sign in the window was meant to be a red flag for blacks. One night, one of them attacked Tom Dent, the leader of our magazine Umbra (one of the most important literary magazines to be published, though it gets ignored because the media, when covering the Lower East Side of the 1960s, bond with those who resembled their journalists and their tokens.) It was at Umbra workshops where the revolution in Black Arts began.

I went to Tom Dent’s aid and was punched. Penny and I left the Le Metro Café and halfway home I turned and went back. Poet Walter Lowenfels was reading. I told Walter that if he continued reading I would never speak to him again. The café emptied out and that was the end of the readings there. William Burroughs, who was scheduled to read the following week, cancelled. After a weekend of searching for other places, bars, restaurants, coffee shops, where readings might be held, Paul Blackburn and I asked the then rector, Michael J. C. Allen, whether we could hold readings at St. Mark’s Church.

That was the beginning of the St. Mark’s Poetry Project. Joel Oppenheimer ran the poetry workshop; I ran the fiction workshop. If you check out the St. Mark’s Poetry website, none of this is mentioned, another example of how the black participation in the counterculture gets expunged from the record.Ishmael Reed, EastVillage

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Marcus Bruce Christian

Selected Diary Notes / Selected Poems  / Selected Letters

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Audio: My Story, My Song (Featuring blues guitarist Walter Wolfman Washington)

The Katrina Papers, by Jerry W. Ward, Jr. $18.95  The Richard Wright Encyclopedia (2008)

American Uprising

The Untold Story of America’s Largest Slave Revolt

By Daniel Rasmussen

In January 1811, a group of around 500 enslaved men, dressed in military uniforms and armed with guns, cane knives, and axes, rose up from the slave plantations around New Orleans and set out to conquer the city. They decided that they would die before they would work another day of back—breaking labor in the hot Louisiana sun. Ethnically diverse, politically astute, and highly organized, this slave army challenged not only the economic system of plantation agriculture but also American expansion. Their march represented the largest act of armed resistance against slavery in the history of the United States—and one of the defining moments in the history of New Orleans and the nation.American Uprising is the riveting and long—neglected story of this elaborate plot, the rebel army’s dramatic march on the city and its shocking conclusion. No North American slave revolt—not Gabriel Prosser, not Denmark Vesey, not Nat Turner—has rivaled the scale of this rebellion either in terms of the number of the slaves involved or in terms of the number who were killed.

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



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Southern Journey

A Return to the Civil Rights Movement

By Tom Dent

A black youth reared in segregated New Orleans, Dent went to Mississippi for the civil rights movement, and that experience stuck with him. So in 1991, he decided to work his way south from Greensboro, N.C., to Mississippi, skirting both large cities and important officials, to talk to (mostly) black folk and to assess the movement's legacy. At times, Dent's meandering approach lacks depth and is unwieldy, but his personal connection to his inquiry informs his story with commitment. In Greensboro, the unresolved gap between blacks and whites, exemplified in an anniversary celebration of the city's historic sit-ins, remind Dent "of the strained interracial meetings of the 1950s."

In Orangeburg, S.C., a black academic tells him ruefully that many social-work students go into "criminal justice" lacking the broader awareness of the politics behind the new programs. In Albany, Ga., Dent discerns signs of material progress but deep divisions not only between the races but also within the black community. In Mississippi, where he sees black political victories as having had a relatively small payoff, he becomes convinced that a new black organization is needed to supplant the NAACP to address national political issues of special concern to blacks (education, unemployment) and to monitor cases of police and official abuse and discrimination. Though not quite a complete plan, it's a constructive response to Dent's conclusion that the civil rights movement opened up doors, but "once inside, well, there was hardly anything there."—Publishers Weekly

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.


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Weep Not, Child

By Ngugi wa Thiong'o

This is a powerful, moving story that details the effects of the infamous Mau Mau war, the African nationalist revolt against colonial oppression in Kenya, on the lives of ordinary men and women, and on one family in particular. Two brothers, Njoroge and Kamau, stand on a rubbish heap and look into their futures. Njoroge is excited; his family has decided that he will attend school, while Kamau will train to be a carpenter. Together they will serve their countrythe teacher and the craftsman. But this is Kenya and the times are against them. In the forests, the Mau Mau is waging war against the white government, and the two brothers and their family need to decide where their loyalties lie. For the practical Kamau the choice is simple, but for Njoroge the scholar, the dream of progress through learning is a hard one to give up.—Penguin 

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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Related files:   Tom Dent Bio   Tom Dent Speaks      Southern Journey  Tom Dent on Marcus B. Christian  The Art of Tom Dent  My Father Is Dead   Jessie Covington Dent