Alfred B. Spellman is an African-American poet, music critic, music historian, arts administrator, and author. He first garnered attention for his 1965 book of poems entitled The Beautiful Days. In 1966 he published a highly influential book on the history of African-American music entitled Four Lives in the Bebop Business (aka Black Music: Four Lives; Random House).
Spellman is the son of two teachers and attended P.W. Moore High School in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, where he was a member of the basketball team, glee club and oratorical club. After graduating in 1953, he entered Howard University, where he was active in the chorus, the Howard Players, and he began his writing career. He graduated in 1956 with a Bachelor of Science degree in political science and then continued with graduate studies in Howard’s law school.
Spellman’s first collection of poetry, The Beautiful Days, was published by Poets Press in 1965. From 1975 to 2005, Spellman worked as an Arts Administrator for the National Endowment for the Arts. He has been particularly instrumental in supporting and forwarding jazz music within the United States. In 2008, he released Things I Must Have Known, a collection of poetry, with Coffee House Press.
When Black People Are
by A.B Spellman
‘When black people are with each other we sometimes fear ourselves whisper over our shoulders about unmentionable acts & sometimes we fight & lie. these are something’s we sometimes do.
& when alone I sometimes walk from wall to wall fighting visions of white men fighting me & black men fighting white men & fighting me & I lose my self between walls & ricocheting shots & can’t say for certain who I have killed or been killed by.
It is the fear of winter passing & summer coming to my door saying hit it a.b., you’re in it too.
& the white army moves like thieves in the night mass producing beautiful black copies & then stealing them away while my frequent death watches me from orangeburg on cronkite & I’m oiling my gun & cooking my food & saying “when the time comes” to myself, over & over, hopefully.
But I remember driving from Atlanta to the city with stone & Featherstone & cleve & on the way feather talked about ambushing a pair of Klansmen & cleve told how they hunted chaney’s body in the white night of the haunted house in the Mississippi swamp while a runaway survivor from orangeburg slep between wars on the back seat.
Times like this are time when black people are with each other & the strength flows back & forth between us like borrowed breath…