Little Luce had a friend from pre-k through elementary school, Margaret. The night before my meeting with the coop board of directors I was in their apartment, and realized that it was right across the brownstone rooftops from my, hopefully future apartment.
James Haskins, an educator who in seeking to make up for the dearth of children’s books on black historical figures ultimately became one of America’s most prolific children’s book authors with more than 100 works of nonfiction to his credit, died on Wednesday at his home in Manhattan. He was 63.
Kathy, his wife, influenced Little Luce’s love of Billy Holiday. LL was the only ten year old I knew listening to “Strange Fruit,” and understanding it.
His adult books included biographies of Richard Pryor, Scott Joplin, Lionel Hampton, Winnie Mandela, and “Bricktop,” of which he was a co-author with the red-haired Bricktop, the African-American woman who was a Paris nightclub owner in the 1920’s. “The Cotton Club” (1977), His portrait of the legendary Harlem cabaret, was an inspiration for the 1984 Francis Ford Coppola film of the same name.
He was expelled from his first college for being a civil rights rabble rouser. Always wanted to be older so that I could have been one.
James S. Haskins was born in Demopolis, Ala., on Sept. 19, 1941. His parents separated when he was 12, and he and his mother moved to Roxbury, Mass. After graduating from high school, he enrolled at Alabama State University but was expelled as an “outside rabble-rouser” for his participation in student civil rights protests. He went on to receive a B.A. from Georgetown University and an M.A. in social psychology from the University of New Mexico. He divided his time between his home in New York and Florida, where he was professor of English at the University of Florida at Gainesville.
I am so sorry Kathy and Margaret.