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Book of the Week — Even in a Maze

“I cannot protest the blackness that you are
I cannot portray the blackness that you see
I can only live the blackness that is me
I cannot return to places I’ve not been
I cannot profess a suffering not my own
I can only come to you the black I am
Even in a maze.”

Even in a Maze
Nola Richardson
Nola Richardson (1936 – 2019)
Los Angeles: Crescent Publications, 1975 First edition
PS3568 I3195 E84 1975

Nola Richardson grew up in Los Angeles, California during the Second Great Migration — when Black workers and their families moved to the West Coast in large numbers, responding to defense industry recruitment efforts at the start of World War II. From 1940 to 1965, the Black population in Los Angeles rose from approximately sixty-four thousand to three hundred and fifty thousand, making up fourteen percent of the city’s population. Despite court rulings and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the city maintained racially restrictive covenants that prevented minorities from renting and buying property in certain areas. 

In California, the Rumford Fair Housing Act was presented as a way to remedy residential segregation. However, in 1964 the legislation was overturned by Proposition 14, a bill that ultimately allowed property sellers, landlords, and their agents to openly discriminate on ethnic grounds when selling or renting accommodations. Within this context, tension was increasing in the South Central neighborhoods of Los Angeles. This tension came to a head with the arrest of Rena Price and her two sons, the Frye brothers, during a traffic stop gone wrong. 

On August 11, 1965, 21-year-old Marquette Frye was pulled over for drunk driving. When Frye’s mother and brother attempted to intervene, a physical confrontation ensued which attracted a crowd of community onlookers. A rumor then spread that police had kicked a pregnant woman at the scene and the crowd continued to grow and grow. Six days of civil unrest followed and fourteen thousand members of the California Army National Guard were called on to suppress the disturbance — which came to be referred to as the Watts Rebellion or the Watts Uprising. The Watts Rebellion resulted in 34 deaths, 1,032 injuries, 4,000 arrests, involved 34,000 people and ended in the destruction of 1,000 buildings, totaling $40 million in damages.

Although Hollywood screenwriter and novelist, Budd Schulberg, had watched the city of Watts swept up in flames from the comfort of his home in Coldwater Canyon, he was drawn to help in the only way that he knew how, through writing. After the fires had been put out and the National Guard was withdrawn, Schulberg drove down to 103rd Street in the heart of Watts, and stopped at the only building left in the middle of the block — a social service agency that had offered counseling, dance classes and little else. On the bulletin board he pinned up a notice, “Creative Writing Class — All interested sign below.” Every Wednesday for weeks, Schulberg sat by himself. Then one day, locals from the area began dropping by; first to talk, then to read poetry, short stories, or anything else they had written down. “Like a phoenix from the ashes,” the Watts Writer’s Workshop was born. 

Months later, Schulberg rented a house on Beach Street in Watts and turned it into a dormitory for members of the Watts Writer’s Workshop, some of which were homeless. The group quickly grew from a few local members to several hundred. Meeting once a week, the Workshop provided a space for Black Americans in the West to express their thoughts and emotions. Schulberg’s notoriety then pushed those experiences out for the rest of the country to read. Founding members included Ernest Mayhand, James Thomas Jackson, Birdell Chew Moore, Sonora McKeller, Jimmy Sherman, Johnie Scott, Guadelupe de Saavedra, Harley Mims, Eric Priestly, Alvin Saxon Jr. (Ojenke), Ryan Vallego Kennedy, and Blossom Powe. Other writers noted were Quincy Troupe, Leumas Sirrah, Herbert Simmons, Wanda Coleman, and the poetry group Watts Prophets. Among them was also Los Angeles-born, Nola Richardson. Richardson was a graduate of California State University in Dominguez Hills. She emerged out of the Watts Writer’s Workshop and went on to publish children’s literature as well as two books of poetry, When One Loves: The Black Experience in America (1974) and Even in a Maze (1975).

The Watts Writer’s Workshop celebrated its one year anniversary by being the subject of an hour-long NBC TV documentary, titled The Angry Voices of Watts. The documentary attracted support from well-known writers and prominent figures across the country, such as James Baldwin, John Steinbeck, Richard Burton, Abbey Lincoln, Ira Gershwin, and Senator Robert F. Kennedy. The Workshop also drew the attention of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and was awarded a grant of $50,000 in support of expanding housing and other programs. By 1968, the Workshop had compiled two anthologies, both edited by Schulberg, From the Ashes: Voices of Watts and Watts Poets- A Book of New Poetry & Essays. From those stories Schulberg’s brother, Stuart, produced two national television shows, The Angry Voices of Watts and Losers Weepers, authored by Harry Dolan.

Schulberg and his wife relocated to the East Coast in the early 1970s. With the help of his friend and screenwriter, Fred Hudson, Schulberg founded a sister program in Harlem called the Frederick Douglass Creative Arts Center, which continued to be active until 2010. With Schulberg gone, Dolan took over as the Director of the Watts Writer’s Workshop but with the loss of federal funding, the group fell into disarray. In 1973, just months after a fundraising dinner was held to keep the workshop going, a 350-seat theater belonging to the group was burned down. Two years later, Darthard Perry — a whistleblower and former FBI operative known as “Othello” — confessed to having been the culprit. In an interview with WABC-TV’s Like It Is, Perry stated that “funding had been cut to the Workshop, it had been cut out, but it looked like there was a possibility of a grant being given back to the Workshop and if there was no theater, there would be no grant.” Perry had formerly been a part of military intelligence and was recruited by blackmail to become involved in the Counterintelligence Program now known as COINTELPRO. 

Nola Richardson went on to marry David Satcher, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Center, sixteenth U.S. Surgeon General, Founding Director and Senior Advisor of the Satcher Health Leadership Institute, and fourth president of the Morehouse School of Medicine. Together they raised nine children, while she worked as an administrator at Rockwell International, Downey and the King-Drew Medical Center.


  • Anasuya Isis
    Posted at 10:36h, 26 November Reply

    Thank you for sharing this book by Nola Richardson and the incredible work that Budd Schulberg offered after the tragedy that took place during the Watts Uprising. So much police/army brutality. So many innocent people harmed by systemic oppression and racism since the great migration of Blacks to California.

    I was very blessed to have met Budd Schulberg on many occasions as a student of Fred Hudson’s at Frederick Douglas Creative Arts Center (FDCAC). It was a truly golden era being taught by the greatest writers of all genres. Fred & Bud, partners in vision and mission. May their names continue to bless, uplift and inspire people to use art as a tool for healing and liberation.

  • Virgil Richardson
    Posted at 21:58h, 24 May Reply

    Thank you mom for all you did

    Number two son

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