In this letter Tom Dent thanked his grandparents, Jennie Belle Covington and Dr. Benjamin Jesse Covington, for sending him birthday gifts. The young teenager was thrilled saying, "Thank you very much for the check, candy, and beautiful card you sent me. I did not want you to go to so much trouble on my birthday however, the candy is wonderful and all of my roommates love it."
After high school, Tom Dent attended Morehouse College where he received a B.A. in political science in 1952. He was the editor of the college's newspaper, The Maroon Tiger, and also worked as a news reporter for the The Houston Informer during summer breaks. Although Dent was interested in political science, working as a journalist provided a new career option for him to consider.
After college, Tom Dent served as a Private First Class in the U.S. Army at the Ireland Army Hospital in Fort Knox, Kentucky. While there, he continued to focus on his writing, filling his army notebooks with personal writings such as this love poem.
Dent wrote, "Tonight I wish to write to "someone special." This is the time for it. I am in the mood for it. I have a need for it. I remember the street of dreams, but there is no one now..."
Left to right: Askia Muhammad Toure, Lorenzo Thomas, and Ishmael Reed at an Umbra workshop meeting.
In the audio clip, poet Kalamu ya Salaam interviews Tom Dent regarding the ideological differences amongst Umbra members. Dent's participation in Umbra served as an influence in his life long after the group disbanded.
Tom Dent's journey of self-discovery blossomed in New Orleans as he developed a sense of belonging to the South and the Black community. Dent established the Free Southern Theater's community workshop program in 1967. He was largely driven by the desire to create an artistic project within New Orleans.
In this letter to Murray Levy, actor and business manager for the Free Southern Theater, Tom Dent discussed his and Bob "Big Daddy" Costley's work to combine the writer and acting workshops. Dent also spoke of a young and talented local New Orleans writer named Val Ferdinand (Kalamu ya Salaam). Kalamu ya Salaam would later become a well known poet, author, and social activist.
One of the literary programs that developed within the Free Southern Theater (FST) was the BLKARTSOUTH creative writing and acting workshops. BLKARTSOUTH was jointly directed by Tom Dent and Bob "Big Daddy" Costley. The goals of the workshop were to develop new literary and theatrical materials for use by the FST. The BLKARTSOUTH ensemble performed poetry and short plays throughout the South and produced five mimeographed books of poetry in 1969.
Dent authored Ritual Murder: A One Act Play in 1967 for use by the Free Southern Theater. It is considered a classic in New Orleans theater. The play's themes highlight the stresses of oppression and how these circumstances can often lead to violence.
The audio clip offers a snippet into the synopsis of the play.
Tom Den't first book of poetry titled Magnolia Street was published in 1976. In the preface of Magnolia Street, Dent spoke of his goals for the book saying, "I thought it important to portray the city's Black community and culture, which has been so brilliantly rendered through music, but almost totally ignored in literature."
Tom Dent's second book of poetry, Blue Lights and River Songs, published in 1982, was infused with his experiences of being a member of the Black community in the South. The book's four sections covers urban street scenes, places and individuals of inspiration, the return and rediscovery of the South based upon ritual and traditions, race and racism, and daily life.
Tom Dent (seated far right) during a 1980 meeting of the Congo Square Poets. The group sought to highlight the Southern Black experience, particularly that of New Orleanians. Also pictured is Kalamu ya Salaam (standing far right), James Baldwin (seated in foreground), and Lolis Elie (second from left).
Tom Dent worked on the autobiography of his childhood friend, civil rights leader, Andrew Young. Dent traveled to Atlanta to conduct a series of interviews with Young. He then researched New Orleans and civil rights history for a draft of the book with the working title, An Easy Burden. Dent’s manuscript was used for the final version of the book published in 1996.
In the audio clip, Dent interviews Young who discusses a conversation he had with his wife, Jean Childs Young, regarding the Ku Klux Klan and the use of non-violent tactics.
From 1991 to 1996, Dent traveled to Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Louisiana and South Carolina to document the stories of civil rights activists. The culmination of these oral histories resulted in his book, Southern Journey: A Return to the Civil Rights Movement (1997).
In the audio clip, Tom Dent interviews civil rights activist and leader, Unita Blackwell, in Mississippi in 1990. Blackwell discussed the desegregation of schools and how Black activists were punished for their activism by being denied employment.
Vivian Malone and James Hood were plaintiffs in a highly publicized lawsuit against the University of Alabama. Malone and Hood would become the first black students to enroll at the university in 1963. This photo of Malone and Hood was taken by Tom Dent during his time as the information officer for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
Tom Dent (left) with an audiotape recorder in hand documents a group of paraders during a second line performance of the Olympia Brass Band in New Orleans, circa 1980. Dent often attended and recorded cultural events throughout New Orleans.
The audio, recorded by Dent, consists of a performance by the Olympia Brass Band.
Big Chief Jake (center) of the White Eagles Mardi Gras Indians on Claiborne Avenue in New Orleans, 1981.
The audio, recorded by Tom Dent, consists of a performance of Tambourine and Fan at a St. Joseph's Day parade in New Orleans, which includes the chants and drums of Mardi Gras Indians. Dent was also able to capture the vibrancy of the crowd.
Digital exhibition curated by Chianta Dorsey and Julia Engel. This digital exhibition is an expansion of the physical exhibition, “Tom Dent: A Heavy Trip Through the South,” curated by Laura Thomson and held at the Amistad Research Center in 2010.
The Amistad Research Center is committed to collecting, preserving, and providing open access to original materials that reference the social and cultural importance of America's ethnic and racial history, the African Diaspora, and global social justice movements. As the nation's oldest, largest and most comprehensive independent archive, the Amistad's holds 800 manuscript collections which include over ten million documents from the 1780s to present, 250,000 original photographs dating from 1859, 1200 audiovisual recordings, 40,000 book titles, 2000 periodicals titles, and over 400 pieces of fine art dating from the 19th century.