Sweet Home native's legacy in poetry, fiction celebrated

Posted: August 12, 2018 at 3:05 a.m.

A Sweet Home-born author of poetry and fiction was remembered during a July 27 celebration presented by the foundation established in his name.

Root Song: A Celebration of the Life and Works of Henry L. Dumas took place at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center. Special guest was Loretta Dumas, widow of the poet; the event was also attended by a host of Dumas' Arkansas relatives.

Christopher Porter was master of ceremonies for the evening, which included remarks on Dumas from Minnie R. Hayes, founder and chairman of the foundation; a recitation of Dumas' poem "Root Song" by lawyer Austin Porter Jr.; "Henry R. Dumas: An Appreciation," by Carmen L. Williams of the department of English and Philosophy at Jonesboro's Arkansas State University; a gospel medley from The Porter Singers, Dumas cousins; and a recitation of the Dumas poem "Our King Is Dead" by Hashim Mustafa.

The program highlight came when Eugene B. Redmond -- professor emeritus of English and literature at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and poet laureate of East St. Louis, Ill. -- spoke on "A Half Century of Curating the Writings of Henry L. Dumas." Redmond, a colleague of Dumas, has spent nearly 50 years advocating for and facilitating the posthumous publication of Dumas' poems. The printed event program included a reference to an excerpt of "Root Song" in the Black Panther #3 comic book, written by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

An added highlight was a moving reading of "Music and I Have Come at Last," Redmond's adaptation of Dumas' poetry and prose. The reading was performed by the Soular Systems Ensemble, consisting of Charlois Lumpkin, Darlene Roy and Jaye P. Willis. Guests enjoyed light hors d'oeuvres before and during the evening.

Dumas moved to New York's Harlem neighborhood at the age of 10 and spent his adulthood in various roles including U.S. Air Force airman, social worker, civil-rights volunteer, teacher and counselor. He was killed in 1968 at age 34 by a New York Transit police officer in a case whose details remain in dispute. The majority of his work was unpublished at the time of his death but was brought to light through Redmond's efforts.

High Profile on 08/12/2018