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Saturday, March 21, 2009


--posted by Marie

Every year the Seymour Family collaborates on a series of family questions to celebrate Black History Month. This year, the Seymours added - Seymour Women's History Month to the mix.

Today, I am sharing not only one of the current questions - but an article about the person.

Question (thanks to Alan Green): Name the Seymour to have joined the labor party in Connecticut, ran for a seat in the Connecticut legislature and was a suffragette?

Answer (thanks to Gene): Mary Townsend Seymour

and the 411 (thanks to Doug Cordwell):


By Mark H. Jones

Mary T. Seymour in the only known photograph of her extant. (Hartford Courant Sunday Magazine, Sunday, September 14, 1952)

In early 20th century Hartford, Mary Townsend Seymour fought battles and formed daring alliances to promote the cause of local African Americans. She was a charter member of the Hartford chapter of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and, during the First World War, served in various war relief groups. Her public life even extended into the arenas of union organizing and politics-she was the first African American woman to run for state office. The years 1917-1920 were Seymour's most concentrated in terms of her public advocacy, but she remained influential in Hartford's African American community for decades afterward. Hers is the remarkable story of the rise of an African American woman into a position of community leadership during the early decades of the 20 th century.

Mary Seymour's origins were humble. She was born in Hartford May 10, 1873, the youngest of seven children of Jacob Townsend and Emma Smith, who had come to Hartford from Flushing and Brooklyn, New York, respectively. By 1880 Jacob Townsend had disappeared from the city directories and his fate is unknown. In August 1888 Emma Townsend died, leaving 15-year-old Mary with an uncertain future. However prior to her mother's death, the Lloyd G. Seymour family had her taken in.

On June 3, 1888 Mary visited the city's old Halls of Record at Trumbull and Pearl streets to see her birth record. Since her first name was not listed, she asked the clerk to write in "Mary Emma" in the appropriate column. The clerk also wrote in the margin that on this date the young woman had given her name as "Mary Emma Townsend Seymour." It was an emphatic declaration of selfhood. Perhaps it was her difficult childhood, tempered by her adoptive family, which led Mary Seymour to develop her empathy for impoverished mothers and children and her fierce independence.
While a member of the family, she began a friendship with Frederick Seymour. In 1891 he landed a position with the U. S. Postal Service, one of the better jobs African American males could obtain at that time. The relationship between the two blossomed, and they married on December 16, 1891. Mary was 18 years old, but the marriage register listed her as 22. In 1892 the couple had a boy they named Richard, but he died within the year and was buried in Old North Cemetery next to Mary's mother. Though Frederick and Mary were childless for the rest of their marriage their tragedy freed her to work on social causes.

Hartford's African American Community
African Americans had lived in Hartford since colonial times and over the years had achieved a tenuous peaceful coexistence in a White city. African American men found jobs as messengers, porters, cooks and chauffeurs, while African American women worked as domestics and laundresses. On October 24, 1915, the Hartford Courant ran an article entitled, "The Colored People Who Live in Hartford." A sub-headline declared, "They Have Their Own Churches, Fraternities and Other Organizations and Have Been and Are a Peaceful and Orderly Contingent, Industrious and a Credit to the City in Which They Live."

Yet this so-called harmony was relative. Hartford's African Americans resided in poor housing, paid exorbitant rents, and were not hired for better paying jobs. When investigating serious crimes, police cordoned off African American residential areas and checked every person coming in or going out.

Within a year of the Courant's assessment of them the world of these Yankee Blacks would change dramatically, and that change brought about Seymour's awakening to political and social activism. Across the industrial North, a great migration of thousands of African Americans from Dixie transformed the cities. In 1916 and 1917, hundreds of African Americans from the South moved to Hartford for better jobs and education for their children and to flee lynchings. At first, students from southern African American colleges came to work in the local tobacco fields, but letters and word-of-mouth descriptions about opportunities soon attracted families and entire church congregations. By 1917 the city's African American population more than doubled, rising from 1,600 to, according to the highest estimate, 4,000. Overnight the African American Yankees in Hartford were outnumbered by southerners who dressed differently, worshipped in a more exuberant style, and spoke with a noticeable dialect.

Whites noticed this influx and worried about its effects. For example, 700 to 800 African American students had entered Hartford schools in 1917/1918. In order to protect these students, many of whom attended evening classes, from harassment by Whites Superintendent of Schools Thomas Weaver announced that he would introduce a proposal for consideration by the Board of Education to segregate evening school classes by race. In a letter, the African American Ministerial Alliance vigorously condemned segregation, and Weaver dropped the idea. Instead, in one district there was a separate room for students of color, which educators referred to as "specialization."

Cofounded NAACP Chapter in Hartford
It was during this time that Mary Seymour emerged as a leader in her community; she led 20 Whites and African Americans in the formation of a chapter of the NAACP in Hartford. Back in January 1917, after attending an NAACP fundraiser against lynching, she and other attendees had discussed forming a local chapter. During the school controversy, they put their plan into action.
The NAACP was a fledgling national organization formed in 1909 by Whites and African Americans. By 1917, local chapters had multiplied, and it had gained a reputation as an active opponent against discrimination and lynching. Its field secretary was James Weldon Johnson, a former teacher, novelist, poet, musical lyricist, and diplomat. Mary White Ovington, a White Socialist and settlement worker, was a vice president of the organization who worked out of the New York City headquarters. Another leading force behind the NAACP's founding was Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois, a pioneering African American sociologist and eloquent advocate for equal rights for African Americans. He edited The Crisis, a magazine associated with the organization.
On October 9, 1917 James Weldon Johnson, Mary White Ovington, and W.E.B. Du Bois came to Hartford and spent an evening in the living room of Fredrick and Mary Seymour at 420 New Britain Avenue.

On October 9, 1917 these three officials came to Hartford and spent an evening in the living room of Frederick and Mary Seymour at 420 New Britain Ave. Others present included Reverend R. R. Ball of the A. M. E. Zion Church; Dr. Rockwell H. Potter, Dean of the Hartford Theological Seminary and a leading White reformer; and three White female reformers and suffragists: Mary Bulkeley, Josephine Bennett, and Katherine Beach Day. They agreed to form an NAACP chapter, and elected an African American, William Service Bell, as president. On November 26, Johnson, Du Bois, and White returned to Hartford to attend the chapter's first open meeting held at Center Church.

Like other African American female members of local NAACP chapters across the country, Mary Seymour carried out the day-to-day administrative work of the chapter. In the early days of the chapter she also served as its spokesperson in the absence of Bell, who was fighting overseas. In the 1920s this dual work would become a burden for her.

During the war years, women in African American Hartford formed clubs to address the problems of caring for soldiers and their families and helping the newcomers from the South assimilate into the urban North. But Mary T. Seymour went further than that. She joined the home service section of the Red Cross and observed the wretched conditions of African American soldiers' families. In the spring of 1918, she was instrumental in forming a local chapter of The Circle for Negro War Relief, Inc. to care for soldiers abroad and stateside and their families. Seymour and two allies from the NAACP, Rev. R. R. Ball and William S. Bell, served on the executive committee. Around this time, Seymour joined the newly formed Colored Women's League of Hartford. The League intended to teach the newcomers basic "domestic sciences" and bought a house on North Main Street with donations from the city's Whites and Blacks for meetings and classes.

In May 1918 Seymour corresponded with Caroline Ruutz-Rees, a suffragist, scholar and educator, who was chairperson of the Woman's Committee of the Connecticut State Council of Defense. Seymour informed Ruutz-Rees about the Hartford chapter of the Circle for Negro War Relief, and wrote a report on its activities. She also detailed the discriminatory practices that African American men and women faced from the army, navy, and the Red Cross. Seymour referred to the lynching of a pregnant African American woman in Georgia a few days before while the victim's brother was serving the cause of "freedom" abroad. "If we are to win this war," she exhorted Ruutz-Rees, "this thing of color prejudice has got to be reckoned with by those friends of your race who have the courage of their convictions to talk about it."

Involvement with Labor Issues
Her war relief work led Seymour to become interested in labor issues-especially regarding African American women working on the tobacco warehouse assembly line, whom she had visited in her capacity as a Red Cross home service worker. Seymour and Josephine Bennett interviewed African American female tobacco workers and learned how White warehouse foremen, some from the South, were cheating them out of an honest wage. The workers were never told what the piecework rate was each day and they never knew whether those who weighed each worker's tobacco leaves were ensuring an honest total. In a long letter sent to the NAACP that was later published in the June 1920 issue of The Crisis , Seymour described her own experience on a tobacco warehouse assembly line: She appeared at a warehouse in working clothes and spent time tobacco stripping and stemming. In this manner she was able to verify the women's complaints.

Seymour and Bennett urged the African American female tobacco workers to organize their own union to fight for their rights. This was a daring notion because, as Seymour noted, the idea of forming a union was not supported by the local African American clergy, who railed against unions from their pulpits. Bennett and Seymour were able to secure the signed union cards from sixty courageous African American women; Seymour served as the local's secretary. However the local remained stagnant, members became discouraged, and within a year it fell apart. In Hartford, as well as other cities in the North, White unions viewed the migration of southern Blacks as a threat. Certainly racism was one reason for this viewpoint-the bosses and the white unions believed that African Americans did not have skills or aptitude to work on the assembly-line machines-but there were also economic reasons. Industrialists had used the African American migrants as "scab" labor to break strikes.

Bennett and Seymour, on the other hand, believed in a different vision. They foresaw a day when African American and White workers would form an alliance to advocate their shared rights and defend their common interests. As an officer of the local, Seymour sat on the Central Labor Union, an assembly of representatives from the city's locals. During meetings, she discussed the racial attitudes of White workers and the common stake of the two races. Mary T. Seymour even read articles from The Crisis .

African American Women and the Vote
Seymour also worked to enfranchise African American women, particularly after WWI ended. For her generation of White and African American female reformers, the suffrage movement should have been a unifying cause. But unlike their White counterparts African American women had to fight gender and class as well as racial barriers. After the Armistice, as women revived the fight for the 19 th amendment, many White suffragists, such as Alice Paul, head of the National Women's Party, declared that they were interested only in removing the gender requirement for the vote. How states chose to qualify voters was of no interest to them. They announced this position in order to retain the support of southern White women and to reassure southern senators and congressmen that extending the suffrage to women would not enfranchise African American women. It was a stance that African American suffragists like Seymour naturally opposed.

On February 18, 1919, The World quoted Alice Paul's remarks regarding the intention of "Negro women" in Carolina to vote if the 19 th amendment were passed. Paul reaffirmed that if passed, the amendment would not enfranchise these women. "We are organizing the White women in South Carolina but have heard of no activity or anxiety among the negresses." The article inflamed Mary Seymour so much that she wrote to Paul demanding an explanation and called the NAACP headquarters. As a result NAACP national leaders did ask Alice Paul and the National Woman's Suffrage Association to clarify their stands on votes for African American women. But their responses were evasive and unsatisfactory.

In April 1919 Seymour wrote NAACP national headquarters assessing the commitment of prominent White suffragists in Hartford for extending the right to vote to all women. She noted that Josephine Bennett, a member of the Hartford NAACP and the Women's Party, who knew Alice Paul, did not engage in "expediency" in order to get the 19 th amendment passed. Katharine Houghton Hepburn (mother of the actress), on the other hand, who served on the executive board of the Woman's Party, was "very democratic in some things-but not to be trusted too far on the Negro question. She is a politician," Seymour cautioned, "in every sense of the word."

There is much more to Mary Seymour's story. The 1917 Hartford school controversy notwithstanding, Seymour knew that she must address the issues of education and literacy among the newly arriving southern Blacks. Having learned how to work the system, Seymour formed one of her more audacious alliances when she convinced Hartford's Americanization Committee (entrusted with teaching English and reading to immigrants and instilling patriotic values) to sponsor literacy classes for the African American newcomers. In 1920, she ran for state representative on the Farmer-Labor Party ticket. Though the party did poorly in the election, Seymour had the distinction of being the first African American woman to run for the Connecticut State Assembly. She remained active in the local chapter of the NAACP in the 1920s and continued to exert influence behind the scenes long after she had resigned as chairperson of the chapter's executive board in November 1926. Her word was trusted, and for years she recommended African Americans for jobs in the White community, a duty usually reserved for the male African American Ministerial Alliance. At her death on January 12, 1957 newspapers eulogized her. In 1998, My Sister's Place in Hartford dedicated a new apartment building, named the Mary Seymour Place, on North Main Street as a shelter for women. Seymour would have approved.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Going Back Up the Down Staircase

From: Gene

Though it feels strange to recall now, “To Kill a Mockingbird” was one of my first “forbidden” films. I was, after all, only 9 or 10 when it came out and when my mother found out from my aunt that the subject of “r-a-p-e” was woven into the storyline, she said that movie was definitely not the kind of thing for my weak eyes to behold. My aunt took me and my cousin anyway; to Hartford’s Blue Hills Drive-In on a Saturday night (no less), which made it seem even more transgressive (all together now) than it actually was. It was late enough at night to make me wonder now whether I even began to understand all those unsavory aspects my mother didn’t want me to see, Mostly, I thought “Mockingbird” was a more exotic and far spookier species of the Disney melodramas we’d see whenever they showed up at a downtown palace like the Strand or Loews Poli. Disney himself, according to Neil Gabler’s biography, reacted to “Mockingbird” with envy. (“That’s the kind of film I wish I could make,” he said after a screening. What kind is that, Uncle?)
Since then, “To Kill a Mockingbird” has been turned into such a rite-of-passage movie for succeeding generations of pre-adolescent cineastes (see “Almost Famous”) that its reputation is in danger of collecting mold. Some reviewers at the time thought it arrived with plenty of mildew. But as far as most of us were concerned, it was right on time – and as the decades pass, it’s still very much a part of a transformative moment in history and a collective consciousness-raising whose legacy we still treasure. Much later, I would discover how much Harper Lee’s story owed to Faulkner’s “Intruder in the Dust”, whose blunt-edged, superior 1949 film version by Clarence Brown has YET to appear on DVD! (Someday, this space will have to take up the “Free Juano Hernandez” cause.) But both her novel and its movie version have become so ingrained in our cultural DNA over the last half-century that it’s hard to find anyone who gripes about it now.
“Mockingbird”, of course, is the centerpiece of the Film Society of Lincoln Center “American Auteurs” retrospective tribute to its director, Robert Mulligan, which begins March 18 and runs through March 25 at the Walter Reade Theater. (See the full schedule here Mulligan, who died last year at age 80, left behind an erratic, but still intriguing body-of-work. Somehow, his first two, 1957’s “Fear Strikes Out” and 1960’s “The Rat Race’ (with Don Rickles playing a psycho thug) didn’t make it onto the schedule, but 1965’s “Baby the Rain Must Fall”, 1969’s “The Stalking Moon”, 1971’s “Summer of ‘42” an 1972’s “The Other” are there as are 1978’s Richard Price adaptation, “Blood Brothers” and 1991’s “The Man in the Moon” (Mulligan’s last, notable now as Reese Witherspoon’s debut.)
The catch-phrase about Mulligan’s career was that he was especially good with kids, though it should also be noted that, much like his contemporary Sidney Lumet, he seemed especially inspired by New York City; not that any of his Gotham-centric movies surpassed “Mockingbird” either in quality or impact, but there were flashes of inspiration in those movies that came within a spiked-hair’s distance of “Mockingbird.”
Of these, the one that I’ve lately rediscovered with the most pleasure is 1967’s “Up the Down Staircase.” It’s one of those relics of one’s movie-going past that you’ll never regard as great or even consistently good; yet somehow, you cherish even its messier moments in different ways than you covet the masterworks in your DVD library.
Back to my side of things: I went to an inner city high school very much like the one along Manhattan’s fringes that was cast in the movie as Calvin Coolidge High. The building was as drab, creaky and aged as the one I attended at about the same time. It, too, had “up” and “down” staircases and, because, before my freshman year, I’d read the Bel Kaufman novel from which the movie was adapted, I knew the perils of using the wrong stairwell; not that knowing such things mattered very much in the end.
Also because I’d read the book, I remember looking forward to the movie version when it was first released, not just to see how Kaufman’s epistolary narrative would be transferred to the screen, but to watch how it evoked day-to-day life in mid-1960s urban public education.
More than anything, I remember being caught up in the movie’s coating of New York grit which to me evoked an edgy glamour and seedy authenticity I found back then in pseudo-documentary TV cop shows. I had reservations, too: The musical score tried too hard to be winsome and cute, making it seem even more like a Hollywood product, despite the presence of such New York-based character actors as Sorrell Brooke, Vinnette Carroll, Ruth White, Eileen Heckart and Jean Stapleton. (Yup, that’s Edith Bunker herself as the school’s by-the-book secretary.)
Still, the school’s overall racial mix was pretty much in line with the urban school I attended. If, to contemporary eyes, there are a lot more white students than black students in this fringe neighborhood school, well, as the late, great comedian Godfrey Cambridge used to say, “Dats the way it wuz in dem days!” Most formerly all-white suburbs are exactly like that now.
What hasn’t changed much, if what my younger sister, a teacher in a working-class Hartford suburb, tells me is the grim mood and simmering sense of helplessness teachers find at their twilight parent conferences. (If anything, my sister says it’s gotten worse – and she teaches elementary kids.)
Though there are a couple of big melodramatic moments that become as over-emphatic as in any high school movie (the attempted suicide and its aftermath), the movie gets many of the little details right; their recognition is often funny, sometimes rueful. For instance: An African-American student, praised by his teacher for a cogent answer, is heckled outside the classroom as a “white-loving plowboy.” (If you’re guessing this moment landed on my chest with an especially resounding bump back then, all I’ll say in response is that it still does.) Overall, “Up the Down Staircase”, in its unwieldy blend of big and small vignettes somehow retains a vivid tableau of what such a public high school looked like in the Great Society years before metal detectors, cramped classrooms and fraying budgets. It’s awkward and gangly and sometimes too solemn for its own good. But then again, so was I back then. I watch this movie and it’s almost like watching my own hesitant sense of where and who I was when it was still possible to believe the Dream not only wouldn’t die, but actually come true.
Carrying this whole story with mild, tentative poise is Sandy Dennis as game, but perpetually flustered rookie teacher Sylvia Barrett. This was one of the very few lead roles (likely the only one) Dennis had in a mercurial movie career characterized by prodigiously neurotic characters. She was, after all, a devotee of the Method and, even here, once in a while, a mannerism will poke out of her performance like a loose thread. But she seems animated here by a sense of purpose that borders on vivacity – which isn’t a word that often shares a sentence with her name. In “Staircase”, she evinces a lemony composure that, for one of the few times in her on-screen career, never allows you to see the wheels turn. You wonder, 17 years after Dennis’ death from ovarian cancer, what her own body-of-work would have looked like if she’d had more chances to show this side of her. Maybe she did – and chose not to.

“Up the Down Staircase” is being screened at Walter Reade March 21 and March 23. It’s also available on Warner Home Video.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Chafin Seymour Updated

video to come
We want all of the dance aficionados in our reader following to know about this New York City Resource

Watching "Cabin in the Sky" for Lent

From: Gene

At the hinge of the 1960s and 1970s, “Cabin in the Sky” embodied just about everything we young, gifted & solemn black college students thought we were fighting against. All we blinkered baby cultural-nationalists could see back then in those idyllic depictions of small-town African American folk life were unhealthy levels of honeysuckle and hambone. Away with those rolling dice and eyeballs, all that cornball piety & undignified shucking…Is that really what we wanted our collective profile to look like after King and Malcolm and countless others had died for our advancement?
It’s a measure of how much time has passed that I can’t even LOOK at that previous sentence, much less write it, without wincing; the same kind of wincing we aforementioned Children of the Movement were doing whenever “Cabin” poked out from TV’s wee-hour wilds or was screened at collegiate film societies. Exaggerated nose-turning-in-a-vertical-direction is at least as embarrassing as pronounced eye-rolling – and not nearly as funny. Given the choice between retroactive scoldings from what some new-jack pundits have come to label the “soul patrol” and the to-be-or-not-to-be anxieties displayed by Eddie “Rochester” Anderson and I know whose party I’d rather go to,
The distinction no longer needs raising, much less stressing. A few days ago, I’d hosted a screening of “Cabin” for a Wednesday-night Lenten supper at our predominantly black Episcopal church in lower Manhattan. It was a small audience, mostly older and just about all of its members had seen the movie before and loved it without predisposition or qualifiers (even though the DVD released three years ago opens with Warner Home Video’s contemporary disclaimer apologizing about “stereotypes” that were “wrong then and wrong now.”) The tiny audience appeared to appreciate the concern, though it didn’t need to be told what was or wasn’t appropriate. They just wanted a warm black-and-white memory bath. Even the sole 20-something in the room, recruited to help with projection, was caught up in a movie old enough to be his (grand) mother.
Each time I see the movie, I’m more galvanized by the sheer magnetism of its performers. Even in the reproachful seventies, it was hard not to be waylaid by the glory that was Lena Horne in her twenties. What she was then and what she remained throughout the sixties and beyond was so legitimate & enduring to young black fogies like us that we gave her quick dispensation for “Cabin”; the kind of pass that that didn’t easily go to, say, Ethel Waters (about whom, more later),“Rochester” Anderson or John “Bubbles” Sublett, whose song-and-dance recital of “Shine” is at once the movie’s most glaring anachronism and its most flamboyant affirmation of poise and skill.
Which in no way slights everyone else in the movie, though you wish Louis Armstrong got to do even a little bit more than set off a few elegant licks while wearing those ridiculous devil’s horns. You also wish you could see more of Duke Ellington’s orchestra at work beyond flashes of its suave, imperturbable leader. (That IS Johnny Hodges in the front with the alto, right?) But first-time director Vincente Minnelli was too caught up in the dancing and singing – and rightfully so. His own eye is so greedy and avid for movement and energy that you can almost feel him sitting next to you as you’re looking for the next big moment.
Almost all of which moments are owned by Waters. Donald Bogle has elsewhere noted how often contemporary audiences are drawn to screenings of “Cabin” by the promise of seeing the young, cat-like Horne, yet leave those screenings dazzled by Waters’ charisma. If younger moviegoers had easy access to Waters’ recordings from the 1920s and 1930s, they’d be better prepared for her vocal agility. (Critics and historians, not that anyone pays them any mind, argue with conviction that Waters’ chops as a singer were the equal of Armstrong’s – and that her influence on jazz singing was just as emphatic & far-reaching.) But hardly anyone at any age is prepared for the moment when Waters’ Petunia, backsliding into “sin” to “save” Anderson’s Joe from the Devil’s clutches, sashays into a startlingly graceful jitterbug with Sublett’s Domino. One has read in books about both women of tension between Horne and Waters throughout “Cabin’s” shooting. (In her own memoir, “His Eye is On the Sparrow”, Waters doesn’t go into detail about the friction except to say that she “won every battle” and that her scrapes kept her away from the movies for another six years.) Whether Waters ended up dominating “Cabin” by fair or foul means, her triumph endures just as Dilsey, the character she played in her last film, 1959’s “The Sound and the Fury,” endured.
After the church screening was over, I asked the audience if there were still aspects of the movie that offended or seemed out-of-date. No one could think of any – and I honestly couldn’t come up with any that mattered. I do wish, in retrospect, that I’d asked them if it seemed as though the folks who were either in hell or engaging in “sinful” partying had a better time – and heard better music – than those who stayed close to Petunia’s righteous path. I decided against bringing that dilemma up in a Lenten discussion, though it now strikes me that there were folks willing to talk it over.
I did, however, bring up the closest present-day corollary to “Cabin in the Sky’s” blend of low comedy and Manichean melodrama: The films of Tyler Perry, especially those featuring Madea, Perry’s pious, pistol-packing alter-ego. Since I knew that all those assembled had seen more than one Perry movie more than once, I asked if there was any real difference between the depictions of black life in “Cabin” and those in, say, “Madea Goes to Prison.” They said there were none; a surprise to me since I expected them to mention the relative rawness of Perry’s depictions of single motherhood, class animus and teen pregnancy. “Cabin’s” dichotomy between Petunia’s milk-and-honey world view and the temptations of the flesh embodied by Horne’s duplicitous Georgia Brown seem like old school Disney by comparison. But in both cases, a simplistic (as opposed to simple) solution to mortal weakness and moral sloth is submitted to audiences for whom broad laughs and big emotions are perhaps the only justifications for entertainment.
Perry continues to astound the mainstream (white) world with the bushels of money he reaps for his movies. And his entrepreneurial moxie serves as a reminder that, unlike the 1940s (or the two decades subsequent to or preceding them), it’s possible for African American artists to have some control over how they’re depicted on screen, for better or worse. I still wonder whether future generations of black people will someday accuse his work of, at best, being too over-the-top or (so to speak) too black-and-white in their moralistic aims. I doubt it somehow. But of one thing I have no doubt: Madea, whatever her own martial skills or swaggering mojo, is no Ethel Waters.