John Oliver Killens

John Oliver Killens Honored

The historic Pleasant Hill community further solidified itself as one of Macon’s best producers of outstanding world citizens during a Black History month ceremony honoring the life of one of the city’s most prolific native sons, John Oliver Killens.

Initiated by Poetic Peace founder Y-O Latimore and supported by the Tubman African American Museum, Macon-Bibb County government and other public and private entities, the birthday celebration featured Latimore reading aloud a proclamation signed by Macon’s mayor; its dedication to the museum by Latimore and a mobile information panel detailing the life of Killens.

 

Latimore bestowing the Killens proclamation on Andy Ambrose of the Tubman African American Museum
Latimore bestowing the Killens proclamation on Tubman Museum Executive Director Andy Ambrose
Y-O Latimore shares the journey of Killens' proclamation with audience
Y-O Latimore shares the journey of Killens’ proclamation with audience
Audience members listen to Latimore explain the ultimate purpose of Killens proclamation
Audience members listen to Latimore explain the ultimate purpose of the Killens proclamation

Killens was born in Macon on January 14, 1916. He grew up in Pleasant Hill and eventually went on to become one of the 20th century’s most renowned writers. Killens attended a number of colleges including Morris Brown, Howard University and Columbia University but never earned a degree. After serving in the military in the South Pacific from 1942 to 1945, he moved to New York City in 1948 to focus on establishing a literary career according to historic references. Around 1950 he co-founded a writer’s group that became the Harlem Writers Guild and earned the additional title “Father of the Black Arts Movement”. During this period the guild became a haven for Civil Rights activists, writers and Hollywood actors. Sidney Poitier, Ossie Davis and his wife Ruby Dee were regulars. Writers Maya Angelou, Gwendolyn Brooks and Alice Walker participated in the guild as well.

Killens first novel, “Youngblood” was published in 1954 and received critical acclaim. However, it was 1962’s “And Then We Heard the Thunder” and “The Cotillion or One Good Bull Is Half the Herd” later penned by Killens in 1971 that made him a literary icon. Both were nominated for Pulitzer Prizes in Fiction and still serve today as the lynchpins of his works.  Killens later  founded the National Black Writers Conference at Medgar Evers College while teaching English. He died in 1987 leaving a profound body of works.

Tubman Museum Executive Director Andy Ambrose received the proclamation from Latimore on the museum’s behalf. He expressed that the event was an extension of what he believes is the Tubman’s responsibility – to tell the story of unsung heroes like Killens. “He (Killens) was a role model that we can use to inspire our youth to embrace their creative talents and abilities,” said Ambrose. The Tubman has put it money where its mouth is and has a long standing relationship with L.H. Williams Elementary School that focuses on developing and enhancing the school’s children’s talents and interests in the arts.

Jkel Howard of Macon attended the birthday celebration with his father Kelron. The sixteen year old Northeast High School student’s grandfather grew up in the Pleasant Hill community  as well. Howard revealed that he accompanied his Dad to find out more about important people from Pleasant Hill that came before him. “It was kinda shocking that this man (Killens) came from the same neighborhood as my grandfather and grew up to become so successful,” Howard expressed with a broad smile. “It made me believe that if this guy can do it, so can I.” Otis Redding III, son of the late great Macon soul singer Otis Redding, Jr., also came out to support the effort. Latimore serves as a concert publicist for Redding routinely and on this day additionally as his history teacher. ” I commend Y-O for keeping Killens on Macon’s mind. We need to touch on this story and share how this man lived and worked right here on these streets of our city,” said Redding.

During the ceremony, Latimore shared personal stories regarding how Killens inspired her as a teen struggling to find her way. It was after reading “The Cotillion or One Good Bull is Half the Herd” at sixteen while preparing to attend her own ball that forever etched Killens in her heart and jump started Latimore’s pursuit of making his life and times more known. She says the proclamation is the beginning of what she hopes is a sustained effort to include Killens’ story in the cirriculum of Bibb County Schools. “I want to expose others to Killens and inspire people,” she stated. “His work is still relevant today. The man really paid attention to his world around him.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Clarence Thomas is a seasoned media professional with years of experience in the areas of: writing, video production, journalism, public & media relations, event planning, public speaking, crisis communications, marketing, photography, social networking and media consulting. He loves sharing information and enjoys doing so as a freelance writer for RetroWarehouse. Contact him at thomas4111@cox.net.

 

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