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Like an echo of the literature, music, and fashion known as the Harlem Renaissance, the African-American community in mid-20th century Wake Forest experienced a surge in creativity, intellectualism, and culture. In this era of lingering segregation, with Jim Crow laws still firmly in place across the South, the residents of northeast Wake Forest were establishing successful schools and businesses. The neighborhood churches were filled to bursting, children played in the streets, and music was everywhere.
Following the music is how a reporter from Wake Forest College first discovered Arthur Young. A songwriter who lived along North White Street in the 1940s, he was the son of Allen Young, founder of Wake Forest’s segregated Normal and Industrial School. Although a math teacher by trade, Young also dabbled in popular music with considerable success. His composition “Let’s Call It Love” was named one of the best new songs of 1941 by Hollywood’s National Songwriters’ Guild.
Young had gotten his start while working as a postal clerk in New York in the late 1920s. In his off hours, he’d stake out the Manhattan theater district, playing his original melodies for music publishers. When that didn’t pan out, he returned to Wake Forest where he taught at his father’s school and studied books on songwriting and composition. Eventually, he teamed up with Mary Gorman, a white lyricist from Richmond, Virginia. Theirs was an unusual partnership. Only composing through correspondence at first, Young came to realize he’d eventually have to tell Mary he was black. As it turned out, Mary’s feelings never changed and she happily made plans to travel to Wake Forest so they could write songs together in a classroom at the Normal and Industrial School.
The next great artist from the town’s northeast neighborhood was a drum major at the segregated DuBois School. Danny Scarborough graduated in 1965, five years before Wake Forest’s public schools were integrated. His talent and early education launched him farther than anyone could have imagined.
Scarborough went on to attend St. Augustine’s College, the University of Massachusetts, Yale University, and Columbia University. He became an assistant professor in the Africana Studies program at San Diego State University, where he founded the Black Repertory Theater Experience. He wrote, directed, and choreographed dramatic dance performances that combined blues and jazz with African-themed movement. In 1978, Scarborough’s group was honored with an Emmy Award for a piece inspired by Alex Haley’s “Roots.”
But Danny Scarborough is also known for bravely coming out as one of the first famous black men in America to be diagnosed with AIDS. He received the devastating news in 1984. Infected by a former lover who later died of the disease, Scarborough made it his mission to reach out to men in the African-American community. Determined to save lives by preventing others from making the same mistakes, he went public in Ebony Magazine in 1989 with a declaration of his bisexuality and a message pleading with black men to use condoms and practice safe sex. This unusual openness about what was still a misunderstood illness remains an enduring and impressive part of his legacy. An icon in the fields of African-American studies and dance, Scarborough remains a legendary figure 25-years after his death.
Today, a documentary film about Scarborough’s life is in production. Written and directed by acclaimed historian and documentary artist Dr. Daniel E. Walker, When Roosters Crow was nominated for Best Short Film at the 2014 San Diego Black Film Festival. A former student of Scarborough’s, Walker was the Associated Students/Student Government Association President at San Diego State University during the final year of Scarborough’s life. The film features 1970s era dance segments and interviews with Scarborough, along with newly recorded recollections from his former students.
The film’s creators are seeking funding to produce a full-length version of When Roosters Crow, and have an indiegogo site for donations.