I am eternally blessed that my parents, my entire family, and my community taught me that there is not merely one way to be Black and that Black excellence manifests itself in a multitude of ways. Thus, while I’m sad to be commemorating two local giants, it’s only fitting that I honor them together as they are bookends of Black excellence.
Al Stamps Sr. represents the Marcus Garvey/Booker T. Washington notion of the self-made, industrial man who uses his business not just to earn a profit but to feed thousands of Jackson State University students and all of West Jackson while being a blueprint of the benefits of Black ownership.
Dr. Richard T. Middleton represents the W. E. B. Du Bois/Carter G. Woodson notion of academic brilliance and cosmopolitanism that inspired generations of JSU and City of Jackson students to use their minds as tools to build the world that they need and desire.
Together, they are the yin and the yang that combine to illuminate the holistic and multidimensional nature of blackness. Moreover, in their own way, both are supreme examples that scholarship is applying information and resources to lead, guide, assist and protect those who have been less fortunate than oneself.
Stamps: Always Looking Forward, Feeding Students
Stamps Super Burgers, which has served the West Jackson community for 50 years, is more than a great burger joint. While most people would be happy providing the biggest and the best damn burger that most folks have ever tasted in their lives, Al Stamps Sr. was equally concerned with making his business a haven for neighborhood children as well as elders.
The Stamps family purchased what was then a grocery store and meat market on Dalton Street in 1970 in the immediate aftermath of the Jackson State University attack when the Jackson Police Department, the Mississippi Highway Patrol, and the Mississippi National Guard surrounded the campus and fired over 400 rounds into the Alexander Hall Female Dormitory, killing two and wounding 18. As many businesses were leaving the area, the Stamps family decided to invest in it.
Today, Stamps Super Burgers is more like a Black barbershop than a burger joint because it is still the place where one can go to get the “happenings.” Whether one is campaigning for office, facilitating an open-mic event or starting a new business, Stamps is the place to hang a flyer and talk with folks to ensure that the word is disseminated to the community.
Stamps was always looking forward as he allowed his sons, Al Jr. and Phil, to upgrade the menu to add veggie burgers and all types of great-tasting fries. (I’m partial to the sweet potato fries myself, but my wife likes the lemon pepper fries. Man, we so country.)
Regardless of the changes, the quality and the quantity never changed. While every other business was trying to find ways to give you less product and service at a higher cost, Stamps kept his menu stocked with deals for those struggling to put food on the table. This is especially helpful for college students who barely have enough money for anything. Thus, Stamps Super Burgers is just a walk up the street from campus where a few dollars can still enable one to have a full meal deal.
His sons, Al Jr. and Phil, are men’s men who work as diligently in the community as they do in the restaurant. Furthermore, it must be stated that Al Jr. makes some of the best skillet popcorn in the world, second only to my Aunt Li’l Rosie. (For those of y’all who’ve never had or don’t know what skillet popcorn is, y’all should just kill yourselves over your clearly substandard lives.)
We know that the restaurant will be in great hands with Al and Phil, but we thank Al Sr. for pouring into his sons the love for Black folks that they continue to give to us through food, a loving environment and a Black-owned business that finds various ways to serve its community.
Middleton: A High Bar of Intellectual Excellence
Dr. Richard T. Middleton is the classic academician who understood education as the most powerful weapon against white supremacy. He taught at JSU for over 50 years, including serving as the director of student teaching. Dr. Middleton taught my father at JSU and was still there by the time that I arrived. In all those years, he never lowered his bar of intellectual excellence as it was his goal to produce students who could directly contribute to the liberation of African people from Jim Crow.
When I was a student, once Dr. Middleton realized who my father was, he would always stop me and ask, “How’s your father?” Then, he would add, “Your father is doing good work for us. You must continue that once you graduate.” Dr. Middleton was unapologetic in applying that pressure to me. But, it was always with a tone of love and support.
I would be remiss if I don’t mention that Dr. Middleton was also a minister (Episcopal priest, to be exact), and his ministry was driven by his desire to use the Word to inspire Black folks to know a Savior that could liberate them from Satan’s hell and America’s hell. Yet, my greatest memory of Dr. Middleton is that he was a man of culture. Regardless of the genre, if art was happening on or off campus, he would be there.
Music, painting, sculpture, literature, drama, dance and more, Dr. Middleton knew a lot about all of it and loved all of it equally. Once I graduated and was working as a local writer, he would still stop me and inquire about an upcoming arts event. Many times, if there were multiple events on campus, he’d walk across campus with me, discussing each of them with enough energy and passion in his voice for both of us.
Dr. Middleton is one of the reasons why I always gave my students extra credit to attend artistic events because he was one of the many people who instilled in and affirmed for me Du Bois’ notion that “in the final analysis all art is propaganda” and that Black children must be exposed to the highest and most well-crafted forms of art to prepare their minds for our struggle.
Finally, Dr. Middleton had a great appreciation of classical, jazz and blues. From Bach, to Bebop, to B. B., Doc Middleton could swing with the best of ‘em. Yet, this is also an example that he was no respecter of person as Doc Middleton could see the God in all people and was willing to do the work to help each of us become our best selves. That is the trait of a great teacher.
RIP Al Stamps Sr. and Dr. Richard T. Middleton. They were two giants who showed that activism and intellect can manifest in a myriad of ways. More importantly, they are examples of the variety of Black folks, teaching that we don’t have to choose to be one kind of Black. Blackness is so beautiful, bad and bold that it is impossible for one person to contain all of it.
Thus, our local community was blessed with two men who gave us a blueprint to chart the linear path between the extreme poles of Africanness. In doing so, they inspire each of us to learn and examine the multiple slices of our own pie chart to become fully human. Even though their bodies are gone, their work remains as each of us whose lives were touched by them now have the responsibility to touch all whom we meet in our uniquely positive manner.