Black Horror History: Black Herman

Black Herman
by James Goodridge

The jazz age! Blues! The Harlem renaissance period of the 1920’s to about the mid 1930’s were a premier time for the emerging black diaspora creative and intellectual ethos. Literary icons such as Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston influenced the era with their poetry and prose. Art that recorded the new Negro world view came from the canvas of Aaron Douglas. With his use of mystical light and shadows combined with art deco lines and African themes, he embodied the visual of the renaissance. William Grant Still’s musical movements (Lenox Ave.) provided the soundtrack. This along with other creative souls too many to name here crafted the black struggles and hopes of their day.

Then there was Black Herman.

Thin, tall, and awkward. A dark brown man who dressed “to the nines” as they use to say, sometimes wearing tuxedos as much off stage as he did on stage, Black Herman’s mortal life began as Benjamin Rucker in Virginia in 1889. A student of the mysterious Prince Herman he took his mentor’s name after Prince Herman’s death in 1909. Using prestidigitation, patent medicine, and asrah levitation as part of his repertoire, Black Herman shot to fame in the south as a “race magician” and up north playing to integrated theater goers. But while some magicians disavowed the occult, he embraced it. Working out of his townhouse on west 136th Street in Harlem, Herman did what is called “working the roots” aka hoodooism.

Today the items he used you would find in botanical shops. Your everyday octagon soap found in the market being one of such items. One of Herman’s more interesting  feats was his “Black Herman’s Private Graveyard” where he would have the theater audience follow him to a prearranged site where he would be buried alive for three days only to be resurrected. Sadly the great depression and a fraud conviction cutback Herman’s booking and touring. Depending on which story you read, Black Herman collapsed on stage during a performance in Kentucky or at a boarding house he was staying at in said state in 1934. Legend has it the audience followed his body to the funeral home not believing Herman was dead. Heart attack on stage or indigestion after a boarding house dinner, one could only guess.

Black Herman was made immortal resurrected in literature by author Ishmal Reed in his novel Mumbo Jumbo (1975 Avon). In it, Black Herman is a sleek hoodoo detective going up against corrupt Knights Templars in Jazz age Harlem. A good chapter in Occult America by M. Horowitz (2009 Bantam) is devoted to Black Herman and other black occultists.

For a time like your book title, Mr. Herman, you covered the world.

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Born and raised in the Bronx, James is new to writing speculative fiction. After ten years as an artist representative and paralegal James decided in 2013 to make a better commitment to writing.jamesgoodridge headshotCurrently, he is writing a series of short “Twilight Zone” inspired stories from the world of art, (The Artwork) and a diesel/punkfunk saga (Madison Cavendish/Seneca Sue Mystic Detectives) with the goal of producing compelling stories

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