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Black History Month

History-makers of Southeast Louisiana

Tom Dent

Photo from The Amistad Research Center

Tom Dent (1932-1998)

Thomas Covington Dent was an African-American poet, essayist, oral historian, dramatist, and cultural activist from New Orleans. His father, Dr. Albert Dent was a longtime president of Dillard University and his mother, Jessie Covington Dent, was a former concert pianist. Tom began his writing career at Morehouse College, working for the school newspaper. After college, he worked for New York Age, a black weekly newspaper. Thurgood Marshall appointed Dent to be press liaison for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. While in New York, Dent was exposed to other writers who were writing about the culture and struggles of African-Americans in that era.

Dent returned to New Orleans in 1965 and helped create Free Southern Theatre (FST), artists and activist collective committed to fighting racism and segregation through theatrical productions. While he was with FST, Dent wrote “Ritual Murder,” a play that examines black-on-black crime. In 1968, he started the writer’s workshop BLKARTSOUTH, to mentor young writers. He was a prolific writer of essays, poetry, articles, and reviews for magazines. Dent co-founded two literary journals: Nkombo and Callaloo, a journal of African and African American arts and letters. Dent conducted oral histories of Mississippi Civil Rights workers from 1978-1987, and in 1984 conducted oral history interviews with New Orleans and Acadian musicians. The tapes from both collections are now at the Amistad Research Center in New Orleans. 

From 1984 to 1986 Dent worked as a writer on Andrew Young's autobiography, An Easy Burden. In the nineties, Dent worked on the Mississippi Oral History Project focusing on local Mississippi participation in the Civil Rights movement. From 1987 to 1990, he served as the Executive Director of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation. During the 1990's, he traveled in the Caribbean and in Africa investigating cultural connections between the African-heritage cultures of the Diaspora and Africa.  At the time of his death, Dent was working on two journals, a collection of reflections on New Orleans and a series of personal essays on the connections and disruptions between Africa and African Americans. Dent's last and most important book was Southern Journey (1996). 

A new collection of his work, New Orleans Griot: The Tom Dent Reader, edited by Kalamu Ya Salaam, was published in January 2018.

For more on Tom Dent, check out the following links:

Oral history interviews, Amistad Research Center. 

Southern Journey, by Tom Dent. Louisiana Cultural Vistas, Summer 1997


Photo from Thomas C. Dent Papers, Amistad Research Center at Tulane University

The books listed below are available for you at Sims Memorial Library.