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Social Studies

Their Eyes Were Watching eBay

By Vincent Williams | Posted 12/28/2005

So, months after moving into the new house, I’ve achieved the goal that I’ve been dreaming of for years: my own comic-book room or, as we affectionately refer to it, the Geek Suite. (And, by “years,” I literally mean since that horrifying moment when I was 3 and my parents informed me that my “playroom” was about to become my “little sister’s bedroom” and I would have to play somewhere besides where they had told me I could play—ergo the name “play” room, prefaced with “my.” A little bit of my innocence died that day. Oh yeah, I’ve had hard times. Don’t even get me started on my mother’s propensity to serve bananas waaaaay after they’re too brown. “Oh, hush. That’s just sugar.”)

Everything’s in place, and I can now start my effort to really spruce up the place with some decorative touches. Such as a vintage 1975 Mego Falcon action figure. All the cats my age surely remember the commercial advertising Spider-Man—“the webslinger”—Captain America—“patriotic crusader”—and, of course, against a background of graffiti and garbage, the Falcon—“the BLACK superhero!” Man, he rocked. Anyway, I want one mint in box—or MIB as they say—to put on a stand in my room. So, I go to the ol’ eBay and look one up and, sure enough, there’s one for sale in the same package that I remember ripping off of mine when I was 7. How much was it going for? $573. FIVE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-three MICKEY-FICKEY, MOTHER TRUCKIN’ DOLLARS!?

Welcome to the wonderful world of black memorabilia, where every mammy salt and pepper shaker, Shaft in Africa poster, and, yeah, Falcon action figure costs a whole lotta scratch. That black Cabbage Patch doll? I hope you held on to it. And, dear God, don’t even get me started on the real stuff, like books. But I’ll get to that in a minute. The bottom line is, it’s hard to buy some black stuff. And this is for a couple of reasons.

The Falcon issue actually relates to one I’m dealing with now as my daughter comes of age: the relative lack of black dolls. Yeah, I had a couple of Falcon action figures when I was a kid, but I remember my mom having to dig through the billion Spider-Man and Batman figures to find one—the same Spider-Man and Batman figures that now you can get for a fraction of the price of the Falcon. It’s a classic and, in this case, ironic case of supply and demand. They made relatively few Falcon action figures, thinking no one would want them, but now collectors have a hard time getting one. Take “the Falcon” out of the equation and add “black Barbie,” or, to get back to issues that affect the Geek Suite’s decorations, “original Lando Calrissian figure from Star Wars,” and you got some major money hindrances to the ordinary dude who wants this stuff. And, again, this underrepresentation continues to this day. Of course, I got my Captain Sisko, Morpheus, John Stewart, and Mace Windu figures, so I’m straight.

Then there’s the sort of cultural editing that happens. Being a once-removed child of the South and fascinated by the power of words, I, along with the wife, have always looked out for segregation-era signs. One of our most prized possessions is a simple sign we have over our kitchen door that reads colored served. carry out only. The socioeconomic depths hidden in that simple message are mind-blowing. Alas, businesses have very consciously tried to destroy any artifacts from that era that would connect them to it, and it’s very difficult to find segregation signs and derogatory advertisements. (Try to find some Aunt Jemima stuff with her wearing the rag on her head. And that just stopped, like, six years ago.) Again, rarity equals money.

Which leads to, at least in my mind, the motherlode of black collectibles: old books. Now, I’m not going to say I would commit a crime to get a first edition of Native Son or Cane or Not Without Laughter, but dag, I sure would like one. In general, really old books are hard to find in good condition, and when you consider the small print runs, it gets even crazier for our books. Plus, when you’re dealing with black books in particular, you are running with the big dogs: Oprah. Whoopi. Spike. Cornel. These people would laugh at $573, and, frankly, I’m glad my Falcon is underneath their radar, ’cause that would drive the price up even more. Obviously, unless I just find one at a garage sale or something, a first edition of Their Eyes Were Watching God is not in my future.

Still, if you’re into it, you have to start collecting somewhere. We have the kitchen sign, as well as a segregation sign from a movie theater. A couple of weeks ago, we went to an antique mall that was going out of business and got a first edition of Carter G. Woodson’s History of the Negro Church for a steal. And the wife got me a first edition of Octavia Butler’s Mind of my Mind for Christmas. So the search continues! And, one day, I’ll get my Falcon.

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