Richard Long: Keeper of the black book of history





Richard Long opens the door of his Inman Park home, and Edith Piaf's sad, birdlike voice wafts onto the porch. A slight but straight-backed man with searching blue eyes and professorial diction, he flashes a broad smile that reveals the warmth behind his aristocratic presence.

Though 80, the longtime Atlantan exudes the vitality of a much younger man, propelled by an unfailing curiosity that still takes him to distant continents and, twice yearly, to Piaf's Paris.

Long's home, stuffed with the books and art he's acquired over a half-century, is a three-dimensional incarnation of his active mind and well-stamped passport. Sitting in the parlor, surrounded by his objects and his memories, the retired Emory professor looks back on the life and career to be honored Sunday night at a birthday gala thrown by the National Black Arts Festival.

"I am a cultural historian," he begins, with typical understatement.

Those two meager words hardly do him justice. Try scholar, educator, writer, impresario, raconteur. And advocate: Starting before the civil rights marches and continuing into the age of Oprah, Long has worked to illuminate and disseminate African-American culture.

Though not well-known beyond art and academic circles, his work —- from training of future educators to behind-the-scenes support of local and national institutions —- has benefited a broad swath of the public.

"He has been the person I've consulted since the first [National Black Arts] festival, and I continue to sit at his feet," says NBAF executive director Stephanie Hughley. "He is the authority on visual art and dance and black culture —- the teacher of our time. "...



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