What could be better than a great excuse to play a game you love — and pay homage to a legendary New Orleans author and activist?
The seventh annual Tom Dent Tennis Tournament is scheduled for Memorial Day weekend: Friday, May 27, through Sunday, May 29. You’ll be home in time to fire up the grill and call all the special veterans in your life to say thank you for their service and commemorate the lives of those who died in battle.
The tournament will be held at the Dillard University tennis courts (2603 Gentilly Blvd.). It’s easy to sign up, but you’ll have to pay an extra $5 per player for late entry (the deadline was midnight May 23). Regular entry fees are $35 for singles only, $25 for doubles only and $55 for both. Proceeds benefit the Tom Dent Memorial Fund.
Events include men’s singles and doubles, women’s singles and doubles, mixed singles and doubles and beginner, intermediate and advanced in various age levels.
Singles winners are given cash prizes, doubles winners receive noncash prizes, runners up receive certificates and all entered players receive a tournament tennis cap. For rules, visit the tournament website.
The tournament is supported by Dillard University and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation.
Dent, who played tennis competitively during his twenties, was born at Flint Goodridge Hospital in New Orleans on March 20, 1932. During his professional career as a poet, essayist, playwright, teacher and oral historian, he focused on the Civil Rights Movement and New Orleans culture. He authored two books of poetry — Magnolia Street (1976) and Blue Lights and River Songs (1982) — as well as the book Southern Journey: A Return to the Civil Rights Movement (1997).
Dent received a bachelor of arts degree in political science in 1952 from Morehouse College where he had served as editor of the college’s literary newspaper. He also worked for a year as a news reporter for The Houston Informer. He continued his political science studies at Syracuse University from 1952 to 1956, then served in the U.S. Army. After his service, he moved to New York to write and while there became involved in the Black Nationalism political movement. He was a news reporter for the New York Age in 1959, and in 1960 Thurgood Marshall (who later served as the first African-American associate justice for the U.S. Supreme Court and was U.S. solicitor general under President Lyndon Johnson) appointed him press liaison for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, a position he retained for three years and one that got him involved in the Civil Rights Movement. He also continued writing and was a founding member of the Umbra Writers' Workshop in New York, which formed the roots of the black arts literary movement and published the literary magazine Umbra, featuring African-American-penned poetry and creative writing.
Dent returned to New Orleans in 1965 and became associate director of the Free Southern Theater founded by John O’Neal and Gilbert Moses. He also developed a community workshop program to help African-Americans break into the stage and arts, and was instrumental in publishing the Nkombo literary magazine. His work culminated in an ensemble that performed poetry and short plays throughout the South and produced five mimeographed books of poetry in 1969. Dent later established the Congo Square Writer's Union and the Black River Journal literary magazine.
In the mid 1960s, Dent was a community organizer for the Social Welfare Planning Council, which helped with relief efforts in the lower 9th Ward after Hurricane Betsy. He later taught creative writing at the University of New Orleans and worked in the publications section of Total Community Action, a nonprofit community service organization that still exists today.
During the 1970s, Dent started documenting events through oral histories of Mississippi civil rights workers, New Orleans and Acadian musicians and black communities along the Mississippi River. In 1976, he co-founded Callaloo, a journal of arts and letters of the African-American South.
He was executive director of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation from 1987 to 1990 and wrote the documentary New Orleans Brass for the National Geographic Explorer television series.
When he died at age 66 of complications from a heart attack on June 6, 1998 at Charity Hospital, all his works and documents were donated to the Amistad Research Center at Tulane University and are available for people to study. Those materials include his personal correspondence, literary manuscripts, oral history interviews, and photographs.