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‘They was killing black people’ In Tulsa, one of the worst episodes of racial violence in U.S. history still haunts the city with unresolved questions, even as ‘Black Wall Street’ gentrifies

September 28, 2018

The black city council member driving a black SUV came to a dead stop along a gravel road.

Vanessa Hall-Harper pointed to a grassy knoll in the potter’s field section of Oaklawn Cemetery. “This is where the mass graves are,” Hall-Harper declared.

She and others think bodies were dumped here after one of the worst episodes of racial violence in U.S. history: the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.

For decades, few talked about what happened in this city when a white mob descended on Greenwood Avenue, a black business district so prosperous it was dubbed “the Negro Wall Street” by Booker T. Washington.

For two days beginning May 31, 1921, the mob set fire to hundreds of black-owned businesses and homes in Greenwood. More than 300 black people were killed. More than 10,000 black people were left homeless, and 40 blocks were left smoldering. Survivors recounted black bodies loaded on trains and dumped off bridges into the Arkansas River and, most frequently, tossed into mass graves.

LEFT: A man with a camera looks at iron bedframes rising above the ashes of a burned-out block in Tulsa. (Oklahoma Historical Society/Getty Images) RIGHT: National Guard troops escort unarmed African American men after the massacre. (Oklahoma Historical Society/Getty Images)

Now, as Tulsa prepares to commemorate the massacre’s centennial in 2021, a community still haunted by its history is being transformed by a wave of new development in and around Greenwood.

There’s a minor-league baseball stadium and plans for a BMX motocross headquarters. There’s an arts district marketed to millennials, and a hip shopping complex constructed out of empty shipping containers. There’s a high-end apartment complex with a yoga studio and pub.

While almost two-thirds of the neighborhood’s residents are African American, the gentrification has surfaced tensions between the present and the past. Questions about the scope of the rampage have never been resolved. Even the description of the violence is a point of contention, with some calling it the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 and others referring to it as a massacre.

“Before my grandmother died, I asked her what happened,” said Hall-Harper, whose council district includes Greenwood. “She began to whisper. She said, ‘They was killing black people and running them out of the city.’ I didn’t even know about the massacre until I was an adult. And I was raised here. It wasn’t taught about in the schools. It was taboo to speak about it.”

Vanessa Hall-Harper, a Tulsa city council member, and local activist Kristi Williams visit Oaklawn Cemetery, where many think there is a mass grave for people killed during the rampage. (Shane Bevel/for The Washington Post)

Though Tulsa officials decided years ago not to excavate the site of the alleged mass grave, arguing that the evidence isn’t strong enough, Hall-Harper plans to ask the city to reconsider.

“In honor of the centennial,” she said, “I think we, as a city, should look into that and ensure those individuals are laid to rest properly.”

A century ago, Tulsa was racially segregated and reeling from a recent lynching when Dick Rowland, a 19-year-old shoeshiner, walked to the Drexel Building, which had the only toilet downtown available to black people. Rowland stepped into an elevator. Sarah Page, a white elevator operator, began to shriek.

“While it is still uncertain as to precisely what happened in the Drexel Building on May 30, 1921, the most common explanation is that Rowland stepped on Page’s foot as he entered the elevator, causing her to scream,” the Oklahoma Historical Society reported.

The Tulsa Tribune published a news story with the headline “Nab Negro for Attacking Girl in Elevator” and ran an ominous editorial: “To Lynch Negro Tonight.”

Soon, a white mob gathered outside the Tulsa courthouse, where Rowland was taken after his arrest. They were confronted by black men, including World War I veterans, who wanted to protect Rowland.

A struggle ensued. A shot was fired. Then hundreds of white people marched on Greenwood in a murderous rage.

“They tried to kill all the black folks they could see,” a survivor, George Monroe, recalled in the 1999 documentary “The Night Tulsa Burned.”

There were reports that white men flew airplanes above Greenwood, dropping kerosene bombs. “Tulsa was likely the first city” in the United States “to be bombed from the air,” according to a 2001 report by the Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921.

B.C. Franklin, a Greenwood lawyer and the father of famed historian John Hope Franklin, wrote a rare firsthand account of the massacre later donated to the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

“The sidewalk was literally covered with burning turpentine balls,” he wrote. “For fully forty-eight hours, the fires raged and burned everything in its path and it left nothing but ashes and burned safes and trunks and the like that were stored in beautiful houses and businesses.”

On June 1, 1921, martial law was declared. Troops rounded up black men, women and children and detained them for days.

Olivia Hooker was 6 years old in 1921 — the year she witnessed the massacre. (Family photo)

Olivia Hooker, now 103, is one of the last survivors of the massacre. Hooker was 6 when the violence erupted.

Her mother hid her and three of her siblings under their dining room table. “She said, ‘Keep quiet, and they won’t know you are under here.’ ”

From beneath the oak table, she and her siblings watched in horror.

“They took everything they thought was valuable. They smashed everything they couldn’t take,” Hooker said. “My mother had these [Enrico] Caruso records she loved. They smashed the Caruso records.”

Hooker, who later became one of the first black women to join the Coast Guard, has always lived with her memories of that racial terrorism.

“You don’t forget something like that,” said Hooker, who lives in New York. “I was a child who didn’t know about bias and prejudice. . . . It was quite a trauma to find out people hated you for your color. It took me a long time to get over my nightmares.”

It wasn’t until 1998 that authorities began investigating the claims of mass graves. Investigators used electromagnetic induction and ground-penetrating radar to search for evidence at Newblock Park, which operated as a dump in 1921, Booker T. Washington Cemetery and Oaklawn Cemetery.

At each site, they found anomalies “that merited further investigation,” according to the commission’s report.

Olivia Hooker, 103, poses at her White Plains home. Hooker is one of the last surviving witnesses of the Tulsa Race Massacre. (Michael Noble Jr. for The Washington Post)

Then in 1999, a white man named Clyde Eddy, who was 10 at the time of the massacre, came forward and told officials he was playing in Oaklawn Cemetery in 1921 when he spotted white men digging a trench. When the men left, Eddy said, he peeked inside the wooden crates and saw corpses of black people.

Based on Eddy’s story, state archaeologists began investigating the section of the cemetery Eddy cited. The effort was led by Clyde Snow, one of the world’s foremost forensic anthropologists who had helped identify Nazi war criminals and had determined that more than 200 victims found in a mass grave in Yugoslavia had been killed in an execution style of ethnic cleansing.

Using ground-penetrating radar, they made a dramatic discovery: an anomaly bearing “all the characteristics of a dug pit or trench with vertical walls and an undefined object within the approximate center of the feature,” the commission concluded. “With Mr. Eddy’s testimony, this trench-like feature takes on the properties of a mass grave.”

This is sacred ground. The history is being ignored, and I think it is intentional.
Vanessa Hall-Harper

The commission, created by the Oklahoma legislature in 1997 to establish a historical record of the massacre, recommended “a limited physical investigation of the feature be undertaken to clarify whether it indeed represents a mass grave.”

It never happened.

Susan Savage, who was mayor of Tulsa at the time of the proposed excavation, said in a recent interview that she had numerous discussions with officials and raised concerns about the excavation.

“Oaklawn Cemetery is a public lot,” Savage recalled. “I asked, ‘How do we do that without disturbing graves of family buried there?’ I wanted to know how we [could] protect and preserve the dignity of people there.”

A drone image of the Oaklawn Cemetery shows the southwestern corner of the property. (Shane Bevel/for The Washington Post)

Bob Blackburn, who is white and served on the commission, said he agreed with the decision not to dig at Oaklawn.

“Based on all the evidence Clyde Snow looked at, we never could pinpoint something,” he said. “In my mind that is not an unresolved issue. In terms of proving there was a mass grave, there will always be people thinking one way or the other.”

The refusal to excavate was a blow, Hall-Harper said, along with the city’s decision to ignore a recommendation for reparations to survivors and descendants of survivors.

She worries that the gentrification underway does not include efforts to resolve lingering questions about the violence.

“This is sacred ground,” Hall-Harper said. “As developers are making decisions about the Greenwood district, the history is being ignored, and I think it is intentional. They want to forget about it and move on.”

J. Kavin Ross, who wrote about the mass graves for the Oklahoma Eagle Newspaper, a black-owned publication that has been headquartered in Greenwood since 1936, said gentrification has pushed many black residents and descendants of massacre survivors out of Greenwood.

“With gentrification—we say, ‘Now you want to take an interest in Greenwood and pimp our history? And you are going to build these apartments down here, and you know darn well we are not going to spend $1,000 for a closet room,” Ross said. “We will never be able to afford to live in Greenwood.”

At Greenwood and Archer, in the heart of Negro Wall Street, sit 14 red brick buildings that were reconstructed soon after the 1921 massacre. They are all that’s left of the original Greenwood.

Tulsa Drillers fans head to the ballpark downtown. The stadium sits at the edge of the Greenwood Historic District. (Shane Bevel/Shane Bevel Photography)

On a hot summer afternoon, David Francis pushes open the door at Wanda J’s Cafe, a soul-food restaurant where black and white residents mingle.

Francis, 32, lives nearby and loves Wanda J’s chicken-fried steak and green beans. A white man born and raised in Tulsa said he first heard about the massacre when he was in high school.

“It’s unbelievable to think the genuine atrocity took place right here,” said Francis, looking outside the restaurant window onto Greenwood Avenue. “A white woman told me she remembered seeing bodies dumped into the Arkansas River off a bridge.”

The African American diners at Wanda J’s fear the changes in Greenwood, including OneOK Field, the minor-league ballpark that opened in 2010, and the luxury GreenArch apartment complex, which features a yoga and indoor cycling studio. The BMX headquarters and track are set to open next year on the edge of the historic district at Archer and Lansing.

Bobby Eaton Sr., 83, orders a cup of coffee and calls the influx of white businesses and residents “a tragedy.”

Junior Williams, 56, said gentrification is driven by the same forces that fueled the white mob nearly 100 years ago. “There was economic jealously that caused them to destroy Greenwood.”

At Lefty’s on Greenwood, where the crowd is overwhelmingly white, Nicci Atchoey said she moved into the GreenArch apartments because of its history. But Atchoey, a 39-year-old white Realtor who grew up in Tulsa, learned the details of the massacre only six years ago.

“It is really not something taught in schools,” said Atchoey, adding that many white people move to Greenwood oblivious about the history.

“I think that is unacceptable. People come to the area and go to the bars and ballgame,” she said. “The stadium is like building a Whole Foods at the site of the Oklahoma City bombing.”

As evening falls, the crowds heading to the baseball game walk over the plaques in the sidewalk dedicated to businesses destroyed in the massacre.

Near the stadium’s entrance, under Interstate 244, a mural is signed “Tulsa Race Riot 1921.” Someone has crossed out “riot” and written “massacre.” Someone else has crossed out “massacre” and left a scribble of black spray paint.

Next year marks 400 years since first African slaves arrived in Virginia

 

Slavery museum exhibit

 

 

Exhibition at the Hampton History Museum.

The first documented Africans to arrive in the English-speaking colony of what would become Virginia, arrived in August 1619 on the “White Lion,” a Dutch man-of-war ship carrying enslaved cargo from the West Coast of Africa.

The arrival of the ship was reported by colonist John Rolfe who wrote: “About the latter end of August, a Dutch man of Warr of the burden of a 160 tunnes arrived at Point-Comfort, the Commandors name Capt. Jope. He brought not any thing but 20 And odd Negroes, w(hich) the Governo(r) and Cape Merchant bought for victuals.”

The “20 and odd Negroes” had been captured in 1619 from “the Kingdom of Ndongo” in Angola. They were packed with more than 350 enslaved Africans aboard the Sao Joao Baustista, a Portuguese slave ship that set sail from the coast of Africa, bound for Vera Cruz, on the coast of Mexico.

“The ship was overcrowded,” said James Horn, the historian who serves as the president of the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation. “It suffered horrible mortality on the voyage to Vera Cruz.”

And in the middle of the voyage on the high seas, the ship was attacked by two English pirate ships — the Treasurer and the White Lion — hoping to steal gold. Instead, they found human cargo.

The English boarded the ship and split the human cargo between the White Lion and the Treasurer. Weeks later, the White Lion arrived at Point Comfort in Virginia, where its captain traded the enslaved people for food.

Among those traded were a man and woman who were later named Antoney and Isabella and whose baby would become the first documented African baby baptized in English North America.

“Antoney Negro and Isabell Negro and William theire[sic] child baptised [sic]” are listed in the 1624 census in Virginia, becoming the first African family recorded in the colony.

That baby was named William Tucker, though not many more details about his life are known.

Telling the history

On Friday, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and other state officials visited the cemetery where it is believed the descendants of William Tucker are buried.

Next year, Virginia will commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first Africans in English North America, who arrived on the slave ship that docked near the seawall of Old Point Comfort —now Fort Monroe — in Hampton Roads Harbor.

What followed was more than two centuries of brutal enslavement. By the time the Civil War began in 1860, census figures showed the slave population in the United States at nearly 4 million.

State planners commemorating 1619 with “American Evolution: Virginia to America 1619-2019,” have made a deliberate effort to be more inclusive in telling the history of the early colonists and Native Americans in Virginia.

“In 2019, we have the opportunity to move forward in appreciating the merging of African, English and Native American history in the Jamestown region,” said Kym Hall, superintendent of the Colonial National Historical Park. “We want people of all backgrounds to see themselves having a history here.

“This is ground zero of what we know became a codified history of slavery and the slave trade,” Hall said.

The Tucker family cemetery, a two-acre site, sits in the historic African-American neighborhood of Aberdeen Gardens in Hampton. The cemetery has more than 104 markers, with burials dating to the 1800s.

“It’s a historic moment for us,” said Verrandall Tucker, 59, a descendant of William Tucker.

His cousin, Walter Jones, 62, said the family believes William Tucker lived at Captain William Tucker’s plantation. “This is the closest cemetery to that plantation,” Jones said. “We did research and found we’re direct descendants of William Tucker. Based on the 19 servants who first came. All of that has been documented.”

English ships first landed in what is now Virginia in April 1607. The English, according to the Hampton History Museum, feared a Spanish attack at sea and sailed farther up the James River, where they established what would be known as Jamestown.

Kristopher Peters, museum educator at the Hampton History Museum, said the story of the first Africans is still being pieced together. Much of what historians know about the first Africans in the English colonies was discovered about 20 years ago, when Spain opened its archives to researchers.

The English-built galleons that attacked the slave merchant ship Sao Joao Bautista were the fastest ships in the world at the time, with superior fire power.

“In a matter of hours,” Peters said, “they subdue the Spanish ship, come aboard and find no gold and silver. Instead they find African slaves down inside.

“Now they have a problem. They have paid a lot of money to outfit this ship and come over here. They cannot return empty handed. They don’t have the provisions to do that. They take 50 or 60 of these Africans, put them on these two ships, divide them in half and they will come to the nearest English port, which happens to be Virginia, specifically Port Comfort.”

Antoney and Isabell

Antoney and Isabell appear in the Virginia census of Feb. 16, 1624, when Captain William Tucker, a slave owner in Elizabeth City County, lists them as part of his household. A year later, Isabell and Antoney are listed in “the muster of 1625” as: “Antoney Negro, Isabell Negro.” Then he added the name of “William, theire child, baptised.”

The first documented African child in the English colony of North America may have been born on Tucker’s plantation near the Hampton River. It is possible that he was baptized in a church in what was then an area where the Kecoughtan tribe settled.

Weeks after the White Lion arrived, the Treasurer docked in Virginia with more Africans. One of the earliest black women documented in the English colony arrived on the Treasurer. She would be called Angela.

“She is the only woman listed,” said Cassandra Newby-Alexander, professor of history at Norfolk State University and author of the book, “An African American History of the Civil War in Hampton Roads.”

Angela most likely came from the Kingdom of Ndongo, where the Portuguese created a fort that later became the Colony of Angola.

“Once the Trans-Atlantic slave trade was established, they would pay mercenaries to go out and seize prisoners of war,” Newby-Alexander said. “They would then enslave them and sell the prisoners through the slave trade.”

In Jamestown, Angela became a servant in the household of Capt. William Pierce, who would serve as lieutenant governor of Virginia.

An archeological dig is underway in Jamestown to find out more about the first Africans. And researchers are trying to find more about Angela.

“How old was she when she died. Did she have a child? What did she die of?” Newby-Alexander said. “We will know more about this person if they find any remains. And we can reclaim her humanity and so many Africans who were brought to the colony and were among that first generation of Africans who helped create America.”

READ MORE AT: https://www.roanoke.com/news/virginia/next-year-marks-years-since-first-african-slaves-arrived-in/article_2a5900cd-a85e-56d0-b8d3-0c921da0e1f3.html

The Secret to Keeping Black Men Healthy? Maybe Black Doctors

In an intriguing study, black patients were far more likely to agree to certain health tests if they discussed them with a black male doctor.

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Dr. ChaRandle Jordan was one of the doctors who participated in the study. “It’s something they don’t teach you in medical school — taking that extra step because you appreciate there have been barriers in the past,” he said. 

Black men have the lowest life expectancy of any ethnic group in the United States. Much of the gap is explained by greater rates of chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease, which afflict poor and poorly educated black men in particular.

But why is that? Lack of insurance? Lack of access to health care?

Now, a group of researchers in California has demonstrated that another powerful force may be at work: a lack of black physicians.

In the study, black men seeing black male doctors were much more likely to agree to certain preventive measures than were black men seeing doctors who were white or Asian.

Although 13 percent of the population is black in the United States, just 4 percent of doctors are black.

The study, published in June by the National Bureau for Economic Research, involved 702 black men in Oakland, Calif., who came to a clinic for a free health screening. They were randomly assigned to a black male doctor or one who was white or Asian.

Neither the men nor the doctors knew that the purpose of the study was to ask if a doctor’s race mattered when he or she advised these patients. As it turned out, the racial effects were not subtle.

Diabetes screening was part of the health check, and 63 percent of the black men assigned to a black doctor agreed to the screening. But just 43 percent of those assigned to a doctor who was white or Asian consented to be screened.

Some 62 percent of black men with a black doctor agreed to cholesterol tests, compared to 36 percent assigned to a doctor who was not black.

“If their first reaction is, ‘No, I’m not interested in that,’ you must explore why they said no and address those concerns.”

Dr. ChaRandle Jordan


Previous studies have been observational — mostly searching earlier data for trends, a substantially weaker form of evidence — and their results mixed.

“It changed the way I think,” said Jonathan Skinner, a health care economist at Dartmouth College, about the new results. “This study convinced me that the effects are real.”

The researchers employed minority premedical students to recruit participants by visiting 20 barbershops and two flea markets in Oakland, offering black men vouchers for a free health screening.

The screening was at a clinic set up by the investigators and staffed by 14 black and nonblack doctors. The men were offered preventive measures like flu shots and screenings for blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes.

The men who came to the clinic offered equal praise for their black, white and Asian doctors. But the patients were far more likely to consent to preventive care — screenings and vaccinations — when their doctor was also black.

If black patients were to agree to this preventive care at these rates in the real world, the gap in cardiovascular mortality between black men and the rest of the population could be reduced by 20 percent, the researchers estimated.

“I don’t think I have ever had such a strong result, so unambiguous,” said Dr. Marcella Alsan, an associate professor of medicine at Stanford University and an author of the study.

Why would black doctors have such an effect? Perhaps they used more nonverbal cues to communicate empathy, said Dr. Amber E. Barnato, a professor of medicine and health care delivery at Dartmouth College.

In another small study, she used black and white actors to study white doctors’ interactions with patients at the end of life. Although the doctors said similar things to both black and white actors posing as patients, they stood closer to the white patients, made more eye contact, and touched them more often.

In the new study, Dr. Alsan and her colleagues did not record patient visits. But some hints of the differences could be seen in comments the patients and doctors wrote in evaluations of their experiences.

The white and Asian doctors often wrote comments like “weight loss,” “tb test” and “anxiety” — cryptic notations that referred to medical recommendations.

The black doctors often left more personal notes, like “needs food, shelter, clothing, job, ‘flu shot makes you sick,’ he got one.” And “subject yelled at me but then agreed to get flu shot because I recommended it.” And “made patient laugh.”

Black men who saw white doctors wrote comments like, “It was a great and fast experience, doctor was great as well.” And “very informative, very appreciated.”

Those who saw black doctors wrote comments like, “The entire day made me feel very comfortable and relaxed” and “cool doctor” — comments that described an emotional response.

Bridging this racial divide is a fraught matter, noted Dr. Skinner.

“It doesn’t seem so controversial if a woman requests a woman physician,” he said. “If a black patient asks for a black doctor, it’s understandable, especially given this study. But what if a white patient asks for a white doctor?”

A white doctor in this study, who asked that his name be withheld because he has black patients, said he felt his interactions with those who came to the clinic were “normal, comfortable health care visits.” Still, he was not surprised to hear the study’s results.

“Anyone going to see a doctor will be nervous,” he said. “If you face discrimination regularly in life, you will go into a clinic with even more apprehensions. If you see a physician who is African-American, you will feel some relief.”

One of the black doctors who participated in the study, Dr. ChaRandle Jordan, noted that low-income black patients in Oakland tend to be guarded in the doctor’s office.

“When you go into the room, you have to ask them about themselves, establish a rapport with them,” he said. “If their first reaction is, ‘No, I’m not interested in that,’ you must explore why they said no and address those concerns.”

“They might say, ‘Each time my mother had it, she would get the flu,’” he said of patients considering flu shots. “You say, ‘How about you try it this time? I bet you won’t get the flu or it will be less severe.’ You are joking a little bit.”

“It’s something they don’t teach you in medical school — taking that extra step because you appreciate there have been barriers in the past,” Dr. Jordan added.

White doctors can reach out just as well, Dr. Jordan said, adding that a lot depends on how familiar a doctor is with black patients.

Could white doctors have more success with black patients if they carefully watched what black doctors do? “Maybe, maybe not,” said David Cutler, a professor of applied economics at Harvard University.

But now that the researchers showed that a doctor’s race can really matter to his or her patients, he said, the medical profession should take heed.

“The magnitude of the effect is so huge, how can you ignore it?” Dr. Cutler asked.

READ MORE AT: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/20/health/black-men-doctors.html

Black Enterprise Unveils Nation’s Largest Black-Owned Businesses For 2018

In many ways, 2017 proved to be both triumphant and bumpy for the nation’s largest black-owned businesses.

Several companies on this year’s BE 100s had robust revenue growth. Others struggled with increased competition, customer retention, and setting themselves apart from larger mainstream rivals. Most still possess resourcefulness, creativity, and other resilient qualities. As such, they have developed the rare entrepreneurial drive to succeed in an uncertain business climate.

There were significant shifts, however: Coca-Cola Beverages Florida L.L.C. became a new billion-dollar revenue addition to the Top 100 rankings. And on the BE BANKS list, OneUnited Bank edged out Carver Federal Savings as the nation’s largest African American banking institution.

To find out the firms that comprise this year’s BE 100s—America’s largest black businesses across industrial/service, automotive and financial services sectors—you will find our series of lists and summaries of their performance here. This article represents a series of reports on how the BE 100s have fared in each industry. Our Annual Report on Black Business begins with a review of the leading black-owned businesses among industrial and service firms.

largest black-owned business

Top 100 Largest Black-Owned Businesses 

The TOP 100 includes manufacturers and tech companies that are suppliers for some of the world’s largest companies. Black firms have been making tremendous strides to innovate due to the changing climate of globalization and technology, says Kenneth L. Harris, Ph.D., president and CEO of the National Business League Inc.

“The future has forced black manufacturers and logistics firms to aggressively innovate to meet global needs, as technology unlocks productivity gains, and businesses experience growth by diversifying into new areas of opportunity within the supply chain—all necessary to remain competitive in the marketplace,” Harris says.

Let’s take a look at how some of these companies fared in 2017 and what they are doing to sustain forward momentum.

The TOP 100 now has six companies with more than $1 billion in revenues. in addition to newcomer soft drink bottler Coca-Cola Beverages Florida, they are list leaders World Wide Technology Inc., a St. Louis-based It products and services provider and staffing solutions firm Act-1 Group as well as top black automotive suppliers Bridgewater Interiors L.L.C, Modular Assembly Innovations, L.L.C., and The Piston Group, LLC.

For Southfield, Michigan-based Piston Group, revenues exceeded $1.7 billion in 2017 versus $1.625 billion in 2016. The gain came from continued organic growth and existing customers like Ford, which included providing the automaker electrification, says Amit Singhi, the company’s COO and CFO. Revenue also grew because of new business the company picked up from adding FCA US L.L.C. and non-domestic automakers like Toyota as customers. Plus the auto supplier benefitted from its acquisition of Irvin Automotive in 2016 from Takara Corp. to expand into engineering, design, and manufacturing. Singhi says growth this year will come from operations as well as acquisitions.

Based in Minneapolis, THOR Cos. had a banner year in 2017, posting revenues of $368 million—up 162% from $140 million in 2016.

Founder and Chairman Richard Copeland says just under $197 million came from the acquisition of JIT Energy Services, a minority-owned energy management and utility cost reduction services firm, for an undisclosed amount. THOR Construction contributed another $170 million. Its high-profile projects included work on the $1.1 billion U.S. Bank Stadium and the $375 million T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The company renovated the Target Center last year where the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves play and worked on the expanded Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas.

The company aims to collect new revenue this year from THOR Construction, JIT, and its land development, architectural design, and consulting businesses. Started in 1980, Thor Cos. plans to move into new headquarters in July, a $36 million office/retail building in north Minneapolis.

For Powers & Sons Construction, 2017 was rough. The Gary, Indiana-based company’s revenues fell to roughly $46 million, down 50% from around $92 million in 2016. CEO Mamon Powers Jr. said there were ample projects in the pipeline but a significant number of the larger ones were unable to start or had to be delayed due to issues such as a client’s inability to gain adequate financing.

The 2017 Black Enterprise Company of the Year, Powers & Sons celebrated its 50th-anniversary last year. Powers is optimistic revenues will be strong this year and in 2019, rising 20% to 25% annually. He expects the gains to come from new projects his firm will pick up at its offices in Indiana and Illinois, including work on the $350 million Obama Presidential Center in Chicago.

READ MORE AT: http://www.blackenterprise.com/largest-black-owned-businesses-2018/?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=facebook

The Troubling Fate of a 1973 Film About the First Black Man in the C.I.A.

Ivan Dixon’s 1973 film, “The Spook Who Sat by the Door,” which is playing at Metrograph from Friday through Sunday (it’s also on DVD and streaming), is a political fiction, based on a novel by Sam Greenlee, about the first black man in the C.I.A. After leaving the agency, the agent, Dan Freeman (Lawrence Cook) moves to Chicago, and puts his training in guerrilla warfare to use: he organizes a group of black gang members and Vietnam War veterans into a fighting force and leads a violent uprising against the police, the National Guard, and the city government. The film’s radical premise was noticed outside of Hollywood: produced independently, the film was completed and released by United Artists, but it was pulled from theatres soon after its release. Its prints were destroyed; the negative was stored under another title; and Greenlee (who died in 2014) claimed that the F.B.I. was involved in its disappearance, citing visits from agents to theatre owners who were told to pull the movie from screens. (No official documentation of these demands has emerged.)

On these grounds alone, a viewing of “The Spook Who Sat By the Door” would be a matter of urgent curiosity. But the movie is also a distinctive and accomplished work of art, no mere artifact of the times but an enduring experience. A supreme aspect of the art of movies is tone—the sensory climate of a movie, which depends on the style and mood of performance as much as the plot and the dialogue, the visual compositions as well as the locations, costumes, and décor, the editing and the music (often a sticking point), all of which are aligned with—and sharpen and focus—the ideas that the movie embodies. Dixon—who starred in one of the greatest of all independent films, Michael Roemer’s “Nothing But a Man,” from 1964 (and then spent five years on “Hogan’s Heroes”)—begins with a tone bordering on sketch-like satire that soon crystallizes into a sharp edge of restrained precision. A senator (a white man, played by Joseph Mascolo) campaigning for reëlection finds that he needs the black vote and decides to criticize the C.I.A. for having no black agents. Even in his office, the senator speaks in a pompous, stentorian voice seemingly inflated to a constant podium bluster.

Dixon devotes careful attention to the recruitment and training process (Greenlee had himself been an employee of the U.S. Information Agency) that Freeman and the other black recruits who are his competitors endure—and to the behind-the-scenes chicanery of white officials who treat the process as a sham and hope not to integrate the agency at all. Dixon’s direction of the white actors’ performances exposes the dual meaning of the term “bad actors”: the officials’ fat-cat presumptions and facile attitudinizing are mocked in the characters’ exaggerated B-movie cadences. (The title of “The Spook Who Sat by the Door” plays on the racial slur as well as the slang for “spy,” and alludes to the conspicuous deployment of the agency’s one black officer to display its phony integration.)

By contrast, in the role of Dan Freeman, Cook is laser-focussed and controlled, keeping himself under high pressure to contain tremendous heat. When Dan leaves Washington, D.C., and returns to Chicago, he does so under the guise of joining a social-services group as a street-level teacher. But when he gets there, he returns to his earlier identity as Turk, a member of a gang called the Cobras, and he organizes and trains its members as part of his battalion—with lessons that he learned in C.I.A. training courses. The sequences of their training, their planning, and their launching of action—as well as of Dan’s relations with other black men and women there, including his former fiancée, Joy (Janet League); a prostitute whom he recruits as an infiltrator (Paula Kelly); and a police detective who’s his longtime friend (J.A. Preston)—deliver a frank yet delicate reckoning with the pain and the conflict of black American lives.

The power of what Dixon accomplishes is revealed as much in what’s not onscreen as in what is. “The Spook Who Sat by the Door” isn’t about the ideological or organizational development of a political party; it’s not about a public-relations war or an advocacy campaign. Rather, it’s about a cold, clear truth that infuses the movie with an existential ferocity: Dixon’s film doesn’t offer a litany of disparate grievances; it displays the bedrock of racist attitudes and assumptions that renders racist policies both inescapable and irreparable. In effect, the question that the film poses regarding the revolutionary action of black Americans—and that renders it so daring—isn’t “Why?” but “Why not?”

The longest scene in the movie, nearly at the center of it, features Dan in conversation with a fighter named Willie (David Lemieux), a college student and writer whom he recruits as “propagandist” and appoints Minister of Information. When Willie expresses contempt for his college education, Dan unleashes a calmly impassioned monologue about his illiterate grandmother learning to read when he did and telling him, “Get an education, because that’s the only thing the white man can’t take away from you.” In another extraordinary scene, as four of the guerrillas sit around chatting, two of them improvise an elaborately antic parody of a Hollywood plantation movie, complete with a servile and grateful former slave, to which Dan responds, “You have just played out the American dream, and now we’re going to turn it into a nightmare.”

Dixon, working with the cinematographer Michel Hugo (who also shot Jacques Demy’s “Model Shop”), composes the film with a severe, wide-eyed stillness that has the sense of a hard stare at unbearable realities and phantasmagorical practicalities alike. His stylized blankness seems to stare beyond the specifics of the drama toward vast imaginary possibilities. The power of his work was noticed by the severest critics of the era, who forced it out of theatres and nearly into oblivion. It was the second and last feature that Dixon directed—and a glance at the filmographies of its cast shows that few had significant feature-film roles afterward. As with so many independent films—sadly and unsurprisingly, particularly ones directed by women and people of color—the disappearance of this one also contributed to the erasure of careers, mentorship, influence, and power of another sort, which, judging by the fate of “The Spook Who Sat By the Door,” seems to have mattered desperately to law-enforcement officials: power in the world of movies itself.

READ MORE AT:  https://www.newyorker.com/culture/the-front-row/the-troubling-fate-of-a-1973-film-about-the-first-black-man-in-the-cia

Why I don’t understand the black affluent class

The black middle class is talking of values and civility as many Americans of colour continue to languish in poverty.

by

 

Sen Cory Booker pauses while speaking at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, US on July 25, 2016 [Mike Segar/Reuters]
Sen Cory Booker pauses while speaking at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, US on July 25, 2016

It’s amazing how similar middle-class and well-positioned African Americans are to white elites in their perspectives on US politics. They continue to play in the sandbox of respectability politics and civility, as if only since the election of Donald Trump as president has racial and socioeconomic progress been in jeopardy.

Take Washington Post columnist Colbert I King’s reaction to US Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement last month. The “honor – or from, my point of view, blame” for strengthening the right-wing hold on the Supreme Court “goes to those citizens who did not vote for a presidential candidate in 2016,” he wrote in a recent column. He added, “I thought the case [for Hillary Clinton] was strong. Sadly … Black voter turnout fell from 66.6 percent of eligible voters in 2012 to 59.6 percent four years later.”

King’s words reflect the thoughts of many middle-class and affluent African Americans who’ve despaired over Trump and the GOP’s control of all three branches of government as a sign of the apocalypse. Like King, many have scorned black voters who decided to abstain from voting or not vote for Clinton because they didn’t see her as having African Americans’ interest in mind or working to combat poverty, as her campaign platform demonstrated.

The reality is that every president since Lyndon Johnson has forgotten about America’s poor, and especially, poor Americans of colour. Most politicians rarely use the words “poor” and “poverty” in their speeches, unless they intend to criticise the poor for their lot in life.

Yet the black affluent class continues to emphasise racial progress and social mobility as if it’s 1978, with Jimmy Carter as president and sitcom Diff’rent Strokes (starring black actors Gary Coleman and Todd Bridges) an NBC primetime hit.

Democratic Senator Cory Booker implied as much last month in his defence of Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders who, last month, was asked to leave a restaurant by its owner. “Not to lead with love and to do it in a way that is more reflective of the values we are trying to reject in our country is not acceptable to me,” Booker said on MSNBC.

These words and “values” ring hollow to anyone who’s experienced extreme hunger and homelessness, a “Jane Crow” removal of children, or a white person threatening to call the police on them for existing.

Emphasising harmony while knowing that millions of Americans of colour are living off the crumbs of alleged racial progress is the mentality of an affluent African American who’s struck a Faustian bargain.

Another example of this contradiction would be Trump’s predecessor. Barack Obama’s presidency oversaw a rapid rise in the racial wealth gap and more than 2.5 million deportations of mostly brown undocumented people.

President Obama’s lofty language often contained thorns of chastisement towards blacks living in poverty. During his Dallas speech in July 2016, Obama said to “protesters” of police brutality, “You know how dangerous some of the communities where these police officers serve are. And you pretend as if there’s no context.”

As crunk feminist Brittany Cooper put it in her book “Eloquent Rage”, the absurdity of this is that most middle-class blacks are “only 1.5 generations” removed from black poverty.

A black middle class that cares more about civility and less about speaking out about structural racism and inequality is one that is difficult to understand. It makes them unwitting partners in white supremacy, patriarchy and socioeconomic inequality.

I’ve found that I’ve needed to reassess my own thinking about the contradictions between racial and class-based oppression and my own middle-class strivings. I turned 11 in December 1980, a month after the election of Ronald Reagan, the champion of the “welfare queen” and “strapping young buck” myths, which denigrated black and poor Americans.

I didn’t know I was growing up in working poverty in suburban New York until I entered my middle school magnet programme in 1981. There, I found myself in a classroom with affluent white and middle-class black kids for the first time.

At age 13, I learned that poverty was like Dante’s nine circles of hell after my mother lost her Mount Vernon Hospital job. Our family fell into welfare poverty during the double-dip recession in 1983. Between the ages of 18 and 29, I went through three periods of unemployment and a two and a half years of underemployment.

My delayed entry into the middle class was no accident. Since the days of President Richard Nixon, nearly every president, every Congress, and every Supreme Court has worked to weaken reproductive rights, affirmative action, criminal justice protections, and social welfare programmes. All these actions and more have stalled social mobility in the US, especially for Americans of colour living in poverty.

It didn’t matter that I exercised middle-class pragmatism and voted for “the lesser of two evils” President Bill Clinton while living in Pittsburgh in 1992 and 1996. It didn’t matter that I wrote “Jesse Jackson” on my New York State absentee ballot when I voted in 1988. That I and others managed to “make it” in this 50-year-old war against poor people is somewhere between a miracle and dumb luck.

I am not suggesting that African Americans like myself should forsake a more prosperous life, but beyond the practical considerations of paying off debt and having wealth to manage, blacks and other Americans of colour should ask if being middle class in thought and politics is really worth it. Especially if the endgame only leads to a larger class of Americans engaging in structural racism and class oppression through rhetorical flourishes and support of racist and anti-poor policies.

READ MORE AT: https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/don-understand-black-affluent-class-180718064315291.html

Summer Reading: Recommended New Books on the Black Experience

With summer quickly approaching, I have compiled a list of recommended new non-fiction books. All of these books, which were published as early as February or will be published this summer, offer valuable insights on the Black experience in the United States and across the globe. Collectively, these books deepen our understanding of race and racism, and provide the necessary tools for antiracism work. The list is organized alphabetically.

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Tera Eva Agyepong,The Criminalization of Black Children: Race, Gender, and Delinquency in Chicago’s Juvenile Justice System, 1899–1945(University of North Carolina Press, April 2018).

In the late nineteenth century, progressive reformers recoiled at the prospect of the justice system punishing children as adults. Advocating that children’s inherent innocence warranted fundamentally different treatment, reformers founded the nation’s first juvenile court in Chicago in 1899. Yet amid an influx of new African American arrivals to the city during the Great Migration, notions of inherent childhood innocence and juvenile justice were circumscribed by race. In documenting how blackness became a marker of criminality that overrode the potential protections the status of “child” could have bestowed, Tera Eva Agyepong shows the entanglements between race and the state’s transition to a more punitive form of juvenile justice. In this important study, Agyepong expands the narrative of racialized criminalization in America, revealing that these patterns became embedded in a justice system originally intended to protect children. In doing so, she also complicates our understanding of the nature of migration and what it meant to be black and living in Chicago in the early twentieth century.


Despair and mourning after the election of an antagonistic or polarizing president, such as Donald Trump, is part of the push-pull of American politics. But in this incisive book, historian Mary Frances Berry shows that resistance to presidential administrations has led to positive change and the defeat of outrageous proposals, even in challenging times. Noting that all presidents, including ones considered progressive, sometimes require massive organization to affect policy decisions, Berry cites Indigenous peoples’ protests against the Dakota pipeline during Barack Obama’s administration as a modern example of successful resistance built on earlier actions. Beginning with Franklin D. Roosevelt, Berry discusses that president’s refusal to prevent race discrimination in the defense industry during World War II and the subsequent March on Washington movement. She analyzes Lyndon Johnson, the war in Vietnam, and the antiwar movement and then examines Ronald Reagan’s two terms, which offer stories of opposition to reactionary policies, such as ignoring the AIDS crisis and retreating on racial progress, to show how resistance can succeed. The prochoice protests during the George H. W. Bush administration and the opposition to Bill Clinton’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, as well as his budget cuts and welfare reform, are also discussed, as are protests against the war in Iraq and the Patriot Act during George W. Bush’s presidency. Throughout these varied examples, Berry underscores that even when resistance doesn’t achieve all the goals of a particular movement, it often plants a seed that comes to fruition later.


Keisha N. Blain,Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom (Penn Press, February 2018).

In 1932, Mittie Maude Lena Gordon spoke to a crowd of black Chicagoans at the old Jack Johnson boxing ring, rallying their support for emigration to West Africa. In 1937, Celia Jane Allen traveled to Jim Crow Mississippi to organize rural black workers around black nationalist causes. In the late 1940s, from her home in Kingston, Jamaica, Amy Jacques Garvey launched an extensive letter-writing campaign to defend the Greater Liberia Bill, which would relocate 13 million black Americans to West Africa. Gordon, Allen, and Jacques Garvey—as well as Maymie De Mena, Ethel Collins, Amy Ashwood, and Ethel Waddell—are part of an overlooked and understudied group of black women who take center stage in Set the World on Fire, the first book to examine how black nationalist women engaged in national and global politics from the early twentieth century to the 1960s. Historians of the era generally portray the period between the Garvey movement of the 1920s and the Black Power movement of the 1960s as an era of declining black nationalist activism, but Keisha N. Blain reframes the Great Depression, World War II, and the early Cold War as significant eras of black nationalist—and particularly, black nationalist women’s—ferment. In Chicago, Harlem, and the Mississippi Delta, from Britain to Jamaica, these women built alliances with people of color around the globe, agitating for the rights and liberation of black people in the United States and across the African diaspora. As pragmatic activists, they employed multiple protest strategies and tactics, combined numerous religious and political ideologies, and forged unlikely alliances in their struggles for freedom. Drawing on a variety of previously untapped sources, including newspapers, government records, songs, and poetry, Set the World on Fire highlights the flexibility, adaptability, and experimentation of black women leaders who demanded equal recognition and participation in global civil society.


Howard Bryant, The Heritage: Black Athletes, a Divided America, and the Politics of Patriotism (Beacon Press, May 2018).

It used to be that politics and sports were as separate from one another as church and state. The ballfield was an escape from the world’s worst problems, top athletes were treated like heroes, and cheering for the home team was as easy and innocent as hot dogs and beer. “No news on the sports page” was a governing principle in newsrooms. That was then. Today, sports arenas have been transformed into staging grounds for American patriotism and the hero worship of law enforcement. Teams wear camouflage jerseys to honor those who serve; police officers throw out first pitches; soldiers surprise their families with homecomings at halftime. Sports and politics are decidedly entwined. But as journalist Howard Bryant reveals, this has always been more complicated for black athletes, who from the start, were committing a political act simply by being on the field. In fact, among all black employees in twentieth-century America, perhaps no other group had more outsized influence and power than ballplayers. The immense social responsibilities that came with the role is part of the black athletic heritage. It is a heritage built by the influence of the superstardom and radical politics of Paul Robeson, Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Tommie Smith, and John Carlos through the 1960s; undermined by apolitical, corporate-friendly “transcenders of race,” O. J. Simpson, Michael Jordan, and Tiger Woods in the following decades; and reclaimed today by the likes of LeBron James, Colin Kaepernick, and Carmelo Anthony. The Heritage is the story of the rise, fall, and fervent return of the athlete-activist. Through deep research and interviews with some of sports’ best-known stars—including Kaepernick, David Ortiz, Charles Barkley, and Chris Webber—as well as members of law enforcement and the military, Bryant details the collision of post-9/11 sports in America and the politically engaged post-Ferguson black athlete.


Brittany Cooper, Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower(St. Martin’s Press, February 2018).

So what if it’s true that Black women are mad as hell? They have the right to be. In the Black feminist tradition of Audre Lorde, Brittney Cooper reminds us that anger is a powerful source of energy that can give us the strength to keep on fighting. Far too often, Black women’s anger has been caricatured into an ugly and destructive force that threatens the civility and social fabric of American democracy. But Cooper shows us that there is more to the story than that. Black women’s eloquent rage is what makes Serena Williams such a powerful tennis player. It’s what makes Beyoncé’s girl power anthems resonate so hard. It’s what makes Michelle Obama an icon. Eloquent rage keeps us all honest and accountable. It reminds women that they don’t have to settle for less. When Cooper learned of her grandmother’s eloquent rage about love, sex, and marriage in an epic and hilarious front-porch confrontation, her life was changed. And it took another intervention, this time staged by one of her homegirls, to turn Brittney into the fierce feminist she is today. In Brittney Cooper’s world, , neither mean girls nor f***boys ever win. But homegirls emerge as heroes. This book argues that ultimately feminism, friendship, and faith in one’s own superpowers are all we really need to turn things right side up again.


Anna-Lisa Cox, The Bone and Sinew of the Land: America’s Forgotten Black Pioneers and the Struggle for Equality(PublicAffairs Books, June 2018).

The American frontier is one of our most cherished and enduring national images. We think of the early pioneers who settled the wilderness as courageous, independent–and white. This version of history is simply wrong. Starting in our nation’s earliest years, thousands of free African Americans were building hundreds of settlements in the Northwest Territory, a territory that banned slavery and gave equal voting rights to all men. This groundbreaking work of research reveals the lost history of the nation’s first Great Migration. Though forgotten today, these pioneers were a matter of national importance at the time; their mere existence leading to fierce political movements and battles that tore families and communities apart long before the Civil War erupted. The Bone and Sinew of the Land is a story with its roots in the ideals of the American Revolution, a story of courageous pioneers transformed by the belief that all men are created equal, seeking a brighter future on the American frontier.

Roxane Gay, ed.Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture(HarperCollins Publishers, May 2018).

In this valuable and revealing anthology, cultural critic and bestselling author Roxane Gay collects original and previously published pieces that address what it means to live in a world where women have to measure the harassment, violence, and aggression they face, and where they are “routinely second-guessed, blown off, discredited, denigrated, besmirched, belittled, patronized, mocked, shamed, gaslit, insulted, bullied” for speaking out. Contributions include essays from established and up-and-coming writers, performers, and critics, including actors Ally Sheedy and Gabrielle Union and writers Amy Jo Burns, Lyz Lenz, Claire Schwartz, and Bob Shacochis. Covering a wide range of topics and experiences, from an exploration of the rape epidemic embedded in the refugee crisis to first-person accounts of child molestation, this collection is often deeply personal and is always unflinchingly honest. Like Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to MeNot That Bad will resonate with every reader, saying “something in totality that we cannot say alone.” Searing and heartbreakingly candid, this provocative collection both reflects the world we live in and offers a call to arms insisting that “not that bad” must no longer be good enough.


Jean Hatzfeld, Blood Papa: Rwanda’s New Generation (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, August 2018).

In Rwanda from April to June 1994, 800,000 Tutsis were slaughtered by their Hutu neighbors in the largest and swiftest genocide since World War II. In his previous books, Jean Hatzfeld has documented the lives of the killers and victims, but after twenty years he has found that the enormity of understanding doesn’t stop with one generation. In Blood Papa, Hatzfeld returns to the hills and marshes of Nyamata to ask what has become of the children—those who never saw the machetes yet have grown up in the shadow of tragedy. Fabrice, Sandra, Jean-Pierre, and others share the genocide as a common inheritance. Some have known only their parents’ silence and lies, enduring the harassment of classmates or the stigma of a father jailed for unspeakable crimes. Others have enjoyed a loving home and the sympathies offered to survivor children, but do so without parents or an extended family. The young Rwandans in Blood Papa see each other in the neighborhood—they dance and gossip, frequent the same cafés, and, like teenagers everywhere, love sports, music, and fashion; they surf the Web and dream of marriage. Yet Hutu and Tutsi children rarely speak of the ghosts that haunt their lives. Here their moving first-person accounts combined with Hatzfeld’s arresting chronicles of everyday life form a testament to survival in a country devastated by the terrible crimes and trauma of the past


Zora Neale Hurston, Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo”(HarperCollins Publishers, May 2018).

In 1927, Zora Neale Hurston went to Plateau, Alabama, just outside Mobile, to interview eighty-six-year-old Cudjo Lewis. Of the millions of men, women, and children transported from Africa to America as slaves, Cudjo was then the only person alive to tell the story of this integral part of the nation’s history. Hurston was there to record Cudjo’s firsthand account of the raid that led to his capture and bondage fifty years after the Atlantic slave trade was outlawed in the United States. In 1931, Hurston returned to Plateau, the African-centric community three miles from Mobile founded by Cudjo and other former slaves from his ship. Spending more than three months there, she talked in depth with Cudjo about the details of his life. During those weeks, the young writer and the elderly formerly enslaved man ate peaches and watermelon that grew in the backyard and talked about Cudjo’s past—memories from his childhood in Africa, the horrors of being captured and held in a barracoon for selection by American slavers, the harrowing experience of the Middle Passage packed with more than 100 other souls aboard the Clotilda, and the years he spent in slavery until the end of the Civil War. Based on those interviews, featuring Cudjo’s unique vernacular, and written from Hurston’s perspective with the compassion and singular style that have made her one of the preeminent American authors of the twentieth-century, Barracoon masterfully illustrates the tragedy of slavery and of one life forever defined by it. Offering insight into the pernicious legacy that continues to haunt us all, black and white, this poignant and powerful work is an invaluable contribution to our shared history and culture.


Martha S. Jones, Birthright Citizens: A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America (Cambridge University Press, June 2018).

Before the Civil War, colonization schemes and black laws threatened to deport former slaves born in the United States. Birthright Citizens recovers the story of how African American activists remade national belonging through battles in legislatures, conventions, and courthouses. They faced formidable opposition, most notoriously from the US Supreme Court decision in Dred Scott. Still, Martha S. Jones explains, no single case defined their status. Former slaves studied law, secured allies, and conducted themselves like citizens, establishing their status through local, everyday claims. All along they argued that birth guaranteed their rights. With fresh archival sources and an ambitious reframing of constitutional law-making before the Civil War, Jones shows how the Fourteenth Amendment constitutionalized the birthright principle, and black Americans’ aspirations were realized. Birthright Citizens tells how African American activists radically transformed the terms of citizenship for all Americans.


Keisha Lindsay, In a Classroom of Their Own: The Intersection of Race and Feminist Politics in All-Black Male Schools(University of Illinois Press, July 2018).

Many advocates of all-black male schools (ABMS) argue that these institutions counter black boys’ racist emasculation in white, “overly” female classrooms. This argument challenges racism and perpetuates antifeminism. Keisha Lindsay explains the complex politics of ABMS by situating these schools within broader efforts at neoliberal education reform and within specific conversations about both “endangered” black males and a “boy crisis” in education. Lindsay also demonstrates that intersectionality, long considered feminist, is in fact a politically fluid framework. As such, it represents a potent tool for advancing many political agendas, including those of ABMS supporters who champion antiracist education for black boys while obscuring black girls’ own race and gender-based oppression in school. Finally, Lindsay theorizes a particular means by which black men and other groups can form antiracist and feminist coalitions even when they make claims about their experiences that threaten bridge building. The way forward, Lindsay shows, allows disadvantaged groups to navigate the racial and gendered politics that divide them in pursuit of productive—and progressive—solutions. Far-thinking and boldly argued, In a Classroom of Their Own explores the dilemmas faced by professionals and parents in search of equitable schooling for all students—black boys and otherwise.


Darnell L. Moore, No Ashes in the Fire: Coming of Age Black and Free in America(Nation Books, May 2018).

When Darnell Moore was fourteen, three boys from his neighborhood tried to set him on fire. They cornered him while he was walking home from school, harassed him because they thought he was gay, and poured a jug of gasoline on him. He escaped, but just barely. It wasn’t the last time he would face death. Three decades later, Moore is an award-winning writer, a leading Black Lives Matter activist, and an advocate for justice and liberation. In No Ashes in the Fire, he shares the journey taken by that scared, bullied teenager who not only survived, but found his calling. Moore’s transcendence over the myriad forces of repression that faced him is a testament to the grace and care of the people who loved him, and to his hometown, Camden, NJ, scarred and ignored but brimming with life. Moore reminds us that liberation is possible if we commit ourselves to fighting for it, and if we dream and create futures where those who survive on society’s edges can thrive. No Ashes in the Fire is a story of beauty and hope-and an honest reckoning with family, with place, and with what it means to be free.


Donna Murch, Assata Taught Me: State Violence, Mass Incarceration, and the Movement for Black Lives(Haymarket Books, August 2018).

Black Panther and Cuban exile, Assata Shakur, has inspired multiple generations of radical protest, including our contemporary Black Lives Matter movement. Drawing its title from one of America’s foremost revolutionaries this collection of thought-provoking essays by award-winning Panther scholar Donna Murch explores how social protest is challenging our current system of state violence and mass incarceration. Murch exposes the devastating consequences of overlapping punishment campaigns against gangs, drugs, and crime on poor and working- class populations of color. Through largely hidden channels, it is these punishment campaigns, Murch says, that generate enormous revenues for the state. Under such difficult conditions, organized resistance to the advancing tide of state violence and incarceration has proved difficult. This timely and urgent book shows how a youth-led political movement has emerged since the killing of Trayvon Martin that challenges the bi-partisan consensus on punishment and looks to the future through a redistributive, queer, and feminist lens. Murch frames the contemporary Black Lives Matter movement in relation to earlier struggles for Black Liberation, while excavating the origins of mass incarceration and the political economy that drives it. Assata Taught Me offers a fresh and much-needed historical perspective on the fifty years since the founding of the Black Panther Party, in which the world’s largest police state has emerged.


Nell Painter, Old in Art School: A Memoir of Starting Over(Counterpoint Press, June 2018).

How are women, and artists, “seen” and judged by their age, race, and looks? And how does this seeing change, depending upon what is asked of the viewer? What does it mean when someone states (as one teacher does) that “you will never be an Artist”—who defines “an Artist,” and all that goes with such an identity, and how are these ideas tied to our shared conceptions of beauty, value, and difference? Old in Art School represents an ongoing exploration of such questions, one that ultimately honors curiosity, openness, and joy—the joy of embracing creativity, dreams, the importance of hard work, and the stubborn determination of your own value. Nell Painter’s journey is filled with surprises, even as she brings to bear the incisiveness of her insights from two careers, which combine in new ways even as they take very different approaches—one searching for facts and cohesion, the other seeking the opposite. She travels from her beloved Newark to the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design; finds meaning in the artists she loves, such as Alice Neel, Faith Ringgold, or Maira Kalman, even as she comes to understand how they are undervalued; and struggles with the ever-changing balance between the pursuit of art and the inevitable, sometimes painful demands of a life fully lived.


Imani Perry, May We Forever Stand: A History of the Black National Anthem(University of North Carolina Press, February 2018).

The twin acts of singing and fighting for freedom have been inseparable in African American history. May We Forever Stand tells an essential part of that story. With lyrics penned by James Weldon Johnson and music composed by his brother Rosamond, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” was embraced almost immediately as an anthem that captured the story and the aspirations of black Americans. Since the song’s creation, it has been adopted by the NAACP and performed by countless artists in times of both crisis and celebration, cementing its place in African American life up through the present day. In this rich, poignant, and readable work, Imani Perry tells the story of the Black National Anthem as it traveled from South to North, from civil rights to black power, and from countless family reunions to Carnegie Hall and the Oval Office. Drawing on a wide array of sources, Perry uses “Lift Every Voice and Sing” as a window on the powerful ways African Americans have used music and culture to organize, mourn, challenge, and celebrate for more than a century.


Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Wresting with the Devil: A Prison Memoir (The New Press, March 2018).

Wrestling with the Devil, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s powerful prison memoir, begins literally half an hour before his release on December 12, 1978. In one extended flashback he recalls the night, a year earlier, when armed police pulled him from his home and jailed him in Kenya’s Kamĩtĩ Maximum Security Prison, one of the largest in Africa. There, he lives in a prison block with eighteen other political prisoners, quarantined from the general prison population. In a conscious effort to fight back the humiliation and the intended degradation of the spirit, Ngũgĩ—the world-renowned author of Weep Not, ChildPetals of Blood; and Wizard of the Crow—decides to write a novel on toilet paper, the only paper to which he has access, a book that will become his classic, Devil on the Cross. Written in the early 1980s and never before published in America, Wrestling with the Devil is Ngũgĩ’s account of the drama and the challenges of writing fiction under twenty-four-hour surveillance. He captures not only the excruciating pain that comes from being cut off from his wife and children, but also the spirit of defiance that defines hope. Ultimately, Wrestling with the Devil is a testimony to the power of imagination to help humans break free of confinement, which is truly the story of all art.

 

READ MORE AT: https://www.aaihs.org/summerreading-recommended-new-books-on-the-black-experience/

Study shows hair care products targeted to black community contain harmful chemicals

Certain hair products — many of which are used on black girls from birth to help straighten their hair — have been linked to such health issues such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and breast cancer.

Certain hair products — many of which are used on black girls from birth to help straighten their hair — have been linked to such health issues such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and breast cancer.

 

Hair products that for years have been targeted at the African American community may be causing health problems for its customers.

Researchers at the Silent Spring Institute, working with epidemiologist Tamarra James-Todd at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, measured the concentrations of chemicals in 18 of these products. What they found was that each product contained four to 30 types of chemicals.

Many of the products contained fragrances with phthalates, which have been linked to obesity and increased risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, pre-term birth, preeclampsia and gestational diabetes, says James-Todd.

James-Todd says that after Native Americans, black women have the highest prevalence of diabetes in the US. She says they also have the highest proportion of pre-term births and are more likely to be overweight or obese.

“When you’re thinking about a lot of these metabolic or reproductive health outcomes, it’s really important to consider why that might be occurring and not simply attribute it to, ‘Oh, there must be some inherent underlying genetic differences,’” she says.

James-Todd, who is African American, says women in the black community have for decades felt social and cultural pressures “regarding what is seen as beautiful, with straight long hair being kind of the stamp of beauty,” especially in Western culture.

“And so, people will do different things to try to adhere to that standard of beauty,” she says.

What the majority of the public does not know, she says, is that currently there are no laws that require personal care product companies to disclose all of the substances that are going into their products, due to trademark agreements. There is movement in the US Senate to enact the Personal Care Product and Safety Act, which would develop a protocol by which products are tested before being placed on store shelves.

“We’re completely relying on the companies to test for the safety of our products,” James-Todd says. “That seems like a conflict of interest. The company is trying to make a profit … [even though] the average consumer thinks that if it’s on the shelf, it’s safe.”

Seeing the connections

James-Todd became interested in the topic of what chemicals go into hair products while a master’s student at Boston University. She read about a study that compared a magazine advertisement for an anti-aging cream in Ladies’ Home Journal, a publication targeting white women, versus an ad for a placenta-based product  — sheep placenta has become a mainstay ingredient in lots of leave-in conditioners — in Essence magazine, which targets black women.

“I’d walk into a black hair supply or hair care store, and see placenta and just wonder, what exactly is that for? Why are people using that?” she says. “Around that same time, an issue of Time magazine had come out, querying why were girls starting their periods earlier and earlier. And somehow that just kind of clicked for me.”

Shortly thereafter, there was a large study done that reported that 60 percent of black girls had reached their period by age 12, compared to about half of that for white girls.

“As a master’s student, that piqued my interest,” James-Todd says.

When she was working on his doctoral degree at Columbia University, James-Todd led a study around hair products being used in the greater New York metro area. The results backed up her theory: More girls were using hair oils for a longer period of time and those girls were much more likely to have their period earlier, which can significantly increase the likelihood of breast cancer.

Another study that served as inspiration, James-Todd says, was one in which four African American girls, ranging from four months to four years of age, showed they had all been developing breast and pubic hair — all of whom had mothers who were using hair oils and different types of products on them. An independent laboratory test confirmed that there were three types of estrogen found within the collection of products being used.

James-Todd says it is now known that about 50 percent of the products marketed to black women contain these controversial chemicals, compared to only about seven percent of products targeted to white women.

When James-Todd was conducting the hair products study in New York, several men would approach her and ask if they could take part as well. At the time, she was focused on breast cancer relating to women.

“It was kind of an ‘aha’ moment and so the reality is that black men are using these products, too,” she says. “Oftentimes, they wear shorter hairstyles and so if you think about it, the application of some of these products is that much more close to the scalp and absorbed through the scalp, and could have some similar health implications for diseases that are linked to some of these endocrine-disrupting chemicals.”

James-Todd has let her own natural hair be as curly as it wants to be ever since she was a girl growing up in Tennessee and saw her hair fall out after having a perm. She remembers, though, being an undergraduate student at Vanderbilt University and getting judgmental looks from fellow black women for choosing to not straighten her hair. Many thought she was from a different country.

“If I was American, I would not wear my hair this way,” she says of their collective thoughts. “And it’s been beautiful to see people embracing their hair. I am fragrance-free. I’ve been using the same product now for the past 30-plus years. Thank goodness it’s still on the market.”

James-Todd also uses the same product on her young daughter. She is a proponent of minimizing the amount of hair products one uses.

“As far as advocating for other women, I understand that some people don’t feel as comfortable doing that, or they think that it’ll affect their job or other issues,” she says. “But I think as society changes its standards of beauty, it’s been nice to see that being embraced.”

READ MORE AT: https://www.pri.org/stories/2018-06-18/study-shows-hair-care-products-targeted-black-community-contain-harmful-chemicals

Why the extraordinary story of the last slave in America has finally come to light

Oluale Kossola was taken from the Yoruba kingdom of Takkoi to Alabama in the 19th century.
Oluale Kossola was taken from the Yoruba kingdom of Takkoi to Alabama in the 19th century. Photograph: Courtesy of McGill Studio Collection, The Doy Leale McCall Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of South Alabama

“We stand as living monuments,” wrote the historian Len Garrison, of the black British descendants of slavery and empire. “For those who are afraid of who they must be, are but slaves in a trance.” For Garrison, the idea of the African diaspora as “living monuments” was to some extent figurative. But a new book makes it literal. Barracoon: The Story of the Last Slave presents the remarkable fact that there were people alive in America who had experienced abduction from Africa – being examined, displayed, traded and enslaved – well into the 20th century.

The book is the story of Cudjo Lewis; a man born Oluale Kossola in the Yoruba kingdom of Takkoi. Kossola was the last survivor of the last known slave ship to sail from the African continent to America with a human cargo. Written in the 1930s, but hidden away from a public audience until now, it is also perhaps the last great, unpublished work by the Harlem Renaissance writer Zora Neale Hurston.

The word “barracoon” refers to the enclosures in which captives were held on the coast before being loaded on to ships. In Kossola’s case it was the Alabama vessel the Clotilda, which played its own gruesome part in the slave trade in 1860, half a century after its official abolition, transporting 130 men and women from the west African kingdom of Dahomey – modern day Benin.

By 1931, when Hurston interviewed Kossola – sweetening him with peaches, Virginia hams and late summer melons –, he was around 90 years old, and yet able, over a period of three months, to recall his life in Takkoi in great detail; his grandfather, an officer of the king; his mother and siblings; law and justice; love and adolescence. He spoke in heartbreaking detail of watching his community annihilated during a raid by Dahomey’s female warriors, leading to his capture and enslavement, the torture of the “middle passage”, and life in 19th and 20th century Alabama. Through all these years – many more lived in America than he had spent in his African birth nation – he never let go of the unspeakable loss of his homeland. When Hurston takes his photograph, Kossola dresses in his best suit, but removes his shoes, telling her: “I want to look lak I in Affica, ’cause dat where I want to be.”

The Point of No Return monument in Ouidah, Benin.
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The Point of No Return monument in Ouidah, Benin. Photograph: Gallo/Getty Images

The uniqueness of the story and that of the writer who tells it are layered and intertwined. The old, poetic Kossola, generous with his parables and storytelling, is one of almost four million Africans enslaved late in the history of the transatlantic trade. And while the full history is documented in countless accounts of slave traders, merchants, plantation owners and masters, ledgers and auction records and court documents, the number of first-hand accounts of Africans forced to become Americans can be counted on two hands. It is Hurston, and perhaps Hurston alone, who could have drawn this heavy tale out of the often melancholy old man, and have the vision and skill to make it sing, in the way that Barracoon does, for reasons rooted deeply in her own life story.

Hurston was born in 1891 in Eatonville, Florida, a small town with an entirely black population, which she would later describe as “the city of five lakes, three croquet courts, 300 brown skins, 300 good swimmers, plenty guavas, two schools and no jailhouse”. She would keep close links to her hometown, despite leaving when she was just 13, and then drifting – working as a manicurist and achieving a degree part time at Howard University – until she arrived in New York in 1925. By then she was in her mid 30s (but convinced those whom she met that she was a full decade younger) and had – as she wrote later in her autobiography Dust Tracks on a Road – “$1.50, no job, no friends, and a lot of hope”.

Hurston began studying anthropology at Barnard College and, having received a fellowship to gather material in her home state, set about documenting African American folk traditions in towns like Eatonville, and later in the southern states, the Bahamas and Haiti. It was during this period, right at the beginning of her career, that she first met Kossola, interviewing him several times in the late 1920s. It was her first major project, but also her first major failure. An article she published about Kossola in the Journal of Negro History would be accused of plagiarism, allegations which scholars now contest, and which in any event drove Hurston to return to Alabama, to conduct the series of interviews that would form the core of Barracoon, and, this time, to do so in a manner that would cast the work beyond any doubt.

Zora Neale Hurston.
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Radical approach … Zora Neale Hurston. Photograph: © Barbara Hurston Lewis, Faye Hurston, and Lois Hurston Gaston

Around this time, black art began asserting itself brazenly in an America still emerging from four centuries of slavery and legalised white supremacy, and the belief that the African had no civilisation to offer. By the time of her death in 1960, Hurston would have published more books than any other black woman in America. But it wasn’t until she caught the attention of sociologist Charles S Johnson, champion of the Harlem Renaissance and the editor of Opportunity, the official journal of the National Urban League (which published her work as well as that of Claude McKay, Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen), that she got her break.

Even within the Harlem Renaissance, Hurston’s approach was radical. Inspired by her Eatonville roots, she was instinctively compelled by the folklore, the idioms, customs, worksongs, spirituals, sermons, children’s games, folktales and practices of African American communities of the south. While other members of the black intelligentsia were celebrating racial uplift, and while hundreds of thousands fled the rural south in the “great migration”, in search of what they imagined to be progress in northern cities, Hurston was interested in “the Negro farthest down”. Her goal as an author, anthropologist and essayist, was – the scholar Karla Holloway has said – “to render the oral culture literate”.

“The unlettered Negro,” Hurston wrote, was “the Negro’s best contribution to American culture.” It was this belief which inspired Barracoon – a book in which there is little of Hurston herself, but plenty of her ideology, in capturing Kossola, a man whose culture slavery both created and destroyed. Like the language of some of Hurston’s later works – Mule Bone, the play she would write with Hughes in 1931; Mules and Men, a compilation of oral folklore in 1935; and her most famous work, the novel Their Eyes Were Watching God in 1937 – Kossola’s narrative plays the music of history itself within its tonalities, rhythms and inflections. But the narrative, like Kossola, stands apart from Hurston’s others; his speech is more a recognisably African Creole than the African American vernacular, and despite all his decades living in America, Kossola is steeped in the thought of Africa, the world – as he calls it – “in de Affica soil”. Hurston’s fidelity to the manner and content of Kossola’s storytelling is the book’s strength. Yet within it were also contained the seeds of Barracoon’s downfall. When Hurston took the manuscript to publishers, they wanted her to anglicise his English, which she resolutely refused to do.

American slaves on a plantation in South Carolina, 1862.
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American slaves on a plantation in South Carolina, 1862. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

“Hurston was not interested in, as Toni Morrison might put it, the white gaze, and how ‘they’ would perceive us,” explains Deborah Plant, a Hurston scholar who edited Barracoon. “She was interested in what was specific in African American culture, those aspects which were rooted in African tradition, African history, African civilisation, because in that authenticity lay the genius – the spirit, as Hurston describes it – that which the soul lives by.”

For Cheryl Wall, Zora Neale Hurston professor of English at Rutgers University, “this impatience with Hurston’s determination to transcribe Kossola’s speech faithfully is enormously frustrating”. It was “part of the pattern of Hurston’s life that she had to fight so hard to have her voice heard, and the voices of those whose stories she wanted to tell. We are told the dialect is too difficult. Is it really any more difficult than the dialect of Mark Twain or James Joyce? Yes it requires some extra effort, but it’s the kind of effort we usually put into a literary text without complaint.”

The irony is astounding. Kossola, a man denied his home and his voice by American racism, would have the telling of his story silenced too. Barracoon, having been met with intransigence by publishers, remained unpublished, ending up in a private collection that was passed to the archive at Howard University in 1956, where it remained inaccessible to all but a handful of scholars who read it and cited it in their work.

Hurston found her own life mirroring this cycle of narration and dispossession. After the success of her work in the 1930s and 40s, her hugely productive career spiralled downwards. She lived hand to mouth, writing articles for magazines while working at odd jobs, including one stint in Miami for an employer who saw her byline in the Saturday Evening Post and tipped off a reporter that the author was her maid. Hurston was humiliated, and spent the next decade in a series of small towns in Florida, plagued by health and money problems, until she ended up in a welfare home where she died, penniless, of heart disease in 1960.

A slave’s cabin at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
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A slave’s cabin at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Edisto Island, South Carolina. Photograph: Courtesy of NMAAHC

At the time of her death, none of her seven previously published books was in print. Neighbours collected money for her funeral and it made front page news in the local black weekly, the Fort Pierce Chronicle. But she was buried in a segregated cemetery, in an unmarked grave.

For the novelist and feminist Alice Walker, who in 1973 set out to discover what had become of Hurston, finding this grave in a “field full of weeds” was a devastating experience. “There are times,” wrote Walker, “and finding Zora Hurston’s grave was one of them, when normal responses to grief, horror and so on do not make sense because they bear no real relation to the depth of emotion one feels.” Walker was determined to restore Hurston’s legacy and reputation. She obtained a gravestone, and had it inscribed with the words: “Zora Neale Hurston – A genius of the south. Novelist. Folklorist. Anthropologist.”

Their Eyes Were Watching God, still considered Hurston’s greatest work, was soon back in circulation. That edition, by the University of Illinois Press, sold more than 300,000 copies, making it, as Wall says, “one of the most dramatic chapters in African American literary history”.

The publication of Barracoon thus represents a recovery within a recovery; the works of Hurston having been so dramatically resurrected, but this one languishing in obscurity until now. And its publication comes at an emotive moment in the African American experience – an experience loaded not just with historical trauma, but very contemporary pain. Alice Walker writes, for example, in the foreword to the book, that in reading Kossola’s story, African Americans “are struck with the realisation that he is naming something we ourselves work hard to avoid, how lonely we are too in this still foreign land”.

Karla Holloway, professor of English at Duke University, says: “The irony is that the loneliness that echoes through Kossola’s account, and that Walker so poignantly notices, is our collective legacy.

“We work hard to escape and slip past that loneliness, but inevitably we are captured, again, by the wake of slavery, a tidal wash as reliable as moonrise.”

The era of Black Lives Matter, of harassment in coffee shops, of a president who has been both overtly racist and also dismissive of racism, and of the disappointment at the first black president having been able to make little real change to poverty, criminalisation and exclusion, has produced a moment in which the struggle has never been more apparent, yet the cultural expression of that suffering has never been more visible.

Illustration by Swain, from 1835, of slaves being put into the hold.
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Illustration by Swain, from 1835, of slaves being put into the hold. Photograph: Rischgitz/Getty Images

“I do think one of the reasons that the book is so attractive right now is that there is this longing for African Americans to have access to a pre-US life – a connection to Africa,” says Autumn Womack, an assistant professor of English and African American studies at Princeton University. “If nothing else, Barracoon announces the desire for this kind of connection, even if it’s never really fulfilled. People are searching for a vocabulary to make sense of that.”

That struggle is finding expression in film, TV and theatre that focuses on the experience of slavery; from the Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave, the remake of the memorable series Roots and the multi-award-winning musical Hamilton. It is present in pop culture, with the recent phenomenon of Childish Gambino’s “This Is America”, whose video references the violent brutalisation of African Americans. There are new museums – America’s first of African American history, which opened in 2016; the Whitney Plantation, the first plantation museum on American soil; and the nation’s first memorial to the horrors of lynching, in Alabama.

It is abundant in literature too; Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad and other influential books such ass Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns, which tells the story of the Great Depression in new and profound detail; Stamped from the Beginning, by Ibram X Kendi, which chronicles the lifespan of American racism; Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give, radicalising readers of young adult fiction to the injustice of police killings; and Jesmyn Ward’s devastating Sing, Unburied, Sing.

The pathos of the African American experience, told with such tenderness in Barracoon, is matched by its complexity. Hurston herself remarked that in writing Kossola’s harrowing account of how the king of Dahomey profited from raiding and selling members of neighbouring kingdoms, she was deeply affected by the question of African complicity in the slave trade. “The inescapable fact that stuck in my craw,” Hurston wrote, “was my people had sold me and the white people had bought me. That did away with the folklore I had been brought up on – that white people had gone to Africa, waved a red handkerchief at the Africans and lured them aboard ship and sailed away.”

And yet Barracoon also helps deepen the understanding of the context in which slavery took place. “This idea of ‘African complicity’ is more myth than a reality,” Plant says. “Because at that point in history, there was no such thing as an ‘African’. People on the African continent did not self identify as Africans; instead there was a self identity in relation to specific ethnic groups and specific kingdoms, religions or language. So many of us don’t know, because we don’t have these nuances about our history.”

The absence of stories like Kossola’s has hardly helped bring these nuances to the fore. There are other difficult questions arising from the book about the extent to which the African American victims of slavery internalised the attitudes of their oppressors. Kossola recalls how his children in particular endured bullying from neighbouring African Americans, for having two African-born parents.

“All de time de chillun growin’ de American folks dey picks at dem and tell de Afficky people dey kill folks and eatee de meat,” Kossola recounts in Barracoon. “Dey callee my chillun ig’nant savage and make out dey kin to monkey … It hurtee dey feelings.”

“Those acculturated African Americans could have been more open, more receptive, compassionate, and they weren’t,” Plant says. “They were a source of hostility to Kossola and his community. We can explain or rationalise it, but it doesn’t justify it.” The book’s uniqueness is in its recounting of a story in which we are all equally bound up by this cycle of oppression – the former slave plagued by the trauma of losing his homeland and family, the writer whose work survived the desire of intellectuals for white approval, the reader forced to challenge their own ideas about race and the internalisation of oppression. But more than anything it brings an African past up close to an African American present, at a time of great searching. “Throughout her life, Hurston fought against this idea that there was no connection to Africa once people arrived on these shores, and everything was forgotten,” Wall says. “We know that’s not true. But a book like this really brings that to life.”

Barracoon: The Story of the Last Slave by Zora Neale Hurston is published by HarperCollins.

READ MORE AT:  https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/may/26/why-the-extraordinary-story-of-the-last-slave-in-america-has-finally-come-to-light

The Last Poets: the hip-hop forefathers who gave black America its voice

Jalal Mansur Nuriddin, Abiodun Oyewole and Umar Bin Hassan. Photograph: Michael Ochs Archives

By Rebecca Bengal

You can trace the birth of hip-hop to the summer of 1973 when Kool Herc DJ’d the first extended breakbeat, much to the thrill of the dancers at a South Bronx block party. You can trace its conception, however, to five years earlier – 19 May 1968, 50 years ago this weekend – when the founding members of the Last Poets stood together in Mount Morris park – now Marcus Garvey park – in Harlem and uttered their first poems in public. They commemorated what would have been the 43rd birthday of Malcolm X, who had been slain three years earlier. Not two months had passed since the assassination of Martin Luther King. “Growing up, I was scheduled to be a nice little coloured guy. I was liked by everybody,” says the Last Poets’ Abiodun Oyewole. He was 18 and in college when he heard the news. “But when they killed Dr King, all bets were off.”

That day led to the Last Poets’ revelatory, self-titled 1970 debut of vitriolic black power poems spoken over the beat of a congo drum. Half a century later, the slaughter continues daily, in the form of assaults, school shootings and excessive police force. “America is a terrorist, killing the natives of the land / America is a terrorist, with a slave system in place,” Oyewole declares on the Last Poets’ new album, Understanding What Black Is, in which he and Umar Bin Hassan trade poems over reggae orchestration, horns, drums and flute. It’s their first album in 20 years, reminding a new generation of hip-hop’s roots in protest poetry.

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The Last Poets – When the Revolution Comes.

“Ghostface Killah and RZA [from the Wu-Tang Clan] will bow down when they see us,” Oyewole says. “People say we started rap and hip-hop, but what we really got going is poetry. We put poetry on blast.” The Last Poets’ poems have been sampled or quoted by NWA, A Tribe Called Quest, Public Enemy and many more; the rapper Common’s Grammy-nominated 2005 song The Corner features the Last Poets (as well as Kanye West) representing the old-school guys in the neighbourhood who explain how black power rose up from the streets. “The corner was our Rock of Gibraltar,” Bin Hassan says in the song. “Power to the people!”

The late Gil Scott-Heron, meanwhile, is often mistakenly believed to have been a member of the Last Poets. Rather, they were contemporaries, the connective tissue between the rap, hip-hop and spoken word genres they helped inspire, and their own direct influences: jazz and Langston Hughes and the words of their slain leaders. “‘I been to the mountaintop!’” Oyewole says, quoting King’s final speech when I visit him. “Ain’t nothing but a poem.”

On this Sunday, as with almost every Sunday for the last three decades, Oyewole is hosting the Open House poetry workshop in his Harlem apartment, a 20-minute walk from the spot where the Last Poets once spoke their first words. The door is cracked open for the stream of visitors who will fill the seats all afternoon and evening. Oyewole rarely reads his own work, but instead serves as teacher, leader and cook (“I do this to repair myself,” he says). There are homemade salmon croquettes, shrimp grits and potatoes waiting in the kitchen. Fifty years of vintage posters and framed awards adorn the walls in the corridor – a literal hall of fame – while others are covered with masks from Oyewole’s travels all over Africa and South America.

When he was growing up, Oyewole says, his father “raised me to hard work” – weeding the garden in Jamaica, Queens – “and I got love overtime from my mother”. He calls two women mother, including the aunt who raised him and demanded he learn to clearly recite the Lord’s Prayer so she could hear every word in the kitchen. Now 70, wiry, energetic, and having received his chosen name in a Yoruba religious service, Oyewole still uses his voice like an instrument, dramatically dialling it up and down in volume for emphasis in the free-ranging conversations that take place in his living room: basketball, the novels of Chinua Achebe, the backlash election of Donald Trump. “All Barack Obama got to do was clean up the mess made by the Bush administration. Pride was restored, money was restored. But that’s all black folks has ever done, cleaning up. We’ve been the biggest servants this country has ever seen.”

In the early 70s, when the Last Poets’ first album began to attain popularity, Oyewole was in prison. He had been studying at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, and robbed a local Ku Klux Klan meeting. “I have a strong distaste for guns now,” he says. “But back then I treated my .38 Special like it was my wallet.” During his three-and-a-half-year sentence, Oyewole’s good behaviour permitted him study leave. On school days, as part of his study, he would visit a radio station and read out entire books on the air, which were then broadcast in the evenings. “I’d come back to my cell after class and guys would holler: ‘I got you on my headphones, New York!’” he says. These days, when he teaches poetry workshops to teenage girls incarcerated at Rikers Island, he exhorts his students to educate themselves. “I tell them: you put a top hat on time and you learn how to get time to serve you!”

The Last Poets today … Abiodun Oyewole, Baba Donn Babatunde, and Umar Bin Hassan.
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The Last Poets today … Abiodun Oyewole, Baba Donn Babatunde, and Umar Bin Hassan. Photograph: PR

Last Poets drummer Baba Donn Babatunde drops by and Oyewole introduces him as the heartbeat of the group. Impressively tall, he wears a gold pendant on his dress shirt in place of a tie and speaks in a serious, mellifluous baritone. When he was 11, his activist mother turned him on to the Last Poets; since 1991, when he joined the group that so inspired him, he tries to summon in his drumming “the spirit, the anger I felt when I first heard those poems. What I do is the dramatisation of those words, carrying them rather than fighting them.”

By and by others drift in. “Can I play your drum?” a guy called Jason asks as he wanders in. In his early 20s, he smokes some dope and grows quickly impatient. “Check this out!” Jason pleads, pausing to cue up a phone recording of himself playing at home.

Oyewole isn’t having it. “I don’t want to hear your damn gadget!” he explodes. He refuses to use a mobile phone. “In 1972, in my poem Mean Machine, I wrote: ‘Synthetic genetics controls your soul,’” he says. “Who would I be if I had one of those things now? Some of them here get up and read their poetry right off their gadgets. I tell them: that thing is a wall between us and you.”

He is equally harsh on those who blame their circumstances for their troubles, a philosophy Bin Hassan shares. One of Bin Hassan’s poems on the new record, NEWS (North East West South), is a moving response to the death of Prince, who was a fan of the group. “I grew up black in the midwest; I had a creative father who could be abusive,” Bin Hassan says a few days after the workshop. “The kid in Purple Rain is named Jerome, and that’s my real name. So when I saw the film, I felt like it was my life story, too. But you can’t get hung up – you have to use that and move on.” Bin Hassan moved to Baltimore several years ago and, in between writing poems, he looks after his grandchildren. “I cleaned up,” Bin Hassan says, having fought a crack addiction, “and I’m thankful I’m still here.”

Rain Maker, a 20-year veteran of the workshop, runs through poems for a gig in Albany the next night. Albe Daniel, an actor and poet who calls Oyewole a surrogate father and addresses him as “Pops”, brings his daughter Katie, six. A poet called Miriam strides up to Oyewole’s chair: “This is Ramesses!” she says proudly, and a tiny face peeps out from a carriage. “Well, well,” says Oyewole, smiling. “I just got off the phone with my own son, Pharaoh.” A guy who introduces himself simply as Born brings bags of wine and groceries; soon there’s frying in the kitchen, Lauryn Hill on a mini-stereo by the stove, the happy chaos of a little party in the making.

At about 8pm, Oyewole shuts everyone up. “We’re getting ready to do poetry!” he shouts and everyone dutifully lines up. Immediately, a chorus of 15 or so voices – young and old, all persons of colour – recites in bright, powerful unison: “I want to be who I want to be …” This is the “pledge”, committed to memory by every workshop poet, written on the fly by Oyewole years ago when he was doing a school visit in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant district and a sharp-eyed student noticed he hadn’t recited the US pledge of allegiance. “I don’t sing no Star-Spangled Banner – that’s a war song!” he responded. “And I tell you what, I got a better pledge than that one.”

“I want to feel good about me, and blame no one for my misery,” the poets continue in collective, syncopated rhythm. “I want to say what I know, to make my brothers and sisters grow.”

“Baby, that’s a mouthful!” Oyewole says, his eyes lighting up. It’s time for the workshop participants to step up.

A guy in his 20s rises, mumbles his name inaudibly. He recites his poem over familiar music, the instrumental of Childish Gambino’s Redbone. “You got a flow,” Oyewole acknowledges, “but I want to see you being totally original.”

A discussion about artistic theft ensues. One of the best-known homages to the Last Poets arrived via Notorious BIG’s debut single, Party and Bullshit. Recently, a judge dismissed a lawsuit in which Oyewole alleged that Biggie, Rita Ora and other artists, infringed on copyright and used the lyrics in a “non-conscious” way, corrupting the original message.

“When the revolution comes, some of us will probably catch it on TV, with chicken hanging from our mouths,” the Last Poets chant on their debut. “When the revolution comes …!” The line in question is one they say in a rhythmic chorus: “But until then you know and I know niggers will party and bullshit, and party and bullshit …” The rhythm is echoed in Biggie’s recitation of the line. “It’s like prophecy, Pops!” Albe Daniels says. “Y’all called it. The revolution came and they were all partying and bullshitting.”

Abiodun Oyewole performing in 2006.
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Abiodun Oyewole performing in 2006. Photograph: Johnny Nunez/WireImage

Vanessa, a New York-raised teacher in her early 40s with family back in Haiti, waits through a few protracted rounds of talk before the room shushes again. “May the dust of your slain sisters stick to the soles of your feet when you walk,” she reads midway through her poem and Oyewole stops her. “Do that line again!” he shouts appreciatively. “That was so fucking powerful.”

At midnight, the open house is closed. “I tell them all to scatter like mice!” Oyewole says. At seven the next morning, like every morning till 12.30pm, he will return to his desk and write facing east, to Marcus Garvey park. “I look east because that’s where the sun rises,” Oyewole says. “That’s where life begins.”

READ MORE AT: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2018/may/18/the-last-poets-the-hip-hop-forefathers-who-gave-black-america-its-voice

 

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