Activist, Researcher and Genealogist, Antoinette Harrell joined us in conversation. Ms. Harrell discussed teaching others how to research their African American Genealogy; along with her other important work of over 20 years that has unearthed thousands of state and federal documents relating to peonage that resulted in the Antoinette Harrell Collection.
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By Elliot Booker — 2 years ago
Throughout US history, African Americans have pushed the limits — and beyond — of what America claims to be. The questions posed by both intellectuals and everyday African Americans during the Reconstruction, New Deal, and Civil Rights eras have all left lasting effects on the country. So too with the US left: time and again, black radicals have pressed for an expanded scope of political and economic freedoms, for Americans at home and for people abroad.
Christopher Tinson’s important new book, Radical Intellect: Liberator Magazine and Black Activism in the 1960s, spotlights one critical organ of the African-American left during the tumultuous Civil Rights and Black Power eras. At a time when intellectual currents were in flux, inchoate and colliding, Liberator simultaneously served as an important forum for debate and a reminder of the diversity of the African-American left. The magazine, Tinson writes, “stood at the crossroads of knowledge production and insurrection,” providing activists and intellectuals a place where they could hash out their ideas and make appeals to others. Intellectually, it proved to be an important waypoint between the resurgent black nationalism seen in places like Harlem in the early 1960s and the burgeoning Black Power movement of the late 1960s.
Liberator magazine was founded in 1961 by several radical African Americans living in New York City. It operated at the nexus of a rising black nationalism, the nascent New Left, the remains of the Old Left, and the more militant elements of the Civil Rights Movement. The founders of the publication embodied this ideological and temporal mix. Pete Beveridge was a former member of the Communist Party, while Richard Gibson spent his early career reporting on the anticolonial struggle in Africa. (Editor in chief Dan Watts was the relative outlier, with a background as an architect.)
Two tenets anchored the magazine’s politics: a Pan-Africanism “that appreciated some sense of the political and cultural unity of African descendants, while also fully embracing local exigencies of considerable difference”; and a skepticism “of liberalism and gradualist approaches to social change.”
Founded to provide news and analysis about decolonization from a more radical perspective than mainstream publications, Liberator was an unabashed partisan of anticolonial struggles. The magazine deplored the depredations of colonial regimes and championed the movements seeking to overthrow them. Emerging as it did in the early 1960s, when elements of the US left were concerned the Cold War superpowers would pull newly independent Third World nations into their spheres of influence, the magazine became an important organ for those opposing oppression in the Global South.
At home, the magazine’s brand of radicalism led it to look askance at more mainstream left figures. In their eyes, Martin Luther King Jr and other civil rights leaders were too cozy with liberal politicians, too limited in their tactics and demands. More laudable were figures like Malcolm X and radical organizations such as the Revolutionary Action Movement, or RAM.
The publication’s analysis of the 1963 March on Washington reflected these ambiguities. While they agreed with the economic aims of the demonstration — remember, it was a march for “jobs and freedom” — many of Liberator’s writers and editors expressed skepticism about the utility of “relying on such a dramatization to generate the full range of black political and economic desires.”
The question of what African Americans could achieve in the US — not just through civil rights victories but through wholesale changes in the American system — kept the Liberator’s pages alive with debate throughout the 1960s. New Left collided with Old Left, old-school Pan-Africanism came into play with the new black nationalism. The journal, Tinson writes, “demonstrate(d) the sheer amount of energy devoted to black radical futures, and yet it also reveals how deeply contested definitions and practices of radicalism were in this period.”
One noted participant in these intellectual battles was Harold Cruse. In 1963 and 1964, Liberator published a series of essays by the University of Michigan scholar titled “Rebellion or Revolution?” Cruse argued that Africans Americans needed to fight for thoroughgoing cultural change, to “move the struggle from a civil rights-based rebellion to a full-fledged revolution.” He explicitly linked the US civil rights struggle to Third World revolutions, where people waging battles for independence from European rule were fighting for control of not just political and economic but also cultural institutions.
Later that decade, in his 1967 magnum opus Crisis of the Negro Intellectual, Cruse would issue stinging rebukes of numerous black radicals and publications, including Liberator. But he was better off for having the magazine as a clearinghouse for his early, wide-ranging essays on black nationalism and Marxism.
Larry Neal also benefited from having Liberator as a playground for his ideas on black aesthetics, which would serve as key frameworks for the Black Arts Movement of the late 1960s and 1970s. Like Cruse and many others at Liberator, Neal argued that black people had to take ownership of the arts and culture within their community, and use them to benefit their fellow African Americans.
At the same time, he was critical of stalwarts on the black left like Bayard Rustin, who was close to labor liberals. In a 1965 Liberator essay, Neal invoked Malcolm X to push against Rustin, arguing that African Americans had to make their struggle part of a larger, international movement for human rights. Neal’s case for a “black spiritual and intellectual awakening” was, again, a window into the debates among African Americans over the future of the black freedom struggle in America.
Tinson also shows how Liberator served as an intellectual home for radical African-American women. Liberator ran articles about figures like playwright Loraine Hansberry and activist Gloria Richardson, and published some of the earliest works of Toni Cade Bambara, future editor of the groundbreaking anthology The Black Woman. The magazine gave women a chance to hone their literary and debating skills before assuming leadership roles in the Black Power and feminist movements of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Liberator operated during a golden age for African-American radical publications. Freedomways, cofounded by W. E. B. Du Bois, launched in 1961, the same year as Liberator. By the end of the decade, a revitalized Negro Digest — printed under the Johnson Publication Company banner (the same publisher of Ebony and Jet magazines) — would establish itself as a redoubt of black intellectual thought (and change its name to Black World to reflect its more radical stance on social issues). Black Scholar set up shop in 1969, and helped catalyze the first wave of black studies scholarship in the early 1970s.
But money was always a problem for publications like Liberator. In 1971, lacking a steady stream of income — and beset by personality clashes — the magazine closed its pages. Others on the black left would follow. Black World stopped printing in 1976. Freedomways made it through the decade, but closed in 1985. The Institute of the Black World, a black-run think tank that was another important institution for thinking through the black radical tradition was finished by the early 1980s.
Liberator’s lifespan was relatively short, and its subscription base was relatively small. Yet it was read by radicals across the United States — and quite a few abroad — who wanted to make sense of the world they lived in. Its links to groups well outside its New York City base gave the publication greater influence than its editors could have initially imagined. Fusing intellectual life and activism, the magazine demonstrated anew the centrality of the black radical tradition to the larger left project in America.
Today, as the Black Lives Matter movement calls out the contradictions of American democracy and sparks debates about the direction of the country, Radical Intellect reminds us of the vital role that intellectuals and periodicals can play in that tradition.Post Views: 248
By Elliot Booker — 3 years ago
WALTER RODNEY 1942 – June 13, 1980
Was a Pan-Africanist, Historian, Political Activist and Preeminent Scholar, who was assassinated in Guyana in 1980.
Walter Rodney was born in Georgetown, Guyana on March 23, 1942. His was a working class family-his father was a tailor and his mother a seamstress. After attending primary school, he won an open exhibition scholarship to attend Queens College as one of the early working-class beneficiaries of concessions made in the filed of education by the ruling class in Guyana to the new nationalism that gripped the country in the early 1950s.
While at Queens College young Rodney excelled academically, as well as in the fields of athletics and debating. In 1960, he won an open scholarship to further his studies at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica. He graduated with a first-class honors degree in history in 1963 and. he won an open scholarship to the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. In 1966, at the age of 24 he was awarded a Ph.D. with honors in African History.
His doctoral research on slavery on the Upper Guinea Coast was the result of long meticulous work on the records of Portuguese merchants both in England and in Portugal. In the process he learned Portuguese and Spanish which along with the French he had learned at Queens College made him somewhat of a linguist.
In 1970, his Ph.D dissertation was published by Oxford University Press under the title, A History of the Upper Guinea Coast, 1545-1800. This work was to set a trend for Rodney in both challenging the assumptions of western historians about African history and setting new standards for looking at the history of oppressed peoples. According to Horace Campbell “This work was path-breaking in the way in which it analyzed the impact of slavery on the communities and the interrelationship between societies of the region and on the ecology of the region.”
Walter took up his first teaching appointment in Tanzania before returning to his alma mater, the University of the West Indies, in 1968. This was a period of great political activity in the Caribbean as the countries begun their post colonial journey. But it was the Black Power Movement that caught Walter’s imagination.
Some new voices had begun to question the direction of the post-independence governments, in particular their attitude to the plight of the downpressed. The issue of empowerment for the black and brown poor of the region was being debated among the progressive intellectuals. Rodney, who from very early on had rejected the authoritarian role of the middle class political elite in the Caribbean, was central to this debate. He, however, did not confine his activities to the university campus. He took his message of Black Liberation to the gullies of Jamaica. In particular he shared his knowledge of African history with one of the most rejected section of the Jamaican society-the Rastafarians.
Walter had shown an interest in political activism ever since he was a student in Jamaica and England. Horace Campbell reports that while at UWI Walter “was active in student politics and campaigned extensively in 1961 in the Jamaica Referendum on the West Indian Federation.” While studying in London, Walter participated in discussion circles, spoke at the famous Hyde Park and, participated in a symposium on Guyana in 1965. It was during this period that Walter came into contact with the legendary CLR James and was one of his most devoted students.
By the summer of 1968 Rodney’s “groundings with the working poor of Jamaica had begun to attract the attention of the government. So, when he attended a Black Writers’ Conference in Montreal, Canada, in October 1968, the Hugh Shearer-led Jamaican Labor Party Government banned him from re-entering the country. This action sparked widespread riots and revolts in Kingston in which several people were killed and injured by the police and security forces, and millions of dollars worth of property destroyed.. Rodney’s encounters with the Rastafarians were published in a pamphlet entitled “Grounding with My Brothers,” that became a bible for the Caribbean Black Power Movement.
Having been expelled from Jamaica, Walter returned to Tanzania after a short stay in Cuba.. There he lectured from 1968 to 1974 and continued his groundings in Tanzania and other parts of Africa. This was the period of the African liberation struggles and Walter, who fervently believed that the intellectual should make his or her skills available for the struggles and emancipation of the people, became deeply involved.. It was from partly from these activities that his second major work, and his best known –How Europe Underdeveloped Africa – emerged. It was published by Bogle-L’Ouverture, in London, in conjunction with Tanzanian Publishing House in 1972.
This Tanzanian period was perhaps the most important in the formation of Rodney’s ideas. According to Horace Campbell “Here he was at the forefront of establishing an intellectual tradition which still today makes Dar es Salaam one of the centers of discussion of African politics and history. Out of he dialogue, discussions and study groups he deepened the Marxist tradition with respect to African politics, class struggle, the race question, African history and the role of the exploited in social change. It was within the context of these discussions that the book, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa was written.”
Campbell also reports that ” In he same period, he wrote the critical articles on Tanzanian Ujamaa, imperialism, on underdevelopment, and the problems of state and class formation in Africa. Many of his articles which were written in Tanzania appeared in Maji Maji, the discussion journal of the TANU Youth League at the University. He worked in the Tanzanian archives on the question of forced labor, the policing of the countryside and the colonial economy. This work– ” World War II and the Tanzanian Economy”– was later published as a monograph by Cornell University in 1976″.
Rodney also developed a reputation as a Pan-Africanist theoretician and spokes person. Campbell says that “In Tanzania he developed close political relationships with those who were struggling to change the external control of Africa He was very close to some of the leaders of liberation movements in Africa and also to political leaders of popular organizations of independent territories. Together with other Pan-Africanists he participated in discussing leading up to the Sixth Pan-African Congress, held in Tanzania, 1974. Before the Congress he wrote a piece: “Towards the Sixth Pan-African Congress: Aspects of the International Class Struggle in Africa, the Caribbean and America.”
In 1974, Walter returned to Guyana to take up an appointment as Professor of History at the University of Guyana, but the government rescinded the appointment. But Rodney remained in Guyana, joined the newly formed political group, the Working People’s Alliance. Between 1974 and his assassination in 1980, he emerged as the leading figure in the resistance movement against the increasingly authoritarian PNC government. He give public and private talks all over the country that served to engender a new political consciousness in the country. During this period he developed his ideas on the self emancipation of the working people, People’s Power, and multiracial democracy.
On July 11, 1979, Walter, together with seven others, was arrested following the burning down of two government offices. He, along with Drs Rupert Roopnarine and Omawale, was later charged with arson. From that period up to the time of his murder, he was constantly persecuted and harassed and at least on one occasion, an attempt was made to kill him. Finally, on the evening of June 13, 1980, he was assassinated by a bomb in the middle of Georgetown..
Walter was married to Dr Patricia Rodney and the union bore three children- Shaka, Kanini and Asha.
Post Views: 230
By Elliot Booker — 3 years agoBLACK FARMERS AND AGRICULTURIST ASSOCIATIONApril 5, 2016Eddie and Dorothy Wise’s farm was purchased by a neighboring white farmer for $260,000 at a public, forced, auction yesterday. The farm was sold as part of a foreclosure despite an established pattern of discrimination by local county FSA agents, a global expression of concern, a concerted effort of local advocates, and a Color of Change petition of 30,000 signatures calling for a halt to the foreclosure. We are heartsick, emotionally exhausted, and angry at this callous disregard for the livelihood of one of our brothers and sisters and their family. We also find it morally reprehensible.This post isn’t meant to summarize all that has been going on with this tragedy. Read up on this page https://www.facebook.com/BFAA.org/ to learn more details. When you do, you’ll find a lot of support among not only the Black farming community, but other groups and individuals concerned with the disappearance of the family farmer in this country and around the world. You’ll also find a handful of folks who ask questions and wonder about the financial skills and practices of the Wises. We want to take a minute to address this latter group because they reveal a hidden iceberg of suspicion and doubt that is a handmaiden of white supremacy and oppression.For these folks, there is always suspicion that Black folks are trying to pull a fast one, to get over, or otherwise get something undeserved and unearned through hard work. A damning criticism indeed in our society of believers in the fabled Horatio Alger story of upward mobility. In that story, success is earned through hard work, thrift, and discipline, a set of morally imbued characteristics that suggest character and virtue. So, by extension, those who suffer, are poor or otherwise not successful, are seen somehow as moral failures. They have, in this narrative, a character flaw, a defect. They are, somehow, morally deficient. The problem is, the characters in Horatio Alger’s novels were inventions just like the myth of the American Dream. Myths are powerful things, though, and serve important functions. They provide guidance just as frequently as they conceal truth. They don’t, however, describe reality. To view the Wise case as a personal failing is to ignore historical evidence, subscribe to a false notion of individualism, and support racializing views that reinforce white supremacy.Fact. Financial hardships and bailouts are everyday occurrences in modern agriculture, finance, and industry – recall the bank bailouts of 2009. Icons of success receive innumerable forms of assistance that directly contradict their self-proclaimed Horatio Alger narratives.Fact. Eddie and Dorothy Wise, like Black people across the US, were treated unfairly in matters directly affecting the securing and operating of their farm.To ask questions about why they missed payments, incurred so much debt, weren’t able to market their goods, etc. is to completely miss the point. Farmers and business people everywhere have financial struggles, only non-white folks also experience discrimination. The burdens of small producers everywhere are daunting. Pile on discrimination and it is impossible.But even worse, to ask these questions is to embrace a view of Black Americans that relies on racial stereotypes, fears, and a wholly imaginary white pathway. That white pathway, like the Horatio Alger stories, says that “I’m successful because of my effort. I didn’t get any help. I made tough choices.” It’s harmful and inaccurate to believe that story because it is applied in the reverse to the unsuccessful, impoverished, or destitute. Without knowing anything about others, it is too easy to simply say that those who aren’t successful must not be doing something right. They must not be working hard enough, be thrifty enough, or have enough personal character. These beliefs are factually unsupported, but mythically powerful things. That is, there simply isn’t evidence to support that the impoverished are lazy, unmotivated, or otherwise deficient, let alone morally deficient. Even more, it is harmful to assert the validity of the white pathway because it simply isn’t true. Hard work is great, but it isn’t the sole or primary purview of white people. It simply doesn’t explain the differences in poverty rates by race. In fact, there are many more poor white people than poor people of color in the US. The rates are higher for non-whites, but the numbers are clearly higher for whites. Rates of poverty, interestingly, are historically higher in rural areas than urban areas. These rural areas are overwhelmingly white. So, to impugn Eddie and Dorothy Wise’s financial practices is to enlist a host of familiar stereotypes, ignore the profound history of racial inequality, and reinforce a mythical imaginary of white success.The white neighbor who bought Eddie’s farm has had his eye on that property since 1993. Unsurprisingly he wanted to acquire neighboring property. During the farm crisis of the 1980s it was largely seen as bad form to try and purchase a struggling neighbor’s place. Why? Because, as members of a community, folks were to exercise restraint when faced with opportunities that came through the suffering of others. These values stemmed from a lot of things including the social bonds that emerge among community members, the engagement in shared forms of work, and, for many, deeply held Christian beliefs. The purchase of your struggling neighbor’s farm might happen, but only under extraordinary circumstances. To actively pursue it represented a moral failure.At the sale of the Wise farm there were two bidders. It turns out they were working together. One of the bidders was Eddie and Dorothy’s neighbor, the other had no intention of buying the property and simply served to help get the price to a “fair” level. Under normal foreclosure proceedings the person losing their farm typically has around 10 days to make a counter-offer and save their place. These types of protections are commonly seen as a way to give every opportunity to the landowner to stay on their place. This was not an option at this sale. Whether this is legal or not is under investigation. Regardless, to treat your neighbor as an opportunity rather than your responsibility is far from Christian. To aggressively and strategically maneuver to buy your struggling neighbor’s farm is a service to self, not a service to others.Selling the Wise farm illuminates the structural, racial, dimensions of inequality in this country. Buying Eddie and Dorothy Wise’s farm brings into clear view the moral failure of the white, Christian, community.Post Views: 405