ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes

   

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I was fortunate to be able to go to school at all. Only one child in each family living outside the city limits could go to

the city school because you had to pay $3.75 for a book fee. My father only made $12 to $15 per week and we needed

every penny of it. So I was the one chosen from my family. All of my brothers

and sisters believe to this day that they should have been chosen to go to school.

   

 Books by John Henrik Clarke

Christopher Columbus and the Afrikan Holocaust: Slavery and the Rise of European Capitalism (2002) / My Life In Search of Africa (1999)

The Middle Passage: White Ships Black Cargo (1995) / Africans at the Crossroads: African World Revolution (1992)

Marcus Garvey and the Vision of Africa (1974)  / Malcolm X: The Man and His Times (1991) /  Black American Short Stories (1966; 1993)

William Styron's Nat Turner: Ten Black Writers Respond (1968) / Harlem U.S.A.: A City within a City (1993)

Introduction to African Civilizations (2001)  / World's Great Men of Color (1996)

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John Henrik Clarke 

(1915-1998)

Historian, Lecturer, Educator

The popular and beloved John Henrik Clarke  was born January 1 in Union Springs, Alabama and died July 16 in New York City. His mother, Willie Ella Mays Clark, was a washerwoman who did laundry for $3 a week. His father was a sharecropper. As a youngster Clark caddied for Dwight Eisenhower and Omar Bradley. 

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Portrait of a Liberation Scholar (excerpts)

 By John Henrik Clarke

 

When it became apparent to me that I wanted to do more serious reading, I left "Jim Crow" Columbus, Georgia, when I was eighteen.

There was very little to hold me since my mother had died in 1922 when I was about seven. She was from the Mays family out of which came the famous baseball player, Willie Mays. My father's income was not enough for us to survive on. So she earned extra money as a washerwoman taking in white people's laundry. She did whole bundles from one white family for one dollar—wash and iron. Sometimes they would throw in the soap. Now, these same white people would call us "lazy people" on welfare. Yet for 300 years during our slavery and during "Jim Crow," white people were on welfare, and we paid for it.

After my mother nearly worked herself to death, I will never forget seeing her in that racially segregated hospital. The hospital was totally inadequate and it stank, literally stank. No one deserved to be put in such a place. But there she was, a beautiful woman, dying needlessly because whites denied us access to adequate hospital facilities. She died from pellagra, a disease caused by insufficient diet. It was bad enough being poor, but it was far worse being regarded as so utterly worthless as not even to deserve to be alive.

My mother was a beautiful quiet woman, who loved all of her children and tried to keep it a secret that I was her personal favorite. She told me so on her last day in the hospital. I knew that she would never come home. I hate hospitals to this day. Despite our short time together, she and two other women helped me to form a positive concept of myself. Besides my mother, there was my great grandmother who witnessed the last slaves bought over from Africa, and finally there was my fifth grade teacher who taught me to believe in myself. I feel the presence of those three women even today.

My mother's death was not the only event that prompted me to leave the South. There was my own circumstance. After my mother died. My father went back to Union Springs, Alabama, chose another wife, and returned to Columbus, Georgia. I finished grammar school, and then I had to work because my family needed my financial support. Our poverty did not care that I was a good student. My jobs were to haul wood and take breakfast to my father and his co-workers. He worked in a brickyard where the men had to go to work very early. I would go to their houses, take their breakfasts to the men, and then go to school. There were six men. At the end of the week, I would get five cents from each. So I made 30 cents a week.

I was fortunate to be able to go to school at all. Only one child in each family living outside the city limits could go to the city school because you had to pay $3.75 for a book fee. My father only made $12 to $15 per week and we needed every penny of it. So I was the one chosen from my family. All of my brothers and sisters believe to this day that they should have been chosen to go to school. For example, the last time I saw my brother, Alvin, in Detroit, we were eating together and I answered a question for his wife. He said smugly, "my brother went to the city school"—meaning that I had a terrible advantage over him.

I read as much as I could by picking up books from the white people I worked for and by borrowing books. Most of these white people had books for decoration and had not read them. I would go to the public library as if I was on an errand for a white person. Blacks could not use the library at the time. I would forge their name to take books out. My experience just calls to mind that the story has yet to be told of what black people in the South did in order to survive. We lived in an atmosphere tantamount to Nazism right here in the U.S. I swore that I would get out of the South when I could. Eighteen years was long enough.

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A GREAT AND MIGHTY WALK (excerpts)

By John Henrik Clarke 

 

On January 1, 1915 when I was born in Union Springs, Alabama, little black Alabama boys were not fully licensed to imagine themselves as conduits of social and political change. I remember when I was about three years old, I fell off something. I do not know what it was but I remember Uncle Henry putting some water on my head and I really do think that instead of the "fall" knocking something out of me, it knocked something into me.

In fact, they called me "Bubba" and because I had the mind to do so, I decided to add the "e" to the family name "Clark" and change the spelling of "Henry" to "Henrik", after the Scandinavian rebel playwright, Henrik Ibsen. I liked his spunk and the social issues he addressed in "A Doll's House". 

I understood that my family was rich in love but would probably never own the land my father, John, dreamed of owning. My mother, Willie Ella Mays Clarke, was a washerwoman for poor white folks in the area of Columbus, Georgia where the writer Carson McCullers once lived. My mother would go to the houses of these "folks" and pick up her laundry bundles and, pull them back home in a little red wagon, with me sitting on top. At the end of the week, she would collect her pay of about $3.00.

My siblings are based in the varied ordering and descriptives that characterize traditional African diasporic families. They are Eddie Mary Clarke Hobbs, Walter Clarke, Hugo Oscar Clarke, Earline Clarke, Flossie Clarke (deceased), Alvin Clarke (deceased), and Nathaniel Clarke (deceased). Together, in varied times and forms, we have known love.

My loving sister Mary has always shared the pain and pleasure of my heartbeat in a unique and special way. We have sung our sad and warm songs together. But, we have all felt the warm rains of Spring, and felt the crispness of the fallen leaves in Fall together. As the eldest son of an Alabama sharecropper family, I was constantly troubled by a collage of North American southern behaviors and notions in reference to the inhumanity of people. There were questions that I did not know how to ask but could, in my young, unsophisticated way, articulate a series of answers. My daddy wanted me to be a farmer; feel the smoothness of Alabama clay and become one of the first blacks in my town to own land. But, I was worried about my history being caked with that southern clay and I subscribed to a different kind of teaching and learning in my bones and in my spirit.

I am a Nationalist, and a Pan-Africanist, first and foremost. I was well grounded in history before ever taking a history course. I did not spend much formal time in school --I had to work. I caddied for Dwight Eisenhower and Omar Bradley long before they became Generals or President, for that matter. Just between you and me, Bradley tipped better than Eisenhower did.

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A Search For Identity

By John Henrik Clarke (May 1970)

 

My own search for an identity began—as I think it begins for all young people—a long time ago when I looked at the world around me and tried to understand what it was all about. My first teacher was my great grandmother whom we called "Mom Mary." She had been a slave first in Georgia and later in Alabama where I was born in Union Springs. It was her who told us the stories about our family and about how it had resisted slavery. More than anything else, she repeatedly told us the story of Buck, her first husband, and how he had been sold to a man who owned a stud farm in Virginia. Stud farms are an aspect of slavery that has been omitted from the record and about which we do not talk any more. We should remember, however, that there were times in this country when owners used slaves to breed stronger slaves in the same way that a special breed of horse is used to breed other horses.

My great grandmother had three children with Buck—my grandfather Jonah, my grandaunt Liza, who was a midwife, and another child. With Buck, Mom Mary had as close to a marriage as a slave can have—marriage with the permission of the respective masters. Mom Mary had a lifelong love affair with Buck, and years later after the emancipation she went to Virginia and searched for him for three years. She never found him, and she came back to Alabama where she spent the last years of her life.

My Family

Mom Mary was the historian of our family. Years later when I went to Africa and listened to oral historians, I knew that my great grandmother was not very different from the old men and women who sit around in front of their houses and tell the young children the stories of their people—how they came from one place to another, how they searched for safety, and how they tried to resist when the Europeans came to their lands.

This great grandmother was so dear to me that I have deified her in almost the same way that many Africans deify their old people. I think that my search for identity, my search for what the world was about, and my relationship to the world began when I listened to the stories of that old woman. I remember that she always ended the stories in the same way that she said "Good-bye" or "Good morning" to people. It was always with the reminder, "Run the race, and run it by faith." She was a deeply religious woman in a highly practical sense. She did not rule out resistance as a form of obedience to God. She thought that the human being should not permit himself to be dehumanized. And her concept of God was so pure and so practical that she could see that resistance to slavery was a form of obedience to God. She did not think that any of us children should be enslaved, and she thought that anyone who had enslaved any one of God's children had violated the very will of God.

I think Buck's pride in his manhood was the major force that always made her revere her relationship with him. He was a proud man and he resisted. One of the main reasons for selling him to a man to use on a stud farm was that he could breed strong slaves whose wills the master would then break. This dehumanizing process was a recurring aspect of slavery.

Growing up in Alabama, my father was a brooding, landless sharecropper, always wanting to own his own land; but on my father's side of the family there had been no ownership of land at all. One day after a storm had damaged our farm and literally blown the roof off our house, he decided to take his family to a mill city—Columbus, Georgia. He had hoped that one day he would make enough money to return to Alabama as an independent farmer. He pursued this dream the rest of his life. Ultimately the pursuit of this dream killed him. Now he has a piece of land, six feet deep and the length of his body; that is as close as he ever came to being an independent owner of land.

In Columbus I went to county schools, and I was the first member of the family of nine children to learn to read. I did so by picking up signs, grocery handbills, and many other things that people threw away into the street, and by studying the signboards. I knew more about the different brands of cigarettes and what they contained than I knew about the history of the country. I would read the labels on tin cans to see where the products were made, and these scattered things were my first books. I remember one day picking up a leaflet advertising that the Ku Klux Klan was riding again.

Because I had learned to read early, great things were expected of me. I was a Sunday school teacher of the junior class before I was ten years old, and I was the one person who would stop at the different homes in the community to read the Bible to the old ladies. In spite of growing up in such abject poverty, I grew up in a very rich cultural environment that had its oral history and with people who not only cared for me but also pampered me in many ways. I know that his kind of upbringing negates all the modern sociological explanations of black people that assume that everybody who was poor was without love. I had love aplenty and appreciation aplenty, all of which gave me a sense of self-worth that many young black children never develop.

I began my search for my people first in the Bible. I wondered why all the characters—even those who, like Moses, were born in Africa—were white. Reading the description of Christ as swarthy and with hair like sheep's wool, I wondered why the church depicted him as blond and blue-eyed. Where was the hair like sheep's wool? Where was the swarthy complexion? I looked at the map of Africa and I knew Moses had been born in Africa. How did Moses become so white? If he went down to Ethiopia to marry Zeporah, why was Zeporah so white? Who painted the world white? Then I began to search for the definition of myself and my people in relationship to world history, and I began to wonder how we had become lost from the commentary of world history.

My Teachers

In my first years in city schools in Columbus, Georgia, my favorite teacher and the one I best remember was Evelena Taylor, who first taught me to believe in myself. She took my face between her two hands and looking at me straight in the eyes, said, "I believe in you." It meant something for her to tell me that she believed in me, that the color of my skin was not supposed to be a barrier to my aspirations, what education is, and what it is supposed to do for me.

These were lonely years for me. These were the years after the death of my mother—a beautiful woman, a washerwoman—who had been saving fifty cents a week for my education, hoping that eventually she would be able to send her oldest son to college. Her hopes did not materialize; she died long before I was ten. I did, however, go to school earlier than some of the other children. We lived just outside of the city limits. Children living beyond the city limits were supposed to go to county schools because the city schools charged county residents $3.75 each semester for the use of books. This was a monumental sum of money for us because my father made from $10.00 to $14.00 a week as a combination farmer and fire tender at brickyards.

In order to get the $3.75 required each semester, my father made a contribution and my various uncles made contributions. It was a collective thing to raise what was for us a large some of money not only to send a child to a city school instead of to a county school but also to make certain that the one child in the family attending the city school had slightly better clothing that the other children. So I had a coat that was fairly warm and a pair of shoes that was supposed to be warm but really was not. As I think about the shoes, my feet sometimes get cold even now, but I did not tell my benefactors that the shoes were not keeping me warm.

I grew up in a religious environment after we came to Columbus, Georgia, and after the passing of my mother. The local church became my community center and the place where most of the community activities occurred. It was here that I wondered about my place in history and why I could not find any of my people in any of the books that I read, and my concern began to change to irritation. Where were we in history? Did we just spring as a people from nothing? What were our old roots?

As I approached the end of my last year in grammar school, Evelena Taylor told me that she would not let me use the color of my skin as an excuse for not preparing lessons or an excuse for not aspiring to be true to myself and my greatest potential. She taught me that I must always prepare.

I think my value to the whole field of teaching history is that I have prepared during my lifetime, and I have prepared in the years when no one was thinking anything about black studies, but I kept on preparing until ultimately the door opened. I had to search, however, for some definitions of myself, and during that last year in grammar school, I began to receive some of the privileges in the school that generally went to the light-complected youngsters whom we called "The Light Brigade." They were sons and daughters of the professional blacks—the doctors and the teachers who were usually of light complexion. I was the leader of the group called "The Dark Brigade," the poorest of the children who came from the other side of the railroad tracks. I received that privilege in the school, not just as the leader of the contingent of young people who came form my neighborhood, but because for once the teachers could nominate the best student to ring the bell. Mrs. Taylor, who played no favorites, nominated me.

This privilege gave me my first sense of power—the feeling that I could stand in a window and ring a bell and five hundred children would march out, or I could ring it earlier or later, but they were simply immobile until I rang that bell. After handling my responsibility a little recklessly for a few days by ringing the bell a little early or a little late just to prove my prerogative to do it, I realized that I was not living up to my best potential as Mrs. Taylor meant it. Then I began to exercise this responsibility in the exact manner in which it was supposed do be exercised: to ring the bell for the first recess at exactly 10:15 A.M., to ring the bell for the second recess at noon, to ring for the return of the children into the school at exactly 12:45 P.M., and to ring for dismissal at exactly 3:00 P.M. Thereby, I learned something about the proper use of authority and responsibility.

I wanted to advance the status of my particular little group, the poorest students in the school. They were not the poorest in the way they learned their lessons because they could readily compete with students who came from homes where they had books and some degree of comfort and who wore shoes even in the summertime (which was unthinkable to us because generally we had one pair of shoes and that pair had to last the entire year). I wanted, however, to do something to make my group look exceptionally good. I had been the leader of the current events forum in my school, and because I worked before and after school mostly for white people who had good libraries and children who never read the books, I began to borrow books from their libraries and bring them home. In Columbus, Georgia, where they had Jim Crow libraries and black people could not use the public library, I began to forge the names of well-known white people on notes that instructed the librarian to give me a certain book. I accumulated a great many books that way. This illegitimate book borrowing went on for quite some time until one day the white person whose name I had forged appeared in the library at the same time I did. That put an end to my illegitimate use of the public library of Columbus.

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John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History

Africalogical Quest for Decolonization and Sovereignty

By Ahati N. N. Toure

Under Clarke s formulation liberation was defined not simply as freedom from European domination, but fundamentally as the restoration of Afrikan sovereignty. He explored history’s utility in moving an oppressed and subordinated people from a position of subjugation on multiple levels to full status as a self-sustaining, self-defining, self-directed, free, and independent people on a global stage. Further, the study examines the influence of indigenous Afrikan intellectualism in the United States in Afrikan cultural and intellectual history. Although a leader among European academy-trained Afrikan intellectuals who join the European academy largely beginning in the 1970s, Clarke s education and training were the product of a movement for the indigenization of Afrikan academic intellectualism in Harlem of the 1930s that can be traced back to the early nineteenth century. It is the first extensive critical examination of Clarke as an exemplar of indigenous intellectualism in Afrikan culture in the United States

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A Critical Biography

 

Julius E. Thompson and James L. Conyers, Jr. Pan-African Nationalism in the Americas

 

 The Life And Times Of John Henrik Clarke / John Henrik Clarke—A Great and Mighty Walk 

 

YouTube Lectures

Dr. John Henrik Clarke—Christopher Columbus 1 of 7 / John Henrik Clarke talks about Farrakhan

 

Dr. John Henrik Clarke on organized religion vs spirituality / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4

 

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AALBC.com's 25 Best Selling Books


 

Fiction

#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Eroticanoir.com Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter

Non-fiction

#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays

Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis 

Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America. This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as "the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field 'cut their teeth'."

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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updated 24 December 2011

 

 

 

Home  Wilson Jeremiah Moses   Transitional Writings on Africa    Black Arts and Black Power Figures

Related files: Portrait of a Liberation Scholar    The Global Perspective of John Henrik Clarke   Washerwomen Table  PanAfrican Nationalism in the Americas    Pan African Nationalist Thought