Passed On: African American
By Karla FC Holloway
Karla Responds to Questions
What does it mean to have written a portrait
of death and dying in twentieth-century America?
Perhaps most important is the opportunity to capture the
image of the business of death and dying, as well as its
practice, for the record of our cultural history. Memory would
certainly preserve them; but I felt it important as well to make
this a recorded history.
Death is very much a business. What role has the black death
care industry played in twentieth century?
Black funeral directors and morticians made certain that the
practice of their craft, and the experience of black folk--who
died in record numbers throughout the century--came together in
a way that respected the cultural moments of our dying, and that
enabled, however horrific our deaths, the integrity of the
rituals associated with death and burial. They knew the
communities they served, lived within them, socialized within
them, and serviced generations of families. >
Why focus on the black death care industry? What is unique
about it? How did you research the industry?
Black professionals "had" black bodies throughout
most of the century. Their practiced attention to our rituals
and our bodies (how do you 'do' black hair? how do you repair a
lynching victim for burial? what kinds of cosmetics are best for
a body that gets darker at death?) made certain that the ways
and means of our cultural practices were revered during the
funeral service. To research this, I went to archives, funeral
parlours, conventions of funeral directors, visited morticians
and ministers and spoke to embalming chemical businessmen and
How has violence, including lynchings, executions, and gang
violence, > affected the experience of black death in the
twentieth century? In what ways did Jim Crow laws impact African
These experiences obviously meant that black folk died more
frequently, more violently, and "out of our time." In
other words, black folk are vulnerable to black death (a death
related to our skin not our character) from the moment we are
born. Consider infant mortality tables. Even the stress of
living Jim Crow led to the higher incidences of stroke and high
blood pressure that contributed to black mortality...not to
mention the inequities that made our living conditions
How can the prominence of death and dying in African America
be seen in music, film, and literature?
It is, quite simply, ubiquitous. Death is a theme that recurs
in every artistic genre, including dance. (Recall Bill T.
Jones's "Still Here")
The church is of central importance in African American life.
What roles > has the church played in relation to death and
dying? What relationships > exist between churches and the
death care businesses?
Ministers and morticians have had an intimate relationship
throughout the century past, including, sometimes, being the
same person! Churches sometimes featured the name of both on
programs and bulletin boards. The black church has come to
understand its critical space in the rituals of the dead.
Funerals have been its everyday business, and the black church
brought ceremony and extended ritual to this experience. Its
passion has been, from my perspective, the ways and means of
catharsis; and is responsible in great measure for the sustained
resilience and strength of these vulnerable communities.
Your research took you to the graves of many prominent
African Americans, > including Billie Holliday, Arthur Ashe,
and Thurgood Marshall. How did these > visits shape and
impact your project?
They actually gave me some calm in a project that was often
quite discomfiting. These quiet and solemn spaces held different
kinds of memories. Although the book is not morbid--I believe it
is finally evidence of our cultural resilience and hope, the
graves were ways for me to see 'the rest of the story.' The
story does not end with burial, I found as many narratives
within graveyards and cemeteries as I found at deathbeds--the
submarine sandwich and can of Fosters beer on Louis Armstrong's
grave...the elderly Jewish couple who kept Billie Holiday's
In what ways is this book a memorial?
It is cultural memory of African America in the twentieth
century, and a memory of mine own. The story of my son, framed
at the book's beginning and near its end is means of memory that
Your research took on a personal quality when you lost your
son Bem. In what ways did this experience affect your project?
How as Bem's death illustrative of the larger themes in your
I found his death inseparable from the stories I told of the
losses of our children. It dramatically changed the tone and
timbre of the book, and it ironically proved the thesis, that
African America is vulnerable to the ravages of black death.
This vulnerability was mine as well.
You have spoken across the country on end-of-life issues.
What do you have to say to those involved in end-of-life-care,
particularly those caring for African Americans?
Understanding the cultural experience of our death and dying
in America means we have to have a great sensitivity when we
bring the idea of "dying well" to a population that
experiences dying every day often without the balm and solace
and calm that hospice would offer. Acknowledging the histories
of institutionalized racism that our medical facilities own is
critical before we offer these same facilities as spaces where
one might learn to "die well."
Contact: Laura Sell, Publicity, Duke
University Press / (919) 687-3639 / Fax: (919) 688-4391 / firstname.lastname@example.org
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Karla FC Holloway is a distinguished scholar,
writer, and public figure. She began researching African
American death and dying over a decade ago. During the course of
her research she attended funeral directors' conventions,
interviewed ministers, casket makers, and grieving relatives,
and visited the gravesites of dozens of prominent African
Americans. While she was writing Passed On, she experienced the
deaths of her son and her mother in 2000, both of which touch
the narrative in moving and personal ways.
She was Director of Duke's African American Studies Program
from 1995 to 1999. She has taught at Duke since 1992 and has
also taught at North Carolina State University, Western Michigan
University, and Old Dominion University. She has received
numerous rewards for her teaching and research.
Holloway has appeared on PBS and NPR and has written for
various publications, including Emerge and Belles Lettres.
She is also the author of
Mooring and Metaphors: Culture and
Gender in Black Women's Literature. She is currently
speaking around the country to audiences ranging from doctors to
ministers to writers on death and dying, end-of-life and
palliative care, and the African American experience.
Passed on: African American Mourning Stories -- A Memorial..
Duke University Press $24.95
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Aké: The Years of Childhood
By Wole Soyinka
Aké: The Years of Childhood is a
memoir of stunning beauty, humor, and
lyrical account of one boy's attempt to
grasp the often irrational and
hypocritical world of adults that
equally repels and seduces him. Soyinka
elevates brief anecdotes into history
lessons, conversations into morality
plays, memories into awakenings. Various
cultures, religions, and languages
mingled freely in the Aké of his youth,
fostering endless contradictions and
personalized hybrids, particularly when
it comes to religion. Christian
teachings, the wisdom of the ogboni, or
ruling elders, and the power of
alternately terrify and inspire him
carried equal metaphysical weight.
Surrounded by such a collage, he notes
that "God had a habit of either not
answering one's prayers at all, or
answering them in a way that was not
In writing from a child's perspective,
Soyinka expresses youthful idealism and
unfiltered honesty while escaping the
adult snares of cynicism and
intolerance. His stinging indictment of
colonialism takes on added power owing
to the elegance of his attack.
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Faces At The Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism
By Derrick Bell
In nine grim metaphorical sketches, Bell, the black former Harvard law professor who made headlines recently for his one-man protest against the school's hiring policies, hammers home his controversial theme that white racism is a permanent, indestructible component of our society. Bell's fantasies are often dire and apocalyptic: a new Atlantis rises from the ocean depths, sparking a mass emigration of blacks; white resistance to affirmative action softens following an explosion that kills Harvard's president and all of the school's black professors; intergalactic space invaders promise the U.S. President that they will clean up the environment and deliver tons of gold, but in exchange, the bartering aliens take all African Americans back to their planet. Other pieces deal with black-white romance, a taxi ride through Harlem and job discrimination.
Civil rights lawyer Geneva
Crenshaw, the heroine of Bell's And We Are Not Saved (1987), is back in some of these ominous allegories, which speak from the depths of anger and despair. Bell now teaches at New York University Law School.—Publishers
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So Rich, So Poor: Why It's So Hard to End Poverty in America
By Peter Edelman
If the nation’s gross national income—over $14 trillion—were divided evenly across the entire U.S. population, every household could call itself middle class. Yet the income-level disparity in this country is now wider than at any point since the Great Depression. In 2010 the average salary for CEOs on the S&P 500 was over $1 million—climbing to over $11 million when all forms of compensation are accounted for—while the current median household income for African Americans is just over $32,000. How can some be so rich, while others are so poor? In this provocative book, Peter Edelman, a former top aide to Senator Robert F. Kennedy and a lifelong antipoverty advocate, offers an informed analysis of how this country can be so wealthy yet have a steadily growing number of unemployed and working poor. According to Edelman, we have taken important positive steps without which 25 to 30 million more people would be poor, but poverty fluctuates with the business cycle.
The structure of today’s economy has stultified wage
growth for half of America’s workers—with even worse
results at the bottom and for people of color—while bestowing billions on those at the top. So Rich, So Poor delves into what is happening to the people behind the statistics and takes a particular look at the continuing crisis of young people of color, whose possibility of a productive life too often is lost on their way to adulthood.—
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Forged: Writing in the Name of God
Why the Bible's Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are
By Bart D. Ehrman
The evocative title tells it all and hints at the tone of sensationalism that pervades this book. Those familiar with the earlier work of Ehrman, a distinguished professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and author of more than 20 books including Misquoting Jesus, will not be surprised at the content of this one. Written in a manner accessible to nonspecialists, Ehrman argues that many books of the New Testament are not simply written by people other than the ones to whom they are attributed, but that they are deliberate forgeries. The word itself connotes scandal and crime, and it appears on nearly every page. Indeed, this book takes on an idea widely accepted by biblical scholars: that writing in someone else's name was common practice and perfectly okay in ancient times. Ehrman argues that it was not even then considered acceptable—hence, a forgery.
While many readers may wish for more evidence of the
charge, Ehrman's introduction to the arguments and
debates among different religious communities during
the first few centuries and among the early
Christians themselves, though not the book's main
point, is especially valuable.—Publishers Weekly /
Forged Bart Ehrman’s New Salvo (
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The Beliefs and Rituals
of a Growing Religion in America
By Miguel A. De La Torre
This book by Miguel De la Torre offers a
fascinating guide to the history, beliefs, rituals, and culture
of Santeria -- a religious tradition that, despite persecution,
suppression, and its own secretive nature, has close to a
million adherents in the United States alone. Santeria is a religion with Afro-Cuban roots,
rising out of the cultural clash between the Yoruba people of
West Africa and the Spanish Catholics who brought them to the
Americas as slaves. As a faith of the marginalized and
persecuted, it gave oppressed men and women strength and the
will to survive. With the exile of thousands of Cubans in the
wake of Castro's revolution in 1959, Santeria came to the United
States, where it is gradually coming to be recognized as a
legitimate faith tradition.
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Allah, Liberty, and Love
The Courage to Reconcile Faith and Freedom
By Irshad Manji
In Allah, Liberty and Love, Irshad Manji paves a path for Muslims and non-Muslims to transcend the fears that stop so many of us from living with honest-to-God integrity: the fear of offending others in a multicultural world as well as the fear of questioning our own communities. Since publishing her international bestseller, The Trouble with Islam Today, Manji has moved from anger to aspiration. She shows how any of us can reconcile faith with freedom and thus discover the Allah of liberty and love—the universal God that loves us enough to give us choices and the capacity to make them. Among the most visible Muslim reformers of our era, Manji draws on her experience in the trenches to share stories that are deeply poignant, frequently funny and always revealing about these morally confused times.
prevents young Muslims, even in the West, from
expressing their need for religious
reinterpretation? What scares non-Muslims about
openly supporting liberal voices within Islam? How
did we get into the mess of tolerating intolerable
customs, such as honor killings, and how do we change that noxious status quo?
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The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
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Ancient African Nations
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January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of
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14 July 2012