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for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


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For many years, this author of poems, songs and slogans, among them

the book, America On Our Minds in Harlem (co-authored with Jamel

Carma), and the song, "Harlem Heartbeat," would ride the 'D' train from

the Bronx to Brooklyn, taking his poetry directly to the people.


Books by Louis Reyes Rivera

Sanchocho: A Book of Nuyorican Poetry / Scattered Scripture / Bum Rush the Page

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On the Passing of Rich Bartee
(10 October 1943 - 2 April 2003)

A Personal Note by Louis Reyes Rivera


On Wednesday morning, April 2, 2003, at roughly 6am, Rich Bartee, the 'D' Train Poet, suffered a fatal heart attack on a Brooklyn, New York bus.

That following Monday evening, April 7, 2003, both the viewing and the funeral for Bartee took place at his church, Christian Cultural Center, in Brooklyn. He was interred that Tuesday morning at Brooklyn's Evergreen Cemetery. He was 59, and New York City has lost a great cultural soldier.

For the past 35 years I have been graced, meeting and converging with many wonderful artists and activists whose only desire has been to help change the world -- the way we have done unto each other and the treacherous ways with which we've been done by others. Change it all -- through our activism and through our art.

And in terms of this one specific arena of struggle we call New York City, if there is such a single individual who most embodied the spirit of what our local artists and activists have been doing these past 35 years (some one spirit/force who was ever there, constantly helping, assisting, encouraging, connecting us one with the other, and urging the best in each of us), that person would have to be Richard Bartee, Liberated Libra himself, whom I have consistently known for at least 28 of those years. As Elombe Brath, of the Patrice Lumumba Coalition, said to me, "Now that's probably the only brother we know who had no enemies."

That's right! And his most endearing quality was that he hardly if ever would argue with you, even when he disagreed. He would instead induce you with a smile and with such a calm sense of humanity that eventually you would have to acknowledge and give ground to his view.

For many years, this author of poems, songs and slogans, among them the book, America On Our Minds in Harlem (co-authored with Jamel Carma), and the song, "Harlem Heartbeat," would ride the 'D' train from the Bronx to Brooklyn, taking his poetry directly to the people. He'd recite anywhere, convincing folks that poetry indeed belonged to all of us -- selling pamphlets and chapbooks while rewarding us with stickers that read: MORE HUGGING, LESS MUGGING!, his most famous slogan, or those little cards with mirrors in them. And when you'd open the card, the inside would read to the effect that you are to love the person you see in that little mirror...

He was born in Florida, and had come to Harlem from Syracuse, in which city he had been a policeman until he refused to join in to brutalize a young Black prisoner and actually intervened on the young man's behalf. For this, he was hounded, harassed, jailed and fired for insubordination. That's what they call it when you refuse to do like the rest of us on that job.

In New York, he met 'Bama, the Village Poet, and Jamel Carma. And together, in 1973, they opened up Poettential Unlimited Theater, a loft space on 125th Street, in Harlem, where all were welcomed to enter, enjoy, contribute and perform. Through Poettential, he worked with many a poet, journalist and playwright, including El Anna Cornelius, Abiola Sinclair, Linda Cousins, Tom Mitchelson, and Garland Lee Thompson, the director of the Frank Silvera Writers Workshop for budding playwrights, to name but a few of the many.

In the summer of 1975, George Edward Tait, Poet Laureate of the Black Nationalist Movement, had founded The Society of Afrikan Poets and made arrangements with Bartee to produce a series of poetry readings at Poettential. The series, Black Words for a Wednesday Night, commenced on Sept. 3, 1975, and although it ran for seven years at several locations, its formative months were at Bartee's Poettential Unlimited Theater and featured a most formidable roster of poets. At the time Bartee and Tait were collaborating, Gylan Kain of the Last Poets was facing a murder charge, and the two agreed that a portion of the proceeds be earmarked for the Gylan Kain Defense Fund. He was later exonerated of all charges.

In 1977, Bartee joined with Louis Reyes Rivera (Shamal Books), Brenda Connor-Bey (MenWem Writers Workshop), Zakee Nadir (The Brownsville Poets), Zizwe Ngafua (Calabash Poets Workshop), and Gary Johnston & CD Grant (Blind Beggar Press) to form the first of many city-wide collaborative efforts, this one manifesting in another weekly reading series at the Club Baby Grand that became legendary for its full houses and unique approach to networking. For close to three years, the series became the honing ground for Open Mike poetry readings, which was actually a poet's "workshop-in-performance," and the Baby Grand was known to out-of-towners as the place through which to connect with New York's poetry circles.

A stalwart constant with the Harlem Chamber of Commerce, the Harlem Arts Alliance, and Brooklyn's Billie Holiday Theater, Bartee was ever encouraging the inclusion of poets and musicians as regular features in such annual community events as Harlem Week, Marcus Garvey Day, and the African American Day Parade, culminating in several poetry performances at the famed Apollo Theatre long before Hip Hop and Spoken Word Jams took to the stage.

From 1986 thru 1994, he again collaborated with a number of alternative presses known as Our Own Bookfair Consortium to produce five major bookfairs in Harlem, two of which took place at the Schomburg Library, and an untold number of other readings and public forums, many of which took place at the Harlem State Office Building. Ever the producer on behalf of cultural workers, Bartee also helped to promote a number of other programs in Queens, working with John Watusi Branch at the Afrikan Poetry Theatre, and with Layding Kaliba (African Voices) to host yet another memorable series of readings at the historic home of Langston Hughes on 127th Street.

Consistent with his strong African oralist style in both poetry and being, and with his sense of activist minister, he was a constant in his church and its Prison Ministry, one who would also continuously try to get poets to come to his church and check out his Reverend, whose sermons and insights he respected highly. Consciously combining his activism within both church and art, Bartee viewed the Bible as an instrument for providing important developmental keys to both the personal and the communal struggle.

For the past three years prior to his passing, he was a member of SPIN, the African Heritage Caucus inside of the National Writers Union, and a member of the NWU's New York Local Steering Committee, working with many of the aforementioned activist writers in an attempt to form a Cultural Workers Union, a project that remains unfinished.

Just prior to his passing, he had been chosen as Treasurer for the union's New York Local and was beginning to emerge as a national leader of the NWU. In a word, Rich was both an activist of his faith in God and on behalf of an Africana Art.

Having joined with him on many of the projects he engaged, I can honestly say that it has been both a pleasure and an honor to have known and shared with Rich Bartee. And I'm sure that those of us who knew him well will continue to shout and whisper his name.

(George Edward Tait, Linda Cousins and Joel Washington contributed to this article.)

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



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Lost Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin

By John D'Emilio

Bayard Rustin is one of the most important figures in the history of the American civil rights movement. Before Martin Luther King, before Malcolm X, Bayard Rustin was working to bring the cause to the forefront of America's consciousness. A teacher to King, an international apostle of peace, and the organizer of the famous 1963 March on Washington, he brought Gandhi's philosophy of nonviolence to America and helped launch the civil rights movement. Nonetheless, Rustin has been largely erased by history, in part because he was an African American homosexual. Acclaimed historian John D'Emilio tells the full and remarkable story of Rustin's intertwined lives: his pioneering and public person and his oblique and stigmatized private self.

It was in the tumultuous 1930s that Bayard Rustin came of age, getting his first lessons in politics through the Communist Party and the unrest of the Great Depression.

A Quaker and a radical pacifist, he went to prison for refusing to serve in World War II, only to suffer a sexual scandal. His mentor, the great pacifist A. J. Muste, wrote to him, "You were capable of making the 'mistake' of thinking that you could be the leader in a the same time that you were a weakling in an extreme degree and engaged in practices for which there was no justification."

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The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

By Michele Alexander

Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama's political success and Oprah Winfrey's financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today... than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits.

Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don't know the truth about mass incarceration—but her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.—Publishers Weekly

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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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Laying Down the Sword

Why We Can't Ignore the Bible's Violent Verses

By Philip Jenkins

Commands to kill, to commit ethnic cleansing, to institutionalize segregation, to hate and fear other races and religions—all are in the Bible, and all occur with a far greater frequency than in the Qur’an. But fanaticism is no more hard-wired in Christianity than it is in Islam. In Laying Down the Sword, “one of America’s best scholars of religion” (The Economist) explores how religions grow past their bloody origins, and delivers a fearless examination of the most violent verses of the Bible and an urgent call to read them anew in pursuit of a richer, more genuine faith. Christians cannot engage with neighbors and critics of other traditions—nor enjoy the deepest, most mature embodiment of their own faith—until they confront the texts of terror in their heritage. Philip Jenkins identifies the “holy amnesia” that, while allowing scriptural religions to grow and adapt, has demanded a nearly wholesale suppression of the Bible’s most aggressive passages, leaving them dangerously dormant for extremists to revive in times of conflict.

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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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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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update 18 June 2012




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