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I love Hip-Hop. It is and has always been sacred to me. -- Taalam Acey

Our love affair with gangsterism and the denigration of women is not rooted in Hip Hop. --Saul Williams

 

 

Book and CDs by Taalam Acey

Eyes Free / Pieces of Change / Self Construct / Belief System / Blues Resurgence / Code Blues Morally Bankrupt

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Notes on "An Open Letter to Oprah Winfrey"

By Taalam Acey

 

I want to approach this critique cautiously if only because these ideas are  among my most sincere. I applaud you for writing your "Open Letter to Oprah Winfrey," and though it took me awhile to get around to reading it, I'm glad I did. When James Baldwin remarked that, "The poet or the revolutionary is there to articulate the necessity," I'm sure that your open letter was the sort of agitation he had in mind.

I was not born of a minister and school teacher. Instead my parents were Black Nationalists in Imamu Amiri Baraka's Committee for a Unified Newark. Unlike you, I was influenced by both Rakim and June Jordan. I affirm these things because they will no doubt color the critique that follows.

As for the illustrious Ms. Winfrey, I too grew up watching her on television. As a teen, my mother had me read Alice Walker's The Color Purple. In the film, Ms. Winfrey's portrayal of Sofia was exactly how I envisioned it. It was not surprising that she garnered one of that film's 11 Oscar nominations (though, the film somehow didn't win a single Oscar).

Of more relevance here, however, is that Ms. Winfrey, ironically, played a major role in my appreciation for gangsta rap. In 1989, Harpo, her company, produced (and she starred in) Gloria Naylor's The Women of Brewster Place. Back then I was sure that white America despised young black men. However, in my 18th year, her mini-series convinced me that black women might hate us even more. I felt demonized. Though, I didn't care much for "hard core rappers" beforehand, after Brewster Place, my feelings of betrayal rendered their messages vital.

A few months later, when Ms. Winfrey donated $1 million dollars to your alma matter. I remember thinking it had to be a function of her guilt.

Since then, she has given repeatedly and contributed to the education of hundreds of Morehouse students. I no longer doubt her sincerity. Still, I have come to believe there is a dichotomy in her perception of young black males. She has  gone on record about being sexually abused by relatives (including a 19 year old cousin) beginning when she was 9 years old. However, she also credits moving in with her father as saving her life. In fact while Vernon Winfrey was named by her mother as only one of a few potential fathers, he nevertheless took responsibility for Oprah and refused paternity test throughout her life.

I mention none of this to be disrespectful to Ms. Winfrey. She is a self-made billionaire, Television Hall of Fame inductee and media mogul. Yet, she is also human and, like the rest of us, her past experiences may shed light on her current convictions.

Thus, having discussed the above, I'd like to assert that many of today's rap lyrics conform more to the values of her 19 year old cousin than they do those of her father.

I love Hip-Hop. It is and has always been sacred to me. There was something spiritual about Rakim's flow and something evangelical about KRS-One's diatribes. In high school, I spent time with Queen Latifah and was pretty close with Cut Master DC (of "Brooklyn's in the House" fame). I attended shows at Union Square, The Tunnel and even The Castle in the South Bronx. I almost don't know where to stop . .  during my teens, I got to drive Red Alert from a show in Jersey back to NY and talked him to death. I remember dancin' to Crash Crew records, arguing over who was the best emcee in the Fearless Four, losing my mind when the Sugar Hill Gang and The Furious Five did a record together. There are entire Slick Rick, Rakim and Biggie songs that I still know word for word. Believe me, I too am a hip hop head.

Hip Hop in it's organic form is Melle Mel's, "The Message." Nevertheless, there's always been room for Ice Cube and Snoop. They had a story to tell. Our problem now has become that the stories are being told ad nauseam and by people who not only haven't lived them, but aren't inspired to tell them.

I'm into Spoken Word, one of many forms of poetry. There can be no doubt that rap is another. True, all rappers are not poets. But, even by the definition you applied, all Spoken Word artists aren't poets either. Few artist of any artform operate from a sincerely vulnerable place. That is not a Hip-Hop phenomenon.

The problem is bigger than vulnerability. When you declared "There is no true hatred of women in Hip Hop." I can only assume that you meant in the Hip-Hop that you and other "Backpackers" support. Those of you who choose "to associate...with the more "conscious" or politically astute artists of the Hip Hop community." Surely you don't believe that today's rappers intend their endless litany of "Bitch," "Ho," and "Slut" as displays of affection.

I agree with you that, at our root, we inherently worship the feminine. Sadly it seems that for most of us now, at all points above our root, we've begin to worship money more. The problem with most of Hip-Hop is that it's being co-opted. I cannot imagine what, if any point, you were attempting by mentioning that 50 Cent and George Bush share a birthday. I agree that George Bush is one of the gangsters that control this country, but I am certain that 50 Cent is not one of the "gangsters" that controls Hip-Hop. He may control his entourage and his bank account, but not much more. Curtis Jackson is an "artist," not a mogul. So can you tell me if Lyor Cohen or Jimmy Iovine share a birthday with Bush? That might be slightly relevant.

You are right that "Censorship will never solve our problems." Boycotting the sponsors of a radio show that made disparaging remarks about young black girls isn't censorship though. In America, dollars vote. It is not censorship to use your dollars to vote a bigot off the air. The dramatic decline in the sale of rap records since 2005 is also not due to censorship. People are voting for change. We no longer care to support songs about how your car and house are better than mine because you're really good at selling crack to my children.

This is a serious social issue and has nothing to do with the depiction of G*d in Christianity or any other religion. I've heard the argument about the proper Holy Trinity being man, woman and child, previously. I've attended lectures about instances of chauvinism in organized religion. Still I take issue with the logic that the Western depiction of G*d has driven emcees crazy.

You concluded by saying:

"If we are to sincerely address the change we are praying for then we must first address to whom we are praying."

That's the point, emcees have begun praying to mammon. Most mainstream rappers no longer take pride in their lyricism. They simply write whatever the record company believes it can easily sell. The problem is selfishness, not religion. Believe me, we haven't reached this point in our history because too many rappers have become obsessed with studying the Bible.

This particular weapon of mass destruction is NOT the one that asserts that a holy trinity would be "a father, a male child, and a ghost." This weapon of mass destruction IS wealthy racist white men who exploit and mass market poor young black men who are willing to denigrate themselves for money. We do not require disconnected excuses, only change.

The primary problem with rappers today is selfishness. That's the very quality that separated Oprah's father from her 19 year old cousin. I'll end by saying there's nothing more vulnerable than a broke talentless rapper in the hands of a racist white media mogul. In the end, I hope you understand that these notes are not about you and I but, instead, the masses of oppressed people who deserve to know the truth.

In Brotherhood,
Taalam Acey

http://taalamacey.com/

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An Open Letter to Oprah  Dear Ms. Winfrey

By Saul Williams

 

It is with the greatest respect and adoration of your loving spirit that I write you. As a young child, I would sit beside my mother everyday and watch your program. As a young adult, with children of my own, I spend much less time in front of the television, but I am ever thankful for the positive effect that you continue to have on our nation, history and culture. The example that you have set as someone unafraid to answer their calling, even when the reality of that calling insists that one self-actualize beyond the point of any given example, is humbling, and serves as the cornerstone of the greatest faith. You, love, are a pioneer.

I am a poet.

Growing up in Newburgh, NY, with a father as a minister and a mother as a school teacher, at a time when we fought for our heroes to be nationally recognized, I certainly was exposed to the great names and voices of our past.

I took great pride in competing in my churches Black History Quiz Bowl and the countless events my mother organized in hopes of fostering a generation of youth well versed in the greatness as well as the horrors of our history. Yet, even in a household where I had the privilege of personally interacting with some of the most outspoken and courageous luminaries of our times, I must admit that the voices that resonated the most within me and made me want to speak up were those of my peers, and these peers were emcees. Rappers.
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Yes, Ms. Winfrey, I am what my generation would call "a Hip Hop head." Hip Hop has served as one of the greatest aspects of my self-definition. Lucky for me, I grew up in the 80's when groups like Public Enemy, Rakim, The Jungle Brothers, Queen Latifah, and many more realized the power of their voices within the artform and chose to create music aimed at the upliftment of our generation.

As a student at Morehouse College where I studied Philosophy and Drama I was forced to venture across the street to Spelman College for all of my Drama classes, since Morehouse had no theater department of its own. I had few complaints. The performing arts scholarship awarded me by Michael Jackson had promised me a practically free ride to my dream school, which now had opened the doors to another campus that could make even the most focused of young boys dreamy, Spelman. One of my first theater professors, Pearle Cleage, shook me from my adolescent dream state.

It was the year that Dr. Dre's The Chronic was released and our introduction to Snoop Dogg as he sang catchy hooks like "Bitches ain't shit but hoes and tricks…" Although, it was a playwriting class, what seemed to take precedence was Ms. Cleages political ideology, which had recently been pressed and bound in her 1st book, Mad at Miles. As, you know, in this book she spoke of how she could not listen to the music of Miles Davis and his muted trumpet without hearing the muted screams of the women that he was outspoken about "man-handling". It was my first exposure to the idea of an artist being held accountable for their actions outside of their art. It was the first time I had ever heard the word, "misogyny". And as Ms. Cleage would walk into the classroom fuming over the women she would pass on campus, blasting those Snoop lyrics from their cars and jeeps, we, her students, would be privy to many freestyle rants and raves on the dangers of nodding our heads to a music that could serve as our own demise.

Her words, coupled with the words of the young women I found myself interacting with forever changed how I listened to Hip Hop and quite frankly ruined what would have been a number of good songs for me. I had now been burdened with a level of awareness that made it impossible for me to enjoy what the growing masses were ushering into the mainstream. I was now becoming what many Hip Hop heads would call "a Backpacker", a person who chooses to associate themselves with the more "conscious" or politically astute artists of the Hip Hop community. What we termed as "conscious" Hip Hop became our preference for dance and booming systems. Groups like X-Clan, A Tribe Called Quest, Brand Nubian, Arrested Development, Gangstarr and others became the prevailing music of our circle. We also enjoyed the more playful Hip Hop of De La Soul, Heiroglyphics, Das FX, Organized Konfusion, Digable Planets, The Fugees, and more. We had more than enough positivity to fixate on. Hip Hop was diverse.

I had not yet begun writing poetry. Most of my friends hardly knew that I had been an emcee in high school. I no longer cared to identify myself as an emcee and my love of oratory seemed misplaced at Morehouse where most orators were actually preachers in training, speaking with the Southern drawl of Dr. King although they were 19 and from the North. I spent my time doing countless plays and school performances. I was in line to become what I thought would be the next Robeson, Sidney, Ossie, Denzel, Snipes… It wasn't until I was in graduate school for acting at NYU that I was invited to a poetry reading in Manhattan where I heard Asha Bandele, Sapphire, Carl Hancock Rux, Reggie Gaines, Jessica Care Moore, and many others read poems that sometimes felt like monologues that my newly acquired journal started taking the form of a young poets'.

Yet, I still noticed that I was a bit different from these poets who listed names like: Audre Lorde, June Jordan, Sekou Sundiata etc, when asked why they began to write poetry. I knew that I had been inspired to write because of emcees like Rakim, Chuck D, LL, Run DMC… Hip Hop had informed my love of poetry as much or even more than my theater background which had exposed me to Shakespeare, Baraka, Fugard, Genet, Hansberry and countless others. In those days, just a mere decade ago, I started writing to fill the void between what I was hearing and what I wished I was hearing. It was not enough for me to critique the voices I heard blasting through the walls of my Brooklyn brownstone. I needed to create examples of where Hip Hop, particularly its lyricism, could go.

I ventured to poetry readings with my friends and neighbors, Dante Smith (now Mos Def), Talib Kwele, Erykah Badu, Jessica Care Moore, Mums the Schemer, Beau Sia, Suheir Hammad…all poets that frequented the open mics and poetry slams that we commonly saw as "the other direction" when Hip hop reached that fork in the road as you discussed on your show this past week. On your show you asked the question, "Are all rappers poets?" Nice. I wanted to take the opportunity to answer this question for you.

The genius, as far as the marketability, of Hip Hop is in its competitiveness. Its roots are as much in the dignified aspects of our oral tradition as it is in the tradition of "the dozens" or "signifying". In Hip Hop, every emcee is automatically pitted against every other emcee, sort of like characters with super powers in comic books. No one wants to listen to a rapper unless they claim to be the best or the greatest. This sort of braggadocio leads to all sorts of tirades, showdowns, battles, and sometimes even deaths. In all cases, confidence is the ruling card. Because of the competitive stance that all emcees are prone to take, they, like soldiers begin to believe that they can show no sign of vulnerability.

 Thus, the most popular emcees of our age are often those that claim to be heartless or show no feelings or signs of emotion. The poet, on the other hand, is the one who realizes that their vulnerability is their power. Like you, unafraid to shed tears on countless shows, the poet finds strength in exposing their humanity, their vulnerability, thus making it possible for us to find connection and strength through their work. Many emcees have been poets. But, no, Ms. Winfrey, not all emcees are poets. Many choose gangsterism and business over the emotional terrain through which true artistry will lead. But they are not to blame. I would now like to address your question of leadership.

You may recall that in immediate response to the attacks of September 11th, our president took the national stage to say to the American public and the world that we would "…show no sign of vulnerability". Here is the same word that distinguishes poets from rappers, but in its history, more accurately, women from men. To make such a statement is to align oneself with the ideology that instills in us a sense of vulnerability meaning "weakness". And these meanings all take their place under the heading of what we consciously or subconsciously characterize as traits of the feminine. The weapon of mass

destruction is the one that asserts that a holy trinity would be a father, a male child, and a ghost when common sense tells us that the holiest of trinities would be a mother, a father, and a child: Family. The vulnerability that we see as weakness is the saving grace of the drunken driver who because of their drunken/vulnerable state survives the fatal accident that kills the passengers in the approaching vehicle who tighten their grip and show no physical vulnerability in the face of their fear. Vulnerability is also the saving grace of the skate boarder who attempts a trick and remembers to stay loose and not tense during their fall.

Likewise, vulnerability has been the saving grace of the African American struggle as we have been whipped, jailed, spat upon, called names, and killed, yet continue to strive forward mostly non-violently towards our highest goals. But today we are at a crossroads, because the institutions that have sold us the crosses we wear around our necks are the most overt in the denigration of women and thus humanity. That is why I write you today, Ms. Winfrey. We cannot address the root of what plagues Hip Hop without addressing the root of what plagues today's society and the world.

You see, Ms. Winfrey, at it's worse; Hip Hop is simply a reflection of the society that birthed it. Our love affair with gangsterism and the denigration of women is not rooted in Hip Hop; rather it is rooted in the very core of our personal faith and religions. The gangsters that rule Hip Hop are the same gangsters that rule our nation. 50 Cent and George Bush have the same birthday (July 6th). For a Hip Hop artist to say "I do what I wanna do/Don't care if I get caught/The DA could play this mothaf@kin tape in court/I'll kill you/ I ain't playin'" epitomizes the confidence and braggadocio we expect an admire from a rapper who claims to represent the lowest denominator. When a world leader with the spirit of a cowboy (the true original gangster of the West: raping, stealing land, and pillaging, as we clapped and cheered.) takes the position of doing what he wants to do, regardless of whether the UN or American public would take him to court, then we have witnessed true gangsterism and violent negligence. Yet, there is nothing more negligent than attempting to address a problem one finds on a branch by censoring the leaves.

Name calling, racist generalizations, sexist perceptions, are all rooted in something much deeper than an uncensored music. Like the rest of the world, I watched footage on AOL of you dancing mindlessly to 50 Cent on your fiftieth birthday as he proclaimed, "I got the ex/if you're into taking drugs/ I'm into having sex/ I ain't into making love" and you looked like you were having a great time. No judgment. I like that song too. Just as I do, James Brown's Sex Machine or Grand Master Flashes White Lines. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll is how the story goes. Censorship will never solve our problems. It will only foster the sub-cultures of the underground, which inevitably inhabit the mainstream. There is nothing more mainstream than the denigration of women as projected through religious doctrine.

Please understand, I am by no means opposing the teachings of Jesus, by example (he wasn't Christian), but rather the men that have used his teachings to control and manipulate the masses. Hip Hop, like Rock and Roll, like the media, and the government, all reflect an idea of power that labels vulnerability as weakness. I can only imagine the non-emotive hardness that you have had to show in order to secure your empire from the grips of those that once stood in your way: the old guard. You reflect our changing times. As time progresses we sometimes outgrow what may have served us along the way. This time, what we have outgrown, is not hip hop, rather it is the festering remnants of a God depicted as an angry and jealous male, by men who were angry and jealous over the minute role that they played in the everyday story of creation. I am sure that you have covered ideas such as these on your show, but we must make a connection before our disconnect proves fatal.

We are a nation at war. What we fail to see is that we are fighting ourselves. There is no true hatred of women in Hip Hop. At the root of our nature we inherently worship the feminine. Our overall attention to the nurturing guidance of our mothers and grandmothers as well as our ideas of what is sexy and beautiful all support this. But when the idea of the feminine is taken out of the idea of what is divine or sacred then that worship becomes objectification. When our governed morality asserts that a woman is either a virgin or a whore, then our understanding of sexuality becomes warped. Note the dangling platinum crosses over the bare asses being smacked in the videos. The emcees of my generation are the ministers of my father's generation. They too had a warped perspective of the feminine. Censoring songs, sermons, or the tirades of radio personalities will change nothing except the format of our discussion. If we are to sincerely address the change we are praying for then we must first address to whom we are praying.

Thank you, Ms. Winfrey, for your forum, your heart, and your vision. May you find the strength and support to bring about the changes you wish to see in ways that do more than perpetuate the myth of enmity.

In loving kindness,
Saul Williams / myspace

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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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Greenback Planet: How the Dollar Conquered

the World and Threatened Civilization as We Know It

By H. W. Brands

In Greenback Planet, acclaimed historian H. W. Brands charts the dollar's astonishing rise to become the world's principal currency. Telling the story with the verve of a novelist, he recounts key episodes in U.S. monetary history, from the Civil War debate over fiat money (greenbacks) to the recent worldwide financial crisis. Brands explores the dollar's changing relations to gold and silver and to other currencies and cogently explains how America's economic might made the dollar the fundamental standard of value in world finance. He vividly describes the 1869 Black Friday attempt to corner the gold market, banker J. P. Morgan's bailout of the U.S. treasury, the creation of the Federal Reserve, and President Franklin Roosevelt's handling of the bank panic of 1933. Brands shows how lessons learned (and not learned) in the Great Depression have influenced subsequent U.S. monetary policy, and how the dollar's dominance helped transform economies in countries ranging from Germany and Japan after World War II to Russia and China today. He concludes with a sobering dissection of the 2008 world financial debacle, which exposed the power--and the enormous risks--of the dollar's worldwide reign.  The Economy

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Sex at the Margins

Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry

By Laura María Agustín

This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label 'trafficked' does not accurately describe migrants' lives and that the 'rescue industry' serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. "Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality."—Lisa Adkins, University of London

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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 1 April 2012

 

 

 

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