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 Peter . . . sold firewood, worked for a tinsmith, cleaned rooms in a hotel, carried packages—

did whatever odd jobs he could find—all this before he was ten years old.



Books by Peter Abrhams

Mine Boy / Wild Conquest / Tell Freedom; Memories of Africa / The Path of Thunder A Wreath for Udomo / Return to Goli

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Bio Sketch

Peter Henry Abrahams 


Peter Abrahams (Mar. 19, 1919; author), an adopted citizen of Britain, makes his home in Essex, but his spiritual home is South Africa, where he was born and to which he returns on frequent visits.  “I am emotionally involved in South Africa,” he says, “Africa is my beat.”  South Africa is the scene of Abrahams’ five novels and of his stirring autobiography Tell Freedom; Memories of Africa.  As an artist, of course, Abrahams knows no national boundaries, but as a non-white who grew up in the slums and black ghettos of Johannesburg, he has a strong sense of dedication to a cause.  “If I am ever liberated from this bondage of racialism, there are some things much more exciting to me, objectively, to write about. …  But this world has such a social orientation, and I am involved in this world and I can’t cut myself off. …

James Henry Abrahams, the author’s father, was an Ethiopian.  Angelina DuPlessis, his mother, was colored, which he defines as “the South African word for the half-caste community that was a by-product of the early contact between black and white.”  She was of Negro-French origin.  Peter Henry Abrahams was born in Johannesburg on March 19, 1919.  His father died when he was a little boy, and the childhood which he describes in Tell Freedom was a hard one.  There was the endless struggle against poverty, common to so many people all over the world, but added to this was the spirit-crushing atmosphere of racialism, bettering conditions.  What emerges so strikingly from Tell Freedom, indeed, is the sense of compassion and hope that filled the lives of Abrahams and his family in the face of these formidable barriers.

Peter went to work before he went to school.  He sold firewood, worked for a tinsmith, cleaned rooms in a hotel, carried packages—did whatever odd jobs he could find—all this before he was ten years old.  Education came later for him, but when it came, he received it with an eagerness that enabled him to make up for lost time and race ahead.  After three years in school he had discovered Charles and Mary Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare and the poems of John Keats.  As he writes in Tell Freedom: “With Shakespeare and poetry, a new world was born.”

With the aid of a scholarship Abrahams attended St. Peter’s College in Johannesburg and the Teachers’ Training College at Petersburg.  At college the world opened up rapidly for the boy.  He edited the college magazine and began writing and publishing verse in the Bantu World.  After graduating from college in 1938, Abrahams taught for a year in Cape Town and then worked briefly in Durban as a magazine editor.  His dream was to go to England, but the chances of his earning the money for passage appeared hopeless.  Then in 1939 he got a job as a ship’s stoker and spent the next two years traveling around the world.  Ultimately this led him to England and freedom, and he has given all his time and energy since then to writing.

Abrahams wrote his first story at eleven.  “It was a Western based largely on my Saturday excursions to a local ‘bioscope’ where Tom Mix, Joe Bonomo, Yakima Canut, and Buck Jones were our great heroes and only the ‘dames’ interfered and slowed down the pace and action that thrilled us.”  His adult writing, however, took on a more serious and realistic note.  Dark Testament (G. Allen), a collection of short stories, was published in England in 1942; Song of the City (Crisp), a novel, followed in 1945.  His third book was Mine Boy (Crisp), published in England in 1946 and by Knopf in the United States in 1955.  In The Path of Thunder (Harper, 1948) Abrahams had his hero an educated Negro who returns to his native South African village with ideas of reform and equality and inevitably clashes with the white population.  Wild Conquest (Harper, 1950) was an historical novel treating the great northward trek of the Boers in the 1830’s and their conflicts with the Africans.

With  Tell Freedom (Knopf, 1954), his autobiography, and A Wreath for Udomo(Knopf, 1956), a novel, Abrahams has made his most effective contribution so far to world understanding of the racial problems of Africa.  Tell Freedom “adds an essential dimensions to the African picture,” Melville J. Herskovits wrote in the Nation (August 21, 1954).  “Not since [Alan] Paton’s Cry the Beloved Country has there been such an enormous and detailed rang of discriminating reporting as in this book,” wrote Roi Ottley in Saturday Review (August 14, 1954).

A Wreath for Udomo is a powerful story of a brilliant Negro, educated in London, who returns to Africa to govern his own people.  His failure and his martyrdom are as much the results of the tragic misunderstandings among his own people as of the prejudices of the white man.  Harvey Curtis Webster in the Saturday Review (May 26, 1956) called this “probably … the most perceptive novel that has been written about the complex interplay between British imperialism and African nationalism and tribalism.”

Abrahams has also published a work of reportage Return to Goli (Faber, 1953). He is currently at work on a book about the island of Jamaica, commissioned by the British and Jamaican governments.  The book will be part of the Corona Library.

Travel, gardening, tennis, walking, and “meeting and talking with people” are the author’s favorite recreations.  In 1942 Abrahams married Dorothy Pennington.  Their marriage was dissolved in 1948.  On June 1, 1948 he married Daphne Elizabeth Miller, an artist.  They have three children, Anne, Aron, and Naomi.  Abrahams is five feet seven inches tall and weighs about 150 pounds.  He is a member of the Society of Authors and of the International PEN.  His church affiliation is Anglican.


Newsweek 44:83 Ag 9 ’54 por

San Bernardino (California) Sun Telegram Ja 22 ’56

Toledo (Ohio) Blade Ja 15 ’56 por

Author’s and Writer’s Who’s Who (1948–49)

Cassell’s Encyclopaedia of World Literature (1954)

Source: Current Biography  Reprinted from the Wilson Library Bulletin Sept. 1957.

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Peter Abrahams (born March 3, 1919) is a South African novelist

His father was from Ethiopia and his mother was classified by South Africa as a mixed race person, a "Kleurling" or Coloured. He was born in Vrededorp, nearby Johannesburg, but left South Africa in 1939. He worked first as a sailor, and then as a journalist in London, at which time, he lived with his wife, Daphne, at Loughton. Whilst in London, he met several important black leaders and writers, such as Jomo Kenyatta. He then settled in Jamaica in 1956.

One of South Africa's most prominent writers, his work deals with political and social issues, especially with racism. His novel, Mine Boy (1946), one of the first works to bring him to critical attention, and his memoir Tell Freedom; Memories of Africa (1954) deal in part with apartheid. His other works include the story collection Dark Testament (1942) and the novels The Path of Thunder (1948), A Wreath for Udomo (1956), A Night of Their Own (1965), the Jamaica-set This Island Now (1966, the only one of his novels not set in Africa) and The View from Coyaba (1985). He also wrote This Island Now, which speaks to the ways power and money can change most people's perspectives.

Source: Wikipedia

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Peter Abrahams Documentary

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Peter Abrahams, born in a Johannesburg slum of an Ethiopian father and a "Cape Coloured" mother, is the best known of the South African Negro writers. he has written Mine Boy  and other novels, as well as an autobiography, Tell Freedom. In the lively article excerpted here, he gives us a piece of candid journalism such as few other writers would be in a position to do, for in writing of his visits with Nkrumah and Kenyatta he is writing of men who were his friends and intimates in the African colony in London before the upsurge of independent states in Africa. Mr. Abrahams has lived for many years outside his native continent, first in England and now in the West Indies.

Written in 1959, the article may on some political points be dated; and Mr. Abrahams may have overestimated the damage done to Kenyatta's potentialities by his ambivalent connections with tribal society.

But, on the whole, this article is a valuable portrayal in personal terms of the tensions between nation-building leaders and traditionally oriented masses. these tensions could be of two sorts: in the case of Nkrumah they would seem to be part of a clash between authoritarian centralism and a variety of localisms; in the case of Kenyatta, there seems to be in addition to the political dynamics, an inner struggle of emotional commitments to both African and Western patterns.  [Jacob Drachler, African Heritage, 1964]

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Becoming American Under Fire

Irish Americans, African Americans, and the Politics of Citizenship

During the Civil War Era

By Christian G. Samito

In Becoming American under Fire, Christian G. Samito provides a rich account of how African American and Irish American soldiers influenced the modern vision of national citizenship that developed during the Civil War era. By bearing arms for the Union, African Americans and Irish Americans exhibited their loyalty to the United States and their capacity to act as citizens; they strengthened their American identity in the process. . . . For African American soldiers, proving manhood in combat was only one aspect to their quest for acceptance as citizens. As Samito reveals, by participating in courts-martial and protesting against unequal treatment, African Americans gained access to legal and political processes from which they had previously been excluded. The experience of African Americans in the military helped shape a postwar political movement that successfully called for rights and protections regardless of race. For Irish Americans, soldiering in the Civil War was part of a larger affirmation of republican government and it forged a bond between their American citizenship and their Irish nationalism. The wartime experiences of Irish Americans helped bring about recognition of their full citizenship through naturalization and also caused the United States to pressure Britain to abandon its centuries-old policy of refusing to recognize the naturalization of British subjects abroad. / For Love of Liberty

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Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.WashingtonPost

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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

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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 26 March 2012




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