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for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


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I am just as moved by the current Giovanni  as I am by . . . the Giovanni  who wrote

“The Great Pax Whitie” even if I am moved for different reasons.  But, I should add that

I can be moved by the structure or craftsmanship of a poem or story even if I am

not moved by the subject of the work



Books by C. Liegh McInnis


Scripts:  Sketches and Tales of Urban Mississippi  /  Da Black Book of Linguistic Liberation / Confessions: Brainstormin' from Midnite 'til Dawn  


  Matters of reality: Body, mind & soul / Prose: Essays and Personal Letters  /  Searchin' for Psychedelica


The Lyrics of Prince:  A Literary Look at a Creative, Musical Poet, Philosopher, and Storyteller


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Books by Nikki Giovanni

The Collected Poetry of Nikki Giovanni: 1968-1998  / Rosa  / Bicycle: Love Poems  / Ego-Tripping and Other Poems for Young People

Shimmy Shimmy Shimmy Like My Sister Kate  / Lincoln and Douglass On My Journey Now / Nikki Giovanni Bibliography

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Quilting the Black Eyed Pea

Nikki Giovanni Visits Jackson State

By C. Liegh McInnis


Since Professor Nikki Giovanni's lecture and poetry presentation, I have had a few discussions about it, ranging from those who thought she was wonderful to those who were a bit disappointed.  The manner in which I engage art and my favorite artists keeps me from getting too high or too low.  For the most part, the art and presentation of all artists are merely reflections of their journey and where they are at the current moment.  And to be more specific, very few people are the same in their fifties as they are in their twenties.  For example, I have been blessed to see certain artists—literary and musical—over a thirty year span, and while most of them maintained the high standard of their craft, age has a way of limiting or slowing us all. 

Whether it has been James Brown, Parliament Funkadelic, Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind and Fire, B. B. King, Buddy Guy, Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, Ishmael Reed, Nikki Giovanni, Toni Morrison, or Prince, age affects us all, including our socio-political concerns and energy.  Just how long can I expect Prince to be a pissed off funkateer who plays twenty minute solos while doing splits in high heels?  Though I will admit that his guitar solos are still as powerful; however, the splits have long been a thing of the past.

With the above stated, I enjoyed Professor Giovanni presentation for what it was and for whom she has decided to be at this juncture in her life—an artist who uses her voice/work to address issues that are important to her but who may not be interested in the work of grassroots organizing.  Professor Giovanni has never been a Sonia Sanchez or Haki Madhubuti, and, so, I do not measure her against their objectives but how well she fulfills her own.  Accordingly, her poetry reflects that she is thinking more metaphysically about issues, as apparent in her poem “We Are Going to Mars” from her book Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea:  Poems and Not Quite Poems

This direction does not bother me because I began as an admirer of the transcendental movement and still view myself as a poet addressing metaphysical concerns.  (As an aside, that was one of my issues with hip hop when I was first exposed to it in the late 80s.  It was not metaphysical enough for me.)  And to be clear, Professor Giovanni did assert herself as a critical and independent thinker when she criticized President Obama for not doing enough to create jobs while starting another war that the country does not need. 

Yet, about half the people with whom I have talked think that Professor Giovanni did not go far enough in engaging current socio-political issues, especially in deciding not to engage a question and answer period.  We were, after all, on a university campus where our prime directive is to engage ideas in a manner that enlightens and empowers the students and the surrounding community.  So, I do agree that by not engaging in the question and answer period both Professor Giovanni and Professor Cornel West, who lectured on the campus a few weeks earlier, limited their impact on the campus and surrounding community in their endeavors to create an atmosphere and community of critical thinkers.

So, I do understand those on either side of this issue, and simply respond that it is my responsibility to use both events as a teaching tool to my students by engaging them about the issues raised and discussed by West and Giovanni as well as discussing the structure of the presentations.  With that in mind, below I have pasted a 1968 poem by Giovanni , “The Great Pax Whitie,” which has the same fire and theme as another of her poems, “The True Import Of Present Dialogue, Black vs. Negro (For Peppe, Who Will Ultimately Judge Our Efforts)” [see below] also known as “Nigger Can You Kill?”   I love the word play and imagery of “The Great Pax Whitie” though I would like for it to have a bit more imagery, but that is my own personal taste. 

This poem is a classic when we understand the prevailing aesthetic of the time as well as how courageous and revolutionary the ideas are for the time.  Of course, the question remains.  Was the Giovanni  who presented at JSU this week the same Giovanni  who wrote “The Great Pax Whitie” over thirty years ago?  The answer is, clearly, no.  But, who is the same person at sixty that they are at thirty?  Very few of us are.  Even though the poetry of Kalamu ya Salaam and Jerry Ward is just as socio-political and just as cutting/fiery, it is also flavored with wisdom, a wisdom that has always been there addressing the complexity of the African’s struggle for freedom and equality—just check Salaam’s “If We Don't Make this Constant Music” or “Cosmic Deputy” and Ward’s “Don’t Be Fourteen (in Mississippi)” or “I Did not Ask to Be Palestinian.”  

What we can do is learn from the journey of the people we admire or the people who have made essential contributions to society, perpetuating what has or continues to work and eliminating what did not or no longer works.  Whatever the case for others, as a poet and as a concerned citizen, I am just as moved by the current Giovanni  as I am by the work and legacy of the Giovanni  who wrote “The Great Pax Whitie” [see below], even if I am moved for different reasons.  But, I should add that I can be moved by the structure or craftsmanship of a poem or story even if I am not moved by the subject of the work, and, accordingly, even if I agree with one’s message that message will be meaningless to me if the poem or story is structured or crafted poorly.  So, I can be moved by her message, and I can be moved by her literary mastery.

To those points, Professor Giovanni  was never a Black Nationalist, and she never advocated for separatist or independent black institutions.  She was a radial integrationist who used her poetry and essays to assert that disenfranchisement through racism, self-hatred, and sexism are the major hurdles for African Americans, and political engagement is the best course of action for African Americans, even going so far as to call herself a “yellow dog democrat,” which essentially means that she has sworn upmost allegiance to the democrats, proving that she could not be a Black Nationalist.  

The problem is that most radical integrationists, such as Giovanni , The Black Panther Party for Self Defense, SNCC, and others, are often confused as Black Nationalist, and those who expect more are often disappointed.  But that is not the fault of Giovanni  or others, but the fault of those who do not take the time to analyze thoroughly their message.  And as it is with the message, one must also know that with any artist the structure or aesthetic of an artist’s work may change, depending on how they are using structure and aesthetic to reflect their current journey or ideology.  Artists, of course, are just people who change like everyone else.  As patrons of the arts and as artists, we must be more mindful of the history so that we are not taken by surprise when someone we support or admire takes a turn we did not expect or see coming.  So, now, Professor Giovanni  is concerned with engaging the metaphysical plight of African people.  She is not the first nor will she be the last artist to move or transcend from physical concerns to metaphysical concerns. 

Those who are surprised that the Prince who once wanted to “sex” the taste out of your mouth now wants to share the word of God with you are only surprised because they did not pay close enough attention to his other works, and they completely missed the history of Little Richard, Sam Cooke, and Marvin Gaye all having the same types of changes or conflicts in their work.  I was not expecting Black Nationalist fire and brimstone from Professor Giovanni, and, so, I was not disappointed.  I was expecting an accomplished poet with interesting ideas, and that is, for the most part, what I got.  

The final point is that Giovanni, Baraka, Morrison, and others are invited to campuses as much for their celebrity as for their work.  That is the nature of the masses.  I am clear that whenever one of these types of artists comes to town, the vast majority of people in attendance are not there because they want to learn and promote the ideas of Black Nationalism or even radical integration.  They are there to see somebody famous, to take a picture with somebody famous, and to say they saw somebody famous. 

So the other aspect or question is:  where are the students, teachers, and community folk demanding that the university invite a new generation of thinkers, writers, and activist to the campus who are using their works to engage the current socio-political issues?  And this is not to say that Giovanni, Baraka, Morrison, and others are not doing so.  But, the truth is that during the sixties and seventies, the work of the writers of the Black Arts Movement was discussed and taught because of the student and community outcry and demand to have these writers brought to the schools. 

It seems, then, that either the current students and community folks are not reading current writers or there are no current writers engaging the current socio-political landscape.  In either case, there are a lot more factors to be considered if one was disappointed with Giovanni ’s presentation than just Professor Giovanni

posted 29 March 2011

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The Great Pax Whitie

                        By Nikki Giovanni


In the beginning was the word

And the word was


And the word was nigger

And the word was death to all niggers   

And the word was death to all life   

And the word was death to all

   peace be still


The genesis was life   

The genesis was death   

In the genesis of death   

Was the genesis of war

   be still peace be still


In the name of peace   

They waged the wars   

   ain’t they got no shame


In the name of peace

Lot’s wife is now a product of the Morton company   

   nah, they ain’t got no shame


Noah packing his wife and kiddies up for a holiday   

row row row your boat

But why’d you leave the unicorns, noah

Huh? why’d you leave them

While our Black Madonna stood there

Eighteen feet high holding Him in her arms   

Listening to the rumblings of peace

    be still be still



He wanted to know

And peter only asked who is that dude?

Who is that Black dude?

Looks like a troublemaker to me

And the foundations of the mighty mighty         

Ro Man Cat holic church were laid


   hallelujah Jesus

   nah, they ain’t got no shame


Cause they killed the Carthaginians   

in the great appian way

And they killed the Moors

“to civilize a nation”

And they just killed the earth

And blew out the sun

In the name of a god

Whose genesis was white

And war wooed god

And america was born

Where war became peace

And genocide patriotism

And honor is a happy slave

cause all god’s chillun need rhythm

And glory hallelujah why can’t peace

   be still


The great emancipator was a bigot   

   ain’t they got no shame

And making the world safe for democracy

Were twenty million slaves

   nah, they ain’t got no shame


And they barbecued six million

To raise the price of beef

And crossed the 38th parallel

To control the price of rice

   ain’t we never gonna see the light


And champagne was shipped out of the East   

While kosher pork was introduced

To Africa

   Only the torch can show the way


In the beginning was the deed   

And the deed was death


And the honkies are getting confused   

   peace be still


So the great white prince

Was shot like a nigger in texas

And our Black shining prince was murdered   

like that thug in his cathedral

While our nigger in memphis

was shot like their prince in dallas

And my lord

ain’t we never gonna see the light

The rumblings of this peace must be stilled   

   be stilled be still


ahh Black people

ain’t we got no pride?

Nikki Giovanni, “The Great Pax Whitie” from Black Feeling, Black Talk/Black Judgment. Copyright © 1968, 1970 by Nikki Giovanni. Used with the permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

Source: The Collected Poetry of Nikki Giovanni: 1968-1998

Peace Be Still/Great Pax Whitey (video)

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The True Import Of Present Dialogue, Black vs. Negro

                    (For Peppe, Who Will Ultimately Judge Our Efforts)

                                                     By Nikki Giovanni

Can you kill
Can you kill
Can a nigger kill
Can a nigger kill a honkie
Can a nigger kill the Man
Can you kill nigger
Huh? nigger can you
Do you know how to draw blood
Can you poison
Can you stab-a-Jew
Can you kill huh? nigger
Can you kill
Can you run a protestant down with your
'68 El Dorado
(that's all they're good for anyway)
Can you kill
Can you piss on a blond head
Can you cut it off
Can you kill
A nigger can die
We ain't got to prove we can die
We got to prove we can kill
They sent us to kill
Japan and Africa
We policed europe
Can you kill
Can you kill a white man
Can you kill the nigger
in you
Can you make your nigger mind
Can you kill your nigger mind
And free your black hands to
Can you kill
Can a nigger kill
Can you shoot straight and
Fire for good measure
Can you splatter their brains in the street
Can you kill them
Can you lure them to bed to kill them
We kill in Viet Nam
for them
We kill for UN & NATO & SEATO & US
And everywhere for all alphabet but
Can we learn to kill WHITE for BLACK
Learn to kill niggers
Learn to be Black men

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C. Liegh McInnis is an instructor of English at Jackson State University, the publisher and editor of Black Magnolias Literary Journal, and the author of seven books, including four collections of poetry, one collection of short fiction (Scripts:  Sketches and Tales of Urban Mississippi), and one work of literary criticism (The Lyrics of Prince:  A Literary Look at a Creative, Musical Poet, Philosopher, and Storyteller). 

He has presented papers at national conferences, such as College Language Association and the Neo-Griot Conference, and his work has appeared in Bum Rush the Page: A Def Poetry Jam, Sable, New Delta Review, The Black World Today, In Motion Magazine, MultiCultural Review, A Deeper Shade, New Laurel Review, ChickenBones, and the Oxford American

In January of 2009, C. Liegh, along with eight other poets, was invited to read poetry in Washington, DC by the NAACP for their Inaugural Poetry Reading celebrating the election of President Barack Obama.  He has also been invited by colleges and libraries all over the country to read his poetry and fiction and to lecture on various topics, such creative writing and various aspects of African American literature, music, and history.  McInnis is editor of Black Magnolias Literary Journal.—PsychedelicLiterature

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Black Magnolias Literary Journal is a quarterly that uses poetry, fiction, and prose to examine and celebrate the social, political, and aesthetic accomplishments of African Americans with an emphasis on Afro-Mississippians and Afro-Southerners.

We welcome pieces on a variety of African American and Afro-Southern culture, including history, politics, education, incidents/events, social life, and literature. All submissions are to be made by e-mail as a word attachment to . Each issue costs $12.00, and a year’s subscription is $40.00.


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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

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update 11 March 2012




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Related files:  Prince's The Rainbow Children    Blues as Secularized Spirituals       Quilting the Black Eyed Pea   Who or What Does "The Help" Help    War Poems

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 Jimi Hendrix—"Like A Rolling Stone” (kalamu)