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Every director, believe it or not, does not have a clear vision. And without a clear vision,

the captain can't steer the ship. She guided the ship smoothly.  She was kind and patient

and encouraging, but very clear on where we were all going. She was also very open

to ideas. She certainly didn't seem like a first-time narrative director. She has a bright future.



Salli Richardson-Whitfield in I Will Follow

Interviewed by Kam Williams


Born in Chicago on November 23, 1967, Salli Richardson-Whitfield burst onto the silver screen in 1993 in Posse, an African-American Western directed by and co-starring Mario Van Peebles. Her resumé reveals extensive work since then in television, film and theater.

Salli starred opposite both Denzel Washington and Will Smith, playing their wives in the films Antwone Fisher and I Am Legend, respectively. And she happily juggles such big studio assignments with interesting independent features like Black Dynamite, Pastor Brown and We the Party.

On TV, she currently portrays Dr. Allison Blake on the SyFy Network's hit series Eureka, for which she was nominated for an NAACP Image Award. Her other television credits include a starring role as attorney Viveca Foster on Family Law and recurring roles on CSI: Miami, Rude Awakening and NYPD Blue. In addition, she guest-starred on the critically acclaimed series, House, and voiced the character of Elise for the animated series Gargoyles.

Salli resides in Los Angeles with her husband, actor Dondre Whitfield, and their two children, Parker and Dre. Here, she talks about her new film, I Will Follow, an ensemble drama directed by Ava DuVernay.

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Kam Williams: Hi Salli, thanks for the time.

Salli Richardson-Whitfield: Hi Kam. Happy to be here.

Kam Williams: I’ll be mixing in my questions with some sent in by fans. Children’s book author Irene Smalls asks: Why this film?  What attracted you to the script?

Salli Richardson-Whitfield: Well, you don't pass up roles that give you the opportunity to stretch and to grow. For black actresses in Hollywood, these kinds of parts are few and far between. Our writer/director, Ava DuVernay, did a beautiful job of creating a multi-dimensional character that shows a black woman at a crossroads and how she keeps her balance when the unexpected happens in life. The film explores love, loss, loyalty and life in general. I couldn't pass it up, even though it scared me a little. I wondered, "Could I do this?" I'm glad I stepped in and tried. I'm very proud of what we made with this film.

Kam Williams: Harriet Pakula Teweles says: A 'surprising thirst for life' that follows after the death of a loved one seems so different from the reports of depression and loss of interest in life that so many people experience. How does I Will Follow reconcile this?

Salli Richardson-Whitfield: I Will Follow is a celebration of life.  Sometimes when  you lose something, you understand its value more than when you had it. The same is true for life.  When a loved one passes, there are mixed emotions and a thirst to live one's own life more deeply can certainly be among them.

Kam Williams: How did you prepare for the role of Maye?  

Salli Richardson-Whitfield: It was tough.  From the time I first met Ava, the director, to the first day of shooting was only a week, if that. It was a very fast, very creative, very organic process. My manager pushed me to dive in with both feet. The director knew what she wanted. And with the encouragement and the support of both, I decided I was going to give it my all—and I did.

Kam Williams: What would you say is the film’s message?

Salli Richardson-Whitfield: I hope people come see I Will Follow when it opens on March 11 and find their own lesson in the film. It will speak to everyone differently. That's the power and the magic of film.

Kam Williams: What was it like working with Ava DuVernay as a director?

Salli Richardson-Whitfield: She is wonderful.  Very focused.  Like I said, she knows what she wants. Every director, believe it or not, does not have a clear vision. And without a clear vision, the captain can't steer the ship. She guided the ship smoothly.  She was kind and patient and encouraging, but very clear on where we were all going. She was also very open to ideas. She certainly didn't seem like a first-time narrative director. She has a bright future.

Kam Williams: What challenges did you face in shooting a full-length feature film in just 15 days?

Salli Richardson-Whitfield: Indies are always an extra challenge. The time is shorter because you have less money to spend and fewer days to shoot. But our set on I Will Follow was very harmonious and very familial. The feeling we created together offset the lack of a big budget. So yes, there were challenges, but they only brought everyone closer together, which I think you can see from the final product.

Kam Williams: Attorney Bernatte Beekman asks: What role did the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement (AFFRM) and its grassroots distribution play in your decision to participate in the project? Would you like to produce, direct?

Salli Richardson-Whitfield: I didn't know about AFFRM before I made the film. I learned about it after. I think it’s brilliant and much needed. AFFRM is a new way to distribute black movies—not just for our film, but for other quality black indie films. They've gathered the nation's finest black film organizations together to release a first-run film simultaneously in theaters nationwide. AFFRM's I Will Follow is the first grassroots national theatrical release powered completely by community organizations. It’s a game changer, and I'm proud to be involved somehow.

As far as directing, yes! I am directing already. I helmed an episode of my show Eureka that will air this coming season and I'll be doing another next season. I love it and plan to direct much more.

Kam Williams: Larry Greenberg would like to know what the difference is between working on a TV series like Eureka and a serious film like I Will Follow.

Salli Richardson-Whitfield: Eureka is a blast. I Will Follow fed my soul. Both are necessary and positive. I'm fortunate to have had the opportunity to work in both worlds.

 Kam Williams: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?

Salli Richardson-Whitfield: That's a good one! Gosh, I wish I had one. I feel like I've been asked just about everything over my career at some point or another. But that’s a very good question.

Kam Williams: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?

Salli Richardson-Whitfield: Yes. We all get scared. But that's the time to be brave, push on, strive for your goals and push past what scares us.

Kam Williams: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?

Salli Richardson-Whitfield: Yes! My husband, Dondre, and my two children make me incredibly, incredibly happy.  Plus, I get to go to work doing a job that I love. I'm very happy and grateful.

Kam Williams: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good laugh?

Salli Richardson-Whitfield: I was just on The Steve Harvey Show and on The Monique Show doing press for I Will Follow, and they both had me in stitches.

Kam Williams: What is your guiltiest pleasure?

Salli Richardson-Whitfield: I have one cheat day every Saturday. And on that day, I've been known to settle down with a whole pizza! Guilty pleasure, indeed. But then I'm back to being good on Sunday!

Kam Williams: Thanks again for the time, Salli, and best of luck with the I Will Follow.

Salli Richardson-Whitfield: Thank you, Kam! I hope folks come out and support this lovely black film starring myself, Blair Underwood, Omari Hardwick and Beverly Todd. We need everyone's support to make it a success!

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Bittersweet Drama Chronicles

Day in the Life of Grief-Stricken Caregiver

 I Will Follow Film Review by Kam Williams


For some reason, most movies aimed at African-American audiences tend to be either over-the-top comedies or morality plays too melodramatic in tone to be taken very seriously. Flying in the face of that trend is I Will Follow, one of those refreshingly rare treats which simply presents black folks in a recognizably realistic fashion, ala such similarly understated classics as Eve’s Bayou (1997), Nothing But a Man (1964) and The Visit (2000).

Written and directed by Ava DuVernay (This Is the Life), I Will Follow stars Salli Richardson-Whitfield as Maye Fisher, a successful makeup artist who put her career and her man (Blair Underwood) on hold to attend to a beloved Aunt (Beverly Todd) battling cancer. Amanda had served as an inspirational role model for Maye during childhood, which made it easy for the grateful niece to resolve to return the favor at her hour of need.

The film unfolds in L.A. over the course of just 24 hours right in the wake of Amanda’s funeral. At the point of departure, we find Maye preparing to vacate the house she had rented for them to share since it had always been her Aunt’s dream to live atop breathtaking Topanga Canyon. While packing up their belongings, the grief-stricken caregiver pauses periodically to reminisce about the fond memories triggered by this or that item she’s wrapping.

However, between those evocative flashbacks, she has no choice but to attend to a variety of mundane matters like terminating the television satellite service and directing the moving men. Proving even more disruptive of Maye’s mourning process is the arrival of Amanda’s absentee daughter, Fran (Michole Briana White), who only showed up to collect her inheritance and to blame her cousin for her estranged mother’s death.

“She wanted trees. She didn’t want to fight, or chemo,” Maye matter-of-factly,” responds. But her heartfelt explanation falls on the deaf ears of a witch who insensitively demands, “I want my mother’s stuff!” before storming out.

At the end of the day, exhausted and drained, Maye finally finds a shoulder to lean on in tow truck driver, Troy (Omari Hardwick. And before the sun can set on this compelling, character-driven drama, she has to reassess her own relationship priorities as she contemplates dating a sensitive brother despite his modest means.

Congrats to Salli Richardson-Whitfield for delivering a career performance, here, and to Ava DuVernay for shooting such a thought-provoking meditation on mortality in just a couple of weeks and on a micro budget.  Excellent (4 stars) 88 Minutes

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We Don’t Have to Ask Permission

Felicia Pride Interviews Ava DuVernay


See it. Then buy it.

I met Ava DuVernay a few years back in Philly at the Black Lily Film & Music Festival. I was there hawking copies of The Message. Ava was screening her first documentary feature This Is the Life. She stopped by my small table. We chatted and she mentioned her film was also about hip-hop. Word? She was one of few people who purchased a copy of my book. So naturally, I remembered her.

Fast forward. To say DuVernay has been busy this past year is an understatement that warrants head jerks. In addition to running a successful film PR business, she’s directed three films including BET’s My Mic Sounds Nice and the 2010 Essence Music Festival.

This Friday, I Will Follow, her first narrative feature which she wrote, produced, directed, oh and self-financed, will be released in AMC theaters. She’s releasing the film through an initiative that she cofounded.

The African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement (AFFRM) is a theatrical distribution collective dedicated to black independent cinema. The collective will theatrically release quality independent African-American films through simultaneous limited engagements in select cities.

The inaugural presenting black film organizations are Urbanworld Film Festival with Imagenation in New York, Pan-African Film Festival in Los Angeles, ReelBlack in Philadelphia, BronzeLens Film Festival in Atlanta and Langston Hughes African-American Film Festival in Seattle. If you’re in any of these cities, be sure to see I Will Follow during its run.

Proceeds from the releases go back to the festival organizations to help sustain them and their preservation of black films year round. AFFRM will release two films a year. I Will Follow stars Salli Richardson-Whitfield as a woman who must close one chapter of her life in order to move onto the next. Reviews for the film have celebrated the movie’s quiet power—refreshing storytelling in an over-the-top blockbuster era. About the film, Roger Ebert said, “I Will Follow is one of the best films I’ve seen about coming to terms with the death of loved one.…it isn’t sentimental, it isn’t superficial. It is very deeply true.”

I had an opportunity to chat with the smart, funny, and down-to-earth DuVernay about film publicity, distribution, and why you can (and should) embrace DIY (do it yourself).

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Felicia Pride: What was your first introduction into film?

Ava DuVernay: I’ve been working as a film publicist since 1995. I went immediately into the studio system, then went to a big agency and really loved it. When I was in the studio system, I worked on six films a year if that. At the agency, it was more like six films a month. It was much more fast-paced and I loved the energy and vibe. I opened my own agency in 1999 and worked on Scary Movie. Here was this film with a black director that was satire and a spoof. People didn’t know what it was. I was 27 years old and trying to build campaigns around films that were niche and mainstream. That became my specialty. I went on to work with television and film projects like Girlfriends, Lincoln Heights, Cop Out, and Invictus.

Felicia Pride: At what point did you want to start making films?

Ava DuVernay: In 2006 or so, I started getting interested in filmmaking. It became my own kind of hobby. I was always around great directors and became interested in what they were doing.

I made my first feature This Is the Life about a group of people I grew up with. It’s a small, handmade documentary that didn’t cost a lot of money to make. I knew that no one was picking it up and putting it in theaters. Maybe we’d get a DVD deal or sell it off to cable.

Felicia Pride: Those were your options.

Ava DuVernay: Instead of selling the DVD rights, I did it myself—packaged and distributed it. I made more money than the deals that I was offered. Companies take your DVD rights for 20 years. We made back our money in one year doing it on our own. We sold it to small hip-hop and record stores. Then we got it on Netflix and iTunes. We did get a Showtime deal that I orchestrated.

I want to stay in the self-distribution realm. I see my non-black counterparts embracing the DIY movement. I don’t see too many black filmmakers doing it.

Felicia Pride: Why do you think that is?

Ava DuVernay: They may not know it’s possible. It may be a matter of education. I see the studio stuff, the black indie world and I see the white indie DIY world. Black and Latino filmmakers haven’t embraced it at the same pace. Filmmakers who deal with specific communities are trying to create these communities. We have niche communities ready for the taking. We can literally tap into large audiences who love black romances or just love black film period.

Felicia Pride: At what point did you feel there was a need for AFFRM?

Ava DuVernay: Right after I finished the This Is the Life run in August 2009, I had long list of notes in my Blackberry. I had just successfully self-distributed my documentary, put it in theaters, got it on Showtime, on DVD, and festivals and was thinking of the next film.

I started shooting I Will Follow in November 2010. I just looked at my bank account and that was the budget. And I knew I was going to self-distribute it. But then I thought, why would I do this with just my film? Can we do something that will sustain itself and would support other filmmakers? It became bigger than my film. We should create something for other filmmakers to tap into. And after five years, we could have released ten films. It’s really kind of groundbreaking and outside of the studio system. We don’t have to ask permission.

We can embrace DIT—do it together. We can join with robust film festivals and organizations to put a film out together on the same day in our particular market. We can get our people out for a couple of weeks to support this film, just as small studios like Magnolia do. I can secure national publicity; a lot of indie films don’t get that. Then it goes to DVD.

Felicia Pride: How are films selected?

Ava DuVernay: They’re curated by the festivals. There are no better people to select the films than those who get tons of submissions and watch hundreds of films. They see everything and can say, “This is special; this is a filmmaker we want to support.”

Felicia Pride: How can others support AFFRM?

Ava DuVernay: We’re a small team of five people. Anyone out there who can lend their creative talents to the process, I invite them to contact us and let us know what they can help with.

But we really need people to come and see the films. If people don’t come, companies won’t want to support us; filmmakers won’t want to be a part of AFFRM. Please come. This isn’t an ego stroke for me. Come and participate.

Felicia Pride: You’ve promoted big budget films and independent films like your first one, This Is the Life. Are there promotional activities that work for both types of films?

Ava DuVernay: The campaign I ran for Dreamgirls was different simply because of economics. We secured national publicity—high level reviews, magazine features. I married that with advertising, promotions, and street teams. It’s a wall of noise hitting you. All paid for.

For I Will Follow, we don’t have that kind of money. We don’t have a lot of money to buy ads or put out street teams. We have been able to secure publicity which helped to get companies wanting to donate spots. A black owned company has agreed to give us a gang of ads and editorial because they loved the idea of AFFRM, and love black film. They appreciate our images and wanted to invest in this movement. That’s what we need—that kind of support to match our black creatives. We have to bring audiences and creatives together, but the business needs to come into play too—business people who have assets. It takes a village.

Felicia Pride: How do you run your publicity business and make films at the same time?

Ava DuVernay: I got a team that works on the DVA Media + Marketing, and I have teams for the films. I have one central person, Tilane Jones, who acts as a liaison between both and helps to keep everything running. Last year, we did a lot less films on the agency side. We worked on Invictus and Cop Out and I started directing My Mic Sounds Nice while cutting I Will Follow. We did the Essence Music Festival film and publicized three titles for Warner Brothers.

I work to make my films and to self-finance them. They’ll have small budgets—the price of small cars. It’s really low-budget filmmaking. A lot of people are doing it well. I don’t know if we’re doing it well, but we’re trying.

Felicia Pride: And you’re doing.

Ava DuVernay: My goal is to make one movie a year. I made three movies last year.  Because I am in the industry, I sat in those rooms. I know the system really well—what it requires, what it takes from you. I prefer independence and being my own boss. I haven’t worked for anyone since 1999—it’s just what I prefer. I’ve pitched studios. If a studio came to me with a great project, I’d probably consider it; I just don’t prefer it.

I’m about getting a little bit of money, making a picture, and getting it out to people. To me, there’s no romance in saying that it took seven years to make a film. That’s not sexy to me. I’m trying to get to another way—scratch out a path that allows me to be able to do it without asking permission.

8 March 2011

Felicia Pride (@feliciapride) is the founder and chief content officer of BackList. She wrote the production notes for I Will Follow.

Source: TheBackList

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Building an Alliance to Aid Films by Blacks—by Michael Cieply—7 January 2011—Ava DuVernay, the filmmaker and publicist, imagines a time when black-theme pictures will flourish in places where African-American film festivals have already found eager viewers.

Fifty such cities would be an ideal black-film circuit, Ms. DuVernay said. In March she will start with five. . . . The plan is to put black-theme movies in commercial theaters, initially from the independent film program recently begun by the AMC theater chain, for a two-week run supported by social networks, mailing lists and other buzz-building services at the disposal of allied ethnic film festivals.

Those who make specifically black-theme movies, she said, should realize that “no one is ever going to care about their film except the people it’s made for, which is, black folks.” According to a 2009 survey of moviegoing compiled for the Motion Picture Association of America, African-Americans, about 12 percent of the North American population, accounted for only 11 percent of ticket sales and less than 9 percent of frequent moviegoers. (By contrast, Hispanics, who make up 15 percent of the population, bought 21 percent of tickets, according to the study.)—NYTimes

posted 5 March 2011

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God, Dr. Buzzard, and the Bolito Man

A Saltwater Geechee Talks About Life on Sapelo Island, Georgia

By Cornelia Walker Bailey

It has been said that the Africans who were brought to the United States as slaves were completely stripped of their native culture. But pioneering scholars such as anthropologist Melville Herskovits have disproved this in academia, while the literature of Zora Neale Hurston and Ralph Ellison has also debunked this persistent myth. Living proof of that fact is Sapelo Island, a South Sea island off the coast of Savannah, Georgia, where West African traditions persist despite considerable odds. This vivid memoir by Cornelia Walker Bailey, a lecturer and tour guide on Sapelo Island, transports the reader to this enchanted land of miracles and magic.

Walker is a self-described "Geechee," a descendant of Islamic African slaves taken from modern-day Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Liberia (she traces her family lineage on the island back to 1803). In God, Dr. Buzzard, and the Bolito Man, the author brings alive a land where black people speak an African-based Creole language, believe in "mojo" (the American equivalent of Haitian voodoo), and who work to keep their culture alive.

"You can think of the Africans as being victims, and in a sense they were," she writes. "But they were also great survivors. If they survived the Middle Passage, and a lot of people didn't, then they survived everything thrown at them. They were determined people." Thanks in large part to Bailey, this determination lives on. But her book, which recalls life on Sapelo Island from the 1940s and rings with the same ebullient language found in Jean Toomer's Cane, also serves as a warning, noting that outside business interests and the disinterest of the youth threaten the very existence of their ancient ways. "We need to be proud of our ancestors from slavery days and of our old people who went through modern hardships and to learn from them that if you believe in something, strength comes from that." With this book, she hopes to pass some of that strength on.— Review

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



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#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 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


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#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
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#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

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#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

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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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The Last Holiday: A Memoir

By Gil Scott Heron

Shortly after we republished The Vulture and The Nigger Factory, Gil started to tell me about The Last Holiday, an account he was writing of a multi-city tour that he ended up doing with Stevie Wonder in late 1980 and early 1981. Originally Bob Marley was meant to be playing the tour that Stevie Wonder had conceived as a way of trying to force legislation to make Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday. At the time, Marley was dying of cancer, so Gil was asked to do the first six dates. He ended up doing all 41. And Dr King's birthday ended up becoming a national holiday ("The Last Holiday because America can't afford to have another national holiday"), but Gil always felt that Stevie never got the recognition he deserved and that his story needed to be told. The first chapters of this book were given to me in New York when Gil was living in the Chelsea Hotel. Among the pages was a chapter called Deadline that recounts the night they played Oakland, California, 8 December; it was also the night that John Lennon was murdered. Gil uses Lennon's violent end as a brilliant parallel to Dr King's assassination and as a biting commentary on the constraints that sometimes lead to newspapers getting things wrong. —Jamie Byng, Guardian / Gil_reads_"Deadline" (audio)

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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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Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


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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 2 March 2012




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