ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


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You can drink till screaming is not loud enough, and the coldest night is all right to sleep outside in. You can buy a big car . . .

if the deal goes down. There’s so much, then, you can do, to yourself, or to somebody else. Another man sings,

“I’m drinkin’ t.n.t., I’m smokin’ dynamite, I hope some screwball starts a fight.”



Books by Amiri Baraka

Tales of the Out & the Gone  / The Essence of Reparations / Somebody Blew Up America & Other Poems  / Blues People

 Autobiography of LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka / Selected Poetry of Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones / Black Music  / Home: Social Essays

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Cold, Hurt, and Sorrow: Streets of Despair

By Leroi Jones


These streets stretch from one end of America to the other and connect like a maze from which very few can fully escape. Despair sits on this country in most places like a charm, but there is a special gray death that loiters in the streets of an urban Negro slum. And the men who walk those streets, tracing and retracing their steps to some hopeless job or a pitiful rooming house or apartment or furnished room, sometimes stagger under the weight of that gray, humiliated because it is not even “real.”

Sometimes walking along among the ruined shacks and lives of the worst Harlem slum, there is a feeling that just around the next corner you’ll find yourself in South Chicago or South Philadelphia, maybe even Newark’s Third Ward. In these places life, and its possibility, has been distorted almost identically. And the distortion is as old as its sources: the fear, frustration, and hatred that Negroes have always been heir to in America. It is just that in the cities, which were once the black man’s twentieth century “Jordan,” promise is a dying bitch with rotting eyes. And the stink of her dying is a deadly killing fume.

The blues singers know all this. They knew before they got to the cities. “I’d rather drink muddy water, sleep in a hollow log, than be in New York City treated like a dirty dog.” And then they arrived, in those various cities, it was much worse than even they had imagined. The city blues singers are still running all that down. Specifically, it’s what a man once named for me unnatural adversity. It is social, it is economic, it is cultural and historical. Some of its products are emotional and psychological; some are even artistic, as if Negroes suffered better than anyone else. But it’s hard enough to be a human being under any circumstances, but when there is an entire civilization determined to stop you from being one, things get a little more desperately complicated. What do you do then?

You can stand in doorways late nights and hit people in the head. You can go to church Saturday nights and Sundays and three or four times during the week. You can stick a needle in your arm four or five times a day, and bolster the economy. You can buy charms and herbs and roots, or wear your hat backwards to keep things from getting worse. You can drink till screaming is not loud enough, and the coldest night is all right to sleep outside in. You can buy a big car . . . if the deal goes down. There’s so much, then, you can do, to yourself, or to somebody else. Another man sings, “I’m drinkin’ t.n.t., I’m smokin’ dynamite, I hope some screwball starts a fight.”

One can never talk about Harlem in purely social terms, though there are ghetto facts that make any honest man shudder. It is the tone, the quality of suffering each man knows as his own that finally must be important, but this is the most difficult thing to get to. (There are about twenty young people from one small Southern town, all friends, all living within the same few blocks of the black city, all of whom are junkies, communally hooked. What kind of statistic is that? And what can  you say when you read it?)

The old folks kept singing, there will be a better day . . . or, the sun’s gonna shine in my back door some day . . . or, I’ve had my fun if I don’t get well no more. What did they want? What would that sun turn out to be?

Hope is a delicate suffering. Its waste products vary, but most of them are meaningful. And as a cat named Mean William once said, can you be glad, if you’ve never been sad?

From Home: Social Essays

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Street Protest

By Leroi Jones


There have been black men trying to get other black men to protest and rise against the weight of America’s oppression since those first clipper ships bringing them in in chains. There have been black men willing even to die, and not for an abstract freedom they teach you in grammar school which belongs largely to dead patriots masquerading as Indians, but for the simple need to say exactly what they think, and explain exactly what they think America is. But any black American who ever tried to say something factual about the black man’s life in America, even in the uncomplicated circumstances of slavery, was either killed or, as the slave ship grew more sophisticated and gave a few Negroes radios or air conditioning in the hold, driven crazy or driven away for daring to protest.

But to a large extent America convinced itself that the black man didn’t mind being a slave. (You remember those grinning woogies strumming on the cotton bales? The happy-go-lucky image of Harlem is an extension of this.) Although the records of slave revolts are too numerous to support such a faked conclusion, and men like Caesar, Gabriel, Denmark, Nat Turner, and so many others were not killed for strumming banjos.

Before the Negro came North at the beginning of the century there was not much room for any protest except one that would have to begin at violence. But the North offered at least a little more room to swing, buoyed up as it was, and is, by a kindly Liberal/Missionary syndrome that will let you say almost anything you want, as long as you don’t threaten to do anything. (The missionary types would tell the more repressive Americans, “Such protest is good for business.”)

But ever since the early years of this century there have been a great many formal Negro protest groups thriving in the North: not only the large, more respectable groups like the NAACP, but the quickly organized and usually quickly disbanded protest groups, who have no clearly outlined “program” and of course no wealthy supporters and therefore very little influence—except that they represent all the people with no influence.

Some men take it upon themselves, even alone, to make some noise about the filth they see. In Harlem such men are easy to hear; their persistence makes them available. They don’t even need a soapbox and an American flag, or a place on the stand in front of Michaux’s House of Proper Propaganda on Seventh Avenue just above 125th Street. They just stand out somewhere and talk loud, and a few people stand and listen.

At an NAACP-Church rally recently, in front of the Hotel Theresa, where the large, money-financed, more organized “protests” take place, a single speaker took up a stand directly across the street from the main rally and tried to shout the electronic equipment down with a rolled-up magazine. There were about one hundred cops watching the main rally and about two watching the loner.

There are some protest speakers who wear African robes and sandals, and study African history. And now, as Africa rises, there are some who speak of “teaching the children about their heritage,” though they ought to know also that that heritage is one that is cruelly local.

Since the twenties there have been all kinds of local betterment leaders and social prophets in Harlem. Marcus Garvey was both, and even before he began his back to Africa movement and the Universal Negro Improvement Association, he was shouting at people on Lennox Avenue to get themselves together and get themselves together and get the white man off their backs. The sentiment is still strong in Harlem, and leaflets and speakers urging Negroes to “Buy Black” are still ubiquitous. And now, young clean-headed, clean-suited boys wave their copies of Muhammad Speaks, spreading the word of Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X.

Any weekend will find some speakers out, singly or encouraged—especially if the weather’s good. There is always a picket line getting ready to form or a neophyte protest group, and there are always reasons why they should form. There are even some speakers with personal uniforms to specify their utopias. But an open and very public understanding of what all these protests are about has come to Harlem, just as it has come to negroes throughout the rest of the country, whose local Harlems are equally impossible, equally repressive. In many cases, the men on the platforms are just repeating what they hear. From people’s mouths, and people’s horns.

From Home: Social Essays

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Malcolm X

A Life of Reinvention

By Manning Marable

Years in the making-the definitive biography of the legendary black activist.

Of the great figure in twentieth-century American history perhaps none is more complex and controversial than Malcolm X. Constantly rewriting his own story, he became a criminal, a minister, a leader, and an icon, all before being felled by assassins' bullets at age thirty-nine. Through his tireless work and countless speeches he empowered hundreds of thousands of black Americans to create better lives and stronger communities while establishing the template for the self-actualized, independent African American man. In death he became a broad symbol of both resistance and reconciliation for millions around the world.

Manning Marable's new biography of Malcolm is a stunning achievement. Filled with new information and shocking revelations that go beyond the Autobiography, Malcolm X unfolds a sweeping story of race and class in America, from the rise of Marcus Garvey and the Ku Klux Klan to the struggles of the civil rights movement in the fifties and sixties.

Reaching into Malcolm's troubled youth, it traces a path from his parents' activism through his own engagement with the Nation of Islam, charting his astronomical rise in the world of Black Nationalism and culminating in the never-before-told true story of his assassination. Malcolm X will stand as the definitive work on one of the most singular forces for social change, capturing with revelatory clarity a man who constantly strove, in the great American tradition, to remake himself anew.

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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

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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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posted 5 May 2011




Home  Amiri Baraka Table  Marvin X  

Related files: Black Man as Victim  The Revolutionary Theatre   Salaam, Huey Newton, Salaam   A Look inside Baraka's Toilet   Manning Marable's Malcolm X Book