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for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


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Hand slappin’, finger poppin’, foot stompin,’/ and the stamping of old boots on new roadways;

quiet religious chants were sung in hidden meadows



Voices of the Culture

By Beverly Fields Burnette


They were forced to leave without their drums…

were dragged off without their ancient, communal voices.

Some were shoved, some tricked upon the vessels of their capture,

their cowry shells and colorful kente cloth left scattered along the trail,

their talking drums lost in the struggle.


The drums they later carved from the mighty oak

were not as authentic as those made from ebony,

but they would have to do.


When the captors heard their new drums

and how the sounds pulsated in the wind,

these drums were taken, too,

and all that remained for their expression,

was the percussive-ness of their bodies:


Hand slappin’, finger poppin’, foot stompin,’

and the stamping of old boots on new roadways;

quiet religious chants were sung in hidden meadows;

cotton picking story-songs and work songs created in turpentine towns.

Each hymn~  “a prayer,”

each work song~ “a crying out”,

sad tales of lost love ~ “a healing;”

stories told by the rhythm of powerful sledgehammers ~ “a protest!”


In the few hours of their rest and leisure,

a Hambone rhapsody emerged~

leathery hands creating a concert on powerful thighs!


And when that African beat found its voice,

the storyteller’s words matched the hand movement,

and that innovation could not be muzzled.


Griots were voices of the culture,

keeping time and creating records with their telling.

The invisible pulsating drum matched their noble spirit.

as they sat among the others to share stories,

using secret chants and old world ceremony.


When freedom came, they passed on stories of hardships and trials,

played  “the dozens” for Zora’s books;

found direction in the poems of Langston,

and soulful messages in the Blues, and in the scratchy mutterings

of  “Satchmo’s” scat songs.


They told the world their stories in teasings, tears and laughter;

gave just a hint of their masked feelings,

while some mournful tales were left untold.


Civil Rights marches brought brave

freedom story-songs,

and story-poems spoken

in smokey coffee houses,

which led to un-tethered tongues that tackled RAP

and that Beat-box grove on BET ;

which handed up that Def Jam move on HBO.


Yet, in this 21st century,

when words and pictures cross continents by a “broadband” drum,


crowned with  kufus  and tie-dyed head wraps,

still speak among us….

share age-old fables for new villagers.


The royal ones pass on stories of our victories and our valor;

tote heavy messages of political caution and council

for our own survival;

and mouth lighthearted stories for our amusement.


Modern day masses who’d nearly forgotten,

now remove their shoes and approach the grassy stage to listen;

they disconnect cell phones, so they can sway,

as the jeli plays a quiet kalimba tune;


Come, gather round,

feel the pulse of the balophone and the djembe.

Become mesmorized by the voices of griots, storytellers,

historians playing NEW DRUMS and speaking in spirit-healing proverbs,

as they summon the whole village To Order.

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For A Season’s Griot~2006 NPR/PRI Kwanzaa Program (Written on November 24, 2006 and aired nationally from December 26, 2006-January 1st, 2007)

posted 7 January 2006

Beverly Fields Burnette is a storyteller (current President of the N.C. Association of Black Storytellers), a poet and school social worker. Her programs/performances consist of fun, creative ways of combining cultural insights with storytelling/folktales, and original and historical poetry for children and/or general audiences. She has led character education, self-esteem and drug prevention programs for churches and schools. Ms. Burnette enjoys teaching and telling folktales in the guise of Harlem Renaissance folklorist/anthopologist Zora Neale Hurston. Ms. Burnette is published in several national poetry anthologies. In 2001 and 2003 she wrote poems for the National Public Radio/PRI program "A Season's Griot", and in 2003 read her own poem on this program. She often collaborates/performs with other storytellers, drummers/musicians and poets.

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



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Super Rich: A Guide to Having it All

By Russell Simmons

Russell Simmons knows firsthand that wealth is rooted in much more than the stock  market. True wealth has more to do with what's in your heart than what's in your wallet. Using this knowledge, Simmons became one of America's shrewdest entrepreneurs, achieving a level of success that most investors only dream about. No matter how much material gain he accumulated, he never stopped lending a hand to those less fortunate. In Super Rich, Simmons uses his rare blend of spiritual savvy and street-smart wisdom to offer a new definition of wealth-and share timeless principles for developing an unshakable sense of self that can weather any financial storm. As Simmons says, "Happy can make you money, but money can't make you happy."

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The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

By Michele Alexander

Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama's political success and Oprah Winfrey's financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today... than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don't know the truth about mass incarceration—but her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.—Publishers Weekly

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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)  / Gil Scott-Heron & His Music  Gil Scott Heron Blue Collar  Remember Gil Scott- Heron

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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

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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 15 February 2012




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Related files: Search for Black Men: Vietnam Post-Mortem  Searching for my Great Grandmother at Stonewall  Voices of the Culture   Artichoke Pickle Passion