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for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


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We have tried their sham democratic elections to no avail, as we saw in the 2000 general election

when our votes were discounted. Between our treatment in the 2000 election and Katrina,

what else do we need to know about American democracy



We Want Freedom: A Life in the Black Panther Party

By Mumia Abu-Jamal

What Lies Beneath: Katrina, Race and the State of the Nation

Edited by ed. South End Press Collective


In his youth Mumia Abu-Jamal helped found the Philadelphia branch of the Black Panther Party, wrote for the national newspaper, and began his life-long work of exposing the violence of the state as it manifests in entrenched poverty, endemic racism, and unending police brutality and celebrating a people's unending quest for freedom. In We Want Freedom, Mumia combines personal experience with extensive research to provide a compelling history of the Black Panther Party-what it was, where it came from, and what rose from its ashes. Mumia also pays special attention to the U.S. government's disruption of the organization through COINTELPRO and similar operations.

While Abu-Jamal is a prolific writer and probably the world's most famous political prisoner, this book is unlike any of Mumia's previous works. In We Want Freedom, Abu-Jamal applies his sharp critical faculties to an examination of one of the U.S.'s most revolutionary and most misrepresented groups. A subject previously explored by various historians and forever ripe for "insider" accounts, the Black Panther Party has not yet been addressed by a writer with the well-earned international acclaim of Abu-Jamal, nor with his unique combination of a powerful, even poetic, voice and an unsparing critical gaze. Abu-Jamal is able to make his own Black Panther Party days come alive as well as help situate the organization within its historical context, a context that included both great revolutionary fervor and hope, and great repression. In this era, when the US PATRIOT Act dismantles some of the same rights and freedoms violated by the FBI in their attack on the Black Panther Party, the story of how the Party grew and matured while combating such invasions is a welcome and essential lesson.Publisher, South End Press

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In this polemic-cum-history, Abu-Jamal, "the world’s most famous political prisoner," offers a celebratory look at the origins and accomplishments of the Black Panther Party, of which he was a member in the 1970s. The author, now on Pennsylvania’s Death Row for the murder of a policeman, mounts a wholly unreconstructed defense of the Oakland-based group as "a bona fide revolutionary organization of global import." He seeks to place the Panthers within the noble tradition of African-American armed resistance, invoking slave rebellions and the names of Nat Turner, John Brown and Frederick Douglass. The BPP was not criminal or sexist, he declares, but a positive force for change that fell victim to the "viciousness" and "lawlessness" of the FBI. In contrast to this often hectoring tone, a charming note of humor creeps in with Abu-Jamal’s interspersed recollections of life as a 16-year-old revolutionary.—Publishers Weekly


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How 'Black' Is Our History Month?

By Mumia Abu-Jamal


For years, decades now, folks have celebrated Black History Month, with a plethora of events. There will be movies, book readings, poetry events, concerts and the like. Coming, as it does, on the heels of the nation's celebration of the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., much of what will be heard will no doubt echo that event. But Black History is far richer, and far deeper than King.

Rev. Dr. King, who has been edited into a safe, sweet, nonviolent modern-day Christ-like figure and icon of peace, forgiveness and forbearance, has himself been transformed into a one-dimensional figure which ignores his fullness as a growing, thinking, developing man. He was far more radical than many of those who now call his name are ready
to admit.

There will be little, if any, remembrance of the men and women who fought for freedom in far more aggressive, and militant ways. While some may hear the occasional names, usually they too are softened and sweetened with time, to make them safe historical morsels for white, and corporate consumption.

It's doubtful that the name William Parker will be shouted out, even though, over a century and a 1/2 ago, he led the Christiana Revolt in Pennsylvania, which, because of its nature, sent shock waves across the country, so much so that historians of that era, like James McPherson and Phillip Foner considered Christiana to be harbingers of the Civil War to come. Parker, his wife, Eliza, and other members of "The Special Secret Committee" (a black self-defense group) fought against slaveowners and U.S. marshals who wanted to send people back into slavery. The Parkers and their neighbors fought with guns, machetes, and sticks. Parker and his clan of freedom fighters had to flee the US to find freedom.

The Christiana Revolt of 1851 should be on millions of lips during Black History month. But there will be no movies, no special notices in the corporate press, and few scattered references to this signal event in the history of the struggle for freedom.

The great Frederick Douglass later wrote of Christiana, that it "more than all else" destroyed the fugitive slave law. Douglass wrote:

"It became almost a dead letter, for slaveholders found that not only did it fail to put them in possession of their slaves, but that the attempt to enforce it brought odium upon themselves and weakened the slave system." [Cited in: Forbes, Ella. But We Have No Country: The 1851 Christiana Pennsylvania Resistance. (Cherry Hill, NJ: Africana Homestead Legacy, 1998) , p. 114.]

And while we may know the name of the famous rebel, Nat Turner, how many of us actually celebrate his memory? His fight for freedom echoed around the world, for it showed that the violence of slavery would be answered by the violence of the oppressed. For what was slavery but violence, and resistance against that violence but self-defense?

I doubt that the name Charles Deslondes will elicit the least flicker of recognition, but he was the leader of a slave revolt that rocked New Orleans in 1811.

The revolt aboard the Amistad is known to many (due in part to movies). But the Amistad wasn't the only one. Ships like the Little George were seized over a century before the Amistad, but, today, who knows its name? Here in 1730, some 96 captives seized the craft, and in 9 days, successfully sailed back to Africa. Two years thereafter, Africans aboard the William did the same thing, set the crew adrift, and sailed back home.

The late, great Herbert Aptheker, in his classic American Negro Slave Revolts, recounted over 250 such rebellions against the vile slave system.

Coming closer to our time, how many of us will look back, not centuries, but mere months, to the horrors and hypocrisies of Hurricane Katrina? For Black History didn't end centuries ago; and didn't begin with the Civil Rights Act. It's an ancient history, and also as present as yesterday.

Katrinathe ravages, not of weather, but of government, as Black Arts Movement poet, playwright, and essayist Marvin X put it so eloquently in his recent Beyond Religion -- Toward Spirituality: Essays on Consciousness (Cherokee, CA: Black Bird Press, 2006):

"We have tried their sham democratic elections to no avail, as we saw in the 2000 general election when our votes were discounted. Between our treatment in the 2000 election and Katrina, what else do we need to know about American democracy? What part of no don't you understand? Both events revealed America to be nothing more than a banana republic with respect to us: we were treated worse than dogs in both respects." [p. 192]

Another poet, Palestinian-American Suheir Hammad, used her art to pose a potent question raised by Katrina:

Who do we pledge our allegiance to?
A government that leaves its old
To die of thirst surrounded by water
Is a foreign government.

What Lies Beneath: Katrina, Race and the State of the Nation, p. 187

Black History Montha time to remember that which the corporate culture wishes is forgotten. A time to remember rebellion, resistance, and what it means to be Black in the White Nationtoday.

Copyright 2007 Mumia Abu-Jamal

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What Lies Beneath: Katrina, Race and the State of the Nation

Edited by South End Press Collective

Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2007

In August 2005, thousands of New Orleans residents-overwhelmingly poor, largely people of color, the majority black-were left to face one of the worst "natural" disasters in US history on their own. They were left to die in prisons, in nursing homes, and on the street. Survivors were criminalized as "looters" for struggling to obtain food, water, diapers, medicine, and other essentials of life that no one else could or would provide. As Katrina's waters receded and the body count soared, an ugly truth (re)surfaced: The lives of those who are poor, who are vulnerable, and who are not white are not valued by the US government.

While commentators across the political spectrum, celebrities, and other observers expressed outrage that the US government would let this happen to Americans-even "those Americans"-millions outside of New Orleans live without adequate health insurance; clean air and water; decent education, housing, nutrition, health care, and work; and freedom from police brutality and state repression. And thousands are deported, displaced, and dying in prisons and illegal wars from coast to coast, gulf to gulf.

Short and accessible, this anthology, featuring such voices as Vandana Shiva, Glen Ford, Jordan Flaherty, and Robert Bullard, takes readers beyond the Superdome. It explores the complexity of this turning point in US history as representative of the nation's direction and priorities.Publisher, South End Press 


posted 7 March 2007

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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 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 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

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update 13 February 2012




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