ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
Hardly, anyone knew and certainly none in our little village had running water
and an indoor toilets, neither did the school, which was heated by a cast iron stove
that burned coal and sat in a sandbox in the middle of the floor.
50 Years of Progress Since Brown
in the Southern Virginia Rural Town of My Youth
By Rudolph Lewis
May 17, 1954 (the Brown Case decision) signaled no special hope in my family history. Married in 1926, Daddy then (48) and Mama (42) had been sharecroppers for two decades for the Creath family. In 1948, year of my birth, they purchased ten acres ($100 a acre) from Jerusalem Church. Like pioneers, they cleared the trees and the brush (with crosscut saw, ax, grubbing hoe, mule and wagon), dug a well Mama pulling up the clay and mud. Then Daddy built his wife a house, four rooms on the first level and a livable upstairs.
That house burned down in 1954. We, the four of us, then lived in a one-room cinderblock building that Daddy had built for a store and a juke joint. We waited impatiently for Daddy to gather the resources to complete the new eight-room house with a livable upstairs. I was five and my sister (aunt) Annie was fourteen. That fall I began first grade at Creath, No. 5, a two-room school for colored children, grades 1 through 7. Annie in the 10th grade attended Waverly Training School (for the colored) by bus, forty miles away at the other end of Sussex County.
At five years old in May 1954 I knew nothing of race, and the Supreme Court decision was not a pertinent topic of discussion in our household. Mama and Daddy were not readers of the Richmond Times-Dispatch newspapers and we wouldnt get a television until August of 1958. Mama left Creath in her third year and Daddy boasted he only attended one day.
Both however could read and write, probably at about a sixth grade level. Daddy was a biblical authority. Mama was then working as a cook at Jarratt Motel (since 1948), kept a garden, canned food and helped Daddy farm the land in back of the house. He also worked at John Smiths sawmill, did odd jobs, and built houses when the opportunity presented itself. He was a Jack-of-all-Trades. There was nothing he didnt know and couldnt do. At least, that was my estimation of him, then.
We lived about four miles off Route 301, then the thoroughfare, north and south, on a dirt road in the midst of woods, swamps, and small fields. Where the road ended was our home and Jerusalem Baptist Church (founded 1870) and its new cemetery (founded 1948), at the intersection of another dirt road that led to another section of 301, about three and half miles away.
So visually the area was in a V-shape, more precisely, a Y-shape, for if you turned right, the Jerusalem Church Road would take you through more woods across railroad tracks to Gray, a train stop and a granary. As students, we turned left for Creath, a white clapboard school partially founded about 1910 by the leaders of Jerusalem. Land for the school was donated by Luther Creath, a large white landowner in the area.
September 1954, I began Creath. It had one teacher Miss Margaret Trisvan, who would later teach me French and history in high school. She taught all seven grades. To get to Creath was a two-mile walk from Jerusalem, crossing Sansee Swamp. Some students like the Stiths and the Massenbergs, who lived on the other side of 301, walked about five miles to Creath. Though Creath had two rooms, we only used one-room. We were then only about fifty students in seven grades.
Hardly, anyone knew and certainly none in our little village had running water and an indoor toilets, neither did the school, which was heated by a cast iron stove that burned coal and sat in a sandbox in the middle of the floor with a long extended tin pipe that ran across the room to a chimney. In winter, the older students were responsible for making the fire and we all joined in in cleaning the floors with motor oil in order to keep down the dust. Out back and down the hill at opposite ends of a make-shift baseball field near the woods were the two outhouses, for boys and girls. We knew nothing of basketball then, a sport made popular by television.
Of course, we lived quite isolated lives then, the church the center of social and religious life. None had a telephone, though we had electricity and a radio. Yet there were still those then who used kerosene lamps. I rarely had any contact with whites, unless Daddy drove his truck up to Jarratt Town or to Emporia. But for me, such trips were infrequent. Petersburg was thirty-five miles away and Richmond, fifty-five then that was a major trip, almost like being 400 miles away. So I had no personal contacts with whites until I was about twenty years old, though I had my first white teachers (including Thomas Cripps) at Morgan State College in the late 60s.
I first began to notice whites as different and special in our walk back home from Creath. White elementary students rode the bus and we walked. The older Creath students schooled us younger ones to get way off the road when the yellow bus came rumbling by. The students on the bus would toss missiles out the window and yell all kind of profanities. But that was only a momentary static, like waiting for a poisonous snake to cross the road.
Unlike Prince Edward, Sussex County did not close its schools in response to the Supreme Court order to desegregate with “all deliberate speed.” The County accommodated the Negroes. That manifested itself in the County building a new high school in 1959 for its Negro citizens. Generations before mine had to travel to the other end of the county for high school instruction. So after I finished Creath’s seventh grade, I traveled only twenty miles to Central High, the most modern high school building in the county.
Up in Jarratt, four miles away, there was a high school for whites only. As a child, I dont recall anyone complaining about this situation. The new high school provided jobs for many women who were members of Jerusalem. The school needed cooks, janitors, as well as bus drivers. Women who only had opportunities to work in the hot fields for, at most, six dollars a day, could make at least $40 a week nine months of the year.
When I graduated in 1965, Central High was still an all-black school. Of the two hundred eight-graders that began in 1960, only about 85 graduated on time. Some joined the military and went to Vietnam, and if they survived returned to Sussex and often married their high school sweethearts. Many joined those who obtained jobs at Johns Mansville (a wood processing plant) in Jarratt or at chemical plants in Hopewell. A few like me left Sussex for the North Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, Jersey, or New York seeking a broader range of opportunities.
Central High integrated probably in the early 1970s. Private white schools developed, so only a few working class white students attended and, of course, the staff became integrated. All the one and two room clapboard schools, like Creath, were torn down or turned into houses like Rivers Mill, and centralized modern elementary schools were built. They too created employment for local blacks. Many believe the school instruction deteriorated once integration was established.
Though Sussex County overwhelmingly has a black majority (since the mid-19th century), the county continues to be ruled by a white minority of large landholders or businessmen. Big machinery and chemicals have eliminated the need for massive numbers of black field hands. The mules of my youth have disappeared. The County still provides few opportunities for its graduates so the county continues to maintain a population of about 15,000.
With the addition of a new prison within the last ten years and the need for a staff of guards, janitors, and cooks, the population of Jarratt has begun to move toward a 1,000 with an influx from North Carolina of blacks and Hispanics. The new state prison made it possible for the town to develop public utilities, sewage and running water. Thus a housing project has sprung up and the building of homes has increased.
Jarratt has become primarily a bedroom community, with whites moving into what had been all-black areas, and blacks having to go outside the town and the county to obtain high-paying employment. Though majority black, Jarratt has a white mayor, a Owen, a descendant of one of the large white landowners on whose farm my family worked before and while I was a kid.
Of course, with Interstate 95, a superhighway (65 mph) and the new inexpensive technologies of telephones, VCRs, satellite dishes, computers, Jarratt has connected itself integrally to the vices of the large cities. Those who left forty or fifty years ago for the big cities and decent wages have returned in their retirement to build homes and live out their final days. In general the population is getting older as families become smaller and smaller.
As elsewhere, Jarratt suffers from low wages, increasing crime, and drug addiction. In the town of my youth, fifty-years of progress have not change the basic power relationships, significantly.
posted May 2004
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The Obama Deception: Why Cornel West Went Ballistic (Chris Hedges) / Cornel West v Obama (Melissa Harris-Perry )
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Marketing Ghana as a Mecca for the African-American TouristThe Afro-American tourist market constitutes an important niche market. At the moment, the U.S.A is Ghana’s second highest tourist generating market with the U.K being the first. In 2003, some 27,000 tourists arrived in Ghana from the Americas. Approximately 10,000 were African-Americans. Also, about a thousand are living and working in Accra. The African-American tourist market is Ghana’s niche market because it has the greatest growth potential in terms of arrivals and receipts. This is because the African-American tourist of today is more interested in exploring his/her cultural and historical heritage; the very products that Ghana offers. Also, they have a $300 billion spending power and spend 98% of their household income. The total income of this segment of the American population is the largest of all the ethnic groups at $485 and projected to reach $1.01 trillion by 2010. In a 2000 Gallup poll commissioned by the National Summit on Africa, 73% of African-Americans were interested in learning more about Africa.
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Bob Marley was a Jamaican singer-songwriter and musician. He was the lead singer, songwriter and guitarist for the ska, rocksteady and reggae bands The Wailers (19641974) and Bob Marley & the Wailers (19741981). Marley remains the most widely known and revered performer of reggae music, and is credited for helping spread both Jamaican music and the Rastafari movement (of which he was a committed member), to a worldwide audience.
Exodus: movement of jah people! oh-oh-oh, yea-eah! Men and people will fight ya down (tell me why!) When ya see jah light. (ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!) Let me tell you if youre not wrong; (then, why? ) Everything is all right. So we gonna walk – all right! – through de roads of creation: We the generation (tell me why!) (trod through great tribulation) trod through great tribulation. Exodus, all right! movement of jah people! Oh, yeah! o-oo, yeah! all right! Exodus: movement of jah people! oh, yeah! Yeah-yeah-yeah, well! Uh! open your eyes and look within: Are you satisfied (with the life youre living)? uh! We know where were going, uh! We know where were from. Were leaving babylon, Were going to our father land. 2, 3, 4: exodus: movement of jah people! oh, yeah! (movement of jah people!) send us another brother moses! (movement of jah people!) from across the red sea! (movement of jah people!) send us another brother moses! (movement of jah people!) from across the red sea! Movement of jah people! Exodus, all right! oo-oo-ooh! oo-ooh! Movement of jah people! oh, yeah! Exodus! Exodus! all right! Exodus! now, now, now, now! Exodus! Exodus! oh, yea-ea-ea-ea-ea-ea-eah! Exodus! Exodus! all right! Exodus! uh-uh-uh-uh! Move! move! move! move! move! move! Open your eyes and look within: Are you satisfied with the life youre living? We know where were going; We know where were from. Were leaving babylon, yall! Were going to our fathers land. Exodus, all right! movement of jah people! Exodus: movement of jah people! Movement of jah people! Movement of jah people! Movement of jah people! Movement of jah people! Move! move! move! move! move! move! move! Jah come to break downpression, Rule equality, Wipe away transgression, Set the captives free. Exodus, all right, all right! Movement of jah people! oh, yeah! Exodus: movement of jah people! oh, now, now, now, now! Movement of jah people! Movement of jah people! Movement of jah people! Movement of jah people! Movement of jah people! Movement of jah people! Move! move! move! move! move! move! uh-uh-uh-uh! Move(ment of jah people)! Move(ment of jah people)! Move(ment of jah people)! Move(ment of jah people)! movement of jah people! Move(ment of jah people)! Move(ment of jah people)! Movement of jah people! Movement of jah people! Movement of jah people!
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By Godfrey Mwakikagile
(Grand Rapids, Michigan: National Academic Press, 2005) 302 pages
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Dentist Dr. Robert Lee
Championed African-American Community in Ghana
In the mid-1950s, Dr. Robert Lee, a dentist from South Carolina, moved to Ghana to escape racism in the south. Over the next half century, Lee became a fixture in the African-American community in the West African country. Dr. Lee died on Monday, July 5th at the age of 90. But few here in his home state, or in the States at all, knew of his work. But in Ghana, he made a name for himself. Dr. Robert Lee, trained as a dentist, moved to Accra in the mid-1950s. Over the past half century, Lee became a fixture in the black American ex-patriot community in Ghana. NPR
Host Michel Martin talks to NPR West African correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton about his life and legacy. Dr. Robert Lee NPR Interview
Dr. Robert Lee (right) in 2009 with Kwame Zulu Shabazz
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Basil Davidson’s “Africa Series”
By Basil Davidson
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#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #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 Eroticanoir.com 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
#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #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 #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #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
#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins
#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
#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice
#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields
#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class by Lisa B. Thompson
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By Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie
Somebody has to tell the truth sometime, whatever that truth may be. In this, her début full collection, Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie offers up a body of work that bears its scars proudly, firm in the knowledge that each is evidence of a wound survived. These are songs of life in all its violent difficulty and beauty; songs of fury, songs of love. ‘Karma’s Footsteps’ brims with things that must be said and turns the volume up, loud, giving silence its last rites. “Ekere Tallie’s new work ‘Karma’s Footsteps’ is as fierce with fight songs as it is with love songs. Searing with truths from the modern day world she is unafraid of the twelve foot waves that such honesties always manifest. A poet who “refuses to tiptoe” she enters and exits the page sometimes with short concise imagery, sometimes in the arms of delicate memoir. Her words pull the forgotten among us back into the lightning of our eyes.Nikky Finney / Ekere Tallie Table
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By Randall Kennedy
Among the best things about The Persistence of the Color Line is watching Mr. Kennedy hash through the positions about Mr. Obama staked out by black commentators on the left and right, from Stanley Crouch and Cornel West to Juan Williams and Tavis Smiley. He can be pointed. Noting the way Mr. Smiley consistently voiced skepticism regarding whether blacks should back Obama . . .
The finest chapter in The Persistence of the Color Line is so resonant, and so personal, it could nearly be the basis for a book of its own. That chapter is titled Reverend Wright and My Father: Reflections on Blacks and Patriotism. Recalling some of the criticisms of Americas past made by Mr. Obamas former pastor, Mr. Kennedy writes with feeling about his own father, who put each of his three of his children through Princeton but who never forgave American society for its racist mistreatment of him and those whom he most loved.
His father distrusted the police, who had frequently called him boy, and rejected patriotism. Mr. Kennedys father relished Muhammad Alis quip that the Vietcong had never called him nigger. The author places his father, and Mr. Wright, in sympathetic historical light.
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A Novel by Jesmyn Ward
On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family thats about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrinas inexorable winds is the voice of Wards narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her familys raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brothers blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt. Her fathers hands are like gravel, while her own hand slides through his grip like a wet fish, and a handsome boys muscles jabbered like chickens. Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isnt usually just metaphor for metaphors sake.
She conveys something fundamental about Eschs fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, whats salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.
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By Melissa V. Harris-Perry
According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless Mammys behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own familys needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.
As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.
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This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label ‘trafficked’ does not accurately describe migrants’ lives and that the ‘rescue industry’ serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice.
“Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality.”Lisa Adkins, University of London
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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update 5 September 2012