Abiding Faith — Letter 15

Abiding Faith — Letter 15


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



After the disaster that was my marriage, under the encouragement of a movement buddy Lee Uhuru, I joined Nicheren Shoshu and began chanting “Nam Yo Ho Renge Kho.” (I still have my scroll.) By coincidence we ran into Dr. Wilson on Park Avenue near his home in Bolton Hill, an upper middle-class section of central Baltimore.



Letters of an Abiding Faith:

Legacy of a Slave’s GrandDaughter to her Son

written by Ella Lewis to her Son (Rudolph Lewis)

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Letter 15

January 5, 1981 


Dear Son,

Just a line to let you hear From me. I am not so well But able to Be up and around. Hope This may Fine you OK.

Listen you do have peoples. Look like you could drop a Xmas Card. Diden let me know how you was. You sure did disappoint me. I was looking For you to Come home For Xmas.

It no excuse at all. For I know you was out of school.* Well how was your Xmas. Fine I guess. Well Bunk is Sick with the Flew. Every body is under complaint. I wish you would take time and rite to me. You know I worries about you. The weather is Some Cold down here. I got your Xmas present. I save it until you come home. So Bye for now. I rite more next time. Just want you know how disappointed I was So Bye.

From Mother

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*Mama makes reference to the break between the Fall and Spring semesters. I did not go home for Christmas. I was still working on my master’s thesis and probably trying to find a place to live.

At the writing of this letter, I was at the end of five years of study at College Park. This Spring semester was my last in the English Department. I was near completion of my thesis on the writings of Martin Delany, which was entitled “The Ethnographic Image of Americans in Black and White: An Exploration of the Ethnic Writings of Martin R. Delany (1812-1885).” This thesis was presented April 1981 and defended before Drs. Donna Hamilton, Eugene Hammond, and Lewis Lawson.

These professors, however, did not lead me in this study and examination of racial ideology and propaganda. Dr. Max Wilson, now passed on to glory, must be given that credit. He was an Haitain exile and professor of philosophy at Morgan State and later chair of the philosophy department at Howard University. He took me under his wing. For I was lost, a refugee from a broken marriage, dashed hopes in the black consciousness and labor movements. He believed that Americans suffered from three unreconciled strivings–race, religion ,and sexuality.

After the disaster that was my marriage, under the encouragement of a movement buddy Lee Uhuru, I joined Nicheren Shoshu and began chanting “Nam Yo Ho Renge Kho.” (I still have my scroll.) By coincidence we ran into Dr. Wilson on Park Avenue near his home in Bolton Hill, an upper middle-class section of central Baltimore. I had studied with Dr. Wilson as a sophomore in 1966-1967 at Morgan. We renewed our acquaintance. He was quite interested in what I was doing and he asked me to keep in touch. I did and we became quite good friends. He invited me into his home and treated me almost as a son.

In 1974, under the umbrella of Morgan State’s University Without Walls, we began a study entitled “A Search for Self.” He wanted to provide me a classical education. I studied the history, literature, art, music, and then the philosophical works of the major European countries and then the United States. He encouraged me to go to museums in New York, to opera and ballet programs. I read Proust, Joyce, Lawrence, Miller, Mann, Gide, Tolstoy, Heminway, Freud, Jung, and other modernists.

By the time I began my graduate program at Maryland, I was ready to reexamine the race question. Maryland’s graduate library had the whole Arno Press reprint series of black writings. And I devoured it. It was in that library that I discovered Martin Delany and his relationship to Frederick Douglass.

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Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s 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 Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s 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 family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “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 isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s 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, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—


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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

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 Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s 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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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

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 31 December 2011




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