An American Goes Back to Africa

An American Goes Back to Africa


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


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Richard Wright was not willing to bend his knee before African (alien) gods.

Unlike the faddishness of the 1920s, Wright was not a romantic bohemian;

 he was not supportive of romantic primitivism and savagery.



Books by Richard Wright


Richard Wright: Early Works  / Black Boy  / Native Son  / Uncle Tom’s Children / 12 Million Black Voices  / Richard Wright: Later Works

The Outsider  /  Pagan Spain Black Power  /  White Man Listen!  / The Color Curtain Savage Holiday / The Long Dream

Eight Men: Short Stories  / Haiku / American Hunger / Lawd Today!

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An American Goes Back to Africa

Richard Wright’s Journey of Discovery

A Review of White Man, Listen!

 By Rudolph Lewis

Far, far the way we have trod

From heathen kraal and jungle den

To freedmen, freeman, sons of God,

Americans and citizens . . .



James Weldon Johnson

Few Africans will have any sympathy for Richard Wright’s African criticism, especially if any follow the lead of the Ashanti Kwame Anthony Appiah, professor of philosophy at Princeton University. In “A Long Way from Home: Wright in the Gold Coast,” Appiah rakes Wright, his Black Power  (1954), and African Americans generally, over his own critical fires because of their “African dream.” Wright’s genius and his Euro-American notoriety carries no water among the Gold Coast people and very little with Kwame Nkrumah, their political leader and future head of state.

A literary artist, Richard Wright (1908-1960) was an American expatriate (permanent) who lived in Paris from 1947 until his sudden death in November 1960, leaving behind two daughters by his Jewish wife, Ellen. Wright the existentialist writer, at their French home after the visiting wife of George Padmore encouraged him, decided to go to the Gold Coast which was on the verge of its independence under the leadership of Pan-Africanist Kwame Nkrumah, whom Wright found stand-offish. Nkrumah knew Americans well, both black and white, much greater than they knew him and his Africa.

Though he was a successful writer and lived a comfortable middle-class life, a month long journey of exploration and discovery in the Gold Coast was a great expense that his publishers would not advance for the book Black Power. So Wright made a personal sacrifice, maybe a literary gamble. In 1956, two years later and a year after his trip to the the Bandung Conference, Wright’s report The Color Curtain: A Report on the Bandung Conference was published, and then in 1957, he published White Man, Listen! a group of lectures that reflects his thinking on Afro-America and on the Third World, especially Africa. Neither book sold well, though they have had a sustaining power.

“Black Power enraged many Europeans,” John A. Williams writes in The Most Native of Sons (1970). Wright was critical of their shortcomings as colonial masters. They had failed their subjects and race was the cause of it all, an irrational element that was at odds with the West’s rational and democratic traditions. But the Africans too were “sour” on Black Power, like Appiah in 1987. “They accused Richard of going to Africa expecting to be treated as royalty and of writing a “vicious” book when he was not.”

Among our “Harlem Renaissance”  writers in the 1920s, and among other American artists, and artists in Europe as well, there was a celebration of “African naturalism,” or African “savagery.” Picasso studied African sculpture, Gide explored the Congo, Maran African tribal life. In his poem “The Congo,” American poet Vachel Lindsey did a “Study of the Negro Race.” Though Eugene O’Neill moved Negro character in his play The Emperor Jones, or “The Silver Bullet,” from “comic relief to the tragic center,” as Harold Isaacs points out, all these artistic outpourings leaned heavily on, as Sterling Brown concluded, “tom-toms, superstition and atavism.” These essences were the Negro, the black African.

As some African Americans are before the King of Kumasi, Richard Wright was not willing to bend his knee before African (alien) gods. Unlike the faddishness of the 1920s, Wright was not a romantic bohemian; he was not supportive of romantic primitivism and savagery. Wright believed that for Africa to thrive in the contemporary hi-tech world that its people must soak up as quickly as possible all the best that the West had to offer and that the job at hand was to find the most expeditious way of accomplishing that feat.

Wright was speaking when there were only two independent black nations—Liberia and Ethiopia—and only Liberia a republic with a framework for democracy. Wright was speaking during the Cold War when the Soviet Union and the United States had missiles pointed at each other, and the main question was Capitalism or Communism. Wright had been in the New York Communist Party, USA, in 1940, and so had his wife Ellen who was a Brooklyn organizer. In 1944 Wright published a two-part essay, “I Tried to Be a Communist” in the Atlantic Monthly. As both an African American and a Euro-American, Wright knew international politics.

Despite Appiah’s attack to diminish Wright’s criticism, the issues of the role and utility of tribal gods and ancestor worship have come into a 21st century in which a few countries dominate the world politically, economically, and militarily. That for nations to exist in Africa as they have never done before, tribal traditions and histories and loyalties have to be repressed and the people have to be reeducated to translate, to become the African that never was. Wright suggested, like an artist (off the cuff), a military education as a model. Appiah concludes that Wright was a fascist.

Though he believed himself more European – that is, a modern man, than American, Wright expressed very American values in White Man Listen!  Like Europe, America is a product of the Enlightenment, which placed restraints on a religion that had absorbed all of society and all thinking. And the Rights of Man—to be, to think unhampered by king or state, restrictions which set the stage for swift economic development. There are American traditions more suited for now, such as egalitarian values: No man is better than another. Every man is a king. A right to believe, to assemble, to speak—to determine the shape of governance without military threat is taken as the norm, except if you’re black.

As Dr. Banda of Malawi pointed out in a 1968 interview, “democracy” in Africa “did not develop from the grass roots, this idea of an organized state; democracy did not originate with us. We had our own kind of democracy. . . . You, the Western powers, brought us a new kind of life totally different. . . . Then you have also, in other places, the old tribal conflicts. As a result of all this, you get political instability.” To become stable, African nations will need a free, standard, and compulsory public education, like in America


Wright discounted Nkrumah’s Secret Circle:  “they swore fetish, a solemn oath on the blood of their ancestors to avoid women, alcohol, and all pleasure until their “country” was free and the Union Jack no longer flew over their land. They swore fetish to stick together.” 

Both the Cold War and fetish seem to have been of little service for Africa’s entry into modern time, the nuclear and computer age. In the last two decades, ugly tribal conflicts have risen in southern Africa, Zaire, Nigeria, Sudan, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Rwanda. Wright rightfully feared that “an all-pervading climate of intellectual evasion or dishonesty” would supplant democratic governance and development.

White Man Listen!  remains relevant, a good introduction to the thinking and concerns of today’s African Americans, who so much want to be African.

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DVDs — A Huey P. Newton Story 2001  / What We Want, What We Believe The Black Panther Party Library 

The Spook Who Sat By the Door  / Passin’ It On; The Black Panthers’ Search for Justice /

Nairobi Heat

By Mukoma wa Ngugi

Conversing with Africa. Politics of Change

By Mukoma wa Ngugi

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Mukoma Speaks

American Ignorance (Arrogance)

There is a lot of what I would call willful American ignorance. American nationalism cannot exist if at some point the American citizen did not consciously decide not to look at the rest of the world. The belief in being the most civilized, most democratic and consequently most able to civilize the world cannot exist if the American citizen sees the full humanity of the African or Arab for that matter. Therefore this ignorance is part and parcel of American nationalism and this is why for me it is also very dangerous. I fully understand Binyavanga’s frustration. Here is a most remarkable book, one that ironically deals with the European’s inability to fully see Africa and what colonialism was creating and the consequences for both the African and the European, and the students cannot see it. In fact they do not want see it. I also quite agree with Binyavanga‘s response “if you do not know where Sudan is, I am not going to tell you find out where it is for yourself. For how else can real debate begin? I mean, if every discussion has to begin with where a certain country is located, or that Africa has cities, there are airplanes, Africans do live in trees etc., how do we get the real questions of the day that are plaguing humanity? How do we get to the question of how America is oiled by Iraqi or Nigerian resources for example? So I think it is important to understand that these kind of questions, which come across as ignorant or arrogant actually have a function to play in American nationalism putting Africa in its place, blinding the American to US complicity and responsibility while at the same time reassuring the American that the mission to civilize and democratize is needed and noble. . . .

Afrcanist vs. African Scholars: Foreigners & Elites The book, Conversing with Africa. Politics of Change was my attempt to try and contextualize contemporary Africa in the tradition of radical politics. The framework I use is Pan-African. In the book I look at the role of the Africanist and African scholar. There is a fascinating discussion that brews under the radar in academia. That is the Africanist scholar (mostly white and American) and the African scholar (African and elite) do not get along because they are in competition of who speaks for Africa . The irony of course is that they both, even as they pretend to speak for the continent long abandoned it. But juxtaposed to these kinds of intellectuals are others who have seen their role in more political terms Fanon for the African intellectual and Basil Davidson for the Africanist. I also look at the failure of the so called second winds of democracy. Africa’s poverty since the 1990’s has been worsening. What is happening in the Niger Delta easily serves as a metaphor of what is happening in the rest of the continent. Resources are being plundered; the fledgling democracies lack the imagination or political will to bring relief to their societies, and we see a fattening local elite and corporations without shame. Steve Biko when asked what kind of political and economic arrangement he saw in a future South Africa said it would have to be socialist in nature; it would have to be redistributive. This was a result of the savage inequalities that exist in South Africa. Well, the same vicious inequalities exist in most of the continent and piling the name democracy without democratic acts will not alleviate them. Elsewhere I have called for Democracies with content of economic, social, and political equality. A democracy that does not aspire to such content, that has already accepted inequality as part of humanity will not work. . . .

Pan-Africanists and African Writers

African writers have been, I think the single most important, facilitators of Pan-Africanism. People like Dubois and Nkrumah might have provided the theory, but it is the writers that humanize Africans to each other. We see each other through their works. Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and Soyinka’s Kongi’s Harvest were staples when I was growing up. When I meet a West African, the first thing more often than not he or she will say they have read Ngugi’s River Between or A Grain of Wheat. When Ngugi was detained, writers like Soyinka agitated on his behalf. Whether as a result of a common tapestry woven by colonialism, our dictators or that thing we call African solidarity, the intersections have always been there and they have been quite strong. . . .In terms of setting a standard, I immediately think of Ben Okri. The Famished Road for me remains, one of the best novels I have read. I use standard here to mean writing something that is uniquely yours. Certainly the style of magical realism/surrealism has been used before by writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But only Ben Okri could have written The Famished Road, nothing like it existed before. It’s his contribution. This is an odd claim to make some think of Soyinka’s The Interpreters. The Interpreters is a fine book, a novel I am in envy of, yet my feeling is that it is not uniquely Soyinka’s. It could have been written by someone else. That it could have just as easily been written by someone else doesn’t mean someone else could have, or it would have been easy, but it does not set a standard of ambition to me as a writer.

Ben Okri’s Dangerous Love, is also a fine a novel as they come. The title is unfortunate; I think that in part has to do with why it receives so little attention, but it remains one of my favorite books where else can you find lovers taking serious romantic walks along the polluted highways of Lagos? . . .

Generational Shifts & African Languages

If the older generation of writers made Africans visible to each other, they did not have shared projects that made the intersections real. The Whispering Grove Anthology continues this tradition and at the same time concretizes it. We also need to have African writer conferences on the continent and may I nominate Nigeria? We need more African literary journals and prizes. We need translations between and into African languages. Things Fall Apart should exist in Gikuyu for example. I understand that there is a thriving Hausa literature; it needs to be translated into other African languages. We should not always need the medium of English and French to talk to each other. Our generation of writers should, as far as we can, professionalize writing. African writers should not have to win a European or American literary prize before we recognize them as writers. Our intellectuals should not have to publish in Western publications before we take them seriously. We have to become our own best audiences, critics, translators, publishers and writers. . . .

Borders and Leaders with Dirty Linen

African writers have to be willing to discuss their differences and therefore it is not so much a question of a common message. The discussion of differences will in the long run prove to be more useful especially in our day and age where we already accept that there is a mass called Africa. The three writers at Ohio University present an interesting case. You have Nawal El Saadawi from Egypt, a country that develops identity issues when it comes to Africa. You have Kofi Awoonor from Ghana, a country that is still reeling from Nkrumah‘s internal politics that toward the end of his rule alienated Ghanaians. And even though he corrected it later, his call for political independence first followed by economic independence was a clear misreading of the neocolonial forces that eventually led to his ouster. And of course Chenjerai Hove, who, and we should not doubt him, says he is in political exile from Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe is a Pan-African challenge. Can we really try and craft a united message when Zimbabwe is in ruins? If Mugabe is not good for Zimbabwe, can he be good for the continent? Why should, and to me this is the idiocy of leadership, one person feels that only he has the ability to lead a country of millions? So there are all sorts of interesting questions that African writers at such meetings should raise. Personally I am not afraid to air my dirty linen in public, for how else shall I get it clean? To erase a border, you have to acknowledge it stands in your way first. . . .

Continental Unity & Political Platforms

The first thing is that we have to be wary about people who promise a single solution for the continent. There needs to be more conversations and more ideas. We need the input of different experts. There are some important questions that I have not been able to answer because of my training in political theory and literature. For example, what would the economy of a united Africa look like? What would the economical benefits be? What kind of trade? For this kind of questions we do need economists to step in. But with that said, I am all for a United Africa. I imagine that when in 1946 Winston Churchill called for a United States of Europe, so soon after the 2nd World War, many must have thought him still shell-shocked. It was unimaginable that a mere generation later there would be a European Union. We have to dream! My general philosophy hearkens back to Steve Biko my vision certainly calls for equitable distribution of wealth a just Africa will have to redistributive in nature. Let us not forget that close to half of Africans live in crippling poverty. Freedom can only be a word amidst debilitating poverty. We also need to be in control of our natural resources. There are some things that do right and we need to protect them for example, I think we have one of the most comprehensive anti-nuclear proliferation treaties.  No political office for me. I do however hope that we will soon have politicians running for office on a Pan-African platform, with the promise that if elected he or she will work toward African Unification. Only then shall we be sure that Pan-Africanism has become of mass concern. . . .

Responsibility & Shifting Generations

I have grown up believing that anything is possible and I think in large part because of my father. For example, I have never doubted that I could write a book, since I saw them being written at home. Having him for a father does make it easier to dream. He is also my best critic. In fact, I just recently finished a novel tentatively titled The First and Second Books of Transition and he commented extensively on all the drafts. And of course it helps to have a father that you look up to, that inspires you. So his newly released global epic, Wizard of the Crow has me now thinking of in the future writing a multi-generational epic about a single family in pre-colonial Kenya, each generation struggling through each historical epoch all the way through our current age. So I do love him for his writing, and his principled intellectual and political work. But at the end of day, as a writer you can only be responsible for your own imagination. So in this regard, when I am in an act of writing my background is literally that, my background. Between my pen and page, when I sit down to write there can only be space for my imagination trying to find expression. I think this is true of every artist.

Source: African Writer

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Africa Is Not a Proverb

By Mukoma Wa Ngugi


Restoring a radical discourse on Africa—these words, I felt, had gone awry right from the moment they escaped my tongue; or rather, as soon as with great effort I rolled them down my tongue, and into the microphone only to see them spill at the feet of the audience.  Caution – Enter at your own Risk.

As I read my poem, “African Revolutions,” I kept hearing the words rushing down the podium with the constancy of a fast moving train so certain on set rails—and on eventual destruction. I couldn’t pull the brakes. What a way to introduce a poem! Couldn’t I have simply said poems do not need introduction and ushered in mine, alone to fend for itself with neither preface nor epilogue?

I rolled out line after line—“Her womb pressed against the desert to bear/ the parasite that eats her insides like termites drilling dry wood/ he is born into an empty bowl, fist choking umbilical cord until mercifully the sigh of the last line—for a tree to grow comrade, it must first own its own earth.”  Finally I was done.  As I walked back to my seat on the stage, followed by silent and polite applause, I pondered over the landscape I had suddenly fallen upon.

My crime?  I had done what is simply not done; I had brought politics to a celebration of African cultures. Now, ready yourself for a stray quote from Fanon—”Every generation must out of relative obscurity find its mission, fulfill it or betray it.”  But here the earth’s wretched have gathered for a banquet – what polite conversation shall accompany the clinking of the champagne glasses? What hungers do those black hands cradling the stem of a wine glass reflect? . .Zeleza

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African Revolutions

       By  Mukoma wa Ngugi

Her womb pressed against the desert to bear the parasite

that eats her insides like termites drill into dry wood. 

He is born into an empty bowl, fist choking umbilical cord. 

She dies sighing, child son at last.  He couldn’t have known,


instinct told him—always raise your arm in defense of your

own—Strike! Strike until they are all dead! Egg shells 

in your hands milk bottle held between your toes,

you have been anointed twice, you strong enough to kill


at birth and survive.  You will want to name the world

after yourself but you will have no name- a collage of dead

roots, tongues and other things.  You will point your sword

to the center of the earth, duel the world to split into perfect


mirrors after your imperfect  mutations but you will be

too weak having latched your self onto too many streams

straddling too many continents, pulling patches of a self

as one does fruits from an orchard, building a home


of planks with many faces. How does one look into a mirror

with a face that washes clean every rainy season? 

He has an identity for every occasion—here he is Lenin

 there Jesus and yesterday Marx—inflexible truths inherited


without roots.  To be nothing to remain nothing, to kill

at birth – such love can only drink from our wrists.  We

storming from our past to Jo’Burg eating wisdom of others

building homes made of our grandparent’s bones.  We


gathering momentum that eats out of our earth, We standing

pens and bullets hurled at you, your enemies.  Comrade, there

are many ways to die. A dog dies never having known

why it lived but a free death belongs to a life lived in roots,


roots not afraid of growing where they stand, roots tapped all over

the earth. Comrade, for a tree to grow, it must first own its earth.

Source: Zeleza

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The Slave Ship

By Marcus Rediker

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Guarding the Flame of Life / Strange Fruit Lynching Report

John Henrik Clarke—A Great and Mighty Walk

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Africa Unite: A Celebration of Bob Marley’s Vision

Directed by Stephanie Black


In 2005, to celebrate what would have been Bob Marley’s 60th birthday, his widow, Rita Marley, and several of Marley’s offspring staged a gala concert in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in celebration of the iconic reggae singer’s commitment to African unity. In addition to the concert, a week of Unicef-sponsored workshops, discussions and debates took place, in which delegates such as actor and human-rights activist Danny Glover and controversial Jamaican politician Dudley Thompson contemplated what it means to be an African descendant outside Africa. Young people from all over the continent also gathered to discuss their own roles in Africa’s future. Africa Unite: A Celebration of Bob Marley’s Vision is Stephanie Black’s documentary of the event. Black has already given us the hard-hitting Life and Debt, which explores the destructive impact of the IMF and the World Bank in Jamaica, and H-2 Worker, which exposed the unbelievably exploitative situation facing Jamaican sugarcane cutters in Florida. In Africa Unite, she makes efforts to keep a political-activist focus intact, which is difficult, because much of the movie is devoted to bland concert footage. But the film’s most heartening bits come in testimony from the young Africans who will themselves make up Africa’s next generation of leaders. Also captivating is the sub-plot provided by Bongo Tawney, a poor, elder Rasta who travels to Ethiopia for the first time and who is visibly moved by what he encounters there. On the downside, the film is generally disjointed. It is sometimes difficult to get a sense of how the events unfolded, and of the exact significance of each segment, as there is so much concert footage interspersed. The concert footage itself does not translate particularly well to the small screen; you probably had to be there to understand the magnitude of the concert, which lasted 12 hours and drew over 350,000 people. And no disrespect to Marley’s children, but every time I’ve seen them live, I wish they would leave their father’s work alone and concentrate on their own talents. But needless to say, as this concert was in celebration of Daddy’s birthday, every one of the Marley boys presents a classic number from the 70s, and for some reason, each feels the need to remain on stage for the entirety of his siblings’ performances, which only adds to the dragging sense of what features here. The bonus concert footage fares little better than that on the main DVD, though a duet by Rita and Marley’s mother is kind of sweet. In contrast, there are illuminating, though brief, interviews with Rita Marley and several of Bob’s sons, giving some context to the proceedings in terms of their own views on Africa in general and Ethiopia in particular. In summary, although it’s hardly essential viewing overall, Marley fans will probably find something of interest.


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Africa Unite

                       By Bob Marley


Africa, Unite ‘Cause we’re moving right out of Babylon And we’re going to our father’s land How good and how pleasant it would be Before GOD and man, yeah To see the unification of all Africans, yeah As it’s been said already let it be done, yeah We are the children of the Rastaman We are the children of the Higher Man Africa, unite ’cause the children wanna come home Africa, unite ’cause we’re moving right out of Babylon And we’re grooving to our father’s land How good and how pleasant it would be Before GOD and man To see the unification of all Rastaman, yeah As it’s been said already let it be done I tell you who we are under the sun We are the children of the Rastaman We are the children of the Higher Man So, Africa, unite, Africa, unite Unite for the benefit of your people Unite for it’s later than you think Unite for the benefit of your children Unite for it’s later than you think Africa awaits its creators, Africa awaiting its creators Africa, you’re my forefather cornerstone Unite for the Africans abroad, unite for the Africans a yard Africa, Unite

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Chiefs in Cape Coast, Ghana  /  Grand Durbar Parade

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

Dentist Championed African-American Community In Ghana

Dr Robert Lee passes on


Dr. Robert Lee (right) in 2009 with Kwame Zulu Shabazz

*   *   *   *   *’s 25 Best Selling Books



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#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 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


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#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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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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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 /

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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updated 2 January 2012




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Related files:  Richard Wright’s Seven Photos   Richard Wright and Our Contemporary Situation   A Brief Defense of Richard Wright and Other Writers  Wright Bio-Chronology    I Tried to Be a Communist   

I Bite the Hand That Feeds Me  Blueprint for Negro Literature 

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