America With Its Pants Down

America With Its Pants Down


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes




 This exposé of photos puts to shame President Bush’s assertion

that “America is the light of the world.”




 Recent Books on Lynching in America

 Sherrilyn A. Hill,  On the Courthouse Lawn: Confronting the Legacy of Lynching in the Twentieth-First Century  (Review)

Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America (2000) / 100 Years of Lynching (1996) /

Southern Horrors and Other Writings; The Anti-Lynching Campaign of Ida B. Wells, 1892-1900 (1996)

Lynching in the New South: Georgia and Virginia, 1880-1930 (Blacks in the New World) (1993)

Imagery of Lynching: Black Men, White Women, and the Mob (2004)  / At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The Lynching of Black America (2003)

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America With Its Pants Down

Or the Evils of Bush’s Self Righteousness

 By Rudolph Lewis


I am quite embarrassed and dismayed by the pornographic imagination exhibited in the photos from Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad. These photos document US soldiers humiliating and abusing Iraqi prisoners. Still I am not altogether surprised and shocked by this new revelation. African-American men especially realize from our experience (past and present) the cruel extent to which America is willing to go to sustain the dominance and superiority of the privileged.

The April siege of Falluja made that obvious. Military generals to avenge the death and mutilation of four American mercenaries gave orders to soldiers in the field that led to the killing of hundreds of Iraqis (men, women, and children) and the horrific disruption of the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi citizens. The battalion only ceased its actions when it became an international public embarrassment.

Now that the covers have been pulled back and we see vividly in personal terms the wrongness of America’s brutal occupation of Iraq, little room is left for gloating by those of us who were opposed to this war. Led by Bush & hawkish Republicans, we rushed, stepped blindly and too eagerly, into what Senator Robert Byrd labeled as “the mouth of hell.” This exposé of photos puts to shame President Bush’s assertion that “America is the light of the world.”

Those of us who opposed the war against Vietnam remember My Lai (1969) and the other American military excesses in countering the insurgency of the Vietcong—the dropping of napalm, killing civilians, the relocation of entire villages, the prostitution of the entire people. Some of us believe, however, that we lost that war because the politicians were too soft, lacked resolve. These same people who misread the Vietnam past now engineer the war in Iraq believing that our war machine is invincible, that none can stand up against our state-of-the-art technology and our technical intelligence.

The human element is shunted aside as a tertiary matter. For our military, what is important first and foremost is to dominate the enemy, to pacify him, make him heel like a trained dog. Secondly, these societies we dominate, we want to reorganize them in our own image—economically, philosophically, and spiritually. But this is indeed the rub, this arrogance of the present US government and regrettably a substantial number of Christian Americans.

Though often argued to the contrary, we have little respect for non-Anglo-American people. The Arab world and many others, including some Americans, believe that the actions of the six soldiers at Abu Ghraib are only the tip of the iceberg of horrid humiliations suffered by Iraqi prisoners and the population in general as a result of Bush’s “war on Saddam.”

With their usual Madison Avenue aplomb Bush and his crew have rushed to clean up, what is evident to all, systematic torture and abuse of Iraqis. Their spiel is that the behavior of those spiritually sick soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison is unique and that these young men and women do not represent the attitudes and hearts, the “true nature,” of Americans. And they will be punished.

Naturally, few of us, especially the family of these soldiers, feel comfortable with the Bush response and his displacing and leveling the blame on those least responsible for this fiasco. His “sorry” has little meat on it.

The mother of Private Lynndie R. England—the female soldier who “flashes jaunty thumbs-up signs in several photographs” and holds a leash tied to the neck of a  naked Iraqi man on the floor and who wears the broadest of smiles of a college fraternity bash—believes “our government is deceiving. . . . They tell you what they want you to know. They make this person look as bad as she can. But everything she did she did because someone high up told her to” (Washington Post, 5/6/04).

The accused soldiers—including Specialist Sabrina Harman from Virginia, Specialist Jeremy Sivits, Sergeant Frederick and Specialist Charles A. Graner—contend that they were just following orders from intelligence officers and interrogators when they abused prisoners. “Specialist Joseph M. Darby, a Maryland native, “has been commended by military investigators for turning over evidence of the abuse” (Washington Post, 5/6/04).

But isn’t that at the heart of the problem—too many of us just follow orders, dance jauntily to he who pays the piper—a phenomena some of us refer to as “getting ahead.”

One of the Iraqis abused and photographed, Hayder Sabbar Abd, a Shiite, claimed that he was neither a combatant nor a terrorist and had been locked up in various prisons since June 2003.  These nude photos for intelligence were intended not only to intimidate other prisoners, but also as tourist souvenirs and feel-good mementos for soldiers enduring the bloody threats of Iraqi “insurgents.”

On the level of the grunt soldier, these “sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses” were a boost to a psychology that desired to substantiate symbolically American dominance and American belief in the deficiencies of Iraqis and Muslim culture. This behavior is not far removed from white Americans (male and female) lynching blacks in the midst of a raucous picnic party.

The use of nudity and sexuality (simulating sexually explicit acts) as a means to utterly humiliate these Iraqi prisoners was no accident, but deliberate and intentional. This type of abuse has a foundational history in American culture. That is, these pornographic photos of torture say far more about the perverted and deficient aspects of American middle-class culture.

It would be foolish to hope that this photographic exposé will bring to a close the brutality and cruelty perpetrated by America’s military occupation of Iraq. Bush and his Republican colleagues will refuse to acknowledge that the savagery exhibited in these photos is a systemic manifestation of an unnecessary war.

So America will “stay the course.” For there is still money to be made and careers to be sustained and imperial power that must be secured.

But as the old folks used to say, “A hard head makes a soft ass.” Bush’s resolve to transplant a Jeffersonian democracy in the midst of the Muslim Mideast will come to nothing more than bankrupting the American economy, the ruin and waste of tens of thousands of American and Iraqi lives, and the international mockery of America’s civil religion as expressed by our shining prince, George Bush.

America would be better served if its military in Iraq packs up, cuts its losses, and returns home. I’m afraid that the stomachs of our rulers will need much more blood and more horrific destruction of lives and property before we reach that resolve as a nation.

For certain, if the African-American people had been consulted about this war we would not now be in this mess. Cover-up artists Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell, black showpieces for the Bush regime, clearly are not representative of African-American sentiment. They too are on a leash.

Thus, my greatest regret about this human tragedy is that Americans generally do not value our experience (as an oppressed people) and the wisdom we have gained from that experience as much as it does our self-abasing humor and our rapping rhythms.

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A Junior Aide Had a Big Role in Terror Policy—Mr. [John C.] Yoo is often identified as the most aggressive among a group of conservative legal scholars who have challenged the importance of international law in the American legal system. But his signature contributions to the policies of the Bush administration have had more to do with his forceful assertion of wide presidential powers in wartime.  While Mr. Yoo has become almost famous for some of his writings – the refutation of both his academic and government work has become almost a cottage industry among more liberal legal scholars and human rights lawyers – much less is known about how he came to wield the remarkable influence he had after Sept. 11 on issues related to terrorism.

That Washington tale began about a decade before Mr. Yoo joined the administration in July 2001, when he finished at Yale Law School and won a clerkship with Judge Laurence H. Silberman of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, a keen spotter of young legal talent and a patriarch of the network of conservative lawyers who have occupied key positions throughout the Bush administration. By then, Mr. Yoo already thought of himself as solidly conservative. He had grown up with anticommunist parents who left their native South Korea for Philadelphia shortly after Mr. Yoo was born in 1967, and had honed his political views while an undergraduate at Harvard. From the chambers of Judge Silberman, Mr. Yoo moved on to a clerkship with Justice Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court, stopping briefly at Berkeley.

Justice Thomas helped place him with Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, as general counsel on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Along the way, Mr. Yoo passed up a chance to work in the Washington office of the law firm Jones Day, where he caught the eye of a senior partner, Timothy E. Flanigan. After five years that Mr. Yoo spent at Berkeley, writing on legal aspects of foreign affairs, war powers and presidential authority, the two men met up again when Mr. Yoo joined the Bush campaign’s legal team, where Mr. Flanigan was a key lieutenant. Mr. Flanigan became the deputy White House counsel under Alberto R. Gonzales. Mr. Yoo ended up as a deputy in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, or the O.L.C., a small unit of lawyers that advises the executive branch on constitutional questions and on the legality of complex or disputed policy issues. After the attacks of Sept. 11, Mr. Yoo – the only deputy with much expertise on foreign policy and war powers – began dealing with the White House and other agencies more directly than he might have otherwise. . . .

“John Yoo, given his academic background and interests, was sort of the go-to guy on foreign affairs and military power issues,” Mr. Flanigan said in an interview, referring to the legal counsel office staff. “He was the one that Gonzales and I went to to get advice on those issues on 9/11, and it just continued.” The torrent of opinions that Mr. Yoo churned out in the months that followed was striking, notwithstanding the research and writing assistance he had from lawyers on the office staff. Although only a portion of those documents have become public, copies of some still-confidential memorandums reviewed by The New York Times give a flavor of their sweeping language. . . .

Mr. Yoo’s belief in the wide inherent powers of the president as commander in chief was strongly shared by one of the most influential legal voices in the administration’s policy debates on terrorism, David S. Addington, then the counsel to Vice President Dick Cheney. Documents and interviews suggest that those views have been part of the legal arguments underpinning not only coercive interrogation and the prosecution of terrorism suspects before military tribunals but also the eavesdropping program. Some current and former officials said the urgency of events after Sept. 11 and the close ties that Mr. Yoo developed with Mr. Addington (who is now Mr. Cheney’s chief of staff), Mr. Gonzales, Mr. Flanigan and the general counsel of the Defense Department, William J. Haynes II, had sometimes led him to bypass the elaborate clearance process to which opinions from the legal counsel office were normally subjected.

Mr. Yoo’s January 2002 conclusions that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to the conflict in Afghanistan and that the conventions’ minimum standards did not cover terrorists touched off a long, hard-fought battle within the administration, in which lawyers for the State Department and the military services strongly disputed his views. Thereafter, several senior officials said, those lawyers were sometimes excluded from the drafting of more delicate opinions. For example, they said, Mr. Yoo’s much-criticized 2002 memorandum with Mr. Bybee on interrogations – which said that United States law prohibited only methods that would cause “lasting psychological harm” or pain “akin to that which accompanies serious physical injury such as death or organ failure” – was not shared with either State Department or military lawyers, despite its implications for their agencies. . . . NYTimes

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’03 U.S. Memo Approved Harsh Interrogations—The Justice Department in 2003 gave military interrogators broad authority to use extreme methods in questioning detainees and argued that wartime powers largely exempted interrogators from laws banning harsh treatment, according to a memorandum publicly disclosed on Tuesday.  In a sweeping legal brief written in March 2003, when the Pentagon was struggling to determine the appropriate limits for its interrogators, the Justice Department gave the Pentagon much of the same authority it had provided to the Central Intelligence Agency in a memorandum months earlier. Both memorandums were later rescinded by the Justice Department.  The disclosure of the 2003 document, a detailed 81-page opinion written by John C. Yoo, who at the time was the second-ranking official at the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department, is likely to fuel the already intense debate about legal boundaries in the face of a continuing terrorist threat.

Mr. Yoo’s memorandum is the latest document to illuminate the legal foundation that Bush administration lawyers used after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to give the White House broad powers to capture, detain and interrogate suspects around the globe.

The thrust of Mr. Yoo’s brief has long been known, but its specific contents were revealed on Tuesday after government lawyers turned it over to the American Civil Liberties Union, which has sought hundreds of documents from the Bush administration under the Freedom of Information Act. Some legal scholars said Tuesday that they were amazed at the scope of the memorandum.  “This is a monument to executive supremacy and the imperial presidency,” said Eugene R. Fidell, who teaches military justice at Yale Law School and the Washington College of Law at American University. “It’s also a road map for the Pentagon for fending off any prosecutions.”

The memorandum gave the military broad latitude to use harsh interrogation methods. It reasoned that federal laws prohibiting assault were not applicable to military interrogators dealing with members of Al Qaeda because of White House authority during wartime. It also argued that many American and international laws would not apply to interrogations overseas. NYTimes

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Memo: Laws Didn’t Apply to Interrogators—Justice Dept. Official in 2003 Said President’s Wartime Authority Trumped Many Statutes Yoo’s 2003 memo arrived amid strong Pentagon debate about which interrogation techniques should be allowed and which might lead to legal action in domestic and international courts. After a rebellion by military lawyers, then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in December 2002 suspended a list of aggressive techniques he had approved, the most extreme of which were used on a single detainee at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The prisoner, military investigators later would determine, was subjected to stress positions, nudity, hooding, exposure to dogs and other aggressive techniques. Largely because of Yoo’s memo, however, a Pentagon working group in April 2003 endorsed the continued use of extremely aggressive tactics. The top lawyers for each military service, who were largely excluded from the group, did not receive a final copy of Yoo’s March memo and did not know about the group’s final report for more than a year, officials said.

Thomas J. Romig, who was then the Army’s judge advocate general, said yesterday after reading the memo that it appears to argue there are no rules in a time of war, a concept Romig found “downright offensive.” Martin S. Lederman, a former lawyer with the Office of Legal Counsel who now teaches law at Georgetown University, said the Yoo memo helped create a legal environment that allowed prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib.

“What else could have been the source of belief in Iraq that the gloves were off and all laws could be disregarded with impunity?” Lederman asked. “It created a world in which everyone on the ground believed the laws did not apply. It was a law-free zone.”

In a 2004 memo for the Navy inspector general’s office, then-General Counsel Alberto J. Mora objected to the ideas that cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment could be allowed at Guantanamo and that the president’s authority is virtually unlimited. Mora wrote that he spoke with Yoo at the Pentagon on Feb. 6, 2003, and that Yoo “glibly” defended his own memo. “Asked whether the President could order the application of torture, Mr. Yoo responded, ‘Yes,’ ” Mora wrote. Yoo denies saying that. Washington Post

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In Iraq Was I a Torturer?—Unlike Ben, Darby didn’t witness any abuse; he came across the torture photos by accident. The desert heat had warped his own snapshots, so he asked Cpl. Charles Graner for some pictures, hoping for images of camels and tanks. Scrolling through the CD, he laughed when he saw the pyramid of naked Iraqis. Then he got to the simulated-fellatio pictures. He insists he’s not a goody-two-shoes tattletale or a saint by any stretch. “I’m as crooked as the next MP,” he explains. “I’ve bent laws and I’ve broke laws.” Months earlier, Graner (who is now serving a 10-year sentence) had shown him a photo of a prisoner tied up in a stress position and said, “The Christian in me knows this is wrong, but the corrections officer in me can’t help but love to make a grown man piss himself.” Darby says he was too tired to think much about it. It took him three weeks of soul-searching to decide whether he should turn in the photos. He finally took them not to his superior officers but to the Army investigation office, where soldiers can report everything from sexual harassment to theft—a breach of the chain of command that many would later hold against him. Four months later,

Darby was sitting in the Abu Ghraib mess hall; CNN was on, showing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s congressional testimony on prisoner abuse. Darby had no idea his tip—which military investigators had assured him would remain anonymous—had led to a national scandal. He heard Rumsfeld name various people who’d provided information—”first the soldier, Spc. Joseph Darby, who alerted the appropriate authorities … My thanks and appreciation to him for his courage and his values.” Darby dropped his fork midbite. Oh shit. He felt 400 pairs of eyes on him. Seymour Hersh had already published his name, but as Darby says, “Who reads the damn New Yorker?” His mom was dying of cancer; now, the compassionate-leave request he had filed a week before was rushed through. When his plane touched down stateside, officers were there with his wife. They escorted the couple to an undisclosed location where they lived with around-the-clock security for the next six months. He didn’t get the formal thank you he’d expected from the Army, though a personal letter from Rumsfeld arrived at one point — asking him to stop talking about how he’d been outed.

When the Abu Ghraib photos splashed on television sets, people in Cumberland watched, hoping their loved ones weren’t involved. Not all were so lucky. Kenneth England saw the pictures of his daughter, Lynndie, as did the welders and machinists who work with him at the CSX railroad. They supported him as best they knew how: by not mentioning it. While Pentagon flacks spun the scandal as the work of a few bad apples from Appalachia, people in the area hung yellow ribbons and “Hometown Hero” posters for the accused MPs. Reservists’ wives organized candlelight vigils.

“Everybody needs his time over there to mean or count for something,” Sgt. Ken Davis, a teetotaler nicknamed Preacher Man by the other MPs at Abu Ghraib, told me. “It has to be right in the greater scheme of things. But if the U.S. government was truly at the helm, ordering the abuse, then it actually means nothing. And now we live with ghosts and demons that will haunt us for the rest of our lives.” Davis, who has a clean, bleachy smell to him and says “dang” a lot, was in some of the photos, and he says he reported the abuse to his superior. For that, people at the police department near Cumberland, where he worked, call him a narc. He’s become an Abu Ghraib junkie, attending the trials, testifying at some, collecting photos and evidence, corresponding with the accused.  AlterNet

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Exposure: The woman behind the camera at Abu Ghraib—On her first night at the prison, Specialist Sabrina Harman, a twenty-six-year-old M.P. from Virginia, wrote a letter home to the woman she called her wife:


Its 9:00 pm and we can hear shots—no white lights are allowed to be on at night no leaving the building after dark. I hope we aren’t here long! We drove in and two helicopters were landed taking prisoners off. I’m scared of helicopters because of the dream. I think I wrote it down before. I saw a helicopter and it looked like the tail was swaying back and forth then it did it again then a huge flame/round shot up and it exploded. I turned around and we were under attack, I didn’t have my weapon (gun) so all we could do was hide under these picknick tables. So back to the prison . . . we get to our buildings and I step out of my truck right in front of a picknick table.—I almost freaked out. I have a bad feeling about this place. I want to leave as soon as possible! We are still hoping to be home X-mas or soon after.— I love you. I’m going to get some sleep. I’ll write you again soon. Please don’t give up on me! Sabrina

Like many young reservists, Harman had joined the Army to help pay for college. She had never imagined that she’d see war, and Iraq often felt unreal to her; “like a dream,” she said. Then she had that dream—about a gunman shooting at a helicopter from a date palm while she hid, unarmed, beneath a picnic table—and it was all too real. “And it kind of came true, maybe two or three weeks later,” she said. “Down the road, they started shooting helicopters from date trees.”

That was in Al Hillah, a Shiite town near the ruins of ancient Babylon, sixty miles south of Baghdad, where the 372nd M.P.s had been stationed since they started arriving in Iraq, in May. Having sat out the Shock and Awe phase of the invasion at Fort Lee, in Virginia, they were sent in through Kuwait shortly after George W. Bush, standing beneath a “Mission Accomplished” banner, declared, in May of 2003, that “major combat operations in Iraq have ended”—and in Al Hillah, during that first summer of the war, they had. The M.P.s felt safe walking the streets; they made friends among the Iraqis, played with the kids, shopped in the markets, shared meals at the outdoor cafés. Their headquarters, in an abandoned date-processing factory, were minimally fortified, and were never attacked. Their mission was to provide combat support for the First Marine Expeditionary Force, which controlled the city, and to train local policemen for duty under a new national government. They understood their presence to be temporary, expecting that America would hand over the country to democratically elected Iraqis by summer’s end, then get out of the way.

To Harman, the assignment felt like a peacekeeping mission, not a tour of combat, and she wasn’t complaining. She was known in the unit as someone who hated to see or do violence. “Sabrina literally would not hurt a fly,” her team leader, Sergeant Hydrue Joyner, said. “If there’s a fly on the floor and you go to step on it, she will stop you.” Specialist Jeremy Sivits, a mechanic in the company’s motor pool, said, “We’d try to kill a cricket, because it kept us up all night in the tent. She would push us out of the way to get to this cricket, and would go running out of the tent with it. She could care less if she got sleep, as long as that cricket was safe.” That made Sivits laugh, but he worried that she wouldn’t survive a firefight. Joyner agreed. “As a soldier, you can’t allow your heart to get in the way sometimes, because the moment you do you may get killed or may get someone else killed,” he said. “But with Sabrina, I think she would have made a better humanitarian than a soldier, and I don’t mean that in a negative way.” Sivits couldn’t figure why she had joined the military. “She was just too nice to be a soldier,” he said. . . .

“I just started taking photos of everything I saw that was wrong, every little bruise and cut,” Harman said. “His knees were bruised, his thighs were bruised by his genitals. He had restraint marks on his wrists. You had to look close. I mean, they did a really good job cleaning him up.” She said, “The gauze on his eye was put there after he died to make it look like he had medical treatment, because he didn’t when he came into the prison.” She said, “There were so many things around the bandage, like the blood coming out of his nose and his ears. And his tooth was chipped—I didn’t know if that happened there or before—his lip was split open, and it looked like somebody had either butt-stocked him or really got him good or hit him against the wall. It was a pretty good-sized gash. I took a photo of that as well.” She said, “I just wanted to document everything I saw.

That was the reason I took photos.” She said, “It was to prove to pretty much anybody who looked at this guy, Hey, I was just lied to. This guy did not die of a heart attack. Look at all these other existing injuries that they tried to cover up.” NewYorker


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The Banality of Bush White House Evil—Five years after the Abu Ghraib revelations, we must acknowledge that our government methodically authorized torture and lied about it. But we also must contemplate the possibility that it did so not just out of a sincere, if criminally misguided, desire to “protect” us but also to promote an unnecessary and catastrophic war. Instead of saving us from “another 9/11,” torture was a tool in the campaign to falsify and exploit 9/11 so that fearful Americans would be bamboozled into a mission that had nothing to do with Al Qaeda. The lying about Iraq remains the original sin from which flows much of the Bush White House’s illegality.

Levin suggests — and I agree — that as additional fact-finding plays out, it’s time for the Justice Department to enlist a panel of two or three apolitical outsiders, perhaps retired federal judges, “to review the mass of material” we already have. The fundamental truth is there, as it long has been. The panel can recommend a legal path that will insure accountability for this wholesale betrayal of American values.

President Obama can talk all he wants about not looking back, but this grotesque past is bigger than even he is. It won’t vanish into a memory hole any more than Andersonville, World War II internment camps or My Lai. The White House, Congress and politicians of both parties should get out of the way. We don’t need another commission. We don’t need any Capitol Hill witch hunts. What we must have are fair trials that at long last uphold and reclaim our nation’s commitment to the rule of law. NYTimes

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Report of the Research Committeeon Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings Thomas Jefferson Foundation

January 2000


Based on the examination of currently available primary and secondary documentary evidence, the oral histories of descendants of Monticello’s African-American community, recent scientific studies, and the guidance of individual members of Monticello’s Advisory Committee for the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies and Advisory Committee on African-American Interpretation, the Research Committee has reached the following conclusions:

Dr. Foster’s DNA study was conducted in a manner that meets the standards of the scientific community, and its scientific results are valid.

The DNA study, combined with multiple strands of currently available documentary and statistical evidence, indicates a high probability that Thomas Jefferson fathered Eston Hemings, and that he most likely was the father of all six of Sally Hemings’s children appearing in Jefferson’s records. Those children are Harriet, who died in infancy; Beverly; an unnamed daughter who died in infancy; Harriet; Madison; and Eston.

Many aspects of this likely relationship between Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson are, and may remain, unclear, such as the nature of the relationship, the existence and longevity of Sally Hemings’s first child, and the identity of Thomas C. Woodson.

The implications of the relationship between Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson should be explored and used to enrich the understanding and interpretation of Jefferson and the entire Monticello community.—Monticello

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Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: A Brief Account 

Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743 – July 4, 1826) was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence (1776) and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom (1777), the third President of the United States (1801–1809) and founder of the University of Virginia (1819). He was an influential Founding Father and an exponent of Jeffersonian democracy.

Sarah “Sally” Hemings (Shadwell, Albemarle County, Virginia, circa 1773 – Charlottesville, Virginia, 1835) was a mixed-race slave owned by President Thomas Jefferson through inheritance from his wife. She was the half-sister of Jefferson’s wife, Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson by their father John Wayles. She was notable because most historians now believe that the widower Jefferson had six children with her, and maintained an extended relationship for 38 years until his death. When Jefferson’s relationship and children were reported in 1802, there was sensational coverage for a time, but Jefferson remained silent on the issue. Four Hemings-Jefferson children survived to adulthood. He let two “escape” in 1822 at the age of 21 and freed the younger two in his will in 1826.

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Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy

By Annette Gordon-Reed

Attorney Gordon-Reed (law, New York Law Sch.) presents a lawyer’s analysis of the evidence for and against the proposition that Jefferson was the father of several children born to his household slave Sally Hemings. Gordon-Reed is not concerned with Jefferson and Hemings as much as she is with how Jefferson’s defenders have dealt with the evidence about the case. Her book takes aim at such noteworthy biographers as Dumas Malone, who has been quick to accept evidence against a liaison and quick to reject evidence for one.—Library Journal

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The Women Jefferson Loved

By Virginia Scharff

According to historian Scharff, Thomas Jefferson’s “most closely guarded secrets, the most fiercely maintained silences, all had to do with the women he loved.” It stands to reason that in order to fully understand a man as tremendously gifted and as deeply flawed as Thomas Jefferson, one must also understand and appreciate the women who collectively formed the foundation of his life and shaped the nature of his legacy. Although Jefferson’s mother, daughters, granddaughters, wife, and enslaved mistress were all fascinating women who played distinct roles in his life and legend, they were also creatures of their time and place, living, enduring, and playing by the rules of a patriarchal, male-dominated society. By studying these women Scharff not only opens a window to the heart and soul of one of our nation’s founders but also resurrects their own contributions to our nation’s history.—Booklist

The chapter on Sally Hemings does not add much new information, but it certainly lays out the facts we know in a comprehensive and well organized fashion. Much like Professor Gordon-Reed, the author carefully explains the strange dual-family existence that prevailed at Monticello, and how servants integrated with the Jefferson family as they all lived together. As regards the two daughters, they too emerge from the historical darkness and we learn a great deal about them and their important role in TJ’s life and activities. As I read each chapter, I learned all manner of things of which I had not been aware, and I have read a lot of material on TJ. So women are central to the story, but there is also an abundance of additional facts and perspectives that very much enhance the book. —Ronald H. Clark

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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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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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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

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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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posted 6 May 2004




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