ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
Do Spaniards work the soil and plant crops in these islands?
Certainly not! On reaching Manila all become caballeros
Books on Colonial America and Racial Oppression
The Conquest of America: The Question of the Other (1984) / Genesis (1985), Faces and Masks (1987), and Century of the Wind (1988)
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Aristotle and America to 1550
By Lewis Hanke
The discovery period is now considered one of the epochs of greatest intellectual activity in all history. As the Argentine philosopher, Francisco Romero, emphasizes, “there was developed during these years a new philosophy, a new vision of the cosmos, and a new science of nature.”
The immensity and the natural phenomena of the new lands made a special impact on men’s minds; Europeans discovered “more territory in seventy-five years than in the previous thousand years.” When the Portuguese carried home Negroes from Guinea it became obvious that the views of Strabo and Pliny must be revised, for these lands stated that the equatorial zone was uninhabitable.
Copernicus declared that his speculations on the sphericity of the earth were confirmed by the existence of islands discovered by the Portuguese. The impact of the Spanish conquest of America was not limited to erudite circles; it was a popular movement, too, which permitted fantastic folk ideas to flourish as well as literary conceits.
Some of the conquistadors were simple, others sophisticated, and many sprang from the lower strata of society. The voluminous records kept on passengers officially licensed to emigrate demonstrate that all manner and condition of men descended upon America, not merely well-to-do courtiers and nobles who presumably were possessed of the learning and literature of the age.
Of all the ideas churned up during the early tumultuous years of America history, none had a more dramatic application than the attempts made to apply to the natives there the Aristotelian doctrine of natural slavery: that one part of mankind is set aside by nature to be slaves in the service of masters born for a life of virtue free of manual labor.
Learned authorities such as the Spanish jurist Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda not only sustained this view with great tenacity and erudition but also concluded that the Indians were in fact such rude and brutal beings that war against them to make possible their forcible Christianization was not only expedient by lawful. Many ecclesiastics, including the noted Indian apostle, the Dominican friar Bartolomé de la Casas, opposed this idea scornfully, with appeals to divine and natural law as well as to their own experience in America.
Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda (1490-1573)
The controversy became so heated and the king’s conscience so troubled over the question of how to carry on the conquest of the Indies in Christian way that Charles V actually suspended all expeditions to America while a junta of foremost theologians, jurists and officials in the royal capital of Valladolid listened to the arguments of Las Casas and Sepúlveda. All this occurred in 1550, after Cortez had conquered Mexico, Pizarro had carried the Spanish banners to far corners of the New World.
The idea that someone else should do the hard manual work of the world appealed strongly to sixteenth-century Spaniards, who inherited a taste for martial glory and religious conquest and a distaste for physical labor from their medieval forefathers who had struggled for centuries to free Spain from the Moslems. And when to this doctrine was linked the concept that the inferior beings were also being benefited through the labor they were performing for their superiors, the proposition became invincibly attractive to the governing class.
The New World offered a rich field for the bold and resourceful Spaniards who were prepared to fight bravely and, if necessary, to die in the attempt to carve out a piece of empire for themselves and at the same time to advance Christianity and serve their king. They were not prepared, however, to settle down as farmers to till the soil or as miners to extract gold and silver from the bowels of the earth. That was work for Indians.
When natives were not available, Spaniards complained to the king. The town fathers of Buenos Aires once informed the king that affairs were so bad there that Spaniards actually had to dig in the earth and plant crops if they were to eat. And once it was recorded by a Spaniard of ten years’ experience in America that he had seen hildagos die of hunger in Honduras in 1536, and other Spanish gentlemen sowing the fields “with their own hands,” a scene he had never witnessed before. At first some of the Spaniards mined gold themselves in the islands, but afterwards not even the rudest peasant would life his hand, according to Las Casas.
Throughout the whole of the colonial period and in all lands colonized by Spain this same attitude prevailed. Juan de Delgado, writing in the middle of the eighteenth century about the Philippine Islands, records the identical reaction: “Do Spaniards work the soil and plant crops in these islands? Certainly not! On reaching Manila all become caballeros.” Here we see the extension to all Spaniards in the Indies of the contempt of caballero held previously by only a favored few at home–an idea that sometime a sociological historian will be able to develop with much amusing and curious detail.
A Scottish professor in Paris, John Major, was the first to apply to the Indians the Aristotelian doctrine of natural slavery. he also approved the idea that force should be used as a preliminary to the preaching of the faith, and published these convictions in a book in Paris in 1510. In the next year, 1511, a Dominican friar named Antonio de Montesinos preached a revolutionary sermon in a straw-thatched church on the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean.
Speaking on the text “I am a voice crying in the wilderness,” Montesinos delivered the first important protest against the treatment being accorded the Indians by his Spanish countrymen, enquiring: “Are these Indians not men? Do they not have rational souls? Are you not obliged to love them as you love yourselves?”
This sermon in America led immediately to a dispute at Burgos in Spain from which issued the first two Spanish treatises on Indian problems and the first code drawn up for the treatment of Indians by Spaniards. It is worth noting that one of these treatises, by the friar Matías de Paz, entitled Concerning the Rule of the Kings of Spain over the Indians, is not only the first known statement that the American Indians are not slaves in the Aristotelian sense.
The laws of the Indies are usually cited to prove the kindly intentions of the Spanish monarchs towards the Indians, and this they do, but they also reveal other important matters. The Laws of Burgos, promulgated in 1512, not only included regulations on the labor of the Indians, their Christianization, and the food, clothes, and beds to be supplied to them, but also stipulated significantly in law number 24 that “no one may beat or whip or call an Indian dog (pero) or any other name unless it is his proper name.” A Latin American scholar once insisted that calling an Indian a “dog” in those days was much like an American college student’s affectionate name-calling of a fraternity brother.
One may suspect, nevertheless, that the law faithfully reflects the contemptuous attitude towards Indians of many Spaniards during those early, turbulent days, and that the epithet was the adaptation for America of the “pero moro” vituperative phrase commonly applied in Spain to Moslems.
A further question, how to make certain that conquests proceeded according to just and Christian principles, was raised in 1513 and resulted in the adoption of the famous juridical declaration known as the Requirement, which had to be read formally to the Indians before the conquistadors could legally launch hostilities. This manifesto makes curious reading today.
It begins with a brief history of the world since its creation and an account of the establishment of the papacy, which leads naturally to a description of the donation by Alexander VI of “these isles and Tierra Firme” to the kings of Spain. The Indians are required to acknowledge their overlordship and to allow the faith to be preached to them.
If they comply, well and good. if they do not, the Requirement lists the punitive steps the Spaniards will take forthwith. They will enter the land with fire and sword, will subjugate the inhabitants by force, and, to quote this document, which was read to many a startled Indian in a language he did not understand:
Bartolome de Las Casas (1476-1566)
“We shall take you and your wives and your children, and shall make slaves of them, and as such shall sell and dispose of them, as their Highnesses may command; and we shall take away your goods, and shall do all the harm and damage that we can, as to vassals that do not obey.”
The first specific American application of the Aristotelian doctrine of natural slavery occurred in 1519 when Juan Quevedo, bishop of Darien, and Las Casas clashed at Barcelona before the young Emperor Charles V.
Aristotle had not been used to justify slavery in medieval Spain, so that Las Casas was treading on unknown ground. But he marched ahead and denounced both Quevedo and Aristotle, whom he described as a “gentile burning in Hell, whose doctrine we do not need to follow except in so far as it conforms with Christian truth.”
When Las Casas made this outburst against Aristotle he was a mature man over forty-five years old, one of the old-timers in America, who had been converted to the cause of the Indians five years previously. But he had not been subjected to the discipline and instruction of the Dominican Order, which he was to enter in 1522 during a period of deep dejection after the failure of his plan to colonize Tierra Firme with God-fearing, honest laborers who would help and not oppress the Indians.
Anti-Aristotelians there were in Spain, but in 1519 Las Casas was arguing from his heart rather than his head. he was fresh from the Caribbean Islands and had come to protest against the royal approval given to bringing Indians from other Islands to work in the mines and on the farms of Hispaniola. Due to the “wrong” advice of the council, the king had signed the orders, “just as if rational men were pieces of wood that could be cut off trees and transported for building purposes, or like flocks of sheep or any other kind of animals that could be moved around indiscriminately, and if some of them should die on the road little would be lost.”
On the contrary insisted Las Casas, the Indians were rational men, “not demented or mistakes of nature, nor lacking in sufficient reason to govern themselves,” as he had proved in a treatise.
In this first clash with Aristotelians ideas, Las Casas enunciated the basic concept which was to guide all his action on behalf of the Indians during the remaining almost half century of his passionate life: Our Christian relation is suitable for and may be adapted to all the nations of the world, and all alike may receive it; and no one may be deprived of his liberty, nor may he be enslaved on the excuse that he is a natural slave, as it would appear that the reverend bishop [of Darien] advocates.”
Later at Valladolid Las Casas was to be more respectful of Aristotle, who was after all the dominant philosopher in renaissance times and whose ideas had prepared the philosophical substratum of Catholicism. But even in the first brush with the doctrine of constituted authority Las Casas demonstrated the independent nature of his thinking. He did not support slavery, though St. Augustine had sanctioned it and indeed had held that it was not only no impediment to virtue but afforded a unique opportunity for the practice of certain virtues such as humility, forgiveness, modesty, obedience, and patience.
Las Casas in 1519 at Barcelona rejected the dominant view towards slavery in the Middle Ages that inequalities and injustices were to be accepted as part of God’s programme for the regeneration of the human race. Nothing that he learned or saw in the years intervening between the disputes in 1519 and 1550 caused him to alter his fundamental thesis that the enslavement of the American Indians was wrong, and that the strongest supports for his doctrine were the Christian Church and God himself. This early Barcelona dispute appears to have had little influence, however, on the course of the battle over Indian character, which continued to agitate Spaniards.
Early in the conquest Spaniards attempted to distinguish between the fierce and supposedly cannibalistic Caribs and other Indians. if judged to be Caribs, the natives could be warred against unmercifully and justly enslaved. the manuscript material on this subject awaiting the historian-anthropologist is extensive and needs to be studied, for it now appears that while some Caribs did eat human flesh, sixteenth-century slave raiders were inclined to apply the term “Carib” rather loosely.
The Indians along the tropic shores of the Caribbean became greatly agitated when they saw Spaniards approaching with a notary ready to take down declarations that they were eaters of human flesh, and one instance was recorded of Indians killing friars because they had given a Spanish captain a piece of paper which the Indians believed to be a formal declaration of Indian cannibalism.
Later Fray Fernando de Carmellones informed the Council of the Indies, in a pungent letter on the conversion and treatment of the Indians, that “if anyone says he has seen the Indians eat friars, the Council should consider it a joke.” Juan de Castellanos, the sixteenth-century poet, declared that the Caribs were given this name, not because they were cannibals, but because they stoutly defended their homes.
Indians other than Caribs, however, were the subject of most of the disputes. Juan de Zumárraga, Franciscan and bishop of Mexico, played a notable role in this conflict of ideas simply by believing that the Indians were rational beings whose souls could be saved. Every one of his contributions to Mexican culture was based on this conviction: the establishment of the famous colegio for boys at Tlatelolco and the school for Indian girls in Mexico City, the bringing of the first printing press to America, the movement for a university in Mexico, and the writing of books for Indians.
An indication of the bitter and open conflict that raged on the subject in 1537, the year after Zumárraga established the school for Indians at Tlatelolco, is the fact that Pope Paul III found it necessary to issue the famous bull Sublimis Deus in which he stated that Indians were not to be treated as “dumb brutes created for our service” but “as truly men . . . capable of understanding the Catholic faith.”
And the pope ordered: “The said Indians and all other people who may later be discovered by Christians, are by no means to be deprived of their liberty or the possession of their property, even though they may be outside the faith of Jesus Christ . . . no should they in any way be enslaved.”
Las Casas manifested the same spirit as his life-long friend Sepúlveda when he insisted on having the Indians adequately instructed in the rudiments of the faith before baptism. in an emergency, as for example when Indian children in Cuba had been disemboweled by Spanish soldiers. Las Casas was willing to baptize them without instruction before they died. Under normal circumstances, he insisted Indians understand the faith before accepting it.
Other missionaries in those early days, particularly Franciscans, placed no such emphasis on a thorough education, believed in mass baptism, and sprinkled holy water over Indian heads until their strength failed. they rang up impressive baptismal statistics and calculated that they had thus saved over four million souls in Mexico alone from1524 to 1536. The record was established in Xochimilco where two Franciscans baptized 15,000 Indians in a single day. Such persons were impatient with Las Casas, who wanted to make certain that each Indian was properly instructed in the faith before baptism.
Some friars were impatient with the Indians, too, for their slowness in learning the catechism. One of the first missionaries in Mexico, the Franciscan Martín de Valencia, beat Indians to hasten the process of their learning, never seemed satisfied with the ability of the Indians, and shortly before his death in 1531 planned to sail from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec for lands across the pacific where he hoped to find men of “great capacity”–perhaps he was thinking of the tales told by medieval travelers to the court of the great Khan and other wondrous places of the East.
In general, however, the friars went about their missionary activities with uplifted hearts and a firm conviction that the souls of the Indians constituted the true silver to be mined in the Indies. There was no time to be lost, for the discovery and conquest not only afforded an opportunity to bring the Gospel to the Indians but also foreshadowed the rapid approach of the end of the world and the coming of the millennial kingdom.
Vasco de Quiroga was convinced that the Indians still lived in the Golden Age, while Europeans had decayed. Though the Church was being destroyed in Europe, or at least challenged by Luther, the friars determined that anew and more powerful Church should be built in America. One Dominican with even more exalted ideas came to believe that the church was finished in Europe, that the Indians were the elect of God, and that their new world Church would last for a thousand years.
Baptismal struggles continued, however, on American soil. not only were questions raised by Dominicans and Augustinians about the baptismal methods of the Franciscans, but the question arose whether friars had a right to baptize at all.
An unpublished edict of Pope Paul III, dated February 21, 1539, would seem to indicate that even some Franciscans felt scruples on this point, for they arranged to have their protector in Rome, Cardinal Francisco de Quiñones, obtain authorization for them to perform the baptismal ceremony.
Las Casas in 1546 created a painful scene in the Franciscan monastery at Tlaxacala when Fray Toribo de Benavente, known as Motolinía, asked him to baptize an Indian–since existing regulations prohibited Motolinía from doing so. The Indian had traveled a long distance to be baptized and Las Casas robed himself to perform the ceremony. Discovering that the Indian was unprepared, he refused to proceed, to the great annoyance of Motolinía, who neither forgot not forgave.
And Las Casas long remembered Motolinía’s attitudes and doctrines, for the Franciscan believed that the faith should be preached quickly, “if necessary by force.” This idea was revolting to Las Casas, who is supposed to have used his influence to keep Motolinía from getting a bishopric, an action which permanently embittered the Franciscan.
Ironically enough, in many other important respects Las Casas and Motolinía thought alike on Indian affairs.
The Franciscan missionary praised highly the ability of the Indians to learn Spanish, Latin and “all the sciences, arts, and crafts that they have been taught.” A chapter of his History of the Indians of New Spain is devoted to “The Good Talent and Great Ability of the Indians.” They were particularly apt in music, and an Indian singer in Tlaxcala composed an entire Mass that had been approved by experienced Castilian musicians.
In one month an Indian youth in Tehuacán had taught others to perform acceptably in Masses, vespers, hymns, motets, and the Magnificat. Motolinía also denounced the Spaniards’ cruelty to the Indians in a bitter and wholesale fashion which reminds one of the fulminations of Las Casas. He charged that “countless” natives were killed in labor at the mines, that service at Oaxaca was so destructive that for half a league around it one could not walk except on dead bodies or bones, and that so many birds flocked there to scavenge that they darkened the sky.
Only he who could count the drops of water in a rainstorm or the grains of sand in the sea could count the dead Indians in the ruined lands of the Caribbean Islands, cried Motolinía. Las Casas himself made no more compelling statement than this. But he had evidently come to feel that Motolinía’s views on baptism were unsound, and so these two outstanding friars of the conquest period were not friends, but enemies.
Disputes over baptism increased in number and intensity as the conquest proceeded. Las Casas opposed easy baptism so strenuously that the quarrel was taken from Mexico across the ocean to Spain for resolution. Charles V decided to refer the issue to the Dominican Francisco de Vitoria and a group of other notable theologians at the University of Salamanca, who in 1541 supported unanimously the view that Indians should indeed be instructed before baptism. Vitoria, in his famous lectures at Salamanca which showed him to be one of the soaring thinkers of the century, also defended the Indians from the charge of irrationality.
There must have been a number who applied Aristotle’s doctrine of natuiral slavery to the Indians, for Vitoria in De Indis analyzed and refuted it long before Sepúlveda espoused it. “The Indian aborigines . . are not of unsound mind.” asserted Vitoria, “but have, according to their kind, the use of reason. This is clear, because there is a certain method in their affairs; they have polities which are carefully arranged and they have definite marriages and magistrates, overlords, laws, and workshops, and a system of exchange, all of which call for the use of reason; they also have a kind of religion.”
Ideas are hard to kill by university pronouncements, however, or even with papal bulls, thus the Dominican Juan Ferrer felt obliged to compose and present to Pope Paul III a treatise on Mexican archaeology designed to dispel, once and for all, persistent doubts of the Indians’ rationality by describing their architectural remains, their language, and literature, and the vivid hieroglyphic depiction of their history.
Domingo de Santo Tomás announced, for example, in the prologue to his Gramática o arte de la lengua general de los indios del Perú that his principal intention was to demonstrate, by his account of the beauties and subtleties of their language, the falsity of the idea that the Peruvian Indians were barbarians.
In 1549 another Dominican friar, Domingo de Betanzos, who had been a missionary in America for many years, exemplified the Spanish preoccupation with Indian nature. As an old man, Betanzos wavered in his earlier conviction that the Indians were as incapable as children and ought never to be raised to the priesthood. Some years before he had applied the term bestias to them in a written memorial presented to the Council of the Indies. Now on his deathbed in Valladolid, just a year before Las Casas and Sepúlveda were to wrangle in the same city over the question whether the Indians were natural slaves, Betanzos swore before a notary that he had erred in his remarks about the Indians “through not knowing their language or because of some other ignorance” and formally abjured the statements in the memorial.
Some students today assert that Betanzos and other who spoke harshly about the Indians did not mean that they were really “beasts” in the true and full philosophic sense of the word, and this may be true, though it is impossible to know now exactly what they meant. It seems clear, however, that some Spaniards–even ecclesiastics–held an extremely low opinion of the character and capacity of the Indians for whose salvation they had left their homes and traveled thousands of miles. And it is certain that the question of the true nature of the Indians agitated and baffled many Spaniards throughout the sixteenth century, and that it became a prime issue of the Spanish conquest which divided and embittered conquistadors, ecclesiastics, and administrators alike.
How different was the attitude of Zumárraga from that of his confessor Betanzos! In Zumárraga’s eyes, the Indians were poor and ignorant, but that was no reason for avoiding or depreciating them. A homely illustration of this may be seen in the encounter between Zumárraga and certain secular Spaniards in Mexico who urged him to have less to do with the filthy and poorly-clad Indians. “Your Reverend Lordship is no longer young or robust, but old and infirm,” they warned him, “and your constant mingling with the Indians may bring you great harm.”
Whereupon the bishop indignantly replied” “You are the ones who give out an evil smell according to my way of thinking, and you are the ones who are repulsive and disgusting to me, because you seek only vain frivolities and lead soft lives just as though you were not Christians.
These poor Indians have a heavenly odor to me; they comfort me and give me health, for they exemplify for me that harshness of life and penitence which I must espouse if I am to be saved.”
What the Indians thought of their conquerors, on the other hand, can only be surmised from stray bits of evidence. in 1508 Puerto Rican Indians decided to determine whether Spaniards were mortal or not, by holding them under water to see whether they could be drowned. The Dutch artist Theodore de Bry depicted this remarkable experiment, as well as scenes of Indians hanging themselves or taking poison in acts of mass suicide caused by the profound shock they had suffered at the overthrow of their culture.Spanish colonists reported that the terror inspired by the notorious Nuño de Guzmán was so great in Mexico about 1530 that Indians desisted from relations with their wives, because their children would only be doomed to slavery.
The later, gossipy Girolama Benzoni reported that an aged chief in Nicaragua, Don Gonzalo, asked him: “What is a Christian, what are Christians? They ask for maize, for honey, for cotton, for women, for gold, for silver; Christians will not work, they are liars, gamblers, perverse, and they swear.”
In Peru Benzoni wrote that Spaniards committed such cruelties that the Indians “not only would never believe us to be Christians and children of God, as boasted, but not even that we were born on this earth or generated by a man and born of a woman; so fierce an animal, they concluded, must be the offspring of the sea.” How representative these Indians opinions were we shall never know. The history of the Spanish conquest was written, in large part, by the conquerors alone.
Whether Spaniards praised or depreciated the ability and achievements of the Indians, however, they were certain that the natives would be improved by being Christianized. No incident has been found in America to match the experience of certain nineteenth-century Russian priests who discovered a tribe on the islands of the Bering Sea leading a life so nearly in accord with the Gospel of Christ that the missionaries confessed they had better be left alone.
No Spaniard doubted the Indians’ need of the Christian message, though they might disagree heartily with each other on how it ought to be delivered. Not only was there an important group determined to Christianized the Indians by peaceful persuasion, but some bold Spaniards denounced the cruelty of their countrymen. Domingo de Soto, for example, protested to the Council of the Indies in a powerful indictment dated July 1, 1550, that Indians in Peru were being treated inhumanly “as though they were brute animals (animales brutos) and even worse than asses.”
It was just a month later that Sepúlveda invoked the authority of Aristotle in Valladolid to stigmatize all the Indians of the New World as natural slaves. This was no casual or jocose description of the Indians as “dogs,” which had been prohibited by the Laws of Burgos in 1512. It was a far more sweeping charge and it led to the last great dispute on Indian affairs in Spain.
Source: Lewis Hanke. Aristotle and the American Indians: A Study in Race Prejudice in the Modern World. Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1959.
Lewis Hanke (1905-1993), first chief of the Hispanic Division of the Library of Congress and founding editor of the Handbook of Latin American Studies, was the father of the field of Latin American studies in the United States. His creation, the Handbook, has continued to play a major role in the dissemination of Latin American studies research and the development of Latin Americanist library collections throughout the US and worldwide.
Hanke, former Professor of History, Emeritus from the University of Massachusetts, was elected the president of the American Historical Association in 1974. Lewis Hanke’s All Mankind Is One (Northern Illinois University Press,1974) is a study of the disputation before the Council of Castile between Bartolome de Las Casas and his opponent Juan Gines de Sepulveda in 1550 regarding the intellectual capacity of the American Indians.
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Other books by Louis HanKe
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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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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 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 incarcerationbut her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.Publishers Weekly
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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update 28 December 2011