BAM Conference at Howard Boycotted

BAM Conference at Howard Boycotted


 As I understand it, BAM was about changing consciousness or to use Jonathan’s expression restructuring our brains. BAM was about reorganizing our communities, about political

power. I do not think that is what these literary societies are about.



Should BAM Conference at Howard University Be Boycotted?

Economic Penalties for Social Activism on College Campuses

Responses by Amiri B, Jonathan, Miriam, Rodney, Chuck, Joyce


Rudy: Here’s the program for Howard U’s BAM Conference 23 and 24 March 2006:   Howard Events: Black Art

Discussion Part I — What Now Brown Cow? — Another Memoriam?

Amiri B: This is a rather off the wall presentation.  

Rudy: Yes, it is. It is overly academic. There is no community relevance. And if BAM was about anything it was about community and community building. Isn’t it ironic. Still I am interested in Miriam DaCosta-Willis‘ paper on Etheridge Knight. I spent a few hours with him over Jim Beam. She has done a lot of Memphis research on him, and knows the devastation that is at hand. But she might not be there because of family problems. Maybe we can get her to post the paper on ChickenBones. I think she, at least, knows what politically is at stake in these dire times. These literary societies, as you must know, are becoming less and less socially and politically relevant.

Otherwise, as Jonathan would say, there’s a lack of Political Education.

Herbert: What do you mean by community relevance?

Rudy: As I understand it, BAM was about changing consciousness or to use Jonathan’s expression restructuring our brains. BAM was about reorganizing our communities, about political power. I do not think that is what these literary societies are about. That was my argument with MAWA, that is, that it had become irrelevant. It was just about organizing conferences, irrelevant academic networking, and publishing. 

Jonathan:  yeah, rudy, i hear you, you’re right about academic conferences, i avoid them. i think amiri’s description of this one is the most apt.

Rudy: What I find curious is the final section Memoriam. It sounds as if they are ready to bury all of them:

Amiri Baraka, Ed Bullins, Mari Evans, Haki Madhubuti, Marvin X, Kalamu ya Salaam , Barbara Ann Teer, Askia Touré

Instead of bringing them in at the end of the program, maybe they should have allowed them to set the tone for the entire conference. So they can transfer the weight. Then they could do some planning outreach beyond the university, a workshop kind of ending, which these cats could have sat in on if they chose.

Ask some serious questions: What Next or What Now. How can BAM  work be extended into now-aspirations, and now-needs. Who is transforming BAM work into the Now. (I think Kalamu is doing that.) What role did BAM women have on consciousness. How has that changed or influenced today’s “womanism”? That seems the thing to do if you want to honor these cats. That’s the best approach. I assume they would appreciate that more than patting them on the back and shaking their hands, and grinning in their faces.

This Elder congratulatory approach, which ends up being self promotion, has to be gotten rid of. Presenting papers for publications and padding resumes are not enough.

Miriam: Rudy, you’ve hit the nail on the head.  I understand from a former colleague at Howard that Taylor, who organized the conference, is a fairly new, assistant professor at Howard, who is obviously “on the make” with an eye toward promotion, but I have never seen a less inspiring or engaging assembly of literati (though Hurston’s term would be more apt here) in my life.  And what a misuse of the talents of Kalamu, Baraka, Evans, etc.—to sit them on a stage to be clapped and admired instead of engaging them in the kinds of issues that you mention, I suspect that some of them won’t show when they realize how “thin” the papers are. 

I’ll send the paper to you when I return—lord knows when.  Right now I can’t concentrate, but I’m dealing with the impact that Eth had on a whole generation of Memphis writers through his Free People’s Poetry Workshop.

Rudy: That might be the best decision. Why go and leave pissed off? I hope everything works out with your daughter and other family difficulties.

Jonathan: Rudy, I hesitate to make comments about the BAM conference at Howard because it might be a partial program, but I did check and this seems to be complete. It’s embarrassing, in my view, to not have a panel on Dudley Randall and the Broadside Press. After all, there would have been no Etheridge Knight poetry without Randall and Broadside. I also find it embarrassing that there are no papers on Jayne Cortez. In assembling a conference on such a broad theme there are naturally going to be omissions. But to omit Dudley Randall and Broadside is intellectually indefensible. Also, it would have been nice to see a panel (or at least a paper) on the literary precursors of BAM, such as Langston Hughes and Gwendolyn  Brooks, especially Langston who helped mentor and promote many young artists associated with BAM. For a good discussion of BAM and Langston, see Melba Joyce Boyd’s excellent book, Wrestling with the Muse: Dudley Randall and the Broadside Press, in which she has a section devoted to Langston and what she terms “the second renaissance,” i.e. BAM.

Miriam:  Rudy, I have definitely decided that I’m not going to present my paper next week, because the papers are very dull and pedantic (definitely overly academic),  there is no coherence in the program (what the heck does Rex Nettleford—a person whom I admire very much for his brilliance, choreography, etc.—have to do with BAM), and I still have not received a response to my three messages.  Since I have a minute or two, I’ll probably do a critique of the program (smile).  I’ll send the paper to you when I return—lord knows when.  Right now I can’t concentrate, but I’m dealing with the impact that Eth had on a whole generation of Memphis writers through his Free People’s Poetry Workshop. 

By the way, Levi and Deborah Frazier, terrific artists and community workers, who organized the Blues City Cultural Center in Memphis, in large part because of Eth’s encouragement wanted to present their production “Knight Songs,” based on Etheridge’s poetry & prison experience at the conference, but they never heard from Taylor. 

Deborah wrote the play and Levi directed and produced it all through the South.  Five or six characters all play different aspects of E. K.’s character.  I got them to do the play at my college, and I’ve seen it several times.  It’s powerful.  Then, they organized an arts project after Etheridge’s death—taking his poetry into nightclubs, bars & prisons—and I participated, and they put together a brochure with photos, interviews, short articles, etc. that they distributed. 

They were good friends of Tom Dent  (though they’re much younger), and presented one of his plays in Memphis.  Levi is a helluva playwright.  What they do is to present plays on social issues (teen pregnancy, drug dealing, unjust incarceration) to different community groups and then engage folk in a discussion afterwards.  Levi used to work in the prison outside of Memphis.  Now they could have made that conference relevant! 

Rudy: Whatever we can do to bring more attention to their work, let me know. Or tell them to contact us.

Theirs is one approach that could have been used, Baraka has had students he has trained and influenced, like Jonathan Scott. That is probably true of the others in the Memoriam section.

Amiri Baraka , Ed Bullins, Mari Evans, Haki Madhubuti, Marvin X, Kalamu ya Salaam , Barbara Ann Teer, Askia Touré

These conference organizers should do some consultation, especially with those that they are honoring at such historic conferences, like BAM.

I made similar criticisms about MAWA to the board, that is, they were not doing anything beyond spending money on annual conferences for the presentations of papers and celebrating a selected well known writer they brought in from out of town. People stop showing up and money got short. Morgan professors were riding a dead horse.

They have a captured audience of students at Morgan and they were not involving them. There was an unnecessary gulf in which there were no attempts to bridge. They had no relationship with the English departments in local high schools. They had no relationships with local writers, journalists, and artists. And other local colleges and graduate schools and their students.

They did not know how to connect the dots. Too much hierarchy, too much entrenchment in image. The mirror cracked.

Herbert: Rudy, I find you comments to be very interesting!!! How do we know this will occur, if we have not read the papers which are to be presented. I do not view the BAM conference in the same light as I view a literary society.  Literary societies are born out of specific historical circumstances, e.g., CLA, segregation from MLA. Just my thoughts.

Rudy: I know it from experience. I know it from the title of the papers. I know it from the individuals presenting the papers. Moreover, Miriam knows it. Baraka knows it. Jonathan knows it.

The same people who have organized the BAM conference are the same kind of people who are running these literary societies. People on the professional make.

CLA might have had a historical necessity. That necessity no longer exists. These literary societies, including CLA (today), have more to do with personal, individual necessities. You have at least three literary societies coming out of the English department at Morgan. That has nothing to do with historical necessity. That has to do with personalities with narrow interests. They have little or no connections with the community and are involved in no community connections with writers, students, journalists, or librarians.

Miriam: That’s too bad about MAWA, but I just had a message from Herbert that they plan to publish a special issue this fall on Afro-Hispanic literature, but neither he nor I knew anything about it and that’s our field.  Oh, well.

Rudy: Nor I, and I suppose to be a board member of MAWA. That’s what I am speaking about: MAWA, the producer of conferences, is separated from its press and the journal. Both of which are controlled by the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, Burney J. Hollis, Ph. D.

I think I am beginning to understand why MAWA’s former President  quit suddenly without explanation. She would not have had any say as President of MAWA over the two main instruments of MAWA, namely, the press and the journal. She could not tolerate such a hierarchy. In effect, she would just be used by Dean Hollis for his own self-promotion. 

Jonathan: rudy and miriam, i sent the BAM conference organizers a paper several months ago, it’s on the continuum of the first renaissance and the second (BAM), with special emphasis on langston’s role as a mid-wife between the two. they never responded to my proposal. also, melba boyd in detroit proposed a panel on dudley randall and the broadside press and they never responded to her either.

in other words, it’s more than incompetence and shameless resume padding; it’s ideological: they’re re-writing history, trying to put the elder statesmen and stateswomen in the grave while co-opting their names and legacies. it’s disingenuous and their whole racket is very transparent, as rudy alluded to with his comments on the “memoriam.” i like your idea, rudy, about having the elders begin the conference. that would have been proper. imagine for a second a black cultural arts conference in london where linton kwesi johnson, ngugi, kamau brathwaite, and george lamming were invited but put together at the end of the program!

Herbert: Rudy, FYI.  This event took place at Spelmen College last month:

Spelman College Hosts Conversations with Literary Icons

of the Historic Black Arts Movement

Atlanta, GA (February 24, 2006)

Conversations with Black Arts Movement Poets, a two-part series underscoring the importance of the African American cultural renaissance known as the Black Arts Movement, will culminate with an engaging intergenerational dialogue between two literary icons of the Movement, Mari Evans  and Haki Madhubuti along with Jessica Care Moore, poet and founder of Atlanta-based Moore Black Press, and Spelman College junior Brittny Ray’07 on Friday, March 17 at 7:00 p.m. in the Cosby Academic Center Auditorium. This event is free and open to the public. In addition to the evening program, the poets will give readings and workshops at local schools and community centers during their two-day visit. During the March 17 conversation, Evans and Madhubuti will reveal their perspectives and share their insights on BAM’s legacy, as well as present their concerns about the role of the artist and the function of poetry in the Black community and the larger society.

Additionally, the multiple dimensions of their roles as cultural activists will be discussed, including Evans’s work in music, theatre, and children’s literature, and Madhubuti’s pioneering work in independent Black publishing. They will also talk about their roles as elder-mentors to the emerging generation of hip-hop artists and spoken word poets. Through the bold and innovative voices of Evans, Madhubuti, Sanchez and Baraka, and many others,  BAM challenged African American literary traditions, influenced poets and literary movements abroad, and made significant contributions to American literature and culture. Both Evans and Madhubuti, dynamic and widely celebrated Midwest-based BAM poets, have published prolifically, taught at major universities, and won numerous literary honors. As an educator, writer, and musician, Evans has authored numerous books of poetry, plays, musicals, and political essays, including “I Am a Black Woman,” “Nightstar,” “Where Is All the Music?,” “Continuum,” and “Clarity as Concept: A Poet’s Perspective.” She also edited the critically acclaimed anthology Black Women Writers (1950-1980): A Critical Evaluation. Over the past 30 years Evans has taught at several major colleges and universities, including Spelman College, the State University of New York at Albany, Purdue University, Indiana University, and was formerly Distinguished Writer and Assistant Professor in the African Studies Research Center at Cornell University.

Haki Madhubuti, who lives in Chicago, is an award-winning poet and educator, and founder and chairman of the board of Third World Press since 1967. He has been a pivotal figure in the development of a strong black literary tradition, emerging from the era of the 1960s and continuing to the present. He has published more than 25 books and is a bestselling author of poetry and nonfiction, including “Black Men: Obsolete, Single, Dangerous?,” and “The African American Family in Transition,” which sold more than a million copies.

Other selected titles include “Claiming Earth: Race,” “Rage, Rape, Redemption.” “GroundWork: New and Selected Poems, 1966-1996,” “HeartLove: Wedding and Love Poems,” and “Tough Notes: A Healing Call for Creating Exceptional Black Men.”

Madhubuti, is currently the Distinguished University Professor and professor of English, founder and director-emeritus of the Gwendolyn Brooks Center for Black Literature and Creative Writing, and director of the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program at Chicago State University. He is a recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, and Illinois Arts Council Awards. Presented by the Spelman College English 

Rudy: What a contrast! No wonder Baraka was pissed. He knew what could be done, even by a boogie institution like Spelman. And, damn, it was free and open to the public, too, unlike the Howard U. deal. Well, it just shows you that you ain’t got to be stupid because you boogie.

The Howard cat is young; maybe he still can learn. But still somebody ought to pull his coat tail and tell him what he put together ain’t cool.

Herbert: Rudy, in all fairness to the person coordinating this at Howard, I think the money from this conference is aimed at creating an endowed chair in the name of Sterling Brown.

Rudy: Well, I do not think this conference will do the trick. In any event, the ends do not justify the means 

Herbert: Also Rudy, the Spelman program was funded. Presented by the Spelman College English Department and the Ethel Waddell Githii Honors Program, the first program of the series took place in October 2005 and featured a lively discourse between two more literary giants of the Black Arts Movement, Amiri Baraka and Sonia Sanchez. This program is supported by the Georgia Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and through appropriations from the Georgia General Assembly

Rudy: So you think this Howard cat took money out of his pocket. Or that it is being paid by conference fees. Be for real. The Howard program is funded, at least partially by the Humanities Council of Washington.

*   *   *   *   *

Discussion Part II: Social Conservatism vs. Social Activism

Amiri B:  On the tail or in the feathers of the great rightist pusch, the academy (formal and informal) has risen again to claim ART! 

Rudy: Not only ART, but to claim artists themselves, their lives, and the value of their lives. And worst, they think up all kinds of bullshit to justify it. The excuse and justification in this instance, as I understand from my friend Herbert, is to raise money (a $15 fee) for an endowed chair in the name of Sterling Brown. Now they gonna do a chair for Sterling and I’m willing to bet a dollar to a dime that they have not fully processed his papers in the archives there.

At least they should have announced that the program is free to all students.

They are providing, however, an opportunity for a few crumbs to fall from the table. A Last Supper situation, one might say. They have given the eight of you 2 hours (3:30 to 5:30). That’s 15 minutes a piece. Well, shit, just one of you could take up two hours. Who’s gonna be satisfied with that. Y’all gonna end up stepping on each others toes.  They got all you cats in a room to reduce y’all to a memory, a photo-op. Maybe, it could be worse. Fight the Power!

Miriam: Rudy & Herbert, I’m going to forward the Spelman program to Taylor.

Rudy: I’m not sure there’s time to reorganize the program, if he’s even willing. But at least it will let him know people are not idiots; that they understand what’s going on. And that they are not happy about it.

Miriam: Jonathan & Rudy, that is reprehensible, irresponsible, and completely unprofessional.  If I had time, I would organize a boycott of the conference, but I do hope that people will not waste their time attending.  I just arrived in Memphis and all that I have is a copy of the agenda addressed to “All” with no response to any of my messages, and a personal message from the adm. asst., who was called by my friend in foreign languages after I expressed my dissatisfaction to him.  I intend no further communication and do not plan to show up.  Maybe I’ll follow up with a letter to the dean outlining the difficulties. 

Rudy: The conference doesn’t mean that much to me as organized. I respect the eight people they invited for the Memoriam and I’d like to shake hands with a few of them. But I don’t think this situation gives due respect to any of them, bringing them in at the end of things, as a final goodbye. 

They think these cats can be bought off with a plane ticket and a gratuity. That is what they have reduced their lives to. They have placed them in a very controlled environment so that they can’t influence anybody.

Well, you know those BAM folks were troublemakers anyway. They fear they might have some deleterious impact on Howard students. So they gonna usher them in and usher them out. And tell them to be off campus before the sun sets. Oh, well . . .

Miriam: Rudy, I did forward the Spelman program with your postscript, though I removed your name.  I received the copy of your message to Amiri and agree with you wholeheartedly.  I liked the way that Spelman involved just two artists—Mari & Haki—and thoroughly engaged them in ways that were beneficial to all the participants. 

By the way, it’s Eleanor Traylor, head of the Eng. Dept., who has sponsored the Sterling Brown fundraiser.  She started about five years ago with Toni Morrison.  The conference, which was excellent, was open to everyone for free and then she had a banquet that people had to pay for and the funds went to endow the chair.  This year the conf. was built around Ishmael Reed;  Jerry and Kalamu participated, as well as Ishmael, and from what I hear it was well done. 

Rudy: I do not know that there is malevolence here in the organizing of this BAM conference. But there is indeed, it seems, a blind, self-centered academic arrogance afoot. Or, as Jonathan says elsewhere, there’s a lack of political education.

With this younger generation, the manner in which it was organized might have been influenced by previous academic criticisms of BAM and its political emphasis and its community cultural orientations. Thus the conference organizers decided to deal with BAM as object, to be chopped up and analyzed, and provide a prognosis, rather than being inspired by its accomplishments, as seemingly was the case at Spelman.

Obviously, this conference organizer prefers to keep all that at arm’s length. But it seems to me that this is a new day. We need a greater engagement with students and especially Howard students in the nation’s capital. The students and their aspirations too are endangered. There will be less and less money available for graduate education.

What better opportunity than this occasion for the Howard student body to be socially inspired by these literary greats—over a two-day period. What better an opportunity for Howard’s young professors to sit with, exchange ideas and be inspired and work up plans to get their students more community engaged in community issues and projects across the country, especially in light of the disaster in New Orleans and the urban crises across the country, and in a time when we have a government that wants to be on a permanent war footing. That kind of work cannot be done in the two hours allotted.

What a wasted opportunity, indeed. When we get the money and chance to do programs to bring such talented people together (centuries of community organizing experiences), we must seize the day. Seize the day for the broader community and its needs and aspirations. In some instances, we have to be exceedingly daring in our planning strategies.

Maybe we all can learn from this situation; other opportunities might present themselves, at Howard and other black institutions. 

Jonathan:  miriam and rudy, it seems howard is going the way of the great compromise. BAM was the most militant arts movement of the 20th century and it inspired political arts movements all over the world, from south africa to central america. this conference takes all the politics out of BAM. it makes the compromise with ruling-class power. i was just invited to an afro-latino arts conference at the grad center at CUNY this weekend. it was the same thing. nothing about the young lords or the panthers or the black power movement, nothing about the anti-u.s. imperialist movements that were the foundation of the afro-latino consciousness movement. instead people analyzed comic strips and zoot suit styles. rather than aesthetics and politics, it was aesthetics instead of politics.Rudy: Because this type of conference organizing is indeed a phenomenon is the reason I speak out here in this instance of what Howard has pulled together.

The universities have money and access to money and resources and thus capable of providing opportunities for the organizing of our communities and stimulating and heightening social consciousness. In some sense I am connected to this type of conservatism.

I am a member of the Executive Committee of The Middle Atlantic Writers Association (MAWA), which is centered at Morgan State University. After its last conference in 2004, there was a planning session. A problem of finances came to light. The conferences were not being attended. Morgan students and the local writing community were absent and the fees for the conference were exorbitant and increasing – over $120. The conference was limited to the presentation of papers and the selling of books by a local black Maryland bookseller and the distribution of all kind of knickknacks for the participants.

MAWA has excellent resources – the MAWA Review and a press, both primarily controlled by Dean of The College of Liberal Arts, Burney J. Hollis, Ph.D. One officer also set up a website for MAWA before she left for another university.  The journal and the press, however, have limited distribution, existing primarily for a few academics. The website has not been used except to collect conference fees. Most of the officers of MAWA itself, as I understand it, have little to do with these resources. The primary officers, President and Vice President, resigned suddenly after two months. The reasons for their resignation have been hushed and so no conference occurred in Fall 2005.

There was a meeting in the office of the Dean after the 2004 conference. Nothing came of my criticisms and suggestions that MAWA reorient its activities toward the community. I expect nothing indeed will come of my suggestions and that there will be more of the same. In these kinds of organizations there is a conservative hierarchy which has no interest in social or political activity oriented toward heightening community consciousness. The emphasis is purely academic, publishing academic papers for a limited audience, of peer review. In that there is safety. And being safe and having absolute control are what such leaders are about.

In this exploit, they make use of the names of those who are indeed sincere and want things worthwhile to be done within and for the community, like stimulating local writers, artists, and journalists to serve their communities. On its editorial board the MAWA Review  has the following names: Houston A. Baker, Lucille Clifton, Eugenia Collier, Henry Louis Gates, E. Ethelbert Miller, Arnold Rampersad, Sonia Sanchez, and Sarah E. Wright. Maybe these noted writers and scholars are offering advice. I don’t know. My suspicion however is that their names are merely used to provide image respectability to MAWA Review for the Executive Editor and for his limited ends.

As for myself I no longer see any advantage of my association with MAWA, its journal and its press. It is all too superficial and pretentious. Such work would merely take time and energy away from ChickenBones: A Journal, which I believe has a more vital role to play within the community. I imagine that our work with ChickenBones is inspired by and an extension of what Baraka, and Hoyt Fuller, and Dudley Randall had in mind back in the 1960s and 1970s. But maybe I am just hallucinating and overly self-absorbed, I don’t know.

Of course, we do not have such noted figures advising us on our work. Nor do we have the money and means, like Howard University to provide for the eight noted writers and artists who will be appearing at Howard U. for a two-hour stint—15 minutes a piece. Nevertheless, we do what we can do as honestly, as openly, as sincerely, as we can.  I will leave it to others to judge

Chuck Siler: Hang in Rudy and understand that though we aren’t always in agreement, we are – at the least – willing to discuss and find a common ground for benefiting our community.  I am from a nationalist school but have outgrown a lot of that and understand the need to have a broader understanding of humanity and its history. You have the right/write to your opinion and anyone who hates you for expressing them is expressing something personal that you have nothing to do with aside from stimulating thought.  You, for example are religious and god fearing.  So is my mother.  I am not.  My mother and I still love each other because she understands that I have a set of values that stem from her teaching and that I am not an evil person.  She’s watched me grow over six decades into an adult that she is proud of, though we still don’t agree and have interesting conversations about that. I think ChickenBones is important and have been spreading the word because you and folk like Gwen Clark at are doing something positive for the community over and above just entertainment.  I’ll always be looking over your shoulder and watching our back.Rudy: yes, I think that’s the way. We don’t always have to agree on every point. But there’s a necessity and need to know that there is much that we can cooperate and collaborate on, that can be beneficial to the community. The point about family is well taken. I have five siblings and except for one, the kind of discussions I carry on with you and others would be an impossibility, and at best of little interest. Those other four care very little about what I am trying to do. They probably think I am wasting time and energy. But I suppose they love me and care what happens to me.

 It is the same with my mother and my grandmother. So as long as we have a respect for the integrity and dignity of others I think we are indeed on “common ground.” From there, there is much that can be accomplished that would be worthwhile for all.

Miriam: Rudy & Jonathan, the BAM , MAWA, and Afro-Latino Arts conference are all examples of the pedantry and elitism that plague the new breed of “scholars” in our universities.  A part of the problem is that that kind of “scholarship” is rewarded in academia, while service (i.e., activism and community engagement) are discouraged.  Rodney is also correct in pointing out that “student economics” (student loan debts in the thousands of dollars) forces many young scholars to make such compromises.

Rudy: I do not envy this younger generation of students. A graduate school education will become a more difficult path to follow, especially those students coming from nonprofessional families. Rodney has good cause to worry. He, however, is exceedingly talented and personable I am not worried that he will not succeed wherever he places his focus.

Too often, because of economic pressures on small and black colleges, administrators  fold under the regimes of whoever is in political power. Like many of us they lack vision and they lack the smarts to work up longtime strategies that will benefit their students and the larger communities. But as Floyd has reminded us, courage is required and ingenuity too.

Scholarly competency and social activism have been characterized as in opposition and that some professors have been charged in supplanting one for the other. The most noted case as you can recall is that of Cornell West and Harvard’s former head administrator. He got carried away with his conservative condescension and began an attack on women in general. But this attitude has been in place for sometime, since the African American departments came into prominence. That was the charge against Molefi Kete Asante and some of us, including Joyce Joyce, made the competency argument against Asante.

Manning Marable has charged in a recent article that David Horowitz has made such an attack on him. Read his “The Most Dangerous Black Professor in America”.

I am sure that my own cyber-activism will affect in a negative manner in how some schools and colleges will consider my application for employment. As Herbert has clearly pointed out to me, the social consciousness among black librarians is at a very low state. They imagine themselves as mere technicians or technocrats. They do not see themselves in the tradition of Marcus Bruce Christian, Arna Bontemps, or Arthur Schomburg. But let it come as it may. I ain’t adverse to whatever work is necessary, be it sweeping floors or washing pots. So they can’t stop my ball from rolling.

I reminded Rodney that tough times and adversity do not ultimately decide the quality of one’s life or the value of one’s life. Such adversity, as you have pointed out, can lead to wonderful outcomes. One must not cower in the face of such conservative opposition. One must do what one must do when one has principles and a love for one’s people.

Of course, I live a rather simple life, and thus my options are more open. I have neither wife nor children. Though I am forced to be a wage slave, I have chosen not to be a slave to debt – of an expensive house, car, jewelry, a luxurious life style.

Rodney: Rudy, I appreciate your words of encouragement. Such encouragement is sometimes needed to keep the engine running. As they say, you have to sleep in the bed that you make, and I’m anxious to sleep in the bed that I am making. I knew what I got myself into when I gave up my scholarship down at W&L, and I’m more comfortable in my skin and truer to self than I otherwise would have been.

I was headed towards the commercial track, perhaps a career in finance along with many of my remaining peers there. And perhaps I would have been looking forward to a $65,000 salary upon graduation without college debt. But that ain’t me. I guess I was insulated from the desire for material goods because of the way I was raised. On one of the ABC news programs last night, a French professor assisting with the student protests was quoted as saying that the French youth could be characterized as the “sacrifice generation.” The very same can be said over in the States. They say that 25 percent of French youth are unemployed, and the number is increasing.

30 percent of Americans aged 19-29 are without health insurance. The 18-24 year old segment suffers from a 30 percent poverty rate. Given that black unemployment and poverty numbers far exceed that of the general population, we can assume that things are significantly worse for black youth. But perhaps that is a premature assumption, though I doubt it. Rudy, do you recall how Baltimore has had an excess of youth in the thousands looking for summer employment that past few summers?

We tell the kids to stay out of the streets and do right, and when they attempt to work, we have nothing to offer them. Given that such a relatively small percentage of us youth, both black and otherwise, even have the “luxury” of suffering from student economics, much of my concern, when I’m able to free myself from bouts of egotism, is directed towards those even worse off, those not in college or who have dropped out of high school, those who make up a disproportionate percentage of young workers that comprise 44 percent of the labor in the most menial industries that provide no health care, pay minimum wage, and offer no career advancement.

In an economy driven by knowledge and expertise, the porous public school systems have all but closed the doors completely on those youth from places like Baltimore and Detroit. These are serious matters that deserve, as Rudy and Floyd say, courage and ingenuity. I joked with my girlfriend the other day that I would like to see one of the UNICEF-type commercial campaigns for urban youth, spotlighting the struggles of Chris and Rahim and LaKeisha and Antoinette, and what we can do to help them. Sadly, matters are so bad that this isn’t a ludicrous idea. It is truly remarkable that the youth—and I speak as if I am so far removed from them—are able to persevere through these trying times. West and Mosley both pushed the need to engage the youth in their most recent publications, and I hope we can begin to do that necessary work. This is why programs like Baltimore Algebra Project are necessary. Kids are engaged through spoken word performance and grassroots hip hop, which allow them to express their frustrations with an indifferent adult culture.

The next step is to politically educate them, get them to understand that socialism is not evil and capitalism not God’s gift to the poor and working, as they are being taught in school. Engage them with the contemporary and historical and prominent literature that expanded our still expanding minds. Perhaps with them scholarly competence and social activism can cohabit. –

Joyce: Thanks, Rudy and Miriam, these issues are very real. Professors are often challenged to “redirect” their research and writing if they expect to get tenure, get funded, etc. It’s called “hegemony.” Thanks for giving a shout out to Marcus Christian.

See the chapter on “Harriet Jacobs’s Children in the Academy” in our book, Black Education, for a reader’s theatre script that adds more “flavor” to these issues. We performed the data presented in that chapter as a “Minstrel Show” when the American Educational Research Association met in New Orleans. Cheers, Thanks.

Miriam: As usual, Joyce & Rudy, you are both on target—one from inside the mental institution (as my husband used to call academia) and the other from outside the walls. 

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Harry Belafonte: One of the things that was a mechanism and a device used to cruelly punish artists who would speak out was to cut them off from their livelihood. They did it to Paul Robeson. They wouldn’t give him a passport. Carnegie Hall wouldn’t hire him or give – or rent him the hall. Many of the places that he had sung, where people loved him, were closed to him for a long period of time. But when that case was fought and won in the courts, he was nourished again, because everybody in the world was waiting for him.

And what has permitted me to sustain my own life in the midst of so much cruelty and degradation – I’ve lost a lot from those who control culture, those who will not let my song be in the environment of their sponsorship – just my remarks on President Bush, that he’s a terrorist, I lost a lot of work, even in universities, not even singing, just fraternities and students that have invited me to come to speak. Many of those doors in those universities were closed to me, because those who sit on the board and the board of trustees said we are displeased with what he said. He’ll have no place in this institution. And if he does, you’ll no longer have our support. So the president and the dean becomes frightened and becomes concerned. And it’s easier to let go than it is to stand against the oppressor.

Source: DemocracyNow.Org, “After Criticizing Bush, Harry Belafonte is Disinvited from the University of Virginia, EyeCare, and Speaking at the Coretta Scott King Funeral” (Monday, March 20th, 2006)

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Coda: There’s Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself, & the Gas Man

Amiri B: Better to engage than allow free movement by the negative.

Rudy: People are speaking under the pot, in the darkness of their private haunts, like slaves afraid of their shadows or fearing that the word is going to be taken up to the BIG HOUSE. Those even who are safe and secure, way up North, are only willing to speak openly in the dark corners of expensive restaurants, and then only after several glasses of white wine. What is worst, in the name of cordiality, people don’t so much fear the BIG BOSS, as they fear the so many straw bosses who might have some marginal impact on their privileges.

Here’s another curiosity. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, what we had were persons in their 20s, 30s, and 40s speaking out militantly to power and the abuses of government power. In this millennium, what we have are a few persons in their 50s, 60s, and 70s. What comes to mind is  Somebody Blew Up America, Marvin X’s Understanding London , and now Harry Belafonte’s defense of Venezuela’s socialist revolution and his calling Bush a “terrorist.”  

Everyone today has been passing around the interview by Amy Goodman of Harry Belafonte. That probably has little to do with his support of a socialist government and his suggestion that there is something seriously wrong with how capitalism is playing out in America. The emphasis I suspect is his delayed attack on the conservatism of the King children and how they radically contrast to Martin and Coretta. This kind of emphasis on the personal has gone awry. What is not as easy is more pertinent engagement.

Union members not only fear to criticize the plant owners but also fear their union bosses. Though willing to make attacks on Bushites those at the university are not so willing to criticize their own administrators, black or white. And black voters are not so willing to criticize the Democratic Party for fear of falling into the abyss. So, yes, engagement is needed. But there is definitely a lack of courage and a fear of ghosts. Cowardice and fear of the supernatural are not easily shored up.

Backed in a corner everything comes up for grabs. Here in Baltimore we are looking at a 73% increase in utilities, beginning in July 2006. People ain’t gonna be as cool as they were last summer and they ain’t gonna be as warm as they were last winter. So we gonna have a lot of frayed tempers. That’s gonna be sooner, than later. And blaming Republicans and Bush is not gonna cool you in the sun nor warm you in ice. Engaging power will not be merely a choice, it will become a necessity, especially for the weak and the poor. But even the middle classes might be looking at $900 a month utilities bills. Snuggle up folks, snuggle up. We all gonna have to move to the burbs.

Chuck: There should be a cartoon with this but it’s late and I just got in off the road. another haiku.


bills rise soaring skyward but wages remain minimal and steady.


posted 20 March 2006

*   *   *   *   *’s 25 Best Selling Books



#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

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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

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#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

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#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.—


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Ghosts in Our Blood

With Malcolm X in Africa, England, and the Caribbean

By Jan R. Carew

Carew, an activist, scholar, and journalist, met Malcolm X during his last trip abroad only a few weeks before he was killed in 1965. It made such an impression on Carew that he felt compelled to search out Malcolm’s family and friends in order to flesh out the family history. He interviewed Wilfred (Malcolm’s older brother) and a Grenadian friend of Malcolm’s mother named Tanta Bess. Comparing his family’s experiences with that of Malcolm X, he gives the most complete picture yet of Malcolm’s mother. Carew also offers a tantalizing glimpse of Malcolm X’s transforming himself into El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, a man less blinded by his own racial prejudices yet as committed to the betterment of his race as ever. Just before his death, Malcolm X became convinced that a U.S. agency was involved with those trying to kill him, and Carew here reveals the evidence Malcolm X gave him to support these beliefs. The mystery of Malcolm’s death remains unresolved, and we are once again filled with regret that he was cut down before he could fulfill the promise of his later days. While this book will not replace The Autobiography of Malcolm X (LJ 1/1/66), it is an important supplement. All libraries that own the autobiography should also purchase this one.—Library Journal

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 24 May 2012




Home  Black Arts and Black Power Figures

Related files:


Africa or America: The Emphasis in Black Studies Programs   Askia Touré and Marvin X on Black Studies    Black Studies Forty Years Later

    No New Thinking on Africana Politics and Philosophy  Interview with Franklin Knight  Black Studies in the Age of Obama    Reading Africana

Stirrings in the Jug Adolph Reed

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