ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
I am proud to be an American, proud to be a Negro, and proud to be
a Communist! And there is no contradiction between the three. I am
proud to be an American because I have an abiding confidence in
the creative capacity of the American people to set our country right
in all respects and keep it so, and to move it to higher levels
of happiness and peace. Benjamin Davis, 1962
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of Major Writings of Benjamin J. Davis, Jr.
Prepared by Dr. Oakley C. Johnson
1903 Born September 8 in Dawson, Georgia; grandson of a former slave. Father: Benjamin J. Davis, Sr., Mother: Jimmie (Willa) Davis nee Porter. Younger sister, Johnnie (Mrs. Richard Carey). 1909 Attended segregated rural elementary school in Dawson, Georgia 1910-1914 Attended Summer Hill School, Atlanta, Georgia 1915-1921 Attended Morehouse Academy, Atlanta, Georgia 1921-1922 Attended Morehouse College, Atlanta, Georgia 1923 On July 5, arrested in Atlanta for refusal to obey jimcrow seating rules in a city bus 1923-1926 Attended Amherst College; received B.A. degree; played first violin in the college orchestra; sang in the Glee Club; was head of the debating team. 1926-1930 Attended Harvard Law School 1931 Opened law office in Atlanta, Georgia 1932 Became attorney for Angelo Herndon; joined Communist Party; joined legal staff of Scottsboro Case; represented the Atlanta Six; acted for Willie Peterson 1935 Came to New York; edited the Negro Liberator; was arrested for activity in a Newspaper Guild strike at the Amsterdam News 1936 Joined staff of the Daily Worker 1937 Became Secretary of the Harlem Division of the Communist Party 1940-1946 Became a member of the Board of Directors of the Freedom of the Press Company (Publisher of the Daily Worker) and eventually President of the Board. 1943 Elected to the Council of the City of New York. 1945 Acclaimed on the Honor Roll of the Chicago Defender 1945 Re-elected to the Council of the City of New York with the second highest vote any Councilman ever received. 1949 Tried, with eleven other high-ranking Communists, under the Smith Act, and imprisoned; wrote autobiography in prison 1954 Released from prison; prison authorities refused to allow him to take his autobiography with him (it was released to his wife only after his death). 1956 Married Nina Davis nee Stamler, April 25; resumed position on National Committee of the Communist Party 1959 Chosen National Secretary of the Communist Party 1962 Addressed Harvard Law School Forum; spoke on many other college campuses, including Columbia, CCNY, Amherst, Oberlin, University if Minnesota. 1964 Died in Beth Israel Hospital, New York, August 22, of cancer Source: Ben Davis: Crusader for Negro Freedom & Socialism (1967)
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Benjamin J. “Ben” Davis (8 September 1903, Dawson, Georgia 22 August 1964, New York, New York), was an African-American lawyer and communist who was elected to the city council of New York City, representing Harlem, in 1943. He faced increasing opposition from outside Harlem after the end of World War II, and in 1951 was convicted of violating the Smith Act and sentenced to five years in prison.
Born and raised in Dawson, Georgia, Davis attended the high school program of Morehouse College in Atlanta, then pursued higher education at Amherst College, where he secured his B.A. degree. He graduated from Harvard Law School in 1930 and worked briefly as a journalist. before starting a law practice in Atlanta.
Davis became radicalized while representing Angelo Herndon, a 19 year old black communist who had been charged with violating a Georgia law against “attempting to incite insurrection” (Davis says that he had been trying to organize a farm workers’ union). During the trial, Davis faced angry, racist opposition from the judge and public, and became impressed with the rhetoric and bravery of Herndon and his colleagues. Upon concluding arguments, he joined the Communist Party himself. Herndon was convicted and sentenced to 1820 years in jail, though he was soon freed when Georgia’s insurrection law was declared unconstitutional.
Benjamin Davis moved to Harlem in 1935, where he worked as editor of the Negro Liberator, and later of the Communist Party’s newspaper, the Daily Worker. In 1943, he was elected under the then-used system of proportional representation to fill a city council seat being vacated by Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., who was leaving the council in order to run for congress.
Davis was reelected twice to his city council seat but, in 1949, he was expelled from the council upon being convicted of conspiring to overthrow the federal government under the Smith Acta World War II-era charge that rested on Davis’ association with the Communist Party. His eviction from the council was required under state law; his former colleagues then passed a resolution celebrating his ouster. He appealed the conviction for two years, without success. . . .
While in prison, Davis had written notes for a memoir. These were confiscated by prison authorities and not released until after his death. The notes were compiled into a quasi-autobiography under the title Communist Councilman From Harlem.
He was the author of many articles and pamphlets, including “Must Negro Americans Wait?”, “The Negro People in the Struggle for Peace and Freedom”, “Upsurge in the South”, “The Path of Negro Liberation”, “Why I Am A Communist” and “Ben Davis on the McCarran Act”.
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Robert Thompson and Benjamin Davis surrounded by pickets as they leave the Federal Courthouse in New York City 1949
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By Lorraine Hansberry
I can hear Rosalee See the eyes of Willie McGee My mother told me about Lynchings My mother told me about The dark nights And dirt roads And torch lights And lynch robes
The faces of men Laughing white Faces of men Dead in the night sorrow night and a sorrow night
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Writer Lorraine Hansberry’s sober eulogy of the death of Willie McGee weighed heavy on the hearts and minds of the American Left. On May 8, 1951, a crowd of five hundred lingered outside the courthouse of Laurel, Mississippi, to witness the execution of yet another black man convicted for allegedly raping a white woman. His 1945 lightning trial resulted in a guilty conviction delivered in less than two and a half minutes by an all-white, male jury, setting off a heated five-year legal struggle that drew national headlines. Despite an aggressive appeals defense team who attempted every legal maneuver in the book, the US Supreme Court ultimately chose not to intervene.
With the legal lynching of the Martinsville Seven in February, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg’s conviction in March, followed by the execution of McGee in May, 1951 was a bad year for Left-leaning lawyers (Parrish 1979; Rise 1995). Most discouraging, national news sources like the New York Times and Life magazine red-baited the “Save Willie McGee” campaign andas Life reportedits “imported” lawyers (Popham 1951a; Life 1951). Few felt McGee’s passing with as heavy a heart as his chief counsel, thirty-one-year-old Bella Abzug.
Before Abzug became a representative in Congress and a leader in the peace and women’s movements, she confronted the Southern political and legal system at the height of the early Cold War. Retained in 1948 by the Civil Rights Congress (CRC)a New York-headquartered Popular Front legal defense organizationthe novice labor lawyer honed her civil rights . . .
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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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By David Graeber
Before there was money, there was debt. Every economics textbook says the same thing: Money was invented to replace onerous and complicated barter systemsto relieve ancient people from having to haul their goods to market. The problem with this version of history? Theres not a shred of evidence to support it. Here anthropologist David Graeber presents a stunning reversal of conventional wisdom. He shows that for more than 5,000 years, since the beginnings of the first agrarian empires, humans have used elaborate credit systems to buy and sell goodsthat is, long before the invention of coins or cash. It is in this era, Graeber argues, that we also first encounter a society divided into debtors and creditors. Graeber shows that arguments about debt and debt forgiveness have been at the center of political debates from Italy to China, as well as sparking innumerable insurrections.
He also brilliantly demonstrates that the language of the ancient works of law and religion (words like guilt, sin, and redemption) derive in large part from ancient debates about debt, and shape even our most basic ideas of right and wrong.
We are still fighting these battles today without knowing it. Debt: The First 5,000 Years is a fascinating chronicle of this little known historyas well as how it has defined human history, and what it means for the credit crisis of the present day and the future of our economy. Economist Glenn Loury /Criminalizing a Race
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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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By John Lewis and Michael DOrso
Lewis, an Alabama sharecropper’s son, went to Nashville to attend a Baptist college where, at the end of the 1950s, his life and the new civil rights movement became inexorably entwined. First came the lunch counter sit-ins; then the Freedom Rides; the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Lewis’s election to its chairmanship; the voter registration drives; the 1963 march on Washington; the Birmingham church bombings; the murders during the Freedom Summer; the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party; Bloody Sunday in Selma in 1964; and the march on Montgomery. Lewis was an active, leading member during all of it. Much of his account, written with freelancer D’Orso, covers the same territory as David Halberstam’s The Children. Halberstam himself appears here briefly as a young reporter but Lewis imbues it with his own observations as a participant.
He is at times so self-effacing in this memoir that he underplays his role in the events he helped create. But he has a sharp eye, and his account of Selma and the march that followed is vivid and personal. He describes the rivalries within the movement as well as the enemies outside. After being forced out of SNCC because of internal politics, Lewis served in President Carter’s domestic peace corps, dabbled in local Georgia politics, then in 1986 defeated his old friend Julian Bond in a race for Congress, where he still serves. Lewis notes that people often take his quietness for meekness. His book, a uniquely well-told testimony by an eyewitness, makes clear that such an impression is entirely inaccurate.Publishers Weekly
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By Tom Reiss
Here is the remarkable true story of the real Count of Monte Cristoa stunning feat of historical sleuthing that brings to life the forgotten hero who inspired such classics as The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers. The real-life protagonist of The Black Count, General Alex Dumas, is a man almost unknown today yet with a story that is strikingly familiar, because his son, the novelist Alexandre Dumas, used it to create some of the best loved heroes of literature. Yet, hidden behind these swashbuckling adventures was an even more incredible secret: the real hero was the son of a black slavewho rose higher in the white world than any man of his race would before our own time. Born in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti), Alex Dumas was briefly sold into bondage but made his way to Paris where he was schooled as a sword-fighting member of the French aristocracy.
Enlisting as a private, he rose to command armies at the height of the Revolution, in an audacious campaign across Europe and the Middle Eastuntil he met an implacable enemy he could not defeat.
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By Shirley Sherrod
Sherrod sets the record straight on her forced resignation from the Department of Agriculture in 2010. The author. . .was director for the USDA’s Rural Development in Georgia when conservative political blogger Andrew Breitbart attacked her for allegedly reverse racist comments she made at an NAACP event. The threat of exposure on national TV was enough to send the USDA running for cover, and she was dismissed. Sherrod decided she had to fight back. She and her husband have been directly involved in the struggles for political and economic justice in Georgia and elsewhere since the 1960s, and they were part of Martin Luther King’s movement for civil rights. She writes about growing up in segregated Georgia and the circumstances surrounding her fathers murder and the arson of her family homeat that time, fear was the daily diet that kept the status quo alive. In the 70s, Sherrod and her husband worked with other farmers in Georgia on experimental projects.
Denied drought assistance funds by the USDA, they faced foreclosure and joined a class-action suit to redress the discrimination. Eventually, they won the settlement, a decision strongly opposed by conservatives. Sherrod writes sharply about the continuing legacy of racism and how economic policy, hidebound bureaucracy and plain malice affect poor people everywhere, and why pretending that we are in a post-racial world doesnt help anyone. An inspiring memoir about the real power of courage and hope.
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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update 24 September 2012