Conversations with Miriam and Wilson

Conversations with Miriam and Wilson


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



As for Turner, I comprehend, but do not sympathize with, his spirit of vengeance, just as I comprehend, but do not sympathize with the spirit of revenge that led H. S. Truman to nuke Hiroshima.  It think it was wrong to incinerate helpless mothers and babes



  Books by Huey P. Newton

 Revolutionary Suicide  /  War Against the Panthers  / Huey P. Newton Reader / To Die for the People / The Genius of Huey P. Newton

In Search of Common Ground  / Insights and Poems / Essays from the Minister of Defense

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Conversations with Miriam and Wilson

Sufficiency of Love, Spirit of Revenge

Monstrous Acts, Slaughter’s Accomplishments

& Other Topics Related to Nathaniel Turner of Southampton


A Post-Katrina Political Discussion

Their love was sufficient

Miriam: Rudy, you have so many provocative ideas that deserve response, one by one.  I don’t always agree with each and every one, but I respect you and your opinions.  Right now I’m dealing with what I was talking about a couple of weeks ago:  the nitty gritty of life. I’ve spent the day with my 92-year-old mother and tomorrow I hit the road to check on three of my four children (the fourth, who is bipolar, has recently disappeared), spend some time with five of my seven grandchildren (the other two are away in college), hang out with close friends, do some research in the library, and hope I have some time and energy left for the special person in my life.  

I’m exhausted, but I still have to pack, clean up, answer messages, and send a box to friends who’ve fled New Orleans.  I just keep treading water and doing the best I can.  In the final analysis, that’s all we can do.  But I strongly believe that, if we don’t take care of the people whom we love, none of the other stuff matters.

Maybe that’s the question I’d ask Nathaniel Turner, David Walker,  and Huey P. Newton:  Did you love enough?

Rudy: Would love have stopped the destruction of an American city? Because of my idealism, which I admit readily, I say, yes. So in this particular case I’d say, yes, we did not love New Orleans sufficiently. We killed her because we did not care enough for her health. We did not care enough to secure her future, nor those of all its peoples.

We are skewed in how we use the word love. We care more about the comfort of the comfortable than that of the homeless. In all our piety we have a ghastly love for the poor, a depreciating respect for the ignorant, and no love for the conquered, however we profess otherwise, as when haters of the poor speak lovingly about the Iraqi people and doing what’s right for them. Our personal must have a social correlate or we sink merely into self-indulgence, and arrogance.

That mother who blew herself up the other day in Iraq, did she love her children? That slave woman who murdered her children did she love enough? Freedom or Death? Too much? Did Medgar? Sammy Younge? Did Malcolm? Martin? Other nameless brothers and sisters abused and jailed who defied the social controls that keep us prisoners as an inferior and undeserving race did they love enough? That’s a hard question to answer, easily.

The woman who raised me she’s 94. Could I have loved her more? I don’t think so? Maybe? Could I have done more? More of what was I was supposed to do? Maybe? She’s poor and dependent on government assistance. I don’t know. I did what I did. Turner did what he felt he was called to do. Maybe Walker did too. Certainly, in Revolutionary Suicide, Huey did what he thought required. Maybe, you’re right, there’s indeed something wrong with our loving.

Maybe, it is not whether our love, loves, lovers are sufficient, that is, the extent, the intensity (or depth) of our love, loves, lovers, that is not the problem at all. The problem may lie in its lack of focus, its nature, its direction. Your question is profound. So there’s no easy way to tell you I/we don’t love enough. Nor is there a way to really ask Turner did he love enough. On a personal level, I’d say he feared intimacy. For reasons that have the same source as that of the slave mother who murders her children, Turner did not father any children, contrary to the speculation by John Henrik Clarke that Nathaniel was a loving father. That is an unnecessary falsification, a negative kind of love.

That their loving intimacy is found lacking with women and children says something very significant, if one has ear to hear. In the case of these three men, they were enslaved most if not all their lives, that is, their lives were under such extreme social controls they were not allowed to pursue bourgeois love, neither could master his own household, be a provider for an aspiring wife, and be free.

Can love overcome the tax that society places on our black us-ness? Can love create a greater us-ness, we-ness? It has always been our hope. Huey went to China, which is a sign of his open we. Can our blackness be more than American? Can we love more than just the personal, our lover, our family, our home team. Can our love embrace all we? Yes, as a society our love is not enough.

As far as Turner, Walker, Newton—I’d say their love was sufficient. I thank them for it.

The Spirit of Revenge

Wilson: David Walker called for resistance, not mindless terrorism.    Walker’s goal was love; and he ended his Appeal with the wish for white and black Americans to become “a united and happy people.”  As for Turner, I comprehend, but do not sympathize with, his spirit of vengeance, just as I comprehend, but do not sympathize with the spirit of revenge that led H. S. Truman to nuke Hiroshima.  It think it was wrong to incinerate helpless mothers and babes, although I comprehend the hatred that led Truman to do it.   As for Huey Newton, I think he was just a screwed up guy, who refused to make use of the abilities God gave him.  A very pathetic figure, whom I can neither comprehend nor sympathize with.  

Rudy: I’d think your position outrageous, mindless, if you had not so carefully phrased your remarks. Yoking together Nathaniel Turner, Harry Truman, David Walker, and Huey P. Newton into the same paragraph is extraordinarily wonderful rhetorical construction. All four men, I believe, however, would wish for “a united and happy people.” They were all good Americans. I have no complaint I’m ready to press on either.

Yet that characteristic that allows you to set Walker aside as somehow peculiarly special is a smoking glass. There’s no footing there. You know nothing of his personal habits and you do not know whether he would have dropped an A-bomb on Nagasaki, or not. At best that would be wishful thinking. Jim Jones’s goal of love was admirable and we see the consequences of that love feast. Huey would call that reactionary suicide.

Oratory and stump speaking were once a path to freedom, societal elevation. Anything is better than being a “field nigger.” When oratory becomes a career and you’re paid tables filled with money which one balances one’s accounts, that is when the stench begins to trouble us. I’m not sure that I as well as you can distinguish “mindless terrorism” from other kinds of terrorism. I’m sure it must have some meaning for you that escapes me.

In all kinds of terror people, to say the least, are made uncomfortable and insecure. The Boston Tea Party, I’m told, the British king felt it was “mindless terrorism” the work of “hooligans” and the low life of Boston afraid to show their true colors. From the view of the South, the destruction of Atlanta and depriving people of home and food and a living was “mindless.” Work of the uncultivated, surely. The struggles for freedom in Algieria or in South Africa, those acts of violence too were viewed by some of the Establishment as “mindless terrorism.” That’s the standard MO position of the status quo.

Like Nixon, I’ve never had a course in ethics. I’ve had only a simple black peasant religious training. So I am not sure what should be done with “vengeance” in the context in which you have placed it. I’m not sure whether “vengeance” or “revenge” is applicable within a state of war. In an odd kind of way you have fused the personal, the political, and the religious.

With certainty, unless I just take a side, I cannot tell you that the destruction of  Fallujah was simply an act of vengeance (revenge for the murder of mercenaries, the public display of their mutilated bodies).  It had that feel coming from Cowboy Bush. Maybe some Sadaamists may also take that view. Or other Arab sympathizers. The US Marines and their war planners would explain the war for Fallujah in a military jargon that would come nowhere near your “vengeance.”

Slavery is a state of war. A people (men, women, and children) are contained by violence and made to work, abused in their sexuality, the integrity of person, to satisfy the extensive needs and privileges of the few. It is a life and death situation. When the non slaves have all the guns and all the societal controls with its instruments to deny food, water, clothing, rest, life—when these are all in the hands of a few, though freedom is sought, there’s great difficulty in equals meeting on the battlefield for glorious battle. The oppressed use all kinds of “underhanded” tactics.  In short, slave rebellions are messy. There’s no doubt about it, there were probably numerous My Lais and Abu Grahibs we never get to hear about, nor see.

As for the war that occurred in Southampton County, Virginia, 22 August 1831, I see it as war against a condition of slavery that was no longer tolerable under any ethical order that was then known. Is Freedom or Death, only noble when it pours from Patrick Henry’s mouth? Does the beauty of his mouth make war more palatable?

Humanity in how it dealt with humanity, in Cross Keys, had slipped to the very pit of darkness and sin. Pleads—for mercy when a child was taken away from a mother or a wife away from a husband or a daughter set upon by sex fiends—ears were sealed and righteousness trampled. What does manliness require of us in such hours? Individual acts of vengeance probably did occur in these instances, from running away to murder. “Mindless,” universal order ripped to threads, may apply in these instances.

What occurred at Fallujah, Hiroshima, Cross Keys, that was not “mindless,” far from it. Considerable military planning went into all three. The Pentagon and the Twin Towers were too planned, had too much mind in it. They could have simply planted some charges on the levees of New Orleans. They could have done more damage, had a greater impact, and crippled the nation to a farther extent than what happened in New York and DC. Less mind indeed could have make greater impact. But these cats were after tearing down symbols of power and economic health.

As far as Cross Keys, I’ve stated that Turner pulled off a journalistic coup. The Establishment wanted to know whether this rebellion was an aberration or did it have a greater breadth than Cross Keys. The authorities wanted to know whether these were just hooligans and lunatics, madmen. Only Turner could answer that question. They wanted him alive. Of course, the Establishment nevertheless came down with its usual rhetoric of “madmen” and “lunatics” and “criminals.” We are familiar with that kind of staging from our recent encounter with the rhetoric of authority in crisis. Turner played his trump card, turned himself in, told the story of the Rebellion, and had it published in Baltimore.

In the 1831 Confessions , my impression is not one of “vengeance” and “mindless terror.” Let’s stick to the document. That tells a different story from that of the status quo, the slavocracy and its courts and media. Admittedly, Turner’s rhetoric is couched in a Christian theology that is beyond the purview, understanding, and sympathy of most professional, academic historians. For Turner that has been a rough field to plow, its hilly ground is filled with rocks, clay, and crab grass.

That language of the 1831 Confessions  is not however beyond all understanding. Clearly, there was much mind, much commitment, and much secrecy that went into that effort to counter the war slavery waged on the Christian slaves of Cross Keys. I applaud it. It was one of the most marvelous, mysteriously wonderful events in all of American history. I sympathize with it. I’m not altogether sure I understand it. My religiosity lacks the depth of that which Turner possessed; my faith is not as sure-footed as his. He stood beyond Time. And I am just a poor scribbler, whiling away the hours.

As far as Huey, it is not my intent to place him on the auction block for sell. Place before you his particulars in sterling language. That ain’t my game. Every man’s life I agree stands on its particulars. One refuge is simply to paraphrase Matthew 7: Judge not that ye be judged. But that’s all beside the point. My interest is not in Huey’s personal life. All I place before you is Revolutionary Suicide. I find it more interesting than Fox or PBS.

Monsters & Monstrous Acts

Moses: Harry Truman did drop the bomb on Hiroshima.

Rudy: I’m willing to accept whatever is the standard American historical view of Truman and his orders to drop the atomic bomb on Japan. Indeed, it was a monstrous act. I wish he had not done it. And think I would not have given the order if I were in his shoes at that time. The disagreement is more about whether Truman was a monster. Of course such discerning would be easier if we equated “monstrous acts” with “monster,” that is, those who commit monstrous acts are monsters. But we do not do that. Of course, there are many more willing to allow that Turner was a monster in his killing. So you did well to bring Truman into the discussion. I think neither Truman not Turner was a monster. Nor do I think that those who plan “monstrous acts” (like Vesey and Prosser) are necessarily monsters. Clearly, there are indeed monsters.

Miriam: A useful distinction between “monster” and “monstrous act.”  I do not think that Truman was a monster;  I believe that he thought that he was doing the “right” thing to end the war against a country some of whose people were prepared to commit suicide rather than surrender.  And I don’t think that he or his advisors were fully aware of the extent and long-term devastation of a nuclear bomb.  I also believe, however, that dropping the bomb was a monstrous act.

What Slaughter Accomplishes

Miriam: Rudy, I’m enjoying the debate between you and Wilson, and dare not step into the fray.  You are the more eloquent wordsmith, but I’m afraid that I agree with him with respect to Turner and Newton.  I am against bloodshed and violence, period, except in the defense of life, so Turner’s “mindful” slaughter of innocent women and children is reprehensible to me, though I feel that he was motivated by a noble purpose and a divine calling.  I admire him and his followers, just as I respect John Brown and all of those who struck a blow against that inhuman and barbaric institution:  slavery.  But throughout history there has been so much slaughter for a Cause, be it political, social, economic, or religious (certainly, the worst kind).  To wit, the killing fields of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, of Auschwitz and Treblinka, the West Bank, Darfur, Jerusalem, Vietnam, Uganda, the Congo, you name it.  And for what?  To what purpose?  What did the slaughter accomplish? 

Rudy: I can appreciate your squeamishness when it comes to the spilling of blood. I too think that killing (murder) cannot be justified, but that it can be understood, in some cases, as you point out, in cases of self-defense. But it’s in the exception, that it all becomes murky. It was on the rock of self-defense that Bush launched his war on Iraq and Sadaam. It was on the defense of the Union, that Lincoln launched a war against the South that led to the slaughter of over 600,000 Americans. Sometimes there were more than 10 thousand dead in just one battle. Our foreparents—my grandfather’s father and his mother—believed that that great slaughter had meaning, that it accomplished God’s purpose and promise.

Auschwitz, would there have been any survivors, at all, if there had not been a march of murder from the seas to Germany? Did murder to save people from murder did it have a meaning, we usually thank that it did. Our usual question, however, is should we have done our murdering earlier to prevent some of the murdering that was being done on an unarmed Jewish population across Europe.

Whether the killing is “mindful” or “mindless” a person is dead, I wail with you in that death. My tears for those dead in New Orleans as a result of human carelessness and lack of caring might be however greater than the murder and death of those SS who perpetuated the Holocaust or the death of slaveholding children at Cross Keys.

I  can get with, however, that sentiment that that every death diminishes me.

The spilling of blood is universal in order to establish some human order. There is no way we will get around that one, anytime soon, in that human order must be had.

You might say then that the spilling of blood (by person or state) is never meaningless, though on a personal level it may be mindless. We may or may not desire it. It is something even now we will not escape. I for one, though a pacifist who never owned a gun and never pointed one at another person, would prefer military intervention in Darfur, as I would have in the case of Rwanda. So though I hate killing, despise war, in some cases, I would recommend and support murder that a higher end may exist.

Before I go, let me divest you of the notion that at Cross Keys there were “innocent women and children” killed. I don’t know how you acquired that notion. But that is just not true. There were “innocent women and children” not killed. In any event, I always find it strange that white women and children always come to the fore before any thought of the black women and children that were killed before and after 22 August 1831.

Nathaniel Turner, let me remind you, was owned by a nine-year old boy. A child had title on his life and a child received from the state the cost for Turner’s person when the state took his life. So you are quite mistaken that the women and children of the slaveholding regime were innocents, when a white child could inherit the life of a black child, and when that same child could assert his authority over that property.

Let me restate my view. I am not a killer. I do not recommend killing. I have never taken a human life. I am for peace. I think we should all be for peace. Our differences we should seek to settle them in peace. The status quo can be such that only war can sustain human dignity. I think that Nathaniel Turner and Huey P. Newton would buy into all that. Whatever else they did in defense of black life and black freedom, I’ll buy into that. No squeamishness.

posted 1 October 2005

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

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

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

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

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Ancient African Nations

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

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update 20 April 2010 




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