ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes




From their point of view the wealthy landowners had good cause to heap curses on this precious French Revolution. The Colony was the greatest supplier in the world of sugar, coffee, cocoa, cotton, precious woods, and spices; in 1789 its prosperity was almost fabulous



Jean Baptiste Chavannes                                                                                                            Vincent Ogé



Books on Haiti and the Caribbean

Hubert Cole. Christophe: King of Haiti. New York: The Viking Press, 1967.

C.L.R. James. The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution (1938)

Edourad Gissant. Caribbean Doscourse (2004)  /  Barbara Harlow. Resistance Literature (1987)

Josaphat B. Kubayanda. The Poet’s Africa: Africanness in the Poetry of Nicolas Guillen and Aime Cesaire (1990)


Myriam J. A. Chancy. Framing Silence: Revolutionary Novels by Haitian Women (1997)

Paul Laraque and Jack Hirschman.  Open Gate An Anthology of Haitian Creole Poetry (2001)

David P. Geggus, ed. The Impact of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World.  University of South Carolina Press, 2001.

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L’Affranchi (French Mulattos)

Or the Tragedy of Vincent Ogé

Echoes of the Bastille


The Fall of the Bastille on July 14, 1789, symbolized the destruction of an epoch which went back to the Middle Ages. It threatened the dogmas which had for so long been the pillars of an aristocratic society based on privilege and injustice, and held the promise of a new order of freedom and brotherhood.

The message of revolt was heard by all peoples and races, and, like the Sermon on the Mount, its appeal was disturbing and overwhelming. In every corner of the world the oppressed and enslaved harkened; they pulled and tugged at their chains, not least in the island of Saint Domingue. Here, where slavery kept seven hundred thousand [700,000] men and women in wretchedness, the burning voice of France was to resound with an intensity greater than anywhere else.

The freed slaves [mainly mulattos, freed at age 24] of the island were the first to respond to the march of events. realizing their chance to win the political rights rigidly denied by the landowners, they met and appointed delegates to present their claims in Paris. the most remarkable of the three deputies chosen was Vincent Ogé, a young quadroon from Dondon, distinguished for his intelligence and audacity.

The outbreak of the revolution had surprised him in Paris, where his father, a rich landowner, had sent him for his education. His enthusiasm brought him into touch with the revolutionary authorities, and he was allowed to plead his cause before the National Assembly [1789]. His sincerity and the picture he drew of the condition of the freedmen of Saint Domingue made such a deep impression on the Assembly that the president declared that “no part of the Nation would plead in vain for its rights before the representatives of the French people.”

Vincent Ogé Before the National Assembly

Ogé and his colleagues associated themselves with what was known as the Club des Amis des Noirs, a Negrophile organization which advocated the ideal of equality. Established in 1778 by Brissot de Varville, the Society numbered among its members the principal figures of the Revolution, among them Mirabeau, the Duke [François De La Rochefoucauld [-Liancourt (1747-1827), the philanthropist], Lafayetee, the Abbé Grégoire, Siéyès, Condorcet, Dupont de Nemours, and Vergniaud. 

As a result of the Society’s representation the Assembly pronounced decrees recognizing in full the political rights of the freed men of Saint Domingue, and granting them the same status as that enjoyed by the white men.

During a stormy session the question was debated whether or not this privilege should be extended to all the Negroes in the island. Barnaves, a Girondian who represented the interests of the great landowners of Saint Domingue, protested strongly against this suggestion. He declared that the Assembly should intervene only at the instance of the respective colonial assemblies, and that to decide in favour of the slaves would not only be premature, but would lead to an outbreak of disorder which would end in France losing her fairest colony.

The answer to Barnave came from Maximilien Robespierre, who, after a violent tirade against slave-drivers and tyrants, ended his speech with the following words: “If the Assembly decides in favour of this view, it will be announcing its own dishonour, let the colonies perish if we are to sacrifice our freedom and our glory in order to preserve them!” His words fired Adrien du Port, who leapt to his feet with the famous maxim: “Perish the colonies, rather than a principle!”

Barnave’s motion was defeated, but the Assembly took no decision on the slaves. meanwhile, the two decrees affecting freed men were sent to saint Domingue, but the Governor, M. de Peynier, being completely under the thumb of the great planters who formed the assemblies of saint Marc and Cap Français, was unable to enforce them. Before we trace the events that began with the landowners’ resistance to the decrees, we must, however, look at the situation in the Colony in 1789.

A Social Overview of Saint Domingue

At that time Saint Domingue was a huge melting-pot in which a score of heterogeneous groups and violently conflicting interests boiled and bubbled. On the one hand were the great planters [grand blancs], determined to go to any lengths to preserve their privileges, even if it meant breaking off relations with France. Then there were the less important white men [petit blancs]–craftsmen, artisans, overseers, and the like–who regarded themselves as having as great a claim to the spoils of the Colony as the planters, whom they were ready to supplant if the opportunity arose, though violently opposing any improvement in the status of the freed men. 

These last, in turn, were firmly resolved to seize the political rights which were their due, but they were not in the least interested in the fate of the slaves. Finally, there were the slaves themselves, whose aim, though still inarticulate, was to put an end tot heir torments by fire and sword.

From their point of view the wealthy landowners had good cause to heap curses on this precious French Revolution. The Colony was the greatest supplier in the world of sugar, coffee, cocoa, cotton, precious woods, and spices; in 1789 its prosperity was almost fabulous. The island ports had been visited by vessels from every part of the world, and the turnover amounted to two-thirds of France’s overseas trade.

The leisurely, comfortable way of life of the eighteenth century, so frequently celebrated and lamented, reached its apogee in Saint Domingue. Life possessed an unimaginable splendour in which all that Nature and man could contrive to delight the senses was entirely at the disposal of the great planters. As they indulged in all the excesses of unbridled luxury, their moral sense was completely perverted.

In particular, the Marquis of Caradeux, the Count of La Toison-Laboule, and the Viscount of Flonc carried human wickedness to its uttermost limits. On the slightest pretetxt Negroes would be thrown alive in a standing position, with their heads above the ground, which would then be smeared with  syrup to whet the appetites of the ants, so that the wretched victims were glad to be stoned to death by their own compassionate comrades. 

Another torture was the “four-stake death,” from which not even pregnant Negresses were exempt. Each of the four limbs was lashed to a post while the victim was flogged to death. Many slaves were hung up by the ribs and left to die, such cruelties being daily occurrences.

The less important whites [petit blancs], envious of the wealth and grand airs of the great landowners, were only too eager to ill treat and exploit the mulattoes and Negroes. Not all of them were French; many were Italians, Greeks, Portuguese, and Spaniards, mostly escaped gallows-birds. The presence of these men constituted a constant threat of anarchy and disorder in the Colony.

The mulattoes or half castes, born of the union of white men and “lascivious Negresses” (to use Father Labat’s phrase), formed a group apart. Some were well educated and possessed lands and slaves; but this did not protect them from the universal scorn and contempt of the white men. Excluded from all public functions, and obliged to bear the insults and outrages of a society largely based on racial discrimination, the mulattoes hated all whites, not excepting their own fathers.

In the streets they were forced to make way for the humblest white man; at the theatre and in church they had to site apart. They in turn spurned any association with the Negroes, upon whom they looked down from the ethical height of their yellow complexions. Nor did their race prejudice stop at this, for they even subdivided themselves into as many as twelve categories according to the mixture of their blood–fair, dark, albino, and so forth. 

And the whole society rested on the oppressed Negroes. Ill fed, they toiled in the factories or on the land, and were subject to all manner of physical and moral degradation.

Saint Domingue was thus a mosaic of races, a society sated with wealth, vice, suffering, vanity, misery, and indulgence–a melting pot of contrasts in which various irreconcilable forces were bound in the end to flare up into a vast conflagration, even without the spark of the year 1789 to set it off.

Vincent Ogé Returns to Saint Domingue

It was to this state of affairs that Vincent Ogé, the ardent delegate of the freed men to the national Assembly, now returned from France. he arrived on the night of October 21, 1790, on board a ship flying the American the American flag which sailed into the diminutive bay of Petite Anse. Two days later he presented himself before the Colonial Assembly of Cap Français. With the vehemence of the age he appealed to the “sensibility” of the great landowners and to their respect for “immortal principles,” and besought them to give effect to the two decrees of March 8 and March 28, whereby the National Assembly granted full civic status to the mulattoes.

The members of the Colonial Assembly replied that in no circumstances would they grant within the Colony full civil and political equality to the descendants of the Negro race. Ogé pleaded with them, now beseeching, now threatening, but his words were greeted with derision. Nothing daunted, he told his hearers that the revolution had raised up a new spirit in France and that the revolution had raised up a new spirit in France and that this opposition to the National Assembly’s orders was sheer rebellion, for which they would have to pay dearly. The landowners, exasperated by this impertinence, authorized their President, Archbishop Thibaud, to have the delegate expelled from the building.

Angered by this rebuff, the freed men decided to take up arms. At a meeting held in Limonade to work out a plan of action Ogé insisted on exclusion of the slaves from the freed men’s ranks, but Jean Baptiste Chavannes, either more generous or more farsighted, objected to this, maintaining that there was a natural solidarity between the freed men and the slaves, the result of their common blood and suffering. He declared also that the whole cause of freedom depended on the support of the Negroes.

Ogé was unable to see this, and Chavannes, suspecting that his friend had been won over by the slave-owners, turned on him violently: “Do you secretly cherish the terrible project of separating our cause from that of our original stock?” “I do but obey,” replied Ogé, “the decrees of the National Assembly, which refer only to freed men.”

Vincent Ogé’s rising was disastrous. At the head of a contingent of two hundred young coloured men he appeared before the colonial authorities and summarily ordered them to promulgate forthwith the decrees of the Convention which recognized their civil and political rights. But in his ultimatum he particularly emphasized his attitude to the Negroes: “I shall, however, do nothing to stir up the slaves: such a course of action would be unworthy of me.”

The Colonial Assembly’s reply was to attack the rebels with the National Guard of Cap Français and with a contingent of irregular soldiers. The Assembly mustered eight hundred men in all, and the insurgents, after holding out a few days, were overthrown at La Tannerie, near Cap Français. The survivors of the rebel army, among them Ogé and Chavannes, fled tot he Spanish part of the island, but were handed over to the Colonial Assembly by Don Joaquín García, the Governor of Santo Domingo. 

A tribunal composed of landowners then judged and sentenced the captives:  Ogé, Chavannes, and six others were to die on the wheel; nineteen of their comrades were sent to the galleys for life, and twenty-two more were hanged.

In full state the members of the colonial assembly met to see their sentence carried out on Ogé and Chavannes. this was done in the Place d’ Armes on February 25, 1791. Ogé was unable to resist the terrible torture, and the pain maddened him. he screamed, wept, and besought their mercy, but Chavannes, scornfully stoic, did not utter a word of complaint as the wheel crushed his bones one by one.

The Tragic Dilemma of L’Affranchi

This episode reveals the moral content of the drama in which the mulattoes of Saint Domingue were the victims. Two bloods and two heredities waged perpetual warfare within their nature. Despite the contempt with which he was regarded by the white man, the mulatto felt a stronger attraction to that side of his nature that he did to his degraded, unhappy, and illiterate Negro brother.

In a colonial society, based on slavery and discrimination according to the colour of a man’s skin, the mulatto was socially the Negro’s superior, and it was therefore reasonable that he should have nothing to do with him. Custom had eventually become an unwritten law, so that all mulattoes, at the age of twenty-four were automatically set free. In 1674 the King had decreed that “all the children of slaves are slaves.” 

This instruction, however, never became operative, and the mulatto continued to enjoy the privilege conferred on him by reason of his percentage of white blood, so that few of his number ever became slaves. The usual practice was for the landowner to see that his illegitimate son was educated, grant him his protection, set him up in life, and give him land and slaves. There was thus created in the island a kind of middle class, which ranked half-way between the masters and the slaves.

Every age produces its own ethical code, and it is therefore necessary, if we are to understand the psychology of the freed man, l’affranchi, who disassociated his own cause from that of the Negro masses, to understand the mentality and the social atmosphere of the period. The dogma which held sway in Saint Domingue was that anything that linked with Africa by the slightest drop of blood was abject and degrading, and branded with an inferiority of which it could never be rid. From this belief arose the mulatto’s tendency to shake off the race to which a detestable fate had bound him.

His black blood was a cause of unending personal suffering to him, and he would do almost anything to overcome the colour bar. All freed men, whether Negro or mulatto, had special seats set aside for them at the theatre and in church, but the mulattos would “haughtily refused to have anything to do with the Negroes.”

There were, moreover, strictly material considerations which influenced Ogé and his followers in their decisions to have nothing to do with the slaves when presenting their claims. The freed men owned nearly a third [1/3]of all the slaves in the colony; to set them free would have meant financial disaster. Moreover, a political factor militated against a union of the mulattoes and the Negroes, for the revolutionary Government was not yet prepared to include Negroes in the affranchisement it advocated for everyone dwelling on French soil.


In his famous message to the Mulattoes of Saint Domingue, the Abbé Gregoire, a famous opponent of slavery, wrote: “The Assembly has not yet associated the Negroes with yourselves because suddenly to grant full civil rights to persons who are not acquainted with the duties of a citizen might merely lead them to disaster. But do not forget that, like yourselves, they are born free and remain free as all men do. It is you who are accused, even more than the white men, of cruelty to the Negroes.”

For the mulatto to be cured of his foolish outlook, and to be forced eventually to unite with the Negro, he had to suffer repeated setbacks in isolated attempts to win his natural rights.

He had first to learn the lesson of the lash in order to realize the white man’s unwavering scorn of him. Only then did the mulatto lose his illusions and understand that it was his Negro half-brother who had the more abiding affection for him, and that destiny had cast them in the same mould, so that they might face their common executioners and either conquer or perish side by side.

Source: Stephen Alexis. Black Liberator: The Life of Toussaint L’ Ouverture. London: Ernest Benn, 1949.

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Noam Chomsky: US role in Haiti destruction  /  Ezili Danto live in Miami

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Haiti: Coping with the aftermath / Haiti’s Enduring Creativity (video) / Haiti Earthquake: The Hidden Holocaust (video)

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27 Days

Dedicated to Monsieur Monsignac, his fellow survivors and those passed on

Written by Keenan Norris and Alexandria White

Originally performed by Alexandria White and Darold Rawls at Evergreen Valley College, San Jose, CA

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Alice Dunbar-Nelson: People of Color in Louisiana, Part I. The Journal of Negro History VOL. I., No. 4 October, 1916

The title of a possible discussion of the Negro in Louisiana presents difficulties, for there is no such word as Negro permissible in speaking of this State. The history of the State is filled with attempts to define, sometimes at the point of the sword, oftenest in civil or criminal courts, the meaning of the word Negro. By common consent, it came to mean in Louisiana, prior to 1865, slave, and after the war, those whose complexions were noticeably dark. As Grace King so delightfully puts it, “The pure-blooded African was never called colored, but always Negro.” The gens de couleur, colored people, were always a class apart, separated from and superior to the Negroes, ennobled were it only by one drop of white blood in their veins. The caste seems to have existed from the first introduction of slaves. To the whites, all Africans who were not of pure blood were gens de couleur. Among themselves, however, there were jealous and fiercely-guarded distinctions: “griffes, briqués, mulattoes, quadroons, octoroons, each term meaning one degree’s further transfiguration toward the Caucasian standard of physical perfection.”


1. King, “New Orleans, the Place and the People during the Ancien Regime,” 333.

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The Haitian Revolution, 1791 to 1804: Or, Side Lights On the French Revolution

By Theophilus Gould Steward

This is a reproduction of a book published before 1923. This book may have occasional imperfections such as missing or blurred pages, poor pictures, errant marks, etc. that were either part of the original artifact, or were introduced by the scanning process. We believe this work is culturally important, and despite the imperfections, have elected to bring it back into print as part of our continuing commitment to the preservation of printed works worldwide. We appreciate your understanding of the imperfections in the preservation process, and hope you enjoy this valuable book.—

The Haitian Revolution, 1791 to 1804. By T. G. Steward. Thomas Y. Crowell Company, New York, 1915. 292 pages. $1.25.

Reviewed by J.R. Fauset. The Journal of Negro History. Vol. I., No. 1, January. 1916.

In the days when the internal dissensions of Haiti are again thrusting her into the limelight such a book as this of Mr. Steward assumes a peculiar importance. It combines the unusual advantage of being both very readable and at the same time historically dependable. At the outset the author gives a brief sketch of the early settlement of Haiti, followed by a short account of her development along commercial and racial lines up to the Revolution of 1791. The story of this upheaval, of course, forms the basis of the book and is indissolubly connected with the story of Toussaint L’Overture. To most Americans this hero is known only as the subject of Wendell Phillips’s stirring eulogy. As delineated by Mr. Steward, he becomes a more human creature, who performs exploits, that are nothing short of marvelous. Other men who have seemed to many of us merely names—Rigaud, Le Clerc, Desalines, and the like–are also fully discussed.

Although most of the book is naturally concerned with the revolutionary period, the author brings his account up to date by giving a very brief resumé of the history of Haiti from 1804 to the present time. This history is marked by the frequent occurrence of assassinations and revolutions, but the reader will not allow himself to be affected by disgust or prejudice at these facts particularly when he is reminded, as Mr. Steward says, “that the political history of Haiti does not differ greatly from that of the majority of South American Republics, nor does it differ widely even from that of France.”

The book lacks a topical index, somewhat to its own disadvantage, but it contains a map of Haiti, a rather confusing appendix, a list of the Presidents of Haiti from 1804 to 1906 and a list of the names and works of the more noted Haitian authors. The author does not give a complete bibliography. He simply mentions in the beginning the names of a few authorities consulted.—J. R. Fauset.

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Mockingbirds at Jerusalem (poetry Manuscript)

*   *   *   *   *’s 25 Best Selling Books

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#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

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#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

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#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

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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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Greenback Planet: How the Dollar Conquered

the World and Threatened Civilization as We Know It

By H. W. Brands

In Greenback Planet, acclaimed historian H. W. Brands charts the dollar’s astonishing rise to become the world’s principal currency. Telling the story with the verve of a novelist, he recounts key episodes in U.S. monetary history, from the Civil War debate over fiat money (greenbacks) to the recent worldwide financial crisis. Brands explores the dollar’s changing relations to gold and silver and to other currencies and cogently explains how America’s economic might made the dollar the fundamental standard of value in world finance. He vividly describes the 1869 Black Friday attempt to corner the gold market, banker J. P. Morgan’s bailout of the U.S. treasury, the creation of the Federal Reserve, and President Franklin Roosevelt’s handling of the bank panic of 1933. Brands shows how lessons learned (and not learned) in the Great Depression have influenced subsequent U.S. monetary policy, and how the dollar’s dominance helped transform economies in countries ranging from Germany and Japan after World War II to Russia and China today. He concludes with a sobering dissection of the 2008 world financial debacle, which exposed the power–and the enormous risks–of the dollar’s worldwide reign.  The Economy

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Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays

Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis 

Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America. This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as “the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field ‘cut their teeth’.”

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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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Negro Digest / Black World

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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 /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

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

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update 6 May 2010




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