ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



I came to Howard and I have remained at Howard because of my abiding

commitment to the education of black students. This was my personal “ministry”

and I have gained immense personal satisfaction from its pursuit.



From HBCUs to BCUs

Mordecai’s Dream Is in Serious Jeopardy

By Roy L. Beasley


I came to Howard University in 1972 because of two people who had substantial impact on my career aspirations. My grandmother lived outside a small town in Alabama—quite a distance from New York City, where I grew up, so I only saw her a few times when I was a child. But somehow she instilled a profound notion in my small brain: to become “a credit to my race”—an ambition that was commonly encouraged back then. My mother’s oldest brother, the patriarch of our extended family, was my “Uncle Doc”; but in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, he was “Doc Cromwell,” a highly-respected member of the black community. He was a successful dentist/entrepreneur who had graduated from Howard University’s School of Dentistry. His success convinced me that I could also succeed.

By the time I was 17, I knew that I wanted to become a college professor; and by the time I completed my doctoral courses at Harvard University, I knew that I wanted to teach black students. Back then, it seemed to me that historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, provided the best opportunities to pursue this goal. My uncle’s influence focused my attention on Howard.

Like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Dr. Mordecai Wyatt Johnson, the first black president of Howard University (from 1926 till 1960), had a dream. He dreamed that Howard could recruit talented black students from the smallest backwater towns in the Deep South or from the most dismal inner-city neighborhoods of the Northeast—students who might have significant academic shortcomings. Through the brilliance of our teaching we would provide these diamonds in the rough with an excellent education that would enable them to graduate in four years and enjoy successful careers thereafter. Arriving at Howard in 1972, I was not indoctrinated by President Johnson himself, but by successors who subscribed to a more pragmatic version of his dream. If students lacked academic prerequisites and/or had financial problems, they might need five years to graduate while working part-time jobs; but certainly the vast majority of our serious students would complete their studies in six years. Graduate students might also need one or two more years than was normally required to complete their programs.

From 1972 until 1988, while I was a full-time classroom instructor, I was firmly committed to this amended vision and I was proud of the fact that most of the students in my department did, in fact, graduate more or less on time and enjoyed considerable success after graduation. And in my capacity as editor of the Gateway to HBCUs website since 1995, I have come to understand that most, if not all HBCUs embraced some version of Dr. Johnson‘s dream. As HBCUs, it was our raison d’etre, our most impressive claim to fame.

I did not come to Howard nor did I stay at Howard all of these years because it was one of the nation’s premier research universities. Indeed, I am deeply offended by suggestions that Howard’s lack of the stellar research record of a Stanford or a Harvard invalidates the powerful vision that generated so many extraordinary contributions to our nation and to the world in years past. I came to Howard and I have remained at Howard because of my abiding commitment to the education of black students. This was my personal “ministry” and I have gained immense personal satisfaction from its pursuit.

But in recent years I have been troubled by the realization that, were I a much younger version of myself today and had a newly minted Ph.D. from Harvard, Stanford, or some other comparably-esteemed university, I might not choose to teach at Howard or at any other HBCU. Why? Because the historic tenet that HBCUs provided the best opportunities for teaching black students has become a debatable proposition, not just because of the desegregation of non-HBCUs, but because most HBCUs have not adapted their historic missions to the changing circumstances of today’s academic environment. In other words, I have become concerned that Mordecai’s dream is in serious jeopardy.

If the nation’s non-HBCUs were doing a satisfactory job in educating African American students, there would be no need for HBCUs. Unfortunately, the graduation rates for African Americans at all but the most selective non-HBCUs remain substantially lower than the graduation rates for white and Asian American students. In other words, almost 60 years after African Americans entered the mainstream of U.S. higher education, the results have been far less satisfactory than we hoped. Closing the gaps between the academic achievements of African American students and their white and Asian American peers is taking much longer than we expected. Why?

Accordingly, in the desegregated New Millennium, all of the nation’s colleges and universities are challenged to become more effective educators of the nation’s black students; hence all must embrace some version of Mordecai’s dream. The following paragraphs present a version of the dream that I developed over the course of the last six months while providing technical support for a comprehensive academic renewal process at Howard.

It’s time to leave the “historical” HBCUs to history. Whereas back in the early 1970s, over 80 percent of African American college students still attended HBCUs, not even 20 percent do so today; and the long-term trend is further downward. In other words, the days in which HBCUs were the largest suppliers of postsecondary educational opportunities for African Americans are over. Given the magnitude of the new challenges, the nation would be well advised to stimulate the development of a number of innovative institutions which, for now, I will call “BCUs.” Their core mission would have two components, the first of which would be to develop, demonstrate, and disseminate more effective methods for educating the nation’s African American students. Please note that the following paragraphs propose specifications for BCUs that are already met in whole or in part by many existing HBCUs, but their core missions are different.

Development and transfer of more effective teaching methods (core mission). BCUs would provide leadership for other colleges and universities by conducting research that identified more effective methods for teaching black students; by their success in using their findings; and by their subsequent efforts to disseminate their innovations throughout the U.S. system of higher education via publications, conferences, training programs, etc.

Racially diverse student body. While black enrollments at BCUs might be higher than at non-BCUs, the effectiveness of BCUs as leaders of non-BCUs would be undermined if BCUs had black enrollments that were substantially higher than 50 percent. Methods that only worked in predominantly black environments (if such methods exist) could not be adopted by non-BCUs.

Racially diverse faculty. Most of the faculty at non-BCUs are not black, so innovations that only enhanced the performance of black students if they were carried out by black instructors could not be adopted by non-BCUs. This can’t be a “black thing.” Furthermore, in STEM fields—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—this ideal becomes an inescapable reality. The persistence of the Digital Divide guarantees that BCUs would be hard pressed to hire all-black faculty in STEM even if they wanted to. Fortunately, non-black academics who are devoted to providing better educational opportunities for black students have always been available. Since my arrival at Howard in 1972, I have had the pleasure of working with many dedicated, non-black professors who shared my “ministry.” And one more thing: being black may provide black instructors with an initial edge, but it certainly does not confer a lifelong monopoly on insights as to how to teach black students more effectively.

Gender balance in enrollments, retention, and graduation. The loss of black males at every level of our school system is a national catastrophe . . . and white males are also fading. Therefore, BCUs would be charged with conducting research whose findings would enable them to recruit entering classes (and transfers) that were more or less 50 percent male regardless of race; to retain males at high levels regardless of race; and to graduate male students at more or less the same rate as female students, again regardless of race.

Racially diverse administration. In the New Millennium even the smallest college or university becomes a complex institution whose conflicting obligations to its faculty, staff, students, and alumni; its donors and creditors; and its federal, state, and local regulators require comparably complex managerial skills that have no demonstrable relationship to a manager’s race. Therefore I submit that it would be counterproductive to insist that a BCU’s management—i.e., its president, provost, deans and chairs—be predominantly black. Just as being black does not give black instructors a monopoly on insights as to how to teach black students more effectively, I can’t see how being black confers superior managerial insights. The primary qualifications should be proven skills as academic leaders and the capacity to fully commit to the defining mission of the BCU.

Undergraduate STEM programs. One of the most pernicious manifestations of the persistence of racism in our society is embodied in the phenomenon called “stereotype threat” wherein black students (and members of other groups afflicted by prejudice) underperform whenever they perceive (rightly or wrongly) that other people expect them to do poorly just because they are black. Not only do black students underperform, they also tend to avoid stereotype threat situations by changing majors and/or by not seeking careers in fields wherein they think that they might be more likely to encounter stereotype threat. Needless to say, stereotype threat is strongest in STEM fields. Consequently, BCUs must focus considerable energies on developing more effective methods for teaching STEM subjects to black students.

Two-year and four-year BCUs. It’s not enough for BCUs to provide a better education for their own black students; they must also determine why they were more effective and which factors were most significant. Answers to these questions will be obtained through multi-year research projects that employ sophisticated statistical assessment procedures. Although the faculty at most two-year and four-year colleges don’t have the time or the technical expertise to conduct such research, two-year and four-year BCUs can finesse both shortfalls by entering into strategic partnerships with university-level BCUs.

Continuing education and distance learning. As information technology accelerates innovation throughout all sectors of our society, everybody will have to go back to school from time to time. Therefore BCUs would also run programs for non-traditional students, i.e., older students whose family and/or work obligations preclude their enrolling in courses that meet during daytime hours on weekdays—in other words, students who have to take courses on evenings and weekends or via distance learning.

Research initiatives and related graduate programs (core mission). Repeated mention has been made of BCU research designed to identify more effective methods for teaching African American students. The second component of a BCU’s mission would be its commitment to conducting high-quality research on issues that have disproportionately negative impact on African Americans and on other peoples of color in Africa and throughout the African Diaspora. BCUs would also offer masters and Ph.D. programs whose students would learn how to extend or apply this research. Some examples of these “real world” research issues are noted below:

—Dysfunctional urban school systems, especially as they impact underperforming black males.

—Hypertension, obesity, diabetes, drug addiction, AIDS, and other health problems related to diet and lifestyle that have disproportionate impacts on black communities.

—Environmental impact of toxic waste disposal.

—Development and transfer of low cost technologies for housing, water purification, and energy (wind, solar, etc).

—Recovery from earthquakes, floods, and other catastrophes whose negative impact on poor communities is exacerbated by inadequate infrastructures—e.g., New Orleans and Haiti.

On a personal note with regard to the last example, I was recently gratified to learn that one of my former graduate students provided tangible relief to the victims of the Haitian earthquake (January 2010) via the low-cost, solar-powered bakeries that she had organized in the hill country outside of the earthquake’s epicenter. So while I was watching the depressing video clips like millions of other sympathetic but ineffectual TV tourists, she was in thick of things, feeding 1500 earthquake victims per week! Wouldn’t it be great if BCUs became THE “go to” sources of expertise that provided reliable relief whenever such “catastrophes of color” occurred?

Given these core components, which HBCUs will evolve into BCUs? How many other MSIs (“minority-serving institutions”) will elect to do so? And how many of the highly profitable for-profit universities that have been so successful in their recent efforts to recruit African American students—e.g., Phoenix, Kaplan, Strayer, and DeVry—will see the long-term profit opportunities to be gained from the know-how they might derive from sponsoring successful BCUs? Given the magnitude of the challenges, I submit that the nation should actively encourage the emergence of high-quality BCUs within each of these groups.

3 August 2010

Roy L. Beasley is academic systems analyst in the Office of the Provost at Howard University.

Source: Inside Higher Ed

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Mordecai Wyatt Johnson (January 4, 1890 – September 10, 1976) was an American educator. He served as the first black president of Howard University, from 1926 until 1960. (See photo above right.)

Johnson was born in Paris, Tennessee, the son of former slaves Reverend Wyatt J. Johnson and Carolyn Freeman. Johnson received his B.A. from Morehouse College in 1911, and second bachelor of arts degree from the University of Chicago two years later.[1] He studied at several other institutions of higher education, including the Rochester Theological Seminary, Harvard University, Howard University, and the Gammon Theological Seminary.[1] He married Anna Ethelyn Gardner on December 25, 1916. They had five children.

On June 26, 1926 Johnson was unanimously elected President of Howard University, becoming the first permanent African American to head that institution. He served until 1960. Prior to his appointment Johnson had served as Professor of Economics and History at Morehouse. He had also served as Pastor of the First Baptist Church in Charleston, West Virginia. Wikipedia

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Mordecai [Wyatt Johnson] was pastor of the Second Baptist Church in Mumford, New York while at Rochester.  In 1916, he married Anna Ethelyn Gardner of Augusta, Georgia.  They had three sons and two daughters.  Mordecai was a secretary of the International Committee of the YMCA, working in the southwestern field from 1916-1917.  A year later, he became pastor of the First Baptist Church of Charleston, West Virginia, and established a reputation as a brilliant orator and “community organizer.”  In 1922 Harvard University presented to Mordecai the degree of Master of Science in theology.  In 1923 Howard University presented to him the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity.  A similar degree was conferred upon him by the Gammon Theological Seminar in 1928.

Mordecai was appointed the thirteenth and first African-American president of Howard University in 1926.  On June 10, 1927, Dr. Johnson delivered his Inauguaral Address as President of Howard University.  He held that position for thirty-four years.  Dr. Mordecai Johnson died in the year 1976. Howard in Cyberspace

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In 1922, when he graduated from Harvard Divinity School, [Mordecai Wyatt] Johnson was chosen to give the commencement address which he titled: “The Faith of the American Negro.” Four years later Mordecai Johnson was appointed the thirteenth and first permanent African American president of Howard University, a position he held for the next thirty-four years.  

Under Johnson, Howard became one of the nation’s leading universities and, certainly, the leading African American university. He was responsible for raising substantial sums from both Congress and private donors. The number of faculty tripled, the salaries doubled, academic and admission requirements were toughened, and Johnson insisted on devoting resources to accreditation of Howard’s graduate and professional schools.

Howard University hired excellent, outspoken scholars such as E. Franklin Frazier in sociology, Ralph Bunche in political science, Charles R. Drew in medicine, and John Hope Franklin and Rayford W. Logan in history. Charles Hamilton Houston, the dean of the law school, was the architect of the legal strategy that led to the 1954 Supreme Court decision, Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. Wyatt Mordecai Johnson died in 1976. Howard Reference

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Brief History of Howard University

In November 1866, shortly after the end of the Civil War, members of the First Congregational Society of Washington considered establishing a theological seminary for the education of African-American clergymen. Within a few weeks, the concept expanded to include a provision for establishing a University. Within two years, the University consisted of the colleges of Liberal Arts and Medicine. The new institution was named for General Oliver O. Howard, a Civil War hero who was both a founder of the University and, at the same time, commissioner of the Freedman’s Bureau.

The University charter as enacted by Congress and subsequently approved by President Andrew Johnson on March 2, 1867, designated Howard University as “a University for the education of youth in the liberal arts and sciences.” The Freedmen’s Bureau provided most of the early financial support of the University. In 1879, Congress approved a special appropriation for the University. The charter was amended in 1928 to authorize an annual federal appropriation for construction, development, improvement and maintenance of the University.

In 1926, when Dr. Mordecai Wyatt Johnson, Howard’s first black president, assumed the presidency of Howard, the University was comprised of eight schools and colleges, none of which held national accreditation. The institution’s enrollment during this year stood at 1,700 and its budget at $700,000. By the time Johnson retired 34 years later, the University boasted of 10 schools and colleges, all fully accredited; 6,000 students; a budget of $8 million, the addition of 20 new buildings including an expanded physical plant; and a greatly enlarged faculty that included some of the most prominent black scholars of the day. Another key indicator of the University’s enhanced academic status was the 1955 inauguration of graduate programs that had the authority to grant the Ph.D degree. History of Howard U

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In Search of the Talented Tenth

Howard University Public Intellectuals and the Dilemmas of Race, 1926-1970

 By Zachery R. Williams


A distinctive take on the contributions of Howard University intellectuals that provides a model of how contemporary Africana Studies professionals can go about integrating policy studies into the discipline. The discussion of women at Howard is especially important.—James B. Stewart, coeditor of Blacks in Rural America A very important study. Thoughtful, creative, provocative interpretations and analyses—Alfred Moss, author of The American Negro Academy: Voice of the Talented Tenth

From the 1920s through the 1970s, Howard University was home to America’s most renowned assemblage of black scholars. This book traces some of the personal and professional activities of this community of public intellectuals, demonstrating their scholar-activist nature and the myriad ways they influenced modern African American, African, and Africana policy studies. In Search of the Talented Tenth tells how individuals like Rayford Logan E. Franklin Frazier, John Hope Franklin, Merze Tate, Charles Wesley, and Dorothy Porter left an indelible imprint on academia and black communities alike through their impact on civil rights, anticolonialism, and women’s rights.

Zachery Williams explores W. E. B. Du Bois‘ Talented Tenth by describing their role as public intellectuals from the Harlem Renaissance to the Black Power movement and in times as trying as the Jim Crow and Cold War eras. Williams first describes how the years 1890 to 1926 laid the foundation for Howard’s emergence as the “capstone of Negro education” during the administration of university president Mordecai Johnson. He offers a wide-ranging discussion of how the African American community of Washington, D.C., contributed to the dynamism and intellectual life of the university, and he delineates the ties that linked many faculty members to each other in ways that energized their intellectual growth and productivity as scholars.

He also discusses the interaction of Howard’s intellectual community with those of the West Indies, Africa, and other places, showing the international impact of Howard’s intellectuals and the ways in which black and brown elites outside the United States stimulated the thought and scholarship of the Howard intellectuals. In Search of the Talented Tenth marks the first in-depth study of the intellectual activity of this community of scholars and further attests to the historic role of women faculty in shaping the university. It restifies to the impact of this group as a model by which the twenty-first century’s black public intellectuals can be measured.

Howard University hired excellent, outspoken scholars such as in sociology, Ralph Bunche in political science, Charles R. Drew in medicine, and and  in history. Charles Hamilton Houston,

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Zippety Doo Dah, Zippety-Ay: How Satisfactch’ll Is Education Today? Toward a New Song of the South

Dr. Joyce E. King on Black Education and New Paradigms

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Basil Davidson obituary—By Victoria Brittain—9 July 2010—Davidson [(9 November 1914 – 9 July 2010) a British historian, writer and Africanist] was enthused early on by the end of British colonialism and the prospects of pan-Africanism in the 1960s, and he wrote copiously and with warmth about newly independent Ghana and its leader, Kwame Nkrumah. He went to work for a year at the University of Accra in 1964. Later he threw himself into the reporting of the African liberation wars in the Portuguese colonies, particularly in Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau. . . . In the 1980s, with most of the African liberation wars now won—except for South Africa’s— Davidson turned much of his attention to more theoretical questions about the future of the nation state in Africa. He remained a passionate advocate of pan-Africanism. In 1988 he made a long and dangerous journey into Eritrea, writing a persuasive defence of the nationalists’ right to independence from Ethiopia, and an equally eloquent attack on the revolutionary leader Colonel Mengistu and the regime that had overthrown Haile Selassie. Guardian

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Basil Davidson’s  “Africa Series”

 Different But Equal  /  Mastering A Continent  /  Caravans of Gold  / The King and the City / The Bible and The Gun

John Henrik Clarke—A Great and Mighty Walk

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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 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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The White Architects of Black Education

Ideology and Power in America, 1865-1954

By William Watkins

William H. Watkins is subtle in his story of the “white architects” who developed Black education beginning in 1865, just at the end of the Civil War. Watkins shocks you with his “scientific racism” platform that he explains “presented human difference as the rational for inequality” and that it “can be understood as an ideological and political issue” (pg. 39). The reader senses a calm attitude about the author as he speaks of the philanthropists, beginning with John D. Rockefeller, Sr, who was most concerned about “shaping the new industrial social order” (pg. 133) than he was for providing a useful education. “The Rockefeller group demonstrated how gift giving could shape education and public policy” (pg. 134).

 In their support of Black education, by 1964, the General Education Board (GEB) spent more than $3.2 million dollars in gifts to support Black education. This captivating book begins with a foreword written by Robin D.G. Kelley who reflects that he learned one lesson from Watkins, “If we are to create new models of pedagogy and intellectual work and become architects of our own education, then we cannot simply repair the structures that have been passed down to us. We need to dismantle the old architecture so that we might begin anew” (pg. xiii). Why don’t the school reformers who mandate educational laws experience such an awakening?—Review by AC Snow

Source: Cre3Design

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West Africa Before the Colonial Era: A History to 1850

By Basil Davidson

This book is excellent as an introduction to West African history. It begins with a brief overview of region’s history from earliest times but the focus of the book is on the thousand years between the 9th and the 19th centuries A.D. Comprehensive overviews of the political histories of both well and little known West African states and cities are recounted. These include the histories of the empires of Ghana, Mali, Songhay, Kanem-Bornu, Oyo, Benin, Dahomey and Asante. Accounts of several other smaller states are also detailed such as the Hausa city states, the Wollof kingdom, the Bambara states, the Niger Delta trading states, the Fulani states of Futa Jallon and Futa Toro, the important cities of Timbuktu, Jenne and Gao and several others.

Apart from these political histories, Davidson also provides an insight into the social fabric of West Africa, especially at the dawn of the 17th century. He describes economic features (like trade items, routes, currencies etc), religion, arts and learning in the region, social stratification and dominant trends. These provide the reader with a real “feel” of the society at that time. Like all of Davidson’s writings on this subject matter, this book dispels the myth that Africa had no history or civilization before contact with Europe. It is clear, concise and very easy to read. D. E. Chukwumerije

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African Slave Trade: Precolonial History, 1450-1850

By Basil Davidson

The best general account of the Atlantic slave trade. It is the story of one of the most enormous crimes in all human history. Basil Davidson states that by examining three important areas of Africa in the history of slavery ‘against a general background of their time and circumstance’ he was taking ‘a fresh look at the overseas slave trade, the steady year-by-year export of African labour to the West Indies and the Americas that marked the greatest and most fateful migration—forced migration—in the history of man. This book is about the course and consequences of this long African-European connection that endured from the fifteenth century to the nineteenth. It makes an answer to three vital questions: What kind of contact was this with Europe and  America? How did the experience affect Africa? Why did it end in colonial invasion and conquest?

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1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

By Charles C. Mann

I’m a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. It’s exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that it’s anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, I’m proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, “globalized” entity.

Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose “southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple.”

 We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.

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The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860-1935

By James D. Anderson

James Anderson critically reinterprets the history of southern black education from Reconstruction to the Great Depression. By placing black schooling within a political, cultural, and economic context, he offers fresh insights into black commitment to education, the peculiar significance of Tuskegee Institute, and the conflicting goals of various philanthropic groups, among other matters. Initially, ex-slaves attempted to create an educational system that would support and extend their emancipation, but their children were pushed into a system of industrial education that presupposed black political and economic subordination. This conception of education and social order—supported by northern industrial philanthropists, some black educators, and most southern school officials—conflicted with the aspirations of ex-slaves and their descendants, resulting at the turn of the century in a bitter national debate over the purposes of black education. Because blacks lacked economic and political power, white elites were able to control the structure and content of black elementary, secondary, normal, and college education during the first third of the twentieth century. Nonetheless, blacks persisted in their struggle to develop an educational system in accordance with their own needs and desires.

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The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788

By Pauline Maier

A notable historian of the early republic, Maier devoted a decade to studying the immense documentation of the ratification of the Constitution. Scholars might approach her book’s footnotes first, but history fans who delve into her narrative will meet delegates to the state conventions whom most history books, absorbed with the Founders, have relegated to obscurity. Yet, prominent in their local counties and towns, they influenced a convention’s decision to accept or reject the Constitution. Their biographies and democratic credentials emerge in Maier’s accounts of their elections to a convention, the political attitudes they carried to the conclave, and their declamations from the floor. The latter expressed opponents’ objections to provisions of the Constitution, some of which seem anachronistic (election regulation raised hackles) and some of which are thoroughly contemporary (the power to tax individuals directly).

Ripostes from proponents, the Federalists, animate the great detail Maier provides, as does her recounting how one state convention’s verdict affected another’s. Displaying the grudging grassroots blessing the Constitution originally received, Maier eruditely yet accessibly revives a neglected but critical passage in American history.—Booklist

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Whatever It Takes

Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America

By Paul Tough

What would it take? That was the question that Geoffrey Canada found himself asking. What would it take to change the lives of poor children—not one by one, through heroic interventions and occasional miracles, but in big numbers, and in a way that could be replicated nationwide? The question led him to create the Harlem Children’s Zone, a ninety-seven-block laboratory in central Harlem where he is testing new and sometimes controversial ideas about poverty in America. His conclusion: if you want poor kids to be able to compete with their middle-class peers, you need to change everything in their lives—their schools, their neighborhoods, even the child-rearing practices of their parents. Whatever It Takes is a tour de force of reporting, an inspired portrait not only of Geoffrey Canada but also of the parents and children in Harlem who are struggling to better their lives, often against great odds. Carefully researched and deeply affecting, this is a dispatch from inside the most daring and potentially transformative social experiment of our time.

Paul Tough is an editor at the New York Times Magazine and one of America’s foremost writers on poverty, education, and the achievement gap. His reporting on Geoffrey Canada and the Harlem Children’s Zone originally appeared as a Times Magazine cover story. He lives with his wife in New York City.

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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

Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


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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 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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posted 5 August 2010 




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