ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
We have become, in essence, a new tribe of African people on the planet; one of several New
World African tribes. The current generation of young African-American artists must come to
know they are the rightful heirs to a rich cultural tradition of singers and storytellers, poets and
musicians, artists and scholars who have always existed as Keepers of the Sacred Lore of the Folk.
Books by Mwatabu S. Okantah
* * * * *
From under the Baobab to the Haunted Oak
The Reemergence of a Distinctly African derived Griot Tradition in the Americas
By Mwatabu S. Okantah
Nonetheless, one can still find the griot almost in his ancient setting, far from the town, in the old villages of Mali . . . The words of traditionist griots deserve anything but scorn. The Griot who occupies the chair of history of a village and who bears the title of Belen-Tigui is a very respectable gentleman and has toured Mali.
He has gone from village to village to hear the teaching of great masters; he has learnt the art of historical oratory through long years; he is, moreover, bound by an oath and does not teach anything except what his guild stipulates, for, say the griots, “All true learning should be secret.”D. T. Niane1
It will be the aim of this essay to discuss the following: 1) the historical struggle of Black writers to define a Creative Self and the meaning of our work in the American context from the creators of the Slave Narratives to the present; 2) the location of my own place within this struggle for cultural definition; and, 3) the emergence of what I will call a new literary griot tradition in contemporary African world writing. I will attempt to identify the aesthetic connections that spring from the now classical roots of the original forms of cultural expression enslaved Africans forged out of the furnace of American slavery. The folklore, spirituals, ring shouts, folk seculars, the blues, the jazz, and the dances continue to exist as the foundation for our creativity in the present. It is through our forms of cultural expression that we continue to remain connected to the larger Pan-African world.
As a contemporary, I have always conceived my own creative work out of this African-centered cultural frame of reference. I will trace my own artistic development in relation to the seeds planted by the Harlem Renaissance/New Negro breakthroughs of Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Sterling Brown and others. Their seeds would bear fruit in the Negritude flowering of Aime Cesaire, Leon Damas and Leopold Senghor who struggled mightily against the ravages of French colonial policy in the Caribbean and Africa. I will look at the Black Arts Movement (BAM) of the 1960s and 1970s as a product of these same historical forces. Because my work has been considered a possible bridge connecting todays generation of Hip Hop spoken wordsmiths, rappers, MCs, dancers, graffiti artists and BAM, I also think it is imperative the effort be made to bring the present Hip Hop movement into this same African-centered cultural focus. I am essentially arguing the entire twentieth century constituted a true renaissance for peoples of African descent in the Diaspora, who then looked to Africa with a new vision. Moreover, as Americans of African descent, we have played significant roles in this awakening.
His letter arrived like a torpedo hitting a ship broadside. If I had received such a letter, say, twenty or so years ago, I would have been devastated. It read,
What I attacked was the self-aggrandizing title of griot you attach to yourself. . . . I dont believe you have lived and studied long enough, and remembered thoroughly enough the history of the general community to have such a title. I forgot to ask whose history are you the griot of? (Personal letter)
Over the years, I have been confronted in many of the same ways previous generations of Black writers have been challenged before me. So, on the one hand, I was not fazed, but I had never been subjected to such withering criticism from someone I respected and considered a mentor. I wavered, but recovered to right my ship. The letter served to trigger thoughts I have been pondering and forming into my own Hughes-like manifesto for almost thirty years.
No longer the timid, introverted and painfully shy young student who was always around in the background observing, wide-eyed, taking everything in, I weathered the letters storm securely anchored in my own now solid ground. The letter sent me back to my journals, my notes, my ruminations and to the writing I have struggled with over the years in an ongoing quest to define my own approach to my work. Writing in A Capsule Course in Black Poetry Writing, Haki R. Madhubuti offers this observation under the heading, “The Hard Flower,”
Writing is a form of self-definition and communication through which you basically define yourself and your relationship to the world. The writer is essentially always searching for the core of the definition, looking for the gut. The Truth [italics mine]. There are few good writers that lie; there are a lot of liars that try to write and unfortunately they are in the majority. But they come and go, passing through like a European wind penetrating the Afrikan heat only to be eliminated by the warmth of realness.2
The first time I heard the term griot, I was a young wannabe poet studying in what would later become the Department of Pan-African Studies at Kent State University. I was a student of Egyptian composer Halim el-Dabh who had begun calling a group of us, The Many Tongues of Ptah.
He called us the programs griots. Little did I know or realize it then, but he was providing me with a cultural roadmap that would guide me on my own journey toward self-definition and a career direction I would choose later. The real irony of my former mentors attack was the role he had played introducing me to the very African sources I have come to embrace. Because of his stature, I did not dismiss his point of view.
More surprised than hurt, I actually felt invigorated in the knowledge I was fully prepared to chart my own cultural and aesthetic space. Although the proverb says, The fruit never falls far from the tree that bears it, I recognized the time had come for me to stand square on my own ground. The time had come for me to be my own Black Poet Tree. The time had come for the son to grow independent from his intellectual father.
I began this paper with the quote from D. T. Nianes preface to his translation of Djeli Mamoudou Kouyates, Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali because my teachers taught me to reference traditional African models to define our experiences as African-derived people in the United States.
The attack contained in the letter forced me to reevaluate what ultimately became my own self-directed initiation into a self-proclaimed New World African griot of the African-American people. I thought about my own sojourns into the Black Belt south, and through West Africa. I thought about the countless conferences I have attended to experience our best and brightest Black minds. The letter forced me to revisit works like Alain Lockes The Legacy of the Ancestral Arts, Langston Hughes The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain, and Richard Wrights Blueprint for Negro Writing. It forced me to reconsider the lasting influence of the Black Arts Movement on my development as a performance poet and writer who also teaches.
More importantly, the letter forced me to reflect on the very nature of my Black Studies education. I returned to what I consider the groundation of my study of the way of life of peoples of African descent, and my work with Nigerian musician, folklorist and philosopher Chief Fela Sowande, who taught:
I see the Africanization of Black Studies as requiring the restructuring of Black Studiesa total restructuring if need beso that it rests on the traditional thought patterns of traditional Africa, which thereby become its reason for being, its life-essence, the actualization of these thought-patterns in the day-to-day lives of common folk being its specific objective, to achieve which nothing will be allowed to be an insurmountable obstacle.3
Rather than question my self-confidence, I felt seasoned to the degree I did not take the surprise attack on a personal level per se. Instead, I accepted this ultimate challenge to finally articulate my own claim to specific creative and cultural roots. I thought about the commission I accepted from historian Dorothy Salem to write what became the historical poem Legacy: for Martin & Malcolm (1987) for her students in the Martin Luther King Youth Leadership Institute at Clevelands Cuyahoga Community College. I thought about being asked by editor James G. Spady and the Philadelphia Black History Museum to write the epic poem Cheikh Anta Diop: Poem for the Living (1997) which would be published as a limited, trilingual edition in English, French and Wolof. I took stock of my own hard-earned reputation as an African world poet.
Roots and Branches
An artist must be free to choose what he does, certainly, but he must also never be afraid to do what he might choose. . . . We younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, it doesnt matter. We know we are beautiful. And ugly too. The tom-tom cries and the tom-tom laughs. If colored people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, their displeasure doesnt matter either. We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain, free within ourselves.Langston Hughes4
Langston Hughes. His words still resonate. When his manifesto, “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain,” was originally published in The Nation in 1926, it was considered scandalous. In that same issue, George S. Schuylers acerbic response, The Negro-Art Hokum, also appeared. He countered, Negro art there has been, is, and will be among the numerous black nations of Africa; but to suggest the possibility of any such development among the ten million colored people in this republic is self-evident foolishness.5 In various ways, the views expressed in the Schuyler article remain with us today. To be sure, I heard echoes of George Schuyler in the aforementioned letter I received. Issues of group identity and cultural origins still confound us as a people of African descent living in America. At the same time, however, the fertile Harlem period set in motion a true cultural awakening that is still vibrant and bearing fruit in the face of todays current madness.
I think it is now possible to look back on the work of the Harlem period to assess the degree to which those forerunners pointed future generations in the right direction. At the same time, however, they often expressed ideas about African culture that reflected the status quo attitudes of their time. Hughes poem, Afro-American Fragment, and Cullens poem, Heritage, come immediately to mind. Alain Lockes article, The Legacy of the Ancestral Arts, is also an interesting case in point. Locke correctly saw a relationship between traditional African culture and the strange new forms of cultural expression that would come to be identified with African-American culture. However, his pronouncements about slavery uprooting certain technical elements of his former culture have since been corrected by more recent scholarship. Fortunately, from the perspective of new research and our own time, we can now appreciate Lockes attempt to provide aesthetic direction when he wrote:
There is the possibility that the sensitive artistic mind of the American Negro, stimulated by a cultural pride and interest, will receive from African art a profound and galvanizing influence. The legacy is there at least, with prospects of a rich yield. In the first place, there is in the mere knowledge of the skill and unique mastery of the arts of the ancestors the valuable and stimulating realization that the Negro is not a cultural foundling without his own inheritance. Our timid and apologetic imitativeness and overburdening sense of cultural indebtedness have, let us hope, their natural end in such knowledge and realization.
But what the Negro artist of to-day has most to gain from the arts of the forefathers is perhaps not cultural inspiration or technical innovations, but the lesson of a classic background, the lesson of discipline, of style, of technical control pushed to the limits of technical mastery.6
Because Locke and so many of his contemporaries viewed American Negroes and Africans as somehow different or mutually exclusive due to time and circumstance, they did not see that it was precisely those qualities of cultural inspiration and technical innovation that were producing the new cultural forms flourishing all around them.
Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Sterling Brown recognized the fundamental connection between African-American folk culture and their art. Writing about Hurston in Zora Neale Hurston: A Literary Biography, Robert Hemenway states:
Of them all, however, Zora Hurston was the closest, and her person and her fiction exhibited the knowledge that the black masses had triumphed over their racist environment, not by becoming white and emulating bourgeois values, not by engaging in a sophisticated program of political propaganda, but by turning inward to create the blues, the folktale, the spiritual, the hyperbolic lie, the ironic joke. These forms of expression revealed a uniqueness of race spirit because they were a code of communicationintraracial propagandathat would protect the race from the psychological encroachments of racism and the physical oppression of society. Hurston knew that black folklore did not arise from a psychologically destroyed people, that in fact it was proof of psychic health. . . . She contributed an authentic folk experience to the aesthetic mix of the Renaissance, a specific knowledge often underestimated when the Renaissance interest in the folk has been assessed.7
Sterling Brown, in Negro Poetry and Drama, puts the Harlem phase of the Renaissance in perspective when he points out the New Negro poets operated according to five pillar concerns: 1) a discovery of Africa as a source for race pride; 2) a use of Negro heroes and heroic episodes from American history; 3) propaganda of protest; 4) a treatment of the Negro masses (frequently of the folk, less often of the workers) with more understanding and less apology; and 5) franker and deeper self-revelation.8 Browns signature book of poetry, Southern Road, remains a classic poetic rendering of these concerns.
As a result, Richard Wrights Blueprint for Negro Writing, would extend their work. He would further expand the discourse especially in the areas of African American folk culture and the role of the writer. When Blueprint appeared in 1937, it signaled a significant philosophical departure and a transition into the next phase in the struggles of Black writers to achieve self-definition in both individual and group cultural terms. Writing about the generations of Black writers who preceded him, he offered this biting observation,
Generally speaking, Negro writing in the past has been confined to humble novels, poems, and plays, prim and decorous ambassadors who went a begging to white America. They entered the Court of American Public Opinion dressed in the knee-pants of servility, curtsying to show that the Negro was not inferior, that he was human, and that he had a life comparable to that of other people. . . .
Nor was there any deep concern on the part of white America with the role Negro writing should play in American culture; and the role it did play grew out of accident rather than intent or design.9
Wright revisited the critical issue of content and raised the issue of the relationship between Black writers and our sense of audience in a new way. He added, Rarely was the best of this writing addressed to the Negro himself, his needs, his sufferings, his aspirations. Through misdirection, Negro writers have been far better to others than they have been to themselves. And the mere recognition of this places the whole question of Negro writing in a new light and raises a doubt as to the validity of its present direction.10 The appearance of Wrights novel Native Son in 1940 would make the break complete on at least two levels. He forever changed the nature of the relationship between Black writers and the larger white American society. Additionally, he freed subsequent generations of Black writers to explore even deeper psychological and emotional terrains of the Black experience.
More than any of his other titles, Native Son literally shocked me into a new and heightened awareness of reality. It was my first reading of a book written by a Black author. The novel introduced me to the potential power of words in a way I had never experienced. From Wright I learned that words could be used as powerful weapons; that words possessed the magical power to heal as well as the destructive power to derange. Blueprint for Negro Writing forced me to consider the very nature of the internal dialogue Black writers have been engaged in for more than a century in this society. He offered future generations this signpost:
It means that Negro writers must have in their consciousness the foreshortened picture of the whole nourishing culture from which they were torn in Africa, and of the long, complex (and for the most part, unconscious) struggle to regain in some form and under alien conditions of life a whole culture again. . . . Theme for Negro writers will emerge when they have begun to feel the meaning of the history of their race as though they in one life time had lived it themselves throughout all the long centuries.11
I was introduced to Wrights work at a time when I was searching for models; a time when being a student in Black Studies exposed me to African culture, the tradition of the griots, as well as the idea of a Black tradition in literature. Wrights Blueprint essentially provided the impetus for me to attempt to fashion an African-American approach to the African griot tradition.
The persistence of the African-based oral tradition is such that blacks tend to place only limited value on the written word, whereas verbal skills expressed orally rank in high esteem. This is not to say that Black Americans never read anything or that the total Black community is functionally illiterate. The influence of White America and the demands of modern, so-called civilized living have been too strong for that. However, it is to say that from a black perspective, written documents are limited in what they can teach about life and survival in the world.Geneva Smitherman12
It is crucial to emphasize the importance of my Black Studies foundation in directing the focus of my study of traditional African culture and the importance of the griot in the way of life of African peoples. It meant that my examination of Americas Black tradition in literature never existed in a cultural vacuum. This is to say I was taught to explore the African-American experience within the context of a larger, Pan-African world. The experience of peoples of African descent in the Americas simply became new chapters in a very old book. Under the circumstances, it was only logical that I would look upon both my role and my craft as a performance poet in African cultural terms. The African griot tradition was always my primary classical model.
Smithermans Talkin and Testifyin: The Language of Black America served to place my approach to writing in perspective. In any culture, of course, language is a tool for ordering the chaos of human experience. . . . The crucial difference in American culture lies in the contrasting modes in which Black and White America have shaped that languagea written mode for whites, having come from a European, print-oriented culture; a spoken mode for blacks, having come from an African, orally-oriented background. . . . The oral tradition, then, is part of the cultural baggage the African brought to America.13 It goes without saying the Black tradition in literature in the American context has always been shaped by this oral cultural baggage.
The very uniqueness of Black literature lies in this duality. It has the potential to function both as literary and as performance art. In my own work, I would say the performance brings the words written on the page to life. Returning to Smitherman for clarity, she writes:
Even though blacks have embraced English as their native tongue, still the African cultural set persists, that is, a predisposition to imbue the English word with the same sense of value and commitmentpropers, as we would sayaccorded to Nommo in African culture. Hence Afro-Americas emphasis on orality and belief in the power of rap which has produced a style and idiom totally unlike that of whites, while paradoxically employing White English words. Were talking, then, about a tradition in the Black experience in which verbal performance becomes both a way of establishing yo rep as well as a teaching and socializing force.14
The African-American tradition in literature, accordingly, constitutes the attempt of Black writers to use an alien language to order the chaos of the African experience in the Diaspora. This fact is true whether we are looking at the early slave narratives and the first self-conscious attempts at creative writing in the 18th and 19th centuries. It remains true if we are considering the New Negro writers of the 1920s and 30s. And, it is also true if we are discussing the generation of writers that included and followed Richard Wright. In the American context, it is the struggle to literally reshape the English language to suit our needs as a people that continues to define the work of Black writers. It is on this level the Black Arts proponents of the 1960s and 70s, as well as todays generation of Hip Hop spoken word artists, rappers and MCs may in fact be closer to our African cultural origins than too many of our critics care to admit.
A more detailed discussion of the African origins of African-American culture is not permissible here because of space limitations and the focus of this paper. It should be noted that works like Lawrence Levines Black Culture and Black Consciousness, Leonard Barretts Soul-Force: African Heritage in Afro-American Religion and Eugene Redmonds Drumvoices: The Mission of Afro-American Poetry more than adequately sort out the conundrum that so vexed earlier generations of Black scholars including the previously cited Alain Locke. Barrett provides a clearer insight when he writes,
[T]he best of African manhood entered the New World and so thoroughly marked it with African customs that in a short while, the sound of the New World was the sound of Africa. There is no place in which the African influence has not made an inroad. This influence on the language, folklore, medicine, magic and religion, music, dress, dancing and domestic life of the New World, can be called Africanization or indigenization.15
Levines work allowed me to view African-American culture as a New World African culture that did not exist before the 18th century. This is to say those Africans kidnapped from Africa and sold into New World slavery entered the New World as indigenous AfricansYoruba, Igbo, Mandinka, Wolof, Akan, Mende, etc. It would take time and circumstance to forge them into new peoples of African descentHaitian, Jamaican, African American, Brazilian, etc. He writes:
Scholars must be receptive to the possibility that for Africans, as for other people, the journey to the New World did not [italics mine] inexorably sever all associations with the Old World; that with Africans, as with European and Asian immigrants, aspects of the traditional cultures and world view they came with may have continued to exist not as mere vestiges but as dynamic, living, creative parts of group life in the United States. . . . To insist that only those elements of slave culture were African which remained largely unchanged from the African past is to misinterpret the nature of culture itself.
Culture is not a fixed condition but a process: the product of interaction between the past and present. Its toughness and resiliency are determined not by a cultures ability to withstand change, which indeed may be a sign of stagnation not life, but by its ability to react creatively and responsively to the realities of a new situation. The question . . . is not one of survivals but of transformations. We must be sensitive to the ways in which the African world view interacted with that of the Euro-American world into which it was carried and the extent to which an Afro-American perspective was created. There is no better place to search for these transformations than in the numerous folk expressions of nineteenth-century slave cosmology.16
For my creative purposes, Levines argument served to validate the need to define a transformed New World African Griot tradition in American terms. Redmonds Drumvoices became my cornerstone. His work offered both confirmation, as well as much needed affirmation that I was, indeed, on the right track. He provided vital connections: before discussing the origins of black expression, we should note the role of griots.or story tellersin preindustrial African societies. The black poet, as creator and chronicler, evolves from these artisanshuman oral recorders of family and national lore. Trained to recitewithout flawthe genealogies, eulogies, victories and calamities of the folk, griots (like lead singers of spirituals) had to spice their narration with drama and excitement. Few Black American youngsters grew up (even in recent times) without guidance from a sort of griot (uncle, grandmother, big brother, sister, mother, hustler, father, preacher, etc.).17
Drumvoices discussed the African griot tradition in recognizable terms that I could actually see operating in my life. In other words, I was able to recognize the degree to which elements of the griot already existed in the African-American lifestyle. Redmond elaborated even further:
The job of the griot in ancient African societies was so important that an error could cost him his life. The griot began at a very early age to master his technique and information. Like the master drummer, he understudied an elder statesman of the trade. His training demanded a certain psychological adjustment to the significance of his jobwhich was to contain (and give advice on) the cultural heirlooms of the community . . . this factual information was ritualized into a lore, mythology, cosmology and legend; it became a part of the vast web of racial consciousness and memory. . . . Clearly, then, the myth- and legend-building black poet has a past into which to dip and a future to project and protect. . . . So it follows that the poetgriotis not some haphazardly arrived at hipster or slick-talker simply mouthing tired old phrases. To the Black American griot-singer-poet the job of unraveling the complex network of his past and present-future worlds is a painful but rewarding labor of love.18
Reading Drumvoices gave me specific guidelines to follow. It provided both clarity of vision and singularity of purpose. It allowed me to appreciate the people I was studying under as an undergraduate student engaged in a truly African centered course of study.
It would be my exposure to Black Arts Movement ideas in the work of Hoyt Fuller, Larry Neal, and others that would ultimately crystallize my views. In this regard, Addison Gayle, Jr.s anthology The Black Aesthetic remains seminal. More significantly, I will always remember my first encounter hearing Gwendolyn Brooks read her poetry. . . . Miss Brooks was the featured poet at the Tenth Anniversary Celebration of Dudley Randalls Broadside Press. Her artistry mesmerized me. She leaped beyond the confining boundaries of a mere reading. I can now say she played her axe the same way Thelonius Monk played his pianoall herky jerky motion and syncopating, unusual rhymes and rhythms. After hearing Sonia Sanchez, Haki Madhubuti and Etheridge Knight, I literally became drunk on Black poets song-chanting their own words. I had been thrown into new space; somewhere in between ordinary speech and talking in tongues.19 Meeting the poet Lance Jeffers at a Howard Black Writers conference provided me with an elder kindred spirit. Being exposed to the recordings of The Last Poets, Jayne Cortez and Gil Scott-Heron would give me the final pieces to complete my aesthetic puzzle.
It was a former Pan-African literature professor, Hulda Smith-Graham, who reinforced the idea of becoming an African-American griot in my head. Among my early mentors, she had worked the hardest to get me to expand my ability to see. She was the tough minded task master who pushed me to become more than just a poet. She became my cultural midwife. Circumstances, and her tireless insistence, convinced me I had been called to poet during a time in my development when I needed both encouragement and convincing. I came to realize that I was one of those young Black writers Fuller referred to in his essay, Towards A Black Aesthetic, when he wrote, The young writers of the black ghetto have set out in search of a black aesthetic, a system of isolating and evaluating the artistic works of black people which reflect the special character and imperatives of black experience.20
Considering the earlier and groundbreaking work of the New Negro poets, who passed the aesthetic relay baton to Richard Wright, who then passed it on to Ralph Ellison and James Baldwin, it is fair to say that Fuller and his Black Arts compatriots did not offer a new vision so much as they expanded upon the vision that was born and refused to die in those first enslaved Africans in America who dreamed about being free. Fuller would go on to write:
It is a serious quest, and the black writers themselves are well aware of the possibility that what they seek is, after all, beyond codifying. They are fully aware of the dual nature of their heritage, and of the subtleties and complexities; but they are even more aware of the terrible reality of their outsideness, of their political and economic powerlessness, and of the desperate racial need for unity. And they have been convinced, over and over again, by the irrefutable facts of history and by the cold intransigence of the privileged white majority that the road to solidarity and strength leads inevitably through the reclamation and indoctrination of black art and culture.21
I further recognized that my efforts to become a griot were very much a part of that same serious quest. Ultimately, for me, it was Larry Neal who put that quest in a proper working perspective.
Writing in his essay, New Space: The Growth of Black Consciousness in the Sixties, he argued, The value system for whatever we will be must spring from readily available sources. What we need to do . . . with African and other Third World references is to shape them into a cosmological and philosophical framework. We need to shape, on the basis of our own historical imperatives, a life-centered concept of human existence that goes beyond the Western world view.22 On the one hand, I think Neals statement further reiterates the obvious. We do have traditional African cultural models available to guide us. At the same time, however, we must also acknowledge we are no longer the same people whose ancestors were kidnapped so many centuries ago.
We have become, in essence, a new tribe of African people on the planet; one of several New World African tribes. The current generation of young African-American artists must come to know they are the rightful heirs to a rich cultural tradition of singers and storytellers, poets and musicians, artists and scholars who have always existed as Keepers of the Sacred Lore of the Folk. I want to connect with members of this so-called Generation X who correspond with me via E-mail; who show up at the countless Open Mike poetry sessions taking place all over this country; who come to my readings and/or performances because they want to taste [as they put it] some Old School flavor. I have attempted to write a paper that will help close what can only be described as a gaping generational divide.
It is not enough to simply tell Black youth they stand on the shoulders of giants. The Movement did not die after the 1960s, just as The Renaissance did not end with the stock market crash of 1929. I hope this discussion will place New World griots firmly within the context of the traditional cultures enslaved Africans brought with them to the Americas. We are the products of an aesthetic odyssey that began in the epic poetry performed under the giant Baobabs of West Africa, and that now arises in new song-stories rooted in the Haunted Oaks of the New World. I hope to pass on a cultural road map that will help guide those students who enroll in my African World Creative Writing class. I have attempted to write a shout out that will enable this next generation of Black creative artistsespecially those who look to us as members of a new generation of Eldersto translate their work into terms that will empower them. It is now their turn to find their own way and to continue to uphold and represent the best in that great tradition of African and African derived cultural expression.
The Black Flower
As for the letter from my former mentor, I do not think that even he can understand or appreciate the depth my gratitude. The Ancestors knew it was time for me to set my thoughts down on paper. His attack made me know just how hard it is to be truly free. Returning to Hughes The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain, I am grateful his generation built their temples for tomorrow. I realize we are standing on their broad shoulders today, safe in the knowledge that our present is their tomorrow. I can only hope that my own journey up that same mountain of self discovery will allow future generations to see themselves more clearly in their time.
8 Sterling Brown, Negro Poetry and Drama and The Negro in American Fiction. New York: Atheneum, 1972, Pg. 61.
10 Huggins, Pg. 395.
11 Huggins, Pg. 401.
12 Geneva Smitherman, Talkin and Testifyin: The Language of Black America. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1977, Pg. 76.
13 Smitherman, Pgs. 77-78.
14 Smitherman, Pg. 79.
15 Leonard E. Barrett, Soul-Force: African Heritage in Afro-American Religion. Garden City: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1974, Pg. 75.
18 Redmond, Pg. 18.
19 Mwatabu S. Okantah, Claiming My Own Space: The Black Poet Tree, Reconnecting Memories: Dreams No Longer Deferred: New & Selected Poems, Mwatabu S. Okantah. Trenton: Africa World Press, Inc., 2004, Pg. xix.
21 Gayle, Pg. 9.
22 Paul Carter Harrison, Larry Neal: The Genesis of Vision, Callaloo, No. 23, Larry Neal: A Special Issue, Winter 1985, Pg. 173.
Barrett, Leonard E. Soul-Force: African Heritage in Afro-American Religion. Garden City: Anchor Books/Doubleday, 1974.
Brooks, Gwendolyn et al. A Capsule Course in Black Poetry Writing. Detroit: Broadside Press, 1975.
Brown, Sterling. Negro Poetry and Drama and The Negro in American Fiction. New York: Atheneum, 1972.
Gayle, Addison The Black Aesthetic. Garden City: Anchor Books/Doubleday, 1971.
Hemenway, Robert E. Zora Neale Hurston: A Literary Biography. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1977.
Huggins, Nathan Irvin. Voices from the Harlem Renaissance. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976.
Levine, Lawrence W. Black Culture and Black Consciousness. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.
Locke, Alain. The New Negro. New York: Atheneum, 1968.
Niane, D. T. Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali. Essex: Longman Group Ltd., 1993.
Okantah, Mwatabu S. Reconnecting Memories: Dreams No Longer Deferred: New & Selected Poems. Trenton: Africa World Press, Inc., 2004.
Redmond, Eugene B. Drumvoices: The Mission of Afro-American Poetry. Garden City: Anchor Books/Doubleday, 1976.
Smitherman, Geneva. Talkin and Testifyin: The Language of Black America. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1977.
Sowande, Chief Fela. The Africanization of Black Studies. Kent: KSU Department of Pan-African Studies, African American Affairs Monograph Series, 1972.
Mwatabu S. Okantah. From Under the Baobab to the Haunted Oak: The Reemergence of a Distinctly African Derived Griot Tradition in the Americas, West Africa Review: Issue 7, 2005.
Source: West Africa Review
Mwatabu S. Okantah (b. August 18, 1952 in Newark, New Jersey, United States) is an American poet, essayist, professor, and vocalist. He holds a B.A. degree in English and African Studies from Kent State University (1976), where he studied with Halim El-Dabh and Fela Sowande. He earned a M.A. in creative writing from the City College of New York in 1982.
He is currently an Assistant Professor and Poet in Residence in the Department of Pan-African Studies at Kent State University, and also serves as the Director of that university’s Center of Pan-African Culture. He is the lead vocalist with the Muntu Kuntu Energy Ensemble and has performed frequently with the Cavani String Quartet of Cleveland, Ohio. His surname, Okantah, means “breaker of rock” in the Ga language of Ghana. “Mwatabu” is Swahili for “born in a time of tribulation or sorrow.”
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The State of African Education (April 200)
Dr Asa Hilliard III speaks on the assault of academia on Africans writing and accounting for their own history.
Dr Hilliard is A teacher, psychologist, and historian.
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Joshua Fit De Battle of Jericho
Joshua fit de battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho. Joshua fit de battle of Jericho an de walls come tumblindown.
You may talk about yo king of Gideon You may talk about yo man of Saul Deres none like good ole Joshua at de battle ob Jericho.
Up to de walls ob Jericho He marched with spear in han Go blow dem ram horns, Joshua cried, Cause de battle am in my han.
Den de lam ram sheep begin to blow, trumpets begin to soun Joshua commanded de children to shout an de walls come tumblin down Dat mornin
Joshua fit the battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho Joshua fit de battle of Jericho an de walls come tumblindown.
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He Is My Horse
One day I was a-ridin’ by,
said dey: “Ole man yo’ hoss will die.”
“If he dies, he is my loss;
and if he lives, he is my hoss.”
Nex’ day w’en I come a’ridin’ by,
dey said: “Oleman, yo’ hoss may die.”
“If he dies, I’ll tan ‘is skin;
an’ if he lives, I’ll ride ‘im ag’in.”
Den ag’in w’en I come a-ridin’ by,
said dey: “Olem man, yo’ hoss mought die.”
“If he dies, I’ll eat his co’n;
an’ if he lives, I’ll ride ‘im on.”
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Charley Patton (1891-1934)
Grandfather of Rock ‘n’ Roll
Charlie Patton born Mississippi, April 1891 was an experienced performer of songs before he was twenty years old and was first recorded (Thankfully) in 1929. His influence is everywhere and was arguably the first of the greats. An influence on Son House, Tommy Johnson, Bukka White and without doubt Howlin’ Wolf. We have to thank archivists, the likes of Harry Smith, that we can hear these inimitable songs today.
Some people tell me, oversea blues ain’t bad
It must not been the oversea blues I had
Everyday seem like murder here
(My god, I’m no sheriff)
I’m going to leave tomorrow,
I know you don’t bid my care
I ain’t going down no dirt road by myself
If I don’t carry my rider, going to carry someone else
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I’m going away to where I’m known
I’m worried now but I won’t be worried long
My rider got somethin’ she try to keep it hid
Lord, I got somethin’ find that somethin’ with
I feel like chopping, chips flying everywhere
I’ve been to the Nation, lord, but I couldn’t stay there
Charlie Patton was the first great Delta bluesman; from him flowed nearly all the elements that would comprise the region’s blues style. Patton had a coarse, earthy voice that reflected hard times and hard living. His guitar stylepercussive and rawmatched his vocal delivery. He often played slide guitar and gave that style a position of prominence in Delta blues.
Patton’s songs were filled with lyrics that dealt with issues like social mobility (pony Blues), imprisonment (High Sheriff Blues), nature (High Water Blues), and morality (Oh Death) that went far beyond traditional male-female relationship themes. Patton defined the life of a bluesman. He drank and smoked excessively. He reportedly had a total of eight wives. He was jailed at least once. He traveled extensively, never staying in one place for too long.
Charley Patton was “the” delta blues man of course, his playing was raw and expressive, a distinctive style, rather dissident to the other blues players of the time. A monument !
The Dockery farm was the sawmill and cotton plantation where Charley and his family lived from 1900 onwards.
Spoonful Blues (spoken: I’m about to go to jail about this spoonful) In all a spoon’, ’bout that spoon’ The women goin’ crazy, every day in their life ’bout a . . . It’s all I want, in this creation is a . . . I go home (spoken: wanna fight!) ’bout a . . . Doctor’s dyin’ (way in Hot Springs !) just ’bout a . . . These women goin’ crazy every day in their life ’bout a . . . Would you kill a man dead? (spoken: yes, I will!) just ’bout a . . . Oh babe, I’m a fool about my… (spoken: Don’t take me long!) to get my . . . Hey baby, you know I need my . . . It’s mens on Parchman (done lifetime) just ’bout a… Hey baby, (spoken: you know I ain’t long) ’bout my. . . It’s all I want (spoken: honey, in this creation) is a . . . I go to bed, get up and wanna fight ’bout a . . . (spoken: Look-y here, baby, would you slap me? Yes I will!) just ’bout a… Hey baby, (spoken: you know I’m a fool a-) ’bout my . . .
Would you kill a man? (spoken: Yes I would, you know I’d kill him) just ’bout a . . . Most every man (spoken: that you see is) fool ’bout his… (spoken: You know baby, I need) that ol’ . . .Hey baby, (spoken: I wanna hit the judge ’bout a) ’bout a . . . (spoken: Baby, you gonna quit me? Yeah honey!) just ’bout a . . . It’s all I want, baby, this creation is a… (spoken: look-y here, baby, I’m leavin’ town!) just ’bout a . . . Hey baby, (spoken: you know I need) that ol’ . . . (spoken: Don’t make me mad, baby!) ’cause I want my . . .Hey baby, I’m a fool ’bout that… (spoken: Look-y here, honey!) I need that… Most every man leaves without a… Sundays’ mean (spoken: I know they are) ’bout a . . .
Hey baby, (spoken: I’m sneakin’ around here) and ain’t got me no . . . Oh, that spoon’, hey baby, you know I need my . . .
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Edited by Gwendolyn Brooks
In this handbook, four authors write on the same topics but with varying emphases. Gwendolyn Brooks sketches the background of Afro-American poetry and offers practical hints and exercises for writing. Keorapatse Kgositsile discusses the role and situation of the black writer. Haki R. Madhubuti (Don L. Lee) explains an author’s commitment and discusses the use of words, metaphors, symbols, and characters. Dudley Randall analyzes the syntactical and rhythmical structure of verse and gives suggestions on marketing. The book includes lists of books and articles for background and technique, answers to questions asked by beginning writers, and work sheets showing the growth of a poem. (JM)
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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 dont the school reformers who mandate educational laws experience such an awakening?Review by AC Snow
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music website > http://www.kalamu.com/bol/ writing website > http://wordup.posterous.com/ daily blog > http://kalamu.posterous.com twitter > http://twitter.com/neogriot facebook > http://www.facebook.com/kalamu.salaam
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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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By Marcus Rediker
Marcus Rediker is professor of maritime history at the University of Pittsburgh and the author of Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea (1987), The Many-Headed Hydra (2000), and Villains of All Nations (2005), books that explore seafaring, piracy, and the origins of globalization. In The Slave Ship, Rediker combines exhaustive research with an astute and highly readable synthesis of the material, balancing documentary snapshots with an ear for gripping narrative. Critics compare the impact of Redikers history, unique for its ship-deck perspective, to similarly compelling fictional accounts of slavery in Toni Morrisons Beloved and Charles Johnsons Middle Passage. Even scholars who have written on the subject defer to Redikers vast knowledge of the subject. Bottom line: The Slave Ship is sure to become a classic of its subject.Bookmarks Magazine
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Our African Journey
We stood in El Mina slave dungeon, on the Cape Coast of Ghana on a recent trip to West Africa, overwhelmed by despair, grief, and rage. Without needing to verbalize it, we were both imagining what reaching this spot must have felt like for some long-ago, un-remembered African ancestor as she stood trembling on the precipice of an unknown and terrifyingly uncertain future. It was hard to process the fact that for over three hundred years, millions of women, men and children, mothers, fathers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters, brothers, potters, weavers, had begun their long and brutal journey of being captured, kidnapped, sold, and enslaved from the very spot where we now stood the portal now infamously known as the door of no return. Growing a Global Heart
Belvie and Dedan at the Door of No Return
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Bob Marley was a Jamaican singer-songwriter and musician. He was the lead singer, songwriter and guitarist for the ska, rocksteady and reggae bands The Wailers (19641974) and Bob Marley & the Wailers (19741981). Marley remains the most widely known and revered performer of reggae music, and is credited for helping spread both Jamaican music and the Rastafari movement (of which he was a committed member), to a worldwide audience.
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By Bob Marley Exodus! Movement of Jah people! oh-oh-oh, yea-eah! Well uh, oh. let me tell you this:
Men and people will fight ya down (tell me why!) When ya see Jah light. (ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!) Let me tell you if you’re not wrong; (then, why? ) Everything is all right. So we gonna walkAll right!through de roads of creation: We the generation (tell me why!) Trod through great tribulationtrod through great tribulation. Exodus! All right! Movement of Jah people! Oh, yeah! o-oo, yeah! All right! Exodus! Movement of Jah people! oh, yeah! Yeah-yeah-yeah, well! Open your eyes and look within. Are you satisfied with the life you’re living? uh! We know where we’re going, uh! We know where we’re from. We’re leaving Babylon, We’re going to our father’s land.
One, Two, Three, Four Exodus! Movement of Jah people! oh, yeah! Movement of Jah people!send us another Brother Moses! Movement of Jah people!from across the Red Sea! Movement of Jah people!send us another Brother Moses! Movement of Jah people!from across the Red Sea! Movement of Jah people! Exodus! All right! oo-oo-ooh! oo-ooh! Movement of Jah people! oh, yeah! Exodus! Exodus! All right! Exodus! now, now, now, now! Exodus! Exodus! oh, yea-ea-ea-ea-ea-ea-eah! Exodus! Exodus! All right! Exodus! uh-uh-uh-uh!
One, Two, Three, Four Move! Move! Move! Move! Move! Move! Open your eyes and look within. Are you satisfied with the life you’re living? We know where we’re going; We know where we’re from. We’re leaving Babylon, yall! We’re going to our father’s land. Exodus! All right! Movement of Jah people! Exodus! Movement of Jah people! Movement of Jah people! Movement of Jah people! Movement of Jah people! Movement of Jah people!
Move! Move! Move! Move! Move! Move! Move! Jah come to break downpression, Rule equality. Wipe away transgression. Set the captives free! Exodus! All right, all right! Movement of Jah people! oh, yeah! Exodus! Movement of Jah people! oh, now, now, now, now! Movement of Jah people! Movement of Jah people! Movement of Jah people! Movement of Jah people! Movement of Jah people! Movement of Jah people! Move! Move! Move! Move! Move! Move! uh-uh-uh-uh! Movement of Jah people! Move! Movement of Jah people! Move! Movement of Jah people)! Move! Movement of Jah people! Movement of Jah people! Movement of Jah people)! Movement of Jah people)! Movement of Jah people! Movement of Jah people! Movement of Jah people!
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Part of a recording of an interview of Jelly Roll Morton by Alan Lomax in 1938. Jazz history archive material. Jelly sings and plays Buddy Bolden Blues, and tells of his experiences watching Buddy in New Orleans, and talks about the great Buddy Bolden. “Buddy was the blowinest man since Gabriel!”.
Jelly Roll Morton playing and singing his composition of “Buddy Bolden’s Blues”
Buddy Boldens Blues
Lyrics by Jelly Roll Morton.
I thought I heard Buddy Bolden say You nasty, you dirtytake it away You terrible, you awfultake it away I thought I heard him say
I thought I heard Buddy Bolden shout Open up that window and let that bad air out Open up that window, and let the foul air out I thought I heard Buddy Bolden say
I thought I heard Judge Fogarty say
Thirty days in the markettake him away
Get him a good broom to sweep withtake him away
I thought I heard him say
I thought I heard Frankie Dusen shout
Gal, give me that moneyIm gonna beat it out
I mean give me that money, like I explain you, or Im gonna beat it out
I thought I heard Frankie Dusen say
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A Novel in Linocut by Stefan Rerg
In a series of brilliantly rendered linocut relief prints, Berg tells the story of Buddy Bolden, a New Orleans jazz musician living from 1877 to 1931. Each crisp image masterfully succeeds in evoking a feeling of the fluidity of the music, the boisterousness of the community, and the darkness of the events surrounding the musician’s demise. An introduction by Donald M. Marquis, author of In Search of Buddy Bolden: First Man of Jazz, and an afterword by renowned artist, George A. Walker, round out this collection.
Fans of the graphic novel genre and enthusiasts of linocut relief printmaking will surely be pleased with Let That Bad Air Out: Buddy Bolden’s Last Parade. Highly recommended.
Stefan Berg revives the wordless graphic novel in his portrait of he `first man of jazz’. Very little is known of Buddy Bolden. His music was never recorded and there is only one existing photograph, yet he is considered to be the first bandleader to play the improvised music that has since become known as jazz.
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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 Robert L. Carter and Foreword by John Hope Franklin
Robert Lee Carter (March 11, 1917 January 3, 2012) insisted on using the research of the psychologist Kenneth B. Clark to attack segregated schools, a daring courtroom tactic in the eyes of some civil rights lawyers. Experiments by Mr. Clark and his wife, Mamie, showed that black children suffered in their learning and development by being segregated. Mr. Clarks testimony proved crucial in persuading the court to act, Mr. Carter wrote in a 2004 book, A Matter of Law: A Memoir of Struggle in the Cause of Equal Rights. As chief deputy to the imposing Mr. Marshall, who was to become the first black Supreme Court justice, Mr. Carter labored for years in his shadow.
In the privacy of legal conferences, Mr. Carter was seen as the house radical, always urging his colleagues to push legal and constitutional positions to the limits.
He recalled that Mr. Marshall had encouraged him to play the gadfly:
I was younger and more radical than many of the people Thurgood would have in, I guess. But hed never let them shut me up. Robert Lee Carter was born in Caryville, in the Florida Panhandle . . . .
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By Charlayne Hunter-Gault
A personal history of the civil rights movement from activist and acclaimed journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault. On January 20, 2009, 1.8 million people crowded the grounds of the Capitol to witness the inauguration of Barack Obama. Among the masses was Charlayne Hunter-Gault. She had flown from South Africa for the occasion, to witness what was for many the culmination of the long struggle for civil rights in the United States. In this compelling personal history, she uses the event to look back on her own involvement in the civil rights movement, as one of two black students who forced the University of Georgia to integrate, and to relate the pivotal events that swept the South as the movement gathered momentum through the early 1960s. With poignant black-and-white photos, original articles from the New York Times, and a unique personal viewpoint, this is a moving tribute to the men and women on whose shoulders Obama stood.
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By Mary L. Dudziak
Thurgood Marshall became a living icon of civil rights when he argued Brown v. Board of Education before the Supreme Court in 1954. Six years later, he was at a crossroads. A rising generation of activists were making sit-ins and demonstrations rather than lawsuits the hallmark of the civil rights movement. What role, he wondered, could he now play? When in 1960 Kenyan independence leaders asked him to help write their constitution, Marshall threw himself into their cause. Here was a new arena in which law might serve as the tool with which to forge a just society. In Exporting American Dreams: Thurgood Marshall’s African Journey (2008) Mary Dudziak recounts with poignancy and power the untold story of Marshall’s journey to Africa
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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posted 6 September 2010