Julius Kambarage Nyerere

Julius Kambarage Nyerere


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



I have learned how to be a moderate through

observing the inflexible behavior of the Europeans




Books by Julius Nyerere

Freedom and Unity / Our Leadership and the Destiny of Tanzania  /  Ujamaa: Essays on Socialism / Freedom and Development

Africa’s Freedom  /  Arusha Declaration Ten Years After / On Socialism  / Crusade for Liberation  / Man and Development

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Julius Kambarage Nyerere


Statesman & Pan-African Leader


Julius K. Nyerere became the President of Tanganyika (East Africa) in 1962 and was President of Tanzania (Tanganyika and Zanzibar) from 1964 to 1985.

Once described by an American official at the United Nations as a “symbol of African hopes, African dignity, and African successes.” President Julius K. Nyerere of the Republic of Tanzania was among the most respected and influential leaders of the emerging modern nations of Africa. A former schoolteacher, he guided Tanganyika through the various steps toward complete independence after he became the head of the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) in 1954. Nyerere, a Socialist and Pan-Africanist, was a force for moderation and racial harmony. he worked in close cooperation with the British authorities in his homeland. 

Tanganyika, a former German colony in eastern Africa, came under a League of Nations mandate administered by great Britain after World war I and was made a United Nations trusteeship territory in 1946. Of its estimated  population [1963 figures] of 9,237,000 some 98 percent are African, most of them of Bantu stock, belonging to about 120 tribes. Tanganyika lacked the racial tensions that mark some of the other African countries, and its African majority lived in relative peace and harmony with the European, Indian, and Arab minorities. On may 1, 1961, Tanganyika was accorded internal self-government and Nyerere became Prime Minister. Complete independence was granted on December 9, 1961, and a year later the Republic of Tanganyika was proclaimed, with Nyerere as President. Tanganyika became a member of the United Nations, and retained its ties with great Britain in the commonwealth of Nations.

A native of Butiama, on the eastern shore of Lake Victoria, Julius Kambarage Nyerere was born about 1923 (other sources give the year of his birth variously as 1918, 1921, or 1922), one of the twenty-six children of the aristocratic but illiterate chief of the Zanaki tribe, Nyerere Burito, who had several wives. The present chief of the tribe in 1963 was Wanzagi Nyerere, a half brother of Julius Nyerere. As a boy, Nyereere herded sheep and led a typical tribal life.

He had practically no contact with the civilization of the white man until the age of twelve, when he entered a native Authority school at Musoma twenty-sic miles from his home. After completing his elementary schooling in three years instead of the customary four, he obtained his secondary education at a Roman Catholic mission school at Tabora in the Central Province. He was baptized in the Roman Catholic faith at the age of twenty.

Selected for teacher training, Nyerere entered Makerere college (now the University College of east Africa) in Kampala, Uganda in 1943. There he organized the Tanganyika Students’ and the Makerere Branch of the Tanganyika African Association , a nonpolitical organization founded by British civil servants in 1929. After receiving his teaching diploma in 1945, Nyerere returned to Tabora as a teacher at St. Mary’s mission school. In 1949 he became the first Tanganyikan to study at a British university when eh entered the University of Edinburgh on a government scholarship. Upon obtaining his M.A. degree in history and economics he returned to Tanganyika in October 1952 and became a teacher at the St. Francis school in Pugu near Dar es Salaam.

As his interest in politics grew, Nyere renewed his ties with the Tanganyika African Association and was elected its president in 1953. Under his guidance the association developed into a political organization. On July 7, 1954 it became a Tanganyika African national union (TANU) and adopted a new constitution, with the central goal of preparing Tanganyika’s natives for self-government and independence. The constitution stressed peace, equality, and racial harmony, while opposing tribalism, isolationism, and discrimination.

The Governor of Tanganyika, Sir Edward Twining, appointed Nyerere in 1954 to a contemporary seat on the Tanganyika legislative council. As a member of the council Nyerere called attention to the limited educational opportunities of the native population and proposed that council representatives be elected instead of appointed. In February 1955 he presented the program of TANU to the Trusteeship Council of the United Nations in New York.

When the headmaster at St. Francis requested that he give up politics, Nyerere decided to follow his conscience and gave up his teaching  position instead, to devote his full time to a political career. (He later resumed teaching on  part-time basis.) Touring the country in a battered Land-Rover, he solicited support for the program of TANU, which attained a membership of some 250,000 within a year. Despite his emphatic disavowal of violence, Nyerere was forbidden to speak in public early in 1957 because some of his speeches were termed inflammatory by police. “I am a troublemaker, because I believe in human rights strongly enough to be one,” Nyerere told a correspondent for the New York Times (March 31,1957). He said that his movement would resort to civil disobedience if necessary to attain its goals.

Nominated again as a representative member of the legislative council in 1957, Nyerere resigned after a brief period when it became apparent that the government was unwilling to consider his demands for self-government. Later, relations between Nyereere and the British  authorities improved, and in October 1958 he publicly accepted the new Governor, Sir Richard Turnbull, as the man who would guide Tanganyika to self-government.

Meanwhile, in September 1958, some 28,500 voters who met educational and income qualifications went to the polls in Tanganyika’s first quasi-democratic elections. under a “a parity” system of representation, each voted for one candidate of each of the three major racial groups–African, Asian, and European. Although Nyerere was highly critical of the system, his TANU party was victorious over the European-backed United Tanganyika party as well as over the radical African national Congress. “Independence will follow as surely as the tickbirds follow the rhino,” Nyerere said upon hearing the result.

After the second stage of the elections was completed in February 1959, twenty-eight of the thirty elected seats in the sixty-four member legislative council were occupied by candidates supported by TANU. (The remaining thirty-four seats continued to be appointed by the Governor.) Although Nyerere declined to accept a ministry in the new government, he was the unquestioned leader of the multiracial elected members organization, which formed a permanent opposition within the legislative council. Under Nyerere’s leadership an “unofficial government” also began to take form, to prepare the country for self-government.

In April 1959 Nyerere went to Zanzibar to attend a meeting of the Pan-African Freedom Movement of Eastern and Central Africa (PAFMECA), of which he had previously been elected president. There he was instrumental in bringing the Arab and African parties closer together. Speaking at a meeting of PAFMECA at Nairobi, Kenya in September 1959, he declared that Europeans and Asians were welcome to remain in Africa as equal citizens after independence was achieved.

Great Britain’s new Colonial Secretary, Iain Macleod, announced in December 1959 that Tanganyika would be given virtual home rule in late 1960, under constitutional provisions that would include a legislature with a guaranteed African majority. Although Nyerere criticized the retention of income and literacy qualifications, as well as the reservation of a specific number seats in the legislative council for the European and Asian minorities, the new plan was seen as a definite triumph for him and his party.

In the elections of August 30, 1960 TANU won seventy of the seventy-one seats in the new legislative assembly. Nyerere was sworn in as chief minister of government under the new constitution, while Governor Turnbull continued to hold certain veto powers. At a meeting of Commonwealth Prime Ministers in London in March 1961 Nyerere joined other African leaders in denouncing the racist policies of the Union of South Africa and declared that if South Africa remained in the Commonwealth Tanganyika would never join. South Africa subsequently withdrew its membership.

Following a constitutional conference in March 1961, Colonial secretary MacLeod announced that Tanganyika would become internally self-governing on may 1 and totally independent in the following December. Upon being sworn in as Prime Minister on May 1, 1961 Nyerere called upon his people to concern themselves with the pressing economic problems of the country and not to waste time in fighting colonialism, which had already been overthrown in Tanganyika. Visiting the United States in July 1961, Nyerere warned the West against giving military aid to African nations and called instead for help in fighting poverty, disease, and ignorance. He said that if adequate Western aid were not forthcoming, Tanganyika might be compelled to apply to the Soviet Union for assistance.

On December 9, 1961 Tanganyika obtained complete national independence within the British commonwealth. When Tanganyika was unanimously accepted as the 104th U.N. member a few days later, Nyerere expressed some concern that his country’s independence might slow efforts to attain an east African federation. On January 22, 1962 he resigned as prime minister and bestowed the office on his own nominee, former Minister without Portfolio Rashidi Kawawa. Although it was rumored that he was forced out by the more radical elements of his party, his national popularity and political influence appeared undiminished.

 He later declare that he had resigned to rebuild the TANU party and to “give the country a new purpose” now that independence had been achieved.

The Tanganyika government announced on May 31, 1962 that in the coming December the country would become a republic within the Commonwealth. Following elections, in which Nyerere was chosen president by 97 percent of the vote, the Republic of Tanganyika was officially proclaimed on December 9, 1962–the first anniversary of national independence. the new constitution, modeled after that of Ghana, established a one-party state, outlawed strikes, and greatly increased Nyerere’s personal power. A preventive detention act, aimed at curbing racist and antiforeign activities, had been passed by the legislature with Nyerere’s approval a few months earlier.

Although Tanganyika appears to have attained a high degree of political stability, the new nation continued to be faced with many problems, notably with regard to economic development, education, medical services, and the shortage of qualified civil servants. in line with the TANU slogan Uhuru na Kazi (freedom and work), Nyerere instituted a successful self-help program, under which roads, schools, clinics, communal farms, and other projects are being built by teams of volunteer workers. in late 1961 Nyerere inaugurated a three-year program for the improvement of agriculture, the exploration of mineral resources, and the expansion of light industry, aided financially by great Britain, the United States, and west Germany. Nyerere pledged  also his efforts to preserve Tanganyika’s wildlife.

Nyerere’s “Bantu Socialism” is of the pragmatic rather than dogmatic variety. His conciliatory views on race relations are contained in his booklet Barriers to Democracy. Although he admired Ghana’s President Kwame Nkrumah and the late Congolese Premier Patrice Lumumba, his policies are far less radical. He is said to have been influenced in his moderate position by Indian prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and by the late Mohandas Gandhi. “I have learned how to be a moderate through observing the inflexible behavior of the Europeans,” Nyerere once told Rolf Italiaander (The New Leaders of Africa, Prentice Hall, 1961).

While he was still a teacher, Julius K. Nyerere married a woman from another tribe in an open ceremony, in order to de-emphasize tribal loyalties. His wife, the former Maria Magige, runs a small shop in the native quarter of Dar es salaam and is president of the Tanganyika Council of women. They have five sons and one daughter. A slightly built man with graying hair and a small moustache, Nyerere was five feet six and a half inches tall and weighed 125 pounds. Although he was a practicing catholic, his sawed-off front teeth indicated his pagan tribal background. He was described as mild-mannered and unassuming, with a ready wit and a good sense of humor.

A forceful speaker, given to fiery phrases, he is fluent in both English and Swahili. in 1963 his translation of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar into Swahili was published in Dar Es Salaam. He was a chain smoker and liked an occasional Scotch and soda or gin and tonic, and he claimed that he had “all the vices.”  Having living use for pomp, he preferred to dress informally, in sports shirts, but on public celebrations he wore his native address. 

He was a tireless worker and seldom had time for recreation. In 1963 he became the first chancellor of the University of East Africa, formed by three colleges in Uganda, Kenya, and Tanganyika. In 1959 Duqesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania conferred upon him an honorary L.L.D. degree, as a statesman and scholar whose determination and vision had “given new hope to men long weary of racial strife and unresolved national differences.”

Source: Current Biography, 1963

Other Statements 

on Nyerere’s Life & Political Career

Political Repression

  • Unlike most African leaders who spearheaded the great wave of independence struggles that swept the continent, he was never jailed or persecuted.

  • Although he was harsh with his critics and detained some indefinitely without trial, Nyerere never acquired notoriety for human rights abuses.

Tanganyika Becomes Tanzania

  • In 1964 Nyerere formed Tanzania—a union of Tanganyika and the island of Zanzibar—with himself as president. He stepped down as president in 1985 but continued as head of the ruling party until 1990.

On South Africa & African Liberation

  • Tanzania hosted the African Liberation Committee from its inception in 1963.

  • As one of the founding fathers of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), he laid the foundation for the African Continent to start its long and arduous road towards peace and unity.

  • On 26 June 1959 Julius Nyerere was the principal speaker – along with Father Trevor Huddleston – at a meeting in London which launched the Boycott South Africa Movement. (It was re-named Anti-Apartheid Movement in 1960.)

  • Tanzania gave land and other assistance to the African National Congress of South Africa for its headquarters in Morogoro and for the Solomon Mahlangu school 

  • Committed to African liberation, he offered sanctuary in Tanzania to members of African liberation movements from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Angola, and Uganda.

Nyerere & Idi Amin

  • In 1979, Nyerere defied the Organization of African Unity and sent troops to Uganda, claiming it was in retaliation for dictator Idi Amin Dada’s deployment of troops to northwestern Tanzania. But Nyerere’s real aim was to rid Africa of Amin. He succeeded. 

Nyerere as Scholar

  • Nyerere wrote eight books mainly on development and socialism in Africa and Tanzania in particular. He also translated William Shakespeare’s plays Julius Caesar and The Merchant of Venice into Swahili

African Socialism

  • The party formally adopted socialism as the country’s ideology, but with an African twist: All rural development would be centered on villages. Private banks and many industries also were nationalized. He realised in the course of time that his policies of resettling millions of peasant farmers and of a one-party state had not worked as well as he had hoped, and had become more pragmatic. 

  • Nyerere had no qualms discussing Africa’s technological and economic backwardness in the 20th century.

    “People have gone to the moon and we are still trying to reach the village and the village is getting farther [away],” Ali Mazrui, a Kenyan political scientist, quoted Nyerere as saying.

African Diplomacy

  • Most recently, Nyerere tried to mediate an end to the civil war in neighboring Burundi, where more than 200,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since 1993. Nyerere’s death was a serious setback for the peace process in Burundi where he played an important part as facilitator to bring about consensus among 18 political parties.

African Educator

  • Known affectionately throughout Africa as Mwalimu, or “teacher” in Swahili
  • Remembering him as one of the giants of the 20th-century African liberation movement, UNICEF officials called Nyerere’s greatest achievements creating a universal curriculum of tolerance in the Tanzanian school system and teaching children concepts frequently overlooked in their violence-ridden neighbor states — love, respect and decency.

Husband & Father

  • Nyerere was married and had eight children.

Simplicity vs. Corruption

  • In a continent known for corrupt leaders who live lavishly off state coffers, Nyerere lived modestly. After he retired, parliament hastily passed a law granting him a pension.

Belief In African Democracy

  • Nyerere was among only a handful of African presidents to voluntarily leave office.  Nyerere stepped down as president in 1985 after 23 years in office to devote his time to farming and diplomacy. He worked tirelessly to negotiate an end to the violence that has wracked central and southern Africa in the past decade.
  • He also foresaw the futility of single-party rule in Tanzania as the clamor for democracy swept the continent following the collapse of communist regimes in Eastern Europe and Russia.

A Star Falls from the Heavens

  • Former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere, the father of Tanzanian independence and a symbol of Africa’s hopes as it emerged from the shadow of European colonial rule, died October 14 1999 in London. He was 77.

  • Nyerere was diagnosed with leukemia in August 1998 and had been under treatment in London’s St. Thomas´ Hospital since September. Nyerere suffered a massive stroke from which he did not recover.

  • aAstate funeral washeld for Nyerere in Dar es Salaam, and Nyerere was buried at his home village of Butiama in western Tanzania near Lake Victoria.

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Africa  & the World 

Remembers Nyerere’s Sacrifice

Remembrances from South Africa & Mandela

“The freedom of his country, the liberation of other oppressed peoples and the unity and decolonisation of the African continent were part of a single struggle for a better world,” Mandela said in a statement.

Mandela said he counted himself as privileged to have been among the first South African freedom fighters to have been received by Nyerere in Tanzania when the liberation struggle sought that country’s help to fight the apartheid regime.

“One thinks with humility of the contribution that he made to the liberation of our continent and to freedom in South Africa.

“Even after he had stepped down from public office in his own country, we benefited from his leadership and wise counsel, in pursuit of development, peace and justice not only in our countries, our region and our continent, but throughout the world,” he said.

Although the nation mourned the loss of a friend, leader and comrade in arms, there was comfort in the knowledge that Nyerere’s efforts had made it possible for the people of South Africa to strive for the goals the country shared with him and his people, Mandela added.

Remembrances from Namibia

Namibia’s Foreign Minister Theo-Ben Gurirab, a former guerrilla fighter who is now president of the General Assembly, announced his death to the hushed chamber, saying it was a deep personal loss.

“I, too, was a beneficiary of Mwalimu’s political tutelage and of Tanzania’s generosity,” he said. “They provided me a free haven when I fled my own country Namibia in 1972 to escape South Africa’s brutal colonialism.’

Calling Nyerere a “venerable world leader and one of Africa’s most charismatic and respected elder statesmen,” he said, “The Tanzanian people have lost the father of the nation, the courageous leader of their independence struggle and the architect of the United Republic of Tanzania.”

“The African people as a whole have lost an ardent pan-Africanist, a man of high principles, a man of self-abnegation and the champion of Africa’s self-determination, liberation and independence,” Gurirab said.

“Without Dr. Nyerere’s firm guidance and steadfast support, the struggle for liberation, particularly in southern Africa, would have been even more difficult and divisive within the ranks of the Organization of African Unity, the Non-Aligned Movement and other freedom-loving forces in the world,” he said.

Gurirab then asked the 188-member General Assembly to stand for a minute in silent tribute to Nyerere.

Remembrances from UNICEF

UNICEF echoed the sentiment, that Nyerere’s death silenced “a voice which, uninterrupted for five decades, never abandoned principle, never abandoned purpose, never abandoned vision.”

While his accomplishments were formidable and touched everyone on the African continent, UNICEF said his greatest accomplishment may be that “Tanzania became a country where human life is valued and peace is treasured.”

“When you recognize that so many of the surrounding nation states are riven by horrendous ethnic and tribal division, what Nyerere accomplished seems almost miraculous,” UNICEF said in a statement.

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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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Aké: The Years of Childhood

By Wole Soyinka

Aké: The Years of Childhood is a memoir of stunning beauty, humor, and perception


a lyrical account of one boy’s attempt to grasp the often irrational and hypocritical world of adults that equally repels and seduces him. Soyinka elevates brief anecdotes into history lessons, conversations into morality plays, memories into awakenings. Various cultures, religions, and languages mingled freely in the Aké of his youth, fostering endless contradictions and personalized hybrids, particularly when it comes to religion. Christian teachings, the wisdom of the ogboni, or ruling elders, and the power of ancestral spirits


who alternately terrify and inspire him


all carried equal metaphysical weight. Surrounded by such a collage, he notes that “God had a habit of either not answering one’s prayers at all, or answering them in a way that was not straightforward.” In writing from a child’s perspective, Soyinka expresses youthful idealism and unfiltered honesty while escaping the adult snares of cynicism and intolerance. His stinging indictment of colonialism takes on added power owing to the elegance of his attack.

*   *   *   *   *

Super Rich: A Guide to Having it All

By Russell Simmons

Russell Simmons knows firsthand that wealth is rooted in much more than the stock  market. True wealth has more to do with what’s in your heart than what’s in your wallet. Using this knowledge, Simmons became one of America’s shrewdest entrepreneurs, achieving a level of success that most investors only dream about. No matter how much material gain he accumulated, he never stopped lending a hand to those less fortunate. In Super Rich, Simmons uses his rare blend of spiritual savvy and street-smart wisdom to offer a new definition of wealth-and share timeless principles for developing an unshakable sense of self that can weather any financial storm. As Simmons says, “Happy can make you money, but money can’t make you happy.”

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The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

By Michele Alexander

Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama’s political success and Oprah Winfrey’s financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today… than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits.

Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don’t know the truth about mass incarceration—but her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.—Publishers Weekly

*   *   *   *   *

Andrew Johnson: The 17th President, 1865-1869

By Annette Gordon-Reed

Andrew Johnson, the seventeenth man to ascend to the highest office in the land, is generally regarded by historians as among the weakest presidents. Gordon-Reed has no intention of moving Johnson up in rank (“America went from the best to the worst in one presidential term,” she corroborates). So this is no reputation rescue. Gordon-Reed, author of The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family (2008), which won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, takes as her task explaining why we should look anew at such a disastrous chief executive. She reasons he is worth looking at, though her reasoning yields a far from sympathetic look. In a short biography, all bases can be covered, but the author is still left to exercise the tone of a personal essay, which this author accomplishes brilliantly. Her personal take on Johnson is that his inability to remake the country after it was torn apart rested on his deplorable view of black Americans.

In practical terms, his failure derived from his stubborn refusal to compromise with Congress in the abiding post-Lincoln controversy over who was to supervise the Reconstruction, the executive or the legislative branch. A failure, yes, but more than that, a failure at an extremely critical time in American history.



*   *   *   *   *

The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

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

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Ancient African Nations

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

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update 20 July 2012




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