ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



When I arrived Rhonda Miller was holding forth and doing a great job of outlining s

ome of the problems and complications the New Orleans black community

faces in these post-Katrina days. Earlier there had been a presentation of

“All On A Mardi Gras Day,” an excellent film by New Orleanian Royce Osborn.



Books by Kalamu ya Salaam


The Magic of JuJu: An Appreciation of the Black Arts Movement  /   360: A Revolution of Black Poets

Everywhere Is Someplace Else: A Literary Anthology  /  From A Bend in the River: 100 New Orleans Poets

Our Music Is No Accident   /  What Is Life: Reclaiming the Black Blues Self

My Story My Song (CD)


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kalamu in dallas


Waking Up to What Needs to be Done

5 November, Dallas—One-nighters can kill you. This was my third, one-nighter in a row. Usually they require that you wake up no later than 6am to make an early flight and you end up staying up to around midnight. It’s grueling, and though we try not to schedule one-nighters back to back, sometimes, like this time, there is no choice, so you just have to tough it out. Part of the scheduling problems is how to avoid the dreaded only-one-flight-will-get-you-there-on-time syndrome. My experience is that scheduling that close is a recipe for disaster, so we strive to make sure that there is at least one other intervening available flight to make our schedules. The 7am flight out of Baltimore was cancelled. I ended up transferring to a different airline. We got there on time, but we wouldn’t have, if we had scheduled a later flight. Plus, it was important to have someone on the ground managing the changes. Calling the hosts to let them know what was going on, checking schedules to help me decide what other airlines to try. My daughter, Asante, is our project manager and she is an excellent manager, taking care of details and following up to make sure accommodations are what they should be, contracts are taken care of, transportation arrangements are made and double checked, on and on, all the details that make touring a dream when they are handled properly and a nightmare when they are mis-handled. Third Eye has been at it for over 20 years, a nationalist organization that grew out of the black power movement and continues to hold forums and conferences speaking to issues confronting the black community. John Howard and Alvin Blakes are the two members with whom I am the most familiar. They are a few years younger than me and in them I see a lot of my roots in the movement, especially the emphasis on pan-africanism and black cultural identity. Alvin is a drummer, he continues to carry on a tradition I gave up many years ago. Although I continue to drum as I perform, tapping on podiums, stomping on the floor, pounding on my chest, slapping my thighs, I don’t formally play the drums anymore. This was the 21st annual African Awakening Conference. The theme was: WE CHARGE GENOCIDE—U.S. Crimes Against the People of New Orleans. The session that was originally scheduled for 4pm and then changed to 4:30pm started around quarter of 6pm. The conference room had about a hundred participants including the obligatory vendors offering books, tapes, cds and other items. There was a solid representation of nationalists of all stripes including a delegation from the Nation of Islam, and a surprising to me, large number of continental Africans, who were a testament to strong outreach efforts on the part of Third Eye organizers. When I arrived Rhonda Miller was holding forth and doing a great job of outlining some of the problems and complications the New Orleans black community faces in these post-Katrina days. Earlier there had been a presentation of “All On A Mardi Gras Day,” an excellent film by New Orleanian Royce Osborn. During a short intermission I went with Vicki Meek, director of the South Dallas Cultural Center, to sign contracts for a residency next year in Dallas. Right after we returned I was up. I opened with an extended “Who Let The Dogs Out” and closed with a shortened “System of Thot.” The audience was clapping and responding verbally from the very beginning. At one point we improvised a chant: “no trains, no planes, no busses.” We had a rousing good time. My message was challenging for this audience as I emphasized environmental concerns, questioning the nature of governance, and taking responsibility for the spaces we occupy rather than focusing on soliciting charity and help as a victim of Katrina. Plus, I am clear, while white supremacy is indeed a major problem, it is not the only problem, and fighting it is not by itself the solution to our problems. For many of my comrades, broadening their vision is a difficult paradigm to accept, but I believe we must do expand our vision even as we deepen our work in our particular communities. Our material realities require us to address for more than issues of race. We had a healthy question and answer session, and I hope that I gave those assembled something significant to chew on and consider as we struggle to figure out where to go from here. Katrina exposes so many weaknesses, brings out so many strengths. The non-response of the government, the overwhelming support of the people—ordinary citizens have spontaneously done whatever they could to help and, in many, many significant cases, were it not for their on the ground help, literally thousands of us would not have survived, especially in the face of the utter breakdown of governmental response. For many of us, this was the first time we experience whites unstintingly helping blacks, men reaching out to help women without any hint of expecting a return of favors, the rich supporting rather than taking advantage of the poor. Yes, there were those who took advantage, but more people helped rather than hindered. Yet, when it came to government, all the way up and down the line it was ineffective. Which raises the question: why? Why would ordinary citizens be helpful and government, which is composed of ordinary people, be so uniformly ineffective. The answer lies in the nature of governance in the american society.

 The answer lies in the systemic nature of how this country is run. The answer is complex, is not comforting, and suggests that we have a huge fight on our hands, a fight which can not be successfully fought if we attempt to reduce it to simple labels, simple binaries. Even though it clearly contains obvious elements of historic and deep-seated wrongs, our struggle is far deeper than rich against poor, white against black, men taking advantage of women. For me, the two central issues are our relationship to our environment and the nature of governance. This is not a message people at a Katrina rally expect to hear, yet this is the message I believe I must deliver. My task is to become better and more effective at helping my audiences to understand the nature of our current struggle. In big “D,” little “a,” double “l,” “a,” “s,” yours truly was tired, less patient than I ought to have been, and generally wanted to simply shout the Spike Lee slogan: wake up! But, as Malcolm taught us, that’s not the best way to wake up a sleeping man when his house is on fire, even though, in some cases, delivering a rude awakening is the only way to rouse a sleeper. Figuring out how to address the issue is almost as complex as analyzing the issue and organizing to effectively respond to the issue. Wake up, huh? Wake up and do what? I have to get better not only at explaining the issues but also become sharper at suggesting doable solutions, suggesting actions that people can take. If there is a central failure I have seen everywhere, it is a failure of leadership. Katrina was a big exam. We all failed. And then it was back to the Southside lofts where I was staying. The wireless internet service was weak and it took a long, long time to post the week’s selections for our music blog, the Breath of Life. I didn’t finish until 3:30am. Fortunately, I was headed back to Nashville for a 36-hour stop over and my flight wasn’t until 10am. Another leg of the touring was complete. Next stop Houston and then on to New Orleans.

posted 26 November 2005

*   *   *   *   *’s 25 Best Selling Books



#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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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.

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Faces At The Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism

By Derrick Bell

In nine grim metaphorical sketches, Bell, the black former Harvard law professor who made headlines recently for his one-man protest against the school’s hiring policies, hammers home his controversial theme that white racism is a permanent, indestructible component of our society. Bell’s fantasies are often dire and apocalyptic: a new Atlantis rises from the ocean depths, sparking a mass emigration of blacks; white resistance to affirmative action softens following an explosion that kills Harvard’s president and all of the school’s black professors; intergalactic space invaders promise the U.S. President that they will clean up the environment and deliver tons of gold, but in exchange, the bartering aliens take all African Americans back to their planet. Other pieces deal with black-white romance, a taxi ride through Harlem and job discrimination.

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The Persistence of the Color Line

Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency

By Randall Kennedy

Among the best things about The Persistence of the Color Line is watching Mr. Kennedy hash through the positions about Mr. Obama staked out by black commentators on the left and right, from Stanley Crouch and Cornel West to Juan Williams and Tavis Smiley. He can be pointed. Noting the way Mr. Smiley consistently “voiced skepticism regarding whether blacks should back Obama” . . .

The finest chapter in The Persistence of the Color Line is so resonant, and so personal, it could nearly be the basis for a book of its own. That chapter is titled “Reverend Wright and My Father: Reflections on Blacks and Patriotism.”  Recalling some of the criticisms of America’s past made by Mr. Obama’s former pastor, Mr. Kennedy writes with feeling about his own father, who put each of his three of his children through Princeton but who “never forgave American society for its racist mistreatment of him and those whom he most loved.”

His father distrusted the police, who had frequently called him “boy,” and rejected patriotism. Mr. Kennedy’s father “relished Muhammad Ali’s quip that the Vietcong had never called him ‘nigger.’ ” The author places his father, and Mr. Wright, in sympathetic historical light.

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Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake.

She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion


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Captain of the Planter: The Story of Robert Smalls

By Dorothy Sterling

Dorothy Sterling’s biography of Robert Smalls is Captain of the Planter: The Story of Robert Smalls (Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1958). In most history books, the contributions of Negroes during the Civil War and Reconstructions are ignored. Robert Smalls was one of the heroes who is rarely mentioned. He was a Negro slave who stole a ship from the Confederates, served on it with the Union Army with distinction, and finally served several terms in Congress.

All this was accomplished against the handicaps first of slavery, then of the prejudice of the Union Army, and finally of the Jim Crow laws, which eventually conquered him. Besides its value in contradicting the history book insinuation that the Negro was incapable of political enterprise and that the South was right in imposing Jim Crow laws, Captain of the Planter is an exciting adventure story. Captain Smalls’ escape from slavery and his battle exploits make interesting reading, and the style is fast moving.—Barbara Dodds

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A Wreath for Emmett Till

By Marilyn Nelson; Illustrated by Philippe Lardy

This memorial to the lynched teen is in the Homeric tradition of poet-as-historian. It is a heroic crown of sonnets in Petrarchan rhyme scheme and, as such, is quite formal not only in form but in language. There are 15 poems in the cycle, the last line of one being the first line of the next, and each of the first lines makes up the entirety of the 15th. This chosen formality brings distance and reflection to readers, but also calls attention to the horrifically ugly events. The language is highly figurative in one sonnet, cruelly graphic in the next. The illustrations echo the representative nature of the poetry, using images from nature and taking advantage of the emotional quality of color. There is an introduction by the author, a page about Emmett Till, and literary and poetical footnotes to the sonnets.

The artist also gives detailed reasoning behind his choices. This underpinning information makes this a full experience, eminently teachable from several aspects, including historical and literary—School Library Journal

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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 /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

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

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update 16 July 2012




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Related files:  Kalamu at MIT   Kalamu in Baltimore  Kalamu at Clemson