ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



I am not troubled by anyone believing something different from what

I believe. I questioned, in the larger philosophical sense, how Christianity

in general and how Black Christians specifically deal with the question

of what did we do to deserve enslavement.



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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Books by James Cone

God of the Oppressed  / A Black Theology of Liberation  / For My People, Black Theology and the Black Church

Martin & Malcolm & America: A Dream or a Nightmare (1992)  / Black Theology and Black Power

Risks of Faith: The Emergence of a Black Theology of  Liberation, 1968-1998   /  The Spiritual and the Blues: An Interpretation

Black Theology: A Documentary History: Volume Two: 1980-1992  /  My Soul Looks Back

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Interview with Award Winning Neo-Griot

Kalamu ya Salaam


Christianity & Other Religions

Rudy: If you can say all writing is “inherently” political, couldn’t you say with equal thrust that all writing is “inherently” religious? Let me return again to Malcolm My Son. It is the best piece of dramatic writing that I have read in some time.

In that play you speak of the supernatural. Are you religious? Do you have faith in the Judeo-Christian God? Clearly, you are a very spiritual person. For you seem to have some “insight into the unseen.”

Kalamu: I am a non-theocentric spiritualist. I do not believe in a god or gods, as “god” is commonly conceived. I have no faith in organized religion of any sort, denomination or nomenclature. I will quote

haiku #45

black people believe

in god, and i believe in

black people, amen

In a piece of science fiction I wrote, one of the characters addresses that question. God is “I don’t know.” The human identification of “God” is another way of saying I don’t know albeit putting some certainty and substance to one’s ignorance. As brother   Curtis Mayfield said, everybody needs something to believe in. Most of us can not imagine facing the void without a faith in something beyond what we know.

Personally, I don’t feel a need to understand everything. I can accept that there are mysteries, that there are aspects of life that are not only unknown, but are indeed unknowable. In fact, you want to know the truth, most Christians have the same belief system I do, it’s just that they put “God” between themselves and the mystery. They make god knowable and then turn around and tell you that we humans are not able to understand god.

So, when they say “God knows,” that’s just another way of saying, I don’t know. I don’t feel a need to have god as a middleperson between me and my ignorance. There are things I don’t know—god or no god. And no amount of my belief in a “god” is going to enlighten me or make me any less ignorant on issues beyond the scope of human understanding.

Rudy: I quite sympathize with your position on our religious situation. I too was baptized at twelve at my family church, which has been the same foundation for 132 years–a foundation laid by freedmen For me also, it was prophesied by my great grandfather that I’d become a preacher– which has given me much pause. I too left the church when I was in high school and have not been much of a churchgoer since.

I have also flirted with a Marxian perspective and other religions. I have, however, never been able entirely to reject the faith of my Virginia ancestors. Among whom I would include Nathaniel Turner of Southampton. Thus it is unclear to me whether you are rejecting fully the religious faith of our Christian slave ancestors or whether you are rejecting the church as presently constituted. If the former, does not that constitute a kind of disrespect of these ancestors? 

Kalamu: Was it “disrespect” of their non-Christian ancestors for those of our people who were first enslaved to convert to Christianity? When Kunta became Toby, when they turned Shango into Jesus, was that disrespect of the ancestors? Don’t ever forget we did not start out as Christians. I accept that Christianity is a legitimate religion and a legitimate choice for some of us to make. But I don’t respect any kind of Christian chauvinism that attempts to browbeat people into accepting the inevitability of the whole world converting to Christianity. 

Moreover, Nat Turner was not the only person to actively fight for freedom. The fact that Turner was a Christian in no way legitimizes Christianity for me. Why is it so hard for Christians to accept non-Christians without trying to convert them, without trying to make it seem like anyone who chooses not to become a Christian after receiving the “word of God” is a heathen? The truth is, I am honoring all of my ancestors who refused to embrace the White man’s god. Period. 

Rudy:  Your interview with Edward Kamau Brathwaite and your response to him on the question of religion is extremely interesting and provocative. Brathwaite concerned himself with Carribbean culture and its religious connection. He concluded: “With the African person the religion is the center of the culture; therefore, every artist, at some stage, must become rootedly involved in a religious complexity.” He goes on further to make a distinction in how European theologians have dealt with God and how our ancestors have dealt with divinity in our everyday lives. 

In your response, you seemed troubled by Brathwaite’s position on the role and importance of church religion in our cultural life. You seem to believe our African gods and the Christian God failed us. Maybe our African gods failed us. Neither Turner nor King nor my 91-year-old grandmother would agree with you on the failings of Christ in the lives of African-Americans. They and many like them would say that our Lord has brought us a mighty long way. 

Kalamu: I am not going to argue with anyone’s beliefs. I have stated my position. I am not troubled by anyone believing something different from what I believe. I questioned, in the larger philosophical sense, how Christianity in general and how Black Christians specifically deal with the question of what did we do to deserve enslavement. If the Christian God is a just God, what wrong were we guilty of to deserve the holocaust of chattel slavery? If we did no wrong, that is, if we were not collectively guilty then why were we punished? If the answer is that it is a mystery and is something beyond the ability of humans to understand, I can live with that. However, that answer implies that we can not use the principle of God being just to explain our situation.

Rudy: It seems as if you have set up a type of duality or conflict between the blues/jazz world and the church/religious world. I know that sort of thing is out there. But in practice they seem to inform the other. Wouldn’t it be better to view the two worlds tied at the waist, so to speak? 

Kalamu: Tied at the waist may be true in a meta-philosophical sense, i.e. taking a cultural look at the ways of Black folk, but on a day to day basis, a blues lifestyle is not the same as a Christian lifestyle nor is a blues lifestyle generally acceptable to Christians. You know that and I know that. In fact, the Baptist church is known for its vigorous damning of blues music. Moreover, this is not something I set up, rather the differences between the camps is something I recognize, not something I created. This difference does not mean that some overlap does not exist or that there is no one in either camp that understands and embraces the other. 

Obviously there are numerous examples of blues singers who also sang gospel, and vice versa in the case of Rev. Gary Davis. And of course you had jazz musicians such as Duke Ellington and especially John Coltrane who recorded religious music. Plus, there are people such as the theologian Rev. Cone [Dialogue on Black Theology] who wrote a book on the subject of the blues and religion. But the example of those folk is an abnormality, a deviation form the norm. 

In general, blues/jazz and the traditional Christian church are separate, and too often, conflicting camps. I might also add: contradictions and controversy do not bother me. I don’t feel a need for everyone to agree in order for us to live and work together, or in order for us to love one another.

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*   *   *   *   *’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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Hopes and Prospects

By Noam Chomsky

In this urgent new book, Noam Chomsky surveys the dangers and prospects of our early twenty-first century. Exploring challenges such as the growing gap between North and South, American exceptionalism (including under President Barack Obama), the fiascos of Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S.-Israeli assault on Gaza, and the recent financial bailouts, he also sees hope for the future and a way to move forward—in the democratic wave in Latin America and in the global solidarity movements that suggest “real progress toward freedom and justice.” Hopes and Prospects is essential reading for anyone who is concerned about the primary challenges still facing the human race. “This is a classic Chomsky work: a bonfire of myths and lies, sophistries and delusions. Noam Chomsky is an enduring inspiration all over the world—to millions, I suspect—for the simple reason that he is a truth-teller on an epic scale. I salute him.” —John Pilger

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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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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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What Orwell Didn’t Know

Propaganda and the New Face of American Politics

By Andras Szanto

Propaganda. Manipulation. Spin. Control. It has ever been thus—or has it? On the eve of the 60th anniversary of George Orwell’s classic essay on propaganda (

Politics and the English Language

), writers have been invited to explore what Orwell didn’t—or couldn’t—know. Their responses, framed in pithy, focused essays, range far and wide: from the effect of television and computing, to the vast expansion of knowledge about how our brains respond to symbolic messages, to the merger of journalism and entertainment, to lessons learned during and after a half-century of totalitarianism. Together, they paint a portrait of a political culture in which propaganda and mind control are alive and well (albeit in forms and places that would have surprised Orwell). The pieces in this anthology sound alarm bells about the manipulation and misinformation in today’s politics, and offer guideposts for a journalism attuned to Orwellian tendencies in the 21st century.

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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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