ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



Africa may need the diaspora more than the diaspora needs Africa

 because Africa can never be whole until the diaspora is embraced.



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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The Forts and Castles of Ghana 

By Kalamu ya Salaam


In the absence of any physical landmarks of this historical journey into chaos, other communities of African people may seek refuge in collective amnesia as a natural defence against the unbearable trauma of the savageries of the slave trade. But for the people of Ghana, there can be no escape from a historical reality as palpable as the slave castle. Ultimately, Ghana’s Pan African consciousness reaches far into a fractured, deeply wounded collective unconscious that insists on being uncovered so that it may be healed back to wholeness. The slave forts and castles are the most immediate though confusing gateway into the collective unconscious. To contemplate and, above all, to penetrate the puzzling, even frightening mystery of these monuments of enslavement is to come to terms with our history of fragmentation, the basis of Pan African consciousness and struggle. —  Excerpt from Slave Castle, African Historical Mindscape & Literary Imagination by Kofi Anyidoho, University of Ghana.


Elmina – 1482. Built by the Portuguese, is the first of the slave castles. I ask questions. The more I try to find out, the less I learn. There is broad confusion as to how many castles there are in Ghana. In West Africa.

Castles. These military forts which served as administrative centers for colonial government and the administration of the gold and slave trade, including the temporary housing of items of trade: guns, beads, alcohol, cloth from Europe and, sine qua non, gold and human flesh from Africa’s interior.

In Elmina I find one small book, Forts and Castles of Ghana by Albert van Dantzig, and one small pamphlet, The Castles Of Elmina by Tony Hyland of the Department of Architecture, University of Science & Technology, Kumasi.

In her prescient manner, Nia somehow strikes up a conversation with Albert van Dantzig who just happens to be passing through at that time. I am upstairs in the little gift shop, feeling prideful because I have purchased these two writings and a few other books about Ghana. When I descend the steps clutching my catch, Nia introduces me to Mr. Dantzig. He is seventy some years old, from Holland, now living in Ghana. We talk briefly. He autographs his book for us.

Danzig’s book focuses on a chronological summary of the construction and administration of the 50 forts and castles of Ghana. Danzig suggests “To our knowledge the following list of castles, forts and lodges — from west to east — could be regarded as complete.” Complete? Can there ever be a complete history of the slave trade and all of the institutions it engendered? For me Dantzig’s book is a beginning, a point of departure, an indication, a partial map, the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Tradeposts, fortified or not, have been built in various parts of the world, but nowhere in such great numbers along such a relatively short stretch of coast. At various places, such as Accra, Komenda and Sekondi, forts were actually built within gun-range of each other. Within three centuries more than sixty castles, forts and lodges were built along a stretch of coast less than 300 miles (500 km) long.

Many of these buildings are still in existence at the present, and if some of them could be regarded as important individual monuments, the whole chain of buildings, whether intact, ruined or merely known as sites, could be seen as a collective historical monument unique in the world: the ancient ‘shopping street’ of West Africa. The ‘shops’ varied greatly in size and importance. If some could be  compared with department stores, others were hardly more than village stores. (p. vii)

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The essential purpose of all these buildings was to serve as store-houses for goods brought from Europe and bought on the Coast, and as living quarters for a permanent commercial and military staff. If the earliest of these buildings were mainly fortified on the land-side against enemies expected from that side, soon the real danger appeared to come rather from the side of the sea, in the form of European competitors. During the sixteenth century a growing number of French and English ships came to trade in what was supposed to be a Portuguese monopoly area. An even more serious threat to Portuguese supremacy on the Coast came from the Dutch, who had arrived in large numbers on the coast by the end of that century…(p. xii)

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It should be pointed out that the Europeans did not have any territorial jurisdiction beyond the walls of their forts; the very land on which they were built was only rented. Each European nation tried to reserve exclusive trading rights for itself with the local rulers. It is therefore not surprising that political disintegration set in all along the coast, and consequently the tradeposts had to be armed not only to drive competitors away, but also to protect the traders inside the forts or the people on whose territory they were built against attacks by neighboring African states.

It was also for geographical reasons that all this European commercial activity concentrated in this relatively small area: first of all there is the obvious fact that Ghana is the only area where there are substantial gold deposits comparatively near to the coast. But Ghana’s coast is also suitable for building forts because it is rocky, thus providing building material and strong natural foundations, and access from the interior to the sea is not, as in neighboring areas, interrupted by lagoons and mangrove swamps… (p. xiii)

The 96 page book has only eight indexed references to slavery, and most of those are cursory.

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Since 1876, down through the current administration, Christiansborg Castle has served as the seat of government.

            Some castles are used as prisons.

            Others as administrative offices, post offices and the like.

            Others are museums and national monuments.

            Some are in total disrepair.

            Some are merely decaying archeological sites.

Elmina has been recently painted and remodeled. Ironically painted bright white. Whitewashed. Inside there is a photo exhibit with a narrative. The exhibit was created by the French. Plaques have been placed. Some original plaques have been preserved. A few new ones have been added. There is a sign listing the admission prices.

All kinds of subterranean rumblings bash the stones of Elmina. Something, I can never get the straight of the story to say exactly what the “thing” was, but something about slavery was put up and then taken down. Taken down allegedly because the Ghanaians didn’t want to offend whites.

Didn’t want to offend. Whites.

Diaspora Africans living in Ghana are rightfully incensed by the vacillations.

Outside Elmina there is a beach party.

Butts shaking on sacred ground.

Dr. Robert Lee who went to Ghana during Nkrumah’s days. Whose son and wife died in Ghana. Dr. Lee who has spent over thirty years of his life in Ghana. Who operated a clinic for the poor of Ghana. Dr. Lee’s pocket was picked during the solemn commemorative program at the castle.

A brass band played. People danced. The procession was not so solemn.

There was no written program. There were no informative speeches. No story telling. No rituals of remembrance.

Frankly, this whole recognition effort is just now seriously getting underway and Ghana is not quite sure how to do it.

I am told: If anything substantial is to happen with respect to the castles you people will have to make it happen. It will not be given to you. You will have to take it.

They took the old door down. They painted everything pretty and new.

When will the truth be told?

Within the stones of the castle our ancestral spirits are entombed. They silently await excavation. Await our detailed investigation.

A sankofa seed is planted. I want to return to Ghana and do a collaborative work with a Ghana scholar. I want to focus on the impact of the slave trade on Africans, both continental and diaspora. Towards the end of our trip, as the idea becomes clearer, I approach Kwadwo Tgyemang. He eagerly accepts.

It’s on. There is no concise, point of origin history of the slave trade, not to mention no afrocentric assessment of the impact of slavery. Let’s look at the real history, who played what role. Let’s investigate and meditate, confront and come to grips with the positives and negatives of our history.

As significant as the castles are and as many of them as there are in Ghana, there is a paucity of documentation. This lack is a clear manifestation of Ghana’s historic amnesia. But also a clear manifestation of diasporan ignorance. Yet what goes around, comes around.

We were cast out. We shall return. Like a stone flung at the sun. Like a boomerang. Like a child separated from its mother.

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The history of people is movement. I can sense in the diaspora a slow turning. A serious seeking for alternative. In conversations throughout our stay in Ghana invariably the thoughts we expressed amongst ourselves pivoted on the notion of moving. Africa, in general, and Ghana, in particular, is a magnet.

No news here, but certainly relevance. The communal implosion and resultant disintegration of social life in the United States will invariably fling individuals away from that center toward the peripheries where other realities exist.

For practical reasons: life and development. For historical reasons: birth and essence. For cultural reasons: temperament and lifestyle. For the love of self and Blackness — Africa. Africa, in all its contradictions, in all its weaknesses, revulsions, convulsions, repulsions, internal chaos and material un(der)development. Africa, remains a pulsing heart attracting her blood, her brood, back to herself.

Most of us will not voluntarily go — but more of us will return than have ever thought about it since the fifties. A significant number, providing leadership by example, will begin the pilgrimage back into ourselves. Of that number, some will remain and others won’t, but life will go on. America will continue downward and Africa will keep struggling upward. This is not theory but the inexorable march of the life force.

After maturity there is decline and death. Before maturity there is the opportunity for growth and development. Who is in a period of “decline after maturity” and who is struggling to develop? The distinction is plain. Especially when we look at the African world collectively, who we are, where we are, and what we have to live for.

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The forts are brute manifestations of penetration. Male movement into fecund  earth. Testimony to the mauling of Africa by marauders and by co-conspiratorial African merchants and mercenaries.

Facing a fort, I feel my foreigness, my estrangement from this birth earth, but also I feel my essence, my connections. Both rupture and reproachment, as well as reentry and embracement.

As an individual, I was born in a nation of immigrants, movement is my history — and yet everyday, folk in America give you 57 arguments, 997 facts as to why going back to Africa is unrealistic. Just five hundred years ago the American migration started in earnest and now these conquering nomads argue that migration is an exercise in futility.

The majority of Whites are less than five generations on American soil. Most came not speaking English and with only as much possessions as they could carry. When nomads council that it is foolish to migrate, who should listen?

            Why are these forts here if moving here is so undesirable?

            There is more than gold in them there hills of Ghana.

The old itinerant preachers and blues bards used to forcefully sing: “You got to move / When God get ready / You got to move!”

Could it be that those castles, the last we saw of Africa, those prisons where we were held, could it be, that those symbols of slavery will become beacons, lighthouses, guiding us back into ourselves?

            Moreover, we are each other’s completion.

Africa may need the diaspora more than the diaspora needs Africa because Africa can never be whole until the diaspora is embraced.

On purely a material level, our skills and resources are needed. On a social level, because we are without specific ethnic interest, we may be the only Africans capable of helping Africa transcend the limitations of tribalism. On a psychological level, we may be the lever to force Africa to turn over the rocks of colonialism and examine what has been hidden beneath.

We may be the epiphany that sparks the memory, that shatters the amnesia, that cleanses the wound of slavery, that immense maiming that arrested the continent and continues to unbraid every developmental effort that does not confront this awfulness.

If and when the diaspora returns, the returning will force the host to deal with a historic reality which, for so long, too long, has been ignored. Perhaps it’s a larger plan than individuals in the diaspora returning home “to drink water from an ancient well” in hopes of quenching a thirst for completion that no other liquid can satisfy. Suppose that’s only the romance.

Suppose the real deal is that Africa can not rise without us. Suppose Africa needs us far more than any of us have yet admitted. Far more than any of us have ever imagined or thought about.

Suppose we are the seed that must be planted in fertile soil, the only stone upon which the future can be built. I do not mean this as self flattery but rather as a reflecting on a most terrible reality: what continent can stand the removal of millions and millions and millions of its strongest and still develop?

In some ironic manner befitting the convolutions of what it means to be African, the diaspora is the Africa that the continent is struggling to become. The Africa concerned with the whole of itself rather than self-defeatingly focused on specific and antagonist ethnicities and nationalities.

I don’t know. Fathoming this is more than my brain can contain. All I know is that I want to know more. I want to return and learn what I left, I want to return and understand the origin of what I brought over with me. I want to return. I am seeking myself.

Rummaging through the history of a fort. Sitting next to a centuries old cannon. Standing in an empty storeroom, perhaps in the very spot a not too distance ancestor stood.

Everything I know is nothing compared to the immensity of what this fort teaches me I do not know. And the fort also teaches me an even more brutal reckoning: as ignorant as I am, I still know more about what happened than do the majority of Africans on the continent. As ignorant as I am, I am more aware of my Africaness precisely because I have no African nationality, no African ethnicity. I have no one tribe or nation. I have all of them, and in having all I transcend each one.

Both my consciousness and my ignorance are deep. Deep knowing. Deep ignorance. But that’s no news. I’m African.

Source: Kalamu ya Salaam. Tarzan Can Not Return to Africa, But I Can — PanaFest 1994

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Guarding the Flame of Life

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New Orleans Jazz Funeral for tuba player Kerwin James / They danced atop his casket Jaran ‘Julio’ Green

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02_My_Story,_My_Song.mp3 (24503 KB)

(Kalamu reading “My Story, My Song”

Featuring blues guitarist Walter Wolfman Washington)

Track List 1.  Congo Square (9:01) 2.  My Story, My Song (20:50) 3.  Danny Banjo (4:32) 4.  Miles Davis (10:26) 5.  Hard News For Hip Harry (5:03) 6.  Unfinished Blues (4:13) 7.  Rainbows Come After The Rain (2:21)/Negroidal Noise (15:53) 8.  Intro (3:59) 9.  The Whole History (3:14) 10.  Negroidal Noise (5:39) 11.  Waving At Ra (1:40) 12.  Landing (1:21) 13.  Good Luck (:04)

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music website > writing website > daily blog > twitter > facebook >

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Chiefs in Cape Coast, Ghana  /  Grand Durbar Parade

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Cape Coast Castle. A Collection of Poems By Kwadwo Opoku-Agyemang

Forts and Castles of Ghana by Albert van Dantzig

Dr Robert Lee passes on

Dentist Championed African-American Community In Ghana

Dr. Robert Lee Interview

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#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 – Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 – Don’t Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 – Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 – Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King

#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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It’s The Middle Class Stupid!

By James Carville and Stan Greenberg

It’s the Middle Class, Stupid! confirms what we have all suspected: Washington and Wall Street have really screwed things up for the average American. Work has been devalued. Education costs are out of sight. Effort and ambition have never been so scantily rewarded. Political guru James Carville and pollster extraordinaire Stan Greenberg argue that our political parties must admit their failures and the electorate must reclaim its voice, because taking on the wealthy and the privileged is not class warfare—it is a matter of survival. Told in the alternating voices of these two top political strategists, It’s the Middle Class, Stupid! provides eye-opening and provocative arguments on where our government—including the White House—has gone wrong, and what voters can do about it. 

Controversial and outspoken, authoritative and shrewd, It’s the Middle Class, Stupid! is destined to make waves during the 2012 presidential campaign, and will set the agenda for legislative battles and political dust-ups during the next administration.

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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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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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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




Home  Kalamu ya Salaam Table  Transitional Writings on Africa  The African World

Related files:  Haile Gerima in Ghana   Criticisms of the Disapora  The Whole of Ourselves   The Forts and Castles of Ghana   What’s Your Name?  Once You’ve Been There 

Foreign Exchange   Myths About Black History   Miriam in Ghana  Pilgrimage  to Ghana  Miriam in Ghana  Pilgrimage  to Ghana  Randolph Visits Ghana