ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



Regardless of how inadequate we in the diaspora may feel within the nations of our birth,

the fact is, in terms of education and skills, the diaspora is the advanced sector of the African world.



Foreign Exchange 

By Kalamu ya Salaam


Part of what PANAFEST wanted to do was encourage capital investment in Ghana by people in the diaspora. A number of Ghanaian officials were focusing in this direction rather than on raw tourism. Part of the reason is conditions: Ghana does not have a tourism infrastructure in place. In Cape Coast there was not one hotel which could offer the two hundred or so rooms required to house most of the colloquium participants and performers in one place. The new hotel complex which was scheduled to be completed and which would have been large enough to accommodate the participants, unfortunately was not ready.

Ghana recognizes they need serious development. Fortunately, they also are proud of their own culture and social traditions. They are not looking for “fast food” development.

At the newly opened theatre/cultural center in Cape Coast, there was a Taco Bell restaurant. It was toward the rear of the building. I sought it out because I wanted to see how Ghana was handling multinational corporate participation in the national developmental process. There was nothing Taco Bell about the restaurant. There was no quick anything. The food was Ghanaian for the most part. There was not one “Tex-Mex” item on the menu. No Taco Bell napkins, imprinted paper products, or the like. In fact, if a small sign on the door didn’t say Taco Bell, there would have been absolutely no way to know that this was a Taco Bell. And then, maybe it wasn’t a Taco Bell. Maybe somebody just decided to call the place Taco Bell.

Throughout Accra and the Cape Coast area there are few Western fast food restaurants. I don’t personally remember seeing any, although I’m sure some do exist. In fact, I saw more computer billboards and businesses than burger or chicken advertisements and businesses. Coca-cola, of course, is there but Ghana has an indigenous product which favorably competes. “Citro” is a lemon/lime beverage which I liked better than either “Sprite” or “7Up”.

In any case, rather than rely solely on a large influx of multinational franchises, Ghana is hoping to attract capital investment from the African diaspora. Ghana has all kinds of developmental opportunities for those with modest (by diaspora standards) amounts of capital who are willing to work at long term development. Opportunities abound in a numerous areas, from agriculture to retailing, medicine to tourism, transportation to compact disc manufacturing. Ghana has both the need and the desire to involve diaspora Africans.

Which brings us back to shopping. Nia and I bought quite a few items in Ghana which were far more substantial than tourist trinkets and souvenirs. Ghanaian textiles, particularly the kente cloth, has significant retailing potential. Unlike other examples of  “African print material”, kente is actually manufactured in Ghana rather than merely designed by and for Africans but manufactured somewhere in Europe or Asia. Moreover, Africans in the diaspora are predisposed to wearing the material as both a fashion statement and an expression of ethnic pride. Finally, kente is part of the traditional Ghanaian culture. Although tourist oriented kente (with Greek fraternity/sorority slogans, Christian quotes, and the like) abound in the marketplace, kente was not originally created to sell to tourists.

The potential of cultural tourism will never bear fruit as long as the emphasis is on “selling” entertainment to tourists. Selling entertainment invariably leads to decadence and hedonism. Ideally, like some of the emerging industrialized Asian nations, we would also like for African countries to be in the business of exporting technical equipment, such as computers. But, at the moment, that’s an unrealistic dream. What is within our grasp is the encouragement of capital linkages between continental and diaspora Africans.

For a number of reasons, ranging from the negatives of our deteriorating social conditions where we live to the positives of ethnic pride in our motherland, Africans in the diaspora will increase our interaction with the continent. Moreover, when we go to Africa, we will also want to bring Africa back with us. As more and more of us go, that pool of those who have returned and immersed ourselves into Africa’s reality will produce individuals and opportunities which will result in serious capital investment.

As I travel around the United States, whether traveling by car via interstate, or especially when flying through various airports, two characteristics strike me: one, the enormous size and level of development of the United States, and, two, the fact that America is in no way willing, prepared or even minimally inclined to share the resources and material development built up in the 20th century.

Look at a small town like Baton Rouge, the capital of Louisiana, which doesn’t even register as a major city by U.S. standards. In terms of physical infrastructure, Baton Rouge is light years ahead of Accra, the capital of Ghana. There are literally thousands of American cities the size of Baton Rouge with fully functioning airports, higher educational institutions, health and sanitation, communications and other industrial infrastructure. Although this density of development would be extraordinary in any other country in the world, most of we African Americans are blissfully unaware of the immensity and import of America’s industrial infrastructure.

In many, many ways, because all we really know about industrialism is consumerism, African Americans are unaware of what industrial development entails. We don’t think about heavy machinery manufacturing, transportation concerns, sanitation, general utilities, medical services, and on and on. I remember reading one of the Sandinista writers who talked about the bewildering process of administering newly liberated Nicaragua.

The mettle of any revolution is most severely tested not in the armed struggle phase, but rather in the reconstruction phase. This is where Africa needs the most help, and this is precisely where the bulk of we African Americans are deficient simply because we have not been in management and skilled labor but rather traditionally we have been relegated to being the brawn and brute strength of the American economy.

On the level of material standard of living, we are, of course, very aware of being “better off” than most people in the world, and especially “better off” than Africa. Yet our “better off-ness” is both relative and solely material rather than absolute and social. As citizens of the U.S.A. we have some (depending on our particular financial wherewithal) access to the “good life” and some enjoyment of the material trappings of a modern industrial society manifested as a so-called high standard of living. Yet our relationships to the wealth and means of production, the infrastructure that makes all this possible, is tenuous at best. Whatever access we have is generally one of proximity or of being a “servant of the system” (whether as Joint Chief of Staff or Supreme Court Justice does nothing to change the ultimate reality that our participation in the affairs of the ruling class is to serve at their pleasure and to do their bidding).

There is a big difference between being close to power or serving the interests of power and actually sharing power. Indeed, when looked at in detail and on an economic basis, those of us who live poor and Black in the inner cities of America have a standard of living (in terms of health care, life expectancy and other measures of social well-being) which is amazingly similar to our brothers and sisters in major cities throughout sub-Sahara Africa. We neither control nor produce, and therefore are dependents in relationship to America’s industrial standard of living.

Finally, to whatever degree we are better off, it is only in possession of material things. In terms of social well-being, in terms of individual and collective sanity, in terms of mental health and community, morals and ethics, well, let’s just say things ain’t what they used to be for African Americans at the end of the 20th century. Confronted by Africa’s underdevelopment in an industrial sense combined with our own penchant for the material trappings of the so-called good life, Africa quickly teaches the diaspora that African Americans in general are the “whitest” Africans in the world. Our up side is that we have greater access to “things”. Our downside is that our proximity to American power and mores has bleached us spiritually and socially.

My critique of African Americans allegedly being better off than continental Africans focuses not only on our relationship to U.S. industrial development and our adoption of an American consciousness, but also we should focus on and question the cost of that development — the whole world has suffered so that those of us in America can live as we do, even those of us who have limited access to and share very little of the wealth and power of America.

The recent rise of the Republican party in America is further reinforcement that there will be no sharing of this wealth. From coast to coast, border to border, I go into what is left of the “Black community” and I am saddened. While we were never in a position to compete, at least, during the first half of the 20th century, we African Americans were building an internal economic infrastructure. Today, with far more political freedom, we have regressed into a state of near peonage, into an economic serfdom which is most accurately measured by noting deficiencies and lacks.

Those of us who try to start businesses find ourselves severely outclassed and hampered not just by a lack of expertise and capital, but also hampered by having to compete with fully developed multinationals who are becoming increasingly adroit at employing niche marketing schemes designed to sew up the African American market. If we are to develop and compete as a people, it just seems that there is so very little room for growth available to us in the United States. People talk about opportunity, but what kind of opportunity do we have when we are first generation business people going up against the major, minor and even bush leagues of Wall Street corporations? Africa is a much more sensible and level playing field in terms of competition and also in terms of need.

In African developmental terms, a $50,000 project is serious and significant. In the USA, that amount barely qualifies as venture capital in business development. African Americans who want to develop businesses and make serious money, stand a much better chance at competing and succeeding in Ghana than they do in the home of the brave and the land of the free.

While they are not discouraging nor overlooking the tourist dollar, at this historical moment, Ghana is seeking African Americans to make venture capital, developmental investments in Ghana. There is both a genuine need and a genuine desire for an infusion of diaspora African skills and capital. When it comes to foreign exchange, the Pan African potential is enormous.

Some suggest that South Africa will be the new “promised land”. My particular reading is that South Africa will see blood shed and rough times before it sees a real improvement in the lives of African people. The White controlled, industrial infrastructure which makes South Africa so attractive to investors, is also the major obstacle for indigenous African development. Although I am not a prophet, the clash of Black expectations for a significant increase in their standard of living versus White determination to hold on to wealth and economic power is an obvious and unavoidable obstacle in the path of South African national development.

Although Ghana is certainly not the only African country which is desirous of and could benefit from an infusion of diaspora capital and skills, psychologically, Ghana is the most prepared to make use of the unique diaspora configuration of foreign exchange. Some refer to this as the “Israel” model.

The basic foundation of a large diaspora able to offer capital and political support is a point we and Jews have in common, there are also significant differences, not the least of which is the fact that Israel is one state, while Africa is a continent made up of many states. More important than logistical questions is the fact that the Jews as a people have never had a serious inferiority complex about themselves nor have they, as a people, been brainwashed into believing that the White man’s ice is colder, the White man’s businesses are better, and the White man’s brains are smarter. While individual Jews have displayed feelings of guilt and inadequacy, Jews as a people always cast themselves as “the chosen” ones. Yes, they might suffer disproportionately to others, but they never considered themselves the cursed tribe of “Ham.”

This was the underlying point of the movie “Schindler’s List”. In terms of business acumen, the movie portrayed Schindler as a figurehead whose business was actually run by a Jewish accountant. Moreover, throughout the movie, every time a specific skill was needed a “persecuted Jew” was presented who, when given the chance, competently and admirably fulfilled the job.

In fact, even when not given the chance, the Jews were portrayed as “more skilled” than their German persecutors. This was the point of the concentration camp scene in which a young Jewish woman steps forward to offer her architectural expertise. She speaks up to correct the construction methods used in erecting a building. The German commander listens to her, weighs her advice, cold-bloodedly shoots her dead, and then directs the soldiers and prisoners to follow the advice of the  murdered architect. The point of the scene was not just the capricious cruelty of the German military officer, but also to portray the intelligence of the Jewish victim. Thus, “Schindler’s List” reinforces the intelligence and skills of Jews and fights against any suggestion of Jewish inferiority.

We Africans, both continental and diaspora, have a much tougher battle to fight. By Western industrialized standards of education and skills, we are not only generally underdeveloped, we also have serious and deep-seated feelings of intrinsic inferiority. In short, we believe ourselves not just ignorant but fundamentally stupid. In this regard, the attraction of the diasporan African is our access to and possession of Western education and capital.

Regardless of how inadequate we in the diaspora may feel within the nations of our birth, the fact is, in terms of education and skills, the diaspora is the advanced sector of the African world. We are both an emotional and a material asset to African development. This is obvious. However, we are also a problem for African development because, to date, the continent has not fully faced the history nor traumatic effects of the slave trade on all of Africa. Underlying every exchange at PANAFEST was a groping with the difficulty of settling the issue of diaspora reintegration into the African family.

Ghanaian Times

Monday, December 12, 1994


He touched on the second theme of PANAFEST ’94 — ‘Uniting the African Family’ — and said that endeavour should not just be an exercise in nostalgia for lost years, but should strengthen Africans’ determination to work together for the development of the continent and raise the dignity of people of African descent. (p. 1)

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Ghana is beginning to face the full ramifications of the horror and trauma of the slave trade’s devastating historic disruption, and through facing the truth, is beginning to welcome the return of the diaspora. The fact that Ghana is actively courting the diaspora is a major league statement in and of itself.

When President Rawlings extends a hand of welcome, and when people on the street spontaneously do the same, the point is driven home in ways which are difficult to explain in rational terms but which are emotionally overwhelming.

When we Africans need serious help, most of us seldom think of each other. In the midst of Ghanaian economic development deliberations, the push to expand Pan Africanism from romantic cultural concepts and nation bound political expressions to encompass international economic development is a bold move.

The “feeling of self worth” that results from Black people struggling to live and work with each other across “tribal” lines is an unbelievably potent tonic. This invigorating brew gives a higher and healthier meaning to the phrase “foreign exchange.

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

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Guarding the Flame of Life

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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Absalom, Absalom! 

By William Faulker

Absalom, Absalom!

 is Faulkner’s great novel of the rise and fall of the Sutpen dynasty and a great allegory of the rise and fall of the Old South. The book told through three interconnected narratives tells the life story of Thomas Sutpen. The narratives are not straight forward and present a constant challenge to the reader. But if the reader does not close the book in despair the rewards are great indeed.  The mood of the storytelling alone is worth the price of admission here. The long flowing sentences are marvels and testaments to Faulkner’s skill as a writer. The narrative drive makes reading the book almost like reading Greek tragedy. We gets views of Sutpens life from several townspeople and also across generations. This is the first book that I’ve read in a long time that made me feel like I had accomplished something when I finished it. You don’t so much read this novel as you become lost in it. Jump in get your feet wet and prepare for some of the most intense Southern gothic that you are ever likely to read. Amazon Reader /


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The Warmth of Other Suns

The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration

By Isabel Wilkerson

Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, a sharecropper’s wife, left Mississippi for Milwaukee in 1937, after her cousin was falsely accused of stealing a white man’s turkeys and was almost beaten to death. In 1945, George Swanson Starling, a citrus picker, fled Florida for Harlem after learning of the grove owners’ plans to give him a “necktie party” (a lynching). Robert Joseph Pershing Foster made his trek from Louisiana to California in 1953, embittered by “the absurdity that he was doing surgery for the United States Army and couldn’t operate in his own home town.” Anchored to these three stories is Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Wilkerson’s magnificent, extensively researched study of the “great migration,” the exodus of six million black Southerners out of the terror of Jim Crow to an “uncertain existence” in the North and Midwest.

Wilkerson deftly incorporates sociological and historical studies into the novelistic narratives of Gladney, Starling, and Pershing settling in new lands, building anew, and often finding that they have not left racism behind. The drama, poignancy, and romance of a classic immigrant saga pervade this book, hold the reader in its grasp, and resonate long after the reading is done.

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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

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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  15 July2012




Home    Kalamu ya Salaam Table     Transitional Writings on Africa    Myths About Black History   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