ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



See, I think the white media acts like we went straight from 1960 to 2008. That’s not true. Those

in that middle generation that I’m in understand the elders because we were raised by them.

And we understand some of the younger people because they’re our little sisters and brothers.



Kam Williams Interviews Reverend Sharpton

Murder in Black and White (New Television Show)

Premiering Sunday, October 5th


Alfred Charles Sharpton, Jr. was born in Brooklyn, NY on October 3, 1954 to Ada and Alfred, Sr., a descendant of slaves owned by the ancestors of segregationist U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond. Called to the ministry at an early age, young Al started preaching at the age of 4, was ordained at 9, and went on tour as a child with gospel singer Mahalia Jackson.

In 1971, he took a job as James Brown’s tour manager, forging an enduring friendship with the “Hardest Working Man in Show Business.” Rev Al took that work ethic with him when he decided to dedicate his life to civil rights activism. A tireless advocate of the poor and underprivileged, he founded the Harlem-based National Action Network, an organization aimed at alleviating social injustice.

Al’s most recent cause, lobbying the Supreme Court on behalf of the Death Row inmate Troy Davis, resulted in an 11th hour stay of execution. Here, he reflects not only on that triumph, but on everything from his voter registration drive to Barack Obama to the Amadou Diallo and Sean Bell cases. Plus, he talks about his new television show, Murder in Black and White, directed by documentary filmmaker Keith Beauchamp, which is set to premiere on Sunday October 5th, with episodes airing on four consecutive evenings at 10 PM EST on TV One Network. (Check local listings)

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KW: Hey, Reverend Sharpton, thanks for the time. I’m honored to be speaking with you.

Al Sharpton: No problem.

KW: Congratulations on the Troy Davis stay of execution.

Al Sharpton: Thank you.

KW: What will you be working on next?

Al Sharpton: Well, the National Action Network is working on several things. Following up on the Troy Davis case… I’ve also been doing a national bus tour doing voter registration and voter protection rallies. We did Kansas City, Missouri, three cities in North Carolina, and Philadelphia, a city a day last week. This coming week, I’m doing Charlotte, Cleveland and Prince George County in Maryland. So, we’re all over the country.  

KW: You were on the fence about the election for awhile. Have you come out in support of a presidential candidate yet?

Al Sharpton: Yeah, I’m supporting Senator Obama, but the National Action Network tour is non-partisan. You can’t do voter registration and be partisan. But I’ve personally endorsed Barack Obama,  

KW: What did you think of the first presidential debate?

Al Sharpton: I thought it went well. I thought Senator Obama held his own. 

KW: Let’s talk about your new TV show. What interested you in hosting Murder in Black and White?

Al Sharpton: A lot of people know the story of Emmett Till. A lot of people know about Medgar Evers. But many don’t understand that there were many other lynchings. These were the prices that were paid for folks like me, and Obama, and [New York State Governor] David Patterson, and [Massachusetts Governor] Deval Patrick to do what we do. I think that by bringing these cases to light, it gives people an understanding of the culture of racial violence, as well as the fact that some of these cases are still unsolved. So it’s a matter of teaching history in a dramatic way, because this is not the kind of documentary series that puts you to sleep. It’s been done very well. It’s not only riveting but it reminds you that we’re just a generation or two away from lynchings, and that some of the perpetrators are still alive and at large. 

KW: I was born in 1952 and raised in the North, but my parents subscribed to black papers like the Pittsburgh Courier which covered all the lynchings and mysterious disappearances in the South ignored by the mainstream press. So I grew up with a sense that there was a different energy and danger for black folks in the South. 

Al Sharpton: Exactly right. And I was born in ’54 and raised in the North, but I would hear horror stories from my mother. I know what it did for me, a generation removed, to now see it in these episodes. I hope it touches the generation behind me and others, so they can understand the gravity of what the Civil Rights Movement and challenging Jim Crow segregation was all about.  

KW: What do you think is the best way for the elders of the Civil Rights Movement to come together with members of the Hip-Hop Generation?

Al Sharpton: I think in many ways, because of the major media, we’re not looking at this correctly. You have the elders of the Civil Rights Generation, the Joe Lowery to Jesse Jackson group. But then you have a group in between those generations, which includes Martin Luther King III, myself and others in their 40s and 50s. Barack is in this generation. Then you have the Hip-Hop Generation. See, I think the white media acts like we went straight from 1960 to 2008. That’s not true. Those in that middle generation that I’m in understand the elders because we were raised by them. And we understand some of the younger people because they’re our little sisters and brothers. The way we come together is on the civil rights and human rights issues.

The other thing the media has done wrongly is confuse hip-hop activism, the term you used in the question, with hip-hop entertainers. The leaders of the Hip-Hop Generation in terms of activism are the students who worked with us on the Martin Lee Anderson case in Florida, the Jena Six case in Louisiana, or the Genarlow Wilson case in Georgia. They’re not the hip-hop artists doing shows and talking about how they want to be new leaders when they’re not involved in any activism, any more than The Temptations and The Supremes led the Selma March, or Luther Vandross led the Amadou Diallo march. I think the white media has very cynically tried to act like the leaders of the Hip-Hop Generation are the entertainers, and not credit the student leaders and others who have become activists and are acting with my generation and with the elders.        

KW: Do you feel the same way about civil disobedience as a tactic in cases where cops kill innocent black men after the police were found not guilty in both the Amadou Diallo and Sean Bell cases?

Al Sharpton: First of all, in the case of Amadou Diallo, we did civil disobedience prior to the indictments. That’s how we got the indictments. There was no civil disobedience after the verdict. Yes, it was effective in that case, because we wouldn’t have even gotten any indictments without it. And we used the same tactic with the Abner Louima case, which we won. With Sean Bell, we used civil disobedience afterwards, but the jury is still out on whether the Feds will come in. But you gotta remember, from the Howard Beach case, where people went to jail, to Bensonhurst case, where people went to jail, to Abner Louima to Jena, where we got Mychal Bell out of jail, you have wins and losses. Dr. King lost in Albany, Georgia, but won in Selma. Yeah, we lost Diallo, but look at all the others that we won.

Not only is the tactic effective, but these would not be issues had we not performed civil disobedience. Part of activism lies in bringing attention to the issues, so that legislators and others have to respond. For example, we used civil disobedience and marching to dramatize the New Jersey 4 case. Well, that put the first profiling law on the books. Had it not been for our activism, profiling would not be part of American jurisprudence. Out of that came racial profiling legislation, including what Barack did in Illinois.

If you remove all the protests, tell me if they’d even be addressing the issue of police brutality and racial profiling. There have been plenty of people martyred, but unfortunately the only ones you can name are the ones there have been movements around. Dr. King in his day never passed legislation. He demonstrated civil disobedience that led Adam Clayton Powell and others in Congress to pass legislation, and Thurgood Marshall making new law in the courts. We are trying to do in our day what King did. I think some people are confused about the process.     

KW: What did you think about Jesse Jackson’s off-camera comments about Barack Obama’s Father’s Day speech? 

Al Sharpton: I thought he was wrong and I was very public in my criticism. I went on CNN and Fox. I have a lot of respect for Reverend Jackson, but he was wrong, and I couldn’t justify his comments. I think that what Barack said about black men that day needed to be said. Barack was correct, Bill Cosby’s been correct. I didn’t agree that Barack was talking down to blacks. And you cannot use the N-word, when you’ve been protesting its use. You must be consistent. Reverend Jackson was dead wrong in this case, but that won’t be his legacy. 

KW: In 1991, someone tried to assassinate you because of your marching in Bensonhurst. Why did you ask for clemency of the racist who tried to kill you when if his knife had been an inch or so over, you would have died on the spot?

Al Sharpton: My proposition was that this young man was troubled, and that this young man should be extended the same mercy that I ask for troubled people in my own community. Yeah, he almost killed me. It was the hardest thing in the world for me to ask for clemency for him, but I did it because I was trying to be consistent. It’s always interesting to me, that when people recount my story, especially the white media, they always bring up Tawana Brawley, they will rarely bring up the fact that I forgave a white man for trying to kill me. And I not only went to court and asked the judge for clemency, but I visited him in jail. That doesn’t fit the mainstream media’s stereotypical picture of an angry black man who doesn’t like white folks.

KW: What’s it like to live your life in the public eye 24/7, and to have constant requests for help in terms of discrimination or oppression?

Al Sharpton: It becomes burdensome at times, but it’s the life I’ve chosen. It’s what I felt I was called to do, and I do it. I don’t think I could do anything else. When I was younger, I was very close to James Brown, and I tried for a time to be involved with entertainment, but I couldn’t do it. People have to find their passion in life, and social activism is my passion. And I think in this era we need that kind of force which will continue to expose what’s wrong so that legislators will be challenged to change the laws. If you don’t have that, the laws won’t change on their own. Which is why people call us. Sean Bell’s 22 year-old wife to be, Nicole, called us because she felt that we would make the world know what happened. And we did, because that’s what we do. Absent somebody dramatizing a case and making it public, politicians are not going to deal with it.

KW: You mentioned James Brown. When I was a kid, I lived a couple of blocks from him in St. Albans. Did you know him when he had that house on Linden Boulevard?

Al Sharpton:No, I was a kid then, too. I got to know him after he had already moved back to Augusta, Georgia. I got close to him when his son, Teddy, a student who had joined my national youth movement in New York, was killed in a car accident.  

KW: What would you say has been your greatest accomplishment to date?

Al Sharpton: Being able, in this generation, to build a consistent movement that has been effective at raising public awareness about the remaining inequities in society. No one can deny that we’ve been successful in making racial profiling, police misconduct, and now, education reform, national issues. And without us, it wouldn’t have been that effective. We’ve remained on the cutting edge of making the conversation deal with the issues of inequality that had been taken off the table. If the generation behind us loses a dedication to raising public awareness, you will end up going backwards in terms of racial progress.  

KW: What do you think sank the Diallo case?

Al Sharpton: Once Johnnie Cochran was no longer on the case, it is my belief that the PBA, District Attorney Robert Johnson and others used that period of time as an opening to abuse the law, to come up with a scheme for the change of venue which I feel led to an injustice for the Diallo family and the community. I think that by the time the new attorneys got in place, D.A. Johnson, the PBA and one of the defendants’ attorneys, which was former Judge Burton Roberts, they had already made their deal, and I believe that that is what led to the injustice.”

KW: How do you think an Obama presidency might change race relations in America?

Al Sharpton: I think it could make things better, but again, and you know Senator Obama and I have a good relationship, there will still be those on the outside pushing the envelope. I think it’s unfair to have unrealistic expectations of Obama. As he always says, “I’m going to need you all to raise issues to get my attention,” because it’ll be competing with every other constituency. He can’t look like he’s going to the White House as a crusader for black people. So there must be an ongoing movement for him to respond to. So I think he’s the best choice for the country, but he’s by no means a panacea. 

KW: You ran for president just four years ago. Were you surprised by Obama’s success at landing the Democratic nomination?

Al Sharpton: Not at all. My campaign and his were totally different. I ran in the tradition of a Jesse Jackson, to raise issues. He ran to win, in the tradition of an Ed Brooke or a Doug Wilder. We helped change the tone. But you can’t compare our approaches. I think we do different things that hopefully complement each other. 

KW: How do you feel about shaking things up, but not necessarily sharing the spotlight in victory?

Al Sharpton: We do it all the time. Believe me, we fight a lot more cases than people hear about. I’ll give you an example. When I went down to Georgia for the Troy Davis case. I’d spoken about it for a year on my syndicated radio show. They were the ones who asked me to come out stronger on his behalf. Many times, the victims want us to bring the spotlight, because they can’t get any attention. Yet, people say, “Oh, there’s Sharpton out there again,” but that’s the point. Nobody calls you in to hide their issue. The publicity is exactly what they want. The point is, there have been a lot of other victims. The question is, why haven’t we heard about them? And if the National Action Network has created the infrastructure to get the spotlight, then why are you begrudging us that, unless you don’t really want those issues exposed, or unless you’re envious and you want the spotlight yourself. In that case, you should do the work. Believe me, the end of the work is the spotlight.       

KW: Did you feel that the Clinton campaign started “racializing” the campaign in January when they tried to pigeonhole Obama as the black candidate?

Al Sharpton: Absolutely. I think it was very subtle on some levels, and very blatant on others. And I very publicly criticized it at the time.

KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?

Al Sharpton: No. When I came to terms with death in ‘91, I got passed fear. The only thing I fear now is that we won’t get all the work done before I die. I’m not afraid to die. I’m going to die. Death is certain. Living is uncertain. Once you have a close brush with death, you make up your mind. I could’ve walked away then to build a big church, and still had my place in history. But I believe in what I’m doing, and I’ve come to terms with the fact that it might cost me my life, and I’ve been doing it ever since.  

KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?

Al Sharpton: As happy as I could be!

KW: Bookworm Troy Johnson’s question: What was the last book you read?

Al Sharpton: In fact, I’m reading a book right now by Jonathan Rieder called The Word of the Lord Is Upon Me: The Righteous Performance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I would highly recommend it because the author is very good.

KW: Is there a question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?

Al Sharpton: No, I’ve been asked just about everything I need to be asked.

KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What’s music are you listening to nowadays? 

Al Sharpton: I listen to Gospel and a lot of R&B. On my iPod there’s a lot of James Brown and Gospel. I love the song “I Never Would Have Made It.”

KW: How long are you going to keep your hairstyle?

Al Sharpton: As long as I live. That’s part of my personal bond with James Brown. You know James asked me to do that. 

KW: Have you ever seen that duet of James Brown with Pavarotti doing “It’s a Man’s World”?

Al Sharpton: Yeah, I remember when he did it. It was very moving.

KW: You lost a lot of weight fasting while serving three months in jail for civil disobedience on Vieques, and kept it off.   

Al Sharpton: Yes, and that was another victory. You know, we did close that U.S. Naval base in the end.

KW: How do you feel about Congressman Rangel’s recent legal woes?

Al Sharpton: Clearly he has some things to correct, but I thought it was overblown. Come on, the kind of attention the press paid to that over what were relatively small amounts of money, you have read a political agenda into it.  

KW: How do you want to be remembered?

Al Sharpton: I want to be remembered as the guy in his generation who helped keep the social justice movement going. I will not sit in the chamber of power, but be the person on the outside challenging the system. Somebody has to play that role in every generation, and I want to be remembered as being comfortable playing that role in mine.

KW: Well, thanks again for the time, Reverend Al. No justice, no peace.   

Al Sharpton: Take care, man, Bye-bye.

posted 2 October 2008 

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The Obama Deception: Why Cornel West Went Ballistic (Chris Hedges)  /  Cornel West v Barack Obama (Melissa Harris-Perry )

Dr. Cornel West and Carl Dix Interview: On Obama  /  Cornel West: Obama is for big business not the jobless

Michael Eric Dyson vs President Obama  / Cornel West and the fight against injustice

Cornel West Calls Out Barack Obama  / Cornel West “Barack Obama Is the Black Mascot of The Wall Street Oligarchs”

Michael Eric Dyson to President Obama  /  Michael Eric Dyson: To The Young & Disillusioned

Michael Eric Dyson: Obama isn’t Moses, he is Pharaoh  /  Smiley and West: Obama & Sharpton

*   *   *   *   *’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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Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays

Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis 

Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America.

This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as “the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field ‘cut their teeth’.”

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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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Allah, Liberty, and Love

The Courage to Reconcile Faith and Freedom

By Irshad Manji

In Allah, Liberty and Love, Irshad Manji paves a path for Muslims and non-Muslims to transcend the fears that stop so many of us from living with honest-to-God integrity: the fear of offending others in a multicultural world as well as the fear of questioning our own communities. Since publishing her international bestseller, The Trouble with Islam Today, Manji has moved from anger to aspiration. She shows how any of us can reconcile faith with freedom and thus discover the Allah of liberty and love—the universal God that loves us enough to give us choices and the capacity to make them. Among the most visible Muslim reformers of our era, Manji draws on her experience in the trenches to share stories that are deeply poignant, frequently funny and always revealing about these morally confused times.

What prevents young Muslims, even in the West, from expressing their need for religious reinterpretation? What scares non-Muslims about openly supporting liberal voices within Islam? How did we get into the mess of tolerating intolerable customs, such as honor killings, and how do we change that noxious status quo?

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So Rich, So Poor: Why It’s So Hard to End Poverty in America

By Peter Edelman

If the nation’s gross national income—over $14 trillion—were divided evenly across the entire U.S. population, every household could call itself middle class. Yet the income-level disparity in this country is now wider than at any point since the Great Depression. In 2010 the average salary for CEOs on the S&P 500 was over $1 million—climbing to over $11 million when all forms of compensation are accounted for—while the current median household income for African Americans is just over $32,000. How can some be so rich, while others are so poor? In this provocative book, Peter Edelman, a former top aide to Senator Robert F. Kennedy and a lifelong antipoverty advocate, offers an informed analysis of how this country can be so wealthy yet have a steadily growing number of unemployed and working poor. According to Edelman, we have taken important positive steps without which 25 to 30 million more people would be poor, but poverty fluctuates with the business cycle.

The structure of today’s economy has stultified wage growth for half of America’s workers—with even worse results at the bottom and for people of color—while bestowing billions on those at the top. So Rich, So Poor delves into what is happening to the people behind the statistics and takes a particular look at the continuing crisis of young people of color, whose possibility of a productive life too often is lost on their way to adulthood


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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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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

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

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Ancient African Nations

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

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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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 14 July 2012




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