ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



New Orleans has begun 2007 in a metaphorical pile of shit.

In that sense, we are normal in a world that has become

the scene for highly visible and invisible lack of

respect for human life, the defecation of the civilized.



Books by Jerry W. Ward  Jr.

Trouble the Water (1997) / Black Southern Voices (1992) / The Richard Wright Encyclopedia (2008)  / The Katrina Papers

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Katrina Reports:  New Orleans 2007

By Jerry Ward, James Borders, Jarvis DeBerry, Chris Rose, et al


This has been “let us remember the human capacity for violence” week in New Orleans. Thursday night, as Kalamu ya Salaam and I were having our weekly dinner, a news flash informed us that 6 people had been killed in 18 hours. Another murder this weekend brought the number to seven. The crime rate in the city forces us to think about varieties of violence and violation. If you rewire your gutted house and don’t have armed guards to protect the property, it is not unlikely that thieves will strip all the wiring in order to sell the copper. Nothing is sacred. John Scott’s art studio in New Orleans East was robbed just before New Year’s; the thieves took metal sculptures. I do hope John, who is perhaps the most brilliant visual artist this city has produced, has not been told. He is in Texas, recovering from a -second lung transplant. I understand that some citizens will meet today to plan a march for Thursday to protest the rise in violence. Although I recognize the rightness of speaking out against crime, I am skeptical about the march producing results other than more news coverage. To say we live in hard times in New Orleans is a vulgar understatement. We live in cloacal times. I initially thought the city would be in low cotton for 10 to 20 years because of the slow recovery process, the bureaucratic ineptness, and the extensive work to outfit New Orleans with new levees and housing that work-class people can afford and jobs to sustain their lives and to replace the pathetic public school system, storm-damaged residences and ancient infrastructures. A new possibility emerges: people killing other people will kill the city. Yes, our tremendous drug economy is one of the causes of much violence, and I think many of our law enforcement officers have dirty hands. Dig deeper, however, to detect blame. Our criminal justice (injustice?) system is constipated. It is equally true that when large numbers of people in an urban area suffer from untreated trauma, some of them become pathological. It would be ignorant to blame our plight on post-Katrina trauma alone. Rather we must look at the global context of now. What is happening to us is one aspect of the human being’s return to the primal and the primitive on an international scale. In short, New Orleans has begun 2007 in a metaphorical pile of shit. In that sense, we are normal in a world that has become the scene for highly visible and invisible lack of respect for human life, the defecation of the civilized. There is rancid irony in my giving loving attention to Richard Wright’s violence-drenched work as we approach his centennial. Men and women of all colors only half-listened to Wright and other writers who focused on peoplekind’s destructive potential, preferring to dance in the twilight zone of arts, self-congratulation regarding the achievements of technology and science, entertainments, romantic illusions. We have not changed much. We are still dancing in 2007. The irony consists of my not feeling exceptionally good about playing the role of a reverse John the Baptist. As Wright remarked in 1944 about the genesis of Black Boy, “to tell the truth is the hardest thing on earth, harder than fighting in a war, harder than taking part in a revolution. Indeed I discovered that writing like that is a kind of war and revolution.” [NY Post, Nov. 30, 1944, p. B6] Six decades later, Wright’s words inspire fear and trembling in New Orleans. Jerry Ward

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dread in big easy once again the new orleans press club wussies and their often unwitting camp followers are pandering to the most primal fears of ignorant readers without offering them any real analysis of the economic injustice that permeates new orleans. worse, it’s mostly a bunch of men whining like ginny women, soliciting pity merely to hustle up a couple of extra pay days. i suppose we can take some comfort in the fact that these whiners are not real new orleanians. they’re just typical transplants who’ve come to the city to pocket some coins and indulge in a little deviance, i imagine. now they’re finding out about the psychological terror the natives have always had to cope with. soon they’ll discover why the city’s survivors have either humbuggish or totally nonchalant personalities. and if we’re lucky, most of them will go move on or back to their own homes before they lose their minds in ours. James Borders

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City is in a dark and scary place now

I’ve lived through earlier violent streaks. But the previous ones took place in a city that was mostly well-lit and populated, and it was easy to believe that I’d be fine so long as I stay with the pack and in the light. Now the question is: What pack, and what light? New Orleans is still in a state of storm-induced desolation and darkness. Those two characteristics alone are enough to give one the heebie-jeebies. But throw in the idea of murderers running amok and a Police Department that has yet to announce a plan of action, and what would otherwise be a run-of-the-mill stop for gas is dreaded. . . .

I couldn’t help but think, though, that if we have become a city where even a request for directions frightens us, that it isn’t the strangers who are lost. We are. Jarvis DeBerry, New Orleans, Louisiana

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Fear and firepower

Everyone I know hears the shots. They get muffled by the sound of fireworks this time of year, but soon the fireworks will stop. The gunshots will not. My neighborhood is the quietest of them all. Safe, in a relative sense. Very relative. Down in the 7th, the 8th and the 9th, it’s part of the aural fabric of the darkness, rat-tat-tat, the deadly game played on street corners by the Children of the Night. They play a game called Somebody Dies Tonight. Question is, will it be someone you know—a doctor, an artist, a musician—so you’ll get all up in arms about it and march on City Hall? Or will it be another nameless, faceless child of the streets, a killer at 17, dead himself at 18? Should we mourn them any less? I did not tell my wife about the shots I sometimes hear on my walks until this weekend because I don’t want to move away from New Orleans. This is neither the time nor the place to dwell on the many reasons I don’t want to go. For the sake of argument, it’s just a given. But how close to my house do I allow the shots to come before I claim no mas? How many more friends and acquaintances will die stupidly in their cars and yards and doorways before I realize that I have become more afraid of and for my city than ever before and am bordering on a siege mentality? Chris Rose, “Will violent youths destroy what wind and water and fire could not?” New Orleans, Louisiana

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website for documentary on public education in new orleans— Left Behind is a 90-minute documentary that tells the story of three African-American high school seniors as they navigate through their final year of high school. Their final year in one of the poorest cities in the state; in a state ranked as the poorest in America; in one of the most violent cities, states and countries in the industrialized world. The film, shot before, during and after Hurricane Katrina, shows how an uneducated impoverished population reacts under the stress. Our never-before-seen Katrina footage highlights our two-year-long documentary. We show reasons for the looting, rape, murder and mayhem — the effects our man-made environment has on human behavior. We examine the core of our American values, the framework by which we live, and we show how our most vaunted beliefs and government policies have played a role in our nation’s shame. Interviews with Noam Chomsky, Jessie Jackson, Ice T, Congressmen William Jefferson and Maxine Waters, author Michael Eric Dyson, Jim Derleth (US AID Specialist in development and conflict resolution assigned to East and West Africa) and others accent our narrative.

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Poor Gonna Have to Stay Gone

Mr. [Stanley] Taylor, who is black, snapped that maybe it would be better if some of them didn’t come back. “The poor people that’s gone,” he said, “they’re gonna have to stay gone. That’s where all the crime was coming from, see? Folks here want people to come back, but they want people with money to come back. The criminals? Shame on ’em. Sorry for ’em.” . . .

New Orleans is a mess. It was brought to its knees by Katrina, and is being kept there by a toxic combination of federal neglect and colossal, mind-numbing ineptitude at the local level. . . .

Class, at the moment, is trumping race, which is how Mr. Reiss and Mr. Taylor, the cabdriver, came unwittingly to similar stereotyped conclusions. Unless the foundations of a livable city can be put in place – and they are not being put in place now – those with the ability to leave will do so. The poor, neglected as always, will be left behind. “The same thing is moving African-Americans as is moving whites,” Mr. Landrieu said. “Everyone is asking: ‘Is it safe? What’s the school situation? Can my kids play outside? What does the future hold for them?’ ” Without a creative new plan and energetic new leadership, New Orleans will be unable to save itself. Right now it’s a city sinking to ever more tragic depths. Bob Herbert, “Descending to New Depths.”  NYTimes. January 15, 2007.

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Community Responses

After nearly fifteen months of shuttered storefronts, a block of Black-owned businesses in New Orleans celebrated a rebirth this week. The street, on Bayou Road in the seventh ward neighborhood of New Orleans, is a hopeful sign in a city where 60 percent of the population remains displaced and many businesses are shutting down or moving. As recently as August, most of the area remained shuttered and empty. Now, almost every shop is open. The Community Book Center, a vital neighborhood gathering spot in the middle of the block, reopened this week, despite still having no front windows and a floor in major need of work. “Step carefully,” Vera Warren-Williams, the owner, warned guests as they entered the store during the reopening celebration.

Jordan Flaherty, “The Second Looting of New Orleans.”  AlterNet . 21 January 2007

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The State of Black New Orleans . . .  The 3rd RECONSTRUCTION

Yet despite its great cultural assets, [New Orleans] is also a city with deep racial and class divisions rooted in the history of slavery, racial segregation and socioeconomic disparities and inequalities. The faces of Katrina gave living expression to the numbing statistics on the quality of life for a significant number of African Americans (that most social observers already knew). In our city;

35-40% of African-American are in poverty

40 to 50% are underemployed

62% of Black households earn less than $25,000 per year

31,000 children are undereducated each year

less than 20% own their homes in some neighborhoods

only 14% of the businesses are owned by African- Americans

we die from every type of illness earlier than others, our homicide and imprisonment rates are disproportionately high, and the overall quality of life is among the worst in the US. Mtangulizi Sanyika, Spokesperson, African American Leadership Project

posted 11 January 2007

*   *   *   *   *’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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The Katrina Papers

By Jerry W. Ward, Jr.

The Katrina Papers  provides space not only for the traumatic events but also for ruminations on authors such as Richard Wright and theorists like Deleuze and Guattarri. The result is a complex though thoroughly accessible book. The struggle with form—the search for a medium proper to the complex social, personal, and political ramifications of an event unprecedented in this scholar’s life and in American social history—lies at the very heart of The Katrina Papers . It depicts an enigmatic and multi-stranded world view which takes the local as its nexus for understanding the global.  It resists the temptation to simplify or clarify when simplification and clarification are not possible. Ward’s narrative is, at times, very direct, but he always refuses to simplify the complex emotional and spiritual volatility of the process and the historical moment that he is witnessing. The end result is an honesty that is both pedagogical and inspiring.—Hank Lazer

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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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The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

By Michele Alexander

Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama’s political success and Oprah Winfrey’s financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today… than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits.

Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don’t know the truth about mass incarceration—but her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.—Publishers Weekly

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Pictures and Progress

Early Photography and the Making of African American Identity

Edited by Maurice O. Wallace and Shawn Michelle Smith

Pictures and Progress explores how, during the nineteenth century and the early twentieth, prominent African American intellectuals and activists understood photography’s power to shape perceptions about race and employed the new medium in their quest for social and political justice. They sought both to counter widely circulating racist imagery and to use self-representation as a means of empowerment. In this collection of essays, scholars from various disciplines consider figures including Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and W. E. B. Du Bois as important and innovative theorists and practitioners of photography. In addition, brief interpretive essays, or “snapshots,” highlight and analyze the work of four early African American photographers. Featuring more than seventy images, Pictures and Progress brings to light the wide-ranging practices of early African American photography, as well as the effects of photography on racialized thinking.

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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 12 July 2012




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