ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



For five hundred years the best land in Jamaica and in the ACP

countries has been sequestered by the agents of Diabetes Inc. to produce

a ‘good’ which has no food value although it is classed as a food.



 Book by John Maxwell

How to Make Our Own News: A Primer for Environmentalist and Journalists

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The Late  (not-so-Great) King Sugar: Obituary


By John Maxwell


The decomposing corpse of  the West Indian sugar plantation system was officially certified dead on Thursday, half a century after it had ceased to show signs of life. The declaration was greeted, as such declarations generally are, by much weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth. The 18 African/Caribbean/Pacific countries which are most affected have lost a pillar of the slave-owning community, a system which has supported for five hundred years the dehumanisation, degradation and inhuman subjection of millions of people, mainly of African descent.

In our parts of the world sugar is more than an industry. It is the living ghost of the slave system under which between 18 and 30 million people were transported across the Atlantic, their lives, families, communities and cultures destroyed, to produce wealth for capitalists in Britain, Europe and the United States.

It was the acme of human parasitism. And it has taken an unconscionably long time to die. Among the reasons for its longevity are its offspring; among them modern capitalism, the Industrial revolution, the rotary newspaper press, the steam engine, the railway, the proletarianisation and dehumanisation of millions of people in Europe and elsewhere. And it is this which makes the plaintive bleats of the bereaved so heart rending. A man would need a heart of stone not to laugh, as somebody once said. .

According to the ACP countries, the European Union’s cutting of the Gordian umbilical cord last Thursday will bring in its train a host of disasters: for ACP sugar supplying states  “and inevitably lead to the destruction of centuries old traditions of sugar production with devastating socio-economic consequences.” 

I don’t know about the devastating socio-economic consequences, but I do know that we are all well rid of the ‘centuries-old traditions of sugar production” I cannot believe that this argument could ever form part of an appeal by any self-respecting ex-colonial – but it is the official position of the ACP countries. According to them:

“It is estimated that the [European] Commission’s proposal would lead to a loss in income of up to €400 million annually in ACP countries. the knock on effects of this reform, which hardly bear contemplating, would include: macro-economic instability; the crippling of national efforts to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals; the closure of countless estates; the complete undermining of modernisation efforts already underway within the sugar industry; the failure of smallholders’ cooperatives and collapse of local farmers’ banks; massive unemployment, rural instability and urban migration; a dramatic and alarming increase in poverty; increased crime; national destablization in all ACP countries and heightened insecurity in the Caribbean region; and environmental degradation.”

If all this were true it would indeed be tragic, except that the foolish virgins of the ACP have known for nearly forty years that this day would come and did nothing to prepare for it.

If they had had the imagination and the will to act to defend the interests of the ordinary people,  the poor, they would not, as Jamaican Prime Minister P.J. Patterson has done, concentrate on improving the confidence and bank accounts of the rich at the expense of the poor; they would not, as Mr Patterson has done, undertake billion US dollar ‘infrastructure programmes to build new highways when what was needed was to build the social infrastructure for human development and to reduce poverty, inequality and crime and violence.

Get a Life!

For five hundred years the best land in Jamaica and in the ACP countries has been sequestered by the agents of Diabetes Inc. to produce a ‘good’ which has no food value although it is classed as a food. The best agricultural land is held in latifundia, all over the ACP countries, starving the peasants whose forefathers made the latifundistas wealthy, in a social system which destroys families, corrupts, depraves and devastates community and erodes and devalues  social capital.

Before now I have said that growing sugar cane in Jamaica is as appropriate as it would be for the Jews to make bakeries out of the ovens of Auschwitz and Dachau.

Because of sugar and its sequestration of land and power,  parasitic elites, providing money lending and merchandising services to the industry, have grown up in turn to batten off the surplus labour of the peasants and to despise them privately  as they do explicitly  to the Haitians, as incapable of governing themselves. 

This, incidentally, is a rich irony, as anyone who has ready anything by me over the last year or so will realise, and as some scholars such as Sibylle Fischer, Verene Shepherd and Clinton Hutton are pointing out, the modern world had its genesis in the Caribbean where the Haitians were the first to declare and implement the fundamental, inalienable  human rights of every human being.

But the elites  – and their honorary brothers-in-office – have always been lazy, have always been able to rely on the softness of heart of their European patrons. When it came to the crunch, the metropole would never let them down. Of course they don’t count what happened upon the abolition of slavery because although they thought the empire niggardly, the owners at least were recompensed for slavery while the slaves were not.

Four decades ago then Prime Minister of Jamaica, Alexander Bustamante, arrived at my workplace, the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation, to demand that I be dismissed, fired, because I had dared to expose a truth: that the British, after exploiting us for 300 years, were leaving us with the munificent gift of the Jamaican army headquarters –which they could not take with them – and enough money to service the government for 11 days.It was lese majeste to speak like that.

What I had forgotten to say at the time was that the British had ‘forgotten’ to return a quarter of a million pounds they ‘borrowed’ from us during the war, and had not  recognised the blood sacrifice of Jamaicans killed in Imperial service in West Africa, in the Boer War, in both World Wars, or to even say they were sorry about the hundreds of thousands they had sacrificed in slavery in Jamaica and the millions elsewhere.

As the people of Colombia and Peru are now being punished for the American addiction to cocaine, so were we punished for the European addiction to sugar. Ask the Cubans about the Platt Amendment which yoked them to sugar in perpetuity to the US in order to finance the Cuban elite and the Mafia, but which, when it came to the crunch in 1960, was found to be dispensable, no matter how much hardship its abrogation would cause the ordinary human beings whose production and labour and humanity were devalued at a stroke –  by one flourish of President Eisenhower’s pen.

Much of the best land is Jamaica has been effectively idle for decades. As Mr R.F. Innes,  then Director of Research for the Sugar Manufacturers Association said in 1963, Jamaica could be producing then, at least  30% more sugar on the land the estates occupied. Since then production has declined by 70%, but the land is still sequestered from the people who earned it by their tears, sweat, blood and their suffering, their misery and their dehumanisation. 

Meanwhile, as Cuba was doing in 1960, Jamaica is doing now; we are importing tomatoes and cabbage and eggs and bread and water and sugar and you name it from the United States and the people who used to grow or make those things are selling hairpins and boxes of matches by the roadside. They are self-employed entrepreneurs – just like the elite.

During the war, Jamaica could not import food from abroad because all the cargo space available was needed for the war effort. The problem was solved by a functionary called (with bureaucratic felicity), The Competent Authority. This worthy simply decreed that ten percent of all sugar lands be planted in food crops. 

Now, while in Florida, farmers will produce US$60 million worth of citrus on land equivalent to the acreage occupied by the Monymusk and New Yarmouth sugar estates, in Jamaica we stare vacantly and dream about riches from  the land now  overgrown in bush.

While sugar was king, even when, as recently it was a king in exile, it has always been able to prevent Jamaicans from taking action to save themselves, to rescue, rehabilitate and educate their children and to create caring communities in which crime would be the outsider’s game. 

We have always known, for instance, why people steal farm produce – praedial larceny it is called here, but we have never attempted to understand how we could get the malefactors to grow their own food and so increase the size of the national bread. 

Sugar is the antidote to thought.

Sugar is a specific against imagination, against everything except money and depravity. It incites hyperactivity, noise and mindless idleness. It is time for us to go cold turkey. To kick the habit. 

To end the addiction and to go to work for ourselves and our people

Copyright©2005John Maxwell

*   *   *   *   *’s 25 Best Selling Books



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Civil rights since 1787 : a reader on the Black struggle

Edited by Jonathan Birnbaum and Clarence Taylor

Contrary to simple textbook tales, the civil rights movement did not arise spontaneously in 1954 with the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision. The black struggle for civil rights can be traced back to the arrival of the first Africans, and to their work in the plantations, manufacturies, and homes of the Americas. Civil rights was thus born as labor history.

Civil Rights Since 1787 tells the story of that struggle in its full context, dividing the struggle into six major periods, from slavery to Reconstruction, from segregation to the Second Reconstruction, and from the current backlash to the future prospects for a Third Reconstruction. The “prize” that the movement has sought has often been reduced to a quest for the vote in the South. But all involved in the struggle have always known that the prize is much more than the vote, that the goal is economic as well as political. Further, in distinction from other work, Civil Rights Since 1787 establishes the links between racial repression and the repression of labor and the left, and emphasizes the North as a region of civil rights struggle.

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Greenback Planet: How the Dollar Conquered

the World and Threatened Civilization as We Know It

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In Greenback Planet, acclaimed historian H. W. Brands charts the dollar’s astonishing rise to become the world’s principal currency. Telling the story with the verve of a novelist, he recounts key episodes in U.S. monetary history, from the Civil War debate over fiat money (greenbacks) to the recent worldwide financial crisis. Brands explores the dollar’s changing relations to gold and silver and to other currencies and cogently explains how America’s economic might made the dollar the fundamental standard of value in world finance. He vividly describes the 1869 Black Friday attempt to corner the gold market, banker J. P. Morgan’s bailout of the U.S. treasury, the creation of the Federal Reserve, and President Franklin Roosevelt’s handling of the bank panic of 1933. Brands shows how lessons learned (and not learned) in the Great Depression have influenced subsequent U.S. monetary policy, and how the dollar’s dominance helped transform economies in countries ranging from Germany and Japan after World War II to Russia and China today.

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A Slave in the White House

Paul Jennings and the Madisons

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Foreword by Annette Gordon-Reed

Paul Jennings was born into slavery on the plantation of James and Dolley Madison in Virginia, later becoming part of the Madison household staff at the White House. Once finally emancipated by Senator Daniel Webster later in life, he would give an aged and impoverished Dolley Madison, his former owner, money from his own pocket, write the first White House memoir, and see his sons fight with the Union Army in the Civil War. He died a free man in northwest Washington at 75. Based on correspondence, legal documents, and journal entries rarely seen before, this amazing portrait of the times reveals the mores and attitudes toward slavery of the nineteenth century, and sheds new light on famous characters such as James Madison, who believed the white and black populations could not coexist as equals; French General Lafayette who was appalled by this idea; Dolley Madison, who ruthlessly sold Paul after her husband’s death; and many other since forgotten slaves, abolitionists, and civil right activists

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To the Mountaintop

My Journey Through the Civil Rights Movement

By Charlayne Hunter-Gault

A personal history of the civil rights movement from activist and acclaimed journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault. On January 20, 2009, 1.8 million people crowded the grounds of the Capitol to witness the inauguration of Barack Obama. Among the masses was Charlayne Hunter-Gault. She had flown from South Africa for the occasion, to witness what was for many the culmination of the long struggle for civil rights in the United States. In this compelling personal history, she uses the event to look back on her own involvement in the civil rights movement, as one of two black students who forced the University of Georgia to integrate, and to relate the pivotal events that swept the South as the movement gathered momentum through the early 1960s. With poignant black-and-white photos, original articles from the New York Times, and a unique personal viewpoint, this is a moving tribute to the men and women on whose shoulders Obama stood.

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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 10 July 2012




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