Books by Amiri
Tales of the Out & the Gone
The Essence of Reparations /
Somebody Blew Up America & Other Poems
of LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka /
Selected Poetry of Amiri Baraka/LeRoi
* * *
Parks to Marxism
In 1955 I was 21 years old and had been in
the U.S. Air Force a year, where I had gone after being tossed
out of Howard University.
The Montgomery bus boycott was heightened
in my mind by the Jet cover of Emmett Till (which I’ve
always felt was the opening salvo of the ’50 Civil Rights
boycott began to hoist the image of resistance to what I’d
known all my life as “racial oppression.”
I’d been prepped for understanding by my
parents and grandparents, who constantly spoke of the
regressive, racially pathological south.
They took me to South Carolina almost every summer
throughout my youth. I
had seen and experienced the ugliness and petty terror of
segregated trains. One
time, the white conductor would not let Black people close the
windows in the segregated coach where we sat.
I was half-amazed at the dumb unnecessisariness of it
all. The why of it.
Cinders and soot poured in on all our clothes, and we
brushed with a stiff resentment at each stroke.
I’d seen the segregated movies and
bathrooms and restaurants.
In Alabama, where my mother’s family came from, we
visited the very site of my grandfather’s two grocery stores
and funeral parlor, which all burned to the ground, Klan style,
and my grandfather and family threatened with terror and murder.
I’d looked at the funny-looking,
droopy-faced, red storekeeper and friends, imaging, in
adolescent vagueness, what idiotic ideas must be inside them,
ugly as they were. And
what I’d remembered of what my folks had told me.
They said, these squint-eyed micro-rulers,
that I talked “too plain.’
I’d almost fallen into as punishment.
I was reading the advertising aloud.
That was, I guess, like, ignorance of my place that made
me read aloud, like I could really learn.
The south, for me, was always a mysterious
terror our history and lives and families would connect us
with—on & on. Racism,
a general context of my life, was emanating, like news of
lynchings, from “down home.” There was always such news, and ugly movie spooks to make us
ashamed (even if they were funny) and so to create a code of
resistance we could hear later from some of the publicly
humiliated. But as
the complete awareness of all racism’s meaning and “my
place” in that got clear, it would, as even today, shape me in
absolute conscious resistance to all of it.
Yet the boycott was “distant.” I was stationed in Puerto Rico; but my and our local
struggles in our specific America—myself now absolutely under
the state’s command—was like a current that touched me with
its meaning. For
me, the boycott as it registered, was an expected presence we
knew emotionally would come.
And the Civil Rights movement was in ourselves in the way
we were seeing or approaching “America” and its old
oppression of Black people.
Rosa Parks was a name that rang for me like
an ancestor’s name, the way we read the headlines and radio
and the grapevine of youth, opening where the beat of life beats
strongest, as animator of our human development.
We were gonna be in the movement.
We always knew the crazy tales our people
told about the vicious madness of White Supremacy, enforced by
Uncle Sam Gestapo Good Old Boy Cracker Nazis, Spawn of the
“Soul Thieves” (Fred said) who bought our bodies to work for
them free, forever, so they could be rich and rule the world.
Sunday School and one people and friends and brains had
told us clearly to recognize:
Heathens, jealous Crackers the old folks called them.
The spiritual KKK in America’s soul.
We are its Blood, ourselves. Sucked out of our homes by our African selves as captors,
then sold to vampire-like European and American slaves traders.
They are the meaning of Halloween.
The Skull and Crossbones is their only flag.
So Rosa Parks was a recruiter for the
people, an example, a breath of humanity drawn into us by our
lives and mind. Dr.
King’s appearance, the SCLC, the boycott’s example of Black
self-determination, political and economic strength as well, was
an instruction in a new era’s expression.
Rosa Parks’ act, the organization and leadership,
campaign development, success and impact, were the opening of
the activist phase as the phoenix-like explosive re-emergence of
There was now—along with our historic
despising of and resistance to what we had been taught since
babes—an open, organized attack on Evil.
On this real devil, in his Heaven-Hell.
There was now organized “Self Assertion,” as Du Bois
said, as well as Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” and
Gandhi’s “Non-Violent Resistance.”
When Dr. King’s house was bombed in
Montgomery in 1957, crowds of Black people rallied spontaneously
in front of the house, many with rifles and shotguns.
The question of Self Defense was raised as an exact
response to its obvious need in real life!
National leadership was thrust by the media upon Dr. King
when he commanded the crowd’s deepest and most immediate
emotions into a Black Christian alternative, “If any blood be
shed … let it be ours!”
Newsweek and Time carried these words and a
part of America confirmed King’s vision.
The church, the voice of southern Black
religion and its professional class, would assert its
leadership, and Christianity would reassert its leadership, and
Christianity now would be the clothes democracy would need.
If we were Righteous, we would Overcome, as the Bible and
It was classical Afro-American mythology,
such as Du Bois characterized the slaves’ ontology connecting
Africa with American chattel slavery and the slaves to an
ancient ye syncretized philosophy.
We “were to suffer and be degraded, and then
afterwards, by Divine edict, raised to manhood and power” (Du
the masses of slaves, slavery ended because of “the Coming of
Such a cultural form was tradition and the
emotion of our lives and memory, but we younger Blacks, out of
school or the service or in the factories and warehouses docks,
knew being “righteous” or “good” had never worked,
except if you could fight.
(That’s why we called ourselves “Bad!”) You
couldn’t be where we lived and let nobody insult you, your
family, put you down too tough or get nuts on you.
So the Christian essence of “the movement” was lost
to us, either in the world of the church or; as we saw it, other
We would not turn any other cheek. White people could get their whatname beat.
I knew that. Their cruelty was nearly always a constant.
Their real meaning was as Bosses, Owners, Storekeepers,
Police, Pain-in-the-behind little racist dudes we’d clashed
with, particularly in the north, at school or in the streets, or
had to talk tough to. “What? I’ll whip yo’ mammyjammin white—” That had already
come out of many of our generation’s mouth, absolutely
sincerely, hope to die.
So, SCLC, SNCC, Robert Williams, Malcolm,
Stokely, Rap, Fannie
Lou, the Panthers, CAP, CORE, Young Lords, Welfare Rights
Organization, Nation of Islam, Urban League, NAACP, churches,
Freedom Riders, “Move On Over Or We’ll Move On Over
You!”— there was a part of us in all of them.
Some of us sang for all of us.
The Black Panther of Alabama.
Voter Registration Summers.
Freedom Marches. They
were part of our whole self-identification, even though we would
work up passionate disclaimers on some of the details.
Robert Williams in Monroe, N.C., emerged as
the wave, for us, after Rosa Parks’ “giving the word,” and
Dr. King’s victorious leadership in Montgomery.
When Williams said, “Meet violence with violence” and
ambushed the local Klan, took their guns and took off their
hoods, that was a new paradigm for many of us young
people—emphasized to the quick when Roy Wilkins bumrushed
Williams out of the local NAACP leadership the next day!
But then The Deacons for Self Defense in Boogaloosa,
Louisiana, followed with more armed defiance of the Klan and
James Brown made that name a dance:
We absorbed the machine-gun rapidity of
heavy transforming events and personalities and struggles,
Selma, Birmingham, Blown-up churches, what’s the difference
between Bull Connor and Hitler, this was the nature of our
incendiary learning. White
Citizen’s Council: what’s
the difference between them and the U.S. Senate, we shrugged,
both shaped by white supremacy, by what we later understood as
the national oppression of the Afro American people?
Medgar Evers, KKK (over and over), Lynchings (again and
again), Mississippi (“Mississippi, Goddamn” our Nina
belted!), Governor Wallace, Ross Barnett, the fool Eisenhower
(“You can’t legislate the minds of the people,” he said,
“Oh,,” we said, “then what mus’ we do?”)
Little Rock (Remember the little girl on
the bench surrounded by heathens?), blown-up Black children in
blown-up Black churches, by known Klan killers the FBI could
have stopped. Now they blowing them up again!!! So what mus’ we do?
And then the next wave, spearheaded by
Malcolm X and his fiery accusation of a “white America” that
we recognized and were having a bloody public refresher course
on. Huey Newton,
Eldridge Cleaver, Bobby Seale, SELF DEFENSE! BLACK POWER! We
were inside the newsreel in a breathless sweep of struggle and
education and commitment.
we inhaled Hoover, The Panthers, The beatings.
We beheld a Nazi America!
Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner murdered like escapees from
Auschwitz, Water hoses, Dogs.
Violent maniac racists with the green light to do
anything to us and get away with it.
who make a living lying. Average
ignorant white people. Liberals.
These were not just events, but teachings,
forum, battles, inductions into the deep heartlessness of this
land and the empty doggishness of too many of those who claimed
prominence and power. We
shuddered in outrage at the murders now of students as the
student movement expanded across the country, the murders of
Black students at Jackson State, Orangeburg, Texas Southern, and
of white students at Kent State!
The 1960 Greensboro Black student sit-in had set it all
off, and we grew even more aggressive in our will to resist this
historic domestic oppression.
“Chickens Coming Home To Roost!” called
Malcolm, sure enough. The
split in the Nation of Islam.
A lot of us would go with Malcolm El Hajj Malik Shabazz,
the OAU, the journey to Africa and the historic Third World
Front, the Bandang Conference.
All the faces and confrontations, the roar
of resistant philosophies, diverse, some even antagonistic, were
still against the American slave-master beast.
Elijah Muhammad, Black Nationalism Black Power
Conferences, Panther’s Constitutional Convention, Congress of
African People meeting in Atlanta, both the same weekend in
1970—all part of the same rush that sprang out with
Malcolm’s first national appearance and the great explosion of
the Cuban Revolution!
Toure. The National
Black Assembly, Gary, Indiana; Africa Liberation Support
Committee; Voting Rights; Civil Rights Bill; Vietnam; South
Africa. Stokes elected Mayor of Cleveland, Hatcher in Gary, Gibson in
Newark; the Black vote! The
movement swept the whole of the U.S. in revolutionary democratic
mirrored the same anti-colonial revolutionary democratic
struggle that raged around the world.
American struggle, like those others, was and will be based on
the exercise of the first expression of self-determination!
Nasser, Nyerere, Machal, Cabral, Pan African Congress,
MPLA, ANC, TANU, PDG, PAIGC—those names carried confirmation
that our struggle was part of a worldwide struggle against
oppression, monopoly capitalism, imperialism, with apartheid and
racism merely handy tools.
assassinated, then Malcolm and King and Kennedy.
LBJ and Nixon names every day we saw their names or
the murderous swirl of the Vietnam War and the anti-war
movement, which Dr. King correctly drew our struggle into, and
the Days of Rage, Fred Hampton and Ralph Featherstone and Bobby
Hutton were we? … yeh … this is the United States, not 1933
Berlin! the murders, herds of political prisoners, beatings,
trials, demonstrations, protests, conferences, meetings meetings
meetings, confrontations, resistance.
By the last
year of the ’60s, Stokeley had called for “Black Power,”
after Adam Powell’s sharp directive that Black people “seek
audacious power” at the first Black Power conference he had
convened, in D.C.—before “White America” got Adam, too and
in true slave-master style, threw him out of Congress!
Black Power Conference came to Newark in 1967, I was in solitary
confinement in a Newark jail as a result of the Newark
Rebellion. By then
Watts ’65, Detroit and Newark ’67, and then hundreds of
cities went up in flames. Not
only the cries of “Black Power!” but ultimately the urban
rebellions in every major city in the country were the
logical—if at first seemingly contradictory—outgrowth of
Rosa Parks’ heroic act of resistance.
It was a
mind-altering bombardment of revelation for those of us growing
to political maturity during these times.
Between 1963 and 1969, John Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin
Luther King, and Robert Kennedy were blown away, in ways the
convince many of us that it was done by anti-democratic forces
affiliated with the U.S. government itself, direct agents of the
most reactionary section of finance capital.
contemplation of history shows us almost in exact replay of the
Civil War and proposed Reconstruction.
Many of the democratic advances and reforms gained
through the ’50 and ’60 Civil Rights/Black Liberation
Movement have been but swept away.
The most bitter irony is that after every advance we
thought would permanently transform this society is diluted,
eliminated, or otherwise trashed, there are still mouths to the
lie than now the U.S. is a people’s democracy.
Even uglier is that too often it is one of the knee-grows
who benefited most of the movement who becomes spokesperson in
charge of covering this outrage.
Those who have sold their souls “for a mess of
pottage” (and a few because they are psychologically and/or
morally warped) are now employed as Heels.
This is the “Sisyphus Syndrome” Du Bois talked about,
still in operation, where collectively Black people push the
huge boulder of our national oppression up “the racial
mountain” (Langston Hughes’s phrase), only to have it rolled
back down on our heads by “the Gods.”
All that is
to say, surely it is time for another political upsurge by the
Afro-American people, and indeed by the great masses of all the
people in the U.S., who are not home watching the stock market
for their daily swig of our blood.
Let us speed the needed reorganization and recommitment.
In Rosa Parks’ name, as well as Dr. King and Malcolm X’s.
Like we used to sing on those marches, “Ain’t gon’
let nobody turn me around!”
I know you remember!
Source: Crisis, December
* * * *
By Lorraine Hansberry
I can hear Rosalee
See the eyes of Willie McGee
My mother told me about
My mother told me about
The dark nights
And dirt roads
And torch lights
And lynch robes
faces of men
Faces of men
Dead in the night
* * *
Writer Lorraine Hansberry's
sober eulogy of the death of Willie McGee weighed heavy on the
hearts and minds of the American Left. On May 8, 1951, a crowd of
five hundred lingered outside the courthouse of Laurel, Mississippi,
to witness the execution of yet another black man convicted for
allegedly raping a white woman. His 1945 lightning trial resulted in
a guilty conviction delivered in less than two and a half minutes by
an all-white, male jury, setting off a heated five-year legal
struggle that drew national headlines. Despite an aggressive appeals
defense team who attempted every legal maneuver in the book, the US
Supreme Court ultimately chose not to intervene. With the legal
lynching of the Martinsville Seven in February, Ethel and Julius
Rosenberg's conviction in March, followed by the execution of McGee
in May, 1951 was a bad year for Left-leaning lawyers (Parrish 1979;
Rise 1995). Most discouraging, national news sources like the New
York Times and Life magazine red-baited the "Save Willie
McGee" campaign and—as Life reported—its "imported" lawyers (Popham
1951a; Life 1951). Few felt McGee's passing with as heavy a heart as
his chief counsel, thirty-one-year-old Bella Abzug.
Before Abzug became a representative in
Congress and a leader in the peace and women's movements, she confronted the
Southern political and legal system at the height of the early Cold War.
Retained in 1948 by the Civil Rights Congress (CRC)—a New York-headquartered
Popular Front legal defense organization—the novice labor lawyer honed her civil
rights . . .
* * * * *
* * *
* * *
Debt: The First 5,000 Years
By David Graeber
Before there was money, there was debt. Every economics textbook says the same thing: Money was invented to replace onerous and complicated barter systems—to relieve ancient people from having to haul their goods to market. The problem with this version of history? There’s not a shred of evidence to support it. Here anthropologist David Graeber presents a stunning reversal of conventional wisdom. He shows that for more than 5,000 years, since the beginnings of the first agrarian empires, humans have used elaborate credit systems to buy and sell goods—that is, long before the invention of coins or cash. It is in this era, Graeber argues, that we also first encounter a society divided into debtors and creditors. Graeber shows that arguments about debt and debt forgiveness have been at the center of political debates from Italy to China, as well as sparking innumerable insurrections.
He also brilliantly demonstrates that the
language of the ancient works of law and religion (words like
“guilt,” “sin,” and “redemption”) derive in large part from
ancient debates about debt, and shape even our most basic ideas
of right and wrong.
We are still fighting these battles today without
knowing it. Debt: The First 5,000 Years is a fascinating chronicle of this little known history—as well as how it has defined human history, and what it means for the credit crisis of the present day and the future of our economy.
Economist Glenn Loury /Criminalizing a Race
* * * * *
The New Jim Crow
Mass Incarceration in the Age of
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
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
* * *
Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement
Lewis and Michael D’Orso
Alabama sharecropper's son, went to Nashville to
attend a Baptist college where, at the end of the
1950s, his life and the new civil rights movement
became inexorably entwined. First came the lunch
counter sit-ins; then the Freedom Rides; the Student
Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Lewis's
election to its chairmanship; the voter registration
drives; the 1963 march on Washington; the Birmingham
church bombings; the murders during the Freedom
Summer; the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party;
Bloody Sunday in Selma in 1964; and the march on
Montgomery. Lewis was an active, leading member
during all of it. Much of his account, written with
freelancer D'Orso, covers the same territory as
The Children. Halberstam himself appears
here briefly as a young reporter but Lewis imbues it
with his own observations as a participant.
He is at times so self-effacing in this memoir that he
underplays his role in the events he helped create. But he has a
sharp eye, and his account of Selma and the march that followed
is vivid and personal. He describes the rivalries within the
movement as well as the enemies outside.
After being forced out of
SNCC because of internal politics, Lewis served in President
Carter's domestic peace corps, dabbled in local Georgia
politics, then in 1986 defeated his old friend Julian Bond in a
race for Congress, where he still serves. Lewis notes that
people often take his quietness for meekness. His book, a
uniquely well-told testimony by an eyewitness, makes clear that
such an impression is entirely inaccurate.—Publishers
* * * * *
The Black Count
Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo
By Tom Reiss
Here is the remarkable true story of the real Count of Monte
Cristo—a stunning feat of historical sleuthing that brings to
life the forgotten hero who inspired such classics as The
Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers. The
real-life protagonist of The Black Count, General Alex
Dumas, is a man almost unknown today yet with a story that is
strikingly familiar, because his son, the novelist Alexandre
Dumas, used it to create some of the best loved heroes of
literature. Yet, hidden behind these swashbuckling adventures
was an even more incredible secret: the real hero was the son of
a black slave—who rose higher in the white world than any man of
his race would before our own time. Born in Saint-Domingue (now
Haiti), Alex Dumas was briefly sold into bondage but made his
way to Paris where he was schooled as a sword-fighting member of
the French aristocracy.
Enlisting as a private, he rose to command armies at
the height of the Revolution, in an audacious
campaign across Europe and the Middle East—until he
met an implacable enemy he could not defeat.
* * * * *
The Courage to Hope
How I Stood Up to the Politics of Fear
Sherrod sets the
record straight on her forced resignation from the Department of
Agriculture in 2010. The author. . .was director for the USDA's
Rural Development in Georgia when conservative political blogger
Andrew Breitbart attacked her for allegedly reverse racist comments
she made at an NAACP event. The threat of exposure on national TV
was enough to send the USDA running for cover, and she was
dismissed. Sherrod decided she had to fight back. She and her
husband have been directly involved in the struggles for political
and economic justice in Georgia and elsewhere since the 1960s, and
they were part of Martin Luther King's movement for civil rights.
She writes about growing up in segregated Georgia and the
circumstances surrounding her father’s murder and the arson of her
family home—at that time, “fear was the daily diet that kept the
status quo alive.” In the ’70s, Sherrod and her husband worked with
other farmers in Georgia on experimental projects.
Denied drought assistance funds by the USDA, they faced foreclosure and joined a
class-action suit to redress the discrimination. Eventually, they
won the settlement, a decision strongly opposed by conservatives.
Sherrod writes sharply about the continuing legacy of racism and how
economic policy, hidebound bureaucracy and plain malice affect poor
people everywhere, and why pretending that we are in a post-racial
world doesn’t help anyone. An inspiring memoir about the real power
of courage and hope.
* * *
The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
* * *
Ancient African Nations
* * * * *
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* * * * *
Negro Digest /
Browse all issues
* * * * *
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
* * *
The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of
* * * * *
posted 9 November 2007