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There has long been an ideological and intellectual engagement with Haiti as the first black

republic by people like Harry Belafonte, Danny Glover, Randall Robinson, Zora Neale Hurston,

 Langston Hughes, Katherine Dunham, Frederick Douglass and Ntozake Shange. And since the earthquake,

we’ve witnessed a very visceral reaction and a new wave of engagement . . .

 

 

Books by Edwidge Danticat

 

The Dew Breaker  / Breath, Eyes, Memory  / Krik? Krak!  /The Farming of Bones  / Brother, I'm Dying

The Butterfly's Way: Voices from the Haitian Dyaspora in the United States  / Eight Days Anacaona: Golden Flower, Haiti, 1490

After the Dance: A Walk Through Carnival in Jacmel, Haiti  /  Behind the Mountains

Beacon Best of 2000: Creative Writing by Women and Men of All Colors

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Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work

By Edwidge Danticat / Review and Interview by Kam Williams

 

Book Review

There are many possible interpretations of what it means to create dangerously, and Albert Camus . . .  suggests that it is creating as a revolt against silence, creating when both the creation and the reception, the writing and the reading, are dangerous undertakings, disobedience as a directive . . .

Create dangerously, for people who read dangerously. This is always what I’ve thought it meant to be a writer. Writing, knowing in part that no matter how trivial your words may seem, someday, somewhere, someone may risk his or her life to read them.

Coming from where I come from, with the history I have—having spent the first twelve years of my life under both dictatorships of Papa Doc and his son, Jean-Claude—this is what I’ve always seen as the unifying principle among all writers.—Excerpted from Chapter One (pgs. 10-11)

In 1818, Victor Cousin, as a visiting lecturer at the Sorbonne in Paris, coined the phrase “Art for art’s sake,” thus introducing the then novel notion that art ought to be appreciated on its own merits, meaning simply for its intrinsic beauty independent of serving any didactic function. This philosophy caught fire, thereby ushering in a redefinition of the prevailing point-of-view to the point where we generally expect that art be divorced from worldly concerns.

Has this attitude been widely-embraced or might it merely reflect the values of members of a leisure class able to ignore pressing issues of survival faced by the bulk of humanity? The question is legit, for flying in the face of that bourgeois aesthetic is Edwidge Danticat, an iconoclast who sees addressing the prevailing political and social questions of the day as a pivotal part of her calling. 

A 2009 winner of a MacArthur Genius Fellowship, Ms. Danticat’s contrary approach ostensibly emanates from the fact that she was born in Haiti and had to spend her formative years under the thumb of the ruthlessly repressive Papa and Baby Doc Duvalier regimes. And in Create Dangerously, a collection of essays based on a series of lectures delivered at Princeton University, the American immigrant tackles a variety of universal themes apt to resonate with anyone reflecting about the oppression they left behind in coming to the United States in search of fundamental freedoms, particularly Freedom of Speech.

The book opens with a gripping description of a public execution in the Sixties of a couple of Haitian political dissidents in a crowded Port-au-Prince town square aired live on TV, on a specially-declared national holiday when schools and businesses were closed in order to enable everyone to observe the grisly deaths by firing squad. But Edwidge points out that the true purpose of Duvalier’s turning the event into such a spectacle was to discourage the populace from ever voicing their discontent with the status quo.

Obviously, in the case of Ms. Danticat, such attempts at intimidation ultimately backfired, for the inveterate firebrand grew up to stake her career on exposing injustice and challenging authority. Still, this tenderhearted tome, touching on themes ranging from assassinations to the recent earthquake in Haiti, is not solely political in scope. For, it also contains plenty of personal entries such as one recounting a recent return to the mountainous region where she was raised to visit long-lost relatives and friends.            

 The magical musings and flowery phrasings of a gifted wordsmith who, it must be noted, writes not in her native French but in the English of her adopted homeland.

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Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work

By Edwidge Danticat

Create Dangerously is an eloquent and moving expression of Danticat's belief that immigrant artists are obliged to bear witness when their countries of origin are suffering from violence, oppression, poverty, and tragedy. In this deeply personal book, the celebrated Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat reflects on art and exile, examining what it means to be an immigrant artist from a country in crisis. Inspired by Albert Camus' lecture, "Create Dangerously," and combining memoir and essay, Danticat tells the stories of artists, including herself, who create despite, or because of, the horrors that drove them from their homelands and that continue to haunt them. Danticat eulogizes an aunt who guarded her family's homestead in the Haitian countryside, a cousin who died of AIDS while living in Miami as an undocumented alien, and a renowned Haitian radio journalist whose political assassination shocked the world.

Danticat writes about the Haitian novelists she first read as a girl at the Brooklyn Public Library, a woman mutilated in a machete attack who became a public witness against torture, and the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat and other artists of Haitian descent. Danticat also suggests that the aftermaths of natural disasters in Haiti and the United States reveal that the countries are not as different as many Americans might like to believe..CaribbeanLiterarySalon

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Kam Williams Interviews Edwidge Danticat

 

Edwidge Danticat was born in Haiti in 1969 and moved to the United States when she was twelve. She is the author of two novels, two collections of stories, two books for young adults, and two nonfiction books, one of which, Brother, I'm Dying, was a finalist for the National Book Award and winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for autobiography. In 2009, she received a MacArthur Genius Fellowship.

Here, Edwidge talks about her latest opus, Create Dangerously, a collection of essays based on a series of lectures she delivered at Princeton University last year.

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Kam Williams: Hi, Edwidge, thanks for the time.

Edwidge Danticat: I hope you don’t mind that I have my baby daughter with me. Usually, I make some sort of arrangements.

Kam Williams: No need to apologize. I once interviewed Soledad O’Brien while she was surrounded by her kids in the kitchen, and the children’s distractions only added to the experience. First, let me say I enjoyed Create Dangerously immensely. When did you arrive at an understanding that your aesthetic coincided with that of Albert Camus in his essay of the same name which served as the inspiration for your book’s title?

Edwidge Danticat:  [Laughs] You ask that question in such a very, very serious way. I’ve always enjoyed the work of Camus, and found it very thought-provoking, especially his novels. But less universally read are his essays which are very beautiful. I read that one when I was in college and starting to think seriously about writing. He always seemed to express more ambivalence than certainty. That’s certainly how I feel, that this is all a kind of quest, and that things change in terms of what you’re trying to accomplish as you go along. I like the fact that he talks about both sides and the ambivalence of artists.

Kam Williams: FSU grad Laz Lyles says: I heard a New Yorker Magazine podcast that mentioned you and Junot Diaz in tandem as the frontrunner "immigrant" writers. I'd like to know if there are any other writers we should be looking out for who are creating and writing in this tradition.

Edwidge Danticat:  [Laughs] I don’t know if it’s true that we’re at the forefront. I think we are just part of a big and emerging group. Two of the people I‘m most actively reading right now are Dinaw Mengestu and Jhumpa Lahiri. Also, Tiphanie Yanique who wrote an absolutely amazing novella and collection of short stories called How to Escape from a Leper Colony.

Kam Williams:  Rudy Lewis says: I have read several of your books and think that you are the finest and most courageous writer living today, on par with the late South African poet Dennis Brutus. Do you think it a waste of energy to protest for the return of President Aristide to Haiti when it is almost certain that the United States, Canada, and France will not allow his return?

Edwidge Danticat: Rudy is right that it would be very difficult for Aristide to return as a leader because the larger powers won’t allow it, but I don’t think the people in Haiti who support his return would consider it a waste of energy because he is a citizen of Haiti.

Kam Williams:  Rudy also says: South Africa was a cause célèbre. Why do you think that Haiti has not risen to that level in the African-American political imagination, in their churches and other social and political arenas? Is it the problem of language or some other factors?

Edwidge Danticat:  There has long been an ideological and intellectual engagement with Haiti as the first black republic by people like Harry Belafonte, Danny Glover, Randall Robinson, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, Katherine Dunham, Frederick Douglass and Ntozake Shange. And since the earthquake, we’ve witnessed a very visceral reaction and a new wave of engagement on the part of many African-American communities all across the country. 

Kam Williams: Speaking of the earthquake, Heritage Konpa Publisher Rene Davis wants to know if there’s an earthquake relief charity you recommend,

Edwidge Danticat:  There are two. Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees has been on the ground since the beginning. The majority of Haitian households are female-headed because of politics and migration. The other is the Lambi Fund of Haiti. Both work primarily in areas outside of Port-au-Prince which get less aid.

Kam Williams:  Rene also wants to know whether you have any political aspirations in Haiti, ala Wyclef Jean?

Edwidge Danticat:  No, no, no, no, no! The only thing I will ever run for is a bus. [LOL]

Kam Williams:  Harriet Pakula Teweles says: First of all, I want to say how very much I appreciated The Dew Breaker. How has winning a MacArthur Award and being dubbed a genius affected your writing process?

Edwidge Danticat:  It hasn’t made it easier, strangely enough. [Chuckles] Writing is the same, no matter what else happened with your previous book, because ultimately you have to sit down with a blank page and wrestle with an idea. It hasn’t changed that process in terms of the anxiety. Once you’re involved in the work, it’s really just you and the characters and the words. What does change is that the more you do it, the more practice you have, the less stressful writing is. You know how that is, Kam 

Kam Williams:  Yeah. What did being named an Oprah Book Club selection do for you?

Edwidge Danticat:  It gave me a lot of time. What it did was allow me the time to concentrate on writing so I did not have to do so many other jobs. The greatest gift anyone can give to a writer is time, as you very well know.

Kam Williams: Attorney Bernadette Beekman says: I am always so incredibly moved by your writing, especially Krik? Krak!, The Farming of Bones and The Dew Breaker. I see that your new work is once again about life's challenges respecting immigrants. I wonder if one day you will write an extended work which will examine happiness instead of suffering.

Edwidge Danticat: [Laughs] I think I’m just melancholy by nature, and a lot of that gets into my writing. But on a practical level, I think it’s hard to write a book about happiness because fiction requires tension and complication.

Kam Williams: Bernadette asks: When was the last time you were in Haiti?  

Edwidge Danticat: I was there towards the end of the summer to visit family and to work at a camp called Li Li Li, which means “Read Read Read.”

Kam Williams:  Yale grad Tommy Russell asks: Were you surprised at the outpouring of support after the earthquake?  Are things getting better? And what more needs to be done down there?

Edwidge Danticat:  I was surprised at how broad the recovery was. Every one was doing something. On another level, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised because there is something human about the way people react to and identify with suffering. There’s a lot more empathy in the world than we perhaps realize. The response to the earthquake proved that. Unfortunately, many of the donations haven’t been used, and we still have a million and a half people homeless, plus the recent cholera outbreak shows the vulnerability of the situation. So, I think there needs to be a renewed urgency. 

Kam Williams:  Marcia Evans is a person who grew up in the Cambria Heights section of New York City. She asks: Why is this lovely neighborhood never discussed by the media when covering the Haitian community?

Edwidge Danticat:  Marcia’s right about that, although since the earthquake there’s a reporter from The New York Times, Anne Barnard, who’s been writing a very extensive series about that particular community in Queens. I think it’s hard for an outsider to capture the flavor of a community and all its nuances, so ultimately Haitian-Americans need to start sharing intimate accounts of their stories. But, Marcia’s right, there are many wonderful stories waiting to be told. We also have to support Haitian-American media, like Heritage Konpa and The Haitian Times, because they not only link Haitian communities to each other, but they are the portals from the Haitian community to the greater community.   

Kam Williams:  Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?

Edwidge Danticat:  [LOL] No.

Kam Williams:  The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?

Edwidge Danticat:  Yes, I’ve been afraid a few times, especially now that I have kids. I’m more afraid for them than for myself.

Kam Williams:  The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?

Edwidge Danticat:  Yes, most of the time. [Chuckles]

Kam Williams:  The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good laugh?

Edwidge Danticat:  Just now, with you.

Kam Williams:  What is your guiltiest pleasure?

Edwidge Danticat:  That reality show Basketball Wives.

Kam Williams:  The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?

Edwidge Danticat:  Dinaw Mengestu’s new book, How to Read the Air.

Kam Williams: The music maven Heather Covington question: What are you listening to on your iPod? 

Edwidge Danticat:  The Suburbs, the new album from an indie rock group called Arcade Fire.

Kam Williams: What is your favorite dish to cook?

Edwidge Danticat:  Diri Ak Djon-Djon. It’s Haitian rice with mushroom.

Kam Williams: The Uduak Oduok question: Who is your favorite clothes designer?

Edwidge Danticat:  My mama. She sews. [Laughs]

Kam Williams: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?

Edwidge Danticat:  A 40+ year-old woman.

Kam Williams:  If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?

Edwidge Danticat:  A true rebuilding of Haiti.

Kam Williams:  The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?

Edwidge Danticat:  My mother cooking. I think I was about two years-old.

Kam Williams:  The Nancy Lovell Question: Why do you love doing what you do?

Edwidge Danticat:  Because it’s fun.

Kam Williams:  The Flex Alexander question: How do you get through the tough times?

Edwidge Danticat:  By praying and reading.

Kam Williams: The Rudy Lewis question: Who’s at the top of your hero list?

Edwidge Danticat:  Barack Obama.

Kam Williams:  What has been the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?

Edwidge Danticat:  That’s a tricky one.

Kam Williams:  What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?

Edwidge Danticat:  Just do it.

Kam Williams: The Tavis Smiley questions. First, how introspective are you?

Edwidge Danticat:  You know I have to be very introspective to do the work that I do, so I’ll say quite a bit. [LOL]

Kam Williams: Finally, how do you want to be remembered? What do you want your legacy to be, and where are you in relation to that at this point in your life?

Edwidge Danticat:  [Laughs] That’s funny, because that was also Tavis’ last question when I was on his show recently. I have young daughters, and I want my legacy to be more connected to them. I hope to be a good role model for my daughters. I’m only at the beginning of the process, because they’re young. 

Kam Williams: Thanks again, Edwidge, and best of luck with the book.

Edwidge Danticat:  Thank you, Kam. It was a lot of fun talking to you.

*   *   *   *   *

Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work

The Butterfly's Way

Voices from the Haitian Diaspora in the United States

Edited by Edwidge Danticat

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To create today is to create dangerously. Any publication is an act, and that act exposes one to the passions of an age that forgives nothing. Hence the question is not to find out if this is or is not prejudicial to art. The question, for all those who cannot live without art and what it signifies, is merely to find out how, among the police forces of so many ideologies (how many churches, what solitude!), the strange liberty of creation is possible. It is not enough to say in this regard that art is threatened by the powers of the State. If that were true, the problem would be simple: the artist fights or capitulates. The problem is more complex, more serious too, as soon as it becomes apparent that the battle is waged within the artist himself. The hatred for art, of which our society provides such fine examples, is so effective today only because it is kept alive by artists themselves.Create Dangerously, A Lecture by Albert Camus, December 14, 1957 at the University of Uppsala in Sweden

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Aristide and the Endless Revolution (2005)

Directed by Nicolas Rossier

Nicolas Rossier—Aristide Interview  / Aristide and the Endless Revolution

Education and the Cataclysm in Haiti (Rea Dol)  /  Suffocating the poor: a modern parable (Johann Hari)

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Harry Belafonte—Haiti Cherie (video)

Haiti Cherie

                  Lyrics by Harry Belafonte

 

Haiti Cherie, says Haiti is my beloved land
Oh I never knew that I have to leave you to understand
Just how much I miss the gallant Citadel,
Where days long ago, brave men served this country well.

Where sun is bright, or evening with soft moonlight
Shading tree, Creole maiden for company
A gentle breeze, a warm caress if you please
Work, laughter and play, yes we'll always be this way

Haiti Cherie, now I've returned to your soil so dear
Let me hear again, the things that give music to my ear.
The shepherd's horn that welcomes the rising morn
When roads overflow as crowds to Iron market go.

Where sun is bright, or evening with soft moonlight
Shading tree, Creole maiden for company
A gentle breeze, a warm caress if you please
Work, laughter and play, yes we'll always be this way

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Haiti cholera spreading faster than predicted, UN says—23 November 2010—The cholera epidemic in Haiti is spreading twice as fast as had been estimated and is likely to result in hundreds of thousands of cases in the coming months, the UN says. The UN's humanitarian co-ordinator for Haiti, Nigel Fisher, said aid agencies would have to "ratchet up" their response and send more medical staff. The Haitian government says 1415 people are confirmed to have died. The epidemic has complicated preparations for elections next Sunday. Mr Fisher said more than 200,000 cases of infection could be recorded in the first three months instead of six months as first estimated. "This epidemic is moving faster and we are in unknown territory in Haiti just because this is moving so fast. There is no immunity to it", he said. Mr Fisher added that the Haitian government would have to increase pressure on local authorities to find places for more treatment centres and to dispose of bodies.BBC

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AALBC.com's 25 Best Selling Books


 

Fiction

#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 Eroticanoir.com 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

Non-fiction

#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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Brother, I’m Dying

By Edwidge Danticat

In a single day in 2004, Danticat  learns that she's pregnant and that her father, André, is dying—a stirring constellation of events that frames this Haitian immigrant family's story, rife with premature departures and painful silences. When Danticat was two, André left Haiti for the U.S., and her mother followed when Danticat was four. The author and her brother could not join their parents for eight years, during which André's brother Joseph raised them. When Danticat was nine, Joseph—a pastor and gifted orator—lost his voice to throat cancer, making their eventual separation that much harder, as he wouldn't be able to talk with the children on the phone. Both André and Joseph maintained a certain emotional distance through these transitions. Danticat writes of a Haitian adage, “When you bathe other people's children, you should wash one side and leave the other side dirty.” I suppose this saying cautions those who care for other people's children not to give over their whole hearts.In the end, as Danticat prepares to lose her ailing father and give birth to her daughter, Joseph is threatened by a volatile sociopolitical clash and forced to flee Haiti. He's then detained by U.S. Customs and neglected for days. He unexpectedly dies a prisoner while loved ones await news of his release. Poignant and never sentimental, this elegant memoir recalls how a family adapted and reorganized itself over and over, enduring and succeeding to remain kindred in spite of living apart—Publishers Weekly

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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 / 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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posted 25 November 2010

 

 

 

Home  Kam Williams Table   Toussaint     Literature & Arts  

Related files: The Dew Breaker  Out of the Shadows   Create Dangerously (Camus)  Towards a Black Aesthetic  The Revolutionary Potential of Haiti  Nobody ever chose to be a slave   Haiti on the UN Occupation   

How the U.S. Impoverished Haiti   No, Mister! You Cannot Share My Pain!  The hate and the quake   Jean Saint-Vil of Canada Haiti Action  (video)  The Non-Sovereign State of Haiti   Education and the Cataclysm in Haiti 

 Suffocating the poor: a modern parable