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for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


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The standard view is that Harry Truman was justified in dropping the bomb;

and that the bombing was necessary to secure a Japanese surrender. . . .

an invasion would have been "necessary," and both our forces . . .

would have sustained heavy military casualties. 



Huey P. Newton 

Revolutionary Suicide  /  War Against the Panthers  / Huey P. Newton Reader / To Die for the People / The Genius of Huey P. Newton

In Search of Common Ground  / Insights and Poems / Essays from the Minister of Defense

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Books by Jerry W. Ward  Jr.

Trouble the Water (1997) / Black Southern Voices (1992)

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Books by Wilson Jeremiah Moses

Golden Age of Black Nationalism, 1850-1925 (1988)  / The Wings of Ethiopia  (1990)

 Alexander Crummell: A Study of Civilization and Discontent (1992)  / Destiny & Race: Selected Writings, 1840-1898  (1992) 

 Black Messiahs and Uncle Toms: Social and Literary Manipulations of a Religious Myth (1993)

Liberian Dreams: Back-to-Africa Narratives from the 1850s  / Afrotopia: The Roots of African American Popular History (2002)

Creative Conflict in African American Thought (2004)

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Love Should Deflect Contentment 

in the Face of Horrors that Afflict All of Us

on Violence & Love; Oppression & Liberation

Conversation with Dennis, Wilson, & Jerry


A Post-Katrina Political Discussion

Dennis: Amen, Rudy.  As always, your eloquence and consciousness liberate and astound what many of us feel. I applaud you in being so succinct and clear. I have had similar "debates" if you will, and find it unfortunate how many still don't see the arguments you bring up. What is even more unfortunate is the resistance to the ideas of true "revolution" in the sense of it being a continuum, a rebellion constantly singing... "mindless" terrorism...I often wonder if people really believe that any act they consider "terrorism" is mindless, or if they are simply afraid that people actually act on their feelings regardless if their emotions have gotten the best of them.

Many would agree with Wilson's comment, I just hope I am not in their company when I personally need help...but I suppose we all are, no?

You have made me think about things I have not allowed myself to ruminate over in a long time....It is always a breath of fresh air when that happens. I must share your writing with more of my contemporaries and artists, wanna be activists, and organizers of my generation - your comments, ideas, analysis cut through a lot of the "school of though" bullshit and armchair radicalism-nonsense.

Bless you and your "peasant" upbringing. My grandfather would have dug that you said that cause since he was homeless and parentless at age 14 (his mother died in an asylum in Trinidad) he was raised by pimps and prostitutes before leaving Port of Spain to eventually head for Harlem, USA.  He was always leery of too much fancy rhetoric and the disdain that the Educated had towards the so called "non educated." 

He was perhaps, in spirit, one of my most pertinent influences because he was head over heels for Malcolm X and Stokely  - cause he always felt the "duende" in their eyes. (duende=spanish for non pretentious emotion, real 'soul' - usually used in a musical or artistic context) I am rambling. Peace and blessings. Bis Spater!     

Wilson: I'm willing to accept whatever is the standard American historical view of Truman and his ordering the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan.” -- Rudy

No Rudy.   I think not.   I know you far too well to believe that you will ever swallow the "standard American historical view."

The standard view is that Harry Truman was justified in dropping the bomb; and that the bombing was necessary to secure a Japanese surrender.   Without the A-bombing an invasion would have been "necessary," and both our forces and the Japanese would have sustained heavy military casualties.   So we nuked all those pretty little almond-eyed Japanese babies in order to avoid military casualties.  That's crap!   The Japanese had announced their willingness to surrender on condition that we spare the emperor.  The Americans insisted on unconditional surrender, bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, then spared the Emperor.  So what was the purpose of the bombing?  Every semester I get the same old crap from World War II buffs in my class who want to tell me "the standard American historical view."

Leave "the standard American historical view" to the Bushes and the Cheney's, whose "historical view" is that we invaded Iraq to fight the terrorists who were responsible for 9/11.  They will never give up that lie.  They will also, predictably, insist that bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved lives.  But Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed for revenge, pure and simple.  Truman was not a monster.  He was a man filled with rage and hatred.  Just as I might have been, had I been president of the United States. 

Rudy: I'm sure you're right that Truman was a sinner, as are we all. Yet I'm not sure where that gets us. I cannot go farther than this sentiment. I know as much about Truman's life as I do about that of Huey P. Newton. I assume he did what he thought was right in  defense of American democracy, though mistaken. As I said before I'd have preferred if he hadn't. And that, I hope, I’d have had greater restraint.

At this stage, I'm not sure there's anything that I can do, other than advise all future leaders that dropping the bomb on people is not what will sustain American democracy. That Truman was mistaken in his estimation, in his policy. We might as a nation, if we have not, apologize for our excesses in this regard. I'm not sure whether it would be politick to criminalize Truman or his government for their political decision to drop the bomb. Any action that would deter a repetition of such military acts by an American President, I would sign onto.

Wilson: Any action?  Rudy!  Stop and think about what you are saying!   First of all, we cannot be certain about the consequences of any action.  The ends may or may not justify the means, in some cases, but we had better be sure about the consequences of extreme actions!   Resultingly, we have to set limits on what sorts of actions we are willing to perform.  We may perform some sort of drastic action (such as bombing a city full of pretty little children) justifying the means in terms of the ends. 

But we cannot be certain that engaging in nuclear child abuse will (turning kids into crispy critters) will have the desired effect of saving the lives of American marines.   I am certain you really would hesitate to perform "any action" that would deter an American president from committing crimes against humanity. 

Harry Truman was capable of the "any action" mentality.  So too George Bush.  The record of their actions is the proof of their beliefs.  We are not talking about words on paper.  We are talking about dead bodies rotting in cities. No question that some of the people the killed were bad people, but they needlessly killed lots of innocent people purely for political purposes.  I am not prepared to advocate that sort of behavior. 

Rudy: under the light in which you have sketched my "any action," I suppose my statement is indeed radical, though such violence never entered my mind. My friend Sharif however, placed before me a hypothetical that you may find interesting. It's not quite as controversial as WB's black abortions as a crime deterrent. Sharif asked whether if we had the opportunity to kill Hitler as a child, would we be obliged to do so.

Of course, futuristic thinking is problematic. Personally, I revolt against killing a mouse. Logic and circumstance however have caused me to smash their soft bodies and toss them in the trashcan. Of course, the killing of a child Hitler would be difficult to explain to the then existing authorities, however certain one may have the future pinned down. They, I imagine, would take one for a madman. That was the dilemma that faced the planners of slave rebellions.

So the heart-wrenching beauty of the child or young woman falls away in comparison to the logic of military plans, and military reasoning. Do generals and commanders-in-chief sleep well? Do they mull over the full consequences of their planning, their orders. I think Nathaniel Turner did. He was sincerely troubled. Yet he did what he thought had to be done, the situation was larger than his personal squeamishness. He did what the logic of the task required. I do not find the soldier who gives orders to kill an envious position. So if I sign onto "any action" that kind of thinking and sentiment would unsettle me.

Wilson: Well, Rudy, this discussion has forced me to reconsider the resolution of the Colored Convention in Buffalo 1843, when Frederick Douglass suppressed Garnet's "Address to the Slaves of the United States," because he wanted to achieve his freedom "in a better way."  Maybe Douglass was right, maybe not. 

In any case, I have written about the incident in Creative Conflict, and I suppose I shall write about it (certainly think about it) many times in the future.  For the time being, I can say that no, I could not justify killing baby Hitler on the basis of a mystical vision, and yes, I could have justified killing him according to the reasoning of the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was executed for collaborating in the failed assassination attempt.

Rudy: Well, "justification" is no way out of the dilemma. I will not justify any killing, whether "mystical vision" or military planning. I might understand it, or even sympathize with it. But I will not justify any murder, even that plot for which Bonhoeffer was murdered. Killing (murder) of any human being (whatever the crime) is just wrong. Even though at times it may be found necessary, I still would be unsettled by the act.

Wilson: Well, we are in agreement that killing another human being is always wrong.  Bonhoeffer was selective, however, and what he did was a venial sin.   It was no worse than killing a mad dog.   If Nat Turner had killed Andrew Jackson, I would have applauded.  What Truman did was a mortal sin, but one I would probably have committed because war brings out the worst in us all.  War, like slavery, brings out the worst in people.   War brought out the worst in what Harry Truman did and slavery brought out the worst in Nat Turner.  But I cannot be too hard on either man, because I think they were morally crippled by the environments that produced them.  And I can imagine how I might have done the same, if corrupted by the environments that corrupted them.  Slavery and war breed a spirit of hatred and revenge.  Slavery and war dehumanize everyone who is involved in them. 

Rudy: Yes, I'm pleased the distance we have come. Nathaniel Turner would not, I believe, be troubled by your reasoned conclusion, except on one point. Recall, Turner agonized over his sins and the thought of murder, and recall further that he was anxious after he’d completed the 1831 Confessions  for his own death, even he refused to justify the murder he committed and the murders he encouraged, except through his religious experience.

On a personal level, he looked forward to the hangman's noose, God's judgment—his condemnation or his mercy. That one has sinned in the name of righteousness, however, does not necessarily imply for me "moral corruption." It is too absolute, as you have phrased it. As I recall from the 1831 Confessions Turner believed that God had "perfected" him for his mission.

When one is inactive, when a people just endure their oppression, for me this is a greater sign of being a "moral cripple." When our love of humanity renders us merely philosophes in the face of oppression, I think we have moral corruption, at the heart and core of our being. This corruption also exists when we have self-murder in the face of oppression. Huey P. Newton, however, thought that the "endurance" of oppression, which for me defines "moral corruption," is a more morally corrupt state than that of self-murder..

Fanon was right; Condi is right: murder of the oppressor liberates. Love is more than the personal.

Jerry: I want to thank you for maintaining a forum that the world should listen to, and I do mean "the world" in a literal sense. I read your exchange with Miriam DeCosta Willis about love and was moved to ask myself whether the tough love I give to my undergraduate students is sufficient. I recall the father's hurting and brutally honest remark to his son in August Wilson's Fences about the thin line between love and responsibility. When I talk to students who are estranged from their fathers, I worry about how sufficient my ear and my voice can be in providing a little balm for their agonies as I try to help them identify the options they have to find meaning in their lives. Question marks march in my head during these student/teacher conversations. Has responsibility trumped love?

I certainly have to ask what has love to do with it when I read about the white South African farmer who has been given a life sentence for killing a black South African and feeding his body to lions, and then hear a handful of black and white South African students insist that the crime was not necessarily racially motivated. Such postmodern deconstruction of death unsettles me, because such postmodern deconstructive attitudes are championed in various circles of American higher education.

How do such attitudes color love or its opposite? How powerfully active are such attitudes in the discussions and plans to reconstruct life in New Orleans and other sites devastated by our recent hurricanes; in the covert forums conducted by private conservative and liberal (or gliberal, to use Ishmael Reed's word from years past) foundations and semi-public agencies of government?

And what poison leaks into my ideal notions about love when I read that the United Nations has asked the government of Uganda to stamp out traditional practices of child sacrifice and female genital mutilation in the Mukono and Kayunga districts?  My wonder about what drives traditional practices in Uganda cannot be segregated from my wonder about what drives traditional practices of response to devastated areas and displaced persons in the United States.

For me, love is only practical if it helps me to resist being by any measure content in the face of the horrors that afflict all of us. Again, I thank you Rudy for helping me to consider more profoundly the issues, dimensions and problems I can not avoid as I seek to love. . . .

Rudy: Jerry, I thank you for your kind, loving, and insightful words. Our pathetic sentiments do indeed often fall into what may be called the “impractical.” John Maxwell, the Jamaican journalist, brought to my attention just now the words of Condi Rice, "Any champion of democracy who promotes principles without power can make no real difference in the lives of oppressed people."  In matters of American foreign policy, we see from Condi’s  view: love without power (read: violence) makes “no real difference in the lives of oppressed people.” I am not certain I agree absolutely. Love always makes a difference.

In politics, love probably carries much less weight than responsibility. Certainly that love that brings contentment or that love that unsettles us will not bring us power. I was telling my friend Sharif just yesterday that the oppressed need a different political education than that which the status quo feeds our children in grade schools and colleges. As I stated elsewhere one will find it difficult to find any public school teacher who can write a thoughtful paragraph on the life and commitment of W.E.B. Du Bois. Here we have neither love nor responsibility.

Since King’s murder and the subsequent “urban rebellions” we Americans no longer, and blacks themselves also, no longer view blacks as an oppressed people, not in America, nor elsewhere, at least not by whites (America and Europe). Since the 80s (at least after Mandela became president) we have entered a different world. Everything is everything. Blacks are the cause of their own poverty, their own hunger, their own displacement, their own oppression. It is their leaders who fall short of “good governance.” It is the choices they have made that cause their own misery. So whatever the government does on their behalf they ought be nothing other than thankful.

So this is the state of our political consciousness today—race, class, gender, as well as, integrity, dignity, and sovereignty are meaningless categories, at least, for us here in America. The pursuit and defense of wealth, white privilege, and national might have much more resonance whether spoken in backrooms or on AM radio.

For the oppressed I think we need a more practical love, a more sacrificing, a more giving love than that which we have exhibited in the last two decades. This practical love may require the same sacrifices as it did in the 60s, and before—whippings, the sweatbox, death. Any new order requires such love, such sacrifices. In those two decades wealth, comfort, and class privilege have had such sway that an American city was murdered. It seems to me that that event, that suffering, that has thus ensued this moral/ethical fiasco, would give us pause.

I do not think personal love, as Miriam phrased it, is sufficient in heading off such disasters. Nor do I think personal revulsion is sufficient to counter, stop the plans already afoot to re-institute cold reckless power in New Orleans.

posted 2 October 2005

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DVDs -- A Huey P. Newton Story 2001  / What We Want, What We Believe The Black Panther Party Library 

The Spook Who Sat By the Door  / Passin' It On; The Black Panthers' Search for Justice

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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. WashingtonPost

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Black Americans in Congress, 1870-2007

By Matthew Wasniewski

Black Americans in Congress, 1870–2007 beautifully prepared volume—is a comprehensive history of the more than 120 African Americans who have served in the United States Congress. Written for a general audience, this book contains a profile of each African-American Member, including notables such as Hiram Revels, Joseph Rainey, Oscar De Priest, Adam Clayton Powell, Shirley Chisholm, Gus Hawkins, and Barbara Jordan. Individual profiles are introduced by contextual essays that explain major events in congressional and U.S. history. Part I provides four chronologically organized chapters under the heading "Former Black Members of Congress." Each chapter provides a lengthy biographical sketch of the members who served during the period addressed, along with a narrative historical account of the era and tables of information about the Congress during that time. Part II provides similar information about current African-American members. There are 10 appendixes providing tabular information of a variety of sorts about the service of Black members, including such things as a summary list, service on committees and in party leadership posts, familial connections, and so forth.

The entire volume is 803 large folio pages in length and there are many illustrations. The book should be part of every library and research collection, and congressional scholars may well wish to obtain it for their personal libraries.Pictures—including rarely seen historical images—of each African American who has served in Congress—Bibliographies and references to manuscript collections for each Member—Statistical graphs and charts

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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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