Thursday, April 17, 2014

Slave Rebellion in the Age of Liberty

As reviewed in the UK Guardian, in an article entitled, "The Empire of Necessity: The Untold History of a Slave Rebellion in the Age of Liberty; Michael Moorcock on a tale of revolt on board a slave ship that explores the interdependency of liberty and slavery in the US," by Michael Moorcock, on 16 April 2014 --  On 20 February 1805 in the remote bay of an uninhabited island off the Chilean coast, Captain Amasa Delano from Massachusetts, reduced to seal-hunting for a bad living, anchored his ship the Perseverance to take on fresh supplies of water and fish. Suddenly another ship, the Tryal, flying the Spanish flag, lumbered out of the morning mist. She was in desperate condition, her rigging ragged, boats missing, her complement reduced to a handful of half-starved sailors and with a cargo of unchained west African slaves.

The Empire of Necessity: The Untold History of a Slave Rebellion in the Age of Liberty
by Greg Grandin

When Delano boarded the Tryal he found her half-mad captain, Benito Cerreño, supported on the arms of his Muslim body-slaves Babo and Mori. The Spaniard sobbed out a fragmented story of losing hands, boats, passengers and cargo to sickness and the elements. He appealed to the good-hearted American for help. Astonished by the lack of discipline aboard, which he attributed to Cerreño's poor health and seamanship, Delano swiftly sent his longboat back to the Perseverance for supplies. An abolitionist, Delano was nonetheless impressed by the apparent devotion of the two slaves, father and son, who refused to be separated for a moment from their master.

Only as Delano left the ship did the charade collapse. Stumbling to the rail Cerraño leapt recklessly into the American's departing boat babbling of his capture and torture by the Africans. The slaves had revolted, killing most whites aboard, including the trader who owned them. Under threat of death, Cerreño and the others were forced to play out a charade for Delano. As soon as he returned to his own ship the Yankee organised pursuit of the rebels. Ultimately they were caught, and the ringleaders hideously punished. The main cargo of salvaged slaves were put up for sale, whereupon they and the ship became subject to a prolonged legal battle between the two captains as to their ownership. All this was recorded in Delano's memoirs, published in 1817 after his return to Boston and relative poverty. Soon after the publication (and commercial failure) of Moby-Dick, Herman Melville used Delano's account as the substance of his powerful novella "Benito Cereno", published in Putnam's Magazine in 1855. The story almost certainly appealed to the author as a parable examining the extraordinary relationship between slavery and liberty. As Greg Grandin points out in this remarkable book, the Age of Liberty and the Age of Slavery were the same. One simply could not have existed without the other.
The interdependency of apparent opposites fascinated Melville as it did a number of 19th-century American writers, including the superbly civilised transcendentalists (such as Emerson and Thoreau). The lives of settlers revealed this tangled truth on a daily basis and reflected their fascination with nature in the raw. Perhaps not entirely consciously, Melville understood Delano's story to be a metaphor for his young nation.

The American conscience has always been troubled by its relationship to genocide and slavery and, as Grandin points out, Melville throughout his writing life examined the anomalies by which people lived, dependent on death to sustain life and on slavery to sustain freedom. The American revolution was financed in great part by slavery and the young American state probably could not have continued without it. Of all the chief South and North American nations, only Canada remained attached to the original colonial power, and only Canada's economy did not depend on slavery. Indeed, the relatively small number of slaves in that country were mostly natives, captured and owned by other natives in the pursuit of inter-tribal war. By remaining attached to the mother country, Canada also seems to have resisted anything like mass genocide and remains the most equitable of the North American nations.

Melville took Delano's account and increased its narrative tensions, changing it only a little, but building up a dark, terrifying atmosphere as Delano gradually begins to realise something is wrong, and yet is unable, through his natural Yankee amiability, to determine what makes him so uneasy as black mothers sing a sinister dirge and west African carpenters clash axes they are apparently cleaning. His questions are answered mysteriously by Captain Cereno, so that the American suspects rudeness and social inadequacy in the Spaniard. Only in the dramatically improved ending, with Cereno and his men risking their lives in the sea and the enraged slaves pursuing them, does it dawn on him that those "rude blacks" he believed incapable of such subterfuge were actually the masters, and that his own prejudices allowed him to play into the hands of Babo and his rebels.

In a superbly argued and richly detailed account of the interdependencies of slavery and revolution throughout the Americas, as well as the religious traditions of Protestantism, Catholicism and Islam (many of the west Africans were educated Muslims), Grandin brings to vivid life the realities of the period, pointing out that, of the estimated 12,500,000 Africans carried to the Americas between 1514 and 1866, at least half were boarded after 4 July 1776. Many slaves were expert craftspeople; many, educated in madrasas, were literate; and some even owned or traded in slaves themselves. The slave trade boomed when it was liberalised by the Spanish crown after Spain failed to control the smuggling of black Africans. Numbers increased after 1800 as the US economy became increasingly reliant on slavery. The butchery of fur- and oil-bearing mammals on land and sea supplied the money to buy the slaves working the mines and fields of the New World, just as genocide of indigenous people supplied the land and precious metals. One person's freedom was all but impossible without another's servitude.

Melville, coming from a New England abolitionist tradition, did not make an obvious allegory out of Delano's account, and his black slaves are not shown to be particularly sophisticated or subtle – with the exception of Babo who, in a tense and sinister scene, insists on shaving the man he pretends is his master while Cereno, terrified, submits to his ministrations. When the truth is revealed the Africans become the savage, insensate force shown in DW Griffiths's film Birth of a Nation, but even here we can imagine that such a howling, furious mob can easily represent the form the guilt-ridden white unconscious most expects retribution to take.

Terrified by the Haitian revolution, republican France did all it could to suppress the first black state in the Americas. That revolution affected the imaginations of other imperial powers, as well as those beginning to emerge from under the European heel. Events on the Tryal symbolised a great deal to even the most liberal whites, and continued to offer subject matter to writers other than Melville. Both Pablo Neruda and the Uruquayan experimental novelist Tomás de Mattos were attracted to the topic, depicting Babo as far more of a hero than did Melville. Grandin's skill is that, as in his recent Fordlandia, a study of American utopianism through the dreams of Henry Ford, he can find metaphors that subtly reflect the vital dichotomies that pervade the American psyche.  (source: The UK Guardian)

Friday, March 7, 2014

Benguela in the Transatlantic Slave Trade

Benguela [Angola] in the Transatlantic Slave Trade

A 27-year civil war ruined Angola's transport infrastructure

Once a major slave-trading port linking Africa to Brazil, in the 20th Century Benguela became the terminus for the Benguela railway.

In its heyday the railway stretched 1,370km from the nearby port town Lobito to Luau on the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. (source: BBC)

An African Slaving Port and the Atlantic World
An African Slaving Port and the Atlantic World: Benguela and its Hinterland, by Mariana Candido

From the University of Chicago International Studies, "Rethinking How Slavery Changed Africa," by Claire Withycombe, on 5 December 2012  --  African Studies Distinguished Lecturer Mariana Candido says the transatlantic slave trade is more important in the history of West Africa than previously thought.

In the coastal city of Benguela, Angola, a stack of concrete triangles is oriented upright, so that the edge of the largest pierces the sky, a stiff geometric contrast to an infinite blue expanse. The assemblage forms a monument to the 1617 arrival of the founder of the Portuguese colony of Benguela, Manuel Ceveira Pereira. Today, it is the only deliberate reminder of the city’s colonial past.

A photograph of the monument figured prominently in Princeton University history professor Mariana Candido’s presentation on the role of Benguela in the transatlantic network, which sought to re-evaluate the popular assertion that the region’s colonial and slave trading past was peripheral to developments in the Atlantic world.

Candido was invited to the University to deliver the first African Studies Distinguished Lecture on November 27th, sponsored by the Committee on African Studies and the Center for International Studies. Her lecture was titled, "Reevaluating the 'Marginal Institution': The Role of Benguela, Angola in the Transatlantic Slave Trade."

In Candido’s view, the Pereira monument denotes a critical gap in the historiography of West Central Africa. “The history of slavery is central to understanding the history of this region,” she said.

While past scholars and contemporary colleagues have emphasized continuity and stability in the period extending from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, Candido argued that documents from Benguela demonstrate that the slave trade undeniably and irreversibly changed many dimensions of life in West Central Africa.

Candido explained that because of the “pressures of the Atlantic economy...people migrated from the coast into the interior.” The growing commerce in slaves “shifted the trade roots, affected agricultural production and the local diet, and favored the spread of slave routes, as well as led to the collapse of old states and emergence of new ones,” she said.

Documentation that Candido unearthed regarding slaves in the U.S., Brazil, and elsewhere further connects the city to developments beyond its shores, she said, and demonstrates the “importance of incorporating research on the African diaspora to understand changes that took place in the African continent before the twentieth century.”

Okay, this photo has NOTHING to do with the subject, but I found it to be a very humorous image from Benguela, Angola. (source:  MARIÁ F. MARTINS - PRONTO PARA FAZER UM CABRITE EM BENGUELA - ANGOLA)

Portuguese colonizers introduced a variety of important transformative measures, including creation of colonial bureaucracy, religious conversions, and the forced signage of vassalage treaties which required African rulers to accept “a series of obligations such as payment of tribute and adoption of Christianity,” Candido said.

In a question-and-answer session that followed the lecture, Candido addressed audience members’s questions about gender relations during the colonial period, the significance of road construction under colonial rule, and the broader theological justification of Portuguese colonization.  (source:  University of Chicago International Studies)

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Slave Angélique and The Burning of Montreal

This is an French to English translation from the Africa Record's Nerrati-Press Network, in an article entitled, "Angelica: The Killing Of A Black Slave In New France (Currently Quebec, Canada)," by Lencrenoir, on 4 June 2013 --  Angélique was born in Portugal, which was a major player in the lucrative Atlantic slave trade, and was then sold to a man named Flemish Block Nichus or Nicolas Bleeker which led to the New World. She lived in New England before being sold in 1725 to a major French businessman Montreal named François Poulin de Francheville , and after his death in 1733 , it belonged to his wife Teresa of Couagne .

Slavery in New England and New France was essentially domestic, as opposed to the southern part of what became the United States economy n 'was not based on the work of large-scale planting. Angélique has therefore worked at home Francheville in Montreal, and sometimes helped the small family farm on the island of Montreal, which was mainly used to produce goods for commercial expeditions family Francheville.

Angélique had three children in Montreal: A boy born in 1731 who lived only a month and a twin in 1732 , both died within five months after their births. Recorded in official documents Baptism father was Jacques César , a black slave who belonged to Madagascar Ignace Gamelin , a friend of Francheville. It is not known if Angelique and Jacques were lovers by choice or if their owners were forced to reproduce.

During the year preceding the fire and the trial, Angélique became involved in a relationship with Claude Thibault , a white indentured servant, who was employed by the Francheville . Following the death of Mr. Francheville in November 1733 , the operation of its business and succession occupy much time Ms. Francheville . In early 1734 , being taken by real estate business in Trois-Rivières, the widow asked his brother Alexis Monière keep his slave and servant for her until her return.

On 22 February 1734 , while the widow was still far away, Angelique and Claude tried to flee to New England, the frozen St. Lawrence River. They stopped to retrieve a bread Claude Thibault had hidden in a barn in Longueuil in preparation for their getaway. However, the cold Canadian forced the two men to take refuge in Châteauguay, near the road to Chambly up that the weather improves. They were captured a few weeks later and returned to Montreal by three militiamen . Thibault was jailed on 05 March 1734 and released on 08 April 1734 , the day of the fire that burned down a large part of the young city of Montreal. Angelica visited him several times while he was in prison and he brought something to eat.

The Hanging of Angélique

As for the latter, it was simply given to Madame de Francheville without being disciplined in any manner whatsoever, for his attempt to escape. Maybe because that was already expected to sell. As mentioned at the trial, Thérèse Francheville found itself unable to control Angélique and intention to accept an offer made ​​by one of the partners of her late husband, François-Étienne Cugnet : 600 pounds of gunpowder cannon. The offer was conditional upon the widow covers shipping 's Angélique to Quebec, where Cugnet lived. The fear of being sold and eventually end up in the Caribbean was perhaps the reason for the attempted escape.

Tensions were high between the slave and his mistress. Widow Francheville fired a free maid, Louise Poirier , due to quarrels and discord between the slave and servant. Angelica promised her that she could possibly do the job better than Louise Poirier, hoping that a good performance on his part would bend and keep his mistress. The widow agreed, but promised Louise that she would contact her from the start 'of Angélique to Quebec City. After his release, Thibault , visited Madame de Couagne to claim his salary. The woman called and warned Thibault never set foot in his house. Angry, she also confirmed it that Angelica had been sold and would be sent to Quebec as soon as the ice would base.

Claude Thibault ignore this order and Angélique visits several times during the absence of the widow Couagne. It was the beginning of April 1734 . They both knew that the St. Lawrence River would soon again passable for ships, and that Angélique would no longer be in Montreal for a long time. Angelica promises to be a servant to his intention to run again. It is possible that they conspired to set fire to cover their escape. On the evening of April 10, 1734 , while slavery was to the Church, Angelica shouts " Fire ! "Heard the neighbors try to extinguish the fire, but it spread rapidly and within three hours, 46 buildings were destroyed, including a large part of the market sector, along the Rue St. Paul, as well as hospital and convent of Hotel-Dieu. No one was injured in the fire. As Angélique and Thibault helped save property houses burned, rumors began circulating accusing fired.

The origin of the word seems to have been the observations made ​​by Marie-Manon , a slave owned by the neighbors of Mrs. De Couagne the Berey of Essars . When the fire was extinguished, the popular opinion was that Angelica had fired. She was arrested the next morning. An arrest warrant was also issued later Thibault , but although it was seen again on Tuesday morning after the fire ( two days later ), when bailiffs set out its mandate to arrest, he had disappeared and has never been seen in New France.
Angélique was charged and tried. French law at the time allowed a suspect to be arrested on " rumor "when the community decided that a suspect is guilty. Over the next six weeks, the prosecution called a number of witnesses. No witnesses saw Angélique fire, but they all said that they were certain that it did.
They testified at length the character 'of Angélique . They say it is a slave who misbehaves, who often meets his mistress. However, no solid evidence has been presented as to his guilt. Frustrated by the lack of evidence to convict Angélique, further considering applying torture before making the final judgment, which was rarely allowed in very unusual procedure . New France Unfortunately, Angelica , an eyewitness suddenly tip: A girl of five years , named Amable. The child's testimony that she saw Angelique , carrying a shovelful of coal in the attic of the house in the afternoon when the fire started.

This is all you need as proof to allow the prosecutor to close his business. The judge and four commissioners asked to take part in the award, all agreed that Angelica was guilty. Ms. Denyse Beaugrand-Champagne , author says that nobody wondered why it took so long for the small Amable occurs in a city where the fire and the trial were known. She attributes this sudden willingness of the girl the fact that too many people had lost much in the fire and a scapegoat was needed.  (source: text TRANSLATED French to English from the website: Africa Record, Nerrati-Press Network)  

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Canada’s Forgotten Slaves

From the Globe and Mail, "200 years a slave: the dark history of captivity in Canada," by Robert Everett-Green, on 28 February 2014 -- Canadians appalled by the violence in the Oscar-nominated film 12 Years a Slave probably also feel proud that the carpenter who helps Solomon Northup regain his freedom is Canadian (and played by Brad Pitt). We’ve all heard that Canada’s only role in the slave trade was to hasten its end; but long before the underground railroad got started, colonial Canada was a safe place to buy, sell and own slaves.

For about two centuries, slavery was legal in New France, and in Lower Canada under British rule. Captive human beings were owned by people from almost every level of society, including governors, bishops, military officers, merchants, priests, blacksmiths and tailors. James McGill, founder of McGill University, had slaves. So did Marguerite d’Youville, the Grey Nuns founder who was canonized in 1990.

Canada’s Forgotten Slaves: Two Hundred Years of Bondage; by Quebec historian Marcel Trudel 

The shocking details are all laid out in a book by Quebec historian Marcel Trudel that has just appeared in an English-language paperback as Canada’s Forgotten Slaves: Two Hundred Years of Bondage. Mr. Trudel, who died in 2011, shreds our national myth about slavery by naming hundreds of eminent and ordinary Quebeckers who were eager to get slaves and proud to flaunt them before their neighbours. People went into debt to buy them.

“Slavery in Quebec was not some economic imperative, but rather a form of public extravagance which conferred prestige,” Mr. Trudel writes. In 18th-century Quebec, whose boundaries reached into parts of what is now the United States, a slave was a status symbol, more often found in town than in the country, more likely to be a domestic servant than a field labourer.

Mr. Trudel provoked a scandal in Quebec in 1960 when he first published his revelations as L’esclavage au Canada français. Generations of historians and church leaders had nurtured the myth that slavery, if it had existed at all, had been imported into the province by the English after the conquest of 1760. In fact, 85 per cent of Mr. Trudel’s confirmed owners were francophones, and the Quebec slave trade was well established before Wolfe met Montcalm. Nobody could refute Mr. Trudel’s careful research, so he was ostracized professionally, and in 1965 left his post at the University of Laval for a less frosty berth at the University of Ottawa.


The number of slaves Mr. Trudel could confirm from archival records was relatively small – about 4,200 in all, compared with the 250,000 who toiled in the French West Indies in the mid-1700s. Canadians never knew slavery on an industrial scale, only because they never convinced big-time slave traders that it was worth sending African slaves on the longer shipping route to Montreal or Quebec City.

Many in Quebec had to be content with captives stolen or bought from indigenous peoples, some of whom practiced slavery before the Europeans arrived. About two-thirds of the slaves in Quebec were native people, mostly from the Pawnee nations of modern-day Nebraska, whose French Canadian name – Panis – became a synonym for an indigenous slave of any origin. Black slaves were known as bois d’ébène (ebony wood), or pièce d’Inde if they were in prime condition. Blacks, being harder to get, were about double the cost of indigenous merchandise. Slaves of all kinds were sold at auctions and advertised in newspapers, including the Montreal Gazette, which had slaves in its print shop.

The legal and religious basis of the enterprise was conflicted. Louis XIV granted a petition to permit slave ownership in New France in 1689, even though it was not allowed in France. The church insisted on baptism and Christian burial for slaves, but ignored Pope Paul III’s 1537 decree that indigenous peoples in the Americas should not be enslaved “in any way.” Many major religious orders in colonial Quebec, including the Jesuits, owned slaves. Marguerite d’Youville was even taken to court by a Montreal doctor who claimed she had, in the night, spirited away a Panis that belonged to him (the trial’s outcome was not recorded).

The House of Assembly in Lower Canada dithered for years in the late 1700s over motions to abolish slavery, probably because several members would have been directly inconvenienced. But the last recorded slave sale in Quebec occurred in 1797, and Britain abolished slavery in most of its empire in 1833, just as traffic on the underground railroad to Canada was nearing its peak.

In the decades since Mr. Trudel’s book first appeared, a secular form of Quebec nationalism has found its own reasons to forget the province’s slave-trading history. Montreal historian and journalist George Tombs, translator of the revised edition of Mr. Trudel’s book into English, got a good demonstration of the new amnesia when he mentioned his project to an acquaintance who happened to be a former Parti Québécois cabinet minister.

“He got quite annoyed, and said ‘You shouldn’t be translating that book!’” Mr. Tombs recalls. “His problem basically was that it would give a bad image of Quebec. Pauline Marois has been saying that we have to make sure that everyone knows national history, but there’s a big part of national history they’re not going to learn.”

That doesn’t explain why Mr. Trudel’s pioneering book had to wait more than 50 years to become available in English. Mr. Tombs says it’s partly because Canadians are accustomed to getting our history “in little bits and pieces, depending on which region the historian is from and which political agenda the historian is pursuing.”

Several historians have written more recent papers and books that focus narrowly on slavery in Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island or Upper Canada, where loyalists from the American colonies often arrived with their human chattels. What’s still needed, Mr. Tombs says, is a broader telling of the Canadian slavery story that we can all come to grips with. If, as Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said, Canadians need to know their history better, they should know the bad bits, too. (source: The Canadian Globe and Mail)

Friday, January 24, 2014

Freedom For The Stallion

Freedom For The Stallion
(Lyrics by: Allen Toussaint)

Freedom for the stallion
Freedom for the mare and her colt
Freedom for the baby child
Who has not grown old enough to vote.
Lord, have mercy, what you gonna do about the people who are praying to you?
They got men making laws that destroy other men,
They've made money "God"
It's a doggone sin,
Oh, Lord, you got to help us find the way.

Big ship's a-sailing, slaves all chained and bound,
Heading for a brand new land that some cat said he upped and found.
Lord, have mercy, what you gonna do about the people who are praying to you?
They got men making laws that destroy other men,
They've made money "God"
It's a doggone sin.
Oh, Lord, you got to help us find the way.

Some sing a sad song
Some got to moan the blues
Trying to make the best of a home
That the man didn't even get to choose
Lord, have mercy, how you gonna be with people like John and me
They've got men building fences to keep other men out
Ignore him if he whispers and kill him if he shouts
Oh, Lord, you got to help us find the way
Oh, Lord, you got to help them find the way
Oh, Lord, you got to help us find the way.

"I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free"

"I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free"
( Lyrics by: Billy Taylor and Dick Dallas)

I wish I knew how
It would feel to be free
I wish I could break
All the chains holding me
I wish I could say
All the things that I should to say
Say 'em loud say 'em clear
For the whole round world to hear

I wish I could share
All the love that's in my heart
Remove all the bars
That keep us apart
I wish you could know
What it means to be me
Then you'd see and agree
Everyone should be free

I wish I could give
All I'm longin' to give
I wish I could live
Like I'm longin' to live
I wish I could do
All the things that I can do
Though I'm way overdue
I'd be starting anew.

I wish I could be like a bird in the sky
How sweet it would be
If I found out I could fly
I'd soar to the sun
And look down at the sea
And I sing 'cause I know

{{"I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free" is a gospel/jazz song written by Billy Taylor and Dick Dallas, best known for the recording by Nina Simone in 1967 on her Silk & Soul album. }}

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Mrs. Dred Scott

From the Washington Post, "Invisible Woman," by Martha A. Sandweiss, on 5 April 2009 -- In 1857, the Supreme Court ruled in Scott v. Sandford that African Americans -- whether free or enslaved -- could not be citizens of the United States. The plaintiff, Dred Scott, an enslaved resident of St. Louis, had sued for his freedom 11 years earlier on the grounds that he once lived in a territory where Congress had prohibited slavery. The Supreme Court not only denied Scott any and all rights within the American legal system, it also declared that Congress could not prohibit slavery in an American territory. In negating the limits on the expansion of slavery established by the Northwest Ordinance and the Missouri Compromise, the infamous Supreme Court ruling exacerbated the tensions between North and South that led, a few years later, to civil war.

Previous historians have examined the life of Dred Scott for clues that might explain the timing of his lawsuit and his stubborn perseverance in the courts. A Virginia-born slave, he was sold to an Army doctor who took him to the free state of Illinois and to Wisconsin Territory; eventually master and slave returned to St. Louis. Along the way, Scott likely gained some medical expertise and a taste of relative independence. He may also have had the temperament and resilience for a tough legal fight. But in "Mrs. Dred Scott," University of Iowa law professor Lea VanderVelde argues that the real impetus for the legal case came from Dred's wife, Harriet, a woman heretofore all but unknown. Originally a co-plaintiff with her husband, Harriet watched her case become subordinated to his as the lawsuit moved through the appellate process. But, VanderVelde insists, she probably instigated the court battle.

Mrs. Dred Scott: A Life on Slavery's Frontier – By Lea VanderVelde

In a remarkable act of historical recovery, VanderVelde resurrects the life of Harriet Scott. As a woman, a slave, an illiterate person and a resident of a frontier community, Harriet left few traces in the historical records. But drawing largely on the diary of Lawrence Taliaferro, the Indian agent and slave owner who brought the teenaged Harriet with him from Pennsylvania to Fort Snelling in Wisconsin (later Minnesota) Territory in 1835, VanderVelde recreates the world in which Harriet lived before her marriage to Dred in 1837.

And what a remarkable world it was. In the remote outpost where her master engaged in diplomatic negotiations with Indian tribes, Harriet likely encountered the painter George Catlin, the French geographer Joseph Nicollet and the future president Zachary Taylor, and she probably observed the Ojibwa treaty negotiations of 1837. Drawing inferences from the experiences of others, VanderVelde paints a compelling picture of Harriet's everyday life -- where she slept, what she ate, how she stayed warm through frigid winters.

When she turns to Harriet and Dred's later married life in St. Louis, VanderVelde again relies largely on the experiences of others -- particularly of other enslaved people who came to public attention through freedom suits of their own -- to infer the shape of the Scotts' daily life. The detail is rich and suggestive, but keeping Harriet Scott at the center of the story proves challenging. The reader often loses sight of Scott amid all the events that transpired around her. And for all we learn about the circumstances of Harriet's life, her inner thoughts remain unknown. VanderVelde tries to argue that Harriet acquired her passion for justice from watching her master be fair to Indian tribes. But it remains difficult to understand how a young woman might learn about justice from the man who owned her.

Harriet Scott's practical concerns seem more compelling than her philosophical beliefs. The Scotts created an acceptable life for themselves in St. Louis in the early 1840s. "Having a nominal master who left one alone," VanderVelde notes, "may have, in certain circumstances, been more secure than being free and subject to the random persecutions to which free blacks were sometimes exposed." But when Dred's mistress declined his offer to purchase his freedom, Harriet came to understand that the family's value as property lay not in her aging husband but in herself and her two daughters, the eldest of whom was now old enough to be hired out or sold away. The evidence presented here suggests that her decision to press for legal freedom stemmed not from some abstract desire for justice but from a very immediate desire to protect her family.

After the Scotts lost their appeal to the Supreme Court in 1857, a benefactor purchased their freedom. Dred died a free man in 1858. Harriet lived until 1876, supporting herself as a washerwoman. She had little interest in talking about her life or explaining what motivated her to go to court. But rescued here from the dustbin of history, she becomes the face of an infamous trial and a reminder of how immediate personal concerns can compel one to take extraordinary risks.  (source: The Washington Post)

HAPPY 2014!


Monday, December 30, 2013

Best Blaxploitation Music Soundtracks: "Theme from Shaft"

Theme from Shaft

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia  --  "Theme from Shaft," written and recorded by Isaac Hayes in 1971, is the soul and funk-styled theme song to the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film, Shaft.[1] The theme was released as a single (shortened and edited from the longer album version) two months after the movie's soundtrack by Stax Records' Enterprise label. "Theme from Shaft" went to number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States in November 1971. The song was also well received by adult audiences, reaching number six on Billboard's Easy Listening (later Adult Contemporary) chart.

The following year, "Theme from Shaft" won the Academy Award for Best Original Song,[1] with Hayes becoming the first African American to win that honor (or any Academy Award in a non-acting category), as well as the first recipient of the award to both write and perform the winning song. Since then, the song has appeared in numerous television shows, commercials, and other movies, including the 2000 sequel Shaft, for which Hayes re-recorded the song.

Shaft (1971) - Opening Credit

Curtis Mayfield's "Super Fly" Soundtrack

As reviewed by Bob Donat, in the Rolling Stone Magazine, on 9 November 1972 -- This soundtrack to the flash and clever Super Fly is as pleasing and pretty in your living room as it is mingled with the images that it aurally represents. In fact the anti-drug message on the record is far stronger and more definite than in the film, which was diluted by schizoid cross purposes. Super Fly, the film, glamorizes machismo-cocaine consciousness while making a political moralization about the process that keeps drugs illegal yet sees that they are supplied in quantity to the ghetto. The only way that black political consciousness is treated is to make it seem impotent and trivial.

Yet the implied "plot" in Curtis Mayfield's music and lyrics closely follows the line of the film; each song is readily identifiable with various scenes; the many attitudes and poses that Curtis adopts in his music, whether it be the tough-yet-sensitive persona or a sort of narrative third person, all point to rejection of dope control and self-liberation, the most positive themes of what will be a heavily influential film.

But the greatest quality of any soundtrack is that it can stand alone. Super Fly is not only a superior, imaginative soundtrack, but fine funky music as well and the best of Curtis Mayfield's four albums made since he left the Impressions. Equal credit of course goes to arranger — orchestrator and long-time Mayfield collaborator Johnny Pate, who's written charts for Curtis and the Impressions since the "Gypsy Woman" days. The Mayfield-Pate team dipped into three distinct musical satchels to pull out this lovely and energetic song cycle — the established Shaft system of dramatic, heaving chords and souped-up, insectine guitar and synthesizer chops devised by Isaac Hayes; the lyrical power of the song style and orchestration of Marvin Gaye and David Van de-Pitte; and, certainly not least, the amazing emotive skill of Curtis Mayfield, whose technique is honed and carried to strange extremes. "Pusherman," the major vocal theme of the film, identifying the protagonist ("a man of odd circumstance, a victim of ghetto demands"), is almost scary and perverse, given Curtis' manner: He kisses the word "pusherman" rather than sings it. The implications are so heavy that this truly amazing song, with its metallic percussion and hypnotic, drugged tone, couldn't possibly be released as a single. The more conservative "Freddie's Dead," which deals with the demise of a sad fat stooge, was doled out instead to a faunching public and is now at the top of everyone's Hot Hundred.

"Little Child Runnin' Wild" sets the tone of the whole record — episodic, tragic, hungry and telling tales of psychic misery. The story is that the coke dealer wants to split the scene, leave it clean and is all pent up with conflicts of values. Mayfield's soothing falsetto purr transforms into an anxious cry during climactic moments in the song/stories — he is a tremendous vocal actor: "Pusherman," "Freddie's Dead" and "Eddie You Should Know Better" are crawling with tension; "Nothing On Me" and "Super Fly" are triumphant and wailing, and "Give Me Your Love" is fine accompaniment for the slippery bathtub-fuck scene that makes the whole picture worthwhile for many of its patrons. The moral is that ol' Super Fly is still badass stuff even if the cops are behind it, and also that this record is currently selling as well as good coke and deserves to do so.  (source: Rolling Stone Magazine)

Curtis Mayfield - I'm Your Pusherman by bebepanda

Best Blaxploitation Music Soundtracks: Curtis Mayfield's "Super Fly"

Greg Boraman (2002) reviews Curtis Mayfield's soundtrack Super Fly for BBC Music -- Curtis Mayfield was a rare American poet, one of the few social commentators who was equally capable of delivering well aimed jibes at the US authorities or, more controversially, often asking difficult, probing questions of his own community. From his 'doo-wop' work in the 1950s through to the spiritual, message laden soul of 60s both as part of the wonderful quartet called The Impressions, Curtis established a reputation for well crafted music laden with meaningful lyrics no matter what the framework or situation.

Superfly was the vehicle for Mayfield to make more of his acutely observed, incisively written, and gently phrased observations on black life in the early 1970s. Aside from the poetry and social commentary, there is obviously the music to accompany the film, one of the better-made and received 'blaxploition' movies of the time.

The original Superfly soundtrack was lauded as a huge step forward for black music by the white music press, as to them, it seemed to equal the maturity of rock concept albums prevalent at the time (even though Marvin Gaye's' Whats Going On? and other similar projects were streets ahead of what noodling prog-rock was offering up in terms of realism)

This special edition of the album is a must for collectors as it contains not only the original track-listing but an entire second CD of demo cuts, different mixes, and instrumental versions of the classic songs therein.

The gems contained include a curious version of the classic tale of street life - "Pusherman" that initially doesn't strike the listener as different - until some meandering horns weave their previously unheard lines into this well known classic. In this particular version it's easy to understand how this version ended up unreleased, especially when a frantic, warbling trombone tries to steal the limelight from Curtis in the breakdown section.

FULL LP: Superfly by Curtis Mayfield (1972)

That said the second CD gives those listeners a little over exposed to this classic LP another chance to appreciate it from a slightly different perspective all over again. Curtis' music was always punchy and rhythm driven, which often made his plaintive, falsetto voice even more startling and urgent in its appeal, and his message of black pride and spiritual awareness amidst the troubled times of the early 1970s.

Perhaps the most curious additions are the two 'radio spots' where to instrumental backing Curtis urges listeners to 'stay clean, away from drugs, remember Freddy's dead' - a message repeated by many black stars of the time but rarely lived up to...only Curtis walked it like he talked it.

This special edition CD allows a glimpse to a soul/funk classic from a slightly different angle...and it is a great view too. (source: BBC Music)


Sunday, December 29, 2013

Kwanzaa Day Four: Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)

Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics): To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.

Very Few African-Americans Observe Kwanzaa

As reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer, by Jenice Armstrong, "Fewer African-Americans are observing Kwanzaa - why?" on 21 December 2010 -- I ASKED A 17-year-old I know what he thought about Kwanzaa and he said, "That Jewish holiday?"

Uh, no.

Clearly, his high school hasn't embraced the multicultural thing and isn't teaching students about the 44-year-old Afrocentric holiday. But I don't knock his ignorance because the truth is that Kwanzaa has never caught on with the majority of black Americans. At the same time, though, it has grown in mainstream acceptance as evidenced by the Kwanzaa postal stamps and greeting cards.

No one can say for certain how many people celebrate Kwanzaa, which began in 1966 and has roots in the Black Nationalist movement. Keith Mayes, author of "Black Power and the Making of the African-American Holiday Tradition" (Routledge, 2009) said that conservative estimates are that between 1 million to 2 million African Americans celebrate Kwanzaa. Organizers of The African American Cultural Center in Los Angeles put the figure at 40 million worldwide but that includes similar festivals in Africa and elsewhere.

"I don't know if the numbers continue to increase every year. I would say that it may have leveled off," Mayes said. "It just no longer shows up in some of the places that it did 30 to 40 years ago. You still have people who actually celebrate it. You have third generations of Kwanzaa celebrants . . . but Kwanzaa no longer has its movement which brought it forth, which is the black power movement. That movement has waned."

At the same time, though, many cultural institutions such as the African American Museum in Philadelphia, which is planning a number of celebrations at the Gallery at Market East, have embraced it. For mainstream organizations, Kwanzaa has become a stand-in for African-American traditions and it has become almost obligatory to lump Kwanzaa in with Hanukkah, Christmas, Three Kings' Day and other December holidays. Some years back, I was volunteering at a local public elementary school and overhead a teacher telling students that Kwanzaa is a holiday celebrated by black people.


Most black families don't hold personal Kwanzaa observances, which typically involve the lighting of a candle every day from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, representing the seven principles of the festival. On Friday, when I asked folks on Facebook why more African-Americans haven't embraced the holiday, I got some heated answers. Some respondents said people were ignorant about what it is and how to celebrate it, and others felt that Kwanzaa was just another manufactured holiday.

As for me, Kwanzaa has never been part of my family's traditions. I've mentioned it from time to time, and my siblings say, "Hey, that sounds like a good idea," but we have never gotten around to actually organizing a celebration. And by admitting this, I'm sure there are those who will accuse me of being less than black, the same way they did when I wrote about how I choose to wear my hair. But no one should feel compelled to jump on a holiday bandwagon just to prove their ethnicity.

Kwanzaa, which means "first fruits" in Swahili, is a lovely tradition for those who choose to embrace it. I have a friend in Mount Airy who regularly throws big Kwanzaa bashes that I've attended sporadically over the years. For my friend, who is Yoruba and doesn't celebrate Christmas, Kwanzaa is a way to extend the joy of the holiday season to her daughter. Her family's annual gatherings include joyful potluck meals.

One year I attended and I remember being touched by the young children who wandered around the room asking adults to explain the principles of Kwanzaa such as umoja, which is Swahili for unity, and nia which stands for purpose. Although I goofed at my first celebration by bringing the host's daughter a Barbie doll, I actually like that Kwanzaa hasn't been usurped by Walmart and other retailers.

"It seems to me you have to care about blackness above and beyond the everyday to celebrate Kwanzaa, and while there are plenty of conscious black people who do so, of all socioeconomic strata, I don't see it taking off . . . because in order to have the black masses participate in large, noisy numbers, Kwanzaa would have to be simplified and made easy and consumer-friendly, and would then presumably lack the educational aspect of the holiday," pointed out Bertram D. Ashe, an associate professor of English and American studies at the University of Richmond. "I don't see that happening. That's simply not the way it was designed when Ron Karenga founded the ritual in the mid-1960s, and I don't see that changing anytime soon, nor should it."

Perhaps Kwanzaa would have been adopted by more people if Karenga, a former college professor, had arranged for it be commemorated during Black History Month or even in June instead of December. Let's face it, Christmas is all-consuming. According to Karenga's website,, Kwanzaa isn't an anti-Christmas celebration but "a cultural one with an inherent spiritual quality as with all major African celebrations." But as a Facebook friend pointed out, no matter how well-intentioned, an individual can't declare Kwanzaa a black holiday and expect the masses to adopt it.

"It appealed to a generation of people who are now in their 50s and 60s," said Charles A. Gallagher, a professor of sociology at La Salle University. "It doesn't resonate in many ways with a lot of young people today. It's the same argument that you hear with the NAACP. For me, they are still sacrosanct. But you hear a lot of young people saying the NAACP is irrelevant.

"Kwanzaa just doesn't resonate with young people because they don't understand the political and sociological reverberations of when it was developed," he added.

And then there are those such as John Childress, New Jersey-based father of two teenagers, who has taken his children to a couple of Kwanzaa celebrations but still can't get past the Kwanzaa founder's 1971 conviction for torture.

"Your mind tells you that something great can come from someone of a poor background, but at the same time I look at it as 'what's up?' " said Childress. "It's not like these are African traditions that we kept up through slavery. It would be different it if were a tradition we'd been practicing all the way through. Most blacks are Christians and sometimes it feels like Kwanzaa is trying to take away from Christmas."

Then there are those such as Blair S. Walker, co-author of "Why Should White Guys Have all the Fun?: How Reginald Lewis Created a Billion-Dollar Business Enterprise," who for years made a point of celebrating Kwanzaa when his daughters were younger. But he's given up.

"If you ask them to tell you the principles, you'd get the 1000-yard stare," Walker said. "We are living in an 'American Idol'-type of era. People can't even name the secretary of state, so you know they don't know anything about Kwanzaa."  (source: Philadelphia Inquirer)

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Third Day of Kwanzaa: Ujima
On The Third Day Of Kwanzaa: Ujima

According to the North Jersey Record, "Drop-off in Kwanzaa observations called disheartening," by Monsy Alvarado (Staff Writer), on 25 December 2013 -- The traditions of Kwanzaa will be celebrated this year in North Jersey with school assemblies, crafts at local libraries and get-togethers hosted by community groups.

However, local festivities at churches and other community sites to mark the holiday that celebrates and honors the heritage of African-Americans are harder to find, some community leaders said.

“I used to go to Kwanzaa parties by residents and some that were sponsored by churches and other civic organizations, but I don’t know, it’s not what it used to be, and it’s a little disheartening,” said Mack Cauthen, a former Englewood councilman and deacon at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Englewood.

Anthony Cureton, president of the Bergen chapter of the NAACP, said he also has noticed a decline in Kwanzaa-related activities, and he said it likely is not practiced at home, either.
Kwanzaa: The Making of a Black Holiday Tradition -- By Keith A. Mayes

Keith A. Mayes, author of a book on Kwanzaa and an associate professor and chairman of the department of African-American and African studies at the University of Minnesota, said celebrations haven’t declined nationally, but likely leveled off since the inception of the seven-day holiday in 1966. He said Kwanzaa events can still be found on many university campuses, at cultural institutions and at museums, as well as celebrations in private homes. He said the holiday’s popularity in certain parts of the country is dependent on the black population.

“Is it celebrated as robust as it once was?” asked Mayes, who received his doctorate in history from Princeton University. “That’s the question, and it is dependent on where in the country you are.”

Mayes, whose book is titled “Kwanzaa: Black Power and The Making of the African-American Holiday Tradition,” said Kwanzaa may also be dependent on whether all of its rituals, from lighting candles to celebrating with a grand feast called Karamu, have been kept through the years by families recognizing the holiday.


“How much of Kwanzaa has been passed down is also a question,” he said.

Kwanzaa is a seven-day holiday observed from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1 to honor family, community and culture. During the holiday, observers light candles and talk about the seven principles that the red, green and black candles represent. They may also exchange handmade gifts.

The holiday was created by Maulana Karenga, who is now chairman of the department of Africana studies at California State University, Long Beach. Kwanzaa started in the midst of the civil rights movement and a year after race riots, known as the Watt Riots, left dozens dead in a neighborhood in Los Angeles.

Kwanzaa celebrates seven principles, known as the Nguzo Saba. The principles are umoja, or unity; kujichagulia, or self-determination; ujima, or collective work and responsibility; ujamaa, or cooperative economics; nia, or purpose; kuumba, or creativity; and imani, or faith.

As part of the lighting ceremony, seven candles — three red, three green, and one black — are placed in a candle holder known as a kinara. The candles are lit each day to recognize the principle that will be the focus that day.

Cauthen said he wanted to organize a Kwanzaa event in Bergen County this year after he called around and found that there weren’t many planned. But when he reached out to community members, he said very few were interested or could attend, so he dropped the idea, he said.

“It’s disheartening,’’ he said. “We scrapped this for now but will try to build it up for next year.”

The Rev. Gregory Jackson of Mount Olive Baptist Church in Hackensack said that in the past, the church has organized Kwanzaa celebrations, but such events are dependent on volunteers taking the lead, and that’s why they haven’t had any such festivities in recent years. And the Paterson Museum, which has held Kwanzaa events in the past, isn’t having one this year, either, because of other exhibits being shown there.

But a few local celebrations can be found. The principles of Kwanzaa and its history were presented to K-4 students at the Nellie K. Parker School in Hackensack last week during its Kwanzaa celebration. The students heard African musicians, saw dancers perform and sampled fare with African roots provided by parents.

Arlena Jones, one of the teachers who helped organize the assembly, said it was the first time the school had held its Kwanzaa celebration during the school day in order to expose the most students to the holiday.

Jones said the assembly was one of several that are organized at the school each year to teach children about different cultures.

“It helps build tolerance and respect,” Jones said. “You may not always agree or like what someone else believes, but you should have respect for other people’s beliefs and have tolerance.

“I have always felt that a public school should expose children to all walks of life so they can be prepared when they leave,” she added. “At Parker we do that, we expose them to different cultures, because the world is not one color.”

The school’s principal, Lillian Whitaker, said that every year, various cultural events are planned, and this year that also included a presentation on Diwali, the Indian festival of lights celebrated in the fall.

“It’s not religious, but historical, so we try to teach them a little bit of everything,” she said.

The National Coalition of 100 Black Women Bergen Passaic Chapter this year planned to integrate their annual Kwanzaa luncheon with Christmas. It marked the first year the group was not going to have an event solely for Kwanzaa. The luncheon was supposed to be held Dec. 13, at the Richard Rodda Community Center in Teaneck but was canceled due to the snowy weather. Organizers have now planned a New Year’s luncheon later next month, but it was not clear whether the Kwanzaa principles would be discussed.

At the Johnson Public Library in Hackensack, the children’s department will hold its annual Kwanzaa craft activity on Monday, where children will talk about the core principles and learn to weave a kente cloth. The activity attracts an average of 10 children, said Babette Smith, the assistant librarian in the children’s department.

“I don’t get a huge following,” she said. “And I don’t know anyone who actually celebrates it in the home, but we recognize it here, and we will do a craft every winter holiday.” (source: North Jersey Recorder)

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Second Day of Kwanzaa – Kujichagulia

The Second Day of Kwanzaa 
Kujichagulia (Self -Determination)

Kwanzaa History

The name Kwanzaa is derived from the phrase "matunda ya kwanza" which means "first fruits" in Swahili. Each family celebrates Kwanzaa in its own way, but celebrations often include songs and dances, African drums, storytelling, poetry reading, and a large traditional meal. On each of the seven nights, the family gathers and a child lights one of the candles on the Kinara (candleholder), then one of the seven principles is discussed. The principles, called the Nguzo Saba (seven principles in Swahili) are values of African culture which contribute to building and reinforcing community among African-Americans. Kwanzaa also has seven basic symbols which represent values and concepts reflective of African culture. An African feast, called a Karamu, is held on December 31.

The candle-lighting ceremony each evening provides the opportunity to gather and discuss the meaning of Kwanzaa. The first night, the black candle in the center is lit (and the principle of umoja/unity is discussed). One candle is lit each evening and the appropriate principle is discussed.

The Seven Principles  of Kwanzaa

The seven principles, or Nguzo Saba are a set of ideals created by Dr. Maulana Karenga. Each day of Kwanzaa emphasizes a different principle.

Unity: Umoja (oo–MO–jah)  -- To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.

Self-determination: Kujichagulia (koo–gee–cha–goo–LEE–yah)  -- To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.

Collective Work and Responsibility: Ujima (oo–GEE–mah)  --  To build and maintain our community together and make our brother's and sister's problems our problems and to solve them together.

Cooperative Economics: Ujamaa (oo–JAH–mah)  --  To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.

Purpose: Nia (nee–YAH)  --  To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

Creativity: Kuumba (koo–OOM–bah)  --  To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

Faith: Imani (ee–MAH–nee)  --  To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.  [source: The History Channel]

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