Friday, April 29, 2011

Charles Kuralt's America: South Carolina Low Country

"'John C. KILL-hoon,' that's what we call old John."

I was in the company of Alphonso Brown, band director at Rivers Middle School, black historian and speaker of Gullah, the rich black patois of the Carolina Low Country.

"KILL-hoon": John C. Calhoun asserted that slavery was a "positive good." He rooted this claim on two grounds: white supremacy and paternalism. All societies, Calhoun claimed, are ruled by an elite group which enjoys the fruits of the labor of a less-privileged group.

"White people remember history here, " Alphonso said. "Well, we remember it, too. He was KILL-hoon back then, and he'll be KILL-hoon a hundred years from now." Alphonso told me that as a statue, Calhoun used to be at ground level, but he was so regularly vandalized by black Charlestonians that the Daughters of the Confederacy had to put him up in the sky out of reach. Alphonso chuckled to think about it.

From Alphonso Brown, you get a little different perspective on Charleston history. Down at the Battery, gesturing toward Sullivan's Island in the harbor, he said, "That was our Ellis Island. Slaves from Africa spent two weeks in quarantine in the Sullivan's Island pesthouse. Then they were brought into the customs house and sold.

Alphonso on the Reconstruction years: "The freed slaves were promised forty acres and a mule. Some got twenty acres, and a mule. Some got twenty acres and no mule. Some got a mule and no acres. Most got nothing. Life was hard for everybody."

Alphonso on the sweetgrass basket sellers in their bonnets and long dresses: "They dress poor but they live rich. Those women make a lot of money. One of them has a husband who comes to collect her at the end of the day in a big Mercedes-Benz."

Alphonso on Low Country speech: "The linguist say Gullah is a dying language. Ain't nothing dyin' about Gullah. Just last night, I heard a woman say, 'Dat food cookin' smells' good mak' my jaw leak.' " He said this so fast and musically that he had to repeat it a couple times before I could understand it. He laughed, "You ain't necessarily supposed to understand it, "he said. Alphonso on black craftsmen: "Nearly everything you see around here was built by blacks - the houses, the walls, the streets and sidewalks - and not just by slaves, either. In 1850, there were thousands of free black artisans and business people in Charleston."

Or, as he put it in a guide he wrote to Gullah Charleston: "Dem cyaapentas, boat mekkah, cook, iyon wukkah, net mekkah, en pleny mo', is wu'k dat de Black people bin doin' ya fuh shree hunnad odd yea'…Roll unuh eye 'bout! Yenna ain't kno' who mek dese place ya? De Black han', dat who!"
South Carolina Blacksmith, Philip Simmons

At least one celebrated blacksmith is still around, Philip Simmons. "If you see a beautiful iron gate with meticulous curves, "Alphonso Brown said, "it was made by one of the master blacksmiths of two hundred years ago - or it was made by Philip Simmons." We went to see some Philip Simmons gates - a valentine gate he made for his church, St. John's for that is where he says his heart is; an egret gate at 2 St. Michael's Alley; a snake gate at 329 East Bay, once the house of Christopher Gadsden, who designed the Revolutionary War serpent flag with the legend "Don't Tread On Me."

Then we went to see Philip Simmons. He is a kindly man of eighty-two whose forge is in a ramshackle tin building behind his house on Blake Street. It doesn't look like the workshop of a National Treasure, but that's what Mr. Simmons is, officially certified by the Smithsonian Institution.

I asked him how he got started.

"When I was thirteen, "he said, "I used to stand in the door of the blacksmith shop and see the red-hot fire and see the sparks flying, and I liked that. The blacksmith let me help out, hold the horse while he was putting the shoe on, turn the hand forge, clean up the shop. After a while, he learned me names of everything. If he said, "boy, hand me that three-inch swage,' I had to know what he wanted. I learned that way.

"There were blacksmiths all over Charleston. I had many competitors. I was shoeing horses and fixing wagons, but people kept coming to tell me this company was going to trucks, that company was going to trucks, ho more horses, no more wagons, blacksmiths going out of business, see? I had to start studying what I was going to do." He turned to gates and fences and window guards.

Philip Simmons Heart Fence. Charleston, SC

"I've made more than two hundred gates and other ornamental iron works since then. Made gates for the Smithsonian in Washington and South Carolina State Museum in Columbia, and this Charleston Visitor Center down here. The doctor says don't do any heavy work, but I may make some more gates yet. You know who my competitor is now?"

He gave me a soft smile.

"Father time," he said.

There is an old saying among blacksmiths that the two ways a blacksmith can go to hell are by hammering cold iron and not charging enough. It appeared to me from his modest living conditions that Mr. Simmons hadn't charged enough

"Well, I put my children through school, "he said. "I gave money to my church. I have everything I want. And I am rich in friends."

After we said goodbye to Mr. Simmons and headed back downtown, Alphonso Brown said, "Some of these homeowners leave Charleston sometimes. I have noticed one thing. When they leave, they take their Philip Simmons gates with them.

Slavery and Southern Furniture

Slavery and Southern Furniture

Thomas Jefferson's use of slave artisans at Monticello was by no means unusual. Southern planters commonly sought skilled joiners, blacksmiths, weavers, and other tradespeople. Southern cabinetmakers, too, used enslaved African-Americans in their shops. So pervasive was the use of slave artisans that German visitor Johann David Schoepf noted in 1783, “There is hardly any trade or craft which has not been learned and is not carried on by negroes.”

In short, African-Americans played a vital role in the production of much southern furniture, yet their contributions remain unappreciated and unrecognized. To a large extent, this omission reflects the anonymity of these men, whose very existence rarely is noted in historical records. In an advertisement, Williamsburg cabinetmaker Peter Scott offered to sell land, furniture, tools, and “Two Negroes, bred to the Business of a Cabinetmaker.” Even the names of these individuals are not recorded.

The considerable presence of black artisans is also indicated by the many runaway slave advertisements that appeared in southern newspapers. Often these notices reflect the great value owners placed on skilled slaves. In 1784, William Fitzhugh of Virginia described slave James as “square and strong made, sensible and well spoken,” and “as good a joiner as any in Virginia.”

With the introduction of less stringent manumission laws after the Revolution, came a sizable increase in the number of free black artisans. By 1816, for example, free blacks John Raymond and John Ventus ran a large cabinet shop in Petersburg, Virginia. They employed several white artisans and proudly announced their ability to execute work in the “best and most fashionable” style. But firms like Raymond & Ventus were the exceptions.

Until we know more about the talented African-Americans who made of helped make many of the objects in this exhibit, out understanding of the southern cabinet trade will remain incomplete. (source:

Gullah of Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

The Gullah/Geechee people are descendants of enslaved Africans from various ethnic groups of west and central Africa. Brought to the New World and forced to work on the plantations of coastal South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina and Florida, Gullah/Geechee people have retained many aspects of their African heritage due to the geographic barriers of the coastal landscape and the strong sense of place and family of Gullah/Geechee community members.

Today, the cultural and linguistic umbrella of the Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor extends from Wilmington, NC to Jacksonville, FL. People who identify as Gullah or Geechee represent the many ways that Africans in the Americas have held on to and amalgamated the traditions of Africa with the cultures they encountered both during and after enslavement.

Gullah of Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

See also:
Low Country Sweet Grass Basket Weaving
Charles Kuralt's America: South Carolina Low Country
Gullah Grub

Gullah Grub

Cooking, “Gullah Style”

Gullah Chef Bill Green

The Gullah people are African Americans who live in the Low Country region of South Carolina and Georgia. The Gullah are known for preserving more of their African linguistic and cultural heritage than any other African American community in the United States. The Gullah dialect is rooted in West and Central Africa, combined with English and other languages such as French.

To understand the Gullah way of cooking, imagine growing up in a beautiful sun bathed island community where everyone farmed, fished and raised their own livestock in a natural, serene setting. Without access to mass transportation or expensive imports, families only ate local and in season.
Most foods are stewed, grilled or roasted, very little is fried. Free range chickens give fresh eggs and wholesome meat, grass fed goats give the tenderest of lean meat. Whole grains such as rice and cornbread balance out the nutritional profile of many meals. (Gullah Grub)

The Gullah Seasonal Diet

Summer is for feasting and large gatherings with family and friends. The earth and sea gives forth her bounty of fruits, vegetables, and seafood.

Fall brings dark green vegetables that are loaded with antioxidants and have remarkable cleansing properties which boosts the immune system and ready the body for the winter.

Winter is great for stews of mostly vegetables and beans with some cured meat for extra protein. Fatty fish and shellfish provide an Omega3 rich diet.

Spring ushers in the cycle of earth and sea again, producing high energy, low calorie food to ready your body for activities in the warm sun.

This is Gullah living. This is Gullah cooking. This is the philosophy of the Gullah Grub Restaurant and Catering, LLC. (source: Gullah Grub Restaurant)

The Gullah Grub Restaurant

Low Country Sweet Grass Basket Weaving

Sweetgrass Baskets in the Time of Slavery

The basket-making tradition came to South Carolina in the 17th century by way of West African slaves who were brought to America to work on plantations. West Africa resembles South Carolina in both climate and landscape, and rice had long been cultivated there. In slaves, plantation owners gained not only free labor but also a wealth of knowledge and skill.

One of these skills was basketry. Using marsh grass, or bulrush,* slaves coiled sturdy, intricate work baskets called fanners. Fanners were used for winnowing, the process of tossing hulls into the air to separate the chaff from the rice. Other work baskets held vegetables, shellfish, and later, cotton.

Interestingly, though sweetgrass baskets are now made mostly by women, male slaves usually made these large baskets for the field. Women focused on the functional baskets of the home, which they used in their cabins for storage and food. Baskets were often coiled by older slaves who were no longer able to work in the hot sun; plantation owners then sold them for extra income.

Later, after Emancipation, the Penn Center on St Helena Island near Beaufort began to teach industrial skills to newly freed blacks. Even then, basketmaking was taught to the men – not the women.

Sweetgrass baskets are almost identical in style to the shukublay baskets of Sierra Leone, and learning to coil baskets "so tightly they could hold water" was an important rite of passage in West African tribes like the Mende and the Temne.*

Sweetgrass Baskets after the Plantation Era

The Civil War brought an end to the rice era in South Carolina. Without slaves, planters were no longer able to maintain their fields. Freed slaves set about establishing new lives at a time when the economy was in shambles. Without the means to go elsewhere, many former slaves remained on their old plantations, returning a portion of the food and crops they raised back to their former owners in exchange for the use of the land. It was a sustenance existence and cash money was scarce.

Requiring only readily available, free materials, making grass baskets cost nothing but time. Newly freed slaves found many uses for the baskets. They made sewing baskets, hot plates, storage containers, and crop baskets. Ironically, it was this skill passed down from their African ancestors that helped them meet so many practical needs during their early years of freedom.

Grass baskets were, and still are, made by African-Americans throughout the entire coastal south, but they have become most identified with the South Carolina lowcountry.

In the early 1900s, many descendants of freed slaves still rented cabins and worked on the grounds of Boone Hall Plantation, on Highway 17, just north of Mount Pleasant. As automobiles became more common, tourists from the North began stopping at Boone Hall and some bought grass baskets as souvenirs. In the 1920's, one enterprising family sold some of their baskets to a Charleston man who in turn, shipped them to New York to sell in specialty stores. The basket makers themselves did not make a great deal of money, but it was the beginning of the realization that handmade baskets had commercial value.

During the lean times of the Great Depression, basket makers in the general area of Mount Pleasant joined together to fill "bulk orders" for the New York shops. They started to weave sweetgrass and pineneedles in with the bulrush, which proved to be very popular commercially. The tender sweetgrass was more pliable and enabled them to create more intricate designs, particularly in handles. It also had a pretty, light color and a fresh, hay-like scent.

It was during this time the first roadside basket stand appeared. Mrs. Ida Jefferson Wilson got into an argument with the overseer of farm operations at Boone Hall Plantation and as a result, lost her "day-labor job". Highway 17 had just been paved. Mrs. Wilson knew there was a northern market for grass baskets, so she decided to display some of hers on a white sheet spread over a chair beside the southbound lane of the road. She sold one fruit basket.

By the end of the week, Mr. Wilson had built a wooden stand for his wife where she could hang baskets for display and have a place to sit and make more baskets while awaiting customers. When others in the community heard she had earned money in this way, more stands appeared, eventually becoming a trademark of that section of Highway 17. (source: South Carolina Information Highway)

Rosewood Massacre

Ms. Mortin said her life was ruined by that fateful week in 1923. ''Our birthright was taken away from us,'' she said. ''My grandma told me not to say a word. My grandma said never to look back. We weren't supposed to talk about Rosewood.''


David Tereshchuk is the lecturer.He wrote and produced for ABC News and The Discovery Channel the TV documentary "Rosewood Massacre: The Untold Story", about a lynch-mobs destruction of a Florida community.

Rosewood Massacre:The Untold Story Part 1

Rosewood Massacre :The Untold Story Part 2

Rosewood Massacre:The Untold Story Part 3

Rosewood Massacre: The Untold Story Part 4

Rosewood Massacre: The Untold Story Part 5

Rosewood Massacre: The Untold Story Part 6

Rosewood Massacre: The Untold Story Part 7

Rosewood Massacre: The Untold Story Part 8

Thursday, April 28, 2011

"The Deliberate Denial of Education"

"The Deliberate Denial of Education"

Mississippi Sovereignty Commission Files on the Mississippi Burning Case

Mississippi Sovereignty Commission Files on the Mississippi Burning Case

Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett
Ross Barnett had no patience for the muted methods of the Commission. He envisioned an overt and expanded role for the agency, and under his direction, the Commission initiated a Speakers Bureau to travel the nation presenting the Mississippi perspective.

Kevin Sack of The New York Times reported on March 18, 1998: JACKSON, Miss. -- After a 21-year court fight, the state of Mississippi on Tuesday unsealed more than 124,000 pages of previously secret files from a state agency that used spy tactics, intimidation, false imprisonment, jury tampering and other illegal methods to thwart the activities of civil rights workers during the 1950s, '60s and early '70s.

Millsap students protest the death of Jackson State University student Ben Brown. May 11, 1967. The students were photographed and identified for the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission (source: State of Mississippi)

Like an eerie journey into a shadowy past, the files of the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission provide a profoundly unsettling reminder of the state's determination to maintain a segregated society.

Sealing Mississippi Sovereignty Commission files in 1977 (source: State of Mississippi)

The commission's investigators made note of the pigmentation, associations, religious beliefs and sexual proclivities of the civil rights workers they tracked. They jotted down the license plate numbers of cars parked at civil rights meetings and peeked into bank accounts. Informants, many of them black Mississippians, reported to the commission about plans for marches and boycotts.

In some cases, the potential for using violence against civil rights workers is discussed in commission memorandums. Although none of the documents reviewed Tuesday show a direct state hand in the numerous deaths of activists in Mississippi during those years, they clearly reflect the mindset of the day....

On June 21, 1964, three young civil rights workers—a 21-year-old black Mississippian, James Chaney, and two white New Yorkers, Andrew Goodman, 20, and Michael Schwerner, 24—were murdered near Philadelphia, in Nashoba County, Mississippi. They had been working to register black voters in Mississippi during Freedom Summer and had gone to investigate the burning of a black church. Read more: The Murders,,,Civil Rights Case

The commission files also show that the commission's director Erle Johnston Jr. ordered one of its investigators, A.L. Hopkins, to look into the facts surrounding the killings of three civil rights workers -- Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Chaney in 1964. In a series of reports back to the commission over the next several months, Hopkins reported first that some of the local law enforcement officers on the case had assured him that they were working hard to solve it. But by his last report he was noting that some of the officers had themselves been arrested and charged in the deaths and were headed for trial.

The dead bodies of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner

Even though Hopkins apparently knew that the FBI suspected local law enforcement officials in the murders, he criticized federal investigators in an Aug. 25, 1964, memorandum for taking control of the case.

The burned car of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner

"The actions and methods of members of the Justice Department, especially the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Philadelphia, Miss., in the course of their current investigation into the disappearance and murder of the three civil rights workers, in my opinion amounts to encroachment and usurpation of the rights and powers reserved to this state," Hopkins wrote.

1964 Singer sewing machine

No detail was too inconsequential for the commission's spies, as is clear in Schwerner's file. "Rita Schwerner recently purchased a Singer sewing machine in Meridian and had it delivered to 2505 1/2 5th Street in Meridian," a 1964 memo reports, referring to Schwerner's wife.

Mississippi's KGB: "Mississippi Sovereignty Commission"

Kwame Ture - African Culture

Stokely Carmichael: Kwame Ture (1941-1998)

One of my favorite Trinidad brothers. I've been so ticked-off by King Leopold II expropriation of the Congo wealth, natural resources and genocide; Henry Morton Stanley's exploitation of African labor, land and wealth; The Kaiser of Germany's Second Reich genocide in Namibia; The Portuguese (damn what didn't these guys do to Africans!) ; The Dutch and British rape of South Africa (I didn't even get to the massive wealth accumulation in the West Indies and Suriname) ; The Spanish stealing the land and wealth of South and Central America along with the lives of Africans and Native Indigenous People in the Americas; The Australian's blackbirding (enslaving) the people in the Pacific Islands and the genocide of the Tasmania People. Sometimes you need a Stokely Carmichael break to keep your sanity. I hope you enjoy his little talk. Lately the audio for Mr. Carmichael's videos have been mysteriously scrambled. So maybe we can listen, before these tapes get censured too.

Kwame Toure - Afrikan Culture - pt. 1

Kwame Toure - Afrikan Culture - pt. 2

Kwame Toure - Afrikan Culture - pt. 3

Kwame Toure - Afrikan Culture - pt. 4

Kwame Toure - Afrikan Culture - pt. 5

Kwame Toure - Afrikan Culture - pt. 6

An African Republic: Black and White Virginians in the Making of Liberia

Marie Tyler-McGraw: An African Republic: Black and White Virginians in the Making of Liberia

On October 28, 2010, Marie Tyler-McGraw discussed her book An African Republic: Black and White Virginians in the Making of Liberia. The West African nation Liberia arose from the aspirations of the American Colonization Society, which attempted to persuade free blacks to emigrate from the United States to that colony. Ultimately, the colonization scheme failed, but Liberia endured. No state was more involved with the project than Virginia. Virginians figured prominently among both leaders of the American Colonization Society and among settlers building a new life in Africa. Though their paths rarely intersected, these black and white Virginians played key roles in founding Liberia. In this presentation based on her latest book, Marie Tyler-McGraw told this compelling story of hope and misunderstanding, race and freedom. Also the author of a history of Richmond, Dr. Tyler-McGraw is an independent scholar and public historian. The lecture was co-sponsored by The Richmond Forum in conjunction with its November 6, 2010 program, featuring President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia. (source: Virginia Historical Society)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Apology for a colonial brute

MAKAU MUTUA of the Daily Nation reviewed Tim Jeal's book Stanley: The Impossible Life of Africa’s Greatest Explorer, writes I am surprised that I managed to complete reading the biography Stanley: The Impossible Life of Africa’s Greatest Explorer without decomposing from revulsion.
Anyone who knows anything about African colonial history cannot fail to be provoked by one of the most relentless and carefully researched works on Henry Morton Stanley, the 19th century journalist-adventurer whose early claim to fame was locating David Livingstone, perhaps the most famous European adventurer, in the belly of Africa.

But if there is any consolation in my labour, it is that the book says more about the West and Tim Jeal than it does of Africa. It is a work that will be despised by many Africans but almost certainly lauded in the West.For a work from a writer who claims objectivity, the book is a concerted, even emotional, defense of the chilling life of a man many Africans would rather forget.


From the outset, Jeal embarks on a journey of redemption and salvation in which the writer seeks to recast history through the interpretation of a life lived in blood, racial hatred and ignominy. It is all about the white European conquest of Africa. Africans are themselves only accoutrements in this large European narrative of history.A typical example of this obsession with the feats of the so-called discoverers of Africa is the uninterrogated assertion that Stanley was the “first man in history to have followed that great river [the Congo River] 1,800 miles from the heart of the continent.” One finds it inconceivable that Africans themselves had never attempted and accomplished such a feat.

But perhaps to Jeal and his fellow Westerners, Africans do not count as “men.” To Jeal, before Stanley and Livingstone, “apart from the apparently inaccessible central and sub-Saharan Africa, the only significant parts of the planet left unexplored were the equally daunting polar regions, along with northern Greenland and the north-east and north-west passages.”

The allusion is clear: only beasts – or sub-humans – can live in such remote and inhospitable regions.
Even in his narration of Stanley’s early life, Jeal makes implausible apologies for a sad and unforgiving childhood. From his illegitimate, abusive and abandoned childhood, it should be clear that Stanley suffered life-long traumas that shaped his identity for the rest of his life.

Several of these include his proclivity for brutality and sadism, his penchant for outright misrepresentations and impossible exaggerations about his identity, paternity and achievements.

Not to mention his obvious racial self-hatred and desire to be classified as either English and later as an American rather than the Welshman that he was.

But rather than use the inhumanity of British society to explain why Stanley later became a pathological brute – including his racial animus toward American blacks during the Civil War – Jeal instead excuses and minimises these distortions of character.


Henry Morton Stanley was gay?

Jeal struggles mightily to explain away or diminish Stanley’s every perceived character flaw or failure. One curious instance is Jeal’s attempt to swat away arguments that Stanley may have been gay or at least bisexual.

He perceives homosexuality as a problem that must be explained away or discounted. Elsewhere, Jeal states, rather incredulously, that Stanley was not a racist.

This despite the fact that Stanley had murdered in cold blood or flogged mercilessly many Africans who were in servitude to him on his expeditions. What Jeal misses over and over again is the permission that Europeans like Stanley gave themselves as the arbiters over the life and death of many an African.

Particularly troubling in Stanley is Jeal’s failure to situate Stanley, Livingstone and other early European explorers as the pathways to the colonisation and exploitation of Africa by Europe.

In Stanley’s case, apart from his connivance with Arab and European enslavers of Africans, it is impossible to separate him from the brutal fate of the Congo.

It was his work that led King Leopold II of Belgium to the Congo and the utter devastation of the region and its people. It was Stanley who set the example, stage and tone for the brutalities and pogroms of the Belgians in the Congo.

Any attempt that sidesteps or apologises for this inescapable connection between Stanley and colonialism is an inexcusable nod at crimes against humanity.

Jeal makes passing references to what he calls the predicament of Stanley and other early colonialists in Africa. He fails to situate the Stanley expeditions in their right historical context.
Here were hordes of uninvited and invading Europeans on the African continent.

If anything, Jeal proceeds as though the Europeans have a more superior moral claim to Africa than Africans themselves. That is why he tells the story of Stanley from the colonialist’s viewpoint, and treats Africans as fodder in the larger European mission of civilisation of the native.


There is surprisingly little reflection in Jeal’s Stanley about the fate of Africa and the role that the early European adventurists played in its construction.

At the very least, this is either an attempt at amnesia or simply bad scholarship on the part of a supposedly respected author. Since Stanley represents the point of cultural contact – and civilisational clash – between Africa and the West, it behoves the author to deliberate on the meaning of that encounter and its historical meaning.

Rather than lament that some writers now unfairly demonise Stanley – whom Jeal would have us believe was a saintly explorer – the author should have set aside any personal agendas and let history speak for itself. Instead, Jeal writes a political book in defence of a historical monster.

I do not deny that there is a place in scholarship for the reinterpretation of history, particularly of notable figures and their roles. But authors have to be careful that they are not so possessed with the desire to defend their icons that they lose sight of the moral purpose of scholarship.

The evidence of history, including in Stanley’s own words, is so overwhelming that a complete rewrite of the narrative – which is what Jeal attempts – is not convincing. Nothing is served – except the agenda of European exceptionalism – when a writer of repute resorts to such an untenable project.

Nor can racists, particularly of the harsh imperial hue of the brutal 19th century, be easily humanised. If Jeal’s attempt was the resurrection of a humane Stanley, then I must judge him a complete failure.

Makau Mutua is SUNY Distinguished Professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo and Chair of the Kenya Human Rights Commission

Howard Thurman's "Inward Sea"

The Inward Sea

There is in every person an inward sea,
And in that sea there is an island
And on that island there is an altar
And standing guard before that altar is the 'angel with the flaming sword.
"Nothing can get by that angel to be placed upon that altar unless it has the mark of your inner authority."
"Nothing passes 'the angel with the flaming sword' to be placed upon your altar
unless it be a part of 'the fluid area of your consent."

This is your crucial link with the Eternal." --Dr. Howard Thurman

Excerpt from Howard Thurman's Meditation of the Heart.

Howard Thurman interviewed on BBC Classics.



Namibian Skulls to be Returned from Germany

In the Namibian article entitled, "Ovaherero Skulls And The German Genocide Challenge," Bob Kandetu writes, WORD is around that May 28 2011 will mark the repatriation of the skulls of Namibians from Germany, which were exported during the German-Ovaherero wars in Namibia.

The mood is at best sombre among the Ovaherero and somewhat reminiscent of a day in 1923, when the remains of the watershed Ovaherero King Samuel Maharero were awaited from Botswana by train.

Ovaherero men had spent days frequenting the Okahandja train station. When the train stopped, Hosea Kutako signalled in loud voice. ‘Omuhona Uavaza’. A sea of men stood at attention and when the coffin was drawn from the train by men in uniform, hundreds broke down and cried profusely as if in despair. Then thousands escorted the coffin to the Otjiserandu Commando. They were boxed in by hundreds of horse riders. It was a day filled with mourning and reflection for the Ovaherero of Namibia.
It is hard to imagine what will happen on that day when the skulls will arrive from Germany, but there won’t be celebrations. Recently Utjiua Muinjangue reported in her speech during the Swakopmund commemoration of the Orumbo Rua Katjombondi. She spoke of her visit to Germany and reported having seen one of the Ovaherero skulls in the archives of the Albert-Ludwig University in Freiburg. The number 744 was inscribed onto the skull and the accompanying envelope contained a note with the words: Swakopmund: Süd-West Afrika. Muinjangue paused with a hoarse voice; the audience was in deep reflection and their mood was telling.

The Ovaherero await the repatriation of the skulls with mixed feelings. They are guardedly happy that this is happening yet they battle with this pent-up rage too. These skulls were taken from Namibia, Swakopmund to be specific. During the war between the Ovaherero and Germans, men were hanged at Orumbo, their heads were removed and their wives forced to clean these heads so that they can be shipped to Germany for laboratory explorations. Those women who declined the instructions were executed on the spot and their bodies buried in the same graves as their beheaded husbands.

These are the skulls that will be repatriated from Germany and it is no joke that there is rage in the hearts of the Ovaherero men and women at the prospect of receiving these skulls back from Germany. And I intend to mount a campaign for these skulls to be buried in the Orumbo rua Katjombondi in Swakopmund from where they originated, with a fitting ceremony.

Germans packing African skulls to be sent to Germany

Colonialism was armed robbery and even more; it left behind more devastation than benefits for the subjects, the victims of colonialism. The Ovaherero never declared war on the Germans, in fact they could not, because they had no capacity to travel to Germany and declare war on the German throne. They were found in the only dwelling place they had and knew. After the extermination order and its manifestations, eighty per cent of the Ovaherero had fallen and were destroyed. Their properties were reduced to rubble, their wealth expropriated. They reported to a government they did not know and could never have wished for. This gave rise to the thought of John Updike who once said: “The world itself is stolen wealth… all property is theft and those who have stolen most of it, make the laws for the rest of us”.

Traditional Nama-Herero Grave

The Ovaherero of Namibia have all the right to charge the German government with genocide and the German government must shoulder the responsibility. No amount of academic discourse will do the trick. (source: The Namibian, 5 April 2011)

"Strange Fruit: The Cross and the Lynching Tree."

A Conversation with James Cone

One has to have a powerful religious imagination to see redemption in the cross, to discover life in death and hope in tragedy.”Christianity,” Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, “is a faith which takes us through tragedy to beyond tragedy, by way of the cross to victory in the cross.”

What kind of salvation is that? To understand what the cross means in America, we need to take a good long look at the lynching tree in this nation’s history — “the bulging eyes and twisted mouth,” that “strange fruit” that Billie Holiday sang about, “blood on the leaves and blood at the root.” The lynched black victim experienced the same fate as the crucified Christ.

The cross and the lynching tree interpret each other. Both were public spectacles, usually reserved for hardened criminals, rebellious slaves, and rebels against the Roman state and falsely accused militant blacks who were often called “black beasts” and “monsters in human form” for their audacity to challenge white supremacy in America. Any genuine theology and any genuine preaching must be measured against the test of the scandal of the cross and the lynching tree.

“Jesus did not die a gentle death like Socrates, with his cup of hemlock…. Rather, he died like a [lynched black victim] or a common [black] criminal in torment, on the tree of shame” (Hengel). The crowd’s shout, “Crucify him! (Mark 15:14), anticipated the white mob’s shout, “Lynch him!” Jesus’ agonizing final cry from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) was similar to the Georgia lynching victim Sam Hose’s awful scream, as he drew his last breath, “Oh my God! Oh, Jesus.”

In each case, it was a cruel, agonizing, and contemptible death.

The cross and the lynching tree need each other: the lynching tree can liberate the cross from the false pieties of well-meaning Christians.

The crucifixion was a first-century lynching.

The cross can redeem the lynching tree, and thereby bestow upon lynched black bodies an eschatological meaning for their ultimate existence.

The cross can also redeem white lynchers, and their descendants, too, but not without profound cost, not without the revelation of the wrath and justice of God, which executes divine judgment, with the demand for repentance and reparation, as a presupposition of divine mercy and forgiveness. Most whites want mercy and forgiveness, but not justice and reparations; they want reconciliation without liberation, the resurrection without the cross.

As preachers and theologians, we must demonstrate the truth of our proclamation and theological reflection in the face of the cross and the lynched black victims in America’s past and present. When we encounter the crucified Christ today, he is a humiliated black Christ, a lynched black body.

Christ is black not because black theology said it. Christ is made black through God’s loving solidarity with lynched black bodies and divine judgment against the demonic forces of white supremacy. Like a black naked body swinging on a lynching tree, the cross of Christ was “an utterly offensive affair,” “obscene in the original sense of the word,” “subjecting the victim to the utmost indignity.”

In a penetrating essay, Reinhold Niebuhr wrote about “the terrible beauty of the cross.”: “Only a tragic and a suffering love can be an adequate symbol of what we believe to be at the heart of reality itself.” The cross prevents God’s love from sinking into sentimentality and romanticism. “Life is too brutal and the cosmic facts are too indifferent to our moral ventures to make faith in any but a suffering God tenable.

The gospel of Jesus is not a beautiful Hollywood story. It is an ugly story, the story of God snatching victory out of defeat, finding life in death, transforming burning black bodies into transcendent windows for seeing the love and beauty of God.

The church’s most vexing problem today is how to define itself by the gospel of Jesus’ cross as revealed through lynched black bodies in American history. Where is the gospel of Jesus’ cross revealed today? Where are black bodies being lynched today?

The lynching of black America is taking place in the criminal justice system where nearly one-third of black men between the ages of 18 and 28 are in prisons and jails, on parole, or waiting for their day in court. One-half of the two million people in prisons are black. That is one million black people behind bars, more than in colleges. Through private prisons, whites have turned the brutality of their racist legal system into a profit-making venture for dying white towns and cities throughout America. One can lynch a person without a rope or tree.

The civil rights movement did not end lynching. It struck a mighty blow to the most obvious brutalities, like the lynching of Emmett Till and the violence of the Ku Klux Klan.

But whenever society treats a people as if they have no rights or dignity or worth, as the government did to blacks during the Katrina storm, they are being lynched covertly.

Whenever people are denied jobs, health care, housing, and the basic necessities of life, they are being lynched. There are a lot of ways to lynch a people. Whenever a people cry out to be recognized as human beings and society ignores them, they are being lynched.

People who have never been lynched by another group usually find it difficult to understand why blacks want whites to remember lynching atrocities. Why bring that up? That was a long time ago! Is it not best forgotten? Absolutely not!

The lynching tree is a metaphor for race in America, a symbol of America’s crucifixion of black people. It is the window that best reveals the theological meaning of the cross in this land. In this sense, black people are Christ-figures, not because we want to be but because we had no choice about being lynched, just as Jesus had no choice in his journey to Calvary. Jesus did not want to die on the cross, and blacks did not want to swing from the lynching tree. But the evil forces of the Roman State and white supremacy in America willed it.

Yet God took the evil of the cross and the lynching tree upon the divine self and transformed both into the triumphant beauty of the divine.

If America has the courage to confront the great sin and ongoing legacy of white supremacy, with repentance and reparation, there is hope beyond the tragedy — hope for whites, blacks, and all humankind — hope beyond the lynching tree.


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