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]

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Happy Kwanzaa

Happy Kwanzaa!

Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor and chairman of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach, created Kwanzaa in 1966. After the Watts riots in Los Angeles, Dr. Karenga searched for ways to bring African-Americans together as a community. He founded US, a cultural organization, and started to research African "first fruit" (harvest) celebrations. Karenga combined aspects of several different harvest celebrations, such as those of the Ashanti and those of the Zulu, to form the basis of Kwanzaa.  (source: The History Channel

By the 1990s, Kwanzaa had taken a place alongside Christmas and Hanukkah as a mainstream national holiday, with Hallmark creating Kwanzaa cards and the U.S. Postal Service introducing an official Kwanzaa stamp in 1997. The stamp has been reissued in various denominations four times.(source: Time Magazine)

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

MERRY CHRISTMAS! From the US Slave Blog

Merry Christmas From The US Slave Blog!

According to CBS News, "Special African-American Santa Holds Court At Macy’s: People Come From All Across The 5 Boroughs To Wait In Line, Request Him," on 23 December 2013 --  NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Crowds in the know have been drawn to Macy’s to see the “special Santa,” an African-American Santa Claus tucked away in Santaland at the Macy’s flagship store in Herald Square.

As CBS 2’s Tracee Carrasco reported, the special Santa only appears by request. But he was the sole reason Elizabeth Kittles and her family made the trip from the Bronx Monday night.

“I could have gone anywhere,” Kittles said, “but I came right here to Macy’s because I knew they had an African-American Santa.”

When they reach the front of the line, parents must ask to see the special Santa. But Kittles said he is like a secret Santa to many.

“There was plenty of African-American families that didn’t know, and when I did tell them, one guy said, ‘They have a black Santa?’ (I said), ‘Yeah they do,’” Kittles said.

Kittles, who has been bringing her sons to see the special Santa at Macy’s for 10 years now, wishes the store would make sure more families know.

“An elf just told me as I was going through Santaland,” Kittles said. “It’s great that they have that option, but it would be great if they put it out there either on the visitors’ website or when they advertise when Santaland is open.”

Other parents who spoke to CBS 2 did not know about the special Santa either, but agreed with Kittles.
“I think it would mean a lot to some people; would make a difference for some people,” said Danielle Moriello of Linden, N.J. “It doesn’t matter what color he is.”

“It wouldn’t confuse the kids at all,” added Rafael Mendoza of Washington Heights. “It’s just the way you raise them up.”

CBS 2 reached out to Macy’s for a comment about their special Santa. They responded, “Santa is all things to all who believe.” (source: CBS News)

Akim & Teddy Vann - Santa Claus Is A Black Man

The National Cathedral Honors The Gods Of The Confederacy

As reported by the Washington Post, "Why are Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson honored at Washington National Cathedral?," by John Kelly, on 10 December 2013 -- On Wednesday, mourners will gather at Washington National Cathedral to celebrate the legacy of Nelson Mandela, a man who fought for racial equality. I’m guessing most of them will have no idea they’re sitting in a place that has shrines to two people who fought against it.

I certainly know I was surprised when I learned recently that two memorial niches — complete with stained-glass windows and laudatory inscriptions — honor Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.

Jackson is described as walking “humbly before his Creator, whose word was his guide.” Lee is described as a “servant of God, leader of men, general-in-chief of the armies of the Confederate States whose compelling sense of duty, serene faith and unfailing courtesy mark him for all ages as a Christian soldier without fear and without reproach.”

Above each inscription are stained-glass windows depicting events from the mens’ lives. They even feature the Confederate flag.

Absent from the hagiography is any suggestion that the cause Lee and Jackson fought for was in any way controversial, or that the presence of the niches is inappropriate for a cathedral, especially a cathedral in the capital of the union the generals tried to destroy.

“The contradiction in terms is what attracted me to this topic,” said Evie Terrono, a Randolph-Macon College art history professor who has studied the history of the niches and other Civil War memorials.

A cathedral monument to Jackson and Lee was first proposed in 1931 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, a group that had been active in putting a decidedly Southern spin on the Civil War. While it was never able to erect a “faithful slave mammies” memorial in Washington, the UDC was successful in dedicating what’s known as the “faithful slave” memorial in Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

The Lee and Jackson niches were finally dedicated in 1953, long after the Civil War was over and long after an interesting thing had happened: Americans had almost stopped thinking of Lee and Jackson as Southerners.

“In many ways they were absolved of sectional politics and ensconced into the landscape of the American political experience,” Terrono said.

They also became wrapped in a spiritual mantle.

“Particularly after Lee’s death there emerges a kind of canonization,” Terrono said. “They become saintly figures. . . . That’s the context within which one has to consider these commemorative structures.”

The generals are honored in the cathedral not because they were soldiers, but because they were Christian soldiers. (This perhaps illustrates the limits of Christianity — or, I suppose, of any religion.)

The irony is that despite holding the remains of one of the country’s most racist presidents — Woodrow Wilson — the cathedral was at the forefront of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Clergy members supported integration. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a sermon at the cathedral just four days before his death.

And yet, there are the odes to Jackson and Lee, slave owners whose cause included keeping blacks in chains.

“To have them enshrined in this national place of reflection can be really disconcerting,” said Chris Mackowski, a St. Bonaventure University journalism professor and author who has written about the niches on the Emerging Civil War blog.

“It’s easy for people to pass judgment on history,” Mackowski said. “I don’t think that’s particularly constructive. I don’t think it’s fair to the people back then, and I don’t think it’s useful to us now.”

Rather, Mackowski said, the niches should force us to ask questions: What was the context in which they were created? How is that different from today?

Cathedral spokesman Richard Weinberg said he’s not aware of any criticism of the niches. He said: “In its iconography, the cathedral depicts not only religious history — the story of Christianity — but also tells the story of American history. The Civil War is part of American history. American history includes good and bad things.”

Weinberg pointed out that not too far away from Lee and Jackson is a bay dedicated to Abraham Lincoln.

Of course, Lincoln was on the right side, the winning side.

I don’t think the stained-glass windows should be pried from their frames, but I’m not comfortable with the unquestioning context in which they’re presented. How about adding some sort of sign that explains the windows’ history and that acknowledges the overwhelming oddness of treating these two flawed men like saints? (source: The Washington Post)

Hated Are The Poor: Father Ray Blake of the St Mary Magdalen Church in Brighton, UK

Father Ray Blake at St Mary Magdalen Church in Brighton
  • Father Ray Blake from St. Magdalen’s in Brighton said those living on the streets were sent by God to test his faith
  • The outspoken Catholic cleric called one who pleaded for change an 'irritating little b*****d'
  • He claimed the destitute 'ring the door bell every hour day and night' and 'tell lies' to get cash.

As reported by the UK The Daily Mail, "'Beggar is an irritating little b******': Controversial priest launches scathing attack on 'messy' homeless people who plead for money in his church," by Wills Robinson, on 5 September 2013  --  A priest has launched an attack on the poor and homeless describing them as ‘lying and messy’ people sent by God to test his faith.

Outspoken Father Ray Blake even said one who regularly turned up at his church pleading for money was ‘an irritating little b******d’.

He accused the beggar of making a mess of his prayers as he passed his cap around his congregation looking for donations.

The controversial Catholic cleric said in a blog post: 'The trouble with the poor is that they are messy.


'There is a secluded area between the church and our hall, a passage, occasionally we find someone has got a few cardboard boxes together and has slept there, and if it has been raining leaves a sodden blanket, cardboard there to be cleaned up.

'Often it also smells of urine and there is often excrement there and sometimes a used needle or two.'

Father Blake, who is priest at St. Magdalen’s Church in Brighton, East Sussex, made his outburst in a lengthy blog post titled The Trouble With the Poor.

He describes how the destitute 'ring the door bell at every hour of the day and night' and 'tell lies' to get cash.

Father Blake also singles out one homeless man who interrupts his services by launching his own collection.

He wrote: 'During the silence of the Canon the man will pray aloud: ‘Jesus, I want you to bless Father Ray and God, can you persuade the good people here to give to the poor - I am poor’.

'Unchecked he will take his cap off and have a collection. It makes a mess of our prayers - it stops some coming to Mass here.'

Referring to other homeless people, he added: 'They tell you their Gran is dying in Southampton and they need the train fare.

'You give it to them and if you don’t find them drunk in the street they are back the next day and the other Gran is dying in Hastings this time.'

The priest ends his blog: 'My big difficulty with confession at the moment is that I have grown complacent in my lifestyle - I don’t want it changed.

'The message of the Gospels seems to be to let the poor into it to mess it up a little.'

Father Blake has caused controversy before in another of his blog pieces called Feeling Sorry for Jon Venables, one of the killers of toddler James Bulger.

He said it must be 'horrendous' for Venables to wake up each morning as a hate figure.

In the past he has also labelled gay people 'hedonistic' and complained local politicians pandered to the 'gay lobby' and are 'ignorant of our faith'.

Asked about his latest comments, Father Blake admitted he often found poor people 'quite a trial' to deal with.

He said: 'We have a duty to care for the poor because it teaches us to be human. It leads us to a greater understanding.

'However I sometimes think they are sent to test my holiness. The man who comes into my church and disturbs Mass, for instance, is an irritating little b*****d.'

'You can con yourself that you love them, but they do sometimes create difficulties.'

The comments come the day after Father George Gebauer, 87 from St Mary’s Church in Warsash, Hampshire said he felt sorry for gay people because they were medically ‘imbalanced’.

He refused to conduct a baptism ceremony when two women asked for their child to be christened claiming it could be ‘illegal’ to proceed in the way they wanted. (source: The Daily Mail)

Friday, December 20, 2013

Kate Masur: An Example for All the Land

From the Washington City Paper, "Black History Month Critic's Pick: Kate Masur," by Christina Lee, on 4 February 2011  --  Beginning in 2004, Kate Masur kept stumbling across references to a 19th century Capitol employee and her refusal to leave a train departing from Alexandria. The Northwestern University history and African American studies professor—then an assistant editor at the University of Maryland’s Freedmen and Southern Society Project—eventually identified the employee as Kate Brown. Brown, a women’s room attendant, wanted to sit among the very people she served in the designated “ladies’ car”—implicitly for white women only. After a conductor instructed Brown to move and she refused, he and a police officer police pounded on her knuckles and twisted her arms before tossing her from the car and onto the platform. Masur includes Brown’s story in An Example for All the Land: Emancipation and the Struggle Over Equality in Washington, D.C., an account of black Washingtonians’ efforts to gain equality in the wake of the Civil War. The book explores President Lincoln’s initial efforts to serve the freedmen, before they mobilized themselves through church-based organizations and demanded equal treatment in public settings. And in a story that will surely resonate with those of us dissatisfied with the District’s Congressional representation—or lack thereof—Masur tells of black and white Washingtonians bonding to cultivate a new Republican Party with big hopes for greater racial equality—only for Congress to abolish the local self-government they needed, all but destroying the progressive foundation they’d established.  (source: The Washington City Paper)

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Douglas Blackmon: American Slavery Extended Into The Twentieth Century

Slavery By Another Name, by Douglas A. Blackmon  --  A cry for help: Having exhausted all other options, a desperate young woman named Carrie Kinsey wrote this letter directly to President Theodore Roosevelt asking him to help her brother, who had been taken to a forced labor camp nearby. “Let me have him,” she writes. “He have not don nothing for them to hase him in chanes.”

On July 31, 1903, a letter addressed to President Theodore Roosevelt arrived at the White House. It had been mailed from the town of Bainbridge, Georgia, the prosperous seat of a cotton county perched on the Florida state line.
Slavery By Another Name, by Douglas A. Blackmon

The sender was a barely literate African American woman named Carrie Kinsey. With little punctuation and few capital letters, she penned the bare facts of the abduction of her fourteen-year-old brother, James Robinson, who a year earlier had been sold into involuntary servitude.

Kinsey had already asked for help from the powerful white people in her world. She knew where her brother had been taken—a vast plantation not far away called Kinderlou. There, hundreds of black men and boys were held in chains and forced to labor in the fields or in one of several factories owned by the McRee family, one of the wealthiest and most powerful in Georgia. No white official in this corner of the state would take an interest in the abduction and enslavement of a black teenager.

Confronted with a world of indifferent white people, Mrs. Kinsey did the only remaining thing she could think of. Newspapers across the country had recently reported on a speech by Roosevelt promising a “square deal” for black Americans. Mrs. Kinsey decided that her only remaining hope was to beg the president of the United States to help her brother.

“Mr. Prassident,” she wrote. “They wont let me have him.… He hase not don nothing for them to have him in chanes so I rite to you for your help.”

Considered more than a century later, her letter courses with desperation and submerged outrage. Yet when received at the White House, it was slipped into a small rectangular folder and forwarded to the Department of Justice. There, it was tagged with a reference number, 12007, and filed away. Teddy Roosevelt never saw it. No action was taken. Her words lie still at the National Archives just outside Washington, D.C.

As dumbfounding as the story told by the Carrie Kinsey letter is, far more remarkable is what surrounds that letter at the National Archives. In the same box that holds her grief-stricken missive are at least half a dozen other pieces of correspondence recounting other stories of kidnapping, perversion of the courts, or human trafficking—as horrifying as, or worse than, Carrie Kinsey’s tale. It is the same in the next box on the shelf. And the one before. And the ones on either side of those. And the next and the next. And on and on. Thousands and thousands of plaintive letters and grimly bureaucratic responses—altogether at least 30,000 pages of original material—chronicle cases of forced labor and involuntary servitude in the South decades after the end of the Civil War.

“i have a little girl that has been kidnapped from me … and i cant get her out,” wrote Reverend L. R. Farmer, pastor of a black Baptist church in Morganton, North Carolina. “i want ask you is it law for people to whip (col) people and keep them and not allow them to leave without a pass.”

A farmer near Pine Apple, Alabama, named J. R. Adams, writing of terrible abuses by the dominant landowning family in the county, was one of the astonishingly few white southerners who also complained to the Department of Justice. “They have held negroes … for years,” Adams wrote. “It is a very rare thing that a negro escapes.”

A similar body of material rests in the files of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the one institution that undertook any sustained effort to address at least the most terrible cases. Dwarfing everything at those repositories are the still largely unexamined collections of local records in courthouses across the South. In dank basements, abandoned buildings, and local archives, seemingly endless numbers of files contain hundreds of thousands of handwritten entries documenting in monotonous granularity the details of an immense, metastasizing horror that stretched well into the twentieth century.

By the first years after 1900, tens of thousands of African American men and boys, along with a smaller number of women, had been sold by southern state governments. An exponentially larger number, of whom surviving records are painfully incomplete, had been forced into labor through county and local courts, backwoods justices of the peace, and outright kidnapping and trafficking. The total number of those re-enslaved in the seventy-five years between the end of the Civil War and the beginning of World War II can’t be precisely determined, but based on the records that do survive, we can safely say it happened to hundreds of thousands. How many more African Americans circumscribed their lives in dramatic ways, or abandoned all to flee the South entirely, to avoid that fate or mob violence? It is impossible to know. Millions. Generations.

This is not an easy story for Americans to receive, much less accept. The idea that not just civil rights but basic freedom itself was denied to an enormous population of African Americans until the middle of the twentieth century fits nowhere in the triumphalist, steady-progress, greatest-generations accounts we prefer for our national narrative. That the thrilling events depicted in Steven Spielberg’s recent film Lincoln—the heroic, frenzied campaign by Abraham Lincoln leading to passage of the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery—were in fact later trumped not just by discrimination and segregation but by the resurrection of a full-blown derivative of slavery itself.

This story of re-enslavement is irrefutably true, however. Indeed, even as Spielberg’s film conveys the euphoria felt by African Americans and all opposed to slavery upon passage of the amendment in 1865, it also unintentionally foreshadows the demise of that brighter future. On the night of the amendment’s passage in the film, the African American housekeeper and, as presented in the film, secret lover of the abolitionist Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, played by the actress S. Epatha Merkerson, reads the amendment aloud. First, the sweeping banishment of slavery. And then, an often overlooked but powerful prepositional phrase: “except as a punishment for crime.”

It began with Reconstruction. Faced with empty government coffers, a paralyzing intellectual inability to contemplate equitable labor arrangements with former chattel, profound resentment against the emancipated freedmen, and a desperate economic need to force black workers back into the fields, white landowners and government officials began using the South’s criminal courts to compel African Americans back into slavery.

In the first years after the Civil War, even as former slaves optimistically swarmed into new schools and lined up at courthouses at every whisper of a hope of economic independence, the Southern states began enacting an array of interlocking laws that would make all African Americans criminals, regardless of their conduct, and thereby making it legal to force them into chain gangs, labor camps, and other forms of involuntarily servitude. By the end of 1865, every Southern state except Arkansas and Tennessee had passed laws outlawing vagrancy and defining it so vaguely that virtually any freed slave not under the protection of a white man could be arrested for the crime. An 1865 Mississippi statute required black workers to enter into labor contracts with white farmers by January 1 of every year or risk arrest. Four other states legislated that African Americans could not legally be hired for work without a discharge paper from their previous employer—effectively preventing them from leaving the plantation of the white man they worked for.

After the return of nearly complete white political control in 1877, the passage of those laws accelerated. Some, particularly those that explicitly said they applied only to African Americans, were struck down in court appeals or through federal interventions, but new statutes embracing the same strictures on black life quickly replaced them. Most of the new laws were written as if they applied to everyone, but in reality they were overwhelmingly enforced only against African Americans.

In the 1880s, Alabama, North Carolina, and Florida passed laws making it a crime for a black man to change employers without permission. It was a crime for a black man to speak loudly in the company of a white woman, a crime to have a gun in his pocket, and a crime to sell the proceeds of his farm to anyone other than the man he rented land from. It was a crime to walk beside a railroad line, a crime to fail to yield a sidewalk to white people, a crime to sit among whites on a train, and it was most certainly a crime to engage in sexual relations with—or, God forbid, to show true love and affection for—a white girl.

And that’s how it happened. Within a few years of the passage of these laws, tens of thousands of black men and boys, and a smaller number of black women, were being arrested and sold into forced labor camps by state officials, local judges, and sheriffs. During this time, some actual criminals were sold into slavery, and a small percentage of them were white. But the vast majority were black men accused of trivial or trumped-up crimes. Compelling evidence indicates that huge numbers had in fact committed no offense whatsoever. As the system grew, countless white farmers and businessmen jostled to “lease” as many black “criminals” as they could. Soon, huge numbers of other African Americans were simply being kidnapped and sold into slavery. (source: Blackmon, Douglas A. Slavery By Another Name, )

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Post-Emancipation Education


From Harper's Weekly,  on 21 May 1870  --  American South; Virginia  --  "There is a negro school at Mcherrin Station, on the Richmond and Danville Railroad, where the teachers receive scholars of all ages and both sexes. Mr. Arvine, of Lunenberg, had an old cook, 71 years of age, who took it into her head to learn to speak and write the English language correctly; so she entered the school, and bringing her ten cents per day and regularly paying it over to the teachers, she got along very well until, perhaps, at the end of the second week, she missed her lesson, and was kept in in play time. The idea! an old negro seventy-odd years of age kept in in play time."-- Danville (Va.) Times.


The basis of the joke in this cartoon is the incongruity of an elderly person as an elementary school student and, even more, one kept inside at recess. Underneath the humor, though, is the disheartening fact that an entire segment of the American population— former slaves—had previously been prohibited from acquiring even a rudimentary education. Yet this cartoon points to the great yearning for formal knowledge that pervaded all age groups among the freedmen, and to the hope they invested in education. In Union-occupied Louisiana in 1863, a Northern missionary observed that the former slaves were "every one pleading to be taught, willing to do anything for learning." A South Carolina freedman exclaimed to his teacher, "My Lord, ma'am, what a great thing learning is!" In 1869, a black Mississippian declared that if he never did anything else in his life, giving his children a chance to go to school was "the next best thing to liberty."

During the Civil War, Northern abolitionists began establishing organizations to assist emancipated slaves in adjusting to their new situation. A key aspect of this process was the education of the mostly illiterate freedmen. Many of the freedmen's societies were affiliated with Protestant denominations, the largest of which was the American Missionary Association of the Congregational Church. Secular associations, such as the New England Freedmen's Aid Society, and philanthropies, like the Peabody Fund, also played a role. In September 1861, Mary Peake, a free black, founded the first freedmen's school at Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia. Of the 4000 volunteers who taught in Southern freedmen's schools during the 1860s, most were white (80%), female (75%), and born in New England (60%). The proportion of Northern white teachers fell over the decade, so that by 1870 half the teachers were black. Southern blacks, led by the African Methodist Episcopal Church, also established, financed, and administered their own schools.

In March 1865, Congress created a temporary federal agency, nicknamed the Freedmen's Bureau, to provides relief to the emancipated slaves in the form of basic shelter and medical care, assistance in labor-contract negotiation, and similar services. Among the latter, the public agency worked with private freedmen's societies (31 religious and 20 secular) to run the freedmen's schools. The Freedmen's Bureau allocated one-third of its budget to education, providing school buildings, transportation for teachers, and basic oversight, while the societies hired and paid the teachers and set the curriculum and content. About $9 million was spent on freedmen's education from 1865-1870, with $5 million provided by the Freedmen's Bureau, $3 million by the Northern associations, and $1 million by American blacks. By 1870, there were 4000 such schools serving over 200,000 students and employing about 9,000 teachers.

Many Southern whites, though, resented the idea of educating blacks, fearing that it would undermine the notion of white supremacy. Freedmen's schools and teachers were a frequent target of violence during the Reconstruction Era. Images of both the torching of freedmen's schools and the freedmen's school as a cultural icon can be seen in the Harper's Weekly cartoons of Thomas Nast. Despite inroads made by the freedmen's schools, only 12% of Southern black children were enrolled in school in 1870 (and only a slightly higher percentage of white school-age children in the South).

The public school system was also inaugurated in the South during Reconstruction, but its effectiveness was undercut by limited funds, teacher shortages, and the expense of segregated schools, corruption, and other problems. By 1876, the number of Southern children enrolled in school (public, private, or mixed) had risen to 50% for whites and 40% for blacks. As public schools opened across the South, the secular freedmen's societies transferred their schools and property to the state systems. The religious-affiliated freedmen's associations turned over their lower schools to the states, but kept their secondary schools. Some of the latter evolved into important institutions of higher learning for black Americans, including Fisk University, Atlanta University, Morehouse College, and Spelman College.

The 1880 census revealed that millions of black and white Southerners were still illiterate, a shocking statistic that revived a movement for the federal funding of education. Senator Henry W. Blair of New Hampshire, a Republican, sponsored legislation to allocate $15 million annually to the states, divided proportionally according to their illiteracy rates. This meant that the bulk of the $77 million over 18 years would go to the South. Prominent Americans, including Chief Justice Morrison Waite of the U.S. Supreme Court, urged the policy as socially necessary and constitutionally acceptable. The Republican Party endorsed the proposal in its platform. The Blair Bill passed the Republican-controlled Senate three times during the 1880s, but Speaker John Carlisle of Kentucky never allowed the bill to reach the floor of the Democratically-controlled House.  --  Robert C. Kennedy  (source: Harper's Weekly Cartoon)


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