Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Buck O'Neil

From The Story of the Game

What has a lifetime of baseball taught you?

"It is a religion. For me. You understand? If you go by the rules, it is a right. The things that you can do. The things that you can't do, that you aren't supposed to do. And if these are carried out, it makes a beautiful picture overall. It's a very beautiful thing because it taught me and it teaches everyone else to live by the rules, to abide by the rules. I think sports in general teach a guy humility. I can see a guy hit the ball out of the ballpark, or a grand slam home run to win a baseball game, and that same guy can come up tomorrow in that situation and miss the ball and lose the ball game. It can bring you up here but don't get too damn cocky because tomorrow it can bring you down there. See? But one thing about it though, you know there always will be a tomorrow. You got me today, but I'm coming back."

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Sunday, February 26, 2006

Askia the Great

Askia Mohammed I (Askia the Great)
(d. 1538)

Mohammed Ben Abu Bekr, also known as Askia the Great made Timbuctoo one of the world's great centers of learning and commerce. The brilliance of the city was such that it still shines in the imagination after three centuries like a star which, though dead, continues to send its light toward us. Such was its splendor that in spite of its many vicissitudes after the death of Askia, the vitality of Timbuctoo is not extinguished.

—Félix Dubois, Tombouctou, la mystérieuse

Mohammed Ben Abu Bekr, was considered the favored general of Sunni Ali, and believed that he was entitled to the throne after Sunni Ali's death, rather than Ali's son, Abu Kebr.

Claiming that the power was his by right of achievement, Mohammed attacked the new ruler a year later and defeated him (1493) in one of the bloodiest battles in history, a coup d'etat. When one of Sunni Ali's daughters heard the news, she cried out "Askia," which means "forceful one." This title was taken by Mohammed as his new name.

Askia immediately embarked on the consolidation of the empire left by Sunni Ali Ber. More astute and farsighted than Sunni Ali Ber, he identified Islam's potential to usurp traditional Songhai religion. Askia decidedly courted his Muslim subjects, particularly in Timbuktu, where the clerics and scholars who fled from Sunni Ali Ber had returned. Askia orchestrated a program of expansion and consolidation, ultimately extending the empire from Taghaza in the north to the borders of Yatenga in the south; and from Air in the northeast to Futa Toro in Senegambia. Askia was also setting the stage for the Askia dynasty, systematically removing the surviving members of the preceding dynasties.

Within three years, he solidified his position to the extent that he could leave the country for two years. For political and pious reasons, he made the hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca. In Cairo, he consulted with scholars and examined legal and administrative methods. In addition, an ambassador to Songhai was appointed and Askia was made caliph, thus becoming the head of the Islamic community in the Western Sudan. He returned to Songhai where he embarked on a program to reinforce and refine Islam.

Askia was an efficient and astute administrator. Instead of organizing the empire along Islamic lines, he improved on the traditional model. He instituted a system of government which was unparalleled in Songhai in particular and the Western Sudan in general. He divided the empire into defined provinces, each with its own governor. Special governors were appointed for the towns of Timbuktu, Jenne, Masina and Taghaza. The provinces were then grouped into regions, which were administered by regional governors. An advisory board of ministers supported each regional governor. The nucleus of the bureaucracy was Askia himself, assisted by a council of advisers. Islamic law prevailed in the larger districts in an effort to dispense with traditional law. It is worth noting that Islam was practiced in the urban areas, whereas the traditional Songhai religion continued in other areas. He also maintained a standing army, essentially for expansion of the empire

Soon after his return from Mecca, Askia embarked on his expansionist enterprise, where he ultimately extended the empire on all borders. He waged a successful jihad against the Mossi of Yatenga; captured Mali; defeated the Fulani and extended the borders farther north than any other Sudanic empire to Taghaza, famous for its salt mines. Years later, he conquered Hausaland and, in a subsequent campaign, seized Agades and Air.

Askia encouraged learning and literacy. Under Askia, Timbuktu, also known as "The Center of Learning," "The Mecca of the Sudan," and "The Queen of the Sudan," experienced a cultural revival and flourished as a center of learning. The University of Sankore produced distinguished scholars, many of whom published significant books. The eminent scholar Ahmed Baba produced many books on Islamic law, some of which are still in use today. Mahmoud Kati published Tarik al-Fattah and Abdul-Rahman as-Sadi published Tarik as-Sudan (Chronicle of the Sudan), two history books which are indispensable to present-day scholars reconstructing African history in the Middle Ages.

Askia fostered trade and commerce. State revenues were derived from estates founded throughout the nation, tributes exacted from vassal states, taxes, and custom duties. Timbuktu, Jenne and Gao were the commercial centers of the empire, and the trade routes were policed by the army to maintain their safety. In addition, he standardized weights and measures throughout the empire.

Askia's final years were filled with humiliation and suffering. In 1528, Askia Mohammed, now almost ninety years old and blind, was deposed by his son, Musa. Later, another son, Ismail, brought him back to the palace, where he died in 1538. The most illustrious reign in the history of the Western Sudan ended. Askia Mohammmed, regarded as the greatest of the Songhai kings, continued the work of Sunni Ali Ber and built the largest and wealthiest of the kingdoms of the Western Sudan.

Reply to My Critics by Ivan Van Sertima

From Journal of African Civilizations

An attack on my thesis that Africans made contact with America before Columbus in two major pre-Christian periods (circa 1200 b.c. and circa 800 b.c.) in addition to the Mandingo contact period (1310/1311 A.D.) has been circulated in advance to hundreds of subscribers to a journal, Current Anthropology. Copies of this attack by Bernard de Montellano, Warren Barbour and Gabriel Haslip-Viera were also sent out to African-American scholars, some of whom were cited in the attack, dishonestly titled "Van Sertima's Afrocentricity and the Olmecs." The title's emphasis is meant to suggest that all revisions of African history by so-called "Blacks" belong to a common school, radiate from a common brain, and are cast in the same "racialist" hue and mode. This circular, which precedes my new book, REPLY TO MY CRITICS (scheduled to appear in Sept), seeks to highlight the brazen and malicious lies, slanders and misrepresentations that characterize this attack. Let it be noted that I was invited to respond to this attack but was forced to withdraw. The editor, after verbally agreeing that I could reprint my commentary, after the issue of the Journal appeared, did a dramatic about-turn when pressed to sign a written agreement to back up his word. He wrote that I could only reprint my "commentary" (15 pages) if I also reprinted the attack on me (50 pages) since "they form a unit." To feel the full absurdity of this, just imagine the Jewish Defense League being forced to republish an extended Nazi-type attack on their positions in order to republish a brief response to such a slanderous attack.

LIE ONE: - "Van Sertima's expedition allegedly sailed or drifted westward to the Gulf of Mexico where it came in contact with inferior Olmecs. These individuals created Olmec civilization." - De Montellano, Barbour and Haslip-Viera.

THE TRUTH: As far back as 1976, I made my position on this matter very clear. I never said that Africans created or founded American civilization. I said they made contact and all significant contact between two peoples lead to influences. "I think it is necessary to make it clear - since partisan and ethnocentric scholarship seems to be the order of the day - that the emergence of the Negroid face, which the archeological and cultural data overwhelmingly confirm, in no way presupposes the lack of a native originality, the absence of other influences or the automatic eclipse of other faces"-p. 147 of "They Came Before Columbus." See also Journal of African Civilizations, Vol 8, No. 2, 1986 "I cannot subscribe to the notion that civilization suddenly dropped onto the American earth from the Egyptian heaven."

LIE TWO: None of the early Egyptians and Nubians looked like Negroes. "They have long, narrow noses..." "Short, flat noses are confined to the West African ancestors of African-Americans." Again, "there is no evidence that ancient Nubians ever braided their hair. This style comes from colonial and modern Ethiopia."

THE TRUTH: Narrow noses have been found among millions of pure-blooded Africans. We can see this among the Elongated and Nilotic types. My critics know nothing about the variants of Africa, ancient or modern. All the six main variants of the African have been found in the Egyptian and Nubian graves. For examples of ancient braided Nubian hair, see Frank Snowden's "Before Color Prejudice," As for Egypto-Nubians only having narrow noses, see Egyptian pharaohs in Vol 10 and 12 of the JAC and major Nubian pharaohs in Peggy Bertram's essay (JAC, Vol.12) -Ushanaru, Plate 8, p 173; Taharka as the god Amun from Kawa Temples, Plate 9, p. 173; Shabaka, Plate 12, p. 176. Tanwetamani, Plate 16, p. 180. To say that these are narrow noses is to exhibit a colossal ignorance of African types in ancient Egypt and Nubia. The agenda behind this is to bolster their case that they could not have been models for any of the Olmec stone heads.

LIE THREE: Modern Egyptians look exactly as they did thousands of years ago. The composition of the Egyptian has not changed over the last 5000 years. Invasions by the Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, Arabs and Romans left them looking the same today as in the dawn of history.

THE TRUTH: This is a hasty misreading of the work of scholars like A.C. Berry, R. J. Berry and Ucko who point out that there is a remarkable degree of homogeneity in this area for 5000 years. What a superficial reading of this fails to note is that the period ends with the close of the native dynasties BEFORE the invasions of the Assyrian, Persian, Greek, Roman and Arab foreigners

LIE FOUR: Faced with the startlingly Negroid features of some of the Olmec stone heads, my critics try 4 ways out: (a) They are "spitting images of the native;" (b) they appear dark because some of them were carved out of dark volcanic stone; (c) some were made of white basalt which turned dark over time; (d) ancient Egyptians and Nubians were remote in physiognomy from sub-Saharan Negroes and none of them could have been models for any of the "Negro-looking" heads. Having said all that, they then claim that "races are not linked to specific physiognomic traits."

THE TRUTH: No need to shoot them down on this. They turned the gun on themselves.

LIE FIVE: Nothing African has been found in any archeological excavation in the New World.

THE TRUTH: In the drier centers of the Olmec world - at Tlatilco, Cerro de las Mesas and Monte Alban - the Polish craniologist, Andrez Wiercinski, found indisputable evidence of an African presence. The many traits analyzed in these Olmec sites indicated individuals with Negroid traits predominating but with an admixture of other racial traits. This is what I have said. The work of A. Vargas Guadarrama is an important reinforcement of Wiercinski's study. He found that the skulls he examined at Tlatilco, which Wiercinski had classified as Negroid, were "radically different" from other skulls on the site, bearing indisputable similarities to skulls in West Africa and Egypt.

LIE SIX: Van Sertima presents no evidence that a New World cotton (gossypium hirsutum var. punctatum) was transferred from Guinea to the Cape Verde in 1462 by the Portuguese and there is no hard proof that West Africans made a round trip to America before Columbus.

THE TRUTH: I cited evidence in 12 categories to establish Mandingo voyages to the New World circa1310/1311 A.D. This included eyewitness reports from nearly a dozen Europeans, even Columbus himself, metallurgical, linguistic, botanical, navigational, oceanographic, skeletal, epigraphic, cartographic, oral, documented and iconographic evidence. With regard to New World cotton in Africa before 1462, Stephens spoke in two tongues to pacify isolationist colleagues.

LIE SEVEN: My critics claim that I said the bottle gourd came in with Old World voyagers.

THE TRUTH: I was at pains to point out that this is ONE PLANT THAT COULD DRIFT TO AMERICA WITHOUT THE LOSS OF SEED VIABILITY. "Bottle gourds got caught in the pull of currents from the African coast and drifted to America across the Atlantic. Thomas Whitaker and G.F. Carter showed that these gourds are capable of floating in seawater for 7 months without loss of seed viability" - "They Came Before Columbus," 204. They indulge in an even more vicious dishonesty with regard to cotton, claiming that I said "Old World cottons came into America with a fleet of Nubians circa 700 B.C." I never linked cotton transfer to Nubian contact.

LIE EIGHT: My critics admit "we cannot unequivocally date the heads" but they single out one which they say Ann Cyphers confidently dated about 1011 B.C. Note the date! This is 200 years AFTER the Egyptian contact period c. 1200 B.C. Yet they claim that the dating of this one head proves "Negro-looking heads" were being carved, mutilated, and buried prior to 1200 B.C.

THE TRUTH: The stone heads could not have been buried before they were carved.

LIE NINE: Egyptians stopped building pyramids "thousands of years" before 1200 B.C. No relationship whatever exists between Old World/New World pyramids.

THE TRUTH: Enormous obelisks, calling for the same complex engineering skills of the pyramid age were built at Karnak as late as 1295 B.C. A pyramid was also built as Dashur circa 1700 B.C. Bart Jordan, the mathematical child prodigy, to whom Einstein granted special audience, established startling coincidences between Old World and New World pyramids. He agrees with me that "The overwhelming incidence of coincidence argues overwhelmingly against a mere coincidence."

LIE TEN: My critics claim that I have trampled upon the self-respect and self-esteem of native Americans and they have come forward to champion their cause.

THE TRUTH: My people (for I am part Macusi and part African) would be horrified to have, as champions of our cause, De Montellano, Barbour, and Haslip-Viera, who disgrace us with the charge that "native Americans would have sacrificed and eaten the Africans if they came."

Book List

The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley.

Malcolm X Speaks: Selected Speeches and Statements by Malcolm X.

Soul on Ice by Eldridge Cleaver.

Manchild in the Promised Land by Claude Brown.

The Essential Gandhi : An Anthology of His Writings on His Life, Work, and Ideas (Vintage Spiritual Classics) by Mahatma Ghandi.

The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. by Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Spook Who Sat By the Door by Sam Greenlee.

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison.

Role Call: A Generational Anthology of Social & Political Black Art & Literature by Tony Medina (Editor), et al.

Black Men: Single, Obsolete, Dangerous? The Afrikan American Family in Transition by Haki Madhubuti.

Ben-Jochannan, Yosef A.A., and John Henrik Clarke. New Dimensions in African History: The London Lectures of Dr. Yosef ben-Jochannan and Dr. John Henrik Clarke. Edited with an Introduction by John Henrik Clarke. Trenton: Africa World Press, 1991.

Clarke, John Henrik. Notes for an African World Revolution: Africans at the Crossroads. Trenton: Africa World Press, 1991.

Clarke, John Henrik. African People in World History. Baltimore: Black Classic Press, 1993.

Diop, Cheikh Anta. The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality. Translated from the French and edited by Mercer Cook. Translator's Preface by Mercer Cook. Westport: Lawrence Hill, 1974.

Diop, Cheikh Anta. Black Africa: The Economic and Cultural Basis for a Federated State. Westport: Lawrence Hill, 1976.

Diop, Cheikh Anta. The Cultural Unity of Black Africa: The Domains of Patriarchy and of Matriarchy in Classical Antiquity. Introduction by John Henrik Clarke. Afterword by James G. Spady. Chicago: Third World Press, 1978.

Diop, Cheikh Anta. Precolonial Black Africa: A Comparative Study of the Political and Social Systems of Europe and Black Africa, from Antiquity to the Formation of Modern States. Translated from the French by Harold J. Salemson. Westport: Lawrence Hill, 1987.

Diop, Cheikh Anta. Civilization or Barbarism: An Authentic Anthropology. Translated from the French by Yaa-Lengi Meema Ngemi. Edited by Harold J. Salemson and Marjolijn de Jager. Foreword by John Henrik Clarke. Westport: Lawrence Hill, 1991.

Finch, Charles S. III. The African Background to Medical Science: Essays on African History, Science and Civilizations. Preface by Ivan Van Sertima. London: Karnak House, 1990.

Finch, Charles S. III. Africa and the Birth of Science and Technology: A Brief Overview. Decatur: Khenti, 1992.

Hansberry, William Leo. Pillars in Ethiopian History: The William Leo Hansberry African History Notebook, Vol. 1. Preface by Joseph E. Harris. Edited by Joseph E. Harris. Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1974.

Hansberry, William Leo. Africa and Africans as Seen by Classical Writers: The William Leo Hansberry African History Notebook, Vol. 2. Preface by Joseph E. Harris. Edited by Joseph E. Harris. Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1977.

Hilliard, Asa G. III. The Maroon Within Us. Baltimore: Black Classic Press, 1994.

Houston, Drusilla Dunjee. The Wonderful Ethiopians of the Ancient Cushite Empire. Book 1, Nations of the Cushite Empire. Marvelous Facts from Authentic Records. Oklahoma City: Universal Publishing, 1926; rpt. Introduction by W. Paul Coates. Afterword by Asa G. Hilliard III. Commentary by James G. Spady. Baltimore: Black Classic Press, 1985.

Jackson, John G. Introduction to African Civilizations. Introduction and Additional Bibliographical Notes by John Henrik Clarke. Secaucus: Citadel, 1970.

Jackson, John G. Ages of Gold and Silver and Other Short Sketches of Human History. Foreword by Madalyn O'Hair. Austin: American Atheist Press, 1990.

James, George G.M. Stolen Legacy: The Greeks Were Not the Authors of Greek Philosophy, But the People of North Africa, Commonly Called the Egyptians. 1954; rpt. San Francisco: Julian Richardson Associates, 1985.

Parker, George Wells. The Children of the Sun. Omaha: The Hamitic League of the World, 1918; rpt. Baltimore: Black Classic Press, 1978.

Rashidi, Runoko, and Ivan Van Sertima, eds. African Presence in Early Asia. Tenth Anniversary Edition. New Brunswick: Journal of African Civilizations, 1996.

Rogers, Joel Augustus. World's Great Men of Color, 2 Vols. Edited with an Introduction, Commentary, and New Bibliographical Notes by John Henrik Clarke. New York: Collier, 1972.

Van Sertima, Ivan. They Came Before Columbus: The African Presence in Ancient America. New York: Random House, 1977.

Van Sertima, Ivan, ed. Blacks in Science: Ancient and Modern. New Brunswick: Journal of African Civilizations, 1983.

Van Sertima, Ivan, ed. African Presence in Early Europe. New Brunswick: Journal of African Civilizations, 1985.

Van Sertima, Ivan, ed. Black Women in Antiquity. New Brunswick: Journal of African Civilizations, 1987.

Van Sertima, Ivan, ed. Great Black Leaders: Ancient and Modern. New Brunswick: Journal of Civilizations, 1988.

Van Sertima, Ivan, ed. Egypt Revisited. Rev. ed. New Brunswick: Journal of African Civilizations, 1989.

Van Sertima, Ivan, ed. African Presence in Early America. Rev. ed. New Brunswick: Journal of African Civilizations, 1992.

Van Sertima, Ivan, ed. Golden Age of the Moor. New Brunswick: Journal of African Civilizations, 1992.

Van Sertima, Ivan, ed. Egypt: Child of Africa. New Brunswick: Journal of African Civilizations, 1994.

Van Sertima, Ivan, and Larry Williams, eds. Great African Thinkers. Vol. 1, Cheikh Anta Diop. New Brunswick: Journal of African Civilizations, 1986.

Williams, Chancellor. The Destruction of Black Civilization: Great Issues of a Race from 4500 B.C. to 2000 A.D. Rev. ed. Chicago: Third World Press, 1974.

African Glory, J. C. Degraft-Johnson. Black Classic Press, 1986.

Africans and Their History, Joseph E. Harris. Penguin USA, second revised edition, 1998.

Ancient African Kingdoms, Margaret Shinnie. E. Arnold.

General History of Africa, Vol. IV: Africa from the Twelfth to Sixteenth Century, UNESCO. University of California Press, 1986.

The Western Sudan: Ghana, Mali, Songhay, Kenny Mann. Dillon Press.

A Glorious Age in Africa: The Story of Three Great African Empires, Daniel Chu and Elliott P. Skinner. Africa World Press, 1990.

Cambridge History of Africa, Vol. 2, J.D. Fage (ed.). Cambridge University Press, 1979.

The Lost Cities of Africa, Basil Davidson. Little, Brown & Co., 1959.

The Royal Kingdoms of Ghana, Mali, and Songhay: Life in Medieval Africa, Patricia and Fredrick McKissack. Henry Holt, 1995.

Topics in West African History, A. Adu Boahen, Jacob F. Ade Ajayi, and Michael Tidy. Addison-Wesley, 1987.

Black Shogun

"For a Samurai to be brave, he must have a bit of Black blood."
--Japanese Proverb

In 1994 I was invited to Japan to lecture at two United States military bases. It was to be my initial trip to east Asia and my second travel experience in Asia overall. I visited India for the first time in 1987. Japan turned out to be an exceptionally important trip for me and the lectures themselves went very well. I gained a great deal of information and for the first time I had the opportunity to interact with the Ainu--some of Japan's most ancient residents. I also attended a really excellent exhibit on women in ancient Egypt while it was on tour in Tokyo.

Now I have always thought of Japan as a fascinating country and felt extremely fortunate to be able to travel there. But I felt like I knew quite a bit about the Black presence in early Japan even before I first touched down on Japanese soil.


Although the island nation of Japan, occupying the extreme eastern extensions of Asia, is assumed by many to have been historically composed of an essentially homogeneous population and culture, the accumulated evidence (much of which has been quietly ignored) places the matter in a vastly different light, and though far more study needs to be done on the subject, it seems indisputable that Black people in Japan played an important role from the most remote phases of antiquity into at least the ninth century.

Meaningful indications of an African presence in ancient Japan have been unearthed from the most remote ages of the Japanese past. To begin with, and as a significant example, a February 15, 1986 report carried by the Associated Press, chronicled that:

"The oldest Stone Age hut in Japan has been unearthed near Osaka....Archeologists date the hut to about 22,000 years ago and say it resembles the dugouts of African bushmen, according to Wazuo Hirose of Osaka Prefectural of Education's cultural division. `Other homes, almost as old, have been found before, but this discovery is significant because the shape is cleaner, better preserved' and is similar to the Africans' dugouts."

In 1923, anthropologist Roland B. Dixon wrote that "this earliest population of Japan were in the main a blend of Proto-Australoid and Proto-Negroid types, and thus similar in the ancient underlying stratum of the population, southward along the whole coast and throughout Indo-China, and beyond to India itself." Dixon pointed out that, "In Japan, the ancient Negrito element may still be discerned by characteristics which are at the same time exterior and osteologic."

In his last major text, Civilization or Barbarism: An Authentic Anthropology (published posthumously in English in 1991), the brilliant Dr. Cheikh Anta Diop (1923-1986) pointed out that:

"In the first edition of the Nations negres et culture (1954), I posited the hypothesis that the Yellow race must be the result of an interbreeding of Black and White in a cold climate, perhaps around the end of he Upper Paleolithic period. This idea is widely shared today by Japanese scholars and researchers. One Japanese scientist, Nobuo Takano, M.D., chief of dermatology at the Hammatsu Red Cross Hospital, has just developed this idea in Japanese that appeared in 1977, of which he was kind enough to give me a copy in 1979, when, passing through Dakar, he visited my laboratory with a group of Japanese scientists.

Takano maintains, in substance, that the first human being was Black; then Blacks gave birth to Whites, and the interbreeding of these two gave rise to the Yellow race; these three stages are in fact the title of his book in Japanese, as he explained it to me."

As to linguistics, in 1987 former Senegalese president Leopold Sedar Senghor noted that, "The people who populate the island of Japan today are descendants from Blacks....Let us not forget that the first population of Japan was Black...and gave to Japan their first language."


Of the Black people of early Japan, the most picturesque single figure was Sakanouye no Tamuramaro, a warrior symbolized in Japanese history as a "paragon of military virtues," and a man who has captured the attention of some of the most distinguished scholars of twentieth century America. Perhaps the first such scholar to make note of Tamuramaro was Alexander Francis Chamberlain (1865-1914). An anthropologist, Chamberlain was born in Kenninghall, Norfolk, England, and was brought to America as a child. In April 1911 the Journal of Race Development published an essay by Chamberlain entitled "The Contribution of the Negro to Human Civilization." While discussing the African presence in early Asia, Chamberlain stated in an exceptionally frank and matter of fact manner:

"And we can cross the whole of Asia and find the Negro again, for when, in far-off Japan, the ancestors of the modern Japanese were making their way northward against the Ainu, the aborigines of that country, the leader of their armies was Sakanouye Tamuramaro, a famous general and a Negro."

Dr. W.E.B. DuBois (1868-1963), perhaps the greatest scholar in American history, in his book, The Negro (first published in 1915), placed Sakanouye Tamuramaro within a list of some of the most distinguished Black rulers and warriors in antiquity. In 1922, Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950) and Charles Harris Wesley (1891-1987) in a chapter called "Africans in History with Others," in their book The Negro in Our History, quoted Chamberlain on Tamuramaro verbatim. In the November 1940 issue of the Negro History Bulletin (founded by Dr. Woodson), artist and illustrator Lois Maillou Jones (1905-1998) contributed a brief article entitled "Sakanouye Tamura Maro." In the article Jones pointed out that:

"The probable number of Negroes who reached the shores of Asia my be estimated somewhat by the wide area over which they were found on that continent. Historians tell us that at one time Negroes were found in all of the countries of southern Asia bordering the Indian Ocean and along the east coast as far as Japan. There are many interesting stories told by those who reached that distant land which at that time they called `Cipango.'

One of the most prominent characters in Japanese history was a Negro warrior called Sakanouye Tamura Maro."

Very similar themes were expressed in 1946 "In the Orient," the first section in Distinguished Negroes Abroad, a book by Beatrice J. Fleming and Marion J. Pryde in which was contained a small chapter dedicated to "The Negro General of Japan--Sakanouye Tamurarmaro."

In 1940 the great Joel Augustus Rogers (1883-1966), who probably did more to popularize African history than any scholar of the twentieth century, devoted several pages of the first volume of his Sex and Race to the Black presence in early Japan. He cites the studies of a number of accomplished scholars and anthropologists, and even goes as far as to raise the question of "were the first Japanese Negroes?" In the words of Rogers:

"There is a very evident Negro strain in a certain element of the Japanese population, particularly those in the south. Imbert says, "The Negro element in Japan is recognizable by the Negroid aspect of certain inhabitants with dark and often blackish skin, frizzly or curly hair....The Negritos are the oldest race of the Far East. It has been proved that they once lived in Eastern and Southern China as well as in Japan where the Negrito element is recognizable still in the population."

Rogers mentioned Tamuramaro briefly in the first volume of World's Great Men of Color, also published in 1946. Regrettably, Rogers was forced to confess that "I have come across certain names in China and Japan such as Sakonouye Tamuramaro, the first shogun of Japan but I did not follow them up."

Sakanouye Tamuramaro was a warrior symbolized in early Japanese history as a "paragon of military virtues." Could it be that this was what Dr. Diop was alluding to in his first major book, Nations negres et culture, when he directed our attention to the tantalizing and yet profound Japanese proverb: "For a Samurai to be brave he must have a bit of Black blood."

Adwoa Asantewaa B. Munroe referenced Tamuramaro in the 1981 publication What We Should Know About African Religion, History and Culture, and wrote that "He was an African warrior. He was prominent during the rule of the Japanese Emperor Kwammu, who reigned from 782- 806 A.D." In 1989 Dr. Mark Hyman authored a booklet entitled Black Shogun of Japan in which he stated that "The fact remains that Sakanouye Tamuramaro was an African. He was Japanese. He was a great fighting general. He was a Japanese Shogun."

However the most comprehensive assessment to date of the Black presence in early Japan and the life of Sakanouye no Tamuramaro is the work of art historian and long-time friend and colleague Dr. James E. Brunson. Brunson is the author of Black Jade: The African Presence in the Ancient East and several other important texts. In a 1991 publication entitled The World of Sakanouye No Tamuramaro Brunson accurately noted that "In order to fully understand the world of Sakanouye Tamuramaro we must focus on all aspects of the African presence in the Far East."

Sakanouye no Tamuramaro is regarded as an outstanding military commander of the early Heian royal court. The Heian Period (794-1185 C.E.) derives its name from Heian-Kyo, which means "the Capital of Peace and Tranquility," and was the original name for Japan's early capital city--Kyoto. It was during the Heian Period that the term Samurai was first used. According to Papinot, the "word comes from the very word samuaru, or better saburau, which signifies: to be on one's guard, to guard; it applied especially to the soldiers who were on guard at the Imperial palace."

The samurai have been called the knights or warrior class of Medieval Japan and the history of the samurai is very much the history of Japan itself. For hundreds of years, to the restoration of the Meiji emperor in 1868, the samurai were the flower of Japan and are still idolized by many Japanese. The samurai received a pension from their feudal lord, and had the privilege of wearing two swords. They intermarried in their own caste and the privilege of samurai was transmitted to all the children, although the heir alone received a pension.

The "paragon of military virtues," Sakanouye no Tamuramaro (758-811) was, in the words of James Murdoch:

"In as sense the originator of what was subsequently to develop into the renowned samurai class, he provided in his own person a worthy model for the professional warrior on which to fashion himself and his character. In battle, a veritable war-god; in peace the gentlest of manly gentlemen, and the simplest and unassuming of men."

Throughout his career, Tamuramaro was rewarded for his services with high civil as well as military positions. In 797 he was named "barbarian-subduing generalissimo" (Sei-i Tai-Shogun), and in 801-802 he again campaigned in northern Japan, establishing fortresses at Izawa and Shiwa and effectively subjugating the Ainu.

In 810 he helped to suppress an attempt to restore the retired emperor Heizei to the throne. In 811, the year of his death, he was appointed great counselor (dainagon) and minister of war (hyobukyo).

Sakanouye no Tamuramaro "was buried in the village of Kurisu, near Kyoto and it is believed that it is his tomb which is known under the name of Shogun-zuka. Tamuramaro is the founder of the famous temple Kiyomizu-dera. He is the ancestor of the Tamura daimyo of Mutsu." Tamuramaro "was not only the first to bear the title of Sei-i-tai-Shogun, but he was also the first of the warrior statesmen of Japan."

In later ages he was revered by military men as a model commander and as the first recipient of the title shogun--the highest rank to which a warrior could aspire."

Source: African Presence in Early Asia, edited by Runoko Rashidi and Ivan Van Sertima

For more information, go to: The Global African Presence

Willie Lynch Letter


I greet you here on the bank of the James River in the year of our lord, one thousand seven hundred and twelve. First , I shall thank you, the gentlemen of the of the colony of Virginia, for bringing me here. I am here to help you solve some of your problems with slaves. Your invitation reached me in my modest plantation in the West Indies where I have experimented with some of the newest and still the oldest method for control of slaves. Ancient Rome would envy us if my program is implemented. As our boat sailed south on the James River, named for our illustrious KING JAMES, whose BIBLE we CHERISH, I saw enough to know that our problem is not unique. While Rome used cords or wood as crosses for standing human bodies along the old highways in great numbers, you are here using the tree and the rope on occasion.

I caught the whiff of a dead slave hanging from a tree a couple of miles back. You are losing valuable stock by hangings, you are having uprisings, slaves are running away, your crops are sometimes left in the fields too long for maximum profit, you suffer occasional fires, your animals are killed, Gentleman,...You know what your problems are; I do not need to elaborate. I am not here to enumerate your problems, I am here to introduce you to a method of solving them.

In my bag, I have a fool proof method for controlling your slaves. I guarantee everyone of you that if installed it will control the slaves for at least three hundred years. My method is simple, any member of your family or any OVERSEER can use it.

I have outlined a number of differences among the slaves, and I take these differences and make them bigger. I use FEAR, DISTRUST, and ENVY for control purposes. These methods have worked on my modest plantation in the West Indies, and it will work throughout the SOUTH. Take this simple little list of differences and think about them. On the top of my list is "AGE" but it is only there because it starts with an "A"; The second is"COLOR" or shade; there is INTELLIGENCE, SIZE, SEX, SIZE OF PLANTATION, ATTITUDE of owner, whether the slaves live in the valley, on a hill, east or west, north, south, have fine or coarse hair, or is tall or short. Now that you have a list of differences, I shall give you an outline of action- but before that, I shall assure you that DISTRUST IS STRONGER THAN TRUST, AND ENVY IS STRONGER THAN ADULATION, RESPECT OR ADMIRATION.

The black slave, after receiving this indoctrination, shall carry on and will become self-refueling and self-generating for hundreds of years, maybe thousands.

Don't forget you must pitch the old black VS. the young black males, and the young black male against the old black male. You must use the dark skinned slaves VS. the light skin slaves. You must use the female VS the male, and the male VS, the female. You must always have your servants and OVERSEERS distrust all blacks, but it is necessary that your slaves trust and depend on us.

Gentlemen, these kits are your keys to control, use them. Never miss an opportunity. My plan is guaranteed, and the good thing about this plan is that if used intensely for one year the slave will remain perpetually distrustful.


The Sermon on the Warpland

And several strengths from drowsiness campaigned
but spoke in Single Sermon on the warpland.

And went about the warpland saying No.
"My people, black and black, revile the River.
Say that the River turns, and turn the River.

Say that our Something in doublepod contains
seeds for the coming hell and health together.
Prepare to meet
(sisters, brothers) the brash and terrible weather;
the pains;
the bruising; the collapse of bestials, idols.
But then oh then!?the stuffing of the hulls!
the seasoning of the perilously sweet!
the health! the heralding of the clear obscure!

Build now your Church, my brothers, sisters. Build
never with brick nor Corten nor with granite.
Build with lithe love. With love like lion-eyes.
With love like morningrise.
With love like black, our black?
luminously indiscreet;
complete; continuous."

- Gwendolyn Brooks

Twilight for Black Farms

From NPR

Detail from 'Black Farmers in America'
John Francis Ficara

Talk of the Nation, February 23, 2006 · A new book of photographs captures a portrait of America's black farmers as their numbers dwindle. Photographer John Ficara and NPR's Juan Williams, who wrote an essay for the book (below), talk about the black families who still work on American family farms, despite decades of tough times.

"The black farmer, working hard for his own, became the living symbol of the strong, independent black man," Williams writes. "Farming also allowed black families to move into other businesses, from funeral homes to preaching to construction, and thus served as the bedrock of all black wealth in America."

'Black Farmers in America'
by John Francis Ficara and Juan Williams

Martin County, North Carolina
Herman Lynch worked on his grandfather's farm for many years, until the older man died. Because of legal problems with the farm's deed, the land was sold to a neighboring farmer. Lynch now tends his grandfather's land as hired help. John Francis Ficara

Cumberland County, Virginia
Louden Marshall ties his grandson Cullen's shoelace as his son Louden III walks toward the house. Only days before, Louden III indicated that he did not want to continue working the family farm, preferring instead to seek employment off the farm. John Francis Ficara

Brooks County, Georgia
Rosa Murphy, in her late '80s, continues to do light work in her fields. John Francis Ficara

Allen Gooden, cattle farmer John Francis Ficara

Marion County, Florida
A second generation farmer, John Burton grows and handpicks Velencia peanuts with the help of his wife, Evelena. Says John, "For many years I walked behind horses. Got a tractor and it made it a little easier." John Francis Ficara

Washington D.C.
Black Farmers protest outside the U.S. District Courthouse prior to a hearing on their class action lawsuit against the Department of Agriculture. John Francis Ficara

Thomas County, Georgia
James Marable shows the strain after returning to the family farm after having met with local USDA officials. John Francis Ficara

Thomas County, Georgia
Jerry Singleton, 81 years old and last generation farmer, returns "Tat" to a grazing pasture after some light plowing. Singleton continues to farm 12 acres of produce, but uses an old tractor for heavier plowing. John Francis Ficara

Greene County, Alabama
Deserted Farmhouse John Francis Ficara

NPR.org, February 22, 2006 · How do you take a picture of the last moment of twilight?

Quickly! Take the photograph before that last light fades away for all time. Be careful as you take the pictures. What you capture with your eyes will have the last say on our memories.

Here are John Ficara's masterful images of a modern version of "twilight's last gleaming" -- what is left of America's heritage of strong black farmers. These photographs are taken with the care required to preserve a precious American heritage. American history is on view here. These are deeply felt memories. There is much sweetness in these pictures but also a trace of bitterness. Today, all that remains of the nation's black farmers is a few older folks working the same rich, dark southern soil as their forefathers.

Just as slavery is now long gone, today's black farmers are on the edge of disappearing past twilight into darkness. Now John Ficara's photographs preserve their image -- the distant echo of so much that has gone before. The beauty of these pictures is in the wealth of memory. It is also in the strength of the few black farmers still at work. They are now touchstones of all American life, like the patriots of the Revolutionary War; the cowboys of the Old West; or the trailblazers who settled the Pacific coast.

Images of emotional faces and determined eyes of the few black farmers that remain today evoke America's original sin -- slavery -- and its aftermath, sharecropping, liens, and peonage. Every image takes us back to the not-too-distant days of Jim Crow segregation.

Each photograph articulates the paradox facing black farmers: what looks like slavery is, in fact, the most courageous form of economic self-determination, and what looks like "the simple life" is, in fact, a profoundly complex and risky economic undertaking. Planting and harvesting, crop rotation, fertilizers, pests, insecticides, drought, pricing vagaries, Cleveland Jackson's decrepit sugar-cane harvester, replaceable only at a cost of well over two hundred thousand dollars -- there is little here that can be called simple. And now, at the start of the twenty-first century, that golden legacy of black farmers has all but faded to silence. Only faint light and distant echoes remain -- very few black farmers still working their acres like brave warriors in a battle with economics and racism that they refuse to lose. These heroes remain as a reminder to the nation of so many others who were pushed off their land or gave up when they could not get the loans or subsidies. And it was not only a lack of money that handicapped them. Black farmers often did not get the expert help they needed to succeed as farming became a business of chemical fertilizers, crop rotations, and foreign markets. The beauty of these remaining black farmers, their strength and power, is now down to a precious few. Their every remaining moment hangs in the air like an echo.

As each small farm depicted here is abandoned or sold off, more than the land is lost. The idea of the strong, black family reaches back to the days immediately after slavery ended. The best black families shared in the struggle to survive, to accumulate wealth and advance as the equal of white people. This is the same idea behind the Kibbutz in Israel and the youthful communes of the 1960s. The black farm is a symbol rich in these democratic ideals even today. It is a Garden of Eden in the African American memory where the first free black slaves, after the Civil War, worked to regain the humanity that had been robbed from them in slavery. This deep memory is at the core of the black experience. And yet, as more and more black farmers disappear, the reality of the black farmer is fading. What we see today are only faded images and echoes.

Among the black farmers pictured here are people determined to continue their family tradition. Their struggles will be arduous, but surely no more arduous than the long road from slavery, to forty acres and a mule, to putting four children through college on farm income, as James Davis Sr. was able to do in the 1950's and 60's.

Forty Acres and a Mule

Old, tangled roots tie black Americans to the nation's farmland. Black labor on Southern plantations formed the backbone of the nation's first economy, an agricultural economy. Slave labor provided the cheap cotton that set in motion the textile factories at the beginning of the industrial age and the rise of the American economy to the best in the world.

With the end of slavery, freed blacks began a struggle of biblical proportions to gain land and enjoy the same economic rewards as whites. At the heart of that gospel lay the failed promise of "Forty Acres and a Mule," which had its genesis in General William T. Sherman's Special Field Order Number 15, issued on January 16, 1865. The general's command allowed former slaves to begin farming on land abandoned by fleeing Confederate soldiers. In March of that year, the Congress authorized General Sherman to rent out the land and supply as many plow mules as possible to the new farmers.

At that time, life for most of the four million freed black people was desperate as they pushed away from the South and slave plantations with no clear idea of where to go and often with no food. In the words of abolitionist Harriet Tubman, "I was free, but there was no one to welcome me to the land of freedom -- I was a stranger in a strange land." Many of the former slaves eventually returned to their old plantations, their spirits broken. They resumed working as field hands on farms, laboring under the same conditions as they had when they were slaves.

In this atmosphere of fear, poverty, and confusion, the promise of "Forty Acres and a Mule" was seen as a sign of God's own deliverance. The offer created a sensation among the nation's black population, which reacted as if Moses had parted the waters to the Promised Land. They could finally see a place in America where they could be self-sufficient and determine their own future. These newly liberated citizens generally had no resources or education, and farming was the one business that they knew firsthand. In the first six months after General Sherman offered the land to emancipated slaves, 40,000 black people settled on more than 400,000 acres of farmland along the eastern coast, including the Sea Islands off South Carolina and coastland in Georgia and Florida. General Sherman gave speeches trumpeting this land as a first step for freed slaves -- a way to feed themselves and their families and even as a way to earn money by selling produce. As an added benefit, the rent they paid helped to support the Freedmen's Bureau.

But in May of 1865, the glimmer of hope faded even for the lucky black people who had received land and an animal with which it could be plowed. President Lincoln had been assassinated, and his successor, Andrew Johnson, ordered General Sherman to return the land to its Confederate owners as part of the effort to rebuild relations between the federal government and the defeated South. Thus, the offer of "Forty Acres and a Mule" vanished into the status of legend, becoming a catch-phrase for all the broken promises the government has ever made to black people.

Landowners at Last

Despite Johnson's decree, some former slaves made a way where there seemed to be none and obtained land to farm. To them, ownership of a farm meant more than owning a business: the deed to the land signified the end of their days as slaves, as sharecroppers, as workers for someone else. It was true emancipation -- no one could confuse a slave with a landowner. To be a landowner meant status as a voter, taxpayer, and citizen. Thus, possession of land represented a defiant step toward racial equality with white farmers, who had constituted the heart of the ruling class in the early 1800s southland. Now, for the first time, blacks controlled their own future and fate.

The land offered a promise to future generations, too. No matter what misfortune or oppression might come (short of God's wrath of drought and pestilence), the family could support itself -- raise its own food, tend its own pigs and chickens, and pass on that security to children and grandchildren.

The farm, then, went beyond land and ownership. To a black man or woman it was a ticket to self-sufficiency, as well as a sign of having arrived in the eyes of their neighbors and themselves. The black farmer, working hard for his own, became the living symbol of the strong, independent black man. Farming also allowed black families to move into other businesses, from funeral homes to preaching to construction, and thus served as the bedrock of all black wealth in America.

Discrimination at the USDA

The broken promise of "Forty Acres and a Mule" would be compounded in post–Civil War America by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which Lincoln had founded in 1862. The racial tensions over slavery had spread from the political arena like a fungus among the 2,500 agricultural offices that had been established in various communities to help farmers. Called the Farmers Home Administration (FmHA), these offices reflected local political power and the racial callousness of federal officials. In most cases black farmers lacked the education, money, or political connections to wield any influence in the community's FmHA branch. As a result, the Agriculture Department's own records show that black farmers' requests for help generally received scant consideration. Instead, the white southerners in charge gave first priority to helping white farmers, especially those who held large farms and were politically connected.

Fear also played a role in discouraging black farmers from seeking assistance from the local agricultural office. With good reason they worried about making their financial information available to local white farmers, many of whom stood ready to make a grab for their land and force them to work as sharecroppers or even day-laborers on larger, white-owned parcels.

Today, black farmers call the U.S. Department of Agriculture the "last plantation." In 1982 th Civil Rights Commission concluded that decades of bias against black farmers by the agriculture department threatened to kill off the few remaining black farmers. As recently as 1997, an internal audit conducted by the Agriculture Department concluded that in the southeastern United States, loan applications from black farmers took three times as long to be processed as loan requests from white farmers. It found that blacks in need of financial support met "bias, hostility, greed, ruthlessness and indifference." Black officials at the Agriculture Department's headquarters in Washington told the Washington Post in the 1990s that the department continued to be a "hotbed of racial bias and harassment." They openly expressed exasperation at the difficulty of trying to change such a deeply insulated and racist system. Clearly, this fight was over more than farms. It was a strike against a sick culture festering with antipathy to people of color. This sinful history stretched back to the day President Lincoln created the Agriculture Department in 1862. Only a few months later he signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, freeing four million black slaves.

Decline of the Family Farm

In 1920 more than half of all black people in America lived on farms, mostly in the South. By comparison, only one quarter of white Americans lived on farms across the United States. That year, black Americans made up 14 percent of all the farmers in the nation and worked 16 million acres of land. By 2003, they accounted for less than 1 percent of the nation's farmers and cultivated less than .003 percent of the farmland. Today, battling the onslaught of globalization, changing technology, an aging workforce, racist lending policies, and even the U.S. Department of Agriculture itself, black farmers number below 18,000, and they till fewer than 3 million acres. Inside these statistics is a staggering story of human loss: when each farm closed, those farmers' spouses and children and grandchildren, and the people they hired, all had to leave a way of life.

Admittedly, these were tough times for all small farmers, black and white. Fifty-five percent of white farmers went out of business during the period of 1940 -- 1978, while larger, corporate farms came to dominate food production and sales. Most benefits from government subsidies and access to international markets accrued to the corporate farms, operations larger than 1500 acres, which accounted for more than 83 percent of all U.S. farm products. The average black farmer, in contrast, was cultivating fewer than 120 acres in 1992, and half were hardly surviving on 50 acres and under. Far more often than their white peers, black farmers failed during that period of crushing economic pressure because the USDA forced them to the back of the line when every American farmer was desperate for subsidies to buffer them against changes in the farming business. Between 1985 and 1994, black farmers -- 47 percent of whom had gross sales under $2,500 -- averaged only $10,188 in yearly subsidies, less than a third of the average support payments given to white farmers, who were grossing almost four times as much in sales.

Barely making a living and often working their small piece of land to the point of depletion, many black farmers sought to buy improved seed, better machinery, or additional acreage to maximize their yield. But they lacked the necessary collateral in the form of land to secure loans from commercial banks, some of which were run by segregationists. And when the government, the final safety net, denied the black farmers' requests for loans or subsidies, their only option, in the words of the Civil Rights Commission, was to risk losing all by taking out personal loans at usurious interest rates. And it was not only a lack of money that handicapped black farmers: they seldom received the expert advice needed to succeed as farming became a business of chemical fertilizers, crop rotations, and foreign markets.

Gary Grant

Many black farmers literally died trying to hold their ground against these corrupt social forces. It is a story all too familiar to Gary Grant's family, who initiated the longest running lawsuit against the Agriculture Department. The Grants owned one of the larger and more successful farms, black or white, in Halifax County, North Carolina. Despite storms and drought that had bedeviled the area for three years, the Grant farm was still somehow making a go of it until the government denied loans to the family. Without the loan the Grant farm went into foreclosure. At that point, Grant's parents, Matthew and Florenza, sued the former Farmers Home Administration, now the Farm Service Agency, for racial discrimination: of the twelve farm families denied loans, ten were black and two were white.

Grant, fresh out of college at the time, remembers the emotional puzzle of watching loan agents tell his father, a farmer who had survived all manner of natural disasters, that he didn't know how to till the land. Grant and his five siblings, also in disbelief at what was happening, had made the difficult trek into the loan agency to support their father. But the show of family support didn't matter. The loan was still denied. "The day we sat and watch my father be told that there was nothing he could do, that was the worst. He was an honest man and a good Christian, all he wanted to do was pay his debt," Grant reflects. "It didn't make any difference who he brought in to help, they were going to buy him out, an officer told my father."

Later, the Agriculture Department attempted to foreclose with a brutal force that still chills the Grant family. In the early pre-dawn hours, the family heard six eighteen-wheelers approach the farm to remove all its equipment. Almost every marshal in the county accompanied the agricultural officials. The sight of the county's most successful black farmer losing his machinery attracted the attention of local television crews. The story was simple: the Grants were fighting the U.S. government for their farm's survival. The family never did quit the fight. Eventually the federal government offered a monetary settlement, but the family refused, saying the offer was simply too little and too late. In 2001, Grant's parents passed away without ever seeing a dime from the government.

The Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association

With his parents' death, Gary Grant stepped up his crusade to educate black farmers about their rights. Some had been afraid to be seen with the Grants because of their lawsuit against the U.S. government; still others were held back by their own superstitions (many older black farmers were afraid even to write their wills because they thought that doing so might lead to their death). All of these factors -- lack of information about rights, fear, and superstition -- combined to accelerate the demise of black farming. Denied the government aid that was rightfully theirs, black farmers were forced to sell off to large corporations and move their families to the city.

Grant decided there was strength in organizing black farmers, and he founded the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association. In 1997, over one thousand black farmers demonstrated their collective power when they banded together to file suit against the USDA, alleging racial bias in the government's procedure for distributing farm loans and subsidies between 1981 and 1996.

The lawsuit added to black-white tension in many southern communities. After one black farmer joined the court action, all the white people in his town stopped talking to him. "Everyone thinks we wanted something for nothing," he said of white neighbors who thought nothing of allowing his business to fail for want of fair treatment but resented his decision to fight for his farm. They charged he was playing the race card, as if race had nothing to do with the predicament of black farmers. Indeed, some black people in those small southern towns questioned whether the lawsuit's direct challenge to the system might lead to Ku Klux Klan style retribution. So tense was the situation that Reverend Joseph Lowery, former head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and once an aide to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., hailed the black farmers who brought the lawsuit as heroes as daring as the bravest American pioneers. The detailed charges they outlined in the court case, Lowery said, also sent an important "message to the nation that the good ol' boy network is still alive and sick as ever."

In 1999 a federal judge found that the suit had merit and ordered the USDA to pay millions in claims to the black farmers. Under the settlement, black farmers who could prove that they were denied loans because of racial bias were eligible to receive $50,000 and have some taxes and debts forgiven; those able to show extensive damage were eligible for even larger settlements. Three years later, nearly 13,000 black farmers had been paid $623 million, and loans worth more than $17.2 million had been forgiven.

But another 8,500 black farmers, or 40 percent of the claimants, had their requests for financial settlements rejected. And judges for the U.S. Court of Appeals said that the plaintiffs' lawyers, who had been paid $15 million in fees, had created a "double betrayal" by often failing to meet deadlines and improperly filing legal papers so that many farmers who should have shared in the settlement received nothing. Those who did make it past the lawyers and over the bureaucratic hurdles often found that the one-time payments were too little to keep them going. Too many of the farmers were too far in debt and still lacked the credit or subsidies needed to succeed. Even the historic settlement with the government -- compensation for all their pain and loss -- often proved to be just another nail in the coffin of black American farmers.

The Young People Have Left

Today, so few black farmers remain that they are a rarity, specks of gold in a mine stripped bare long ago. The solitary, hard-pressed farmer still defiantly working his land has wrinkles not only from worry over money but from age: the young people have left. By 1994, 94 percent of the black farmers remaining were over thirty-five years old, and 35 percent were over sixty-five. The people now remaining on the land demonstrate a fierce attachment to farming as a way of black life. One half of those with their hands still covered in the good earth a decade ago said farming was their principle occupation despite the low wages. Congresswoman Eva Clayton, a North Carolina Democrat, once told reporters that most of the remaining black farmers are "farming out of tradition, now -- not to make a living." Black people are no longer even the biggest minority group in the American farm business: Native Americans hold that honor, with 87 percent of the farmland operated by American minorities now in their hands.

Rosa Murphy

In the summer of 2005, ninety-one-year-old Rosa Murphy looks like a ghost from the past of black farming as she sits on the porch of her farmhouse in Brooks County, Georgia. With a visitor standing by she sorts vegetables, looking for the good ones. As a child, Rosa rode bareback across the farm where her parents worked as sharecroppers. When she married Eddie Lee, a fellow child of sharecroppers, they shared a yearning to own land that they and their families had bled and sweated upon for generations. In 1938 the couple took great pride in buying acreage that had been worked with slave labor; now it instead held a promise of prosperity and happiness that could be passed on to their descendants. At home she was surrounded by family and neighboring black farmers who supported each other through hard times. "We may not have been the most well off, but at least we always had plenty of food," she recalls.

Murphy never imagined that way of life would disappear so quickly. Sadly she tells a visitor that her neighbors, her children, her grandchildren have all moved away from the land. Of her twelve children who were born there, only four even remain in the county. When family and friends visit, they can't understand her abiding attachment to the land. "It's real sad to see how people have almost stopped even trying to farm," she says. And with the farm's irrigation system damaged by lightning, little hope remains for Murphy to make money as a farmer. She doesn't even think about asking the government for money to rebuild the irrigator. As she puts it, no one is going to give a loan to an old woman like her. All she wants is to pay off her bills before she dies. A religious woman, she prays to the Lord for help every day. "It was more than just love with the land, it was a livelihood. It was my life," Murphy whispers.

Today's remaining black farmers, unwavering in their determination to cultivate their own land and master their economic fate, open our eyes to the past as well as to the future. John Ficara's photographs afford us a unique angle for understanding why slaves freed after the Civil War sacrificed everything to buy land and become independent farmers. We experience their love of the land as a way of life, a life that will endure only if our society can muster the economic means to support small business owners in this most essential undertaking of feeding a country.

The artistry of Ficara's lens and his genius at portraiture are exceptional. With this book his contribution to photography as both an art form and a documentary medium is secure. But no less remarkable is his choice of subject matter: working the land is an archetypal image of humanity, the idealized pastoral life having captured the imagination of painters and poets for centuries. In the story of African American farming there is much bitterness and betrayal, but in these photographs that pastoral idealism is not entirely stripped away. We see evidence of America's on-going struggle with race; with the economic differences between white and black America. These images offer silent testimony to the sorrow and sense of loss at the heart of black America's cry for fairness.

These pictures are timeless and speak to the best virtues of the American heart.

Here is a golden twilight to treasure -- the story of black American farmers.

Copyright (c) 2006 by The University Press of Kentucky. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Rob Williams... before X

"I advocated violent self-defense because I don't really think you can have a defense against violent racists and against terrorists unless you are prepared to meet violence with violence, and my policy was to meet violence with violence."
- Rob Williams

The first African American civil rights leader to advocate armed resistance to racial oppression and violence, Robert F. Williams was born on February 26, 1925 in Monroe, North Carolina. The fourth of five children born to Emma Carter Williams and John Williams, Williams quickly learned to navigate the dangers of being black in the Deep South. The Ku Klux Klan was a powerful and feared force in Monroe, and the community where Williams grew up experienced regular brutalization at the hands of whites.

Williams' grandmother, a well-read and proud woman who was born a slave in Union County in 1858, taught Williams to cherish his heritage and to stand up for himself. Before she died, she presented her young grandson with his first gun, a rifle that had belonged to his grandfather, as a symbol of their family's resistance against racial oppression.

After high school Williams joined the Marines in hopes of being assigned to information services, where he could pursue journalism. Instead, he received a typical assignment given to African American Marines at that time: supply sergeant. Williams' resistance to the Marine Corps' racial discrimination earned him an "undesirable" discharge and he returned to Monroe.
A blurry nighttime photo of a Ku Klux Klan gathering; 100 or more people stand together in white cloaks and pointed hoods. A huge cross is on fire, burning brightly as it towers behind them.

Becoming a Leader

In 1956, Williams took over leadership of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which was close to disbanding due to a relentless backlash by the Ku Klux Klan. Williams canvassed for new members and eventually expanded the branch from only six to more than 200 members.

Williams also filed for a charter from the National Rifle Association (NRA) and formed the Black Guard, an armed group committed to the protection of Monroe's black population. Members received weapons and physical training from Williams to prepare them to keep the peace and come to the aid of black citizens, whose calls to law enforcement often went unanswered.

With his fellow NAACP members, Williams waged local civil rights campaigns and brought the conditions of the Jim Crow South to the attention of the national and international media. Williams led an ongoing fight to integrate the local public swimming pool and opposed the condemnation of two young African American boys for the "crime" of kissing a white girl during a harmless child's game—a cause that had been deemed too controversial for the national NAACP.

Meeting Violence with Violence

In 1959, after a jury in Monroe acquitted a white man for the attempted rape of a black woman, Williams made a historic statement on the courthouse steps.

He said of his courthouse proclamation at a later press conference: "I made a statement that if the law, if the United States Constitution cannot be enforced in this social jungle called Dixie, it is time that Negroes must defend themselves even if it is necessary to resort to violence.

"That there is no law here, there is no need to take the white attackers to the courts because they will go free and that the federal government is not coming to the aid of people who are oppressed, and it is time for Negro men to stand up and be men and if it is necessary for us to die we must be willing to die. If it is necessary for us to kill we must be willing to kill."

At Odds with the Mainstream Civil Rights Movement

The NAACP suspended Williams for advocating violence. In 1961, the Freedom Riders came to Monroe to demonstrate the efficacy of passive resistance—the hallmark of the mainstream Civil Rights Movement led by Martin Luther King, Jr. An angry mob of Klansmen and Klan supporters overwhelmed the Riders, who called upon Williams and his Black Guard for help. Amid the chaos, Williams sheltered a white couple from an African American mob, only to be accused later of kidnapping them.

Life in Exile

With state and local authorities pursuing Williams for "kidnapping," and frenzied Klansmen calling for his death, Robert and Mabel Williams and their two small children fled Monroe. Fidel Castro granted Williams political asylum in Cuba, and the family spent the next five years in Havana. Robert and Mabel Williams continued to fight for human rights from Havana through their news and music radio program, "Radio Free Dixie," and the publication of Williams' pamphlet, The Crusader, which reached an influential underground audience. In 1962, he wrote the book Negroes With Guns.

In 1966, Williams moved his family to China during the height of the Cultural Revolution. There, as in Cuba, he enjoyed celebrity status and fraternized with Mao Zedong and Chou En Lai.


In 1969, Williams returned to the U.S. aboard a TWA flight chartered by the federal government. All charges against Williams were dropped, and he went on to advise the State Department on normalizing relations with China. Williams did not, however, assume leadership of what had become a divided and beleaguered Black Power Movement. Instead, Williams accepted a position as a research associate at the Institute for Chinese Studies at University of Michigan, and he and Mabel moved to Baldwin, near the university. Williams died of cancer in 1996 and was buried in Monroe.

Listen to songs and speeches from "Radio Free Dixie"

Read the filmmaker Q&A

Learn more about Rob Williams


Monday, February 20, 2006

The Basis of Black Power

The myth that the Negro is somehow incapable of liberating himself, is lazy, etc., came out of the American experience. In the books that children read, whites are always "good" (good symbols are white), blacks are "evil" or seen as savages in movies, their language is referred to as a "dialect," and black people in this country are supposedly descended from savages.

Any white person who comes into the movement has the concepts in his mind about black people, if only subconsciously. He cannot escape them because the whole society has geared his subconscious in that direction.

Miss America coming from Mississippi has a chance to represent all of America, but a black person from either Mississippi or New York will never represent America. Thus the white people coming into the movement cannot relate to the black experience, cannot relate to the word "black," cannot relate to the "nitty gritty," cannot relate to the experience that brought such a word into existence, cannot relate to chitterlings, hog's head cheese, pig feet, ham hocks, and cannot relate to slavery, because these things are not a part of their experience. They also cannot relate to the black religious experience, nor to the black church, unless, of course, this church has taken on white manifestations.

White Power

Negroes in this country have never been allowed to organize themselves because of white interference. As a result of this, the stereotype has been reinforced that blacks cannot organize themselves. The white psychology that blacks have to be watched, also reinforces this stereotype. Blacks, in fact, feel intimidated by the presence of whites, because of their knowledge of the power that whites have over their lives. One white person can come into a meeting of black people and change the complexion of that meeting, where a meeting unless he was an obvious Uncle Tom. People would immediately start talking about "brotherhood," "love," etc.; race would not be discussed.

If people must express themselves freely, there has to be a climate in which they can do this. If blacks feel intimidated by whites, then they are not liable to vent the rage that they feel about whites in the presence of whites--especially not the black people whom we are trying to organize, i.e., the broad masses of black people. A climate has to be created whereby blacks can express themselves. The reasons that whites must be excluded is not that one is anti-white, but because the effects that one is trying to achieve cannot succeed because whites have an intimidating effect. Ofttimes, the intimidating effect is in direct proportion to the amount of degradation that black people have suffered at the hands of white people.

Roles of Whites and Blacks

It must be offered that white people who desire change in this country should go where that problem (racism) is most manifest. The problem is not in the black community. The white people should go into white communities where the whites have created power for the express purpose of denying blacks human dignity and self-determination. Whites who come into the black community with ideas of change seem to want to absolve the power structure of its responsibility for what it is doing, and say that change can only come through black unity, which is the worst kind of paternalism. This is not to say that whites have not had an important role in the movement. In the case of Mississippi, their role was very key in that they helped give blacks the right to organize, but that role is now over, and it should be.

People now have the right to picket, the right to give out leaflets, the right to vote, the right to demonstrate, the right to print.

These things which revolve around the right to organize have been accomplished mainly because of the entrance of white people into Mississippi, in the summer of 1964. Since these goals have now been accomplished, whites' role in the movement has now ended. What does it mean if black people, once having the right to organize, are not allowed to organize themselves? It means that blacks' ideas about inferiority are being reinforced. Shouldn't people be able to organize themselves? Blacks should be given this right. Further, white participation means in the eyes of the black community that whites are the "brains" behind the movement, and that blacks cannot function without whites. This only serves to perpetuate existing attitudes within the existing society, i.e., blacks are "dumb," "unable to take care of business," etc. Whites are "smart," the "brains" behind the whole thing.

How do blacks relate to other blacks as such? How do we react to Willie Mays as against Mickey Mantle? What is our response to Mays hitting a home run against Mantel performing the same deed? One has to come to the conclusion that it is because of black participation in baseball. Negroes still identify with the Dodgers because of Jackie Robinson's efforts with the Dodgers. Negroes would instinctively champion all-black teams if they opposed all white or predominantly white teams. The same principle operates for the movement as it does for baseball: a mystique must be created whereby Negroes can identify with the movement.

Thus an all-black project is needed in order for the people to free themselves. This has to exist from the beginning. This relates to what can be called "coalition politics." There is no doubt in our minds that some whites are just as disgusted with this system as we are. But it is meaningless to talk about coalition if there is no one to align ourselves with, because of the lack of organization in the white communities. There can be no talk of "hooking up" unless black people organize blacks and white people organize whites. If these conditions are met, then perhaps at some later date--and if we are going in the same direction--talks about exchange of personnel, coalition, and other meaningful alliances can be discussed.

In the beginning of the movement, we had fallen into a trap whereby we thought that our problems revolved around the right to eat at certain lunch counters or the right to vote, or to organize our communities. We have seen, however, that the problem is much deeper. The problem of this country, as we had seen it, concerned all blacks and all whites and therefore if decisions were left to the young people, then solutions would be arrived at. But this negates the history of black people and whites. We have dealt stringently with the problem of "Uncle Tom," but we have not yet gotten around to Simon Legree. We must ask ourselves, who is the real villain--Uncle Tom or Simon Legree? Everybody knows Uncle Tom, but who knows Simon Legree? So what we have now in SNCC is a closed society, a clique. Black people cannot relate to SNCC because of its unrealistic, nonracial atmosphere; denying their experience of America as a racist society. In contrast, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Martin Luther King, Jr., has a staff that at least maintains a black facade. The front office is virtually all black, but nobody accuses SCLC of being racist.

If we are to proceed toward true liberation, we must cut ourselves off from white people. We must form our own institutions, credit unions, co-ops, political parties, write our own histories.

To proceed further, let us make some comparisons between the Black Movement of the early 1900s and the movement of the 1960s--i.e., compare the National Association for the advancement of Colored People with SNCC. Whites subverted the Niagara movement (the forerunner of the NAACP) which, at the outset, was an all-black movement. The name of the new organization was also very revealing, in that it presupposed blacks have to advanced to the level of whites. We are now aware that the NAACP has grown reactionary, is controlled by the black power structure itself, and stands as one of the main roadblocks to black freedom. SNCC, by allowing the whites to remain in the organization, can have its efforts subverted in much the same manner, i.e., through having them play important roles such as community organizers, etc. Indigenous leadership cannot be built with whites in the positions they now hold.

These facts do not mean that whites cannot help. They can participate on a voluntary basis. We can contract work out to them, but in no way can they participate on a policy-making level.

Black Self-Determination

The charge may be made that we are "racists," but whites who are sensitive to our problems will realize that we must determine our own destiny.

In an attempt to find a solution to our dilemma, we propose that our organization (SNCC) should be black-staffed, black-controlled, and black-financed. We do not want to fall into a similar dilemma that other civil rights organizations have fallen into. If we continue to rely upon white financial support we will find ourselves entwined in the tentacles of the white power complex that controls this country. It is also important that a black organization (devoid of cultism) be projected to our people so that it can be demonstrated that such organizations are viable.

More and more we see black people in this country being used as a tool of the white liberal establishment. Liberal whites have not begun to address themselves to the real problem of black people in this country--witness their bewilderment, fear, and anxiety when nationalism is mentioned concerning black people. An analysis of the white liberal's reaction to the word "nationalism" alone reveals a very meaningful attitude of whites of an ideological persuasion toward blacks in this country. It means previous solutions to black problems in this country have been made in the interests of those whites dealing with these problems and not in the best interests of black people in the country. Whites can only subvert our true search and struggles for self-determination, self-identification, and liberation in this country. Reevaluation of the white and black roles must now take place so that white no longer designate roles that black people play but rather black people define white people's roles.

Too long have we allowed white people to interpret the importance and meaning of the cultural aspects of our society. We have allowed them to tell us what was good about our Afro-American music, art, and literature. How many black critics do we have on the "jazz" scene? How can a white person who is not part of the black psyche (except in the oppressor's role) interpret the meaning of the blues to us who are manifestations of the song themselves?

It must be pointed out that on whatever level of contact blacks and whites come together, that meeting or confrontation is not on the level of the blacks but always on the level of the whites. This only means that our everyday contact with whites is a reinforcement of the myth of white supremacy. Whites are the ones who must try to raise themselves to our humanistic level. We are not, after all, the ones who are responsible for a genocidal war in Vietnam; we are not the ones who are responsible for neocolonialism in Africa and Latin America; we are not the ones who held a people in animalistic bondage over 400 years. We reject the American dream as defined by white people and must work to construct an American reality defined by Afro-Americans.

White Radicals

One of the criticisms of white militants and radicals is that when we view the masses of white people we view the overall reality of America, we view the racism, the bigotry, and the distortion of personality, we view man's inhumanity to man; we view in reality 180 million racists. The sensitive white intellectual and radical who is fighting to bring about change is conscious of this fact, but does not have the courage to admit this. When he admits this reality, then he must also admit his involvement because he is a part of the collective white America. It is only to the extent that he recognizes this that he will be able to change this reality.

Another common concern is, how does the white radical view the black community, and how does he view the poor white community, in terms of organizing? So far, we have found that most white radicals have sought to escape the horrible reality of America by going into the black community and attempting to organize black people while neglecting the organization of their own people's racist communities. How can one clean up someone else's yard when one's own yard is untidy? Again we feel that SNCC and the civil rights movement in general is in many aspects similar to the anticolonial situations in the African and Asian countries. We have the whites in the movement corresponding to the white civil servants and missionaries in the colonial countries who have worked with the colonial people for a long period of time and have developed a paternalistic attitude toward them. The reality of the colonial people taking over their own lives and controlling their own destiny must be faced. Having to move aside and letting the natural process of growth and development take place must be faced.

These views should not be equated with outside influence or outside agitation but should be viewed as the natural process of growth and development within a movement; so that the move by the black militants and SNCC in this direction should be viewed as a turn toward self-determination.

It is very ironic and curious that aware whites in the country can champion anticolonialism in other countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, but when black people move toward similar goals of self-determination in this country they are viewed as racists and anti-white by these same progressive whites. In proceeding further, it can be said that this attitude derives from the overall point of view of the white psyche as it concerns the black people. This attitude stems from the era of the slave revolts when every white man was a potential deputy or sheriff or guardian of the state. Because when black people get together among themselves to workout their problems, it becomes a threat to white people, because such meetings were potential slave revolts.

It can be maintained that this attitude or way of thinking has perpetuated itself to this current period and that it is part of the psyche of white people in this country whatever their political persuasion might be. It is part of the white fear-guilt complex resulting from the slave revolts. There have been examples of whites who stated that they can deal with black fellows on an individual basis but become threatened or menaced by the presence of groups of blacks. It can be maintained that this attitude is held by the majority of progressive whites in this country.

Black Identity

A thorough re-examination must be made by black people concerning the contributions that we have made in shaping this country. If this re-examination and re-evaluation is not made, and black people are not given their proper due and respect, then the antagonisms and contradictions are going to become more and more glaring, more and more intense, until a national explosion may result.

When people attempt to move from these conclusions it would be faulty reasoning to say they are ordered by racism, because, in this country and in the West, racism has functioned as a type of white nationalism when dealing with black people. We all know the habit that this has created throughout the world and particularly among nonwhite people in this country.

Therefore any re-evaluation that we must make will, for the most part, deal with identification. Who are black people, what are black people, what is their relationship to America and the world?

It must be repeated that the whole myth of "Negro citizenship," perpetuated by the white elite, has confused the thinking of radical and progressive blacks and whites in this country. The broad masses of black people react to American society in the same manner as colonial peoples react to the West in Africa and Latin America, and had the same relationship--that of the colonized toward the colonizer.

Written: Unknown Date
Transcription/Markup: unknown/B. Basgen
Online Version: USA History Archive (marxists.org) 2001

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