Freedom Day Celebrations in Black California before Juneteenth

Ever wonder what Black Americans celebrated before Juneteenth? Our quasi-national holiday was “Emancipation Day,” celebrated on January 1, the anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. My recent article on Emancipation Day celebrations in Black California. @ucpress Journal of Calif History.

The Walls Have Fallen: Emancipation Day Celebrations in Black California

@womensmarch and #progressivepopulism: A New “Way” Forward

I have been writing about from where would come the New Way of American progressivism.  Well, I think to everyone’s surprise she’s here and awakened.  She landed on Plymouth Rock with a pair of Big Girl sized stiletto heels or what more precisely was on the White House lawn and in cities and capitals world-wide.  Never in our nation’s (or world’s ) history has there ever been such a protest movement against a newly inaugurated President of the United States.  In 1820 the Adam’s Boys ran out of Washington, DC and in 1973 Nixon’s inaugural motorcade car was bottled but never before has a movement, and a movement of women rocked an inauguration as it did on January 21, 2017.  To my knowledge no banana republic puppet government has ever seen this level of national and global political defiance. And yet here we are.

There comes a time when social forces culminate in an explosion of sentiment so astounding that it brings forward a new epoch in the form of historical consciousness.  Ben Franklin’s revolutionary protestation “Join or Die” was a progressive idea heard throughout the American colonies and awakened a revolutionary consciousness.  Today, women are awakened to their own political power and men to that realization.  Now, I think our Sister’s have everyone’s attention.   Women are awakened to a belief that they were not asleep during the 2016 election but simply in respite.  What we also learned on Saturday that progressive ideas matter and they seemingly matter most of all to women! (Black Lives Matter was founded by Sisters!) This new wave of progressive sentiment was unleashed by millions of women and their male allies.  Women of all races, creeds, religions, origins and orientations made it known that the liberation of women from oppressive and Neanderthalish dictums should have been a thing of a distant past.

Donald Trump’s inauguration met progressivism head on Saturday and progressivism won. But this is only the beginning. This is merely the first salvo in what should must become a sustained political movement. Power is never relinquished without a fight.  Fighting is what Americans do.  Now is the time for Progressives to put on the gloves and MMA style this country into the 21st century.   We must have a progressive populist movement forged to keep America moving in a direction that affirms and sustains modern progressive ideas.  For me Progressive Populism affirms the idea that America is a nation founded on the backs of African slaves and immigrants.  The complete and absolute respect for people of First Nations, the right to a clean environment, a free and good education, health care as a right and not a luxury.  That Black Lives Matter.  It would affirm that women have the right to make their own health care decisions about their bodies.  Progressive populism stands for a peaceful resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian crisis, Veterans first, decent human habitation and a respect for the elderly and poor.  That every American deserves to earn a living wage. Open access in technology. That racism has no place in a modern American nation. Progressive populism affirms the right of people to identify with religions and the culture of their choice while remaining firmly American. And above all a Constitutional amendment that places people before corporations.

Trump’s inauguration (left) and Obama’s in 2009.

But this cannot happen without some growing pains.  Progressive Populism means leaving the politics of the few for the politics of the many.  A21st progressivism be respectful but acknowledge to old political leaders that now is the time for new leadership and not a return to more of the same. It’s time to move forward and onward. A return to a focus on making life better for people and that must being in locally.  Local communities is where real politics begins and ends. Political battles must be waged at the local level and spring upward to the City, County, State and National levels.  The time for political action is now!

“I Am Nobodies Maricon!” Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story. A Documentary of Death and Tragedy.

The Corporate Media Assault on #BlackLivesMatter


slave 88

If you haven’t read the latest veiled corporate attack on #BlackLivesMatter you should all take a look at last weeks Pittsburgh Post Gazette article written by Jack Kelly an Editor at the Gazette. The article the depth of American racism and reveals the while it will remain a permanent fixture in American society for some time. Not only does the article show a deep lack of sensitivity for black life but illuminates the failure of our multi-cultural education system to even remotely properly educate Americans about the true role of slavery in American life. For those of you interested in reading the article I have created a link to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.  The Gazette chose, after reading my article, not to publish it in full length but asked for a watered down version that would be printed in notes to the Editor.

I simply refused to do that. So I published my response here.

Here is what I wrote:

For many Americans, slavery ended with the surrender of the Confederacy at the Appomattox Court House in Virginia in 1865. But for the millions of enslaved and free black Americans the end of the Civil War was just a beginning to the quest for full and equal citizenship.

Slavery was not only a moral abomination it violated the very principles of American freedom inculcated by Thomas Jefferson’s historic words that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

While some argue that slavery was a worldwide, ancient tradition practiced by many nations and that the United States was simply in step with the times, no nation, except the United States had so forthrightly professed the equality of man while enslaving others for profit. The cost to bring America in line with its own professed goals of equality cost millions of lives both black and white.

What is hard for many Americans to not only comprehend and to accept is that for the four million former slaves and the millions of free blacks the effects of slavery and the quest for full citizenship did not end at that day at Appomattox. Slavery was not only a physical cruelty, but also the lingering effects of racial attitudes, ideologies and policies that formed the basis of white supremacy brought devastating economic and psychological harm to generations of black people.

Historian Jim Downs stated that life for former slaves was so heinous that between 1862 and 1870 at least 1 million out of 4 million blacks died of malnutrition and disease when the Federal government abandoned them to their own fate. Out of this devastation former slaves picked themselves up and formed the basis of the black community. Left to fend for themselves blacks had to contend with American terrorist groups that sought to keep blacks from gaining economic, social and most of all political equality. On May 21, 1921 white vigilante groups allied with the Tulsa Police Department, and the National Guard destroyed the entire black community of Tulsa, appropriately known as the “Black Wall Street” for its economic prosperity. For the first time in American history, airplanes were used to drop bombs on black homes and businesses. When the smoke cleared over 10,000 black Tulsa residents were left homeless. Restitution was never paid to the victims.

The attack on black life was not confined to violence. Black life was stymied in every direction. Take for example the American Medical Association (AMMA), largely seen as a paragon of virtue.   The white dominated AMMA used segregation to not only to discourage and exclude black medical school aspirants but also to exclude black physicians from obtaining necessary hospital privileges for the better part of its existence. “A Snapshot of U.S. Physicians: Key Findings” from the 2008 Health Tracking Physician Survey, Data Bulletin No. 35 reported that three out of four physicians identified themselves as white, non-Hispanic, while just 3.8 percent were black. Today black health disparities remind us of the AMMA’s devastating attempts to limit black health outcomes by creating a shortage of black physicians who would have worked to address our community health issues.

African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites. Emily Badger reported in May the Department of Housing and Urban Development settled with the largest bank headquartered in Wisconsin over claims that it discriminated from 2008-2010 against black and Hispanic borrowers in Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota. These glaring statistics and examples of present day discrimination are a reminder that while slavery and Jim Crown are largely a thing of the past its lingering effects still haunt our nations past, present and possibly future. For blacks the “past is never dead, or even truly past.”

W. Gabriel Selassie I, Ph.D.

The Ralph Bunche Associate Professor, U.S. & African American History



The Black Fives Basketball and the YMCA

The Young Men’s Christian Association (commonly known as YMCA or simply the Y) is a worldwide organization with more than 58 million beneficiaries from 125 national associations. It was founded on 6 June 1844 in London and aims to put Christian principles into practice by developing a healthy “body, mind and spirit.” These three “angles” are reflected by the different sides of the (red) triangle – part of all YMCA logos.   The different local YMCAs are voluntarily affiliated through their national organizations.  The national organizations in turn are part of both an Area Alliance and the World Alliance of YMCAs. The World Alliance’s main motto is: “Empowering young people,” and it is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.

The YMCA’s played an instrumental role in the shaping and dissemination of basketball throughout the black community and ironically the racist segregation that kept black and white YMCA’s separated inadvertently is responsible for making the game as we know it today.

The first YMCA in the world established to serve African American people came into being in 1853, eight years before the Civil War and ten years before slavery was officially ended in the United States. The principal founder was a former slave, Anthony Bowen, who, with a group of friends, organized the “YMCA for Colored Men and Boys” in Washington, D.C., just nine years after the world’s first YMCA was founded in London, England and less than two years after the first North American YMCAs were organized in Boston and Montreal.

As a result of black YMCA’s the term Black Fives refers to all-black basketball teams that thrived in the United States between 1904, when basketball was first introduced to African Americans on a large scale organized basis, and 1950, when the National Basketball Association became racially integrated. The period is known as the “Black Fives Era” or “Early Black Basketball” or simply “Black Basketball”.

Black Fives Alpha Phi Alpha

Early basketball teams were often called “fives” in reference to the five starting players. All-black teams were known as colored quints, colored fives, Negro fives, or black fives. Dozens of all-black teams emerged during the Black Fives Era, in New York City, Washington, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and other cities.  They were sponsored by or affiliated with churches, athletic clubs, social clubs, businesses, newspapers, YMCA branches, and other organizations.

The terms “Black Fives” and “Black Fives Era” are trademarked phrases owned by Black Fives, Inc., whose founder and owner, Claude Johnson, coined the terms while researching and promoting the period’s history.   One could not argue against the force that Naismith and YMCA should be given. Every inner-city black community should have erected a statue to Dr. Naismith. One can only wonder why no one has?


Rastafari and Ritual Criticism

Professor Ronald Grimes offered an assessment of the present state of rituals in Ritual Criticism: Case Studies in Its Practice, Essays on Its Theory, (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1990). Grimes asserts, But ritual in a postmodern culture cannot be a replica of ritual in a premodern or ancient one. A number of theologians, anthropologists, and drama theorists have begun to articulate the demands that postmodern culture makes on religion, on ritual specifically. One of these is the need to limit the role of narrative continuity in ritual performance. He goes on to write, “Clearly we need theories adequate to the task of handling the new forms ritual is taking in postmodern culture.” (Grimes, 24) Grimes assessment is, I believe accurate in many ways. But I also believe that, for many, the idea of the ritual creation in a post-modern society cannot occur while the world’s populations are left to autonomously deal with hegemonic capitalism system willing and able to engage in the deconstruction of ancient and premodern ritual forms and to prevent the emergence of new rites that would be psychologically and collectively beneficial to communities but economically detrimental to markets.

I plan to examine Grimes hypothesis by empirically examining the Rastafari religion in an attempt to assess both strengths and weakness of his argument. I will use Mary Douglas’ theory on Natural Symbols, specifically the Group-Grid hypothesis borrowed from Basil Bernstein, as a means to explain why ritual creation proposed by Grimes would ultimately fail for both the individual and the communal aspects of Rastafari. We can also interrogate Rastafari’s linguistic, symbolic and cultural rituals created to mediate between world capitalism, free markets, and Eurocentrism society, known to Rastafari as “Babylon.” It will also prove valuable to assess if linguists and other ritualists have the capacity for a type of critical deconstruction that would give rise to a ritualization postmodernism community.

Rastafari[1] is an African-based religion that was founded in 1930’s Jamaica. By the end of the twentieth century, the Rastafari movement had spread throughout much of the world, largely through the commodification of spiritual music of Rastafari, known as Reggae.   In the late 90’s there were, roughly one million Rastafari worldwide.[2] While it is a religion, it is by its nature a way of life. Rastafari was not founded by any one single spiritual leader but a number of prophets[3] and mediated to Rastafari communities through a liturgical structure that includes the gospel of reggae, a specific type of community gathering called “groundings,” and a deep belief in “Christian theology, whether western or eastern. While these more formal ritualized behaviors exist within Rastafari, there is no written liturgy, no set pattern of ritualistic behavior. Rasta religious rituals vary temporally and spatially. Its strength is its diversity.   Rastafari is as much informed by its juxtaposition against the forces of “Babylon”[4] as it is of its own mythologies. Its rise is directly related the displacement of African peoples throughout the Diaspora via the enslavement of and colonial occupation of black bodies as a result of the Transatlantic Slave Trade (16th – 19th century).

Chant Down Bably

In her article Natural Symbols Mary Douglass offers us an illustration borrowed form the work of Basil Bernstein. The four-quadrant frame is divided into grid and group (independent variables-See Douglass, 61) to measure positional behavior of groups. Rastafari fits Douglass’ concept of a group: common name, and in some cases sharing common interest in property. The basic premise is that along the horizontal axis, as one moves from left to right, a measure can be taken to signify the boundedness of the group. As they move along the axis the structure of organization will increase concomitantly as these groups mature. Rastafari proves problematic. Since it’s founding in 1930, an attempt at creating a formal religion was undertaken. Until, the Reggae group The Wailers’ released the musical album Catch A Fire (1973), the movement remained with a few members mostly located in Jamaica and later the United States and England. During the forty-year period of development from 1930 to the release of Catch A Fire, Rastafari developed orders called Mansions, a billion dollar commercial musical culture, an unwritten religious and liturgical practice, a political and social mythological consciousness and religious symbols recognized world wide. This would be indicative of the group moving along the horizontal axis from left to right.

Yet, with the development of structure Rastafari developed a mythology that stressed abhorrence to formal structure. Rastafari has no organized hierarchical Church, no clergy, and no written liturgy. However as the religion grew in age, membership increased, the pressure for a formal organized structure began to take shape. Rastafari may have already shifted slightly toward but not completely in square C. For Rastafari to accept western conventions of formalized ritual would be nothing less than the acceptance of the existing hegemonic structures within the religion itself. However, as the organization shifted along the horizontal line a schism[5] develops making permanent relocation to square C impossible. A religion, whose mythology is based on a theology of oppression, cannot move along the grid from square B to C even in a post modern society?

Perhaps Rastafari defies the logic of Douglass/Bernstein group-grid? But let us examine this further.   Rastafari’s Mansions known as Bobo Ashanti, Niyabinghi, Twelve Tribes, and Covenant Rastafari has, more or less, informal and formal styles and rules of dress, of worship, of eating, sleeping, and even rules of language in certain ritualized settings. Each Mansion has its own corporate identity, religious foundations and more or less act independently of each other. Identical Mansions can and do act independently and are free to create, revise, discard or incorporate any ritual practice. Rastafari of each Mansion are marked overtly by a distinctive and well-known hairstyle known as Dreads and distinctive style of dress. The distinctive nature of Rastafari costuming is directly in opposition to the dress worn by followers of Babylon. From a linguistic, cultural, social and political perspective In Rastafari is a postmodern & highly deconstructed performance.  We can say that Ihab Hassan is correct when he outlined several traits that inform the emergent sense of ritual: an innovation of silences; a will to unmaking; a fusion of high and low culture; genuine planetization or violent tranhumanization; a Gnosticizing of media; a worldview of interdeterminacy; and a sense for surfaces. Richard Schechner is also correct when he stated, “When I say that ritual replaces narrative I mean ritual in its ethological sense of repetition, exaggeration (enlarging, diminishing speeding, slowing freezing), use of masks and costumes that significantly change the human silhouette.” (quoted in Grimes 25)

Along the vertical axis individual Rastafari are not immune from being organized along conventional western ego centered categories. This again presents a problem for Rastafari. Rastafari decry racism, sexism and all known forms of prejudice. There can be no social roles outside of which God gave to man naturally. Babylonian categories of race, class, and sex are considered oppressive and hegemonic and are decried by its members.   So then how can Rastafari, which I believe is the quintessential post-modern religion develop a post-modern liturgical practice that would give Rastafari a much deeper sense of community? If we look at Grid Group b, it would be reasonable to expect that as individuals are increasingly involved in formal organized structure they would move along the line Z, as it represents the maximal involvement of the individual in formalized social interaction. Again, this is problematic.  Could in fact an organization that matures fail to move along either axis and remain stagnant even as it develops ritual practices? Perhaps ritual formation in Rastafari is an act of continual deconstruction? Perhaps within a larger study of participant observation and other empirical studies could further illustrate how this occurs.


[1] Members are known as Rastas, or the Rastafari. The way of life is often referred to as “Rastafarianism,” however this term is derogatory and offensive. The name Rastafari is taken from Ras Tafari, the title, Ras (king), and first name, Tafari Makonnen, of Haile Selassie I before his coronation as Emperor of Ethiopia in 1930.

[2] Nathaniel Samuel Murrell, Chanting Down Babylon, Temple University Press; 1st edition (March 23, 1998).

[3] “Rasta’s” hold many Jewish and Christian beliefs and accept the existence of a single triune deity called Jah who sent his son to Earth in the form of Jesus (Yeshua) and made himself manifest as the person of Haile Selassie I, the Lion of Judah. During his coronation, of which the Ethiopian Orthodox Tahwedo[3] presided, Haile Selassie I was given 38 titles and anointments taken from the Bible: “King of Kings,” “Elect of God,” “Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah the Author of Mankind,” “the Power of Authority.” Haile Selassie I was the 225th in an unbroken line of Ethiopian monarchs of the Solomonic Dynasty. (1 Kings 10:13). The Rastafari community consists of mansions (John 14:12) Bobo Ashanti, Niyabinghi, Twelve Tribes, and Covenant Rastafari. These four mansions mediate between the vast number of horizons that are at play on both a personal and communal level.

[4] These European, American and western hegemonic forces that came to enslave people of African descent, decimate First Nations, and to colonize Africa are labeled “Babylon.” Rastafari stand in diametric opposition to Babylon, because without it there would be no need for Rastafari.

[5] My idea of a schism is not fully developed here but one should be able to perceive the conundrum here.

A Reflection on Up From Slavery: Cultural Criticism

 Up From Slavery (1900) is one of the most important if not compelling autobiographical narratives in the American literary cannon.   Written by another author, at a different time period this narrative might appear, on its surface, more fiction than fact and more “Tom” foolery than the story of the ascendancy of a Negro leader.      Given this work was written just shy of post Reconstruction America it propelled Booker T. Washington and the cause of the American Negro into the board rooms and dinner tables of the powerful and wealthy in America. No single work in American history solicited as much admiration, deliberation and causation than Up From Slavery.   Given the absence of a single focal point of black leadership and the continual pronouncements of benign neglect from current and past White House Administrations we owe a careful reflection on the work and life of Booker T. Washington.




Booker T. Washington’s Up From Slavery reads more like a how to manual than the life story about a former slave. There is an exacting mechanical quality that suggests that Washington was working several audiences simultaneously, like a well-oiled machine in order to strengthen his own personal agenda that was clearly in keeping with the aspirations of any other American during the time period. Clearly, Washington’s audience consisted of White Southerners that possessed a suspicion of black aspirations, white Northerners, many of which had very little understanding of black life outside of theatrical or newspaper accounts, and blacks themselves who, Washington viewed as needing a practical program for post slavery economic and social emancipation. Perhaps Washington has surveyed the American landscape and foresaw the coming tide of industrialization and was preparing both whites and blacks for the future.

For those who perceive Washington’s work and his life as a “corrupt bargain” with Southern Whites, miss an opportunity to explore earnestly the workings of a true genius of racial politics in 19th and early 20th century America.   Up From Slavery should be viewed as a thinly veiled and subtly crafted literary masterpiece. Washington manages to castigate Southern racism, show the foolishness of chattel slavery, encourage and the same time belittle blacks that seek Greek and Latin over animal husbandry and agricultural science. Yet, Washington does this without the vanity and pretentiousness of the later works such as W.E.B. Dubois’s Souls of Black Folk (1903), which remains the hallmark of black scholarship in America. As an example, Washington recounts the story of an elderly black man who retells his story of him being sold as a slave. The elderly slave when asked how many were sold stated, “There were five of us; myself and brother and three mules.” Washington’s mastery of interjecting “home-spun” tales to make points solidly grounds his work among his people. This simple story also reveals a mastery of Southern racial politics. Washington manages to mock the south and its peculiar institution by employing the device of signification, yet does so by using his own race as a device. But make no mistake about it, this story revels more about the white dominated south than it does about an old slaves confusion with men and mules.

Another aspect of Washington’s work is the almost biblical quality of his writing. This is a work about movement, a journey, a Sphinx rising from the ashes. Washington’s life moves through the American landscape like Moses moved through the desert to his promised land.   As Moses educated the Israelites and brought them the religious tenants of God, Washington brings to the American consciousness revelations about the ascendancy of the black race in America.

Another aspect of Up From Slavery is Washington’s unquestioned regard for his own racial identity. While Dubois would later reveal a personal racial awakening, Washington wears his color like a badge of honor. Something, he suggests, to be respected and admired.

Unlike Dubois who descends into the South discovers his black identity, Washington revels his ascendancy and re-affirms his black identity and roots in the run deep into his Slave past. No other credentials to remind his readers of his blackness are required.

Dubois Alpha


Another revealing aspect of Washington’s autobiography is his use of Puritan or log cabin ethic to score points with those who might view suspiciously black aspirations for education.   He does this on two parallel planes. First, he brings the reader directly into the cold and chilling confines of his slave cabin. Washington makes considerable mention of his dwelling not in ways that imply degradation but in a way that conveys linkages to the romance of the great log cabin as an enduring symbol of the frontier in American society. Washington describes the slave cabin with all of its degrading subtleties, dirt floors, broken door, and “cat-holes,” as a place of despair but it he does nonetheless state that he was born “in a typical log cabin.” As far as Washington is concerned only skin color separates his life from that of Lincoln or Lob Cabin candidate and president William Henry Harrison is the color of his skin.

Washington devotes considerable amount of pages to explain his program of education, from accompanying his mistress to the schoolhouse to his outspoken criticisms on the proper role of education for the masses of black folk. This is done in part to challenge the need for a more classical style of education and as a thin veil of solicitation for funds for his school. In doing so, Washington not only highlighted the path for black Americans but a road map for American industrialists who were struggling with waves of immigrants who were unaccustomed to the structure of time-clock efficiency in their factories.

Washington writes of his unselfishness between himself and former slaves who do not harbor any bitterness toward Southern whites. As if to suggest that blacks have a spiritual quality transcending earthly notions revenge and hatred. “No other blacks on the globe,” Washington says, “are in a more hopeful condition, materially, intellectually, morally and religiously.” Washington tempers this with the idea that slavery was an evil institution, however, who could have imagined that a people anywhere on the planet could have endured the evils of American slavery. Washington wrote, “I remind them of the wilderness through which out of which, a good providence has already led us.”

Cuban Rapprochement or American Deception?


President Obama’s move to normalize relations with Cuba and to end the 54 year embargo mark a serious turning point in relations with the Communist government. While many revel in what is seemingly Obama’s move to solidify his foreign policy legacy I believe there are unforeseen issues that threaten to do harm to African Americans that fought police brutality and institutional and personal racism here in America during the Black Power struggle.

I worry about American dissidents that have been protected by the Cuban government and were allowed to live on the island in peace and freedom.  The list of Americans that sought refuge from American racism and State sanctioned brutality are long: Robert F. Williams, Eldgridge Cleaver, Katherine Neal, and Assata Shakur are among the most well known Americans that sought asylum during the 1960s and 1970s.  Cleaver died in California in 1998, Williams in 1996 and Kathleen Neal spent a career as a law professor in the United States.  Assata Shakur, perhaps the most famous or most wanted American exile currently resides in Cuba.

While Americans revel in the possibility of future nostalgic walks back in time there is a real possibility that the FBI will attempt to apprehend Americas most wanted domestic terrorist: Assata Shakur or Joanne Deborah Chesimard. If you are not familiar with Shakur’s story I have provided a link to a Shakur website.  In short, in 1973 Shakur along with Zayd Malik Shakur and Sundiata Acoli were stopped on the New Jersey turnpike by New Jersey State Trooper’s James Harper and Wermer Foerster. As the events transpired Zayd M. Shakur and Trooper Foerster were killed.  Assata Shakur suffered gun shot wounds. In 1977, Shakur was convicted of murder by an all-white jury and sentenced to life in prison plus 33 years. By 1979, Shakur was living in exile in Cuba. How she was ended up in Cuba still remains a mystery but needless to say there were enough people that believed in her innocence to take an active role in her “liberation.” The FBI issued a $1,000,000 (one million) bounty for Shakur’s return. New Jersey’s bounty was recently raised to $2,000,000 (two million); the Cuban government resisted.  In 2015 the FBI still lists Assatta Shakur on its 10 Most Wanted Terrorist List along with the likes of terrorists Abdul Rahman Yasin, an alleged co-conspirator of the World Trade Center Bombings and Jamel Ahmed Mohammad Ali Al-Badawi, in connection with the 2000 bombing of the U.S.S. Cole.

Cuba is a cautionary tale of governments that are able and willing to defy American hegemony.  Cuba suffers from food shortages, lack of basic material goods, a crumbling infrastructure, few meaningful jobs and a desperately under funded education system. Yet, through it all many Cubans I met on my travels through Cuba maintain a sense of national pride that would rival Americans on the 4th of July at an afternoon baseball game. I believe this is a direct result of having withstood U.S. pressure and a willingness to defy the United States especially when it came to doing the right thing, like providing refuge for black Americans that were and are facing State persecution and the most organized illegal counter-intelligence program waged against its own citizens (COINTELPRO). Defying the United States appears to be a comedic past time for Cubans. While the opening of trade and diplomatic relations would help to bring Cuba back into the fold of American hemispheric nations I fear that this move is perhaps the greatest threat to its sovereignty and dignity if the U.S were to unilaterally and covertly take Shakur from the Island.

Having been to Cuba a few years ago I found the Island fascinating, but not for its antique automobiles and buildings that seem to be lost in time but for the intractable will of its people. Whatever one thinks of President Castro or the Communist experiment any conscientious visitor cannot over-look the Cuban people’s ability to maintain their sense of identity, dignity and sovereignty in spite of America’s desire to break the nation’s will to exist.  I argue that any diplomatic insistence on the return of Shakur will not only threaten Cuban sovereignty but indicate the resumption of the war against Black American freedom fighters.

What is troubling is that Presidents Obama’s overtures while seemingly done in sincerity present the first real opportunity for the FBI and other State police agencies groups to bring Shakur to face the American Legal System that has proven to be both unjust and racially unfair.  I insist that the Black Caucus take and active role to protect Shakur and to insist on maintaining Cuban integrity and sovereignty even as the Island begins to lose a bit of its freedom due to American hegemony.

And if we use Tamir Rice, Rumain Brisbon, Akai Gurley, Kajieme Powell, Ezell Ford, Dante Parker, Michael Brown, John Crawford III, Tyree Woodson, Eric Garner, Victor White III, Yvette Smith, McKenzie Cochran, Jordan Baker, Andy Lopez, Miriam Carey, Jonathan Ferrell, Carlos Alcis, Larry Eugene Jackson, Jr, Deion Fludd, Kimani Gray, Johnnie Kamahi Warren, Malissa Williams, Timothy Russell, Reynaldo Cuevas, Chavis Carter, Shantel Davis, Sharmel Edwards, Tamon Robinson, Ervin Jefferson, Kendrec McDade, Rekia Boyd, Shereese Francis, Wendell Allen, Nehemiah Dillard, Dante Price, Raymond Allen, Sgt. Manuel Loggins, Ramarley Graham, Kenneth Chamberlain, Alonzo Ashley, Kenneth Harding, Raheim Brown, Reginald Doucet, Derrick Jones, Danroy Henry, Aiyana Jones, Steven Eugene Washington, Aaron Campbell, Kiwane Carrington, Victor Steen, Shem Walker, Oscar Grant, Tarika Wilson, DeAunta Terrel Farrow, Sean Bell, Henry Glover, Ronald Madison, James Brisette, Timothy Stansbury, Alberta Spruill, Ousmane Zongo, Orlando Barlow, Timothy Thomas, Prince Jones, Ronald Beasley, Earl Murray, Patrick Dorismond, Malcolm Ferguson, Amadou Diallo…..All murdered by the State between 1999-2014 that is charged to Protect and Serve as an example of American justice Shakur certainly deserves better from black American politicians.

Nollywood Review: Half of a Yellow Sun

As an avid movie fan I am nearly a complete devote to foreign films, in large part because there are more films being produced outside of Hollywood than within. Computer editing software, digital cameras and the growing skill at story telling and film production have made the last 10 years an exciting display of film making genius. In particular Nigerian cinema or Nollywood as it has come to be known continues to make a strong showing in the number of films along with showcasing a host of African actors that are regulars of American and British cinema. One of the most interesting Nollywood movies in the last few years is the 2013 movie Half of a Yellow Sun (HYS). HYS stars Thandie Newton as Olanna, Anika Noni Rose as the twin sister Kainene, John Boyega as Ugwu, the houseboy of Odenigbo. The main cast gives strong performances but of special note is Odenigbo, skillfully played by Chiwetel Ejiofor. Odenigbo is a Nigerian University Professor who loves Olanna and is seen by her sister, Kainene as somewhat of a “store-front” Revolutionary, one prone to talk more than to take action in the liberation of Biafra.

The movie is based on a novel (2006) under the same name by the Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. HYS re-tells the story of the Biafran or Nigerian Civil (1967 -1970) that broke out due to political and ethnic struggles as a result of economic, ethnic, cultural and religious tensions mainly between the Hausas of north and the Igbo of the southeast of Nigeria; two million civilians died from forced famine and fighting during the two and half years of the Biafran civil war. Today charges of genocide due to the starvation of Igbo mostly children still deeply divide many along tribal lines in the region.

The story largely concentrates on the characters Olanna, Odenigbo, Kainene and Ugwu, and Kainene’s Caucasian fiancé Richard.   The film focuses sharply on the middle and upper class consciousness that believes in independence for the region of Biafra along tribal lines. The movie carefully crafts both historic footage of principals in the fight for Biafran liberation and the main characters who attempt to live, love and find happiness among the tide of liberation struggles that were characteristic of the 1960s in Africa. What makes this history particularly important was that this struggle was not against European colonial powers but a struggle against other black Africans.

This is a Nigerian film worthy of being a premier Nollywood standout. With a few exceptions the production team was largely Nigerian or have Nigerian descent. Chiwetel Ejiofor and John Boyega are both UK born but his parents are from Nigeria. Thandie Newton, a Cambridge University graduate, while not of Nigerian descent was born to Zimbabwean and English parents. Biyi Bandele, the Nigerian novelist and playwright adapted the screenplay from Adichie’s novel. Nollywood came into its own in the 1999’s and flourished into the 2000s. Today it’s the second most valuable film industry (No the U.S. is third) behind India; generating some $10 billion U.S. dollars annually.

Half of a Yellow Sun is remarkable in that it is another example of the growing African artistic and movie making talent being brought to bear in global cinema. Half of a Yellow Sun is a must see film for both students of African history and those attempting to begin to appreciate Nollywood filmmaking. Preview the movie trailer here:   http://