Saturday, July 26, 2008

Heatwave Plays The Groove Line

I spend a lot of time every day thinking and talking about sad, ugly stuff. And I'm posting a long piece tomorrow on my friend who takes care of street kids in Haiti. But tonight, I'm remembering me in a purple velour jumpsuit with a BIG silver buckle perched right below my navel dancing under flashing lights to music that sounded like this.

It's hot in Louisiana right now, but Heatwave can make me forget politics, racism, the weather, everything. The first time I saw men like these making moves like these, I was seventeen. It was a Dick Clark touring show. And when the brothas let loose, so did I. Mm-mm-mm! I may be old, but I ain't dead...

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Detroit, I Do Mind Dying...

In the wee hours of the morning on this day in 1967, police executed what they thought would be a routine roust on an after-hours club in Detroit, Michigan, only to find more than eighty patrons. Stuck in the middle after they were already on the premises, the officers couldn't just leave, so they arrested them all. The rest is history in the form of a five-day nightmare that eventually saw more than 4000 arrested and left 43 dead. If you don't know the story, you can watch a documentary on it online. You can also do an interesting follow up by reading Detroit, I Do Mind Dying, a book originally published in 1975 on the Black revolutionary union movement.

On the 26th, while the uprising was still in full sway, H. Rap Brown, then head of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), was arrested in Cambridge, Maryland, for declaring in a speech he was giving, "Black folks built America, and if America don’t come around, we’re going to burn America down."

On the 27th, police in Chicago, Illinois, refusing to arrest a White man responsible for the death of a young African-American sparked a similar explosion in that midwestern city. According to the Coroner's report, "Five days of terrible hate and passion let loose, cost the people of Chicago 38 lives..., wounded and maimed several hundred, destroyed property of untold value, filled thousands with fear, blemished the city and left in its wake fear and apprehension for the future..."

What did we learn from all this? That there is a raging sea of frustration just under the surface in the United States that will always find a blow hole until we address what is producing it. And that the authorities are prepared to do whatever it takes to keep the oppressed down. Why do I put it like that? Because after they restored "order," nothing was done to change the social problems that caused the violence in the first place.

It has been said that violence is the language of the inarticulate. I would argue that it's the language of the unheard. We better listen.


NOTE: The information in this post came from This Week in History, a wonderful resource for learning our real history.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

I Read the News Today...Oh, Boy...

I'm working on several posts just now and something weird is going on with YouTube today for some reason. So while you're waiting, I'm gonna give you some links to keep you busy.

1) To start with, you might want to find out what Mike Whitney says really happened to free Ingrid Betancourt from the rebels in Colombia. It involves the payment of $20 million for one thing, but that's not even half of the back story. I wonder what we'd do without new media sources like Counterpunch, Truthout, Znet and the many others that have risen to keep us from being buried in bullshit. If you're not supporting one or more of these to the extent you're capable, then we'll have you to thank when we're completely left to the mercy of Big Brother's NewSpeak.

2) The Field Negro, as usual, has some pithy words on another current news flap: re-visiting the use of the word "nigger" (aka "the n-word"*) by Jesse Jackson, for one, but also creating a tizzy on "The View" when the discussion turned to why African-Americans can use the word, but White folks can't.

(Criminy. I'm not sure anybody that needs an explanation deserves one.)

3) Anyway, a friend and fellow sociologist (and freedom-fighter) tipped me this morning to a piece Hans Bennett did for The Dissident Voice (another of those important and worthy to be supported alternative news sources) containing an interview of Claude Marks, a Black activist who, among others, was arrested and tortured in the 1970's for -- basically -- being a Black activist. Marks has spent decades now making films and directing an archive of materials documenting and describing the use of law enforcement, the criminal justice system, and torture against people of color. Of particular interest to me is the way the system is now going back to thirty-year-old cases, re-arresting people, and taking them back into court using "confessions" already established as having been acquired by the use of physical torture. Does the public have no limits to what it will accept?

4) And lest you think torture and other horrible acts of violence are only visited on those who "deserve" it, Macon D. at Stuff White People Do presents Andrea Gibson's poem about White history. If it doesn't make you sad, then you need to go to the time-out corner until it does.
* I am letting Ta-Nehisi Coates give me permission to use the word "nigger" when referring to the word. This has been bothering me for years. I maintain that White people must NEVER use the word to refer to someone of African descent -- either directly or indirectly -- even to each other in private and I do my part to make sure they don't. I believe, in spite of the word's history, that it is NOT my business to try to instruct people of color on whether or not (or how) they use it. But when I'm trying to ram home a point in an anti-racist speech or lecture and have to use "the n-word" as a phrase, I feel like I've just reverted to baby talk. I don't even talk baby talk to babies. Thank you, Ta-Nehisi. You freed me a little bit more and God knows, I can always use more Consciousness-raising.

NOTE: The graphic featured above is on postcards available from the Syracuse Cultural Workers Collective.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Dog the Bounty Hunter, Part 3

Last month, I blogged here and here in solidarity with the Afrosphere Action Coalition's campaign to stop "Dog" Chapman from returning to the tv screen after his refusal to address his openly racist past(?) attitudes and behaviors.

Now, the AAC has issued the following statement:

After contacting the A&E Network and some of its advertisers about the return of Duane “Dog” Chapman’s show “Dog The Bounty Hunter” to the air waves, the Afrosphere Action Coalition released a statement on June 17th “expressing our dissatisfaction with the network’s decision." In anticipation of the planned return of the show, we also hosted the Day of Blogging for Respect in Media.

A&E’s regrettable reply was predictable and dismissive. Nonetheless, the AAC and our constituents remain undeterred in our opposition to the show's return as “Dog” has never owned up to what he actually said, nor demonstrated any change or shown action to make amends; but instead simply put on a PR show with the desire of maintaining commercial viability.

As the new season of “Dog The Bounty Hunter” airs Wednesday, July 16th, the AAC will be monitoring the program for those advertisers who have chosen to put their brands at unnecessary risk by propping up the position of a public figure who engages in racial denigration; after which we will continue to alert the broader public about those who choose to stand for respect of all peoples in media, versus those corporations standing simply for what they perceive will advantage the bottom line, above all else.

The AAC has and continues to “urge A&E in the strongest terms to reverse course and withdraw their support for Duane Chapman and the 'Dog the Bounty Hunter' show. Until A&E does so, we have no alternative but to inform the viewing public and urge them to withdraw support from A&E and its advertisers. If Duane Chapman had come clean about his racially demeaning behavior and attitudes, thereby demonstrating real sincerity towards actual change, perhaps there may have been a place for him again in the public square. But on the record A&E has set before us, he has simply gotten a vacation and we cannot accept that he is again receiving a platform and further financial reward.”

It was pointed out to me about another matter in Louisiana recently that one of the problems those of us who push for social change have is that we often quit pushing when we don't win. Unlike our opponents who never sit down, no matter how badly they lose. It's a tactic we need to learn. Slow and steady wins the course.

To get on the bandwagon, go to

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Soulfege Takes Back the Mic

Sometimes, being technologically behind the times is a real kick in the pants. Normally, I don't care all that much. When I finally ordered a phone with a camera the other day for the first time, I was chagrined to realize that my choices were few if I (a) don't listen to music on my cell phone and (b) spend SO much time online already, I'd rather be nibbled to death by a duck than carry the internet in my purse. The salesgirl was kind of embarrassed for me.

Don't get me wrong. I'm light years ahead of a lot of folks, but I just stay shuffling along behind the wave -- well behind it. And while I'm usually just fine, thanks, hanging around back here with the not-very-with-it older folks, sometimes I feel the pinch. Like tonight.

Thanks to this blog, I've been offered the opportunity to download a new album by a group that's shortly going to be even bigger than they already are and I don't have MP3 capability. It's enough to make me wanna buy an iPod.

The group is called Soulfege. The album is Take Back the Mic. And you've probably already seen Derrick Ashong (aka DNA), one of the band members, on YouTube, if you're one of the more than a million people that have watched him explain health care to an antagonistic interviewer at an Obama/Clinton debate last winter.

Ashong, a 32-year-old Harvard graduate, is quite a guy, as you can see by watching this:

But Soulfege is a long way from being an interesting, talented guy backed up by some adequate hangers-on. Soulfege is a record label's dream: highly attractive and super-talented songwriter/performers putting out a reggae/hip-hop/funk/West African highlife blend and greatly committed to a serious political agenda. Shades of Bob Marley! Have we been needing this or what?

If you're like me, you need to hear a group before you want to read about them, so trip on over to MySpace and check out songs with titles like "From the Soul," "[What Would You Give] To Be Free?" or the electrifying "Damoshi" (Stand Up). Then, you can read about them on their website or in The Boston Globe or in Vanity Fair. Clearly, Soulfege is on the move. I mean, their music is already in more than fifty countries. So, don't be one of the last ones on your block to know.

And for those of you who, unlike me, are digitally endowed, the band's new album Take Back the Mic will be available on iTunes for download beginning Tuesday, July 15th. I'm gonna have to wait till it comes out in a store.


Thursday, July 10, 2008

Louisiana Outlaws the Noose

Probably everybody and her sister knows this already, but I've been blogging everyday for a while, moved from one apartment to another, and started teaching again four afternoons a week, so I haven't exactly been on top of what's happening. Even forty miles away in Baton Rouge.

Anyway, while I was busy with other stuff, Louisiana State Representative Rickey Hardy (shown above, tying a noose while testifying on his bill) drafted a bill making it a crime for a person to place a hangman's noose or a picture of one on another person's property or on public property with "the intent to intimidate." The bill was unanimously passed in both the House and the Senate and it was signed into law by Governor Bobby Jindal a week ago. Will wonders never cease?

And all it took was the March on Jena. A bargain at twice the price.

But let's remember what six young men had to suffer through for this to happen. After hundreds of years of institutionalized racism in this state, African-American high school boys in a tiny little town in north Louisiana sat under a tree reserved for "Whites only" and it was their frustration and their courage and their rage and their willingness not to back down that made this happen. The world has moved on, but believe you me, their lives and their psyches will never be the same for the fire they had to walk through.

The March was a historical moment, but it was those six boys who paid the price. Here's to the Jena Six. May they always be remembered for their contribution to the process of liberating their people. I appreciate what Rep. Hardy did and I'm delighted, of course, that the legislature in this state unanimously supported his action. But I'm in awe of what those six young men took upon themselves, knowing they could die or go to prison for it. They joined the ranks of those who went before them, sacrificing their own comfort -- with or without a plan -- because they would no longer accept that "Blacks" should keep "their place."
The photo above was taken by Bill Feig of the Baton Rouge Advocate and also appeared in the Jet Magazine, which is how I found out about this at all.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Two Down and One To Go

Albert Woodfox, the Black Panther Party leader who spent thirty-six years in solitary confinement for a crime he didn't commit, famous around the world as one of the Angola Three, finally had his conviction overturned yesterday. I had to find this out from the Associated Press on Google News rather than through the local papers. Why am I not surprised?

I'm posting this powerful YouTube video featuring Richie Havens playing "Freedom" in honor of Woodfox and Herman Wallace, the remaining member of the triad, whose case is still pending. Maybe someday they can watch it together on the outside of the prison they were intended to die in -- alone.
Update: The State will appeal this decision. Apparently guilt or innocence are not in question here. Woodfox is, after all, a Black Panther. One doesn't need a court of law to convict him of that.

Sunday, July 06, 2008


The following comment popped up on a year-old post last night. I have decided to re-print it here because I suspect that it speaks for many people that look like me in this country. Since the writer chose to write this much, I am publishing it all, out of respect for her expression of obvious frustration. This is what One Voice That Matters wrote:

"I guess I must live in a different world than most of the people on these sites. I have no tolerance for people of any color abusing others. I also think that what is fair for one is fair for the other. KKK, skinheads, Aryans are scum. Every now and then they try to surface here. but I know there are 'black' sites that are just as racist, promoting racial violence also.

"I live in a 100% 'white' town.There were never any slaves or plantations or anything of that type of life in this state. Most blacks came here with the Indians and many blacks have roll cards from the Indian ancestors. No 'black' people choose to live here; it is a basic farm and ranch community with very good people. Most just go on with life's daily chores and rarely think about the 'outside' world. Yes, the community is aware of the violence in the big city and most are glad we live where we do.

"North of us is a community of black people and they are basically the same. Farmers and ranchers, good people. They come into our town and shop and we buy produce, cattle, etc., from them. Yes, there is racism from both sides from time to time, but we respect each other as humans. I have no problems with who I live around. I would rather live around those good people in the black community than white trash I know. I usually find that if a black person respects you, they are your friend for life. My mother taught me that long ago.

"My mom tells a story about when my grandmother had a new baby, mom and her siblings were all too small to wash clothes. Their neighbor lady who was black came over and washed all the clothes for the kids. She brought her baby over and mom took care of her baby. Mom said that Granny would do the same for the neighbor. She didn't know what prejudice was as a child. My mom and dad's parents were reeeeallyy poor and so was everyone around them. Everyone helped each other and no one thought anything about it. Mom worked later years with many of the black children she played with and loved all of them, they in turn loved my mom like a sister. I had the privilege as a teacher teaching their grandkids. They were well mannered good kids with ambition to be achievers like their folks. On days they did not want to do the schoolwork, all I would have to do is say Grandma's name and all changed!

"It seems the larger our closest big city gets, the more racism we see. Most of it is coming in from the outside: gang activity with the teens. In some ways we have all lost out with traditions from the old days when times were hard. From the way things look, we are all going to be poor again like the 30's and learn to respect each other like my mother's generation.

"I do not understand slavery or abuse in any culture. I see post[ed] that 'all white people are the same.' No, I am not. Just like all black people, [C]hinese people, [L]atinos are not the same. It would be like saying all dogs are the same. They all have 4 legs and wag their tongue.

"I could care less about Hollywood, New York or what rich people do. I am sad when a child is killed of any color, when someone is disrespectful of the elderly or the unfortunate. I have respect for people with pride in themselves and what they do for the good of the world, no matter the color. My family history is rich with people of many nations and colors. They left me to make a better world for all they believed in and died for coming to America for their chance of a dream. The one I live.

"No, I am not 'rich' in material things but count myself a millionare in the life I was chose[n] to live here in this wonderful nation. I have been discriminated against as a woman, [for] my age, my looks, my lack of wealth, my accent, and, yes, even my color! Even sometimes [for] my intelligence and savvy by hard line men who didn't want to deal with a smart woman. I know that the 'rich' white majority [that] runs this place could care less about me unless I can pay taxes. My one vote won't swing any election and I will never be in a position of 'power' to run this nation but maybe if I can change enough lives in the classroom and build a dream, my one voice will not be wasted."

And this was my response:

I'm a little surprised to find someone commenting on a post about a topic not being discussed too much anymore -- and long after I posted it. I can't help but wonder how you got here, One Voice That Matters. :^)

In any case, I haven't time to write as much as you did.

However, I would suggest several things for you to consider.

First of all, my definition of racism and yours are not the same. If you'll read this post, even older than the one on which you commented, you'll see what I mean.

Secondly, there ARE no states in the U.S. that have not shared our history of racist and ethnic oppression. Pick up "The People's History of the United States" by Howard Zinn and you'll likely find plenty there. Or you can tell me the state you live in and I may be able to suggest some other sources. The Southern Poverty Law Center keeps an up-to-date list of hate groups in the present, if that interests you at all. And if you look up the prisons in your state, even a quick look at their population statistics will demonstrate how different life is for people of color wherever it is you live. Unless, of course, you're prepared to argue that people of color just do more crimes because...well...they're just like that. But I don't think you would even think such a thing, let alone say it.

You write about how beautifully everybody used to and still does get along in your state, but I wonder what the people of color (African-American, Latin@, and Native American) that live there would have to say about that. I doubt that you know. The fact is that individuals can have loving relationships across "color lines" in this country, but the color lines are the result of White control or they wouldn't exist at all. And anyway, individual loving relationships don't change the institutionalized nature of the oppression against people of color here.

I've never suggested that all White people are the same. But I have written that, because the default position in the U.S. is White Supremacy, all people in the U.S. who look like me are infected with the disease of racism, whether we recognize and acknowledge it or not. Most of us don't admit it. Most of us don't even realize it. But, just like Prego, it's in there. Tim Wise' book "White Like Me: Reflections on Race by a Privileged Son" is very good on this.

Finally, you write that you're trying to change lives in the classroom. Yet you don't seem to be very in touch with the extraordinary and peculiar psychological, emotional, and economic violence that continues to do great damage to people of color from coast to coast in this country (and even beyond its borders). Unfortunately, what this means is that your students (all White, from what you say) are very likely going to wind up with the same old mindset White folks in the U.S. have always had. How could it be otherwise when you yourself have no better understanding than you do?

You sound like a well-meaning person. And teachers know how to learn stuff. Your responsibility, should you accept it, is to get the information you're missing, so you can help us go somewhere new in this country. Before it's too late.

Thanks for writing. I believe you're seeking to learn something already. And if you seek with your heart open, you'll find.
The poster featured above is available from the Syracuse Cultural Workers Collective.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Passin' It On

I rarely post somebody else's work in any length, but I'm making an exception today of something I received in an email this morning. Perhaps I wouldn't, but I spent last evening until the wee hours watching a video I'm going to post next month about the murder of Fred Hampton, the Black Panther Party leader, and transcribing his speeches so I could post them, too. The upshot was that I am a little tired this morning, feeling quiet and a little stormy inside, and when I read this, I just wanted to share at least some of it. So here it is:

Some thoughts on "patriotism" written on July 4
by William Blum (

Most important thought: I'm sick and tired of this thing called “patriotism.”

The Japanese pilots who bombed Pearl Harbor were being patriotic. The German people who supported Hitler and his conquests were being patriotic, fighting for the Fatherland. All the Latin American military dictators who overthrew democratically-elected governments and routinely tortured people were being patriotic – saving their beloved country from “communism.”

General Augusto Pinochet of Chile: “I would like to be remembered as a man who served his country.”[1]

P.W. Botha, former president of apartheid South Africa: “I am not going to repent. I am not going to ask for favors. What I did, I did for my country.”[2]

Pol Pot, mass murderer of Cambodia: “I want you to know that everything I did, I did for my country.”[3]

Tony Blair, former British prime minister, defending his role in the murder of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis: “I did what I thought was right for our country.”[4]

I won't bore you with what George W. has said.

At the end of World War II, the United States gave moral lectures to their German prisoners and to the German people on the inadmissibility of pleading that their participation in the holocaust was in obedience to their legitimate government. To prove to them how legally inadmissable this defense was, the World War II allies hanged the leading examples of such patriotic loyalty.

I was once asked after a talk: “Do you love America?” I answered: “No.” After pausing for a few seconds to let that sink in amidst several nervous giggles in the audience, I continued with: “I don't love any country. I'm a citizen of the world. I love certain principles, like human rights, civil liberties, democracy, an economy which puts people before profits.”

I don't make much of a distinction between patriotism and nationalism. Some writers equate patriotism with allegiance to one's country and government, while defining nationalism as sentiments of ethno-national superiority. However defined, in practice the psychological and behavioral manifestations of nationalism and patriotism – and the impact of such sentiments on actual policies – are not easily distinguishable.

Howard Zinn has called nationalism “a set of beliefs taught to each generation in which the Motherland or the Fatherland is an object of veneration and becomes a burning cause for which one becomes willing to kill the children of other Motherlands or Fatherlands.”[5]...

Strong feelings of patriotism lie near the surface in the great majority of Americans. They're buried deeper in the more “liberal” and “sophisticated,” but are almost always reachable, and ignitable.

Alexis de Tocqueville, the mid-19th century French historian, commented about his long stay in the United States: “It is impossible to conceive a more troublesome or more garrulous patriotism; it wearies even those who are disposed to respect it.”[7]

George Bush, Sr., pardoning former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and five others in connection with the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal: “First, the common denominator of their motivation – whether their actions were right or wrong – was patriotism.”[8]

What a primitive underbelly there is to this rational society. The US is the most patriotic, as well as the most religious, country of the so-called developed world. The entire American patriotism thing may be best understood as the biggest case of mass hysteria in history, whereby the crowd adores its own power as troopers of the world's only superpower, a substitute for the lack of power in the rest of their lives. Patriotism, like religion, meets people's need for something greater to which their individual lives can be anchored.

So this July 4, my dear fellow Americans, some of you will raise your fists and yell: “U! S! A! U! S! A!” And you'll parade with your flags and your images of the Statue of Liberty. But do you know that the sculptor copied his mother's face for the statue, a domineering and intolerant woman who had forbidden another child to marry a Jew?

“Patriotism,” Dr. Samuel Johnson famously said, “is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” Ambrose Bierce begged to differ: “It is,” he said, “the first.”...
[1] Sunday Telegraph (London), July 18, 1999
[2] The Independent (London), November 22, 1995
[3] Far Eastern Economic Review (Hong Kong), October 30, 1997, article by Nate Thayer, pp 15 and 20
[4] Washington Post, May 11, 2007, p.14
[5] "Passionate Declarations" (2003), p.40
[6] ZNet Magazine, May 2006, interview by David Barsamian
[7] "Democracy in America" (1840), chapter 16
[8] New York Times, December 25, 1992
The poster featured above is available from the Syracuse Cultural Workers Collective.

Friday, July 04, 2008


On this day in 1776, a small group of property-holding White men sat down together and drafted a list of complaints against the King of England. They were trying to explain to the rest of the world why they no longer wanted him to govern them. One of the complaints read:

"HE is, at this Time, transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to complete the Works of Death, Desolation, and Tyranny, already begun with Circumstances of Cruelty and Perfidy, scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous Ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized Nation."


Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Art of Re-enslavement

A couple of days ago, I posted about a remarkable woman I've met here in the Louisiana parish where I moved last year. Today, I'm posting about another.

Antoinette Harrell started out just studying her family history. She began with the arduous task of talking to elder members of her family and poring over public records. Then, she had her DNA checked and discovered that she is descended from the Tuareg tribe in Western Africa. But this didn't just become an interesting tidbit for her to discuss at family barbeques. It became the motivating force to send her to spend a month with the Tuareg in Niger, West Africa, reconnecting to her past.

In the process of this personal historical journey, however, Harrell developed an ever deepening sense of what African-Americans have suffered in this country over the past five hundred years. Most people that look like me and even many people of color have long since brushed aside this crucial information.

"Slavery ended over a hundred years ago," they flatly state, as if mildly irritated. "What does that have to do with us today?"

And this is the question Harrell seeks to answer for us all, whether we're ready or not.

The fact is that even if slavery did end a hundred years ago (and Harrell and others argue that it did not), the effects of it, as I've often discussed in my blog posts, don't just linger on, but actually run rampant through the lives of all U.S. citizens. If you look like me, you benefit daily in a thousand ways -- without, as a rule, being forced to realize or acknowledge it -- allowed to live your life as a privileged member of this society (see the video in yesterday's post). And if you happen to be African-American, you just don't access those benefits and privileges. It's that simple.

But that's not all there is to it. Not by a long shot. In fact, I had the rare good fortune to be invited to the premiere of Harrell's documentary, "The Untold Story: Slavery in the 20th Century" at Loyola University in May and, believe me, this is something you're going to be hearing about.

Some years ago, at one of her many speaking engagements on the importance of tracking family history (even the painful parts), Antoinette Harrell was approached by Mae Louise Wall Miller, who told her that she was raised in what amounted to slavery and only escaped in 1963. That's right. Not 1863, but 1963.

Miller's family lived in a remote setting in Mississippi, far from cities or even roads, not being able to read or write and completely cut off from outsiders. The story Miller tells is harrowing and, as she told it at the premiere, you could have heard a pin drop in the auditorium.

Miller talked about how they were treated worse than dogs. How they all spent their every waking moment "picking cotton, pulling corn, picking peas, picking butter beans, picking string beans, digging potatoes; whatever it was, that's what you did for no money at all." How the "Boss's" table scraps were tossed into a tub for days and then set out under a tree for them to eat out of like hogs.
How the only drinking water they had access to was from a creek that was green with slime and whatever else might be floating in it. How they never had a spoon or a toothbrush or shoes. How, when they laid down to sleep at night, exhausted, on the dirt floor of their bare-bones shack, her father, Cain Wall, (seen in the photo at nearly 105 years of age) would lie flat on the dusty earth and the rest of the family would lie perpendicular to him, using his body (even when it was bloody) as the only pillow they ever knew. How she was raped so often and so brutally as a child that it left her incapable of having children herself. How they were beaten routinely and viciously and threatened with death if they even thought about trying to leave. How they were assured that if they did break free, the ones they left behind would be murdered. And on one occasion, when Cain Wall escaped in desperation, seeking help for his family, whoever picked him up actually returned him to his tormentors.

"We thought all Black people were being treated like that," remembers Mae Wall Miller now. "So where were we going to go?"

When Miller finally reached her breaking point and ran off in her late teens, she made it to a road where, still bloody from her morning beating for refusing to work, she was picked up by some folks in a horse-drawn wagon. That night, they all returned for the rest of her family.

It was difficult for the Walls to acclimate to the world outside. Isolated for so long, they found it hard to trust people outside of the family. Miller has learned to read and write, but she says her feet still don't wear shoes easily. Nevertheless, the Wall family has moved on and Miller has bonded now with Antoinette Harrell and joined her in her work to make the world aware that the slavery of African-Americans in the United States (also called "peonage" or "involuntary servitude") is far from dead even yet.

Harrell has spent literally hundreds of hours crawling through private collections and public documents from the National Archives in Washington, D.C., to the dusty, bat-infested attics of Court Houses in the rural South. She has found Justice Department records documenting cases of White people being prosecuted well into the twentieth century for holding people in involuntary servitude. She has copied more than 30,000 documents: case records, letters from people in bondage, and even letters to officials as high up as the President of the United States from lawyers and other credible sources (including the N.A.A.C.P.) requesting investigation of peonage in sixteen states. She has learned that the Department of Homeland Security now holds former F.B.I. files further documenting such cases under investigation as late as the 1970's. Unfortunately (and not surprisingly, under the circumstances), these files are closed to the public.

Why would they be closed? Well, one reason might be that Harrell and Miller, among others, have brought a class action suit demanding reparations. Not primarily personal reparations, you understand. But reparations to benefit the entire African-American community because of their centuries of unpaid labor, because of the physical, emotional, psychological, and economic devastation from the on-going effects of the past, and most importantly, because individual cases like that of the Wall family demonstrate that the paradigm of White Supremacy still functioning in this country has allowed these effects to continue into the present.

Harrell recommends to nay-sayers that they read Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II by Douglas A. Blackmon. Bill Moyers calls it "truly the most remarkable piece of reporting I've read in a long time."

Antoinette Harrell is off this week delivering food to destitute families in Mississippi. She rarely sits for more than a minute. If you want to know more about her on-going projects and research, including her documentary, "The Untold Story: Slavery in the 20th Century," and most particularly if you want to support her work in any way, you may contact her directly at
I was turned onto the Bill Moyers YouTube video featured above by Professor Zero and Macon D. (Thank you kindly.) Photos of Marie Wall Miller and Cain Wall by Antoinette Harrell.