Category Archives: African American

Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II by Douglas A. Blackmon

First, let me acknowledge how difficult this book was for me to read.  It was emotionally wrenching and Blackmon painstakingly filled each page with names and scenarios of the most cruelest brutalities…because he delved so deep into the research I found myself wanting to honor the men and women and children he had given name to by absorbing and reflecting as much as I could handle until I completed the book.

Have you ever experienced an understanding so vivid that you have difficulty even breathing?  The continuum of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome (widespread physical and psychic devastion and how it collectively effects the whole group) was laid before me and how the discrepancies and injustices present in our justice system just kept running rampant in my mind.  I know we sometimes do not want to acknowledge how oppression has operated in our past and present and we want to isolate occurrences as if they have no history, and even when we do, we speak in generalized speech.  Blackmon names names and ties those name to present wealth of today’s companies.  He does so by researching legal, prison, and company documents and presenting details in a narrative form.

After making the connections to how many individuals and corporations gained wealth at the expense of unjust prison labor system that randomly subjugated Black men, women and children to enslavement and continued risk of brutal death, Blackmon even reached out to present-day corporations to enlighten them on how their companies were built on the backs and lives of unjust prison slavery that lasted well into the 20th century.

The book begins with the search for the details of the life of one person, Green Cottenham, who was killed in a prison camp while still a young man in his 20s.  The search leads the reader through the lives of others on both sides of this horrendous practice with the revelation of how widespread this practice was across the South and how later on it was sustained by industrialists of the North and how the Department of Justice handled (or not) the investigations of the practice.   He eventually takes us to his attempts to connect with Cottenham’s living descendants and personalizing his work by connecting it to his interest from when he was a 12 year-old child in Louisiana.

Amazon link to Slavery by Another Name

I was going to add The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander to my reading list, but I’m needing some firmer grounding and renewal, so I’m going to concentrate on completing Lion’s Blood and a book I started on jazz and visual arts.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under African American, African American Men, economics, Enslavement, history, Kindle, Non-fiction, Prison complex

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

This was a hard book for me to read.  Each page is weighty and sometimes too raw for me and I almost gave up on it.  With each page my gut tightened with anticipation of the ending.

This is the story of a family who lives on the outskirts of a fictionalized small town called Bois Sauvage, (can’t help to wonder if the name of the town is a play with the sound Boys Savage).  Esch, the female sibling, of Skeeter, Randall, and Junior narrates the story.  Their mother died giving birth to Junior but is given a presence in the story via Esch’s memories.  The story is very testosterone driven and Esch gives the reader a great visual of the physical-ness of her brothers and moves with ease in connecting it to other aspects of her memories and surroundings and events.

Esch and Skeeter remind me of the Sankofa symbol with two crocodile heads who share one stomach.  Esch’s observations and need to be loved/seen for who she is, gives off female energy while Skeeter’s gruff, heroic deeds provide the male counterpart…both of them are unflinching.  Randall and Big Turner carry the nobility that can be found in the story and little Junior seems to be the trickster of the tale.

The main but not over-riding two backdrops to the story is it begins 12 days before hurricane Katrina and Esch’s comparison to the Greek story of Madea and the Argonauts which she is reading.  The father is an side fixture in the story and almost seems to have no body but voice only.  The most dominate physical presence is when he looses his fingers in an accident.  And is that not signifying on the loss of presence?  He shows little attention to the children as he goes about his fixation on preparing for Katrina and his beer drinking.

Ward uses the physical landscape in a way that makes me feel the humidity and heat of Mississippi in August, the swamp like conditions surrounding their home, the thick carpeted forest floor, the red dirt that gets into everything.  The shallow pit of water that surrounds their land seems so thick and murky that when they are swimming in, I could almost choke.  The book is written tight in that every page carries the heaviness of their lives but her matter of fact tone suggest the family is just living life as they know it.

amazon link

Leave a comment

Filed under African American, Kindle, Salvage the Bones

The Taste of Salt, by Martha Southgate, Kindle Ed.

This novel revolves around immediate family members, Ray and Sarah, who are parents to Tick and Josie.  Josie is the protagonist and narrator and the other voices are seemingly narrated through her.  There are two geographical locations, Cleveland, Ohio and Woods Hole, Massachusetts.  Cleveland is the family home and Woods Hole is the place where Josie and her husband, Daniel reside and work in the field of Marine Biology, and where Josie has walled off herself from her family and history.

Josie, as a character, is unique in that she is African American woman scientist and the story makes use of this.  Josie discovered as a child how much at home she feels when in the water…it is her emotional safe space that offers new discoveries.  She holds on to this to make a career of it and meets her husband, Daniel.  The story is unique in that it addresses alcoholism and addiction in an African American family.

Josie is a very straightforward narrator and the story is laid out plain with very little mystery.  For that, I almost stopped reading, but Southgate does write tight in that she doesn’t waste words or space in the story which is why I didn’t stop reading.  Given the topic and the circumstances the characters go through, Southgate did not overly emotionalize (in fact, very little emotionalism) the story and just laid it out as a storyteller.  I appreciated her control over that which I think adds to the strength of the novel.

The drama unfolds when Josie’s wall begins to fall down.  At first by the appearance of a new colleague in her department followed by Tick’s appearance in Woods Hole.  At the end of the novel I was reminded of the song Stand by Donnie McClurkin.  Sometimes that is the only thing left to do.

Author’s website

Interview

 

1 Comment

Filed under African American, Alcoholism, Author Links, Kindle, The Taste of Salt

How To Be Black by Baratunde Thurston (Kindle edition)

If you’ve ever wondered what a well-adjusted, political astute, educated, happy, comedic Black man would have to say if he wrote a book…this is it!  I’ve been seeking out humor in lit for some weeks now and this satisfied!  Thurston is described as “a technology-loving comedian from the future who cares enough about the world to engage with it politically”.  So it isn’t funny for the sake of just being funny…far from it…it is funny with a purpose.

At the first chapter I was somewhat leary that it was going to be a book with an intended white audience as it’s primary focus and he would address his reader with that assumption which I associate with a slight aspect of minstrel behavior…but I stuck with it and withheld judgement and it paid off.  Thurston is addressing everyone in the room with some funny, intelligent, thoughts….part, memoir, part political/cultural essays, part humor.  Well written, straight-forward, and poignant and timely.  He covers his formative years shaped by his mother and education in the 80’s right up through Post-President Obama’s election, giving advice on how to be the black friend, how to be the black employee, to how to be the 2nd, 3rd, or even 4th Black President.

He included a panel of friends to add commentary and thus the book embraces “community”.  He writes from a pov that “blackness” is not a limiting life and makes fun (in a serious way) of all the imposed upon limitations no matter who asserts them.  Underscoring in the end of the book that it is more important to do you and in doing you, any and all things become Black.

When I enjoy an author, I first check to see if they have a Facebook page and website…Thurston has a fancy position at The Onion (one of my fave magazine), Director of Digital, so he was easy to find on the web.  Here and here  and here and here.   Click on the book image below to be taken to Amazon.com.

Leave a comment

Filed under African American, Author Links, How To Be Black, Kindle, Multi-racial

Silver Sparrow…keeps it real.

One devoted man to two families, two daughters born months apart by two separate wives living in the same city.  One daughter, who is the secret, knows about the other daughter all while growing up.  Imagine that for a minute…going through all the changes and stages growing up girl and you know this story is filled with dramas…not way out there dramas for the entertainment of the community (i.e. reader or community inside the story), but deeply personal ones that show them wrestling, questioning, fumbling, seeking in earnest.

The first half of Silver Sparrow is narrated by the secret daughter Dana Lynn…whose formative years are deeply marked by the loss of a full fledged but loving father and his “other family” and her mother’s determination to ensure Dana Lynn has a better life than her “husband’s” other daughter who is only a few months younger than Dana Lynn.  The second half of the book belongs to Chaurisse…whose formative years are marked by the lack of “specialness” which she refers to as “silver” and no sense of achievement and loneliness.

This is now the 3rd book I’m reading consecutively by Jones and what I’m loving is how well she pulls back the layers on personal agonies and dramas.  She takes very few glossing overs or global leaps, opting instead to isolate circumstances, events, and thoughts into specific moments without burdening the story with a straight, flat linear style filled with unnecessary descriptions.  The story has history, rooted in the lives of the parents and their parents and what occurs even before we arrive on earth shows up as baggage in our lives.

In all three novels, there is a strong theme that the unknown is way more powerful in our lives than the known…whether it is a future we can’t foresee or the weight of living with untruths, half-stories and lies.  What also appeals to me is that the main characters grow and do not languish in some self-defacing pity.  I’ll be keeping my eye out for future work by Tayari Jones.

Leave a comment

Filed under African American, african american women, Fiction, Kindle, Library book, Silver Sparrow

The Untelling and Leaving Atlanta by Tayari Jones

Last night I completed Jones’ 2nd novel, the Untelling.  Both books, Leaving Atlanta and The Untelling, have very strong first person narrations.  For me, it was the strength of the characters voices that I found most compelling.  In Leaving Atlanta, there are 3 sections distinguished by the voices of 3 different fifth-graders in the same class, Tasha, Rodney, and Octavia…all impacted by The Atlanta Child Murders.  To my knowledge, it is the only work of fiction that draws from the travesty.  The story presents the vulnerabilities of childhood by using the language of children (very convincingly…first time I ever saw “flicktedy” in print) in creating a believable perspective on the behaviors and words of adults.   According to Jones’ Amazon page, she selected this subject to draw from for her first novel because, “This novel is my way of documenting a particular moment in history. It is a love letter to my generation and also an effort to remember my own childhood. To remind myself and my readers what it was like to been eleven and at the mercy of the world. And despite the obvious darkness of the time period, I also wanted to remember all that is sweet about girlhood, to recall all the moments that make a person smile and feel optimistic.”

The Untelling’s main character is Ariadne, who was impacted by the death of her father and youngest sister in a car accident when she was ten, and the scars and secrets that resulted in her, her mother, and older sister, survivors of the tragedy.  Ariadne seeks to offset the alienation she feels from her mother and sister by being of service in a field of social work and living vicariously through the lives of others.  After suspecting she is pregnant she becomes engaged to marry her boyfriend and deliver her baby, being consumed with this being the answer that will complete her in someway.  Through events that make her even more unsettled, she learns the power and damage of secrets and things left unsaid.  Jones’ statement on The Untelling, “The Untelling is a novel about personal history and individual and familial myth-making. These personal stories are what come together to determine the story of a community, the unoffical history of a neighborhood, of a city, of a nation.”

Because of the strength of narrative, I thought about the short stories of J. California Cooper and wondered if Jones’ novels would have been better rendered in short story format.  Even though I can’t quite describe why, I thought the unfolding of the plots was less well done to sustain in novel format.  In the Untelling, I was not drawn into the story as much as I like to be when reading a novel…as a reader, I remained outside the story, more than I did with Leaving Atlanta.  Maybe Jones’ made Ariadne’s voice to reflect her weaknesses and shortcomings, possibly her concern she showed for one of her GED students was intended to offset that aspect of her…not sure, but I remained outside of the story.  But in reflecting on Jones’ statement above, possibly my own myths keep me from engaging in a larger way with the lives of others in my community and not just someway of maintaining healthy boundaries????

With her first novel, it was definitely the language of the children and their parents that allowed me to “enter” inside the story as if I was among them versus standing outside of it.  I started Jones’ third and current novel last night, Silver Sparrow.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under African American, Author Links, Fiction, Kindle, Leaving Atlanta, Library book, The Untelling

Leaving Atlanta by Tayari Jones

Here are video interviews with Randall Robinson  with Amy Goodman and Morning Joe.  Click here.  He describes the overall book as a “love story of Black people for themselves, as we rediscover ourselves”.

Did I mention I love the cover art of this book!  Must investigate to find who the artist is!

Randall Robinson’s website.

********

My current read is Leaving Atlanta by Tayari Jones.  It is narrated by fifth-grader Tasha just as the Atlanta child murders are gaining attention.  Even though I knew that going into the book, it did snatch me back in time at the point when Tasha, her younger sister, Shaun, and her mother were watching tv at the dinner table when the news of a recent child victim was announced.  It started me wondering what the sociological imprint has been on those who were children then.

This is Jones’ first novel. She has since published 2 others and my plan is to read them consecutively.  I checked all 3 from the public library via Kindle…sweet!

Leave a comment

Filed under African American, Author Links, Kindle, Leaving Atlanta, Library book, Makeda