Category Archives: economics

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.

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

King of Ragtime: Scott Joplin and His Era by Edward A. Berlin; Oxford University Press, 1994. Kindle Edition

After reading Joplin’s Ghost, my interest was peaked about the life of Scott Joplin.  Since Tananarive Due used actual historical data to craft her novel, I selected King of Ragtime by historian Edward A. Berlin who she referenced and characterized in Joplin’s Ghost.

Berlin has a great balance of story and technical information that appeal to both the musician and lay reader like myself with no-to-little knowledge of musical technicalities.   Joplin’s embrace and passion for being an artist pitted against the racial struggles of the times and woven through by the threads of his personal relationships in business, family, friends, and love really fascinated me.  Also, I learned that he was considered the King of Ragtime WRITERS.  Due to his passion for scripting his music and his popularity and name recognition, publishers made money from his Rags.  It was only when Joplin reached to grow as an artist with selecting complex African American syncopation to transpose into operatic/classical form was he met my marketing and cultural naysayers.  He was pigeon-holed as determined by White socio-economic power structure.  For that, I grieved because not much has changed in 100 years.

Edward A. Berlin’s Home Page.

I plan to do a quilt to speak to my new found impression of Joplin alongside another quilt inspired by Oliver Lewis, the first winner of the Kentucky Derby.  The times in which both men lived and worked overlaps.  I haven’t worked out a design yet,…wanting it only to hint at representational imagery and keeping with my love of mystical abstraction.

The one thing that I kept looking for is some reference of Scott Joplin appearing in Louisville, but Berlin doesn’t reference any.  However, one of Joplin’s brothers, Robert Joplin managed a club here for 2 months before being let go.  I’m going to start with research at the Filson Historical Society when weather permits to see if there is any record of Scott Joplin performing here.  With him being based in St. Louis, I can’t imagine that he never ventured here.  From there, I will delve into UofL’s records.  Something interesting is bound to turn up!

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Filed under African American, Art, Author Links, Biography, culture, economics, history, Kindle, King of Ragtime, musical, musical

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot, Crown Publishers, New York, 2010, 369 pages

This blog was not intended to be just a basic review of books but more of a documentation of my relationship with the content of what I read.  This book reminded me of my mission.

I started this book on the first day of Kwanzaa.  But less than 60 pages into it and I must have cried on nearly every page.  Not solely due to the story as it laid on the pages but because of where the story landed and continued to expand in my head.  This true accounting for how one simple, poverty-strickened, African American Woman’s ill health impacts science and the lives of millions around the globe is a forceful spinning of just about every major and minor areas of life as we know it became too much for me and I didn’t want the ending of one year and the beginning of another find me covered in grief.

The book continued to lay on my bedside table until a few days ago when I took it with me to the hospital while sitting with my 10 month old grand-daughter who was born with chronic lung disease.   When I took a break from reading I intentionally laid it so that any staff who entered the room could see it and although I intentionally chose not to bring it up, I waited to see who would be curious enough to want to know what I was reading or either for someone to recognize the book from their own reading.  In this case it was a good thing my expectations were not high because no one asked or recognized.

In trying to find a way to discuss or even summarize it with my daughter, the story is still overwhelming.  Do I start with the injustice and inequality of health care, or ignorance, the impact of slavery, or misogyny and abuse, racism, capitalism???  Why isn’t there a word that conveys all of this and yet explains it clearly????  The story is omni-present and burdening as it should be.   What keeps crossing my mind is how it makes me “smell” history.  “Smell” history? What is that?  If I figure it out before I end the book, I’ll write more about it.

To give a brief summary since this is my first post about the book, it is the story of HeLa Cells.  The first human cells that scientist found that could grow outside the body and how it impacted disease research and cures.  It is not a dry story at all but Skloot does a superb job of keeping humanity central to the accounting.   Also, if you can, purchase the book!  Some % of the proceeds go into a foundation Skloot started for the descendants of Henrietta Lacks.  You can read more about it on the author’s link.

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Filed under african american women, Author Links, economics, history, Medical, Multi-racial, Science, sociology

Building Houses Out of Chicken Legs: Black Women, Food, and Power by Psyche A. Williams-Forson, The University of North Carolina Press, 2006

I just picked this up from the library today but haven’t cracked it…the image on the cover is well suited for the title of the book! 

http://www.amazon.com/Building-Houses-out-Chicken-Legs/dp/080785686X/ref=reader_req_dp

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Filed under african american women, culture, economics, history, sociology