Radical Black Reading: Summer 2014

Black people have seen in the condition and treatment of the Palestinians a reflection of their own and recent statements by Black writers, scholars, artists, and activists have affirmed the history of Black solidarity with Palestine. Alice Walker, Robin D.G. Kelley, Angela Davis, Ferrari Sheppard, Teju Cole, dream hampton, Margaret Kimberley, Glen Ford, Kevin Alexander Gray, and others have all spoken to the sheer brutality meted out against the Palestinian people by the State of Israel. They have foregrounded the historical parallels between the everyday practices of violence, the modes of legal disenfranchisement, the normalization of racism, and the forms of segregation and containment through which the policies of the Israel towards the Palestinian people mirror the historic regimes of apartheid in South Africa and Jim Crow in the United States. And they have been at the forefront of calls for international solidarity with Palestine and for support of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement against Israel – calls that have taken on an added urgency in light of the current Israeli offensive against Gaza.

For background on the history and politics of the Israeli occupation and the Palestinian quest for self-determination, The Public Archive recommends a number of recent texts. In The Battle for Justice in Palestine, Ali Abunimah, editor of the Electronic Intifada, places the complex local politics of the conflict into global context while describing the impact of the neoliberal turn on the practices of occupation. The collection Palestine, compiled by Funambulist editor Leopold Lambert as part of his fantastic publication series, offers a critical take on the cartographic, spatial, and architectural elements of settler colonialism. In Nablus: City of Civilizations [pdf] architect Naseer Rahmi ‘Arafãt conjures a meticulous oral and architectural history of the city of Nablus, a cross-roads of Arab civilization that has witnessed almost complete destruction as a result of occupation. The late Edward Said’s The Question of Palestine remains an eloquent and ethical classic while in the Idea of Israel: A History of Power and Knowledge, Israeli historian Illan Pappé, author of the earlier The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, provides an  uncompromising investigation into the ideology of Zionism and its manifestation in the practices of Israeli settler colonialism.

For more on the specific question of Black solidarity with Palestine, the Black on Palestine Tumblr is a must-follow archive of videos, links, essays, and excerpts. In Black Liberation and Palestine Solidarity, published by the excellent Atlanta-based autonomous publishing house, On Our Own Authority! Publishers, Lennie Brenner and Matthew Quest offer a clear-eyed and unflinching read of the politics and rhetorics of the Black freedom movement in its encounter with Israeli settler colonialism. The longer and broader history of the question of solidarity between the African diaspora and the Arab world is recounted in Alex Lubin’s comprehensive The Geography of Liberation: The Making of an Afro-Arab Political Imaginary. Sohail Daulatzai’s Black Star, Crescent Moon: The Muslim International and Black Freedom Beyond America examines how African Americans have seen themselves as part of what Daulatzai calls the “Muslim Third World” and shows how radial, internationalist, and anti-imperialist modes of Blackness, from an era stretching from the Cold War to the War on Terror, have found alliance with Muslim struggles for freedom.

A number of recent monographs have approached a different question of solidarity, alliance, and affiliation within the Black World: the question of solidarity through the history of sound. Shana Redmond’s Anthem: Social Movements and the sound of solidarity in the African diaspora, examines Black song and Black citizenship in the soundtrack of Black protest. Tsitsi Ella Jaji’s Africa in Stereo: Modernism, Music, and Pan-African Solidarity reads the reverberations of African American music across the Black Atlantic through its influences in Senegal, Ghana, and South Africa. Gaye Theresa Johnson writes of solidarity and sound in The Public Archive’s new favorite city: Los Angeles. In Space of Conflict, Sounds of Solidarity: Music, Race, and Spatial Entitlement in Los Angeles, Johnson explores the history of racial conflict and inter-racial alliance between Blacks and Chicanos in L.A. from the 1940s to the present and the sonic and spatial strategies of solidarity. Meanwhile, a more traditional group of texts have recovered the history of Black Internationalism and pan-African struggle of the of the Interwar years: Hakim Adi’s Pan-Africanism and Communism: The Communist International, Africa and the Diapora, 1919-1939, Gerald Horne’s Black Revolutionary: William Paterson & the Globalization of the African American Freedom Struggle, and Holger Weiss, Framing a Radical African Atlantic: African American Agency, West African Intellectuals and the International Trade Union Committee of Negro Workers, a book whose use of Soviet archives is unprecedented.

Finally, two recent texts look at the impact of revolutions in the Caribbean on the practices of solidarity in the international theatre of the Cold War. David Scott’s Omens of Adversity: Tragedy, Time, Memory, and Justice considers the history and historiography of the collapse of Grenada Revolution and its impact on the Caribbean left. In Visions of Freedom: Havana, Washington, Pretoria, and the Struggle for Southern Africa, 1976-1991, Piero Gleijeses examines the resonances of the Cuban victories in Angola and Namibia on the struggles to dismantle apartheid in South Africa. Scott offers an account of failed revolution; Gleijeses one of success. Both offer lessons for Palestine and the Palestinian solidarity movement.

Enjoy the summer.

The Public Archive’s prior readings lists: Radical Black Reading: 2011. 2012. 2013. Reading Haiti: 2011. 2012. Radical Black Cities: 2012.

Image: Naseer Arafat, A very old bookshop in the old city in Nablus, West Bank.

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Match Jamaique-Haiti, Port-au-Prince, 1926

Match Jamaique-Haiti – Les Anglais menacent le but haitien. (1926). Annuaire general d’Haiti; C. Celestin, B. Danache, directeurs. Source: Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture / General Research and Reference Division

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John Brown and Hayti

John Brown was not a madman to shed blood when he knew the penalty for so doing was his own life. In the opening he had sense enough to know better than that, but wanted the citizens of Virginia calmly to hold arms and let him usurp the government, manumit our slaves, confiscate the property of slaveholders, and without drawing a trigger or shedding blood, permit him to take possession of the Commonwealth and make it another Hayti. Such an idea is too abhorrent to pursue.

Andrew Hunder, representing the Commonwealth of Virginia, The Trial of John Brown, Charlestown, Virginia, Monday, Oct. 30, 1859.

… [John Brown] had posted himself in relation to the wars of Toussaint L’Overture; he had become thoroughly acquainted with the wars in Hayti and the islands round about; and from all these things he had drawn the conclusion, believing, as he stated there’ he did believe, and as we all (if I may judge from myself) believed, that upon the first intimation of a plan formed for the liberation of the slaves, they would immediately rise all over the Southern States.

Testimony of Richard Realf (Officer with John Brown’s Provisional Government), before the Senate Committee Investigating the Attack at Harpers Ferry, January 21, 1860.

The journals contain the following letter from VICTOR HUGO, which he had written in response to a communication addressed him by three citizens of Hayti, in Paris:


CITIZENS OF THE REPUBLIC: I thank you for the eloquent terms in which you have addressed me. Your words reach my heart. A white and a black Republic are sisters, the same as a white and black man are brothers. There is only one humanity, because there is only one God. The French Republic had negroes among the representatives of its people; and that is the one thing that made it above all glorious.

I have been sadly deceived in that fraternity of races, the Southern States of the American Union. In killing BROWN they have committed a crime which will take place among the calamities of history. The rupture of the Union will fatally follow the assassination of BROWN.

What an event! What a disaster!

I am afflicted at heart in thinking of this crime and this fault.

As to JOHN BROWN, he was an apostle and a hero. The gibbet has only increased his glory and made him a martyr.

Black and white, all brothers, all equal, let us rally more and more around that principle of all principles — Liberty. Your friend, VICTOR HUGO.

I love your Republic. Let your people know it.

In Jacmel, Gonaives, Cape Haytien, Cayes and Port-au-Prince, religious services had been held in commemoration of JOHN BROWN, and Le Progress published appeals calling on the people to subscribe liberally for the benefit of the widow of the executed man.

Le Progress also contains an address to the “Philanthropists of America,” in which special allusion is made to Albany, N.Y., in the following terms:

“Citizens of Albany, the cannon you fired to commemorate the death of JOHN BROWN has reechoed in the hearts of Haytians and of the strangers in our land, and reverberates through our fields and cities. Your energetic protest against an act of barbarity does you the greatest honor, as it evidently proves that there exist in the American Republic courageous men devoted-to the holy cause of the freedom of the blacks. Receive, then, the sincere thanks of the citizens of the Republic of Hayti — a Republic that its enemies on another continent represent as always in ruin. Albanians, the Haytians are without prejudice: they receive without hesitation all who come to join them. It is by our conduct, and by that alone, that you can find arguments capable of refuting the assertions of those enemies of humanity who decry us.”

Letter from Hayti, New York Times (March 3, 1860)

From Le Progres, in Hayti, comes an article calling upon people to go to “the subscription offices opened in every town, to honor the memory of John Brown and glorify our race….From the opposite shores of our harbor our fathers, the brave soldiers of 1804, are contemplating us.  They are touched with joy and delight.” March 16, 1860

“John Brown in Hayti,” The Liberator (March 16, 1860)

Image: Augustus Washington, John Brown with Subterranean Pass-Way Flag, Quarter-plate daguerreotype, circa 1846/1847. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

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France, the West Indies, and the History of Slavery


The French Revolution was a bourgeois revolution, and the basis of bourgeois wealth was the slave trade and the slave plantations in the colonies. Let there be no mistake about this. “Sad irony of human history,” says Jaures, “the fortunes created at Bordeaux, at Nantes by the slave-trade gave to the bourgeoisie that pride which needed liberty and contributed to human emancipation.” And Gaston-Martin the historian of the slave trade sums up thus: though the bourgeoisie traded in other things than slaves, upon the success or failure of the traffic everything else depended. Therefore when the bourgeoisie proclaimed the Rights of Man in general, with necessary reservations, one of these was that these rights should not extend to the French colonies. In 1789 the French colonial trade was eleven million pounds, two-thirds of the overseas trade of France. British colonial trade at that time was only five million pounds. What price French abolition?

JR Johnson [CLR James] “The Revolution and the Negro,” New International, (December 1939)

The only branch of industry in the kingdom, that remains flourishing, is the trade to the sugar-colonies; and the scheme of emancipating the negroes, or at least of putting an end to importing them, which they borrowed from England, has thrown Nantes, Havre, Marseilles, Bordeaux, and all other places connected secondarily with that commerce, into the utmost agitation.

Arthur Young, Travels During the Years 1787, 1788 and 1789, Undertaken More Particularly with a View of Ascertaining the Cultivation, Wealth, Resources and National Prosperity of the Kingdom of France (1794)

Image: French Slave Ship, La Marie-Seraphique, Saint Doingue (Haiti), 1773, (Image Reference E030) as shown on The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record, compiled by Jerome Handler and Michael Tuite, and sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library.

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Black Folk in Dark Times: Storified

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Black Folk in Dark Times: A Workshop on Sovereignty, Citizenship, and Freedom

For more information visit: Black Folk in Dark Times. [#DarkTimes]

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“Haitian people will hoist the flag of Charlemagne Peralte and will get rid of the bloody pro-imperialist dynasty of Duvalier.”

Image: Péralte, Charlemagne (Studio gráfico fatamorgana, 1979. Source: International Institute of Social History.

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Abduction & Assistance: An Interview with Donald Rumsfeld

André Eugène, Military Glory, 2010. Mixed media, height: 72 inches. Collection of the artist.

Q:  Mr. Secretary?

Rumsfeld:  Yes, sir?

Q:  I wonder if you could tell us how many U.S. troops do you think, in a round figure, might be required — might be sent to Haiti, and how long do you think they would stay?  And also, President Aristide is claiming now that he was virtually kidnapped by the U.S. military and forced to leave Haiti.  Was he spirited –

Rumsfeld:  Wait a second.  Let me start.  I’m writing down this series of questions.  You’re going to go to the third one now, Charlie?

Q:  All right, go.

Rumsfeld:  This is –

Q:  All right.  How many troops and how long, and was President Aristide forced out of Haiti by the U.S. military?

Rumsfeld:  Well, you’ve asked them differently the second time.  Let me go to the first one.

There are in the few hundreds there now.  The number is growing. It’s going to increase above that.  It will be — the entire force over time will be what is necessary, but my guess is that the — when all of the other countries that have volunteered forces plus the U.S. forces are there for this interim period — relatively short period — that the numbers will probably be less than 5,000 total of everybody, and ours will be down in a small fraction of that.  I don’t know what the number will be, but for the sake of argument say 1,500 or 2,000 or less, but time will tell.  We’ll have what’s needed, and as additional forces come in, why, we’ll be able to size it and determine what makes the most sense, and that will be subject to the recommendations of the commanders.

You said that Aristide was claiming he was abducted, or what was the wording?

Q:  Virtually.

Rumsfeld:  Virtually?

Q:  He claimed he was virtually kidnapped and forced to leave –

Rumsfeld:  I don’t believe that’s true that he is claiming that.  I just don’t know that that’s the case.  I’d be absolutely amazed if that were the case.  There may be somebody saying that he’s saying that, but I don’t believe that –

Q:  Did the U.S. military help him leave?  Facilitate –

Rumsfeld:  The Department of State and other countries worked with the Haitian government, and I think I’ll leave it to the Department of State to characterize what took place.  But I was involved in phone calls most of the night and most of the morning, and   getting — and was involved in the entire process, and the idea that someone was abducted is just totally inconsistent with everything I heard or saw or am aware of.  So I think that — I do not believe he is saying what you say — are saying he is saying.

Q:  Mr. Secretary?

Rumsfeld:  And if somebody else is saying it, that’s a quite different thing.

Q:  Okay.

Q:  Mr. Secretary?

Rumsfeld:  Yeah?

Q:  Given the proximity of Haiti to the U.S. and the refugee problems that have existed in the past, is it in the U.S. interest to maintain — to be the leader of the peacekeeping force, or is that something that you want a different country to take on?  And who might that be?

Rumsfeld:  Well, the reality is that when something needs to be done and — the concern in this case was that the president had made a decision to resign.  And the new president, under their constitution, requested assistance.  And the question is, what kind of a gap do you want between the resignation and departure of one person and the capability of the new government?  How long a gap is desirable, given the instabilities that existed there?

The judgment was made — and properly, in my view — that the gap should be very short.  And when you look around as to who can fill a gap in a very short period of time, there are not a lot of candidates. We stepped up, and the president asked the United States to do that. The United States is doing that.  We are the lead elements of the interim force, and we would be in the lead of that force until such as time as we — the circumstances were such that we could pass it over to some other country.  Obviously, we’d like to see some other country take that lead, and they will, eventually.

Q:  What?

Rumsfeld:  Well, it’s a hemisphere problem.  It’s not just the United States’ problem.  We’ve got a lot of things we’re doing. And once the situation’s stabilized and — it, I think, would be appropriate to pass the lead off.

Myers:  As you know, there is a U.N. Security Council resolution that addresses this.  And there are countries in the hemisphere that have shown a willingness to step forward, and they’re being worked with by the Department of State and by the Department of Defense.

Q:  Mr. Secretary?

Q:  Mr. Secretary, in reference to the earlier question about the departure of Aristide, what exactly was the U.S. military role in getting him out of the country?

Rumsfeld:  The U.S. military role was to — the Department of State managed that entire process.

Q:  And the aircraft, for example.  Was that a U.S. military aircraft?

Myers:  It was a contract aircraft that State –

Q:  Under contract to the State Department or –

Myers:  Right, the State — State worked on that.  And we also provided security from — and I don’t know the exact details of this, but our FAST team was providing security for our ambassador, who was intimately involved in this operation.  But it’s a better question for the State Department.  So we just made sure that the — that they weren’t subject to the violence in Port-au-Prince as they moved to the airport.

Q:  But the FAST team did not actually go to the airport with him and escort, or to move him out?

Rumsfeld:  Not to my knowledge.

Q:  General Myers?

Q:  Well, Mr. Secretary, just to be clear, President Aristide has told others — and we expect to hear from — this from himself sometime today — but has told others that about 20 combat troops came to his residence and forced him to leave against his will, didn’t allow him to make any phone calls.  Now, set that aside for a moment and — because I know that you have some question about whether he’s actually saying this.  But just so we know –

Rumsfeld:  You just said he has told others, and of course you don’t know that.  Others are saying they were told by him and I think more — (Inaudible.).

Q:  Lots of others are saying, and they’re all saying the same thing.  And as I say–

Rumsfeld:  Is that right?

Q:  — we expect to hear from Aristide himself sometime shortly.

Rumsfeld:  Good.

Q:  But just tell us, you know, without disputing that, just tell us what exactly did the U.S. military do?  Did they go to his residence in combat gear and escort him?  What can you tell us about what the role the U.S. military played?

Rumsfeld:  Well, it will be interesting — first, you say he has told lots of others.

Q:  Well, he’s told several members of Congress, including Charles Rangel; he’s told Randall Robinson, the head of TransAfrica. He’s told a number –

Rumsfeld:  Yeah.

Q:  — Congresswoman Maxine Waters.  He’s had a series of conversations today.

Rumsfeld:  Well, as I say, this process, to the extent that the United States was involved, was through the Department of State. And questions, I would think, should be directed there.  If you’re asking me — from the phone calls I was on that night and from my meetings today, if I have any awareness of U.S. military being involved, of going in — what did you say? — combat gear to his house –

Q:  Right.

Rumsfeld:  — and transporting him to an airplane.  I have no knowledge of that.  (To General Myers.)  Do you?

Q:  He was not forced — he was not forced to leave?

Q:  Well, Mr. Secretary, what is your –

Myers:  No, I don’t either.  And I would say the only thing they could have done, and this is — I guess on my part is to provide protection, because, you know, there were — at times, there was some violence in Port-au-Prince, and so, just to make sure — but there was no forcible –

Q:   (Off mike.) — Aristide is telling the truth –

Myers:  No.

Q:  — how unhelpful might it be if he’s going to be in some third country claiming that he was essentially deposed by the U.S. military?

Rumsfeld:  Before the United States made a decision to send in some elite element of an interim multinational force we had, I believe in hand, a letter of resignation signed by the president.

Q:  He wasn’t coerced in any way to sign that?

Rumsfeld:  Well, as I’ve said three times, certainly not to my knowledge.  The Department of Defense was not involved in that process; the Department of State was and the embassy.  And I’ve heard nothing that would lend any credence whatsoever to the kinds of questions you’re asking.

Myers:  I can agree with that.  I spoke to him on the phones all that night.  I mean, this is not — doesn’t jive with anything that we’ve heard.

Q:  May I do a follow-up on that same question?  Representative Waters is claiming on Pacifica stations on the West Coast that Aristide was led away in handcuffs by U.S. Marines, and claiming that the Marines were part of a coup to remove him.

Rumsfeld:  (Laughs.)

Q:  I wonder if either one of you gentlemen would comment on her comment or claim? Other than the smile.

Rumsfeld:  Trying to pick the right words.  If you’re asking me did that happen, the answer is no.

Q:  But any embellishment?

Rumsfeld:  I think not today.  (Scattered laughter.)

Source: Department of Defense News Brief: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and General Myers, March 01, 2004 1:30 PM EDT.

Image: André Eugène, Military Glory, 2010. Mixed media, height: 72 inches. Collection of the artist. Photo: Leah Gordon.

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