Egalite for All. Toussaint Louverture and the Haitian Revolution (PBS)

“It is Toussaint’s supreme merit that while he saw European civilisation as a valuable and necessary thing, and strove to lay its foundations among his people, he never had the illusion that it conferred any moral superiority. He knew French, British, and Spanish imperialists for the insatiable gangsters that they were, that there is no oath too sacred for them to break, no crime, deception, treachery, cruelty, destruction of human life and property which they would not commit against those who could not defend themselves.”
― C.L.R. James, The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution.

The Haitian Revolution was the most important freedom struggle in the history of the Americas. It culminated in the elimination of slavery from France’s most lucrative colonial possession. It led to the establishment of the first “black” republic. It provided a base from which Simon Bolivar launched his campaign to liberate Spain’s Latin American colonies from centuries of colonialism. It lasted for twelve years during which armies sent by three European imperial powers—Britain, France, and Spain—were soundly defeated. Toussaint Louverture, a man born into slavery circa 1743, led the rebellion that ultimately brought freedom and independence to the long-suffering people of Haiti. The PBS documentary featured below provides important insights into the life and career of the Great Liberator.

First Americans were Black Aborigines

“Who were the first Americans? Where did they come from? When did they first arrive here? This BBC documentary answers those questions. Scientist were stunned to find evidence of civilization in Brazil dating to around 50,000 years ago. Evidence of fire usage, rock art paintings, and some of the oldest skeletal remains ever found in the America’s have established a new timeline for the arrival of modern humans in the America’s. Analysis on skulls found show that they are more similar to the bone structure of Africans and Australian Aborigines.”

 

La Santeria en Matanzas, Cuba: An Interview with Alfredo Calvo

Alfredo Calvo (Oba Tola, ibae) was the last living direct godchild of Fermina Gomez (Ocha Bi, ibae) and one of the most knowledgeable elders in Matanzas, Cuba until his death in August 2011. This interview was filmed in his home in 2009. In it he shares his perspective on the Afro-Cuban spiritual tradition known variously as Santeria, Lucumi, Regla de Ocha or, in his words, “the religion.” Additional footage is from private archives and “Vamos al Tambor” (a Kabiosile DVD, available at http://www.kabiosile.org). The Interview was originally intended as an introduction to that DVD, and is offered publicly in fond memory of Padrino Alfredo.”

PBS: Slavery by another name

The Founding Fathers of the United States drafted and approved a Constitution that codified and institutionalized the American slaveocracy system without ever mentioning the word “slavery.” After the Civil War the authors of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution (key among whom were were James M. Ashley, James F. Wilson, Lyman Trumbull, and Charles Sumner) not only mentioned the so-called “peculiar institution,” they furnished a giant loophole in the law that allowed slavery and indentured servitude to continue to exist in perpetuity as follows:

Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

With slavery redefined and sanctioned as “a punishment for crime,” the nation thereby maintained the legality of the system while promoting the fiction of emancipation. The existence of free black people in the U.S. has always been viewed as a mortal threat to white supremacy. Therefore, under cover of law, millions of African Americans were forced back into servitude in the decades after the Civil War. Racist police forces operating in tandem with racist and corrupt judicial officials and municipal courts systematically re-enslaved blacks with the tacit approval of the federal government—which followed an unwritten policy of allowing the states to decide cases involving peonage (forced servitude). The retention of involuntary labor policies and practices thus devastated the lives of African Americans, particularly those living in the South. For example, by 1908, of the 1.1 million African Americans residing in Georgia approximately half were living under the direct control and force of whites. Forbidden to move or seek different employment, the post-slavery generations of black southerners found themselves trapped in this new form of enslavement until the early 1940s.

The 1940s marked a decisive change in US government policy not as a result of a sudden concern for the injustices being done to African Americans, but out of fear of enemy propaganda about US racism during WWII. To protect the image of the nation abroad, the Justice Department and the FBI began to investigate charges of involuntary servitude and prosecute offenders. In 1948 the entire federal criminal code was revised, and by 1951, as the Cold War was coming to a boil, the US Congress passed several statutes making any forms of slavery in the U.S. a crime.

Douglas A. Blackmon, the Pulitzer prize winning author whose book provided the basis for the PBS documentary shown below, uses the label “Slavery by Another Name” to describe the laws enacted specifically to maintain white supremacy and black subservience following the Civil War. Scholar-activist Michelle Alexander refers to the more recent variation of neoslavery—the emergence of the prison industrial complex in the post-Civil Rights era—as The New Jim Crow. Taken together, and with other recent studies by Loïc Wacquant, David M. Oshinsky, Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Robert Perkinson, and others, these works show clearly why we cannot relegate slavery to the distant past.

“Slavery by Another Name” provides stark evidence of our continued failure to recognize and address the history of slavery in this nation. It exposes the ghosts in our blood that infect and haunt each generation as it goes forward in ignorance of the past and its consequences for the future.

 

To view a previous post I made about “Slavery by Another Name,” which includes an excellent interview of Douglas A. Blackmon by Bill Moyers, click here.

John Legend – The House I Live In (Official Music Video)

I’ve posted below the new title track for the documentary film “The House I Live In,” an uncompromising exposé of the failures of the so-called “war on drugs” produced by John Legend, Brad Pitt, Danny Glover, and Russell Simmons, and directed by Eugene Jarecki.

“Filmed in more than twenty states, THE HOUSE I LIVE IN tells the stories of individuals at all levels of America’s War on Drugs. From the dealer to the narcotics officer, the inmate to the federal judge, the film offers a penetrating look inside America’s criminal justice system, revealing the profound human rights implications of U.S. drug policy. Winner of the 2012 Sundance Grand Jury Prize, THE HOUSE I LIVE IN is now available on demand.”

 

For information on viewing the film on PBS or via screening on demand, click the following link for the official site of the documentary film: “The House I Live In.”

Nina Simone – the Legend

For those of us coming of age in the tumultuous sixties, Nina Simone was an iconic figure of struggle and revolution. Often referred to as the High Priestess of Soul, in hindsight she now seems more like a goddess. That voice, that stage presence, that piano virtuosity, that ability to switch effortlessly between musical genres in the same set (folk, jazz, blues, pop, classical, gospel) distinguished her from her contemporaries and elevated her to a musical pantheon all her own. When Eunice Katherine Waymond (her birth name) showed up to play she wasn’t playing.

Simone provided the soundtrack for the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Power Movement. From Mississippi Goddam, which she penned and released in 1964 in response to the assassination of Medgar Evers and the murder of four little black girls in Birmingham, to To Be Young Gifted and Black (lyrics by Weldon Irvine) inspired by Lorraine Hansbury’s play and released in 1970, Simone showed a generation what it meant to be a fierce woman warrior and uncompromising artist. Her example inspired writers, poets, musicians and dancers, especially dancers. Her Four Women (1966) instantly became a rite of passage for any aspiring “black” female dancer. If you were in the US in those days, you probably sat though countless interpretations of it as I did.

Simone’s personal life also was marked by struggle. Not surprisingly, she made bad deals with record companies, got into trouble with the IRS (she faced arrest for unpaid taxes), and had her share of difficult relationships with the men in her life. The consequences for her personally and for those of us who loved her were a vastly diminished output of recordings. She also left the US and migrated to Barbados, Liberia, Switzerland, and the Netherlands before settling in the South of France. After battling breast cancer for several years, she died in her sleep at her home in Carry-le-Rouet, Bouches-du-Rhône on April 21, 2003. She was 70 years young.

The documentary film provided below is based on her autobiography I Put A Spell On You. It was made in the 1990s when Simone was living in the Netherlands.

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