Of Bishop Tutu

Last Friday, Callie Crossley, the Nieman Program’s Seminar Program Manager, left us a cryptic message. “There is a possibility that next Tuesday (November 18) evening you MAY have a chance to interact with someone pretty special.” Notice the MAY is capitalized. We all spent the weekend speculating – Barack? Michelle? Condi Rice? Bill Russell. Several of us had plans Tuesday night. Chris Vognar, Alfredo and I had plans to attend an event at the Kirkland House, the Harvard dorm we are assigned to. I had been looking forward to it for a while, since I want to become fully involved in the House. (I’ll explain the House system later.) By Tuesday morning we heard nothing from Callie, so I made mental plans to go to Kirkland. At 11:15, Bob Giles, the Nieman Curator sent us a note, informing us who the mystery guest would be, Bishop Desmond Tutu, the South African cleric and activist who so valiantly fought against apartheid in the 1980s. He won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1984. I can’t recall ever seeing Bishop Tutu speak in person and I definitely have never met him. So I was excited. So was everyone else in the class. The visit was programmed and set up like one of our regular weekly seminars, but we actually went to his hotel to meet him. A mini road trip from Cambridge to Boston. When he entered the small ballroom/dining room for the meeting, he was so full of grace. Dressed modestly in black, with a simple black sweater, he smiled and greeted all of us. He had an extensive conversation with Thabo, our South African Fellow. (Interestingly, South Africans represent the largest segment of the Nieman Program’s International alums). He spoke for about 30 minutes about his perceptions of journalism and his relationship with the media. He talked about Obama. The War. Mandela. He answered questions for another 30 minutes, giving us deep insight with a touch of humor. (Again, these are off the record, so no details.) You might notice there is no picture of Tutu and me on this posting. For the first time all year, I didn’t have my camera. Don’t ask. So today’s photo is courtesy of my buddy Carla Broyles of the Washington Post. After Tutu left and we gathered ourselves together to get ready to go, I slipped out of the room for a quick tour of the hotel. Tutu was in one of the corridors of the hotel. A group of Africans, perhaps tipped off that he was staying at the hotel, stopped him for a quick chat and laugh. I made eye contact with him and thanked him once again for speaking to the Niemans. I reached out to shake his hand and instead of a standard shake, Bishop Desmond Tutu gave me a Soul Shake. Brothers know what I am talking about. What can be better than that? Thanks Callie, you hooked it up.


Bishop Tutu and the Niemans. Callie, the sister in red on the left, was the mastermind behind the event.

Bishop Tutu and the Niemans. Callie, the sister in red on the left, was the mastermind behind the event.


Published in: on November 19, 2008 at 2:53 pm  Comments (2)  

Of Aunt Jemima and Dolemite

Nancy Green, a former slave, served as the original model for Aunt Jemima

Nancy Green, a former slave, served as the original model for Aunt Jemima

Louise Beavers is all smiles as Delilah Johnson in Imitation of Life

Louise Beavers is all smiles as Delilah Johnson in Imitation of Life

Dolemite is a bad m-----------------------r

Dolemite is a bad m-----------------------r

One of the interesting things about my schedule is that because all of the classes are in the African and African American Studies program, things tend to overlap and complement each other. On more than one occasion, something that has come up in one of Carpio’s classes became relevant in Shelby’s class. But the best thing is that on any given day, in any given class I can learn something new about something I thought I knew. Take Wednesday. Professor Gates’ lecture was entitled, “Sell-Outs or Race Men and Women: The Strange and Curious History of Uncle Tom.” He started out by showing us clips of the original 1934 version of  “Imitation of Life.” Based on the book by Fannie Hurst, Gates said the movie – along with “Green Pastures,” – is one of the most important black films of all time. In Louise Beavers’ portrayal of Delilah Johnson, she is a direct embodiment of Aunt Jemima, from her wide-tooth smile, to the fact that she is makes a mean pancake. Incidentally, she gives the recipe to the white woman that she takes care of and wants nothing in return other than to continue taking care of her. The movie also perfects the Tragic Mulatto character in Peola, the little light-skinned girl who doesn’t want to be black. Gates raised an interesting question. Why is Peola light enough to pass for white when her mother is so dark? The movie brings to the screen the theme of racial betrayal that James Weldon Johnson wrote about in 1912 in, “The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man.” We also related the movie to the writings of Paul Lawrence Dunbar, DuBois, Fanon and E. Franklin Frazier. Go pick up the movie. It is a classic.

         Which brings us to another “classic.”


         We watched it Wednesday night in Carpio’s Humor screening. I am not sure of “Dolemite” was meant to be a comedy, but we laughed through the whole movie. I have seen my share of blaxsplotation movies, but I had never seen “Dolemite.” Maybe I knew something. From a production standpoint, it was probably one of the worst movies I have ever seen. I lost count of how many times we saw the boom mike. Plot? Still trying to figure it out. The acting was stiff. The fight scenes were slow. I could go on. We all left the screen baffled. But “Dolemite” is a cult classic, mainly because of Dolemite’s use of rhyme, which falls between funny and vulgar. But strip away Dolemite’s pimp-clad delivery and he presents narrative poetry from the black oral tradition. On two occasions, he recites, “Shine and the Titanic,” and “The Signifying Monkey.”

         These poems, and many like them, started cropping up in the early 20th Century as a counter to the “New Negro Movement.” The NNM was designed to kill the Old Negro of Sambo and Uncle Tom and set out to prove that the Negro was as capable as any white man. The New Negro was tall and erect. Proud and strong. But there was also an underground discourse that was anti-religious and rooted in black vernacular. It was the Ying to the New Negro’s Yang, a kind of “Politics of dis-Respectability.”

         These poems were vulgar, used dialect, and were considered the audible sign of stupidity and ignorance. It celebrated everything the upper class railed against.

         Both movies are well worth watching.

Published in: on November 19, 2008 at 5:54 am  Comments (1)  

Hannah Allam

When I first saw the list of 2009 Nieman Fellows, I saw several people whose work I was familiar with, but the only person I knew personally was Hannah Allam. I met her in 2005 when she was NABJ’s Journalist of the Year. She was probably the youngest NABJ Journalist of the Year ever and is one of the youngest Nieman’s  in our class. She is also one of the bravest. Shortly after 9/11, Hannah whose roots extend to Egypt by way of  Oklahoma, became an expert on Islam. When her company, Knight Ridder asked for volunteers to go to the war zone, she raised her hand and was shipped to Baghdad. She eventually became the Baghdad bureau chief. Not even 30, but running the coverage of a dangerous war in the most dangerous city in the world. She experienced sexism, but also witnessed death almost daily. When it got too much, she would escape to Egypt or America or to the NABJ convention, but she always returned. She finally left Baghdad for good after she lost her 13th friend to the war. She opened up a bureau in Cairo. She was closer to home, but continues to travel throughout the Middle East to cover conflict. Hannah doesn’t look like your typical war correspondent, but I don’t know a better one.

Published in: on November 19, 2008 at 5:49 am  Comments (1)  

David Jackson:

David Jackson, a Chicago Native, is one of the Nieman Fellows this year

David Jackson, a Chicago Native, is one of the Nieman Fellows this year

Last Sunday, after Convocation, David Jackson, sweating and panting, walked into the Lippmann House and wanted me to pick up his book bag. I did and it had to be a good 50 pounds. There were a couple of shopping bags nearby. David had carried all of these bags on his bicycle from the grocery store. David does a lot of things on his bike. During our first week in town, he got a citation for riding his bike carrying a trashcan. David was carrying all of that food because instead of catering his Sounding dinner, he was gonna cook instead. We would learn in his Sounding that in David’s former life, he was a chef. That he was and still is a classical guitar player. That he once walked around Chicago wearing a sandwich board for a journalism project. But David, who works for The Chicago Tribune, is also one of the best investigative reporters in the country. So unassuming is David. I occasionally see him around Cambridge on his bike or run into him in the Science Center’s cafeteria. One of the nicest guys I have ever met. But don’t mess up in Chicago. Lord knows how many people David has gotten convicted or put in jail behind his in-depth reporting. He has exposed corruption, taken on the Nation of Islam and broke the story on Tony Resko and his dealings with Barack Obama. One thing that David did not tell us is that he has been a Pulitzer finalist at least three times and took home the prize in 1998.


Published in: on November 19, 2008 at 5:34 am  Leave a Comment  



One of the best things about the Nieman year thus far has been the Monday Soundings. Soundings are a long-standing Nieman tradition, where one of the Fellows tells his or her story. With 30 Nieman Fellows, from all over the world, it is obvious that we are all diverse with interesting backgrounds. The Soundings just prove it. Every Sounding so far has been an eye-opening experience, with each Fellow sharing stories about growth, triumph and sometimes heartache. Deep stuff every week. But the best part of the evening is always the dinner. For each Sounding, the honored Fellow is responsible for providing dinner, which is a meal generally from their home state, region or country. Interestingly, most of the early Soundings have been done by our International Fellows, so we have dined on food from Morocco, Peru, Iran and Argentina for example. Great stuff. Unfortunately, Soundings are off the record. So I can’t tell you what was said (except for stuff that might be public knowledge), but I will use the Soundings to introduce you to the Fellows and talk about my experiences with them. Mine is December 15.

Published in: on November 19, 2008 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  

Homecoming – Convocation

Nov. 9

I wrote last week about missing Homecoming at N.C. Central University. Some folks reading the blog didn’t know what Homecoming was. So here is a quick definition. As it relates to colleges, Homecoming is an annual event – generally built around a sporting event, usually football – where alums come back to campus to celebrate their glory days. At HBCU’s like NCCU, Homecoming is the biggest event of the year and a chance to catch up with old friends.  This weekend at Harvard we celebrated 70 years of Nieman Fellowships with our Convocation. It was a Homecoming of sort as Nieman Fellows from all over the world, representing classes are far back as 1951 returned to the Yard. It was awesome to see the scope and diversity of the program as it has grown over the years. There have been more than 1,300 Fellows from 88 countries since the program was established. I met a Canadian Fellow – one of the first international fellows – from the class of 1951. There was Lewis Nkosi, the first black South American Fellow. Cecilia Alvear of Ecuador, the first Latin American female to be a Fellow. There were dozens of top media executives. Lord knows how many Pulitzer Prizes winners were in the room, including Ellen Goodman, Louis Kiernan, David Jackson, Bill Marimow, Ann Hull, Geneva Ovenholser and Alex Jones. The speeches were really good, the panels were excellent and the food was tasty. The sensation I have felt about Homecoming, after I graduated, was always a sense of accomplishment. I would return to campus, somewhat successful and floating. But I had forgotten how Homecoming felt when I was actually still in school. I know remember watching those successful folks coming back to campus. Offering advice and telling us how they made it through life. I was a feeling and assumption that these people walked the same hills, lived in the same dorm, ate in the same cafeteria and took the same classes as I did and somehow made it out. That was a great feeling and I felt it again this weekend. Even before I became one, I always knew it was a great honor to be a Nieman. I, along with my classmates, am a part of a great organization, steeped in tradition, loyalty and love for the Nieman Foundation. This weekend just verified it.

Me and 1982 Fellow Gerald Jordan at the Convocation Dinner

Me and 1982 Fellow Gerald Jordan at the Convocation Dinner

Cecilia Alvear (class of '89), the former NAHJ president and the first Latin American female Nieman is joined by her countrywoman, fellow Ecuadorian Mónica Almeida, of the 2009 class.

Cecilia Alvear (class of 89), the first Latin American female Fellow, with her countrywoman and fellow Ecuadorian Mónica Almeida from the 2009 class.


Published in: on November 11, 2008 at 5:56 am  Leave a Comment  

The greatest day in the history of America

Today, everyone seemed a bit hung over. Not in a drunk way. Everyone seemed to be recovering from an incredible eye. It seems as if no one in Cambridge slept last night. Only two people even attended Tangelique’s ice skating class. All Nieman functions had been canceled anyway, but it just made it seem like a holiday. I left you last night after hearing that Obama had won the presidency. After folks celebrated in the Lippman House, a bunch of us decided to go to Harvard Square to see what was up. I, along with Chris Vognar, Julie Reynolds, Thabo, Haile, David Jackson, Kael, Thorne and Alfredo made the journey. We initially stopped at Harvard Yard, where a mob of students gathered in front of the John Harvard statue. Students were dancing and chanting. Screaming. And yes, a group of black students were doing the Electric Slide. John Harvard was adorned with Red, White and Blue balloons and he held an OBAMA/BIDEN sign. Everyone with access to a camera, got their photo taken with the statue. Some touching the foot of course. A group of Kenyan, came by and draped a Kenyan flag over the front of the statue as they had their pictures taken. A Harvard cop came over and started talking to them. I thought he was warning them for “desecrating” the statue. No. He wanted to shake their hands and get a photo taken with Obama’s countrymen.

            “On to the Square,” the people started chanting. So on we went. Where we met a huge mob of people who had Mass Ave. completely blocked off. Cars and buses tried to get through. Those who made it through the mob, honked their horns and high-fived those in the crowd. Finally, the cops, taking a break from getting their pictures taken, completely closed Mass Ave. People continued to pour out into the street. Some draped in flags. Others on the shoulders of classmates. Spontaneously, the crowd would launch into “The Star-Spangled Banner.” I noticed a lot of black students from some of my African American studies classes in the crowd. We all shared a lot of hugs. But interestingly, blacks were the minority in the crowd. I was struck by how many young white people and internationals there were who were celebrating Obama’s victory. This showed me that this was a national and global victory – not just a black achievement. Although  a lot of people felt compelled to congratulate me personally. By the time they started chanting, “On to Central Square,” at about 2:30 a.m., I walked home.

            In Gates/ Higginbotham today, Prof. Higginbotham quickly dispensed of the mystery. We were not gonna talk about the Harlem Renaissance today as stated on the syllabus. It would be Obama. Gates was late. He was taping Oprah. Until he arrived, Higginbotham played talk show host, walking around class with a mic, urging students to voice their thoughts about the election. A Chinese student spoke. So did a Mexican student. So did a bi-racial one. But the most moving was a sister from Motown who talked about her parents growing up in segregated Texas drinking out of separate water fountains. Higginbotham had noted earlier, that this generation made Obama happen. But the student said it was her parent’s generation, who suffered the lashes of Jim Crow, who made it possible. When Gates arrived, he read his eloquent essay that he delivered on Oprah and published on theroot.com this morning, entitled: “In Our Lifetime: From toiling as White House slaves to President-elect Barack Obama, we have crossed the ultimate color line.”  Please read it and I hope you saw Oprah.

After class, I searched all over Harvard Square for a New York Times. No dice. I found a Boston Globe, USA Today, New York Post and Harvard Crimson. Couldn’t find the Washington Post either. Maybe I’ll get them framed one day.

My man Michael Eric Dyson was on campus today for the first of  three lectures on the Jigga Man for the DuBois Institute. But, you know the deal. Today was all about Obama. Dyson changed his whole agenda and instead of Jay-Z, will talk about Obama this week. (Although Friday’s lecture will be Obama and Hip-Hop). Dyson was on point as usual and the Thompson Room, an elegant wood-paneled room that prominently features a huge painting of Harvard alum and former president Teddy Roosevelt, was packed. Susan Taylor was there, which surprised me a bit. I didn’t get a chance to hollar at her. But I talked to Dyson and his wife and we are  gonna try to do lunch with him this week. Introduced him to Thabo and Chris. Anxious to hear the lectures on Thursday and Friday. I ended the night at the movies, so to speak. Wednesday night is screening night for Carpio’s humor class. And once again, the syllabus was thrown out the window. We were supposed to watch Mel Brooks’’ “Blazing Saddles,” which was co-written by Richard Pryor. Instead, we watched, “Brother from Another Planet.”

Interesting choice. On my way home, I stopped by the Lippman House to pick up my stuff. Our Russian Fellow, Andre, was in the lab doing some work. He asked me how I felt about the election. I told him that after 400 years of slavery, injustice, Jim Crow, marginalization and discrimination, “November 4, 2008 was the november-4-2008greatest day in the history of America.”

Then I went home.

Oh, here is Gates’ lecture. It was originally posted Wednesday on theroot.com


In Our Lifetime
From toiling as White House slaves to President-elect Barack Obama, we have crossed the ultimate color line.

Nov. 4, 2008

A new dawn of American leadership is at hand.

                                                                      President-elect Barack Obama

We have all heard stories about those few magical transformative moments in African-American history, extraordinary ritual occasions through which the geographically and socially diverse black community—a nation within a nation, really—molds itself into one united body, determined to achieve one great social purpose and to bear witness to the process by which this grand achievement occurs.

The first time was New Year’s Day in 1863, when tens of thousands of black people huddled together all over the North waiting to see if Abraham Lincoln would sign the Emancipation Proclamation. The second was the night of June 22, 1938, the storied rematch between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling, when black families and friends crowded around radios to listen and cheer as the Brown Bomber knocked out Schmeling in the first round. The third, of course, was Aug. 28, 1963, when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed to the world that he had a dream, in the shadow of a brooding Lincoln, peering down on the assembled throng, while those of us who couldn’t be with him in Washington sat around our black-and-white television sets, bound together by King’s melodious voice through our tears and with quickened-flesh.

But we have never seen anything like this. Nothing could have prepared any of us for the eruption (and, yes, that is the word) of spontaneous celebration that manifested itself in black homes, gathering places and the streets of our communities when Sen. Barack Obama was declared President-elect Obama. From Harlem to Harvard, from Maine to Hawaii—and even Alaska—from “the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire … [to] Stone Mountain of Georgia,” as Dr. King put it, each of us will always remember this moment, as will our children, whom we woke up to watch history being made.

My colleagues and I laughed and shouted, whooped and hollered, hugged each other and cried. My father waited 95 years to see this day happen, and when he called as results came in, I silently thanked God for allowing him to live long enough to cast his vote for the first black man to become president. And even he still can’t quite believe it!                    

How many of our ancestors have given their lives—how many millions of slaves toiled in the fields in endlessly thankless and mindless labor—before this generation could live to see a black person become president? “How long, Lord?” the spiritual goes; “not long!” is the resounding response. What would Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. Du Bois say if they could know what our people had at long last achieved? What would Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman say? What would Dr. King himself say? Would they say that all those lost hours of brutalizing toil and labor leading to spent, half-fulfilled lives, all those humiliations that our ancestors had to suffer through each and every day, all those slights and rebuffs and recriminations, all those rapes and murders, lynchings and assassinations, all those Jim Crow laws and protest marches, those snarling dogs and bone-breaking water hoses, all of those beatings and all of those killings, all of those black collective dreams deferred—that the unbearable pain of all of those tragedies had, in the end, been assuaged at least somewhat through Barack Obama’s election? This certainly doesn’t wipe that bloody slate clean. His victory is not redemption for all of this suffering; rather, it is the symbolic culmination of the black freedom struggle, the grand achievement of a great, collective dream. Would they say that surviving these horrors, hope against hope, was the price we had to pay to become truly free, to live to see—exactly 389 years after the first African slaves landed on these shores—that “great gettin’ up morning” in 2008 when a black man—Barack Hussein Obama—was elected the first African-American president of the United States?

I think they would, resoundingly and with one voice proclaim, “Yes! Yes! And yes, again!” I believe they would tell us that it had been worth the price that we, collectively, have had to pay—the price of President-elect Obama’s ticket.

On that first transformative day, when the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, Frederick Douglass, the greatest black orator in our history before Martin Luther King Jr., said that the day was not a day for speeches and “scarcely a day for prose.” Rather, he noted, “it is a day for poetry and song, a new song.” Over 3,000 people, black and white abolitionists together, waited for the news all day in Tremont Temple, a Baptist church a block from Boston Common. When a messenger burst in, after 11 p.m., and shouted, “It is coming! It is on the wires,” the church went mad; Douglass recalled that “I never saw enthusiasm before. I never saw joy.” And then he spontaneously led the crowd in singing “Blow Ye the Trumpet, Blow,” John Brown’s favorite hymn:

            Blow ye the trumpet, blow!

            The gladly solemn sound

            Let all the nations know,

            To earth’s remotest bound:


            The year of jubilee is come!

            The year of jubilee is come!

            Return, ye ransomed sinners, home.


At that moment, an entire race, one that in 1863 in the United States comprised 4.4 million souls, became a unified people, breathing with one heart, speaking with one voice, united in mind and spirit, all their aspirations concentrated into a laser beam of almost blind hope and desperate anticipation.

It is astounding to think that many of us today—myself included—can remember when it was a huge deal for a black man or woman to enter the White House through the front door, and not through the servants’ entrance. Paul Cuffe, the wealthy sea captain, shipping merchant, and the earliest “Back to Africa” black colonist, will forever have the distinction of being the first black person to be invited to the White House for an audience with the president. Cuffe saw President James Madison at the White House on May 2, 1812, at precisely 11 a.m. and asked the president’s intervention in recovering his famous brig Traveller, which had been impounded because officials said he had violated the embargo with Britain. Cuffe, after the Quaker fashion, called Madison “James”; “James,” in turn, got Paul’s brig back for him, probably because Cuffe and Madison both favored the emigration of freed slaves back to Africa. (Three years later, on Dec. 10, 1815, Cuffe used this ship to carry 38 black people from the United States to Sierra Leone.)

From Frederick Douglass, who visited Lincoln three times during his presidency (and every president thereafter until his death in 1895), to Soujourner Truth and Booker T. Washington, each prominent black visitor to the White House caused people to celebrate another “victory for the race.” Blacks became frequent visitors to Franklin Roosevelt’s White House; FDR even had a “Kitchen Cabinet” through which blacks could communicate the needs of their people. Because of the civil rights movement, Lyndon Johnson had a slew of black visitors, as well. During Bill Clinton’s presidency, I attended a White House reception with so many black political, academic and community leaders that it occurred to me that there hadn’t been as many black people in the Executive Mansion perhaps since slavery. Everyone laughed at the joke, because they knew, painfully, that it was true.

Visiting the White House is one thing; occupying the White House is quite another. And yet, African-American aspirations to the White House date back generations. The first black man put forward on a ticket as a political party’s nominee for U.S. president was George Edwin Taylor, on the National Liberty Party ticket in 1904. Portions of his campaign document could have been written by Barack Obama:

“… in the light of the history of the past four years, with a Republican president in the executive chair, and both branches of Congress and a majority of the Supreme Court of the same political faith, we are confronted with the amazing fact that more than one-fifth of the race are actually disfranchised, robbed of all the rights, powers and benefits of true citizenship, we are forced to lay aside our prejudices, indeed, our personal wishes, and consult the higher demands of our manhood, the true interests of the country and our posterity, and act while we yet live, ‘ere the time when it shall be too late. No other race of our strength would have quietly submitted to what we have during the past four years without a rebellion, a revolution, or an uprising.”

The revolution that Taylor goes on to propose, he says, is one “not by physical force, but by the ballot,” with the ultimate sign of the success being the election of the nation’s first black president.

But given all of the racism to which black people were subjected following Reconstruction and throughout the first half of the 20th century, no one could actually envision a Negro becoming president—”not in our lifetimes,” as our ancestors used to say. When James Earl Jones became America’s first black fictional president in the 1972 film, “The Man,” I remember thinking, “Imagine that!” His character, Douglass Dilman, the president pro tempore of the Senate, ascends to the presidency after the president and the speaker of the House are killed in a building collapse, and after the vice president declines the office due to advanced age and ill health. A fantasy if ever there was one, we thought. But that year, life would imitate art: Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm attempted to transform “The Man” into “The Woman,” becoming the first black woman to run for president in the Democratic Party. She received 152 first-ballot votes at the Democratic National Convention. Then, in 1988, Jesse Jackson got 1,219 delegate votes at the Democratic convention, 29 percent of the total, coming in second only to the nominee, Michael Dukakis.

The award for prescience, however, goes to Jacob K. Javits, the liberal Republican senator from New York who, incredibly, just a year after the integration of Central High School in Little Rock, predicted that the first black president would be elected in the year 2000. In an essay titled “Integration from the Top Down” printed in Esquire magazine in 1958, he wrote:

“What manner of man will this be, this possible Negro Presidential candidate of 2000? Undoubtedly, he will be well-educated. He will be well-traveled and have a keen grasp of his country’s role in the world and its relationships. He will be a dedicated internationalist with working comprehension of the intricacies of foreign aid, technical assistance and reciprocal trade. … Assuredly, though, despite his other characteristics, he will have developed the fortitude to withstand the vicious smear attacks that came his way as he fought to the top in government and politics  those in the vanguard may expect to be the targets for scurrilous attacks, as the hate mongers, in the last ditch efforts, spew their verbal and written poison.”

In the same essay, Javits predicted both the election of a black senator and the appointment of the first black Supreme Court justice by 1968. Edward Brooke was elected to the Senate by Massachusetts voters in 1966. Thurgood Marshall was confirmed in 1967. Javits also predicted that the House of Representatives would have “between thirty and forty qualified Negroes” in the 106th Congress in 2000. In fact, there were 37 black U.S. representatives, among them 12 women.

Sen. Javits was one very keen prognosticator. When we consider the characteristics that he insisted the first black president must possess—he must be well-educated, well-traveled, have a keen grasp of his country’s role in the world, be a dedicated internationalist and have a very thick skin—it is astonishing how accurately he is describing the background and character of Barack Obama.

I wish we could say that Barack Obama’s election will magically reduce the numbers of teenage pregnancies or the level of drug addiction in the black community. I wish we could say that what happened last night will suddenly make black children learn to read and write as if their lives depended on it, and that their high school completion rates will become the best in the country. I wish we could say that these things are about to happen, but I doubt that they will.

But there is one thing we can proclaim today, without question: that the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States of America means that “The Ultimate Color Line,” as the subtitle of Javits’ Esquire essay put it, has, at long last, been crossed. It has been crossed by our very first postmodern Race Man, a man who embraces his African cultural and genetic heritage so securely that he can transcend it, becoming the candidate of choice to tens of millions of Americans who do not look like him.

How does that make me feel? Like I’ve always imagined my father and his friends felt back in 1938, on the day that Joe Louis knocked out Max Schmeling. But ten thousand times better than that. All I can say is “Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound.”



Published in: on November 6, 2008 at 4:54 am  Comments (1)  

A Day to Remember


Nov. 4

            Today would be a day I shall never forget.

            I woke up early. Tangelique had to go to the dentist, so I had to walk, Appollonia, our Corgi. At the dog park, she played with a couple of dogs and seemed content. As we were leaving, Malaci, a miniature Lassie-looking dog came over, and one of Appi’s playmates came over. So they ran around for a good little while. I somehow made it to my 10 a.m. Lit class, where we discussed the poetry of Paul Lawrence Dunbar. We read “Chrismus On The Plantation Christmas, “The Haunted Oak,” and “We Wear the Mask.” We had a real nice discussion on “The Haunted Oak.” Check it out. Let me know what you think.

            (Pray why are you so bare, so bare,

Oh, bough of the old oak-tree;

And why, when I go through the shade you throw,

Runs a shudder over me?

My leaves were green as the best, I trow,

And sap ran free in my veins,

But I say in the moonlight dim and weird

A guiltless victim’s pains.

They’d charged him with the old, old crime,

And set him fast in jail:

Oh, why does the dog howl all night long,

And why does the night wind wail?

He prayed his prayer and he swore his oath,

And he raised his hand to the sky;

But the beat of hoofs smote on his ear,

And the steady tread drew nigh.

Who is it rides by night, by night,

Over the moonlit road?

And what is the spur that keeps the pace,

What is the galling goad?

And now they beat at the prison door,

“Ho, keeper, do not stay!

We are friends of him whom you hold within,

And we fain would take him away

“From those who ride fast on our heels

With mind to do him wrong;

They have no care for his innocence,

And the rope they bear is long.”

They have fooled the jailer with lying words,

They have fooled the man with lies;

The bolts unbar, the locks are drawn,

And the great door open flies.

Now they have taken him from the jail,

And hard and fast they ride,

And the leader laughs low down in his throat,

As they halt my trunk beside.


Oh, the judge, he wore a mask of black,

And the doctor one of white,

And the minister, with his oldest son,

Was curiously bedight.

Oh, foolish man, why weep you now?

‘Tis but a little space,

And the time will come when these shall dread

The mem’ry of your face.

I feel the rope against my bark,

And the weight of him in my grain,

I feel in the throe of his final woe

The touch of my own last pain.

And never more shall leaves come forth

On the bough that bears the ban;

I am burned with dread, I am dried and dead,

From the curse of a guiltless man.

And ever the judge rides by, rides by,

And goes to hunt the deer,

And ever another rides his soul

In the guise of a mortal fear.

And ever the man he rides me hard,

And never a night stays he;

For I feel his curse as a haunted bough,

On the trunk of a haunted tree.)

            At noon we looked at the Emancipation Proclamation in my slavery class, followed by a look at the art of Kara Walker and Ishmael Reed’s novel, “Flight to Canada,” in Carpio’s Humor class. Can’t find the poem online that opens the book. If you get a chance, check it out.

            The day was still going along very nicely. Stopped by Mr. Bartleys and had Michelle Obama burger. Very spicy.

            In my Spike Lee section at 3 p.m., we discussed the opening of “Do the Right Thing,” particularly the music. I got into a nice debate with a student who was offended that Chuck D. in the classic, “Fight the Power,” labeled the great Elvis Presley a racist. I told him, in a nutshell, that for the most part, people like Chuck, or the characters in DTRT could care less about Elvis, which is what was being expressed.  I didn’t get into the whole, “black people can shine my shoes,” controversy, which is probably an urban myth, but you get the point.

            We actually read “Fight the Power,” as a poem. Check it out and read it as a poem.

(1989 the number another summer (get down)

Sound of the funky drummer

Music hittin’ your heart cause I know you got soul

(Brothers and sisters, hey)

Listen if you’re missin’ y’all

Swingin’ while I’m singin’

Givin’ whatcha gettin’

Knowin’ what I know

While the Black bands sweatin’

And the rhythm rhymes rollin’

Got to give us what we want

Gotta give us what we need

Our freedom of speech is freedom or death

We got to fight the powers that be

Lemme hear you say

Fight the power




As the rhythm designed to bounce

What counts is that the rhymes

Designed to fill your mind

Now that you’ve realized the prides arrived

We got to pump the stuff to make us tough

from the heart

It’s a start, a work of art

To revolutionize make a change nothin’s strange

People, people we are the same

No we’re not the same

Cause we don’t know the game

What we need is awareness, we can’t get careless

You say what is this?

My beloved lets get down to business

Mental self defensive fitness

(Yo) bumrush the show

You gotta go for what you know

Make everybody see, in order to fight the powers that be

Lemme hear you say…

Fight the Power




Elvis was a hero to most

But he never meant shit to me you see

Straight up racist that sucker was

Simple and plain

Mother fuck him and John Wayne

Cause I’m Black and I’m proud

I’m ready and hyped plus I’m amped

Most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamps

Sample a look back you look and find

Nothing but rednecks for 400 years if you check

Don’t worry be happy

Was a number one jam

Damn if I say it you can slap me right here

(Get it) lets get this party started right

Right on, c’mon

What we got to say

Power to the people no delay

To make everybody see

In order to fight the powers that be

(Fight the Power)

            So, after classes. I went to the Lippman House to watch the election coverage. I had to duck down to the Lab for a second and do my blog for the Gates/ Higginbotham class.  It was a response to the “Politics of Respectability” and Bill Cosby. I will explain the “Politics of Respectability,” a concept developed by Higginbotham.

            Anyway, it is crazy in here. Tons of food. All of the international students are eager to watch and experience the American electoral process. Kids are running around. Pizza is everywhere. The television is load, but we can’t hear anything.

            At 8:44 p.m., everyone cheered when CNN declared Pennsylvania for Obama. The crowd here is overwhelmingly for Obama, as is the whole campus and pretty much the whole city.  All day in class people spoke of viewing parties and the possibility of witnessing history. Almost everybody wore Obama or voting t-shirts or their “I voted” sticker.

            By 9 p.m., CNN was already writing McCain’s obit.

            As states start to come in, people react at the results. Margie lamented West Virginia’s tally, while Andrea cheered at 9:30 when CNN showed up in the blue column. Obama is winning my home state of North Carolina. I don’t know what to say about Georgia. John King’s magic board is looking pretty blue.  By 10:30 p.m. half of the crowd was in another room watching the Daily Show. Obama was leading McCain 207-135.


            At 11 p.m., Obama took Virginia. He now leads 220-135. Fifty points to go.

            Barack Obama has been elected President of the United States.

            I can truly say I never thought I would see this day. People here – journalists all of us – are literally stunned silent. There was a giant yell when the results were announced, then everything went quite. People are on their cell phones. I called my mom. Trying to call Cedric and Shelton. My man Roland Martin on CNN brought tears to my eyes. Words can’t truly express how amazing this is.

            Remember this Day. Nov. 4, 2008.

Published in: on November 5, 2008 at 4:37 am  Leave a Comment  

A Beautiful Day

        What a beautiful day today. Fall is here. Not as cold as it has been and a definitely not as cold as it will be. The leaves ar

Paul Cuffe

Paul Cuffe

Malcolm X

Malcolm X

Barack Obama

Barack Obama

e falling and there is a buzz on campus. Everybody is excited about the election. I swear, I have not seen one McCain supporter anywhere. I am sure they are here, I just can’t find them. Ever since I got here, at least once a day, I get harassed by an Obama supporter trying to sign me up along Mass. Avenue. Can’t wait to see what happens Tuesday. Classes were interesting today. Gates lectured in African American Studies and we read the speeches of Malcolm X in Black Nationalism. Gates is funny. He said that someone told him that white people are scared that if Obama wins, black people will treat them as bad as they have treated us for 400 years. He said, blacks will at least give them Saturday AND Sunday off. Check out theroot.com on Wednesday, he mentioned that he has a fascinating story about the history of blacks running for president that will run on the site. Quick question, “Who was the first black person to go to the White House.”(Not the slaves that built it.) It was Paul Cuffe, the abolitionist and ship builder who visited James Madison in 1812. But the first to dine in the White House was Booker T. Washington in 1901. Gates and Higginbotham, couldn’t agree of Booker T. came for dinner or lunch. Gates lectured on the “Politics of Disrespectability.”

        The Politics of Respectability,” is a theory created by Higginbotham, which examines black resistance. It asks the question, “Why would black people put on their Sunday cloths to go protest in tense and dangerous situations?” The theory signified a class and status within the working class by evoking manners and morals. This is essentially what Rosa Parks represented

            “Politics of Disrespectability,” was a movement designed to bring down blacks. Between 1890 and 1920, the beginning of the Harlem Renaissance, there were thousands of published images of blacks known as “Sambo Art.” Big red lips. White teeth. Overdressed. There were also images of mammies. Racist paraphernalia. Racist cartoons and comics. A “New Negro” soon came along with the express purpose of rehabilitating the negro. Destroying the old negro to create, “a new and different, black Anglo-Saxon,” different from the “unwashed Negro,” and capable of doing anything that the white man could do. The “New Negro” was tall, erect, and as strong and powerful as “Michelangelo’s Moses.” Mammy was turned into a Brown Madonna.  You get the point.

            In Black Nationalism, we ended the class by discussing “The Ballot or the Bullet.

            “The time when white people can come in our community and get us to vote for them so that they can be our political leaders and tell us what to do and what not to do is long gone. By the same token, the time when that same white man, knowing that your eyes are too far open, can send another negro into the community and get you and me to support him so he can use him to lead us astray — those days are long gone too.”

            Lets see what tomorrow brings. I am sure it will be a lovely day.

Published in: on November 4, 2008 at 5:05 am  Leave a Comment  

Missing Homecoming


            Ever since I knew I was going to be at Harvard this year, when people would ask me if I was going to NCCU’s Homecoming this year, I would always say, “Nah. Harvard is playing Dartmouth that weekend.” I was joking of course, but I always knew I was gonna miss homecoming this year. This is the first time I have ever missed Homecoming. I heard M.C. Lyte, one of my favorite rappers turned the Cabaret out. I know Gamma Beta was there in full effect. Hopefully, somebody will post some pics somewhere. I’ll be back next year when my line, “The Prophets of Rage,” celebrate our 20th year as member of Alpha Phi Alpha. For the record, we won Homecoming, spanking Edward Waters 34-14. Oh yeah, Harvard beat Dartmouth 35-7.


Published in: on November 2, 2008 at 5:03 am  Comments (3)