Friday, September 17, 2010

Negro Digest/Black World

Negro Digest-Black World

Negro Digest/Black World: Exploring the Archive 1961-1975

Publisher John H. Johnson introduced Negro Digest in Chicago in 1942 as a new Reader's Digest type magazine for the African American community. In its early days, the publication was mainly a collection of reprinted articles concerning African American interests. While early sales reached up to 150,000 issues per month, the magazine's success was soon extinguished by Johnson Publication's new magazine, Ebony. Becoming an unprofitable venture, Negro Digest folded in 1951.

However, Negro Digest's early failure would not reflect its later success. As critic and poet Kaluma ya Salaam wrote, "for the publication of Black Arts creative literature, no magazine was more important than the Chicago based Johnson publication Negro Digest/Black World." The early 1960s marked a growing interest in black consciousness, writing, and art. In 1961, Johnson revived Negro Digest under editor and notable black intellectual Hoyt Fuller. The second incarnation of the magazine would be much different, transforming it from a catalogue of stories that regarded black interests into a vanguard publication that acted as a leading forum and voice in the Black Arts movement. Under Hoyt Fuller's guidance, the magazine underwent many changes, reporting on controversial issues such as Black Power and giving voice to local Chicago poets such as Haki Madhubuti (don l. lee) and Carolyn Rodgers, who probably would have otherwise been left unknown. The publication's eventual transformation into the more politicized and globally focused Black World marked its desire to act as not only a literary space for African Americans but Black people through out the world. Fuller wrote in a rare editorial note dated May 1970, that the magazine would aim to "routinely publish articles which will probe and report the conditions of peoples and their struggles throughout the Black World," with newfound mission of "guarding against the opportunists and charlatans who would exploit Black Art and Literature for their own gain and the spiritual and artistic colonization of Black people."

Negro Digest/Black World is a massive archive. While the first issues of Negro Digest from the 1940s and early 1950s shouldn't be forgotten, the rebirth of the magazine in the early 1960s is of great use to those studying histories of activism, Black Aesthetics (both literary and artistic, local and national), and historical reflections of the period. While there is a wealth of phenomenal material, navigating this archive can be an extremely difficult task because of its breadth and the variety of material. Luckily this resource is still very available at many libraries since it was so widely circulated and read during its lifetime. A renewed scholarly interest in these publications could have a profound effect on the way we conceptualize the Black Arts movement and black activism during this period because many scholars rely on the valuable yet overly authoritative texts like Black Fire. Excavating key works from Negro Digest/Black World illustrates its utility for scholars and enthusiasts of the period across all fields. Further exploration of this untapped resource could have a profound effect on the scholarly direction of this field and a renewed interest of literature during the period.

Engaging Negro Digest/Black World is much easier if one is familiar with the format throughout its years of publication. Often, the issues are built around a common theme; but regardless, they always concern themselves with some aspect of the black experience. There are annual poetry and theater issues, which highlight works by well-known artists and critics such as Amiri Baraka and Addison Gayle, as well as lesser-known participants in the movement. The general format of the issue is an editor's note, several stories, poems, or political essays pertaining to the general theme of the issue, and then the "regular features," which include "Perspectives (notes on books, writers, artists, and the arts)," Humor in Hue," (witty political comics about race by various black artists), and selected poetry.

Negro Digest/Black World is such a fascinating artifact because the content of each issue seems to evade rigid binaries of conservative/liberal, reactionary/radical, and instead functions as a forum for different issues and ideas that were unavoidable realities of the black public sphere. For example, the June 1967 issue of Negro Digest (which cost 35 cents) contains an excerpt from Black Skin White Masks by the extremely influential psychoanalyst Frantz Fanon entitled "Black Man, White Woman," while at the same time a piece by Martin Luther King Jr. called "Stand on War and Peace: Martin Luther King Jr. Explains." Issues of Negro Digest/Black World, such as the June 1967 issue, leave the magazine's political stance rather opaque, making it all the more interesting in reconstructing a historical and ideological sketch of the period.

In addition to the exposition of various viewpoints, the magazine was also a very real space for the performance of public debate. For instance, the debate from the November 1966 issue entitled "Black Power Symposium" is an invaluable piece for those who are interested in the feelings people had about Black Power before it became a widespread and arguably diluted concept. This particular debate features 12 different opinions ranging from Conrad Kent Rivers, founder of OBAC, to Anita Cornwell, a writer and former state employee, to Dudely Randall, founder of Broadside Press but also a librarian and poet. The sheer range of voices about this particular concept automatically points to how important this resource in constructing a historiography from an African American perspective. Another way debates manifest themselves were in articles often preceded (but not always) with the label "Perspective." A fascinating example is June Jordan's "White English: The Politics of Language," part of the August 1973 issue's "Focus on Language" feature, in which Jordan makes an extremely cogent appeal to readers about the importance of "black" English. At the end of the article, the political implications are amplified by the postscript that reads "Both her (June Jordan) award-winning teen novel His Own Where and Dry Victories, a history book, were written entirely in "Black Language." "One consequence," she writes, "is that the novel has been banned from the public schools of Baltimore Md." As this example illustrates, the magazine can be a host of literal debates or more conceptual and long running problems such as the one addressed by Jordan.

The political debates recordied in Negro Digest/Black World are of great importance, but this periodical also houses reproductions of rare artistic works and original aesthetic theory. For example, the June 1970 issue features an essay by Chicago poet and theorist Carolyn Rodgers entitled "The Literature of the Black: Feelings are Sense." While the essay is powerful on its own, it becomes even more valuable after Rodger's links to other black artists (she was a member of OBAC) becomes apparent. The dialogue about literary aesthetics is not simply being stated in the text, it flows as part of a longer-term dialogue throughout the magazine. In that sense, the periodical aspect of Negro Digest/Black World allows for the tracking of developing ideas and dialogue through the years. Another instance of a rare but extraordinary "find" in Black World is in the October 1971 issue article, "AfriCobra (African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists): '10 in Search of a Nation." by Africobra artist Jeff Donaldson. Not only does this article contain the group's credo in the words of one of its most prominent member, but it also features a variety of rare images, such as Africobra member Jae Jarrell modeling her "revolutionary suit." This fascinating image has fallen almost completely into obscurity, only existing in this periodical's yellowing pages.

Negro Digest/Black World was published out of Chicago and therefore, whether intentionally or not, showcased local up-and-coming talent and political concerns of readers in the city. Since much of the activity of the late 1960s, particularly the Black Arts Movement, was occurring in the city of publication, the magazine is an excellent resource for those interested in the happenings in Chicago. This is particularly the case for studying OBAC. Often essays will be followed with a biographical sketch about the author, thus figuring out their location is a relatively simple task. It also, as illustrated by "Symposium on Black Power," can offer perspectives by local people, or otherwise unpublished works by authors such as Sam Greenly ("Sonny's Season" October 1971) or "Unpublished Poems by Conrad Kent Rivers," (September 1975). These are just a few artistic works that pertain to the local Chicago arts. There is also special attention paid to local issues that would resonate with the national African American community as well such as the statement "Fred Hampton: Martyr" by William E. Hampton in the May 1970 issue.

The best way to navigate Negro Digest/Black World is to either track down a particular article of interest (they are often cited but rarely republished) and explore the surrounding articles and issues or find a copy of Roots of Afrocentric Thought: A Reference Guide to Negro Digest/Black World 1961-1976 compiled by Clovis E. Semmes. While Semmes book is a slightly clumsy compilation, it seems to be the only way to sift through the material and get a short annotation about each article without actually having to approach the issues individually. Though this book seems obscure in subject matter, it is readily available in many large Chicago area libraries.

Despite the many treasures contained within the pages of Negro Digest/Black World, there is surprisingly very little secondary literature available on the magazine. Listed below are a few sources, however, this archive still remains under analyzed and underappreciated. Even the periodicals existence on microfilm is an uncertain reality, since it seems most libraries only recorded issues sporadically. Due to age and neglect, archival work with this resource seems to be a fleeting opportunity.

Selected Bibliography

Homage to Hoyt Fuller. Ed. Dudley Randall. Detroit: Broadside, 1984.

"From Negro Digest to Ebony, Jet and EM,Special Issue: 50 Years of JPC- Redefining the Black Image." Ebony March 1992.
A short history of Johnson Publications Inc's publications.

Negro Digest/Black World. Chicago: Johnson Publishing Company.

Salaam, Kaluma ya "Historical Overviews of the Black Arts Movement."
An excellent resource for the study of Black Arts Poetry, this particular article highlights the importance of Negro Digest/Black World as a resource.

Semmes, Clovis E. Roots of Afrocentric Thought: A reference Guide to Negro Digest/Black World, 1961-1976. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1998.
ISBN: 0-313-29992-7
A reference guide that is extremely useful for navigating this periodical.

Semmes, Clovis E. "Foundations in Africana Studies: Revisiting Negro Digest/Black World, 1961." The Western Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 25, No. 4 (2001): 195-201.
One of the few pieces of scholarship about the history of the magazine

Saturday, January 2, 2010

He’s the new Malcolm X! Nobody’s going to talk about his book, HOW TO RECOVER FROM THE ADDICTION TO WHITE SUPREMACY, out loud, but they’ll hush hush about it.—Jerri Lange, author, Jerri, A Black Woman’s Life in the Media

Monday, December 14, 2009

Foreword to How to Recover from the Addiction to White Supremacy (Nathan Hare)
He’s the new Malcolm X! Nobody’s going to talk about his book, HOW TO RECOVER FROM THE ADDICTION TO WHITE SUPREMACY, out loud, but they’ll hush hush about it.—Jerri Lange, author, Jerri, A Black Woman’s Life in the Media
Beyond Religion, Toward Spirituality, essays on consciousness
He is a Master Teacher in many fields of thought—religion and psychology, Sociology and anthropology, history and politics, literature and the humanities.
He is a needed Counselor, for he knows himself, on the deepest of personal levels and he reveals that self to us, that we might be his beneficiaries…. If you want to reshape (clean up, raise) your consciousness, this is a book to savor, to read again and again—to pass onto a friend or lover.
—Rudolph Lewis, Editor, ChickenBones: A Journal
Wish I Could Tell You The Truth, essays
….Malcolm X ain’t got nothing on Marvin X. Still Marvin has been ignored and silenced like Malcolm would be ignored and silenced if he had lived on into the Now.
Marvin’s one of the most extraordinary, exciting black intellectuals living today—writing, publishing, performing with Sun Ra’s Musicians (Live in Philly at Warm Daddies, available on DVD from BPP), reciting, filming, producing conferences (Kings and Queens of Black Consciousness, San Francisco Black Radical Book Fair); he’s ever engaging, challenging the respectable and the comfortable. He like Malcolm, dares to say things fearlessly, in the open (in earshot of the white man) that so many Negroes feel, think and speak on the corner, in the barbershops and urban streets of black America….
—Rudolph Lewis, Editor, ChickenBones: A Journal
In The Crazy House Called America, essays
…People who know Marvin X already know him as a peripatetic, outspoken, irreverent, poetic “crazy nigger,” whose pen is continually and forever out-of-control. As a professional psychologist, I hasten to invoke the disclaimer that that is in no way a diagnosis or clinical impression of mine. I have never actually subjected this brother to serious psychoanalytical scrutiny and have no wish to place him on the couch, if only because I know of no existing psycho-diagnostic instrumentality of pathology of normalcy that could properly evaluate Marvin completely.
—Dr. Nathan Hare, Black Think Tank, San Francisco
Land of My Daughters, poems
Marvin X has been a witness to history. He shows that an excellent minority writer can raise issues that the mainstream publishers and book reviewers find hard to grapple with…. He, Huey P. Newton, Eldridge Cleaver and others were also casualties of the chemical attack on African Americans in the form of Crack and alcohol waged by corporations and a government that placed questionable foreign policy goals above the health of its citizens…. Many of those who inspired the cultural revolution of the 1960s remain stuck there. This volume shows that Marvin X has moved on.
—Ishmael Reed, novelist, poet, essayist, publisher, Oakland
Iraq…how did we get there and how do we get back? The consciousness-altering book of poems that tells the tale, in no uncertain terms and yet always via poetry, is the astonishing Land of My Daughters: Poems 1995-2005 by Marvin X. Marvin X is the USA’s Rumi, and his nation is not “where our fathers died” but where our daughters live. The death of patriarchal war culture is his everyday reality. X’s poems vibrate, whip, love in the most meta- and physical ways imaginable and un-. He’s got the humor of Pietri, the politics of Baraka, and the spiritual Muslim grounding that is totally new in English—the ecstasy of Hafiz, the wisdom of Saadi. It’s not unusual for him to have a sequence of shortish lines followed by a culminating line that stretches a quarter page—it is the dance of the dervishes, the rhythms of a Qasida.
—Bob Holman, Bowery Poetry Club, New York City

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Mamadou Lumumba Memorial Service

Mamadou Lumumba (Kenneth Freeman) Memorial

Mamadou Lumumba (Kenneth Freeman) was one of the premier neo-black intellectuals of the 1960s. He was the first black student to attend Bishop O Dowd high school. He graduated from University of San Francisco in 1960, with graduate studies at the University of Mexico. In Mexico he learned of the Cuban revolution and this expanded his radical conscious and social activism. When he returned to Oakland, he joined the group of young radicals at Merritt College, including Bobby Seale, Huey Newton, Ernie Allen, Isaac Moore, Ann Williams, Marvin X and Carol Freeman, his wife. Mamadou became a member of Donald Warden's Afro American Association, a Black Nationalist organization. The AAA and the young radicals studied world revolution, including events in South Africa, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and the Congo where the first elected prime minister was assassinated. Apparently his similarity to Congolese Patrice Lumumba, made him adopt the name. Mamadou became editor of Soulbook magazine, one of the most radical publications of the 60s, a publication of RAM or the Revolutionary Action Movement. He also organized the first Black Panther Party in the Bay.

Memorial services will be held on Saturday, December 12, 2pm, at the Noodle Factory, 1255 26th Street at Union, Oakland. Call 510-355-6339 for more information

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Excuse me, Mr. President

Excuse me, Mr. President; the war in Afghanistan is not in the interests of the USA

There is nothing in Afghanistan that is vital to American interests unless those interests are heroin and oil pipelines around the Caspian Sea to escape Russian hegemony. Originally, the war in Afghanistan was to deny Al Quida a foothold and punish them for 9/11. The USA global bandits supplied and supported the Taliban as they ran the Russians out, but now they are fighting the Taliban to again deny Al Quida, although there is no Al Quida in Afghanistan. Thus, there is no need to have a surge of troops in Afghanistan. It is good for the militarist US economy, for the generals who run the corporations, the university/corporate e complex that benefits with contracts and related research.

The war in Iraq was a total failure simply because it was unnecessary to kill a million people over the lie that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. But again, Iraq was for oil and to check Shia expansion for the reactionary Sunni regimes throughout the Middle East, namely Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Persian Gulf states--and of course to protect Israel.

Of course Obama is a politician looked toward the next elections so he must mollify the right wing militarists. He told you he would expand the war into Pakistan during his election campaign. At least he is true to his word. And so for political expediency he will expand the war in Afghanistan, then try to deescalate near election time.

He is not thinking of the American's who shall die and those sure to come home traumatized, suicidal and homicidal. He is allocating billions to buy off the Taliban's acts of violence, but here at home he does nothing to "buy off" those brothers and sisters terrorizing the hood with internecine violence, depriving the hood of any social security. How can the US pay the insurgents to stop violence yet allow brothers in the hood to wreak havoc throughout America with guns and drugs? Internal violence is the real threat to America’s interests and security. This is why the poet Amiri Baraka warns us, "In the end the Negro will be the terrorist." The violence in the hood would surely one day cross over to the white community. We see black men redirecting their guns against the police in Oakland and Washington State. If this trend continues, get ready for an escalation in the police/military occupation of the hood. As the depression continues and creates more joblessness, expect the prison population to increase leading to a further destabilization of the hood. As Dr. Cornel West says, we must protect and respect the President but we must also correct the President when he goes down the path of reaction by enacting policies against our national interests as North American Africans.

Meanwhile, North American Africans may be oblivious to the radicalization of Latin America, but how long can we maintain our reactionary support of the US when our friends, brothers and sisters throughout the Americas are charting their own agenda and it does not include the globalist free trade policies of the US and her allies. Where is the North American African leadership that is putting our agenda in harmony with the people of Cuba, Brazil, Argentina, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Bolivia, Chile and Venezuela? Shall North American Africans continue their addiction to white supremacy domination and exploitation? Or shall we unite with our brothers and sisters throughout the Americas and work toward an agenda in harmony with our national and regional interests?
Further, the so-called attempt to nation build in Afghanistan is legalizing the warlords to continue their traditional tribalism, not unify as a national state. The Pashtun, Tajik, Usbek and others have tribal interests rather than national interests. The loya jurga or meeting of the tribal elders would be the way to resolve matters among the people of Afghanistan, not by a military surge that will include more killing and destruction rather than reconstruction. If there is no Al Quida in Afghanistan, we need to get out now, but it shall not happen because white supremacy must prove its point, no matter that no armies have conquered this land, not the armies of Alexander the Great, the British, nor Russians. Obama now has his opportunity to defy history.

Politics, money, oil, dope. And India is the other key player in this madness. India is playing on Kabul to counter the Pakistan support of Taliban. As reactionary as the Taliban are, they stopped the poppies growing. Enter the US and the poppy fields are blooming with a resultant opium addiction of the country. Whole villages and entire families are addicted, even babies are given opium for any ailment, even as a substitute for food. It is worse than the US supplied Crack addiction of North American Africans.

The saddest part of Obama's speech to West Point was his falsification of American history, claiming America as the good guys in the white hats who've never unjustly occupied people's land around the world. Let us hear from the Native Americans on this point. Let us recount the US support of reactionary regimes around the world, and do not fail to count the number of US military bases around the world to suppress and oppress people in order to steal their labor and resources. We suggest Obama read Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States. President Obama is sounding as right wing as his predecessors in the White House, from the beginning to now, all of them promoted white supremacy at home and abroad.

Monday, November 30, 2009



Quiet warrior
drummer supreme
we feel the drum silence
the moon is full yet empty this night
the Bay fog vanished
only for a beat in memory
it lingers forever.

a libation tonight
for a true trooper
a drum beat for culture
africanness beyond madness
a different drummer
sounds of freedom
round the world
hear the beat the rhythm of a new world
babylon trembles at the sound
gates of Jerico crumble
drum beats
stunted men fly in fear
the war drum in their ears
they are deaf from sound
give the drummer some.
Peace soldier!
--Marvin X