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Remembering Martin Luther King in the Scales of History

April 13, 2014
Remembering Martin Luther King in the Scales of History

African American Breakthrough Series

Consistent with the Kwanzaa principle Kujichagulia, we are proud to celebrate the history and contribution of African Americans.  Our breakthrough series highlights the ideas, theories, events, and technological inventions, of African Americans, which changed and shaped the lives of African Americans and advanced human civilization.  This article reflects on the teachings and legacy of Martin Luther King 46 years after his sacrifice that infamous day, April 4, 1968.

Why We Need Martin Luther King Jr., Voice Today

As a Christian who drew from the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth, it is prophetic that Martin Luther King (MLK) Jr.’s sacrifice Day would come in the month of April, which is associated death of Jesus and his resurrection from the dead.  Today, more than ever, it seems we need to resurrect the voice and insights of King to bring clarity and direction in resolving the interlocking crisis of race and class which stands in the way of King’s Beloved Community and America realizing it potential as a just society.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s contribution to America and indeed the world cannot be overstated.  King left both an activist/spiritual and moral/intellectual legacy that has been employed in freedom struggles around the world.  For example, Egyptian activist used and referenced to Kings teaching during the uprising at Tahrir Square at the height of the Egyptian Revolution, which overthrew the dictator, Hosni Mubarak.  Freedom fighters such as Nelson Mandela drew inspiration and direction from King.  And, recently Rune Kier – Danish Ministry for Climate, Energy and Building, penned an article entitled: Fifty years after Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech, the European Union still could learn a lot from his words. Moreover, King’s influence continues to span the globe as noted by BET.

Martin Luther King’s Legacy

MLK as an activist will be remembered for the freedom marches he led and helped to organize in the South, which culminated in the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting rights Act.  These two landmark pieces of legislation served to benefit all American citizens and moved America closer to adherence to its principles and statement set forth in its founding document, The Declaration of Independence.

Too, MLK’s I Have A Dream Speech, cemented his name in history and inspired a generation and a nation to reimagine a new America, unburden with the corrosive debilitating effects of discrimination and hatred, driven by love and the unity of all races, and full of opportunity for everyone based on their human potential and character.  The “Dream” speech made Americans, in particular African Americans, more hopeful that change was possible and America could be a “colored blind” society.

During the last three years of his life, which were the most radical and threating, King called for a revolution in values and launched and all-out assault against the triple dangers of racism, materialism, and militarism.  This stands as one of the enduring contributions of MLK.  What is often overlooked in discussing King is his critique of America, which is still much in play and relevant today.  The angst that many Americans are feeling about race, war, and their financial well-being, for example, can be traced to Kings critique of the triple evils devouring America.

More than a critique, King believed that the triple interlocking evils of racism, materialism, and militarism, were at the root of human suffering, both in America and abroad, and he believed that these three evils had to be confronted and overcome in order to transform America into a truly human society where it could fulfill and realize its historical promise and potential.

First, King saw racism as a cancer which spread beyond America.  “Racism,” he asserted, “and its perennial ally—economic exploitation—provide the key to understanding most of the international complications of this generation.”  Liking racism to a disease, King further stated, “History has shown that, like a virulent disease germ, racism can grow and destroy nations.”  And, unlike the craven speech and posturing today, which tires to dismiss racism as a thing of the past in favor of a “post-racial” society, he gave a sobering diagnosis and prognosis of racism:

For too long the depth of racism in American life has been underestimated.  The surgery to extract it is necessarily complex and detailed.  As a beginning it is important to X-ray our history and reveal the full extent of the disease.  The racism of today is real, but the democratic spirit that has always face it is equally real.

Second, King was critical of American capitalism, believing that it turned people into things, consequently fostering values dehumanized relationships and delimited America’s potential.  As writer and elder stateswoman Grace Boggs notes, “in his major writings and speeches in the last two years of his life (Where Do We Go From Here: Community or Chaos? and Time to Break Silence), King began to project a new kind of radical revolution that would begin the shift from a “thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society.”

Boggs further observes that King rejected priority of technology over people and technology as an equalizer as is touted today.  In fact, prophetically, he saw that the technology of today- iPhones, ipads, texting, twitter, Facebook- to name just a few would untether our relationships and make us less human and less empathetic.

Moreover as Boggs points out King believed that technology, “diminishes people because it eliminates their sense of participation. Thus, King warned repeatedly, “Enlarged material powers,” spell enlarged peril if there is no proportionate growth of the soul…When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”  And, he punctuated his concern the seductive attraction to technology, stating: Nothing in our glittering technology can raise man to new heights, because material growth has been made an end in itself, and, in the absence of moral purpose, man himself becomes smaller as the works of man become bigger.”

Next, King argued that the third triple evil, militarism, was the death knell of America.  “A nation,” he wrote, “that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”  Unlike so many of today, King could not live or tolerate the cognitive dissonance of support war aboard but railing against violence at home. In a speech called Beyond Vietnam, king shocked the nation, saying: “I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today–my own government.”

What is to be done: Toward a True Revolution

One of the most important legacies of MLK was his call and push for a new value system that would transform our political economy and our relationship with each other.  King understood that the triple evils of racism, materialism, and militarism were grounded in the American value system and that the fight for freedom and full citizenship for blacks and other Americans had to called for a more radical and comprehensive approach.  As Grace Boggs observes:

Viewing Martin Luther King, Jr., as a revolutionary is in sharp contrast to the official view of him as simply an advocate for the rights of African Americans within the current system. In the last two years of his life, confronted with problems that required more complex solutions than visions of Black and White children marching hand in hand, King began to explore a new kind of revolution, one that would challenge all the values and institutions of our society and combine the struggle against racism with a struggle against poverty, militarism, and materialism.

Thus, as the Civil Rights Movement progressed toward the completion of its mission, King saw that civil rights alone was not enough to end the suffering of blacks and poor people, and that a more radical and comprehensive approach to the problems confronting African Americans had to be employed.  “The black revolution,” he insisted, “is much more than a struggle for rights for Negroes. It is exposing evils that are deeply rooted in the whole structure of our society.”

Further, he viewed war, in particular the Viet Nam War, as a proxy for a more fundamental and deeper sickness in American society.  The war in Vietnam,” he said, “is a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit. Material growth has been made an end itself. Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power.”

What was needed King articulated was a revolution grounded in new set of values.   “A true revolution of values”, he pointed out, “will lay hands on the world order and say of war- ‘This way of settling differences is not just.’ Thus, as King entered the final years of his life, he believed that only a revolution could save America and humanity from the three structural evils of America.  In a radical tone and voice, King announce:  ”Our only hope lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometime hostile world declaring eternal opposition to poverty, racism, and militarism.”

Given the state of race and inequality in America today, it is Americans not just the European Union who can still learn from the insights and teaching of Martin Luther King.  Indeed, what a wonderful and different world it would be.  The triple evils- racism, materialism, and militarism- are still present today.

Anna Julia Cooper: A Response to President Obama and Congressman Paul Ryan

April 6, 2014
Anna Julia Cooper: A Response to President Obama and Congressman Paul Ryan

 African American Breakthrough Series

Consistent with the Kwanzaa principle Kujichagulia, we are proud to celebrate the history and contribution of African Americans.  Our breakthrough series highlights the ideas, theories, events, and technological inventions, of African Americans which changed and shaped the lives of African Americans and advanced human civilization.

In Defense of African Americans and the Poor

Melissa Harris-Perry, professor of political science at Tulane University, and MSNBC Host and Nation Columnist insightfully notes that the recent comments by Congressman Paul Ryan, castigating black males for being unemployed and the lack of a work ethic, ignited a firestorm among liberals and conservatives.  Ryan” comments that “this tailspin of culture in our inner cities, in particular of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work; and so there’s a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with,” was called racist and condemned by those on the Left. Yet, as Professor Harris-Perry points out in her article, Democrats, even President Obama, have been channeling this type of message for some time now.

The comments by President Obama, Harris-Perry states, were similar in nature and seem to repackage the same conservative narrative.  See observes, “Our current Democratic president has not offered a new narrative. His script seems borrowed. Just in February the White House launched a new initiative, “My Brother’s Keeper,” which targets young men of color. “No excuses,” announced President Obama. “Government, and the private sector, and philanthropy, and all the faith communities, we all have a responsibility to help provide you the tools you need. But you’ve got responsibilities too.

To be sure, Ryan’s comments represent the classical rightwing ideology and messaging with respect to race and culture.  However, as the electoral terrain has shifted to the right, even democrats have adopted some of the conservative’s talking points and ideological perspective. However, again, as Harris-Perry notes, President Obama’s statement differs little from that of Ryan

Thus, whenever elected officials—democrats or republicans– are discussing public resources or programs for blacks or poor people (black and poor have become synonymous), they tend qualify their support with a condition that blacks or the poor “work hard,” or play by the rules.”  And, since they are often seen as non contributors “takers,” who lack social worth, with some culture deficiency, as Ryan claims, they are undeserving of any investment or help from the government.

Anna Julia Cooper has articulated the best response to both Congressman Ryan and President Obama in her classical work, A Vice From the South.  In this work, she advances the theory of worth argument, which she issues in response to racist arguments against the value of black people. In a blatant and brazen statement, Henry Ward Beecher, abolitionist and minister and brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, remarked: “Were Africa and Africans to sink to-morrow, how much poorer would the world be?  A little less gold and ivory, a little less coffee, a considerable ripple perhaps, where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans would come together—that is all; not a poem, not an intervention, not a piece of art would be missed from the world.”

Beecher’s statement suggests humankind could do without black people since they are non-contributors to civilization, and thus are, “takers.”  Cooper’s response, as noted by Lewis Gordon, Professor of Philosophy, Religion, and Judaic Studies at Temple University, was that “worth was a function of what an individual produced in relation to that which was invested in him or her.”  Cooper pointed out that a paucity of resources had been invested in blacks. Yet despite this, blacks through their unpaid labor (slavery) have been integral to the production of American wealth.  In fact, she posits that slavery denied and retarded the human potential of African Americans, and because of this, whatever intellectual and educational deficits of blacks are not the responsibility of blacks, but of those who enslaved them.

Closely related to the above, she argues that slavery denied African Americans the chance to develop through their own free labor and were they deprived of formal education and training.  “Education,” she asserts, “is the safest and richest investment possible to man.”  It pays the largest dividends and gives the greatest product in the world—a man.”  Yet, despite this, blacks have still advanced and made a contribution to America beyond their forced labor.  Summing up her point, she declares: A man is to be praised primarily not for having inherited fine tools and faultless materials but for making the most of the stuff he has, and doing his best in spite of disadvantages and poor materials.  The individual is responsible not for what he has not, but for what he has; and the vital part for us after all depends on the use we make of our materials” .

Furthermore, Cooper points to the discrimination against blacks by businesses and labor unions in favor of native-born whites and newly arrived immigrants from Europe who were less skilled that blacks and had far less command of the English language.   Although blacks were highly skilled craftsmen and had mastered mechanics during their long period of enslavement, Cooper notes that skilled was “steadily drifting into the hands of white workmen—mostly foreigners.  She further observes:

The white engineer holds a tight monopoly both of the labor market and of the science of his craft.  Nothing would induce him to take colored apprentice or even to work beside a colored workman.

Production Cooper insightful puts forth is a function of investment.  In human terms, investment must be calculated over generations.  Summing up her theory on growth and achieved potentiality, she writes:

Now whatever notions we may indulge on the theory of evolution and the laws of atavism or heredity, all concede that no individual character receives its raw material newly created and independent of the rock from whence it was hewn.  No life is bound up within the period of its conscious existence.  No personality dates its origin form its birthday.  The elements that are twisted into the cord did not begin their formation when first the tiny thread became visible in the great warp and filing of humanity.

Thus, achieved human potential, at the individual or collective level, occurs and shaped, realized over time.  Cooper further explains that: “The material that go to make a man, the probabilities of his character and activities, the condition and circumstances of his growth, and his quantum of resistance and mastery are the resultant of forces witch have been accumulating and gathering momentum for generations.”

Given all of the above, Cooper argues that whites have produced far less than what should be expected given their social and intellectual inheritance, their current social investment (primary and higher education and industrial training), their privileged position in American society and the absence of racial oppression nor were enslaved. She observes:

It is a fact which every candid man who rids through the rural districts in the South will admit, that the Negro is ahead of the white man of his chances.  Indeed, it would not be hard to show that the white man of his chances does not exist.  The “Crackers” and “Poor-whites” were never slaves, were never oppressed or discriminated against.  Their time, their earnings, their activities have always been at their own disposal; and pauperism in their case can be attributed to nothing but stagnation—moral, mental, and physical immobility: while in the case of the Negro, poverty can at least be partially accounted for by the hard conditions of life and labor,–the past oppression and continued repression which form the vital air in which the Negro lives and moves and has his being.

Lesson for Ryan and Obama

Fundamentally, Anna Julia Cooper argues that a person’s productive capacity is a function of what the person (or race) produces in relation to that which is invested in him or her.  In comparison to whites, very little has been invested in African Americans historically and contemporaneously.  Yet, despite the enormous handicap of slavery, segregation, structural racism as well as internal deficits, black youth male and female, are producing well beyond what is invested in them.  By contrast, the amount invested, socially, economically, and culturally in whites youth, in production for their achievements, is so costly that it diminishes their overall worth.  Although some achieve much more that is invested in them, more white youth produce far less than what is invested in them.

The educational achievement gap, for instance, is much more an example of what is invested in children and youth and the availability of opportunities and resources than learning deficiencies.  Similarly, unemployment is a function of the lack of investment in young black men and women and employment opportunities, rather than a cultural deficit.

The Ryan 2014/2015 budget makes it even more probable that this pattern of divestment and lack of opportunity will persist.  Rather than preach ideology and advance political talking points, listening to the voice of Anna Julia Cooper and adhering to her theory of human worth and production would better serve Congressman Ryan and President Obama.










Black Women: Redeeming and Regenerating African Americans

March 26, 2014
Black Women: Redeeming and Regenerating African Americans

In honor of Women’s History Month, the African American Breakthrough Series will feature the writing and voice of Anna Julia Cooper.  Born in 1858 in North Carolina to her enslaved mother, Hannah Stanley Haywood, Anna Julia Cooper spent her lifetime of over a century redefining the limitations and opportunities for women of color in a society set up for their disempowerment and subjugation. Preeminent scholar and educator, Cooper saw the status and agency of black women as central to the elevation of African Americans and the progress of the nation. 

Anna Julia Cooper: Saving the Race

In light of the worsening socioeconomic condition of poor and working class black communities–increased poverty, disintegrating families and family structure, epidemic school failure, sky rocking unemployment, rampant drug use, and drug selling as a means of employment and status, and a growing sense of hopelessness and despair– we turn our attention once more to the voice and intellectual work of Anna Julia Cooper.  Given the oppressive condition of Africans Americans during her lifetime augmented by the unleashing of raw racism and violence, her analysis and writing of the question “What is to be done,” provides an alternative way of thinking about  the current state of black America.

Cooper’s starting point for race redemption and reconstruction begins with a focus and priority on black women.  Putting forth a plan of race restoration and race-building , she advanced what she refers to as the “vital agency of womanhood in the generation an progress of a race.”  Thus, she declares, “the fundamental agency under God in the regeneration, the re-thinking of the race, as well as the ground work and starting point of its progress upward, must begin with the black woman.”

In a word, Cooper sees the black woman as the vanguard for the advancement of blacks in America.  This was a radical and bold statement, especially in light of the dominant male ideology and force in American life at the end of the 19th century.  Yet, she believed this was an invitation of heaven and history.  Given the strategic position that the black woman occupied in black and American life, she observes that the elevation and contribution of the black women would be exponentially greater than black males. Hence, in her signature statement, she astutely notes;

Only the Black Woman can say “when and where I enter, in the quite, undisputed dignity of my womanhood, without violence and without suing or special patronage, then and there the whole Negro race enters with me.”

The identification and call for black women as the vanguard of a nation-building effort in the service of the race is not fanciful thinking by Cooper.  She is keenly aware of the challenges this presented. “With all the wrongs and neglect of her past, with all the weakness , the debasement, the moral thralldom of her present,” she expounds, “the blacks woman of to-day stands mute and wondering at the Herculean task devolving upon her.”  But, she adds, “the cycle wait for her.  No other hand can move the lever.  She must be loosed from her bands and set to work.”

To be sure, Cooper’s emphasis on black women as the advance guard for race recovery and building is strategic, and calls for investment and cultivation of their human potential.  Black women she proclaims are the “mothers of the next generation.”  Moreover, the care, concern , priority and corresponding commitment to invest in the project of elevating black women as a road to race redemption is both honorable and righteous. Given this, black people should embrace the call, “I am my sister’s keeper,” and this commitment, she writes, “should be the hearty response of every man and woman of the race, and this conviction should purify and exalt the narrow, selfish and petty personal aims of life into a noble and sacred purpose.”

Further, Cooper sees a significant role for the black church in pursuit of the sacred purpose of lifting up black women and in making them competent nation-builders who can fulfill their role and responsibility of restoration of African Americans.  Moreover, the task of nation-building begins with young black girls.  Cooper asked: “Will not the aid of the Church be given to prepare our girls in head and heart for the duties and responsibilities that await the intelligent wife, the Christian mother, the earnest virtuous helpful woman, as once both the lever and the fulcrum for uplifting the race.”

Unquestionably, Cooper believes, the future of African Americans is predicated on achieving the elevation of black women.  Cooper constantly reminds those concern with African Americans uplift that “the race cannot be effectively lifted up till its women are truly elevated.  Punctuating this the critical task, she adds: “Our life as a race is at stake.  The dearest interest of our hearts is in the scales…the time is ripe for action.”

Advancing Coopers Thoughts and Ideas Today

Much has been made, and deservingly, so, of the need to focus more resources and attention on helping young black males. President Obama, “My  Brother’s Keeper” initiative, which has drawn much attention, is the latest high profile example of such an effort.  Yet, Anna Julia Cooper argues the opposite, and turns President Obama’s thinking and focus on its head. As noted above, she argues that restoration and regeneration of African American males and females rest on the focus and elevation of black females.  Her argument has potency and merits serious consideration.  For example, consider the following:

  1. Black females headed households is more prevalent than that among any other racial group
  2. Black children are more likely to live with one parent
  3. Poverty rates are highest for families headed by single women, particularly if they are black or Hispanic
  4. 45.8 percent of young black children (under age 6) live in poverty, compared to 14.5 percent of white children
  5.  Children in single-parent households are raised not only with economic, but also social and psychological, disadvantages (, they are four times as likely as children from intact families to be abused or neglected; much likelier to have trouble academically; twice as prone to drop out of school; three times more likely to have behavioral problems; much more apt to experience emotional disorders; far likelier to have a weak sense right and wrong)

Given aforementioned data related to female headed household, and the data that shows African American males overrepresented in almost all of the negative social economic indicators, Cooper’s call for a nation-building project, centered on black women, seems prudent and advisable.

Thus, African Americans, elected officials, policy makers in the public and private sector, would do well to embrace Anna Julia Cooper’s plan and focus for redemption and regeneration of both black males and females . As she so aptly put it: “The past work in this direction has been unsatisfactory we must admit.  That without a change of policy results in the future will be as meager, we greatly fear…  our life as a race is at stake.”


  1. Anna Julia Cooper, A Voice From the South
  2. Economic Policy Institute, The State of Working America
  3.  Jonathan Vespa, Jamie M. Lewis, and , Rose M. Kreide, American Families and Living Arrangements: 2012
  4. National Poverty Center




What Anna Julia Cooper Can Teach America and the Women’s Movement

March 20, 2014
What Anna Julia Cooper Can Teach America and the Women’s Movement

Women’ History Month

In honor of Women’s History Month, the African American Breakthrough Series will feature the writing and voice of Anna Julia Cooper.  Born in 1858 in North Carolina to her enslaved mother, Hannah Stanley Haywood, Anna Julia Cooper spent her lifetime of over a century redefining the limitations and opportunities for women of color in a society set up for their disempowerment and subjugation. Preeminent scholar and educator, Cooper saw the status and agency of black women as central to the elevation of African Americans and the progress of the nation.

Cooper’s writing anticipates and prefigures liberation theology, emphasizing a “preferential option for the lowly,” offers a critique of the damaging effects of American racism,  presents an appraisal of white male patriarchal dominance, and provides a robust vision and an instructive guide for the Women’s Movement, grounded in the lived experience of black women. 

Anna Julia Cooper 

During the past four years, we have witness an unprecedented crusade to roll back reproductive rights and choices of women, along with an effort by the political and religious right to mute and silence the voices of women in the workplace and in the political arena.  There has been a preponderance of legislation, for example, that has forced the closure of abortion clinics and attempted to criminalize abortions. This has become the signature calling card of right wing congressional and state legislative bodies.

Further, we have also seen a relentless attack by the conservative media and their political and academic allies on the poor, often singling out African Americans.  Note, for example, Representative Paul Ryan’s assessment and commentary of the high unemployment rate among inner-city (code for black) males:  “We have got this tailspin of culture in our inner cities in particular of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work and so there’s a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.”

Thus, the twin issue of race and gender has once again taken center stage in American society. Given this,  the work and voice of Anna Julia Cooper is instructive and essential for understanding these two issues, and for grasping how race and gender can work in opposition to each other or as an integrated, cooperative whole, in the service of the larger project of producing a new humanity in which women and men can achieve at their fullest human potential.

The Arc of Moral Christianity

To be sure, the starting point for Cooper’s argument for equal respect, opportunity, and rights for women is grounded in the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth. She contends that insofar as the Christian Church has maintained its fidelity to the teaching of Jesus, it serves as an authoritative  source and guide for the development of women.  She writes, “the source of the vitalizing principle of women’s development and amelioration is the Christian Church so far as that the church is consistent with Christianity.” The key here is adherence to moral code which Jesus articulated for humanity.  She writes further, “By laying down for women, the same code of morality, the same standard of purity as for men… has given men a rule and guide for the estimation of woman as an equal, as a helper, as a friend, as a sacred charge to be sheltered and cared for with a brother’s love and sympathy.”

Hence, her reference of Jesus as a guide for how to view equality of women and men places Christians on notice that equality of women and men is a fundamental teaching of Jesus and thus should be present in our daily lives.  And still further, we can infer from her argument that discrimination against women or practices and policies which harm them runs counter to Christian principles as set forth by Jesus.

History as a Measure of Women’s Progress

Next, Cooer advances that the study of history shows a causal relationship between the status of women and the advancement of society.  Nations which have thwarted the advancement of women have slowed their own progress. Women, she writes, are a potent force in improving society and that the “position of women in society determines the vital elements of regeneration and progress.” Her argument here is crucial to understanding one of the principal causes of stagnation and retrogression of American society.

In addition, Cooper maintains that her assertion that women are the vital force pushing society forward is not a sexist one, but one founded on “a priori grounds.” She asserts that this is not because a “woman is better or stronger than a man, but from the nature of the case, because it is she who must first form the man by directing the earliest impulses of is character.” The maternal care and circumstances, thus, positions a woman  to provide the requisite  nurturing at the earliest developmental stages of a child’s life.  A woman’s care and well-being then is essential to fulfilling this role and central to the development of the child.

Therefore, it is beneficial not just to women, but men and society that women are able to carry out their maternal responsibilities and functions in the service of parenting children. This argument does not exclude the important and necessary role of men or fathers in parenting. It is a simple recognition by Cooper of outsized role and responsibility that women have with giving birth and parenting children.

Moreover, Cooper sees motherhood as a scared responsibility which must be given the highest priority and weight.  “Woman, Mother—Your responsibility,” she states “is one that might make angels tremble and fear to take hold!  To trifle with it, to ignore or misuse it, is to treat lightly the most sacred and solemn trust ever confided by God to humankind.”

Implications of Cooper’s Writing for Today

As mentioned earlier,  Cooper’s writing  gives us a way of measuring the progress of women and the Women’s Movement as well as the quality of American society. Measured against her writings,  the discussion and debate around women and their status is impoverished.  Being a mother, for example, was just one possibility of womanhood for Cooper.  She saw women as the necessary compliment to men, worthy of the same, if not more, social investment given their dual task as mothers and workers.

Too, suggestive in her writing is an elevated and more supportive role for both men and women. In addressing the role of men she declares: “We need men who can let their interest and gallantry extend outside the circle of their aesthetic appreciation; men who can be a father, a brother, a friend to every weak, struggling unshielded girl.”

And for women, she calls for them to be more competent, confident and committed and unafraid to lift as they climb. “We need women,” she pronounces, “who are so sure of their own social footing that they need not fear learning to lend a hand to a fallen  sister.”

And finally, she issues a call, which is very instructive for policy makers and those in positions of power.  It is a call for men and women of substance, men and women “who do not exhaust their genius splitting hairs on aristocratic distinctions and thanking God they are not as others; but earnest unselfish souls, who can go into the highways and byways, lifting up and leading, advising and encouraging with a true catholic benevolence of the Gospel of Christ.”

Hence, in brief Anna Julia Cooper informs us that a great nation requires a discussion, debate, and practice of women’s issues worthy of its greatness. In light of Cooper’s writing and insight, the qualitative decline of American society is correlates with the debasement and degradation of women. Elected officials, republicans and democrats, policy makers and decision-makers, for whatever public relations purpose, are dancing on the margins of women’s rights, and developmental issues, and are enveloped by their own make-believe world of women.  For Americans to achieve a progressive and qualitative society, their reality must take precedence over public relations, for women cannot be fooled.


Anna Julia Cooper, A Voice From the South

The Conquest of Africa and European Slavery

March 5, 2014
The Conquest of Africa and European Slavery

African American History Breakthrough Series

We are proud to continue to celebrate the history of African Americans, highlighting the breakthrough series of ideas, theories, events, and technological inventions, which changed and shaped the lives of African Americans, and Americans in general, and the world.

The Breakthrough Series places the ideas, theories, events, and technological inventions of African Americans in their proper historical context, that is, in the grand sweep of history. For example, the enslavement of Africans in the Americas is located with the rise and maturation of European Capitalism, and the Harlem Renaissance is placed in the context of the Marcus Garvey Movement and rise of a black cultural intellectual class that gave definition to a new African American identity.

The European “Slave Trade:” The Trafficking of Africans to the Americas

Part 2

The conquest and subjugation of Africa begins in the 16th century with Europe’s domination of the seas and subsequent control of international trade. The conquering of Africa was a gradually process, occurring over a period of 400 years.  As noted elsewhere, historian Walter Rodney observes that what is referred to as the “triangular trade”—Europe, Africa, and the Americas—which Europe initiated, was not commercial trade in the normal sense of the concept, trade between consenting nations, but rather the imposition of physical and social violence, resulting in the enslavement of Africans, the underdevelopment of Africa and the overdevelopment of Europe.

Africa’s downfall and takeover was brought about with the confluence of external and internal factors. The first and most critical external factor was the Europeans superiority and dominance of ships and military capacity, which allowed them to gain control of the world’s waterways. By controlling the seas, Europe took the first step towards controlling and transforming trade and the acquisition of goods, guns and technology and the exchange of scientific knowledge.

Second, Europe’s monopoly of knowledge about international exchange system seen as a whole,” for Western Europe was the only sector capable of viewing the systems as a whole.”  The strategy behind international trade and the production that supported it was firmly in the hands of European nations, especially the sea-bound nations.  They owned and directed the sea-going vessels and controlled financing of the trade.  Africans had little clue as to the tri-continental links between Africa, Europe, and the Americas.

Moreover, while the initial contact and exchange of goods between European nations and various African ethnic groups was fairly even, this quickly changed, as the sea-trading nations, through their capitalist production, was able to duplicate and mass produce most of the goods which these ethnic groups had to sell. And, as the dominant European nations, through capitalist expansion, extended their reach to the Americas, labor became, and specifically, “slave labor” became a priority and focus.

With the diminishing of African goods, and the need for slave labor, Europeans allocated to Africa the role of supplier of human captives to be used as slaves in the Americas and other parts of the world. Hence, the European strategy for acquiring slave labor was to make Africa’s central and primary export human captives on a mass level.  This strategy involved both open warfare against African ethnic groups and the fomenting and taking advantage of ethnic rivalries by pitting one ethnic group against another in an existential battle for survival.

Third, Europe’s supremacy in technology, advanced by scientific knowledge; borrowing; and discovery, provided it with mass consumer production capacity, long distance ship travel, and advanced military weaponry.  Over time this allowed European trading-nations to envelope control and direct the local and regional economies of Africa, dictate the terms and conditions of trade agreements and what was to be traded (African captives), build military allies with African groups, nation-states at war with other African in the region, and foment and encourage fighting between and among the various African populations.

Next, the internal divisions and strife among African ethnic groups and nation-states facilitated Europe’s conquest and control of Africa.  It is important to note, however, that European nations conquered a collection of African ethnics groups and nation states, with difference allegiance and political interest, and not Africa as a unified political unit. Put simply, Africa, as a unified political continent. In fact, they did not identify as Africans, but rather as Asante, Yoruba, Ibo, Hausa, et al. At that particular moment in history, Africa exist only as a geographical continent, and thus, just as the the Saxons, Britons and Jutes did not have a concept or identity of being English before the 10th Century, Africans did not have a racial identity as Africans until late in the 18th century.

Therefore, once all of these factors were in place, the capturing, trading, and selling of African captives took on a life of its own, transforming Africa into a “slave” continent, where its industry was capturing other humans to be sold or traded. These “slave raiders” would spread terror and disrupt and dislocate populations, creating chaos and instability in the place of development and stability.  The implications of all of this are as follows.

One, Africans, as Rodney notes “in the main, were not captured by Europeans, nor did individual rush to sell themselves—they were forcibly brought to the European buyers by other Africans.” Rodney furthers states “With the incentive of European goods”, Rodney writes, slave raiding became a profession, with persons dedicating themselves entirely to the service of the slave trade.”

Two, Africans did not engage in the “selling” of other Africans as “Africans,” but as members of various nation-states and ethnic groups who were often at conflict or war with other neighboring populations.

Three, while some of the internal conflict resulted in war and acts of aggressive violence, much of what was “termed ‘war’ were nothing more than robberies and manhunts,” resulting in the “violent seizure of persons for sale into slavery.”

In brief, the factors mentioned above are the core reasons for the decent of Africa from its glory days during the European “Dark Ages.” The complicity of the various African kingdoms, nation-states and ethnic groups in the slave trafficking of African captives should not be minimized or overlooked. They are blameworthy and deserving of the history’s judgment and criticism.  However, Africa’s complicity does not absolve European nations who participated in the trafficking and enslavement of Africans, nor does it free them from kidnapping and killing that took place, resulting in the greatest crime against humanity recorded in history.


Maulana Karenga, Introduction to Black Studies

Walter Rodney, A History of the Upper Guinea Coast 1545 to 1800

Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa

Chancellor Williams, The Destruction of Black Civilization


The European “Slave Trade:” The Trafficking of Africans to the Americas- Part 1

March 1, 2014
The European “Slave Trade:” The Trafficking of Africans to the Americas- Part 1

African American History Breakthrough Series

We are proud to celebrate the history of African Americans, highlighting the breakthrough series of ideas, theories, events, and technological inventions, which changed and shaped the lives of African Americans, and Americans in general, and the world. To be sure, Kujichagulia, the second principle of Kwanzaa, stresses the importance and critical need for African Americans to know their history.

The Breakthrough Series places the ideas, theories, events, and technological inventions of African Americans in their proper historical context, in the grand sweep of history, so that for example, the enslavement of Africans in the Americas is located with the rise and maturation of European Capitalism, and the Harlem Renaissance is placed in the context of the Marcus Garvey Movement and rise of a black cultural intellectual class that gave definition to a new African American identity.

The Rise of European Capitalism and the Enslavement of African Peoples

The 16th century begins the period of was the nadir of African people and African history, the decline and de-humanization of African people and the depopulation and destruction of Africa. This period, 1619-1865, begins the human trafficking of Africans, a process characterized, kidnapping, violence, and terror according to by historian Walter Rodney.  “When one tries to measure the effect of European slave trading on the African continent,” Rodney stated, “it is essential to realize that one is measuring the effect of social violence rather than trade in any normal sense of the word.”

Thus, in analyzing the method of capturing Africans for the purpose of enslavement, Rodney observes, “on the whole, the process by which captives were obtained on African soil was not trade at all. It was through warfare, trickery, banditry, and kidnapping.” Hence, Rodney debunks the scholarship, which attempts a false equivalence of African and European culpability and responsibility for the human trafficking of Africans, notably the notion of “trade.”

To be sure, what has become known as the “Transatlantic Slave Trade” was no less the single greatest “crime against humanity” recorded in history, measured against any metric. W.E.B. Du Bois places the number at one hundred million Africans who were captured and uprooted from Africa while other historian estimate the number at 20 million. Those who were captured and enslaved in the Americas were youngest and potentially Africa’ s most productive.

For weeks, months, sometimes as long as a year, African captives waited in the dungeons of slave factories scattered along Africa’s western coast. The African captives had already made the long, difficult journey from Africa’s interior – in the cruelest and deprived conditions. Out of those who were captured, half did not complete the trek to the African coast, most dying along the way. And the worst was yet to come.

Those who were captured embarked on the infamous Middle Passage, the middle leg of a three-part voyage — a voyage that began and ended in Europe Upon landing on Africa’s coast, the ships would load those captured in packed inhumane conditions. Fully loaded with young African men, women and children, the ships would set sail for the Americas, where these Africans were enslaved.

The treatment of captives who were transported from Africa to the Americas captures in its most graphic form the depths of the barbarity of the trafficking of Africans. The horrors experienced on the “slave ships” and the voyage to Americas was a dress rehearsal for the violence and denial and deformation of African humanity that would be continued in different forms through different methods well into the twentieth century. Capturing the cruelty and savagery of African captivity aboard the ships bound to America, Ira Berlins writes:

Fear was omnipresent as the captives, stripped naked and bereft of their every belonging, boarded the ship and met—often for the first time white men. Brandishing knives, whips, shackles, neck rings, and –most frightening—hot irons to mark their captive in the most personal way…the branding iron was but the first of many instruments of savagery the captives faced. Eighteenth-century ships were violent places where impervious captains ruled with the lash, and the barbarity of maritime life reached even greater heights on the slave ship, where whips, chains, shackles, and thumbscrews were standard equipment…Indeed, the inability of captives to defend themselves unleashed the most sadistic impulse, promoting appalling cruelties, as the lines between the callous and the cruel, the cruel and the vicious, and the vicious and the sadistic were fine indeed.

During the nightmare voyage to America, Africans were subjected to unmentionable level of violence and terror. Berlin argues that the violence aboard the ships was not only employed for control purposes, but also more devastatingly employed to dehumanize and degrade African captives and crush their will and spirit. Berlin opines that violence was woven into the everyday life of the captive aboard the ships:

While violence was ubiquitous on the slave ship, it was neither random nor purposeless. Rather, it was calculated to intimidate captives in circumstances where there could be few incentives to for men and women to submit peacefully. By awing captives with overwhelming power wielded without regard for life or limb. Slavers hoped the display of force would convince the captives that resistance was futile. To that end, captive were stripped on the trapping of humanity: Slavers used every occasion to emphasize the captives’ degraded status and utter isolation—indeed their lack of status…The humiliation that accompanied such degradation was almost always public, giving the captives little means to maintain their dignity. Among the lesson taught in this systematic debasement was the sacrosanct of white skin. More than any single place, the origins of white supremacy can be found in the holds of the slave ship. Speaking through a black interpreter, one captain informed his captives “no one that killed a white man would be spared. “

Women and children were especially vulnerable to maltreatment and morality. Women were raped, made to perform sexually acts with any number of men. One survivor of the voyage to American recalled, “It as common for the dirty filthy sailors to take the African women and lie upon their bodies.” And, while some captains of the ships issues orders prohibiting the sexual exploitation of women on the ships, “others partook in the raping, taking multiple “wives” from among the captives women. Vulnerable and available, women, in the words of one captain, “ us abundance of recreation.” The trauma of rape and violence started on the “slave ship” and continued unabated through the period of enslavement in America.

Children were even more vulnerable in that they were exposed to violence and terror and untold traumas which had to come from their savage experience, and exposed to diseases and filth in the compact quarters of the deck below the ship. As Berlin observes, “fevers from a variety of diseases to which Africans had n immunity as well as crippling dysentery…The numerous pathogens that accompanied tainted water exacerbated the effects of the various contagions. These, in turn, were multiplied by the primitive medical care offered by the ship’s physician, who might be a barber by training. The emaciated conditions and deranged psyches of those who disembarked on the west side of the Atlantic were a measure of the frightful cost of the transatlantic slave trade.”

The picture of the violence and terror, barbarity and savagery, presented above punctures all illusions, misconceptions, myths, and lies about the immeasurable cost in human terms, of the trafficking of Africans to the Americas. Equally important, it discredits the notion and narrative of a “slave trade”. The use of the term “trade” is an insidious and deceptive term, hiding, masking, and sanitizing one of the cruelest and inhumane crimes perpetrated in human history.


W.E.B Du Bois., The Suppression of the Atlantic Slave-Trade to the United States of America

Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa

Eric Williams, Capitalism and Slavery



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