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The Immeasurable Distance Between Us
Remembering Peter Norman: an oft-forgotten white man in the Black Power movement
Altered States – Wanna Float?
Baby at the Airport
Thank you, Ben Affleck. Now what?
Why I LOVE to collect author autographs
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Remembering Peter Norman: an oft-forgotten white man in the Black Power movement (1)
Yoleen: I remember that moment, too, and I was six years old at the time. Tolerance and...
Today, April 25, is “Reversing Diabetes Action Day” (3)
jocelyn: I hope you're doing OK now. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about Simply...
Baby at the Airport (4)
Melissa: I'm reminded that by looking into the eye of a baby, one can see the...
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Before I signed a contract with Beacon Press to publish my first book, the working title of my manuscript was The Immeasurable Distance Between Us.
I envisioned the cover of my book long before publication, with an image of a young teacher from Chicago and me walking side-by-side in Accra during the Panafest Pan African Historical Festival. Visualized it. Printed it. Framed it. Then signed a contract with Beacon Press and the title changed to Inheriting the Trade.
That’s all to the good. I trust my publisher and the book has done (and continues to do) well in getting into the hands of readers.
And today, July 4, 2015, I look at the image of my envisioned book cover that still hangs in my office. And I think about all I’ve learned over the past 15 years. Earlier in my life I didn’t think much about Independence Day, or Columbus Day, or Thanksgiving… just enjoyed them, or partied with friends or family, or whatever. Now, thanks to new friends, authors and others who challenge my thinking, such commemorations have become far more complicated in my mind. I don’t celebrate them much anymore. I think about what’s behind and beneath them.
My initial chosen book title comes from a speech given by Frederick Douglass on July 4, 1852 in Rochester, New York.
Sadly, much of what Mr. Douglass spoke about 163 years ago remains true today. Racism and injustice are alive and well. Florida. Missouri. New York. Maryland. Since 9 of our African-descended brothers and sisters were assassinated by a racist terrorist two weeks ago in Charleston, South Carolina, 7 black churches have burned. None of this is an attack on Christianity. It is an attack on black people. If you are white and don’t understand this fact, you haven’t read my books. Please do.
I hope you are as troubled and contemplative about Independence Day (and certain other American holidays) as I am.
There are times when I am “stuck” in my own writing for various reasons, but I always read. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t reading a book. I read for the joy of the story. I read to enter other worlds. I read to inspire my own writing. Reading and writing are two sides of the same coin for a writer. Both are requirements for the job.
Since August I’ve participated in The Painted Steps, a small group of writers who have committed to working together for six months, to inspire each other to keep our writing at the forefront of our daily lives, and to complete the first draft of a manuscript by the end of January. We meet via video conference every week. The Painted Steps is the brainchild of Andi Cumbo-Floyd, author of The Slaves Have Names. Over the past couple weeks Andi asked us to share some favorite “opening lines” in books and then “closing lines.” The “opening lines” was easier. “Call me Ishmael.” “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” “I am an invisible man.” Choosing closing lines to share with my fellow writers took more time; more thought.
The successful ending of a story not only offers a conclusion. Successful endings offer beginnings to further contemplation of what has gone before and imaginings of what’s next. What follows are the closing lines from ten books that have had a profound impact on my thinking; on how I view the world. I hope these lines don’t ruin these stories for anyone who has not read them. I don’t believe they do. hopefully they inspire you to read… Read the rest of this entry »
I am a lucky guy to have my books published by Beacon Press. I’m proud to be in the company of such distinguished authors as Octavia Butler, James Baldwin, Cornel West, Mary Oliver and Anita Hill. I recently learned of another author with whom I’m excited to be connected through Beacon: Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. I highly recommend her recently published An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States.
As an author and public speaker who works to dispel the myths of the founding of this nation in the hope that we might someday actually live up to the ideals espoused in our founding documents, I appreciate all efforts to shine a light on truth.
Dunbar-Ortiz does precisely that, page after page, from the perspective of the Indigenous people who lived on this continent for thousands of years before it was “discovered” – and then colonized – by Europeans. It is not pleasant to learn details of the centuries-long program of terror, genocide, displacement, and theft of the land that became what is now the United States. This is not a pleasant book to read. But it is an essential book – and eminently readable – for anyone committed to understanding truth from the perspective of those outside the systems of power. Read the rest of this entry »
This post was originally published at Gather at the Table
November 19, 2013 marks the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. PBS and documentary filmmaker Ken Burns launched a national effort to encourage people to video record themselves reciting President Abraham Lincoln’s famous speech, one of the most important statements on human equality in American history.
Sharon Morgan and I participated in the project, as have President Obama, Stephen Colbert, Whoopi Goldberg, Rachel Maddow, Stephen Spielberg, and many others. You can watch our video at the Learn the Address website on PBS. Or you can watch it below from the Gather at the Table YouTube page.
We hope our participation will raise more awareness of the Coming to the Table approach to acknowledging and healing wounds from racism and the legacy of slavery that Sharon and I wrote about in Gather at the Table.
And may we all now re-dedicate ourselves “to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom…”
When I fantasize about international acclaim, I think about my books being published in the countries included within their pages (in the case of my first two books, Ghana, Cuba, and Tobago), as well as many other countries and languages. I haven’t achieved that level of success with my writing… yet. But I did get interviewed by a Norwegian newspaper, Vårt Land, last month. It’s a start…
If you understand Norwegian, you can read the article here: Vart Land Interview (Norwegian Newspaper, 10 May 13)
The reporter, Ingrid Hovda Storaas, contacted me through my publicist at Beacon Press. She wrote that she was working on a story on “inherited responsibility” for a Norwegian daily print Newspaper. They had recently “published a story on German youths working voluntarily in Norway as a way to ‘pay’ for the fact that their forefathers participated in the German occupation of Norway. A 20-year old boy was asked if he feels he is atoning for his grandfather’s sin (he was a soldier), and put it like this: ‘In a way. I have not inherited his guilt, but I feel I have inherited a responsibility.'” They were now doing a follow-up story with a more global view and had come across Inheriting the Trade in her research.
I agreed to respond to her questions via email. I was particularly interested in this opportunity because my great grandfather, Ole Nicholson, was born in Norway in January 1853. He came with his parents to the United States when he was 4 years old. His wife, Martha Ryen, was the daughter of Norwegian immigrants as well. They lived in Illinois and Iowa. Their daughter, my grandmother, Lida Nicholson married my grandfather, Giles DeWolf around 1915. Consequently, I have very fond feelings for Norway and hope to visit someday. Read the rest of this entry »
I can’t wait to see the film Free Angela & All Political Prisoners. The primary focus of the documentary is Davis’s infamous 1971 trial. She was arrested in 1970; charged with conspiracy, kidnapping, and murder following the failed attempt to free Black Panther George Jackson.
Read the review of the film in Village Voice.
If you live in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Washington DC, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, Oakland, or Philadelphia, Free Angela opens in your city at an AMC Theater this Friday, April 5.
The rest of us may have to wait awhile. My hope is that folks in the above cities will FLOCK to Free Angela, so that it will receive the exposure it deserves.
The director of the film, Shola Lynch, previously made the acclaimed film Chilsolm ’72.
Caveat: my personal passion for Free Angela is that Shola is also the daughter-in-law of my writing partner for Gather at the Table, Sharon Morgan. Shola has been working on this film for several years. I know from my participation in the creation of Traces of the Trade just how challenging it is to complete documentary films. I haven’t seen Free Angela yet, but Sharon told me it is INCREDIBLE. She attended the premiere in New York along with producers Will and Jada Smith, Harry Belafonte, Ruby Dee, and, of course, Ms. Davis.
I am so proud and honored to be connected to this family. Go see Free Angela. Not only did Ms. Davis speak truth to power, she forced power to listen. We need her example to inspire us today to do the same.
This is a cross-post of an announcement from earlier today at Gather at the Table.
The Foreword to Gather at the Table, written by Joy Angela DeGruy, has been available through a link on the home page of our website for the past two months. Now you can read the first chapter.
The just-published edition of Catalyst: A Social Justice Forum includes an excerpt from Gather at the Table, by Sharon Leslie Morgan and Thomas Norman DeWolf. Chapter 1, “The Recalcitrant Bat,” is one of five articles included in Volume 2, Issue 1 of the journal.
When I was a child in the 50’s and 60’s, there were two black families who attended the same church my family did. Mr. Bailey owned a grocery store. He gave several of my friends their first work experience when he hired them to work for him.
In November 2001, Jim Bailey still attended church with my folks after all those years. He came to their 50th wedding anniversary celebration. This was shortly after I returned from Ghana, Cuba, and Rhode Island with 9 distant cousins on the journey that was chronicled in the film Traces of the Trade and my first book, Inheriting the Trade.
With a room full of people surrounding us, I took the opportunity to share with Mr. Bailey how I had learned so much about slavery, racism, and the history of my country that I never learned in school.
He leaned toward me. “We always learned those things in our schools, son.”
In response to my March 23 post — “Trayvon Martin: thoughts from a white parent” — a reader posted the following comment:
It is a tragedy when anyone is murdered, but let’s be clear. There is no comparison here. Black people murdering white people is statistically rare. Black people murdering white people because of race is almost unheard of. Yet this type of ill-informed and misplaced paranoia may well have contributed to George Zimmerman’s pursuit and killing of an innocent, unarmed black youth half his own size. According to the Miami Herald, neighbors in his gated community claim Zimmerman has been fixated on crime and “focused on young, black males.”
Additionally, throughout U.S. history, the consequences for white-on-black crime have been, and continue to be, vastly different than for black-on-white crime. Among the plethora of sources of clear and conclusive evidence, Michelle Alexander’s broadly-researched, and well-documented book, The New Jim Crow presents a clear look at just how different the consequences are for black and white people in the criminal justice system today.
If a young black man had been walking around his neighborhood with a gun, encountered a white man, and said he felt threatened and shot him to death, he would be in jail; yes, even in Florida with the “Stand Your Ground” law in place. Throughout history, black-on-white crime has generally been investigated and prosecuted far more vigorously than has white-on-black crime.
Yet, I will not be surprised when George Zimmerman is arrested one day soon. I fully expect him to be prosecuted. But I also believe it will be as a result of the ongoing public outcry in this case. If Trayvon Martin’s death had not made the national radar screen, had not gone viral through Facebook and Twitter, the initial decision to not arrest or investigate Mr. Zimmerman would no doubt have been the final decision; which has so often been the case in similar situations that never make the national news.
Trayvon Martin was killed, in large part, because white male supremacy continues as the driving force in the United States of America. I encourage those who doubt my words to take the White Privilege Pop Quiz developed by Molly Secours. She posted it for anyone to share “with friends, family members and co-workers who are perhaps curious, doubtful or even insistent that such a thing as ‘white privilege’ doesn’t exist.”
I’ve participated in Coming to the Table since 2006 in order to understand and acknowledge more fully how the wounds inflicted by the historic system of American slavery (and the many forms of racism it spawned) continue to harm all of us today, and what I can do to help heal those wounds. The story of the ongoing healing journey will be published in October in Gather at the Table.
I hope the person who wrote the comment above will seriously ponder how he/she contributes either to further separation, alienation, and trauma, or to acknowledging the truth, and healing. As long as people rationalize racism, we will perpetrate the system of white supremacy that has haunted this country for centuries, and we will continue to not live up to our founding ideals of liberty, equality, and justice for all.
That is what we should not stop thinking about.