Soul on Ice-Eldridge Cleaver

20180603_160301There are a number of adjectives that come to mind to describe the late Eldridge Cleaver. (1935-1998) If I had to choose one in particular, my choice would be unpredictable.  His voice is legendary among the most prominent of the Civil Rights Movement. He co-founded the Black Panty Party but was later expelled by Huey P. Newton due to ideological differences.  In 1954, he was convicted of possession of Marijuana and sentenced to slightly over two years at Folsom Prison in Represa, California.   He began to write letters in his cell and those writings form the basis of this book considered be a classic text on revolution, racism, sexuality and the future of America.   The book was published in 1968 after Cleaver had served a second prison term for an attempted rape with assault conviction.  Married by then to Kathleen Cleaver, the marriage eventually fell apart due to his erratic behavior and philandering ways.   In later years following his split from the Panthers, he distanced himself from his Muslim faith, ran for President, created the “penis pants” and eventually joined the Mormon church.   He died on May 1, 1998 in Pomona, California. The cause of death was withheld from the public.  Today he is still a controversial figure and his writings and the confessions within have resulted in a split of opinion; readers either like him or hate him.   However, the fact remains that he was a valued and highly intellectual voice within the movement that attempted to manifest the issues that faced Black and White America.

But what is it about the book that gets favorable reviews?  Cleaver was an extreme figured and is to be expected, he is extreme at some points during the book.   At two hundred ten pages, the book is shorter than others by figures such as Newton but within the pages of this book are passages that will cause even the most hardened mind to think deeply.  From the beginning Cleaver pulls the reader in with his seductive writing style and deadly accurate analysis of society.  Reading about racial discrimination and America’s dark past is always tense but the part of the book is Cleaver’s admission to becoming a rapist in an attempt to get revenge against white men.  For all of his creative genius, expert analysis on revolution and highly perceptive mind, his biggest shortcoming by far is his admission to being a sexual predator.   The trauma endured by minorities throughout America’s history is tragic and regrettable but it does not excuse the violence and sexual exploitation of women.   Furthermore,  the truly baffling part is that Cleaver admits that he was wrong but is then convicted in 1958 of attempted rape.  Additionally, he is believed to have fathered several children out-of-wedlock.   That caused me to ask myself if he truly did have remorse for his past actions.  Putting that part of the book aside, the other parts are highly introspective but require an open mind to truly see the genius in his writing.

He touches on several topics and dissects them thoroughly.   The youth of today may have extreme difficulty in understanding Cleaver’s points.  America has changed in many ways since the 1960s.  Vietnam is a relic in the past for the millennial generation with names such as Johnson, Nixon and Mao only discussed history textbooks.  But at the time of the publication of this book, they were all very real and Cleaver, like millions of other African-Americas watched the struggles around the world develop as they continued to face their battles at home.

The book has many highlights and Cleaver is a shining star and an example of what could have been if creative and intellectual minds had continued in the right direction.   Religion is a central theme early in the book in particular during his time at Folsom.  He is a Muslim but attends classes in the prison.   He describes his daily life behind bars and the challenges faced by inmates to retain their sanity and optimism that they will one day see freedom.  Moving on he touches on the death of Malcolm X, who at first earns the wrath of the Nation of Islam by disavowing the Honorable Elijah Muhammad.  But after returning from Mecca, changing his ideology and creating the Organization for Afro-American Unity, Malcolm gained old and new followers, Cleaver included. His death at the Audubon Ballroom on February 21, 1965 was a heavy blow to the Civil Rights Movement and the hearts of the men and women who considered him their black shining prince.  Vietnam is not spared nor is the administration of Lyndon Baines Johnson.  The personal conflict within the hearts and minds of black soldiers returning from combat to a country that refuses to grant them their rights is truly one of the saddest moments in American history and in the book.

It would have been nearly impossible for Cleaver to analyze social conditions without examining the issue from an opposing view.  He writes about white heroes and their extinction due to the changing mindset of the young white youths of America whom he says have rejected the ways of their elders and embraced the culture of their fellow Black Americans.  Never straying too far from his Muslim faith at the time, Cleaver gives an interesting portrayal of Muhammad Ali and his importance to the struggle for equality.  In fact, Cleaver refers to him at point as the “Fidel Castro of Boxing.” The unfortunate scapegoat in this case is Floyd Patterson who is not able to defend himself.   He also gives attention to James Baldwin and his opinions of the late author could be considered controversial.   Those who believe Baldwin to be beyond reproach will have a hard time accepting Cleaver’s criticism.  And while I do not agree with everything he said about Baldwin, I respect his opinion for Baldwin also attacked Richard Wright and according to many, in a highly unfair manner.  Sadly, both Baldwin and Cleaver are deceased but I would love to see them sit down today and have a discussion about the current state of America.

Cleaver in his ideology and writings was aligned with Marxists and his name is mentioned along those such as Guevara, Lenin, Mao and Castro.  He does avoid the topic of imperialism and its devastating effects around the world.  Particularly close attention is paid to the hypocritical policies of a government that publicly declares support for freedom of foreign nations but struggled to give equality to its own citizens. This chapter in the book is among the strongest and highlights an argument made repeatedly by those committed to an end to colonialism. America has many dark secrets but no shortage of those wishing to expose them.   In exposing them, we can see where policy goes wrong and what it is truly needed to correct it.

Towards the end of the book, Cleaver touches on two topics which are sure to cause a range of emotions.   It is imperative to remember that these are his beliefs and can be rejected or accepted.  In his analysis of male and female relations he has composed four characteristic traits;  the Ultrafeminine, the Amazon, the Omnipotent Administrator and the Supermasculine Menial.   There is some truth to what he says but there always exceptions to the rule.  Nonetheless it is an interesting take on the relationships between men and women.   This relationship is carried over into his exploration of the connection between white women and black men.   Setting the stage, Cleaver explains that he is with two acquaintances he calls Eunuchs.  They are joined by the Infidel who they believe to be a fraud and not aligned with the movement.  The dialogue quickly turns to the topic of interracial couples and apparent dysfunctional relationship that the infidel says exists due to the system of slavery.   Incredibly, it was not until 1963 that laws against interracial marriage were ruled unconstitutional paving the way for the rescinding of miscegenation laws by states in the union that had not done so.  While I do not deny that there are many stereotypes affixed to couples of mixed background, the youth of today are unable to relate to the times in which Cleaver lived. Furthermore, as someone who has dated women that are from many parts of this world, Cleaver through the voice of the Infidel would be off base today. But this was the 1960s and a completely different time in America. And I would be foolish to deny that there are in fact some of us who are exactly what that section of the book discusses.   If there is one thing I have learned about love, it is that it strikes us when we least expect it and we never know to whom it will be directed.  But when it does happen, all that we can do is go with it and see where it takes us.

It is undeniable that Cleaver was a polarizing and truly mystifying figure.  Is this book outdated? Maybe.  But it is still a guide that many youths lived by during those turbulent times.   And if America seeks to move forward and improve itself, then we will need to revisit the past on occasion so that we do not make the same mistakes again.  Eldridge will be with us as one of those voices to reminds of the failure that awaits those who do not study the past.

ASIN: B01ELOLI6U

The Wretched of the Earth-Frantz Fanon

20180603_003449On July 1, 1962 a referendum was held that paved the way for Algerian independence from the government of France. The complete cessation of armed conflict marked the end of war that lasted seventeen years.   The Algeria movement for freedom stands out as a success story similar to the legendary revolutionary campaigns in the Caribbean and Latin America.  It is also a case study for those seeking to go down the path of revolution as a method to enforce social reform.  No revolution is complete without a defining text and in this case, the struggle was analyzed and transcribed the famed revolutionary, writer, philosopher and psychiatrist, Frantz Fanon. (1925-1961)  The book was finished shortly before his death and published not long after.  Originally written in French, it has been translated by Richard Philcox for English readers.

Tragically, Fanon died on December 6, 1961 from the effects of leukemia and did not live to see the success of what became a masterpiece.  And in a cruel twist of fate, his deteriorating condition forced him to seek treatment in the one country that became the poster child for imperialism, the United States.   Following his death, he was buried in Algeria, the nation he wrote so passionately about.  The Wretched Of The Earth dissects the Algerian campaign and the complicated, dysfunctional and deadly relationship between colonial governments and their colonized territories. Fanon minces no words, he is frank and his rhetoric sharp.   His mission is writing this text was to explain to the reader the ingredients necessary for armed revolution and in inevitability of the inclusion of violence.  The benefit of having a first hand witness to the bloody struggle for liberation put him in a unique perspective to become the movement’s biographer.

Fanon proves himself to be a complex and deeply intellectual figure.  Tapping into this seeming endless intellect, he does not stop at examining the oppression of the colonized. He dives further discussing the mental and physical state of both opponents before moving on to the rebuilding of the nation that has newfound freedom.  If we fully digest what Fanon tells us we can see the long-lasting effects of colonialism even to this day. Across the world, revolutions are taking place and others are being formulated as the oppressed masses reached their breaking point.  Along the way, Fanon will be there to guide them with his insight and words.  His critics have said that he incites violence.  I do not believe the criticism is warranted entirely.  As Fanon points out, violence is a part of revolution and is a logical result of systematic oppression over a period of time.  A system that subjects its citizens to daily discrimination and deplorable living conditions will eventually engineer its own downfall.  And this is the point that Fanon emphatically drives home.  Decolonization is never pleasant but it must be strategically developed and carried out by those who truly wish to break the back of their colonial rulers.

Throughout the year, his work has been studied and employed by countless revolutionaries figures including Huey P. Newton and the Black Panther Party for self-defense.   Next to Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, Fanon stands out as one of the loudest voices against American and European imperialism.  And like Guevara, he died before reaching forty years of age and had yet to reach his full literary and revolutionary potential.  But through his works his legacy continues and he finds new fame as young minds embrace the works of the past as seek to understand the brutal system of colonization which takes of many different forms but possesses the same agenda to extract as much as possible from the nations and people under its control.  Fanon was survived by his widow Josie who died on July 13, 1989 in Algiers after tragically taking her own life.  After Frantz’s death she never remarried and carried his name for the rest of her life. Her devotion to him is reminiscent of the devotion given by those who have read and studied him and believe him to be a voice for their own struggles. And for many more years, The Wretched Of The Earth will be one of the most important books ever written about decolonization.

When we revolt it’s not for a particular culture. We revolt simply because, for many reasons, we can no longer breathe” -Frantz Fanon

ISBN-10: 0802141323
ISBN-13: 978-0802141323

Negro With a Hat: The Rise and Fall of Marcus Garvey-Colin Grant

garveyIn the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn lies Marcus Garvey Blvd, a street named after the late iconic figure in the African-American struggle for civil rights in the United States and abroad. The native son of Jamaica and former resident of London, England,  made his name famous on the streets of Harlem, New York through the formation and activities of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA).   The organization’s purpose to build up the moral, economical and social status of Black Americans, combined with his “back to Africa” movement, remain defining movements in the African-American experience.  At the time of his death on June 10, 1940,  Garvey was a shadow of his former self after several severe strokes had taken their toll on his aging body.  His death dealt a sever blow to the strengthening movement for equality.  And 76 years after his death, his writings, speeches and life, are still remembered, quoted and analyzed for they  remind us of the importance of standing up for what we believe in.  Garvey remains one of most magnetic figures of the 20th century.

The rise and fall of the Black Start Line is often the focus of many articles about Garvey.  And while the history of the line is unfortunate, the real Marcus Garvey typically remains hidden in the shadows.   But who was Marcus Garvey and why is his story so important to the history of the United States and the movement for civil rights? Colin Grant presents to us the definitive biography of the late icon and his controversial and tragic life.  Born in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica, on August 17,1887, to the late Malchus Garvey, he would leave his native Jamaica many times throughout his life,  making his mark across the world.   Grant takes us back in time to witness the rise of the most gifted orators to speak directly to the soul of African-Americans. Garvey’s fiery rhetoric and inviting personality, earned him a legion of believers, intent on following him all the way back to Africa by way of Liberia.

But behind the speeches and mass congregations, the personal life of Marcus Garvey was nothing short of complex, filled with stress, fear, disappointment & violence.  As leader of the UNIA, he would face continuous battles with other leaders such as W.E.B. DuBois.  His success and influence also earned him the watchful eye of the Bureau of Investigation, the predecessor of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, headed by a young J. Edgar Hoover.  Once shot and wounded and suspected in the violent deaths of others, Garvey was no stranger to violence and death.  Grant has carefully researched the episodes and revisits them here showing the behind the scenes movements that helped Garvey rise to fame and which also caused his demise. At many points throughout the book, the reader is forced to confront the fact that Garvey, for all of his good deeds and intentions, was also a seriously flawed person at heart.  But his shortcomings in no way detract from his vision for the complete freedom of Black Americans from the brutal system of racial injustice.

To the youth of today, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Movement and even apartheid are old terms relating to an era to which they could never relate. But for many older Americans and people abroad, the dark periods that exemplified some of the worst actions humanity has ever witnessed, remain fresh in the mind as if they happened yesterday.  While it will be rare to find someone alive today from Garvey’s generation, there are those among us who can relate to us the importance of his life.  Many years after his death, he was named a national hero in his native Jamaica and across the world his name is still remembered.  He is no longer with us, but left us many writings and speeches to remind us of the importance of self-preservation, respect and the well-being of all of our brothers and sisters from all backgrounds.  For those interested in Garvey’s life to see who the man behind the speeches was, this book is an excellent place to start.

 

Stokely Speaks: From Black Power to Pan-Africanism- Stokely Carmichael

stokelyOn November 15, 1998, Kwame Ture died at the age of 57 in Conakry, Guinea following a long bout with prostate cancer.  Ture was formerly known as civil rights activist Stokely Carmichael.   Carmichael, a native of Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, became a leading icon of the American civil rights movement as head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.  His writings and speeches on equality, integration and the advancement of minorities are some of the most passionate ever recorded and are widely read and studied by students of the movement and revolutionary ideology.

This collection of writings takes us back in time during a turbulent time in American history that some believed would result in the downfall of the United States.  For others, their belief in the government would be permanently altered following the assassinations of Medgar Evers, John F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy.  And even today, the 1960s ranks among the most dangerous and feared decades in modern American history.

The United States has changed dramatically in recent years, but not too far in the past, the political, social and economic landscape of this nation was vastly different. There are those today that believe nothing has changed, but instead, things are more carefully masked.   However, I do believe that if Stokely were alive today, he would be proud to see the many steps forward that have been taken and optimistic about the work that lies ahead.   As we do move forward in building a better nation, it pays for us to revisit his writings as they touch the very core of the American soul.  Stokely forces us to confront our basic human nature and re-examine everything we thought we knew about racial discrimination, war, poverty, capitalism and politics.  And like a master surgeon, he methodically dissects each subject putting it into a completely different perspective that some of us have never considered.

Perhaps one of the biggest tragedies of the civil rights movement, is that much of the outstanding literature published during the time is scarcely revisited and on the brink of being lost to future generations.  The voices of Che, Malcolm, Fidel, Fanon and Chairman Mao are relics for the youths of today.  However, it’s often said that in order to know where you’re going, it’s important to know where you come from.  Stokely does his part in helping us figure out both.

ISBN-10: 1556526490
ISBN-13: 978-1556526497

Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case-Allen Weinstein

HissJanuary 21, 1950-Alger Hiss is convicted in a second trial on the charge of perjury stemming from his testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee regarding his relationship with former defector and Soviet spy, Whitaker Chambers.  The Hiss-Chambers case showcased the widespread paranoia and phobia in the United States of the ideology of communism and its believers.   Years before Joseph McCarthy went on a tirade and nearly destroyed the lives of an endless number of respectable U.S. citizens,  a  young congressman from California name Richard Nixon spearheaded the campaign to root out communist and counter espionage in the United States government.  The congressman later became President and is the only one to have resigned in office.

Allen Weinstein has painstakingly recreated the case from beginning to end, examining the childhoods of both men and the very different paths each took in life.  To this day, the whole truth about what really happened between Hiss and Chambers continues to elude even the most efficient of researchers.  Hiss himself sometimes gave conflicting information or in other cases withheld it and Chambers proved to be a believable  but questionable witness with many eccentric traits.  What started out as case of accusations, eventually turned into an investigation that drew the attention of the President of the United States, the Justice Department and J. Edgar Hoover of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

I first read about the Hiss case after reading the books of author David Talbot.  Motivated to learn the full story of this sensational case in United States history, I picked the book up on Amazon and what I’ve found is the definitive account of the case which showcases the political climate of the United States during that era and the deep tensions between the United States government and the Soviet Union.  In later years, there would be many more cases of spies defecting such as Kim Philby, Anatoly Golitisin, Yuri Nosenko and the infamous Robert Hanson, portrayed brilliantly by Chris Cooper in the thriller ‘Breach’.   The Soviet-U.S. spy defections and paranoia of communist influence would ruin many lives and nearly destroy the intelligence agencies of three nations.

ISBN-10: 0817912258
ISBN-13: 978-0817912253

Remembering Jim Crow: African Americans Tell About Life in the Segregated South -William Henry Chafe, Raymond Gavis and Robert Korstad

51s5cy-xt5l-_sy344_bo1204203200_In the United States, the month of February is dedicated to showcasing the achievements and centuries long plight of African-Americans.  Stories and images from the slave trade, emancipation, Jim Crow era and Civil Rights Movement flash across television screens, social media and the Internet.  My parents can still vividly recall their memories of the movement and the mistreatment of minorities of all backgrounds before the passing of the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 by then President Lyndon Baines Johnson.  Following the passage of the bill, many more years would pass before American society began to make bigger strides in social equality. And even today in 2016, there is still much work to be done.  The faces may have changed, but the actions and unfortunate consequences that come with discrimination are still an issue which America finds itself being confronted with regularly.   It’s nearly impossible for the generation of today to even imagine what life was like during Jim Crow.  To most it seems like an ancient period in American history.  But let us not forget that this era was less than 100 years ago and many of those alive today from that era still carry mental and physical scars that may never heal.

William Henry Chafe, Raymond Gavis and Robert Korstad have compiled this incredible book which features a collection of memories from people who lived in the south during Jim Crow and what they remembering growing up among a violent and fiercely oppressive climate of racial discrimination.   In most elementary schools, children are taught about the slave trade, emancipation and the civil rights movement, but books such as these are typically nowhere to be found.  I firmly believe that every American should read this book. It is often brutal at times, but it serves as reminder of a not too distant past that continues to rear its ugly head today.  One of things that make the past so valuable is that we can continue to use it as a tool by which to learn.  America has come a long way, and as Robert F. Kennedy accurately predicted more than 50 years ago, we did have our first president with African-American ancestry.   This nation still has a long way to go, but the commitment to change and improvement is what makes this country the great nation that it is.

ASIN: B001VAU3XW

The Morning Breaks: The Trial of Angela Davis- Bettina Aptheker

davisOctober 13, 1970-Angela Davis is arrested in New York City and extradited to Marin County, California, where she is charged with conspiracy to commit murder.  The charge stems from the death of Judge Harold Haley, taken hostage by Jonathan Jackson and accomplices in an effort to free the Soledad brothers and all political prisoners from United States federal prisons.  Davis’ arrest and trial became a focal point in the struggle against an unjust and discriminatory judicial system in which the privileged often found themselves defenseless in frivolous trials resulting in equally absurd prison sentences.

Bettina Aptheker, close friend and supporter of Davis, penned her recollections of the trial and the hurdles and obstacles in the way of Davis’ path to exoneration.   Set in Palo Alto, California, a stronghold of conservative political views, the defense became embattled in a David and Goliath struggle against a prosecution bent on Davis’ imprisonment.   There are many highs and lows in the trial, but the shining moments are the selected readings of Davis’ letters to George Jackson, at the time incarcerated at San Quentin.  Davis and Jackson had become deeply involved with each other and Davis’ confession of love are moving and revealing.

The book isn’t always an easy read, there are parts where the ugliest side of human actions are shown.  Racism, sexism and political suppression are shown unrestricted for the reader to digest.   Her standing as a professor, civil rights activist and communist thrust her into the spotlight and her trial was one of the most important in the history of this nation.   Her acquittal would force America to re-examine itself and the concept of justice.  All of the negative aspects of society are brought to the surface bringing the past to life.   The very pitfalls common in that time period, while tragic, are also the same pitfalls that do make this nation great.  Our ability to constantly examine and self-criticize are the tools of any great democracy.   Our constitution says that all men are created equal, but for hundreds of years, minorities, women, the disabled, LGTB and many others of society have struggled in their cause for equality.  Angela’s story reminds us that while it may seem difficult, justice can and does prevail.

ISBN-13: 978-0801485978
ISBN-10: 0801485975

Orders To Kill: The Truth Behind The Murder of Martin Luther King-William F. Pepper

peppers order to killApril 4, 1968-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated as he stands on the balcony in front of room 306 at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee.  That same night, Senator Robert F. Kennedy (D-New York) gives what is considered by many to be the best speech of his career on the back of a pickup truck to a crowd of stunned and angry supporters.  A drifter and ex-convict by the name of James Earl Ray is arrested at Heathrow Airport in London after a manhunt and extradited back to the United States.  Following his indictment, he pleads guilty to the crime, but many questions about his motive and actions continue to go unanswered.   The murder of Dr. King and of President Kennedy would be the subject to investigation by the House Select Committee on Assassinations.  And although the investigations revealed new evidence in both murders, new suspects and evidence of a probable conspiracy in President Kennedy’s murder, the complete truth about both murders continues to elude the American public.

Decades have passed since Dr. King’s murder and the official story still stands.  But this book by William F. Pepper will challenge everything you thought you knew about the murder and his alleged assassin James Earl Ray.  The Freedom of Information Act completely changed the face of investigative reporting and gave citizens of all professions and walks of life a powerful tool in their efforts to learn the truth about historical events in which disturbing questions still linger.  The FBI, under the tutelage and direction of J. Edgar Hoover, conducted illegal domestic wiretapping and surveillance on American citizens, political organizations and figures.  The infamous COINTEL program cast a dark cloud over the agency and re-enforced the suspicions and concerns of an agency out of control.

1968 was a tumultuous year with the Vietnam war raging  and American involvement increasingly escalating.  Social tensions brimming under the surface resulted in race riots across the country and the murders of John F. Kennedy and Medgar Evars were still fresh in the minds of civil rights activists and citizens deeply concerned about the direction in which their country was headed.   Destined to break with the Johnson administration, King’s opposition to the Vietnam war, his rhetoric and social standing sent chills down the spines of the politicians in Washington and the military industrial complex.  Unwilling to tolerate civil unrest at home, the government began to increase domestic surveillance using MIGs (Military Intelligence Groups), the CIA, FBI, ONI and NSA.  Their trail of King would lead them to Memphis where fate would take over resulting in the tragic events on April 4.  Ray’s conviction seemed simple enough, he pleaded guilty as recommended by then attorney Percy Foreman and sits in jail to this day.   However, as Pepper’s reveals, the guilty plea and evidence presented, both crumble under intense scrutiny and there were events that transpired that day unrelated to James Earl Ray.  Over the years, Ray has given many accounts of his actions that day and none are in tune with those of a lone nut. Portrayed as a stone cold killer and rabid racist, he was convicted in the court of public opinion even before he set foot in a courtroom.  Pepper’s investigation unearths a mountain of evidence and cast strong doubt on Ray’s guilt and forces the reader to re-examine everything he/she thought they knew about one of the most infamous murders in American history.

There’s an entire cast of characters in the book, including President Johnson, J. Edgar Hoover,  H.L. Hunt and Carlos Marcello.  The web of intrigue between these once powerful figures is nothing short of spell-binding and disturbing.   A common question Americans ask one another is who really controls this country?  I believe that investigations into the murders of President Kennedy, Senator Robert F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., will provide insight into the machinations of the U.S. Government and show what true power really is.  Had Dr. King lived to this day, he’d be 86 years of age and we can only guess as to what he would think of the current state of our country.  Next month is the national holiday for his birthday, but this year, the celebration will have a different meaning for myself and I’m sure others that have read this book.  I no longer question why he was murdered but question what if he had not been.

ISBN-10: 0786702532
ISBN-13: 978-0786702534

A Raisin In The Sun-Lorraine Hansberry

20181205_232138In March, 2014, I had the privilege of seeing Denzel Washington on Broadway when he starred in a new production of  Lorraine Hansberry’s ‘A Raisin In the Sun’.  Hansberry’s classic play has graced the Broadway stage repeatedly throughout the years and even caught the eye of Hollywood being adapted to movie and television formats.  When she wrote the play, I don’t know if she knew then that it would go on to become a classic, but I do believe that she was fully aware that her play would have an impact on American society and the never-ending issue with race.   The play is set in a time where segregation and racial discrimination were highly prevalent throughout the United States.  We are introduced to a small American family struggling to live the American dream.  Living in a small apartment as a typical nuclear family, Walter Lee, Ruth, Travis and Lena, represent the social status of millions of African-Americans at the time.  The death of Lena’s husband results in a life insurance payout and the family now is faced with the question of what to do with the settlement.  While Walter Lee has his own idea, Mama has her own plan, one that will test every member of the family.  Her vision to buy a house in predominantly white neighborhood is the crux of the play and the most intense.  The visit by Mr. Lindner on behalf of the resident’s association highlights the discrimination and fear that gripped suburban communities as minorities attempted to leave the turmoil of the inner city during the middle of the 20th century.

Although the issue of the house is critical to the development of the play, the characters we meet are equally just as important.  Through them we are able to re-evaluate our own thoughts on marriage, religion, parent-child relationships and the relationships we have with our friends.  Hansberry’s masterpiece continues to open eyes and hearts and is a crucial piece of literature that ranks high among the works of all celebrated authors.  The true tragedy is that she didn’t live to see the legacy her play developed following her death.   Had she lived, I think she would be amazed at how far America has come since the Youngers dared to challenge social norms and make a case for integration on their own. And she would never hesitate to remind that it’s okay to sit awhile and think.

ASIN: B005U3Z5MA

Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson George Jackson and Jean Genet

51lhm14ljrl-_sy344_bo1204203200_August 21, 1971 – George Jackson is shot and killed at San Quentin Prison. He was convicted in 1961 of stealing seventy dollars from a gas station and sentenced to one year to life.  At the time of his death he had been incarcerated for ten years. And as an outspoken member of the Black Panther Party and supporter of Marxist ideology, he became a embroiled in controversy.  To this day the circumstances surrounding his death remain shrouded in mystery.  It was alleged that Jackson had a firearm in his possession but how or when he obtained the gun has never been established.  While incarcerated,  he began to record his thoughts keeping a journal and writing letters to his family members.   ‘Soledad Brother’ is the collection of the surviving letters to his family, friends and acquaintances.  A foreword is provided by his nephew Jonathan Jackson, Jr. , whose father Jonathan met his own tragic fate when he was shot and killed on August 7, 1970 in a shootout with authorities during a foiled attempt to force the release of George and two co-defendants.  The group was known as the Soledad Brothers and had been charged with the murder of prison guard John Vincent Mills.  Also killed in foiled the attempt was Marin County Judge Harold Haley.   While it has never been proven that George was involved in the deaths of the guard or Judge Haley, his name is forever linked to their deaths.  And during the trial of Angela Davis several years later, their correspondence became the center of the case and helped Davis win her acquittal.

The beauty of the book is the mind of Jackson on full display for the reader.  While incarcerated his sharpened his mind and pen through deep analytical thought and extensive writing.  Had he not been in San Quentin, he very well could have walked alongside Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton.  The tragedy of George Jackson is the surreal jail sentence for such a petty crime and his untimely death that has never fully been explained.  The youths of today have no idea who Jackson is and most will never read this book.  Over time he has been forgotten by students of the civil rights movement and even those committed to prison reform.  His life and death are a textbook example of the systematic discrimination that has ended the lives of thousands of young African-American men.  There are hundreds of thousands of prisoners in prison today convicted on flimsy evidence and given overly harsh sentences in a criminal justice system that suffers from the bias of those tasked with upholding the blindness of justice.

At first Jackson might come off as angry or even charged. But is necessary to remember the social and political climate in which he lived and died.  His letters are filled with his thoughts on the prison system, the civil rights movement and the relationships with his family members in particular his father.  In his letter Jackson admits to his faults and its evidently clear that in his life he has acted on some occasions with blatant disregard for himself and others and without a clear mind.   He was no angel but far from the demon that he was once portrayed to be.  As he found his voice, he became an outlet for the rising anger and frustration of Black Americans and in his writings, he accurately relays the mindset that many of his peers began to develop.  And if he had lived, I believe that he would have written books and given speeches about the reality of prison and the movement for civil rights.

This book is a forgotten gem that should be added to the library of the many books of the struggle for civil rights in America.  Jackson is either loved or hated but his words are accurate and necessary in the process of reformation to correct the horrors of discrimination.   For those who want to know more about this controversial and enlightening figure, this is the place to start.

ISBN-10: 1556522304
ISBN-13: 978-1556522307