I just saw this posted by my friend and colleague Dr. Whitney Battle-Baptiste…and the quote speaks to many aspects of my life at the moment…both my work and my personal life…
Category Archives: African American
This month I have received a couple alarming e-mails from my colleagues at Howard University. It appears that Howard University President Sidney A. Ribeau has recently revealed his plans to close the anthropology program in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology–along with other programs such as the B.A. in African Studies, Classics, and Philosophy. This reduction in liberal arts programs is a disturbing trend not only among Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), but also among smaller colleges and universities across the United States (Southern Arkansas University, where I currently teach, is considering scrapping its sociology major in the near future)…but, beyond the broad trend (which is something I may address in a later post), this specific case is a tragedy in a very particular sense.
Howard University is the only one out of 105 HBCUs in the United States with a five-field approach to anthropology (the “fifth field” in this case is applied anthropology). Moreover, the program has a strong emphasis in bioarchaeology and archeology. The Howard Anthropology program came to national attention in the 1990s when they became an integral part of the African Burial Ground (ABG) project in New York City. The importance of the ABG project lies not only in its archaeology and bioarcheology, but also in its politics. It was an important moment for our discipline when an empowered descendant community wrested control of the project away from a firm that they saw as insensitive to its wishes and interests…they placed control of the removal, analysis and re-interment of 400 venerated ancestors in the hands of Dr. Michael Blakey and Howard University–a HBCU that has a reputation of good scholarship and black activism. If such an event happened next year, will there be an anthropology program capable to taking on such a research project?
My colleagues pointed out in their email that the President’s decision will adversely impact the archaeology of Africa and the African Diaspora for a number of reasons. First, it will frustrate our efforts to recruit and train African Americans, students of African descent, and other minorities. They call attention to the fact that, currently, the total number of registered minority members in the American Anthropological Association is less than 16%, and the number of African Americans is approximately 3%. I will point out that several Howard University alumni (including Blakey who was the bioarcheologist for the ABG Project when he was a professor at Howard, but got his BA at HU in 1978 before going to UMass Amherst for his MA & Ph.D. ) have gone on to important careers in our discipline and made important contributions to anthropology. I have believed for a long time that one of the avenues to increasing the number of practicing African-American archeologists is to get strong anthropology programs in HBCUs. Losing Howard University’s anthropology program will be a definite blow to that endeavor.
The e-mail states that closing the program will…
…hinder our abilities to expose students of all majors to the past of Africa and the African Diaspora.” Approximately 10,500 students are enrolled at Howard, and many of them are African Americans from all corners of the United States, Africa and other countries throughout the African Diaspora. A closing will not only affect our students, but it will also impact local communities, descendant groups, indigenous peoples, underserved populations, and affiliated institutions. Each of us in the Howard U. Anthropology Program works in collaboration with community interest groups.
Last February, I had the honor of being a part of Windows from the Present to the Past: the Archaeology of Africa and the African Diaspora–a conference at Howard University hosted by the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Office of the Provost, and Office of the Dean. I was very impressed with the mix of scholars, students and faculty members that the conference brought together. I had a great time, but my colleagues tell me it was much more of a success than that…they say that the conference served as a means for students and faculty members in other disciplines and Howard University departments to learn about our research. Since the conference, they tell me, the sizes of Howard’s archaeology classes have doubled in enrollment.
After a period of discussion, President Sidney A. Ribeau will make his final decisions shortly after December 1, 2010. Therefore, soon there will be a “Call for Action” and you will be asked to send letters to the President, other colleagues, influential community members, and prominent political leaders.
Send comments to either:
Eleanor King; firstname.lastname@example.org OR
Florie Bugarin; email@example.com
As this is the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (04/04/1968), I’ll ask you to take a minute and check out the National Civil Rights Museum which was built in and around the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee–the very place where Dr. King was struck down.
As an ex-Memphian, I do have mixed feelings about the National Civil Rights Museum. First, when I worked at Garrow and Assoc. (an archaeological contract firm in Memphis that was then located across the street from the Lorraine), I witnessed first hand the displacement of many working poor from the premises prior to the creation of the museum…That’s right, leave it to Memphis to kick out poor folks (many of whom were people of color) in order to build a shrine to Dr. King. Click here to check out the 14 year protest of Jacqueline Smith–the last tenant of the Lorraine Motel–and find out why she urges folks to boycott the NCRM.
My second reservation is that the exhibits at the NCRM might lead an uninformed visitor to believe that the Civil Rights Movement stopped when MLK was assassinated (the exhibits end with the room where he spent his last hours and continue across the street in the building from which he was shot). Although, on the other hand, I’ll give them points for their recent inclusion of interpretations of the black power movement (i.e. the Black Panthers and Malcolm X).
These caveats aside, I really do believe in the museum’s general message and mission… so, check them out on the web…or better yet, visit the museum in person…But put your “critical reading” glasses on.
I received an unsolicited e-mail the other day from someone who would rather “keep [his] name and contact information private.” The author of this e-mail explained that he authored and hosted a site– http://www.negroartist.com/
The author went on to explain that:
“This site was developed for everyone to use freely at no charge… in other words I will place an artist, dealer, writer etc. on here at no charge. I directly link to their site or provide their direct contact information.”
As this is the philosophy of our own Project Past web site (although we are a platform for anthropologists, archaeologists & historians), it caught my attention…
Take a look at the site….it is rather busy, but has a good amount of content. For my interest, it not only includes hundreds of links to African-American artists (such as Blue Lady by Kelvin Curry pictured to the right), but it also has quite a lot of content relating to African-American history….including galleries of 19th & 20th century images of African-Americans (including negative popular-culture stereotypes) and hunks of slave narratives.
The site is quite eclectic in its attempts at being comprehensive, but it is a worthwhile endeavor….check it out.
Tommy Head, a friend and colleague of my wife (and a native of Huston, Texas), sent me a link to a fascinating publication that I would have never found on my own….In the March 2006 issue of Governing Online (a magazine for state and local governments) there is an article entitled “Land Rush: Inner cities are becoming hot places to live. Does government have any business telling developers to keep out?” by By John Buntin (it also contains a GREAT photo essay by the same author, see example below). This article outlines the current situation in Houston’s Third Ward, a traditional African-American enclave that is currently being invaded by artists, young professionals and their “gleaming new urban lofts.”
What fascinated me about this article was 1) the historical similarities between Houston and Dallas and 2) the differing tone about development in these urban areas vs. the tone typically used when covering development in historically rural Northwest Arkansas. In the Governing article, one of its principle figures (Garnet Coleman) takes an entirely negative view of the process….he, in fact, turns class and racial discourse on its head with statements like: “You can tell a neighborhood’s turning, when you see them out at night walking their dogs.”
…Gotta love that
The article, however, does a good job of covering the different understandings and the basic conflict presented by gentrification….Houston’s case is eerily similar to Dallas, where James Davidson, Maria Franklin & I have documented a similar history of space, class, race and urbanization through the historical and archaeological records. Check out a paper we gave to the SHA in 2004, or James Davidson’s chapter in our Household Chores and Household Choices volume.
In a different gear, these two cases present us with a discursive disjuncture when compared against the case of “rural” Northwest Arkansas. Benton County is the fastest growing county in Arkansas and is the 3rd fastest growing county in the United States. The Rogers/ Bentonville/ Springdale/ Fayetteville metropolitan area growth is creating higher demand for residential amenities. Wal-Mart, Tyson, J.B. Hunt and vendors are bringing in upper level management to facilitate their expanding Corporations. These transformations change the structure and feeling of the community in ways not dissimilar to urban transformations, but the public tone is radically different.
But compare for a moment the tone in this Governing article with the overwhelmingly positive tone normally present in articles describing development in Northwest Arkansas.
“[I]t was the rise and growth among the slaves of a determination to be free and an active part of American democracy that forced American democracy continually to look into the depths. . . . One cannot think then of democracy in America or in the modern world without reference to the American Negro.”–W.E.B. Du Bois, The Gift of Black Folk (1924)
“The word covenant we borrow from the Latin convenio, from con, together, and venio, I come; signifying a contract or agreement made between two parties; to fulfill the conditions of which they are mutually bound.”–Adam Clarke
I recently watched the CSPAN coverage of Tavis Smiley’s Covenant with Black America panel discussions….From a “intellectual celebrity” point of view there was an entertaining dialog between Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, Dr. Cornel West and Tavis Smiley about the long-debated issue of separatism…but I was more interested in the larger issue of The Covenant than I was individual personalities….
While I fully agree with my peers that Smiley’s Covenant may be a bit more “mainstream” than some may want/like, what I DO like about the Covenant is that it is a platform for discussion…and a platform that appears to be working….
One of my colleagues has passed along (via H-AFRO-AM on H-NET) three things worth noting:
- During the CSPAN broadcast of the first town meeting, there were 2 million hits to the web site.
- The Covenant is the number one seller on the Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Dalton web sites. If the momentum continues, The Covenant could well be number one on the NY Times best seller list this week, a first for a Black publisher–the book is published by Third World Press.
- Commitments have been made by both the Republican and Democratic parties to hold public meetings of all the 2008 Presidential candidates, before any primary or caucus, to ask all the candidates to respond to The Covenant…in what form they ACTUALLY address it remains, however, to be seen.
Here’s a question that I’ve wanted to ask since the last couple of conferences.
Several papers in the “Personal is Political: Archaeological Studies of and in Activist Contexts” session at the last Society for Historical Archaeology meeting asserted that archaeologists working on the African Diaspora needed more (some) training in African and/or African-American studies. I heard similar calls in papers at the last American Anthropological Assocation meetings in the “Can Archaeologists Be Activists?” and “Dialogues in Context: Perspectives on Applied Work in African Diaspora Archaeology” sessions.
So my question(s) is/are: What training do folks who are working out there have now? What would you recommend to students coming into African Diaspora archaeology? Are there programs out there which already cross-train students well?
If you are not an archaeologist but work in the African Diaspora, what training would you expect an archaeologist to have…or better, what training do you WISH archaeologists would get?
On a side note: To me this sounds a lot like the issue of historical archaeologists getting training in historical methods (which gets rehashed every so often on HISTARCH).
If we still haven’t resolved that one, is there hope for tackling this one?
Send me some feedback or leave a comment….
On this day (February 8th) in 1915, D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation premiered in Los Angeles. This silent film was America’s first feature-length motion picture and a box-office smash–lasting an unprecedented three hours.
Released under the title, The Clansman (at least for the first few weeks) , the movie debuted only after Griffith sought an injunction from the court. The film provides a highly subjective history of the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. It, of course, made a lasting impact on our collective cultural memories when it comes to framing race and the history of the South. Birth of a Nation caused riots in several cities and was banned in others but was seen by millions.
When Griffith released the film in 1915, many groups protested; the NAACP published a 47-page pamphlet titled “Fighting a Vicious Film: Protest Against The Birth of a Nation,” in which they referred to the film as “three miles of filth.” W. E. B. Du Bois published scathing reviews in The Crisis, spurring a heated debate among the National Board of Censorship of Motion Pictures as to whether the film should be shown in New York. However, President (and former history professor) Woodrow Wilson viewed the film (it was the first film to be shown in the White House) and proclaimed it not only historically accurate, but like “history writ with lightning.” (Arrrgghhh!)The film set the stage for what would be an on-going struggle to improve the portrayal of blacks on film.
Sorry I have been silent the last few weeks….I’ve been at the annual conference of the Society for Historical Archaeologists (SHA) in Sacramento, California….a good time was had by all (or most, anyway).
While at the conference I attended this year’s forum sponsored by the African Diaspora Archaeology Network…By the way, I REALLY like these forums because we get to actually have a dialog rather than giving 20 minute papers to each other with no time to talk about what each of us is doing…..
This year’s forum topic was “The Archaeology of the African Diaspora: Beyond North America and Beyond the Plantation”….Does this seem like an odd title? Does the African Diaspora already suggest a global perspective to you? Then I bet you are NOT an American historical archaeologist….
In North America, what is now increasing being termed “archaeology of the African Diaspora” began life as something called “plantation archaeology” in the 1960s and its focus was enslaved Africans and African-Americans working on lowland plantations in the American South. It expanded to “African-American archaeology” in the 1980s…I liked that the topic opened up to non-plantation settings (such as free black communities), but I was never comfortable with that name….Look at my picture, do I look like an African-American archaeologist?!? Nope, I’m whiter than Whitey Ford….
Although personal identity was not intended in the “African-American archaeology” monkier, as many of us are interested in actually diversifying our discipline to include many more scholars of color, I always felt like a poser being the “African-American Archaeology Network liaison” to the SHA….So I was happy when we recently embraced the “Archaeology of the African Diaspora” title…This name, of course, implies that we know something about the Diaspora in a holistic sense. Unfortunately it is far from true.
With a few notable exceptions, the vast majority of American historical archaeologists still work in North American settings (many still work on plantation sites) and many of us have no clue about the larger Diaspora. These fora are trying to change that. Last year we we organized a forum called “Archaeology of the Black Atlantic” with panelists who worked in Caribbean, in Africa itself (east and west), folks who work on Black British heritage, and (of course) those who work in the United States….
This year Sarah Croucher of the University of Manchester expanded the forum’s theme to include the Diaspora in its global scale…it was great to get a glimpse of the diversity of projects out there–folks working in South Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, free black sites in the US and Canada, Islamic slavery in east Africa, and so on…
I think we’re moving in the right direction for a proper “Archaeology of the African Diaspora.” …I already can’t wait until next year’s forum.
The Knoxville News Sentinel (and the Facing South blog) reported earlier this month that President Bush has pardoned two Tennesseans convicted decades ago of moonshine charges. The pardons, of course, will restore full U.S. citizenship to the men, including the rights to vote and buy a gun.
My favorite line from this piece comes from Charles E. McKinley, 75, of Pall Mall, Tennessee (one of two pardoned moonshiners):
“I’d almost be a Republican after that.”
No word, however, on granting voting rights to the thirteen percent of African-American men–1.4 million–who are disenfranchised due to felony convictions….the majority of these convictions are, of course, for the possession of (and intent to sell) controlled substances..Apparently not all controlled substances are equal in the eyes of the administration.
Read more about the pardons at: