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El Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History acaba de anunciar sus cursos gratuitos de historia de Estados Unidos para estudiantes de escuela elemental, media y superior. En total son seis: un curso en el que el elenco del musical Hamilton leerá libros de historia estadounidense para niños, un curso sobre la vida de los esclavos en la era de los Padres Fundadores, un curso sobre el uso dramático de fuentes históricas, Joe Welch (2018 National History Teacher of the Year) enseñará un curso sobre la guerra fría, un curso preparatorio para los exámenes avanzados de historia estadounidense y por último, un curso sobre la constitución de Estados Unidos.

Quienes estén interesados pueden ir aquí por más información.

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En Estados Unidos se dedica el mes de febrero a conmemorar y celebrar la historia de los afroamericanos, tema que no es ajeno a esta bitacora. ¿Qué mejor manera de comenzar este mes que con un artículo que busca rescatar la profundidad de uno de los íconos del movimiento de los derechos civiles? En este escrito que comparto con mis lectores, la politóloga estadounidense Jeanne Theoharis nos recuerda que la labor y el legado de  Rosa Parks no se limitan a su desafío a la segregación racial de la transportación pública en la Alabama de los años 1950. La figura de Parks es mucho más grande que eso. Según la Dra. Theoharis, la Sra. Parks dedicó muchos años de su vida a luchar contra el racismo en  los estados del norte. También resalta sus simpatías con los Black Panthers y su admiración por Malcolm X. 

En otras palabras, Rosa Parks -como tambien el Dr. King- es un personaje mucho más complejo  del que los medios, los libros textos y los políticos usualmente proyectan en un esfuerzo de apropiación que busca diluir su mensaje y su ejemplo, y hacerlos así aceptables.

A  booking photo of Rosa Parks taken on Feb. 22, 1956, at the county sheriff’s office in Montgomery, Ala.

Credit…Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, via Associated Press

The Real Rosa Parks Story Is Better Than the Fairy Tale

The New York Times   February 1, 2021 


Mug shot No. 7053 is one of the most iconic images of Rosa Parks. But the photo, often seen in museums and textbooks and on T-shirts and websites, isn’t what it seems. Though it’s regularly misattributed as such, it is not the mug shot taken at the time of Mrs. Parks’s arrest in Montgomery, Ala., on Dec. 1, 1955, after she famously refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger. It was, in fact, taken when she was arrested in February 1956 after she and 88 other “boycott leaders” were indicted by the city in an attempt to end the boycott. The confusion around the image reveals Americans’ overconfidence in what we think we know about Mrs. Parks and about the civil rights movement.

Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks dominate the Civil Rights Movement chapters of elementary and high school textbooks and Black History Month celebrations. And yet much of what people learn about Mrs. Parks is narrow, distorted, or just plain wrong. In our collective understanding, she’s trapped in a single moment on a long-ago Montgomery bus, too often cast as meek, tired, quiet and middle class. The boycott is seen as a natural outgrowth of her bus stand. It’s inevitable, respectable and not disruptive.

But that’s not who she was, and it’s not how change actually works. “Over the years, I have been rebelling against second-class citizenship. It didn’t begin when I was arrested,” Mrs. Parks reminded interviewers time and again.

Rosa Parks papers give insight into the civil rights icon

Born Feb. 4, 1913, she had been an activist for two decades before her bus stand — beginning with her work alongside Raymond Parks in 1931, whom she married the following year, to organize in defense of the “Scottsboro Boys” (nine Black teenagers who were falsely accused of raping two white women). Indeed, one of the issues that animated her six decades of activism was the injustice of the criminal justice system — wrongful accusations against Black men, disregard for Black women who had been sexually assaulted, and police brutality. With a small group of other activists, including E.D. Nixon, who would become branch president, she spent the decade before her well-known bus stand working to transform the Montgomery NAACP into a more activist chapter that focused on voter registration, criminal justice and desegregation. This was dangerous, tiring work and Mrs. Parks said it was “very difficult to keep going when all our work seemed to be in vain.” But she persevered.

Dispirited by the lack of change and what she called the “complacency” of many peers, she reformed the NAACP Youth Council in 1954 and urged her young charges to take greater stands against segregation. When 15-year-old Claudette Colvin was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus in March 1955, many Black Montgomerians were outraged by Mrs. Colvin’s arrest, but some came to decide that the teenager was too feisty and emotional, and not the right test case. Mrs. Parks encouraged the young woman’s membership in the Youth Council and was the only adult leader, according to Ms. Colvin, to stay in touch with her the summer after her arrest. Mrs. Parks put her hope in the spirit and militancy of young people.

The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks (Young Readers Edition) by Jeanne  Theoharis: 9780807067574 | PenguinRandomHouse.com: BooksThat evening on the bus, Mrs. Parks challenged the police officers arresting her: “Why do you push us around?” There are no photos from the arrest — no sense this would be a history-changing moment. But networks that had been built over years sprang into action late that night when Mrs. Parks decided to pursue her legal case and called Fred Gray, a young lawyer and fellow NAACP member, to represent her. Mr. Gray called the head of the Women’s Political Council, Jo Ann Robinson, who decided to call for a one-day boycott on Monday, the day Mrs. Parks would be arraigned in court.

Braving danger, Ms. Robinson left her home in the middle of the night to run off 50,000 leaflets with the help of a colleague and two trusted students. In the early-morning hours, the women of the W.P.C. fanned out across the city, leaving the leaflets in churches, barbershops and schools. Mr. Nixon began calling the more political ministers to get them on board. Buoyed by the boycott’s success that first day, the community decided to continue. The boycott succeeded in part because the Black community organized a massive car pool system, setting up some 40 pickup stations across town, serving about 30,000 riders a day, and in part because of a federal legal case challenging Montgomery’s bus segregation that Mr. Gray filed in February with courageous teenagers, Ms. Colvin and Mary Louise Smith, serving as two of the four plaintiffs.

The boycott seriously disrupted city life and bus company revenues. Police harassed the car pools mercilessly, giving out hundreds of tickets — and then, when that didn’t work, the city dredged up an old anti-syndicalism law and indicted 89 boycott leaders. Refusing to be cowed or to wait to be arrested, Mrs. Parks, along with others, presented herself to the police while scores of community members gathered outside. Mug shot No. 7053.

The Rosa Parks fable also erases the tremendous cost of her bus stand and the decade of suffering that ensued for the Parks family. They weren’t well-off. The Parkses lived in the Cleveland Court projects, Mrs. Parks’s husband, Raymond, working as a barber at Maxwell Air Force Base and Mrs. Parks spending her days in a stuffy back room at Montgomery Fair department store altering white men’s suits. Five weeks after her bus stand, she lost her job; then Raymond lost his. Receiving regular death threats, they never found steady work in Montgomery again. Eight months after the boycott’s successful end, the Parks family was forced to leave Montgomery for Detroit, where her brother and cousins lived. They continued to struggle to find work, and she was hospitalized to treat ulcers in 1959, which led to a bill she couldn’t pay. It was not until 1966, 11 years after her bus arrest, after she was hired to work in U.S. Representative John Conyers’s new Detroit office, that the Parks family registered an income comparable to what they’d made in 1955. (Mrs. Parks had supported Mr. Conyers’s long-shot bid for Congress in 1964.)


Mrs. Parks spent the next several decades of her life fighting the racism of the North — “the Northern promised land that wasn’t,” she called it — marching and organizing against housing discrimination, school segregation, employment discrimination and police brutality. In July 1967, on the fourth day of the Detroit uprising, police killed three Black teenagers at the Algiers Motel. Justice against the officers proved elusive (ultimately none of them were punished for murder or conspiracy) and Detroit’s newspapers grew reluctant to press the issue. At the request of young Black Power activists who refused to let these deaths go unmarked and the police misconduct be swept under the rug, Mrs. Parks agreed to serve as a juror on the “People’s Tribunal” to make the facts of the case known.

Credit…Michael J. Samojeden/Associated Press

“I don’t believe in gradualism,” she made clear, “or that whatever is to be done for the better should take forever to do.” In the 1960s and ’70s, she was part of a growing Black Power movement in the city and across the country. Describing Malcolm X as her personal hero, she attended the 1968 Black Power convention in Philadelphia in 1968 and the 1972 Gary Convention, worked for reparations and against the war in Vietnam, served on prisoner defense committees, and visited the Black Panthers’ school in 1980. “Freedom fighters never retire,” she observed at a testimonial for a friend — and she never did.

But this Rosa Parks is not the one most of us learned about in school or hear about during Black History Month commemorations. Instead, we partake in an American myth, as President George W. Bush put it after her death in 2005, that “one candle can light the darkness.” A simple seamstress changes the course of history with a single act, decent people did the right thing and the nation inexorably moved toward justice. Mrs. Parks’s decades of work challenging the racial injustice puts the lie to this narrative. The nation didn’t move naturally toward justice. It had to be pushed.

The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks – Race, Politics, Justice

The boycott was a tremendous feat of organization that drew on networks built over years. Understanding the demonization, death threats and economic hardship Mrs. Parks endured for more than a decade underscores the costs of such heroism. Most Americans did not support the civil rights movement when it was happening; in a Gallup poll right before the March on Washington in 1963, only 23 percent of Americans who were familiar with the proposed march felt favorably toward it.

Reckoning with the fact that Mrs. Parks spent the second half of her life fighting the racism of the North demonstrates that racism was not some regional anachronism but a national cancer. And seeing how she placed her greatest hope in the militant spirit of young people (finding many adults “complacent”) gives the lie to the ways commentators today have used the civil rights movement to chastise Black Lives Matter for not going about change the right way. Learning about the real Rosa Parks reveals how false those distinctions are, how criminal justice was key to her freedom dreams, how disruptive and persevering the movement, and where she would be standing today — an essential lesson young people, and indeed all Americans, need to understand to grapple honestly with this country’s history and see the road forward.

Jeanne Theoharis is a professor of political science and the author of eleven books on the civil rights and Black Power movements including “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks” and “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks Young Readers’ Edition,” co-adapted with Brandy Colbert.

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Una de las pocas cosas que podríamos denominar como “positivas” de la pandemia, es que el distanciamiento social nos obligó a buscar nuevos mecanismos para compartir y circular el conocimiento. Es así como las videoconferencias en la red -los famosos webinar­- se convirtieron en herramientas muy útiles para  acceder a conferencias, seminarios y presentaciones de las que en “tiempos normales” no habríamos podido participar. Gracias a Zoom, Blackboard Collaborate, Facebook Life y otras plataformas, he podido acceder conferencias de colegas en Estados Unidos, Puerto Rico, Inglaterra, Argentina, etc.

Una de esas actividades es la presentación del libro de la colega Valeria L. Carbone, Una historia del movimiento negro estadounidense en la era post derechos civiles (1968-1988) (Universidad de Valencia, 2020). Producto de su tesis doctoral “Racismo, Raza y clase en la lucha de base y resistencia de los afro-estaunidenses durante 1968-1988” (UBA, 2017), este libro examina el desarrollo de la lucha de los afro estadounidenses en el periodo posterior a aprobación de las históricas  Ley de Derechos Civiles (1964) y la Ley de Derecho al Voto (1965). Como no he leído esta obra, comparto la descripción que la acompaña:

La presente obra analiza la evolucion de la lucha y la resistencia de los afro-norteamericanos a lo largo de las décadas de 1970 y 1980 desde una perspectiva que incorp ora las categorías de racismo, raza y clase. Desde la centralidad de las elaboraciones discursivas e institucionales de las nociones de raza y racismo, así como desde el papel fundamental que ha adquirido la ideología de la supremacía de la raza blanca en el devenir historico estadounidense, la poblacion negra ha entendido su lucha desde la nocion de raza como lugar de resistencia, lo que ha delimitado sus acciones a la hora de perfilar estrategias de lucha colectiva. El estudio de determinados movimientos significativos de cada region del territorio (centro-oeste, el sur profundo, noreste, este) evidencia como estos permiten establecer conexiones y continuidades en cuanto a problemas, tácticas y estrategias, formas de organizacion, retoricas discursivas y tipos de participacion, que dieron forma a un complejo, heterogéneo y versátil proceso de incesante movilizacion nacional mediante el cual la comunidad negra desafio al racismo institucional estadounidense bajo las consignas de raza y clase.

Antes de finalizar debo destacar dos cosas. Primero, que la publicación de este libro coincidió con  la intensificación de los conflictos raciales provocada por el asesinato de George Floyd en mayo de 2020.  Segundo, que publicaciones académicas en castellano analizando la historia estadounidense son escazas o de difícil acceso dados los problemas de distribución que nos separan. Ambos factores hacen del libro de la Dra. Carbone una importante aportación que debe ser reconocida.

Invito a quienes estén interesados en estos temas a ver la presentación de este libro aquí.

Norberto Barreto Velazquez

Lima, 3 de enero de 2021

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Tráiler de 'Da 5 Bloods', la película de Spike Lee para Netflix ...Que recuerde, no he reseñado películas en esta bitácora, pero acabo de ver una que lo amerita. Se trata del largometraje de Spike Lee  Da 5 Bloods. A través de la historia de cuatro veteranos negros que regresan a Vietnam en búsqueda de un tesoro y de los restos de un camarada, Lee enfoca de forma genial la inmoralidad de la intervención estadounidense en Indochina. Claramente enmarcada en el contexto actual de conflicto racial en Estados Unidos, esta película nos muestra, como bien señala unos de sus personajes, el impacto en cuatro veteranos -y sus allegados y familiares- de una guerra en la que pelearon en “defensa” de derechos que como afroamericanos, ellos no tenían.

Norberto Barreto Velázquez,PhD

Lima 5 de agosto de 2020

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Comparto este interesante ensayo del  profesor Juan F. Correa Luna, miembro de la Facultad de Derecho de la Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico, comentando la participación de los famosos Harlem Hellfighters en la primera guerra mundial. Desconocía  que una tercera parte de los músicos de la banda de este regimiento de soldaldos negros, dirigida por  James Reese Europe, eran puertorriqueños. Entre ellos, Rafael Hernández, quien se convirtirá en uno de los más grandes compositores de la música latinoamericana.

James Reese Europe, Rafael Hernández Marín y los “Harlem Hellfighters”

Una de las unidades de combate más valerosas durante la primera guerra mundial se conoció como el Regimiento de Infantería 369 de la guardia nacional de Nueva York, mejor conocida como los “Harlem Hellfighters”. Para la primera guerra mundial el ejército de los Estados Unidos se encontraba segregado racialmente. Por ello el Regimiento 369 estaba compuesto exclusivamente por soldados afroamericanos y puertorriqueños. También contaba con una banda musical dirigida por el teniente James Reese Europe uno de los más famosos y brillantes músicos de Jazz. Reese Europe desempeñó un papel protagónico durante la época conocida como el Harlem Renacentista en Nueva York a principios del siglo pasado. A James Reese Europe se le llegó a conocer como la versión de Martin Luther King en el campo de la música. Fue el primer compositor que ofreció un concierto de música negra en el Carnegie Hall en 1912. El concierto llevó por título en inglés “A Symphony of Negro Music”. Todas las composiciones musicales fueron compuestas por músicos negros. Reese Europe respetaba la calidad musical de los compositores blancos, pero consideraba que los músicos negros no tenían que imitar a los blancos ya que tenían su propia música la cual gozaba de méritos propios y personas de todas las razas debían también tener la oportunidad de escuchar y disfrutarla. Seleccionó a cada uno de los miembros de la banda musical del regimiento 369 de infantería. Por ello no escatimó esfuerzos para allegar a los mejores músicos para su banda.

Lo que muchos no conocen es que una tercera parte de esos músicos eran puertorriqueños. Uno de ellos fue nuestro querido y reconocido compositor, a nivel mundial, Rafael Hernández Marín. Rafael Hernández fue reclutado junto a su hermano Jesús Hernández y otros 16 músicos puertorriqueños por el propio Reese Europe. Ya para ese entonces se conocía de la excelencia, talento, capacidad y profesionalismo de los músicos puertorriqueños y muy en particular la de Rafael Hernández Marín quien ya a la edad de 26 años componía música y dominaba a la perfección seis instrumentos musicales. Entre ellos: trombón, tuba, bombardino, piano, guitarra y clarinete. Rafael Hernández recibió rango de Sargento y fue asistente de Reese Europe en la banda del Regimiento 369.

Al igual que los soldados afroamericanos que le precedieron en la guerra civil y los soldados afroamericanos que le sucedieron hasta el presente, los soldados afroamericanos y puertorriqueños en la primera guerra mundial pelearon en guerras por un país y un gobierno que rehusó y todavía rehúsa reconocerles como iguales en dignidad y derechos. La oficialidad del ejército norteamericano no quería reconocer la capacidad de los afroamericanos y puertorriqueños para pelear en el frente de guerra durante la primera guerra mundial y tampoco favorecía que se mezclaran con los soldados blancos. De ahí que fueran segregados y relegados a tareas de servicios de apoyo. La unidad 369 de Nueva York fue enviada al estado de Carolina del Sur, uno de los estados más racistas para la época y donde los soldados recibirían un adiestramiento deficiente ya que no contaban con el equipo ni los recursos necesarios para el adiestramiento militar. Durante su entrenamiento fueron víctimas de muchos ataques físicos y abusos verbales raciales. Muchos soldados afroamericanos al igual que Reese Europe consideraban que era importante que se les diera la oportunidad para participar en la guerra a fin de demostrarles a los blancos y al gobierno que los soldados negros eran igualmente capaces de defender a su país con valentía y heroísmo. Veían su participación como una oportunidad para educar a los blancos y en el proceso lograr que se les reconocieran a plenitud sus derechos como ciudadanos. A pesar de sus esfuerzos se les negó su participación junto al ejercito norteamericano en el frente de guerra.

La oficialidad militar prefirió enviarle el regimiento 369 a Francia para que estuviera bajo la dirección del gobierno y el cuerpo militar francés no sin antes advertirle que no debían confiar en estos soldados ya que no los consideraban capaces de combatir y de realizar otras tareas importantes durante la guerra. Una carta del Coronel Linard de la Fuerza Expedicionaria Estadounidense (AEF) al cuartel militar francés resume las tensiones raciales entre negros y blancos en el momento en que Estados Unidos entró en la guerra:

“… Los aproximadamente 15 millones de negros en los Estados Unidos presentan una amenaza de mestizaje racial a menos que se mantenga a negros y blancos estrictamente separados [Por lo tanto,] los franceses no deberían comer con ellos, ni estrecharles la mano, ni visitarlos ni conversar, excepto cuando sea requerido por asuntos militares.”

Se dice que a los franceses les consternó las advertencias racistas de los norteamericanos y aunque ellos también tenían su cuota de abusos raciales en sus colonias como lo fue el caso de Argelia, necesitaban desesperadamente soldados para combatir en el frente de guerra, así que aceptaron al regimiento 369 y decidieron no hacerle caso a la oficialidad militar norteamericana. De inmediato incorporaron a sus unidades de combate a los soldados afroamericanos y puertorriqueños. El gobierno norteamericano solo les proveyó uniformes a los soldados del regimiento 369. Los franceses les tuvieron que suplir las armas que utilizaron durante la guerra, municiones, cascos, cinturones y alimentos.

Reese Europe quien además de ser el director de la banda ocupo el rango de teniente llegaría a decir un poco en broma, pero consiente de la posibilidad de que ocurriese, lo siguiente:

“He estado pensando que si capturan a uno de mis puertorriqueños con el uniforme de un regimiento francés de Normandía y este hombre negro les dice en español que es un soldado estadounidense en Nueva York del Regimiento de la Guardia Nacional, el dolor de cabeza que le provocara al departamento de inteligencia alemán tratar de entender esa realidad”.

Antes de ser embarcadas los regimientos militares estadounidenses a Europa, se decidió realizar un festival y una marcha de despedida a los soldados. La división militar denominada el Rainbow Division o Division Arcoiris en español, estaba compuesta por varias unidades de la guardia nacional provenientes de unos 24 de estados. Las unidades marcharían por toda la 5ta avenida de la ciudad de Nueva York. Sin embargo, le fue denegada la participación a la banda musical dirigida por Reese Europe y a todos los demás soldados del Regimiento 369. Los oficiales militares a cargo del evento expresaron los motivos de su rechazo diciendo que “el color negro no se encontraba entre los colores del arcoíris”. Aunque no les permitieron tocar ni participar en el evento de Nueva York a su llegada al muelle francés, los soldados de la banda musical del Regimiento 369 sorprendieron y deleitaron a los soldados y civiles franceses con una versión impecable de la Marsellesa en Jazz.

La valentía y heroísmo desplegado en el frente de combate durante la primera guerra mundial por todos los miembros del Regimiento de infantería 369 a quienes se dice que los propios alemanes le dieron el nombre de los “Harlem Hellfighters” o Luchadores Infernales de Harlem y los franceses le llamaran “Los Hombres de Bronce” por su valor y heroísmo, le mereció a cada uno, el más alto honor otorgado por el gobierno francés y su presidente, la medalla de la Cruz de Guerra. Estuvieron destacados en el frente de guerra por más de 191 días, más que ninguna a otra unidad militar americana. Nunca retrocedieron en sus incursiones en terreno enemigo y nunca permitieron que los alemanes tomaran como prisionero a uno de sus soldados.

Las proezas, el valor y la disciplina demostrada en el frente de guerra no fue el único legado de importancia que dejo el Regimiento 369 durante la primera guerra mundial, algunos historiadores han expresado, que la destreza en el campo de batalla del regimiento 369 fue casi eclipsada por su contribución a la música, ya que a la banda musical del Regimiento 369 de los “Harlem Hellfighters” compuesta por una selección de los mejores músicos de jazz de Harlem y Puerto Rico, también se le atribuyó la singular proeza de haber exportado por vez primera, la música jazz, por toda Europa. Sus presentaciones en teatros, calles, plazas, muelles y otros espacios públicos no solo levantó la moral de los soldados, expuso además a la población civil y las clases trabajadoras a una experiencia musical memorable.

Finalizada la guerra, la ciudad de Nueva York les recibió con un gran desfile a lo largo de la 5ta Avenida. Un honor que les fue denegado, por motivos raciales, cuando partieron hacia Europa. A pesar de ello la celebración no duró mucho ya que como muy bien expresara el escritor norteamericano Max Brooks: “Regresaron a casa en los momentos de mayor violencia racial en la historia de los Estados Unidos, el verano rojo de 1919”. Lo que se conoció como el verano rojo fue el periodo comprendido entre fines del invierno y principios del otoño de 1919 durante el cual grupos supremacistas blancos desataron una de las peores oleadas de asesinatos, linchamientos, violencia y ataques terroristas contra los afroamericanos en más de tres docenas de ciudades de los Estados Unidos.

Rafael Hernández Marín al igual que su hermano Jesús y los demás soldados puertorriqueños recibieron los reconocimientos otorgados por el gobierno francés y la Cruz de Guerra por su alto heroísmo y valor durante la guerra. Rafael fue dado de baja honorablemente como soldado y desempeñó un rol destacado en la banda musical del Regimiento 369 como Trombonista y asistente del propio Reese Europe. A su regreso a Nueva York participó de las grabaciones de Jazz con la orquesta de Reese Europe. Se ha dicho que muchas de sus composiciones y arreglos musicales como El Cumbanchero y Cachita reflejan cómo fue influenciado por el sonido del “big band” que era típico de las bandas de jazz. Rafael Hernández ha sido y es considerado uno de los más grandes compositores a nivel mundial superando en composiciones musicales, con más de 2000, a otros gigantes compositores latinoamericanos de su época, como lo fueron Agustín Lara de Méjico y Ernesto Lecuona de Cuba.

El discrimen racial que observó y vivió como puertorriqueño y negro en los Estados Unidos y como soldado durante la primera guerra mundial lo llevaron también, al igual que a Don Pedro Albizu Campos a denunciar y criticar el gobierno norteamericano y al estado de sujeción y control colonial de la isla por parte de los Estados Unidos. En 1932 escribió y compuso “Mi Patria Tiembla”. La canción interpretada por Davilita y el trío Borinquen dice que Puerto Rico tiembla porque los nobles patriotas que yacen en sus tumbas al serles imposible salir de su morada para defender la isla de las infamias y tiranías que se cometen contra ella, se rebelan y se agitan en sus tumbas provocando que la Patria tiemble. La letra finaliza expresando que es preferible que Puerto Rico se hunda y se la trague el mar antes de verla esclava.

En 1937 en una de sus más reconocidas y famosas composiciones musicales, “Preciosa”, describe a los Estados Unidos como un tirano que trata a Puerto Rico con negra maldad. Rafael estaba muy claro de que esa maldad siempre provino del blanco americano. Unos años después se dice que Muñoz Marín, le llegaría a pedir que bajara el tono antiamericano en ‘Preciosa’. Sugiriéndosele incluso cambiar la frase “no importa el tirano te trate” por la frase “no importa el destino te trate”. Al final Rafael no cedió ante las presiones que se le hicieron y el tirano americano se quedó como lo que es y ha sido siempre un Tirano. No fue casual que Rafael Hernández decidiera inmortalizar el final de la canción con la frase que más emociona y agita los corazones a todo puertorriqueño y puertorriqueña que la escucha y canta: “Preciosa te llaman los hijos de la libertad”.


Martínez , E (Spring – Summer 2014). Rafael Hernández and the Harlem HellfightersVoices; The Journal of New York Folklore, Volume 40: 1–2: https://nyfolklore.org/wp-content/uploads/Voices-2014a.pdf

 Trickey, E (May 2018): One Hundred Years Ago, the Harlem Hellfighters Bravely Led the U.S. Into WWI; , Smithsonian Magazine https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/one-hundred-years-ago-harlem-hellfighters-bravely-led-us-wwi-180968977/

Brooks M: Harlem Hellfifhters Broadway Books (2014)

Basilio, S. (April 2019) Boricua Pioneer, Rafael Hernández Revista Digital Jazz DeLa:https://jazzdelapena.com/puerto-rico-project/boricua-pioneer-rafael-hernandez/

Moskowitz, D.(June 2020) Jazzman James Reese Europe Taught White America How to SwingHistory net.com : https://www.historynet.com/jazzman-james-reese-europe-taught-white-america-how-to-swing.htm

Hernández R. (1932) Mi Patria Tiembla,, Interpretada por Trio Borinquen; Davilita /Mario Hernandez : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WEwh_Rqg5-s


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El Public Domain Review acaba de hacer disponible una versión digital de la primera edición del discurso pronunciado por Fredrick Douglas el 5 de julio de 1852, criticando la hipocrecia de celebrar la independencia de Estados Unidos cuando millones de negros seguían siendo esclavos.  Bajo el título First Edition Pamphlet of Frederick Douglass’ “What to the Slave Is the 4th of July?” (1852), este documento viene acompañado de un breve análisis de su importancia como una de las piezas de oratoria más significativas de la historia estadounidense, así como también una fuente invaluable para el estudio de la esclavitud en Estados Unidos.

Los interesados en este documento pueden ir aquí.

Para mis lectores hispano parlantes incluyo a continuación la traducción de las primeras dos páginas de este discurso producida por la página Mass Humanities.

Frederick Douglass's "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July ...

El significado del cuatro de julio para el negro Frederick Douglass July 5, 1852

Nota: Por razones históricas, en esta traducción se han empleado las formas de vosotros para la segunda persona plural. Aunque vosotros ya no se usa en el español hispanoamericano, era común durante el siglo xix, y sobre todo en la oratoria; por consiguiente, ayuda a captar, por analogía, el estilo decimonónico del inglés de Douglass.

1 Sr. Presidente, Amigos, y Ciudadanos de Compañero: La tarea antes de mi es alguno lo que requiere mucho pensamiento anterior y estudio para su desempeño adecuado. No me recuerdo nunca haber a parecer como un altavoz en frente de alguna asamblea con nerviosismo, ni con más desconfianza en mi habilidad que hago este día. Los papeles y los carteles dicen que voy a entregar una oración sobre el cuatro de julio. El hecho es, señores y señoras, la distancia entre esta plataforma y la plantación de esclavos, desde que me escapé, es considerable-y los dificultades para superar para que mover del último al anterior, no son leves. Lo que estoy aquí es algo de asombro así como de agradecimiento.

2 Esto, para el propósito de esta celebración, es el cuatro de julio. Esto es el cumpleaños de tu Independencia Nacional, y de tu libertad política. Esto, para ti, tiene la significa de la Pascua para la gente emancipada de Dios. Se lleva a tus mentes al día, y al momento de tu gran liberación. También, esta celebración significa la empieza de otro año de tu vida nacional; y te recuerda que la República de América ahora tiene 76 años. Estoy feliz, ciudadanos de compañero, porque tu nación está muy joven. Eres, incluso ahora, sólo a la empieza de tu carrera nacional, todavía persistiendo en el período de infancia. Repito, me alegre que esto es verdad. Hay esperanza en el pensamiento, y la esperanza es muy necesaria, debajo de los nubes oscuros que se bajan sobre el horizonte.

3 Ciudadanos del compañero, hace 76 años, las personas de este país eran súbditas británicas. El estilo y el título de tu “gente soberana” (en el cual tu ahora gloria) no nació. Estabas debajo de La Corona Británica. Tus padres estimaron el Gobierno Inglés como el gobierno de tu casa. Inglaterra como la patria, aunque una distancia muy lejos de tu casa, les impone, por el ejercito de sus prerrogativas de los padres, a sus niños coloniales, tales restricciones, cargas, y limitaciones, como, en su juicio maduro, se considere sabio, correcto, y adecuada.

4 Pero tus padres, cuyos no adoptaron la idea que el gobierno es infalible, y el carácter absoluto de sus acciones, presumieron a ser diferente del gobierno local en respeto al sabio y la justicia de algunos de las cargas y restricciones. Ellos se fueron en lo que para pronunciar las medidas del gobierno que son injustas, irrazonables, opresivas, y en total medidas que no la gente no debe someter a silencio. No necesito decir, ciudadanos de compañero, que mi opinión sobre las medidas son completamente en conformidad con los opiniones de tus padres. Tus padres se sentían tratados duramente e injustamente por el gobierno local, entonces tus padres, como hombres de honestidad, y hombres de espíritu, buscaron la compensación. Ellos solicitaron y protestaron; lo hicieron con una manera decorosa, respetuosa, y leal. Esto, sin embargo, no respondió al propósito. Ellos fueron maltratados con indiferencia soberana, frialdad, y desdén. Aún perseveraron.

frederick douglass Corinthian Hall 1852 speech

5 La opresión hace enojado al hombre sabio. Tus padres estuvieron intranquilos debajo de este trato. Ellos sintieron como las víctimas de errores graves que son incurables en su capacidad colonial. Con hombres valientes siempre hay un remedio para la opresión. Aquí, ¡la idea de separación total de las colonias de la corona nació! Era una idea sorprendente, mucho más que lo consideramos a esta distancia del tiempo. La gente tímida y prudente de esa día, por supuesto, estaban sorprendidas por esta idea. Su oposición al pensamiento, lo que consideraba peligroso durante en ese tiempo, estaba serio y poderoso; pero, durante de su terror y vociferaciones asustados contra de la idea, la idea alarmante y revolucionaria continuaba, y el país continuaba también. 6 El dos de julio, 1776, el Congreso Continental, para la consternación de los amantes de la facilidad y de los adoradores de la propiedad, alarmante y revolucionaria. Lo hicieron por una forma de una resolución. Casi nunca concebimos resoluciones, las que creamos en nuestras días, que tienen significados mejores que la resolución del Congreso Continental: “Resuelto, que estas colonias unidas son correctos y deben ser estados independientes y libres; también son absueltos de la lealtad de la Corona Ingles en total. 7 Ciudadanos, la resolución cumplió por tus padres. Ellos triunfaron; y hoy cosechas las frutas del triunfo de tus padres. La libertad que ganaron es tuyo; y tú, por lo tanto, puedes celebrar este aniversario. El cuatro de julio es el primer gran hecho en la historia de tu nación-la parte tan importante que todo en tu destino subdesarrollado. 8 El orgullo y patriotismo, no menos que el agradecimiento, te inspiran a celebrar y recordarlo perpetuamente. Lo he dicho que la Declaración de la Independencia es anillo – perno de la cadena del destino de tu nación; entonces, de hecho, lo considero. Los principales que están en ese instrumento son principales de salvación. Adhiere a estos principales, sea leal a estos en todos las situaciones, en todos los lugares, contra de todos los enemigos, y a cualquier precio.

Para la traducción completa se puede ir aquí.

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Acabo de leer una fascinante nota sobre un episodio que desconocía y que confirma la profundidad de la lucha por los derechos civiles en los Estados Unidos. Se trata de un escrito de Deborah Tulani Salahu-Din publicado en la página del National Museum of African American History and Culture. Titulado   “Hidden Herstory: The Leesburg Stockade Girls“, el trabajo de la Sra. Salahu-Din relata la historia de quince niñas afroamericanas de entre 12 y 15 años que, en julio de 1963 fueron encarceladas en Atlanta por retar la segragación racial. Las llamadas Leesburg Stockade Girls se negaron a sentarse en los asientos de la parte posterior de un cine, como les “correspondía” según ley, y por ello fueron arrestadas.  Encarceladas por casi tres meses, las niñas fueron liberadas el 15 de setiembre de 1963. La valentía de estas chicas demuestra que la lucha a favor de los derechos civiles fue un movimiento amplio en el que los niños también hicieron su aportación.

Hidden Herstory: The Leesburg Stockade Girls

Tulani Salahu-Din

I never fully realized the monumental role that massive numbers of children played in civil rights protests. Law enforcement arrested and jailed children by the thousands for days, and sometimes months, and their involvement helped to enable one of the greatest legal and social assaults on racism in the 20th century—the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Leesburg Stockade Girls are an incredible example of these courageous, young freedom fighters.

You may ask, “Who were the Leesburg Stockade Girls?” In July of 1963 in Americus, Georgia, fifteen girls were jailed for challenging segregation laws. Ages 12 to 15, these girls had marched from Friendship Baptist Church to the Martin Theater on Forsyth Street. Instead of forming a line to enter from the back alley as was customary, the marchers attempted to purchase tickets at the front entrance. Law enforcement soon arrived and viciously attacked and arrested the girls. Never formally charged, they were jailed in squalid conditions for forty-five days in the Leesburg Stockade, a Civil War era structure situated in the back woods of Leesburg, Georgia. Only twenty miles away, parents had no knowledge of where authorities were holding their children. Nor were parents aware of their inhumane treatment.

A month into their confinement, Danny Lyon, a twenty-one year old photographer for the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), learned of the girls’ whereabouts and sneaked onto the stockade grounds to take pictures of the girls through barred windows. After SNCC published the photos in its newspaper The Student Voice, African American newspapers across the country printed the story, and the girls’ ordeal soon gained national attention.On August 28, 1963, as Martin Luther King Jr. gave his historic “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, DC,  these children sat in their cell bolstering their courage with freedom songs in solidarity with the thousands of marchers listening to Dr. King’s indelible speech on the National Mall. Soon after the March on Washington, during the same week of the bombing of the five little girls at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church on September 15, 1963, law enforcement released the Leesburg Stockade Girls and returned them to their families.

Their story was part of the broader Civil Rights effort that engaged children in a variety of nonviolent, direct actions. In Alabama, for example, thousands of youth participated in the 1963 Children’s Crusade, a controversial liberation tactic initiated by James Bevel of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. After careful deliberation about the merit of involving children in street protests and allowing them to be jailed, Dr. King decided that their participation would revive the waning desegregation campaign and would appeal to the moral conscience of the nation.

On May 2, 1963, in response to an invitation from Dr. King, roughly a thousand students—elementary through high school—gathered enthusiastically at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and joined a civil rights march throughout the streets of Birmingham. By day’s end, law enforcement had jailed over 600 children.

The next day the number of children doubled. However, the training classes provided by SCLC leaders could not have prepared the children for the violence they would encounter. The Commissioner of Public Safety Eugene “Bull” Connor directed the use of fire hoses and attack dogs on the children, and people in America and around the world witnessed this brutality. Authorities arrested nearly 2,000 children—one as young as four years old.  These protests continued throughout the first week of May, with over 5,000 children being jailed.

Within days, SCLC and local officials reached an agreement, in which the city agreed to repeal the segregation ordinance and release all jailed protestors.  Ultimately, the activism of thousands of African American children in 1963, including the Leesburg Stockade Girls, provided the momentum for the March on Washington and contributed to the passage of the Civil Rights Act the following year.

The history of children’s Civil Rights activism continues to be important to tell. The Leesburg Stockade Girls realize this importance, and they are documenting their story. In 2015, as the keynote speaker at a commemorative event for the Leesburg Stockade Girls at Georgia Southwestern State University, I engaged with ten of the surviving women, who shared recollections about the day of their arrest. Remarkably, these women still possess a collective spirit of resistance to social injustice, and they are beginning to embrace their place in history.

As we reflect on their story and the broader history of youth activism, let us consider:  How might children today play an equally significant role in promoting racial equality in the United States?
Written by Tulani Salahu-Din, Museum Specialist, National Museum of African American History and Culture.

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La Editorial de la Universidad de Valencia acaba de publicar el libro de la colega Valeria L. Carbone, Una historia del movimiento negro estadounidense en la era post derechos civiles. La Dr. Carbone  (@Val_Carbone) es profesora en la Universidad de Buenos Aires y editora de la revista Huellas de Estados Unidos.

Comparto la descripción del libro que aparece en el portal de la editorial y felicito a su autora, pues su obra ayuda a llenar el vacio existente de trabajos monográficos en castellano sobre temas de historia estadounidense.

Una historia del movimiento negro estadounidense en la era post derechos civiles (1968-1988)La presente obra analiza la evolución de la lucha y la resistencia de los afro-norteamericanos a lo largo de las décadas de 1970 y 1980 desde una perspectiva que incorpora las categorías de racismo, raza y clase. Desde la centralidad de las elaboraciones discursivas e institucionales de las nociones de raza y racismo, así como desde el papel fundamental que ha adquirido la ideología de la supremacía de la raza blanca en el devenir histórico estadounidense, la población negra ha entendido su lucha desde la noción de raza como lugar de resistencia, lo que ha delimitado sus acciones a la hora de perfilar estrategias de lucha colectiva. El estudio de determinados movimientos significativos de cada región del territorio (centro-oeste, el sur profundo, noreste, este) evidencia cómo estos permiten establecer conexiones y continuidades en cuanto a problemas, tácticas y estrategias, formas de organización, retóricas discursivas y tipos de participación, que dieron forma a un complejo, heterogéneo y versátil proceso de incesante movilización nacional mediante el cual la comunidad negra desafió al racismo institucional estadounidense bajo las consignas de raza y clase.

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Comparto este intetesante artículo sobre la criminalización de la música y los músicos afroamericanos. Su autora es la escritora Harmony Holiday, quien nos muestra como el racismo institucional de la sociedad estadounidense abarca básicamente todas las esferas, incluyendo la cultura popular. Holiday analiza como grandes estrellas de la música afroamericana como Billie Holiday, Thelonius Monk, Charles Mingus,  y Miles Davis sufrieron persecucióny violencia policiaca por ser negros. La imagen de Billie Holliday muriendo esposada a su cama de hospital resulta demoledora.  A otros como Abbey Licoln  se les cerraron las puertas a clubs y casas disqueras.

A Brief History of the Policing
of Black Music

Harmony Holiday Dreams of a Black Sound Unfettered
by White Desire

Harmony Holiday

Literary Hub     June 19, 2020

Billie Holiday died handcuffed to her hospital bed because her drug addiction had been criminalized. A Black FBI informant posed as a suitor, hunted her, fell in love with her even, and turned her in for heroin possession, not for hurting anyone, or violence, or for singing too beautiful and true a song but because she was self-medicating against the siege of being a famous Black woman in America, a woman who carried the weight of the nation’s entire soul in her music.

For as long as Black music has been popular, crossover, coveted by white listeners and dissected by white critics, it has also been criminalized by white police at all levels of law enforcement. A micro-archive of the criminalization of Black music and police presence within the music, focused on jazz music and improvised forms, shows why we now cry and chant unapologetically for abolition. Even when our life’s work is to bring more beauty into the world, to create new forms, we are brutalized, policed, jailed, and die in contractual or physical bondage. Or both.

Thelonius Monk’s composition In Walked Bud is dedicated to his friend, fellow pianist Bud Powell, a memento to the night when Bud protected Monk from police during a raid of the Savoy Ballroom in 1945. The Savoy was targeted as one of Black music’s epicenters in Harlem. Bud stepped between an officer and Monk and was struck in the head, incurring injuries that damaged his cognition, causing him to be institutionalized on and off for the rest of his life.

In 1951, Monk and Bud were sitting in a parked car when the NYPD narcotics division approached. Unbeknownst to Monk, Bud had a small stash of heroin and attempted to toss it out the window. It landed on Monk’s shoe instead—Monk was blamed, did not snitch on his friend, and was sent to Rikers Island for 60 days, held on $1,500 dollars bail. When released, Monk’s Cabaret Card, which granted him legal license to play in New York clubs, had been revoked. It would take years for the charges to be dropped and the license reinstated, years the Monk family and innovation in Black music suffered at the whims of the police. And the policing of Monk didn’t stop there.

In 1957, on a drive with Charlie Rouse and Nica, his rich white baroness friend, in Nica’s Bently, Monk asked to stop for a glass of water. Denied this simple request by the white waitress at the cafe they found, Monk just stood and stared at her, agape with disgust. The waitress called the police; when they arrived Monk walked right past them back into the car with Nica and Charlie. He would not get out when the police approached. Get out of the car you fucking nigger. Monk’s window was down and the officer started smashing his hands with a night stick: our genius Black pianist who gave us the break the space between Black thoughts and Black notes, getting his hands bashed and broken by police because he wanted a glass of water. Monk was cuffed, humming, his bloodied hands behind his back in chains.

Monk’s window was down and the officer started smashing his hands with a night stick: our genius Black pianist who gave us the break the space between Black thoughts and Black notes, getting his hands bashed and broken by police.

In 1959 Miles Davis was standing on the sidewalk outside of his own gig at Manhattan’s Birdland. He was with a white woman, smoking a cigarette between sets. A police officer pulled up and asked him what he was doing loitering—at that time a Black man just standing was criminalized, but especially one standing with a white woman. Miles pointed out his name on the marquee, explaining that he was between performances. This cavalier deference to the matter-of-fact seems to trigger the racism always-already seething in some cops.

Miles was beaten over the head with a nightstick, bloodied, cuffed, taken to jail. The incident was a legal nuisance and also altered his disposition, made him both more brooding and more volatile. In Miles’s case being policed in public life led to a rage he would only display in private, that he took out on his wives. His intimate relationships with Black women were overwhelmed by violence, he victimized them and beat into them deflected confessions of his feelings of powerlessness in the face of state violence. He could not be the father of “Cool” and a blatantly dejected Black man, so Black women became the symbols of a trouble he didn’t want to admit stemmed from white men, their policing, their scrutiny, and their over-familiar criticism.

Miles Davis in a New York courtroom, 1959.


Later in his life, when he lived in Malibu and drove expensive sports cars on its canyon roads, police would stop Miles routinely when he was on his way home, to interrogate him on the true owner of his car, had he stolen it, was he some white man’s driver, what was he doing in this white neighborhood with this expensive machine. Money, fame, all levels of success, were no exemption. Miles’s presence as a Black man was as policed by the state as his changing sound was by white music critics. Everyone wanted him as they saw him, in return he became so original that he could take his tone into almost any form, from painting to boxing, to screaming back at their prejudice on his horn, hexing detractors back into their formless obsessions with his immaculate Blackness.


Abbey Lincoln - It's Magic (1958, Vinyl) | Discogs


In 1961, when the “Freedom Now!” Suite debuted, written by Max Roach and Oscar Brown, Jr., performed most visibly by Abbey Lincoln as she moaned and screamed its depiction of the path Black Americans took from slavery to citizenship, the result was the blacklisting of Max, Abbey, and Oscar from many performance venues in the US. The hushed accusations that they were controversial for making true music policed their ability to share that music with American audiences. Abbey screaming on stage like a fugitive slave found and being branded and beaten was a vision the country was not ready to allow without backlash.

Club owners and record companies helped marginalize their music, interrupted the course of star-making, and tamed some of the candid militancy in all of their spirits. The state can police Black music directly, but it can also deploy its tacit muzzle, which is almost worse for the anxiety and psychic distress it invites. These artists knew they were being surveilled and penalized for their expression but had no single name or entity to hold accountable, ensuring that some part of them blamed themselves and one another. Oscar Brown, Jr. even expressed resentment toward Max Roach for performing and releasing the suite at all, turning his reputation from benign griot to troublemaker in the eyes of the overseer owners of venues.

The fact that record companies and clubs and recording studios are owned primarily by white men adds another trapdoor to the labyrinth that polices Black music at every level. The boundaries between rehearsal and performance are skewed—with white men always watching and keeping time and signing the paychecks, the code switch isn’t flipped as often as it otherwise would be. There is always a stilted professionalism constraining the freest Black music when it’s recorded in white-owned studios or clubs—the music is not completely ours in those spaces. No matter how good we get at tuning out the white gaze its pressure is always immanent.

Hip hop’s most famous liberation chant is fuck the police. It’s been repeated so often it means almost nothing, it’s almost a call of endearment…

We feel this today in the music that jazz helped make way for. Hip hop, which began in Black neighborhoods as entirely ours, was colonized and coopted and policed into a popular form whose translation to white venues often reduces the music to sound and fury. What is the point of yelling about Black liberation to a bunch of white middle class college students, or at festivals where Black people aren’t even really comfortable or in attendance? What is the point of producing all this music to make white record executives richer and give them what they believe is a hood pass to obsess over and imitate Black forms.

Jazz begat hip hop, and we learned that our most militant sound was also our most commodifiable. The militancy was quickly overshadowed by criminalization, open-secret wars between Black rappers, public awareness of their rap sheets, of the personal business, all of that given to listeners who felt entitled, still do. Criminality became the vogue and Black criminality a fetish within hip hop, the parading of the rap sheet increasing desirability among white audiences who conflated crime with authenticity and realness, trouble glamorized and traded for clout. (When jazz musicians were criminalized it was more devastating, costing them their right to play.)

Prison and bondage have been effectively woven into Black acoustic consciousness. Policing and the police have become the most familiar chorus. Hip hop’s most famous liberation chant is fuck the police. It’s been repeated so often it means almost nothing, it’s almost a call of endearment, a calling forth of the police, a fuck you to them that implies they are omnipresent and within earshot all the time, ready to strike out against any Black song or singer who threatens their lurking fixation on Black life and Black sound.

As the musicians are policed and incriminated so too are their forms, so too is that thought that leads to new Black musical temperaments. Musicians who seek to remain true to themselves often self-marginalize, police their own public presence, reject fame and affiliation in order to keep from being ruined by it or policed into oblivion from the outside—and so fewer Black people hear them. Even still, the police ambush these private sects, asking why they’re at their gig or in response to a noise complaint, escalating to yet another incident, always haunting their music with some threat of captivity.

Presents Charles Mingus - Jazz Messengers

In the late 1960s jazz bassist Charles Mingus tried to open a jazz school in Harlem. He wanted a Black-owned and Black-run place, outside of the university, the studios, and clubs all owned by whites, to teach and develop the music. The city of New York kicked him out of the space, not for any real legal issues but because his wish was a threat to their embedded policing. They removed all of his belongings and arrested him, he cried in the back of the cop car as sheets of his music were left on the street to be swept away by the wind. No such school has been attempted since and Black music is developed and studied in heavily policed white westernized institutions or not at all.

My own father, a Black musician, was getting arrested the last time I saw him. He went to jail, he died. He had spent his life as a kind of warrior: he carried guns, he was the quickest draw anywhere, he mangled studio engineers or lawyers he felt were trying to rip him off, he could not read, had never been taught that skill, but he could kill if he had to. He was avenging something all the time, his vengeance was finally policed and criminalized, never rehabilitated in any more tender way, just returned as bondage. He sang songs in jail, entertained his jailers with stories and songs. I’m still avenging him. I’m still imagining his alter-destiny in a world where his very existence had not been criminalized.

In his story, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” Henry Dumas, who himself was killed by police, invents a Blacks-only jazz club set in Harlem and an “afro-horn” that if heard by white people kills them. A group of white hipsters comes to the club one night, name drops, begs for entrance, and when they are denied repeatedly, they call on a police officer who forces the bouncer to let them in. They enter and start to absorb the music and before the first song is over they are dead, the frequency kills them. They were warned.

I dream of a Black music, a Black sound, free of the shackles of the white gaze, impossible for police to attack or scrutinize, ineffable to those forces, free even of white desire. Unbroken, lethal to detractors, wherein we can hear our unobstructed selves and get closer to them in other spheres of life, where the pleasure we derive from our music isn’t always fugitive, in escape from those forces that police it, and escaping us to reach or appease white audiences and white modes of consumption. I dream of the notes that only we can hear recovered, the ones multi-instrumentalist Rahsaan Roland Kirk called the missing Black notes that have been stolen and captured for years and years and years.

Harmony Holiday is a poet, dancer, archivist, mythscientist and the author of Negro League Baseball (Fence, 2011), Go Find Your Father/ A Famous Blues (Ricochet 2014) and Hollywood Forever (Fence, 2015). She was the winner of the 2013 Ruth Lily Fellowship and she curates the Afrosonics archive, a collection of rare and out-of print-lps highlighting work that joins jazz and literature through collective improvisation.

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Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, quien podría ser considerado el padre de los Afro-American Studies, nació en Santurce, Puerto Rico, en enero de 1874. Como muchas otras grandes figuras de la historia puertorriqueña, Schomburg es un desconocido para la mayoría de sus compatriotas. Por el contrario, en Estados Unidos se le honra y recuerda con devoción por su gran aportación a la comunidad afro-estadounidense. Comparto con mis lectores esta reseña crítica del libro de Vanessa K. Valdés Diasporic Bkackness: The Life and Times of Arturo Alfonso Schomburg (SUNY Press 2017). Escrita por Regina Mills, esta reseña fue publicada en la excelente bitacora Black Perspectives de  la African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS).

Vanessa K. Valdés es directora del Black Studies Program del City College of New York-CUNY. Regina Mills es profesora el Departamento de Inglés de la Texas A&M University.


Arturo Alfonso Schomburg

Arturo Schomburg in Mind, Body, and Spirit

Vanessa K. Valdés

Black Perspectives  February 19, 2019

Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, known to many by his anglicized name Arthur A. Schomburg, is no stranger to most African American and diaspora studies scholars. The impressive collection that he donated to the New York Public Library has formed the foundation of much of the scholarship in the field. However, until very recently, scholarly research on Schomburg himself has been sparse. For this reason, I welcome Vanessa K. Valdés’s study of this foundational figure. Valdes’s Diasporic Blackness: The Life and Times of Arturo Alfonso Schomburg (2017) is the premier work for any scholar seeking more information on Schomburg’s multiple roles as an independentista, collector, and writer.

The book is framed as a biography, promising to educate the reader on Schomburg’s life and the contemporary events that shaped his intellectual journey. Valdés offers a comprehensive view by framing the work around the five facets of Schomburg’s identity and influence. In the first chapter, she contextualizes the Antillean independence movement, focusing especially on the Puerto Rican and Cuban figures that make up Schomburg’s “intellectual genealogy” (27). Across the remaining chapters, she presents Schomburg as institution builder, writer/historian, archivist, and portrait subject. Valdés’s project is strongly archival, pulling not only from the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (SCRBC) but from scrapbooks, letters, and photographs held by Fisk, Columbia, Yale, and Hunter College (el Centro).

The introduction lays out Valdés’s primary concern: how Schomburg illuminates “definitions of blackness, masculinity, citizenship, and nation” and how his engagement “with these multiple discourses throughout his life, and his interpretation of said notions offers an assessment of Afro-Latinx subjectivity in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the United States and its commonwealth, Puerto Rico” (3). Like many Afro-Latinx Studies scholars, she often describes Schomburg using “bridge” language, viewing him as “a link” and “a conduit” (5) in the circles in which he traveled, continuing a common trope of the Afro-Latinx figure as a bridge between Black and Latinx communities. However, her analysis often goes beyond this figuration, particularly due to her thorough analysis of Schomburg’s representation and performance of Afro-Puerto Rican masculinity. Schomburg is never just a symbol; he is a fully embodied subject.

This first chapter is largely one of historical context and biography, focused on those who came before Schomburg rather than Schomburg himself. This chapter dispels the common charge in Schomburg’s time, and even in our own, that he abandoned his Puerto Rican roots and assimilated into the US Black community. Valdés’s attention to the impact of Haitian independence on the Hispanic Caribbean is particularly welcome, as it situates the influence of Black liberation and anti-blackness in the social and political history of Puerto Rico and Cuba. For example, in her reading of Salvador Brau’s tribute to Rafael Cordero, who started the first school open to students of all colors and backgrounds in Puerto Rico, she details how Brau represents Cordero in opposition to Haitian blackness, invoking a politics of respectability (48). By convincing the reader of Brau’s influence on Schomburg, we see how Brau’s own problematic ideas about race influenced Schomburg’s collecting and writing. In addition to Brau, she argues that five other Puerto Rican and Cuban intellectuals shaped Schomburg’s Afro-Latinx subjectivity: from Ramón Emeterio Betances he learned of Afro-Puerto Rican resistance, from Eugenio María de Hostos educational philosophy, and from Lola Rodríguez de Tío, Rafael Serra y Montalvo and José Martí he came to value pan-Caribbean activism.

The second and fourth chapters focus primarily on his institution building through organizations and the archive.They, however, are the weakest of the chapters, as they often read more as literature reviews rather than her own findings. Chapter Two’s focus on the organizations in which Schomburg held important leadership positions—the Prince Hall Masons and two Black historical associations—adds little new information to those topics. Chapter Four focuses on Schomburg as an archivist and his views on archival access and dissemination of knowledge. Valdés sets Schomburg up as a different kind of historian from Salvador Brau. She sees Brau’s motivation as “firmly establishing Puerto Rico as an inheritor of Spanish cultural values” and Schomburg’s as outside of the nationalist framework, focused instead on “collective histories of peoples of African descent” (96). However, this argument could be further developed by accessing a broader source base. For example, I was very interested in her section on his impact on the development of Fisk’s Negro Collection, since that topic has received less attention than the SCRBC, but she provides only two pages on this section. Overall, there is more focus on the theory of archive-building and other scholars’ views on archives than on Schomburg’s own philosophy of the archive, something that might have been thoroughly developed through analysis of his letters or other sources.

In Chapter Three, Valdés focuses on Schomburg’s published essays, which “broaden the parameters of his audience’s conceptions of blackness so as to include the Spanish-speaking populations of African descent” (72). She makes the case that “Schomburg’s historical articles,” though written primarily in English, should be viewed as crónicas, a Latin American genre of vignettes often written for periodicals, following closely Susana Rotker’s definition in La invención de la crónica (1992). Valdés makes a good case, since the genre is known for its skepticism of ‘objectivity,’ a perfect format in which to question the so-called logic of white supremacy. Valdés’s invocation of the crónica in many ways parallels Claudia Milian’s use of that genre, in her 2013 study Latining America, as a lens through which to consider Langston Hughes’s and James Weldon Johnson’s writing in and on Latin America. Valdés’s chapter does not provide a thorough literary analysis, per se, of his works, which is unfortunate since at the beginning of the chapter Valdés emphasizes Rotker’s argument that the crónica is a genre at “the juncture between the literary and the journalistic” (73). However, Valdés succeeds in introducing the reader to “representative pieces that reveal not only [Schomburg’s] dedication and commitment to the acknowledgment of Afro-Latinx contributions to the hemisphere but that also highlight the complexities of Afro-Latinx subjectivity” (72). In particular, she provides detailed and helpful historical context for the reader, so they can better appreciate, for example, Schomburg’s 1912 article in Crisis entitled “General Evaristo Estenoz,” written in the middle of what would be known as the Race War of 1912 in Cuba.


Vanessa K. Valdés

Valdés’s strongest intervention is her analysis of photographs and portraits of Schomburg. Largely ignored in previous works, Valdés’s close reading of a commonly circulated photo immediately grabs the reader’s attention. This examination of his engagement, and especially his resistance, to photography is powerful because it focuses on Schomburg’s agency over his body. Valdés’s emphasis on Schomburg’s embodied existence is apparent throughout the book and provides readers an image of the man as more than just a disembodied mind, an image that may have contributed to the erasure of his complex identity. In Chapter Two, she even imagines Schomburg’s sonic impact, asking how his voice, which may have “carried an accent conveying a youth spent in the Caribbean, one that was accustomed to speaking Spanish fluently” could have impacted the diverse audiences in which he held space (56). By examining the photographic representation of Schomburg as an Afro-Puerto Rican man, taking up space across a variety of communities, most of which were uncomfortable with his ambiguity, Valdés gives us a new way to see Schomburg. While much of his writing fits a particular kind of respectability politics, focusing on Black excellence rather than the ordinary humanity of blackness, Valdés’s analysis of Schomburg’s embodied choices depicts his defiance and Antillean revolutionary spirit.

At a relatively slim 138 pages (with 26 pages of endnotes), this book provides an excellent introduction to students and scholars seeking an accessible portrait of Arturo Schomburg. Not only does Valdés craft a compelling biography, she fully contextualizes his life and the transnational circumstances that most impacted his intellectual development. Most previous works view Schomburg through a US-centric lens, placing him as a Harlem Renaissance figure who forsook Puerto Rico. Diasporic Blackness, however, restores Schomburg’s Puerto Rican upbringing and his connection to African diasporic communities in the Caribbean and US. For those seeking an extended depiction of Schomburg’s diasporic identity, Valdés’s study can be placed alongside Flor Piñiero de Rivera’s 1992 collection of his writings and Elinor Des Verney Sinnette’s 1990 biography.

Though the above critiques suggest that Schomburg’s life and work demand further explorations, Valdés’s book is a necessary addition to the previous literature. It will be, without a doubt, the book recommended to curious community members who see Schomburg’s portrait on the wall of the SCRBC, or a graduate student who wants to know more about this iconic figure. Future researchers can build on the work of Diasporic Blackness by discussing the literary value of Schomburg’s writing, providing a fuller account of his impact on the archives at Fisk University, and examining Schomburg as a theorist of the archive.

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