Sunday, December 30, 2012

Silent bigotries – more correspondence from Anita Wills

Anita Wills shared with me a little more of her experience trying to get her work on her revolutionary soldier ancestors into the public sphere. See here. Ambrose and Charles Lewis fought in Virginia, and though serving long indentures, Charles still managed to buy property and set up a business in Richmond. But Anita was not invited by either the Library of Virginia or the Black History Museum of Virginia to tell his story.


Why not? Black fighters, like the Pinns, also her relatives, were central to Yorktown and the struggle for freedom; emancipation is the realization of American freedom, not tangential to it, and slaveholding underlines the hypocritical corruption and brutality of leading Founders like Washington, Jefferson and Monroe. See "The People and the 'Monster of Monticello'" here. Aren’t the stories of individuals who broke free from bondage and played a central role in the fighting – unknown to most people educated in America from kindergarten to graduate school – worth hearing?


There were some 1,000 free blacks in Virginia at the time of the Revolution out of whom roughly 154 fought for the Patriots and also 25 slaves (cf. Luther Jackson'w pamphlet "Virginia's Negro Soldiers and Seamen during the Revolutionary War," tracking black soldiers through public records and likely short in its count, which was published in 1944; I have recently commented on black soldiering in Virginia in Black Patriots and Loyalists, pp. 163-68). Are there too many stories, too many descendants writing books, too much recognition for these important Virginia institutions to sponsor Anita's talks?


A much larger number of blacks answered Royal Governor Dunmore's Proclamation - he freed blacks and indentured servants who came to the English and threatened, from 1772 on "to sow destruction wherever I can reach and raze the mansions to the ground" - and escaped to and fought for the British in Virginia. They, too, fought for emancipation, and this escape, like a "snow ball in rolling," as Washington feared, nearly eclipsed the American cause.

The Patriots were saved only by a smallpox epidemic, ravaging especially blacks just then, Dunmore's tactical incompetence and at last, their own willingness to rely on black soldiers, for instance in the First Rhode Island Regiment.


Anita has run into obstacles not only with the Daughters of the American Revolution – as a recovering racist organization, its retrograde character is unsurprising, see "July 4th, the DAR and the Times' misrepresentation of black soldiers in the Revolution here – but also with some African-Americans who are perhaps not keen on the story of often involuntary racial mixing (what Southern white masters and their male relatives frequently forced on enslaved women), her forebears being both Native American and the Washington and Monroe families.


In addition, Anthony Baxter, Anita’s brother, differentiates his experience with the Sons of the American Revolution in Massachusetts – where he has participated in events honoring soldiers black and white – and the S.A.R. in South Carolina. South Carolina still flies the flag of the Confederacy (Bush and McCain debated in 2000 under it and refused to criticize its preservation as a state flag!) and was a center of the secession in the Civil War.


So far, South Carolina has little interest in black Patriots during the Revolution and less in noticing that the Colony seceded from Britain only to preserve bondage. The representatives and many scholars of that State have corruptly denied the persistent efforts of John Laurens, a great anti-slavery fighter and aide-de-camp to Washington, to recruit 3,000 blacks to fight in exchange for freedom. Laurens’s proposal passed the Continental Congress (Henry, his father, though a vacillator on this issue, was the Second President of Congress). While fighting in South Carolina, John also served in the new state legislature, and proposed and fought for this measure twice. He was defeated by bigots for bondage who would rather bow down to the Crown than mobilize blacks to defend their own genuine liberties (obviously, not the "liberty" to own other human beings) as well as the common good.


After leading black troops at Yorktown along with Alexander Hamilton to take the two Royal strongholds, Laurens was killed in an ambush at the Combahee River. His story has been long suppressed both in South Carolina and nationally. Black Patriots and Loyalists hopes to do Laurens justice – see here.


The New York Times has published two fine recent op-eds on the Wilmington 10 and on a judge reducing three North Carolina death sentences to life in prison. Read the editorials and the column below them and the extraordinary racism of the prosecutors will come across. These are not (simply) Klansmen but high officials and guardians of "law."


Their conduct is tied to and enables the largest prison system in the world, 2.3 million prisoners (with 5.1 million more on probation), 25% of the world’s prisoners. See Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow and here.


Many of the prisoners are black or chicano, some poor white. In 2001, according to the Justice Department, 1 in 3 black male babies could expect to be caught up in the prison system at some point in their lives; 1 in 7 Chicano male infants; and 1 in 17 white male babies...

The prison-industrial complex ruins the lives of many poor people, often as teenagers and for mere possession of marijuana. It, along with militarism, is the great enemy of American decency and democracy.


North Carolina recently passed a law permitting the overturning of convictions in which black jurors were struck from service disproportionately by prosecutorial challenge. That was an enormous step out of darkness.


Reviewing the death verdicts, the judge found such laughable cases as dismissal of a black woman for "coming from a bad neighborhood," approval of a white former marijuana dealer as "a fine man." Twice the number of blacks were disqualified as whites in one case, four times as many in the other two...

He changed three death sentences to life without parole.


But life imprisonment is the most serious sentence in civilized countries. The good step the judge took, denouncing the prosecutors, and even the Times editorial which is otherwise admirable, does not speak to the wrong of the original convictions.

These individuals need new trials if there is serious evidence against them. But a decent judicial system could just say: racist convictions must be thrown out, period, and the “prosecutors” subject to criminal charges for perverting justice.


That is a level of civilization and democracy, however, which is several steps up from here.


If one wants to understand the roots of the North Carolina corruption, think of the words of the prosecutors and the burying of the stories of black soldiers and anti-racist whites who were, in fact, central to the American Revolution. One might conclude that the Founding Myth - see here, here and here - with its idolization of slaveholders as the seekers of “freedom” far away in time and substance; the refusal to look at bondage, black soldiering and the abolitionism of white sailors and many others is linked to the racism, ignorance and depravity of these high North Carolina officials…


Silent bigotries, bigotries enabled because of silencing.

Anita speaks for all of us.



This may or may not be something you could add to the blog. This is an exchange I had with the Library of Virginia in 2009. I wanted to do a reading of my book, Pieces of the Quilt the Mosaic of An African American Family, and the response was no. They did not offer me another date, or go in to detail as to why my book was not acceptable. In fact they told me to go to the Black History Museum in Richmond, which also declined my request.

Tameka Hobbs is African American and ignored my request until I contacted her Supervisor. This is what I mean by having my book Blackballed, by the Library of Virginia. They do have my first book, Notes and Documents of Free Persons of Color, on Reserve, however the patron would have to know it was there to request it.


On Tue, Jul 21, 2009 at 10:41 AM, Hobbs, Tameka (LVA)‬ wrote:

Ms. Willis -

I received your subsequent email and telephone message. I have also been forwarded messages that you've sent to other members of the Library staff. I thought I made this clear previously but your book [h]as been presented through the normal decision-making channels that we have here at the Library to consider our programs and events. After much discussion and consideration, our program committee voted not to extend you an invitation. Additionally, all of our slots are filled during the month of August, which, I believe, is the time frame during which you'd hope to make your presentation.

I know this is disappointing, but the decision is firm. I, too, would suggest the Black History Museum of Virginia as an alternate outlet.

Best of luck promoting your work.

- Tameka Hobbs"



I neglected to mention that my brother, Anthony Baxter is a member of the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR), in Massachusetts. He was active when he and his wife lived in Massachusetts, but was not as active when they moved to South Carolina. He said that in Massachusetts they had reenactments with Colored Soldiers, something that was not happening in South Carolina.

Anita Wills"


EDITORIAL (New York Times)
Pardons for the Wilmington 10
Published: December 22, 2012

Before leaving office next month, Gov. Bev Perdue of North Carolina should finally pardon the Wilmington 10, a group of civil rights activists who were falsely convicted and imprisoned in connection with a racial disturbance in the city of Wilmington more than 40 years ago. The convictions, based on flimsy evidence and perjured testimony, were overturned by a federal court in 1980. But by then, the lives of the convicted had been broken on the wheel of Jim Crow justice.

Wilmington was experiencing a bitter civil rights struggle in 1971 when a white-owned grocery store in a black neighborhood was firebombed. The police officers and firefighters who arrived to extinguish the flames came under gunfire. Nine black men and one white woman were railroaded to jail in connection with the event.

Years later, both the prosecutor and the state trial court were denounced in a blistering ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va.

The court found that the prosecution’s chief witness had repeatedly perjured himself on the stand and that prosecutors either knew or had reason to know that the testimony had been fabricated. Beyond that, evidence showed that prosecutors had concealed crucial discoverable material and that they had offered witnesses gifts or lenient treatment for unrelated charges.

Newly discovered notes attributed to the prosecutor paint an even more sordid picture of how the case was pursued. The notes suggest, for example, that the prosecutor used racial profiling and other unethical tactics to disqualify black jurors, while searching out racist jurors who would endorse the case against the defendants without question. In some instances, for example, he appears to have written “KKK” (for Ku Klux Klan) next to names of prospective jurors, occasionally commenting that this was “OK” or “Good.” Taken together, the notes and court documents offer a window into a time when many Southern prosecutors and courts saw it as their mission, not to administer justice, but to preserve the racial status quo.

Most of the defendants were young — some just high school age — when they were collectively sentenced to a total of more than 280 years in prison. Prison robbed them of the promise that their young lives had held. Even after the sentences were overturned, the notoriety associated with the case made it difficult for some of them to find or hold decent jobs, and sometimes led to their being shunned.

Four of the 10 have already died; others are battling illness. As one journalist has noted, their lives “have been marked by struggle, hardship and indignities.”

Anger over this case has continued to fester in the black community. At a 40th anniversary commemoration last year in Wilmington, civil rights leaders rightly decided that the wrongly convicted warranted a pardon from Ms. Perdue. By providing it, she can finally bring a close to one of the more shameful episodes in North Carolina history.


Intentional Bias in North Carolina
Published: December 25, 2012

A North Carolina trial judge recently resentenced three death-row inmates to life without parole under the state’s Racial Justice Act, which allows inmates to have their sentences reduced if it can be shown they were tainted by racial bias. In the trials of two blacks and one Lumbee Indian, the judge found “powerful evidence”of such bias.

The law does not require proof that the bias was deliberate. But, in this case, the judge found “intentional” prosecutorial bias aimed at securing a death sentence for the defendants, bringing grave “harm to African-Americans and to the integrity of the justice system.”

The bias was manifested in the prosecutors’ use of peremptory strikes of prospective jurors during the jury selection process. In one case, the prosecutor struck prospective blacks at two times the rate for whites. In each of the other two cases, the rate was almost four times greater. Even when adjustments were made for other factors, like the criminal record of a prospective juror, race was “a significant factor” in the rigorous ways that the North Carolina statute required the defendants to prove.

The judge found that words and deed of the prosecutors themselves confirmed his conclusions about racial influence in the jury selection process.

In one case, the prosecutor compiled pages of notes called “Jury Strikes” to help guide him as he challenged prospective jurors. The judge concluded from the notes that any blacks summoned for jury duty “had a strike against them before they even entered the courthouse.”

A prospective black juror with no criminal record was struck because she was said to live in a “bad area,” whereas a white juror who had been a marijuana dealer was picked in part because he was a “fine guy.”

The judge observed that the injustice abundantly proven in each case was common throughout North Carolina during the past two decades. Prosecutors excluded blacks from juries for going to church too often or for other reasons that “simply make no sense” and that could be explained only by intentional and ugly bias.


Judge in North Carolina Voids 3 Death Sentences
Published: December 13, 2012

A judge in North Carolina on Thursday ruled that race had played a significant role in the sentencing of three convicted murderers to death, and changed their sentences to life in prison without possibility of parole. It was the second such decision under the state’s Racial Justice Act and the first since the act was amended by the state legislature.

Lawyers representing Tilmon Golphin, Christina Walters and Quintel Augustine had argued under both the new and old versions of the act, contending that statistics as well as anecdotal and documentary evidence, like handwritten notes by prosecutors, showed that race influenced the sentencing process and particularly the picking of juries.

“In the writing of prosecutors long buried in case files and brought to light for the first time in this hearing, the court finds powerful evidence of race consciousness and race-based decision making,” wrote Judge Gregory Weeks of Cumberland County Superior Court, who also ruled last April in the first case to be heard under the Racial Justice Act.

According to a report on local TV station WRAL, the brother of a state trooper killed by Mr. Golphin had to be removed from the courtroom, shouting, “Judge, you had your mind made up before this ever started!” [one hopes that the evidence is good that Golphin did the killing; murders of police officers often lead to a special hunger for conviction of someone and then keeping them in jail, regardless of whether that person committed the crime, viz. Mumia Abdul-Jamal; that the reporter inserted this remark early in the story is odd...]

The Racial Justice Act allows death row inmates to seek to have their sentences changed to life without parole if they can show that race was “a significant factor” in sentencing.

In the original version of the law, passed in 2009, defendants were allowed to make their arguments using statistical evidence alone, and to demonstrate the influence of race in the state at large at the time of sentencing, rather than in their specific counties.

After the act was passed, researchers from Michigan State University studied the application of the death penalty in North Carolina and found that peremptory challenges had been used to remove blacks from juries at a rate more than twice that of whites, a rate that was even higher in Cumberland County. Removing potential jurors solely on the basis of race has been ruled unconstitutional.

In 2011, a newly Republican state legislature passed a repeal of the act [a disgraceful action, one among a legion throughout the country], but the governor at the time, Bev Perdue, a Democrat, vetoed it.

This year, Republicans passed a law that did not repeal the act, but modified it. Governor Perdue vetoed this as well, but Republicans were able to attract a handful of Democratic legislators [the old South hangs on...] and overrode her veto.

Under the new law, statistical evidence by itself is insufficient in proving the influence of race, and a defendant must prove that race was a factor in death sentencing in “the county or prosecutorial district” when he or she was tried, rather than regionally or statewide [there must be some ideal patch of North Carolina which is exempt from the evidence about bigotry...]. The law also eliminated consideration of the race of the victim in defendants’ arguments.

Mr. Golphin and Mr. Augustine are black, and Ms. Walters is a Lumbee Indian. They were convicted of unrelated murders and have been on death row at least 10 years. Their victims included whites and blacks; in Mr. Golphin’s and Mr. Augustine’s cases, the victims were law enforcement officers.

Nearly all of North Carolina’s 155 death row inmates had filed motions under the old act [does this mean that "nearly all of North Carolina's death row inmates"], and lawyers on their behalf have argued that the amended law does not apply to them. In his decision on Thursday, Judge Weeks agreed that the law did not apply retroactively, but ruled that lawyers for the three defendants in this case had met the burden of proof under both versions anyway.

The defense produced handwritten notes taken by prosecutors during jury selection that noted which potential jurors were black, sometimes associating them with drug and alcohol use for no apparent reason.

The defense also highlighted another trial in the county, in which the defendants were white supremacists and the victims were black. Prosecutors in that case struck black jurors at a rate far lower than they did in cases where the defendants were black — evidence, the judge found, of racial intent in jury selection.


Friday, December 28, 2012

3:AM's non-fiction books of the year

3:AM is a striking avant-garde, on-line cultural magazine in London. It is especially good on literature and philosophy. This year Richard Marshall interviewed me about my work as a political philosopher here and the magazine published 5 of my poems here. 3:AM just made its awards for 2012 and Black Patriots and Loyalists, I am happy and honored to say, was one of its Non-Fiction Books of the Year:


Stephen Barber‘s The Walls of Berlin (RM)
Joe Brainard’s I Remember (ST)
Paul Buck’s Performance: The Biography of a 60s Masterpiece (RM)
David Byrne’s How Music Works (DA, ST)
Nick Cohen’s You Can’t Read This Book: Censorship in an Age of Freedom (MD)
Katerina Deligiorgi’s The Scope of Autonomy (RM)
Alan Gilbert‘s Black Patriots & Loyalists (RM)
Owen Hatherley‘s A New Kind of Bleak (RM)
Leslie Hill’s Maurice Blanchot & Fragmentary Writing: A Change of Epoch (AG)
Christopher Hitchens‘ Mortality (DA)
Andrew Hugill’s ‘Patatphysics: A Useless Guide (RM)
Hilary Kornblith’s On Reflection (RM)
Brian Leiter‘s Why Tolerate Religion (RM)
Robert Macfarlane’s The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot (ST)
Dr Brooke Magnanti’s The Sex Myth (MD)
D.T. Max’s Every Love Story is a Ghost Story (ST)
A.W. Moore’s The Evolution of Modern Metaphysics (DW)
Sinéad Murphy’s The Art Kettle (ST)
Sonia Purnell’s Just Boris: A Tale of Blond Ambition (MD)
Alan Ryan’s The Making of Modern Liberalism (RM)
Oliver Sacks’ Hallucinations (DA)
Simon Sellars & Dan O’Hara’s Extreme Metaphors: Interviews with JG Ballard (ST)
Charles Shaw’s Exile Nation (KN)
Ali Smith’s Artful (AA, ST)
Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice for Love & Life by Dear Sugar (KN)
Emily van Buskirk & Andrei Zorin’s Lidiya Ginzburg’s Alternative Literary Identities (RM)
Katerina van Grouw’s The Unfeathered Bird (RM)

For the complete list of 3:AM's awards for fiction, film, songs and collections of poems, among others, see here. For more on Black Patriots and Loyalists, see here.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Poem: Sin d

no man
or woman
these pots

the still
curve of

against the sun

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Anita Wills, black Patriots, native americans and continuing suppression

Anita Wills is a descendant of many soldiers who fought at the Battle of Camden and at Yorktown during the Revolution and related to the Washington family and the Monroe family. She wrote to me about Black Patriots and Loyalists - here - and wondered if I had recorded the names of her family members.


When I started writing the book 16 years ago, I felt obligated to mention many names, as many as reasonable, to recover a buried part of history. After all, black soldiers had led in the fighting on both sides - as I discovered about Yorktown - and there are many long suppressed stories. When others like Gary Nash, Simon Schama and Cassandra Pybus published some of the story in 2006, I felt this obligation a little less strongly, and while I emphasize names in the final version (May, 2012), there are many, including Anita's relatives from Virginia, whom I could not know and others (many in the Book of Negroes and other muster rolls), I could not, in one lively account, include.


But Anita's story is very important. She researched and published three books on her own relatives: Pieces of the Quilt here,* Notes and Documents of Free Persons of Color here and Black Minqua: The Life and Times of Henry Green here.** She reveals that her mulatto relatives, Charles and Ambrose Lewis, though born free, were forced to serve 20 to 30 year indentures (the length of indentured servitude from Britain was 7 years). They fought in the navy as did many black soldiers, on both sides, serving on the Galley Page. Since the average black lifespan was 40, this is an indenture close, in length, to bondage, although Charles and Ambrose escaped the worst treatment. I had previously not known of indentures of this length.


The Pinns, part native american, part black, part white (mulattoes in the idiom of the time), fought at Yorktown. The history of blacks joining with native americans in fighting for freedom against the British (earlier settler encroachment) and of blacks, native americans and poor whites, including indentured servants, fighting together has long been buried. See, for example Lerone Bennett's "The Road Not Taken" here and William Katz, Black Indians here

In working on Founding Myths in the US and Israel since going to the West Bank in October, I have begun to explore the sharp analogy between indigenous people here and in Palestine. See here, here and here.

But there are many aspects of the contributions of indigenous soldiers, for example the Narragansetts in the first Rhode Island Regiment as well as the Pinns, Anita's relatives in Virginia, who fought at Yorktown. Anita herself is a member of the Monacan Indian Nation.

Black soldiers were sometimes awarded freedom, and their descendants, after 50 years as I note in Black Patriots and Loyalists, given land. Anita underscores this of the Pinns. In contrast, indigenous soldiers were often dispossessed and driven out by the "Patriots."

The Pinns' story is part of - and an emblem of - this story. It is perhaps no wonder that the elite, including the DAR described below, has long worked to bury it.***


As one theme of Black Patriots and Loyalists, I underline the dramatic undercounting of black soldiers in standard American estimates (the figure 5,000 is due to Henry Nell, a black abolitionist, in the 1850s; under vast pressure from below, the Daughters of the American Revolution has now counted 8,800 and realizes there are many more. See here. My rough guess is that 5,000 was no better half and perhaps not even a quarter of black Patriots...


Here is what Anita writes about John Pinn who is on most lists of Yorktown:

"Also serving out of Virgina were Rawley Pinn, his brother Robert Pinn II, and Robert's sons John, Billy, and Jim. They fought at the Siege of Yorktown, the deciding Battle of the Revolution. Although John Pinn is included in most lists of those who fought in the Revolutionary War, the others are not. However, in John Pinn's Pension file he states that his father, Robert, and brothers, Billy and Jim fought at the Siege of Yorktown. I found the records of my direct ancestor, Rawley Pinn and his unit at a Library at the College of William & Mary. Rawley Pinn's unit, mustered out of Amherst County, and joined with Marquis De Lafayette's unit on the March to Yorktown."


John is actually one of 5 Pinns who fought there...


Shelby Conti, a white member of the DAR, honorably representing her ancestors who once fought for freedom, fought for Anita's admission.


Anita joined the DAR reluctantly as did her brother the SAR - see "For the DAR, a new chapter" here - and provided them research. But the DAR does not ask her to speak.


In including her descent from the Washingtons, she is not asked by some blacks to speak either.

So she has fought, with great persistence to get the story out. She writes, strikingly and ironically, that she could now write a book about the perils of writing a book about the Pinns and Lewises and Bowdens, who fought...:

"I could write a book about my experience, not only in researching, but writing about my ancestors."


Many black soldiers, former slaves, could not write. Their stories were suppressed as James Madison urged - better he said of a 1774 slave revolt that was unfortunately foiled in Virginia - that the story be hidden

Even now, so many years later, it is still often a fight, as Anita's experience shows, to make these stories known...


And this is true even when the descendants of the fighters speak for themselves, make a large effort to be heard.


I went into COSTCO last week. Jon Meacham's (yet another) establishment biography of Jefferson - in which the issue of blacks fighting for freedom in the Revolution and Jefferson's wretchedness toward his own slaves is treated emptily as an "anachronism," a common cliche in apologies for founding fathers who owned and brutalized slaves - was being sold. See my commentary on repeated biographies of Presidents, including this one and the much better movie "Lincoln" here and on Paul Finkelman's fine "The Monster of Monticello" here.

But there is no mention in any book at Costco and similar big stores of black soldiers like the Pinns who were the central fighters on whom Washington relied at Yorktown (Henry Wiencek's book Imperfect God: George Washington, his Slaves and the Creation of America here for which he spoke with Anita is comparatively good on this).


Anita rightly expresses skepticism even about Wiencek's book. For Wiencek who wrote a fine account of Washington and slavery focuses on...George Washington.

One must think the founders and their ever renewed biographies, the custom of historians of the American revolution, particularly in the New York Times and especially around Christmas, are overridingly important - nothing else counts - and so, write even a critique in terms of Washington.


In contrast, French historians who write about the revolution of 1789 overwhelmingly write of class struggle, and the only biography - a fine one - of Robespierre is by Ruth Scurr, an Englishwoman...


Anita naturally - and democratically - thinks the black veterans are more important than Washington...

In understanding the American Revolution and its international interplay with emancipation - shaping the Revolution itself - they are.


And as Anita's long efforts suggest, they should be...


"Dear Mr. Gilbert,

My name is Anita Wills and I am a descendant of Several Revolutionary War Veterans who served out of Virginia. I am one of the few African American members of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). My ancestors Ambrose and Charles Lewis served as Seamen and Soldiers during the Revolutionary War. The brothers fought in the Battle of Camden where Ambrose was captured and taken aboard a British Prison Ship. Charles (my direct ancestor), escaped injury and returned to Richmond Virginia until the end of the War. Ambrose was freed after the War and eventually settled in Fredericksburg. Although Ambrose left a pension file, there is not a lot of documentation on Charles Lewis (who is my direct ancestor).

Also serving out of Virgina were Rawley Pinn, his brother Robert Pinn II, and Roberts' sons' John, Billy, and Jim. They fought at the Siege of Yorktown, the deciding Battle of the Revolution. Although John Pinn is included in most lists of those who fought in the Revolutionary War, the others are not. However, in John Pinn's Pension file he states that his father, Robert, and brothers, Billy and Jim fought at the Siege of Yorktown. I found the records of my direct ancestor, Rawley Pinn and his unit at a Library at the College of William & Mary. Rawley Pinn's unit, mustered out of Amherst County, and joined with Marquis De Lafayette's unit on the March to Yorktown.

The reason I am mentioning these names is that they are often left out of books, although their service is documented. I am looking forward to reading your book and hope that these men are some of those mentioned.

Anita Wills"

"Dear Anita,

Thank you so much for writing to me. When did you join the Daughters and was this at last a straightforward process?

I emphasize the key role of blacks on both sides at Yorktown. A German private, Georg Daniel Flohr, who fought with the Royal Deux Ponts with the Americans, walked around the field afterwards and records that most of the dead, on both sides, were "Mohren" (Moors). The book seeks to explain this and the movements from below for freedom, which for the Patriots produced such recruitment and resulted in the gradual emancipation of blacks in the Northern states during and immediately after the Revolution. I made a point of including names where I could but the names are many. So I am still working on this. If it is all right with you, I may post on your letter (and anything else you would like to send me) on my blog ( I enclose below a long post I did on two women who formed a new integrated chapter of the DAR in Queens and how the count of black soldiers and native Americans, lowballed for so long out of racism, now is 8,800…

All the best,

Anita responded:


No, it was not an easy process to get in to the DAR. The person who assisted me was Karen Sutton, whose ancestor served out of Lancaster County Virginia. They stalled for almost a year and in 1998, after a push from a white member, Shelby Conti, they accepted me in. My interest is in including those Soldiers of Color, and their contributions. I do not like the conservative bent of the DAR, and the underhanded gestures toward African American members. I get invitations to participate out here [San Francisco], but seldom accept. I am the author of three books, Notes and Documents of Free Persons of Color, Pieces of the Quilt The Mosaic of An African American Family, and Black Minqua The Life and Times of Henry Green. All of my books are available through

I wrote about Ambrose and Charles Lewis in my first book, Notes and Documents of Free Persons of Color. I also wrote about the Pinns who fought at the Siege of Yorktown. When I found the roster for the Unit Rawley Pinn served in and provided it to the Park Service at Yorktown, we held an event to commemorate these Soldiers of Colors (in September of 2000). The DAR also had a Celebration of Revolutionary War Soldiers of Color, after I provided them with the names. I wanted to be a speaker at the DAR event, but was only asked to attend. The event at Yorktown was held in September of 2000, and I was a speaker, because I was one of the Coordinators, but the person who got credit for everything was a Park Ranger.

In my books I write about things that some folks do not approve of like, George Washington and his families Mulatto Indentured Servants and slaves. Some of my ancestors were Mulattoes who were Indentured to George Washington's Family. I also mentioned in Notes and Documents that George Washington is related to me through his Grandmother Mildred Warner Washington. I received flack, not only from the Virginia Establishment but African Americans well. When I asked to have book reading at the Black History Museum in Richmond, the African American Director said no. The Library of Virginia also turned me down my request to have a book reading and signing. The person who turned me down was an African American Librarian (Linda Threadgill), This happened even though, my Revolutionary War Ancestor, Charles Lewis was a Property Owner and Businessman in Richmond. My direct ancestor, Rawley Pinn, and his brothers fought valiantly at the Siege of Yorktown, yet when I asked for a marker to honor the unit, there was no response.

Here is some information on my Revolutionary War Ancestors:

Charles Lewis, was a Seamen, and Soldier during the Revolutionary War. Ambrose Lewis (b. abt. 1758, d.1834), and Charles Lewis, (b. abt. 1756, d. aft. 1808), were born on the Bel Aire Plantation in Spotsylvania Virginia. They are believed to be the son of a white man, John Lewis, and a Mulatto woman, Josephine. Ambrose and Charles, first signed up as Seamen in Fredericksburg Virgina, and later as Soldiers. In 1771 the brothers were sentenced to serve twenty year indentures (because of their status as Mulattoes), and worked on board the Galley Page (out of Alexandra Virginia). The Galley Page, was a supply boat which went from Alexandria to the Mouth of the James River and back. They were beginning Seamen at that time, and remained on the Galley after joining the War. Later they transferred to the Dragon Ship, which was a Patrol Ship along the Rappahannock. The Dragon saw little action, during the Lewis brothers tour and was only in involved in one minor battle. They completed three years service as Seamen, and then signed on as Soldiers.

Lewis and his brother Ambrose then enlisted as privates in the Second Virginia Regiment, commanded by Col. George Stubblefield. Their unit was under the leadership with Captain Hallidays Company and Militia. The Battle at Camden was a crushing defeat for Gates and the unit. They faced an army of British Soldiers who were better trained and equipped. Many of the young soldiers deserted, or were killed, but Charles and Ambrose stayed and fought. Ambrose Lewis was shot nine times and bayoneted clean through. He was also taken Prisoner on a British Prison Ship, and held until the end of the War. It is more than a probability that the British patched Ambrose up after he was taken prisoner. When the war ended, Ambrose returned to Virginia and settled in Fredericksburg. Over the years until his death, he filed for his Pension citing injuries sustained at the Battle of Camden. He was successful with his pension applications and his heirs received Land Bounty (in 1834). Charles Lewis heirs also received his land bounty (in 1834).

It is ironic that my Lewis Ancestors fought in The Battle at Camden, while my Pinn Ancestors fought At the Siege of Yorktown. One battle was the losing battle, while the other was the Winning Battle. After Ambrose capture, the war did not go on that much longer, as Washington and additional troops were preparing for the biggest battle of the war. They were at Yorktown, and The Siege of Yorktown, would go down as the winning battle of the Revolution.

John Pinn was a Soldier of Color, who fought at The Siege of Yorktown. Joining him in battle was his father, Robert Pinn, as well as brothers, Jim and Billy, and Uncle Rawley Pinn. The Pinn's were mixed raced, Native/Africans, who originated from Indian Town in Lancaster County Virginia. Another Native at the Battle was John Redcross, a good friend and in-law of Rawley Pinn. Rawley served out of Amherst County Virginia, where he settled after leaving Lancaster County. He served under Daniel Gaines, in a unit commanded by Colonial William Cabell. The unit marched out of Amherst County in September of 1780, headed for Yorktown. They joined with another unit headed by Colonel Marquis De Lafayette, and continued their journey. The men marched to Yorktown and the battle that awaited them. Yet the history books have been silent about their contributions to the War.

This is why I have researched and document their stories and lives.

Thank you for opening up this topic.

Anita Wills"

I thanked Anita and sent a couple of posts, including the one on "The Monster of Monticello.." Anita then added the following response about her brother and the Sons of the American Revolution:


My brother, Anthony Baxter is a member of the SAR, but not very active. He joined in Massachusetts and has similar feelings as my own. I was the first of my family to join the DAR and a few have since joined. I am now researching my ancestors in Pennsylvania who were in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. They were also Mulatto, or mixed raced, Native/African/Whites, who were relegated to being Mulatto, Colored, and Negro. My Lewis ancestors Charles and Ambrose were the sons of the powerful Lewis family in Virginia. Although they were born free, they were still required to serve indentures. Mulattoes were required by law to serve these indentures (30 years for females and 20 years for males).

Yet the power of the White Lewis in Virginia (who were related to the Washington's), made life a little easier for Charles and Ambrose. The fact is Charles and Ambrose were popular names in the Lewis family. They carried the Lewis name and when assigned to Indentures worked on the Galley Page, unsupervised. When I contacted the DAR about Ambrose Lewis, they had information on him, that ended with his racial identification (black). You see Ambrose went from being Mulatto to being Black. I did my own genealogy research finding the documents linking me to my ancestor Charles Lewis. They still give me a hassle about joining under Rawley Pinn, although I am a member of the Monacan Indian Nation (through Rawley Pinn).

I could write a book about my experience, not only in researching, but writing about my ancestors. Yet, nothing in my book has been called a lie (one of my ancestors, Mary Bowden, born 1730, died after 1810, is the daughter of James Monroe's Uncle William Monroe Junior. Using court documents, I proved the relationship and wrote about it in my book Pieces of the Quilt. I have been invited to talk to a Monroe family Biographer but have yet to do so.


Anita continued:


I met Henry Wiencek in 1998, when he was researching his book, An Imperfect God, about George Washington. He mentioned me and my ancestors, Mary and Patty Bowden, in his book. At the time I did not know Mary Bowden was the daughter of William Bowden Junior. Mary was the mother of Patty, and they were Mulatto Indentured Servants to George Washington's family. At that point there were some whites in Virginia who wanted to write about my family. I felt that we (People of Color), have a unique perspective on our ancestors, which would not be well served in a book Henry might write. I also added names and information for the "African-American and American Indian Patriots of the Revolutionary War" which came out AFTER the event at the Siege of Yorktown, yet I was not invited to speak. At the time I was not actively involved in a Chapter [of the DAR], but I communicated with the researcher on a daily basis.

Your blog is very informative.



*Anita's Pieces of the Quilt includes a searing account of growing up in Chester, Pennsylvania in the 1950s, part of the South with every exclusion and indignity of which America was capable.

** Periodically, particularly among black historians, black Patriot soldiering has been looked at extensively. For instance, Luther Jackson wrote a good pamphlet on black soldiers in Virginia during World War II, but there has been little about Virginia since.

***Atiwapiskat First Nations chief Theresa Spence is on a hunger strike to the death to protest the stealing of indigenous lands and waterways for Shell Oil by the infamous Stephen Harper (also Canadian prime minister) and parliament. There is a big "Idle No More" movement of protest against these measures - see here - which deserves our support.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Mirrors: the new South Africa supports BDS

As a Jew, I was once puzzled by the intense military and economic effort of Israel to sustain apartheid in South Africa. For Jews have long fought the oppressor, active in socialist, anarchist, communist and anti-fascist movements, and as many of my fellow delegates to Palestine emphasized, the civil rights movement in the United States. See here.


It is superficially surprising that a race state - apartheid South Africa - where the Boer party, soon to become dominant, supported the Nazis during World War II (as well as identifying with segregation in the US later) - should be a special ally for Israel.

But Isreal is itself a settler state, in which those who dispossessed (and who after 1967 occupy and dispossess anew) the people living there, were religiously motivated. For the Boers trekking into South Africa and attacking blacks were motivated by a similar "Christly" vision.


And the Israeli military and government elite looked into the eyes of the South African apartheid elite and saw a common purpose. Under Prime Minister Verwoerd, South Africa created "bantustans," phony states in which the workers, exploited under South Africa's laws when they "emigrated" to work (no black could hold a position over a white, for example), were treated as being citizens of a separate, "independent" government. South Africa would provide them no protection or assistance, and the puppet bantustans were too poor and ineffectual.


The bantustans resemble the Palestinian Authority. Israel controls the borders (it has divided the Occupied Territories into 3 zones, only one of which has even formal Palestinian rule), has an army while the PA has not, has airports while there are none in the Occupied Territories, and controls the economy.

After Palestine was given a nonmember observer status by an overwhelming vote in the United Nations, Israel withheld the money derived from Palestinian trade - the money belonging to Palestinians - so that government workers could not be paid (ordinarily, Israel only takes an illegal and immoral cut out of this money for its "handling" expenses).

The workers are now on strike, and an emergency loan from some Arab countries has facilitated an offer of half their wages...


Israeli leaders hoped to emulate the bantustans. They purchased raw materials from South Africa and marketed them or products made from them as "made in Israel"...

Israel boycotted the great international boycott of South Africa that occurred in solidarity with those whose humanity was denied by apartheid.

They acted, in the Middle East and Africa, as Europeans had acted against them...See here and here.


Against the boycott, Israel also provided nuclear secrets and weapons to apartheid South Africa.

It supplied the bulk of South Africa's conventional weapons - 35% of Israel's arms trade.


Apartheid matches apartheid. Democracy Now Friday morning reported on a film by Anna Nogueira, a South African, and Eron Davidson, an Israeli, called "Road Map to apartheid" about Palestine. It is narrated by Alice Walker. See here.

They made the movie to make the apartheid - and the creepy cooperation of the apartheid regimes once upon a time - plain.


The South African people produced a great movement to overturn apartheid - one supported by an international boycott and divestment campaign - and then, under the leadership of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, showed the world the way to political healing with Truth and Reconciliation commissions.


Today the ANC government has moved against the old apartheid alliance and for justice for Palestinians.

As others boycotted South African apartheid, the South African government joins the international boycott against Israeli apartheid.


If the human rights of every person in Palestine and Israel are to be upheld, there needs to be a sharp movement from below to invigorate a two state solution (or a one state democracy with full protection of individual rights). South Africa's action is an important step.


Omar Barghouti, with whom the Dorothy Cotton Institute-sponsored delegation met with in Palestine and who argues very specifically and brilliantly for nonviolent non-cooperation with evil, sent the following report from Ali Abunimah (see here for accompanying photographs):
In historic decision, South Africa’s ANC makes support for Israel boycott its official policy

Electronic Intifada - Thursday 12/20/2012

In Johannesburg, a graffiti artist helped promote this year’s Israeli Apartheid Week.
(Minhaj Jeenah / BDS South Africa)

For the first time ever, the African National Congress (ANC), the ruling party in South Africa, today made the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions on Israel part of its official policy.

Mbuyiseni Ndlozi of BDS South Africa said the decision “by the ANC’s National Conference, its highest decision making body, is by far the most authoritative endorsement of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel campaign.”

In a press release sent out by email, BDS South Africa explained:

In October 2012, the ANC’s International Solidarity Conference (ISC) declared its full support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel campaign.

Today, Lindiwe Zulu (member of the ANC’s International Relations Sub-Committee and special advisor to President Jacob Zuma) announced at the ANC’s 53rd National Conference plenary session, the ANC’s official endorsement, as captured in Resolution 39 (b), of the ANC’s October International Solidarity Conference (ISC) and all its resolutions, which includes a resolution on BDS. Giving muscle to resolution 39 (b), the ANC has committed to set up a steering committee to implement these ISC resolutions. In addition, the ANC adopted resolution 35 (g) that specifically called for “all South Africans to support the programmes and campaigns of the Palestinian civil society which seek to put pressure on Israel to engage with the Palestinian people to reach a just solution.”

Solidarity with Africans mistreated by Israel

BDS South Africa also applauded the ANC National Conference for passing a resolution that “abhors the recent Israeli state-sponsored xenophobic attacks and deportation of Africans” and to “request that this matter should be escalated to the African Union.”

Failed effort by South African Zionist groups

In the days leading up to the conference, Jewish communal and Zionst organizations had expressed worries about the impending vote. JTA reported on 18 December:

A marked anti-Israel swing by the South African government in recent months has caused consternation among South African Jews and Christian supporters of Israel.

This concern reached a climax with the possibility of the passage of a boycott, divestment and sanctions, or BDS, resolution at the ANC’s 53rd National Conference in Mangaung, which ends Dec. 20.

The groups mounted intense efforts to forestall the resolution:

The [South African] Jewish Board of Deputies sent a letter to the ANC prior to the conference in which it calls for evenhandedness on the Israel-Palestinian issue, and asks that the letter be read out loud at the conference if the resolution is proposed.

An open letter to the ANC signed by a number of religious leaders was published on the front page of South Africa’s widest-circulating paper, the Sunday Times. It called on the ANC not to take sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Titled “Choosing Peace”, the letter outlined the violence and battles throughout the ages for control of Israel.

The effort to call for “evenhandedness” and “not to take sides” indicates the weakness of anti-Palestinian groups who can no longer dream of a pro-Israel policy. Israel was one of the closest allies and biggest arms suppliers to South Africa’s former apartheid regime until the 1994 transition to democracy.

Growing solidarity in South Africa

Recently high-level South African church leaders, shocked at what they saw then they visited Palestine, also expressed support for the boycott.

In August, South Africa’s Deputy Foreign Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim advised his country’s citizens not to travel to Israel “because of the treatment and policies of Israel towards the Palestinian people.”

Prior to October’s decision at the ANC’s International Solidarity Conference – that set the stage for today’s vote at the National Conference – more than 150 former anti-Apartheid activists from around the world signed a statement calling on the ANC to support the boycott.

Today, those voices and those of solidarity groups in South Africa, proved to be more effective than the appeals of the once mighty anti-Palestinian groups."


DemocracyNow! December 21, 2012

"As the ANC Votes to Support BDS, a New Film Compares Life in Palestine to Apartheid South Africa

AMY GOODMAN: "Hamdulillah," The Narcicyst featuring Shadia Mansour. In his YouTube posting about this song, The Narcycist wrote: "To say 'Hamdulillah' is to be grateful for what one has. The images of the past decades have cast a veil on our identity as a people. We, as international brothers and sisters, are now witness to injustice in real time. We watch our Wars in HD. It is time for us to claim our faces back," he says. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, a new report says four Israeli attacks launched on journalists and media facilities during the bombardment of Gaza last month violated the laws of war by targeting civilians and civilian objects. Human Rights Watch issued the findings Thursday on the attacks that killed two Palestinian camera people, wounded at least 10 media workers and damaged four media offices. One strike also killed a two-year-old boy, Abdelrahman Naim, who lived across from a targeted building.

The report comes as the ruling party in South Africa has voted to support the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel, known as BDS. On Thursday, the African National Congress declared it was, quote, "unapologetic in its view that the Palestinians are the victims and the oppressed in the conflict with Israel." Several high-level South African church leaders recently visited Palestine and said they were shocked at what they saw. In August, South Africa’s deputy foreign minister, Ebrahim Ebrahim, issued an advisory not to travel to Israel, quote, "because of the treatment and policies of Israel towards the Palestinian people."

AMY GOODMAN: Well, South Africans are no stranger to the complex issues facing Israelis and Palestinians. Now a new award-winning documentary examines the apartheid analogy commonly used to describe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The film is narrated by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker. This an excerpt from the trailer for Roadmap to Apartheid.

ALICE WALKER: This is the beautiful land of Israel and Palestine. The world’s three most prominent religions—Islam, Christianity and Judaism—consider it holy land. Each year, millions of people from around the world come here to pray for peace and prosperity. Yet this land is also a major center of conflict in the world today.

For Jewish Israelis, the conflict centers on protecting a homeland created for the Jewish people in 1948. For Palestinians, it is about resisting decades of colonialism, expulsion, occupation and apartheid.

Most people identify apartheid with the grotesque system of control that existed in South Africa from 1948 to 1994, in which the white minority ruled over the black majority, stole their land, and deprived them of basic rights. It was a system reviled by the whole world, and it eventually crumbled under the combined pressure of internal resistance and international sanctions. Today, the word is back, and with it, too, is a growing global movement to end the Israeli form of apartheid.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s a clip from the trailer of Roadmap to Apartheid. The new film puts archival footage and interviews with South Africans, alongside similar material that shows what life is like for Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and inside Israel. Roadmap to Apartheid has just been released to the public after a year-long film festival run, where it’s won a number of awards.

For more, we’re pleased to be joined by its co-directors, Ana Nogueira and Eron Davidson. Eron is a longtime media activist, born in Israel, now living in the United States. Ana was born in South Africa, longtime journalist, former Democracy Now! producer, founding member of the New York City Independent Media Center and its newspaper, The Indypendent.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Ana, let’s begin with you, why you took on this project, this film.

ANA NOGUEIRA: Thanks, Amy. It’s good to be back in the studio.

Well, as you know, I was born in South Africa. And when I came to this country, I was only 11, but I was the youngest of seven children and learned about what apartheid was like through them and through research and looking into it. And then, when I started working at Democracy Now! in 2001, the Second Intifada had just begun, and so I was learning about the Israel-Palestine conflict through our daily coverage of the Second Intifada. And that’s where I began to pick up on the similarities with the apartheid analogy and the apartheid experience in South Africa. So, I thought it was important to really flush that out. And I met Eron, and he’s Israeli. We decided to do this project together and really present a thesis as to why the analogy is so powerful.

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, it’s a very controversial analogy, Eron, and you come from South Africa, apartheid well known in this country and the struggle against it.

ERON DAVIDSON: From Israel. I was born in Israel. And yes, the analogy is very controversial—but getting more common now. In the past eight or so years, the analogy has been getting quite common, yet used somewhat rhetorically. And that’s why we wanted to make this film, is to kind of break down that carefully, where that analogy fits and where it doesn’t.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I wanted to go to a clip from your film, which we first hear from the South African journalist, Na’eem Jeenah, and then Allister Sparks, a veteran apartheid-era journalist.

NA’EEM JEENAH: Now, in the South African context, the attempt by the apartheid government was to de-citizenize more than 80 percent of the South African population and then give them new citizenship in some kind of a fantasy entity—Bophuthatswana, Transkei, etc., so the South state could say, "You have no claims over us; you’re a citizen of Bophuthatswana. Social benefits, etc., is what you should be looking for there."

ALLISTER SPARKS: The godfather of the system was Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd.

DR. HENDRIK VERWOERD: In South Africa, you can only achieve peace by separating the nations.

ALLISTER SPARKS: And he spelled out the whole bantustan concept. He said the black people have got to be given their own country. They embarked upon this remarkable experiment of trying to cut up the country into bantustans. And these were created, at least on paper, 10 of them, and the move began to advance them towards independence.

LUCAS MANGOPE: My government would like to continue as we are, an autonomous and independent country, preferably with extended borders, continued friendly and cordial relations with our neighbors, and, if possible, international recognition.

YASMIN SOOKA: Most of them were stooges and really puppets of the apartheid state.

ALLISTER SPARKS: To give some veneer of reality to the fantasy of the bantustans, the the Afrikaner government threw money at them, built elaborate parliaments, housing for ministers, built airports, sports stadiums. It was to create separate states. It was not so much a two-state solution as a multi-state solution.

When I look at Israel, when I traveled through the West Bank, I was looking at bantustans—totally unviable, impossible states. In many respects, it struck me as being significantly worse than apartheid.

NA’EEM JEENAH: Bantustans, as much as we abhorred them in South Africa, bantustan leaders actually had more power and more control than the Palestinian Authority has. What Oslo did was create an authority, which allowed Israel to still control the occupied Palestinian territory, but control it through a Palestinian authority. Ostensibly, there’s a Palestinian—some kind of Palestinian authority that’s controlling, that’s in power of the occupied territory. In fact, Israel controls the borders. Israel controls taxes. Israel controls all kinds of things—access in and out of that area.

ALLISTER SPARKS: To me, the big analogy was that South Africa, in taking these two choices, where you’ve got two or more nationalisms laying claim to the same country, you either have got to find a way to live together, or you’ve got to have a fair partition. The big similarity between apartheid South Africa and the Israeli-Palestinian situation is that both decided to have a partition solution, and, in both cases, it was a grotesquely unfair partition.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Allister Sparks, a veteran apartheid-era journalist, and then we also heard from South African journalist Na’eem Jeenah. The bantustans and the parallel in terms of what’s going on in the Palestinian territories today?

ANA NOGUEIRA: I think that’s one of the most important similarities to look at, because ultimately it shows where we’re going, where we’re heading with this. As the clip showed, you know, South Africa tried to set up a multi-state solution, to de-citizenize the majority population, put them into these ghettos or bantustans. And it failed. The whole world saw it for what it was and refused to recognize it.

Israel was one of the few countries who actually did recognize it, in an attempt to legitimize this strategy. Ariel Sharon apparently told one of the Italian former prime ministers that the bantustan solution was the situation for Israel and Palestine. And we’ve seen over the last 20 years that the attempt to create a two-state solution has failed, and Israel has done everything in its power to thwart that. Even the most recent U.N. recognition of Palestine as a non-member observer state, as soon as that was—you know, that referendum was held to the world and everyone supported it, Israel immediately showed everyone who’s boss by announcing the building of 3,000 settlements, withholding tax revenue from the Palestinian Authority, which cripples the Palestinian economy. So, this two-state solution really is a farce, and it really is more of a bantustan.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to a clip from Roadmap to Apartheid, when narrator Alice Walker explains part of the history of the Afrikaner movement.

ALICE WALKER: A deeply religious people, the white Afrikaners of South Africa believed they had a God-given right to a land that they considered mostly uninhabited. In what is known as the "Great Trek," what Afrikaners consider their equivalent of the Exodus, thousands trekked into the wilderness in search of the promised land. The Afrikaners pushed into land the Africans considered theirs, and many battles ensued. Armed with guns and protected by a circle of covered wagons, known as a "laager," the Afrikaners easily beat back the indigenous masses that outnumbered them.

This image of the heroic settlers in their laager fending off the savage masses became the dominant mythology in Afrikaner history, morphing into the philosophy of apartheid in 1948. Under apartheid law, the one standard against which everything was judged was the security of the state, and the state meant the Afrikaner people. With every law enacted, the freedoms of the majority were whittled away in order to protect the privileges of a white minority.

In Pretoria today stands a monument to the Great Trek, a shrine to this history and philosophy. A concrete laager, that iconic image of the Afrikaners’ military defense tactic, completely surrounds the monument—a physical representation of a state of mind that sees enemies everywhere and will do anything to protect against them.

AMY GOODMAN: That is a clip from Roadmap to Apartheid, narrated by Alice Walker. And I wanted to turn to another one, how you explore how Israel was one of the closest allies and biggest arms suppliers to South Africa’s former apartheid regime. This clip is narrated by journalist Ali Abunimah and Sasha Polakow-Suransky, author of The Unspoken Alliance.

ALI ABUNIMAH: The South African Defense Forces, as they were called, their army and navy was almost totally outfitted by Israel, because South Africa couldn’t get weapons from other countries. Israel was one of the only countries willing to break the arms embargo.

SASHA POLAKOW-SURANSKY: Well, the alliance started in earnest in 1973. By 1979, about 35 percent of Israel’s arms exports were going to South Africa, so they became a crucial client and also a crucial source for export revenue that Israel couldn’t give up easily. And it involved everything from tanks to aircraft, to ammunition, you name it. After ’77, there was a mandatory U.N. arms embargo. Israel violated the U.N. arms embargo openly, and many Israeli officials are happy to admit that. If you talk to South African defense officials, especially people from the air force, they tell you that Israel was an absolutely vital link and was a lifeline for them during the 1980s.

After 1977, the ideological component becomes much stronger. The top brass of the two militaries really felt that they were in a similar predicament and that they faced a common enemy. They also had a very similar conception of minority survival. There was a sense that Afrikaner nationalists were similar to Israelis, a beleaguered minority surrounded by a hostile majority.

AMY GOODMAN: That, a clip from Roadmap to Apartheid, Sasha Polakow-Suransky and, before that, Ali Abunimah. Eron Davidson, you were born in Israel. This is obviously an extremely sensitive comparison that many object to.

ERON DAVIDSON: It’s true. It is. It’s gaining more ground and becoming a more common discourse, though. And yeah, as you saw in the clip, the government ties through the '60s, ’70s and ’80s were extremely deep. They armed each other with nuclear weapons. The Israeli government did what's called "sanction busting." Where South Africa couldn’t export products, it sent them to Israel; they manufactured them and then sent them out to the rest of the world, labeling it "made in Israel." So—

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And now, obviously, the whole divestment movement is again another parallel in terms of what happened, in terms of resistance or worldwide resistance to the continuation of the oppression of the Palestinians, as it was in South Africa.

ANA NOGUEIRA: Yeah, there’s a very fast-growing global movement that is modeling itself on the anti-apartheid movement of the '80s and, you know, taking its cues from there, recognizing that apartheid ended as a result of internal resistance, as well, so there needs to be a Palestinian resistance, as well. But it was supported by this global movement that used boycott, divestment and sanctions to pressure the apartheid government to change its ways. And this recent ANC announcement that it's going to abide by this BDS call by the Palestinians is very heartwarming and probably going to have a domino effect in terms of more states getting onto this movement.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to a last clip from Roadmap to Apartheid. This is Eddie Makue with the South African Council of Churches. Later in the clip, we hear from Ali Abunimah and South African reporter Na’eem Jeenah.

EDDIE MAKUE: I have been able to visit Israel and Palestine on more than two occasions. And what I experienced there was such a crude reminder of a painful past in apartheid South Africa. We were largely controlled in the same way. The continuous checking at the roadblocks, and to see these young men and young women standing at the roadblock, having to perform the duties of a military junta, these parallels with Israel pained me severely while I was traveling through that lovely country.

ALI ABUNIMAH: The settlements are linked by modern superhighways, which are Jewish-only roads. Palestinians are not allowed to use them. And these superhighways crisscross across Palestinian land, linking the settlements together and linking them with Israeli cities inside the 1948 borders.

NA’EEM JEENAH: The separate roads that you find, the kind of whole settlement infrastructure that you find in the West Bank, for example, you know, which in South Africa we didn’t dream that we’d have roads that would be only for whites.

ALICE WALKER: In 2008, there were 800 kilometers of Jewish-only roads in the West Bank, or as the Israeli military prefers to call them, "sterile roads." Settlers are issued yellow license plates so that the military can distinguish them from Palestinian drivers.

AMY GOODMAN: A clip of Roadmap to Apartheid. Ana Nogueira, the film is now out on DVD?

ANA NOGUEIRA: Yes, you can find the film on our Roadmap—on our website,, or on Journeyman Pictures’ website. There’s online and broadcast sales, too.

AMY GOODMAN: Ana Nogueira and Eron Davidson, I want to thank you so much for being with us."

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Images of the cave: how to read the contradictions in the Republic, part 1

The metaphor of the cave is perhaps the most well-known story from the Republic. It is also, on careful reading, contradictory and mysterious.

Socrates has spoken of the visible and invisible/intelligible world, the world of sight – despite seeming accessibility, one often plunged in darkness and confusion – and the world of reasoning and the ideas.

The visible world is governed by the sun; the invisible world is governed by the idea of the good. The latter is larger and more powerful than the visible universe.


The metaphor for the invisible universe is only – a metaphor. A brilliant student of mine, who is a Taiwanese Buddhist, once surmised that Socrates was speaking of a kind of enlightenment. On an obvious level, this is true. The presentation, pitched around Glaucon’s stumbling about what Socrates could be driving at, his hopeless demands about how Socrates must - immediately!!! - fill in everything, and Socrates’ warnings that this is as far as Glaucon can get, gives no more. What is not – and perhaps cannot be said here – hence, Hsiang-hsuan Lin’s surmise about enlightenment – is at least as important as what is said.


I sometimes use the Sterling and Scott translation of the Republic which is mostly decent but does something unique among translators. It stops between books 6 and 7 and gives a four page explication of what Plato must mean by the divided line.

There is some arrogance in doing this. Translators usually save their comments for introductory notes or postscripts; the best figure the translation itself does what it does.... Poor Plato, they seem to imply, he must really have screwed up this cardinal point 2400 years ago, but we the translators will straighten him out for the reader...


Plato orbits around his translators as it were, not the translators around Plato.

If one spends many years translating, the thought that one has mastered the text, one has really understood, perhaps possesses one...*


But something nearly opposite might be true. Perhaps the Republic is not the kind of text that one “masters” (if there is such a text; the patriarchalism of the phrase mocks the ambition...). Perhaps Plato deliberately opens further questioning and argument for his students and close readers (see Phaedrus, lines 275d-277a), those who will not be put off, but awakened by contradictions to go further.

Consider what Polemarchos learns, early in the Republic: to follow argument, to become a philosophic youth. See "Polemarchus as a symbol of the Republic's theme: a philosophical warrior for democracy against tyranny" here.

Perhaps the Republic opens questioning, like the Apology, rather than giving answers. If I know that I know (almost) nothing, as Socrates says in the Apology, how can I then “know” that the city of the guardians is the “beautiful city” (kallipolis), the “city in speech,” the just or best city…?

But then a whole reading of the Republic, characteristic of much of the past 2500 years and elevated in Karl Popper and clever philosophy departments and political theory courses and even in Martin Heidegger and Leo Strauss, would be wrong….


Let us focus on how badly Glaucon fails to follow the argument.

Socrates outlines the ascent through questioning to the invisible world. At line 509a, Glaucon absurdly blurts out:

"If the good is the source of knowledge and truth and at the same time surpasses them both in beauty, you must have in mind a beauty quite beyond imagination. Surely you cannot be speaking of pleasure (edone).'

Socrates responds "Be still (euphemei)." And then goes on.

On the most obvious level, Glaucon glimpses, given his own psyche, his predominant desires for power (his resonant tale of the ring of Gyges story) and pleasure, but simply does not get what it is going on. In the dramatic action of the Republic, he is tamed by Socrates. At the end, he expresses the desire not to become a tyrant. Glaucon is, one might say, dazzled by philosophy. The sunlike idea of the good overcomes him.

But though clever, a military leader and a powerful figure, Glaucon does not do philosophy.


The remark about pleasure reveals his psyche (as does Socrates's silly proposal about the city in speech that the big warrior-athlete - could it be...Glaucon? - gets the most girls...

Glaucon is taken by the ring of invisibility with which, as in Oscar Wilde's The Portrait of Dorian Gray which learns from this story, he can commit many crimes, his psyche becoming uglier from within (the portrait), but live seemingly beautiful from without.

The ring ostensibly prevents the face from being the mirror of the soul. It is deceptive.


For Gyges journeys in a storm down into a chasm, finds a wooden horse with metal doors – a Trojan Horse, the deception in Greek wars that prompted the fall of Troy-and a naked corpse wearing a golden ring within…

Why is the corpse naked?

We are each mortal; the deceptiveness of corpses fades.


Wilde's later Portrait recalls the corpse.

When Dorian stabs his ugly portrait, he dies. The servants identify the bloated corpse only from the rings on his fingers...


The corpse (though in a chasm and inside a wooden horse) is visible to Gyges. It is not hidden by a ring.

The man or woman who goes to her death has no emperor’s clothes, fantastically arisen, to garb them.

In life, that soul has done what it could and departed. The shell is naked.

Gyges, grave-robber, takes the ring…


This is an intrepid shepherd. Having no light, he went deep into the earth (with candles?) against the storm, got into the horse, spotted the corpse and the golden ring, swiped it, and ascended.

It is an underworld journey or, as we might say, a journey into rivers of the unconscious...

So is the cave in which Socrates goes down – the first line of the Republic - to his death.

For the ring of Gyges and politics, see here and here.


Plato, the invisible author, does not expect to be found without a certain effort. He is warning the reader that Glaucon really doesn’t get it.

Sterling and Scott, with much effort of the wrong kind (intoning with deep seriousness what Plato means, acting as unquestioning - if there is such a thing - students of "philosophy"), don't get it either.


In Phaedrus, Socrates contrasts two kinds of readers, one who makes of writing whatever he wants. For him, a book is like a statue; if asked a question, it has no "father" to defend it. But for others who know how to read, a happiness opens up which lasts into eternity.

Glaucon is not one of the latter…


Sterling and Scott avoid in their philosophical clarification any mention that Glaucon expresses amazement at Socrates's hyperbole that is daimonic, any mention that Glaucon stumbles around, buffeted by what Socrates says, any mention that Socrates does not give the stages of the ascent for which books 6 and 7 are a brilliant metaphor or hint...

They choose, without argument or even recognition, to give a literal reading of the metaphor.


Glaucon can recite the skeleton of the metaphor. Sterling and Scott further clarify...Glaucon...


Plato’s writing is pitched in irony and humor, and with many warnings about how far - not very - his listeners can get right away, and that Glaucon is really not on the journey.

"How?" Glaucon continues.

"I assume you would agree that the sun not only confers visibility on all the can be seen but is equally the source of generation, nurture and growth in all things."

"I agree"

"If we pursue the comparison, the objects of knowledge are not only made manifest by the presence of goodness. Goodness makes them real. Still goodness is not in itself being. It transcends being, exceeding all else in dignity and power."

Glaucon had to laugh (literally, said amusingly - geloios - or perhaps ludicrously). Note how Socrates adds this unusual interjection about Glaucon's amazement and befuddlement.

"My god [Apollo]," Glaucon adds an oath to emphasize the force of what he is saying, "hyperbole can go no further than this." [it is a daemonic hyperbole - daimonias uperboles]

"It's your fault. You pushed me to express my thoughts."

"Please don't desist. At least elaborate on the metaphor of the sun if there is anything you have been omitting."

"I have been omitting a lot."

"Well, omit no more, not the least bit." Glaucon, rhetorically, stamps his foot.

But how would Glaucon know that Socrates was omitting parts of the account? Does Glaucon have any idea of what Socrates might be omitting...

"I imagine I shall have to exclude a grood deal. Nonetheless, as far as is practical at this point, I shall not willingly leave anything out." As is practical as this point - Socrates has barely initiated a long journey or trajectory, sketched metaphorically.

Aristotle studied with Plato in the Academy for 20 years...

Glaucon, again, stamps his foot: "Please don't."(509b-c)


The cave and the wrenching ascent to the light are metaphors, hints, glimpses, ones that capture Glaucon and many readers. But how to proceed out of the cave is not clear from them, let alone each step and handhold along the way.


Further, who is in the cave and out of the cave is unclear. For Socrates is in the cave - prisoners "like us," he says - but not of the cave. He has ascended and returned.

Polemarchus studies argument and sees contradictions. He, too, is on the path.

Glaucon tries to impress Socrates, and as Plato's writing signals, stumbles around...


No other dialogue mentions Glaucon, Plato’s powerful older brother. His name means shining like the sea and suggests the owl-eyes of Athena (he is sharp in the cave). Here he shines intensely about the problem of doing evil - the image of the ring - is converted by the image of where philosophy goes, and fades.


In the Republic, Socrates heads Glaucon off from becoming a tyrant; at least, he has remained otherwise unknown to history. Here, Socrates does teach him virtue contra the – in this respect - badly argued, as Socrates underlines, Meno. See here and here.


In contrast in the Pheadrus, Socrates praises Polemarchus (the brother of the rhetorician Lysias) for genuinely beginning and doing philosophy. The Republic, book 1, shows the emergence of Polemarchus from democratic bully, humorlessly threatening Socrates and disarmed/befuddled by wit, into someone who follows argument. See here.

Polemarchus is the leader of the democratic party; his name means war leader...


It is significant for Plato that this democrat, murdered by the tyrant Critias - another student of Socrates, an unrestrained Glaucon - becomes a philosopher. The democrats as a party murder Socrates (their's is a narrow majority at the trial embodying a defective or will of all democracy). That is what Polemarchus stood for in metaphorically arresting Socrates at the outset of the Republic.

But in the Republic and Phaedrus, Polemachus emerges and is remarked on as philosophical, as someone who questions and follows argument.


This does not mean joining an anti-democratic party. That is only the vision of philosophers of the defective democrats led by Meletus, Anytus, and Lycon. It ignores, for example, Socrates's refusal to obey Critias's order to go with four others and seize Leon of Salamis, an incarnation of civil disobedience for which he could have been killed, as he remarks at his trial, if the Thirty had not fallen.


In fact, Socrates is a complicated critical or philosophical democrat, one who strives to make space in Athens for questioning (the theme of the Apology) and engages in no effort to overturn the democracy or support tyrants.

For instance, Critias would have been a seeming "philosopher-king"\tyrant along with Charmides (the former was Plato's first cousin; the latter his uncle; much of the drama of Athenian politics is for Plato familial). Socrates resisted and, as Xenophon underlines, mocked Critias.


Socrates returns from philosophy, goes down to the cave to fight for a decent democracy, one characterized by debate and some deliberation, against a defective, will of all, Meletus- or McCarthyite pseudo-democracy. See here, here and here.


As a philosopher, Polemarchus is in but not of the party of democracy. He fights, with the minority of the citizens that vote for the acquittal of Socrates, to include questioning in the democracy politically. In addition, he fights to make space in the democracy for philosophy.

Polemarchus turns from the defective democracy to a public good-sustaining democracy. Political questioning - dissent which is not murdered or suppressed - makes democracy serious, moves toward a common good.

Philosophical questioning begins to move out of the cave toward the light...

The two kinds of questioning coincide, to an extent, within a democracy, though they are not the same, and in philosophy, for Socrates and Plato, move out of the cave.

From the standpoint of learning to do philosophy, i.e. for students of Plato trying to understand the dialogue, the conversation with Polemarchus is the most important in the Republic.


Thrasymachus, whose name means "fierce fighter" though no soldier, a rhetorician without interest in argument but only in winning (domineering and lustful as Hilary Putnam suggests), breaks the philosophical conversation, even though Polemarchus reemerges to clarify the argument. See here, here, here and here. Glaucon’s story of the ring of Gyges thus takes the discussion further away from philosophy.

Put differently, each argument for injustice - from Cephalus through Polemarchus's helping friends and harming enemies to Thrasymachus's nothing but the advantage of the stronger to Glaucon's ring of Gyges - is a deeper, more serious challenge to Socrates's way of life and commitment to justice, the story of his going down and dying for questioning in Athens (disobedience to the unjust law against questioning the gods, acceptance of the punishment of a majority of the people judging him according to law).

In this sense, the Republic, a succession of ever deeper, connected challenges to Socrates, is unbroken.


But in the midst of book 1, Polemarchus turns to thinking about Socrates's questions and tries to make sense of the argument. He begins to do philosophy. If followed, that discussion and questioning, with Socrates, would take the argument in a different direction. It is this alternative possibility that Thrasymachus deflects, and Glaucon, with his classier formulation but weakness about argument, makes the ordinary reader forget.


The Republic becomes grand as a dialogue about the cloak of invisibility (a Harry Potter version of the ring as Trina Griego, my student at Metro, suggests) and injustice, but Plato's close students are meant to notice that it is not the dialogue it could have been.

Put differently, the music of Polemarchus's discovery is a counterpoint to the soaring surface of the argument.


Now Socrates continues to make arguments, along with jokes, throughout the Republic. In this sense, the work limns, when not satirical (as it is about the banning of poetry or the city in speech), philosophy - recall how much he cannot say, he insists, to Glaucon...

But the subtler theme of the Republic, a kind of counterpoint, is to continue thinking with Polemarchus about the argument. For the surface argument sometimes involves contradictions, often very important ones. The reader can either nod (as Glaucon often nods) or can take in the tension and try to think it through for herself.


For instance, Socrates demolishes Polemarchus’s argument of book 1 about helping friends and harming enemies (sometimes, one mistakes enemies for friends and friends for enemies, and in any case, justice does not harm anyone). But Socrates's arguments in book 1 are then contradicted by Socrates’s thought, in book 2, that a philosopher is like a dog, barking at strangers and wagging for masters (even when the masters beat them). In the context of book 1, this is, rather obviously, Socrates's worst argument. See "Socrates's worst argument ever: the philosopher and the barking dog" here.

Plato tests whether the reader will notice...

He signals an alternate way to those students who are on a path out of the cave.


Socrates’s defense of justice, his inquiry into the cave and the ascent is thus solo, the gestures or tracks towards it often implied, hidden.


Glaucon is an interlocutor with an important question, a very clever challenge about justice, but he often does not recognize – as Polemarchus and the careful reader come to - what the arguments are about. Trying to impress Socrates, often confused, hungry to already "have knowledge," to be in the light before he has acquired eyes, without ever working for it or questioning...

Glaucon staggers around.


It is thus the tensions or contradictions in Socrates's argument - thinking about this undercurrent, with, as it were, a continuing Polemarchus and what it means - which must be seen to get the dialogue, to see the first steps out of the cave.


Glaucon is passionate, clever, political and dangerous. But he is no neophyte philosopher. Though convinced not to use the ring, not to become a tyrant, he is, and remains, in the cave.

Because of Socrates, he glimpses distantly the light. But he cannot ascend towards it.


Polemarchus follows argument. Questioning and argument are a way out.

*Dhanajay Jagannathan, a translator at Oxford, has something of the same arrogance. See my "Plato and the consensus-police" here and here.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A review of Black Patriots and Loyalists by Douglas Egerton

Doug Egerton is a fine historian who wrote a memorable book on the insurrection led by Gabriel and aided by two emigre French jacobins in 1800 to burn down the wooden city of Richmond. It is called Gabriel's Revolt (1994), changing the standard name "Gabriel's Conspiracy" handed down among racists since no one, outside of Imperial England, would speak of the American Revolution as "Washington's Conspiracy." Since the revolts of the oppressed - the international second revolution of slaves and the independence revolution - are both morally justified, the names here are not matters of "preference," but rather, have real moral and political weight.

Egerton would have preferred that I draw contrasts with Simon Schama and Cassandra Pybus in the text rather than in the notes. But the book is meant to be read broadly, by motivated high school as well as college students - see "Teaching Black Patriots and Loyalists in beginning political science classes" here on Amentahru Wahlrab's assigning the book to 125 first year students at the University of Texas at Tyler - and not to be lost in controversies with others. Through telling stories about those, who against all odds, moved the mountain of slavery, I mean the book to speak directly to those who still need to move mountains, most obviously the American prison system (2.3 million prisoners, 25% of the world's prisoners), American militarism and "gun culture," No other advanced capitalist society or, for that matter, China, allows the mass murder, with big weapons, of 6 year olds and the women who teach them as in the horror in Newtown, Connecticut; it is American violence which is at issue here. The book also casts light on the fear of blacks and native Americans which is so extraordinary in America and so linked to distinctive and devastating slaughters, historical and present. Such fears signal the unique depths of American racism, including that surrounding, as Black Patriots and Loyalists reveals, the Revolution.

I also give historians like Gary Nash, Sylvia Frey, Peter Wood, Graham Russell Hodges and others credit for discoveries which gradually will help to make this new way of looking at the Revolution - that it is centrally involved with and shaped by the international revolt against bondage and that it must be seen from the bottom up - audible. This is, as it were, a new paradigm for looking at a Revolution previously seen as only about independence, only American to the exclusion of other revolutions in the Hemisphere, the first "new nation," and with slaves isolated and at most interesting in terms of "identity polities." No, they fought for freedom, and freedom, for all was the cause of the American Revolution, one betrayed by the slave-owning and dealing of the founders and the Constitution.

The review appears in the new edition of The Historian:

Black Patriots and Loyalists: Fighting for Emancipation in the War for Independence. By Alan Gilbert. (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2012. Pp. xvi, 369. $30.00.)

Historians have long understood that there were two American Revolutions, the triumphant one that culminated in political independence for the thirteen British mainland colonies and the far less successful campaign waged for human freedom. Alan Gilbert’s contribution is to demonstrate how the second revolution could have sustained and even hastened the first. Given the large number of Africans and African Americans in the colonies, together with a sizeable percentage of whites who remained loyal to Britain, the November 1775 decision by General George Washington and the Continental Congress to cease the enlistment of slaves temporarily handed the military advantage to the Crown.

Washington quickly came to see the folly of his decision, but the American refusal to adopt more dramatic proposals for black enlistment, such as that advanced by South Carolina’s John Laurens, led most black combatants to regard the British as the more dedicated to the cause of social equality. This saga has been told before, and specialists will be familiar with many of the stories recounted here, from that of Lord Dunmore’s regiment to Sir Guy Carleton’s principled refusal to return those soldiers and their families who took refuge within his lines. But armed with new research, Gilbert tells his sprawling story with grace and clarity as he follows his veterans onto the rocky shores of Nova Scotia and the rainy coast of Sierra Leone. As the white patriots they left behind crafted a Constitution that protected slavery and allowed for the importation of more captured Africans, the black refugees struggled to advance the cause of democracy and freedom in each place they settled. Although Gilbert’s wide-ranging account generally abandons the early Republic with the black emigrants, he gives the final word to one of Gabriel’s men, who during his trial compared himself to Washington and insisted that he too had risked his life for liberty.

An elegant and passionate writer, Gilbert pulls no punches, and not surprisingly a number of white founders attract his censure. Jefferson’s enmity toward the rebels in Saint-Domingue is here chronicled, as is James Madison’s curious theory that arming blacks would not cripple slavery on the grounds that “a freedman immediately loses all attachment and sympathy with his former fellow-slaves” (172). Gilbert also carries on a polite but firm debate with other scholars in his discursive notes—usually Simon Schama but often Cassandra Pybus— which, unfortunately, are buried at the end of the volume.


Gilbert suggests that most accounts “dramatically understate the number of blacks on the American side,” which is usually placed around five thousand (105). Incomplete muster rolls and pay records, Gilbert concedes, make precision on this point difficult; some scholars simply identify soldiers as blacks if their surnames hint at their race. There is also the question of how to count enslaved manservants. Gilbert writes that William Lee “fought alongside” his master, George Washington, yet Lee’s only brush with death was due to an errant cannonball (108). Yet another of Washington’s slaves, the African renamed Harry Washington, fled with the British only to find himself battling autocratic imperial officials in Sierra Leone. Both men would have agreed with Gilbert that their second, unfinished revolution became part of an international struggle “devoted to incipient stirrings of democracy around the world” (207).

Le Moyne College Douglas R. Egerton