Learn to Speak Wolof @ Morehouse

Dear friends,

Are you interested in learning to speak an African language in a short period of time? Consider Morehouse College’s Wolof Summer Intensive Course, Elementary Wolof I (HMFL 101) from July 1 to July 15. This course will be taught Monday through Friday from 9:00 to 12:00 noon and from 2:00 to 4:00 pm. The professor who will be teaching this course is Dr. Mamarame Seck who is currently a professor of Wolof at Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar, Senegal. Dr. Seck has a Ph.D., in linguistics from the University of Florida and has taught at the University of North Carolina and Duke University. We are very fortunate to be able to have someone to teach the course with his qualifications. The course will offer three hours of credit and will meet the requirements of a full semester of the Wolof Language Program. In addition, Morehouse will be offering both Wolof 101 and Wolof 102 in the 2016/2017 academic year.

The tuition for the course will be $3,039.00. In order to audit the course the student will only have to pay $543 dollars for tuition and $54 dollars for an application fee. Please spread the word to all students who might be interested in learning the African language and participating in the spring term in our innovative African Diasporas Study Abroad Program.

If you know of anyone (college-aged or adults) who would like to take the course, please refer them to this link: http://www.morehouse.edu/recordsregistration/contact.html.

Jai-ruh Jef, Thank you,

Samuel T. Livingston, Ph.D. | MOREHOUSE COLLEGE | Director and Associate Professor
African American Studies Program | 830 Westview Drive, SW | Atlanta, Georgia 30314
samuel.livingston@morehouse.edu | (404)215-2750 | http://www.morehouse.edu

Julius E. Coles│ MOREHOUSE COLLEGE│ Director Andrew Young Center for Global Leadership│830 Westview Drive, S.W.│Atlanta, GA 30314
404.614.6040 (p) Julius.coles@morehouse.edu│www.morehouse.edu

Mansa Bilal Mark King, Ph.D. (Formerly – Mark A. King) | Associate Professor | Sociology Dept. | 209 Wheeler Hall 830 Westview Dr, SW | Morehouse College | Atlanta, GA 30314 (o) 404-681-2800 ext 2780

Roots of Resistance: Two Accounts of Africanity in Diaspora

S. T. Livingston, Ph.D.

“…Douglass returned to the Covey farm early on the Sunday, buoyed gingerly by the promise of Sandy’s (R)oot Magic.”[1]

Histories of African identity and resistance are numerous and wrought with varying interpretations of the meaning and nature of that identity in Diaspora. This is a brief post sharing thoughts on a disparate pair of them: Randy J. Sparks’ Africans in the Old South: Mapping Exceptional Lives across the Atlantic World. (Harvard, 2016) and Nicholas Johnson’s Negroes and the Gun: The Black Tradition of Arms. (Prometheus, 2014). While imageJohnson’s work is clearly not, directly, about African diasporic identity, this yeoman’s text clarifies much about the roots and workings of African identity in North America and what measures were taken by those blessed with the mantle of Blackness to defend their persons and personhood. Johnson’s populist historiography and Sparks’ emphasis on exceptionalism proffers the idea that the too-seldom discussed life-narratives of those figures like Jarena Lee, Mariah Stewart, Hosea Easton, Moses Dickson and the under-acknowledged, Ida B. Wells-Barnett hold profound truths about the origins and functionality of Africanity as an identity that affirmed and defended Blackness as phenotype, and as forms of historical and cultural agency. We can see into Johnson’s chronotrope of the gun, the intelligence and consciousness that determined to defend its integrity at all costs against the worst provisions of America’s racist social contract. And in telling the story of Negroes and the Gun, we learn much more about the esteem in which Africanity was held than about martial fascination.

Sparks’ Africans in the Old South is of interest as it pushes past perceived generalizations on either side of the African-centered and Black Atlantic family feud on African identity. As he notes, surely, Ira Berlin’s “Charter generations” concept deserves round excoriation for imag0539_1.jpgits mestizaje ethnocentrism and sheer willingness to ignore sources on Black African agency and its role in forming the African diaspora.[2] Sparks criticizes Berlin’s racial generalization used to promulgate a creole-centered concept, but does not see the diminution of African agency, (if not outright ‘attack’ on it in Stuckey’s eyes), as a major problem in his pursuit of establishing individual life narratives and individualist biographies of his Atlantic Creole Africans. In Sparks’ usage, “African” bears little to no epistemological power to denote cultural identity, it merely indicates “individuals born anywhere on that continent, not as a cultural identifier.”[3] For Africana Studies scholars, this aspect of the book’s framework deserves critical review. As Stuckey noted of Berlin’s Generations in Captivity: A History of African American Slaves,

Berlin takes a concept originally meant for linguistic purposes, creolization, and applies it to culture as a whole. It is not only the stretching of the term beyond its original limits that concerns us, but the degrading stain that it carries… creolization has been “extended to animals, things, and processes: ‘sugar cane, rats, styles of cooking, among other things.” The inclusion of the term “rats” does not greatly disturb Berlin, who makes creolization a theoretical foundation of his book, conceding merely that “the term is thus mined with difficulties…”[4]

Despite the book’s title, Sparks is not overtly committed to the goal of ensuring African agency, pursuing instead an ambiguous ‘reframing’ of African identity through biographical takes on individual life narratives. For example, the author notes that one of the protagonists, Robert Johnson, an enslaved Kissi man who was sold into Georgia and moved to Rhode island with his master would later join the African Baptist church in Boston after manumission upon his master’s death. While Sparks acknowledges that some “Historians have seen these institutions (e.g., churches), and their use of the term “African” in their titles, as evidence of an emerging African corporate identity,” he does not say that he counts himself in that group. This claim should not be a difficult task given,

“Johnson’s position as an officer in that church is important evidence of his conversion to Christianity and his own identification with an “African” identity that was more inclusive than his ethnic identity as a Kissi native.”[5]

Through his use of primary sourcing, while disavowing any direct claim of an African-centered perspective, his individualist framework for telling the stories of the enslaved Africans—Robert Johnson, Dimmock Charlton—and biracial imag0538_1.jpgenslavers—Elizabeth Cleveland Hardcastle, her niece, Catherine Cleveland, John Holman and the Holman slave trading family—brings these figures’ lives into sharp relief, while achieving his aim of a more seamless integration of individual life narratives in dialog with context. Africans in the Old South is a worthwhile read as it contributes to agency-oriented historiographies of the African diaspora and models the rising importance of cultural and historical cartography in Africana Studies and the digital humanities. One only wishes that a scholar modeling African-agency in his research would not feel the need to disavow African-centeredness as a proper intellectual value in the pursuit of telling these too-seldom told life stories.


[1] Nicholas Johnson’s Negroes and the Gun: The Black Tradition of Arms. (Prometheus, 2014),

[2] A thorough critique of Berlin’s “Charter Generations is P. Sterling Stuckey’s “Reflections on the Scholarship of African Origins and Influence in American Slavery,” The Journal of African American History, Vol. 91, No. 4 P. Sterling Stuckey: In Praise of an Intellectual Legacy (Autumn 2006), pp. 425-443. (Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20064125).

[3] Randy J. Sparks’ Africans in the Old South: Mapping Exceptional Lives across the Atlantic World. (Harvard, 2016), p. 8.

[4] Stuckey, “Reflections,” p. 428.

[5] Sparks’ Africans in the Old South, p. 94.

New Study Abroad Exploring the Mouride Diaspora

Calling all students of Africana cultures:

Please consider the wonderful opportunity afforded by our brand new, New African Diasporas study abroad program. Morehouse College has collaborated with World Learning’s School for International Training (SIT) to develop an innovative study abroad program that will facilitate student exploration of the culture, history, religion, and business and social networks of the Mourides, a progressive Muslim movement founded by the revered Cheikh Amadou Bamba in 1883. Bamba’s brotherhood was the first nonviolent anti-colonial liberation movement in the modern era predating Mahatma Gandhi’s movement by at least a generation. The Mourides are a positive presence in cities in Africa, Europe, Asia and the Americas.

Under the leadership of Dr. Mansa Bilal King, 15-20 Morehouse students will be joined by a similar number of peers from other HBCUs and Traditionally White institutions for a 14-week semester abroad traveling to Senegal, Italy, China and New York City.

Dr. Mansa Bilal King (kneeling) with members of the Hizbut-Tarqiyya, Souleye Diallo (2nd from Left) and Laurie Black (SIT)

Students will travel to sites within each country while pursuing a 16 hour, 4 course load including the following:

  • Africana Muslims (African American Studies and Sociology)
  • Migration and Entrepreneurship (African American Studies and Business)
  • New African Diasporas: Frameworks and Fieldwork (African American Studies and Sociology)
  • Introductory Wolof I and II (AAS and Modern Foreign Languages)

For African American Studies majors and minors, all courses will count toward graduation requirements within the existing curriculum guidelines. All minors should see your major academic advisor for advice on counting these courses.

Dr. Cheikh Anta Diop, Mouride. (MLK, Jr. International Chapel, Morehouse College)


Morehouse College’s and World learning’s purpose in the New African Diasporas Program is to increase the percentage of students participating in study abroad from historically underrepresented demographic groups. In this case, African American males are the primary group addressed. All HBCU students are the next priority. The costs (roughly the cost of Morehouse tuition) and other details are available here: http://studyabroad.sit.edu/sn/programs/semester/spring-2017/adp/.  Further information on how students may fund the program is available here: http://goo.gl/qSJnRB 

Please feel free to contact me, Dr. King or Director Coles about this wonderful program. 

Samuel T. Livingston, Ph.D │ MOREHOUSE COLLEGE Director | African American Studies Program830 Westview Drive, S.W.Atlanta, GA 30314 | 404.215.2750 (p) | samuel.livingston@morehouse.eduhttp://www.morehouse.edu

Mansa Bilal Mark King, Ph.D│ MOREHOUSE COLLEGE Associate Professor | Department of Sociology830 Westview Drive, S.W.Atlanta, GA 30314 | 404.681.2800, ext. 2780| mansa.king@morehouse.eduhttp://www.morehouse.edu 

Julius E. Coles MOREHOUSE COLLEGE Director | Andrew Young Center for Global Leadership830 Westview Drive, S.W.Atlanta, GA 30314 | 404.614.6040 (p) | Julius.coles@morehouse.eduhttp://www.morehouse.edu 


Parker’s Birth of a Nation forces Nation’s Attention to lesser known Historical Figures


Nate Parker’s powerful new film, Birth of a Nation

Answering the Call of Freedom: Moses Dickson and the Knights of Liberty Confront Slavery

S. T. Livingston, Ph.D.

In the heat of March, 1848, leading up to the Decade of crisis, a Black barber stood bent over the slumped person of a White slave owner reclining in his barber’s chair. Despite the extremely sharp straight-razor in the Black man’s right hand, the plantation owner continued his conversation with a colleague on the latest article in De Bows Review, a periodical dedicated to best practices and methods of slavery. The merits of phrenology of the enslaved at birth was the topic during this shave. Moses Dickson, now a master barber aboard the river steamboat, the Oronoco, leaned over the ‘gentleman farmer’s exposed neck stoically giving no indication that the conversation was taking place. His apprentice-ship under Mr. William Darnes early on taught him two priceless lessons: restraint and the lesson of what we may call ‘operative invisibility’—the ability to function in the presence of ‘mixed company’ while giving no indication of your perceptive presence. Distinct from the humor and poignancy that Samuel Clemmons and others would find on these riverboats, Moses Dickson, like many of the majority Black crew members saw the bloodstained markings of the Domestic Slave trade. They observed, suppressed their rage, but conspired to liberate of their people.

For over four years now, Dickson gave no indication of his plan, similar to that of John Brown to free his people and end slavery by any means necessary. According to his Manual of the Knights and Daughters of Tabor, his three years of travel took him throughout the South changed his life permanently, and committed him to the cause of Black freedom:

(He) witnessed such scenes of monstrous cruelty as caused his African blood to boil with suppressed indignation at the sight of the outrageous suffering of his people.  What he saw in these three years made a lasting impression on his heart, and he became a life-foe to the slave-owner, the slave-driver and the slave-trader.[1]

The year 1856 was a critical turning point in African American and American history. The nation was moving headlong toward division, torn by discord over the morality, ethics, politics and economics of Slavery—a profitable enterprise for White America, Peculiar Institution to some, the Evil Institution to others. Abolitionists of varied creeds and colors stepped up to oppose slavery. Among other events including the first attempted run of the largely abolitionist Republican party, the outbreak of Bleeding Kansas skirmishes over slavery and continuation of the final Seminole War (1855-58), which involved rebel Creeks and Gullah and Geechee runaways from the plantations of Georgia and South Carolina. Moses Dickson is one of the lesser known abolitionists and one whose story presents him, at once, as one of the most militant, ethical and pragmatic leaders in antebellum African American history.

Dickson was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on April 5, 1824 into a migrant family that had escaped slavery in Virginia.[2] His life in that city mirrored the growth of the Black population there. As White Cincinnatians grew wary of the growing Black population—200 in 1820, but by 1829 2,258 people of color—they managed that growth through legal and social proscriptions and mob violence. By 1830, between 1,100 to 2000 Black people were forced to emigrate under punishment of imprisonment, which would likely mean (re)enslavement in nearby Kentucky, Tennessee, or worse: being sold down the river to enslavement in the rice swamps of South Carolina, Georgia or the Gulf coast states. Young Moses’ parents Robert and Hannah Dickson, are not listed as residents of Hamilton County, Ohio in the census of 1830. This omission speaks volumes the invisible or underground Black community in Cincinnati. His family was a part of this browbeaten underground community, which may have contributed to his committed and militant response to racist oppression. When he was eight years old, his father died; six years later, in 1838 his mother also died.[3]

The premature death of Dickson’s parents is wholly consistent with the poor living conditions for Blacks in Ohio. While their condition must have been better than their enslaved brethren, it was by no means easy. Two years after Dickson’s birth, Whites formed a local chapter of the American Colonization Society, the “Cincinnati Colonization Society with 120 members, including many prominent citizens.”[4] The ACS was committed to emigration of freed Black people back to Africa. While they had notable Black supporters, most Blacks did not choose to leave the land of their birth. In 1829, the Ohio legislature banned Blacks from attending its common schools and in 1838, it banned funding of Black education.[5] In 1829 and in 1836, Dickson’s family witnessed serious attacks on the Black community. In the future abolitionist’s twelfth year, a race riot began in Cincinnati as a direct attack on the abolitionist newspaper, The Philanthropist, and its White editor, James G. Birney. After destroying Birney’s press, the mob spilled its destructive energies over into an African community called ‘Church Alley.’ Blacks drove the White mob back by firing small-arms into the crowd. After the mob abated, it regrouped and launched a second attack and the Black residents had to abandon their houses and leave the area. The mob destroyed the contents of the homes.[6]

In 1840, he left the city at the age of sixteen to ply the profitable barbering trade on steamboats throughout the south. Similar to David Walker and other militant abolitionists of his era, Dickson saw martial action as the most effective means of ending slavery. He decided to organize in the interests of his race by calling on eleven cohorts whom he met in the course of his travels throughout the south—John Patton and Henry Wright from South Carolina; James Bedford and Silus W. Green from Mississippi; Irvin Hodges of Alabama; Peter Coleman and Willis Owens from Virginia; James Orr, Louisiana; Miles Graves of North Carolina; Henry Simpson from Georgia; and Lewis Williams from Tennessee.[7] These men gathered in St. Louis, Missouri on August 12, 1846 at Seventh and Greene Street not far from the Mississippi river. We do not have the details of much of this history, but according to Dickson, the rebellion was planned for either December 25, 1856 or July, 1857.[8] By 1856, ostensibly, his twelve cabalists had organized “47,000 Knights of Liberty, for the purpose of aiding in breaking the bonds of our slavery…”[9] He continues, we expected to arrive at Atlanta with at least 150,000 well-armed men.”[10] Interestingly, Dickson cancelled the rebellion in 1856 for unknown reasons, but most likely, the Bleeding Kansas episode and the steady reversals in the Third Seminole War, both of which heightened the militancy of the South. While we may never know why, we do know that his contributions helped to speed the end of the Evil institution.

MDicksonPossibly inspired by others who resisted slavery, like abolitionists, David Walker, Frederick Douglass, and John Brown and rebels like Denmark Vesey, Nat Turner, and the Seminole leader, Osceola, Dickson planned only one of the 313 slave rebellions in Black history. He and Brown planned to incite mass slave rebellions that would settle almost three centuries of debate over the right or wrong of the institution. To put it mildly, the extent of extreme measures to end slavery has been downplayed by conventional American history writing. But most notable in this year is the story of Moses Dickson and the Knights of Liberty. Dickson and his followers claimed to be at the center of the Slave Insurrection Scare of 1856-57; a claim consistent with the historical record, but unaccepted in general American historiography of the antebellum South. The documented existence of enslaved African resistance on plantations combined with guerrilla warriors based in maroon communities, (Seminole War and otherwise), demonstrates Black commitment to liberty and agency during this darkest hour of American history. Dickson’s narrative also adds to the history of principled leaders who answered the call for freedom.

[1] Dickson, Manual, 9-10.

[2] See Randall Burkett, et al. (ed.) Black Biography, 1790-1950: A Cumulative Index 2 vols., (Alexandria: Chadwyck-Healey, 1991), I: 353; J. J. Pipkin, The Story of a Rising Race: The Negro in Revelation, in History and in Citizenship (Baltimore: Thompson Publishing Company, 1902), 480; Dickson, Manual , 9. Patrick O’Connor, Assistant Marshal of St. Louis County, (Census Record of 1860, Schedule 1 – Free Inhabitants in the Third Ward of St. Louis City, MO, July 3, 1860, p. 182).

[3] Dickson, Manual, 9.

[4] Richard C. Wade, “The Negro in Cincinnati, 1800-1830.” J. of Negro History 34 (January 1954), 49.

[5] On the marginalization of Blacks in the North see C. G. Woodson, Free Negro Heads of Families in the United States in 1830; together with a brief treatment of the free Negro. (Washington, DC: The Association for the Study of Negro Life & History, 1925), liii; R. C. Wade, “The Negro in Cincinnati, 1800-1830.” J. of Negro History 34 (January 1954), 47; C. G. Woodson, “Negroes of Cincinnati Prior to the Civil War,” J. of Negro History 1, (1916), 2, 3.

[6] Woodson, “Negroes of Cincinnati,” 8-9.

[7] Dickson, Manual, 11.

[8]Dickson, Manual (1922), p.11. Interestingly, Charles Dew, “Black Ironworkers and the Slave Insurrection Panic of 1856,” Journal of Southern History 41 (August 1975), 322, footnote 2 and Caleb P. Patterson in The Negro in Tennessee, 1790-1865. (New York: Negro Universities Press), 49-50 support Dickson’s dating of a general insurrection to December 25, 1856 or July, 1857.

[9] Dickson, Manual, 16.

[10] ibid, Manual, 19.

BALC21: Voices of Freedom from the African Great Lakes

Amazing Rwandan Students from Morehouse, Spelman, Clark Atlanta, and Agnes Scott hosted #Kwibuka2016 on the 22nd observance of the Rwandan Genocide, Spelman College.

There are weeks that test the limits of your patience and then there are weeks like this past one that renew your commitment to life and the discipline of Africana Studies! Last week, Morehouse College’s Dr. Belinda Johnson-White, (Director of the Business Management Program) and yours truly (Director of African American Studies), hosted a Symposium on the African Great Lakes entitled, “Building Africana Leadership Capacity for the Twenty-first Century” (BALC21) bring together faculty, activists and students committed to researching exploring, establishing Rodneyite Groundings with our people in the African Lakes nations. Except for Ms. Fatu Suah of Columbia, SC, our participants were based in the Atlanta Region and hailed from the United States and three African nations. Our participants included Ida Rousseau-Mukenge, Ph.D. (Chair, Sociology Department), Cynthia Hewitt, Ph.D. (Associate Professor, Sociology, AAS Affiliate), Claude Gatabuke and Kambali Musavuli, respectively, of the African Great Lakes Action Network and Friends of the Congo, Justin Kakeu-Kahegne, Ph.D., AssistantBALC21 Schedule Professor, Economics, Gregory Barber, Psychology Major, African American Studies, Minor, and Juana Mendenhall, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Chemistry. Unfortunately, Sister Fatu Suah was not able to attend. Those who were able to attend were treated to carefully researched and well-thought out positions on problems facing the African Great Lakes. (See BALC21 Schedule)

A major highlight of the symposium was reconnecting with and bringing to the Atlanta University Center, Dr. Kennedy Kihangi Bindu, founding Director of the Center for Research on Democracy and Development in Africa, Deputy Vice Chancellor in charge of Administration and Professor, School of Law at the Université Libre des Pays des Grands Lacs (ULPGL). We, five Morehouse College faculty and staff, originally met this intelligent young man in March of 2014 on a fact-finding trip to North Kivu, DRC. Dr. White and I were interested in learning of Civil Society agency and resilience evident in the North Kivu region, which had suffered greatly during the 1996 and 1998 African Great Wars and the re-invasion of DRC by Rwanda in 2011. Goma, sitting on the north shore of beautiful Lake Kivu and near the border with Rwanda was the crossroads of the Interahamwe genocidairesrebel armies, Rwandan regular forces, and refugees from both nations. Among the AGL community members, we found in Dr. Bindu, a man committed to healing the scars of warfare through careful research and engagement with communities from both urban and rural settings. It was my honor to host Kennedy on his arrival after a nearly 24-hour journey from Goma to Kigali to Amsterdam and then to Atlanta. After greeting and picking him up at the airport, a brief conversation and repast at our East Point home, we joined Mr. Julius Coles for dinner at the historic Paschal’s restaurant. The next day’s visit to the Center for Civil and Human Rights marked a weekend’s crash-course for Kennedy in African American Civil Rights movement history.

We took the opportunity to discuss African American Civil Rights history held at times in tension and compared with South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle and nascent struggles in Congo, Burundi, Senegal and Burkina Faso among others. Kennedy was impressed and moved by the way this history lives in Atlanta.

On Tuesday, April 11th, the core of Dr. Bindu’s BALC21 presentation, entitled, “Understanding African Great Lakes Region Leadership and Governance challenges: Drawing lessons from the Democratic Republic of the Congo” was to get at the core task of

“distinguish(ing) between the leaders and intellectuals of the independence era and those that have emerged during the twenty-first century in terms of leadership, partnerships, diplomacy, intellectualism, management of public affairs, political systems, human rights and respect for fundamental freedoms.”

What was truly impressive about all of the panels was both the organic relationship between each presenter and their research, but also their commitment to establishing groundings with the people of the region. For example, African American studies minor and Psychology major, Greg Barber, benefiting from the mentorship of Dr. Tina Davis and a fellowship with the School for International Training spent a semester in Rwandgregory-barber-RWR-2015SFA-alumphotoa where he undertook qualitative research on “Positive Grief Coping Strategies among Tutsi Orphans of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide.” Drawing from the thrust of his talk, all of the presenters were getting at the question, How (will) We Heal Ourselves?

The healing process continued two days after the Tuesday symposium, when Rwandan students from the Atlanta University Center and Agnes Scott College organized a Kwibuka ceremony commemorating the 22nd anniversary of the Rwandan genocide.  The scars of the 1994 trauma score the African Great Lakes region and the consciences of Africans and people across the planet. Two years later, the deaths of a million Rwandans


Morehouse college student, of Rwanda and Dr. Kennedy Kihangi Bindu, DRC.


set the conditions for the African Great Wars in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which by 2008 claimed at least 5 and a half million lives. The region’s death toll of nearly 7 million Africans in acts of fratricidal violence made incumbent that the healing process take place, at least in part, on the campus of Morehouse College, home of Howard Thurman, Benjamin Elijah Mays and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Our charge, we felt emanated from those paragons of peace and the heart of Patrice Emery Lumumba, First Prime Minister of independent Congo-Kinshasa:

“It is through these person-to-person contacts, through meetings of this sort, that African leaders can get to know each other and draw closer together in order to create that union that is indispensable for the consolidation of African unity.”2

For one week, Morehouse College brought together Congolese professors and Rwandan students hearing each others’ voices, stories and, hopefully, truly seeing each other as self.



Close Ranks, Again: Robert Gates, Political Expediency and the Subversion of Memory and Resistance


 Sunday May 21, 2013, President Barack Hussein Obama made history at Morehouse College in Atlanta delivering a memorable if contentious commencement address. He was the second person from his administration to speak to the graduates of the all-male Historically Black College. Three years earlier, Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates addressed the college’s graduates. Below is a brief reflection on the meaning of Gates’ address relative to the progressive tradition at HBCUs and among African Americans.


“A rebel in your thoughts, ain’t gon make it halt

If you don’t become an actor you’ll never be a factor”

                                                                        –Lupe Fiasco, “Words I Never Said”[1]


Graduation is always a time of reflection and for people of conscience, people of memory, we have much to consider at the end of an academic year: achievements, setbacks, and possible corrections in our collective and personal courses. I participated in the graduation rites of Morehouse College at the end of Spring 2010 and was most struck by the contrast in speakers for the Baccalaureate and the Commencement ceremonies. At Baccalaureate, Rev. Charles E. Booth, Pastor of Mt. Olivet Baptist, Columbus Ohio spoke of the need of our students to return to our home communities, our “Jerusalem,” to redeem the Hood. The Good Reverend even declared that “the hood shall rise again.” On the other hand, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, like many other conservative politicians past, used Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a trope for overcoming mediocrity. Gates, in an unadvised obfuscating turn, compared himself with King, that other “mediocre” student. As mediocre beings like him could rise to serve, then every Morehouse Man should recommit himself to serving the wider world. The honored presence of Mr. Gates at Morehouse’s graduation forces the person of conscience and the student of history to pause and reflect on the ethics of honoring a man who has been central to the development of what Dr. Noam Chomsky MIT Institute Professor of Linguistics (Emeritus)  deems the American Rogue State and undermining Black and other oppressed communities. The historical record is not kind to Mr. Gates, yet Morehouse’s administration and faculty consented to honoring him.

The 2010 Baccalaureate and Commencement indicated the askew relationship between principled Black leadership and political expedience. Rev. Booth spoke out of a commitment born of decades of service to the African American community, while Robert Gates’ record deserves some review. Given the CIA’s history of deception, anti-democratic efforts toward Africa and aggressively serving as a drum-major for injustice, the student of history will question the choice to confer an honorary doctorate on Secretary of Defense Gates.

Like a true spook, Gates’ history is hidden in plain daylight. He served as Head of the Directorate of Intelligence from 1982 to 1986 and Acting Directorate of Central Intelligence during William Casey’s failing health and hospitalization, late 1986 to early 1987.[2]  Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair, relate a history of deception, misdirection and outright lies by the CIA to further America’s conservative imperial interests. Gates figures prominently:

Bush’s choice to head the Agency was Casey’s deputy Robert Gates, who barely survived a contentious confirmation hearing after senators were told by Iran/Contra prosecutor Lawrence Walsh’s investigators that Gates probably lied to Congress about his knowledge of the Iran/Contra arms deals. Gates stood by as CIA-trained thugs overthrew the government of Haitian president Jean Baptiste Aristide and replaced him with a gang of military officers headed by Gen. Raoul Cedras. Gates’ CIA called Cedras one of the most promising “Haitian leaders to emerge since the Duvalier family dictatorship was overthrown in 1986.” Cedras and his colleagues proceeded to slaughter their political enemies and make millions from the drug trade.”[3] Surely, this was not just a failure of judgment. Gates knew Cedras was a thug yet helped his advance, and when he had to leave Haiti, hid the General in American northeastern cities where he enjoyed nightclubbing and the good life.

Concerning his reaction to the revelation that Oliver North facilitated, aided and abetted the sale of drugs in African American communities including Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego to raise funds for the blood-soaked Nicaraguan Contras Gates’ response was dubious.  He said, “North should have turned over his information to the DEA.”[4] and that

he would have expected that North, on coming across evidence of drug running by the Contras, would immediately go ballistic and pass on the evidence to Von Robb or the DEA.[5]

Cockburn and St. Claire continue,

But as a senior CIA officer, Gates had headed a 1988 investigation into charges of Contra drug running in the wake of the Kerry hearings. Back then he had as much information on the Contras and their contractors as North did. So did Von Robb. But neither said anything at the time.[6]

Most likely, our honored SecDef secretly agreed with perjury-indicted Elliot Abrams, who owned up to the position that “legally speaking that [drug running by Contras and their suppliers] was none of [the US Government’s] business.”[7]

More concerning is Gates’ stint as deputy to CIA Director, William Casey, who countermanded President Reagan’s 1981 Executive Order banning any “person employed by or acting on behalf of the U.S. government (from engaging in or conspiring) to engage in, assassinations.”[8] Gates assisted in preparations to eliminate a number of America’s enemies,

Likewise, Casey and his underlings were superintending the production of an assassination manual for the Nicaraguan Contras called Psychological Operations in Guerilla Warfare…, which reads like an update of the (Vietnam era) Phoenix Program, (and) called for the use of violence “to neutralize carefully selected and planned targets such as court judges, police and state security officials, etc.[9]

The CIA manual was not theoretical. The Casey-Gates CIA set their sights on “eliminating” democratically elected left-leaning leaders of Suriname, Nicaragua, Lebanon, and Libya. Disfavoring military action, in 1986, Gates developed a military overthrow option for Libya’s Muammar Qadaffi, but his mentor, Casey had the last word and dropped 72,000 pounds of laser-guided “smart-bombs” missing the dictator, but killing 80 civilians including the dictator’s daughter.

Casey’s health related departure created an opening for Reagan’s nomination of  Gates to the CIA chief position. However, Gates was sullied by his implication in the Iran-Contra Affair, which scuttled his nomination, sullied Reagan’s admini-stration and nearly led to the addled president’s impeachment.[10] Gates’ record was blemished by implications of his proximity to too much dirt and his reticence to be a drum major for justice. Reflecting on his failed leadership he said,

I would go over those points in my mind a thousand times in the months and years to come, but the criticisms still hit home. A thousand times I would go over the “might-have-beens” if I had raised more hell than I did with Casey about  non-notification of Congress, if I had demanded the NSC get out of covert action, if I had insisted that CIA not play by NSC rules, if I had been more aggressive with the DO in my first months as DDCI, if I had gone to the Attorney General…[11]

Ultimately, these ruminations about right action went unvoiced. Unlike King, Gates failed to listen to his Socratic semeion, his own voice of moral direction. In this episode and his professional life, he parts ways with the drum major for justice who paid the ultimate cost for his integrity.

The Morehouse – Gates situation speaks to the array of choices confronting Black scholars and is not unlike the buildup to America’s entry into the First World War. President Woodrow Wilson’s declaration of war on Germany in April of 1917 shattered America’s isolationism. In order to manufacture popular consent for this war, Wilson undertook a propaganda campaign through the newly formed Committee on Public Information (CPI) to bring about “the conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses.”[12] Wilson tapped Edward Bernays to head the CPI to ‘engineer the consent’ of the masses toward support of the war. Bernays, viewed a rising tide of opposition to American involvement in Europe. A nativist and isolationist mob, a progressive education movement, the Women’s Club movements, the Universal Negro Improvement Association and the New Negro movement, along with the rising historical agency of working people evident in the International Workers of the World all were troublesome to elite rule. Bernays gave voice to patrician values, framing Blacks as a part of a wider problem of class struggle,

with universal suffrage and universal schooling…at last even the bourgeoisie stood in fear of the commonpeople. For the masses promised to become king.[13]

Like the Bush – Obama administration’s War on Terror, the first World War polarized progressive Blacks.  W.E.B. Du Bois, the pragmatist, seeking a military intelligence position that could propel his leadership of Africans in America, consented to raise his pen in support of Wilson’s manufacture of consent among Blacks, many of whom on anti-racist principles opposed the president. In July of 1918, he wrote his infamous “Close Ranks” editorial in The Crisis, calling on Black people to put aside the racial cause while the war effort was underway. His position was that,

We of the colored race have no ordinary interest in the outcome. That which German power represents today spells death to the aspirations of Negroes and all darker races for equality, freedom and democracy… Let us, while this war lasts, forget our special grievances and close our ranks shoulder to shoulder with our own white fellow citizens and the allied nations fighting for democracy.[14]

Du Bois’ position was ostensibly principled yet, historically hypocritical. A decade earlier, he sought German colonies for a settlement of African American elites in German-held West Africa suggesting that he, at that time, placed narrow nationalist and Black elitist priorities ahead of speaking against the Germans in their slaughter of Africans. He had advocated working with Germany in 1907 seeking colonies for Black upper middle class people in their African colonial territories. All of this while remaining virtually silent on General von Trotha’s vernichtungsbefehl order to massacre the Herero, Nama and Maji Maji people from 1904-06, part of a “Final Solution” to the problem of African resistance.[15]

Just as Black leaders William Monroe Trotter, A. Philip Randolph, Hubert Henry Harrison and Marcus Garvey criticized Du Bois for the Close Ranks appeal, we must rise in opposition on the modern-day Close Ranks drive. The trouble is that there is no one voice calling for Closing Ranks, but instead pressure is being applied from the office of the White House as it courts the favor of Black leadership. Black leadership, and the Morehouse community have moved to the cross-hairs of the modern attempt to manufacture the consent of African and other people of color against stereotypical Muslim terrorists. This is a call that we cannot heed.

We cannot honor Gates and accept his life as an example of the rise from mediocrity ‘just like King’. Nor should Gates retain the honor given him on that mid-May morning. Too many other drum majors offer examples of the willingness to struggle for a better society without being deterred by the possibility of personal loss. While most aspects of the past cannot be relived, the misstep made by Morehouse College in granting an imperial bureaucrat an honorary doctorate can be undone. While this step, which would dissent against empire, will not likely be taken, we owe the memory of past drum majors for justice that we at least reconsider that award.


East Point, Georgia



Noam Chomsky, Chomsky on Miseducation. Lanham: Rowman Littlefield, 2000.

Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair, Whiteout: The C.I.A., Drugs and the Press.

London: Verso, 1998.

David Levering Lewis, W.E.B. Du Bois: A Reader. Henry Holt, 1993.

Pakenham, The Scramble for Africa. New York: Harper Collins, 1991.

John Prados, Safe for Democracy: The Secret Wars of the CIA. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee,



[1] Lupe Fiasco, “Words I Never Said” Lasers. (2011).

[2] J. Prados, Safe for Democracy: The Secret Wars of the CIA. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2006, 479.

[3] Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair, 109.

[4] Cockburn and St. Claire, 280.

[5] Cockburn and St. Claire, 280.

[6] ibid, 280.

[7] ibid., 280.

[8] Ibid., 107.

[9] Cockburn and St. Claire, 107.

[10] Prados, 574.

[11] ibid., 573.

[12] Noam Chomsky, Chomsky on Miseducation.

[13] Noam Chomsky, Chomsky on Miseducation, 137.

[14] Lewis, W.E.B. Du Bois: A Reader, 697.

[15] Pakenham, The Scramble for Africa, 607.