Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Can Ferguson Organizers Learn from the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Strike? #MLK #Ferguson

Reveals a lot about false perceptions about blackness, nonviolent protest, and militant protesters. Can Ferguson and so-called black leadership learn from this , one of the early instances of white perceptions complicating coalition and movement building.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Ex-Slaves & Black Community Builders in the "Freedom Colonies" of East Texas

5th generation Shankle/Coleman, descendant. 

Learn more  here:

I am on my way back to Shankleville, a settlement founded by ex-slaves, this weekend. This time to attend a "homecoming." Do you have a family homecoming in rural Texas? Please let me know. I'd
love to visit, and include your community in my dissertation. And by the way, not every settlement was a utopia, full of productive land, middle class, or chock full of fancy historic sites. That is fine.Those are the places and people I am most interested in researching, so contact me!

A little about homecomings which are both celebrations and cultural sustainability practice in Black rural Texas in this essay excerpt by  Mellonee Burnim, Guest Cultural Resource Commentator, Professor and Director, Ethnomusicology Institute, Department of
Folklore and Ethnomusicology, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN

"The tradition of homecomings held in African American churches dates back at least to the turn of the twentieth century. The ritual has both southern and rural roots and, according to the research of Yvonne Jones (1980), among blacks in Gorgus, North Carolina, the earliest of homecomings held in the church were familial rather than church-sponsored events. Documentation exists for a 1937 homecoming in Gorgus, North Carolina, held after the morning worship service at Greymore Chapel Church, so named as a tribute to the founding ancestors of the hamlet of 200 people, on the second Sunday of September. While the minister at this event was an invited “guest,” and the format was a business meeting rather than a religious ceremony, the ritual components of the gathering—out-of-town guests, intergenerational participation, designated guest speaker, special music, and dinner on the grounds—also define church-sponsored homecoming celebrations in both contemporary and historical contexts.
Whereas the Gorgus homecomings celebrated familial kinship within a specific locale, the tradition of African American church homecoming expands the ritual to include those who identify with a community of Christian believers. Ethnographic accounts of homecoming services across the South from North Carolina to Mississippi,* and from Texas to Alabama, uniformly define the homecoming as ecumenical, intergenerational, and communal. That is to say, participation from ministers and members of local churches, whether Primitive Baptist, Missionary Baptist or Methodist (the denominations to which the majority of Southern African American rural Christians belonged), was both welcomed and encouraged. Not every church had its own homecoming, but most definitely everyone, saved or sinner, could participate in the homecoming service of their choice."

And here's more  about another settlement, Mt. Union:

Friday, July 4, 2014

John Lewis: An Icon on the March #AspenInstitute

John Lewis is one of my favorite people on the planet. He is a wonderful, living demonstration of why memory and heritage is so powerful and integral to the future of all justice movements. His stories are incredible and everyone should hear them. I am so pleased to hear that this son of sharecroppers still has his family land.

 I've told my husband that I wanted to do a children's book on John Lewis. Someone beat me to it, but I am glad they did. The book he discusses in the video sounds really wonderful.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Why pride matters: Justice Thomas, Gullah culture, and shame # SCOTUS #Diaspora #Gullah

 I came across this very telling segment of an article by Simon Carswell on Gullah/Geechee culture and language featured in the Irish Times. (Why the Irish Times? Read the article. It will make sense.) The article provides powerful insights into the public ramifications of personal shame. In the case of Judge Thomas, his personal shame in his culture and language translated in what shaped his minimalist, conservative approach to serving on the bench. But what's really beneath it all? Is it really conservatism or is it shame?

In 2000, during a questions- and-answers session with high school students, the native of coastal Georgia in the US South East explained how he became accustomed to listening.
  Makes one think about how culture and self esteem have significant ripple effects that can touch us all. Can you imagine hating the sound of your own voice? In the case of Thomas, it influences SCOTUS decisions and his every word, or lack thereof.


Hear the interview about Gullah and history of the repression of the language below:


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Houston Streets Hold Ties to African Diaspora: Lenwood Johnson On Freedman's Town Endangered Bricks

It never ends....

more violations of sacred African America.. Here's some background from 2012 on gentrification in 4th Ward or Freedman's Town in Houston.

See more about the recent endangerment of the bricks here:
Freedmen's Town activists stand their ground over historic bricks

Friday, June 20, 2014

Dead Assets: Endangered Cemeteries, Sacred Spaces of African America

By Andrea Roberts* 

I spoke yesterday with Jeremy Nelloms, descendant of Nancy Bradshaw. Nancy Bradshaw was a former slave who attained an impressive 300 acres of land after emancipation located in today's northeast Houston, Texas.  The land is located a few blocks off I-10 East. Her family still owns the land, and the historic African American Morning Star Baptist Church nearby "owns" the Bradshaw family cemetery. Like so many family cemeteries, churches have been trusted to preserve or protect these sacred spaces. Jeremy explained that since so many in the family have passed on recently, and most of the descendant are middle aged women, the great great great grandchildren have been left to fight their way through high weeds and cut through brush in the hot Texas sun, to see the few remaining headstones that date back to the mid-1800s.

Thursday, a flood of media attention came to the Bradshaw family. First  by Dennis Spellman:

A cemetery dating back to the 1800s, with the bodies of slaves and African-Americans who fought in wars and were denied a proper burial, is being bulldozed by heavy equipment, and the family who owns the land says they don’t even know who is responsible.
And here's what made me call Dennis for Jeremy's contact information:

Jeremy Nelloms is heartbroken by what’s happened. “I don’t want to see my grandmother dug up out of the ground,” Nelloms said. “There’s no way. I’d die before I’d let that happen.”

And more coverage of the story was found here and here.

Many can't fathom such a possibility. Their grandmother being dug up or a developer pouring concrete over them. 

But this is much more common than you would imagine.

There are more than 50,000 cemeteries in Texas. Also consider, that there was a time when Texas had more than 500 Freedom Colonies or ex-slave settlements. Yes, 500. And every one of those communities had at least one cemetery if not more. Especially, if some were near plantations which had their own cemeteries as well. There were no perpetual care cemeteries and African American veterans of foreign wars weren't buried in official veteran's cemeteries until the Supreme Court Jones v. Mayer decision in 1968, which called for the desegregation of cemeteries which should have been covered under public accommodation statutes as far back as 1866. 

African American burial happened via church, mutual aid society, and family cemeteries. For more on mutual aid society burial see this blog post on a Houston area mutual aid society cemetery. As African Americans left family land in rural areas during various migrations, fleeing from white terrorism, seeking employment in the Great Depression, after WWII, and TXs oil booms and busts, cemeteries remained, unattended, forgotten or simply bulldozed. Here's another story in Crosby, Texas. And there are countless stories I have come across in my discussions with representatives from the Texas Historic Commission and other cemetery preservation advocates.

But when I spoke to Jeremy, I thought of what could be done immediately to address his real fears around his grandmother's grave site. There is justice for Jeremy, and then there is the collective justice needed for so many ancestors buried in cemeteries forgotten, abandoned, ignored. But it is important to note that this is not a matter of descendants not caring. More often than not, they are not sure what to do, how to do it, or how to pay for what needs to be done. That is where the collective justice for our ancestors and protection of these "dead" assets comes into play.

But first, justice for Jeremy. 

Let me offer you some of the information I offered Jeremy should you find yourself in a  similar situation. I also am happy to meet with you and your family or church to discuss more long term planning and strategies. Contact Me

Here are some important resources and tips if this is an immediate concern:

Now for collective or African American justice....this is a bigger project. 

Education is but one competent. Preserving these sacred spaces of African America  is about finances, communication, and estate planning. These are collective and personal choices we must make as families, communities, and diaspora. The ramifications are far reaching. If I see yet another "cemeteries are interesting and isn't this sad what happened to this Black cemetery" story I am going to scream! This is not a Metro or human interest story! This is about locating, honoring, and preserving social capital that can represent for many of us real capital if we are smart.

There's a lot more tied up in cemeteries than sentimentality, folk tales, or Halloween amusement. Cemeteries matter.

They are a tangible connection to other dead assets or capital, like land we don't know we own or towns we once controlled. Cemeteries and family land are only dead, because they stay in our minds and unshared memories. To the public, they are represented in County records, as dead or zombie plots of land awaiting capture by opportunistic developers. This is not a new issue. Such land takings were once more obvious and brutal.

For example, we know the story of Black Wall Street in Oklahoma and  Rosewood in Florida, but have you heard of Bull Run Community, Texas near jasper or Weeping Mary settlement. No. You haven't. There are so many towns in Texas destroyed by arson, the Klan, trickery, or outright terrorism from neighboring whites. Sometimes the cemetery is the last proof that your ancestors ever laid claim to the land in rural and suburban Texas. We have to realize what's really at stake when a cemetery is bulldozed, destroyed, or a master planned community is built atop these sacred grounds.

 it can begin with you!

Spiritual repair, monetary repair, so much of these dead assets an bring much life to our families, African America, and the Diaspora.  So what can be done on this larger scale? I have three recommendations:

1) Put this on national agendas of African American organizations. This include the Urban League and NAACP. We are talking about justice but we are also talking about a new approach to asset accumulation and preservation. We also need a strong  infrastructure for fundraising and legislative advocacy. We need foundations and think tanks to invest in research and position papers on why this issue matters.

2) We need faith based groups, baptist Associations, Mission Boards, to take this on as a ministry.  Set aside money for a new type of building fund dedicated to maintenance of these cemeteries. 

3) Call on the national Association of Black MBAs and Accountants to assist with setting up a national trust and foundation. Such a foundation could assist with funding maintenance of cemeteries and also adjacent family land in these historic Black communities.

All the organizations mentioned are needed to develop a leadership coalition to pull together a comprehensive funding and strategic plan for Black Cemetery preservation and family land. I can raise awareness share information. 

Ask yourself, what can you do to help your family, your community, or the Jeremies around the state and the Country preserving what's left of their family's legacy.

*Share but contact for reprint permission in publications

About Andrea Roberts

Andrea Roberts is a Community Heritage and Development consultant, advocate, writer, and a Sustainable Cities Doctoral Initiative Fellow in the Community & Regional Planning and Historic Preservative Programs at the University of Texas-Austin. Her research and consulting work helps her clients develop innovative approaches to addressing social and economic injustices related to development, governance, and cultural preservation in marginalized places by teaching people to change social capital (family history/cultural heritage) into community capital. Most recently, Andrea served as Project Manager for The Fifth Street Project, a community-based planning and market study initiative in a low income, unincorporated area in Ft. Bend County, Texas. Using a participatory, grass-roots approach, the Project created a community culture-based marketing report and strategy for a low-income community in a Houston suburb. She is presently a City of Austin Historic Landmark Commissioner. 

 Andrea is currently accepting consulting clients, and also provides community and educational presentations and  workshop facilitation. She welcomes respectful fees for service, but also accepts donations, honorariums, love offerings, and take home plates after church services. For more on her work see: . Contact her at or

Friday, June 13, 2014

Cushi - Being Black in the Holyland #AfricanDiaspora #Palestine

Support this important Indiegogo Campaign.

"The term "Cushi" is the only Israeli word for blacks literally
translating to "Nigger". The fact that this is the only word in Hebrew
to describe people of African decent or those with dark skin, denotes
the racism prevalent in Israeli society today. 

For the past 1.5 years, Existence is Resistance along with filmmakers and activists from the US and UK committed to bringing social justice through the use of cultural mediums have been working together to produce a documentary which would highlight the conditions and treatment of various Black communities within the Holyland. We are planning on taking M1 of the group Dead Prez among others for this journey in order for them to build with the various communities. Additionally, this film seeks to create a platform for these different groups to tell their stories and connect with each other.   The group will spend two to three days in each community, speaking and connecting with people of all ages who will guide us through their daily lives. Once each destination has been visited and documented, the group will bring one person from each community to spend three days together. This would culminate in ten people of African descent in the Holyland connecting together for the first time.  "

Mountains That Take Wing: Angela Davis & Yuri Kochiyama (Full Documentary)

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Short Film on the Small Remaining African Diaspora in Sri Lanka #Diaspora #Africa #Portugese #Creole

Kaffir culture from Kannan Arunasalam on Vimeo.

Historians say that the Kaffirs of Sri Lanka started arriving from the eastern shores of Africa in the 1500s with the Portuguese, and later in more waves with the different colonisers of Sri Lanka.
'Kaffir culture' is a video portrait of one such community of Kaffirs and the struggle to keep their culture alive in the face of falling numbers.

Written and produced by Kannan Arunasalam.

Music by Ceylon Kaffir Manja, arranged by Jesse Hardman.

Special thanks to Sweta Velpillay (on sound), Nethra Samarawickrema (for help with translations), Leah Worthington (background research) and Greg Kelly (Radio Netherlands).

Monday, June 9, 2014

"The New Black" Unpacks Old Debates on Identity, Civil Rights: Thoughts on YORUBA RICHEN's TED Talk

I feel many things watching this TED video by Yoruba Richen. I feel hopeful and grateful for the step forward her film The New Black represents, and I am looking forward to watching it. Film is a wonderful medium for looking under the hood of our public discourse (or this case the lack thereof) on the messiness underpinning modern human rights struggles. Too often we side step the seemingly intractable controversies. I have two comments/reflections on Yoruba Richen's TED Talk I want to add before you watch the video:

1) "No, it is not that simple." Validating oneself, claiming a stake in the human family when those willing to share power would rather you didn’t is not new. That is, this film is an aspect of a very old struggle. At one time or another, almost all configurations of kinship have been designated transgressive expressions of love and familial bonding that disrupt societies. Gay, lesbian identities and families are one of many that challenge whole financial systems, and even the way wealth is passed down through families. African Americans’ and immigrants’ extended families are especially threatening and are demonized for that every reason. So this will continue for some time.

2) Marriage is not the end all be all of civil rights. It is one of many assimilationist moves made on the way to society evolving and realizing what the foundations of so many familial relationships really are: love and religion, yes, but also politics, maintenance of financial systems, and custom too. We need people courageous enough to continue to unpack the body of assumptions and ideas underpinning identity and what is "natural" (and therefore just) that we will muddle through for some time. It is simply Pollyanna to think otherwise. This film is a good step toward sifting through those issues, even though it focuses first on the Black community, the relevance is far reaching.

3) "Tell your stories." What is wonderful about film is how it can encapsulate whole disciplines and volumes of works on LGBT and race into just a few minutes. I say that with a bit of sarcasm as well. What she is saying and doing is not new, but the way she is communicating these issues is. Personally, being in college in the 90s was a time when notions of intersectionality, multiple identities were very alive, tangible, temporal experiences for many and not just debates. It was especially interesting listening to her list important moments and her citing a march I had actually attended in October 1993.I remember Jesse Jackson speaking and feeling like the sound barrier had broken. It was just that big a deal at that time. I think more people have to begin telling their stories, passing on memories that now comprise a history of Reproductive Rights, LGBTQ, and AIDs activism of the 80s and 90s. Many of us don't even think of this as history. But now it is. History is still being made every day. There are so many stories to be told of early ballot measure battles, human rights ordinance struggles, etc. How do we make more spaces to debrief our shared experiences of those times? Seriously, how do we do that? I am open to ideas; perhaps we should follow Richen's lead. 


TED Talk:

Yoruba Richen 02
What the gay rights movement learned from
the civil rights movement 
Yoruba Richen 01
As a member of both the African American and LGBT communities, filmmaker Yoruba Richen is fascinated with the overlaps and tensions between the gay rights and the civil rights movements. She explores how the two struggles intertwine and propel each other forward — and, in an unmissable argument, she dispels a myth about their points of conflict.