Saturday, June 22, 2013

Martin Bernal, Renowned Multidisciplinary Scholar on Africa's Major Cultural and Social Influence On Western Civilization and the Author of 'Black Athena' Dies At 76

Dr. Bernal was a groundbreaking scholar and polymath who did very valuable and extensive research and writing about the historical, cultural, linguistic, and philosophical connections and relationships between Africa and Europe and the major impact and influence Africa had on the identity, development, and evolution of ancient Greek society and by extension Western civilization in general.  We are all forever in his debt because of his profound and courageous work and example.
Martin Bernal, who taught at Cornell for almost 30 years.
 Harvey Ferdschneider/Photo

Martin Bernal, ‘Black Athena’ Scholar, Dies at 76
June 22, 2013
New York Times

Martin Bernal, whose three-volume work “Black Athena” ignited an academic debate by arguing that the African and Semitic lineage of Western civilization had been scrubbed from the record of ancient Greece by 18th- and 19th-century historians steeped in the racism of their times, died on June 9 in Cambridge, England. He was 76.  

The cause was complications of myelofibrosis, a bone marrow disorder, said his wife, Leslie Miller-Bernal.

“Black Athena” opened a new front in the warfare over cultural diversity already raging on American campuses in the 1980s and ’90s. The first volume, published in 1987 — the same year as “The Closing of the American Mind,” Allan Bloom’s attack on efforts to diversify the academic canon — made Mr. Bernal a hero among Afrocentrists, a pariah among conservative scholars and the star witness at dozens of sometimes raucous academic panel discussions about how to teach the foundational ideas of Western culture.

Mr. Bernal, a British-born and Cambridge-educated polymath who taught Chinese political history at Cornell from 1972 until 2001, spent a fair amount of time on those panels explaining what his work did not mean to imply. He did not claim that Greek culture had its prime origins in Africa, as some news media reports described his thesis. He said only that the debt Greek culture owed to Africa and the Middle East had been lost to history.

His thesis was this: For centuries, European historians of classical Greece had hewed closely to the origin story suggested by Plato, Herodotus and Aeschylus, whose writings acknowledged the Greek debt to Egyptian and Semitic (or Phoenician) forebears.

But in the 19th century, he asserted, with the rise of new strains of racism and anti-Semitism along with nationalism and colonialism in Europe, historians expunged Egyptians and Phoenicians from the story. The precursors of Greek, and thus European, culture were seen instead as white Indo-European invaders from the north.

In the first volume of “Black Athena,” which carried the forbidding double subtitle “The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization: The Fabrication of Ancient Greece — 1785-1985,” Mr. Bernal described his trek through the fields of classical Greek literature, mythology, archaeology, linguistics, sociology, the history of ideas and ancient Hebrew texts to formulate his theory of history gone awry (though he did not claim expertise in all these subjects).

The scholarly purpose of his work, he wrote in the introduction, was “to open up new areas of research to women and men with far better qualifications than I have,” adding, “The political purpose of ‘Black Athena,’ is, of course, to lessen European cultural arrogance.”

He published “Black Athena 2: The Archaeological and Documentary Evidence” in 1991, and followed it in 2006 with “Black Athena 3: The Linguistic Evidence.”

Another book, “Black Athena Writes Back,” published in 2001, was a response to his critics, who were alarmed enough by Mr. Bernal’s work to publish a collection of rebuttals in 1996, “Black Athena Revisited.”

One critic derided Mr. Bernal’s thesis as evidence of “a whirling confusion of half-digested reading.” Some were more conciliatory. J. Ray, a British Egyptologist, wrote, “It may not be possible to agree with Mr. Bernal, but one is the poorer for not having spent time in his company.”

Stanley Burstein, a professor emeritus of ancient Greek history at California State University, Los Angeles, said Mr. Bernal’s historiography — his history of history-writing on ancient Greece — was flawed but valuable. “Nobody had to be told that Greece was deeply influenced by Egypt and the Phoenicians, or that 19th-century history included a lot of racial prejudice,” he said in a phone interview Tuesday. “But then, nobody had put it all together that way before.”

The specific evidence cited in his books was often doubtful, Professor Burstein added, but “he succeeded in putting the question of the origins of Greek civilization back on the table.”

Martin Gardiner Bernal was born on March 10, 1937, in London to John Desmond Bernal, a prominent British scientist and radical political activist, and Margaret Gardiner, a writer. His parents never married, a fact their son asserted with some pride in interviews.

“My father was a communist and I was illegitimate,” he said in 1996. “I was always expected to be radical because my father was.”

His grandfather Alan Gardiner was a distinguished Egyptologist.

Mr. Bernal graduated from King’s College, Cambridge, in 1957, earned a diploma of Chinese language from Peking University in 1960 and did graduate work at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1963 and Harvard in 1964. He received his Ph.D. in Oriental studies from Cambridge in 1966 and remained there as a fellow until he was recruited by Cornell.

His other books, which also focused on the theme of intercultural borrowing, were “Chinese Socialism Before 1907” (1976) and “Cadmean Letters: The Westward Diffusion of the Semitic Alphabet Before 1400 B.C.” (1990).

Besides his wife, he is survived by his sons, William, Paul and Patrick; a daughter, Sophie; a stepson, Adam; a half-sister, Jane Bernal; and nine grandchildren.

Mr. Bernal was asked in 1993 if his thesis in “Black Athena” was “anti-European.” He replied: “My enemy is not Europe, it’s purity — the idea that purity ever exists, or that if it does exist, that it is somehow more culturally creative than mixture. I believe that the civilization of Greece is so attractive precisely because of those mixtures.”

Friday, June 21, 2013

Herb Boyd Reviews Mike Hamlin's New Book about the Social and Political History of Radical Black Labor Struggles in Detroit in the 1960s and '70s



Book Review
By Herb Boyd 

Mike Hamlin, Labor Activist and Revolutionary Tells Very Important Story of Legendary Radical Black Labor Movements in Detroit During the 1960s and '70s and Strips Away the Myths

A Black Revolutionary’s Life in Labor:  Black Workers Power in Detroit.  by Mike Hamlin (wlth Michelle Gibbs)  Against the Tide,  2013

     Among the most redeeming and rewarding moments in Michael Hamlin’s “A Black Revolutionary’s Life in Labor:  Black Workers Power in Detroit” (Against the Tide,  2013) is his analysis of the several organizations in which he was a vital force, a significant member.   His first-hand account offers in vivid detail the strengths and weaknesses of such promising formations as the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement, the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, the Black Workers’ Congress, and several other less prominent groups.

     Not only was Hamlin a founder and leader of some of these organizations, his maturity and calm under pressure was the tissue that held them together in times of tension and disagreement that threatened to tear them apart.  Hamlin also provides readers with insightful profiles of a few of the notable Detroit figures in the movement, including the late Ken Cockrel and John Watson, both of whom were with him at the very beginning of his labor activism.

     Without the diligence and commitment of Michele Gibbs, Hamlin’s memoir may be like so many others that are waiting to be written.  She returned to Detroit from her home in Oaxaca, Mexico at a most propitious moment and her very presence not only resuscitated Hamlin who had been stricken with life-threating ailments but she stayed around for several weeks interviewing him, gathering much of the material that was critical in shaping this engrossing book.

      In fewer than a hundred pages of narrative Hamlin and Gibbs touch on riveting chapters of the revolutionary’s political development, an odyssey that began in the cotton fields of Mississippi, continued in Ecorse, Michigan, and finally settled in Detroit.  Hamlin succinctly summarizes his apartheid days under Jim Crow, contrasting it with the Jewish Holocaust.  “Instead of big death camps,” he writes, “the South had little pockets of them, but everywhere.”

      He experienced a number of memorable moments coming of age in Michigan and he recounts an incident when he was in the fifth grade that had a powerful effect on him.  “The teacher said that I had done something and I replied, ‘I didn’t aim to do it.’  All my classmates laughed, thinking that this was a funny way to talk.  My reaction to that was to keep quiet and listen.”

      Keeping quiet and listening carefully and intently were important attributes for Hamlin during his days in the Army when soldiers are practically driven toward a “nihilistic outlook,” he recalls.  “Once your life is devalued, you carry out orders no matter what they ask you to do.” Fortunately, Hamlin’s mindset was stronger than the gung-ho orientation instilled by drill sergeants and ranking officers, and after mustering out he returned to Detroit and got a job as a truck driver at the Detroit News.  It was here that he met Cockrel and Watson who worked on the trucks delivering the papers to various outlets.

      The three bonded and from their daily discussions about the terrible political conditions, particularly the rampant police brutality in the city, they decided it was time to do something about it.   

      Following a method they lifted from V.I Lenin, they launched the Inner City Voice newspaper in 1967.  The paper would be a vehicle for the voiceless black workers many of whom like General Baker, gravitated to it at first from the factories from Detroit and then across the nation as the RUMs morphed under the umbrella of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers.  As the League’s influence and cache spread it cast a fresh light of optimism on the possibility of a working class upheaval, that long awaited “dictatorship of the proletariat.” 

    But the rebellion was stillborn and Hamlin waxes poignant on how and why that pregnant moment fell so disappointingly short.  “It’s interesting the way all the organizations began to dissolve at the same time,” Hamlin laments.  “We know of the efforts of COINTELPRO (a program put into effect by J. Edgar Hoover to destroy the left, including the black movement) to inject as much confusion as possible through infiltration.  We also know the effect of the calculated flooding of our communities with hard drugs.  But there was also the tendency internally, after some successes, to begin to believe in your own invulnerability.  Then personal ego takes the place of group betterment.”

    To this explanation, Hamlin adds a list of internal contradictions that erupted at the League’s headquarters in Highland Park where sympathetic white supporters were the targets of abuse, and where the occurrences of rape fueled the general onset of demoralization.  Some of these issues were spelled out by Hamlin during his recent appearance at the Left Forum in New York City.

      Hamlin is as impressive a storyteller as he is a social scientist, and this expertise is extended across a tableau of problems that curtailed the progressive forces who rallied around such formidable and charismatic leaders as Baker, Cockrel, Watson, et al.  He believes it was their level of commitment, especially for Cockrel and Watson that was responsible for their early deaths.

     Thanks to the dedication of Gibbs and the unconditional love of his wife, Joann, Hamlin is still with us, though not without health issues that makes it difficult for him to resume that relentless, energetic activism that is his legacy. 

      “A Black Revolutionary’s Life in Labor” reaches well beyond this corridor of struggle, and the pages are deftly complemented by essays from George Colman and Charles Simmons, and the photos, Gibbs poetry and illustrations, a study guide, and appendix fill out the rich tapestry of Hamlin’s remarkable sojourn that continues to find inspiration in the students he teaches and the troubled Americans he counsels.

      Towards the end of the book, Hamlin offers this assessment of where we stand and what’s to be done:  “What the situation today lacks is the third component, a revolutionary organization rooted in the masses with the working class to lead it.”

      We might also an additional lack—a strong and vigorous Mike Hamlin.  


Groundbreaking documentary produced by the League of Revolutionary Black workers (LRBW) in 1970:



Herb Boyd is a journalist, activist, teacher, and has authored or edited 22 books, including his most recent one, Civil Rights: Yesterday & Today. His book Baldwin's Harlem, a biography of James Baldwin, was a finalist for a 2009 NAACP Image Award. In 1995, with Robert Allen, he was a recipient of an American Book Award for Brotherman--The Odyssey of Black Men in America, an anthology. We Shall Overcome, a media-fusion book with narration by the late Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, is used in classrooms all over the world, as is his Autobiography of a People and The Harlem Reader. His articles can be found in such publications as The Black Scholar, The Final Call, the Amsterdam News, Cineaste, Downbeat, and The Network Journal, among others.

Among the highlights of his remarkable journalistic career was an invitation to fly on Air Force One with President Obama, whom he has interviewed on several occasions.

Over the last decade or so, Boyd has scripted several documentaries, including several with Keith Beauchamp on cold cases of martyrs from the civil rights era that were shown on Biography Channel and TV One. With filmmaker Eddie Harris, he was the writer on three documentaries--Trek to the Holy Land, Cri de Coeur (Cry from the Heart), and Slap the Donkey, that tracks the Rev. Al Sharpton's presidential bid in 2004. The latter film was recently selected to be screened at the Montreal Film Festival in 2010. Boyd is also a frequent guest on national television and radio shows, as well as a keynote speaker at many functions sponsored by noted community and college organizations, where his commentaries on African American culture and politics have earned him an increasingly large audience and popularity. For more than forty years, he has taught at institutions of higher learning. Currently, he teaches at the College of New Rochelle in the Bronx and at City College New York, and is also a national and international correspondent for Free, a media company that specializes in Internet television.

"Finally Got the News"  (1970)

from Libcom Dot Org 10 months ago:

Documentary about the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, a radical black workers' group based in the car factories of Detroit. Through interviews with members, supporters and opponents as well as footage of leafleting and picket lines, Finally Got the News documents their attempts to build a radical black workers' organisation that would take on both racist management and unions and fight to improve conditions for all workers, black and white.

Finally Got the News from Libcom Dot Org on Vimeo.