Columbus Day should be Changed to Indigenous People’s Day

    Landing-of-Christopher-Columbus-in-America-at-San-Salvador-October-12th-A.D-640x479

Christopher Columbus has been presented to many children in our schools as a brave explorer who "discovered" America, as if those indigenous natives on the Caribbean Island in the Bahama's, called the Taino, had no history or culture of their own. Many American cities have re-evaluated Columbus Day and replaced it with Indigenous People's Day as more appropriate when the true history of exploitation, enslavement, and torture unfolded. The native Taino people of the island were systematically enslaved via the encomienda system implemented by Columbus, which resembled a feudal system in Medieval Europe.

Columbus lies              

Disease played a significant role in the destruction of the natives; however there is no record of any massive smallpox epidemic in the Antilles until 25 years after the arrival of Columbus. The truth is the natives' numbers declined due to extreme overwork, other diseases, and a loss of will to live after the destruction of their culture by the invaders. When the first pandemic finally struck in 1519 it wiped out much of the remaining native population. According to the historian Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo y Valdes by 1548, 56 years after Columbus landed, fewer than five hundred Taino were left on the island.

Columbus putting Indians in Grave            

Columbus' treatment of the Hispaniola natives was even worse as his soldiers raped, killed, and enslaved them with impunity at every landing. When Columbus fell ill in 1495, soldiers were reported to have gone on a rampage, slaughtering 50,000 natives. Upon his recovery, Columbus organized his troops' efforts, forming a squadron of several hundred heavily armed men and more than twenty attack dogs. The men tore across the land, killing thousands of sick and unarmed natives. Soldiers would use their captives for sword practice, attempting to decapitate them or cut them in half with a single blow.

Columbus atrocities            

Howard Zinn writes that Columbus spearheaded a massive slave trade. For example, in 1495 his men captured in a single raid 1500 Arawak men, women, and children. When he shipped five hundred of the slaves to Spain, 40% died en route. Historian James W. Loewen asserts "Columbus not only sent the first slaves across the Atlantic, he probably sent more slaves – about five thousand – than any other individual... other nations rushed to emulate Columbus.When slaves held in captivity began to die at high rates, Columbus switched to a different system of forced labor. He ordered all natives over the age of thirteen to collect a specified amount (one hawk's bell full) of gold powder every three months. Natives who brought the amount were given a copper token to hang around their necks, and those found without tokens had their hands amputated and were left to bleed to death.

Columbus killing Indians          

The Arawaks attempted to fight back against Columbus's men but lacked their armor, guns, swords, and horses. When taken prisoner, they were hanged or burned to death. Desperation led to mass suicides and infanticide among the natives. In just two years under Columbus' governorship more than half of the 250,000 Arawaks in Haiti were dead.The main cause for the depopulation was disease followed by other causes such as warfare and harsh enslavement.

    Columbus slavery of prostitutes          

Samuel Eliot Morison, a Harvard historian and author of a multi-volume biography on Columbus writes, "The cruel policy initiated by Columbus and pursued by his successors resulted in complete genocide." Loewen laments that while "Haiti under the Spanish is one of the primary instances of genocide in all human history", only one major history text he reviewed mentions Columbus' role in it.There is evidence that the men of the first voyage also brought syphilis from the New World to Europe. Many of the crew members who served on this voyage later joined the army of King Charles VIII in his invasion of Italy in 1495. After the victory, Charles' largely mercenary army returned to their respective homes, thereby spreading "the Great Pox" across Europe and triggering the deaths of more than five million people.

Columbus was involved heavily in the Sex Slave business. On his way back to Spain to stand trial for accusations of abuse of Spaniard colonists, he wrote a letter to the nurse of the son of Ferdinand and Isabella, pleading his case. Among it he wrote:

"Now that so much gold is found, a dispute arises as to which brings more profit, whether to go about robbing or to go to the mines. A hundred castellanos are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand, and for all ages a good price must be paid."

 

No wonder after learning of these revelations many cities have changed Columbus Day into Indigenous People's Day.The idea of replacing Columbus Day with a day celebrating the indigenous people of North America first arose in 1977 from the International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas, sponsored by the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. At the First Continental Conference on 500 Years of Indian Resistance in Quito, Ecuador, in July 1990, representatives of Indian groups throughout the Americas agreed that they would mark 1992, the 500th anniversary of the first of the voyages of Christopher Columbus, as a day to promote "continental unity" and "liberation."

After the conference, attendees from Northern California organized to plan protests against the "Quincentennial Jubilee" that had been organized by the United States Congress for the San Francisco Bay Area on Columbus Day, 1992, to include, among other things, sailing replicas of Columbus' ships under the Golden Gate Bridge and reenacting their "discovery" of America. The delegates formed the Bay Area Indian Alliance, and, in turn, the "Resistance 500" task force,which advocated the notion that Columbus was responsible for genocide of indigenous people.

In 1992, the group convinced the city council of Berkeley, California, to declare October 12, a "Day of Solidarity with Indigenous People", and 1992 the "Year of Indigenous People", and to implement related programs in schools, libraries, and museums. The city symbolically renamed Columbus Day to "Indigenous Peoples' Day" beginning in 1992 to protest the historical conquest of North America by Europeans, and to call attention to the demise of Native American people and culture through disease, warfare, massacre, and forced assimilation. Performances were scheduled that day for Get Lost (Again) Columbus, an opera by a Native-American composer. Berkeley has celebrated Indigenous Peoples' Day ever since.Beginning in 1993, Berkeley has held an annual pow wow and festival on the day

In the years after Berkeley's move, other local governments and institutions have either renamed or canceled Columbus Day, either to celebrate Native Americans, to avoid celebrating actions of Columbus that led to the colonization of America by Spanish conquistadors, or due to controversy over the legacy of Columbus.Two other California cities, Sebastopol and Santa Cruz, now celebrate Indigenous Peoples' Day.

Our “Merciful” Ending to the “Good War” Or How Patriotism Means Never Having To Say You’re Sorry By Christian Appy

Hiroshima explosion Bomber Hiroshima    Hiroshima Torii burning Hiroshima yes, yes,

Hiroshima Einstein

WWII Enola Gay dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima August 6, 1945

“Never, never waste a minute on regret. It's a waste of time.”

-- President Harry Truman

Here we are, 70 years after the nuclear obliteration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and I'm wondering if we've come even one step closer to a moral reckoning with our status as the world's only country to use atomic weapons to slaughter human beings. Will an American president ever offer a formal apology? Will our country ever regret the dropping of “Little Boy” and “Fat Man,” those two bombs that burned hotter than the sun? Will it absorb the way they instantly vaporized thousands of victims, incinerated tens of thousands more, and created unimaginably powerful shockwaves and firestorms that ravaged everything for miles beyond ground zero?  Will it finally come to grips with the “black rain” that spread radiation and killed even more people -- slowly and painfully -- leading in the end to a death toll for the two cities conservatively estimated at more than 250,000?

Given the last seven decades of perpetual militarization and nuclear “modernization” in this country, the answer may seem like an obvious no. Still, as a historian, I've been trying to dig a little deeper into our lack of national contrition. As I have, an odd fragment of Americana kept coming to mind, a line from the popular 1970 tearjerker Love Story:“Love,” says the female lead when her boyfriend begins to apologize, “means never having to say you're sorry.” It has to be one of the dumbest definitions ever to lodge in American memory, since real love often requires the strength to apologize and make amends.

It does, however, apply remarkably well to the way many Americans think about that broader form of love we call patriotism. With rare exceptions, like the 1988 congressional act that apologized to and compensated the Japanese-American victims of World War II internment, when it comes to the brute exercise of power, true patriotism has above all meant never having to say you're sorry. The very politicians who criticize other countries for not owning up to their wrong-doing regularly insist that we should never apologize for anything. In 1988, for example, after the U.S. Navy shot down an Iranian civilian airliner over the Persian Gulf killing all 290 passengers (including 66 children), Vice President George H.W. Bush, then running for president, proclaimed, “I will never apologize for the United States. Ever. I don't care what the facts are.”

It turns out, however, that Bush's version of American remorselessness isn’t quite enough. After all, Americans prefer to view their country as peace-loving, despite having been at war constantly since 1941. This means they need more than denials and non-apologies. They need persuasive stories and explanations (however full of distortions and omissions). The tale developed to justify the bombings that led to a world in which the threat of human extinction has been a daily reality may be the most successful legitimizing narrative in our history. Seventy years later, it’s still deeply embedded in public memory and school textbooks, despite an ever-growing pile of evidence that contradicts it. Perhaps it’s time, so many decades into the age of apocalyptic peril, to review the American apologia for nuclear weapons -- the argument in their defense -- that ensured we would never have to say we're sorry.

The Hiroshima Apologia

On August 9, 1945, President Harry Truman delivered a radio address from the White House. “The world will note,” he said, “that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base. That was because we wished in this first attack to avoid, insofar as possible, the killing of civilians.” He did not mention that a second atomic bomb had already been dropped on Nagasaki.

Truman understood, of course, that if Hiroshima was a “military base,” then so was Seattle; that the vast majority of its residents were civilians; and that perhaps 100,000 of them had already been killed. Indeed, he knew that Hiroshima was chosen not for its military significance but because it was one of only a handful of Japanese cities that had not already been firebombed and largely obliterated by American air power. U.S. officials, in fact, were intent on using the first atomic bombs to create maximum terror and destruction. They also wanted to measure their new weapon’s power and so selected the “virgin targets” of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In July 1945, Secretary of War Henry Stimson  informed Truman of his fear that, given all the firebombing of Japanese cities, there might not be a target left on which the atomic bomb could “show its strength” to the fullest. According to Stimson's diary, Truman “laughed and said he understood.”

The president soon dropped the “military base” justification. After all, despite Washington's effort to censor the most graphic images of atomic annihilation coming out of Hiroshima, the world quickly grasped that the U.S. had destroyed an entire city in a single blow with massive loss of life. So the president focused instead on an apologia that would work for at least the next seven decades. Its core arguments appeared in that same August 9th speech. “We have used [the atomic bomb] against those who attacked us without warning at Pearl Harbor,” he said, “against those who have starved and beaten and executed American prisoners of war, against those who have abandoned all pretense of obeying international laws of warfare. We have used it in order to shorten the agony of war, in order to save the lives of thousands and thousands of young Americans.”

By 1945, most Americans didn't care that the civilians of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had not committed Japan's war crimes. American wartime culture had for years drawn on a long history of “yellow peril” racism to paint the Japanese not just as inhuman, but as subhuman. As Truman put it in his diary, it was a country full of “savages” -- “ruthless, merciless, and fanatic” people so loyal to the emperor that every man, woman, and child would fight to the bitter end. In these years, magazines routinely depicted Japanese as monkeys, apes, insects, and vermin. Given such a foe, so went the prevailing view, there were no true “civilians” and nothing short of near extermination, or at least a powerful demonstration of America's willingness to proceed down that path, could ever force their surrender. As Admiral William “Bull” Halsey said in a 1944 press conference, “The only good Jap is a Jap who's been dead six months.”

In the years after World War II, the most virulent expressions of race hatred diminished, but not the widespread idea that the atomic bombs had been required to end the war, eliminating the need to invade the Japanese home islands where, it was confidently claimed, tooth-and-nail combat would cause enormous losses on both sides. The deadliest weapon in history, the one that opened the path to future Armageddon, had therefore saved lives. That was the stripped down mantra that provided the broadest and most enduring support for the introduction of nuclear warfare. By the time Truman, in retirement, published his memoir in 1955, he was ready to claim with some specificity that an invasion of Japan would have killed half-a-million Americans and at least as many Japanese.

Over the years, the ever-increasing number of lives those two A-bombs “saved” became a kind of sacred numerology. By 1991, for instance, President George H.W. Bush, praising Truman for his “tough, calculating decision,” claimed that those bombs had “spared millions of American lives.” By then, an atomic massacre had long been transformed into a mercy killing that prevented far greater suffering and slaughter.

Truman went to his grave insisting that he never had a single regret or a moment's doubt about his decision. Certainly, in the key weeks leading up to August 6, 1945, the record offers no evidence that he gave serious consideration to any alternative.

“Revisionists” Were Present at the Creation

Twenty years ago, the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum planned an ambitious exhibit to mark the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II. At its center was to be an extraordinary artifact -- the fuselage of the Enola Gay, the B-29 Superfortress used to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. But the curators and historical consultants wanted something more than yet another triumphal celebration of American military science and technology. Instead, they sought to assemble a thought-provoking portrayal of the bomb's development, the debates about its use, and its long-term consequences. The museum sought to include some evidence challenging the persistent claim that it was dropped simply to end the war and “save lives.”

For starters, visitors would have learned that some of America's best-known World War II military commanders opposed using atomic weaponry. In fact, six of the seven five-star generals and admirals of that time believed that there was no reason to use them, that the Japanese were already defeated, knew it, and were likely to surrender before any American invasion could be launched. Several, like Admiral William Leahy and General Dwight Eisenhower, also had moral objections to the weapon. Leahy considered the atomic bombing of Japan “barbarous” and a violation of “every Christian ethic I have ever heard of and all of the known laws of war.”

Truman did not seriously consult with military commanders who had objections to using the bomb.  He did, however, ask a panel of military experts to offer an estimate of how many Americans might be killed if the United States launched the two major invasions of the Japanese home islands scheduled for November 1, 1945 and March 1, 1946. Their figure: 40,000 -- far below the half-million he would cite after the war. Even this estimate was based on the dubious assumption that Japan could continue to feed, fuel, and arm its troops with the U.S. in almost complete control of the seas and skies.

The Smithsonian also planned to inform its visitors that some key presidential advisers had urged Truman to drop his demand for “unconditional surrender” and allow Japan to keep the emperor on his throne, an alteration in peace terms that might have led to an almost immediate surrender. Truman rejected that advice, only to grant the same concession after the nuclear attacks.

Keep in mind, however, that part of Truman's motivation for dropping those bombs involved not the defeated Japanese, but the ascending Soviet Union. With the U.S.S.R. pledged to enter the war against Japan on August 8, 1945 (which it did), Truman worried that even briefly prolonging hostilities might allow the Soviets to claim a greater stake in East Asia. He and Secretary of State James Byrnes believed that a graphic demonstration of the power of the new bomb, then only in the possession of the United States, might also make that Communist power more “manageable” in Europe. The Smithsonian exhibit would have suggested that Cold War planning and posturing began in the concluding moments of World War II and that one legacy of Hiroshima would be the massive nuclear arms race of the decades to come.

In addition to displaying American artifacts like the Enola Gay, Smithsonian curators wanted to show some heartrending objects from the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima, including a schoolgirl's burnt lunchbox, a watch dial frozen at the instant of the bomb's explosion, a fused rosary, and photographs of the dead and dying. It would have been hard to look at these items beside that plane’s giant fuselage without feeling some sympathy for the victims of the blast.

None of this happened. The exhibit was canceled after a storm of protest. When the Air Force Association leaked a copy of the initial script to the media, critics denounced the Smithsonian for its “politically correct” and “anti-American” “revision” of history. The exhibit, they claimed, would be an insult to American veterans and fundamentally unpatriotic. Though conservatives led the charge, the Senate unanimously passed a resolution condemning the Smithsonian for being “revisionist and offensive” that included a tidy rehearsal of the official apologia: “The role of the Enola Gay... was momentous in helping to bring World War II to a merciful end, which resulted in saving the lives of Americans and Japanese.”

Merciful? Consider just this: the number of civilians killed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki alone was more than twice the number of American troops killed during the entire Pacific war.

In the end, the Smithsonian displayed little but the Enola Gay itself, a gleaming relic of American victory in the “Good War.”

Our Unbroken Faith in the Greatest Generation  

In the two decades since, we haven't come closer to a genuine public examination of history's only nuclear attack or to finding any major fault with how we waged what Studs Terkel famously dubbed “the Good War.” He used that term as the title for his classic 1984 oral history of World War II and included those quotation marks quite purposely to highlight the irony of such thinking about a war in which an estimated 60 million people died. In the years since, the term has become an American cliché, but the quotation marks have disappeared along with any hint of skepticism about our motives and conduct in those years.

Admittedly, when it comes to the launching of nuclear war (if not the firebombings that destroyed 67 Japanese cities and continued for five days after “Fat Man” was dropped on Nagasaki), there is some evidence of a more critical cast of mind in this country. Recent polls, for instance, show that “only” 56% of Americans now think we were right to use nuclear weapons against Japan, down a few points since the 1990s, while support among Americans under the age of 30 has finally fallen below 50%. You might also note that just after World War II, 85% of Americans supported the bombings.

Of course, such pro-bomb attitudes were hardly surprising in 1945, especially given the relief and joy at the war's victorious ending and the anti-Japanese sentiment of that moment. Far more surprising: by 1946, millions of Americans were immersed in John Hersey's best-selling book Hiroshima, a moving report from ground zero that explored the atomic bomb's impact through the experiences of six Japanese survivors. It began with these gripping lines:

“At exactly fifteen minutes past eight in the morning, on August 6, 1945, Japanese time, at the moment when the atomic bomb flashed above Hiroshima, Miss Toshiko Sasaki, a clerk in the personnel department of the East Asia Tin Works, had just sat down at her place in the plant office and was turning her head to speak to the girl at the next desk.”

Hiroshima remains a remarkable document for its unflinching depictions of the bomb's destructiveness and for treating America's former enemy with such dignity and humanity. “The crux of the matter,” Hersey concluded, “is whether total war in its present form is justifiable, even when it serves a just purpose. Does it not have material and spiritual evil as its consequences which far exceed whatever good might result?”

The ABC Radio Network thought Hersey's book so important that it hired four actors to read it in full on the air, reaching an even wider audience. Can you imagine a large American media company today devoting any significant air time to a work that engendered empathy for the victims of our twenty-first century wars? Or can you think of a recent popular book that prods us to consider the “material and spiritual evil” that came from our own participation in World War II? I can't.

In fact, in the first years after that war, as Paul Boyer showed in his superb book By the Bomb’s Early Light, some of America's triumphalism faded as fears grew that the very existence of nuclear weapons might leave the country newly vulnerable. After all, someday another power, possibly the Soviet Union, might use the new form of warfare against its creators, producing an American apocalypse that could never be seen as redemptive or merciful.

In the post-Cold War decades, however, those fears have again faded (unreasonably so since even a South Asian nuclear exchange between Pakistan and India could throw the whole planet into a version of nuclear winter).  Instead, the “Good War” has once again been embraced as unambiguously righteous. Consider, for example, the most recent book about World War II to hit it big, Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. Published in 2010, it remained on the New York Times best-seller list in hardcover for almost four years and has sold millions of copies. In its reach, it may even surpass Tom Brokaw's 1998 book, The Greatest Generation. A Hollywood adaptation of Unbroken appeared last Christmas.

Hillenbrand’s book does not pretend to be a comprehensive history of World War II or even of the war in the Pacific. It tells the story of Louis Zamperini, a child delinquent turned Olympic runner turned B-24 bombardier. In 1943, his plane was shot down in the Pacific. He and the pilot survived 47 days in a life raft despite near starvation, shark attacks, and strafing by Japanese planes. Finally captured by the Japanese, he endured a series of brutal POW camps where he was the victim of relentless sadistic beatings.

The book is decidedly a page-turner, but its focus on a single American's punishing ordeal and amazing recovery inhibits almost any impulse to move beyond the platitudes of nationalistic triumphalism and self-absorption or consider (among other things) the racism that so dramatically shaped American combat in the Pacific. That, at least, is the impression you get combing through some of the astonishing 25,000 customer reviews Unbroken has received on Amazon. “My respect for WWII veterans has soared,” a typical reviewer writes. “Thank you Laura Hillenbrand for loving our men at war,” writes another. It is “difficult to read of the inhumanity of the treatment of the courageous men serving our country.” And so on.

Unbroken devotes a page and a half to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, all of it from the vantage point of the American crew of the Enola Gay. Hillenbrand raises concerns about the crew's safety: “No one knew for sure if... the bomber could get far enough away to survive what was coming.” She describes the impact of the shockwaves, not on the ground, but at 30,000 feet when they slammed into the Enola Gay, “pitching the men into the air.”

The film version of Unbroken evokes even less empathy for the Japanese experience of nuclear war, which brings to mind something a student told my graduate seminar last spring. He teaches high school social studies and when he talked with colleagues about the readings we were doing on Hiroshima, three of them responded with some version of the following: “You know, I used to think we were wrong to use nukes on Japan, but since I saw Unbroken I've started to think it was necessary.” We are, that is, still in the territory first plowed by Truman in that speech seven decades ago.

At the end of the film, this note appears on the screen: “Motivated by his faith, Louie came to see that the way forward was not revenge, but forgiveness. He returned to Japan, where he found and made peace with his former captors.”

That is indeed moving. Many of the prison camp guards apologized, as well they should have, and -- perhaps more surprisingly -- Zamperini forgave them. There is, however, no hint that there might be a need for apologies on the American side, too; no suggestion that our indiscriminate destruction of Japan, capped off by the atomic obliteration of two cities, might be, as Admiral Leahy put it, a violation of “all of the known laws of war.”

So here we are, 70 years later, and we seem, if anything, farther than ever from a rejection of the idea that launching atomic warfare on Japanese civilian populations was an act of mercy. Perhaps some future American president will finally apologize for our nuclear attacks, but one thing seems certain: no Japanese survivor of the bombs will be alive to hear it.

 

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Nina Simone’s Time IS Now, Again

Nina Simone’s Time Is Now, Again (New York Times)

By SALAMISHAH TILLET JUNE 19, 2015

   

Nina Simone in 1969. A new documentary, “What Happened, Miss Simone?,” opens on Wednesday. Credit Jack Robinson/Hulton Archive - Getty Images

nina                  

The feminist writer Germaine Greer once declared: “Every generation has to discover Nina Simone. She is evidence that female genius is real.” This year, that just might happen for good.

Nina Simone is striking posthumous gold as the inspiration for three films and a star-studded tribute album, and she was name-dropped in John Legend’s Oscar acceptance speech for best song. This flurry comes on the heels of a decade-long resurgence: two biographies, a poetry collection, several plays, and the sampling of her signature haunting contralto by hip-hop performers including Jay Z, the Roots and, most relentlessly, Kanye West.

Fifty years after her prominence, Nina Simone is now reaching her peak.

The documentary “What Happened, Miss Simone?,” directed by Liz Garbus (“The Farm: Angola, USA”) and due on Wednesday in New York and two days later on Netflix, opens by exploring Simone’s unorthodox blend of dusky, deep voice, classical music, gospel and jazz piano techniques, and civil rights and black-power musical activism.

Not only did she compose the movement staple “Mississippi Goddam,” but she also broadened the parameters of the great American pop artist. “How can you be an artist and not reflect the times?” Simone asks in the film. “That to me is the definition of an artist.” And in “What Happened,” Simone emerges as a singer whose unflinching pursuit of musical and political freedom establishes her appeal for contemporary activism.

Simone’s androgynous voice, genre-breaking musicianship and political consciousness may have concerned ’60s and ’70s marketing executives and concert promoters, but those are a huge draw for today’s gay, lesbian, black and female artists who want to be taken seriously for their talent, their activism or a combination of both.

“Nina has never stopped being relevant because her activism was so right on, unique, strong, said with such passion and directness,” Ms. Garbus said in an interview at a Brooklyn bakery. “But why has she come back now?” she asked, answering her own question by pointing to how little has changed, citing the protests over the police killings of unarmed African-Americans like Michael Brown, Rekia Boyd, Eric Garner and Freddie Gray.

 

Opinionator | The Stone: Time for a New Black Radicalism JUNE 22, 2015

 

While Simone’s lyrical indictment of racial segregation and her work on behalf of civil rights organizations connects her to our contemporary moment, those closest to her felt more comfortable telling Simone’s story after her death in 2003. As Ms. Garbus said, “From a filmmaking point of view, the answer for her return is also because of the estate, and people being ready to relinquish some control of her story.”

In this case, it was Simone’s daughter, the singer and actress Lisa Simone Kelly, who shared personal diaries, letters, and audio and video footage with Ms. Garbus and has an executive producer credit on the film. Speaking by phone from her mother’s former home in Carry-le-Rouet, France, Ms. Kelly said: “It has been on my watch that this film was made. And I believe that my mother would have been forgotten if the family, my husband and I, had not taken the right steps to find the right team for her to remembered in American culture on her own terms.”

Simone in N.Y. 1965            

Simone in New York in 1965. Credit Sam Falk/The New York Times

Ms. Kelly is only partly right. Over the last decade, a steady stream of reissued albums and previously unheard interviews and songs, as well as unseen concert footage have flooded the market. But the estate has enabled and impaired Simone’s revival. There has been a dizzying array of lawsuits over the rights to her master recordings in the last 25 years, a tangled situation that includes a recent Sony Music move to rescind a deal with the estate.

The most high-profile controversy about Simone’s legacy, however, involves Cynthia Mort’s biopic, “Nina,” due later this year. Starring Zoe Saldana in the title role, the film was initially beleaguered by public criticism over the casting, an antagonism further fueled by leaked photos of Ms. Saldana with darkened skin and a nose prosthetic. Eventually, the film’s release was set back even more by Ms. Mort’s own 2014 lawsuit against the production company, which she accused of hijacking the film, as The Hollywood Reporter put it.

Though Ms. Saldana told InStyle magazine that “I didn’t think I was right for the part,” the fallout and online petition calling for a boycott of the film nevertheless revealed a deep cultural investment in both Simone’s politics and aesthetics by a new generation.

The director Gina Prince-Bythewood said in a phone interview that she used Simone as the muse for her lead character, Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a biracial British pop sensation, in her 2014 film “Beyond the Lights” because “during her time, Nina was unapologetically black and proud of who she was, and it was reflected in the authenticity of songs like ‘Four Women.’ And this is something that Noni absolutely struggles with because she has been instructed to be a male fantasy.”

But for Ms. Prince-Bythewood, Simone is not simply an alternative to today’s image of an oversexualized or overmanufactured female artist, but the idol most suited for the multilayered identity politics of our social movements. “This moment of ‘Black Lives Matter,’ ” she said, “is a resurgence of racial pride but also a time in which black women are now at the forefront.”

Minnie Driver and Gugu Mbatha-Raw

Minnie Driver, left, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw in “Beyond the Lights.” Credit Suzanne Tenner/Relativity Media, via Associated Press

Like the renaissance of interest in Malcolm X in the early 1990s, Simone’s iconography arises in yet another time of national crisis. However, her biography, as an artist who was proudly black but steadfastly rejected the musical, sexual and social conventions expected of African-American and female artists of her time, renders her a complicated pioneer.

Born Eunice Waymon in 1933, Simone grew up in segregated Tryon, N.C. At 3, she was playing her mother’s favorite gospel hymns for their church choir on piano; by 8, her talents garnered her so much attention that her mother’s white employer offered to pay for her classical music lessons for a year. Determined to become a premier classical pianist, Simone trained at Juilliard for a year, then sought and was denied admission to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia — a heartbreaking rejection that led to a series of reinventions — renaming herself Nina Simone, performing in Atlantic City nightclubs and adopting jazz standards in her repertoire.

She would go on to have her only Top 40 hit with “I Loves You, Porgy” in 1959 off her debut album, “Little Girl Blue.” To further her music career, Simone moved back to New York, where she befriended the activist-writers Lorraine Hansberry, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes and Malcolm X. Influenced by these political friendships and the momentum of the civil rights movement itself, Simone went on to compose “Mississippi Goddam” in 1964 in response to the assassination of the civil rights leader Medgar Evers in Mississippi and the murder of four African-American girls in a church bombing in Birmingham, Ala., a year earlier. The song was Simone at her best — a sly blend of the show tune, searing racial critique and apocalyptic warning.

Oh but this whole country is full of lies

You’re all gonna die and die like flies

I don’t trust you any more

You keep on saying “Go slow!”

“Go slow!”

Simone’s growing political involvement affected both her professional and personal life. Though she was bisexual, her longest romance was her 11-year turbulent marriage to Andy Stroud, a former police officer who managed her career for most of the ’60s. Stroud would use physical and sexual abuse to limit Simone’s activism and friendships, and to control her unpredictable emotional outbursts. Unfortunately, it would take another 20 years for Simone’s “mood swings” to be diagnosed as a bipolar disorder. In the interim, Simone left her marriage and country, becoming an expatriate in Liberia, Switzerland, then France. (In the film, Ms. Kelly says that because her mother became more symptomatic and abusive toward her, she had to move back in with her father.)

She had not only become more militant by aligning songs like “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” with Stokely Carmichael and the black power movement, but also found it increasingly difficult to secure contracts with American record companies. Looking back on this period in her 1991 memoir, “I Put A Spell on You,” Simone recalled, “The protest years were over not just for me but for a whole generation and in music, just like in politics, many of the greatest talents were dead or in exile and their place was filled by third-rate imitators.” She died in 2003 at her home in France.

“Nina Simone, more than anyone else, talked about using her art as a weapon against oppression, and she paid the price of it,” said Ernest Shaw, a visual artist who last year painted a mural featuring Malcolm X, James Baldwin and Simone on the wall of a Baltimore home just two miles from the scene of Freddie Gray’s arrest.

Today Simone’s multitudinous identity captures the mood of young people yearning to bring together our modern movements for racial, gender and sexual equality.

This is a large part of the appeal of the documentary “The Amazing Nina Simone,” by Jeff L. Lieberman, which features more than 50 interviews with Simone’s family, associates and academics (including me), scheduled to be released later this fall.

Nina SImone in 1965          

Nina Simone in 1965 with her daughter, Lisa. Credit Associated Press

Mr. Lieberman said he wanted to explore the relationship between Simone and Marie-Christine Dunham Pratt, a former model and the only child of the dancer Katherine Dunham, because “many gay men and lesbians have long connected with Nina Simone because she was this outsider in her many worlds, sometimes sad, sometimes lonely, but always determined, and unrelenting in her fight for freedom.”

Still, the preoccupation with Simone has more to do with her sound than her life story. Those who have covered Simone on recent albums — including Algiers, a Southern gospel and punk band; Xiu Xiu, an experimental post-punk group; and Meshell Ndegeocello, the neo-soul, neo-funk artist — are remarkably different from one another. Their common use of Simone speaks to how her music cuts across race, gender and genre.

But it has been hip-hop, the genre that Simone once said had “ruined music, as far as I’m concerned,” that has kept her musically relevant more than anything else.

Lauren Hill

Lauryn Hill. Credit Chad Batka for The New York Times

The two hip-hop artists most responsible for Simone’s current ubiquity are Kanye West and Lauryn Hill. Mr. West has rendered Simone hip-hop- and pop-friendly by sampling her in songs like “Bad News,” “New Day” and “Blood on the Leaves.” While he declined to comment on Simone, like her, he fashions himself as a controversial if not misunderstood rebel — a figure who wants to be appreciated as much for his refusal of artistic genres as for his musical virtuosity.

Ms. Hill was one of the first rappers to mention Simone in song — on the Fugees’ “Ready or Not” in 1996 — and she recorded several songs for “Nina Revisited: A Tribute to Nina Simone,” an album (due July 10) tied to “What Happened, Miss Simone?”

Jayson Jackson, Ms. Hill’s former manager and a producer of Ms. Garbus’s film, conceived “Nina Revisited,” and said that while working on the album, Ms. Hill told him, “I grew up listening to Nina Simone, so I believed everyone spoke as freely as she did.”

Paradoxically, Simone’s comeback also reveals an absence. A majority of pop artists — with the exception of a few like D’Angelo, J. Cole and Killer Mike — have largely been musically silent about police violence in Ferguson, Mo.; New York; and Baltimore.

Nina Simone 1968

Nina Simone in about 1968. Credit Getty Images

John Legend, who covered Simone on his own 2010 protest album with the Roots, “Wake Up!,” and recently started Free America, a campaign to end mass incarceration in the United States, attributes this absence to artists unwilling or unable to take positions outside the mainstream. “I don’t think it is career suicide to take on these positions, but I think there is actually a limited number of artists who really want to say something cogent about social issues, so most do not even dive in,” he said in an interview.

He added, “To follow in her footsteps, I think it takes a degree of savvy, consciousness, communication skills, and a vibrant intellectual community that most artists aren’t encouraged to cultivate.”

Today, Simone’s sound and style have made her a compelling example of racial, sexual and gender freedom. As Angela Davis explained in the liner notes for the album, “In representing all of the women who had been silenced, in sharing her incomparable artistic genius, she was the embodiment of the revolutionary democracy we had not yet learned how to imagine.”

Correction: June 28, 2015

An article last Sunday about the influence of the late singer Nina Simone on modern musicians misspelled the name of her hometown. It is Tryon, N.C., not Tyron.

Salamishah Tillet is an associate professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania, the author of “Sites of Slavery: Citizenship and Racial Democracy in the Post-Civil Rights Imagination” and is writing a book on Nina Simone.

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The Monster of Monticello

This Fourth of July we should read Professor Paul Finkelman's excellent article after many incidents of recent racial hatred, gun violence, and President Obama's eulogy at Charleston, S.C. for the victims of another senseless racially motivated killing at a Bible study inside a sanctuary. It had been the target of racists before.  We might look at the third president of our country and see where some of these roots derive from despite the traditional reverence accorded to Jefferson because of his role in writing the Declaration of Independence. Even the flag of the confederacy has provoked many to act to bring it down or request that governors consider that. Obama mentioned in his eulogy bringing it down would not be an act of political  correctness, nor would it detract from those who fought in the civil war, but rather that the purpose the South fought to preserve slavery was wrong. Perhaps now we can face the need to make it harder to put guns into the hands of people not fit to handle a gun. Here are some sobering thoughts on one of our national heroes who was a slaveholder when he drafted the Declaration of Independence. You may be surprised to find his behavior fell far short of what we now expect of our leaders, yet in his time, and even now, he was, and is, revered for his passionate embrace of independence and the American Revolution.

By PAUL FINKELMAN NOV. 30, 2012

Jefferson        

Durham, N.C.

THOMAS JEFFERSON is in the news again, nearly 200 years after his death — alongside a high-profile biography by the journalist Jon Meacham comes a damning portrait of the third president by the independent scholar Henry Wiencek.

We are endlessly fascinated with Jefferson, in part because we seem unable to reconcile the rhetoric of liberty in his writing with the reality of his slave owning and his lifetime support for slavery. Time and again, we play down the latter in favor of the former, or write off the paradox as somehow indicative of his complex depths.

Neither Mr. Meacham, who mostly ignores Jefferson’s slave ownership, nor Mr. Wiencek, who sees him as a sort of fallen angel who comes to slavery only after discovering how profitable it could be, seem willing to confront the ugly truth: the third president was a creepy, brutal hypocrite.

Contrary to Mr. Wiencek’s depiction, Jefferson was always deeply committed to slavery, and even more deeply hostile to the welfare of blacks, slave or free. His proslavery views were shaped not only by money and status but also by his deeply racist views, which he tried to justify through pseudoscience.

There is, it is true, a compelling paradox about Jefferson: when he wrote the Declaration of Independence, announcing the “self-evident” truth that all men are “created equal,” he owned some 175 slaves. Too often, scholars and readers use those facts as a crutch, to write off Jefferson’s inconvenient views as products of the time and the complexities of the human condition.

But while many of his contemporaries, including George Washington, freed their slaves during and after the revolution — inspired, perhaps, by the words of the Declaration — Jefferson did not. Over the subsequent 50 years, a period of extraordinary public service, Jefferson remained the master of Monticello, and a buyer and seller of human beings.

Rather than encouraging his countrymen to liberate their slaves, he opposed both private manumission and public emancipation. Even at his death, Jefferson failed to fulfill the promise of his rhetoric: his will emancipated only five slaves, all relatives of his mistress Sally Hemings, and condemned nearly 200 others to the auction block. Even Hemings remained a slave, though her children by Jefferson went free.

Nor was Jefferson a particularly kind master. He sometimes punished slaves by selling them away from their families and friends, a retaliation that was incomprehensibly cruel even at the time. A proponent of humane criminal codes for whites, he advocated harsh, almost barbaric, punishments for slaves and free blacks. Known for expansive views of citizenship, he proposed legislation to make emancipated blacks “outlaws” in America, the land of their birth. Opposed to the idea of royal or noble blood, he proposed expelling from Virginia the children of white women and black men.

Jefferson also dodged opportunities to undermine slavery or promote racial equality. As a state legislator he blocked consideration of a law that might have eventually ended slavery in the state.

As president he acquired the Louisiana Territory but did nothing to stop the spread of slavery into that vast “empire of liberty.” Jefferson told his neighbor Edward Coles not to emancipate his own slaves, because free blacks were “pests in society” who were “as incapable as children of taking care of themselves.” And while he wrote a friend that he sold slaves only as punishment or to unite families, he sold at least 85 humans in a 10-year period to raise cash to buy wine, art and other luxury goods.

Destroying families didn’t bother Jefferson, because he believed blacks lacked basic human emotions. “Their griefs are transient,” he wrote, and their love lacked “a tender delicate mixture of sentiment and sensation.”

Jefferson claimed he had “never seen an elementary trait of painting or sculpture” or poetry among blacks and argued that blacks’ ability to “reason” was “much inferior” to whites’, while “in imagination they are dull, tasteless, and anomalous.” He conceded that blacks were brave, but this was because of “a want of fore-thought, which prevents their seeing a danger till it be present.”

A scientist, Jefferson nevertheless speculated that blackness might come “from the color of the blood” and concluded that blacks were “inferior to the whites in the endowments of body and mind.”

Jefferson did worry about the future of slavery, but not out of moral qualms. After reading about the slave revolts in Haiti, Jefferson wrote to a friend that “if something is not done and soon done, we shall be the murderers of our own children.” But he never said what that “something” should be.

In 1820 Jefferson was shocked by the heated arguments over slavery during the debate over the Missouri Compromise. He believed that by opposing the spread of slavery in the West, the children of the revolution were about to “perpetrate” an “act of suicide on themselves, and of treason against the hopes of the world.”

If there was “treason against the hopes of the world,” it was perpetrated by the founding generation, which failed to place the nation on the road to liberty for all. No one bore a greater responsibility for that failure than the master of Monticello.

Paul Finkelman, a visiting professor in legal history at Duke Law School, is a professor at Albany Law School and the author of “Slavery and the Founders: Race and Liberty in the Age of Jefferson.”

 

Crispus Attucks poem by John Boyle O’Reilly

 Crispus Attucks.jpg

in Crispus Attucks Legacy and Historical Landmarks

John Boyle O’Reilly (1844-1890) was an Irish-born poet who wrote the poem Crispus Attucks.

 
 

WHERE shall we seek for a hero, and where shall we find a story? Our laurels are wreathed for conquest, our songs for completed glory. But we honor a shrine unfinished, a column uncapped with pride, If we sing the deed that was sown like seed when Crispus Attucks died.

Shall we take for a sign this Negro-slave with unfamiliar name— With his poor companions, nameless too, till their lives leaped forth in flame? Yea, sorely, the verdict is not for us, to render or deny; We can only interpret the symbol; God chose these men to die— As teachers and types, that to humble lives may chief award be made; That from lowly ones, and rejected stones, the temple’s base is laid!

When the bullets leaped from the British guns, no chance decreed their aim: Men see what the royal hirelings saw—a multitude and a flame; But beyond the flame, a mystery; five dying men in the street, While the streams of severed races in the well of a nation meet!

O, blood of the people! changeless tide, through century, creed and race! Still one as the sweet salt sea is one, though tempered by sun and place; The same in the ocean currents, and the same in the sheltered seas; Forever the fountain of common hopes and kindly sympathies; Indian and Negro, Saxon and Celt, Teuton and Latin and Gaul— Mere surface shadow and sunshine; while the sounding unifies all! One love, one hope, one duty theirs! No matter the time or ken, There never was separate heart-beat in all the races of men!

But alien is one—of class, not race—he has drawn the line for himself; His roots drink life from inhuman soil, from garbage of pomp and pelf; His heart beats not with the common beat, he has changed his life-stream’s hue; He deems his flesh to be finer flesh, he boasts that his blood is blue: Patrician, aristocrat, tory—whatever his age or name, To the people’s rights and liberties, a traitor ever the same. The natural crowd is a mob to him, their prayer a vulgar rhyme; The freeman’s speech is sedition, and the patriot’s deed a crime. Wherever the race, the law, the land,—whatever the time, or throne, The tory is always a traitor to every class but his own.

Thank God for a land where pride is clipped, where arrogance stalks apart; Where law and song and loathing of wrong are words of the common heart; Where the masses honor straightforward strength, and know, when veins are bled, That the bluest blood is putrid blood—that the people’s blood is red!

And honor to Crispus Attucks, who was leader and voice that day; The first to defy, and the first to die, with Maverick. Carr, and Gray. Call it riot or revolution, his hand first clenched at the crown; His feet were the first in perilous place to pull the king’s flag down; His breast was the first one rent apart that liberty’s stream might flow; For our freedom now and forever, his head was the first bid low.

Call it riot or revolution, or mob or crowd, as you may, Such deaths have been seed of nations, such lives shall be honored for aye. They were lawless hinds to the lackeys—but martyrs to Paul Revere; And Otis and Hancock and Warren read spirit and meaning clear. Ye teachers, answer: what shall be done when just men stand in the dock; When the caitiff is robed in ermine, and his sworders keep the lock; When torture is robbed of clemency, and guilt is without remorse; When tiger and panther are gentler than the Christian slaver’s curse; When law is a satrap’s menace, and order the drill of a horde— Shall the people kneel to be trampled, and bare their neck to the sword?

Not so! by this Stone of Resistance that Boston raises here! By the old North Church’s lantern, and the watching of Paul Revere! Not so! by Paris of ‘Ninety-Three, and Ulster of ‘NinetyEight! By Toussaint in St. Domingo! by the horror of Delhi’s gate! By Adams’s word to Hutchinson! by the tea that is brewing still! By the farmers that met the soldiers at Concord and Bunker Hill!

Not so! not so! Till the world is done, the shadow of wrong is dread; The crowd that bends to a lord to-day, to-morrow shall strike him dead. There is only one thing changeless: the earth steals from under our feet, The times and manners are passing moods, and the laws are incomplete; There is only one thing changes not, one word that still survives— The slave is the wretch who wields the lash, and not the man in gyves!

There is only one test of contract: is it willing, is it good? There is only one guard of equal right: the unity of blood; There is never a mind unchained and true that class or race allows; There is never a law to be obeyed that reason disavows; There is never a legal sin but grows to the law’s disaster, The master shall dropp the whip, and the slave shall enslave the master!

O, Planter of seed in thought and deed has the year of right revolved, And brought the Negro patriot’s cause with its problem to be solved? His blood streamed first for the building, and through all the century’s years, Our growth of story and fame of glory are mixed with his blood and tears. He lived with men like a soul condemned—derided, defamed, and mute; Debased to the brutal level, and instructed to be a brute. His virtue was shorn of benefit, his industry of reward; His love!—O men, it were mercy to have cut affection’s cord; Through the night of his woe, no pity save that of his fellow-slave; For the wage of his priceless labor, the scourging block and the grave!

And now, is the tree to blossom? Is the bowl of agony filled? Shall the price be paid, and the honor said, and the word of outrage stilled? And we who have toiled for freedom’s law, have we sought for freedom’s soul? Have we learned at last that human right is not a part but the whole? That nothing is told while the clinging sin remains part unconfessed? That the health of the nation is periled if one man be oppressed?

Has he learned—the slave from the rice-swamps, whose children were sold—has he, With broken chains on his limbs, and the cry in his blood, ‘I am free!’ Has he learned through affliction’s teaching what our Crispus Attucks knew— When Right is stricken, the white and black are counted as one, not two? Has he learned that his century of grief was worth a thousand years In blending his life and blood with ours, and that all his toils and tears Were heaped and poured on him suddenly, to give him a right to stand From the gloom of African forests, in the blaze of the freest land? That his hundred years have earned for him a place in the human van Which others have fought for and thought for since the world of wrong began?

For this, shall his vengeance change to love, and his retribution burn, Defending the right, the weak and the poor, when each shall have his turn; For this, shall he set his woeful past afloat on the stream of night; For this, he forgets as we all forget when darkness turns to light; For this, he forgives as we all forgive when wrong has changed to right.

And so, must we come to the learning of Boston’s lesson to-day; The moral that Crispus Attucks taught in the old heroic way; God made mankind to be one in blood, as one in spirit and thought; And so great a boon, by a brave man’s death, is never dearly bought!

John Boyle O’Reilly

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