Archive for December, 2009

A Mighty Tree Has Fallen In Harlem!

Posted in Cultural Matters with tags , , , on December 28, 2009 by playthell


Now Let Us Praise Great Men!

 Percy Sutton And Malcolm X In Harlem


On the day after Christmas the sad tydings reached  my ears that honorable Percy Sutton had danced and joined the ancestors in that mysterious realm where all great servants of the people  go when they transition from this life.  Much will be said over the next few days about the life and legend of Percy Sutton; but the Reverend Al Sharpton correctly summed up the significance of Mr. Sutton’s life with the terse observation: “He represented the experience of black Americans in the twentieth century.”    Hence the study of Mr. Sutton’s story is one way for young people to make sense of American history, especially how the ordeal of racism in the last century continues to shape America today.  This is of critical importance because it is impossible to make sense of America at the end of the first decade of the twenty First century without and understanding of the critical lessons of the past century.  

In the sound bite spectacle oriented society in which we presently dwell, a fast paced cybernetic world that prizes instant gratification, reading is becoming a lost art to many.  But fortunately the internet provides succinct statements on many subjects, including pictures, profiles, interviews and articles about men and women of distinction.  So it will be easy to conjure up the facts of Mr. Sutton’s life, and fortunately young people are the ones most at home in cyberspace.  It is possible to confidently say that Mr. Sutton’s life is a roadmap through the African American experience in the twentieth Century because he experienced what every black man experienced from the streets to the suites. 

Which is not the same thing as saying that he was a black everyman, because very few men in America – black or white – can bolster a fabulous life narrative comparable to that of Percy Sutton.  Born the son of an ex- slave, Percy Sutton started at the bottom of American society.  As a southerner he came of age in an apartheid America where white supremacy was openly proclaimed as the ruling ideology of the society.  Racial inequality was enshrined  in the law, although the Supreme Court and  U.S. Congress would never admit that it was true.  The Plessy v. Ferguson decision that created the racially segregated society in which Person Sutton lived most of his life, called for “separate but equal” facilities for both races as provided for in the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.  This may have seemed a plausible possibility in theory, but it turned out to be a cruel fiction in practice.

 The Supreme Court would reverse itself in the 1954 Brown decision, and rule that “Separate is inherently unequal,” yet this is the society in which Mr. Sutton had to compete with whites.  His journey was made all the more difficult because even the smartest and most humane whites continued to praise America’s commitment to freedom, justice and opportunity for everyone, which meant that they had to deny his desperate reality because it contradicted the great American myth. Less humane and intelligent whites were prepared to do anything to keep “Niggers” in their “proper place,” which is to say absolute deference to white privilege upon punishment of injury, imprisonment or death!


 A Dashing Young Fighter Pilot!


That A man forced to live under a system that was akin to being in a giant gulag, where your crime was the color of the skin the gods gave you, and become a fighter pilot, a lawyer, a pioneering businessman and media mogul, and the longest running Borough President Of Manhattan is prime face an epic tale.  Although these achievements are enough to justify several lifetimes, Percy Sutton was also a devoted father and indefatigable warrior for his oppressed people.  I first heard of Percy Sutton when he was Malcolm X’s lawyer.  It was a great surprise because outwardly he appeared to be the quintessential bourgeois lawyer, but I observed him in action I was reminded of the wisdom of Aunt rosa’s warning: “Never judge a book by it’s cover.” 

In Percy Sutton we have a role model for the ages.  Elegant of style and manner, eloquent beyond words, smart as a whip, king maker in politics, splendid business man who served the interests of his community, freedom fighter at home and abroad. A giant by any measure and one of the finest products of African American culture.   Indeed, what Shakespeare said of his noble Moor Othello is also true of Percy Sutton: The elements so blended in him that all the world could say… there was a man!  And we may never see his like again.

  The Lion In Winter


 We May  Never See His Like Again!





Playthell Benjamin

Commentaries On the Times

 Harlem New York

December 28, 2009


Christimas Time In Harlem Heights

Posted in Cultural Matters on December 25, 2009 by playthell

On Jumel Terrace!


 Christmas Comes But Once A Year!!!



 But When It Comes


I Dream Of A White Christmas!


Just Like The Ones


In Harlem Heights!



The View From Sugar Hill!


 On The Eve Of Christmas!


A Soulful Sunset On Sugar Hill


 A Painted Sky As Night Falls


Paintings Of The Gods!


Merry Christmas!



From El Chocolate Caliente!


 And A Happy New Year!!!


Photos by: El Chocolate!

Philly Jazz!

Posted in Cultural Matters, Music Reviews with tags , , , , on December 23, 2009 by playthell


Little Big Man: Jimmy Heath


New York–While I have been culturally and spiritually enriched by every happening that I was fortunate to witness in Rose Hall, the space with the fabulous jazz acoustics that is the jewel in the crown of Jazz at Lincoln Center, as a former long time resident of Philadelphia it remained a special pleasure for me to hear the unique concert “City of Brotherly Love Jazz.”   It was a Saturday night fish fry Phillistyle.  While the beer and pretzels featured at the bar may have seemed a quaint oddity to some, to me it was a touch of home, another sign of the extent to which JALC is willing to go to present the music with authentic flavor. They could not have chosen a better exemplar of the Philly sound than the Heath Brothers, around whom an all-star Philly bred ensemble was built; they are the Philadelphia equivalent of the magnificent Jones boys of Detroit: Thad, Hank, and Elvin. With Buster Williams on bass, Pat Martino on guitar, Duane Eubanks on trumpet, and Joey Defrancesco on the Hammond organ and acoustic piano, joining Jimmy and Al “Tootie” Heath on Saxophones and drums, the original hard bop Sound of Philadelphia was well represented in New York City – also known amongst hip black Philadelphians as “The Fruit” – just a few moons after the Ides of March.  In order to understand the recent public outbursts by the great Philadelphia born and bred Comedian, educator, businessman, philanthropist and jazz aficionado Bill Cosby, excoriating the manners and morals of the black lower class – which is really a lament for the decline of a halcyon age in black Philadelphia culture and community – one has only to observe the standard of elegance, dignity, eloquence, and artistic virtuosity exemplified by the Heath Brothers.  

When the nobility of these elders, who, like Cosby himself, are cultural ambassadors from that splendid time and place, a time which Brent Staples has correctly labeled “the era of industrial prosperity,” are pitted against the banalities, vulgarities and nihilism that mar the personalities and cultural products of post-industrial Philadelphia, where gangsta rap was born, it is easy to see why it makes him wanna holler!   As a counterstatement to the b- boy “street” or gang banger image prized by the rappers, the Heath Brothers are paragons of the jazz musician as creative intellectual and fashion plate. Cosby and the Heath brothers all came of age at a time when standards were set in the Afro-American community by the “Talented Tenth,” an educated and forward looking class whose existence was first noted by Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois in his 1899 sociological classic, The Philadelphia Negro, and as their mission was to “uplift the race” they set the standards high.

 Those high standards and reverence for excellence were all too obvious in the quality of the music performed under the Heath brother’s leadership, as all the musicians soared to exceptional levels of virtuosity, and the spirit of the music reflected the optimism of the times, which also inspired Afro-Americans in spite of pervasive racism and discrimination. Created in a city with a booming economy based upon commerce and manufacturing, with good public schools, a well educated middle class and a large population of working class home owners, it was an environment which promoted the conventional wisdom that progress was the inevitable result of hard work and study. 

Hence this music is a sound portrait of the mid-century American zeitgeist; it was even popularly referred to as “Progressive Jazz.”   The concert began with an original composition by Jimmy Heath titled CTA, composed in 1953 and originally recorded by the great Miles Davis.   Although the piece was written over a half century ago, it sounded like it could have been conceived yesterday because like all fine art it is timeless.  The piece featured Joey Defrancesco on the Hammond organ and transported me back to the Philadelphia “beer gardens” and cabarets of the late 1950’s and sixties, where one could always find beautiful barmaids, splendidly attired charming company, and great organ trios or quartets.  

 It was a traditional Philly Jazz sound, the original sound of Philadelphia that was popular when Rhythm and Blues writer/producers Gamble and Huff – who made millions with a R&B style popularly known as “The Sound of Philadelphia” on the wildly popular Philadelphia International record label in the 1970’s – were still in knee pants!    It was readily apparent after a chorus or two that Defrancesco had absorbed, as if by osmosis, the quintessentially Philadelphia sounds of organist like the incomparable Jimmy Smith – undisputed master of the Hammond organ – Don Patterson and “The Mighty Burner,” Charlie Earland. 

The tune was a hard swinging blues and announced from Jump Street that blues and swing were indispensable elements of this band’s musical project.  Guitarist Pat Martino was swinging hard on his axe, leveling  a thicket of rhythmic and harmonic obstacles as he soared over the changes with beautiful flowing statements.  Defrancesco gave a great exhibition of right hand dexterity, as he played riffs and soloed without chording with his left hand or pumping bass lines with the foot pedals.  This was a generous gesture on his part, as he refrained from cluttering up the rhythm by crowding spaces better left to Pat Martino’s Guitar and Buster William’s exquisite double bass grooves.  These jazz men were master musicians who knew how to swing hard without getting in each other’s way.

In classic bop style, which demanded virtuosity from every instrumentalist, everybody had the opportunity to solo.   Although they must have missed the versatile rhythms of their ever so swinging brother Percy Heath – a past master of the double bass “bull fiddle” who played with big bands, hard boppers and the cerebral Modern Jazz Quartet – the big warm lyrical sound Buster Williams coaxes from the instrument was majestic and left nothing to be desired. In fact, Buster is an original and commanding voice in a grand tradition of Philadelphia bassists that include Jimmi Merritt, Reggie Workman, Spanky De Brest, Jimmy Garrison, Stanley Clarke, Christian McBride et al. 

As both the lynchpin that hold the groove together and the spark plug that fires the soloists up, Tootie Heath is a seasoned virtuoso on the drum set and gave a master class on polyrhythmic swing.   More concerned with swinging the band than soloing, he plays just loud enough; a consummate accompanist who never overpowers the other instrumentalist, nor even competes with them like many contemporary drummers who approach his level of virtuosity.   His consummate artistry brings to mind another great drummer, “Philly Joe” Jones, who powered the marvelous Miles Davis Septet featuring Trane and Cannonball Adderley. There were times during his most creative periods when the great John Coltrane had all Philadelphians in his quartet: pianist McCoy Tyner, Reggie Workman or Jimmy Garrison on bass, and Rashid Ali on drums.

The dominant voice in this ensemble, the first among equals, is the little big man Percy Heath, a composer, bandleader and saxophonist extraordinaire whom romped through the tune like a juke joint blues shouter.   His is a special gift that enables a man of small statute to produce one of the largest most opulent sounds ever heard on the tenor saxophone – an instrument who’s melodic and harmonic possibilities have been explored by an amazing array of gifted artists.  Some of the greatest of these – John Coltrane, Hank Mobley, Benny Golson, Odean Pope, Sonny Fortune, Gregory Herbert, et al –  came from Philadelphia.  

But whenever I began raving about any of these dudes in Philadelphia during the early Sixties, somebody would pull my coat and say “Hey man, you just wait until Jimmy Heath gets back out here on the street.  He’s the cat!”   Sometimes they would say that even when I was praising John the prophet, which sounded like heresy, because to my ears John Coltrane had no equal on the tenor sax.  The soprano either, after I heard him on “My Favorite Things.”   So I looked forward to hearing this legendary saxophonist who was “down” doing hard time behind a “doogie bust.”    King heroin had caused the fall of another musical giant!  When I finally heard him I immediately recognized what all the fuss was about.  

Whenever I watch him play Jimmy Heath brings to mind Carlos “Potato” Valdez, the legendary Afro-Cuban conga virtuoso, a little man whose small hands pound out as rich a tone as those drums are capable of producing; yet he seems to barely strike the skins.  It’s as if he has a musical Midas touch.   I get that same feeling every time I hear the warm lush lyrical tone that effortlessly flows from the bell of Heath’s saxophone like hot lava with the power to heal the human spirit.  On Ceora, a composition by the legendary Philadelphia trumpeter Lee Morgan, a great artist whose persistent heroin problem help bring about his untimely demise, Heath turns to the soprano sax and quickly proved he is the master of both horns.  Trumpeter Duane Eubanks takes the first solo. He has a good clear strong tone but his solo was surprisingly restrained; devoid of flashes of ostentatious virtuosity. 

Perhaps his offering struck me that way because he was in the house that Wynton built, and I have grown accustomed to hearing Wynton blow the roof off the place.  Upon reflection however, Wynton has set the standard so high that it is unreasonable to expect any other trumpeter to equal it.  It is quite possible to be an outstanding trumpeter and never rise to Wynton’s standard of performance.  Jimmy played the soprano with a full round sound that is his trademark on the tenor, only even more lyrical.  Pat Martino followed suit and presented a flawless solo; laid back but dynamic.  Joey Defrancesco switched to acoustic piano and demonstrated how well he could play with two hands, creating complex colorful chords that complimented his inventive improvisations.  His gentle fluid style, like ripples on a stream, reminded me of Ahmad Jamal, the great piano master from Pittsburg who is a contemporary of the Heath Brothers and every jazz pianist worthy of the name has studied.

 I was especially moved by their rendition of Soulful Days, a song composed by my old friend Cal Massey, a trumpeter from Pittsburg who settled in Philly a while before moving on to the Big Apple. I once played congas in Cal’s band before he anointed the world with his music then joined the ancestors.  The performance was largely rendered by a classic Philadelphia style organ trio, which included guitar and drums.   Joey Defrancesco and Pat Martino reminded me of the collaborations between Kenny Burrell and Jimmy Smith, which is not surprising since Defrancesco idolizes Jimmy Smith and Martino played with him and several other major jazz organists.    Defrancesco was burning on all cylinders, pumping the bass and playing tasty chords behind Martino’s solo; the audience erupted in spirited applause. When Defrancesco takes his turn the careful listener can easily hear many references to art of Jimmy Smith.

 Among the other highlights of the evening was their rendition of Benny Golson’s composition “I Remember Clifford,” a moving musical eulogy to the late trumpet genius Clifford Brown, who died at an early age in a car accident.   Eubanks is featured on this beautiful ballad and he played movingly.  The band made a point of performing the works of other Philadelphia musicians, such as pianist Bobby Timmons’ classic Moaning, which was a big hit for Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, in which he played piano and Naima, John Coltrane’s song for his wife that Doug Carn transformed into a panegyric to all black women with his brilliant lyrics, and his wife Jean Carn made immortal with her unforgettable performance. 

We were also treated to a singer after intermission, a tall guy with a big pliable baritone voice Jimmy Heath called T.C. III, who had been highly influenced by the late originals Leone Thomas and Eddie Jefferson, who invented vocalese, especially on Miles Davis’ tune “Freddie Freeloader.”  T.C. could croon, and scat, and even yodeled a little bit.  Leon Lives!  And so does the jazz sound of Philadelphia.  Thus it was a smart and stylish move for Philadelphia Mayor John Street, a big time Jazz Fan, to declare the two days that the Philadelphia Musicians were jamming in New York, “Philly Jazz At Lincoln Center Day!”  




* To see Jimmy Heath perform with his brothers Percy and Tootie click on this link:

Originally Published

 March 22, 2006

By: playthell Benjamin







Originally Published

 March 22, 2006

By: playthell Benjamin


On The Chaos In Copenhagan!

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, Playthell on politics with tags , , on December 18, 2009 by playthell

 Demonstrators For Climate Controls


 Will Nationalism Destroy Mankind?

In the movie “The Day The Earth Stood Still,” an alien being comes to earth with the intention of destroying humanity if the nations of our planet could not come together and agree to change their destructive ways.  They  decided to take action because, although human technology was primitive compared to that possessed by the aliens, humans had developed to the point where they were beginning to explore outer-space and their reckless behavior posed a danger to all life in the Solar system.

Although this was but a horrifying fiction, there is more than a grain of truth in this fable about destructive human behavior.  Hence I believe it is a cautionary tale for our times.  Not only does mankind have the means to destroy our planet in less than an hour by setting the world afire in an atomic holocaust, reckless human activity has already set  forces in motion that will destroy our planet within the next century by decimating the natural environment if we don’t radically change course.  This is the raison d’etre for the Copenhagen Conference on climate change that is clumsily deliberating on critical measures, actions which must be initiated immediately…if not sooner, if we are to have a fighting chance to stop this self-inflicted disaster for the human race. Alas, the conference is about to end in a fiasco as President Obama flies in to try and save the day.


 President Obama Droppin Science

With his usual eloquence, intelligence and impeccable timing President Obama presented his case for taking immediate action to save our planet. I got the impression that it was a plea from the heart  inspired by the sincere desire to lead the earth’s peoples in bequeathing to his children and theirs a livable planet and a better world.  It was, as in many of his important addresses, an appeal to what Abe Lincoln elegantly identified as “the better angels of our nature.”  After a meeting with a cabal of about twenty key leaders without whose support no effective agreement to save the earth is possible, President Obama mounted the podium and told the assembly “All of you would not be here unless you, like me, were convinced that this danger is real.

“This is not fiction; it is science.  Unchecked, climate change will impose unacceptable risks to our security, our economies and our planet.  This much we know.  The question then before us is no longer the nature of the challenge; the question is our capacity to meet it.  For while the reality of climate change is not in doubt, I have to be honest…as the world watches us today, I think our ability to take collective action is in doubt right now: and it hangs in the balance.  I believe we can act boldly, and decisively, in the face of a common threat.  That’s why I come here today not to talk…but to act!”

Having announced his intention to be judged by his deeds not merely his mastery of rhetoric, the President addressed head on America’s role in the pollution of our planet. “ As the world’s largest economy, and the world’s second largest emitter,” he said, “America bears it’s responsibility to address climate change, and we intend to meet that responsibility. That’s why we renewed our leadership within international climate change negotiations.”  The President went on to enumerate the bold steps his administration is taking, steps the he described as “ambitious.”  And he assured the audience that America will continue to pursue these policies under his leadership “no matter what happens here in Copenhagen.”

Although the President’s vision is both moral and conforms to the overwhelming weight of scientific opinion, he will have to fight tooth and nail with the Republicans to realize it.  Already some of the Republican leadership are vowing to kill any attempt to pass climate control legislation. Yet except for fools, fanatics, opportunistic politicians, and pseudo-scientific frauds who have entered into a Faustian bargain with the polluting industries to confuse the issue for personal gain, the overwhelming majority of scientific opinion support President Obama’s warning that we are rapidly reaching the point of no return. Our planet is in a state of emergency and if concerted action is not taken soon, dramatically reducing carbon pollution in the atmosphere, it will be too late to reverse our descent into the abyss.

Hence the challenge confronting the 192 world leaders assembled in Copenhagen is whether they can overcome their primitive tribal instincts, whose modern expression is the nation state, which are governed by such outmoded concepts as “national interests,” and think in global terms beyond geographical boundaries, viewing all mankind as one species with a common humanity, then take effective measures to save our species from extinction.  Of course, given man’s selfishness and bad faith in conducting international relations, this is far easier said than done. Especially here at home, where the white Christian nationalists who dominate the Republican Party reject science and believe America should be excepted from the rules other nations must follow. These deluded philosophical Neanderthals are totally committed to the dangerous doctrine of American Exceptionalism.  And if they manage to successfully filibuster a climate bill in Congress, or prevent the ratification of an international treaty legally binding the world’s nations to limiting carbon emissions, the Republicans will cease to be simply a problem to US stability and security and become a menace to the world.

The testimony given by representatives of the developing world provides a glimpse of the complexity of the problems confronting the negotiators.  The harrowing tales told by East Africans about the chaos caused by widespread famines resulting from encroaching deserts and erratic rain fall, are rivaled by frightening predictions from Decima Williams of Grenada, who spoke for the Organization Of Island Nations, about the growing possibility that they will disappear beneath the seas as the ocean level rises due to melting glaciers. Even as I write, a massive glacier has broken it’s moorings at the South Pole and is floating toward Australia, imperiling traffic on the high seas en-route.

 The Evidence is Unassailable!

The Magnificent Polar Bear Faces Extinction Due To Global Warming

Nevertheless, as the major industrialized nations responsible for this environmental destruction reach a stage of development where it is possible to consider pursuing clean technologies, the developing nations see the question differently.  Emerging economic powers such as China and India are just now undergoing their industrial revolution, and they feel it is unfair to put the burden of environmental  salvation on their shoulders.  Although along with the US, the greatest offender of them all on a per capita basis, China is the foremost polluter of the atmosphere with carbon emissions.  Yet the Chinese, skeptical about western intentions regarding their rapidly developing economy and jealous of it’s sovereignty, have stalled the negotiations over the question of allowing their emissions of pollutants to be monitored by international watchdogs.

When we frankly consider the difference in the standard of living enjoyed by the citizens of the economically overdeveloped western nations– whose wealth was built upon a world order based on the enslavement of millions of Africans, genocide against indigenous people in the Americans and elsewhere in the non-white world, and colonial exploitation of their resources and labor – it is easy enough to understand why they resent now being told that they must curb the rate of their development because it will aggravate a situation the western countries made in their mindless assaults on the environment during their industrial revolution.  Although China’s affluent middle class – which is 300 million strong – equals the entire population of the US, as does India’s 250 million,  China  has a billion and a half people and India has a billion.

The hundreds of millions of their citizens who have not made it into the middle class live in a very different world, a world that belongs to another age. In rural China workers roam the countryside in search of work, and suicide among poor Indian farmers disgraced because they can no longer provide for their families has become a routine affair!  This kind of desperation is common fare in rural villages and overcrowded urban centers all over the non-white developing world, as hundreds of millions go to bed hungry every night.  For these people, the Darwinian struggle for bread consumes their every waking concern; many are given hope only through the consolation of religion.

This is no less true among the desperate unemployed workers of the US however, as can be witnessed in the insane antics of the so-called “Tea Party patriots,” who are mostly mindless dupes of the religious right and opportunistic Republican politicians.  The marriage of  John McCain, Sarah Palin and “Joe the Plumber” is a dramatic case in point.  Although he was forced to retract it for political reasons, Barack Obama’s observation during the presidential race that poor unemployed whites were turning to God and Guns out of desperation was on the money.

This state of affairs is a prescription for the kind of social chaos that gives rise to religiously inspired messianic movements such as the Hindu nationalists, the Muslim Jihadists and the proliferating white Christian nationalist militias who are arming for a showdown with the federal government in order to “take their country back” from the communist fascist Muslim terrorist illegal alien who has presently commandeered the White House as their signs tell us.   These misguided souls are egged on by sinister wingnut Republican politicians who seem all too willing to create chaos rather than allow the President to govern effectively – which is to say successfully conduct the nation’s business as he was elected to do.

Already we can predict that they will attempt to block any agreement that President Obama enters into with the other nations of the world to save our environment, just as they have confused the health care issue with outrageous propaganda paid for by a private Health care industry vehemently opposed to any form of public option – in spite of the fact that we know nearly fifty thousand people a year die in affluent America because they cannot afford the medical treatment they require!

When all the things are considered finding common ground in Copenhagen is no picayune affair; in fact it is no exaggeration to say that should they overcome nationalist imperatives and arrive at a meaningful agreement that can be codified in a treaty with the force of international law, it would be a minor diplomatic miracle.  Yet if we don’t mend our ways Mother Nature will end our days.  As the present custodians of the earth, our leaders owe future generations nothing less than to produce a treaty that will save our planet.

The peoples of the world should insist upon nothing less, and struggle by any means necessary to make it happen.  In the USA this means starting a movement to oust the environmental reactionaries from office.  This requires undertaking a mass education campaign to teach our fellow Americans why we must save the environment.  The Prime Minister of Greece put it best: We have become like parasites that die out because they devour their host.  Hence our survival as a species demands that we toss the politics of nationalism in the  dust bin of history and put science in command, for we are literally in the fight of our lives!

The View from East Africa

 Encroaching desert: A vision Of things to come


Harlem, New York

December 18, 2009















Come Sunday In Brunswick Georgia

Posted in Theater, Travels in the New South with tags , , on December 16, 2009 by playthell

A Church For The High and Mighty!

 I had only arrived a little over twenty four hours ago; slipping into town with the rising sun, 7: o-clock on Saturday morning, when the sleepy little town of Brunswick Georgia was fast asleep.   My senior daughter Sandra met me at the bus stop and at my request we drove down to the waterfront to watch the shrimping trawlers steaming out into the Atlantic Ocean, “the biggety blue,” as the old salty dogs I once sailed out of the port of Philadelphia with called the ocean seas.  I looked around and suspected the sea food would be good…and I was right.

Although Brunswick lacks the sheer beauty of St. Augustine Florida, in some ways it reminded me of the nation’s oldest city, which lies perched on the Atlantic coast just 108 miles due south.   It was not only the white washed wooden trawlers, or docks made of faded gray weather beaten wood, that evoked memories of my boyhood home; the gray Spanish moss that drapes the many live oak trees filled me with bitter/sweet nostalgia.  And the quiet ambience of the city compelled me to reflect upon the virtues of small town southern life.  After all, the best things about my own character were forged in one.

The religious passions I had encountered elsewhere in the south were also percolating in Brunswick, and it didn’t take long to recognize that the battle against Satan was in full force.  The spirit of the lord seemed to be everywhere, infecting the believers with a sublime joy.  I first noticed it in the farmers market, where those hawking their wares were certain that the lord had personally blessed them with the bounty of the land.  This was true even among those farmers who seemed threadbare and quietly desperate.  Perhaps they felt that, like Job, the lord was simply testing their faith with hard times.

But one cheery lady, another white haired alabaster Georgia peach, seemed especially animated by the spirit of Christ as she related a yarn about how she was moved by the spirit of Christian charity to give a homeless man a jar of her famous fig preserves and a home made biscuit.  Everyone repeatedly thanked the lord for the beautiful morning, and for sparing them to see it.  They acknowledged each other as Christian solders – especially my daughter and the cheery Ms. Figgie – and they testified that the works of the Lord are good and righteous in all their manifestations.  I had hardly been in town an hour before I was engulfed in a gale of religious passion, and it was only Saturday; Sunday would be a different story.

We spent the rest of Saturday filling each other in with stories about family and friends and preparing a feast of fresh vegetables, rice, potato salad, cornbread, real lemonade and a variety of freshly caught sea foods.  My grandson Kelvin “Big Kel” Whitfield and his wife Lisa – whom I was meeting for the first time – also came over and brought some of their friends to meet me.   It was an interesting mix of personalities.  The young folk were bold, optimistic, and infatuated with various brands of folly.  My daughter’s friends, on the other hand, were mostly middle-aged, man-less but saved women who claimed to be done with the foolishness of this world and were storing up blessings for the hereafter by doing the lord’s work here on earth 24/7.  As they would often reiterate, theirs was a purpose driven life, and their purpose was to serve Jesus Christ and praise his name with every waking hour.  Yet the careful way they decorated themselves, and the sunshine smiles they beamed at the eligible brethren, betrayed a lingering interest in the opposite sex.


 Come Sunday things started bustling around the house early as the Christian soldiers arose with the sun, carefully laying out their uniforms so as to pass inspection with the lord.  This was the day that the pious saved souls lived for.  This was the day that they visited their father’s house and sanctified their souls in the body of Christ.  None was more dedicated to this ritual than Sandra.  That’s why I had turned down an opportunity to travel into New Orleans with the Dillon family, one of the city’s most influential clans, as they returned to assess the damage the wind and floods of Katrina had done to their homes.  It was a reporter’s dream, but I had promised Sandra that I would be in Brunswick to attend church with her; so I cut out from Baton Rouge and headed for southeastern Georgia.  And on Sunday morning I groomed and decorated myself to the height of good fashion and escorted my daughter to the New Covenant Church.

It didn’t take long to discover the high regard with which my senior daughter is held by the members of her congregation.  She was admired as much for her artistic abilities as her tireless work in behalf of the church. I would later be shown several bill boards for theatrical productions she had presented under the auspices of the church.  She had served as writer, director, choreographer, and designer of the sets and costumes.  I knew that by some mysterious alchemy she had managed to touch the sacred fire and become a poet, but I didn’t know that she had also become a multi-talented thespian.  And she is lauded for her talents in spite of the fact that she has no formal training in any of these arts.  Sandra is a true autodidact. Upon reflection I began to recognize that, like the great composer Johann Sebastian Bach, she has found her muse, audience and patron in the church.  And that’s about as convincing evidence of God’s grace as I have yet seen.

 From Africa to America: A musical Pageant


 A historical Odyssey into the African Diaspora


 A Swirl of Colors and movement!

 Real Black Magic!


 Written, Choreographed, Costumed and Directed by Sandra

There are many impressive churches in Georgia, grand edifices with steeples that reach for the skies, but Sandra’s church was modest, though well decorated; a church where humble working people could feel at home. Yet in spite of its unpretentious architecture, I’m convinced that if the spirit of God was anywhere in Georgia on that Sunday morning, she was in that little church in Brunswick. You could hear in the music, which was divine.  In this holy sanctuary the worshippers were bathed in the word of the lord as it poured from the mouths of passionate preachers, and the word would rejuvenate them and make them feel brand new, cleansed of the sins of this world.  In church, everybody was bedecked in their finest garments, and it was hard to tell some of the saved sisters who shouted out to God from the painted Jezebels and shameless hussies who were shaking their pulcritudinous “Afri-cans” in the juke joints on Saturday night past.   Some said that’s because they were the same crowd!

Since I was a stranger in town I had no way of telling who’s who, but if they were anything like most other church people I know it’s the same crowd alright. I surmised this from the first hand reports I have received from professional church musicians – most of whom are versatile musical artists who play in a variety of venues – who assure me that they get more action on church gigs than playing the cabarets.  This may sound strange to many readers, especially true Christian soldiers, but there are some fairly obvious reasons why the church choir has often been a cauldron of sexual licentiousness and myriad debaucheries.

First of all, as the most perceptive people who study the mating game and religious ecstasy well know, passion is a class of phenomena; and those who are capable of experiencing it in one of life’s arenas are capable of feeling it in others.  To make a short story shorter: Passion is passion whether religious or sexual.  When we add to this emotionally combustible atmosphere all the lonely people who go to church in search of fellowship of some kind, we have the perfect atmosphere for mortal sins of the flesh such as fornication and adultery.

The Reverend Doctor Michael Eric Dyson has written candidly about the lust and licentiousness that flourish in the black protestant church, and the prolific scholar/priest the Reverend Doctor Andrew Greeley, has pulled the covers back and revealed the tempestuous sexual passions – homosexual and heterosexual – among all levels of the priesthood in his insightful and once shocking novel, The Cardinal Sins.  The powerful novel Elmer Gantry, which was made into the classic movie starring Burt Lancaster and the luscious Shirley Jones that set my youthful erotic imagination spinning out of control, also provides an insightful look into religiously inspired sexual passions.  And what’s more it has long been rumored, and can now be backed up with first hand testimony provided to researchers that the church choir is often a passion pit of homosexual assignations.

In fact, a black gay sociologist based in Atlanta recently showed me a study that he is presently working on that will soon make these suppressed homo-erotic narratives public, exposing the hypocritical anti-homosexual stance of most churches.  One long time church singer told me “If it weren’t for gay men there would be no music in these churches.”  Having sung in the church since she was a young lass, over forty years now, the singer knows whereof she speaks.  Hence it makes good sense for gay men to cruise the church choirs in search of deep inner fulfillment.  In spite of the preacher’s admonitions against it, or the proscriptions against buggery in the bible, the church choir remains a prime cruising ground for love starved homosexual males and females in search of forbidden fruit.  The situation is such that it prompted one devoted deacon to remark to this writer: “All the troubles in the church start in the choir!”

  God’s Eunuchs or Priestly Pervs?

 The rape of children is a recurring sin among the “celebate” priesrhood

Nowhere has the blatant hypocrisy toward homosexuality been more egregious than in the Catholic Church.  Here, where all sexual activity by devotees of the religious orders –priests and nuns alike – is deemed a sin, forbidden fruit is especially attractive. Its human nature and no amount of pious preachment can alter it.   After all, was it not Adam’s inability to resist the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden that brought the downfall of man from a state of grace?  Thus when all of those closet perverts who join the Catholic priesthood, desperately attempting to avoid confronting the demons conjured up by their refusal to deal with their lust for forbidden pleasures, are placed in close unsupervised activities with innocent youngsters who are programmed to trust them, the rape of children is increasingly the result.

All this has left an indelible blot upon the character of the Roman Catholic Church and the honor of Pope John Paul II, the late Bishop of Rome, a good friar under whose reign the mass rape of Children occurred while he looked askance in an unholy charade designed to preserve the earthly reputation of the Church, thus failing to exercise his responsibility as chief steward of that church and keeper of the faith.  For this the Pope, now beatified and bound for sainthood, would have had to satisfy the commands of a higher power, not serve the petty politics of the church!


 Compared to such mortal sins against the word committed by the Catholic hierarchy, a few painted and daringly attired Jezebels in the Pews seeking absolution in my daughters church – even if on a temporary basis – was a welcome sight.   It was easy to tell who among us felt in the need of prayer, because at the invitation of Pastor Albert Armstrong – offered with arms outstretched majestically – the congregants flocked down to the well in front of the pulpit to repent their sins and seek God’s forgiveness and blessings through prayer.

As I watched them I couldn’t help wondering how they imagined God would weigh their sins – their failures of the flesh and petty avarice – Vs. George Bush’s fleecing of the poor to further enrich the rich, or the slaughter of innocents for example. And worse still, his unrepentant blasphemy!  I also wondered if they thought having impure sexual thoughts, or lusting after their neighbor’s spouse, was a graver sin than paying taxes to a government that enables the Bushmen to commit mass murder against weak and unoffending peoples, and to witness these crimes against humanity – the most perfect of God’s creations whom she cast in her own dusky image – without protest.

In spite of a burning desire to interrogate them, I never got to ask them these questions because they didn’t think in such terms.  For them morality was personal, these are the sort of people who were more alarmed about Clinton screwing around with Monica Lewinsky in an ante-room in the White House, than George Bush screwing us all from the Oval Office. The truth, as near as I could tell, is that most Christians who are devoted to other-worldly concerns don’t even pay any attention to the news; which, to my mind, is a real sacrilege.

 Dr Martin Luther King

 A Modern Prophet

Unfortunately, the Christian revivalism presently sweeping the south is not the prophetic Christianity of Dr. Martin Luther King, or his longtime comrade in the struggle Dr. Joseph Lowery, who told me in Atlanta a few days after I attended New Covenant Church, that he continues to see participation in the struggle against injustice here and now as the best way to serve the will of God.  But since the fundamentalists are certain that this sinful world is doomed to destruction by fire come Judgment Day, and many believe that we are clearly living in the last days – they can see it in the signs of the times – the truly righteous are spending all of their time getting ready to meet their maker.  And that means, first and foremost, “getting right with the lord,” which leaves them precious little time for contemplating the troubles of this world.

On this Sunday morning the sermon, which they referred to as “Praising the Word,” was delivered by Rev. Catherine Armstrong, the wife in the joint pastorate of New Covenant.  She wore her hair in a short “au natural” style, and was both bright and articulate as she delivered a straight forward message on the need for people to stand up and make a stab at achieving their dreams while seeking the lord’s help through prayer.  She was both erudite and funny, as she lifted the spirits of the congregants with her sermon.  Like the old time preachers in James Weldon Johnson’s epic poems God’s Trombones, this preacher was a poet, “with all the devices of eloquence at her command.”  And she was preaching in just the sort of church the great novelist and folklorist Zora Neal Hurston had in mind when she said a preacher “must be a poet in order to survive in a Negro pulpit.”

 Zora the Word Sorcerer!

 Her poetic prose celebrated the essence of black southern culture

As I sat and listened to this soul stirring sister I was reminded that it was the unschooled divines to whom these praises were addressed, Johnson in his poems and Hurston in her wonderful novel Jonah’s Gourd Vine, both written within a couple of hundred miles from each other in the same part of Florida where I grew up.  So by the end of my visit to this little Georgia church with the mighty spirit, after I had joined the congregation in physically driving the devil out of New Covenant’s sanctuary and witnessed my daughter raise her voice in sacred song, waving her hands above her head in time with the music, channeling the holy spirit on sound waves to the soul, I too, unrepentant infidel that I am, felt uplifted by the spirit of their sermons and the spiritual power of their songs.


Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

December 15, 2009

Is President Obama Moving To The Center?

Posted in On Right Wing Pundits and Bloviators, Playthell on politics with tags , , , on December 12, 2009 by playthell


 A Centrist by Nature?

In a twelve hundred word column in her Saturday December 12, Wall street Journal titled “Obama Moves Toward Center Stage,” Peggy Noonan announces that our President has moved from the left to the center of the American political spectrum.  “The political headline this week is that President Obama appears to be attempting to move toward the center,” she tells us with more than a hint of sarcasm, “or what he believes is the center.”  Ms. Noonan bases what she evidently believes to be insightful political commentary on a few statements the President made during recent speeches: “We saw the big pivot in two major speeches, one on the economy and the other, in Oslo, on peace.”  Actually the President’s Nobel Lecture was on war and peace.

The speeches in question are his address on the economy at the Brookings Institution – which Ms. Noonan, true to her hard right soul, labels as “left leaning” – and his magnificent Nobel Lecture.  Predictably she finds the greatest revelations in his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize.  What impressed her most was the President’s defense of the concept of “just War,” his assertion of his right and responsibility to defend America national security and vital interests by force of arms, and his celebration of America’s role as peacemaker since World War II.

However Ms. Noonan tells us much about her own vision of the world by the way she interprets the President’s message.  Rather than celebrate the amazing philosophical dexterity and dazzling eloquence of Mr. Obama’s oration at Oslo – in which he argued in defense of war while accepting the world’s most prestigious prize for peace and received a standing ovation – she reduces his message to crude jingoistic propaganda in defense of the bogus idea of American Exceptionalism.  “At his Nobel laureate speech in Oslo,” she tells us “the president used an audience of European leftists to place himself smack-dab in the American center. He said, essentially: ‘War is bad but sometimes justified, America is good, and I am an American.’” 

Like most die hard right wing ideologues Ms. Noonan has learned nothing from recent disasters resulting from this self-righteous ideology. It is this Barnum and Bailey view of the world that prompted the Republican’s to launch a war of choice of against an unoffending nation – a war that has lasted almost twice as long as World War II and Professor Joseph Stiegletz, a Nobel Laureate in Economics, calculates will cost three trillion dollars when the final bill comes due, while killing hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi citizens, who are 90% of the casualties.  It is especially instructive to recall that Ms. Noonan was a cheerleader for that criminal invasion, which has greatly expanded the ranks of the Islamic Jihadists by converting the preachments of Osama bin Laden into self-fulfilling prophecies, while giving new life to the Jihadists by torturing prisoners and diverting American forces from the global war on terror which was then centered in Afghanistan. 

And to argue – as all of the false press prophets who predicted that Sadam Huessein had “weapons of mass destruction” and was in league with Al Qaeda are now doing – that “everybody believed this at the time” holds no water with me.  I didn’t believe any of it, and if Ms. Noonan or her supporters doubt my claim they have but to read “The Prophetic Commentary On Iraq” – a 3000 word commentary which was published and aired on WBAI FM in New York  on the eve of the invasion – on this site.  Hence I fear that Ms. Noonan’s prominence – as well as the rest of the lily white punditariat who are provided platforms to pontificate on foreign affairs – has less to do with her competence than her race, class and gender.  This situation has led to much of the muddled thinking that characterizes American public opinion regarding the rest of the world.

Predictably, Ms. Noonan offered soaring praises for Mr. Obama’s references to the American role in defeating the NAZIS and rebuilding post war western Europe under the Marshall Plan, and she gave a ringing endorsement of the President’s assertion that this constitutes “”’a legacy for which my own country is rightfully proud. . . . Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms.’”   Alas, while Ms. Noonan’s receives this claim as sacred gospel, I regard it as American boosterism, half truths that obscure the deeper realities of America’s role in the world over the past sixty years and a measure of the extent to which Mr. Obama is held captive to the master narrative composed by the official mythmakers who control the apparatus of public opinion. 

Mr. Obama is more burdened with defending this mythological view of America as “the shining city on the hill,” the “light of the civilized world and “the last best hope for mankind” precisely because the Republican slime machine has been working overtime from day one to make him appear unpatriotic at best and treasonous at worse.  In fact, his skillful attempts at restoring America’s moral standing in the world through artful diplomacy has been recently labeled as “giving aid and comfort to the enemy” by Dirty Dick Cheney, the elder statesman of Ms. Noonan’s party who is both a war criminal  and the architect of the disastrous invasion of Iraq.  The language of Dirty Dick’s charge is identical to the language defining treason in the US Constitution. That Ms. Noonan has remained silent in the face of these outrageous charges divests her of any authority, moral or intellectual, to comment on the serious issues of our time. 

Hence her twisted conclusion as to the significance of Mr. Obama’s speech should come as no surprise to those who have been paying attention to Ms. Noonan’s views. “All of this,” she writes,  “as William Safire used to say, was good stuff. There were wiggy moments—his references to John Paul II in Poland and Richard Nixon in China were historically unknowing to the point of being utterly inapt—but they did no particular harm.”  Not only is Pugnacious Peggy wrong about the President’s references – which were entirely appropriate – but it is a classic case of the pot maligning the kettle for being black.  To better understand the point I am making here one should go to “The Hysteric as Pundit: Notes on a Weird, Wiggy, White Woman” and read my piece about Peg’s views on President Obama.

In her attempt to make the case that the President is “moving to center stage” Peg sites certain passages from his Brookings Institute speech on the economy.  “The president put unusual emphasis on—and showed unusual sympathy for—Americans in business…”  She Emphasized  the President’s  proposal to cut taxes on small business in order to stimulate growth in that sector and concluded: “ It was as if he were waving his arms and saying, ‘Hey taxpayer, I’m not your enemy!’ The only reason a president would find it necessary to deliver such a message is if he just found out taxpayers do think he’s the enemy.”

Well, if this is true it is because of the massive disinformation campaign Peg’s party has been waging to confuse a largely clueless public.  Finally she sums up the president’s proposals with this self-serving piffle: “This is how Republicans, moderates and centrists think, and talk.”  This statement is both  misleading and irrelevant, because everybody who knows anything about economics is recommending the policy the president is proposing, and Mr. Obama has always been a centrist.  He made that clear early on in his bid for the presidency when he declared that he saw no red or blue, black or white, left or right America; rather he saw only one America.  That’s dead in the center.  The only reason he seems to be a leftist is because Peg is so far to the right!  And it distorts her vision. 

Not content to be mistaken and irrelevant, Ms. Noonan makes herself ridiculous.  “There continues to be a particular challenge for the president,” she assures us.  “and it is an affection gap. It is not hard to respect this president, not hard to want to listen to his views and weigh his arguments. It is a challenge, however, to feel warmly toward him. This matters politically because Americans like to feel affection for their presidents, and are more likely to forgive them for policy differences when they do.”  Clearly most people who loved the President when they voted for him love him now.  I know I do.  And considering the horrendous problems he inherited from the corrupt and incompetent Bushmen – those murderous clowns who wrecked the economy, slept at the wheel while the Muslim Jihadists successfully carried out the most spectacular foreign attack on the US since the war of 1812, and plunged the nation into two wars and won neither – it is a miracle that his approval ratings are as high as they are.  And they compare very well to her idol Ronald Reagan at this juncture in his tenure in the Oval Office.” Furthermore her snide and silly comment that if President Obama was “going to bow to anything he should bow to reality” stretches  beyond ridiculous to the absurd for a woman who claims to have seen the face of the devil at ground zero!

Finally, on top of being wrong, irrelevant, ridiculous and absurd Old peg also reveals herself as petty.  “The White House lately seems very fancy. When you think of them now, it’s all tuxedoes, gowns and Hollywood. There’s a certain a metallic glamour. But metal is cold.”   Reading this comment I am reminded of a bit of advice  offered by my former colleague Mike Thelwell – essayist, novelist and distinguished Professor Literature, and political activist –  “If you do nothing but write…you will  eventually begin to tell lies.  Hence Ms. Noonan should recall that it was her hero, Ronald Reagan, that brought Hollywood chic to Washington – as I noted at the time in a commentary on his first inauguration titled: “Hollywood Goes to Washington: Notes on the Coronation Of Ronnie Reagan! “

Hollywood Fashion and Set Designers Ruled! 




Playthell Benjamin

Harlem New York

December 12, 2009 








Hail To The Juggler!

Posted in Barack Wins the Nobel Prize, Cultural Matters, Playthell on politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 10, 2009 by playthell

 The Prez Displays The Prize
 Barack Obama Accepts the Nobel Prize

Dispite Fidel Castro’s contention that President Obama’s acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize was “cynical,” as I listened to the President’s  Nobel Lecture on war, peace and the power of diplomacy the eloquence and intelligence of his speech, under girded by high moral purpose and profound humility, justified my faith in his leadership and confirmed my belief that he is the right man to lead the world at this critical juncture in history.

Given the multiple crisis’s presently confronting humanity – the destruction of the environment, incessent wars, famine, world wide economic collaspe, terrorism and the every present danger of nuclear catastrophe – the most powerful nation in the world demands a President who can balance concerns about several complex issues at the same time.  And I have never seen a more impressive exhibition of this balancing act that the President’s Nobel Lecture.  It was like watching a philosophical juggler who juggled ideas from philosophy, history, politics, literature and religion as if they were bowling pins.

Since the full breath and depth of the speech is beyond the scope of this commentary, I shall confine my comments to the raison d’etre of the occasion: war and peace.  The central problem confronting the American President in Norway – where he was greeted by protestors bearing signs calling attention to what they believed was the Nobel Committee’s hypocrisy in awarding the peace prize to a Commander-In-Chief who had just ordered thirty thousand troops to invade a foreign country – was to explain this paradox to a skeptical world.

Just as he had done when the race issue surfaced during the election and threatened to sidetrack his campaign, Barack Obama confronted the issue head on.  This required him to argue in defense of the doctrine of “Just War;” in spite of the inherent risks of such an argument on this occasion.  And he pulled it off in grand style.

The logic and moral core of the President’s argument was that while he loved peace as much as any one in that august gathering, as the leader of a great nation he was forced to recognize that there is real “evil in the world” and these forces cannot be deterred from their nefarious aims by moral preachment. And he dramatically illustrated this point by reminding his audience that even Dr. Martin Luther King – the American pacifist apostle of peace whom they had also honored – could not have deterred Hitler’s armies with non-violent demonstrations.

This simple assertion brought the audience face to face with an inconvenient truth: pacifism as a national policy in the face of armed enemies’ intent on conquest, slavery and genocide is a collective suicide pact!  Hence, a nation can justify war to preserve their freedom and security against an evil enemy, or to intervene in the affairs of another nation in order to halt genocide! The use of violence in these instances, he convincingly argued, is essential to creating the preconditions for a lasting peace.

It was a bold and persuasive speech.  But it is not a speech just anyone could have made in this environment.   It worked because President Obama is the most gifted orator in the political arena, which makes his arguments compelling even where a less talented advocate would be summarily dismissed as a charlatan.  Yet the plain truth of his philosophical polemic is all too obvious; that’s why I wrote a commentary in defense of the NATO air assaults on Yugoslavia when the Serbs were committing genocide in Kosovo.  Titled “Bombs Away!” it raised the ire of many of my colleagues, but I remain convinced that I was right.  Just as I continue to believe that President Clinton should have intervened in Rwanda!

Although I am equally convinced that the President is making a grievous error in escalating the war in Afghanistan – a move that may well prove to be as much a march of folly as Bush’s decision to invade Iraq – I agree with the fundamental themes of his argument on this occasion.  As the bible teaches: There is a time for peace and a time for war,” each thing in its season.

Alas, it is the nature of the human condition; the inevitable consequence of the imperfection of man.  Barack Obama did not make the world as it is, but I am convinced that he is trying to make it better.  And so, evidently, does the Nobel committee.  Hence I stood and applauded along with the guest in Oslo and around the world at the conclusion Barack’s magnificent oration.  It not only lived up to the occasion, but I am convinced that it will take its place among the great Nobel Prize Lectures, rivaling even those given by the Nobel Laureates for Literature.

President Obama and Holocaust Survivor Elie Wiesel


Two Nobel Laureates Reflecting On The Evils Of The World 


African-Americans Represent!


Two Harvard Men Commiserate 

President Obama With Harvard Neuro-Biologist S. Allen Counter


Proud Rich Afro- Americans Who Travelled To Oslo to Bear Witness

Actors Will & Jada Smith Hanging With Dr. Counter 


Dr. Counter and Wycliff Jean 



Soul In Scandanavia


Distinguished Harvard  Administrator David L. Evans


 Semper Fidelis!



 Double Click on Link to see Nobel speech

Playthell Benjamin

Harlem New york

December 10, 2009

It’s On:Pac-Man vs. Money Mayweather

Posted in On Sports! on December 8, 2009 by playthell

An Afro-Asian Eclipse!


 Manny “Pac-Man” Pacquaio!


Pretty Boy Floyd


Come on wit it!!!


Well folks, this is the one boxing wise guys and die hard fans have been waiting for.  The best two fighters in the world pound for pound are finally going to square off in the ring.  This time we are certain to witness the real deal.  Understandably many fans have adopted a wait and see attitude, because we have been hyped up for super fights in the last bouts of both men and were presented with a dud.  But only fools throw out the baby with the bath water.  The reason why the last two fights looked like mis -matches is easy to explain: they were mismatches! 

However this is not to suggest that the promoters acted in bad faith.  They had every right to expect a great fight, for the last opponents of Mayweather and Pacquiao were great fighters in their own right.  Miguel Cotto and Jaun Marquez both had a host of victories and world championship belts to prove it.  What their one sided victories against these opponents proves is that Mayweather and Pacquaio are in a class by themselves.  That’s why guys who look like world beaters against other opponents seem like bums once they enter the square ring with them.

Since both “Pretty Boy” Floyd and Manny P. are boxer punchers with exquisite skills and miles of heart, it is hard to envision a scenario where a match between them can fail to fulfill our wildest fantasies.   For of all the possible fights one can imagine among today’s pugilist population this one has no rivals for dream match of the year.  Since both fighters are full of piss and pride, mucho machos, it is safe to assume the fight will be distinguished by non-stop action performed with a near flawless virtuosity.  In other words, while most boxing matches can justly be described as a barbaric public spectacle where two brutes bludgeon each other into a bloody mess until one stumbles and falls or time runs out on the bout, this match will remind us what E.B. Leibling meant when he coined the term “Sweet Science” to describe artistry of pugilism.

 A Scientist at Work


Taking Marquez apart with devastating precision

Marvelous Manny Rocks the Rugged Cotto!


An Intrepid Artist of destruction!

 Based on the tale of the tape and their record in the ring, this is not an easy fight to predict.  Yet the fact remains that Mayweather has never lost a fight in forty matches, winning 25 by knockout.  And he also has no draws in winning six world titles. Pacquiao on the other hand has been defeated three times, fought two draws and was knocked out twice!  The “Pac-Man” has twice met Juan Manuel Marquez in world title fights. The first fight was for the world Feather-Weight Championship and ended in draw, which left the title in Marquez’s possession.  Their second meeting was for the Super-Feather Weight championship of the world, and the Pac-Man won a close and controversial decision.  Yet of Pacquiao’s 50 wins 38 were by knockout.  And he is the only fighter to win seven world titles in different weight divisions. 

As the situation stands Pac-Man is presently rated by boxing handicappers as the “best in the world pound for pound” and Pretty boy is rated second.  Since I am notorious for keeping my on counsel when all around me are following the crowd, going for the okey doke masquerading as expertise, I’m stepping out on a limb here and putting my money on “Money” Mayweather to prevail – cause game recognizes game.  Since I too am undefeated in my chosen arena of combat – the polemical battles of the punditry – I just can’t see Pretty Boy Floyd losing to this little guy any more than I could envision myself losing a debate to right wing verbal bullies like Pat Buchanan and Bill O’Reily.  

Ironically, Marquez is a great fighter in his own right, the real deal not just hype, but did an El-foldo in there with Mayweather because he was outclassed not an absence of heart.  Given the trouble the Pac-Man had with Marquez I can envision no scenario where he can prevail over Pretty Boy Floyd, who is almost as deadly with his fist as his namesake was with his Thompson Sub-Machine Gun!  I’m Calling it for Mayweather by unanimous decision or a knockout!  Remember you heard it here first.



Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

December 2009

Crusing Through Georgia

Posted in Cultural Matters, Travels in the New South on December 4, 2009 by playthell


 On the Road Riding the Big Dog


 Further reflections from my Journey through the New South

It was a strange sensation cruising through Georgia early in the morning on the day the eagle files, reversing General Sherman’s route from Atlanta to the sea, while listening to a conversation about lynching on “Democracy Now!,” hosted by Amy Goodman on Pacifica Radio.  It was recorded from an earlier show and I was listening on my Walkman as NYU Sociologist Troy Duster, and Princeton historian Nell Painter discussed the history of lynching in the US. The discussion had been occasioned by the apology issued by the United States Senate atoning for the failure of that body to pass a federal anti-lynching law during a century in which black Americans were publicly crucified for the slightest offense to the prerogatives of white power, real or imagined. 

As both of these scholars pointed out, the real significance of the formal apology from the Senate was that it acknowledged a period when crimes against black humanity were either codified in law, or tacitly accepted in custom.  And both of them believed that Senate’s acknowledgement of this practice provided and opportunity to commence a national dialogue about the consequences of America’s racial caste system on the status of whites and blacks in America today.  A conversation that is long overdue, because we cannot progress beyond where we are in race relations until this question has been honestly examined.

Riding through sleepy little Georgia towns like Hinesville and Richmond Hill on my way from the lovely coastal city of Brunswick, where I had said goodbye to my senior daughter Sandra and boarded a 6:30 am bus for the seven hour ride to Atlanta, I experienced many scenes that conjured up images of the old south I remembered from the bad old days when “white supremacy” was the unambiguous governing philosophy of the south, and its institutional arrangements were rigorously enforced by ritual murder.  In order to service the small towns that used to be whistle stops back in the golden age of passenger trains, the big dog prowled the back roads, affording me a glimpse of what’s left of the old south that is enshrined in memory and legend, and preserved in history and literature.

As I looked at the thick woods whose trees were draped with gray Spanish moss, the open fields with occasional flocks of grazing cows, the grand houses and humble abodes announcing the inhabitant’s station in society, I was reminded what  life was like for black folk during most of this state’s history, the centuries old injustices that white Americans are trying their best to forget or deny.  In the cinema of my mind I could envision gangs of black folks in tattered rags toiling from first light to deep dusk, wresting earth’s bounty from the red clay soil.  And I could imagine the whips, and chains, and rapes, and all the forms of coercion and violence that were a normal part of the life of African Americans in a society where they were defined as three quarters of a man at the birth of the nation. And some seventy years later, in 1857, the Supreme Court would announce in the Dred Scott Decision: “The Negro has no rights that a white man is bound to respect!”

A Land Watered with African Blood, Sweat and Tears


Slave labor tilling these fields was the economic foundation of the south

  The countless crimes against the humanity of African people are a subject that now embarrasses America’s claims as a land that has always stood for freedom and justice, a claim that the US elite has used to justify their invasion of countries like Iraq.  Thus African Americans are implored to forgive and forget.   But to ask a victim to forget and forgive a crime that the perpetrator has never admitted committing, nor formally apologized for, or attempted to redress, is an outrage against the very notion of justice.  I however would argue, like Frederick Douglass almost a hundred and fifty years ago, “Now is not the time for the gentle shower but the whirlwind!” 

Thus rather than forget the bloody history of Georgia which, like Surinam, began as a prison colony where the dregs of British society were settled, we need to remember this history.  One of the most pleasurable ways of doing this is turn to the writings of Dr. W.E.B. Dubois in his 1903 revelations of our spiritual strivings in The Souls of Black Folk, and Jean Toomer’s path breaking Harlem Renaissance novel Cane.  It would be quite enlightening to compare the portraits they painted of rural and urban life in the peach state with life in the region today.   

While there remains little of the poetic beauty in Georgia’s countryside that Toomer portrays in Blood Burning Moon, the tendency towards the worship of dollars that DuBois saw developing and warns against in his essay On the Wings of Atalanta, has fully come to pass.  Atlanta is the ultimate consumer society, where vulgar materialism runs amuck and most people’s dreams rarely extend beyond the next trinket they wish to acquire.  And, in one of the many perversions of Jesus Christ’s teachings that has been the hall mark of Christianity in the American South; they justify their lust for material things – a kind of modern idolatry – with biblical references.  It is called “The Prosperity gospel.” Here the connections are clear between the values of Protestantism and capitalism that the great German sociologist, Max Weber, described in his classic text Capitalism and the Protestant Ethic.  And, of paramount importance to us today, as historians of the holocaust have shown: It was also evangelical protestants – much like those who put Bush in the White House – that was the backbone of the Nazi movement in Germany that put Hitler in power.

The city of Savanna, which was famed for its wealth and cultural life in Ante-Bellum times, offers a revealing look at life in a contemporary southern city.  Perhaps the most impressive symbol of progress and modernity is the magnificent suspension bridge that spans the bay.  Like the famous Brooklyn Bridge in New York City, this bridge is a work of art.  And although I advance this as a suspicion only, I’d bet the family jewels that the structural engineer who designed it was inspired by Colonel Robeling, the designer of the Brooklyn Bridge, who sought not simply to solve the problem of spanning a roadway across the Hudson Bay, but to create “a work of art in steel.”  But since the triumph of the cost accountants, those calculator totin philistines who dictate the aesthetics of large structures by ruthlessly controlling its cost – as if a price can be placed upon beauty – art has been abandoned in favor of economics.   

But not so in Savanna; here esthetics was not sacrificed to the imperatives of cost accounting.  This bridge, like the Brooklyn Bridge, is not only a work of art but the also state of the art in design engineering.  Unlike the Brooklyn Bridge, or the more functional and efficiently constructed George Washington and Verrazano bridges, the cables do not run all the way to the piers on each side of the bay, instead they rise like the steeple of a grand temple to human ingenuity cast in stainless steel, towering over the landscape like a modern Colossus of Rhodes.  However, when this imposing edifice is viewed from certain perspectives it reveals a harrowing portrait of the stratification of life in Savanna.

 A Tale of Two Cities


In Black Savanna

The opulence and progress symbolized by the bridge sharply contrasts with the unemployed and impoverished young men, who are mostly black, who dwell in public projects – government subsidized hovels – and the homeless shelter near the bus station.  When I peeped them hovering around the river banks I thought of Katrina’s victims and reflected on the fact that should a massive hurricane smash into Savanna they would fare no better.   These dramatic cleavages in wealth and opportunity are, alas, the true face of the New South.   They no longer lynch young black men down here; they simply starve them into crime or homelessness if they belong to the working class.  But for the well educated bourgeois blacks, the sweet smell of the bitch goddess of success is everywhere.  Hence Afro-Americans live in a schizoid Dickensian era: “The Best of Times and the worst of times.”   

The Homeless Shelter Across From Bus Station


A place of refuge for the down and out

 Let me hasten to add that I mention this fact only as a statement of reality; it is not intended as an indictment of the success of the newly minted black middle class.  For most of these people have arrived at their station in life through hard work and serious study, which required personal discipline and the ability to defer gratification – the ability to forego the party now so that they can later party for life.  Thus, unlike the progeny of the plutocrats, they didn’t inheriet wealth and thus deserve what they have acquired.  If I have any serious criticism of this new black bourgeoisie, it is that far too many of them spend far too little time strategizing and struggling to plan and implement policies and programs that would uplift those left behind and cast upon the scrapheap of society by the impersonal forces of unregulated free market capitalism.  Too many of them have gleefully joined the orgy of vulgar materialism that is the hall mark of the ultimate consumer society.

Yet for Dr. Dubois, who first called for the creation of a highly educated black middle class in his 1903 essay “Of the Talented Tenth”- which was written while he lived in Atlanta – this kind of leadership was their reason for being.  And he made this abundantly clear a half century later in his 1958 book In Battle for Peace, written a year after Dr. E. Franklin Frazier published his revealing book Black Bourgeoisie.  Yet I hasten to add, in spite of the shortcomings of many members of the new Afro-American middle class, the fact remains that it is from the “Talented Tenth,” which has grown into the “Talented Third,” that that most of the positive ideas and actions that are presently guiding black Americans to higher around and greater aspirations come from this class. 

Furthermore, the disparagement of their success – which they achieved against tremendous odds in a society where, despite the civil rights laws passed in the 1960’s, institutional racism lives on in custom if not in law – is to risk celebrating failure the way some of us radicals did in the sixties.  This misguided strategy led to what I now recognize as the romance of the lumpen element, most notably by the Black Panthers, an ideology that has now come back to plague us in Gangta rap.  These ideas were clearly at the root of the antisocial bravado that led to the demise of Tupuc Shakur, a gifted artist who could not adjust to his success and thus was destroyed in a tragedy of his own making.  Tupac’s story reminds me of the tale of a six foot man who drowned in three feet of water; all he had to do was recognize the reality of his situation and stand up! 

However, while celebrating their achievements, we must also be wary of how the success of the black bourgeoisie is often employed to camouflage the true condition of the black working class by right-wing apologists for the glaring inequities in contemporary American society.  And down in Georgia, such apologists come in all colors, just check out Uncle Clarence Thomas, who hails from a little country town in these parts.


When I inquired about the state of race relations in Brunswick Georgia, my daughter Sandra – a smart and godly woman – simply told me that the white folks were a lot nicer than they used to be but it was still hard for young black men to land good paying blue collar jobs at the mills.  She said the white women in Brunswick were crazy about black men but white men were not happy to have them as competitors – in the marketplace or the bedroom.  In fact, my grandson Kelvin, Sandra’s only child, who is the same age as my son Samori – his uncle- is experiencing problems that arise directly from this racial competition. 

Married to a southern white woman and working with her as a team in managing a motel situated on a notorious vice ridden strip in Brunswick, where he is known as “Big Kel,” Kelvin is acutely aware of the residual cultural and institutional racism in the “new south.” Unable to even imagine what my generation endured under the southern caste system, most of what bugs him would have been considered light-weight action in my day, Kelvin is well aware that everything ain’t kosher down here in the “dirty south,”  dispite what appears to be monumental changes in race relations since I left the south four decades ago.  In fact, he is so aware of the residual racism and closet neo- Nazi white supremacist that he has written some brilliant comic skits based on such characters. 

The young black working class males I met while moving around town with him were quite candid in discussing their desperate economic plight.  One young man in his early twenties told me how he went out daily in a futile effort to find employment at a living wage, supporting himself by cutting hair in his apartment – an illegal activity without a license.  Although I think the arguments of right-wing economists, like Walter Williams and Thomas Sowell, that the solution to the problems of the unemployed and underemployed is to scrap all government regulation of private enterprise are ludicrous, I think it equally absurd that this young man could have problems with the law for providing a constructive service that people want.  Another twenty-something male, who was struggling to make ends meet laboring in a fast food joint, discerned in the course of our conversation that I was not religious, picked up his Bible and announced with heart rending passion, “Yo Old School, this is the only thing that’s keeping a lotta dudes I know from going off and hurtin somebody; cause it’s rough tryna make it out here.” 

 The Illusion of tranquility in Brunswick Georgia


These pristine streets disguise the perculating race and class conflicts

And so does these elegant Victorians

A blast from the past conjuring up a genteel life
Although he was a friendly young man who appeared to be of fine character, he had been forced by economic necessity to become a vendor of wisdom weed – another economic crime.  And because I believe the anti-marijuana laws represent the  “Tyranny of the majority” that Alexis de Touqville warned us about as a danger to democracy – as well as my commitment to supporting local entrepreneurs, especially when they offer high quality merchandise at fair prices, I patronized the young entrepreneur’s parlor in the spirit of defending democracy and promoting community enterprise.  As I sat and sampled his wares, mellow as a cello, the door was suddenly kicked in and we were confronted with a masked robber wielding a Glock!  

Although he was talking loud gangsta talk and ordering us around while holding the Roscoe in that sideways style that has been popularized in New Jack flicks and gangsta rap videos, it was clear that he was as scared as we were.  Since I was no stranger to gun totin desperadoes – having lived on the edge of Washington Heights during the Crack wars of the 80’s – I maintained my cool.  Furthermore, aside from my training in the use of weapons by the Strategic Air Command, including knife fighting – and I had my razor on me – I’ve been steeled in the fires of struggle and trained for trouble!  So when it became clear to me that murder was not on the gunman’s mind, that he only intended to fleece my host of his weed and coin, I really chilled out and considered the irony of a New York sharpie getting taken off by a Georgia boy in a one horse town.  I would have never lived it down.

All of this, however, brings us back to the central point that Professor Troy Duster was making.  As one of the authors of the critically important study White Washing Race, Prof. Duster is concerned with how racial discrimination operates today, after the collapse of the legal racial caste system.  And he argues that the prison /industrial complex is used as a major form of socio/political controls which limits Afro-American competition with whites for the economic goods of this affluent society.   When one considers that a prison record restricts the ex-con’s access to the job market and often denies them the right to vote, the veracity of Dusters argument is undeniable.  When we observe the problems that young black men with clean records are having finding gainful employment – studies show that white men with criminal records routinely fare better – one does not have to be a seer in order to imagine what they will face when seeking honest employment.  And this, needless to say, is the main reason why prisons have had a revolving door for so many young black males.

 Down here in the south on can also clearly see how economic hardship –along with a hyper-patriotic mindset born of a bizarre mixture of guns, God and football – leads young black and white males into the military services, where they wind up in places like Iraq fighting the imperialist wars of the plutocrats.  Even as I write, the story of Sergeant Ricky Stanley is featured on the front page of the Sunday edition of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  Titled “A Soldiers Fear and Faith,” it tells us how this humble family man from the small hamlet of Dublin Georgia struggles to make sense of the war in Iraq where his National Guard unit was dispatched.  I was just in Dublin the day before, and I can imagine what the horrors of life must be like in Iraq when I read how badly he yearns to return to this boring Hick town, which Sgt. Stanley makes sound like paradise. 

Although he had a job working in a factory, like many week end soldiers Stanley probably joined the National Guard to defend the homeland and make a few extra dollars on the side.  And like almost everybody down here in Georgia he believes God is watching over him in spite of the fact that he is part of an invading army, stationed in a desert thousands of miles from home, in constant danger of being blown to bits over a criminal policy concocted by lying scoundrels!  For to my mind “Dirty Dick” Chaney, George II, Carl Rove, “Scooter” Libby, Condoslezza and the rest of the Bushmen look just like what I’d imagine the devil and his minions would look like in twenty-first century America. 

 Yet Sgt. Stanley doesn’t even suspect that the Devil may have had a hand in what looks to me like a god-forsaken position that he now finds himself in.   Instead he recounts an incident where he was very nearly killed by a circle of bombs rigged by the insurgents, and concludes “Only by the grace of God are we alive.  Even though we’ve got .50 caliber machine guns, I’ll take God and his word any day.” His response was typical of the type of fundamentalist Christian that I have repeatedly encountered all over the south.   Perhaps nothing demonstrates his faith that God is personally watching over him more than his mantra before going out on a combat mission: “Oh Lord, dispatch your angels to watch over me tonight.” 

 From all indications, Sergeant Stanley doesn’t have a clue why he is in Iraq, and although he complains about being sent out on so many dangerous missions when other soldiers are not even being trained to undertake such missions, he does not appear to believe that his race has anything to do with it.  However when I showed a friend a picture of Stanley leading a prayer meeting in Iraq, he thought it was being held in a black church down here in Georgia.  That’s how segregated black and white Christians are when they pray, even when they face death together on a daily basis! 

 Yet, like all of America’s wars since Korea, black youths make up a disproportionate percentage of infantry forces, which is the most dangerous place to be in a war.  That’s why so many of our young people are returning home from the hellish experience of combat broken of body and spirit…if they return at all.   Hence there is a bitter irony in the fact that the Christian revivalist movement sweeping the nation – in which beaucoup black folks are stalwart Christian soldiers – is a major reason why Bush is in the White House wreaking havoc on the black community and the Third World. 

 The other-worldly, anti-intellectual, anti-scientific approach encouraged by this fundamentalist dogma is a large part of the reason why the electorate, Boobus Americanus, is so shamefully ignorant of the facts they need to know in order to make intelligent decisions about whom to put in power.  Hence Thomas Jefferson’s admonition that the claims of religionist should be subjected to the rigorous test of reason remains good advice not taken.  And his prediction that an ignorant electorate will elect the worst people to office has come true.  No one bears more guilt for this tragic state of affairs than the Evangelical Christians of the “dirty South!”


Playthell Benjamin

Atlanta Georgia

Summer 2007