An Unexpurgated Letter to Nick Lento and other “Progressives”

Posted in On the 2016 Presidential Election with tags , , , on April 24, 2016 by playthell
Gorgeous George in the Magic City 001
The Voice of Reason

Suicide is Not Progressive!

Dear Nicky

Since you are an obviously a smart and well-meaning guy whose heart and mind is in the right place, I shan’t follow my first impulse and tell you to KISS MY ASS!   Instead I shall endure your rather snide and snarky attitude – which has become the rhetorical style of those acolytes “feelin the Bern” – because there is value in what you say….although at times you come perilously close to being like the proverbial cow that gives a great bucket of milk then kicks it over in the dung.

For instance, after some generally astute and thoughtful analysis you opine: “Generally speaking cursing and insulting people and trying to bully them with foul language is not a way to make friends and influence people. The reality is the further we can push the Democratic platform in a progressive Direction and the further we can push Hillary Clinton in a progressive Direction the more chance she will have of winning if she becomes the nominee in the general election. Crudely and rudely demanding Bernie Sanders and the many millions of people supporting him simply walk away and politically drop dead is not helpful.”

First of all I have not suggested that Bernie Sanders supporters should “drop dead.” I am merely calling for them to cease the character  assignation of Hillary Clinton because the way it looks she will be the democratic candidate for president of the United States. In which case, we are going to have to support her in the fight against the dreaded Republicans.   Secondly,  I have been making friends and influencing people here and abroad probably before you started coming out of the yard by yourself; hence I need no advice from you on that score.

Furthermore I have been an organizer in a mass movement that succeeded, taught seminars on the structure and dynamics of mass movements in GREAT UNIVERSITIES, and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize TWICE for writing about mass movements – see the nominating letters at Playthell: A Thumbnail Sketch at the top of this page.   I have won other prizes for my writings on the subject that can also be seen there, and had two of my feature essays on mass movements studied in seminars AT THE COLUMBIA GRADUATE SCHOOL OF JOURNALISM!  Furthermore, if you read my essays on The mass movements of the “Arab Spring” and the “Occupy Wall Street Movement” on this site you will see that they read like Biblical Prophecy!  And I have also held professorships in History and Journalism.

Hence I need NO ADVICE from verbose amateurs who are a bit too full of themselves – either regarding the use of language or how to influence people in debate.  I am a seasoned master at both!  I said EXACTLY WHAT I MEANT TO SAY IN THE STYLE THAT I SAID IT!!!!!!  I disagree that the only people who are in danger of not supporting Hillary are people who would not have voted for her in the first place.   Hence I am trying to warn the undecided that some of Bernie’s followers are going off the beam and are DANGEROUS!!!!

Although it is true that the people you identify might not have voted for Hillary, there are many independents and fence straddlers that may be inclined to vote for Hillary but will be discouraged by the increasingly rancorous and reckless rhetoric emanating from the Sanders campaign. As Bernie’s numbers shrink beside Hillary’s they are beginning to talk like mindless self-righteous zealots!   In politics as in sports: You are what the numbers say you are.  And the numbers say that when it’s all over Bernie will be an also ran.

There are 2, 383 delegates needed to win the Democratic nomination.  At present according to Bloomberg News and the Associated Press Hillary Clinton has 1, 930 delegates, 502 of which are Superdelegates.  Bernie Sanders has 1,191 delegates including 38 Superdelegates and 1, 644 delegates remain to be allocated.  Clinton needs only 430 delegates to win outright, but Bernie needs 1,192 delegates to win.  I see NO path to victory for Bernie under the rules of the Democratic Party.  That’s why his supporters are going bonkers and spouting madness.  They are becoming loose cannons that represent more of an electoral danger to the Democrats than the Republicans.

Alas, otherwise sensible and principled people are beginning to sound like shameless charlatans and fumbling fools. Former head of the venerable NAACP Ben Jealous, a brilliant and thoughtful commentator/activists for the progressive vision, is talking like a charlatan in his unfair criticism of Hillary as a result of a joke told by New York Mayor de Blasio about “CP Time” i.e. “Colored People’s Time.”  It was an old joke among black Americans; I and everybody I know thought it was funny as hell.   And since Big Bill is married to a Soul Sista of the deepest dye most of us consider him “black by emersion!”

Bill and Charlene de Blasio
The Mayor and Charlene
The Mayor and First Lady of New York

So Ben made an asshole of himself with his fake outrage: IT WAS EMBARRASING!!!!  And then there is the matter of Nina Turner.  A former State Senator from Ohio, I first became aware of her from watching her emerge as a powerful spokesperson for progressive issues on television when she was in the Ohio legislature.  She impressed me as smart, feisty, politically astute, and fearless: a powerful advocate for the public interests, the working class and the powerless.

I found her admirable in every respect, a model public servant.  But here lately, as a surrogate for the Sander’s campaign, she has become shrill as a banshee, self-righteous as an evangelical preacher, and as judgmental as a hangman.  Then there are the actors who, by virtue of their fame have a large audience, however because they are used to reciting lines composed by others when left to think on their own they are subject to say ANTHING!

Susan Serandon and Dannie Glover are poignant cases in point.  In separate interviews on MSNBC Serandon hesitated when asked if she would support Hillary if Bernie didn’t get the nomination.  After fumbling around with the question, she said she was undecided and even saw a bright side to a Trump victory: “It would speed up the revolution.”

This is the kind of talk one expects to hear from clueless college kids enamored with the abstract revolutionary theories of the intellectual left promulgated by folks who claim to speak for the “revolutionary” proletariat.  Not surrogates for a politician vying for the nomination of a major American political party.  And although Danny Glover is a lot smarter than Suzy, a genuine intellectual with a deep understanding of the complexities of politics, he is also talking like a fool hedging on the question of supporting Hillary.

This is what self-righteous zealotry does to people.  The belief that one has some ultimate and unassailable truth, and that this truth is personified by a political leader that can do no wrong, has lead to unspeakable disasters.  The historical record is littered with such examples.  Alas, in their desperation Bernie’s acolytes increasingly seem convinced that by sliming Hillary they can improve his chances of victory.

They are even talking about trying to provoke a floor fight at the convention that mirror the Republican’s strategy to stop Trump.  Their strategy is based on the belief that they can provoke a fight at the Convention and convince enough super delegates to abandon Hillary and support Bernie.  However as I write Hillary needs only 430 delegates to win while Bernie needs 1, 192, hence they have a serious uphill fight ahead that will sow discord in the party in what’s seems destined to be a failing effort.

I think this is a wrongheaded strategy, a fool’s errand, that can seriously wound the party; imperiling our chancer at winning this critical election, especially since some of these zealots are talkng about starting a Third Party!  While I am an enthusiastic supporter who is feelin the Bern, I am first and foremost a political animal whose paramount objective is defeating the Republicans; a Yellow Dog Democrat who would vote for an old yellow dog before casting a ballot for a Republican.

Unlike a great many of Bernie’s acolytes – and you appear to be among their number – I do not see this as a contest between a saint and sinner they way yhall do. I see this as a contest between two ambitious politicians vying for the most powerful office in the world; neither of whom have a monopoly on virtue.

After all, most of the things that Bernie accuses Hillary of regarding raising money have been true OF EVERY SUCCESSFUL AMERICAN PRESIDENT!!!!!   Bernie is the sole exception….but then he ain’t won shit yet!   So you jokers need to CALM THA FUCK DOWN!  If Bernie don’t win he ain’t in: THAT’S THE LONG AND THE SHORT OF IT!   We must then fall in line behind Hillary and our marching ordrs must be “No Enemies on the Left!   Anything else is EXTREME FOLLY that will certainly lead to political disaster.

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Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
April 24, 2016

 

Resurrection of a Heavy-Weight

Posted in Cultural Matters, Theater with tags , , on April 11, 2016 by playthell

 

Jack Johnson - played by Tommy Moore II

Tommie J. Moore as Jack Johnson
Tommie Moore brings Jack Johnson to Life in “Dare to Be Black”

Of all the difficulties facing an actor in the theater, the one man play is arguably the greatest.  Without a cast of actors to play against, the lone thespian must hold the attention of the audience and create dramatic tensions on his own.  He must be able to create bathos and pathos – comedic and tragic moments – with his verbal delivery and body language alone.  With only stage props, and sometimes recorded music, the actor must create an imaginary world and purely on the basis of his telling of the tale transport us into that world and make it real.

It is a task that has much in common with a solo piano performance for the artist, in that any shortcoming will be magnified and thus only a consummate master can pull it off.  Tommie Moore pulls it off grand fashion; it is as if Jack Johnson sprang before us fully alive and complete….like the goddess Athena sprang into the world full blown from the forehead of Zeus.

Mr. Moore is also the playwright, and as Shakespeare warned us: “The play is the thing.”  Hence the fate of a theatrical work is sometimes dictated before the actor ever looks at the script.  For if a play is badly written – or fatally flawed – not even great actors can salvage it no matter the caliber of their performance.  In this instance Moore has scored on all points because the script is brilliantly written.  And the way Mr. Moore came to write this work was a serendipitous affair; like so many creative works, whether it be in the arts or scientific discoveries.

The play has its origins in a chance encounter he had with an actress, who he now remembers only as “Barbara,” who was performing a one woman show playing Harriet Tubman, the great female abolitionist and “Conductor on the Underground railroad” that ferried runaway slaves out of the South into “Free Territory.” It was she who gave him the idea of writing a one man play about Jack Johnson. He recalls:

She told me that I should write a 15 minute monologue about Jack Johnson. At this time, I knew very little about Jack Johnson. I did much research and I was amazed.  His life was so intriguing. As I continued to research Jack Johnson, I felt sorry for him. How is his story not told? Why is Hollywood staying away from his true story? Why are Blacks staying away from his true story? It was then, I made a commitment to write a full production play. I wanted people to see Jack’s power, charm, and intelligence. He was not only a great boxer. He was a one-man activist. His life was an activist. He refused segregation. Whatever whites could do, Jack did. So now, here I am trying to educate the world about our First Black Heavyweight Champion. As well, as get him a pardon”

The paramount problem for any artistic treatment of historical subjects is to capture the zeitgeist of the era, to recreate the historical milieu so that we can experience the tenor of the times.  The most important themes of that era of American history was white supremacy and the inferiority of peoples of color, especially black people who had only recently emerged from slavery, in fact Jack Johnson’s parent’s had been slaves.  It was a time when the ideology of white supremacy permeated all phases of worthwhile human endeavor.  And the belief that white men were not only smarter that black men, but physically stronger and more courageous, was conventional wisdom.

And it was taken as gospel truth that white men were naturally also more sexually desirable than black men, hence any white woman that had sex with a black man was either deranged white trash or it was rape. And this assumption, like the ideology of white supremacy itself, was an article of faith throughout the dominant white world, which had conquered and colonized the millions of people living in “Africa, Asia, the Americas and the Islands of the seas” as Johnson’s black great intellectual giant and contemporary would put it in his famous statement: “The Problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line!”

The logic of white male sexual dominance was simply stated by the French General/Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte in the 18th century.  When Napoleon was informed that Alexander Dumas, a handsome black man who was his leading cavalry general and one of the greatest swordsmen in France, was banging his sister Bonaparte had him arrested.  He explained his actions thusly: “How can you convince a man that you are his superior if he is sleeping with your sister!”  While intellectuals like Dr. Dubois, Dr. Kelly Miller, James Weldon Johnson, Monroe Trotter, Ida B. Wells and others debated the veracity of the white supremacist myth, Jack Johnson shattered them by his actions: defeating Tommy Burns and winning the Undisputed World Heavy-Weight Championship and openly sleeping with white women.

Jack Johnson and Socialite Etta Durea
Jack and White Sweetie II
He openly violated the central Taboo of the era.

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She turned her back on white America for black Johnson

Indeed Jack contemptuously flaunted his violation of this all American taboo.  According to historian Jeffry T. Sammons in his seminal book “Beyond the Ring: The Role of Boxing in American Civilization,” Johnson would routinely sleep with three white women after publicly humiliating white men in the ring.  Hence one of the enduring mysteries about Jack Johnson is why such a man was not lynched i.e. murdered in a public “ritual of blood” as the Harvard sociologist Orlando Patterson describes lynching in his chilling and insightful text “Rituals in Blood,” which he argues  is a form of “cannibalism” when black men were burned alive.

When Jack Johnson won the Heavy-Weight Championship in 1908 black men were being crucified in such murderous rituals at the rate of one every two and a half days, and as Dr. Rayford Logan shows in his masterwork “The Betrayal of the Negro,” this had been going on at that rate for twenty years!   That Johnson was able to do the things he did yet remain alive gave him the aura of a superman, and outraged white men of all classes.

He was a living breathing refutation of the white man’s claim to superiority over black men because they had acclaimed the Heavy-Weight Champion of the world the most potent man on earth!  Hence Johnson was the filthy black fly in their pristine bowl of white milk that must be removed at all cost. Yet, ironically, they only way to fully discredit Johnson and nullify the effects of his victory was to find a white man who could kick his black ass fair and square.  Thus began the search for “the great white hope.”

Amazingly Johnson was almost as interesting outside the ring; he was a bass player, bandleader, nightclub owner, aficionado of fast cars, a great dresser and lady’s man.  He was articulate, witty, cocky and was famous for his “golden smile – a reference to the gold crowns he wore on his teeth.  Tommie Moore manages to capture this unique outsized personality and his strange times in a bravura performance that brings this complex character to life and takes us back to the racially troubled milieu of early 20th Century America.

From the moment he walks out onstage, which is at the same level as the audience, except for the boxing ring that dominates this sparse set, he jokes with the audience and talks jive to the ladies in character.  Early on he hooked us and never let up as he spun tall tales about his life and times.

When he strips to the waist, displaying his finely muscled physique, the ladies squealed and we were amazed at how much he actually resembled Jack Johnson, who also possessed a sharply defined Physique.  Moore makes great use of the fact that Johnson fancied himself a thespian.  He aspired to play Othello, who like Johnson was a great black fighting man in a dominant white society who enraged some white men because he won the love of Desdemona, a beautiful white woman.

Choosing the scene where Othello is brought before the authorities and accused by her father of employing Black Magic to place her under his spell, Moore renders Othello’s explanation with a power that does justice to the Bard.  He also comes out in one scene, dressed to the nines in the fashion of the times, turns the music up on the radio and dances a dance that was au courant in that period.

Jack Johnson in fighting gear

Jack Johnson as a young fighter

He became the dominant sex symol of his day among white women

The play encapsulates the major issues that Johnson faced as a man who dared to be unapologetically black, and who whipped the toughest white men in public for a living.  Moore allows us to share Johnson’s disgust at the fact that after he defeated Tommy Burns for the World Heavy-Weight Championship the white press continued to refer to Jim Jefferies, who had retired while still Champion, as the Champ.  One of the things that make this play so powerful is the extent to which Moore incorporates Johnson’s actual words into his script, and here he renders them with perfect blend of amusement, anger and contempt.

This work is a tour de force that deserves a much wider audience, and unless all the producers in New York are blind, tasteless, spineless or racist in should find a path to Broadway.   As in all of his pearls of wisdom Shakespeare was certainly right when he observed “the play is the thing,” but it takes great actors to make it feel real….and Tommie Moore made us forget that he was just acting.  Which is what the Great British Thespian Sir Lawrence Olivier meant when he warned aspiring actors: “Acting is a noble profession…but a real actor must never be caught doing it.”

(See the Historic Johnson v Jefferies Fight)

https://youtu.be/esnq-orAvo8

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Playthell G. Benjamin
New York City
April 11, 2016

 

The World According to Hillary

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, On Israel, On War and Peace in the Mid East! with tags , , on April 3, 2016 by playthell
 Hillary Clinton at Stanford
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

 Hillary Clinton Reveals her Core Beliefs on Foreign Policy

Anyone who is listening to the contenders for the Democratic and Republican candidates for president will recognize that Hillary’s expertise cannot be matched by the Republican frontrunners.  Nevertheless, some of her policies make less sense that those of Donald Trump, a loose cannon whose misbegotten election to the US presidency most thoughtful observers of international relations around the world believe would be an unmitigated disaster.

The problem is that some of Hillary’s views on critical internationl issues are calcified relics of her history as a Cold War hawk.  She is committed to interventionist policies and says that NATO is America’s smartest investment.  For one who believes that the maintenance of NATO is a blunder of historical proportions that violates the spirit of the agreement with Russia ending the Cold War, and puts this nation in greater danger of a hot war with Russia than during the Communist era, a war which could go nuclear, the former Secretary of State sounds detached from political reality to me.

It is ironic that with her superior knowledge of foreign affairs Ms. Clinton should show less wisdom that Donald the Clown regarding the aims of US foreign policy.  For instance, Trump opposed the invasion of Iraq and correctly pointed out that the overthrow of Sadam Hussein would destabilize the region.  I had written the same thing on the eve of the invasion (See: “The Prophetic Commentary on Iraq,” on this site)   Today Trump went on the record stating his views on NATO, America’s most important and costly military alliance, and to my shock, surprise and profound disappointment  Trump’s ideas were decidedly more realistic and advanced than those of Clinton’s.

While Clinton champions NATO, Trump questions its continued existence, correctly pointing out that NATO is an anachronism that has outlived its original purpose.  In a recent “on the record” interview with the Editors of the Washington Post – where he first introduced his advisors on foreign policy and national security matters – Trump had this to say regarding America’s leadership of NATO:  “We certainly can’t afford to do this anymore, NATO is costing us a fortune, and yes, we’re protecting Europe with NATO, but we’re spending a lot of money.”  He also questioned the contributions of other members of the alliance “They are not doing anything,” he concludes.  On foreign policy Trump is like a broken clock that is wrong almost all the time but gets it right twice a day.

In order to point out the absurdity and danger of US commitment’s to NATO Trump had this to say regarding the conflict in the Ukraine, one of the most dangerous situations in the world: “

“Ukraine is a country that affects us far less than it affects other countries in NATO, and yet we’re doing all of the lifting. They’re not doing anything. And I say: ‘Why is it that Germany’s not dealing with NATO on Ukraine? Why is it that other countries that are in the vicinity of Ukraine, why aren’t they dealing? Why are we always the one that’s leading, potentially the third world war with Russia.’ “

A more accurate description would be to the second deployment of nuclear weapons in an international conflict, and this time it will be Dooms Day.  World wars are a phenomenon of the twentieth century, the next war between industrial nations will go nuclear and that will spell the end of the homo-sapiens species.  Although Trumps pronouncements lack elegance and are innocent of real erudition, despite their crudity some of them hit home.

His view of the Ukraine situation raises the fundamental questions that we should ask when evaluating America’s role there, a place where we could end up in an accidental war with a Russian military whose nuclear arsenal rivals our own.  And what is worse, because of our commitments to NATO we could become entangled in a military conflict with Russia should they have a military incident with Estonia!  Hence Trump is right to question both the relevance of this 20th century Cold War alliance designed to contain an enemy that has vanished from the face of the earth: The Soviet Union.

The fact that both Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz quickly attacked Trump’s position on NATO, and foreign interventionism in general, testifies to the truth of the axiom “Politics make strange bedfellows.”  The truth is that, despite differences in approach, both Clinton and Cruz deeply believe in the myth of “American Exceptionalism” and they also believe the United States is the rightful leader of the world and all nations must fall in line behind us and follow our wise counsel.  They were unambiguous on this point, and therein lies the problem.  Ironically, Bernie Saunders and Donald Trump are closer in their views of the US role in the world than they are with their party counterparts Clinton and Cruz….and Kaisch too.

Trump’s skepticism about US military involvement in foreign countries is greatly influenced by the amount of American treasure expended on the security of our allies.  For instance he says of South Korea, a country where the US still maintains military bases after 60 years – a blunder the Republican chicken hawks are eager to repeat in Iraq – and has never signed a treaty ending the war we fought on the Korean Peninsula all those decades ago.  “South Korea is very rich, great industrial country,” says Trump,  “and yet we’re not reimbursed fairly for what we do.  We’re constantly sending our ships, sending our planes, doing our war games — we’re reimbursed a fraction of what this is all costing.”

Yet despite these insights Trump often comes across as some sort of idiot savant when discussing national security issues; he is like the proverbial cow that gives a good bucket of milk then kicks it over.  For example his insane in the brain suggestion that South Korea and Japan should develop their own nuclear arsenals!    And his whacko plan to construct a wall on the Mexican border and coerce the Mexican government into paying for it; or his proposal to ban over a billion Muslims from the US, despite the fact that many are coming from countries America considers valued allies; or his call to attack the families of terrorists – a war crime reminicent of the Nazis!

Alas, to the horror of thoughtful people all over the globe, Trump took his animus toward Muslims to the point of utter madness in suggesting that he may nuke ISIS, and refused to take the option of firing nukes in Europe “off the table.”  Anybody who understands anything about nuclear weapons knows that they are weapons of mass genocide against civilian populations!  Hence, to even contemplate such a crime against humanity makes Trump unfit to be President – either because he is a dangerous ignoramus who does not understand the implications of what he is proposing, or he is the type of morally deformed cretin that would casually commit mass murder.  Next to this guy, and Teddy Cruz too, Hillary looks like a paragon of Solomonic wisdom…as dangerous and antiquated as some of her core beliefs are!

We need only examine her views on the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians as expressed in her speech before AIPAC – American Israel Public Affairs Committee – the most important organization in the all-powerful Israel Lobby, which maintains an effective strangle hold over US Middle East Policy.  Her performance was a shameful genuflection before the policies of the Israeli government, no matter how outrageous those policies appear to thoughtful principled Americans interested in a just peace in that troubled region.

Hillary Goes Nuts at AIPAC!

Hillary Clinton speaks to AIPAC

The Beleagured Palestian People are Invisible to her
 While this is what the rest of the world is witnessing
Palestinian GirlA Palestinian town reduced to rubble with the advanced weapons supplied by the US

To hear Hillary tell it only the Israeli’s have justified grievances; she showed no objectivity at all and no empathy for the plight of the beleaguered Palestinian people.  It is hard to know how to evaluate her statements.

The Real World of Palestinian Children

Palestinia boy in the sights of Israeli Soldier

Forever in the Gunsights of armed Israeli Settlers and Soldiers!

If Hillary truly believes her version of the relations between Israel and the Palestinians she is a nincompoop who never should have been Secretary of State, because despite the voluminous intelligence reports available to her about the realities of the region she appears to have learned nothing alas.  On the other hand, if she does not believe this Barney and Bailey view of Israeli/Palestinian relations then she is a shameless charlatan.  Hence we are left to pick our poison: Charlatan or fool for president!

As I write Clinton is demonizing President Putin with a paranoid view of his designs on Europe  that is a relic of the Cold War era, while attacking Trump for his suggestion that the US greatly reduce its role in NATO.  Yet even a cursory interrogation into the nature of this alliance should raise a red flag for those who want to steer this country away from a policy of perpetual war – and the increasing possibility of a catastrophic war with Russia.   Alas, whatever the considerable virtues of Hillary Clinton, she is no dove in matters of war and peace.

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Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem New York
 March 25, 2016

The Easter Parade In New York 2016!

Posted in The Easter Parades with tags , on March 31, 2016 by playthell
IMG_7729Coddling the Easter Bunny on 5th Avenue

Portraits from Easter Sunday in New York 

I love to be in New York during the Easter holidays because there is nothing like the Easter Parade in the City.  I can still remember vividly the first Easter I spent in the Big Apple when I was a teenager in high-school.  I cane up from Florida when school let out for the holidays to visit my Uncle Jimmy, who lived in a big beautiful Brownstone in Brooklyn.  On Easter morning my cousins and I hopped on the A train at Fulton Street and swooped up to 125th Street, Harlem’s main drag.

From the moment I emerged from the subway the scene was startling; elegantly dressed black folk were everywhere stylin and profilin in their Easter outfits.  Easter had been a big deal in Florida but this was like another world; everything was bigger and more dramatic.  After all, New York was then as now the fashion capitol of the world.  A great garment industry was based here and it seemed that everybody was sharp.  The experience left an indelible impression on me,  and to my eyes Harlem seemed the most glamourous place in the world!

When I moved to New York years later I also wanted to see the Easter Parade on 5th Avenue, mainly because of the marelous rendition of“Easter Parade” recorded by Sarah Vaugh and Billy Ekstine, two of the greatest singers of the 20th century.(Click the link at the bottom of this page to hear recording)  The poignant romantic portrait they paint of elegantly dressed folks promenading on Fifth Avenue, where most of the City’s great parades are held, was beguiling and I soon joined the Easter revelers.

Hangin Out on easter Sunday circa 1984

Lisa's Edit on Family Pic

Playthell, June and their Twins Makeda and Samori crusin in the Apple

 Every year we would dress to the nines with our kids and stroll down 5th Avenue.  Although my children no longer observe this tradition, I still get dressed and hang and “represent on the Five” every Easter that I am in New York.  And since I became interested in photography it is one of my favorite places to make pictures…images of  high fashion and sartorial grandeur, the art of self-decoration.

However, as it was in the beginning, I always start my Easter promenade uptown in Harlem, where some of the best dressed folks in the city are to be found. Then I work my way downtown – one gorgeous picture of a beplumed Asian lady was actually shot on the subway. Below are some of my favorite images of the Easter Parade 2016, uptown and downtown.

These Photographs were shot in Harlem, Rockerfeller Center, Fifth Avenue and Greenwich Village, from the top to the bottom of Manhattan Island.  And it is a visual kaliedescope of the “gorgeous human moasiac,” as former New York Mayor Dinkins was fond of describing New Yorkers.

 Click to hear “Easter Parade” by Vaughn and Eckstine
 https://youtu.be/gT2yCDXPdoI

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The Easter Parade in Harlem

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Abyssinia Fashion Fair Vintage Edit III

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Antonia

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Abyssinia Fashion Fair Edit I

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The Easter Parade Downtown

Asian Ladies at Radio city

The Chinese Ladies Dining in Rocjerfeller Center 

Asian Ladies on Easter

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Aisian Lady in Hat

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China Ladies -Edit I

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China Ladies -Edit I

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The Honey Mooners

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In Greenwich Village

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The Wackiest Hat in the Easter Parade

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Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
Easter 2016

On The Elegance of Afro-America!

Posted in Cultural Matters, Photo-Essays with tags , , on March 19, 2016 by playthell

Jazz Dancers

Scrapple from the Apple: Bebop Dancers in Charlie Parker Park

Black Style as a Weapon of Liberation

A Multi-Media Photographic Exhibition and lecture

The exhibition which opened at the beautiful Dwyer Cultural Center in Harlem on March 6, 2016 consist of a gallery showing select portraits I shot in Miami, Los Angeles, Atlanta and New York of  Afro-Americans just going about their business – some of whom are quite prominant persons.  I call these photographs “living fashion,” as opposed to a staged event or “fashion show.”  The gallery exhibit was accompanied by a lecture explaining how the traditional Afro-American penchant for elegance grew out of our struggle for human rights and personal dignity against the anti-black racism of white Americans; a set of beliefs that promoted white supremacy while subjugating Afro-Americans institutionally and ideologically.

The expression of elegance in self decoration over time is illustrated in the images shot by photographers from the 19th and 20th centuries.  Following the lecture “The Evolution of Afro-American Style as a Weapon of Liberation,” a slide show accompained by music was presented comprised of 275 photographs.  The exhibition is divided into three parts: Sophisticated Ladies, Duets and Old School Cool Rules!

The Afro-American tradition of high style cannot be understood aside from the racist history of the United States.  The most powerful theme in American history is the persistence of white racism.  It ebbs and flows with the tenor of the times but it always returns like the nightmarish melody of a bad song.  One could argue with convincing evidence that the main reason for this persistence is the need to justify a history of racist policies that include some of the most odious crimes against humanity in world history.

The white settler colonialists from Europe who landed in the America’s fleeing myriad oppressions – religious, ethnic, political and “racial” – disregarded the rights of the original inhabitants, Native American “Indians,” and stole millions of acres of fertile lands at gunpoint. When the Indians resisted, as any people would, they were slaughtered as the whites adopted a policy of genocide killing men, women, children and the elderly.  No one was safe from the ravages of this land hungry flotsam of European Society.  This was America’s Original Sin, and it was central to the birth of the United States.

When the Native Americans proved inept at performing hard labor for long hours in the hot climates that the system of plantation production required, these planter / capitalists bought African workers from international slave traders, the greatest of which were the pious New Englanders with their swift Yankee clipper ships; despite their praising the virtues of freedom ad nauseum.

The requirements of the labor intensive plantation system meant that atrocities were standard fare; an essential element in the relations between the planters and slaves. Horrendous acts that were common practices for 250 years in the US -such as denying Afo-Americans the right to marry and selling our children as if they were piglets – are now viewed with such horror that white Americans are engaged in a wholsale denial of their blood stained history as oppressors in favor of myths like “American Exceptionalism.”  Texas, one of the nation’s largest states, is trying to write the slave era out of their history textbooks altogether. Yet this and legal caste oppression based on skin color cover two thirds of American history!

This presented a serious problem for the emerging American nation, which claimed to be a “Christian Nation” that cherished the Ten Commandments and followed the teachings of Jesus Christ.  In a desperate attempt to camouflage this glaring contradiction between the lofty ideals of the nation and the realities of their sinful inhumane policies, they denied the humanity of black people with pathological theology and pseudo-scientific theories of white superiority. And they created a racist iconography to give visual expression to their bogus claims.

For Black Americans, suffering under the oppression of white supremacy in law and custom, statute and etiquette, subjected to constant psychological warfare by a barrage of racist imagery from the media of white America – which reached its apogee in the black face minstrel show – the style in which we decorated ourselves became a weapon in the struggle for liberation.

We dressed for success long before this idea became au courant here in the 21st century.  As was revealed in the exhibition “Reflections in Black: Smithsonian African-American Photography,” curated by photography historian Deborah Willis and mounted at the Studio Museum in Harlem,  almost from the moment Afro-American photographer Jules Lion introduced the art of daguerreotypes in 1840, black photography shops began to pop up all across North America.  Among these were Augustus Washington in Connecticut; Daniel Freeman in Washington, D.C.; Harry Shepherd in Minnesota; and James Presley Ball in Cincinnati Ohio and Helena Montana.

A major reason why black photographers flourished in in 19th century America is due to the advocacy of Frederick Douglass – the great abolitionist orator, writer, publisher and premiere spokesman for what Dr. DuBois would later call the “Spiritual Strivings” of Afro-Americans. Douglass quickly recognized the power of this new art form as a potent weapon in the fight against the racist and degrading caricatures of Afro-Americans designed to deny our humanity by painting us as animalistic brutes.   Douglass, arguably the 19th century’s most insightful and prescient observer of socio-political developments, as well as the most powerful voice advocating the abolition of slavery, was also “the most photographed American of the 19th century according to the authors of the seminal book “Picturing Frederick Douglass: An Illustrated Biography of the Nineteenth Century’s Most Photographed American.” 

Pretty Fred: The Patron Saint of Black Cool

A Photo II-Frederick Douglass 1848 - Gift to Susan B. Anthony

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Frederick douglass III

The Best Dressed Man in 19th Century America?
Frederick_Douglass_by_Samuel_J_Miller,_1847-52 (1)
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The  authors tell us “Frederick Douglas was in love with photography, during the four years of the Civil War, he wrote more extensively on photography than any other American, even while recognizing that his audiences were “riveted” to the war and wanted a speech ‘only on this mighty struggle.’  He frequented photographer’s studios and sat for his portrait whenever he could.  As a result of this passion, he also became the most photographed American of the 19th century.”  This was not mere vanity, but a planned offensive in the protracted psychological war white Americans was waging against Afro-Americans, a war in which racist propaganda was their most powerful weapon

Douglass understood their strategy well, for instance he pointed out that whites always put forth the most attractive images of themselves and urged Afro-Americans to follow their example by dressing up in their finery, have themselves photographed, and whenever possible make those photographs public.  This is why Douglass looks like a fashion plate every time we see him. He set the example by practicing what he preached!

It is in that spirit of self-celebration, and the ancestral imperative of celebrating the insightful and intrepid photographers that captured that tradition of elegance and preserved it for us, that this exhibition was mounted.  I believe must now preserve images of this tradition in our time to inspire generations yet unborn.  Note: This is a multimedia presentation, see video and sound links at the end of the essay.

Playthell Lecturing at the Opening of the Exhibition
Playthell lectuting at his Pfoto Exhibition 3 -6-16
“On Black Style as a Weapon of Liberation”

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A Black, Brown and Beige Fantasy

DSC00631

The Grandest Lady in the Easter Parade
Big John at the Living Legends Awards in LA

DSCN7670

CEO Warner-Chappell Worldwide
The Word Sorceress!

Jessica Care Moore (2)

Poet Jessica Care Moore at the National Black Theater in Harlem
Jessica Care reciting - great side shot- (2) Mesmerizing the Audience with her Verbal Alchemy
The Best Dressed Man in Congress!
Photo I- Charlie Rangel
The Honorable Charles Rangel Hanging Out in Harlem
Abiodun's Tribute 115
Classic Harlem Style before the Hip Hop Fashion Disaster
Thespians at the Audelco Awards

Seasoned Beauties

At the Mecca of Black Theater in New York

Perla Negras!

Photo XIII- Perla Negras

Hot Chocolates
A Sophisticated Lady

Photo XII-Michelle

Actress/Producer Michel Turner

Michele Edit XIII

Conjured from the Golden Age of Black Atlantic City
DSCN6065
 A Seasoned Hottie
The Maestro!
Wynton in Berkley
Wynton Marsalis: The World’s Greatest Trumpeter
Artistic Director, Jazz at Lincoln Center
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The Songbird
DSCN6403
We were Mesmerized  as Celestial Blues filled the Room
An Evening at the Theater
Holder and Scott
Award Winning Historical Playwrite Laurence Holder and Jazz Diva Cynthia Scott
Dr. Logan Westbrooks and Wife Gerry at Living Legends
Dr. Westbrooks
 The Businessman/philanthropist and his Educatoer wife Arrive in their Bently
 President of the Oakland City Council
Oakland II
At the University Of California at Berkley to Hear Wynton and the JALC Orchestra
President Oakland City Council
A Woman of Elegance and Gravitas
Harlem’s State Senator  

Senator Perkins

The Honorale Bill Perkins, setting the Sartorial Standards for the Empire State
Lady Lana Turner: Harlem fashionista
Photo XI- Lana
Businesswoman, Dancer, Bon Vivant
A Swinging Centarian
A Centarians Birthday
Celebrating her 100th Birthday!
Big Ups to the Dwyer Cultural Center!
DSCN7342
Harold Thomas adds an Expert Eye
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The Opening was a Smash!

The Audience was as Elegant as the portraits on the Walls
A Seasoned Brown Fox
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A Vintage Beauty Edit III
A Sizzling Senior Citizen 
 The Don!
Don Raphael -Edit I The Essence of Old School Cool
Poet /singer Don Raphel with Actor / Director Rome Neal
DSCN7437
Killer Dillers!
A Statuesque Beauty 
DSCN7411
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Kil and Poet -Edit VII
The Opening was a Sold out Affair!
DSCN7440
One of three Theaters that are linked by Video Ccreens
Renowned Photographer Lisa Dubois was there…..

Lisa Edit I

With her inimitable Style
Lisa and Lana
Lana and Lisa Edit II
Made quite the Dynamic Visual Duo
DSCN7448
The Gallery Was Packed!
 Keeping the Tradition of Frederick Douglass Alive!
playthell-horse
Sunday at the Horse Show
A Public Intellectual Defending President Obama’s Achievements
Droppin Science at Springfield College
Explicating Complex Problems of Politics and Policy at Springfield College
Professor Benjamin Lecturing on Jazz  at Conference on American Studies 

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At the Sorbonne in Paris
Photo by: Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Professor of Humanities at Harvard

LIVE ON WBAI NEW YORK!

At WBAI Jpeg

An Award Winning Producer Reading Commentaries on the Times for Thirty Years!
A Master Percussionist in Performance

Jamming with the functionaries 013

At Red’s Java House in Sanfrancisco
Making a Super Match in the Boxing Business
scan0002 Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvelous Marvin Hagler for Middle Weight Championship!
 A Newly Wed
 Playthell&June - picasa edit
 Playthell and June Benjamin Circa 1977

Easter Sunday circa 1984

Lisa's Edit on Family Pic

Playthell, June and their twins Samori and Makeda Hangin out in New York
The Twins All Grown Up
Playthell&Samori II
 Playthell and Samori
Playthell and Makeda

Playthell and Makeda

These last three photographs of Playthell and Children were shot by:

Hakim Mutlak

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https://youtu.be/_8LLfFY9pQg?list=RD_8LLfFY9pQg
Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, Spring 2016

 

Is Donald Trump a Uniquely American Fascist?

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags , on March 14, 2016 by playthell

Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump speaks at his South Carolina campaign kickoff rally in Bluffton, S.C., Tuesday, July 21, 2015. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

Inciting the Passions of the untutored reactionary mob

On Fascism American Style

“It all depends on me”
Adolph Hitler, Nazi Rally
We are going to do things that nobody else can do…who can fix things better than me”
Donald Trump, Vermont rally

 At first glance the rise of multi-billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump as a hero of the white working class seems paradoxical; since his interests and that of his class and cronies are diametrically opposed to the concerns and interests of workers.  Alas Trump’s appeal to that class of voters reflects the age old tendency for desperate people to turn to the “strong man” for salvation; they invest this savior figure with nearly omnipotent powers and come to believe that their fate depends on him.  These are ideal conditions for the rise of demagogues and dictators.  More often than not such men are megalomaniacs who come to believe that they alone can lead the nation.

That’s Donald Trump’s view of his role in American politics…the man who will “Make America great again,” and he reminds me of another charismatic megalomaniacal demagogue: Adolph Hitler, who pledged to restore Germany to her former glory and create a regime that would rule the world for a thousand years.  Furthermore, even as I write many people who attend Trump’s rallies conjure images of German Brown Shirts at Hitler’s Rallies; snatching signs from protestors, verbally abusing them and even physically assaulting them.

Furthermore, they conduct these odious anti-democratic activities with the urging of Donald Trump, who told his security people to throw a protestor out and “confiscate his coat” although they were in Vermont and there was freezing weather outside! Things have gotten so bad that his recent rally at the University of Chicago degenerated into a full scale brawl and Trump’s appearance had to be cancelled.  Trump’s home town newspaper – The Daily News – who know him best summed up Trump’s campaign in bold headlines on its cover page: “BLOOD ON DON’S HANDS.”

Verbally assaulting dissenters in the audience was also a tactic employed by George Wallace – a home grown white Fascist – and can be seen on films of his mass meetings.  As I write Tom Turnipseed, the Executive Director of George Wallace’s presidential campaign in 1968, when he was the candidate of the American Independence Party,  says that Trump is running a campaign very much like that of George Wallace!   This is no picayune matter, beause the Independence Party was based on the same racial ideology as the German Nazi’s, who borrowed it from the USA – see “Some Unpleasant Truths.”* The reason that Tom has come forth is because he and Wallace would later repent for their racist deeds and denounce racism.  Hence his comments about the Trump campaign are enlightening and offer rare insights that cannot be found elsewhere.

“They both understood the use of fear” says Turnipseed.  With Wallace it was “the blacks are taking over, with Trump its Mexicans and Chinese.  They are a lot alike.” Peggy Wallace Kennedy, George’s daughter, who has denounced her father’s racist past, says Trump is nastier than her father. Mrs. Turnipseed, Tom’s wife, pointed out yet another way that the Wallace and Trump political styles are alike.  “They attract large crowds and get people all fired up and angry by describing the problems they face, but they don’t offer any solutions.”

Hence the American Independent Party, which was organized by George Wallace as a white Christian Nationalist party, mostly composed of working class Protestants that openly advocated white supremacy enforced by the legal and extra-legal use of organized violence had much in common with the German National Socialist. All of these factors are characteristic of a fascist movement and can be clearly observed in Trump’s campaign.

Alas, one need only compare the podium styles of classic fascist leaders such as Hitler and Mussolini to  Trump’s stump style in photographs and film – – i.e. hysterical facial expressions and body language accompained by hyperbolic belligerent rhetoric – to recognize the similarity of their modus operandi.  Furthermore, if one conducts a comparative analysis of Hitler’s speech which preceded his declaration of war on the US, with Trump’s speech in Vermont on January 8, you will find that both speeches are based on a series of blatant lies!   Yet in both cases their adoring audiences clung to their every word as if it was the gospels, and their response bordered on the kind of mass hysteria one observes among religious fundamentalists…true believers.  (See the video links below)

Adolph on the Stump
Adolph Hitler III
Inciting the untutored Mob
Donald Trump on the Stump

Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump speaks at his South Carolina campaign kickoff rally in Bluffton, S.C., Tuesday, July 21, 2015. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

Benito Mussolini
Benito Mussolini II
Notice the hysterical expressions on all their faces!

Ever since I became aware of the history of European political movements in the twentieth century, a little over fifty years ago, I have heard speculations about the possibility of those radical European political movements succeeding in the USA: especially Communism and Fascism.  I was first introduced to this discourse by old activists on the left; many of them had been radical unionists who believed that the advent of socialism was inevitable because the increasing inequality of income and wealth under capitalism would result in a revolt of the masses against the plutocrats led by the organized working class.  As Marx put it, the inherent contradictions in the capitalist system “will produce its grave diggers.”

Hence choosing a plutocrat as their leader makes as much sense as poor whites in the antebellum south, whose poverty was the result of the fact that they were competing with the slave laborers of the planter class, going off to war to fight and die to preserve this system, and the descendants continue to celebrate this shameful historical embarrassment!

White workers then, and now, are caught up in a tragic paradox.  And the poor southern whites who reject Barack Obama, the best friend they have ever had in the Oval Office, or is likely to have in that Office, in favor of a cynical, coldblooded plutocrat and vain braggart like Donald Trump – a soulless demagogue who is simply exploiting them with empty rhetoric and couldn’t care less about their concerns.  “The Donald” wouldn’t piss on one of these poor whites if he saw them on fire during a stroll in Central Park.

Of course the view of the western proletariat as the historically appointed leader of the world revolution that would end the exploitation of the working class by capitalists was conceived in the 19th century by the brilliant political economist/materialist philosopher Karl Marx.  However as the Chinese American philosopher Grace Lee Boggs pointed out in a conversation with this writer, “Marx could not have even imagined the world we live in.  In Marx’s time smokestacks in large cities were viewed as a sign of human progress; today we know that they could spell our doom.”  I have also talked to many skeptics who believe that the white American working class is more likely to support fascism than socialism.

Alas, judging from the swelling crowds of white workers that greet Donald Trump’s every public appearance; they may prove to be right!  Everywhere Trump goes he is greeted with tumultuous applause reminiscent of the kind of crowds that turned out for Sarah Palin – the former Republican Vice-Presidential candidate whose principal contribution to American politics was to make ignorance fashionable, and the rejection of reportage from reliable journalistic sources.  Through her persistent use of the term “Lame Street Media,” the Alaskan Barbarian has convinced the “Dumb Doras” and “Joe Six Packs” to be suspicious of serious news organizations that strive for objectivity, in favor of the politicized propaganda of unreliable sources like FOX Network news or empty talking radio heads like Rush Limbaugh and Sea Hannity.

These people, who number in the millions, are so confused about the political forces at play, and which of these players are committed to addressing their pressing economic and cultural concerns – i.e. returning prayer in schools; outlawing abortion; banning gay marriage; et al – that they have fallen under the spell of a verbose megalomaniacal ignoramus who may understand business but very little about history, sociology, science, foreign relations and military matters.  All of which are essential tools for good governance in the complex political and natural environment of the 21st century.  Trump’s speech at Vermont on 1/8/2016 is a model of the phenomenon that I am describing.  All the factors are there.  In many ways he reminds me of Hitler, but in a wholly American way.

If Adolph Hitler had not been a militaristic  Austrian Corporal drunk on German romanticism and myths of Nordic superiority, but a pragmatic fast talking New York real estate huckster with a salesman’s gift of gab; a television reality show host who has mastered the medium;  gifted with a comedian’s timing and a friendly fascist smile, he would be Donald Trump.

In his book “Friendly Fascism,” written 35 years ago,  Bertram Gross makes the following observation about the character of American Fascism: “ The unifying element in this unfolding logic is the capital-accumulation imperative of the world’s leading capitalist forces, creatively adjusted to meet the challenges of the many crises I have outlined. This is quite different from the catch-up imperatives of the Italian, German, and Japanese leaders after World War I. Nor would its working out necessarily require a charismatic dictator, one-party rule, glorification of the State, dissolution of legislatures, termination of multiparty elections, ultranationalism, or attacks on rationality.”

The essential truth of this observation is verified in the rise of Donald Trump.  However I would point out that in Trump we do not have a “charismatic dictator” only because the American system of checks and balances will not allow it.  But Trump is a “charismatic revivalist,” who plays the same role of all-knowing “strong man” who express the anxieties and grievances of his followers with dynamic oratory that convinces them that he alone possesses  the will and the way to solving the nation’s pressing problems.  Furthermore they are also “Ultranationalists” and regularly assault logic – even the indisputable truths revealed by the scientist of climate change.  Hence in Trump and his followers we can clearly observe several prominent features of classic fascism in the “Friendly Fascist” that Gross outlined.

The audience Trump was speaking to were bummed out white workers and people struggling to remain in the lower middle class. It was obvious from their responses to the mindless drivel flowing from Trump’s pie hole, masquerading as serious political oratory, that these people are the proto-type of “Low Information Voters.”  Poorly educated, disillusioned, frustrated, struggling white workers; many of whom are lost souls that witnessed their world of white privilege disappear like ice sickles in the blazing sun.  They are the same demographic that brought Hitler and Mussolini to power in Germany and Italy during the 1930’s.

One has only to listen to the daily broadcast of Rush Limbaugh to see why he has been branded an American clone of Dr. Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda for the Nazi Reich, by Arthur Fromer; who was part of a US Army intelligence team dispatched to Germany right after the fall of the Reich to investigate the critical role of radio in the rise of Nazism.

Since I have already written about this issue I will not belabor it here (see: Is Rush an American Goebbels”)   Hence Fromer knows whereof he speaks and is as close to an unimpeachable source as one is likely to find.  It is enough to witness Sarah Palin firing up the crowd with racist anti-Obama rhetoric at an outdoor rally in Strongsville Ohio and compare it to film footage of Hitler and Mussolini – see clips at bottom of essay – to recognize that they are the same class of phenomenon.

Alas, Trump has infinitely greater means to communicate mass propaganda, since neither television nor the internet existed during the rise of the Nazi’s.  And this augmented power to beam controlled messages in sound image and text into the brains of millions of Americans means that Trump can create the hysteria the Nazi’s produced in the German people in far less time.

Although several of Mr. Trump’s fellow Republicans have openly called him a “Fascist,” none have defined what they mean by it.  Originally this term was designed to describe several far rightwing movements that developed in Italy, Germany and Japan in the first half of the twentieth century, spawning dictatorial regimes that promised the people economic prosperity and a return to national greatness.

This was the mantra of the Fascist Party in Italy, National Socialist in Germany, and the Empire of the Rising Sun in Japan.  Each of these regimes had their individual characteristics; which is determined by national character and cultural styles. These are precisely the same things that Trump is promising although with a made in America style that resembles a television game show host – a uniquely American invention.

Hence Hitler’s militarism has deep roots in German history and culture.  A highly intellectual culture, thoughtful Germans had long debated the relative merits of the soldier and statesman vs the philosopher and poet to society.  Which was the higher calling?  At times, the ever present militarist tradition of Prussia ruled the nation’s sensibilities, and it is that tradition that Hitler tapped into as he campainged in the aftermath of the German defeat in World War I and the imposition of the humiliating terms of the Versallies Treaty on Germany.

The Japanese before World War II considered the Emperor a divine figure and the military was the emperor’s sword. With a long and brilliant military history based in the Samurai tradition, they confronted the rising tide of white world domination expressed by the invasion of the colored nations, colonizing them, stealing their lands and resources while reducing them to slaves in their own countries, yet the white nations of the world refused to even consider Japanese demands that racism be made a crime under international law at the 1919 Versailles Conference to shape the new world order in the aftermath of World War I.

Hence the Japanese militarized their society and declared the right of Japan to build an empire across Asia by armed force in the name of their divine emperor.  The called it “The Empire of the Rising Sun,” and adopted the slogan “Asia for the Asians.”  For an insightful and broadly learned analysis of this development see “Race War” by the distinguished historian Dr. Gerald Horne.  And Benito Mussolini, who claims to have  invented the term “fascist,” of course promised to restore the glories of ancient Rome.  Just as “The Donald” has pleged to “make America great again” by building up the military to such fire power “nobody will dare meess with us again!”

In America the most admired and celebrated figure is the millionaire and billionaire businessman/woman.  More people aspire to this status than any other.  Even our greatest athletes, and artists, along with powerful politicians genuflect to these plutocrats like ancient Israelites bowed down before the golden calf; who oftentimes own them body and soul.

When Trump combines his exalted status as billionaire with the deep seated traditions of paranoia and populism in American politics it is no mystery why a politically ignorant businessman like Donald Trump is attracting such crowds among the disillusioned and untutored white working class mob as he brazenly flaunts his wealth.  They see him as their Deliverer alas.

As I listened to the hope the white workers at the Vermont rally place in him, if I didn’t know better I would have thought they were talking about Jesus Christ.  It is a naïve hope invested in a charlatan who cannot possibly fulfill his promises.  Hence they shall become even more combustible when they feel betrayed yet again; the way they feel about the Republican establishment now; which is what created this opening for Trump.  The Poet Laureate of Harlem Langston speaks to the consequences of this kind of mass disillusionment in his powerful poem, What Happens to a Dream Deferred?   “Does it sag like a heavy load….or does it explode!”

Like desperate people throughout history, going back to ancient times – demagogue is an ancient Greek word that describes a person who deceives the masses into believing that he cares about their troubles while using them to pursue his own interests – poor whites that support Trump are turning to a “strong man” who has lured them into his camp by telling the “big lie” that the cause of their economic problems is a “stupid” black president – although Obama actually saved them from complete economic ruin after the Republicans wrecked the economy – unpopular minorities who should be driven from the country or put in their place if they stay; just like Hitler scapegoated German Jews. And Trump is proving Dr. Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda for the Third Reich, correct: “If you tell a big lie to enough people often enough they will believe it.”  Trump is also proving the truth of Thomas Jefferson’s warning “An ignorant electorate will elect and return the worst people to power.”

Based on the observable evidence it is safe to conclude that Trump is a charlatan with fascistic tendencies – albeit American style with a fake salesman smile and informal demeanor that reminds me of the comedian Joan Rivers’ shtick “can we talk” – who is poised to seize the Republican nomination. This is a truly frightening possibility. All Americans should ask what, for instance, does Trump mean when he talks about the police acting too “politically correct” in dealing with demonstrators?  What does history tell us about how demonstrators were made to pay a price for lawfully assembling.  Well I think of “Bloody Sunday” on the Edmond Pettis Bridge in Alabama, and since he was referring to college students at the University of Chicago Kent State especially comes to mind.  For those who don’t remember the Kent State Massacre please note the Photograph below!

Is this what Trump Envisions?
Kent state and Donald Trump

Once he gets the nomination of the Grand Obstructionist Party Trump will have a chance of becoming president; which would be a catastrophe for America and the world. All progressives must now quit the squabbling among themselves and join the struggle to stop this dangerous egomaniac with a messiah complex. Our marching orders must be: “No enemies on the left!”  Do you hear that Corny West?

The Universal Fascist Salute!

Benito Mussoini

Benito Mussolini: The Father of Fascism
Donald Trump

Donald Trump giving Fascist Salute

American Fascists and Leading Republican candidate for President
Woman at a Trump Rally

Donald Trump's Fascist supporter

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  • Read “Some Unpleasant Truths” at:
https://commentariesonthetimes.me/2010/05/01/some-unpleasnt-truths-about-the-arizona-law/ant Truths
The McCain Palin Mob in Strongsville Ohio
https://youtu.be/KjxzmaXAg9E
Hitler’s Speech Declaring War on USA (English Subtitles)
https://youtu.be/QJf4yEOkMXY
Like Donald Trump’s Speech in Vermont both are streams of lies!
https://youtu.be/g0NbmltHQH0
Donald Trump Inciting Violence at his Rallies

Donald Trump Making Americans Hate Each Other!

An Excellent Well Researched Documentary Placing Trump in the Fascist Tradition
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Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem New York
March 13, 2016

When Black Heavy-Weights Ruled Sports

Posted in Cultural Matters, On Sports! on February 27, 2016 by playthell

louis-joe-22_display_image

 Was the Brown Bomber Democracy’s Secret Weapon?

 Reflections on the Biggest Prize Fight in History

“He knows not cricket…who only cricket knows”
C. L. R. James

A fantastic myth is rapidly becoming conventional wisdom among casual boxing fans – and some fairly knowledgeable commentators too – that Floyd “Money” Mayweather, pound for pound the best pugilist in the game today, is “the greatest prizefighter of all times;” a claim that is quickly followed by the equally extravagant claim that his fights are also the most popular in the history of the boxing game.

Disproving the first claim would require a rigorous analysis of the art of pugilism, beginning with defining the objectives and techniques of the sport and then assessing how the best boxers – the great world champions – mastered the tools of their trade.  To do this on the level that such a complex question deserves would require extensive film study of their greatest fights, and conducting a comparative analysis.

Clearly such a tedious and sprawling task is beyond the scope of this essay.  Yet while  belabor the point, candor requires me to confess for the record that I believe Sugar Ray Robinson would have knocked “Money” out, Sugar Ray Leonard too – just like he did his daddy – “Hit Man” Hearns, “The Mo-town Cobra,” would’ve wiped him out with  overwhelming combination  of speed and power.  And Aaron” The Hawk” Pryor would have  rained a blitzkrieg of power punches, launched from every angle at warp speed, and packing the punch of human hand grenades.  While Pretty Boy is almost as hard to ht as the Lotto Jackpot, all of these guys would have hit him hard and often!  There are other greats I could mention…but I have already said too much on this score.

The raison d’etre for this essay is to challenge the claim that “Money Mayweather” aka “Pretty Boy Floyd,” is the most popular fighter in history i.e. that his greatest fights attracted more attention than any before him, and that he is the most widely known fighter in the history of pugilism.  This is not merely an argument about sports trivia, but an effort to set the record straight about the importance of boxing in the twentieth century, when the game formed a critical nexus between race and politics.  When viewed from this historical perspective Mayweather’s claim is fairly easy to disprove, like taking candy from a baby in the hands of an able analyst.

Yet it is constantly voiced, as if it were gospel, by Mayweather himself and endlessly echoed by a Greek chorus of yes men in and out of the media, on or off his payroll.  This is based on the vast amounts of money Mayweather has made.  But I contend that the size of Money Mayweather’s  purses reflects the vast increase in revenue for boxing and sports in general, including amateur sports like track and field and college football, and is a function of the technological revolution that has occurred in mass communications, especially in the last 20 years.

This quantum leap in communications capabilities has created a world –wide viewership on the basis of pay per view available to everyone, everywhere, that has a TV set or computer screen, a few dollars and a dream.  In other words the big money “Pretty Boy Floyd” is making is due to a greater efficiency in marketing and distribution capabilities made possible by virtue of innovations in technology that revolutionized mass communications.  Added to this development is also the rise in importance of fighters in the lower weight classes, and the marvelous artistry of Floyd Mayweather, whose style personifies what the writer E.J. Liebling meant when he called boxing “The Sweet Science.”

Yet Muhammad Ali was far more popular on a global scale, as was Joe Louis aka “the Brown Bomber” before him, and Jack Johnson who created the mega-fight back before television was invented and the telegraph was the only way to transport information over vast distances quickly.  For most of the history of the sport the Heavy-Weight division ruled, because the World Heavy-Weight Champion was viewed as the most powerful and potent man on earth.

And during the golden age of white supremacy, when Europeans and their descendants abroad ruled the world, that man was assumed to be white.  In the view of virtually all white people everywhere a black Heavy-Weight Champion seemed to go against the laws of nature, to upset the natural order of things, to fly in the face of divine providence, and thus there was blasphemy in the thought and the deed unthinkable.  As the Ibo’s would say: “Such a black man had not been born and his mother is dead!”

Hence the prize fights that attracted the most interests in history all involved the Heavy-Weight Crown in the 20th century.  The second fight between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling attracted the most attention in the history of the game; the title fight between Jack Johnson and “The Great White Hope” Jim Jefferies ranks second.  And all of Muhammad Ali’s fights were the most discussed events in sports after he won the Heavy-Weight title from the terrifying Sonny Liston.

Although this impressive victory was big news for a sports  event, when Cassius Clay changed his name to Muhammad and Ali announced his membership in the Nation OF Islam, a black nationalist organization founded by Afro-Americans whose leader, Elijah Muhammad, preached that “the white man is the Devil,” Ali became front page news and stayed there throughout his career.  The public interest in this young champion grew even more intense after he refused to be drafted into the US Army during the Vietnam War; especially after he announced “No Veitcong ever called me a nigger!”

The worldwide notoriety of these fighters, absent the powerful technological apparatus available to Floyd Mayweather’s promotional team,  is a function of the fact that the significance of their fights was such that they mirrored the Zeitgeist – a term coined by German philosophers that translates as “spirit of the age” – and therefore transcended the sport of boxing.

Their fights became identified with issues far bigger than boxing as they flowed with, or against the Zeitgeist.   Floyd Mayweather has never been involved in a fight that transcended the concerns of the fight game and he has never identified with a cause higher than making money.  And in this, he has proved peerless.  While there may be questions about his place in in as a performing artist in the boxing pantheon, as a businessman he reigns without a rival.

Thus he is merely a wildly successful entertainer in a sport marketed to a limited fan base and is of little or no interests to the general public.  This is a discussion that would profit from the advice given by the distinguished Afro-American historian Benjamin Quarles: “Those who seek to understand contemporary events need the added perspective of history.”

To the student of history the contemporary world looks different from those who are ignorant of the past – which includes most people.  In fact, political theorist and cultural critic Harold Cruse tells us that Americans are “anti-historical” in their view of the world; a condition that may well result from the fact that our actual history of racist repression, slavery and genocide is in direct contradiction with the self-serving myths that masquerade as popular American history and supplies the foundation for the master narrative of our civilization.  Whatever its origin alas, fear, ignorance and indifference to the facts of our past has filtered down to all levels of society.

Hence when a night time television talk show host ventured out on the streets on Columbus Day and conducted a random sample of what Americans know about Christopher Columbus the ignorance of their responses – mostly white folks too – was shocking.  The majority either had no idea when he landed in the Americas, or the most popular answer was 1842!  And when he asked a group walking together what was Columbus’ first name, everybody stood around looking puzzled, staring like country cows witnessing their first steam engine.  Finally one of them said “He was Spanish right?”  A hint to the “wise” deemed sufficient another quickly replied “Well his first name was Juan!”  At that they all chimed in eager to agree and assumed a “so there!” posture.

Floyd “Money” Mayweather

Mayweather_belts_ai

Unquestionably the Greatest Fighter in the game today!

In view of the epidemic of historical ignorance sweeping the land it comes as no surprise that most people know so little about the history of the boxing game that they could go for the okey-doke and accept the inflated claims of the Mayweather camp and their boosters that he is the most popular pugilist in history.

A seven times World Champion, whose box office receipts have earned him 500 million dollars, “liquid” as he likes to say, Money” Mayweather is by far the biggest earner in the history of the boxing game. And while there may be questions as to his claim of being the greatest fighter, he is unquestionably the best businessman!

He is a marvel of niche marketing and more people actually got a chance to see perform in real time than any other prizefighter, but he has never been associated with a momentous historical event that would elevate him to the importance of Joe Louis, Jack Johnson or Ali.  As the erudite literary and cultural critic Albert Murray points out in “The Hero and the Blues” a man may be good, and even virtuous, but he must slay a dragon to become a hero!

This explains why even in the relatively primitive media environment of his time Joe Louis was better known than “Money,” because in his fight with Max Schmeling he slayed the dragon of Nazi master race theory, and emerged a hero to millions of people around the world who had no interests in boxing at all.  Schmeling, who Adolph Hitler had declared a hero of the Nazi Reich and a paragon of the superior Aryan male, had defeated Louis in a 1936 fight, before The Brown Bomber won the Heavy-Weight title, and the return match was widely advertised as “a battle between fascism and Democracy.”

This was a reflection of the looming battle between Nazi Germany and her allies, the fascist Axis powers of Italy and Japan, vs. the Western Alliance of Democratic nations France and Germany led by the United States.  That Joe Louis should represent “American Democracy” was a cruel irony that boldly testifies to white American hypocrisy.  Nowhere is the contradiction between what white Americans preached and what they practiced more dramatically exposed than in its treatment of Afro-Americans, in law and custom.

The US was in fact a racist Herrenvolk democracy with a color caste system based on a master race theory that the Nazi’s adopted.  Under this system Afro-Americans were deemed an inferior race, that could be segregated from whites by law and forced to live under inferior conditions. Furthermore the prerogatives of democratic governance were largely confined to whites; millions of Afro-Americans living in the southern states were denied the right to vote, despite constitutional guarantees and lived under police state conditions.  Joe Louis himself had been driven from his Alabama home when his family escaped to Detroit fleeing white terrorism, just as Afro-Americans had made their way to Detroit in order to cross over into Canada seeking freedom during the era of chattel slavery.

 A Paragon of Male elegance Joe Was a Chick Magnet
_and_joe_louis Jean_stovall_anderson 
He also Shared Duke Ellington’s Tailor

Looking at pictures of Joe Louis and his Afro-American associates in Harlem and Chi-town it’s hard to believe that they were not welcome anywhere and their company sought by everyone, given how fabulous they were.  This was the elegant world Duke Ellington, who was trained as a painter, portrayed in his Black, Brown and Beige Suite.  Unlike today’s celebrities, Afro-American stars use to live and hang out in the black community, and Harlem was the showplace of the black world.  Hence it was not unusual for Duke to run into Joe Louis hanging out in a local show bar at 155th and Edgecombe, where Duke pulled him aside and schooled him on how to be a star.

When Duke met Joe he had not yet won the World Heavy Championship, but Joe was the leading contender and the way he was bombing people out all knowledgeable fight fans knew it was just a matter of time.  In his autobiography Joe Louis, My Life, written in collaboration with Afro-American sports writer Art Rust, Louis tells us he was approached by “a tall handsome man who was dressed like a king” that told him he was a fan and since he was going to be a champion soon he should start dressing like one, and offered to introduce him to his tailor.  Joe was astonished when he recognized that this man was Duke Ellington, who was already world famous, and he happily took Dukes advice. That’s how Joe became one of the best dressed men in the world!

 Joe Louis’s Role Model in Sartorial Affairs
Duke+Ellington - paragon of elegance 
The Duke at His Piano: A Paragon of Male Elegance

The biggest obstacle to Joe Louis becoming the world Heavy-Weight Champion was not the opponents he would fight, but the racism he faced as the next black heavy-weight to challenge for the crown after the notorious reign of Jack Johnson.   In his masterful text Beyond the Ring: The Role of Boxing in American Society, arguably the best book ever written on boxing, Afro-American historian Dr. Jeffrey T. Sammons tells us:

“Since prizefighting has been characterized by some as a true test of skill, courage, intelligence, and manhood, boxing champions have traditionally stood as symbols of national and racial superiority.  Consequently, black challengers to white American champions have been perceived as threats to white and national superiority. If football was ‘the strength of the Anglo-Saxon, the dominant spirit of a dominant race,’ then boxing reduced this expression to individual terms.  Indeed, the progressive era’s concern with ‘racial betterment’ was often tested in the world of sport.”

Football was the perfect sport for a young warrior nation born in armed conflict, settled by centuries of continual war against the indigenous inhabitants, chose a war song for its national anthem, and a bird of prey as its national mascot, and embarking on an imperialist adventure.  Teddy Roosevelt, arch imperialist and proponent of “gunboat diplomacy and “muscular Christianity” was football’s greatest champion; some even credit him with saving the sport from extinction after a movement of impassioned reformers declared it a barbaric sport and urged the colleges to abandon it.

The fact that 18 students in the elite universities died from collisions on the football field in 1905 alone!  Roosevelt publicly repudiated the effort to ban football “just because it is a rough game with occasional injuries.”  To Roosevelt it was the ideal sport for young American males; he was quite unambiguous on this question: “I would rather my son’s play football than any other sport.”  He had a similar affection for boxing, which, like millions of Americans he regarded as a test of one’s manly virtues.

Thus it is no surprise that after Jack Johnson’s demise, which, as we shall see, was a national project in which even agencies of the federal government conspired, the princes and powers who ruled the corrupt boxing game were determined that Johnson would be the first and the last black Heavy-Weight Champion.  They were not much concerned about the lower weight classes, where there had been several champions – Lightweight Joe Gans, et al (complete List) – but the Heavy-Weight title was different because of what it symbolized.  Hence for 22 years no black fighter in the world had been allowed a shot at the crown, the most prestigious trophy in sports.   That’s why Joe Louis was constantly counseled “don’t be like Jack Johnson!”

“Eventually,” writes Dr. Sammons, “to facilitate Louis’s rise to the top of his profession and to hero status, promoters, handlers, and the press worked in harmony to develop the proper image for the young fighter…Appropriately, Louis accepted the prescribed role of a god fearing, bible reading, mother-loving, clean living, humble young man.  His somewhat carefree and childlike habits, such as his voracious gum chewing and ice cream eating, revealed the wholesomeness of his ‘vices’ and his naiveté.”  Joe was advised not to gloat after defeating white boys, not to flaunt his wealth when he became champ, to assume an overall humble posture when appearing before the news cameras and reporters, and most of all: “Never have your picture taken with a white woman!”

This is the true origin of Joe’s humble image, and explains why his favorite saying after knocking out some white fighter was “Oh we had a lot of luck tonight.”  It was also the source of his famous “poker face” expression, in which he always seemed unaffected by events, he continued to wear this mask of humility even after he defeated Max Schmeling and became something of a national hero, the symbol of democracy’s superiority to Fascism, and perhaps the best known man in the world.

  Captain Jackie Robinson: US Calvary
jackie-robinson- Calvery Officer

However the real Joe Louis, like baseball great Jackie Robinson who integrated the Major Leagues, was something quite different.  For instance Jackie Robinson was really a hot tempered tough guy and a Calvary Officer in the US Army.  In fact, had it not been for the intervention of Joe Louis, who was widely admired among white superior officers in the chain of command, Jackie

Contrary to his carefully cultivated public image, Joe Louis was a cocky, dashing, lady’s man who was sleeping with Lena Horne and Lana Turner – a famous white movie star – at the same time.  There is an amusing albeit representative anecdote in Joe Louis, My Life about an incident involving this fascinating threesome, in which Joe was assigned to make a training film for the US Army after he was champ.

It turned out that the studio lot where the film was to be shot was also in the in the process of producing movies featuring Lena and Lana, and Joe had to sneak about from one trailer to the other.  Lena found out about Lana and punched Joe in the face while excoriating him in language that Joe recalls would have embarrassed a sailor. Trained to respond to punches, before he could check himself he dropped her with a left hook!

Joe was also undercover lovers with Sonja Hiene, the beautiful Scandinavian Olympic Gold Medalist in figure skating.  He was well aware of his attractiveness to women of all colors and nations, and he speculates that because he was the Heavy-Weight Champion of the world women assumed that he was a stud and were all too anxious to find out.  And like powerful white men of the era who kept beautiful mistresses of all races…so did Joe.

Lana Turner: Movie Star
Lana Turner
The Dream Girl of Millions of White Men

Sonya Henie

Sonji Hiene
Triple Olympic Gold Medal figure Skater and Movie Star

Lena Horn

lena-horne-2

Singer/Dancer/Actress

Thus Joe Louis and Jackie Robinson were nothing like the “humble Negros” projected in their public persona.  They were playing a very old role that extended back to “slavery times” as Afro-Americans of their generation called the slave era.  This kind of role playing is symbolized by a folk ditty that is widely recorded in the testimony of ex-slaves from all regions of the south: “Got one mind for white folks to see / Got another mind I know is really me / and they don’t know my mind.”

This attitude was immortalized by Paul Laurence Dunbar – who was the son of slaves and the first Afro-American poet to win literary distinction – in his poem: “We Wear the Mask.  “We wear the mask that grins and lies, It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,— This debt we pay to human guile; With torn and bleeding hearts we smile And mouth with myriad subtleties…”

In order to pursue their careers in sports Joe and Jackie were playing a role that accorded with what the white public demanded of black men.  But Jack Johnson had refused to don the mask of humility and play that role and this was the source of all his troubles.  Yet it was not just black men who were forced to assume a false face in order to placate a bigoted public; such was the fate of all men deemed inferior by the white Christian majority.

For instance, Jewish men were also forced to play a demeaning role as comic figures not to be taken seriously.  Hence Jewish men not only invented the standup comedian act in American show business, but Jewish boxers were portrayed as clowns in the boxing ring.   Professor Sammons tells us:

The stereotypes attached to Jewish boxers vividly underscored the prejudices they faced.  Maxie Rosenbloom, as the light heavyweight champion, received press coverage as demeaning as any given to blacks.  So disrespectful was the media that it called him ‘Slapsie Maxie and the ‘Harlem Harlequin:’ indeed, readers who did not know his race wondered if he were black.”

Maxie Rosenbloom
Slapsie Maxie RosenbloomAlthough Max Was a World Champion the White Goy Press cast him as a clown!

Since boxers have always come from the lower rungs of society different groups have been dominant at different times.  In the US it went from poor Anglo-Saxons, to Irishmen, to Jews, Italians, Afro-Americans and Latinos.  As each of these groups advanced in American society and produced more and different role models boxers became less important.   But in the 1930’s, when times were hard and racism intense Afro-Americans were hungry for a hero who could provide them some victories over whites, even if they were symbolic vicarious victories.  Joe Louis would fill that need.

But Joe also filled another need at the time, the desperation of boxing promoters to find a new heavy-weight talent that could revive a dying boxing business.  Sammons explains why Joe was ideal: “In 1934 a powerful, good-looking, speech-impaired, light-skinned black boxer appeared on the scene.  Everything about Joe Louis Barrow spelled success for some lucky boxing promoter even with his handicap, which ensured relative silence at a time when only a humble quiet, unassuming black would do.”

However contrary to popular belief it was not whites who first encouraged Louis to distance himself from a defiant persona that would conjure up unpleasant memories of Jack Johnson, it was his black handlers and advisors who steered him in this direction first.  While most people know of Louis’ relationship with his Jewish promoter Mike Jacobs, the real powers guiding Joe was his black co-managers John Roxborough of Detroit and Julian Black of Chicago, two old school gentleman gangsters popular known as “Policy Kings” i.e. “numbers” bankers who ran an illegal lottery in the Afro-American community.

And Joe was trained by Jack “Chappie” Blackburn, who had to be talked into the project by “Roxy’ and Black.  a ring wise veteran who knew Jack Johnson, Chappie was convinced that backing a black heavy-weight was a losing proposition because the white princes and powers that controlled the boxing game would never allow another black fighter anywhere near the Heavy-Weight Championship.

With the insights essential to black hustlers who lived successfully outside the law, Roxborough and Black understood well that white Americans, their vision and judgment impaired by racist delusion, viewed Afro- Americans through a series of stereotypes.  Where black men in particular are concerned, the dominant archetypes are the “Good Nigger” and “the Bad Nigger.”And they knew that in order to get at the big money it was critical that white America saw Joe as a “good nigger.

Hence they played what professional ” bunko artist” call “the long range con,” and they did it so well references to Joe as a “good nigger” showed up in the pages of the white southern press.  These distinctions between good and bad ‘niggers” persist even until today in the minds of many whites.  I encountered a version of them as late as 1988, when I was interviewing whites in my home town that had grown up during the era of segregation and witnessed the Great Civil Rights Movement, who spoke nostalgically about the disappearance of the “beloved Southern Negro.”

While Mike Jacobs, a Jewish businessman, promoted his fights, Joe Louis’s closest advisors were his managers John Roxborough and Julian black, along with Jack “Chappie” Blackburn who trained him –all of whom were black.  Roxborough and Black were Midwestern “Policy Kings” whose income from the illegal “numbers’ lottery was disguised by legitimate business activity.  They were gentlemen gangsters, master players who understood well the ways of the white world and were adept at pulling the wool over “whiteys” eyes.   Working with Mike Jacobs they skillfully maneuvered Louis into a title bout.

Louis’s first big fight which brought him national and international attention was his 1935 bout with the Italian boxer Primo Carnera, a mobbed up ex-circus strong man.  At six feet seven and 260 pounds Canera towered over Louis, who was about 6”1’ 195 pounds.  In Italy the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini – an avid boxing fan – had come to power and was threatening to invade Ethiopia.

The symbolism of little Ethiopia battling a bigger more powerful Italy and a Louis /Carnera fight was not lost on Mike Jacobs, who quickly made the match, and it was quickly noted by the white sporting press and the Afro-American press.  The fact that Mussolini was a fan of Carnera, and had once intervened on his behalf with the US government in a deportation case led some to regard the fighter as “Mussolini’s Emissary.”

For Afro-Americans the issue was clear.  As the late Dean of Afro-American historians John Hope Franklin observed, because of Ethiopia’s unique status as the only ancient African country to remain independent during the period of European colonialism, a successful invasion of Ethiopia by fascist Italy would “symbolize the final victory of the white man over the Negro.”  Throughout the centuries when black people suffered slavery, lynching and segregation Ethiopia was a singular beacon of hope.

Afro-American preachers, searching for a serviceable theology that could explain God’s mysterious divine plan in to Afro-Americans in light of their benighted plight in a way that gave them hope for a better future, would quote passages from the bible where “Ethiopia stretched out her arms to God” and told their flocks that it predicted a future time when black people would rule the world; when the “bottom rail would be top” and   ”the meek would inherit the earth.” The pervasiveness of the Ethiopian Myth in 19th century Black Nationalist /religious thought verifies its importance in the way Afro-Americans envisioned themselves in the cosmic scheme and explains its recurrence as a major theme in 20th century Black Nationalist ideology.

For instance one need only consider the lyrics to the anthem of the Universal Negro Improvement Association – a mass organization founded and led by the Jamaican immigrant Marcus Garvey during the 1920’s – in order to demonstrate the tenacity of the Ethiopianist trope. “Ethiopia thou land of our fathers/ Thou land where the Gods love to be.”  Many a tear was shed by impassioned souls as Afro-Americans devoted to racial uplift and African Redemption gathered in “Freedom Halls” and sang these lyrics in fortissimo.

To Afro-Americans in the 1930’s living amid the economic collapse of the “Great Depression” and increasing white terror in the southern states, having witnessed the Garvey Movement’s destruction by the clandestine machinations of the US government under J. Edgar Hoover aided by the folly of Garvey himself, Ethiopia, led by His Majesty Hallie Selassie – believed to be a direct descendent of King Solomon and the black Queen of Sheba, whose physical safety would be endangered by an Italian invasion – was the last shining example of black power and national glory in the world.

Hence black folks everywhere prayed for Joe Louis to kick Carnero’s “Guinea” ass!   When Joe stepped into the ring with the Italian giant he carried the hopes of the entire black world on his shoulders. Needless to say, despite his many millions earned in the ring as the darling of pay-per-view television: Floyd Mayweather has never known such a grand moment.

Louis and Carnera met in the ring on June 25, 1935 in New York City, less than four months before Italian armed forces invaded Ethiopia on October 3, over the protest of the US government and many other nations.  The black and white film footage of the fight  – which can be seen along with footage from all the fights described herein can be seen by double clicking on the links at the bottom of this essay – although somewhat murky, clearly shows Louis dominating the Italian hulk.

Carnero, like a lot of muscle bound guys who are not very artful in their approach to boxing, sort of pushes and paws with his gloves while Louis is throwing sharp crisp punches – which are more punishing.  Although Joe was not fleet of foot like Jack Johnson before him, or Muhammad Ali, who came along over twenty years later, he was a highly skilled boxer with lightning fast hands and knock out power in either fist.

Although Carnera towered over Joe Louis, just as Italy towered over small technological Ethiopia, Joe beat him up, hitting Carnera at will, while making himself harder to hit than the Lotto Jackpot.  In the six round Joe dropped Primo with a right hand and knocked him out with a sizzling left hook launched at lightning speed.

David and Goliath

Joe Louis and Primo Canerra
A Rehearsal for the Italo-Ethiopian War? 
 
His Imperial Majesty Ras Tafari  of Ethiopia

Hallie selassie2

King of Kings! Conquering Lion of Judah, Hero to Afro-Americans
A Descendant Menelik II:  Son of King Solomon and Queen Makeda
Hallie selassie1
He is Worshiped as a God by Jamaican Rastafarians
Primo and Benito
primocarnera4 and Benito
Chillin with the Fascists
 The Brown Bomber Smashed the Giant Italian Palooka!
Joe Louis - Carnera II And African Peoples Everywhere Cheered!

 

Ninety five Thousand people turned out to witness the fight!

The Roar from Yankee Stadium could be Heard in Harlem

However the second fight between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling dwarfed the Canero fight.  Whereas the Italian invasion was opposed by many nations; it was a life and death matter only to black people, who viewed it as a measure of their place in the world as a race.  But in the Louis vs. Schmeling fight the issue was the survival of modern civilization, as Hitler threatened to exterminate “inferior races” and enslave all who were not Germans.   Thus it was a splendid irony that this fight was viewed symbolically as a struggle between civilization and barbarism now that white Americans and their European kith and kin were threatened with the fate that they had imposed on the “inferior” colored races for centuries.

The Anglo Saxons of the US and England openly denounced the “master race” vision of the Nazis as criminal barbarism, despite that fact that Hitler had proposed no treatment for them that they had not meted out to the colored peoples over whom they had ruled in Africa, Asia and the Americas; employing the same “master race” logic to justify it.  And it required a special hypocrisy that these same whites chose Joe Louis, whose people were among those that suffered most from their pretensions to racial superiority, defend their values in the clash of ideologies!  Yet such was the state of affairs when Joe Louis met Max Schmeling in their return match in 1938.

However fight this would have been exciting event if viewed in wholly pugilistic terms.  Schmeling was the only man to have defeated Louis thus far in his professional career and by a knockout no less!   In their first fight on June 19,th 1936 Louis entered the ring undefeated with a record of 22-0 compiled in less than two years.  Everybody figured Louis as a sure shot to win the Heavy-Weight Championship – including Louis himself – it was just a matter of time. 

Unfortunately, Louis, seduced by the siren song in the press, must have taken his ordination to heart and forgot that he still had to fight the fight.  And Schmeling, who had a brief reign as the Heavy-Weight Champion from 1930- 1932, when he became the only man in boxing history to have won the crown on a default in his match with “Jack Sharkey in Yankee stadium on June 11, 1930,   was anxious to get another shot.

A true sportsman, Schmeling had been disappointed at the way he won the title.  Sharkey had been ahead on points when he was  called for fouling Schmeling in the fourth round, and the German was awarded the crown.   He gave Sharkey a rematch two years later and lost the title on points.  But he gained many fans in losing, especially since his promoter was screaming to the press “We wuz robbed!   Having tasted the glories that accompanied the Undisputed World Heavy-Weight Championship, Schmeling longed to return to the most prestigous pedestal in sports.   Thus he was training like a para-trooper headed for a dangerous combat jump, while Joe Louis was hanging out on the golf course at Lakeview New Jersey – which was close to his camp in Pompton Lakes.

When he wasn’t practicing his swing on the fairways Joe was Lindy Hopping to Jimmy Lunceford’s swinging paean to dance “I’m A Rug Cutter.”  Boxers often have a favorite song they like to train with.  For the ferocious Sonny Liston it was Bill Doggets “Night Train;” for Michael Spinx it was Frankie Beverly’s “Joy and Pain,”  and Joe loved to boogie down to the red hot rhythms of the Jimmy Lunceford big band.  After all, Lunceford’s motto was “Rhythm is My Business!”

Chillin on the Greens
Joe Louis plaring golf
Cooling his Heels while Schmeling Trained
 While Joe Played…..

Max Schmeling mit Trainer und Manager

……Schmeling was training to The Max

Max Schmeling in training

A Man on a Mission

Schmeling training II

Preparing to shoot down the Brown Bomber
 Building his Endurance with Road Work

Max Schmeling doing roadwork

Boxing is a sport where the training regimen remains pretty much the same, even as there are radical changes for preparing for competition in other sports.  The basic elements in training boxers

As part of his preparation for the fight, Max also studied films of Joe Louis’s fights and he would be richly rewarded for his diligence.  While wise guys in the press and betting parlors gave Max only two chances to win, thin and none, the German bruiser walked around with a confident swag, shit eatin grin, and IDGAF attitude.  When inquiring wags wanted to know from whence his confidence sprang, he simply said that he had discovered a flaw in Louis’ style that would assure him a  victory. Whenever the public got a glimpse of Schmeling the smile never left his face and the pep in his step seemed to heighten in the days approaching the fight…the Louis camp figured it for the fake bravado of a man facing execution.

He was kidding himself everybody thought. Hence Louis played while Schmeling worked. The fight jumped off in Yankee Stadium on June 19th 1936, and Max Schmeling revealed the secret he had been keeping which he had repeatedly told the public would lead to a victory over the undefeated top contender, who everybody believed was on a straight path to a shot at the title.  But as the fight progressed it became increasingly clear that Schmeling had Louis’s number as he fought with greater and greater confidence, repeatedly tagging the brown bomber with power shots.

What Schmeling had learned from studying films of Louis is that he had a tendency to drop his guard after throwing a left hand.  Once Schmeling got his timing down he simply countered with straight right hands to Joe’s Jaw.  These were vicious punches and Schmeling dropped Louis for the first time in his professional career in the fourth round.  For the next eight rounds the fight ebbed and flowed but Schmeling was very disciplined, took no chances, and continued to land the right hand.

As the rounds piled up Joe began to tire, the result of his lack of training, and as his reflexes slowed Schmeling began to hit his exposed chin at will.  Louis couldn’t figure out what was happening, at least not in time to avoid a knockout; which came with a perfect right to the jaw in the twelfth round!  Hitler rejoiced, America mourned, and Harlem screamed “Fix!”

  On Fight Night

The Brown Bomber Crashes

The Brown Bomber Crashes!
And Schmeling Shocked the world
Joe decke by Schmelingimages
And Joe paid the price for overconfidence
 Joe Louis Stops James J. Braddock at Cominsky Park

joelouis stops James J. Braddock

And Becomes the Undisputed Heavy-Weight Champion of the World! 
The New Champion Strolling in Harlem with wife Marva Trotter

A-JOE_LOUIS and Marva Trotter

The Poker faced Pride of Black America!
Max Schmeling: Hero of the Third Reich!

Maz schmelinghitler

The Only man to have Defeated Joe Louis
 Gentlemen Jim Corbett

Gentleman Jim Corbett

The Father of Scientific boxing

****************

Playthell G. Benjamin
February 27, 2016
On the Road
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