This Issue is Dedicated to:
Amadou Diallo’s Mother and Father
and to the memory of:
Amadou Diallo



Amadou: An Editorial

We are spending a lot of time brooding over the Amadou Diallo verdict.


I know, absolutely know, that if I were in Amadou Diallo’s situation, as the white man I am, I could have reached for my wallet and those four policemen would have waited for me to produce it.


* * *

A young friend of ours who lives in Brooklyn has introduced us to a friend of her’s, a young man named, Abas. Abas has recently come to this country from his native Gambia. Abas lives in the Bronx. Abas sells CDs, silver jewelry and Rastafarian patches on Canal Street at one of those folding aluminum tables set up beside the curb.


Abas is, as Amadou was, just another American immigrant, in that centuries-long line of entrepreneurial immigrants, in that centuries-long tradition of All-American Free Enterprise. Abas is, as Amadou was, looking forward to, as Willi Coleman says in her essay/poem in this issue, “to what his small share of tomorrow might bring.”


What must Abas’s parents be thinking now back there in Gambia?


* * *

I have a middle aged Black friend who said the other day, “I want to hit somebody. I want to hurt somebody.” This friend also said, “Among my Black friends . . . we don’t talk about Amadou. We can’t. The rage is too close to the surface.”


What can we middle-aged, white people do to get that feeling of what it must be like to be the parents of a young Black man in America today?


What can we white people do to feel in our stomachs, in our eyes, the rage–the burning, overwhelming, blinding rage and fear–all Black Americans must feel over what happened to Amadou?


* * *

We’ve also been thinking about one of those four policemen, the one who, again as Willi Coleman says in her essay/poem, “tearfully confesses to a fear so profound that a wallet becomes a weapon.”


My heart breaks for him also, because that man stood there in that lobby of that apartment building for me, he stood there as my stand in, as my representative in our racist society. He was there, in some real way, instead of me, to do my bidding, my dirty work. And he was there for you also. He was our fall guy, our surrogate, our pig, our goat.


And now he will carry in his soul for the rest of his life his guilt and shame, and all of us well-intentioned, white-liberal, middle-class white folks are glad about that, because he can carry all that guilt and shame for us so that we won’t have to be bothered with it, so that we can go back to our well intentioned, comfortable, privileged lives, so that we can remain unsullied and self-righteous in our outrage at what those racist cops did, those racist cops who acted on our behalf.


Those four cops were out there protecting our white privilege just as surely as Bull Connor was on the streets of Birmingham almost 40 years ago. The police and the law have not changed that much. How conveniently we white folks have arranged this society.


The jury said the four policemen were not guilty. Who, then, are the guilty ones? Who?


Stay away from the mirror.





A Good Semester To Be Away From My Usual Job Of Teaching
Willi Coleman

It is a good semester to be away from my usual job of teaching.


“Professing” in front of a room full of students of college age is at its best a labor of true love. The only moments that have given me consistent doubt have always been deeply rooted in some issue of race . . . and sometimes clothed also in the garb of gender.


But this semester is a good time to be away from my usual job of teaching.


The work that I love is the teaching of America’s histories. For me that means placing the social constructs of race and gender at the center of discourse. Perhaps I’ve always found it such exciting, mind altering and hard work because I come to it from a privileged and advantaged position. Being neither white nor male has meant that I could not choose to see either race or gender as insignificant markers in the world. Teaching presents instead for me a mostly wonderful, intellectually stimulating and sometimes troubling way to make my way towards other humans on the planet.


But this is a good semester to be away from my usual job of teaching.


I’ve felt it before; my own sadness matched only by a puzzled, hesitant and sometimes angry look in my students’ eyes. As we get into the work that we’re all assembled to do–trying to understand a past which gives today some meaning–I can hear it. They, mostly white, have more than a gnawing suspicion that something is not right when it comes to matters of race in our country. They are no longer the children for whom a tough world can be simplified, codified, made palpable without some questions. They are no longer the children who know their country’s past as so many pilgrims ‘discovering’ so many Indians followed by bonding over turkey dinner.


They are mostly folks who have inhabited this planet for two decades or less in relative and unquestioned comfort. With a few of the usual detours, most are trying hard to find out what kind of person they may eventually become. I work hard at not sounding too smug about knowing who will survive this class, move on to other classes and eventually into what, I pray, is a meaningful life in the ‘real’ world. I am shamelessly pleased when more than a few make their way back into my life. As sure as clock work, they are changed by time, status and new responsibilities.


In spite of that this is a good semester to be away from my usual place in the classroom.


What am I to do in a classroom when a young man as innocent as any of my students can be torn to bits with bullets?


What am I to do when the law says there is no one to shame or blame?


What am I to say in a classroom when a police officer tearfully confesses to a fear so profound that a wallet becomes a weapon?


How do I not wail with rage in my classroom when a man doing his job takes the life of an innocent?


Amadou Diallo was so like my students. He was too young to be tired in the dark of night. So he lost his life while standing in his doorway in the most bountiful nation on the planet.


Amadou Diallo was so like my students: looking forward to what his small share of tomorrow might bring.


This is a good semester to be away from my usual place in the classroom.


* * *

[Willi Coleman is a tenured professor of History and ALNA studies at The University of Vermont.]





Black Heritage Postage Stamps Threatened

The US post office is considering discontinuing Black Heritage stamps because they are not selling. Instead of taking the path of least resistance and accepting the love, flag, rose, or teddy bear stamps that they offer you automatically, request African-American stamps each time you mail something.


If we don’t buy them, nobody will.


For more information contact:


Michael S. Chambers Director,
Multicultural Affairs
Florida Atlantic University
777 Glades Road
PO Box 3091
Boca Raton, FL 33431


Tel# 1-561-297-3959
Fax# 1-561-297-2740








The National Civil Rights Museum
Lois Eby


In the summer of 1998 my family and I happened to be in Memphis, TN, for a family wedding. One day we took off from the festivities and went to the National Civil Rights Museum, a museum that has been built around the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated almost 32 years ago.


Does one have to have lived through that terrible day in April 1968 to feel as I did when I saw the balcony where Rev. King was shot? With his assassination, I lost the naive hopes of my youth. I realized that the struggle between good and evil is an ongoing struggle. It will never be won. It requires courage and sacrifice on the part of committed people, year after year, century after century. I entered the Lorraine Motel, now a National Civil Rights Museum, with awe. Here was a tribute not only to Martin Luther King, Jr. but to the many other people who waged the long, hard fight for civil rights.


I first became involved in the civil rights movement as a college student. My deepening commitment to the movement was not entirely altruistic. This was in the early sixties. At the university in the south where I went to school, I discovered that it was against school policy for me to bring a nonwhite friend to eat with me in the cafeteria. MY civil rights were being violated. Such infringement on my personal liberty was against everything I had learned about American freedoms when I was growing up in Oklahoma. That’s when I understood that civil rights is an issue not only for African Americans but for all of us.


It was a powerful experience to work our way slowly through the civil rights museum, looking at the photographs and reading the history of events. The museum focuses on the fifties and sixties, but reaches much further back in time as well. My daughter searched for and found photographs of a few white women who played courageous roles in the civil rights movement. As we moved along, however, we were aware that there were few other white people in this museum. Busloads of African American children from Memphis schools, African American couples, families, and individuals . . . many people were there, in hushed and reverent awe as we were, but very few white people. Do white people take their civil rights for granted? Is it location? While the Lorraine Motel is a fitting place for a tribute to Martin Luther King and to the struggle for civil rights, it also seemed to us that this museum, so well conceived and executed, should be invited and helped to open another branch of the National Civil Rights Museum right on the mall in Washington, DC


This museum should be at the center of our national life. Civil rights is a national issue. From the moment the founders of our country fought for freedom from England while they encouraged and profited from slavery, our country has been both a symbol of political rights for the individual and a contradictory battleground. The rights of the individual and the greed and prejudice of the majority have been at war. The history of abuse of the civil rights of African Americans and their fight to obtain their rights is a part of the American story. We should all know and honor this story. It’s about us and who we are as a country. When we hear of horrific abuses of minorities in other countries, we need to know that our country has been and is guilty of such abuse as well. But we also need to be proud that we have a long history of struggle, struggle by heroic African Americans and visionary white men and women, to extend the rights of our constitution to all our citizens.


So I’d like to see a branch of the National Civil Rights Museum in our nation’s capitol. The history of slavery and the struggle for civil rights are at the heart of who we are as a country. We must never forget to honor those in our history who fought to make our country live up to its Bill of Rights, for we need such courageous and committed leadership in every generation.


* * *

[Lois Eby is an artist and a writer. This essay first aired as a commentary on Vermont Public Radio on 16 February 2000]




In Their February Ghetto
What’s Wrong With Black History Month

Even though having a Black History Month is a whole lot better than having none at all. And even though Black History Month is over. And also because– as one of our friends points out, “You might know February would be Black History Month: it’s the shortest month of the year!” We wanted to issue this edition of The Judevine Mountain Emailite, dedicated to issues of race, after Black History Month was over, because we’ve got a problem with the idea of Black History Month.


A little while ago I heard on a Public Radio Station which serves this area that they would play, on one of the classical music programs, William Grant Still’s Afro-American Symphony. My question is:


Is it only in February that this Public Radio station plays the music of William Grant Still? And if so, why?


In other words, the trouble with Black History Month is: too many of us white folks can just go visit our Black brothers and sisters in their February ghetto and then forget about them and ourselves in relation to them and the fundamental issues of race in America the rest of the year.


If Black History Month ghettoizes both the contributions of Black Americans and the history of Africans in America, then Black History Month does a great disservice to us all.


Black folks are not going to forget about their contributions or their history the other eleven months of the year. It is up to us white folks to avoid ghettoizing Black history, people and contributions the other eleven months as well.


[NOTE: The Judevine Mountain Emailite publishes articles on race year ’round. For more essays on race in America see back issues of The Judevine Mountain Emailite, numbers 18171363 and2]





and finally . . .


The Millennium’s Most Noteworthy In Another Color 
It All Depends on Where You’re Coming From

Now that the Millennium has come and gone, we can put aside, for a time at least, the top 100 thises and thats.


At the top of the lists most white people saw last year were folks like Elvis Presley, Hitler and The Pope. But before we depart the subject entirely it seems well to remember that IT ALL DEPENDS ON WHERE YOU’RE COMING FROM.


To wit: this news item from Caribbean Life (the Queens/Long Island Edition) for Dec. 28, 1999:


“Marcus Mosiah Garvey has emerged as the most noteworthy individual of the century. Readers of a Caribbean publication called EVERYBODY’S magazine voted the nationalist the ‘Person of the Century.’ “No one can argue” the article states “with the singular strides that Marcus Garvey made in publicizing the plight of Black people.”


Dr Julius Garvey, the son of Marcus M. Garvey said, “My father attempted to reverse racism. Marcus had an independent mind, an African mind.”


Other people on the most noteworthy list were: Dr. Eric Williams (Prime Minister of Trinidad & Tobago); Bob Marley (singer/songwriter); Michael Manley (Prime Minister of Jamaica); Sir Garfield Sobers (cricketer); Derek Walcott (Nobel recipient) and Dr. Slinger Francisco (calypsonian, a.k.a. the Mighty Sparrow).