Sunday, July 20, 2014
On Sunday, June 22, 2014 I had the opportunity to see the Broadway musical Holler If You Hear Me with my friend Juno (top right). About two months prior to reading John Potash’s book The FBI War On Tupac Shakur and Black Leaders. So as I walk out of the theater with my friend Juno, who do I see? None other than John Potash (top left). I told him how I thought the musical was interesting. He shared that he enjoyed it as well. However deep down I was hiding how confused I was by the whole story that this musical is telling. More specifically, I found a very interesting contrast between this musical’s book written by Todd Kreidler and Potash’s book The FBI War on Tupac Shakur and Black Leaders that I recently finished. Kreidler’s book to this musical has Tupac indicting more Black-on-Black violence as the main “culprit,” if you will, whereas Potash’s book indicts U.S. intelligence and its white supremacist ideology that helped to murder Tupac. I think that history, Tupac’s legacy will definitely side more with Potash’s book than Kreidler’s. John Potash writes that Tupac had “a precocious ability to communicate a Marxist analysis of America’s class system and other political issues. For example, in an interview for a video while he was a little known teen in high school, Tupac explained that “for the upper class,” George H.W. Bush was “a perfect president…that’s how society is built. The upper class runs [society] while…the middle and lower class, we talk about it” (50). According to him, Tupac read hundreds and hundreds of books as a teen, from socialist texts, to philosophical treatises, poetry, Shakespeare and contemporary books on feminism, historical analyses, and psychology (50). Part of the reason why the Broadway musical Holler If You Hear Me, written by Todd Kreidler is closing today, is because of its failure to show this intellectual depth of Tupac. It exposes Broadway audiences to the lyrics of Tupac, however within a very confusing story by Kreidler that only indicts Black-on-Black violence. This ultimately becomes a story that endorses white supremacy. It provides no measure of the political appeal of Tupac’s music that communicated “a Marxist analysis of America’s class system.” Kreidler’s book is a story of two brothers, Vertas and John. John’s main ambition in the play is keeping gainful employment at a car repair shop after leaving prison. We are not told why John was in prison. His brother Vertas’s ambition is more unclear. In the first act Benny, whom we are told is the individual that helped John get the car mechanic job is killed. We the audience don’t really get to know Benny so we have no sympathy for him. We have to assume he is shot because the customary Black-on-Black violence typical of urban Blacks, expressed by Kreidler’s enterprising white character Griffy who employs John. Kreidler’s best dialogue in this book is the exchange between Griffy and John when John demands more from his paycheck: it definitely uncovers deep seated prejudices that we don’t hear often on the Broadway stage. Vertas’s ambition seems to ultimately support to Anthony on his quest to help avenge Benny’s death by killing a member of the rival gang 4-5s. Gratefully, Kreidler’s book for this musical includes no character that is Tupac himself. This is a story of two brothers Vertas and John. John is a former prisoner whose paintings come to life, while Vertas is a street hustler whose mother Mrs. Weston refuses the money that his trade that “some crazy internet shit in Malaysia” is bringing in. Like James Baldwin’s critique of Richard Wright’s novel Native Son, all of Kreidlers’ characters are subject to the same issues that Baldwin pointed out in Wright’s character of Bigger Thomas: “Bigger’s tragedy is…that he has accepted a theology that denies him life, that he admits to the possibility of his being sub-human and feels constrained, therefore, to battle for his humanity according to those brutal criteria bequeathed to him at his birth” (18). In so many ways, both John and Vertas accept a theology that deny them life. Vertas says that “true power’s money.” John says at the end of the first act: “Two words: my paycheck. That’s all my life gets to mean.” The men in Kreidler’s book define their manhood by how much money and women they have. They show nothing of the political being that Tupac was. Vertas’s friend Benny tells the other men of their neighborhood, whom Kreidler’s script calls Soulja Boys: “I know a buncha ways to be a man. Got a list. Start with Amber then with Jasmine...” The play adulterates the Marxist-Leninst Black Panther Socialist Philosophy that helped shaped the radical thinking of Tupac Shakur. It adulterates the thinking of co-producer Afeni Shakur whose outstanding legal defense exonerated the Panther 21. Maybe no Broadway show is supposed to do this, however, Tupac’s legacy deserved more political insight that Kreidler’s book lends. Potash writes that Tupac Shakur attended meetings of the New Afrikan Panthers, a group that helped inspire his development of activism. This group included members of the revolutionary group, the New Afrikan People’s Orgnaization (NAPO). Afeni’s close friend, ex-Black Panther Watani Tyehimba, helped found NAP and served as its security director and Tupac lived with Tyehimba in 1985 and 86. (47-48). In his song “Wordz of Wisdom” from the 1991 album 2Pacalypse Now, Potash writes that Tupac called for armed rebellion to oppose racist and economic oppression of “the masses, the lower classes” by the upper class” (63). He did not employ violence for the sake of violence as Kreidler’s book suggests. In this musical’s book, violence is shown as irrational and not a necessary response to the racial and economic oppression that Black men like Eric Garner faced from the NYPD on July 17th. Anthony, a Soulja boy in Kreidler’s book, is the character who is most bent on avenging Benny’s murder. He tells the Street Preacher: “Fuck God’s plan! We want Action.” Kriedler’s script suggests that for one to believe in God, one must downplay or ignore the necessity of armed revolution to bring about social change. In Kreidler’s and his characters’ minds, there is no conception of a God that would support armed revolution in the American tradition of a Nat Turner, Denmark Vesey, Toussaint L’Ouverture, Boukman Dutty or John Brown. Kriedler’s script panders to the division in the minds between God an armed revolutionary violence for the purpose of liberation from capitalist expression in the manner of antebellum theologians. John in reciting the lyrics of Tupac’s “Me Against the World” tells his love interest character in Corinne: “When Will I Finally Get to Rest? Through This Suppression/ They Punish the People That’s Asking The Questions / And Those That Possess, Steal From the Ones Without Possessions.” Corinne tells him “The Power is in the People We Address.” The lyrics in this exchange define Tupac’s life but nowhere do they play out in Kreidler’s book. Like Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Huey Newton, Tupac Shakur is a Black man who is sympathetic to socialism only honored and respected after his death. He is not honored while he is living because, as Maurice Bishop said in Bruce Paddington’s recent film about his life, his influence among the masses is feared by U.S. intelligence. Potash’s book says that Tupac is one of those who was punished for asking the questions. Whereas the oligarchs like Samantha Power and Pierre Omidyar are continue “steal from the ones without possession” by justifying imperialism even after Tupac’s death and this musical’s death. Potash writes that Tupac is essentially murdered by U.S. intelligence through the workings of police informants, Suge Knight and Dave Kenner. Potash writes that Time Warner, housed in Columbus Circle, about thirty blocks north of the Palace Theater where a the musical ran, had a long commitment to placing U.S. intelligence agents and carrying out psychological warfare against Black activist musicians as an extension of its COINTELPRO tactics (140). Like the murders of King and Malcolm X however, the murder of Tupac is not prosecuted, because of Tupac’s political beliefs that was grounded in a serious class analysis that Kreidler’s book completely misses. Charles Isherwood of The New York Times writes that the musical failed because it didn’t have “a market tested brand name” or it didn’t come from London. I think more than these factors is the commercial nature of Broadway, that demands astronomically high ticket prices from a population so crippled by austerity that the only audience members who can consistently support are same demographic that Tupac’s philosophy indicts. His music, unlike Broadway, was more about righteous class struggle than about entertainment. The climax of Kreidler’s book is Anthony’s over zealous murder of a Soulja Boy, Darius. Kreidler’s message is that violence is a youthful indiscretion that fades as one grows older and more accommodating to white supremacist capitalism. It was Anthony’s youthful zest for violence that is the culprit behind Darius’s death and Black-on-Black violence for that matter. However those who appreciate Tupac know better, and know that his music and legacy demands much more. –RF.
Thursday, June 5, 2014
The photo of Elizabeth Nunez is by Leonid Knizhnik. This is my interview with Professor Elizabeth Nunez on Thursday, June 5, 2014 about the second half of her memoir. We talked about a lot including Pan-African anticolonial themes that expose the reality of how anticolonial fight in Trinidad, Jamaica is not different from the anticolonial fight in the United States. -RF.
Thursday, May 22, 2014
This is the second part of my interview with John Potash about his book "The FBI War on Tupac Shakur and Black Leaders." We mention all the important parts from the last three fourths of the book from about page 50 to the end, page 196. This was recorded on Thursday, May 22nd, 2014, one day after the birthday of Biggie Smalls a.k.a. Chris Wallace, whom Potash mentions was a likely victim of American intelligence. John and I agreed that one of the goals of this book and this interview is to inform and enlighten people about the oppressive oligarchy in order to fight it. -RF.
Thursday, May 8, 2014
My interview with John Potash about his book "The FBI War on Tupac and Black Leaders." This took place on Thursday, May 8, 2014.
Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Image courtesy of Gawker.com I thought the most brilliant, most necessary, and most important response to the Donald Sterling incident was Homeboy Sandman’s article posted Monday on Gawker.com called “Black People Are Cowards.” I also agree that the NBA players should boycott until all public schools in urban cities are reopened and all prisons are closed since Obama’s inauguration. If Wall Street really cares about ending racism, they would do this. I asked Homeboy to respond to Alan Silver’s disciplinary action against Sterling yesterday and to Kimberly Foster’s article “Who’s A Coward” and got these responses in an email this morning. I am most grateful for his feedback, especially to my third question. –RF. RF: What is your reaction to the NBA banning Sterling from owning the Clippers? Does this change your argument that the Clippers or the NBA should be boycotted? HS: I think that the owner of a playoff team making racist remarks, during the playoffs, while the team had a game to play during his tenure, provided a phenomenal opportunity for a show of force. I feel that now that Sterling has been removed, that that particular window of opportunity has closed. RF: How do you respond to Kimberly N Foster's article "Who's A Coward"? HS: I appreciate her passion and her taking the time to voice her opinion. It appears that her and I look at risk differently. I'm concerned with the risk of being oppressed on this planet forever. She appears more concerned with financial security. A difference in priorities. To be fair, she also voices a risk of losing life. I think that life is way more important than finances. However, I personally think that me losing my life would be much less of a disaster than black people being oppressed on this planet forever (or at least until we're wiped out). I also disagree with her assertion that people, specifically myself, who were unhappy with the lack of protest (or "silent protest" as some have called it) are not making the same demands of the racists holding power. Demanding respect from the racists holding power is exactly what my piece is all about. A request is not enough. An appeal is not enough. A plea is not enough. My piece is a call to the oppressed to demand our respect. Is she suggesting that I demand the same thing of the people in power? How would that work? Demand that they demand from themselves that they stop being racist? Okay. I demand that too. I think demanding that looks a lot like the thing I was originally trying to demand though. I also disagree with her that audacity involves a safety net. That's the whole point of audacity. There is no safety net. That's what makes it audacious instead of safe. Lacking the safety net to cultivate audacity is like lacking the water to cultivate fire. I definitely disagree with her that black men who averted their eyes when whites walked by weren't being cowardly. That's actually an example that I might use if i were trying to explain to someone exactly what the word "cowardly" means. Isn't that a perfect example? Why is it so bad for me to say that? I feel sympathy for those men. They were in a horrific circumstance that I'm very blessed to not be in. That doesn't change the fact that they were cowards. I'm not trying to insult anybody. If I can't state the plain truth, then what's the point? I also disagree with her that Sallie Mae has any jurisdiction over anyone's life at all. Sallie Mae is another bully that can kiss my ass and that I believe everyone should tell to kiss their ass (yes, despite risk of negative consequences). That's the only way we're going to put an end to the ridiculous student loan scam that's being run in this country. I'm also confused at how she could be thankful for the Fannys, Rosas, and Ellas, while simultaneously taking a position making it abundantly clear that if any woman attempted to spur movements the magnitude of theirs today that she would find them unreasonable, unrealistic, and self righteous to the point of suggesting that they weren't even human (given her assertion that the Clippers' decision to stage a silent "protest" and play is what makes them human. Would choosing not to play have meant they weren't human? Is she implying that willingness to sacrifice is itself a nonhuman trait? I disagree. Not only are those women human but they're three of the most courageous humans to have ever lived. If she's pissed at me, imagine the fury she'd have had for them). I'm also not sure why she keeps insinuating that I have nothing at stake. I'm an independent artist who's livelihood is predicated entirely on the hip hop community supporting me, who just released an article titled "Black People Are Cowards." Is that not risky enough for you? I'm not sure that I agree with her that we can't dismantle racism ourselves (in a situation where there is a bully and a bullied it appears to me that either can bring an end to the situation independent of the other; the bully by ceasing to bully, or the bullied by choosing to stand up for him or herself). However, assuming for the sake of argument that we can't dismantle racism ourselves, is she arguing that since we can't do it ourselves that we are absolved from responsibility to do anything at all? I don't see how anything is going to get solved that way. Lastly, I was surprised when she said that she hopes that people who experience oppression will seize opportunities to disrupt the status quo, since she'd spent the entirety of the piece up to that point making the argument that that wasn't really their responsibility. RF: How do you respond to the argument that you are getting paid by wealthy white men who believe what Sterling believes but would never say it? HS: I'm pretty sure Peanut Butter Wolf doesn't feel that way. RF: How do you respond to the argument that it is pointless to try to build a boycott because the U.S. government will simply remove by assassination or imprisonment any leaders encouraging this, like they did to Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, or Malcolm X's grandson? HS: There are people who believe that the achievements of those men are pointless? Yikes. RF: Are you prepared to relinquish your record deal for the same cause that you think the Clippers should fight for? Explain. HS: I'm willing to relinquish everything. I love being alive, but I'd never want to be alive without loving it.
Sunday, April 27, 2014
Today is the one hundred thirty first anniversary of the birth of Hubert Harrison. He influenced not only A. Philip Randolph, and Marcus Garvey but Eslanda Cardozo Goode, the mother of Eslanda Cardozo Goode Robeson, who would go on to become one of the most influential voices of the Black freedom struggle. The following is a review of Barbara Ransby's 2013 biography of Eslanda Robeson entitled "Eslanda: The Large & Unconventional Life of Mrs. Paul Robeson." This is my first extensive blog since my 2012 dissertation, on the woman Eslanda who helped make Paul Robeson, the subject of my dissertation's fourth chapter. A modified version of this review is forthcoming in the Graduate Center Advocate monthly. A special thanks to editor Gordon Barnes for helping motivate me to finish this. -RF. Barbara Ransby has fulfilled her stated goal of crafting “a fair and honest portrait of an amazing, talented, tough, and complex woman” in Eslanda (Essie) Cardozo Goode Robeson. Eslanda’s maternal grandfather Francis Lewis Cardozo, named after the New York signer of the Declaration of Independence, was a South Carolina politician during Reconstruction who later became a respected educator in Washington. He later moved to England, like his granddaughter did as the wife of the concert singer Paul Robeson, and studied briefly at Oxford. Essie studied at the London School of Economics. Because he refused to cooperate with the infamous Hayes-Tilden Compromise of 1877 that removed federal Union troops to the South and exposed newly educated Blacks to white mob rule, Ransby writes that according to family lore, Francis Cardozo was soon arrested on trumped up embezzlement charges, tried and convicted for one year (11). Another individual close to Essie in her lifetime would be convicted of what she thought was an unfair charge: her husband Paul Robeson, whose militant outspoken warning to Blacks earned him the State Department’s seizure of his U.S. passport in 1950. His controversial 1949 statement, that prompted the Truman State Department to seize his and Essie’s passports, was that “it is unthinkable that American Negroes would go to war on behalf of those who oppressed us for generations against a country in which one generation has raised our people to the full dignity of mankind” (Foner, ed., p.537). Ransby makes clear however in her book’s introduction that she did not want the largesse of Paul’s celebrity and infamy (in McCarthyist eyes) to eclipse the importance of Eslanda, whom she focuses exclusively on. Her life not only reveals militant Black men who defy the social order, but militant Black women as well. Her mother, Ransby writes, “was a supporter of the Black socialist internationalist Hubert Harrison…She was a volunteer for Harrison’s The Voice newspaper“(24). Harrison was what his biographer Jeffrey Perry called “the father of Harlem radicalism” who made a living as a soapbox orator on the corner of 135th Street and Lenox Avenues encouraging Harlemites to organize their own presses and their own independent party that represents their own interests. From what Ransby writes, this radical influence by Harrison on Eslanda’s mother has some influence in shaping Eslanda into the militant journalist and anthropologist she would become. She met Paul Robeson in 1919, the year he graduated from Rutgers as a Phi Beta Kappa. By then she finished three years at the University of Illinois as a chemistry major, but transferred to Columbia University Teacher’s College, where she graduated by 1920. By the next year she and Paul married. Ransby writes that Eslanda “played a pivotal role in Paul’s early success” (38). She began to network and navigate her way into post-World War I high society. When Paul’s singing and acting career that she launched moved them to London, Essie applied her anticolonial grounding to a new network that included influential Africans like Prince Kojo Touvalou Houenou, a descendant of Dahomean royalty, who talked about Africa and the Diaspora with Eslanda. She met Rene Maran, an influential French writer who, with Prince Kojo, worked on a new journal called Les Continents, which aimed to create a global community of Black writers opposing colonial domination (42). Ransby shows Eslanda as not only a doting wife, but a fastidious personal manager and publicist. She “stayed up late and woke up early rehearsing Paul’s lines with him…She worked tirelessly to promote the event [Paul’s first public concert at Greenwich Village Theatre with pianist Lawrence Brown]…It was sold out, with standing room only” (43, 47). Ransby writes “For Paul she remained an invaluable coach and career strategist” (48). For others, like Paul’s brother Benjamin and Paul’s friend Claude McKay, she was “too abrasive,” “too ambitious,” and “formidable” (32, 54). By 1927, she had arranged for the duo to appear in a series of concerts in France and England. By the end of that year she bore her and Paul’s only son, Paul Jr., on November 2nd. She made arrangements for her mother to be Paul Jr.’s full-time caregiver, “a role she would fill for well over a decade…this arrangement freed Essie to travel with Paul…and fulfill her increasingly demanding managerial duties” (62). Ransby writes that as Paul’s artistic status soared, “his and Essie’s marriage began to unravel” (64). She struggled with Paul’s extramarital affair with a British woman, Yolande Jackson, and sought letters between them to use in a divorce proceeding. In fact, finding such letters was “the first order business” for Eslanda in 1932. While in Paris, she reconnected with Rene Maran, Prince Kojo, and a network of other African-descended French whom she interviewed and collected for a series of essays she titled “Black Paris” that was published in Dorothy West’s journal Challenge. This year she also penned a detailed treatise called “I Believe In Divorce” where she wrote that “marriage is a hangover from the cave man era” and, about Paul, “I think we are happier now than we have ever been. But we no longer wish to be married.” After writing this, Paul left Yolande for Essie and reconciled their issues. By the close of 1932, Ransby writes, “they would remain together for the rest of their lives” (80). By the end of this year, Eslanda wrote three fictional works, two novels and one play. None of which would get published, but each of which would speak to Eslanda’s interests in challenging Black middle class norms. The first novel “Black Progress” was about the plight of a Black middle class family; the second novel “Color” was about the theme of passing, and “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” was a parody of Stowe’s 1852 novel. She was able to publish her first book Paul Robeson, Negro by Victor Gollancz. Although Ransby does not mention it, this book contains the famous anecdote of Paul rejecting the law profession after a legal secretary tells him as a Columbia law student that she “doesn’t take dictation from n—gers.” This book is a testament to Eslanda’s managerial skill. While in London, Essie took courses at the London School of Economics where she strengthened her anticolonial beliefs. By the end of 1934, Essie would visit Russia with Paul and by 1936 with her then nine year old son Paul Jr., would visit South Africa and take copious notes: “Essie boldly indicted the racism she had witnessed, and even commented on the unwarranted divisions and tensions between Blacks and so-called Colored or mixed-race people who had a distinct social, yet still subjugated, status in South Africa relative to whites” (106). Leaving South Africa, Essie and Paul Jr. became a guest of Akiki Nyabongo and his family in Uganda. Essie’s lens of seeing race and class divisions throughout Africa seems to complement Ransby’s own lenses, especially when Ransby writes: “while some African elites openly collaborated with colonial powers, others used their Western education to turn the tables: they argued for African rights in British courts and made a moral cause against white domination” (114). The Eslanda she describes seems to make mental notes of exactly which Africans collaborated with the British and which didn’t, without openly saying so: “she did the best she could to offer insights without offending her hosts” (119). In 1936 she returns to London then to Madrid to join her husband who sings to rally the Spanish Republican forces against the fascist invasion from Italy. By this time Ransby writes that the gulf between Eslanda and the feminist-anarchist Emma Goldman grew at time when Stalin’s Soviet purges took place. Max Yergan visited Paul and Essie about founding an organization then called the International Committee on African Affairs, which would become an influential vehicle through which both Essie and Paul would educate the world about the anticolonial struggle in Africa: “Essie…’was the ICAA’s ‘first contributing member’…she wrote a $300 check to help get it started” (134). Although Stalin’s pact with Hitler made Communism very unpopular in America, Ransby writes that “throughout it all Essie was both pro-Soviet and militantly anti-fascist” (138). The Robesons were quiet about Stalin’s abuses because of the Jim Crow abuses in America sanctioned by the conservative forces like Truman they would be indirectly supporting by publicly decrying Stalin’s atrocities. Instead they move into a comfortable Enfield, Connecticut, home by 1941. Although Essie was being watched by U.S. intelligence because of her political views, the FBI may have been a bit disappointed with the results because, Ransby writes, “she got along with her fellow Enfield residents,” one of whom described her as “one hundred percent American.” While Paul was performing Othello in America, he was intimately involved with his co-star Uta Hagen and his longtime friend Frieda Diamond however Essie, Ransby writes, had agreed with Paul that “each partner was free to do as he or she pleased with regard to sex and romance” (142). She would have her own intimate involvements outside the country and remain married to Paul. Her son Paul Jr. would say that “his mother never missed a single one of his athletic or academic events during his high school years” (142). In May 1945 she attends the founding conference of the United Nations (U.N.) in San Francisco and insists that the U.N. “be a catalyst for ending colonialism” (148). She wrote a pamphlet that was distributed at this conference that argued this. By August of 1945 her second book detailing her anthropological field work in Uganda and South Africa, African Journey, was published by John Day. Ransby writes that her research in this book was at odds with the mainstream of the field because, as she quotes from Mahon, for Essie “anthropology was a tool for liberation, rather than simply an abstract research enterprise” (155). Ransby writes that she gave Ralph Bunche a Kodak camera she received from Paul as a gift. She visited the Congo in 1946 and met a Marxist organizer Gabriel D’Arboussier who organized the Rassemblement Démocratique Africain (African Democratic Group). It is on this trip that British intelligence view her presence in the Congo “as a threat to colonial authority” (165). She also met Moise Tshombe and wrote about him in complimentary terms; Ransby writes how he would later play a “much reviled” role in supporting European colonialism by the 1960 U.S.-led murder of African revolutionary Patrice Lumumba. Ransby could have mentioned how in the pages of Freedom, a paper dedicated to retrieving the passports of Paul & Essie Robeson, that Ralph Bunche was heavily critiqued for his support of U.S. colonialism. In page 6 of its March 1951 issue, Ben Davis, whom Essie would call “an old valued friend” in a March 1952 issue of Freedom, said that Bunche was “a Negro misleader” whom “Wall Street had bought out.” It would be this kind of leadership that would come to make the U.N. as ineffective it is towards ending colonialism, particularly towards Haiti, especially in the histories of the island written by Randall Robinson and Edwidge Danticat. Two months later after returning from the Congo in November 1948, Essie in a speech declares that “Africa is in revolution.” She joins the platform committee of the U.S. Progressive Party and publicly opposes the Korean war. She had been developing a strong anticolonial message so that by the time Paul makes his controversial 1949 statement, she “immediately issued a strong statement defending her husband and lambasting his detractors” (191). The following year she vociferously defends her son from racist hate mail towards his interracial marriage to Marilyn Greenberg: “I do hereby declare way on my enemies and publicly notify them that I will fight them every step of the way” (197). That year she traveled to Moscow, Eastern Europe, and to China, where she “praised China’s new land reform policy…and the fact that…’equality extends to the woman, who are recognized as citizens on the same basis as the men” (203). Also by the end of this year Essie’s last book, American Arguments with novelist Pearl Buck is published. This was also the year that many of her colleagues including James Jackson and Claudia Jones were jailed because of the Smith Act which was the government’s plan to equate sympathy with Communism as plotting to overthrow the U.S. government. A fuller description of the Smith Act by Ransby in this year could have explained Essie’s drastic difference of opinion with Emma Goldman, Pearl Buck and other privileged white liberals who sympathized with them only up to their support of the Soviet Union. However the impact of this law gets only passing mention by Ransby. During the years that Freedom was issued, both Paul and Essie used it as as a tool to call attention to the anticolonial struggles in Kenya and Africa. Ransby quotes from Essie’s 1951 article praising Chinese communism and her March 1952 article praising Ben Davis. Essie also wrote an article for Freedom calling on the world to observe April 6th as D-Day, in South Africa, where Africans began to fight their revolutionary struggle against European colonials. By 1953, she is called before Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Senate Committee, and asked whether she is a member of the Communist Party and refuses to answer directly by claiming protection under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. When she is told she could not invoke the Fifteenth Amendment, she responded that as a Negro, she knew a lot about force and violence used against her people and how they don’t have much right to elect Senators. Ransby writes that no charges were brought against her. She wrote frankly about her testimony in the October 1953 issue of Freedom: “They kept on trying to change the subject, but I kept on sticking to it, and it soon became crystal clear that before any Committee starts yelling for first class loyalty and cooperation from me, they’d better get busy and put me and my Negro people in the First Class Department by making us First Class Citizens.” Ransby writes that the more Cold War paranoia informed American foreign and domestic policy, the more Essie had to say: “there were three women whose decades long friendships with Essie best reflect her transnational identity and both personal and political allegiances: Shirley Graham Du Bois, Vijaya Lakshmi (Nan) Pandit, and Janet Jagan, all three of whom appeared in the pages of Freedom on more than one occasion. Jomo Kenyatta also wrote some articles for Freedom. Essie credits him, according to Ransby, with bringing anthropology to life for her. About a year after Freedom’s last issue in 1955, Essie was diagnosed with breast cancer, however she continued her effort to build a transnational identity. The Russian edition of her book African Journey was published in 1957 and reviewed favorably by the Russian press as a one that plays a positive role in the “active struggle against colonialism” (242). In April 1958 she traveled to Trinidad by the invitation of Grenadian anticolonialist Theophilus Marryshow to participate in the celebration surrounding the formation of the West Indies Federation, which was a precursor to CARICOM. By December of 1958, she would travel to Accra, Ghana to attend the All-African Peoples’ Conference (AAPC), one year after the country became the first African nation to receive independence from England. Like Malcolm’s historic 1964 speech at the Organization of Afro-American Unity warning South African leaders against replacing European colonialism with American dollarism, Essie six years earlier issues a similar warning that should be considered an ideological precursor to Malcolm’s message. Ransby writes that she “condemned African Uncle Toms, these would-be Frenchmen, Britons, etc., the especially-trained Black ‘elite’’ who had been allowed to speak for Africa and would be displaced by “the authentic voice of the African people” (246). Essie made clear a distinction between leaders who demonstrated a commitment to ending colonial rule in all of its forms and empowering the African masses, like Patrice Lumumba (in a 1961 photo of this book that shows Eslanda speaking, a banner next to her podium reads: “Long Live Lumumba”), and those who saw themselves as extensions of or in alliance with white colonial elites. In her journal she writes that “neo-colonialism is [the] greatest menace in Africa” (261). Not only does Eslanda critique African collusion with European and American interests, but she makes clear prophetic critiques of U.S. militarism in Africa: “I should like the continent to become…a zone where no foreign military bases are allowed. I should like this to be paralleled with an ideological truce and an agreement not to try to convert Africa into an economic appendage of any other continent.” The American development of AFRICOM absolutely betrays this hope. She died of breast cancer on December 13, 1965. Ransby the historian is reluctant to describe Eslanda as a feminist because that is not the way Eslanda described herself. However Ransby writes in her epilogue that “Essie anticipated contemporary Black feminist theories of intersectionality that insisted that the relationships between capitalism, sexism, colonialism, racism and empire were symbiotic” (278). Ransby admits that contemporary feminists might bristle at Essie’s formulation that American women “see themselves as people first and women second” (248). However, given Essie’s strong disdain for neocolonialism, what she meant by “people” in this case are people who are fighting neocolonialism, and who resent the use of the social construction of gender to advance the agenda of Wall Street. No debate highlights this rejection of neocolonialism better than Eslanda’s critique of Edith Sampson, a U.S. delegate to the U.N. General Assembly in the July 1951 issue of Freedom, which Ransby misses. Here Eslanda is rejecting the cynical use of token Blacks to advance a colonial or neocolonial agenda in the United States. Eslanda critiques Sampson’s silence at the 1951 U.N. Assembly on the Jim Crow abuses that Negroes endure and her remarks claiming that Communism was America’s main concern. Eslanda does not support Sampson simply because she is a woman; she understands the sophisticated yet cynical use by conservatives to push a sexist and racist agenda using tokens. She critiques Sampson because of her conscious choice to ignore the more serious plight of Jim Crow in America. Eslanda writes to Sampson: “As a Negro woman…I was glad and proud to see you, a Negro woman, appointed as alternate U.S. delegate to the U.N. General Assembly…When a reporter heckled you about conditions of the Negro people in the United States, you ‘defended the U.S. in a press conference, against Communist accusation…and denied that the color bar is universal and typical in the U.S…Now Edith, this will never do…We all hope, Edith, that you will ‘follow your own best thought.’ We watch and wait and hope.” Eslanda critiques Sampson’s downplaying of American racism in ways similar to how Hubert Harrison in a 1911 New York Sun editorial critiqued Booker T. Washington’s downplaying of American racism in a 1911 edition of the London Morning Post (Perry, ed., p.164). Eslanda’s mother belonged to Harrison’s Liberty League whose ideological concerns rubbed off on Eslanda in her resentment of token Blacks who downplay American racism, as Harrison did. She was aware of the strategic and cynical use of the social construction of gender by token leaders who are manipulated by the elite class to advance colonialism. Eslanda’s critique applies to the approaching uncritical appraisal of Hillary Clinton to be the next U.S. president. Her critique highlights the importance of identifying tokenism and not supporting someone simply because of their race or gender, but by how well they fight neocolonialism. While Ransby has fulfilled her goal of “crafting a fair and honest portrait,” however it comes at the expense of not fully expressing her complete role in advancing the Black freedom struggle. What made this biography not completely center Eslanda’s role in the Black freedom struggle is her missing more extensive discussion of three key events. One, the profound impact that the 1949 Smith Act had on her anti-imperialist colleagues like Claudia Jones and James Jackson, the husband of Esther Cooper Jackson (see Foner, ed., p.537). Ransby includes an important interview with Mrs. Jackson, however her biography, and my 2012 dissertation, could have been enhanced by a more thorough read of the James and Esther Cooper Jackson Papers that, unfortunately, were being physically removed from NYU’s Taimiment Library to be digitized at the final stages of both works. Two, Essie’s 1951 article in the California Eagle responding to Walter White’s attack of Paul Robeson’s 1949 controversial statement should have been discussed in the context of her differences of opinion with Emma Goldman and Pearl Buck. Three, the similarities between her and Paul’s anticolonialist beliefs. Where Paul articulated anticolonialism best as a singer, orator and actor, Essie articulated it in a more sophisticated way as a novelist, screenwriter, anthropologist, and journalist. Ransby wisely puts Paul and Essie Robeson in the context of their historical time when she says that “they increasingly identified with those at the bottom of the social and economic hierarchies as a matter of principle” (193). This is reminiscent of Ella Baker’s critique of Martin Luther King, Jr., that Ransby writes about in her previous book, a biography on Ella Baker, that King did not identify closely enough with the people he sought to lead (Ella Baker, 190). The same could be argued of the Robesons given their wealth. However they used their wealth privilege in a functional way. Eslanda used her wealth to help start an anticolonial group in the International Council on African Affairs that compares to Jada Pinkett Smith’s 2012 funding of Shola Lynch’s film celebrating Communist beliefs in Free Angela And All Political Prisoners. Eslanda, like Jada, used her celebrity to challenge colonialism. Ransby shows how, like her husband, Eslanda used her celebrity in a functional way to help end colonialism. She saw it as a matter of reform and as a matter of armed revolution. Ransby writes that Eslanda “reserved the right to self defense against attacks” (271). About Ella Baker, she writes that “nonviolence and self-defense were matters of principle: ‘mine was not a choice of non violence per se’ Baker reiterated” (Ella Baker, 193). Both women respected the necessity of armed revolution. Ransby’s theoretical look at Eslanda is very significant. She rightfully hesitates to call Eslanda a feminist because Eslanda does not identify herself as one. The mainstream academy relies on the labels “Black Left” or “feminist” which continually assumes the normality of a white male perspective. This is the same lens that privileges as a feminist perspective despite the fact that Affirmative Action, despite the recent Supreme Court’s weakening of it in a Michigan case, benefits mainly white women’s entrance in to the academy more than any other demographic. In Eslanda, Barbara Ransby shows a woman who, along with fighting for women’s rights, was primarily fighting for the U.N. to end colonialism, for CARICOM to build economic independence from the IMF, and for Africa to be free. This is Eslanda’s legacy that Barbara Ransby brilliantly shows us. –RF. WORKS CITED Foner, Philip, ed. Paul Robeson Speaks: Writings, Speeches, Interviews, 1918-1974. New York: Citadel, 1978. Perry, Jeffrey B., ed. A Hubert Harrison Reader. Middletown: Wesleyan, 2001. Ransby, Barbara. Eslanda: The Large and Unconventional Life of Mrs. Paul Robeson. New Haven: Yale, 2013. Ransby, Barbara. Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement. Chapel Hill: UNC, 2003.