Abu-Jamal's Radio Broadcasts
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There are different
kinds of historians.
Some can be
called court historians, those people who sing the praises of their
powerful subjects, kind of like the ancient griots in West Africa,
who memorized the lineage of kings and princes, and sang songs of
royal glory and myth.
There are also
social historians, who look at the struggles of average, everyday
people, and records their achievements.
may be seen as one of the latter school of historians.
Yet, he was
more; he undertook prodigious study to uncover the hidden histories
of African resistance to the U.S. slavery system. His works quite
literally changed the course of history, by publishing his groundbreaking
American Negro Slave Revolts (1943), which undermined and challenged
the prevailing myth (promoted largely by Southern historians) of
the 'happy darkie', or the claim that Black people cheerfully submitted
to the brutal regime of bondage. Aptheker documented over 250 slave
revolts (involving more than 10 people) throughout the South and
slave territories, and also documents other acts of resistance and
subversion to the slave system (such
was a *bona fide* historian, he never received a faculty appointment,
due in large part to his open membership and leadership in the Communist
Party. Despite this lack of formal institutional affiliation, his
work, and his unflinching radicalism drew scores of students, and
many who were inspired by the power and purity of his historical
As a young
man he studied under the famed scholar-activist, Dr. W.E.B. DuBois,
and later became his literary executor. His admiration for DuBois
fueled him through decades of work on DuBois' writings. This is
clear from the following response to a question posed by scholar
Manning Marable, who asked him to describe the multi-talented DuBois,
an essayist, sociologist, educator, radical, organizer, etc., in
one word. "DuBois? He was an artist!", replied Aptheker.
one reply if asked a similar question about the learned Aptheker?
Radical, scholar, historian, mentor, ... counselor? An honest answer
might be, "Aptheker? He was a *radical* historian!"
His work did
not record the minutia of the princes or the privileged; rather,
he looked to those consigned to the lowest levels of American society:
Black captives, and marveled at the deeply hidden evidence of their
resistance to a terrorist system of white supremacy. He looked to
people pushed into the muck and mire of captivity, and told their
stories of their never-ending fight for freedom.
to Black history, to American history, to human history, is indeed
his multi-volume Documentary History of the Negro People , which
he was putting his finishing touches on in his last days, will be
seen as his master work, for the sheer scope of 300 years. For the
non-specialist; the non-historian; and perhaps the average reader,
American Negro Slave Revolts may rank high in their personal and
widely of maroonage, or escaped slave communities, and white settler
repression of them. What kind of repression?:
of this year (1823) runaway Negroes nearPineville, South Carolina,
were attacked. Several were captured and at least two, a woman and
a child, were
killed. One of the Maroons was decapitated and his head stuck on
a pole and publicly exposed as 'a warning to vicious slaves.'"
(ANSR, p. 277)
a master historian whose work surged like a river through the profession,
changing all that came after it. His streams of students continue
to irrigate minds all across the country, in a variety of fields.
Like a bell
that cannot be unrung, Aptheker's work continues to toll across
decades. He may have passed, after 88 long years of study, struggle
and resistance, but his work remains among us, for generations to
Check out Mumia's
"Faith of Our Fathers: An Examination of the Spiritual Life
of African and African-American People" at www.africanworld.com
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© copyright 2003 by Mumia Abu-Jamal.
All rights reserved.
Reprinted by permission of the author.