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Thumper
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Posted on Tuesday, January 27, 2009 - 08:44 pm:   Delete Post View Post/Check IP Print Post    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

Hello All,

I have a question: how can a novice on a subject or person find the "definitive" book on his interest? I'm asking because, I'm reading a biography of Marcus Garvey titled Negro With a Hat: The Rise and Fall of Marcus Garvey by Colin Grant. It is being touted as the "definitive" biography of Garvey. So, how do I find the "definitive" account? I don't want to read 50 different biographies just to get to the one that best capture him.
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Cynique
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Posted on Tuesday, January 27, 2009 - 09:15 pm:   Delete Post View Post/Check IP Print Post    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

Every biographer believes his output to be definitive. But we know that even auto-biographies can fail to give a definitive account of a person's life because they are, of course, subjective.

When it comes to a biography, I guess you kind have to go with your instincts when you read what is being claimed about the subject, - ask yourself if the conclusions drawn sound plausible. Check out the credentials of the author and the authenticity of the people he interviewed. Having access to the papers and letters of a subject always gives an added dimension to the author's credibility.

And my personal focus when it comes to biographies is how well the author depicts the era in which a person lived - the "times" that shaped him.

(When you get my age you can rely on your memory. Having witnessed the career of Sammy Davis from its inception, I was able to spot a few inaccuracies in a biography written about him by black man who was not Sammy's contemporary and who had not been an adult when Sammy was in his hey day. )
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Soul_sister
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Posted on Wednesday, January 28, 2009 - 12:32 pm:   Delete Post View Post/Check IP Print Post    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

Good points Cynique. You know I have to ramble along with some thoughts - smile

I believe there are no true "definitive" biographies - because every event will have another perspective as time goes by. The credibility of the author is important. Tony Martin's work in the Garvey papers for over 20 years gives him a vantage point that might prove comprehensive but not definative. He recently published a biography on Amy Ashwood Garvey, #1 wife -- this book contained revelation about Amy from a private perspective that had been ignored in part from oral histories Martin conducted with her - still Amy might have held back on "telling it" all. We might never know.

The best way to discern the truth of historical events - is to read several types and like a kalidiscope tweak the issue until it is clear. Working in an archives and seeing the amount of unprocessed materials most repositories added to the number of items lost to time and private hands the life story of many African people will only be fully understood at the great round-up beyond moral existence. The learning is fun and knowing about how much has not been told is humbling.

peace

Soul Sister
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Libralind2
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Posted on Wednesday, January 28, 2009 - 06:53 pm:   Delete Post View Post/Check IP Print Post    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

And in fact it is why so many people write books on the same person because they either dont like what they read or in doing research find more that was left out...Im just saying
LiLi
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Cynique
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Posted on Wednesday, January 28, 2009 - 11:30 pm:   Delete Post View Post/Check IP Print Post    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

It's risky business trying to capture the true essence of a person with words. A biographer can tell what his subject did, how and where it was done but when it come to accurately definining who a person is and why he does things, then all that can be relied upon is the impressions of others , - impressions which can vary from observer to observer. Some times a person doesn't know who he is, himself.

The chronicler of someone's life story sometimes just ends up being an interpreter. Obviously the more material such an author has to work with, the more conclusions he can draw.

When all is said and done, "definitive" is just a word used to sell books.
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Chrishayden
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Posted on Saturday, January 31, 2009 - 10:49 am:   Delete Post View Post/Check IP Print Post    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

I believe there are no true "definitive" biographies - because every event will have another perspective as time goes by

(There it is. You gotta just plow through them. Usually you will come up with two or three at best.

They are still doing biographies of Julius Caesar and Jesus thousands of years after their deaths)
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Thumper
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Posted on Sunday, February 01, 2009 - 04:17 pm:   Delete Post View Post/Check IP Print Post    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

Hello All,

I would like to thank everyone who answered my question. I'm still reading Negro with a Hat. It's turning out to be a decent read, although I have a few issues with it. One of my main critique of the book is that I have noticed with the recent biographies that I have read lately is that the authors include a lot of history of the times the subject was living in. While that may be a good thing for others who are not familiar with those times, it gets redundant for those who already knows the history. Lord help the person who reads two or more biographies, which uses this same biographical approach, of different historical figures who happen to live in the same time.

I have come to the opinion that if one is to make an argument on a "definitive" biography, it would help-if at all possible-to include the things that are significant to the subject or in telling his story. I'm reading a biography of Marcus Garvey. The biographer time after time refers to a speech or Garvey's monthly "Negro World". It would have been useful if there was a supplement to the biography that contained his speech and/or a compilation of Negro World, give it the same treatment Random House did with compilation of The Crisis and The Messenger. The biography could be sold individually or packaged with the supplement book(s). Just an idea.
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Kola_boof
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Posted on Sunday, February 01, 2009 - 06:01 pm:   Delete Post View Post/Check IP Print Post    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

I have tried to ignore this thread,
but I just have to spill it.

"Negro Without a Hat" is written
by the Mulatto Academia Crowd
who worship DeBois.

In their jealousy over the fact
that Marcus Garvey was a much
braver and more ultimately more
important (and more authentic)
icon for the entire Black Diaspora--
this book was concocted to lessen
Garvey's stature.

DuBois was the one who famously
called Garvey "a Negro with a hat."

DuBois was the one who called
Garvey a "babbling monkey."

To title this book "Negro Without
a Hat" is a slap/pun/insult by
the author...

.....his jealous mulatto nod to
pretentious White Octoroon, W.E.B.
Dubois.

Those of us from Africa and the
West Indies see this wretched
thinly veiled attack for what it
is, and we recognize the mulatto
"establishment-connected"
American Academia and their
jealous hatred of Marcus Garvey
for what it is.

GARVEY wanted to see Black People
rule themselves and do it in
their own Kingdom. He wanted
to see Blacks attain FULL HUMANITY
---as "themselves"; their Blackness
intact and celebrated as its own
special flower.

DUBOIS wanted to prove to White Men
that Blacks should be "accepted"
--he, like a typical wimp ass chump,
wanted to PROVE EQUALITY and beg to
sit at the White man's foot and be
"accepted" by his master as a
colleague and RENT-PAYER.

Colin Grant is "ni66erstock" to
our Black Eyes and Marcus Garvey
will always be "THE EMPEROR" and
"AUTHENTIC VOICE" of Black People.

If anybody was a "NEGRO WITH A HAT"
it was W.E.B. DuBois.




And now there...I've made my week. :-)

EXHALING.

MARCUS GARVEY YOUR CHILDREN
LOVE YOU FOREVER!!!!!

GOD BLESS YOU, KING












.
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Thumper
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Posted on Sunday, February 01, 2009 - 06:59 pm:   Delete Post View Post/Check IP Print Post    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

Hello All,

"I have tried to ignore this thread"

Try HARDER
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Kola_boof
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Posted on Sunday, February 01, 2009 - 07:08 pm:   Delete Post View Post/Check IP Print Post    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)


Reposting What I
Have to Say:




I have tried to ignore this thread,
but I just have to spill it.

"Negro Without a Hat" is written
by the Mulatto Academia Crowd
who worship DeBois.

In their jealousy over the fact
that Marcus Garvey was a much
braver and more ultimately more
important (and more authentic)
icon for the entire Black Diaspora--
this book was concocted to lessen
Garvey's stature.

DuBois was the one who famously
called Garvey "a Negro with a hat."

DuBois was the one who called
Garvey a "babbling monkey."

To title this book "Negro Without
a Hat" is a slap/pun/insult by
the author...

.....his jealous mulatto nod to
pretentious White Octoroon, W.E.B.
Dubois.

Those of us from Africa and the
West Indies see this wretched
thinly veiled attack for what it
is, and we recognize the mulatto
"establishment-connected"
American Academia and their
jealous hatred of Marcus Garvey
for what it is.

GARVEY wanted to see Black People
rule themselves and do it in
their own Kingdom. He wanted
to see Blacks attain FULL HUMANITY
---as "themselves"; their Blackness
intact and celebrated as its own
special flower.

DUBOIS wanted to prove to White Men
that Blacks should be "accepted"
--he, like a typical wimp ass chump,
wanted to PROVE EQUALITY and beg to
sit at the White man's foot and be
"accepted" by his master as a
colleague and RENT-PAYER.

Colin Grant is "ni66erstock" to
our Black Eyes and Marcus Garvey
will always be "THE EMPEROR" and
"AUTHENTIC VOICE" of Black People.

If anybody was a "NEGRO WITH A HAT"
it was W.E.B. DuBois.




And now there...I've made my week.

EXHALING.

MARCUS GARVEY YOUR CHILDREN
LOVE YOU FOREVER!!!!!

GOD BLESS YOU, KING














.
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Cynique
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Posted on Sunday, February 01, 2009 - 07:54 pm:   Delete Post View Post/Check IP Print Post    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

What a bunch of malarky, Kola Boof. Blindly following Garvery would've led negroes right back to Africa where according what you posted they would now be shuffling around in the hot dusty crowded streets of Nigeria trying to make money from the bribes and racism which is a way of life that provides their chief source of income, not to mention being under the rule of corrupt self-serving leaders. Puleeze.

In the mean time, a mulatto has been elected to be president of the United States, and he ascended to this position because he was the anti-thesis of Marcus Garvery. And having voted for Obama, you are left standing around with a big goofy grin on your face, thrilled to your bones over the Amazonian first lady who is a perm-wearing, clothes hanger for white designers.

All of the hot air you emit is just one version of the truth. But reality is what embodies the whole truth. The only thing you exhaled was the halitosis of your stale delusions.
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Cynique
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Posted on Sunday, February 01, 2009 - 08:01 pm:   Delete Post View Post/Check IP Print Post    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

Well, Thumper, biographies are not novels. They are non fiction accounts of living people, so you have to wade through the chaff to get to the wheat.

Biographies about historical figures are obligated to place their subject in his or her context.

Biographies about celebrities make better reading because they are set in a sphere of glamour.
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Thumper
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Posted on Sunday, February 01, 2009 - 09:01 pm:   Delete Post View Post/Check IP Print Post    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

Hello All,

Cynique: Sure biographies are non fiction accounts of living or dead people, but there is a difference between of providing an account for their lives and throwing in a lot of filler stuff. Remember I had the same complaint with the Nella Larsen biography. Because Nella Larsen and Marcus Garvey shared the same sphere of location and time, thanks to the biographers, I'm getting some of the same extraneous historical facts over again, like the Communist Party in relation to black folks. I would rather have some of Garvey's speeches inserted in the biography than long histories of the history of the Communist Party start in Russia and Jack Reed, etc.
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Cynique
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Posted on Sunday, February 01, 2009 - 09:34 pm:   Delete Post View Post/Check IP Print Post    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

Well, Thumper, a biographer assumes the journalistic stance of answering the 4 "W"s. He assumes that a reader is approaching his work cold, and he would never leave out something because he figures it will be included in another biography. He undoubtedly aspires to make his book so complete that it will not be necessary for a reader to seek out a bio written about the same subject by another author. That's where the "definitve" part comes in.

And a lot depends on personal reading preferences. I loved all of the filler included in Nella Larsen's bio.
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Steve_s
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Posted on Sunday, February 01, 2009 - 11:09 pm:   Delete Post View Post/Check IP Print Post    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

I finished the new biography of James Baldwin and I have to agree with Publishers Weekly.

There's a scene in "Just Above My Head" where the boy gospel quartet tours the South and young Arthur has his first sexual experience with his roommate, an older boy called Crunch. The other two boys know what's going on but are accepting of the relationship. However, their music teacher and chaperone, a man named Webster, hears them being called "lovebirds" and "Romeo and Juliet" and wants to know what's going on. Crunch asks him why he wants to know and he replies, "I might want to do it, too...Or--I can always make you change rooms."

At first it sounds like something a teacher might say when you're caught stealing gum: "Do you have a stick for everybody in the class?" however, it's clear from Crunch's reply that he's accusing Webster of wanting to molest Arthur and he's acting as his protector.

Back in NYC, the child evangelist Julia is being serially raped by her father after the death of her mother. When Crunch visits her, she confesses what's been going on between her and her father and she begs him:

"Oh, Crunch," she whispered. "Please make me well. Please touch me -- take me -- make me well."

Afterwards, he asks her how she feels.

"Saved," she said, and smiled. "How do you feel?"

"...Julia stood naked in the upstairs bathroom, and looked at her body and looked at her body and looked at her body and touched it with wonder, and, for the first time, without shame or fear. What her father had stolen from her, Crunch had given back. She was fourteen: suddenly, she was only fourteen."

Julia is fourteen and Arthur just turned sixteen. So how old do you think Crunch is? Answer: he's "nearly twenty"! And now he wants to fix Julia up with Arthur while he's away fighting in the Korean War!

I've never read a critique of these scenes, however, plenty has been written about the treatment of sexuality in his novels which I don't take as an attack on his person.

This biographer discusses the first scene but without describing it as I just did. Instead, he suggests that Baldwin was "prophetic" because for years there had been allegations of molestation surrounding the Boy's Choir of Harlem, resulting in a conviction of one of the counselors in 2004, seventeen years after Baldwin passed. Does he really believe that?
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Thumper
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Posted on Monday, February 02, 2009 - 01:13 am:   Delete Post View Post/Check IP Print Post    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

Hello All,

Steve: What's up? I did not know that there was a new Baldwin biography out. Could you give me a title?

The scenes in his novel and the sexuality he inserted in his novels should explain themselves. If anyone wants to know, its there in his novels. I don't know if I would agree with a biographer injecting his own personal opinions of the subject's work in the biography. I would hope that the biographer would approach the subject in an objective and curious light. While I have some issues with a biographer going all around the mulberry bush and discussing every historical factor that the subject would face walking down the street, I would be at the height of pisstivity if the biographer was chronicling the life of the subject and critiquing his work along the way.
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Steve_s
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Posted on Monday, February 02, 2009 - 10:34 pm:   Delete Post View Post/Check IP Print Post    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

Thumper, It's called "Baldwin's Harlem: A Biography of James Baldwin" by Herb Boyd, 244 pages, (or 187 pages plus two interviews with like-minded academics, a chronology, bibliography, etc.) It doesn't attempt to be a full biography, instead his intention is to explain Baldwin's relationship to Harlem, his history in Harlem, et cetera.

The brief chapter about his contentious relationship with Langston Hughes is pretty good. I already surmised much of the information from watching the Kenneth Clark interview and reading Rachel Cohen's "A Chance Meeting" and the introduction to Sol Stein's "Native Sons." Countee Cullen must have attended DeWitt Clinton when it was located in Hell's Kitchen, before it moved to the Bronx. He doesn't mention DeWitt Clinton when Clark asks him where he attended school, only the Harlem schools.

It's a political book; an attempt to rehabilitate Baldwin, first through his association with Malcolm X, and then through many little incidents like the scene from the novel I mentioned, which we're supposed to believe is Baldwin's thinly-veiled exposť of the lascivious director of the Harlem Boy's Choir (while that interpretation completely ignores the statutory rape(s) being committed by the older boy, Cruch) As the Publishers Weekly review on Amazon.com implies, he's the defender of all things Baldwin.

On the positive side he doesn't tee off on James Campbell (Baldwin's Scottish biographer who wrote the excellent "Talking at the Gates") or Ralph Ellison, which is de rigueur these days for the "Was (Not Was) revolutionary set" as it prepares to be put out to pasture. No, he lets the guy from the State Unviersity Black Studies corporation do that, the same one who once used a review of a Stanley Crouch book as the occasion for a West Indian insult ritual, in which the only one who doesn't get mentioned is Liang-Liang, the "rare panda" from the Oakland Zoo.
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Steve_s
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Posted on Monday, February 02, 2009 - 10:42 pm:   Delete Post View Post/Check IP Print Post    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

I'm enjoying the Baldwin novel I'm reading. Even though it received mostly bad reviews, there's a lot of great writing in it.
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Kola_boof
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Posted on Monday, February 02, 2009 - 11:19 pm:   Delete Post View Post/Check IP Print Post    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

Steve, I love Herb Boyd. :-)

He really did A LOT to publicize
me and my autobiography.

Thanks for alerting me he has a new
book out. Gotta get it.
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Steve_s
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Posted on Wednesday, February 11, 2009 - 04:24 pm:   Delete Post View Post/Check IP Print Post    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

Hi, thank you Kola,

I finished the Baldwin novel "Tell Me How Long..." which I liked a lot, partly for its moments of brilliance but also for its hip humor in places :-) as well as the fact that the main character is a successful artist in contempory society.

I noticed that the author teaches at a school I attended and I was curious about whether he teaches English, journalism, or something else, however, he's not in the employee database. If you click "list" and then "adjuncts," you'll see the reason why. Under Adjuncts, Black Studies Program it says "no information available at date of publishing," so I'm pretty confident that that's where he teaches.

http://www.adm.ccny.cuny.edu/V2/Directory/Default.cfm

In a certain way it reminds me of a recent Coltrane book, the one where he's pictured on the cover holding his hand against the side of his face, a pose that comedian Jack Benny used to affect -- along with an exasperated "Well!" -- whenever Eddie "Rochester" Anderson would one-up him. That Coltrane book, while completely harmless, seems like an attempt to "humanize" its subject, for example, by discussing his spirituality but not the largely Baraka-driven politics of the free jazz movement, which, maybe it's best to forget anyway.

Here's how the Baldwin book addresses the breakup of the black/white civil rights coalition in the 1960s:

Over the succeeding years, there was very little commentary from Baldwin about blacks and Jews, until the late sixties, when a bitter dispute between black and white members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee had practically ruptured that civil rights organization. Even from as far away as France, Baldwin knew of the bitterness that had divided them. The chant of "Black Power!" had created irreconcilable turmoil in the civil rights movement, and, inevitably, it would affect other aspects of society. A tipping point came in 1967 when the Liberator magazine (which shouldn't be confused with a magazine of the same name in the 1920s edited by Max Eastman, or Liberation magazine, the pacifist journal under the watchful eye of A.J. Muste, mentioned earlier) published an article titled "Anti-Semitism in the Black Ghetto." Baldwin was again embroiled in ccontroversy since he, like Ossie Davis, was on the magazine's advisory board. -- Baldwin's Harlem, p. 111


You can google on that excerpt and read it in context at Google Books.

I think that paragraph is sloppy and innacurate. The correct information is contained in a footnote to a Jack Salzman, Cornel West book, "Struggles in the Promised Land." You can do a Google book search on the following phrase, too (I just omitted the page numbers).

49. See Eddie Ellis, "Semitism in the Black Ghetto," Liberator 6, no. 1 (Jan. 1966), no. 2 (Feb. 1966), and no. 4 (April 1966), a fairly vicious attack on Jews that also attempts to critique anti-Semitism. Several Black critics, including James Baldwin, found the piece offensive nonetheless and wrote responses to it in the pages of Freedomways. See Freedomways, 7 no. 1 (Winter 1967). -- [Jack Salzman, Cornel West, Struggles in the Promised Land, Oxford University Press]



So the Liberator piece was not called "Anti-Semtism in the Black Ghetto," it was actually "Semitism in the Black Ghetto," the author was Eddie Ellis (the Baldwin book omits any author credit at all), and it was published as a three-part series in 1966, not as an article in 1967. All the hemming and hawing about "not this Liberator, not that Liberator," seems a way of getting around the fact that it was a black nationalist magazine. It doesn't matter anyway because both Baldwin and Ossie Davis (Google on his and Ruby Dee's "Life Lit by Some Large Vision") denounced it as a vicious anti-Semitic attack.

The excerpt spells out the SNCC acronym, but I think it's accurate to say that the "nonviolent" was changed to "national" sometime after H. Rap Brown took over in 1967 (and in fact, had no longer been their policy since 1966 when Stokely Carmichael was elected to the chairmanship over John Lewis. So from my perpsective, it was SNCC's abandoning the principle of nonviolence that caused the "rupture" with mainstream civil rights groups like the SCLC and NAACP, as well as with white SNCC staff, who were ultimately expelled by Stokely before he left to join the Black Panther Party.

Likewise, CORE, the Congress of Racial Equality, founded by James Farmer, had, under the direction of Floyd McKissick, moved to an exclusively African American membership and staff. In 1967, CORE, at its convention, even eliminated the word "multiracial" from its constitution.

And finally, although I haven't studied linguistics, I think that stating that "the chant of 'Black Power!' had created irreconcilable turmoil in the civil rights movement" might qualify as an example of what Toni Morrison, in her discussion of Hemingways "To Have and Have Not" in her monography "Playing in the Dark," would call metonymic displacement! (Corrections invited)

I think the facts should be stated correctly and then everyone can move on :-)

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