BookTalk Sisters

Gathering together around books

Click here to edit text

Social Justice CALL: Citizenship, Activism, Law and Literacy

 An Inter-generational Social Justice

 Reading Group 

"We Engage in Collective Study for Self-empowerment 

and Self-determination" 

Notes and Updates


How Social Justice CALL Works:

We are a reading and discussion group. 

During each session, we will read and discuss selections from our reading list of historical and contemporary documents, movements, films, literature, etc., that have shaped our understanding of Democracy and Social Justice in the United States. 

At each meeting, readers will speak out, question, and debate (respectfully) to gain a clearer understanding of history,  government and the principles that guide each of us.  

Discussions are focused but informal. 

Between meetings we will chat live via Twitter. Join the announced Twitter chats on  #Socialjusticecall.

The last session will be a showcase of readers' activism. It's a chance to express yourself creatively or explain how you are putting your newfound understanding into practice.

Fall 2017 Study Group Sessions

On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder



July  - August 2017

The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter G. Woodson


Session I

The Mis-Education of the Negro by Barer G. Woodson

Discussion Notes: Chapters 1-4, 18 and Appendix

Saturday, July 22, 2017



Ch. 1 "The Seat of the Trouble"

Ch. 2 "How We Missed the Mark"

Thanks everyone for such a good start!

The group considered what "mis-education" means.

  •  "thinking we have arrived after

                        being educated.

  •  (Therefore) what we give our children is so off-center
  •  Is there a center (to our culture)?

The group discussed the many editions of The Mis-Education of the Negro they've seen over the years. Many covers depict a blinded or blindfolded person, one depicts either a man or woman with a padlock chained around the head.

Discussion of Woodson's background: He was not only an historian, but also an educator and publisher (Associated Publishers). He began his education late, having first worked as a coal miner. Woodson established Negro History Week in 1926. He was a contemporary of W.E.B. Dubois, Booker T. Washington and Mary Church Terrell. He advocated for self-education. He founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History.

Self-education, Self-determination and self-respect are major themes through the book.

The Mis-Education of the Negro was published in 1933, during the waning of the Great Depression.

Many Blacks at the time seemed resigned to their state; however, Woodson promoted vocational training and education for the means of black people's intellectual enslavement.  

Woodson wanted to awaken blacks to the belief that they could be better off with the preparation provided by a solid education. The call to be alert or "woke" has been made throughout African American history. 

Woodson promoted a proper education designed for black people as a means                       of escaping their circumstance.

The group considered if schools really educate our students, even today. There are so many inadequacies and many curricula are weak. 

The wrong education--a mis-education--has the capacity to undermine self-esteem and make individuals feel like second-class citizens.

Woodson understood the circumstance blacks were coming out of and also understood the potential blacks could aspire to.


            Richard B. Moore, an African-Caribbean scholar (Barbados, 1893-1978) often told an anecdote about correcting a speaker who identified the beginning of African American history as being in 1619 with the arrival of the Puritans. He wanted the speaker to know that the history of the enslaved began in Africa. 

            Moore wrote The Name 'Negro': Its Origin and Evil Use, in which he explains the impossibility of overcoming the negative associations of the name "Negro."

            Eventually, Woodson's Association for the Study of Negro Life and History replaced "Negro" with "Afro-American" and now, "African American."

The group looked at the word "Azenegues" in the Appendix, a term synonymous with "Moors."

The group discussed whether "Negro" is anachronistic.


What did Woodson mean by "the seat of the trouble"?

            - One source is an education that focuses on Europe, its history, culture and

              accomplishments to the neglect of African history


            - Such a narrow focus acts a kind of violence against African Americans

The group looked at the mis-use of religion in subjugating slaves and their thinking   and understanding of the Bible. In a clip from the film, 12 Years a Slave, a slave owner reads a scriptural passage that seems to condone the punishment of slaves. Without literacy, the slaves were unable to disprove the passage's meaning.

The group read Lucille Clifton's poem, "at the cemetery walnut grove plantation, south carolina, 1989."  The refrain of the poem, "tell me your names," is spoken to the Africans buried on that plantation and meant to acknowledge where the tour guide omitted Africans from the plantation history.

The group recounted the work of artists Fred Wilson (Mining the Museum) and Titus Kaphar (Enough About You), as works that bring the hidden presence of African Americans to the surface.

The group considered the sculpture, "Lifting the Veil of Ignorance" which stands at Tuskegee University and depicts Booker T. Washington unveiling a hood over an enslaved man's head.

            - Does the traditional curriculum at HBCU's unveil or cloak individuals?

            -In Ralph Ellison's novel, Invisible Man, the narrator recalls the statue and asks if  Booker T. Washington is raising the veil or placing it more firmly over the  enslaved man's head.


Session II

The Mis-Education of the Negro by Barer G. Woodson

Discussion Notes: Chapters 1-4, 18

Saturday, July 29, 2017


Saturday, July 29, 2017

V. The Failure to Learn to Make a Living

VI. The Educated Negro Leaves the Masses

VII. Dissension and Weakness

VIII. Professional Education Discouraged

IX. Political Education Neglected

X. The Loss of Vision

Illinois Congressman Oscar De Priest distributed copies of the U.S. Constitution to the Chicago black community.

De Priest demonstrated a commitment to community-sustaining principles such as "each one, teach one" and "knowledge is power." Self-education, knowledge of American history –

Segregationists also knew that KNOWLEDGE IS POWER.

In order  to keep black people from learning about the U.S. government, which is built on the principle of “consent of the governed,” textbooks for black students were stripped of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.

In this way, education was used as avenue to oppression: whites schemed to limit black people’s knowledge of American history / black history.


As writer James Baldwin said, "Education is indoctrination if you're white - subjugation if you're black."

 James A. Baldwin  //


Woodson elaborated on the damage and mis-education promoted by propagandists:

"Histories written elsewhere for the former slave area were discarded, and new treatments of local and national history in conformity with the recrudescent propaganda were produced to give whites and blacks the biased point of view of the development of the nation and relations of the races" (ch 9).

“Special treatments of the Reconstruction period were produced in apparently scientific form by propagandists who went into the first graduate schools of the East to learn modern historiography about half a century ago.”

Propogandists promoted "fake history" rather than consult thoroughly researched histories of slavery and slave-trading such as:

  • Elizabeth Donna's Documents Illustrative of the History of the Slave Trade to America / 4 volume reprint; orig. published 1930-1935.  Editor:   Donnan, Elizabeth, 1883-1955           


  • Mrs. H.T. Catterall's Judicial Cases concerning American Slavery and the Negro. Edited by H.T. Catterall.

   (With additions by James J. Hayden.).   //  Author:  Helen Honor Tunnicliff CATTERALL; James John HAYDEN


  1. Frederic Bancroft's well-regarded works on the South, "Slave-Trading in the Old South," and "A Sketch of the Negro in Politics, Especially in South Carolina and Mississippi."


See also, the recently published work by historian Ibram Kendi, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America (2016 National Book Award Winner).


Session III

The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter G. Woodson

Discussion Notes: Chapters 11 - 13

Saturday, August 5, 2017


Saturday, August 5, 2017

Chapter 11 “The Need for Service Rather than Leadership”

Ch 12: Hirelings in the Places of Public Servants (120-131)

Ch 13: Understand the Negro

                                                        ----------- Notes from August 5, 2017 session ------------

Part of our discussion of the chapters above drew upon some of the best known poems depicting racial experiences of children represented in the black literary canon: Raymond R. Patterson's "Black All Day" and Countee Cullen's "Incident." 

The poems by Cullen and Patterson reflect different responses to racial hostility by their speakers.

On the one hand, the speaker in "Incident" can be understood to have been injured for life by the verbal racial assault encountered at eight-years old in Baltimore ("that's all that I remember"). In Mis-education of the Negro, Carter G. Woodson would say that the young black boy was particularly vulnerable and unprepared to recover from the white child's racial assault if the black child had not yet been introduced to a culturally/racially-centered education that would fortify him with self-knowledge and self-love.

On the other hand, although the speaker in "Black All Day," admits his injury from being made to feel "rage and shame" about his color ("I saw how black I was"), the speaker nonetheless moves from expressing his hurt to assert a self-assured consciousness in his ability to turn the table on his hostile counterpart, presumably a white child, by one day defining the character of the white child: "tomorrow, by another name, I'll do as much for him." It is the self-directed education of our young people in their African heritage and black pride that is needed, Woodson says, to help black youth to thrive despite an American education that teaches black students to admire white Americans and Western European culture above their own culture.


By Countee Cullen

Once riding in old Baltimore,
Heart-filled, head-filled with glee,
I saw a Baltimorean
Keep looking straight at me.

Now I was eight and very small,
And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
His tongue, and called me, 'Nigger.'

I saw the whole of Baltimore
From May until December;
Of all the things that happened there
That's all that I remember.
I am the Darker Brother. Arnold Adoff, ed. (1968)

Black All Day

By Raymond R. Patterson

This morning, when he looked at me,

I saw how black I was

though there was nothing I could see

to give him any cause.


But I was black all day, and mean;

and leaving none to doubt,

I showed all day what I had seen

this morning stepping out.


He looked me into rage and shame;

no less, the day was grim.

Tomorrow, by another name,

I’ll do the as much for him.

Black Out Loud. Arnold Adoff, ed. (Macmillan, 1970)

*** Supplemental Resources

"Fiery pastor inspires at National Urban League conference"

"Protest against wealthy pastor by activists disrupts church service"

"For My People" by Margaret Walker

"Can Art Amend History?" Titus Kaphar (

Black America Again (Common)


The Mis-Ediucationof the Negro by Carter G. Woodson

 Session IV: Chapters 14-17 
Discussion Notes
Saturday, August 12, 2017


In terms of culturally relevant curricula, the way things are taught matter as much as what is taught. Inclusive curricula across the disciplines are important.

The group made a reference to John Henrik Clarke's suggestion that we direct children into disciplines and professions based on their inherent talents so that one child may be told to go into medicine and another told to go into law, another education, etc.  

We have to teach our children what the distractions are. We are repulsed by some of the reality shows, especially those featuring black casts, coarseness and vulgarity. We are the parents... and have to provide moral guidance.

It is easy to blame parents for children's missteps, especially mothers. Parents could be directing the children correctly, but peers negatively influence the children to make bad choices.  


The group made connections to our previous study of Gloria Browne-Marshall’s The U.S. Constitution: An African American Context.

There is value in being versed in the law, but there has to be more to it. The Black Panther Party studied the law and [was dismantled].

Laws have local implications, so in addition to understanding the founding documents, being aware of local laws/legislation is most necessary.

A reference was made to Audre Lorde's essay, "The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House." We do need to know the building blocks that the house is built with, however, so we know how to dismantle it. That is why we need to know/study the founding documents.

Our need to counter the loophole in the thirteenth amendment that allows for de facto re-enslavement is another example of the need to know the law intimately. 

The Declaration of Independence is really the foundation of our country, the Constitution the mechanism through which we place those declarations in motion. 

Immigration and Global Concerns

Woodson states, "The world is not circumscribed by the United States, and the Negro must become a pioneer in making use of a larger portion of the universe."

Just as foreigners come to the U.S. and study the Black community, Blacks need to study people, governments, economics, etc., beyond the borders of the U.S.

The group considered perspectives of blacks that immigrate to the U.S. from throughout the Diaspora. Are they, as Woodson suggests white immigrants are, able to "study" the black community and get ahead or even exploit them?

The group noted that some black immigrants might have negative thoughts on the African American community based on how our culture is exported around the world. Some may also be disenchanted with the socio-political climate they find in the U. S. once they arrive here. 

Do black immigrants acknowledge the shoulders they stand on when they come to America? Specifically, the civil rights struggles and accomplishments blacks have made that make everyone's life better.

In the job market, are black immigrants viewed as more desirable than African Americans?  Is immigrants’ relationship with systemic racism different? Can they circumvent it more easily? How? Why?

Are immigrants aware of the sacrifices made by the black community?

Are black immigrants also "mis-educated"?  How have they been mis-educated?

We should promote a black agenda within the immigrant community.

We have to show what it is to be on the front lines and what it costs. We get tired but we have to be committed.

Fannie Lou Hamer's statement, "I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired," was referenced.

A poster with the caption, "Courage," under a photo capturing young people being sprayed with fire hoses during a civil rights demonstration was used to illustrate that our children have been involved in the struggle, and we have put our children at risk for the struggle.

There is a need for children to take part in the struggle.  

The question, "What are you willing to die for?" was referenced in terms of measuring commitment to the struggle.

Huey P. Newton's entitled his book, To Die for the People, so he knew what the cost of commitment could be. Someone could lose his or her life. 

The group noted that a black agenda should be promoted in places such as family reunions, book groups, sorority meetings,  and other social gatherings.

Recommended Readings We are Considering for Future Study

Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell (Video)

Our Black Year: One Family's Quest to Buy Black in America's Racially Divided Economy by Maggie Anderson(Video

Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi (Video)


____________________________ May - Jun 2017 Collective Study _________________________

The U. S. Constitution and Other Founding Documents


Session I Summary

May 13, 2017

We had quite a session for the first Social Justice CALL meeting!

Thanks to those who came to the table. We hope to see you again on Thursday, May 18 at 5:30pm at BlackPrint Bookstore.

The group read from Gloria Bowne-Marshall's The U. S. Constitution, An African American Context (Third Edition) which includes footnotes on aspects of the U.S. Constitution that make reference to the black experience in America. 

Our meeting summaries will include some of the questions we explored while analyzing the readings.

(1) Questions:

            One issue that we had to explore as we began our discussion in earnest was whether or not we can approach these documents outside the context of race. Can we readthe founding documents, the Declaration of Independence and The U.S. Constitution, without reading race into them?  Can black Americans afford to make (political) alliances with other groups such as Native Americans and Latinos when advocating for civil rights?


  • Other groups do not have the legacy of disenfranchisement that we have.
  • When we do form alliances, African American concerns are often diluted, weakened.
  • When you become a strong independent group, that's when  others an see and accept us

(2) Questions:

            Do we understand our connection to Africa?

            Why should we feel some connection to Africa?


  • We need to understand how African culture has been incorporated into      American culture through language, customs, agriculture, etc.
  • Read J. A. Rogers' Africa's Gift to America: The Afro-American in the Making and Saving of the United States
  • It is difficult to reconcile our connection because we represent so many different people and African ethnicities.  African Americans cannot point to one country or even one region as their homeland. 

(3) Questions: Where do African Americans fit in the definition of America as a "nation of immigrants"?

  • Immigrants settled New Haven.
  • Ben Carson, Scty. of Housing Urban Development, suggested recently that African Americans be considered "immigrants."
  • We are not immigrants; there is no subtle difference in how our experience can be defined. African Americans were brought to the United States.
  • Because of our contributions we are entitled to be citizens.
  • The Founding Fathers did not include blacks in their definition of citizen.
  • There was a recolonization movement. The idea was to return enslaved blacks to African once they helped build the country.

(4.) Who deserves to be an American?

      When did we become Americans?

  • There is murkiness and hypocrisy to the definition of who an American is.
  • The question of "Americaness" has followed us into the Twentieth             Century with the Chinese Exclusion Act and of course, black people's

            pursuit of civil rights.

  • People have had to fight for the rights outlined in the founding documents.

(5.) Unalienable rights? From God?

  • Noam Chomsky has said because he is a humanitarian he believes that all are equal.
  • An individual's personal practice, rather than religion or secular belief, reveals their belief in equality.
  • In referencing "unalienable " rights, Thomas Jefferson was writing against his own interests.

(6). Miscellaneous

  • Government from the "consent of the governed"
  • "candid world" - The audience for the Declaration was not just King George, but the Western Europe.
  • Transparency: compare to states such as China and Russia
  • Democracy requires the constant vigilance of its citizens to the whims and caprices of its leader.
  • One way despotism happens: Power and position is not based on merit but is granted through nepotism; one party  constitution and rule; attack on the press
  • The U. S. is experiencing the legitimate press being called "fake news"
  • Democracy depends upon the vigilance of a people.


Black Panther Party-Ten-point Plan

1. Huey P. Newton was a law student; he studied the rights and privileges afforded to U.S. citizens established by the rule of law

2. The Black Panthers promoted collective study; members had to complete a

     reading list of books on black history, politics and culture

3.  The group compared the Black Panther Party's demands to those made in the Declaration.

      Whereas the Declaration of Independence lists complaints  against the King George III of Great 

      Britain, the BPP makes its complaints in the form of demands.  The BPP's complains are made 

      evident through its  demands.

Session II Summary

May 18, 2017

We began by summarizing some of the "usurpations" the group thought would be part of a contemporary Declaration of Independence. Among them were:

            He has caused divisions among citizenry.

            He has shown himself to be a liar

            He has offended the character of the former president by calling him "sick"

            He has refused transparency by not releasing his tax returns.

            He has abused his power by releasing classified information to a foreign government.

            He has jeopardized the national security of the US by disclosing classified inteeligence 

                   with our adversaries, the Russians

            He has intentionally misled the press with false statements about people gathered  

                    at his inauguration and his advisors' relationship with Russia. 

Reading: An excerpt from the introduction to activist and comedian Dick Gregory's book, No More Lies: The Myth and Reality of American History (1971).  In his introduction entitled, “For Whites Only,” Gregory recalls the first time he read The Declaration of Independence in order to graduate form high school. He grimaces at first because he expects to read dry, boring  content that he cannot relate to.  

However, once Gregory began reading about notions of equality and freedom, he was hooked. He ran to his principles office asking, "Hey, you got any more of this stuff laying around?"  

Dick Gregory comments that the Declaration could be a ”dangerous document” because it introduces the poor and oppressed to the actual arguments Thomas Jefferson made to justify oppressed people to stand up and reject despotic authoritarian governments.

Several group members suggested that Gregory’s comments are still relevant especially for young people today.


            Many Americans have not really read what our founding documents say. 

            There is value in reading them critically. By examining them we are also able to see  the 

                   loopholes and hold the government accountable for what they say.

            Young people especially need to be introduced to the documents.

            Founding documents are a tool with which to fight oppression.

            After the Civil War, schools were forbidden to teach blacks about "freedom," the 

                   rationale being that it would only make them depressed.

Reading:  Danielle Allen's Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality. Allen compares her experience teaching the Declaration to privileged Ivy League students and working class community college students.


America is an "idea" and "experiment," but we cannot make it our own unless we know what the idea is.

Video: Barbara Jordan's speech at the Watergate hearings (1974).

Comments: Jordan acknowledges that "We the people..." of the U.S. Constitution was not initially meant to include her.

What was the effect on the larger public of hearing a black woman explain the true notions of freedom and American democracy explained, hearing the conscious of a nation through her voice?

The group looked at Section 4 of Amendment 25 (p. 40) in Gloria Browne-Marshall’s edition of the U.S. Constitution, which details the mechanism for removal of a president.


"Originalists" are people who want to stick to exactly what the founders’ intended at the time they wrote the Constitution and do not want to open it widely to interpretation.  

Session III

Saturday, May 27, 2-3pm

After a brief review of what we have covered so far, we continued reviewing the first few articles of the U. S. Constitution, noting the Great Compromise and Gloria Browne-Marshall’s notes on Article I, Sect. 3 (impeachment) and Article II, Sect 4 (removal of the president).

Discussion moved to an Article by Lisa Monroe, "Making the American Syllabus," which appeared on the African American Intellectual History Web page. Lisa explained the role of traditional curriculum and canon on suppressing the works and ideas of African Americans and other minority groups.  She described her ongoing research on history of education in the United States.

The group briefly reviewed the biography and works of Ida B. Wells-Barnett with a reading from Wells-Barnett’s autobiography, Crusade for Justice.  There was a discussion of how Wells-Barnett's work emerged from her early life in Holly Springs, Mississippi where she was born into slavery shortluy before the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, her journalism and activism on economic disparities and lynching in the South, New York,  Chicago and abroad (London, England).

After writing about the terrorism experienced by three black businessmen in Memphis, Wells-Barnett’s life was threatened if she returned to there.  She and her siblings relocated to Memphis to be with relatives after the death of her parents and a sibling.  The men were eventually lynched in retribution for competing white businesses.

There was a discussion of the pamphlet, The Reason Why the Colored American Is Not Represented in the World's Columbian Exposition (1893), written by Wells-Barnett, Frederick Douglass, Irvine Garland Penn and Ferdinand Lee Barnett. The group discussed the building mythology of blacks' lack of contribution to American economy, culture and society with a false narrative ignoring their labor and role in American progress. 

The group explored Douglass's history on the shifting politics surrounding blacks and their freedom after the Civil War.

            -Initially held with some esteem immediately after the war, this favor faded.

            -Social and civil rights extended to blacks during reconstruction faded. 

            -Race based exclusions of blacks in social, religious cultural and educational institutions                                     contributed to the inability to assimilate

We also touched on Wells-Barnett's Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases. Links to the last two works can be found at left.

Session IV: The 13th Amendment 

In our final discussion, the group considered the 13th Amendment as it has been used historically to create a prison underclass. 

In Gloria Browne-Marshall’s The U. S. Constitution: An African American Context, Browne-Marshall notes that the amendment abolishes slavery but makes an exception for presentment in punishment for a crime. We tried to imagine the state of the newly emancipated--many wandered aimlessly without anywhere to go. They were indigent which often led to their arrest for vagrancy, etc.

We discussed the cycle of incarceration that plagues black America today. Excerpts for Ava DuVernay's documentary "13th" helped to further illustrate the "loophole" of the 13th Amendment and the history of incarceration as a weapon.

The group made contemporary connections to how juveniles are criminalized today. and how some in the black community, parents in particular, use the police as a tool of abandonment and turn kids whom they have difficulty controlling over to the police. 

We summarized some of our previous discussions including the work of activist Ida B. Wells-Barnett; mob mentality and lynching; education reform; social and economic class progress that can create political distance between the generations.

The group discussed whether the current trend to remove Confederate memorials and other images such as the stained glass windows depicting slavery at Yale, should be continued. Most agreed to leave the memorials in place in order to accurately document the past.

In consideration of what can be done, the group decided on continued education, a walking tour of Dixwell Ave. in New Haven that will highlight some of the lesser-known African American history in the city. 

Email [email protected] for more information.


Click here to edit text