Joey’s Ukraine Folly

Joey and Volodymir

How the Biden Doctrine Courts Thermonuclear War

The toxic doctrines of American Exceptionalism and Pax Americana that informs and fuels American foreign relations are pushing humankind to the brink of extinction.  The former exempts the United States from playing by the rules imposed on less powerful nations, and the latter views the entire globe as a legitimate American Sphere of Influence.  This is rationalized by declaring the US an Atlantic and Pacific power, imposing the Monroe Doctrine throughout the Americas, and declaring oneself the benevolent hegemon in the unipolar world that emerged after the dismantling of the Soviet Union.

Paradoxically, the US claims the central objective of foreign policy is promoting democracy from Eastern Europe to the Middle East, while undermining that policy with actions – military and diplomatic – that help the anti-democratic oil sheikdoms of the region remain in power to insure the uninterrupted flow of petroleum to the industrialized economies of the US and her western allies. A blatant contradiction that can be shamelessly ignored because of American Exceptionalism!

This policy of shaping the world to an American blueprint is the ultimate expression of Pax Americana, a modern reinvention of the ancient Pax Romana, or “Roman Peace,” an order imposed upon the world by Roman military might.  It is a vision of the world that insure the US will forever be at war with someone somewhere.  A cursory examination of American history will readily verify the veracity of this claim.  When the doctrines of American Exceptionalism and Pax Americana are combined, we get actions like the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Iran in 1953, and the Bush war of choice a half century later during 2003 in Iraq.  The Iraq invasion was launched when the US government under George II, a rich white Texan, a shill for the oil Oligarchs who is rumored to have blood ties to the British royals, sat in his Washington office and decided that Iraq needed a “regime change.”

Then he ordered the US armed forces to carry it out, despite the absence of any evidence that this small Arab country half a world away, posed any threat to the USA.  Which possessed the most powerful military in the world.  Striking Iraq with a devastating arial assault code named “Shock and Awe,” US forces wreaked havoc on the Iraqi people, Killing nearly 8, 000 in the first 60 days.  The Russians, who invaded a nation on their doorsteps that was flirting with joining a hostile 30 nation military alliance posing an existential threat to their nation, have killed 8, 000 Ukrainians in a year.  Yet they are accused of genocide and we hear talk of President Putin standing trial in the World Court for “war crimes.”

But after killing nearly a million Iraqi’s by several estimates, and devastating their infrastructure, creating problems for the health and welfare of the Iraqi people that are still suffering from 20 years later, nobody in the US has been charged with war crimes, and besides, the US withdrew from the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court at Bush’s direction! While Israel, the US’s staunchest “democratic” ally in the Middle East, routinely ignores UN resolutions and investigations like the Goldberg Report detailing their war crimes.  And the whole criminal enterprise in Iraq is justified with the claim that they deposed “the dictator,” Saddam Hussein and “liberated” the Iraqi people.

Despite the fact that by any objective evaluation of their quality of life, the majority of Iraqis are demonstrable worse off after nearly two decades of war in their region. And yet braggadocious Biden has the unmitigated gall to mouth pious propaganda about Russian “genocide” in Ukraine, cheered on by his American and NATO boosters.  He has even compared the Russian incursion with the NAZI invasion of Ukraine during the Second World War. Although “Operation Barbarossa” – the code name for the Nazi invasion – was the largest land based invading force in history and their objective was to commit indiscriminate mass murder, exterminating Soviet citizens in order to depopulate this highly fertile region of Russia and replace them with Germans. Thus, making Ukraine the breadbasket of Germany as a central part of his policy of Lebensraum – expanding the “living space” of a densely populated Germany.

Hence the NAZIS murdered a million and a half Ukrainian Jews for fun, initiating the Holocaust!  If the Russian objectives were in any way similar to the NAZIS, there would be no “corridors of escape,” for they would simply massacre any concentrations of Ukrainians. It is a spectacular display of blatant lies and hypocrisy, systematic disinformation designed to confuse a clueless American public that appalls objective observers and would even shame the devil!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                However, Russia is not Iraq, a helpless desert state.  Even though many  Americans, following the lead of Blundering Joe Biden, insist upon treating them as such.  But their clueless arrogance does not mitigate the fact that Vladimir Putin is sitting atop the largest nuclear arsenal in the world, and thus has the power to take out every capital city in NATO within 20 minutes or less! And no amount of silly derisive comments like “Russia is a just a gas station with nuclear weapons,” can alter that crucial fact.   Alas, one of the most troubling observations one hears from learned statesmen and foreign policy wonks who were molded in the Cold War during the 20th century – from Gorbachev and George Kennan to Vladimir Posner and Henry Kissinger – is that the present generation of statesmen and policy wonks are far too cavalier in their attitude toward the probability of nuclear war.

Alas, from all the observable evidence, this is clearly the case with Joe Biden, although he is old enough to also have had his views shaped by the Cold War. Yet Clueless Joe, his advisors, and the leaders of the NATO alliance appear to have drawn the wrong conclusions, and thus remain innocent of the deeper wisdom to be gained from the experience. Indeed, Biden has ignored the central lessons learned by the two Americans who were tasked with waging nuclear war against Communist Russia, the now defunct Soviet Union, during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

Considering how close the US and Russia – who possessed nuclear arsenals with the power to destroy all life on this planet several times over – came to all out nuclear war, one would expect wise leaders to heed the warnings of those who have been to the brink and peeked into the abyss.  The perspectives of these two men – President John Kennedy who authorized the use of nuclear weapons, and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara who was tasked with giving the command to deploy them – was drastically altered on matters of war and peace by this experience. It was a baptism by fire that invested them with new insights that are critical to this moment in human history.

If ever there was a time to heed the warning of the Harvard philosopher George Santayana about the importance of learning the lessons history can teach in order to avoid repeating disastrous mistakes, it is just now.  When the world is once again poised on the brink of nuclear Armageddon. And according to the Union of Atomic Scientist – who understand the problem best – we are dramatically closer to Doomsday than during the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Back then they set the hands of their “Doomsday Clock” at seven minutes to midnight – the moment of nuclear extinction – as I write the hands are set at 100 seconds to midnight!  It would seem that leaders who are not only presumed to be sane, but the best and brightest among us, would hasten to change course dramatically.

However, that is not the case with Joey and his 30-nation band of NATO vassals, whose adventurism in Eastern Europe has brought us to the brink of annihilation.  By leading the effort of NATO nations to supply the Ukrainians with more and more technologically sophisticated weapons, with the stated intention of empowering them for a military defeat of Russian forces,  Crazy Joe is blatantly ignoring the two principal lessons President Kennedy and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara says they learned from their flirtation with nuclear catastrophe.  McNamara’s revelation came in his documentary film “The Fog of War, “made decades later. And Kennedy testified to his enlightenment in a speech presented at American University a few months after the world survived the Cuban crisis.

The paramount lesson for McNamara was that the best way to avoid disaster is to develop the ability to view the dispute from the perspective of your adversary.  And thus consider their options should you take certain actions.  He came to this understanding after decades of deep reflection and interviewing his counterparts in the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War, years after after the passions that fueled the conflict had subsided.  And President Kennedy summarized the essence of his great enlightenment with this statement: ”Never put a nuclear armed adversary in a position where his only choices are to retreat in humiliation and defeat, or deploy his nuclear weapons.”

Based upon his words and deeds, especially during his secret foray into Eastern Europe, where he suddenly popped up in war torn Ukraine like Banquo’s Ghost, clearly both lessons have sailed over the fuzzy grey head of old bungling Biden, whose reckless behavior suggests  he ought to be sitting and whittling under the old cedar tree, spittn a chaw of tabaccy and spinning yarns reminiscing about the good old times back in da day, when he was a hot shot politician in the historic Obama Administration.  Instead of playing Russian Roulette with the fate of the earth based on delusions of grandeur.

The evidence of those delusions was dramatically on display in the public proclamations made by Biden in Ukraine and Poland.  Sometimes it is difficult to discern who his intended audience is, and what is his message.  When Biden visited Poland in 2014, he stood in the same spot where he spoke on this occasion and said of President Putin:” For God’s sake this man cannot remain in power!”  This time he called Putin a “war criminal!” Which is a ludicrous comment from a man representing a country where 21 years ago John Bolton, The walrus mustachioed US Under Secretary of State  for Arms Control and International Security, sent a letter to Kofi Annan, the Ghanian Secretary General of the United Nations, unambiguously stating the US position on participation in the International Criminal Court: ”the United States does not intend to become a party to the treaty”…”accordingly, the United States has no legal obligations arising from its signature on December 31, 2000.” 

He was referring to President Bill Clinton’s signing of the treaty just before the deadline expired. When Bill Clinton signed the ICC Treaty he said:

The United States is today signing the 1998 Rome Treaty on the International Criminal Court. In taking this action, we join more than 130 other countries that have signed by the December 31, 2000, deadline established in the treaty. We do so to reaffirm our strong support for international accountability and for bringing to justice perpetrators of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. We do so as well because we wish to remain engaged in making the ICC an instrument of impartial and effective justice in the years to come.”

However, high on the hubris of American Exceptionalism, the US Senate refused to ratify the Treaty.  And less than a year and a half later the Bush Administration rejected it outright.  Using the successful 9/11, 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center as a pretext, the Bush Administration was on the verge of implementing a previously developed plan by the policy wonks at the right-wing neocon think tank Project for A New American Century – presented in the policy paper “Redesigning America’s Defenses”- to attack Iraq and overthrow its head of state, Saddam Hussein, an illegal action under international law. Since the nature of the invasion virtually insured war crimes would be committed by the invading American soldiers, the Bush Administration was removing itself from the jurisdiction of the court.  Which is compelling evidence that the criminal attack on Iraq was premeditated.

The concerns expressed in a press release from the hawkish Pax-Americanist Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who was an avid proponent of the Iraq attack, just a few hours after Bolton’s letter makes clear their intent in repudiating the authority of the ICC. The communique explained that the Administration’s rejection of the treaty was based on  “a number of serious objections to the [International Criminal Court] – among them, the lack of adequate checks and balances on powers of the Court’s prosecutor and judges; the dilution of the U.N. Security Council’s authority over international criminal prosecutions; and the lack of any effective mechanism to prevent politicized prosecutions of American service members and officials.”

To put the matter succinctly the USA refused to allow a court over which it had no control decide the guilt or innocence of their actions should the US government be accused of committing war crimes. This is exactly the position that Putin is taking in the Ukraine matter!  The Russian government has made it clear that any attempt to arrest Putin anywhere in the world will be regarded as an act of war and they will respond accordingly. Alas, the fact that the US has yet to recognize the jurisdiction of the ICC while touting Putin’s indictment, has been an embarrassment for President Biden when confronted with questions from reporters. But when you view yourself as the “Exceptional Nation” such inconsistencies are overlooked because in the end what the US ruling class really believes in their heart of hearts is: ”Might makes right!”

That’s why the US military budget exceeds those of Russia, China, India, Great Britain, Germany, and Saudi Arabia combined!  At 877 billion the US military budget comprises 38 percent of the funding for all the military establishments in the world.  The total expenditure on the 20-year wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is estimated to total 8 trillion when all the costs are tallied. A sum that could have completely rebuilt the infrastructure of the USA, paid off college loan debts, and provided expanded benefits to struggling senior citizens.

All things that would have enriched American life. Yet President Biden had to beg Republican members of Congress to vote for a little over a trillion dollars for his “Build Back Better” initiative to help the American people recover from the Covid Pandemic and propel the nation forward. Yet the US government with bi-partisan support has poured 75 billion dollars into their proxy war in Ukraine, which is barely a year old, and has committed itself to more.  This is unimpeachable evidence of where US priorities lie.

And while the US routinely accuses China and Russia of being “expansionist” the US has 800 foreign military bases in 80 countries around the world, while Russia has 20 and China has three!  Furthermore, China has not been in a war since their brief skirmish with Vietnam in 1979.  Which is a subject of snide ridicule from proponents of Pax Americana, who speculate that such an untested force would be no match for battle tested American warriors.  To say the least, this is tough talk from a country whose military couldn’t prevail over Vietnamese peasants or backward Muslim Jihadists. But the evidence of which country is the premier warmongering nation in the world lay in the fact that of 246 years of national history since the war of Independence from England in 1776, the USA has been at peace a mere 18 years!

Abandoning any pretense at diplomatic niceties Biden also called Putin “a pure thug,” on his last visit to Ukraine, and again implied that he should be “overthrown.” Which begs the question, to whom is his message intended: NATO nations or the Russian people?   Surely Putin remembers that when President Bush said the same things about Saddam Hussein, the US invaded Iraq and removed him from power. In any case, Biden’s recklessness suggests either he does not believe Putin is listening or he just don’t care.

Early on in his Kyiv speech, Biden sounded like the befuddled old man that his harshest Republican critics says he is.  After recounting how he asked President Zelensky what he could do for him during a phone conversation with the sound of bombs exploding in the background, as the Russian attack began.  Biden contradicts himself:” I don’t really remember what you said to me. But you said and I quote: “Gather the leaders of the world. Ask them to support Ukraine. Gather the leaders of the world and ask them to support Ukraine…That dark night, one year ago, the world was literally at the time bracing for the fall of Kyiv. Seems like a lot longer ago than a year but think back to that year — perhaps even the end of Ukraine. You know, one year later, Kyiv stands. And Ukraine stands. Democracy stands.”

Then Biden recalls with great pride how he had visited Ukraine in 2014, as Vice President. And gleefully recounts how he returned several times to celebrate the Madrian “Revolution of Dignity.”  Here a reality check is desperately needed.  Imagine if Putin was fighting a proxy war against the US in an alliance with China, in support of a leftist anti-American government in Mexico, and Putin popped up in that neighboring country on our border promising to support Mexico until they defeated the US, while branding Biden a criminal and thug, then calling for his overthrow.  If it is true that past is prologue in the story of nations, it does not require much imagination to figure out what the American response is likely to be.  It would be the Cuban Missiles Crisis 2.0

And yet this grotesque scenario of nuclear confrontation between the world’s premiere nuclear powers remains a real possibility.  And all because, lost in his star-spangled delusions of grandeur, high on the opiate of American Exceptionalism, Joe Biden, in a classic case of folly – as defined by two time Pulitzer Prize winning historian Barbara Tuchman – refuses to heed the lessons of history bequeathed to him by his predecessors, who stood at the command posts of America’s nuclear arsenal when the world was poised on the brink of destruction in 1962.

Yet those are beginning to look like the good old days. When the hands on the Doomsday Clock were set at 7 minutes to midnight…not the  80 seconds that hangs over the juggler of the world like the sword of Damocles.  And Crazy Joey seems oblivious to it all…alas he has learned nothing from history. Indeed, in the hurly burly of the present crisis he has revealed himself to be a pompous fool…arguably the most dangerous man in the world!  And we are well on the road to repeating the mistakes that led mankind to the brink of extinction in 1962.

That’s why the clearest path to resolving this increasingly dangerous crisis, as I have written before, is to reject the pipe dream of achieving a Ukrainian military victory, call for an immediate cease fire, negotiate the neutrality of Ukraine, drop all economic sanctions against Russia, hold another plebiscite among the ethnic Russian speaking population to determine if they still want to separate from the oppressive ethnic Ukrainian speakers, and quash the ICC indictment against Putin until they also issue indictments for war crimes against George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheyney, and Henry Kissinger.  Then to seek a permanent peace in Eastern Europe, a date should be set to discuss the disbanding of NATO, which is, as Donald Trump correctly called it: “A dangerous and costly anachronism.”   That assessment is the one-time Donny Dimwit has shown a spark of wisdom…so far as I can discern.

While the Biden administration goes to great lengths to convey the impression that the world supports US actions against Russia, the facts prove otherwise.  The fact is that the majority of the peoples of the world do not support American and NATO policy on Ukraine, and according to Dr. Fiona Hill – a top foreign policy wonk in the Trump Administration who fell from favor after testifying in Trump’s impeachment hearings –  many nations who were formerly admirers are turning away from American leadership.  This movement away from the US is inspired by a disdain for the arrogance and national chauvinism exemplified in the ideology of  American Exceptionalism.

In a recent speech in Estonia – a former soviet Republic that has joined NATO as Ukraine aspires to do – Dr. Hill pronounced the death of “Pax Americana.”  After pointing out that there is a growing “mutiny” against American global hegemony, she observed: ”In 2023 we hear a resounding no to US domination and see a marked appetite for a world without a hegemon.”  Dr. Hill, a Russian expert,  went on to argue that the Russians had promoted this rebellion by “cleverly exploiting deep-seated international resistance” to US Pax Americana policies. And she also noted the East/West, North/South character of the split, describing it as conflict between the West and the rest of the world, 0r “Russia and the rest against the United States.”  She said Ukraine was suffering from “guilt through association for having direct US support,”  And from the perspective of certain countries “Defending Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity gets lost in a morass of skepticism and suspicions about the United States.”

And nowhere is suspicion of the US role and objectives in the Ukraine conflict greater than in Russia. Whose leadership is convinced the objective of NATO’s expansion in Eastern Europe is to encircle their country with a hostile 30 nation military bloc and create an American Sphere of Influence on their border.  One need only look at the positioning of NATO nation’s surrounding Russia to understand their fears.  As I have previously pointed out, it is a situation that the US would not tolerate for a nano-second if the tables were turned.  Hence the perception of what is at stake for the US and Russia in this conflict is radically different and might well explain the lengths each side is willing to go in order to prevail.

The situation can be summed up in a tale my grandfather told me about a hound chasing a hare on a hot summer day.  The rabbit darted and dashed and the hound soon tired, gave up the chase, and retired under the shade of a tree.  A farmer who had witnessed the chase derided the hound for quitting so easily, calling him a disgrace to his noble breed.  To wit the Hound replied: Yeah, but I was just running for my lunch.  The rabbit was running for his life!

This begs the obvious question all the pundits and policy wonks refuse to ask yet is critical to this moment of crisis. What would be the response of the US and her NATO allies if Putin, confronted with increasing quantities of advanced weaponry they are supplying to the Ukrainian forces, decides to deploy a tactical i.e., “battlefield” nuclear weapon?  He has already hinted at it, no doubt hoping a hint to the wise would be sufficient.  And he has also announced that he has put his strategic nuclear missiles on high alert.

And if we are to take him seriously when Putin says the fight to keep Ukraine a neutral territory, unaffiliated with NATO or the European Community, is an existential struggle for Russia, hence they cannot accept defeat – and I believe he believes it – then the use of a tactical nuke to avoid a military defeat is entirely plausible.  And depending upon the response of the US and her NATO vassals, it could be the beginning of the end for life on planet earth if things spiral out of control and the doomsday strategic missiles are unleashed.  Alas, Joey’s Ukraine folly is playing Russian Roulette with the fate of our world.

If the revelations of modern science, and the persistent evils of white folks -like those shameless Bible thumping Trumpanzee blasphemers on the Christian Right – who continue to prosper despite their myriad dirty deeds and unspeakable iniquities, had not convinced me that God is a myth, I would stretch my hands toward the heavens and call upon her for help, for if ever we needed her intervention…we need her now!

Playing Russian Roulette with the World



Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

June 7, 2023













Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

June 7. 2001


A Glorious Remembrance!

Putin and the Generals Awash in Battle Decorations

 What May 9, Means to the Russians

Today the Russians are celebrating Victory in Europe Day, it is an annual Remembrance of the Western Allied Victory over the Fascist Axis forces led by NAZI Germany, on May 8, 1945.  But because it was already the 9th in Soviet Russia – a vast country with 11 time zones – when the Nazi’s unconditionally surrendered, the Russians celebrate on the 9th.  The Russians were invaded by Nazi Germany and her vassals on Sunday June 22, 1941, in an action code named “Operation Barbarossa.”  It was the largest land invasion in history, involving millions of men, 60,000 motorized vehicles and 600, 000 horses.  The invasion forces attacked cross a 1;800 mile front and their objective was to exterminate or enslave the population of that region of Russia and repopulate it with Germans.  It was a policy the Germans called Lebensraum, which meant “living space,” for the superior German “race.”  A policy that was inspired by Hitler’s study of white Americans extermination of Native Americans and enslavement of Black folk.

And by the time they were driven from Russian soil by the Red Army in January 1942, the German onslaught had resulted in the murder of 27 million Russians! A sum nearly  twice the entire population of Afro-Americans at the time.  No people on earth paid a greater price in life and limb than the Russians.    By contrast the US lost about 298,000 soldiers in the European war and 41, 521 soldiers in the Pacific Theater.  Less than 350 thousand combined.  The Germans starved and murdered 3.3 million captured Russian soldiers who were prisoners of war!  Furthermore, while much of Russia lay in ruin from the wanton destruction of Nazi armies, the US did not have a single shot fired on our soil.

The German Blitzkrieg
A Total War on the Russian People

And Miillions of Innocents Perished,,,,,,

Hence it is virtually impossible for the average American to understand how the Russians view the constant expansion of NATO, a 30 nation anti-Russian military alliance, right up to their borders. Even incorporating former republics of the Soviet Union.  A development that the US guaranteed them would not happen when the Russians dismantled the Soviet Union, scrapped the Communist Party, and US Secretary of State Jim Baker cajoled Mikhail Gorbachev into agreeing to the reunification of Germany, a nation that had invaded them twice in the 20th Century.  However, that was in 1991, but Bill Clinton unceremoniously scrapped the deal in 1998, and began the eastward expansion of NATO, an alliance that should have been scrapped since it’s raison d’etre was to “contain the expansion of Soviet Communism.”  The only thing of importance that Trump has been right about was when he said: ”NATO is a dangerous and costly alliance and should be scrapped!”

Since I have written about these complex issues elsewhere, I shall not belabor them here.  Anyone who wishes to read my analysis of the role of NATO in sparking the Ukraine War, a conflict that is leading us closer to nuclear annihilation, can simply go to and put “Ukraine War” in the search engine and three pieces will come up.  I am completing a fourth piece that will form a quartet that presents a comprehensive picture of my views.

Suffice it to say, that during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, the world came very close to destruction as the result of a nuclear war between the US and Soviet Russia.  It was something of a miracle that a catastrophe was avoided, and the two men who had the authority to launch US nuclear weapons was President John F. Kennedy and Robert McNamara, who was Secretary of Defense.  Fortunately, they have shared the vital lessons they learned from having come so close to destroying the world.  Secretary McNamara produced a documentary film about the experience titled “The Fog of War,” and Kennedy expressed his views in a 1963 Commencement address delivered at American University.

Both are available online.  And reduced to its simplest terms they concluded that the best way to avoid a nuclear disaster is to LISTEN to your adversary’s point of view and consider it seriously in the policy decisions you make. I think that is sage advice from two unimpeachable sources, and that’s why I posted this link to Putin’s speech today. It  is imperative that Biden and the architects of his foreign policy listen, pay close attention, and try to understand his point of view.  The fate of the earth might well depend upon it.    See: Putin’s Speech today at:



Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

May 10, 2003

The Coronation of Charles III

The King and his Harlot Queen

A Curious Medieval Anachronism in the 21st Century

With all the pomp and pageantry for which the British are renowned, Bonny Prince Charles of Wales was crowned Charles the III, King of England and his far-flung realms, which extend across seas from the Caribbean to Canada.  Yet is but a fraction of an empire upon which the Brits once proudly boasted  “the sun never set” because it circumnavigated the globe, ruling over colonies on every continent.   It was such an amazing achievement for that little sceptered isle, that many thoughtful people felt it justified call the “Great Britain.”

However, while the empire has withered away, as has the absolute power of the Monarchy, which now reigns in a constitutional monarchy where the Prime Minister and Parliament rules, the Royals continues to endure, with all the rituals of a bygone age when the belief that the King ruled by “divine right,” and thus was answerable to God, was conventional wisdom. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the British Monarchy is that the still exist, when other powerful monarchs were beheaded like Louis XVI and Marie Antionette in the 18 Century, or shot like the Russian Czar, Nicholas II and his entire family in the early 20th century.  And many of the aristocratic class who supported the monarchies met a similar fate.

Yet the British aristocracy remains.  Although, as in other modern countries it is the bourgeoisie, those who own the lion’s share of the nation’s financial and social capital, who commands the reins of real power in the realm, the role of the royals as revered well paid mascots playing scripted roles on the stage of history, remains an essential element in the Britain’s national identity.  Indeed, after all is said and done, it is who they are.  For most people, this writer included, England is unimaginable without the monarchy.  Watching the stiff-necked Beef Eaters marching to and fro in front of Buckingham Palace, their gaze fixed straight ahead, impervious to the antics of tourist trying to get a stare out of them, is one of England’s greatest tourist attractions.

From the look of things at the Coronation ceremony in Westminster Abby, where George III and his Lady Camilla arrived in their fairy tale golden carriage – a display of vulgar opulence which cost over four million dollars – to the cheers of the impassioned mob, one could easily surmise that the British Monarchy, like the poor, will be with us always.  Although the imperatives of modernity have inspired some noticeable changes in the relations between the King and his people.

The King and Queen In their Golden Carriage


Royal Extravagance in a Time of Hardship

For one thing, in his oath of office he promised to “serve” the people rather than “rule” them.  His Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak – whose example fires the hopes of Republican Punjabi pretender to the American presidency Niki Hailey –  now occupies the high office once held by such proud Anglo-Saxons as Chamberlain and Churchill, is a brown man of Indian origin.  Who has confessed, Christ forbid, to being a Hindu. Which in the minds of many devout Christians is just about as unchristian a belief as one can hold and is therefore an abomination.

But that was but one of the myriad causes of discomfort for the Newly Crowned King.  There is the matter of his sons, each one an embarrassment.  First there is his heir to the throne William “The Pegger,” so named because his pegging of a married lady has sparked a lively scandal fueled by scurrilous rumors. Perhaps that’s why he never looked his dad in the eye.

William “The Pegger” Pledges Fealty to the King

And Prince Andrew “The Debaucher,” the King’s younger brother stands accused in an American lawsuit of having sex with an underage girl at one of the notorious floating orgies hosted by the much-celebrated hedonist billionaire Jeffery Epstein.   Parties that Donald Trump is said to have attended and was accused by a woman who said she was sexually molested by Donald Trump as a teenager at one of those parties.

And then there is Prince Harry “The Black Hearted,” who trashed the sacred racial norms by soiling the family tree with a tarbrush!   His transgression was a consequence of daringly tasting forbidden fruit and falling under the spell of a dusky American beauty, Meghan Markle, who beguiled the prince with her irresistible charms, and he raised the Commoner to a Princess by enjoining her in the sacred bond of marriage.  It was an epic seduction that conjures memories of Makeda, that black and comely Sorceress in the Bible, Queen of Sheba, who bewitched King Solomon, causing him to abandon 10,000 wives and turn his back on the God of Israel to win her affections.  But due to the ill manners of the white royals, Harry’s Princess became “Megan the Missing” at the grand Coronation, and poor Harry was forced to attend alone.

Megan “The Missing” Gets Last Laugh

She Just Played Past the Whole Thing

Lost in the Royal Sauce


Princes Harry and Andrew

While Princes Harry and Andrew dwelled like invisible ghosts hovering about the Coronation, Prince William took center stage and pledged his fealty to the King, whose high office he pretended to.  It was an act for which the King would later express his gratitude.  But it must have saddened him to see the reputations of his son and brother besmirched and the honor of the British throne tarnished.  Although there is much in the long criminal history of the monarchy that provides far greater reason to hang his head in shame. Still, as duty and protocol demanded, Charles III kept a stiff upper lip and the show went on.  And what a jolly good show it was.

With fine prancing horses; elaborately costumed trumpeters blaring medieval fanfares; columns of smartly marching soldiers well drilled for the auspicious occasion; elegantly tailored men and sumptuously gowned elaborately plumed ladies adorned with the marvelous millinery for which the British are world famous; serenaded by a chorus of black singers whose voices sounded like angels descended from the heavens; and a multi-cultured rainbow mosaic of humanity representing diverse nations from all over the former British Empire, came to pay their respects to the new King.  The Archbishop of Canterbury, flanked by the princes and powers of the Church of England, resplendent in the colorful costumes of their high office,  anointed the newly crowned King and Queen with ancient blessings while leading the chant: ”God Save the King!” Which reverberated from the centuries old walls of the sanctuary in the grand Gothic Cathedral of Canterbury.

The Royal Trumpeters

The Royal Air Force Trumpeters


They Filled the Air with Fanfares
As the Royal Procession Wound its Way…

Through the Streets of London
To the Magnificent Cathedral at Westminster Abby 

Where the New King of England Would be Crowned 
The Ascension Singers

Glorious Voices Forged on the Smithy of the Gods!

Yet amid the tumultuous roar of reveries that marked the joy of the Coronation for some, there was the angry grumble of the discontented mob who had more than their fill of the Monarchy and all that it represented.  While the celebrants boisterously shouted, “Long live the King!” the attentive observer could see the crowds in the background waving signs that proclaimed: ”Not my King!” and boldly calling for the end of the monarchy. Their demands were unambiguous!

There was no shame in their game. That’s why the British Parliament passed a law recently to restrict protests at the Coronation, and thus the crown was corralled a few blocks from the center of the celebrations, and even some of their leaders were arrested before the ceremonies began, a form of preventive detention where suspects are arrested before they commit a violation.  These actions raised serious concerns for many Britons, who regarded it as a blatant assault on the democratic rights of all citizens.

Not My King!


Not Everybody was Down With the Program!

Hence, despite the pervasive efforts to paint a jolly face on the Coronation of King George III, whose mother, Queen Elizabeth reigned so long that he is finally ascending the throne as a man in his seventies, an age when most people have retired, there were dark clouds hovering over his Ascension, and they were not all in the sky.  The most ominous clouds were down on the ground.  Some protesters referred to Lady Camilla as “The Harlot Queen,” because of the shameless way she had bedded Bonny Prince Charles while he was married to their much beloved Princess Diana, sparking a world-wide scandal that many believe led to her horrible and untimely death.

The most boisterous and irreverent protesters proclaimed Camilla a fitting role model for whores everywhere, living proof that they too could one day become a queen if they managed their assets wisely.   And, judging by the mood of the anti-monarchist mob, I believe that had it not been for the formidable force of armed combatants deployed to protect the King and Queen, they may well have met a similar fate to that of the French monarchs Louie and Marie Antionette a century and a half ago!

All of this, though largely ignored by the press, which chose to accent the positive, nevertheless forces the thoughtful observer to wonder if we have just witnessed the Coronation of the last king of England.  And this curious medieval spectacle will finally be confined to the dustbin of history!

Abolish the Monarchy They Cried!

The Last King of England?

A Relic from a Bygone Age


Scenes From the Coronation

Undoubtedly, one of the visual delights of the lavish celebration was the fabulous hats sported by the stylish ladies.  I was especially impressed because I am a lover of hats and am rarely see without one!   Here are some examples of my favorite millinery.

Queen Letzia of Spain!

Katie Perry: American Singer

Madam Trudeau: First Lady of Canada

The Ascencion Gospel Choir Anoints the Revelers with Soulful Song

The Coronation Of King Charles III


Composed by: Playthell George Benjamin

Sugar Hill in the Village of Harlem

May 8, 2023

Praise Song For A Chevalier

The Chevalier St. George

Gabriel Banat Resurrects a Musical Ancestor

Around forty years ago I was leafing through J.A. Rogers’ remarkable study The World’s Great Men of Color from 3,000 B.C. to 1946 A.D. – a two volume tome that changed my life – and I stumbled upon the picture of a dashing dusky man who looked like my buddy Sonny Jackson with long hair and dressed in the ostentatious style of European noblemen I saw in the movies.   He was holding a sword in one hand and the caption said he was the “Chevalier de Saint Georges.”  It was clear to me that this handsome, intriguing figure from the distant past was unlike any black man or “Negro,” as we were universally known back then, I had ever seen.  So I lingered upon the page and read the biographical sketch that accompanied the picture. The tersely written tale told me enough about the highlights of his life to cause me to insert him into a novel I’ve written decades later.  But since the book was fiction it didn’t require me to seek knowledge of this fascinating character beyond what I had learned from Rogers.

As it turns out, most of what has been written about St. Georges by those who have pretended to be about the business of writing serious history has also turned out to be fiction.  But Gabriel Banat has finally set the record straight in his new book, The Chevalier St. Georges: Virtuoso of the Sword and Bow, published as a part of PENDRAGON books “Lives In Music Series.”  This fully fleshed biography is history at its best – and as a former history professor who never lost my curiosity about the past I have read thousands of historical tomes.  First of all, when dealing with a subject who has a specialized skill, the narrative is always enriched if the historian is also a master of the same trade.  When the skill is of such a magnitude that it amounts to a rare gift, and the product of their genius a kind of inexplicable alchemy – such as mastering the violin, composing string quartets, symphonies and operas, then conducting them all – having another great musician tell his story is on the order of a blessing.

Gabriel Banat, one of the great violin virtuosos of the twentieth century, has told the Chevalier’s story superbly.   In a book of nearly six hundred pages we are graced with a richly documented elegantly written narrative of the Life of Joseph Bologne, the mulatto son of a wealthy French planter on the Caribbean Island of Guadeloupe, who was taken by his father to Paris as a child when he realized that the racial laws on the island would afford his dusky son no chance to excel in life.   This proved to be a good move because young Joseph would grow up to be one of the most famous and accomplished men in 18th century Parisian society as France’s greatest swordsmen and one of the era’s finest violinist/composers.  As a Hungarian Jew who was a child prodigy on the violin when the Nazis’ invaded his home land and his prosperous middle class parents became fugitives from the German death machine, Banat is able to empathize with the racial ordeals of St. Georges in a way that most white men could not.  And the reader benefits from his insights as he reconstructs the inner life of St. Georges.

The extent to which a biographer succeeds at his task is more often than not determined by whether they can get the right balance between the personal narrative of the subject and the details necessary to reconstruct the historical milieu in which that life develops.  It is a task that has tested the talents of many seasoned historians for whom history writing is a life work undertaken after rigorous training in the field.  Which makes this work something of a marvel, considering that the author has spent his life mainly as a great performing musician, because this is not simply a good history for a musician to have written; it would be an exemplary work for anyone to have authored.

To the good fortune of the careful reader Mr. Banat has adroitly woven the life narrative of St. Georges through the tumultuous history of his times, a period that encompasses the three great bourgeois revolutions of the Eighteenth Century in America, France and Haiti.  Not only does he discuss the impact of these events on French society, but how they affected St. Georges personally and his response to them.  For instance he recounts how St. Georges commanded an all black regiment in the French Revolution and fought to suppress slavery in Haiti.

Mr. Banat has searched the archives with a fine eye for the relevant documents to support his fantastic tale.  Facsimiles of some of them are reproduced in this text, which gives the reader the impression that they are witnessing history in the making.  Mr. Banat, who argues that his subject’s parents were in love not just the master/slave relationship that was the common practice in Guadeloupe, took special care to retrieve the documents verifying that St. Georges father went back to Guadeloupe and brought his African mother to join them in Paris, thus demonstrating his love for her.

But in the end this is a story about an amazing individual of whom his biographer says: “One would be hard pressed to find an adventure novel more captivating than the factual story of the Chevalier de St Georges…His physical prowess, particularly in the art of fencing, attracted the attention of Louis XV, who made him a gendarme du roi and a chevalier.”  A skilled horseman, prodigious swimmer, master musician, revolutionary leader, ladies man and bon vivant, plus the best dressed man at the Versailles Courts of Louis the XV and XVI, there was no more striking figure in Enlightenment France than the Chevalier St. Georges.

As a former Smith college professor, conductor and virtuoso violinist who has performed the master works of the violin literature with the world’s leading orchestras Mr. Banat has extensive knowledge of European classical music and the art of violin playing; which he displayed to the delight of an admiring audience in the Bruno Walter Auditorium in the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts last Thursday, February 22. In a vastly informative lecture in which he reconstructed the life, times, and music of Chevalier St. Georges, Banat was simultaneously the careful historian with his power point presentations of official documents, pictures and musical scores projected on a giant screen, and the virtuoso violinist performing St. Georges compositions for the violin.  Some were in quartet form; others were for violin and piano.

In order to illustrate his arguments for the importance of St. Georges as a transitional figure in the development of violin technique and composition in eighteenth century Europe – which is where all the action was – he performed passages from other composers who were influenced by his ideas; such as the great Germans Mozart and Beethoven.   Projecting the scores up on the giant screen he would discuss their logic and architecture and then play them for us, tracing the development of musical ideas from St. Georges through the work and collaborations of particular violinist and composers.

Although Mr. Banat considers himself in retirement—after suffering through two rotator cuff operations, which sounds more like a football player’s fate than a musician’s –and is reluctant to play in public anymore, his performance was splendid even by his elevated standards.   If virtuosity is the ability to make the difficult look easy, then Gabriel Banat remains the virtuoso par excellence – as all who witnessed him play some passages from St. Georges Concerto for violin Opus 5 #2 will attest.  Now an octogenarian, he began playing the violin at seven years old and gave his first professional performance at twelve.   He was forty three years old when he joined the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in the first violinist chair, and he still has and amazing clarity of tone that is warm and sparkles with a rich lyricism.

The distinguished musicians who collaborated with Gabriel in this love fest for the largely ignored Chevalier – Violinist Kathleen Thomson, Violist Diana Banat and Cellist Gerald Kagan – were all first rate.  The sound of the quartet was so exquisitely balanced it was clear to me that only superb musicians with a spiritual bond could have produced it.  The acoustics in the recital room was excellent and I could hear each instrument clearly in the mix, which made it possible to enjoy St. Georges’ beautiful harmonies and witty repartee between the various viol voices.  And Susan Kaman’s piano accompaniment was superb, the brilliant notes rolling out of the Baldwin Grand like silver streams from a sonic fountain, on the duet she performed with Gabriel Banat.  Together these master musicians produced the airy elegance of the Rocco style with such authenticity that I could close my eyes and let the music transport me back to some petite drawing room in Versailles crowded with extravagantly gowned belles and perfumed dandies.  The Afro-American novelist/essayist Ralph Ellison, an itinerant musician who wrote so insightfully about music, once correctly observed that “Music gives resonance to memory,” and great music can also stimulate the imagination.

There will be many celebrations of black genius during this Afro-American History Month, but I doubt that any will be more truly informative or entertaining.  It was a tour de force – as many in the audience who had come after hearing him on my radio show “Round bout Midnight” on WBAI the night before – told me.  One Afro-American father brought his two young sons who are budding violinists.  I watched as they sat wide-eyed, their animated body language revealing their excitement, and I knew if it could pass the test of these candid critics – who are innocent of deceit – it was indeed a good show.  Bravo!

Gabriel Banat in Performance

Originally Published in

The Black World Today

Saturday, 24 February 2007

By Playthell Benjamin

The Great Kwame Brathwaite has Danced and Joined the Ancestors

Recording Harlem’s Tribute to Freddie Hubbard in the Sanctuary of Abyssinia

Indefatigable Painter of Black Life…and Pan-African Cultural Warrior

A mighty tree has fallen in Harlem.  Let every head bow, and every tongue confess it. Kwame Brathwaite was one of a kind! He was my Brother and comrade in struggle for over half a century. I could not have loved or respected him more if we were brothers from the womb. I have lived for nearly a century, met the best and brightest of many nations, but none have I held in higher regard.  A more honorable man than Kwame has not been born…and his mother is dead! Hence it is a fair speculation that we will never see a better man in this earthly realm. Perhaps in the vast expanse of space, but not in this place,

He was the blood brother to the great Elombe Brath, another tireless Pan-African artist/soldier, for whom a square in Harlem is named. Together with the magnificent activist/musicians Max Roach and Abby Lincoln, they launched the Black Arts Movement that changed the consciousness of thoughtful people throughout the Pan-African world: The Neo-African Diaspora of the Atlantic, and the Motherland too.   It all began with the founding of the African Jazz Art Society in the Bronx NYC during 1958. The movement flowered in the 1960’s and their powerful slogan “Black Is Beautiful!” was echoed throughout the world. Kwame, following the admonitions and practices of the great ancestors Frederick Douglass and James Vander Zee wielded his camera like a mighty sword in defense and celebration of black people.  Illustrating his slogan with marvelous, magical, gorgeous, images. Especially of Black women, whose unique arresting beauty he captured with exquisite taste and judgement for all the world to behold.  Making an indelible record of that halcyon era of struggle and spiritual regeneration, when we were happy and nappy, on a freedom high and ready to die, a time the great poet Larry Neal, a peerless tribune of the movement, called “Holy Days.”

It was Frederick Douglass who first recognized the art of photography as a powerful weapon of liberation, because he saw that it could be deployed as effective counterstatement to the grotesque imagery demeaning Afro-Americans drawn by racist white illustrators and cartoonist that proliferated in white owned newspapers.  He urged Black  and James Vander Zee, the brilliant early 20th Century art Photographer, dedicated himself to documenting the elegance of the rainbow people he saw all around him during the halcyon days of the Harlem Renaissance. The beautiful people that his great contemporary Maestro Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington, who first came to New York as an art student at Pratt Institute, would immortalize in his sound portrait “Black, Brown and Beige Suite.” Like Maestro Ellington’s music, Vander Zee says he was called to his mission by the realization that: ”A picture will last forever.”

Embracing this ancestral imperative, Kwame documented the magnificence of his people as he saw them, creating a visual record whose witness cannot be disputed and can only grow more valuable with time. Kwame photographed the historic political and cultural events that swept the black world in the great awakening of the second half of the 20th century, in the Americas and Africa. A son of the Caribbean whose parents migrated to the US, and like legions of others enriched black life in the US with their brilliant progeny, Kwame followed in the tradition of the great Pan-Africanist who viewed the entire black world as their field of struggle.

Their role models were the Trinidadians H Sylvester Williams and Dr. Alcindor, who along with the Massachusetts born Dr. WEB DuBois founded the Pan-African Movement in London in 1900, followed by the great intellectual theorist and activist organizers George Padmore, and CLR James, along with Marcus Garvey, the great Jamaican mass leader who founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association here in Harlem over a century ago.  the largest movement for the unification of Africans peoples in the Atlantic diaspora with our brothers and sisters in Africa for the Redemption of the Motherland.  The direction of Kwame and Elombe’s lives were greatly influenced by these pioneering Pan-African patriots, especially Marcus Garvey.  In essence they were artists who answered the call to revolution.

Hence Kwame’s oeuvre is a priceless treasure, a benefaction to all our generations born and unborn, to behold and be inspired.  It is what the legendary Harlem bibliophile and longtime book store owner James Lawson called “Proper Propaganda.” As Chairman Mao Tse Tung, the revolutionary poet and philosopher who led the triumphant  Chinese Revolution, the greatest mass transformative movement in world history, observed in his now famous Lectures at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art: “All Art is Propaganda, but not all propaganda is art.  In order for art to succeed as propaganda, it must first succeed as art.”  Hence Kwame’s art was such powerful propaganda but he was a great artist!

Those fortunate enough to have seen the recent exhibition of Kwame’s works. “Black Is Beautiful,” which were on display at the New York Historical Society from August 19, 2022 – January 15, 2023, will readily recognize why he was affectionately called: “Keeper of the Images.” Kwame’s Oeuvre is a kaleidoscopic panorama of the Icons and Signal events of a triumphant era in the Pan-African world.  If you missed the exhibition, you can learn much about it by Googling the exhibition by name.

While recognizing that even the language of Shakespeare, James Baldwin and Tony Morrison is impoverished of suitable superlatives to capture the essence of this mighty black giant, I am nevertheless compelled to offer this Remembrance in the hope that it will convey some sense of this brilliant artist, Pan-African Soldier, and tireless servant of our people who has lately danced….and now takes his place among the Great Ancestors. Hail and Farewell Beloved Comrade, the struggle continues. ACHE!

Kwame and the Brilliant Photographer Lisa DuBois

At a Harlem Exhibition of Kwame’s Works



Kwame and  Me at His Exhibition


Displaying his Iconic Portraits of Great Black Musicians


Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

April 8.2003

*** Photo of Kwame behind Camera and with Lisa Dubois by Playthell

Photo of Kwame and Playthell by Makeda Voletta


The Conductor Exposes a Racist Rotting in Frisco

Ishmael Reed: Cultural Warrior

The East Bay Seer Battles for Truth

Once more Ishmael Reed, our most potent literary conjurer, has employed his formidable literary powers in defense of truth and justice, which are the pre-conditions for freedom. Some years ago he published a book titled “Writin is Fightin,” and his present play which opened Thursday at the Theater for the New City is true to the code.  A brilliant work of absurdist agit-prop, Reed charges into the thorny terrain of the cultural wars raging around our public schools, a social landscape riddled with dangerous pitfalls of racism, gender bias, and class warfare.

Nationally, this increasing cultural conflict is symbolized by the fight around the teaching of “Critical Race Theory,” a transparent sham whose real objective is to arrest the development of any pedagogy intended to tell the truth about race and gender oppression in the US.  In San Francisco, long regarded as one of the nation’s most progressive cities, this struggle centers around the recall of three elected members of the San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education in the 2021-2022 school year.

Two of those recalled were the President and Vice President Allison Collins, an Afro-American, and Gabriella Lopez – a Latina who in her fearless progressive stance resembles New York Congresswoman AOC.  The issue that led to the recall of these two progressive educators was their advocacy of a lottery system to replace strict reliance on grades and test scores to gain entry into an elite high-school. The question of changing the names of public schools bearing the names of slaveholders, Indian Killers, and other odious characters also factored in.  In the swell of opposition to their proposal, all the issues of race, ethnicity and class came to the fore.

In his unique and highly inventive method of storytelling, combining broad erudition with an unfettered imagination, the prophet Ishmael relates this complex tale through a series of monologues and a dialogue between Warren Chip, a black journalist who has been fired from a major newspaper for supporting the school Lottery, and Sashi Parmar, a brainwashed racist East Indian raised in the US who uncritically worships western civilization, hates black people, and has even adopted white supremacist stereotypes about India.  He is a symbol for the likes of Nikki Haley, Dinesh De Sousa, and the Anglo-Indian writer VS Naipaul.  He is also a stand in for the racist Chinese Americans who identify with the reactionary American lap dog Taiwanese regime.

In the dialogues between these two, and the extensive monologues presented by the other characters, along with the broadcasts of a white news anchor on White Lightning Television, “Buttermilk Dumphill,” Ishmael drops science on the audience with a torrent of complex kaleidoscopic word salads filled with erudite references to history, art criticism, sociology, political dogma, the illuminati, and even informs us that the influential Manhattan Institute is a “Nazi Front.”  Hence, “The Conductor” is a continuation of revelatory masterworks by the East Bay Seer such as the novels “Japanese By Spring,”  and “Reckless Eyeballing,” or his heroic plays “The Haunting of Lin Manuel Miranda,” and “The slave who Loved Caviar.”

The presence of the heroic San Francisco educators in the house engaging the audience in a Q&A session after the final curtain, plus a solo piano soundtrack, performed by Ishmael, adds to the immense power of the play.  A tour de force!  Bravo!

Ready for Revolution: Autobiography of Stokely Carmichael

An Essential Text

The Evolution of Kwame Toure

For most people, the name Stokely Carmichael evokes memories of the US Civil Rights movement, which was the dominant event in America during the 1960’s, and Stokely was a major figure in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee.  SNCC was the most important youth organization in the Movement for Civil Rights in America.  Stokely was a founder of the organization, which organized the most oppressed sector of Black America in the deep South to exercise their right to vote, hold public office, and fully exercise their rights as American citizens.

Which in practice meant to resist all the restrictions of “Segregation,” a legal system of caste oppression based on skin color that prevailed throughout the American South at the time.  It was a system enforced by naked violence, legal and extra-legal, which is to say violence was inflicted upon Afro-Americans by white police and the armed white citizenry.  Stokely was right on the forefront of this perilous struggle, fearlessly placing himself in harm’s way repeatedly to help empower our oppressed people in the deepest south.  Many of whom were living in rural areas, which was still dominated by a plantation economy and black folk who were tied to this land through the share cropping or crop lien systems, which some observers have rightly called “Neo-Slavery.”

It was in the fight against this system of naked white power that Stokely coined the term “Black Power,” which threw millions of white Americans into a state of hysteria reminiscent of the madness we are witnessing around the movement to ban “Critical Race Theory.”  Which is much ado about nothing, since there is zero chance that this sophisticated legal theory, first introduced at the Harvard Law School by Professor Derek Bell and developed by the brilliant legal scholar Kimberle Crenshaw, will ever be taught in the public schools.  But that is a subject that I will address in another essay.

Not only did Stokely coin the phrase “Black Power,” but he was a founder of the original “Black Panther Party,” which began as a regular political party in Lowndes County Alabama – made famous by the Selma campaign of “Dr. King” and as the hometown of Coretta.  However, this marked the beginning of Stokely’s evolution from a civil rights activists fighting racism in America, to a Pan-African revolutionary seeking the liberation of black people everywhere from white oppression.  A socio-political system that he began to recognize was universal: Segregation in America, Apartheid in South Africa, and European Colonialism in African and his native Caribbean was the same class of phenomena.

Stokely would later immigrate to Africa, in the tradition of his magnificent Trinidadian forefathers – H. Sylvester Williams, George Padmore, and CLR James – the founders, along with Dr. WEB DuBois, of the Pan-African movement. Out of which grew the leaders that successfully led the first movements for African independence.   There he joined the struggle for the complete liberation and development of Africa.  And as part of his Africanization process, he married an African woman, the beautiful South African singer/activist Merriam Makeba.  They became the perfect symbol of Pan-Africanism.  Stokely chose Guinea because it was the best example of Pan-Africanism at work. Guinea’s leader, Sekou Touré, was one of the most remarkable political figures of the 20th century.

When Kwame Nkrumah – a philosopher/politician who led the first black African nation to independence and became its President – was overthrown in a CIA instigated military coup while visiting China, Seku Touré made him a co-president of Guinea!  An uncompromising nationalist, when Charles de Gaulle, head of the French Colonialist government, offered the African colonies a choice of Complete independence or membership in an overseas French community, Sekou was the only political leader of a French African colony to choose Independence!  Stokely was accepted and mentored by them, and in a show of deep gratitude he changed his name from Stokely to “ Kwame-Touré”

The remarkable story of Stokely’s rise from a straight arrow West Indian youth laser focused on becoming a medical doctor to the extent that he wore a white doctor’s frock around campus as a freshman, to a revolutionary Black Nationalist freedom fighter, is marvelously told in his Autobiography “Ready for Revolution.”  It is a rare view of the global black struggle told from the perspective of an eyewitness.   I wrote the “AFTERWORD, “a historical essay titled “In the Tradition.” The essay places Stokely/Kwame and this book within the tradition of Pan-Africanism from its birth at the dawn of the 20th century.  And the “African Redemptionist” movement that extends from the early 19th century.

The story is told by two of the most consequential actors in that struggle: Stokely Carmichael and Ekwueme Mike Thelwell, two brothers from the West Indies – Trinidad and Jamaica- who immigrated to the US and made a MIGHTY contribution to our struggle. A story that only a GREAT writer like Mike could tell: A novelist, essayist, brilliant critic, Professor of comparative literature, and Founding Chairman of the WEB DuBois Department of Black Studies at U-Mass Amherst.   Furthermore, like Stokely, Mike was one of the most effective organizers of SNCC in the Deep south. which he chronicled in award winning fiction a reportage.  His essay “Fish Are Jumpin and Cotten is High: Notes from the Mississippi Delta,” was roundly praised by the famous white southern writer Robert Penn Warren, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner.   Mike participated in the creation of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which preceded that Black Panther Party, and catapulted grass roots black Mississippians like Ms. Fannie Lou Hamer, a former cotton picker, to international fame.  Even Muhammad Ali considered it an honor to meet her.  It was Mike that recruited me to Amherst, where I became a founding member of the first degree granting Black Studies Department in the World 53 years ago.

   Kwame Toure and Ekuwame Michael Thelwell

My essay, which are the final words in “Ready for Revolution,” recounts how that I spent Stokely’s last night in America at his bedside, along with a small group of old comrades, as he lay in bed propped up on pillows, his warrior spirit undaunted, as he lay dying of prostate cancer.   We smoked wisdom weed and jovially swapped war stories from the struggles of the 1960’s that had transformed America.  And even on his death bed, when he could hardly sit upright- attended to by a team of five brilliant black women physicians from Africa and the Americas headed by Dr. Barbra Justice – he boldly answered his phone:” READY FOR REVOLUTION!”  I paint the picture of this indefatigable Pan-African soldier as best I can with words, as inadequate as they are to this moment, but that is how the indomitable warrior preferred it.

The next morning our Dear Brother/Comrade caught a flight and returned to Guinea, where he danced and joined the Ancestors in the Motherland.  He was one of the tallest trees in our forest! THIS is the model of manhood our young Brothers desperately need today!  And the fact that this heroic model has been replaced by a bunch of badly dressed, gold chain wearing, gold tooth flashing, hedonistic fools spouting vulgar materialist, nihilistic, bullshit to the masses of our youth, is the grand tragedy we now face.  AND TEACHING THE HISTORY OF OUR HEROES AND SHEROES IS THE INDISPENSABLE TOOL IN THIS STRUGGLE!!!!


Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

February 1, 2023


Game Recognizes Game….

The Devious Donalds…Cut Buddies from Way Back

WARNING: Bullshit Artists at Work!

“One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit….

The bullshitter is involved in a program of obfuscation, not merely the substitution of truth for lies.”

Dr. Harry G. Franks, Professor of Philosophy at Princeton

Princeton philosopher Harry G. Franks became so intrigued with the phenomenon of bullshit and the practice of bullshitting he wrote a 67 page treatise on the subject titled On Bullshit.  Although I know but little of philosophy, nor am I curious enough about bullshitting to write an extended treatise on the subject, I feel not the slightest doubt that I know bullshit when I hear it and can spot a bullshit artist miles away.  I seem to have a built in bullshit detector that allows me to detect bullshit before it leaves the bulls ass.   So when I pull yo coat to a bull shitter bet the family jewels on it: Donald Trump, and his mentor in the art Donald King, are virtuoso performers in the ancient art of bull shitting!  And when I saw them hooking up at a political rally in Cleveland I thought of that old Louis Jordan hit “Beware Brother Beware!”

The first time I saw Donald Trump in person was at a press party to announce the forthcoming fight between “Iron” Mike Tyson and Michael Spinks for the Undisputed Heavy-Weight Championship of the World.  It was a unification match because both fighters held a portion of the Heavy-Weight crown awarded by different sanctioning bodies.  Since the fight game is all about glitz and hype, The Donald was right in his element as the princes and powers of the fight game and various VIP hangers on assembled in the Grand ballroom of The Plaza, a famous old New York landmark hotel that was recently purchased by “The Donald” – as he was known back in the day –  and given a face lift and plastered with the Trump name.

Located at Central Park South, with a view of the magnificent Arboretum, everything about the newly refurbished hotel was plush.  The lively crowd was dressed to the nines; the cuisine and drinks were exquisite; it was big time Big Apple style.  Trump was the MC and controlled the mike like a Bronx B Boy.  My most poignant memory of the occasion was that upon first sight I could see that Donnie Trump was a pure bullshit artist.  His opening remarks consisted entirely of an accounting of his “brilliant real estate deals.”  I thought right off he might well be the most shallow important person I have ever met.

In this he reminded me of nobody more than Don King – Trump’s mentor in the lucrative fight game – whose personal history and style beguiled “The Donald.”  Their stories could not have been more different.  Donald Trump was born to the purple with a silver spoon in his mouth.  Freddie Trump, his father, was a strong family man and patriarchal autocrat, who had amassed millions of dollars from the real estate business in the outer boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, employing scurrilous racial exclusion policies and other questionable business practices such as employing mobbed up construction contractors.

Trump is a life-long New Yorker who wanted to be a big baller in the Manhattan real estate business and gain national celebrity.  Don King was born and bred in the gritty mid-western town of Cleveland – aka “the mistake by the lake” – and badly wanted to escape the drudgery of factory work and live the glamourous life. He pursed this dream with a relentless determination without regard to social conventions or the law and finally realized it in the big time boxing business.

One came from a lily white privileged environment where he had never worried about paying his rent, nor knew anybody who did, and the other grew up in a community where almost everybody was a couple of paydays away from financial disaster and many thought “ho money is better than no money.” One spouted the “Golden Rule” and acquired their fortune with the protection of the police, the other pursued their fortune by deceiving and dodging the long arm of the law guided by the belief that “A po man can’t fool with the Golden Rule in a crowd that don’t play fair.”

Yet they had certain traits in common. Both believe in the “rule of gold;” they are both megalomaniacs and born motor mouths; bunko artists /salesmen who believe they can sell icicles to Eskimos. And they will say whatever suits their purpose; regardless of its relationship to the truth. Both are authoritarian personalities who love the limelight and flaunt their wealth in the vulgar ostentatious fashion of street hustlers.  Of course, Don King is a street player from Cleveland, a cold-blooded gangster who was deadly to his adversaries, but he was rescued from that dangerous life after a stint in prison for murdering one of his soldiers who had stolen $600 from him. King has two dead bodies to his credit: he stomped one to death and shot the other in the back.

Don King: “Only in America!”

Patriotic Gangster or Shameless Bunko Artist?

King talked his way into the boxing business by cultivating a relationship with a rising young heavy-weight named Cassius Clay, whom urban legend has it was introduced to King by the popular singer/bandleader Lloyd Price, who years later would put together the concert that accompanied the title fight between Muhammad Ali and the fearsome George Foreman in Zaire Africa called “The Rumble in the Jungle.” It was through his association with Ali that King rose to prominence as a boxing promoter, virtually monopolizing big fight promotions for a couple of decades during the last third of the 20th century.  It was Don Kings prominence in the fight game that brought him into an association with Donald Trump, and at one point they became thick as thieves.  Compared to the wily streetwise King, Trump was like the “white boy lost in the blues” as the song goes.

The Dons

A White Boy Lost in the Blues

Mesmerized by the Master Player

“There is nobody like Don King,” says Donald Trump

In the videos and photographs of the Trump and King together it is King who comes across as the master and Donald the apprentice…which was definitely the case when it came to the glittering milieu of World Championship boxing – which was in a golden age.  What King offered Trump was a chance to make millions, and become a figure on the world stage, by putting on his world title boxing matches – which attract more mega-stars from more fields than any single event – at Trump’s venues in Atlantic City, breaking the monopoly of Las Vegas – especially Caesar’s Palace – on the big fights with international appeal.   The power of the Casinos to generate big money by attracting the “high rollers” from around the world is what had caused fight promoters to abandon Madison Square Garden in New York, which was known as “The Mecca of Boxing,” for Las Vegas.  Together Trump and King decided to make the sleepy seaside city on the Atlantic Ocean the new Mecca of Boxing.

Hence they formed a lucrative partnership and did indeed make Atlantic City a major player in the fight game, especially after 1985 when Trump convinced state legislators to scrap the luxury tax and reduce the event tax by 50%.  The exhibition of boxing matches King promoted at Trump’s Castle and other venues he controlled – like the Atlantic City Convention Center, where he built a walkway between the two making it easy for fight fans to get to the gambling tables – began in 1986 and included a who’s who of boxing talent in that period.  The world class fighters under contract to King that appeared in Trump’s venues beginning in 1985 include: Hector “Macho” Camacho, Julio Cesar Chavez, Gerry Cooney, Vinnie Pazienza, et al. Their crowning achievement in the boxing business was the World Heavy-Weight Championship unification match that featured Michael Spinks vs. “Iron Mike” Tyson.  Boxing is a unique business, by the time Trump got in the fight game the promoter’s business was the selling of rights: To television, live site owners, and concessionaires.

As a Casino owner Trump’s business was to calculate “the drop” – which is to say accurately estimate how much money the “high rollers” in the fight crowd would “drop” on the gaming tables gambling in the Casino before and after the fight.  This is a risky business because the site owner must pay a substantial fee in order to acquire the fight; the fee for the Spinks -Tyson rights was three and a half million dollars.   Given the popularity of the fight this was a well calculated risk and resulted in a seven and a half million dollar drop – even though the fight lasted only 90 seconds!

Two Champions: Tyson and Spinks

King put Trump in position to make millions in a single night!

The party Trump gave to announce the fight displayed the vulgar opulence worthy of a man who aspired to be King of New York City.  The co-champs were joined in a voluptuous feast attended by boxing wise guys, glitterati from the fight crowd, journalists, et al.  I was there as a writer with deep ties to the Spinks camp because I had been head of public relations for Butch Lewis Productions, which held the promotional rights to all of Michael Spinks fights.  I got a close up look at Trump during the party and my first impressions have proved lasting.  His entire conversation was a celebration of himself.  He was all Id, and came across as a narcissistic bore who was as shallow as a dry creek bed during a drought.  When I got lost on the way to the bathroom and stumbled upon Trump and Tyson’s wife, Robyn Givens, in a hidden alcove away from the crowd, the way they jumped and stiffened up upon seeing me left me with the suspicion that they might have been playing stink finger.

Having considerable experience in seducing OPP, I usually know one when I see one.!  And now, based on new evidence that has come to light, and Trump publicly admitting he is a serial pussy snatcher, I am convinced that my original hunch was right!   For instance, writer Harry Hurt, author of “Lost Tycoon: The Many Lives of Donald J. Trump,”  tells us he heard many rumors about Trump banging Robyn, and reports having seen them alone together – just like me – and also tells how Trump was overhead bashing Robyn’s incompetence at the art of fellatio!

Then we get this bizarre story from the book Trump Nation, written by New York Times reporter Tim O’Brien.  According to O’Brien, during one interview the rumors about his dangerous liaison with Robin Tyson came up and O’Brien tells us:

“Tyson sat down in Donald’s corner office hundreds of feet above Fifth Avenue and the two men chatted for about fifteen minutes before the boxer got to the point. Donald recalled their conversation in detail.

“Mr. Trump, could I ask you a question?” Tyson asked.

“Whatever you want, Mike,” Donald responded.

“Are you fucking my wife?”


“Are you fucking my wife? Everyone’s telling me that you’re fucking my wife.”

Tyson then pulled out a copy of Vogue magazine that features a picture of Ms. Givens wearing a Trump Princess hat from Donald’s yacht.

“Everyone’s telling me that you’re fucking my wife and I think you’re fucking my wife,” Tyson said.

“Mike, let me tell you something: I never ever even thought about it. And I heard those rumors and they’re disgusting. In fact, I called you a couple of times to tell you that I heard those rumors and it pisses me off. And I never, ever even thought about it. She’s your wife, she’s with you, she’s loyal to you, and it’s total bullshit.”

“Mike it’s absolutely bullshit, it’s false,” Donald reiterated. “I give you my word.”

“Could I lie down on your couch?” asked Tyson.


“Because I’m so tired I just want to nap.”

“Sure, go ahead.”

Needless to say, after reading this I became convinced that my suspicions were on the money.  I had not thought about it for years, and then I heard Tyson relate a tale about catching Robyn in a car with blond actor Brad Pitt – the sable beauty seems to have the hots for blonds – under suspicious circumstances in his much acclaimed one man Broadway show spinning anecdotes from his amazing life.   But when Trump became a candidate for President, and Mike Tyson stepped forward as a vocal enthusiastic supporter of the man rumored to be banging his boo, I started thinking about the issue again.  From all appearances it seems that “Iron Mike” is actually a Mammy Cut wearing poot-butt Whittol – which is old English for a willing Cuckhold.  Trump played him off just like his mentor King would have done; the apprentice learned the con well from his mentor – the Master bunko artist.

Dancing with the Stars!

Jesse Jackson, Trump, King, and Ebony/Jet publisher John Johnson

I suspect that it is hard to overestimate the extent to which Trump’s way of dealing in the world has been influenced by Don King, who not only introduced him to the colorful characters in the big time boxing game, but to luminaries of the Afro-American community, and even heads of state.   Human nature being what it is, Donald Trump could not help but be impressed with men like Reverend Jesse Jackson, an activist/thought leader on questions of vital importance to the nation, and John Johnson, the publisher of Ebony and Jet Magazine, publications that survived dramatic changes in the magazine market that had wiped out several gargantuan white magazines such as Look and Life. 

After all, when Trump started out in business he had a Wharton degree in Real Estate Finance, plus the benefit of his father’s money, advice, and connections in the construction business.  And he was a straight white male.  Trump had the complexion and the connections from jump street!  The only thing these black men had in common with him was that they were straight!   They had none of his advantages plus had to deal with the burden of blatant racial discrimination!  How could Trump not be impressed with their achievements?

All Smiles!

Donnie and Dad Chillin with Butch and King at the Spinks-Tyson Fight

Everybody loves the limelight of a World Heavy-Weight Championship fight

A Ménage a Trois?

Dangerous Liaisons


 King Introducing Trump to President Bush

Trump was beguiled by this black Gentleman Gangster who schmoozed with Presidents

Butch Lewis introduced me to the business of boxing; he sought me out by virtue of a couple of articles that I wrote about the Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Tommie Hearns World Welter-Weight Championship unification match.  The articles were titled “The Sugarman and the Mo-Town Cobra: Notes on Those Wonderful Welter-Weights” and “The Sugarman was Just Too Sweet for the Motown Cobra: Notes on the Poetry of Pugilism.”  These two essays not only brought me to the attention of Butch Lewis, they also got the attention of Sugar Ray Leonard, which resulted in my nearly promoting the match between Leonard and Marvelous Marvin Hagler for the Undisputed World Middle-Weight Championship.

Playthell and Partners Negotiating with Sugar Ray

Sugar and Marvelous Marvin was the Dream Match

I got my first real impression of Don King’s character when I went to work for Butch; before that King was just a verbose colorful bullshit artist who was probably the best promoter since P.T. Barnham i.e. the quintessential bullshit artist.  It was the nature of the game.   However the portrait Butch painted of him was of a ruthless criminal and con-man whose word meant nothing and he would beat you for every dime if he could.  Butch explained how he began his career in the boxing business by chauffeuring Joe Frazier around in a limo he borrowed from the used car dealership where he was a salesman.  This is how he met Don King.

The reputation that Butch had in the boxing business as a “never say die” competitor imbued with what sociologist call “the eternal optimism of the hustler,” and a great salesman who could sniff out a deal where others saw nothing, was on display when he first approached Don King.  Hanging around on the fringes of the game Butch recognized that he had to come up with a unique angel to break into the business.  His opportunity came when King made the match between Muhamad Ali vs. Leon Spinks for the Heavy-Weight Championship in 1978.  Two years earlier Spinks had captured the attention of the sporting world by winning the Olympic Gold medal in dramatic fashion.  A compelling part of Spink’s story was that he was a member of the United States Marine Corps when he fought in the Olympic Games.

In a very creative move Butch decided to approach King with a proposal that he sell the fight to the US Navy to be broadcast by close circuit to their troops on military bases and ships at sea.  Since butch would be working purely on commission, which means if he couldn’t close the deal King wouldn’t owe him a penny, The Don said hell yeah!  It was a no lose proposition for him.  Well, Butch pulled it off.   To King’s astonishment, he sold the fight to the Navy!   Butch used to say that’s what made Kings hair stand up in that wild fashion that gave him the look of a cartoon character experiencing an electric shock.  However, Butch had done the deal on a verbal commitment and King welched on the agreement and robbed him, played him like pimps play whores.

He didn’t take all of the money…just most of it.  Then, adding insult to injury, King had the unmitigated gall to offer Butch a Job!  Butch was so incensed he not only turned down the job but bought a high powered rifle and began to make serious plans to kill King.  Fortunately, Butch thought the better of it and decided to become his business competitor instead.  Thankfully, due to the superb writings of Jack Newfield – a great investigative reporter and die hard boxing fan who had them dress him in a boxing robe and gloves on his death bed – we have learned that the dirt Don did to Butch was par for the course in his dealings with fighters.

Newfield’s documentary film on King “Only In America” tells it all in the words of the people King Screwed.  I am appending a clip of the film at the end of this essay.   The same character flaws and dirty dealings that we see in Don King we can also observe in Donald Trump.  The hype and bullshit, the pathological lying; the screwing of contractors who he refused to pay after they have completed work for him; the megalomania; the love of the limelight; his avoidance of paying taxes – King was unsuccessfully prosecuted by the government on tax fraud charges – that keeps him under audit; the character assassination of his competitors, for instance King called Tyson’s first manager Bill Clayton “Satan.”  It’s all there.

There is another King trait that we also see in Trump, and it could well be his undoing politically.  And that his ability to abandon relationships and forget promises to those who work with and support him on the spur of the moment and adopt opposite positions if it suits his interests.  Two examples will suffice. When anti-apartheid groups in the US organized a boycott against entertainers or athletes performing in South Africa because of the anti-black policies of their Nazi like all white government, Don King talked Heavy-Weight Champion Mike Weaver into defending his crown in South Africa.  He cloaked his appeal, as well as his rationale to the anti-apartheid groups, in the argument that because weaver was such a magnificent example of African manhood – being that he is ebony black with magnificently sculpted muscles – his destruction of the white South African champion would raise the morale of the African resistance.

In the period before the fight King was full of bluster about “black brotherhood,” practically casting himself as a liberator of black self-confidence in South Africa.  However, when the white south African knocked Mike Weaver out, Weaver recalls Don King stepping over him as he lay dazed on the canvas in his mad rush to embrace the white South African, who was now under contract to King due to a clause in the contract.  Hence the south African was now King’s new Heavy-Weight Champion!  All the black liberation talk quickly evaporated like an ices sickle in the African sun.

As I write, Trump is also engaged in a blatant bait and switch.  Many of his most ardent supporters in the untutored mob that played such a critical role in his election to the presidency did so because he promised to build a wall on the Mexican border; make the Mexican government pay for it; “drain the swamp of lobbyist for special interest;” punish companies that relocate overseas; and protect essential elements of the “social safety net” like Social Security and Medicare.   Trump also pledged not to scrap the Affordable Health Care Act, which millions of his supporters rely on for medical treatment, until a “better and cheaper” medical care plan was in place.   In fact he said: “I don’t want a single day to pass” between scrapping “Obamacare” and coverage under the new plan. He also pledged to place a ban on Muslims visiting the US and mass deportations of foreigners living in America without proper papers.

Alas, he is now retreating on many of these promises before he has been officially sworn in.  And he is doing it with a smile, saying that he never meant to be taken literally.  The president elect has all of the characteristics of a bullshit artist who is all bunko……no wonder the Reverend Al Sharpton, who know both men well by virtue of the fact that they were once cronies, said on national television: “If you really want to understand Donald Trump, just think of him as the white Don King!”

Homeboys Hangin Out on the Town

Trump, Rev. Sharpton and King
Interview of Jack Newfield on Don King

Playthell G. Benjamin

The Village of Harlem

Originally Published at “Commentaries On The Times”

During the Trump Campaign in 2016

Playthell Benjamin: Independent Public Intellectual

Writin is Fightin: Playthell is Far More Dangerous as a Verbal Pugilist!

Thumbnail Sketches of an Unusual Life

Playthell George Benjamin is an author, award winning radio producer, photojournalist and commentator on culture and politics.  He has been twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize: Distinguished Commentary and Explanatory Journalism in feature writing. His essays have been widely published in the American and British Press, where he regularly wrote for the Sunday Times of London and the Guardian /Observer. He was an Editorial Page columnist with the New York Daily News and a feature writer on politics and culture with the Village Voice. He also appeared on the CBS Sunday Edition Reporters Round Table in New York and was a popular guest on several national television shows – which can be seen on You Tube – as well as the BBC.   His analysis of the O. J. Simpson trial published in his Daily News columns, commentaries on Pacifica Radio, a CBS News Special Report, and Politically Incorrect, hosted by Bill Mahr, so impressed Attorney Johnny Cochran, that he contacted Playthell and thanked him for his objectivity, despite the fact that Playthell had made it clear that he was no fan of O.J.   And on a trip to New York to attend a party for News Anchor Katic Couric, he invited Playthell along.

Heeeeere’s Johnny!

Playthell was a relentless defender and avid supporter of Jazz at Lincoln Center from its inception, employing his ubiquitous media presence to promote the project.  From the outset he saw JALC as one of the most important monuments to American cultural achievement and a glorious celebration of Afro-America’s gift to world culture. A widely published music critic, Playthell was commissioned by Wynton Marsalis, the Artistic Director, to write essays that served as program guides for Jazz at Lincoln Center concerts.   

Playthell is a co-founder of the WEB DuBois Department of Black Studies at the University of Mass. Amherst.  The first free standing, degree granting Black Studies Department in the world.  Founded in 1970, they celebrated the 50th anniversary 2020, in a ceremony held on Zoom due to the pandemic. It can be accessed online. Playthell held an assistant professorship of history in the DuBois Department – the first person in a major American University to hold a Professorship in African and Afro-American History – and was appointed to an adjunct associate professorship in Journalism at Long Island University in 2009.  His is work was selected for study in a seminar on Long Form Journalism at the prestigious Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, conducted by Professor Gottlieb.

He has lectured widely at universities at home and abroad – including Harvard, Columbia, University of Pennsylvania, and the Sorbonne in Paris.  From 2018 – 2022 he was the Publisher, Editor and principal writer at ( which is presently being moved to another platform, a forum where all of the great political and cultural issues of the day – national and international – are thoughtfully dissected.

Since he began publishing the Commentaries, Playthell began to study the art of photography so that he could produce images for his reportage, especially reviews of events on the lively cultural scene in New York City.  Over the last decade he has become skilled enough as a photographer for his work to be presented in a solo exhibition in the beautiful galleries of the Dwyer Cultural Center, a major venue in Harlem.  The Theme of his first Exhibition was “The Elegance of Afro-Americans: Black style as a Weapon of Liberation,” and the opening was accompanied by a lecture from Playthell on this theme.  His second Exhibition will open in February, an eclectic show with many different types of photos titled: ”My Favorite Things.” The Commentaries began as a radio series on WBAI radio and has been broadcast for over 35 years.

After the successful establishment of the DuBois Depart at U-Mass Playthell taught for a couple of years, then left the academic life to pursue his life -dream of becoming a professional musician.  In 1975 he formed Jade. an eight-piece band – a five-man rhythm section and three horns – which became the touring band for the Columbia Records star vocalist, Jean Carn, a great singer. They played a variety of venues including a sold-out performance at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall.  Jade also was employed as the studio band for “The Sound of Brooklyn,” a state-of-the-Art recording Studio that was a project of  Restoration  Plaza in Brooklyn

For a period of time in the early 2000’s Playthell wrote the essays that served as Program Notes for Jazz at Lincoln Center concerts. The video link below captures some playful moments with Maestro Marsalis and the virtuoso musicians in the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. They are warming up for a historic concern featuring Ahmad Jamal. one of the greatest pianists of the 20th Century. The musicians in this internationally acclaimed orchestra are among the most accomplished instrumentalist in the world. They can play ANY GENRE of music brilliantly! Check out the bon homie among these great artists. CLICK ON,


               Playthell has a long history of activism in the struggles against racism and war. He began as a participant in the Black Student Sit-In movement against segregation in Florida at the inception of that movement in the spring of 1960, when he was a Freshman at Florida A&M University.  It was in the heat of these demonstrations, especially the hostility directed against them by white racists, which caused him to ask three questions: How did my people get in this predicament in America?  What were we before our arrival in this strange and hostile land?  And how are we going to get out of this disastrous situation?   Although he dropped out of school after his freshman year due to a conflict with the university administration over Civil Rights activism, Playthell’s dogged pursuit of the answers to those three questions – doing independent study under the tutelage of several outstanding scholars over a decade – resulted in his becoming a founding member of the DuBois department of Black Studies nine years later.

After leaving College he served a stint in the Strategic Air Command, the premiere American nuclear strike force at the time, where he was stationed at Glasgow, a base in Montana on the Canadian border whose mission was the nuclear destruction of the Soviet Union.  As he enjoyed a Top-Secret security clearance due to the nature of his work in “Combat Defense,” Playthell was privy to US nuclear war fighting strategies.  This knowledge made him a lifelong advocate for the abolition of nuclear weapons, which by their very nature are genocidal weapons,  and thus he believes the stockpiling of nuclear arsenals is a crime against humanity.  He is in total agreement with the Union of Atomic Scientists, who believe the fate of the earth can be determined by a single human miscalculation.

While stationed at Glasgow, the Strategic Air Command base located on the DEW Line – Distance Early Warning – in the Great plains of Montana, he was surprisingly forced to continue the struggle against the racism he had just left in the south.  Although a major reason he joined the armed forces was because he had been assured that it was a meritocracy, where men were judged by character and courage not color, but due to the fact that white segregationists were suddenly forced to live and work with Afro-Americans as equals, and even subordinates based on rank, racial antagonism persisted, but in a much subtler form.

It was in this environment that Playthell was introduced to a series of books on Black History by an Afro-American Master Sargent, whose objective was to fortify black soldiers on the base against the persistent psychological assaults of racism.  Coming from a family of teachers, preachers, and other professionals who stressed that education was the surest path to a dignified and productive life and had made him presents of books since he was a little boy, Playthell treasured books and revered learning.  And once he began to study the history of African peoples that, along with activism in pursuit of racial justice, became the grand obsession of his life.  Which, even by the standards of a romance novel is a tall tale, and one that he is finally writing due to the urging of colleagues and friends.

After continuing the fight against racism that began at Florida A&M on the Strategic Air Command base where he was stationed in Montana, Playthell was given an early discharge, at the “Convenience of the Government Under Honorable Conditions.” Witnessing the plight of Native Americans on the Great Plains, which in many respects were worse than the condition of Afro-Americans in Florida, Playthell became actively committed to the struggle for racial justice and equality in AmericaHe spent countless hours researching the history of African Peoples in the Schomburg Collection, Van Pelt Library at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Public Library, Hakim’s Book Mart, and the New World Book Fair.

On his 20th Birthday Playthell was presented on the progressive talk radio show “The Listening Post,” produced and hosted by the legendary Judge Joseph H. Rainey III, and broadcast over WDAS am in Philadelphia.  Playthell created such a sensation with his hour-long lecture, “Was Ancient Egypt an African Civilization?” that he was invited to become a regular contributor to the show where he was featured twice a month in an hour-long history lecture followed by two hours of questions and conversations with the listeners. Sixty years later on May 25, 2022, the world-renowned Metropolitan Museum of Art has adopted Playthell’s view of Egypt, mounting an exhibition titled “The African Origins of Civilization,” which demonstrates the African basis of ancient Egyptian culture.

Joe Rainey and Jackie Robinson on the Listening Post

Playthell’s work as a “Radio Historian” began a career that led to his becoming a founder of the first Black Studies Department at the University of Massachusetts in 1969, where the taught African and Afro-American history.   In recognition of Playthell’s contribution to the advancement of the Black community as an activist/intellectual during the 1960’s, his portrait is mounted on the “Wall of Heroes.”

Portrait on the Wall of Heroes in Philadelphia

A Larger than Life Oil Painting

On his 80th birthday, May 25, Playthell achieved a wish on his bucket list and made ha debut as a Stand-Up Comic, at the world-famous Nuyorican Poets Café in Manhattan’s East Village.  It was billed as “A Wise Man Plays the Fool,” and was inspired by the fact that he was tired of professional fools – Bill Mahr, D.L. Hugely, Trevor Noah, et al – playing wise men.  Hence, he decided to flip the script!   It was very well received, and the producer has already contracted Playthell to do other shows and the next one will be posted on You Tube. Alas, the technical quality of the video from the first show,  which was taken from the live feed on Zoom, is  not of broadcast quality. However, Playthell can be seen in a variety of interviews and commentaries on You Tube – including a lively debate with the late Christopher Hitchens on the Iraq war, live from the iconic Great Hall at Cooper Union.  A lecture discussion of  a tribute to the award-winning historian Stephen B. Oates, presented by the history Department September 9, 2022, just enter Playthell Benjamin in the search Engine.

Playthell is the father of three children, two daughters and a son – his eldest daughter danced and joined the Ancestors last year – a long-time resident of Harlem, he resides in a landmark apartment that once belonged to the great Paul Robeson.


 Playthell’s Pulitzer Prize Nominations
For Feature Writing/Explanatory Journalism
 Nomination II

For Distinguished Commentary


Daily News Column Written After his Harvard Lecture
 Playing Conga Drums with the Mongo Santamaria Orchestra
The Great Flautist Hubert Laws is on his Far Left

Peps Show Bar, Philadelphia 1966


Playthell and Mongo Santamaria
Taking a break during a performance 
Manhattan Center 1976
Playthell and the Great Singer Jean Carn


 Chillin on the Terrace of his Manhattan Penthouse
Circa 1975

A Lifelong Love!


 Rockin tha Congas at Red’s Java House

San Francisco 2009


 On National Speaking Tour


 Twin Cities OIC 1966
Minneapolis-St. Paul Minnesota


Lecturing to His Class at U-Mass 1969



A Life-Long Equestrian he Taught  Many Students to Ride

Playthell on his Farm in Belchertown Mass


 At The Horse Show


Bucks County Pennsylvania Circa 1989


 A Boxing Promoter

Negotiating with Welter-Weight Champion “Sugar” Ray Leonard

For a match with “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler

The World Undisputed Middle-Weight Championship was the Prize 1984

Click PDF to view Document from investors Authorizing Playthell to negotiate the fight

PDF Link 


Negotiating With El Grand Champion Alexis Arguello


 A Multi-Weight Hall of Fame Fighter

Circa 1984


The Benjamin’s of Sugar Hill

Hangin Out in the Big Apple on Easter Sunday

Harlem 1984

 Playthell was Twice Married

 With First Wife Dorothy…an Afro-Cuban Lady

 With His Second Wife June


 The Afro-American Mother of His Beloved Twins: Makeda and Samori

The Benjamin’s of Sugar Hill Revisited


With June and the Twins All Grown up
 All Family Photos by: The Great Hakim Mutlaq


 Playthell and Dr. Robert O’Meeley

Professor of English and Director of Jazz Studies Center at Columbia U

 Debating the Jazz writings of Albert Murray at the Sorbonne, Paris circa 1996


Presenting A Lecture on Jazz and American Civilization


With Harvard’s H.L. Gates, Rhodes Scholar and Major American Novelist John Wideman, other Internationally Renowned Intellectuals

University of La Laguna

Spanish Canary Islands Circa 1995

Playthell as Journalism Professor 2009


 On the Campus of Long Island University



Reading a “Commentary on the Times”

 An Award-winning Producer Live on WBAI FM New York

Click to hear Playthell’s live commentary the day after Barack Obama’s first Victory, advising The President elect to make signing the new nuclear arms treaty with Russia his first order of business.  And he DID!


Playthell And Maestro Marsalis

Artistic Director: Jazz at Lincoln Center

Circa 2019

At Home with the Greatest Trumpeter in the World! Eight Time Grammy winner for Jazz and European Classic Performance

Pulitzer Prize winning composer

Playthell’s essay, “Wynton is the Greatest,” explicating the qualities that set Wynton apart from his peers, can be read in the anthology “Ain’t But a Few of Us,” published by Duke University Press, released on December 2, 2022.  (To watch Playthell and Wynton backstage before a Concert in JAZZ AT LINCOLN CENTER. Click On,


Playthell is a Versatile Music Critic

From Jazz Giants to Rock star Terrance Trent D’Arby


To Rappers
With Fellow Wordsmith Mellie Mel, A Founder of hip hop

 From the Photography Exhibition: The Elegance of Afro-America

Lisa Dubois and Omowale Clay

Photos by Playthell G. Benjamin


 The Grandest Lady in the Easter Parade

 On Fifth Avenue


My Favorite Things

Playthell’s Coming Exhibition

 Magical Equines the Mess Wit yo Mind

 The Council

 Sculptures by: Susannah Israel

The Internationally Renowned Artist/Critic/College Teacher

In her Oakland Studio

 Playthell and Christopher Hitchens in the Great Hall at Cooper Union

Go and Sin No More!

Backstage After the Great Debate on Iraq War

Watch Playthell’s Opening Statement

(1) Debate: Iraq – Christopher Hitchens vs. Playthell Benjamin 1 – YouTube


 Playthell is Also an Insightful Art Critic

               Below are two examples of his commentaries on Art.  One a written treatise, the other a five-part discourse on the art of Ademola Olugbefola, conducted with the artist at an exhibition of his works.  As a founder of the Weusi Academy, the most important visual arts pioneers in the great Black Arts Movement of the 1960’s, which was centered in Harlem and is perhaps best viewed as the second phase of the Harlem Renaissance which began 40 years earlier in the 1920’s.  Both movements had a profound effect on Afro-American culture and influenced black artists throughout the Black world.  These were two of the most important developments in 20th Century American culture.  In the photo essay “Afro-Futurism Come to Harlem,” and the five-part video on Ademola Olugbefola cited here, Playthell is analyzing Afro-American art in the late 20 and early 21 centuries. 

Afro Futurism Comes to Harlem

 Image Great Art Photographer Lisa Dubois

Read review at

On the Afro-Modernist Art of Ademola

Ademola Olugebefola

(1) Black Arts and Culture USA Part 1 – YouTube

 All Photographs by: Playthell


 Playthell Begins the Octogenarian Years!

 After working out on my 80th Birthday

May 25, 2022


Debuting As a Standup Comic Celebrating His 80th Birthday

 Playthell aka “El Chocolate Caliente”

Live at the Nuyorican Poets Café in New York!

May 26, 2002


Two Commentaries on Playthell’s Stand-up Debut

Ishmael Reed is a much-celebrated Novelist, Playwright, Essayist, and longtime literature teacher at U-Cal Berkley.  He is the winner of the prestigious “Mark Twain Award” for humor, has been called “the greatest American satirist since Mark Twain”  by Time Magazine.  He offered this assessment of Playthell’s performance: “Playthell Benjamin is a brilliant writer comedian who doesn’t depend upon scatology to make his points. He is probably the most intellectual of them all.”

 Dr. HL McCurtis is a practicing Psychiatrist in Manhattan who is conducting a study of comedy writes: “Man this took me back!  I Listened to the show several times when it was up on Zoom. The history of Rap and the cold generic root that compares J Z to Shakespeare BRILLIANT!  The humor on religion was masterful and intimately linked to our cultural fidelity.  But “Shine” and that damned “Signifying Monkey” took me back to nights sitting on the porch on summer nights in Paris Texas.  This was a masterpiece!”

The audience at the Nuyorican Poets Café, a world-famous cultural venue in the East Village of Manhattan, a hot bed of innovative artistic activity just as the West village had been in the early 20th century, was very receptive to Playthell’s performance.  It was highly original.  His major theme was that having grown weary of “professional fools playing wise men” i.e. Bill Mohar, Trevor Noah, DL Hugley, Steve Harvey, et al he was “flipping tha script and a wise man would play the fool!”  Hence his show was a well-designed mixture of erudite commentary on the follies and foibles of the human condition and ribald humor combining story-telling and jokes in a seamless narrative that brought the house down!  His presentation reflects Dave Chapelle’s comment that: “A successful comedian must always be INTERESTING!”

Presenting A Tribute to Professor Stephen B. Oates


Presented by the History Department, U-Mass Amherst

September 9, 2022

Let the Trumpet Sound! A Tribute to Professor Stephen B. Oates

My Panel is from 41:38 til 200 on the counter.  You can see my presentation with great sound, along with the standing ovation and a brief question and answer session, from 140:00  to 2001




Three Presentations by Playthell on Politics, Culture, War and Peace from You Tube

Based on their oeuvre no pundit working in the America media today can equal the intellectual range of Playthell’s writing, public lectures, radio productions and  television commentary.  His series “Commentaries on The Times,” which began on WBAI FM radio in New York City, and later published on a blog by the same name, covered an eclectic amalgam  of local, national, and international issues in politics and culture.  In 2003 he published “Reconsidering The Souls of Black Folk,” a book on the Intellectual Legacy of Dr. WEB DuBois – co-authored with Stanley Crouch, a McArthur “Genius Award” winner, a great American essayist and Jazz Critic.  The book is composed of two separate essays, each under the author’s by-line.  Playthell’s essay on intellectual and cultural history is four fifths of the book takes the lead. 

Below is the link to their joint appearance on C-Span’s Book World. The book was the initial discussion at the National Black Writers Conference, an annual event sponsored by the English Department at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College.  The venue for this event is the famous Harlem Studio Museum.  This is a lively and learned discourse in which Playthell displays his wide range of knowledge regarding history, politics and cultural matters.



Why I Opposed the Iraq War from the Beginning

During the US vs. Iraq War, there was a debate about the justification for the invasion of that small Arab country.  The dominant narrative was that the US had to affect a “regime change” because Iraqi President Saddam Hussein conspired with Osama bin Laden to attack America on 9/11.   However, Playthell saw it differently.  He first stated his opposition to the invasion in a 3, 500-word treatise titled “The Iraq Attack: Bush’s March of Folly.” ( Read the text on my blog)  A careful reading of the text now sounds like prophecy. 

Here is an extended Television commentary on the reasons Playthell opposed the war when impassioned voices on the right and left, fueled by the reportage in the media, was  enthusiastically supporting the attack on Iraq.  In a fact driven analysis, which has now been confirmed by the unimpeachable testimony of history Playthell reflects on America’s tragic war of choice in Iraq.  Click on

On the State of American Politics

Playthell Interviewed by Activist/Intellectual Dr. Lenora Fulani

In this interview, conducted right after a Republican victory at the polls, Playthell dissects the anatomy of American politics with the precision of a surgeon.  It is a learned  critique of American politics rendered from a historical perspective.  Dr. Fulani, a smart and insightful political analyst/activist, asks just the right questions to inspire responses of real gravitas.  Hence, although this dialog took place during the last decade of the 29th century,  the analysis presented here was prophetic and thus remains a useful framework from which to understand the complex politics of 21st century America.

Playthell and Bill Mohr: Politically Incorrect!

Unedited Studio Out Take…that;s why there are pauses and color bars,  Just continue watching

NOTE: It was the response Playthell’s comments received from this audience that convinced him he could do comedy.  And on his 80 birthday he finally did.  His performance evoked a grand response from the audience!

Selected Essays on Politics and Culture from Muck Rack

New Blog Under Development

The 1300 Essays from the former blog “Commentaries On the Times” will be reposted

On Steven B. Oates Historian and Intellectual Engage’


Stephen B. Oates

Reflections on the Man and his Freedom Quartet

Given the realities of the America into which we were born and came of age, a land torn and divided by racist rage, it is highly unlikely that Steve and I would have ever met as equal human beings, let alone become dear friends. Yet despite the divisions of race, rigorously enforced by law and social etiquette in the regions of the country where we grew up and were socialized – he in the small of Pampa Texas, me in the tiny picturesque old Spanish settlement of Saint Augustine Florida – we had some things in common. We were both failed trumpeters; We wore mustaches, we were both veterans of the Civil Rights Movement – he an acolyte of Dr. King, me a passionate partisan of Malcolm X – we both had a visceral antipathy for injustice; and we believed the accurate writing and teaching of history could play a vital role in solving the nation’s racial crisis. A crisis which, at the time we met over half a century ago, threatened to tear the nation asunder. Indeed, the question posed by Abraham Lincoln in 1858 seemed just as relevant a century later in 1969: Can a house divided against itself continue to stand?  It is a question whose relevance no sane and sober observer viewing America objectively in 2022 can deny.

One wonders what Steve would have made of our present mess. With the untutored MAGA mob hurling incendiary lies about Democrats that eerily echo the hysterical baseless slanders pro-slavery southern Democrats heaped upon Northern Republicans in the 1850’s;  incited to armed insurrection by a deranged former President who refuses to concede he lost the election two years after the fact, a verbal arsonist who recently exhorted a howling white mob “to die in the streets” to prevent Critical Race Theory from being taught in their public schools. Since there is no chance that this sophisticated legal theory will ever be taught to public school children, the growing hysteria around the issue is but a thinly veiled attempt to arrest the development of a pedagogy that seeks to tell the unvarnished truth about race relations in American Civilization. They prefer their children be lied to just as they were, passing the protracted racial conflict on to future generations.

Indeed, Devious Donald Dimwit, whose incoherent rantings are a burlesque on serious argument, wants our schools to teach something called “Patriotic History,” which bears a disturbing resemblance to Hitler’s “Race History,” whose objective was the indoctrination of German youths with Nazi master race theories – much of which was lifted from the 1917 racist tome “The Passing of the Great Race,”  celebrating the superiority of blond haired blue eyed Teutons, penned by the Columbia University graduate and leader in the American Eugenics Movement, Madison Grant.  We know this because Hitler says so in a letter archived in Grant’s papers. Just Google “Madison Grant and Adolph Hitler.”  Ironically, the new state laws being hastily passed prescribing guidelines for the teaching of patriotic American history,  may yet result in Professor Oates’s books being banned  in his native Texas!

As was the case in the turbulent 1850’s, the two major political parties get their view of events from a divided media with diametrically opposed visions of reality.  And as I write The Economist, has released a poll showing that a majority of Americans believe the country will be in another Civil war within the next decade.  In a nation with 200 million guns in the hands of civilians, 20 million of which are military assault rifles, this is no picayune matter. Especially when many of these people fervently believe  the Second Amendment was created to arm the citizenry against a tyrannical federal government.  Despite irrefutable evidence to the contrary. Never has historical perspective been more critical to understanding the dangerous complexities of current events.  That’s why President Biden has summoned historians to the white House twice in the past few months, and they say the issues that concern him most, are the rise of Fascism in Weimar Germany and the American Civil War. We can deduce what he learned from his  prime-time speech in front of Constitution Hall in Philadelphia, where the President sounded the alarm warning that our democracy cannot endure when one party decides that there are only two possible outcomes of an election: Either we win or the election was stolen.

`           I suspect even a casual perusal of his oeuvre would provide a pretty good idea where Professor Oates would stand on the major issues at hand. Especially the four works that I call the Freedom Quartet, the magisterial biographies: To Purge This Land with Blood; The Fires of Jubilee; With Malice Toward None; Let the Trumpet Sound. I think of them as the academic equivalent of a  Quartet in four movements, composed with the lyrical elegance, emotional gravitas, and dazzling erudition of a Mozart masterwork. The four men who are the subjects of these biographies come from radically different backgrounds but are bound together in their fight against the evils wrought by the system of white supremacy in America. A persistent theme in our history that continues to linger on like the melody of a bad song.

In discussing his works Professor Oates often employs the term “leitmotif,” which can be defined as “a recurrent theme throughout a musical or literary composition, associated with a particular person, idea, or situation.”  Hence if we think of the four books in the Freedom Quartet as movements in a single composition, the leitmotif that gives them continuity is the contradiction between the professed ideals of American civilization – all men are created equal and endowed by God with the natural right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – and the persistent practice  of white supremacy.  A practice which resulted in policies of dispossession and genocide among the indigenes, whom the enlightened Canadians call “The First Nations” of the Americas, and the enslavement of kidnapped Africans, whose status in law for most of the history of the English settler colonialists that built the United States of America was equivalent to that of livestock.  Chattel, with no more rights than the beast of the fields.  And the august Supreme Court proclaimed it in the 1857 Dread Scott Decision, when they ruled 7-2  that ”Black men have no rights white men are bound to respect!”  A ruling that applied to all African Americans Slave or Free.  It is a sentiment some white Americans still hold dear, including armed policemen.

The second great theme that persists through the Freedom Quartet, is the story of heroic struggles waged by those who opposed the evils of white supremacy, slavery and segregation, which they regarded as a betrayal of the Universal Humanism proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence and a blasphemous transgression against the commandments of the God they professed to serve, who bequeathed the rights to all men that are enumerated and celebrated in our foundational document .  Since the books span a period from the founding of our federal republic in the late 18th century, to the last third of the 20th century, we are provided a view of how the issue of race has been a central factor in the growth and character of the United States.  Despite all the hysterical denials that racism and racial oppression is fundamental to the American experience, the voices in Professor Oates’ Freedom Quartet boldly proclaim this truth.  And their voices are unimpeachable.

It is readily apparent to the careful observer that these biographies are not the product of academic busywork coerced by the imperative to publish or perish. Nor the seductions of the fame and fortune that accompanies authorial success. Their raison d’etre was inspired by a passion for justice and a deeply held belief that an accurate understanding of the nation’s history could assist in the building of a more just society, “the more perfect union” envisioned in the preamble to the Constitution. And insure the “domestic tranquility” it calls for.

Hence it was not by happenstance that Steve chose as the subjects of his Freedom Quartet two black Americans and two white Americans whose stories share a common theme: They all gave their lives in the struggle to make America a freer and more just society, to live up to the exalted ideals proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence.  In an essay in the anthology “Biography as High Adventure,” Steve  defined his project as an effort to  “ humanize the monstrous moral paradox of slavery and racial oppression in a land based on the ideals of the Declaration of Independence.”  And he felt the thread that held his subjects together is the fact that:

All four were driven, visionary men, all were caught up in the issues of slavery and race, and all devised their own solutions to those inflammable problems. And all perished, too, in the conflicts and hostilities that surrounded the quest for equality in their country.”

Two were hung, and two were felled by assassin’s bullets.

There was something else of critical importance that held these men together: They all met the measure of the Prophet based upon the criteria set forth by Rabbi Abraham Heschel, a distinguished theologian and world-renowned authority on the ancient Hebrew Prophets, who fled Nazi Germany and later became an activist in the US Civil Rights Movement.  In declaring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a Prophet, he said: “Moralist of all ages have been eloquent in singing the praises of virtue. The Distinction of the prophets was in their remorseless unveiling of injustice and oppression,” and their willingness to die for this truth.  Notwithstanding the value of his other works, which consists of 12 more volumes, for me his exquisitely composed Freedom Quartet shall remain Professor Oates’ magnum Opus.

Without diminishing their monumental importance one jot or tittle, I confess that I might be biased toward these works because Steve discussed three of them with me while he was writing them, from conception to completion, and thus I feel a special relationship to them.  I still remember the look of excitement on his face when he was writing The Fires of Jubilee and visited me at my home in Harlem, after he had just retraced the footsteps that the brilliant mystic slave rebel Nat Turner took during his bloody rebellion in Southampton County Virginia in 1831. It was as if he had transported himself back to that time and place and witnessed the event.  I was especially moved by his narration because Nat and I are kindred spirits.

I shared his wonder as he reveals how Abraham Lincoln metamorphosed from a cautious Free Soiler, perfectly willing to let the southerners keep their black bondsman if it would preserve the Union, ambivalent about the equality of black folk and whether they could function as free citizens in American society, with a railroad lawyers respect for the property rights of southern slaveholders, a concern he never really abandoned, to a committed abolitionist willing to wage the bloodiest most destructive war the world had yet seen and abolish slavery – despite military setbacks, the advice of some cabinet members, and widespread virulent opposition from racist white northerners – because he became convinced it was God’s punishment of America for the sin of slavery. And “the judgements of the Lord are true and righteous altogether,”  Lincoln proclaimed in his second Inaugural Address.

As Steve has pointed out repeatedly in response to those who dismiss John Brown – the subject of the first volume of his Freedom Quartet, “To Purge This Land With Blood”  – as a crazed religious fanatic because he believed that God had chosen him for the mission of liberating the slaves and purge America of its evils with the blood of slaveholders: There was no difference in Brown’s religious passions and convictions and those of Abe Lincoln’s…or those of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.  They all fervently believed that an almighty God was orchestrating their fate.  Yet nobody ever characterized Lincoln and Lee as “religious fanatics.”

I was fascinated by the way Steve reconstructed Martin Luther King’s dangerous Civil Rights campaign in St. Augustine Florida, not the least of which because of the things he revealed to me about my hometown.  I left during the summer of 1960, just after the Black southern Student Sit-In Movement began, which I had participated in as a Freshman at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, but it had not yet reached St. Augustine, although those of us who had gone off to college had all been active in that nascent struggle, and my boyhood friend Hank Thomas would become an iconic figure in the southern struggle, when his image appeared on the front pages of Newspapers around the world walking out of a flaming bus into the crazed white mob that had firebombed  the “Freedom Riders” in Anniston Alabama.

By the time Dr. King came to St. Augustine I had been gone for several years and a lot had changed.  For one thing, race relations had become more violent.  Hence when I read Steve’s meticulous reconstructions of the night marches down to the old slave market, led by Dr. King, rendered with a novelistic eye for detail, I sat breathlessly on the edge of my chair.  I knew the route well, and there were abundant darkened nooks and crannies from which a crazed murder minded gunman from the racist Ancient City Gun Club might fire on the procession.  I was astonished at the heroism of my neighbors, ordinary people doing extraordinary things in pursuit of their freedom. And Steve’s narrative captured the dramatic ambience of the moment so well, as they resolutely walked in the shadow of death, inspired by the soul stirring preachments of Dr. King, that when I meet them on trips to the Ancient City, America’s oldest, I feel like genuflecting before their feet.

Professor Stephen Oates sought to give voice to the grievances of the voiceless in American civilization, and he chose to achieve his objective by putting their most impassioned and able advocates on center stage and focusing the limelight on them. If, as the Bard of Avon declared: “All the world is a stage and we are but players upon it,” the dramatis personae in the epic tales Steve chose to tell were John Brown, Nat Turner, Abe Lincoln and Martin Luther King.  With the skill of a Saville Row tailor, he stitched together the various details of their lives, vices and virtues, yielded by his prodigious research, into a seamless narrative that allows us to see the world as they saw it in real time.  And even feel what they felt.

The power of his narratives is such that, even one whose saved senior daughter has labeled an “unchurched heathen,” who has been an avowed atheist since I was 13, convinced by the racist caste system under which I grew up in Florida, that no just God could possibly be presiding over such an unjust world, can yet feel the fire in the spirit of their religious convictions. It is an Amazing Grace that makes my spirit dance! A feat that no dispassionate, value free,  research technician could achieve. These moving texts are the conjurations of an emotionally engaged intellectual with a poet in his soul. Without lapsing into “special pleading” nor descending into propaganda, meticulously interrogating the voluminous records available to the professional historian, the Freedom Quartet transcends conventional scholarship and rises to the level of some rarified intellectual alchemy. They are a priceless benefaction to this nation. Let his trumpet sound loudly! For if widely enough heard, it might awaken the better angels of our nature that Abraham Lincoln believed could save the soul of our republic.


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Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

September,  2022