Imagining Tulsa

How must they have felt I ask. I write historical fiction primarily from an urge to re-tell the past, to rehabilitate the skimpy, fractured, fragmented and often hostile narratives of the people of The Americas, the so-called New World. I believe that much of the national narrative of The United States is based on limited facts, racially motivated lies and the visceral belief that all people are NOT created equally. Sometimes it feels like I have a score to settle, an injury to repair. I think I must be a caretaker of imagination so that our race of people are not unimagined and thus disappear from the earth. I feel I need to be like Scheherazade. I think I survive daily because I’m able to continue to tell stories of myself, of ourselves. 

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Hundreds of bodies are thought to have been shoved into mass graves, dumped in the Arkansas River or loaded onto trains, victims of The Tulsa Race Massacre of May – June, 1921. 

As recently as February, 2020, The city of Tulsa announced plans to conduct a limited excavation of the site of a possible mass grave containing bodies of African Americans.

Pearl Miller, my maternal grandmother always spoke of Tulsa, Oklahoma with delight, in glowing terms. She’d been there as a child, part of a migration of African Americans leaving the south. Throughout her life she kept a child’s awe and admiration for it. She didn’t mention the massacre of 1921 which for most of the twentieth century has been referred to as the Tulsa Race Riot. 

A massacre is defined as an indiscriminate and brutal slaughter of people. A riot is a violent disturbance of the peace by a crowd.

I believe the events of June, 1921 would best be defined as a massacre. 

May 31, 1921

“During the night and day of the riot, deputized whites killed more than 300 African Americans. They looted and burned to the ground 40 square blocks of 1,265 African American homes, including hospitals, schools, and churches, and destroyed 150 businesses. White deputies and members of the National Guard arrested and detained 6,000 black Tulsans who were released only upon being vouched for by a white employer or other white citizen. Nine thousand African Americans were left homeless and lived in tents well into the winter of 1921.”

From “Burning Tulsa: The Legacy of Black Dispossession,” Linda Christensen

More on The Legacy of Black Dispossession

 Voices of those who survived

I could see planes circling in mid-air. They grew in number and hummed, darted and dipped low. I could hear something like hail falling upon the top of my office building. Down East Archer, I saw the old Mid-Way hotel on fire, burning from its top, and then another and another and another building began to burn from their top,” wrote Buck Colbert Franklin (1879-1960). 

The Oklahoma lawyer, father of famed African-American historian John Hope Franklin(1915-2009), described the attack by hundreds of whites on the thriving black neighborhood known as Greenwood in the booming oil town. “Lurid flames roared and belched and licked their forked tongues into the air. Smoke ascended the sky in thick, black volumes and amid it all, the planes—now a dozen or more in number—still hummed and darted here and there with the agility of natural birds of the air.”

Franklin writes that he left his law office, locked the door, and descended to the foot of the steps. continue at Smithsonian Magazine May 2016

Pearl Miller Higgins

Pearl Miller Higgins

My grandmother didn’t share any specific stories. She just spoke of the town admiringly. I reach back and scratch around in my memory and I have no recollection that she spoke of the massacre or of any trouble. But we always had the sense that there had been, that there could be, that there was racial trouble.

Even if nothing dire or transformational happens in a place, it changes over time. I learned this the first time I’d gone away from my hometown, Washington, D.C., and returned to find it not the same – block after block was not the same. At first I took it personally. The town had refused to remain like the photo in my brain, the snapshot I’d carried away vowing always to remember it just so. One aspect of the imaginative work I like to do is archival. I preserve a snapshot of words about the days based on first-hand reports if I can find them and pictures I build from interior interrogation. What must they have been thinking, smelling, feeling?  So  for the story surrounding the events following the Tulsa Massacre of 1921, I weave the known experience of my grandmother with what my text needs. The two are never the same. I don’t write auto fiction or family memoir. 

Over the years, I’ve maintained an interest in the events of this little-known racial genocide. As we approach the one hundredth anniversary of the massacre, I’m imagining those events and juxtaposing fictional accounts with the so-called official historical record. How do I plumb my own feelings of connection to the events to mine them for my story and my characters?

And now, Trump has callously decided to launch his reelection campaign in Tulsa on Juneteenth. He is making his hostility to the lives and feelings of Black People very plain.

I’ve reflected on the imaginary Tulsa, Oklahoma of my debut novel,  River, Cross My Heart. I realize that I wanted to invest my depiction of the town in the same ways that my grandmother did. It was a place of pride, of childlike wonder. I wanted to attach to that feeling of magic and security in a place that had a large, successful African-American population. This is the image that stayed in my grandmother’s mind and is the depiction that has passed to me. I developed the character of Pearl – which is my maternal grandmother’s name – as a vessel to explore the feelings my grandmother must have experienced in the Black incorporated towns in Oklahoma. 

Breena Clarke reads an excerpt of River, Cross My Heart that describes Tulsa

Experience the new audiobook version with narration by Karen Chilton, produced by Recorded Books.

Explore Breena Clarke’s books at http://www.BreenaClarke.com

Some source books on Tulsa massacre of 1921:

Oklahoma Commission to study the Tulsa Race Riot Report

Black History in Oklahoma-a resource book, published by Oklahoma City Public Schools

Black Wall Street by Hannibal Johnson

Death in a Promised Land:The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, by Scott Ellsworth

The Burning: Massacre, Destruction, and the TulsaRace Riot of 1921 by Tim Madigan,

Reconstructing the Dreamland by Alfred Brophy, Oxford University Press

WAKE UP, EVERYBODY! IT’S 2020

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Habari Gani?

The final principle of Kwanzaa is Imani (faith) to believe in our people, parents, teachers, and leaders. It’s a simple principle, the easiest . . . most dangerous. Eyes wide open! Don’t put faith in celebrities. Don’t put power in the hands of charlatans.

Disavow the anti-semite, the racist, the misogynist. Believe, Have Faith, Imani  – in a better future, a better world, a more equitable world.

Wake Up Everybody!

Beginnings: LeBron James

 

free-vector-kwanzaa-icon_101867_Kwanzaa_Icon        MLK

Let’s ruminate on the plausible (?) utopia  Martin Luther King delineated so specifically in a speech that is instantly google-able. In anticipation of the official holiday commemorating MLK, here is a well-known portion:

“I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

———– Dr. Martin Luther King

for the   entire text of the speech   

IS THIS DREAM STILL POSSIBLE?

for more about Breena Clarke’s booksBreena Clarke.com

River, Cross My Heart, an Oprah book club selection and a classic of African American fiction is now available for your e-reader. River, Cross My Heart, kindle edition

“The acclaimed bestseller–a selection of Oprah’s Book Club–that brings vividly to life the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, DC, circa 1925, a community reeling from a young girl’s tragic death.”  Amazon.com

 

 

Creative Community

Kwanza     Habari Gani?

Kuumba.  Creativity — to make the community more beautiful and beneficial for the future, is observed on the sixth night of Kwanzaa. Let’s celebrate creative work in the arts.  Founded in 2013, by Cheryl Clarke, Breena Clarke, and Barbara Balliet, the Hobart Festival of Women Writers produced its seventh, consecutive weekend of programming in 2019 dedicated to celebrating the work of literary women. The Festival takes place in the small village of Hobart, New York, home of six independent bookstores and designated as The Reading Capital of New York State.

more information at Hobart Book Village

River, Cross My Heart, an Oprah book club selection and a classic of African American fiction, is now available for your e-reader.

“The acclaimed bestseller–a selection of Oprah’s Book Club–that brings vividly to life the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, DC, circa 1925, a community reeling from a young girl’s tragic death.”  Amazon.com

more information at BreenaClarke.com

The Subject is Sugar

I’m returning to the subject of Sugar, as in Sugar Diabetes, as in Diabetes.

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Habari Gani?

The Fifth night of Kwanzaa is Nia, purpose, to build and develop goals to benefit the people of the community. I’m adopting the goal of disseminating information about one of the most dangerous opponents that POC confront: Diabetes.

How does Food Access affect Diabetes Rates in Communities of Color?

“The American Diabetes Association recently reported that the average diabetic incurs about $9,601 in diabetes-related medical expenses per year. Insulin prices have skyrocketed. According to CBS News, the cost of insulin from two manufacturers rose almost 8 percent last year, to more than $275, and some patients’ costs have jumped from $300 to almost $1,000 in the last year.” 

Many people with diabetes forgo their medicines because they cannot afford to take them.  U.S. News and consider this article,

Food Access and Diabetes Rates in Communities of Color: Connecting the Dots

by Lindsey Haynes-Maslow at Union of Concerned Scientists.org   READ THIS:

“Race and income are highly correlated with healthy food access—and according to our new study—diabetes rates.” Connecting The Dots 

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Personal Apple Cobblers

A low sugar dessert

Peel and slice 5-6 apples of whatever kind you like.  Choose a crisp, sweet type like Honey Crisp or Gala or Fuji or Empire 

The juice of one lemon – approximately 1/4 cup

3/4 cup of Truvia baking blend

2 tablespoonfuls of cornstarch 

2 tablespoons of butter

1 frozen pie crust defrosted. I suggest the rolled kind that can be rolled thinner and flatter.  

6-8 small ramekins.   Much depends on how large your apples are. I suggest using medium sized ones. Fruit will “cook down” and may bubble over. Both of these things are tasty. 

Combine apple slices, lemon juice, sweetener, and cornstarch.  Roll out the softened pie crust. Cut out large circles with a biscuit cutter.  Cut strips of remaining dough into pieces.  Put filling in ramekins to half mark. Put dough in filling. Add more fruit.  Cut one tablespoon of butter into four pieces. Dot the top of each pie with butter. Cover the tops of each with crust rounds and fill in the sides with remaining dough pieces.   Brush the crusts with a tablespoon of melted butter. Bake at 350 for about 40 minutes until crust is lightly browned and filling is bubbling.  

These are nicely portioned for a guilt-free dessert. Less chance that you’ll over-indulge. 

Dossie Smoot

THE PEOPLE CATCHER: MR. WOOLFOLK’S BOUNTY

An original story by Breena Clarke published in Kweli, an online literary journal featuring diverse voices.

The People Catcher   

for more information on Breena Clarke’s books: www.BreenaClarke.com

River, Cross My Heart, an Oprah book club selection and a classic of African American fiction, is now available for your e-reader.

“The acclaimed bestseller–a selection of Oprah’s Book Club–that brings vividly to life the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, DC, circa 1925, a community reeling from a young girl’s tragic death.”  Amazon.com

 

 

Dreams Crushed

Habari Gani?

The fourth night of Kwanzaa is Ujamaa, cooperative economics. Let’s take the opportunity to recognize the struggles of Black Entrepreneurs and support their businesses, support all local businesses when possible.

In 1890, a group of migrants fleeing the hostile South settled an all-black town called Langston, 80 miles west of Tulsa. Oklahoma wasn’t yet a state, and its racial dynamics weren’t set in stone. The architect of the settlement, Edwin McCabe, had a vision of Oklahoma as the black promised land. He sent recruiters to the South, preaching racial pride and self-sufficiency. At least 29 black separatist towns were established in Oklahoma during the late 19th century. for more information about the Tulsa Massacre

Following World War I, Tulsa, Oklahoma boasted one of the most affluent African American communities in the country, known as the Greenwood District. This thriving business district and surrounding residential area were referred to as “Black Wall Street.” In 1921, a series of events nearly destroyed the entire Greenwood area.

In the early morning hours of June 1, 1921, Black Tulsa was looted and burned by white rioters. Individuals used private planes to deliver turpentine bombs onto homes in Tulsa’s black neighborhood. The governor declared martial law, and National Guard troops arrived in Tulsa. Guardsmen assisted firefighters in putting out fires, took imprisoned blacks out of the hands of vigilantes, and imprisoned all black Tulsans not already interned. Over 6,000 people were held at the Convention Hall and the Fairgrounds, some for as long as eight days.

Twenty-four hours after the violence erupted, it ceased. In the wake of the violence, 35 city blocks lay in charred ruins, over 800 people were treated for injuries, and contemporary reports of deaths began at 36. In 2001, the Tulsa Race Riot Commission released a report indicating that historians now believe close to 300 people died in the riot. A long lost manuscript by Oklahoma lawyer, B.C. Franklin, father of famed African-American historian John Hope Franklin (1915-2009), describes the attack by hundreds of whites on the Greenwood neighborhood. It is a handwritten, breathtaking account of the events. Tulsa Massacre – Smithsonian Magazine 

 visit the website of the Tulsa Historical Society for more information: Tulsa Historical Societyfor the full story, check out this book:

To purchase the books by Breena Clarke

River, Cross My Heartan Oprah book club selection and a classic of African American fiction is now available for your e-reader.

“The acclaimed bestseller–a selection of Oprah’s Book Club–that brings vividly to life the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, DC, circa 1925, a community reeling from a young girl’s tragic death.” Amazon.com

River, Cross My Heart, kindle edition

Find a local bookstore on Indiebound.org

Discover books by African American authors at African American Literature Book Club

Join a book club at  Well Read Black Girl

visit the Hobart Book Village in person or online

more information at BreenaClarke.com

 

Oppression on My Table Redux

My Sugar Crush diet depends in large measure on fresh fruits and vegetables. I’ve got to govern my fruits though, choosing to eat the fruit and eschew the juice. So, my eyes light up at the array at the local supermarket or the corner fruit stand. But because I’m pondering the fruit I eat,  I wonder at the nearly invisible chain of custody of my apple or banana or orange. I’m no agricultural xenophobe. I don’t want to ban fruit or vegetables from anywhere. But I recognize the costs some people pay to get these scrubbed and stunning fruits to my table.  Organic? Non-organic? Local? Schmocal? Global?

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Habari Gani?

Ujima. Collective work and economic responsibility.  Let’s take this opportunity on the third night of Kwanzaa to reflect on the world’s millions of agricultural workers who labor in oppressive conditions on factory farms and endure the effects of virulent pesticides to provide the fruits and veggies for our tables . . . and unfortunately, in our trash cans.

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“One toxic insecticide widely used in banana production is chlorpyrifos, a potent neurotoxicant member of the organophosphate insecticide family. Chlorpyrifos can harm workers, communities and the environment but is not generally detected on peeled bananas. Children are especially sensitive to chlorpyrifos toxicity. The chemical can disrupt brain development and impair cognitive functions, measured by intelligence tests, when the child is exposed during pregnancy and early childhood (Rauh 2011). Costa Rican researchers found that children living near banana fields where pesticides were used had much higher concentrations of chlorpyrifos in their bodies than children living where only 12 percent of farmers reported using pesticides.” —–Sonya Lunder, EWG.org

They’re nature’s portable snack. You can take them up a mountain, to the beach, on thew subway or bus without breaking your diet. But do you need to buy only organic bananas?  Why buy organic bananas?

for more on bananas and pesticides, Bananas are pesticide intensive

for more on worker safety:

U.N launches Banana Worker Safety handbook

Celebrate Kwanzaa by trying to find a way to eat responsibly and not waste. Check out a diabetes-friendly recipe for banana bread to rescue overripe fruit. You’ll have to buy a bunch and patiently await the ripening because they MUST be really ripe for this recipe.

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Use 1&1/2 cups of whole wheat flour with 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour

Use an artificial sweetener blend like Truvia baking blend instead of sugar

Use 1/2 cup of canola oil for the butter

Add some chopped walnuts

  1. reheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease a 9×5 inch loaf pan.
  2. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, cream together canola oil and sugar. Stir in eggs and mashed bananas until well blended. Stir banana mixture into flour mixture; stir just to moisten. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan.
  3. Bake in preheated oven for 60 to 65 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf, comes out clean. Let bread cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack.

I LOVE BANANAS. I NEED BANANAS.

Warmth of Other Suns

The brilliantly comprehensive, Pulitzer-Prize winning book, “The Warmth Of Other Suns”: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration” by Isabel Wilkerson details the crushing experiences of southern agricultural workers in the 20th century.  After reading this book, I began to think that saying a prayer before eating is not a bad thing.

A prayer/a hymn for the picker and the picker’s children. A prayer for the oyster-shucker and the oyster-shuckers’ children, a prayer for the cane cutter and the cane cutters’ children. An orison for the banana worker and the banana worker’s children. A prayer for all those who harvest and box and pack our meals. All of us are comrades in global commerce.

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LISTEN HERE:

He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother, sung by Donny Hathaway

Kwanza     IMG_3709

for more on Breena Clarke’s books, go to www.BreenaClarke.com

River, Cross My Heart, an Oprah book club selection and a classic of African American fiction is now available for your e-reader.

“The acclaimed bestseller–a selection of Oprah’s Book Club–that brings vividly to life the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, DC, circa 1925, a community reeling from a young girl’s tragic death.”  Amazon.com

River, Cross My Heart, kindle edition

 

 

Curiosity Tales on Four O’Clock Flowers

Beautiful green bird  Link to Listen

Back Along The Octoraro

read by Breena Clarke

“Birds had already brought word. That was how she knew her beloved Papa was still alive though near his end. She was skilled in understanding the conversation of birds. She was accustomed to mimicking the talk of birds. She knew their cheer, their come-hither calls, their fear, their caviling, their dirges, their territorial songs. They recognized her gifts and, though they did not engage with her in direct conversation most times, spoke in her presence. They debated, they gossiped, they testified to facts and events around her.” from “Back Along The Octoraro” by Breena Clarke

 

for more about Breena Clarke books:BreenaClarke.com 

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Reading for February

Reader on the shelf

Stand The Storm, Breena Clarke’s searing historical novel, set in 19th century Washington, D.C. is available in a special

African-American historical fiction promotion from

Hachette Book Group.

 STAND THE STORM special promotion

Even though Sewing Annie Coats and her son, Gabriel, have managed to buy their freedom, their lives are still marked by constant struggle and sacrifice. Washington’s Georgetown neighborhood, where the Coatses operate a tailor’s shop and laundry, is supposed to be a “promised land” for former slaves but is effectively a frontier town, gritty and dangerous, with no laws protecting black people.

This is a novel about identity, about the power of talent and about freedom and constriction in life. Clarke writes in a deceptively simple and subtle style, with an almost perfect sense of period and history. Clearly, there were many people like the Coats family — determined to be free to carve their own piece of the American dream. We all know stories of the great black exceptions, but Breena Clarke writes about ordinary people who happen to be exceptional.”

— Gail Buckley, The Washingon Post Book World

Listen as Breena Clarke reads a searing excerpt of  STAND THE STORM

 

The complete, unabridged audiobook version of STAND THE STORM is available on Audible.com at Stand The Storm audiobook

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Written By: Breena Clarke

Narrated By: Richard Allen

Publisher: Tantor Media

Date: October 2008

Duration: 10 hours 28 minutes

 

 

for more information about Breena Clarke’s books, go to www.BreenaClarke.com 

 

 

Save the Postal Service

It seems counterintuitive that, in a time of the global pandemic, there are few things on which we all can agree. Open the economy or keep it closed? Wear a mask or refused to. However, there is one galvanizing issue for people in the United States’ rural communities, urban, suburban, exurban, coastal, middle American towns, territories, islands, and isthmuses. We all need the United States Postal Service. And the USPS is under attack by the Trump administration for fear that we may finally be able to have full participation at the voting booth via mail in ballots.

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The USPS traces its roots to 1775 during the Second Continental Congress when Benjamin Franklin was appointed the first postmaster general. National postal service with universal delivery was Franklin’s brainchild. So, since 1775, somebody has been delivering mail throughout all of our states.

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In the European theater in World War II, General Patton bemoaned his troops’ low morale and pressed to have the distribution of soldiers’ mail prioritized as a boost to them. Contact through letters and packages was seen as vital as munitions to keeping the soldiers ready and able for combat. Under the leadership of Oveta Culp Hobby and at the urging of Black leaders, such as Mary Macleod Bethune, African American women who had enlisted in The Women’s Army Corps, were assigned to the 6888th Postal Directory Battalion. The WAC, though segregated as the rest of the armed services, allowed African American women to enlist. The recruits quickly and efficiently relieved the logjam in warehouses in Birmingham, England, and created a smooth system for the distribution of mail to the European Theater’s troops. General George Patton credited the Postal Battalion for providing this vital boost to troop morale.

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Of course, we’ve all got a “postal clerk from hell” story. But it was a clerk in the legendary Radio City Station, the New York post office through which legions of small businesses ship their goods, who wished me luck when I told her I was mailing out my debut novel. I’ve always thought it improved the manuscript’s chances.

There are no elves in our service industries. There are people with hands, eyes – even in automated industries. Notably, this is true in the USPS. There are letter carriers and clerks, recognizable individuals we see nearly every day. In most communities, they are the people next door or just down the road; by and large, they are local folks. Working for the post office has been a traditional entry into the working middle class for women, vets, and racial and ethnic minorities. Now that you’re at home, perhaps you’ve seen more of your letter carrier. An essential worker, she has been wearing gloves and a mask while making her rounds. The letter carrier on my street has been wearing gloves since the start of the flu season. She looks like a woman who has kids at home. Thanks to her, I’m still receiving flower catalogs, junk circulars, notes, bills, magazines, books, pet supplies, prescriptions, and anything else I’ve ordered, including my voter registration and census forms.

What does the letter carrier look like in your community? I’ll bet it’s someone you’d trust to come roaring up to your front door and bang on it to alert you to the smoke coming out the side of your house. Decades ago, a letter carrier in the neighborhood I grew up in, the kind of community that African American letter carriers and government workers lived in, still a time of residential segregation, broke a window and rushed into a burning house to save two children while on his morning rounds. My mother wrote to his supervisor at the Post Office and to The Washington Post to commend his courage. They gave him a citation, my mother received a letter of thanks from the USPS, and The Washington Post published her letter.

In a lot of rural or suburban towns, the center is reckoned by where the post office is located. I’m willing to bet that, if there were no longer a post office, no longer daily mail delivery, many a town would shrink and fade away. Demanding that Congress and the Executive Branch of our government rescue the United States Postal Service could be THE galvanizing issue of our modern democracy. Demanding the right to cast our votes by mail in the upcoming election could be a banner we can all raise. Are we going to let our neighbors down? East Coast or West, North or South and in our territories, are we going to let partisan politics destroy the one common denominator of communications that we have – a system that will take a letter from Schenectady to Miami for less than half a dollar, a reliable network for the distribution of everything. At a time when taxpayers are bailing out airlines and banks (again), and hotels, is there no groundswell of support for the USPS?

General George Patton realized that he needed reliable postal distribution to keep his troops ready and able for combat. Simply put, our country needs a secure delivery of mail, a service that cuts across class and racial lines. We need to maintain this agency in its vital work as a linchpin of our nation’s communications. Postal workers are foot soldiers in this pandemic. They are essential to keeping us connected to services. Whether your grandma lives in Hackensack, Jersey City, Paterson, Newark, Toms River, The Bronx, Bensonhurst, Poughkeepsie, Stamford, Canton, Albany or Los Angeles – whether rural, urban, suburban or whatever, you need the United States Postal Service. And the United States Postal Service needs to be funded in this time of crisis. Now more than ever, let’s unite on this issue. Let’s all say, “The USPS is not a joke!” Urge your representatives to support the postal service.

Don’t let Donald Trump’s fear of voting by mail and his basic vindictiveness take away this vital lifeline.

Explore Breena Clarke’s books at Breena Clarke.com

 

Self-Determination

Habari Gani?  Kujichagulia (self-determination) to be responsible for the community and to speak for oneself.

Reader on the shelf

Self-determination is, like food, water, and shelter, a human right. Tragically, many of our most vulnerable young people, especially young girls are unable to determine the course of their lives because they are subjected to sexual exploitation by gangs of predators who traffic them, i.e. sell them to others as sexual slaves.  The problem is thought to be particularly acute at this time of year as the Super Bowl approaches, but statistics on trafficking do not support a jump in activities. Human trafficking is a serious, year-round industry. January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month, which is why the issue is getting more attention now than at other times of the year. And, with the Super Bowl drawing large crowds to the host city, outreach groups and activists say they see an opportunity for public awareness initiatives.

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Cyntoia Brown-Long

Cyntoia Brown-Long, author, speaker and advocate for criminal-justice reform and victims of trafficking, writes in The Washington Post about her own experiences of trafficking and about the case of a young woman charged in the murder of the man who held her captive and sold her to other men for sex.

I was jailed for my trafficker’s death.

Brown-Long speaks about the justice system’s blindness to the peculiar, particular horror of sexual slavery. She speaks about the case of teen, Chrystal Kizer, who faces life in prison for killing her enslaver.

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Chrystul Kizer shot and killed the pedophile who abused and imprisoned her and is charged with his murder

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Let’s celebrate Kwanzaa by being determined to recognize the needs of our communities and by being willing to stand for justice and dignity and against racism and sexual exploitation.  For more information about Kwanzaa, go toWhat is Kwanzaa

more information about Breena Clarke’s books at www.BreenaClarke.com

River, Cross My Heart, an Oprah book club selection and a classic of African American fiction is now available for your e-reader.

“The acclaimed bestseller–a selection of Oprah’s Book Club–that brings vividly to life the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, DC, circa 1925, a community reeling from a young girl’s tragic death.”  Amazon.com

River, Cross My Heart, kindle edition

 

 

Kwanzaa 2019

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Kwanzaa greeting: Habari Gani?

Today’s response: UMOJA, Unity.

I enjoy the opportunity to celebrate Kwanzaa, a harvest festival created in 1966 by Dr. Maulauna Ron Karenga to acknowledge African culture in the Americas, not as an angry alternative to Christmas, but as an opportunity to reflect before the incoming New Year. The frenzy of Christmas commerce has made celebrating that holiday a very noisy, frenetic tug of emotions about being there and getting there and wishing to be or get or re-get. If you’re ready to sweep up the wrapping paper and bring out the kinara, use these seven days of Kwanzaa as days for self-reflection and community.

Celebrate Kwanzaa 2019 –  December 26 – January 1

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There are seven principles of Kwanzaa called Nguzo Saba and each day is dedicated to one of these principles:

Umoja (unity) to maintain unity in the family and community

Kujichagulia (self-determination) to…

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Angels Make Their Hope Here

Angels Make Their Hope Here

“A tender historical novel” (Oprah Magazine)

 On Sunday 10/27/19 for ONE DAY ONLY Amazon will be promoting ANGELS MAKE THEIR HOPE HERE in a “Historical Fiction” GoldBox. The ebook edition of the novel will be available all that day at a special low price.

Link here to purchase as part of this special promotion:

AMAZON

B&N

KOBO

 ANGELS MAKE THEIR HOPE HERE is set in an imagined community in a mountainous area roughly north and west of Paterson, New Jersey in the 19th century. Russell’s Knob is a hidden, secretive place settled by people who might be described today as bi-racial or tri-racial. The inhabitants describe themselves as runaways and stay-aways. They are people who reject the limiting definitions of racial identity and character of 19th century, mid-Atlantic, North America and live outside of the “white” towns. They are spoken of derisively as “amalgamators” and “race mixers” though their true history is as complex as is the history of settlement in the region.

Dossie Smoot

Mrs. Dossie Smoot

Dossie, a young girl on the cusp of puberty is conducted on the Underground Railroad from an island plantation in southern Maryland in hopes of finding freedom with the help of the bold, committed individuals who lead escapees through the region toward the free states and the Canada border. Duncan Smoot, one of Russell’s Knob’s bold, charismatic, entrepreneurial citizens, a member of a distinguished founding family, is a conductor on the Underground Railroad. It falls to him to rescue the young wayfarer when another conductor is arrested and tortured. He brings Dossie to Russell’s Knob—to his home—and she comes to believe that she has reached the promised land, a heaven.

READ MORE

With the same storytelling brio that distinguished the acclaimed novels River, Cross My Heart and Stand the Storm, Breena Clarke weaves the richly dramatic story of one woman’s triumph in the crucible of history in Angels Make Their Hope Here.

Breena Professional Photo    Angels on shelf

Celebrate the 20th anniversary of the publication of Breena Clarke’s debut novel, River, Cross My Heart with a new eBook Edition

visit Breena Clarke‘s author website at www.BreenaClarke.com. 

 

River, Cross My Heart Celebrates 20 years

River, Cross My Heart, the Oprah Book Club selection and debut novel by Breena Clarke celebrates twenty years since its publication. It’s now available in River, Cross My Heart Kindle edition.

River, Cross My Heart

“A genuine masterpiece … full of grace and beauty and profound insights … RIVER, CROSS MY HEART bears traces of Eudora Welty’s charm and Toni Morrison’s passion.” — The Baltimore Sun

Five-year-old Clara Bynum is dead, drowned in the Potomac River in the shadow of a seemingly haunted rock outcropping known locally as the Three Sisters. River, Cross My Heart weighs the effect of Clara’s absence on the people she has left behind: her parents, Alice and Willie Bynum, torn between the old world of their rural North Carolina home and the new world of the city, to which they have moved in search of a better life for themselves and their children; the friends and relatives of the Bynum family in the Georgetown neighborhood they now call home; and, most especially, Clara’s sister, ten-year-old Johnnie Mae, who must come to terms with the powerful and confused emotions stirred by her sister’s death as she struggles to decide what kind of woman she will become.

Legends abound that the Potomac River is a widowmaker, a childtaker, and a woman-swallower. According to the most famous tale, the river has already swallowed three sisters–three Catholic nuns. Yet it did not swallow them, only drowned them and belched them back up in the form of three small rock islands. They lie halfway between one shore and the other, each with a wimple made of seabirds’ wings.

The Three Sisters is a landmark. When you say the Three Sisters, people know you’re going to tell about something that happened on the river to cause grief. And it isn’t really clear whether it’s the boulders or the river at that spot that causes the grief. Nobody in his right mind goes swimming near the Three Sisters. The river has hands for sure at this spot. Maybe even the three nuns themselves, beneath the water’s surface, are grabbing ankles to pull down some company.

–From River, Cross My Heart

Oprah and Breena in 1999

Being chosen for the Oprah Book Club and appearing on the Oprah show in November 1999 was a delight. The book club continues to bring “River, Cross My Heart.” to new readers. For the complete list of all of the Oprah Book Club selections, go to  BookRiot 

 

I’ll be reflecting on my work and celebrating River, Cross My Heart’s 20th anniversary at

Crossing Thresholds: 42nd Annual ODU Literary Festival, October 6-10

For more information, go to

Old Dominion University Lit Fest.

 

My Neighbor

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By Breena Clarke

Every morning he walked by my house as I came out with my appealing and peaceable dog. Every morning he pushed his toddler past us. He never looked at me. I was open-faced, accessible, tried to catch his eye. He looked away. I was pissed. I began to shout, “Good morning.” He could not avoid responding. He did try. Next time I shouted, “Good morning,” he mumbled a pleasantry. He looked for a second. Generally, he tried to avoid me. Later with more children and a dog, he caught me unawares coming out of my house. He shouted, “Good morning.”

           
Breena Clarke is the author of three novels, Angels Make Their Hope Here,River, Cross My Heart, an October 1999 Oprah Book Club selection, and Stand The Storm. She is a founder and co-organizer of the Hobart Book Village Festival of Women Writers and…

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How Must They Have Felt?

How must they have felt I ask. I write historical fiction primarily from an urge to re-tell the past, rehabilitate the skimpy, fractured, fragmented narratives of the people of The Americas, the so-called New World. I believe that much of the national narrative of The United States is based on limited facts, racially motivated lies and the visceral belief that all people are NOT created equally. .Sometimes it feels like I have a score to settle, an injury to repair. I think I must be a caretaker of imagination so that our race of people are not unimagined and thus disappear from the earth. I feel I need to be  like Scheherazade. I think I survive daily because I’m able to continue to tell stories of myself, of ourselves. 

 – Breena Clarke

Angels Make Their Hope Here         River, Cross My Heart           Stand The Storm

READ excerpts of Breena Clarke’s Novels

Stand The Storm

Angels Make Their Hope Here

River, Cross My Heart

What techniques can the fiction writer employ to create voices of the past?

They Must Have Felt is an idea that I use I my writing. I try to find a way to express what my historical characters felt and how they acted and reacted in their day to day lives. This is often a huge job because little is known about the individuals I’m most interested in. I have written about the mid-nineteenth century struggle to end chattel slavery in this country in two novels, STAND THE STORM and ANGELS MAKE THEIR HOPE HERE. The many diaries of slave owners, traders and ordinary white people of the era form the basis of much available research of this period. The very important work of imagination has to fill in the gaps. A novelist must know what thoughts and feelings all of their characters have. The mind of the character is precisely where a fiction writer wants to be. And this is precisely why we are so sketchy about the lives of African peoples in this era.  Much of historical research does not include their voices.

Thinking about the 19th century, the period in which the enslavement of African people was legal in this country is a hard moment to inhabit.

Dossie Smoot

I begin by posing the questions. How did they feel?  How did they react? I nourish myself  on details about the daily life of my characters. For this writing tool to be successful, I begin by imagining how a human being lives in the moments I’ve constructed because a novel is a composition of moments just as a play is a composition of beats, small actions.

I’m heading to Washington, D.C. to discuss historical fiction, D.C. Emancipation and to read from my novels set in the city. This event is presented by INKPENClarke and Scott

for more information, go to Breena Clarke’s Books

Najeeb Walid Harb 1974 – 1989

Baby Najeeb

Najeeb Walid Harb 1974 – 1989

He was beloved of his parents, Breena Clarke and Walid Najeeb Harb. He was beloved of his stepfather, Helmar Augustus Cooper. He was beloved of his aunts, Cheryl Clarke and Victoria Clarke Wood.

Najeeb & Mr. Peanut

I still have the hat worn on this day

Najeeb and Breena

I am happiest here

These are my favorite pictures of the days that I remember fondly. These are days that I can recall in great sensory detail. These photographs are precious tokens for recollection.

Najeeb W. Harb

one of a series of headshots

Najeeb with football

at Hershey Park, Pa. with Popsi and Mother wearing a Hershey kiss hat and a silk shirt from Syria

Najeeb holidng bag

on the street near Cheryl’s apartment in NYC

 

 

Taming The Sweet Tooth

These Avocado Peanut Butter Brownies are low, low sugar, high fiber and oh, so delicious.

Don’t deny your sweet tooth, hoodwink it!

Few of us can remain healthy if we indulge in the abundant sweet temptations of Valentine’s Day. This recipe could become your favorite.

1 cup of natural, creamy peanut butter
1 12oz. bag of dark chocolate chips (baking chocolate)
1 cup of *Truvia baking blend
1 avocado, peeled, pitted, and mashed
1/2 cup of soy milk (for vegan) OR 1/2 cup of fat-free milk
1/2 cup of canola oil
1 cup of whole wheat flour
1 teas. baking powder
1 teas. of salt
Preheat oven to 350 (175 degrees C) Lubricate 9X13 inch baking pan with canola oil spray. Melt peanut butter,  chocolate chip, and Truvia together in a saucepan over low heat, stirring until mixture is melted together. Then cook together at medium to low heat until slight bubbling at the edges. Blend avocado, milk and canola oil until smooth. Stir avocado mixture into the chocolate until thoroughly combined. Whisk flour, baking powder and salt together in large bowl and add the chocolate avocado mixture. Stir until just blended. Pour batter into baking pan and cook for 20-25 mins, until beginning to crisp at the edges. Cool completely before cutting and serving.
* is made from the stevia plant and has a small amount of granulated sugar for baking.
Celebrate February Black History Month with the historical novels of Breena Clarke

For more information, go to www.BreenaClarke.com