“Summertime” – It’s Meaning

Too many women of every race sing the most well-known song from the opera “Porgy and Bess“,  “Summertime” with no understanding that George Gershwin wrote it for a BLACK WOMAN SLAVE holding a white child telling him/her that everything is gonna be alright cause ‘your daddy’s rich and your MAMA’S GOOD LOOKIN”, while she’s breast feeding this child and cannot even FEED her own chillun’ or her chillun’ have been sold to the plantation owner 100 miles away and she may never see them again.

It’s a bitter pill to swallow and there’s absolutely nothing to be done about it. What’s your opinion? And please don’t tell me to just let it go!!! It’s an abomination and I must express my disgust.

Watch this video.


I’ll bet most people don’t know this.  I didn’t.  I tried to research it to put on my Facebook page to enlighten people but could not find anything about why DuBose Heyward wrote the lyrics.  If you have a reference send it to me so I can disseminate it to our Conductors for them to circulate.  We are so ignorant of our history and that is done deliberately on the part of whites.  I remember reading the book, Black History, Lost, Stolen or Strayed. White folks know that without knowledge of our history, we are at a disadvantage.


In response to HB:

Dianne Reeves made a seething comment about this song in her rendition of it. I heard her sing it live in Montreux, Switzerland, in the 1990s. That’s when my mind was opened to the true meaning of the song.  In this video does it sound like she’s singing a lullabye? Certainly, her reference to Oshun, the Yoraba Orisha has NOTHING to do with Gershwin’s interpretation.

We have to make certain assumptions about the song “Summertime” written by George Gershwin for the Broadway play or opera “Porgy and Bess” with lyrics by DuBose Heyward. If it’s a lullabye sung by a black woman, during slavery time, or shortly thereafter, there is NO WAY she is singing about her own husband being RICH. She must be referring to a white child’s father. And, of course, “your Ma is good lookin'” written by a white man was not referring to a black woman because the standard for good looking women was, of course, a white woman.

Heyward’s inspiration for the lyrics was the southern folk spiritual-lullaby All My Trials, of which he had Clara sing a snippet in his playPorgy.[8][9] While in his own description, Gershwin did not use any previously composed spirituals in his opera, Summertime is often considered an adaptation of the Afro-American spiritual Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child, which ended the play version ofPorgy.[9][10][11] Alternatively, the song has been proposed as an amalgamation of that spiritual and the South-Russian Yiddish lullabyPipi-pipipee.[12] The Ukrainian-Canadian composer and singer Alexis Kochan has suggested that some part of Gershwin’s inspiration may have come from having heard the Ukrainian lullaby, Oi Khodyt Son Kolo Vikon (A Dream Passes By The Windows) at a New York City performance by Oleksander Koshetz’s Ukrainian National Chorus in 1929 (or 1926). [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Summertime_(song)]

Did you see this article about the opera?

It is my contention that other people cannot tell MY story. Likewise, this reporter, Dan Sax, said “its depiction of black life by…white men” was met with “African-American opposition” (p. 2)

I agree with you. I cringe when black women sing it without understanding the role. This particular version is not memorable. Maybe this is an issue you could take up from a point of view of history, and find a way to make it an area for discussion in the hopefully global atmosphere of your upcoming conference. You are an organization that deals with the history of women in the business..This is an extension of that history–and remember these other “races” singing this piece probably don’t even know that Gershwin left behind instructions that the role in the play must never be sung by anyone other than a black woman.  That may be a fragment of a fact–it could be that the entire cast has to be black–I’m not sure. In a workshop, that little detail you mention is a part of understanding what you should know in order to put the song ‘over’. I’m the wrong one to ask you to “let it go”. It’s part of the education process to discuss this with our younger sisters, and you do know two young black sisters brought “Porgy and Bess” back to Broadway just this past year, Susan Lori Parks and Dierdre Murray, playwright and musician,respectively. So the issue is timely.


To BHB:  Thanks for the words of enlightenment and encouragement. Truth is Light and it will set you FREE!


WENCH by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Wench by Dolen Perkins Valdez

This is the stuff we need to be looking at. The fact that black women serviced their master’s sexually and that white women tend to be in denial. . .

A tender spot in master-slave relations
By Lonnae O’Neal Parker

Dolen Perkins-Valdez was reading a biography of W.E.B. DuBois when she came across the small aside. It was piece of history she hadn’t known, and couldn’t stop thinking about. [Washington Post article]


Joan Cartwright says:

I’ve often wondered what a white woman thought, when she realized that her good Christian husband was sleeping with her African handmaiden and saw little, brown, though light-skinned babies, running around her garden.

When I asked this question of some of my friends, many of them said the white woman was probably happy that her husband was going to the slave woman to take the burden off of herself.

I just cannot agree with this, since the vows taken in a Christian marriage dictate faithfulness and monogamy.

Here is the best response I’ve gotten on this subject from my friend Dinizulu Gene Tinnie.

Dear Joan,

This is one of those subjects that was always treated as “delicate” as I was coming up and getting older, and I have often wondered why (Hey, the Truth is the Light and the Truth will make you free, right?). Who was being protected by all of this silence? As far as I cold tell, it was the white perpetrators and their descendants. Then I came to the place where I realized what kind of conundrum is embodied in these stories:

When I started making presentations about the Middle Passage, I came upon something of a dilemma.

Unlike others in this drama, we have always been fortified by the Truth, but that ends up being much more easily said than actually made real. I think of that whole tradition of silence among our people. Rosewood was kept silent for how long? Part of it was due to the desire of the very victims (survivors) of that massacre “not to teach hate” [or fear] to the younger generations. It is a curious mixture of shame (how could we have been so easily defeated, and why are we so unprotected?) and pride (we will not give the perpetrators of these acts any more attention or power by reminding the world of this, or acknowledging that we feel any pain.) I was almost 40 years old when I learned for the first time about the Tulsa massacre (by watching an old “Tony Brown’s Journal” that some students presented at Miami-Dade Community College — and I was the ONLY one in the audience, other than the student presenters themselves!) Those are incidents in history that have been successfully hidden by a strange collusion between both Blacks and Whites, for obviously different reasons and motives, but with the same net result.

The routine violation of enslaved women by their self-proclaimed owners, on the other hand, while it may not have left documented records of every instance, is absolutely common knowledge. (Many of us can point to our complexions as evidence enough of how prevalent this was.) And yet it remains “delicate” or “uncomfortable” to talk about, even in private, it seems. I vaguely remember reading a story by Angela Davis in which she talked about how her grandmother would show the grandchildren the scars on her body, and tell the story of how each one came about. But there was one that she would not discuss. If the children asked, she would evade the question by saying something about how evil people can possible be, or something to that effect. The sheer pain of some of these past occurrences makes them impossible for those who suffered them to retell.

This is understandable for those who were so much closer to the pain than we, who can only imagine, and therefore might go seeking after evidence and truth with more rash bravado than those whose knowledge and experience tell them that there is much, much more at stake than just the knowledge of certain incidents. Those who came before us (and provided us with the opportunities we now have) are the folks that did not have to ponder and read, and get e-mail messages with all kinds of arcane information about the kind of people who are running this world (what we call the “global financial elite,” for example); those folks lived the reality every day and knew what they were challenging, often in subtle and careful ways that might ensure our survival.

So the dilemma I come to is this. We are talking about the Middle Passage: We “know” what took place aboard the slave ships — tiny, desperate, death-ridden little wooden islands on a vast ocean with no witnesses, and no law but the captain’s word and the owners desire for profit. Rapes and violations of girls of middle-school age and younger were routine. Yet, do we, today, teach that to girls that age? What do we do to what Dr. King once referred to as the “little mental sky” of children growing up when we introduce this kind of subject into their innocent lives? On the other hand, should they not know that the same kind of people are in authority today, and their safety is not assured, just to be more prepared and self-protective? (When I got to Florida in the 1970s, there was a story of a white Florida Highway Patrolman in South Dade who routinely molested a young African American girl, until he was caught and tried. He was “sentenced” to regular psychological counseling, which he never bothered to attend, and even kept his job. I don’t even think the news coverage of the case, a few years after the original fact, had any real impact. What does that say to every Black girl? More recently, just a few years ago, a story emerged — way overdue — about the routine unpunished rapes of Native American women by white men, usually off the reservations where Tribal Police and courts have no authority, to the point where 2 out of 5 Native women have been or can expect to be sexually assaulted, with no expectation of justice for the perpetrators. That same article, by the way, concluded with the very sobering fact, almost reported as a throwaway line, that Native Americans [who once peopled this land from coast to coast in established nations] then represented less than 3% of the total of 300 million Americans. Where is the indictment, the outrage, the calling into account for this kind of blatant genocide, which continues!)

In all of the written documents and records that shed some light on the Middle Passage for us today, most of which come from European and Eurocentric sources, there is barely and rarely a mention of the sexual violations of African women — almost in inverse proportion, we might guess, to the actuality of the incidents. What mention there is might much more likely come from rare African sources — “slave narratives” — like that of Ottobah Cugoano of Ghana, whose account was published even earlier than the better known narrative of Olaudah Equiano. (And these accounts, then and now, have always been subject to questioning as to their “authority”; no such doubts apparently attach to the presumably objective stories told by slaving captains and their ilk.)

As aboard the ships, so on the plantations, where the nightmare of several weeks at sea gave way to lifelong horror. When we observed the 200th anniversary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade in 2007-8, one of the stories that hardly got the attention that it was due was the direct impact on enslaved African women. With the supply line to Africa now legally cut (although smuggling, of course, persisted), the need for fresh replenishments of labor (slavery used up lives at a fearful rate –“prime male slaves,” aged 15-25 on sugar plantations were literally worked to death in nine years’ time on average) now had to be met by reproduction. enslaved females began to be marketed for their qualities as “breeders,” and were subjected to all manner of indignities under the guise of “medical examinations” to purportedly determine the degree of this quality. (Put this in context: under natural reproduction, as opposed to freshly arrived shipments, the slaveowner has to pay for the care and feeding of the child until [s]he reaches working age — an economic downdraw that makes the “need” for adults even more desperate, and thus exacerbates the frenzy of “breeding.”)

Now the point I am bringing all of this to may seem just “philosophical” to some, but it is the most real thing there is for us. In our tradition, Ancestral wisdom has us to know that there is only one universe (no “parallels”), to which nothing can be added, and from which nothing can be subtracted. There are no “aliens.” Everything that happens here stays here. Forgetting it or being ignorant of it does not erase it — or its continuing consequences. Whether or not we acknowledge this “delicate” matter of sexuality between slaveowners and enslaved (such an unnatural matrix that it could only be maintained by unrelenting force and violence), the fact of it remains, and we are all products of it. The one universe includes the vast spiritual as well as the finite physical. It includes the entire past and future in the present moment. We are born with the knowledge, pains, triumphs and aspirations of our Ancestors, and of the generations yet unborn. Therefore EVERYTHING that has happened to our people is who we are. Although we are born knowledgeable and connected to all things, our struggle to learn in this lifetime is the struggle to be AWARE of what we know. (I submit that the real definition of “intelligence” is simply awareness: How much are we aware of in this universe?)

So, if we are all walking around with various forms of “Post Slavery Stress Disorder,” as it has been called, and this is affecting everything we do — our attitudes toward work, relationships, spirituality, life itself — then this is something that we need to come to terms with. The Native Americans wisely remain aware that “If a man takes a woman by force, the entire tribe is weakened.” Just one instance can do that. So what are we to say about our entire species at this point in time. It seems that the question for us is whether the damage has been so great as to overcome all hope for recovery and healing at all. That gets very real.

But, back to specific cases and to the question at hand: What has to be a major concern in America is the extent to which the national “racial” hysteria skews all judgment and common sense, and diverts attention from the real issue to the nonsense of America’s comfortable (or uncomfortable) pathological myths. The case in point that most readily comes to mind was the brouhaha a few years back, after the (dare we say overdue?) death of Sen. Strom Thurmond, when it was revealed that he — arch-segregationist, leading Dixiecrat, racist’s racist and white supremacist — had fathered a Black daughter. As the story went, to his “credit,” he provided for this daughter throughout her life. Gee, thanks, large charge! All of the news stories hyped and sensationalized the great irony of this segregationist crossing the line and having a child by a Negress. What was hardly discussed, much to my continuing disgust, was the fact that the mother of the child was 16 years old at the time of this liaison. Now, where I come from, that is called statutory rape. What kind of place are we living in when we think that something of absolutely NO importance — the myth of “race” — deserves so much attention and is such a sensation as to engender prolonged news coverage, while NO attention is paid to the fact that here is a felon who was never tried, never convicted, and never punished for his crime, but instead, if anything, was rewarded with all of the power and status of a lifetime term in the U.S. Senate, one of only 50 who are trusted with shaping the fate of an entire nation of 300 million souls.

As you see, I have typically rambled at length on this topic and I haven’t even read the article itself. I imagine my reaction to it won’t be much different from some of what I have thrown out here. There are so many things to react to in our world. We live, as I believe we have shared before, in such a word of things: things to have, things to do, things to be or become, things to be distracted by. Which may be the real bottom line. (I often refer to “The Bankers Manifesto of 1892,” which you can Google, to put some of this in the social and political context that we often need.) We can think about all of the energy that is consumed, and the waste that is generated, by all of this stuff. (An animated video called “The Story of Stuff” is a great wake-up call on this, although it doesn’t even look at the mental and spiritual energy lost.) The Strom Thurmond case is a reminder of the things that are real, and universally human. We need to see all the land on planet earth as a single island, and all the people as (trite as it sounds) a single family. We need to act out of wisdom rather than react to foolishness with most of our time and energy.

What has happened in the last 500 years (or much longer) is that “the inmates have seized control of the asylum.” A small minority of people — they call themselves an elite (which literally means the elect, or the chosen ones, presumably by God, as they wishfully imagine God to be) — who are pathologically deluded in their compulsion to control and enslave everyone and everything they encounter. They imagine themselves as being the serious, intelligent, responsible ones among the masses of irresponsible rabble who are looking for someone to direct them and care for them. (Is it not interesting that no one in any human society ever fit this description until they came on the scene to impose this kind of society.) They crow about their “freedom,” which is the freedom craved by the child — to go anywhere, do anything, take anything, hurt, or kill, anyone who opposes them — and never be reprimanded or punished or, worst of all, be told that they are sick. (They have eliminated or neutralized the healers and the asylum officials and can’t get enough of occupying those high offices and proclaiming themselves in charge.)

This analogy is accurate enough, I think, but real humanity knows that there is no real distinction between “us” and “them”: Everything in the universe is “we.” The behavior we observe by individuals who are more slaves to greed than they are masters of the world as they imagine is in all of us. The worst behaving individuals are members of our village, and we have to bear the responsibility for having fostered such behavior, even as we look for ways to cure it, for it is a sickness of a sort. (The individual will claim, to the contrary, that [s]he was born that way, elected by God to be superior to the rest of us, who could not possibly understand, with our limited intelligence. Evidently the supposedly greater intelligence of such claimants does not require them to study history.)

It really comes down to what Ghandi said: To make the changes that need to be made, we have to “Be the Change.” Even that, however, is limited by being reactive. (“Change,” like all those “R” words that we have become proud of in our history — resistance, revolt, rebellion, runaway, renegade, etc., is based on reacting to what exists.) We need to assert what is: ourselves as part of a single universe and as manifestations of God, so to speak. How do we make harmony the goal of every action and thought? (I dare say you come close as a dedicated jazz diva. Can we all be the “artist” within, and live the creative lives that we were born to have?) The traditional Hawai’ian culture might offer a good clue. As you know, the motto of the State (and former Kingdom) translates as, “The life of the land is perpetuated by righteousness.” I often come back to thinking about (if not actually practicing) the discipline of Hula, which pretty much defines “righteousness” as being right with God, tight with nature, and right with the rest of humanity. This is achieved by practicing “doing the right thing, in the right way, in the right place, with the right people, at the right time, the first time.” We can add that to the Native American awareness of the Seven Generations, and the African awareness of all of our Ancestors and Future Generations being present and alive within us, or my friend’s wise idea that “We are constantly confronted with two choices; the more difficult of the two is ALWAYS the right one.” There is no lack of guidance in our lives, but the inmates have spent 500 years on nothing else but how to distract, sedate, intimidate, manipulate, or otherwise divert us from hearing the Divine voice within us, “which always tells us what to do, never tells us what not to do,” but gives us choice.

An interesting thing this business of life and being human.


Freedom vs Slavery

The injustice suffered by Africans in America and around the world at the hands of vile and vicious European slavers is coming to bear with the rough reality of the shooting of 20 people in Arizona, murder of two Miami police officers, natural disasters that are destroying luxury properties owned by Europeans in Europe, Australia and other parts of the world. That there is justice in the Universe is evidenced by the rebellion of poor people everywhere. There is no vile act that will not be reconciled. As poor people, black, brown, red, yellow and white awaken, the powers that be need to pay attention and accept that their actions reap reaction, not only from people but nature, itself.

In response to the article below, Helen B wrote:

This is why it is so important to hold our Saturday classes where all these facts can be brought out so our children understand the price paid for them to have so many opportunities available to them. Also, I agree with you that today’s Blacks are lacking in courage; but, additionally, they have adopted the white man’s ways to the extent that keeping up with the Jones and conspicuous consumption causes them to have a false sense of security.They have become “comfortable” and are satisfied with the fact that they can own and drive expensive foreign cars and homes they can’t afford to pay for. It’s all about appearance instead of reality. No Black person in America is free and will NEVER be free until we understand how our history and culture were stolen from us; and, we are no longer original people. We are the white man’s slaves and clones. The more we emulate him, the more satisfied we are with ourselves. We must seek and embrace our own culture because our roots are not only deep, but they are richly profuse in every aspect of human advancement in every area and aspect of life. We are the original people; but, we’ve allowed ourselves to be relegated to an inferior status. Never, will any white person make me think I’m inferior to him or her. If I were to take a more subjective view, I would say that the Black race is the superior race. No race of people has been able to endure the horrendous treatment to which we have been subjected and still we rise! Additionally, there are false assumptions based on education, color and other shallow values that keep us separated, unlike other ethnic groups who come together to support each other as they help the other one to advance. We are so busy pulling each other down that we don’t take time to realize that together we are stronger than we are as one. I pray daily for my people and pray that I can live long enough to see them open their eyes, their hearts and their minds to realize that we are our brothers’/sisters’ keepers.

The history that your teacher never taught!

Our ancestors did not have TV or Newspapers and most could not read but they understood the difference between existing as slaves or living as free men. This is a value and a courage that is non-existent in today’s society. It appears that one thing is certain, there will never be another Crispus Attucks in this country!!!!


Untold story of U.S. slave rebellion retold centuries later
January 23, 2011

Details of paintings depicting 1811 Louisiana slave revolt by New Orleans folk artist Lorraine Gendron.

By Mitch Potter Washington Bureau
DESTREHAN PLANTATION, LA.—A long-lost chapter in American history is being written anew, today, as southerners begin to come to terms with the previously untold story of the continent’s largest slave revolt.

And, while historians today debate the details, a consensus is forming around just how close New Orleans came to becoming a free black colony precisely 200 years ago when a makeshift army of some 500 slaves, some just a few years out of Africa, rose up in carefully calculated unison with epic consequences.

Here at the pastoral Destrehan Plantation, the aftermath of the January 1811 insurrection was especially brutal — newly unearthed colonial records show the estate was the epicentre for a judicial reckoning, with the white slaveholders ordering as many as 100 ringleaders shot or hanged.

The black rebel leaders then were decapitated, with their heads mounted on stakes in a horrific necklace of retribution stretching 70 kms down the Mississippi, all the way to the gates of what was then America’s most crucial frontier city.

“It is one of the most striking moments of amnesia in our national history. What you had in the end were plantation owners sitting down to sumptuous five-course meals as they looked out the window at their own beheaded slaves,” said historian Daniel Rasmussen, who began his investigation as an undergraduate student at Harvard.

“The planters were outnumbered and terrified. They thought of their slaves as sub-human and they saw ritual beheading as a prime way to get their message across.

“And what followed this gruesome display was a concerted attempt to write it out of the history books. The southern newspapers suppressed the story, either refusing to publish or delaying for months. Only a few papers much further north published small paragraphs condemning the savagery of the planters.”

Tulane University, the African American Museum in Treme and Destrehan Plantation all are filling in the blanks with the launch of a yearlong look at the 1811 uprising.

But it is Rasmussen’s riveting new book, American Uprising: The Untold Story of America’s Largest Slave Revolt that is turning the most heads, in academia and beyond.

Collating clues from dust-encrusted plantation ledgers, colonial court records, obscure snippets of antebellum correspondence and the oral memory of slave descendents, Rasmussen’s study recreates the intense planning and careful timing that underpinned the audacious bid for freedom, involving slaves from a dozen plantations, along the river.

Two Asante warriors, Kook and Quamana, likely battle-hardened from wars in Africa, conspired with Charles Deslondes, a mulatto slave-driver of mixed parentage, who Rasmussen describes as “the ultimate sleeper cell.”

All had been, in one way or another,  “sold down the river” — a cliché first conceived to describe the especially horrific nature of slavery at the southernmost end of the Mississippi, where extreme violence underpinned the extreme wealth of the lucrative French sugar plantations.

Spiked collars were the norm for the uncooperative — the spikes pointing inward to prevent sleep. Deslondes, working on behalf of his plantation owner, was responsible for administering punishment, including the lash for those who would dare refuse the backbreaking labours of harvesting, beating, boiling and refining the sugar cane.

Haiti was also a factor. The slave revolution of 1791 was, in its own way, a shot heard round the slave world, as French colonial refugees and their slaves washed into New Orleans. It remains unclear whether Deslondes came from Haiti.

Louisiana was a vital American territory 200 years ago, but just barely — Napoleon had sold France’s claim to the vast Mississippi watershed to the United States a few years earlier for a paltry $15 million, a gift that would ultimately open the drive to the Pacific. But Louisiana’s French colonial class had nothing but contempt for its new American overseers, who were in January 1811, preoccupied in battles with the Spanish to secure a tract of west Florida. New Orleans was nearly defenceless.

“The attack came at just the right moment — the Americans were fighting the Spanish and with the harvest completed, the French planters were focused on the month-long series of lavish carnival balls and all-night parties leading up to Mardi Gras. And several days of steady rains had turned the road to mud, impeding any counterattack. Their guard was down,” Rasmussen said in an interview with the Toronto Star.

“Scarcely a resident in New Orleans had a musket. The city had a weak detachment of 68 troops.”

The rebels rose first at André Plantation, after sunset on January 8, 1811. And within hours, they were on the march to New Orleans. A ragtag army, perhaps, but one that marched in uniform, having seized militia clothing and weapons from plantation armories. Their numbers grew as the march advanced and as rumor of the uprising swept down the river road, the ruling class fled for the safety of the city.

“The planters couldn’t understand it — the idea that the slaves were not just savages, but that this was something planned. You had an army marching in military formation, wearing military uniforms, carrying flags and banners and chanting, “Freedom or death,” said Rasmussen.

New Orleans was on the edge of chaos — not least because its own population was 75 per cent black, awakening the fears of a second front rising up within the town itself. The city would order its taverns closed, imposed a curfew on all black males and summoned able-bodied whites to arms. Simultaneously, fleeing French planters regrouped on the West Bank of the Miscopy upstream from the city.

The two forces, American regulars and French planter militia, ultimately were able to confront the freedom fighters from both sides in a series of pitched battles beyond the city gates in the days that followed. Surviving slaves fled to the swamps and manhunts ensued, with dozens rounded up for the rough justice to come.

In the end, 21 slaves were interviewed by their colonial overseers in a bid to piece together the roots of the conspiracy and assign criminal blame. Elements of the story, says Rasmussen, survive in the oral histories of slave descendents, passed down and told “even to the present day at family reunions.” But the main snippets are to be found, refracted through the writings of the white ruling class, which show extent of fears never before told.

“They were sitting on a powder keg and, when it exploded and was put down, everything changed. Instead of a mini-Haiti, Louisiana society became militarized. The revolt pushed this old aristocratic society into the hands of the American government,” said Rasmussen.

“What you see is that the foundations of American power in this part of the deep South were built upon the commitment to restore and uphold slavery. Essentially, the French planters decided to cling to the United States as an ark of safety.”

As for Kook, Quamana, and Charles Deslondes, only now are historians weighing how to elevate them alongside the likes of far better known revolutionaries like Nat Turner and John Brown as major figures in the American struggle for emancipation.

“None of this has ever been taught in American schools and the hope now is that these men, who were executed for the strongest ideals will take their rightful place in history,” said Rasmussen.

“They were political revolutionaries, they deserve a place in the national memory and there is a sense now that they are getting it. We need to wrestle with this history if we are ever to truly understand it.”