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Early winter or late fall. A campfire on the outskirts of Atlanta, Georgia. The campfire is managed and owned by the King Center. About 40 yards (ca. 37 m) from the cabin, where the campfire is, our scholars and activists sit around a medium to high fire, placed in the middle of a makeshift circle. The circle, centered on a pile of logs, is made of camp chairs and blankets that are used for seating or lying down by each of the characters in this play. The fire lights their faces in a warm but subdued way, giving greater gravitas to facial expressions, while also leading to some difficulty interpreting their facial expressions. A lake sits to the left of the campfire at the opposite end of the Cabin, which reflects a crescent moon and a mountain with a small snow cap. 


Left of the field of vision-Mountains, lake 

Center of field of vision: Campfire, logs, blankets, chairs and main personas of the story

Right of field of vision: Two -story cabin with floodlights dimly lighting up to about 32 yards (ca. 29 m) before the backs of characters to the right of the campfire


  1. Martin Luther King Jr.
  2. Malcom X
  3. W. E. B. Du Bois
  4. E. Franklin Frazier.
  5. Melville Herskovits
  6. Sid Mintz
  7. Sally Price
  8. Richard Price
  9. N. Fadeke Castor.
  10. Christina Sharpe
  11. Manning Marable

But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past—or, more accurately, pastness—is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past.” (p.15)

-Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History

Part I: The Encounter

(Fire crackling)

Martin Luther King Jr: (Just finished praying or come off of deep contemplation) Thank you for coming tonight brothers and sisters. I am honored to be in your presence and for you to put aside your differences in the name of the Black future.

— All share pleasantries, more or less in unison.

Martin Luther King Jr.: As the grandfather of African American studies and the most senior person here, I would like to cede first thoughts to Dr. Du Bois. Please lead our evening Dr. Du Bois.

E. B. Du Bois: Thank you, thank you, Dr. King. I am honored to be here as well, and really appreciate the time and effort you have put into actively catering to all our needs. Our own talented 11th. (Du Bois allows a soft smile to show on his face).

Malcom X: Talented 11th?! Brother, brother. The Black future is not dependent on intellectualism, but on the ground activism and militarism. What did the talented 10th accomplish, but to alienate those brothers and sisters whose material conditions did not mirror your bourgeois reality? And where is Marcus Garvey? Why was he not invited today? Did he not merit inclusion in your so-called talented 10th?

Sally Price: And women!

Christina Sharpe: Preach it girl! Absolutely!

Martin Luther King Jr.: One moment. One moment, please. Brothers and sisters, we are not here today to actively sabotage and to break each other down. It is the White men’s prerogative to do so. Rather, I would like for us to focus on actual points of interest, and commonality. In particular, I would like for us to focus on four main points that still fester in this colonial present. First, I would like for us to discuss the origins of African American culture. Secondly, I would like to approach a definition of Blackness. Thirdly, I think we should focus on the relationship between activism and scholarship.

Malcom X: Amen, brother.

Martin Luther King Jr. (Small pause) Fourth, I would like to conclude by encouraging all of us to think about the best way for us to move forward.

— The conversation is halted by the camp’s servers who bring some marshmallows and chocolate as well as drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) for the guests to enjoy. This changes the energy of the conversation and the tension is replaced by more pleasant exchanges between the quests.

Part II: The Realization

— Some time has passed, and the tense exchanges seem now like water under the bridge. The quests are sitting around the fire once more and slowly get into a more somber mood.

Melville Herskovits: If I am allowed a moment, ladies and gentlemen. I would like to get back to reflections Dr. King, and to start the conversation on your first point. After all, I am the pioneer in the field of African American studies and tradition. Before me, the field was a perfect vacuum (Mintz, 1990, p. ix). Hence, I do not agree with your statement Dr. King, about Dr. Du Bois being the grandfather of African American studies.

W.E. B. Du Bois: Here we go again with the slander and your attempts at undermining me.

Melville Herskovits: I am just stating the obvious. My work The Myth of the Negro Past is the foremost representative of Afrocentrism, according to other scholars (Herskovits at the Heart of Blackness.2009). Overall, my position is that the origins of African American culture among contemporary Afro-Americans represent a survival of African customs, beliefs, and practices. They represent survivals that have stood the test of radical influences by other cultures. Nonetheless, these survivals do demonstrate the syncretic nature of African American culture, whose highly creolized nature leads to a distinction between race and culture. This is exemplified by the maroon slaves who made a life for themselves in the wilderness of Latin America and Haiti (Mintz, 1990, p. xii-xv). 

Christina Sharpe: So, you make no room for the afterlives of slavery? How about the domination and oppression of White hegemony that keeps black folk in a perpetual state of precarity? We live in the wake of colonialism, do we not? (Sharpe, 2016, p.12 & 17)

Sidney Mintz: If I may, Dr. Herskovits.

Melville Herskovits: Please (assents with a hand gesture for her to continue).

Sidney Mintz: I think his work does, but its importance is secondary to the strength and endurance of culture and its survivals (Mintz, 1990, p. xii-xx).

Fadeke Castor: I believe so as well! And not only is this true, but also the transnational pathways of spiritual citizenship have also demonstrated that African and African American culture are more deeply linked than ever. African American identity is found in the return to and reclaim of African indigenous beliefs and practices (Castor, 2017, p. 5-7)

Malcom X: Is that so? African Americans, Hispanics, and Africans are the true children of Israel; and Islam is the true religion. We have been dominated by the white poison of Christianity and kept by the power of Satan in these idolatrize. Pure shirk.

Fadeke Castor: Those are very strong words Malcom. I think they reflect the brainwashing of foreign Abrahamic cultures and religions on Black bodies. This is why the only path forward is by joining with the original African beliefs and practices and to strengthen the transnational ties with our brothers and sisters.

Sally Price: One has to be careful about making such grand statements about the continuations and transatlantic/transnational pathways and survivals of African culture in the New World. These moments of discovery and realization need to be grounded, and their uniqueness should be emphasized. The emergence of creole traditions often reflects deeply syncretic variations and inventions that mark a break with the past. Or at least seem to make a new moment of emergence and creation that no longer signifies or reflects the past (Price and Price, p. 16-23).

Martin Luther King Jr.: It does not matter color, creed or culture. We are all children of God and African American culture is the spiritual essence of America.

— Some agree while others remain silent. At this point, a large proportion of the guests just demonstrate their desire to move along in the discussion. Not all are interested in the point or direction of the conversation.

Part III: Black is…Black ain’t

— At this stage, in the evening, guests have already enjoyed the refreshment and food, and a feeling of solidarity has started to replace the original tensions of their encounters. Besides this, the party inside the cabin has also started playing some music. In particular, the party is playing Black music and the guests begin to reflect and discuss this paradox in the United States of America.

E B. Du Bois: You know… the other day I was watching a documentary titled Black is….. Black ain’t, where the reality of the politics of struggle and the complexity of African American identity was underscored by the director, Marlon Troy Riggs (Riggs, 1995). This reminded me of my fieldwork in Philadelphia and of the importance of empirical data for deciphering the complexity of Black reality in America, as constituted by the intersectionality of multiple variables constituting the Black experience (Hancock, 2005, p. 1-3).

Melville Herskovits: I would add that this intersectionality is the essence of syncretism. For example, this music is a mix of African beats and percussive instruments with European vocals and tradition of music, homegrown on American soil.

E. B. Du Bois: It is the new N++++ spirituals. It reflects the inner city and the politics of struggle of Black identity and culture (Massiah, 1996).

Christine Sharpe: Not only that, but it also reflects the perpetual wake consciousness of Black America. The violence, precarity and overall experience of having to defend the dead, while trying to escape a situation that has no escape but through community support. The Black experience is marked by invented characterizations and experiences. It is the subjectification of the Black consciousness and experience in terms of normalization of pain and precarity. This is why wake work needs to be activated at the community level. It is the only path forward through the wake of colonization and recolonization of globalization (Sharpe, 2016, p.14-16 & 20-24).

Malcom X: Black is heritage….black ain’t shame, brothers, and sisters. 

— They all agree on this.

Part IV: It Takes a Village.

Manning Marble: This was an excellent epitaph, Malcom. Thank you for synthesizing our thoughts on this matter. However, thinking a bit more about Christine last point on the role of the community and our previous conversation on the intellectualism and activism, I would like to go back to it now.  I would like to talk about Dr. King’s third point of discussion, related to this. It is my opinion that for Black folks to be able to transform their material conditions, a point you have brought up in this conversation before Dr. Du Bois, we need to combine scholarly research with activism. It is impossible to contest and transform the institutionalized system of oppression and racism through armchair scholarship. Black folks and Black communities also need active presence and community engagement through activism. However, that activism is only realized through a change of consciousness, which is what scholarly research does (Marable, 2000, p. 2-4).

Franklin Frazier: This is an excellent point Manning; one that has echoes in my own work as found in Nation and Opportunity. The scholar’s misunderstanding of action and activism has led to a rift between the needs of African Americans in the U.S. Moreover, it also touches on Malcom’s point about Marcus Garvey. Why isn’t he here? As I mentioned before “The Work carried out by [the NAACP] ... has never attracted the crowd” and the leadership of Dr. Du Bois has been too intellectual to satisfy the mob’’ (as quoted in; Matsumoto, 2005, p. 57-58).

Christine Sharpe: All this questioning about Garvey is starting to remind me of Waiting for Godot (Beckett, 2006).

— All look at each other in perplexity of Sharpe’s statement.

Christine Sharpe: Never mind that.

— Silence. About 2 long minutes pass, in which time the sipping of chocolate and the crackling of the fire gets amplified by the deafening silence.

Fadeke Castor: Ubuntu.

E. B Du Bois: What?

Fadeke Castor: It is an African philosophy that emphasizes being and identity of individuals through others. In other words, it conveys the formation of an identity through the spirit of solidarity of a community that is encapsulated in the phrase “ubuntu ngumuntu ngabantu (I am because of who we all are)” (Mugumbate, 2013, p. 81).

— Some nod while others verbally express their agreement with this African philosophy.

Martin Luther King Jr.: Brothers and sisters. Thank you for this, must wonderful evening. As the night becomes long and weary, and the winter evening gives way to a spring of rebirth, please reflect of Christine’s call for defending the dead. Please remember that modernity stands on the shoulders of giants, but also on the bodies of Black and Brown peoples which it sacrificed in the name of progress and enlightenment. So, do not forget your history, do not forget your suffering, but most importantly, do not forget your humanity and your love. "Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that." (King Jr, 1964, p.45).


Beckett, Samuel. (2006). Waiting for Godot. London: Faber And Faber.

Castor, N. Fadeke. (2017). Spiritual citizenship: Transnational Pathways from Black Power to Ifá in Trinidad. Durham: Duke University Press. 

Hancock, Ange-Marie .(2005). “W.E.B. Du Bois: Intellectual Forefather of Intersectionality?” Souls 7, no. 3–4: 74–84. 

Herskovits at the Heart of Blackness. Films On Demand. 2009. Accessed October 23, 2023.

King Jr., Martin Luther. Strength to Love. Pocket Books, 1964. 

Marable, M. (2005). Reconstructing the Radical Du Bois. Souls, 7(3-4), 1–25. Retrieved from

Marable, Manning. (2000). Introduction. Dispatches from the Ebony Tower: Intellectuals Confront the African-American Experience (pp. 1-28). New York: Columbia University Press.

Massiah, Louis. (1996). W.E.B. Du Bois: A Biography in Four Voices. California Newsreel.

Matsumoto, M. (2005). E. Franklin Frazier on W.E.B. Du Bois: Sociologist, critic, and friend. Souls, 7(3– 4), 55–71. doi:10.1080/10999940500265458 

Mintz, S. W. (1990). Introduction. In M. Herskovits (Ed.), The Myth of the Negro Past (pp. ix–xxii). Boston: Beacon Press. Retrieved from

Mugumbate, J. & Nyanguru, A. (2013). Exploring African philosophy: The value of ubuntu in social work. African Journal of Social Work, 3 (1), 82-100.

Price, R., & Price, S. (2003). The root of roots, or, how Afro-American Anthropology got its start. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm. Retrieved from

Price, Richard, and Sally Price. (2003). The Root of Roots, or, how Afro-American Anthropology got its Start. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press. 

Riggs, Marlon T. (1995). Black Is, Black Ain’t. San Fransisco, CA: California Newsreel.

Sharpe, Christina Elizabeth. (2016). In the Wake: On Blackness and Being. Durham: Duke University Press. 

Trouillot, M.-R. and Carby, H.V. (2015) Silencing the past: Power and the production of history. Boston: Beacon Press.


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