Background:

The 19th Annual Juneteenth celebration produced and hosted by the Cooperative Culture Collective at Cuyler Gore Park in Fort Greene, June 15 was themed “Celebrating Ourstory and Pouring into Our Future!”.  Graham B. Weatherspoon and Richard Green were keynote speakers.  In recent issues, Our Time Press presented an interview with Green in two parts.

 

This week, we introduce Weatherspoon, who has enjoyed a monumental role throughout the years in telling, covering and/or shaping viewpoints stories for, Our Time Press since its birth in 1996.

His work for us ranges from the award-winning multipart 44-page “Evidence Concealed, Now Revealed” report on the Tawana Brawley case to the investigative story covering the Amadou Diallo case, both community journalism award winners. He provided commentary on just about every crime story we covered, in addition to his constant support on our African Burial Ground coverage of 2003-2006 and assisting on the distribution of the paper in the early years. We pulled from our files his very first Our Time Press “conversation” organized by editor Bernice Elizabeth Green, co-founder of Our Time Press.

 

In 1996-1997, I met Liberian Jew William Wade, who offered little of his background, but shared that he knew members of my ancestral family who repatriated to Africa from southwest Georgia or northwest Florida, possibly during the Garvey movement. I immediately connected him with Graham, heir to the family’s living patriarch griot, Kenneth Weatherspoon. They met in Juniors, across the street from LIU, where Wade was Student Body President at the time, and immediately picked up a thread to a conversation that seemed to have started before their time. I called the subsequent piece, “Heirs to a Legacy.” Graham, in his infinite wisdom added, “Across a Table and a River of Bones.” Over a lunch of soup, as I recall, They began their journey – with stops in South Carolina, Georgia, Cape Palmas, Grand Bassa, Buchanan and even Egypt – as strangers, and ended it, that afternoon, at a rightful place as blood brothers.  (Bernice Elizabeth Green)

 

Organized, moderated and edited by Bernice Elizabeth Green, this conversationoriginally appeared in Our Time Press, February 1997.

 

Graham Weatherspoon: (displaying old black-and-white photographs.) These pictures are of Ralph Bunche shaking hands with the Ambassador to Liberia, in the early 1950s. My father Roosevelt Weatherspoon was a combat engineer in electronics in World War II when they were developing radar, and he travelled through Africa, Europe, The Philippines and Asia.

 

Just before his death, he was preparing to go to Liberia to work and raise his family. He told us of Weatherspoons living in Liberia – related to Weatherspoons living in Georgia and Florida.

 (Editor’s note: It is not known at this time whether the Weatherspoons migrated to Liberia in response to the call of Marcus Mosiah Garvey or if they are the descendants of freed slaves with American names who returned to the west coast of Africa in the 19th century. {Editor’s Note: Since the publication of this story, we have seen possible photographic evidence that family members responded to Garvey’s messages.}

 

Graham: In fact, the Ambassador to Liberia came to our house on Wyona Street in 1953 just before my father died. That’s how we have these photos. Had my father lived, I probably would have grown up in Liberia.

 

William Wade: But, you see, you are a map of Liberia. The physical and facial structure has not disappeared. As soon as you see other Weatherspoons in Liberia you see you. If you told anyone here you were in Liberia yesterday, you would also tell them that you were immediately recognized as a Weatherspoon. You see Africans have different images in accordance with their different geographical roots. Anyone from there would tell you. “We are from the Grand Bassa County (in the west-central portion of the West African nation) of Liberia, where the capitol city is Buchanan.  The Spoons are from there.”

 

Some of them are also from Cape Palmas (a headland on the extreme Southeast end of the Coast of Liberia). The reason Bassa and Cape Palmas are interrelated is because of the movement (of the slave ships) backward and forward along the coastline. Some of the ships landed on one side of the coast and some of them landed on another part of the coast. You will find the Wade family in Cape Palmas, but the majority of them are in Buchanan. So are the Weatherspoons.

 

My grandparents are from South Carolina. In fact, the Schomburg Library on Lenox Avenue, right opposite Harlem Hospital I was able to trace a lot of my history. The Weatherspoon history is there too.

 

Graham: This is news to me.

 

William: It shouldn’t be. It is right there. Just look for the Weatherspoons. I was able to trace my great, great grandparents as far back as the slave trade. And I have some of the records and history on my grandfather, who died in Buchanan, through my father. Go there and read about (your family).

 

Graham: So, this is not just oral history. It is documented.

 

William: It is documented. Most of my family history happens to be documented. My grandfather was George Wade. He was born July 7,1850 in South Carolina. He died in 1907 in Liberia. He was a descendant of one of the 12 tribes of Israel in Egypt.

 

Graham: I’m with you. Go right ahead.

 

William: And we happen to be strongly rooted till the Levite.

 

Graham: The priests

 

William: Yes. Also, somehow we are connected with the Sumerians, who are connected to the Samsons. Strong people. When you get angry there’s a saying; you can cut the drum in half and fill it up with sand. My brother can root that drum with sand out of the ground and grab it up over his head like it’s nothing. My brother …

 

Graham: … like my son Sean and myself.

 

William: My history started like that with my ancestors. There was a generation of leadership in Egypt that lead through Ethiopia and, of course, down the eastern coast, northeastern coast of Africa. And one of my ancestors was a king. But after some tribal and traditional struggle, he was conquered and his servants and other tribe members, children and distant relatives in the kingdom – everyone that was within it – was captured and sold to the Arabs.

 

Graham: The Slave Trade.

 

William: Alright. When they were sold to the Arabs. The Arabs had no use for them because the Arabs were a moving group of people. So, what they did is they took my great-great grandfather and sold him in return to the white man and some of his children to another group of white people. According to the history of that day, they were stripped of their identity on the Continent before they were put on the ships. He and two of his sons were put on one ship under one “master.”  Other family members were put on another. Because of his influence on this “master,” he was kept with certain members of his family and friends.

 

Where did they land in this country? I have no idea. What tribal, traditional name they had then is what I am now in the process of trying to find out. We know that he was sold to the white Wade family and he took the name from the Wades. We know that when he came over, he refused to be a slave because he was a warrior. He fought and was able to kill one of the oppressors and stole his ship. Then he sneaked his ship on the shores of America at night. When they brought the slaves over, he went and collected the same slaves and eventually landed them on part of the coast because he was not, navigationally speaking, professional. So, as they stole the Africans, he brought back the slaves. He created warriors on the West Coast of Africa. These people became enemies of the western …

 

Graham: … Slave traders.

William: … and so they started killing the slave traders and the British were their main targets. The British was losing the war on the slave trade for many years before they decided to ban it in the early 19th century. Africans started killing the slave traders, and the British were the main targets. So, they (the British) decided the only thing they needed to establish was dominion on the land, and not take the slaves out. That’s how the British in 1807 made up their mind they were going to get out of it.  Not because they wanted to. It was because the resistance had come to such an extent that the British could no longer retain a reign over the slave trade and the Africans. As those that were brought into slavery realized the danger and the inhumane treatment they were receiving, the ones who were lucky enough to be returned to Africa to be brought back by Africans like my great grandparents– started to create an attitude of nationalism that the slave trade you see here on this continent was more like: “We conquer each other and then we allow you to…” ? It is like this: “I conquer you into slavery and I…

 

Graham: “… allow you to take me.”

 

William: If you were involved in the slave trade here, you could not marry the conqueror’s daughter. On the Continent, you owned your own kind once you identified with this group. You can fight and unite. It was showing power over each other. It was nothing like the dehumanization that the Westerners brought over them. Once they had been informed by the returned slaves of what was going on, the British realized that they were losing their influence, and decided to treat them “nice.” It was not a slave trade where Black people sold their own people into …

 

Graham: Not knowingly …

 

William: They knew ..

 

Graham: I mean not knowing the way in which they would be treated …

 

William: They looked at the slave-trading white man as being a nice person who could treat the people better than they themselves were doing …

 

Graham: And that’s what is decimating the African continent to this very day …

 

William: Yeah. That is the reason for the attitude that my great grandparents and the other slave escapees had when they began to fight back. They basically conquered them on their own land and could sink their ships and take back their people. Our end started to realize the degradation of this. Frederick Douglass came along, many years, after this. Frederick Douglass was born into slavery. He did not see what my great grandparents (coming over on ships) saw or what your great grandparents saw.

 

If I’m born in a drug-infested neighborhood, it is hard for me to see what a decent neighborhood looks like. So, Douglass and most of the Black people born in America need to understand that the way we Africans see America and the way we see Black people is from a different side of the mirror than how the other guy who is ‘born here sees America. Blending in these two ideas is not as easy as it is to say it. but these are our families’ roots.

 

I am a Jew, for instance, but I’m not religiously Jew, I am traditionally Jew, tribal Jew. The definition of Jewish to me means I wish to be. I am a goal-established Jew, and I am not wishing to be. My law is different. 

 

Some people wish to be what we are; they do not see things the way we see things. We are closer to nature. We understand nature. We work with nature. We have a great respect for nature. We are humble to it.   I may hate you. We may make fuss. I may fight you. But I will not under normal circumstances, except unless I am crazy, seek your downfall.

 

A Black man who is a Jew does not seek the downfall of another Black man.

 

Graham: In Europe, in the 1700s, the Ashkenazy Jews were moving through when the Jewish people of Europe were seeking sanctuaries in various countries. If I remember correctly, they spent some time in Holland.

 

The king wanted to know from which tribe these people were from. In all of Cecil B. DeMille’s movies, like “The Ten Commandments,” the great biblical patriarchs are incorrectly portrayed as being European. All people of color have a natural affinity for nature. The white man did not teach the indigenous people of this continent about conservation. Indigenous peoples were teaching these immigrants about conservation, but he wouldn’t accept it. Almost everything detrimental to nature is being done … pollution, dumping, the destruction of the forests. There is no affinity to nature.

 

William: Let me tell you… for those who are religious and who believe in prophesy, they will see some of this religious thing come true. As much as I believe some of it is not true, many of these prophesies will come true: what people do not see, they will see. And what they do not believe, they will have to believe. I will give you a demonstration. As one of the first West Africans to be a student leader at Long Island University, I cannot draw well but I can identify my points. (He sketches the Continent of Africa on a table napkin.) This is supposed to be Africa although it was not called Africa.

But let’s use the terminology: Africa.

 

Graham: I know where you’re going.

 

William: In order to destroy a mother and a child relationship. Or a father. You must first put the two pair together. And you must be able to put the two pair together and you say to the mother, “You are nothing.”

 

You say to the child, “Didn’t I tell you she’s nothing?'” And the mother looks around and says, “But I am something.” The man will say, “Didn’t I tell you: you are nothing. Now, sit down.” And the mother sits down. He says, “Now stand!” And she stands. And the oppressor can also say to the father, “Boy, you are nothing.” And the boy can look around, and say, “Why would my father stand and say nothing?” What the son does not understand is that the white person who says to the father and mother, “Boy and woman, you’re nothing!” has the main control over them at the time. So, when the child grows up and the mother says, “Come, son, sit down.” The boy replies, “No, no, no, no! Don’t say that to me. You couldn’t even say it to him. Look how he talked to you. How dare you tell me to sit down!”

 

So, if this happens over a period of years, what do you expect the Black child to look at his mother like? What do you expect him to look at his father like? Then when that generation passes and a new generation comes in. Then another comes in and another generation and another – after four hundred years, what do you expect?

 

Graham: Like the elephant. Chained to the stake in the ground, he believes he can not break free of the chain. So, he just rocks.

 

William: Yes (Referring to the map which now includes the adjoining Continents of Europe and Asia.) They fought for thousands and thousands of years to establish domain over the African continent. They finally succeeded in 1869. How did they do it? They established the Suez Canal (Editors Note: The seal-level waterway in Egypt, connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea through the Isthmus of Suez. The canal was constructed between 1859 and 1869, and officially. Just by cutting this part of Africa …

 

Graham: … they cut the umbilical cord.

 

William:  The umbilical cord of Africa. The best way to justify this split, is to first say we want to go all the way around to help people on this side. So we will just open this little place here. As soon as they opened this place, here (indicating the drawing), they separated the Jew from the other part of the world. They refer to people on this side as “the dark continent.” And they called the people over here on this side – although they are of the same continent, Asians.

 

Graham: But these are Europeans. Asians are to the East.

 

William: No. All here are Asians!

 

In fact, this entire (stretch of) land is Asia. You see (here, indicated his drawing), there’s no way to run away from Africa.  Because this part of the land is deemed the main power, it is called European.  All of this is Asia.  Even the word, Africa – there’s no way to run away from it.  They had to find a way because there was no way that the Europeans would accept it. Except by using the words to separate them: Africa, Asia.  So you have people saying: “Look, I am from Asia.” 

 

But you see the trick is when you use the two together (Afrasian), you confuse the people around here. You must find something that will make the other people see it from the other side (indicating map) – which is really the revers of the truth.  In other words you turn the thing to see it in the reverse.

 

To see it in reverse, you call yourself Europe which means earth.  You have to tell the people you blong to Earth o they can appreciate that they are the people of Earth.

 

Let me say this to you: I am Bassalian.  But let me speak about another of the African tribes in Liberia.

 

(First) let me ask you two questions in their language, and you tell me which part of Asia you will find this tribe.  My questions in this language are: where are you from and where are you going? Those are the two questions I am putting to you int his language:  Win chang cha. Ben kwena hing lan.

 

Graham: Sound like Chinese.

 

William: The language is Gisi.  It is heard in the Gisi Tribes of West African in Lofa County (in the northwestern part of Liberia). They eat the same food Chinese people eat; prepare food the same way the Chinese people prepare food. We do almost everything the same. You find the same kind of food and in part of Southern Africa. And most of this tribe was driven away when the westerners penetrate African long before history was written.

 

Long before history was written oppressors were destroying our people.

 

Graham: You know what. That was the same mindset of the slaves …

 

William: You mean it was the same mindset of the slave master to perpetrate and penetrate you. And so the slave began to use the same idea …

 

(Part II: “The thing is: what we do is not about ourselves; it is about our progeny, the ones who must come behind us.”

 

Heirs to a Legacy: William Wade & Graham Weatherspoon continues July 25 in Our Time Press.)

 

________

Editor’s Note: Due to reader demand, selected interviews and articles conducted, written and/or organized by David Mark Greaves and Bernice Elizabeth Green appearing monthly, February 1996 – January 2005 in Our Time Press, are being revised and edited by Green for reprint in a new continuing column, “The Best of Our Time,” to launch with “Heirs” Part II, July 25, 2019.

 

The words and thoughts of activist/educator Taharka Robinson

for the completion of the Orators in Our Time series appears in August.