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‘Ujamaa Village,’ an old idea revisited: Black towns!

February 23, 2014

by Menhuam Ayele (Michael Morse)

1863-1865 is a very significant period in American history for a number of reasons. Beyond the pivotal importance of the Emancipation Proclamation and the Reconstruction era, this period marks the first time Black people could choose to stay in the land of their bondage or choose to leave voluntarily without catching hell in the process. Although we still caught a whole lot of hell, even though we were set “free,” the majority of the Black population decided to stay and make a life in “the land of the free and home of the brave,” i.e., America.

'Ujamaa Village' cover

Sharecropping and the imposition of Jim Crow laws and Black Codes became methods of continuing to control the descendants of slaves and to keep them in check from disrupting the status quo of whites being “superior” and Black being inferior. Although a few free Blacks managed to become successful in a white dominated society, it was understood that those successful Blacks would pledge their allegiance and loyalty to the white American power structure – or else!

When Blacks began to show a sense of collective progress amongst the masses in terms of education, politics, economics and class, whites became angry and responded with lynchings and repression in a variety of forms. When Blacks began to build Black towns and create communities where they could build their families and economic empowerment, white society began to see it as unwanted competition and attacked them.

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“A Red Record” describes and enumerates lynchings in the U.S. since the Emancipation Proclamation, reporting that “ten thousand Negroes have been killed in cold blood.” Wikipedia calls it “a huge pamphlet, not only in size, but in influence.” Ida B. Wells had “concluded that Southerners concocted rape as an excuse to hide their real reason for lynchings: Black economic progress, which threatened not only white Southerners’ pocketbooks, but also their ideas about Black inferiority,” according to Wikipedia.
Ida B. Wells wrote about these attacks in her book, “A Red Record,” where she concluded that most lynchings of Blacks were motivated more by economics than accusations of “white women sleeping with Black men.”

As Black towns or Little Africas sprang up all over the country after the Great Migration from South to North, there began to be a division of the races between whites and blacks by default of structural racism and as an intelligent response of Blacks to provide for their basic human necessities and take care of their community.

Today in U.S society, the Black population suffers from a list of inhibiting obstacles and challenges that prevent us from having an improved quality of life. Despite the election of America’s first Black president, the Black population suffers from an obvious lack of collective unity around solving many of our historically inherited issues in today’s world.

And while the buying power of Black America is expected to reach $1.1 trillion by 2015, Black people have not coordinated their spending and investments – yet – and agree on how to strategically recirculate a percentage of that $1.1 trillion to economically empower impoverished Black communities all over the country.

“Ujamaa Village” is the title of my upcoming book, which is about revisiting the concept of developing Black towns for the Black community in today’s modern world. The two major added benefits that distinguish a modern day Little Africa or Black town are the emphasis on cultural regenerative designs and the current “green” movement, which includes ecological design, green technology and sustainability ideas incorporated into the redevelopment of our predominantly Black historical cultural districts.

Recirculating the Black dollar and ownership of property – land – are crucial to rebuilding equity in the Black community. And just as important are culturally relevant features and functional designs that inspire, remind and validate a strong identity with our traditional roots and history.

While the buying power of Black America is expected to reach $1.1 trillion by 2015, Black people have not coordinated their spending and investments – yet – and agree on how to strategically recirculate a percentage of that $1.1 trillion to economically empower impoverished Black communities all over the country.

The resurgence of modern Black towns for today’s Black population could represent a renaissance in Black thinking about the direction in which we should seek justice in the world. It makes sense that if other cultural groups have “towns” like Chinatown, Japantown, Little Italy or Little Mexico, the Black community should get serious about developing and building Africatowns to recapture our internal economic markets and revitalize our cultural heritage for posterity.

You can learn more by visiting UjamaaVillage on Facebook and the “Ujamaa Village” website, http://ujamaavillages.wix.com/ujamaavillage.

Menhuam Ayele (Michael Morse), 36, has just completed a master’s degree in ecological design and architecture at the San Francisco Institute of Architecture. With a background in construction as a journeymen carpenter, a solar PV installer and project management, a gardener and the author of several books, he is also a father and a teacher and mentor to young people and a voice for bringing sustainability and ecological living into the Black community. He can be reached at ujamaavillages@yahoo.com.

 

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