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White Paper on the Black Books Ecosystem

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So @Troycalled me out when I said there should be a white paper on the Black Books Ecosystem by suggesting  I write it. Since I don't really have the time and feel it is important I will start an open source version of it. This post will be kind of a sounding board for the White paper and what it should be.


A lot of what it will do is document what the Black Books Ecosystem is. What are its inputs and outputs? How is it quantified? How many authors are there? How many publishers? How many bookstores? How many distributors? What is its history? What are its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats? What are the trends that affect it?


Any suggestions for what should be included are welcome. Contributors are welcome also.

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65 percent of Black respondents had read at least one book in the previous 12 months

No crystal stair : a documentary novel of the life and work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem bookseller



Lewis Michaux, 92, Dies; Ran Bookstore in Harlem


By C. Gerald Fraser

Aug. 27, 1976

Lewis H. Michaux, whose National Memorial African Book. store was for 44 years a Harlem landmark, died of cancer Wednesday at Calvary Hospital in the Bronx. He was 92 years old and lived at 1270 Fifth Avenue.

Mr. Michaux called his bookstore the house of common sense and the home of proper propaganda. The community called it Michaux's.

The store was situated for 38 years on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard at 125th Street. Browsers and customers included Kwame Nkrumah, who later became Ghana's first President; Malcolm X and many authors and scholars, such as W. E. B. DuBois, who met his wife, Shirley Graham, there.

Joe Louis, Earths Kitt, Louis Armstrong and Langston Hughes held autograph parties there.

Outside the store, at the intersection Mr. Michaux called Harlem Square, street speakers for decades mounted stepladders to espouse black nationalism.



Mr. Michaux himself was a black nationalist. He was involved in nationalist movements in Harlem from the 1930's to the 1960's, and he supported Marcus Garvey's back‐to‐Africa movement. He picketed in Harlem to put blacks in business on busy 125th Street. He picketed at the United Nations to protest its acions in Zaire and the murder of Patrice Lumumba, the Congo's, Prime Minister. He led an organization called African Nationalists in America, and he was a member of the advisory board of the now‐defunct Liberator, a magazine that began in 1960 and provided the first national forum for many now prominent black authors, critics and playwrights.


‘Enemy of Racism’

Mr. Michaux despised the word “Negro,” contending that it was a word used for slaves and that it denied a people their history and their homeland.

Frank Hercules, the author, said yesterday that Mr. Michaux “was an uncompromising enemy of racism.”

“Black nationalism was the weapon he employed to fight this evil,” Mr. Hercules said. “But he was also a great American patriot in the nativist tradition.”

He brought books to black people, Mr. Hercules continued, that gave them “the impact of their heritage and of their own distinguished contribution to world civilization.”

Mr. Michaux, who was born in Newport News, Va., on Aug. 4,1885, said that he had never worked for anyone one day in his life. But he also said he had picked peas as a youth, washed windows and later served as a church deacon. late brother was Elder Solomon Lightfoot Michaux, the evangelist.

Mr. Michaux left the church, disenchanted. “I don't want any religion that takes away my individuality,” he said in an interview last May.

Mr. Michaux first sold books from a wagon, and then from the store on Seventh Avenue, as the street was then called. He slept in the back of his bookstore.

“You couldn't find 15 to 20 books by black people,” he said. He added that his receipts then for a day's sales were often only 75 cents or a dollar. When he retired, he said, he was taking in up to $1,500 a day.

When he closed his store, which was moved in 1968 to West 125th Street from Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard to make room for the State Harlem Office Building, he had amassed an inventory of 200,000 hooks by and about black people. His bookstore was the largest in Harlem.

Jean Blackwell Hutson, the curator of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a New York Public Library facility, said Mr. Michaux's store complemented the Schomberg by selling books that could be read but not borrowed from the library.

Ready Wit

Mr. Michaux was a peppery, charming, streetwise Harlemite whose wit was legendary.

“Negro is a thing,” he used to say. “Use it, abuse, it, accuse it, refuse it.”



“No white God answers no black prayers,” he said. “The only lord I know is the landlord, and I don't have to pray for him, he comes every month for the rent.”


Describing his departure from the church to the book business, he said: “I left the pulpit for the snake pit.” And the pervasiveness of black awareness in the 1960's caused him to say: “The white man's dream of being supreme has turned to sour cream.”

During a lecture at the Black Theater in Harlem, Mr. Michaux said, “The black man is asleep.” He paused and then corrected himself. “No, he's not asleep. He's awake. He's sitting on the edge of the bed, scratching.”

His basic belief was on a sign over his 125th Street store: “Knowledge is power; you need it every hour. Read a book.”

He proudly related that once a father and son came into his store and the father asked him what the son should be. Mr. Michaux answered, “A doctor.” He sold the father “The Negro in Medicine,” and 26 years later he met the son, then a physician.

Mr. Michaux is survived by his wife, Bettie; a son, Lewis Jr., and two sisters, Ruth, of Washington and Margaret, of Newport News.

Funeral services will beheld 10 A.M. Monday at Benta's Funeral Chapel on St. Nicholas Avenue at 141st Street.


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Black-Owned Bookstores: Anchors of the Black Power Movement





Radical African American bookstores established in the late 1960s and 1970s sought to advance three core principles of the Black Power movement. First and foremost, black booksellers promoted African American political reeducation and knowledge of self through books, pamphlets, and journals on black nationalism and pan-Africanism.


Second, black booksellers positioned their stores as a new generation of black public spaces, welcoming a wide range of customers, activists, and curious community members.


Third, many African American booksellers rejected the idea that black businesses’ primary goal was to accumulate capital.



Since 1968: The Drum & Spear Bookstore




A symposium exploring the themes of cultural work, geography, and community as manifested in the history of three organizations that emerged from the social, political and cultural transformations that reshaped national and global society in 1968: the Center for Traditional Music and Dance, Appalshop and the Drum and Spear Bookstore. Panel two: Established in 1968 on Fairmont Street in Washington, D.C. and operating until 1974, the bookstore (and its branch, Malezeo, located in the HUD building) was a creative hub for black power, black consciousness and internationalist activism. Founded by African-American civil rights veterans, the non-profit quickly became a leading space for cultural production and intellectual and political engagement in the city. Participants will reflect on the bookstore's leading role in expanding critical consciousness about such issues as cultural democracy, race, activism and the significance of place in the nation's capital.



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Drum And Spear: How A Local Bookstore Educated Washington About Black Power In The ’60s And ’70s




Fifty years ago a radical black bookstore opened in Washington, DC. Called Drum and Spear, the bookstore was an educational and political center for black power activists through the mid-seventies, providing space for events as well as acting as a clearinghouse for Pan-African, civil rights, and black power literature as well as African arts and crafts. We speak with founders of the book store and talk about its lasting legacy in the region, including what that legacy means for today’s black bookstores.


It’s the 20th anniversary of the Kojo Nnamdi Show, and we are looking back and ahead at the people and places that shaped Washington. That includes the Drum & Spear Bookstore, where Kojo worked in his early years in DC.

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Abolitionist David Ruggles had the first African-American Bookstore. He printed books, ran a press, and did book binding as well. His bookstore was burned down on September 4, 1835. He reopened at a different location not far away.



https://www.google.com/books/edition/David_Ruggles/yW0oiL7ueg4C?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=david ruggles book store&pg=PA84&printsec=frontcover&bsq=david ruggles book store





Martin Sostre


Sostre was arrested at his bookstore on July 14, 1967, for "narcotics, riot, arson, and assault", charges later proven to be fabricated, part of a COINTELPRO program.[5] He was convicted and sentenced to serve forty-one years and thirty days. Sostre became a jailhouse lawyer, regularly acting as legal counsel to other inmates and winning two landmark legal cases involving prisoner rights: Sostre v. Rockefeller and Sostre v. Otis. According to Sostre, these decisions constituted "a resounding defeat for the establishment who will now find it exceedingly difficult to torture with impunity the thousands of captive black (and white) political prisoners illegally held in their concentration camps."[6



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One of the most radical acts that we can take is to open a Black owned bookstore. J. Edgar Hoover targeted Black owned bookstores in October 1968.


"From 1968 until the store’s closing in 1974, the Bureau compiled nearly 500 pages of investigative files on Drum and Spear. "



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1990 seems like yesterday hard to imagine it was 30 years ago. So mych has changed since then The list is missing a few stores that I know were open in 1990 at least two are still open Hakim's in Philly and Marcus in Oakland.


National Memorial Bookstore is long gone the building ut wasnin was torn down years ago. Now there is a statue Memorializing Adam Clayton Powell.

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Haki Madhubuti may have already written the White Paper on the Black Books Ecosystem. We just have to update it. In his book "From Plan to Planet: Life Studies; The Need for Afrikan Minds and Institutions" he has a chapter entitled "The Necessity of Control: Publishing to Distribution: A SHORT PROPOSAL FOR BLACK DISTRIBUTORS." It is essentially a primer on the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats facing the Black Books Ecosystem in the early 1970s. That we are still talking about basically the same issues with eBooks and A2Z added in means we might be going in circles.


He goes into a lot of things that I would have never thought about: Mass Printing? Mass Distribution? Hiring salespeople? Ideology?





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This will be the very next thing i read, once I get my hands on it.


Given how much has changed since it was written i doubt it will have much practical application today. I'm interested in the the motivation and goals.


Plus we have the benefit of hindsight.  

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15 minutes ago, Troy said:

I'm interested in the the motivation and goals.

One of the things he brought to mind is the University of Sankore. Islamic scholar Abd al-Rahman al-Tamimi needed to go back to Fez before he was qualified to teach at Sankore. Outstanding literature is a product in demand. A supply of Gwendolyn Brooks' and Toni Morrisons that can only be gotten through the Black Books Ecosystem encourages more of the same.

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1 hour ago, Nnamdi Azikiwe said:

It seems like he is talking about having a monopoly over books by Black authors,


I think this a great idea. In fact this is my reasoning with the book I have.


There are many book that are published by Black people that we could monopolize, but the problem is too many Black people are making too much money selling these books on Amazon as third-party booksellers. Unless that changes we will never be able reap the financial rewards that come with ownership.


Black people did not publish Morrison, but we published Brooks. But again today most* of the books published by TWP make their way to Amazon.


If we stopped selling to,  and buying, our book from Amazon, the Black Book Ecosystem could thrive.


Getting Amazon out the mix would help a great deal.


*I don't know what percentage of Third World Press' (Haki's publishing company) books are sold on Amazon, but it is significant.

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9 hours ago, Troy said:

*I don't know what percentage of Third World Press' (Haki's publishing company) books are sold on am*zon, but it is significant.

This is why control is more important than ownership. Haki owns TWP but JB controls the information about sales of TWP on A2Z.

8 hours ago, Troy said:

Black people are making too much money selling these books on am*zon as third-party booksellers.

That's only true because no one has a plan in place to counter it. Again we are watching people play the game and know all their moves but we have no winning moves of our own. If they could make more as a third party seller somewhere else that would cease. It's not about profit or ownership... it's about control. JB controls what we let him control.

9 hours ago, Troy said:

Getting am*zon out the mix would help a great deal

Control over publishing and distribution is essential. Hodari Ali made mention of his plans to start franchising Pyramid Books. Imagine a system where turnkey Bookstores by their books from the publisher and distributor. Now make those Bookstores a bookmobile. iSankore. That's not ownership. That's control. That's what JB has and he only has it until someone builds a better mousetrap that they control.

6 minutes ago, Nnamdi Azikiwe said:



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3 hours ago, Nnamdi Azikiwe said:

That's only true because no one has a plan in place to counter it.


Sure we do, we just don't use our alternatives. 


AALBC and other Black owned business -- including the ones selling through Amazon today can sell these books directly (all the ones I looked at have websites).  If people did not sell on Amazon readers would have to seek out our sources for these books.  Once Amazon is out the loop the additional profit could be used to build our businesses and that money would stay in the community longer -- rather than going straight into Jeff Bezos' (JB) pockets


3 hours ago, Nnamdi Azikiwe said:

Hodari Ali made mention of his plans to start franchising Pyramid Books


Which Pyramid Book are you talking about? I'm familiar with Pyramid Book in south Florida: https://aalbc.com/bookstores/store.php?store_name=Pyramid+Books 

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2 hours ago, Troy said:

familiar with the Brothers who ran Karibu Books?

vaguely...it went out in a blaze of glory.

2 hours ago, Troy said:

I was unfamiliar with DC's Pyramid Books.

This whole process of investigating the BBE is making me more aware of how important Pyramid was. Though at the time it seemed like just a guilty pleasure. Hours could fly by in that place just reviewing the merchandise.

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