Did Black Americans in the 1850s talk like they do in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”?

Josiah Henson

Uncle Tom was based on Josiah Henson, a real Black man, a runaway slave. “The Life of Josiah Henson” (1849) – “as narrated by himself” – came out just three years before Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book. In it he is quoted as saying stuff like this:

“I am going to Washington, Mistress, to see Mr. Frank, and I must take my pass with me if you please. … I can’t go to Washington without it. I may be met by some surly stranger, who will stop me and plague me, if he can’t do any thing worse.”

Somehow Stowe managed to go from that source material to having Uncle Tom say stuff like this:

“Chil’en! I’m afeard you don’t know what ye’re sayin’. Forever is a dre’ful word, chil’en; it’s awful to think on ’t. You oughtenter wish that ar to any human crittur.”

“Extremely accurate knowledge of the negroes” – at least according to White observers:

In 1852, according to a slave owner:

“How Mrs. Stowe, the authoress, has obtained her extremely accurate knowledge of the negroes, their character, dialect, habits,&c., is beyond my comprehension, as she never resided – as appears from the preface – in a slave State, or among slaves or negroes. But they are certainly admirably delineated.”

In 2001, according to linguist Allison Burkette:

“Stowe’s linguistic accuracy is evidenced by the fact that each character’s use of linguistic features mirrors that of actual speakers, in terms of specific dialect features and their frequency of use, and her distribution of features across social variables matches that found in sociolinguistic research.”

Stowe lived in Cincinnati, Ohio from 1832 to 1850, just across the river from Kentucky, a slave state. In 1833 she visited Kentucky. In 1850 she returned to her native New England to write the book.

Stowe’s Black English was not based close observation: the grammar is inconsistent. Like Mock Ebonics, it is a broken English with unnecessary use of eye dialect that to White people seems like Black English. That she might be a racist who thought Blacks lack intelligence is shown by the fact that in her book only mulattoes seem capable of speaking Standard English.

Neither are her Black characters based on close observation: many of them are stereotypes, ones she helped to burn into the White imagination: Mammies, piccaninnies, tragic mulattoes, happy darkies, and, by way of the endless stage adaptations that ran non-stop from 1853 to 1930, Uncle Toms.

In her letters to family and friends, according to the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center:

“Stowe demonstrated that she did not believe in racial equality; she suggested, for example, that emancipated slaves should be sent to Africa, and she used derogatory language when describing black servants.”

They admit:

“many white abolitionists believed that slavery was unjust while also believing that white people were intellectually, physically, and spiritually superior to black people.”

Other White writers in the 1800s whose Black characters spoke in dialect:

  • 1843: Edgar Allan Poe: The Gold Bug – Jupiter
  • 1851: Herman Melville: Moby Dick – Fleece (the Black cook)
  • 1880: Joel Chandler Harris: Uncle Remus
  • 1885: Mark Twain: Huckleberry Finn – Jim
  • 1887: Thomas Nelson Page: In Ole Virginia

– Abagond, 2021.

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Caster Semenya update

In 2019, when I last wrote about South African runner Caster Semenya, she had won Olympic gold medals for the women’s 800-metre race in 2012 and 2016, but was fighting new testosterone rules that would exclude from future Olympics and World Championships on the grounds that she was not biologically female!

She is still fighting the rules in court, but so far with little success. In fact, the rules have been tightened, excluding not just her but several others from the 2020 Tokyo Olympics (delayed till 2021 due to the pandemic):

  • Christine Mboma (Namibia, 400m)
  • Beatrice Masilingi (Namibia, 400m)
  • Aminatou Seyni (Niger, 400m)
  • Caster Semenya (South Africa, 800m)
  • Margaret Wambui (Kenya, 800m)
  • Francine Niyonsaba (Burundi, 800m)

To compete they would have to take drugs to make them slower, to artificially reduce their testosterone levels. To their credit, they refused to do that. But:

As a result, yesterday the US won the women’s 800m for the first time since 1968. While Mboma, Masilingi and Seyni simply raced in the 200m instead, where the testosterone rules do not (so far) apply. Mboma won the silver medal.

Meanwhile Laurel Hubbard, a New Zealand weightlifter, a transgender woman, did lower her testosterone artificially and was allowed to compete as a woman in the Olympics.

How to be a real woman – according to the Olympics through the years:

  • 1896: anatomical correctness
  • 1968: XX chromosomes
  • 1996: ??
  • 2015: low levels of testosterone, even if artificial

Testosterone is a hormone naturally produced by the body, in both males and females. But in teenage boys the levels go through the roof, deepening their voices, increasing their bone and muscle mass, making them more manly looking and so on.

Normal range of testosterone in nmol/L (nanomoles per litre):

  • 0-0.4 boys and girls (before puberty)
  • 0.3-1.9 women
  • 12-38 men

These levels decrease somewhat from middle age onwards.

The upper limit for women in the Olympics:

  • 2015: less than 10 nmol/L for 12 months
  • 2019: less than 5

Semenya apparently falls somewhere between 5 and 10. Since 10 is clearly below the normal male range, cutting it in half seems like it was directed squarely at Semenya.

Female athletes tend to have high levels of testerone but apparently not all are tested. Just transgender women. And African women who run too fast. For example, Mboma and Masilingi were not tested till just weeks before the Olympics – after running “too fast” in events earlier this year.

The rule is based on scientific studies that some say are shaky. The studies presumably show that women with testosterone levels above 5 have an “unfair advantage” at the 400m, 800m, and 1500m races. But if the testosterone level is naturally occurring and is below the male range, how is that unfair?

Semenya has been fighting this the whole way. She lost her case at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and the Swiss Supreme Court. She has now taken World Athletics, which sets these rules, to the European Court of Human Rights. If she wins it will probably be too late for her, but not for the African women who come after her.

– Abagond, 2021.

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Codex Alexandrinus

The end of 2 Peter and the beginning of 1 John. Actual size: 32 × 26 cm (12.6 × 10.4 in).

Codex Alexandrinus (early 400s) is one of the oldest complete Christian Bibles we have. It was probably written in Alexandria, Egypt in the early 400s.

Alexandrinus was a complete Bible – it had all of the Old and New Testament. Some 98% of the Old Testament and 76% of the New Testament have survived (most of Matthew is gone).

It is all in Greek: the Old Testament is the Septuagint, the Hebrew Bible as translated into Greek by the Library of Alexandria circa -200. The text type of the gospels is strangely Byzantine (= from Constantinople) while the rest of the New Testament is Alexandrian, with its more polished Greek.

It is one of the four Great Uncial Codices, the four oldest Bibles (all dates approximate):

  • 325-50: Codex Vaticanus
  • 330-60: Codex Sinaiticus
  • 400-40: Codex Alexandrinus
  • 450: Codex Ephraemi

A codex is a book written on pages bound between two covers – as opposed to a scroll.

Uncial is a style of handwriting common from the 300s to 700s. The particular style of writing in Codex Alexandrinus places it in Egypt in the early 400s.

In 1627 it was given to King Charles I of England by the Patriarch of Constantinople. Meaning that the King James Bible of 1611 was translated independently of it.

In 1733 it was saved by librarian Richard Bentley from a fire at the Royal Library. It is now at the British Library along with part of Codex Sinaiticus.

Additional content: In addition to what you find in the King James Bible with an Apocrypha, Alexandrinus adds (or the King James Bible leaves out):

  • Old Testament: 2 Maccabees, 4 Maccabees, Psalm 151, 14 Odes (mostly outtakes from other parts of the Bible)
  • New Testament: 1 Clement, 2 Clement
  • Other: 18 Psalms of Solomon

And it has an introduction to the Psalms.

Missing content: Not counting the pages that are damaged or missing, Alexandrinus is missing these verses that are found in the King James:

  • Mark 15:28
  • Luke 22:43-44 (Christ’s agony at Gethsemane)
  • John 7:53-8:11 (Christ saves an adulteress from stoning)
  • Acts 8:37, 15:34, 24:7, 28:29
  • Romans 16:24
  • 1 John 5:7 (the Johannine Comma)

It does have Mark 16:9-20 where Jesus rises from the dead at the end of the Gospel of Mark. That part is missing from the older Vaticanus and Sinaiticus.

Pericope Adultera (John 7:53-8:11) – this is what scholars call the story where Jesus saves an adulteress from stoning. “He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone” and all that. That page of John is missing from Alexandrinus, but it seems to be missing just that number of verses. Since Vaticanus and Sinaiticus leave out those verses, it seems likely Alexandrinus did too.

The story of the adulteress goes back to at least the middle 200s, but it does not seem to begin to appear in Bibles till the late 300s. Augustine, John Chrysostom and Cyril of Alexandria all wrote lengthy commentaries on the Gospel of John at about the time of Alexandrinus or just before, but only Augustine brings up those verses. They were not yet a full-fledged part of the Bible. The Catholic and Orthodox Churches, though, have since signed off on them.

– Abagond, 2021.

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Betelgeuse (by -8,000,000) is the star in the constellation of Orion’s right shoulder. It used to be the tenth brightest star in the sky, but in 2019 it started dimming. A bad sign. Sometime in the next 100,000 years it will probably blow up, becoming a supernova. For two to three months only the sun and the full moon will be brighter. You will be able to see Betelgeuse during the day. And then it will disappear – having lost 90% of its mass in the explosion it will become a tiny neutron star, too faint to see in the Earth’s night sky.

Betelgeuse in 2012 (left) and 2020 (right), as seen from Earth:

By 102,000:

A supernova is a star that blows up, briefly becoming the brightest star in the galaxy for a few weeks or months. Afterwards it becomes a neutron star or a black hole. The Sun is not big enough to become a supernova. Betelgeuse certainly is. There were supernovas visible in the Earth’s night sky in the years 1006, 1054, 1572, and 1604 – all before the rise of modern science. Since then astronomers have seen supernovas in other galaxies, but not one they could study close up.

Name: In English it has been called “Betelgeuse” in various spellings since 1515. Like many star names in the West, it comes from Arabic, probably from إبط الجوزاء or Ibṭ al-Jauzā’, meaning “the armpit of the Central One” or Giant (= Orion). The most common English pronunciation I have heard sounds like “beetle juice”.

Location: RA 05h 55m 10.3053s, dec +07° 24′ 25.4″. In the Northern Hemisphere you can see it to the south in the winter sky at like eight or nine o’clock at night.

An artist’s impression of how Betelgeuse looks up close based on what we know about it. It is already starting to spew out huge amounts of matter.

Distance: About 430 light years away, maybe farther. That means it takes 430 years for its light to reach us. What we see in the sky is from 1591 or earlier. It might have already blown up. The good news is that when it does blow up, we will be too far away to be in danger.

Age: 8.0 to 8.5 million years old. Young for a star. The Sun is 4.6 billion years old – over 500 times older. Betelgeuse was not in the sky in dinosaur times. It was  born near Orion’s Belt, in the Orion OB1 Association, and then moved to the shoulder over the past 8 million years.

Size: Huge, even for a star. If it were where the Sun is, it would swallow up Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars and maybe even Jupiter. It has 16.5 to 19 times more mass  than the Sun – enough to become a supernova but probably not enough to form a black hole.

Colour: Orange-red as of 2021. But it seems it was a yellow just 2,000 years ago: In China, Sima Qian, who died in -86, said Betelgeuse was yellow, not red like Antares. In about +150, Ptolemy in Alexandria said it was ὑπόκιρρος (hypókirrhos) or “somewhat yellow”, somewhat the colour of a citron:

Future: No one knows when it will blow up. It could be tonight. The best guess is that it will be sometime within the next 100,000 years.

– Abagond, 2021.

Sources: mainly EarthSky, New Scientist (22 Oct 1981), Online Etymological Dictionary, LSJ, and the Wikipedia.

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MTV: The first two hours

Exactly 40 years ago, on August 1st 1981 at 12:01 am EDT (04:01 GMT), MTV went on the air. But only people with cable television in New Jersey could see it, back when few had cable television! See the first two hours, Atari ad and all, in the video above.

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MTV (1981- ) is a US cable television channel that used to play music videos. But, like Fox News and the History Channel, it has long since strayed from its original mission.

On Sunday August 1st 2021 at 12.01am EDT (04:01 GMT) it will turn 40 years old.

  • Ownership: ViacomCBS.
  • Location: New York City.
  • Viewers: in 2018, about 32% of Americans ages 18 to 49 had watched MTV in the past month. Only 10% of those ages 50 to 64.
  • Sister channels:
    • Domestic: VH1, CMT, MTV2, MTV3 (aka Tr3s), MTV Classic, MTV Live.
    • Foreign: most countries carry a national, regional or global version of MTV.

Shows: the original run of some of their better known shows:

  • 1980s
    • 1984- : Video Music Awards (VMAs)
    • 1987-1992: Club MTV (with Downtown Julie Brown – pictured)
    • 1987-1995: Headbangers Ball
    • 1988-1995: Yo! MTV Raps
    • 1989- : MTV Unplugged
  • 1990s
    • 1991-1995: Æon Flux
    • 1992-2019: Real World
    • 1993-1997: Beavis and Butthead
    • 1997-2002: Daria
    • 1998-2008: Total Request Live (TRL)
  • 2000s
    • 2002-2005: The Osbournes
    • 2003-2007: Punk’d
    • 2004-2007: Pimp My Ride
    • 2006-2010: The Hills
    • 2009-2012: Jersey Shore
    • 2009- : Teen Mom
  • 2010s
    • 2011- : Ridiculousness
    • 2015-2019: Decoded (with Franchesca Ramsey)

“Flavor of Love” (2006-2008) was on sister channel VH1.

Contributions to US society – for good or ill:

  • cable television – in 1982, before most people in the US had cable television, when MTV might be something you only saw at a hotel, university or friend’s house, MTV’s slogan was “I want my MTV!”. Like HBO, it became a reason people got cable television.
  • music videos – were common in the UK but not the US. The lack of US content in the early 1980s made MTV the firehose of the Second British Invasion: Duran Duran, Culture Club, the Human League, ABC, etc.
  • hip hop music – “Yo! MTV Raps” pushed hip hop music into White American culture, coast-to-coast.
  • reality TV – “Real World” popularized the format.

The original MTV VJs: J.J. Jackson, Nina Blackwood, Mark Goodman, Martha Quinn, Alan Hunter.

The Golden Age: From 1981 to 1986 (till the Challenger space shuttle disaster), MTV began each hour with the launch of a moon rocket and then it was mainly music videos and ads hosted by a VJ, who provided music news. Now you not only heard Michael Jackson sing – you saw him dance too! Well, not at first: Jackson was Black:

Racism: The video that made MTV’s name was “Billie Jean” (1983) by Michael Jackson. But as Walter Yetnikoff, the head of Jackson’s record label, tells it:

“I said to MTV, ‘I’m pulling everything we have off the air, all our product. I’m not going to give you any more videos. And I’m going to go public and fucking tell them about the fact you don’t want to play music by a black guy.’”


The first Black video to be killed was “Super Freak” (1981) by Rick James. It was killed by Caroline B. Baker because:

“there were half-naked women in it, and it was a piece of crap. As a black woman, I did not want that representing my people as the first black video on MTV.”

First format evolution: Since the 1990s, non-music programming has slowly been taking over MTV. By 2009, “Music Television” was dropped from its logo. By this morning in 2021, only one hour of music videos remained on the day’s schedule.

– Abagond, 2021.

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Simone Biles update

Simone Biles on July 25th 2021 at the Tokyo Olympics. (REUTERS/Dylan Martinez)

In 2016, when I last wrote about US gymnast Simone Biles, she had just won four gold medals at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Since then:

GOAT (Greatest Of All Time): If gold medals at World Championships are anything to go by, Simone Biles is the greatest gymnast of all time – of any gender, race, nation, or decade. By 2016 she had won 10 World Championship gold medals. Since then she has won 9 more for a total of 19 – a world record. And it is not just mere quantity either: she was the first woman to successfully perform a vault move called the Yurchenko double pike – in addition to four other gymnastic moves that have been named after her.

She is on another level! But, like French skater Surya Bonaly in the 1990s (who could do a backflip and land on one skate), she does not always get top points for doing what no one else can do.

Her own emoji – Twitter gave her own official GOAT emoji, pictured above.

Sexual abuse – she, among too, too many others, was sexually abused by the USA Gymnastic (USAG) team doctor Larry Nassar, now in prison for 300 years. Biles:

“For too long I’ve asked myself, ‘Was I too naive? was it my fault?’ No. No, it was not my fault. No, I will not and should not carry the guilt that belongs to Larry Nassar, USAG, and others.”

USAG not only allowed the abuse to go on, says Biles, but even covered it up. And even now in 2021, three years later, when asked if she would want any daughter of hers to become a gymnast, she said:

“No. Because I don’t feel comfortable enough, because they [USAG] haven’t taken accountability for their actions and what they’ve done. … And they haven’t ensured us that it’s never going to happen again.”

She and other gymnasts who spoke out against Nassar received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.

Her brother’s murder trial – oh, and her brother was charged with murder in 2018! He was not acquitted till last month.

2020 Tokyo Olympics – she was widely expected to sweep the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, now ongoing (delayed a year due to the pandemic). She easily qualified for the Olympic team last month, but she was making mistakes she should not have been making. Then this week at the Olympics she flubbed a vault move during warm-ups – and suddenly pulled out. She was having more than an off day. It was something far more frightening:

Twisties – Biles, while in mid-air, suddenly lost the sense of where she was in space, becoming disoriented. She nearly landed on her butt. She was fortunate. The now-former gymnast Jacoby Miles (pictured below) experienced the same thing and broke her neck. She will probably never walk again. It is called the twisties because for gymnasts it feels like their body has a mind of its own and does extra twists. You cannot tell when it will strike, but it seems to be common when under huge mental stress, which Biles has certainly been under.

– Abagond, 2021.

Update (August 3rd): Simone Biles re-entered the Olympics for one last event, the balance beam. She won a bronze. She was happy just to be able to compete at all. The bronze is in addition to the team’s silver medal from last week.

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A Victorian glossary

From “An ABC for Baby Patriots” (1899) by Mrs. Ernest Ames, via Mashable.

Notes on English words in the 1800s. Quoted text is from Webster’s dictionary of 1828. This is a work in progress:

5/6 – means 5 shillings and 6 pence. There were 12 pence in a shilling and 20 shillings in a pound.

ague – malaria, later any fever with chills.

American – “A native of America; originally applied to the aboriginals, or copper-colored races, found here by the Europeans; but now applied to the descendants of Europeans born in America.”

Canada West – also called Upper Canada, now known as Ontario.

consumption – tuberculosis.

dollar – a large silver coin in the US with 24 grams of silver. It was a day’s pay for a common labourer on the Erie Canal in 1851.

drapetomania – a mental illness peculiar to Black slaves that caused them to run away.

dyspepsia – indigestion or the crankiness that went with it.

Ethiopian – a nice way of saying “negro”. What we call the country of Ethiopia was then commonly known as Abyssinia.

fathom = 6 feet or 1.8288 m

florin = 2 shillings or 11.3 grams of silver. A tenth of a pound.

furlong = 660 feet or 201.168 m

Guinea – the coast of West Africa, a source of slaves and gold:

guinea – a gold coin worth 21 shillings (a pound was worth 20 shillings).

hectic – “a slow, continual fever, marked by preternatural, though remitting heat, which precedes and accompanies the consumption or phthisis; as a hectic fever.” In 1904 its meaning was extended to feverish activity.

league = 3 miles or 4.8 km – an hour’s walk. Jules Verne’s league, though, was an even, metric 4.0 km.

manifest destiny – the self-serving idea that the Christian god wanted Anglo Americans to covet and steal all of North America, if not South America too.

melancholy – sadness, depression, seen as a physical imbalance.

mesmerize – to hypnotize. Did not mean enthralled till 1862.

negro – “[It is remarkable that our common people retain the exact Latin pronunciation of this word, neger.] A native or descendant of the black race of men in Africa. The word is never applied to the tawny or olive colored inhabitants of the northern coast of Africa, but to the more southern race of men who are quite black.” The bracketed text was in the original. Not commonly capitalized till the 1930s.

nerves – of limited supply. Determine one’s mental well-being. I am not clear on the particulars.

nigger – a common pronunciation of “negro” according to Webster (see above). Extended in the 1800s to the dark-skinned people of India, Australia, the Philippines, and Polynesia.

savage – what the Wikipedia calls a hunter-gatherer. There were two kinds: noble and merciless.

shilling – aka a bob, a silver coin in the UK with the Queen on it, about the size of a US quarter. Had 5.655 grams of silver. A pound was worth 20 shillings.

snuff – “Pulverized tobacco, taken or prepared to be taken into the nose.”

Spring Garden – one of the ten largest cities in the US in 1850, now just part of Philadelphia.

Tartary – Central Asia.

thrill – can be good or bad.

workhouse – where those who could no longer support themselves go. They were given room and board and were put to work.

– Abagond, 2021.

Sources: mainly Webster’s 1828 dictionary; Online Etymology Dictionary; “What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew” (1993) by Daniel Pool.

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Yesterday, July 27th 2021, on the first day of Congressional hearings on the Capitol Riot, aka the Insurrection of January 6th, Capitol police officer Harry Dunn testified:

“I went back into the Capitol and up the stairs to the Crypt. There, I saw rioters who had invaded the Capitol carrying a Confederate flag, a red “MAGA” flag, and a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag.”

A bit later:

More and more insurrectionists were pouring into the area by the Speaker’s Lobby near the Rotunda, some wearing “MAGA” hats and shirts that said “Trump 2020.” I told them to leave the Capitol, and in response, they yelled back: “No, no, man, this is our house!” “President Trump invited us here!” “We’re here to stop the steal!” “Joe Biden is not the President!” “Nobody voted for Joe Biden!”

I am a law enforcement officer, and I keep politics out of my job. But in this circumstance, I responded: “Well, I voted for Joe Biden. Does my vote not count? Am I nobody?”

That prompted a torrent of racial epithets. One woman in a pink “MAGA” shirt yelled, “You hear that, guys, this nigger voted for Joe Biden!” Then the crowd, perhaps around twenty people, joined in, screaming “Boo! Fucking Nigger!”

No one had ever – ever – called me a “nigger” while wearing the uniform of a Capitol Police officer.

He was not alone:

In the days following the attempted insurrection, other black officers shared with me their own stories of racial abuse on January 6. One officer told me he had never, in his entire forty years of life, been called a “nigger” to his face, and that that streak ended on January 6. Yet another black officer later told he had been confronted by insurrectionists inside the Capitol, who told him to “Put your gun down and we’ll show you what kind of nigger you really are!”

Later, after the Capitol was cleared:

I sat down on a bench with a friend of mine who is also a black Capitol Police officer, and told him about the racial slurs I had endured. I became very emotional and began yelling “How the [expletive] can something like this happen?! Is this America?” I began sobbing, and officers came over to console me.

On telling the truth:

“[Republicans] Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger are being lauded as courageous heroes, and while I agree with that notion, why? Because they told the truth? Why is telling the truth hard? I guess in this America, it is.

Tucker Carlson on Fox News that night dismissed Officer Dunn and the other officers who testified as liars hand-picked by Democrats. Last week Carlson said:

“Dunn will pretend to speak for the country’s law enforcement community, but it turns out Dunn has very little in common with your average cop. Dunn is an angry, left-wing political activist.”

Carlson pointed to this 2019 tweet by Dunn :

“Racism is so American, that when you protest it, people think that you are protesting America!”

All but proving Dunn’s point.

– Abagond, 2021.

Sources: text of his testimony, C-SPAN (video of the same), NPR, NewsOne, The Wrap, Fox News.

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Bob Moses

Bob Moses in 1964.

Robert Parris Moses (1935-2021) was a Black American activist and high school math teacher. In 1964 he was an organizer of Freedom Summer in Mississippi and co-founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party with Fannie Lou Hamer. In 1982 he founded the Algebra Project to help more Blacks go to university and avoid the school-to-prison pipeline.

He passed away on Sunday July 25th.

Cornel West called him a:

“spiritual genius, intellectual giant and moral titan”

Bob Moses was a big believer in voting and algebra for Black people – because they were gates that Whites kept to keep Blacks out of power and out of universities. Many have told me that both of these things are “useless”. Is that, like, a coincidence?

Moses is from Harlem. He had no idea just how terrible it was in the South:

“I was taught about the denial of the right to vote behind the Iron Curtain in Europe; I never knew that there was denial of the right to vote behind a Cotton Curtain here in the United States.”


From 1961 to 1964 he was the head of SNCC’s voter registration drive in Mississippi, the most racist state in the nation. This was when the head of the Mississippi NAACP, also pushing voter registration, was killed: Medgar Evers. The Klan shot at Moses but missed. He was arrested and jailed many times, even beaten, but kept going.

In 1964 Moses helped to organize Freedom Summer, where hundreds of idealistic university students and other brave souls came to Mississippi to help get as many Blacks as possible to register to vote. Out of that came the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. It helped to open up the Democratic Party itself to people beyond the White middle class. It made someone like President Obama possible.

Moses broke with SNCC over the Vietnam War – he was openly against it. To avoid the draft he fled to Canada and then Africa.

From 1969 to 1976 he taught mathematics in Africa, at a high school in Tanzania. Then he returned to the US.

From 1982 to 1987 the MacArthur Foundation gave him one of their “genius grants”. He used the money to found the Algebra Project. Algebra, taught at about age 15 (if at all), was a gatekeeper subject that kept many students from going onto or succeeding at university at age 18. Thanks to the school-to-prison pipeline, many of those who are Black will wind up in prison. Moses worked to save as many as possible with new ways of teaching algebra.

Moses in 2013:

“Education is still basically Jim Crow as far as the kids who are in the bottom economic strata of the country. No one knows about them, no one cares about them.”

Moses said a quality public education should be a constitutional right. Otherwise states can get away with giving Blacks, and even Whites, a bad education – which is certainly true of mathematics.

Derrick Johnson, head of the NAACP:

“May his light continue to guide us as we face another wave of Jim Crow laws.”

Requiesat in pace.

– Abagond, 2021.

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Naomi Osaka

Naomi Osaka (1997- ), known in Japan as 大坂 なおみ or Ōsaka Naomi, is currently the second best female tennis player in the world. She rocketed to fame in 2018 when she defeated her idol Serena Williams. In 2021 she is now at her first Olympics, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics (delayed a year due to the pandemic).

She was the one who lit the Olympic torch! Well, cauldron. For a country as infamously monoracial as Japan, it was a big step.

Her Grand Slam wins to date:

  • Australian Open: 2019, 2021.
  • French Open:
  • Wimbledon:
  • U.S. Open: 2018, 2020.

That is roughly comparable to Serena Williams at the same age, 23, who had won five but did not have Wimbledon cancelled due to a pandemic.

Height: 1.80 metres (5 foot 11).

Nationality: Osaka is a Japanese citizen. She was born in Osaka, Japan to a Japanese mother, Tamaki Osaka, and a Haitian father, Leonard François. She seems US American because she has lived in the US since age three – and still does. But Japan does not allow dual citizenship after age 21, so she had to choose.


“So I don’t choose America and suddenly people are like, ‘Your Black card is revoked.’ And it’s like, African American isn’t the only Black, you know? I don’t know, I feel like people really don’t know the difference between nationality and race because there’s a lot of Black people in Brazil, but they’re Brazilian.”

Her mother:

“She was born in Osaka and was brought up in a household of Japanese and Haitian culture. Quite simply, Naomi and her sister Mari have always felt Japanese so that was our only rationale.”

2019: Osaka as she appeared in an ad in Japan by noodle-maker Nissin.

Her father trained her and her older sister Mari in tennis the same way the father of Serena and Venus Williams did. “The blueprint was already there,” he said, “I just had to follow it.”

In 2020, basketball star Kobe Bryant and his daughter died tragically in a helicopter crash. It shook millions. It devastated Osaka: he was a mentor to her, giving her advice that few in the world could give.

During the 2020 US Open she wore a different pandemic mask each time she walked onto the tennis court, each one with the name of a Black American: Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice.

In 2021 at the French Open she skipped the press conference to preserve her mental health. She was fined $15,000 and threatened with suspension by Grand Slam authorities. Osaka:

“Issues that are so obvious to me at face value, like wearing a mask in a pandemic or kneeling to show support for anti-racism, are ferociously contested. I mean, wow. So, when I said I needed to miss French Open press conferences to take care of myself mentally, I should have been prepared for what unfolded.”

She withdrew from the  French Open (and had sat out Wimbledon).

She has been suffering from depression since 2018. And she is an introvert, someone who does not crave attention.

Also in 2021 Mattel made her a Barbie Role Model doll:

– Abagond, 2021.

Update (July 27th): Osaka was knocked out of the Olympics in the third round by Czech tennis player Marketa Vondroušová. She will not be winning  any medals.

See also:



Biz Markie: Just a Friend


This came out in the US in 1989 and became a top-ten hit there on both the pop and rap charts. It seems to be little known outside of North America.

Biz Markie passed away on July 16th at age 57.

Requiescat in pace.

See also:


Have you ever met a girl that you tried to date
But a year to make love she wanted you to wait?
Let me tell ya a story of my situation
I was talkin’ to this girl from the U.S. nation
The way that I met her was on tour, at a concert
She had long hair and a short miniskirt
I just got on stage, drippin’, pourin’ with sweat
I was walkin’ through the crowd and guess who I met
I whispered in her ear, “Come to the picture booth
So I can ask you some questions to see if you’re a hundred proof”
I asked her her name, she said: “Blah-blah-blah”
She had 9/10 pants and a very big bra
I took a couple of flicks and she was enthused
I said: “How do you like the show?” She said: “I was very amused”
I started throwin’ bass, she started throwin’ back mid-range
But when I sprung the question, she acted kind of strange
Then when I asked, “Do ya have a man?”, she tried to pretend
She said: “No, I don’t, I only have a friend”
Come on!
I’m not even goin’ for it, this is what I’m goin’ sing

You, you got what I need
But you say he’s just a friend
And you say he’s just a friend, oh baby
You got what I need
But you say he’s just a friend
But you say he’s just a friend, oh baby
You got what I need
But you say he’s just a friend
But you say he’s just a friend

So I took blah-blah’s word for it at this time
I thought just havin’ a friend couldn’t be no crime
‘Cause I have friends and that’s a fact
Like Agnes, Agatha, Germaine, and Jack
Forget about that, let’s go into the story
About a girl named “blah-blah-blah” that adored me
So we started talkin’, gettin’ familiar
Spendin’ a lot of time, so we can build up
A relationship or some understanding
How it’s gonna be in the future we was plannin’
Everything sounded so dandy and sweet
I had no idea I was in for a treat
After this was established, everything was cool
The tour was over and she went back to school
I called every day to see how she was doin’
Every time that I called her, it seemed somethin’ was brewin’
I called her room, a guy picked up, but then I called again
I say: “Yo, who was that?” “Oh, he’s just a friend”
Don’t gimme that, don’t even gimme that!
Jus’ bust this

You, you got what I need
But you say he’s just a friend
And you say he’s just a friend, oh baby
You got what I need
But you say he’s just a friend
But you say he’s just a friend, oh baby
You got what I need
But you say he’s just a friend
But you say he’s just a friend

So, I came to her college on a surprise visit
To see my girl, that was so exquisite
It was a school day, I knew she was there
The first semester of the school year
I went to a gate to ask where was her dorm
This guy made me fill out a visitor’s form
He told me where it was and I was on my way
To see my baby doll, I was happy to say
I arrived in front of the dormitory
“Yo, could you tell me where is door three?”
They showed me where it was for the moment
I didn’t know I was in for such an event
So, I came to her room and opened the door
Oh, snap! Guess what I saw?
A fella tongue-kissin’ my girl in her mouth
I was so in shock, my heart went down south
So please, listen to the message that I send
Don’t ever talk to a girl who says she just has a friend (has a friend, has a friend)

Source: Songfacts.

Detail from “Faaturuma (Melancholic)” (1891) by Gauguin.

Melancholy is, according to Webster’s dictionary of 1828:

“A gloomy state of mind, often a gloomy state that is of some continuance, or habitual; depression of spirits induced by grief; dejection of spirits. This was formerly supposed to proceed from a redundance of black bile. melancholy when extreme and of long continuance, is a disease, sometimes accompanied with partial insanity. Cullen defines it, partial insanity without dyspepsy [indigestion].”

Range: Melancholy ranged from “low spirits” all the way up to suicidal thoughts and actions.

The word “depression” and “melancholy” had much the same meaning since the early 1400s, but “depression” did not become more common till 1876 and did not become a term in clinical psychology till 1905. “Depression” sees sadness being mainly mental, “melancholy” as a bodily state, an imbalance of:

The four humours: In Greek and Roman times Hippocrates and Galen came up with the idea that health is a balance of four humours or bodily fluids: blood, phlegm, yellow bile or choler, and black bile. “Melancholy” is from the Greek word for black bile. The humour model was common till the 1800s. Too much of one humour affected one’s mood:

  • too much blood made one sanguine or cheerful.
  • too much phlegm made one phlegmatic or calm and easy-going.
  • too much yellow bile or choler made one choleric or easily angered.
  • too much black bile made one melancholic or sad.

By the 1520s, the word “humour” was extended to mean one’s mood.

To restore the balance of humours, physicians generally recommended diet and exercise and maybe even bloodletting. Thus all those leeches they used to use.

You were more likely to be melancholic if you were born in autumn.

Causes: According to Dr Austin Flint in “Clinical Medicine” (1879): “death of relatives or friends, loss of property, position, or character”, dyspepsia, alcoholism, or other recognizable illness, or “a neuropathic affection” – a diseased mind. Menopause, romantic disappointment, and religious fanaticism have also been noted as causes.

Symptoms: According to Dr. Wooster Beach in “Beach’s Family Physician” (1861):

  • “The face is generally pale;
  • the urine small in quantity, and water;
  • the patient is commonly costive [constipated], and the stomach affected with wind;
  • and in some cases so miserable are the feelings, that the unfortunate wretch seeks every opportunity of putting an end to them, by terminating his existence.”

Cure: Doctors did not agree on a cure. Dr Beach said the patient should be:

“…amused with a variety of scenery; and take freely of exercise in the open air, such as riding, walking, gardening, farming, &c.  He should peruse interesting books, and converse with cheerful friends; and above all, be located amid pleasant scenery, where he can enjoy a water prospect, a country air, and country diet.”

And also take showers after which you should “rub the whole body well with coarse flannel”.

Some doctors recommended drugs like alcohol or even morphine, but others thought that was a terrible idea.

In extreme cases, to prevent suicide, you might be sent to an asylum.

– Abagond, 2021.

Sources: mainly Webster’s 1828 dictionary, Online Etymology Dictionary, Victorian doctors by way of Mimi Matthews who has a short bibliography, Max Planck PhDNet, Google Ngram Viewer.

See also:


Elizabeth Jennings Graham

An undated photo, the only picture we have of her.

Elizabeth Jennings Graham (1827-1901), one of the 13 Black schoolteachers of New York City in 1855, was the Rosa Parks of New York, back in its own Jim Crow days. When she won Jennings v Third Avenue Railroad on February 22nd 1855, it was not the end of racial segregation of public transport in New York, but it was the beginning of the end: the Third Avenue line desegregated but other companies fought on. Frederick Douglass called her “courageous” and “beyond all praise”. She also co-founded the first free kindergarten for Black children in New York City. That was in 1895.

On Sunday July 16th 1854, Jennings (not yet married to Mr Graham) was late for church and caught the Third Avenue streetcar (tram, trolley) at Pearl and Chatham (now Park Row). She never had any trouble before but today she did: the conductor told her to wait for the Jim Crow car that was about a block away.

Pearl and Chatham in New York City in 1861 – the same corner seven years later. Notice the streetcar being pulled by horses.

Jim Crow cars had a sign that said “COLORED PEOPLE ALLOWED IN THE CAR”. They often showed up late or not at all. White streetcars were more dependable, but often refused to take Black passengers or made them stand on the outside instead of sit inside. That was against state law on public transport:

“Colored persons, if sober, well-behaved, and free from disease, [have] the same rights as others.”

When the Jim Crow car came, it had no room for her.

The conductor said, “Well, you may go in, but remember, if the passengers raise any objections, you shall go out.”

She said she was a respectable person, born and raised in New-York, did not know where he was born (he probably had an Irish accent), that she had never been insulted before while going to church, and that he was a “good for nothing impudent fellow” for insulting decent persons while on their way to church.

He said he was from Ireland. She said it made no difference so long as he did not “insult genteel persons.” She was Black middle class, he was White working class.

He lost it. He and the driver dragged her off the streetcar, to which she clung for dear life while her friend, Sarah Adams, was screaming, “You’ll kill her, don’t kill her!” Once they threw her off they drove her away “like a dog”.

Then she got back on!

When they got to Walker Street (now Canal Street), they saw a policeman and had him escort her off. She limped home.

Her father, Thomas Jennings, a tailor and a Black activist, told her write down everything she could remember and had her checked out by a doctor. She was bruised and banged up.

Three days later Horace Greeley printed her acount in his New-York Daily Tribune.

Her father sued the Third Avenue line. He hired a 24-year-old lawyer who had just six weeks’ experience: Chester Arthur. He won the case. He later became the US president, from 1881 to 1885. The main reason her story is still remembered.

– Abagond, 2021.

Source: mainly “Streetcar to Justice” (2018) by Amy Hill Hearth.

See also:


Delta variant

The spike protein (in red) of the Delta variant and its mutations (labelled). Via NPR.

The Delta variant (since October 5th 2020), aka B.1.617.2, is the most contagious strain of covid-19 to date. It began in India in October, likely killing millions by April and May (probably the case, but not yet proved). By July 20th in the US it accounted for 83% of all new cases, which are now on the rise once again:

The UK saw a similar rise in June. Because of the Delta variant, most spectators will be barred from the Tokyo Olympics that start tomorrow (July 23rd).

The Delta variant is about three times more contagious than the original coronavirus, putting it on track to become the main variant worldwide, as it already is in the US and UK. It is unclear whether it is deadlier. Early studies show that people become infectious sooner (in four days instead of six) but are not any more likely to be hospitalized.

Symptoms: as with other variants, a persistent cough, headache, fever, and sore throat. One study showed that cough and loss of smell are less common, but headache, sore throat, runny nose, and fever are more common.

If you have been vaccinated you do not have much to worry about: there is a 93% chance the vaccine will prevent the Delta variant from hospitalizing you. Pfizer wants to make a booster shot. The CDC says there is no need yet for a booster shot so long as you are fully vaccinated.

If you are not vaccinated, then your chances of getting covid have just gone up. As Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown School of Public Health, puts it:

“This is a very, very dangerous moment to be unvaccinated with this variant circulating.”

Based on vaccination rates in the US, the Delta variant will hit red states, Blacks and Hispanics the hardest. In June, over 99% of those who died of covid were unvaccinated.

Herd immunity: Because the Delta variant is more contagious, that means higher rates of vaccination will be required before covid-19 becomes a thing of the past, probably more than 70%. So this whole thing is going to drag on longer than expected. Worldwide only 10% are vaccinated. In the US, 67% of adults are at least partly vaccinated.

Variants of covid-19 so far:

  • Alpha (aka B1.1.7): began in September 2020 in the UK.
  • Beta (aka B.1.351): began in May 2020 in South Africa.
  • Gamma: (aka P.1): began in November 2020 in Brazil.
  • Delta (aka B.1.617.2): began in October 2020 in India.

“Delta” is the name the World Health Organization (WHO) gave it. “B.1.617.2” is what scientists call it based on its genetic lineage.

No doubt Epsilon and other variants are yet to come.

The Delta variant has a new and improved spike. Those red spikes you see in pictures is how the coranavirus sticks to your lung cells so that it can infect them. (The spikes, by the way, are not red. That is an artistic convention. Viruses are too small to have colours.)

– Abagond, 2021.

Sources: mainly PBS, NPR, WebMD, BBC, BNC News.

See also:


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