That day in his office, Kwame remembers something his mother used to say to him: "When you have questions, you must go back to the beginning." So begins Kwame's metaphorical journey into the history of his people.
It begins back in Africa, where Kwame is sold into slavery and then sent to the Americas. From there, Kwame watches the emancipation of the slaves. He lives through the Civil Rights movement, before finally becoming the president of the United States.
In order to make sense of his present, Kwame must look at the past and learn from those who came before. To serve his people, he must transcend time. Filled with friendships, loyalties, and infidelities, A President's Notes of a Metaphorical Journey follows Kwame and his friends as they live through their collective history and discover that within this journey lives the history of an entire nation.
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From West Africa To WashingtonA President's Notes
By Lena Hall
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Lena Hall
All right reserved.
Chapter OneFrom West Africa to Washington
A President's Notes Of A Metaphorical Journey
As the newly elected President I had just returned from a press conference. As I sat alone in the Oval Office I pondered over that event. I was not sure what to make of it. The press was not as accommodating as they had been before. They seemed almost hostile. I know that journalists get kudos for asking the tough questions. It seemed as if on this day everyone was attempting to outdo the other in asking the toughest question. I had travelled a long road to get to this point and had developed somewhat of a tough skin. Still I wondered if I had done the right thing in running for president of the United States. Sure I was still very popular with the people. My approval rating after these few months in office was higher than that any other President in recent history. Still, this sudden burst of opposition and animosity was disconcerting.
I felt a bit drained. I could not yet decide if the low energy I was experiencing was due to the recent burst of activities that had taken me across the country to town hall meetings, to my being guest on late night shows, and now, this press conference. I had been reading and listening to the comments of pundits ever since I took office on January 20. Everyone knew by now, what my campaign was about and my determination to put my campaign promises into action, once I was elected. I was doing just that! Still there were criticisms that I was doing too many things at the same time. I was also criticized for spending too much of taxpayers' money and increasing the national debt. In addition, I was criticized for being overexposed. Well, I did promise to be open and to keep in touch with the people and that was not going to change.
I began to reflect on the actual journey to the White house. I had been writing notes about all the significant events in my life. The events of today led me to review what I had written and reminded me of how I got to be in the White House.
I was a very precocious child who became an avid reader at an early age. I would question my mother about any concerns I had. One such question involved African Americans. I wanted to know why African Americans were not considered immigrants. My mother responded the way she usually did to most of my queries, "Kwame, when you have questions you have to go back to the beginning."
"Do you mean a recapitulation of the African American history, all the way back to Dahomey?" My mother was amazed by this question. I was only ten years old at the time. Still, my mother was her usual warm self and softly replied, "Yes you do."
Today I reflected on my mother's usual response, 'You must go back to the beginning.' I pondered this for a while, but finally figured that what I needed more than anything else at the moment was to get some rest and be in tip top shape for the summit. I got up from my desk, closed the door and lay on the nearby sofa that was close to the north wall. I figured I would rest there until my Chief Advisor came to get me for my trip.
Heritage, Education, Abduction
Dahomey, was a West African Kingdom, but is now the southern part of the Republic of Benin. It was founded in the seventeenth century and can be traced back to the Aja Tribe. The Aja lived in the same location with another tribe known as the Fon. The Aja Tribe was a powerful group who eventually dominated the Fon tribe which was fewer in number. Interestingly enough my mother was a descendant of the Aja tribe. My father was a descendant of the Fon tribe. They both lived through the reign of King Wegabaja a Fon, who was self appointed as the King of Dahomey. This difference in background was the root of several heated arguments between my mother and my father. When my father was upset with my mother he would remind her, "I am related to royalty and for this you are jealous of my heritage." My mother in response would remind my father, "If I were like you I would not mention that nonsense. King Wegbaja was self appointed and he was responsible for the hundreds of human sacrifices for which he was negatively viewed around the world. These human sacrifices were enacted during times of war as well as in peace time. You should be ashamed of his behavior."
My mother also reminded my father of the annual ceremonies when captured soldiers, criminals, or even his ex-wives were sacrificed. She further pointed out how the ex-wives would be buried alive while the other victims were beheaded. Once my mother was on a roll there was no stopping her. Instead of stopping at this my mother would continue;
"Do you remember the large number of slaves who worked for King Wegbaja and how miserable their lives were? They lived in constant fear of being sacrificed?"
At this point my father would stop dead in his tracks. He really did not like to be reminded of these horrible acts. This was an interesting response because to many, my father seemed cold. However, there must have been a sensitive side to him otherwise my mother's constant reminders of the King's atrocities would not have bothered him as much as they did.
Based on past arguments, my father knew that my mother would always be ready to remind him that King Wegbaja had entered into contract with many European slave traders and that the King would receive weapons in exchange for slaves. My father was, obviously ashamed of all of these inhumane transactions. He would much rather not be reminded of them. After such arguments my father would walk away with his hunting gear. I was never sure if he was angrier with my mother, King Wegbaja, or just his life situation; but in moments like these he seemed to find some solace in hunting. He would be gone for several hours and return later with peace offering in the form of meat from the animals he had hunted. My mother understood this gesture and accepted it with grace. Even though I was young at the time I knew that this period of calm was time limited. Sooner or later there would be another eruption and the drama would be repeated.
As a child I tried to make sense of it all, I wondered if it was really the King's actions that bothered my mother or was her irritation due to the fact that she had been converted to Christianity by Quakers and could not convince my father to do the same. My mother's point of view seemed to have differed drastically from my father's after her conversion. Since her conversion she seemed to have undergone some spiritual and psychological transformation. Although my mother and father belonged to two different tribes, I am quite sure that when they got married they were in sync with each other. There were many couples in Dahomey like my mother and father and they seemed to have been doing just fine. It was after my mother's conversion to Christianity that the arguments increased exponentially. My mother was now convinced that human sacrifice was a sin and that those involved would be condemned to hell's fire. The Quakers had taught my mother that according to the teachings of Jesus, we should treat our neighbors as we would like to be treated. My mother honestly wanted my father to see her point of view. He was never in the mood to even listen to her line of argument. She being strong willed was not discouraged from learning more about Christianity even if that produced increased conflicts between her and my father.
Not only did the Quakers teach my mother about Christianity, they also taught her to speak, read and write in English. My mother developed a love for reading which she passed on to me and my sister Madhavi. When my mother was with the Quakers she would read any material she could find. The Quakers saw her thirst for knowledge and provided her with reading materials such as pamphlets, school books and the Bible.
As time went by, although my mother was fascinated with the Christian religion, she became disillusioned with the idea of organized religion. She became unhappy with the controversies that religion was creating. At the same time, however, she was thrilled that she learned to read and write English because that opened up her world to different points of view, on a number of different topics. She often stated how grateful she was to the Quakers for all that they taught her. My mother knew that if my sister and I also learned to read and write English we would have more opportunities opened up to us. She was determined to make sure that we learned even more than she did. She did not have much control over what was happening around her, but felt that she could at least help us to see the world a little differently from the way she saw it as a child. My mother would constantly ask the Quakers for any old reading material that they were no longer using. She would hand these over to my sister and me. These books were on an assortment of subjects; biology, geography, novels and even math books and maps. As long as there were English words my mother thought we should read them. In the evenings all three of us would spend hours poring over words that sometimes meant very little to us but these moments were precious and unforgettable. The undying love for reading which my sister and I developed was the result of this wise practice initiated by my mother when we were very young children.
In addition to teaching us to read, mother taught us to see everyone as equal, irrespective of their station in life or their religion. She pointed out that she loved our father very much although he was a Moslem and she was a Christian. My sister and I were too young at the time to see any contradictions in our mother's statements. Later, I reflected on the inconsistencies in our lives. One such inconsistency was the fact that my mother was one of the four wives my father had. This was not a Christian religious practice. My mother was not known to deny or rationalize what appeared to be the truth, but on this issue she was quiet. Maybe the love she had for my father was sufficient and did not have to be explained in the context of religion. She never tried to deny her Moslem roots and knew that our names were sufficient to explain that. Our father's name was Mohammed Ali. My mother's name was Ayesha. My sister's name was Madhavi and I was named Kwame. My mother never made any apologies for her heritage or our names. She did not believe that one's religious background really mattered in the big scheme of things. She believed that we take different paths based on our present level of consciousness but that we should all endeavor to be nonjudgmental when viewing the behaviors of others.
Our mother tried to pass many of her values to my sister and me. We saw the pained expressions when news came about Wegbaja's selling of war captives as slaves into the transatlantic slave trade. It did not matter to her who these captives were. She saw the practice as an injustice to humans. My mother had no idea that as time went by the King would include others such as her, her family and other Dahomeans in this unconscionable deal.
My birth was eventful. I was the first male child born to my mother and father. My father was ecstatic over the fact that I was a boy. According to his tribe's tradition, this demanded days of celebration. He was acknowledged by his tribe to be a strong male because he had a son. Later he would come to have three other wives who bore him a total of four sons, but I was the first. At the time of my birth he had no way of knowing that he would be this fortunate in the future. He named me Kwame which was also the name of his father. My sister was born two years later. And my mother named her after her mother Madhavi.
Madhavi and I were raised differently. My father wanted Madhavi to stay close to my mother, so she would learn to cook and be a good housewife. Madhavi was more interested in running around with me and do the things I was allowed to do with my male friends. My mother was inclined to treat us similarly. She hugged me and kissed me as frequently as she hugged and kissed my sister. If I hurt myself while playing I would cry and run to my mother for comfort as often as my sister did. Mother never admonished me for being who I was. My father on the other hand constantly rebuked me.
"Kwame, you need to be tough. You need to be strong and decisive if you want to be a leader in my village."
I sensed that my father did not particularly like the influence my mother was having on me. Although my mother was a strong individual, she was also very kind and empathic. When I told her about a fight I had with a playmate, she was not interested in whether or not I won. She wanted me to tell her of another way a conflict could be resolved that did not involve a physical fight. This type of suggestion would upset my father and he would interrupt her with, "Kwame is a boy. He needs to fight. He needs to physically defend himself; otherwise no one will respect him." At this point I would be relieved that the attention was diverted away from me while my mother and father argued over their obvious difference in parenting styles. In moments like these I would then sneak off to engage in some childhood play with my friends in the neighborhood.
My sister produced fewer parenting conflicts between my parents. However, on one such occasion, it was when my mother told Madhavi that she could grow up and become whatever she wanted to be. With this statement my father immediately had a quizzical look on his face as if he were wondering if my mother was out of her mind! He felt it was imperative to inform my sister of his own expectation. "My dear Madhavi, one day you will marry a beautiful Fon warrior and you will have children as beautiful as you. Your mother and I will be very proud of you." Except for my father, we all snickered and got on with what we were doing. My father never shifted from his strong views about males and females. From his point of view, in order for men to be respected they should strive to be leaders. They should show physical and psychological strength at all times. A woman, on the other hand, should strive to marry a strong male who can protect her and her family. A woman's greatest achievements, from my father's perspective, are being a wife and a mother. Madhavi and I loved our father but we learned very early in life not to argue with him. He had very strong traditional views about life. It did not make any sense trying to get him to change his opinions about the traditional values to which he ascribed. We realized that it would be a waste of time and would only get our father upset. He would end up blaming our mother for indoctrinating us with western rubbish. To avoid this whenever my father started on his tirade about what traditions demand we would politely listen knowing that his words were simply going in through one ear and out through the next. Still we acknowledged that he was a great father and that he loved us more than anything else in the world. That was comforting.
Excerpted from From West Africa To Washington by Lena Hall Copyright © 2011 by Lena Hall. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Acknowledgement and dedication....................ix
From West Africa to Washington....................1
Heritage, Education, Abduction....................3
Reflections Of Home From The Hull Of A Slave Ship....................12
Life in America Begins in Virginia....................16
Religion Modified, Languages Corrupted....................20
Laws, Wars And New Friendships....................26
Quakers, Writers, And Riots Against Slavery....................36
End of Slavery, Family Reunited....................42
New Beginnings As A Family....................51
Public Service Initiated....................64
Harlem Becomes Home....................76
Manny To The Rescue....................84
An Unforgettable Sunday....................107
Meeting Marcus Garvey....................112
Private Meeting With The Trio....................117
Meeting With Pastor Brown....................124
Community Project Initiated....................128
The Proposal Has Wings....................146
New Beginning: The Harlem Seven....................152
The Harlem Seven....................157
The First Community Meeting....................164
Harlem Seven in Action....................173
Senior Students' Parents Meetings....................181
The Harlem News Closing, Weddings And College Admissions....................197
The Triple Wedding....................203
Getting Ready For College....................212
Return To The South....................218
Dynamic Changes: Individual And Collective....................228
More Than Just A Reunion....................238
Man Proposes, God Disposes....................251
The United States President Assassinated....................253
More Leaders Assassinated....................256
Goodbye To The Sixties: Welcome To A New Era....................259
New York Revisited....................261
Bertha What Did You Do?....................285
Big Plans For New York....................299
New York Here We Come....................306
Action In New York....................310
The Launching of New York News....................322
Kwame, The New Governor of New York....................331