Black History Month

     These are treacherous times in the African American
community. Rage has twisted inward; frustration has shifted
towards despair. The grounds for alarm are many and
multiplying and the route to deliverance seems hopelessly
     Whole sections of the African American working class
have been dumped through the bottom of a predatory economy -
- globalized out to the peripheral edges of post-industrial
capitalism and there deprived of the means and conditions to
sustain themselves with dignity. Forty years after Brown vs.
Board of Education and twenty years after the initiation of
busing to achieve school integration, public schools are
more segregated than ever and less able to deliver quality
education. African Americans remain far more likely than
whites to suffer from AIDS, hypertension, infant mortality,
breast cancer and a host of other ills. Violence has so
saturated some inner-city communities that youngsters of
thirteen and fourteen make detailed plans for their own
funerals. Meanwhile, solutions to the entrenchment of
criminal behavior -- by which the African American community
is itself most grievously victimized -- seem permanently
stuck in the patently unproductive rut of more police, more
prisons, more punitive sentencing.
     While the roster of problems is nearly overwhelming,
the capacity of African American leadership to provide the
breadth of vision and strategic leadership necessary to
forge a way forward has not been made manifest. To be sure,
organizers, activists and elected officials across the
country struggle hard every day to combat discrimination,
mentor the youth, and improve the health and welfare of the
Black community. But for the moment, the mismatch between
the depth of the problems and the barely detectable
political momentum towards radical change is stark and
     In this African American History Month issue of
CrossRoads, the lead article by Clarence Lusane addresses
the current challenges that face Black leadership -- both in
terms of concrete political strategy and in terms of
providing the kind of moral vision that would inspire the
African-American community to sustained social action.
Lusane brings us a thoughtful analysis of the elements that
must go into the creation of a Black Agenda. His
articulation of the principles and values to be embraced by
African American leadership provides a strong basis for
furthering the discussion of "which way forward."
     During the past year, African American communities in
many areas of the country have grappled with issues arising
from the gay and lesbian rights movement. Homophobia within
the African American community has been challenged as
lesbian and gay activists assert their right to be both out
of the closet and in the community. Kenya Briggs explores
some of the conflicts that have characterized the debate
among African Americans over gays and lesbians in the
military and other points of controversy.
     African American activists have long drawn insights and
inspiration from activists of African descent in other parts
of the world. In this issue, Mabie Settlage reports on a
trip to Brazil and the grassroots anti-racist activism of
the favelas.
     Even in the bleakest of times, our authentic humanity
is reflected back to us in creative works that are so true,
they hurt and heal at the same moment. Toni Morrison's words
can settle on us like a balm or sear through to the places
we're afraid to touch. Barbara Christian contributes an
appreciation of this wisest of women on the occasion of her
winning the Nobel Prize for literature.
     In this increasingly inter-connected world, the African
American struggle is more closely tied than ever to freedom
fights all over the globe, and especially to other struggles
within this hemisphere. So we're enthusiastic about
including in this issue Arnoldo García's comment "After
NAFTA: North and South Need a New Beginning," Elizabeth
Martínez's report on "Mexico: The Storm Before the Storm,"
and Daniel Hellinger's analysis of the recent Venezuelan
     The African American passion for freedom may be
temporarily subdued, but it is bound to be rekindled. When
it is, we may be sure that the ever-unfinished business of
seeking justice will be placed firmly back at the center of
the nation's agenda. And on our cover, the face of Fannie
Lou Hamer to remind us that astute, committed and
incorruptible Black leadership is even now maturing in our
midst. --Linda Burnham and Gary Phillips, issue editors