Professor James Small is certainly not one to mince words. Best known for serving up controversial outrages, and slices of liberating powers of truth about Afrocentrism, Small is a living legend—a researcher, Pan-Africanist, Black nationalist, and scholar. Since his teen years, Small has made it his life’s work to reset thinking, re-educate those who believe in the Eurocentric version of world history. Small’s teachings have always centered on how Black Americans should look into the past for their heroic selves. He has throughout the years made an intense and affecting case for Black folks to study African history and learn the buried side of their own stories in America.
Born in 1945, in South Carolina, Small went from serving two years in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War to joining the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU) founded by human rights activist and Muslim minister, Malcolm X. He and Malcolm shared a bond right up until the Nation of Islam leader was assassinated in 1965.
Small has been a member of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the NAACP, and the socialist movement, the Uhuru fighters. Small’s work has allowed him to meet with such influential figures as Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael), Jamil Al-Amin (H. Rap Brown), Eldridge Cleaver, Zaid Shakur and Lumumba Shakur. He even made a holy pilgrimage to Mecca and marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to protest the war in Vietnam. Small has also been the victim of police brutality after members of the Los Angeles Police Department beat him up and threw him in jail for what they deemed were radical political activities.
As a member of the OAAU, he was the organization’s liaison to the Black Panther Party and other revolutionary organizations. And though most of his associates during that revolutionary era have passed away, he is still in touch and working to keep things moving with the few who are still alive today like political activist and co-founder of the Black Panther Party, Bobby Seale.
Small has taught and served as an administrator at the City University of New York system for nearly 20 years in mostly the Black Studies Department at the City College of New York. The Yoruba priest has lectured all over the globe at some of the world’s most prestigious colleges, universities, and venues. As if his workload isn’t already at max capacity, Small has been conducting educational and cultural tours to West Africa for the last 25 years which he says are tailored for folks, who are truly interested in learning the truth about African history and culture.
Small has six biological children, he and his pediatrician wife of 45-years, Carol Tondu-Small, M.D. have four together. The couple also adopted two children in Ghana and they have 22 grandkids in all.
50BOLD chatted with the always outspoken and passionate and Professor Small on his vision of the Black community in the 21st century.
50BOLD: What would you say are the major challenges Black folks are wrestling with today? Do you have a prescription for what is ailing us?
Professor Small: As Black people, we spent 1.4 trillion dollars last year. 1.3 trillion dollars the year before; so in two years, we’ve spent 2.7 trillion dollars. And we, the elite Blacks have given it away to other ethnic groups. We have created nothing of significance in our community. We have not employed that class of people that most need employment.
We want to face the truth about ourselves. It isn’t the type of wine you like to drink. It isn’t the type of European clothing design you like to wear that makes you somebody. It is your character that makes you somebody. And your character is defined by your actions towards the least of us.
The suffering of the Black community right now can be ended by Black people tomorrow. No matter what white people do, it can be ended by Black people tomorrow, if the Black elite, the Black sororities, the Black Masons, the Black Eastern Stars, the Black colleges and the Black churches put their efforts together towards that end. They could end it tomorrow
We can put those 1.5 trillion dollars that we are expected to spend this year and circulate it in the Black community and create an apprenticeship program. We can invest money to create a retail business so that we hire these young men and women in our communities. We can put our money and our strength in those high schools to make sure they are appropriately training our youth. Only we can do that.
50BOLD.com: Is there hope for our youth, especially with so much ignorance being spewed via rap music?
Professor Small: I’m going to stop you right there. There’s the term…’do not throw out the baby with the bath water,’ because this very genre of music called hip-hop and rap may be responsible, why there are less Black people using drugs than there was 10 years ago.
Professor Small: Really! Look at the stats. It may be more responsible why more Black people are conscious of being Black, whether they know African history or not than there was 10 or 20 years ago. We have an illusion because people point to the Black Panther Party and the few people who had natural hairdos and wore dashikis that there was a more widespread consciousness of blackness in the 60s than there is now. No. We have a larger widespread of consciousness now than we’ve ever had in the modern history of Black people in North America. Young people are not speaking the language the greater society cares to hear because they are telling them, “I don’t give a damn.” And part of the profanity shows rejection of a system.
Now, we know that the Jewish and the Italians control the music industry that has been responsible for the death of many of our greats. And who have robbed most of our performers over the decades of billions of dollars? They deliberately promote that aspect of the hip-hop music genre that does project profanity, and abuse towards our race. And many of the young people that come out of dire poverty go that route because for them it’s just survival.
We have to access what produced these children who are reacting to the system in this manner because remember, the music industry did not create rap and hip-hop. The Black community created it in response to their oppression. And somebody else found a way to make money off the most profane aspect of it. So, you’ve taken Black music which is the most beautiful thing on the planet earth and then, you are putting garbage in it and serving it to a Black public. So let’s not blame rap and hip-hop. Let’s not blame those youth before we blame the industry of corporate America who makes the billions off the records that are being sold.
These are the same people who would kill a Sam Cooke when he started to take over the Black music label and distribution. These are the same people who killed Tupac Shakur when he and Biggie Smalls decided to gain control and distribution of rap music, that’s why they were killed. The industry is what killed them. I spoke to Tupac two days before his death. He explained to me what they were trying to do and I warned him what he was up against. And he said that he was aware of it. But they moved too fast for him.
He was trying to get out of Vegas and come back to New York City. But then two days later he was killed.
So we have to study the history of our enemy. We have to look at Billie Holiday and see who got her on drugs? Who made money off Billie Holiday’s music? Who made money off John Coltrane? Who made money off Otis Redding? Who made money off all those brothers and sisters? Many of whom went down in poverty in their old age, after making tens of millions that went into the hands of those ethnic groups who control the music industry. You can’t blame the victim because the victim doesn’t know how to behave. You’ve got to blame the victimizer, the one who taught that behavior and rewards that behavior.
50BOLD: How are melanin and spirituality related?
Professor Small: This is a difficult question and a complex question. We proved that melanin is not just a color of our skin. The chemicals melatonin, serotonin, and other melanin derivatives that are produced by the pineal gland do affect our entire body. Our nervous system. It affects everything chemically about us.
When you think of melanin, you think of a physical thing. The body does produce it. The brain does produce it. Dr. Wade Nobles, the pioneer of the African-American psychology movement and one of my good friends has said we are not spiritual people, we are actually spirit itself having a human experience. Europeans are human beings trying to have a spiritual experience.
When we say we are a spirit, it’s saying we are aware of the aspect of God that is in us. And we are trying to cultivate that to its highest level. Melanin is one of those chemicals that gives us the chemical and electrical interconnectivity that allows us to connect to the rest of ones about us and the universe.
The key thing that one must understand is that there is no God without you. You are an intrinsic part of what we call God. And so spirituality is your effort and your understanding and your consciousness of how we try to achieve higher connectivity to the rest of the universe. And melanin is one of the chemical instruments that give us the capacity to have the possibility of doing that.
50BOLD: Many of our elders have become ancestors: Dr. Yosef Ben-Jochannan, Dr. John Henrik Clarke, Dr. Ivan Van Sertima, Dr. Frances Cress Welsing; how can we personally keep their memories alive?
Professor Small: There is an ancient African saying that as long as you call my name, I’m still living among you. Dr. Frances Cress Welsing left us with tapes and documents. One of the most fundamental of her documents was The Isis Papers. Dr. Ivan Van Sertima left us with a number of books. Dr. Ben, Dr. Clarke – you need to study the literature that they have left us. The literature they left us was their mind. And as long as we are studying those works of literature, and learning from their literature, and invoking their wisdom in our conversation, and in our organizations and formulizations – then they live.
Every generation, every people on earth who are not informed and instructed by their ancestors, will be instructed and informed by the enemies of their ancestors.
50BOLD: As older Black folks, we recognized the accomplishment of Barack Obama becoming the first Black president. With all that is going on in this police state of today, have older adults become indifferent to the injustices that are going on in this country?
Professor Small: First of all, what does the first Black president mean? I’m sure Mr. Obama meant well. But I can’t operate on his meaning well. He ran all of the same killer machines that George Bush ran. He signed the order that sent American troops to invade Somalia. That was the last military order that he signed. He didn’t have to do that, but he did it. While he was in office, AFRICOM was set up in Africa; American military all over Africa; 13 drone bases were in Africa.
Let’s face our historical reality. Yes, Mr. Obama was the first Black president, but I don’t know if that was a good thing. What’s good about that? You have one killer in the white house. You changed one and put one that looks like you in the white house. Now, you are proud that the killer is Black? Give me a break.
50BOLD: And don’t forget about the assassinated Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi?
Professor Small: Hey! That is definitely the most un-African, anti-African thing – no one has done anything that tragic in the last 50 years. Killing Qaddafi and stopping so many projects that were going forward in Africa. At the time, he was chairman of the African Union. At the time they were trying to open an African development bank so that they wouldn’t have to depend on the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund who slaved them economically. At the time, they were trying to put up three or four satellites so that their communications grid would not be depended on European or American satellites.
This was all on the agenda of Qaddafi. They murdered him and ripped the country apart. And the CIA new slavery was going on (after the assassination of Qaddafi) and the murder of all the Black Libyans was going on. And Obama said not one word. And you are going to tell me to be proud of the fact that he was president? Oh, please!
50BOLD: What about Number 45, do you believe he was put into power to create chaos and division?
Professor Small: He is just another white man. There is no difference between him and another white person there. He has a different style of doing things. He’s from the same interest group that backed Obama. He’s backed by the same interest group that backed Bush; by the same interest group that backed Clinton. He’s just got a different management style. There’s nothing fundamentally different about him. He’s in there carrying out the same agenda as the banking houses; the same ruling families; the same corporate interests; same Wall Street bankers. He’s carrying out their agenda, just like every president including Obama. It’s just that you have different camps in those communities that are vying against one another. The CIA and the NSA (National Security Agency) run this country much more profoundly than the president does. You either do what they say or end up like Kennedy.
50BOLD: What don’t most people know about you?
Professor Small: I’ve been married to the same little lady for the past 45 years. All of my children except two are in education. What’s good about it, all of them are working in the Black community just as they were taught.
50BOLD: How would you like to be remembered?
Professor Small: Just as an African-American man who understood that Africa is my race and America is a geopolitical place. I have family that was in this place before the slave ships came. And I have family who came on the slave ships. And I have family who comes from the Mongolians who invaded our land. We were here before the Mongolians. Whom we call Indians, came and attacked us before the white man which is a long story. But at any rate, we are the people of the earth. We are spirit having a human experience. And once we get clear on that we can understand our culture, understand Africa. We can understand the essence of African culture and not just our dress, our music, our drama, but the philosophy behind the dress, the music and the drama, the worldview, the ideology, and the sacred science.
If we can start reconstructing our intellectual world, our philosophical world and our spiritual world so that it fits the production of harmony, balance, truth, justice, and reciprocity, then that’s who we are; that’s what we are about.
(In 2018, Small’s tour will consist of a ten-day trip to Ghana beginning on March 3 for the country’s 51st independence celebration. During the summer, a tour to Egypt will begin on July 19th that will consist of five days in Egypt and 10 days in Ghana. For further information call 914-960-2693.)