The Black Flame Society

Art and storytelling are alchemical healing practices. They empower and invite us to redefine personal identity, counter prevailing cultural stereotypes, and conceive new possibilities for the future. These are the thematic pathways explored in my current work.

The Black Flame Society, which takes its name from W. E. B. Dubois’ epic 1950’s trilogy, is inspired by my growing interest in Afrofuturism—an academic and aesthetic movement that seeks to creatively investigate and expand the social, political, and artistic roles that African people and cultures have played in shaping past, present, and future societies.

Conceived as a meta-fictional graphic novel, the stories of The Black Flame Society follow a cadre of relentless investigators as they grapple with issues of race, class, power, and oppression. The comics span the period from the end of WWI to the mid 1950’s with glimpses into a 21st century on the edge of apocalypse. Imaginary characters interact with noteworthy historical figures and fictional characters from the African-American literary canon. The Vanguard, a section of which is presented here, is the fictional Harlem newspaper at the heart of the series and serves as a textual bridge between the graphic adventures of the stories’ protagonists.

A mash-up of historical fact, pulp fiction, and science fiction tropes, The Black Flame Society reimagines an era when people of color were rarely included in popular fiction and seldom with agency to directly address the issues that shape our lives. A short story introduction to The Black Flame Society is featured in the Genesis II anthology, published by the Black Science Fiction Society (http://blacksciencefictionsociety.com)

THE VANGUARD

A Journal of the Pan African Past, Present and Future

VOL. II. NO. 367 SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 20, 1919 5 Cents

 

THE JUSTICE LEAGUE

By Augustus Walker

As global tensions begin to ease in the wake of the one of the most cataclysmic military confrontation in the history of the world, all eyes turn to V ersailles, where the Allied powers have convened to determine the fate of the defeated German Empire. With an estimated death toll of 8 million, including military and civilian casualties, the political tenor of international discourse is heated. There is little doubt that Germany will pay a high price for Kaiser Wilhelm’s ill-conceived bid for control of Europe.

Amidst the clamor for reprisal and reparations, President Wilson has called upon the great powers to embrace his bold vision of a “League of Nations” and a future without war. According to the President, this international body would provide "mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike".

The president’s visionary coalition would be charged with diffusing territorial conflicts and keeping a lid on military confrontations. Critics assert that Wilson’s proposal is political chicanery, aimed at keeping a lid on the perceived threat posed by the Russian Revolution and the rise of communism. Still, the implications of an international justice tribunal are far reaching and despite skeptics, the idea is finding staunch support from many at home as well as abroad.

British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George and France’s Prime Minister, Georges Clemenceau are already staunch advocates of the plan. Of course, being among the grand triumvirate of nations that will form the core of the new league, Britain and France need have little concern over how its powers will be determined or administered. The irony that the inaugural act of this august body will be the dismantling of a sovereign state and the re-drawing of national borders in Europe, Africa and parts of Asia seems lost amidst our collective sigh of relief that the war is over.

A just and fair world is certainly a worthy dream. When the dust has settled, let us hope that we are not in for a rude awakening.

AN ETHIOPIAN UTOPIA

By Pearl Van Cleve

Nearly two decades have passed since the Pan-African Congress convened at Westminster Town Hall in July 1900. In the twenty years since Edward Wilmot Blyden, an expatriated lawyer from Trinidad,

organized the first international conference aimed at giving voice to the egregious abuses of human and civil rights suffered by both indigenous Africans and their cousins throughout the diaspora, little has been done to ameliorate the economic and socially depressed conditions of the masses of Black people. Indeed, in the wake of that monumental gathering of intellects, Joseph Chamberlain, the British Colonial Secretary, declared that Black people were "totally unfit for representative institutions".

A generation later, in the shadow of the global-intrigue taking place in Versailles, a quiet but no less revolutionary event is occurring in Paris, where 57 delegates representing 15 nations have convened for the second Pan-African Congress.

Representatives from America, the Caribbean, Africa, and Europe are convening to discuss the future of the darker races as equal citizens of a free and united world. Organized by W.E.B. Dubois of the NAACP and Ida Gibbs Hunt, wife of U.S. consul William Henry Hunt, the congress aims to petition the V ersailles Peace Conference for a “Bill of Rights for the Negro”. While the exact language of the petition is still being determined, the intrepid Dr. Dubois has already expressed what the Chicago Tribune described as dreams of “An Ethiopian Utopia to befashioned out of colonies.”

Although Germany's “African adventures” were modest compared to those of her European cousins, the disposition of German East Africa, the German Southwest, Cameroon, and Togo an area covering roughly 1,000,000 square miles and populated by 12,500,000 indigenous people could be pivotal in redefining the future of the African continent and key to the economic and political self-determination of Blacks everywhere. Indeed, investment in the human capital of Africa could lead to a re-evaluation of the social Darwinist views that are the bedrock of western civilization. Imagine African nations in which European support and guidance were unnecessary .

 

Perhaps this is the frightening possibility that will render the outstanding efforts of the Pan-African delegation irrelevant to President Wilson and his illustrious peers in Versailles. As one reporter from Paris so eloquently framed the situation, “[the delegates’ petition] is quite Utopian, and it has less than a Chinaman’s chance of getting anywhere near the peace conference.”

BITTER HARVEST

An “Investigator-X” Report

DATELINE: Sparta, South Carolina

Gunfire erupted like champagne corks at a posh wedding.

A freckled-face youngster pushed past me, bowing his head apologetically as he ran along, eyes brimming with curious delight. His mother, an attractive honey blonde in her mid-thirties stumbled after him, wrestling with a scarf that had become tangled in the long strands of her hair as she tried to remove it.

“Mama, come on! We’re gonna miss the best part!” her son cried out impatiently. The woman’s embarrassed gaze settled on me, and I stepped out of the milling crowd, sketchpad in hand, to offer assistance.

“Thank you ever so much”, she said in the demure, lilting accent of a true southern belle. Had she or any of the town folk known my true pedigree, my life would have been forfeit.

“Promised Tommy we’d get a souvenir this time. He’s so like his daddy, just loves to be in the middle a crazy .”

I trailed along beside her, as she threaded the throng of spectators, craning her neck in an effort to keep her overly eager son in sight. A cheer went up, and laughter rained from the smoke clouded sky. After a short while, we were close enough to epicenter of the celebration to see what all the fuss was about.

Two brown bodies dangled from the gnarled branches of an Oak tree. A cluster of blood stained men, armed with guns, clubs, and pocket- knives gazed up at the mutilated remains. Beneath the dead men, a freshly lit bonfire crackled, the flames licking the toeless feet
of the disfigured corpses.

A gapped-toothed grin blossomed on young Tommy’s face as he mimicked the wild gesticulations of his elders. “This is the best lynchin’ ever,” he squealed, rushing forward with his mother’s scarf in hope of securing a memento of the grand affair. The lynching victims, later identified as Corporal James Philips and Sergeant Bishop Jackson, had recently returned from active military duty. Both men served with the 369th Infantry—the celebrated “Hell Fighters”, whose courageous action alongside French forces had earned them the prestigious Croix de Guerre, France’s highest military honor.

The veterans had been travelling by rail to visit Bishop’s family in Baton Rouge, Louisiana when a brief layover in Sparta led to Philips being accused of “brutally attacking, pretty little Charlotte Hemmings”, a young white woman who served at the depot’s lunch counter. Within hours of their arrests, an angry mob had formed outside the jailhouse where the men were being questioned. By nightfall, hundreds of locals had surrounded the small police station.

“Send those N—out sheriff, or we’ll burn the place down,” one of the ringleaders demanded. After an extended exchange of gunfire, Sheriff Harlan Grainger and his deputies, were overrun. The angry mob then dragged the helpless men to what locals call, the “Hangin’ Tree”, where they were beaten and tortured till sun up. By early morning, word had spread to the surrounding provinces; by noon, the streets of Sparta were filling up with spectators and hawkers, many dressed in their Sunday finery.

The horrific incident is the latest in a string of violent episodes that have gripped communities across the nation as colored troops have returned from Europe. The impact of military service on the views and attitudes of Colored veterans poses what Dr. George E. Haynes, director of Negro Economics for the U.S. Department of Labor, has called the “One of the most delicate and difficult questions confronting the Nation, north and south.”

While the number of lynching incidents in the U.S. decreased in response to U.S involvement in the war, there has been a general resurgence of race related violence since the 1915 premier of D.W. Griffith’s incendiary film, Birth of a Nation. Not surprisingly , the film has breathed new life into the Ku Klux Klan, whose ranks continue to swell, and whose terrorist acts become increasingly brazen in the face of local and federal indifference.
The impassioned cheers of the celebrants, white and black, that filled the sidewalks of New York just a few short weeks ago to honor the victorious fighting men of the 369th Infantry seem now the dim echo from a fading dream. As has happened so often in the past, we have spilled our blood on the foreign fields of our nation’s enemies only to reap a bitter harvest here in the “land of the free”.

JOURNIES INTO MYSTERY

Faithful readers of our illustrious periodical have eagerly anticipated the latest installment in our chronicle of the historic transatlantic airship voyage of Matthew Henson and his brilliant Inuit protégé, engineer, Malina Hunter. The intrepid explorers embarked from Lakehurst, New Jersey 18 days ago on route to Morocco and points beyond. Several hours into their flight, weather conditions over the north Atlantic prompted an emergency recall message to be transmitted, but no response was received from radio operators. The experimental airship, Anaukaq, was feared lost until earlier today, when this latest dispatch was received.

From the Journals of Matthew Henson, Captain of the Airship Anauakaq

February 9, 1919

Having lost our starboard engine in an unexpected and violent squall, Malina and I assessed the structural damage to the rest of the ship, and making what repairs we could, under difficult circumstances, determined to continue our journey .

The choice was not a difficult one, as we were equidistant from any hope of outside aid. With luck, we would safely arrive in Liberia where we could properly repair the engine for the continuation of our exploration of the “dark continent’s” great wonders.

February 12, 1919
To our great relief, we are once again underway. I had heard about the terrible caste system and abuses of native peoples in Liberia, but it was heartbreaking to see the disparities between the colonial descendants of

American-born freedmen and their native born cousins.

Malina and I were greeted as honored visitors by David Jackson, District Commissioner of Monrovia. Jackson arrived in chauffeured automobile, with motorcycle escorts just as we moored our vessel, at the modest air dock.

The streets along the route to the Commissioner’s estate were lined with natives from the outlying regions surrounding the capital. The humble village folk followed Jackson’s passage with bowed heads and hollow eyes. The Commissioner beamed like a wolf among sheep. I had heard of, but was still shocked to witness, the contempt with which the Monrovian’s treated the rural people, whose lives are marked by servitude and peonage that is remarkably similar to that suffered by Blacks in the United States.

Pameta, the young girl who served our meals at Jackson’s manor, was evidently an unwilling but favored concubine. The Commissioner’s wife reveled in tormenting and humiliating her husband’s child-mistress. After some discrete inquiry, I learned that Pameta was from one of the outer villages and had come into the commissioner’s “possession” when her people had been unable to pay the taxes heaped upon them by their Monrovian governors. A number of young men and woman had been “confiscated” as recompense. Some, like Pameta, found themselves the sexual playthings of tyrants, while others were “leased” to private foreign concerns. When I confronted the Jackson about the matter over dinner one evening, he looked down his nose and smilingly reminded me that great nations are built upon foundations of avarice and exploitation. “Indeed,” he said, “ one has only to look to America and Europe to see that such methods are both expedient and profitable.”

It took every ounce of self- control I possessed to keep from sparking an international incident!

Fleeing Liberia, we travelled at low altitude through Sierra Leone, Ghinea, and Bamako towards Mali. The landscape of the African continent is breathtaking! One feels a palpable link between the people and the lands they inhabit.

In the ancient world, Mali was one of three flourishing empires that controlled trans-Saharan trade (Songhay and Ghana being the other two) and was a great cultural center of art, literature, mathematics, and astronomy. While the majesty of the once great empire has long since passed, some remnant of it remains infused in the spirit of the people and the various cultures here.

Arriving at the Bandiagara cliffs, we were surprised to find the Dogon waving to us from their cliff dwellings, the strange and magnificent architecture of which was like nothing we had ever seen.

The Dogon are an ancient race, whose true origins are shrouded in mystery. I’d heard something of the legends surrounding the complex rituals of their society.

Through the telescope, I saw what appeared to be a hogon—a holy man. Bent and wizened, he surveyed our craft with an expression devoid of the least wonderment. After a moment, he nodded and made a beckoning gesture before turning away to disappear inside a sandstone hut, covered with arcane symbols and carvings.

Examining the hieroglyphs, I was startled to discover that one of the pictograms bore an uncanny resemblance to our own marvelous vessel. The bizarre coincidence sparked my curiosity . I turned to order our decent, but Malina, had determined for herself that there were mysteries here worth investigating and was already at the control console, directing the ship down toward a verdant clearing.

We were quickly led to a great amphitheater where a grand meal offering had been set.

Elaborate totems carved from wood, ivory, and iron encircled us. The pious mien of our hosts left little doubt that we stood on hallowed ground.

We feasted upon simple but delicious fare for some time, entertained by dancers adorned in elaborately sculpted masks and colorful raiment. At first, we communicated by means of simple gestures, within a short time however, my knack for picking up languages allowed me to master a few rudimentaryphrases.

As dusk fell, the Hogon stood, motioning for Malina and I to accompany him. The congregation parted like the Red Sea, watching silently as we ascended to the upper most cliffs.

Near the apex, we entered a jagged fissure in the escarpment and cautiously tread our way along a narrow passage illuminated by some form of wireless lighting, the nature of which, I could not discern. Whatever mechanisms generated the eerie light was embedded within the walls themselves. At the end of the winding tunnel, we found ourselves before yet another wall. This one too, was inscribed with the curious hieroglyphs inscribed on many of the Dogon ceremonial structures.

“Nommos!” The shaman solemnly intoned, placing my hand upon one of the graven images. What happened next defies explanation. Had I not witnessed countless uncanny experiences during my long career as an explorer of the unknown, I would doubtless declare a man who claimed to have seen the things I will now convey , completely mad.

My mind reeled!

Suddenly , I was standing outside the stream of time, looking back as through a window, at myself. And then that “self” was gone, my consciousness blurring, dissolving into a new body—the body of a young Dogon male. When my vision at last cleared, I knew that I was surveying an ancient world, a world long since passed. I stood amidst my clan folk, all of us gazing up at a brilliant light that eclipsed the sun itself. That smaller sun descended, whirring and spinning. My people huddled in fearful fascination, the dust blinding us as the miraculous lights drew closer. Slowly, the light dimmed, the dust settled, the deafening hum ceased. Before us stood a great ark of shimmering metal. An instant later, our shock was compounded!

Two creatures emerged from the vessel. Their beauty and grace as blinding as the light had been just moments before. Lean and graceful, both stood nearly three heads above the tallest of our clan. A soft glow emanated from their amber skin, and they moved like...nothing of this world. This was our first encounter with the Nommos, the aquatic creatures from the Sirius star system.

“We have come to learn,” Asa’et, the female emissary explained, not with speech, but by touching our minds with hers.

“You will teach us,” her companion, Asa’ar added.

In that moment, we could see the world of the gods in our minds and knew that we were blessed to pay homage to these visitors from beyond. The Nommos made their home in the sacred river, but walked as humans do, when they wished to interact with my people. They watched over us as we watched over our cattle, with gentle care and reverence. Soon, we came to worship them as divine beings.

A generation passed.

One day, Asa’et revealed that she had mated with one of the men of the clan. A few moons later, she gave birth to the first of a new race. This union, a transgression of their own mysterious covenants, signaled the end of an era. Asa’ar returned to the cosmos, leaving Asa’et and her offspring to live out their days on our mortal plain.

Suddenly, the world before me began once more to dissolve, and I was engulfed by the void.

When the fog lifted, I was my true self again. Malina embraced me with great relief.

“You cried out then fell like dead caribou,” she said, deep concern furrowing her usually placid features. Less than five minutes had elapsed since I had placed my hand upon the hieroglyph. Five minutes! Y et, I could vividly recall the details of years spent in that parallel existence. I sank to the cave floor, confounded. A swig of millet beer from the hogon’s hip flask, soon settled my jangled nerves.

After a moment, I pulled myself up to resume my inspection of the cave paintings. The tale I had “witnessed” was inscribed there in every detail. And more. The exodus of the Dogon’s ancestors from their ancestral homeland; stories of war, enslavement, nomadic wandering, sacred scripture and cosmological star charts, mapping worlds our best scientists have only conjectured. And there also, amidst the history of their people, was an image that made our hearts stop: Two strangers, an elder and a youth in strange garment standing beside a vessel that was without question a crude rendering of the Anaukaq.

“What is this?” Malina exclaimed, her mathematical mind calculating the odds of the strange coincidence.

The old shaman’s hands traced an intricate pattern in the air while he uttered a melodious incantation. As if in response, the wall before us slid back to reveal a spectacular chamber hidden within the mountain. The chamber was constructed of a gleaming metallic substance upon which, the sibilant glow of the lights played to hypnotic effect. The ceiling was high and domed. In the center of the chamber was a dais with a console that appeared to be carved from a crystalline material that I could not identify. An array of what could only be control rods, all of the same alien design, were set within the panel.

Using a magnifying lens, Malina inspected the substance for several minutes, murmuring in her native dialect as she searched her eidetic memory for a mineral that matched that before her.

The old man picked up what appeared to be a concha and pressing it to his withered lips, blew a long resonant note that caused the base of my skull to tingle and the earth beneath us to quake. My stalwart companion glanced at me, unnerved, as we struggled to maintain sure footing in the now shuddering cavern.

A section of the floor gaped wide. Seconds later, an unearthly vessel composed of the same mysterious alloy as the ark from my supernatural vision, emerged like a child from the womb. The craft was much smaller than its ancient precursor and bore a similar aquatic design, though the materials used to construct it were clearly of terrestrial origin. Malina rushed forward like a shot to inspect the machine, excitement extinguishing all trace of fear. Ignoring my pleas for caution, she leapt into the cockpit, activating the strange mechanism with surprising ease. The hogon glanced sidelong at me, nodding with an almost paternal pride at my companion’s rapid grasp of the unearthly thing.

Above us, the domed cap of the mountain opened to reveal the burnt orange sky beyond. Malina deftly maneuvered the craft through the aperture and was gone in an instant, the gentle hum of the alien engine, fading like the purr of dragonfly wings as it zipped away.

My thoughts returned to our carved likenesses on the cave wall outside. What did it mean? Did the old man and his people believe us to be players in some ancient legend? Could Malina whose engineering genius had brought us here, be somehow linked to the creatures they called Nommos?

The holy man grinned, his gaze on the patch of sky visible through the opening at the top of the mountain.

“Nommos!” He declared.

As if that answered everything.

The Radiant Cities

By Solomon King

Flying into the Blakestown, Cuba today, even the most cosmopolitan of travelers cannot help but be astounded by the breathtaking splendor of the cityscape with its blend of futuristic western, neuvo- African and Chinese architecture. The towering structures of steel and glass interspersed with spherical silicon structures are set in complex geometric configurations amidst the unspoiled natural landscape of the oldest Afro-American sovereign state in the Western hemisphere. Despite the decades-long U.S. trade embargo, Cuba’s second largest urban center continues to thrive as evidenced by one of the highest literacy rate in the western hemisphere. With a population of 350,000 Blakestown is an urban oasis whose splendor is rivaled only by its sister city , Imperium in the Lone Star State.

Long before the Black townships of Nikodemus, Langston, Greenwood, or Soulsville there were the city-states that seem now myths from a bygone age—Blakestown, Cuba and Imperium, Texas.

In the wake of the Civil War, 4 million Black Americans sought to carve out a place for themselves in a hostile country built on the backs of their enslaved ancestors. Suddenly released from bondage, most had little more than the tattered clothes on their backs with which to sow the fertile soil of dreams long deferred. Many remained enmeshed in refined systems of oppression in the “new” south; others set out for the frontiers where they braved new challenges and created new communities. A decade ahead of this great migration, there was the Cuban revolution led by Henry Holland Blake, founder of Blakestown.

Born into slavery in the W est Indies and later sold to Southern “aristocrats”, Henrico Blacus, or Henry Holland Blake as he would come to be known, was atypical of the black men of his era. Dark skinned with a gaze that seemed to smolder even under an overseers lash, Blake displayed qualities that led many of his brethren to the hanging tree. He was outspoken, literate and inquiring—dangerous qualities for a slave to posses at a time when the hard won and fleeting freedoms of the Reconstruction were yet undreamt of.

According to legend, his master, Ezekial Thomas Blake, is said to have tried, unsuccessfully to sell the bonds-child at the age of 12, when he discovered the young Blake surreptitiously teaching himself to read. Of course, as with so many of the tales surrounding Blake, it is difficult to distill fact from fiction. What’s known is that in 1853, Blake, then a runaway slave, travelled the length and breadth of the southern states, Canada, and Cuba carrying with him a vision of freedom, passed by word of mouth, from bondsman to bondsman.

A fugitive, in the era of the infamous Dred Scott decision, he moved through Dixie like a phantom, finding refuge amidst other slaves. Posing here as seaman, there as a valet, he preached a sermon of self- deliverance in midnight whispers, drafting a blueprint for revolution in the oral tradition of his African forebears. Within two years his militant griot’s manifesto had given birth to an international freedom movement spearheaded by the superbly trained Cuban forces, the Army of Emancipation of Oppressed Men and Women, a multicultural militia composed of Amerindians, Cuban Chinese, and free people of mixed racial heritage. Blake’s War exploded on the international stage in spring of 1858. Guerilla forces in the southern United States, Canada, Liberia and other West African nations soon joined Cuban revolutionaries in a campaign that sent shock waves across the colonial world and ignited tensions that eventually sparked the American Civil War.

In the decades following the war, the emancipated Republic of Cuba struggled to maintain its independence under the ever looming shadow of U.S. and European resentment. While the revolution did not result in the sweeping

racial-political reformation that Blake had hoped for, it did spur other radicals such as Belton Piedmont and Bernard Belgrade whose shadow federation Imperium in Imperio, employed what author and social activist, Sutton E. Griggs has called “the science of collective efficiency”—a community based approach to leadership that invited a wide range of strategic methodologies to engaging social justice issues.

From its original base in Waco, Texas, the Imperium’s underground movement used guerilla actions, fierce political rhetoric, literary and artistic propaganda to leverage economic and political power. All of this, bolstered by Black technological and scientific advances pioneered by Professor George Washington Carver and posthumously discovered inventions of legendary science patriot, Benjamin Banneker.

Sadly, no official records document the number of Black townships established during the last fifty years nor how many have disappeared. Communities in Rosewood, Florida, Tulsa, Oklahoma, Nicodemus, Kansas, continue to flourish, while a hosts of others have succumb to racial violence, economic sabotage, and the pernicious indifference of democratically elected government representatives. In this time of global upheaval, uncertainty, and change, we urge our readers to look to Blakestown and Imperium, singular exemplars of Black genius and tenacity—the radiant cities of resistance!

 

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