Karamu House conversations launched to develop new Black narrative



By Vickie Evans-Nash



The second monthly Karamu House meeting is scheduled to take place on Wednesday, July 11 at Camphor Memorial Methodist Church, 585 Fuller Ave, St Paul, from 6-8 pm. The event came together as a result of Professor Mahmoud El-Kati feeling that the community needs to have its own conversation around the events in history stemming from the first group of Blacks that landed on the shores of the North American continent as slaves and continuing through today.

Mahmoud El-Kati Photo by Emmett Timmons
Mahmoud El-Kati
Photo by Emmett Timmons

“Karamu is a Swahili word,” explained El-Kati, “and it means center of community life, place of festive enjoyment — both. It’s serious…and expressive. Churches symbolize Karamu houses. All the Black churches are Karamu. They are the center of our community life and culture.”

On the morning of the Minneapolis Juneteenth event, a group of approximately 30 people met at Progressive Baptist Church in St. Paul for the first Karamu. In honor of the 150-year anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the discussion centered on how media shapes history, using the movies Django Unchained and Lincoln as starting points.

“[The Emancipation Proclamation] is one of the three great political documents in modern history,” the professor told the participants. The first such document, the Declaration of Independence, he described as  one that causes readers to aspire to great ideals. “All [that] America was saying to the upper crust of Britain [was] that we are men, we are human beings… And they won that battle and turned around and used the King George method on Black people.”

The second great document, he said, is the Constitution. Though the United States is a young country — “226 years old; there are people almost half as old” — El-Kati explained that the U.S. holds the world’s oldest written constitution in the form of a single document “supposedly written by a little guy smaller than me. They said he weighed less than 100 pounds, about five feet [tall]…James Madison. They call him the father of the Constitution. He could write, and he knew how to be a good White supremacist, too.”

The third document is the Emancipation Proclamation. Though the document is known as one that Lincoln used to free slaves, what is less well known is that it only declared Blacks free in states that were in rebellion against the Union. Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky and Missouri, though slave-holding states, did not join the rebellion and were not included. They therefore kept their slaves.

“That’s the genius of Abraham Lincoln — border states, because there was a million and a half slaves in those border states — he wasn’t talking to them. So, all Black people weren’t free, only those [living in states] that were in rebellion.”

Karamu attendees then joined the approximately two percent of Americans who have read the Emancipation Proclamation by reading the document out loud together. Lincoln’s tactic, moderator Jeffry Martin explained, was to disrupt the cash flow of the Confederacy that, during the first 18 months, was winning the Civil War with its well-resourced campaigns thanks to slave labor.

Rev. Dr. Earl F. Miller of Progressive Baptist Church shared with the group the significance of Watch Night on the eve of the first New Year after the Emancipation Proclamation. “Africans gathered to celebrate their upcoming freedom because at 12 midnight they were declared to be free. That became known as Freedom Eve.”

Black people, El-Kati said, are an achieving people, if judged by Fredrick Douglass’ example, “[Not] by the height that he reaches, but by the depths from which he comes.” He said that there is no comparison between Douglass and Thomas Jefferson, as Jefferson was educated in the best schools and began life with all the advantages society has to offer.

“‘I [said El-Kati speaking as Douglass] never saw the inside of a school except to go to address the graduating class at some university. I never went to school. I ended up speaking four languages…founded a newspaper, wrote books, [was] minister to Haiti.’ That is incredible. He is superior to Thomas Jefferson.”

The problem, El-Kati further explained, is, “We don’t control the narrative. The [White] guy is telling both sides of the story.”

Karamu House is intended to develop a new narrative. Attendees of the June event were encouraged to bring others in July.

“We want to bring our scholars in this Karamu House. We want to bring the religious community and the secular community together… We want Dr. E. Puppernell Burell, III in here right along there with Bubba Jones, Half-and-Half and JuJu.”


For more information on Karamu House, contact Jeffry Martin at 651-343-2695.

Vickie Evans-Nash welcomes reader responses to vnash@spokeman-recorder.com.