Slaves to Racism: An Unbroken Chain from America to Liberia
For Immediate Release
Contact: Anita Dennis, 239.278.0342
for info or to schedule an interview
Florida husband and wife team write book about racism
A true African-American who belongs to all of the groups involved, Dr. Dennis writes from a broad historical and social perspective. The son of a Liberian diplomat and a hereditary chief of the Mende tribe, he spent his school years in Berlin and summers in Liberia in Monrovia, in his father's tribal village of Vahun, and in his mother's Gbande village of Somalahun.
Dr. Dennis moved to the United States in 1950, earning a double PhD in Sociology and Anthropology from Michigan State University. He has experienced life as a "Negro" and since the Civil Rights Movement as a "black man in America," while at the same time becoming a member of American academia. As an insider, he was privy to Americo-Liberian and African-Liberian confidential attitudes, as well as black/white attitudes in America.
As an outsider, his academic training allowed him to apply the principles of sociology and anthropology to what he observed. He analyzes the highly-charged issues of racism, discrimination and hypocrisy with humor, grace and understanding.
His wife Anita K. Dennis has a degree in sociology with a minor in anthropology and has been accepted into her husband's Mende tribe.
The book, Slaves to Racism: An Unbroken Chain from America to Liberia, goes on sale November 2008.
Slaves to Racism: An Unbroken Chain from America to Liberia
Benjamin G. Dennis and Anita K. Dennis
Trade Paperback ISBN 978-0-87586-657-4
Laminate Cover ISBN 978-0-87586-658-1
E-book ISBN 978-0-87586-659-8
A historical eyewitness account of the effect of racism in two countries, one black, one white, showing how American racism traps blacks even in Africa. The tales he tells illustrate the twists of irony and misplaced pride on all sides..
Prof. Dennis chronicles the compulsive and repetitious nature of racism and its destructive effects on peoples and societies. During the 1990s, Liberia descended into civil war and anarchy. African-Liberian rebel groups roamed the countryside randomly killing as they vied for power. Doe was killed by a segment of these rebel groups and warlord Charles Taylor eventually became president in 1997. In 2003, Taylor was deposed by rebel groups and is now on trial at The Hague for war crimes. Despite Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf's democratic election in 2005, Liberia remains in ruins as a classic failed state in Africa. The obvious question is: Why did the Negro experiment planted in Africa in 1822 fail
Liberia was doomed from the start. The sins of the master were inevitably passed on to the freed slaves who returned to Africa to "make a fresh start." To assert status the Americo-Liberians blindly followed the worst habits of the whites, imposing themselves as a superior class on the "African Liberians" who had never left. With only a superficial Western culture, they imagined the white way without truly understanding it, and made Liberia a caricature of Southern society.
Prof. Dennis compares the prejudice and discrimination between groups in Liberia with the patterns he has encountered between and among blacks and whites in the United States, from blatant bigotry to the almost subliminal boundaries that still exist even among liberal communities that "want more blacks.
Interview with Anita Dennis:
1. Why did your husband write this book?
My husband experienced various forms of racism in his life. After becoming a professor of sociology and anthropology, he used his life story to explain racism in those terms.
2. There are many other books about racism on the market. What sets your book apart?
What makes our book unique is its cross-cultural, cross-racial approach. Slaves to Racism is a description of the universal themes of racism based on human nature. As a classic marginal man, my husband has a unique viewpoint. In Liberia, he was both an Americo-Liberian and an African-Liberian. In America, he had ties to both blacks and whites.
3. What are the themes of racism that you write about?
The first theme is that racism affects us all. No one is immune. Secondly, the effect of racism means it will inevitably be reproduced. Those who are made victims become victimizers in order to rise. Thirdly, the effect of racism means that what we say and what we do don’t correspond. What we think we are isn’t necessarily true.
4. What do you hope the reader will take from this book?
We hope that understanding the effect of racism on ourselves will free us from it. We want the reader to see himself in the book and discover how racism has affected him.
In the spring of 1980, in Flint, Michigan, I received two phone calls in the middle of the night that drastically altered my life and signaled a lasting change in Liberia. At the time, I was preparing to return there to live. In several trips to Liberia during the 1970s, President William R. Tolbert, Jr. had convinced me I could better serve at home. He was a good friend, having done much for my Mende people. I had just signed a purchase agreement to sell our house. Everything seemed in place.
This return would add another chapter to my Liberian saga, since my arrival in America in 1950. As a boy, I learned that my last name “Dennis” stemmed from the transatlantic slave trade. My father told me that some of our Mende people in West Africa had been taken into slavery in America. In Richmond, Virginia, the two Dennis brothers became Free Negroes, each owning three or four slaves themselves. During the 1800s, they returned to Liberia, freeing their slaves and taking them with them. One of the brothers remained on the coast in the capital, Monrovia, as an Americo-Liberian. The other, knowing his Mende ancestry, traveled to the area where the Mende live in Liberia. There, he was accepted as a descendant of someone taken into slavery from the line of the great Mende chief, Ngombu Tejjeh.
In 1976, I discovered my American roots. One morning, when I walked into my office at the University of Michigan-Flint, I saw a young black woman named Vicki sitting at my desk. After she explained that she was taking a make-up exam, she said, “Is that your name on the door — Dr. Dennis? That’s our family name.”
I said, “Are you a native of Flint?” “No, we came from Virginia.” “From Richmond, Virginia?” “Yes! How’d you know? My mom told me some of our relatives way, way back joined a group of black people going to Africa before the Civil War.”
Several days later, Vicki’s mother Juanita, visited our home. During the conversation, Anita, my white American wife, said, “I’ve noticed that the Dennis men have a ridge of skin at the lower back of their head.. My husband’s got it.” Juanita simply took Anita’s hand and put it in her hair. When Anita felt the ridge, she got goose bumps. Later that summer, we visited the Dennis’ in Richmond and presented them with country cloth from my father’s village of Vahun.
Those two phone calls in the spring of 1980, wiped out my plans to return home. In the first call, I learned that President Tolbert of the Americo-Liberian ruling elite, had been assassinated in the Executive Mansion by a group of security guards who were African-Liberians — Liberia’s disenfranchised majority. I was devastated. To learn more, I kept trying to tune in the BBC on my short wave radio. Ten days later, in another call, I heard that African-Liberian soldiers tied thirteen Americo-Liberian government officials to poles on the beach and machine-gunned them. One was a cousin, Cecil Dennis, the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Another was a former brother-in-law, Richard Henries, the Speaker of the House of Representatives. My Uncle C.C. Dennis, a prominent newspaper publisher in Monrovia, had been chained to the back of a pickup truck and dragged to his death.
Two weeks later, a parcel of Liberian newspapers arrived. In gruesome photos taken at the beach, bullet-riddled bodies were slumped over the ropes that tied them to the poles. One of the articles said that Senator Frank Tolbert, the president’s older brother, spit at the soldiers just before they shot him.
Reviews for Slaves to Racism
“An important and interesting analysis….This research and eyewitness account of how U.S. racism affected, and infected, the minds of people of African descent is striking….The global circulating impact of white racist framing – and of the thinking, ideology, and action that grows out of it – remains one of the world’s most fundamental structural problems.” - Dr. Joe Feagin, RacismReview.com
“This gripping book is a major documentation on racism in the United States and its negative impact on the founding and subsequent development of Liberia…It’s a must-read for Americans, Liberians and others committed to developmental nation building.” – Edward Benson, Ph.D., former dean of Forestry, University of Liberia and retired State Executive of the State of Michigan.
“The Dennis’ book is provocative. They pull no punches and come straight at the reader with one story after another evidencing the horrors of racism. Readers of The House at Sugar Beach will find Slaves to Racism a terrific source of added context and/or information…” – Philip S. Cornell, Attorney, Perry Michigan
“The book is outstanding….A truthful whistle blower on racism.” – Rev. Robert Forsberg, St. Mark Lutheran Church, Fairborn, Ohio
“Ben’s story is a commentary on the human race and how power hungry leaders dominate those unlucky enough to find themselves at the bottom of the heap. The authors’ story is well written and one senses they hope that the book will become a catalyst for change in both Liberia and America.” – Jan Nieman