Saturday, November 26, 2005


Sistas & Brothas,

This is an excellent critique/expose of the Willie Lynch "talk." I have made it clear to folks anytime they raise this letter/talk that it's a fabrication. Brotha Prof. Manu Ampim has joined several other Black scholars and activists who have exposed the myths of the Wilie Lyncht 1712 talk by advancing a thoroly detailed refutation of its authenticity.

I first saw this "document" in a poor xerox form from a "Liberation Library" copy dated (I think)
1970. I might still have the paper buried in a thousand other old papers I have. When I first saw it, it also struck me as a contemporary piece and inaccurate historically.

We must struggle to exorcise this "urban legend" approach to our history and I'm glad to see this important contribution by our Brotha Prof. Manu Ampim being circulated.

In Struggle,

Sam Anderson author: The Black Holocaust for Beginners (writers & readers)



Since 1995 there has been much attention given to a speech claimed to be delivered by a "William Lynch" in 1712. This speech has been promoted widely throughout African American and Black British circles. It is re-printed on numerous websites, discussed in chat rooms, forwarded as a "did you know" email to friends and family members, assigned as required readings in college and high school courses, promoted at conferences, and there are several books published with the title of "Willie Lynch."[1] In addition, new terminology called the "Willie Lynch Syndrome" has been devised to explain the psychological problems and the disunity among Black people.

Further, it is naively assumed by a large number of Willie Lynch believers that this single and isolated speech, allegedly given almost 300 years ago, completely explains the internal problems and divisions within the African American community. They assume that the "Willie Lynch Syndrome" explains Black disunity and the psychological trauma of slavery. While some have questioned and even dismissed this speech from the outset, it is fair to say that most African Americans who are aware of the speech have not questioned its authenticity, and assume it to be a legitimate and very crucial historical document which explains what has happened to African Americans.

However, when we examine the details of the "Willie Lynch Speech" and its assumed influence, then it becomes clear that the belief in its authenticity and widespread adoption during the slavery era is nothing more than a modern myth. In this brief examination, I will show that the only known "William Lynch" was born three decades after the alleged speech, that the only known "William Lynch" did not own a plantation in the West Indies, that the "speech" was not mentioned by anyone in the 18th or 19th centuries, and that the "speech" itself clearly indicates that it was composed in the late 20th century.


The "Willie Lynch Speech" is not mentioned by any 18th or 19th century slavemasters or anti-slavery activists. There is a large body of written materials from the slavery era, yet there is not one reference to a William Lynch speech given in
1712. This is very curious because both free and enslaved African Americans wrote and spoke about the tactics and practices of white slavemasters. Frederick Douglass, Nat Turner, Olaudah Equino, David Walker, Maria Stewart, Martin Delaney, Henry Highland Garnet, Richard Allen, Absolom Jones, Frances Harper, William Wells Brown, and Robert Purvis were African Americans who initiated various efforts to rise up against the slave system, yet none cited the alleged Lynch speech. Also, there is also not a single reference to the Lynch speech by any white abolitionists, including John Brown, William Lloyd Garrison, and Wendell Phillips. Similarly, there has been no evidence found of slavemasters or pro-slavery advocates referring to (not to mention utilizing) the specific divide and rule information given in the Lynch speech.

Likewise, none of the most credible historians on the enslavement of African Americans have ever mentioned the Lynch speech in any of their writings. A reference to the Lynch speech and its alleged divide and rule tactics are completely missing in the works of Benjamin Quarles, John Hope Franklin, John Henrik Clarke, William E.B. Du Bois, Herbert Aptheker, Kenneth Stampp, John Blassingame, Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, Darlene Clark-Hine, and Lerone Bennett. These authors have studied the details and dynamics of Black social life and relations during slavery, as well as the "machinery of control" by the slavemasters, yet none made a single reference to a Lynch speech.

Since the Willie Lynch speech was not mentioned by any slavemasters, pro-slavery advocates, abolitionists, or historians studying the slavery era, the question of course is when did it appear?


The first reference to the Willie Lynch speech was in a late 1993 on-line listing of sources, posted by Anne Taylor, who was then the reference librarian at the University of Missouri at St. Louis (UMSL).[2] She posted ten sources to the UMSL library database and the Lynch speech was the last item in the listing. Taylor in her 1995 email exchanges with the late Dr. William Piersen (Professor of History, Fisk University) and others interested in the origin of the Lynch speech indicated that she keep the source from where she received the speech anonymous upon request, because he was unable to establish the authenticity of the document. On October 31, 2005, Taylor wrote:

"Enough butt-covering, now it's time to talk about where I got it. The publisher who gave me this [speech] wanted to remain anonymous…because he couldn't trace it, either, and until now I've honored his wishes. It was printed in a local, widely-distributed, free publication called The St. Louis Black Pages, 9th anniversary edition, 1994*, page 8."

[*Taylor notes: "At risk of talking down to you, it's not unusual for printed materials to be 'post-dated' – the 1994 edition came out in 1993].[3]

The Lynch speech was distributed in the Black community in 1993 and 1994, and in fact I came across it during this time period, but as an historian trained in Africana Studies and primary research I never took it serious. I simply read it and put it in a file somewhere.

However, the Lynch speech was popularized at the Million Man March (held in Washington, DC) on October 16, 1995, when it was referred to by Min. Louis Farrakhan. He stated:

We, as a people who have been fractured, divided and destroyed because of our division, now must move toward a perfect union. Let's look at a speech, delivered by a white slave holder on the banks of the James River in 1712... Listen to what he said. He said, 'In my bag, I have a foolproof method of controlling Black slaves. I guarantee everyone of you, if installed correctly, it will control the slaves for at least 300 years'…So spoke Willie Lynch 283 years ago."

The 1995 Million Man March was broadcast live on C-Span television and thus millions of people throughout the U.S. and the world heard about the alleged Willie Lynch speech for the first time. Now, ten years later, the speech has become extremely popular, although many historians and critical thinkers questioned this strange and unique document from the outset.

-------------------------- Full Text of the alleged Willie Lynch Speech, 1712:

"Gentlemen, I greet you here on the bank of the James River in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and twelve. First, I shall thank you, the gentlemen of the Colony of Virginia, for bringing me here. I am here to help you solve some of your problems with slaves. Your invitation reached me on my modest plantation in the West Indies where I have experimented with some of the newest and still the oldest methods of control of slaves.

Ancient Rome would envy us if my program were implemented. As our boat sailed south on the James River, named for our illustrious King, whose version of the Bible we cherish. I saw enough to know that your problem is not unique. While Rome used cords of woods as crosses for standing human bodies along its highways in great numbers you are here using the tree and the rope on occasion.

I caught the whiff of a dead slave hanging from a tree a couple of miles back. You are not only losing a valuable stock by hangings, you are having uprisings, slaves are running away, your crops are sometimes left in the fields too long for maximum profit, you suffer occasional fires, your animals are killed.

Gentlemen, you know what your problems are: I do not need to elaborate. I am not here to enumerate your problems, I am here to introduce you to a method of solving them. In my bag here, I have a fool proof method for controlling your Black slaves. I guarantee everyone of you that if installed correctly it will control the slaves for at least 300 hundred years [sic]. My method is simple. Any member of your family or your overseer can use it.

I have outlined a number of differences among the slaves: and I take these differences and make them bigger. I use fear, distrust, and envy for control purposes. These methods have worked on my modest plantation in the West Indies and it will work throughout the South. Take this simple little list of differences, and think about them.

On top of my list is 'Age', but it is there only because it starts with an 'A': the second is 'Color' or shade, there is intelligence, size, sex, size of plantations, status on plantation, attitude of owners, whether the slave live in the valley, on hill, East, West, North, South, have fine hair, coarse hair, or is tall or short. Now that you have a list of differences. I shall give you an outline of action-but before that I shall assure you that distrust is stronger than trust and envy is stronger than adulation, respect, or admiration.

The Black slave after receiving this indoctrination shall carry on and will become self re-fueling and self generating for hundreds of years, maybe thousands. Don't forget you must pitch the old Black male vs. the young Black male, and the young Black male against the old Black male. You must use the dark skin slaves vs. the light skin slaves and the light skin slaves vs. the dark skin slaves. You must use the female vs. the male, and the male vs. the female. You must also have your white servants and overseers distrust all Blacks, but it is necessary that your slaves trust and depend on us. They must love, respect and trust only us.

Gentlemen, these kits are your keys to control. Use them. Have your wives and children use them, never miss an opportunity. If used intensely for one year, the slaves themselves will remain perpetually distrustful. Thank you, gentlemen."


The only known "William Lynch" who could have authorized a 1712 speech in Virginia was born 30 years after the alleged speech was given. The only known "William Lynch" lived from 1742-1820 and was from Pittsylvania, Virginia. It is obvious that "William Lynch" could not have authored a document 30 years before he was born! This "William Lynch" never owned a plantation in the West Indies, and he did not own a slave plantation in Virginia.


The Lynch speech lists a number of divide and rule tactics that were not important concerns to slaveholders in the early 1700s, and they certainly were not adopted. The anonymous writer of the Lynch speech states, "I have outlined a number of differences among the slaves: and I take these differences and make them bigger." Here is the list provided in the Lynch speech: age, color, intelligence, fine hair vs. coarse hair, tall vs. short, male vs. female.

However, none of these "tactics" were concerns to slaveholders in the early 1700s in the West Indies or colonial America. No credible historian has indicated that any of the items on the Lynch list were a part of a divide and rule strategy in any early 18th century. These are current 20th century divisions and concerns. Here are the Lynch speech tactics versus the real divide and rule tactics that were actually used in the early 18th century:

Age Ethnic origin & language

Color (light vs. dark skin) African born vs. American born

Intelligence Occupation (house vs. field slave)

Fine hair vs. coarse hair Reward system for "good" behavior

Tall vs. short Class status

Male vs. female Outlawed social gatherings
It is certain that "Willie Lynch" did not use his divide and rule tactics on his "modest plantation in the West Indies."


There are a number of terms in the alleged 1712 Lynch speech that are undoubtedly anachronisms (i.e. words that are out of their proper historical time period). Here are a few of the words in the speech that were not used until the 20th century:

Lynch speech: "In my bag here, I have a fool proof method for controlling your Black slaves."

Anachronisms: "Fool proof" and "Black" with an upper-case "B" to refer to people of African descent are of 20th century origin. Capitalizing "Black" did not become a standard from of writing until the late 1960s.

Lynch speech: "The Black slave after receiving this indoctrination shall carry on and will become self re-fueling and self generating for hundreds of years."

Anachronism: "Re-fueling" is a 20th century term which refers to transportation.


* William Lynch is invited from the "West Indies" (with no specific country indicated) to give only a short eight-paragraph speech. The cost of such a trip would have been considerable, and for the invited speaker to give only general remarks would have been highly unlikely.

* Lynch never thanked the specific host of his speech, he only thanked "the gentlemen of the Colony of Virginia, for bringing me here." Here, he is rude and shows a lack of etiquette. Also, no specific location for the speech was stated, only that he was speaking "on the bank [sic] of the James River."

* Lynch claims that on his journey to give the speech he saw "a dead slave hanging from a tree." This is highly unlikely because lynching African Americans from trees did not become common until the late 19th century.

* Lynch claims that his method of control will work for "at least 300 hundred years [sic]." First, it has gone unnoticed that the modern writer of the "speech" wrote three hundred twice ("300 hundred years"), which makes no grammatical sense. It should be "300 years" or "three hundred years." Second, the arbitrary choice of 300 years is interesting because it happens to conveniently bring us to the present time.

* Lynch claims that his method of control "will work throughout the South." This statement clearly shows the modern writer's historical ignorance. In 1712, there was no region in the current-day U.S. identified as the "South." The geographical region of the "South" did not become distinct until a century after the alleged speech. Before the American Revolutionary War vs. Britain (1775-1783) the 13 original U.S. colonies were all slaveholding regions, and most of these colonies were in what later became the North, not the "South." In fact, the region with the second largest slave population during the time of the alleged William Lynch speech was the northern city of New York, where there were a significant number of slave revolts.

* Lynch fails to give "an outline of action" for control as he promised in his speech. He only gives a "simple little list of differences" among "Black slaves."

* Lynch lists his differences by alphabetical order, he states: "On top of my list is 'Age', but it is there only because it starts with an 'A'. " Yet, after the first two differences ("age" and "color"), Lynch's list is anything but alphabetical.

* Lynch spells "color" in the American form instead of the British form ("colour"). We are led to believe that Lynch was a British slaveowner in the "West Indies," yet he does not write in British style.

* Lastly, the name Willie Lynch is interesting, as it may be a simple play on words: "Will Lynch," or "Will he Lynch." This may be a modern psychological game being played on unsuspecting believers?


It is clear that the "Willie Lynch Speech" is a late 20th century invention because of the numerous reasons outlined in this essay. I would advance that the likely candidate for such a superficial speech is an African American male in the 20s-30s age range, who probably minored in Black Studies in college. He had a limited knowledge of 18th century America, but unfortunately he fooled many uncritical Black people.

Some people argue that it doesn't matter if the speech is fact or fiction, because white people did use tactics to divide us. Of course tactics were used but what advocates of this argument don't understand is that African people will not solve our problems and address the real issues confronting us by adopting half-baked urban myths. If there are people who know that the Lynch speech is fictional, yet continue to promote it in order to "wake us up," then we should be very suspicious of these people, who lack integrity and will openly violate trust and willingly lie to our community.

Even if the Willie Lynch mythology were true, the speech is focused on what white slaveholders were doing, and there is no plan, program, or any agenda items for Black people to implement. It is ludicrous to give god-like powers to one white man who allegedly gave a single speech almost 300 years ago, and claim that this is the main reason why Black people have problems among ourselves today! Unfortunately, too often Black people would rather believe a simple and convenient myth, rather than spend the time studying and understanding a situation. Too many of our people want a one-page, simplified Ripley's Believe or Not explanation of "what happened."


While we are distracted by the Willie Lynch urban mythology, the real issues go ignored. There are a number of authentic first-hand written accounts by enslaved Africans, who wrote specifically about the slave conditions and the slavemasters' system of control. For example, writers such as Olaudah Equiano, Mahommah Baquaqua, and Frederick Douglass wrote penetrating accounts about the tactics of slave control.

Frederick Douglass, for instance, wrote in his autobiography, Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, that one of the most diabolical tactics of the American slaveholders was to force the slave workers during their six days off for the Christmas holiday to drink themselves into a drunken stupor and forget about the pain of slavery. Douglass wrote, "It was deemed a disgrace not to get drunk at Christmas; and he was regarded as lazy indeed, who had not provided himself with the necessary means, during the year, to get whiskey enough to last him through Christmas. From what I know of the effects of these holidays upon the slave, I believe them to be the most effective means in the hands of the slaveholder in keeping down the spirit of insurrection. Where the slaveholders at once to abandon this practice, I have not the slightest doubt it would lead to an immediate insurrection among the slaves…. The holidays are part and parcel of the gross fraud, wrong, and inhumanity of slavery."[4]

Also, many nineteenth century Black writers discussed the specific tactics of the white slaveowners and how they used Christianity to teach the enslaved Africans how to be docile and accept their slave status. The problem with African American and Black British revelry during the Christmas holidays and the blind acceptance of the master's version of Christianity are no doubt major issues among Black people today. It is certain that both of these problems were initiated and perpetuated during slavery, and they require our immediate attention.

Many people who embrace the Willie Lynch myth have not studied the period of slavery, and have not read the major works or first-hand documents on this issue of African American slavery. As indicated above, this fictional speech is amazingly used as required reading by some college instructors. Kenneth Stampp in his important work on slavery in the American South, The Peculiar Institution (1956), uses the historical records to outline the 5 rules for making a slave:

1. Maintain strict discipline.
2. Instill belief of personal inferiority.
3. Develop awe of master's power ( instill fear).
4. Accept master's standards of "good conduct."
5. Develop a habit of perfect dependence.[5]

Primary (first-hand) research is the most effective weapon against the distortion of African history and culture. Primary research training is the best defense against urban legends and modern myths. It is now time for critical thinkers to bury the decade-old mythology of "William Lynch."



1. For example, see: Lawanda Staten, How to Kill Your Willie Lynch (1997); Kashif Malik Hassan-el, The Willie Lynch Letter and the Making of a Slave (1999); Marc Sims, Willie Lynch: Why African-Americans Have So Many Issues! (2002); Alvin Morrow, Breaking the Curse of Willie Lynch (2003); and Slave Chronicles, The Willie Lynch Letter and the Destruction of Black Unity (2004).

2. See:

3. For this quote and the general Anne Taylor email exchanges regarding the authenticity of the Willie Lynch speech, see:

4. Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845), p. 84.

5. Kenneth Stampp, The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South (1956), pp. 144-48.


*Prof. Manu Ampim is an Historian and Primary (first-hand) Researcher specializing in African & African American history and culture. He is also a professor of Africana Studies. He can be reached at:

PO Box 18623, Oakland, CA (USA). Tel. 510-482-5791. Email:

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

On "Ethnomathematics": Math Is Not a Neutral Train Runnin'

On "Ethnomathematics": Math Is Not a Neutral Train Runnin'

Back in the late 60's I began to rethink the way I taught math and the content of the math I was teaching. I was a young man still in my 20's and I was moved to do this because:

(1) In the 60's I was teaching youngfolk who graduated from NYC hi schools crippled with math miseducation and were not getting the math I was literally dropping on them (as was done to me- but by chance and specific kinds of socialization at Lincoln U. in PA -I "got it"). Our students believed that Whitefolks did math (the Asian math whiz myth was not developed yet) because they were genetically "capable" and we were not. This was the racial inferiority complex and racist assumptions that defined a Black person's education life. For example, at Queens College where I taught math in the SEEK Program from 1968-69, there was a white math prof in the math dept. who gave an interview to the campus newspaper saying that Blacks don't have the mental capacity to do math... and if they do, it's because they have some "white blood" in them.

(2) Because of my deeply involved revolutionary political activism (Panther Party/Black Arts Movement/Black Studies Movement) and from the teachings of folk like John Henrik Clake and Dr. Ben, the growing knowledge of the world of math before and beyond Europe... I began to rethink just what is mathematics and who does it and why?

(3) Because of the above two realities, I began to think about the connection of math knowledge and its central importance to not only understanding the enemy, but what place in future society would we Blackfolk be in if we were "distanced" from math, science & technology (we now know he answer!). By the time the Black Scholar published my little essay in 1970: "Mathematics & the Black Liberation Struggle" I understood that mathematics is an integral part of all societies... and is presented or "done" differently in each of those societies. I also understood that the historical roots of math was out of Africa- not just the great civilization of Kemet (Egypt), but other African civilizations in different eras contributed to the vast math knowledge base that flowed to Asia, the Americas and later Europe.

(4) In this great period (60's & 70's) of strong Black education research & struggles (Black Studies, Community Control and the struggle for control over African/Diaspora research), it became clearer to me that we had to redesign our math pedagogy (ways of teaching) if we are going to bring our people into the positions of POWER. Capitalism was using science and technology in an exponential manner for its profit maximization demands and for its increasing control and surveillance of people and nations. By the end of the 60s, we had already entered a world that was becoming dominated by those who not only controlled the means of production, but also INFORMATION. One of the ways it was being done was to suck the knowledge out of humans and place/store it in a machine called a "computer." Unfortunately, there were only a tiny handful of politically active Blackfolk in the early to mid 70s who were scoping this out. By about 1974, I wrote another piece for the Black Scholar on Technology and the Black Liberation Movement where I tried to hilite this trend in capitalism and warn about how we will become more oppressed and alienated as a people if we don't produce a new generation of conscious Black science/tech activist-scholars and workers.

The pioneering work of the then incarcerated Brother Frank Chapman, Claudia Zaslavsky ("Africa Counts") on the history of math and science out of Africa gave me ammunition and inspiration to push my pedagogical ideas outside the elitist/gender-biased/racist box. Further my SUNY-Old Westbury brother colleague Dr. Everard Barrett (Dr. B) showed me ways of further enhancing my teaching methods. In 1973 or 74, he went into the then decrepit (still is) Black school system of Roosevelt, LI... took a random group of 3rd graders and within a school year had them passing 9th year algebra exams!! His pedagogy flowed to his teaching of adults at Old Westbury also.

(5) There were numerous alternative math/ethnomath/criticalmath conferences, essays, organizations, programs and books developed during the past 35 years. But, because the field of mathematics is one of the most conservative intellectual fields of study and because much of the leadership in this new field of math studies and pedagogy was lead by people of color from all over the world, it got constantly kicked to the curb or relegated as wild radical politically correct rantings of kooky 60s holdovers.

However, by the mid80's Brother Bob Moses's Algebra Project gets to be known to public school and college educators all over the US. He was able to synthesize a number of things many of us had been struggling to get "mainstreamed." The Algebra Project is one of the most successful middle school math programs in the US. If a Diane Ravitch type conservative would look at it, she/he would see "ethnomath" being used along with critical thinking pedagogical methods that push the students to go far beyond what is actually expected of them in middle school. Hence, Algebra Project students arrive at a much higher level of understanding some of the most sophisticated algebraic concepts... and are able to articulate this to others. even tho these sessions are not test-driven, Algebra Projects students do very well on hi-stakes testing because they have the confidence AND a DEEP understanding of math ideas.

By 1993-4, we (a number of education activists and parents- many of whom are still fighting today) created an Algebra Project-NYC as got it started sucessfully in 5 school in District 13 and later a couple of schools in district 17. Hundres of parents and students and teachers met all over the city eager to be part of something that was truly successfully getting midlle school Black & Latino students excited and knowledgable about math. Unfortunately, thru DOE bureacratic mess and internal Algebra project board's over cautiousness, the Project faded from the scene in NYC by 2000. But the Project is going strong in Mississippi and other places. We can bring it back to NY. We SHOULD bring it back to NY.

During this period (1975-1990) the works of Mozambiquan math educator- Paulos Gerdes -became well-known within the ethnomathematics world. I had the privelege to not only meet him and his colleagues but saw his successful work -first hand- in action in Mozambique and South Africa. Gerdes's work is rooted in "ethnomath." It's rooted in bringing African youth to very sophisticated math levels thru an African-centered math based on the various ways African did and do math. It is a successful math education program that has been up and running since the late 70's... in spite of US supported civil wars & IMF/World Bank machinations.

(6) So... I know this math education reform struggles firsthand. I also know that Western math is one of the most multicultural-based math on the planet! It is a creole mix of math from Africa, Europe, India, China and the Americas that evolved into what we see today first thru Europeans studying from Africans in Egypt and North Africa, then thru Arabs and Moors dominating the culture of Southern Europe for seven centuries, then thru the travels of Marco Polo (and other Europeans of his time) to the East, then thru the conquering encounters of Europeans thruout the Americas. One needs only to read George Joseph's "Crest of the Peacock- The NonEuropean Roots of Mathematics" to see what I'm talking about.

(7) This Ethnomath/criticalmath/African-centered Math Movement is an international movement that has been growing over the decades -in spite of the conservative onslaught to rollback math education to the 1930's. The Rethinking Mathematics book is a step in the right direction. what is also needed are people who teach teachers how and why to change their negative education ways- especially in the middle and hi school levels.

(8) Math is not a neutral thing. Yes, Math is universal (and the Western version of it has become standard because of whom the victors are- just like the basis of all computer language is English and binary numbers). All over the world People do Math- People live and work in a society -society is governed by political, economic machinations and spiritual beliefs -so math ideas are rooted in social, spiritual, economic and political realities of a people's society. Math is not hovering in the heavens outside of people... waiting to be discovered by a "genius". Math is inside of us- all of us -waiting to be discovered and used. It is a way of thinking influenced by Nature and the social world around us....

I Can say more, but I hope this helps put a context on the racist conservative attack on the attempts to transform math ed so that EVERYBODY can learn deeply the power and beauty of mathematics for the sake of liberation and the survival of Humanity and the Earth.

In Struggle,

Sam Anderson