Black History Month Salute

Haki R. Madhubuti - a paradoxical, unpredictable oasis

By Tomi Morris Johnson


Madhubuti teaching Johnson during interview in 1978. Photo by Phil Groshong


I have never met a person exuding uncompromising love and hate, showering love on his community-building protégés while shouting revolutionary hatred against racism and complacency, like Haki R. Madhubuti. Through a love/hate dichotomy, he chastises and creates.  Maneuvering hurtful and destructive actions of white perpetrators into passionate, life-giving/life-saving service, Haki has found his purpose – confronting negativity with the establishment of workable black institutions. His distain for white exploiters propels him to awaken the consciousness of his people, aspiring them to take control of their own environments though self-love, self-knowledge, and liberation. What a fantastically unpredictable brother!

My first evaluation of Haki in the ‘70’s was, “He has a furious hatred of white injustice, but smiles lovingly. Surely he can’t survive dueling emotions without exploding. Certainly he can’t deem American History a lie, constantly questioning established academia, and survive without becoming paranoid.” I was naive, yet awed with this intense, loud yet soft spoken, 27-year old, ex-military, conservatively dressed, guest speaker at Indiana University where I was a student.  His discourse weighed white bigotry against black consciousness and was held at the IU School of Business auditorium, of all places, in Bloomington where 50 years earlier 150 KKK horsemen reportedly rode down Kirkwood Avenue, around the courthouse, and into cross-burning backwoods.

I watched him move quickly to a folding table at the rear of the auditorium where he sold copies of his OWN books.  He was charismatic and industrious. He was self-published and self-promoting. How could this be, especially after he talked so bad about white folks in public? He was a professional. I was forever floored.

I gladly handed over two dollars and two quarters for Book of Life.  “Beware of quick smiles and fast words. One who smiles overmuch mis-uses his face...” was Haki’s proverb on p. 58.  His voice and eyes thanked me for the cash. The book’s cover was bathed in red, black, green and gold. Inside, some poems were too deep for me to comprehend. I copied others and slipped them into personal correspondence, always giving him credit.  Over the years, his power and message never diminished.

Seven years later, Haki accepted my invitation to preach/teach at my wedding.  I really didn’t think he would show up, him being the poet/writer/god that he was, but he did. I sent him a round trip plane ticket, and he gave me the return fare back as a wedding gift. What other celebrity would do that?

He wore an African robe and hat to the ceremony held in a black Methodist church. The officiating Presbyterian minister seemed puzzled over Haki’s inclusion. I was nervous and crying but stopped being emotional when Haki told us, the wedding couple, “Stay together, no matter what the white man does to you.”  Haki had insight because on our honeymoon, my husband’s boss threatened termination because of improperly completed leave paperwork.  Haki’s advice has followed us through 22 years of marriage.

The last time I saw Haki was the last time I worked for a major corporation.  I sort of snuck him into the manufacturing plant on a visitor’s pass. I got into trouble because the place was being robotized (de-humanized), and I didn’t get “proper approval.” Could they have known Haki or his views on technology? The last time I communicated with him (last month), he answered the telephone saying, “I’m not talking to any Negroes today.” He must have known it was me calling! He never forgets to ask about the children.

Even though he’s now “Dr.” Madhubuti he’s still Haki, a paradoxical oasis overflowing from the grassroots community he loves, a leader who cannot be properly summed up in 500 words or less. Some may say he only showers black people with love, but he does not discriminate in his hatred of joiners, non-readers, mass media addicts, elitists, artificial environmentalists, neo-racists, pacifists, euro-centric imitators, neutralizers, de-educators, and false image-makers. His life mirrors that of other strong, black, freedom fighters in our history - oases of love springing from a world of revulsion.


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