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The collective unconscious: an opportunity for new thoughts on the existence of Independent Black Institutions and Black achievement theories.


In this theoretical paper we employ the usage of the psychological theory of the collective unconsciousness to understand the educational phenomena of: the existence and persistence of Independent Black Institutions (IBIs) (1) for over a period of 10,000 years. Thus we aim to draw specific attention to the epoch of the enslavement of Africans in the US and reexamine: a) why groups of individuals would risk their lives to learn to read, write and to build IBIs, although the engagement in the aforementioned activities were punishable by death (Cornelius, 1991; Douglass, 1968) and; b) why a people with minuscule material and economic resources and political capital would systematically create self-supporting educational enterprises (Anderson 1988; Butchart 1980; Elders & Chanoff 1996). Accordingly, our discussion is not limited to the aforementioned eras, however, as the overriding goal of our work is to construct a continuous line of history and experiences that conveys a particular educational disposition and practice of African peoples from ancient times to present.

Currently the predominate arguments in the body of literature used to explain the existence of IBIs and the African American zeal for education positions the IBIs in the Americas as a quest for freedom (Anderson 1988; Cecelski 1994; Perry 2003; Walker 1996, 2000, 2001) and as a response to white cultural hegemony and racism (Bush, 2004; Mitchell, Bush, & Bush 2002; T'Shaka 1989). This paradigm suggests that the existence of IBIs in the Americas is dependent on oppression as the stimulus. We contend these explanations are plausible yet myopic as they are arrested by the ontology and epistemology of much of Western science, that is, humans are limited to a unidimensional time and space and that we only know what we can measure or engage via our five senses.

We are not wedded to the theory of the collective unconscious. We realize that many readers will find our work to be problematic for the same reasons scholars have challenged the work around the collective unconscious for years. Chief among the criticisms is the focus on the question of how do we know that it exists. While we will not take on this polemic, it is interesting to note who is. Among the world's most renowned and highly regarded physicists, there is no debate: there are multidimensional levels of reality existing in parallel universes (Kaku 2004 & 2005), which ironically many indigenous and so-called "primitive" people have said and have known for thousands of years.

Therefore, our work may be seen as the classic think piece in collective unconscious theory and how we apply it to our subject can be viewed from the perspective of "what if" rather than from the position of "prove it", and more specific, readers should approach our work from the perspective and question of: if the collective unconscious is real, how would it aide us in our understanding of the existence of IBIs for a period of 10, 000 years or more, and what might it have to say about Black intellectual attainments, and Black achievement theory.

With this in mind, we will first give a parsimonious sketch and overview of the major IBIs from ancient Africa to today, second provide the reader with just enough information to obtain a general concept of traditional and topical African educational programs and spaces to buttress the overall focus and trajectory of our work, third outline the theory of the collective unconsciousness, fourth, frame the history, development, and existence of IBIs in the theory of the collective unconsciousness, and last, conclude with a discussion of how our work might challenge previous literature and theories concerning the development of IBIs, Black student achievement, and how "educational spaces are organized to accentuate and cordon off a particular race."

Ancient Independent Black Institutions

According to Williams (1987) the ancient African age-grade system, which included apprenticeships and initiation rites for womanhood and manhood, was the earliest form of institutionalized and systematic education. About the age of six formalized training would begin with mental mathematics, story telling, and learning songs, dances, and the names of plants and animals. At age thirteen, with slight variations between boys and girls, children would learn family and society history, geography, rapid calculations, military tactics, agricultural science, poetry, art, music, and dance. During this period, the apprenticeship would begin which involved becoming a skilled craftsperson. This period would conclude with manhood and womanhood initiation rites around age eighteen, which would among other things if successfully completed, allow individuals to be eligible to participate in other aspects of the complex system of education and, secret societies. Though ancient, the age system, apprenticeships initiation rites, and secret societies are still widespread throughout Africa today, and they serve as the basic foundation for all educational institutions to follow worldwide (Williams 1987).

Building on the age-grade system, Nile Valley civilizations created elaborate and highly sophisticated IBIs. About 6,000 years ago magnificent systems and monuments of education began to emerge in Ta-Seti, Nubia -Kush, and Egypt and spread to Mesopotamia and India (Barashango 1991; Van Sertima 1989). Many schools were a part of temples such as the temple of Karnak--an IBI structure that still stands today--(see James 1992 for a description of the temple) where biology, medicine, chemistry, astronomy, mathematics, geometry, algebra, theology, philosophy, and martial arts (Faraji 2003) were a few of the sciences developed and taught. The priesthood and members of secret societies were also trained in more esoteric applications and study of the above disciplines (Shafer 1997).

Just prior to the dawn of the Christian age, Africa was the predominate place to go for education. People from all over the world came to study in its great institutions and libraries. Pythagoras, Plato, and Aristotle are just a few of the Greeks who spent years studying the ancient philosophies and sciences (James 1992).

Between 300 and 400 A.D. Egypt, Nubia, and Ethiopia developed and built their own Coptic Churches (a critical component of these early churches were its schools). Ethiopia set up monasteries in the mountains where priests were taught and monks lived (Frankfurter 1998). Nubia also had its own IBIs that served as a system of training priests and other professionals. Moreover, they were also known to have an intricate age-grade system that served as a pipeline to the advanced schools.

As the Christian system of education of Nubia, Ethiopia, and Egypt continued to exist, another great period of IBIs emerged in the 700's A.D. West Africans, whose ancestors were among those who engendered and fashioned the ancient Nile Valley civilizations and IBIs (Darkwah 2003), combined their traditional system of education with the Muslim system to produce the IBIs of Ghana, Mali, and Songhai in the cites of Jenne, Timbuktu, and Gao. These universities were highly effective and prestigious systems of education that were well known for their extensive libraries as late as the 1700s (deGraft-Johnson 1966). Similarly, in the Swahili coast region, there was also an African and Islamic fused system of education.

Hence, it is important for us to point out, before moving to the modern era of IBIs in the US, the philosophy and the purpose of education particularly in the most ancient epoch of African education which thus us to analyze the philosophy as it moves through space, time and perhaps levels of consciousnesses, and the axiomatic aim of the ancient system of education was to utilize the sciences so that individuals might return to the Divine essence, energy, or force from whence they came (Hilliard 1997). In this case, education is meant to "bring out" what is already inside of each person, and though ancient in origin, this focus also remains as a central theme of many indigenous African systems of education today (Some 1994).

Early Independent Black Institutions in the U.S.

We find the first IBIs in the Americas during the period of chattel slavery under what would appear to be impossible conditions for creating educational institutions. It was a crime, punishable by death, to teach an enslaved person to read and write (Cornelius 1991; Douglass 1968). The signing of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln brought an influx of Northern White missionaries to the South with the intent of establishing schools for African Americans. However, to their astonishment (Anderson 1988), they found formerly enslaved Africans who had already established schools staffed, financed, and controlled entirely by African Americans. And where there were no schools, these White Northern missionaries were further surprised by the will of the formerly enslaved Africans to educate themselves. However, books or fragments of books were seen in the hands of African American men, women, and children everywhere they traveled in the South (Anderson 1988).

The reaction of the White missionaries to the thrust for African American independence went from being one of surprise to full resentment. The White missionaries experienced cognitive dissonance because they expected to find tractable and helpless formerly enslaved Africans in desperate need of their aid and full of gratitude, but instead they found African Americans who preferred sending their children to IBIs rather than the less expensive White schools.

Butchart (1980: 173) wrote '... the struggle included an effort to control the schools as well as other institutions, and efforts that brought them into conflict with their white benefactors. Black demands for control and autonomy were usually muted or veiled by aid societies, who preferred to picture their charges as docile. Nonetheless, evidence exists suggesting that the freedmen sought to extend their independence from whites'.

In 1865, John Alvord was appointed inspector of schools for the Freedmen's Bureau ( Anderson 1988). Alvord traveled throughout the southern states and found what he called native schools--common schools formed and maintained exclusively by African Americans. Many of these schools were in the interior of southern states and had never been seen by Whites before Alvord. Alvord estimated in his report to the Freedmen's Bureau in 1866 that more than 500 native schools were operating in the South (Anderson 1988).

Sabbath schools, i.e., African American church-sponsored schools operating mainly on weekends and evenings, providing basic literary instruction (not included in Alvord's estimation of 500 native schools). Many African Americans attended Sabbath schools (Anderson 1988). In 1869, Alvord attempted to estimate the number of Sabbath schools, and he found a conservative estimate of 1,512 Sabbath schools with 6,146 teachers and 107,109 pupils. By 1885, the enrollment was reported at 200,000 children, who were taught not only about the Bible, but also how to read, write, and spell (Anderson 1988).

In the years following 1869, African Americans stood virtually alone in the fight for universal public education. During this time in the South, public education for African Americans and Whites was basically nonexistent (Anderson 1988; Watkins 2001). Anderson (1988: 26) elucidated '... ex-slaves, or Black native Southerners, have struggled for schooling for over two decades before the Populist campaigns of the late 1880s and 1890s. The ex-slaves' campaign also predated the organized movement for free schooling by southern middle-class progressives. The South's white middle classes, unorganized and subservient to planter interests throughout the 19th century, did not begin their campaign for universal education until the dawn of the twentieth century'. And as a result of the actions of African Americans, public education slowly became a reality in the South.

The arrival of public education in the South seemed to diminish the purpose of independent native and Sabbath schools. In fact, IBIs seem to have disappeared during the period from 1890 to 1935. Butchart (1980) contends that the dispersal of African Americans to isolated plantations and the creation of White-controlled public education ended the community power base in education, causing a decline in IBIs. Although it may be somewhat correct to conclude that there was a decrease in IBIs between 1890 and 1935, the public institutions erected during this time should not be ignored.

Clearly many of these institutions during this epoch were built, financed, staffed, maintained, and supported by African Americans. Bush (1997) classified these public institutions as being quasi-IBIs, although he defined IBIs as nonpublic.

The Forgotten Period

This epoch was coined the Forgotten Period (Bush 1997) because educational historians seem to pay less attention to the events that occurred between 1935 and 1960 in their accounts of African American educational history. They appear to focus on the eras up to the time of the Harlem Renaissance; then their attention moves to Brown v. Topeka Board of Education (1954) and the time thereafter. Thus, it is not clear whether the body of literature concerning IBIs during this span of time is thin because of an oversight by historians, because IBIs did not exist in great numbers, or because they were camouflaged under quasi-IBIs.

There is one example of a classic IBI engendered during this period that still exists today. The first University of Islam was started in Detroit, Michigan, in 1932, in the home of the Nation of Islam's leader, Elijah Muhammad, and his wife, Clara Muhammad. Clara, whom the schools would be named after in the late 1970s, was the school's first teacher. By 1934, the second University of Islam was established in Chicago. The basis for these institutions was to teach African Americans to know self, love self, and do for self. From the 1930s until 1960, the University of Islam was virtually alone in providing African American children with instruction and guidance that stressed self-knowledge, self-reliance, and self-discipline (Rashid & Muhammad 1992).

It is sufficient to note that the University of Islam was not created in a vacuum. The ideologies that prepared the foundation not only for it to exist and flourish also were the building block for many of the IBIs of the 1960s and 1970s. The works of Marcus Garvey (see Hill 1987), Carter G. Woodson (1977), and W.E.B. Dubois (1969) are forthright in the call for independent Black education.

Though the body of literature is still gaunt in this era in comparison to others, there has been an emerging interest in this period. As it pertains to quasi-IBIs, the work of Walker (1996, 2000, & 2001) who focuses on segregated institutions in the South, Perry (2003) who looks the biographies of famous African Americans, and Foster (1997) who analyzes the life stories of teachers are beginning to fill in the some of the gaps. Moreover, the scholars have forged a philosophy, function, and aim of education for this period and into the 1960s, and they contend that African Americans educated themselves for the sake of being free, thus "Literacy for freedom, freedom for literacy" was the motivation and creed for the time.

The Historic Sixties

The 1960s can appear as a time of great paradox when we look at our emerging paradigm concerning access and its influences on IBIs, though we note here that there has always been a segment of Africans in America that maintained a Black Nationalist or Pan African prospective. On one hand, we find a fierce battle for access that resulted in among other things, the end of legalized segregation and an enormous push to desegregate schools. On the other hand, we find most of the IBIs that exist today opened their doors for the first time between 1964 and 1984 as a result of the Black Power Movement and the Civil Rights Movement.

The Black Power Movement, the Pan African, and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s were the driving forces behind the establishment of these institutions (Hoover, 1992; Lee, 1992; Ratteray, 1992; T'Shaka 1989). Many of the founders of IBIs came out of these movements (T'Shaka 1989). Also independent schools were founded by parents who struggled over the control of their children's education in public schools. Eventually, a combination of these factors led to the formation of the Council of Independent Black Institutions (CIBI) (2).

There were some important gains for IBIs during the 1960s and 1970s; however, we must examine the losses as well. Many of the quasi-IBIs established decades early would be deconstructed figuratively and literally under the pretext of school desegregation and possible integration. Moreover, this access would cost approximately 80,000 African American teachers their jobs (Foster 1997).

Recent IBIs

Building on the framework of their predecessors, the Institute for Independent Education reported that in the late 1980s there were over 400 independent Black inner-city or neighborhood schools serving children of color nationwide (Ratteray, 1990). The Institute for Independent Education also suggested that there is an average of 130 students per school; thus there are about 52,000 children enrolled in IBIs in the United States and the U.S. Virgin Islands. IBIs form the second-largest group of private schools in the United States that serve African American children; only Catholic schools serve a greater number (Ratteray 1993).

Ratteray (1992: 164) writes that IBIs have traditionally sought to refrain from depending on outside financial support to prevent unwanted control and influence. Money to support IBIs comes directly from African American communities '... from churches, fraternal orders, sororities, library societies, and similar organizations. The African Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal Zion, Christian Methodist Episcopal, and African American Baptist churches, through their various district and state conventions, have produced the most systematic funding for African American independent schools. The Prince Hall Masons and Grand United Order of Odd-Fellows are among the leading fraternal organizations that have been deeply involved in independent education'. And although these various African American organizations provide support, most of the financial resources for IBIs come from tuition.

In 1987, Ratteray and Shujaa studied more than 200 IBIs and found that 80% were owned and operated by and for African Americans. These schools are mostly located in urban areas. About 70% of the IBIs studied were in the Northeast, with the remaining scattered across the Southwest, South, Southeast, central United States, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. And teachers' salaries ranged from $11,273 to $23,142 per year. In 1991, the average per-student expenditure at these institutions was $2,458, although one school reported spending $4,597 (Institute for Independent Education, 1991), and the average annual tuition in 1986 was $1,490 for the first child attending a religious independent school (for the first child of the family to attend an independent secular school, the tuition was $2,071).

Growing largely out of the Afrocentric movement, which was spearheaded largely by the work of Asante (1980, 1987), many IBIs see the need to construct an educational model that places Africa at the center of its studies. These schools, commonly referred to as African-centered independent schools or institutions, employ a curriculum and pedagogy rooted in the ancient African concept of Maat and the Seven Principles of Blackness known as the Nguzo Saba (see Murrell, 2002). African-centered IBIs encourage Black children "to look at the world through an African-centered set of lenses that provides them with vision that is more focused, has a wider periphery and more depth" (Lomotey 1992: 456).

Like times past, it is difficult to count and to classify IBIs with the onslaught of the charter school movement. Some institutions have traded in their "independent" status for the probability of more financial stability that comes from receiving state and federal funding as a public school. Murrell (1999) reported that in 1993 there were fewer than 20 African-centered public schools in the United States, but by 1999, there were more than 400. And, as the number of general charter schools continues to dramatically increase over the next few years, it is likely that the number of African-centered charter schools will grow also (Murrell 1999).

The Collective Unconscious

Carl Jung (1875-1961) is the most celebrated pioneer and authority concerning the theory of the collective unconscious. However, the theory has its origins in the ancient IBIs discussed above. According to King (2001), the theory of the collective unconscious was a basic concept that was developed in the African universities and secret societies of ancient Egypt.

In short, the collective unconscious is a storehouse of latent memory traces inherited from human's ancestral past (Jung, 1968; Taub-Bynum, 1984). Given that all human life emerged out of Africa, Bynum (1999: 102) describes the collective unconscious as the following: "The African unconscious is the bedrock, the deepest rootwork of the primordial collective unconscious, the sea and ocean of consciousness that humanity has been immersed in since it left the hominid species on its own trek toward modern civilization".

The term "collective" is used to distinguish between an individual or personal conscious and a universal conscious shared by humanity. The contents of the collective unconscious are not a result of an individual's personal experiences. The collective conscious, which can be described as the collective will (Asante 1989), generally accepted truths, beliefs, and values of a community that create a common cultural identify, theme, and ideology, is rooted in or stems from the collective unconscious (Shelburne 1988).

The collective unconscious is made up of psychological archetypes. The term "archetype" is an ancient African word that means seed (King, 2001). Hence, archetypes are the seeds or patterns that form the basic blueprint for major aspects of the human personality. Archetypes pre-exist in the collective unconscious of humanity and repeat themselves in the psyches of humans and determine how they perceive, behave, and react. These seeds or patterns are inborn within each person and are part of the inherited legacy of human beings that exist or dwell as energy within the collective unconscious and are part of the psychological life of all peoples ubiquitously. In other words, it is everywhere at all times as they are both inside and outside of the individual person (Jung et al., 1980; Shelburne 1988).

The collective unconscious was thought by Jung to be specific to racial groups. However, Jung later recounted this view. Nevertheless, he did contend that different groups incorporate archetypes into unique cultural forms based on cultural influences. Thus, certain cultural groups may emphasize some archetypes over others (Shelburne, 1988).

The Collective Unconscious:IBI and Black Achievement

Further, it seems eminently reasonable for us to ask what it is that has historically sustained African American's desire to get an education and to achieve. We believe that the answer to this question can be found by turning, as we did in part I, to the intellectual, historical, and narrative traditions of African Americans and asking about their beliefs about education. What constructions were powerful enough to motivate and sustain the development of a class of black intellectuals, and to sustain in African Americans the desire for school achievement? The philosophy of education, "freedom for literacy and literacy for freedom," that has developed and sustained optimism among many African Americans across generation has also created a class of public intellectuals from slavery to present. (Perry 2003: 77)

Essentially Perry (2003) asks the same questions that we are asking: a) why groups of individuals would risk their lives to learn to read, write, and to build IBIs as the engagement in the aforementioned activities were punishable by death and; b) why a people with minuscule material and economic resources and political capital would systematically create self-supporting educational enterprises that would produce a long line of Black intellectuals. She and others (Anderson 1988; Bush 2004; Cecelski 1994; Foster 1997; Mitchell, Bush, & Bush 2002; T'Shaka 1989; Walker 1996) implicitly or explicitly posit that the motivation has been rooted in a quest for freedom and a response to white supremacy and oppression. Thus, IBIs and other Black spaces are parallel structures of resistance (3) (Bush 2004) which position themselves as reactive responses and movements. While we would agree with the previous contentions, we assert that these explanations do not paint the total picture. We find that these explanations inadvertently are problematic in light of the theory of the collective unconscious and the history of Africans from Ancient times to present.

What the body of literature has described to this point as the reason for the achievement of Black intellectuals, the building of IBIs, and the creation of Black self-segregated spaces represents or can be understood as the collective conscious of a people. Again, the collective conscious can be described as the collective will (Asante 1989), generally accepted truths, beliefs, and values of a community that create a common cultural identify, theme, and ideology (Shelburne 1988). For example, Perry skillfully demonstrates how meticulously, purposefully, and consciously counter narratives of Black achievement were passed from one generation to the next. Thus the powerful and persistent communal theme, mantra, and belief "freedom for literacy and literacy for freedom," is an expression and example of the collective conscious at work.

Additionally, however, it also provides an insight into the collective unconscious because what manifests in the collective conscious stems from the collective unconscious (Jung et al., 1980; Shelburne 1988). Hence the problem with previous analyses and explanations is that they are only at the collective conscious level thereby placing the existence of IBIs in the Americas as being dependent on oppression for their existence.

The African collective unconscious operates from a blueprint or archetype that mandates the facilitation of the indefatigable pursuit of education--the process of returning to one's divinity--via the building and maintenance of Black institutions, schools, societies, and spaces. History reveals that Africans built IBIs long before the presence of Europeans and others and continued to do so in the face of tremendous opposition. Moreover, in most cases, learning to read does not free a prisoner or the enslaved and thus the vigorous push for literacy is also tied to the African collective unconscious. Hence, IBIs are not parallel structures of resistances; rather, they represent a continuous line or ubiquitous existence of the unconscious. White supremacy and its institutions on the other hand, become the parallel construct and structure of resistance under the emergent paradigm.

Conclusion: An Opportunity for New Thoughts on Black Achievement Theories

The application of the theory of collective unconsciousness to educational concepts and theories may potentially alter how we approach, study, and understand the schooling experiences of Black children in schools. It will force us to look deeper at the theories concerning Black achievement and underachievement (Fordham 1986; Fordham & Ogbu 1986; Ogbu 1987, 2003; Perry 2003) and related frameworks such as resistance theory (Giroux 1983a, 1983b; Solorzano & Delgado 2001) by broadening the context in which we see ourselves, that is, our ontological constructs and underpinnings, and the factors involved in human dynamism.

It is significant to note that what we have suggested in this current work about the possibility of the collective unconscious and its impact on the educational epistemology and actions of African peoples in the Americas is very similar to the underlining assumptions that are present in widely utilized theories. Consider the dominate frameworks used to theorize about the educational disposition and position of Africans in America such as acting white (Fordham & Ogbu, 1986), involuntary and voluntary minority status (Ogbu, 1987), and resistance theory (Giroux, 1983a, 1983b). Though not explicitly stated or intended by the aforementioned theorists, the essential essence of their work relies heavily on the notion that the collective consciousness of a particular group can decide that group's educational epistemology, achievement, and destiny.

In other words, they suggest that cultural groups collectively develop and/or maintain a consciousness that guides whether they embrace white mainstream schooling values and practices which has a direct effect on educational outcomes. Following the theorists' assumptions, certain cultural groups collectively decide if the schooling process is for whites or not, collectively deciding whether to resist the dominate hegemony, or to have a collective response as involuntary and voluntary bicultural groups. Thus, the notion of a shared consciousness is well-established in the educational literature, and we aim to use this body of work as a bridge to develop new educational theories that account for the collective unconscious.

There is much more work and thought that needs to be done to help create an understanding of how the collective unconsciousness works in educational achievements. Future work in this area is challenging because it requires that scholars have a significant background in history, psychology, and education, coupled with some knowledge of physics and metaphysics. Notwithstanding, we hope our current work serves as a foundation and impetus for future dialogue and scholarship.

(1) In this paper the phrase or term Independent Black School or Institution (IBIs) is used to describe black schools, universities, temples, secret societies, and priesthoods constructed and maintained by Africans prior to their enslavement in the U.S. Thereafter, in the U.S., an IBI is "A nonpublic, pre-collegiate, self-governing institution that is not dependent upon larger public or sectarian organization. Within the context of the African American community, this definition must be broadened to include schools supported and governed by individual church congregations. They serve the African American community and have a governing board that is majority-African American." (G. Foster 1992: 187)

The term institution refers to schools. It is preferred to school because it helps to link the four basic corners of society: the institution of family, institution of religion, institution of business, and institution of education. Each of these institutions must work together if the condition of Africans throughout the Diaspora is to change.

(2) The Council of Independent Black Institutions (CIBI) was founded in June 1972, two months after a conference hosted by the African American Teacher Association that planted the seeds for an African independent educational system. CIBI began with 28 members representing 14 IBIs, with the purpose of organizing these existing institutions into corresponding political and educational objectives (Wilkinson 1983).

(3) Parallel structures of resistance are Black schools, churches, businesses, and the like that emerge along side their mainstream counterparts in opposition to white supremacy and cultural hegemony with the purpose of fostering and maintaining a self-sufficient and self-reliant disposition and position in society (Bush 2004).


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Lawson Bush, V, Ph.D., Edward C. Bush, Ph.D. and Tonia Causey-Bush, Ph.D.

Lawson Bush, V ( is director of the University of California, Irvine/ California State University, Los Angeles Joint Doctoral Program, and associate professor of Educational Leadership at California State University, Los Angeles; Edward C. Bush ( is dean of Student Services at Riverside Community College (Norco, CA), and Tonia Causey-Bush ( is director of Research and Evaluation for the Rialto Unified School District (Rialto, CA). This paper is based on a presentation April 2006 at the American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting in San Francisco, California.
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Author:Bush, Lawson; Bush, Edward C.; Causey-Bush, Tonia
Publication:Journal of Pan African Studies
Geographic Code:60AFR
Date:Dec 1, 2006
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