Tag: civil war

HISTORY: Meet Robert Smalls, Boat Captain for Union Navy who Escaped Slavery and Became 1st African-American Elected to U.S. Congress

U.S. Naval Captain and U.S. Congress Member Robert Smalls (photo via Library of Congress)

by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)

On this Veteran’s Day, Good Black News is choosing to honor former Union Navy boat captain and oft-hidden historical figure Robert Smalls of South Carolina.

Robert Smalls was the first black man elected to U.S. Congress during Reconstruction. He was born into slavery in 1839 in Beaufort, S.C., and started his remarkable, implausible journey to national prominence by daring to escape slavery during the Civil War with his family. 

Smalls, like many other enslaved peoples, was made to work for the Confederate forces during the Civil War. Menial labor such as grave digging, cooking, digging trenches, etc. were the most common jobs, but some enslaved peoples were used in skilled labor positions, such as Smalls, who could navigate the waters in and around Charleston, so was used to guide transport ships for the Confederate Navy.

On May 13, 1862, Smalls convinced several other enslaved people to help him commandeer a Confederate transport ship, the CSS Planter, in Charleston harbor. Smalls sailed from Confederate-controlled waters to the U.S. blockade.

By doing so, not only did he gain freedom for himself, several enslaved peoples and members of his family, his example of cunning and bravery helped convince President Abraham Lincoln to accept black soldiers into the U.S. Army and Navy. Check out PBS video about this event below:

Smalls became Captain of the same boat for the Union Navy and helped free enslaved peoples as he fought and outwitted the Confederate Navy several more times during the duration of the War. After the South surrendered, Smalls returned to Beaufort, S.C. and purchased his master’s house, which was seized by the Union in 1863. His master sued to get it back, but lost in court to Smalls. Continue reading “HISTORY: Meet Robert Smalls, Boat Captain for Union Navy who Escaped Slavery and Became 1st African-American Elected to U.S. Congress”

BOOKS: New Biography “Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom” Focuses on the Man and his Voice

by Jennifer Szalai via nytimes.com

Time has a way of sanding off the rough edges of historical memory, turning even the most convulsive, contentious lives into opportunities for national triumphalism and self-congratulation. With “Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom,” the historian David W. Blight wants to enrich our understanding of an American in full who, for more than half his life, wasn’t even legally recognized as such. Now that Douglass is enshrined on his pedestal, shorn of what made him “thoroughly and beautifully human,” Blight notes how the “old fugitive slave” has been “adopted by all elements in the political spectrum,” eager to claim him as their own.

Plenty has been written about Douglass in the 200 years since he was born, not least by Douglass himself, who recounted his life story in three autobiographies — a paper trail of memoirs that Blight deems “both a pleasure and peril” for the biographer. In tracing an arc from bondage to freedom, Douglass cast himself as a “self-made hero,” Blight writes, while leaving “a great deal unsaid.” A number of other books have filled in the gaps — exploring Douglass’s relationships with the women in his life, for instance, as well as his fraught and transformative friendship with Abraham Lincoln — but Blight’s is the first major biography of Douglass in nearly three decades, making ample use of materials in the private collection of a retired doctor named Walter O. Evans to illuminate Douglass’s later years, after the Civil War.

Blight, who has edited and annotated volumes of Douglass’s autobiographies, undertakes this project with the requisite authority and gravity. The result is comprehensive, scholarly, sober; Blight is careful to tell us what cannot be known, including the persistent mystery of Douglass’s father (who was most likely white, and may have been Frederick’s mother’s owner). On the stuff that’s known, Blight is an attentive if sometimes fastidious guide, poring over speeches and texts with the critical equivalent of a magnifying glass. Douglass, Blight says, was a “man of words,” making this book “the biography of a voice.”

That voice took shape and sharpened over time, but it would return again and again to the banks of the Tuckahoe River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, where Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey was born in 1818. Twenty years a slave, then almost nine years a fugitive; as Douglass himself described it in his autobiographies (having adopted his new surname from a Sir Walter Scott poem), the first decades of his life were both thrilling and terrifying. Until his abolitionist allies helped to purchase his freedom in 1846, everything he did felt provisional; he lived with the incessant fear of someone who could be plunged back into captivity at any moment.

Read more: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/17/books/review-frederick-douglass-prophet-of-freedom-david-blight.html

Cudjo Lewis, Last Survivor of Transatlantic Slave Trade, Has His Story Told in ‘Barracoon’ a Posthumous Book by Zora Neale Hurston to be Published in May 2018

Zora Neale Hurston (l), Cudjo Lewis (r) [photo via blackyouthproject.com]
by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)

According to Newsone.com, the published work of literary giant Zora Neale Hurston (Of Mules and Men, Their Eyes Were Watching God) will expand in 2018 with the posthumous release of a new non-fiction book in May, Melville House reported.

The book—titled Barracoon—is an anthropological work on Cudjo Lewis; the last known person to survive the transatlantic slave trade between Africa and the United States. Nearly 90 years ago, Hurston traveled to Plateau, Alabama, and listened to Lewis—who was in his early 90s—recount his heart-wrenching experiences. Hurston went back and forth to Plateau over the course of four years. During her visits, Lewis shared memories about his upbringing in Africa, dark details about being captured, and his voyage to America on the Clotilde ship.

Lewis also spoke to Hurston about the perils of being an enslaved man in America and how his life changed following the Civil War. After gaining his freedom, Lewis and other former enslaved peoples cultivated a community in Alabama which was later landmarked and recognized as the Africatown Historic District. According to Bustle, Lewis was also featured in a short film created by Hurston in 1928; making him the only former bondsman born in Africa to be featured on a movie reel.

Harper Collins described the book as a piece that “brilliantly illuminates the tragedy of slavery and one life forever defined by it” and “an invaluable contribution to our shared history and culture.”

To pre-order Barracoon, click below:

Civil Rights and War Hero Octavius Catto to Become Philadelphia’s 1st African American Honored With a Public Statue

This model of the Octavius V. Catto Memorial shows the statue, pillars and ballot box elements that will make up the $1.75 million project. (photo via phillyvoice.com)

by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)

According to blavity.comOctavius Valentine Catto will be honored with a statue outside of Philadelphia’s city hall this September. Catto’s statue will be the first monument built to honor an African American erected on public land in the City of Brotherly Love. Although Catto’s memorial has been in the works for years, in the wake of the push to take so many Confederate statues down across the nation, the timing for this statue’s unveiling could not be better.

In Charleston, South Carolina on February 22, 1839, Catto was born a free black man. Catto excelled at his studies, attending a school for black children in Philadelphia, the Institute for Colored Youth, an institution he later led.

According to phillyvoice.com, in his early 20s, Catto was already an active leader in the African American community. He was a member of the 4th Ward Black Political Club, the Union League Association, the Library Company and the Franklin Institute. He demanded that African Americans fight in the Civil War and helped get their regiments inducted into the war. In 1863, at the height of the Civil War, he joined the army and enlisted as a volunteer in defense of the state of Pennsylvania.

Octavius Catto (photo via phillyvoice.com)

Catto was also a major in the Pennsylvania National Guard and played baseball as captain and second baseman for the Pythians, an African American baseball team. He was inducted into the Negro League Baseball Museum’s Hall of Fame.

Beyond being an educator, ball player and a war hero, Philadelphia is celebrating Catto for his local civil rights activism, which went into full gear after he was kicked off of a segregated horse-drawn trolley. He staged a sit-in on the streetcars, refusing to move off of the car. The driver drove the car off of its track and unhitched its horses, unsure how else to get rid of Catto. Catto remained aboard; the other passengers and the driver left him there. Catto also defended several black women who were forcibly ejected from the city’s streetcars, and used a fine levied against his fiancée to drum up publicity for his cause. Finally, in 1867, due in large part to Catto’s pressure, the city desegregated its streetcars.

“In Philadelphia, at that time, you could be wearing a Civil War uniform and not have been able to get on that trolley car,” said Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, who has been hoping to bring a statue of Catto to the city since at least 2003, after he learned the story of Catto’s life. “[Knowing this] you realize, this struggle isn’t just a 1960s struggle. It’s a struggle from the beginning of the country.” Continue reading “Civil Rights and War Hero Octavius Catto to Become Philadelphia’s 1st African American Honored With a Public Statue”

Black Parents Sue Mississippi for ‘Inequitable’ Schools with Help of Southern Poverty Law Center

(photo via naacpms.org)

by thegrio.com

The Southern Poverty Law Center filed suit in federal court on Tuesday alleging that the poor performance of black students in Mississippi is the direct result of the state’s failure to live up to the terms of readmission to the Union at the end of the Civil War.

As part of the terms of readmission, Mississippi was required to create a “uniform system of free public schools” for all citizens, both black and white, in order to foster an environment of education that was necessary to democracy.“ Today, Mississippi schools are anything but uniform,” said Will Bardwell, a lawyer at the Southern Poverty Law Center.

“If you’re a kid in Mississippi, your chances of getting a good education depend largely on whether your school is mostly white or mostly black. That is not a uniform system.”

However, the state constitution changed several times until in 1890 it allowed only for “separate but equal” systems. According to the complaint, the constitution is now an “empty shell of the guarantee that Congress obligated Mississippi to preserve in 1870” and allows the state to severely underfund schools that serve African-American students.

To read more, go to: Black parents sue Mississippi for ‘inequitable’ schools | theGrio

National Museum of African-American History and Culture To Become Five-Story Screen to Show 3D “Commemorate and Celebrate Freedom” Video Nov. 16-18

The completed building of the National Museum of African American History and Culture will be transformed into a lively display one year before it opens. (National Museum of African American History and Culture)

When the sun goes down each evening between November 16 and 18, the museum’s south exterior, facing Madison Drive, and its west exterior, on 15th Street near the Washington Monument, will be illuminated by a seven-minute video, entitled “Commemorate and Celebrate Freedom.” Produced by the renowned filmmakers Stanley J. Nelson and Marcia Smith of Firelight Media, and animated by Quixotic Entertainment, the video projection will transform the museum into a five-story, block-long 3D canvas, according to museum officials.

“What we wanted to do was to metaphorically have the museum speak even before we open next year,” says Kinshasha Holman Conwill, deputy director of the museum.

“And the signal design element for our building is the corona: the three-tiered bronze colored element that has references in African sculpture and African American life and that identifies this building as something unique on the Mall. So to project on to that façade really gave us that opportunity to make the museum speak.”

The display, which the museum’s director Lonnie Bunch has called a “dynamic event,” will be accompanied by a soundtrack of historical music and spoken word, and will pay tribute to three significant moments in history: the culmination of the Civil War with the surrender at Appomattox on April 8, 1865; ratification of the 13th Amendment, which officially ended the institution of slavery on December 5, 1865; and the passage of the Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965.

“One of the things that [the film connects] to is the notion and the vision that the museum would be a place for those who already revel in African American history and culture,” says Conwill. “But most importantly,” she adds that the museum seeks to also provide a unique “lens into what it means to be an American and that those milestones in American history, as viewed through that lens, really amplifies that notion.”

On its opening night, November 16, the state-of-the-art digital projection imagery will also be accompanied by a live, outdoor program, produced and directed by Ricardo Khan, former artistic director of the Tony Award-winning Crossroads Theatre Co. Actor Erik Todd Dellums will serve as master of the ceremonies, which will include remarks by other dignitaries, including Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser; and U.S. Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton.

Continue reading “National Museum of African-American History and Culture To Become Five-Story Screen to Show 3D “Commemorate and Celebrate Freedom” Video Nov. 16-18”

Viola Davis Developing Harriet Tubman Movie at HBO

Viola Davis Developing Harriet Tubman Movie

Viola Davis is attached to star in an HBO telepic about the life of Harriet Tubman, the activist who helped devise a system that allowed hundreds of slaves to escape to freedom via the Underground Railroad.

Davis is developing the project with Amblin TV and writer Kirk Ellis, who has penned historical projects for HBO including its “John Adams” miniseries, and “Entourage” exec producer Doug Ellin. The untitled movie is based on the book “Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman: Portrait of an American Hero” by Kate Clifford Larson.

Davis is executive producing with her partner and husband, Julius Tennon; Amblin’s Justin Falvey and Darryl Frank; Ellin; Jim Lefkowitz; and Cliff Dorfman.

The movie is in the early development stage and has not been given the go-ahead for production. But  it’s eyed for filming during Davis’ hiatus next year from her hit ABC drama “How to Get Away With Murder.”

Tubman became an American icon as a woman who escaped from slavery in Maryland in 1849 and helped organize a network of safe houses to help her relatives. She eventually helped hundreds of slaves to secure their freedom and became the most famous “conductor” on the network.  During the Civil War, Tubman served with the Union Army as a cook and a nurse, but she was eventually pressed into service as a spy.

Tubman is not the only African-American historical figure that Davis has sought to portray onscreen. The actress has been developing a feature film based on the life of pioneering congresswoman Barbara Jordan.

article by Cynthia Littleton via Variety.com

NY Capitol Exhibit Honors New York Abolitionists

An exhibit honoring African-American historical figures opened Monday at New York’s state Capitol to highlight February as “Black History Month.”

Titled “From Slavery to Citizenship: The African American Experience in New York 1817-1872,” the display chronicles contributions black New Yorkers made during the years following the Civil War and emancipation of slaves.

“New York’s history as a progressive leader really began during this time,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement Monday. “The courage of the writers, activists and soldiers, both black and white, who confronted racial inequality set a precedent that would inspire the New Yorkers who followed to lead the nation in the struggle against every type of injustice.”

The exhibit’s timeline starts with 1817, when New York passed a law to enact the gradual emancipation of slaves, and ends in 1872, when abolitionist Frederick Douglass became a member of New York’s Electoral College.

The display includes relevant artifacts, biographies and historical narrative. The artifacts are from collections belonging to the state Archives, the state Library and the state Military Museum.

Continue reading “NY Capitol Exhibit Honors New York Abolitionists”

Exhibit to Explore History of African-Americans in Medicine During Civil War

(File Photo)Some may not know how much of a part African-Americans played in the Civil War, but the National Library of Medicine has produced a free, traveling exhibit to shed light on their work in the health field during that time.  “Binding Wounds, Pushing Boundaries” explores black Americans’ contributions as nurses, surgeons and hospital staff during the war.

According to the National Library of Medicine, for African-Americans, the Civil War was “a fight for freedom and a chance for full participation in American society.”  “Their participation challenged the prescribed notions of both race and gender and pushed the boundaries of the role of blacks in America,” the site reads.

Continue reading “Exhibit to Explore History of African-Americans in Medicine During Civil War”

Chocolate Gives Sierra Leone’s Villages New Hope


Wata Nabieu takes the chocolate bar and carefully unwraps the top. She giggles at us watching her and breaks off a piece, giving it a nervous nibble. Then she passes it to her three-year-old daughter, Yema. Wata pulls the gold wrapper back more and bites. She closes her eyes. “Milk… sugar… cocoa?” she murmurs. Her smile widens. She takes a bigger bite.  It’s a privilege to watch someone eat chocolate for the first time: a Willy Wonka moment. All the more special because 40-year-old Wata Nabieu has laboured for most of her life in the cocoa plantations of Sierra Leoneso that other people can eat chocolate. What if she didn’t like it?

We are sitting under one of the cocoa trees planted 30 years ago by Wata’s father. Now she works the farm alone, except at harvest time when the neighbours help. Most days she’s out here, chasing monkeys and birds away from the ripening fruit, clearing undergrowth – “In it there can be hidden snakes. Or men”. On the back of Wata’s ragged T-shirt, inherited from an NGO, are the words “Love and development”.  Wata finishes off the finger bar of milk chocolate. The gold foil falls to the ground, where it settles beside a many-horned orange-pink orchid, a flower straight from the rainforest in Avatar. The chocolate is made by the Divine Chocolate company which has, since last year, been using Fairtrade Sierra Leonean cocoa – including the beans from Wata’s trees.

What’s the verdict? We ask. “Deya,” says Wata. “It’s fine.” She grins. Yema, meanwhile, is busy licking her fingers having painted her bare tummy with melted chocolate.  Not many people in Wata’s village of cocoa and coffee farmers have ever tasted the product of their work – but then there are very few luxuries here in the remote east of a country that consistently comes at the bottom of the United Nations lists of wealth and development. One in six women in Sierra Leone will die in childbirth, and one in four children will not reach the age of five. Wata, like more than half the women her age, cannot read and has never been to school.

Wata and her family have known a lot of death: she has lost her father, her brother and her first husband. They all died during Sierra Leone’s vicious 11-year civil war, which finally came to an end in 2002. All of the country suffered, as rebel militias twice seized control, with a cruel policy of savage retribution against civilians who did not support them. Rape and murder were common, children forced to become soldiers and turned against their own families, and a usual punishment for opposition the amputation of your hands or arms. “Short sleeve, or long sleeve?” asked the militia men as they raised their machetes. When I went to Sierra Leone as a reporter in 2000, the streets of the capital were full of children and adults with missing limbs.

Kenema, the district where Wata and her family live, was particularly dangerous then: it’s here that diamonds, Sierra Leone’s only major source of wealth, are found. Lust for the minerals fuelled the civil war, and the resulting turmoil made Wata and the rest of the village part-time refugees for nearly a decade. “When we ran away from the rebel soldiers, that’s when my husband was killed. Then we all lived by finding wood in the forest and selling it. Sometimes we would sneak back home to harvest the cocoa from our trees. But it was very dangerous.”  One of the cocoa farmers, Ibrahim Moseray, told me he had cherished a dream during that terrible time. Before the war, in the early 1990s, Ibrahim worked sometimes for a Scots cocoa buyer who would visit Kenema regularly to negotiate for cocoa beans from the Lebanese traders who bought from the villages. Ibrahim had learnt a lot about the trade, about the profits and the tricks – how the buyers would visit the villages during the dry months, “the hunger season”, and lend the families rice.

When the cocoa crop was ready in January the buyers would reclaim the debt, asking payment of one sack of cocoa beans for one of rice: grotesquely unfair. But the villagers, without communications or education, unaware of the real price of cocoa, were in no position to argue. “And they had to feed their children,” says Ibrahim.  Ibrahim’s dream, as the families lived on the run during the war, was simple: “Things were at their worst in 1998. We were all displaced because of the war, the cocoa price had collapsed and the buyers were giving farmers promissory notes, not even money. So we started thinking: after the war we’re going to have to export the cocoa ourselves.  “We formed a cocoa group to go to the village with the government soldiers to harvest our trees, and so we started to work together. We called ourselves “Kpeya” which means “Give way” in Mende – we were calling on the world to give way and let us sell our cocoa for ourselves.”

When the war ended, Kpeya made a useful alliance with Africa’s most successful cocoa cooperative, Kuapa Kokoo (Good Cocoa Farmers’ Company) in Ghana. Set up in 1993 and now with 47,000 farmer members, Kuapa is the main source of Fairtrade chocolate, now supplying Cadbury (for Dairy Milk) and Mars (for KitKat). It owns nearly half of Britain’s Divine chocolate company, which had a £12.5m turnover last year – a share of which goes straight back to the farmers. The advice from Kuapa and the NGOs to the Sierra Leonean farmers was plain – they needed to produce better cocoa to attract higher prices. So training was set up for the cocoa farmers of Kpeya by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation. They re-learned their trade in everything from pruning trees and pest control to better fermenting and drying of the cocoa beans. And they were also taught to farm without recourse to any chemicals. Fertilisers and pesticides are not easy to get hold of in rural Sierra Leone, but it means the Kpeya chocolate can be called organic, too.

By last year, Kpeya was ready to achieve the old dream of selling its cocoa direct for export. Its first container – some 12.5 tonnes – of high quality, Fairtrade-certified cocoa went to Europe, to become Divine Chocolate. The 300 farmers received an above the market price for their beans, and put some of the premium into building storage sheds and an office from which to run the cooperative. Divine bought them a pick-up truck. And the effects in villages such as Batiama were immediate: everyone, I was told with pride, now owns a pair of shoes.  On the road into Kenema – newly rebuilt with Chinese aid money – there are neat piles of rocks: one source of income for landless rural people is to gather them by hand in the hope someone laying concrete or building a house may need the rubble. Many of the bigger buildings we pass, like the schools or Kenema’s college, are still roofless and derelict eight years after the war.

Kenema is a frontier town. In its shabby, busy streets there are diamond dealers’ shops, casinos and banks with armed guards outside them; in the one hotel large Lebanese men smoke hookahs as they do business with unfriendly white men with leathery skin. Ibrahim Moseray, Kpeya’s elected manager, looks out of place here in his tribal clothes – he is wearing the uniform of hereditary speaker for the chief. But he is full of confidence as we go to see his bank manager.  This official, Mr Turay, is friendly and impressed when presented with some Divine chocolate, but firm: he’s not going to offer credit to a bunch of cocoa farmers from the sticks. He needs better assurances of Kpeya’s financial solidity. Ibrahim looks disappointed. He needs cash to complete the cocoa purchases as the harvest time comes to an end. It is hard trying to persuade the 300 farmer-members of Kpeya to resist the Lebanese dealers’ offers (and the hunger pangs) and hold out for the better prices he knows he can offer them, when the advance payment for this year’s harvest turns up.

Building the farmers’ faith in the new organisation is not easy: the old-time traders have every reason to hope Kpeya will fail. One Dutch cocoa-buyer told a meeting he didn’t want high quality cocoa from Sierra Leone – he could make more money out of the poor quality stuff. And it seems that sometimes everything from officialdom to the local thieves who stole the sink from the new office the other day are lining up against Kpeya.  “Everyone’s trying to squeeze us, put us out of business,” says Ibrahim, grinning. “The buyers are against us because they know we’re pushing prices up, and educating the farmers. But our farmers our saying no to them: ‘We’re with Kpeya till we die’. We bought them all mobile phones, so they could tell us what was going on, and if they were being misinformed about the prices, we could tell them the truth.”  Ibrahim delights in the battle – he says that Kpeya’s next move this harvest season will be to put up the price of a pound of dried beans by 50 leones (about 1p). This will force all the traders to pay more to all the farmers in the region. Already the price of cocoa to the farmers is, at 55p a pound, a third higher than it was last season.

Back in the village Momoh Sellu, the chairman of Kpeya Agricultural Enterprise, tells me about a man who came to the village when he was a child. “I think he was the district officer, one of the Englishmen. They were good men, they built schools and they built roads. He came here in 1933, to the village, and told my father that he ought to plant cocoa. He taught him how to do it and how to look after the plants. He said that we could eat the fruit now, but one day it would make us money. And it was good advice.”  Since the Kpeya cooperative was formed the village has been working together much more, Sellu says. The 455 people of Batiama now help each other harvest and dry the beans. The Kpeya committee decided to pay for Wata Nabieu to take her blind son to Freetown, the capital, so he could have an operation that restored his sight. There was a village raffle: the winners getting cash to put shiny zinc sheets on their houses in place of the palm thatch roofs. And with some of the extra cash from the Fairtrade price they have hired a primary teacher. Before the children had to walk three miles to school.  “It’s good to be a cocoa farmer – you are respected,” says Sellu happily. “Cocoa farmers usually are very notable in society – they have two or three wives.” Mrs Sellu, Mamie, who is listening, tells me he is useless and too old: but she agrees that the cooperative has been a good thing. “Before when the buyer came he would deduct money as interest on our loans. I’m not educated, and I could not even understand. Now the co-op gives us free loans, if we need them.”

Mamie Sellu is 80, she thinks. She has seen terrible times – two of her children were killed in the war, and she has seen many “hungry seasons” in the annual dry months. She says she isn’t worried now for herself, but for her eight surviving children and 15 grandchildren. Their food and their education depend on an assured price for cocoa. “I don’t want to die and leave my children poor – I’m sending them to school so they can take care of themselves. If they have no way of getting money, my soul will not rest in peace.”  Before we leave we watch the effects of a lot of chocolate on children not used to it: the biggest mass sugar high I’ve ever been a party to. The games get wilder, and we end with a huge tournament of grandmother’s footsteps. The giggling, squealing children tumble over each other while the adults smile and gossip. War and famine seem far away. Could those times come again? I ask Ibrahim Moseray. “Everybody smelled the war, everyone felt it,” he says. “They know now what war means. They know we can’t go back.”

article via guardian.co.uk/

The Good Things Black People Do, Give and Receive All Over The World
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