Wadsworth Jarrell – Creating Identifiable Art

Personal History of Wadsworth Jarrell

Wadsworth was born in art. Growing up on a farm near Athens Georgia, he  watched his mother make quilts and his father make furniture. After graduating high school Wadsworth joined the army and served in Korea. On returning he moved to Chicago and enrolled in the Art Institute of Chicago.  While he did graduate he soon lost interest in commercial art and started creating for himself, focusing his work to become an independent artist. Throughout his life Wadsworth created art to try and capture the beauty of Blackness, he wanted to create art that at a glance would be recognizably black. Wadsworth helped create coalitions of black artists and functioned as a focal point for the black art scene in Chicago. Below is more detail on specific parts of his artistic life and vision, specifically his involvement in OBAC, WJ Studio, and AFRICOBRA.

OBAC

OBAC (which stands for Organization of Black American Culture) was a coalition of artists formed in 1966 in response to a multitude of race riots. Similar to other arts groups at the time, this group looked to explore the idea of black pride through their art. Artists in the coalition helped critique each others work and reflect on the idea of Blackness.

OBAC’s greatest success was their creation of the “Wall of Respect” in Chicago. Artists were designated a space on the wall in which to depict black leaders. Wadsworth was given a 12×14 foot space to work with.  Pulling inspiration from his earlier works he focused on music, specifically Rhythm and Blues. Wadsworth’s section includes portraits of James Brown, B.B. King, Billie Holiday, Muddy Waters, Aretha Franklin and Dinah Washington.

The hugeness of this project and its positive reception lead to the creation of other liberation murals. Due to controversies within the group though and despite their success, OBAC was later dissolved.

WJ Studios and Gallery

Wadsworth opens WJ studios with his second wife in Chicago in 1968 and became a hub for the Black arts scene in Chicago. In the space below his studio Wadsworth created a gallery. There he shared not only his own works but those of other black artists. Extending beyond that though, Wadsworth made sure to highlight contributions from Black poets and musicians. With his love of blues and jazz and his connections through OBAC Wadsworth was able to bring together all sorts of performances in his gallery. This space dedicated to black art allowed artists to come together and try to figure out how to define black art. These meetings would develop into COBRA and later into AFRICOBRA as these artists came to define themselves.

AFRICOBRA

Afrocobra (African Commune of BAD Relevant Artists) developed out of group meetings for artists at WJ Studios. Painters, sculptors, poets, musicians, photographers, designers, and more, all came together to discuss how blackness was a part of their work. Specifically, they felt that “Black visual art has innate and intrinsic creative components which are characteristic of our ethnic group”(Jones-Henderson, N. 2012). More so they looked to create a type of art that was recognizable as Black from a single glance. They hoped that this art would embody ““beauty,” “good,” “love,” “family,” “music,” and “spirituality” as the foundation for a set of principles based on our commonly held aspirations and desires.”  (Jones-Henderson, N. 2012) In this was a hope of an art community to create a genre of art that would reject their reality. They were looking for Black pride and self determination, specifically to create images to help them feel represented and the helped heal the mental scars of the black diaspora. These artist felt a need to create a sense of Black beauty. To do this, as many other groups did, they turned to Africa for inspiration and to find a connection to the past. As one artist of AFRICOBRA said “we have carefully examined our roots and searched our branches for those visual qualities that are more expressive of our people/art. Out of this desire came the development of coolade colors.”(Douglas, 1996).

Coolade colors were bright neon colors that were meant to define and identify art as black art. They were meant to create “surreal images for SUPERreal people,” (Douglas 1970). More so they were created to foster a visceral connection for the black community to Africa. AFRICOBRAs desire to redefine black history away from America went so far as to change how they labeled themselves, going from African-American to identifying as African exclusively. This can be seen in how one AFRICOBRA artists described their color choice by saying “We strive for images inspired by African people—experience and images that African people can relate to directly without formal art training and/or experience,” (Douglas, 1996).

Memory in Art

Art is and has been a huge form of material memory, especially when that art was created specifically to show a emergent history. Wadsworth helped crate a black artistic history and  future. But even though AFRICOBRA artists continue to be in arts shows today, their art is not largely taught or well known. Sadder yet, while at the time their work succeeded in being identifiably black with a single glance, that concept is no longer true. Art moved towards where these artists were already, making it harder to recognize separately black.  For the spirit of AFRICOBRA to continue black artists will have to continue to redefine their space in the art world. With each redefining movement though, the one before it will become more and more lost.

Bibliography 

Jones-Henderson, N. (2012). Remembering AfriCOBRA and the Black Arts Movement in 1960s Chicago. Nka Journal of Contemporary African Art2012(30), 98-103.

Douglas, R. L. (1996, Oct). An AFRI-COBRA artist wadsworth jarrell. American Visions, 11, 16-19. Retrieved from http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/220109717?accountid=14244

Donaldson, Jeff. “Africobra 1 (African Commune of Bad Relevant Aritists): ’10 in Search of a Nation’.” Black World XIX, no. 12 (October 1970): 89-89. https://books.google.com/books?

The Black Panther Party in Newspapers

 

 

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During the 1960s and 70s, newspapers were the main way that people found out the news. Because the majority of local and national newspapers were aimed at white people, the African-American community decided to develop their own newspapers. In fact, the first African-American newspaper in the United States was started in 1827. The Black Panther Party started their own newspaper, which began as a short newsletter in 1967 by the co-founder Huey Newton. These types of newspapers included news about the local black communities, events going on in the community, and were quite popular in major cities with large African-American populations. Today the Internet has taken over where newspapers left off, but you can see from examining the articles below, from different types of newspapers, that people had a range of opinions on the Black Panther Party, and that was reflected in newspaper stories at that time.

 

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Figure 1. Article from “New York Amsterdam News”

 

This first article, Figure 1, was posted in the New York Amsterdam News, the official African-American newspaper of New York City, in 1972. They were advertising for an event where the Black Panthers gave away free food packages and shoes to people in the local African-American community. This article fits several of Zelizer’s aspects of collective memory. First, it is material, as it was originally in a physical newspaper. It also can be considered usable, as it is advertising the giving away of food and shoes by the Black Panthers. While this article was not as much a story as it is an advertisement for charity, it still shows how the Black Panthers wanted to be seen in the local communities.

pic2Figure 2. Opinion article from “Chicago Tribune”

The article in Figure 2 came from an opinion piece in the Chicago Tribune, where they asked local people how they felt about the Black Panther Party. While there was a wide range of opinions on the subject, one man in particular, Gordon Terry, had very strong feelings against the Black Panthers. He described them as “a menace to society and a great disturbance factor in this country.” Clearly he had had some sort of bad experiences with or heard some bad things about the Black Panthers, as he had nothing good to say about them at all. The New York Amsterdam News was made strictly for the African-American community of New York City, while the Chicago Tribune was a nation-wide publication made for everyone. Obviously the audiences were much different, so different opinions were sure to arise, but there seemed to be a pattern of anti-Black Panther Party news in mostly-white newspapers in big cities, which was congruent with the dominant memory and view towards them in the country as a whole. This article is also usable, as it allowed for the opinions of the Black Panther Party to be known, but also for people to express how they felt on a controversial and significant topic at that time. It is material, since the Chicago Tribune was and is a physical newspaper,

http://search.proquest.com.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/docview/119131922?pq-origsite=summon

The link above will take you to a newspaper article from the New York Times in 1970 about the occupation and protest at Columbia University by students, demanding reparations for the Black Panther Party. Interestingly enough, the majority of the protesters were white students who were a part of a larger national movement to show white solidarity for the Black Panthers. The title of the article should draw some attention initially, as the paper describes the students who are protesting as “militants”. Although a few hundred of the more violent protesters did break windows on campus after their rally, only a few actually participated in breaking the windows. Describing them as “militant” is problematic and surely inaccurate to say the least. Would they be described as militant if they were rallying against the Black Panther Party? The article also described the students who marched through campus throwing rocks through windows as “radicals”. While their actions were indeed radical, I don’t believe that the students’ ideas or protest itself was radical. This way of describing the students is dismissive towards their movement and gives the public the wrong idea of what was really happening at the protest.

The white students did still enjoy privilege; even though they smashed more than 30 window panes on campus and splashed paint on campus buildings, the local police and even the Campus Security decided not to intervene.  There was a bus full of Tactical Patrol Force policemen waiting in case things got too out of hand, but apparently the windows and paint on the buildings did not suffice a response.

 

 

Sources

“Black Panther Party giving free food, shoes at rally”. (1972, April 15).New York Amsterdam News, p. D8.

“mini’pinions: What do you think of the Black Panther Party?” (1970, February 19).Chicago Tribune, p. W6.

Montgomery, P. L. (1970, March 14). “Militants Occupy Columbia School: Reparations Demanded for Black Panther Party”. New York Times, p. 35.

 

 

Chapel Hill Protest Pamphlets and Black Power

Black Power was a nationwide movement made possible by collective efforts within individual towns and cities. Studying the memory of a particular instance of protest during the movement can reflect universal definitions and memories of Black Power. Published materials regarding Civil Rights protests and the ideologies they promoted in general help to define the Black Power movement and preserve its memory.

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Cover of a picketing pamphlet distributed in the late 1960s in the Chapel Hill area (Jones).
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“Some Dos and Don’ts for Picketers” – page from the Wanted Picketers pamphlet (Jones).
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“Why we Picket” & “Who Can Picket” – page from the Wanted Picketers pamphlet (Jones).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pictured above are the contents of a pamphlet calling for picketers to participate in discrimination protests in Chapel Hill. This is an item from the Charles Miles Jones Papers housed at the Southern Historical Collection and is stored in a folder dated the late 1960s. This was a mass-printed pamphlet that called for and guided the actions of potential picketers in response to segregation and inequality treatment at local businesses and public facilities (Jones).

The first page explains “Why We Picket,” establishing a unified sense of purpose and shared ideals. Some of its points include not picketing to “express anger or resentment,” or to “humiliate,” but picketing to demand that businesses afford them due “dignity and respect.”   It goes on to say “Who Can Picket,” and creates a relatively inclusive environment. It states anyone of “high school age or above” may picket but does state that picketers who desire to participate must agree to their precepts. The second page explains “Some Dos and Don’ts for Picketers,” and includes advice for picketers such as not laughing or being belligerent and remembering to walk slowly and remain four steps apart from others. The pamphlet also made a Biblical reference to the book of Joshua and a reference to Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. to encourage picketers not to retaliate if they were harmed in any way during their protests (Jones). Details of the violence enacted against protesters are described in Matching the Violence of Police Brutality.

Diouf and Woodward describe the Black Power movement as heterogeneous, as it included a variety of people groups with differing ideologies, perspectives, and priorities across generations (VIII). The text of this pamphlet reflects this heterogeneous nature. The guidelines and expectations set forth were produced by a variety of organizations and reached out to all individuals of legal age who were willing and able to participate. It represents not only the foresight of the organizers in this situation but a processual knowledge-set of movement making, as this item establishes ideas, rules, and practices likely derived from the experiences of original Civil Rights efforts. Pamphlets like these were likely developed, edited, and circulated based on new realizations of needs and challenges facing protesters. Leaders took what they learned or originally anticipated from protests past and applied it to their efforts. And, though the pamphlet is welcoming to a variety of potential picketers, it states: “We will use picketers ONLY if they agree to go through a short course of instruction on picketing.” This document and others like it provide evidence of Black Power as a highly organized and intentional movement.

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Photo from the Jock Lauterer Photographic Collection. A protest outside the Chapel Hill on Franklin Street. The sign reads, “Don’t Put a Timetable on Our Freedom,” reflecting the movement’s non-accommodationist stance (Lauterer).
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Black and white students sit across Franklin Street protesting segregation and discrimination (Mallard).

That these documents are preserved at an archive like the Southern Historical Collection complicates their memory. It is validating that they were first deemed worthy of preservation by the individual who donated them and then were not rejected or weeded-out by a white-dominated educational and research institution. What it chooses to invest time and money into obtaining and preserving reflects their values in certain time periods, events, people, and, here, movements. Because of this investment, items like this pamphlet can survive longer physically and are theoretically more accessible to the public.

However, labeling something as “history” is problematic because it leaves the challenges confronted by these protests at risk for being categorized as old problems no longer prevalent in American society, which is untrue.  While this might be a historic document worthy of preservation for future generations, it is not a particularly old document and many people who were alive during the time of its distribution are alive today and remember the movement. Rather than serving as an artifact of a past problem, these documents should be preserved and remembered to mark progress and because they can serve as useful tools for protesters who are facing the same or another manifestation of the same problems. Because there are increasing documentation efforts of movements past, many protestors can and often do use sources like this to learn and empower themselves to fight for the same or similar causes.

Sources

Sylviane A Diouf and Komozi Woodward, “Introduction”; Peniel E. Joseph, “The Black Power Movement,” in Black Power 50 (2016), viii.

Jones, Charles. Charles Miles Jones Papers, 1924-1990s.  The Southern Historical Collection, Louis Round Wilson Library, Chapel Hill.

Lauterer, Jock. “Civil Rights march and sit-in, fasters.” 1967. Jock Lauterer Photographic Collection, circa 1964-1968.  The North Carolina Collection, Louis Round Wilson Library, Chapel Hill.

Mallard, Raymond. Raymond B. Mallard Papers, 1937-1970s. The Southern Historical Collection, Louis Round Wilson Library, Chapel Hill.

 

 

 

Changes in Hairstyles

The Beginning of Change

African-American hairstyles have changed drastically throughout history. Before the 1960s, conking was very popular and accepted. The term “conk” is derived from congolene, a gel like substance made from potato starch, egg protein, and lye. Black males would slick back their hair, making it sit down so it was not as puffy; this made their hair appear more similar to hair of whites of the time.  The act of conking was very dangerous and unhealthy for hair. Malcolm X recalls having his hair conked for the first time in his autobiography stating,

“But then my head caught fire. I gritted my teeth and tried to pull the sides of the kitchen table together. The comb felt as if it was raking my skin off. My eyes watered, my nose was running. I couldn’t stand it…” (p. 60)

Experiences similar to this were common since conking involved using lye, a corrosive substance, to make the hair tame. Black women were also expected to make sure their hair was straight and contained. Madam C.J. Walker patented the “hot comb” in the early 1900s and it was used for decades by black women to straighten hair. In the 1960s, George E. Johnson developed chemical straightener, or “relaxer,” which was promoted to black women as a less damaging way to straighten hair.

When Afros began to become very popular, conking and other hairstyles were used at lower rates. Afros were a significant part of the culture during the black power movement as blacks began to realize their self worth. Malcolm X elaborates on this in autobiography when reflecting on having his hair conked declaring,

“This was my first really big step toward self-degradation: when I endured all of that pain, literally burning my flesh to have it look like a white man’s hair. I had joined that multitude of Negro men and women in America who are brainwashed into believing that the black people are “inferior” — and white people “superior” — that they will even violate and mutilate their Godcreated bodies to try to look “pretty” by white standards.” (p. 61-62)

Afros became a huge symbol of Black American Pride as blacks began to embrace their natural hairstyles.

In the video above, there are multiple segments of Malcolm X speaking. The most significant portion is the beginning where he asks, “Who taught you to hate the texture of your hair? Who taught you to hate the shape of your nose and the shape of your lips?” For centuries, blacks had been shamed by whites for their appearance, including their natural hairstyles. Malcolm X, along with other leaders, caused blacks to think deeply about why they practiced things such as straightening hair; this led to many African Americans realizing they did not need to alter their appearance because they were beautiful as they were.

In addition to showing the prominent hairstyles during this time, this video also depicts fashion through clothes and other changes during the Black Power Movement.

The Pick

Afro-picks became very important during 1965 and continued to be, as it was all most African-Americans would need to fix their hair. Other products they used were combs and “Blow-out” products. Picks could be seen sticking out of many ‘fros and even when it was not seen sticking out, they often had one handy.

Image result for afro-picks 1965

Many of the picks during this time also incorporated other symbols of the Black Power Movement, such as the iconic fist that is at the end of this pick. The peace symbol was also very prominent during this time.

Black is Beautiful Movement

Black is Beautiful was a peaceful movement started in the 1960s in order to make African-Americans feel more accepted in their own skin and hair. The phrase “Black is Beautiful” was popularized by Civil Rights activist Stokely Carmichael. Blacks began rejecting notions of assimilation by wearing their hair naturally. Less black individuals felt shame in being told they had “kinky” or “nappy” hair. During this time, other phrases encouraging natural hair became popular, such as “I am quite happy being nappy.”  As time went on, many acts of violence were committed, which ultimately made the Afro have bad connotations to members of society. New leaders took over the movement in the 1970s and more extremists were involved with this group, worsening the reputation of the movement. After this association made between afros and violence, individuals began to choose to wear their hair in dreads, cornrows, or braids which also have roots in Afrocentrism. The political motives behind natural hairstyles were heightened after blacks were fired for their natural hairstyles but whites were complimented for imitating the natural hairstyles of African Americans. Blacks were working to defy the fallacy that blacks must “appropriately groom” their hair in order to get ahead in life. Hair spoke for more than aesthetics; it was a statement of cultural, political, and racial identity.

“An activist with straightened hair was a contradiction. A lie. A joke, really. ”

-Gloria Wade Gayles

Image result for i don't need relaxer for my hair

Resources 

Banks, Ingrid. Hair matters: beauty, power, and black women’s consciousness. New York: New York U Press, 2000. Print.
Civil Rights and Fashion in the 60’s. Civilrightsdefence.org.nz, 2009. Web. 24 Apr. 2017.
Inc., Jazma Hair. “Jheri Curl, Conk, Dreadlocks & Afro.” Jazama Black Hair Care. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2017.
Jaynes, Gerald David. Encyclopedia of African American society. London: SAGE, 2005. Print.
Celinelao. “Malcolm X – Black is beautiful.” YouTube. YouTube, 03 June 2011. Web. 24 Apr. 2017.
Thompson, Cheryl. Black Women and Identity: What’s Hair Got to Do With It? N.p.: n.p., n.d. Https://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?cc=mfsfront;c=mfs;c=mfsfront;idno=ark5583.0022.105;rgn=main;view=text;xc=1;g=mfsg. Web. 24 Apr. 2017.
X, Malcolm, Alex Haley, M. S. Handler, and Ossie Davis. The autobiography of Malcolm X. New York: Ballantine , 2015. Print.

Matching the Violence of Police Brutality

A new, bolder, more hostile type of resistance to police brutality emerged at the end of the Civil Rights Movement and marked the beginning of the of the Black Power movement with some overlap during the mid 1960s. Prior resistance to police violence was primarily nonviolent activism, the type advocated by Martin Luther King Jr. However, a number of incidents of police brutality gained widespread public exposure, and with it, outrage.  Media depicting eyebrow-raising methods of policing during otherwise peaceful protests generated controversy, such as the attacks against children during the Birmingham Campaign. Public exposure led to a militant stance against racist policing.

 

“…blasted by fire hoses, beaten with clubs, attacked by police dogs, and gassed.” (National Geographic Education)

Numerous other incidents of police brutality accumulated and spread into public consciousness through the media. In New York a police officer shot and killed black teenager James Powell in front of his friends and a dozen other witnesses (Shapiro 3). To some, horrific police actions warranted more than peaceful demonstrations, and violence must be met with an equal and opposite force.

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The Case for Violence in Self-defense

What emerged was a call for more drastic resistance to police brutality. Three key players in this calling were Malcom X, the Black Panther Party, and Robert Franklin Williams.

Malcom X

Indeed, it was a controversial incident with police that helped Malcom X gain notoriety and advance his “by any means necessary” proposition. Malcom X was outraged by the police beating of Hinton Johnson in New York, demanding that the man be released and sent to an African American predominant hospital (Lomax 93). In contrast to previous peaceful attempts at justice, Malcom X fiercely rejected the notion of nonviolence as an effective countermeasure. He implored African-Americans to defend and advance themselves, a beckoning that inspired many oppressed blacks to greater action. His rhetoric during speeches was fiery and had a powerful effect on his audiences (179).

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Black Panther Party

The original name for the Black Panther Party was the Black Panther Party for Self-defense. The party began largely in response to growing police brutality against African-Americans in Oakland, California. (Bloom 45) Members of the party would follow police patrol cars around Oakland neighborhoods carrying weapons afforded to them by the second amendment. It was a measure they deemed necessary to stop the oppression of police against African-American communities. In this case, policing the police was enabled by a deep-rooted constitutional right.

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A young African-American man exercises his right to openly bear arms under California law in response to escalating police violence.

Robert Franklin Williams

One of the early cases of an African-American person calling for a stern response to violence against African-Americans was Robert Franklin Williams. He formed a Chapter of the National Rifle Association for which he belonged and called it the Black Armed guard in an effort to defend local black harassment from racist attacks from the Ku Klux Klan and others. He wrote a book in 1962 called “Negroes With Guns”, in which he urged African-Americans to raise arms and for black men in the military to kill their white superiors. He wrote, “…where the law is unable, or unwilling, to enforce order, the citizens can, and must act in self-defense against lawless violence” (Williams 16). In one case a black man was assaulted by a white perpetrator and failed to receive a proper trial. Robert F. Williams was asked what he recommends the cheated man should do in this situation, and this was his response:

“[The negroes] must be willing to fight, to die, to kill if necessary…to create the deterrent themselves” (Prelinger Collection)

His ideas became influential to other leaders in the black power movement , such as Rosa Parks and Huey Newton (Tyson 2).

Violent Resistance in Memory

Each of the three advocates for black revolt–Malcom X, Robert Williams, and the Black Panther Party–responded to violence by police and white supremacy organizations with an unprecedented call to meet violence with violence. The way in which this is remembered depends on who you ask. On one side, the violent approach to resist oppression by resorting to bearing arms against the police and other “extreme” measures is denounced and forgotten. Yet to others it was courageous to defy a racist government power with such boldness, courage, and sacrifice. Official memory praises and memorializes the nonviolent approach, as seen by the formation of the MLK monument and national holiday. However, certainly there are vernacular supporters of a violent resistance. In a forum during my research, a commenter extolled Robert F. Williams as the “Nat Turner” of his time.

 

Works Cited

        AmericanHistoryRules. YouTube. National Geographic Education, 06 May 2011. Web. 24 Apr. 2017. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=joc3CRL6x4E>.

Bloom, Joshua, and Waldo E. Martin. Black against empire: the history and politics of the Black Panther Party. Berkeley: U of California Press, 2016. Print.

Lomax, Louis E. When the word is given: a report on Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X, and the Black Muslim world. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1979. Print.

Negroes With Guns: Robert F. Williams on Self-Defense. Prelinger Collection, 22 Mar. 2009. Web. 20 Apr. 2017. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7U3spArjhUA>.

Shapiro, Fred C., and James W. Sullivan. Race riots: New York 1964. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1964. Print.

Timothy B. Tyson, “Robert Franklin Williams: A Warrior For Freedom, 1925-1996” Archived July 8, 2013, at the Wayback Machine. Investigating U.S. History (City University of New York); accessed April 20, 2017.

Williams, Robert F. Jr King, Martin Luther. Nelson, Truman. Negroes with Guns. S.l.: 2015. Print.

Amiri Baraka- It’s Nations Time

amiri baraka 2

The Background:

Hailed as the father of the Black Arts Movement, the late Amiri Baraka, a Newark-born poet, essayist, and literary critic, is perhaps the most revered yet polarizing figure in African-American arts. An admirer of the Beat generation, Baraka spent his young adulthood reading the likes of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg [3]. His rise to prominence began with publishing Beat literature and writing for politically left papers—include the papers he started. It was the death of Malcolm X that inspired LeRoi Jones to formally become Amiri Baraka. A lifelong exposure to racism and the plight of working African-American families urged Baraka to join the Civil Rights movement [2]. His profile was heightened by his desire to be on the forefront and his fiery style of oratory, known to rivet college audiences during guest lectures [3]. Baraka was a passionate live performer who enjoyed spoken word just as he did written word. His poetry, written in free verse, is intended for a spoken forum.

amiri baraka

The Collection:

While Baraka is remembered as a remarkably influential member of the Black Arts Movement, his memory is not without blemishes. While lines of his poetry are taken by proponents of Black Nationalism, others are used to critique Baraka and his blatant assault on other minority groups. Baraka spoke to a higher sense of duty for his African-American brethren, urging them to rise above petty distractions and stay alert to the core of racism and where it stems from [2]. In this vein, Baraka was won to cast aspersions on many types of people, even liberal blacks of the counterculture movement, who partook in recreational drugs and the dress morays of the hippie movement, which Baraka thought detrimental to advancement of the African-American people [1]. Consistently a critic, Baraka was unafraid to criticize his peers within the movement, and voiced frustration regarding the movement at large. Perhaps most indicative of his inner turmoil is Baraka’s short poetry collection It’s Nations Time, a polemic series of three that prods African-American activists and the status quo of the movement. The title takes its name from a popularized phrase where a speaker would ask the rhetorical question, “What time is it?” and the crowd would respond with “It’s nations time!” Jesse Jackson famously used this rallying cry in 1972 at the National Black Political Convention [1].

The first poem in the collection is called “The Nation is Like Ourselves,” and serves as a reminder of all our political and social realities. Baraka suggests that we are no better or worse than we allow ourselves to be. That our positions are reflective of the larger picture around us, of what we accept all around us. Baraka, in a simple, poignant message, asserts that “what ever we are doing, is what the nation is doing or not doing, is what the nation is being or not being” [1]. Baraka proceeds, and lays into the contemporaries that have him disillusioned with the movement. He is critical of bourgeois intellectuals and their motives for writing, and critical of countercultural youth who askew racial identity for the concept of oneness [1]. Contrarily, Baraka preaches unity through understanding and love for one another as a nation with a pure freedom.

 

Works Cited

[1] Watts, Jerry. Amiri Baraka : The Politics and Art of a Black Intellectual . New York, US: NYU Press, 2001. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 19 April 2017.

 

[2] Smethurst, James : “Pat Your Foot and Turn the Corner”: Amiri Baraka, the black Arts Movement, and the Poetics of a Popular Avant-Garde, African American Review, 37:2-3 (Summer-Fall 2003), p.261-270.

 

[3] Fox, Margalit. “Amiri Baraka, Polarizing Poet and Playwright, Dies at 79.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 09 Jan. 2014. Web. 20 Apr. 2017.

The Black Panther’s Free Breakfast Program for Children

In Context

In the context of memory, it is important to understand that the Black Panther’s breakfast program for children occurred during the civil rights era for African Americans in the 1960’s. During this period, the civil rights witnessed the influential figure of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior. Though MLK called for nonviolent protests to achieve civil rights, the black panther party possessed opposing ideas as they favored the ideologies of Malcolm X and the call for immediate action through impending violence to achieve their goals of social equality. Originally called the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, the organization was founded in Oakland, CA in 1966 by Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton as a means to serve the black community and to protect against police brutality (Flanigan, Pope). As an aside, this draws parallels to the current “Black Lives Matter” initiative that exists today as it almost shows how this memory is still prevalent. At this time, the BPP and many other African-Americans had grown restless and tired of the exclusion of society that they faced. This idea of exclusion and the fact of having unequal rights leads one to realize why the BPP was noted for committing acts of violence. In many ways, the BPP represented individuals in the African American community that had reached their breaking point.

What was the Free Breakfast Program?

The free breakfast program for children, which was initiated by the Black Panther party, was a program that was formed in January 1969 at St. Augustine Episcopal Church in Oakland, California (Robertson). The objective of the program was to feed less fortunate children a nice warm meal for breakfast, something that many of these children were not accustom to. The majority of the children who received these meals were apart of families that struggled to provide them with proper nutrition. Many, if not all, the children that the BPP served were African American, as the BPP primarily sought out to help and serve the black community. “We know that youngsters can’t learn at school if they are hungry, they rebel against learning and say the hell with school,” as stated by Randolph Albury, who was first in charge of the breakfast program (Stein). Notably, many of the children found members of the Black Panthers to be “very nice” and even “groovy” for providing these meals for them (Stein). The communities that the BPP served viewed the breakfast program as an act of kindness and love, as the BPP helped when no one else would. As far as what was served at the first site of the breakfast program, the children were able to enjoy eggs, cereal, oranges, various meats, and hot chocolate (Stein). In order to provide these services and meals, the BPP sent out letters to various grocers and producers in the Oakland area asking for food donations to help fund the program. When first starting out, the success rate by these providers was approximately fifty percent, which was enough for the BPP to begin serving the meals (Stein). At the very first breakfast, the party served only 11 children, but by the end of that same week, the party was feeding 135 (Robertson). Due to the great need, breakfast programs were expanding into various communities where the BPP operated. At the peak of its operation, the BPP fed over 1,200 children each week at the Los Angeles Breakfast program location (Robertson). As a result of the program’s success, the BPP required all chapters to include a free breakfast location in their given community. The requirement for all of the locations was for there to be seating for at least 50 children and for 10 individuals to be working the site (Robertson). Though BPP members worked at the locations, many people who worked the breakfast were simply volunteers or everyday people who were members of the community. Some of the Individuals who worked the breakfast included church members and parents of the children that were receiving the meals. Without help from the community, the program wouldn’t have been nearly as successful. Despite the good that was brought by the program, the initiative was no more as the BPP was hardly existent by the late 1980s (Robertson). Due to there being multiple locations to where the breakfasts were served, there is no single site representing this memory of black power. The Breakfast program was started by the BPP, but in many ways was owned by the community; representing how this is a communal memory bringing together African Americans. Though they may not be designated, individuals can visit the old locations, like St. Augustine church, to see where the meals were served.

Threatening the dominant memory

This project by the Panthers represents a humanitarian side to the organization, something that goes against the dominant white memory of the political organization as it represents a side of the BPP that is hardly remembered or discussed. The main American memory of the Black Panthers that is prevalent today is one that paints the BPP as a radical hate group of African American individuals, who wore all black clothing wielding guns. This dominant memory may be due to the efforts of the federal government and the FBI to silence the Black Panthers. According to released COINTELPRO surveillance files from 1969, which covered the Black Panthers, the FBI is noted in the documents for referring to the BPP as a “black nationalist hate group. (COINTELPRO)” COINTELPRO was notably a counterintelligence program led by FBI director Edgar J. Hoover that strived to stop the influence of the BPP on the black community and to ultimately destroy the black panther party as an organization (Robertson). The FBI noted in these files that the BPP was an organization that supported “the use of guns and guerrilla tactic in its revolutionary programs to end the oppression of the black man (COINTELPRO).” The FBI also stated that the BPP called for the “killing of policemen and followed the doctrine of the Chinese communists (COINTELPRO).” When looking at the breakfast program for children, the files also reveal that the FBI felt the program was simply a means to indoctrinate the children into the BPP’s ideals and beliefs. The FBI sought to “prove the program is being utilized by the BPP to indoctrinate the youngsters in hate and violence (COINTELPRO).” Countering this hegemony, former Black Panthers member Melvin Dickson is noted as claiming that the FBI did not like their efforts because it revealed how the government did not appropriately tackle the issues of poverty in various communities. Dickson has stated: “the U.S. government have all this money, but here we are, a grassroots organization feeding kids all across the U.S.” With this being said, there are various aspects of the breakfast program that may have caused the FBI to feel this way. For example, the BPP would record the name and addresses of each child who appeared at one of their breakfast locations and then visit the homes of their families (Stein). Though this idea of influencing the children into violence and hate is debatable, it is understandable to see these breakfast programs as a means to gain the likeness and favorability of the community. A community service act, such as the free breakfast program, could garner the acceptance of individuals within the area and cause an increase in the BPP membership. Even with some of the violent acts that the BPP may have been a part of, the dependence on their services of free food may have caused people within the community to not question the BPP’s tactics and views. Desperate people will take food from anyone. In poor communities such as Oakland, where the government did not provide necessary programs or aid, the BPP was able to use this free breakfast program as a powerful tool as many families were dependent upon this service to feed their children. The fact that this program confronts a basic need makes it even more powerful.

Screen Shot 2017-04-19 at 1.02.21 AM

Youth is the Future

Looking at the youth as the future of society or even possibly the future of the BPP may have been one of the underlying factors for creating this breakfast program. The Southern California Chapter of the BPP in 1969 once stated that “the youth we are feeding will surely feed the revolution. All power to the people. (Flanigan, Pope)” The BPP even had their own magazine titled the “The Black Panther.” One of their issues in 1969, the same year the breakfast program started, featured a black child raising up a fist with the caption “youth makes the revolution. (Flanigan, Pope)” Particularly, the Breakfast program was marketed as being a self-defense against hunger. The BPP viewed the breakfast program as a means to “build the strength necessary to survive and overthrow the current state, and then build a better one (Flanigan, Pope).” The service initiatives created by the BPP could even be viewed as a tool for protest, as it divulged the issues within society and how communities were forced to provide for themselves instead of receiving needed help from the government. With the support from the BPP, it is understandable to see how a child may be inclined to favoring the BPP and potentially joining them when they came of age. This memory site of black power ultimately shows how the BPP was able to rally together impoverished communities through free social services. Despite the criticism, it is hard to argue the good that it did by providing thousands of children with much-needed food that they otherwise could not have obtained on their own.

THE BLACK PANTHER

Zelizer

Looking through the lens of Zelizer, the memory of the BPP and the breakfast program can be viewed as “processual” as the idea of the organization and its efforts may transform over time as society becomes more and more aware of their efforts. This memory of the breakfast program is partial as it only represents a fraction of the efforts committed by the BPP, despite its importance. Even with the BPP breakfast program being no more, the memory is “usable” as the influence of the program can still be seen today. For example, many education systems offer free meals to students who are less well off in many modern day schools. Though plagued with controversy, the Black Panther party did, in fact, provide positive contributions to society.

Citations:

COINTELPRO FBI surveillance files for April-June 1969. (1969). United States

Pope, R. J., & Flanigan, S. T. (2013). Revolution for Breakfast: Intersections of Activism, Service, and Violence in the Black Panther Party’s Community Service Programs, 1(1)

Robertson, D. (02-26-16). The Black Panther Party and the Free Breakfast for Children Program. Retrieved from http://www.aaihs.org/the-black-panther-party/

Stein, R. (03-11-69). PANTHERS SERVE FREE BREAKFAST TO BLACK SCHOOL CHILDREN. Sun Reporter

The Badge of the Black Panther Party. (06-11-14). IMAGE. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/intothemusic/black-panther-badge/5511960

The Black Panther- Youth Makes the Revolution. IMAGE. Retrieved from https://www.pinterest.com/pin/4433299608944962/

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution | Free Breakfast Program | PBS. VIDEO (01-26-16). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MyBQidWtDBs

The Black Scholar: the first academic journal of its kind

Although not widely read by general society, academic journals have always been given respect and usually are attributed to subjects that are considered to be worthy of reward and attention. Scientific journals tend to rule this field, but in 1969, The Black Scholar set a new precedent for what they coined as “black studies” by creating a space where venerated African American scholars and lecturers could finally be documented and celebrated. Until Robert Chrisman and Nathan Hare’s founding of the journal, society had yet to acknowledge these studies as truly academic, pushing black studies out of what university curriculums deemed to be acceptable for teaching in their institutions. This all changed when San Francisco, a city always known for its accepting of progressive ideals, saw a series of strikes held by students and faculty at San Francisco State College from December of 1968 until March of 1969 that were prompted by the college’s firing of the Black Panther Party’s Minister of Education George Mason.

A strike on San Francisco State College's campus
A strike on San Francisco State College’s campus

This was seen as a decisive move on the college’s part to silence those interests in exploring the black education and studies movement. Chrisman and Hare were both faculty members involved in the strife on campus; speaking out against the underrepresentation of student’s academic interests and the lack of support these students were receiving from administration, their voiced opinions led to their termination from their well-respected faculty positions. Chrisman was not only a protestor at the time, but he was also a poet who centered his works on the achievements of the black power movement and the misfortune his people have faced throughout history. Hare, a boxer and a leader of the college’s later instituted Black Studies Program, was heavily involved in the university and also in efforts to promote the deterioration of the “Ivory Tower,” which is the idea that only certain individuals in the population can participate in academia.

Nathan Hare
Nathan Hare (1933- )
Robert Chrisman (1937-2013)
Robert Chrisman (1937-2013)

The premise behind the journal was to finally start documenting the lecturers and notable speakers that were coming to the college, but soon after being founded, The Black Scholar became a place for debate and analysis of hotbed issues of the time. Speakers, such as Maya Angelou, Muhammed Ali, and many others ranging from political figures to celebrities, were featured in articles fashioned by the journal, giving it notability to the greater public, thus reaching a wider audience with its academic intentions. Hot topics, like “Blackness in the Family”, are explored in the journal, making it a place to find not only academic analysis but also to find news and other relevant cultural happenings.

Issue: Black Experimental Poetics
An example of a cover for an issue

The nonprofit journal is now based out of the University of Washington’s English Department in Seattle, Washington after being in San Francisco for the majority of its lifetime. Now, the journal can be easily accessed online, which is something unique to this “academic” journal. The almost colloquial voice of its writers was something Chrisman and Hare pride themselves in maintaining and expecting of their writers; by doing this, Hare is achieving the downfall of the Ivory Tower, and Chrisman is achieving his desire to reach a larger population to inform the masses of the struggles common to the black community. Articles are typically shorter than other standard academic entries, but they still hit home the ideas and analysis of the topic, providing easier-to-read material with the same caliber of educational benefit. By creating a space to bring together all of these ideas and debates, The Black Scholar is celebrating and promoting the achievements of the members of its community that might not be acknowledged otherwise. It is the first movement of its kind to demand the respect and acknowledgement of relevance that African American studies wasn’t seeing in its own sphere; universities were busy shoving “black studies” to the side, saying it wasn’t worthy of academic acceptance, even though it was a main interest of its students and should have (being a study of culture and history) been considered a core tenant of a liberal arts education, which prides itself on the humanist premise that education is a tool for learning ethics and good citizenship.

This rallying point for the black community brought countless groups together and still does today by providing a safe space for people to engage with ideas and other members of the group at large. The educational spotlight this journal placed on the African Americans during the Black Power Movement propelled many icons to gain the respect they deserved in the population at large, making many members relevant in every day conversation that probably would have otherwise been lost in the oppression and sheer rejection of black studies as a venerable subject. By being an entity of society since its commencement, The Black Scholar can be seen as a usable platform to not only create idea but to engage with opinions and issues of the past, making it easy still to promote the knowledge of subjects presented by the journal. Even so, the processual nature of the journal is more than capitalized on by the continual additions to the journal; by its nature, a collective journal like this is something forever to be engaged with and changed with the ideas and articles of new writers.

The Black Scholar is an entity of society that, in my opinion, will always be consulted as any other academic journal might be, but it is the only one that sees the general population as its source for articles. This creates the universal and particular meanings behind the journal; with the ability to contribute/interact either directly or indirectly, each individual can form their own connection to the works, but as a whole, the general community can see this as a place to come together (in an existential sense). With the ability not only to archive history but also to create it, The Black Scholar is a working place of memory that prides itself on the ability to reach large audiences to demand rightful attention of African American achievements in academia and culture.

 

 

Sources:

“Contact Us.” The Black Scholar. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Apr. 2017.

“Africanity.” The Black Scholar. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Apr. 2017.

Chrisman, Laura. “The Black Scholar.” Taylor and Francis Online. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Apr. 2017. <http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.5816/blackscholar.43.3.0005>.

“FoundSF.” STRIKE!… Concerning the 1968-69 Strike at San Francisco State College – FoundSF. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Apr. 2017.

“Hare, Nathan 1934–.” Contemporary Black Biography. Encyclopedia.com, n.d. Web. 19 Apr. 2017.

 

 

To read more on academic-related Black Power Movements:

“The Home of Common Sense & Proper Propaganda”: African American Bookstores as Activist Platforms

1967 Newark Black Power Conference

Black-Power-Conference-Card-pdf-1024x724-1160x665Prior to the Newark Conference

        Before the 1967 Newark conference even began, the community had seen several violent riots over the course of a few days in early July. These riots started after the police brutality of John Smith, a taxi driver, was released to the public. Mr. Smith had been pulled over for traffic violations, and he was found later that day in jail battered by his arresting officers. The predominantly black community who had faced oppression by the police for countless years decided to rebel and fight for change. This riot ended up taking place over 5 days with 26 deaths, 750 injuries, and 1000 people jailed (Wang). The total cost of damage was estimated to be about 10 million dollars. Martin Luther King Jr. himself commented on how Newark had “a short fuse and a long train of abuse” (Asante). This riot started a stir that had some members of the Newark planning committee worried to continue with the conferences plans, but ultimately the conference was still held. This riot signified the increasing impatience of the black community with white oppression. This conference was needed more than ever in Newark, New Jersey to bring peace to the city.

bpp pic1
Newark Riot of 1967

What was the Newark Black Power Conference?

            The Newark Conference was a three-day gathering in Newark, New Jersey in the summer of 1967 that focused on the oppression of African Americans and the possible solutions to obtain a better quality of life. This was the first Black Power conference ever held, and it comprised of organizations such as the NAACP, The Urban League, Afro-American Unity, Harlem Mau and Maus along with big names such as Jessie Jackson, Ron Karenga, Floyd McKissick, Rap Brown, and Charles 27X Kenyatta. (The Black Power Conference). This event ultimately turned out to be one of the largest gatherings for the Black Power leaders, which included not only American representatives, but also people from Bermuda and Nigeria. The conference included workshops and lectures for the group in order to hopefully create some sort of solution to the escalating issues that blacks every where faced. Many ideas were brought up focusing heavily on developing programs that would help better the black community and its youth. Materially, the only official consequence of this conference was the Black Power Manifesto that demanded the end of “neo-colonialist control” of black populations on the globe and they wanted to unite African Americans by promoting a “philosophy of Blackness” (Hicks). The document also demanded reparations for the black community because of the horrors they had to face during slavery. While this manifesto is the only official resolution that was passed at the conference, more than 80 others were proposed. Additionally, this conference still brought major leaders together and ignited the long journey that African Americans have faced in their goals to reach equality.

Press Conference
Newark Black Power Press Conference

 

Present Day

            The usable memory of the Newark conference has led to countless other Black Power conferences in the nation. These conferences have swept from San Fransisco to the College of Charleston in South Carolina. Particularly, the State of the Black World Conference IV held a conference in late 2016 in Newark, New Jersey; they held this conference in memory of Amiri Baraka. Amiri Baraka, or LeRoi Jones, was part of the planning committee under Dr. Nathan Wright for the 1967 Newark Black Power Conference. Baraka had participated in the Newark riots and was arrested under allege gun possession charges. He was brutally beaten by police, but was finally released from the jail and hospital to make it in time to the conference. He soon became a predominant figure after the conference writing several controversial poems and papers. (The Black Power Conference). Beyond the spectrum of just conferences, nothing had ever occurred similar to the largest Black Power gathering for leaders at that time. It helped to develop a systematic approach to combating inequality among all groups in the United States.

Even though this conference was held 50 years ago, the struggle African Americans face are still present today despite the advancements this country has made. One thing has changed, however, African Americans learned from these prior conferences and riots that they must take matters into their own hands to finally grasp their own destiny.

 

References

Asante, Molefi K. “Black Power Conference of Newark, New Jersey.” Encyclopedia of Black Studies. N.p.: SAGE Publications, n.d. N. pag. UNC Library. 01 Jan. 2004. Web. 19 Apr. 2017. http://vb3lk7eb4t.search.serialssolutions.com/?ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&ctx_enc=info%3Aofi%2Fenc%3AUTF-8&rfr_id=info%3Asid%2Fsummon.serialssolutions.com&rft_val_fmt=info%3Aofi%2Ffmt%3Akev%3Amtx%3Abook&rft.genre=bookitem&rft.title=Encyclopedia+of+Black+Studies&rft.atitle=BLACK+POWER+CONFERENCE+OF+NEWARK%2C+NEW+JERSEY&rft.date=2004-01-01&rft.isbn=9780761927624&rft.externalDocID=9286979&paramdict=en-US

Ashe, Arthur. “Snippet from the Past: The First Black Power Conference.” Arthur Ashe | Conscious Leader, Humanitarian, Educator and Athlete. N.p., 20 July 2016. Web. 19 Apr. 2017. http://www.arthurashe.org/blog/snippet-from-the-past-the-first-black-power-conference

“Black Power Conference of Newark Held.” African American Registry, n.d. Web. 19 Apr. 2017. http://www.aaregistry.org/historic_events/view/black-power-conference-newark-held

“Black Power Conference: Program.” Avery Research Center. College of Charleston, n.d. Web. 19 Apr. 2017.http://avery.cofc.edu/programs/events-past/conference-the-fire-every-time/black-power-conference-program/

Hicks, Jonathan. “This Day in Black History: July 20, 1967.” BET.com. N.p., 20 July 2012. Web. 19 Apr. 2017. http://www.bet.com/news/national/2012/07/20/this-day-in-black-history-july-20-1967.html

“The Black Power Conference.” The North | Newark. Rise Up North, n.d. Web. 19 Apr. 2017. http://riseupnewark.com/chapters/chapter-3/part-3/the-black-power-conference/

Wang, Tabitha. “Newark Riot(1967).” Newark Riot (1967) | The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed. BlackPast.org, n.d. Web. 19 Apr. 2017 http://www.blackpast.org/aah/newark-riot-1967

 

 

Black Power in Oakland: 50th Anniversary Commemorations and Connections to Today

The Black Panthers in Oakland

Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale first met in October 1966 in a neighborhood in North Oakland, California. Soon after this first encounter, the two men, along with a number of other Black activists in the community, would found the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. Over the following years, the Black Panthers would greatly expand their sphere of influence throughout the country, but their symbolic home would always remain in North Oakland. By extension, this suggests that Oakland was also a hotbed for the rise of the Black Power Movement throughout the 1960s and early 1970s. As we approach and pass the 50th anniversary of the start of the Black Power Movement, it is therefore important to examine how the Oakland community has celebrated and commemorated this period in both their local and national histories.

A poster advertising an exhibit entitled, "The Point is...2.0" at the Joyce Gordon Gallery in Oakland.
A poster advertising an exhibit entitled, “The Point is…2.0” at the Joyce Gordon Gallery in Oakland. Picture courtesy of Joyce Gordon.

Commemorating a Movement: A Mostly Retrospective Affair

The majority of the monuments, exhibits, and events that have taken place in Oakland to commemorate the Black Power Movement over the past year have been retrospective in nature. Many art galleries and other venues have hosted exhibits showcasing artwork done by Panthers themselves or created in the likeness of the Panthers. That is to say, most of these galleries have compiled cultural artifacts from the period of the Black Power Movement itself–the 1960s and 1970s. For instance, the Joyce Gordon Gallery hosted an exhibit featuring works created by the original minister of culture for the Black Panthers, Emory Douglas. Similarly, the Oakland Museum of California hosted an exhibition featuring artifacts, documents, and interviews with Black Power activists that are originally from the 1960s as well.

Local universities also conducted their own commemorations, and many of these events were equally retrospective in nature. The UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism hung a series of photos by Stephen Shames on its wall; Shames was one of the most trusted photographers of the Black Panther Party while her was a student at Berkeley in the 1960s.

A wall commemorating the Black Panther Party's 10 Point Program at the Oakland Museum of California.
A wall commemorating the Black Panther Party’s 10 Point Program at the Oakland Museum of California.

Having said all of that, commemorating the past was clearly not the solitary goal of the Oakland community in hosting all of these 50th anniversary events. Instead, a combination of retrospective exhibits with events focused on the legacy of Black Power in the 21st century really dominated the atmosphere of the community as a whole. For example, the same exhibit at UC Berkeley featuring photos by Stephen Shames also included a roundtable discussion with Shames and Bobby Seale regarding their past work and how it can relate to state of race relations in 2017.

“[The UC Berkeley Exhibit] also offers a bracing backdrop to current national dialogue and tensions around race as seen in reactions to the Black Lives Matter movement, protests following fatal police shootings of black men and boys, San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the National Anthem, and more.”-Kathleen Maclay, media relations editor for UC Berkeley’s official website.

Similar sorts of discussions and conversations were facilitated in other locations as well.  SoleSpace, a boutique in Oakland, hosted a “youth-driven art show” that included live music and discussions about the legacy of the Black Power Movement among younger generations in Northern California.  In a similar fashion, the African American Museum and Library at Oakland hosted a book signing and speaking event by Suzun Lucia Lamaina, an artist who spent years capturing the stories of former Black Panthers after the 1970s. These more current events seem to be an attempt to utilize the history and legacy of Black Power to critically examine the state of American society in the 21st century.

A photograph of a former Panther displayed at the African American Museum and Library at Oakland. Courtesy of Suzun Lucia Lamaina.
A photograph of a former Panther displayed at the African American Museum and Library at Oakland. Courtesy of Suzun Lucia Lamaina.

What Does It All Mean?

From the variety of events and commemorations, it is clear that the people of Oakland each have their individual ways of remembering the Black Power Movement that blossomed in their community in the late 1960s. Some exhibits have chosen to center on remembering the Movement and the Black Panther Party, memorializing their legacy and importance to American historical traditions. Others have taken a more practical approach, utilizing the memory of Black Power in order to draw attention to the current struggle for equity and recognition among Black communities in 21 century America.  Either way, these commemorations serve as an important reminder of the usability of memory and of the lasting impacts that a social movement can have on shaping the landscape of the nation for future generations.

Sources

“All Power to the People: Black Panthers at 50.” Exhibition. Oakland Museum of California, 6 Oct. 2016. Web. 16 Apr. 2017.
“Black Power Movement.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 10 Apr. 2017. Web. 14 Apr. 2017. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Power_movement#Beginning_in_the_early_1960s>. 
Burke, Sarah. “Seven Must-See East Bay Exhibits That Honor the Black Panther Party’s Fiftieth Anniversary.” Arts and Culture. East Bay Express, 5 Oct. 2016. Web. 19 Apr. 2017. <http://www.eastbayexpress.com/oakland/panther-power/Content?oid=4994061>. 
Maclay, Kathleen. “Black Power, Black Panthers Focus of North Gate Photo Exhibit.” Berkeley News. UC Berkeley, 18 Oct. 2016. Web. 17 Apr. 2017. <http://news.berkeley.edu/2016/09/28/black-power-black-panthers-focus-of-north-gate-photo-exhibit/>.

Maulana Karenga

Who is Maulana Karenga?

[1]

Maulana Karenga was an influential black activist and scholar during the Black Power movement. He identified as a “cultural nationalist” [4] Maulana Karenga is known for his many contributions to the Black Power Movement, most famously the founding of the Us organization and the creation of the holiday Kwanzaa. 


The Us Organization 

[5]

The Us Organization stood for United Slaves, and it promoted ideas of black cultural nationalism and black cultural revolution, including a focus on Pan-Africanism. Karengaa co-founded the militant black nationalist organization with Hakim Jamal, the cousin of Malcolm X [2, 4]. The organization advocated for independent black schools, black student groups, and  the study of African and African American studies – including African languages. The Us organization’s ideals and goals partly conflicted with those of the Black Panther Party. Conflict arose in 1969, over the proposed leader of the UCLA Afro-American Studies Center. The conflict erupted with the shooting of two Black Panthers, and subsequent retaliatory shootings on either side [4]. The groups repeatedly disagreed on organizing styles and approaches. Karena, notably, critiqued the BPP’s free breakfast and health care programs for not being “revolutionary” [2]. Regardless of their disagreements, both parties had very similar goals. 

“By 1969, US and the Black Panther Party had grown to become certain about their respective standings as leading Black Power organizations. US sought to lead a cultural revolution transforming Black consciousness, group identity, purpose, and direction— which would lay the foundation for a collective African American political decision. The Black Panther Party defined itself as the vanguard party in the national liberation struggle to free the “Black colony” and simultaneously to unite with other progressive forces to combat racism, capitalism, and imperialism. Actually, the broad objectives of both organizations were complementary. The Black Panther Party’s goal of bringing about a “United Nations supervised plebiscite to be held throughout the black colony . . . for the purpose of determining the will of black people as to their national destiny” [2]

Many critiques of Karenga and the Us Organization were also rooted in Karenga being perceived as an intellectual, which created a class-based barrier within the black community. There was a rising number of anti-intellectual activists that critiqued scholars and activists, including Karenga and other famous intellectuals like Angela Davis [2].

The Us Organization followed rules outlined in a book written by Karenga, where members were told to “think black, talk black, act black, create black, buy black, vote black, and live black” [4]

Like the BPP, The Us Organization was targeted by the FBI. Karenga became increasingly paranoid, and was  arrested for the torture of two female Us members, whom were suspected to be disloyal. The Us organization crumbled while Karenga was in jail. When he was released on parole in 1975, he re-established the organization but adopted a more Marxist philosophy. Karenga has continued to remain politically active, and outspoken, to this day [4]


Kwanzaa

The most notable part of Karenga’s legacy is his creation of the holiday Kwanzaa. During the Black Power Movement, there was rising connection between African roots and Black identity. Within the Us and BPP, activists changed their names to create a closer connection with their African identities, which had been stolen from African Americans through slavery. Maulana Karenga’s birth name was Ronald McKinley Everett. HIs chosen name comes from KiSwahili. Maulana means “master-teacher” and Karenga means “keeper of tradition” [4]

Karenga’s goal with the establishment of Kwanzaa was to, give Blacks an alternative to the existing holiday and give Blacks an opportunity to celebrate themsevles and history, rather than simply imiate the practice of dominant society” [1]. Karenga also stated that, “Kwanzaa was not created to give people an alternative to their own religion or religious holiday . . . [a]nd it is not an alternative to people’s religion or faith but a common ground of African culture” [2]

Kwanzaa was literally established as a form of emergent memory to challenge the white-washed dominant narrative of the United States. The holiday is based on African agricultural traditions and is designed to allow people of African descent to reflect and celebrate their ancestral origins. The word “Kwanza”means first in KiSwahili. The holiday was given an extra a (Kwanzaa) in order to symbolize the seven days celebrated, and seven principles [2].

[3]

Here is a short video describing the history of Kwanzaa:

Note: Kwanzaa was intended to be a usable [6] form of memory; it was intended to reconnect African Americans with their African heritage. The video discusses the processual nature [6] of our memory of Kwanzaa, how it shifted from a radical civil rights tradition to a commercialized holiday.


When I reflect on my own previous understandings of the holiday, I remember being taught of Kwanzaa as an alternative to Christmas. In my memory, Kwanzaa was ahistorical, not a recently created holiday. While Kwanzaa was established as an attempt to disrupt a dominant memory of American history, but it has been forgotten over the past 50 years. I was curious about how Kwanzaa is remembered more broadly, and specifically in the black community. Here are two funny, and interesting, videos that are also monuments to the forgetting of Kwanzaa, and other aspects of the Black Power Movement. 

 

Note: It is clear from both of these videos that there has been a level of distanciation since the creation of the holiday, which I find very interesting because the holiday is so recent and even Karenga, the founder, is still alive. The term Kwanzaa has been conventionalized as an alternative holiday, but it is no longer widely instrumentalized as a symbol of black power.


Kwanzaa is a holiday that we are all at least somewhat aware of, but we know very little about. We also know very little about the history behind its creation, or Karenga himself. One of the central goals of both the BPP and the Us was to dismantle a racist system of that erased black history and culture from daily life and our educational system. Our lack of knowledge on these organizations, activists, and holiday, are a testament to how little has changed, and how much work is left to be done. 


Works Cited
[1] Ayubu, Kani Saburi. “7 Facts About Dr. Maulana Karenga, Founder of Kwanzaa.” Black Art Depot Today. Black Art Depot, 31 Dec. 2011. Web. 20 Apr. 2017.
[2] Brown, Scott, and Clayborne Carson. Fighting for Us: Maulana Karenga, the US Organization, and Black Cultural Nationalism. N.p.: New York U.P., 2003. ProQuest Ebrary. Web.
[3] Karenga, Maulana. “Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community and Culture.” The Official Kwanzaa Web Site. African American Cultural Center, n.d. Web. 20 Apr. 2017.
[4] “Maulana Karenga.” Discover the Networks. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Apr. 2017.
[5] “Us: A History of Service, Struggle and Institution Building.” The Organization Us. Us Organization, n.d. Web. 20 Apr. 2017.
[6] Zelizer, Barbie. “Reading the Past Against the Grain: The Shape of Memory Studies.” Critical Studies in Mass Communication 12 (1995): 214-39. Web.

The Rainbow Coalition – A Time to Fear

Rainbow Coalition

What Was the Rainbow Coalition?

Pictured above is the flyer found at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture for the Rainbow Coalition of the Black Panther Party which was established by the deputy chairman, Fred Hampton who is seated in the center. The Rainbow Coalition was comprised of the Black Panther Party, The Young Lords Organization, and the Young Patriots (1). The Young Lords were an organization that was constructed to address the immediate concerns of Puerto Ricans in America, while the Young Patriots were a group that was designed to support young white migrants in their quest to find jobs and a quality income within the city of Chicago. They were later joined by Rising Up Angry, which was a radical group of youth (also in Chicago), who orchestrated a class based movement in Chicago for blue-collar workers. As one could imagine, bringing together individuals not under the auspice of race, but more importantly class, and forging a connection that vowed to end class based oppression for working class blacks, whites, Puerto Ricans, and youth made the Rainbow Coalition an early target of the FBI, as their agenda would have been extremely dangerous and detrimental for the agenda of white supremacy.

 

Why was the Rainbow Coalition so Dangerous?

Historically speaking, the Rainbow Coalition segment of the Black Panther Party was extremely similar to the Populist Party. The Populist Party was designed by working class farmers and the disenfranchised of all races to form a party (or coalition) against the wealthy bankers, corporations, and politicians (2). The Populist Party was a threat to the sustained American way of life, and it was dismantled after Plessy v. Ferguson, that essentially split the country among racial lines once again. The organization of the Rainbow Coalition was no different, yet the dismantling of the said group (in this particular context, the Rainbow Coalition would live on, but not in the same way) proved to be much more violent. Perhaps a theory as to why Fred Hampton was violently penetrated and murdered in his home, was because he was the face of the Black Panther Party (and Rainbow Coalition for that matter), which is why the FBI was much more vicious in carrying out his execution without much warning or remorse, as the police have been historically known to do when interacting with African-Americans (3). Below a photo can be seen of police officers smiling as they remove the corpse of Fred Hampton from his home. However, this still doesn’t get to the root of the issue. Why was the Rainbow Coalition so dangerous to white supremacy? Coupling poor and working class whites, with minority groups is a threat to the American way of life. There are power in numbers and the elite, though they hold the majority of the wealth and power within the country, they don’t hold the majority of the numbers, which is why an organization with the demographics and socioeconomic background of the Rainbow Coalition was a threat to the way the country functioned, which is why it had to be dismantled at all cost.

Murder of Fred Hampton

 

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What were the goals of the Rainbow Coalition as opposed to the dominant narrative of White America?

The true beauty of the Rainbow Coalition can be found in their quest to create a single and universal politically identity. According to Jakobi Williams, the Rainbow Coalition was the one time in “US History when identity politics and class-based struggle were dynamically intertwined (4).” Williams even hypothesizes in his article that it was the Rainbow Coalition that caused Martin Luther King Jr. to adopt a class based ideology instead of solely race (4). One of the primary goals of the Rainbow Coalition was to elevate those who had been deemed as marginalized or castrated by society into positions of power that enabled them with both the autonomy and capacity to create effective change in their communities for those who had been historically and con temporarily overlooked. Williams went on to say that the coalition “embodied the intersectionality of the critical issues of race, class, gender, anti-war, student, labor and sexuality. It fused these various forms of identity politics into one group with one ideal form of identity – an identity that transcends differences and focuses on commonalities (4).”

The FBI didn’t see it this way. Instead, they wanted to deal with the organizations separately. For them, the Young Lords were not empowering the Puerto Rican community, for them, they were a gang. The FBI didn’t acknowledge the free breakfast program, nor did they recognize that the Black Panthers advocated for self-defense, as opposed to sheer violence. Instead, they saw the Black Panthers as a militant group of blacks that had to be stopped in order to preserve the cultural context of America. This particular phenomenon can be analyzed even even the current political and cultural context of the country today. The mission of the organization is not what scared white America. What scared White America was the challenge that the Black Panthers presented to White Authority. We couldn’t imagine an organization today pulling over behind police officers when someone of the same race was also pulled over armed with guns, almost inviting officers to act inappropriately. For white supremacy, this was an organization and a time to fear.

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What Happened to the Rainbow Coalition after the death of Fred Hampton?

After the death of Fred Hampton, the Rainbow Coalition continued to be force within the political climate of Chicago, running several political candidates, and eventually landing a representative into the mayoral office, which led to what scholars have deemed as the “Rainbow Cabinet.” This cabinet was comprised of individuals who had been historically marginalized in Chicago, and gave them positions of power that would have been inaccessible otherwise. The election of Harold Washington had implications that inspired individuals who previously had no knowledge or connection to the Rainbow Coalition (4). Soon, the Rainbow Coalition, though it had been compartmentalized within a geographical context, was soon thrust into the national spotlight through Jesse Jackson. Jesse Jackson used his new platform (though he gives no credit to the Black Panther Party nor Harold Washington) as a way to directly oppose “Reaganomics,” and a way to advance his agenda (with hopes that it would align with progressive ideals) of social programs, affirmative action, and voting rights (5). In his speech at the 1984 Democratic National Convention entitled “The Rainbow Coalition” he called for all minority groups, in addition to those who identity with the LGBTQ to come together and form a “Rainbow Coalition” against the elite, who controlled the power structure of the country (6).

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The Rainbow Flag

Today, while Jesse Jackson has combined the Rainbow Coalition with Operation PUSH, there is now a flag coined as the Rainbow Flag, that resembles that of a natural rainbow. The Flag is seen as the official flag or symbol of the LGBTQ movement. The flag was originally designed by Gilbert Baker, and a few of them were flown at the “Gay Freedom Day” Parade in San Francisco in 1978 (7). Soon after, the Paramount Flag Company agreed to reproduce the flag in mass numbers. After the assassination of Mayor George Moscone in 1978, several months after the parade, the flag was flown from light poles, which subsequently led to the flag being flown from several homes and businesses within the San Francisco community moving into 1979 (7). Eventually, the flag would go on to become recognized as the official flag of the LGBTQ community. This sense of pride and unity that comes together under the “rainbow,” which essentially just means that we can bring our differences together to paint one single, beautiful picture is an ideal that has roots within the Black Panther Party, but can be seen in our society through various capacities today.

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Why is the Rainbow Coalition a forgotten aspect of the Black Panther Party?

A large discontent with public education, particularly within the minority community is that much of the history of African-Americans (with a select few exceptions) has been eradicated (or never existed) from the social studies curriculum. Thus, unless independent research is done, organizations alike the Black Panther Party will never be discussed though their story is one that should be taught and told over and over again. The benefit of a site such as this is one is that it tells the same story, and paints an entire picture, but from different angles. Through this site, we can see that memory is indeed processual (8). This just means that memory is somewhat contingent upon who is retelling the story, as many Americans see the Black Panther Party from different lenses, which in large part has to do with how the FBI, media and government targeted the Black Panther Party. We can also see how memory is directly related to time. A site dedicated to the Black Panther Party could not, and would not have been an assigned project at the University 50 years ago, but through time, some of the discourse, has changed, which speaks to the time and space that has passed since the formulation of the party (9). Lastly, we can see that memory, such as in this particular sense can be seen as both usable, material and particular and universal as can be evidenced through this site.

The reason why the Rainbow Coalition is not the first thing one hears about when referencing the Black Panther Party is because it contradicts much of what has been said about the organization. The discourse surrounding the Black Panther Party describes them as a militant organization that doesn’t like people who don’t share in their ethnicity though the Rainbow Coalition is direct caveat to the aforementioned claim.

Bibliography

(1) James Tracy. The Original Rainbow Coalition. 2015.

(2) Richard Wormser. The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow. (St. Martin’s Press, 2003), p. 73.

(3) G. Flint Taylor. The FBI COINTELPRO Program and the Fred Hampton Assassination. The Huffington Post. 2013.

(4) Jakobi Williams. “The Original Rainbow Coalition: An Example of Universal Identity Politics.” 2015.

(5) Lee Sustar. Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow Coalition. 2013.

(6) Jesse Jackson. Rainbow Coalition Speech. July 18, 1984.

(7) San Francisco Travel. A Brief History of the Rainbow Flag. 2017. 

(8) Barbie Zelizer, “Reading the Past Against the Grain: The Shape of Memory Studies,” Critical Studies in Mass Communications (June 1995): 214-39.

“Black Power!” – The Exhibit at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

Exhibits are powerful pieces of memory that normally combine the use of artifacts and pictures to create a visual aspect of a memory that helps keep an event or thing in the consciousness of the public.

The “Black Power!” Exhibit at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is located in Harlem, New York and is curated by Dr. Sylviane A. Diouf.

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“Yet Black Power is one of the least understood movements in the country, its achievements largely dismissed or minimized. Perceived mostly as a violent episode that followed the non-violent civil rights movement, the Black Power has been eclipsed in the general public’s memory by the former,  even though it has shaped issues of identity, politics, criminal justice, culture, art, and education for the past half century. And, not to be forgotten, following in the Black Power’s footsteps, American Indian, American Asian, Latino, LGBT, and women groups affirmed themselves and demanded change. To understand  African American history, and ultimately American society today, it is imperative to understand the depth and breadth, and the achievements and failures of the Black Power Movement.” – Dr. Sylviane A. Diouf

Harlem is a great place to showcase the exhibit for many reasons. The exhibit is located in Manhattan, New York, which has a major tourist industry so it allows for the possibility of a great number of people to be able to view the exhibit. Harlem is also a great location because it is steeped in the culture of African Americans, specifically during the 1920’s and the 1930’s during the Harlem Renaissance which was a “literary, artistic, and intellectual movement that kindled a new black cultural identity.” African American history pervades the history of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and the center serves as a powerful site of memory regarding the Black Power Movement and other movements as well. The center actually played a large role in the Harlem Renaissance and served as a gathering place for many African Americans of different professions like artists, and writers, and even for activists. The “Black Power!” exhibit is located in the main hall which at one point housed the American Negro Theater, a WPA Writers Project, and lecture hall for notable African Americans like W.E.B. DuBois.

“Through the arts, the Black Power Movement was able to spread the word in a nonviolent way, reaching an audience that transcended class and ethnic lines.” -AFineLyne

Like with art, the Black Power movement was an attempt for African Americans to fight for their self-determination. These different artistic elements are incorporated into the exhibit. 

“Thorough art Negro life is seizing its first chances for group expression and self-determination.” — Alain Locke in 1926

One of the main purposes of this exhibit was to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the movement.

“A host of historic photographs and memorabilia have been assembled for the exhibition, showing the generations-spanning scope the Black Power model, conceptualized in 1966 by Stokley Carmichael and Willie Ricks, members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, known popularly by its acronym SNCC.” – McCallister

The “Black Power!” exhibit takes the visitor through a chronological history of the Black Power Movement which begins in 1966 and not only includes photos, but videos and written artifacts as well like newspapers and books.

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“Exhibits explore the growth of the Movement inside the prison system, and grassroots organizing in poor communities throughout the country, and beyond.” – AFineLyne

The exhibit not only celebrates African American members of the Black Power Movement but features a Black Panther Coalition Flyer that included members of other races and ethnicities like the Puebpowerrto Rican Young Lords, the white Young Patriots, the Chinese-American I Work Kuen, and the Inmates Liberation Front. This diverse group of people rallied together behind members of the Black Panther Party who were known as the Panther 21. This subset of the Black Panther Party was arrested and acquitted for suspicion of the plan to place bombs in different sites in New York City. Angela Davis was a powerful ally to the Black Panther Party and a member of The Arab Women’s League of Jordan. Throughout her career Davis has fought for the rights of prisoners across color lines. The exhibit features a letter of support to Davis which shows the unity created from the Black Power movement which spanned across color lines.

“A two-part digital exhibition titled “Black Power 50” started in February 2016, in partnership with Google Cultural Institute. Since then, the Schomburg’s continuing Black Power commemoration has included public programs featuring Black Power movement leaders, such as Kathleen Cleaver, Bobby Seale, and Iris Morales, and Black Arts Movement luminaries Nikki Giovanni, Askia Touré, and Sonia Sanchez. The new exhibition’s catalog Black Power 50 has also been released.” – McCallister

The exhibit also features prominent examples of resistance against the Black Power Movement by law enforcement and the FBI and includes quotes like, “The Black Panther Party, without question, represents the greatest threat to internal security of the country.” J. Edgar Hoover, June 15, 1969. Often people think that the Black Panther Party was an extremely violent militarized group but this is often a misconception spurred by those on the opposing side, like some FBI members, of the movement to delegitimize the movement.  The Black Panther party actually created many program to enrich the lives of many members of the African American community.  For example, one of the great programs that the Black Panther Party created was a breakfast program to make sure that kids did not go to school without eating. Therefore, the “Black Power!” Exhibit showcases a different angle of the Black Power Movement and allows for different voices to be heard about what the movement and the Black Panther Party really were. This is great because often one narrative is told about the Black Power Movement, but this exhibit really sheds light on many aspects of the movement, like the rich artistic aspects that flowed from the movement, that normally would be left out by a dominant narrative. 

The street where the center and exhibit is located is called “Malcolm X Boulevard”. Malcolm X was an extremely prominent advocate of the Black Power movement, therefore the fact that the “Black Power!” exhibit is located on this street is very powerful. 

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It is difficult to describe all of the different things that are featured in the exhibit without actually visiting the and to describe it one must rely on the stories and encounters that others have had. Therefore, it is almost impossible to describe what all is forgotten with the “Black Power!” Exhibit in Harlem because without a first-hand experience of the exhibit.

Isissa Komada-John, Exhibitions Manager at the Schomburg Center, speaks about the “Black Power!” Exhibit.

In the video below, Isissa Komada-John argues that the “Black Power!” Exhibit comes at a perfect time because of the current activism that is working through the Black Lives Matter Movement. Komada-John argues that the Black Lives Matter Movement of the 21st Century is a parallel to the Black Power Movement and that each movement is somewhat in relation to violence and brutality by members of law enforcement. The “Black Power!” Exhibit does a great job at looking at almost every aspect of the Black Power Movement, but actually does not really seem to have as much about the future of the movement and the Black Lives Matter Movement but rather more the history of the Black Power Movement.

Sources for Information, Images, and Quotes: 

AFineLyne. “Black Power! on Exhibit at The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.” untapped cities. 21 Feb. 2017. Web. 18 Apr. 2017. <http://untappedcities.com/2017/02/21/black-power-on-exhibit-at-the-schomburg-center-for-research-in-black-culture/>.

Biography.com Editors. “Angela Davis.” Biography. 27 May 2016. Web. 18 Apr. 2017. <http://www.biography.com/people/angela-davis-9267589>.

BRIC TV. “Black Power Exhibition at The Schomburg Center | BK Live.” Youtube. 29 Feb. 2016. Web. 18 Apr. 2017. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NeTW9IkELL8>.

Cotter, Holland. “In ‘Black Power!,’ Art’s Political Punch and Populist Reach.” The New York Times. 6 Apr. 2017. Web. 18 Apr. 2017. <https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/06/arts/design/in-black-power-arts-political-punch-and-populist-reach.html?_r=0>.

Diouf, Sylviane. “Black Power!” New York Public Library. 5 Feb. 2016. Web. 18 Apr. 2017. <https://www.nypl.org/blog/2016/02/05/black-power>.

Foner, Eric, and John A Garraty. “Harlem Renaissance.” History. Web. 18 Apr. 2017. <http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/harlem-renaissance>.

McCallister, Jared. “Black Power Exhibit at Schomburg Center in Harlem Allows Visitors to Experience the Impactful Movement.” New York Daily News. 10 Feb. 2017. Web. 18 Apr. 2017. <http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/manhattan/harlem-black-power-exhibit-lets-visitors-experience-movement-article-1.2967946>.

Surveillance Versus Black Power

Surveillance Versus Black Power


COINTELPRO, standing for Counterintelligence Program, was an FBI conspiracy that was designed originally in 1956 in an effort to hinder the Communist Party of the United States. This program expanded to include other “radical” groups like the Ku Klux Klan, the Socialist Workers Party and the Black Panther Party and it lasted until 1971. Many argue that it was the Black Panther Party or Black Power Movement that was the most singled out. In FBI documents, it says that one of the purposes of the program was to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize the activities of the Black nationalists” (PBS).

There are 295 documented actions that the FBI took under COINTELPRO against Black Power Groups, 233 of those were against the Black Panther Party. This program included legal harassment, intimidation, wiretapping, infiltration, smear campaigns, and blackmail against these groups and many of these actions were illegal. It was common for the Bureau to work with police to raid the Panthers and to conduct traffic stops for them as well.

In 1966 the program was responsible for the raid that killed Black Panther leaders Fred Hampton, who helped establish the Rainbow Coalition, and Mark Clark and this raid was backed up by disputed attempted murder charges. Documents later revealed that the FBI had a detailed floor plan of Fred Hampton’s apartment before the break in. The FBI was able to get this information because they had recruited William O’Neil to join the Black Panther Party in exchange for him not getting charged for burglary. He became a paid informant for the FBI as well as the Chicago Black Panther Party Chief of Security.

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Fred Hampton
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William O’neal

The FBI sought out to take away Martin Luther King Jr.’s power and credibility. They did not stop at wiretapping and photographic surveillance for King, they actively tried to take away his power. The FBI sent him multiple anonymous letters blackmailing him to commit suicide. They also sent King’s wife photographs of King with other women in an attempt to break up their marriage.

The Counterintelligence Program targeted the actress Jean Seberg for her role in donating money to the Black Panthers. The FBI followed and wiretapped her, but did not stop there. They spread news that the actress’ unborn baby was conceded from an affair with a member of the Black Panther Party. Seberg read the news and it caused her to attempt suicide, which killed her unborn baby. She continued to attempt suicide every year around the same time until she succeeded.

COINTELPRO did everything that it could to destroy black power groups. The FBI went as far as trying to incite violence in the cities. They built up tensions between the Black Panthers and the Blackstone Rangers, a Chicago street gang. They sent a anonymous letter to the head of the gang falsely saying that the leader of the Chicago Black Panthers had put a hit out on him. This letter was sent with intentions of the gang and the Panthers taking each other out. The Bureau claims that a purpose of COINTELPRO was to minimize violence, however there is clear evidence that it fueled violence.

COINTELPRO was not well known outside of the Bureau and was supposed to be kept a secret. It wasn’t until 1971 that the program was publically known about, and that was not the FBI willingly giving up that information. The Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI broke into a Bureau office in Pennsylvania and found many documents on COINTELPRO that they released to the news agencies.

The FBI was not the only group working against the Black Power Movement. The National Security Agency also was constantly spying on Civil Rights leaders and specifically focused on Martin Luther King Jr. Many people argue that their surveillance was also illegal because it violated the Fourth Amendment, which protects against “unreasonable searches and seizures”. At the time that the NSA surveillance was discovered, Senator Walter Mondale said that the NSA “could be used by President ‘A’ in the future to spy upon the American people, to chill and interrupt political dissent.”

With the constant surveillance against the black community, there was sure to be pushback. Robert Williams, a NAACP member urged blacks to arm themselves in a 1962 book called “Negroes With Guns.” There was a saying in the Black Panthers that “the only good pig is a dead pig”, showing their hatred towards police and their willingness to fight back. In 1971, the year that it was becoming known that the government was to blame for much of the violence against the black power movement, the Black Liberation Army carried out multiple attacks against officers in New York, Atlanta, and San Francisco. Two African-Americans killed Officer James Greene on patrol. These two were members of the Black Liberation Army and went out of their way to kill Green. They also took his badge and service weapon to show the other members of the group.

The Government had set out to destroy the Black Power Movement and more specifically the Black Panthers with their unlawful surveillance. The FBI took surveillance to another level by spreading fake news, creating violence, and issuing death threats. It is understandable that there was much pushback from other side because they were being unlawfully targeted. This dilemma is similar to the Black Lives Matter movement against police brutality.

The memory of COINTELPRO and the response from Black Power groups follows many of Barbie Zelizer’s premises of collective memory. It is processual because this memory is something that has in a way continued until the present. We know from Edward Snowden that the government has been spying on citizens for years. Along with this, while COINTELPRO no longer exists, there are still targeted neighborhoods and people that police surveil and there is still unwarranted violence against police officers in response to it.  The memory is usable because the program should have been something that the government looked at and realized was not only morally wrong but also illegal in many ways. We do not know how much surveillance is currently going on because that information is classified for now, but it does still exist in some way and that is why african americans feel like they are being unwarrantedly targeted.

Henry Schwartz


Works Cited:

COINTELPRO: The Untold American Story. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2017.

PBS. Public Broadcasting Service, n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2017.

“COINTELPRO.” FBI. FBI, 05 May 2011. Web. 18 Apr. 2017.

“COINTELPRO: Teaching the FBI’s War on the Black Freedom Movement.” COINTELPRO: Teaching the FBI’s War on the Black Freedom Movement. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2017.

“How the FBI Conspired to Destroy the Black Panther Party.” In These Times. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2017.

Our Hidden History. “COINTELPRO: The FBI’s War on Black America” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 22 Nov 2016. Web. 20 April 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xAz3JlMK714

“The History of Surveillance and the Black Community.” Electronic Frontier Foundation. N.p., 13 Feb. 2014. Web. 18 Apr. 2017.

“Today, a softer response to police violence than in 1960s and ’70s.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2017.

 

 

 

Channeling Pan-Africanism: The Role of Radio in the Black Power Movement

The inherent power of radio is often undermined in an age of online streaming and personal playlists, but the power this medium held in previous eras must not be forgotten or overlooked.  Radio broadcasting offered tremendous opportunities, especially to marginalized groups, as it transcended physical boundaries and amplified voices that were regularly  drown out by dominant narratives and ideologies.  Radio was critical in fostering communities, both real and imagined, appealing to a common sense of humanity among people that may or may not have identified with each other otherwise.  Radio’s ability to spread ideas and form connections was strategically utilized by and crucial to the advancement of the Black Power Movement in the 1970s, specifically demonstrated in the microcosm of WAFR radio.

WAFR’s staff in 1973

The story began when several young African Americans in Durham, North Carolina joined together to purchase a radio station.  This group envisioned a radio station that would celebrate African culture and history.  While noble in intent, this original plan was not an unknowable feat.  However, things changed when the group was out bided by Duke University, a largely Caucasian institution at the time.  Rather than surrendering to defeat, the group decided to pave their own path and take advantage of government funds available for public radio stations.  WAFR radio was launched in September of 1971, becoming the first ever black-owned, non-commercial radio station.

“When WAFR commenced broadcasting […] it didn’t take long for listeners to discern that the station’s staffers had chosen their call letters [WAFR] as an homage to Africa” (“Posts from the ‘Black Power’ Category”).  If the call letters “AFR” were not clearly enough associated with Africa, the station’s common name “Wave Africa” surely drove home the connection.  Deejays also joined in this pan-African vision by identifying themselves by names that closely associated them with their idolized African roots.  These obvious connections to Africa situated WAFR as a station dedicated to recognizing a shared culture and heritage among African-Americans that would allow for a unified community empowered to stand firmly against the oppression it faced.

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Stevie Wonder was one artist that supported WAFR. He was injured in a car accident on the way to perform on the station in 1973.

WAFR further celebrated their African identity by broadcasting jazz, funk, and music by African musicians.  These genres rooted listeners in their culture and celebrated the identifiable musical traditions of their homeland.  WAFR broadcasted news in a way that situated the local community within a national and international matrix of people sharing similar struggles.  They challenged dominant memories of events by bringing to light events often overlooked or by providing an alternative perspective on an event.  Taking this international approach, WAFR supported the growing Black Power notion that blacks were only a minority on a national scale and found power in the expanse of the black experience.

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Ad for WAFR’s Children’s Radio Workshop

Click here to hear an introduction to one of WAFR’s broadcasted educational shows

WAFR additionally fostered community through its talk shows.  These talk shows were often hosted by volunteers from the area.  Relying on volunteer support encouraged direct community involvement not only in support of the radio station, but also in the broader black community at large.  WAFR focused on educating the public on black history and culture, which served to further strengthen ties to a shared racial history.  This educational aspect of the station challenged memories instilled by dominant narratives and provided alternate remembrances of history.  Pride in a shared heritage was where WAFR ultimately got its power.  By amplifying and celebrating these shared experiences of blacks, WAFR was able to contribute to the advancement of the Black Power Movement as a whole.

This site reveals a side to black power that focuses on power through a unified community, grounded in a shared identity, history, culture, and experience of oppression.  “In response to the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, African American performers began to express their racial and cultural pride in a variety of ways.  In earlier years, African Americans were referred to as Negroes, whereas using ‘black’ as a racial description was considered to be insulting. But by the late 1960s, the outlook of many African Americans shifted, and ‘blackness’ became a source of pride.” -Davis

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An article was published in June of 1973 in Ebony Magazine praising WAFR for its work

Unfortunately, WAFR closed its doors in 1976 as a result of financial struggles.  While its memory fleetingly lies in the minds of those that listened to the station during its five years and more enduringly in the journals of academics, its impact on the future of the Black Power Movement is its legacy.  The work of WAFR helped establish the importance of community education, the sharing of information and ideas, and of cultural celebration to the thriving of social movements as a whole.  We see traces of WAFR and other African-American owned radio stations in the continued spread of historically black music as a means to create community and understanding.  The success of these early broadcasts were crucial to the spread of knowledge and culture and cannot be overlooked in the analysis of the Black Power Movement as a whole, as they speak to many other aspects of the movement as well.


Sources:

Davis, Joshua Clark. “African Sounds in the American South: Community Radio, Historically Black Colleges, and Musical Pan‐Africanism.” Journal of Popular Music Studies. Wiley Online Library, 09 Dec. 2015. Web. 19 Apr. 2017.

Davis, Joshua Clark, and Jason Perlmutter. Bull City Soul. Durham County Library, 2014. Web. 19 Apr. 2017. <http://bullcitysoul.org/>.

Erwin, Carolyn K. “A Black Voice in Durham.” Ebony June 1973: 114-22. Google Books. Web. 19 Apr. 2017.

“Posts from the ‘Black Power’ Category.” Media and the Movement. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 21 May 2016. Web. 19 Apr. 2017. <http://mediaandthemovement.unc.edu/category/black-power/>.

*All images were taken from the above sources as well


Related Articles:

Robert F. Williams: The Black Power Leader from Afar

John Africa and the MOVE Organization

John Africa

Figure 1: John Africa (MOVE)

Between 1965 and 1972, American focus was dominated by an unpopular war, new music, and the emergence of black power groups aiming to find equality in a country that refused to give equal rights to everyone.  From this time period came people and groups, such as Malcolm X and the Black Panther Party, whose main objective was to protect black families and interests through any means necessary.

Lost in the confusion of the time was a small group in Philadelphia called MOVE, whose members “adopted a back-to-nature lifestyle and who protested what they considered to be the profanities of modern society” (Dickson).  American memory glosses over the memory of move for multiple reasons, including the fact that MOVE’s ideology did not intersect with those of other black power groups and because they did not have a big, national showdown with a federal agency.

It is difficult to identify the moment at which MOVE was officially created, but it is clear that the philosophy behind the group comes from a man named John Africa.  Africa was born with the name Vincent Leaphart, but changed his name to John Africa in 1972 to represent the continent where life began.  Africa struggled with his education throughout his childhood, eventually being labeled as “mentally retarded” and functionally illiterate (McCoy).  In spite of this, John Africa managed to attract a number of people from the Philadelphia area who were willing to believe in his ideologies.  One of these disciples of John Africa was Donald Glassey, a graduate of the nearby University of Pennsylvania. Glassey was so fascinated by Africa’s teachings that he volunteered to write and compile Africa’s thoughts into a book.  It is apparent that many black rights groups and people gained acclaim and followers through the dissemination of literature, such as Gill Scott’s poetry or the Chapel Hill protest pamphlets.John Africa was tragically killed when the Philadelphia police department dropped a bomb on the MOVE household, killing John Africa along with five other adults and five children.  The clash between the MOVE organization and the Philadelphia police is similar to many other clashes during the black power movement, such as the Watts riots in Los Angeles.

Figure 2: News report of MOVE bombing (MOVE Bombing at 30)

MOVE’s doctrine relied on the “ideal that any religion or philosophy that prevents adherents from actively opposing exploitations and oppression was useless” (Floyd-Thomas).  In this way, MOVE can be linked to other black power groups of the day; however, MOVE separates itself from other groups through how it chose to go about their objective.  MOVE attempted to attack the American hegemonic memory by focusing on protest and activism in black culture.

I believe that MOVE is an important organization because it gives people another perception of how black activist groups worked in American society.  Unlike the Black Panther Party, MOVE did not seem to care about indoctrinating as many people as possible.  Instead, they let people with similar views come and join their community. It did not matter to John Africa whether the people joining him were black or white, he just wanted to create a community who stood up for what is right.  In addition to his drive to find good people, John Africa also recognized that he had a duty to revolt when he recognized that the needs of some people were not being met.  In a letter to the editor of the Philadelphia Tribune, Africa says “isn’t it correct to rebel against a system eating us, enslaving us, killing us?”(Abu-Jamal).  In this quote, Africa reminds us of how our country was founded on the principle that people have a right to protest in the event they are not being represented.  This notion adds credibility and historical precedent to his protest.

Figure 3: Documentary about MOVE (Brown)

Within his organization, John Africa’s memory has been sanctified and John Africa himself has been apotheosized.  Looking at their website, you can easily see how the remaining members of MOVE have intentionally capitalized every use of Africa’s name.  The website even capitalizes the word “He”, a sign of reverence usually reserved by Christians for their God.  To the MOVE organization, John Africa’s memory is more than just a man, it is an ideal and a way of life that was attacked and suppressed.  They have raised him up in this way in the hopes of remembering the values for which he fought.

Some people say that MOVE is an incredibly dense and difficult organization to interact with, leading to their alienation from other civil rights groups.  However, I believe that MOVE is just a group of people who are dedicated to their cause.  They believe that all life is sacred and they are willing to stand up and fight those who disagree.  John Africa’s legacy in this organization carries on through today and his writings continue to guide the organization’s philosophy.  Though the work and philosophy that MOVE advocates for may not be central in American memory and consciousness, it is important to remember that they fight for those who do not have a voice in order to bring about equality.

John Africa hug

Figure 4: Africa with MOVE family members (MOVE)

 

Works Cited

Dickson, Johanna Saleh. MOVE : sites of trauma.Princeton Architectural Press, 01 Jan 2002.

Floyd-Thomas, J. M. “The Burning of Rebellious Thoughts: MOVE as Revolutionary Black Humanism.” The Black Scholar 32.1 (2002): 11-21. Web. 17 Apr. 2017.

McCoy, C. R. (2010, August 5). Who was John Africa? Philly.com.

ABU-JAMAL, MUMIA. “John Africa.” Philadelphia Tribune (1912-2001), Sep 07, 1982, pp. 4, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Philadelphia Tribune, http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/532800098?accountid=14244.

MOVE. (n.d.). John Africa. Retrieved from http://onamove.com/john-africa/

Brown, Kimmora. “John Africa’s MOVE Organization-K. Brown.” Youtube.com. 4–22 2012. Web. 19 Apr. 2017. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uuS4sQ50sIU>.

“MOVE Bombing at 30.” Youtube.com. democracynow.org, Web. 19 Apr. 2017. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JBZXRK_1vAQ>.

Maya Angelou: A Caged Bird

Maya Angelou1

Women in America are frequently marginalized and stereotyped as simply being mother figures who must tend to “womanly duties.” These stereotypical duties might consist of cleaning the house, raising children, supporting her husband, and suppressing her opinions. Being a woman in America often consists of either complying or going against these stereotypes and having to constantly defend the life choices of pursuing careers dominated by men. Being a woman in America who also identifies as African American is even more of a challenge because of the barriers further associated with racism and black oppression.

The Black Power Movement is frequently associated with the Black Panther Party and the image of the strong black man carrying a gun and wearing a black beret. What many people often forget is that women were key figures during this movement. Without women, the gains and successes of the Black Power Movement could not have been achieved. One women in particular both made a name for herself through her activism and writing that is associated with the Black Arts Movement1 and also was a close supporter and friend of other key leaders during this time period, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X.

Maya Angelou was born April 4th, 1928 and spent her early life dealing with the struggles of being a Black woman during this time period. Overtime she was able to develop a sense of power within herself through her experiences. Prior to the Black Power Movement, she was also involved with the Civil Rights Movement and spent a good deal of time working as a writer and journalist.

While she was abroad working as a journalist in 1965, her friend Malcolm X asked that she return to the United States and work with him to create a new organization focusing on Black Power.2 She returned only for this endeavor to be cut short with the assassination of Malcolm X February 21st, 1965. With the loss of her friend she took some time for herself to recover. During this recovery period she worked as a singer and wrote screenplays in Los Angeles.

Malcolm X pictured with Maya Angelou.4

Two years later, opportunity presented itself and she moved to New York where she continued writing. By 1968, her friend Martin Luther King, Jr. asked her to organize a march for Black Power.3 Again, Angelou had the misfortune of experiencing yet another friend’s assassination when King died on her birthday and did not follow through with the march. With such great loss, Angelou was encouraged by a friend to use this opportunity to motivate her to write. During the year of 1968 Angelou lost a friend but also produced a documentary series dealing with blues music and African American culture and she also wrote her famous autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

Angelou’s childhood is chronicled in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and was one of the first pieces of literature that captured the attention of audiences internationally with regards to women and Black Power. Angelou quickly grew recognition as a woman capable of overcoming experiences of profound racism through her strength and passion for literature. Such a raw and vulnerable autobiography of an African American woman provided readers with the success story of a black woman, published literature that did not exist prior.4

This book serves as a site of memory in the form of a material retelling of Angelou’s childhood. The retelling of her childhood in the form of a distributable book was unpredictably capable of bringing positive attention to Angelou’s life and oppression of African Americans. Further, because this book was well received and praised throughout communities supporting the Black Power Movement, Angelou’s story is both particular and universal. Her story is autobiographical but many people are capable of relating to her experiences that she describes or are capable of understanding Angelou’s perspective. Caged Bird is also represented in the form of a film and is processually changed from words to a visual representation.

With such a powerful story that works to fight against racism and oppression comes other forces that work to oppress the story and prevent it from being heard. Due to the brief mention of rape, parents have frequently petitioned to ban this book from being taught in class settings or offered in libraries of middle and high schools.5 The schools that do not ban Angelou’s story often have it as an educational resource, further capable of teaching youth about the consequences of racism and providing an inspiration and support to those who relate to Angelou’s struggles. In order for Angelou’s story to initially be taken seriously, she had to stylistically write her autobiography in such a way that would be considered literature. This style of writing forced her to separate herself from her own self in some regard to formally present the story.4

Protesters against banning of books in public schools.6
Protesters against banning of books in public schools.6

Caged Bird retells the story of Angelou’s childhood during a time when racism in America was present in a different form than today. Due to the progression of time and tendency to want to suppress certain cultural memories, younger generations of African Americans are able to better understand their heritage and familial experiences through reading Angelou’s personal retelling. Racism is still present today and has many steps of improvement to take before equality is achieved. The current movement of Black Lives Matter has started to use the key theme of a singing caged bird in the form of protest. Members of this movement use this metaphor to say that they will no longer sing; they will no longer accept the racism they are still experiencing.6

Overall, Angelou’s autobiography empowers members of the black community, especially women. Angelou’s voice is heard by all who will listen and she speaks for those whose voices have not been heard.

Maddy Ponder

Work Cited
1. Foster, Hannah. “The Black Arts Movement (1965-1975).” Blackpast.org. Blackpast.org, 2007. Web. 18 Apr. 2017. http://www.blackpast.org/aah/black-arts-movement-1965-1975.
2. Academy of Achievement. “Interview: Maya Angelou.” Maya Angelou Interview. Academy of Achievement, 22 Jan. 1997. Web. 18 Apr. 2017. https://web.archive.org/web/20060301192034/http://www.achievement.org/autodoc/page/ang0int-1.
3. Serwer, Adam. “Maya Angelou, Radical Activist.” MSNBC. NBCUniversal News Group, 09 June 2015. Web. 18 Apr. 2017. http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/maya-angelou-radical-activist#52461.
4. Walker, Pierre A. “Racial Protest, Identity, Words, and Form in Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” College Literature, vol. 22, no. 3, 1995, pp. 91–108., www.jstor.org/stable/25112210.
5. Gowen, Annie. “In 2 Maryland Counties, the War Over Words.” The Washington Post. WP Company, 11 Jan. 1998. Web. 18 Apr. 2017. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/local/longterm/war.htm.
6. Harris, Darriel. “I Know Why the Caged Bird Stopped Singing.” The Baltimore Sun. The Baltimore Sun, 24 Oct. 2016. Web. 18 Apr. 2017. http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bs-ed-caged-bird-20161024-story.html.

Links to Media
1. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/06/06/maya-angelou-power-of-words_n_5462077.html?slideshow=true#gallery/351363/0
2. https://www.amazon.com/Know-Why-Caged-Bird-Sings/dp/0345514408
3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qKvfM7eMRXU
4. https://manifestationyoga.files.wordpress.com/2014/06/unknown1.jpeg
5. https://unctv.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/ang17.ela.history.setting/maya-angelou-and-still-i-rise-memory-and-setting-in-i-know-why-the-caged-bird-sings/#.WPZ1l1KZNE4
6. http://archive.naplesnews.com/news/education/fight-over-collier-textbook-review-could-be-sign-of-clashes-to-come-ep-882371104-335731081.html

Related Sites

Maya Angelou: The Power of the Written Word

Angela Yvonne Davis

Pauli Murray: One Woman’s Contribution to the Black Power Movement

Black Power: Recognizing the Bigger Picture

Black Power, Black Lives, and Pan-Africanism Conference: Honoring the Legacy and Building for a Self-Determining Future, is a conference that was held June 16-19, 2016 in Jackson, Mississippi. This three day conference was sponsored by Cooperation Jackson, an organization whose vision is to, “to develop a cooperative network based in Jackson, Mississippi that will consist of four interconnected and interdependent institutions: an emerging federation of local worker cooperatives, a developing cooperative incubator, a cooperative education and training center (the Lumumba Center for Economic Democracy and Development), and a cooperative bank or financial institution.” Cooperation Jackson strives to better their community for their fellow citizens and for future generations by engaging them and informing them of ways to get involved. One of these informative sessions was this Black Power, Black Lives, and Pan-Africanism Conference, which aimed to: “…start a process of collectively developing a “program of action” to build and attain Black Power, Self-Determination, and Social Liberation for Afrikan people wherever we reside – within the lands presently colonized by the United States government, on the Afrikan continent or throughout the wide Pan-Afrikan world.”

The symbol of Cooperation Jackson, which incorporates symbols of the Asante people of Ghana called adinkra to represent values that they consider essential to a virtuous life.

The conference was comprised of several different components: discussion, question panel, and then breaking out into thematic groups. The discussion section was titled, “Black Power Isn’t, Black Power Is,” and focused on criticizing historical developments of the Black Power Movement, and ways to improve on those weaknesses going forward. What these discussions were based on was not a “list of demands,” as the Black Power Movement has made in the past; rather, they focused on identifying problems they see within the community and nationwide, and coming together to implement foundational steps to solve those problems. The key issues that they selected were: capitalism, colonialism, imperialism, white supremacy, patriarchy, heterosexism, and speciesism. The speakers of this conference are arguing that historically in all of these areas, black people have been oppressed by white people dating back to the western Europeans of the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries. They emphasize that in order to make progress, we must identify these issues, their consequences of oppression, and address them in a practical way that will enable us to move forward in the battle for equality.

The panel section of the conference dealt more with dissecting the historical shortcomings of the Black Power Movement. They discussed the rise of the movement, how people understand Black Power, areas where there are room for improvement, and how they can “better define and come to some consensus on the definition and meaning of Black Power.” After these plenary sessions, the attendees of the conference were divided up into smaller groups, and were each tasked with developing tangible steps that could be taken to achieve equality in a certain domain (e.g. capitalism, colonialism, etc.). The goal of these was to

“…develop the outlines of a program of action for building and attaining Black Power, Self-Determination and Social Liberation in the 21st century.”

By discussing the specifics of each of these issues, this conferenced aimed to create a united front that would make progress in areas where the Black Power Movement failed. They are focused on fighting institutional racism in a peaceful but effective way, by identifying societal problems and coming up with realistic plans that, if implemented, could help heal the rifts in our society. (View this post about “Black Perspectives on the Contested use of Violence for Liberation”).

While open to all, this conference—as well as the Black Power Movement—was and is focused around African Americans. No one is excluded in supporting the ideas and movement, but the goal is to bring about equality specifically for black people. However, this equality cannot be achieved without the support of other members of the community, and the combined effort of all of us working towards a better future. The Cooperation Jackson website addresses the role of allies in solidarity with a quote from Samora Machel, the first President of Mozambique:

“International solidarity is not an act of charity: It is an act of unity between allies fighting on different terrains toward the same objective. The foremost of these objectives is to aid the development of humanity to the highest level possible.”

samora-machel
Samora Machel: first President of Mozambique and a leader of FRELIMO, the dominant political party of Mozambique.

If implemented by widespread support of various communities, these changes would not only bring about equality for the black community, but for other oppressed people as well: those in poverty, any people of color, people in countries that are still suffering the consequences of colonialism and imperialism, women, and members of the LGBTQ community.

I believe that the Black Power, Black Lives, and Pan-Africanism Conference: Honoring the Legacy and Building for a Self-Determining Future conference should be recreated and held in various types of communities all over the nation. The discussions and panels were working to counteract the memory that has been established for so long concerning all different types of groups of oppressed people. It recognizes the roots of the Black Power Movement, but critically analyzes the mistakes shortcomings that have happened historically. By doing so, the people present at the conference were able to determine the issues within their community and our larger society, establish a direction, and create a plan of action that hopefully, if implemented, will improve the lives of many nationwide.

Sources:

http://www.cooperationjackson.org/intro/

http://www.cooperationjackson.org/events-calendar/2016/6/16/black-power-black-lives-and-pan-africanism-conference

http://www.cooperationjackson.org/black-power-conference/2016/6/15/black-power-isnt-black-power-is-basic-points-of-unitydistinction

http://www.cooperationjackson.org/black-power-conference/2016/6/15/plenary-and-session-questions

http://www.cooperationjackson.org/black-power-conference/2016/6/15/solidarity-roles-for-allies

http://www.frelimo.org.mz/frelimo/index.php/simbolos-do-partido/item/541-samora-moises-machel-biografia

 

 

The Prison Industrial Complex and Black Power

The American Penal System needed reformation since the passage of the 13th Amendment in 1864, which made it legal to be enslaved as a form of punishment, because of this it allowed prisoners to provide work labor for the American South’s economy (13). Thus feeding into the creation of the Prison Industrial Complex, the relationship between government and industry. To better understand the Prison Industrial Complex one should look into the foundation to the naming of the Prison Industrial Complex, the prisons in the 1960’s and 1970’s, Angela Davis reason of naming the system, and the modern movement with regards to the Prison Industrial Complex.


The Foundation of Prison Industrial Complex

     To begin the assessment of the Prison Industrial Complex, one must first investigate the origin of the syntax for this label of the privatization of prisons. The foundation for the Prison Industrial Complex began in 1961; when Dwight D. Eisenhower instilled fear in Americans through his Farewell Address to his eight-year term as president. The ‘Military Industrial Complex’ that Eisenhower coined in his fourth point of his speech is what rooted fear across many Americans (History.com). The new title for the compound was the response of the privatization of companies that make weapons and thus creating an interconnection between the military, bureaucracy, and importantly private companies.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together. (Eisenhower)

This quote exemplifies Eisenhower’s use of fear on the democratic way, security, liberty, and peaceful societies as a clear reason of why the military needs to thrive to protect the ideas that held so tightly to the quintessential american. However 36 years later, Angela Davis used the collective memory of the Military Industrial Complex to speak out about the Prison system in America, because Angela Davis used it as a tool to challenge the memory (Zelizer).  Thus creating the Prison Industrial Complex that replicated the military privatization that Eisenhower discussed throughout his farewell speech, because of its idea that the best way is privatization because of the capital gains (Thepostarchive).

Figure 1: Eisenhower’s Farewell Address in 1961(Eisenhower)

Figure 2: Angela Davis On the Prison Industrial Complex (Thepostarchive)


America’s Prisons in the 1960’s and 1970’s

     The shift of a dramatic increase in incarceration that led to the privatization because of the need for a location to hold the incarcerated was notably the result of new drug laws in the 1930s (which was later called ‘War of Drugs’ by Nixon). These laws targeted minorities. As drugs such as opium, cocaine, and marijuana were not illegal and were only considered a global health issue once one had became addicted to the substance. However in the mid-19th century with the introduction of the Gold Rush, opium became illegal, which was a systematic way of suppressing the Chinese Immigrants because they were the demographic that mostly partook in the consumption of opium. This systematic oppression continued to cocaine that contained the African Americans and lastly marijuana that suppressed Mexicans (Jarecki). Thus showing how the penal system was systematically targeted to imprison minorities even after the Jim Crow Era.

In relation with the Black Power Movement and incarceration at this time was unprecedented because for the first time people were voluntarily being imprisoned to exemplify the mistreatment towards African America through laws and civilian perception. Henry Louis Gates Jr. from Harvard University even notes this phenomenon.

I think one of the most brilliant tactics of the Civil Rights movement was its transformation of the notion of criminality because for the first time being arrested a noble thing… They voluntarily defined a movement around getting arrested (13).

This new ideology stimulated arrest amongst many advocast and even famous Civil Rights figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and Malcolm X. Thus the beginning to higher rates of incarceration because leading up to 1970, prison population was incredibly stagnant but at the change of the decade rates of incarceration increased tremendously. With Black Male inmates composing of 1,313 per 100,000 US resident, which resulted in the statistic that African Americans were five times more likely to be incarcerated than their white counterpart (Drake). (Today this statistic is one in three black males to white male (13).)


Angela Davis Response

Angela Davis
Figure 3: Angela Davis being escorted by two FBI agents in 1970 (Pickoff)

Angela Davis, the third woman on the FBI‘s Ten Most Wanted Fugitive List in 1970, began her speech that names the Prison Industrial Complex with the consideration of how she became an activist. She ponders the idea of it rooted in the 1963, 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing because of the relationship her family had with the girls that died in the attack. However, she later specifies that growing up in the American South was the actual reason she became an activist because of it requiring her to always promote transformation. This activism has resulted in her in naming the privatization of prisons as the Prison Industrial Complex. She credits this as the name because of the privatization for the benefit of the US economy and in particular capitalism (Pickoff). The financial advantages of benefits were the backbone of the Military Industrial Complex because of Eisenhower’s idea of interconnecting the government, bureaucracy, and most importantly Private Corporation. Thus making the new prison system to properly being named after the movement.


The Modern ‘Prison Industrial Complex’

     Some narrations of the increase of imprisonment in America does not credit it as a result of race issue but instead a class issue; these descriptions derive from documentaries like The House I Live In (Jarecki). Which Angela Davis agrees with but does not credit class as the main reason for most of the “poor people” imprisoned are people of color (Thepostarchive). Another way that the wealth as the primary goal of being incarcerated may quickly discredit through statistical evidence beginning with the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to present time (13). The relationship between capitalism and prisons motivated Angela Davis to create the term Prison Industrial Complex because of the mistreatment of prisoners in Americas Penal System throughout the 1960s and the 1970s. In particular, the center of the passion for this is the privatization of American prisons because of their only purpose being economic gains in a capitalistic society like America. Through the coining of the new term, Angela Davis has left a legacy to reform the prison system. Not only was this seen before her discovery of the new word, but through the book, The New Jim Crow, and even in the 2016 Presidential Primaries (Alexander). In particularly, the presidential candidate, Senator Bernie Sanders, emphasized the funding aspect of the penal system. Resulting in many speeches not only at the candidate podium but also on the Senate Floor with the central idea that “we have to invest in education and jobs for our young people, not more jails or incarceration” (Sanders).

Figure 4: Bernie Sanders: Jobs, Not Jails on the Senate Floor in 2015 (Catholics 4Bernie)

     The ‘Prison Industrial Complex’ gained attention again last October, yet significantly in regards to the entertainment industry with the creation of the documentary 13th featuring Angela Davis (13). Thus illustrating the significance of the need of reformation to the American Penal System since the passage of the 13th Amendment; however, this reform did not create movement until Eisenhower made his famous ‘Military Industrial Complex’ Speech. Eisenhower’s speech gave the syntax to what Angela Davis later named the movement of American Penal Systems to privatization in the 1960’s and the 1970’s, in which she is still trying to invoke reformation in the current politics with the assistance of many activists.

Figure 5: Jay Z: ‘The War on Drugs Is an Epic Fail’ (Jay Z)


Works Cited

13th. Dir. Ava DuVernay. Netflix, 2016. Netflix. Web. 18 Apr. 2017.

Alexander, Michelle. “Introduction.” New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. New York: New, 2010. N. pag. Print.

Catholics 4Bernie. “Bernie Sanders: Jobs, Not Jails (6/9/2015).” YouTube. YouTube, 24 June 2015. Web. 18 Apr. 2017.

Drake, Bruce. “Incarceration Gap Widens between Whites and Blacks.” Pew Research Center. Pew Research Center, 05 Sept. 2013. Web. 18 Apr. 2017.

Eisenhower, Dwight D. “Military-Industrial Complex Speech,.” Eisenhower’s Farewell Address. White House, Washington D.C. 17 Jan. 1961. Speech.

History.com Staff. “Eisenhower Warns of Military-industrial Complex.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, 2009. Web. 18 Apr. 2017.

Pickoff, David. “The Way It Was: Today in History – Oct. 13.” CBS News. CBS Interactive, 13 Oct. 2016. Web. 18 Apr. 2017.

Pickoff, David. “The Way It Was: Today in History – Oct. 13.” CBS News. CBS Interactive, 13 Oct. 2016. Web. 18 Apr. 2017.

Sanders, Bernie. “READ: Bernie Sanders’ Speech At The Democratic Convention.” NPR. NPR, 25 July 2016. Web. 18 Apr. 2017

The House I Live In. Dir. Eugene Jarecki. Perf. Eugene Jarecki. Virgil Films, 2013. DVD.

Thepostarchive. “Angela Davis On the Prison Industrial Complex.” YouTube. YouTube, 02 Sept. 2016. Web. 18 Apr. 2017.

Z, Jay, Molly Crabapple, Jim Batt, Kim Boekbinder, and Dream Hampton. “The War on Drugs Is an Epic Fail.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 15 Sept. 2016. Web. 18 Apr. 2017.

Zelizer, Barbie. “Reading the Past Against the Grain: The Shape of Memory Studies.” Critical Studies in Mass Communications. N.p.: n.p., 1995. 214-39. Print.

Angela Davis and the Marin Country Courthouse Incident

Angela Davis

Marin County Courthouse Incident 1970

On August 7th, 1970, seventeen year old Jonathan Jackson kidnapped Superior Court Judge Harold Haley from the Marin County Civic Center in San Rafael, California. The kidnapping was meant as a tool to negotiate the freedom of the Soledad Brothers, a trio of African-American inmates (George Jackson, Fleeta Drumgo, and John Clutchette) who were charged with the murder of a prison guard at Soledad Prison in California. George Jackson also happened to be the real brother of Jonathan Jackson.

Jackson, heavily armed, took over the courtroom in Marin County, arming the defendants and taking Judge Haley, the prosecutor, and three female jurors hostage. In a firefight that broke out as they attempted to leave the scene, Judge Haley, the defendants, and Jonathan Jackson were killed. In the ensuing investigation, it was discovered that the shotgun used to kill Judge Haley had been purchased by Angela Davis a few days prior to the event. Furthermore, it was discovered that Davis was in collusion with one of the Soledad Brothers.

Angela Davis is an activist and academic born in 1944 in Birmingham, Alabama. She received her Bachelor’s Degree from Brandeis University, her Masters from the University of California San Diego, and her PhD at Humboldt University in East Berlin. Davis rose to prominence in the 1960’s as a leader of the Communist Party USA with close relationships to the Black Panther Party and considerable involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. Her involvement with the Communist Party led to her be fired from her job as a professor at the University of California Los Angeles.

After Davis was implicated in the murder of Judge Haley and a warrant was issued for her arrest, she went into hiding. A manhunt began for Davis and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover placed her on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitive List, making her the third woman and 309th individual to be placed on that list.

 

 

Davis was caAngela Davis, escorted by two FBI agents, October 1970. (AP/Wide World Photos)ptured and arrested on October 13th, 1970 when she was found by FBI agents at hotel in New York City. Her trial began on January 5th, 1971, where she declared her innocence before the Marin County Superior Court.

“I now declare publicly before the court, before the people of this country that I am innocent of all charges which have been leveled against me by the state of California.” – Angela Davis [1]

Davis was held in the Women’s Detention Center during the duration of the trial. At first she was segregated from the other prisoners in solitary confinement. However, through the help of her lawyers, she was able to acquire a court order to remove her from the segregated area.

Davis’s case spread across the nation, moving thousands of individuals to organize for her release. The Black People in Defense of Angela Davis was established in New York City by a committee of Black Writers. It then expanded to over 200 local chapters in the US, and 67 in other countries, by February of 1971. Celebrities also contributed to the campaign, including John Lennon and Yoko Ono who wrote the song “Angela”. 

After sixteen-months in incarceration, Davis was released on bail in 1972. Her $100,000 bail was paid for by a local dairy farmer and a wealthy business owner. Her legal defenses were also paid for in part by the United Presbyterian Church. This international movement and financial support of Davis demonstrated the position of power and prominence that she held in the Civil Rights Movement. 

The trial was then moved to Santa Clara County after the granting of a defense motion for change of venue. One June 4th, 1972, one year, seven months and twenty-two days since her initial arrest, Davis was found not guilty by an all-white jury. It was determined that Davis’s ownership of the guns was not enough to place responsibility on her for the kidnapping that killed Judge Haley.

“Our civilization has decided and very justly decided that determining the guilt or innocence of men is a thing too important to be trusted to trained men. If it wishes for light upon that awful matter, it asks men who know no more law than I know, but who can feel the things I felt in a jury box. When it wants a library catalogued, or the solar system discovered, or any trifle of that kind, it uses up its specialist. But when it wishes anything done that is really serious, it collects 12 of the ordinary men standing about. The same thing was done, if I remember right by the founder of Christianity.”[2]

Judge Richard E. Arnason, who oversaw the case, read this passage before dismissing the panel. It comes from the essay of G.K. Chesterton titled “The Twelve Men” from the book “Tremendous Trifles” and was used to demonstrate the importance and power of the jury in determining the fate of defendants. 
This case marked a tremendous moment not only for Davis, but for the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Panther Party. The all white jury raised concerns for the defense as to the fairness of the trial. The lack of diversity led Davis’s attorneys to employ psychologists who helped the team analyze the jurors and identify those individuals who would most agree with their argument. After the verdict was announced, the jury was loudly cheered and later personally thanked by Davis.[3]

Davis went on to continue as an activist, author, and educator. She returned to teaching both at San Francisco State University and the University of California Santa Cruz. She is now retired but continues to travel the country giving speeches and remaining involved in activist movements.

This court case represents a legal site of memory that countered the traditional expectations of a legal proceeding by an all white jury against a black defendant. Angela Davis both as an individual and a site of memory becomes a rallying point for activism and an empowering figurehead in the Civil Rights Movement. The incredible success of this court case, however, overshadows the countless other losses that were endured by black defendants at the time. For this one victory, there were many more losses wherein individuals faced unfair sentences, a fact that Davis is very aware of and mentions often in her discussions on the Prison Industrial Complex. 

This site of memory is both particular, in how it is remembered by Davis and her legal team, and universal in how it is remembered by the countless individuals who organized in her defense. It is also a processual site of memory as it continues to be analyzed by legal historians and students like myself to place its importance in the broader context of our history.

 

 

Sources:

  1. Radosh, Ronald. “Jury Isn’t out on Angela Davis.” The Washington Times. The Washington Times, 11 Mar. 2012. Web. 12 Apr. 2017.
  2. Caldwell, Earl. “Angela Davis Acquitted on All Charges.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 5 June 1972. Web. 12 Apr. 2017.
  3. “Angela Davis Trial: 1972 – Davis Ridicules Case.” Brothers, Thomas, Soleded, and Mcclain. JRank Articles, n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2017.
  4. http://www.speakoutnow.org/speaker/davis-angela