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White Supremacy and Black Liberation

1. Andrea Smith, “Heteropatriarchy and the Three Pillars of White

2. Adolph Reed, “Tokens of the White Left”
3. Glen Ford, “Race and National Liberation Under Obama”
4. Robert L Allen, “The Social Context of Black Power”

Andrea Smith, “Heteropatriarchy and the Three

Pillars of White Supremacy: Rethinking Women
of Color Organizing”
Scenario #1
A group of women of color come together to organize. An
argument ensues about whether or not Arab women should be
included. Some argue that Arab women are "white" since they
have been classified as such in the US census. Another argument
erupts over whether or not Latinas qualify as “women of color”
since some may be classified as “white” in their Latin American
countries of origin and/or “pass” as white in the United States.

Scenario #2
In a discussion on racism, some people argue that Native
peoples suffer from less racism than other people of color
because they generally do not reside in segregated-
neighborhoods within the United States. In addition, some argue
that since tribes now have gaming, Native peoples are no longer

Scenario #3
A multiracial campaign develops involving diverse communities
of color in which some participants charge that we must stop the
black/white binary, and end Black hegemony over people of color
politics to develop a more “multicultural” framework. However
this campaign continues to rely on strategies and cultural motifs
developed by the Black Civil Rights struggle in the United States.

These incidents, which happen quite frequently in “women of color” or

“people of color" political organizing struggles, are often explained as a
consequence of "oppression olympics." That is to say, one problem we
have is that we are too busy fighting over who is more oppressed. In
this essay, I want to argue that these incidents are not so much the
result of “oppression olympics,” but are more a bout how we have
inadequately framed “women of color” or “people of color” politics.
That is, the premise behind “women of color” organizing is that women
from communities victimized by white supremacy should unite
together around their shared oppression. This framework might be
represented by a diagram of five overlapping circles, each marked
Native women, Black women, Arab/Muslim women, Latinas, and Asian
American women, overlapping like a Venn diagram.

This framework has proved to be limited for women of color and people
of color organizing. First, it tends to presume that our communities
have been impacted by white supremacy in the same way.
Consequently, we often assume that all of our communities will share
similar strategies of liberation. In fact, however, our strategies often
run into conflict, for example, one strategy that many people in US-
born communities of color adopt, in order to advance economically out
of impoverished communities, is to join the military. We then become
complicit in oppressing and colonizing communities from other
countries. Meanwhile, people from other countries often adopt the
strategy of moving to the United States to advance economically,
without considering their complicity in settling on the lands of
indigenous peoples that are being colonized by the United States.

Consequently, it may be more helpful to adopt an alternative

framework for women of color and people of color organizing. I call one
such framework the “Three Pillars of White Supremacy.” This
framework does not assume that racism and white supremacy is
enacted in a singular fashion; rather, white supremacy is constituted
by separate and distinct, but still interrelated, logics. Envision three
pillars, one labeled Slavery/Capitalism, another labeled
Genocide/Capitalism, and the last one labeled Orientalism/War, as well
as arrows connecting each of the pillars together.


One pillar of white supremacy is the logic of slavery. As Sora Han, Jared
Sexton, and Angela P. Harris note, this logic renders Black people as
inherently slaveable – as nothing more than property. That is, in this
logic of white supremacy, Blackness becomes equated with
slaveability. The forms of slavery may change – whether it is through
the formal system of slavery, sharecropping, or through the current
prison-industrial complex – but the logic itself has remained

This logic is the anchor of capitalism. That is, the capitalist system
ultimately commodifies all workers – ones’ own person becomes a
commodity that one must sell in the labor market while the profits of
one’s work are taken by someone else. To keep this capitalist system
in place – which ultimately commodifies most people – the logic of
slavery applies a racial hierarchy to this system. This racial hierarchy
tells people that as long as you are not Black, you have the opportunity
to escape the commodification of capitalism. This helps people who are
not Black to accept their lot in life, because they can feel that at least
they are not at the very bottom of the racial hierarchy – at least they
are not property; at least they are not slaveable.

The logic of slavery can be seen clearly in the current prison industrial
complex (PIC). While the PIC generally incarcerates communities of
color, it seems to be structured primarily on anti-Black racism. That is,
prior to the Civil War, most people in prison were white. However, after
the thirteenth amendment was passed—which banned slavery, except
for those in prison—Black people previously enslaved through the
slavery system were re-enslaved through the prison system. Black
people who had been the property of slave owners became state
property, through the convict leasing system. Thus, we can actually
look at the criminalization of Blackness as a logical extension of
Blackness as property.


A second pillar of white supremacy is the logic of genocide. This logic

holds that indigenous peoples must disappear. In fact, they must
always be disappearing, in order to allow non-indigenous peoples
rightful claim over this land. Through this logic of genocide, non-Native
peoples then become the rightful inheritors of all that was indigenous—
land, resources, indigenous spirituality, or culture. As Kate Shanley
notes, Native peoples are a permanent “present absence” in the US
colonial imagination, an “absence” that reinforces, at every turn, the
conviction that Native peoples are indeed vanishing and that the
conquest of Native lands is justified. Ella Shoat and Robert Stam
describe this absence as “an ambivalently repressive mechanism
[which] dispels the anxiety in the face of the Indian, whose very
presence is a reminder of the initially precarious grounding of the
American nation-state itself… in a temporal paradox, living Indians
were induced to ‘play dead,’ as it were, in order to perform a narrative
of manifest destiny in which their role, ultimately, was to disappear.

Rayna Green further elaborates that the current Indian “wannabe”

phenomenon is based on a logic of genocide: non-Native peoples
imagine themselves as the rightful inheritors of all that previously
belonged to “vanished” Indians, thus entitling them to ownership of
this land. “The living performance of ‘playing Indian’ by non-Indian
peoples depends upon the physical and psychological removal, even
the death, of real Indians. In that sense, the performance, purportedly
often done out of a stated and implicit love for Indians, is really the
obverse of another well-known cultural phenomenon, ‘Indian hating,’
as most often expressed in another, deadly performance genre called
‘genocide.’ After all, why would non-Native peoples need to play Indian
—which often includes acts of spiritual appropriation and land theft—if
they thought Indians were still alive and perfectly capable of being
Indian themselves? The pillar of genocide serves as the anchor for
colonialism—it is what allows non-Native peoples to feel they can
rightfully own indigenous peoples’ land. It is okay to take land from
indigenous peoples, because indigenous peoples have disappeared.


A third pillar of white supremacy is the logic of Orientalism. Orientalism

was defined by Edward Said as the process of the West defining itself
as a superior civilization by constructing itself in opposition to an
“exotic” but inferior “Orient.” (Here I am using the term “Orientalism”
more broadly than to solely signify what has historically been named
as the Orient or Asia.) The logic of Orientalism marks certain peoples
or nations as inferior and as posing a constant threat to the well-being
of empire. These peoples are still seen as “civilizations”—they are not
property or “disappeared”—however, they will always be imagined as
permanent foreign threats to empire. This logic is evident in the anti-
immigration movements within the United States that target
immigrants of color. It does not matter how long immigrants of color
reside within the United States, they generally become targeted as
foreign threats, particularly during war time. Consequently, Orientalism
serves as the anchor for war, because it allows the United States to
justify being in a constant state of war to protect itself from its

For example, the United States feels entitled to use Orientalist logic to
justify racial profiling of Arab Americans so that it can be strong
enough to fight the “war on terror.” Orientalism also allows the United
States to defend the logics of slavery and genocide, as these practices
enable the United States to stay “strong enough” to fight these
constant wars. What becomes clear then is what Sora Han states—the
United States is not at war, the United States is war. For the system of
white supremacy to stay in place, the United States must always be at

Because we are situated within different logics of white supremacy, we

may misunderstand a racial dynamic if we simplistically try to explain
one logic of white supremacy with another logic. For instance, think
about the first scenario that opens this essay: if we simply dismiss
Latino/as or Arab peoples as “white,” we fail to understand how a racial
logic of Orientalism is in operation. That is, Latino/as and Arabs are
often situated in a racial hierarchy that privileges them over Black
people. However, while Orientalist logic may bestow them some racial
privilege, they are still cast as inferior yet threatening “civilizations” in
the United States. Their privilege is not a signal that they will be
assimilated, but that they will be marked as perpetual foreign threats
to the US world order.

Organizing Implications

Under the old but still potent and dominant model, people of color
organizing was based on the notion of organizing around shared
victimhood. In this model, however, we see that we are victims of
white supremacy, but complicit in it as well. Our survival strategies and
resistance to white supremacy are set by the system of white
supremacy itself. What keeps us trapped within our particular pillars of
white supremacy is that we are seduced with the prospect of being
able to participate in the other pillars. For example, all non-Native
peoples are promised the ability to join in the colonial project of
settling indigenous lands. All non-Black people are promised that if
they comply, they will not be at the bottom of the racial hierarchy. And
Black, Native, Latino, and Asian peoples are promised that they will
economically and politically advance if they join US wars to spread
“democracy.” Thus, people of color organizing must be premised on
making strategic alliances with each other, based on where we are
situated within the larger political economy. Thus, for example, Native
peoples who are organizing against the colonial and genocidal
practiced committed by the US government will be more effective in
their struggle if they also organized against US militarism, particularly
the military recruitment of indigenous peoples to support US imperial
wars. If we try to end US colonial practices at home, but support US
empire by joining the military, we are strengthening the state’s ability
to carry out genocidal policies against people of color here and all over
the world.

This way, our alliances would not be solely based on shared

victimization, but where we are complicity in the victimization of
others. These approaches might help us to develop resistance
strategies that do not inadvertently keep the system in place for all of
us, and keep all of us accountable. In all of these cases, we would
check our aspirations against the aspirations of other communities to
ensure that our model of liberation does not become the model of
oppression for others.

These practices require us to be more vigilant in how we may have

internalized some of these logics in our own organizing practice. For
instance, much racial justice organizing within the United States has
rested on a civil rights framework that fights for equality under the law.
An assumption behind this organizing is that the United States is a
democracy with some flaws, but is otherwise admirable. Despite the
fact that it rendered slaves three-fifths of a person, the US Constitution
is presented as the model document from which to build a flourishing
democracy. However, as Luana Ross notes, it has never been against
US law to commit genocide against indigenous peoples-in fact,
genocide is the law of the country. The United States could not exist
without it. In the United States, democracy is actually the alibi for
genocide-it is the practice that covers up United States colonial control
over indigenous lands.

Our organizing can also reflect anti-Black racism. Recently, with the
outgrowth of “multiculturalism” there have been calls to “go beyond
the black/white binary” and include other communities of color in our
analysis as represented in the third scenario. There are a number of
flaws with this analysis. First, it replaces an analysis of white
supremacy with a politics of multicultural representation; if we just
include more people, then our practice will be less racist. Not true. This
model does not address the nuanced structure of white supremacy,
such as through these distinct logics of slavery, genocide, and
Orientalism. Second, it obscures the centrality of the slavery logic in
the system of white supremacy, which is based on a black/white
binary. The black/white binary is not the only binary which
characterizes white supremacy, but it is still a central one that we
cannot “go beyond” in our racial justice organizing efforts.

If we do not look at how the logic of slaveability inflects our society and
our thinking, it will be evident in our work as well. For example, other
communities of color often appropriate the cultural work and
organizing strategies of African American civil rights or Black Power
movements without corresponding assumptions that we should also be
in solidarity with Black communities. We assume that this work is the
common “property” of all oppressed groups, and we can appropriate it
without being accountable.

Angela P. Harris and Juan Perea debate the usefulness of the

black/white binary in the book, Critical Race Theory. Perea complains
that the black/white binary fails to include the experiences of other
people of color. However, he fails to identify alternative racializing
logics to the black/white paradigm. Meanwhile, Angela P. Harris argues
that “the story of ‘race’ itself is that of the construction of Blackness
and whiteness. In this story, Indians, Asian Americans, and Latinos/as
do exist. But their roles are subsidiary to the fundamental binary
national drama. As a political claim, Black exceptionalism exposes the
deep mistrust and tensions among American ethnic groups racialized
as nonwhite.”

Let’s examine these statements in conversation with each other.

Simply saying we need to move beyond the black/white binary (or
perhaps, the “black/nonblack” binary) in US racism obfuscates the
racializing logic of slavery, and prevents us from seeing that this binary
constitutes Blackness as the bottom of a color hierarchy. However, this
is not the only binary that fundamentally constitutes white supremacy.
There is also an indigenous/settler binary, where Native genocide is
central to the logic of white supremacy and other non-indigenous
people of color also form “a subsidiary” role. We also face another
Orientalist logic that fundamentally constitutes Asians, Arabs, and
Latino/as as foreign threats, requiring the United States to be at
permanent war with these peoples. In this construction, Black and
Native peoples play subsidiary roles.

Clearly the black/white binary is central to racial and political thought

and practice in the United States, and any understanding of white
supremacy must take it into consideration. However, if we look at only
this binary, we may misread the dynamics of white supremacy in
different contexts. For example, critical race theorist Cheryl Harris’s
analysis of whiteness as property reveals this weakness. In Critical
Race Theory, Harris contends that whites have a property interest in
the preservation of whiteness, and seek to deprive those who are
“tainted” by Black or Indian blood from these same white property
interests. Harris simply assumes that the positions of African
Americans and American Indians are the same, failing to consider US
policies of forced assimilation and forced whiteness on American
Indians. These policies have become so entrenched that when Native
peoples make political claims, they have been accused of being white.
When Andrew Jackson removed the Cherokee along the Trail of Tears,
he argued that those who did not want removal were really white. In
contemporary times, when I was a non-violent witness for the
Chippewa spearfishers in the late 1980s, one of the more frequent
slurs whites hurled when the Chippewa attempted to exercise their
treaty-protected right to fish was that they had white parents, or that
they were really white.

Status differences between Blacks and Natives are informed by the

different economic positions African Americans and American Indians
have in US society. African Americans have been traditionally valued
for their labor, hence it is in the interest of the dominant society to
have as many people marked “Black,” as possible, thereby maintaining
a cheap labor pool; by contrast, American Indians have been valued for
a land based they occupy, so it is in the interest of dominant society to
have as few people marked “Indian” as possible, facilitating access to
Native lands. “Whiteness” operates differently under a logic of
genocide than it does from a logic of slavery.

Another failure of US-based people of color in organizing is that we

often fall back on a “US-centricism,” believing that what is happening
“over there” is less important than what is happening here. We fail to
see how the United States maintains the system of oppression here
precisely by tying our allegiances to the interests of US empire “over

Heteropatriarchy and White Supremacy

Heteropatriarchy is the building block of US empire. In fact, it is the

building block of the nation-state form of governance. Christian Right
authors make these links in their analysis of imperialism and empire.
For example, Christian Right activist and founder of Prison Fellowship
Charles Colson makes the connection between homosexuality and the
nation-state in his analysis of the war on terror, explaining that one of
the causes of terrorism is same-sex marriage:

Marriage is the traditional building block of human society,

intended both to unite couples and bring children into the
world… There is a natural moral order for the family ... the
family, led by a married mother and father, is the best available
structure for both childrearing and cultural health. Marriage is
not a private institution designed solely for the individual
gratification of its participants. If we fail to enact a Federal
Marriage Amendment, we can expect not just more family
breakdown, but also more criminals behind bars and more chaos
in our streets.

Colson is linking the well-being of US empire to the well-being of the

heteropatriarchal family. He continues:

When radical Islamists see American women abusing Muslim

men, as they did in the Abu Ghraib prison, and when they see
news coverage of same-sex couples being “married” in US
towns, we make this kind of freedom abhorrent-the kind they see
as a blot on Allah’s creation. We must preserve traditional
marriage in order to protect the United States from those who
would use our depravity to destroy us.

As Ann Burlein argues in Lift High the Cross, it may be a mistake to

argue that the goal of Christian Right politics is to create a theocracy in
the United States. Rather, Christian Right politics work through the
private family (which is coded as white, patriarchal, and middle class)
to create a “Christian America.” She notes that the investment in the
private family makes it difficult for people to invest in more public
forms of social connection. In addition, investment in the suburban
private family serves to mask the public disinvestment in urban areas
that makes the suburban lifestyle possible. The social decay in urban
areas that results from this disinvestment is then construed as the
result of deviance from the Christian family ideal rather than as the
result of political and economic forces. As former head of the Christian
Coalition, Ralph Reed, states: “The only true solution to crime is to
restore the family,” and “Family break-up causes poverty.” Concludes
Burlein, “‘The family’ is no mere metaphor but a crucial technology by
which modern power is produced and exercised.”

As I have argued elsewhere, in order to colonize peoples whose

societies are not based on social hierarchy, colonizers must first
naturalize hierarchy through instituting patriarchy. In turn, patriarchy
rests on a gender binary system in which only two genders exist, one
dominating the other. Consequently, Charles Colson is correct when he
says that the colonial world order depends on heteronormativity. Just
as the patriarchs rule the family, the elites of the nation-state rule their
citizens. Any liberation struggle that does not challenge
heteronormativity cannot substantially challenge colonialism or white
supremacy. Rather, as Cathy Cohen contends, such struggles will
maintain colonialism based on a politics of secondary marginalization
where the most elite class of these groups will further their aspirations
on the backs of those most marginalized within the community.

Through this process of secondary marginalization, the national or

racial justice struggle takes on either implicitly or explicitly a nation-
state model as the end point of its struggle—a model of governance in
which the elites govern the rest through violence and domination, as
well as exclude those who are not members of “the nation”. Thus,
national liberation politics become less vulnerable to being co-opted by
the Right when we base them on a model of liberation that
fundamentally challenges right-wing conceptions of the nation. We
need a model based on community relationships and on mutual

Women of color-centered organizing points to the centrality of gender
politics within antiracist, anticolonial struggles. Unfortunately, in our
efforts to organize against white, Christian America, racial justice
struggles often articulate an equally heteropatriarchal racial
nationalism. This model of organizing either hopes to assimilate into
white America, or to replicate it within an equally hierarchical and
oppressive racial nationalism in which the elites of the community rule
everyone else. Such struggles often call on the importance of
preserving the “Black family” or the “Native family” as the bulwark of
this nationalist project, the family being conceived of in capitalist and
heteropatriarchal terms. The response is often increased homophobia,
with lesbian and gay community members construed as “threats” to
the family. But, perhaps we should challenge the “concept” of the
family itself. Perhaps, instead, we can reconstitute alternative ways of
living together in which “families” are not seen as islands on their own.
Certainly, indigenous communities were not ordered on the basis of a
nuclear family structure—is the result of colonialism, not the antidote
to it.

In proposing this model, I am speaking from my particular position in

indigenous struggles. Other peoples might flesh out these logics more
fully from different vantage points. Others might also argue that there
are other logics of white supremacy that are missing. Still others might
complicate how they relate to each other. But I see this as a starting
point for women of color organizers that will allow us to re-envision a
politics of solidarity that goes beyond multiculturalism, and develop
more complicated strategies that can really transform the political and
economic status quo.
Adolf Reed, “Tokens of the White Left”
For more than twenty years I refused on principle to use the phrase
"the white left." I did not want to give any credence to the view,
commonly expressed among black activists in the late 1960s and after,
that the leftist critique of American society was somehow white
people's property.

I maintained this resolve through SDS's 1969 proclamation of the Black

Panther Party as the "vanguard of the black revolution" based only on
the Panthers' willingness to align with whites-and subsequent gushes
of Pantherphile exoticism, I kept it through the "separate black
movement divides the working class" line, which was one crude
"Marxist" alternative to examining black politics,

And I held on through similarly evasive Procrustean analyses, for

example, casting the civil-rights movement as a "bourgeois democratic
revolution." My resolve was unshaken through endless reification of
the "black community" as a collective subject. Even when Frederic
Jameson, editor of Social Text, told me early in the Reagan era that he
had published an article that he knew was drivel and didn't even
conform to the bibliographical format of the rest of the journal because
he "wanted to publish something by a black author and that's what
there was," I remained true.

I stayed patiently silent as the Democratic Socialists of America

anointed one star Black Voice after another throughout the 1980s, with
never a hint of concern about the anointed's institutional links to any
sort of autonomous black political activity. And I endured the total lack
of curiosity about Jesse Jackson's new political fame and what his
antics since 1984 have to do with tensions and cleavages among

I'm ready to toss in the towel. When all is said and done, it really is all
too much the white left. In far too many quarters, identifying with
progressive politics is perfectly compatible with reliance on racial
shorthand and, therefore, with the disposition to view Afro-American
life as simultaneously opaque to those outside it (thus the need for
black interpreters and line-bearers) and smoothly organic (with
exceptions made for the odd, inauthentic "sellout" leaders).

Perhaps I am finally giving in to this view because I'm old and tired.
Perhaps it's the result of attrition. Mostly, though, it seems that the
farther the memory-much less the actuality-of real political movements
recedes on the horizon, the worse this problem has become. I confess
that it is quite dispiriting. It also makes the issue of blacks' role in the
left a matter for real concern; more and more that role seems to be in
a line stretching back at least to Melville's Queequeg, that is, to put
whites in touch with their "deeper humanity."

This complaint has absolutely nothing to do with leadership, or even

representation, in left institutions. It's about Jim Crow standards on the
left: the suspension, when making judgments about black people and
politics, of critical scrutiny, along with the tough-minded,
Enlightenment skepticism that is the foundation of the left critique's
unique power.

The key problem is that whites on the left don't want to confront
complexity, tension, and ambivalence in black politics. In general, they
simply do not see political differences among black people. They do
not see that blacks are linked to social, political, and economic
institutions in a variety of different ways, and that those different links,
and the networks that flow from them, shape interests and ideological
perception no less, and no less subtly, than among whites.

Because of racial stratification, black and white links differ. For

instance, middle-class black people, largely because of housing
segregation, are more likely than middle-class whites to live close to
poor people. And black people, especially in the middle class, are more
likely to be public employees, thanks to more nearly equal
employment opportunities in the public sector.

Examining how the public-sector economy is woven into the logic of

black politics should be a central project for the left. We need to take
account of the fact that, more than ever, black individuals at all class
levels are likely to have direct connections-themselves or through
relatives, friends, and neighbors-with the operation of public
institutions. And we need to assess what that means for shaping
varying black political perceptions.

The fundamental principles of this sort of social structure, however, are

the same for blacks and whites, and, therefore, they should not be
incomprehensibly foreign to whites. It's astounding to see repeatedly
in the left press the contrast between the subtlety and critical
confidence with which writers dissect politics in Somalia, Bosnia,
Indonesia, and Ukraine, and the total absence of those qualities in
discussions of Afro-Americans.

As a result of this failing, attention to black politics on the left tends to

revolve around thin and simplistic definitions of good guys and bad,
"true" leaders and false. This distorts political judgment into a search
for authenticity, hauntingly like white youth's quest in the 1960s for
the most "authentic" blues-"pure" and untarnished by instrumentation,
cultivated virtuosity, air-conditioned nightclubs, or indoor plumbing.
(No Bobby Bland or Little Johnny Taylor need apply, just solitary old
guys on porches of croppers' shacks in the Delta, playing acoustic
guitars with neck bones.) It's also the exact meaning of exoticism and
has horrible political consequences.

The "pure" black experience is monadic and antithetical to complexity

in either orchestral arrangements or politics. Assigning authenticity
requires "finding" the pulse of the community. (Actually, as with SDS
and the Panthers, it requires designating the pulse-thus whites
determine black legitimacy, as they have since Booker T. Washington's
day at the turn of the century.)

This places a premium on articulate black people who will talk to the
left. Whites tend to presume their inability-or tend not to want to
expend the effort-to make critical judgments that might second-guess
their designated black voices of authenticity, and therefore do not
attend closely to the latter's substantive arguments. The result is that
these "authentic" voices are treated mainly as personalities-without
much regard to the political implications of the stances they project.

In fact, it is apparently possible to maintain one's status as Bearer of

the Left's Authentic Race Line while articulating arguments that
scarcely resemble views we normally think of as leftist. So Cornel West
can retain his star status in the white left as he blathers on
conspicuously about rampant "nihilism in black America," spouting
breezy, warmed-over versions of the stock conservative-and utterly
false-narrative of the fall from some earlier organic community,
claiming that black Americans suffer from a "collective clinical
depression," calling for a "politics of conversion" and cultivation of a
"black love ethic" (is this Robert Schuller meets Barry White, or what?),
as well as embracing the black conservatives' self-help rhetoric.

That West's explicit embrace of victim-blaming, pathologizing rhetoric

about inner-city poor black people has provoked no real controversy in
the left underscores the fact that the "noble savage" face of exoticism
inevitably is only the obverse face of the "nasty savage" coin. The
premise of blacks' deeper humanity is at bottom an assumption of
their essentially different humanity, and all it takes is a rude street
encounter or a smashed car window to turn Martin Luther King, Jr., into
Bigger Thomas as the avatar of the racial essence.

Ironically, this is the "othering" that the cultural-politics jockeys rattle

on about from critique of one advertisement or Hottentot exhibit to the
next. Yet they fail to grasp the dangers of their own breathless claims
about the importance of race. Often, as with Michael Dyson's fawning
endorsement of William Julius Wilson's line on black poverty, they also
show an unexpected tolerance for talk about those "other," nasty

This helps to explain why "underclass" imagery-properly spun with

sanitizing allusions to ultimate sources in vaguely "structural"
dynamics-has struck so many on the left as reasonable, as I've learned
the hard way.

The simplistic, exoticizing approach to black politics is also susceptible

to rhetoric about black people's intrinsic spirituality. This not only
evokes hoary claims that blacks are closer to nature than whites, it
also underwrites an increasingly troubling mystification of the church's
role as the font of authenticity in black political life.

After black Americans fought from the moment of Emancipation for the
right to vote, then for two-thirds of the next century against Jim Crow
disfranchisement, it's incredible to hear the left's black stars routinely
and blithely dismiss the ability to elect leaders and participate in
shaping public institutions as less genuine than religious expression as
a form of black political engagement.

This view's currency reflects the fact that several of its proponents- like
West and Dyson-are ministers and thus propagandists for the church.
But it floats on whites' inclination to see black Americans as spiritual
folk, huddled organically around the camp meeting, communing with
the racial essence through faith in things unseen.

That might seem harsh, but what else would explain the apparent
absence of concern about church/state separation when West, Dyson,
and others rhapsodize about religion as the basis of genuinely black
political experience? Moreover, the effort to associate black legitimacy
with the church is especially problematic now, when reactionary forces
among black Americans are gaining steam precisely through church-
based initiatives and jeremiads on the theme of moral crisis. These
forces-in which church leaders are prominent-actively propagate moral
and police repression as alternatives to humane social policy; calls for
driving young people into churches, and jail if church fails, substitute
for calls for job programs and decent educational opportunity.

In Cleveland and elsewhere, multi-denominational groups of influential

black ministers have been agitating against gay-rights legislation,
abortion, and gender equality. In many cities, black church-based
groups are fighting sex education, contraceptives in the schools, and
needle-exchange programs. And black church groups are becoming
increasingly visible in the coalition of the Holy Roller Right.

Elevating church-based activity as most authentically black-besides

overlooking the fact that most black people do not belong to any
church -rationalizes the right's agenda of "privatization," and the
ultimate dismantling of public functions. Encouraging church-based
initiatives-which are inevitably inadequate responses to massive
problems of state-supported dispossession - is part of the right's self-
help program.

These are concerns that do not arise either in the patter of the left's
black line-bearers or in response to them. They should be at a
minimum, topics for strategic discussion, particularly in an otherwise
rigorously secular left.

The prevailing take on black politics is part of a deep cynicism. As we

spin further and further away from mundane political struggles, there
is ever less pressure on the star black voices to engage politics
concretely. Instead of analysis of the way that black people and politics
connect with the institutional exercise of power, we get either utterly
predictable rehearsals of standard bromides and litanies-reminiscent of
a Las Vegas act gone stale ("we need to build coalitions of the
oppressed [here include a string of groups] that are multiracial but
guard against racism, sexism, homophobia," et cetera, ad nauseam)-or
the glib sophistries that fly under the "cultural-politics" flag.

Panegyrics on behalf of the intrinsic worth and significance of rap

music, the repackaging of 1940s zoot suits and other youth fads as
political opposition, incessant nattering about "positionality,"
representations m popular culture, and "voices" heard and silenced -
these are by now formulaic exercises, as politically empty and wrong-
headed as they are superficially clever. They replace in the left's public
forum careful attention to the intricate social and institutional relations
that shape black political resources and practice.

They also reduce to a discourse on how white people think about black
people and how black people supposedly feel about it, buttressing a
suspicion that this is all most whites care much about anyway, when it
comes to deciphering what's up with black Americans.

So what can be done? Is there any useful way out of this situation I've
described? The reflex is to layout a detailed way of thinking about
black people and politics. Until recently, I'd certainly have acted on
that reflex. Now all it seems sensible to say is that the most important
warrants are: (1) to insist on focusing discussion of black politics
concretely, in relation to government, public policy, and political
economy and (2) to presume that political dynamics operating among
blacks are not totally alien, that is, they are understandable without
the need for special native interpreters.

Beyond that we'll just have to wait and see what happens, won't we?
Glen Ford, “Race and National Liberation Under
I’m here to talk about race and national liberation under Obama. It’s
quite clear that there is a general understanding here that liberation
and progressive movements of all kinds have suffered a paralytic
effect under this Obama administration. I’m not going to directly
address that paralysis in other people’s communities, I’m going to
address what the Obama candidacy and now presidency has meant to
Black America—the paralysis that set in along traditionally active
elements of the Black community.

I want to put this in a little bit of a political perspective. I’m not a

professor but I think I do understand a little bit about the subject.
There are several ways to look at the Obama phenomenon. I’m going
to go back to a larger context. Obama represents, in Black America,
the ultimate conflict between two very ancient political currents. Two
ancient currents in Black political thought. One of those currents is the
imperative towards self-determination, and that involves a rejection of
the American model of exploitation and of the domination of one
people by another.

That imperative demands political autonomy for Black people and it

tends to demand political autonomy, self-determination, for other
people as well. That is the root of Black anti-imperialism, which is why
Blacks have always been the group that is most distrustful of American
military adventures abroad. That is born out not just by the literature
that we can examine from history but by all the polling that’s been
taken since the major political polls have been keeping track of Black
political opinion. We have always been most opposed of any group to
US military adventures abroad. Sometimes our opposition was
incoherent, but there has always been that basic opposition.

I’d like to give an example. I love this little factoid that comes out of
polling. In February of 2003, about five or six weeks before the
invasion of Iraq, the Zogby organization conducted a poll. Zogby is
always very good about breaking it down by race. They asked the
question—it was very clear at this point in history that the US was
going to invade Iraq, so the question was: “Would you favor an
invasion of Iraq if it would result in the death of thousands of Iraqi

A big, strong majority of white males said, “Yes! Let’s do it, I don’t care
about thousands of dead, innocent, civilian Iraqi men, women, and
children.” More than a third of white women said, “Sure, go ahead,
that’s the price we—they—got to pay.” About the same percentage of
Latinos said “Go ahead on with the invasion,” regardless of the
consequences to Iraqi men, women and children out of uniform. Seven
percent—seven percent!—of African-Americans gave the thumbs up for
the invasion if that were going to be the price that Iraqis paid for the
invasion. If you know anything about polling, seven percent is
negligible—that’s just like, people who ask, “What did you say?” See
what I’m saying? This means there was near unanimity in the Black
community that the Iraqi people should not be done such harm by the
American military machine.

I’ll never forget that statistic, I think it goes to the heart of the
tendency, that part of the ancient current that exists in Black America.
That gave actual, numerical quantity to that ancient tendency. This
tendency also calls for transformation of US society. That sometimes
means separation from white society and sometimes it does not. But it
does call for a transformation of white society in the United States,
because even separation means transformation. Then there’s the other
current. There are two main currents that have always existed in Black
society, including before emancipation. That other current demands
Black elevation, and Black recognition, under an otherwise still existing
status quo of American society. It does not demand transformation of
society except in terms of internal Black upward mobility. And it
worships Black faces in high places. That is the main manifestation of

I’m going to add a word of caution here. That tendency is not strictly
integrationist, it is not necessarily assimilationist. In fact, both these
tendencies—the self-determinationist tendency and the Black upward
mobility tendency—are infused in a general framework of Black
nationalism or Black peoplehood. Because the fact of the matter is that
Black people are, at root, nationalist. And that is why the struggle
within the Black community—whether you are talking about this
elevationist, upward mobility tendency or some sort of
transformational principle—the struggle is always within the group.
And the argument is always, “What’s good for Black people?” See, that
root is a nationalist framework. Nationalist terms of reference. So we
can’t talk about a “nationalist tendency” and an “integrationist
tendency.” That doesn’t make much sense in the real world.

Now, both of those tendencies are warring, of course. But they exist
within not only distinct political movements in the history of Black
people, and not just within discreet political personalities, historical
personalities among Black people. Let’s talk about WEB DuBois—we’ll
see what looks like great vacillations over a career. It’s not so hard and
fast as that. Because the fact of the matter is that these two currents
exist within almost every Black individual, and they are warring with
each other. And people go back and forth. These are real, real
tendencies within basically every Black American. This must be
understood to understand why it seems that we vacillate and go
between... how can people who call themselves revolutionaries, as we
saw in this Obama adventure, that is still unfolding—people can call
themselves revolutionaries and be Obama-ites at the same time? Yes
they can! Because these are warring tendencies within the same

So I wanted to get that groundwork out of the way and bring us to the
near history. Another way to look at the Obama candidacy is to take a
look at what corporate America has been doing in terms of its strategy
to infiltrate, negate, somehow put its mark on, Black political activity.
Because Black people are central to what goes on in the United States.
Not just because we are clustered in the cities. But because, we are
central to what America is. And other people are taking cues to what
we do, as well. So they figured out, “We have to do something about
these Black people, we can no longer just treat them as invisible
people, as we could in the previous era”—before Civil Rights, before we
stood up, before Black Power. So you’re going to have to deal with
them some kind of way.

And racist folk in the corporate structure wrestled with themselves for
a very long time. In fact they gave us a respite after the Civil Rights
and Black Power movements where they didn’t mess with us and they
carried out some very stupid and ineffectual strategies which gave us
some breathing space which I wish we had taken advantage of—but,
shit, that’s old man talk. It did not happen. In the post-Civil Rights era,
the Republican Party—which is the most coherent mouthpiece for
corporate capital, not only one, the Democrats are too, but the
Republicans do it in a distilled form that we can recognize easily—at
first, they looked to create some kind of counter to the self-
determinationist tendency which had become paramount in Black
America in the Black Power movement by creating what one might call
a comprador class: a compliant class.

During the Nixon era, all these government agencies that promoted
Black business were a part of that. That was a political program. It was
expected that these Black businessmen would become Republicans. So
the corporate right at that time, working through the Republican Party,
tried to revive Black Republicanism. It did not take. It could not take.
Because the last Black person elected to congress from a Black
congressional district was in 1935 and that was Oscar De Priest. There
has not been a Black Republican from a Black congressional district
since then. So, Black Republicanism was dead but they didn’t quite
understand that, so they kept on beating that dead horse for awhile.
When they saw that that wouldn’t work, they decided maybe they
could influence Black folks by giving up chairs and all kinds of funding
to Black right-wing academics. So we saw the rise of Thomas Sowell
and Glenn Loury and a whole coterie of them. They put them on the
speaking circuits, and the American Enterprise Institute got them on
television all over, and... nothing. Nothing happened in Black America.
White folks have a lot to say: “Ah, well, Glenn Loury says...” or
“Thomas Sowell said...”—but it had absolutely no impact on the
internal dynamics of Black America. So then they said, “Well, damn,
what can we do with these people?” Aside from the general policy of
mass Black incarceration. But what could they do at that level of

Finally, in the mid-90s, the Bradley Foundation, out of Milwaukee

Wisconsin—that was George Bush’s favorite foundation, and it should
be, because the Bradley foundation basically created the Bush
regime’s domestic policy as it related to Blacks. That is, the “Black
Outreach” policy. And the Bradley Foundation, they were not geniuses,
but finally they grappled with a racism so virulent in these circles that
they could not tolerate more than two or three Black people at the
cocktail party. It was really that basic. So the very concept of creating
some kind of larger Black astro-turf organization as they had created in
the environmental movement and all kinds of other movements, just
by funding these things, was beyond them because of their racism.

At the Bradley Foundation a couple of their executives overcame that

basic virulent racism and said “Let’s astroturf some Black stuff.” So
they created a wedge issue that had never existed in the Black
community before—public vouchers for private schools. Vouchers for
private schools, if it had been a subject of conversation even in Black
communities, was associated with segregation academies. That was
the history. No Black folk had ever marched or demonstrated for Black
folks to get vouchers for private schools before the mid to late nineties
when the Bradley foundation came up with it. And after they hit upon
that wedge issue they then created out of whole cloth an organization
called the Black Alliance for Educational Options.

They funded it initially to the tune of two million dollars, gathered a

group of mainly Black Democrats in Milwaukee for their initial meeting,
then got together with the whole right-wing conspiracy [laughs] of
foundations, the great funders, to raise probably about ten million
dollars in the next two years to put these guys on a publicity tour and
use their vast media resources to make this appear to be the new
Black politics that was examining other options—especially related to
education, which has always been an issue that was held dear in the
Black community. And their first candidate was Cory Booker of Newark,
New Jersey.

Cory Booker was part of the initial meeting, I believe it was in 1998,
the formative meeting of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, in
Milwaukee. He became then their shining star. He was introduced to
the world by the Manhattan Institute. The Manhattan Institute is that
part of the vast capitalist conspiracy where the division of labor calls
for them to do media, because they are in New York. So Cory had his
coming-out party at the Manhattan Institute’s media-centered

He then announced his candidacy for mayor. He was a one-term,

thirty-one or thirty-two year old city councilman. A nobody. And he
announced that he wanted to be mayor of Newark, New Jersey. And all
of a sudden he had five million dollars at his disposal. And Sharpe
James, long talked about as the most powerful Black politician in New
Jersey, had nothing close to that. To make a long story short, Cory
almost won.

That was in 2002 and that was the year of the great jump-off when
corporate America, through their various organizations, decided that
they were going to penetrate the Democratic Party in the ghetto. They
had never done that before. There were corrupt politicians, there
always have been, but nobody was toeing the line, who were direct
surrogates for the corporate line—a line that was concocted, was
invented by the Bradley Foundation. So in 2002 Cory Booker almost
won in Newark, but Artur Davis won, taking a congressional seat from
Earl Hilliard, in Alabama. The same formula, came with gobs of money,
out of nowhere and swept Earl Hilliard away. Then, a couple of months
later, Denise Majette, came from nowhere, with three times the money
that Cynthia McKinney had, and swept her out of her congressional
seat in Atlanta. And all of a sudden, this corporate plan, this strategy
which had been birthed in Milwaukee was now bearing fruit. And they
had their little caucus in the Congressional Black Caucus. The
Congressional Black Caucus has not come out with a coherent
progressive position since because they always acted on consensus.
Once those two—and others who were to follow—infested the caucus,
there could be no consensus. So, just in 2002, they successfully
neutralized the Congressional Black Caucus. They’ve never been able
to say since that they are the conscience of the congress because of
the events of 2002.

The US media, corporate media, played that up as a battle royale

between the “new” Democrats and the “old guard:” the “Civil Rights-
oriented Democratic establishment.” That meant there was an
expectation and an eagerness on the part of the corporate media and
the public that’s influenced by that for these “new” Democrats. And
2002 is when Barack Obama made his big move. And Barack Obama’s
magic—this is his personal skill—was able to capture and appeal to
both of these tendencies in Black America: the tendency that seeks
Black elevation, and Black respect and Black recognition, and worships
Blacks in high places—and the one that is progressive.

So Barack Obama, essentially a corporate politicians, also speaks—and

speaks to well—to peace issues, that’s his famous October 2002
antiwar speech. And he gave great, skillful rhetorical flourishes towards
single-payer. So he seemed to embody and appeal to both of these
tendencies. And he had both of things work. There was a desperation
in Black America. The result, of course, was that Black America was
neutralized as I have never seen. And I’ve been a reporter for forty
years and I have never seen something like this in my experience.

In the 2008 campaign, organized Black America raised no questions—

not one!—in an organized fashion, to Barack Obama. It was the first
time in my forty years that we did not raise the demand of a “Marshall
Plan for the Cities.” I’ve been hearing about a Marshall Plan for the
Cities ever since I’ve paid attention to things of that nature and we
didn’t even raise that. No one wanted to say anything that might
somehow upset this march, this ascendancy—except the Uhuru
Movement. In 2008, the Uhuru Movement, also called the African
People’s Socialist Party, headquartered in Tampa-St. Petersburg,
Florida, interrupted one of Obama’s town hall meeting campaign stops.
They unfurled a banner at the back of the room that said a very simple

It said, “What about the Black community, Obama?” That’s really damn
simple. And they didn’t even shout it. But it stood out in this strange
and weird campaign where Black folks, for the first time in my memory
had made no noise at all and not tried to impact on the dialog at all
during this whole display. It flustered Obama because he wasn’t used
to being challenged. He stuttered and stumbled and lied but he was
clearly set off of his stride.

So it was proper that on September 12 of this year, the Uhuru

Movement—and I’m not a member—the Uhuru Movement who had
made that intervention, that solitary intervention during the campaign,
called for the formation of a Black is Back coalition for peace, social
justice, and reparations. And some of us answered that call—some
from the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement.

And we set the date for a demonstration in Washington, DC for

November 7. That gave us eight weeks but we were determined that,
coming from a position of total quietude, anybody who can make
noise, anybody that can pick up a flag and plant it somewhere, that’s
progress. My own assessment was that if we got 200, 250 people, that
we had successfully planted a flag and the effort would be a success. I
would have been overjoyed, as I told this brother, with 500, because
that’s twice as good. But we got our 200, 250. But more important
than the raw numbers—and these were good people, really dedicated
activists, and much younger than the geriatric marches that we are
used to seeing—it was really quite invigorating. I got tired, other
people weren’t tired—why? Because they were young!

But the elements that were there were significant. Larry Hamm from
the People’s Organization for Progress in Newark, New Jersey. And that
is the grassroots organization with membership in northern New
Jersey. If you’re not shaking with Larry Hamm, nothing’s shaking, all
right? And because it’s grassroots, not a lot of people like those in this
room—please, I’m not being presumptuous, who talk things out and
share principles that verge on socialism, sometimes—Larry Hamm is in
charge of an organization of regular folk who respond to day-to-day
concerns and are not immersed in all the doctrine—and therefore,
however, are quite vulnerable to the “Black faces in high places”

And he shared with us at the rally on November 7 that he had great

problems motivating staunch members of the organization, real
activists, people who can be expected to turn out and put their bodies
on the line. Confront the police, as soon as Larry said it was necessary.
These people were extremely reluctant even after all the evidence that
Barack Obama is the bankers’ president. See, I didn’t want to go into
all of that about how Barack Obama is the bankers’ president, because
all y’all know that, you see? That would be extraneous.

But he fought for the bus to come down from Newark, to make this
statement, to plant the flag of opposition to this president. That was a
very brave thing for him to do and it shows that the cracks are
widening in what seemed to be near unanimous support for Barack
Obama. What seemed to be a near triumph of that tendency that is
just for Black elevation and some modicum of respect and to see Black
faces in high places, over the principles and actual necessities of Black

We saw Charles Barron—everyone here is familiar with Charles Barron,

city councilman from Brooklyn and former Panther Party Member—and
I was in two debates with Charles Barron in December and then, I
believe, of March of this year. We had these debates in Harlem. We
called them the “Great Debates,” because, you know we speak large—
between those who said in the negative, “Is Barack Obama good for
Black America?” and those who said in the positive. And Charles
Barron was on the positive side in both of those debates. Larry Hamm,
also, was an Obama-ite, and actively campaigned for Barack Obama.

And here’s Charles Barron, making one of the most dynamic speeches.
Clearly splitting with members of the December 12 Movement, which is
one of the big activist groups here in New York, on this subject. That is,
putting his political capital on the line. Because he sees that it is
necessary. I don’t see him just as a weathervane trying to see which
way the wind is blowing. These guys are actually putting their political
capital at risk—people with real organizations, who are going blow to
blow with their own constituency. Saying that it is necessary that we
split with this Obama man.

So I believe that we are seeing cracks that will get wider and wider as
the crises become more frequent and deeper. As the treachery
becomes more and more apparent. I don’t think that Black America is
going to be the backwater that it was—and shamefully so!—in 2008. I
believe we’re coming out. We’re getting over this high, this rush.
Please forgive us! [laughs] It was a high, it was a rush, and people are
coming back to their senses. And there is great political space being
created to organize the way we used to do, under these new
Robert L Allen, “The Social Context of
Black Power”
In the summer of 1966 two events occurred which were to have
momentous impact on the black liberation movement. Superficially
they appeared unrelated, but both were responses to the oppression of
black people in the United States and, in the dialectic of history, they
were to become deeply intertwined. The setting for the first event was
a hot summer day in Mississippi. James Meredith, the first black man to
graduate from the University of Mississippi, had been making his
famous "march against fear" through his home state. Joining the march
were FBI men, newspaper reporters and photographers, assorted well-
wishers, and Stokely Carmichael. It was June.

Carmichael was then new to his post as chairman of the Student

Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, but he was no stranger to
Mississippi. Mississippi was an especially hated symbol of black
oppression. Carmichael was intimately acquainted with the economic
deprivation and political disenfranchisement which still, despite so-
called civil rights legislation, were the central facts of life for the black
residents of that state. He knew of Mississippi violence-the violence
which struck down Meredith just shortly after his bold journey began.
He knew that demonstrations and marches had not, and cou1d not,
substantially alter these facts. He and other SNCC staff members had
been searching for some other more efficacious and direct means for
attacking a monolithic exploitative edifice which seemed impregnable
and without moral compunction. They thought they had found a
solution in the idea of black political power. Willie Ricks, another SNCC
staffer on the Meredith march, reduced this concept to two words:
black power. The two words were forcefully expressive and could be
used to make a lively chant, as Carmichael and Ricks soon showed.

The news media pounced upon this new slogan. They treated it as a
hot item and flashed the chant across the country, much to the
consternation of a nervous American public. At that time nobody
outside of a handful of people in SNCC could give a rational
explanation of what black power meant. But many black people who
heard the new expression grasped its essence easily. It related directly
to their experience, their lack of power. On the other hand, the mass
mind of white America was gripped with fear and horror at the thought
that blackness and power could be conjoined.

The second event of concern to us in that summer was much less

dramatic, although of equal importance, and its implications were not
to become the subject of hysterical debates. In fact, except among
insiders who knew better, if was almost a routine occasion. Certainly
an address by McGeorge Bundy, president of the multi-million-dollar
Ford Foundation, to the annual banquet of the National Urban League
in Philadelphia could not be construed as headline-making news.
Bundy told the Urban Leaguers that the Ford Foundation, the biggest
foundation in the country, had decided to help in the task of achieving
"full domestic equality for all American Negroes." This announcement
came as no immediate surprise to Bundy's hearers. For some time the
foundation had been involved in efforts to upgrade black higher
education, and it had given money to Urban League projects in the
field of housing. It was, there" fore, logical to think that in time the
foundation might expand these efforts.

What the Urban League delegates and the American public did not
know was that the gigantic Ford Foundation, which already had
fashioned for itself a vanguard role in the neocolonial penetration of
the Third World, was on the eve of attempting a similar penetration of
the black militant movement. This was the hidden relationship
between black power chants in Mississippi and the August meeting in
the City of Brotherly Love. Both events represented responses,
although with totally different objectives, to the crisis that trapped the
black population and to the by then obvious fact that the formal gains
won by the civil rights movement had not solved the problem of
oppression of the black nation.


The interrelation of the Ford Foundation and black power cannot be

understood without first recalling the social context in which the black
freedom movement found itself in the summer of 1966. The main
ingredients of this context were: The civil rights phase of the black
liberation struggle was drawing to a stalemated conclusion, and, in its
wake, followed the urban revolts, sparked by stagnating conditions in
the ghettos; new leaders, such as Robert Williams and Malcolm X, who
were the cutting edge of an embryonic nationalist movement, had
been destroyed before they could organize an effective and continuing
cadre of followers; and, finally, the Vietnam war and other
developments in the Third World were having an increasing impact on
black militant thinking in the United States.

To begin, the traditional southern-based nonviolent civil rights

movement had largely ground to a halt and was in its death throes.
Innumerable demonstrations and marches in countless cities had
drawn thousands upon thousands of black people into hopeful activity.
They let themselves be brutalized, beaten, jailed, and killed, following
the admonitions of moralizing leaders who told them to "love your
enemy" and "turn the other cheek." All of this suffering must surely
culminate in freedom some day, the leaders said.

By the summer of 1963, after years of intense struggle and many

deaths, it seemed that some dramatic new step must be taken to bring
the longed-for freedom a little closer. Grass-roots leaders talked about
marching on Washington and shutting that city down until blacks were
granted full equality. But this militant sentiment was quickly co-opted
by the Kennedy Administration and the liberal labor coalition in the
Democratic party, which has long claimed the black vote as its
inalienable possession. Thus, the March on Washington, which drew
over 250,000 participants, became a summer picnic held in the honor
of John Kennedy and his civil rights bill, which blacks were led to
believe was the answer to their prayers.

But not all was sweetness and light on that noteworthy day. There was
dissent and grumbling in the wings. John Lewis, then chairman of
SNCC, had written a militant speech not in keeping with the
harmonious feelings scheduled to be put on public display in the
capital. The speech was censored by march organizers. The
uncensored version read in part:

In good conscience, we cannot support the Administration's civil

rights bill, for it is too little, and too late. There's not one thing in
the bill that will protect our people from police brutality. . . .
What is in the bill that will protect the homeless and starving
people of this nation? What is there in this bill to insure the
equality of a maid who cams $5.00 a week in the home of a
family whose income is $100,000 a year?1

Lewis was asking pertinent questions, but these were "outside" the
sphere of civil rights and, therefore, were not appropriate areas for
federal intervention. The Civil Rights Law that was eventually passed in
1964 required, at least on paper, the ending of racial discrimination in
voting procedures, certain areas of public accommodation and public
facilities, and some places of employment. It also provided for public
school desegregation. The catch, in this and in the 1965 Voting Rights
Act, was in enforcement. Blacks who believed that their civil rights had
been infringed upon were required to go through lengthy and
elaborate procedures to secure redress. Even so, enforcement was
slow, sporadic, and largely ineffective. Federal registrars were sent in,

Joanne Grant (ed.), Black Protest (Greenwich, Connecticut: Fawcett
Publications, Inc., 1968), p. 375.
occasionally. Some of the worst areas they never reached. The net
result of this procrastination was that black people and their leaders
were educated to the fact that legislation means nothing without
effective enforcement. And enforcement, particularly when legislation
flies in the face of social convention or established interests, depends
on power. The federal government had the power, but it needed the
support of the southern reactionaries who chaired major committees in
the Senate and House. Hence, civil rights laws became merely more
testimony to the truism that American democracy is subservient to the
economic and political interests of those who hold power.

The experience of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic party in 1964

provided more confirmation of this fact. Voter registration drives were
a central concern of SNCC from 1961 to 1965. At that time SNCC
activists thought that voting strength could be used effectively to
pressure the national Democratic party-a party that claimed to be the
friend of black people. Thus SNCC decided that by creating a parallel
political structure in the form of the MFDP, they could then challenge
and defeat the racist Mississippi Democratic Party at the national
convention in Atlantic City. By pledging their unwavering loyalty to the
national slate, which the "regular" delegation did not, the MFDP
dissidents believed they could secure the ouster of the racist state
delegation and, thereby, record a victory for the democratic process.
But the national party, seeking support in the South, decided to
employ the vicious weapon of racism once again and rebuffed the
challengers.2 This was another bitter but enlightening lesson for the
black movement.

The civil rights movement failed not only because of these setbacks
but also because even the small victories it won benefited mainly the
black middle class, not the bulk of the black poor. Thus blacks who
were "qualified" could get jobs. If there were no jobs in industry, there
were frequently openings in the anti-poverty programs for those with
suitable credentials. After desegregation laws were passed, more
affluent blacks could dine at downtown restaurants or take in shows at
previously segregated theaters. Those who had the money and the
stomach for a fight could even buy homes in formerly all-white
The fact that four years later the challengers were seated at the Chicago
convention was more indicative of the growing militance of the Afro-American
movement than suggestive of any change of heart on the part of national
Democrats. In 1964 the MFDP was itself a militant movement, but by 1968,
national Democrats viewed the seating of a then comparatively moderate
MFDP as a means of discrediting black militants and of proffering to black
people the frail hope that electoral politics-under the protective wing of the
Democratic party was still a viable means for effecting social change.

In its heyday the integrationist civil rights movement cast an aura

which encompassed nearly the whole of the black population, but the
black bourgeoisie was the primary beneficiary of that movement.
Hence, in 1966, despite eleven years of intense civil rights activity and
the new anti-poverty programs, the median income of a black family
was only 58 percent of the income of an average white family, and
black unemployment still ran twice as high as white unemployment,
despite the war-induced prosperity which the country was enjoying. In
some categories, conditions were considerably worse. Unemployment
among black teen-agers ran at 26 percent. In the Hough area of
Cleveland, which experienced a rebellion in 1966 and again in 1968,
black unemployment in 1965 ran at 14 percent, only two percentage
points below what it was in 1960. Another important indicator, the
black subemployment rate, which reflects part-time work, discouraged
workers and low-paid workers, was 33 percent in 1966 in the "worst"
areas of nine major cities.

The quality of education, despite some gains in the number of years of

formal schooling attained, remained low. Thus black students tested
out at substantially lower levels than white youths: up to three years'
difference in "level of achievement" among twelfth-graders. Residential
segregation proved to be the toughest nut for the integrationist
movement to crack. In 1966 a survey of twelve cities in which special
censuses were taken revealed increased rates of segregation in eight
of them.

Perhaps the most significant indication of the middleclass nature of the

civil rights movement was the fact that it did absolutely nothing to
alleviate the grim plight of the poorest segments of the black
population. As late as 1968, a group of six doctors found evidence of
widespread and long-standing malnutrition and starvation in the rural
South. The situation in the cities was little better. A joint 1967 report
by the U. R Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Bureau of the Census
outlining the social and economic condition of blacks in this country
concluded that "perhaps the most distressing evidence presented in
this report indicates that conditions are stagnant or deteriorating in the
poorest areas." In U.S. cities of one million population or more, the
percentage of nonwhite families living in "poverty areas" between
1960 and 1966 remained constant at 34 percent. In New York and
Chicago, however, the percentage increased. In Cleveland's Hough
district, median family income declined over this same period. In the
Watts district of Los Angeles also conditions did not improve.

It is in these figures that one sees clearly the genesis of urban

rebellion. For poor blacks, North and South, the civil rights movement
accomplished virtually nothing besides raising false hopes. The
promised salvation was not forthcoming. An explosion was inevitable.

The explosion began in 1964 with the Harlem rebellion and fourteen
other urban revolts. City after city was shaken as the conflagration
spread across the country in subsequent "long hot summers." The
rebellions were almost entirely spontaneous and unorganized
eruptions, but they had an underlying drive, a basic logic: Most of the
attacks and looting were directed against the property of white
merchants who exploit the black community. This was the pattern in
Harlem and a year later in the Los Angeles revolt. Black people were in
a sense "reclaiming" the merchandise which had been stolen from
them in the form of underpaid labor and exploitative prices.

By their actions the black "rioters"-who by no means were an

insignificant minority-were vigorously repudiating the civil rights Negro
leaders. They were calling for new leadership willing to confront head-
on the problems arising from oppression and powerlessness, and who
could speak to the needs of the majority of the black masses.

[cut section about Robert F. Williams]

Malcolm, the ideological father of the black power movement and one
man to whom Harlem's angry masses looked for new leadership, was
killed just fifty weeks after he officially broke with the Nation of Islam-
the Black Muslims. During that last year of his life Malcolm made two
trips to Africa and the Middle East which seriously influenced his
thinking. He began carefully to re-evaluate the social and political
ideas which he had accepted while in the Muslims. He set up the
Organization of Afro-American Unity-patterned after the Organization
of African Unity-which he hoped would implement his new ideas and
launch a decisive attack on the problems confronting blacks in
America. Assassins' bullets cut down this new beginning before it bore

Malcolm had become a follower of Elijah Muhammad, "Messenger of

Allah," while serving a ten-year prison term for armed robbery. Before
that he had lived in the underworlds of Harlem and Boston's Roxbury
district. He was probably attracted to the Muslims by their open
denunciation of the ''white devils" as oppressors of the black race and
Muslim campaigns for self-help and moral uplift among converts-
factors which brought many ex-convicts into the Nation. Released from
prison in 1952, Malcolm's keen mind and penchant for oratory soon
thrust him into the top Muslim leadership. In 1954, he was appointed
minister of Temple No.7 in Harlem. He became the first "national
minister" in 1963. Malcolm traveled over the country evangelizing, and
establishing new temples, while adroitly sparring with critics. He was
quick-witted, with a biting sense of humor, and he knew how to handle
an audience-black, white, or mixed.

Malcolm was an activist, and this was· at the root of his split with
Muhammad. In the 19608 the Muslims were increasingly charged by
black militants with talking tough but never doing anything. The
freedom movement was gaining momentum, and it was no longer
enough simply to denounce "white devils." The Muslims abstained from
any form of political or social activism, and Malcolm was beginning to
have his doubts about the wisdom of this policy.

In his autobiography, he admitted that, while still in the Nation, he

began to think the Muslims could be a "greater force in the American
black man's over-all struggle-if we engaged in more action."3

But such ideas clashed with the aims of Muhammad and his
lieutenants. Malcolm was suspended from the Muslims in December
1963, allegedly for his highly publicized "chickens coming home to
roost" remark about President Kennedy's assassination. It soon
became clear, however, that the suspension was to be of indefinite
duration and that he was no longer welcome among Muslims. The
following March, Malcolm announced that he was breaking completely
with Muhammad. He said that he was willing to plunge into the civil
rights struggle around the country because every local campaign "can
only heighten the political consciousness of the Negroes .... "4

Carefully reshaping his thinking, shifting Muslim dogma and dropping

unacceptable tenets while incorporating new ideas picked up from his
wide experiences with non- Muslims, Malcolm started constructing his
political ideology.

He realized the need for unity among black people if they were
effectively to attack racism and exploitation in America. He called
himself a disciple of black nationalism, which he carefully defined as
the effort of blacks to organize a movement of their own to fight for
freedom, justice, and equality. The kernel of black nationalism, he said,
was the idea that black people should control the economy, politics,
and social institutions of their own communities. Thus he identified
black nationalism with the general concept of self-determination.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X (New York: Grove Press,
1965), p. 293.
Quoted in George Breitman, The Last Year of Malcolm X
(New York: Merit Publishers, 1967), p. 19.
After the split Malcolm no longer endorsed utopian separatism: the
doctrine that blacks should return to Africa or devote their efforts to
setting up a black state in the United States. He still rejected
integrationism, as either phony tokenism or an attempt to assimilate
blacks into a decadent white society. Unlike the Muslims, who
attributed the cause of black oppression to the evil of the white race,
Malcolm realized that it was in the structure of society to which one
could trace, not only the roots of black people's misery, but also the
genesis of white racism itself. In a speech in May 1964, Malcolm

The system in this country cannot produce freedom for an Afro-

American. It is impossible for this system, this economic system,
this political system, this social system, this system, period. It's
impossible for this system, as it stands, to produce freedom right
now for the black man in this country.5

In answer to a question from the audience he said, "It's impossible for

a white person to believe in capitalism and not believe in racism. You
can't have capitalism without racism. And if you find someone and you
happen to get that person into a conversation and they have a
philosophy that makes you sure they don't have this racism in their
outlook, usually they're socialists or their political philosophy is
socialism." He thus carefully and consciously avoided falling into the
defeatist trap of attributing racism to "human nature."

Although he advocated self-determination for blacks, Malcolm

understood that this could never be achieved within the framework of
an exploitative, capitalist system. Again, unlike other black
nationalists, Malcolm realized that it was in the interests of militant
blacks to work for change throughout American society. For it is only if
the total society is changed, that the possibility of genuine self-
determination for blacks can be realized. Black control of black
communities will not mean freedom from oppression' so long as the
black communities themselves are still part of or subservient to an
outside society which is exploitative.

Malcolm did not live long enough to elaborate fully a program of

action. He did advocate that blacks engage in bloc voting, although he
noted that sometimes, as in 1964, there was not much choice between
a Republican wolf and a Democratic fox. In its statement of aims, the
Organization of Afro-American Unity stated that it would "organize the
Afro-American community block by block to make the community
aware of its power and potential; we will start immediately a voter-

Breitman, The Last Year of Malcolm X, p. 33.
registration drive to make every unregistered voter in the Afro-
American community an independent voter; we propose to support
and/or organize political clubs, to run independent candidates for
office, and to support any Afro-American already in office who answers
to and is responsible to the Afro-American community."6 In the
economic sphere the OAAU merely pledged that it would "wage an
unrelenting struggle" against economic exploitation of all forms.

Malcolm realized that the system he opposed was based ultimately

upon force, and that the dynamic of radical social change in America
was moving inexorably toward a violent confrontation. In a speech in
New York on April 8, 1964, Malcolm described the process he saw

So today, when the black man starts reaching out for what
America says are his rights, the black man feels that he is within
his rights-when he becomes the victim of brutality by those who
are depriving him of his rights to do whatever is necessary to
protect himself. An example of this was taking place last night at
this same time in Cleveland, where the police were putting water
hoses on our people there and also throwing tear gas at them-
and they met a hail of stones, a hail of rocks, a hail of bricks. A
couple of weeks ago in Jacksonville, Florida, a young teen-age
Negro was throwing Molotov cocktails. Well, Negroes didn't do
this ten years ago. But what you should learn from this is that
they are waking up. It was stones yesterday, Molotov cocktails
today; it will be hand grenades tomorrow and whatever else is
available the next day. . . There are 22 million African-Americans
who are ready to fight for independence right here. . . I don't
mean any nonviolent fight, or turn-the-other-cheek fight. Those
days are over. Those days are gone.7

As though he wanted to be certain that his audience (which was mostly

white) had not misunderstood, Malcolm added that the black revolt
was being transformed into "a real black revolution. "Revolutions are
never fought by turning the other cheek. Revolutions are never based
upon love-your-enemy and pray-for-those-who-spitefully-use-you. And
revolutions are never waged singing "We Shall Overcome." Revolutions
are based upon bloodshed.”8

Thus Malcolm saw the black revolt metamorphosing into a violent

Breitman, The Last Year of Malcolm X, p. 109.
George Breitman (ed.), Malcolm X Speaks (New York: Grove Press, Inc.,
1965), p. 49.
Breitman, p. 50.
revolution. But strangely, at the end of this speech, he seemed to
retreat from the position he had taken throughout his talk. "America,"
he said, "is the first country on this earth that can actually have a
bloodless revolution." Why did he think this was so? "Because the
Negro in this country holds the balance of power, and if the Negro in
this country were given what the Constitution says he is supposed to
have, the added power of the Negro in this country would sweep all of
the racists and the segregationists out of office. It would change the
entire political structure of the country.”9

This was clearly inconsistent with the major thrust of his speech.
Malcolm had no faith in the efficacy of political reform. Only a few
moments earlier he had pointed out that the black man "can see where
every maneuver that America has made, supposedly to solve [the
race] problem, has been nothing but political trickery and treachery of
the worst order." Malcolm apparently held ambivalent attitudes on the
question of violence. He advocated self-defense; yet he knew that no
revolution was made using the tactics of self-defense. He knew that
the black revolt held the potential of turning into a revolution and that
revolutions involve aggressive violence; yet he could conclude that
America might be the first country to experience a bloodless

This ambivalence probably stemmed from misgivings Malcolm had

about potential allies. He knew that for the black revolution to succeed
it needed revolutionary allies, and he saw two possible sources of such
allies: militant whites in the United States and the people of the newly
emerging nations-the former colonies of Africa and Asia, and the
oppressed people of Latin America. But he had grave doubts about so-
called white radicals. He thought that many of them could not seriously
identify with a struggle the aim of which was to undermine and destroy
the basic premises and institutions of their own society.

The remainder, he thought, would probably be co-opted: "You can cuss

out colonialism, imperialism, and all other kinds of 'ism,' but it's hard
for you to cuss that dollarism. When they drop those dollars on you,
your soul goes.”10 As far as white workers were concerned, he had no
faith at all that they could be anything but reactionary and racist.

With beliefs such as these, it would be natural for Malcolm to hesitate

to advocate that blacks undertake anything more than self-defense.
His major concern, wisely, was to prevent genocide, not encourage it.
He knew that in a revolutionary situation only the presence of

Breitman, Malcolm X Speaks, p. 57.
Breitman, The Last Year of Malcolm X, p. 32.
revolutionary forces outside the black communities could prevent mass
slaughter of the black population. He saw no such forces in evidence,
and therefore was forced to equivocate, tom between the seemingly
conflicting needs of racial survival and social revolution.

In spite of his reservations about white radicals and militants, Malcolm

still regarded them as potential allies. He believed that some whites
were genuinely fed up with the system, and he thought that some type
of alliance might occur if they could establish proper communication
with black militants. "Proper communication," to Malcolm's mind,
definitely was not the kind of black-white alliances that had existed in
the past in which the black component was usually only an appendage
to white-controlled organization.

In any case, such an alliance was for the moment only a secondary
consideration; the first was the creation of black unity. Militant blacks,
he said, had to consolidate their own forces, work out their own
program and strategy, and build a strong movement before there
could be any meaningful move toward an alliance with whites. The
immediate goal of white militants, Malcolm thought, should be to build
a viable movement within white communities. Any linkup that might
then occur would be between equals.

It was in Africa in the last year of his life that he saw the best and most
numerous allies of American blacks. He was implacably opposed to the
thesis that since black people are only a minority in this country, they
should accept the leadership of white liberals. Malcolm argued that
black people should identify with the majority of the world's oppressed
and downtrodden peoples and elevate the black freedom struggle to
the level of an international struggle for human rights.

Malcolm believed that the people of Africa, Asia, and Latin America
were victims of "the international power structure," that U.S.
neocolonialism was the main weapon of this power structure, but that
the colonial revolt had shown the enemy to be invincible no longer.
International capitalism, he believed, was slowly being beaten back
and replaced with various kinds of socialisms. At an OAAU rally in
Harlem on December 20, 1964, less than a month after his last return
from Africa, Malcolm said:

Almost every one of the countries that has gotten independence

has devised some kind of socialistic system, and this is no
accident. This is another reason why I say that you and I here in
America-who are looking for a job, who are looking for better
housing, looking for a better education-before you start trying to
be incorporated, or integrated, or disintegrated, into this
capitalistic system, should look over there and find out what are
the people who have gotten their freedom adopting to provide
themselves with better housing and better education and better
food and better clothing. None of them are adopting the
capitalistic system because they realize they can't. You can't
operate a capitalistic system unless you are vulturistic; you have
to have someone else's blood to suck to be a capitalist. You show
me a capitalist, I'll show you a bloodsucker... 11

That capitalism, in its colonial quest, bred racism was self-evident to

Malcolm. In his view this partly accounted for the presence of racism in
a supposedly egalitarian America. That same America had profited
greatly from the colonial slave trade and now she stood as the "last
bulwark of capitalism." Urging that U.S. blacks "internationalize" their
fight for freedom, Malcolm contended that black people, as victims of
domestic colonialism, should view their struggle in terms of the
worldwide anticolonial revolt; and he took concrete steps to make this
more than mere rhetoric. He formulated a plan for linking the domestic
freedom movement to the international anticolonial revolt. "The civil
rights struggle," he reasoned in his April address in New York, "involves
the black man taking his case to the white man's court. But when [the
black man] fights it at the human-rights level, it is a different situation.
It opens the door to take Uncle Sam to the world court. Uncle Sam
should be taken to court and made to tell why the black man is not
free in a so-called free society. Uncle Sam should be taken into the UN
and charged with violating the UN charter of human rights."12 At
another point Malcolm drew an analogy to give clarity to his argument:
"If South Africa is guilty of violating the human rights of Africans then
America is guilty of worse violations of the rights of twenty-two million
Africans on the American continent. And if South African racism is not a
domestic issue, then American racism also is not a domestic issue."

On his last trip to Africa, in July 1964, Malcolm began marshaling

support for his plan to bring the American racial problem before the
United Nations under the human rights provision of its Charter.13 He
was admitted as an observer to the Cairo conference of the OAU,
Breitman, The Last Year of Malcolm X, pp. 35-36.
This was not the first time blacks had sought to arraign the U.S. before the
United Nations. Nearly two decades ago the Civil Rights Congress under the
leadership of attorney William L. Patterson presented a petition to the UN
charging the U.S. government with committing the crime of genocide against
the black race. The petition contained 135 pages of damning evidence
implicating the entire governmental structure of the U.S. in the systematic
oppression, maiming and murder of black men, women and children.
Malcolm's hopes for implementing this plan might also have played a part
in his ambivalent feelings concerning the necessity for a violent revolution.
where he made an impassioned plea for the African nations to arraign
the United States before the UN. He also made personal visits to
individual heads of African states. Malcolm's activities in Africa caused
deep concern in Washington.

The New York Times reported that State Department officials said that
if "Malcolm succeeded in convincing just one African government to
bring up the charge at the United Nations, the United States
government would be faced with a touchy problem." The newspaper
report said the United States would find itself in the same category as
South Africa in a debate before the world body.

Throughout his travels in Africa, Malcolm was followed. On July 23,

1964, the day before he was to address the OAU conference, his food
was poisoned at his hotel in Cairo, and he was seriously ill. On his
return to the United States, Malcolm became a familiar figure at the
UN. By the fall of 1964 his plan to indict the U. S. Government was in
high gear, and Malcolm was becoming an increasingly serious threat to
U.S. overseas interests. It was reported that the State Department
attributed to Malcolm's activities a good part of the strong stand taken
by African states against U.S. intervention in the Congo. As long as
Malcolm remained in Muhammad's Nation of Islam, he was of no
concern to the power structure. Freed of Muslim restraints, Malcolm
threatened to bring the impact of the world revolution right into this

He did not live to see his plan come to fruition. On the morning of
February 13, 1965, his home was fire-bombed by professionals. He and
his family barely escaped injury. Malcolm at first blamed the Muslims,
but he soon suspected that other parties were at work. As he said, he
knew intimately the Muslims' capabilities and limitations. The following
Sunday the "other parties" were more successful. Malcolm was shot to
death at a meeting in New York.14

The assassination threw Harlem into a panic. Many feared that a

bloodbath would follow in which Malcolm's supporters and Muslims
would gun each other down on the streets. As it turned out, the Muslim
Temple in Harlem was fire-bombed but no one was killed. The more
sophisticated were not afraid of such a mindless orgy of murder. They
saw instead in Malcolm's death a continuation of a calculated pattern
which began with the forced exile of Robert Williams, led to the jailing
of Bill Epton, militant leader of the Harlem chapter of the Progressive

Malcolm's fears that he might be assassinated for political reasons were
not the result of paranoia. See, for example, Eric Norden's article in the
February 1967 issue of The Realist.
Labor party, on "criminal anarchy" charges for his role in the Harlem
rebellion, and now climaxed in the removal of yet another militant
black leader: It was this continuing decimation of militant black
leadership that posed the real danger, not a bloodbath triggered by
warring blacks.

Malcolm X died, but not his ideas. One of the most important of these
was how the struggle of blacks in this country was bound up with the
outcome of revolutionary struggles in the Third World. This message
was especially timely because it was at the end of 1964 and beginning
of 1965 that the United States started its massive buildup in Vietnam,
and Malcolm was one of the first black leaders to stand in opposition.
He did so not because he was a pacifist or morally outraged. He
opposed the war out of a sense of solidarity with the Vietnamese
liberation fighters. Malcolm had great admiration for the courage of the
Vietnamese guerrillas: "Little rice farmers, peasants, with a rifle-up
against all the highly-mechanized weapons of warfare-jets, napalm,
battleships, everything else, and they can't put those rice farmers back
where they want them. Somebody's waking up." Implicit in Malcolm's
admiration was his recognition of a principle which is fundamental to
guerrilla struggles everywhere: namely, that the revolutionary spirit of
the people is more effective than the enemy's technology.

[cut section about Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh]

The American escalation of the [Vietnam] war prompted protest

activity in this country. In the spring of 1965, twenty-five thousand
antiwar demonstrators marched in Washington. As opposition to the
war mounted, Martin Luther King urged President Johnson to issue
"unconditional and unambiguous" pleas for peace talks. King's
statement raised the question of a possible alliance between the civil
rights movement and the antiwar movement. Robert Browne, an Afro-
American college professor and activist in the antiwar movement,
summarized in late 1965 the reasons favoring such an alliance:
(1) the recognition that the civil rights movement represents the
moral conscience of America and therefore naturally belongs in
the vanguard of the Vietnam protest, felt now to be the number
one moral issue confronting American society.
(2) the argument that the billions of dollars being diverted to the
Vietnam war represents funds which might otherwise be
available for giving substance to the programs necessary for
raising the Negro to a level of real equality in American life.
(3) the belief that the civil rights objectives are unachievable
under the present organization of American society and therefore
must necessarily be fought for as part of a large effort to remake
American society, including its foreign policy.
(4) the view that the Vietnam war is intimately involved in
American racist attitudes generally, and therefore falls naturally
within the range of American Negroes' direct sphere of interest.15

Within the context of the moderate civil rights movement which still
existed at that time, these were advanced arguments. The latter two
arguments particularly were soon to be sharpened and used by black
militants in their attacks on government policy.

On January 6, 1966, SNCC issued a statement opposing the Vietnam

war and in essence supporting draft resistance. According to SNCC
staffer Fred Meely in an unpublished report, the origins of this
statement can be traced to a SNCC Executive Committee meeting in
April 1965, during which chairman John Lewis urged the Organization
to take a formal stand against the war. The first big antiwar march-
backed primarily by Students for a Democratic Society-was to take
place on April 17, and the Executive Committee voted to support the
SDS march. At a full staff meeting in November of that year, SNCC
discussed at length the question of taking a public stand on the war,
the draft, and the relation of the war to the plight of Afro-Americans. It
was decided to have a statement drafted and circulated to the staff for
approval and to hold workshops on these issues at SNCC's projects.
The statement was prepared and submitted for staff comment in

On January 4, 1966, SNCC worker Sammy Younge, Jr., was murdered in

Tuskegee, Alabama, when he sought to use the "White" restroom at a
gas station. This incident precipitated the antiwar statement. "Samuel
Younge was murdered because U.S. law is not being enforced.
Vietnamese are being murdered because the United States is pursuing
an aggressive policy in violation of international law. The U.S. is no
respecter of persons or law when such persons or laws run counter to
its needs and desires." The statement continued:

We are in sympathy with and support the men in this country

who are unwilling to respond to the military draft which would
compel them to contribute their lives to U.S. aggression in the
name of the "freedom" we find so false in this country.

It suggested that the "building [of] democratic forms within the

country" was a valid, if not legal, alternative to the draft. It would be a
few months yet before SNCC took an all-out draft resistance stand and
began to develop a national antidraft program.

17 Freedomways, Vol. 5, No.4.

In summary, then, this is the social and political climate in which

Stokely Carmichael found himself in the summer of 1966. Carmichael
attempted to pick up the threads of Malcolm X's thought and apply
them to this social context.

But he was uncertain as to how to move. He was tom between

reformism and revolution. He could not decide at that time whether he
was a black rebel or a black revolutionary. His ambivalences were
indicative of the uncertainties which permeated the black militant
movement, and they were a prophecy of the open split which was soon
to develop between rebels-for-reform and revolutionaries.

Carmichael's class background was not unlike that of other SNCC

members. Born in Trinidad, Carmichael came to this country at the age
of eleven with his family and settled in New York City. After attending
the elite Bronx High School of Science, Carmichael received a
bachelor's degree from Howard University in 1964. While at Howard he
was active in the student government as well as a local civil rights
organization called the Nonviolent Action Group. Thus, before joining
SNCC, the up-and-coming young man was being primed for the black
middle class. This was true of most SNCC activists in 1966. Although
they may have come from poor or working-class families, the young
students themselves were headed for middle-class status. Their whole
college experience was designed to inculcate them with the values of
the black bourgeoisie, including its terrible ambivalences and self-
hatred. As E. Franklin Frazier and others have noted, the black
bourgeoisie is divided between conflicting compulsions to identify with
blacks or with the white middle class. Depending on circumstances, it
vacillates between these two contradictory identities. The fact that
most of SNCC's staff come out of such a background makes it easier to
comprehend and account for the ideological twists and turns taken by
the organization. These ideological waverings were reflective of the
insecurity and equivocation of the black middle class, which SNCC in a
sense represented.

In a widely read article published in the September 22, 1968 issue of

the New York Review of Books, Carmichael struggled with the problem
of power: how to attack and weaken oppressive white power and
create in its stead the liberating force of black power. Most of what
Carmichael wrote then was not new. It was based upon the nationalist
tradition which extended from Martin R. Delaney through Malcolm X.
Actually, it must be admitted that Carmichael's early statements did
not go as far as the militant internationalism and anticapitalism of
Malcolm X or the revolutionary violence then being advocated by
Robert Williams from exile in China. But where Malcolm and Williams
were stopped before they could organize a mass following, Carmichael
was not. A young and charismatic leader, his ideas served as a catalyst
for the intellectual development of black rebels and revolutionaries
alike. Where Malcolm X had battered himself against a wall of hostility
and indifference, the SNCC leader was successful in injecting the issue
of self-determination into a black freedom movement which had
appeared stalemated. The urban rebellions legitimized and gave
prominence to this issue and made it a matter for serious discussion
and planning among both black militants and the white power
structure. Both were probing the strengths and weaknesses of the idea
of black self-determination.

Starting with the "basic fact that black Americans have two problems:
they are poor and they are black," Carmichael wrote that SNCC,
"almost from its beginning," sought to develop a program aimed at
winning political power for impoverished southern blacks. He did not
foresee, however, that the growing militancy of the black middle class
would lead that class also to demand political power. But political for
the black bourgeoisie, the black elite, is not the same as political
power for the black poor, the bulk of the black population. It is quite
possible for this elite group to achieve a measure of political and
economic power within the American capitalist system, but this does
not necessarily imply any change for the black majority. Just as the
civil rights movement made important gains for the middle class but
left the poor largely untouched, there
is no intrinsic reason to think a bourgeois black power movement will
not follow a similar course. This is the central issue which later was to
split the black power movement into moderate and militant factions,
with the Congress of Racial Equality being a leading organization
among the former while SNCC and the Black Panthers took the lead
among the militants.

Furthermore, Carmichael almost certainly did not expect then that

white corporate leaders would court and pander to the political and
economic aspirations of the black bourgeoisie as a way of countering
the revolutionary thrust of the militants. Just as early opponents of the
Vietnam war thought of that conflict as a mistake inadvertently made
by the U. S. Government, so did black power advocates in 1966 view
black oppression as a curable malady which was basically foreign to
the American social system. Certainly the more sophisticated war
opponents and black militants talked about things being wrong with
the system, but what they had in mind were deficiencies in the social
structure. They were not yet thinking, as Carmichael later would, that
perhaps the system in its totality must be redesigned. Instead, the
antiwar people thought that the deficiency could be remedied by
electing peace candidates to Congress who would end the war. The
black power militants identified the deficiency as general lack of black
participation in the political process.

As a result of this orientation, it was not surprising that black power

emerged initially as an effort to reform the social system. At that time
black militants were sophisticated enough to know that integration was
not satisfactory because it did not change political relations and
consequently could not affect the oppression suffered by most blacks.
Hence it was logical to conclude that only the political integration of
black people as a group into American society could offer any real
hope. Therefore Carmichael defined black power as group integration
into the political process. "In such areas as Lowndes [County,
Alabama], where black men have a majority, they will attempt to use it
to exercise control. This is what they seek: control. Where Negroes lack
a majority, black power means proper representation and sharing of
control. It means the creation of power bases from which black people
can work to change statewide or nationwide patterns of oppression
through pressure from strength-instead of weakness. Politically, black
power means what it has always meant to SNCC: the coming together
of black people to elect representatives and to force those
representatives to speak to their needs."

A year later Carmichael would use virtually the same definition of black
power in the book which he co-authored on the subject. In it, however,
he made it explicit that he thought of black power as only another form
of traditional ethnic group politics. "The concept of Black Power rests
on a fundamental premise: Be/ore a group can enter the open society,
it must first close ranks. By this we mean that group solidarity is
necessary before a group can operate effectively from a bargaining
position of strength in a pluralistic society.”16

This belief that black people are much like other ethnic groups in
America lies at the heart of the reformist tendency in black
nationalism. In his book, The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual, Harold
Cruse argues that if America could only be forced to face the fact that
competing ethnic groups are its basic social reality, then a kind of
"democratic cultural pluralism" could be established resulting in
genuine black equality. Nathan Wright, chairman of the 1967 Newark
Black Power Conference, expressed a similar view in his book, Black
Power and Urban Unrest. Wright urged black people to band together
as a group to seek entry into the American mainstream. For example,
he called for organized efforts by blacks "to seek executive positions in

Stokely Carmichael and Charles V. Hanrilton, Black Power: The Politics of
Liberation in America (New York: Random House, 1967), p. 44.
corporations, bishoprics, deanships of cathedrals, superintendencies of
schools, and high-management positions in banks, stores, investment
houses, legal firms, civic and government agencies and factories."17

Wright's version of black power is aimed at benefiting the black middle

class. This bourgeois approach also characterized CORE's brand of
black nationalism. What this approach overlooks is the fact that black
people are not like other ethnic groups in American society. To begin
with, blacks came to these shores, not as immigrants seeking a better
life, but as slaves intended for use as forced laborers. The racist
ideology erected to justify slavery served after the Civil War to keep
blacks oppressed and subservient, even though it was in the economic
interests of white industrialists to hire black workers. But these
businessmen, infected by their own racist dogma, preferred to import
foreign labor. With the advent of the civil rights movement, the
monolithic structure of racism began to show cracks, but by then it was
already too late. Black people were to enjoy the unfortunate distinction
of being among the first surplus products of an advanced American
technology and economic system. Thus accelerated technological
innovation in a decreasingly competitive and increasingly monopolist
economy combined with racism have acted in concert to phase black
people out of American society.

It would have made sense at the close of the Civil War to plan for the
assimilation of black people as a group into the American mainstream.
Racism made this impossible. Now, as racism begins to crumble, the
requirements of an advanced technological economy increasingly
exclude black workers from the active labor force. Hence racism, the
stepchild of slavery, prevented black people from following in the
footsteps of other ethnic groups.

Today, even if racism were vanquished, blacks would find their

situation basically unaltered because almost always they do not
possess the skills valued by the economy. Even under ideal
circumstances, this lack of skills would require a generation to correct.

Finally, as city governments are increasingly integrated with state and

federal agencies, and municipal political machines are disbanded, an
important mechanism for ethnic group advancement is shut off to
blacks. For it is city hall which has been a traditional stepping-stone to
economic security and political power for European ethnic groups. The
current move to rationalize city govermnent and integrate it into the

Nathan Wright, Jr., Black Power and Urban Unrest (New York: Hawthorn,
1967), p. 43.
larger national structure is one of the prime requirements for the
smooth functioning of a complex and advanced society. A
consequence of this process is that city politics can no longer be a
free-for-all scramble responsive to the ethnic group (or groups) which
can muster the most votes. Instead, the city government itself
becomes a mechanism for the realization of national priorities-and this
necessarily tends to eliminate a major
channel for the anticipated advancement of black people as an ethnic

Economically, Carmichael in his New York Review article called for a

cooperative effort among black people. "When we urge that black
money go into black pockets, we mean the communal pocket. We want
to see money go back into the community and used to benefit it. We
want to see the cooperative concept applied in business and banking."
This concept was later incorporated into the CORE program.

Economic cooperatives, frequently advocated in the past, were to be

the salvation of the black community. But this economic program
assumes that the economy is still open to new enterprises, be they
individual or collective. This assumption is unrealistic in an era when
small businesses are failing at a high rate and large-scale commercial
enterprises, because of the virtual monopoly of gigantic corporations,
are extremely difficult to launch. The Small Business Administration
reports that not more than 3 percent of all U.S. business concerns are
owned by nonwhites. A flagrant example of this economic imbalance is
seen in Washington, D.C., where about two thirds of the population is
black, but only some two thousand out of twenty-eight thousand
businesses are owned by blacks, and their volume is only an
infinitesimal fraction of the whole. This situation is not likely to change
to any significant degree. The failure rate on special small business
loans, many of which are granted to black businessmen, is about
double the rate of regular loans.

More importantly, even if a cooperative economic venture were

successfully initiated, its managers, in order to keep it afloat, would
have to be responsive to the demands and constraints imposed by the
over-all competitive economic system rather than to the needs of the
surrounding black community. For example, a retail food cooperative
would find itself in direct competition with huge supermarket chains.
which control not only retail outlets, but also farms and ranches,
processing and packaging plants, advertising agencies, and
There are vastly more blacks employed in government today than ever
before, but this is not reflective of a net increase in political power for the
group, since almost all of these positions are lower-level jobs which have no
political weight.
transportation and distribution facilities. Without this kind of horizontal
and vertical monopoly, a cooperative business would encounter
insurmountable obstacles that would make large-volume, price-
competitive and efficient operation virtually unachievable. On the
other hand, the establishing of a large-scale cooperative monopoly
would be extraordinarily difficult because of the heavy financing
required and the adamant opposition of firms already solidly
entrenched in the industry. Hence a black retail cooperative would
very likely find itself forced to charge higher prices or to operate at a

Even if the cooperative somehow managed to survive these difficulties,

benefits to the community from such a marginal undertaking would be
minimal at best. The major beneficiaries from the cooperative would be
the administrators and managers hired to operate it. After all, their
salaries must be met before there can be any price reductions or
dividend payments. Consequently, black capitalism, even on a
cooperative basis, would function primarily to the advantage of middle-
class blacks who have management skills-the class least in need of
such benefits because it is increasingly favored by American society at

The need for "psychological equality" and "black consciousness" was

also stressed in Carmichael's 1966 article. "Only black people can
convey the revolutionary idea that black people are able to do things
themselves. Only they can help create in the community an aroused
and continuing black consciousness that will provide the basis for
political strength." This thought would later be taken to its logical
extreme by cultural nationalist Ron Karenga: "The revolution being
fought now is a revolution to win the minds of our people." Karenga
would argue that the black revolt could not proceed until the cultural
revolution had been won. "We must free ourselves culturally before we
succeed politically." The cultural nationalist would replace the hope of
black revolution with a curious mystique encompassing black culture
and art and reactionary African social forms. "To go back to tradition is
the first step forward," wrote Karenga. In essence the cultural
nationalists asked nothing more than that black people be accorded
recognition as a distinct cultural group. If it meant pacifying rebellious
ghettos, white America was only too happy to grant this minor

The question of potential allies is perhaps one of the most difficult

problems facing black militants. Carmichael struggled with the problem
but without much success. He was looking for a numerically significant
section of the white population which might become an ally of blacks.
He thought that poor whites might play this role. "We hope to see,
eventually, a coalition between poor blacks and poor whites." Yet, a
few lines later, he stated: "Poor whites everywhere are becoming more
hostile-not less-partly because they see the nation's attention focused
on black poverty and nobody coming to them." Carmichael suggested
that middle-class young whites assume the task of organizing poor
whites, but he didn't seem to have much confidence in the successful
outcome of this project. Perhaps he realized that poor whites were as
much trapped by their own racism as blacks were trapped by white
racism. He certainly recognized this fact in the case of white industrial
workers-long the hope of the white left-who, seeing their own security
threatened, can now be counted among the most vicious racists in the

When the young white activists failed to "civilize" the white

community, they were roundly castigated and attacked by black
militants for not being serious radicals. But this easy criticism missed
the point. If black survival really is at stake, as black militants are fond
of asserting, then black radicals must assume primary responsibility for
seeing to it that hostile whites are neutralized and friendly whites are
won over to an effective joint struggle. This is not to say that black
organizers should begin flooding into white suburbs. Obviously not. It is
to say, however, that it is ridiculous to contend that racism and
exploitation are the white man's problems. For if racism and
exploitation are allowed to continue, it will be the black community as
a whole, not sympathetic middle-class white students, which will be
the greatest loser. It is thus politically irresponsible to lament that no
domestic allies are in sight. The black radical, if he is serious, must
take it upon himself to search out, and if necessary create, allies for
the black liberation struggle.

The original formulation of black power as expressed by Carmichael

contained not only the seeds of militant black reformism but also the
genesis of revolutionary black nationalism.

Any social order maintains itself through the exercise of power,

whether directly or indirectly. In particular, the groups or classes within
a society which enjoy a privileged status as a result of the functioning
of the social system seek to preserve that system in a stable
equilibrium. They do this by accumulating and using power. Power is
based ultimately on (1) the availability of force, and (2) the existence
of pervasive social attitudes or social mythologies, accepted by all
segments of the society, that justify the actual use of force against
external or internal threats. Whether a threat exists and how it is
defined is normally determined by those who hold power. 1n a
theocracy, for
example, force may be available in the form of a holy army, and the
loyalty of the army is assured by a religious mythology which is
accepted and internalized by soldiers and commanders alike.

In the United States force is available to the ruling structure in the form
of police and army. These forces may be deployed in the name of
"freedom," "law and order," or "the American way." This rhetoric is
based partly on popular ideas about the nature of American society
and partly on the social mythology of "private property rights." The
defense of which is the most socially important ultimate-though not
always immediate-justification for the use of force. Nearly all
Americans believe, because they have been taught from childhood to
believe, that those who are designated as "owners" have an inherent
and inalienable right to use in any manner they alone see fit that which
is termed "property."19

The social consequences of this belief are enormous. Thus the

disposition of property, such as industrial plants, corporations, banks,
retail and wholesale consumer enterprises, etc., which decisively
affects the lives of millions of people and which derives its value and
meaning from its social nature is left in the hands of private individuals
or small groups whose overriding concern is the profits accruing from
this property rather than its social utility. Profits in turn create wealthy
owning and managerial classes, and an economic dictatorship of these
classes is subtly imposed on the whole society. The result is the partial
nullification of political democracy.

That political democracy in the U.S. has not been totally destroyed is
evident in the passage of reform measures and laws aimed at curbing
the power of various economic interests. But at the state and national
levels particularly, the country's legislative machinery has allied itself-
through the apparatus of the Democratic and Republican parties-with
one wing or another of the economic establishment. As this
establishment is not yet monolithic there is room within its ranks for
considerable dissension. conflict and change. Consequently, it is open
to some outside pressure for reform, but it is not open to an attack on
its own position of power nor will it knowingly tolerate an effective
challenge to the social fiction on which that power is predicated.

The socially shared belief in the sacrosanct qualities of private property

is a fundamental premise of the ideology of capitalism. To the extent
that the general American population accepts the mythology of private
The term "property" as used here does not refer to personal or family
belongings such as clothing, a house, or an automobile. Rather, it refers to
social property; that is, property (e.g., a supermarket) the use of which
requires the active economic involvement of larger social groupings (e.g.,
employees, customers).
property-that is, the notion that private individuals should be the sole
determinants of the disposition of what is in reality social property-it
will continue to defend the privileges and prerogatives of those classes
which benefit most from this mythology. The reason for this is that the
educational system implants and reinforces the belief that this social
myth can operate to the individual advantage of any given person if
only he works hard enough or displays sufficient cunning. Hence many
an American,· even if sophisticated enough to recognize the injustices
of the social system, will nevertheless vigorously defend it because of
the insistent hope that some day he or his children will achieve a full
measure of security and comfort within that system.

This discussion raises several questions. Is the capitalistic competitive

game fixed? If so, why? Are there alternative methods of ordering
social relations within a society? As far as black people are concerned,
there can be little doubt that the game is fixed. Blacks for the last
hundred years have been "free" to beat their way to the top. Many
have tried, but in relative terms, black people today are just about
exactly where they were at the close of the Civil War; namely, at the
bottom of the heap. In 1966 Carmichael knew that the game was fixed,
but he was not yet ready to deal with the question of whether it was
the nature of the capitalist game to be fixed. That is, he was not at that
point an anticapitalist. To take such a position would require more time
and thought.

The American social mythology of private property and the

government's monopoly on force were both implicitly challenged in the
1966 article. This challenge was made explicit by the urban rebellions
which have occurred since 1964. Carmichael raised the question of
whether a country "where property is valued above all" could be the
setting for a humanistic society. He recognized that it was this ideology
which justified the use of force against black people-be they called
"uppity niggers," "rioters," or just plain "criminals." That being the
case, one could only conclude, as Carmichael did, that the black man
"may also need a gun and SNCC reaffirms the right of black men
everywhere to defend themselves when threatened or attacked."

Carmichael couched these implicitly revolutionary thoughts in cautious

language. Since 1966, however, it has become ever more clear that
the black revolt will be accompanied by violence because those who
propagate the mythology of property rights will not allow peaceful
change. It is precisely this social fiction of property rights, and the
system of force and exploitation which it justifies, which stand as the
prime enemies of black people. It is in this sense that the looting which
accompanied urban rebellions was a rudimental revolutionary act.
Looting constitutes a direct assault upon the edifice of private
property. As sociologists Russell Dynes and E. L. Quarantelli have
noted: “The looting that has occurred in recent racial outbreaks is a bid
for the redistribution of property.”20 This statement expresses the
objective social implication of an act whose immediate motive may be
any number of personal or subjective factors. The question this poses
for black militants is: Can such a redistribution be effected within the
present social framework? Black rebels, advocates of bourgeois
nationalism, think this is altogether possible. Black revolutionaries
think not; they are increasingly anticapitalist.

Carmichael identified the black communities as exploited colonies of

the United States. He added: “For a century, this nation has been like
an octopus of exploitation, its tentacles stretching from Mississippi and
Harlem to South America, the Middle East, southern Africa, and
Vietnam; the form of exploitation varies from area to area, but the
essential result has been the same-a powerful few have been
maintained and enriched at the expense of the poor and voiceless
colored masses.”

This identification of the black struggle with anticolonial movements in

the Third World had revolutionary implications. At the psychological
level it shattered the sense of isolation felt by many black militants.
They could view themselves as part of a worldwide revolution. "Black
Power is not an isolated phenomenon," wrote Julius Lester, a former
SNCC field secretary. "It is only another manifestation of what is
transpiring in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. People are reclaiming
their lives on those three continents and blacks in America are
reclaiming theirs. These liberation movements are not saying give us a
share; they are saying we want it all! The existence of the present
system in the United States depends upon the United States taking all.
This system is threatened more and more each day by the refusal of
those in the Third World to be exploited. They ate colonial people
outside the United States; blacks are a colonial people within. Thus, we
have a common enemy. As the Black Power movement becomes more
politically conscious, the spiritual coalition that exists between blacks
in America and the Third World will become more evident."21

At the ideological level, Carmichael's thesis gave militant black

intellectuals a powerful analytical tool. Black writer Lawrence P. Neal
touched upon this when he pointed out that the colonial model "breaks
down the ideological walls which have contained the struggle thus far.
It supplies the black theorist and activist with a new set of political

Transaction, May 1968.
Julius Lester, Look Out, Whitey! (New York: Dial Press, 1968). p. 138.

If black people formed a dispersed semicolony within this country,

superficially unlike other colonies, but sharing certain features with
them, then a "new set of political alternatives" might exist in the form
of a black national liberation struggle. National liberation stands in
sharp contrast to the strategy of integration; and it represents a
distinct advance over traditional black nationalism, which frequently
drifts toward escapist solutions as a consequence of its unconscious
defeatisms. In the years following World War II, national liberation
movements flourished throughout the Third World. To the extent that
the domestic colonial view of black America is valid, its theories and
experiences can be of invaluable aid to the black liberation movement.

[cut section on Frantz Fanon]


At its 1966 national convention meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, the

Congress of Racial Equality endorsed black power. A unanimously
adopted resolution said in part:

Black Power is effective control and self-determination by men of

color in their own areas.
Power is total control of the economic, political, educational, and
social life of our community from the top to the bottom.
The exercise of power at the local level is simply what all other
groups in American society have done to acquire their share of
total American life.

The summer of 1966 was an important turning point for CORE, as it

was for SNCC. Until then, CORE had been an integrationist organization
relying on the tactics of nonviolent, direct action to achieve its goals.
Founded by James Farmer in 1942 as an offshoot of the Quaker-pacifist
Fellowship of Reconciliation, CORE immediately set out on an activist
course. It organized the first sit-ins in Chicago in 1942, and it sent the
first "freedom riders" through the South in April 1947.

Over the years the organization's membership grew from the initial
handful of black and white activists. Like SNCC, CORE was a middle-
class organization. It differed from SNCC in that SNCC members, being
younger, were not yet committed to middle-class jobs or middle-class
lifestyles. It was, therefore, easier for SNCC members to identify with

Floyd B. Barbour (ed.) , The Black Power Revolt (Boston: Porter Sargent,
1968), p. 141.
the impoverished black majority. CORE differed from the NAACP in that
the latter is wealthier, better established, and more solidly bourgeois.
The NAACP aims at reforming certain aspects of a system whose
assumptions it shares. It carries out these reformist efforts through the
socially accepted channels of the ballot box, court cases, and
legislative lobbying. CORE, on the other hand, while being a more
militant and less affluent organization than the NAACP, still does not
reject the basic ideological assumptions of American society, although
it may question them. CORE employed less orthodox and more militant
methods of reform. It used direct-action techniques in an effort to bring
pressure on institutions it sought to change. As some observers have
noted: "At a given point, after pressure from outside the system has
been successful, it is possible for the less privileged reformist group to
be allowed to work inside the system."23

CORE was eclipsed by William L. Patterson's Civil Rights Congress until

1951, then by Martin Luther King's campaigns in the middle 1950s and
the student sit-ins which began in 1960. It was not until it organized
the renowned "freedom rides" to Alabama and Mississippi in 1961 that
CORE was catapulted into national prominence. As a result of these
activities, the organization's membership began to change. In 1963,
black members for the first time accounted for more than half of
CORE's total membership. CORE was attracting to its ranks militant,
middle-class blacks who were disillusioned with the NAACP. The
following year, the Brooklyn chapter announced that it would organize
a "stall-in" on the opening day of the New York World's Fair to protest
discrimination in hiring practices at the fairgrounds. This was indicative
of the organization's new militancy and the shifting of its focus to the
urban North. This announcement touched off a heated controversy
both within and outside of CORE.

Another sign of CORE's shifting center of gravity occurred in Novemher

1964. Clarence Funnye, then chairman of the Manhattan chapter,
announced that his group would abandon demonstrations in favor of
long-range economic and social programs in Harlem. The organization
still had integration as its goal, but it was trying to address itself to the
needs of northern blacks, for whom de facto segregation and the lack
of adequate housing and jobs were more serious problems than the
kind of de jure discrimination which had characterized the South. A
further sign was the interest expressed by the downtown New York
chapter in organizing an independent political party. The chapter
chairman asserted that this was necessary because existing local
political organizations were incapable of bringing about needed
improvements. Meanwhile, Brooklyn CORE was then involved in

Fitch and Oppenheimer, Ghana, p. 27.
organizing rent strikes.

At its 1965 convention-the theme of which was "Black Ghetto: The

Awakening Giant"-CORE rescinded its constitutional ban on partisan
political activity. The new emphasis within the organization was
summarized and in effect given official sanction by National Director
James Farmer:

The major war now confronting us is aimed at harnessing the

awesome political potential of the black community in order to
effect basic social and economic changes for all Americans, to
alter meaningfully the lives of the Black Americans . . . and to
bring about a real equality of free men.24

The government could not do this job, Farmer asserted, because of its
built-in resistance to fundamental change. "We can rely upon none but
ourselves as a catalyst in the development of the potential power of
the black community in its own behalf and in behalf of the nation."

It is clear that the objectives we seek-in the wiping out of poverty

and unemployment, elimination of bad housing, city planning for
integration in housing and schools, quality education-are political
objectives depending upon responses we can exact from political
machinery. We can no longer rely on pressuring and cajoling
political units toward desired actions. We must be in a position of
power, a position to change those political units when they are
not responsive.25

Farmer contended that what was needed was "independent political

action through indigenous political organizations" modeled after the
MFDP." Such ghetto-oriented political movements must avoid, at all
costs," he said, "becoming an adjunct to, or a tool of, any political
party, bloc, or machine. They must be controlled by the interests of the
black ghetto alone."26

Another significant development at the 1965 convention was the

introduction of a resolution opposing United States involvement in the
Francis L. Broderick and August Meier (eds.), Negro Protest Thought in· the
Twentieth Century (New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1965), p. 422.
1bid., p. 425.
In 1968 Farmer himself ran unsuccessfully for Congress as the liberal Party
and Republican Party candidate in the newly created Twelfth Congressional
District in Brooklyn. This was hardly an exercise in the kind of "independent
'politics" which he advocated in 1965. Rather it represented an alliance
between him and the liberal wing of the power structure, and led him
ultimately into the Nixon Administration.
Vietnam war. The resolution was tabled, however, on a plea from

The man who chaired this convention was Floyd McKissick, then
national chairman. The following year, in March, McKissick was named
to replace Farmer as national director. McKissick was born in Asheville,
North Carolina, in 1922. He graduated from Morehouse College in
Atlanta, one of the great training institutions for the black bourgeoisie,
and then went on to the University of North Carolina Law School where
he took a law degree. McKissick mixed civil rights activity with his legal
career, and, beginning in 1960, he became one of the leaders of the
sit-in movement in North Carolina.

The black power resolution passed by CORE in 1966 seemingly

eliminated racial integration as the group's goal and instead replaced it
with the goal of "racial co-existence through black power." But what is
this "racial coexistence" if it is not simply another form of group
assimilation? CORE had substituted militant-sounding group integration
for the now discredited goal of individual integration. The difference
was in degree, not in kind.

The resolution also contained the sentence: "It is significant to note

that historically the only times in the United States when great
numbers of Black people have been mobilized has been around the
concept of Nationalism, as in the case of Marcus Garvey and the
Muslims." This is important to keep in mind, because at subsequent
conventions, the organization would be racked by disputes between
orthodox black nationalists and those who adhered to the new
nationalist position advocated by Roy Innis. The traditional nationalists
wanted CORE to come out in favor of a separate territory for black
people, but Innis projected the idea of a black nation of city-states
dispersed throughout the country. In 1968 this dispute would provoke
a split in CORE's ranks.

On the question of violence, CORE tried to straddle the fence. The

Baltimore meeting adopted a resolution urging "that CORE continue its
adherence to the tactic of direct nonviolent action, that the concepts of
nonviolence and self-defense are not contradictory, nonviolent
meaning nonaggressive, but not precluding the natural, constitutional
and inalienable right of self-defense."

CORE was reshaping itself. It was attempting to respond to and

organize the new militancy which had infected certain parts of the
black middle class, as a result of the rebellions initiated by the black
masses. In so doing, CORE was to assume a role akin to that played by
bourgeois nationalist political elites in an underdeveloped country
undergoing a transformation from colonialism to neocolonialism.


By the time SNCC and CORE raised the cry of black power, the
sophisticated, white establishment already had begun to sketch the
general outlines of its response to the new, black militancy. It was not
so much the specific slogan of black power that motivated this
response; rather it was prompted by the same domestic conditions
that underlay the rise of black militancy: The failure of the civil rights
movement to alleviate the continuing impoverishment of the black
communities and the consequent urban outbreaks.

The rebellions especially forced white reactionaries and liberals alike to

conclude that direct white administration of the black ghettos, at least
in some instances, was no longer operating satisfactorily. Some new
form of administration was clearly called for if the ghettos were to be
pacified and "law and order" restored. Of course there were some,
mostly at the state and local government levels, who thought brutal
repression to be the best answer. Traditional liberals, though, still
hoped to find a panacea in government-sponsored social welfare
programs. But a drastically new situation necessarily calls forth a
drastically new response. The black rebellions, which threatened to set
the torch to every major American city and seriously disrupt the
functioning of the economy, represented just such a drastically new

The beginnings of the new response could be glimpsed in Ford

Foundation president McGeorge Bundy's August 2, 1966 address to the
National Urban League's annual banquet in Philadelphia. "We believe,"
said Bundy, "that full equality for all American Negroes is now the most
urgent domestic concern of this country. We believe that the Ford
Foundation must play its full part in this field because it is dedicated by
its charter to human welfare." Bundy told the Urban League meeting
that in addition to the familiar fields of jobs, education, and housing,
the Foundation thought that the areas of leadership, research,
communication, and justice were also important concerns for the black
movement. He suggested that "stronger leadership" was needed
because "it is easier to understand and work for the recognition of
basic civil rights than it is to understand and work for the
improvements in skills and schools, in real opportunity, and in the
quality of life itself, which are the next business of us all." In other
words, as the civil rights movement faded away a new breed of black
and white leader was required to negotiate "the road from right to
In the area of research, Bundy threw out several questions which he
said needed answers: "What kinds of better schools will help most to
turn the tide of hope upward in the ghettos? What patterns of
cooperation-among whites and Negroes-business, labor, and
government-can bring new levels of investment to both the city center
and the southern rural slum? What really are the roots of prejudice and
how can we speed its early and widespread death?" The first two
questions are especially significant because Bundy was later to
become deeply embroiled in New York City's school decentralization
dispute, and the Foundation would play a leading role in promoting
private business investment in the ghetto. Anticipating this latter
development, Bundy urged in his remarks that "strong-minded
business leadership can put itself in the forefront of the effort to open
doors for the Negro."

Significantly, Bundy also hinted that the political arena was to assume
greater importance in the black struggle. "We know . . . that political
influence brings political results," he told the group. He did not say,
however, that the Foundation would soon play an indirect part in
electing Carl Stokes as the first Negro mayor of Cleveland.

Communication is of utmost importance, Bundy stressed, because "the

prospects for peaceful progress are best when men with different parts
to play keep talking straight and clear, one to another. Nothing is more
dangerous in such a time than for men to lose touch with each other."

In this Bundy' was absolutely right. He knew that the rebellions

signaled a serious breakdown in communication between ghetto
residents and municipal, state, and federal power structures. Thus
communication, which in the lexicon of those who wield power is
synonymous with control, had to be restored at any cost.

As for justice, Bundy simply said that it should be given top priority.

Finally, Bundy came to the heart of what he wanted to say. He told the
Urban League group that there are certain interlocking institutions
which bind blacks and whites together. One of the most important of
these is the city, and "the quality of our cities is inescapably the
business of all of us. Many whites recognize that no one can run the
American city by black power alone," the reason being, he suggested
at a later point, that urban black majorities would still be faced with
white majorities in state houses and the U. S. Congress. But if the
blacks bum the cities, then, he stated, it would be the white man's
fault and, importantly, "the white man's companies will have to take
the losses." White America is not so stupid as not to comprehend this
elemental fact, Bundy assured the Urban Leaguers. Something would
be done about the urban problem. "Massive help" would be given to
the ghettos, and the Ford Foundation would take the lead in organizing
the campaign.

Thus the Ford Foundation was on its way to becoming the most
important, though least publicized, organization manipulating the
militant black movement. Housed in an ultramodern headquarters
building on East Forty-third Street in New York, the Foundation is
deeply involved in financing and influencing almost all major protest
groups, including CORE, SCLC, the National Urban League, and the
NAACP. Working directly or indirectly through these organizations, as
well as other national and local groups, the Foundation hopes to
channel and control the black liberation movement and forestall future
urban revolts.

The Foundation catalogs its multitude of programs and grants under

such headings as: public affairs, education, science and engineering,
humanities and the arts, international training and research, economic
development and administration, population, international affairs, and
overseas development. The list reads like a selection from the courses
offered by a modem liberal arts college. Race problems are listed as a
subclass of public affairs.

Under the leadership of Bundy, former Special Assistant to the

President for National Security Affairs-and in this capacity one of the
chief architects of this country's aggression in Vietnam-the Ford
Foundation in 1966 made an important decision to expand its activities
in the black movement. Prior to that time, the organization had limited
its activities among black Americans to philanthropic efforts in
education and research projects, all aimed at incorporating more
blacks into the middle-class mainstream. 'The 1966 decision, which
was made in response to the black rebellions, was a logical extension
of an earlier decision to vigorously enter the political arena.

Established in 1936 by Henry and Edsel Ford, the Foundation initially

made grants largely to charitable and educational institutions in the
state of Michigan. According to its charter, the purpose of the
organization is "To receive and administer funds for scientific,
educational and charitable purposes, all for the public welfare, and for
no other purposes . . ." Most of the Foundation's income has derived
from its principal asset: Class A nonvoting stock in the Ford Motor

In 1950, serving as an outlet for war profits, the Foundation expanded

into a national organization, and its activities quickly spread
throughout the United States and to some eighty foreign countries. In a
special Board of Trustees' report prepared at that time, the Foundation
announced its intention of beciming active in public affairs by
"support[ing] activities designed to secure greater allegiance to the
basic principles of freedom and democracy in the solution of the
insistent problems of an ever changing society." This vague mandate,
which at first meant little else than underwriting efforts to upgrade
public administration, was gradually brought into sharper focus as the
Foundation experimented with new programs.

In 1962, Dyke Brown, then a vice president with responsibility for

public affairs programs, could write that the Foundation's interest had
"shifted from management and public administration to policy and the
political process." He added that these programs "tended to become
increasingly action- rather than research-orientated," which meant that
the Foundation had to be prepared to take certain "political risks." How
an officer of a supposedly nonpolitical, nonpartisan philanthropic
institution could justify such a statement can be understood by
examining how the Foundation views its relationship to the major
political parties and the government. Simply stated, the Foundation
sees itself as a mediator which enlightens Democrats and Republicans
as to their common interests, and the reasons why they should

For example, the Foundation has sponsored many "nonpartisan"

conferences of state legislators and officials with the purpose of
stressing "nonpolitical" consideration of common problems. Such
bipartisan activities insure the smooth functioning of state and local
political machinery by reducing superfluous tensions and· other
sources of political conflict which might upset the national structure
and operation of U.S. corporate society.

One specific role of the private foundations vis-a-vis the government

was made explicit by Henry T. Heald, Bundy's predecessor as president
of the Ford Foundation, in a speech given at Columbia University in
1965. "In this country, privately supported institutions may serve the
public need as fully as publicly supported ones," Heald said. "More
often than not they work side by side in serving the same need." What
accounts for the growth of this "dual system of public and private
decision in community and national affairs"? Heald continued,

For one thing, privately supported organizations enhance the

public welfare by their relatively broad freedom to innovate.
They can readily try out new ideas and practices. They can adopt
improved techniques and standards that may become models for
other institutions in their fields, both public and private.27

In short, Heald argued that, through their activities, private

foundations could serve as a kind of advance guard, paving the way for
later government activity, not only in the usual fields of education and
scientific research, but also in the area of "social welfare." Hence, the
private foundation can act as an instrument of social innovation and
control in areas which the government has not yet penetrated, or in
areas where direct government intervention would draw criticism.

An example of the former is the federal anti-poverty program. Well in

advance of federal efforts in this field, the Foundation made grants for
comprehensive anti-poverty projects in Boston, New Haven, Oakland,
Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and North Carolina.

Over the years, then, the Foundation's objectives shifted as it assumed

a more aggressive role in American society and the American empire
abroad. No longer simply a charitable organization in a strict sense, the
Foundation has become a major social institution, dedicated to
preserving social stability and encouraging economic development of
neocolonial nature, both in the United States and in those parts of the
world which the U. S. Government and business interests consider to
be of strategic importance.

Stability and capitalist development are essential to the tranquil

internal growth and external expansion of the American empire.
Instability and underdevelopment, whether at home or abroad, breed
violence and revolution. It is for this reason that by the end of 1966 the
Foundation had committed seventy-two million dollars to research in
population control in the United States, Britain, Europe, Israel,
Australia, Asia, and Latin America. It is for this reason that it devotes
approximately one-fifth of its annual budget to training personnel and
building economic institutions in underdeveloped countries. It is for this
reason that a year after Bundy's Philadelphia speech, the Foundation
was to grant a substantial sum to CORE-the money to be used for
"peaceful and constructive efforts" in Cleveland's rebellious Hough
district. And it is for this reason that in September 1968, it announced
plans to invest an initial ten million dollars in the building of black

To come to the point, the Ford Foundation had shaped itself into one of
the most sophisticated instruments of American neocolonialism in

"American Foundations and the Common Welfare," by Benry T. Heald (Ford
Foundation pamphlet SRl9).
"underdeveloped nations," whether abroad or within the borders of this

This is the general line of Foundation thinking which confronted Bundy

as he stepped from his "little State Department" in the White House at
the beginning of 1966. And he was ideally suited to further advancing
these aims. From his years of working in the U.S. power structure,
Bundy had nurtured a keen appreciation for the complexities involved
in political manipulation and the seemingly contradictory policies which
often must be pursued simultaneously in order to obtain a given end.

Bundy summarized his political outlook in an article entitled "The End

of Either/Or," published in January 1967, in the magazine Foreign
Affairs.28 Bundy first asserted that foreign policy decisions are related
to U.S. national interests, although he did not state who determines
these interests or sets priorities. He then went on to criticize those who
view foreign policy options in terms of simple extremes. "For twenty
years, from 1940 to 1960, the standard pattern of discussion on
foreign policy was that of either/or: Isolation or Intervention, Europe or
Asia, Wallace or Byrnes, Marshall Plan or Bust, SEATO or Neutralism,
the U.N. or Power Politics, and always, insistently, anti-communism or
accommodation with the Communists."

The world is not so simple, Bundy wrote, and "with John F. Kennedy we
enter a new age. Over and over he [Kennedy] insisted on the double
assertion of policies which stood in surface contradiction with each
other: resistance to tyranny and relentless pursuit of accommodation;
reinforcement of defense and new leadership for disarmament;
counter-insurgency and the Peace Corps; openings to the left, but no
closed doors to the reasonable right; an Alliance for Progress and
unremitting opposition to Castro; in sum, the olive branch and the

Bundy learned that it is necessary to work both sides of the street in

order to secure and expand the American empire. Hence he was a
stanch supporter of Kennedy's and Johnson's war policies in Vietnam,
while at the same time stressing the necessity of keeping channels
open to the Soviet Union. Such a man was perfectly suited to work with
black groups, including black power advocates, while at the same time
local governments were arming and preparing to use force to suppress
the black communities. The seeming contradiction here, to use
Bundy's word, was only a "surface" manifestation.

Vol. 45, No.2.
Bundy, p. 192
[cut section about Black Panther Party and 10-point program]

Reforms are ends in themselves when implemented by the power

structure, but when implemented by the ordinary working people of
the black community, through an independent black political party,
reforms can become one means to the creation of a revolutionary new
society. The critical question is who, or more specifically, what class
controls the making of reforms, and for what purpose? Both the
Panthers and SNCC considered themselves to be revolutionary black
nationalist organizations. Black nationalism is usually treated by the
mass media as a sensational but peripheral phenomenon of no more
than passing interest. Actually, nationalism is imbedded in the social
fabric of black America, and this must be understood if the problems of
the black liberation movement are to be fully appreciated.