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The Black Experience in America By Norman Coombs Characters: 45739

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


The Black Revolt

Civil Disorders

The smoldering tensions and frustrations which lay just below the surface in the Afro-American community exploded into a racial holocaust on August 11, 1965, in Watts--a black ghetto just outside of Los Angeles. When the smoke finally subsided several days later, more than thirty people were dead, hundreds had been injured, and almost four thousand had been arrested. Property damage ran into the millions.

The nation was shocked. The mass communications media tended to exaggerate the amount of damage done and also conjured up visions, in the mind of white America, of organized black gangs deliberately and systematically attacking white people. Many felt that it had been the worst racial outbreak in American history. In fact, it was not. The 1943 riot in Detroit and the 1919 riot in Chicago had both been more violent. The 1917 race riots in East St. Louis, Illinois, had outdone the Watts outburst in terms of the amount of personal injury. The violence in most previous riots had been inflicted by whites against blacks, and perhaps this was why white America did not remember them very clearly. The violence in Watts, though not directed against white persons as many believed, was still accomplished by blacks and aimed against white-owned property. White Americans were confused because they felt they had given "them" so much. Whites could not understand why blacks were not thankful instead of being angry.

In spite of the rumors that the riot was the result of conspiratorial planning, the activities of the rioters and of the law enforcement units displayed a crazy, unreal quality as the riot unfolded. It began with a rather routine arrest for drunken driving. Marquette Frye, a young black, was stopped by a white motorcycle officer and asked to take a standard sobriety test. In the course of arresting Frye, along with his brother and mother who were both objecting to the police action, the officers resorted to more force than many of the bystanders thought was necessary. The spectators became transformed into a hostile mob. As the police cars departed, youths began to pelt the vehicles with rocks and bottles. They continued to harass other traffic passing through the area. For a time, the police stayed outside the area, hoping that it would cool down. Then, believing that it was time to restore order, a line of police charged down the street clearing the mob. The police clubbed and beat anyone who did not get out of the way. The guilty usually ran the fastest, and the innocent and the physically disabled received most of the punishment. Instead of clearing the mob, the police charge only served to further anger the bystanders.

The rage of the black ghetto had been accumulating against all the symbols of oppression. The police, of course, were the most obvious and visible manifestation of this power, and in a riot they were one of the most convenient targets for the rioters. Newsmen and firemen also became victims of rock and bottle throwing. White-owned stores throughout the ghettoes formed another target for this anger. Before long, rioters were breaking into stores and carrying off everything from beer to television sets and clothing. Breaking and looting was shortly followed by burning. The center of the action was soon nicknamed "Charcoal Alley."

After a couple of days when the riot continued to grow, Los Angeles officials began to consider calling in the National Guard. Police Chief Parker did not know that it was necessary for him to contact the Governor's office and ask the Governor to call out the Guard. Unfortunately, Governor Brown was in Greece. The Lieutenant Governor was afraid to make such an important decision on his own initiative. Finally, Los Angeles officials phoned Governor Brown in Athens, and he gave his authority for calling out the Guard.

By the time the Guard arrived, all of Watts was covered with billowing clouds of smoke. The looting and burning were no longer confined to roving gangs of youths. Angry adults, who had previously only urged them on, had become intoxicated by the mood of destruction. People of all ages, many of whom had had no previous police record, began to join. The pressure chamber had blown its valve and was now letting off steam. Watts abandoned itself to an emotional orgy.

The National Guard had not been adequately trained to handle civil disorders. It also came with a point of view which was unsuited to a civilian outburst. They had been trained to work against an enemy, and had a tendency to interpret every action in this way and to view all the residents of Watts as enemies. When two drunks in a car refused to stop at a Guard roadblock and ran into a line of soldiers, the Guard interpreted it as a deliberate and malicious suicide attack. The Guard was convinced that they were being personally threatened, and the officers issued live ammunition to all the men.

By the end of the riot, the Guard had fired thousands of rounds of ammunition. The press portrayed Watts as an armed camp with scores of black snipers systematically trying to pick off the police and the Guard. In retrospect, both the police and the Guard came to believe that most of the snipers had really been the police and the Guardsmen unknowingly shooting at each other. When all of the evidence was examined in the calm light of day, very little of it pointed to the existence of snipers. Gradually, the Guard gained confidence in itself and in the situation. The more that it acted in calm and deliberation, the more quickly peace was restored to the area. Finally, eleven days after the Frye arrest the last members of the Guard withdrew, and the next day the police returned to normal duty.

In the light of the victories of the Civil Rights Movement, whites were bewildered by the anger which exploded from the black ghetto. They thought of their concessions to blacks as gifts from a generous heart. Blacks, to the contrary, viewed these concessions as the tardy surrender of rights which should have been theirs all along. Moreover, the effects of the civil rights victories had been largely limited to the Deep South and almost entirely to changes in legal status. The day-to-day realities of education, housing, employment, and social degradation had hardly been touched. Finally, life in an urban ghetto, though lacking the humiliation of legal segregation, had brought another harsh reality into Afro-American life. Survival for the individual as well as for the family came under fresh stress in urban slum situations. This had also been true for immigrant groups from Europe. Urban slum conditions created tremendous economic, social, and psychological strains. Ghetto life added a new dimension of social disorganization to an already oppressed community. The anonymity of life in large urban centers tended to remove many of the social constraints to individual behavior. Crime and delinquency increased. Actually, America had been deluded by the Civil Rights Movement into thinking that genuine changes were taking place for most Afro-Americans. Watts became a living proclamation that this was not true.

Early in 1967, violence began to reverberate throughout the ghettoes all across the nation. The earliest disturbances occurred at three Southern universities. Then, violence exploded in Tampa, Florida, in June. The following day, June 12, Cincinnati, Ohio, experienced a racial outburst. On June 17, violence began in Atlanta, Georgia.

The worst riots of that long hot summer occurred in Newark, New Jersey, and in Detroit, Michigan, during the month of July. Racial hostilities in Newark had been boiling for several months. In spite of the black majority in Newark, a predominantly white political machine still ran City Hall. Blacks were only given token recognition. The event which actually triggered the riot was, again, a relatively meaningless arrest. Bystanders assumed, probably mistakenly, that the black taxi driver who was being arrested, was also being beaten by the arresting officer. Bit by bit, again in a crazy pattern, the fires of frustration flared throughout the city. At almost the same time, ghetto violence began to rock several other northern New Jersey communities: Elizabeth, Englewood, Plainfield, and New Brunswick.

Looting and burning began to occur in Newark on a wide-scale basis. Before long, the Guard was called in, and the shooting increased. The chief of staff of the New Jersey National Guard testified that there had been too much shooting at the snipers. His opinion was that the Guard considered the situation as a military action. Newark's director of police offered the opinion that the Guard may have been shooting at the police with the police shooting back at the Guard. "I really don't believe," he said, "there was as much sniping as we thought."

By the time the shooting had ended, twenty-three people had been killed. Of these, one was a white detective, one was a white fireman, and twenty-one were Negroes. Of the twenty-one Negroes killed, six were women, two were children, and one was an elderly man seventy-three years old. The Kerner Report also stated, as did the New Jersey report on the riot, that there had been considerable evidence that the police and the Guard had been deliberately shooting into stores containing "soul brother" signs. Instead of merely quelling a riot or attacking rioters, some of them were apparently exploiting the situation to vent their own racial hatreds.

The violence in Detroit exploded on July 22. Again, it unfolded in an irrational, nightmarish fashion. The police had been making some rather routine raids on five illegal after-hours drinking spots. At the last target, they were overwhelmed to find eighty-two "in-mates." They needed over an hour in which to arrest and remove all of them. This created considerable local disturbance and attracted an ever-growing crowd of onlookers.

In Detroit, the black community had been upset for some time by what it believed had been a selective enforcement of certain laws aimed at them. Apparently, many of the observers believed that these raids were intended to harass the black community. Small-scale looting and violence began. After sputtering and flaring for a few hours, the riot began to grow and spread rapidly. By that night, the National Guard was activated.

By Monday morning, the Mayor and the Governor had asked for federal help. The Governor had the impression that, in order to secure it, he would have to declare a state of insurrection. He was further led to believe that such an action would mean that insurance companies would not pay for any damage. For this reason, he refused to act. All day, burning and looting continued and grew. Shooting became increasingly widespread, and the number of deaths began to soar rapidly. Finally, before midnight on Monday, President Johnson sent in federal troops on his own initiative.

When the federal troops arrived, they found the city full of fear. The Army believed that its first task was one of maintaining its own order and discipline. Second, it strove to establish a rapport between the troops and the citizens as a basis on which to build an atmosphere of calm, trust, and order. The soldiers provided coffee and sandwiches to the beleaguered residents, and an atmosphere of trust gradually developed.

It became clear that the mutual fear between the police and the citizens had only intensified the catastrophe. Lessons which had been learned two years earlier in Watts by the police and the Guard had not been applied in Detroit. Law enforcement officials again overreacted and used high-powered military weapons in a crowded civilian situation. This overreaction presented as much danger to innocent, law-abiding citizens as did the violence of the rioters. There had also been a tendency to treat the residents, en masse, as enemies and thereby to weld them into a hostile community. The federal troops demonstrated that a calm, deliberate, and open display of force was much more effective in restoring order than shooting at any frightening or suspicious target.

By the time order was restored to Detroit, forty-three people had been killed. Thirty-three were black, and ten were white. One Guardsman and one fireman were among the casualties. Some of the other white victims had been killed while they were engaged in looting. Damages were originally estimated at five hundred million dollars, but later estimates reduced the damage drastically.

Again, as in Newark, there was evidence of police brutality during the riot. The police were charged with brutality and murder in an incident which occurred at the Algiers Motel. After hearing that there had been a sniper in the building, the police riddled it with bullets. Then, they entered and searched it. In the course of questioning its inhabitants, three youths were shot and killed.

In turn, the police and the Guard accused the rioters of widespread sniping. Twenty-seven rioters were charged with sniping, but twenty-two of these charges were dropped at the preliminary hearings for lack of evidence. Later, one pleaded guilty to possessing an unregistered gun, and he received a suspended sentence.

President Johnson appointed a commission, headed by Governor Otto Kerner of Illinois to investigate the causes of the riots. In particular, he wished to ascertain whether any subversive or conspiratorial elements were involved. Although many did not like the report, particularly because of the blame it laid on the white community, it clearly proved that there had been no subversive or conspiratorial elements in these riots. The report warned that America was splitting into two nations: one black and one white. It believed that racism and hatred were growing deeper and that communication between the two communities was breaking down. The Commission made several recommendations for change in government, business, and society at large. These changes, however, would be very expensive. Government at all levels largely ignored the report. Liberals applauded it. Blacks felt that it was merely another report; they wanted action. Conservatives claimed that it was a prejudiced and unfair study.

In April of 1968, another rash of riots swept through the Afro-American community. This time there was a clear and obvious cause. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was visiting Memphis in support of a garbage workers' strike, was leaning over his motel's second-floor balcony railing talking to a colleague below when suddenly he was struck by a sniper's bullet and killed. Shock and outrage swept across the nation. Many Afro-Americans felt that they had been robbed of a friend as well as of their only hope for a better future.

Robert Kennedy took to the campaign trail for the 1968 Presidential election in order to bring justice to the poor, both black and white, and in order to reunite America behind a new sense of purpose and idealism. In June, after a rally in Los Angeles, he too was shot and killed. The nation was filled with horror and disbelief. Robert Kennedy had gained the trust of Afro-Americans more than almost any other white man of his generation. Violence seemed to reign supreme, and idealists, both black and white, were paralyzed by a feeling of futility.

Black Power

Even before the assassination of Martin Luther King, the Civil Rights Movement was disintegrating. Many believed that it was being killed by the riots. In fact, the Civil Rights Movement had already come under sharp attack both from within and from without. The urban riots of the sixties, instead of being the cause of its demise, were symptoms of the disease in the urban, Afro-American communities--a disease for which the Civil Rights Movement had not been able to effect a cure. In retrospect, it appears that there had always been voices from within the Afro-American community which had maintained that the Civil Rights Movement was not the panacea that many believed it to be. To the contrary, militant blacks maintained that the Civil Rights Movement itself was one of the primary causes of the urban riots. Stokeley Carmichael pointed out:

"Each time the people ... saw Martin Luther King get slapped, they became angry; when they saw four little black girls bombed to death, they were angrier; and when nothing happened, they were steaming. We had nothing to offer that they could see, except to go out and be beaten again. We helped to build their frustration."

As early as 1957, Robert F. Williams, then the N.A.A.C.P. leader in Monroe, North Carolina, concluded that nonviolence could not be looked upon as a cure-all for all the problems of the Afro-American community. In his opinion the right for an Afro-American to sit in the front of the bus in Montgomery was not so spectacular a victory:

"The Montgomery bus boycott was a victory--but it was limited. It did not raise the Negro standard of living; it did not mean better education for Negro children, it did not mean economic advances."

Williams compared the Montgomery boycott to an incident in Monroe:

"It's just like our own experience in Monroe when we integrated the library. I just called the chairman of the board in my county. I told him that I represented the NAACP, that we wanted to integrate the library, and that our own library had burned down. And he said, 'Well, I don't see any reason why you can't use the same library that our people use. It won't make any difference. And after all, I don't read anyway.'"

Williams claimed that a racist social system existed because the violence at the heart of that system went unchallenged. Violence was an integral part of the racial system, and it had not been introduced into the system by Afro-Americans.

"It is precisely this unchallenged violence that allows a racist social system to perpetuate itself. When people say that they are opposed to Negroes 'resorting to violence' what they really mean is that they are opposed to Negroes defending themselves and challenging the exclusive monopoly of violence practiced by white racists. We have shown in Monroe that with violence working both ways constituted law will be more inclined to keep the peace."

Williams urged Monroe Negroes to carry guns and other weapons and to defend themselves when attacked. He defended his position by invoking the teachings of Henry Thoreau who had also been used as an authority by the pacifists. Although Thoreau usually supported pacifism, according to Williams, Thoreau also believed that there were occasions which justified violence. Thoreau, who had defended John Brown's attack on Harpers Ferry, had made the statement that guns, for once, had been used for a righteous cause and were being held in righteous hands. In integrating his theory in regard to self-defense with the teachings of Thoreau, Williams was obviously attacking the philosophy of nonviolent resistance taught by Martin Luther King who also drew on Thoreau.

Even during the peak of the Civil Rights Movement, in the background there was a constant, irritating opposition. While the movement grew, the Black Muslims also grew. Not only did they challenge the tactics of nonviolent resistance, they disagreed totally with its goals. While Elijah Muhammed constantly opposed aggression, he did preach the need for self-defense. To him it was not necessary for a man to turn the other cheek when he was hit. He also ridiculed the Civil Rights goal of integration. Instead of losing themselves in white America, Muslims believed in finding their own identity and in maintaining a separate society. They claimed that blacks should not be ashamed of either their color or their heritage. They taught that the black man had had a history of which to be proud. The sense of self-acceptance and pride which they taught came as good news to ghetto residents who realized that they could never be assimilated into white, middle-class America.

With the conversion of Malcolm Little, better known as Malcolm X, the Muslims gained a dynamic speaker who did much to popularize and spread their teaching. Although the peculiar doctrines and puritanical practices of the Muslims prevented many from joining the movement, the number of its sympathizers grew rapidly. Malcolm X was able to appeal to ghetto residents in a way that Martin Luther King could not.

King, obviously, had had all the advantages of a middle-class home. Malcolm, however, had started at the bottom, and ghetto residents could readily identify with him. King had gone to college and had even earned a doctorate. Malcolm gained his reputation "hustling" on the streets of Boston and New York and also from teaching himself while serving a sentence in prison.

In 1964 Malcolm X was forced to break with Elijah Muhammed. Apparently, Elijah Muhammed had become threatened by Malcolm's charismatic appeal, and he feared he might lose his leadership in the movement. After a pilgrimage to Mecca as well as visits to several newly independent African nations, Malcolm returned to America ready to start a movement of his own. Although he believed more strongly than ever in Islam, he came to feel that several of the teachings of the Black Muslims were erroneous. One reason was that in Mecca he had worshipped with people from all races. As a result, he no longer felt that the white man, per se, was the "devil":

"In the past, yes, I have made sweeping indictments of all white people. I never will be guilty of that again--as I know now that some white people are truly sincere, that some truly are capable of being brotherly toward a black man. The true Islam has shown me that a blanket indictment of all white people is as wrong as when whites make blanket indictments against blacks."

Malcolm intended to continue teaching Islam in America, and he insisted that a religious faith was a help to any political movement. Nevertheless, he also intended to form a secular organization which could appeal to a wide variety of persons, and form the center of a new black militancy. Before any of these activities could get under way he was killed. Malcolm X was gunned down by four blacks, probably associated with the Black Muslims, while addressing a meeting in New York City early in 1965.

To Malcolm X the Civil Rights Movement was in need of a new interpretation. The degree of segregation existing in schools and in the rest of society, he contended, had actually increased in the decade since the Supreme Court decision in 1954. It seemed to him to be particularly true in the case of the de facto segregation practiced in the North. The spirit of the Civil Rights Movement, he pointed out, had been one of asking and pleading for rights which should have belonged to Afro-Ame

ricans by birth:

"I said that the American black man needed to recognize that he had a strong, airtight case to take the United States before the United Nations on a formal accusation of 'denial of human rights'--and that if Angola and South Africa were precedent cases, then there would be no easy way that the U.S. could escape being censured, right on its own home ground."

Malcolm was also critical of the Civil Rights Movement, contending that its interracial makeup and its emphasis on integration undercut the real goals of the black masses. "Not long ago," he said, "the black man in America was fed a dose of another form of the weakening, lulling and deluding effects of so-called 'integration.' It was that 'Farce on Washington,' I call it." Malcolm held that the famous March on Washington in 1963 had begun as a very angry, grass-roots movement among poor black people. He said that whites took it over and turned a genuine protest into a sentimental, interracial picnic.

Finally, Malcolm made it clear that he, too, was willing to resort to violence although he did not favor initiating it. He held that, when the rights of blacks were violated, they should be willing to die in the struggle to secure them:

"If white America doesn't think the Afro-American, especially the upcoming generation, is capable of adopting the guerrilla tactics now being used by oppressed people elsewhere on this earth, she is making a drastic mistake. She is underestimating the force that can do her the most harm.

"A real honest effort to remove the just grievances of the 22 million Afro-Americans must be made immediately or in a short time it will be too late."

The slogan "Black Power" exploded from a public address system in Greenwood, Mississippi, in the summer of 1966, and as it reverberated across America Stokeley Carmichael's motto spontaneously took on the dimensions of a movement. James Meredith, who had become famous for initiating federally backed integration of the University of Mississippi, was making a one-man freedom march across the South. He sought to demonstrate that blacks could walk through the South without fear. When he was shot, civil rights leaders from across the land felt compelled to continue his demonstration.

Martin Luther King representing S.C.L.C., Floyd McKissick from C.O.R.E., Stokeley Carmichael of S.N.C.C. and several others discussed the meaning and direction of the movement as they marched along the road by day and as they sat together in motels at night. Their discussion became a heated debate about both the tactics and the goals of their struggle. McKissick and Carmichael questioned the worth of nonviolence as a tactic and the value of integration as a goal. When the marchers reached Greenwood, Mississippi, a S.N.C.C. stronghold, Carmichael seized the microphone, and instead of using the traditional civil rights slogan of "Freedom Now" he began chanting "Black Power!"

Many whites assumed that the phrase meant black violence, and they assumed further that black violence meant black aggression. They conjured up pictures of bloody retaliation. Others saw it as a rejection of white allies, and they insisted that the freedom struggle could not be won without white help. To Carmichael, the Civil Rights Movement as it existed was "pleading and begging." It also had been wrong, he said, in assuming it was possible to build a working coalition between a group which was strong and economically secure--middle-class white liberals--and one which was insecure--poor blacks. In his opinion, "there is in fact no group at present with whom to form a coalition in which blacks will not be absorbed and betrayed." Two such differing groups had different sets of self-interest in spite of their similar sentiments. Carmichael contended that a genuine coalition had to be built between groups with similar self interests. Further, he argued that each group must have its own independent base of power from which to negotiate the terms of a working alliance. Black power, he said, was an attempt to build the strength on which future coalitions could be established.

Carmichael also attacked the concept of integration. If blacks wanted good housing or good education, integration meant leaving a black neighborhood and finding these things in white institutions. "This reinforces, among both black and white," he argued, "the idea that 'white' is automatically better and 'black' is by definition inferior. This is why integration is a subterfuge for the maintenance or white supremacy." If blacks could gain control of their own neighborhoods, each community, black and white, could define its own goals and be responsible for achieving its own standards. When both societies had built the kind of communities they wanted, meaningful integration between equal, though different, communities could occur, Carmichael contended. Integration, instead of being a one-way street, would be reciprocal.

Carmichael believed the existing political structure must be changed in order to overcome racism:

"'Political modernization' includes many things, but we mean by it three major concepts: (1) questioning old values and institutions of the society; (2) searching for new and different forms of political structure to solve political and economic problems; and (3) broadening the base of political participation to include more people in the decision-making process."

Black power meant two things: the end of shame and humiliation, and black community control. Blacks should be proud of being black, and they should be proud of their African past. Instead of using skin lighteners and hair straighteners, black power advocates began adopting a style of dress with an African flavor. To Carmichael there was still one other aspect to the black power philosophy. It should accentuate human values and human dignity. The prevailing system, besides being racist, put a primary emphasis on property rather than on humanity. Carmichael wanted the black-controlled community to act for the benefit of all blacks and not merely for the advantage of a handful of exploiting black capitalists.

What he advocated was the development of black cooperatives, not the building of black capitalism. He referred to this new political system as "political modernization." Its key was community, cooperative control of all the important things in people's lives. In addition to building a more participatory kind of democratic government, and developing cooperative enterprises, it meant that people renting houses or apartments must have rights and protection. He encouraged consumers and apartment dwellers to develop organizations which could fight for their special interests. He also wanted the community to gain local control of its police force.

The black power ideology spread across the nation rapidly, providing the movement with fresh impetus and a philosophical framework. Many had lost faith in the effectiveness of marches, demonstrations, appeals to white consciences and other direct action techniques. Black Americans were also growing weary and frustrated over the amount of violence which was being heaped upon nonviolent resisters. In Bogalusa, Louisiana, blacks were intimidated daily by the local Ku Klux Klan. Law enforcement officials never provided help either in terms of protection or in prosecuting wrongdoers. In fact, the law enforcement officials themselves were increasingly suspected of belonging to the Klan. Bogalusa blacks came to feel that arming themselves for self-defense was their only solution. In 1966 a number of them armed themselves, and founded the Deacons for Defense and Justice. Also in 1966, young blacks in Oakland, California, became extremely angry at what they believed to be police harassment. This resulted in their forming the Black Panther Party.

Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale, both of whom had been raised under ghetto conditions, felt that there was a need for an organization which could communicate with poor blacks instead of merely appealing to the black bourgeoisie. The symbol of the black panther had been used by an independent, black political party which S.N.C.C. had helped to found in Lowndes County, Alabama.

The black panther had special appeal as a symbol because, though it rarely or never attacked another animal, it would defend itself ferociously whenever it was challenged. In Oakland, the Black Panthers began by keeping the police under surveillance as a means of limiting their alleged brutality. Panther members carried registered guns and displayed them openly as the law permitted. Whenever the police stopped to question someone, the following Panther car also stopped. Then, the Panthers would stand nearby displaying their weapons, and someone who had some legal training, would inform the individual being questioned by the police what his legal rights were. The police were extremely angry at this harassment and looked for ways to retaliate. The best-known Panther recruit was Eldridge Cleaver who, like Malcolm X, had educated himself while in prison. Cleaver wrote several articles for Ramparts magazine, and became well known for his book Soul on Ice. His vivid writing helped the Panthers in spreading their ideas widely. Gradually, chapters of the Black Panther party were established in ghettoes all across America.

Besides demanding legal rights for blacks, the Black Panthers developed a ten-point program demanding decent jobs and decent housing. Also, arguing that most black prisoners had been convicted in courts by people conspicuous for their racial prejudice, they advocated that all black inmates of American jails should immediately be released and granted amnesty. Because blacks were not properly represented in the country and were not treated fairly as citizens, the Panthers contended that they should be exempted from all military service. Blacks fighting in the Vietnam war, they pointed out, were represented in numbers above their national proportion and were being used to fight a racist war against colored people in Asia. Carmichael had previously made this same point and had popularized the motto, "Hell No! We Won't Go!"

Although the Black Panthers believed in black power, they were willing to cooperate with some extremist whites, and they wanted the entire political system restructured to remove power from the rich and put it in the hands of the masses of citizens. They expressed this teaching with the slogans, "All power to the people" and "Black power to the black people." Eldridge Cleaver had also concluded that some young whites could be trusted to support the black cause. He had been impressed with the commitment of some of the white college students, especially those connected with Students for a Democratic Society. He recognized that there were some modern John Browns who could be depended on to help the cause. In the 1968 election, the Panthers joined with militant white groups which were seeking both racial justice and an end to the war in Vietnam and formed the Peace and Freedom Party. Although he was not old enough to meet the constitutional requirements, Eldridge Cleaver was nominated as the party's presidential candidate. In spite of the fact that the Peace and Freedom Party received only a handful of votes, it was a means of communicating its message to the American people.

In spite of President Nixon's appeal to the American people to "lower their voices" of protest so that they might better be heard, many believed that he only wanted quiet in order not to be disturbed. With Nixon's election, black and white radicals felt that the white and conservative backlash had taken over the "Establishment" and that official repression was bound to follow. Vice President Agnew's anti-liberal attacks were taken by many as an expression of Nixon's feelings which he preferred not to express himself.

The Black Panthers and the police became involved in a number of confrontations or "shoot-outs" which the former believed to be the result of a nationally organized, official repression. The police, at the same time, accused the Panthers of deliberately trying to kill "pigs," the Panthers' name for the police, and the Panthers accused the police of deliberately creating situations which would allow them to kill the Panther leadership. Before long, most of the Panther leaders were either under arrest, had been killed, or had fled into exile to avoid being arrested.

As civil disorders diminished in the ghettoes, college campuses were increasingly rocked by student riots. In part, it was because students asked for changes in the university structure. Black students demanded that courses in black studies be initiated and that colleges aggressively recruit new black students even if their grades were below admission standards. Some urban schools, like Columbia University, were accused by black and white students of diminishing the housing of ghetto residents to make the university's expansion possible. Other campus riots were aimed against the war in Vietnam. In May of 1970, when President Nixon sent American troops into Cambodia supposedly in the process of de-escalating the war in Vietnam, protests spread all across the country, and several campuses exploded with riots.

At Kent State University in Ohio, the National Guard shot and killed four white student protesters. At Jackson State in Mississippi, the police killed two black students. Campus riots escalated, and dozens of colleges and universities were compelled to close their doors for the remainder of the academic year. While some Americans felt that these killings were a result of government repression of the freedom of speech, others believed that more action of this kind was necessary to curb what they viewed as extremist protest. Blacks again noticed that it had been the death of four white students which brought forth the widespread indignation. They believed that killings of blacks by police and Guardsmen were usually taken for granted or ignored. Even liberals, they believed, were only really stirred by repressive measures aimed against whites.

When the Nixon Administration still refused to change its policies in response to these violent confrontations, radicals turned increasingly to the use of terrorist violence. Bombings had been on the increase for a couple of years, and during the summer of 1970, they became even more frequent. But the walls of the Establishment still did not come tumbling down. Members of the Panthers, S.N.C.C., and the Weathermen--the left-wing of the Students for a Democratic Society--were generally thought to be responsible for much of this terrorism. Instead of rallying fresh supporters to the cause of the radical left, their terrorism only served to alienate other moderates and radicals. Although the violence of this left fringe increased, their numbers appeared to decrease, and because of this the terrorist fringe began to reevaluate its tactics and the whole situation.

In February of 1971, when the Army of South Vietnam crossed into Laos with heavy American air support, campuses across the country remained quiet. At the same time, when Bobby Seale of the Black Panthers was brought to trial for allegedly participating in the murder of an ex-Panther, only a handful of spectators attended the opening of his trial. A year before when another Panther had gone on trial for his alleged involvement in the same crime, New Haven, Connecticut, experienced a series of demonstrations which culminated in a mass protest meeting of some fifteen thousand people.

By early 1971, terrorism, violent confrontation, and peaceful protests had withered considerably. Pessimism, cynicism, and despair were widespread, and many advocates of change had become paralyzed by futility, but neither black nor white protesters had surrendered to the status quo. Both groups were rethinking their attitudes. Instead of using massive campaigns with mass media coverage, the Movement had switched its emphasis to the routine, day-by-day organization of support. In 1966 the Black Power Movement had contained more rhetoric than power. In 1971 it was still alive, but blacks were working in practical ways, limiting themselves to workable objectives. The Afro-American community was quietly building community organizations to create the economic and political foundations necessary for the future. Mass protests and radical slogans, even when they received worldwide attention, had not had enough muscle to change power relationships. Afro-Americans, then, turned to the more grueling and inglorious job of trying to put their theories into practice.

Epilogue

What insights can the study of history bring to the understanding and solution of the American racial situation? How can the knowledge of yesterday's events help us to face tomorrow's decisions? The fact is, whether we know it or not, that the past is always with us and clings tightly to us like a cloak. We have the choice of either recognizing it and dealing constructively with it or of ignoring it and remaining in bondage to it.

The heritage of the American slave system is still part of our lives. Racial attitudes of white superiority and black inferiority became an integral part of the American cultural climate, and it is still part of the air we all breathe. All Americans, black and white, inhale and assimilate more racism than we care to admit. Denying that we are still infected by prejudice, however, does not help us to deal creatively with it. The drive to create a black identity which can be worn with pride and the emergence of independent African nations already have made a significant impact in altering American racial stereotypes.

History is one of the disciplines concerned with understanding how social processes operate. On this point, the study of Afro-American history raises a particular question about the means of social change. There have been those who sought to achieve it through appeals to conscience and idealism, others have turned to the use of physical force, and there have also been those who worked for it through mobilizing economic and political power.

The black experience in the United States leaves one either disillusioned or cynical concerning the value of conscience and idealism in erasing American racism. These factors, however, have not been totally irrelevant. The American democratic creed has prevented the nation from building a permanent legal caste system based on color. As a legal structure, Jim Crow lasted less than a century and was limited to the Deep South. Idealism has made it impossible for America to rest comfortably while pursuing its racist policies.

Violence is a tempting technique for the frustrated and angry. In fact, it often has accompanied rapid social change, but it is usually a by-product of shifting power relationships in society rather than the cause of change itself. Trusting in violence is a form of revolutionary romanticism, a seductive shortcut to other more basic kinds of social power. The history of the Black Panthers would seem to be an example of this point. Their appeal to violence attracted angry youths who were eager for quick results. Although the party gained a lot of publicity, and, in some quarters, received a lot of applause, its desire for rapid success kept it from building a solid, mass base. Apparently its leaders believed that violence made this kind of mobilization unnecessary. Its publicity and quick successes were superficial and failed to achieve basic social transformation. On Wednesday, May 19, 1971, Huey Newton, the Black Panther Minister of Defense, declared that the Panthers had been wrong in confronting the police: "All we got was a war and a lot of bloodshed." He said that they had been mistaken in disregarding the church and in thinking that they could change things without the people's changing them:

"We'll be criticized by the revolutionary cultists for trying to effect change by stages, but to do all we want to do, we just have to go through all the stages of development. We cannot jump from A to Z as some thought."

Throughout history almost all social transformations have been the result of shifts in basic power relationships. The attempt to build political and economic power on a nationwide basis within the black community is a relatively new phenomenon. Reconstruction had attempted to do it earlier, but it was destroyed before it could be tested. Almost all other black economic and political involvement has been dependent on sizable white support. This was true both of the policies of Booker T. Washington and of the Civil Rights Movement. In fact, this meant a reliance on white power and on white conscience. The new spirit of black pride and self-reliance along with the new voting rights has already created pockets of black political strength in many Northern cities and in parts of the rural South. It is also being reflected in the Congress with the election of more blacks and with their creation of the Black Caucus, presently consisting of thirteen black congressmen. After submitting a list of their demands to President Nixon, their spokesman, Representative William Clay, D-Mo., said:

"We are going to set the tone for the black liberation struggle in this country.... Black people in this country have no permanent friends, no permanent enemies, only permanent interests.... I think we've reached the point in black America where we've completely given up on the mass demonstrations, sit-ins and boycotts. We've come to the basic conclusion that America has no conscience. Anybody who still appeals to what they think is a conscience is either stupid or frustrated. The only possible avenue for the achievement of equal rights for all in this country is through the exertion of political power. We have actual power, and even greater potential power, more than we've ever had in history."

As Representative Clay maintains, striving for racial change through an appeal to conscience has been found woefully inadequate. The resort to physical force has not been followed very often and, when it has, it has been used sporadically. To succeed, it obviously requires its own kind of mass power base to bring about lasting results. The creation of genuine black political power which was preached in 1966 is only being achieved now. It has already gained significant local results. In the Black Caucus, it promises broader national influence. Trusting to white consciences has been proven naive. Looking to terrorism for quick results has only led to publicity and bloodshed. Building genuine political power, however, is producing results now and promises to create more social transformation in the immediate future.

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