“A place for every nigger and every nigger in his place.”
-- Malcolm X
“It ain‘t changing. It ain‘t changing nowhere.”
-- Barry Bonds (1)
"That is why I say, despite its apparent power, and precisely because of its excesses, American capitalism is weaker today than it has ever been. As sure as Africa is my mother, and she is my mother, revolution will come to America. A brother in Mississippi used to tell the youth, stay ready, so you don’t have to git ready.”
-- Kwame Ture in 1998
This is a belated birthday tribute ... plus. Wanted to wait a day first … to see if some site might honor his coming into this troubled world. To see if this was needed. Just as I suspected.
Kwame Ture (aka Stokely Carmichael) and L. Russell Brown (aka Larry Brown) were both born June 29th, almost within a minute of one another in 1941. Same Hemisphere too. But an ironic and instructive contrast begs for consideration here, a dark stark difference that almost makes the entire edifice of Astrology come tumbling down. The one left people with Black Power resonating in their bones, shaking Afro-Saxons in white corridors (screaming Liberation for all!), while the other is leaving a legacy of abominable super-patriotism and racism, his “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ’Round the Old Oak Tree” vibrating with every tassel worn by/waved for U.S. troops.
KT, the young Mr. Brown and me ... we all became teens around the time (1955) when the Bandung World came into being, encouraging the subjected people of the earth to confront colonialists and capitalists ... demanding their own power.
Once only, in pre-Trumped Atlantic City, I shared a tiny portion of some single birthday slice with the legendary advocate of Pan-Africanism (before he was a heady Ready for Revolution household name), whereas the “Sock It To Me, Baby” writer—a “best friend” for fifty years—served me celebratory cake on many occasions in and around the Seth Boyden Housing Projects of Newark, New Jersey.
Haven’t spoken a word to Larry, however, since he set the invasion of Afghanistan to a Tony Orlando beat; he won’t be getting so much as a card from me this year. Yet … I talk and listen to Ray Charles’ pride and joy often in my dreams. As I organize, try to raise consciousness and confront The Powers, he looms much more alive than my childhood companion, grown fat on royalties, cynicism and compassionless heartbeats.
KT/SC busted out of the baaskap assigned to him, but Mr. “Knock Three Times” bought into the bakeesh laid before him. The former’s uncompromising, unselfish spirit lives, teaching as an Activist Ancestor.
The image of Stokely’s ear-to-ear smiling, calypso way is fixed forever. His waxing and waning about having just discovered Miriam Makeba’s clicks in “Qongqothwane,” while sashaying along a then lovely boardwalk with newly arrived—gentlemanly and peaceful—blacks from the South, is in violent contrast with my memory of Larry cheerleading murderous members of the Newark Police Department—many of whom we grew up with—as tanks rolled down The Flower of the Garden State’s Central Avenue following the assassination of Martin Luther King.
I take a moment to come up from the Underground to encourage readers to reconsider Kwame’s message on “this special day.”
The day of dangerous head-to-head confrontation has passed. So too, The Moment in the Sun for Jail Time, naked in Parchman farm on the Mississippi Delta or pitifully perched in Pelican Bay. Ditto regarding Name Recognition.* My Caribbean Muse from Trinidad’s Belmont tells me that we should no longer face down mobs with snarling dogs. We must dispense with actions that lead to removing activists from the streets as easily as was done in Selma and—three decades later—in Seattle. Resistance must go the way of Direct Action Secret Societies now forming nationwide. You can see me for details if you move expeditiously as my firstname.lastname@example.org email address is—for the time being-- COINTELPRO-proofed.
*You may recall that Stokely Standiford Churchill Carmichael terminated his tap dance with the Panthers quite abruptly following the Jim Forman/Cleaver cleavage. That certainly took some dramatic doing. But you can do the same. In fact, you need to, as one of the major lessons from the COINTELPRO days must be that covert government infiltration and foul-mouthing will bring down any radical leadership/vision that emerges when the bullet and the ballot both fail. Anonymity is essential. The public will have to be inspired by repeated (unannounced) disruptions of their own routines rather than by recoiling in horror at the antics of Bull Connor or Mayor Daley … as demonstrators get hosed down/gassed over.
A place for violence? The split between Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison respecting militant force/moral suasion in the trajectory of struggle continues. As KT/SC has noted, it is truly “cyclical, full of ironies and contradictions that seem to recycle themselves ad infinitum.” In his mature years he underscored that the Greek philosopher Heraclitus was not on target when it came to Africans in America. To wit, black folks on these shores “seem always to be crossing and recrossing the same river.”
Giving up on electoral politics as per Dave Dellinger (see Revolutionary Nonviolence: Essays by Dave Dellinger, a 1971 Garden City/Doubleday Anchor Book) for starters is a prerequisite for this kind of thinking, I’m afraid. That’ll put you in a distinct minority, of course, but perhaps the need for huge numbers massing for little consequence has had its day. As KT asked in the late 90s, what has changed in over three decades?
Besides, there are lessons from the historical record which beg for attention, neglected pinpoints of pain that KT/SC—and many readers—lived through, knowingly or not. Sometimes (as with Dr. Du Bois, Malcolm and the Freedom Riders) we have to ride the road not taken, regardless, yes? Previous promenades of the prominent put in perspective.
Perhaps—as the vast majority of voting liberals are poised to pick JFK II—it’s very timely to remind citizens that while young Stokely Carmichael matriculated at Bronx High School of Science (where the cream of NYC’s students congregated by invitation only) the gains supposedly won through the famous Brown vs. Board of Ed of Topeka decision became a huge negative for black folks. “Moderate” politicians such as Arkansas’ Faubus and Alabama’s Wallace saw which way the wind was blowing—long before Bob Dylan put his particular twist on the notion—and transformed into rabid advocates of segregation virtually overnight. You see, as bad as the rednecks and the situation in the South were prior to Chief Justice Earl Warren’s Court’s “damnfool decision,” the whole business was nothing compared to what transpired in Dixie subsequent to the historical 1954 landmark being put in place.
The Klu Klux Klan’s membership—previously in serious decline—rocketed immediately, and (a mere four months after the decision) the infamous White Citizens Council was formed, infecting the entire Southern landscape with unprecedented resistance to progress for blacks. To condense a helluva lot, let me just point out that Emmett Till was murdered/mutilated less than a year later in the Mississippi Delta town of Money, his murderer, “Big” Milam, not only acquitted … but elected sheriff in a nearby county shortly thereafter. Yes, between 1954 and 1960 and beyond brutal thugs became highly proactive with total support from the media and opportunistic politicians. And one doesn’t have to cite caricatures like Senator James Eastland to make this point. Eisenhower, for one, never uttered a word in support of Warren’s Court on this count, setting the stage for many an atrocity.
Permit me to remind you that the above runs counter to what is written in standard school texts AND the general take of Black History in liberal quarters.
It is into this (newly) highly-charged, racist horror of horrors that KT/SC voluntarily descended. Positioned to rise in the ranks as a bourgeois graduate of Howard, his inspiration was drawn from the likes of Fanon, C.L.R. James and George Padmore rather than from the padded cells of the Black Middle Class. “A place for every nigger and every nigger in his place,” said Malcolm (quoting a Southern governor). This KT/SC rejected … long before he changed his name in admiration for Ahmed Sekou Toure and Kwame (Osageyfo) Nkrumah, fully embracing his African roots.
And while he paid a huge price—not unlike what was imposed on James Baldwin and Paul Robeson—to further the cause of his people, JFK #1 lingered in the wings, permitting injury and death to be inflicted on some of the poorest and most courageous souls in this or any country. This, while publicists pushed the JFK image to preposterous extremes. No, the New Frontier was nothing along the lines of what was presented in Mississippi Burning , folks. (2) Didn’t really measure up to what we were fed in that Collector’s Edition of Life.
The disingenuous callousness of the Democrats of all stripes had much to do with KT/SC ultimately rejecting the excessive religious zeal of “the pain-and-suffering school of struggle.” I have a very low tolerance for criticism of 60s/70s Stokely, when it is delivered by people who haven’t done their homework. He’s an extremely easy target for those who don’t know that Gandhi approved of violence under certain circumstances, of course. And, apparently, it’s much easier for liberals to relate to the likes of Roy “We will fight for this country no matter how many of us they lynch” Wilkins. (3)
The ugly history of John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy vis-à-vis the Freedom Riders, The March on Washington, Selma, etc. is beautifully laid bare in Ready for Revolution (Scribner’s 2003 book, lovingly and penetratingly written by both KT//SC—on his deathbed in Conakry, Guinea—and the incomparable Ekwueme Michael Thelwell, personal witness to the life and struggles of this article’s subject). Out of respect, I will not repeat much of it here.
However, I will note that few of my “colleagues” on the Left—for whatever reasons—acknowledge the lies that posit Whites (the likes of John Brown and Howard Zinn notwithstanding) as saviors in Black History. And too many have bought the media’s sensational cookie-cutter characterizations of KT/SC regarding whites ... and MLK, women, violence, Jews, etc., for that matter. Spike Lee has a lot of questions to answer on this count, by the way; his sins of omission in “4 Little Girls” (on the ‘63 Birmingham church bombing/murder) for one, do terrible damage.
Depriving Blacks of their legitimate vote in 2000 Florida (a la Greg Palast’s reports) is one thing. That’s bad enough. But during the much heralded years of electoral progress vis-à-vis Blacks, there was torture employed (in Southern prisons) reminiscent of Abu Ghraib. Below is a description of what many went through simply trying to register voters in Leflore County and others areas along the Mississippi Delta, as liberals in positions of power looked the other way.
“They tried to make them believe they were about to be killed. Or that some of their friends had already been killed. Some were hung by their wrists from handcuffs. They were all kept naked in their cells for forty-seven days. Another punishment was the ‘hot box.’ This was a small zinc box completely exposed under the Mississippi sun in which you were kept until you passed out.” (4)
Our federal government—preening itself on its progress for the world press—knew all this was coming down, but permitted the abominations to go on interminably, playing politics with the Dixiecrats. Conversations with totalitarian liberals who refuse to acknowledge Kennedy family complicity on these counts is tantamount to talking Bush trash with left leaners who will not discuss the implications of Jimmy Carter’s remaining mum for four years on his Georgia’s School of the Americas. It’s all either useless academic wordplay or an attempt to pigeonhole politics, finding a use for the pretty images that help many to sleep at night.
Absolutely pitiful that progressives NEVER address the relationship between the Kennedy's describing the violence in 60s Birmingham as being the result of “extremism on both sides” and the similar/common characterization of the Palestinian/Israeli confrontations.
KT/SC was unable to travel that Travesty. Come home, brothers and sisters. See what we have here. At our mutual peril, we do not address The Corrective.
The March on Washington (which incorporated Martin Luther King’s most famous speech)—contrary to what has been taught by mainstream politicians, media, schools, et. al.—was NOT “democracy at work,” but rather an elaborate exercise in forestalling the threat of SNCC-type demonstrations/incidents/influence, and a way to temporarily placate huge numbers of enraged citizens while simultaneously performing the requisite PR for our international press.
And speaking of the nation’s capital, I spent a bit of time—as a representative of Newark’s Rutgers University—on the campus of Howard University when Stokely was matriculating there, seeming to be much more than a mere two years out of the Bronx High School of Science. At the Hilltop, the upper quadrangle where liberal arts are taught—even back in 1961 (when we were both sophomores)—there was revolutionary talk about how Middle America could be reached. It was intense at times, but it wasn’t long before highly-charged confrontational fare for the South became the approach of choice among the Nonviolent Action Group (NAG) members and others calling the activist shots.
At this historical juncture, it might be worthwhile to review what some of the talk was back then. Tentatively. Cryptically. Just keep in mind what Howard University’s sterling, incomparable Sterling Brown taught his charges outside of the classroom. To wit, very often you can’t talk one to thirty what you can talk one-on-one. That long ago, before any one with sense would realize that those who might make an impact would be foul-mouthed, infiltrated and/or eliminated. Sellouts ruled most of Howard back then, as they do most places today. That’s why Leadbelly wrote the “Bourgeois Blues” lines:
“'Cause it’s a bourgeois town,
As Stokely has made clear, Professor Brown was a griot of the first order. He was a respected elder brother, grounding the revolutionary. However, the brothers and sisters of today will be hard put to find his like again, and they must know it. Thus, I trust they will not wait for an L. Russell Brown elegy to act. (5)
Just as most anti-Bushites, leftists, progressives, liberal thinking individuals—whatever you want to call them—couldn’t tell you what a “griot” is, my computer Spell Check is running a ragged red line under the word as I write, not acknowledging its place here.
White America—the America that rules—for all practical purposes … knows little and cares less about Black America … still. Whether it’s African cultural heritage, poverty, how the gangs got that way, etc. It would be very easy for White America to let Blacks go the way of Native Americans.
Down the tubes.
Well, I’m one Columbia/Morningside Heights product who’s stoked to have met Stokely. He knew all about Down The Tubism, as they would say on the stepladders of Harlem. My Lord, he was one of the Greatest Tuba Players of All Time! (6) Oh, to hear those deep, sonorous sounds once again, his nommo, God’s trombone. He was so more than an orchestrator.
The breaking news of the death of Du Bois was – unbelievably—totally ignored by Dr. King’s “white brothers and sisters” and others at the '63 March on Washington. Stokely’s/KT’s life and death and the need for an ongoing Black Intifada is still swept away, misrepresented by too many. Sinfully misrepresented. That will change. His contribution WILL be acknowledged.
Bless you, Kwame Ture. I very much look forward to seeing you again. Here and in The Hereafter. Peace be unto you. Nuff respect.
Richard Oxman (O'Xman) is a writer and Underground Activist
living in St. Kitty Katos (Los Gatos), California, where there are about
30,000 inhabitants and approximately 29,999 Betsy Ross flags. He can be