Secretive and sensitive information was often anonymously relayed to me during my days and nights in the 1960s and 1970s Black Movement. Whether or not the information was factual or a ploy, I know not. However, I was faced with the task of evaluating the info and ‘wisely’ handling or not handling it.
Stokely ‘Black Power’ Carmichael (lka Kwame Ture) would say that living for your people will prove to be more difficult than dying for your people. He explained that anyone can die. Stokely’s question to me was: Can you live for your people?
The emotional upheaval was heavy for yours truly. I saw many of the brothers and sisters who gave and gave and gave literally ‘lose it’ behind their ever-reaching desire to bring about righteousness in America. America was a cesspool of racism and Whites played that ‘race card’ with ease. Whites openly argued that nothing-of-worth existed without White validation or White discovery.
Whites equated words like black and dark as negatives while equating words like white and light as positives. Whites did not like Black people’s use of the word ‘Black’ in describing ourselves. And, Whites were made uncomfortable when ‘Black’ was linked with the word ‘Power’. Whites were sent off-kilter by Black men and Black women who rejected being called “girl” and “boy”. A sister who wore a natural was looked upon with suspicion by Whites who felt it was a sting and a rejection of White values and limits.
Ralph Featherstone (Feather) — a young Black man in the ‘Movement’ — would often and regularly ask me if there was a ‘contradiction in a sister, clad in a mini-skirt, wearing a natural’. Sadly, Feather died in a car bomb explosion before I ever had the insight or the wherewithal to answer his question. For a myriad of reasons, Feather’s death – like many others’ — will likely remain etched in my memory forever….
We in the ‘Movement’ realized the seriousness of winning. We knew that Black people needed to see us win. Stokely emphasized that our people needed to see us win – regardless of the costs.
There was a real disconnect between Washington, DC’s ‘Black’ Howard University and the Black community of DC. As we formed and organized the ‘original’ DC Black United Front (the Front), one of the many issues we confronted was the separation of Howard students from the community. Folk in the community said that the Howard students thought they were ‘better than and different from’ the Blacks in the community. They spoke of how the students shunned the community and rarely—if ever – lifted a finger to help the community.
In response to the Howard University ‘problem’, we in the Front knew we had to act. After careful deliberation and strategizing, the Front decided to push for student involvement in the community as well as a Black studies program at the school. We reached out to ‘active’ Howard students and they reached out to us.
We knew that administrators of Howard University would be most resistant to community involvement. And, we knew that the strongest possible resistance would come from ‘Black’ Howard University’s administration to formulating a Black studies program at the school. But, we were determined and, as Stokely explained: When Howard falls, the other universities and colleges will prove to be ‘mickey mouse’ to us who mean ‘business’.
Stokely’s assessment and familiarity with Howard University was right-on-target. Active resistance was employed by the University and the school ‘forced’ its students to organize sit-ins and more. Eventually, Howard University’s administration responded by having its students tear gassed, etc. and the campus was soon ablaze in fire. Vehicles were overturned and the campus appeared as a ‘war zone’. In the end, however, the students and community won as Howard University agreed to a Black studies program and more….
Following Howard University’s agreement to institute Black studies, the DC Front sent letters to other colleges and universities reminding them of ‘what had gone down at Howard’…. Needless to say, the response received from other schools was overwhelmingly positive and inviting…. Thus, the advent of Black studies on campuses throughout America resulted from the blood and sweat of both the Black community and Howard’s Black students.
Stokely was never really comfortable with the label “leader”. He saw himself as a community organizer and often spoke of himself in that manner. In private and intimate conversations with me, Stokely shunned the idea of being referred to as a Black ‘leader’.
It is interesting that Stokely, Marion Barry, Rev. David Eaton, and so many of us came together in DC at a particular time to help in organizing and formulating a Movement that brought such impactful racial change to America. How many people know that Stokely used to teach Sunday school to children, Marion studied Chemistry in school, etc.? Each of us – and others — stepped away from that which was comfortable in order to fight the good fight. What we accomplished was nothing short of a miracle. We willingly gave our lives and our dreams to the ‘Movement’….
Black folk in the 1960-1970’s Black Movement knew each other. It did not matter whether the organizers – or ‘leaders’ as some chose to be called – were from California; New York; Oregon; DC; Philadelphia; Atlanta; or NewArk, New Jersey…. We soon got to know each other as a result of our ‘Black’ activism.
I remember my first time meeting Stokely ‘Black Power’ Carmichael. The DC head of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (lka Student National Coordinating Committee) vouched for me, and Stokely and I immediately became fast friends and more. Although I had spoken to David Eaton on numerous occasions via phone, I well remember the first time we met. David and I, likewise, formed a fast and intimate friendship and more. Often, we were involved in ‘political’ trips together and I became a part of his ‘family’. I recall the first time I met Lester McKinney, Dick Jones, H. Rap Brown, Imamu Baraka, Malauna Ron Karenga, Jesse ‘the Country Preacher’ Jackson, and so many many others.
I learned a lot before I ever had the privilege of meeting particular people in the Movement. I learned a lot while working with and for specific folks in and out of the Movement. And, I have learned a lot since. When I was but a child, my father told me that I would soon learn that the more I learn, the more I will grow to realize how ‘little’ I actually do know. My Daddy was right!
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