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BLACK CONSCIOUSNESS

Black August

Baltimore Rebellion Prompts Nationwide Protests

State of Emergency for the Ruling Class While African American Youth Draw the Line in Baltimore City

Thousands in the streets taking control of communities and driving out authorities


By Abayomi Azikiwe
Libya 360°

Baltimore youth raised the stakes in the struggle against police brutality on April 27 when they set off the largest urban rebellion in the recent period. Since Aug. 9, 2014, with the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, the mood of militancy and mass action has accelerated throughout the United States.In response to the demonstrations and rebellion, Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has declared a “state of emergency” announcing the deployment of National Guard troops ostensibly to restore order. A curfew between 10:00pm and 5:00am was slated to go into effect on the evening of April 28.

Gov. Hogan in a press conference during the evening of April 27 in Baltimore said that he was moving his office and cabinet to the city to deal with the crisis and that he should have been called earlier by African American Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. Such a statement and move was tantamount to a state takeover of local operations involving the crisis in the city.

The Gov. emphasized a militarized approach to “restoring order.” The mayor came under criticism for not taking harsh actions beginning on Sat. April 25 when the initial eruptions occurred in Camden Yards.

However, the mayor was aware that if hundreds of cops were sent in to the crowds of African American youth on the afternoon of April 27 a more violent and deadly situation could have occurred. Obviously the degree of anger and discontent among African Americans has reached a fever pitch in the city.

In an attempt to derail further youth protests, schools in Baltimore were closed on April 28.

Federal government offices and many businesses did not open while the Baltimore Orioles baseball game was cancelled. Some 5,000 cops from throughout the region and 1,500 National Guard troops called out by Gov. Hogan were being deployed establishing a police state in the city.

The use of lethal force, the launching of teargas canisters, sound grenades, LRAD and pepper spray could have created a situation where dozens may have died and suffered serious injury, many of whom would be African American youth. Such an immediate outcome from police repression of the rebellion would have broadened resistance and posed an even deeper political problem for Washington.

With this rebellion erupting less than fifty miles from the White House exposes even further the political bankruptcy of the administration of President Barack Obama. The so-called post-racial president has systematically refused to address the ongoing problems of national oppression and institutional racism in the U.S.

At a presidential press conference with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan on April 28, Obama attempted to avoid the issues surrounding African American national oppression, answering a question directed at Abe on the much-dreaded Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and his support for further globalization and predatory world capitalism. Later Obama said his thoughts were with both the family of Freddie Gray and the police who were injured.

Obama then went on to denounce the rebellion saying there was no excuse for violence. That the mass actions of the African American youth were counter-productive and that looting was not protesting but stealing.

The president went as far as to proclaim that attacking private property undermined the opportunities in the African American communities. He called for the stop of “this senseless violence.”

Then the president began to enunciate trivial efforts to address the problem of police-community relations. No initiatives were discussed to provide and guarantee jobs, housing, education, healthcare, utility services, access to water and other essentials of life.

The Obama administration has supported the undemocratic policies of forced removals of African Americans and the privatization of public assets. In Detroit, the administration issued a pseudo-legal rationale for the imposition of emergency management and bankruptcy that looted billions in pension funds, healthcare programs and public resources from a majority African American city.

Death in Detention of Freddie Gray Raises Level of Intolerance to Racism

It would take the death in police detention of 25-year-old Freddie Gray leading to anti-racist demonstrations in Baltimore that would set the stage for a rapid escalation in social defiance and political consciousness. However, the death of Gray was just the spark that ignited a long-simmering fire of anger and intolerance for injustice.

Baltimore has been a notorious center of police violence against the African American community. This factor is coupled with large-scale foreclosures of homes by the banks and the impending water shut-offs of tens of thousands of households in the city.

A demonstration on April 25 in downtown Baltimore at the Camden Yards, illustrated the changing character of the protests and rebellions, popularly characterized as “Black Lives Matter.” These mass actions stemming from police misconduct but reflecting a much deeper level of national oppression and institutional racism have been both nonviolent and violent.

On April 27 high school students left schools and began to demonstrate against the police killing of Gray. Subsequently clashes erupted between the police and the youth resulting in the smashing of windows, the pelting of police and the destruction on law-enforcement vehicles.

Accounts from the news reports said of some of the actions on April 27 that:

–“Baltimore police issued a press release saying they had received a ‘credible threat’ against their officers. According to the release ‘various gangs including the Black Guerilla Family, Bloods, and Crips have entered into a partnership to ‘take out’ law enforcement officers.’”

–“Police say that they have received reports that ‘several people are inside Mondawmin Mall looting and destroying property.’ Television images showed a group of people streaming into the mall.”

–“Just hours after Freddie Gray’s funeral, hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets, burning police cars, looting stores and facing off with police. Television images showed those demonstrators throwing rocks, bricks and bottles at a line of police officers in riot gear.”

–“Images from a television helicopter showed some demonstrators destroying a police vehicle. They showed others looting a CVS pharmacy, a Rite-Aid and small shops. What started as a confrontation between hundreds of protesters and riot police quickly turned into a melee covering multiple neighborhoods. Baltimore police said that 15 officers had been hurt in the clashes. Some suffered broken bones and two of them are still hospitalized.”

–“A huge fire has consumed a senior citizen center that was under construction in East Baltimore, but police have been unable to connect it to the riots thus far, the Baltimore Sun reports. At least 10 firefighting companies were attempting to control the blaze, at the corner of North Chester and East Lanvale streets, and keep it from spreading to nearby houses, firefighters said.”

Counter-insurgency and Psychological Operations

Corporate and government media commentators seek to divide the resistance movement between those who engage in what is considered “legally protected” forms of dissent as opposed to acts of property destruction and attacks on law-enforcement. These apparent two forms of action often overlap, where it will only take provocations by the police to turn a peaceful demonstration into a mass rebellion.

Blocking access to highways, major thoroughfares, shopping malls, major sports venues, entertainment and financial districts, cuts into the profit-making system. Images of African American youth throwing missiles at the cops, smashing police vehicles and liberating consumer goods from businesses, the setting of fires in strategic locations to block access by the authorities into areas that have been taken over by the those in rebellion, illustrates the growing sense of outrage not only against law-enforcement but challenging the structures of racial capitalism.

Cable news television stations and their local counterparts are quick to put a spin on the events seeking to ignore the fundamental class and national oppression so prevalent in the U.S. Showing youth attacking private property is explained as criminal activity while the police are portrayed as victims of youth gangs out to commits acts of burglary and arson.

At the same time highlighting scenes of people coming to clean up after the destruction of stores and police property focusing on the volunteer nature of the community and refusing to point out that the municipal administrations are absent. That the mayor’s office which calls for calm and the restoration of order is never questioned about why these same youth and their communities have been ignored for decades.

Baltimore Mayor Rawlings-Blake says that the rebellion is destroying progress made over the years. Media pundits portray low-wage employee chain stores as “assets to the community.”

No serious analysis is done by the corporate media over the nature of this so-called “progress” in Baltimore. These putative “development policies” serve to remove African American poor and working class communities while empowering a white-dominated ruling and middle class buffered by a comprador African American bureaucratic bourgeoisie which works on behalf of the banks and corporations in subservience to the law-enforcement agencies and the state government.

All of sudden the people are portrayed as destroying their own communities. The communities become theirs when they rise up in rebellion but not when capital seeks to seize people’s homes and turn off their water resources.

During this period when the state and corporate entities want to enforce the supremacy of the ruling class, there is generally no discussion about the people’s ownership of where they live and work. The narrative is centered on the imperative that the oppressed and working people must pay their predatory loans and inflated utility bills.

Appeals for personal responsibility and parental assertion of control, only applies during the urban rebellion. Whether these same youth and adults have decent jobs and economic opportunities never enter into the discussion because the one percent has nothing to offer beyond minimum wage employment, state repression, mass incarceration and economic exploitation.

It is the mayor who is responsible for actions of the police. The city administration approves the changes in zoning laws, allowing corporate financial interests to engage in large-scale removals of African Americans and other oppressed neighborhoods for the benefit of the profit system.

Mass Demonstrations and Rebellions Points to Need for Fundamental Change

The escalation in the liberation struggle of African Americans since last summer represents the worsening social conditions in urban areas throughout the U.S. These problems cannot be solved under the existing system of racial capitalism.

Wealth created by the majority of the working class and oppressed must be distributed equitably in the U.S. in order for social peace to take hold. What we are witnessing in various cities from Ferguson to Oakland and Baltimore portends much for the rest of the country where the same issues remain unresolved since the era of Civil Rights and Black political empowerment of the 1960s and 1970s.

To ensure a fundamental advancement in the national liberation movement, the youth and workers must be organized into revolutionary formations which provide the political education and long-term planning aimed at addressing the crisis at its base. It is the banks and corporations who have systematically disenfranchised and impoverished the masses of people in the U.S. Any solution to the crisis must hold the ruling interests accountable for the monumental crimes committed against the people.

There should be a halt to all foreclosures and evictions in Baltimore. The water shut-offs must be immediately stopped.

All youth and adults seeking meaningful employment, economic opportunities and quality education must be provided with these resources. National Guard troops and police should be withdrawn from the African American communities. The people must be empowered to both define and pursue their fundamental human, political and economic rights to peace, living wages, quality housing and schools leading to total community control and self-determination.


Abayomi Azikiwe has written extensively on African affairs with specific reference to historical studies and political economy. He has done research on the origins and political ideology of the African National Congress, its leaders as well as other national liberation movements and regional organizations  in Southern Africa.



Black Community Control of the Police Conference


Police are the Terrorist to Africans

Omali Yeshitela at Black Community Control of Police Conference

Glen Ford of the Black is Back Coalition & the Black Agenda Report presents on the origin of the police & their purpose according to the state, which controls them.

Lawrence Hamm of the Black is Back Coalition & People Organizing for Progress, stirs the crowd in revolutionary fashion in his call for Black Community Control of Police.

Omali Yeshitela calls out white media…

Glen Ford Interviewed on the Real News Network

3 Moms Who Lost Sons to Police Terror African Internationalist Conference on African Women

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2015 : Anti-Racist Movement Must Intensify in the US

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Steve Biko and the Quest for Black Power Today

Malcolm II: The passing of Malcolm Shabazz by Mumia Abu-Jamal

Malcolm II: (1:57) (the passing of Malcolm Shabazz) by Mumia Abu-Jamal

Audio Link >>

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Advanced Detachment: The Revolutionary Party of the African Working Class

White Power Asserts Terrorist Authority in Mali

Luwezi Kinshasa, Secretary-General of the African Socialist International

LONDON — The African Socialist International demands the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of French troops from Mali.

The murderous invasion of Mali by French military forces, was done, the imperialist media say, at the invitation of the neocolonialist puppet Mali President, Dioncounda Traoré.

Since the invasion, the white imperialist media have painted a narrative showing the African population in Mali exuberant that a white occupying army is on African soil, ostensibly to save us from invaders. In other words, to save us from ourselves.

They showed a staged crowd of Africans cheering French Socialist Party President, Francois Hollande.

It is true that there are many places in the world that, given free reign, the imperialists with their immense resources can mobilize hundreds of people to any cause they choose, at any given time.

However, support among the Malian people dictates that the French and their U.S. allies use a ground and air military effort in the counterinsurgency war they are waging against our people in Mali.

Otherwise, the French colonialists would not need all the resources of world-wide white power to put down this anti-imperialist movement.

The white ruling class media would have us believe the masses of African people in Africa and the peoples of the world are unaware of the history of French imperialism and the crimes it has committed in its hundreds of years of oppression and exploitation of Our Africa and the genocide of the indigenous people throughout the Caribbean Islands and in the Americas.

In addition, since the initial French invasion, the neocolonialist presidents of Niger, Mahamadou Issoufou and Blaise Compaoré of Burkina Faso has given the Obama regime “authorization” to place U.S. drone bases on their respective territories as part of the imperialist counterinsurgency.

The traitor, Blase Compaoré, led the assassination of martyred Burkina Faso President, Thomas Sankara in 1987.

This is a war enjoying the participation of all major European imperialist powers to the war effort; the U.S. providing in-flight refueling capacity and with spying and armed murderous drones; the British providing military training to troops from Niger, Algeria, and other West African imperialist controlled armies; the Germans sending ammunition, etc.

Also, thousands of African soldiers from Nigeria, Togo, Niger, Senegal, Benin, Guinea (Conakry), Chad and Ghana will serve in Mali under European commanders.

They were ordered there by their neocolonialist governments to forward the imperialist agenda in Mali.

The French economy is in crisis!

The French president is unable to compete with capitalist competitors or to impose his country’s view of how to solve the crisis of the European Union.

A desperate France has chosen the theft of resources from Africa with naked aggression in Mali, disguised as a war on terrorism and drug trafficking, as a means of finding its way out of this crisis.

The economic crisis

In simple terms, it is called colonial occupation.

Hollande and his socialist party are imperialists practicing colonial socialism, or national socialism, as Hitler would put it, when he tried to catch up with Churchill and others, through a war of looting in Europe to build Germany.

Hollande is also waging a war of looting in Africa to build and develop France.

France responsible for the worst terror attacks in Mali and Africa: economic terrorism

Mali is not poor.

It has been impoverished by imperialism, and Mali has more resources than France.

France is now in Mali to claim for itself a large chunk of African resources from Mali, where they intend to get paid by militarily reinforcing their access and control of African resources in Mali at the expense of Africa and her people.

This is how France would be able to pay more than 50 percent of its GDP for social services for white people despite the decline of the French economy and its industries.

U.S., UK and France are the biggest drug and gun trafficking kidnappers the world has ever seen

The imperialist media has saturated the airwaves with lies, claiming that this intervention is to stop Mali from becoming the center for drug and weapons-trafficking and hostage-taking in North Africa.

But the trillion dollar world drug economy is run by the U.S. and its allies: France, Britain and the UK’s HSBC bank that has recently been exposed as one of the leading drug money laundering banks in the world.

The African petty bourgeoisie is a traitor and illegitimate social force! Its surrender to imperialism has compromised Africa’s future

Dioncounda Traoré is the Malian interim president, the chief negro collaborator who “invited” the French imperialists to intervene to rescue them from the so-called “alliance of Jihadists” composed of the Ansar Dine, AMQI, MUJAO (Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa) and Tuareg nationalists of the MNLA (National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad).

In Mali, as in virtually the entire African continent, the African petty bourgeoisie has no legitimacy among the people. They rule by brute military force with the help of their imperialist masters.

More than fifty years ago following “flag independence,” they surrendered their allegiance to Africa and cast their lot with the European imperialists.

Their program is now one with the program of the French.

Whatever represents the economic interest of the French and white imperialism is their program.

The so-called Islamist and Tuareg crisis in Mali is a direct result of the imperialist partition of Africa, which introduced divisions known as borders that split the Tuareg people and introduced a colonial economy with the result being the marginalizing and the reduction to poverty of the Tuareg population in Mali and throughout the region.

It is they who have united with the lie that the main problem we are confronting in Mali and in the region is “Islamist Jihadist terrorism.”

They are prepared to surrender all of Mali’s resources to imperialism, which include gold (3rd largest producer in Africa), phosphate, uranium, and gas and oil, which recent reports indicate may be present in Mali.

U.S. imperialism’s role in Mali and in the French invasion of Mali

Many factors indicate that the coup was carried out in the interests of the U.S.

First, the coup that sparked the Malian crisis was the work of a U.S.-trained officer, Amadou Haya Sanogo.

Since the coup, Captain Sanogo has been the key power broker in the country.

The U.S. has been training the Malian army for 10 years in the so called Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP), the principal framework for U.S. engagement in Mali since 2005.

The TSCTP was preceded by another U.S. government scheme, known as the Pan Sahel Initiative, which lasted from 2002 to 2004 (Peter Tinti, World Politics Review, November 30, 2012).

In another example of U.S. involvement in the lead-up to the invasion, American special forces led the first of what have now become annual Operation Flintlock counterinsurgency exercises.

Everyone deplores the fact that it was the U.S.-trained soldiers who were the first to defect.

The Malian army typifies African petty bourgeois armies, veritable continuations of colonial armies created by white imperialists to maintain the colonial status quo.

They excel in repressing unarmed and disorganized masses of African people or in fighting in imperialist wars.

Let’s solve the main contradiction, let’s defeat white imperialism

Every contradiction in Mali must be resolved in the context of building a new African state, which can only be born as a revolutionary state, born against European imperialism and the sell-out leadership of the Malian African petty bourgeoisie.

Only an all African revolution and revolutionary state can carry a national development program that will address the democratic demands of the Tuareg population; only an African revolutionary state can also deal with a borderless Africa, which will end the fragmentation of the African economy and repair the division of all ethnicities and cultures imposed on us by imperialism.

French imperialism must be driven out of Africa at all costs

The capitalist press keep saying that Tuareg fighters who served under Kaddafi returned home to Northern Mali with their arsenal from the defeated Libyan army.

“Tuaregs are Africans, and the Revolutionary National Democratic Program must also forward the legitimate grievances for freedom and economic development of the Tuareg Africans.

“Since the advent of Mali’s nominal independence, the Tuareg have been demanding better integration and economic development for their region.

“The Tuareg population, like the rest of the African population, has been divided by arbitrary colonial borders, which is why they are fragmented across the Sahara/Sahel Desert; they now live in Mali, Algeria, Morocco, Libya, Burkina Faso, Niger and Tunisia.” http://uhurunews.com/story?resource_name=coup-in-mali-exposes-all-opportunists-which-feed-off-african-resources

Tuareg people will only enjoy economic development and genuine freedom as a result of a revolution in Mali and in Africa.

The African Socialist International is calling on all African people and our allies, from Mali to Algeria and from Paris to Abidjan, to join us.

We are calling on African soldiers not to join the French, but to turn their guns against French imperialist soldiers and officers.

Long live the resistance struggle against French imperialism in Mali!
Long live the African liberation struggle in Mali and in Algeria!
Build the African Socialist International!
Touch One! Touch All!

From Black Power to Black Consciousness

cover

The Comparative Imagination

On the History of Racism, Nationalism, and Social Movements

George M. Fredrickson

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS
Berkeley · Los Angeles · Oxford
© 1997 The Regents of the University of California


Preferred Citation: Fredrickson, George M. The Comparative Imagination: On the History of Racism, Nationalism, and Social Movements. Berkeley, Calif:  University of California Press,  c1997 1997.

Source

INTRODUCTION

PART ONE HISTORIOGRAPHICAL EXPLORATIONS
Chapter One The Status of Comparative History (1980)
Chapter Two The Frontier in South African and American History
Chapter Three From Exceptionalism to Variability
Chapter Four Planters, Junkers, andPomeschiki

PART TWO RACE AND RACISM IN COMPARATIVE PERSPECTIVE
Chapter Five Understanding Racism
Chapter Six Race and Empire in Liberal Thought
Chapter Seven Black-White Relations since Emancipation

PART THREE  TWENTIETH-CENTURY FREEDOM STRUGGLES
Chapter Eight Reform and Revolution in American and South African Freedom Struggles
Chapter Nine Prophets of Black Liberation
Chapter Ten Nonviolent Resistance to White Supremacy
Chapter Eleven From Black Power to Black Consciousness

INDEX

The Hidden History of Black Soldiers’ Resistance

A courageous anti-imperialist tradition

Breaking the Chains: Revolutionary Black History


An anti-war GI during the Vietnam War

Throughout U.S. history, Black people have called out the contradiction of being sent to kill and die in the U.S. military supposedly for “freedom” and “human rights,” while being denied them at home.

Legendary boxer Muhammed Ali famously explained his refusal to fight in the Vietnam war: “No Viet Cong ever called me n—–.”

Ali joined in a long tradition of Black anti-war sentiment, which found expression inside the military itself, as Black service members have repeatedly come to identify more with those targeted by U.S. imperialism than the racist politicians ordering them into war.

A long tradition of resistance

Gullah slaves fled South Carolina and Georgia to join Seminole communities in Spanish Florida. They fought for freedom in long guerrilla wars against the United States, before being forced along the Trail of Tears into Oklahoma. Seminoles of African descent later escaped Oklahoma Indian Territory in large numbers and went into Mexico. Establishing communities along the border with Texas territory, they were a forward front against U.S. forces after the Mexican American War, frequently fighting off Texas slave traders.

In 1899, after U.S. forces invaded and occupied the Philippines to capture it as a colony, Black soldier David Fagen defected to Emilio Aguinaldo’s guerrilla army along with several other Black service members. Fagen was so successful in combating the U.S. units that he rose to the rank of captain in the guerrilla army and became known as “General Fagen” among Filipino freedom fighters. His defection became international news, and U.S. commanders made his capture an obsession, putting a bounty on his head of $600. The military executed two other Black defectors to set an example for others.

In 1953, after the Korean War, Corporal Clarence Adams and two other Black soldiers were part of 21 U.S. troops who chose to live in China instead of participating in a prisoners-of-war swap. Adams in particular cited racism in the United States for his commitment to communist China. He broadcasted for Radio Hanoi during the Vietnam War from China, calling on other Black soldiers to throw down their weapons and go back to fight inequality at home. The Vietnamese liberation fighters frequently sent the same message to U.S. troops on the ground in flyers and billboards.

The 1944-45 ‘Battle of the Bulge’ was the first fully desegregated battle in U.S. history, which took place only out of necessity to defend against Hitler’s advance. Around 2,000 Black soldiers were enlisted for combat. After the war, however, many Black troops decided to stay in France where segregation did not exist. Other World War II veterans returned and became emboldened proponents of the Civil Rights Movement, including leaders like Medger Evers. A member of the White Citizens Council assassinated Evers in his driveway 18 years later.

Vietnam war and racism

The early part of the Vietnam War revealed that the U.S. government and military saw Black troops as cannon fodder. Blacks made up about 12 percent of the total U.S. civilian population but about 22 percent of casualties for the first several years of the conflict. These numbers only began to change when the disproportionate assignment of Black soldiers to firing teams and patrol became a big issue in the Civil Rights Movement, Black power movement and inside the military itself.

Black service members often led the way in acts of resistance and refusals to serve among soldiers. Because of these actions, coupled with the systemic racism of the U.S. military, the notorious Long Binh Jail, a military prison, was disproportionately Black. Over 700 incarcerated soldiers were crammed in a space made for about 400 people, with some put in shipping containers because of a lack of space.

In 1968, some white sailors responded to Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination by donning Ku Klux Klan hoods, burning crosses and raising a Confederate flag. Dr. King had come out strongly against the war a year earlier, risking alienation from his powerful Democratic “friends.” In response to these racist incidents, their inhumane conditions, and assaults from white guards, a handful of Black prisoners at Long Binh Jail led an uprising that began on August 29, 1968 and lasted over a week, evolving into a full-blown revolt against the Army. One white prisoner was killed, and dozens were injured before the end of the rebellion, which destroyed the camp.

At home, Black soldiers played a key role in the dynamic and large GI resistance movement, which joined anti-war marches, refused to fight, confronted the officer corps and revolted in the barracks.

The National Black Anti-War Anti-Draft Union was formed in 1968, associated with the Black Panther Party and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. At their first national conference they laid out a simple program to fight the draft and Vietnam War that called for, among other things, mass refusal to register with selective service, Black lawyers to defend war resisters, members of local draft boards and Black civil servants to disrupt the selective service process and Black service members to apply for Conscientious Objector status and organize against ROTC. In 1969, 15 members of NBAWADU broke into the Selective Service office and burned draft eligible files.

During Black History Month, few commemorations will contain these episodes of radical and revolutionary struggle. While fighting at home against the hypocrisy of the U.S. government, generations of Black service members have stood and fought against U.S. imperialism abroad.

In the present day, March Forward! is dedicated to the struggle against racism inside and outside of the military. It informs service members of their rights to refuse deployment to Afghanistan, and says to them: “We have more in common with the people of Iraq and Afghanistan than we do with the millionaires who tell us we must fight them.”


This article was published in the ‘Breaking the Chains: Revolutionary Black History’ Edition of Liberation.

1963 Mass Struggles Advanced the Cause of Civil Rights

From Birmingham to Detroit and Washington, D.C., the people set the world stage

Abayomi Azikiwe
Libya 360°

African American History Month Series 2013

In 1963, despite the tremendous campaigns aimed at breaking down legalized segregation and national oppression for eight years, the demand for federal civil rights legislation remained stalled due to southern segregationist influence, northern indifference and political avoidance by the John F. Kennedy administration. Nonetheless, by the spring of this momentous year, things would begin to rapidly shift in favor of the African American people and their movement allies.

In 1954, the United States Supreme Court declared that “separate but equal” public schools systems were unconstitutional. However, by 1963, compliance with this ruling was hardly felt among the majority of the African American population most of whom remained in the South.

Between 1955 and 1962, African Americans were in motion determined to end apartheid in the U.S. A Civil Rights Bill passed in 1957 which empowered the Justice Department to take action against county governments which refused to allow universal suffrage led in part to the outbreak of the movement in Fayette County, Tennessee in 1959-1960.

The Fayette County Civic and Welfare League was organized by local activists in 1959 under the direction of Viola and John McFerren. In 1960 they set out to register African Americans to vote in the upcoming presidential elections.

However, the white landowners in this southwest Tennessee County put hundreds of African American tenant farmers off their land for daring to register. The movement established a “Tent City”, the first of its kind during this period which drew national support.

1960 witnessed the beginning of the student sit-in movement where thousands protested Jim Crow segregation resulting in hundreds of arrests. In April of that year the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was formed becoming the most militant organization within the civil rights movement.

After the Freedom Rides of 1961, where scores were arrested and beaten, the abolition of segregation in interstate travel was overturned in practice. Nevertheless, key centers of intransigence such as Birmingham, Alabama were fiercely resistant to desegregation.

Birmingham Sparks Nationwide Resistance

It was the eruption of the movement in Birmingham in the spring of 1963 that captured the attention of the nation and the world. Both SNCC and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) founded by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been organizing in the city, one of the most industrialized in the South.

Several thousand people, mainly children were arrested by the police and jailed. Dr. King, Ralph Abernathy and Fred Shuttlesworth were all arrested and beaten by the racist police.

The struggle would come to a head on May 5, when thousands of mostly youth marched through the African American community to the downtown area. Police chief Bull Connor ordered fire hoses turned on the people.

In response to the repression on May 5, the first significant urban rebellion of the 1960s occurred. James Forman, executive secretary of SNCC, described the events that day saying that “The police had cordoned off the intersections leading to downtown and started shooting water on people. Bricks and rocks started flying back at the police and the firemen. “(The Making of Black Revolutionaries, 1972, p. 315)

Forman went on to point out that “For over forty-five minutes, there was a chase in and out of alleys and streets. Other Black people joined in the fight against the police. The ‘riots’ that day in Birmingham received wide public attention—they were a prelude to Harlem ’64, Watts ’65, Newark and Detroit ’67.”

Large demonstrations took place throughout the South that spring and summer. In Danville, Virginia, African Americans marched against racism and police brutality meeting violent repression on June 10.

President Kennedy delivered a speech on civil rights on the evening of June 11 saying at its conclusion that he would introduce federal civil rights legislation. Just a few hours later in Jackson, Mississippi, Medgar Evers, state field secretary of the NAACP, was gunned down in his driveway by white racist Byron De la Beckwith who avoided conviction for this crime for over three decades.

In response to the assassination of Medgar Evers and other issues, the Detroit Council for Human Rights, headed by Rev. C.L. Franklin, organized the largest march to that date for civil rights on June 23. Hundreds of thousands marched down Woodward Avenue led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with the support of the-then UAW President Walter Reuther.

King would deliver his first “I Have a Dream” speech at Cobo Hall in the aftermath of the Detroit march. It was the success of this demonstration which fueled the plans for the “March on Washington” that was held on August 28.

Repression Continues

Despite this outpouring of mass sentiment in favor of civil rights, the racists would strike back on September 15 when the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, a center of the movement, was bombed by the Ku Klux Klan. Four African American girls, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Denise McNair were killed.

It would take until 1977 for the first of the Klansmen associated with the crime to be convicted. Two other Klansmen, Thomas E. Blanton and Bobby Frank Cherry, were later convicted in 2001 and 2002 respectively for the bombing and murders.

Two months after the church bombing, on November 22, President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. The murder was reflective of the atmosphere of violence and intolerance in the U.S. at the time.

On December 1, Malcolm X during the question and answer period after a speech at the Manhattan Center in New York City described the assassination of Kennedy as a case of the “chickens coming home to roost,” meaning that the violence inflicted upon African Americans and other oppressed people throughout the world was now impacting the leaders of the U.S.

His comments, which received wide press coverage, led to his suspension and subsequent departure from the Nation of Islam. Malcolm X would form the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU) the following year and tour the Middle East and Africa.

These developments in 1963 would result in more militant actions in the following years of the decade. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were not enough to stave off the urban rebellions which occurred in hundreds of cities throughout the country.

Some five decades later the struggles of 1963 provide lessons on the role of mass mobilization and the need for militant direction against oppression and state repression.


Abayomi Azikiwe
is the editor of Pan-African News Wire , an international electronic press service designed to foster intelligent discussion on the affairs of African people throughout the continent and the world. The press agency was founded in January of 1998 and has published thousands of articles and dispatches in newspapers, magazines, journals, research reports, blogs and websites throughout the world. The PANW represents the only daily international news source on pan-african and global affairs. To contact him, click on this link >> Email

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