Tag Archives: Black Power Era

Reclaiming a Fading Legacy: Why I Make My Students Read Assata aka Counterbalancing an Irrelevant American Educational System that has Failed Black People

During my initial lecture in my freshman survey course, a course that invariably includes upperclassmen who have avoided addressing mandatory history requirements, I purposely attempt to pique their interest in the subject matter as a preemptive strike against the malaise that the subject matter of history generates in their minds. If nothing else, this introductory moment allows me to gauge their understanding of African-American history.

When I address the volatile identity politic driven 1960s, my area of expertise I might add, I highlight several notable Black Powerites by asking those assembled in front of me if they know anything about Huey P. Newton, Eldridge Cleaver, George Jackson, Fred Hampton, or Carl Hampton? Puzzled and bewildered looks appear on the faces of my young charges. Without fail, it is not until I reference the name Assata Shakur that the hands of a few students who are eager to share that they know who this revolutionary sister is confidently raised. For most, this is their moment, the one opportunity to prove to me that they do know something about African-American history; unfortunately, it is a moment that will definitively prove how little they do know. Invariably, some non-descript student eagerly announces to their classmates that “Assata Shakur is Tupac Shakur’s momma.” I just shake my head and sigh as once again, my students have confused their Shakur’s. In one swoop, this particular student has erased the legacies of both Afeni Shakur, Tupac’s mother, and Assata Shakur, our revolutionary sister who remains exiled in Cuba. Experience has taught me that this is a common misstep among my students.

The above mistake occurs so frequently that it has caused me to ponder the following question; what does it mean that the vast majority of my students do not know about Assata Shakur. What does this troubling historical illiteracy say about black educators, the American educational system, and the black community?

One does not need to be a pessimist to reach the conclusion that the fact that African-American children have no real understanding of Black History means that the American educational system has no utility to Black America. Dare I say that sizable portions of this antiquated and non-representative institution have no utility whatsoever when measured against a much-needed effort to liberate Black America socially, politically, culturally, and economically.

I fervently believe that the process of inquiry and intellectual curiosity are critical components of the development of self-identity, politicization, and the generation of priorities for Black America. Such conclusions force me to use Assata Shakur’s story, Assata, in my courses on a repeated basis as it is a succinct articulation of the cost African-American revolutionaries have paid for their commitment to liberate their people around the globe.

I am confident that you understand that as a black educator, I consistently wrestle with matters of education and the development of a relevant education on a consistent basis. I am not ashamed to share that the alluded to moments of reflection engender a slight depression. The alluded to depression is a direct extension of the realization that the irrelevant curriculum that teachers, regardless of race/ethnicity, are forced to teach has created bountiful crops of African-Americans who are not only guided by a pervasive ignorance regarding African-American history, but also are quick to attack anyone that raises issues such as Race, racial inequality, prejudice, discrimination, or racism. Their complicity with their own oppression has been manufactured in American school houses.

In the end, the question of who will teach our people about the heroic struggle persons of African descent have undergone around the globe remains. The only reasonable answer to this query is that enlightened African-Americans must recommit themselves to educating our people “by any means necessary.” In many ways, we have no other choice if we are to survive. Failure to take definitive action in this matter ensures that we will continue our tradition of being economically exploited, socially inappropriate, and politically inept; places that I hope you would agree we have occupied for far too long.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2017

President Lyndon Baines Johnson Closes the Coffin on White Participation in the Civil Rights Movement

Whites’ increasing resistance to racial equality perplexed African-American moderates who looked on in horror as their former allies, who now termed themselves neo-liberals, began propagating political principles that absolved them from any responsibility for racial inequality.

Whites couched their increasingly public attacks against racial progressivism within well-worn individualistic Horatio Alger uplift stories.  Neo-liberals shifting principles dramatically altered the political landscape in regards to racial matters. Whites reasoned that their retreat from the battle for racial equality was beneficial for African-Americans as it provided them an invaluable opportunity to independently address intra-racial social vices, political inefficiencies, and economic deficiencies.

After the Watts rebellion, whites considered benign neglect their lone opportunity to aid African-Americans. From their perspective, Blacks only hope of securing respect in America was to follow the same path to politico-economic empowerment that European and Asian immigrants traveled; meaning the mobilization of and strategic utilization of politico-economic caches. Although calls for African-Americans ‘to lift themselves up by their bootstraps’ were a familiar refrain, it remained neither fair nor achievable in the mid-sixties considering their dearth of politico-economic caches. Unfortunately for African-Americans, this reality did not prevent neo-liberals from shifting the blame for persisting racial inequities to their strong shoulders. The insinuation was obvious; whites were no longer willing to aid the American Negro. Neo-liberals publicly attacked Blacks for requesting group protection by admonishing that socially responsible individualism was the only path to racial equality, not offensive rallies, marches, and speeches.

From its genesis, neo-liberalism propagated flawed theories regarding Black suffering to a gullible white populace. For example, Neo-liberals disputed their former Black allies’ assertion that institutional racism was the real catalyst to persisting racial inequities. President Lyndon Baines Johnson articulated such thinking during a commencement address at Howard University on June 4, 1965.  Johnson’s speech signals progressive whites’ abandonment of liberalism for a more conservative politic. At the addresses opening, Johnson enveloped himself in traditional liberal jargon by acknowledging the pernicious effects of racial discrimination and calling for continued diligence in the battle to subdue it. The President pointed out,

[Y]ou do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, “You are free to compete with all the others,” and still justly believe that you have been completely fair. Thus, it is not enough just to open the gates of opportunity. All our citizens must have the ability to walk through those gates. 

However, the most significant aspect of President Johnson’s presentation occurred after these initial thoughts when he endorsed a new path to racial equality; Lyndon Baines Johnson then proceeded to blame Blacks for persisting racial inequities.

Equal opportunity is essential, but not enough. Ability is stretched or stunted by the family you live with, and the neighborhoods you live in, by the school you go to and the poverty or the richness of your surroundings. It is the product of a hundred unseen forces playing upon the infant, the child, and the man. Overt job discrimination is only one of the important hurdles which must be overcome before color can disappear as a determining factor in the lives and fortunes of men . . . The extent to which an individual is able to develop his aptitudes will largely depend upon the circumstances present in the family within which he grows up and the opportunities which he encounters at school and in the larger community.

African-Americans should have considered Johnson’s comments public warning that they were solely responsible for lifting themselves up by their bootstraps because neo-liberals, a population that included former allies, had abandoned the struggle for racial equality with a clear conscience, nonetheless.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race and Culture, 2017

Excerpt from Creating Revolution as they Advance: A Narrative History of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense

Martin Luther King, Jr. and Black Power Politics: Dr. King’s Surprising Perspective of “Black Power!!!!!”

When one examines the twentieth-century, an era that W.E.B. Du Bois prophetically claimed would be haunted by an unsolvable “color line” issue, it is safe to say that there is no combination of words that frightens white America more than “Black Power!!!!!” In many ways, it is ironic that Black Power politics arrived on the heels of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., repeated calls for black activists to embrace non-violent civil disobedience as a tactic and gradualism as an appropriate pace in regards to the achievement of racial equality.

Without a doubt, angry calls for “Black Power” stoked whites’ omnipresent fears of racial revenge attacks to a disturbing level. In many ways, the alluded to mid-sixties fears of white Americans is an implicit acknowledgment of what they would do had they been exploited, denigrated, and marginalized for nearly four centuries. It is these reasons that Dr. King was so important to the psychological well-being of white America as they believed that he was the only ‘thing’ standing between them and the arrival of a horde of vengeful blood-thirsty blacks who they believed was never far from reverting to their natural state of uncivilized cannibalistic beings.

Despite their public confrontations with Dr. King, white America needed the Civil Rights patriarch to control the “irrational blacks” who could not get comfortably settled into their oppression filled second-class citizenship. This need for King to be totally wedded to integration was so significant that whites used their many media platforms to portray the Civil Rights patriarch in a light that ignored both his evolving political priorities and unusual position regarding “Black Power!”

Despite the psychological disturbance that it will cause Americans of every hue, in the post-March on Washington period, Dr. King did address “Black Power” politics in an unexpected manner.

Considering the unrestricted use of the term “Black Power” by contemporary activists, I feel that it is important to define what it meant during the mid-sixties Black Power era. Below you will find one of the most accurate definitions of “Black Power” from noted scholar Charles V. Hamilton and Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee leader Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture).

Black power is concerned with organizing the rage of black people.…Black power (1) deals with the obviously growing alienation of black people and their distrust of the institutions of this society; (2) works to create new values and to build a new sense of community and of belonging; and (3) works to establish legitimate new institutions that make participants, not recipients, out of a people traditionally excluded from the fundamentally racist processes of this country.[i]

The concept of Black Power rests on a fundamental premise. Before a group can enter the open society, it must first close ranks. By this, we mean group solidarity is necessary before a group can operate effectively from a bargaining position of strength in a pluralistic society. Traditionally, each new ethnic group in this society has found the route to social and political viability through the organization of its own institutions with which to represent its needs within the larger society . . . the American melting pot has not melted. Italians vote for Rubino over O’Brien; Irish for Murphy over Goldberg, etc.[ii]

Not only does this definition remain of significant utility to this very day, but also the political realities that it depicts remain extremely relevant.

Ironically, it is the importance of Dr. King’s 1963 March on Washington speech that facilitates most Americans inability to understand that the Civil Rights leader continued his growth as a political strategist until the moment an assassin’s bullet silenced him at the Lorraine Motel on April 4, 1968. Most are shocked to learn that King had much to say about the rise of Black Power activists who were in possession of a political platform that appeared to be the antithesis of his non-violent civil disobedience pacifism. According to Dr. King,

[t]here is nothing essentially wrong with power. The problem is that in America power is unequally distributed. This has led Negro Americans in the past to seek their goals through love and moral suasion devoid of power and white Americans to seek their goals through power devoid of love and conscience….  [I]t is precisely this collision of immoral power with powerless morality which constitutes the major crisis of our times.[iii]

In the following quote, Dr. King extended his commentary to the issue of Black Power politics.

{Black Power activists} must use every constructive means to amass economic and political power. This is the kind of legitimated power we need. We must work to build racial pride and refute the notion black is evil and ugly. But this must come through a program, not merely through a slogan…The words ‘black’ and ‘power’ together give the impression that we are talking about black domination rather than black equality.[iv]

Black Power is a call for the pooling of black financial resources to achieve economic security.… Through the pooling of such resources and the development of habits of thrift and techniques of wise investment, the Negro will be doing his share to grapple with his problem of economic deprivation. If Black Power means the development of this kind of strength within the Negro community, then it is a quest for basic, necessary, legitimate power.[v]

Apparently, the historical record paints a Martin Luther King, Jr., that not only continued to grow in the post-March on Washington portion of his public life. An important part of that political transformation is found in his understanding of and embrace of mid-sixties “Black Power” politics. It is Dr. King’s alluded to shifting political priorities that should serve as definitive proof of the need for contemporary activists and black political leaders to study, study, and study some more. Failure to do such means that we are attempting to solve a centuries-old problem with partial information.

[i] Carmichael, Stokely (Kwame Ture), and Charles V. Hamilton. Black Power, The Politics of Liberation. pg. 44-45.

[ii] As “Black Power” became such a hot topic within the American activist community, particularly as many whites sought to gain as much information about the concept as possible for their personal safety and sanity, Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) became somewhat of the poster-child for the concept.  The shadow of Carmichael has unfortunately blocked out the presence of such lesser known SNCC activists and Black Power theoreticians such as Willie Ricks who have a greater claim to generating the slogan.  However, Carmichael’s analysis of the term “Black Power” is at times so keen that there is little doubt by believers that it is the next logical and correct step for the Black movement.  See., Stokely Carmichael, “SNCC Chairman Talks About Black Power”, New York Review of Books, September 22, 1966.  Carmichael, Stokely (Kwame Ture), and Charles V. Hamilton. Black Power, The Politics of Liberation  p. 45; Daily Californian, “What’s Black Power?”, November 1, 1966.

[iii] Martin Luther King, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? p. 37.

[iv] Martin Luther King, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? pg. 30-31; Hampton and Fayer, Voices of Freedom, an Oral History of the Civil Rights Movement, pg. 284-294.  Oft-forgotten when the issue of Black Power as a slogan is discussed is the influence of Willie Ricks on the entire process.  It was Ricks, not Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) who popularized the term “Black Power” in the modern era.  In fact, even SNCC luminaries such as James Forman give Ricks the credit for such, as does the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., See., James Forman, The Making of Black Revolutionaries, p. 456.  Hampton and Fayer, Voices of Freedom, an Oral History of the Civil Rights Movement, p. 289-290.

[v] Martin Luther King, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? p. 38.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2017

Dr. James Thomas Jones III is the author of Creating Revolution as They Advance: A Narrative History of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense  (Available at Amazon and wherever great books are sold)

Petty Protests and Inconsequential Activism: Why Colin Kaepernick’s Protest Misses the Mark of Aiding the Black Liberation Struggle

Muhammad Ali, the agreed upon ‘Greatest of All-Time’ by sports fans once quipped, “A man who views the world the same at 50 as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.” I absolutely love this particular quote for myriad reasons, most notably because it reminds me to continually re-evaluate my political positions and beliefs.

It is this re-evaluation process that has led me to take significant issue with Colin Kaepernick’s recent decision to not stand for the Kaepernick 2playing of the National Anthem. Put simply, Kaepernick’s decision to publicly protest in this method is little more than a public tantrum that does absolutely nothing to advance the cause that he claims to be representing.

Let me first relate that in another period of my life, I would have wildly celebrated Kaepernick’s antics, I myself routinely refused to stand for the playing of the National Anthem. During those years, I considered it one of the most poignant ways of protesting the historic wrongs and injustices that this nation has perpetrated against my people for the world to see.

A much less wise version of myself would have not only agreed with Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the National Anthem, but also considered it a significant blow against “the man”. I also imagine that had I been asked about my one-man crusade, my response would have been eerily similar to Colin Kaepernick’s recent response to this matter. The San Francisco quarterback responded in the following manner to a reporters questioning his actions,

I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color…it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder…I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed…”

As much as my twenty-year-old version would have agreed with Kaepernick’s position, I now realize that as a forty-something-year-Kaepernickold African-American male who has wrestled with this thing called Race for several decades that oftentimes an absence of experience leads us to prematurely celebrate before victory has been seized. Let me be absolutely clear, it is not that I disagree with Kaepernick’s decision to not stand for the playing of the National Anthem, it is that he, and a host of other like-minded individuals believe that this rather mundane public protest is significant.

Now endowed with an insight that only life’s lessons can bestow, I consider Kaepernick, and likeminded individuals who have rushed forward to support not “stand(ing) up to show pride in a flag that oppresses Black people” as persons who fail to understand either the issues facing African-Americans or have any semblance of an understanding regarding their eradication.

Make no mistake about it, Kaepernick’s decision to protest the National Anthem reminds the nation, including a segment of Americans’ who devoutly avoid racial issues, of long-standing patterns of racial discrimination executed by ordinary American citizens, as well as long-standing patterns of institutional racism perpetrated via American institutions. The NFL Quarterback was able to protest while neither denying nor dismissing the incredible contributions of African-American activists who have strove to “Let America Be America Again” by spending their entire lives as trailblazers and torchbearers illuminating and paving a path to success for individuals such as Kaepernick.

The euphoria surrounding Kaepernick’s protest has led the vast majority of supporters and opponents to ignore a basic query of ‘How does sitting on your ass during the playing of the National Anthem Kaepernick 3solve any of the voluminous problems facing Black America?’ The truth of the matter is that such fleeting public protests barely address, let alone reverse racial inequality in any significant manner. Unfortunately for the future of Black America, today’s cadres of attention-seeking contemporary activists appear to consider symbolic public protests as the ‘gold standard’ of activism.

This reliance upon highly symbolic, yet totally intangible, protest has seemingly duped an entire generation of so-called activists into believing that such ‘antics’ are akin to the grassroots activism and institution building of yesteryear. It is this institution-building that holds the key to Black liberation, not symbolic public protests that do little more than invigorate social media sites and users.

If the legions of individuals who support Colin Kaepernick’s courageous decision to not stand during the National Anthem really want to eradicate racial inequality maybe their activism should extend well-beyond celebrating an inconsequential protest and dedicate their resources toward the historic grassroots struggle to address tangible issues within our community such as supporting the independent Black school movement, job creation, political participation, supporting Black entrepreneurs, and volunteering their time tutoring African-American school children.

It is in the aforementioned areas, and a host of others, that the potential for racial uplift and therefore racial equality is found. What is the alternative you ask? Well the only realistic alternative is for our activist community to continue what has been their greatest post-Black Power Era tradition of sitting on their asses as Mr. Kaepernick displayed during his protest, griping about racial issues without doing anything definitive toward the creation of independent Black institutions, and watching as the world go by.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

©Manhood, Race and Culture, 2016