What do the Black Panthers, the American Indian Movement, the Puerto Rican Independence Movement, the Move Organization and Black Lives Matter have in common? They have all been denounced and delegitimized by the corporate establishment and mainstream media.
The Civil Rights and Revolutionary Struggles of the ‘60s and 70s challenged American racism, classism and sexism. They also disrupted our imperialist foreign policy. Eventually, the United States Government brought down or seriously humbled the Black Panthers, the Anti-Vietnam War Movement, the Puerto Rican Independence Movement, the American Indian Movement, etc. Many leaders were jailed. Will the current struggle face the same fate?
In the late 1990s, a movement to free all U.S. political prisoners and prisoners of war began to take root. Several wide scale political actions took place in Washington, DC and Philadelphia. Filmmakers, Liane Scott, Joan Yoshiwara, Eddie Becker and Jorge Abeledo covered these events. The result is The Walls of Jericho and the Movement That’s Shaking Them, a two-hour documentary, that includes activists protesting on behalf of Mumia Abu-Jamal, Leonard Peltier, the Move 9, the Puerto Rican Political Prisoners, Black Panthers Russel Maroon Shoats and Eddie Conway and many more.
Revolutionary thinkers Kathleen Cleaver, Carl Dix, Chokwe Lumumba, Angela Davis, Ramona Africa all weigh in on the state of the movement and the related issues of police brutality and the prison industrial complex. Rank and file activists also share their knowledge and opinions. The Walls of Jericho serves as a popular education primer on political prisoners jailed as a result of the civil and human rights uprisings of the ‘60s and ‘70s.
It cannot be denied that in the last half century, racism, heterosexism, xenophobia, etc. have become less overt. But at the same time, US military misadventures migrated from Central America and Southeast Asia to the oil-rich Middle East. The planet’s resources continue to be assaulted. Police brutality and mass incarceration replaced Jim Crow. The revolutionary work that blossomed in the ‘60s and ‘70s is not finished. Tactics used to disrupt activism of the past are and will be used again.
We invite you to join us at this screening of The Walls of Jericho and the Movement That’s Shaking Them and the follow up discussion. In the spirit of Sankofa, we will learn from the past and move even more boldly into a future shaped by the people and not the forces of oligarchy.
Below is a segment from the documentary that focuses on police brutality.
“…Afro-Americans have never had any kind of a chance to recover from the traumatic wounds of slavery…”
- Michele Wallace, The Culture War within the Culture Wars
“Mamma, did you ever love us?” Hannah Peace asks her mother, Eva Peace, in ‘Sula’, Toni Morrison’s second novel. When Eva whirls into an uproar in response to the question, Hannah attempts to clarify, “I was talkn’ ‘bout something else… Like. Playn’ with us. Did you ever, you know, play with us?”. Eva, however, is still furious; “Play? Wasn’t nobody playin’ in 1895… 1895 was a killer, girl. Things was bad. Niggers was dying like flies.”.
From this snippet of the novel, it would be extraordinarily easy to identify Eva as a callously utilitarian parent as our society claims increasing interest in children’s needs for parental affection. An inattentiveness to context may even encourage some to condemn Eva for her reaction to Hannah’s curiosity. However, only by examining Eva’s past can we acquire insight into her temperament.
Abandoned by her wayward husband, Eva was left with very few resources and three children to raise single-handedly. After weeks of staving off starvation, Eva entrusts her children to a neighbor and leaves town in search of work. Eighteen months after her departure, Eva returns—missing a leg and possessing enough money to build a house of her own. While Eva’s neighbors relentlessly gossip about how Eva lost her leg and obtained presumed wealth, I am more concerned with what Eva’s lost leg symbolizes.
Eva’s lost leg symbolically represents the sacrifices Black single mothers have made, and continue to make, to ensure that they’re able to provide their children with sustenance and shelter. As the word implies, all sacrifices, even those that make survival possible, come at a cost. In Eva’s case, being without two legs leaves her homestuck, living in a wagon on her home’s third floor until her granddaughter, Sula, enters adulthood. And, even before venturing off, Eva is unable to deal with her anger at Boyboy, her ex-husband, for deserting her, “…the demands of feeding her three children so acute she had to postpone her anger for two years until she had both the time and energy for it.”.
While I believe that Black single mothers have experiences which most parallel Eva’s, I also believe that aspects of Eva’s experience are shared by Black people collectively, regardless of parenting status and gender. Due to the sheer viciousness of white supremacy, from enslavement to displacement to racial apartheid, Black people have survived for centuries in a society dependent upon our mental, emotional, and physical brokenness to sustain itself.
Recent research in genetics suggests that trauma alters DNA and that genetic trauma is passed on to offspring, negatively influencing the mental and physical health of future generations. Centering the experiences of Indigenous people, Mary Annette Pember writes, “According to researchers, high rates of addiction, suicide, mental illness, sexual violence and other ills among Native peoples might be, at least in part, influenced by historical trauma.”. Therefore, it makes sense to assume that the same may be true for African-Americans as well. Alongside the damage done to our DNA, Dr. Joy DeGruy wrote an entire book on the subject of chattel slavery’s residual impact upon African-American’s psyches.
Alongside the impact chattel slavery has had upon our genetic makeup and psyches, disregard for Black people’s mental health is a tool of white supremacy that has long been in use. Writing about Black people’s relationship to suicide, Steven W. Thrasher writes, “A potent form of white supremacy is to convince black people that we have no agency in anything and that our lives don’t matter, that our mental lives don’t matter, and our emotional health is irrelevant.” And, sadly, due to the internalization of white supremacy, Black people often repeat these types of messages to ourselves. Partially due to shame associated with seeking treatment for mental health problems, many Black people endure mental health challenges they experience without services from mental health professionals.
Of course, Black people are justified in any misgivings they may have about the United State’s medical industry; however, refusing to see a medical practitioner for a prolonged period of time can be extremely detrimental to one’s health.
Interpreted through a certain lens, the realities mentioned above could potentially be used to justify racist eugenicists ideals and practices; viewed differently, these realities speak to the tragic resiliency of African-Americans, and the immeasurable sacrifices we’ve made to have our basic physical needs met.
Thankfully, those active in movements for social justice have acknowledged the benefits of therapy for Black people since 1968, when the Association for Black Psychologists was founded. As more Black people, like Richeal Faithful, a self-described “street shaman and folk healer” who works in Washington D.C out of the Freed Bodyworks wellness center, engage in practices of healing, alternatives to generational trauma will make themselves increasingly available. Our goal, however, must be a societal transformation which makes these spaces for healing accessible to everyone.
Too often, Black History Month is presented as the actions of a small number of extremely charismatic, often male, leaders from the Civil Rights era. In reality, Black people have participated in every social circle within the United States since this nation’s founding. Architects, artists, engineers, scientists, and countless others from the archives of Black history are either ignored, represented in isolation from one another, or the significance of their accomplishments are ludicrously diminished.
Regarding the Civil Rights Movement specifically, most people have heard nothing of that era’s essential Black women leaders such as Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Dr. Dorothy Height. Meanwhile, the labor of Rosa Parks is often flippantly reduced to simply having “sat her a** down”, erasing her twelve year involvement with the NAACP prior to being arrested for refusing to relinquish her seat to a white man in 1955. More frustratingly, most people have no idea that Bayard Rustin, an openly gay Black man, was the lead organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, despite being subjected to homophobia from other Civil Rights movement leaders.
To avoid becoming, as Toni Morrison calls it, mere “reaction to white presence”, it is also important to explore Black history outside of direct resistance to racial injustice. Marie Maynard Daly was the first African-American woman to receive a Ph.D, obtaining a doctorate in chemistry. Black people have been successful classical musicians, while others have invented appliances essential to the maintenance of modern society.
In recent times, Black cultural producers have preserved Black history in increasingly imaginative and creative ways. Poet Marilyn Nelson wrote the poetry collection Carver: A Life in Poems to capture and convey the often overlooked complexities of George Washington Carver’s life, who was a teacher and musician as well as an innovative scientist. Filmmaker Shola Lynch directed the documentary Free Angela and All Political Prisoners to well-roundedly tell the story of Angela Davis, an icon of the Black Power Movement whose legacy often goes enshrouded in idol worship and myth. Finally, while comedic in tone, cultural critic Crissle West’s overview of Harriet Tubman’s involvement in the Civil War gives the Union military strategist and spy overdue credit for her war contributions.
The half has never been told about Black history. Layers of depth lie beneath popularly accepted and articulated narratives, and countless numbers of others have been ignored or unspoken. Taking Black history seriously requires we scour all eras of the past and, like those mentioned above, develop compelling methods for disseminating these revitalized narratives to the masses.
The devaluation of Black history is no coincidence; if Black history were taken seriously, the myth of Black inferiority, a foundational pillar of white supremacy, would be incapable of justifying itself. If Black history were taken seriously, more Black people would understand the significance of our impact upon this nation—and would, hopefully, utilize the blueprints left by our predecessors to continue working toward a just, equitable society. As the struggle for liberation from systems of domination continues, we must remember that a liberated future is improbable if we fail to reclaim the infinite riches of our past.
“They like to pretend we didn’t fight back. We did: with obeah, poison, revolution. It simply wasn’t enough.”
- Michelle Cliff, If I Could Write This in Fire, I Would Write This in Fire
On January 8th, the Black Radical Tradition Conference commenced with a march through streets of Philadelphia. Organized by the Black Radical Organizing Collective (BROC), a group of activists, scholars, educators, artists, and the like. The conference was held at Temple University, where people from across the country convened, from Jan. 8th to Jan. 10th, to learn about the significance of the Black radical tradition to modern-day liberation movements.
An intergenerational group of activist-scholars, from Angela Davis to Che Gosset, gathered to give lectures and participate on panels to discuss the Black radical tradition in regard to prison abolition, war, capitalism, and more. The conference’s goal was to map out revolutionary pathways to the future by anchoring these visions to a rich history of resistance.
Importantly, BROC placed this conference within a legacy of Black liberation struggle, a legacy which is often devalued, misunderstood, or erased. As forms of analysis, such as intersectionality, become more popular, the danger of positioning marginalized people, especially people who are multiply marginalized (women of color, trans people of color, etc.), as having no power or agency over their lives rises as well. Rather than understanding intersectionality as a method of examining dynamics of power, created by a Black woman to address the particular realities of women of color, some may come to believe intersectionality implies “being a Black women = lacking power and agency”.
Without downplaying the realities of poverty, microaggressions, and other manifestations of oppression/exploitation, it is imperative that we acknowledge forms of power we are able to utilize in community and as individuals. Recognizing and naming oppression are necessary if systems of domination are to be dismantled. However, implying that marginalized people are powerless is exactly what these systems aspire to do—strip power away, most often in the form of resources and representation, from marginalized people.
In her second book Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, acclaimed Black feminist scholar bell hooks writes:
Women who are exploited and oppressed daily cannot afford to relinquish the belief that they exercise some measure of control, however relative, over their lives. They cannot afford to see themselves solely as “victims” because their survival depends on continued exercise of whatever personal powers they possess. Continue reading Retaining Our Power and Reclaiming Histories of Resistance
Washington, DC – In the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, community leaders and residents of the Nation’s Capital will participate in the 10th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Peace Walk and Parade on Monday, January 18, 2016 in Southeast. The parade is a celebration of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and a continuation of the vision of Dr. Calvin and Wilhelmina Rolark and “Petey” Greene, who established the annual parade in Ward 8 over 30 years ago.
This year’s theme: “Change is Coming” builds upon the hard work and progress of civil rights leaders from the past, as well as this generation of leaders who are advancing human rights through the Black Lives Matters movement. The parade’s Grand Marshals are beloved Washingtonians who are local and national individuals, in their own right.
The parade will feature several high school marching bands including Dunbar, Eastern, McKinley, Anacostia, Ballou and Suitland SHS in Prince George’s County. The U.S. Coast Guard Honor Guard, along with dozens of community organizations will also participate.
The assembly for Peace Walk will begin at 9:30 a.m. at Bethlehem Baptist Church lot, 2498 Martin Luther King, Jr. Ave. SE. The Parade will assemble at 11:00 a.m. at St. Elizabeth’s East, 2700 Martin Luther King, Jr. Ave. SE. (main gate). Both contingents will proceed south on ML King Avenue to Leckie Elementary School, 4201 Martin Luther King, Jr. Ave., S.W.