“Then came this battle called the Civil War, beginning in Kansas in 1854, and ending with the presidential elections of 1876, twenty awful years. The slave went free, stood a brief moment in the sun, then moved back again towards slavery. The whole weight of America was thrown to color caste.”1 — W.E.B. DuBois, Black Reconstruction in America
“But what can we do with the Negroes after they are free. I can hardly believe that the South and North can live in peace unless we get rid of the Negroes. Certainly they cannot, if we don’t get rid of the Negroes who we have armed and disciplined and who have fought with us, to the amount, I believe, of some 150,000 men. I believe it would be better to export them all to some fertile country with a good climate, which they could have to themselves. You have been a staunch friend of the [Black] race since you first advised me to enlist them in New Orleans. . . . What then are our difficulties in sending the Blacks away?”2 — President Abraham Lincoln to General Benjamin F. Butler, April 1865
“We need new friends, we need new allies. We need to expand the civil rights struggle to a higher level — to the level of human rights. Whenever you are in a civil rights struggle, whether you know it or not, you are confining yourself to the jurisdiction of Uncle Sam. No one from the outside world can speak out in your behalf as long as your struggle is a civil rights struggle. Civil rights comes within the domestic affairs of this country. All of our African brothers and our Asian brothers and our Latin-American brothers cannot open their mouths and interfere in the domestic affairs of the United States.
But the United Nations has what’s known as the charter of human rights; it has a committee that deals in human rights. When you expand the civil rights struggle to the level of human rights, you can then take the case of the Black man in this country before the nations in the UN. You can take it before the General Assembly. You can take Uncle Sam before a world court. But the only level you can do it on is the level of human rights. . . .
Uncle Sam’s hands are dripping with blood, dripping with the blood of the Black man in this country. He’s the earth’s number-one hypocrite. He has the audacity — yes, he has — imagine him posing as the leader of the free world. The free world! Expand the civil rights struggle to the level of human rights. Take it into the United Nations, where our African brothers can throw their weight on our side, where our Asian brothers can throw their weight on our side, where our Latin-American brothers can throw their weight on our side, and where 800 million Chinamen are sitting there waiting to throw their weight on our side.” — Malcolm X, “The Ballot or the Bullet,” April 3, 1963, Cleveland, Ohio
The System Fails, the Movement Regroups
In Louisiana, just a few weeks after Category Five Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, 49 movement organizations from throughout the region met to develop a common strategy and tactical plan. Gathering in Baton Rouge, they formed The People’s Hurricane Relief Fund and Reconstruction Project (PHRF). Their main goal: to create a Black-led, multiracial, progressive reconstruction plan for New Orleans and the region that could challenge the white, corporate take-over already underway. The group also discussed how to use the painful opportunity of the man-made disaster, the racism of the Bush Administration, and the vacillation and spinelessness of the Democrats to help create a new movement with an independent, community-based program.
Curtis Muhammad from Community Labor United (CLU) highlighted the daunting challenges to survival and movement building that grassroots groups are facing. “We must struggle to function with no electricity, no sewage treatment, no city services. We are also faced with the task of physically locating our members after the government dispersed the poorest people the furthest away.”3
Not only are CLU, PHRF, and other grassroots groups such as Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC) dealing with urgent life-and-death challenges, they are trying to develop an alternative, grassroots Black-led development plan for the Gulf Coast. They face an even greater danger: the plan of the Bush Administration and the two-party elite to “bulldoze New Orleans,” drive out the majority Black population, and rebuild — what Muhammad characterized as code for “condos, casinos, and hotels” — the city as a depopulated theme park with a majority white, affluent population.
The so-called natural disaster of “Hurricane Katrina” is actually the man-made disaster, of U.S. imperialism in general and the Bush oligarchy in particular — where global warming (driven by the emissions of the U.S. economy), imperialist overextension in Iraq, the cruelest versions of structural and individual racism, the crises of the cities, and the national oppression of Black people (in particular in the South) all tragically intersect.
There are historical moments when a convergence of events creates a crisis for the system, a governing crisis when the ruling class loses public support and legitimacy. Movement forces that have previously been weak and divided find a rallying cry, a moment of focus, and can launch a programmatic and ideological struggle that pushes the system back on its heels. New Orleans — the city, but also as a symbol for the greater Gulf Coast, the Black movement in the South, the Black movement in the U.S., the Third World within and without the territorial boundaries of the U.S. — offers such a historical challenge and opportunity.
There is a long history inside the Black Liberation Movement of the call for “the right of self-determination.” When a people suffer such a longstanding, cruel and unusual set of punishments from the TransAtlantic Slave Trade to slavery to Jim Crow to the present period of continued white assault on Civil Rights, more structural demands against the system in their voice are needed. The New Orleans and Gulf Coast situation has created, not a snapshot of this continuing history of oppression but a full-length film for an international audience. This cinema verité exposes the brutal poverty, racism, neglect, and suffering imposed on the Black people of virtually all classes in the South and throughout the United States. Progressive people of all races in the U.S. and throughout the world are needed to support the most profound and radical proposals from oppressed communities, as well as to take seriously and expand the support for demands for reparations, Black institutions, and Black control of Black people’s future.
Imperialism as a system operates by oppressing and super-exploiting whole nations and peoples, and it uses the ideology of racism to subjugate peoples of color throughout the world; therefore, an international, anti-imperialist united front is not simply a slogan, but a strategy to situate the many creative demands generated at the grassroots. In this way, we can try to unite all who can be united to isolate the Bush Administration and the right-wing of the Democratic Party and build a broad antiracist, anti-imperialist united front that will demand: (1) the right of self-determination and the highest level of material aid, under community control, to the oppressed Black people in the Gulf Coast; and (2) the U.S., get out of Iraq. Obviously there are many other critical demands for all oppressed nationality communities, and aid must be extended to poor whites as well. There are many other righteous critical grassroots fights that others, including our own organization, are taking up. But at this moment in history, those two focal demands can provide strategic and programmatic coherence in the current political context.
Re-Opening the Historical Record of the Achievements of the Black Liberation Movement — a Critical Building Block for a New Reconstruction
We are living in a historical period when the greatest blow against the progressive movement and the Left is the theft of the history of our intellectual, moral, and political victories against the system and, in particular, the efforts to obliterate the profound contributions of the Black Liberation Movement. The roots of any multiracial, international movement of resistance to the profound racism in the New Orleans and Gulf Coast situation lie in rebuilding this historical record.
This foundation has been built by the abolitionist work of Nat Turner, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas, Sojourner Truth, and John Brown; the Black Reconstruction of 1865-1877; the century of struggle against Jim Crow; the 1950s-1970s Civil Rights Movement and Black Liberation Movement; SNCC, CORE, and the Black Panthers; the Gary Indiana Black Political Convention meeting of 1972; the intellectual work of W.E.B. DuBois, Paul Robeson, Harry Haywood, Fannie Lou Hamer, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Amiri Baraka, and Herbert Aptheker; and, as part of a world anti-imperialist Left, the work of Yuri Kochiyama, Rejis Tijerina, Mickey Schwerner, Andy Goodman, and James Chaney; and the powerful Third World Support from the Bandung Conference of Non-Aligned nations in 1955 to the victory of the Vietnamese National Liberation Front in 1975.
The First Reconstruction
In 1865, only 140 years ago, when the Black people of the South won their freedom from slavery, an alliance of Black Freedmen and women, Southern poor white allies, and Northern allies (if mainly to consolidate the victory over the rebellious and racist South) came up with a program for Reconstruction. This plan was based on the material power of more than 150,000 armed Blacks who had rebelled against slavery and fought with the North in the Civil War, backed by four million more potentially armed Blacks.
This historic Reconstruction movement had a clear program that included the full enfranchisement of Black people in the South; the election of Black and progressive people to office; a major land reform program to bring land back to those who had tilled it as slaves; and profound infusions of funds for Black public education and training. This overall progressive program reached out to, and for a moment included, significant numbers of poor whites — who for centuries had been the henchmen of the slave owners but, without land or jobs and faced with the material reality of Black power, sought the possibility of a multiracial working class movement led by former Black slaves. This miraculous decade in U.S. history was also marked by new legal status for Black people with the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the Constitution which outlawed slavery, made Black people U.S. citizens, and extended the franchise to Black males. None of this would have been possible without the presence of Northern troops in the old “Confederacy.” These troops restricted the brutality and counter-revolution of the Southern white planter class and provided armed support for the progressive experiment — in alliance with the Radical Republicans, and antiracist white liberals who understood the dangers of racism, feudal slavery, and Northern capitalism. The Southern white hatred of “the North” and “the federal government” stems from this revolutionary period in which the white supremacists and plantocracy, for once, were under restriction and even temporary subjugation.
First Racist Counter-Revolution: Jim Crow Apartheid
This unique and fragile experiment of Reconstruction was overturned twelve years later by an alliance of Southern planters and Northern capitalists, the so-called “Hayes-Tilden compromise of 1877.” That ugly backroom deal re-established white plantation power in the South and removed the urgently needed Northern troops, allowing Southern whites to re-impose the plantation economy based on the super-exploitation of Black wage labor. This racist Jim Crow system of segregation and subjugation — also present in the less severe but still profoundly racist practices in the North — created a reign of terror against Black people for a full century under a formal system of apartheid and white supremacy. The story of how the Black-led Reconstruction offers a model of hope and shapes the terms of Black resistance and multiracial Left organizing to this day is the subject of one of the greatest books in the history of the written word, Black Reconstruction in America by W.E.B. DuBois, which serves as the fundamental theoretical and analytical frame of this Letter.
The Second Reconstruction: The Civil Rights Revolution
One hundred years after the end of the Civil War and almost a century after the white South staged its first counter-revolution, Congress passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act — efforts at the national level to repair the profound damage of the Hayes-Tilden compromise and the ravages of Jim Crow.
In 1965-1968 during the revolution of rising expectations, urban rebellions took place in Watts, Detroit, Harlem, Newark, Cleveland, and Washington D.C. For many young people today who were not even born at that time, it may be hard to imagine that 458 cities experienced Black-led rebellions between 1967 and 1969. During that period, there was considerable international support for the demands of Black people, from the Soviet Union, People’s Republic of China, and Third World nations throughout Asia, Africa, and Latin America. There was even significant, if minority, white sympathy for why Black people would rebel.4 This sympathetic focus was not on “looting” but rather on police brutality, poverty, and structural racism, including the assassination of Dr. King, understanding that these realities would generate such mass outrage.5
In retrospect, the profound mass militancy and structural victories of the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Liberation Movement can be understood as a Second Reconstruction. This Second Reconstruction also had a clear program. From 1955 to 1975, “the two decades of the Sixties,” there was a strong and exploding Black movement, growing Latino/Chicano and Asian Pacific Islander movements, the resurgence of the American Indian Movement, and large antiracist organizations of white students, such as Students for a Democratic Society. This multiracial, Black-led Left was a major force in U.S. society. It was both in unity and in struggle with a significant liberal wing of the Democratic Party that was elected during the 1960s in opposition to moderates and the Right.
The Black Liberation/Reconstruction program included an end to police brutality, and proposals for civilian and (Black) community control of the police; comprehensive jobs and social services, the concept raised by the Communist Party during the 1930s of “jobs or income now”; federal “anti-poverty” programs that included dramatic expansion of benefits and eligibility for Aid to Families with Dependent Children; Head Start programs for pre-schools kids, massive funding for Black and inner city schools; a breakthrough in large-scale hiring of Black people for private and public sector jobs; powerful government protections for voting rights and anti-discrimination; and the two demands the system hated the most — “Black Power,” reflected in Black control of community institutions, and “U.S. Out of Vietnam,” the growing sentiment in Black communities to bring Black (and Latino, Asian, and working class white) soldiers home and allow the Vietnamese people the right of self-determination.
Many “non-violent” if militant civil rights activists, especially before the 1963 March on Washington, initially felt that the demands for equal protection of law, already in the 14th amendment, full equality, civil rights under the system, and full democratic rights would be eventually acceptable to the system. But out of their experience of the Kennedy Administration’s weak protection of civil rights workers and conciliation with Southern Dixiecrats, and the treacherous role played by J. Edgar Hoover and the F.B.I. to sabotage more than enforce civil rights laws, they came to understand just how revolutionary the simple demand for “equality” and an end to racial segregation proved to be.
Many radical reformers were transformed into revolutionaries by the shots of the Klan, the blows of police Billy clubs North and South, the assaults of high-powered water hoses, and the racist killings that just would not stop — from Emmit Till to Medgar Evers to the four young girls who were the victims of the Birmingham Church bombing, Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney, the murders of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Fred Hampton, and yes, the assassinations of John and Bobby Kennedy. In 1972, poet and organizer Amiri Baraka and Gary, Indiana Mayor Richard Hatcher helped convene perhaps the broadest Black united front in U.S. history: the National Black Political Convention in Gary, Indiana which generated a series of comprehensive political demands, including holding Black elected officials accountable to the Black community, organized under the concept of a Black Agenda. Similarly, the Black Panther Party’s Ten Point Program was comprehensive and radical, ending with a quote from the Declaration of Independence in which the U.S. “seceded” from England. This was followed by the tenth “key” demand,
We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice, and peace. As our major political objective, a United Nations supervised plebiscite to be held throughout the Black colony in which only Black colonial subjects will be allowed to participate, for the purpose of determining the will of Black people as to their destiny.6
The Black movement during the mid-1960s and 1970s developed a strong internationalist and Third World orientation focusing on solidarity with the people of Africa, and support for the anti-Apartheid movement, and the most militant opposition to the Vietnam War. Muhammad Ali’s “No Viet Cong Ever Called Me a N—-r” helped mobilize many Black and Latino youth, including those already in the armed forces, to refuse to kill Asian youth fighting for self-determination. The connection between racism and oppression at home and abroad was highlighted by SNCC’s cry, “Hell No, We Won’t Go” to the war in Vietnam, Martin Luther King’s the United States is “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world,” and the Chicano Moratorium, the largest Latino antiwar demonstration with more than 30,000 participants.
The Movement had a worldview and an international strategy. It had significant and powerful grassroots movements on the ground, general unity between Black groups themselves (with, of course, tremendous tension and conflict), and a multiracial alliance that included significant antiracist white support and involvement.
Second Racist Counter-Revolution: The New Right
The story of the Second Racist Counter-Revolution that followed the Second Black Reconstruction in America begins with three simple points: (1) it happened; (2) we are still living through it; and (3) “New Orleans” is a powerful and painful reflection of its impact as well as an opportunity to launch a Third Reconstruction — a social revolution based on an international alliance against racism, national oppression, and empire.
The national Black community has been under attack from a ferocious counter-revolution almost before the Civil Rights revolution got off the ground. The “white backlash,” which included white voters abandoning the Democratic Party in droves, began from the first day the federal government sent any troops to protect civil rights workers, from the first day one Black person got a job through an affirmative action program, from the first day one Black person was registered to vote through civil rights organizing.
By 1964, the country was split. The Democratic Party, through the election of Lyndon Johnson, tried desperately to hold together a white and Black coalition. But, despite significant if minority antiracist white support for civil rights, and an unusual well of decency among a significant minority of whites, including some in the South, the vast majority of white people and white voters were and are strongly to rabidly anti-Black. They had voted Democrat for a century to punish the Republicans, the party of Lincoln, for defeating the Confederacy in the Civil War, and for sending federal troops to the South after the Civil War to enforce the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments. They voted Democrat one last time in 1964 out of history and reflex, and out of support for the racist Dixiecrats who still controlled every Southern state and virtually all the key positions in Congress. They saw Lyndon Johnson, a Southerner from Texas, as a traitor, and after the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and just three years of the federal government trying to enforce those laws, they bolted en masse to the Republican Party, where they have wallowed ever since.
By 1968, Richard Nixon was campaigning on a Southern Strategy that assured the white South, through the racialized coded discourse of “law and order,” that he would not enforce civil rights. The white South rewarded him by voting Republican for the first time in its history. But the Nixon vote was not even the worst development. In the same election, George Wallace, Governor of Alabama and an arch-right-wing racist, ran on a states’ rights and “defense of segregation” platform, arguing that even the Republicans were not racist enough. Nixon carried most of the Southern states, with Wallace carrying, that is winning, the electoral votes in the Gulf Coast states — Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Georgia. Nixon barely won the popular vote, with 43%; Hubert Humphrey, the Democrat, with 42%; and Wallace with 13%, including many white working-class votes in the North, where white anger about Black power and the urban rebellions had reached a fever pitch.
Just as with the First Reconstruction, the counter-revolution did not simply try to stop the progress of civil rights; it tried and succeeded in inflicting a subsequent reign of terror against Black people, to reverse, not simply halt, civil and economic rights. Richard Nixon’s and George Wallace’s plans worked, and now the Republicans and the Democrats abandoned the Black community. With the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, the brilliantly manipulative 1978 Bakke case in which a white applicant for medical school claimed the now infamous “reverse discrimination” (and was upheld by a 5 to 4 vote of the Supreme Court), and the later rise of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, a right-wing counterrevolution based on neoliberalism and counterinsurgency was in full swing. By the late ’70s and early ’80s, the Civil Rights Movement was in full retreat, as the Black community has been punished by Republicans and Democrats, had suffered painful and debilitating splits, and could not organize nor fully contemplate a third road.
In 1984 and 1988, the Rainbow Coalition, led by the presidential challenge of Jesse Jackson, showed the enormous potential for a Black-led, multiracial, progressive politics in the United States — and the possibility of aggressively challenging the Right. But in 1988, after Jackson came in an amazing second to Michael Dukakis in the Democratic primaries, the Democratic Party silenced him and his demands, and Jackson refused to cause the uproar it deserved out of “party unity.” What had begun as an “independent” Rainbow Coalition challenging the Democratic Party had been subsumed into the party itself. After Reagan’s 1984 rout of moderate liberal Walter Mondale, the pathetic performance of alleged liberal Michael Dukakis, and the racist and successful “Willie Horton” ploy of George Bush, Sr. in 1988, the Democratic Party, losing white votes right and right, was in an internal crisis.7 The Democratic Leadership Council, led by Bill Clinton, vowed to move the party to the “center,” to downplay discussions of civil rights, and to try to win back white voters with a “colorblind” economics-oriented appeal: “It’s the economy, stupid!”
Each year from 1968, the Democrats have moved further to the Right on race. Unfortunately, unlike the racist Democrat George Wallace, Jesse Jackson was not willing to abandon the Democrats and run an independent antiracist campaign, to punish the Democrats if necessary, in an effort to build an independent Left that could at least try to push the Party back to a civil rights orientation.
By 1992, Arkansas Governor Clinton implored Black leaders, sick of 12 years of Reagan and Bush, to accept his assessment that in order to win a national election, they needed two white men from the South to run, (Clinton and Gore) and to work like hell to keep the remaining white voters inside the Democratic Party. In return, Clinton promised, if elected with no civil rights pressure to his left, to provide a massive number of Black appointments and contracts, which he did. In exchange, his two administrations undermined due process and habeas corpus with the Effective Death Penalty Act, ended “welfare as we know it,” and sabotaged the movement in California to protect affirmative action. The Clinton Administration put the movement on the defensive with the reactionary slogan, “affirmative action, mend it don’t end it” (as if Blacks had already gotten too much) combined with guaranteeing the defeat of the civil rights opposition by withholding promised Democratic Party funds from the “No on 209” Campaign. In practice, Clinton gave ideological support to the racists, while he, in perhaps his most disgraceful move, privately bragged to his Black supporters that he was “the first Black president.”
The Clinton debacle was followed by the racism of Gore and then John Kerry. Gore didn’t even challenge the 2000 presidential election results in Florida, allowing the conservative Scalia/Thomas Supreme Court to throw the election to Bush. (Michael Moore‘s greatest historical contribution may be his popularization of the excruciatingly painful scene of Black congresspersons trying to defend Al Gore and protest the election results, while Gore turned against his most loyal, devoted Black supporters in the futile hope to placate, once again, white Southern and suburban voters for future elections.) By 2004, Kerry, who ran one of the worst campaigns with regard to the Black community and civil rights, was paid back for this racial appeal to white voters by this very voting block, especially white male voters, voting instead for George W. Bush in record numbers.
One final “fact” on how brutal the second counterrevolution has been on the Black community:
The number of people in prison, in jail, on parole, and on probation in the U.S. increased by 300% from 1980 [since the election of Ronald Reagan] through 2000, to more than 6 million. The number of people in prison increased from 320,000 to almost two million in the same period. This buildup has targeted the poor, and especially Blacks. In 1999, though Blacks were only 13% of the U.S. population, they were 50% of all prison inmates (1 million people). In 2000, one out of three young Black men was either locked up, on probation, or on parole.8
This incomprehensible level of pain and suffering is the bitter harvest of the tragically bipartisan White Supremacy as National Policy, explains why some Black organizers put forth an analysis of a nationally oppressed people, and sets the historical frame for the events of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.
Gulf Coast: The Third Reconstruction?
As we turn to proposals for action and remedy, those Black groups and individuals in New Orleans, the Gulf Coast, and throughout the U.S. who choose to explain their dilemma, their experience, and their demands in a Black-centered, civil rights, antiracist, and self-determination framework should be supported by all progressive people. Progressive people of all races need to show intellectual and political solidarity. Let us register the profound courage that is required to put forth that oppositional point of view, recognizing that there will be a strong bi-partisan “backlash” against Black groups and individuals who choose to think and express themselves in this context.
This movement has already put the Bush Administration and the Democrats on the defensive. Responding to Black rage — articulated in Kanye West’s angry observation, “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people” — Bush was forced to say in his September 15th speech to the country, “Poverty has roots in a history of racial discrimination, which cut off generations from the opportunities of America. We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action.”9 Headlines on the internet actually read, “Bush Talks about Poverty,” as if it was a major news scoop.
Still, as we will see, Bush’s proposal for “enterprise zones” and his $61 billion corporate giveaway betray his real intentions. His much more powerfully coded “New Orleans Will Rise Again” is little more than the longstanding Dixiecrat theme “The [white] South Will Rise Again.” Still, this is a reflection of the power of a resurgent movement, as Jesse Jackson has twice gone after Bill Clinton, by demanding that the Clinton/Bush Sr. Katrina response team appoint Black leadership to help head up the relief efforts, and by fingering Clinton’s lobbyists, not just Bush’s, for the corporate raiding in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.10
The heroic work of movement groups in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast is helping to shape the terms of the debate. Today, not just in New Orleans, but throughout the Gulf Coast states of Alabama and Mississippi, throughout every major urban center from New York to Houston to Los Angeles, there is an urgent need for a Third Reconstruction. This effort should be led by a Black/Latino alliance as part of the broader alliance of all oppressed nationality peoples, Asian/Pacific Islander, Indigenous peoples, reaching out to antiracist and progressive whites, and allying internationally with the peoples and nations of the Third World to challenge the decadence and racism of the U.S. empire.
We must use all of our resources and resolve to try to ensure that the Black community and a multiracial movement can make an historic intervention to demand Black self-determination and the Right of Return for all 350,000 Black people in New Orleans and the Black community throughout the Gulf Coast. Only if people get home will there be a social base for a long-term struggle for power. That single demand, the Right of Return, is the key link to reconstruct a foundation of the people of the Black Belt South. We must not allow the corporate class to use this tragedy as a profit binge with public funds while the white corporate, upper, and middle classes occupy the Black community’s assets.
1 W.E.B. DuBois, Black Reconstruction in America (New York: The Free Press, 1962), 30.
2 Ibid. 149
3 Curtis Muhammad, Interview with Eric Mann and Damon Azali, Voices from the Front Lines, KPFK 90.7 FM, Los Angeles, September 12, 2005.
4 In 1967, I was living in the Black community (South Ward) in Newark, New Jersey during the urban rebellion. From my apartment, surrounded by national guard troops that killed 23 people and injured 725, I wrote an article “Newark — It Was Like a Happening” to a predominantly white audience, trying to explain to even white liberals why Black people would rebel and why they should support such urban rebellions.
5 As researcher Palak Shah explained, “There is wide variance in how many rebellions occurred during the 1960s, mostly because researchers have focused on cities with large Black populations, newspaper reports only, and/or excluded uprisings in schools and smaller cities.” A study led by sociology professor Daniel Meyers that analyzed this bias located 1357 “riot” events. He claims that even the most complete studies contain only 752 events and this is over an 8 year period (1964-1971). According to his tabulation, 458 cities experienced at least one rebellion from 1967-1969. Dr. Daniel Meyers, “Racial Riots in the United States, 1967-1972,” University of Notre Dame, www.nd.edu/~dmyers/team/frp.html. A New York Times article stated, “From 1964 to 1971, there were more than 750 riots, killing 228 people and injuring 12,741 others. After more than 15,000 separate incidents of arson, many black urban neighborhoods were in ruins” (Virginia Postrel, “The Consequences of the 1960’s Race Riots Come into View,” The New York Times, December 20, 2004).
6 Black Panther Party Platform and Program, African American Historical Documents. Available at www.africanamericans.com/BlackPantherPartyPlatform.htm.
7 Willie Horton was a Black prisoner, incarcerated in Concord State Prison for first degree murder, who was released under a week-end furlough program in 1986, under a program established by the Massachusetts legislature and supported by then Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis. Horton never came back to prison, and while out on the streets, he viciously stabbed a man and raped his wife. During the 1988 presidential election, George Bush ran pictures of Horton and charging “liberal” Dukakis with allowing Black men to roam the streets committing crimes. Bush’s campaign manager, Lee Atwater (a clone of Karl Rove, bragged that “before this election is over, Willie Horton will become a household name.” It is widely agreed that the “Horton” incident scared the hell out of white voters and was a major factor in Dukakis’ defeat and Bush’s election.
Eric Mann is director of the Labor/Community Strategy Center and member of the Bus Riders Union Planning Committee. He has been a civil rights, anti-Vietnam war, labor, and environmental organizer for 40 years, with the Congress of Racial Equality, Students for a Democratic Society, and the United Auto Workers, including eight years on auto assembly lines. He is the author of four books, Comrade George: An Investigation into the Life, Political Thought, and Assassination of George Jackson; Taking on General Motors: A Case Study of the UAW Campaign to Keep GM Van Nuys Open; L.A.’s Lethal Air: New Strategies for Policy, Organizing, and Action; and Dispatches from Durban: Firsthand Commentaries on the World Conference Against Racism and Post-September 11 Movement Strategies. This essay is adapted from his Letter in Support of the Movement in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast: Notes on Strategy & Tactics. For a full copy of the 50 page Letter, send $5 to Frontlines Press, 3780 Wilshire Blvd, Suite 1200, LA 90010,