“Freedom now by any means necessary, including violence,” was the chant. It was time for black struggle to evolve into the next stage of protest: concerted violence was imminent.
It is important to note that violence is the offspring of frustration and desperation. However, for violence to be effective as a means of fostering change, there must be a leader capable of synthesizing the violence as well as giving some semblance of meaning to it; plus, he must be aggressive and persuasive.
A man known as Malcolm X was just such a leader. He was born in Nebraska in 1925. His father was a militant Baptist clergyman who was also an organizer for Marcus Garvey’s “Back to Africa” movement. As a child, his family was threatened by a number of racist groups including the Ku Klux Klan: it was never proven, but it is believed his father was murdered by one of those groups. Malcolm later drifted into a life of petty crime, was subsequently caught, arrested and jailed. It was while he was in jail that he was converted to the Islam religion.
Practically all the mass media painted him as a rabble-rouser; such was not the case. Actually he was, and he wasn’t; what he was, was a highlighter. He said he found out early in life that if a person wants something, he had better make some noise; hence, he protested and he protested loudly. Actually, what he did was to rail against segments of the United States represented by overt white supremacists in the South, and the covert white supremacists of the North.
He was a powerful, powerful man. Probably the thing that made him so powerful was the fact that he came from the streets of reality and rose from the depravity of being a hoodlum, thief, dope peddler, and pimp to a powerful leader who didn’t need those props to support his objectives. Meanwhile, he became one of the most dynamic leaders of the Black Revolution in the history of America.
One might ask, what were his objectives? The truth is, his total objective was to obtain justice for his black American brothers. That sounds out of kilter with the pictures painted by the news media, doesn’t it? Sure it does… He was accused of being a rabble-rouser, a fomenter of violence, an evildoer. He was not an evildoer; he was for truth and justice. If non-violence meant postponing a solution to the American black man’s problem, then he was for violence; however, he was not for violence just for the sake of violence.
For years, white men had abused blacks with impunity; he was simply of the belief that when a person attempts to deal with us by force, we have a right to answer him by force. Personally, I believe it is only as retaliation that force should be used, and only against the person who starts it. Some of you might say, “But then you are sinking to his level of evil.” That’s not true, a holdup man seeks to gain wealth by abusing me; obviously, I don’t gain wealth by abusing him, and I don’t share his evil or sink to his concept of right and wrong: I merely grant him his choice, destruction. The fact is, it is the only destruction he had a right to choose: his own. A mugger uses force to seize a value; I use it only to destroy destruction. In my opinion, that is what Malcolm X believed. One thing is for sure, when he talked people listened.
It was his intention to raise black militancy to a new high in which the “black American problem” would be properly identified as the “All-American problem.”
He took exception to his portrait in the media and said he was sick of the media calling him a rabble-rouser, an evildoer and all such names. He said he was for truth, it doesn’t matter who tells it: he was for justice, no matter who it was for or against: he was a human being first and foremost; translated, that means he was for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole.71 No doubt he was a fomenter of violence, but does that sound like a rabble-rouser, or an evildoer? A rabble-rouser? Probably. Justified? I think so. An evildoer? I think not!
The year 1964 opened with ominous thundering from the Black Muslim sect of the Islam religion.
There is no doubt they were aggressive; however, it became clear to Malcolm X that the Black Muslims were essentially a conservative group, more interested in saving black souls and building up the number of converts to their religious organization, than in attacking and destroying racist institutions and truly liberating black people in America.
As a result of their lack of commitment to the black American’s civil rights cause, Malcolm X, minister of the New York City Muslims, split off from the Black Muslims and formed the Muslim Mosque, Inc. As he envisioned it, the new organization he would build would differ from the Nation of Islam in that it would embrace all faiths of black men, plus it would carry into practice what the Black Muslims had only preached.
The Organization of Afro-American Unity, which he planned to use as the official organ of the Mosque, was another part of the plan to organize and project Black Nationalism.
Unlike Elijah Muhammad’s posture of aggressive pursuit of black souls, while at the same time withdrawing and disengaging from white America, Malcolm X prepared to engage white America fully. In fact, his plan was to engage white America in an aggressive and confrontational manner, and do whatever was necessary in the struggle against the forces of white racism, including eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation and violence.
He was more responsible for the new militancy that entered the “Freedom now” movement than any other single individual. He uttered aloud a number of things that many blacks had been saying to themselves. In fact, he said some things that many blacks had been afraid to say even to each other.
One key that made him so convincing was that he had a way about himself that was concise, thorough, and uncomplicated, and his words put fear in the hearts of many who heard him speak. There was no doubt in their minds that he was talking about organized revolt, destruction and violence.
He honed in on the black man’s predicament and analyzed the events and situations as they were at that time, and he did it convincingly and eloquently. The problem according to many who heard him speak, was that he was not about to “turn the other cheek,” he was more inclined to turn the other barrel and continue firing. In other words, he was not opposed to violence; in fact, he believed that violence was necessary in order to cure the ills of the black man in “America’s racist society.”
“Violence,” one noted sociologist was overheard commenting, “is an ugly exposure of nature’s defense mechanism;” it is a natural form of nature’s law of aggression called “survival of the fittest.”
We humans have discovered that the use of violence, and in many instances simply the threat of violence (which in reality is strictly a mental tease), usually acts as a catalyst for change in the somewhat volatile arena of human relations. If the violence is a response to moral principles unanswered, then initially the result is generally a change toward that which is right and proper.
On the other hand, if the violence is a response to chaos, then the result is generally more violence and more chaos.
Regardless of the reason for violence, the effect only lasts through the point that it attracts the attention of those to whom the violence is directed. The response reaches a peak, and then tapers off until violence becomes strictly a response to violence, with change quickly degenerating to nothingness.
Malcolm X was a master in the technique of actual as well as technical violence. In a speech in the spring of 1964,72 he explained his reasons for divorcing himself and his supporters from the Black Muslim movement. At the same time, he gave his listeners an ominous warning of the coming violence.
Comments on that speech might very well offer greater insight into the thinking of that erstwhile black leader. Incidentally, I am aware that the reader can very well interpret the speech as well as the rest of us. However, I want to insure that you consider the words from my slanted but objective point of view; therefore, I will position myself as a “devil’s advocate.” Now, share his speech with me as we eavesdrop and comment on “the master of violence:”
He opened his speech with the salutation, “Friends and enemies,” and said he hoped they could share “a little fireside chat” without animosity. He acknowledged the fact that the world was in an especially explosive condition at that time. What he wanted to do was to insure that those who heard him speak understood that he was simply the messenger, not the destroyer. He used the analogy of a person’s house being on fire and instead of the owner being thankful to the person alerting him of the fire, he makes the mistake of charging the one who awakened him with having set the fire. He said he hoped his little speech about the black revolution wouldn’t cause his listeners to accuse him of starting it.
There might have been a bit of confusion with who he really was, but he put that one to rest by stating unequivocally that he was still a Black Muslim; that is, his religion was still Islam, he still believed that there is no God but Allah, and that Mohammad was the apostle of Allah. However, he wanted to assure his listeners that Islam just happened to be his personal religion. However, he also wanted to insure them that in the role in which he was functioning, he had no intention of mixing his religion with the problems of 22,000,000 black people in the United States…”73.
He obviously felt that it was important that those who heard his words were assured that he didn’t start the revolution, however, he did support it; in addition, he wanted his supporters to be assured that he was still the Malcolm X they had come to know and admire.
From the very beginning of the speech, he said he wanted to quell any doubt about his intentions and his nature, that’s why he underlined the fact that he was still a Muslim; however, he wanted to make the distinction that he was also a nationalist; that is, his political, his economic, and his social philosophy was Black Nationalism. He took that opportunity to define exactly what he meant when he used the term. To him the political philosophy of Black Nationalism is designed to encourage black people to gain complete control over the politics and the politicians of their own community.
The economic philosophy of Black Nationalism is to gain economic control over the economy of the black community. In addition, that philosophy must be evident throughout businesses and the other things that create employment so that blacks can provide jobs for their own people, instead of having to picket, boycott, and beg someone else for a job.74
Now, that’s some heady stuff, and certainly worth more than just passing consideration. It is important to note; what he was saying is, before any group can assume control over the politics and politicians of their own community, they must be a cohesive unit capable of attracting support for their cause. In addition (and he highlighted the fact), if liberty is what they are seeking, black Americans must be more attuned to producing than consuming, and more attuned to performing than begging.
We need to keep in mind that the framers of the Constitution established the House of Representatives as a means of providing a spokesman for the various communities within each state; however, for many years voter registration and voter apathy, plus district gerrymandering greatly affected the result of this concept. Nevertheless, the idea was not a novel one. The point is, economic control, or any other kind of control, is a matter of doing, not whining, boycotting, or begging; those characteristics are indicators of lack of control. In addition, the victim mentality, which supports an aura of dependence, is the fuse that disengages the power to perform.
As one listens to many of our “black leaders” talk in terms of control, one might pay attention as they turn their backs on the productive effort that is the foundation of control. They speak in terms of picketing, boycotting, begging; they speak in terms of sharing the wealth; yet when it comes to sharing the productive foundation of which wealth is born, they speak a different tune. Then they speak in terms of vacation pay, sick leave, optional holidays, and workers “rights;” in other words, compensation for non-productivity. All of us might someday come to realize that we cannot have it both ways.
Apparently, what many of us do not understand is that the minute unearned compensation is received, the individual loses control of his or her personal life proportional to the amount of unearned compensation. In addition, the community in which he or she resides loses power proportional to the amount of compensation the individual is capable of earning. In other words, a “free meal” is a ticket to subjugation, and the cost of the “free meal” is loss of control.
The power mongers never quote Malcolm X when he said the one thing the white man can never give blacks is self-respect; and further, that America’s black man can never become independent and recognized as a human being, who is truly equal with other human beings, until he is doing for himself what others are doing for themselves.75
The second part of the equation is creating employment and providing jobs for people. That is certainly easier said than done; however, it is not a complicated invention patented by “the white man.” It is a feat performed by people, both black and non-black, who are producers and leaders. But leaders are people of action, people who will not take “No!” as an answer, without a corresponding answer to the question, “Why not?” They are people who exercise positive actions designed to remake the world in the image they perceive: after all, the horizon is only as distant as the image in a person’s mind’s eye.
Incidentally, Malcolm X may not have understood the essence of the control mechanism; however, he was an action-oriented leader; plus there is no doubt, he was a leader.
According to him, the social philosophy of Black Nationalism means to get together among black Americans and eliminate the evils that are destroying the moral fiber of the black community, like drug addiction, drunkenness, adultery that leads to an abundance of bastard children, welfare problems and the like. He believed that blacks should lift the level or the standard of the black community to a higher level wherein they will be satisfied and not inclined toward pushing themselves into other societies where we are not wanted.76
Somehow, the demagogues seem to want to gloss over the part about getting together among blacks and eliminating evils…77 They obviously prefer providing the camouflage routine in an effort to start those excuses to flowing.
He was swift to assure his listeners that they could forget about all the nice talk and the ingratiating performances, because they were dealing with the black revolution. The forecast, according to him, was that the year 1964, would be a hot one: America’s hottest year yet, a year of much racial violence and much racial bloodshed. However, he also assured his listeners that blacks had changed: it wouldn’t be blood flowing only on one side. The new generations of black people that had grown up in America during the recent years of turmoil were already forming the opinion, and he was convinced it was a just opinion, that if there is to be bleeding, it should be reciprocal; in other words, if there is to be bleeding, it should be on both sides.
He pointed to the events of the previous Friday in Cleveland and warned his listeners that black America had ceased to turn the other cheek, that they had ceased to be non-violent, that they had ceased to feel that they had to be confined to all the restraints that were put upon them by white society. He added that in struggling for what white society says they were supposed to have had a hundred years ago, black America had started a revolution, a violent revolution.
The tone in his voice was anything but apologetic when he cautioned his listeners that when black America starts reaching out for what America says are their rights, he feels that they are within their rights — when they become the victim of brutality by those who are depriving them of their rights — to do whatever is necessary to protect themselves.
The point he emphasized time and again was that black Americans weren’t very aggressive in defending their safety ten years ago; however, in 1964 blacks had changed. Again, a word of caution to his listeners: what the establishment should learn is that blacks are waking up; it was stones in the past, Molotov cocktails in 1964; it will be hand grenades tomorrow, and whatever else is available the next day. It would be foolhardy for people to underestimate the seriousness of the situation. Keep in mind, he noted, people should not feel he is inciting anyone to violence, he was only the messenger; he was simply warning of a powder-keg situation, but people don’t have to listen, they can take it or leave it.
He assured everyone within earshot that twenty-two million African-Americans were ready to fight for independence right then and there. He continued to caution his listeners that when he said “fight for independence” he didn’t mean any non-violent fight, or turn-the-other-cheek fight; he assured them again, those days were over.
George Washington and the other founders were heroes in the history books; he noted, if they didn’t get independence for this country non-violently, if people like Patrick Henry didn’t come up with non-violent statements, and he was taught to look upon them as patriots and heroes, then it’s time for the establishment to realize that he had studied their books well.
Another point he was quick to highlight: when the founders got ready to declare their Declaration of Independence, they didn’t care anything about the odds of their oppressor: they were simply fed up with taxation without representation. He added, America had 22,000,000 black people who were fed up with taxation without representation, and they were ready, willing and justified to do the same thing then to bring about independence for black people their white forefathers did to bring about independence for white people.
One must admit, he was on the money, and that was a neat little analogy from his inimitable blend of reasoning. To bring the revolutionary patriots onto the scene and use the present day violence as an analogy was a slick idea and was probably responsible for many converts. The pseudo-reasoning goes something like this, “those men were heroes, they gained freedom from oppression — they were violent, that’s how they did it — we can use the same method and gain the same result.”
Actually Malcolm X was a realist, he knew exactly what he was doing; his goal was to bring about a positive change for blacks through fear via violent confrontation… few can deny, it was effective.
In his mind, 1964 would see the black America revolt evolve and merge into the world-wide black revolution that has been taking place on this earth since 1945. He assured everyone the so-called revolt will become a real black revolution.
He emphasize time and again that the revolution he was talking about was a real revolution, and that everyone should understand that Revolution is always based on land: Revolution is never based on begging somebody for an integrated cup of coffee. He added that Revolutions are never fought by turning the other cheek, they are never based upon love your enemy, and pray for those who spitefully use you.
He added a little dig focused on the non-violent movement when he said revolutions are never waged singing, ‘We Shall Overcome:” Revolutions are never based upon negotiations or any kind of tokenism whatsoever. They are never even based upon begging a corrupt society or a corrupt system for acceptance into it. The primary point he wanted to clarify, that he wanted to make perfectly clear, is that Revolutions overturn systems; and the fact is, there is no system on earth which has proven itself more corrupt, more criminal than the system in America that in 1964 still colonized 22,000,000 African-Americans.78
Now, that was some scary stuff. What this portion of his message was designed to do was counter the non-violent civil rights proponents and cause them to give serious thought to converting over to his Black Nationalism.
Many of us agree that what he said about real revolutions is undeniably true. We also agree that what he said about our American society being corrupt is also true to a significant degree.
However, when it comes to our system of government, the author does not agree; rather, I support Ayn Rand’s view.79 She defined a social system as a set of moral-political-economic principles embodied in a society’s laws, institutions, and government, which determine the relationships, and the terms of association, among the people living in a given geographical area.
She said, there are only two aspects to the same fundamental question that determines the nature of any social system: Does the system recognize individual rights? And does it ban physical force from human relationships? The answer to the second question is the practical implementation of the answer to the first. The rest is consequences and practical implementation.
The basic issue, she said, is only one thing: Is man free? The one and only system of government that answers “yes,” is capitalism. It is a system based on the recognition of individual rights, including property rights, in which all property is privately owned.
Ayn Rand was quite adamant in her quest to highlight and properly define the concept of individual rights and capitalism, and why the one is the only one consistent with the other, and why the two are the only ones consistent with “liberty and justice for all.”
Some opponents of the Rand idea and proponents of the Malcolm X idea have said that there is an obvious conflict here, but such is not the case. On the one hand, we are talking about a system of interrelationships among people to determine how we deal with one another. On the other hand, we are talking about a system of determining who represents us in the running of our government.
In the above comment, Ayn Rand is talking about the former. Malcolm X was talking about the latter.
When he said, no system is more corrupt than America’s; one that represents itself as the example of freedom and democracy, and can go all over the world telling other people how to straighten out their houses, while at the same time their citizens have to use bullets if they want to cast a ballot, he was absolutely on the money.
His bullets-for-ballots comment definitely struck a nerve, but his primary pitch was aimed at his fellow black Americans, especially those who were active, yet did not support his position toward violence. Hence his “divide and conquer” theory.
He identified America’s strategy as the same one used in the past by the colonial powers: divide and conquer. He said, the American establishment plays one black leader against the other, and plays one black organization against the other. The idea is to make everyone believe they have different goals and objectives. As soon as one black spokesman says something, the establishment runs to a different spokesman and asks him what he thinks about what the other one said. He flashed that knowing grin and said, anybody can see through that deception — except some of the black spokesmen.
Another key point he highlighted was that all black Americans have the same goals: the same objective. Simply stated, the objective is freedom, justice, and equality; plus recognition and respect as human beings. He never hesitated to point to the fact that black Americans don’t want to be integrationists, nor do they want to be separationists. They simply want to be treated as human beings; he added, integration is only a method used by some groups to obtain freedom, justice, equality and respect as human beings: separation is only a method used by other groups to obtain freedom, justice, equality or human dignity.
Another thing he wanted to highlight was that many blacks had made the mistake of confusing methods with the objectives. He cautioned that as long as they agree on the objectives they should never fall out with each other just because they believe in different methods, tactics, or strategy. The object is to reach a common objective.
Then he reiterated that blacks need to keep in mind at all times, they are not fighting for integration nor are they fighting for separation; black Americans are fighting for recognition and the right to live as human beings in this society. In fact, they should recognize that they are actually fighting for rights that are even greater than civil rights and that is human rights.80
Again, he was right on the money. All of us who are honestly seeking solutions to a harmonious future – that’s what the Founders meant when they talked about “pursuit of happiness” – all of us who are honest have the same goals, the same objectives. However, it appears that all America has been disarmed and confused when it comes to the methods, or tactics, or strategy, as Malcolm X called it, with the objectives. Nevertheless, that is not the problem. The problem is, there are only two basic standards or premises, which fuel our desire to solve our problems, and there are three groups vying for control.
One group believes in the power of the individual: they believe that given the opportunity, a person can chart his own course in pursuit of his happiness.
One of the three groups believes in the power of the government: they believe that life is not fair (no doubt about that, but truth is not necessarily fair), and that the government should be the big brother that evens out the rewards so everyone can share the wealth — without regard to who provides the wealth to be shared.
The third group believes in power: they don’t particularly care who is in power as long as they get theirs; and, they know that the best way to assure that they get theirs is to wield personal power themselves.
There we go again, going tangential on you. Forgive me… But, give that idea serious consideration. Now, we return to our temporary host, Malcolm X…
He was pretty much on the money again, when he identified the shameful problem that black America was fighting for human rights in 1964: the reason the civil-rights struggle had failed to produce concrete results was because it had kept blacks barking up the wrong tree. It made them put the cart ahead of the horse: people must have human rights before they can secure civil rights. Black Americans, as is true for any other Americans, must be respected as humans before they can be recognized as citizens.81
There is no doubt that Malcolm X was the primary leader of a militant movement; however, notice the craftiness of the speaker. He warned of violence, and his words were logical, compelling, and quite convincing; however, he advocated violence only as a response to violence. At this point, let me be perfectly clear, Malcolm X was not a demagogue. The problem is, the demagogues, the power mongers, and the evildoers will use whatever is at their disposal to obtain their objectives, and violence is always at their disposal because there are always distorted views of justice. Hence, violence will persist long after its existence is useful. The question is, how does one know who is for real and has no hidden agenda. The answer? The measure of consistency will nearly always determine whom we can trust.
Those who attended many of his speeches were virtually unanimous in agreement that the man reeked of aggression, hostility, and determination. However, they add, his words were always carefully measured, and always designed to urge others to join his cause and fight the cause in the manner that he viewed would be the most effective in this “corrupt society.” In many instances, simply because of his crafty logic and gentle persuasion, it worked like a charm.
So much for Malcolm X’s speech in 1964 titled, “Liberation by Any Means Necessary.” Hopefully the reader has gained some measure of insight into this man among men.
I would like to add one more word about the man before we take our leave; actually, we’ll talk more about him in chapter twelve, “The Enemy.” Meanwhile, I think the words of the well respected and talented black actor, Ossie Davis, might well provide a vision of the impact of Malcolm X on black America. The following is the essence of a piece written by Mr. Davis in response to a “Grump”82 magazine editor’s question: “Why did you eulogize Malcolm X?”
He said that Malcolm X was pure excitement, and more than that, his realism and the way he expressed the concerns of blacks was refreshing. He admitted that Malcolm X scared hell out of many of his black contemporaries, especially the successful one’s, mainly because the successful blacks were bred to turn the other cheek and smile in the presence of whites even under duress of verbal assault. As Mr. Davis put it, “Bred as we are to caution, to hypocrisy in the presence of white folks, to the smile that never fades.”83
Malcolm X instinctively knew that every white man in America, he said, profits from racism directly or indirectly even if he does not practice it or believe in it himself. Mr. Davis said he knew Malcolm X personally, and however much he might have disagreed with him, he never doubted that Malcolm X, even when he was wrong, was always that rarest thing in the world among blacks, a true man. That may not mean much to many readers, however, to many of us blacks; it says volumes about the man known as Malcolm X.
Why did we spend so much time on Malcolm X and his 1964 speech? Was it really that important? Obviously, I think so; however, to fully answer that question, you need to understand that violence is usually a catalyst in the achievement of progress; the more intense and horrifying the violence appears, the more active and immediate will be the change.
However, this is true only if the underlying cause of the violence has some measure of validity. In addition, since the participants of the violent process have a tendency of being trapped into developing a hard-line attitude and eroding their cause, there needs to be an erstwhile leader capable of maintaining the proper perspective and course of action. Otherwise violence has a tendency to quickly erode into simple and horrifying terror and chaos.
Malcolm X was the erstwhile leader that lent meaning and credence to the violence. In addition, he is a prominent figure in the evolution of American race relations because he was, without doubt, a positive catalyst to progress. Therefore, understanding his viewpoint of why he thought violence was necessary and how it relates to human rights, civil rights, and race relations, was a lesson I thought needed to be viewed.
The summer of 1964 was often called “Freedom Summer,” during that time Mississippi was invaded by hundreds of black and white college students, from North and South. Their objective was to focus national attention on the state’s denial of basic rights of its black citizens. In terms of their immediate goal, the summer was quite a success, because it did indeed bring the horrors of Mississippi racism and bigotry dramatically before the public eye.
The summer was an unqualified success: the objective was undoubtedly realized, and many positive changes had been achieved. However, black students realized that it was the presence of white students intertwined with them in the battle of black equality and justice that attracted the news media. That fact highlighted a double-edged sword: it was positive in that it underscored the fact that not all whites were the devils as characterized by many black leaders.
However, it was negative in that there was no guarantee that if blacks were assembled by themselves, without their white allies, they would receive the same treatment of equality and justice. In other words, as long as America cared about what happened to blacks only when they were accompanied by whites, they reasoned, who was to say there would be freedom for the black man taken alone. That would appear to be a legitimate cause for concern.
In the face of this dilemma black students concluded that it would be in the best interest of the movement to cast out their white allies and become an all-black movement. Only in that way, they felt, could they build a movement that would insure the coming of true liberation for black people. With that point in mind “Freedom Summer” marked a turning point in the black student movement.
Many observers contend that the separation thinking was error-ridden; that without the active support of whites, the movement would stumble and fall by the wayside. They said that just as in a barrel of firecrackers there would nearly always be a dud (one that would light but just fizzle and do nothing), the black movement, without white support, would become a dud.
The popular press applauded the gains blacks had made in the South. Racial liberals and moderates also applauded them. Incidentally, it is interesting to note that those gains had primarily been made through legal defense and non-violent direct action.
However, riots, insurrections, and civil disorders suddenly occurred that turned the attention of the nation to the black ghettos of Northern and Western cities, and the South breathed a sigh of relief.
What happened was, blacks living in poverty and despair were venting their long-suppressed hostility by attacking the things that, in their minds, most directly oppressed them: their slum dwellings and the ghetto merchants. Needless to say, what they needed was positive leadership, what they got was short range, tactical exercises that appeared to be negative, convoluted and hopeless demagoguery. However, it certainly did get the attention of the establishment.
The most peculiar part of the disturbances was that many of them were triggered by situations involving so-called visible symbols of white oppression, the policeman. Black ghetto-dwellers were frustrated and nothing else seemed to work, so Black Nationalism became an openly advocated alternative to the non-violent direct action advocated by Dr. King. Only, this time they called it the “New Nationalism.”
Just as Malcolm X had warned, the summer of 1964 was one of America’s hottest years. However, even though the media had focused the nation’s attention on the anti-American problems in Mississippi, and admittedly there was a measure of success, very little progress had been made in terms of real social change in the South. Meanwhile, the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which guided the fortunes of the student movement from 1960, virtually went into seclusion.
After the summer of 1964, the focus of the black movement began to shift from the South to the urban ghettos of the North and the West. However, even as more and more legal battles relating to racism were won, it became apparent that those victories had little relevance to the majority of black people.
Most blacks remained in the same condition of poverty and fear, as they did before all the black liberation activity was initiated. Direct-action, non-violent campaigns were great for the news media: they were delighted with the news that the entire race-related activity generated. The desegregated lunch counters and public facilities were wonderful for those who used such things; however, the perception of helplessness of most blacks before the economic and political power of the white community seemed insurmountable. They felt that the gains won by the student movement, compared to the demands of real freedom, didn’t really hit home with them — especially to the militant young.
At the same time, the murderers of black and white civil rights workers throughout the South went free. Some of the perpetrators had even publicly boasted of their crimes, and they still went free. It seemed obvious that racism was not merely the sum of individual whites’ hostility toward blacks, but maybe it was an attitude insidiously built into the institutions of American society. Everyone hoped that was not the case, but obviously the problem was a more elusive target then had been previously imagined.
In February 1965, Malcolm X, the proponent of violent rebellion, was killed by an assassin’s bullet, and with that killing went the tune of the New Nationalism. It was as though the movement was predicated upon the singer not the song, the leader rather than the essence of his leadership.
Many observers contend that a mortal blow was delivered to continued progression toward racial harmony. Some observers went as far as to say that the killing of Malcolm X was equivalent to the killing of Abraham Lincoln, or John F. Kennedy.
The violence continued, but once Malcolm X had been erased from the scene the movement found no replacement, and the violence was without direction, which means it eroded into meaningless chaos.
Many blacks debated the effectiveness of initiating violence into the bowels of American society by blacks. Some of them believed America needed the militant leadership of cohesive violence to counterbalance the non-violent leadership of Dr. King and his associates.
On the other hand, many others believed that the non-violent method had not run its course, and violence was simply alienating those who would and could help the cause. They believed that all the laws necessary to bring about black liberation were already on the books, what was needed, they said, was a change in attitude toward black Americans.
What they did not add was a key ingredient hitherto not acknowledged: a change in attitude was needed of blacks toward their fellow man, including blacks toward themselves, as well as whites toward blacks.
There are four stages in the evolution of protest and those stages culminate with violence. However, for the evolution to be accompanied by a successful revolution the primary ingredient that must be present is a positive mental attitude.
The Europeans that rocked the shores of North America and demanded liberty already possessed a libertarian attitude. They already possessed the will and the need to be autonomous; all they needed was the opportunity. Had they not possessed the attitude to be free, they certainly would not have been successful in their flight toward independence.
Black Americans have traversed the four steps of the evolution of protest, and even though the protest culminated in violence, blacks have yet to become the product of a free and independent people.
Many analysts contend that the violence did not culminate it just became subdued. The fact is, the violence was no less agitated than before, it is just that there were no leaders capable of synthesizing it and giving it a semblance of meaning. As we noted before, without such a leader, violence simply becomes random violence.
Random violence is certainly not the answer; however, when given a choice between violent intervention and non-violent intervention, there are few people, seeking “liberty and justice for all,” that would select the former. Malcolm X was a key figure in the evolution of America toward “one nation under God with liberty and justice for all.” However, his passing generated a sigh of relief from many Americans, both black and non-black.
Meanwhile, SNCC continued to work quietly outside of urban areas in an effort to organize voters in rural communities. In the process of rethinking its philosophy, the group found themselves agreeing with the aggressive-defensive policies enunciated by Malcolm X.
They made their new posture public in May 1966 at which time they announced Stokely Carmichael as their chairman. The group said their new posture was one in which they would call upon black Americans to build and maintain control of independent institutions. The institutions would be the foundation of a new nationalism through which Blacks of the North and South could thus join together in nationalism and begin to implement social change.
Meanwhile, violence continued to erupt in the black urban ghettos of the North. It was time to admit that the non-violent civil rights movement had either reached an end, or changed so drastically that it had to be described with an altogether new terminology.
In June of 1966, James Meredith, who had been the focus of racial violence at the University of Mississippi in 1962, had undertaken a one-man voting rights pilgrimage from Memphis, Tennessee, to Jackson, Mississippi.
Shortly after he began the 220-mile walk, he was shot from ambush. Numerous civil rights leaders took over the march, but it was Carmichael who dominated the situation. The marchers were met with hostile treatment along the way, and after being arrested, Carmichael and others were jailed for a brief time.
It was during that time that he voiced the words that sent chills up and down the spine of every American attuned to the harvest of race relations. “Black Power!” For some reason that phrase was akin to nitroglycerin — very volatile and very unpredictable. It sent a wave of shock through the ranks of some organizations and chills down the spine of others: why that particular phrase set off such an uproar is simply that it conjured up a host of devils in the minds of whites and a host of possibilities in the minds of blacks. However, the fact is, no one knew exactly what was meant by the slogan until they observed the action generated by the user.
The “Black Power” slogan caught on rapidly, but as it spread, it picked up a number of different meanings. Many blacks and most of the white community regarded it as a dangerous separatist outgrowth of Black Nationalism.
The then Vice-President Humphrey attacked “Black Power” bitterly, stating flatly, “there is no room in America for racism of any color.” Its defenders, however, saw it not as a manifestation of racism, but as a justifiable call for racial pride, and interpreted it variously as the ideological core of a movement for black political and economic emancipation.
In the fall of 1966, Carmichael wrote several articles in liberal journals in which he attempted to give substance to the notion of “Black Power.”
When he had finished, it sounded very much like the Black Nationalism of which Malcolm X had spoken before his death: self-determination for black people in communities of their own.
Carmichael followed Malcolm X in emphasizing human rights rather than civil rights. Meanwhile, the precise meaning of “Black Power” was not at all clear. It was variously defined to include voting and pressure groups, to reverse racism and violence, and everything from the use of traditional political weapons, to confrontation and chaos. It definitely signaled a militant and radical turn in the civil rights revolution, and it left the civil rights groups split between the militant black power position of SNCC and CORE and the conservative, legislative, and economic reform approaches of the Urban League and NAACP.
Many of us still wonder why the “Black Power” slogan was never equated to the results in Montgomery, Alabama. Ken Hamblin calls himself an unassuming colored guy: he proposes one possible answer in his unusually graphic book about black America84. Remember the Montgomery Bus Company? Blacks, as a people, refused to ride the segregated busses, and at the end of a few months the bus company went into bankruptcy. That is togetherness, and that is power with a capital “P”.
The “Black Power” controversy continued throughout the year and into the next, as did confrontations and violence. Many Monday-morning-quarterbacks believe that Stokely Carmichael could have stepped right into the shoes of Malcolm X and been just as effective. However, the author doubts that, because though Carmichael believed in the righteousness of black control in black communities, he was not wrapped in the violent cloth that moved Malcolm X, plus he was not as passionate, therefore he could not sustain the impetus of Black Nationalism.
After Thanksgiving 1967, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations launched hearings on the series of riots, which had unsettled the nation for the previous three years.
The Subcommittee announced some frightening statistics. Since 1965, they reported, there had been a total of seventy-six major riots in which at least 130 persons were killed (including 12 law enforcement officers) and nearly 4000 wounded, in which over half were police officers. There had been nearly 8000 cases of arson; nearly 29,000 arrests, with over 5,400 convictions already recorded; an estimated quarter billion dollars in property damage; and more than half billion dollars in economic loss.
The Subcommittee said the figures did not include the year 1964, when the first of the major riots erupted, but they (the figures) certainly were dramatic enough. They saw the riots as a tangible threat to the preservation of law and order and our national security. The committee acknowledged that it had the responsibility to move quickly and effectively in order to prevent outbreaks in the immediate future.
Obviously the riots were “a tangible threat to the preservation of law and order and our national security;” however, even as the cold weather and snows of winter came, the mood of rebellion and dissatisfaction seemed undiminished in the ghettos of black America.
As the year 1967 came to a close it was apparent that what needed to happen was for the total American society to exert a concerted effort in providing blacks with full equality, opportunity, and participation in this, the most affluent society in the world.
However, as the year 1968 opened, there seemed little indication that the required massive efforts from the establishment would come to pass. In fact, it seemed more probable that the violent unrest in the black ghettos would be met with more violence in the form of more stringent police action designed to maintain law and order.
In mid-March another ray of hope appeared in the minds of the black community. Robert Kennedy of New York announced his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination. Many blacks were ecstatic.
However, before the ecstasy could fully take hold, it happened. On April 4, 1968, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was on a work-stoppage protest with the garbage collectors in Memphis, Tennessee. In the twinkling of an eye a shot rang out, and to the nation’s horror, the intense flame of the leader of the non-violent world of blacks was snuffed out, as Dr. King was shot and killed.
The assassination sparked racial violence in numerous areas across the United States to the degree that Army and National Guard troops were called into several cities. It also signaled a crushing blow to the hopes and frustrations of America’s black community. What it accomplished was to convert many non-violent participants to the new nationalism of violence espoused by Malcolm X.
The leader of the violent movement had already been eliminated, and now the leader of the non-violent movement was likewise removed from the American scene. But there was still hope in the black community, as Robert Kennedy was seen as the “great white hope” for black emancipation.
Two months later Robert Kennedy, just moments after claiming victory in the California Democratic presidential primary, was shot and killed. With that killing, the hopes of the black community were consigned to the pit of frustration. Many voices rang out, but none of them were powerful enough or persuasive enough to fill the void left by the killing of those leaders.
Throughout the nation, blacks cried, and they wailed, and they moaned, “Who’s going to lead us out of oppression and into ‘the promised land.'” The demagogues loved it, the racists loved it, and the young hoodlums loved it. Now was their chance to advance their cause of socialism, and hatred, and criminality. They could rationalize virtually any kind of depraved and corrupt behavior and blame it on conditions of American society.
From the viewpoint of the average black American, 1968 represented the lowest point on the stage of despair. But guess what? It was mostly smoke and mirrors; it was primarily a stage set in motion by the demagogues for their purpose of draining power from the people.
Don’t get me wrong, there were definite problems, and those highlighted by JFK just a few short years before had not gone away; however, the situation was exacerbated by the demagogues and power mongers who demanded that the white man give us our due.
Meanwhile, one would think that the question, “Did the country exist in a climate which bred violence?” had to be answered affirmatively. There were many reasons for that view: first of all, violence was shown in the movies, TV, and comic strips as being cool, or the way to gain power over others.
In addition, in looking at reports in the news media, one would be
inclined to acknowledge that such was the case, especially when all one had to do was consider the assassinations of JFK, RFK, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Add to that, the riots in Watts, Detroit, and other urban areas, plus police violence and the war in Viet Nam, and the view of a violent country could very well have been proven or created.
Actually the so-called “violent country” was the result of some Americans living under conditions of “extreme poverty,” and at the same time observing a culture in which increasing consumption was praised as an aim of life. Sometimes the praise was explicit, at other times it was not, but it was nearly always evident. Nevertheless, those in poverty viewed those who enjoyed material wealth with envy and distortion. What many of them said was “One way or another, I’m going to get me some of that ‘good life.'” One might well understand that America was in the midst of a most serious problem, and violence was the easiest and most direct way to vent a frustration born of neglect.
Other roots for the existing level of violence included a feeling of anxiety that had pervaded the American population. Not all citizens were anxious about the same things; however, when combined, though often unconsciously, virtually the entire population was anxious about something.
Some of the people were anxious about the possibility of nuclear war; both whites and blacks felt that one group might wish to destroy the other; the middle class was worried about stumbling on the ladder of success; and many were concerned about maintaining their position of success.
But that was not all. There were still other important factors, which bred a temper of violence and destruction. Many people felt that they were powerless to affect change, and that anything they did would not make a difference in their lives or in the lives of their loved ones. The result was an apathetic passivity that was identified by the statement, “They’re going to do what they want to do anyway, so why should I care?”
The apathy of the consumer and the lethargic atonement, which results from such apathy, tell a great deal about the climate that bred violence. Add to that the fact that other than more production and more consumption, our leaders had no vision and aim for the positive development of our future society. Top that off with the deep and hypocritical contradictions between the values of which we profess and those according to which we act, and one can well understand and acknowledge the reason for the climate that bred violence.
Conditions such as those enumerated above create a state of mind, which is conducive to violence and destruction, especially for those among us who lack material comforts, and those who perceive that their hopes and expectations have no chance of being fulfilled.
Advance two generations into the future (today — right now), and the answer remains the same. However, there is a difference. The violence seems to be more pervasive and all-consuming: children are killing their parents; parents are killing their children, (even their infant children); brothers are killing their sisters and other brothers; husbands and wives are killing each other; and even young children, seven and eight years of age, are killing other young children.
Probably the most horrifying detail of the death-dealing blow to unsuspecting friends, neighbors and relatives is that the perpetrators of the crimes are claiming it was not their fault. Even more hideous is the fact that the courts are supporting such claims. And don’t you for a moment forget who make up the heart of the courts and sit in judgment of the defendants — people just like you and me.
It is critically important that we realize what is happening here: slowly but surely the road is being paved to subjugate us in the worse possible way. The power mongers are betting we will see that road as a free ride, and we will walk it willingly in hopes that it will lead to a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
The objective is to have each American look to the government for our every want and need, and regardless of our failure, we can excuse it away because it was not our fault. The demagogues know they won’t get each and every American in their clutches, they know they don’t need to go that far. What they want is a simple majority of those who express their desires at the polling place — the really frightening part is, that could mean as little as 20 percent of our adult population. That is the reason for such regulations as motor/voter registration acts and the like.
Meanwhile, the violence continues, and many Americans have no hopes or expectations for a healthy and happy future; they believe they no longer stand a chance of claiming the prize in their “pursuit of happiness.” That is one of the primary reasons for the increase of violence in America today.
Nevertheless, there exist those who believe they are participating in progress toward the so-called “American dream,” and although deep down they are anxious and isolated, they succeed in replacing those feelings by their daily routine. By the expectations of being successful in their personal lives, and by the ever-changing patterns of consumption, those folks, the great middle class Americans, believe they possess a legitimate place in the realization of the “American dream.” Incidentally, the so-called “American Dream” is not home ownership — that’s preposterous; nevertheless, many people believe it… until they become homeowners.
However, in spite of the hopes and expectations of the majority of Americans; in the long run, fear, uncertainty, and boredom often tend to increase the level of violence in the whole population. The apathetic citizens simply become victims and they sit on the sidelines observing activities on which they believe they can have no impact.
In the climate as outlined above, the minority will tend to rebel more, and the majority will tend to take increasingly violent countermeasures against attempts at rebellion. Many Americans believe that stricter punishment and enforcement of law and order will reduce violence; others believe the contrary.
Many sociologists contend that violence from any source is counter-productive, especially when it comes from the establishment. Those who hold that view maintain that increased violent countermeasures will increase violent initiatives. They cite as their reason that violence has a tendency to create new resentments and increased hostilities and frustrations in those exposed to the organized violence of the law enforcement community.
Many of the new wave of criminologists, and virtually all sociologists contend that the only means of changing the general tendency toward violence and destructiveness lies in the humanization of society (whatever that means). They believe that the individual must cease to feel that he is powerless to influence the life of society of which his own life is governed.
According to sociologists, this change can occur only by a great increase of participation on the part of those who now are well fed, and amused, but who are excluded from effective participation in political decisions, or in the policies of the institutions and enterprises in which they find themselves.
It is crucial, say some sociologists, that we reduce our compulsive consumption, which increases the passivity of our people, and find new ways of actively expressing human faculties.
Also, many sociologists and psychologists tell us that thinking and feeling are becoming more and more separated from each other, and that this separation leads either to an almost schizophrenic intellectualism or a neurotic, irrational emotionalism.
Only if emotions and reason are brought together, they say, can people function in a way that makes life interesting and hence creates the possibility of productive and nonviolent lives. To put it another way: what we need is not increasing control of aggression and violence, but the reduction of destructiveness and violence by making individual and social life more meaningful and more human.
Many of us don’t know what all that means exactly, but one must admit it sounds like they may be on to something. However, we seldom hear those people relate to responsibility, or the effect of the family unit on cohesiveness of relationships.
Nevertheless, let us for a moment acquiesce to their reasoning. With that in mind, the major question is, how do we go about making people’s individual and social lives more meaningful and more human?
The answer might be fairly simple; for example, give our poor people their due! But what is their due? Is it money, we probably should not be premature in assuming that financial matters answers the call — chances are great it is not. However, nothing is written in stone and this is one area in which we need our creative thinkers to come to the rescue. One thing is for sure though: someplace in the answer, one will find the family unit lurking, just waiting to be brought to the fore.
Yep, the answer might be simple: the how is what is difficult. How can we instill the importance of the family unit to the growth and security of the individual as well as his community: how can we provide each and every American with the opportunity to be and the perception that he is, a productive element in our society? And how do we charge each and every American with the responsibility and accountability of his/her actions or inaction? Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on one’s point of view, the only thing we can do is provide opportunity. The rest of us can motivate; however, the remaining answers must come from inside the individual.
Meanwhile, we need to understand that we have “tons” of partners who are seeking to aid us in acquiring and maintaining our human resources. However, we should also understand that we have enemies who are attempting to drain every bit of the powerful resources we possess. Our partners are there if we will just give them the opportunity to aid us in our Race to Excellence. However, the enemy is also there at every turn, we need to identify that scoundrel. Before we do that though, let’s examine another “thinking error!”