"I don't battle anymore! I uplift motherfuckers!" - GZA
Monday, April 10, 2006,2:48 PM
Understanding Black History
By James A. Warren

As I brace myself for yet another routine Black history month, I can’t help but wonder what it would be like to be a part of a serious democratic discussion and debate about the state of Black America today in its correct historical context. It’s all well and good to celebrate history, but the point is to understand it and build a better world by standing on the shoulders of those that came before us. After several decades of participating in Black history month celebrations I have concluded that I should share my view on how to study our glorious history of struggle to realize our humanity as a part of world humanity.

What can we expect from official and semi-official circles for this month? First and foremost the historians will try to prove that we had people in our history who were “equal to whites” – the “first Black this”, the “first Black that” – which proves only one thing; the historians believe these individuals were the exception when in fact they were the rule. We have had millions more in our past that could and did excel. The historians miss the point: there never was a question in the minds of our ancestors about their equality. Even the racist exploiters and oppressors in their vast majority didn’t believe we were inferior. That is why they fought so violently to beat us down and keep us down. We should refuse to try and prove our equality to anyone least of all ourselves.

These historians will present us as long-suffering victims. They will walk us through the slave ships, chains, death and destruction visited on millions of our people for centuries. We will be bombarded with images of church bombings, white racist riots, police brutality and frame-ups. Once again the point is lost on them. Our history is not that of victims but of fighters. We have always resisted attempts to be turned into victims. We fought back with whatever tools and weapons we had available to us, as Malcolm X said, “by any means necessary”. We fought against racist violence here at home and we laid down our lives in this country’s wars in the mistaken believe it would bring democracy and justice at home. We fought with dignity and valor, we distinguished ourselves as heroic figures by the thousands, only to have great white American heroes betray us. Teddy “big stick” Roosevelt stood up before the entire country and lied about our contributions after Black soldiers saved his butt in Cuba and the Philippines. Our ancestors didn’t conduct themselves as suffering victims. They correctly acted to resist and stand up to their tormentors in this country.

Above all, the historians will advance the pied-piper view of the history of the Civil Rights Movement. We are told that 400 years of brutal exploitation and oppression came tumbling down when Martin Luther King had a dream and marched throughout the South. With all due respect to MLK, who inspired me to become political, he didn’t create the Civil Rights Movement, the Civil Rights Movement created him. In fact, the one individual who could be mentioned in this vein is ignored by the historians: a man name E. D. Nixon, the president of the Montgomery NAACP and the president of a sleeping car porters local union. Rosa Parks, his part time secretary, learned her Black pride from this old veteran of the labor and Civil Rights Movement. He convinced her to fight, he organized preachers to meet at Dr. King’s church, and proposed the bus boycott.

Above all Nixon formulated a plan of action that drew in thousands and led to the total destruction of the Jim Crow system.

The bus boycott was a fundamental departure from the tactics of the fight for Black rights utilized from the defeat of Radical Reconstruction up until the boycott. The shift was away from trying to convince white society that we were worthy of first class citizenship. We simply asserted our humanity; we took our equality and refused to surrender it for 381 days. And we won. This victory was not the result of the genius of Dr. King or Mr. Nixon. It exploded from the bottom up. It was the result of the accumulation of 80 years of experiences from the Civil War to World War II. The formula was classic, the accumulation of quantitative experiences exploding into qualitative change in expectations and actions. We took matters into our own hands and we stopped appealing to our oppressors sense of humanity – we finally realized they had none.

The image of the thousands of Black maids, laborers, farmers and farm workers should be burned into our memory. They stood up, fought and won. This invisible mass of humanity woke up, flexed their muscles and made history. They are the heroes we should be celebrating during Black history month. The fact is, that same potential power exists today. It’s a simple matter of tapping into it and utilizing it to change the deplorable conditions the majority of our people face in life today.

The historians will present the massive influx of former civil rights leaders into the electoral arena, primarily the Democratic Party, as a logical outcome of the victory of the movement. Nothing is further from the truth. Obviously winning the right to vote and running for office was a key component of the victory. The central lesson of the victory was the fact that we had organized, mobilized and overthrown Jim Crow without the right to vote or even the pretense of equality under the law. At that point in our history we stood at the threshold of making the greatest advances since our kidnapping and enslavement in this country.

The Civil Rights Movement had a beginning, middle and an end. It was over by 1968 the day after Dr. King’s assassination when the entire country burned. The challenge facing the victorious leaders of the Civil Rights Movement was to stand on the shoulders of the Civil Rights Movement and build a social movement using the same methods of struggle that got us that far. Such a movement would have advanced a social program beginning with a plan similar to the Marshal plan that rebuilt Europe and Japan after World War II. We should have demanded a publics works program to build schools, housing, and hospitals, which would have amounted to a reconstruction of the Black community. I call it reparations with teeth.

As Malcolm X was so fond of pointing out, the goal of segregation was not to deny us rights, the denial of rights was a tool that allowed the market system to exploit us more, pay us less, condemn us to inferior housing and education, higher unemployment, sub-standard medical care, if we had any at all. These are social-economic problems that demand social and economic solutions.

Many historians are incapable of explaining why the conditions of life for the vast majority of people who are Black in this country have deteriorated since the victory of the Civil Rights Movement. The challenge we face today is the same challenge we have faced since 1968. Objective conditions cry out for a social movement. Serious fighters for Black rights today have a responsibility and obligation to stand up and tell the truth no matter how painful it may be. By doing so we will find the young fighters of today who are more than capable of bridging the gap between the past and the present with an eye toward a future of struggle and progress. It is this that we should celebrate during and after this Black history month.
posted by R J Noriega
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