Showing posts with label BLACK MILITANCY. Show all posts
Showing posts with label BLACK MILITANCY. Show all posts

Sunday, February 17, 2019

*THE CONFESSIONS OF NAT TURNER- Author William Styron's View

Click on the headline to link to a "Wikipedia" entry for the Virginia slave leader, Nat Turner.




I came of political age during the civil rights struggle here in America in the early 1960's. Part and parcel with that awakening struggle came an increased interest in the roots of the black struggle, especially in slavery times. Such intellectuals as Herbert Apteker, the Genoveses, the Foners, Harold Cruise, James Baldwin, John Hope Franklin and others, black and white, were very interested in exploring or discovering a black resistance to the conditions of slavery not apparent on any then general reading of the black experience in America. This is the place where the recently deceased William Styron and his novelistic interpretation of one aspect of that struggle- Nat Turner's Virginia slave rebellion enters the fray.

No Styron is not politically correct in his appreciation of Turner or his followers. Nor are latter day Southern whites and their sympathizers who have recoiled in horror at what expansion of Turner's rebellion might have meant for the `peculiar institution'. But being politically correct, etc. now or historically is beside the point. Slavery was brutal. Slavery brutalized whole generations of black people for a very long time. If one expected nature's noblemen and women to come out of such a process, one would certainly be very sadly mistaken. That the white beneficiaries of this system were brutalized is a given. Human progress has come about through fits and starts, not a seamless curve onward and upward. Nevertheless all our sympathies are with Nat and his fellow rebels.

Moreover, here are some things to think about if you are not worried about your political correctness status. Outside of John Brown at Harper's Ferry Turner's rebellion represented the highest achievement of resistance to the white slaveholders in the early 19th century. Although the fight was not pretty on either side every progressive today should stand in historical solidarity with that fight. Then one will understand not only that oppression oppresses but also that the military conditions for a successful rebellion for isolated blacks in pre- Civil War American were slim. The later incorporation of 200,000 black soldiers and sailors among the Northern forces in the Civil War are a very, very profound argument that once off the plantation blacks were as capable of bravery, courage and honor as any other American. As difficult as it is, if you do not have access to the original chronicles of the Turner uprising, read this book to get a flavor of how hard the struggle for the abolition of slavery in this country was going to be.

Friday, October 23, 2015

*Unfinished Business Of The Black Liberation Struggle-In Honor Of Emmett Till

Reopening The Emmett Till Case-The Case That Has Not Died, Nor Should It*Unfinished Business Of The Black Liberation Struggle-In Honor Of Emmett Till

Reopening The Emmett Till Case-The Case That Has Not Died, Nor Should It

A link to an On Point NPR program on the re-opening of the Emmett Till case.  

By Frank Jackman

I have, as witnessed below, at various times reviewed some aspect of the Emmett Till case as a matter of historical importance although not to me individually directly since Emmett’s death, murder, happened when I was too young to realize what was going on. I picked up on the civil rights movement for black rights in the Mister James Crow South (and as it turned, turns out the North too) in the early 1960s when I went to downtown Boston and walked a picket line at Woolworth’s in support of the lunch counter demonstrators down South who wanted to have a freaking grilled cheese sandwich without having to face a civil war about it. That is when I first heard about the case, and it has never been far from the surface since.           

Now the Department of Justice, Alabama’s Jeff Session’s DOJ, has reopened the Emmett Till case that his family and partisans have tried to have reopened for many years. The DOJ motivation I am not quite sure of. What I know is that in this case justice will never be done, closure will probably never come but only a better idea of what really happened down in Mister James Crow Mississippi in the 1950s. Still some cases, and Emmett’s is one of them, will never die, nor should they.  


The following is an appreciation of the life the martyred civil rights figure Emmett Till. It was originally printed in Workers Vanguard, newspaper of the Spartacist League of the United States and reprinted in their Black History series. The beginnings of my personal awareness of the central role of the black liberation struggle in any fight for fundamental change did not stem from the Till tragedy but rather a little latter from the attempts to integrate the schools of Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957. The main political point of the article- the centrality of the black liberation struggle to the overall revolutionary struggle against American imperialism and for a socialist solution to the problems of modern society is also my own position on that question. Although the particular case of what happened to Emmett Till may be resolved before that solution occurs it will take such black liberation in order to do proper justice to his name.

Workers Vanguard No. 852 5 August 2005

The Lynching of Emmett Till and the Fight for Black Liberation
50 Years Later

"Before Emmett Till's murder, I had known the fear of hunger, hell, and the Devil. But now there was a new fear known to me—the fear of being killed just because I was black. This was the worst of my fears.... I didn't know what one had to do or not do as a Negro not to be killed. Probably just being a Negro period was enough, I thought."
—Anne Moody, Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee Organizer, 14 years old in 1955, in Coming of Age in Mississippi (1968)

Fifty years ago this month the name Emmett Eouis Till became synonymous with the brutal American tradition of lynching. Till was only 14 years old that summer when he left his home in Chicago to join his cousin on a trip to stay with relatives in Mississippi. Within days of his arrival, young Emmett was kidnapped, tortured and brutally murdered for allegedly whistling at a white woman. Till's gruesome murder, and his mother's courageous campaign to ensure that the world saw at first hand the stark reality of race-terror by displaying her son's mutilated body at his funeral, provoked horror and outrage against racist oppression in America. The lynching of Emmett Till, along with Rosa Parks' defiant stand in Montgomery, Alabama in December of that same year, were key in galvanizing many thousands to join the burgeoning civil rights movement.

Today, a half-century later, black people still sit in the cross hairs of this bloody capitalist ruling class. The explosive struggles of the civil rights movement smashed Jim Crow segregation in the South and broke the back of the anti-Communist McCarthy era. But the social reality remains—black oppression is the cornerstone of capitalist class rule in America. Contrary to assertions that the worst abuses against black people are a thing of the past, a quick survey of the massive prison population, unemployment, miserable ghetto conditions, poverty, deteriorating health care and increasingly segregated schools proves the opposite, not only in the South but throughout the country.

The current federal investigation of the Emmett Till atrocity is one of a handful of decades-old cases reopened beginning with the 1994 conviction of Byron De La Beckwith for the 1963 assassination of Mississippi civil rights leader Medgar Evers. One reason these cases are being opened is to polish the tarnished image of the South. But union-busting "right to work" laws, attacks on black voting rights, Ku Klux Klan terror like the cross-burnings in Durham, North Carolina this May along with Confederate flags, monuments and Dixie anthems still mark the landscape of the "New South." Meanwhile, Northern ghettos trap black people into holding pens, and kill-crazy cops stalk the streets.

Bush's Republican regime pushes ahead to wipe out the remaining gains of the civil rights movement that had been under attack by Democratic as well as Republican administrations for the last three decades. On the heels of the government launching a vindictive IRS tax investigation of the NAACP, the chairman of the Republican National Committee cynically professed at the NAACP's convention in July, which Bush refused to attend, that the Republican Party's decades-long campaign of courting the racist Southern vote away from the Democrats by opposing civil rights legislation, the "Southern Strategy," was "wrong."

The re-opening of Till's case was largely sparked by the determined nine-year effort of a young filmmaker, Keith Beauchamp, and his 2002 documentary The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till. The Feds recently exhumed Till's body to seek forensic evidence, additionally claiming it is necessary to verify that it was indeed Till in the grave. The only people who ever cast doubt on this question were the defenders of the lynchers. For America's capitalist rulers, such re-investigations are nothing more than hypocritical attempts to foster the illusion that today's FBI and Department of Justice are different from the very same state institutions that worked hand in hand with the Klan in the South. By the mid 1960s, nearly 20 percent of Klan members were FBI "informants" serving as loyal double agents of both organizations. Even when the Senate passed a meaningless resolution this June apologizing for never passing anti-lynching legislation, several senators, including the two from Mississippi, refused to sponsor the bill.

Capitalism is a system based on exploitation of labor, and, in the U.S., a unique and critical mainstay continues to be the subjugation of the black population at the bottom of society. American Trotskyist Richard Fraser wrote in the same year that Emmett Till was murdered: "The dual nature of the Negro struggle arises from the fact that a whole people regardless of class distinction are the victims of discrimination. This problem of a whole people can be solved only through the proletarian revolution, under the leadership of the working class" ("For the Materialist Conception of the Negro Struggle," January 1955). We of the Spartacist League base our program for black liberation upon Eraser's perspective of revolutionary integrationism, premised on the understanding that black freedom requires smashing the capitalist system and constructing an egalitarian socialist society. One of our founding documents written at the time of the ghetto upheavals of the 1960s states:

"The Negro people arc an oppressed race-color caste, in the main comprising the most exploited layer of the American working class. Because of the generations of exceptional oppression, degradation and humiliation, Black people as a group have special needs and problems necessitating additional and special forms of struggle. It is this part of the struggle which has begun today, and from which the most active and militant sections of Black people will gain a deep education and experience in the lessons of struggle. Because of their position as both the most oppressed and also the most conscious and experienced section, revolutionary black workers are slated to play an exceptional role in the coming American revolution."
—"Black and Red—Class Struggle Road to Negro Freedom," 1967, Marxist Bulletin No. 9

The Lynching of Emmett Till
By all accounts Emmett Till was an amazing kid. He was bright, fun-loving and considerate. His mother, Mamie Till-Mobley (earlier known as Mamie Till Bradley), and her family had migrated from Mississippi along with hundreds of thousands of other black farmers and sharecroppers fleeing the Jim Crow South in hopes of finding a better life in the "Promised Land" known as Chicago. She knew firsthand the strict social and racial codes of the South that literally spelled life or death if not followed to the letter. So, when she reluctantly allowed Emmett to accompany his cousin Wheeler to Mississippi, she did her best to instill some sense of the dangers and she recounted that she held "the talk that every black parent had with every child sent down South back then" (Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime That Changed America by Mamie Till-Mobley and Christopher Benson, 2003).

By the summer of 1955, white racists in Mississippi were seething in bitterness in the aftermath of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling, which opened the door for integrating schools, albeit hedged with limitations and the reservation of "deliberate speed." The Supreme Court decision to allow school integration was a reflection of a growing movement for black civil rights, for the right to vote and for integration. Black men fought on the front lines in World War II, a war proclaimed to make the world "safe for democracy." Black women migrated to the cities to toil in defense plants. When the soldiers returned, they were determined to have a better life. The end of the war ushered in the beginning of the Cold War against the Soviet Union, the preparation for new imperialist wars to "roll back Communism" everywhere on the planet. Most black people were concerned about the "cotton curtain," the iron grip of the racist Southern police state here at home, and were less likely to buy into or embrace the American bourgeoisie's propaganda about an "Iron Curtain" Soviet threat.

The response of the racist Southern Democrats (the Dixiecrats) to the Brown ruling was one of organized terror and defiance from the highest-ranking officials on down. Francis M. Wilhoit described the role of the Democratic Party in The Politics of Massive Resistance'.
"For it was, after all, the region's political parties—particularly the dominant Democrats—that bore the chief responsibility for politicizing the segregationist masses and getting them to the polls on election day to vote for anti-integration candidates. Furthermore, since membership in Southern parties overlapped with membership in the Klan, the Councils, and other resistance groups, it appeared for a time that the segregationists would get a stranglehold on policy making in the racial area, and prevent even tokenism."

White Citizens' Councils, the suit-and-tie incarnation of the Ku Klux Klan, formed to terrorize blacks through vigilante violence and uphold Jim Crow segregation, flourished throughout Mississippi. These councils, claiming a membership of 60,000, were headquartered in the very county that Emmett was preparing to visit. In May that year in Belzoni, Mississippi, Reverend George Lee, local NAACP organizer, was shot to death from a passing car. Just days prior to Till's arrival, WW II veteran Lamar Smith was gunned down in broad daylight on a crowded courthouse lawn in Brookhaven, Mississippi for urging black people to vote. This was the murderous atmosphere that a lively, self-confident teenager from the North journeyed into that fateful August.

On August 24, after picking cotton all morning, Emmett, his cousins and some friends drove into Money, Mississippi to purchase some candy and sodas at the local grocery store that serviced the black population. The white owner, Roy Bryant, was out of town and his young wife, Carolyn, was tending the store. There are conflicting stories of what happened at the store. Did he whistle? Was he trying to control his stutter? Did he speak up? The only thing that happened that day at the store for sure is that Emmett Till was seen as having "stepped out of line," ignoring "the customs of the South" in the presence of a white woman where this was punishable by death. On August 28, Roy Bryant and his half brother, J. W. Mi lam, came looking for Emmett at his relatives' home, kidnapping him in the dead of night. Three days later the hideously battered corpse of Emmett Till was found in the Tallahatchie River with a 75-pound cotton gin fan tied around his neck with barbed wire. Mose Wright, Emmett's great uncle, was able to identify his body only by a ring belonging to his lather that the child wore on his finger.

For the vast majority of unnamed lynch mob victims that have filled American history, the story would end here and would have also for Emmett Till if not for the courage and determination of his mother and family. Mamie Till-Mobley immediately alerted the press upon hearing that her son was missing. She fought to have her son's body returned to Chicago after the local sheriff hastily tried to bury the evidence—literally. She defied the Mississippi authorities by opening the padlocked and sealed casket. Most courageously, she insisted that the casket be displayed openly for the world to see, and ensured that graphic photos circulated internationally. An estimated 100,000-250,000 people waited in line for hours at Chicago's Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ to view the open casket. So shocking was Emmett's horrifically mutilated body that an estimated one out of every five individuals needed assistance out of the building. Emmett's death was transformed from "just another lynching" into an internationally known scandal. Although there had been thousands of Southern black men, women and children that met such horrible deaths, this was one that would spark a generation into action.

Mamie Till-Mobley set the tone by immediately demanding an investigation and publicizing the case. Although President Eisenhower and FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover stonewalled her requests for an investigation, she persisted in bringing national attention to her son's lynching. Till-Mobley, her father and her cousin Rayfield Mooty, an Inland Steel worker, traveled to Sumner, Mississippi for the trial of Emmett's murderers and braved a gauntlet of white racists each morning as they entered the courthouse. Her uncle, Mose Wright, who had pleaded with Bryant and Milam not to take his nephew, did what virtually no black man in Mississippi had dared to do for nearly a century. He stood up in court and identified the two white men as the kidnappers. According to Wright's son, Simeon, who was in the same bed when Emmett was dragged away, Mose Wright was determined to testify. Knowing full well that he was risking the same fate as Emmett, he told his family that he didn't know if he would live or die, but he knew for sure that he was going to testify. Before Wright testified, the rest of his family had to be spirited away to Chicago. He joined them immediately following his testimony. Similarly an 18-year-old field hand, Willie Reed, came forward as a surprise witness for the prosecution to testify that he had heard Emmett's screams coming from Milam's barn. As soon as Reed stepped off the stand, he went directly to the train station and left for Chicago, rightly fearing for his life. He suffered a nervous breakdown upon arriving in Illinois. It took a tremendous amount of courage for these black witnesses to stand up to white racists in Mississippi, knowing they might not live to see another day, knowing that the only way to save themselves from the lynch rope was to leave everything behind and escape North. Their actions were not unlike slaves fleeing on the Underground Railroad nearly one hundred years earlier.

At this time, Medgar Evers, a Mississippi NAACP organizer, gained national attention. Evers understood that the only way a case would be built against Bryant and Milam was if he took it into his own hands and mobilized his forces. The NAACP recruited volunteers to dress as sharecroppers and sent them out to gather information. These brave individuals knew full well what lay in store for them should they be detected. Civil rights lawyer Conrad Lynn worked on the case and identified others involved in the killing, but they were never prosecuted. Dr. T. R. M. Howard, leader of the all-black town of Mound Bayou, Mississippi, helped organize and contributed to pay the costs of the investigation and relocation of the witnesses. He also was eventually forced to flee North. He made speaking tours of the country to expose the reign of terror in Mississippi. For the smallest shred of hope that justice might be served, these people put their lives on the line.

But that smallest shred was really no shred at all in the mid '50s in the Mississippi Delta. The ensuing murder trial of Bryant and Milam was exactly what one would expect. All five lawyers in the county joined the defense team so that none could be appointed special prosecutor in the case. Neither of the defendants denied kidnapping Emmett. The jury came back with a verdict of not guilty in just over an hour. It took them "that long" because they stopped to get a soda, hoping to stretch the time for appearance's sake. The jury came up with the lie that the bloated, rotting body that was dragged out of the Tallahatchie River might not be Emmett at all, but a body planted by his mother and the NAACP. Emmett was supposedly alive and well in Detroit, according to the Southern racists. A grand jury would not even indict them on kidnapping charges. Then, just months after the acquittal, Look magazine published a confession by Bryant and Milam boasting of their lynching of Till.

A campaign orchestrated by plantation owner, arch-segregationist Mississippi Senator, James O. Eastland, tried to smear Emmett Till and his dead father Louis as rapists. The U.S. army had executed Louis Till in 1945. While serving in Italy, he was charged with raping two white women and killing another, charges that many who served with him stated were lies. The same man, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who as a general signed the execution order of the elder Till, sat as U.S. president and refused to investigate the lynching of the son. When Eastland managed to secure the army death records of Louis Till—the same records that Mamie Till-Mobley had been denied—and leaked them to the press, the

NAACP took a step back from the case, concerned to maintain their image of "respectability."
Louis Till was not the only man to be executed or "disappear" under such dubious circumstances during World War II. In her autobiography, Mamie Till-Mobley spoke to the chilling stories she heard from other black soldiers and friends of Louis Till of the "problem that followed them overseas from the United States." She described 3 a.m. line-ups of black soldiers by racist white officers and Military Police. A woman would be brought in to identify one of the soldiers and the "black soldiers who got pointed out at three in the morning were always taken away. They were not brought back." As Mamie Till-Mobley astutely pointed out,

"It seemed that the army really didn't need much more proof than a late-night identification to take black soldiers out. But based on what Louis's friends told me, it seemed the real offense wasn't always against white women. Often, it was really against white men. A number of women in those late-night lineups, it seems, were only identifying the men who slept with them, not men they were accusing of rape.... But for many of the white officers and soldiers from the South, there also was a custom about that sort of thing.... Louis died before he could see what would happen to his son. Bo [Emmett's nickname] died before he could learn about what had happened to his father. Yet they were connected in ways that ran as deep as their heritage, as long as their bloodline.... Maybe Emmett did wind up like his father, an echo of what had happened ten years earlier. Maybe they were both lynched."

Lynching—"As American as Baseball and Church Suppers"
In 1924, a young Communist from Indochina named Nguyen Ai Quoc—later known as Ho Chi Minh—wrote:

"It is well known that the Black race is the most oppressed and the most exploited of the human family. It is well known that the spread of capitalism and the discovery of the New World had as an immediate result the rebirth of slavery, which was for centuries a scourge of the Negroes and a bitter disgrace for mankind. What everyone does not perhaps know is that after sixty-five years of so-called emancipation, American Negroes still endure atrocious moral and material sufferings, of which the most cruel and horrible is the custom of lynching."

The story of Emmett Till lays bare the harsh reality of black life in a country built on human bondage. The fight for genuine black equality remains an unfinished task of the American Civil War. The 200,000 ex-slaves and Northern blacks who fought in that war helped turn the tide of the war in favor of the Union Army, but the victorious Northern capitalists betrayed the promise of equality. Radical Reconstruction was the most democratic period in U.S. history. But the Northern capitalists looked at the devastated South and saw opportunity—not for building radical democracy, but for profitably exploiting Southern resources and the freedmen. With the "Compromise of 1877," the last of the Northern troops were pulled from the South and Reconstruction came to an end. Freed blacks were disenfranchised, politically expropriated and kept segregated at the bottom of society. The institution of Jim Crow segregation began to take shape, marked by strict racial codes, returning the black population to a position of complete subservience, enforced by violence. How or when to address whites, where to live, eat, sit, shop, wash your hands, or take a drink of water were all strictly regulated and backed up through a system of race terror—the omnipresent threat of the lynch rope.

In the period following Reconstruction, in the late 19th century, lynching reached its height. Lynching is rightfully equated with the summary torture and execution of black people. But this was not always the case. The term "lynch law" is believed to have come from Judge Charles Lynch, a patriot in the American Revolutionary War. Upon discovery of a Tory conspiracy in 1780, Lynch was said to have presided over an extralegal court that meted out summary punishment to the pro-British Loyalists. Such methods were given free rein in a burgeoning young country with a vast frontier and a roughly established legal system. The evolution of lynching into an act of race terror is organically linked to the history of black chattel slavery. Lynching became a form of sadistic black subjugation in reaction to the rise of the anti-slavery abolition movement, developing into a widespread social phenomenon in the wake of the defeat of Reconstruction. By the end of the 19th century, "lynch law" had a specific meaning. At its height in the 1880s and 1890s, as many as two to three black people were lynched per week. Sociologist John Dollard wrote in 1937: "Every Negro in the South knows that he is under a kind of sentence of death; he does not know when his turn will come, it may never come, but it may also be any time."

American historian Leon F. Litwack has found that of the thousands of recorded lynchings, about 640 involved "accusations of a sexual nature"—the most notorious and hysteria-inducing accusation. The targets of the race terrorists were often those who owned competitive businesses and farms, the man who managed to acquire some property and was deemed by the racists to not have enough humility, the man who challenged the system, the man who was educated and/or prosperous. W. E. B. Dubois put it this way: "There was one thing that the white South feared more than Negro dishonesty, ignorance and incompetency, and that was Negro honesty, knowledge, and efficiency" (Leon F. Litwack, Trouble in Mind: Black Southerners in the Age of Jim Crow [1998]).

In many cases, lynchings were not spontaneous mob violence but planned and advertised events bringing trainloads of spectators from near and far. These were ordinary, "church-going, upstanding" citizens, drawn together in a grotesque racist ritual. The "pillars of the community" were often directly involved or had prior knowledge, and they always approved afterward. "Lynching was an undeniable part of daily life, as distinctly American as baseball and church suppers. Men brought their wives and children along to the events, posed for commemorative photographs, and purchased souvenirs of the occasion as if they had been at a company picnic" (Philip Dray, At The Hands of Persons Unknown [2002]). Celebratory postcards of mutilated and charred bodies were sent through the U.S. mail to friends and relatives. James Baldwin noted on seeing the red clay hills of Georgia for the first time, "I could not suppress the thought that this earth had acquired its color from the blood that had dripped down from these trees."

The Civil Rights Movement
As Mamie Till-Mobley remarked in a TV documentary, "When people saw what had happened to my son, men stood up who had never stood up before. People became vocal who had never vocalized before. Emmett's death was the opening of the civil rights movement." Ten thousand people rallied in Harlem the Sunday following the acquittal. Thousands packed meeting halls and overflowed into the streets to hear Mamie speak around the country. Labor rallies and demonstrations were held to protest the lynching of Emmett Till and race-terror in Mississippi. The CIO Steelworkers Union to which Fill's grandfather belonged wired the Mississippi governor demanding justice.

In the convulsive years that followed, social protest exploded into the civil rights movement. Eventually, Jim Crow, the poll taxes and sham rules that prevented black people from voting were abolished, and segregated schools and other public facilities were formally opened up. However, the civil rights movement was stopped cold when it came North and confronted the hardened economic foundations of black oppression, rooted in American capitalism. The heroic struggles of many thousands of black and white activists were betrayed by the liberal perspective of the leadership of the civil rights movement. Much as the organizers of the demonstrations against Till's murder appealed to Eisenhower, the strategy of the liberal-led civil rights movement was based on appeals to a section of the American bourgeoisie to right the historic wrongs done against black people, as though black freedom could be attained under the capitalist system.

There were important exceptions to this, exemplified by militant black leaders such as Robert F. Williams, the head of the NAACP branch in Monroe, North Carolina, which heavily recruited from the black working class of the area. Williams, who was denounced by liberal civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King, put forward a program of armed self-defense to fight race-terror as opposed to reliance on the capitalist state and its politicians. This earned him the enmity of the liberal NAACP, which disowned him, as the FBI hounded him out of the country. Williams found refuge in Cuba in 1961 and then China, before returning to the U.S. in 1969. In 1965, the Louisiana-based Deacons for Defense and Justice organized patrols to protect blacks and civil rights workers. At about the same time, in Gulfport, Mississippi, the black longshoremen's union threatened to close the port down if civil rights activists were injured or arrested.

But despite determined struggle to fulfill the unfinished promise of the Civil War—the promise of black freedom— the civil rights movement could only go so far. The Democratic Party co-opted many of the black leaders into their ranks. They and their political heirs today sit on Capitol Hill, in the statehouses and city halls, administering this system which is based on racial injustice and class oppression, while posing as defenders of black and working people.
For Black Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!

The lynching of Emmett Till was not an aberration. Such inhuman acts of violence were part of the fabric of the American Jim Crow South—a system that could only be enforced through violence. Nor did the smashing of Jim Crow mark the end of racial oppression in the U.S., in the North or the South. The laws enforcing segregation may be abolished, but segregation and inequality remain as facts. The death penalty represents the lynch rope as the ultimate form of institutionalized state terror, backed in the streets by racist cops who carry out their own summary executions. The continued oppression of black people some 40 years after the inauguration of formal, legal equality demonstrates that black oppression is an intrinsic component of the capitalist order in the U.S.

The capitalist rulers promote the poison of racism to keep the working class divided—to pit white workers against black workers—in order to more easily maintain their rule. But black people are not simply victims. Black workers represent a large component of the organized labor movement. The way forward lies in multiracial class struggle. A key obstacle to this perspective is the pro-capitalist trade-union bureaucracy, which ties the working class to its exploiters, particularly by promoting illusions in the Democratic Party as a "friend" of labor and blacks.

The road to black freedom lies in the struggle to shatter this racist capitalist system through proletarian socialist revolution, and the power to do that lies with the working class. But this power cannot and will not be realized unless a class-struggle labor movement actively champions the cause of black liberation. The key to unlocking the chains that shackle labor to its exploiters is the political struggle to build a revolutionary internationalist leadership of the working class.

At the time of the Civil War, Karl Marx, the founder of modern communism, captured a fundamental truth of American society in his statement that "labor cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded." The Spartacist League fights to build a multiracial revolutionary workers party that will wrest the tremendous productive resources of this country out of the hands of the capitalist owners and put these resources into the hands of the working class, those who produce the wealth of this society. Only then will racial oppression be a thing of the past. Finish the Civil War! For black liberation through socialist revolution!

Friday, April 03, 2009

*A Look At The Racial Fault Line In America- Studs Terkel Style

Click On Title To Link To Studs Terkel’s Web Page.

Division Street Revisited- Stud Terkel’s America


Division Street: America, Studs Terkel, The New Press, New York, 2004

As I have done on other occasion when I am reviewing more than one work by an author I am using some of the same comments, where they are pertinent, here as I did in earlier reviews. In this series the first Studs Terkel book reviewed was that of his “The Good War”: an Oral History of World War II.

Strangely, as I found out about the recent death of long time pro-working class journalist and general truth-teller "Studs" Terkel I was just beginning to read his "The Good War", about the lives and experiences of, mainly, ordinary people during World War II in America and elsewhere, for review in this space. As with other authors once I get started I tend to like to review several works that are relevant to see where their work goes. In the present case the review, his first serious effort at plebeian oral history, Division Street: America, despite the metaphorically nature of that title, focuses on a serves a narrower milieu, his “Sweet Home, Chicago” and more local concerns than his later works.

Mainly, this oral history is Studs’ effort to reflect on the lives of working people (circa 1970 here but the relevant points could be articulated, as well, in 2008) from Studs’ own generation who survived that event, fought World War II and did or did not benefit from the fact of American military victory and world economic preeminence, including those blacks and mountain whites who made the internal migratory trek from the South to the North. Moreover, this book presents the first telltale signs that those defining events for that generation were not unalloyed gold. As channeled through the most important interviewee in this book, Frances Scala, who led an unsuccessful but important 1960’s fight against indiscriminate “urban renewal” of her neighborhood (the old Hull House of Jane Addams fame area) Studs make his argument that the sense of social solidarity, in many cases virtually necessary for survival, was eroding.

Studs includes other stories, including the lumpen proletarian extraordinaire Kid Pharaoh who will be met later in Hard Times and the atypical Chicago character who gladly joins the John Birch Society in order to assert his manhood, who do not easily fit into any of those patterns but who nevertheless have stories to tell. And grievances, just, unjust or whimsical, to spill.

One thing that I noticed immediately after reading this book, and as is true of the majority of Terkel’s interview books, is that he is not the dominant presence but is a rather light, if intensely interested, interloper in these stories. For better or worse the interviewees get to tell their stories, unchained. In this age of 24/7 media coverage with every half-baked journalist or wannabe interjecting his or her personality into somebody else’s story this was, and is, rather refreshing. Of course this journalistic virtue does not mean that Studs did not have control over who got to tell their stories and who didn’t to fit his preoccupations and sense of order. He has a point he wants to make and that is that although most “ordinary” people do not make the history books they certainly make history, if not always of their own accord or to their own liking. Again, kudos and adieu Studs.

Monday, March 30, 2009

*The Struggle Continues- Playwright August Wilson's "Two Trains Coming"

Click On Title To Link To August Wilson Homepage.

Play Review

Two Trains Running (1969), August Wilson, Theater Communications Group, New York, 2007

By the time that this review appears I will have already reviewed five of the ten plays in August Wilson’s Century cycle. On the first five I believe that I ran out of fulsome praise for his work and particularly for his tightly woven story and dialogue. Rather than keep following that path for the next five plays I would prefer to concentrate on some of the dialogue that makes Brother Wilson’s work so compelling. For those who want to peek at my general observations you can look at my review of “Gem Of The Ocean” (the first play chronologically in the cycle).

In all previously reviewed plays I noticed some piece of dialogue that seemed to me to sum up the essence of the play. Sometimes that is done by the lead character as was the case with Troy Maxton in “Fences” when he (correctly) stated that there should have been “no too early” in regard to the possibilities of black achievement and prospects in America. Other times it is by a secondary character in the form of some handed down black folk wisdom to be followed in order to survive in racially-hardened America. In “Two Trains Running” this task falls to Holloway when he cuts through all the basic white assumptions about blacks being lazy. His retort: blacks are the most hard working people in the world. They worked for free for over three hundred years. And, to add a little dry humor to the situation, he stated that they didn’t take a lunch break.

That says more in a couple of sentences about a central aspect of black experience in America than many manifestos, treatises or sociological/psychological studies. That Wilson can weave that home truth into a play of less than one hundred pages and drive the plot line of a story that deals with the contradiction between black aspirations as a result of the promise of the militant civil rights movement down South in the early 1960’s and the reality of black segregation when the struggle headed North later to get hit, and get hit hard, with the ugly face of white racism in housing, jobs and education. That, my friends, is still something to consider in the “post-racial” Obamiad. We shall see.

Here is a song that tells the tale that Wilson presents. Markin

Two Trains Running

Lyrics: Traditional

Music: Traditional

So far as is known, the Dead did this only once, on 15 December 1971. It's a fragment Pigpen inserted in Lovelight.

Well there's two trains a-coming
Two trains coming
One comes around midnight
Other one comes by day

The best-known recording under this title is probably that by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, credited on the album to "Davis". But it seems that the originas go back to early Muddy Waters and probably before that.

The lyrics of the Paul Butterfield version are:
Well there's two trains running
But there's not one going my way
Yeah one runs at midnight
Other's just for day
Other's just for day
Other's just for day

I went down to my baby's house
And I sat down on her steps
She said come on in here baby
My old man just left
Yeah just now left
My old man just left

Yes I wish I was a catfish
Swimming in the deep blue sea
I'd have all you pretty women
Fishing after me
Fishing after me
Fishing after me

Well she's long and she's tall
And she shakes just like a willow tree
You say she's no good
But she's all right with me
She's all right with me
She's all right with me
She's all right with me

Little girl's all right, all right with me
She give me loving in the morning

The Muddy Waters version was originally recorded in 1951 under the title "Still A Fool". Thanks to Anita Cantor for alerting me to this, and pointing me to a Rob Quinn transcription of the lyrics. According to Anita, Muddy Waters also recorded it with different lyrics under the title "She's All Right"

The Muddy Waters lyrics are:
Well now there's two
There's two trains runnin'
Well ain't not one, (ho!) goin' my way
Well now one run at midnight
And the other one runnin' just 'fore day
A runnin' just 'fore day
It's runnin' just 'fore day
Oh Lord
Sure 'nough then
Oh well

Hmm, (ho) (ho)
Somebody help me (ho) with these blues
Well now, she's the one I'm lovin'
She the one I do hate to lose
I do hate to lose
I do hate to lose
Oh Lord
Sure enough I do
Oh well

I been crazy
Yes I been a fool
I been crazy, oh all my life
Well I done fell in love with her
With another man's wife
With another man's wife
With another man's wife
Oh Lord
Sure 'nough I done
Oh well

Long, she's long and tall
'Til she weeps like a willow tree
Well now, then say she's no good
But she's all right
She's all right with me
She's all right
She's all right
She's all right
She's all right

Friday, February 06, 2009

* Honor Black History Month- The "Underground Railroad"- Follow The Northern Star

Click on title to link to Wikipedia's entry for the "Underground Railroad".



Underground Railroad, hosted by Alfie Woodward, History Channel, 1999

One of the most general perceptions that I received from my high school history days in the 1960’s concerning the fate of black slaves in America was that they essentially passively waited for the Union armies to free them during the process of the Civil War in the 1860’s. In short, blacks had no pre-history as a people who struggled for freedom in their own right but were merely the victims of history. Of course, since those days I have made it my business to find out the real story of slave resistance and although there are many parts that are lost to history we now know that as least some slaves in some situations found ways to break their bondage. Aided during the past few decades by serious scholarly research into the subject we have a more rounded view of the dynamics of slavery in ante bellum American society. This well done History Channel docu-drama, hosted by actress Alfie Woodward, presents one part of that struggle- the work of the Underground Railroad- the fight of courageous individual blacks, aided sometimes by their Northern supporters, to "follow the drinking gourd" North to freedom.

This presentation, complete with the ‘talking head’ commentators that inevitably accompany such efforts, goes back to the early days of slavery and demonstrates that there was always an element of the struggle for freedom by black slaves from the earliest days of European settlement in North America. Moreover, a cadre of freed blacks who were the catalyst for the freedom struggle developed from early on as well. However, the black anti-slavery movement (and for that matter the white part of the anti-slavery movement) did not get energized until the early 19th century in response to the increasing use of slaves to cultivate the expanding cotton crop on Southern plantations. From then on the propaganda fight for emancipation took many forms but basically continued unabated until the Civil War militarily resolved the issue against slavery.

One of the benefits of this production is a well though out exposition of the role that blacks played in this anti-slavery process. Not just the now well-known names like Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman but the little known Henry Garnet, John Stills and John Parker. Moreover, whatever social distinctions could be drawn, even by those within the anti-slavery movement, between blacks and whites it represented the first serious integrated social movement in this country. Needless to say such efforts have been far and few in the history of this country. It is clear that there would be no Underground Railroad stretching, at it needed to at times, all the way to Canada without such integrated efforts. Aiding that clarity is mention of the Midwest, especially the Ohio River towns, as routes to freedom as well as the more well known eastern coastal routes.

A major highlight here was a serious exposition of the role of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 in curtaining the effectiveness of the Underground Railroad, causing the first seeds of irreconcilable conflict between North and South and contributing to the overweening and disproportionate role that the South played in national politics. Some worthwhile time is spent here detailing the effects that such legislation had on ordinary citizens who wished not to be complicit with the slaveholders. The various efforts by Northerners, and not just hard core abolitionists, to resist the slave catchers as they headed north is dramatically presented. The well-known Boston case of Anthony Brooks is the focal point for this section.

If there is one criticism that I have of this presentation though it goes back to that first sentence of this entry. If we now know that blacks themselves, as ultimately demonstrated by the enlistment of 200,000 black Union soldiers in the Civil War, were not mere passive victims of slavery there was a tendency of this presentation to overplay the quest for freedom by blacks. One of the hard facts of human history is that oppression oppresses. That little truism conceals this truth- not everyone, and maybe not even many of those oppressed, in the great scheme of things, can break out of the struggle to merely exist to rise out and rebel. Or even flee. This black cadre was the vanguard, a precious vanguard, but a vanguard nevertheless. That vanguard expressed that suppressed urge for freedom that we assume beats in every human heart. That is the value of this docu-drama. Watch it and learn a few things about our common history.

Follow The Drinking Gourd, Please

Steal Away: Songs Of The Underground Railroad, Kim and Reggie Harris, Appleseed Records, 1998

My purposes in this space have been primarily to review political books that reflect on various aspects of history and politics. Along the edges of this work I have filled in the borders with commentary on musical and cultural phenomena that reflect those concerns. Thus, one is as likely to find a review of some old forgotten folkie or blues singer as a more well-known historical figure like Leon Trotsky or John Brown. However, sometimes music is not just an adjunct to historical narrative but forms a central cog in understanding the phenomena. That is just the situation here with Kim and Reggie Harris’ contribution to an understanding of slavery, freedom from slavery and how to get out from under slavery that was the primary fight for blacks, especially in the lead up to the America Civil War in the mid-19th century.

From a perusal of the liner notes this “concept” album is a labor of love by this singing/songwriting couple. The project developed in the 1980’s out a need to present the fight against slavery as epitomized by the organization of the Underground Railroad to the next generations so that it is firmly etched in their minds. Their musical abilities, especially when they harmonize (listen to “Oh, Freedom” and “Wade In The Water”), make this a very fruitful enterprise. As always with Appleseed recordings the liner notes give a detailed story of how this effort was produced and what each song represents in the anthology.

I will not repeat that information here. I will, however, mention that various figures highlighted here like “General” Harriet Tubman get their full due, as does Sojourner Truth on the nicely done “Aren’t I A Woman”. The various coded hymns and other songs that were used on the Underground Railroad to either symbolize the freedom struggle or for security like “Follow The Drinking Gourd” are also explained. “Heaven Is Less Than Fair”, a Harris tribute product, does a nice job on explaining the uses and need for the codes. Needless to say there are religiously-tinged songs like “Go Down Moses” that reflect that deep feeling that helped blacks get through the hard days of slavery in one piece. Listen to the music and learn history at the same time. That’s a great combination, right?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

*From the DVD Archives-The Black Panther Party

Click on the title to link to "Wikipedia"'s entry for the Black Panther Party. As always with this source and its collective editorial policy, especially with controversial political groups like the Black Panthers, be careful checking the accuracy of the information provided at any given time.

DVD Review

February is Black History Month

What We Want, What We Stand For: The Black Panther Party, Roz Payne Archives, 2006, Disc One

Readers of this space are aware of my admiration; tempered by some political criticism, of the heroic Black Panther Party, an organization that represented the highest expression of black revolutionary consciousness from the mid 1960’s to the early 1970’s. Thus it has been something of a treat, although mixed with a little fatigue, to review the 12 hours of cinematic documentation about the party. The footage is spread over four discs so I will therefore comment on the contents of each disc separately. Disc One includes three pieces of black and white amateurish propaganda footage of very uneven quality entitled respectively, May Day, Repression and Off the Pig (if you remember that expression that dates you, doesn’t it?). The important pieces on Disc One are an extended interview with the exiled ex- Panther Central Committeeman and Field Marshall Don Cox and Kathleen Cleaver’s remarks at the 35th Reunion of the party held in 2001. A word about those two parts is warranted.

The Cox interview, marred by its having been filmed while he was apparently doing chores for dinner and smoking some dope, is a fascinating anecdotal look at the rise of the Panthers in the Bay Area and the differences between the Oakland home chapter and his San Francisco chapter. And there were differences. Moreover, Cox provides some very important information about the nature of the struggle inside the party in 1970-71 on the question of ‘electoralism vs. armed struggle’ (the Hugh Newton/Eldridge Cleaver faction fights) that decisively split the party, a historic problem in the revolutionary movement going back to such organizations as the Russian Social Democracy at the turn of the 20th century and to more recent examples like the Irish Republican Army.

Although Cox was on the Cleaver ‘armed struggle’ side of the split (prevalent in the exile community and on the American East Coast) he nevertheless offers insights into the American West Coast’s push away from such strategies as they faced the guns of the American security apparatus (and a prodding from the reformist American Communist Party that it depended on for legal/financial assistance) and the very real attempt by the American government to exterminate every last Panther or Panther sympathizer. Cox also lets the cat of the bag in his descriptions of the cult-like atmosphere surrounding the personage of Huey Newton, the leader of the Oakland-based faction. He further sheds light on, as does Cleaver and other speakers, the role of the governmental Cointelpol undercover operations to disrupt and destroy the party.

Attorney Cleaver’s remarks, made at the 35th Reunion, are important for a different reason. In trying to sum up the meaning of the Panther experience she made a very telling comparison. She commented that in her view the Panther’s were a vanguard organization much like John Brown’s operation at Harper’s Ferry in 1859. It was the spark. I am not sure that is the appropriate analysis (although readers of this space know of my huge admiration for Brown, his band and his deeds). The Panther’s never broke out of their isolationist black nationalist phase long enough to really go after the working class base they claimed to be trying to represent. Their base was always composed of ‘street’ kids drawn by the military discipline of the organization. The problem is that such strata are hard to keep in check and focused.

When the deal went down those black workers (and there were plenty in the Bay Area, particularly Oakland)outside the party’s orbit never got organized to defend the party. To speak nothing of the necessity of getting white workers to do so. No question the American government played a nefarious role in the demise of the Panthers. No question that the Panthers made some strategic decisions that were misplaced. However, in the end it is that failure to draw in black workers and ultimately to act as the vanguard for all the oppressed that did the Panthers in. That rampant sectoralism, developed to an art form in the New Left and exemplified by the Panthers (each oppressed group organizing itself around its own demands and eventually meeting up to take on the state- in the great by and by), is still with us and still acts as a paralyzing agent in the attempt to take on the American monster. United under one banner does not assure success but it is nevertheless the beginning of political wisdom. Does one need an example for the continuing failure to do so? Five years of war in Iraq and counting. Enough said.


If disc one was dominated by trips down memory lane by various surviving leading Panthers then this second disc is dominated by the ever-haunting question of police infiltration and disruption of the organization (that continues to this day, witness the number of Panthers still in prison and the reemergence of the case of the San Francisco Eight. For a link to that defense committee see right side of this commentary page). There are two main pieces on this disc- an academic conference that puts the problems of Panther security in perspective and interviews with central government police agents, here the F.B.I., on the West Coast who orchestrated the demise of the Panthers. A couple of comments are in order.

You know that you have arrived as a fit subject for academic debate when a conference is planned around the history of your organization. Alternately, you also know that your organization has been relegated to the historic scrape heap in order for this to occur. Nevertheless, despite some abstruse academic ponderousness on the part of some participants that is par for the course, the question presented by the conference is one that present and future radical movements need to deal with-the ever-present problem of our governmental political opponents pulling out all stops in their bag of tricks to disrupt and destroy our labor and left organizations before they are strong enough to counterattack.

The Bolsheviks, most famously in the Malinovsky and Azev cases, also had to confront the problem of police infiltration. In the Malinovsky case Malinovsky actually led the Bolshevik fraction in the Duma (Czarist Russian parliament) at critical times. Lenin argued that despite Malinovsky’s treachery he did, as is the nature of such work, objectively aid the revolution, while nevertheless working for the other side. Needless to say after the Bolsheviks took power Mr. Malinovsky was, justly, summarily executed for his deeds. This example, however, brings up the real question that is that one must try to organize, assume police infiltration, and yet move on with the work. Apparently in the case of the Panthers this police infiltration was so insidious that it had comrades at each other’s throats. Part of this can be traced to personality differences, part to problems of political program but part to the generally low level of political consciousness at the base of the Panther organization. Either way it produced serious problems and placed the organization of the defensive almost from the beginning.

Let us face it; if there is one trend in American history that has been constant it has been the white fear of armed blacks defending themselves. Slavery times, Civil War times, Jim Crow times, Civil Rights times it did not matter; once blacks took up arms that white fear became inflamed. And the modern American state and its agents were more than willing to violate any number of ‘democratic norms’ to crush those kind of movements. Pronto. Hell, they became apoplectic at Martin Luther King’s non-violent movement. One can only imagine their reaction when a bunch of armed blacks got in their faces, especially in the faces of their police.

The interviews here with the two police agents lays out the governmental program in graphic detail. Probably the most informative part of the interviews is how widespread the lawlessness of the governmental agents was. And they thought nothing of it. These are lessons that should be etched into the brains of every militant today. If you are seriously going to take on the state then you must be ready for anything. They are.


In many ways this disc which includes several interviews with movement lawyers, who represented various Black Panther defendants at various stages of the struggle, from a purely legal standpoint is the most interesting of the four. The defense strategy and tactics talked about in theses clips in order save the various Panther defendants took all the resources, intellectual and financial, that these lawyers could produce in their idealistic energetic youths. And that is the problem. Between orchestrated government harassment and commitment to prosecute anyone every closely associated with the Black Panthers and their own internal divisions the organization spent most of its existence in courtrooms, not out on the streets. To speak nothing of the extra-legal Cointelpro project created to essentially liquidate, one way or another, the leading Panther cadre.

This disc also brings up the problems of finding financial resources in order provide an adequate defense. Thus, most energy and outreach was spent on these efforts to the detriment of the political struggle. In short, the courtroom and the vagaries of the American court system are not easy ways to make political points. That said, obviously kudos need to be paid, here in retrospect, to the heroic legal efforts of these movement lawyers. Unfortunately, as the current New York case of lawyer Lynne Stewart demonstrates movement lawyers willing to work 24/7 on these types of cases are few and far between. The Conrad Lynns, William Kuntslers and the Lynne Stewarts of the legal world head toward the danger, however, most lawyers head the other way.


This disc is a trip down memory lane by white supporters of the Panthers, including the archivist of this series Roz Payne. The stories presented here are an interesting and fairly accurate reflection of what the white left, or at least a portion of it, thought about the Panthers. That is that the Panthers were the vanguard and that therefore the role of whites was merely to support the effects of the Panthers in the black community and not much else. In short, the classic sectorial politics that helped the implosion of the left around 1971-72 when everyone went off to do ‘their own thing’. And we have not heard from them since.

The Panthers, as I have stated many times, contained many subjectively revolutionary vanguard elements that could have helped to lead the American Revolution. With this caveat, that they formed part of an integrated leadership. As this series makes clear there were cadre who were very capable of doing that. But that would have meant political struggle against that black vanguardist approach. The odd thing is that these kinds of disputes had been fought before in earlier radical and revolutionary movements that were contemptuously ridiculed by the New Left, and here I include myself, of the “Old Left” squabbles. Hello, you either deal with these separatist issues or lose your movement. As we all know we have been waiting patiently for a long time for a new breeze to stir.

I would add one last point that is a fairly constant theme through these twelve hours of documentary history. That is the observation, by black and white leftist alike, of the importance of the Panther Breakfast program for children. Either we have gone soft or I missed something but that program seemed to me, and not just to me, to reek of social workerism. I will not even discuss the fact that the government was capable of doing that type of program better, and did for a while. That aside, what I want to remember about the Panthers is that they were serious about revolution, for a time, and that they were ready, far better than most of us of the white left, to lay down their heads for that dream.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

*Reflections On The 50th Anniversary Of Little Rock

Click On Title To Link To Wikipedia's Entry For The "Little Rock Nine".


Diversity is fine, but integration is the goal. Keep the eyes on the prize.

History is full of ironies (and well as its share of tragedies, comedies and farces). These days as the fight for racial justice for the Jena Six unfolds down in Louisiana we are also commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the epoch struggle to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. For the nth time it was then, and today is, brought home to us there is no clear sailing in the struggle for racial equality. And we need not look only at those dramatic and well-publicized cases. In housing patterns, school population patterns, prison population patterns and general cultural and social patterns that promise of equality has either stalled or retrogressed. Further, as legal scholar Ronald Dworkin’s has graphically pointed out in a recent issue of the New York Review of Books (September 27, 2007 issue that also cites earlier articles by him on other Supreme Court decisions last term) well-worn legal strategies in order to achieve integration, with the overturning of the Seattle and Louisville school plans, seems to be blocked for the foreseeable future. Undeniably gains have been made, but when all is said and done a very strong argument can be made that that youthful goal of mine to live in a racially integrated society seems as far away as ever.

Usually I make political comments that many times are somewhat removed from direct personal experience. However, the question of race and racism, spoken or unspoken, is a central driving force in American politics and thus in this entry I want to present some personal information to elicit responses in order find out what the racial temperature is now. One of the most pervasive patterns that drives racial segregation, mainly consciously created as the documented history of ‘redlining’, exclusionary zoning practices and unsavory personal predilections indicate, is the housing question and that is where I want to start today. I spent my early childhood in an all white public housing project. My later childhood was spend in an all white poor working class neighborhood even though black neighborhoods existed as close as a drive over a bridge away. That bridge might as well have been a thousand miles long. My northern high school graduating class was all white. It might as well have been Central High in Little Rock. My urban, publicly funded college graduating class had few minorities. In adulthood I have lived in poor white neighborhoods, mixed student neighborhoods, the black enclaves of Oakland, Detroit and Washington, D.C., and, back in the days, in an integrated commune (for those who do not know that is a bunch of unrelated people living on the same premises by design), and now in a middling working class neighborhood, meaning that it is about 90% white. I have even, when I had a rich girlfriend, lived in the leafy suburbs. In short, I have been all around the race and the housing question.

The reader will have to tell me if my experience is usual or not. But the point here is that in a recent study (if a reader remembers the name of the study I would be grateful to get that information, I have forgotten its name) of racial attitudes on the question of ‘comfortability’ in proximity to other races, by another name -the diversity question- white comfort levels were favorable when the ratio was 90% white, 10% other. Just like my neighborhood! Blacks, asked the same question responded that they favored a 50%, 50% threshold. That is a truer measure of a mixed neighborhood. And that, my friends, is the rub.

In my youth we fought for integration, some of us desperately so. The Little Rock Nine attest to that. Schools, housing, bus depots, hell- even lunch counters and student dances. Everything. Somehow, as any serious look at the numbers today demonstrates, this idea has gotten off track since the demise of busing and the refusal to do anything meaningful about housing patterns. The very word integration has, as they say, lost ‘traction’. Today, in a not so subtle acknowledgement of defeat, the buzzword is ‘diversity’ (or its derivative ‘multiculturalism’). In effect the very hard, hard fight to create a real mix of peoples has been abandoned. The nationalists and racists of various stripes may be happy but down at the base the people have been abandoned to their respective fates. Hurricane Katrina, of now fading public memory, only laid bare that hard truth. Moreover, diversity in common parlance does not signify the mixing, and therefore action, of integration but only ‘respect’ for differences. However, not to be unkind… No, forget that, I want to be unkind on this. Having ten different ethnic restaurants in the neighborhood, going to an August Wilson play, not missing an Alvin Ailey Troupe performance and occasionally playing golf with minority friends or workmates is not integration. Diversity is fine, but integration is the goal. More later.