THE BLACK SOLIDARITY COMMITTEE FOR COMMUNITY IMPROVEMENT: THE DYNAMICS OF BLACK LEADERSHIP IN DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA, 1968-1970: CHAPTER II
|Durham, NC "Selective Buying Campaign"|
The Carolina Times used the term “”his country” in citing the date of his enlistment. This is an example of the experience(s) of African American military personnel throughout the many wars fought in the name of United States of America. (“Posthumous Awards for Sgt. Couch”, Sunday, Durham, 20 April 1968, 1A)
Nationwide, university campuses buzzed with political activity, which addressed issues that governments—local, state and federal—viewed as being subversive and unpatriotic. Hippies, yippies, Black Nationalists, feminists, environmental and other activists—aligned to an inexhaustible number of issues—alarmed the status quo institutions of America. The ghettos of America’s largest cities rumbled with calibrated fury in the wake of such rebellions as Watts and Newark.
|Watts Rebellion, August 1965|
"Rebellion, however, connotes an undirected emotional outburst. It what Camus called an ‘incoherent pronouncement.’ The rebel may transform himself into a revolutionary—he may conclude that liberation really does require the ‘final destruction of this mad octopus’—but this is not an automatic consciousness, however rudimentary, which imbued the rebellions with political meaning. While the rebellions did not constitute a conscious assault on American capitalism, they did involve attacks on some exploitative aspects." (Allen, Black Awakening, 1990)
Martin Luther King, Jr. and presidential aspirant Robert Kennedy were assassinated that year; and the agendas of both parties were highlighted by platforms of “Law and Order” at their national conventions. Americans, regardless of race; ethnicity; gender; age; political affiliation; and religion, took to the streets in sustained protest over government policies (Ibid).
Student protesters were particularly incensed concerning American domestic policy and denounced it as racist, classist, sexist, homophobic, ecologically insane and xenophobic. United States foreign policy in general, Vietnam especially, supplied the fuel that the white youth of this nation needed to forge an intense moral challenge to the government after southern Free Speech Movement, Anti-War Movement, and Black Studies Movement. All met with stiff and sometimes deadly force. The federal government responded to those movements with force, subterfuge, provocateurism and militaristic repression.
|Kent State Massacre, May 1969|
“Regardless of its precise technical meaning in ‘Bureauese,” reads a passage from Agents, “COINTELPRO [code name for FBI counterintelligence program] is now used as a descriptor covering the whole series of sustained and systematic campaigns directed by the Bureau against a wide array of selected domestic political organizations and individuals, especially during the 1960s.” (Ibid)
The words of former U.S Marshall and Community Relations Officer James A. Davis describe the stance of the U.S. Marshall Service, which is the law enforcement branch of the Department of Justice this way:
“During that period of time, the focus of federal law enforcement was on radical groups and individuals such as the Weathermen, Bonner Meinhoff Gang, Black Panthers, SDS (Students for a Democratic Society), Angela Davis, Stokely Carmichael, and H. 'Rap' Brown." (Interview by author 13 April 1994)
Davis also analyzes these factions as having characteristics, which were threefold—economic, Vietnam war resistance, and a rigid generation gap. Black objectives were more economic, whites had agendas, which centered more on social change—they also viewed their parents as not being concerned about their future. Black students were concerned with prosperity.“The average black male was going to ‘Nam and never returning while whites were getting deferments and fleeing to Canada. This dichotomy created a nationalistic revolutionary mindset for which the country was not prepared.” (Ibid)
“Most black nationalistic movements,” Davis asserted, “sprang from out of the Martin Luther King assassination; and local law enforcement agencies were caught by surprise. They did not have the equipment, tactics, or training. The Feds were thrown off balance also and had to reassess its analysis of the problem. There are two problems that permeated America law enforcement circles before large-scale violence erupted. One was the need to develop a rationale for the formation of these groups; and the second was determining a profile of member-types. The interesting thing was that the only profile that could be developed was that they were young people concerned about change.”
The federal government finally began to understand nationalistic groups during the de-escalation of the Vietnam War. The Community Relations Service was developed as a direct result of this understanding as a vehicle to address the pressing needs of the nation’s communities.
The tenor of Black southern protest quickly began to shift toward the premise of self-defense as the more militant voices of the African American Community rejected the Civil Rights Movement as a symbol of castration, ineffectiveness, and misguided ideology. Durham’s African American Community had erupted as early as the 1940’s during WWII. It erupted again in 1967—a prelude to an even more violent demonstration of frustration after the death of King. (Interview by author, 15 April 1994, A. J. Howard ClementA. J. Howard Clement, North Carolina Mutual Insurance Company)
As the Black Community labored in the wake of King’s death, its leadership determined that it could no longer apply traditional methods to address the state of social, political, and economic inequality that existed between black and white.
Black nationalism had been spreading throughout the country for years in the expressions of “dap” (a national embodiment of black solidarity symbolized through a series of handshakes and body language) and rhetoric of the war-weary, freedom-hungry, no-nonsense-taking black veteran. By 1968, it was steadfastly moving throughout the black citizenry of Durham. They loudly, clearly, and forcefully expressed that no longer would they tolerate “business as usual.” (Ibid)
Lerone Bennett Jr. (now Amiri Baraka) succinctly describes the major requirement of the Black Rebellion in the August 1969 issue of Ebony Magazine:
Power: that’s the requirement of the situation. The white problem in America cannot be solved without the creation of new currents of power which can mount sustained assaults on industries and institutions which derive
Revolution, Ebony Magazine, August 1969)
Bennett further explains that the problem was of such proportion that “real changes” in the tax structure, relations between the private and public sectors, values; definitions of work, leisure and private property, and redistribution of income had to be realized in order to effect a relevant revolution. In effect, his assessment called for an allocation of billions of dollars be applied to a well-planned incremental reconstruction of American cities.
Since it was utopian to believe that America would adopt a program of such magnitude without “massive pressure,” he underscored the need for Black Power and the need for sustained and unrelenting pressure.
One year earlier Durham’s African American leadership had begun to understand the simplicity of the relationship of power in an institutionally racist society—their understanding embraced the belief that there would be no power shift toward the African American Community if those who were beyond the scope of reason continued to control the dynamics of power from warped interpretations of what economic redistribution and political power signified. (R. Kelly Bryant, Jr., North Carolina Mutual Insurance Company
Those who were beyond reason included blacks and whites who were headed toward the abyss of urban war. Both parties, one as oppressor, the other as oppressed, were so blinded by this dialectic that they could not conceive of anything less than violent confrontation. Saner voices were needed to divert bloodshed. Whatever social and psychological construct one may use to analyze the situation, these opposing forces were extreme expressions of a society which had long ago made peace with violence.
Paulo Friere (Pedagogy of the Oppressed), plunges into the morass when he states:
“Never in history has violence been initiated by the oppressed. How could they be the initiators if they themselves are the result of violence? How could they be sponsors of something whose objective inauguration called forth their existence as oppressed? There would be no oppressed if there had been no prior situation of violence to establish their subjugation. Violence is initiated by those who oppress, who exploit, who fail to recognize others as persons—not by those who are oppressed, exploited, and unrecognized. It is not the unloved who initiate disaffection, but those who cannot love because they love only themselves. It is not the helpless, subject to terror, who initiate terror, but the violent, who with their power create the concrete situation which begets the ‘rejects of life.’ It is not the tyrannized who initiate despotism, but the tyrants. It is not the despised who initiate hatred, but those who despise. It is not those whose humanity is denied them who negate man, but those who denied that humanity (thus negating their own as well). Force is used not by those who have become weak under the preponderance of the strong, but by the strong who have emasculated them. For the oppressors…it is always the oppressed (whom they obviously never call ‘the oppressed’—but depending upon whether they are fellow countrymen or not—‘those people’ or ‘the blind and envious masses’ or ‘savages’ or ‘natives’ or ‘violent,’ ‘barbaric,’ ‘wicked,’ or ‘ferocious’ when they react to the violence of the oppressors.”