From International Socialist Review, Vol.24 No.2, Spring 1963, pp.54-56.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
Thanks, Melissa. I think George has placed our talk tonight in an excellent context. To a certain extent I feel somewhat like a sandwich where I have two excellent people on each side of me and I’m only going to provide a little bit of filling in the middle. What I intend to do is something quite modest. I only hope to bring out a few points which seem very important to me as they affect the future of the Negro struggle and to elaborate on some points which have already been touched on.
I MYSELF am very happy to be speaking here tonight. As you all know, there are many conferences going on all over the country on the very thing we are dealing with now since this is the Emancipation year, I’ve been told, and we are celebrating, I’ve also been told. I understand Wayne State University got an endowment of $10,000 to set up a conference on the centennial and they’re inviting Ralph Bunche and Gunnar Myrdal and other outstanding liberals to speak and I don’t doubt Marian Anderson will be singing someplace. The Progressive magazine for one has dedicated its last month’s issue entirely to this question, and except for a few pages it was a complete waste of time. I don’t doubt that many other publications are also devoting special issues to the Emancipation.
You are acquainted with all these people, I’m sure, Gunnar Myrdal and Ralph Bunche. Ralph Bunche, you know, is the person who asked Floyd Patterson not to fight Sonny Liston because he’d give a poor image. Gunnar Myrdal, in spite of his excellent contribution to sociology, was the keynote speaker at Howard University commencement last year in which he gave one of the most patronizing talks that I’ve ever read about, in which he told “you Negroes” what you had to do in order to make it. I don’t think it set too well with his audience. There has been a recent social event here in Detroit, which some of you may have attended, given by one of the Negro sororities – a big swinging deal, so I understand. Judge Parsons, the new Negro federal judge, was the keynote speaker and he used his time to denounce the Muslims. Ralphe Bunche also used some of his valuable time to denounce the Muslims at the recent NAACP conference in Atlanta, Georgia, last year.
So you can see these meetings are not very important. There is a lot of money going to be spent on them, there is a lot of publicity that’s going to result from them, but they’re not very important. I think the kind of thing that is being done tonight by what I’d like to call “disreputable people” is what is going to be important. It is the kind of thing where people who are not committed to this society, who are not committed to this ideology, can feel free to think and to criticize and to come to some important conclusions. Let me read you a couple of sentences that Eric Lincoln wrote. He is the author of an important book on the Muslims and he was speaking of the Muslims when he wrote them, but I think they are important for all of us to consider. He says:
“The Muslims have abandoned the fundamental principles of the American creed as having no practical relevance to them or their conditions of existence. They have substituted in its place a new system of values perceived as more consistent with the realities of their peculiar circumstances. This is a unique departure by an organized group in American history. No other racial or ethnic group has so deliberately and so completely rejected the fundamental premises or values implicit in the American creed. The Black Muslims quite properly identify these values with white Christian culture and they reject not only the symbols of subordination and their subordinated status in a white oriented society but the very principles which, though imperfectly expressed in practice, provide the ideal goals which order our social behavior.”
Now I think this kind of thinking and this kind of approach is important for any serious radical group or any serious person who intends to work for fundamental social change. They must reject an ideological commitment to official society and this frees them and gives their analysis of society an air of reality and a sense of purpose.
I WAS struck recently, in the Michigan Chronicle, by a number of articles celebrating the election of the various officers of the Booker T. Washington Business Association, which some of you may be familiar with. An entire page of the Michigan Chronicle was devoted to articles by Negro business leaders here in Detroit. These were some of the headings which I thought were very interesting: W.A. Lewis says: “1963 looks exciting to me,” One of the sentences in his article says: “The probability of a nation-wide crippling strike is greatly minimized by the surprising demonstrated willingness of President Kennedy to invoke the Taft-Hartley act.” He also says: “The billions spent in the race for space and other defense mechanisms will cushion our maximum economy.” R. Conrad Vaughn, the recently elected president of this group, said: “A banner year is coming up in 1963.” He said: “Michigan’s economic climate while not perfect is sound ... Business optimism and public confidence in Michigan is at the highest possible peak.”
Now serious people can’t be bothered with this kind of thinking; nevertheless, this is the kind of thinking which pervades to a great extent many of our so-called spokesmen, and by “our,” I mean Negroes. And, to go a step further with the analysis that George made, there will not only be crises in society as a whole, but there will be crises among Negroes themselves. Because what is necessary is not just a new leadership, what is necessary is a new vision of what the Negroes’ goals are. And before this leadership can be viable they must discuss their goals, they must interact, they must disagree with each other. They must have a new concept of where they are going and they must re-evaluate where they have been, not in the terms of the past, but in the terms of the future, of what they want American society to be.
One of the things that they must recognize is that it is not one class, or one element in society that is going to bring about any revolutionary change. There are going to be clashes and there are going to be battles between segments of society, between classes and elements and groups within the Negro society. The Negroes will find it necessary to take pages from the books of other organizations and use them. They will also find it necessary to reject pages from the books of other organizations and parties as not being a useful guideline for their future direction. They will find it necessary to use a multiplicity of techniques.
Many Negroes, for example, will find it necessary to reject the passive resistance-non-violent philosophy of Martin Luther King. Not that it is not important in many circumstances or in many activities, but they will find that it is not the only tool, as Dr. King believes, as many people believe who are struggling seriously with the problems the Negro faces. It is only one of many techniques which will be necessary before the Negro wins his freedom. They must also have a vision of their goals. And their goal, as many are beginning to realize who are fighting in this struggle, is not just voter registration and it is not just sitting at a lunch counter, it is not just riding on a bus. These are peripheral things. If all of the lunch counters and all of the buses were integrated and all of the voters were registered, this would still not bring freedom to the Negro in this country. But it is only in the crucible of their own experience that they learn these things. It is this experience which will make their goals meaningful to them. They must learn through their practical experiences in fighting against the society that they face here that they will form an ideology and a philosophy by which they can guide themselves.
THE Negroes will also find it necessary to internationalize their movement. They will recognize that the ties that they have with the African and Asian countries will be some of their most valuable ties. Not only are they fighting against the corrupt elements of American society but they are also fighting against the influence of the West in the world, in its corrupt manifestation of its imperialistic subordination of the underdeveloped nations. Only by linking themselves with the underdeveloped countries and combining their vision with theirs can Negroes come to any realistic and useful philosophy.
They must recognize that in fighting for their rights and in supporting Negroes for public office, for example, what is important is what they are fighting for, not necessarily the people who are the instruments of their fight. To give a concrete example, I would certainly condemn any discriminatory action to remove Adam Clayton Powell from office, simply based on his color, despite the fact that he is a corrupt politician. By the same token, when we support Negroes for office, say, for example, in the recent campaign here in Detroit in which Rev. Cleage supported a number of Negroes for office, we must recognize that we support them for the principle that Negroes must represent their own people, not that these are necessarily the best representatives for the Negro. Certainly all of these candidates could be shaken up in a bag and I wouldn’t take my pick of any of them.
What is important is the fight, not the instruments of the fight. It is also important that out of the experiences that the Negro will have in America, that he produce his own philosophers and theorists who can speak to him much more closely than an outsider can speak to him, despite the fact that many outsiders have valuable things to say. Now this is a crucial point, because many of us have wondered and asked ourselves what is the place of the white radical or the white sympathizer in the Negro struggle. At a recent meeting held at Rev. Cleage’s church, Max Roach, the well-known jazz musician, gave the answer that, “he can give money.” I’m sure he was only being partly facetious. Money is a valuable thing; it is also important, however, to recognize that there is more use for sympathizers than simply giving money. Nevertheless, it is also important to recognize that as the Negro movement develops, that the nationalistic aspects of it will cause the rejection of whites, in many respects even sympathetic ones.
This should be understood, it is very important to understand this, because many whites who are sympathetic to the movement and who do attempt to work with Negroes find themselves rejected and wonder why. But if you put this attitude within a historical context and recognize that after 400 years of oppression, you know, to put out your hand now in brotherhood – well, it’s a little late and many Negroes are aware of this and so they reject you on this ground. George mentioned, and very rightly so, the resentment of paternalism on the part of Negroes and it’s also important to remember that paternalism takes on many aspects. There is the paternalism of ideology as well as the paternalism of suppression and patronizing and that sort of thing, so that, rejecting white paternalism, you reject it in all of its aspects, even some that may be valuable to you. But, you may incorporate these useful aspects as you grow and come to an awareness of how you can use these ideas as you develop, and as your movement develops.
THE Negroes today in America have real grievances, have real issues that they are fighting for, and this is what gives their movement purpose and this is what gives their struggle its radical and dynamic aspects. They are moving forward, they appear to know where they are going, but their goals will develop as they go along. There are some very important things happening in the world which are affecting the Negro struggle; it is important to recognize the effect of the national and international scene on the Negro struggle. It is important not to feel or to believe that it is an isolated phenomenon which does not have any connection to what the West is doing in the world and what the East is doing in the world, to the threat of the bomb.
It is important to recognize that all of these will have an effect on what happens in this country. It is very possible that the Negroes’ pressing for their demands not only may bring about sympathy and understanding and growth in the number of people who will join him in his movement – it may also bring a rejection of his aims. We must recognize that this society has so many corrupt elements in it that it is very possible that the catalyst of the Negro movement in it may cause it to tend further in the direction of fascism. I think this is an important consideration, we must look at the dark side of things as well as the bright side of things. And by that I want you to understand that when we think that the Negro struggle is moving forward, that it is only going in a positive direction and not a negative direction, that it is also necessary to take into consideration the other elements of society which are fighting it – and fighting it very strongly.
I mentioned previously that the Negro has a very real cause that he is fighting for because he can sense and recognize and feel the oppression of this society against him. Many people in America feel this sense of urgency and this sense of purpose and many of them are attempting to join the Negro cause in order to be in a vital movement. If they are to join with the Negroes they must meet Negroes on their own terms, and not propose terms for them. It is only out of the Negroe’s own experience that he will form his philosophy and ideology, and all those who will support him and who will help him must find where he is going and go there with him. Thank you.
Last updated on 22 May 2009