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Black Leadership Analysis

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What Happened to Black Bookstores?

Often you will hear black people say; blacks don’t support black business because we are brainwashed. We think the white man’s water is wetter and ice is colder. In actuality, black business suffers from some unique external problems and the same market forces that cause other companies to fall. This post will look at the history of black-owned bookstores and why we see so few black-owned bookstores now.

The first surge in black bookstores happened from 1965 to 1979 with the number of black bookstores increasing from twelve to around one hundred. The black book boom did not occur in a vacuum. The innovation of soft cover books in 1930 made books cheap enough for the masses. The number of printed books doubled from 1952 to 1962 and sales went up 83% from 1963 to 1971. So more books were available at a lower price to a market of black people who saw their income rise 140% from 1947 to 1960. Black bookstores were the outer manifestation of a book craze that took over the country.

One of the first black-owned bookstores was Lewis Michaux’s National Memorial African Bookstore started in 1939. The bookstore was not only a business but an epicenter of black politics in Harlem. Many other book entrepreneurs will duplicate this activist business model. The National Memorial Bookstore would host Nation of Islam rallies and book signings by Nikki Giovanni.

Michaux’s main competitor in Harlem was Una Mulzac’s Liberation Bookstore. Mulzac got into the book business while working with Leninist in British Guiana. When a new regime took over in that country, her store was closed, and she was deported back to America, the place of her birth. Her bookstore began in 1967.

Washington, DC had its own activist bookseller Charles Cobb Jr. In the wake of the Dr. King riots in 1968, Cobb opened up Drum and Spear with a grant from the Episcopal Church. Over the years, Mr. Cobb developed a mail-order catalog, publisher, and wholesale operation. Drum and Spear became the largest black bookseller by 1971.

One of the key drivers of the first black book boom was the Civil Rights Movement. As black people began to assert themselves, racist forces also worked to thwart them. FBI documents released through the freedom of information act revealed there was a concerted effort from 1968 to 1973 to monitor the activities of these bookstores. The FBI believed the owners were connected to communist and black nationalist groups committed to overthrowing the American government.

There was no store hit harder than Edward Vaughn’s Vaughn Books in Detroit. Mr. Vaughn was traveling to New Jersey when a race riot broke out in Detroit in 1967. He rushed back to his city to ensure his store was not damaged. On the way home, he is detained in two different states for questioning. Upon his return to Vaughn Books, he sees the words ” Long Live the African Revolution” graffitied on the door.

Mr. Vaughn sees the first order of business as trying to improve race relations in Detroit. He sends a telegram asking to meet with city leaders to discuss solutions. The mayor’s office gives no response. In later weeks the Detroit PD firebombed the store, but Vaughn repaired the damage. The police made a second attempt to destroy the store. They broke in clogged a pipe and turned on the faucet flooding the store. Vaughn again rebuilt and repaired the damage.

Drum and Spear was only blocks away from FBI headquarters, so they were visited frequently. Mr. Cobb was heavily involved with the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee in Mississippi and often recognized agents. One FBI agent admitted after months of surveillance, he realized that Drum and Spear was no different than any other bookstore. The FBI officials don’t believe him and demanded the agent find proof that the store was involved in communism. The agent bought a copy of Mao’s Red Book from a white bookstore and claimed he got the book from Mr. Cobb to satisfy his superiors.

The core patrons of Drum and Spear solidified around his business after they realized the FBI was attempting to destroy him. A similar phenomenon happened with Vaughn books. However, Cointelpro put too much pressure on the black power movement to keep it viable. The movement as a whole started to falter and wain. Black Nationalist started to leave the movement because involvement necessitated people taking a high risk with little material reward. Many black activists found steady work; others worked for change in multi-cultural movements.

In addition to the black power movement losing steam in the 1970s, Black Americans began to experience an economic downturn. Three years after being proclaimed the largest black bookseller Drum and Spear closed in 1974. Black America was more interested in individual success and not attempting to work for systematic change.

In response to the general change in Black America, a new genre of black books emerged, the black romance novel. The first installment was Entwined Destinies in 1980, followed by Adam and Eva. These books pushed no political ideology. Instead, they concentrated on universal themes of love and heartbreak. The black romance genre was easy to mainstream because anyone could relate to the stories.

Terry McMillan was the largest cross-over black romance novelist. Her first book was Disappearing Acts in 1984. She marketed by catering to black bookstores. The strategy continued to her second book in 1987 Mama. However, once a mainstream audience was able to sample her work, she began to sell at white bookstores.

In the late 1980s, a new development happened in the booksellers market, the megastore. Stores such as Barnes & Nobles or Borders were able to eat up market share by having black interest sections. Also, by having a network of stores all over the country, a customer could order books that were not in stock at their local store. So the megastores offered a better product at a lower price. So small bookstores, no matter what the interest, were on the decline. In 1975, small booksellers had 60% of the market by 1997 the share had fallen to 17%.

In 1992, three black women were on the New York Times Best-sellers list. Possessing Secret by Joy Walker, Jazz by Toni Morrison, and Waiting to Exhale by Terry McMillian. This was the first time three black authors were on the best seller list at the same time. McMillian became a household name and conducted appearances all over the nation.

In 1997 durning the How Stella Got Her Groove Back tour, McMillan was set to conduct a book signing in Missouri. Antoine Coffer owner of Afrocentric Cafe protested the signing on the basis that she should do the signing at a black-owned business. Coffer called for a national boycott of McMillian unless she promised to do more book signings in black-owned bookstore. The book signing was scheduled at Library Ltd which had twenty-five times as many titles. The publisher decided to cancel the event in Missouri to avoid bad press. In reality, most of the black bookstores stayed afloat selling romance novels like Waiting to Exhale. This boycott would not only hurt one of the authors that kept Coffer’s business viable, but it would also only hurt black bookstores as a whole.

In the end, the novelty of black romance novels wained. They became just like any other romance novel in the genre. Most of the black bookstores could not compete with large sellers, and Amazon was a death nail by 2014 only 54 black-owned bookstores existed in the USA.

According to a Publisher’s Weekly article black bookstores are back on the rise. In 1999, there were 325. By 2014 there were only 54 in the USA. Fortunately, the number is back up to 108 in 2018. One of the stores Mahogany Books has a physical location in Washington DC and an online branch. Marc LaMont Hill’s bookstore is also inter-sectional offering queer studies, disability studies, and gender studies. So black bookstores are changing with the times.

Ultimately, there was a government plot to destroy black bookstores, but the larger factors were changing tastes in the Black community and market forces that hinder small niche businesses in every community. In the end, black bookstores adapted like every other industry. Once the company changes customers of all races frequent the store and make the business grow.

It is essential that we end the narrative that black business fails because black people just won’t support black people due to inherent low-self esteem. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with black people and thinking that there is something inherently wrong will prevent business owners from evaluating better business strategies. Customers are not obligated to frequent any business. In a free market, the owners should find ways to entice clients.

A link to Mahogany Books can be found HERE

Sources

From Head Shops to Whole Foods Joshua Clark Davis 2017

The Kojo Nnamdi Show 5-15-2018 “Drum and Spear: How a local bookstore educated Washington about Black Power in the 60s and 70s”.

“Author Bows Out of Book Signing” by Lorraine Kee St. Louis Post Dispatch May 20, 1997

“A New Generation of African-American owned Bookstores” by A. Green on https://www.publishersweekly.com April 06, 2018

Dr King in Four Quadrants

Where Do We Go From Here?: Black Power

As the Civil Rights Movement (CRM) marched on, many black people felt the success was too slow and regional. The CRM had crushed Jim Crow in the south, but it had little effect on conditions in the ghettos of the north. Black people needed more than just the ability to dine and shop with whites. America needed a full plan of economic and political power redistribution.

The book tells the story of the Meredith Freedom March also known as the March Against Fear 1966. James Meredith, famous for integrating the University of Mississippi, began a march to encourage blacks to register to vote. Meredith did not want any large Civil Rights organizations on the march and only asked individuals to join. Meredith was shot, but not killed on June 6, 1966 the second day of the trek.

Most Civil Rights organizations knew if the march was stopped blacks in Mississippi would always be afraid to register to vote. Dr. King leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Floyd McKissick of Conference of Racial Equality (CORE), and Stokley Carmichael of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and James Meredith held a meeting on continuing the march. They all agreed they had to continue the march as a joint effort of their various organizations. However, specifics needed to be agreed.

Both McKissick and Carmichael disagreed with King on non-violence in political struggle. All the men involved believed in personal self-defense. If a person was individually attacked for no reason, that person could fight and defend themselves. The point of difference was how should violence be used in demonstrations in self-defense. King held firmly that protesters should stay non-violent no matter what.

McKissick had frequently used the Deacons for Defense as security in protests. Carmichael had begun to train his followers in firearms if non-violent resistance proved not to work. So both parties believed that the movement might be forced to turn violent.

King was against having any armed guards on the march. If the march turned violent the mass of black America would not be ready for the repercussions. White supremacist would use any violence from blacks as an excuse to unleash a wave of violence unprecedented in the USA. Previous attempts at black armed resistance have ended in mass slaughter.

Non-violence was also needed to keep the moral high ground. King wanted to prove the violence displayed by the south was unwarranted. King believed the masses of white America were altruistic and if they realized the level of violence black America was under they would advocate for Civil Rights. Carmichael especially didn’t believe in the virtue of white America.

In the end, King agreed to allow the Deacons of Defense to guard marchers. Carmichael and McKissick had to agree they would not retaliate unless armed civilians threatened the lives of marchers. No retaliation would happen against law enforcement.

The second point of contention was should whites be allowed on this march. SNCC had recently expelled the white members of their group. The reason was whites often took leadership positions from local black organizers. The local organizers felt overwhelmed and could not compete with whites that had more education and leadership experience. So Carmichael expelled them all to open the lane for blacks to develop leadership experience.

The SCLC had always been integrated and would continue to be integrated. King reminded the others how many whites had died in the movement. It would be disgraceful to their memory to close the door now.

King understood what Carmichael’s intentions were. It was important that black run their organizations to build confidence in themselves and build leadership experience. Therefore, King hoped that whites would understand the importance of taking a backseat in leadership. Blacks needed to realize they could save themselves. If whites have the leadership roles blacks will continue to feel helpless.

King was able to get McKissick and Carmichael to agree to march with whites in the end.

The last point of contention was the slogan of the march. The SCLC faction wanted “Freedom Now.” The CORE/SNCC faction wanted “Black Power.” The slogan “Black Power” was too divisive for King to support. It could be interpreted as a call to violence, and it would also alienate white allies.

Black Power could mean different things to different people. Yet its meaning centered around three points.

  1. Disappointment in America and the pace of racial justice
  2. Coalesce resources of black people
  3. Call to psychological manhood

The unyielding boot of white power created the need for the term black power. Many black people have been frustrated by the slow pace of progress and have retaliated by creating a pungent slogan. These black people have lost faith in the fundamental and altruistic nature of American principles.

The call for separatism from the slogan “Black Power” would cause a consolidation of resources. It would cause black people to pool their talent and money to create a separate economy. King talked at length on cooperative economics which most term Ujamaa currently. The SCLC used the black-owned Tri-state bank to further economic goals in the black community.

The point of difference between King and Carmichael was the idea the Ujamaa would be enough to build economic stability in the black community. King supported many anti-poverty and wealth redistribution initiatives. The A. Philip Randolph Freedom Budget was explicitly mentioned in this book. Ultimately, black people could not build a strong economy alone. No ethnic group in America built an economy by separating.

The call to psychological manhood is essential to black liberation. No law or presidential decree will replace a deep unyielding sense of self-reliance. An intimate knowledge of black history will aid in building self-respect. Blacks would also need to start rejecting European standards of behavior and dress. King applauded the use of African aesthetic in clothing and culture. It is important for black people not to be ashamed of the part of their heritage that was different.

The disagreement came in the idea that blacks were or should be wholly African. King said that the natural state of an African-American made him partly African and partly American. Understanding himself from a dual perspective will be more advantageous than a singular. The dual perspective will also help black people feel at peace with the country they live and help build an integrated America.

In the end, the SCLC faction used the slogan “Freedom Now” and the CORE / SNCC faction used “Black Power”.

Ultimately, King supported a Gandhian, non-violent, multi-racial freedom movement. Nothing short would work. America is currently at a crossroads and there is no time for impracticality. Nihilistic separatism will only exacerbate the problem.

Joseph H Jackson (Pastor)

Accomplishments

  1. President of National Baptist Convention from 1953 – 1983
  2. Pastor churches in Mississippi, Nebraska,Pennsylvania,Illinois
  3. Represented Protestanism in the Second Vatacan
  4. Published six books from 1950 – 1980
  5. Member of fraternity Phi Beta Sigma

Joseph Harrison Jackson was born in Rudyard, MS in 1900. He worked as a farmhand in his youth while teaching himself to read and write. From his own efforts, he was able to attend Jackson College now Jackson State University. Later he earned a degree in Divinity and a Masters in Theology. He then began preaching all over the nation.

After pastoral appointments in Omaha and Philadelphia, he became pastor of Olivet Baptist Church on the Southside of Chicago in 1941. From this position at a very prestigious church, he was able to make his first bid for the presidency of the National Baptist Convention (NBC) in 1953.

Jackson is best known as an opponent of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the Baptist Church. In the beginning, their relationship is amicable. Jackson was often a house guest of King when he visited Atlanta. During the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955 Jackson not only supported the movement in word, but he also gave $2000. However, by 1960 Jackson had misgivings on the Nonviolent Direct Action aspect of the Civil Rights Movement.

By the 1960’s the Nonviolent Direct Action (NVDA) focused more on willing breaking the law. In 1961, Albany, GA campaign thousands of people went to jail, and Albany failed to desegregate. The job market already discriminated against Black people. All these people were adding to their hardship by accruing criminal records. Many questioned if NVDA was worth the risk.

In addition, to the practical aspect of the risk of the NVDA, there was concern that it was not moral and patriotic to knowingly break the law. The Bible implores Christians to respect the law of the land. Also, as Americans blacks should want to promote peace and tranquility in the country we live.

Jackson prescribed that in addition to legal action blacks concentrate on self-improvement and economic collectivism. Blacks should search for and exploit opportunities given to them now. Instead of sit-ins to integrate a lunch counter, Jackson would prescribe community funding our own restaurant. Booker T Washington also endorsed bootstrap patriotism, and Jackson was part of the Washington tradition.

The old strategy of fighting Jim Crow through the courts had brought some victories. Brown v Board did determine school segregation was unconstitutional. The decision did not require anyone to go to jail. The previous pace of ending Jim Crow was not fast, but blacks were marching forward.

Tensions came to a head when Jackson attempted to get a fifth term as president of the NBC. The original NBC charter forbade a president from seeking a fifth term. A group lead by Pastor Taylor opposed Jackson. King and his father were part of the Taylor group. The team lost a lawsuit levied against the Jackson in 1960. Tension came to a head again in the 1961 NBC convention in Kansas City. Supporters of the Taylor faction stormed the stage. A tussle broke out and pastor A.G. Wright fell hit his head and died. The Jackson faction blamed Taylor for the death. As a result, 2000 pastors left the NBC and created the Progressive National Baptist Convention (PNBC). King and Taylor joined the PNBC the next year.

After the separation, King and Jackson were still in conflict and tensions come to a head again during the Chicago Campaign of 1966. Jackson had become part of the Mayor Daley political machine by this time. So not only did he ideologically disagree with Dr. King, Jackson stood to lose standing with the Democratic party if he couldn’t stop King’s movement. Jackson went to work calling King an outside agitator and forbidding churches associated with NBC from having events for King. Jackson forbade any NBC members from going to King’s mass rally at Soldier Field. In the end, King was only able to achieve a partial victory in Chicago.

Upon King’s death in 1968, Chicago moved to have the road in front of Olivet Baptist Church named after Dr. King. Jackson changed the front address to a side entrance to ensure the address of the church would not have Dr. King’s name in it. The NBC continued to advocate for cooperation with the law and only trying to achieve equality through the courts.

Time magazine interviewed Jackson in April of 1970. In the interview, Jackson blames NVDA for leading the Civil Rights Movement down a path of treason. What started with civil disobedience has led to rebellion in the black community against the authority of the United States. Jackson’s steadfast patriotism and support of Nixon earned him “Patriot of the Year” from a right-wing organization.

Olivet Baptist Church erected a life-size statue in his honor in the 1980s. By 1983 Jackson was old and very ill, so he was not able to defend his position as president. Dr. T.J. Jemison took on the role and promised a new direction for the church. NBC embarked on voter registration drives, building black banks, and ordaining women. In 2001, the church removed the statue of Jackson because it was an engraven image.

Sources

  1. “The Albany Movement Campaign for Full Integration”Global Nonviolent Action Database https://nvdatabase.swarthmore.edu/content/albany-movement-campaigns-full-integration-georgia-fall-1961-summer-1962
  2. “A New Voice for the Baptist Church” by M. Hyer Washington Post http://www.washingtonpsot.com
  3. “Church Casts Aside Famed Pastor’s Statue” by r. Grossman Chicago Tribune http://www.chicagotribune.com
  4. “The Bible and the Ballot: Rev. Joseph Jackson and Black Conservatism in the Civil Rights Movement” by S. Lipson
  5. “Missions of Patriotism Joseph H. Jackson and Dr. Martin Luther King” by S. Hitchmough European Journal of American Studies
  6. “Joseph H. Jackson (1900-1990) The Black Past Remembered and Reclaimed http://www.blackpast.org
  7. 1964 National Baptist Convention address by J.H. Jackson
  8. “The Meaning of the Cross” Time Magazine April 4, 1970
  9. The Progressive Story, New Baptist Roots by W.D. Booth

Stride Toward Freedom: Philosophy

List of Influences

King’s most significant influence was Jesus Christ. The account of Christ’s love in the Bible provided a basis for operating in the world using sacrificial love. However, King was unsure at first how to translate these concepts realistically in the modern world. To find a method of practical application King began a journey into Christian and secular philosophy.

Early in King’s journey, he discovered the work of Friedrich Nietzsche. Neitzche’s belief in “will to power” was birth from his contempt for Judeo-Christian morals. King was also displeased with Neitzche’s belief that seeing piety and humility as a virtue was glorifying weakness. Ultimately, King saw little value in Neitzche or building his Übermensch.

Karl Marx’s philosophy challenged King by viewing history in materialistic terms not spiritual. Marx also believed in ethical relativism. This purely secular worldview flew in the face of Christianity that King loved.

King commended Marx’s ability to question wealth disparity and create a plan to address the problem. However, King felt Marx’s view of Capitalism was outdated for modern times. Because Marx undervalues the importance of the individual, he turns him into a cog in the wheel of the state. Despite the idea the state would dissolve once a classless society is established the intermediate cost is too high. Immoral means will not justify moral ends. King’s view on communism can be best summed up by the following quote:

Historically capitalism failed to see the truth in collective enterprise and Marxism failed to see the truth in individual enterprise. The Kingdom of G-d [is] a synthesis which reconciles the truth of both

King was often dismayed by mainstream Christianity’s optimism in the inevitable progress of history. Reinhold Neihbur’s philosophy gave King an even more solidified defense against unrealistic optimism. Neihbur is best remembered for supporting interventionist war to stop the spread of Communism, which he saw as totalitarianism. He also believed there was no moral difference between violent and non-violent resistance. The only difference is the state would meet non-violent resistors with less violence. In addition, Neihbur believed, non-violent resistance would only work on an oppressor with a moral center and could never work to stop a totalitarian army.

The problem with Neihbur’s philosophy was it often confused non-violent resistance with acquiescence. This confusion caused Neihbur to focus on militant solutions. King never lost faith in the good of man even though Neihbur highlights the evil. Ultimately, King saw Neihbur as over-focused on sin and not redemptive grace.

The first example of realistic non-violent resistance King read was Henry David Thereau’s Civil Disobedence. In the book, Thoreau makes the case that the people should go on a tax strike to stop the immoral Mexican American War. King saw the tax strike as a non-violent method to promote social change.

However, Gandhi was the example of non-violence par-excellence. Dr. Mordecai Johnson of Howard University first introduced King to Gandhi’s work. Satyagraha was Gandhi’s term for non-violent direct action, and the name loosely translates into ”Love Force.” Through protest such as The Salt March, Gandhi showed Christ’s principle of turning the other cheek could be used to effect social change on a national scale. The following quote summarized King’s feelings on Gandhi:

Gandhi was probably the first person in history to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force on a large scale.

What is Non-Violent Direct Action (NVDA)?

The goal of non-violent direct action (NVDA) is to create tension in society that facilitates justice. If a large enough segment of the population, disobeys unjust laws then they are no longer enforceable. Clogging the jails with protesters and the jails with activists also grab the attention of the greater society once the masses see the virtue of the protesters that will come around in support.

For Dr. King, NVDA was a way of life, not a tactic. The idea of it being a way of life means that it is a chief component of one’s spiritual journey. People should respond non-violently in interpersonal relationships as well as activism. It is not a tactic for those that do not have weapons or those afraid to fight. NVDA took just as much if not more bravery than armed resistance. Even if an avenue arose that made violence expedient to further the cause, King would not have accepted that option.

Another misconception about NVDA was the idea the goal was to move blacks ahead of whites. In reality, the goal was to build a new non-racial community. NVDA would win the friendship and understanding of white people. The participants would also develop and recognize their self-resilience and worth. The personal development achieved in NVDA would build stronger bonds in the black community. Waiters, doctors, garbage-men, and lawyers would participate in demonstrations as equals. King’s movement would destroy racial barriers and class barriers.

Practical Application

In the 1950s, as today there were many factions of the black liberation struggle. One wing Dr. King represents with a man named Vernon Johns, a fellow preacher in Montgomery. This more conservative faction believes in self-reliance and individual effort being the key drivers toward social advancement. The other was represented by E.D. Nixon a union activist in the same city. This branch is more liberal and focuses on collective action to force the government’s hand. These methods seem opposed at first, however, upon further investigation they are complimentary. A group of self-reliant individualist are best equipped to work collectively for the betterment of their people.

Some black people enjoyed relative comfort and financial success in spite of a system of segregation. Montgomery was home to the HBCU Alabama State University, so the city had a population of educated black people. Most of these people had stable work at high pay. However, they rarely would stand in protest for fear of losing their jobs. So the most talented black people rarely wanted to fight for equality.

The city of Montgomery did not educate the masses of black people. Segregation had not only halted their economic development but their personal growth. Fear and inferiority embedded themselves in the subconscious of black people. Black people did not understand the power they wield. Acceptance of the current system as it is had solidified in their minds.

The apathy of the educated black people in Montgomery spilled over to their preachers. Most preachers saw their role as entirely spiritual. They did not delve into politics partially because they saw it as not the church’s role and realized they would lose congregants.

However, behind the apathy and fear is a rage just boiling beneath the surface. This rage often spills out as riots. Most of the riots end the slaughter of countless black people involved in the riot and bystanders. Even if an individual lashes out in anger he is usually lynched. If this anger is not utilized constructively, the consequences could be dire.

Non-violent direct action became a force that could bring together black people of various philosophies because it centered around a behavior. Even though protesters would be attacked by dogs or shot with water hoses, it would be unlikely a non-violent protest would lead to the massacre of all of the black people in the city. The demonstration would serve as a way to channel anger into a constructive effort while building self-esteem. Finally, many whites would see the protest as noble and support change. Non-violent direct action is the only method that would solve all of these goals.

Where Do We Go From Here? : America Now and Later

What is the Political Plan?

America in the late 1960s was a land of much racial progress and stagnation. On the one hand, you had Brown V Board making school segregation illegal. On the other, you only had 90% of schools in segregation over a decade later. Most white people cheered the end of racial segregation in interstate travel. Those same white people would object to their child marrying a black person. Voting rights act of 1965 ushered in new hope and opportunity. At the same time the lack of hope an opportunity lead to the Watts Riots the same year.

The Watts Riots were especially perplexing. The Voting Rights Act 1965 which most people thought was the goal of the Civil Rights Movement had just been passed. It was perplexing to most whites why there was so much unrest in the black community at this point.

King assures us the riot was not the result of the Civil Rights Movement. It was the culmination of years of frustration and stagnation that people in the urban ghettos faced. The establishment of a serious, long-term, comprehensive anti-poverty program will prevent further unrest. This program would need to be nationwide.

The Civil Rights Movement had reached a turning point. The first phase ended with the signage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. The first phase was implemented to win black people a basic level of dignity. Now the Civil Rights Act must focus on bringing forth equality. By equality, King meant an improvement of the material condition of blacks relative to whites.

By moving from decency to equality, King knew he would lose some white allies many of whom wanted to make the racial wealth gap less visible not close it. Many of these white allies thought blacks were asking for too much or a true anti-poverty program would bankrupt the country. King uses data from the Office of Economic Opportunity to show the country can comfortably afford a comprehensive anti-poverty program. Also, increasing the standard of living and wages of black Americans helps the entire country. As a practical example, King shows the salaries of whites in the South is depressed because black labor is kept at poverty wages.

The future of the Civil Rights Movement will be a coalition of poor people from all races, ethnicities, religions, and regions of the country. The fate of all ethnic groups in the country are intertwined and unless we act as a unit nothing will be accomplished. As a unit, a comprehensive anti-poverty plan can be pushed forward in Congress.

Politics to advance humanity did not stop on Americas shores. King advocated for foreign aid and opposed military intervention. America and Western Europe were bastions of revolution. Now those same powers oppose independence in the third world. The West must take their mantle as leaders in freedom.

What is the plan to build brotherhood?

King understood policy alone will not solve the race problem. Blacks and Whites had to see their fate as intertwined. Both races had to embark on a re-education program on race to build understanding. Black people had already begun this process, yet whites lag behind. It is a symbol of their sense of superiority that they feel they have so little to learn.

The book gives a brief history of how the concept of race was born as a justification for slavery. Institutions of religion, education, and government were co-opted into the white supremacist framework. Slavery made America split in its intentions. On the one hand, it was home to liberty and democracy. One the other it perpetuated a racial hierarchy for economic gain.

America has always had a considerable contention of people against racial equality. The Civil Rights Movement did not awaken or embolden the racist that were already here. Racism was endemic in both conservatives and liberals.

The conservative racism expresses itself in outright violence toward black people in the form of lynchings and church bombings. It also expresses itself in obstruction of laws meant to aid black people.

Liberal racism is expressed by those that are more interested in keeping the peace than expanding equality. Racist liberals hide their obstruction in wanting to avoid undue tension. King reminds us that all tension is not bad. Some tension is needed to expose the evils of segregation and inequality.

Many critics of the Civil Rights Movement argued the advancement of black people brought on a white backlash. King was clear in rebutting that racism has always existed in America. Securing the rights of black people is the best way to combat racism. King gives examples of how the failure to enforce anti-segregation law has embolden racists and their organizations.

What can white allies do?

The Civil Rights Movement was not only meant to change America; it was intended to alter black America. For too long, black people lost faith in themselves as agents of change in their own life. Many accepted that they were inferior to whites. The Civil Rights Movement was also about letting black people see they can change the government and build a sense of self-pride.

A few years before the book was published the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) an organization that aided King in many protests, kicked all the whites out of their organization. The reason was whites often took leadership roles because they had more education and experience. Blacks could never develop leadership skill if this continued so the leaders of SNCC kicked the white people out.

King vehemently disagreed with removing whites from Civil Rights organizations wholesale. It would be a travesty to all the whites that had died in the movement up to this point. However, he did agree that blacks need to hold leadership positions in their organizations. If not blacks will view the movement as whites coming to save them. King implored whites to leave leadership in these organizations to black people. Black people need the psychological boost as well as the practical leadership skills. These leadership skills could be applied to business or politics in the future.

Why We Can’t Wait: History

The book details the Birmingham Civil Rights Movement (CRM) of 1963. Birmingham was considered the most segregated city in the United States of America. Nine years after Brown v. Board only nine percent of the black children went to integrated schools. Steady growth in the economy did not affect black life as blacks had two times the unemployment of whites. To add to unemployment troubles automation and discrimination in the construction industry added to unemployment.

The CRM had gotten off to an auspicious start with the 1958 Montgomery Bus Boycott. The 1962 campaign in Albany, GA was far less successful in spite of the fact five percent of the black population was willing to be jailed for freedom. Many were looking on the CRM as a flash in the pan that was soon to fizzle out.

In 1962 virulent racist and segregationist Eugene “Bull” Connor was the City Commissioner of public safety. He saw his job as maintaining the status quo and quelling protests. George Wallace, governor of Alabama, supported Connor’s stance. To aid these men in their mission in “state’s rights,” the Alabama legislature created a law that said no foreign corporation could operate in Alabama. Therefore the NAACP, SCLC, SNCC could not have a formal presence in Alabama.

To combat the political climate, Fred Shuttlesworth created the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACHR). The ACHR had many successful boycotts. The white citizens’ mob responded by bombing his house. However, with perseverance, the ACHR was able to become an affiliate with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference headed by Dr. King.

The SCLC began planning to aid Birmingham in the summer of 1962. The now-famous Gatson Motel was the site of the initial planning meetings. The SCLC would lead a protest to integrate shopping centers in Birmingham. The national convention of the SCLC would be held in Birmingham to show solidarity. Also, a boycott would follow in the spring of 1963 culminating Easter weekend. The first mobilization of protests would happen the first week of March. Protests would slowly build to a massive demonstration April 14.

The 1962 SCLC convention had a profound effect. Once business owners realized the best Civil Rights leaders in the nation would all be in Birmingham they needed to pacify the ACHR. The ACHR and local business owners held negotiations to reduce the chance of mass protests during or immediately after the SCLC convention. The business owners remove Jim Crow signs while the SCLC was in town. However, once they left the owners reneged on the deal and put the signs back up. The momentary capitulation of the business owners shows how powerful the SCLC was in the early 1960’s.

Unfortunately, the political climate would not allow for the first execution of this plan. A mayoral election was early March that included Bull Connor. If a protest happened during the mayoral election, Connor would be emboldened, and the white citizens in Birmingham would gravitate toward him. The mayoral election went into a run-off, so the protests were postponed even later. Bull Connor officially lost April 3 protest began two weeks later.

Connor and his supporters had not given up. They filed an injunction to leave the current City Commissioners in office until 1965. Another injunction was filed to stop all protesting by the ACHR until their right to protest had been litigated in court. The injunction to stop all protest guaranteed protesters could be arrested even if the protest was peaceful.

The fact that all the protesters would be arrested after April 10 but Dr. King at a crossroads. If he were to participate in the protest and be arrested there would be no one well connected enough to raise bail for the rest of the protesters. The SCLC was low on funds because of the protests that happened earlier in the month. The SCLC and ACHR debate if Dr. King going to jail will benefit the movement. In the end, Dr. King made the decision to go to jail. Ralph Abernathy, Dr. King’s aide and friend, accompanied him to jail. It will be in the Birmingham jail he writes his famous letter.

Dr.King and Ralph Abernathy stayed in jail for eight days before being bonded out. They left to organize a new wave of protest in which children would be the main participants. Many criticized using kids as reckless. However, these same kids suffer the humiliation of segregation every day. Having them confront the violence head-on is not a far stretch.

As jails filled up, the City Commissioners has few options, but violence. The police used their infamous hoses and dogs. Their efforts were supplement by domestic terrorist using bombs. Kennedy had to bring in federal troops to restore peace.

Ultimately a coalition of citizen and business owners had to be formed for negotiations. The protesters demanded:

  1. Desegregation of private business
  2. Non-discriminatory hiring in business and industry. Black clerks and salesman had to be hired within 60 days
  3. Dropping all charges on all jailed protester
  4. Creation of a biracial committee to work our timetable for further desegregation

The coalition finally came agreed, and the protests ended. A few days later the Alabama Supreme Court forced the City Commissioners to leave office and let the officials elected in April take office. May 23, 1963, a new City Commission took office.

Relationship with Presidents

Eisenhower proved to King he was personally invested in advancing Civil Rights through many meetings. However, Eisenhower has a hard time communicating his passion to the public. Also, his rigid conservatism only allowed for small incremental change. Dr. King did not see a way to defeat Jim Crow without sweeping change to the power structure.

In the 1960 election, King did not endorse John Kennedy. King admits he liked many aspects of Kennedy’s platform and was grateful for his help in King’s release from jail earlier that year. However, King felt Kennedy was an untested politician. The Civil Rights Movement was fledging, and if Kennedy reneged on his platform, the movement could have ended.

Dr. King described a strained relationship with John Kennedy. Kenndy did run on a pro-CRM platform but abandoned the movement in 1961 and 1962 due to his small margin of victory. In 1963, JFK saw that public opinion shifted and began to support Civil Rights again.

Dr. King said he would have supported JFK in 1964 had he lived. Not because King felt Kennedy had fundamentally changed, but the Civil Rights movement was fundamentally stronger. If Kennedy were to abandon Civil Rights again, the movement would survive.

Lyndon Johnson had an intense involvement in Civil Rights intellectually and emotionally. LBJ rekindled King’s faith in the ability of white southerners to change. King attributes LBJ for inspiring him to write an article for “The Nation” magazine on changing attitudes in the South.

Why We Can’t Wait: Philosophy

Dr. King is careful to point out that the current Civil Rights Movement (CRM) is just part of a struggle of freedom happening all over the world throughout all of history. The revolutions in Africa and Asia that created new independent governments was an extension of the same struggle. Ultimately, oppressed people all over the world were beginning to stand up for themselves and fight back against tyranny.

Within the confines of American history, the Civil Rights Movement is the third revolution. The first and second are the American Revolution and the Civil war respectively. Oppressed people in all walks of life have fought for freedom. The black people are no different, and their struggle has been continual.

Many outsiders to the Civil Rights Movement see it as a sudden happening caused by outside agitators. Their evidence is that the black people they knew did not complain about their plight. Dr. King reminds these people that blacks are heavily penalized for talking about their experience. Also, most blacks would assume whites would not care about what they go through.

The method employed by the Dr. King led branch of the CRM was non-violent direct action (NVDA). In NVDA, members would purposely violate the law in such large numbers the jails would fill. Once the jail filled the unjust law would become unenforceable. Also, the oppressor would have to use his violence in public on a large scale. His use of force would show he was unjust to the greater society and increase support for the movement in the general public.

It is important to remember, Dr. King did not see his movement as a replacement for efforts within the courts and government. It was essential to have people sympathetic to the CRM in places of power. It was also essential to support NAACP efforts to fight discrimination in court. To obtain freedom, all three methods had to be deployed.

Dr. King defines freedom as social, political, and economic redress. From a social and political aspect, the rest of America would begin to respect black people because they won their freedom in the face of the most powerful government in the world. The victory would be due to African American’s ability to strategize and have restraint in the face of violence. The victory would disprove the stereotypes and allow African Americans to move through society in a more free manner.

Economic equity would come with black people obtaining positions of power due to the collective effort. These positions of power will not be tokenism, which Dr. King deplores. He defines tokenism as letting a few blacks have power to pacify the masses and slow the CRM. Dr. King supported efforts to give black people economic stability on a mass scale through set-asides. He mentions efforts in India to support Dalits. India had a reservation system that allowed for Dalits to get preferential treatment in hiring and college admittance. So from this book, it is safe to assume he would have supported Affirmative Action.

The principle tool blacks had in their arsenal was the strong faith of black people. Black America had one of the most active religious traditions in the country. The negro spiritual was the hallmark of this tradition. Dr. King was chiefly relying on a supernatural strength to propel blacks to freedom.

The organization Dr. King headed, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference was centered around ten points.

  1. Meditate daily on the teachings and life of Jesus
  2. Remember always that the nonviolent movement seeks justice and reconciliation, not victory
  3. Walk and Talk in the manner of love for God is love
  4. Pray daily to be used by God in order that all men might be free
  5. Sacrifice personal wishes in order that all men might be free
  6. Observe with both friend and foe the ordinary rules of courtesy
  7. Seek to perform regular service for others and for the world
  8. Refrain from the violence of fist, tongue, or heart
  9. Strive to be in food spiritual and bodily health
  10. Follow the directions of the movement and the captain of demonstration

Once the foundations of the organization were set the goal is to have many enthusiastic members that were also committed to non-violence. Meetings would include great speakers, the ability for members to explain how they have been personally harmed by Jim Crow, and singing. The singing was very important as Dr. King believed these songs held almost supernatural powers in bolstering faith.

To achieve egalitarianism in the country, the CRM had to be egalitarian itself. Within the movement, a doctor would be looked at the same as a janitor. A senator the same as a garbage worker. Leadership roles and rank would be limited. Instead, members would be encouraged to participate. By standing off to the power structure directly, they would build self-esteem. This self-esteem would supplement the supernatural forces behind their back.

The CRM had an uphill fight with obstacles placed by more than just racist Southern whites. Many black leaders felt that SCLC protest was too radical and could cause more backlash than good. Also, many whites even in the South disagreed with Jim Crow but were afraid to speak up. Apathy and fear in the general public were obstacles worse than overt racism.

Expressed in Letter from a Birmingham jail is the need for people to not stay on the sidelines. The struggle had reached a point were active participation was needed by all supporters. Minor differences in preferred tactics or philosophy can’t keep someone from full support. The 1960’s was not the time for conciliation. It was time to fight.

The methodology for the SCLC was:

  1. Gather information to determine if discrimination was happening
  2. Negotiated with those in power
  3. Self- purification to grow in the faith and resilience for a prolonged fight
  4. Direct action to create tension to force those in power to the negotiation table

It is important to remember King’s goal was negotiation from a place of power. The South as it was in the 1960’s was not willing to negotiate with black people. NVDA would be a mechanism for pressure

Many critics asked how Dr. King could condone breaking the law from an ethical standpoint. King reminds us of the goal of law and order was to establish justice. So injustice laws should not be obeyed. He also makes a distinction between unjust laws by nature such as segregation and unjust laws in practice such as parading without a permit. There is nothing naturally wrong with requiring a permit for parade, unless the permits are specifically held from Civil Rights protesters.

Black people were justified in using extreme methods to achieve freedom. Freedom is his God-given right and should be granted upon birth. Those outside the movement who say black should wait for a more convenient time put their own comfort above other’s self- determination. Also, time is neutral and its passage will not aid or hurt the movement in an of itself. It is the job of those in the movement to make the best use of time. Ultimately, tame time to their advantage.

Alternative Methods for Freedom

Dr. King did briefly discuss alternative methods to freedom done by famous black leaders.

Booker T. Washington taught black people to let down their buckets where they were. Ultimately don’t fight for change just get the best-skilled labor jobs offered now and save as much money as possible. Ultimately, this strategy is not resistance at all.

W.E.B DuBois supported the concept of the talented tenth. The idea was that if the most talented ten percent of blacks took it upon themselves to uplift the race the rest of black society could become stable. The idea of the ten percent leading the race would create a black aristocracy that may not behave any better than their white counterpart.

Marcus Garvey believed that any attempt at integration was doomed. The only hope was to relocate black America to Africa and build an independent nation. However, most black people had been rooted in America for hundreds of years and had few resources for relocation.

The recent phenomenon of the Nation of Islam (NOI) had a similar strategy as Garvey. Instead of relocating to Africa, blacks would build a separate nation in America. Most of the members were disillusioned by the lack of militancy in the CRM. The NOI was still small and few outside of large cities knew about it. The movement was fueled by resentment that would grow and become a danger to all Americans unless America embraces Civil Rights.

The final plan that was not necessary headed by any one leader called for poor blacks and whites to unite over their shared poverty. Efforts to advance this movement were always thwarted by the fact whites did not want to give up the privilege, assumed or real, of being white.

Dr. King and Malcolm X Agree on Kennedy’s Death

As a product of historical revisionism, the public has begun to see Dr. King and Malcolm X as polar opposites. Dr. King is seen as a capitulate and begging white people for acceptance. Malcolm X is seen as someone staunchly focused on self-determination and separation. In reality, their philosophies are closely linked. One example of that was their views on the death of John F Kennedy.

Dr. King said in the book Why We Can’t Wait the following on Kennedy’s death:

The unforgivable default of our society has been its failure to apprehend the assassins (of murdered Civil Rights leaders). It is a harsh judgment, but undeniably true, that the cause of the indifference was the identity of the victims. Nearly all were Negroes. And so the plague spread until it claimed the most eminent American, a warmly loved and respected president.

These words show that King understood Kennedy as a victim of racialized violence, that Kennedy had a hand in helping spread. Some of the Civil Rights leaders King’s mentions as being killed were killed during Kennedy’s presidency. So King is saying that America’s history of racialized violence killed Kennedy.

The infamous “Chickens Coming Home to Roost” quote was given after Malcom X complete a speech in December of 1963. A reporter asked how he felt about Kennedy’s death. In response he said the following:

Being an old farm boy myself, chickens coming home to roost never made me sad; they only made me glad.

The Nation of Islam silenced him for 90 days for this remark. Once the period of silence was over Malcolm X explained to reporters what he meant. He told the reporter he saw the assassination as the result of racialized violence that had been prominent in America since its founding. The same thing Dr. King said.

So King and Malcolm X differed in oratory style, not philosophy. Their philosophy is strikingly similar once one reads both men.

While on the subject of the “chickens come home to roost” quote. It was given after a speech called God’s Judgement of White America. The lecture explains his stance on separation.

Many internet commentators have misrepresented what Malcolm X meant by separation. The commentators say Malcolm X wanted black people to separate without getting their share of wealth from the America they helped to build. The reader can find a link to the full speech below.

Malcolm X wanted blacks to confront the power structure to obtain their share of the wealth America had accumulated on our labor. The wealth could be used to go back to Africa or build an independent nation in America.

To not petition America for our fair share wealth is not militant or radical. It is a capitulation. So again King and X both believed in reparations. The difference is the method of compensation. X wanted to build a separate nation. King wanted to make a welfare state in America that included other races.

Chickens Come Home Speech

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