by Darryl “Waistline” Mitchell
Never have so few done so much harm to so many as the current Bush Jr. administration. As the military budget tops $400 billion dollars a year, what would Malcolm’s message to the grass roots say today? The Malcolm we knew would probably point out that one fourth of the military budget - $100 Billion, a year could end hundred and poverty on earth and fix a heck of a lot of potholes. Another $100 Billion a year could turn the hell on earth the Bush Jr. administration is creating into a paradise, with enough change left over to solve the crisis in our schools, most of the health care problems and end "bad hair days" for most people on earth.
The Malcolm we knew would without question speak of the social position of the African American people and the reason we remain at the bottom of the social ladder and working class in America. Where do we come from and where are we going?
Dan Watts, Rev. Albert B. Cleage, Jr., Pastor Wilfred X, and Malcolm X.
First as slaves and then as second-class citizens within the working class, segregation and discrimination has been the most striking feature of the history of the African American people. The heavy violent hand of segregation and color discrimination made life unbearable behind the "Cotton Curtain" and the police controlled industrial areas of the North. The focus of the "Freedom Movement" has always been for freedom: against murder, violence and terror, and to live as equal members in American society.
Freedom really means freedom. Having a government of the people that protects the economic and social well being of all its citizens, is important for each generation. Without freedom to live without violence and terror, or to have no money and adequate social services compels one to live in crime-infested neighborhoods that become dumping grounds for criminals in high and low places.
What was it that made Malcolm X the man he was in November 1963? What economic, social and political environment was Malcolm confronting that captured the desires and imagination of the masses? Why was Malcolm a beacon of light for millions? What voices from the "grass roots" - the streets, did Malcolm hear that made him deliver his "Message To The Grass Roots" - right here in Detroit, 40 years ago?
Nineteen sixty-three was a turning point in the battle for freedom in America. The slogan was "Free by 63," when Malcolm made his speech at King Solomon Church. "Free by 63," was the one-hundredth anniversary of the drafting of the Emancipation Proclamation. There had been an unbroken wave of systematic murder, violence and terror against the African American since the Civil War shattered the chains of slavery. During the past ten years of our lives - 1990-2000, much of this history has been made public in movies like Rosewood, Four Little Girls and the information highway called the Internet. What was the flavor going into the 1960s?
When the "Second Imperial World War" ended in 1944 thousands of black soldiers reentered American society unwilling to accept exclusion from those things in society that make life worth living and unable to accept the violence and terror without militant struggle and fight back, including armed resistance to thugs and mob rule. No government on earth can teach men to kill and then expect them not to kill to defend themselves and loved ones. Black people - working class, sharecroppers, small farmers, teachers, storeowners, the bourgeois-like middle class, doctors, and even wealthy real bourgeois blacks were extremely angry and had been angry for a long time.
There are many ways of looking at why the so-called Civil Rights Movement erupted in the years following the Second Imperial World War. Every point of view is important but certain events happened - that must be admitted and understood. When black and whites began migrating from the agricultural areas of the Deep South, to the cities of the South and to the industrial areas of the North, things began changing. It is one thing to terrorize a mass of people scattered in the countryside living wide distances from one another and another thing terrorizing people concentrated in their thousands into modern cities. "Government on Horseback" cannot stand in a large industrial city because someone will hit you with their car or shoot at you from an alley. Plus, millions of people concentrated in an industrial area need political representation to get streetlights, the roads paved, the water system in and basic human needs have to be met. This leads to a common framework of thinking.
The mechanization of agriculture - bringing modern industrial production to the countryside, eliminated the need for a mass of labor in agriculture was the hidden hand behind the mass migration to the Southern cities and North. This dramatically affected southern black and white folks because there were 11 million sharecroppers being driven off the land by modern industry, of which 5 million were black. In the Deep South - the old plantation areas - behind the Cotton Curtain, and the small cities were Klan controlled. In the industrial jungles of the North the Klan was organized as the police department, backed up by a court system that practiced the ancient law of the land - "a black had no rights that a white man was bound to respect."
America is a big country and the Freedom Movement - called the Civil Rights Movement by the newspapers and media, had gripped the country. The center of action shifted to Birmingham Alabama in 1963 - the state that Mayor Coleman Young Jr. came from; Eddie Kendrick and also Paul Williams of the original Temptations. Like old Pharaoh, who would not "let my people go," Birmingham was destined to enter the history books. Birmingham Alabama became the turning point in the struggle and one of the major reasons was that Birmingham was home of the Southern steel industry. The industrial concentration of thousands of black laborers could not but give them a new feeling of their collective strength. When thousands of people are put together they feel their strength and start asking the same questions. The heavy hand of terror and violence, could not suppress the hundred-year tear - battle, being waged behind the "Cotton Curtain."
The battle for Birmingham was ultra intense. With few exceptions, never in history has ten to twelve percent of a population waged an unrelenting struggle against violence and terror from one generation to the next. It is this generations "Freedom Struggle" - common identity, which helped mode the African American people into a people. Millions of people across the country called it "Booming-ham," because eighteen public bombings had taken place over the past six years.
The bombing of black churches and the murder of our four little girls became a turning point in American history and bring tears to ones eyes 40 years after the fact. Birmingham would be the catalyst - not the cause, for violent uprisings - riots, around the country. "Booming-ham" was the continuation of the struggle, which broke out December 4, 1955 in Montgomery Alabama - the bus boycott associated with the name Rosa Parks. The militant bravery, ingenuity and steadfastness of the African American people in Montgomery shall live forever.
In January of 1963, Martin Luther King announced that SCLC was going to Birmingham to integrate public facilities and department stores. King was based in Montgomery Alabama. The Birmingham "establishment" was not about to welcome him nor his supporters with open arms. George Wallace had just recently been elected as governor of the state and was not about to give an inch to these protesters. Beneath all the race hate and theories of white superiority is one basic proposition: the idea and desire for someone to work for a master and make them rich, while the person on the bottom of the ladder remains in poverty.
All the organizers understood that Birmingham would be a "hard nut to crack." The Klan in Birmingham was believe to be one of the most violent in the entire country - excluding Mississippi, but they acted as if they were from Mississippi. Once we get a sense of the economics of oppression and slavery it becomes pretty obvious why Mississippi was generous in melting out the blade, boot and the bullet to the black - cash money in the form of King Cotton.
In discussing history, one has to use some common sense. No man or women is taken from the womb of their mother hating another man or women. Basically, "haters" are created. Nine out of ten times hate involves money, privilege and compelling someone to labor for the "other man." In Birmingham the Klan and others were the guardians of dozens of bombings throughout the area and had the support of the Birmingham police department, led by Eugene "Bull" Connor. Before the bombing of those four innocent little girls the other bombings of public institutions got very little national attention.
Local activist and lawyer Milton Henry with Malcolm X in Detroit. Source: http://farm1.staticflickr.com/96/243571823_be46e231ba.jpg
Resistance to change - any change, is always with people who have become accustomed to doing things the "old way" and those whose economic interest want things to stay the same way so they can keep making money. The wall of segregation hides the economics of slavery, oppression, violence and abuse. In 1963 "nigger this and nigger that," was horribly real and Malcolm X was a man that lived "the real."
Martin L. King Jr. had picked up some organizing lessons during the December, 1961 march in Albany, Georgia. King went to Albany to give a speech and had no plans to march or protest. The demand to march and protest come from the grass roots because they catch all the hell as the saying goes. The day after his speech, he ended up in jail with 250 other protesters. Then the plan was to fill the jails to the brim until they desegregated the entire city. In total more than 700 were arrested. Information from the Internet helps to fill in the picture.
Sheriff Laurie Pritchett had already negotiated with area police departments to give them assistance. When the arrests began, most of the protesters were taken to jails outside the city. Thus, there was still plenty of room for more prisoners. Albany had been a disaster. Local officials negotiated with King and other leaders and indicated that they would begin to desegregate the city. As soon as King and the reporters left, city official resorted to their same policies of segregation. In Birmingham, King and Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth had specific objectives--desegregate public facilities and department stores.
During the Albany march, the police did their best to hide police brutality. In Birmingham, the violence perpetrated by law enforcers was hard-core, and they were "dogging" kids eight and nine years old. Prior to the start of the march, King and Shuttlesworth were arrested for violating an order not to march. While in prison, he wrote his famous response to eight White area clergymen who had called the march untimely and unwise. The liberal establishment also criticized King for "breaking the law." King responded to the clergyman indicating that Black Americans have waited 340 years for basic rights given to all by God.
On April 20, King and Shuttlesworth were released from prison, and the marchers were ready to begin. James Bevel was the primary organizer for SCLC. He orchestrated a plan to use high school children to initiate the march. The plan was to use 13 to 18 year old kids to fill up the city's prisons. With the media there, this would surely embarrass and disgrace city officials. On May 2, the march began. Less than a block away, Bull Connor was waiting for them. As soon as they turned the corner, he ordered the arrest of all of the students. Over nine hundred children were jailed ranging from the age of 6 to 18. Connor was furious and many of his officers were embarrassed, disgraced and shown to be morally bankrupt and degenerate human beings to millions of people.
The following day, Connor called out the water cannons and the dogs. As marchers came parading down the streets, the police attacked. First came the water cannons, then the Billy clubs, and lastly the dogs. America watched in horror as school age children were being savagely beaten. The whole nation was outraged. The following day, things were different. As the marchers came down the street, Conner again ordered his men to attack. Instead, some firemen refused to turn on the hoses and many of the police would not participate in the arrests. Several hundred protesters were still arrested that day.
On the fourth day, a truce was called. City official were embarrassed by the negative publicity. Area merchants met with Black leaders and indicated that they would not negotiate unless they called off the march. King then spoke with Shuttlesworth, who was in the hospital after being injured by the water cannons. King wanted to call the march off. However, Shuttlesworth said no. Shuttlesworth told King that he could call it off if he wanted to, but his name would be called "Mud", instead of Dr. King. Martin was growing weary of the violence that was being inflicted on the marchers. Surely they were getting good press, but this was absurd. After Albany, however, they could not afford to fail again. In the end, they decided that they would continue the march. While near financial ruin, local merchants decided to negotiate in good faith. They agreed that rest rooms, lunch counters, fitting rooms, and drinking fountains would be desegregated within ninety days. The "grassroots" wanted more than sitting next to whites on the toilet. They wanted an end to the murder, violence and terror and the things called "freedom."
When word came of a negotiated settlement, the Klan and White Citizens Council went berserk. They rioted in the city and fire bombed several Black churches, businesses, and homes. King's brother's home and the SCLC headquarters were among the buildings destroyed. This reactionary wave of violence was being reproduced in various parts of the country depending on the concentrations of blacks, whether it was an agricultural or industrial area and what kind of organizations existed in a particular area. The heavy unionized areas had their share of violence but it was noticeably less than in the non-union areas, even though the unions excluded blacks from democratic elections, using "a bag of dirty tricks."
Despite the violence, SCLC declared victory and was preparing to move on. Well, you know what happened. Governor Wallace's state troopers poured into the area. Many of the protesters were staying at the black owned Gaston Motel. The motel was firebombed. As the occupants fled the building, state troopers, led by Colonel Al Lingo, ordered his men to attack. Several of the protesters were seriously injured. Caught in a no win situation, strategically reduced to no options, having ones back to the wall, a desperate fight-back - not unlike the Palestinians, began.
What does a human being do when they are standing in the sand on a beach with their back to the ocean and some fool it trying to force you into the deep waters? And you can't swim? If we must die let it not be like hogs waiting to be slaughtered by fascist - Hitler like butchers. Bricks and bottles were thrown at the troopers and area Blacks tossed their remaining poker chips into the pot and played their last hand - the riots began.
When it was all over, forty people had been injured and seven stores were destroyed by fire. Birmingham 1963 established what would become a new level of struggle that would later be taken "over the top" in the 1965-Watts Rebellion. The reason Watts "went over the top" is because the local black leader advocating laying in front of cars and non-violent protest in the face of bullets was shot by someone in the large audience of blacks. Watts was "off the hook," but it took place in 1965 and we do not want to get ahead of ourselves because 1963 was a monster and this knowledge was in Malcolm's head when be delivered his "Message to the Grass Roots." Nevertheless, Birmingham established what would go down in history as "the long hot summer." Before Birmingham the revolt and resistance of blacks - and there were countless riots and uprisings - was called the "Red Summer." If you fought against being killed and for what is "right" in America you are branded a communist or "Red." Hell, the "red" was all of the blood that had been spilled on the land trying to live first as slaves, then freemen and finally as industrial workers.
Small victories were being won throughout the South that could be measured in blood. The violence against the marchers and organizers continued. Reminiscent of the end of Reconstruction - the 1890s, the Klan, the White Citizens' Council, and other White supremacist groups step forward as the hangmen of democracy and the American version of Adolph Hitler's Nazi's. A broad section of America was outraged.
Volunteers from throughout the North were streaming South to assist in the effort. Many of them were "beat down" - severely beaten. Three students, Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner were murdered in Mississippi. Mississippi NAACP leader Medgar Evers was also murdered in front of his house. It took nearly thirty years to convict his killer. Blacks were outraged, - some arming themselves and others wondering if the struggle was worth the effort. Like most Presidents before John F. Kennedy, some Blacks felt that change must come slowly. Nina Simon would later sing in her record "Mississippi Goddamn" - "you keep saying go slow, but that's just the trouble."
How slow does a bullet travel? How long does it take that hangmen noose to snap the neck? How long does it take for the water from the fire hose to hit you, for the dog to get you, for the brick to miss you? Malcolm knew these things were taking place and that the Nation of Islam had a policy that prevented it from engaging in social struggle although their members were being jailed and murdered by the police. The Malcolm in 1963 Detroit was deeply troubled and very clear about the so-called Negro Leaders performing their 1960's "song and dance" act.
Many people - black and white, Mexican and Indian, did not like the tactics of the Civil Rights workers, in the face of increasing violence. (Some of the Civil Rights Workers did not like their tactics.) When the Civil Rights workers and National press corps left town, the average person on the street had to endure the hostility from organized reaction and the stares of the collaborators of American fascism. Another group of people just did not like the peaceful tactics of the Civil Rights workers and had no intentions of going to jail for defending themselves from terrorist and thugs. Many of the blacks North and South - especially those with military experience, and those who had live in the South during the 1940s and come to the North, had order their caskets and secretly swore to themselves to fight to the death.
Malcolm understood this when he gave his "Message to the Grass Roots" speech. Malcolm also understood that this feeling did not just happen in 1963 but had reached its peak in the nineteen hundred and sixty three year of "their lord."
Malcolm knew the story of Robert Williams and this was also in the back of his mind in the year 1963. The story of Robert Williams is instructive.
Robert F. Williams was a leading and respected member of the Monroe, North Carolina, of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and had obtained a charter for the group from the National Rifle Association. Mr. Williams - an ex-soldier, urged members to "arm themselves or harm themselves" as the saying would later go. In 1957 the Monroe NAACP and its supporters drove off a Ku Klux Klan motorcade at gunpoint thus preventing an attack on chapter President Albert Perry. In 1961 after an effort was launched to integrate the community swimming pool (the city council said it couldn't afford to let blacks use it as it would have to drain and refill it each time before letting whites use it again!) Klansmen from surrounding counties descended on Monroe and targeted Williams. In the course of this situation Williams had drawn his weapon on police officers and a mob - saving his life, and later he saved the lives of a known Klansman and his wife. After he fled Monroe before the mob could get him, Williams was accused of kidnapping the couple and inciting violence. He was put on the FBI's "Most Wanted" list.
Somewhere Malcolm said that Robert Williams "was ahead of his time," and "Brother Rob," as he was called in Detroit, was like thousands upon thousands of black soldiers - scattered across the face of America, who had no intentions of submitting to tyranny. Armed self defense groups had sprung up throughout America in isolated black communities because there was no choice.
In the cities of the industrial North, police and mob violence - centered around white ex-soldiers who tended to be from the South, terrorized entire communities of blacks. What became know as the Ronald Stokes Murder in 1962 shook the nation in a manner similar to the Rodney King Incident - thirty years later. Again it was the Los Angeles Police Department. .
On April 27, 1962 Ronald Stokes, who was the twenty-eight year old secretary of Mosque Number 27, in Los Angeles was murdered by the LAPD for "less than nothing." Ronald was returning from the cleaners with his wife and stopped by the police and told he could not sell clothes without a license. Ronald explained that he was not selling clothes but on his way from the cleaners. Fearing violence, Stokes told his wife to return to the Mosque, which she did. An argument ensued and Stokes was shot in the head.
When the brothers in the Mosque heard the gunshot they rushed outside. Once outside an armed special unit of the police department that "just so happened to be in the area" fired on the brothers. At least six unarmed Muslims were shot and a dozen injured. While lying on the ground the police systematically kicked the brothers. One of the brothers was kicked so hard in the mouth that his lower dental bridge was broken in half. The Muslims were unarmed but one police was shot in the arm by another and six more wounded.
Afterwards the cops went into the Mosque with guns drawn and demand everyone line up and start tearing people clothes off and beating them. People were arrested in mass - for no reason, and denied medical treatment for two days. This rampant violence repeated itself across the country towards the Nation of Islam, which to this very day has a national reputation for not engaging in political activity or "bothering anyone." Stokes murder was called "justifiable homicide."
The violence - directed by the government at the worse and protected by the government at the least, was carried out by police agencies and militant thugs and had been escalated in the past month, in retaliation for black pastors registering blacks to vote. Five of their churches had been bombed in Alabama and Louisiana and the home of Dr. Cuthbert Simpkins, a prominent black dentist and member of Kings SCLC in Shreveport, Louisiana was bombed in an assassination attempt. The wave of violence and reaction to blacks desiring no more than to be able to vote and live with dignity reached a feverish pitch. The Honorable Elijah Muhammad, who generally minded his own business, wrote one of his harshest statements on May 12, 1962, writing in the column for the New Crusader. He wrote:
"There is no justice for us black people. There is no future for us nor our children in 'civilized' America. This country's police force, using the tactics of brute savages, have behind them the government to kill us - judging from the governments silence. I have hundreds of followers now in jails, state and federal penitentiaries, for no other reason than they are Muslims. Therefore it is useless to appeal for justice to the state prosecutors of the U.S.A., since no justice will be given us from them!"
The late fifties and early sixties in our country involved overturning generations of tradition. Unlike today where there is a clear class separation within the black population, and the bourgeois middle class black and the real bourgeois blacks are able to economically escape the harshness of poverty, in 1962 the wave of violence was directed at the African American as a people. The class separation began accelerating after the 1967 Rebellion and Detroit and is pretty obvious today. Today, the police violence remains directed at the lowest section of working class, with the blacks being jailed as felons and denied the right to vote. The purpose of these jailing and violence is the same, to keep you out of the political arena to insured privileges and wealth to the upper crust of society.
For the majority of the black population in Detroit, the city was like a large prison camp where one was only allowed to go to work and school. Driving through the city of Dearborn to get to work was an act of courage and desperation. This was somewhat better than the agricultural South where lynching and outright murder was the law of the land.
The roots of the Detroit Riots lie in its history and "the pecking" order imposed on the black population. The city of Detroit was part of the Underground Railroad, the last stop before Canada. This led to a large amount of escaped slave settling in the city. The "pecking order" - what group of people get first pick of the crumbs, regulates the black to the end of the line, no matter how long one has stood in line. As a country of immigrants, America is funny about color and nationality. The white Polish is "less" than say the white English and the German is "higher," than the Russian and the Western European Anglos are better than the Eastern European Anglos and when everything is said, the Italian is on the bottom and below him is the Irish.
When new groups of people enter a city - any city, in thousands they are forced to take the worst of everything as everyone move up the next step on the social ladder. This pecking order is called discrimination and segregation with respects to blacks because no amount of money could allow them to escape "the bottom" of the social ladder. Generally, money allows one to escape the segregation - poverty, of a nationality group but not so with the blacks during this period of history.
The various Africans brought to America that evolved into the African American people were brought here for slavery - money made from the labor of others, and this must be understood. The class of slaves, by definition is the bottom of the barrel of the working class people. This was called "looking up to see bottom" and since the black is on the bottom of the social ladder, the only areas they could settle in during the migration to the industrial North and Detroit were into a white community. Some of the tension is just outright racism and ignorance; some of it is jealousy by those who felt they were not "raising up" the ladder fast enough. A large part of it was the housing shortage and the structure of segregation that says whatever area a color group or nationality settles in, slowly becomes their area. The segregated areas become the basis of political authority in government and here is the reason many politicians supported the Klan and terrorist against the blacks. They wanted to hold on to their political authority through violence. Segregation is by design not chance.
The Detroit populations grew when the city became the industrial center for World War I. Job migrations had decreased after the Great Depression, but rose again during World War II. Racism was a huge problem in Detroit because of the "pecking order" and this order was brutally enforced - to no small degree, by whites that migrated from the South and lived by the Jim Crow Laws. The Jim Crow Laws was a law code that isolated and segregated through using violence and murder. The Ku Klux Klan influenced Detroit's white population. The Black Legion also became widespread. The Black Legion was an organization of whites that worked to obtain jobs for the white Southern settlers that moved into Detroit. However they ended up becoming a violent hate group that targeted African Americans, Jews, Catholics, and others. After the court convicted the Black Legion leader Virgil F. Effiger, they released a list of its members. This list included a state legislator, the state sales tax manager, a treasurer, a few sheriffs, and other government employed officials.
Housing shortages were a big problem in Detroit. The African Americans lacked houses and when new housing complexes were built, they were offered to whites first. The blacks lived in the two slums of Detroit: the East Side and part of the West Side. Even though they had money, the black population was unable to find houses they could buy or rent. At the time, there were very few areas in the United States that were as crowded. The city of Detroit had been deficient at keeping up with the number of Southern drifters. Between 1930 and 1942, 12,000 families moved into the city; however only about 5,200 housing facilities were built. The social position of the blacks is by design and a housing shortage in and of itself does not produce violence and terror against blacks. Blacks are singled out and compelled to accept less or be murdered.
As WW II ended, Blacks - like immigrants from throughout the world, who (through the great migration) escaping the poverty and violence of the Deep South, found another kind of violence and racism in the North. There had been 11 million Southern sharecroppers - 5 million black and 6 million white, and many southern whites brought their own prejudices with them as both groups journeyed northward.
Recruiters toured the South convincing whites and blacks to head north with promises of high wages in the new war factories. They arrived in such numbers that it was impossible to house them all. The influx of newcomers strained not only housing, but transportation, education and recreational facilities as well. Wartime residents of Detroit endured long lines everywhere, at bus stops, grocery stores, and even at newsstands where they hoped for the chance to be first answering classified ads offering rooms for rent. Even though the city enjoyed full employment, it suffered the many discomforts of wartime rationing.
Then you were expected to yield to whites in all areas of social life. This was not going to happen. "First come, first served" is a good policy. One can only take "cuts" - get in front, and push the man standing in line further back for so long. The design of segregation meant that many plants only hired or preferred hiring black and whites from the same state in the South. Up until the 1970 the old Cadillac Plant on Michigan Avenue - Local 22, had a preference for blacks and whites from Georgia. The purpose of the "design" is to work the hell out of everyone and keep all the "workers in their place." No system of discrimination and segregation can be maintained without extreme police violence, murder and terror. It gets tricky because once it is understood that "they" are trying to murder "you" - anyway, each generation starts fighting the death fight "out of the box." In African American vernacular this is called "fuck it." During the war there was an abundance of this attitude. From a totally different point of view, this attitude gave rise to the "cool jazz" movement, what was called the "be-bop" jazz movement, then the industrial sound of "Motown" and what would later become "hip hop." That is another story for later.
On June 4, 1941, the Detroit Housing Commission approved two sites for defense housing projects--one for whites, one for blacks. The site originally selected by the commission for black workers was in a predominantly black area. The federal government chose a site at Nevada and Fenelon streets, a white neighborhood.
Times were tough for all, but for the black community, times were even tougher. Sixty years ago, blacks were excluded from all public housing except the Brewster projects. Many lived in homes without indoor plumbing, yet they paid rent two to three times higher than families in white districts. The degenerate politicians in Congress and the state government, along with the "economist" called this "the free market factor" and blacks called it a bunch of crap. To hold this system in place, the police confronted blacks along with government in the shape of a segregated military, discrimination in public accommodations, and unfair treatment.
On Sept. 29, 1942 a housing project planned for the black immigrants from the South and those who had been in Detroit a long time new began. The project was named Sojourner Truth in memory of our women black leaders during the Civil War days. Despite being completed on Dec. 15, no tenants moved into the homes because of so-called opposition from "the white neighborhood." On Jan. 20, 1942, it was announced that the Sojourner Truth project would be for whites and another site would be selected for black workers. But when a suitable site for blacks could not be found, the Federal housing authorities agreed to allow blacks into the finished homes.
On Feb. 27, with a cross burning in a field near the homes, 150 angry whites picketed the project vowing to keep out any black homeowners. By dawn the following day, the crowd had grown to 1,200, many of whom were armed. The first black tenants, rent paid and leases signed, arrived at 9 a.m. but left the area fearing trouble.
Fighting began when two blacks in a car attempted to run through the picket line. Clashes between white and black groups continued into the afternoon when 16 mounted police attempted to break up the fighting. Tear gas and shotgun shells were flying through the air. Officials announced an indefinite postponement of the move. The families, having given up whatever shelter they had in anticipation of their new homes, were left with no place to go and were temporarily housed with other families in the Brewster Homes and other sites around Detroit. Here is the backdrop of the 1942 "race riot."
By 1943 the number of blacks in Detroit had doubled since 1933 to 200,000 and racial tensions in the city grew accordingly. Containing 200,000 people in a compact mass is more than a notion. According to newspaper reports, to protest unfair conditions, some blacks began a "bumping campaign" -- walking into whites on the streets and bumping them off the sidewalks, or nudging them in elevators. To this author this sounds like a mass movement against people accustomed to "taking cuts" and getting in front of you because they believe they are entitled to rights the black do not have.
On June 20, 1942 blacks and whites clashed in minor skirmishes on Belle Isle. According to press reports, two young blacks, angered that they had been kicked out of Eastwood Park some five days previously - for "walking and breathing while black" had gone to Belle Isle to try to even the score. Police began to search cars of blacks crossing to Belle Isle but they did not search cars driven by whites. Why were they searching anyone car in the first place and secondly why just the cars with blacks? Fighting on the island began around 10 p.m. and police declared it under control by midnight. More than 200 blacks and whites had participated in the free-for-all.
What the newspaper reports fail to mention is that soldiers were stationed on Belle Isle at the time and the white soldiers were ready to kill anybody and have a tradition of practicing on blacks. Below is how the bourgeois newspaper writers describe the after events of the riot.
Mayor Edward Jeffries Jr. and Governor Harry Kelly asked President Roosevelt for help in restoring order. Federal troops in armored cars and jeeps with automatic weapons moved down Woodward. The sight of the troops with their overwhelming firepower cooled the fervor of the rioters and the mobs began to melt away.
The toll was appalling. The 36 hours of rioting claimed 34 lives, 25 of them black. More than 1,800 were arrested for looting and other incidents, the vast majority black. Thirteen murders remained unsolved.
Five black men received 80-day jail terms for disturbing the peace. Two were acquitted. Twenty-eight were charged and convicted on various charges including concealed weapons, destruction of property, assault, larceny. There was little arson, due to gasoline rationing, but more than a few cars were overturned and torched.
The city's white police force was criticized for its "restraint" in dealing with the black rioters, despite the fact that only blacks -- 17 of them -- were killed by police.
Police Commissioner John H. Witherspoon defended his force and his refusal to issue shoot-to-kill orders, saying hundreds could have been killed. "All of those killed would not have been hoodlums or murderers--many would have been victims of mob psychology or innocent bystanders. If a shoot-to-kill policy was right, my judgment was wrong.
Mayor Jeffries praised the police and said he was "rapidly losing my patience with those black leaders who insist that their people do not and will not trust policemen." The mayor asked the Rev. White to search for 200 qualified Negroes to join the police force.
Thurgood Marshall, then with the NAACP, assailed the city's handling of the riot. He charged that police unfairly targeted blacks while turning their backs on white atrocities. He said 85 percent of those arrested were black while whites overturned and burned cars in front of the Roxy Theater with impunity while police watched.
Unions did their best to keep production figures up, the assembly lines running and gave "lip service" to keeping the lid on confrontations, even though the Ku Klux Klan and the "Black Legion" were organized and visible in the plants. The problem is that the unions were trying to keep the workers organized and protect their economic interest while keeping their imperial foot on the neck of the black worker. The idea that you can escape the bullet of the company because you are white is not well thought out.
Early in June 1943, 25,000 Packard plant workers, who produced engines for bombers and PT boats, stopped work in protest of the promotion of three blacks. A handful of agitators whipped up animosity against the promotions. During the strike a voice outside the plant reportedly shouted, "I'd rather see Hitler and Hirohito win than work beside a nigger on the assembly line." Hirohito was the emperor of Japan - the big man, and Adolph Hitler was Adolph Hitler. This kind of thinking was a bitter pill to swallow.
During the 1950's the working class in Detroit - black and white, was "starving like Marvin." Auto production was down, the police violence was up and soldiers trained in killing walked the streets. It was not uncommon to face a pistol and be "stuck up" for a pack of cigarettes. What pulled the economy out of the slump were the Korean War and the secret war in Vietnam. In the late 1950's and early 60's Detroit had a "stop and frisk" law. That meant the police could stop you for nothing and search you on the spot - for nothing. Black school children had their book bags searched, just for intimidation purposes.
This was an era - time frame, when the police road around as a group called the "big four." The "big four" was a police car with four white officers who terrorized the neighborhoods. The "big four" would ride down the street and tell young people standing around singing and "hanging out" to "give me that corner" - which meant get the heck off of the street. It was not like it was playgrounds and parks to go to or the bus fair and cars to take you there. If you managed to get to the park you had to expect to fight someone who felt you should not have a right to go to the park of fish off the Detroit River. It was rough all over and most of the fellows made it a habit to hang out in the alley. Lots of people are shot from running from the police - mostly in the back, because "why get shot in the face?"
The year 1963 was the year of the "Poor Peoples Campaign and March."
Dr. King gave a number of famous speeches during his time, in Montgomery, Birmingham, Selma, Chicago, Detroit, and Washington, D.C. On June 23, 1963, Dr. King spoke to a crowd of more than 125,000 at the Walk to Freedom in Detroit and told the marchers, "I can assure you that what has been done here today will serve as a source of inspiration for all of the freedom-loving people of this nation." The Freedom Walk in Detroit foreshadowed the upcoming March on Washington and Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech two months later on August 28, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. In his Detroit speech, Dr. King spoke of having a "dream deeply rooted in the American dream," where black and white children "will be able to join hands as brothers and sisters," and where "my four little children will . . . be judged on the basis of the content of their character, not the color of their skin."
It was a critical look at the Washington March of August 28 that occupies a large part of Malcolm's "Message to the Grass Roots."
Malcolm X came up during this enter era and understood "the real." With all due respect to the Nation of Islam and The Honorable Elijah Muhammad to whom all praises are due and the noble Dr. King, it is this "real" Malcolm X, who delivered his famous "Message to the Grass Roots" here in Detroit. It is this political Malcolm X that the workers in Detroit flocked to and loved.
Malcolm X was deeply affected by the "change wave" of 1963 and in turn affected the 1963 "change wave." One can read a chronology of Malcolm's life in 1963 at www.brothermalcolm.net., and get a feel for the deep personal trauma and anguish he felt over his membership in the Nation of Islam and his personal relationship with The Honorable Elijah Muhammad. The real story has to do with the movement of millions of people and how this movement affected Malcolm.
The struggle of the African American people for equality, decency, peace and prosperity - like the struggle of most people in America, takes place within the framework of how one makes a living and supports themselves and loved ones. There have been stages and phases - places and spaces, in this struggle. First as slaves, then as sharecroppers and farm laborers, then as industrial workers and service workers and today as increasingly minimum wage workers, unemployed and unemployable members of society. A whole generation has been criminalized and virtually no one has a family where someone is not under the authority of the penal system.
We are the last ones on earth that need to be lectured about crime and more police is not the answer. Caught in the vice grip of police violence, discrimination and crime we are presented a view of the world that always blame us for our social position. Without question there are things that the individual can do to help himself and community, but when 30 million people face the same social evils this is not the fault of the individual but a criminal conspiracy.
The growing poverty and disease in our community is real, yet the government spends more money on prisons than programs to combat the poverty and crime. Our problems did not start with the Bush Jr. administration but have gotten worse with his administration that will spend billions of dollars on war and trying to catch one man rather than deal with real American working people problems.
As slaves we faced a certain kind of problem - slavery pure and simple. This problem of slavery grew out of the nature of using millions of slaves as the basis of a system of wealth creation. As sharecropper we had another kind of problem. Besides the extreme violence, terror and segregation there was the problem of getting paid. It might not sound like it, but sharecropping is a business. The sharecropper grew crops and was paid a part of the crops by the landowner, who often owned the stores, banks and controlled the credit system so that you always stayed in debt and had to work another year for him. The story is that without having political muscle, a class of owners can cheat you out of your labor - money.
As industrial and service workers we moved up to being wage slaves on the more than less bottom of the pecking order. Not all blacks have the worse low paying jobs and all one has to do is look at the Mexican workers throughout America. Not all whites have the best paying jobs and a certain economic integration has taken place. However, the majority of blacks, senior citizens and an increasing amount of everybody is catching hell.
League of Revolutionary Black Workers, Detroit.
What would be Malcolm's actions and thinking under new conditions when computers, advance robotics and the technology revolution is putting people out of work and lowering wages by replacing human beings but make it possible to feed and cloth everyone? How come illiteracy is rising in America when we have the ability to teach the world? How can medical care be out of the reach of the poorest person when we have a wonderful medical technology and access to the earth's natural healing substances?
Changes in our system of government are needed and the individual is important and can do something about this today. Everything is important and one action cannot solve a problem that has been brewing and stewing for years. Questions have to be asked. One can understand a person owning the local pizza joint but not owning the water supply. No one has the right to own the water and privatizing water is a criminal act of greed.
What is needed is a vision and discussion about where "do we go" in the new age of electronics and advanced technology.