Assata Shakur: “I Am a 20th Century Escaped Slave”

Although the U.S. government has done everything in its power to criminalize me, I am not a criminal

My name is Assata Shakur, and I am a 20th century escaped slave. Because of government persecution, I was left with no other choice than to flee from the political repression, racism and violence that dominate the US government’s policy towards people of color. I am an ex-political prisoner, and I have been living in exile in Cuba since 1984.

I have been a political activist most of my life, and although the U.S. government has done everything in its power to criminalize me, I am not a criminal, nor have I ever been one. In the 1960s, I participated in various struggles: the black liberation movement, the student rights movement, and the movement to end the war in Vietnam. I joined the Black Panther Party. By 1969 the Black Panther Party had become the number one organization targeted by the FBI’s COINTELPRO program. Because the Black Panther Party demanded the total liberation of black people, J. Edgar Hoover called it “greatest threat to the internal security of the country” and vowed to destroy it and its leaders and activists.  Continue reading

Prof. Akinyele Umoja Discusses “We Will Shoot Back”

March 27.2013

Professor Akinyele Umoja, chair, African American Studies at Georgia State University discusses his new book: We Will Shoot Back: Armed Self-defense in the Mississippi Freedom Movement. This program was sponsored by the Stone Center and the Bull’s Head Bookstore of UNC at Chapel Hill.
This is part of the presentation Professor Umoja made at Chapel Hill,  length: 30:38

We Will Shoot Back: Armed Resistance in the Mississippi Freedom Movement

 Prof. Umoja discusses why he wrote We Will Shoot Back

The notion that the civil rights movement in the southern United States was a nonviolent movement remains a dominant theme of civil rights memory and representation in popular culture. Yet in dozens of southern communities, Black people picked up arms to defend their leaders, communities, and lives. In particular, Black people relied on armed self-defense in communities where federal government officials failed to safeguard activists and supporters from the violence of racists and segregationists, who were often supported by local law enforcement.

In We Will Shoot Back: Armed Resistance in the Mississippi Freedom Movement, Akinyele Omowale Umoja argues that armed resistance was critical to the efficacy of the southern freedom struggle and the dismantling of segregation and Black disenfranchisement. Intimidation and fear were central to the system of oppression in Mississippi and most of the Deep South. To overcome the system of segregation, Black people had to overcome fear to present a significant challenge to White domination. Armed self-defense was a major tool of survival in allowing some Black southern communities to maintain their integrity and existence in the face of White supremacist terror. By 1965, armed resistance, particularly self-defense, was a significant factor in the challenge of the descendants of enslaved Africans to overturning fear and intimidation and developing different political and social relationships between Black and White Mississippians.

This riveting historical narrative relies upon oral history, archival material, and scholarly literature to reconstruct the use of armed resistance by Black activists and supporters in Mississippi to challenge racist terrorism, segregation, and fight for human rights and political empowerment from the early 1950s through the late 1970s. Continue reading

The Zionist Threat to “Take Alice Walker Out”

“Alice Walker’s New Book Makes Her the Zionists’ Target”Smearing Alice Walker
by JEFFREY BLANKFORT, in CounterPunch, June 26, 2013
Alice Walker

Alice Walker

In the comments section of a recent online article in the right wing New York Jewish publication, Algemeiner, not to be confused with the Frankfurter Allgemeine but conceivably with Der Sturmer, there was an argument over whether or not the “Mossad should deal with” Alice Walker as punishment for the critical comments directed towards Israel and American Jewish supporters of Israel in her latest book, “The Cushion in the Road” which, we can assume, none of those commenting had read.

All it took to set off the threat and a stream of racist venom against the 69 year African-American author was an inflammatory headline in Algemeiner’s June 19th edition:“ADL Blasts Anti-Israel Author Walker: ‘She is ‘unabashedly infected with Anti-Semitism’” followed by an article in the same vein.

As could be anticipated from the headline, the story featured a statement by Anti-Defamation League director, Abe Foxman:

“Alice Walker has sunk to new lows with essays that remove the gloss of her anti-Israel activism to reveal someone who is unabashedly infected with anti-Semitism.

“She has taken her extreme and hostile views to a shocking new level, revealing the depth of her hatred of Jews and Israel to a degree that we have not witnessed before.  Her descriptions of the conflict are so grossly inaccurate and biased that it seems Walker wants the uninformed reader to come away sharing her hate-filled conclusions that Israel is committing the greatest atrocity in the history of the world.”

According to an ADL press release, Walker’s book “devotes 80 pages to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, often making comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany, denigrating Judaism and Jews, and suggesting that Israel should cease to exist as a Jewish state.”

To make the point, the ADL includes four examples. Let’s look at one of them:

“Walker analogizes the Palestinians’ situation with the civil rights era and discrimination against Blacks in the American South.  She writes: ‘It is because I recognize the brutality with which my own multibranched ancestors have been treated that I can identify the despicable, lawless, cruel, and sadistic behavior that has characterized Israel’s attempts to erase a people, the Palestinians, from their own land.’”

In case the inner racists of its readers hadn’t been stirred up enough by Foxman’s rant, the Algemeiner reporter added that “Walker has a history of making extreme anti-Israel statements. In June 2012 she refused to allow an Israeli company to publish a Hebrew edition of her novel, ‘The Color Purple.’ Most recently, Walker wrote a letter calling on the singer-songwriter Alicia Keys to cancel her upcoming July 4th concert appearance in Tel Aviv.”

“In her book,” the article concludes, “Walker accuses Israel of ‘genocide,’ ‘ethnic cleansing,’ ‘crimes against humanity,’ and ‘cruelty and diabolical torture.’” In so doing, it should be noted, she is simply observing the same phenomena that a number of dissident Israelis have previously noted. Continue reading

Historian challenges exaggerated claims and twisted “history” about Black Panthers’ self-defense program

Countering Subversion– Black Panther Scholarship, Popular History, and the Richard Aoki Controversy

By Donna Jean Murch, October 2012 issue of Perspectives on History, American Historical Review

Starting early Monday morning, August 20, with a barrage of texts, emails, and Facebook postings, friends and colleagues invited me into the growing storm over Seth Rosenfeld’s book, Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power. The book debuted with an accusation that Richard Aoki, one of the most trusted soldiers of the Asian American, Third World, and Black Power movements, was an FBI informant. To me this debate was deeply meaningful because I, like Rosenfeld, had interviewed Aoki and knew him informally over the years I spent at the University of California, Berkeley, researching what ultimately became my book, Living for the City: Migration, Education and the Rise of the Black Panther Party.

Rosenfeld’s claim, which he bases on a single FOIA document and his interviews of two people who are now deceased, has immense implications because of Richard Aoki’s central role in the Panthers’ program of armed self-defense. Shortly after founding the Black Panther Party (BPP), Bobby Seale and Huey Newton consulted Aoki, who supplied them with their first guns, including.357 Magnums, 22’s, and 9mm’s. If Rosenfeld’s claim is true, readers could logically infer that from its inception, the state guided the Black Panther Party’s hand as it embraced the gun and the broader principle of armed self-defense.

It would be premature to talk definitively about the truth or falsity of Rosenfeld’s allegations, and it is imperative that scholars, activists, journalists and historians organize to get the remaining documents declassified by the FBI. In order to substantively respond to these claims, we need more research and more declassification. Indeed, this is true far beyond the case of Richard Aoki and extends into the larger field of postwar U.S. history. Until researchers have greater access to the archival holdings of the FBI and other national security agencies, what we understand of our collective past remains provisional and fragmentary.

Thus Rosenfeld’s book is a poignant reminder that we simply do not know the full extent and scale of state surveillance and repression—not only of radical social movements of the 1960s, but of a much broader spectrum of groups, organizations, personalities, and institutions. As a historian of the Panthers, one of a whole generation of younger scholars documenting the history of the Black Power and Black Studies, I’ve seen multiple examples of how state infiltration and backlash profoundly shaped the course of radical social movements and became the dark chiaroscuro against which youth activism emerged and defined itself. This is true not only for the BPP and UC Berkeley, but also for a wide range of historic grassroots struggles from Kent State to Attica and from the American Indian Movement (AIM) to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

The tremendously difficult, intricate, and expensive protocols of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, combined with the near impossibility of accessing state, local, and federal law-enforcement records, have made this work daunting and severely limited researchers’ ability to document the twilight worlds of repression and infiltration. These barriers are further complicated by the methodological problems of recovering the history of groups like the Panthers with aboveground institutions and underground wings engaged in clandestine activity. In this sense, I am very sympathetic to the particular dilemmas posed by this type of inquiry. The release of Subversives and the ensuing controversy provides a welcome occasion for public debate about the historical consequences of the domestic national security state.

That said, perhaps, what I find most unsettling about Rosenfeld’s book is its almost complete failure to engage most of the new research on the BPP. With the exception of a single monograph on violence and the Panthers, Rosenfeld employs little of the new scholarship in the Aoki section of the book, and instead relies heavily on an outdated journalistic account for background and two interviews and a single FOIA document for his most sensational finding. As a result, he makes sweeping claims that overreach his sources, like an exaggerated role for Aoki, who appears as the Asian Zauberer of East Bay radicalism, promoting violence at major historical junctureslike thefounding of the BPP and the Ethnic Studies Strike at Berkeley. Had Rosenfeld delved more carefully into the spate of recent books, dissertations, and edited collections on black radicalism, it would have been much harder to attribute the use of armed self-defense solely to his Svengali-like Aoki, who appears in the book replete with sunglasses at night, “slicked back hair,” “ghetto Patois,” and a menacing “swagger.” At the very least, pinning so much on Aoki is a big leap.

This is not a small point, or a mere turf battle between academic and popular history, because it has much larger implications for how Rosenfeld frames the role of Aoki as a decisive, corrupting influence. So how would incorporating more of the scholarly literature have changed his narrative? First, to truly assess how the state derailed these movements, we have to take the history of the groups and organizations seriously, and then explore how intervention changed their course. Ironically, had he followed this course, Rosenfeld might have found even more substantive evidence for exposing the role of state “subversion.” I argue, for example, in Living for the City, that it was precisely through the armed, military wing of the BPP that the state infiltrated the organization across different regions and time periods. However, to imply that the government invented or conjured armed self-defense, rather than using it to justify repression, is both historically inaccurate and misleading. Continue reading

Radical Black Women, Leadership, and the Struggle for Liberation

Monthly Review
a book review by Antonio Lopez

Dayo F. Gore, Jeanne Theoharis, Komozi Woodard, eds.  Want to Start a Revolution?: Radical Women in the Black Freedom Struggle.  New York: New York University Press, 2009.

In the last two decades, a growing field of movement scholarship has complicated conventional representations of Black Power in the United States.  Historians have produced biographies of civil rights leaders, social histories of postwar civil rights organizations, intellectual histories of black liberation thought, and new studies of the Black Panther Party that undermine the artificial structures traditionally used to frame and demarcate civil rights activism and Black Power resistance.1 Building upon the memoirs of Panther members and political prisoners, and new examinations of urban politics, recent historiography has provided students with a deeper appreciation of the oppression faced by black people in the United States, the politicization of black communities, and the freedom dreams of activists.2

Despite the growing interest in the politics of black radicalism, the editors of Want to Start a Revolution?: Radical Women in the Black Freedom Struggle explain that the vital contributions and radical political perspectives of black women remain largely overlooked.  In the introduction to this compilation of essays, the editors Dayo Gore, Jeanne Theoharis, and Komozi Woodard state: “Although, a new generation of scholars has greatly expanded our knowledge of black radicalism and the black freedom struggle, they have left intact a ‘leading man’ master narrative that misses crucial dimensions of the postwar freedom struggle and minimizes the contributions of women.  Such histories have neglected crucial dimensions of the postwar black radical tradition that held black women’s self-emancipation as pivotal to black liberation” (p. 2). Continue reading