2013 Session 6: The Black Liberation Struggle – Readings
2013 Anne Braden Anti-Racist Training Program
Session 6: The Black Liberation Struggle
Required Readings, Audio and Video
- Vincent Harding, “American Bondage, American Freedom” from There Is a River: The Black Struggle for Freedom in America. (33 page PDF*: Harding_American_Bondage_American_Freedom). (bio).
- Angela Davis, “Reflections on the Black Woman’s Role in the Community of Slaves” from Beverly Guy-Sheftall, ed., Words of Fire: An Anthology of African American Feminist Thought. (21 page PDF: Davis_Reflections_on_Black_Womens_Role). (bio).
- Ewuare Osayande, “A Raging Flood of Tears” from South End Press Collective, ed., What Lies Beneath: Katrina, Race, and the State of the Nation. (6 page PDF: Osayande_A_Raging_Flood_of_Tears). (bio).
- Lydia Potts, “Map of Transatlantic Slave Trade” (1 page PDF: Trans-Atlantic_Slave_Trade_map) and “Illustration of Slave Ship” (1 page PDF: Slave_Ship_layout), both from The World Labour Market: A History of Migration. . For additional maps and illustrations and better reproductions, see Further Resources below. (bio).
- Historical photographs of the slave trade and lynching in the U.S. (2 page PDF: Photographs_slavery_lynching) (highly disturbing images). For better reproductions, see Further Resources below.
- Sweet Honey in the Rock (bio), James Baldwin (bio), and Freedom Songs on Black Liberation Audio Part One (audio at FreedomArchives.org).
- Malcolm X (bio) and Assata Shakur (bio) on Black Liberation Audio: Part Two (audio at FreedomArchives.org).
- Marilyn Buck: A Tribute, video by Freedom Archives at vimeo.com. (bio).
- S.E. Anderson, “The Slave Trade and Capitalism” from Black Holocaust for Beginners. (5 page PDF*: Anderson_Slave_Trade_and_Capitalism). (bio).
- Audre Lorde, “For Assata” from The Black Unicorn: Poems. (1 page PDF: For_Assata_Lorde). (Audre Lorde bio) (Assata bio).
- Robin D.G. Kelley, Freedom Dreams. (bio).
- Assata Shakur, “The Tradition” (text of the poem which she reads in the audio from Freedom Archives above). On the web at katrinareader.org.
- For additional maps of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, search “TransAtlantic slave trade map”.
- For additional illustrations of slave ships, search “slave ship diagram”.
- Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America at withoutsanctuary.org (highly disturbing images).
Readings are provided free for use by participants studying in the Anne Braden Training Program for Anti-Racist Organizers, a noncommercial, nonprofit educational program. We encourage everyone to buy the works from which excerpts have been taken – please support these authors and publishers.
S. E. Anderson is a veteran activist and educator. He was a member of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, helped found the Black Panther Party in Harlem and has been active in the African Liberation Support Movement since 1964. He became one of the first Black Studies Chairs in 1969. He has taught mathematics, science, and Black Studies at Queens College.
James Baldwin was at once a major twentieth century American author, a Civil Rights activist and, for two crucial decades, a prophetic voice calling Americans, Black and white, to confront their shared racial tragedy. Baldwin, an African American gay man, wrote six novels, three plays, a children’s storybook, a book of short stories, and some 100 essays. Baldwin was born in Harlem, New York City, as the son of a domestic worker and was brought up in poverty. When he was three, his mother married a factory worker and storefront preacher. After graduation from high school, he worked in several ill-paid jobs and started his literary apprenticeship.
His novels include Go Tell It on the Mountain, Giovanni’s Room, and Another Country. Baldwin expatriated to Europe because of racism and homophobia in the United States. He returned the U.S. to get involved in the Civil Rights movement and wrote dozens of essays about and to the movement. His book The Fire Next Time was a major contribution to the growing Black Power movement. His political insights to the freedom movement are reflected in his letter to Angela Davis when she faced state repression:
“We know that we, the Blacks, and not only we, the blacks, have been, and are, the victims of a system whose only fuel is greed, whose only god is profit. We know that the fruits of this system have been ignorance, despair, and death, and we know that the system is doomed because the world can no longer afford it—if, indeed, it ever could have. And we know that, for the perpetuation of this system, we have all been mercilessly brutalized, and have been told nothing but lies, lies about ourselves and our kinsmen and our past, and about love, life, and death, so that both soul and body have been bound in hell.
The enormous revolution in black consciousness which has occurred in your generation, my dear sister, means the beginning or the end of America. Some of us, white and Black, know how great a price has already been paid to bring into existence a new consciousness, a new people, an unprecedented nation. If we know, and do nothing, we are worse than the murderers hired in our name.
If we know, then we must fight for your life as though it were our own—which it is—and render impassable with our bodies the corridor to the gas chamber. For, if they take you in the morning, they will be coming for us that night.”
Marilyn Buck was a white anti-imperialist political prisoner who died August 3, 2010 at the age of 62. She served 33 years of an 80-year prison sentence for politically motivated actions undertaken in support of self-determination and national liberation and in opposition to racial injustice and U.S. imperialism. Throughout her years in prison, Marilyn remained a steadfast supporter of fellow political prisoners and an advocate for the women with whom she was imprisoned.
Marilyn became involved in the civil rights and anti-war movements and joined the Students for a Democratic Society during her college years and became an active supporter of the Puerto Rican, Native American and Black liberation struggles in this country. She was a consistent and outspoken advocate for the liberation of women and gay liberation. While incarcerated, Marilyn earned a Bachelor of Arts in psychology and Master of Arts degrees in poetics. Her poems have been published in three collections – Rescue the Word, Wild Poppies (audio CD), and Inside/Out. Her translations of Cristina Peri Rossi’s poems are in State of Exile. Her poetry and essays have been printed in a wide variety of journals and anthologies. More at MarilynBuck.com.
Angela Davis is Professor of History of Consciousness Emerita at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Over the last thirty years, she has been active in numerous organizations challenging prison-related repression. Her advocacy on behalf of political prisoners led to three capital charges, sixteen months in jail awaiting trial, and a highly publicized campaign then acquittal in 1972. In 1973, the National Committee to Free Angela Davis and All Political Prisoners, along with the Attica Brothers, the American Indian Movement and other organizations founded the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, of which she remained co-chairperson for many years. In 1998, she was one of the organizers of the historic Berkeley conference “Critical Resistance: Beyond the Prison Industrial Complex” and since that time has served as convener of a research group bearing the same name under the auspices of the University of California Humanities Research Institute. Angela is the author of many books, including Women, Race and Class, and Prisons and Democracy.
Dr. Vincent Harding was deeply connected with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as a friend and colleague. He also served as an elder brother and advisor to many of the members of SNCC (The Student Non-violent Coordination Committee). His social activism has deep spiritual roots in the Mennonite tradition and the Black church. Dr. Harding as been one of the chroniclers of the civil rights movement as a participant, an historian, and social observer. He and his late wife Rosemarie were senior consultants to the “Eyes of the Prize” documentary film project.
In 1997, the Hardings founded the Veterans of Hope Project to encourage a healing, centered, intergenerational approach to social justice activism that recognizes the interconnectedness of spirit, creativity, and citizenship.
Robin D.G. Kelley is Professor of American History at UCLA. “He has described himself in the past as a ‘Marxist surrealist feminist who is not just anti something but pro-emancipation, pro-liberation’ … He has published several books focusing upon African-American history and culture … including Race Rebels: Culture, Politics, and the Black Working Class, and Yo’ Mama’s DisFunktional!: Fighting the Culture Wars in Urban America. Kelley is also a prolific essayist, having published dozens of articles in scholarly journals … and in the popular press, including the Village Voice and the New York Times. His book Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original received several honors, including Best Book on Jazz … Kelley’s most recent book, Africa Speaks, America Answers: Modern Jazz in Revolutionary Times, published by Harvard University Press, explores the relationship between jazz and Africa in the era of decolonization and Civil Rights.” –Wikipedia.
Audre Lorde, one of the 20th century’s most lyrical and vibrant poets, was born February 18, 1934 to Caribbean immigrants who had settled in Harlem. She grew up during the Harlem Renaissance and later graduated from Columbia University and Hunter College.
In her early 30s she married and gave birth to her children, Elizabeth and Jonathan; she ended her marriage after eight years and came out as gay. She worked as a librarian before accepting a teaching position at Tougaloo College in Mississippi. Lorde went on to co-found institutions the Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, and the Sisterhood in Support of Sisters in South Africa. She was one of the speakers at the first national march for gay and lesbian liberation in Washington DC in 1979.
Having described herself as a “Black lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” Audre was given the African name Gamba Adisa, meaning “Warrior, She Who Makes Her Meaning Clear.” In The Cancer Journals Lorde documented her fourteen-year battle with breast cancer, which ended on November 17, 1992 in St. Croix, Virgin Islands.
Ewuare X. Osayande is a political activist, poet and author of more than eleven books including his latest works Black Anti-Ballistic Missives: Resisting War/Resisting Racism and Misogyny and The Emcee: Exposing the Exploitation of Black Women in Hip Hop. He is the co-founder of POWER, a grassroots initiative in Philadelphia that educates and empowers participants to fight and resist oppression.
Dr. Lydia Potts teaches political science, intercultural education and women’s and gender studies at the University of Oldenburg in Germany. She directs the working group Migration-Gender-Politics. Her main fields of research are global migration and gender, migrant families, migration and ageing, and travel literature by women.
Assata Shakur in her own words: “My name is Assata (‘she who struggles’) Shakur (‘the thankful one’), 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 … In 1977, I was convicted by an all- white jury [of murder stemming from a shoot-out in which she was unarmed] and sentenced to life plus 33 years in prison. In 1979, fearing that I would be murdered in prison, and knowing that I would never receive any justice, I was liberated from prison, aided by committed comrades who understood the depths of the injustices in my case, and who were also extremely fearful for my life.” – AssataShakur.org.
Sweet Honey in the Rock is an all-woman, African-American a cappella ensemble. They are an American Grammy Award-winning (and many times nominated) troupe who express their history as women of color through song, while entertaining their audience. They have together worked from four women to the difficult five-part harmony with a sixth member translating with sign language. Although the members have changed over 3 decades, they continue to sing and have helped to produce several children’s records as well as those intended for adults.
Sweet Honey in the Rock was founded in 1973 by Bernice Johnson Reagon who founded the group out of singers from a vocal workshop she was teaching with the Washington, D.C. Black Repertory Company. Reagon retired from the group in 2004. The name of the group was derived from a song, based on Psalm 81:16, which tells of a land so rich that when rocks were cracked open, honey flowed from them. Johnson has said that this first song in which four women blended their voices was so powerful, that there was no question what the name of the group should be.
On June 22, 2010, Sweet Honey released “Are We A Nation?,” their response to Arizona’s controversial immigration law, SB-1070. An official music video of the song was released online on July 2, 2010. Sweet Honey In The Rock also joined The SOUND STRIKE boycotting performances within Arizona in protest of the law.
Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska. His father, Earl, a Baptist minister and follower of the Black Nationalist Marcus Garvey, was under continuous threat by the Ku Klux Klan. The family moved to Lansing, Michigan, where their house was burned by white racists in 1929, and, in 1931, Earl was murdered. Malcolm’s mother had a nervous breakdown and the eight children were sent to various foster homes.
The top student and only Black in his eighth grade class, Malcolm dropped out of school after his teacher told him that a “n_____” could never become a lawyer — his dream. He went to Boston to live with his sister Ella, and turned to crime. He became a street hustler and in 1946 he was arrested and sentenced to 10 years. While in prison, though, he began a period of education and self-transformation. He joined The Nation of Islam, a black supremacist group headed by Elijah Muhammad. He took “X” as his last name, signifying his unknown African tribal name that had been lost when his family was given the slave name “Little.”
After his parole in 1952, Malcolm X became a brilliant and charismatic speaker, building the Nation of Islam from 400 to 30,000 members. In 1964 Malcolm broke with the Nation and formed the Organization of Afro-American Unity. Journeying to Mecca, the holiest of Muslim shrines, he took the name El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, and began speaking of international Black consciousness and integration rather than racial separatism. His change of views targeted him for assassination by some members of the Nation of Islam.
While preparing to speak in a Harlem ballroom on February 21, 1965, Malcolm X was shot and killed by three assassins from the Nation of Islam. It is still unclear what role the FBI, which had Malcolm X under surveillance, may have played in his death.
Historians consider Malcolm X among the half-dozen most influential African-American leaders in history. His book, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, written with Alex Haley and published posthumously, is considered one of the most important non-fiction books of the 20th Century. Many Black people felt that Malcolm X, by voicing the truth of their frustration and anger, gave them courage and self-respect. He told African-Americans that they had to stop defining themselves as whites had defined them in terms of subservience and inferiority. His message was strength and pride and truth.