Category Archives: Civil Rights Movement

Living in the Era of Revolution: The Words of Malcolm X – Dynast Amir

malcolm 2In the United States, the month of February is dedicated to African-American history.  February 21 stands out during the month as the day that el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz better known as Malcolm X (1925-1965) was assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem, New York City.  On the radio, the eulogy given by the late Ossie Davis (1917-2005) is played taking us back to Malcolm’s final days on earth.   In 1992, Warner Brothers released Malcolm X, the biopic directed by Spike Lee and starring Oscar winner Denzel Washington in the lead role.  Washington lit up the screen, delivering a performance for the ages.  Davis’ eulogy accompanies the closing scenes and the credits are rightly finished to the sounds of Aretha Franklin’s rendition of ‘Someday We’ll All Be Free’ and Arrested Development’s ‘Revolution’.  The film has stood the test of time and is a fitting tribute to Malcolm X’s legacy.  Lee did an incredible job but there was no way he could have included all of Malcolm’s speeches and writings into the final product.  Malcolm was brilliant, not just as an orator but as a critical thinker who presented his arguments in an engaging and articulate manner.  And some of those words can be found in this book by Dynast Amir.

Amir has compiled several selected speeches and combined them will Malcolm’s best quotes on the America in which he lived.  The book is not Amir’s story or a biography of Malcolm.  There are other books that more than serve that purpose such as Alex Haley’s (1921-1992) ‘The Autobiography of Malcolm X’.  Here, this is Malcolm at full throttle, delivering his messages to those in attendance and the many followers of the Nation of Islam (NOI).  His words are sharp and he does not mince words.  Today, many of us would find his words to be extreme, but it is imperative to remember that the America his lived in is quite different from the one that exist today.  Further, he was reacting to the injustices that occurred regularly against Black Americans and others deemed to be a minority.   The truths are uncomfortable and he forces America to look at itself in the mirror.  Sadly, some of his words are still true to this day but if make it a point to remember them, we can continue to move forward as a nation.

Although I am not a follower of the Islamic faith, I have felt that some of their beliefs about the place in society of Black Americans were correct and no one who reads this book can ever say that Malcolm did not love his people.   I firmly believe that even readers who are not Black American or African can still find truth in his words.  But for those readers, some parts may be hard to get through.  The time period in which these selected speeches come from was the turbulent Civil Rights Movement in the deadly decade that was the 1960s.  In his words, you can feel his passion and anger for the deeply rooted discrimination and injustice in American society.

As a Black American, I understand Malcolm’s view and his words are pertinent to the importance of education for without it, we cannot go anywhere in this world just like he says.  Furthermore, we have an obligation human beings to treat others with dignity, compassion and respect.  However, there was one topic which I have never felt completely comfortable with but I do hot hold Malcolm personally responsible for the belief came directly from the teachings of the NOI.  That teaching is the of the story featuring the scientist named Yakub who is believed to have created the White race.  It would require too much space here to go into detail but the story itself suffers from lack of any credible evidence and could be interpreted as right-wing propaganda. Further, the NOI  has always claimed that W.D. Fard was t in 1934 is one of the several mysteries of the NOI that have never been fully explained.  It is also widely believed that the NOI was directly complicit in Malcolm’s murder.

For all of the stirring rhetoric, call to arms and critical evaluation of America, there are some bright spots in the book with the main one being his pilgrimage to Mecca.  Had he  not taken the trip to Mecca and engaged with Muslims of a different ethnicity,  his beliefs about Caucasian men and women may have never changed.  And at the time of his murder, he was at a turning point in his life as he continued to build the Muslim Mosque, Inc., an organization that could have potentially left the NOI in the shadows.  Sadly, fate intervened in a tragic way and Malcolm was silenced forever.

History will potentially remain divided on Malcolm’s legacy with his followers swearing allegiance and his detractors writing him off as a demagogue.   Regardless of what we may think of him,  we cannot deny his importance in history at the truth in his words.  If you want to learn more about what made Malcolm tick and why he had his beliefs, then read this book by any means necessary.

ASIN: B00MSXXCR0

The Meaning of Freedom and Other Difficult Dialogues – Angela Y. Davis

87286100677870LFreedom is a term that is often used but not always understood.  The costs associated with it are often high and some of us have paid and will pay the ultimate price to obtain it.   Here in the United States, we like to think that we are free but the truth of the matter remains in question.  Perhaps we are still in a state of denial of about freedom’s true meaning and its role in the American way of life.  Angela Davis is one of the brightest voices to emerge from the Civil Rights Movement and has established herself a political activist, an author and professor whose many speeches and writings are some of the best society has ever seen.  While the book is not an autobiography, this is clearly Davis’ show and a collection of selected speeches in which she discusses topics that she rightly refers to as difficult dialogues.  But her ability to not only discuss these topics but provoke thought in the reader, is what makes this book so special.  And I can state with full conviction that I wished I had discovered this gem much earlier in life.

If you are contemplating reading this book, I believe that you already know who Davis is or have heard her name.  If you seek intelligent discussion regarding subjects that America still struggles with, then this is a book for you.  But beware, Davis is not here to make anyone feel comfortable.  In fact, her goal is open your eyes and get you to re-examine what you thought you knew about race, justice and social progress.   At no point does she shy away from the topics and moves full speed ahead as she discusses the prison industrial complex, poverty, LGBT rights, the election of Barack Obama and the dark history of segregation under the banner of Jim Crow.  She is a brilliant author who never attempts to lecture the reader but presents her points in a manner that is conducive to dialogue that actually provokes deep thought and constructive criticism.

I had hoped that she would have mentioned more about George Jackson (1941-1971), especially during the discussion on the prison system and the animal known as mass incarceration.   By their own words, she and Jackson were very close, up until the time of his death while incarcerated at San Quentin.  Looking back, I can see why she does not go into extensive detail for that would have required a separate book.  In fact, their story was the focus of her trial for conspiracy commit murder surrounding the death of Judge Harold Haley, taken prisoner by Jackson’s younger brother Jonathan in an effort to free the Soledad Brothers,  to which George belonged.  Both were shot and killed during a shootout with law enforcement.  Davis’ trial and acquittal are covered brilliantly in The Morning Breaks: The Trial of Angela Davis by Bettina Aptheker.   The story of Jackson and Davis takes center stage therein as she fights for her life in a case that could have sent her to death row.

Towards the end of the book, there is a speech she gives about the election of Barack Obama.   His election as the 44th President of the United States was a monumental moment for America but she rightfully points out that the job of improving race relations and civil rights did not belong to him alone.  And in spite of the belief that we live in a post-racial society, common wisdom dictates otherwise and we all share a responsibility in the continuing advancement of civil rights.  I truly believe that anyone who believes in equality, the right of everyone to live their lives free and the advancement of society will find this book relevant not only to the past but even today as mass incarceration continues and America finds itself politically and socially divided.  However, I have hope for the future and if we return to books such as these, we can get back on track and work towards improving life for all Americans.  And as we do so, we can continue to examine the true meaning of freedom.

ISBN-10: 0872865800
ISBN-13: 978-0872865808

Becoming the Tupamaros: Solidarity and Transnational Revolutionaries in Uruguay and the United States-Lindsey Churchill

tupamarosNestled between Brazil and Argentina is the small Latin American nation of the Oriental Republic of Uruguay (República Oriental del Uruguay). The nation is the second smallest on the continent next to Suriname and boasts one of the highest literacy rates in the world. To foreign visitors, it may seem a like destination that is too good to be true.  Currently, the nation enjoys peace and shows no signs of the conflicts that once plagued Uruguayan society.   Revisiting the past, Lindsey Churchill tells the story of the Tupamaros, the left-wing revolutionary faction that captivated a country and earned the admiration of revolutionaries abroad.

The world is intimately familiar with the revolutionary campaigns in Cuba, Russia, China and Vietnam.  Names such Castro, Guevara, Mao, Stalin and Ho Chih Minh, have become cemented in the ideology of left-wing movements .  Uruguay also has a story to tell, one that contains all of the elements found in the narratives of Latin American politics saturated with military dictatorships.  Churchill takes us back in time to understand the development of the Tupamaro faction, their relationship with revolutionary groups in the United States and their inner-struggled with gender, the topic that plagued revolutionary efforts around the world.  Named after Tupac Amaru II (José Gabriel Condorcanqui), the revolutionary warrior who led a revolt against the Spanish empire, the group evolved from a political party into an organization that resorted to fear through violence as they advanced their agenda of transforming Uruguayan society.   Their story begins in the 1960s and in particular 1968, when Uruguayan President Jorge Pacheco (1920-1998) suspended the constitution and unleashed a wave of oppression.  Fueled by the successful revolution in Cuba and the spirit of the American Civil-Rights Movement, the Tupamaros and the became the foremost revolutionary party whose actions sometimes had deadly consequences.

Although the book is only two hundred and sixty pages, I literally could not put it down.  Prior to reading it, I was unfamiliar with the Tupamaros and the reign of Pacheco’s successor, Juan Maria Bordaberry (1928-2011) whose twelve-year dictatorship following a coup, marked the darkest period in the history of the nation.  Political oppression, false imprisonment supplemented with torture and in some cases sexual assault, combined to fuel the drive for social reform through any means necessary. Churchill shines as she explores the purpose behind the movement, their relationship to U.S. revolutionaries and the complicated manner in which race in Uruguay is addresses or in some cases ignored completely.  In contrast to the images we find in the media, Afro-Uruguayans make up a sizeable portion of the country and in this book, their plight is not forgotten.  Through Churchill’s words, we become witnesses to the intricate and reciprocal relationship between American and Uruguayan revolutionaries who actively supported and encouraged each other in their struggles.

If you stand outside the local city airport in Buenos Aires, you can see the shores of Uruguay in the distance.  It might be hard to imagine for some, that the small nation largely forgotten in the media was once home to one of the world’s strongest political movements.  Society was divided, violence became a tool and the United States found itself involved in yet another controversial situation involving a Latin American dictatorship.  Many years have passed since the Tupamaros last embraced their revolutionary tactics but they remain a part of the nation’s social fabric. In fact, the former President José Mujica (1936-), is a former member of the Tupamaros and served thirteen years in prison for his deeds.  He was succeeded by Tabaré Vázquez (1938-) who still holds office today.

For those interested in the story of the Tupamaros , this is a great read and critical in understanding their history and the development of politics in modern-day Uruguay.

ISBN-10: 082651944X
ISBN-13: 978-0826519443

The Fire Next Time-James Baldwin

Fire next timeEvery year that I age, I have noticed that I have a growing appreciation for classic literature and the works of other authors that are no longer with us.  James Baldwin (1924-1987) is near the top of my list of authors whose books are critical to American history and the current day state of affairs in the United States.  The Harlem native who took his last breath in France, stands out as a commentator on race in America. His observations which he then put into words, were sharp, analytical and deeply profound. Baldwin lived what could only be described as an eventful but complicated life.   He was a Black American and homosexual in a time in which both were considered to be crimes of the highest nature. America had yet to see the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and homosexuality was still considered a crime against nature in many states. Baldwin was both and carried himself with an aura of confidence and intellect that has remained impressive many years after his death.  In this short but intriguing book, Baldwin comments on race in America based off of his experience and encounters with White Americans and even Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam.  He never joined the nation but his account of his meeting with Muhammad is one of the highlights of the book.   Racial discrimination is never an easy topic to discuss and many of us would prefer to discuss more pleasant issues.  But Baldwin was a master of taking a explosive topic and relaying it to the reader in a way that forces one to do deep soul-searching if they are not African-American and reevaluate their own existence if they are.

Too often, it is assumed that books about racial inequality are attacks against White Americans.  That is not Baldwin’s goal. In fact, Baldwin’s social circle was very diverse, consisting of White Americans, Black Americans, Europeans and Turkish individuals among others.  In fact, in the book there is a part in which he feels conflicted about his White friends and his own social situation in America.  His experience is not meant to demean or drive a wedge between friends but highlights the inner conflict that can engulf anyone. The key to appreciating Baldwin’s work is to remember that it was written in a time period that is much different from 2017.     Jim Crow, voter suppression, poverty and class based war made life deplorable for minorities and poor White Americans.    And before the courage of the Loving family, interracial marriage was illegal throughout the country.   Every great movement needs voices like Baldwin, to remind of us where we come from and what we need to do in order to move forward. It is a shame that today, his voice has been largely forgotten by a generation that has no connection of one of the greatest writers in American history.

I truly wish Baldwin had completed more books before his death.  His mind was uncanny and we are fortunate to have the works that he left behind.  This book is not just for Black or White Americans, but for anyone who wishes to examined and understand America’s unpleasant history with racial equality.   History is not always pleasant but the darkness in it, helps us  not to make the same mistakes again but to try a different path that works and exemplifies what progress truly is.  Baldwin does it again with another classic.

ISBN-10: 003055442X
ISBN-13: 978-0030554421

 

 

 

 

Negro With a Hat: The Rise and Fall of Marcus Garvey-Colin Grant

garveyIn the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn lies Marcus Garvey Blvd, a street named after the late iconic figure in the African-American struggle for civil rights in the United States and abroad. The native son of Jamaica and former resident of London, England,  made his name famous on the streets of Harlem, New York through the formation and activities of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA).   The organization’s purpose to build up the moral, economical and social status of Black Americans, combined with his “back to Africa” movement, remain defining movements in the African-American experience.  At the time of his death on June 10, 1940,  Garvey was a shadow of his former self after several severe strokes had taken their toll on his aging body.  His death dealt a sever blow to the strengthening movement for equality.  And 76 years after his death, his writings, speeches and life, are still remembered, quoted and analyzed for they  remind us of the importance of standing up for what we believe in.  Garvey remains one of most magnetic figures of the 20th century.

The rise and fall of the Black Start Line is often the focus of many articles about Garvey.  And while the history of the line is unfortunate, the real Marcus Garvey typically remains hidden in the shadows.   But who was Marcus Garvey and why is his story so important to the history of the United States and the movement for civil rights? Colin Grant presents to us the definitive biography of the late icon and his controversial and tragic life.  Born in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica, on August 17,1887, to the late Malchus Garvey, he would leave his native Jamaica many times throughout his life,  making his mark across the world.   Grant takes us back in time to witness the rise of the most gifted orators to speak directly to the soul of African-Americans. Garvey’s fiery rhetoric and inviting personality, earned him a legion of believers, intent on following him all the way back to Africa by way of Liberia.

But behind the speeches and mass congregations, the personal life of Marcus Garvey was nothing short of complex, filled with stress, fear, disappointment & violence.  As leader of the UNIA, he would face continuous battles with other leaders such as W.E.B. DuBois.  His success and influence also earned him the watchful eye of the Bureau of Investigation, the predecessor of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, headed by a young J. Edgar Hoover.  Once shot and wounded and suspected in the violent deaths of others, Garvey was no stranger to violence and death.  Grant has carefully researched the episodes and revisits them here showing the behind the scenes movements that helped Garvey rise to fame and which also caused his demise. At many points throughout the book, the reader is forced to confront the fact that Garvey, for all of his good deeds and intentions, was also a seriously flawed person at heart.  But his shortcomings in no way detract from his vision for the complete freedom of Black Americans from the brutal system of racial injustice.

To the youth of today, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Movement and even apartheid are old terms relating to an era to which they could never relate. But for many older Americans and people abroad, the dark periods that exemplified some of the worst actions humanity has ever witnessed, remain fresh in the mind as if they happened yesterday.  While it will be rare to find someone alive today from Garvey’s generation, there are those among us who can relate to us the importance of his life.  Many years after his death, he was named a national hero in his native Jamaica and across the world his name is still remembered.  He is no longer with us, but left us many writings and speeches to remind us of the importance of self-preservation, respect and the well-being of all of our brothers and sisters from all backgrounds.  For those interested in Garvey’s life to see who the man behind the speeches was, this book is an excellent place to start.

 

Stokely Speaks: From Black Power to Pan-Africanism- Stokely Carmichael

stokelyOn November 15, 1998, Kwame Ture died at the age of 57 in Conakry, Guinea following a long bout with prostate cancer.  Ture was formerly known as civil rights activist Stokely Carmichael.   Carmichael, a native of Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, became a leading icon of the American civil rights movement as head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.  His writings and speeches on equality, integration and the advancement of minorities are some of the most passionate ever recorded and are widely read and studied by students of the movement and revolutionary ideology.

This collection of writings takes us back in time during a turbulent time in American history that some believed would result in the downfall of the United States.  For others, their belief in the government would be permanently altered following the assassinations of Medgar Evers, John F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy.  And even today, the 1960s ranks among the most dangerous and feared decades in modern American history.

The United States has changed dramatically in recent years, but not too far in the past, the political, social and economic landscape of this nation was vastly different. There are those today that believe nothing has changed, but instead, things are more carefully masked.   However, I do believe that if Stokely were alive today, he would be proud to see the many steps forward that have been taken and optimistic about the work that lies ahead.   As we do move forward in building a better nation, it pays for us to revisit his writings as they touch the very core of the American soul.  Stokely forces us to confront our basic human nature and re-examine everything we thought we knew about racial discrimination, war, poverty, capitalism and politics.  And like a master surgeon, he methodically dissects each subject putting it into a completely different perspective that some of us have never considered.

Perhaps one of the biggest tragedies of the civil rights movement, is that much of the outstanding literature published during the time is scarcely revisited and on the brink of being lost to future generations.  The voices of Che, Malcolm, Fidel, Fanon and Chairman Mao are relics for the youths of today.  However, it’s often said that in order to know where you’re going, it’s important to know where you come from.  Stokely does his part in helping us figure out both.

ISBN-10: 1556526490
ISBN-13: 978-1556526497

Remembering Jim Crow: African Americans Tell About Life in the Segregated South -William Henry Chafe, Raymond Gavis and Robert Korstad

51s5cy-xt5l-_sy344_bo1204203200_In the United States, the month of February is dedicated to showcasing the achievements and centuries long plight of African-Americans.  Stories and images from the slave trade, emancipation, Jim Crow era and Civil Rights Movement flash across television screens, social media and the Internet.  My parents can still vividly recall their memories of the movement and the mistreatment of minorities of all backgrounds before the passing of the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 by then President Lyndon Baines Johnson.  Following the passage of the bill, many more years would pass before American society began to make bigger strides in social equality. And even today in 2016, there is still much work to be done.  The faces may have changed, but the actions and unfortunate consequences that come with discrimination are still an issue which America finds itself being confronted with regularly.   It’s nearly impossible for the generation of today to even imagine what life was like during Jim Crow.  To most it seems like an ancient period in American history.  But let us not forget that this era was less than 100 years ago and many of those alive today from that era still carry mental and physical scars that may never heal.

William Henry Chafe, Raymond Gavis and Robert Korstad have compiled this incredible book which features a collection of memories from people who lived in the south during Jim Crow and what they remembering growing up among a violent and fiercely oppressive climate of racial discrimination.   In most elementary schools, children are taught about the slave trade, emancipation and the civil rights movement, but books such as these are typically nowhere to be found.  I firmly believe that every American should read this book. It is often brutal at times, but it serves as reminder of a not too distant past that continues to rear its ugly head today.  One of things that make the past so valuable is that we can continue to use it as a tool by which to learn.  America has come a long way, and as Robert F. Kennedy accurately predicted more than 50 years ago, we did have our first president with African-American ancestry.   This nation still has a long way to go, but the commitment to change and improvement is what makes this country the great nation that it is.

ASIN: B001VAU3XW

The Morning Breaks: The Trial of Angela Davis- Bettina Aptheker

davisOctober 13, 1970-Angela Davis is arrested in New York City and extradited to Marin County, California, where she is charged with conspiracy to commit murder.  The charge stems from the death of Judge Harold Haley, taken hostage by Jonathan Jackson and accomplices in an effort to free the Soledad brothers and all political prisoners from United States federal prisons.  Davis’ arrest and trial became a focal point in the struggle against an unjust and discriminatory judicial system in which the privileged often found themselves defenseless in frivolous trials resulting in equally absurd prison sentences.

Bettina Aptheker, close friend and supporter of Davis, penned her recollections of the trial and the hurdles and obstacles in the way of Davis’ path to exoneration.   Set in Palo Alto, California, a stronghold of conservative political views, the defense became embattled in a David and Goliath struggle against a prosecution bent on Davis’ imprisonment.   There are many highs and lows in the trial, but the shining moments are the selected readings of Davis’ letters to George Jackson, at the time incarcerated at San Quentin.  Davis and Jackson had become deeply involved with each other and Davis’ confession of love are moving and revealing.

The book isn’t always an easy read, there are parts where the ugliest side of human actions are shown.  Racism, sexism and political suppression are shown unrestricted for the reader to digest.   Her standing as a professor, civil rights activist and communist thrust her into the spotlight and her trial was one of the most important in the history of this nation.   Her acquittal would force America to re-examine itself and the concept of justice.  All of the negative aspects of society are brought to the surface bringing the past to life.   The very pitfalls common in that time period, while tragic, are also the same pitfalls that do make this nation great.  Our ability to constantly examine and self-criticize are the tools of any great democracy.   Our constitution says that all men are created equal, but for hundreds of years, minorities, women, the disabled, LGTB and many others of society have struggled in their cause for equality.  Angela’s story reminds us that while it may seem difficult, justice can and does prevail.

ISBN-13: 978-0801485978
ISBN-10: 0801485975

A Raisin In The Sun-Lorraine Hansberry

20181205_232138In March, 2014, I had the privilege of seeing Denzel Washington on Broadway when he starred in a new production of  Lorraine Hansberry’s ‘A Raisin In the Sun’.  Hansberry’s classic play has graced the Broadway stage repeatedly throughout the years and even caught the eye of Hollywood being adapted to movie and television formats.  When she wrote the play, I don’t know if she knew then that it would go on to become a classic, but I do believe that she was fully aware that her play would have an impact on American society and the never-ending issue with race.   The play is set in a time where segregation and racial discrimination were highly prevalent throughout the United States.  We are introduced to a small American family struggling to live the American dream.  Living in a small apartment as a typical nuclear family, Walter Lee, Ruth, Travis and Lena, represent the social status of millions of African-Americans at the time.  The death of Lena’s husband results in a life insurance payout and the family now is faced with the question of what to do with the settlement.  While Walter Lee has his own idea, Mama has her own plan, one that will test every member of the family.  Her vision to buy a house in predominantly white neighborhood is the crux of the play and the most intense.  The visit by Mr. Lindner on behalf of the resident’s association highlights the discrimination and fear that gripped suburban communities as minorities attempted to leave the turmoil of the inner city during the middle of the 20th century.

Although the issue of the house is critical to the development of the play, the characters we meet are equally just as important.  Through them we are able to re-evaluate our own thoughts on marriage, religion, parent-child relationships and the relationships we have with our friends.  Hansberry’s masterpiece continues to open eyes and hearts and is a crucial piece of literature that ranks high among the works of all celebrated authors.  The true tragedy is that she didn’t live to see the legacy her play developed following her death.   Had she lived, I think she would be amazed at how far America has come since the Youngers dared to challenge social norms and make a case for integration on their own. And she would never hesitate to remind that it’s okay to sit awhile and think.

ASIN: B005U3Z5MA

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