Mandela was not a Hallmark card

—Alan Wieder

Long-time South African educator and President of the New Unity Movement, R. O. Dudley had a quote that he used when speaking of various iconic South African struggle leaders: He “had arms, not wings.”  It is a phrase that we should remember when speaking of the late Nelson Mandela, but unfortunately, press coverage in the United States as well as throughout the world has turned Madiba into a Hallmark greeting card figure.

And while Mandela’s role as a freedom fighter and the major force for reconciliation in the new democratic South Africa should be honored and celebrated, we must remember that we are talking about a complex revolutionary, and also a complex politician.

Nelson Mandela worked with comrades throughout the struggle and beyond. Internal colonialism, racism, class disparity, and extreme oppression were part of South African history long before the apartheid regime came to power in the late 1940s.  Nelson Mandela collaborated with other activists, black, Indian, coloured, and white, at Wits University in Johannesburg and it was within this grouping, as well as from his fellow African National Congress Youth League leaders, that he came to a belief in nonracialism.  I was asked recently if he was criticized for promoting nonracialism during the struggle and I answered that he actually came late to the party. He clearly stated that it was the struggle commitment of fellow students at Wits—Ruth FirstJoe Slovo, Bram Fischer, Ishmael Meer, Norman Levy, J.N. Singh and others, as well as his close friends, and struggle stalwarts Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo—that changed his view on the struggle. A view that went from African Unity and only fighting racism to a belief that imperialism, class disparity, and racism were all connected.No one argues with Mandela‘s leadership in the African National Congress during the fifties and through the 1964 Rivonia Trial where he and seven comrades were sentenced to life imprisonment.  The key word here, though, is comrades, because Nelson Mandela always worked with other people in the struggle, during his time at Robben Island Prison, and of course in both the negotiations with the apartheid regime and the forming of the first South African democratic government in 1994.  President Barack Obama was totally in error when he said that Mandela’s life proved the power of one man with courage and vision could change the world.

Countless are the continuing statements on Nelson Mandela as a man of peace and love and forgiveness—none of them are untrue yet they are clearly only a partial portrait as Nelson Mandela was part of a struggle fighting against what Bishop Desmond Tutu often refers to as a “pigmentocracy.”  And an organized pigmentocracy at that.  Throughout the 1950s beginning with the Defiance Campaign against the magnification of racist legislation, to the Freedom Charter calling for democracy for all South Africans, to the 1956 Treason Trial, the mission of Mandela and his struggle comrades was to change the South African government.  However Gandhian the strategy and tactics of this part of the struggle took, the government oppression became more harsh, more violent, and more oppressive.  Thus, by 1962, for Nelson Mandela, who had gone underground, as well as his comrades, it could not be all peace and love.   Before he was arrested that year Mandela was clandestinely interviewed by British journalist Brian Widlake.

If the government reaction is to crush by naked force our non-violent demonstrations we will have to seriously reconsider our tactics.  In my mind, we are closing a chapter on this question of non-violent policy.

Mandela was actually asking the apartheid regime, once again, to question their own policy of harsh, violent, repression.  And what he was proposing at this point was not actually armed struggle, but rather armed propaganda—attacks on government facilities in an attempt to show, first the people, and then the government, that the apartheid regime was not invulnerable.

At this point, 1962, armed propaganda didn’t do much to reach either goal, and although Mandela, in partnership with Joe Slovo, had written a document for armed struggle, called Operation Mayibuye, and cadres of struggle soldiers were sent out of South Africa for military training, the arrests at Rivonia crippled the struggle for almost a decade.  Yet even at trial Nelson Mandela was a revolutionary—his message certainly wasn’t peace and love.  His now famous speech in the court deserves repeating.

During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people.  I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination.  I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.  It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve.  But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

Mandela went to Robben Island prison in 1964 and would not see freedom until 1990. In fact, his face was not even seen in a photograph again until 1988—representation of the totality of apartheid.  His interactions in prison, however, were both revolutionary and human, and in spite of the harsh conditions he faced he was involved in political conversations across the boundaries of competing struggle organizations and was very much part of what prisoners referred to as Robben Island: Our University.

Nelson Mandela spent the struggle years in prison and it was comrades like Oliver Tambo, Chris Hani, Joe Slovo, Pallo Jordan, Ronnie Kasrils, and younger MK soldiers that continued the struggle-in-exile.  Within South Africa black people on the ground and the in-country exemplification of the ANC, the United Democratic Front, kept the struggle alive.  But by the mid-eighties Nelson Mandela was part of the conversations with the apartheid regime and he was released in 1990.  It must be remembered that South Africa did not have a successful armed revolution, but rather a negotiated settlement.  And this is where Nelson Mandela becomes a politician.

So while I do not begrudge the peace and love eulogies nor question the magnitude of the end of organized and legislative apartheid in South Africa, I again think that it is important to view Madiba with more complexity.  No one will ever claim that the negotiations with the apartheid regime were easy and it is here where Mandela’s mastery as a politician comes front and center.  Yes, it was important that he publicly stood up to De Klerk.  But one has to question whether these clashes didn’t play well for both men within their own constituencies.  We have to also wonder at which point the United States, the United Kingdom, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund entered negotiations about negotiations.  Because the formal negotiations between the ANC and the apartheid regime is where Mandela’s political skill is paramount.  Nelson Mandela basically sidelined (albeit temporarily) Thabo Mbeki and chose three negotiators that represented the far left of the struggle—Cyril Ramaphosa then of the Mineworkers Union and Joe Slovo and Mac Maharaj from the South African Communist Party.  Did Madiba know that selling what would surely become a neo-liberal transition to the struggle left was more difficult that negotiating with the enemy?  Did Madiba know that he needed Joe Slovo to proclaim the sunset clauses that would protect the jobs of apartheid regime bureaucrats?  Again a question—but one surely worth asking.

What we do know is that neo-liberalism came with vengeance to South Africa and that the ANC and President Mandela became partners with the West.  But we also know that in the early struggle years Nelson Mandela was a revolutionary who believed and fought for a people’s democracy.  So, even if there is much more complexity than the present eulogies exhibit, Madiba is still estimable.  And the hope, at least from my perspective, is that the love of people that these Hallmark eulogies proclaim will lead to 1980s struggle conversations and actions that address the class disparity, lack of services, freedom of press issues, and corruption that exist today in South Africa.

Alan Wieder is the author of Ruth First and Joe Slovo in the War Against Apartheidpublished this year by Monthly Review Press.

[This piece originally appeared in Monthly Review's webzine. Read it here.]

Who you know: How social networks hurt Black and Latino job prospects

—Daria Roithmayr

In a recent article in The Atlantic, Derek Thompson highlights what many of us already know—that the burden of recent unemployment falls harder on black and Latino workers than on whites, even though black women and Latino men are working more consistently than their white counterparts.

This is largely due to occupational segregation—the fact that certain racial groups cluster into certain jobs. While some jobs have become increasingly integrated over time, others are dominated by particular groups. As Thompson notes, Latinos make up almost half of farmworkers, blacks make up a third of home health aides, and Asians make up 60% of personal appearance workers. So when the economy sours, certain low-skill, low-income jobs are hit harder than others, and as a result, certain racial groups are hit harder than others

Thompson argues that a disparity in education explains these racial differences. But education is only part of the story. The real story lies elsewhere, in something called “network effects,” which Thompson only mentions in passing.

The old saying—“it’s not what you know but who you know”—matters quite a lot in explaining occupational segregation. Employers fill well over half of all jobs via personal word-of-mouth referrals, and certain jobs, including those listed above, are filled almost exclusively via insider referrals.

A person’s contacts pass along information about the job opening and then often vouch for the candidate to the prospective employer. But job referral networks tend to be racially and occupationally segregated for reasons owing mostly to the idea that birds of a feather flock together socially because they create natural and comfortable connections.

Unhappily, black and Latino job referral networks are more likely to include people who are employed in low-skill, low-income jobs like bus driving and farm work, owing to past discrimination. What’s more, these networks are self-reinforcing. That is, going forward, people who make use of those social networks are far more likely to be referred via word-of-mouth to the same kinds of jobs. So Latinos will continue to take up jobs as domestic workers, for example, because the people in their networks are already employed in those kinds of jobs.

Thompson thinks that the explanation for occupational segregation is less network effects and more education. But education itself is a function of self-reinforcing network effects, this time in our neighborhoods. Public schools get their funding from local property taxes, and, like social networks, those local neighborhoods are racially segregated, which means that poor black and Latino schools are underfunded and contain predominantly poor students with greater material needs. In turn, these schools produce students with fewer skills. And of course, over time, those students are more likely to work in low-wage, low-skill jobs, and to live in poor segregated neighborhoods with underfunded schools.

Thus, even if intentional discrimination were to end tomorrow, occupational segregation will continue indefinitely. Indeed, until we address the problem of network effects, the everyday processes that we take for granted—referring our friends for a job or choosing a neighborhood on the basis of public schools—will continue to reproduce racial inequality.

Daria Roithmayr is the George T. and Harriet E. Pfleger Professor of Law at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law. She is the author of Reproducing Racism: How Everyday Choices Lock in White Advantage (forthcoming from NYU Press, 2014).

The New Southern Strategy: GOP plays the race card (again)

—Matthew W. Hughey and Gregory S. Parks

At a recent Tea Party meeting in Hood County, Texas, Rafael Cruz, the father of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), made bold statements reeking of white supremacy and Christian nativism, suggesting that the U.S. is a “Christian nation,” in which the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were a “divine revelation from God […] yet our president has the gall to tell us that this is not a Christian nation […] The United States of America was formed to honor the word of God.” And just months prior to that event, in speaking to the North Tea Party on behalf of his son Ted (who was then running for Senate), Rafael urged the crowd to send Obama “back to Kenya.”

In the wake of the political dysfunction, gridlock, and rightwing obstruction, these statements certainly gesture toward important questions. Namely, is Rafael Cruz merely a “bad apple” that threatens to spoil the GOP or are his comments indicative of a larger strategic rhetoric that resonates with the lesser angels of our nature?

We suggest the latter.

Since the “Southern Strategy” whereby the GOP turned its back on Civil Rights and began courting white Southerners who believed they were victims of a new reverse racism social order, the Republican Party has employed subtle (and not so subtle, as witnessed above) rhetoric that turns on implicit anti-Black and anti-immigrant messages. It is said no better than former Republican Party strategist Lee Atwater’s 1981 remarks in which he laid bare the GOP racialized strategy:

You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.”  By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you.  Backfires.  So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff.  You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites.  And subconsciously maybe that is part of it.  I’m not saying that.  But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other.  You follow me—because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”

Hence, Ronald Reagan’s evocation that “welfare queens” were gaming the system sent a clear yet implicit message: Your taxes are high because Lyndon Johnson’s programs are funneling your money to undeserving and lazy black women.  When a group that supported George H. W. Bush’s presidential campaign ran a television advertisement that blamed Michael Dukakis for murders committed by Willie Horton (a black parolee who broke into a white couple’s home), the message baited white fears about young black male violence.  When Jesse Helms, a white senator from North Carolina, faced black challenger Harvey Gantt in 1990, Helms’s camp ran a television advertisement showing the hands of a white person crumbling a rejection letter with the voiceover: “You needed that job, and you were the best-qualified. But they had to give it to a minority because of a racial quota. Is that really fair?” The ad was broadcast just a few days shy of the election and boosted Helms to victory in what was previously a dead heat.

And in relation to Obama, we have a new Southern Strategy: Cruz’s comments fall lock and step with GOP and Tea Party elements that have attempted to frame Obama as either culturally out of place if not legally unable to hold the presidency. Due in part to the conservative conspiracy theorists, a small cadre of politicians (e.g., Missouri Republican Sen. Roy Blunt, or Nathan Deal, the Democrat-turned-Republican Gov. of Georgia), and already established cultural tropes that conflate whiteness and Christianity with Americaness, by the 2008 election season, studies showed that U.S. residents were more likely to associate American symbols with white politicians (e.g., Hillary Clinton) or even white European politicians (e.g., Tony Blair) than with Obama. Even when American citizens viewed an American flag they then showed implicit and explicit prejudice toward African Americans in general and reluctance to vote for Obama when compared to those not exposed to the flag.

Simply put, Barack Obama did not fit most American’s implicit idea of an authentic American, and the GOP has seized upon that opportunity to engage in the latest state of the New Southern Strategy. The playing of the race card, even in implicit fashion, remains an efficacious political strategy for those on the Right.

Matthew W. Hughey is associate professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut. Gregory S. Parks is assistant professor of law at Wake Forest University School of Law.  They are co-authors of The Wrongs of the Right: Language, Race, and the Republican Party in the Age of Obama (forthcoming in 2014 from New York University Press).

The First American Muslims

—Sylviane A. Diouf

This week, 1.2 billion Muslims will celebrate Eid-al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice. Among them will be millions of believers throughout the Americas. While most people think Middle Eastern immigrants brought Islam to these shores, hundreds of thousands of West African Muslims preceded them and left significant marks of their faith and experience, including in the written word.

They have been mostly forgotten, but as my research shows, Muslims—mostly from Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Mali, and Nigeria—were among the very first Africans to be transported to all parts of the Americas (I study cases in twenty countries) as early as 1503. Some were teachers, students, judges, religious and military leaders, pilgrims to Mecca, and traders.

In the Spanish territories, whose colonists were only a few years removed from centuries of Muslim rule at home, their arrival was perceived as a threat to the spread of Christianity among Native Americans. But proselytism was not high on the Muslims’ agenda. Even though they made some converts, education and the preservation of the community were their major concerns—as was the difficult transmission of the faith and its rituals to their children, surrounded as they were by practitioners of other religions.

Many Muslims could read and write Arabic and their own languages in the Arabic script. They were not just a few individuals writing for a Western audience like Olaudah Equiano or Phillis Wheatley. They were countless people scattered across the New World writing for themselves and their own. From North Carolina to Georgia, from Brazil to Trinidad and Jamaica, although restricted by slavery, they produced letters, excerpts from the Qur’an, prayers, talismans, uprising blueprints, autobiographies, and other manuscripts that are still extant. These documents provide invaluable insight into their intellectual, social and religious lives; their educational attainments prior to deportation; and their personal and collective perspectives.

Most manuscripts have disappeared but some are still being recovered. On October 8, a 223-page copy of the Qur’an was put up for auction. It was written—from memory—in London in 1733 by Ayuba Suleyman Diallo (known in the West as Job ben Solomon), an erudite man from an elite family who had been enslaved in Maryland and was on his way back to Senegal. He owed his freedom to a letter in Arabic he had written to his father, asking to be redeemed. Intercepted and translated, his missive led to his being manumitted. Unbeknownst to all, Diallo’s precious manuscript had been in the private collection of a Californian since the 1960s.

We still have much to learn about the enslaved Africans who are part of the history of Africa, Islam, the Americas, and the global African Diaspora. And, uniquely in the world of American slavery, their own manuscripts are central to the discovery and recovery of their story.

Sylviane A. Diouf is an award-winning historian of the African Diaspora. She is the author of Slavery’s Exiles: The Story of the American Maroons and Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas, both with NYU Press.

An introduction to Servants of Allah

Today, we have an excerpt from the 15th anniversary edition of Sylviane A. Diouf’s Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas, in which Diouf looks back at the changes in the political, religious and social climate since the first edition was written (in 1998), and points to new avenues of research on African Muslims during slavery.

Read the introduction below, and be sure to enter our Goodreads giveaway this month for a chance to win a copy of the book!

Servants of Allah – Introduction to the 15th anniversary edition

Is the Miss America pageant good or bad for women?

Earlier this month, the NYT’s “Room for Debate” blog featured a thoughtful discussion on the Miss America pageant and its role in today’s society. Now that this year’s pageant is over, we asked Megan Seely, author of Fight Like a Girl: How to Be a Fearless Feminist, to weigh in on the controversy in light of recent racial backlash faced by its first Indian-American winner. Read her piece below.
 

Miss America Colleen Kay Hutchins (R) looking at her trophy, September 1952.

I often hear the Miss America pageant defended as a great source of scholarship funds. Indeed, it is said that this year’s winner will receive about $50,000 in scholarship money. But given the fact that women receive fewer academic and merit scholarships than their male counterparts, despite overall higher grades; and despite the fact that there are fewer role models for women and girls in education particularly within Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM); and despite the fact that women continue to confront pay inequity once they are in their jobs and careers, it is offensive that we defend and celebrate a ‘scholarship program’ whose main requirement is women meet a specific and narrow definition of physical beauty.

Some have recently argued that there have been gains for women of color, citing the very small handful of women of color who have been crowned. It should be noted that we have never had a Latina Miss America or a transgendered Miss America. And until the 1930s the official rulebook of the pageant required contestants to be “of the white race.” A rule that might officially be gone today, but is clearly still expected, judging by the blatantly racist response to the 2014 winner, Nina Davuluri.

There are women who love the pageant. There are participants who defend and celebrate what Miss America has meant to their lives. They argue choice in participating or watching or believing in the pageant. I don’t mean to dismiss these perspectives. But I do question, what is choice, in a culture that so deeply holds and reinforces a beauty standard that is then required for participation in the pageant?  Miss America deviates little from the thin, tall, heteronormative, and more than not, white ideal of beauty. Though there are a few who have successfully challenged the whiteness of the pageant, very little has changed. If we teach women and girls that their value is in their physical appearance, then it is no wonder that many turn to Miss America for validation.

I would hope that the winners would use their public platform to create change and impact the world.  But changing the pageant and the culture in which it exists is a far greater challenge. While women of color who become Miss America certainly defy the stereotypes of American beauty, they often do so while reinforcing the expectations of body size and appearance. There is still little, if any, diversity in regards to all races, ethnicities, cultural identities, body sizes, genders, sexualities, ages and abilities.  As long as this remains true, and as long as all women do not see themselves routinely represented and valued in every aspect of society, then we cannot justify the existence of this overtly misogynistic institution. Even if we celebrate the few women who have managed to stand out within it.  We cannot ignore the negative and harmful impacts this event has on thousands upon thousands of women of all ages who struggle to find their worth in a culture that emphasizes and rewards women’s physical appearance above all else. Girls are watching; we owe them more.

Megan Seely is a third wave feminist and activist, and author of Fight Like a Girl: How to Be a Fearless Feminist (NYU Press, 2007). She lives and teaches in northern California.

Q&A with authors Lisa Jean Moore and Mary Kosut: Part 2

September is National Honey Month! In celebration, we’re featuring the second half of a Q&A with Lisa Jean Moore and Mary Kosut, authors of Buzz: Urban Beekeeping and the Power of the Bee (read the first half here). In part two, Moore and Kosut talk about their experience in the field with bees, the truth about the sting, and bees as the new cause célèbre.

Question: What was it like to be in the field with the bees?

Lisa Jean Moore and Mary Kosut: The first few times with the bees was intense. We weren’t even paying attention to the beekeepers – it was all about being in the space of the bee and moving slowly and deliberately and respecting their airspace.  We realized if they just sit on your body and you aren’t freaking out, they won’t sting you. We had to get over all the ways we have been socialized by media messages that bees are bad and could attack at any moment.  Bees are actually mostly docile and if you are just smart and contemplative you will be okay. But of course, humans make mistakes.

Beekeeping is also a sensual experience. First is the sound of the bees. The hum can be kind of meditative. It is almost like water in a stream – bees can cause people to really calm down and be in the present. Also, in terms of the embodiment of beekeeping, the hive gives off this extraordinary smell and one of the beekeepers we interviewed, talked about this smell being like truffle oil. She talked about it as being like a “good, heady sex smell” – sort of like the pheromones of sex across species. And we smelled that smell.

When people go and open up the hive, they will sit and watch the bees come and go. These are the intimate embodied relationships people have with the bee.

Q: What about the sting?

LJM and MK: In Buzz, we discuss the sting a lot. There are these affective relationships with bees where fear and anxiety is in involved in the practice. So there is something about the wildness and danger that is attractive to people in New York City in particular. Because beekeeping had been illegal in New York City until a couple years ago because of the fact that they sting, we found beekeepers that actually liked the illegality – it was living on the edge and exciting.

The unpredictability of the bees is also a thrill. There are thousands of them flying in the air and they are making all this noise and it is a little bit intimidating, because they can sting you. People deal with the dangers differently – some beekeepers work without prophylactics. We interviewed this one guy who does beekeeping barefoot. There is a little bit of machoness to it – to quote one of our beekeepers, there’s a “bad-ass-ness” about it. It is kind of a flirtation with wild nature, but not too wild. It is not like keeping a tiger in the city.

Getting stung – being able to say you lived through it and you are going in again – we think that is attractive to people. Because getting stung hurts. The bees die after they get stung, so they actually don’t want to sting you. They do all these warning things to avoid stinging – they release pheromones to signal threat, they change their pitch to show they are angry, they also do this thing called bonking. They fly in and basically hit you on the forehead with their bodies to warn you and make you back off.

Bees die when they sting you because their bottom half falls off. So it is very sacrificial for them – they are sacrificing their life for the security of the hive. The whole is more important than the individual – we as sociologists are very attracted to that idea.

Humans theorize about the bees, comparing the hive to a democracy where all these individuals are working together for the greater good. In Buzz, we discuss how bees are basically this model insect because they are so easily anthropomorphized and a template for how humans are supposed to behave. Historically people have been attracted to bees.

Q: Do killer bees make honey?

LJM and MK: Killer bees are sort of a misnomer – or misnamed.  Basically these are bees taken from Africa and studied in South America – mostly Brazil, where they have been studied for certain characteristics. As they are smaller than European honeybees, they reproduce more quickly. But bees are an unpredictable species. They are domesticated, but they don’t always follow what humans want. So some escaped.

They have the capacity to supplant other European hives with their own queen. Once they install their own queen, a hive can turn over to being Africanized. This has been moving up the borders across the U.S.-Mexico border as far north as about Southern Georgia – maybe a bit further. This is tracked by the USDA and other agencies because of the presumed threat of Africanized bees.

They don’t have more venom in their sting – but if they are provoked, they will go farther and longer to sting. The fact that they nest inside buildings and underneath the ground means that humans’ actions sometimes disrupt those bees more than European honeybees because of their nesting patterns. So in Buzz, we talk about that threat of the Africanized bees and how it has been sort of managed through existing tropes of race and racism. Bees have become another way to express anxiety about the border and race and ethnicity. Bees that are out of control are not paying attention to all the rules about entering the country. They are more robust and heartier and that trait is capitalized on and used in a pejorative sense to make us fearful.

Q: What are some of the surprising findings about bees and urban beekeeping?

LJM and MK: One of the things we found so interesting in looking at bees and urban beekeepers and colony collapse disorder (CCD) is that simultaneously, while it is probably a panoply of causes that lead to bees dying, but primarily neonicotinoid – there is also this movement at the same time to save the bees. We liken this to the 1970s save the whales movement.

Bees have become this new mascot or cause célèbre for people to root for or rally behind and this has effects in the urban beekeeping landscape and also for larger corporations like Haagen Dazs or other companies who make saving the bees part of their way of engaging with consumers. It is a pitch to get us concerned by the environment. Bees are seen as so wholesome and so threatened that we need to help them. This is a far cry from when we grew up and were taught to run from bees due to “The Swarm” and other killer bee movies.

In a short time, we have been taught to be concerned about the bees, to worry for them, to want to care for them, to want to buy products that protect them. There is a real shift in how we have seen bees as a real threat to how we seem them now as completely threatened.  And this becomes part of our own desire in how to participate to try and help them.

Voices of women in the March on Washington

—Bettye Collier-Thomas and V.P. Franklin

The 1963 March on Washington will go down in history as one of the greatest events in the struggle for freedom, justice, and equality in history. A riveting event, which captured the attention of the world and inspired oppressed people throughout the world, its focus was civil rights and jobs for black Americans Black women were heavily involved in the movement as participants, organizational leaders, and workers. Yet, they were excluded from the official list of speakers.

As recounted by Dorothy I. Height in Sisters in the Struggle, they asked Dr. Martin Luther King, A. Philip Randolph and other male leaders, whether or not there would be a woman speaker. Finally they were referred to Bayard Rustin, the organizer of the event. Height said,

I went along with Anna Arnold Hedgeman, a woman with a long history of working for freedom and equality, to meet with Bayard Rustin. We discussed the women’s participating in the March. We were amazed to hear the response, “Women are included.” Rustin asserted that, “Every group has women in it, labor, church,” and so on… There was an all-consuming focus on race. We women were expected to put all our energies into it. Clearly, there was a low tolerance level for anyone raising the questions about the women’s participation, per se.

And, so women were shunted aside. According to Height, “To address the issue the organizers gave a number of us prominent seats on the platform.” The organizers also created a “Tribute to Negro Women Fighters for Freedom” in the program where many women such as Rosa Parks, Josephine Baker, Daisy Bates, Diane Nash, Gloria Richardson, and Myrlie Evers were listed.  During the tribute women were allowed to make comments.  But – there were no official women speakers.

On November 14, 1963, at the National Council of Negro Women’s Leadership Conference to assess the status of the movement and to chart the next steps, Pauli Murray, a noted scholar, educator, and activist captured the feeling of black women about their exclusion from direct participation in the March on Washington, as well as their treatment in the overall movement. Her speech was widely publicized in the black press and elicited a great deal of discussion. Murray traced the history of black women and their struggle for equality from slavery to freedom, noting the similarities and difference s in their status from that of white women. She noted that in their quest for equality, black women had been willing to overlook gender discrimination in order to gain racial equality.

This is a history that should be read by all Americans.  As we celebrate this 50th anniversary, we must never forget the central role women played in the battle for racial equality.

Bettye Collier-Thomas and V.P. Franklin are editors of Sisters in the Struggle: African American Women in the Civil Rights-Black Power Movement (NYU Press, 2001). Bettye Collier-Thomas is a Professor of History at Temple University. V. P. Franklin is Distinguished Professor of History and Education at the University of California, Riverside, and editor of the Journal of African American History.

“What We Demand:” March on Washington, 50 years later

—Hasan Kwame Jeffries

The March on Washington had a very specific purpose – to present President Kennedy and Congress with a list of demands designed to secure basic civil and human rights for African Americans. The 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, therefore, should not only be a time for sharing snippets of Dr. King’s most famous speech, but also an occasion to look back at the marchers’ demands. Assessing which demands have been met and which have yet to be met will provide a much more accurate picture of how far the nation has come in terms of providing equal opportunity for African Americans than all of the well–meaning recollections and recitations of “I Have A Dream” put together.

Leading the marchers’ list of demands was a call for meaningful civil rights laws. At the time, federal civil rights measures lacked teeth. Prosecutorial power was limited and punishments for racial discrimination were light, if they existed at all. In 1964, major civil rights legislation was passed in the form of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. But many complained that it too lacked teeth, and were especially bothered by the absence of provisions to prosecute those who attacked civil rights workers. Today, it remains extremely difficult to bring to justice perpetrators of crimes where racial bias and discrimination were clearly at play. The failure to convict the murderer of young Trayvon Martin underscores the point.

The marchers’ demanded a massive federal work program. The economy was sputtering and hit African Americans especially hard. It was hoped that a New Deal-like jobs program would see the nation—and African Americans—through the downturn. But the federal government never invested in another work program. In fact, during subsequent economic downturns, including the Great Recession of recent years, it established a pattern of propping up large corporations and firing and laying off government employees, rather than expanding employment opportunities to the unemployed and underemployed.

Along with the demand for a massive federal work program, the marchers called for full and fair employment. African Americans were always the last hired and first fired. The only way to break this cycle was to insist on full employment for everyone. Fifty years after the march, America hasn’t come close to full or fair employment. Worse, a large percentage of the nation’s workforce, and disproportionately high numbers of black workers, don’t even earn a livable wage. Meanwhile, debate rages in Congress about nickel and dime increases to the minimum wage.

A major issue for the marchers was decent housing. African Americans across the country were routinely discriminated against when it came to housing, forcing many to live in overpriced, overcrowded dwellings in segregated neighborhoods. Little has changed over the years. In fact, patterns of residential segregation have increased as suburbs have spread and gentrification has reclaimed select urban spaces as exclusive white spaces. And the recent collapse of the housing market has exposed the ongoing vulnerability of black middle class homeowners to discriminatory lending practices.

The right to vote was also a central concern for the marchers. No constitutional right is more fundamental than the vote, yet black southerners continued to be excluded from the ballot box. In 1965, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, providing new protections for black voters. But in the new millennium, a wave of state voter ID laws, combined with the Supreme Court’s recent overturning of a key element of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, have put the vote of tens of thousands of African Americans at severe risk.

The marchers’ final demand was adequate integrated education. Nearly a decade after Brown, segregated schools remained the norm in the South and white southerners remained as determined as ever to keep it that way. And half a century later, a race-based dual education system persists. In much of the South, black children attend public schools and white children attend private white Christian academies. In most metropolitan areas with large black populations, the divide is between urban and suburban school districts.

A lot has changed since the March on Washington, and it is wonderful that so many people are taking the time to recognize this historic event. But the sobering reality is that half a century after the march, the marchers’ demands remain largely unmet.

Fifty years from now, at the centennial of the march, I hope these demands will have been fulfilled. But given the slow pace of progress, and the determination of reactionaries to roll back the clock, I’m much less hopeful than I was just a few years ago.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries is Associate Professor of History at The Ohio State University, where he holds a joint appointment at the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity. He is the author of Bloody Lowndes: Civil Rights and Black Power in Alabama’s Black Belt (NYU Press, 2010).

The men behind the March: Randolph and Rustin together again

Bayard Rustin (right) with A. Phillip Randolph on the cover of Life magazine, September 6, 1963—Cynthia Taylor

With the 50th anniversary of the1963 March on Washington demonstration in the media’s spotlight, and especially of its heavy emphasis on Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, this light has also shined on the real strategic planners and originators of the actual 1963 March: A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin. Together, Randolph and Rustin made an indefatigable team of seasoned civil rights activists that enabled Dr. King’s now famous speech to be remembered so vividly fifty years later.

Through the media attention on this anniversary, it has been gratifying to once again see the cover of Life magazine (September 6, 1963) with Randolph and Rustin standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial. At the time of the March, most Americans had viewed these two men as the real stars of the occasion. The 1963 March for Jobs and Freedom was actually the realization of their long-time “dream” to have a dramatic and peaceful demonstration that emphasized the need of all black Americans for economic opportunities and jobs, as well as the more elusive ideal of freedom.

At the time of Randolph’s death in 1979, Rustin described his relationship with Randolph in a variety of ways: father, uncle, adviser, and defender. Yet, Randolph’s and Rustin’s civil rights collaboration got off to a shaky start. As a leader in the youth division of the original March on Washington Movement, Rustin publicly criticized Randolph for calling off the first march scheduled for July 1, 1941. After the war, in 1948, Randolph and Rustin worked together again on a civil disobedience league called the “Committee to End ‘Jim Crow” in the Armed Services.”

When Randolph disbanded the league after President Truman issued Executive Order 9981 which eventually led to the desegregation of the services, Rustin recalled how “a number of ‘Young Turks’ and I decided to outflank Mr. Randolph,” denouncing him in the black press as “an Uncle Tom, a sellout, a reactionary, and an old fogey out of touch with the times.” Afraid that Randolph would not forgive his “treachery,” Rustin avoided Randolph for two years. When Rustin finally mustered the courage to visit Randolph in his New York office, he described the renewal of their friendship in this way:

As I was ushered in, there he was, distinguished and dapper as ever, with arms outstretched, waiting to greet me, the way he had done a decade ago.  Motioning me to sit down with that same sweep of his arm, he looked at me, and in a calm, even voice, said: ‘Bayard, where have you been? You know that I have needed you.’

From then on, Randolph and Rustin worked together as the key architects of the modern civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. In 1953, after an incident in Pasadena California when Rustin, an openly gay man, was busted on a morals charge of sexual misconduct, Randolph stood by him and without his friendship, support and considerable influence, Rustin might have been completely ostracized from the civil rights community. Randolph declared “if the fact is, he is homosexual, maybe we need more of them; he’s so talented.”

In 1956, Randolph and Rustin, along with Ella Baker and Stanley Levison, formed an organization called “In Friendship,” a fundraising group committed to providing “economic aid to victims of race terror in the South,” especially for supporters of the Montgomery bus boycott.  The group agreed that Rustin, with his extensive experience in nonviolent techniques, could best evaluate the situation in the early days of the boycott. In his brief time there, Rustin worked effectively with the young and inexperienced boycott leader, Martin Luther King. Behind the scenes, Rustin advised Dr. King with his speeches and sat in on many of the boycott’s strategy meetings. Both Randolph and Rustin threw their considerable influence behind King’s emergent leadership of the newest phase of civil rights activity, as Rustin believed “from the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955, for the next two years following to May 1957, [the three year anniversary of the Brown decision] the center of gravity and the center of activity for the whole civil rights movement was the church people and ministers of the south.”

Between 1957 and 1963, this newly formed Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), joined forces with the NAACP, and various labor and working-class groups linked to A. Philip Randolph and other labor leaders to make civil rights history, culminating in the spectacular success of the peaceful August 28, 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

By 1963, A. Philip Randolph was nearing the end of his long years of labor and civil rights activism. In his final tribute to Randolph, Rustin remembered their historic collaboration of that day in the following way:

As the assembly slowly dispersed from the Lincoln Memorial, Rustin saw the tired ‘old gentleman’ standing alone on the podium, looking out on the departing crowds.  As Rustin walked up to Randolph, he was surprised to find ‘tears streaming down his cheeks’ the first time he had even seen Randolph show his emotions.  Indeed, Randolph was so overcome with the power of that one-day event, in which the black community and the white liberal community came together in their demand for equal treatment under the law, that he ‘could not hold back his feelings.’

How great that the 50th anniversary of the March has brought two forgotten heroes behind the movement, back into public memory.

Cynthia Taylor teaches American history and religion in the school of Art, Humanities and Social Sciences at Dominican University of California. She is the author of A. Philip Randolph: The Religious Journey of an African American Labor Leader (NYU Press, 2005).

March on Washington at 50 years: The struggle continues

—Akinyele Omowale Umoja

Fifty years ago, the United States was at a crossroads. The daughters and sons of enslaved Africans found themselves as “second-class citizens” in the land of their birth. African descendants were denied the right to vote and access to public institutions in many states, particularly in the South, where over half of the Black population was located. The ideology of white supremacy was institutionalized, as an apartheid order reinforced by racial violence and terror existed in most of the South. It was common for Black women to be raped and sexually harassed by white men with no hope of justice within the criminal justice system. Federal, state, or local officials did not significantly investigate or prosecute the assassinations of key opponents of racial injustice, such as Medgar Evers and George Lee in Mississippi.

In response to the U.S. apartheid system and white supremacist violence, tens of thousands of African descendants and their allies mobilized to challenge the system of oppression. A mighty insurgent movement emerged against segregation and for civil and human rights in local communities throughout the South. Friends and allies worked in solidarity with this movement inside the U.S. and internationally. This was the context of the 1963 March on Washington.

It must be noted that the Kennedy Administration and elements of the liberal coalition (trade union aristocracy, Protestant and Catholic hierarchies, and foundations linked to the Democratic Party) co-opted the March and subverted grassroots, radical, and insurgent voices of the Black Freedom Movement. The speech of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and its chairman John Lewis (now Congressman from Georgia) was censored and changed by March organizers to suppress SNCC’s critique of the federal government’s lack of protection and intervention on behalf of voting rights workers in Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. Conservative and moderate Black leadership cooperated with this silencing of grassroots Black voices. The suppression of grassroots voices at the March is why Nation of Islam Minister Malcolm X labeled the 1963 event, “The Farce on Washington.”

Today, fifty years after the 1963 March, the struggle for democracy and human rights for African descendants born in the U.S. is not complete. While tremendous sacrifices have been made and reforms secured, Black life in the U.S. is still challenged and not valued in the society. The killing of Trayvon Martin and the recent acquittal of his killer, George Zimmerman, is only the tip of the iceberg. A study by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement released this year documents 313 Blacks were killed by police or security guards in the U.S. in 2012. 313 killings? That’s one every 28 hours!

Black oppression can also be demonstrated in the educational achievement gap and in the disproportionate rate of housing foreclosures in working class and privileged African-American neighborhoods. The recent U.S. Supreme Court compromising of the Voting Rights Act and subsequent initiatives to neutralize Black and Latino voting potential also exemplify continued efforts by elites and the beneficiaries of the U.S. origins as a white settler colony based on racial slavery to stop empowerment and self-determination of communities of color.

A new movement is emerging to oppose contemporary challenges to human rights, Black empowerment, and disrespect of Black life. The outrage from Black communities nationally in the aftermath of the Zimmerman verdict demonstrates potential resistance to the disregard for Black humanity. Nationally, grassroots activists have opposed foreclosures against banks that engaged in unethical policies to profit off the misery of working people, and particularly Black folks in the U.S. The recent court decision declaring New York’s “Stop and Frisk” policy unconstitutional comes in response to the grassroots campaigns to challenge it.

One important recent victory is the 2013 election of human rights attorney and activist Chokwe Lumumba to Mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, the state’s largest city and capital. Jackson’s 80% Black population is the second highest percentage in the U.S. In the city’s runoff, Lumumba defeated an opponent who with conservative white and corporate support out-financed him three to one. As a candidate for City Council in 2009, a People’s Assembly in his ward created Lumumba’s campaign platform. The People’s Assembly was composed of citizens from his ward with no restrictions. The People’s Assembly continued to operate after Lumumba’s election to City Council advising him on policy and initiating efforts on economic development, education, and community safety in their district. Lumumba promises the expansion of the People’s Assembly concept citywide with his election to Mayor. The People’s Assembly offers a new model of progressive and Black politics and a vehicle to include grassroots participation.

To complete the effort for human rights, democracy, and Black self-determination, the abovementioned effort must be built on. We must recognize these and other grassroots efforts in our celebration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. History will judge our inclusion or ignoring of grassroots voices for social justice.

Akinyele Omowale Umoja is an educator and scholar-activist. He is an associate professor and chair of the department of African-American studies at Georgia State University, and author of We Will Shoot Back: Armed Resistance in the Mississippi Freedom Movement (NYU Press, 2013).

Cory Booker’s primary win: The view from Newark

—Andra Gillespie

Cory Booker’s resounding victory in last week’s Democratic primary to replace the late Senator Frank Lautenberg was no surprise to most observers. Booker had been the overwhelming favorite in all of the polls leading up to the primary; he had the highest name recognition of all the candidates in the field; and he was able to raise more than twice as much money as his nearest competitor, despite having started the contest behind in fundraising. Indeed, Booker seems to represent the type of “new black politician,” whose race does not seem to hamper his ability to raise money and earn votes outside of the African American community.

In a book also titled The New Black Politician, I examined Cory Booker’s ascent to Newark’s mayoralty and its implications for African American politics. While Booker’s strong performance in a statewide contest was no surprise, his path to Newark’s mayoralty was a little bumpier. He lost his first mayoral bid to an incumbent who did not hesitate to play the race card against Booker in the African American community. While Booker was able to rebound and essentially push Sharpe James out of the 2006 race, questions of Booker’s racial authenticity and perceived instrumentality remained. At various points during Booker’s seven years as mayor of Newark, a vocal minority of mostly black residents has at various points questioned his political appointments, his policies, and even his very residence in Newark. For his part, Booker was publicly chastised early in his first term for telling stories about Newark residents that many Newarkers deemed insensitive to blacks and poor people. Perhaps most discouraging, Booker’s alliances with black members of Newark’s city council have frayed to the point that the black members of the council, all but one of whom were aligned with Booker in some way at one point in their professional lives, now routinely oppose his agenda.

While I never had any doubt that Booker would win this primary (or even that he would win in Newark), I was very curious about the dynamics that would undergird this vote. So, I traveled to Newark this summer to do some investigating. I wondered if Newarkers would support Booker as he sought higher office and if so, what motivated that support? I hypothesized that black Newarkers would support Booker in a senate campaign, but not for the most obvious reasons. I thought that race pride might undergird some of Booker’s support among Newark blacks, but I also expected to find a more complicated story. In particular, I prepared myself to learn that the aspects of Booker’s personality that were perceived as mayoral liabilities would be viewed as senatorial assets.

I first tested my hypotheses by asking questions and listening in on the scuttlebutt in June.  Sure enough, I found evidence to suggest that Booker would have no problem winning the votes of some of his most ardent opponents. I happened to run into a local community activist who actually helped lead a failed recall effort against Booker in 2007 one day in June. I asked her to handicap the race for me, and she made it very clear that she was supporting Booker.  As she explained it, the other opponents were okay, but not good enough, and she was confident that Booker would do a good job as senator.

I had a similar encounter in Newark on Election Night. I attended Booker’s victory party in Championship Plaza, where I ran into another ardent Booker opponent. He was beaming with pride at Booker’s success, bragging about how he’s known him since he was a young tenant organizer. As he continued to bask in the glow of Booker’s victory, he explained his change of heart. They may have fought tooth and nail over local issues, but this organizer had no doubt that he and Booker saw eye to eye on issues of national concern. And it was clear that he perceived some cachet in knowing the man who was poised to be senator.

The anecdotal evidence seemed to be pointing in the direction of Newarkers letting bygones be bygones. Yes, the vocal opposition had their issues with what they perceived to be Booker’s neoliberal, corparatist city policies that often limited their influence.  However, those issues seemed to have been of minimal concern in the senate contest.  The opposition seemed content to root for the “hometown boy,” even if some of them had their doubts about him as mayor.

To supplement my anecdotes, I fielded a short survey among likely voters the day before the election in Newark. I’m still analyzing the data, and the sample size is small (so my margins of error are larger than I’d like them to be). Despite these limitations, the unweighted data pretty clearly shows that Newarkers have a complicated relationship with Booker. In my poll, about 20% of respondents claimed to undecided (and not leaning towards any particular candidate) the day before the election. Booker ended up winning 64% of the vote in Newark, so I assume that most of those undecided voters ended up voting for him. Still, it was surprising to see so many people be so coy the day before an election. Then again, I personally knew people who admitted to agonizing over their primary vote choice.

In addition to tracking the primary vote, I also asked respondents a trait battery, where they had to say whether certain adjectives or phrases described Booker well or not. I tested a wide array of positive and negative descriptions of Booker to gain a comprehensive understanding of how Newarkers perceive him. The unweighted results were illuminating. Newarkers simultaneously hold positive and negative (though mostly positive) views of Booker. While significant majorities reported that they thought “cares only about his political career” describes Booker extremely or pretty well, significant majorities also thought that Booker “is genuinely concerned for the less fortunate,” “provides strong leadership,” and stands up for African Americans, New Jersey and Newark separately.  A significant majority also conceded that Booker would likely win the Democratic primary.

I am still at the beginning of my data analysis. Soon, I will delve into the econometric analysis of the weighted data. At a first glance, though, there seems to be credence to the idea that Newark voters, particularly black ones, are engaging in what my colleague Lorrie Frasure Yokley calls “Jekyll and Hyde politics.” That is, they have different expectations for how black politicians should behave at the local and statewide level. While the utility of being deracialized or neoliberal was hotly contested when Booker was a citywide candidate, Newarkers recognize that those strategies serve him well as a senator, and they are happy to support him.

Andra Gillespie is associate professor of political science at Emory University and author of The New Black Politician: Cory Booker, Newark, and Post-Racial America (NYU Press, 2012).