Coming on the heels of the 44th anniversary of the assassination of Fred Hampton (December 4, 1969) and the 45th anniversary of the founding of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party Bruce Dixon of BlackAgendaReport.com and Dr. Todd Steven Burroughs of DrumsInTheGlobalVillage.com were on hand for a discussion of the academic erasure of radical politics from The Black Panther Party and Black Power. Beginning with his critique of a new book by Jakobi Williams’, From the Bullet to the Ballot, Bruce Dixon took us through his concerns with the removal of key elements from the ideology and training of the Black Panther Party. Below is an excerpt from Dixon’s comments to Williams:
“You’ve seen the Murder of Fred Hampton all the way through probably more times than I have, and you might have listened to more of the speeches of Fred and others than I. Tell me if I’m wrong here, man. Fred and the rest of us said the words “rainbow coalition” a lot. But we said the words capitalism, socialism pretty often too, on some days even more often. We talked all the time about the breakfast programs and the medical clinic as examples of peoples socialism that ordinary folks could appreciate and defend. Words like socialism and proletarian internationalism drip from Fred’s and all our lips during this time. I’m not a scholar like you guys so maybe you can explain it to me – why does nobody ask where all this was coming from and how significant this tendency was? Could it be that you guys deem this line of inquiry to be unpromising cause it doesn’t lead where you seem to want to go, to black mayors and congressmen and generals and corporate functionaries and Barack Obama? Is that how this “scholarship” thing works?
1. All mention of socialism, class struggle and explicit opposition to capitalism on the part of the BPP is made to disappear.
2. All or nearly all mention of opposition to US empire, and the wars in Vietnam and colonial Africa as part of the motivation of the BPP, is also erased, and the broad current of black opposition to the Vietnam war fed by the experience of black vets, among others, goes unexplored. To hear you guys tell it, black Americans didn’t get excited about much of anything overseas until maybe the anti-apartheid movements of the 1980s.
3. In place of the BPP’s opposition to capitalist economic oppression at home and the draft and imperial war overseas, establishment historians try to explain the BPP’s wide popular appeal to the sheer coolness of big naturals and black people with guns, and what they call “coalition building.” The fact that political coalitions have motivations that would seem to bear explaining often escapes them. I have to say, Jakobi, that you’re a bit better than Gates and Joseph on this point, though your assignment of the BPP to “the Black Power Movement” seems entirely wrong to many of us.
4. Establishment historians also seem united in their depiction of our peoples’ entire historical struggle, from the Freedom Movement, the Black Power Movement and the Black Panther Party as leading to and culminating in the glittering careers of our current class of black government and corporate functionaries, with President Obama at the top of that heap.” – Bruce Dixon
The Murder of Fred Hampton