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?
- All mention of socialism, class struggle and explicit opposition to capitalism on the part of the BPP is made to disappear.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
Original airing December 10, 2013
Bruce’s blog post is an edited version of an earlier email he sent out early monday morning following a panel discussion at the University of Chicago that took place this past saturday. The week long program was titled “Black Power: In Tribute to Fred Hampton”.
Below is my response to his email.
During our panel on Saturday, one of the panelist gave me some advice during our exchange that I will apply now. Thank you for your comments and feedback.
I will keep my response brief since we already had this conversation Saturday when you informed me you had not read the book but glanced over Lynn French’s copy. I’m glad you are interested in my work and was able to read the book in 24 hours.
Your insinuation that some former ILBPP members did not communicate with me is false. If you recall from our panel discussion, I mentioned several ILBPP members who vetted me and my work. Most of them are cc’d in your email. Thus, you essentially disregard their positions as worthless; basically arguing that only your position matters. I value their input, contributions, interviews, resources, and feedback on the project. And I greatly appreciate their activism. Several members cc’d in your email have called me to restate their support—although this gesture is unnecessary. Furthermore, you approve of Waldo Martin’s work Black Against Empire…fyi Martin is the series editor for my book. Meaning he had to vet and approve it before it was published.
Again, thank you for your feedback which I’m sure you believe is constructive. We will have to just agree to disagree. The only point I will address again for you is the Obama connection. For the last time, the connection is one of appropriation not continuance. I argue that Jesse Jackson, David Axelrod, and Obama all appropriated the Party’s idealism of racial coalition identity politics for the sole purpose of winning elections. The book highlights in chapter six the disconnect between what the Panthers hoped to accomplish and what their political strategy was later used for when appropriated by the aforementioned politicians.
Again, thank you for your comments. And thank you to you all who helped me with this book and will continue to guide me on future projects!!
Not included in email: In response to your attacks on Bobby Seale, Bobby Rush, and black politicians not being revolutionaries or embrace of black politicians or the BPP legacy and impact on today’s politica arena, the Party’s ideolgy evolved over time between 1966-1982. When you were a member (for maybe 12 months from 1969-1970) the Party was in its international proletariat revoultionary nationalist period. Even then, Eldridge Cleaver ran for US President. Later, even Bobby Seale and Elaine Brown ran for office. Several members of the Illinois chapter ran for office on the Model Cities Board before Bobby Rush launched his political career. Again, your positon and why you joined the ILBPP is not the only position. As people in leadership politions in the chapter such as your comrade Che who served as Deputy Minister of Education (as you mentioned you were on the education cadre) supported and provided incite for the book. He was in the Party a lot longer and in a leadership position during the chapter’s existence. Just some food for thought.
Bruce quotes my work out of context. Again, examine evolution of BPP ideology from 1966-1982.
Again, I appreciate your comments and I will not engage in a back and forth exchange or debate with you. As you are entitled to your positions and I greatly respect your position but your attack forced me to at least offer this response.
Dr. Ball, this was a heavy session. The latter half conversation between Burroughs & Dixon was cutting edge stuff. I peeped when Burroughs had Dixon repeat “Its always been safer to be a nationalists without questioning capitalism or be an advocate of class struggle politics. Keep up the good work.
Right on! When was the last time you heard 3 brothas rapping like that? That was beautiful. Hell, I’ll listen to this a few more times tomorrow.