Black power - reading guide

Women at Free Huey Rally, Oakland, 1968.

Libcom.org's reading guide on the American black power movement of the 1960s-70s and its key groups as well as some readings on the civil rights movement.

General recommended reading

The Black Panther Party for Self-Defence

Maoist-influenced black power organisation, whose combination of community projects and militant image made it arguably the most important of all the Black Power groups at the time. It would eventually become subject to some of the heaviest repression in post-World War 2 America.

The League of Revolutionary Black Workers

Black workers' organisation formed in 1969, based largely in the car factories of Detroit, it was formed of different Revolutionary Union Movements (RUMs) such as DRUM (based at the Dodge Main factory), FRUM (based at Ford) and others, they took on both management and United Autoworkers Union in fighting against racism and for better conditions on the shopfloor.

Nation of Islam

Islamic black separatist organisation which was one of the major actors in the early civil rights and black power movement.

Other media

  • The murder of Fred Hampton - Documentary depicting the brutal murder of Chicago Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, killed in his bed by FBI agents. This film provides an excellent snapshot of the kind of repression faced by the Panthers.
  • Finally got the news - Documentary about the League of Revolutionary Black Workers. Includes interviews with members, supporters and opponents, the film documents their attempts to build a radical black workers' organisation to take on both management and the union and fight to improve conditions for all workers, black and white.
  • Eyes on the prize - 14-hour documentary series telling the definitive story of the civil rights era from the point of view of the ordinary people whose extraordinary actions launched a movement that changed the fabric of American life.
  • Black and Proud: The Soul of the Black Panther Era, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 - Collection of soul songs from the era of the height of black power and with black power content.
  • Radio Free Dixie - Excerpts from Robert F. Williams' radio show, Radio Free Dixie broadcast from exile in Havana in the 1960s. Includes speeches and some music, showing some of the cultural life of the movement.
  • X - Spike Lee's biographical film about Malcolm X, covering his life from his time as a petty criminal, his political awakening in prison and eventual assassination. Starring Denzel Washington.
  • Panther - Film by Mario Van Peebles about the rise and fall of the Black Panther Party, focusing largely on the government's COINTELPRO programme of repression.

Comments

Nate
Oct 4 2012 19:11

I'd suggest three more, all about continuities between black power and civil rights, and about use of arms. Negroes With Guns, by Robert F. Williams (there's a documentary of the same name, about Williams). Radio Free Dixie, by Timothy Tyson (biography of Williams). The Deacons for Defense, by Lance Hill.

Ed
Oct 4 2012 19:20

Cheers for those Nate.. do you reckon you could write some little intros for them (about the lengths of the ones above)? Just coz we want to give people an idea of what the texts are about and why they might want to read them..

Red Marriott
Oct 4 2012 21:31

Correction needed; the Panthers explicitly weren't "a black nationalist political party" - if you read their biogs, Party founders Seale & Newton rejected the politics of the nationalists they came across on campus and formed the Party as a direct alternative to those black nationalist politics.

Nate
Oct 5 2012 01:49

Ed, for sure, will do soon.

Reddebrek
Oct 5 2012 22:26

I would recommend Revolutionary Suicide the autobiography of Huey P. Newton. Not only does it do a good job of outlining the early repression black groups faced by the police and society in general, but it also outlines how and why the Panthers rejected Black Nationalism in favour of a class based program as well as giving some criticism of other black power groups operating at the time.

Reddebrek
Oct 5 2012 22:36

I also made a video about the history of the Black Panther Party using a Marxist Internet Archive audio file, its a bit brief at just over 30 minutes but as an "ice breaker" I think its pretty good. You can find it here

Nate
Oct 9 2012 17:32

Ed, summaries of those books plus one more pasted below. Also, three music-related links.
This http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL5E58F2A06FD9C84F and this http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=55BF063445A853D4 are vol1 and vol2 of a collection of soul songs from the era of the height of black power and with black power content. They give a sense of the cultural reach of the movement I think, and if you like soul it's just good music. And this page has excerpts from a radio show called Radio Free Dixie that Robert Williams broadcast from Havana in the 1960s. It has a few speeches and some music which again shows some of the cultural life of the movement. http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/negroeswithguns/radiofreedixie.html

Negroes With Guns, by Robert F. Williams. Williams was the president of an NAACP chapter in South Carolina that drilled with rifles and was willing to use arms for self-defense. Due to escalating conflict with local police and other white supremacists, Williams and his family fled the United States in the early 1960s. He wrote this short book in Cuba immediately after leaving the United States. Williams was influential on black power movements and shows how the divide between civil rights and black power is blurry. The book also shows how U.S.-focused black freedom movements had an international character/awareness. There's also a short documentary film called "Negroes With Guns," about Williams.

Radio Free Dixie, by Timothy Tyson. A biography of Robert F. Williams which gets into his conflicts with NAACP and other civil rights leadership including Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Deacons for Defense, by Lance Hill. Hill's book is about the Deacons for Defense and Justice, a clandestine armed self-defense organization that operated in relatively rural areas in the 1960s. The book also discusses the ideology of pacifism in the civil rights movement.

The Cold War and the Color Line, by Thomas Borselmann. The U.S. federal government competed with the U.S.S.R. for the loyalty of new people-of-color led countries emerging out of decolonization after World War Two. Borstelmann's book argues that this new condition made U.S. official and highly visible domestic racism into a foreign policy liability. The federal government and Southern state and local governments soon came into conflict over how much force could be brought to bear, and how publicly, against African Americans. This shaped the space in which black freedom struggles operated, and many African American activists consciously made use of this by deliberately drawing the world's attention to atrocities in the U.S. The book also shows how U.S.-focused black freedom movements had an international character/awareness.

Ed
Oct 13 2012 17:23

Cheers for those Nate, all added except for the Borselmann book which I kinda felt doesn't really seem like a 'starting place' book for someone wanting to learn about the Black Power movement..

Will def check out those Soul Music links as well, nice one!

Nate
Oct 14 2012 16:38

Ah good point about Borstelmann, not a starting point (though a very good read), sorry about the mix up. On the music thing, someone who is better than me at writing about music should do a music and politics blog on here (in a way that's not overly narrow counterculture like "listen to Crass!" and whatnot and not bullshit about the liberatory power of pop). That'd be awesome.

roopot
Nov 24 2012 15:36

Here's a very useful book on women's role in initiating the US Civil Rights Movement and their crucial role in anti-apartheid struggles:

Gender and Social Movements by M. Bahati Kuumba

flaneur
Nov 24 2012 17:46
Nate wrote:
Ah good point about Borstelmann, not a starting point (though a very good read), sorry about the mix up. On the music thing, someone who is better than me at writing about music should do a music and politics blog on here (in a way that's not overly narrow counterculture like "listen to Crass!" and whatnot and not bullshit about the liberatory power of pop). That'd be awesome.

I'd be up for doing a film one of those. Speaking of which, this is meant to be good.

wojtek
Dec 11 2012 13:30
wojtek
Jul 3 2013 19:20

Podcast with Labor historian Cal Winslow and Mike Hamlin of the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement on union rank-and-file militancy from the mid-1960s to 1981:
http://www.kpfa.org/archive/id/65568