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Echoes of a Freedom Struggle (A Book Review)

By Mumia Abu-Jamal  Posted by Hans Bennett (about the submitter)     Permalink
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Echoes of a Freedom Struggle (A Book Review)
 
[rev.writ. 11/22/07]
(c) '07 Mumia Abu-Jamal
 
 
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    There has been, in the last 30 years, a kind of cottage industry of civil rights histories, works written by folks recounting the heroic, and ostensibly successful black freedom movement, most centered around the life, and martyrdom of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
 
    The arc of those tales told is that there was once a vast evil called "segregation" which was overcome by the goodness, light, and sacrifice of people like Rev. Dr. King.
 
    Such a tale is comforting, and also popular, for it reaffirms a safe legend about America, and as such, as it is self-congratulatory, it sells.
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    Yet, as always, this was not the whole story, as shown by a growing number of works on the Black Liberation Movement (BLM).
 
    Lifetime liberationist, and later scholar Muhammad Ahmad ( f/k/a Max Stanford, Jr.) has given us all a unique and revealing look at this movement, often told from the inside.  In his new book, We Will Return in the  Whirlwind: Black Radical Organizations - 1960 1975, (Chi., IL: Kerr Publ., 2007) Ahmad tells us of the formative years, apex of development, and the fall of several radical and revolutionary groups: the Student Nonviolent  Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM) , the Black Panther Party (BPP), and the League of Revolutionary Black Workers (LRBW). As he was involved in the formation of several of these groups, his accounts are rich in historical detail.  For today's young activists, and especially for those who aspire to learn about the accomplishments , and failures of the Black liberation movement, this work is invaluable.
 
    Not surprisingly, many of the movements he examines (with the notable exception of the LRBW) had their origins in the Black student movement (either high school or college).
 
    Early in his work he cites the singular insight of revolutionary activist and organizer, Grace Boggs for an idea that would echo through almost all those movements - the failure to reach young people:
 
                    The main weakness of the Black left has been its inability to focus on the youth, who are burdened by a very high unemployment rate and are targeted by the drug culture.  Until the divorcement of the Black left from the youths is addressed there is likely to be no real advance in Black radicalism. {p.22}
 
    I learned a great deal from Dr. Ahmad's work, not just on RAM, and the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, but also of the role of key, 'organic' intellectuals and organizers, like Queen Mother Audley Moore (1898-1997), who played a central role in educating Ahmad when he was a young RAM activist.  His recollection of his initial fear of Moore rings clear and true, when we recall how popular culture taught us about the world around us:
 
                    Wanda Marshall [another RAM activist} and I had been afraid of Queen Mother, because of anti-communism red-baiting among progressive people.  Though I read some Marx, Lenin, and a little of Trotsky,  I still had the sting of anti-communism in me.  Wanda would say, "you know communists can brainwash you."  When the RAM cadre along with others would go over to Queen Mother's house, attending "Free Mae Mallory" meetings, we would be in the hall talking before breaking up.  Queen Mother would interrupt the discussion, point at me, and would say, "you, darling, you're the one I want."  This would scare the "living daylights" out of me, and I would promptly leave. Queen Mother would say to me before I left, "If you ever want to come by, the front window of my study is open: just raise it and come on in." {p.113}
 
    One day, while traveling from North to West Philly, he did just that, and discovered a gold mine of articles, rare books, and other information that blew his mind.  When Queen Mother found him several hours later, he was full of questions, which she patiently answered and explained.  It turned out that she was a key activist in half a dozen social movements, going back decades, and she knew a great deal from both her life, and her studies.
 
    She taught him about Black nationalism, socialism, history, and a wealth of other subjects.
 
    Because she was deeply knowledgeable and dedicated to the Black freedom struggle, she became an adviser to RAM.
 
    Ahmad's work is a valuable addition to the growing literature on a radical movement that rarely gets play, especially positive play, in the corporate media.  Published by Chicago's famed Kerr Publishing (the home of Marxist, Wobbly, and surrealist literature), Ahmad adds to our understanding of movements that made a difference in the lives of tens of thousands of African Americans during the 1960s, and '70s.
 
    It is a treasure trove that should open the eyes of many young people, who want to learn how it was to fight the world's mightiest empire, from within.
 
--(c) '07 maj

 

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