Historic Amnesia: Four Little Girls and Assata Shakur

That song…did more for me to get me out of myself than any song that I’ve ever done.  I was so outraged when the four colored girls were killed in…that Baptist church.  I tell you I was so outraged that I didn’t—I only walked the floor for hours at a time and that’s how it came out.  It just came out as a complete outraged protest against the injustices of this country against my people (Simone, Interview on Protest Anthology, 2008  – from Danielle Heard’s “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”: Nina Simone’s Theater of Invisibility”)

Approaching the fifty-year anniversary of the release of Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddam,” the ghosts of Mississippi and the horror of white supremacist violence continues to haint the nation.

On Friday, May 24, 2013, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley Congressional Gold Medals.  The murder of the “4 Little Girls” on September 15, 1963 at the 16th Street Baptist Church galvanized the black freedom struggle in its fight against white supremacy.

President Obama described the violence in the following way: “That tragic loss, that heartbreak, helped to trigger triumph and a more just and equal and fair America.”  Indeed – although it also triggered radicalization, outrage, and increasing calls for black power.

Taylor Branch, in Parting the Waters, describes Diane Nash’s reaction as one of growing dissatisfaction with methods embraced by the mainstream civil rights movement:

That night, Diane Nash presented to King the germ of what became his Selma voting rights campaign in 1965. She was angry. Privately, she told King that he could not arouse a battered people for nonviolent action and then give them nothing to do. After the church bombing, she and Bevel had realized that a crime so heinous pushed even nonviolent zealots like themselves to the edge of murder. They resolved to do one of two things: solve the crime and kill the bombers, or drive Wallace and Lingo from office by winning the right for Negroes to vote across Alabama. In the few days since, Nash had drawn up a written plan to accomplish the, latter with a rigorously trained nonviolent host, organized at brigade and division strength, that would surround Wallace’s government in Montgomery with a sea of bodies, “severing communication from state capitol building . . . Lying on railroad tracks, runways, and bus driveways . . . Close down the power company.” Her plan amounted to a protracted sit-in on the scale of the March on Washington. “This is an army,” she wrote King. “Develop a flag and an insignia or pin or button.”

The terrorism practiced by the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist organizations was part and parcel of American Apartheid.  The lynching of Emmett Till, the daily violence of white supremacy, and the bombings at 16th Street reflected the politics, morals, and values of the (southern) white American landscape but also contributed to a growing call for radical intervention.  Assata Shakur described the impact of white mobs, lynchings, and bombings on her political ethos:

Mostly, when I was young, the news didn’t seem real … only the news concerning black people had any impact on me. And it seemed that each year the news got worse. The first of the really bad news that I remember was Montgomery, Alabama. That was when I first heard of Martin Luther King. Rosa Parks had been arrested for refusing to give her seat to a white woman. The Black people boycotted the buses. It was a nasty struggle. Black people were harassed and attacked and, if I remember correctly, Martin Luther King’s house was bombed. Then came Little Rock. I can still remember those ugly, terrifying white mobs attacking those little children who were close to my own age … We would sit there horrified–from Harvey Young, “’A New Fear Known to Me’: Emmett Till’s Influence and the Black Panther Party”

There is more than a bit of irony, hypocrisy, and failure to understand history that in the same month that the “4 Little Girls” have been awarded this medal Assata is put on FBI’s most wanted list.  It is outrageous that someone committed to ridding America of white supremacist violence–to making sure no more children were murdered in the name of racism, segregation, and hatred–has been declared a terrorist worthy of a 2 million dollar bounty. She was fighting against the very terrorism that killed these girls.

NewBlackMan: Could Dr. King Watch Big Time College Sports?

Could Dr. King Watch Big Time College Sports? Race Beyond Shame

by David Leonard and C. Richard King | NewBlackMan

In “Shame of College Sports,” legendary American historian Taylor Branch turns his college sports in this month’s The Atlantic. Focusing on the profits generated through college sports, the lack of power available to student-athletes, and the absurdity to claims of amateurism and student-athletes, Branch exposes the exploitation and hypocrisy that is as much part of the NCAA experience as March Madness and Bowl Games. Almost hoping to disarm critics who often scoff at ‘slavery analogies,’ Brand avoids that comparison instead embracing one that centers on colonialism.

Slavery analogies should be used carefully. College athletes are not slaves. Yet to survey the scene—corporations and universities enriching themselves on the backs of uncompensated young men, whose status as “student-athletes” deprives them of the right to due process guaranteed by the Constitution—is to catch an unmistakable whiff of the plantation. Perhaps a more apt metaphor is colonialism: college sports, as overseen by the NCAA, is a system imposed by well-meaning paternalists and rationalized with hoary sentiments about caring for the well-being of the colonized. But it is, nonetheless, unjust. The NCAA, in its zealous defense of bogus principles, sometimes destroys the dreams of innocent young athletes.

Providing readers with an amazing history, including the origins of the term student-athlete (as part of a systematic effort to avoid paying workers’ compensation claims for injured football players) and illustrating the methods used by NCAA and its partner schools to maintain the illusion of amateur sports all while raking in the dough, Branch surprisingly avoids the issue of race. The colonial analogy notwithstanding, there is virtually no discussion of the racial implications in this system, the larger history of the NCAA in relationship to race, and the ways in which white racial frames help to justify an acceptance of such a system.

Branch seems to point to the racial implications here in a section entitled, ““The Plantation Mentality,” where he quotes Sonny Vaccaro:

“Ninety percent of the NCAA revenue is produced by 1 percent of the athletes,” Sonny Vaccaro says. “Go to the skill positions”—the stars. “Ninety percent African Americans.” The NCAA made its money off those kids, and so did he. They were not all bad people, the NCAA officials, but they were blind, Vaccaro believes. “Their organization is a fraud.”

The reference to the “Plantation mentality” and the explicit acknowledgement that the bulk of profits are generated within sports that in recent years have been dominated by African American athletes generates surprisingly little discussion of the radicalized political economy of college athletics today. Over a decade ago, D. Stanley Eitzen observed

These rules reek with injustice. Athletes can make money for others, but not for themselves. Their coaches have agents, as many students engaged in other extracurricular activities, but the athletes cannot. Athletes are forbidden to engage in advertising, but their coaches are permitted to endorse products for generous compensation. Corporate advertisements are displayed in the arenas where they play, but with no payoff to the athletes. The shoes and equipment worn by the athletes bear very visible corporate logos, for which the schools are compensated handsomely. The athletes make public appearances for their schools and their photographs are used to publicize the athletic department and sell tickets, but they cannot benefit. The schools sell memorabilia and paraphernalia that incorporate the athletes’ likenesses, yet only the schools pocket the royalties. The athletes cannot receive gifts, but coaches and other athletic department personnel receive the free use of automobiles, country club memberships, housing subsidies, etc.

To our minds, then, Branch clearly misses an opportunity to reflect on the ways in which the system is built around generating profits through the labor of young African American men. Those profits – the billions of dollars earned through television contracts, merchandizing, video game deals, concessions, booster donations, ticket sales – find there way into the hands of overwhelming white constituency, coaches and athletic directors, in support of a largely white establishment.

Continue reading @ NewBlackMan: Could Dr. King Watch Big Time College Sports?.