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Iceberg Slim – Pulp Fiction

Iceberg Slim was the nom-de-guerre of a Los Angeles Pimp, whose story became famous when he turned to writing. At least one movie, and countless bad-ass characters in the movies are based on his character and style.

Not sure why the renewed interest – but Slim is part of 40’s-60’s black history, and was a model for others (apparently still) – as well as a character from which numerous movie depictions were based. Before the Drug Dealer of the 70’s – the black pimp was more likely to be at the top of criminal enterprise in poor black communities. These guys would flash their money and “power” based on a “Players Ball” purportedly created in the 1974 Movie, “The Mack” – although such “annual conferences” existed long before that in Chicago. Apparently some of these guys are still around as you will see in the video at the bottom of this post.

I remember watching from the street one of these back in the late 1970’s, at a certain club located in downtown Washington DC. Lots of flash, jewelry, and outrageous outfits.

 

The Pulp Fiction Pimp Who Inspired Chris Rock, Jay Z, and Snoop Dogg

Robert Beck was the godfather of Blaxploitation, one of the most influential African-American voices of the 20th century—and also among its most violently misogynistic.

For many of his 73 years on the planet, Robert Beck—aka “Iceberg Slim,” the subject of a new biography, Street Poison, by African-American literature professor Justin Gifford—was a lousy human being.

Beck—who by his own account violently brutalized women during his quarter-century-long career as a pimp, and later mythologized his felonious lifestyle in a best-selling memoir and a series of popular pulp novels—raised misogyny to an art form.

The smooth-talking, cold-hearted Beck, whose nom de plume celebrated his detached and chilly streetwise demeanor, was the vain and selfish only son of an irresponsible mother; a careless father of three mixed-race daughters and the estranged stepfather of a Caucasian son; and a manipulative and philandering husband who only redeemed himself in a second marriage late in life as his years of prison, drugs, and hard living took their inevitable toll.

Albeit ghetto-famous, with countless fans, he died penniless in Los Angeles of diabetes and gangrene; his fancy above-ground berth at Forest Lawn was paid for by Mike Tyson, one of Beck’s many celebrity devotees, who also include Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, Quincy Jones, Snoop Dogg, Jay-Z, Ice Cube, and Ice-T (the last of whom co-produced a 2012 documentary tribute, Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp).

And yet, by Gifford’s estimation and that of others, Beck—born Robert Lee Moppins Jr. (later Frenchified to Maupins) in the slums of 1918 white-racist Chicago—was also one of the more influential voices in 20th century black culture and literature, to be ranked alongside James Baldwin, Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison.

Indeed, Iceberg Slim’s 1967 novelistic and poetic autobiography, Pimp: The Story of My Life, and his later works are widely credited with inspiring the Blaxploitation film genre and the beginnings of hip-hop and rap. His nine published books—translated into a dozen languages while one, Trick Baby, was adapted into a feature film—had sold an estimated 6 million copies by the time of his death, which might have made him the J.K. Rowling of black pulp fiction, if only his royalties were commensurate with his sales.

Beck’s pain and rage at having been callously exploited by his white-owned publisher, Holloway House—much as he had exploited and abused his revolving stable of prostitutes—is a recurring theme in Gifford’s meticulously-researched narrative.

The fact that Beck’s biographer is also white and middle-aged—an academic of somewhat younger vintage, Gifford teaches at the University of Nevada—is testament to the enduring crossover appeal of Iceberg Slim’s story.

It begins in Chicago’s Black Belt, during a period of lethal viciousness by white thugs against African Americans who dared venture out of the ghetto. Terrible race riots and mass murders comprised a history of violence that doubtless shaped Iceberg Slim’s adult identity as a revolutionary and Black Panther partisan.

Three incidents in his childhood seem to have left a searing imprint and shaped his future.

His biological father, a cook who’d grown up in “Nashville’s upwardly mobile and respectable black working-class society,” according to Gifford, had plunged headlong into the Black Belt demimonde of whoring and gambling, and saw his son as an inconvenience.

His mother, Mary, left her husband, taking her infant son with her, after refusing his demand that the baby be abandoned on a church doorstep—“so,” Iceberg Slim recounted, “he hurled me against the wall in disgust.”

The second formative experience—the memory of which forever haunted Beck and twisted his feelings about women—involved being 3 years old and sexually molested by a babysitter while his single mother toiled all day at a laundry. According to his autobiography, the babysitter forced him to perform oral sex.

“I remember more vividly the moist, odorous darkness and the bristle-like hairs tickling my face,” he wrote, “and most vividly I can remember my panic, when in the wild moment of her climax, she would savagely jerk my head tighter into the hairy maw.”

According to Gifford: “The event deeply scarred Beck—as his hateful language suggests—and he later attributed his anxious and violent relationships with the women he pimped to this incident.”

The third seminal episode—after his mother’s 1922 marriage to a devoutly churchgoing community leader and successful businessman, Henry Upshaw, whom Beck loved as his only real father—was her reckless decision to leave Upshaw after nine happy, stable years for a charming but violent street hustler.  Relocating from Chicago to Milwaukee with his mother and her boyfriend, Beck fell into bad company in the red-light district and became “street poisoned,” as he put it in his memoir. (Beck ultimately took the surname of his mother’s third husband, Ural Beck, a hardworking railroad employee in Milwaukee, whom she married in the early 1940s.)

“At the height of his career,” Gifford writes, “he would intentionally draw upon his traumatic memories—especially of the babysitter, as well as his mother’s betrayal during his teenage years—to fuel his cruel treatment of his prostitutes,” using a wire hanger as his preferred instrument of discipline….The rest here

 
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Posted by on August 22, 2015 in Black History

 

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Not Just Black Victims of Police Violence

This one comes straight out of the “Handbook” on the murder of unarmed black civilians for minor infractions…

Except the victim in this case wasn’t black…or Hispanic.

Witness saw cops stand over Zachary Hammond’s dead body and ‘high five’ his limp hand: attorney

In a letter sent to the U.S. Attorney General and the FBI Director asking for a federal civil rights investigation into the shooting death of Zachary Hammond, the attorney for the slain teen’s family claims he has a witness who saw Seneca Police Department officers celebrate the shooting by “high-fiving” the teen’s lifeless body.

According to Fox Carolina, the letter details other accusations against officers involved in the shooting including a witness saying an officer pulled the teen’s body from his car and then placed something beneath it.

The 19-year-old Taylor was killed in a Hardee’s parking lot in late July after being shot twice by Lt. Mark Tiller who claimed the teen drove his car directly at him while he was  attempting to make a drug bust.

“The driver accelerated and came toward the officer. He fired two shots in self-defense, which unfortunately were fatal for the suspect,” explained Chief John Covington.

A private pathologists’ report found that Hammond was shot twice, once in the left shoulder from behind and once in the left side of his chest.

According to the letter sent by Taylor family attorney Eric Bland, a witness states “… the officer who opened Zachary’s door and pulled his dead body from the vehicle then went ‘to the trunk of his police car and pulled (SIC) something out. The officer walked back over to the man on the ground rolled him over to his side, put something underneath his body, and then rolled him back.’”

The letter goes on to state, “…a police officer with a neighboring police force has confirmed to SLED that the Seneca Police Department celebrated the killing of Zachary by desecrating his corpse. After Zachary had been shot and killed, member(s) of the Seneca Police Department lifted his dead hand and ‘high fived’ Zachary Hammond.”

The case is currently under consideration for a federal civil rights probe, with the State Law Enforcement Division agents denying a formal request to turn over body cam footage of the incident to the media prior to finishing their investigation.

Officer Tiller is currently on administrative leave.

Makes you wonder if the conservatives who attack every black victim of an illicit Police shooting will try and “dirty up” Hammonds reputation, and accuse him of being a “thug” who was rightfully shot by “heroic” Police…

Makes you wonder is the same conservatives will be spamming the Internet with “Don’t resist” as they have in every case where the victim was black, no matter how egregious the Officer’s actions were.

Perhaps when enough of those white conservative’s children run into that very small portion of “Bad Cops” who shoot first, then lie about what happened…

A few of those still lucid enough after Faux News indoctrination…Will wake up.

 

 
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Posted by on August 16, 2015 in Domestic terrorism

 

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Mitch Landrieu, Mayor of New Orleans Effort to End Gun Violence

Katrina didn’t just rip apart the City of New Orleans, it’s aftermath exposed it’s issues with corruption and violence for all to see. Mitch is the son of former New Orleans mayor and Secretary of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development,Moon Landrieu and the brother of the former U.S. Senator from Louisiana, Mary Landrieu. He has the genes for the job, and is a welcome departure from former Mayor Ray Nagin, who now spends his days in prison.

He has some interesting things to say.

It’s Mitch Landrieu’s mission to curb the spike in fatal shootings among African American men in his city.

About 6,000 African American men have been murdered in the city of New Orleans since 1980. As Jeffrey Goldberg writes in the September issue of The Atlantic, Mayor Mitch Landrieu has made it a priority to curb the violence. In this video, Landrieu speaks with Goldberg about his belief that black lives don’t matter only when they’re taken by police—they matter when they’re taken by anyone.

Mayor Landrieu and Ta-Nehisi Coates…

 

 
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Posted by on August 16, 2015 in Domestic terrorism, The Post-Racial Life

 

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Guns for Toddlers

In response to the recent theater mass shooting in Louisiana, on the 237 Republican clowns residing in the Clown Bus came up with “More guns in civilian hands is the solution!”

How that works…

In the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting, the National Rifle Association proposed putting more guns in schools. After a racist shot up a Charleston prayer group, an NRA board member argued for more guns in church. And now predictably, politicians and gun rights advocates are calling for guns in movie theaters after a loner killed two people at a theater in Louisiana.

The notion that more guns are always the solution to gun crime is taken seriously in this country. But the research shows that more guns lead to more gun homicides — not less. And that guns are rarely used in self-defense.

Now a new study from researchers at Mount St. Mary’s University sheds some light on why people don’t use guns in self-defense very often. As it turns out, knowing when and how to apply lethal force in a potentially life-or-death situation is really difficult.

The study was commissioned by the National Gun Victims Action Council, an advocacy group devoted to enacting “sensible gun laws” that “find common ground between legal gun owners and non-gun owners that minimizes gun violence in our culture.” The study found that proper training and education are key to successfully using a firearm in self-defense: “carrying a gun in public does not provide self-defense unless the carrier is properly trained and maintains their skill level,” the authors wrote in a statement.

They recruited 77 volunteers with varying levels of firearm experience and training, and had each of them participate in simulations of three different scenarios using the firearms training simulator at the Prince George’s County Police Department in Maryland. The first scenario involved a carjacking, the second an armed robbery in a convenience store, and the third a case of suspected larceny.

They found that, perhaps unsurprisingly, people without firearms training performed poorly in the scenarios. They didn’t take cover. They didn’t attempt to issue commands to their assailants. Their trigger fingers were either too itchy — they shot innocent bystanders or unarmed people, or not itchy enough — they didn’t shoot armed assailants until they were already being shot at…More

And if you are wondering about that open carrying a gun while black thing…

Now, those of you who know BTx3 know I am not anti-gun…But I am anti-stupidity. I grew up with relatives in the mountains and farming community, who owned guns and used them in hunting. So having guns in the house was no big deal. Having guns safely stored in the house, out of the reach of the little ones was. Wasn’t unusual to see a shotgun mounted on a rack above the back door in rural homes, especially by the older folks for several reasons. One, protection of the farm animals from predators such as foxes, hawks, and snakes, second for protection from the local KKK whack jobs real or imagined threat.

Carrying a gun on the street is a whole different animal. Just as the guys in the country were better hunters than we “city-slickers”, Cops are better at it than some jumped up civilian exercising his questionable “Constitutional Rights”. The simple reason is training …Not just once in a Concealed Carry Course..But over and over again in situational mock ups. Despite all of that, Cops still make numerous mistakes. I can’t imagine the carnage some John Wayne wannabe would unleash trying to confront a crazy shooting up a movie theater.

 
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Posted by on July 28, 2015 in Domestic terrorism

 

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Domestic Terrorism By the “Protectors”…

“We aim to kill segregation or be killed by it.”

Fred Shuttlesworth

The KKK and Jim Crow survived for over 100 years on intimidation. Most people were afraid to speak faring the violent consequences.

It seems that threat hasn’t left this part of Texas in 2015…

After the death of Sandra Bland, a mysterious protest appears

PRARIE VIEW, Texas — The sign was homemade, all but two words written in black on white strips of paper attached to a wrought iron fence facing University Drive, the gateway to Prairie View A&M University.

“Signal lane change or sheriff may kill you,” it said. “Kill you” was written in red.

Sandra Bland had come to the area from Chicago for a job interview on July 9 at Prairie View, a historically black school that was her alma mater. She was stopped the next day by a state trooper for failing to signal near the entrance on University Drive, and then arrested on suspicion of assaulting the officer.

For some, the sign struck a chord.

“It was a comment about what happened,” said Mike James, 54, the former video coordinator for the Prairie View football team.

James said Bland’s traffic stop “made no sense to me. The only reason she changed lanes was to get out of the way” of the trooper. James walked to campus Friday on University Drive so he would pass a memorial erected at the site where she was stopped.

Bland, 28, was found dead in her cell July 13 at the jail run by the Waller County sheriff’s office about 60 miles northwest of Houston, hanging from a partition by a plastic bag. Her death was ruled a suicide in an autopsy released Friday.

A photograph of the sign went viral after it was posted online Tuesday, retweeted thousands of times.

But later Tuesday, the sign had disappeared.

“I don’t know why they took it down,” James said. But then he added, “This is a Democratic, black area surrounded by white Republican people. They’re afraid of the political repercussions.”

The home behind the fence where the sign was posted is like many in the surrounding Alta Vista subdivision: a battered single-story brick ranch house.

The young African American mother who answered the door Friday had red eyes and said she had grown tired of dealing with the sign. She did not want to give her name, worried about retaliation.

When the sign first appeared a week after Bland’s death, she feared for her family’s safety. She was upset at whoever put it there, saying she thought: “You just put a target on our backs.”

She pulled it down. By Tuesday, someone had posted the sign again.

“So I cut it down,” she said.

No one at neighboring businesses seemed to know whose idea the sign was.

“Whoever did it, they’re crying out,” said Audrey Saul, who was cleaning out her Saul’s Wheel’m & Deal antique shop down the street.

Saul, 50, admired the sign-maker’s bravery. But she also understood the fear of the young mother who took it down. “Until people get the fear out of them …,” Saul said as she stood outside her shop in the afternoon heat, shaking her head.

“Let’s move forward and rise up. Exposure is the only thing that’s going to help now,” she said, setting off to ask neighboring businesses and bystanders about the sign.

She tried a barbershop. But the owner had not seen the sign, nor had he ventured out when Bland was stopped across the street, where her memorial now stands at the foot of an oak tree.

“They are so afraid in this town. They don’t want any retaliation. Like the barber said: He didn’t go out,” Saul said as she left.

She tried nearby PV Grocery. The owner had not seen the sign. In the parking lot, she spotted her former brother-in-law, who made some calls to friends around town, but got nowhere.

She called the Rev. Walter Pendleton of Pendleton Chapel Baptist Church in nearby Hempstead, and then walked to the memorial to wait for him, saying, “He probably knows. I bet he did some investigating.”

She passed a small white wood frame church, Hope AME. After the pastor, the Rev. Lenora Dabney, spoke at Bland’s memorial on campus Tuesday, she said, she received threats.

By the time Saul reached the memorial, an older African American man from Georgia was snapping photos with his phone. Bland’s photograph was affixed to the tree trunk, surrounded by fabric roses, many yellow, and a heart-shaped barrier of white stones.

David Levell, 62, of Atlanta had come to visit his grandson at the university, and brought him to see the memorial.

“They talk about it all over Georgia,” the postal worker said of the case, adding that it resonates with him.

“I’ve been pulled over myself, stopped unnecessarily. I’ve had them stop me and ask where I’m going” — even in his postal uniform, he said.

“I think he abused his authority,” Saul said of the trooper.

“I do too,” Levell said. But, he added, “nothing will come of it.”

Just then, Pendleton and his wife arrived in matching red shorts and white T-shirts. No word on the sign-maker, he said: Residents are concerned about speaking up, even leaders.

“We couldn’t get these local pastors here,” Pendleton said.

“People are so afraid,” Saul said.

“They can’t shut me up!” Pendleton said, adding that he wants the district attorney removed, accusing him of selective prosecution.

Saul crossed the street to question a man in a Chicago Bulls jersey smoking in front of Amistad Bookplace. Chris Benard, 34, never saw the sign, but he agreed with its message.

“People got to realize we are all targets,” said Benard, who grew up in South Los Angeles and now works as a cook at the university.

Like others here, he doesn’t trust local and state investigators who, he said, “are going to protect their own.” Saul told him she’s waiting for the results of an independent autopsy the family’s lawyer has said they will pursue.

But even with an independent autopsy, Benard said, Bland still “can’t speak for herself.”

“A lot of the truth we won’t ever know,” he said.

 
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Posted by on July 25, 2015 in Domestic terrorism

 

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NYC Activist Takes on Bill O’Reilly

This is a fun one. Bill the O’Bigot gets a lesson on stereotyping from New York Civil Rights Coalition president Michael Meyers. Michael Meyers called Bill O’Reilly and his network out to his face on Monday, accusing Fox News of engaging in a pattern of demonizing black men “You are painting black men as society’s moral monsters,” said Meyers…

Another Bill the Bigot lesson was given in December of last year by Russell Simmons on the show:

Simmons and Murray make a key point, thet the creation of the carceral state more than any other cause is the source of many maladies affecting poor black communities – Best summed up in Caught: The Prison State and the Lockdown of American Politics, by Marie Gottschalk and described in this review

 Caught: The Prison State and the Lockdown of American Politics – Pathology of the Carceral State

For 40 years now the United States has been creating a vast and unprecedented carceral machine. Its size and reach stagger the imagination: jails and prisons, immigration detention and deportation centers, parole and probation offices, digital, electronic, and human surveillance. Its human costs are enormous — federal and state prisons and jails hold over 2 million people in custody at any time; if you include those under parole, probation, or other forms of government surveillance for crime the number exceeds 8 million. Tens of millions of Americans have some form of criminal record. Their families are drawn in to the reach of the carceral state along with them. In global terms the United States stands alone. It has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Its penal practices are brutal compared to Europe. It deepens the racial divide in the country. It distorts the economy and polity. Above all it degrades lives and the country as a whole.

To understand this machine means holding a series of seemingly contradictory notions at once. Mass incarceration extends long-standing tendencies in American penal history while being a bold departure from previous practice; it has at its core a system of racial subordination, although race is now arguably less important than previously; it has marked an expansion in state power but is driven in important ways by the search for private profit; it is an instrument of law and order that operates in arbitrary and uncontrolled ways. Incarceration, originally justified as a defense of human dignity against the bodily brutality of ancien regime punishments, has now become the site of physical and psychological torture. And there is no end in sight to either mass incarceration or the wounds it imposes on human beings and American society…

The broad history of mass incarceration is well known. Prior to the 1980s the size and reach of imprisonment in the United States was not significantly different from its western European counterparts. For most of the 20th century the United States sent slightly more than 100 per 100,000 people to prison. (That number is now over 500 in prison and over 700 if you include jails.) The death penalty had been in long secular decline and the Supreme Court suspended it in 1972. Courts began to take steps to ensure minimal constitutional standards for prisons and protections for prisoners. Serious criminological and legal opinion believed that there was a real possibility that the prison would soon fade away.

Of course past is not always prologue. At precisely the moment when the country’s use of imprisonment appeared to face the possibility of serious reduction, states began a new expensive spree of prison construction. In 1976 the Supreme Court approved the restart of the death penalty. A bipartisan move toward determinate sentences (supported by liberals who thought it would curb the arbitrary authority of prison officials and by conservatives who aimed to curb the power of judges), combined with increasing lengths in mandated sentences, helped trigger vast expansion. Prison officials drew upon fears of riots and “revolutionary” inmates such as California’s George Jackson to justify intensified control over their prisons and increased use of solitary confinement. In the early 1980s the “war on drugs” took off and with it not only a rise in the size of the federal prison system but also the exacerbation of extreme racial inequities in sentences and prosecutions…

These developments, to be sure, did not emerge out of thin air. Instead they built upon initiatives begun earlier under the Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Carter administrations. In particular Johnson’s signing of 1968’s Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act dramatically increased federal engagement with local policing and punishment. One effect of the act was to encourage the growing militarization of police forces, primarily through the Law Enforcement and Assistance Administration. Johnson and his allies may have thought that by imposing new federal standards they would help protect minorities from local abuses (as well as preempt more radical conservative proposals) but as Naomi Murakawa has argued, this liberal emphasis on procedure and uniform standards helped legitimate the idea that new regulations could justify and control the expansion of the prison state. As the continual revelations of prison abuses show, this hope was a false one…(…More…)

 
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Posted by on June 28, 2015 in Domestic terrorism

 

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What Martin Luther King Actually Accomplished

“The negro has no rights which the white man is bound to respect”

March 6, 1857, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, of the United States Supreme Court This article talks a bit about the horrors of the Jim Crow era in America.

Mary Turner 1918 Eight Months Pregnant Mobs lynched Mary Turner on May 17, 1918 in Lowndes County. Georgia because she vowed to have those responsible for killing her husband arrested. Her husband was arrested in connection with the shooting and killing Hampton Smith, a white farmer for whom the couple had worked, and wounding his wife. Sidney Johnson. a Black, apparently killed Smith because he was tired of the farmer’s abuse. Unable to find Johnson. the killers lynched eight other Blacks Including Hayes Turner and his wife Mary. The mob hanged Mary by her feet, poured gasoline and oil on her and set fire to her body. One white man sliced her open and Mrs. Turner’s baby tumbled to the ground with a “little cry” and the mob stomped the baby to death and sprayed bullets into Mary Turner.  

So…One of the things MLK did was to finally put the skids, if not the end to this sort of “domestic terrorism”, against black folks. Now, our black conservative Uncle Toms would like you believe that liberals are using the past as an excuse for everything. But do you see the Jewish people forgetting the Holocaust? Black conservatives, and white conservative racists they support are big on black on black violence. But the thing hy won’t tell you, and you will never find in their pseudo-scientific statistics is that 92% of the men locked up or child sexual abuse …Are white. During Jim Crow white men were free to rape, sodomize and brutalize not only black women…But black children. While lynchings were sometimes reported, these other categories of violence and sexual predation were entirely swept under the rug.

The second thing they lie about is the violence statistics. Sexually abusing a child in the FBI’s version of the violent crime world doesn’t qualify as a “violent crime” – and thus is excludes from the statistics which include murder, and the rape of adult women (or men). We are going to count veggies, but green tomatoes don’t count.

Back to that pre-Civil Rights time – there was little or no hope of actually prosecuting these white criminals in the southern “Justice” system. Laying the groundwork of why black folk will never trust the conservative judges the right is so desperate to appoint.

Gaining the right to walk down the street unmolested may not seem like that big a deal solely from a cynical intellectual viewpoint – but it is pretty freaking important if it is you trying to get down the street.

Most of you have no idea what Martin Luther King actually did

This will be a very short diary.  It will not contain any links or any scholarly references.  It is about a very narrow topic, from a very personal, subjective perspective.

The topic at hand is what Martin Luther King actually did, what it was that he actually accomplished.

The reason I’m posting this is because there were dueling diaries over the weekend about Dr. King’s legacy, and there is a diary up now (not on the rec list but on the recent list) entitled, “Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Dream Not Yet Realized.”  I’m sure the diarist means well as did the others.  But what most people who reference Dr. King seem not to know is how Dr. King actually changed the subjective experience of life in the United States for African Americans.  And yeah, I said for African Americans, not for Americans, because his main impact was his effect on the lives of African Americans, not on Americans in general.  His main impactwas not to make white people nicer or fairer.  That’s why some of us who are African Americans get a bit possessive about his legacy.  Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy, despite what our civil religion tells us, is not color blind.

I remember that many years ago, when I was a smart ass home from first year of college, I was standing in the kitchen arguing with my father.  My head was full of newly discovered political ideologies and black nationalism, and I had just read the Autobiography of Malcolm X, probably for the second time.

A bit of context.  My father was from a background, which if we were talking about Europe or Latin America, we would call, “peasant” origin, although he had risen solidly into the working-middle class.  He was from rural Virginia and his parents had been tobacco farmers.  I spent two weeks or so every summer on the farm of my grandmother and step grandfather.  They had no running water, no gas, a wood burning stove, no bathtubs or toilets but an outhouse, pot belly stoves for heat in the winter, a giant wood pile, a smoke house where hams and bacon hung, chickens, pigs, semi wild housecats that lived outdoors, no tractor or car, but an old plow horse and plows and other horse drawn implements, and electricity only after I was about 8 years old.  The area did not have high schools for blacks and my father went as far as the seventh grade in a one room schoolhouse.  All four of his grandparents, whom he had known as a child, had been born slaves.  It was mainly because of World War II and urbanization that my father left that life.

They lived in a valley or hollow or “holler” in which all the landowners and tenants were black.  In the morning if you wanted to talk to cousin Taft, you would walk down to behind the outhouse and yell across the valley, “Heeeyyyy Taaaaft,” and you could see him far, far in the distance, come out of his cabin and yell back.

On the one hand, this was a pleasant situation because they lived in isolation from white people.  On the other hand, they did have to leave the valley to go to town where all the rigid rules of Jim Crow applied.  By the time I was little, my people had been in this country for six generations (going back, according to oral rendering of our genealogy, to Africa Jones and Mama Suki), much more under slavery than under freedom, and all of it under some form of racial terrorism, which had inculcated many humiliating behavior patterns.

Anyway that’s background.  I think we were kind of typical as African Americans in the pre Civil Rights era went.

So anyway, I was having this argument with my father about Martin Luther King and how his message was too conservative compared to Malcolm X’s message.  My father got really angry at me.  It wasn’t that he disliked Malcolm X, but his point was that Malcolm X hadn’t accomplished anything as Dr. King had.

I was kind of sarcastic and asked something like, so what did Martin Luther King accomplish other than giving his “I have a dream speech.”

Before I tell you what my father told me, I want to digress.  Because at this point in our amnesiac national existence, my question pretty much reflects the national civic religion view of what Dr. King accomplished.  He gave this great speech.  Or some people say, “he marched.”  I was so angry at Mrs. Clinton during the primaries when she said that Dr. King marched, but it was LBJ who delivered the Civil Rights Act.

At this point, I would like to remind everyone exactly what Martin Luther King did, and it wasn’t that he “marched” or gave a great speech.

My father told me with a sort of cold fury, “Dr. King ended the terror of living in the south.”

Please let this sink in and and take my word and the word of my late father on this.  If you are a white person who has always lived in the U.S. and never under a brutal dictatorship, you probably don’t know what my father was talking about.

But this is what the great Dr. Martin Luther King accomplished.  Not that he marched, nor that he gave speeches.

He ended the terror of living as a black person, especially in the south.

I’m guessing that most of you, especially those having come fresh from seeing “The Help,” may not understand what this was all about.  But living in the south (and in parts of the mid west and in many ghettos of the north) was living under terrorism.

It wasn’t that black people had to use a separate drinking fountain or couldn’t sit at lunch counters, or had to sit in the back of the bus.

You really must disabuse yourself of this idea.  Lunch counters and buses were crucial symbolic planes of struggle that the civil rights movement decided to use to dramatize the issue, but the main suffering in the south did not come from our inability to drink from the same fountain, ride in the front of the bus or eat lunch at Woolworth’s.

It was that white people, mostly white men, occasionally went berserk, and grabbed random black people, usually men, and lynched them.  You all know about lynching.  But you may forget or not know that white people also randomly beat black people, and the black people could not fight back, for fear of even worse punishment.

This constant low level dread of atavistic violence is what kept the system running.  It made life miserable, stressful and terrifying for black people.

White people also occasionally tried black people, especially black men, for crimes for which they could not conceivably be guilty.  With the willing participation of white women, they often accused black men of “assault,” which could be anything from rape to not taking off one’s hat, to “reckless eyeballing.”

This is going to sound awful and perhaps a stain on my late father’s memory, but when I was little, before the civil rights movement, my father taught me many, many humiliating practices in order to prevent the random, terroristic, berserk behavior of white people.  The one I remember most is that when walking down the street in New York City side by side, hand in hand with my hero-father, if a white woman approached on the same sidewalk, I was to take off my hat and walk behind my father, because he had been taught in the south that black males for some reason were supposed to walk single file in the presence of any white lady.

This was just one of many humiliating practices we were taught to prevent white people from going berserk.

I remember a huge family reunion one August with my aunts and uncles and cousins gathered around my grandparent’s vast breakfast table laden with food from the farm, and the state troopers drove up to the house with a car full of rifles and shotguns, and everyone went kind of weirdly blank.  They put on the masks that black people used back then to not provoke white berserkness.  My strong, valiant, self educated, articulate uncles, whom I adored, became shuffling, Step-N-Fetchits to avoid provoking the white men.  Fortunately the troopers were only looking for an escaped convict.  Afterward, the women, my aunts, were furious at the humiliating performance of the men, and said so, something that even a child could understand.

This is the climate of fear that Dr. King ended.

If you didn’t get taught such things, let alone experience them, I caution you against invoking the memory of Dr. King as though he belongs exclusively to you and not primarily to African Americans.

The question is, how did Dr. King do this — and of course, he didn’t do it alone.

(Of all the other civil rights leaders who helped Dr. King end this reign of terror, I think the most under appreciated is James Farmer, who founded the Congress of Racial Equality and was a leader of non-violent resistance, and taught the practices of non violent resistance.)

So what did they do?

They told us: — whatever you are most afraid of doing vis a vis white people, go do it.  Go ahead down to city hall and try to register to vote, even if they say no, even if they take your name down.

Go ahead sit at that lunch counter.  Sue the local school board.  All things that most black people would have said back then, without exaggeration, were stark raving insane and would get you killed.

If we do it all together, we’ll be OK.

They made black people experience the worst of the worst, collectively, that white people could dish out, and discover that it wasn’t that bad.  They taught black people how to take a beating — from the southern cops, from police dogs, from fire department hoses.  They actually coached young people how to crouch, cover their heads with their arms and take the beating.  They taught people how to go to jail, which terrified most decent people.

And you know what?  The worst of the worst, wasn’t that bad.

Once people had been beaten, had dogs sicked on them, had fire hoses sprayed on them, and been thrown in jail, you know what happened?

These magnificent young black people began singing freedom songs in jail.

That, my friends, is what ended the terrorism of the south.  Confronting your worst fears, living through it, and breaking out in a deep throated freedom song.  The jailers knew they had lost when they beat the crap out of these young Negroes and the jailed, beaten young people began to sing joyously, first in one town then in another.  This is what the writer, James Baldwin, captured like no other writer of the era.

Please let this sink in.  It wasn’t marches or speeches.  It was taking a severe beating, surviving and realizing that our fears were mostly illusory and that we were free.

So yes, Dr. King had many other goals, many other more transcendent, non-racial, policy goals, goals that apply to white people too, like ending poverty, reducing the war like aspects of our foreign policy, promoting the New Deal goal of universal employment, and so on.  But his main accomplishment was ending 200 years of racial terrorism, by getting black people to confront their fears.  So please don’t tell me that Martin Luther King’s dream has not been achieved, unless you knew what racial terrorism was like back then and can make a convincing case you still feel it today.  If you did not go through that transition, you’re not qualified to say that the dream was not accomplished.

That is what Dr. King did — not march, not give good speeches.  He crisscrossed the south organizing people, helping them not be afraid, and encouraging them, like Gandhi did in India, to take the beating that they had been trying to avoid all their lives.

Once the beating was over, we were free.

It wasn’t the Civil Rights Act, or the Voting Rights Act or the Fair Housing Act that freed us.  It was taking the beating and thereafter not being afraid.  So, sorry Mrs. Clinton, as much as I admire you, you were wrong on this one.  Our people freed ourselves and those Acts, as important as they were, were only white people officially recognizing what we had done.

PS.  I really shouldn’t have to add this but please — don’t ever confuse someone criticizing you or telling you bad things over the internet with what happened to people during the civil rights movement.  Don’t.  Just don’t do it.  Don’t go there.

PSS  Weird, but it kind of sounds like what V did to Evie.

UPDATE:  There is a major, major hole in this essay as pointed out by FrankAletha downthread — While I was focusing on the effect on black men, she points out that similarly randomized sexual violence against black women was as severe and common and probably more so, because while violence against black men was ritualistic, violence against black women was routine.

UPDATE 2: Rec list — I’m honored!!!

 
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Posted by on January 20, 2014 in Black History, The Post-Racial Life

 

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