Saturday, January 10, 2015

Isabel Wilkerson On the Great Black Migration and the History of White Supremacy And Systemic Racial Oppression in the Northern and Western Regions of the United States


A great article by a great writer, the always profound (and Pulitzer Prize receipient) Isabel Wilkerson…please read and pass the word...


Sunday Review | Opinion

When Will the North Face Its Racism?
JANUARY 10, 2015
Lily vendors in Chicago, April 1941. Credit Edwin Rosskam/Library of Congress

ATLANTA — THE groundswell of protests over police brutality in the closing days of 2014, when people dropped to the marble floor of Grand Central Terminal and shut down the Brooklyn Bridge, blocked Lake Shore Drive in Chicago and chanted “I Can’t Breathe” from Boston to Oakland, summoned ghosts not only of the marches of the civil rights era but of the larger forces that led to the arrival of so many African-Americans in the big cities of the North and West in the first place.

Dozens of cities would ultimately join in these demonstrations of discontent. But a map of the largest protests those first nights, and of the high-profile cases of police violence in recent months, lit up like a map of the Great Migration: New York, Chicago, Cleveland, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Washington, Los Angeles, Oakland, all of them the major receiving stations of the movement. These were the places to which generations of African-Americans fled to escape the state-sanctioned violence their descendants have now faced in the North and West.

In matters of racial injustice, the South has been the center of attention since before the time of the Civil War. But the North, with its shorter history of a mass black population, has only more recently dealt with the paradox of an enlightened ideal coexisting with racial disparity. The protests have become a referendum on the black condition since the Great Migration. “The protests are beginning to wake people up to the idea that the problems are not only there but have been obvious all along,” the historian Taylor Branch told me. “It feels like the South in the 1950s.”

It was because of the Great Migration — six million black Southerners fleeing Jim Crow from World War I to the 1970s — that African-Americans now live in every state of the union. They were seeking political asylum within their own country in what was, in effect, one of the nation’s largest and longest mass demonstrations against injustice. It was barely recognized for what it was at the time, arising as it did organically, rather than from a single leader, much like the protests today. Both migrants and protesters were pleading with the world to take notice that something was terribly wrong in the places where they lived.

In the early decades of the 20th century, a caste system ruled the South with such repression that every four days an African-American was  lynched for some perceived breach or mundane accusation — having stolen 75 cents or made off with a mule. Those conditions forced most every black family to consider the best course of action to feel safe and free. “Where can we go,” a black woman in Alabama wrote in 1902, “to feel that security which other people feel?”

Generations later, police killings of African-Americans occur as often as twice a week for at times mundane infractions and at three times the rate as for whites, according to conservative estimates from recent studies. What happens in the moments after these encounters reveals a disregard for black life as disturbing as the shootings themselves. In the case of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old with a toy gun who was shot within seconds of a squad car’s arrival at a Cleveland park, new video released this week showed officers wrestling the boy’s 14-year-old sister to the ground and handcuffing her as she appeared to run toward her bleeding brother.

Such cases force black families again to consider how to safeguard their children and themselves from the violence they suffer at a disproportionate rate at the hands of authorities assigned to protect them. They are still giving a version of the same talk their ancestors gave their children back in the old country of the South, about answering yes, sir, and no, sir, and watching how they comport themselves around the upper caste and the police.

Now, as then, those kitchen table discussions signal a painful coming to terms with one’s tenuous condition in one’s own land. What was little understood at the time of the migration was that the refugees from the South shared the same dreams as the immigrants who stepped off the ships at Ellis Island, huddled masses yearning to breathe free. One of the few contemporaneous studies in the early years of the migration, published by the Chicago Commission on Race Relations in 1922, surveyed Southern migrants to determine why they had come north and what they had hoped to find. The migrants responded:

“Freedom in voting and the conditions of the colored people here.”

“Freedom and chance to make a living.”

“Freedom and opportunity to acquire something.”

“Freedom of speech, right to live and work as other races.”

“Freedom of speech and action. Can live without fear, no Jim Crow.”

Those desires went little noticed. Indeed, it was resentment toward the Southerners’ arrival and obstacles to their entering the mainstream of Northern life that helped create the current conditions. Northern cities had had limited exposure to African-Americans. These cities were ill-prepared to absorb large numbers of asylum seekers who stood out from the rest of the population.

And so the newcomers were met with suspicion. Often recruited as strikebreakers, they were denied access to some unions and trades and  were paid the lowest wages for the dirtiest work. They were roped off into overcrowded ghettos by means of redlining and periodic firebombings of homes purchased by black residents who breached the de facto wall of segregation.

Unlike the immigrants from Europe, they could not shield themselves from the assumptions about their heritage or blend into the majority just by Anglicizing their names or mastering the senator’s English. They stood out as the children of enslavement and Jim Crow, unable to escape the burden of a pained history.

It was a measure of how dire conditions were in the South that the Great Migration continued into the 1970s. When it began, 90 percent of all African-Americans were living in the South. By the time it ended, nearly half of all African-Americans lived elsewhere.

Notably, however, high profile-cases of police brutality have recently come to be associated with the North rather than the South. And it is in the South that two recent cases of police shootings of unarmed black people resulted in more vigorous prosecution. Last month, as protests raged over the deaths of Michael Brown in Missouri, Eric Garner in New York and John Crawford and Tamir Rice in Ohio, Randall Kerrick, a police officer in Charlotte, N.C., made his first court appearance on a charge of voluntary manslaughter in the 2013 death of Jonathan Ferrell. Mr. Ferrell was an unarmed black motorist who was shot 10 times as he sought help after a car accident. In September, Sean Groubert, a South Carolina state trooper, was fired after shooting an unarmed man, Levar Jones, during a traffic stop over a seatbelt violation. In a widely circulated video of the incident, Mr. Jones asked the trooper with humbling composure, “What did I do, sir?” Then: “Why did you shoot me?” He survived his injuries. The trooper was arrested and charged with aggravated assault and battery, a felony that carries a possible 20-year prison term.

The nation still has far to go, but this, at least, seems cause for hope. It suggests that the South, after decades of wrestling with its history, is now willing to face injustice head on. And it suggests that the North, after decades of insisting that it was fairer and more free, could eventually do the same.

It is not known what will come of the current upheaval in the North. The protests are a response to unprosecuted police brutality but are also a plea for recognition of African-Americans’ humanity. How can success be measured when the goals are so basic and enduring? History tells us that enough people acting together can have an impact beyond what could be imagined. The Great Migration changed American culture as we know it, produced jazz and Motown, playwrights and novelists, and transformed the social geography of most every city outside of the South. At the start of the movement, one of its chroniclers put the migrants’ aims in perspective. “If all of their dream does not come true,” The Chicago Defender newspaper wrote, “enough will come to pass to justify their actions.”

If the events of the last year have taught us anything, it is that, as much progress has been made over the generations, the challenges of color and tribe were not locked away in another century or confined to a single region but persist as a national problem and require the commitment of the entire nation to resolve.

Isabel Wilkerson is the author of “The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration” and a former national correspondent and bureau chief for The New York Times.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Tom Tomorrow and the NY Times Editorial Board Weigh In On The Ongoing Struggle For Real Justice and Peace For ALL vs. the Crucial National Fight Against the Rise Of A Police State in the U.S.

QUINLAN: Our friend Vargas has some very special ideas about police procedure.. He seems to think it doesn't matter whether a killer is hanged or not, so long as we obey the fine print...
VARGAS: (breaking in) : Well no, captain...
QUINLAN: (over) the rule books
VARGAS: ....I don't think a policeman should work like a dog...
[Tight Closeup: Quinlan and Vargas face each other in profile]
VARGAS: ...catcher...
QUINLAN: (over) No?
VARGAS: ....putting criminals behind bars. No! In any free country...
QUINLAN: (turning away, into camera) Aw...
VARGAS:...a policeman is supposed to enforce the law, and the law protects the guilty as well as the innocent.
QUINLAN: Our job is tough enough.
VARGAS: It's supposed to be. It has to be tough. A policeman's job is only easy in a police state. That's the whole point, captain. Who is the boss, the cop or the law?

--Dialogue from 'Touch of Evil' written and directed by Orson Welles (1958)



Mayor DeBlasio is going to have to drop the hammer down on the heads of the thoroughly vile and corrupt police unions in New York who are deliberately endangering the lives of the public they are sworn--by law!--to "serve and protect." This is not a matter of either having "sympathy" or "lack of sympathy" for the police.and what they are paid by the citizenry of New York city to do--regardless of the very real and devastating tragedies that have befallen some of them in the line of duty. After all, let's be clear here. Many other senseless tragedies have ALSO befallen many other citizens of NYC--and continue to. Many of these citizens are African Americans and many of these tragedies were--and are!--being caused directly by the New York city police department with the tacit or open support of their vociferous and brazenly irresponsible unions. That's the whole TRUTH no matter what anybody else says...

Meanwhile what we we must NEVER FORGET as human beings and citizens in NYC and throughout this still tragic and very reactionary country is that the slogan NO JUSTICE NO PEACE actually MEANS something very important and valuable to ALL of us regardless of ethnicity, gender, status, or class position and that the police are NOT our masters and we are NOT their slaves by any stretch of their or our rancid imagination. Anything less than strictly adhering to this fundamental standard is surrendering to the sinister and tyrannical rule of a police state.  PERIOD...

The Opinion Pages | Editorial

No Justice, No Police
January 6, 2015
New York Times
Officers at the funeral for Wenjian Liu. Credit Damon Winter/The New York Times

Mayor Bill de Blasio has been in office barely a year, and already forces of entropy are roaming the streets, turning their backs on the law, defying civil authority and trying to unravel the social fabric.

No, not squeegee-men or turnstile-jumpers. We’re talking about the cops.

For the second straight week, police officers across the city have all but stopped writing tickets and severely cut down the number of arrests. The Times reported that in the week ending Sunday, only 347 criminal summonses were issued citywide, down from 4,077 over the same period last year. Parking and traffic tickets were down by more than 90 percent. In Coney Island, ticketing and summonses fell to zero.

The city has been placed in an absurd position, with its police commissioner, William Bratton — a pioneer of “broken windows” policing who has just written a long, impassioned defense of that strategy as an essential crime-fighting tool — leading a force that is refusing to carry it out.

Police union officials deny responsibility for the mass inaction. But Edward Mullins, president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, said officers had talked among themselves and “it became contagious,” apparently like the flu.

Call this what it is: a reckless, coordinated escalation of a war between the police unions and Mr. de Blasio and a hijacking of law-enforcement policy by those who do not set law-enforcement policy. This deplorable gesture is bound to increase tension in a city already rattled over the killing by the police of an unarmed man, Eric Garner, last summer, the executions of two officers in Brooklyn last month, and the shootings on Monday of two plainclothes officers in the Bronx.

Mr. Bratton spoke delicately at a news conference on Monday. He said there could be other explanations, like officers being too busy handling police-reform demonstrations and attending funerals. He promised to investigate — and to “deal with it very appropriately, if we have to.”

Mr. de Blasio’s critics foretold doom when he was elected a year ago. They said graffiti, muggings and other crime would rush back with a vengeance. They were dead wrong — crime rates continued to decline to historic lows in 2014 — but now it seems the cops are trying to help prove them right.

The madness has to stop. The problem is not that a two-week suspension of “broken windows” policing is going to unleash chaos in the city. The problem is that cops who refuse to do their jobs and revel in showing contempt to their civilian leaders are damaging the social order all by themselves.

Mr. de Blasio, who has been cautious since the shootings, found his voice on Monday, saying for the first time that the police officers’ protests of turning their backs at the slain officers’ funerals had been disrespectful to the families of the dead. He was right, but he needs to do more.

He should appeal directly to the public and say plainly that the police are trying to extort him and the city he leads.

If the Police Department’s current commanders cannot get the cops to do their jobs, Mr. de Blasio should consider replacing them.

He should invite the Justice Department to determine if the police are guilty of civil rights violations in withdrawing policing from minority communities.

He should remind the police that they are public employees, under oath to uphold city and state laws.

If Mr. de Blasio’s critics are right and the city is coming unglued, it is not because of what he has done. He was elected by an overwhelming vote, because he promised action on police reform, starting with the end of stop-and-frisk tactics that corralled so many innocent New Yorkers  into the criminal-justice system. The city got the mayor it wanted — and then, because of Mr. de Blasio, it got Mr. Bratton.

Mr. Bratton’s faith in “broken windows” needs rethinking. But nothing will be fixed as long as police officers are refusing to do their jobs.

A video emerged this week of a New York cop, apparently with nothing better to do, horsing around on the hood of a squad car, falling off and hitting his head. It would hard to invent a more fitting image of the ridiculous — and dangerous — place this atmosphere of sullen insubordination has taken us.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Cultural and Political Historian William J. Maxwell On the Notorious Role of the FBI in Spying On And Attempting To Supress African American Writers And Their Work from 1919-1972




F.B. Eyes:
How J. Edgar Hoover’s Ghostreaders Framed African American Literature
by William J. Maxwell

Hardcover | 2015 | $29.95 / £19.95 | ISBN: 9780691130200
384 pp. | 6 x 9 | 

Few institutions seem more opposed than African American literature and J. Edgar Hoover’s white-bread Federal Bureau of Investigation. But behind the scenes the FBI’s hostility to black protest was energized by fear of and respect for black writing. Drawing on nearly 14,000 pages of newly released FBI files, F.B. Eyes exposes the Bureau’s intimate policing of five decades of African American poems, plays, essays, and novels. Starting in 1919, year one of Harlem’s renaissance and Hoover’s career at the Bureau, secretive FBI “ghostreaders” monitored the latest developments in African American letters. By the time of Hoover’s death in 1972, these ghostreaders knew enough to simulate a sinister black literature of their own. The official aim behind the Bureau’s close reading was to anticipate political unrest. Yet, as William J. Maxwell reveals, FBI surveillance came to influence the creation and public reception of African American literature in the heart of the twentieth century.

Taking his title from Richard Wright’s poem “The FB Eye Blues,” Maxwell details how the FBI threatened the international travels of African American writers and prepared to jail dozens of them in times of national emergency. All the same, he shows that the Bureau’s paranoid style could prompt insightful criticism from Hoover’s ghostreaders and creative replies from their literary targets. For authors such as Claude McKay, James Baldwin, and Sonia Sanchez, the suspicion that government spy-critics tracked their every word inspired rewarding stylistic experiments as well as disabling self-censorship.

Illuminating both the serious harms of state surveillance and the ways in which imaginative writing can withstand and exploit it, F.B. Eyes is a groundbreaking account of a long-hidden dimension of African American literature.

William J. Maxwell is associate professor of English and African American studies at Washington University in St. Louis. He is the author of New Negro, Old Left: African-American Writing and Communism between the Wars and the editor of Claude McKay’s Complete Poems.


"Anyone who spies William J. Maxwell's latest book is sure to have her or his eyes pop. F.B. Eyes is a fascinating study of the FBI's decades-long surveillance program targeting the who's who of the African American cultural scene. What we read as art, Hoover's G-Men coded as threats. In poring over black writers' output across the long arc of the civil rights struggle, the FBI's 'ghostreaders,' as diabolical as they were paranoid, added layers of weight to--and in some cases informed--the African American literary canon, which Maxwell reveals in an irresistible narrative steeped in investigative research."--Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Harvard University

"F.B. Eyes is an exciting and important read: part detective story, part intelligence history, and part revisionist theory of black modernism. Throughout, William J. Maxwell proves to be a more rigorous and ingenious 'ghostreader' than Hoover ever was."--Mary Helen Washington, University of Maryland, College Park

"In this meticulously researched study, William J. Maxwell demonstrates how the luminaries of twentieth-century African American literature preoccupied the 'ghostreaders' of Hoover's FBI, who became some of the most assiduous critics of modern black writing. While making clear the abuses of FBI surveillance, Maxwell also illuminates the fascinating ways in which African American authors incorporated a critical awareness of spying into much of the literature they produced."--Kenneth W. Warren, University of Chicago

"Full of surprises of fact and interpretation, often wittily and memorably formulated, this awe-inspiringly well-researched book offers a completely new approach to FBI spying on black writers and to the readerly and scholarly habits of Hoover’s G-Men, who perversely come across as rather pioneering critics of African American literature. This book is an absolute delight to read."--Werner Sollors, Harvard University

More Endorsements

Table of Contents

Subject Areas:

American History
American Literature
Comparative Literature

The F.B. Eyes Digital Archive presents high-quality copies of forty-nine of the FBI files discussed in this book:

F.B. Eyes: How J. Edgar Hoover’s Ghostreaders Framed African American Literature
by William J Maxwell

At 1,884 pages, James Baldwin’s FBI file is the fattest among the “51 files on individual African-American authors and critics active during the Hoover years, 1919 to 1972” scrutinized in this bold, provocative study. Maxwell (New Negro, Old Left: African-American Writing and Communism Between the Wars) uses the documents to probe the FBI’s “institutionalized fascination” with black authors like Langston Hughes and Amiri Baraka. Other writers treated here in depth include Claude McKay (“the earliest Afro-modernist author to impress his way into his own FBI file”), Richard Wright, John Williams, and Lorraine Hansberry, but going by this account, few, if any, working African-American writers entirely slipped past the FBI’s gaze during Hoover’s tenure. Maxwell weaves a complex narrative tapestry, incorporating the life stories of both Hoover and the FBI, as well as WWII-era harassment of the black press, the impact of McCarthyism, and the “utility of New Critical close reading” to FBI agents required to practice an unlikely kind of literary criticism in the pursuit of “subversives.” Scholars will find this densely written work a powerful take on African-American literature. Maxwell’s passion for the subject spills onto every page of his detailed, persuasive documentation that “the FBI [was] an institution tightly knit (not consensually) to African-American literature.” (Jan.)
"The FBI as Literary Critic":

Chicago Humanities Festival

The FBI as Literary Critic

VIDEO: William J. Maxwell


Perhaps the most surprising of J. Edgar Hoover’s many obsessions was his interest in African American writing. Beginning with the Harlem Renaissance, Hoover and his G-men tried to anticipate political unrest through close readings and interpretations of such authors as Claude McKay, Richard Wright, and Sonia Sanchez, among many others. Washington University professor William J. Maxwell uncovers this long-hidden chapter in the history of American surveillance and American literature.

This program is presented in partnership with the Center for the Humanities at Washington University.

Image by Annie Dipert

Speakers and Performers

William J. Maxwell

William J. Maxwell is associate professor of English and African American studies at Washington University in St. Louis. An authority on the intersection of African American literature and American political history, he is the author of the award-winning book New Negro, Old Left: African American Writing and Communism between the Wars. His latest book, F. B. Eyes: How J. Edgar Hoover's Ghostreaders Framed African American Literature, based on 14,000 pages of newly released FBI files, will be published by Princeton University Press in January 2015.

CHF Suggests
Related links and resources for further study
Leaders And Thinkers

William J. Maxwell
Faculty page at Washington University in St. Louis
Good Reads

Total Literary Awareness: How the FBI Pre-read African American Writing
Online Resources

FB Eyes [podcast]

This program is presented in partnership with the Center for the Humanities at Washington University.

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