MUHAMMAD: Have Reparations Co-Opted Black Militants?
As much as I embrace the need for reparative justice for Black people in America, I’m afraid that the recent success of H.R. 40, the congressional measure to establish a commission to investigate the question, may have actually done a disservice to the cause of Black liberation because it has made the Black Militant movement get comfortable with within the system that continues to cause our distress.
That system had promised, then rescinded the offer of, “40 acres and a mule,” part of Special Field Orders No. 15, a wartime order proclaimed by Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman on Jan. 16, 1865, during the Civil War, to allot land to freed families, plots of land no larger than 40 acres. The idea was to encourage slaves to rebel and help the Union troops win the Civil War, and to compensate them with some land of their own so they would be free indeed — economically — when their true emancipation came.
When the war ended, the slaves learned what the Native people were being taught: “White Man speaks with forked tongue.” The betrayal of the promise to the freed slaves was just another of “The Trail of Broken Treaties,” with which the Native people were all too familiar, at the hands of white Americans.
Me, I got involved in the militant-reparations cause in the 1960s. First with the Republic of New Africa (RNA), and then with the Nation of Islam — the Black Muslims. I was a student activist and campus newspaper editor at San Jose State University. I saw the dawn of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense just up the road in Oakland. I drifted into the Black Nationalist camp — the “cultural nationalists,” as we were derided by the “revolutionary” Panthers.
I heard and championed the cause of George Jackson, the brilliant political prisoner, and his companions John Clutchette and Fleeta Drumgold, who were known as the Soledad Three. I went to that desolate penitentiary to report on their cause, from the very beginning. I interviewed George’s mother Georgia and his brother Jonathan. I attended both their funerals.
I followed the brilliant, the beautiful, Angela Davis, the she-ro who stood unflinchingly for the cause and became Public Enemy No. 1 until her capture and imprisonment in San Jose. I took her Muslim Bean Pies to the jail, and reported on her trial, sending a dispatch via Western Union telegraph to the Muhammad Speaks newspaper on June 4, 1972, when she was acquitted.
We were all committed, far outside of the mainstream. While there were differences in strategies and philosophies among us, the one thing we had in common was an understanding that the “system” had never done right by our people, and that we had few, if any, friends in high places. From Emmett Till to Li’l Bobby Hutton, we had the “receipts” documenting our oppression.
In 1968, the RNA issued its manifesto, declaring “Free The Land” and demanding five states in the territorial United States — South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana” as the land base for the new “Black Nation.” That was the true basis of progressive black thinking, not receptions with members of Congress.
But soon, I found the Nation of Islam better suited my yearning. “We want our people in America whose parents or grandparents were descendants from slaves to be allowed to establish a separate state or territory of their own — either on this continent or elsewhere. We believe that our former slave masters are obligated to provide such land and that the area must be fertile and minerally rich. We believe that our former slave masters are obligated to maintain and supply our needs in this separate territory for the next 20 to 25 years — until we are able to produce and supply our own needs.” That says it all for me. That’s the reparations — the reparative justice — our people need and deserve.
But this current HR 40 legislation is about trying to bring about economic parity, closing the Black-white wealth gap — in other words making Black folks more and more like the white folks who have tormented us for centuries, not true liberation.
The leaders of the reparations movement have been deluded with the notion that white folks will treat us right this time, not like before when they tricked us or cowered us into accepting their hateful will.
The reparations movement’s thinking that Blacks will get on an equal footing with white people in America is a fool’s errand. Whites are digging in their heels with their Freedom Caucuses, Proud Boys, Three Percenters and America Firsters, trying to make their superior position over Blacks permanent.
As log as we live among them, we’ll have to live beneath them. For true freedom, justice and equality, my motto is simple: #SeparationThenReparations.