HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE NIA "PURPOSE" Bringing Power To The People
"When nobody else is moving and the students are moving, they are the leadership for everybody.”
Mississippi Civil Rights worker 1963
In conjunction with my efforts to focus historically on the seven principles of Kwanzaa, today I will direct my historical perspectives to the principle of Nia. I wanted to ensure that my younger brothers and sisters out there comprehend the historical importance of developing a true sense of purpose in their lives. Our black ancestors who were facing insurmountable odds defied those who sought to bind them in continued bondage. During the civil rights movement, they aligned themselves with a strong sense of purpose. Which allowed them the ability to fight and think with that element of Nia. In doing so they worked together to make our days we have today so much better then what the were encountering daily. Our ancestors did indeed energize those who started the illustrious cause to project black power and black people’s belief in-self so that the decision to forge ahead daily against those racial barriers wasn't insurmountable. So today’s essay on NIA (PURPOSE) is a historical perspective of four separate experiences that truly illuminated the Kwanza element of Nia that each of us should continue to ingrain in our daily lives.
Off the beaten path of America’s soiled path of dishing injustice in America, I always think about these towns and counties as the heartbeats of the revolutionary movement in the history of the civil rights struggle in America. Oh, of course, you can easily recognize the cities of Selma, Montgomery, Birmingham, Washington DC, Oakland, Harlem, and Memphis. All of these cities played a significant role or were the sight of magnificence for events that moved the needle of equality and justice in America for blacks forward. However, today’s “historical perspective on Nia” directs itself to 4 tiny hamlets that indeed exhibited the truest atmosphere of revolutionary confrontation against injustice. The efforts were led our young black ancestors in this nation during the decade of the 1960s. This is the 55th year since the birth of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense as well as the 55th since the birth of Kwanzaa. I could’ve focused my attention on the singular action of those brothers and sisters of the Bay Area as I discussed Nia this morning. However, in these 4 enclaves Nia by the supposed meek amongst us defined action against the most powerful elements of institutional racism.
Do I do these hamlets in alphabetical order? I could start with Cambridge, Maryland since it is located about 73 miles from where I grew up. Gloria Richardson had already lived 40 years when she was thrust into the fight for civil rights in 1962. Gloria was not a lady to be trifled with by those in the white establishment. Gloria Richardson was also not one to turn the other cheek when she was confronted by those dishing injustice. Not many amongst male or female have the courage to face down eye to eye an M-16 bayonet rifle like Gloria Richardson did. Nor, confront the highest law enforcement official in this nation with a sense of total defiance like Gloria Richardson to Robert Kennedy in 1964. Not many people know this, but only three women spoke during the historic March on Washington in 1963. Daisy Bates, who played the lead role in desegregating Central High School in 1957, Josephine Baker, and Gloria H. Richardson. Daisy spoke for all of 90 seconds and Gloria Richardson said hello upon being introduced and had the microphone snatched from her. Not many people know that the black community’s first lady of civil rights Rosa Parks was at the March on Washington in 1963 but even Rosa Parks was given the opportunity to speak to that massive crowd. I’ve come to find out that the Robert Kennedy’s Justice Department controlled the microphone and speaking systems on the Mall that day. Josephine Baker's speech was historic she spoke with such purpose and eloquence that summer August afternoon in 1963. Those controlling the microphone probably knew that they couldn’t control Gloria Richardson’s fiery voice or her demand for justice whatever the cost. Gloria Richardson also invited H. Rap Brown to speak in Cambridge, Maryland after she met him in New York City. Brown was chairman of SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) at the time. It was at the speech that Brown proclaimed the following; “if America doesn't come around, we’re gonna burn it down”. Well, Cambridge, Maryland did, in fact, burn after Brown’s speech. However, it was not the sole reason for the community’s outrage. The outburst of violence may have been instigated by the speech. However, the absolute atmosphere of oppression and repression which forced the majority black population of Cambridge, Maryland to live like second-class citizens was the actual cause of the riot in 1967. Throughout the movement in the sixties whenever Gloria Richardson was called to speak she was met with the highest esteem in our black communities. If you were young, black and proud and from Maryland, you knew the name, Gloria Richardson. One of the most iconic photos of that period of time is Gloria Henderson staring down the barrel of a rifle held by a Maryland National Guard Trooper. Gloria Richardson was about living black militancy while fighting for equality and justice. Gloria Richardson was never about seeking fake dollars or projecting her feminine power by shaking her hips or wearing scanty clothes on her body. Gloria Richardson and the black peoples of Cambridge, Maryland fulfilled the promise and principles of Nia.
Greenwood, Mississippi, why you say this small Mississippi hamlet, well, one simple reason and one simple date in time. Greenwood on located on the edge of Mississippi Delta. So many of our brothers and sisters made their way too Greenwood, Mississippi to fight for the civil rights of people who were shackled by the oppressive hatred of segregation. Yet, on June 16, 1966, two words evoked by Stokely Carmichael brought the world’s attention to this hamlet soiled in racist injustice. Two words that demanded that peoples oppressed and repressed would no longer be the willing victims of injustice without reaction. Two words that were heard on the streets of Oakland that moved two brothers to define that reaction later that year with the development of a Nia-driven organization, The Black Panther Party For Self Defense. Those two words Black Power changed the direction of the movement for civil rights that summer night. The black ancestors in Mississippi answered the call and response that summer night and America would never be the same again. So my brothers and sisters on that day and on that field for all the world to hear. The cause of the movement was defined and the time for our people to gain hope was now beyond reproach, Black Power, say it loud and say clear, Black Power. That is why Greenwood, Mississippi should still mean so much to those in our black communities today. Had not Stokely evoked the words as well as provoked the listening black nation? The dynamic words that moved a nation of black peoples. Two words that would excite the movement in Oakland that birthed the Black Panthers for Self Defense later that year? Brother Carmichael spoke that night and many nights after of a collective black power which involved economic, judicial, civil, educational power. All these facets of black power in the hand of the many in our black communities. Stokely wasn’t speaking of black power in the hands of just a few black elites. Stokely demanded that black power is derived and centered on the common man encompassing all our black brothers and sisters. The accumulated wealth that was driven in White America by segregation and prejudices had to be redistributed. Understand this my younger readers you cannot wear a revolution, you cannot dance and gyrate your way to equality and justice. Stokely asked that night in Greenwood, Mississippi for the common black man and woman to demand a higher purpose towards real change. We as a community of people are still seeking that change and we can only achieve by unity of Nia.
Let’s move on to Jonesboro, Louisiana, 1964, the south was no place for any black man wanting to fight for his freedom. Although, the civil rights freedom movement focused on the Gandhian principle of non-violence. The reality of the situation was that the need for protection for those who sought to fight for rights needed armed protection. They could indeed be killed without impunity, they could be murdered in plain sight by any white person a simple urge to kill or silence a voice demanding change. If a justice-seeking person either black or white put himself out on the battlefields fighting injustice. That person placed a huge target on your chest for those searching to murder and silence them. So tired of seeing his churches and institutions being threatened Earnest “Chilly Willy” Thomas 29 years old at the time decided to create an organization that would protect those who couldn’t seemingly protect themselves. Deacons for Defense and Justice was created to protect those in dire need of protection was the cause. Why deacons; the term ‘deacons’ was selected to beguile local whites by portraying the organization as an innocent church group. Did these brothers act righteously protecting those who worked to provide rights to those languishing in oppression and repression? You, damn right they did. Also, did the Deacons For Defense impact the brothers on the west coast? Did they along with Stokley Carmichael ignite starting a movement that built an organization that would address this aspect of community protection? You damn right they did. Oh, and the Deacons for Defense and Justice yeah they were patrolling for grounds in Greenwood, Mississippi the night Stokley Carmichael made his dynamic call for black power. Those brothers understood that evil never understood nor accepted the concept of nonviolence. Those who dealt injustice and hatred were always on the watch to instigate vengeance. The Deacons For Defense very presence mitigated these hateful folks efforts mightily. That is why Jonesboro, Louisiana means something special and should always mean something to all of us in the black communities. This is why Ernest Thomas understood the principle of Nia which directed his actions to protect and defend those who fought for our freedoms.
Finally, the final hamlet of confrontation against those who repressed and oppressed, Lowndes County, Alabama you need to etch this area in Alabama in your mind forever. It was in this county that the symbolic symbol of the black panther was born. You know that black panther, that sleek, powerful black panther that symbolized the west coast organization in Oakland, California. Well before the brothers and sisters selected the black panther as the symbol this black panther appeared in Lowndes County, Alabama. It was the symbol of the Lowndes County Freedom Organization. The magnificent body of black men and women developed LCFO as an all-black, independent, political party, the original Black Panther Party. There in Lowndes, as he was in Greenwood, Mississippi was Brother Stokley Carmichael organizing for SNCC to register voters in a county where 80% of the residents were black but not one black was registered to vote in 1965. With the passage of the Voting Rights of 1965, the effort began to register every single black person in Lowndes County, Alabama. It was the plan of SNCC’s leaders to take away the power of those whites who had dished oppression and created repressed and horrible conditions for black people in that Alabama county. In 1965, they chose the black panther as the symbol of the party; “The Black Panther is an animal that when pressured it moves back until it is cornered, then it comes out fighting for life or death. We felt we had been pushed back long enough and that it was time for Negroes to come out and take over.” It was the intention of those now granted the right to vote to utilize every available resource to ensure that the takeover of Lowndes County, Alabama by its majority black populace would be successful. Hence, the creation of their own political party and because every party in Alabama was required to have a symbol the black panther was born. Although the election was stolen by whites using fraud, voter intimidation, voter suppression the fact that in a little less than an eleven month period of time. These warriors for justice proved to themselves and others in that community that this political party would be a force to be reckoned with, not only in Lowndes County, Alabama but in the entire nation. From this hamlet, the call was heard that black power could become a realization, not just some black man’s imagination. From Lowndes, Alabama where also the Deacons for Defense and Justice protected those who couldn’t protect themselves. From Lowndes County, Alabama Stokley Carmichael honed a ten-point plan for blacks in America to begin to gain their voice and hence their power. It was from all these efforts from these tiny hamlets and small towns the confrontational process of gaining respect and self-worth was being maximized. The residents of Lowndes County, Alabama stuck the bell loudly for our civil rights and they indeed defined action with purpose. We must never forget their efforts to achieve justice for Black Americans, and all righteous Americans in this nation. So, today our communities can lift up the word Nia in our homes today. If we understand our ancestors and elders sacrifices maybe we wouldn't easily pull the trigger against our black brothers and sisters? If you hear the towns of Cambridge, Greenwood, Jonesboro or Lowndes County mentioned you had to stand up and felt the power of Nia because Nia indeed drove their actions to better our lives today.