Charlie Rangel Begat Ed Towns

Charlie Rangel Begat Ed Towns


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes




Ghettoes exist wherever you see Black state senators and assemblypersons. And ghettoes exist for most of the Congressional districts, too, represented by Black

House members. 40-plus long years of Black political representation,

in record numbers, in fact, but it seems our communities are worse

off than even before the Civil Rights Movement.—Kevin Powell

Ed Towns                                                                                                                                                   Charlie Rangel



Books by  Kevin Powell


In the Tradition: An Anthology of Young Black Writers  /  Someday We’ll All Be Free  /  Recognize: Poems


Keepin’ It Real: Post-MTV Reflections on Race, Sex, and Politics  / Who’s Gonna Take the Weight: Manhood, Race, and Power in America

Open Letters to America: Essays by Kevin Powell

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Kevin Powell is a writer with political ambition. He is presently running for Congress from Brooklyn. His analysis of the behavior of Charlie Rangel and Ed Towns reflects the general condition of neo-colonial politicians. From coast to coast we see such men and women under indictment or doing time, or simply doing nothing, just maintaining, as we say in the hood. Elijah told us no politician of this world can save you. We see in Kevin Powell the next generation of politicos, along with Ras Baraka on the Newark City Council. We hope and pray they can maintain some semblance of radical consciousness, though the essential theme of the politician is let’s make a deal! Sometimes that deal puts us in a hole from which we cannot resurface.—Marvin X

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Charlie Rangel Begat Ed Towns

Something Is Broken In Brooklyn, Too

By Kevin Powell


Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.—Abraham Lincoln

And the drama of Congressman Charlie Rangel continues to unfold with 13 charges of misconduct, even as I type this essay: Mr. Rangel faces a range of accusations stemming from his accepting four rent-stabilized apartments, to misusing his office to preserve a tax loophole worth half a billion dollars for an oil executive who pledged a donation for an educational center being built in Mr. Rangel’s honor. In short, Mr. Rangel, one of the most powerful Democrats in the United States House of Representatives, has given his Republican foes much fodder to attack Dems as the November mid-term elections quickly approach.

While this saga continues, two questions dangle in the air: First, where did it all go so terribly wrong? And, second, did Mr. Rangel begat the lack of ethics also present in the career of his colleague, friend, and staunch ally Congressman Edolphus “Ed” Towns of Brooklyn, New York?

To answer these questions I think we must go back to the 1960s and the Civil Rights Movement’s waning days. Dr. King was still alive, but his popularity had plummeted, which explains why, to this day, many people do not know his writings or sermons from those latter years. Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. of Harlem (Mr. Rangel’s predecessor) was clinging to his seat amidst ethics battles of his own. The streets of Black America were habitually afire, as urban unrest became the language of the unheard ghetto masses. And in majority Black communities like Harlem and Brooklyn, Black leaders, emboldened by Civil Rights victories, chants of “Black Power,” and a once-in-a-century opportunity for power, rushed through the kicked-in doors, into politics, into business, into film and television, into book publishing and magazines (or started their own), and into colleges and universities heretofore shuttered. It was the best of times and it was the worst of times. The best because many really believed “change” was on the horizon. The worst because some Black movers and shakers were so happy to get inside that they came with no vision or a plan whatsoever for their followers.

Clearly very few even bothered to read Dr. King’s landmark essay “Black Power Defined,” which sought to push Black leaders toward a programmatic agenda that included the poor and economically disenfranchised.

Power of Four: David Dinkins, Basil Paterson, Percy Sutton and Charles Rangel at Terrace in the Sky restaurant in Harlem in 2002 to celebrate the elevation of David Paterson (Basil’s son) to minority leader of the New York State Senate.

And if there were any communities in Black America to test Dr. King’s vision, they were Harlem and Brooklyn. Brooklyn has Black America’s largest concentration of people of African descent. But Harlem, in particular, was the symbolic capital of Black America, and it was there that the now famous Gang of Four—Percy Sutton, Charlie Rangel, David Dinkins, and Basil Paterson—planned and plotted a course for their community, and themselves. Rangel replaced Powell in Congress and became the dean of New York politics. Sutton would first be a successful politician himself, and then eventually start Inner City Broadcasting, a major person of color owned media enterprise. Basil Paterson would be, among other things, New York State Senator, Deputy Mayor of New York City, and New York Secretary of State; and David Dinkins, of course, became the first Black mayor of New York City.

Truth be told Mr. Rangel and his colleagues had an incredible vision and really did nothing differently than their White predecessors had been doing for decades in America: they saw an opportunity for a taste of power and they took it. (And at least the Gang of Four brought an economic empowerment zone to Harlem, something Congressman Towns pretended to want to do in the mid1990s for Brooklyn, then mysteriously backed away from, instead endorsing then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s re-election bid, with Brooklyn never hearing about that zone again.)

Indeed, as I was coming of age as a student and youth activist in the 1980s, and as a then-reporter with various Black newspapers in the New York City area, I remember well hearing their names mentioned often. And, to a lesser extent, the names of their Black political peers in Brooklyn like Al Vann, Major Owens, and Sonny Carson. It was awe-inspiring, because I did not know that Black folks were leaders in this way. The pinnacle of this Black political ascension in New York City, without question, was the election of David Dinkins in 1989. For New York was the last of the major American cities to produce a Black mayor.

But something stopped during Dinkins’ years in City Hall. Black New York was unable to shake off the catastrophic effects of the 1980s crack cocaine scourge, or Reagan-era social policies. Meanwhile, Black leadership in New York, rather than nurture and prepare the next generation of Black voices to succeed them, did exactly what their White forerunners had done: they dug their heels deeper into the sands of power and have instead become leaders of what I call “a ghetto monarchy.” In other words, the community-first values of the Civil Rights era have been replaced by the post-Civil Rights era values of me-first, career first, and control and domination of my building, my block, my housing projects, my district, my part of the community (if not all of it), my church, my community center, or my organization, by any means necessary. For as long as possible. And often for as much money, privilege, and access to power as one can get with a “career” as a Black leader or figurehead.

And that, my friends, is what leads us, again, to the sad spectacles of the two senior most Congresspersons in New York State: Charlie Rangel of Harlem, and my representative in Brooklyn, Congressman Edolphus “Ed” Towns.

For it is so clear that the leadership path of Congressman Rangel begat the leadership path of Congressman Towns. Both may have been well intentioned at the beginning of their careers. Both may very well believe in the goodness, as I do, of public service for the people. But something has gone terribly wrong, the longer they have stayed in office (40 years now, for Mr. Rangel, and 27 long years for Mr. Towns); something that, I believe, has zapped them of their ability to serve effectively. That has zapped them of sound moral, political and ethical judgment. That has led both to be disconnected from the very people they claim to serve, both younger and older people alike.

And you see this pattern with old school Black political leaders nationwide. For ghettoes exist wherever you see Black city council or alderpersons. Ghettoes exist wherever you see Black state senators and assemblypersons. And ghettoes exist for most of the Congressional districts, too, represented by Black House members. 40-plus long years of Black political representation, in record numbers, in fact, but it seems our communities are worse off than even before the Civil Rights Movement.

Now I am very clear that systemic racism has done a number on these communities from coast to coast, from how financial institutions have treated urban areas, to the deterioration of our public schools when White flight became real in the 1960s and 1970s, to loss of factories, and other job incubators, to the often combative relationship between our communities and local police. And let us not begin to talk about the effects of gentrification on urban areas across America the past decade and a half.

But if a leader really has any vision, she or he figures out some way to help the people to help themselves. You simply do not retreat to what is safe, secure, and predictable in terms of your actions, or lack thereof. Doing that means you simply have given up. Or, worse, you just do not care.

For me, no clearer evidence than the other day when I was campaigning for Congress in Marcy Projects in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, the Marcy Projects made famous in the lyrics of hiphop superstar and Brooklyn native son Jay-Z. 60-year-old Marcy Projects is so huge a housing complex that it swallows whole Myrtle and Park and Flushing Avenues between Nostrand and Marcy. It consists of 27 buildings, over 1700 apartments, and approximately 5000 residents. And except for areas like Fort Greene (excluding its own projects), Clinton Hill, Boerum Hill, and parts of Dumbo, Bed-Stuy, East Flatbush, and Canarsie, most of Mr.Towns’ district is as impoverished, under-served, and as forgotten as Marcy Projects.

There is the sight of several elderly women sitting on benches in the middle of this aging complex, frustrated with the state of their lives, their meager incomes, the bags of garbage strewn about them, and the rats who have created dirt holes so big around each building, that a small human head could fit through most of those holes. When I ask these women where is the nearest senior citizen center so they could have some measure of relief, they say, in unison, “Right here, outside, where we are sitting now, these benches. This is the safest place we got.”

There is the sight of children, pre-teens and teens, running, jumping, over pissed stained asphalt, scraping their knees on the ground filled with broken bottles and broken promises. There also is no community center open in Marcy any longer. Why that is the case, no Marcy resident can tell me. What they do tell me is that Marcy Playground is being renovated. And indeed it is. But the residents feel it is not for them, that it is for “the new White people coming into the area, and the new Black people who have some money.”

There is the sight of all those Black and Latino males standing on this or that corner, in front of this or that building, the hands of their lives shoved deep into their pockets, their hunger for something better fed by a Newport cigarette, a taste of malt liquor or Hennessey, a pull on a marijuana stick. And then the ritual happens: a police car shows up, males and females of all ages are asked for identification, are thrown up against a wall, against the squad car, or to the ground, asked where they live, where they are going, why are they standing there, what is in their shoes, in their underwear. Or they are accused of trespassing for going from one building to another, even if they are simply visiting a relative or friend.

This is not just life in Marcy Projects, Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. This is what ghetto monarchs like Congressman Towns and Congressman Rangel preside over in Black communities nationwide. Perhaps, once more, they really cared at one point—maybe they really did. But circa 2010, Charlie Rangel’s problems are Ed Towns’ problems because the apple does not fall very far from the tree. Yes, cite Mr. Rangel’s litany of indiscretions, but let us not forget Mr. Towns’ own timeline of indiscretions while overseeing his district (see the timeline below for Mr. Towns), for nearly three decades, with, among other things, some of the bloodiest violence in America, the highest HIV/AIDS rates in America, the most under-achieving schools (with a few notable exceptions), and vast disparities between the haves and the have-nots. Right here in Brooklyn, New York.

Is it little wonder that as I travel this Congressional district, meeting with Jewish folks in Boerum Hill, Chinese folks in Williamsburg, West Indian folks in East Flatbush and Canarsie, or African American and Puerto Rican folks in East New York, I hear the same things time and again: “We never see Mr. Towns except maybe when he needs our vote” or “I have never seen Mr. Towns in my life” or “I have called Mr. Towns’ office many times and never gotten the help I need” or “I just do not trust any of these politicians at all. They all lie.”

This is why voter turnout is perpetually low. This is why incumbents get to stay in office decade after decade. The formula is very simple for electeds like Congressman Ed Towns: Identify the loyal voters and only cater to them (helping them get election poll jobs, or regular jobs, helping their children get into schools, paying for trips out of town to some casino or amusement park or cookout). Stay out of sight of all the other registered Democratic voters, banking on them simply pulling the lever for “Democrats” every election cycle without any fuss or questions. Never debate an insurgent opponent for fear of your being exposed for who you really are, and for what you have not done for the community. Turn your political seat into a business, one where your family member and circle of friends and colleagues benefit from the powerful reach of your position.

photo left: Ed Towns

So why would you want to give that up? Why would you even bother to do more than is absolutely necessary when you are able to enjoy the perks of a long political career without much effort, without much sweat equity at all? Why would you even think that taking on the values of political corruption are unethical at all, if there has been no one to hold you accountable for so very long?

And why would you see that Brooklyn, and the Brooklyns of America, are broken, so very terribly broken, even though it is clear as day to the people in your community?

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Timeline of Indiscretions by Congressman Edolphus “Ed” Towns

Democrat, Brooklyn, New York’s 10th Congressional District

A Partial List

1982: While campaigning for his first term, Towns was caught on videotape accepting a $1,300 cash bribe from 3 undercover officers with the NYC Department of Investigation. Prior to being indicted, he was tipped off that the construction executives from whom he took the money were actually cops and he returned the money: VillageVoice

1997: Towns endorses Rudy Giuliani for Mayor despite Giuliani’s antagonistic relationship with the vast majority of the residents of his congressional district. Answers

2005: Towns casts the deciding vote in support of George W. Bush’s CAFTA policy, after flip-flopping on the issue considerably. Citizen

2006: In the pocket of Big Pharmaceuticals: Billy Tauzin, president of that group, a lobbying organization for brand-name drug companies, recently urged Representative Edolphus Towns, Democrat of New York, to seek a position as chairman of a powerful House subcommittee, said Karen Johnson, a spokeswoman for Mr. Towns. The subcommittee has authority over Medicare and the Food and Drug Administration. NYTimes

2009: In the midst of the foreclosure crisis and the economic meltdown, instead of using his power as a congressman to help his constituents get jobs and get their homes, Towns  refused initially to issue a subpoena to investigate Countrywide’s records as to protect himself. OnlineWall Street Journal

2010: New York Daily News reports that Congressman Towns tried to steer $5 million in f$5.3 million in taxpayer money to a nonprofit that employs one of his staffers. The group, Trinity Community Development and Empowerment Group Inc., had an abandoned building as its address. NY Daily News

2010: Towns recently voted along with 180 Republicans against the most recent jobs bill. Here we are in this crisis, and he’s voting AGAINST JOBS. While it was not a perfect bill, it did have a provision in it to create business for minority contractors.

2010: Towns [at 75] confides in a staffer that he may not run here in 2010. Whether he just doesn’t have the energy or he’s seeing the heat on Rangel, it doesn’t appear Towns has the interest to represent the people any longer.City Limits

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Kevin Powell is a 2010 Democratic candidate for the United States House of Representatives in Brooklyn, New York’s 10th Congressional district.

Dr. Michael Eric Dyson has called Powell “a mighty wind of fresh air.” . . . He is an activist, writer, public speaker, entrepreneur, and, currently, a 2010 Democratic candidate for Congress in Brooklyn, New York. A product of extreme poverty, welfare, fatherlessness, and a single mother-led household, he is a native of Jersey City, New Jersey and was educated at New Jersey’s Rutgers University. Kevin Powell is a longtime resident of Brooklyn, New York, and it is from his base in New York City that Powell has published ten books, including his new title, Open Letters to America (Soft Skull Press). This book is a collection of essays that examines American leadership, politics, and various social issues in the era of Barack Obama. more

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A Tough Gang to Follow—As Harlem’s older generation of leaders fades, black officials define new paths toward prominence—Curtis Stephen—“One of the tragedies with what we’re seeing happen to Charlie and David is that it’s long been known that the older generation of leadership has largely failed to nurture young talent,” says Basil Smikle, a black political consultant . . .

“We may not see another black governor in New York for another 20 years. And you may not see another person of Charlie’s stature elevate to become a significant black leader from this state in Congress for another 20 years, too, because it’s all about seniority.” . . .

Historically, African-American Democratic Party candidates for electoral posts in New York have long relied upon the city’s deeply-rooted network of black churches, labor unions, clubhouses, closed-doors dealmaking, and support from the “Gang of Four” circle along the campaign trail. But that model is changing. . . .

“The tide is changing and the ground is becoming the determining factor for leadership,” says Erica Ford, who is black and founded the youth advocacy group Life Camp in Queens eight years ago. “If all else fails, conditions on the ground, whether it’s violence in the streets or the state of the economy, will determine what happens to our elected leaders.” . . .

photo left: Percy Sutton and Betty Shabazz

These days, observers are looking to the grassroots for prospective black political candidates. It’s a place that newly elected Brooklyn City Councilman Jumaane Williams, 33, is familiar with. For years, Williams was a community organizer who worked on affordable housing issues in East Flatbush. After launching a challenge for the Council seat held by incumbent Kendall Stewart, who was also tainted by scandal, Williams won by more than 1,100 votes in the Democratic primary and is now one of the city’s youngest legislators. . . .

Ultimately, political experts point out, New York’s black electoral candidates—incumbents and newcomers alike—increasingly won’t have a choice. “Just supporting the person who’s black may have worked 40 years ago, but the mindset of voters is changing dramatically,” says Smikle. “The candidates of the future won’t have that element of personal nostalgia to draw upon. Voters will be looking for one thing regardless of what you look like—results.” CityLimits

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Towns: Rangel ‘Is Going to be There’—July 28, 2010—By Azi Paybarah—That changing-of-the-guard moment will only fuel more chatter about how real power center of New York’s black political establishment should rightfully be acknowledged as having moved from Harlem to other areas of the city, like Towns’ section of Bed-Stuy in Brooklyn. Southeast Queens, with its cultural history, affluence and charismatic figures also can lay claim to the mantle too. When I asked, Towns downplayed the notion there’s any rivalry or tension between these areas and said that Rangel is revered figured citywide. WNYC

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Congressman Rangel Gets Order Of Jamaica—The Order of Jamaica is the fourth of the five ranks in the Jamaican honours system. The Order was established in 1969, and is considered the equivalent of knighthood in the British honours system. . . .Rangel, whose district, encompasses Upper Manhattan and includes such neighborhoods as Harlem, Spanish Harlem, Washington Heights, Inwood, Morningside Heights, and part of the Upper West Side, as well as a small portion of Queens in the neighborhood of Astoria, has been accused of failing to report hundreds of thousands of dollars in rental income or pay taxes on a beach rental property in the Dominican Republic, allegedly living in multiple rent-stabilized apartments in New York City while claiming his Washington, D.C. home as his primary residence for tax purposes, allegedly using congressional stationery to solicit donors for a public policy institute in his name at City College, and taking a Caribbean trip courtesy of the Carib News foundation without approval. On September 24, 2008, the House Ethics Committee announced an investigation into Rangel`s alleged questionable activities. Rangel ran for election to the U.S. House of Representatives, challenging long-time incumbent Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. in 1970. Ironically, Powell at the time had become embroiled in an ethics controversy in 1967. Rangel has won re-election every two years since.ImagesNewsletter

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Despite charges, Rep. Charles B. Rangel says he won’t resign—By Paul Kane and Ben Pershing—August 11, 2010—In a defiant, dramatic and highly unusual speech, Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) defended himself Tuesday against ethics charges by lashing out at the committee holding his trial, poking fun at President Obama, ridiculing conservative House Democrats and refusing to go away quietly. “I am not going away. I am here,” Rangel, 80, said in a rambling speech from the well of the House, during which he dared his colleagues to expel him. A few lawmakers, including some members of the Congressional Black Caucus and fellow liberals, applauded, while most of his colleagues sat stone-faced. Midway through the 30-minute-plus speech—which Rangel gave under the rarely used “point of personal privilege” rule allowing lawmakers to speak on any topic—Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) went to the back of the chamber to huddle with aides. Democratic leaders were not given much notice of Rangel’s intention to speak, and later Pelosi issued a statement suggesting that the issue should not spill onto the House floor: “As I have repeatedly stated, the independent, bipartisan ethics committee is the proper arena for ethics matters to be discussed.” Washington Post

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The Perils of Black Power—Right now, black politicians are all over the news for misdeeds. Is it a conspiracy or evidence of real power?—By Joel Dreyfuss—March 3, 2010.TheRoot

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Charles Rangel, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. and Dynastic Revenge in Harlem—By attacking Charles Rangel, the heavyweights in the New York Democratic Party are playing a subtler political game here than the headlines suggest. Charles Rangel was elected with the support of GOP New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller in a primary contest with the corrupt and legendary Democratic Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., who himself succumbed to ethics charges. It’s useful to remember that the original ethics charges against Rangel were brought by the New York Times, a pillar of the N.Y. liberal establishment. The motive for the Democratic Party attack on Rangel was not moral fervor, but the desire of Democrat Adam Clayton Powell IV to replace Rangel in the seat formerly held by Powell’s grandfather. Rangel is 80 years old, and his time is short, regardless of the outcome of the ethics investigation. Congressional Democrats investigating other Democrats? It would never happen, except that a ambitious young Democrat with powerful friends wants to replace Rangel. This is not about ethics, but about succession, New York style.UrbanElephants

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Paterson Scandal Scars a Piece of Harlem History—No amount of polish could cover revelations of an episode that seemed to recall an earlier failure of promise—the demise of the roguish Mr. Powell. In 1967, after Mr. Powell was ousted from Congress for misusing funds and defying court orders in a defamation suit, Mr. Jones remarked that Mr. Powell (like David Paterson) had squandered his potential. “It will take the young men time,” Mr. Jones lamented, “to rebuild the power and the prestige that the Negroes had in the Democratic Party.” Men like Mr. Rangel, Mr. Sutton, Mr. Dinkins and Basil Paterson did just that. The difference this time, though, is that Governor Paterson’s failure is viewed as personal, not racial. There’s another legacy at work. The next generation of younger black New Yorkers who ascend to elective office will no longer come from Harlem’s Old Guard. NYTimes                                                                                                          photo right: David Patterson

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Giuliani’s Ties to Black New York Troubled—GOP Front-Runner’s Handling of Crime and Relations With Leaders Questioned—By Perry Bacon Jr.— June 10, 2007— To be sure, Giuliani was never destined to have a perfect relationship with the black community in New York. He ran two bitter campaigns against David N. Dinkins, the city’s first black mayor, losing the first time before defeating the Harlem political veteran in 1993.

Once gaining office, Giuliani tried to build relationships with influential blacks and Latinos. Three days after he was elected, Giuliani made a highly publicized trip to Harlem, where he met with  Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.), one of Dinkins’s closest allies. . . . For other black leaders, it was the mayor’s unstinting support of police policies that caused friction. African Americans felt specifically targeted by some policies, such as the New York City Police Department’s aggressive stop-and-frisk procedures, in which officers, in search of guns and drugs, patted down people whom they viewed as suspicious. . . . The lingering resentment burst into full-throated protests all over the city in 1999, when officers fired 41 shots at an unarmed man named Amadou Diallo, a 22-year-old Guinean immigrant. . . .

Asked in 2000 about the fact that he did not meet very often with black and Latino leaders in New York, he said: “If I had spent my time engaged in that dialogue, the changes that you saw take place would have not have taken place. Because what happens when you engage in that dialogue is you compromise.” WashingtonPost

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Of High Treason and Economic Incompetence: The Reagan Years Revisited!—by Len Hart— The Existentialist Cowboy—Reagan cut federal assistance to local governments by some 60 percent. His administration eliminated general revenue sharing, slashed public service jobs and job training, and all but dismantled federally funded legal services for poor people. Other targets: the anti-poverty Community Development Block Grant program and any program having to do with public transit. It was primarily the ‘inner cities’, which Reaganites considered to be ‘black’, which suffered. Reagan’s favorite ‘urban’ program’ provided aid to highways and that was favored only because it benefited ‘white suburbs’ not ‘black’ inner cities. . . .  During the Reagan years, federal aid to cities dropped from 22 percent to six. Causalities included urban clinics, hospitals, and police. In early 1984 on Good Morning America, Reagan defended himself against charges of callousness toward the poor in a classic blaming-the-victim statement saying that “people who are sleeping on the grates…the homeless…are homeless, you might say, by choice.” BlueBloggin

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Reevaluating the Black Power Movement—From Mayor Richard G Hatcher to President Barack Obama—By Jitahadi Imara—To be sure, the Black Power movement imagined the possibilities for black empowerment and American democracy. Its unflinching call for the promotion of black history and black studies; its Pan African impulse; its far-reaching criticism of racism at home and imperialism abroad, expanded the dialogue and parameters of the black freedom struggle. Resultantly, black people began to turn inward, using their cultural strengths to push back against racism and to affirm their own humanity and to embrace an African centric worldview. So far-reaching and so expansive was the tentacles of the Black Power movement that no venue or sector was untouched by its vision and critique. The Black Power salute in the 1968 Olympic by Tommie Smith and John Carlos, for example, was the most overly political statements in the history of the modern Olympic Games. The salute was part of a protest to call attention to the injustices black Americans were facing. . . .

Politically, at both the local and national level, black people started to organize around the three ends of Black Power—self-respect, self-determination, and self-defense. In 1967 the first Black Power Conference was held in Newark. A Black Power Manifesto came out of this conference, condemning “neo-colonialist control” of black populations worldwide and calling for the circulation of a “philosophy of blackness” that would unite and direct the oppressed in common cause. In 1972 Black Power advocates, organized and called for a State of the Union meeting, first National Black Political Convention. Delegates included elected officials and revolutionaries, integrationists and black nationalists, Baptists and Muslims (the widows of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X- Coretta Scott King and Betty Shabazz- both attended). Participants were buoyed by the spirit of possibility, and themes of unity and self-determination.EzineArticles

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Blueprint for Black Power

A Moral, Political, and Economic Imperative for the Twenty-First Century

By Amos N. Wilson


Excerpts from Blueprint for Black Power—by Amos N. Wilson—To a significant degree Afrikan Americans accept and obey predominant White American power and its authorities (at least from social-psychological standpoint) because they agree with the rules of their establishment and expression as defined by White Americans; share with White Americans the moral, legal, and other values and perspectives which justify them; and to some extent (limited and of recent origin) because they, i.e., Blacks, have been permitted by White Americans to participate in political and social processes by which White power is given legitimacy.

To a limited degree, Afrikan Americans have been permitted access to certain positions of competent and legitimate authority. These factors contribute mightily to their acceptance of White American power (domination) and the White American monopoly of positions of authority as legitimate.

These forms of giving consent to the social power status quo on the part of Blacks help to obscure as well as deny the fact that they are in fact a dominated and severely exploited group (regardless of class); and helps to obscure the fact that their uncritical acceptance of the ‘rules,’ moral beliefs, perspectives, and their customary-traditional participation in the ‘American (White) political-economic process and system is tantamount to the legitimating of their own oppression and to the consensual ensurance of their own powerlessness. . . .

The illegitimacy of White American power is founded on the illegitimacy of its original sins—genocide, theft of property, and enslavement. . . . Increases in homelessness, poverty, unemployment, criminality and violence in the Black community; disorganization of the traditional Black family, inadequacies in education, increases in health problems of all types, and a host of other social and political ills have all attended increases in the number of Black elected and appointed officials. That is, the more elected and appointed Black politicians, the more social-economic problems the Black community has suffered. . . .

The community’s concern with the election and appointment of Black political figures helps it to maintain false hopes that their attainment of office will significantly resolve its problems. The activities of Black politicians, given the current inadequacy of social organization and economic resources, harmfully distract the Black community’s attention from recognizing and eradicating the true causes of its problems and the remediation of its powerlessness.AfricaWithin

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What Use Are Black Mayors— An Open Letter to the National Conference of Black Political Scientists—By Jerry Watts—First and foremost, we need to bring under scrutiny all of those analytical paradigms that presume that blacks (always imagined as a collective horde) collectively gain political inclusion or incorporation when black elites enter the ranks of a city’s governing elite. After all, black elites have been part of the governing coalition of New Orleans for almost twenty-five years. During that same period, the black poor of New Orleans have become increasingly entrenched in poverty. Simply put, scholars of black politics need to begin asking questions concerning the viability of urban electoral politics as a mechanism for generating upward mobility of impoverished populations. We may discover that electing black mayors has had a minute impact, if any impact at all, on the upward mobility of the poor. . . .

Part of the problem is that too many black political scientists continue to treat black elected officials as if they are part of an insurgent political formation. This is nonsense. Regardless of their rhetoric, black elected officials are, in varying degrees, part of the political establishment. I remember when Andy Young used to claim that black elected mayors were the vanguard of the continuing civil rights movement. Young’s utter BS should have been seen for the self-serving nonsense that it was. A black mayor of a city today is no more insurgent than I am as a bourgeois black academic in a predominantly white academic setting. Both of us may try to claim to that our personal advancement is a brick hurled against an entrenched racism. Both of us would be guilty of manipulating race to mask our self-interested actions. . . .

Conservatism has been the dominant ideology of American national politics since the election of Jimmy Carter in 1976. For almost thirty years, the White House has been occupied by men who had no commitment to the revitalization of poor urban areas. Poverty is no longer viewed as an issue that can be or even should be addressed. Yet, during this ascendancy of conservatism, little protest activity has emanated from impoverished urban areas. It is as if a black face in the mayor’s office conveyed to city residents a feeling of mayoral concern. If we are ever to begin a movement to attack poverty in America, it will necessitate confronting and challenging black elected officials, particularly black mayors. If we scholars of black politics are ever to contribute to the alleviation of urban poverty, we will have to jettison our long running romance with black elected officials.BlackCommentator

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Waiting ‘Til the Midnight Hour

 A Narrative History of Black Power in America

By Peniel E Joseph

Dark Days, Bright Nights

From Black Power to Barack Obama

By Peniel E Joseph


Book Review: Redefining ‘Black Power’—By Angela P. Dodson , February 12, 2010—Images from the heyday of the Black Power movement live on in popular culture, but the view tends to be blurred. Most people probably consider it as a blip on the 400-year chronology of race relations in America. While some Americans romanticize the movement, others remember it as a short-lived, inflammatory and ill-advised crusade that ran against the tide of peaceful efforts to gain and protect civil rights.

Dr. Peniel E. Joseph dips into the warehouse of history to sharpen the picture, making the case that the Black Power movement co-existed with, drew from and contributed to the nonviolent civil rights movement in many ways. He says many people had a foot in both camps.

“Black Power did not suddenly appear in Northern cities after 1965 as an alternative to civil rights activism,” he writes. “Instead, it existed alongside its more celebrated Southern-based counterpart.”DiverseEducation

Book Review: Peniel Joseph vs Hubert Harrison on Democracy—By Bruce A. Dixon— I flatly accused Dr. Joseph of peddling slick marketing constructs as “black history.”. . . Dr. Peniel Joseph is not in the business of explaining American, African American, or movement history. He is in the business of strip mining that history for accessible brands, and in the spirit of a courtier, he tries to dress Barack Obama and the black political class of the moment in the branded image of the Black Power Movement which he has created.

This is not an empty world in which every discussion has no relation to any other. It’s an old, established world, rich in contexts, and Dr. Joseph is no fool. His deliberate promiscuity with the word “democracy,” while he never offers his own consistent explanation of the term is a conscious capitulation to the establishment discourse, in which democracy is a brand, as Hubert Harrison put it, a battle cry of empire. An established brand. Dark Days, Bright Nights is a 225 page book, not counting the 40 pages of notes. . . .

The immediate and crying need is for real black scholars, real people’s intellectuals to come forth with critiques of the Joseph-like pretenders whose careers rest upon transforming movement history into brands, and offering them up as protective camouflage for our Black Misleadership Class. These real people’s intellectuals might not get tenure anyplace, if they don’t have it already. They might even lose it if they have it now. They may not get on CNN very often, but it’s time for real people’s intellectuals to surface, to make themselves known, and get down to the work of explaining the lineup of forces in our society, and how they affect our individual and collective lives, and work on getting those messages out to people, by whatever means are available, and necessary.BlackAgendaReport

Black Power, Barack Obama and Peniel E. Joseph’s Defense of American Democracy—by Anthony Monteiro—Peniel E. Joseph’s Dark Days, Bright Nights: From Black Power to Barack Obama is an interpretive narrative of how the Civil Rights and Black Power movements transformed American democracy creating democratic possibilities leading to the election of Barack Obama in 2008. Joseph tells a compelling story centered upon the biographies of Malcolm X., Stokely Carmichael, (Kwame Ture) and Barack Obama. Joseph tells us, “Barack Obama’s election represents, in contrasting and converging instances, a validation of the legacy of both the civil rights and Black Power movements” (208); and, “His rise speaks to the very possibilities of American democracy” (209). . . .

To conclude, we have entered a new stage of ideological and political struggle within Afro-America and the nation generally. This struggle takes on profound class dimensions as a new black bourgeoisie attempts to politically and ideologically consolidate its positions in the US elite and at the leadership of Black folk. And to do this at the expense of the class interests of the Black working masses and working and poor people generally. Elite universities, major publishing houses, newspapers such as the New York Times and Washington Post, and major research institutions are geared up to support the revisionist history and ideological commitments to American democracy and empire by these new black bourgeois scholars and intellectuals.

The Black left must prepare to defend the progressive, radical and indeed revolutionary legacies of the struggles of the 1960s and 70s. And in the 21st century to go beyond them through struggle and educate the masses of our people and win decisive elements of them to the cause of radical democracy, social justice, peace and social progress. Radical intellectuals and activists must act from conscience and good faith. With Amilcar Cabral we must proclaim, “Tell no lies claim no easy victories”. The moral imperative for this time proceeds from the words of Black Abolitionist Henry Highland Garnet, “Let your motto be Resist, Resist, Resist.” BlackAgendaReport

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The New Black Millionaires and Black Philanthropy in the 21st Century—Lisa Y. Sullivan—Philanthropy and Black Power—Into the next century, the central question facing the new black millionaires will focus on their legacy. Will they finance a new social movement for justice and equality? Will they endow black institutions for posterity? Will they finance political education, candidates and campaigns or will they speak out on critical social and political issues of the day? At the moment, it is not altogether clear what they will do as leaders in the black community. What is absolutely clear, whether they understand it or not, is that these new young artists, entrepreneurs, business executive and athletes represent the new wealth and potential resource base for sustaining 21st century black institutional life and social justice in America. It is time black leadership assumes responsibility for convening, adequately preparing and supporting these young people to provide leadership as the new venture philanthropists of black America. GibbsMagazine

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Beyond the Pale—Is white the new black?—By Kelefa Sanneh—Is white identity shifting? Painter thinks so. She [The History of White People, Nell Irvin Painter, a black historian of America] argues that “being white these days is not what it used to be,” partly because a number of nonwhites have joined the cultural and (more important) economic élite. But she concludes pessimistically, reminding readers that “poverty in a dark skin endures as the opposite of whiteness.” It might be more accurate to say that “poverty in a dark skin” is one of the opposites of whiteness, because, as Roediger’s book demonstrates, the white-identity project has often been conceived in populist terms, as a defense of scruffy local values against the wealthy alien élite. This form of white-identity politics, far from being undermined by the election of President Obama, was strengthened by it. Apparently, a black President born to a white mother can represent the opposite of whiteness, too. . .

Roediger [Working Toward Whiteness: How America’s Immigrants Became White: The Strange Journey from Ellis Island to the Suburbs by David R. Roediger] and Painter are right to remind us that whiteness was built over centuries on a foundation of deceit and confusion and disguised political imperatives. But neither seems fully to grasp the ways in which this artificial category has, over the years, come haltingly to life. Yes, whiteness is a social construct, and not (as race scientists used to think) a biological essence—but then so, too, is every collective identity. It’s getting easier to talk about “white culture,” maybe even white politics, without knee-jerk sarcasm or, for that matter, knee-jerk sympathy. And it’s getting easier to imagine an American whiteness that is less exceptional, less dominant, less imperial, and more conspicuous, an ethnicity more like the others.

In the Obama era—the Tea Party era—whiteness is easier to see than ever before, which means it’s less readily taken for granted. If invisibility is power, then whiteness is a little less powerful than it used to be.NewYorker

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Martin Luther King and the Global Freedom Struggle—Black Power—On 16 June 1966, while completing the march begun by James Meredith, Stokely Carmichael of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) rallied a crowd in Greenwood, Mississippi, with the cry, ‘‘We want Black Power!’’ Although SNCC members had used the term during informal conversations, this was the first time Black Power was used as a public slogan. Asked later what he meant by the term, Carmichael said, ‘‘When you talk about black power you talk about bringing this country to its knees any time it messes with the black man … any white man in this country knows about power. He knows what white power is and he ought to know what black power is’’ (‘‘Negro Leaders on ‘Meet the Press’’’). In the ensuing weeks, both SNCC and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) repudiated nonviolence and embraced militant separatism with Black Power as their objective. Although King believed that ‘‘the slogan was an unwise choice,’’ he attempted to transform its meaning, writing that although ‘‘the Negro is powerless,’’ he should seek ‘‘to amass political and economic power to reach his legitimate goals’’ (King, October 1966; King, 14 October 1966). King believed that ‘‘America must be made a nation in which its multi-racial people are partners in power’’ (King, 14 October 1966). Carmichael, on the other hand, believed that black people had to first ‘‘close ranks’’ in solidarity with each other before they could join a multiracial society (Carmichael, 44). Although King was hesitant to criticize Black Power openly, he told his staff on 14 November 1966 that Black Power ‘‘was born from the wombs of despair and disappointment. Black Power is a cry of pain. It is in fact a reaction to the failure of White Power to deliver the promises and to do it in a hurry.… The cry of Black Power is really a cry of hurt’’ (King, 14 November 1966). As the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and other civil rights organizations rejected SNCC and CORE’s adoption of Black Power, the movement became fractured. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Black Power became the rallying call of black nationalists and revolutionary armed movements like the Black Panther Party, and King’s interpretation of the slogan faded into obscurity. Stanford

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The Black Power Defined—Martin Luther King Jr.—June 11, 1967—Negro leaders suffer from this interplay of solidarity and divisiveness, being either exalted excessively or grossly abused. Some of these leaders suffer from an aloofness and absence of faith in their people. The white establishment is skilled in flattering and cultivating emerging leaders. It presses its own image on them and finally, from imitation of manners, dress and style of living, a deeper strain of corruption develops. This kind of Negro leader acquires the white man’s contempt for the ordinary Negro. He is often more at home with the middle-class white than he is among his own people. His language changes, his location changes, his income changes, and ultimately he changes from the representative of the Negro to the white man into the white man’s representative of the Negro. The tragedy is that too often he does not recognize what has happened to him.

I learned a lesson many years ago from a report of two men who flew to Atlanta to confer with a Negro civil rights leader at the airport. Before they could begin to talk, the porter sweeping the floor drew the local leader aside to talk about a matter that troubled him. After fifteen minutes has passed, one of the visitors said bitterly to his companion, “I am just too busy for this kind of nonsense. I haven’t come a thousand miles to sit and wait while he talks to a porter.” The other replied “When the day comes that he stops having time to talk to a porter, on that day I will not have the time to come one mile to see him.”

We need organizations that are permeated with mutual trust, incorruptibility and militancy. Without this spirit we may have numbers but they will add up to zero. We need organizations that are responsible, efficient, and alert. We lack experience because ours is a history of disorganization. But we will prevail because our need for progress is stronger than the ignorance forced upon us.

If we realize how indispensable is responsible militant organization to our struggle, we will create it as we managed to crate underground railroads, protest groups, self-help societies and the churches that have always been our refuge, our source of hope and our source of action. Teaching American History

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Stories of Freedom in Black New York (Shane White)  /  Discovering Black New York

Slavery in New York

Edited by Ira Berlin and Leslie Harris

This groundbreaking collection . . . chronicles and analyzes New York City’s African-American presence, both slave and free, from the 17th-century to the end of the 19th century. The 1991 discovery of the city’s extensive African burial ground highlighted slavery’s centrality to New York history . . . slaves made up over a quarter of the labor force). The 11 essays—from scholars Christopher Moore, Jill Lepore, Graham Hodges, Patrick Rael, Shane White, Carla L. Peterson, Craig Steven Wilder, Manisha Sinha, David Quigley, Iver Bernstein and Marcy S. Sacks—explore the social, cultural and political impact of the black community on the early development and growth of New York City. Though academic thoroughness and occasional repetition and contradiction may slightly cloud the collection, the work is accessible to the lay reader. Pertinent illustrations and over 30 sidebars throughout the text offer enriching sketches of many of the people, places and events that figure in the essays.

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Tarzan Can Not Return to Africa But I Can—PANAFEST 1994—By Kalamu ya Salaam—The recent rise of the Republican Party in America is further reinforcement that there will be no sharing of this wealth. From coast to coast, border to border, I go into what is left of the “Black community” and I am saddened. While we were never in a position to compete, at least, during the first half of the 20th century, we African Americans were building an internal economic infrastructure. Today, with far more political freedom, we have regressed into a state of near peonage, into an economic serfdom which is most accurately measured by noting deficiencies and lacks.


Those of us who try to start businesses find ourselves severely outclassed and hampered not just by a lack of expertise and capital, but also hampered by having to compete with fully developed multinationals who are becoming increasingly adroit at employing niche marketing schemes designed to sew up the African American market. If we are to develop and compete as a people, it just seems that there is so very little room for growth available to us in the United States. People talk about opportunity, but what kind of opportunity do we have when we are first generation business people going up against the major, minor and even bush leagues of Wall Street corporations? Africa is a much more sensible and level playing field in terms of competition and also in terms of need.—C: Foreign Exchange

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Why is Congressman Ed Towns Suing Opponent Kevin Powell?—A Statement by Kevin Powell—August 2, 2010—it is being stated that I do not live in the district, even though I have lived most of my 20 years in New York City in Brooklyn’s 10th Congressional district; and I am a very well-informed and engaged citizen so I certainly know who reps me on all levels. . . . After our many volunteers worked diligently for a month collecting 8200-plus signatures–signatures that were very carefully reviewed by our petition consultants–it is being alleged that we’ve committed fraud. . . . Or what of one woman supporter, just last Thursday night, July 29, 2010, at approximately 10pm, who had a mysterious man and woman show up at her home, awake her and her son, claiming to be “officials from the Board of Elections?” When the woman asked for identification the pair ran back to their car and sped off. Clearly they are employed by Mr. Towns. . . . In essence, by attempting to get me off the ballot Mr. Towns is pushing for a Tuesday, September 14th Democratic Primary where the voters will have no choice but him.HipHopandPolitics

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A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—


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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

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posted 30 July 2010




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