A Christian Goon Squad in Black Baltimore

A Christian Goon Squad in Black Baltimore


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



These wise guys—the “Goon Squad”—Negro college men (mostly) who could appreciate

poetry and oratory, or a fine turn of phrase, were at the center and height of their

political engagement of racism so as to make America fulfill its promises to men, women,

and children who had been left out from Day One in the nation’s Declaration of

Independence and its developing Constitution.



A Christian Goon Squad in Black Baltimore

By Rudolph Lewis

Frank Williams [photo above left], a few years their senior, was the Professor X to their X-Men, if you will. These were my Saturday cartoon Superheroes. They weren’t mutants with extraordinary powers but ordinary men called to do extraordinary things with the help of their God. These eleven men comprised what became known as Baltimore City’s “Goon Squad.”—”The Goon Squad (Take:1)” 2011 by Wendell F. Phillips, WendellsWrite

“He is deeply religious,” reports Vernon Dobson, one of the nine-member self-named “Goon Squad,” of Black professionals who help Mitchell think through political problems.—“Parren Mitchell, A Powerful Voice on Capitol Hill,” by Alex Poinsett, Ebony, September 1979. p. 66—Google

Ravens and seagulls can be seen flying over and nesting in today’s Druid Hill Park, just beyond its reservoir. They have their feasts from black picnics and even blacker music festivals and Sunday spiritual meetings of black drummers. It was not always so sanguine here in Mobtown, “Baltimore’s nickname [derived] from its citizens’ proclivity to riot, not from its role as a home to organized crime” (City Paper). It indeed was once a place of stark white privilege, that made Negroes into second-class citizens ever fearing for their humanity and deserving of respect. By the time I came to Baltimore  to further my education at Morgan State in 1965, desegregation efforts in Baltimore were near complete, except for housing in some neighborhoods and well-paying jobs in government and local industry. The city desegregated Druid Hill Park in 1956, eight years after twenty-four black and white tennis players ignored the city’s racial trespass law. They were arrested with 500 spectators cheering their efforts to make the park a pleasurable integrated haven for all Baltimoreans, and jailed.

In 1948, the year of my birth at the University of Maryland Hospital in South Baltimore, these courageous twenty-four young people blazed the path for my generation’s liberation. In 1992 they were remembered on a plaque placed  near the park’s tennis courts (Monument City). Charles L. Williams who made the commemorative event possible did not want “the world to forget their act of bravery in Druid Hill Park. . . .  [he wanted to memorialize this] early benchmark of the civil rights movement” (Baltimore Sun). The trespass law convictions were appealed but the courts (by deliberate strategy) are slow, very slow in their deliberations. In this instance, the defendant lawyers “argued that the protesters were challenging the constitutionality of separate facilities based on race. The Appeals court upheld the conviction and the Supreme Court then refused to hear the case. But this challenge was an important chapter in the stormy end of segregation in this country” (HMDB Marker).

This integrated group of tennis players included James Robertson, Maceo Howard, Morris Kalish, James Gross, Albert Blank, Jeanette Fine, Gloria Stewart, Mary Coffee, Mitzy Freishtat, Irvin Winkler, Stanley Askin, Louis Pinkney, Leonard Collidge, Royal Weaver, Warren Vestal, Marcus Moore, Regina Silverberg, Phillip Ennis, Leroy Matthews, William Carr, Issiah Rows, Delores Jackson, two Juveniles, Charles Swan (HMDB Marker). Two years after Druid Hill was integrated, in 1958, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. came to Baltimore and gave a commencement address to graduating Morgan State students encouraging them to challenge further the old and fading regime of racial segregation and white supremacy, “So I say to you, go out, not as detached spectators, but as individuals involved in the struggle, ready to cooperate with God, ready to cooperate with the forces of the universe, and make the new world a reality.”

For about eight years after the desegregation of Druid Hill Park, Morgan State students made attempts to desegregate the Northwood Theater and the other stores and facilities in that shopping complex. The owners of the movie theater finally agreed to integrate the spring of 1963 after  student “use of civil disobedience and [the] mass refusal [of over 300 students black and white] to accept bail” (“The Northwood Movement, Part 2,” The Battle for Equal Access, pp. 20-22). That movement was led by Clarence Logan, leader of the Civic Interest Group, whose leadership help to integrate downtown Baltimore department stores, e.g., Hecht-May Co, Stewarts, and Hochschild Kohn’s (“Going Downtown: Students Take Protest to Heart of Racism in Baltimore,” The Battle for Equal Access, pp.28-31).

Summer 1963, finally, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), led by local chapter chairman Walter P. Carter (April 29, 1923 – July 31, 1971), worked up the means and the time to challenge overwhelmingly one of the last bastions of white privilege in Baltimore County, just outside northwest Baltimore City. Storming the segregated Gwynn Oak Amusement Park with nearly 300 protesters commanded the attention of the national media. TIME magazine published an extended article on the participation and presence of “Rev. Dr. Eugene Carson Blake, executive head of the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.’s general assembly, former president of the National Council and one of the U.S.’s most respected clergymen” (Time Magazine). Marion Bascom, Vernon Dobson, and Chester Wickwire (reportedly a member of the “Goon Squad,” Here Lies Jim Crow, p. 222; BrownDowntown) were there. Reverend Wickwire, a liberal white religious activist employed by Johns Hopkins University, wrote poems in his jail cell and later in his 80s published two poetry volumes before he passed in 2008. “Several of the clergymen were immediately freed on $103 bond; seven chose to spend a night in jail, but at week’s end all had been released” (Time Magazine).                                                  photo right: Walter P. Carter

The Gwynn Oak demonstration carefully orchestrated participants and police forces:

About noon, about 300 people assembled at Metropolitan United Methodist Church at 1121 W. Lanvale St. The event had been organized by the local chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality, Maryland Council of Churches and the New York headquarters of Campus Americans for Democratic Action. This was no ordinary gathering. The assemblage included respected, highly placed, local and national Catholic, Protestant and Jewish clergymen—white and black.

They were here to organize a protest march on Gwynn Oak Park in Woodlawn, which had been a center of controversy for years because of its “whites only” admissions policy. (Gwynn Oak was not alone in its discrimination policy; Maryland restaurants, swimming pools and movie theaters also kept blacks out.)

Among the protesters were the Rev. William Sloane Coffin, chaplain at Yale University; Rabbi Israel M. Goldman of Chizuk Amuno Congregation; Monsignor Austin L. Healy of the Archdiocese of Baltimore; Rabbi Morris Leiberman of the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation; the Rev. Dr. Eugene Carson Blake, stated clerk of the United Presbyterian Church; the Rev. John T. Middaugh, senior minister at Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church; and representatives of the National Council of Churches. The group discussed how the protest was to be carried out (peacefully), and whether participants were willing, individually and collectively, to go to jail (yes). . . .

Quietly, orderly and accompanied by freedom songs, the protesters boarded county school buses and were driven to the Woodlawn police station. Robert Watts, who later became a judge, met them there to act as counsel. Cool heads prevailed on both sides of the bench, and the tension was diffused. “Gwynn Oak was the mountaintop of the Baltimore civil rights demonstrations,” Judge Watts remembered. “Once we reached it, civil rights in Baltimore seemed downhill from there. In time, all of the restaurants, the movies, the parks, everything opened up to blacks.”—“July 4, 1963, at Gwynn Oak Park Baltimore Glimpses,” February 17, 1998,  Baltimore Sun 

*   *   *

The demonstrators, most of them white, first gathered in Baltimore’s Metropolitan Methodist Church, prayed and sang hymns until an appointed hour, then broke up into several groups and headed for the park. The first group to arrive included Blake and nine other clergymen. Awaiting them at the park were Baltimore County Police Chief Robert J. Lally and a large contingent of cops. The demonstrators had previously warned the police of their intention to march on Gwynn Oak; the police, in turn, had warned the demonstrators that they would be arrested under Maryland’s trespass law.—“March on Gwynn Oak Park,” July 12, 1963 Time Magazine

The youthful high school student Robert Moore, formerly a SNCC official and presently a Service Employees International Union (SEIU) official was also a participant in the Gwynn Oak Amusement Park demonstrations. Below he recounts his internal and external struggles with Maryland racism.

My first arrest occurred at Gwynn Oak. It was an act of civil disobedience. In 1963, I began to move toward sit-ins. For the most part, the NAACP’s direct action was limited to picketing and passing out leaflets. I fervently believed that any injustice must be challenged as forcefully as was legal or ethical. I saw what other students were doing, sit-ins and Freedom Rides. Those acts took courage and self-control, a knowledge of the self. The youth of my day had to put themselves to the test. The old fears had to be vanquished. The young men and women who dared to say No to gradualism, these were my heroes.  

On the front line, I was among the first to be arrested with a howling mob throwing projectiles. The News American interviewed me, my picture appeared in the paper. The next day I was fired from my job at a  car wash. Reverend Herman O. Graham of Knox Presbyterian Church was one of the leaders of that demonstration. That our minister was involved softened my parents criticisms.

I was also involved in the 1962/1963 Freedom Rides to local restaurants, to desegregate restaurants such as White Tower and those in Little Italy. I was young then. Gradually I came to believe the churches were not doing all it could do. In 1963, Bob graduated from Frederick Douglass High School and in 1964 began classes at Morgan State College for the Spring semester.—Forty Years of Determined Struggle

                                                         photo right Christian ministers arrested at Gwynn Oak Amusement Park

After the sit-down demonstrations of July 4th and 7th, Gwynn Oak Amusement Park integrated in August 1963. Negro progress in Baltimore was on the move but on the fringes. The economics of racism was for the powers that be still a winning hand. Baltimore was still a black and poor and ghetto-filled city in which whites felt there was plenty of time to right old wrongs while new ones were put into place. To counter this white pacing of Negro progress, a group of black intellectuals came together and brought select white professionals into dialogue to alter this racial game, using whatever political tools upright men thought proper.

In Maryland, the civil rights movement became a principled union that bound men and women—black and white—in harrowing moments of commitment. . . . Michael G. Holofcener, for example, not a recognizable name in the civil rights hall of fame but an important person whose position put him in conflict with powerful men. He did not flinch. He was chairman of the Baltimore County Human Relations Commission, openly clashing with County Executive [Spiro] Agnew over Agnew’s lack of support for civil rights during the Gwynn Oak Amusement Park crisis. Agnew had demanded his resignation. Holofcener had refused to give it. . . . The Agnew versus Holofcener confrontation perfectly illustrated the strategy of give and retreat, create a commission but keep your foot on the brake; resist any speed. . . . The Goon Squad—joining, over the course of history, people like Eugene O’Dunne [1875–1959], Michael Holofcener [1930-2004], Theodore McKeldin [1900-1974], and Chester Wickwire—refused to go along.—Here Lies Jim Crow, p. 22.

*   *   *

Integration of public accommodations spread rapidly after the Gwynn Oak protest. Already in 1959 Walter Sondheim [1909-2007] and Martin Kohn [1899-1992] had employed the first black female sales clerks downtown at Hochschild Kohn’s & Company. Now the other large downtown retailers gradually removed the rusting bars of discrimination. The predicted white boycotts never developed. Armageddon did not erupt when bowling leagues, ice skating rinks and even swimming pools became racially mixed. The pessimists may be just as wrong about mixed housing. Understandably, when lifetime investments are threatened by falling property values, the acceptance of different neighbors may take longer than the adjustment to integrated public accommodations, but it will come. It has been happening for many years.—“When the sky didn’t fall,” by Jack L. Levin, May 28, 1996, Baltimore Sun

Enter a Christian Goon Squad

The core members of the Goon Squad supported the militant King tradition of intensifying non-violently the segregated situation, which was exacerbated by poverty and political powerlessness. We know with some certainty that Vernon Dobson of Union Baptist Church and Marion Bascom of Douglass Memorial Community Church had gone South to support the efforts of SCLC and Dr. Martin Luther King.

They desired a speedier response to the nation’s need for black equality from the state and its lawmakers and police forces. The new momentum of black nationalism (cultural and political) and SNCC’s call for Black Power gave new impetus to the liberation movement at home and in South Africa. But more than a few, including Reverend Bascom, were giving an ear to SNCC’s Stokely Carmichael and local defiant young black men and women, who on the whole had made up the “shock troops” for the Baltimore movement. They listened to a colleague of Stokely as well, namely, Robert Moore, who had participated in the Gwynn Oak Amusement Park demonstration and had returned to his native Baltimore from civil rights struggles in Alabama and Atlanta to set up a SNCC office near Greenmont and East North Avenue. His primary mission was to organize “a” Black United Front” of the varied black political persuasions in Baltimore.

photo left: Robert Moore

The day I opened the office a reporter interviewed me on the mission. The next day I awoke to a headline screaming Moore calls “police the enemy of the black community.” Immediately I was denounced as an outside agitator on the floor of the Maryland General Assembly by a prominent African American state senator and called a Maoist by others. I had been a proud member of the Jackie Robinson Youth Council of the NAACP. Members of the “Goon Squad” came to my defense. They then organized a truce between me and State Sen. Clarence Mitchell III. This would be symbolized by having the two of us Shake hands at the first meeting of the Black United Front [March 24, 1968]. Later that spring, following the riots in the wake of Martin Luther King’s assassination, Gov. Agnew would use that symbol to accuse black leaders of being intimidated by me and other black militants (his terms) as the reason for the riots.

Some of us believed Agnew was attempting to blame us for the riot, but members of the “Goon Squad” sensed what Agnew was attempting to do and led a walk-out of an impromptu meeting the Governor called for that purpose. We of course do not know all of Agnew’s reasons but some of us believed that Nixon picked him to be his running mate on the strength of his performance in talking down to black leaders. We however do know that he would disgrace himself for not being an honest fellow. We do know that the “Goon Squad” were Christians of the highest order and keepers of their brothers and sisters faith in justice.—WendellsWrite

The Southern Manifesto of 1956 in the midst of the new Negro militancy of the late 1950s and early 1960s led by Martin Luther King was warping into the right wing liberalism of what has come to be called since 1968 and Richard Nixon, the “Southern Strategy,” which remains the Republican Party’s foundational politics which was further heightened by the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 and his rhetoric of welfare queens and government as the problem. Reagan’s politics seized the anti-federal government sentiments of the South which had been stewing since 1860 and made it into a political ideology that was anti-liberal, anti-Keynesian, and anti-black. In 1968 Spiro Agnew, a skilled demagogue and a waning Rockefeller Republican, became an early mouthpiece of the new Southern Strategy and showed how to hang new verbal clothes on antebellum white supremacy rhetoric:

Ironically, it was the orderly demonstration of civil disobedience, praised and participated in by our nation’s civic, spiritual and intellectual leaders that gave impetus to civil disorder. . . . A corollary conclusion is that violence rewarded breeds further violence and perpetual violence ultimately produces a brutal counter-reaction.  Civil disobedience, at best, is a dangerous policy, since it opens the path for each man to be judge and jury of which laws are unjust and may be broken. Moreover, civil disobedience leads inevitably to riots, and riots condoned lead inevitably to revolution—which, incidentally, is a word we are hearing more and more frequently from advocates of black power.—Spiro Agnew, “The New Orthodoxy, ” Maryland State Archives

Agnew attracted national attention on his handling of Negro leaders in Baltimore and Richard Nixon rewarded him with the vice-presidency. While questioning the morality of civil rights leaders and their advocacy of civil disobedience in the face of white domination, Mr. Agnew was involved in shady dealings as governor of Maryland. He was forced to resign and “repay the state [of Maryland] $268,482—the amount it was said he had taken in bribes” (Wikipedia).

Except for Parren Mitchell (April 29, 1922 – May 28, 2007), Joe Howard (December 9, 1922 – September 16, 2000), and Homer Favor (born about 1924), most of the members of the Goon Squad studied theology, including Vernon Dobson (born October 29, 1923) and his brother Harold Dobson (Apr. 8, 1925–Jan. 5, 2000), Marion Bascom (born March 14, 1922) and Chester Wickwire (December 11, 1913 – August 31, 2008), and Wendell H. Phillips (November 19, 1934 – January 29, 1993). Whether true or not, Reverend Vernon Dobson reports that Parren was “deeply religious” (“Parren Mitchell, A Powerful Voice on Capitol Hill,” by Alex Poinsett, Ebony, September 1979. p. 66, Google). Of course, we have no idea what Dobson’s “deeply religious” means. If it refers to a commitment or sympathy for the tenets or long-standing tradition of “African-American social gospel,” Dobson’s assertion is most likely a true assessment of Parren’s native perspective (Stanford U).

Augustus Adair; 2nd from left: Vernon Dobson;  next Sidney Daniels; Bob Douglass;  (unknown) ; Frank Williams;  Joe Howard   far right; Homer Favor; 2nd from right: Marion Bascom. Civil Rights Leaders meeting at Douglass Memorial Church after walking out on Gov. Agnew’s Meeting” (Courtesy of Baltimore News American Collection, University of Maryland, College Park

These wise guys—the “Goon Squad”—Negro college men (mostly) who could appreciate poetry and oratory, or a fine turn of phrase, were at the center and height of their political engagement of racism to make America fulfill its promises to men, women, and children who had been left out from Day One in the nation’s hypocritical Declaration of Independence and developing Constitution. Except for Wendell Phillips (born in the mid-1930s), these colored gentlemen had been born in the early to mid-1920s,  and thus ranging in age from 41 to 45. Chester Wickwire, the only white clergy among them, was already fifty three. He and Frank Williams (born 1916) were the oldest of the group. Most of these clergy were members as well of the much more formal group the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance (IMA). Began in the 1950s, the IMA presently with about 200 members, remainsl involved in local and state electoral politics (Baltimore Sun). Wickwire was an honorary member and served a term as IMA president, most likely in the 1970s. Organizationally, the IMA was a much more conservative representation of Baltimore’s black clergy than the Goon Squad.

At nineteen in 1968, when I came to know Dobson and Parren, key members of the Goon Squad, they already seemed like legendary old men, sympathetic to the young but rather awkward with the new black nationalist militancy in its political and cultural manifestations. Clearly, these middle-aged goons were bred in a more moderate era, the “University of Integration,” and much more reserved than our own revolutionary nationalist spirit. From the perspective of our youthful black exuberance, they were still steeped to the gills in accommodationist class politics, a bit too willing and eager to rub elbows with members of the wealthy white power structure, whose members included the likes of Jacob Blaustein, Walter Sondheim Jr., Theodore McKeldin, Tommy D’Alesandro III, Peter Angelos, and James W. Rouse. In 1958, Martin Jenkins honored not only Martin Luther King, Jr. with an honorary law degree but also Jacob Blaustein and Walter Sondheim Jr. 

Nevertheless, this community oriented group of goons did useful and needed work to bring about greater fairness of and equal access to the mainstream political system. By far their greatest leadership achievement was in the successful election of Joe Howard to a Baltimore judgeship (1968) and Parren Mitchell to a Maryland congressman (1970).

Joseph C. Howard was suspended from his job as a city prosecutor in 1967 for publicizing unequal treatment of black and white rape victims in Baltimore. The event followed soon after the birth of the Goon Squad, a group of activist ministers and lawyers who made it their mission to not only get Howard reinstated but to “get the city to speak politically and substantively to [African-Americans’] pain and inclusion,” says the Rev. Vernon Dobson, a founding member.

It was the movement that landed Parren Mitchell in Congress and put Howard on the Circuit Court bench in 1968 as the city’s first elected black judge. But before all that, when Howard was still out of work, he ran into fellow young lawyer Peter Angelos on the street one day and shook his hand. When Howard pulled his hand away, he found several hundred dollars—somewhere between $400 and $800, recalls Homer Favor, an economics professor at Morgan State University and another Goon Squad founder.

“That was the kind of support that really helped us to elect Joe” to the judgeship, says Dobson, the pastor at Union Baptist Church. “[Angelos] didn’t want to be known because he didn’t want anyone to know he was underwriting the budget of our struggle, but he was inclusive enough to participate.” It wasn’t Angelos’ first involvement in a civil-rights cause. In 1962, after the state legislature failed to end segregation in public accommodations, Angelos, then a City Council member, shepherded a local version to passage. But following the Howard incident, his ties to Dobson and Favor deepened. Over the years, they would get together and talk politics and share visions for the city.—“The Last Tycoon—Love Him or Hate Him, Peter Angelos Holds the Key to Downtown’s Future,” 16 August  2000, CityPaper 

The first African American to win a seat on Baltimore’s Supreme Bench, though the city had a black majority with representatives in Annapolis and on the City Council, Howard, who won by 8000 votes, as judge, “challenged the racial hiring practices of the supreme bench and helped racially diversify the offices and employ minorities at the circuit court as well” (Wikipedia).

Parren Mitchell also became an African-American first, the first black to be elected Congressman from Maryland, winning by 38 votes (WBAL TV).  There are those who have questioned the up rightness of that 1970 election. U.S. Labor Party-backed candidate Debra Hanania-Freeman, a follower of Lyndon LaRouche, claims in a 1978 campaign brochure that “calls were placed by the American Jewish Congress and the B’nai B’rith who first warned [Samuel] Friedel [1898-1979] to drop his challenge [of the contested vote count] or be burdened with ‘Jewish blood on the streets of Baltimore’” (LyndonLaRoucheWatch). As one who campaigned for Parren in 1968 and 1970 and who watched closely his career as congressman for sixteen years, I’d never question his integrity, sincerity, or commitment to blacks in general. But mainstream institutions, including the Democratic Party, carry their limitations on possible black accomplishments. As Marc Morial of the Urban League pointed out in 2007, Parren—who died 28 May 2007 after a long  residency in  Keswick Multi-Care Center (a Baltimore nursing home)—is most remembered, not for his militant spirit for extending liberation to the vast majority of blacks, but rather for his reformist politics on behalf of the class of  black entrepreneurs: “Mitchell put a foot in the door for African Americans in the world of government contracting and business” (Bay State Banner).                                                                                                                   photo right: Parren Mitchell

Other Post-Riot Achievements

Whether they will admit or not, the unrest of Baltimore’s lower and working classes after the assassination of Martin Luther King, changed Baltimore, not merely in the destruction of buildings by fires and looting. The violent response to white violence and assassinations changed as well the consciousness of its Negro residents. An air of pride and defiance was noticeable by those who had eyes to see and ears to hear. The overwhelming majority had gone from “colored” and “Negro” to Black or blackness in a surprising short period of months in 1968. The black masses of Baltimore posed a political and military threat that had not existed before the days of rage (6-10 April 1968). Blacks, men and women, were not willing to go back to the Stepin Fetchit days of old. They broke through old racial fears to a brave new world of black assertiveness. For instance, there was the increased activism of black teachers in Baltimore Teachers Union, the unionizing of sanitation workers into AFSCME, and the extraordinary organizing of 5000 black female nonprofessional healthcare workers by Local 1199. With the new militant consciousness, a new black union was created in Baltimore, Local 1199E-DC. Fred Punch, formerly of Brooklyn, New York, became a local labor hero.

These Christian goons did good for themselves, their churches, and those they served community-wide. Bascom, who came to Baltimore in 1949 from Florida, “was appointed Baltimore’s first African American Fire Commissioner in 1968, and under his leadership and direction, calm was restored to the city after the disturbances following Martin Luther King’s assassination. In 1970, he received an honorary doctorate of divinity from his alma mater, Florida Memorial College. . . . Bascom also founded the Association of Black Charities, an umbrella organization of the United Way. Bascom’s commitment to the community includes the development of Douglas Village, a 49-unit apartment complex, The Douglas Memorial Federal Credit Union and a ‘Meals-on-Wheels’ program for the sick and elderly” (Wikipedia).  How effective Bascom was in quelling the passions of those involved in the “disturbance is highly questionable. With Walter Lively and General Gelston, I too was on the streets of West Baltimore. Walter, who was later arrested on a false charge of firebombing a building, gave a little speech in the open air near Pennsylvania Avenue supposedly to bring the rioting to a halt. Lively was much more of a street person than Bascom. The disturbances went on several days after his street address. Before the rioting came to an end Robert Moore and I took a trip to Harlem.

In 1968, Vernon Dobson, “founded the Union Baptist Church Head Start program. In 1977, Rev. Dobson was one of the founders of Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD)” (Wikipedia). Trial lawyer and majority owner of the Baltimore Orioles baseball team, Peter Angelos became a “generous friend of BUILD (Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development), a social-justice organization . . . Dobson and Favor have been staunch backers of Angelos’ downtown development initiatives. Today, Dobson says, Angelos is one of just two people in the white business community he’s called a friend; the other is the late developer and philanthropist James Rouse” (City Paper). From 1988 to 1989, I worked with 1199E-DC an an organizer and publicist. Moore then the president of the Baltimore-based local. He elicited the aid of BUILD and its head organizer in organizing a Bolton Hill nursing home. The effectiveness of BUILD in farthering the organizing goals of the union and black nursing home workers I viewed then as suspect in that BUILD’s support came from middle-class churches and white philanthropy. That is, BUILD had no footing among the lower classes and working people.

In 1956 Homer E. Favor, a young African American, joined the Morgan State College faculty and sowed the seeds of urban studies. His dissertation was on property value and race—a topic that aroused his interest in poor urban communities. His arrival at Morgan began a period of intense involvement in community planning activities in Baltimore neighborhoods. His outreach to the community led to the establishment of the Urban Studies Institute in 1963. This unit was funded through the general college appropriations. With the support of then University President, the late Martin D. Jenkins tied to Dr. Favor’s untiring commitment to urban problems, a new entity—the Center for Urban Affairs—was developed at Morgan in 1970. President Jenkins’ personal connections at the Ford Foundation helped secure grant support for a four-year period. When the grant expired, the state’s increasing share of the funding eventually supported all programs (Morgan).  photo left: Homer Favor

There’s no extended biographical material  to be found on Favor on the internet. There is indeed an important interview in the University of Baltimore Archives of Favor and Marion Bascom discussing their remembrances of Baltimore 1968 and the black response to an insulting Spiro Agnew (UB Archives). I recall him twice: once during the 1968 Morgan State student revolt and as a doctoral student at Morgan State (1990) during a course titled the “Economics of Education.” His compromising liberalism I found rather negative and disappointing. He was not open to original thinking and became rather intellectual vindictive, refusing to return papers I turned in for commentary and grading.

Another member of the Goon Squad, Reverend Sidney Daniels, who died 2001 at 76 years old, became pastor  in 1958 of Emmanuel Christian Community Church, at Carrollton Avenue and Lanvale Street. As a “lover of freedom,” Daniels “was among the civil rights leaders arrested at demonstrations outside segregated Gwynn Oak amusement park in Baltimore County in July 1963, and among the black clergy who walked out in protest when Gov. Spiro T. Agnew publicly rebuked black leaders for failing to quell the rioting that followed the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968” (Baltimore Sun).

Mr. Daniels became a vocal and articulate advocate for the Lafayette Square and Harlem Park communities, where he held the presidency of the neighborhood council for many years. “He was a member of that generation of leaders whom I knew as strong social and civic activists,” said Carl Stokes, a former Baltimore city councilman. “He was always speaking out on issues of injustice, and it happened that these incidents of injustice most often affected African-Americans.”

Mr. Stokes recalled yesterday that Mr. Daniels was a member of what was called the “goon squad,” a term that he said was not derogatory. “These were men who took no prisoners, who didn’t mind walking into [then-city police commissioner] Donald Pomerleau‘s office and demanding to be heard. For them, the term `goon squad’ was endearing”—Baltimore Sun

By 1995 Reverend Daniels despaired in a numbers of Baltimore Sun articles on the lack of sufficient racial progress since 1967. “White America is on trial. . . . Discrimination and racism in the economics of business and employment in the public and private sectors is not a record that the majority can be proud” (HighBeam). Daniels was also a “founding member of B.U.I.L.D., the church-based community group that first began pushing for the Nehemiah project in 1986″ (Baltimore Sun). The persuasiveness of BUILD in the post-Reagan era (including the presidency of Bill Clinton), in my estimation, was slight when it came to dealing with anti-union sentiments and anti-worker legislation from the White House and Congress. Neither BUILD, the Urban League, or the labor movement had the influence to develop a mass movement to counter the Right-wing anti-government policies of Democrats and Republicans.

Reverend Harold Lewellyn Dobson, Sr. —the brother of Vernon Dobson and both sons of Reverend Spencer C. Dobson Sr. —”participated in—and was arrested during—the Gwynn Oak Amusement Park demonstrations in 1963. He also worked for the election of blacks to public office, and ran unsuccessfully in 1979 for the Democratic mayoral nomination.” For a while Harold was director of Opportunities Industrialization Center of Baltimore (an organization that attempted to deal with the problems of literacy and employment), ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic mayoral nomination in 1979, and succeeded his father in 1988 at the Bentalou Street church, founded in the mid-1950s by his father. “In 1984, he led the ad hoc Black Protestant Coalition Against United Way, charging that the charity denied blacks a full role in deciding the distribution of the money it raised” (Baltimore Sun). Michael V. Dobson, son of the Rev. Vernon Dobson and nephew of Harold, was a Democratic Party delegate to the General Assembly in Annapolis (1998-2003). I have no sense of what he accomplished for the 43rd legislative district or for Black Baltimoreans in general (BilaAli). Michael’s appointment and election indeed exhbists the power and influence of his father and uncle in Baltimore. That familial influence was not sufficient to sustain Michael’s re-election.

These then were the core members of the Christian Goon Squad—Joe Howard, Parren Mitchell, Vernon Dobson, Harold Dobson, Marion Bascom, Homer Favor,  Sidney Daniels. Though Chester Wickwire served a term as president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, and possibly a member of the Christian goons, how close and how long-standing was his inclusion is unclear. He is seldom listed as a member as we can see in his Johns Hopkins bio. It’s also unclear at what point the goons were joined in their deliberations by Wendell Philips, the youngest of the group. It’s even uncertain when the group was birthed: some accounts say it was founded by Bascom, Mitchell, and Dobson in 1967 (Coppin U); Homer Favor, a sort of Goon Squad official historian stated the group was initiated in 1963 (H-Net.MSU). Phillips came to Baltimore in 1964 to pastor Heritage United Church of Christ in Baltimore, which was found in 1963. Phillips was then about thirty years old.

Some time in the 70s, Wendell Harrison Phillips (November 19, 1934 – January 29, 1993) became president of Baltimore’s Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance. In 1976, he was a delegate to the First Conference of Christians, Israelis, and Palestinians. The motorcycle riding Phillips also served as a member of the House of Delegates from 1979 to 1987 and was a member of its Constitutional and Administrative Law Committee. Though sometimes at odds with Donald Schaefer, mayor of Baltimore (1971-1987) and later governor of Maryland, Phillips, born in Brooklyn, was known as a bridge builder, responsible for pushing legislation for the Baltimore delegation in Annapolis (Wikipedia). His son Wendell F. Phillips wrote a short passionate piece on his memories of the Goon Squad. Phillips the younger does not include Reverend Wickwire as a member of the Goon Squad, rather he adds three other members to the group, namely, Augustus Adair, O. Patrick Scott, and Lalit Gadhia.

Phillips also speaks glowingly of  the late Reverend Frank Williams (born 1916), former pastor of Metropolitan Methodist Church at Lanvale and Carrollton Avenue, the gathering site for the July 1963 Gwynn Oak Amusement Park demonstration. In his memorial piece the young Phillips refers to Frank Williams as “Professor X to their X-Men.” In many respects, Phillips’ goon piece is lacking in detail and inexact in its information. For instance, Phillips does not relate when Frank Williams left Baltimore and his fellow Christian goons and where he went or when Reverend Williams died. Phillips makes little distinction in the politics of the individuals in the group. He just lumps them together as if there were no tensions or differences among them.

They weren’t mutants with extraordinary powers but ordinary men called to do extraordinary things with the help of their God. These eleven men comprised what became known as Baltimore City’s “Goon Squad.” They were activist theologians and not just preachers but pastors and counselors. They were university professors, grassroots community leaders who became members of Congress and state legislators. They were great legal minds who became federal judges. They were activist political scientists and activist economists. They looked for justice with a telescope and examined injustice with a microscope. They believed in an all-powerful God; a God who was God of all or He wasn’t God at all.

They each had an activist mentality and a theopolitical bent toward life and matters of justice. These men—who happened to be men of color—were my tangible, living, breathing scripture.—WendellsWrite

As one can easily conclude this remembrance is too glowing and too sentimental, and to a great extent ahistorical, providing little context of the times, circumstances and the public or private barriers these black activists faced, few or any dates, and whatever references to age is provided, we have little confidence in their correctness.

Appointed in 1967 associate professor of political science at Morgan State College, Augustus A. Adair (1933-1989), a civil rights advocate, “was a political mover and shaker who played key advisory roles in the political campaigns of Baltimore officials and judges as well as managed the campaigns of former U.S. Congressman Parren J. Mitchell” (Jet, June 5, 1989, 54, Google Books). In 1973, the Congressional Black Caucus named Adair its new executive director and the post was assumed on February 1.  Prior to his work with the Black Caucus, he had spent nine years “as an advisor to Joseph C. Howard  a judge on the Supreme Bench of Baltimore City, to Milton B. Allen [1917-2003], now state’s attorney of Baltimore, and Paul Chester, now clerk of the Baltimore Court of Common Pleas” (Jet, Feb 15, 1973, p. 12, Google Books). I do not know when Adair came to Morgan. My gut feeling is that he did not participate in the Gwynn Oak demonstrations. But he may have indeed been a member of the Goon squad in 1967 in that he was a professional involved in the 1968 and 1970 election campaigns of Parren Mitchell.                                                      photo right: Augustus A. Adair

There is little online information available on O. Patrick Scott. Wendell Phillips the younger (WendellsWrite) says Professor Scott  is 71, making his birth about 1940. From other online articles he seems to have been associated with Sojourner-Douglass College in East Baltimore. A campaign manager for Baltimore City State’s Attorney Patricia Jessamy, Oliver Patrick Scott seems to have been involved in helping Sojourner-Douglass to develop a “political campaign management major,  a degree to educate future handlers of candidates on how to build war chests, attract media coverage, combat mudslinging and extinguish election-season scandals” (Washington Examiner). If Scott or Gadhia were “tangible, living, breathing scripture,” I was not able to sustain it by my online research. Matter of fact, the record for Gadhia shows few if any instances of godliness, or that he looked for “justice with a telescope and examined injustice with a microscope” (WendellsWrite).

Unlike Scott, there are numerous articles on Lalit H. Gadhia, born about 1939 in Bombay, India, focusing on his efforts of money laundering. Former campaign treasurer to Gov. Parris N. Glendening, Gadhia was at the height of his political career when he was “rewarded by Glendening with an $80,000-a-year post as his deputy secretary of international economic development” (Times of India). Lalit confessed to laundering over “$46,000 from the Indian Embassy [that] was distributed among 20 Congressional candidates” (PakTribune). Hoping to influence Congress with regard to GATT and the sale of fighter jets to Pakistan, Gadhia made $3000 campaign contributions each to “Reps. Benjamin L. Cardin and Steny H. Hoyer and former Rep. Kweisi Mfume” (BaltimoreSun). Most of the “”straw contributors” were “members of the Indian-American community in the Baltimore area, including waiters, busboys and kitchen helpers at Indian restaurants,” who were reimbursed by Gadhia from the embassy money (Times of India). After his sentencing for criminal activity, Gadhia’s involvement in politics escaped the scrutiny of local and national media.

photo left: Lalit H. Gadhia

What rationale for the inclusion of Gadhia into the Christian Goon Christian will probably forever remain a mystery. There is a slight mention of his civil rights background, but I could not discover any specifics of his relation to the desegregation movement in Baltimore. His notions of and regard for blackness and the black community will probably ever be cloudy. It’s unclear exactly when he arrived in Baltimore or the exact moment he became a colleague of Dobson, Bascom, and Favor. From what I have been able to determined is that his base was the seven to eight thousand Indian-American residents in Baltimore. Lalit Gadhia’s specialty was political fundraising, primarily for their interests and that of Indian and Indian-American businessmen. That activity is singular and individual and has little or nothing to do with the development of political power for the black community. If Gadhia’s inclusion was an aspect of the group’s internationalism with respect to Indian and Indian Americans, the notion is in need of a great deal of explanation. Why not seek out then an African or African scholar or theologian. Maybe, knowledge of Gadhia’s inclusion into the group tells us to what state the Goon Squad had fallen in the 1980s and 1990s. That is, the group’s mission had long by-passed necessity or relevance and that they had settled into the corrupt politics of the liberal-wing of the Democratic Party and the liberal wheeler-dealer ethics of Baltimore’s white elite.

Mind sharp as a razor’s edge. Madeline W. Murphy (1922-2007) was “an associate or honorary member of the Goon Squad.” Marion Bascom, an admirer of Madeline, said “Though Madeline was a woman, she was the woman in the group who shared her thoughts, her energies and her know-how” (Maryland State Archives). While working with Robert Moore in building the United Black Front, I met Madeline early 1968 in her Cherry Hill home. With her three daughters, my mother, a piece worker in Baltimore’s garment industry,  lived in Cherry Hill during the early 60s, so I was surprised when I did discovered this middle-class professional family with a home among government-built apartment buildings. Madeline was married to Judge William H. Murphy, Sr. (April 20, 1917—May 22, 2003), born in Baltimore and “raised on Druid Hill Avenue, he was the grandson of John H. Murphy Sr., founder of the Afro-American newspaper, where his father, George B. Murphy Sr., was treasurer. His mother, Grace Hughes Murphy, was a member of a family that owned a successful catering firm” (Maryland State Archives). Married in 1942, Madeline and Bill “lived in Turners Station for about a year before moving to Cherry Hill, where they eventually bought a house and raised five children, becoming longtime residents and well-known activists” (Maryland State Archives).


Author of Madeline Murphy Speaks (1988), Madeline “traveled extensively throughout the United States, Cuba, Europe, North Africa, the Caribbean, the former Soviet Union, East Germany, and China, and wrote numerous articles on her travels” (MadelineMurphy). When I fist met her, she and her husband Bill had just recently returned from Algeria, where they had visited the compound of Eldridge Cleaver and his entourage of Black Panthers. She was critical of Cleaver that he was no making himself useful in his self-exile, like learning French, stating that Kathleen Cleaver had to do all the required translation. It was from Madeline that I also first heard that the FBI had bugged Martin Luther King, Jr. and making revelations about King’s extra-marital affairs. She got a chuckle out of that—making reference to the infamous sexual appetites of Baptist ministers. In short, my overall view is that Madeline was not reverential and unbound by parochial politics. She was a rebel free thinker and would be revolutionary. In her book Madeline Murphy Speaks, she praised both Langston Hughes (“Langston Hughes Was a Revolutionary), who too had visited the Soviet Union, and Paul Robeson (“Paul Robinson’s Legacy”), “who did not waver in his fight for the legitimate rights of the oppressed people everywhere, despite withdrawal of his passport, and boycotts of his concerts, thereby cutting off his livelihood” (p.75). Madeline also applauded in her book the life of Baltimore socialist and East Baltimore activist Walter Lively.  photo right: Madeline W. Murphy

Black Power: Interpretations

We have exposed cursorily Baltimore’s black goons individual associations and achievements. They were mostly Christian clergy and I assume governed by some species of social gospel and further pushed forward in their politics by the rise of the ambiguous political ideology of Black Power raised first in June 1966 as a battle cry with “raised arm and a clenched fist” by Stokely Carmichael, Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and Willie Ricks, in Greenwood, Mississippi (OnlineLibrary). The Southern Conference Educational Fund (SCEF) and its president Fred L. Shuttlesworth (also secretary of SCLC) announced the following November in Louisville, Kentucky, a resolution stating its outrage at the current attacks on SNCC, CORE, and other militant civil rights organizations:

We view these attacks as an effort to undermine and finally destroy the whole civil rights movement. . . .We especially deplore the singling out of individual leaders for personal persecution. We believe that Stokely Carmichael should not be made a scapegoat for America’s social problems. . . . Those who attack civil rights leaders and organizations that are raising the questions which white America must face are denying our society the opportunity to examine what is destroying us. . . . the idea of black power has a long and honorable history but it is currently being misrepresented in the news media in the United States. . . .

In terms of American democracy, there is nothing improper about Negro people demanding that they should be able to elect representatives of their own choosing to key political offices in those areas of the South and in the North where they are concentrated and in a clear numerical majority.

The demand carries with it the idea that they would exercise responsibly and in the public interest and the powers associated with such public interest and the powers associated with such public offices. This would mean majority rule with concerns and safeguards for the right of minorities. . . . The board of SCEF is sympathetic to this essential and original meaning of the phrase black power. For black people to elect their own representatives in areas where they are a majority will represent a meaningful breakthrough and a step toward achieving a more effective representative democracy for all Americans. . . . political success will have only limited significance for black people unless they have allies in the larger white community. . . .

SCEF believes that the needs and interests of the poorer and less privileged whites of the South are similar to those of the poor black people. Since 1938 SCEF‘s objective has been to developing among these groups common allies in a joint struggle for a more democratic America. The board feels that this present challenge increases our obligation to do even more effectively what has always been our declared function.—Florida Star 5 November 1966, University of Florida

Meeting at Calvary Baptist Church in Louisville, SCEF, which included white and Negro leaders from all the Southern states and the District of Columbia, had run-ins with both the New Orleans police in 1963 and the Black Panthers in 1973 (Georgia State University Library Records). Dr. Furman L. Templeton (1909-1970), executive director of the Baltimore Urban League and a national leader in the United Presbyterian Church, also defined Black Power in terms of the numbers of blacks elected to political office. “Demonstrations have dropped from favor, and Black Power has been put in their place. But the most effective kind of Black Power is not violence—which brings only temporary results—but political power”

(University of Baltimore Archives).

Before the November SCEF  announcement, forty-seven Black signatories, mostly clergy, made—including  the Reverend Frank L. Williams (Metropolitan Methodist Church, Baltimore)—a more extended statement, less than a month after Carmichael’s battle cry, in support of “Black Power.”  A Committee of Negro Churchmen, an ad hoc group, advertised in the New York Times and later published these views in the December 1966 Negro Digest. Two additional Baltimore clergy, namely, Rev. George A. Crawley, Jr., St. Paul Baptist Church and  Rev. O. Herbert Edwards, Trinity Baptist Church, as well as Dr. Anna Arnold Hedgeman, Commission on Religion and Race, National Council of Churches, New York, and Rev. W. Sterling Cary, Grace Congregational Church, New York (he became later president, National Council of Churches) joined the signatories.  Their perspective of Black Power went beyond the mere desire to increase the number of black elective offices, but much closer to a way of life, a black Christian way of life that demanded the acquisition of power, internally and externally:

Getting power necessarily involves reconciliation. We must first be reconciled to ourselves lest we fail to recognize the resources we already have and upon which we can build. We must be reconciled to ourselves as persons and to ourselves as a historical group. This means we must find our way to a new self-image in which we can feel a normal sense of pride in self, including our variety of skin color and the manifold textures of our hair. As long as we are filled with hatred for ourselves we will be unable to respect others.

At the same time, if we are seriously concerned about power, then we must build upon that which we already have. “Black power” is already present to some extent in the Negro Church, in Negro fraternities and sororities, in our professional associations, and in the opportunities afforded to Negroes who make decisions in some of the integrated organizations of our society.

We understand the reasons by which these limited forms of “black power” have been rejected by some of our people. Too often the Negro Church has stirred its members away from the reign of God in this world to a distorted and complacent view of an otherworldly conception of God’s power. We commit ourselves as churchmen to make more meaningful in the life of our institution our conviction that Jesus Christ reigns in the “here” and “now” as well as in the future he brings in upon us. We shall, therefore, use more of the resources of our churches in working for human justice in the places of social change and upheaval where our Master is already at work.

At the same time, we would urge that Negro social and professional organizations develop new roles for engaging the problem of equal opportunity and put less time into the frivolity of idle chatter and social waste.

We must not apologize for the existence of this form of group power, for we have been oppressed as a group, not as individuals. We will not find our way out of that oppression until both we and America accept the need for Negro Americans as well as for Jews, Italians, Poles and white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, among others, to have and to wield group power.

However, if power is sought merely as an end in itself, it tends to turn upon those who seek it. Negroes need power in order to participate more effectively at all levels of the life of our nation. We are glad that none of those civil rights leaders who have asked for “black power” have suggested that it means a new form of isolationism or a foolish effort at domination. But we must be clear about why we need to be reconciled with the white majority. It is not because we are only one-tenth of the population in America; for we do not need to be reminded of the awesome power wielded by the 90% majority.—Negro Digest Dec 1966, p. 16, Google Books

These black clergy signatories of 1966, however, were an ad hoc group, much like Baltimore’s Christian Goon Squad, but later became a more formalized organization. It was their attempt to put the best and most acceptable face on an ideology that Martin Luther King, Jr. found threatening to his own nonviolent Christian theology:

Nevertheless, in spite of the positive aspects of Black Power, which are compatible with what we have sought to do in the civil rights movement all along without the slogan, its negative values, I believe, prevent it from having the substance and program to become the basic strategy for the civil rights movement in the days ahead….Beneath all the satisfaction of a gratifying slogan, Black Power is a nihilistic philosophy born out of the conviction that the Negro can’t win. It is, at bottom, the view that American society is so hopelessly corrupt and enmeshed in evil that there is no possibility of salvation from within. Although this thinking is understandable as a response to a white power structure that never completely committed itself to true equality for the Negro, and a die-hard mentality that sought to shut all windows and doors against the winds of change, it nonetheless carries the seeds of its own doom.—King, Jr., Martin Luther. Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, p. 44, New World Encyclopedia / Google Books,  p. 45

Laboring over his final manuscript in Jamaica, King, in his isolation, could see only the violent disturbances by ghetto dwellers in Rochester 1964, Philadelphia 1964, Watts 1965, Cleveland 1966, Omaha 1966, Newark 1967, Plainfield 1967,  Detriot 1967, and Minneapolis-Saint Paul 1967. Most scholars and researchers have concluded however that it was not black power rhetoric of 1966—1967 that brought about the “urban riots” of the 60s, but rather poverty, lack of adequate employment, inequality in housing, racial discrimination, and other acts of violence against the black community. These major causal factors were ignored by many white leaders, like Spiro Agnew in Maryland. Their response was to farther boost their police forces. The city fathers sustained a racial philosophy of  white “patrol and control.” “Up until 1970, no urban police department in America was greater than 10 percent black, and in most black neighborhoods, blacks accounted for less than 5 percent of the police patrolmen. Not uncommon were arrests of people simply due to their being black. Years of such harassment, combined with the repletion of other detriments of ghetto life, finally, according to some interpreters, erupted in the form of chaotic and deadly riots (New World Encyclopedia).

Stokely differed with Martin on the casual factors of urban rioting, namely, the violent white response to black desires for freedom. In the South it was not only the police forces but the white citizens councils, the Ku Klux Klan and the raging rabid anger of their white sympathizers:

One of the tragedies of the struggle against racism is that up to now there has been no national organization which could speak to the growing militancy of young black people in the urban ghetto. There has been only a civil rights movement, whose tone of voice was adapted to an audience of liberal whites. It served as a sort of buffer zone between them and angry young blacks. None of its so-called leaders could go into a rioting community and be listened to.

In a sense, I blame ourselves—together with the mass media—for what has happened in Watts, Harlem, Chicago, Cleveland, Omaha. Each time the people in those cities saw Martin Luther King get slapped, they became angry; when they saw four little black girls bombed to death, they were angrier; and when nothing happened, they were steaming. We had nothing to offer that they could see, except to go out and be beaten again. We helped to build their frustration. For too many years, black Americans marched and had their heads broken and got shot.

They were saying to the country, “Look, you guys are supposed to be nice guys and we are only going to do what we are supposed to do—why do you beat us up, why don’t you give us what we ask, why don’t you straighten yourselves out?” After years of this, we are at almost the same point—because we demonstrated from a position of weakness. We cannot be expected any longer to march and have our heads broken in order to say to whites: come on, you’re nice guys. For you are not nice guys. We have found you out.

An organization which claims to speak for the needs of a community—as does the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee—must speak in the tone of that community, not as somebody else’s buffer zone. This is the significance of black power as a slogan. For once, black people are going to use the words they want to use—not just the words whites want to hear. And they will do this no matter how often the press tries to stop the use of the slogan by equating it with racism or separatism.—Carmichael, “What We Want,” New York Review of Books, September 1966

Martin and SCLC hedged publicly on the concept of Black Power, not only in Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? and personal statements, but also in a 1967 SCLC resolution titled, “Afro-American Unity.” In his “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Supported Black Power,” Manu Ampim points out that “SCLC resolved that it would encourage and work toward true community through the development of economic and political power, and by constant emphasis on African Americans “owning and controlling their communities” (ManuAmpim). But this lukewarm support of the Stokely-SNCC position on Black Power by King-SCLC is in the same grain as that of the November 1966 Fred ShuttlesworthSCEF position (see above; University of Florida), or of the National Committee of Negro Churchmen statement, first published in the New York Times (July 3, 1966) as a full-page advertisement, and later in the December 1966 Negro Digest.

In his response to Black Power, Roy Wilkins of the NAACP did not equivocate. He realized deep down that the survival of the NAACP was on the line.

The NAACP’s executive director, Roy Wilkins, had been appointed assistant secretary in 1931. Three years later he replaced W. E. B. Du Bois as editor of The Crisis, the association’s magazine, before succeeding Walter White as head of the organization in 1955. Reluctant to commit the association to a strategy of civil disobedience and protest, Roy Wilkins also equivocated about the efforts of groups like SNCC to build a civil rights movement from the bottom up by fostering indigenous black leadership and empowering local African Americans.

Indeed, Wilkins agreed with civil rights strategist Bayard Rustin that the black movement needed to align itself with the liberal wing of the Democratic Party to effect a progressive political re-alignment in order to best advance the cause of civil rights. Rustin was not noted as a friend of black radicals even in the early 1960s, and his reaction to Black Power was unsurprising.

On 5 July 1966 Wilkins addressed more than 1,500 delegates to the NAACP’s 57th annual convention at Los Angeles’ First Methodist Church. The veteran civil rights leader attacked Black Power in remarkably uncompromising language. “No matter how endlessly they try to explain it,” he said, “the term ‘Black Power’ means anti-white power . . . it has to mean ‘going-it-alone.’ It has to mean separatism.” For the NAACP leader, it was a “reverse Mississippi, a reverse Hitler, a reverse Ku Klux Klan” that could result only in “Black death.” Wilkins explained that the NAACP had fought racial discrimination for too long to ally itself with a concept that rested on “the ranging of race against race,” and described Black Power as “the father of hatred and the mother of violence.”

photo right: Bayard Rustin  Down the line; the collected writings of Bayard Rustin

Wilkins kept up his attacks in the aftermath of the convention. On 13 July he told New York’s Republican Senator Jacob K. Javits that the NAACP stood by his “branding Black power . . . as carrying unmistakable connotations of being antiwhite . . .” In August, Wilkins declined to participate in an upcoming planning conference for a National Conference on Black Power. On 17 October, in a mailing sent to NAACP supporters, Wilkins reiterated his opposition to Black Power. Then, in an address before his native Missouri NAACP state conference in November, he called on delegates to “throw out . . . this ‘Black Power’ business” on the grounds that it made “thousands . . . sorrowful, apprehensive and fearful.”

Some of Wilkins’s hostility can be understood as a product of his deteriorating  relationship with SNCC and Stokely Carmichael. Never a fan of the “young squirts” and “smart-alecks” who formed the shock-troops of the civil rights movement, the NAACP leader’s rapport with the SNCC chairman had recently hit an all-time low. At a 7 June meeting in Memphis to discuss strategy for the “March Against Fear,” Carmichael started “acting crazy”: “cursing real bad,” the SNCC leader showered Wilkins with expletives, accusing the veteran civil rights leader of “selling out the people.” Wilkins left the meeting “in disgust” and withdrew the national NAACP from the march.—Simon Hall, “The NAACP Black Power and the African American Freedom Struggle, 1966-1969,”OnlineLibrary


Wilkins, who barbecued with the president at his Texas ranch, experienced the civil rights movement from an elitist position. He had manoeuvred  W.E.B. Du Bois out of leadership in the NAACP, viewing Du Bois as an old man out of touch with present (1930s) realities. Du Bois had moved forward by moving backward toward the programs of Booker T. Washington and Marcus M. Garvey. Du Bois had lost faith in the practical effectiveness of the NAACP‘s stated goal of integration. And certainly Wilkins’s experience greatly contrasted with that of SNCC Chairman Stokely Carmichael who had been arrested 25 times for his involvement in civil rights activities (OnlineLibrary). Wilkins position on Stokely and SNCC‘s Black Power was, lost likely, the basis of the Wilkins’ invitation by Spiro Agnew to come to Maryland for a face to face talk with the Governor, who had bypassed (spurned) talks with Juanita Jackson Mitchell, the local NAACP lawyer and activist. Of course, whatever the nature of this cynicism, talks with a national leader always trumps negotiations with a local leader.  photo right: Roy Wilkins

That Wilkins allowed himself to be used by Maryland’s liberal Republican in this fashion is of no great surprise. Wilkins did well in sustaining the elitism and survival of the NACCP as the premier civil rights organization.

Of course they [Wilkins and other NAACP officals] ran the risk of cutting themselves off from lucrative sources of outside funding too. While those groups associated with black militancy, such as SNCC, saw their finances collapse in the mid-1960s, the NAACP and Urban League, widely viewed as moderate, enjoyed significant increases in income. The NAACP’s outside income rose from $388,077 in 1965 to $2,418,000 in 1968. The same period saw SNCC’s income fall from $637,736 to $150,000. See Herbert H. Haines, “Black Radicalization and the Funding of Civil Rights: 1957–1970,” Social Problems 32, no. 1 (October 1984): 36.—Simon Hall, “The NAACP Black Power and the African American Freedom Struggle, 1966-1969,”  footnote 97, OnlineLibrary

SNCC died in 1968, partially, for its political stances and a lack of financial support from previous resources. More recently, the NAACP, in sustaining its continuing African-American organizational supremacy chose a business model: the “executive director” became the CEO or chief operating officer. It is exceedingly aligned itself with the status quo depending heavily on corporate contribution as a means to sustain its viability. Its annual NACCP Image Awards (35 categories), televised nationally, is a corporate success. To cut its expenses it moved its national office from New York City to Baltimore. Its present CEO is Benjamin Todd Jealous, a former employee of the Rosenberg Foundation

Black Power, an Unfinished Work

Any study will show that the phrase “black power” in 1966 struck a responsive chord among Negroes of all classes and in all civil rights organizations, even among the youth and clergy of the NAACP (OnlineLibrary). “By fall of 1966, CORE was no longer a civil rights organization, but a Black power organization,” headed by Floyd McKissick, taking over the organizational reins from James Farmer who was at odd with the militancy of SNCC’s Black Power

(Wikipedia). By the end of the March Against Fear the liberation movement fuelled with the sentiment of Black Power had turned a corner and was headed away from SCLC’s slogan of “Freedom Now.” After James Meredith was wounded by a sniper, the march was continued by SCLC‘s Martin Luther King, SNCC‘s Stokely Carmichael, Cleveland Sellers and Floyd McKissick, as well as the Deacons for Defense and Justice to protect the march (Wikipedia). The Black Liberation Movement would never again be about just integration. Both the Negro Churchmen and Stokely had found from the very beginning of the Black power debate “integration” as a  problematic pursuit. For Stokely, “integration is a subterfuge for the maintenance of white supremacy” (Carmichael, “What We Want”). For the Negro Churchmen, “the issue is not one of racial balance but of honest interracial interaction” (Negro Digest).

To this political and cultural observer, Carmichael’s Black Power, as sketched in “What We Want,” seems relevant today. His views on self-defense in 1966 in the context of rabid white Southern violence in defense of white dominance and black response by urban rebellions, which in some cases involved sniper fire and bricks and bottles thrown at firemen indeed seemed extraordinary. But “the right of black men everywhere to defend themselves when threatened or attacked” is today much more broadly supported and in some cases applauded where habitual police violence against black citizens exists, e.g., the cases of Lovelle Mixon and Oscar Grant. Police surveillance (e.g., blue flashing light cameras in Baltimore working class neighborhoods), police brutality, and police assassinations lay the foundations for black frustrations and black retaliations.

On June 17, 1971, President Richard Nixon declared drug abuse “public enemy number one in the United States.” To eradicate this enemy, he called for “a new, all-out offensive.” But 40 years of get-tough policies haven’t ended substance abuse. Instead, as “The New Jim Crow” author Michelle Alexander recently told a crowd of 1,000 at Harlem’s Riverside Church, “The enemy in this war has been racially defined. The drug war, not by accident, has been waged almost exclusively in poor communities of color.”

At the estimated cost of $1 trillion, the War on Drugs has triggered the mass incarceration, mostly of black and brown people through harsh penalties for non-violent drug violations like simple possession. It has encouraged racial profiling in the name of enforcement. In addition, people with drug convictions (and their families) have been evicted from public housing, deemed ineligible for food stamps and college financial aid, and denied employment. This failed war has destroyed mothers, fathers, children, grandparents—whole communities. One thing it hasn’t done: End the use and sale of drugs.— Akiba Solomon, Stokely Baksh, “Evaluating the Drug War on Its 40th Birthday, by the Numbers,” Colorlines

Making war domestically, e.g., the Drug War (with millions incarcerated and within the criminal justice system), and wars on foreign soil—under the rubric of “law and order” and “humanitarian aid” and “charges of genocide”—created national and international crises, which potentially threaten disturbances like those of the 1960s when Lyndon Baines Johnson and Richard Nixon abandoned the war on poverty for military dominance in Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries.

Stokely emphasized the need for the black community and its leaders to take an anti-war stance. Roy Wilkins and the NAACP blocked their members and local leaders from involvement in anti-Vietnam War activities against Johnson’s administration. Of course, the abolition of the draft and the government employment of mercenaries like Blackwater  and/or other governments to prosecute United States’ wars have undermined the white public angst against war as a continuing American policy—a kind of clean-hand policy as we see presently with Libya and NATO. But every billion spent abroad making war to secure global and energy dominance is a billion taken away from resolving the problems of hunger, under-employment, health care, education, and housing. Only the wealthy profit from such imperial wars. Elected black officials and black organizations get caught up in jingoism and thus sustain such foreign wars in the Middle East as well as in Africa. Blacks as an oppressed group cannot depend on a Black President or a vacillating Democratic Party to look out for its prime economic and political interests, Stokely would argue if he were alive. Here is his position in “What We Want“:

Most of the black politicians we see around the country today are not what SNCC means by black power. The power must be that of a community, and emanate from there. SNCC today is working in both North and South on programs of voter registration and independent political organizing. . . . The creation of a national “black panther party” must come about; it will take time to build, and it is much too early to predict its success. We have no infallible master plan and we make no claim to exclusive knowledge of how to end racism; different groups will work in their own different ways.

Baltimore’s Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, which regularly supports Maryland candidates, and the few members left of the Goon Squad may agree with Stokely theoretically, but it is doubtful that they would place a wedge between themselves and the two-party system.

The soft-pedaling of Black Power by the Good Squad and other black clergy was light years from what SNCC was demanding during the years 1966 through 1968. Theirs was a Black Power Lite, one that walked hand in hand with white liberalism SNCC’s Black Power was anti-capitalist, anti-colonialist, anti-imperialist, and Pan-Africanist.

The society we seek to build among black people, then, is not a capitalist one. It is a society in which the spirit of community and humanistic love prevail. . . . The reality is that this nation, from top to bottom, is racist; that racism is not primarily a problem of “human relations” but of an exploitation maintained—either actively or through silence—by the society as a whole. . . .

Ultimately, the economic foundations of this country must be shaken if black people are to control their lives. The colonies of the United States—and this includes the black ghettoes within its borders, North and South—must be liberated.

For a century, this nation has been like an octopus of exploitation, its tentacles stretching from Mississippi and Harlem to South America, the Middle East, southern Africa, and Vietnam; the form of exploitation varies from area to area but the essential result has been the same—a powerful few have been maintained and enriched at the expense of the poor and voiceless colored masses. This pattern must be broken. Carmichael, “What We Want”

Stokely placed a premium on black culture and black consciousness, a National Consciousness fuelled in the tradition of Malcolm X’s later years. I recommend a re-reading of Amiri Baraka’s “The Legacy of Malcolm X, and the Coming of the Black Nation” (1965, Social Essays) for discussion and possible further intellectual development. I recommend as well  Malcolm’s “Speech on the Founding of the OAAU” as a programmatic approach to how blacks should proceed in cultural and political education.

A final word. I have attempted to present an honest and open discussion of what developed in Black Baltimore during its period of desegregation. It was a slow tedious and damaging to the psychological health of its Negro citizens. The 1968 disturbances was a psychological rupture that brought some sanity to the black masses. The revolutionary spirit that peeped through the morass of black oppression was not sustained through the following decades to the present. Black middle-class elites, like those of the Goon Squad, used that mass energy ultimately for reformist politics, using the threat of black violence for a few more crumbs from the high table of white philanthropy as those blacks most capable took advantage of the doors of opportunity forced opened by the frustrated energies of the majority of Baltimore’s black citizens.

But the energies of the black masses were not sustained or refuelled by these elites. SNCC’s Black Power did not fail the black masses. The new black elites failed to implement SNCC’s Black Power guidelines. They raised psychological and material walls between themselves and the black poor and working classes. On one hand, the members of the Goon Squad are to be applauded for what reformist institutions they were able to build and sustain for the few. On the other hand, they must not be sentimentalized if we are to chart today’s militant path: they must be heavily criticized for their taking the road most travelled and the compromises made that has kept the black community dependent on white largess.

posted 4 July 2011

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What We Want

By Stokely Carmichael

A Christian Goon Squad in Black Baltimore 

Clarence Logan and the Northwood Movement  /

Reverend Marion Bascom Civilrighting

Roy Wilkins and Spiro Agnew in Annapolis  /  Agnew Speaks to Black Baltimore Leaders 1968

Wayfarer 4th Quarter 1967—Black Baltimore

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Walter Hall Lively   Forty Years of Determined Struggle 

Putting Baltimore’s People First  Dominance of Johns Hopkins   A Brief Economic History of Modern Baltimore

Understanding the Monumental City: A Bibliographic Essay on Baltimore History (

Richard J. Cox)

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The End of Black Rage? Class and Delusion in Black America (Jared Ball)

The Black Generation Gap (Ellis Cose)  /

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Black Power, A Critique of the System / Black Power  / What We Want

Amite County   Beginning   Kish Mir Tuchas     A Tribute to Kwame Toure/Stokely Carmichael

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 Obama’s America and the New Jim Crow (Michelle Alexander)  /  Michelle Alexander Speaks At Riverside Church /  part 2 of 4  / part 3 of 4  / part 4 of 4

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Stokely Carmichael, “Black Power”—Kalen M. A. Churcher—Speaking at Morgan State College in Baltimore on January 28, 1967, Carmichael displayed the very different style he used when addressing a predominantly black audience. Joking about how he partied at the school and participated in a sit-in near campus when he was younger, he also gave his audience at Morgan State a serious charge: overcoming the negative connotations of “black” that he had talked about in Berkeley. “If you want to stop rebellion,” he said, “then eradicate the cause.”

Carmichael then spoke of their responsibilities as leaders and intellectuals within the black community: “It is time for you to stop running away from being black. You are college students, you should think. It is time for you to begin to understand that you, as the growing intellectuals, the black intellectuals of the country, must begin to define beauty for black people.”— Stokely Carmichael, “At Morgan State,” in Stokely Speaks; Black Power Back to Pan-Africanism, ed. E.N. Minor (New York: Random House, 1966), 61-76.—Archive

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Here lies Jim Crow: Civil rights in Maryland

 By C. Fraser Smith

Though he lived throughout much of the South—and even worked his way into parts of the North for a time—Jim Crow was conceived and buried in Maryland. From Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney’s infamous decision in the Dred Scott case to Thurgood Marshall’s eloquent and effective work on Brown v. Board of Education, the battle for black equality is very much the story of Free State women and men. Here, Baltimore Sun columnist C. Fraser Smith recounts that tale through the stories, words, and deeds of famous, infamous, and little-known Marylanders. He traces the roots of Jim Crow laws from Dred Scott to Plessy v. Ferguson and describes the parallel and opposite early efforts of those who struggled to establish freedom and basic rights for African Americans.

Following the historical trail of evidence, Smith relates latter-day examples of Maryland residents who trod those same steps, from the thrice-failed attempt to deny black people the vote in the early twentieth century to nascent demonstrations for open access to lunch counters, movie theaters, stores, golf courses, and other public and private institutions—struggles that occurred decades before the now-celebrated historical figures strode onto the national civil rights scene.

Smith’s lively account includes the grand themes and the state’s major players in the movement—Frederick Douglass, Harriett Tubman, Thurgood Marshall, and Lillie May Jackson, among others.—and also tells the story of the struggle via several of Maryland’s important but relatively unknown men and women—such as Gloria Richardson, John Prentiss Poe, William L. “Little Willie” Adams, and Walter Sondheim—who prepared Jim Crow’s grave and waited for the nation to deliver the body.—Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008

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A Nation within a Nation

Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) and Black Power Politics

By Komozi Woodard

Woodard examines the role of poet Amiri Baraka’s “cultural politics” on Black Power and black nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s. After a brief overview of the evolution of black nationalism since slavery, he focuses on activities in Northeastern urban centers (Baraka’s milieus were Newark, N.J., and, to a lesser extent, New York City). Taking issue with scholars who see cultural nationalism as self-destructive, Woodard finds it “fundamental to the endurance of the Black Revolt from the 1960s into the 1970s.” The 1965 assassination of Malcolm X catalyzed LeRoi Jones’s metamorphosis into Amiri Baraka and his later “ideological enchantment” with Castro’s revolution. After attracting national attention following the 1966 Detroit Black Arts Convention, Baraka shifted his emphasis to electoral politics. He galvanized black support for Kenneth Gibson, who was elected mayor of Newark in 1970. Woodard pays scant attention, however, to the fact that “Baraka’s models for political organization had nothing revolutionary to contribute in terms of women’s leadership” or the roots of “Baraka’s insistence on psychological separation” from whites.

Woodard’s conclusion descends into rhetoric as he urges support for a school system to “develop oppressed groups into self-conscious agents of their own liberation,” while offering no specific, practical suggestions. Woodard’s need to be both scholar and prophet are in conflict, and the prophet’s voice undermines the scholar’s.—Publishers Weekly

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Betrayal: How Black Intellectuals

Have Abandoned the Ideals of the Civil Rights EraBy Houston A. Baker

Baker, an esteemed scholar of African American literature and culture, is deeply frustrated with the state of—or, rather, the lack of—racial activism today. Part of the blame rests with contemporary neoconservatives, who Baker claims have sabotaged the civil rights and black power movements by promoting racial injustice under a banner of social equality. But Baker is most bothered by prominent black intellectuals who purport to advance the civil rights movement even though, in Baker’s eyes, their ultimate aspirations and resultant political strategies diverge radically and even counterproductively from those of Martin Luther King Jr. In fiery chapters on each scholar, Baker lambastes Cornel West, Michael Eric Dyson, Shelby Steele, Henry Louis Gates Jr., and others for disingenuous politics, centrism, and above all the vainglorious pursuit of academic and political influence at the expense of the broader “black majority,” who still suffer from social and economic injustice.

Mourning the loss of black unity born of the communal struggles of the 1960s, Baker expresses his disappointment by pulling no punches with his fellow scholars, a sure recipe for equally harsh rebuttals.—Booklist

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 26 May 2012




Home  Civil Rights: Struggle for Black Power   DuBois Malcolm King Forum     Black Baltimore Table   Baltimore Index Page  

Related files:  Roy Wilkins and Spiro Agnew in Annapolis   Spiro Agnew Speaks to Black Baltimore, 1968    Reverend Marion Bascom’s Civil Righting  

Clarence Logan and the Northwood Movement  Commentary on “Color Line and War”       Editorials on Lynching    Walter White Biography   

Walter White Biography Table    Walter White Reviews   Walter Hall Lively   Forty Years of Determined Struggle  Much is Expected   Juanita E. Jackson Bio 

Black Power   Black Power A Critique

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