Empowerment Temples and Ideological Orchestrators

Empowerment Temples and Ideological Orchestrators


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



 Huey P. Newton was brilliant. He was much more than a stager of sensational events

 and a convicted criminal. Did he not go on to earn a Ph.D.? So

we have what my friend Herbert calls a “beautiful mind”



 Books by Huey P. Newton

 Revolutionary Suicide  /  War Against the Panthers  / Huey P. Newton Reader / To Die for the People / The Genius of Huey P. Newton

In Search of Common Ground  / Insights and Poems / Essays from the Minister of Defense

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Empowerment Temples and Ideological Orchestrators

Or Who to Follow: David Walker or Nathaniel Turner

Conversations with Wilson, Miriam,  Kam Hei, Arthur Flowers

A Post-Katrina Political Discussion

Wilson: I know you will not despair.   Your job is to educate.   You have been manfully discharging your duty throughout the month of September.  Your efforts will not go unrecognized or unrecorded.  You have no more power than Socrates or Jeremiah.   You have only the power of David Walker.   In the long run, we must ask ourselves whether David Walker or Nathaniel Turner had the greater effect.   Your destiny is to be a David Walker, not a Nat Turner.  So, I send my words of support.   You are doing a great deal, more than sitting in the dust and bemoaning our fate.   You are trying to make people think.  And to feel.  That is a worth a great deal.   A few people in every generation will always listen.

Rudy:  I have been reading Newton’s book Revolutionary Suicide. I’ve featured the last chapter and a fictional (kinda) discussion about leadership and service.

However staged it may appear, it is a needed discussion. Huey P. Newton was brilliant. He was much more than a stager of sensational events and a convicted criminal. Did he not go on to earn a Ph.D.? So we have what my friend Herbert calls a “beautiful mind,” indeed. It was in prison he first became free and an existentialist. All except the “I” that became a “we” was stripped down in the soul breaker, a 4 x 6 room with a hole in the floor, a kind of updated 19th c. sweat box used on slaves by slaveowners to make them more malleable to slavery. 

There’s a nice story here in this last chapter of his book about a shovelful and a mountain. The mountains are bureaucratic (corporate) capitalism and bourgeois thinking, according to Mao and Huey. There are probably many who share that view.

What is your shovelful? What is your spirit of the generations? Do you know what raising consciousness is? Well, Huey P. Newton has a chapter in his book Revolutionary Suicide, title “Raising Consciousness.” It’s been a long time since there’s been any real political education in our “progressive community.” Here we have in Huey a socialist, an existentialist, a Buddhist who reads Crime & Punishment, and Durkheim. An intellectual lightweight not worthy of serious attention? Well, more of Huey will be coming.

We must also disassociate in our minds Eldridge Cleaver, the darling revolutionary of the left, as we have dissociated Mayor Nagin and his police chief, from servants of the people like Huey P. Newton, a man with a desire for life and hope for his people. I will give it from the horse’s mouth so to speak, “The Defection of Eldridge Cleaver.” Young people today got it all wrong–it ain’t that our generation wasn’t thinking, working the problem. It is that this generation of teachers ain’t teaching the thinking that was produced in the 60s and 70s. It’s just the 80s and 90s.

Black male thinkers are dismissed as legends, video clips, and hip hop CDs. But there were some brothers and some sisters out their doing some thinking and some writing and expressing the consciousness that was then in all kinds of media. But nobody teaches that era, those writings, sing those songs, put on that drama in our schools today. And, to think, young people think that they have to give us undue deference, make us some ritual in an African drama, because they don’t think we really did nothing, think nothing.

The problem, my dear friends, is that we have been deprived, we been conned, hoodwinked, bamboozled. Our children haven’t got the whole loaf.  They have not read Huey P. Newton’s Revolutionary Suicide. I think it might be a manual we can begin to used during adolescence. A lot of identity crises can be averted when they are in their 20s. The reality of our world is sometimes better than soft-pedaling the truth.

Miriam: But, Rudy, one book doesn’t tell the complete story.  Huey P. Newton was a very complicated (and contradictory as well as self-destructive man).  You should also read Elaine Brown’s memoir, as well as that of other Panthers:  George Jackson, Angela Davis, etc. to get the full picture.  Newton & Co. did a whole lot of good (consciousness raising, free breakfasts, schools for kids, newspapers & books, etc.) but he was and they were also quite flawed.  You should have seen the one-man play on Newton (I did and it was riveting), a videotape of which aired on PBS.  Huey was one of my heroes, as was Che, but he messed up a whole lotta people including himself.  The image of him in the rattan chair is seared into our collective imagination, as is the head shot of Che in the black beret and flowing hair.  Aché! 

Rudy: Now, Miriam, you are not playing fair. You are bringing all kinds of spurious matter into the conversation. The full picture is not the issue, nor feminism, not the pathologies of individual Panthers. Have we had enough of that? I ain’t talking about history or sociology but rather the consideration of an idea, “revolutionary suicide.” It has nothing to do with the personal flaws of the one who coined the phrase. Let’s put aside the trivia, the extraneous, the miscellaneous. Let’s take some of the wind out my words. Huey said too many people were into phrase-mongering. That they wanted rhetoric rather than thinking and learning.

Here’s a man thinking noting that people in his audience are clapping but they not hearing what he says. To put it another way, as James Foreman would put it. There are societal controls. If our leaders have accepted them, a call for leaders then becomes a waste of breath. But we have thinkers. Can we think outside of, break the controls to allow for more freedom of thought. For it’s only freeing the thought that we get change, that we generate leaders, those that come up from the people.

This is a process. It’s not a matter of cataloging, but of discerning. What kind of thinking is appropriate for a time when the leaders have abandoned the people. Huey P. Newton proclaims that it is when we kill the I, revolutionary suicide, and become the we, that community begins, that is how we make revolution. It is the process, not just doing good.

Miriam: Me, I just like to argue (smile).  If somebody takes one side, I take the other, sort of an (un)Socratic gadfly, but it stimulates conversation and my thinking.  I got into a knock-down-drag-out argument with Acklyn weeks ago;  I said that we need to look at our subject positions as people of privilege before we start casting stones.  I also said that we need to stop all the intellectualizing & theorizing, and DO something.  (I thought I lost a friend!)  Then he tells me, after his radio program on Monday, that I had influenced his thinking about privilege.  He and you and Herbert and some other folk have definitely helped to shape my thinking about a lot of these issues that have come out of the Katrina débacle, but, like I say, we all come from different perspectives and they’re all valuable (even the Bill Cosbys, Cornel Wests, Al Sharptons, and John Conyers–God love em!). But you’re right:  we do need more thinking about ISSUES.

Kam Hei: Rudy, I really like what you said in regard to “Revolutionary Suicide.” It is true that kids are not receiving the proper education they should be getting. Especially when most of the teachers are limited to the teaching plans and guidelines they were given out. And it seems to me that most teachers give up at a certain point, on their ambition to continue working with kids with kindness and patience. I am a school coordinator at a private-tutoring school. We offer all kinds of programs to help students with problems they have, whether they are homework or examinations or just to maintain their level while improving and sharpening their skills. I hear all kinds of excuses BOTH from parents and teachers of why the kids are “stupid.” It makes me mad at times and I would just tell the teachers with dropping jaws  that they are not doing their jobs. Your words reminded me of a poem I wrote a while ago regarding capitalism and education. Hope you will enjoy it. If you do find it worthy to share with our brothers and sisters, please pass it on. With love and blessing.

Arthur: didnt really want to get in this one but i have to say david walker is who i pattern myself after nat turner, gullah jack, denmark vesey, and harriet tubman as afrospiritual destiny workers are among my ancestral lines (and in particular gullah jack) but its david walker who most speaks to me an ideological orchestrator with a sophisticated understanding of the politics/psychology of his day disseminating words that tried to shake the devil out of our souls – david walker is my boy and not only the words he wielded but the system of distribution that he built using black sailors to get his words out to the slaves i feel that same sense of guerilla system building w/the net and i dont believe we know if he was really killed true, he was found dead in a doorway and they had bounties on him so its possible but i dont believe its historical fact to definitively say he was killed the mythwork sounds better but i prefer to stick with whats known his story is strong enough as it stands rudy, my fellow traveler and keeper of the faith  is more radical left than i am so i can see how the spirit of nat turner would more appeal to him im fond of the ole prophet myself

Rudy: Bruh arf, now you done gone too far. And so I gotta pull you back a little. You don gon running off with the “empowerment” thing, again, cause you can’t run with the big boys. Sometimes some men should stay home with the women if they ain’t up for the hunt or maybe they should just go fishing. But don’t start calling us dogs because we like fresh red blood running out of our meat.

There some gods don’t require that. I ain’t got no problem with David Walker. He’s worthy of your praise. But you done said and hinted at some things that just ain’t right.

I don’t know whether Walker had the powers you suggest he had. What you call him, “ideological orchestrator.” Maybe Wilson’ll find that rather humorous, especially since you have stressed “historical fact.” But I suppose myth for one is fact for another. I suppose we can change definitions like we change pronunciations. Let every man have his own language. Some find safety in this position, the more flexible the better – it don’t hurt as much. 

Now that’s real radicalism, and I ain’t going down like that and I will have none of that.

I recall when you Negroes dared not mumble BLACK POWER and slinked into words like “empowerment.” It’s probably one of the most overused words by Negro liberals and their ilk. It comes out of professional fear of losing that safety net, and falling back among the people. And who want dat. Yeah, the elite and the priests they all want to “empower” the people. They are always in need of bodies and numbers too, so as to “orchestrate.” What I say is, well, why not just go get a band and be done with it. Those kinds of social mechanics do better for small consulting groups.

Malcolm always said that a lot of smart Negroes didn’t want no revolution. They ain’t about dying for a cause, a purpose, community, for what they believe. Giving their life for the cause, especially their blood, is not what they’re about. Maybe “empowerment” is a more respectable recourse for some. As they say somebody must occupy that space. The result of such “empowerment” is more hearsay than not. A testimonial, maybe. Well, ain’t that’s the ad man’s game. We don’t know for a historical fact what happened on the other end with Walker’s Appeals. That’s just not historical fact.

And anyone tell you they know what happened is either a scoundrel or mountebank or both. But we are on surer ground, closer to historical fact, with Nathaniel Turner. Before I go on, let me tell you this, you ought toss that moniker “Ole Nat” in the trash bin of history and leave it there. I know you fellows who would belittle Turner, who ain’t done no real thinking and talking with the Prophet of Southampton. And you ain’t talked to nobody, particularly me, who know what they talking in talking about Nathaniel Turner.

You profess kinship but he wasn’t and he ain’t never was a Gullah Jack and that’s how yall want to see him as some mad African raging for white blood. You weren’t listening to me. What you got ain’t historical fact. Yall got what white folks made of him. But you who look upon Nathaniel Turner that way I know how much you depend on the safety of what you call “historical fact” and your uneasiness about rumors, and what folks say. I’m sure that the concept of “radical left” has as much to do with me as “abolitionist” has to do with Nathaniel Turner.

No offense to you. But David Walker beside Nathaniel Turner is a lightweight. A theorist. A man with a gift for gab, a performer, for coins. He who appealed only to the white male conscience. Turner’s appeal was more global, more universal. And, best of all, he was a practitioner of his own philosophy. He left ideology for those who wish to walk narrow streets. Like the rest all you see is the blood—55 men, women, and children dead. And you retch, ready for a safer game.

Well, that’s historical. That’s what liberals do, especially our latest models. They can’t follow the logic, the consequences of their own thinking. They prefer to empower the poor and the ignorant, because they got all the answers, the folks’ gardens to fallow as well as to plow. And so they end up usually just talking, as far away from the action as they can get, like in Philadelphia.

It’s easier to do-wah in Philly than in the Old Dominion, especially way back up in the backwoods of southern Virginia. Now understand me, though Nathaniel Turner was in the backwoods, the backwoods was not in him. He was master of himself and the elements. His understanding was far beyond any political spectrum devised for him. He was what he was because that was required of him. He was a free man.

Your empowerment game definitely is not existential. For your game is programmed. You start out by setting limits and boundaries. You are not really willing to allow the facts to lead you, to speak to you. You one of those people who want us to read only half the story. You’ll have us “empowered” with a half loaf rather than all of black manhood.

Nathaniel Turner was a man for his time and he did what was necessary and he did what the people needed him to do. You see only the blood. You don’t know the thinking, the revelations, the doubts, the regrets, the commitment, the fears, the calculations, you don’t appreciate the mastery, the mystery that was accomplished on the banks of the Nottoway, that is behind that mask of blood. So you don’t truly appreciate the man Nathaniel Turner.

For you, he’s “Ole Nat,” a vague clownish figure in the woods a raving lunatic plotting white folks death. And that frightens you. That’s understandable. I know David Walker provides a more respectable image of radicalism for you, his black suit, white shirt, and tie. That’s much more appealing than hardier work clothes & barefeet coming in from plowing the Northern 40. Yes, Walker probably had a bounty on his head, but I don’t think poison was the favorite slaveowner game. Poison sounds like a woman’s game.

In any event, what impact Walker had on slaves is pure conjecture, the same is true of Garrison’s rag. All that is historical speculation. And certainly not as much as a historical fact as what I am now about to tell you. Nathaniel Turner engineered a journalistic coup.

Do you hear what I’m saying? We know many more people read Turner than Walker and that Turner had a greater and a more lasting impact, much greater than Walker, who has been more an object of scholarly enquiry or one we like to include in black-nationalist calendars during Black History Month, to emphasize rhetorical literacy. There are those who belong in the pulpit or behind a desk or a lectern. That suits them fine, most of us have to be in the field. That was Nathaniel Turner; that was Huey P. Newton, he had to be out in the field with the people. For power comes up from among the people.

God spare us leaders that empower.

Well, I’ve said all I need to say at this time, on this issue. Thank you for your attention. I pray you have grace in hearing my words. Amen.


Jonathan: rudy, your idea to start reading (or re-reading) huey p. newton’s “ Revolutionary Suicide ” is a good one. i’m going to assign it to all my students.

posted 29 September 2005

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DVDs — A Huey P. Newton Story 2001  / What We Want, What We Believe The Black Panther Party Library 

The Spook Who Sat By the Door  / Passin’ It On; The Black Panthers’ Search for Justice

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DVDs — A Huey P. Newton Story 2001  / What We Want, What We Believe The Black Panther Party Library 

The Spook Who Sat By the Door  / Passin’ It On; The Black Panthers’ Search for Justice

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Hopes and Prospects

By Noam Chomsky

In this urgent new book, Noam Chomsky surveys the dangers and prospects of our early twenty-first century. Exploring challenges such as the growing gap between North and South, American exceptionalism (including under President Barack Obama), the fiascos of Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S.-Israeli assault on Gaza, and the recent financial bailouts, he also sees hope for the future and a way to move forward—in the democratic wave in Latin America and in the global solidarity movements that suggest “real progress toward freedom and justice.” Hopes and Prospects is essential reading for anyone who is concerned about the primary challenges still facing the human race. “This is a classic Chomsky work: a bonfire of myths and lies, sophistries and delusions. Noam Chomsky is an enduring inspiration all over the world—to millions, I suspect—for the simple reason that he is a truth-teller on an epic scale. I salute him.” —John Pilger In dissecting the rhetoric and logic of American empire and class domination, at home and abroad, Chomsky continues a longstanding and crucial work of elucidation and activism . . .the writing remains unswervingly rational and principled throughout, and lends bracing impetus to the real alternatives before us.—Publisher’s Weekly

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10 January 2012




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