Violent times such as these, with weekly accounts of police killings of innocent black men and boys, make me think back to the glorious years of the 1960s when black Americans mobilized themselves with action and a language to combat police brutality, inequality, and racism. There wasn’t a singular solid front against police brutality, but a multipronged approach of self-defense developed as a tactic for describing and combating police brutality.
The major organizations under the umbrella of the Civil Rights Movement – The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), The Congress On Racial Equality (CORE), The Southern Christen Leadership Conference (SCLC), The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and the Urban League – had as a goal the obtainment of equal rights for black Americans, but their efforts drew violent blow-back even violence from the police who you would think would be protecting innocent people trying to obtain justice. So these groups had to invent a language to describe what was happening to them and a language that fortified those in the movement – their shield and their weapon. There were times when these civil rights organizations argued tactic and disagreed on approaches, but they never differ on the overall goal and the language that invigorated that goal.
There were other black organizations that pushed for black dignity and equality, and their approaches were different from the traditional Civil Rights groups; the Nation of Islam was one such group. The Nation of Islam was primarily a religious group but, because they were black, they faced the same racism that all Americans of African descent faced so they had to fight racism at the same time that they followed their religious path. Their initial response was to borrow the tactic of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association and advocated separation and, or, back to Africa as a solution to the race problem. The Nation of Islam excelled in improving the lives of the least of us; those in jail and in the worse slum conditions through example of self-sufficiency and they set high standards for personal esteem; no drinking, no smoking, no eating of pork, protecting our women, our children, and our communities. They had a different approach, but the same goal and they contributed phrases that would be adopted by the general movement and used widely in the black community.
Another group that was autonomous from the tactics of the Civil Rights groups was the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. The Black Panther Party for Self Defense was born of the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and extreme police brutality. Just like the white militia groups of the 70s, 80s 90s, and now, the Black Panthers were fond of the Second Amendment. This law allowed them to arm themselves for their own protection and to be able to repel what they considered occupying armies in their communities – the police, or in their vernacular – the Pigs. They had the same overall goal as the traditional Civil Rights Groups and as the Nation of Islam – to live in the land of their birth free and unhampered by the inhumanity of white people and their agents of oppression.
Over the decade of the 60s these groups developed and shared a lexicon of words that expressed their desire for liberation. The black community at-large widely used these liberation words and phrases. Recently I have been recalling those words and phrases, noticing that I rarely hear them in today’s struggle. Whether they belong in this contemporary battle for black survival is unclear, the new movement seems to be developing its own lexicon to motivate its followers and describe its goals (Black Lives Matter, Enough is Enough), still I found it pleasantly nostalgic to compile this list of words and phrases from the 60s to offer to this generation of freedom fighters:
Babylon: Any parts of America where police brutality, inequality, and injustice were prevalent; America in general.
Black Power: was first invoked by author Richard Wright in the 1930s, but was made popular in the 1960s by Stokely Carmichael who was, among other things, Chairman of SNCC. Black Power was coined to specify that black people should seek to gain control of our own lives, financially, socially, culturally, and scholastically. Richard Nixon used the phrase to describe his Presidential Directive that ordered that five percent of all government contracts had to go to black contractors – Nixon?
Bourgeoisie: includes a historical range of socio-economic classes. The bourgeoisie is a social class characterized by their ownership of capital, and their related cultural identity. The man or woman who is a member of the wealthiest social class of a given society and their materialistic worldview and lack of concern for the poor. The political application of the word was directed at those that involved with the black liberation struggle.
Burn Baby, Burn: A threatening term of retribution; used most often after police shooting of innocent black men and boys. There were many race riots in the 60s set off by glaring acts of injustice in which American cities burned in the aftermath. The term is most associated with black activist H. Rap Brown. Look for that poster of Brown with a bright eyed gleeful threatening look and a lit match.
Colored: Colored people or Colored man was a term used to describe black people who had not tangibly or physiologically accepted the concept of the black revolution – as H Rap Brown put it: The battle is between the black man and the white man for the colored man’s mind.
Devil: Calling the white man a devil came out of the Nation of Islam and because it was so easy to see a connect between the evil treatments of black people by white society and the devil in the Christen Bible; it became a popular description linking white people to their evil acts; think the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, by white devils.
Each One, Teach One: The Black Panther’s credo that black self-determination, black pride, and black creativity should be taught to young black people. The Panther’s ran breakfast programs to gather young people to hear their positive messages, each one teaching one, but you could find the slogan on above the doors black book stores, community centers and cultural centers.
Fascist Pig: Fascist is an insulting term used to denigrate people, institutions, or groups that were considered to be tools of suppression and oppression – it was a political statement. The term is borrowed from the Italian Fascist Party that developed in Italy in the 1920s. Pig was the popular low-life caricature depiction Black Panther Party artist and Minister of Culture, Emory Douglas gave to the police. Every issue of The Black Panther, the Party’s newspaper, had some depiction of the police as fascist Pigs.
Free Huey: Huey P. Newton was one of the founders and first Minster of Defense for the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. He was a political activist turned revolutionary. He was often jailed because of his activism, but was once wrongly jailed for the murder of a policeman and was later acquitted, while he was in jail “Free Huey” became the rallying cry heard around the world at fund raisers and protest marches in Europe, Latin America, and the United States. Many of America’s creative elites held “Free Huey” fund raisers in their fancy mansions.
Ghetto: The Jewish quarter was known as the area of a city traditionally inhabited by Jews like in the Jewish ghettos in Europe; they were often the outgrowths of segregated slums instituted by the ruling authorities. The black ethnic slum enclaves of American cities that housed black Americans became known as ghettos associating the anticipated tragedy awaiting American ghetto dwellers with that that met Eastern European ghetto dwellers. The term was celebrated in a song by Donny Hathaway (turn the volume up).
Imperialism: Many black Americans in the Movement saw our struggle for liberation in terms of the world-wide movement for de-colonization from imperialist countries like France, England, Portugal, South Africa, and the United States and used the term to make their followers aware of the connection we had with other people in the world struggling for liberation from the tyranny of capitalist imperialist.
Law and Order: A term that alerted black ears to the dog whistle of white racism that was used to explain and accommodate the police invasion of black communities. A term used prominently in the presidential campaigns to imply that the major problem in America was the lawlessness of its Negro population. The term often disguised the appeal for black suppression, but white voters got the message – Nixon’s the One or, Morning in America.
Lumpen; A working-class person who is marginalized and made to live on the financial fringe of society. A working-class Joe at the lower-rung of society, who was unaware of the class struggle going on to control his destiny.
Lumpenproletariat: is a term that was originally coined by Karl Marx to describe the layers of the working class. 1960s activists liked to show their knowledge of world history by exhibiting their ability to express the current situation with comparisons to the past; they celebrated their ability to cast people and organizations in the camps of the proletariat or the bourgeoisie.
Milford Bill; The Milford Bill was a measure introduced to the California legislature at the urging of the Oakland police department to end the open and legal carrying of weapon for Black Panthers when they patrol the streets of Oakland. The panthers insisted that the Second Amendment of the Constitution guaranteed the right to bear arms them a orderly cadre of thirty armed Black Panthers marched inside the floor of the California state house causing a sensation and world-wide news with sensational never before seen pictures of black audaciousness.
Oink, oink, oink: the sounds Pigs make when they are feasting on slop or domineering violence – The mindless grunts of their pleasures. The taunt that met policemen on patrol in black communities.
Pig(s): a term meaning police enforcer of injustice, but also the absentee landlord charging absorbed amount for flea–bitten apartments, The corner butcher with his finger on the scale, the auto dealer applying the hidden “black tax” to the deal, the school board members who under allot funds for black schools, the chain food market that stock stores in the ghettos with its worse merchandise foe even higher prices.
Power to the People: The rallying cry of all the people in the movements for black liberation over white domination and racism. It was used so often it became a kind of salutation; a greeting and a farewell – instead of saying Hello and goodbye, people would say “Power to the People.”
Revolution: breaking loose from the chains of self-deprecation by defining our own standards of beauty, culture, and customs. Then use this newly cultivated black pride to revolutionize our relationship to the white world.
Seize the Time: Is the title of a book about the Black Panther Party for Self Defense and Huey Newton written by Bobby Seale its chairman, but the title is more than that, it arouses and summons up the very spirit of the 60s, a time that was felled with urgency; not a moment to be wasted, a era when black people had to seize the time.
That sense of urgency that exist in the 1960s now resides in the second decade of the twenty-first century. Most of the people who provided leadership in the 60s are gone, but the history and the lexicon are here to provide a map-guide for those who will raise to the challenge.
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