Sunday, February 21, 2010

Winter in America

Winter in America:
Black Heroes and Black Homicides

Paul Scott

Back in 1974, Gil Scott-Heron recorded a song called "Winter in America." No, he wasn't talking about the Arctic like weather that we have been experiencing for the last couple of months. He was mourning the death of activism after the Civil Rights/Black Power Era.

I thought about those lyrics during a lecture that I recently gave in front of a group of black male teens regarding black leadership. I had almost finished discussing the assassinations of Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr when I was interrupted by one of the young men.

"You guys are always telling us to be leaders but all the black leaders get killed ," he said. "How can we be strong black leaders and still survive?"

Good question.

Being a black leader has been the hardest job in America for the past 300 years. The earliest black leaders in this country were those who led slave revolts such as Nat Turner , Denmark Vessey and Gabriel Prosser. The leaders of those rebellions and their co-conspirators were rewarded with hangman's nooses. One must also not forget writers such as David Walker, whose "Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World' resulted in a $10,000 bounty being placed on his head. In 1830, Walker was found dead in the doorway of his shop.

Lerone Bennett in his book, "Before the Mayflower" wrote that during the Reconstruction Period of the late 1800's , "at least 5,000 Negroes died for their political beliefs."

Beginning in the early 20th century J. Edgar Hoover's Bureau of Investigation (later, the Federal Bureau of Investigation) targeted black leaders such as Marcus Garvey, Paul Robeson and WEB Du Bois. Later, under its Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) many black leaders, such as Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, were targeted by massive disinformation campaigns to "prevent the rise of a black messiah who could unify and electrify the militant black nationalist movement," according to Kenneth O'Reilly in his book, "Black America: The FBI Files." COINTELPRO and its affiliate programs contributed to the deaths of many young African American leaders like Bobby Hutton of the Black Panther Party, barely 18 years old when was murdered by Oakland, CA police.

This led into the Richard Nixon Era, as his "get tough on crime" policies finished off what was left of groups like the Panthers.

Although, the COINTELPRO program had been "officially" over for more than a decade, during the the early stages of the Hip Hop movement of the late 80's and early 90's, rap artists like the members of Public Enemy, Sister Souljah and Ice T were targeted for their outspoken political stances.

Although, some would like to write off the late Hip Hop artist , Tupac Shakur as just some common street thug, author John Potash makes some pretty convincing arguments in his book "The FBI War on Tupac and Black Leaders" that Shakur was not targeted by law enforcement for being a "gangsta rapper" but because of the possibility that he would follow in the footsteps of his mother, Afeni Shakur and extended family members Mutulu and Assata Shakur, who were members of the Black Liberation Army.

This is why many of the rap artists of today find it safer to rap about gangs, guns and girls instead of black empowerment.

Although, many folks (especially Conservatives) are quick to blame the various pathologies facing black youth on Hip Hop, unwed mothers and absentee fathers, they refuse to acknowledge the calculated societal factors that turned revolutionaries to gangsta rappers.

As much as people like to talk about Freedom of Speech, for black men and women speech has been anything but free as, even today, there are still consequences for daring to speak truth to power.

Whether it be sacrificing that six figure dream job with the great retirement plan or knowing that your uncompromising style of writing will never get you a Pulitzer or even that coveted columnist job at the daily paper, the price of Freedom has been too much for most to be willing to pay.

Only a choice few have been willing to put the needs of future generations above their own. Their only rewards being the possibility of pictures on postage stamps or streets in the hood named after them long after they are dead and gone.

Why go through all the hassle when it would be just as easy to look the other way and adopt "Don't Worry be Happy" as a personal mantra?

Maybe it's the voices of the ancestors that whisper to you in the still of the night, urging you to keep on, keepin' on. Or the sense of responsibility as you walk through neighborhoods filled with young men who will either wind up in jail or the grave before they are 21 years old unless some one intervenes.

Heavy is the head that wears the crown of thorns.

But how do you explain that to a 15 year old?

Perhaps Scott-Heron was right. Maybe "nobody's fighting because no one knows what to say."

As I started to wind down my lecture, the young man interrupted me, again.

"But you didn't give me an answer to my question!"

Truth is... I didn't have one.

Paul Scott writes for No Warning Shots He can be reached at (919) 451-8283 or
Dedicated to the memory of those who died so I may write.