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March on Washington: The View from the Front of the Bus

“There’s no place for Uncle Tom on this bus, man.” The voice of the Negro echoed down the neon bathed Harlem street as he mounted the steps of Bus 10 ready to start for Washington.

It was 2 a. m. on the morning of August 28. Anticipation hovered quietly over the 24 buses that lined both sides of 125th Street. Cars and cabs stopped more and more frequently to pour forth bundle-laden, sleepy Marchers. Black, white, old, young zigzagged back and forth across the street trying to find their assigned buses. Bus cap­tains marked by yellow ribbons and rumpled passenger lists stood guard at the bus doors. Small groups huddled around them.

Voices arose above the general din.

“You’ve got to switch me to Bus 10. It’s a swingin’ bus. There’s nothin’ but old ladies on this crate.”

“Hey, is this bus air-condi­tioned?”

“Where can I get seat reservations?”

“Hey, chick, are you on this bus?”


“Is your husband on this bus?”


“That’s all right. I’ll make love to both of you. I’m com­patible.”

“Who the hell is on this bus?” cried George Johnson, the exasperated 30-year-old Negro captain of Bus 10 and organizer of New York CORE’s 24-bus caravan. “People shouldn’t be swapping buses, especially CORE members. It only adds to the confusion. Now everybody get in a seat and stay there. You can’t save seats. This isn’t a cocktail party.”

The reaction to George’s gruffness was a tongue-in-cheek par­ody of the Mr. Charlie routine. “Yassir, anything you say, sir.”

“Don’t you fret now, Mr. George.” “Don’t you go upsetting yourself, boss.” “You knows I always listen to you captain sir.”

There was a general shuffling of bundles on the bus. Index cards with emergency Washington phone numbers were filled out and kept by everyone. “Sit-In Song Books” were passed back.

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Symptomatic Ode   

Outside the window of Bus 10 an old Negro was standing with outstretched arms reciting an impromptu ode to the Black Woman. “Black Woman, you are the queen of the universe. I would give my life for you.” This was less comic than symp­tomatic. It was just one of many signs of the racial pride which is now surging through the Ne­gro people.

A young Negro in the seat behind me, when asked why he was going on this March, re­plied, “Because it’s like your sweater. It’s Black. It’s for the cause. If my people are in it, I am going to be in it fighting, even if I get killed.”

Outside the window of Bus 10 was also a more extreme reminder of this racial pride. Young members of the Black Muslims, neatly dressed in suits and ties, were hawking copies of Muhammad Speaks. This paper is the official statement of the Black Muslim philosophy: Black is beautiful; Black is best; Black must be separate from white.

I swing off the bus to ask the young Muslim if he was going to Washington. With a faint trace of a smile on his lips, he an­swered, “No, ma’am. I have to sell papers. You people go to Washington.” The implication was clear: he was too busy working for his own cause — sep­aration — to be bothered working for integration.

An older man, converted to a Muslim later in life, was not so emotionally untouched by the March and what it stood for. When I asked him why the Muslims were not participating in the March, he gave all the prop­er answers. He said: “The Messenger has not spoke. If he says nothing, we sit still. If he says go, we go.” But then, asked if as an individual rather than a Muslim he would have gone, he replied: “I would have gone.”

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‘A Mockery’

Moving through the crowd, I encountered a Negro I knew to be a fence-sitter between the Muslim and integrationist philosophies. I asked him why he had decided to come on the March. He said, “It’s like St. Patrick’s Day to the Irish. I came out of respect for what my people are doing, not because I believe it will do any good. I thought it would do some good at the beginning, but when the March started to get all the of the official approval from Mastah Kennedy, Mastah Wagner, and Mastah Spellman, and they started setting limits on how we had to march peacefully, I knew that the March was going to be a mockery. That they were giving us something again. They were letting the niggers have their day to get all this nonsense out of their system, and then planning to go back to things usual. Well, if the white man continues to sleep, continues to ignore the intensity of the black man’s feelings and desires, all hell is going to break loose.”

Moving back toward the bus I almost crashed into George Johnson. With a certain Hollywood director flourish, he was telling the driver to rev up the engine. George was being interviewed for radio, and they wanted the sound of departure. Followed by interviewers trailing microphone wires, George shouted, “I feel good because the Negroes are on the march and nothing is going to stop us.” With that, he boarded the bus, signaled the driver, and we began to move. It was 3:40 a. m.

The 49 passengers on Bus 10 settled back. Among them were 10 CORE members, including Omar Ahmed and Wayne Kinsler, both typical of Harlem’s Angry Young Men. Present also were 10 unemployed workers sent to Washington on money raised by CORE to protest the lack of jobs. Also among the pas­sengers were Jim Peck, author of the book “The Freedom Riders,” who took a severe beat­ing on one of the first freedom rides into the Deep South; six members of the Peace Corps who were scheduled to leave for Nigeria; three interviewers from French television, with cameras and sound equipment; and a slightly jaded reporter and a cameraman from the Herald Tribune, both of whom had seen too many Clark Gable reporter movies.

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People began to talk and to question one another. Sue Brook­way, a white member of the Peace Corps, was standing in the aisle speaking to George Johnson. She said, “I think the biggest influence of the March will be to create a greater na­tional awareness of the issue and get more people to make a commitment to the cause. Although I agreed with CORE’s goals, it never occurred to me to become active before this. But now I would join if I weren’t going to Nigeria.”

Omar Ahmed, who had overheard the word Nigeria, turned around in his seat and said, “The Negro on this March has to be very glad of the existence of the Soviet Union. This govern­ment is so worried about wooing the African and Asian mind that it may even give the Negro what he wants.”

“I don’t think the Civil Rights Bill will get through,” commented George Johnson from his seat across the aisle. “I have no faith in the white man. Even Kennedy & Kennedy Inc. isn’t doing this for humanitarian reasons but for political ones.”

After a moment he continued: “CORE has been criticized for its new tactics of civil disobedience. Well, as far as I’m concerned, anything done to get our rights is O.K. It’s remark­able that the Negro has taken it this long.”

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‘A New Negro’

The whites in the group were startled at the vehemence in George’s statement. Omar, not­ing their expressions, attempted to explain. “The white power structure has bred a New Negro,” he said, “and he is angry and impatient. It’s not just the Black Muslims. It’s the man on the street. Come down to Har­lem some night and listen to what’s being said on the street corners. The cops go through and you can see fear on their faces. This isn’t Birmingham. If anyone starts anything, we won’t be passive.”

The kids in the four adjacent seats were twisted around in their chairs listening. Heads pressed together, they formed a roundtable, minus the table. Into this group came Wayne Kins­ler, a 19-year-old Negro. He perched on one of the seat arms. Some crumbled cookies and overripe fruit were passed around.

The discussion turned to the Peace Corps. Frank Harman was asked why, since he was white, he wanted to go to Nigeria. He replied, “I want to go to help these people because they are human beings.”

Suddenly Wayne shouted, “If this thing comes to violence, your’s will be the first throat we slit. We don’t need your kind. Get out of our organization.”

Completely baffled by the outburst, Frank kept repeating the questions, “What’s he talking about? What did I say?”

Wayne, straining forward tensely, screamed, “We don’t need any white liberals to patronize us!”

Other Negroes joined in. “We don’t trust you.” “We don’t believe you’re sincere.” “You’ll have to prove yourself.”

Frank shouted back, ”I don’t have to prove myself to anyone except myself.”

“We’ve been stabbed in the back too many times.”

“The reason white girls come down to civil rights meetings is because they’ve heard of the black man’s reputation of sex.”

“The reason white guys come down is because they want to rebel against their parents.”

“I’ll tell you this, proving that he is sincere when he is working in the civil rights groups is the last chance the white man has got to keep this thing from exploding.”

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Little Comprehension

The other passengers were urging us to stop the argument. Eventually we did. In the lull that followed, the reactions of the whites were mixed. The most widespread one was complete lack of understanding as to why this had all started. There was little comprehension of the effect words like “help you” or “work for you,” with all their connotations of the Great-White-Father attitude, could have on the bristling black pride. Another attitude was one of revul­sion at the ugliness which had been exhibited. Still others saw the argument as a sign that the walls between the races were beginning to come down, that people were really beginning to communicate instead of hiding behind masks of politeness. They felt that with a greater knowl­edge of one another’s sensitivities, lack of understanding, and desires, it would be easier for the white liberal and the black man to work together.

People began to relax and joke again. Gradually they drifted off into an exhausted sleep. Bus 10 rolled on in silence.

With the coming of dawn, the French TV men started blinding everyone with their lights and interviewing those people who could speak French. Being Gal­lic, they made sure to get shots of the romantic duos pillowed against one another. Not to be left out, the Herald Tribune‘s cameraman picked up his light meter and cord and started doing a mock interview of the interviewers.

Someone cheerfully yelled, “Everybody sing.”

He was quickly put down by a voice from the lower depths: “You’re nuts! At seven o’clock sane people don’t even talk.”

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On we went. Sleeping, talking, anticipating. We passed other buses full of heads covered with caps printed with their organizations’ names. On our right was a beat-up old cab with six peo­ple in it and March on Washing­ton posters plastered on all its doors.

At 10:30 — Washington. The city seemed strangely quiet and de­serted except for a few groups of Negro children on corners. They stared curiously at the unending caravan of buses. Police and MPs were everywhere. Traffic moved swiftly. We parked at 117th and Independ­ence, and the people of Bus 10 merged with the crowd moving up the street. The March was on.

The day was full of TV cam­eras, spontaneous singing, speeches, clapping, the green and white striped news tent, the P. A. system blasting “We Shall Not Be Moved,” the ominous Red Cross symbol on a medical tent, March marshals with bright yellow arm bands and little white Nehru hats, the Freedom Walkers in faded blue overalls, Catholic priests in solemn black, posters proclaiming Freedom Now, feet soaking in the reflecting pool, portable drinking fountains, varicolored pennants and hats, warm Pepsi-Cola, the blanket of humanity sprawled in undignified dignity, a Nigerian student with his head bent in prayer, and the echo of Martin Luther King’s phrase: “I have a dream … ”

It was over. The bus moved out slowly. This time there were Negroes on every doorstep. As we passed, they raised their fingers in the victory sign. They clasped their hands over their heads in the prizefighter’s traditional gesture. They clapped. They cheered. They smiled and the smile was reflected back from the buses. On bus 10 there was no one sitting at the back of the bus. All the seats were in the front.

“We’ll be back,” said George Johnson. “If this doesn’t work, we’ll bring 500,000. And if that doesn’t work, we’ll bring all 20 million.”



CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives NYC ARCHIVES Protest Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

A Radical Departure: On Not Interviewing the Patriot Party

On My Mind

I left the whipped cream tortes and gemutlich music of the 86th Street burghers behind and moved through a tenement neighborhood of liquor stores and funeral parlors, Yorkville poverty’s only escape. My destination was the office of the Patriot Party. Not some group or strutting storm troopers, but white radicals out to organize the working class.

When I finally found the storefront on Second Avenue, I didn’t really want to go in. Despite my usually over-active curiosity, I couldn’t work up any enthusiasm for the interview. Only boredom prevailed. The feeling I would have heard it all before. Not just a replay of the Panthers and the Young Lords, but a rerun of the ’30s.

Not that I was putting their dreams down or even the small amount of good the breakfast program and the medical program and the housing fight might do. It was just that I couldn’t face any more machine-made revolutionaries who would talk to me about The People instead of people and re-confirm the movement’s loss of soul.

So feeling very alienated from the alienated, I kept circling past shops full of second-hand furniture and second-hand clothes and second-hand lives. Circling as I had since returning to this country after a long hiatus, unable to find a home anywhere in the movement.

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I was still as disgusted with the country, still as concerned about changing it, but there was one difference. Before leaving the country, I had little doubt that movement people were the best of the generation. Now, I was no longer so sure of that.

My encounters with radicals since I returned had been strained, if not disastrous, and I was no longer on their wave length. The meetings I attended for assorted causes were totally unfamiliar — no longer run in the open, tolerant style that was reflected in the slogan, “One man, one soul,” and that made room for all politics and points of view. Instead they seemed dedicated to making everyone conform to the current version of the truth.

It was at one of those meetings, after dissenters tired of the put-downs and contemptuously walked out, that I first became aware of my own estrangement. Most of the other radicals in the room considered the walk-out a great success because now they could run things their way, while I thought it was a complete failure, a violation of the humanistic and unmanipulative style of politics I and the movement once valued, and a long way from the germinal ideas of the Port Huron statement that said at whatever cost to the cause, one had to care for the dignity of each individual, and not let vague appeals to posterity justify the mutilation of the present.

From that meeting on, I was an outsider. How could I re-join a movement that had opposed the depersonalization of human beings and now called all cops pigs? How could I re-join a movement that had been people-centered and now broke up not only organizations but long-standing friendships over ideology?

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The ultimate in the loss of personalistic politics, of all that made the new left new, was when one faction of Columbia SDS beat up another faction of SDS for passing out leaflets. It inspired a New York Times reporter, in a rare moment of levity, to write the story in Stalinist jargon, full of long unused phrases like leftist sectarian deviationism. The fact that neither the city desk nor the movement saw anything satiric in the story is a measure of how much things have changed.

The movement seems to be sliding backward to the kind of ideological politics that made it possible, during the Spanish Civil War, for Harry Pollitt, the leader of the British Communist Party, to tell poet Stephen Spender to go get himself killed in Spain because the party needed more martyred artists to bolster its image. The new left, like the old, is beginning to subordinate the individual, his needs, his feelings, his beliefs, to the cause.

And that isn’t my kind of movement. As the French students so incisively said in one of their 68 mottos: “Une revolution que demande que l’on se sacrifice pour elle est une revolution a la papa” (“a revolution that expects one to sacrifice one’s self for it is Daddy’s kind of revolution”). More than just Daddy’s revolution, it is the reverse image of the society it is supposed to change. Instead of material goods, abstractions like the movement or the doctrine become more important than human well-being, deadening our sensitivity to one another, isolating us, and opening the way for the self-righteous use of others as objets.

My own estrangement and immediate lack of enthusiasm for the Patriot Party was caused not only by the elevation of ideology, but by the limiting of vision. The creativity, the flexibility, the willingness to dream of worlds not yet seen, has been squeezed into dry socialism. Utopia reduced to an economic formula. There was the phone call I made to a friend who had been part of the Mississippi Summer and who was now devoting herself, with the all-excluding obsessiveness of any business executive, to the study of Chinese. I wanted to discuss The Politics of Cultural Despair, a book that fit my present mood. Although it dealt with 19th century Germany, the German people’s reaction to the Industrial Revolution that disrupted their society was like our own loss of certainty, of values, of faith in our institutions. Their rebellion against modernity and the sterility of urban life included our longing for a simpler past, communal bonds, a hero to save us, and even the flourishing of fresh air hiking clubs to get the young out of the cities as often as possible.

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Yet every time I tried to talk about the psychic dimension, to connect the malaise and feelings of cultural despair to the rise of Hitler, she kept stuffing me back in the economic bag, kept talking about the conditions of the workers and inflation in the Weimar Republic. When I said the book had led me back to Nietzsche, it was as if I mentioned an author on the Index. I was immediately reprimanded for not reading Marx or one of the proper books everyone else was reading. It was as if all truth and all solutions to the ills of the nearly 21st century resided in one 19th century man and his disciples.

Yet this constricted thinking, the tendency to talk only in terms of overthrowing capitalistic systems and ruling classes, can lead only to a one-dimensional revolution. It would mean only redesigning the turrets and towers on the technocratic citadel. For socialist as well as capitalist countries are motored by a technocratic machine that needs constant and instantaneous coordination from the center. In the name of progress, efficiency, and necessity, government officials and experts in the East as well as in the West manipulate lives, while we, like Kafka’s bewildered K, remain powerless dependents on inaccessible and inscrutable castles where they conjure with our fate.

Even sacrosanct Cuba, despite all its homage to the creation of a new man, has made its main thrust the accomplishment of agricultural and technical feats. For the sake of progress, as well as self-preservation, the Cuban revolutionaries have sacrificed the rights of individuals.

Not that the political forms are important. The American experience has taught us that a free press does not guarantee truth, that laws do not guarantee justice or elections representation. Yet Cuba and the new left’s cavalier dismissal of these forms seems based on the assumption that the state and its survival are more important than the individual. In that reversal lies the danger of the creation of another Superstate, the danger of the destruction of Cuba’s possibilities once the genuine concern and charisma of Fidel are gone.

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For me, the movement’s easy adoption of the socialist economic and political system as its panacea is a cop-out, a failure to do the tougher job of coming up with ideas for a new society which, unlike either the capitalists or the collectivists, will do more than make the unlimited satisfaction of material wants its god, which will put the individual at the center and make all economic and political activities subordinate to his human growth, and which will make no man the means to either the state’s or another man’s end.

A couple of fringe efforts seek to go beyond this one-dimensional revolution. The women’s liberation movement recognizes that it cannot depend on the revolution to change the relationship between men and women. They are trying to do something about it now. Yet the narrowness of their concern makes it impossible for me to become all-involved in that one issue, the way so many other homeless activists have become.

I also admire the hippie-yippie effort to evolve a new style of community to rediscover joy and redefine living, but the egocentricity of just doing your own thing keeps me from donning love beads.

I even believe the new politics has some merit in its search for ways of letting people more directly affect the choice of candidates. Yet when I consider the possible candidates the former “clean for Gene” kids might come up with for ’72, I can’t share their faith or illusions. Nor in ’68, our hour of need, could I convince myself that a moderate liberal like McCarthy or Kennedy would be the savior. The compromises, the petty power plays, the think-small mentality needed to become a politician in this country makes the liberal left think only in terms of extending the welfare state rather than redistributing the real power that sets our priorities, makes even the best-intentioned candidate unable to do more than bandage the country’s wounds.

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And so I remain an alien among the alienated. Unable to find an honest home among the new politics because listening to the New Democratic Coalition argue the marginal differences between a Nickerson and a Goldberg is like listening to competing cigarette commercials trying to sell their nearly identical anti-life products. Unable to comfortably fence-sit with the radicals who dropped out of the political system either before or after Chicago because I’m not self-indulgent enough to deny an extra 50 cents on a welfare check to someone who may need it while waiting for the revolution that may never come. Unable to be just a women’s liberationist or hippie, a Panther or Patriot.

Still, as I wandered orphan-like around Yorkville, I wasn’t unaware that it wasn’t just the movement that had changed, with guns and bombs becoming the escapist toys of radicals who have no other way of dealing with the political reality, it wasn’t just the country that had turned into a bad hallucination, with moon shots and map pins in Laos the romantic kicks for a Washington unable to deal with social disintegration. For a couple of months after returning from South America, I heard myself, the girl who used to be Pollyanna, who used to believe nothing was impossible, arguing with a professor who was saying pessimism was outdated — the young were going to save the world.

And it was loss of belief, near nihilism, that really kept me from going to see the Patriots, that reduced others alienated from the movement to talking to each other in assorted living rooms, made some even stop trying to search for answers and become the siren voices saying the hippies are right, nothing can be done, the only important thing is to enjoy your own life.

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Perhaps it was only the intensity of my despair that made it so rough, so constant. I had certainly been around activists for a long time. My memory went back to an afternoon when the civil rights movement was falling apart, just before Stokely gave birth to Black Power, the time when blacks and white radicals could still sit and talk about “the problem” which was our problem. The mood was not that different — the people in the room suffering from the same exhaustion of protest, the feeling that all the tactics had been used up, absorbed into the country’s tolerance system. Group fantasy became the afternoon’s relief. One black student jumped up and shouted he knew what we should do. With everyone’s attention riveted on him, he began to demonstrate how we would erect this giant computer on the comer of 126th Street and Lenox Avenue, feed all the problems about jobs and schools and housing and unions into it, push all the buttons, and then wait for the machine to tell us how to solve them. He reached for the imaginary computer card, then looking down, reading in a voice that still echoes out of time, he said, “The machine says there’s no answer… no answer… no answer.”

Yet blacks were able to discover their psychic salvation in the black power movement, to hold hope and pride together with a black beret, while white radicals went only to the fragmentation of SDS or the futility of the peace movement, knowing that demonstrating on Tuesday only meant Johnson would escalate the bombing on Wednesday, knowing that demonstrating tomorrow will only mean Nixon will defeat them with benign neglect the next day.

All this brought me to the Yorkville border of Lotus Land, but still refusing to cross over. Grasping at any rope that would lead me back over my nihilism and alienation, willing to believe the fault was all mine, that being gone so long I had lost my ability to listen between the lines of the hard-edged rhetoric, to hear what people weren’t saying, I decided I had to see the Patriots.

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The thought of the distance between us sent me on a preliminary bender — like some wild alcoholic, buying, buying, buying books I couldn’t afford, everything, anything that would reconnect me with the soul of the movement — and finally, stumbling out of the store, shopping bags full of truth, I returned to my apartment and piled paperbacks 20 deep on the coffee table.

For a while I just sat before them as if they had some totem power to illuminate the movement and bring me home. Then I began reading everything at once, hopping from chapter to chapter, and, following an old tradition, usually beginning at the back of the book. I found little cause for optimism, and, too often, a recognition of my own near resignation.

There were the doubts and weariness that made the hero of The Strawberry Statement say that we were the bridge generation, the product of all the past and the ones who had to keep the future human, and then wonder in the same paragraph whether struggling to keep people human was desirable. “I don’t know,” he continued to debate, “in Brave New World, the people were always happy. They were dehumanized and low, but the fact remains they were happy. It was repugnant to the observer, but they couldn’t step outside their system to see it. They were just happy. That seems all right.”

And reading it I remembered the perverse pleasure I had felt in the mindlessness of a filing job. The secret fantasy of being a content dumb blonde manicurist. The often repeated quotation of one of Lawrence’s heroines: “Why can’t I simply rest in him.”

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It was at that low point in my slide toward becoming one of the lotus eaters that the phone, my umbilical cord to the real world, began ringing. It was a call from the other half of friendship’s oddest couple that forced me to confront the toughest part of my own alienation from the alienated.

The conversation — with my favorite North Carolina cracker, honorary member of the Ku Klux Klan, and sharer of my concern for poor whites — began with his excited report about the postman’s strike, his announcement that, for the first time, he had rolled down his car windows, honked his horn, and given the V sign to demonstrators. It was his constituency on the move, the thing he had been waiting for, much more significant than some nutty kids who couldn’t even make a bomb without blowing themselves up, he said, winding up with a harangue against dynamiting radicals that would have done any Southern preacher proud.

My response to the harangue would have been much simpler a couple of years ago. Although always ambivalent in my feelings, arguing both sides of the violence question with equal conviction, it was easier to empathize with the strange kind of love that made the most sensitive and the most intelligent, the Malcolm Xs and the Le Roi Joneses, unable to passively accept the daily soul-worn destruction of their people. It was easier to justify rebellion, even violent rebellion, when it was a gut reaction to the irrationality, the incomprehens­ible injustice of the human spectacle, when it insisted the outrage be brought to an end in the name of life.

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It is quite another thing to justify murder for a rebellion which prefers an abstract concept of man to a man of flesh and blood, which forgets the spirit of humanity for the defense of ideology or the delusion of power, which puts resentment in the place of love, which vilifies all opponents, which measures convictions by the efficacy with which one can hit the nearest cop, which adores violence for its own sake, and which shrieks with exhilaration the ultimate cry of nihilism, “Viva, Viva la muerte.”

A movement that acts like the other side is the other side, and worth no one’s loyalty.

Muddling through the distinction for myself and my phone confessor, I began to feel the time had come for the alienated among the ashes to consecrate a new rebellion. A phoenix that would rise above the nihilism that is making us incapable of any action or only of desperate action. A phoenix that would return to its roots and use the intelligence, conviction, and passion of its followers to find a creative alternative to murder.

And if we still fail, if despite all our ideas and words and actions, we cannot turn this country around, if it becomes our curse to be faced with the choice between accepting an intolerable world and either directly or indirectly killing another human being, then let it be done not in triumph but in despair by a generation lost in its own loneliness, with weapons in its hands and agony in its heart, never for an instant deluding itself that murder is right, recognizing that the only virtue is in not deifying the power to inflict death, and in returning as rapidly as possible to the original impetus — the impetus of compassion, of community, of life.


Burying Malcolm X

Burying Malcolm X

March 4, 1965

By Marlene Nadle

It was a strange funeral on Saturday. At Faith Temple, Church of God in Christ, the altar was decorated with policemen. In a bronze coffin El-Hajj Malik Shabazz, wrapped in the white linen of Moslem ritual, rested beneath two giant murals of Jesus Christ.

The funeral of the man known as Malcolm X was a blend of Islamic faith and Christian custom. The priest wore the brown robes and white turban of the Middle East; the widow the black veiling and clothes of western tradition. Flowers are not part of a Moslem’s funeral. Yet Betty Shabazz sent flowers to her husband. Embossed on the five-by-two-foot bank of red carnations was the Star and Crescent of Islam.

Death for a Moslem is supposed to be a private matter. There is not supposed to be any public exhibition of the body, which must not be kept from the grave beyond two sunsets. Yet they kept Malcolm’s body for a full week, and 30,000 people visited Unity Funeral Home and another 3000 came to the church trying to hold onto the part of them that had died.

For Malcolm had been the spokesman for that part of all blacks that is in constant rage at their life in the land of the rich and the home of the righteous.

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Hiding Tears

Eulogies for Malcolm were heard on every corner of Harlem. But the ones delivered at the funeral were out of order. Nothing is supposed to be done during an Islamic service to create emotion or a sense of bereavement. Nothing had to be done. Even before the service began, a strapping young man sat with his hand over his eyes feigning sleep to hide his tears. An old woman wearing a white crocheted scarf over a jockey cap sat with her mittens clutched in hands wrinkled and worn with scrubbing other people’s floors. Asked what she thought of Malcolm, she said, “I love him.”

At the front of the church Ossie Davis, in a voice that kept cracking, began the first part of the service. “Malcolm was our manhood,” he said. And the people in the pews shouted, “That’s right!”

“They will tell us to write him out of history. They will ask what Harlem finds to honor. And we will smile.

“They will tell us he was a fanatic. And we will ask, ‘Did you ever talk to Brother Malcolm?’

“They will tell us that he was full of hate. And we will say, ‘Let him who is without sin cast the first stone’.”

The people in the pews shouted, “That’s right!”

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Other Speakers

Ahmed Ossman, head of the Islamic Center in Switzerland, said that he was shocked by the remarks of Carl Rowan, the Negro director of he United States Information Agency. Rowan had said that the African press was mistaken in interpret­ing the death of Malcolm X as the death of a hero. He charged Malcolm wilh preaching separa­tion and black supremacy. Ossman fervantly declared that Malcolm had abjured all racism after making his pilgrimage to Mecca. The mention of Rowan’s name set off a low rumble. Some ­people hissed.

Finally the speeches were over. The second half of the service was conducted by an Islamic priest. There were four takbeers, or prayers. When the phrase “Allahu Akbar” (“God is the Most Great”) was uttered the Moslems — perhaps 50 — placed their hands open at the side of their faces.

Close friends and Malcolm’s half-sister filed past the coffin. They struggled to maintain the dignity and restraint required by the occasion.

When Betty Shabazz, pregnant with her fifth child, stood before her husband, she bit her lip in a fight to control herself. Then she broke. Weeping, she pressed her lips against the glass shield that divided her from his body.

The crowd broke with her, and a moan went up. There was a shriek from a woman in the first row.

The coffin was carried down the left aisle. People reached out.

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‘Making It Worse”

One woman following behind the coffin began to scream “Kill! Kill! Kill them all!” A younger woman put her hand on the other woman’s mouth and walked her out, saying “Stop, Mamma! Stop! You’re only making it worse.”

The coffin went on to a silver-blue hearse. Policemen stared down from the rooftops. The 50-car funeral procession left for Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale.

But the people wouldn’t go home. They tried to get back into the church to get a prayer book. To get a flower. To get something they could hold on to. Eventually the crowd thinned A small cluster of women remained on the sidewalk in front of the church. There was one, a big woman in a black kerchief, who cried as she talked. When she saw a reporter trying to take down the conversation, she turned to her companions and said, “Stop talking. Don’t say anything. They always take words and twist them. That’s what they did with Malcolm.”

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‘Opened My Eyes’

Then, turning on the reporter she said, “That man didn’t teach violence like the papers all say. He taught me about myself. He taught me I was more than a Little Black Sambo or Kinky Hair or nigger.

“They called us junkies and drunks. And I was ashamed. He opened my eyes. He made me see who was bringing all the dope to Harlem. Who was opening all the liquor stores. Black men don’t have that kind of money.”

As the woman named Doris talked, she continued to cry. And as she cried the crowd gathered. Turning to the reporter she asked, “If I slapped your face, what would your normal reaction be?”

“To hit back,” said the reporter.

“Well, that’s what Malcolm told us to do. To defend ourselves. Yet all the papers keep talking about is his violence. It make me sick.”

“Sure,” said a young college student, “they just love him now — the liberal columnists — now that he’s dead. It’s like Kennedy and business. They heaped all kinds of praise on him after he was no longer a threat to their establishment.”

Then a woman wearing a leopard print turban and stole and dancing silver earrings introduced herself as Audley Moore. “I’m 66 years old,” she said. “I was one of Marcus Garvey’s people. I’ve been work­ing in Harlem now for over 40 years. I sat at the feet of Mary Bethune and other leaders trying to learn how to help our people. I fought to get Negro history taught in schools in 1934. I wasn’t a follower of Malcolm X, I was his mother.

“He used to call me his Queen Mother. And I would say to him, ‘Now, Malcolm, honey, why do you have to rob Africa? We are African-Americans, not Afros. How come France produces Frenchmen? And Italy produces Italians? But Africa can only hatch Negroes and Afros?’

“Why, being an Afro is almost as bad as being a Negro. It almost puts us in the same class as that man Rowan. Now, he is a Negro! A real U.S. made and manufactured Negro!

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“The Only Law”

Miss Moore and the people in the crowd began to talk about building a monument to Malcolm X. A Harlem young man walking by in Nigerian dress stopped, raised his stick, and shouted, “Don’t spend money on statues, spend it on guns!”

“What’s wrong with these?” said another young man, raising his fists.

“The only law that exists out there is the law of the gun,” answered the man dressed in Nigerian clothes.

“I don’t believe in turning the other cheek,” said Miss Moore. “But it’s stupid to use guns when they have the Army, the Navy, and the Marines.”

The talk about Malcolm caused Miss Monroe’s sister to suggest that gas be put in the car and everyone go to see Malcolm’s grave. Many people wanted to go. But the seven who finally wound up in the car were a physician from the West Indies, a collector of materials for the African-American Historical Association, a teenager in a plain beret, Miss Moore in her imposing leopard-skin turban, her sister, Doris, and the reporter whose presence had originally brought the crowd together.

A half-hour later the group stood beside the grave of El-Hajj Malik Shabazz. They made impromptu pledges to unity and the struggle for freedom. They each took a leaf from the grave. And made promises to meet again.


Malcolm X: The Complexity Of a Man in the Jungle

Malcolm X: The Complexity Of a Man in the Jungle
February 25, 1965

The following article was written by Marlene Nadle for The Voice shortly prior to the assassination of Malcolm X. It is based on hours of interviewing Malcolm X at his Hotel Theresa office and attendance at rallies at the Audubon Ballroom and Manhattan Center.

The article is presented exactly as it was originally written. No attempt has been made to make it conform to the events of Sunday at the Audubon Ballroom.

Malcolm X has three faces. One is turned toward Africa, one toward Harlem, and one toward Washington.

His masks are more numerous. They are juggled by both the actor and his audience. He’s a charismatic leader. Then a cartoon figure waving a rifle. He’s a racist. Then a Black National gone white. A symbol of hope and Father Divine. An anti-semite and a preacher of brotherhood. An extremist and a man to move the Movement.

In Harlem the people watch the performance.

The black politicians mark the trickle of converts going through the glass doors of the Organization of Afro-American Unity he formed after the split with the Black Muslims in March, 1964. They wait to see if it signals a flood, now that the gates are open to non-Muslims, and now that a separate black state is no longer the destination.

The politicians will not completely associate themselves with him. Nor will they disassociate themselves. The untested potential of Malcolm X keeps people like Adam Clayton Powell careful friends.

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Harlem Cross-section

A cross-section of Harlem comes to measure the man and his methods on Sunday nights at Audubon Ballroom. Seated on 500 wooden folding chairs are the disinherited people who never had any hope or answers and those, whether Nationalist or non-violent activist, who have run out of both. There are children looking for pride, and there are many older church-goers who, unlike Mahalia Jackson, can’t sing, “I found the answer, I learned to pray.”

In the bars and grills — Small’s and Jock’s and the Shalimar on Seventh Avenue, the Palm’s and Frank’s on 125th Street — the debate goes on.

“Malcolm is a genius,” said a man at the bar in the Shalimar. “All he cares about is Malcolm X and money.”

“Malcolm is a creation of the white press,” said a doctor in Frank’s.

“Malcolm is a genius,” said a lawyer in the back room at Jock’s. “He is the most brilliant speaker I have ever heard.”

“Malcolm X is a loser,” said another man at Jock’s. “He’ll have to do a lot better than he’s doing if he wants to make it in Harlem.”

Down the street from Jock’s in his Hotel Theresa headquarters, sat the subject of the debate. With his long frame hunched over a phone in his closet-like inner office, Malcolm made arrangements to speak at Harlem Hospital. He fumbled through the pockets of his dark three-button suit, through his vest and his attache case looking for his pen. Then, hanging up, he pressed his fingers against his eyes and rested.

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Testing Process

Remembering the interviewer he apologized and said, “I usually try and get four hours sleep at night. Last night I didn’t make it.”

The young executive in charge of revolution complained about the pace. About days that too often ran from 9 a.m. to 5 a.m.

Then the mutual testing began. With a half-smile Malcolm said, “A lot of people have warned me about the Village Voice. It’s supposed to be a liberal paper, but they say it is very narrow.”

“Some people on the staff think you’re a con man,” I said, and waited for the reaction.

It exploded out of the chair. Now on his feet, he said, “If I wanted to be just a con man, I wouldn’t be fool enough to try it on these streets where people are looking for my life, where I can’t walk around after dark. If I wanted power, I could have gone anywhere in the world. They offered me jobs in all the African countries.

“Muhammed is the man, with his house in Phoenix, his $200 suits, and his harem. He didn’t believe in the black state or in getting anything for the people. That’s why I got out.”

Do you feel a distorted image of you was created by the press?

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“It was created by them and me. The reporters came with preconceived answers to their questions. They were looking for sensationalism, for something that would sell papers, and I gave it to them. If they had asked probing intelligent questions, they would have gotten different answers.”

Why encourage the distortion?

“It’s useful. The only person who can organize the man in the streets is the one who is unacceptable to the white community. They don’t trust the other kind. They don’t know who controls his actions.”

The man in the street is the one Malcolm has described as living on the bottom of the social heap. The one who has given up all hope, all ambition, all plans. The one who says, like the old blues song, “I’ve been down so long till down don’t bother me.”

Did he plan to use hate to organize the people?

“I won’t permit you to call it hate. Let’s say I’m going to create an awareness of what has been done to them. This awareness will produce an abundance of energy, both negative and positive, that can then be channeled constructively.”

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The Bad Symbol

Like the trade-union organizer, Malcolm wants to aggravate the people’s frustration and discontent until anger overcomes apathy and they act on their own behalf. This will be done primarily by attacking the whites’ treatment of Negroes.

The Jew would seem to be an inevitable scapegoat for his attack. For the Jew, like the policeman, is a visible white in the life of the ghetto. Harlem sees them both not only in terms of their own deeds or misdeeds, but as walking symbols of all whites. It’s easy to stir a black audience on both subjects. And stir them is what Malcolm wants to do.

“The greatest mistake of the Movement,” he said, “has been trying to organize a sleeping people around specific goals. You have to wake the people up first then you’ll get action.”

Wake them up to their exploitation?

“No, to their humanity, their own worth, and to their heritage. The biggest difference between the parallel oppression of the Jew and the Negro is that the Jew never lost his pride in being a Jew. He never ceased to be a man. He knew he had made a significant contribution to the world, and his sense of his own value gave him the courage to fight back. It enabled him to act and think independently, unlike our people and our leaders.”

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No Tarzan

To compensate for the pride and heritage that was aborted by slavery, on almost all occasions, but especially at his Sunday meetings, Malcolm assumes the role of teacher.

Unwinding himself from a hand microphone, without any formal introduction, he comes before his class at the Audubon Ballroom. He chats and kids with them for a while and then gets on with the lessons.

He shows them films of Africa he took on his trip last summer. He tells them, “We have got to get over the brainwashing we had. No matter how much of an Africanist we are, it is hard for us to think of Africa as anything but a place for Tarzan. Look at these films and get out of your mind what the Man put in it.”

Narrating from a chair in the first row, he points out the beaches and skyscraping cities and says, “They told us there was nothing but jungle over there. Why, the only jungle I ever saw was right here in New York City.”

He reads them an article about James Farmer in the U.S. News and World Report. He attacks the magazine for being anti-black like all the press, but he tells his pupils to read it. “Read everything,” he said. “You never know where you’re going to get an idea. We have to learn how to think. We have to use our heads as well as our bodies in a revolution.”

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Rhythm Changes

He urges them to watch the kinds of books being used in the schools. “If when we were coming up,” he said, “we had a better idea of Africa and our past, we would think for ourselves.”

He closes the meeting with the announcement that child-care classes are going to be taught at the OAAU office.

Before this black audience, Malcolm has a different sound. The extensive vocabulary, the precise grammar, the level resonant voice go. Even the rhythm changes.

Was it deliberate? I asked him. “Sure,” he said. “Different audiences have different rhythms. You have to be able to play them, if you don’t want to put the people to sleep.”

“Now take someone like Bayard Rustin. He’s a brilliant man, a real whiz, just like Baldwin. But, he talks white. You know, Oxford accent and all. He came up here to Harlem to debate me … Poor Bayard … He spent so much time trying to figure out how to say things and still sound white that by the time he got the words out, I whipped him.”

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Racism Is Mask

During the debate, during the speeches on Sundays past, and during the speeches on Sundays future, Malcolm will continue to try to wake Harlem. He will use a negative attack to produce a positive goal. To a white ear the attacks will sound like the ranting of a racist.

To the man who leans casually against the wall at the Theresa, racism is a mask he dons when it will be effective. But even the mask is different from the way it is perceived. To himself he is a racist because he is concerned with the black race. He is a racist because he will attack all people who abuse that race. He is not a racist who hates all non-blacks.

“I care about all people,” he said, ”but especially about black people. I’m a Muslim. My religion teaches me brotherhood, but doesn’t make me a fool.”

The white world is not the only place that is concerned with his racism. In the parts of Harlem where white means devil, they are also testing him.

He was challenged at a Sunday meeting. A man stood, rocked back on his heels, and very slowly said, “We heard you changed, Malcolm. Why don’t you tell us where you’re at with them white folks?”

Without dropping a syllable he gave a black nationalist speech on brotherhood.

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Militant, Not Dogmatic

“I haven’t changed,” he said. “I just see things on a broader scale. We nationalists used to think we were militant. We were just dogmatic. It didn’t bring us anything.

“Now I know it’s smarter to say you’re going to shoot a man for what he is doing to you than because he is a white. If you attack him because he is white, you give him no out. He can’t step being white. We’ve got to give the Man a chance. He probably won’t take it, the snake. But we’ve got to give him a chance.

“We’ve got to be more flexible. Why, when some of our friends in Africa didn’t know how to do things, they went ahead and called in some German technicians. And they had blue eyes

“I’m not going to be in anybody’s strait jacket. I don’t care what a person looks like or where they come from. My mind is wide open to anybody who will help get the ape off our backs.”

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White Allies

The people he feels that can best help are the students, both black and white. But he con­siders all militant whites possible allies.

He qualifies the possibility. And woven into the qualifications are the threads of the emotions running through Harlem.

“If we are going to work to­gether, the blacks must take the lead in their own fight. In phase one, the white led. We’re going into phase two now.”

“This phase will be full of re­bellion and hostility. Blacks will fight whites for the right to make decisions that affect the struggle
in order to arrive at their manhood and self-respect.”

“The hostility is good,” Mal­colm said. “It’s been bottled up too long. When we stop always saying yes to Mr. Charlie and turning the hate against our­selves, we will begin to be free.”

How did he plan to get white militants to work with him or even to walk into the Theresa with the kind of slings and arrows he was sending out?

There was the half-smile again. Then, thoughtfully stroking his new-grown beard, he said, “We’ll have to try to rectify that.”

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Master Juggler  

He admitted it would be diffi­cult to get militant whites and blacks together. “The whites can’t come uptown too easily be­cause the people aren’t feeling too friendly. The black who goes downtown loses his identity, loses his soul. He’s in no position to be a bridge because he has lost contact with Harlem. Our Negro leaders never had contact, so they can’t do it.

“The only person who could is someone who is completely trusted by the black community. If I were to try, I would have to be very diplomatic, because there are parts of Harlem where you don’t dare mention the idea.”

The diplomatic skill of the master juggler will also be needed to get white militant support. For, while wooing it, he must continue to attack whites for the benefit of his Harlem audience.

Bluntly he says, “We must make them see that we are the enemy. That the black man is the greater threat to this country than Vietnam or Berlin. So let them turn the money for defense in our direction and either destroy us or cure the conditions that brought our people to this point. For if we cannot live in this house as human beings, we would rather be dead.”

As Malcolm finished his comment, he left little doubt that he was willing to go all the way in the fight. Yet he doesn’t seem like a man who is in love with violence. On the contrary, he re­laxed during the course of the interview, the impression conveyed by this soft-spoken, non­smoking, non-drinking Muslim was one of gentleness.

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Concern for People

When he was not on the stage, another side of the man is revealed. The private rather than the public man is seen when you watch him relate to individuals. He stops and listens to a worried white student despite the fact that the police and his party are trying to hurry him out after a speech. He remembers to buy coffee for everyone in the office when he orders some for himself. He interrupts his sentence on the need for black hostility to ask, with genuine concern, whether I was abused coming to the Theresa.

Violence has no real part in his history. Even the crimes of burglary and larceny he committed as Big Red were mercenary not sadistic.

Why then is he willing to go such extremes?

“Only violence, or a real threat of it, will get results,” he said. “The only time the government moves is in reaction to crises. When it’s too costly to let our people continue to suffer, Washington will give the massive federal aid needed to solve the problem.”

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To the South

Violence doesn’t mean a huge race war to Malcolm. His strategy is primarily defensive.

He’ll work on voter registration in the north and south. But if his people work in a place like Mississippi, they’ll be armed. “If the Federal government won’t protect the voters,” he said, his people will.

He has already begun to offer his services in the south. He addressed a voter-registration rally in Tuskegee, Alabama, on February 3, was in Selma on February 5, and will speak at a Mississippi Freedom Party rally in Jackson on February 19.

Malcolm is also willing to go along with Bayard Rustin’s strategy of causing social dislocation in the white community, but he is not willing to do it non-violently. For he says the people in Harlem who are willing to get involved in such activities aren’t willing to have a policeman crack their skulls and not fight back.

He will use demonstrations and picketing, but not the kind that play by the rules of the establishment. “Power doesn’t back up in the face of a prayer and a smile,” he said. “The only demonstrations that they pay attention to are the ones that contain the seeds of violence.”

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Black Guerrillas 

There is another tactic he wants to use. It is the exception in his defensive strategy. He wants bands of invisible guerrillas who would strike and slip back into society. Bands that could match the Klan.

“I’ll be the first to join,” he said, “and lots of people you don’t think will, are going to line up behind me.”

It’s over the tactics of violence vs. non-violence — or, as Malcolm puts it, self-defense vs. masochism — that he and other civil-rights leaders disagree. This difference is what has prevented the unity that he feels is one of the keys to the struggle.

“It’s not that there is no desire for unity, or that it is impossible, or that they might not agree with me behind closed doors. It’s because most of the organizations are dependent on white money and they are afraid to lose it.

“I spent almost a year not at­tacking them, saying let’s get together, let’s do something. But they’re too scared. I guess I will have to go to the people first and let the leaders fall in behind them.”

That does not mean ruling out cooperation. He will try and stress the areas and activities where the groups can work together. For he says, “If we are going into the ring, our right fist does not have to become our left fist, but we must use a com­mon head if we are going to win. ”

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Black Schools

Asked if he would support things like a school boycott, he said he would if he agreed with its goals. He would not support it to get more busing. He also wouldn’t fight school construction in black communities. Until a better plan for integration is found, he wants more and larger schools built in black neighborhoods. Even more than in comparable white ones, because of  the birth rate.

In discussing other things he felt should be done, he said, “We must begin to move into politics and economics. They are two areas where our people are very immure. That’s why the OAAU started the liberation school. We want to teach them how to operate.”

The political lessons won’t be just theory. Malcolm wants to  run militant candidates on the local level. They would be race men like the Southern politicians. These candidates would plant angry soap boxes on all the street corners of Harlem. They would make the vote a channel for the discontent for the apolitical man in the streets. Once a political habit is established, it could be a powerful weapon in the struggle.

Would he be a candidate?

“I don’t know at this point,” he said. “I think I am more effective attacking the establishment. You can’t do that as well once you’re inside it.”

Did he think an all-black party like the Freedom Now Party in Michigan was needed?

“Yes, in some cases you have to create new machinery. In other it’s better to take over existing machinery. Either way, we’re going to be involved in all levels of politics from ’65 on.”

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Miami Approach

Malcolm also wants to take a new economic approach to integration. He thinks blacks should use the same strategy as Jews did in Florida. Instead of money on lawyers’ feels and bail bonds for sit-ins, they should pool their resources and buy housing. Then anybody who wanted to could come in.

He also thinks efforts should be made to have blacks control the food, shelter, and clothing in the communities where they live.

As we spoke and drank the coffee he ordered, it became clear that there is one feature common to all Malcolm’s masks. It’s determination. Determination to solve the problems of his people at whatever cost. To smash through the deafness of the white world. To force into actions and words the rage that is churning in the guts of the blacks.

On the train I rode downtown, that black rage broke free in one drunken Negro. He spit his anguish and obscenities into emotionless white faces.

For endless blocks the drunk shrieked against the sound of the subway, “You’re full of shit! You’re all full of shit! You’re killing me! You mothers! You’re killing me!”

That rage is what Malcolm wants to shape into a weapon to be used against the continued moral, spiritual, physical, political, cultural, and economic strangulation of the blacks.

Equality From The Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES

When Love Comes to Town: Martin Luther King in Harlem

The Coming of a King: A Charismatic Moment
June 22, 1967

Everyone was waiting for the Lord.

Martin Luther was coming to the meeting and nobody was about to miss him. A Negro wo­man who looked like she spent her life getting stuck behind the fried chicken platter at the church so­cial and doing the dirty work for the block party was having none of that nonsense Wednesday. The red rose on her crocheted hat vi­brated with her determination. She informed the person beckoning her to sit at the card table and check names that she had come to hear Reverend King, and then walked on by.

She passed through a door de­corated with leaning men. The huge man who was acting as bouncer-in-reverse had been unsuccessful in getting the men to come in and sit down. Despite his frantic signaling that seats were available, none of them wanted to give up the chance to be the first to see the coming of the Lord.

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On the wooden chairs set up around the room, women in $2 house dresses and beads were turned at a 30-degree angle to watch the door. Using programs folded accordion style instead of pastel fans with pictures of Christ, they managed to turn the chandelier ballroom of the Hotel Roosevelt into a Baptist Church.

Not all the faces were black, some were Puerto Rican. Few were white. Emptying bedpans is not a high-priority white job. And all the people in the room were hospital workers.

The official reason for the gathering of the 800 was a meeting of delegates of Local 1199 of the Drug and National Employees Union. In between taking turns checking the hall to see if the Reverend had arrived, they busi­ed themselves with union business and watched a documentary in which they starred.

The film was greeted with the jokes and applause of a home movie. Only home in this case was Harlem. Mrs. Cameron, the movie queen for the day, strolled past bars on 127th Street, past roach-crawling rat-infested tenements, past gutters filled with garbage and vomit, and explain­ed how the union had improved her life.

Mrs. Cameron wasn’t the only star. A black Santa and Robert Kennedy were greeted with great enthusiasm both in the film and by the audience. Santa won his supporters by being black and by giving out presents. Kennedy, as usual, didn’t have to do anything to wrap up the vote.

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The Lord appeared for the first time — on film. There was a great burst of applause. The applause was just as loud, but accompani­ed by laughter, when Malcolm-in-shades flashed onto the screen.

The difference was not in af­fection, but in conception. King is the father you depend on and try to live up to. Malcolm is the brother you pound on the back and take to a crap game around the corner.

At a point between flashes of union members singing “Go Tell It on the Mountain” and shots of their demonstrating with the Sou­thern Leadership Conference, the men standing in the doorway made a dash for the outer corri­dor. He was there. The image had been made flesh.

By the time the men reached the corridor, the reporters who had been perching like vultures on the mezzanine railing had already begun to circle the Reve­rend Martin Luther King with their microphones. They were hard at work doing the job they do best — playing one black group off against another.

“How come, Dr. King,” one of the newsmen asked, “the black nationalists weren’t invited to the unity meeting that set Cleveland up as the target city for the summer?”

“The meeting was for civil rights organizations,” Dr. King said. Then, healing the situation, he added, “That does not mean we won’t work with the national­ists and the Muslims in Cleve­land. We have already met with them and have a fine relation­ship.”

“Muhammed didn’t come to the mountain?” the newsman ask­ed, still trying to bait him. “No, not this time,” King re­plied. Not even bad jokes ruffled his calm.

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At this point, King’s disciples began hustling him toward a pri­vate room. He was almost in­visible in the center of the group. People seeing him for the first time standing among others were surprised that the Lord was such a little man.

Once word was out that he had reached the hall, no one even pretended to watch the film. There was a sense of great excitement, but muted. And when the door opened, and he came through, a great rush of people jumped to their feet clapping away. The “Hallelujah Chorus” would have been appro­priate to the mood of the moment as would “Lord, Hold My Hand While I Run This Race.”

He made his way with imposing solemnity to the center of the stage. The deep voice rolled out over the assembly. Its familiar cadence soared — evoking the shared experiences of his people, giv­ing them a sense of identity, restoring for awhile a feeling of wholeness. This was the commu­nion he supplied and they sought.

What he said was not important. It was the man who lent weight to the words. It was his presence felt, his integrity sensed. Such a man could make the telephone book seem like the gospel.

Still, what he said wasn’t un­important. He spoke of the nation’s problems of race and pov­erty, problems that are gigantic in scale and chaotic in detail. He noted that the friends who were with the Negroes in Selma are with them no longer. He defined black power as the ability to make General Motors and Washington say “yes” when they want to say “no.” He spoke of the war in the Mideast. He defended Is­rael’s right to exist and he pro­posed a Marshall Plan for the Arabs to ease the tension among the have-nots.

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Then, moving to the heart of his speech, he spoke of Vietnam — of the unjust war:

“Who appointed this country divine agent to the world?” he asked. “Who gave it the ar­rogance to try to fix up another country when it hasn’t put its own house in order? How can it expect its black soldiers to fight in brutal solidarity with whites in Vietnam and then come home and not be able to live on the same block with them?… Come home to Alabama and not even be able to be buried in the same ceme­tery with them?”

After every question, the audience responded. It was not just the church ladies: It was the young blacks standing along the aisles. It was the tough young kids who are one step from the street corners of Harlem — the kids who he had been least able to reach. They were the ones who were ap­plauding the loudest and shouting “Yes, Sir! Yes, Sir!” when he asked, “How come this country only worries about Vietnam? How come it doesn’t use its pow­er against South Africa or Rho­desia?” And they shouted again when he asked, “How come this mainly white country doesn’t stop bombing colored people?”

He stopped the questions. He started to unravel the thread of continuity of his convictions:

“There has been a whole lot of applauding in this country. People and the newspapers ap­plauded me in Montgomery when Negroes were killed and I urged people to be non-violent. They applauded me in Birmingham when Negroes were gassed and I urged people to be non-violent against Bull Connor. They ap­plauded me in Philadelphia after the bodies of the three were found and I urged people to be non-violent against Sheriff Rainey. Yet they damn me now when I urge people to be non-violent against little children in Vietnam.

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“Even tonight, a man came up to me and said that my talking against the war had hurt my leadership. He urged me to pull back from my position.

“My answer to him was: ‘Sir, I’m sorry you don’t know me. I’m not a consensus leader. I don’t determine my position by polls nor by what is safe or politic or popular, but by what is right. As for hurting civil rights by my position, the war has already done more to hurt civil rights than I could ever do by talking against Vietnam.’

“Despite the dismal picture both in and out of the country, the Lord has not been beaten down,” he assured them. “I have not lost faith. We have survived slavery. No war and no backlash is going to turn us around.”

And the people said, “Amen.”

“We shall overcome. No lie can live forever.”

And the people said, “Amen.”

“We shall overcome. This faith I have hewn out of our mountain of despair. We shall overcome.”

And, as he spoke, you knew he did believe. And so did the people. If he had asked them to walk on water, they would have. When he finished, they rushed forward to touch him, to shake his hand, to grab hold of a piece of his faith that would last them at least until they got back to 127th Street.

From The Archives Health THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

The Abortionist on the Circuit of Fear

The abortionist is the man hunted by the police and a million desperate women a year.

No city can be without him. Few are.

In almost every town there are quacks and butchers with minimal training. Taxi drivers and pharmacists who improvise. Neighbors whose tools are knitting needles, wire coat hangers, and crude catheters.

Scattered across the country and in the larger cities there are a handful of qualified doctors who because of money or ideals or other circumstances have tried to meet the frantic demand for the abortions the hospitals won’t perform.

These men are the stars of the underground abortion circuit. Women travel to Pennsylvania, Florida, Baltimore, or Washington because of the reduced risk to their lives these men represent. Women pass these doctors’ names along as a gesture of friendship and social amenity. Their names appear on experience-tested and approved lists circulated among college girls. The lists also contain tips like whether or not to let the doctor’s receptionist know why you are calling, whether or not to plan to stay overnight, what the best deals on fees are, and usually end by advising the girls — for her emotional well-being — not to go to the abortionist alone.

These lists are often used as the basis for a non-profit referral service. One 21-year-old girl from Long Island has steered 15 friends and friends of friends three times removed to abortionists in the last year. She has received as many as four calls in one week from girls around the country who did not want to become another statistic among the roughly 5000 who are known to die from illegal abortions each year or to risk sterilization at the hands of an incompetent bungler.

The qualified abortionists who make these lists would be respected members of the medical profession in Sweden or Japan or Hungary.

Nathan Rappaport is part of this medical nether world. He has been performing illegal abortions for almost 40 years. An alumnus of City College, a graduate with honors from the University of Arkansas Medical School, with advanced training at the University of Pennsylvania, he spent nine of the past 15 year in jail. He lost his medical license, his home, his wife, and his children. He has been publicly humiliated and exorcised. Ignored on the street by doctors and people he served in his office. And frequently blackmailed.

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$1000 a Month

Two patrolmen in a community where he worked in pay-offs. Surgical nurses, doctors, and various hospital personnel have been paid not to report to authorities abortion patients who needed hospital facilities.

It was because he refused to pay off a couple of hold-up men who kept making repeat visits that the gangsters tipped the police and he was arrested for the first time, in 1950. When he was arrested again, in Florida, the police, always glad to be of service, gave his instruments to another abortionist who was paying off at a higher rate.

On parole since May from his last two-year sentence, Rappaport is living in a no-color green room in a hotel on West 73rd Street. At 66 he is a round man. Round face, round glasses, a pleasantly rounded body.

In a short-sleeved sport shirt that stayed crisp despite the steam-bath atmosphere of the room, he sat before a small kitchen table piled high with a collection of printed materials, a tape recorder, and long sheets of yellow steno paper covered with an ink scrawl. He is in the process of writing his second book.

The Whole Story

The new book will be called “Man’s Inhumanity to Women.” The title tells the whole story. Men made the abortion laws, women suffer because of them.

“If the women had had any hand in shaping the statutes that were put on the books a hundred years ago we would probably have abortion practically on demand the way they do in many European countries,” he said.

Although his first book “The Abortionist” was published by Doubleday under the alias of Dr. X, Rappaport has decided to bring the new book out under his own name now that he is going to fight actively for more liberal abortion laws.

The laws in 42 states now specifically limit abortions to those cases in which it is necessary to save a life. No provision for abortions for health reasons is stated in the New York penal code.

These laws, which are mainly monuments to political fear, will not be changed in the legislatures, Dr. Rappaport believes. He plans to battle through the courts.

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The Legendary Dr. S.

He is currently organizing abortionists, including the legendary Dr. S. of Pennsylvania, who was recently arrested. Rappaport hopes that either through appealing his own case or that of some other doctor to work his way up to the Supreme Court. He is looking for some abortees or sympathizers who would be willing to adopt some of the tactics of the civil-rights movement and join him in battle.

Speaking of his plans, his experience, the books he had read, or the fourth estate, Nathan Rappaport seems an articulate, warm, comfortable man who would be very much in control of most situations.

“You surely must wonder,” he said during the interview, “why I can’t behave like so many other doctors you’ve known. Even in these sordid surroundings you sense that I am above all a doctor. Why can’t I act like a reasonable, intellectual, and professional man?

“The answer on the simplest level is that I am not a reasonable man. The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself.

Almost 40 years ago I helped organize planned parenthood clinics. This type of medical practice was looked up on askance then. I felt then, as I do now, that the needs of my patients in their pursuit of happiness and love was of primary importance to me, their physician, and that the wonder of conception, its regulation, postponement, or interruption is wholly a medical problem. It is not the sphere of influence or interpretation of the moralists, religionists, faddists, legalists, or anybody else.

“I don’t want to be forced by them to be a judge when a woman pleads with me for an abortion. I am a doctor who has been trained to answer the cry of distress. My task is to ease the agony of an anguished mind. And, if I cannot persuade the woman to have the child, I want to at least save her body from the mutilation and torture of an operation without the anesthetics the charlatans do not know how to, or dare not, use.

“My refusing to perform the abortion wouldn’t prevent it. A woman determined to have an abortion will find someone to do it or do it herself,” Rappaport said.

Jackson Heights

This man who has ended his medical career as a criminal began it as a law-abiding doctor in Jackson Heights.

“I always believed that competent abortions were essential, but when I first opened my office in 1926 I never thought I could go outside the law to commit them. I sent all my abortion patients to another doctor.

“Two years after I was in practice a relative begged me to perform one and I finally did it on the kitchen table. Then the Depression came. More and more women asked me for abortions because they could not afford to feed another mouth. The collections from my practice had dwindled to almost nothing. There was pressure from my family to take the abortion money. By 1933 I had let the druggist and other doctors know I was available and made abortion my specialty.

“I tried to quit after I got out of prison the first time and just to do something related to medicine. But, with my license revoked and my jail record, I couldn’t get a job anywhere in the world. I was even turned down for a position as a medical aide in Cambodia,” he said.

Over the years of practice on the fringes of the medical world, the fees for his services rose from the $25 of the Depression to an average of $300.

“Like all doctors from time immemorial, I adjusted fees according to the patient’s ability to pay. I have done many abortions free or for very little money, but when I got an affluent patient I charged extra, not a little, but a lot. The rich patients helped pay the graft which is part of the overhead of the business,” Rappaport said.

Even with an average fee of $300, his rates were low. The going price for an illegal abortion these days is about $500 and along Park and Fifth Avenues it can run into the thousands.

In the case of therapeutic abortions performed in hospitals it is common practice, according to Rappaport, to pay a couple of hundred dollars to each of two psychiatrists so they will testify before the board approving the abortions for the hospital. The magic words that can get the legal abortion are, “this woman will take her life if she has to have the baby.”

Sometimes the boards will stretch and bend the interpreta­tion of the abortion law either for humanitarian reasons or, as Rappaport charges, because one or more board members have gotten a little something to remember the applicant by.

Despite the monetary persua­sions that may be used, avail­able statistics report only 8000 legal hospital-approved abortions of the more than a million that take place each year. There were four times as many legal abortions 25 years ago. While the practice of medicine has advanced in almost all other areas it has gone backward in its approach to abortions. Now that doctors have learned how to bring women with almost any illness including kidney disease and cancer successfully through a pregnancy, most of the real medical reasons for legal hospi­tal abortions and the convenient pretexts have been eliminated. More than 25,000 of the women who have been shut out of the hospitals have found their way to Nathan Rappaport’s office in the years since he made his critical choice.

Over 65 per cent of them were married women.

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First Talk

Some were minors. Their par­ents usually came with them. The shared experience often develop­ed a great bond between the parents and child. In some cases it was the first time they really talked to one another.

There were women trying to rid themselves of the guilt of carrying the wrong man’s child or the child of a marriage that was about to break up. There were victims of the worn-out mother syndrome and of rape. Young girls ignorant of contraceptive devices and sophisticated women who, whatever their emotional or psychological reasons, failed to use them. Women too poor to afford another child and women too rich to be bothered.

“Most of those who came to me,” Rappaport said, acted like the guiltiest of criminals; in their own minds they must have been. Yet, much of the guilt is imposed on them by a society that forces them to skulk down dark alleys looking for a doctor and condemns as criminal what is accepted as common in other countries.

“Their decision to come to me was usually an agonizing one. Who then was I to hand down a flat judgment telling them it’s worse to destroy a baby before it’s born than to let it live life as an unwanted, often unloved and neglected child? Or to tell these women they should have their babies and give them up at the time maternal feelings are the strongest, when, especially if Negro, the child can spend its life in an institution waiting to be adopted.

“Once the women got to my office some were unable to face the operation and fled. Filled with old wives’ tales and horror stories, many feared they were about to die. Those who went through with it often were so terrified no amount of assurance I could give them during the preliminary interview did any good.

“I could empathize with their fear. I still faint in the dentist’s chair every time he injects novocaine into my jaw, my way of dying a coward’s thousand deaths.

“Of those I operated on, the least frightened were teenagers. Perhaps because they have not heard enough to be terrorized.

“The bravest to come my way were the Oriental women who submitted to abortions with or without anesthesia, without flinching, their control a marvel to behold.

“But the most casual patient I ever had was a dancer in the Rockettes. She sauntered in for her abortion, rose blithely from the table when it was over, and did a little dance, still dizzy from the anesthesia. A moment later, while my back was turned, she took out a cigarette and lit it. Her lungs were still full of resid­ual ether fumes. Why an explosion did not occur I still don’t understand.”

These women, whose bond was the life they didn’t want or couldn’t have growing inside them, arrived at Nathan Rappa­port’s office like the trains from New York to Washington sched­uled every hour on the hour. He tried to limit the appointments to five a day, but on some week­ends they arrived in droves. Rap­paport has done as many as 27 abortions in one day, and knows of another abortionist who has done 50.

“The actual abortion,” he said, “took me anywhere from five to 20 minutes; depending on how much fetal tissue had to be re­moved and how readily it could be reached. Occasionally an op­eration would last for an hour or longer.”

For women less than three months pregnant he used the standard abortion technique which is known as dilation and curettage or “D and C.” The operation is performed with a small rake-shaped metal instrument used to scrape the walls of the womb.

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Too Dangerous

This method is generally considered too dangerous if used after three months because as the womb enlarges, its musculature thins, making perforation and internal hemorrhaging more likely.

Pregnancies over three months were refused in the early years of Rappaport’s practice. Then he began to use a method which is new to this country but was known in Eastern Europe for some time. The technique involves injecting a salt solution through the abdomen into the amniotic sac enclosing the fetus. Within 24 hours this induces labor and a miscarriage.

Rappaport believes this is an even safer method than the D and C because instruments do not have to be introduced into the body for any length of time.

Unexpected Problems

He always used anesthesia, although it sometimes cause unexpected problems.

“I gave the wife of a young intern sodium pentathol, which also acts as a kind of truth serum. When she came out of the anesthesia she asked if her husband could sit with her in the recovery room. I permitted him to go in and he hovered solicitously by her bed. Leaning over to kiss his wife he said, ‘Darling, I’m so sorry you had to go through all this.’

“She, still under the effects of the anesthesia, blurted out that she didn’t know what he was so worried about because it wasn’t his kid, anyway.

“I didn’t wait to hear his an­swer. I fled back into my office and told my nurse to call me when they left.

“Women who use alcohol or drugs in any amount and don’t tell me when I ask them in the preliminary interview also caused me problems. They often get a high from the anesthesia. They used to fly all over the table with me chasing them, instruments in hand. In most of these cases it was impossible to operate.

Calculate Risk

“Operating on a person outside a hospital is always a calculated risk, no matter how good the technique,”Rappaport said. “In any surgery complication can arise. In a hospital you’re much better prepared for them. You have immediate access to blood banks, additional professional help, and consultations, and almost all the necessary equip­ment and drugs.”

It is because of the ever pres­ent risk which increases as the skill of the abortionist decreases that Rappaport wants even the best of illegal abortionists put out of business by hospitals given the freedom to deal realistically with abortions and the determined women who insist on having them.

Ideally, he would like to do away with all laws limiting hospital abortions because he considers these laws no more relevant or necessary to a medical problem than laws dictating tonsillectomies.

Practically, he wants the laws in this country liberalized at least to the Swedish or Danish level. And maybe even to see abortions covered by Blue Cross.

In addition to granting abortions for medical reasons such as a threat to the mental or physical health or life of the woman he wants them granted for eugenic reasons.

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Mental Deficiencies

Eugenic abortions would include cases in which there are serious mental deficiencies in the parents or the probability of a congenital disease of malformation in the unborn infant. The Sherri Finkbine abortion was granted on eugenic grounds, but she had to travel to Sweden to get the abortion after learning that the Thalidomide she had taken produced monstrously deformed children.

Little Argument

Rappaport also believes there should be little argument about granting abortions on humanitarian grounds to victims of rape or incest, or to girls less than 15 years old. Abortions for general health reasons such as too many chil­dren or children too close to­gether should be permitted, he said.

There are two other general grounds on which he feels abor­tion should be allowed. One is for social reasons — when a woman feels that bearing a child would have disastrous effects on her life because of the stigma society places on the unwed mother and the illegitimate child.

The other is for psychological reasons, when the woman is emotionally unfit to be a mother, does not want the child, or when there seem to be indications that a child raised by the woman will suffer because of her attitude.

“I want to make it absolutely clear,”‘ Rappaport said, “that in no instance would I ever recom­mend an abortion unless the mother herself wanted it. That would be running Hitler a close second. It would not matter how deformed or how psychotic the baby would prove to be, if the mother wanted to give birth, that would be her choice.”

No Deterrent

He does not believe liberalizing the laws will encourage abortions or that the present laws deter them.

“The complicated reasons that drive a woman or a rebellious girl to become pregnant and then to not want her child have absolutely nothing to do with the existence or nonexistence of laws,” he said.

Yet, punitive laws remain on the books.

These laws sentence at least 5000 women a year to death. Degrade others by forcing them to search from pharmacist to laundrywoman to hotel clerk for the abortionists. And make getting a competent abortion the lucky break of the few who have money or who are tipped by the underground referral service to doctors like Nathan Rappaport.