A Little History

LaTasha T. Johnson  15 December 1997

Final Examination Political Science 326Honors

Part I.  Identification

1.       Jim Crow System:  It was a system of racial oppression applied in the south, the beginning of which marked the end of Reconstruction (1877).  The name is after an 1830s minstrel show slave character who epitomized the stereotypes of African Americans.[1]  Violence, coercion, and many other methods were used to keep African Americans as close as possible in the conditions of slavery.  It came about in an effort to maintain white  superiority especially economically.  Manning Marable, in Race, Reform, and Rebellion,  defines it as a caste system which regulated all aspects of American society including social, cultural, political, and economic aspects.  The significance of Jim Crow is that it perpetuated the racist white hegemony in America particularly in the south.  Jim Crow lasted in full force well into the 1950s, and relics of it can still be found in the south (on and off the tourist routes).

2.       Plessy v. Ferguson:  In 1896, the Supreme Court ruling in this case justified and legitimized the dominant “separate but equal” racially segregated way of life in America, specifically the south.  The case specifically dealt with segregated railroad cars.  Justice Henry Billings Brown wrote that as long as things were “equal”, they were within the boundaries of the Constitution.[2]  The 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas decision reversed the Plessy principle.  The Brown decision basically said that in the American racial hierarchy separate is inherently unequal.[3]  The Plessy decision’s significance is that it gave free reign to the previously defined Jim Crow system.

3.       Black Power Movement:  Although no social movement has a clearly definitive beginning and ending, Van Deburg, in New Day in Babylon, sets the beginning of this movement in the summer of 1966 in Mississippi.  More specifically, Van Deburg’s shot that started the Black Power Movement was fired by Stokely Carmichael on 26 June 1966 when he shot a white SCLC staffer in the head with a water pistol.  Van Deburg marks the end of this movement in the mid-1970s, a time when the Black Power Movement leaders had been executed, imprisoned, or kicked out of the country.  The Black Power Movement was based on African American nationalism.  It was a social movement which permeated the social, cultural, political, and economic infrastructures in the African American community.  The significance of the movement is that it emphasized “BLACKNESS,” and brought the African American consciousness to a new level of pride and self-determination setting the stage for increased political participation.

4.       Congressional Black Caucus (CBC):  Formed in 1969 (according to Smith, 1971 according to Marable) of African American members of Congress, it initially sought to represent the ideologies of all African Americans.  Many members felt they were the legitimate representatives of the African American masses.  The CBC had an emphasis on racial solidarity and separatism, a byproduct of the Black Power Movement.  One of its initial goals was to increase African American political participation and power on all levels.  The CBC’s first media spotlight came in 1971 when it boycotted Nixon’s State of the Union Address.  A few years later the CBC had turned away from its original intentions and sought to represent its Congressional voice and not the voice of the people.  The significance of the CBC is that originally it sought to work for the good of the people but it quickly succumbed to political incorporation defined below.

5.       Political Incorporation:  This idea is that a group is integrated into a system from which it previously was excluded.  Supposedly, the integrated group then works within the system and makes the system work for its own agendas.  Sadly in the case of African Americans, often alleged leaders are socialized into the white racist hegemony.  The integration of African Americans into the American political structure beginning in the 1960s is the point were this idea of political incorporation comes into political discourse.  This political incorporation occurs in all levels from local to federal.  The reasons why are of great debate.  One reason is that in an oppressive society, the oppressed will begin to emulate the oppressor, especially when the oppressed is taunted by a taste of power.  The result is that “we have no leaders,” and African American are still struggling to have substantial representation.  Superficial representation based on the commonality of skin color is not enough.  As evidenced by Clarence Thomas who supports the traditional ideas held by the white racist hegemony.  To use the vernacular, “the brother is whiter than the whitest white man I know.”

6.       Black Panther Party for Self Defense:  The first Black Panther Party was formed by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (specifically Stokely Carmichael and others) in Alabama as the Lowndes County Freedom Organization to oppose George Wallace and his supporters.  In October 1966 in Oakland, California, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale founded a Black Panther Party, taking the name of the Alabama organization.  Before the execution, imprisonment, and exile of a multitude of members, the Party provided many community oriented programs such as free breakfasts for children, medical and legal assistance, monitoring police activity in African American neighborhoods, and generally raising African American consciousness.  Other chapters developed nationwide and in places such as England, France, Israel, Nova Scotia.  The Black Panther Party was a significant force in the Black Power Movement.  It was the driving force of the movement.

7.       Gangsta Rap:  A West Coast rap style popularized in the 1980s by Los Angeles rappers from Compton and Watts.  It is the lyrical expression of the realities of life as a young African American man in the ghettoes of America.  It came about at of time of economic hardship and disintegration in the African American community under Reaganomics and the Reagan-Bush Administrations.  Gangsta rap is often criticized for its misogynist and anti-white establishment lyrics.  Examples of artists which exemplify this style are Ice Cube, Ice-T, and Easy-E.  Gangsta rap is no longer specific to the West Coast.  It has spread worldwide with artists originating from New Jersey,  New York City, and Detroit.  Usually classified as strictly male, the gangsta rap style has been adopted and adapted by women as well.  Significantly, this hard core rap style is often a political voice criticizing the white racist hegemony in America.

Part II.  Essay.

In the search for African American political autonomy, there were a series of meetings and conventions in the 1970s to the mid-1980s.  The 1972 Gary Convention is the most notable.  It was the culmination of the ideological conflicts within the African American community.  This convention proved without a doubt that within the African American community, skin color is a superficial basis for common ideologies.  The convention sought to have “unity without uniformity”; it failed.  There are numerous factors to explain the failure of the 1972 Gary Convention.  It was doomed from the start.  The first sign of its imminent doom was the lack of time and resources to be adequately prepared for a large scale convention.  For example the essential committees were not prepared on the opening day of the conference because of time and resource factors.  Other factors besides the actual issues and participants which signified the failure of the convention[4] was inadequate planning and staff, and time constraints and preplanning problems.  The conference began four hours late, endorsing the stereotype of C. P.. time[5].  The conference was organized for legitimate beliefs and a genuine concern for the state of African American leadership. The conference was organized because  of three factors identified by Smith in We Have No Leaders.  The first factor was the perceived success of the Civil Rights Movement in the form of ending segregation and achieving the passage of a number of acts.  The second factor was the acceptance of Black Power ideology by the elite as well as the masses.  And the final factor was the death of Dr. King who was still seen by many as the African American leader.  These factors led to the decision to have a national convention to search for a new leadership of the African American people.           One problem with this from the very beginning is that no one bothered to ask the masses who they wanted as leaders.  The organizers and participants just assumed, because of their various leadership positions, elected or otherwise, that they were already the legitimate leaders.  They sought a leader among leaders.  The major organizers and participants were, most importantly, Amiri Baraka (Leroi Jones), and his Congress of African People (CAP), Jesse Jackson, Cleveland Mayor Carl Stokes, Gary Mayor Richard Hatcher, Detroit congressman John Conyers and others.  These people were central to the events (meetings, conferences, et cetera) leading up to the Gary convention.  The purpose of this elite political activity was to maximize the Black Power of the African American electorate in the 1972 election.

The  goals and objectives were a milieu of “reform and revolution”.  The agenda included liberal reform planks such as national health insurance.  One goal was to have one African American presidential candidate or a number of candidates.  Often the goals and objectives were contradictory and a consensus could not be reached.  These goals and objectives were unrealistic in that they often ignored the fact that there were many unresolved ideological issues which could not be dismissed simply because of the commonality of skin color.  Other problems included the lack of a definitive political party and its supposed relationship to other organizations.  For a more concrete example:  Democratic Party membership added to the contradictions that developed in the convention because of the basic ideological differences among traditional Democrats, African American Nationalists, Reformers, Revolutionaries, and others.  Not to mention the perception of Democratic party members as “traitors” and “sell-outs” to the race.

All of the factors delineated here explain the failure of the 1972 Gary Convention whether in historical retrospect or in foresight.  In other words, with a little foresight the organizers must have seen the imminent failure of the convention.  However, this lack of foresight is greatly accredited to Amiri Baraka.  With the concept of “hindsight is 20/20”, factors leading to the failure of the convention can be found in every aspect of the convention from its origins to its aftermath.

Part III.  Evaluation

“The broad purpose of this course is to enable students to think, converse, and write intelligently, analytically, and critically about black political development in the United States from the nineteenth century to the present.”  –Dr. Floyd W. Hayes III

The broad purpose of this course has been met as evidenced by my group presentations and class assignments.  In theory, that fact alone should constitute an A in the course.  In fact, it would be better to use traditional university grading standards to evaluate my final grade.  Twenty percent of the grade is for “intensive reading and active class participation”.  In this area, I have earned the twenty percent.  Ten percent of the grade is for the term paper outline.  I received a C on this assignment; giving me the benefit of doubt, I earned 7.9%.  Another ten percent of the grade is for the midterm exam on which I earned an A.  Always giving the student the benefit of doubt, I earned the ten percent.  Ten percent of the grade is for the annotated bibliography which I did not complete.  Therefore, I earned a zero percentage.  Another twenty percent of the grade is for the research paper.  I handed in an A paper thereby earning the twenty percent.  Thirty percent of the grade is for the final examination.  I am positive I have earned an A on this assignment as well.  Each identification is worth five points.  With one point given for attempting to identify the term and a half point each for including who, what, when, where, why, how, significance, and an example, I have earned this thirty-five percent.  The essay is worth fifty percent of the exam.  With ten percent going to following directions, thirty percent to effectively answering the question, and another ten percent to clarity, grammar and so on, I have earned that fifty percent.  Since this argument is well-organized and supported, I have earned the fifteen percent of the final exam that it represents.  Keep in mind that earning of full percentage is achieved by earning an A (ninety percent or more).  Taking all of this into consideration, I have an 87.9 percent of the final grade.  It must be noted, however, that I did not meet the honors requirement of an extended paper.  Due to extenuating circumstances beyond my perceived control (stress, worry, extended illness and finally death in the family), I will generously only deduct five percent from the final grade.  In the final analysis, I have earned an 82.9 percent, a B.  Any other grade is unacceptable.


[1]Courtesy of Microsoft Encarta 97 Encyclopedia

[2]ibid.

[3]personal interpretation

[4]Convention and conference are used synonymously in this essay.

[5]C. P. time is a vernacular term meaning colored people’s time, which is based on the stereotype that African Americans are slow and irresponsible.

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