Black Political Participation in America

LaTasha T. Johnson

Midterm Examination

Political Science 326H, Black Political Participation in America

20 October 1997

Dr. Floyd W. Hayes, III

assisted by

Evelyn Simien

1.         First Reconstruction:  The First Reconstruction was the twelve year period (1865-1877) after the Civil War in the United States of America.  It took place mainly in the former Confederate states.  Manning Marable refers to this time as an attempt at biracial democracy.  During this period of reform, black political participation reached Congressional levels.  This was a hopeful time which brought about a brief change from the massive oppression which had formerly characterized the United States, particularly the South.  At the end of this period, one sees a climate of fear and hatred perpetuated by the legal system, the judicial system, and state governments which fight to eradicate any reforms or freedoms offered to the former slaves.


2.         A. Philip Randolph:  A. Philip Randolph was a black labor leader from 1925 (with the organization of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters) to 1965 (with the demise of his representation of black labor militancy).  He was active throughout the nation, specifically in the South and in Washington, D.C.  Manning Marable characterizes Randolph as the nation’s most influential black trade unionist.  President Wilson characterized Randolph as the most dangerous Negro in America. (p.21)  Indeed, Randolph (before he became a sell-out in the late 1960s, early 1970s) was a dynamic leader in the black labor movement.  He put up a valiant fight to obtain racial equality within labor organizations.  By 1955, he was vice-president of the AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations).  Marable also characterized Randolph as the first modern African American protest leader.


3.         Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, KansasBrown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas was a landmark Supreme Court case.  17 May 1954, the Supreme Court ruled that public schools be desegregated because the separate school systems were inherently unequal.  This meant that racially separate schools were now intolerable and outlawed.  The handing down of this decision marked the end of a long period of legal battle between the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and conservators of segregation and racism.  The case was argued by Thurgood Marshall, then the NAACP’s legal strategist.  The  southern states’ reactions to this decision were to do every thing possible against it, to ensure that they would not be forced to abide by it.


4.         CORE:  The Congress of Racial Equality was a biracial organization established in 1942 by the Fellowship of Reconciliation directed by A.J. Muste.  One of its first actions were a staged confrontation with barbers at the University of Chicago who had refused to cut Bayard Rustin’s hair.  Rustin was the secretary of the Fellowship of Reconciliation; Marable credits him for giving CORE its political purpose and direction.  By 1947, CORE had thirteen chapters; this same year it decided to test the desegregation laws on interstate buses with a group of eight whites and eight blacks.  By 1954, CORE had almost disappeared from the public and at the height of the Cold War it had almost become extinct  but by 1961 CORE reemerged to the public eye and established chapters in the most segregated counties of the Deep South.  This new CORE, this renaissance CORE, became more militant and questioned white participation in its organization.  CORE, by 1963, was inspired by Malcolm X.  At the 1966 CORE convention, it no longer favored integration.  In August of 1967, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, J. Edgar Hoover ordered extensive infiltration and disruption of CORE and other Black Power-oriented formations.  CORE often worked closely with SNCC.


5.         SNCC:  The Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee was the vanguard organization in the movements of the 1960s.  Ella Baker, the director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, sponsored the founding meeting of SNCC on 16-18 April 1960 in Raleigh, North Carolina.  In 1961-1962, SNCC joined forces with others in the Albany (Georgia) Movement for desegregation.  Like CORE, SNCC insisted that the 1963 March on Washington, D.C. be a massive civil disobedience demonstration.  SNCC had a black nationalist trend.  By 1966 most white veterans of the organization had left or were soon to resign.  As with CORE, SNCC lost white liberal support.  By 1968, many SNCC veterans had become members of the Black Panther Party.  SNCC was the first group targeted by Hoover and the U.S. Department of Justice for “surveillance, disruption, and suppression”.




            In Richard Wright’s Native Son, he addresses the concept of resentment by expressing it through the thoughts and actions of his main character Bigger Thomas.  Bigger Thomas is the main character who presents, represents, demonstrates, and articulates the attitude and discourse of resentment.  This is shown in Bigger’s encounters with his family, his friends, the Daltons, Bessie, even in his self-encounter when he is in jail.  With his family, Bigger resents being held responsible for their livelihood and he particularly resents his mother and sister (aggravators of his resentment) because they  emphasize his powerlessness and his dependence on the system for survival.  With his friends, Bigger resents the oppression of society, so together they strike out against the system. Unfortunately, they strike out against their own community.  They are too afraid to complete an act of rebellion, or of aggression, or of resentment against the white supremist, racist system.  With the Daltons, Bigger is constantly faced with a tangible representation of the source of his resentment.  He hates the Daltons.  He resents the Daltons.  With Bessie, he is faced with his inability to have any other feeling or emotion not directly related to his resentment.  In jail, Bigger identifies his resentment.  It becomes the one thing onto which he must hold.  He is necessarily engulfed by his resentment. Bigger is the ultimate portrayal of resentment.  Bigger is the embodiment of resentment.  He is resentment personified.  He is all of the “Bad niggers” Richard Wright had encountered, all of whom harbored resentment.  He represents the bigger scope of resentment in the African American community.

Bigger handled his resentment in two modes– indifference or explosion.  Bigger’s resentment is portrayed on pages 21-30, specifically page 30, with Bigger’s dealings with G.H., Jack , and Gus.  In this case Bigger’s mode is explosion.  In his attempt to strike out against the white supremist, racist system as well as to alleviate some of his resentment, Bigger brings up Gus’ idea of robbing Blum’s (or Glum’s) store.  Blum is a white man.  However, Bigger’s fear is too great for him to overcome, so he explodes upon Gus.  Bigger starts a fight with Gus so that ultimately he won’t be forced or pressured into an act of rebellion (robbing Blum’s store).  Bigger’s resentment is only deepened by this action.  It is with this deepened resentment that Bigger goes to the Daltons.  After the murder of Mary Dalton, Bigger has a new perspective of himself and his resentment.

Bigger often wished to “blot-out” the sources and instigators of his resentment.  On page 122 Bigger sees himself (as he was before he murdered Mary) in Buddy.  He sees “a certain stillness, an isolation, meaninglessness”.  He sees an instigator of his resentment.  With Bigger’s new attitude he has found a temporary power over his resentment.  He has discovered himself in his acts of violence.  He feels empowered with the knowledge that he has deceived the white supremist, racist system which is a tangible representation of the source of his resentment.  This perspective of control is short-lived.  When Bigger is captured and put in jail, he gains another perspective of  himself and his resentment.

Bigger was born into this resentment.  No one can understand Bigger’s motive.  The cycle of oppression is unseen.  On pages 315-359, especially page 356, while he is in jail, Bigger’s resentment is articulated through his thoughts and self-reflections.  Wright clearly identifies Bigger’s resentment as the “deep, choking hate that had been his life, a hate that he had not wanted to have, but could not help having”.  This brings us back to the original portrayal of Bigger’s resentment which ruled his life along with his fear.  In the end Bigger embraces his resentment so that he may die with dignity.


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