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Black Power & Urban Politics by Albert Cleage (1968)

What is now happening in Detroit, I think, is typical in at least one way of black communities throughout America: it represents the determination of the black people to control their own community. This marks a new day for black people. Wherever the black revolution is in progress, specific steps have to be taken to structure a transfer of power from the white community to the black community. The white community apparently finds this painful and distasteful, but it is necessity if there is to be any peaceful resolution of the kind of conflict that shook America last summer and the two preceding summers. The black community is growing increasingly determined that it must control its own destiny. In the simplest terms this means political control of all areas in which black people are a majority -control of community services, police services, and all the things that go to make up a community and that black people do not now control in Detroit or in any other urban center.

This is not political control in the sense presented by the mayoralty election of Stokes in Cleveland or Hatcher in Gary. These were nominal matters with little relationship to real power, and it is real power rather than the ornaments or the appearance of power that black people interested in. In Cleveland, perhaps even more than in Gary, there was no real power evidenced in the election except perhaps the power represented by the cohesion of a black community that voted approximately 96 per cent for a black candidate – a bloc vote that up to now blacks would have considered unthinkable as a deviation from the American ideals of democracy.

I know this to have been true because for the last five or six years I have been campaigning to get the black people of Detroit to support a black slate, to vote a black bloc. The idea that I would advocate a racist approach to a solution of the black man’s problems seemed unthinkable to many respectable, responsible black leaders. But this feeling has grown less and less as the years have gone and in Cleveland, which is much less organized and much less militant and much less black-conscious than Detroit, all but 4 per cent of the black community did support a black candidate without any feeling that they were in any way negating the basic principles of American good government.

This indicates to me that something basically important is happening to the black community throughout America: black people have tended to sever their identification with the white community and to become alienated from America. They no longer want to be part of the white man’s society; they have ceased to accept the white man’s standards of what is good or bad. This is a total rejection of integration as an ideal or an objective. Instead, the black man is trying to recapture a sense of identification with his own cultural heritage. This involves the rediscovery of Africa, the development of black consciousness, black pride, black unity, and at least the beginning of the development of black power.

Politically, this means that black people want to control the center city. In Detroit, certainly, we aspire to complete control of the city government. We realize we are in a race with the Federal government and the white Establishment because the government is trying to make it impossible for the center cities to become black communities. It is allocating funds with the prerequisite that the centers become a part of a metropolitan combination or area. In Detroit, for example, they are trying to build a six-county metropolitan area which will receive full support from the Federal government and from the white Establishment. To be sure, this plan is not completely supported by white suburbanites because they do not want to become part of a metropolitan government that has a large minority of black people in it. Nevertheless, the Establishment in general, the mass-communication media, the Federal government, and the Democratic Party all seem determined to bring it about as fast as possible.

As a result, the timetable of the black community in Detroit has to be stepped up. Normally, if we followed the gradual evolution of our power in the city we could wait for, not the next election in 1969, but the one after that. However, it now seems almost a necessity for us to elect a black mayor in 1969 unless we are willing to see all the power assumed by a metropolitan government and a mayor elected who would be merely a functionary, a greeter of distinguished visitors. The black community in Detroit now represents at least 40 per cent of the population, and with white people fleeing and black people still coming in the mathematical point of control is near.

Politics is only one aspect, however. It is also necessary for blacks to have economic control of their community. This is more difficult and complex than a political take-over. How do people who are powerless and don’t have much money take over the economics of a community? In Detroit we are trying to invent strategies for this, such as the development of co-op retail stores, co-op buying clubs, co-op light manufacturing, co-op education, and similar undertakings that can become possible when large numbers of people with a sense of unity and a sense of cause can put together small individual amounts of money to create enough total capital to establish businesses with some degree of security and possibility of success. These ventures will give black people a sense of their economic possibilities and a realization of their need for economic training. They could also serve as a measuring stick for the white merchants who now prey upon the black ghetto. They will find it less easy to exploit their customers when clean stores run by blacks, with decent produce and decent prices, exist in the area.

We realize we cannot take over the economics of the black ghetto simply by the bootstrap method of setting up small co-ops. We will have to use other methods as well, such as selective patronage or boycott or picketing. We must get the white man who is doing business in the black ghetto to recognize that if 85 per cent of his business is with black people, he will have to hire 85 per cent of his employees from the black community. This means from top to bottom, not just the lower levels of employment.

As one illustration, we are now concerned in Detroit with Sears Roebuck, which does a tremendous business in the black ghetto through three large inner-city stores. We are also concerned, of course, because Sears does a large business in every black ghetto across the country. If we can make some inroads in changing their way of doing business in Detroit it will be significant everywhere else. We have a token picket now and then, and we have conversations with the management. By next summer we will have a massive picket around all three stores unless they are converted in the meantime.

This kind of action will have to be taken on every street in every black ghetto everywhere. We must make sure that no white businessman can succeed in a black ghetto without proper hiring policies and without providing decent service and decent products to black people. This has to be accomplished through selective patronage. The use of Molotov cocktails and bricks is a crude way of putting a white merchant out of business. We think it can be done just as effectively merely by refusing to buy in those stores which do not deal fairly with black people.

It is also necessary to acquire more control of large businesses that want to come into the ghetto for urban redevelopment or for other sorts of economic development. White industry, white investment companies, white banks, must accept the same principles when they invest in the ghetto that they accept when they invest in any other nation – and we think of the black ghettos across the country as being a black nation, a nation within a nation, separate, with a common culture, common aspirations, a common oppressor. When white investors go into a foreign country, they recognize that it is legitimate for that country to insist on some local control of the enterprise and also on an agreement for the transfer of ownership to local interests over a reasonable period of time. The black nation will insist on these principles in their ghettos.

In addition, the Federal government is going to have to recognize that when it guarantees funds for an investment in a black community it will have to do it for a black corporation rather than a white corporation. If we can organize enough political strength to have some say in who is going to be President in 1968, 1 think the government will be inclined to pay some attention to our insistence that this money be channeled through black corporations or black co-ops rather than through exploitative white businesses.

Besides the transfer of political power and of economic power we are looking for the control of education, the transfer of power from white educators to black educators, the power of the black community to educate its own children. White people have failed miserably over the past 400 years, the past hundred years, the past ten years, to educate black children. We think it is reasonable now to assume that white people are never going to educate black children properly, that they have no real stake in educating black children, that they are going to keep on a second-rate level all the schools that are designed primarily for the education of black children. Black children in inner-city ghetto schools throughout the country are three to four grades behind in achievement and in reading. Black teachers, administrators, and principals have never had an opportunity to test the possibility of changing the motivation of black children by creating a school situation in which the black community has some say about the curriculum, the textbooks, the teachers, and all the other factors that can make a school an instrument either for education or for debasement.

We feel that most ghetto schools today destroy children rather than educate them. The teachers and administrators serve as power symbols and kill a black child’s self-image. Their influence, their lack of concern, and in many instances their contempt make it impossible for a black child to learn. So, we are insisting more and more that a school for black children have black teachers, black principals, and black administrators; that its curriculum be reoriented to cover the culture of black people; that the present textbooks, which are essentially lies, particularly in the area of social science and history, be thrown out and that textbooks explaining the history and cultural background of black people be substituted. We are not insisting that white schools teach the truth, but we do insist that schools in black ghettos teach the truth. Most of the textbooks we have examined that are now used in teaching black children do not teach the truth. So, we now say that the control of the schools must be transferred to black people.

All of this is a far cry from the day when black people wanted to be integrated into white society, and it has happened in a relatively short period of time. It has happened because white people have more and more unmasked themselves. Black people had not fully realized the white attitudes. To see a white mob trying to stop one little black child from going to school was a revelation to black people. Television played a tremendous part in making this revelation possible.

I think that very few black people, after watching this day after day, week after week, year after year, could end up with any feeling that integration was either possible or desirable. Certainly this was true when we watched the sit-in demonstrations, the freedom rides, Martin Luther King’s massive demonstrations;
we watched the march on the Selma Road, we watched the Meredith march; and when Dr. King moved into Chicago we lost the last vestige of hope that there were different kinds of white people. We saw that white people in Illinois were the same as those in Mississippi, Georgia, and Alabama, that there was really no difference between Cicero, Illinois, and the mobs of white bigots throughout the South.

White people did this themselves. They killed the myth and the dream of integration, about which Dr. King spoke so eloquently. Black people listened, but then the dream died, because it was not based on reality. Now their dream is to recapture their own past, their own culture, their own history, and to put the race issue on the basis of a power struggle pure and simple.

We will take in this country what we have power enough to take, and what we do not have power enough to take we will stop dreaming about. We will try to build power to take the things we have to have. This is the only kind of equality there is an equality based on power. We are concerned primarily with our own black community. We are not trying to invade white communities, or take over white communities. But we do insist that white people cannot enjoy the luxury of separating us into black ghettos and also enjoy the privilege of exploiting us in these ghettos they have forced us into.

From here on in, we will take the black ghetto and make it a garden spot for ourselves. We will make it something we are proud of. And we will control it. White people will not live in the suburbs and come in each morning to exploit us and go home each night. We will run our own businesses. We will run our own schools. We will run our own government. We do not want the whites to give us anything; we want to take whatever our power allows us to take, because this is the only way it will become ours.

This is where black people are today in Detroit. Black people throughout the country are concerned about whether we will be able to do it in Detroit. We have the organizational structure, we have the leadership, we have all of the things that should make it possible – provided the white man is reasonable.

Ibis may not be a possibility. It may be that Rap Brown is correct in his analysis. He says -and I paraphrase: I look at the white man everywhere in America and I believe he is headed for one thing, and that is genocide. I do not believe he will rationally approach the problem of transferring power or permitting black people to take control of their own communities. The only answer is to get ready for the final solution that the white man in America is now preparing, so that when it is under way the blacks can make it the most expensive final solution the white man has ever undertaken in any country in the world.

Rap Brown may be 100 per cent right. In Detroit we are trying to see whether the white man has the necessary intelligence to make a transfer of power before the final destruction of America. We are not sure, but we are trying. We do not have too long to see whether or not it can be done.

Source: The Center Magazine – March 1968

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