The Black Radical Congress: Moving On Up To Congress 2000

Manning Marable


June 19, 1998, over two thousand African Americans gathered in Chicago to

participate in the founding conference of the Black Radical Congress (BRC).

Despite the relative absence of media coverage and working with limited funds,

people of African descent traveled across the country, some coming from as far

away as the Caribbean, Canada, and Europe to be at this historic event.


BRC was only the latest example of the historical tradition of African-American

national conferences, which have been held to discuss the major issues and

struggles that confront the black community. The first such meeting of what

would later be called the Negro Convention Movement, was organized in

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, back in September 1830. The National Negro Congress

of the 1930s, initiated by trade union leader A. Philip Randolph, brought

together black Americans from a wide variety of political affiliations and

ideological perspectives, to engage in common projects that would lead to the

greater empowerment of black people during the Great Depression.


Gary Black Political Convention of March, 1972, represented the highpoint of the

Black Power phase of the black freedom struggle of the sixties and early

seventies. Thousands of African-American activists and political figures,

brought together by Black Arts leader Amiri Baraka, Congressman Charles Diggs of

Detroit, and Gary, Indiana Mayor Richard Hatcher, came together for common

objectives-to expand black power in the electoral arena, and to foster

independent political institutions committed to black liberation.


is sometimes suggested that we now live in different times, and that we need to

tailor our political message to be more acceptable to the mainstream. We should

remind ourselves that economic, social, and political conditions confronting

black people today are not an aberration, but a deliberate consequence of the

unequal and oppressive institutions of power and privilege that define that

"mainstream." We will never transform and democratize U.S. society by

conforming the established rules of the political game. Fighting for power

requires a variety of tools essential for dismantling the hierarchies and

institutions that oppress our people. That means going well beyond the

Democratic and Republican Parties. Building upon the rich traditions of national

black conventions and congresses of the past by constructing networks of

activists is a necessary step forward into the future.


the Chicago congress, the BRC has been active in reaching out to more than one

dozen African-American communities throughout the nation. In New York City, two

local organizing committees were established, with both sponsoring public

forums, educational events, and taking part in demonstrations against police

brutality. Nearly two hundred African Americans from New York City attended the

Chicago congress, indicating a strong base of support for the politics of black



activities has been organized and sponsored by BRC local organizing committees

throughout the country. In Boston, BRC activists have participated in sponsoring

several forums on police brutality and the black community. In Los Angeles, the

BRC has held public forums, and a number of members work closely with activists

in Asian American and Mexican activists on labor and social justice issues. In

the Bay Area of northern California, local organizing committee members are

engaged in a number of struggles, including the battle to save the progressive

voice of KPFA-Pacifica radio station, and efforts to combat police harassment of

people of color. In nearby Sacramento, members have started outreach efforts to

youth and students.


the Midwest, the BRC has local groups in Minneapolis, Chicago and St. Louis. In

Minneapolis, BRC members have been actively working with community coalitions

around police brutality cases, and have supported an event on behalf of farmers’

rights. The Chicago BRC activists are involved in a number of initiatives, from

the national campaign to defend the freedom of sister Assata Shakur, to

supporting initiatives on lesbian and gay rights. Sisters and brothers in St.

Louis have sponsored educational forums focusing on issues of relevance to the

black community.


North Carolina, local organizing efforts are taking place in Raleigh and Durham.

In Philadelphia, members are involved in coalitions around police brutality,

supporting the freedom and new trial for political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, and

fighting against school vouchers. Other local organizing committees are forming

in several other major cities throughout the country.


only one year, the BRC has successfully established a modest but active national

network of African-American activists, drawn from a broad spectrum of

progressive constituencies: lesbian and gay activists, feminists, labor union

organizers, teachers and students, activists involved in prisoners’ rights and

protesting police brutality, fighting for a living wage for all working people.

The BRC has an internationalist and Pan-Africanist vision, yet is also grounded

in the practical struggles of daily life that confront people of African descent

here inside the U.S.


BRC is only a small network, with all limitations that a lack of resources

creates. It is not a mass organization like the NAACP. Its core members,

supporters and those who have attended its local meetings probably number less

than one thousand people nationwide. But we should not judge the success of a

political formation simply by its numbers, but by its work and commitments to

struggle. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was the vanguard

of the desegrationist campaigns of the early 1960s, but also had fewer than one

thousand people. The Black Panther Party at its peak never had more than five

thousand members–although millions of people throughout the world identified

with its message and cause.


June, 2000, the second Black Radical Congress will be held near Washington,

D.C., with the goal of reaching out to five thousand black folk. Can we dare to

imagine a movement fighting for democracy and racial justice, that is also

committed to gender equality and lesbian and gay rights? Can African Americans

construct a new kind of SNCC, that brings together activists from different

political organizations around a common progressive agenda? In Washington, D.C.,

next year, several thousand black people will attempt to make this black radical

vision a reality. Now is the time to join that process of rebuilding the

movement for black liberation, as we move on up toward Congress 2000.


Manning Marable is Professor of History and Political Science, and the

Director of the Institute for Research in African-American Studies, Columbia

University. "Along the Color Line" is distributed free of charge to

over 325 publications throughout the U.S. and internationally.


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