Militant Mood Moving Black Youth To Fight For Change

Ron Daniels


April 4, 1968 Martin Luther King was gunned down as he stood on a hotel balcony

in Memphis. He was in Memphis to support a strike by sanitation workers who

carried bold signs proclaiming, I AM A MAN. At the time of his death, King was

actively planning to launch a Poor People’s Campaign to fight for an Economic

Bill of Rights. Faced with a White backlash against the "gains" of the

civil rights movement, King’s goal was to intensify the struggle to translate

the vision of his famous I Have a Dream speech into meaningful changes for the

masses of Black people and the oppressed in this nation. King was also faced

with the growing disaffection of Black youth, particularly from the urban

ghettos who were increasingly inclined to heed Kwame Ture’s (aka Stokely

Carmichael) call to Black Power and Malcolm’s admonition to struggle for freedom

"by any means necessary." This militant mood was fueled by the gap

between the promise of King’s dream and the reality of the nightmare the masses

of Black working people and the poor were forced to endure on a day to day basis

in the ghettos of this nation.


King never disavowed non-violence and his fervent faith in the efficacy of

America’s democratic creed, the Poor People’s Campaign was envisioned as his

most militant assault to date on what he increasingly came to see as an

oppressive, greed driven economic and political system. King was cut down before

he had an opportunity to launch the Campaign. When the life of this apostle of

non-violence, was violently snuffed out, virtually every urban area in America

erupted in rebellion. At the forefront of many of these insurrections were Black

youth who were tired of being told to "turn the other cheek" in the

face of racism and racial violence. The words of Malcolm superceded the dream of

King, as Black youth declared that it would be "freedom for everybody or

freedom for nobody."


we enter a new millennium, after a period of relative calm, a new mood of

militancy seems to be moving Black youth to engage the struggle for social

justice and social change. While more Black people enjoy middle and upper class

status than at any other time since our arrival on these hostile shores, racism

or the "colorline" as DuBois termed it remains a barrier to the

forward progress of large numbers of Africans in America, especially those

locked in neglected neighborhoods within the inner-city. It is in these

neglected neighborhoods that untold multitudes of Black youth are being

victimized by out of control cops whose professed mission is to rid high crime

areas of guns and drugs. But as many young people see it, the "War on

Drugs" is a "war on us."


the wake of the epidemic of police brutality in New York, where at least four

unarmed Black men have been killed by the NYPD in the last year and widespread

police brutality and misconduct across the country, Black youth are taking to

the streets to engage in massive marches, demonstrations, civil disobedience and

other forms of direct action. Though these actions have basically been

non-violent, in New York more and more organizations like the New Black Panther

Collective and the Justice 2000 coalition are defying the police by marching and

demonstrating without permits and refusing to be confined to the routes outlined

by the police when they have permits. And, during the demonstrations which took

place during the funeral of Patrick Dorismond, an unarmed Haitian immigrant who

was killed by a plain clothes undercover police officer, angry crowds rained

rocks, bottles and bricks down on the police after they used force in an effort

to confine the crowd to designated areas. In the aftermath of the Dorismond

police killing, Black youth in New York initiated a boycott of Easter and there

are growing calls for the creation of armed militias to protect Black people

from the police.


phenomenon which is fueling the anger among Black youth is the proliferation of

hate crimes and racial violence against Black people and people of color and an

overall atmosphere of racial hostility across the country. At a recent National

Youth Summit on Hate Crimes convened by the Atlanta based Center for Democratic

Renewal, youth leaders (primarily African, Latino, Asian, Native American)

discussed the lynching of James Byrd in Texas, the firebombing of buildings on

the campus of Florida A&M University, the rise of racist organizations like

the skinheads and the growing influence of racist/white supremacist

lyrics/music. The Summit participants also discussed racism in public policy

such as attacks on affirmative action, environmental racism and the growth of

the prison-jail industrial complex. Not surprisingly, these young people also

had a spirited debate about the relative merits of nonviolence versus

self-defense and other forms of direct action as means to achieve social justice

and social change.


matter what form the struggle may take, there appears to be growing numbers of

Black youth who are "sick and tired of being sick and tired" – Black

youth who are prepared to turn their anger into militant action to promote and

defend the interests and aspirations of young people and the entire Black

community. When young people decide to act it may well be a sign of a militant

mass movement on the horizon.


about time.


Daniels can be reached at <>.


note: The views expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do

not necessarily represent those of The Black World Today. Copyright (c) 2000

The Black World Today.




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