lloyd garrison

The [white anarchist] ignorance of Black freedom movements is so profound that even anarchistic tendencies within them get ignored. Nat Turner led a slave uprising in 1831 that killed over fifty whites and struck terror throughout the South; it should clearly count as one of the most important insurrections in American history. Historians often describe William Lloyd Garrison, a leader of the abolitionist movement, as a “Christian Anarchist” (e.g. Perry 1973), yet he is almost never included in anarchist-produced histories. The Black-led Reconstruction government in South Carolina from 1868-1874, which Du Bois dubbed the “South Carolina Commune,” did far more toward building socialism than the Paris Commune in 1871 ever did. Ella Baker’s anti-authoritarian critique of Martin Luther King Jr. encouraged young civil rights workers to create their own autonomous and directly democratic organization, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), arguably the most important direct action civil rights group. Further, the racial consciousness produced by these struggles has often been broader, radical, and international than the consciousness produced by other U.S. struggles, even if it describes itself as “nationalist” (See Robin Kelley’s great book Freedom Dreams for more on this). Yet these persons and events curiously form no part of the anarchist scene’s historical tradition.
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Lucy Parsons and the Black Panthers tend to be the main links between Black struggles and American anarchists’ historical sense. Parsons, a militant anarchist organizer in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and possibly a former slave, is a problematic connection to the Black tradition because although she fought lynching and racial discrimination, she was not part of the Black community and often denied her Black identity. (She was married to a white man, Albert Parsons, so this denial may in part have been to evade anti-miscegenation laws. See Lowndes 1995 and Roediger 1986.)

Many anarchists fetishize the Panthers because they seem to fit both the infoshops and insurrection models (i.e. men and women with guns serving breakfast to Black children), but this position tends to idealize the Panthers rather than critically evaluate and integrate their experience into the anarchist tradition.

Five You Should Know: Black Freedom Fighters

Sojourner Truth

Image: Unknown photographer, Sojourner Truth, 1864, albumen print, 3 ¼ × 2 ¼ in. (8.1 × 5.7 cm). National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Born Isabella Baumfree, Sojourner Truth was one of the most powerful African American women’s rights activists of her time. Incensed with a need for freedom, she escaped slavery before New York’s ban in 1827. A mother to four children, she escaped with her youngest and had to leave her other children behind. Upon learning that her son had been illegally sold south, she successfully campaigned for his return, the first time an African American woman had done so. William Lloyd Garrison published her memoirs in 1850 under the title, The Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave.

Read an excerpt from a speech given by Truth at the Women’s Rights Convention, 1851, in Akron, Ohio:

“I want to say a few words about this matter. I am a woman’s rights. I have as much muscle as any man, and can do as much work as any man. I have plowed and reaped and husked and chopped and mowed, and can any man do more than that? I have heard much about the sexes being equal. I can carry as much as any man, and can eat as much too, if I can get it. I am as strong as any man that is now. As for intellect, all I can say is, if a woman have a pint, and a man a quart – why can’t she have her little pint full? You need not be afraid to give us our rights for fear we will take too much, – for we can’t take more than our pint’ll hold. The poor men seems to be all in confusion, and don’t know what to do. Why children, if you have woman’s rights, give it to her and you will feel better. “

William Still 

William Still was born free in 1821 and was known as the “Father of the Underground Railroad.”  Still helped over 800 people escape slavery and continue on the road to freedom. He also served as chairman of the Vigilance Committee for the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society. A meticulous recordkeeper, Still once discovered that he aided in the escape of his older brother who was left behind when his parents escaped their own bondage. Still worked with a team across New Jersey, New York, New England and Canada and even crossed paths with Harriet Tubman.

In 1872, Still published an account of his work on the Underground Railroad in The Underground Railroad Records. A leader in the community, Still also helped to establish an African American orphanage and open the first YMCA for blacks in Philadelphia.

Pauli Murray

Photo: Pauli Murray. Carolina Digital Library and Archives. “Murray, Pauli, 1910-1985.” 5 July 2007. Online image. UNC University Library. Accessed 8 April 2011.

Pauli Murray was a civil rights activist, lawyer and author who was ahead of her time. Known for her short haircut and tomboy style, Murray often passed as a teenage boy and openly flaunted her numerous relationships with women.

A staunch advocate for women’s rights, Murray coined the term “Jane Crow” in response to sex discrimination and criticized the lack of women leadership in the Civil Rights Movement. In 1966, she cofounded the National Organization for Women in a hope to pursue women’s rights.

Murray was also a lawyer active in efforts to end segregation — using her law school training to advocate for equal rights for African Americans. Her book, States’ Laws on Race and Color, was considered a bible for Civil Rights lawyers that examined and critiqued segregation laws. The book was referenced in arguments for Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, the landmark SCOTUS case that ended school segregation.

In 1977 Murray became the first African American woman to become an Episcopal Priest. Her first autobiography was published posthumously in 1987 and later released as, Pauli Murray: the Autobiography of a Black Activist, Feminist, Lawyer, Priest and Poet.

Bayard Rustin

Image: Bayard Rustin (center) speaking with (left to right) Carolyn Carter, Cecil Carter, Kurt Levister, and Kathy Ross, before demonstration / World Telegram & Sun photo by Ed Ford. Library of Congress.

“When an individual is protesting society’s refusal to acknowledge his dignity as a human being, his very act of protest confers dignity on him.” - Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin was active in the struggle for human rights and economic justice in the United States and around the world for over fifty years. As an activist and political organizer, Rustin played an important role in propelling the civil rights movement forward and fought tirelessly for marginalized communities. He is perhaps best known for his work organizing the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

As an openly gay African American, Rustin stood at the intersection of several fights for equal rights. During the 1980s, Rustin spoke out publicly for gay rights and worked to bring the AIDS crisis to the attention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He also continued working for economic justice.

Rustin’s long-time partner, Walter Naegle, accepted Rustin’s posthumously-awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2013.

Angela Davis 

Born in Birmingham, Alabama,  Angela Yvonne Davis, grew up witnessing racial and social injustices firsthand in her neighborhood that was known as “Dynamite Hill” – for the frequency of Ku Klux Klan bombings. During college Davis became politically active and joined both the socialist party and Black Panther Party for Self-Defense.

 In 1970 Davis was accused of being involved in a court room escape attempt by the Soledad Brothers. She went into hiding and was placed on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list until her capture in New York. As her trial approached, Davis' supporters started a successful #freeangela campaign and artists like  The Rolling Stones, John Lennon and Yoko Ono and German Franz Josef Degenhardt dedicated songs to Davis. She was acquitted of all charges in 1972 and went on to become a successful advocate for social change. 

Today, Davis remains an active and respected voice in the fight for civil and women’s rights, poverty issues and health care and prison reform. 

#nmaahcheroes

Written by Lanae S., Social Media Specialist, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. 

I Sell the Shadow to Support the Substance. Sojourner Truth (1864). Albumen print carte-de-viste from the ICP’s Cowin Collection of African-American Vernacular Photography

Sojourner Truth (1797-1883), born Isabella Baumfree to a family of slaves in Ulster County, New York, escaped with her daughter in 1826, a year before New York state’s emancipation. After living in a commune, she converted to Christianity, changed her name in 1843, and became an itinerant preacher. The publication of the Narrative of Sojourner Truth, recorded in 1850 by her friend Olive Gilbert, and “Sojourner Truth: The Libyan Sibyl,” written by Harriet Beecher Stowe for the Atlantic Monthly in 1863, raised Truth’s national profile. She toured with abolitionists Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison and earned money from these speaking engagements as well as from the sale of images. As demonstrated by the inclusion of text on her cartes-de-visite, Truth actively controlled the dissemination of her image as a proper, educated, middle-class woman to support herself and her activist work. An ardent feminist, Truth often had herself represented proudly engaged in “women’s work,” such as knitting.

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Born on this day…

James Forten: Black Abolitionist & Businessman

September 2, 1766 - March 4, 1842

Book:

A Gentleman of Color: The Life of James Forten – Julie Winch

In A Gentleman of Color, Julie Winch provides a vividly written, full-length biography of James Forten, one of the most remarkable men in 19th-century America.

Forten was born in 1766 into a free black family. As a teenager he served in the Revolution and was captured by the British. Rejecting an attractive offer to change sides, he insisted he was a loyal American. By 1810 he was the leading sailmaker in Philadelphia, where he became well known as an innovative craftsman, a successful manager of black and white employees, and a shrewd businessman.

He emerged as a leader in Philadelphia’s black community and was active in a wide range of reform activities. He was especially prominent in national and international antislavery movements, served as vice-president of the American Anti-Slavery Society, and became close friends with William Lloyd Garrison, to whom he lent money to start up the Liberator.

Forten was also the founder of a remarkable dynasty. His children and his son-in-law were all active abolitionists and a granddaughter, Charlotte Forten, published a famous diary of her experiences teaching ex-slaves in South Carolina’s Sea Islands during the Civil War.

When James Forten died in 1842, five thousand mourners, black and white, turned out to honor a man who had earned the respect of society across the racial divide. This is the first serious biography of Forten, who stands beside Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, and Martin Luther King, Jr. in the pantheon of African-Americans who fundamentally shaped American history.