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.
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.
What if Nat Turner’s mission was never betrayed…What if Malcolm was never shot with the gauge on stage…What if the Poor Righteous Teachers were more famous than Jay Z…What if you really saw God in every human being you see
Born Free #therealbornfree (The Book of Born Free…The Wisdom of Living Right Now!) is coming soon!
A film about a slave rebellion written, produced and directed by a Black filmmaker, who also stars as the patriotic protagonist, sold for a record-breaking $17.5 million at Sundance, thanks to a Black woman’s hashtag activism stimulating the conversation about erasure and misrepresentation at one of the world’s most prestigious award ceremonies. Major moment for Black history and the arts.
On today in 1831 Nat Turner led a violent slave rebellion that resulted in the deaths of at least 55 people, the most of any other slave rebellion leading up to the Civil War.
“And my father and mother strengthened me in this my first impression, saying in my presence, I was intended for some great purpose, which they had always thought from certain marks on my head and breast.” – Nat Turner