Several projects in Agitprop! reflect the continued urgency, across the twentieth and twenty-first centuries of asserting that black lives matter. When the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded in 1909, one of its immediate goals was to end the lynching epidemic that, between the 1870s and the 1950s, is believed to have taken as many as 4,000 African American lives. Knowing that sympathy across racial lines would be needed to change this situation, NAACP leaders made a cultural campaign to increase awareness of these unprosecuted mob-driven murders and change hearts and minds an important part of their strategy. To this end—from 1920 through 1938—the NAACP used the strong visual symbol of a black flag flying from the windows of its headquarters on Fifth Avenue in New York City to mark whenever a lynching occurred. The text says simply, “A Man Was Lynched Yesterday.” This practice ended abruptly in 1938, not because there were no more lynchings, but because their landlords threatened to evict them. Even so, with their simultaneous focus on art, popular culture, and creative interventions alongside direct political activism, the NAACP helped to shift the national consciousness and make lynching rare by the 1950s.
Referencing the Civil Rights and Black Power movements that came after that, the television series, Message to the Grassroots took its title from a speech by Malcolm X and was conceived and produced by Micheal Zinzun, a former Black Panther Party member and chairperson of the Coalition Against Police Abuse in Los Angeles. This live monthly program aired between 1988 and the early 2000s via the Pasadena Community Access Corporation. Nancy Buchanan, a fellow community and media activist, worked with Zinzun as associate producer, videographer, and editor. While certain episodes—like the one devoted to the 1992 truce between the Bloods and Crips in Watts, L.A.—are important documents of their time, many episodes address the struggles of disempowered communities against police brutality, homelessness, and the lack of affordable housing, that is, issues that remain strikingly relevant today.
Posted by Saisha M. Grayson