By Abbas Tajik
Various dissatisfactions may result in protests in a community or a society. Religious, economical, societal and political concerns are amongst the most important factors which provoke different groups and classes to counter act against the status quo. In most of the time such displeasures end in some political gained grants, trivial or general reformations in current law and mechanism and compromise and returning to pre-challenge era. But in some occasions the depth and level of discontent is in its extreme thus the protestors are looking for a fundamental reformation or in other words revolution and subversion. Overthrow can be done by civilians or servicemen, in societal level such a protest is known as a movement. In deed, social movements are acts and processes in which some (most of time minorities but certainly not always) seek their own wills.
From one aspect movements can be divided to violent and nonviolent. Many of social movements are peaceful at start, but different events may lead them to violence; and off course in some cases their first intended shifts to a major one and may be revolution. Reading history since 19th century shows that such procedures in China, Russia, France, Czechoslovakia, Iran and etc had been caused to revolution and regime change.
In China peasants were against high tax which they were obliged to pay to Emperor, but the mismanagement and not tolerating of their claim, led to emerging of Marxist beliefs and Chinese masses movement led by Mao Tse-tung who was a communist teacher. Some campaigns caused to ousting the last emperor of the Qing dynasty and establishing the People’s Republic of China.
In Russia the workers were against their low wages, but the Emperor’s police violently killed 5 of them, and that was the beginning of toppling Romanov’s Empire. 1917 February was the time to say good bye to Kremlin, just in 8 months form then the first communist government announced by Bolsheviks led by Lenin.
In France people had some criticisms on Empire, but neglecting their demands and treating with them brutality, expanding the bourgeoisie in state convince the people for democracy rather than dictatorship. If so this regime change took a 10 year struggle but at last people got what they want.
In Czechoslovakia as well harsh communist environment, encouraged people for a Reform, which off course soon changed to a movement for Velvet Revolution (which was coin thereafter for revolutions with reformative apparatuses). That was the beginning of so called Color Revolutions, nonviolent regime changes in ex-soviet states.
In Iran off course the main demand was on religion rather than economy, but people chose to have theological based democracy rather than living under Pahlavi’s dictatorship. So they decide to change and thus drove out the 2500 years kingdom in Iran and replaced a democratic Republic government.
As it’s obvious form previous lines most of social movements which had been enlarged to a national extend changed to a revolutionary movements, but in America there is an exceptional case.
Social movements in America which had been known from 1960s have a longer history; it dates back to the first days of American Revolution. Since then various and different actions, rebellions and movements flourished and diminished. Each of these events had led to a reform even a minor one.
So interesting it is that despite of numerous opponent beliefs and opinions none of them were looked for revolution. All Americans believe in America as a benevolent Empire, which have been bestowed them their rights and may be it can be called “democratic empire”, which is a self contrary term as Empire and Republic are binary opposites.
Blacks’ movement in 1960s in spite of all Ku Klux Klan violent actions against them was nonviolently supporters of America as well. Off course in a short period Black Power shifted to violence under leadership of intellectuals like Malcolm X, but still was supporter and fan of America.
Women’, Students’ and Indians’ movements have been supporters of America too. This is the exceptional identity of American social movements which despite of all different heterogeneous bona fide beliefs the overall activists are unanimously supporters of status quo and by that I mean America.
Entering of Blacks into the American Scene
“Violence is as American as cherry pie.”
H. Rap Brown (1943 – )
Africans entered into the “West Indies” a short after Europeans did. At first they weren’t “slaves” but servants whom could buy their freedom; but as days were gone more need for worker was felt, thus the servants enslaved and that’s all. Between the 16th and 19th centuries, an estimated total of 12 million Africans were forcibly transported to the Americas.Slavery
The new discovered land seemed to be a “promised land” full of fertile lands, but much land were there, fewer men were present. Whites started to bring Blacks to there, primarily with consent and kindness and step by step interchanged their manner to kidnapping. Blacks were to be farmers or farmhands, but became indentured servants whom were enlisted to be free for more than 3 centuries.
Southern colonies was a paradise of cotton and West Indies Company as well as its eastern half was responsible for preparing demanded cotton for English textile companies. It’s obvious that anybody is looking for cheaper production and so more benefit. They put at work the new black comers, low wage and high gage servants who could made money far more than their own cost.
Slavery is obscure in American Constitution, if so some hints verify it within. The Founding Fathers with no exception were slave holders. They established laws to have blacks as their property, and an obligation to send back “runaways” to their masters. Huge and vast lands really required man power to be cultivated.
Too many discourses and dialogues were common about the inimical nature of this phenomenon but it was commonly widespread in southern states. But Eli Whitney invented a machine for prolonging the debate on abolitionism.
If so Missouri Compromise succeeded to some extend in banning of slavery extension but it was an ignition for the American Civil Wars. 450,000 to 483,000 casualties -save economical and emotional losses- is just the Human cost of this simple statement: to have or not to have slaves, that’s the question. From 1861 to 1865 Americans “spoke daggers” to each other to understood whether they should remain masters or simply became neighbors.Abolitionism
The keystones of anti slavery dates back to 1783 but the organized steps towards it began years after it. Under the leadership of William Wilberforce and Thomas Clarkson, anti slavery campaigners succeeded in getting the slave trade to the British colonies abolished in 1807. The United States prohibited the importation of slaves that same year, though widespread smuggling continued until about 1862.
“Liberator” read and asked for emancipation and liberation of slaves from the starting hours of 1831 frankly, if so it took 32 years for this claim to be verified. Torture was what had been done upon poor slaves, thus those religious orthodox men whom were unable to have slaves financially or there was no need for black work in their occupation echoed for “abolitionism”.
William Lloyd Garrison was one who believed in nonviolent and peaceful campaign against slavery. As the founder of the American Anti-Slavery Society (1833-70) he let the runaways Frederick Douglas and William Wells Brown to state their wishes to Northerners in his publication (North Star). But lucky he was as Elijah P. Lovejoy another American newspaper editor martyred in Alton, Illinois in defense of his right to print antislavery material in 1837.
Furthermore Whites also raided to post offices and burnt all anti-slavery stuffs; the post director refused to accept the anti-slavery materials and congress ignored to mention the issue as well.Underground Railroad
Fugitive slave law of 1850 which asserted for sending back the runaways from the state to state in addition of a new opportunity for white jobless called “slave catcher” was another violent measure facing the blacks.
As a counter measure, Blacks developed a system called “Underground Railroad” or “Underground Railway” for transferring enslaved blacks to northern states and Canada to nonviolently free them.
Using disguise and darkness 40,000 to 100,000 blacks liberated from white tyranny and of course not “white supremacy”. Liberty Line introduced from 1830 was a brilliant hope for black peace sojourners, although it granted them Compromise of 1850 and Emancipation Proclamation (1863) by slave-holder Lincoln, which freed all slaves in the United States by the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1865. but violent Civil War had begun in 1861.
Not being too late must another case be mentioned; Dred Scott a slave who sued for liberty after living in a non-slave state; caused the Supreme Court to declare the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional! A national compromise violently broke simply to not grant a black his liberty.Civil War
Emancipation Proclamation was meant that the blacks as freedmen! could (must) attend the Union Army and defend of other freemen (whites). United States Colored Troops was established involved of 178,000 blacks.Out-Migrate vs. In-Migrate
While for decades blacks for violently brought to Americas for servitude, after emancipation in fear of Blacks’ retaliation whites thought to send back them to Africa.Liberia
From 1817 a program called American Colonization Society emerged in Washington D.C with supports of local branches, churches, and the legislatures of Border States to transport freed and free-born blacks to Africa. The program was headed by Henry Clay and Francis Scott Key whom were from prominent slave holders. They bought a land on the western coast of Africa now called Liberia. Once forcibly in-migrated blacks then “peacefully” became out-migrated by whites and gained their freedom!Discrimination
Although, if so in lip service blacks had been freed, but it was not encompassed the social rights such as right to vote and education. They were freed to be killed for defending of whites.
It took a long more time to these rights found legitimacy. By the 15th amendment of American Constitution, Section 1, that reads: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude.” in 1870 Blacks found suffrage at last.
But another odd occurrence took place, for the 1st time since and then the American President impeached, Andrew Johnson (1808-1875), 17th president of the United States (1865-1869) impeached accused of “violation of the Tenure of Office Act and the ‘command of the army’ provisions of the Army Appropriations” and also another one which conveys that Johnson had attempted to undermine Congress. Save what aforesaid Johnson was pro-blacks and support them, so simply and violently he removed.Jim Crow
The last quarter of 19th century was the time for another plot against Blacks. Jim Crow laws were discriminational written and un-written codes to prevent Black form accessing to public services like: parks, restaurants, hotels and etc. furthermore, Black veterans weren’t in an equal status as whites were. “Persons of color” weren’t called “negroes” but no inequality against them was common. This traditional violence against Blacks went further as a new club called Ku Klaus Klan emerged.Ku Klux Klan
Post American Civil War a secret society of white Southerners in the United States was formed to resist the emancipation of slaves; they used terrorist tactics to suppress Black people. In fact they were White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASP) whom believed America belongs to whom are 100% American. They were against immigrants whether in terms of ethnicity or religion but their major animosity was for poor Blacks. There were two in the United States, one founded immediately after the Civil War and lasting until the 1870s, the other beginning in 1915 and continuing to the present and still act violently against Blacks.
However, there were acts like Force Act in 1870 and the Ku Klux Act in 1871 which authorized the president to suspend the writ of habeas corpus, suppress disturbances by force, and impose heavy penalties upon terrorist organizations; but “white violence” could not tolerate it and in United States v. Harris in 1882, the Supreme Court declared the Ku Klux Act unconstitutional.W.E.B Dubois
“Men of America, the problem is plain before you. Here is a race transplanted through the criminal foolishness of your fathers. Whether you like it or not the millions are here, and here they will remain. If you do not lift them up, they will pull you down.”
W. E. B. DuBois
William Edward Burghardt DuBois was the United States civil rights leader and political activist who campaigned for equality for Black Americans, he was the first Afro-American received PhD degree. He was one of founders of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and it was synchronous with Harlem Renaissance. This was a time for blacks to fight against white’s violence literarily. Of course, some black intellectuals were predecessors to them like Harriet Beecher Stowe with her “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”. Authors like Langston Hughes (belongs to Lost Generation) draw a vivid vision of Blacks’ situation in America; as he versifies:
I’m nobody, who are you?
Are you nobody too?
Then, there is a pair of us
Don’t tell you know
They’ll banish us
How already to be somebody?
Say your name all day long
Like a frog in the bog.
W.E.B. DuBois’s doctoral dissertation was The Suppression of the African Slave-Trade to the United States of America, 1638-1870. As the editor of The Crisis, he encouraged the development of black literature and art and urged his readers to see “Beauty in Black.” In deed he and his contemporaries were the literate nonviolent campaigners against white’s violence.Elijah Muhammad and Nation of Islam
“The Negro wants to be everything but himself…He wants to integrate with the white man, but he cannot integrate with himself or with his own kind. The Negro wants to lose his identity because he does not know his own identity.”
Elijah Poole converted to Islam as Elijah Muhammad was founder and leader of the black separatist religious movement known as the Nation of Islam (sometimes called Black Muslims) in the United States. He was famous for his rhetoric directed at white people, whom he called “blue-eyed devils.” He challenged white’s violence by articulating Islam rulings in Black Americans context and promoted racial unity and self-help and maintained a strict code of discipline among members. During World War II he asked his followers not to attend military service and serve for white’s devil whimsical desire. He was jailed for his thoughts and speeches, but being imprisoned he was challenging with white’s violence and try to find others to convert them to Islam and enter them to the Nation of Islam. Malcolm X was one of them.Malcolm X and Black Power
“There is nothing in our book, The Koran, that teaches us to suffer peacefully. Our religion teaches us to be intelligent. Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone, but, if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery. That’s a good religion.”
Malcolm Little well known as Malcolm X was a black militant leader who articulated concepts of race pride and Black Nationalism in the early 1960s. Primarily he was not a Muslim, but he converted to Islam and became a minister of the Nation of Islam movement being familiar with Elijah Muhammad. He was an exception in this narrative as he believed in violence rather than violence, in deed it’s his belief: “I’m nonviolent with those who are nonviolent with me.” Whites were violent to him so he was to them as well. This is was the bone of a little contention between him and MLK.
Back Power who were movement formed by American blacks to produce social equality and equal rights and emphasize racial pride; and Black Panthers who were radical underground African American organization that was founded by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale in the mid-1960s and advocated violence to attain liberation and equality for African Americans were largely influenced by his opinions. They were standing for violent campaign in facing of white’s violence and mostly Ku Klux Klan. For this belief he sentenced years of his life in prison and actually there he met Elijah Muhammad.
However, after he came back from Hajj pilgrimage and rename himself as el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz, chose a more nonviolent way in his struggle against white’s violence. That’s why he was assassinated in 1965 by some which there is belief they were Blacks related to Nation of Islam!
Thurgood Marshall and Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka
“The United States has been called the melting pot of the world. But it seems to me that the colored man either missed getting into the pot or he got melted down.”
Thurgood Marshall was the first black member of the U.S. Supreme Court. As an attorney he successfully argued before the U.S. Supreme Court the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954), in which racial segregation in American public schools was declared unconstitutional. He’s prominent in advancing anti discriminational laws in US judiciary system. His legacy up to now is what Black community benefits form. Before his legacy white’s violence even militarily prevented Black students to entering White’s school, after it they become motley.
Martin Luther King Jr. and Civil Rights Movements
“Today the choice is no longer between violence and nonviolence.
It is either nonviolence or nonexistence.”
The most famous figure in American Black Community is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. doubtless. He is an American emblem of Nonviolence. King’s nonviolent doctrine was strongly influenced by the teachings of Indian leader Mohandas Gandhi. Unlike the great majority of civil rights activists who have regarded nonviolence as a convenient tactic. King followed Gandhi’s principles of pacifism. In King’s view, civil rights demonstrators, who were beaten and jailed by hostile whites, through the redemptive character of their unmerited suffering educated and transformed their oppressors. King set about organizing the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which gave him a base of operation throughout the South, as well as a national platform from which to speak
The Montgomery bus boycott started on December 1, 1955, when Rosa Parks, an African American woman, refused to surrender her bus seat to a white passenger, and as a consequence was arrested for violating the city’s segregation law. It was an ignition for chain of nonviolent protests against segregation and racial discrimination. Sit-Ins in Nashville under leadership of James Lawson, nonviolent demonstrations and public speech were usual tactics rendered by Blacks (mostly students) to confront Whites brutality and violence.
King joined other civil rights leaders in organizing the historic March on Washington. On August 28, 1963, an interracial assembly of more than 200,000 gathered peaceably in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial to demand equal justice for all citizens under the law. It led to Civil Rights Act in coming year.
But these accomplishments were not as easy as ABC; once MLK had said: “I’m frankly tired of marching. I’m tired of going to jail,” for every minute reason he had been sued by whites. In 1968 days before living for Memphis he’d asserted: “Living every day under the threat of death, I feel discouraged every now and then and feel my work’s in vain, but then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again.” He was accurate, on April 4, 1968 he was shot in a Balcony of a hotel in Memphis by a violent white some like to call him James Earl Ray. He sentenced for a century a year after but even Dr. King’s family doesn’t believe in him as the assassinator.
If so King chose nonviolence and not nonexistence; but “White violence” chose nonexistence for him, even by announcing his birthday as a holyday.Louise Farrakhan
After Muhammad’s death in 1975 another group, retaining both the name and the founding principles of Elijah Muhammad’s original Nation of Islam, was established under the leadership of Louis Eugene Wolcott converted to Islam with a new name Louis Farrakhan. He was leader of the New York Temple and the Nation’ most prominent spokesman at the time of Elijah Muhammad’ death. Although given a national post by Mohammed, Farrakhan disagreed with Mohammed’ changes, and in 1978 he left to found a third Nation of Islam.
By the 1990s he had emerged as a prominent African American leader, as demonstrated by the success in 1995 of the Million Man March in Washington, D.C., which he helped to organize. In 1995 Qubilah Shabazz daughter of Malcolm X was accused of plot to assassinate him, but he didn’t sue the case. Farrakhan toned down his racial rhetoric and moved the group toward orthodox Islam after a bout with prostate cancer in 2000.COINTELPRO
During the 1950s and ’60s, the bureau used covert means to disrupt the activities of groups it considered subversive and to discredit their leaders; the operations, known as COINTELPRO (counterintelligence programs), were officially discontinued in 1971.
John Edgar Hoover, ex FBI director who was 48 years at office, clarifies the mission of COINTELPRO against nationalist blacks as below:
a. preventing form emergence of a new leader who can unify Blacks.
b. preventing from violence directed by Black nationalist groups
c. preventing from popularizing of Black Nationalist groups and their leaders
d. preventing from rapid growth of Black Nationalist Organizations especially among youth.
e. targets of these operation were: Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Elijah Muhammad and….
Hoover also ordered aggressive surveillance of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., and tried to discredit King by disseminating derogatory information about him to the media, Congress, and others.Conclusion
It’s 2008, to a high extend Blacks and Whites have been melted, even a Black man have nominated himself for American Presidency; but still there is Ku Klux Klan (if so, underground); WASPs are still the superiors amongst nation; guys show “noose” to their Black friends and foes even jokingly and white’s violence is still common.
Individualism is a white phenomenon in American mind as volunteerism is; in fact as George Orwell says in Animal Farm: “all are equal but some are more equal” and this is the true meaning of egalitarianism and Human Rights in the States. America is a melting pot, but blacks never considered as edible and thus prevented to enter the pot.
“It is better to be violent, if there is violence in our hearts, than to put on the cloak of non-violence to cover impotence.”
# A Force More Powerful, Peter Ackerman, Palgrave 2000
# COINTELPRO: The FBI’s Secret War on Political Freedom, Nelson Blackstock, Pathfinder, 1975.
# Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica 2007 Ultimate Reference Suite. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2008.
# Encyclopædia Encarta. Encyclopedia Encarta Premium 2007 Microsoft
# Nonviolent Social Movements, ed. Stephen Zunes, Blackwell 1999.
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