Swans Commentary » swans.com November 29, 2010  



Elite Philanthropy, SNCC, And The Civil Rights Movement
(Part III of III)


by Michael Barker





[ed. Read Part I and Part II of this review.]


"Spurred by the defeat of the MFDP challenge, SNCC workers began to look beyond their own experiences for ideological insights. An unexpected turn in this search for new ideas came in the fall of 1964 when SNCC accepted the invitation of Harry Belafonte to send a delegation to Africa. ... Although Jim Forman later concluded it was "a serious mistake" to approve the trip before resolving questions about SNCC's direction at home, the chance to tour Africa was irresistible." (1)


(Swans - November 29, 2010)   It just so happens that at around this time both the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and their then radical ally CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) adopted the ambiguous ideology of Black Power. (2) Such an ideological shift did not bode well for their liberal funders, and while taken together SNCC and CORE had "command[ed] the largest share of external support between 1962 and 1965," their funding dropped sharply thereafter. A similar trend can be seen in the more moderate Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and when their "leader and chief fund-raiser, Martin Luther King, publicly criticized the Vietnam War late in 1965, there was a significant loss of funds the following year." (3)

A dark conspiratorial plot, however, does not help explain the demise of these groups' funding; instead, with rising levels of progressive increasingly militant activism and rhetoric, capitalist institutions sprang into action, with more or less spontaneity, to moderate the processes of social change. In this way, many of the liberal philanthropists who had in earlier years supported the SNCC, CORE, and SCLC "shifted their support to the NAACP, reducing the once formidable Big Four to a single strong movement organization by the end of the decade." (4) This highlights the obvious problems associated with groups maintaining too heavy a reliance upon external support linkages. Not only can this support be withheld at strategic moments, but more importantly "the initial availability of external support frequently dissuades insurgents of the need to develop a strong grass-roots structure as a protection against the uncertainty of elite support." (5)

Herbert Haines concurs with this analysis, observing that as the "militancy of the black population grew, foundation contributions became major sources of income" for moderate organizations like the Southern Regional Council, the NAACP, the National Urban League, and the Legal Defense and Educational Fund. As Haines notes, after 1966 the latter three groups...

... received increasingly greater shares of the movement's total outside funding. Not only did these three organizations suffer no financial backlash in the turbulent years of rioting and black nationalism, but their outside incomes rose more rapidly than ever before. The most moderate of the groups, the National Urban League, received a late-1960s windfall that was nothing less than astounding. Together the NUL, the LDEF, and the NAACP accounted for all the aggregate increases in combined movement income by the end of the 1960s. The radical organizations, on the other hand, received rapid increases in outside income during the early 1960s followed by equally rapid declines during the era of the new militancy. (6)

Re-channeling of much-needed funding away from the more radical groups was not the only means of attempting to moderate resistance, and such co-optive strategies were combined with increasing levels of state repression. This meant that...

... instead of initiating new programs, Black Power groups were forced to devote increasing amounts of time and money to legal efforts aimed at preserving and defending the organization against external threats. Indeed, as Oberschall (1978) perceptively notes, the federal government's aggressive prosecution of movement activists in the late 1960s would appear to have been based, in part, on a desire to precipitate this kind of debilitating financial crisis. He writes: "The government's strategy appeared to be to tie down leaders in costly and time consuming legal battles which would impede their activities and put a tremendous drain on financial resources regardless of whether the government would be successful in court" (277-78). (7)

Given this potent mix of oppositional activities, it was essential that movement activists were well informed about the full extent of the co-optive practices that the Establishment was deploying against them. This is because "revolutionaries must contend not only with conscious reactionaries and counterrevolutionaries, but also with subtle social dynamics which act to stop or divert the revolution." (8) In this regard, Forman showed himself to be an invaluable movement analyst, and writing in 1967 (in an SNCC publication), he observed how:

1967 was the year in which the influence of the CIA on the National Student Association, labor unions and foundations was exposed -- but people forget that there are other foundations well founded to carry on the CIA's job. The powerful Rockefeller Foundation and the Ford Foundation are two outstanding examples. (9)

Here it is intriguing to note that despite Forman's keen awareness of the viable threat posed by liberal foundations to progressive activism, their activities did not warrant a mention in his history of the SNCC, The Making of Black Revolutionaries -- which was first published in 1972. Yet it turns out that even this book, which itself amply documents the manipulative intentions of the liberal elites, was censored by his publishers. Thus in the preface of the 1985 edition of the book he acknowledges how he was forced to cut out the following information owing to censorship demands from "a lawyer of Macmillan" -- the publishers of the original edition. The section that was edited out read:

After the call for Black Power had become popular in the United States and other countries, McGeorge Bundy, former National Security Advisor under the late President John F. Kennedy, called a meeting at the Ford Foundation in New York City of twenty or more Black leaders. At that time McGeorge Bundy was the President of the Ford Foundation. Bundy announced to the assembled Black leaders that a decision had been made to destroy the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and to save the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). This decision was based on an assessment that it was possible to wean CORE away from the concept of Black Power through massive infusion of money for its operation. In the case of the SNCC, however, the assessment was that it was too late to save it; it had to be destroyed. (10)

But despite the fact that Forman's book omitted his blunt criticism of the Ford Foundation, the subject had already been covered at length and with more finesse in Robert Allen's excellent, though oft-overlooked Black Awakening in Capitalist America: An Analytic History (Doubleday, 1969). Firstly, Allen wrote, that CORE was not only "vulnerable to such corporate penetration" as it was "several hundred thousand dollars in debt" but...

... Second, CORE's militant rhetoric but ambiguous and reformist definition of black power as simply black control of black communities appealed to Foundation officials who were seeking just those qualities in a black organization which hopefully could tame the ghettos. From the Foundation's point of view, old-style moderate leaders no longer exercised any real control, while genuine black radicals were too dangerous. CORE [fit] the bill because its talk about black revolution was believed to appeal to discontented blacks, while its program of achieving black power through massive injections of governmental, business, and Foundation aid seemingly opened the way for continued corporate domination of black communities by means of a new black elite. (11)

With its massive financial reserves, the Ford Foundation now stepped up to the mark in 1966 when under the leadership of Bundy, the foundation "made an important decision to expand its activities in the black movement." Previously it had mainly focused its efforts on "incorporating more blacks into the middle-class mainstream" but it was now "on its way to becoming the most important, though least publicized, organization manipulating the militant black movement." To put it simply, Allen concludes, Ford (along with other such foundations) aimed "to channel and control the black liberation movement and forestall future urban revolts." (12) Of course, in its efforts to manipulate the Black Power movement, the Ford Foundation liaised closely with the other political elites, and most notably perhaps, worked in tandem with Richard Nixon's 1968 presidential campaign that successfully equated Black Power with Black Capitalism.

Of course, the concept of Black Power was always intimately entwined with the development of armed self-defense groups, but although often overlooked, the evolution of such self-defense groups is more closely linked to adherents of nonviolence than is commonly recognized. At this point it is appropriate to recall that SNCC was primarily founded "on the basis of experience in Nashville, Atlanta, and other border and upper-South areas"; but when SNCC activists' work took them deeper into the South the nonviolent techniques "that had proved effective elsewhere met with a variety of reprisals from brutal beatings to murder." (13) Thus, while demands for self-defense by activists like Malcolm X were not (initially) approved by SNCC, they were received sympathetically by some of their members, and "experience itself... brought certain qualifications to the pure notion of 'nonviolence'" -- like for example that SNCC "cannot oppose the use of self-defense by other people whose lives are in danger." Indeed, as Howard Zinn wrote in 1964, one...

... cannot always have both peace and justice. To insist on perfect tranquility with an absolute rejection of violence may mean surrendering the right to change an unjust social order. On the other hand, to seek justice at any cost may result in bloodshed so great that its evil overshadows everything else and splatters the goal beyond recognition. The problem is to weigh carefully the alternatives, so as to achieve the maximum of social progress with a minimum of pain. (14)

Operating in Monroe, North Carolina, Robert Williams was one of the first people to successfully pioneer the strategy of organized self-defense when he converted his local NAACP chapter to this radically empowering mission. That said, NAACP leadership along "with the help of Martin Luther King" reacted quickly and forced Williams out of the NAACP where "he was left without an organizing framework" for his activism. Some years after this, in 1961, Williams fled for exile in Cuba. By 1964, Malcolm X had revived his ideas and although he attempted to start "Negro rifle clubs" (in March 1964) he was unable to organize activists to this cause. Instead the first group to successfully organize self-defense units into a movement for social change was a group known as the Deacons for Defense and Justice (based in Jonesboro, Louisiana). As Deacons historian Lance Hill points out: "Their political strategy was confrontational, disdainful of nonviolence, and independent of white liberal control." (15) Yet, while some movement theorists like Herbert Haines have argued that the radical stance of such Black Power advocates enhanced the bargaining power of moderate activists by a process referred to as the "radical flank effect," Hill makes a convincing case "that black civil violence did not merely enhance the power of moderates: it was the primary source of their negotiating power." (16)

Formed in 1964, the groups that evolved to become Deacons for Defense initially grew from local demands for protection from Klan harassment, which was expected to escalate with the (June 1964) arrival of CORE activists in the vicinity. An informal defense group had been set up in the spring of 1964 by Earnest Thomas, but with anxieties running high, other community members organized around Frederick Douglas Kirkpatrick approached the chief of police to ask about forming a volunteer black patrol, and to their surprise they were promptly deputized. The black police squad soon recognized that it "had become the unwitting tool of the white power structure in neutralizing the protest movement" and so made moves to join with Thomas's group to become a single independent force for armed self-defense in the community. But "primarily [due to] the lack of organizing skills" the local activists were unable to create such an organization. It was at this juncture, in November 1964, that a white CORE activist named Charlie Fenton arrived on the scene and (reluctantly) helped the local community establish a formal self-defense organization that would work alongside CORE in the field. One of the first tasks assigned to the newly formed Deacons for Defense was raising funds for their self-defense units, a task they took to with "remarkable enthusiasm and success, taking in $437 in the first two meetings -- a substantial sum for a poor community." In addition to giving a boost to the morale of local activists, CORE "discovered in the Deacons a strategy that captured the imagination and support of the community and, for the first time, attracted [local black] men to the movement." (17)

February 21, 1965, marked a momentous day for the Deacons as The New York Times ran a story that "painted a sympathetic portrait of the Deacons," which had the effect of suddenly catapulting them from being a clandestine organization into a serious "political challenge to nonviolence." ("Future media coverage would not be as charitable.") February 21 was also the day that Malcolm X was gunned down, and as a result of this tragedy the Deacons made their first contact with the revolutionary wing of the black movement when Earnest Thomas arrived in New York a few days after Malcolm's murder to investigate the situation for the Deacons. From then on, the Deacons were "considered by many to be the armed wing of the civil rights movement from 1965 through 1969" and in Mississippi such self-defense groups "operat[ed] in virtually every community where the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was active." (18) Such strong connections between CORE, SNCC, and local groups dedicated to armed self-defense helps explain why the call for Black Power resonated so strongly with the now frustrated members of SNCC.

In the late 1960s, perhaps the clearest proponent of militant Black Power other than SNCC was the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, which was formed in October 1996 by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale (in Oakland, California). Interestingly, in July 1965 Earnest Thomas, while on a fundraising tour for the Deacons -- organized by CORE, met with soon to be Black Panther founder Bobby Seale, who at the time was a member of the Revolutionary Action Movement. Seale suggested that he could help them form a Deacons chapter in Los Angeles, but "Thomas let the subject drop, judging Seale to be too 'radical' for the Deacons." (19)

However, despite their ideological differences, there were obvious affinities between the Deacons and the Black Panthers, and it is significant to note that in late 1965 the Deacons' "strongest foothold" in northern states was in Chicago. There, they opposed police brutality and political corruption and "Thomas told The Daily News that the Deacons would also 'operate freedom patrols' that would 'be alert for police brutality against Negroes' -- a tactic that the Black Panthers eventually adopted." (20) In the wake of such activism, the Chicago chapter of the Black Panthers was eventually formed in late 1967 by SNCC organizer Bob Brown. (21) As Brown's involvement with the Black Panthers suggests, during the late 1960s the work of SNCC and the Black Panthers overlapped considerably, and Eldridge Cleaver, who joined the Panthers as their minister of information "married SNCC activist Kathleen Neal, who soon became the organization's communications secretary." In addition to Brown, other SNCC veterans who became Panthers included Chico Neblett, who served as the Panther's Field Marshall for the western states of the U.S., Jim Forman, who "briefly assisted the Panther's organizational efforts," and Stokely Carmichael, who in February 1968 was named the party's prime minister. (22) In 1967, with the help of Forman, a short-lived Los Angeles SNCC branch was created with the soon to be Black Panther activist Angela Davis undertaking an important role in their operations as the head of their Liberation School. (23)

Returning to perhaps the most outspoken advocate of Black Power, Stokely Carmichael (who had served as SNCC's chairman from 1966 to 1967), it is significant that unlike Malcolm X, who was an "unrelenting opponent of the white, capitalist power structure," it could be said that Carmichael's political beliefs "never moved beyond ambiguity." Indeed his constant movement between often contradictory positions meant that: "On some occasions, he managed to give the remarkable impression of being at once a reformer and a revolutionary." (24) When he left SNCC (in 1968) he had certainly become more militant, but his analysis still kept swinging wildly from Marxist political ideas and those of the cultural nationalists -- where white racism, not capitalism, was commonly cited as the only enemy. As a direct result of such ambiguities, Harold Cruse in his 1968 book Rebellion or Revolution? suggested that "the present slogan of Black Power is nothing more than a shifting back to the basic position taken by Booker T. Washington in 1900 with the addition, of course, of certain contemporary refinements." To a degree this judgment was certainly true, especially when one considers that Black Power was often equated with Black Capitalism, but in response to Cruse's critique Earl Ofari contends that:

Cruse, whether through oversight or conscious effort, neglects to add here the marked similarity between Carnegie and Rosenwald's support of Washington in 1900 and the Ford Foundation and Rockefeller support of black nationalists such as [CORE's] Roy Innis today. Cruse, despite the perceptiveness of his analogy, completely misrepresents Washington's purpose. As already shown, Washington's program was not, as Cruse intimates, progressive. It was explicitly designed to promote the fortunes of a tiny black merchant and propertied class rather than the collective economic development of the black masses. (25)

Here one might add that Carmichael himself had already clearly stated in his 1967 book Black Power that Booker T. Washington's involvement in the creation of the Tuskegee Institute was the direct result of the expression of black political power in Alabama. (26) Yet, while Carmichael was adamant that the white power structure's "crumbs of co-optation should be rejected," he failed to make a comprehensive case for such an argument. Indeed, at no point in his book does he even problematize (beyond generalities) the issue of liberal philanthropy. (27) In this way it is fitting that Robert Allen should have described Carmichael's book as being "largely an essay in liberal reformism calling for broadened participation by blacks in the economic and political structures of the country." (28)

Displaying none of Carmichael's political ambiguity, Carmichael's successor at SNCC, chairman H. Rap Brown, "soon became the nation's leading advocate of blacks arming themselves." (29) Government repression followed swiftly, and in July 1967 H. Rap Brown was arrested for inciting a riot at a civil rights rally; then on April, 1, 1968, a now declassified FBI memorandum described how upon his release from jail a letter should be sent to Brown "designed to plant seeds of distrust between BROWN, CARMICHAEL, and FORMAN." Such oft-repeated actions had deadly consequences for militant activists. (30)

As mentioned earlier, during this time the SNCC had begun working closely with the Black Panthers, but suspicions ran high between the two groups with all the expected and unexpected illegal pressures that were being exerted on their activists. Thus in July 1968, the Panthers' "Eldridge Cleaver... asked [Forman] if SNCC was trying to co-opt the Black Panther Party." (31) The SNCC had clearly come a long way from their founding meeting, and the FBI was desperately trying to undermine the positive relations between these increasingly militant activists. Further declassified reports demonstrate how on October 10, 1968, the FBI proposed launching a media COINTELPRO (counter-intelligence program) distributed within the national media to undermine such connections: the memorandum for this activity noted that the purpose was "to help neutralize extremist Black Panthers and foster a split between them and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)." (32) Likewise another COINTELPRO proposal dated July 10, 1968, which was also approved for implementation, recommended that...

... consideration be given to convey the impression that [SNCC leader Stokely] CARMICHAEL is a CIA informer. One method of accomplishing [this] would be to have a carbon copy of informant report reportedly written by CARMICHAEL to the CIA carefully deposited in the automobile of a close Black Nationalist friend ... It is hoped that when the informant report is read it will help promote distrust between CARMICHAEL and the Black Community ... It is also suggested that we inform a certain percentage of reliable criminal and racial informants that "we have heard from reliable sources that CARMICHAEL is a CIA agent." It is hoped that these informants would spread the rumor in various large Negro communities across the land. (33)

The tragedy here is that it was the manipulative elite philanthropists like the Ford Foundation that were the ones working hand-in-hand with the US government and their intelligence agencies. (34) Unfortunately though, while many activists were aware that liberal foundations and the government were interfering with their organizing, they were unable to alter the historical processes already set in motion by the long compromised position of the civil rights movement.

With hindsight one could have hoped that civil rights activists might have done more to scrutinize the influence of philanthropic power over the processes of social change; as unfortunately such evidence was largely ignored by leftist activists. (35) Time, however, cannot be turned back and we can only endeavour to learn from past mistakes. But judging by most scholarly and activist histories, this simple lesson -- that philanthropic elites manipulate and undermine even reformist movements for social change -- has not been learned. Instead, time and time again radical scholars and activists (even Marxists and Anarchists) have chosen to sideline this sensitive issue from their practices and, in doing so, render any movements for social change more vulnerable to the co-optive repertoires of philanthropic power -- tactics that are, of course, forever being refined by the ruling class. But to end on a more optimistic note, there do appear to be signs that some groups are recognizing the need to talk openly about such problems; and so it is hoped that this three-part article will help catalyze such reflective forms of activism that can fuel the types of future social activism that is capable of replacing capitalism with a more humane alternative.


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Michael Barker is an independent researcher who currently resides in the UK. In addition to his work for Swans, which can be found in the 2008, 2009, and 2010 archives, his other articles can be accessed at michaeljamesbarker.wordpress.com. Please help fund his work.   (back)


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1.  Clayborne Carson, In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s (Harvard University Press, 1981), p.134. Carson suggests that "[p]erhaps the most significant episode of their stay in Africa was an unexpected encounter in Nairobi with Malcolm X" that led to a "series of attempts by Malcolm to forge links with SNCC." (p.135) Indeed, following on this chance meeting Malcolm continued to exert a strong influence over the political development of both CORE and SNCC activists. For example: "In early February 1965, Malcolm was asked by SNCC to speak to black students and workers in Selma, Alabama." As Manning Marable observes, "Malcolm's electrifying speech gave the radical nationalist tendency within SNCC another boost." Manning Marable, Race, Reform, and Rebellion: The Second Reconstruction in Black America, 1945-1990 (University Press of Mississippi, 1991 [1982]), p.90.  (back)

2.  In Black Awakening in Capitalist America: An Analytic History (Doubleday, 1969), Robert Allen writes: "Like the SNCC, CORE was a middle-class organization. It differed from SNCC in that SNCC members, being younger, were not yet committed to middle-class jobs or middle-class life styles. It was, therefore, easier for SNCC members to identify with the impoverished black majority." (p.66) "In summary, CORE and the cultural nationalists draped themselves in the mantle of nationalism, but upon closer examination it is seen that their programs, far from aiding in the achievement of black liberation and freedom from exploitation, would instead weld the black communities more firmly into the structure of American corporate capitalism." (p.191). By the late 1960s, CORE tried to manage the new militancy that was now starting spreading into "certain parts of the black middle class." "In doing so," Allen continues, "CORE was to assume a role akin to that played by bourgeois-nationalist elites in an underdeveloped country undergoing a transformation from colonialism to neo-colonialism." (p.70)  (back)

3.  Doug McAdam, "The Decline of the Civil Rights Movement," In: Jo Freeman and Victoria Johnson (eds.) Waves of Protest: Social Movements Since the Sixties (Rowman and Littlefield, 1999), p.338-339. "His assassination in 1968 did stimulate a brief resurgence in support, but this lasted only as long as the feelings of sympathy and guilt generated by his death."  (back)

4.  Doug McAdam, "The Decline of the Civil Rights Movement," p.339. Carson draws attention to the fact that with the organizational problems combined with their "meager resources" meant that: "Most of the [SNCC's] urban offices floundered during 1965, although [Ivanhoe] Donaldson had some success in helping to establish a 'community foundation' in Columbus that made small grants for local projects approved by a democratically-elected community board." Carson, In Struggle, p.168.  (back)

5.  Doug McAdam, Political Process and the Development of Black Insurgency 1930-1970 (University of Chicago Press, 1982), p.210. While both the SNCC and CORE "initially benefited from the external support links they established, in the end their exclusive dependence on such links drastically diminished their capacity for sustained insurgency." (p.212)  (back)

6.  Herbert Haines, "Black Radicalization and the Funding of Civil Rights: 1957-1970," Social Problems, 32, 1984, pp.40-1.  (back)

7.  Doug McAdam, "The Decline of the Civil Rights Movement," p.342.  (back)

8.  Allen, Black Awakening in Capitalist America, p.1.  (back)

9.  James Forman, 1967, High Tide of Black Resistance (SNCC, 1967), p.19.  (back)

10.  James Forman, The Making of Black Revolutionaries (Open Hand Publishing, 1985 [1972]), p.xvi.  (back)

11.  Robert Allen, "From Black Awakening in Capitalist America," In: INCITE! (eds.), The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-profit Industrial Complex (South End Press, 2007), p.56.  (back)

12.  Allen, Black Awakening in Capitalist America, p.62, p.61, p.62. In September 1968 the Ford Foundation, "one of the most sophisticated instruments of American neo-colonialism," "announced plans to invest an initial ten million dollars in the building of black capitalism." (p.64)  (back)

13.  Howard Zinn, SNCC: The New Abolitionists (Beacon Press, 1964), p.206.  (back)

14.  Zinn, SNCC, p.222, pp.222-3.  (back)

15.  Lance Hill, The Deacons for Defense: Armed Resistance and the Civil Rights Movement (University of North Carolina Press, 2004), p.4. Hill asks with all the shortcomings of nonviolence "how then did nonviolence become the official movement doctrine? African Americans in the South had never been disposed to pacifism: even James Lawson, one of the foremost advocates of nonviolence, admitted that there 'never was an acceptance of the nonviolent approach' in the South. The answer is that, in good part, northern liberals, pacifists, and leftists managed to impose nonviolence on the movement because they possessed superior organizational and funding resources." (p.236)

"Moreover, nonviolence's singular focus on Jim Crow in the South deflected national attention from economic and social forces that reproduced inequality and racism -- for example, discrimination in employment, housing, and education -- as well as less visible but more insidious forms of institutional and cultural racisms. Nonviolence equated racism with civil and political discrimination, the two more obvious forms of racism in the South." (p.237)  (back)

16.  Hill, The Deacons for Defense, p.330. Hill continues: "The events of the movement demonstrated time and again that the white power structure was unwilling to make any meaningful concessions unless there was a threat of black civil violence. The threat of violence transformed the very role of moderates; they ceased to be moderates when they began to benefit from white fears of black violence. After Birmingham, it was impossible to employ nonviolence in the moral and noncoercive way that Gandhi intended; the threat of violence was ever-present in the minds of whites. The fear of black civil violence was the driving force for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965." (p.330)  (back)

17.  Hill, The Deacons for Defense, p.31, p.32, p.44, p.47.  (back)

18.  Hill, The Deacons for Defense, p.56, p.58, p.277, p.276. (Quoting the work of Akinyele Umoja.)  (back)

19.  Hill, The Deacons for Defense, p.218.  (back)

20.  Hill, The Deacons for Defense, p.224, p.225. Inspired by the long history of black self-defense, the original Black Panther Party was influenced by the Community Alert Patrols that had been set up in Los Angeles with the aid of government funding in the wake of the 1965 Watts uprising. However, instead of simply observing police interactions and dispensing with legal advice, the Black Panthers took this largely federally funded patrol idea one step further and "instituted armed patrols." Allen, Black Awakening in Capitalist America, p.69.

As Lance Hill concludes, while the Deacons' "emphasis on the right of self-defense ... provided credibility in the South, where the foe was vigilante violence, it failed in the North, where racial domination and violence were cloaked in the legitimacy of state authority. The Deacons' program rested on a belief in constitutional rights (obedience to federal law and authority) rather than revolutionary rights (the right to disobey law and authority). The latter path, taken by the Panthers, had its own perils." Hill, The Deacons for Defense, p.233.  (back)

21.  In early 1968, one of the Black Panthers' most famous leaders, former NAACP activist Fred Hampton, joined the Chicago chapter of the Panthers. Yet even before his move to the Panthers, the FBI had already opened a file on the nineteen-year-old activist, and in 1967 "an informant was planted" in the Maywood branch of the NAACP where Hampton was active. By late 1968 the FBI had likewise penetrated the Chicago Black Panther Party with an individual named William O'Neal who quickly rose to become the Director of Chapter Security and was actually working as Hampton's personal bodyguard when he facilitated Hampton's assassination on December 4, 1969. Ward Churchill and Jim Wander Wall, Agents of Repression: The FBI's Secret War Against the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement (South End Press, 1988), p.64, p.65.

"By December, 1968, O'Neal was reporting (accurately) [to the FBI] that the Chairman [of the Black Panther Party (BPP), Fred Hampton] was on the verge of negotiating a merger between the still-small BPP and a sprawling South Side gang, several thousand members strong, known as the Blackstone Rangers (at that time in the process of changing its title to the 'Black P. Stone Rangers')." This led to the immediate response by the FBI to disrupt relations between the two groups, and "[O]n April 2, 1969, O'Neal personally instigated the first armed clash between the BPP and the Rangers". (p.65, p.66.)  (back)

22.  Marable, Race, Reform, and Rebellion, p.110. "By 1969, Carmichael and his successor as head of SNCC, Hubert 'Rap' Brown, had broken ties with the Black Panthers because of Newton's and Cleaver's close ties with white leftists and the biracial Peace and Freedom Party." (p.110)  (back)

23.  Angela Davis, Angela Davis: An Autobiography (The Women's Press, 1990 [1974]), p.170. The Los Angeles SNCC was initially composed of the former members of the Black Panthers Political Party, a separate organization to Huey Newton's California-based Black Panther Party for Self Defense. Furthermore, despite Davis describing the branch as autonomous of the national SNCC this was hardly the case, as the national office were able to dismiss the "leading figure" of LA SNCC, Franklin Alexander, because of his membership in the Communist Party. This act was then followed by the national office "appointing a chairman who assumed the same dictatorial stance" (a demand made under the leadership of H. Rap Brown, but over the protests of Forman); whose subsequent actions in turn fostered the July 1967 collapse of the LA SNCC. As Davis surmised: "The downfall of [LA] SNCC could not have been better planned if it had been the work of an agent of the government." (For a full discussion of these events, see pp.165-187.)

Only at one point in her autobiography does Davis mention the negative influence of liberal foundations on the civil rights movement. Referring to the November 1967 Black Youth Conference held in Los Angeles, she recalls how in contrast to "two steady rays of lucidity [that] shone through the [conferences] confusion" (Jim Forman and Franklin Alexander): "There were the pseudo-militant groups that insisted that the racist establishment should be challenged -- but only in order to pressure the big foundations to finance service programs which they themselves would develop and, probably, profit from." (pp.159-160, p.159)

Here it is interesting to note that the famed author of Afrocentricity: The Theory of Social Change (Africa World Press, 1980), Molefi Kete Asante was formerly connected to SNCC. Asante notes that Afrocentricity "was based on my work as leader of the Los Angeles Forum for Black Artists, the UCLA chapter of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and as director of the UCLA Center for Afro-American Studies in the late 1960s and early 1970s, as well as my observation and textual analyses of what people like [Kariamu] Welsh and Maulana Karenga and Haki Mahbubuti were doing with social transformation at the grassroots." Asante's comments are included in Manning Marable's edited collection Dispatches from the Ebony Tower: Intellectuals Confront the African American Experience (Columbia University Press, 2000), p.196; but this book primarily contains criticisms of Asante's ideological approach.  (back)

24.  Carson, In Struggle, p.246, p.247. The FBI's CounterIntelligence Program also "concentrated on exploiting the tensions that existed between SNCC's former chairman and its current leadership and on undermining Carmichael's influence outside SNCC." (p.264) Carson notes that Carmichael found "the limelight difficult to resist," which led to internal problems within an organization that had formerly shunned the idea of powerful outspoken leaders in favor of a more decentralized, less hierarchal model of organizing. Thus at the end of 1966 the SNCC's Central Committee "forbade his appearance on a television show and decided that he should always be accompanied by another staff member at his engagements." Carson continues that, "Carmichael was undoubtedly annoyed by these restrictions, since he and other staff members realized that his speeches had dramatically increased SNCC's visibility, if not its effectiveness, and were an important source of income for the financially hard-pressed organization." (p.230)  (back)

25.  Earl Ofari, The Myth of Black Capitalism (Monthly Review Press, 1970), p.37. "CORE, under the direction of Roy Innis, was one of the first organizations to back the plan of President Nixon for black capitalism." (p.71)  (back)

26.  Stokely Carmichael and Charles Hamilton, Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America (Penguin Books, 1971 [1967]), p.132.  (back)

27.  Carmichael and Hamilton, Black Power, p.13. "It is crystal clear that the society is capable and willing to reward those individuals who do not forcefully condemn it -- to reward them with prestige, status and material benefits. But these crumbs of co-optation should be rejected. The overriding, all-important fact is that as a people, we have absolutely nothing to lose by refusing to play such games." (p.13)

In a later edited collection of Carmichael's talks, Stokely Speaks: Black Power Back to Pan-Africanism (Random House, 1971), Carmichael mentions the word philanthropy in a critical context. Thus on July 18, 1967, at the Congress on the Dialectics of Liberation (held in London) he critiqued Cecil Rhodes, whom he called "a rapist, a plunderer, and a thief" who stole Africa's diamonds and gold and then "gave us some crumbs so we can go to school and become just like you. And that was called philanthropy." (p.82) Then on February 17, 1968, at a benefit gig for Huey Newton (held in Oakland, California) he talked about how the United States "works on what we call the three Ms -- the missionaries, the money, and the marines." In the US context he related the second M to the government-run poverty programs noting that they are "designed, number one, to split the black community, and number two, to split the black family. There is no doubt about its splitting the black community. We all know people who've started fighting over the crumbs (because that's all the poverty program is -- crumbs). If we'd leave the crumbs alone and organize, we could take the whole loaf. It belongs to us." (p.116, p.117)  (back)

28.  Allen, Black Awakening in Capitalist America, p.208. For further reading, see Timothy Dixon, Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams and the Roots of Black Power (University of North Carolina Press, 1999).

In an interview published in August 1968, Black Panther co-founder Huey Newton suggested that white liberals "controlled SNCC for a very long time. From the very start of SNCC until here recently whites were the mind of SNCC. They controlled the program of SNCC with money and they controlled the ideology, or the stands SNCC would take. ... [T]he white liberals were not working for self-determination for the black community. They were interested in a few concessions from the power structure. They undermined SNCC's program." ("Huey Newton Talks to the Movement." pdf) Eldridge Cleaver, Minister of Information for the Black Panther Party, wrote a critical open letter to Stokely Carmichael in September 1969 in which he noted: "You have never been able to distinguish the history of the Black Panther Party from the history of the organization of which you were once the chairman -- the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. It is understandable that you can have such fears of black organizations being controlled, or partly controlled, by whites, because most of your years in SNCC were spent under precisely those conditions. But the Black Panther Party has never been in that situation. Because we have never had to wrest control of our organization out of the hands of whites, we have not been shackled with the type of paranoid fear that was developed by you cats in SNCC. Therefore we are able to sit down with whites and hammer out solutions to our common problems without trembling in our boots about whether or not we might get taken over in the process." Letter reproduced in Philip Foner (ed.) The Black Panthers Speak (J.B. Lippincott Company, 1970), p.105.

More recently Abayomi Azikiwe, the editor of the Pan-African News Wire, reviewed Carmichael's 1971 book, Stokely Speaks: From Black Power to Pan-Africanism, noting that: "Ironically, the ideological positions between Huey P. Newton and Stokely Carmichael were perhaps closer than first thought. As early as 1971, Newton recognized that the Party's work with white radicals was unproductive, for 'White radicals did not give us access to the White community.' One cannot read Stokely's trenchant analysis of white liberalism without coming to the same conclusion (see his January 1969 speech, 'The Pitfalls of Liberalism')."  (back)

29.  Allen, Black Awakening in Capitalist America, pp.209-10.  (back)

30.  Churchill and Vander Wall, Agents of Repression, p.50. It is interesting to note that between 1967 and 1969, the SCLC's accountant James A. Harrison served as a paid informant for the FBI. (p.55) For more on the FBI's involvement in the murder of George Jackson see, Jo Durden-Smith, Who Killed George Jackson (Knopf, 1976). The FBI also ran a "black propaganda" operation that intended to catalyse murderous hostility between the Black Panther Party (BBP) and Ron Karenga's United Slave (US) Organization (Agents of Repression, p.42). Yet despite their differences:

"A full examination of the relationship between the BPP, US, and African American politics and culture reveals that the two organizations were by no means mutually exclusive. The BPP was closer to African American cultural nationalism than it cared to acknowledge. Its appreciation of the relationship between culture and politics was an important facet of its critique of American society, and the party placed considerable importance on the role that African American cultural expressions could play as a weapon in the liberation struggle." Joe Street, The Culture War in the Civil Rights Movement (University Press of Florida, 2007), p.144. (For an enlightening discussion of the relations between the BBP and US, see pp.144-60.)  (back)

31.  Forman, The Making of Black Revolutionaries, p.534.  (back)

32.  Churchill and Vander Wall, Agents of Repression, p.44.  (back)

33.  Churchill and Vander Wall, Agents of Repression, p.49. "One result of Carmichael's bad-jacketing may be detected in the statement of the Black Panther Party Minister of Defense, Huey P. Newton on September 5, 1970, that, 'We... charge that Stokely Carmichael is operating as an agent of the CIA.'" (p.49)  (back)

34.  Edward Berman, The Influence of the Carnegie, Ford, and Rockefeller Foundations on American Foreign Policy: The Ideology of Philanthropy (State University of New York Press, 1983); Frances Stonor Saunders, Who Paid the Piper?: CIA and the Cultural Cold War (Granta Books, 1999).  (back)

35.  Critiquing the left's reliance on antidemocratic liberal philanthropists has been a mainstay of ultra-conservatives for decades. For example, in 1958, the anti-communist John Birch Society was founded by Robert Welch (who was previously a director of the National Association of Manufacturers), and with significant support from the corporate world they promoted many widely read books, the most famous of which is probably Gary Allen's (1971) None Dare Call it Conspiracy (which reportedly sold over six million copies and has been published in eight languages). For a related article that critiques student activism in the 1960s, see Gary Allen, "Who is Paying for the Student Revolutionary Movement," American Opinion, November 1970. For an older example of a similar anti-communist propaganda tract, see Emanuel Josephson, Rockefeller, 'Internationalist': The Man Who Misrules the World (Chedney Press, 1952).  (back)


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Published November 29, 2010