Dr. Quintard Taylor, Jr.
Scott and Dorothy Bullitt
Professor of American History
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African American History | African American History in the West (Now available at www.blackpast.org)  

History 322:
Timbuktu to Katrina
Manual - Chapter 7
African America in a Conservative Era

Introduction | Chap. 1 | Chap. 2 | Chap. 3 | Chap. 4 | Chap. 5 | Chap. 6 | Chap. 7 | Chap. 8


This chapter addresses the paradox of change in black America in the 1980s and 1990s where simultaneously there was both greater opportunity than ever before even while significant segments of the community faced continuing challenges. The first vignette, Lyndon Baines Johnson Calls for Affirmative Action presents part of the 1965 speech at Howard University that sets out the rationale for special measures to offset centuries of anti-black discrimination in the United States. Affirmative Action: A Brief History attempts a definition and discussion of one of the major issues generating racial acrimo¬ny between 1970 and 2000. The vignette Race and the Suburbanization of America illustrates one way in which black home ownership equity has been compromised while Black Wealth and Poverty, 1993 reflected the mixed economic news for African Americans during the Reagan Years. Yet the vignettes, The Reginald Lewis Story and Robert Johnson, Billionaire Capitalist highlight the remarkable financial achievement of individual African American in the face of adversity. The cartoon From Colored to African American reflects the uncertainty generated by apparent acceptance of African Americans into circles that were long closed to them.

Black politics in the 1980s is the topic of two vignettes, Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow Coalition, 1984 and The Governor of Virginia. In South Africa and African-Americans we see a growing sophistication in international affairs as blacks joined other groups to successfully impose economic sanctions on South Africa. Yet old tension remain as reflected in
Blacks and Jews: The Politics of Resentment. African American rivalry with other people of color is explored in Asian Americans and African Americans: Differences and Similarities and The Shrinking Minority. The rise of a new generation of black conservatives is analyzed in The New Black Conservatives and Clarence Thomas Speaks Out.

The next vignettes address the continuing poverty faced by approximately 20% of African Americans commonly called "the underclass" by social scientists, The first vignette is appropriately titled The Underclass: A Defini¬tion. The Language of Segregation illustrates the relationship of income, residence, speech and behavior to the continuing racial divide in the United States. The vignette Korean Green Grocers: Challenge and Opportunity describes the tensions between impoverished blacks and the immigrant merchants in their communities. Three vignettes, Crippin: The Rise of Black Gangs in Post-Watts Los Angeles, “Crack is just Jim Crow in a Pipe” and Crime and Punishment: Two Black Generations Collide discuss the relationship between drugs and crime in impoverished African American neighborhoods.

The vignette, The Million Man March Pledge represents the attempt by organizations such as the Nation of Islam to address the deterioration of the social fabric of African American communities in the 1980s and early 1990 while the last vignette, The California Civil Rights Initiative, despite its name, represents the continuing opposition to affirmative action.


In a 1965 address titled “To Fulfill These Rights” before the faculty and students of Howard University President Lyndon Baines Johnson issues the first major call for affirmative action, a special effort by the nation to assist African Americans in gaining full economic opportunity as well as full political rights.

Dr. Nabrit, my fellow Americans:
I am delighted at the chance to speak at this important and this historic institution. Howard has long been an outstanding center for the education of Negro Americans. Its students are of every race and color and they come from many countries of the world. It is truly a working example of democratic excellence...

In far too many ways American Negroes have been another nation: deprived of freedom, crippled by hatred, the doors of opportunity closed to hope... The American Negro, acting with impressive restraint, has peacefully protested and marched, entered the courtrooms and the seats of government, demanding a justice that has long been denied. The voice of the Negro was the call to action. But it is a tribute to America that, once aroused, the courts and the Congress, the President and most of the people, have been the allies of progress.

Thus we have seen the high court of the country declare that discrimination based on race was repugnant to the Constitution, and therefore void. We have seen in 1957, and 1960, and again in 1964, the first civil rights legislation in this Nation in almost an entire century.

As majority leader of the United States Senate, I helped to guide two of these bills through the Senate. And, as your President, I was proud to sign the third. And now very soon we will have the fourth—a new law guaranteeing every American the right to vote.

No act of my entire administration will give me greater satisfaction than the day when my signature makes this bill, too, the law of this land.

The voting rights bill will be the latest, and among the most important, in a long series of victories. But this victory—as Winston Churchill said of another triumph for freedom—"is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."

That beginning is freedom; and the barriers to that freedom are tumbling down. Freedom is the right to share, share fully and equally, in American society—to vote, to hold a job, to enter a public place, to go to school. It is the right to be treated in every part of our national life as a person equal in dignity and promise to all others.

But freedom is not enough. You do not wipe away the scars of centuries by saying: Now you are free to go where you want, and do as you desire, and choose the leaders you please.

You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, "you are free to compete with all the others," and still justly believe that you have been completely fair.

Thus it is not enough just to open the gates of opportunity. All our citizens must have the ability to walk through those gates.

This is the next and the more profound stage of the battle for civil rights. We seek not just freedom but opportunity. We seek not just legal equity but human ability, not just equality as a right and a theory but equality as a fact and equality as a result...

To this end equal opportunity is essential, but not enough, not enough. Men and women of all races are born with the same range of abilities. But ability is not just the product of birth. Ability is stretched or stunted by the family that you live with, and the neighborhood you live in—by the school you go to and the poverty or the richness of your surroundings. It is the product of a hundred unseen forces playing upon the little infant, the child, and finally the man...

We are trying to attack these evils through our poverty program, through our education program, through our medical care and our other health programs, and a dozen more of the Great Society programs that are aimed at the root causes of this poverty...

But there is a second cause—much more difficult to explain, more deeply grounded, more desperate in its force. It is the devastating heritage of long years of slavery; and a century of oppression, hatred, and injustice. OVERTY

For Negro poverty is not white poverty... There are differences-deep, corrosive, obstinate differences—radiating painful roots into the community, and into the family, and the nature of the individual.

These differences are not racial differences. They are solely and simply the consequence of ancient brutality, past injustice, and present prejudice. They are anguishing to observe. For the Negro they are a constant reminder of oppression. For the white they are a constant reminder of guilt. But they must be faced and they must be dealt with and they must be overcome if we are ever to reach the time when the only difference between Negroes and whites is the color of their skin.

Nor can we find a complete answer in the experience of other American minorities. They made a valiant and a largely successful effort to emerge from poverty and prejudice... [However] they did not have the heritage of centuries to overcome, and they did not have a cultural tradition which had been twisted and battered by endless years of hatred and hopelessness, nor were they excluded—these others—because of race or color—a feeling whose dark intensity is matched by no other prejudice in our society.

Nor can these differences be understood as isolated infirmities. They are a seamless web. They cause each other. They result from each other. They reinforce each other.

Much of the Negro community is buried under a blanket of history and circumstance. It is not a lasting solution to lift just one corner of that blanket. We must stand on all sides and we must raise the entire cover if we are to liberate our fellow citizens...

There is no single easy answer to all of these problems.

Jobs are part of the answer. They bring the income which permits a man to provide for his family.

Decent homes in decent surroundings and a chance to learn—an equal chance to learn—are part of the answer.

Welfare and social programs better designed to hold families together are part of the answer.

Care for the sick is part of the answer.
An understanding heart by all Americans is another big part of the answer.

And to all of these fronts—and a dozen more—I will dedicate the expanding efforts of the Johnson administration.

But there are other answers that are still to be found. Nor do we fully understand even all of the problems. Therefore, I want to announce tonight that this fall I intend to call a White House conference of scholars, and experts, and outstanding Negro leaders—men of both races—and officials of Government at every level.

This White House conference's theme and title will be "To Fulfill These Rights."

Its object will be to help the American Negro fulfill the rights which, after the long time of injustice, he is finally about to secure.

To move beyond opportunity to achievement.

To shatter forever not only the barriers of law and public practice, but the walls which bound the condition of many by the color of his skin.

To dissolve, as best we can, the antique enmities of the heart which diminish the holder, divide the great democracy, and do wrong—great wrong—to the children of God.

And I pledge you tonight that this will be a chief goal of my administration, and of my program next year, and in the years to come. And I hope, and I pray, and I believe, it will be a part of the program of all America...

Source: Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson,
Volume II, (Washington, D. C.: Government Printing Office, 1966), pp.


Affirmative Action has come to symbolize for blacks and whites the continuing dilemma of race in America. Blacks perceived it as a just and reasonable attempt to eliminate the consequences of America's racial past but many whites felt it provides undue advantage to blacks and thus is "reverse racism." Here is a brief history of the concept.

Affirmative action had first been developed at a time of a growing economy in response to the paucity of blacks in many jobs. Back in the early 1960s it was relatively easy to get into law school. Just about anyone with a college degree and a high C average could get into law school somewhere. Bolt Hall, the law school of the University of California at Berkeley, and one of the top-ranked schools in the nation accepted anyone with a B average--three quarters of those who applied. Yet in 1965, in all the country's accredited white law schools, there were only 434 black students. Blacks made up 11 percent of the country's population, but only 2 percent of its lawyers and 1.3 percent of its law school enrollees. In the late 1960s, driven by the gains of the civil rights movement and protests on campus, colleges and universities adopted a range of "affirmative" measures to attract more black students (the phrase "affirmative action" stemmed from an executive order signed by Presi¬dent Johnson in 1965, ordering federal contractors to take aggressive measures to hire black employees. Colleges set up special training programs for blacks, increased financial aid, and recruited blacks aggressively.

But at the same time colleges and universities were increasing their efforts to recruit and accept black students, the competition for jobs and places in law and medical school was stiffening. Between 1964 and 1975, the number of students taking the LSAT, the exam to get into law school, increased by more than threefold. Law schools expanded their classes to meet the demand, but they could not meet it all. By 1970, 70,000 students nationwide were applying for 35,000 law school spots. At prestigious law schools like Bolt Hall it was not unusual for five people to apply for every spot.

The upshot was that standards rose. A B average was no longer good enough. Only the best and the brightest could get in.

That placed in a quandary liberals committed to expanding opportuni¬ties for blacks. The metaphor invoked in the 1960s envisioned preparing blacks before the race so they could make to the starting line. But by the late 1970s, the starting line kept being pushed up. Programs that might have given disadvantaged blacks the skills to get into law school in 1965 were insuffi¬cient to get them into the far more competitive law schools of 1970. More¬over, many blacks believe that racism was deeply entrenched in universi¬ties. The only way to guarantee that blacks entered universities and col¬leges, they argued, was to establish goals, timetables, and quotas. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, many universities adopted preferential policies that brought in minority students under quota, or near-quota programs. They set aside places for "disadvantaged" students and explicitly directed their admissions commit¬tees to seek out blacks and other minorities to fill a certain number of seats.

Source: Jonathan Kaufman, Broken Alliance: The Turbulent Times Between Blacks and Jews in America, (New York, 1989), pp. 210-211.


Few Federal initiatives have had a more paradoxical impact than the efforts of the United States government beginning in the 1930s to encourage home ownership through the Home Owners Loan Corporation and its successor agency, the Federal Housing Authority. Both agencies dramatically increased the ability of the “average” American to purchase and own homes and thus helped fashion a middle class majority in the nation. Yet those same agencies reinforced racial discrimination by “redlining” areas where African Americans and other people of color lived making it exceeding difficult for them to access this money for home purchases or improvements. Moreover the availability of mortgage money encouraged whites to move to rapidly expanding suburbs particularly in the post-World War period that were usually off limits to African Americans through restrictive covenants and other legal and extralegal strategies. These agencies did not “invent” housing discrimination. They did, however, cement it in place and expand it to heighten the physical separation of whites and blacks in the major urban centers throughout the nation. That story is told in brief below.

The suburbanization of America was principally financed and encouraged by actions of the federal government, which supported suburban growth from the 1930s through the 1960s, by way of taxation, transportation, and housing policy.... While these governmental policies collectively enabled over thirty five million fami¬lies between 1933 and 1978 to participate in homeowner equity accumula¬tion, they also had the adverse effect of constraining black Americans' residential opportunities to central city ghettos of major U.S. metropolitan communities and denying them access to one of the most successful genera¬tors of wealth in American history, the suburban tract home.

This story begins with the government's initial entry into home financ¬ing. Faced with mounting foreclosures, President Roosevelt urged passage of a bill that authorized the Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC). According to Kenneth Jackson's Crabgrass Frontier, the HOLC "refinanced tens of thousands of mortgages in danger of default or foreclosure." Of more importance to this story, however, it also introduced standardized appraisals of the fitness of particular properties and communities for both individual end group loans. In creating "a formal and uniform system of appraisal, reduced to writing, structured in defined procedures, and implemented by Individuals only after intensive training, government appraisals institutionalized in a rational and bureaucratic framework a racially discriminatory prac¬tice that all but eliminated black access to the suburbs and to government mortgage money." Charged with the task of determining the "useful or productive life of housing" they considered to finance, government agents methodically included in their procedures the evaluation of the racial compo¬sition or potential racial composition of the community. Communities that were changing racially or were already black were deemed undesirable and placed in the lowest category. The categories, assigned various colors on a map ranging from green for the most desirable, which included new, all white housing that was always in demand, to red, which included already racially mixed or all black, old, and undesirable areas, subsequently were used by Federal Housing Authority (FHA) loan officers who made loans on the basis of these designations.

Established in 1934, the FHA aimed to bolster the economy and increase employment by aiding the ailing construction industry. The FHA ushered in the modern mortgage system that enabled people to buy homes on small down payments and at reasonable interest rates, with lengthy repayment peri¬ods and full loan amortization. The FHA's success was remarkable: housing starts jumped from 332,000 in 1936 to 619,000 in 1941. The incentive for home ownership increased to the point where it became, in some cases, cheaper to buy a home than to rent one. As one former resident of New York City who moved to suburban New Jersey pointed out, "We had been paying $50 per month rent, and here we come up and live for $29.00 a month." This included taxes, principal, insurance, and interest.

This growth in access to housing was confined, however, for the most part to suburban areas. The administrative dictates outlined in the original act, while containing no anti-urban bias, functioned in practice to the neglect of central cities. Three reasons can be cited: first, a bias toward the financing of single family detached homes over multifamily projects favored open areas outside of the central city that had yet to be developed over congested central¬-city areas; second, a bias toward new purchases over repair of existing homes prompted people to move out of the city rather than upgrade or improve their existing residences; and third, the continued use of the "unbiased professional estimate" that made older homes and communities in which blacks or undesirables were located less likely to receive approval for loans encouraged purchases in communities where race was not an issue.

While the FHA used as its model the HOLC's appraisal system, it provided more precise guidance to its appraisers in its Underwriting Manual. The most basic sentiment underlying the FHA's concern was its fear that property values would decline if a rigid black and white segregation was not maintained. The Underwriting Manual openly stated that "if a neighborhood is to retain stability, it is necessary that properties shall continue to be occu¬pied by the same social and racial classes" and further recommended that "subdivision regulations and suitable restrictive covenants" are the best way to ensure such neighborhood stability. The FHA's recommended use of restrictive covenants continued until 1949, when, responding to the Supreme Court's outlawing of such covenants in 1948 (Shelly v. Kraemer), it announced that "as of February 15, 1950, it would not insure mortgages on real estate subject to covenants:"

Even after this date, however, the FHA's discriminatory practices contin¬ued to have an impact on the continuing suburbanization of the white popu¬lation and the deepening ghettoization of the black population. While exact figures regarding the FHA's discriminations against blacks are not available, data by county show a clear pattern of "redlining" in central city counties and abundant loan activity in suburban counties.

The FHA's actions have had a lasting impact on the wealth portfolios of black Americans. Locked out of the greatest mass based opportunity for wealth accumulation in American history, African Americans who desired and were able to afford home ownership found themselves consigned to central city communities where their investments were affected by the "self-¬fulfilling prophecies" of the FHA appraisers: cut off from sources of new investment their homes and communities deteriorated and lost value in comparison to those homes and communities that FHA appraisers deemed desirable. One infamous housing development of the period—Levittown [on Long Island, New York] provides a classic illustration of the way blacks missed out on this asset accu¬mulating opportunity. Levittown was built on a mass scale, and housing there was eminently affordable, thanks to the FHA's...accessible financing, yet as late as 1960 not a single one of...Levittown's 82,000 resi¬dents was black.

Source: Melvin L. Oliver and Thomas M. Shapiro, Black Wealth/White Wealth: A New Perspective on Racial Equality (New York: Routledge, 1995), pp. 16-18.


The following article by Essence writer Audrey Edwards summarized the various reasons for continuing black poverty even in the face of growing incomes and apparent prosperity.

Black folks seem to have as many jokes that underscore the fragility of our economic condition as we do race jokes that reveal our obsession with skin color: "When America's in a recession, Black America's in a depression." "I'm just a paycheck away from poverty." "What money can't buy, I don't want." This last one is perhaps prophetic, for what money clearly has not been able to buy in American society is Black economic parity with whites. Despite the Black middle class's being larger than ever before in terms of sheer numbers; despite the gain in Black upper-middle-class income between 1970 and 1989 that outpaced the growth in white upper-middle-class income by almost two to one; and despite what can now be considered a true African¬ American wealth class, the bottom line remains largely red when it comes to overall Black economic reality: White net worth outdistanced Black net worth by a staggering 1,200 percent. Net worth (the value of assets home, car, savings accounts, pension fund, insurance policies or any other instrument that gener¬ates income minus the debts owed) is the crucial barometer by which to gauge economic progress, for it measures financial wealth the monetary worth of the assets, resources and benefits that have been accumulated to enhance economic well-being. Historically, the gap between the economic well-being of whites and that of Blacks has remained a chasm.

Racism and its lethal partner discrimination are still guilty as charged when it comes to ambushing Black economic development. But the gap between Black and white wealth is the result of more than just racism, discrimination or an uneven playing field. It is the result of 246 years or two and a half centuries and 12 genera¬tions in which a race of people labored for virtually no income. Twelve generations of Blacks produced wealth for a land in which it was illegal for them either to accumulate or to share in that wealth. Twelve generations of African-Americans built the schools that denied them access to an education and tilled the soil that denied them the opportunity to own property, to vote, to travel freely, to earn a living. In the American "democracy" that fought a revolution over the issue of "no taxation without representation," African-Americans were taxed at the maximum rate of 100 percent with no representation, no pay, no acknowledgement of their humanity. And 400 years later we have yet to recover from the economic devastation that was the scourge of slavery, or the vicious Jim Crow discrimination that haunted emancipation. This is the ground on which we find ourselves still trying to play catch-up.

If the gap between Black and white wealth remains deep and wide, the good news is that more African-Americans than ever before have success¬fully leaped across the chasm to land in the solid middle class. The disturb¬ing news is that just as many are falling into the great void of what has been called the "underclass," an eco¬nomic pit from which some econo¬mists say there is no escape. Indeed, given the fact that Afri¬can-Americans have been free only half as long as we were enslaved, it may be another hundred years be¬fore we can significantly narrow the wealth gap between Blacks and whites, if that gap can even be sig¬nificantly narrowed. Radical econo¬mists believe that nothing short of a Black tax revolt and a demand for reparations can ever remedy the disastrous effects of the 200¬ plus years that whites had an economic head start over Blacks in America. The arguments are compelling: Because 12 generations of Blacks were taxed to the maximum that was humanly possible and did labor that resulted in no income, shouldn't the income taxes that are levied on succeeding genera¬tions of Blacks be adjusted to compensate for the two centuries their ancestors "paid in full"? And aren't reparations owed for America's 246-year theft of human capital?

Given this legacy, the economic progress of Blacks in the last 30 years has nevertheless been considerable and remarkable. The decade of the seventies was something of an economic boom time for African-Americans, with the percentage of Black families earn¬ing middle-class incomes of $25,000 to $50,000 climbing as high as 30.5 percent in 1976. Some of the gain was wiped out during the recessionary eighties, however, and by 1988 the percentage of Black families that were in the middle-class $25,000-to-$50,000 income range had slipped to 26.7 percent.

It was the upper middle class, though, fueled by expanded opportunities in education and employment due to the Civil Rights Movement that became the pinnacle reached by an ever-increasing number of Blacks. During the 20 years between 1970 and 1989 the percentage of Blacks who had upper-middle-class annual house¬hold incomes of $50,000 or more grew by 182 percent. Numbers can be misleading, however, for a growth in income is not the same as a growth in net worth, nor does Black income growth mean African-Americans are catching up with whites in any significant way. For example, in 1989 the median household income for whites was $30,406, compared with $18,083 for Blacks. Put another way, a Black household made 63 cents for every one dollar a white household made. In 1979, it was 62 cents for every dollar. And in 1988 the median net worth of Black households was only $4,169, com¬pared with $43,279 for white house¬holds; and 29 percent of Black fam¬ilies actually had a zero or negative net worth.

So why, despite the recent but real growth in the total numbers of Blacks who now earn middle-class to upper-middle-class incomes, do African-Americans remain relatively poor when it comes to net-worth? Why do even the presumably wealthy among us pass from this life, as Sammy Davis, Jr., and Alex Haley did, insolvent, leaving their heirs only an inheritance of debt? The truth is, we continue to be shaped by not only the legacy of slavery and the reality of racism, but by attitudes and buying habits that hold us back economically. We are less likely than whites, for instance, to invest in such money-making vehicles as stocks and bonds, mutual funds, individ¬ual retirement accounts...the kinds of instruments that generate income without generating sweat. A large part of the problem is that we are less likely to have the extra or discretionary income to make such investments and often lack access to the critical information needed to do so. We are also much less likely to inherit the kind of resources that allow families to accumulate or perpetuate wealth, since our ancestors died literally owning nothing to pass on. We also tend as a people to invest in the trappings of success clothes, expensive cars, electronic equipment, household gadgets, fine liquor rather than the substance of success. This is due largely to a history of deprivation that has resulted in our needing to make a visible statement about economic success once we achieve it. And even when we haven't achieved it, looking as if we're an unqualified success has always made us feel better.

It will probably take as long to change our economic habits as it does our economic fortunes. But changing both are critical if we want to ensure that the labor of our ancestors does not continue to go for nothing, and that our children do not continue to inherit the wind.

Source: Audrey Edwards, "The Black-White Money Gap," Essence (April 1993), pp. 85-86.


The following vignette is an introduction to Reginald Lewis, one of the most successful corporate leveraged buyout specialists of the 1980s.

Strolling briskly along one of Manhattan's better known boulevards, 44-year-old Reginald Francis Lewis reared back and unleashed a quick right uppercut. A crisply executed left jab followed, but both punches struck only air, leaving eddies of August humidity in their wake. Continuing down the Avenue of the Americas in his $2,000 dark blue Italian-made suit, his ruggedly handsome features tinged orange from the mercury street lights, Lewis threw punch after exuberant punch until he grew arm weary. All the while he flashed a gap-toothed grin and emitted a booming belly laugh as a phalanx of well-dressed business partners accompanying him chuckled too, or looked on with bemused expressions.

Trailing about 50 feet behind with its parking lights on, Lewis's black Mercedes limousine shadowed the group. In side the car, where the air conditioner was set at precisely 70 degrees and classical music played on the radio--per Lewis's instructions--the driver watched attentively for a casual wave of the hand indicating Lewis was tired of walking and ready to ride.

But on the night of August 6, 1987, Reginald Lewis was in the throes of such an invigorating adrenaline rush he could have walked all night and into the day. A successful corporate lawyer who remade himself into a financier and buyer of corporations, Lewis had bought the McCall Pattern Company for $22.5 million, guided it to record earnings and recently sold it for $65 million, fetching a 90-1 return on his investment.

But even that improbable achievement was small potatoes compared with what Lewis had pulled off a few hours earlier. This audacious African American born to a working-class family in Baltimore had just won the right to buy Beatrice International Foods, a global giant with 64 companies in 31 countries, for just under $1 billion.

Now--foregoing his plush limousine--Lewis preferred to walk the six blocks...to the Harvard Club, located at 44th Street. A richly appointed bastion of Manhattan's old boy network, the Harvard Club invariably reminded Lewis of just how far he had come from his blue-collar youth in segregated Baltimore and just how far he intended to go.

Lewis outbid several multinational companies, including Citicorp, that were aided by squads of accountants, lawyers and financial advisors. Lewis had won by relying on moxie, financial and legal savvy, and the efforts of a two-man team consisting of himself and a recently hired business partner. In fact, when Lewis tendered his bid, a representative of one of the investment banking firms handling the auction called Lewis's office and said, "We have received from your group an offer to buy Beatrice International for $950 million. We have a small problem--nobody know who the hell you are!"

The world knew who Lewis was by the time he succumbed to brain cancer in January 1993, at the relatively young age of 50. His net worth was estimated by Forbes at $400 million when he died, putting him on the magazine's 400 list of wealthiest Americans.

Source: Reginald F. Lewis and Blair S. Walker, "Why Should White Guys Have All the Fun?": How Reginald Lewis Created a Billion-Dollar Business Empire (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1995), pp. xiii-xv.


The following vignette is taken from a Forbes Magazine profile of Robert L. Johnson, the first African American billionaire.

Robert L. Johnson has traveled the classic American journey from modest origins to unimaginable wealth. The ninth of ten children in a working-class family in small-town Illinois, he parlayed a $15,000 loan in 1979 into Black Entertainment Television (BET), one of the cable industry's richest franchises.

He took it public in 1991, took it private at a $1.3 billion valuation in 1998--and then sold it to Viacom for more than double that earlier this year. For his 63% stake Johnson received Viacom stock now worth $1.3 billion. The deal set him up to build BET, now in almost 70 million homes, into the premier medium for reaching the U.S.' 35 million African American consumers. It also make him the country's first black billionaire, earning him the #172 slot on The Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans.

But for all his success, the 55-year old executive is resented, even reviled by some leading voices among the very audience he built his fortune catering to--black America. He has been denounced as a sellout for striking the Viacom deal. Last March, when he fired low-rated talk show host Tavis Smiley, protestors blamed the move on the new "white" owners at Viacom... BET, treasured by some as the only channel devoted to black entertainment, is trashed by others for a lack of social conscience, a surfeit of off-color comedy and a predilection for music videos rife with flashy cars, abundant cleavage and gyrating derrieres. To many black Americans, BET is like an ill-mannered relative--dearly loved, but a little embarrassing...

Is this all the love and admiration that Bob Johnson deserves? He bristles at the criticism and calls it misplaced. Johnson is a pawn for no one. His 1.6% stake in Viacom makes him the second largest individual shareholder in the media titan, trailing only Chairman Sumner Redstone. "I make too much money to be a front man," he says icily.

Johnson insists BET has done plenty to improve the lot of black American--and says that isn't his job anyway. His mission is to build a profitable business and run it at maximum velocity. That entails giving viewers what they want and doing it as cheaply as possible. If blacks can benefit along the way, so much the better, but that is a by-product. "We are the only black network in town, so everybody has poured their burdens and obligations on BET," Johnson says, "but we can't solve everybody's desires for BET. We have to be focused on running this as a profit maximization business."

[Johnson's] odyssey to wealth began in 1979 when he graduated from the University of Illinois and received a master's from Princeton. He was the only one in his family to graduate from college. He was working in Washington as a lobbyist for the cable industry when he met John C. Malone, then chief executive of Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI). Cable was spreading around the country and Johnson's idea for BET was a perfect fit for Malone, who was competing for contracts in cities with large black populations. Johnson borrowed $15,000 in seed money. TCI invested $500,000 for a 35% stake and never sold it. When Johnson sold BET to Viacom, that stake brought $800 million in Viacom stock... Several BET executives also became millionaires in 1998 when Johnson took the company private.

Early on, BET ran a mix of old movies, gospel, black college sports, infomercials and a few music videos. But Johnson soon recognized that MTV, which started a year after BET, was finding fast success by focusing on pop and rock music--and it ignored black acts entirely. This left the door open for BET to carry rhythm and blues, soul and the then-fledgling genre of rap.

To sign up cable operators and undercut the perception that the new channel would appeal only to blacks, Johnson shed the original name--Black Entertainment Television--calling its simply BET. Still, to build audience loyalty Johnson emphasized that this was a channel for black people, operated by black people. BET's salespeople visited black civic and social organizations across the country, urging community leaders to lobby their cable operators to carry the channel. As cable operators obliged, the new channel generated enormous excitement in black America just as hip-hop culture, with its swaggering multimillionaire entertainers and athletes, was emerging. BET became the center stage where black America could witness this profound cultural shift on a daily basis.

Johnson has amassed a personal fortune that includes seven hotels...restaurants in Washington, Las Vegas and Orlando and a minority state in Vanguarde Media, a magazine publisher. Johnson had also planned to invest $200 million to build an airline...until the government rejected the merger of United Airlines and U.S. Airways.. Now he looks to buy more hotels and acquire the ultimate rich guy's toy, a professional sports franchise.

But even one of American's richest people is subject to the same daily slights as the average black guy. On Johnson's 163-acre farm in Virginia's hunt country, where he lives with his wife and two children, a neighbor once mistook him for a stable hand. And one day, as he sat behind the wheel of his Jaguar outside of Washington's Four Seasons Hotel, a white woman jumped into the backseat, assuming he was the driver.

But there is plenty of love for BET among recording artists. At the cable network's inaugural awards show...Beyonce Knowles, lead singer of the red-hot group Destiny's Child, summed up the sentiments of many performers: "Thanks BET, for playing our videos when nobody else would."

Source: Forbes Magazine 168:9 (October 8, 2001):42-54.

Source: Unknown


In 1984 Rev. Jesse Jackson campaigned for the Democratic nomination for the Presidency. Although he entered the Democratic convention at San Francisco with little hope of winning, his appeals on behalf of the dispossessed of America whom he characterized as the "Rainbow Coalition," ensured that his influence in Democratic Party politics would continue. Part of his speech to the Convention appears below.

This is not a perfect party. We are not a perfect people. Yet, we are called to a perfect mission: our mission, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to house the homeless, to teach the illiterate, to provide jobs for the jobless, and to choose the human race over the nuclear race.

My constituency is the damned, disinherited, disrespected and the despised. They are restless and seek relief. They've voted in record numbers. They have invested the faith, hope, and trust that they have in us. The Democratic Party must send them a signal that we care. I pledge my best not to let them down....

Throughout this campaign, I have tried to offer leadership to the Democratic Party and the nation. If in my high moments, I have done some
good, offered some service, shed some light, healed some wounds...then this campaign has not been in vain....If in my low moments, in word, deed or attitude, through some error of temper, taste or tone, I have caused anyone discomfort, created pain, or revived someone's fears, that was not my truest self....

Our flag is red, white and blue, but our nation is rainbow--red, yellow, brown, blacks and white--were all precious in God's sight. American is not like a blanket--one piece of unbroken cloth, the same color, the same texture, the same size. America is more like a quilt--many patches, many pieces, many colors, many sizes, all woven and held together by a common thread.

We should not act as if nuclear weaponry is negotiable and debatable. We must choose developed minds over guided missiles, and think it out and not fight it out. It' time for a change.

When we look at Africa, we cannot just focus on apartheid in southern Africa. We must fight for trade with Africa, and not just aid to Africa. We cannot stand idly by and say we will not relate to Nicaragua unless they have elections there and then embrace military regimes in Africa, overthrowing Democratic governments in Nigeria, and Liberia and Ghana. We must fight for democracy all around the world, and play the game by one set of rules.

I have a message for our youth. I challenge them to put hope in their brains, and not dope in their veins. I, too, was born in a slum, but just because you're born in a slum, does not mean the slum is born in you, and you can rise above it if your mind is made up.....Exercise your right to dream. You must face reality--that which is. But then dream of the reality that ought to be, that must be. Live beyond the pain of reality with the dream of a bright tomorrow. Use hope and imagination as weapons of survival and progress. Use love to motivate you and obligate you to serve the human family.

Source: Jessie Jackson, “The Rainbow Coalition,” Vital Speeches of the Day, vol. 51, no. 3 (November 15, 1984), pp. 77-81


On November 8, 1989 Douglas Wilder was elected governor of Virginia, becoming the first African American in the 20th Century to hold that post and the first in the nation’s history to be chosen by a majority of the state’s voters. Here is a description of the historic event taken from two articles in the Washington Post.

Virginia Democratic Lt. Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, a grandson of slaves, won a razor-thin victory over Republican J. Marshall Coleman yesterday to become the first elected black governor in U.S. history.

"I am here to claim to be the next governor of Virginia," an exultant Wilder told supporters at a Richmond hotel last night. "The people of Virginia have spoken."

…With all of the state's 1,967 precincts counted, Wilder defeated Coleman by 7,732 votes out of a record 1.77 million cast, or 50.2 percent to 49.8 percent….

* * *

"If he wins, I will cry," teacher Carolyn Simons said after voting for L. Douglas Wilder in Portsmouth's predominately black Precinct 2A. "I just feel like I'm making history this morning whether he wins or not." In Newport News, Darlene Waddle said, "I voted for J. Marshall Coleman because of abortion. I’m against abortion. If I can help save someone's life, I think God would want me to do it."

Simons, 43 and Waddle, 37 were among scores of Virginians across the state who spoke from the heart as much as the intellect yesterday in explaining their votes for governor. For some, it was east to vote the straight party ticket out of habit, for others, the choices were more difficult. In random interviews as they emerged from the polls, some indicated that they were deeply stirred by the prospect of voting for Wilder to be the first black elected governor. Others were troubled by the abortion issue.

Tony Whitehead, 51, a Portsmouth truck driver, said after voting for Wilder, "I just feel great about this....A lot of us civil rights activists died in order to see this day. Eleanor Ross, 55, of Reston said she voted for Wilder, but said she was glad Wilder is more conservative than prominent black politicians such as D.C. Mayor Marion Barry and Jesse L. Jackson. "Jesse Jackson, I’m glad he stayed out of the race because he definitely would've turned me against Wilder," she said.

Fred Kellerman, 62, of Alexandria, a drywall contractor, said, "I don't want a black governor. I'm afraid he's going to bring his helpers from all over the country and put them in office…Colored people lie too much. They always have their hands out." An Oakton woman, who declined to give her name, said, "I don't want a black man there. He may be a very capable man, but we'll have another Washington, D.C. We'll have another welfare state…He's got all those kinfolk to look out for."

But James Lamb, 49, a chemical worker in Portsmouth said, "This says to me that people are beginning to accept black people into the mainstream of government as we should be. It’s time for black people to be accepted as just people."

Source: Washington Post, November 8, 1989, p. A1; A25.


One indication of the growing political sophistication of African-Americans in the 1980s, and their identification with African liberation struggles, was their ability to organize a broad coalition to support economic sanctions against the South African regime. The radically differing views Americans held about South African Apartheid and the role the United States should play in ending the system are reflected in the two passages below. The first is an excerpt from a speech by President Ronald Reagan on July 22, 1986, opposing sanctions. The second passage is the response of Pennsylvania Congressman William Gray, then chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and chief sponsor of the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act which proposed sanctions. The Act was passed despite President Reagan's strenuous opposition.

President Reagan: The root cause of South Africa's disorder is apartheid, that rigid system of racial segregation wherein black people have been treated as third-class citizens in a nation they helped to build. America's view of apartheid has been, and remains, clear: apartheid is morally wrong and politically unacceptable. The United States cannot maintain cordial relations with a government whose power rests upon the denial of rights to a majority of its people, based on race....The Prime Minister of Great Britain has denounced punitive sanctions as immoral and utterly repugnant. Well, let me tell you why we believe Mrs. Thatcher is right.

The primary victims of an economic boycott of South Africa would be the very people we seek to help. Most of the workers who would lose jobs because of sanctions would be black workers. We do not believe the way to help the people of South Africa is to cripple the economy upon which they and their families depend for survival.

...In recent years there's been a dramatic change. Black workers have been permitted to unionize, to bargain collectively and build the strongest free trade union movement in all of Africa. The infamous pass laws have been ended, as have many of the laws denying blacks the right to live, work and own property in South Africa's cities. Citizenship wrongly stripped away has been restored to nearly 6 million blacks. Segregation in universities and public facilities is being set aside. Social apartheid laws prohibiting interracial sex and marriage have been struck down.

...But by Western standards, South Africa still falls short--terribly short--on the scales of economic and social justice....But the South African Government is under no obligation to negotiate the future of the country with any organization that proclaims a goal of creating a Communist state, and uses terrorist tactics and violence to achieve it....

...But let me outline what we believe are necessary components of progress toward political peace. First, a timetable for elimination of apartheid laws should be set. Second, all political prisoners should be released. Third, Nelson Mandela should be released to participate in the country's political process. Fourth, black political movements should be unbanned. Fifth, both the Government and its opponents should begin a dialogue about constructing a political system that rests on the consent of the governed, where the rights of majorities and minorities and individuals are protected by law. And the dialogue should be initiated by those with power and authority, the South African Government itself. Sixth, if post-apartheid South Africa is to remain the economic locomotive of southern Africa, its strong and developed economy must not be crippled. And therefore, I urge the Congress and the countries of Western Europe to resist this emotional clamor for punitive sanctions. If Congress imposes sanctions it would destroy America's flexibility....and deepen the crisis. To make a difference, Americans who are a force for decency and progress.... must remain involved.

* * *

Representative Gray: Today President Reagan declared the United States and Great Britain co-guarantors of apartheid. By joining Mrs. Thatcher in opposing economic sanctions, the President protects Pretoria from the one weapon it fears most....In 1985 the Congress bipartisanly passed the Anti-Apartheid Act, changing our policy and opposing sanctions.....[and] just one month ago the House of Representatives passed the toughest possible economic sanctions: total divestment and a trade embargo, the measures we already have imposed on Cuba, North Korea, Cambodia and Libya. However, the President tells us that sanctions will only hurt the blacks, the people we are trying to help.

But blacks have suffered for years, not because of sanctions, but because of apartheid. They suffer because by law they cannot vote. They suffer because they are 72 percent of the population squeezed onto 13 percent of South Africa's most barren land. They suffer because they can be arrested without charge or trial. More than 6,000 blacks have been detained in the past month alone. They are allowed no contact with lawyers or families.... Under a sweeping state of emergency, they simply have disappeared. Killings, detentions, people disappearing--a modern-day Holocaust is unfolding before our very eyes. How can sanctions hurt black South Africans when apartheid is killing them?

...Out of 28 million black South Africans, only 47,000--one tenth of 1 percent--hold jobs with American companies. These numbers alone tell us that the issue in South Africa is not jobs, but the loss of life and the denial of justice. Archbishop Tutu, Reverend Boesak, Doctor Naude, Winnie Mandela, countless other South African leaders have pleaded with us to impose sanctions and raise the cost of apartheid...

...President Reagan tells us that sanctions don't work. Why then have we imposed sanctions against Libya, Nicaragua, Poland and Cuba, and some 20 nations throughout the world? Those sanctions express our profound distaste of the policies and the actions of those nations. We imposed them not because we thought they would bring down those Governments, but to disassociate us from all that those Governments stand for while raising the cost of behavior we abhor. Why not South Africa? Why the double standard? That's the question the oppressed majority keeps asking the land of freedom and liberty.

The President has preached that the Reagan doctrine is to fight for freedom wherever it is denied. Why is the doctrine being denied in Pretoria?
What is needed is not simply a condemnation of apartheid, while we provide economic support for South Africa's oppression through our loans and investments. What is needed is a new policy that clearly dissociates us from apartheid and calls for the complete dismantlement of that system, not cosmetic reforms.

Source: Ronald Reagan speech July 22, 1986, and Representative William H. Gray’s (Pennsylvania) response to Reagan’s speech.


The title of this vignette comes directly from an article which appeared in Reform Judaism in the Fall of 1991. The article is a collage of statements by various Jewish and black authors and activists on the divisions between the two groups that formed a major political alliance during the civil rights movement. I have included the statements of Julius Lester, Professor of Judaic Studies at the University of Massachusetts, who is both black and Jewish and of the New York-based writer Anne Roiphe as examples of the dialogue on this issue.

LESTER: To speak of "the escalating rife between Jews and African-Americans" is to be unnecessarily polite about the painful truth. We are witnessing the open expression of outright hatred toward Jews by too many African-Americans. Where one could understand that perhaps Jesse Jackson's past anti-Semitic utterances came from ignorance, short-sightedness, or insensitivity, the recent screams of Minister Farrakhan, Khalid Abdul Muhammad, Tony Martin, and others are deliberate and intentional. The issue is not so much why Farrakhan, et.al. speak, but why large black audiences applaud them.

When I ask black college students to explain to me Farrakhan's appeal, they say: "Farrakhan makes the white man listen. When Farrakhan comes to town, the white man pays attention." It does not seem to have occurred to these students that the attention is, by and large, condemnatory and negative. To them, opprobrium is better than invisibility. Although black college students say they ignore Farrakhan's anti-Semitism, when asked why they do not repudiate it and Farrakhan, their response is instructive: "We can't reject Farrakhan because it'll look like others are telling us who we can and can't have as leaders." In other words, having the power to say who one's leaders are is more important that what those leaders say. There is something almost childishly obstinate about such an attitude, but to dismiss it as such would be to ignore the depths of powerlessness and hopelessness that beset major segments of black youth...

The overriding question is does America care about black life? Does America care how blacks live? Does America care if blacks live? When the nation is able to respond with a resounding YES, Farrakhan and his ilk will find themselves speaking to near empty auditoriums. The task we as Jews face is to resist the temptation to take the anti-Semitic bait and recognize that black hopelessness and despair represent a far greater threat to our well-being and safety than hateful tirades. Our efforts must be directed toward alleviating that hopelessness and despair.

ROIPHE: So now we were slave traders as well as plantation owners! Will it never end? It breaks the heart. Listening to Farrakhan threaten to grind us to bits or to Steven Cokely say that Jewish doctors have been injecting black babies with AIDS is to relive our long history of blood libels and pogroms. The success of Jewish students in the American school system mocks the black student. Jewish success in all areas of American life rubs hard against the all too common black experience of failure. Racism exists, of course, but even the most simplistic of black demagogues worries that there is more to the collapse of black culture than the violence of slavery and the prejudice of centuries. If Jews are so smart, then what are blacks? The contrast rankles. Black pride demands that Jews be evil and their gains ill-gotten. This is an old matter. The burdened peasants of Poland and the Ukraine also begrudged and mythologized us.

It may be safer to rant at us. It may be more popular to demonize us. It may make the black preacher feel closer to his God or Christian white America to point his rhetorical finger at us, but it will get him nowhere. It won't win the drug war or assuage his hurt pride, keep him out of jail or nurture his fatherless children. We can't be trusting liberals in a world where empathy with the underdog seems to make the underdog think you're dog food.

Protesting alliances with Farrakhan or publicizing the lies of crazed black professors are necessary actions but they probably won't help us much... We have to protect vulnerable Jews in areas like Crown Heights. We can reach out to those willing to listen. We can continue to be ourselves, remembering that all blacks are not anti-Semites and that all Jews are not free from racism. The massacre at Hebron by Baruch Goldstein reminds us that some of us too can go with rage and turn the other into a faceless stranger. Our reaction to black belief in the Judas Jew may shift the way we play the political game in America, but it should not change the way we feel about other human beings. It frightens me that I will begin to hate back, to look at the black woman on the bus and think she is my enemy, to believe that I should stop her from making a good living, from getting better schools for her children, from a life of dignity and hope.

I don't want Farrakhan to change me. I will therefore assume that this wave of anti-Semitism, pathetic and ugly, unforgivable as it is, will pass like a storm, will cause heavy rain, some damage, but leave standing my human convictions that we are responsible for one another's fate; that injustice, inequality, and racism are the real enemies; and that my Jewish obligation remains to repair the world, to reach my hand out, fixing what is morally broken.

Source: "Blacks and Jews: The Politics of Resentment," Reform Judaism, (Fall 1991), pp. 10-11, 14-15.


In the account below Ronald Takaki, a historian of Asian America analyzes the current trend among historians and social observers to compare Asians favorably to blacks. Takaki challenges the convention wisdom that argues since Asians were once an oppressed racial minority who have now achieved significant economic and educational success through hard work and perseverance, blacks other groups should cease complaints about discrimination and simply follow their example.

Recently Asian Americans have been congratulated for their successful entry into the mainstream of society. In 1982, for example, Newsweek proclaimed Asian Americans a "Model Minority" as it reported that they enjoyed the nation's highest median family income: $22,075 a year compared with $20,840 for whites. Two years later, in a speech to a group of Asian and Pacific Island Americans, President Ronald Reagan declared that they represented the immigrants' search for the American dream, a vision of hope and new opportunity symbolized by the Statue of Liberty. "Asian and Pacific Americans," he said, "have helped preserve that dream by living up to the bedrock values that make us a good and worthy people," values such as "fiscal responsibility" and "hard work." Praising them for their economic achievement, Reagan added: "It's no wonder that the median income of Asian and Pacific American families is much higher than the total American average."

This celebration of Asian American "success" had led William Raspberry of the Washington Post to ask: If Asian Americans can make it, why can't blacks? Blacks can, Raspberry has contended. What they must do is stop blaming "racism" for their plight, and start imitating law-abiding, hard working, and self-reliant Asian Americans. Noting that "in fact" West Coast Asian American have "outstripped" whites in income, Raspberry has exhorted his fellow blacks to view the successful Asian American minority as a "model." But what are the facts in this case? Data from the 1980 Census....can help us determine what the facts may be in this case. If we take median household incomes for California, we find that Asian Americans earned $20,790 in 1979, compared to $19,552 for whites and $12,534 for blacks. But does this mean that Asian Americans have "outstripped" whites? These income figures mean very little unless they are analyzed in relation to the number of workers per household. Here we find that Asian Americans had 1.70 workers per household, compared with only 1.28 for whites and 1.20 for blacks. Thus, Asian Americans actually earned only $12,229 per worker, while whites received $15,275. In other words, Asian American income per household worker was only 80% of white income.

But should Asian Americans be used as a model for blacks? Not only does this advice pit the two groups against each other; it also overlooks important sociological differences between them. Forty-six percent of black families have a female head of household compared to only 11% of Asian American families (15% for whites). Sixty-four percent of all female-headed black families are below the poverty line, and currently over half of all black children are born to single women. The differences in family sociology between blacks and Asian Americans, due mainly to each group's particular location in the economy and its social or class composition rather than simply its cultural values or degree of dependency on welfare, affects a group's ability to use education as a strategy for social mobility. Furthermore, Asian Americans have increasingly become an immigrant population, and large numbers of recent Chinese, Filipino, and Korean immigrants have carried both skills and capital with them to the United States. For example, in 1973, 65% of the Korean immigrants had been professionals and managers in their home country. Thus, many recent Asian immigrants have resources--education, employable skills, and finances--which underclass blacks do not have.

These differences in social and economic composition between Asian Americans and blacks--only two of several differences--warn us that strategies for one group may not be applicable for another group. They also show that education and individual effort alone may not be sufficient for racial minorities to achieve income equality.

Source: Ronald Takaki, ed., From Different Shores: Perspectives on Race and Ethnicity in America (New York, 1987), pp. 215-216.


In the following account Stephen Buckley discusses the political and racial impact of the rapidly growing Asian American and Latino populations on African America.

At the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill a few weeks ago, black students protested a proposal being weighed by school officials to place a cultural center at the edge of an already crowded campus, as opposed to a more visible and convenient location. The demand for physical centrality is, in a way, a metaphor for blacks' conception of their dominant and privileged position in the world of minority politics--a conception that is increasingly out of touch with reality

On college campuses and elsewhere, blacks are loath to acknowledge what has become abundantly clear. America is becoming a society in which groups once considered "minor" are becoming the major majorities. Blacks make up 12% of the U.S. population today, but 3% of the nation is Asian and 9% is Hispanic. While the black population remains relatively static, the other groups are gaining fast. Already, Asians and Hispanics combined outnumber their black classmates on college campuses. In 1982 blacks made up 8.9% of the college student population, while Hispanics totaled 4.2% and Asians 2.8%. In 1991, according to the U.S. Department of Education, blacks made up 9.3% of the university enrollment, Hispanics 6% and Asians 4.4%.

Prior to the rush of Asians and Hispanics, blacks sought--and received--black studies programs and cultural centers. We formed black alumni associations and student alliances. And when blacks were the dominant--often the only minorities on white college campuses, such groups made sense, because blacks at white colleges often spent a lot of time confronting racism and fighting off isolation and loneliness. Now, Asians and Hispanics, following the example of their African-American peers, are battling for similar treatment. At the University of California at Los Angeles a month ago, 93 students were arrested during a protest over the administration's refusal to approve a Chicano Studies program. That scenario will become increasingly familiar as the numbers of Asians and Hispanics explode on college campuses over the next few years.

Given the reality of the numbers, blacks can no longer pretend to be the preeminent ethnic group. Our history as an enslaved people in this country has compelled politicians and other leaders to pay especially close attention when we've raised our voices. But that can't, and won't, remain true much longer. Whites, particularly middle- and working-class whites, no longer swallow the argument that blacks are more oppressed than other minorities. White Americans think they see blacks everywhere: in corporate offices as middle- and top-level executives, on television as news anchors, in schools as principals and superintendents, in city halls as mayors, on college campuses as students. And these whites ask, "What oppression?' African-Americans can legitimately argue that blacks in the United States still face a myriad of woes that are the residue of legal oppression but blacks also can't deny progress--not without being intellectually dishonest.

Meanwhile, Asians and Hispanics are gaining influence both economically and politically. Hispanics have achieved enough of a critical mass--19 members--to create their own congressional caucus. And Asians have harnessed enormous economic clout over the past two decades as their median income has surpassed that of all other groups, including whites. In may of our nation's inner cities, economic muscle belongs to Korean and Vietnamese and Chinese shopkeepers and businessmen, not blacks. This has enraged many African American, who note that Asians are building successful businesses with the dollars spent by blacks in those neighborhoods.

Today, blacks are faced with a somber choice. We can go it alone, fighting against the swelling tide of Asian and Hispanic power, or we can forge coalitions with those groups--and with whites who are sympathetic to minority concerns. We can admit, at least tacitly, that blacks can't maintain or expand our power without their help. What if the NAACP expanded its efforts to embrace issues that affected Hispanics and Asians? What if the black and Hispanic congressional caucuses merged. What if historically black universities, some of which are student-short, launched serious efforts to recruit Hispanics and Asians? Blacks have worked for decades to build and support such institutions, and for many, to become more inclusive is tantamount to dismissing centuries of our ancestors' toil and tears. Besides, many minority leaders would argue that each of these groups faces unique problems, and that forming integrated coalitions ....would hurt many and help few. That's partly true. Yet there exists many more issues, social, political and economic, in which the concerns of Asians, Hispanics and blacks intersect. If the Los Angeles riots are anything to go by, it's indeed in the best interest of Asians, for instance, to support more black-owned businesses in African American neighborhoods. A more cogent coalition between black and Asian businesses in South Central LA surely would have reduced riot damage.

Since we remain the most politically potent and sophisticated of the three major ethnic groups, we must then take the lead in forming interracial coalitions. If we don't, the day will come when the powers-that-be, on college campuses and in corporate offices, will greet our demands and concerns with shrugs. They will watch without sympathy as we doom ourselves to social, political and economic stagnancy. And we will have primarily ourselves to blame.

Source: Eugene Register-Guard, July 25, 1993, p 1B.


The confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas have focused national attention on the rise of black "neo-conservatives." In the discussion below, political scientist Charles P. Henry describes their emergence and impact on black America.

Early in this century, Howard University Dean Kelly Miller reported that "when a distinguished Russian was informed that some American Negroes are radical and some conservative, he could not restrain his laughter. "What on earth" he exclaimed in astonishment, "have they to conserve?" An objective of black institutions like Howard and much of the modern black studies movement has been to answer the Russian's question.... Black accommodationists like Booker T. Washington developed a number of black institutions and had programs for advancement--no matter how flawed. Today's black neo-conservatives lack a base in black institutions and only serve to legitimate the status quo. In this they differ even from liberal black Republicans--Andrew Brimmer, Art Fletcher, James Farmer, William T. Coleman, and in the Senate, Edward Brooke--who served under Presidents Nixon and Ford. These black Republicans generally sought to support affirmative action programs, civil rights legislation, and federal assistance to black colleges and black-owned businesses. They were, in short, able to combine a sense of individualism with as sense of group identity and government responsibility.

Today's black neoconservatives properly belong to the right wing of the Republican party and have severed ties with almost all black institutions. They can generally be placed in three categories: academics, government or party bureaucrats, and business executives. The best known among the academics are economists Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams, political scientist Martin Kilson....Robert Woodson of the American Heritage Institute.... Among the government and party leaders are Thelma Duggin, Melvin Bradley, Thaddeus Garrett, Clarence Pendleton, Jr. Henry Lucas, Jr. and Samuel Pierce. Black neoconservatives in the business community are Wendell Willkie Gunn, Gloria E.A. Toote, William Packard, Constance Newman.

....Black conservatives appear unwilling to credit the liberal programs of the past for having any positive effect. In fact, the expansion of welfare programs is seen as a cause for the deterioration of black culture, especially the black family. Other specific issues black neoconservatives are concerned with include education, affirmative action, and minimum wage. On all of these issues, the position of black neoconservatives runs counter to black public opinion..... By focusing on [these] issues of racial policy.... black conservatives have isolated themselves from the traditional views of the black community. In failing to find anything worth conserving in black culture they have ignored the very social issues on which a true black conservatism might rest. For example....on the issue of school prayer blacks are more conservative than whites.

Blacks also oppose the legalization of marijuana, [support] tougher penalties for law violators....and reject legal abortions. While blacks want the courts to be tougher on criminals, less than a majority favor the death penalty because of its disproportionate use against blacks and the poor. Thus blacks' views on social issues are mediated by their belief in the fairness and equality of policy implementation.

Charles P. Henry, Culture and African American Politics (Bloomington, 1990), pp. 96-99.


In this 1986 interview, Clarence Thomas, destined to be a member of the U.S. Supreme Court but then Chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, gave his views on affirmative action and other issues affecting African Americans.

I was raised by my grandparents, who played the single most important role in my life. My grandfather....had a third grade education and was barely literate. He believed in this country and its values. He believed that this is the land of opportunity--and fought hard for equal opportunity. He knew that discrimination existed and that its existence undermined the values in which he believed.... His efforts were all but neutralized by racial discrimination and prejudice. So he turned to fight discrimination. As he fought, I fight today. And like my grandfather, I am firmly committed to preserving and advancing the fundamental values of this country--values rooted in the rights of the individual, but values so often paid only lip service.

I adhere to the principle that individuals should be judged on the basis of individual merit and individual contract. No one should be rewarded or punished because of group characteristics. Unfortunately, this principle has not been made a reality. So today we are faced with the challenge of making this country color-blind after it has seen color for so long. And the critical question facing us is how to approach this challenge. Should we push for immediate parity or the fairness that has never really existed? Parity tends to show quicker change at least on paper. But is unfairness under the guise of parity any better than just plain unfairness? Should you concede your promotion in the name of parity for those who traditionally have been discriminated against?

I opt for fairness--that is, treating individuals as individuals.... But I choose this option knowing full well that fairness, though an underpinning of this country, has never been a reality. I choose this option with the painful awareness of the social and economic ravages which have befallen my race and all who suffer discrimination....

Long ago, I decided not to become defensive about my own press coverage. I have been zapped. I sometimes wonder why this bigot is using my name when he talks to the press and why people are surprised to learn upon meeting me that I am not the Clarence Thomas they read about. More important, however, the press must realize that there is not total agreement, even within the black community, on the merits of all civil rights strategies or social programs. We are not a monolith and we certainly are not clones.... It is critical to balance these varying opinions in our national debate.... My image as a black Republican, working in the Reagan Administration, is not the important fact.... I do not believe that black Americans will accept or reject my ideas on the basis of my party affiliation. They are far too intelligent for that. They know that the great problems facing our country cannot be solved through narrow-minded partisan proposals from either party. I am a black Republican and proud of it.... While I am aware that we are presented to the American people as uncaring, unfair, and even unjust, I refuse to live with such an untrue image--either personally or politically. However I gladly accept this iconoclasm and abuse to do what I believe is right and necessary. It is a small price to pay.

Source: Jeffrey M. Elliot, ed., Black Voices in American Politics (New York, 1986), pp. 148-156.


In the following account Douglass Glasgow describes the black underclass, the approximately 25% of the African American population ensnared in deep poverty despite the economic advancement of most other black women and men since the 1960s. Although dire poverty has always be the fate of a significant segment of black American, the underclass emerged onto national consciousness during the late 1970s.

The term underclass has slowly, almost imperceptibly eased its way into the nation's vocabulary, subtly conveying the message that another problematic group is emerging that needs society's help....Whereas the traditional groups that made up the poor were usually identified as the immigrant or new migrant [to the city] or as the aged, the disabled, and handicapped, currently the ranks of the poor are not being swelled by newcomers or the traditionally socially needy groups, but rather by the children of previously poor families. Poor families of the fifties and sixties were more likely to have offspring who were poor in the seventies. And blacks,, who represented a disproportionately high percentage of the nation's poor over the past three decades, not only continue to hold this unenviable distinction, but the children of their families constitute the poor in the seventies and are the projected poor of the eighties. Structural factors found in market dynamics and institutional practices, as well as the legacy of racism, produce and then reinforce the cycle of poverty and, in turn, work as a pressure exerting a downward pull toward underclass status.

The underclass is distinguished from the lower class principally by its lack of mobility....the lower class experience is a variation of middle class adaptation and striving. The perennial expressions, "I did better than my father" and "My sons and daughters will do even better than I" typify this experience. It is precisely the inapplicability of such statements to underclass people that sets them apart; for most are the sons and daughters of previous generations of the poor, and their children will predictably remain in the grip of poverty. Many members of this class can be considered the failures or dropouts of the lower class, persons who because of disability, age, race or ethnicity have been able to obtain only marginal or part time work for may years or often no work at all. They formed what were called in the early sixties "pockets of poverty," which were not actually small, isolated groups in a temporary condition of want, as the phase suggests, but the permanent nucleus of a swiftly growing underclass.

Source: Douglass Glasgow, The Black Underclass, (New York, 1981), pp. 3 8.


In the following vignette sociologists Douglas S. Massey and Nancy A. Denton describe "Black English" as one consequence of the continuing segregation of impoverished African Americans from the rest of the nation.

The depth of isolation in the ghetto is...evident in black speech patterns, which have evolved steadily away from Standard American English. Because of their intense social isolation, many ghetto residents have come to speak a language that is increasingly remote from that spoken by American whites... Whereas white speech has become more regionally specialized over time, with linguistic patterns varying increasingly between metropolitan areas... Black English has become progressively more uniform across urban areas. Over the past two decades, the Black English Vernaculars of Boston, Chicago, Detroit, New York, and Philadelphia have become increasingly similar in their grammatical structure and lexicon, reflecting urban blacks' common social and economic isolation within urban America. Although black speech has become more uniform internally, however, as a dialect it has drifted farther and farther away from the form and structure of Standard American English... Blacks and whites in the United States increasingly speak different tongues, with different grammatical rules, divergent pronunciations, and separate vocabularies... The less contact blacks have with whites, the greater their reliance on Black English Vernacular and the less their ability to speak Standard American English. Blacks who live within the ghetto, in particular, display speech patterns that are quite remote from the dialect spoken by most white Americans. Because of segregation, the languages spoken by blacks and whites are moving toward mutual unintelligibility.

The educational barriers facing ghetto children are exacerbated by teachers and school administrators who view Black English as "wrong," "bad," or "inferior," thereby stigmatizing black children and further undermining their motivation to learn. In many school settings, Black English is pejoratively stereotyped and taken to indicate a lack on intelligence, an absence of motivation or the presence of a learning disability...

The difficulties caused by a reliance on Black English do not stop at the classroom door. Facility with Standard English is required for many jobs in the larger economy, especially those that carry good prospects for socioeconomic advancement and income growth... Employers...assume that people who speak Black English carry a street culture that devalues behaviors and attitudes consistent with being a "good worker," such as regularity, punctuality, dependability, and respect for authority.

The inability to communicate in Standard American English, therefore presents serious obstacles to socioeconomic advancement. Black Americans who aspire to socioeconomic success generally must acquire a facility in Standard English as a precondition of advancement, even if they retain a fluency in black speech. Successful blacks who have grown up in the ghetto literally become bilingual, learning to switch back and forth between black and white dialects depending on the social context. This "code switching" involves not only a change of words but a shift between contrasting cultures and identities. Although some people acquire the ability to make this shift without difficulty, it causes real social and psychological problems for others. For someone raised in the segregated environment of the ghetto, adopting white linguistic conventions can seem like a betrayal of black culture, a phony attempt to deny the reality of one's "blackness." As a result, black people who regularly speak Standard American English often encounter strong disapproval from other blacks. Many well-education blacks recall with some bitterness the ridicule and ostracism they suffered as children for the sin of "talking white."

Source: Douglas S. Massey and Nancy A. Denton, American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass (Cambridge, 1993), pp. 162-165.


The 1970s and 1980s witnessed the rise of Korean merchants in lower middle class neighborhoods throughout the United States. But as a few well-publicized incidents in black communities such as South Central Los Angeles, attest, the emergence of Korean grocers in black communities has prompted growing tension between the two groups. The situation in Los Angeles is described in the article below.

The windows of Jr. Liquor Market are tightly shuttered, the shelves half-empty. Boxes stuffed with canned food, cleaning supplies and liquor bottles litter the floor. Five months after he killed a black man who allegedly was robbing him, Tae Sam Park and his wife are moving out. Anger shut the doors of this tiny grocery in the city's tough South Central section.

"We don't know what we're going to do," said Park, whose business buckled under a 110-day boycott by black residents. "How do you think I feel?"
Nine blocks down Western Avenue, past shops with boarded windows and graffiti-marred walls, black customers at Price Food Market and Liquor browse through well-stocked shelves and line up at check-out counters. "Over here, Ma'am, this line's open," a girl cheerfully tells an elderly customer.

Price Food market is an anomaly in South Central: a prospering Korean-owned store where most of the 40 employees are black or Hispanic. The store brings in $100,000 in sales a week, says store manager Joe Sanders, who is black.

"Treat your customers well. These are the people who are going to pay your bills," Sanders said of the store's success. "If you lose the relationship with the people, then you're going to close."

The June 4 shooting at Jr. Liquor Market and other recent violence between Korean merchants and black residents have brought tensions between the two groups to the boiling point in South Central. Since March, three blacks and two Koreans have been killed in South Central store disputes, according to Mayor Tom Bradley's office. Korean stores have been firebombed, causing thousands of dollars in property damage.

Last week, a startled Korean merchant wounded a black man who ran into his store to escape a drive-by shooting. The store owner thought he was about to be robbed, police said.

Even at Price Food, the emotional undercurrent flares in an instant, said manager Sanders. The previous day, a black customer stuck his hands in the face of the owner, Chong Park, when Park curtly told him the store had run out of an advertised special on sugar, Sanders recalled. "So you're going to shoot me, too?" the man yelled at Park before Sanders intervened.

"I tell my boss, `Stay out of the picture,' " Sanders said. "Blacks don't like his face. They just don't like Koreans."

In the latest case to rock the city, Korean grocer Soon Da Ju received probation for the March 16 shooting death of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins inside the Du family store. Mrs. Du had accused Harlins of shoplifting a $1.79 bottle of orange juice.
The lenient sentence handed down Nov. 15 stunned black leaders, who accused Superior Court Judge Joyce Harlin of racism and vowed, once again, to take their protest to the streets -- this time, in front of Harlin's home.

"We demand dignity and respect," said Danny Bakewell Sr., president of the Brotherhood Crusade, an activist black organization which organized the pickets and the Jr. Liquor Market boycott.

The crusade called off the market boycott when a Korean merchants' association, whose members had donated more than $20,000 to keep the store afloat, agreed to have it offered for sale to a black buyer. Bakewell said he has a prospective buyer lined up. Said Sanders, "It'd be a miracle if it happened."

Black store ownership is a rarity in South Central, where blacks continually complain they are verbally abused and even followed as they shop in stores owned by Koreans, many of them recent immigrants to California who live outside the neighborhood. Resentful residents say the Koreans tend to hire their own, take blacks' dollars out of the area and then move on.

David Kim, Southern California president of the National Korean American Grocers Association, acknowledges that some Korean grocers are suspicious of blacks and don't hire their employees from the community.

"A husband and wife work 14 to 16 hours a day, 365 days a year," said Kim, a store owner himself. "We are not making the money people think. . . . You cannot hire any employee when there's no room for it."

Korean merchants also must contend with robbery and shoplifting attempts in dangerous neighborhoods, he said. Annual store turnover is 30 percent, said Ron Wakabayashi, executive director of the city Human Relations Commission. Many merchants don't have the chance to get to know their customers and the community, he said.

Indeed, South Central's residents still suffer the economic backlash of the 1965 Watts riots that shocked the nation. Today, the neighborhood boasts only a handful of markets, 15 bank branches and one movie theater for its 260,000 people.

Black resentment of Koreans also stems from fears they're being pushed down the economic ladder by yet another immigrant group, said the Rev. Cecil L. Murray, pastor of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles. "Every minority group has benefited by the century-old struggle of African-Americans to pry open the doors of opportunity," Murray said. "We open the doors and others walk through them."
Los Angeles' Korean population has grown from 9,000 to 250,000 over the past 20 years. Hispanics now account for 40 percent of the city's 3.5 million people and are a slight majority in South Central; blacks, 14 percent; Asians, 9 percent.

John W. Mack, president of the Los Angeles Urban League, says blacks are more likely than other groups to be denied home loans and financing by banks to start up their own businesses. "This is a problem consistently brought to our attention by African-Americans," he said. "It has been a major barrier to the efforts of many people in our community."

Source: James Anderson, Portland Oregonian, December 3, 1991, p. A11.


In the following account historian Mike Davis describes the rise of the Los Angeles-based 50,000 member Crips, the nation's largest street gang with "affiliations" in 32 states and 113 cities. His discussion includes an analysis of the historical circumstances including the "managerial revolution" which gave rise to this "mega-gang."

It is time to meet L.A.'s "Viet Cong." Although the study of barrio gangs is a vast cottage industry, dating back to Emory Bogardus's 1926 monograph...The City Boy and His Problems, almost nothing has been written about the history of South central L.A.'s sociologically distinct gang culture. The earliest, repeated references to a "gang problem" in the Black community press, moreover, deal with gangs of white youth who terrorized Black residents along the frontiers of the southward-expanding Central Avenue ghetto.... Indeed, from these newspaper accounts and the recollections of old timers, it seems probable that the first generation of Black street gangs emerged as a defensive response to white violence in the schools and streets during the late 1940s. The Eagle, for example, records "racial gang wars" at Manual Arts High in 1946, Canoga Park High (in the Valley) in 1947, and John Adams High in 1949, while Blacks at Fremont High were continually assaulted throughout 1946 and 1947. Possibly as a result of their origin in these school integration/transition battles, Black gangs, until the 1970s, tended to be predominantly defined by school-based turfs rather than by the neighborhood territorialities of Chicago gangs.

Aside from defending Black teenagers from racist attacks (which continued through the 1950s under the aegis of such white gangs as the "Spook hunters"), the early South central gangs--the Businessmen, Slausons, Gladiators, Farmers, Parks, Outlaws, Watts, Boot Hill, Rebel Rousers, Roman Twenties, and so forth--were also the architects of social space in new and usually hostile settings. As tens of thousands of 1940s and 1950s Black immigrants crammed into the overcrowded, absentee-landlord-dominated neighborhoods of the ghetto's Eastside, low-rider gangs offered "cool worlds" of urban socialization for poor young newcomers from rural Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. Meanwhile, on the other side of Main Street, more affluent Black youngsters from the Westside bungalow belt created an [imitation] white "car club" subculture of Los Angeles in the 1950s...While "rumblin" (usually non-lethally) along this East-West socio-economic divide...the Black gangs of the 1950s also had to confront the implacable (often lethal) racism of Chief Parker's LAPD. In the days when the young Daryl Gates was driver to the great Chief, the policing of the ghetto was becoming simultaneously less corrupt but more militarized and brutal... Moreover, as Black nationalist groups, like the Muslims, began to appear in the ghetto in the late 1950s, Parker, like [J. Edgar] Hoover, began to see the gang problem and the "militant threat" as forming a single, overarching structure of Black menace...

South central gang youth, coming under the influence of the Muslims and the long-distance charisma of Malcolm X, began to reflect the generational awakening of Black Power. The "New Breed" of gang members in the 1960s, "were changing: those who formerly had seen things in terms of East and West were now beginning to see many of the same things in Black and White...”

The turning-point, of course, was the festival of the oppressed in August 1965 that the Black community called [the Watts] rebellion and the white media a riot.... Up to 75,000 people took part in the [Watts] uprising, mostly from the solid Black working class. For gang members it was "The Last Great Rumble," as formerly hostile groups forgot old grudges and cheered each other on against the hated LAPD and the National Guard. Old enemies, like the Slausons and the Gladiators (from the 54th Street area), flash[ed] smiles and high signs as they broke through Parker's invincible "blue line."

This ecumenical movement...lasted three or four years. Community workers, and even the LAPD themselves, were astonished by the virtual cessation of gang hostilities as the gang leadership joined the Revolution. Two leading Slausons, Apprentice "Bunchy" Carter (a famous warlord) and Jon Huggins became the local organizers of the Black Panther Party, while a third, Brother Crook (aka Ron Wilkins) created the Community Alert Patrol to monitor police abuse. Meanwhile an old Watts gang hangout near Jordan Downs, the "parking lot," became a recruiting center for the Sons of Watts who organized and guarded the annual Watts Festival.

It is not really surprising, therefore, that in the late 1960s the doo-ragged, hardcore street brothers and sisters, who for an extraordinary week in 1965 had actually driven the police out of the ghetto, were visualized by Black Power theorists as the strategic reserve of Black Liberation, if not its vanguard... There was a potent moment in this period, around 1968-9, when the Panthers--their following soaring in the streets and high schools--looked as if they might become the ultimate revolutionary gang. Teenagers, who today flock to hear Eazy-E rap, "It ain't about color, it's about the color of money. I love the green" -- then filled the Sports Arena to listen to Stokely Carmichael, H. Rap Brown, Bobby Seale and James Forman adumbrate the unity program of SNCC and the Panthers. The Black Congress and the People’s Tribunal (convened to try the LAPD for the murder of Gregory Clark) were other expressions of the same aspiration for unity and militancy.

But the combined efforts of the FBI'S notorious COINTELPRO program and the LAPD's Public Disorder Intelligence Division (a super-Red Squad that until 1982 maintained surveillance on every suspicious group from the Panthers to the National Council of Churches) were concentrated upon destroying Los Angeles's Black power vanguards. The February 1969 murders of Panther leaders Carter and Huggins on the UCLA campus by members of a rival nationalist group (which Panther veterans still insist was actually police-instigated) was followed a year later by the debut of LAPD's SWAT team in a day-long siege of the Panthers' South central headquarters. Although a general massacre of the Panthers cadre was narrowly averted by an angry community outpouring into the streets, the Party was effectively destroyed.

As even the [Los Angeles] Times recognized, the decemination of the Panthers led directly to a recrudescence of gangs in the early 1970s. "Crippin,'" the most extraordinary new gang phenomenon, was a bastard offspring of the Panthers' former charisma... There are various legends about the original Crips, but they agree on certain particulars. As Donald Bakeer, a teacher at Manual Arts High, explains in his self-published novel about the Crips, the first "set" was incubated in the social wasteland created by the clearances for the Century Freeway--a traumatic removal of housing and destruction of neighborhood ties that was the equivalent of a natural disaster. His protagonist, a second-generation Crip, boasts to his "homeboys": "My daddy was a member of the original 107 Hoover Crip Gang, the original Crips in Los Angeles, O.G. (original gangster) to the max." Secondly, as journalist Bob Baker has determined, the real "O.G." number one of the 107 (who split away from an older gang called the Avenues) was a young man powerfully influenced by the Panthers in their late sixties heyday.:

He was Raymond Washington, a Fremont High School student who had been too young to be a Black Panther but had soaked up some of the Panther rhetoric about community control of neighborhoods. After Washington was kicked out of Fremont, he wound up at Washington High, and something began to jell in the neighborhood where he lived, around 107th and
Hoover Streets.

Although it is usually surmised that the name Crip is derived from the 107 Hoovers' "crippled" style of walking, Bakeer was told by one O.G. that it originally stood for "Continuous Revolution in Progress." However apocryphal this translation may be, it best describes the phenomenal spread of Crip sets across the ghetto between 1970 and 1972. A 1972 gang map, released by the LAPD's 77th Street Division, shows a quiltwork of blue-ragged Crips, both Eastside and Westside, as well as miscellany of other gangs, some descended from the pre-Watts generation. Under incessant Crip pressure, these independent gangs--the Brims, Bounty Hunters, Denver Lanes, Athens Park Gang, the Bishops, and, especially, the powerful Pirus--federated as the red-handkerchiefed Bloods. Particularly strong in Black communities peripheral to the South central core, like Compton, Pacoima, Pasadena and Pomona, the Bloods have been primarily a defensive reaction-formation to the aggressive emergence of the Crips.

It needs to be emphasized that this was not merely a gang revival, but a radical permutation of Black gang culture. The Crips, however perversely, inherited the Panther aura of fearlessness and transmitted the ideology of armed vanguardism (shorn of its program). In some instances, Crip insignia continued to denote Black Power, as during the Monrovia riots in 1972 or the L.A. Schools bussing crisis of 1977-9. But too often Crippin' came to represent an escalation of intra-ghetto violence to Clockwork Orange levels (murder as a status symbol, and so on) that was unknown in the days of the Slausons and anathema to everything that the Panthers had stood for.

Moreover the Crips blended a penchant for ultra-violence with an overweening ambition to dominate the entire ghetto. Although...Eastside versus Westside tensions persist, the Crips, as the Panthers before them, attempted to hegemonize as an entire generation. In this regard, they achieved, like the contemporary Black P-Stone Nation in Chicago, a managerial revolution in gang organization. If they began as a teenage substitute for the fallen Panthers, they evolved through the 1970s into a hybrid of teen cult and proto-Mafia. At a time when economic opportunity was draining away from south central Los Angeles, the Crips were becoming the power resource of last resort for thousands of abandoned youth...

Source: Mike Davis, City of Quartz, (New York, 1990), pp. 293-300.


The two articles below address the crack cocaine epidemic that swept across the African American community of Los Angeles in the 1990s. The first article is an interview by Los Angeles Times staff writer Darrell Dawsey with a crack addict called “Ron.” The second passage is part of a speech by California State Senator Diane Watson who represents Ron’s district, to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. She titled her speech, “Crack is Just Jim Crow in a Pipe.”

On a chilly February night, a tall young man named Ron sits in MacArthur Park, his hands stuffed into the pockets of his thin red jacket. In an interview with Times staff writer Darrell Dawsey, he tells a story that's familiar in the netherworld of drug abuse.

I'm from a small town in Louisiana, but the fast life got me. I wanted to hang with the fast people. I had a job at the Southern California Gas Co. I had a job paying $30,000 a year. I had two years of college at Southern University (in Baton Rouge).

I lost all of it because I got hooked on dope, crack.

That s--- is a double-edged sword. It makes you feel so good, but it'll tear your life apart. I've met every challenge in my life, man, and won. But I was not able to beat this drug thing. I started off selling it. I was making a little money, but then I started getting high too much. Pretty soon, I was smoking more than I was selling.

My company paid $20,000 for me to spend 30 days at a rehabilitation clinic, $29,000 for the next 30. But they got tired of me going to rehab. I wasn't making any improvement. I was still smoking and messing up my life. So they fired me. That's why I'm living like I do. I can't get a job.

I heard that they were trying to legalize drugs. That would be the worst thing. Think about it. If they got better cocaine, everybody would try it. You won't have anybody in this country who isn't on their way to getting strung out. That's a lie, when people tell you, you won't have crime (with decriminalization).

I had a heart operation, had a valve replaced. And I'm still smoking. Coke is a cruel mistress, man. She don't care who she takes from. And she doesn't give anything back.

These kids who sell it, they'll tell you. They don't sell it because they are bad people. They sell it to stay alive. How else are people going to make money? Nobody wants to hire too many black people. So they think we are supposed to starve because they won't give us jobs? Naw. People are going to try to stay alive, any way they can. That doesn't make you a villain.

(The drug epidemic) is a tough problem. I really can't say what the solution is. I think you need more education. Enforcement doesn't work. People need jobs. I think that's one of the main things: jobs. I blew mine, but that doesn't mean I don't know how important a job is. After the jobs, though, I don't know. It's tough.

* * *

“Crack Is Just Jim Crow in a Pipe”

Since the mid-1960s, American blacks have been fighting not a legal war against segregation, nor an insurmountable economic war against discrimination, but a profound psychological war for our own sense of self-worth.

We are fighting to free ourselves of the psychological bondage to which Africans were subjected in this country. It is the damage that results when you distort a people's belief in the cause-and-effect principle of the universe. It is the faith in this principle that motivates achievement and enables self-respect. It is the belief that effort produces results. It is the notion that "I can get what I want if I work hard enough, smart enough, long enough." It is what teaches a human being to believe in productive labor. It is self-discipline.

When racism teaches a man that he must labor not for self-improvement, but because it is the unique doom of his race, that man will hate labor and loathe his race. When a woman comes to perceive that no matter how hard she works she can only marginally improve her lot in life, that woman will come to believe that effort is an evil. When children learn that their status in society will always be determined more by the color of their skin than by their achievements, such children will grow up convinced that achievement is futile. When a culture is ingrained with the concept that there is no cause-and-effect relationship between effort and reward, that culture will fit its people for survival at the lowest, meanest level of existence and fail to teach the value of self-discipline.
I submit that as you ponder how we shall win the war against crack, you will be deciding strategy to win what I dare hope is the final battle in the African American war against racism.
Crack is just Jim Crow in a pipe. It is late in the day. Use well your time.

Source: Los Angeles Times, March 12, 19, 1990. Both articles appear on p. 7


In this account from the Los Angeles Times, two black men, Judge David W. Williams and Richard Winrow, who grew up in the same South Central neighborhood although in different eras, face each other in court. Their experience reflects the intersection of race and class in America.

U.S. District Court Judge David W. Williams, 79, grew up poor on 109th Street in South Central Los Angeles, raised in an era when it was still not allowed for blacks to buy homes west of Western Ave. Richard Winrow, 22, until Wednesday lived on 118th Street in South Central, a little more than a mile away from where the judge was raised. An A student before dropping out of high school from sheer boredom, Winrow was the youngest in a poor family of nine children. He was born in an era when blacks could move anywhere they liked, but few, including Winrow, could escape the poverty that surrounded them.
On Wednesday, the two men, separated by two generations but sharing similar roots, were brought together in Department 23 of U.S. District Court in downtown Los Angeles. In his courtroom, Williams, bound by a federal multiple offense law that forced his hand, dispatched Winrow to prison for the rest of his life, without the possibility of parole.

While of judicial interest as the first use of the mandatory sentence law in California, the courtroom paradox also raised fundamental and troubling questions about who fails in society, who succeeds, and why.

Named a student of the year in 8th grade at Ralph Bunche Junior High, Winrow was known as “the smartest kid in the neighborhood,” a child who it seems could easily have attended college and followed a career. Winrow’s family, which emotionally insisted upon his innocence Wednesday, said he had a chance to make it in life, but circumstances were always running against him. Relatives, reacting to the harshness of the sentence, found it hard to believe that the judge was a product of South Central himself.
“If that judge had ever been on this street, then he’d know what it was like,” said Vincent Scott, one of Richard’s six brothers. “[Williams] didn't grow up here. If he grew up in this neighborhood, how could he judge my brother?”

Today, East 118th Street and 109th Street mirror one another; both are lined with trees and modest homes. And children in both neighborhoods today have a high school dropout rate of nearly 50%. Gang graffiti mars industrial buildings that stand where grassy fields once were. Williams, long a resident of Bel-Air, is intimately familiar with South Central’s troubles, having presided over 4,000 criminal cases arising from the Watts riots of 1965, and watching jobs move out and crime go up in the area in more recent times. But he remembers a more nostalgic time, when he practiced law on Central Avenue and “people could stroll down the street without any premonition of danger.”

As Williams recalls, “the whole society was different” in South Central in the 1920s and 1930s. Social pressure was so great that if a boy got in trouble with the law, his family would pack up and move away. “The neighborhoods were good, and if a kid was arrested, the shame of it would drive a family out,” he said in an interview. “Now the question [in the South Central area] is which families have not had a son arrested.”

No matter how bad the environment, Williams said, it does not provide an excuse for criminal behavior. “I blame the young people of my own race for not getting an education and for taking the easy way and for trafficking in drugs and joining gangs,” Williams said. “But there is blame to share, because [my generation] of young people were not denied a chance for a job like they are today.”
At Winrow’s house on Wednesday, such sociological musings seemed off the mark. A member of the family had been sent off to prison for a long, long time, and those left behind did not seem to understand why. The family, so emotionally distraught over the sentence handed down by Williams, did not clearly understand that their brightest star would spend the rest of his life in prison. His mother, Lavern, believed the sentence would last only 20 years.
“I think it’s too stiff a penalty for a young man,” she said, speaking softly and holding back tears. “If Winrow was guilty, then he should get time to think about it, yes. But not [life].” Winrow had three prior narcotics violations when he was arrested last December in a raid on his East 118th Street home and charged with possessing 5.5 ounces of cocaine. Prosecutors identified him as a member of the Mona Park Crips. But family and friends all claimed he did not sell drugs and had never joined a gang. “Richard was not a dangerous person,” said Renee Scott, 28, his sister. “He was not a bad boy. These [gang members] around here, true, he knows them, but he was never a gangbanger.” “They’re trying to use him as an example for all these other guys around here,” Renee said angrily. “They didn't do him right.”
But Williams said Winrow’s gang and drug activities had been clearly proven. He also noted that Winrow’s attorneys, two from Las Vegas and one from the Los Angeles area are high priced lawyers... who handle large drug cases. “No little kid from Watts is going to come up here with that kind of representation without a lot of financing behind him.” The sentence he handed down Wednesday nevertheless troubled Williams, who said he hopes the case will prompt a review by Congress of mandatory sentencing laws that preempt a judge’s ability to decide for himself . “But this is the law, and it’s my job and it’s up to Congress to do something about it...,” said Williams. “Let’s put it this way: today was the first time in 35 years as a judge that I have had to give anyone a life sentence.”
Winrow’s grieving family and friends couldn't fathom that he will not be coming home again. “Life without parole?” said Betty Williams, a family friend and former neighbor. “That’s his whole life wasted.”

Source: Los Angeles Times, December 7, 1989, p. 36.


On October 16, 1995, Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam led the following Pledge to the thousands of African American men gathered at Washington D.C. for the Million Man March.

I pledge that from this day forward, I will strive to love my brother as I love myself.

I, from this day forward, will strive to im¬prove myself spiritually, morally, mentally, socially, politically, and economically for the benefit of myself, my family, and my people.

I pledge that I will strive to build busi¬nesses, build houses, build hospitals, build factories, and enter into international trade for the good of myself, my family, and my people.

I pledge that from this day forward, I will never raise my hand with a knife or a gun to beat, cut, or shoot any member of my family or any human being except in self-defense.

I pledge from this day forward, I will never abuse my wife by striking her, disre¬specting her, for she is the mother of my chil¬dren and the producer of my future.

I pledge that from this day forward, I will never engage in the abuse of children, little boys, or little girls for sexual gratification. I will let them grow in peace to be strong men and women for the future of our people.

I will never again use the B-word to de¬scribe any female-but particularly, my own Black sister.

I pledge from this day forward that I will not poison my body with drugs or that which is destructive to my health and my well-being.

I pledge from this day forward, I will sup¬port Black newspapers, Black radio, Black television. I will support Black artists who clean up their act to show respect for their people and respect for the heirs of the human family.

I will do all of this, so help me God.

Source: Louis Farrakhan, “The Million Man March Pledge” in Million Man March/Day of Absence: A Commemorative Anthology (Chicago: Third World Press, 1996), p. 29.


In 1995 California Governor Pete Wilson ended affirmative action in state employment by executive order. One year later the voters of the state approved Proposition 209 which amended the State Constitution to ban all state agencies from implementing affirmative action program. The text of the Proposition appears below.

PROPOSITION 209 [Approved by the electors November 5, 1996]

This initiative measure is submitted to the people in accordance with the provisions of Article II, Section 8 of the Constitution.

Section 31 is added to Article I of the California Constitution as follows:
SEC. 31. (a) The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.

(b) This section shall apply only to action taken after the section's effective date.

(c) Nothing in this section shall be interpreted as prohibiting bona fide qualifications based on sex which are reasonably necessary to the normal operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.

(d) Nothing in this section shall be interpreted as invalidating any court order or consent decree which is in force as of the effective date of this section.

(e) Nothing in this section shall be interpreted as prohibiting action which must be taken to establish or maintain eligibility for any federal program, where ineligibility would result in a loss of federal funds to the state.

(f) For the purposes of this section, "state" shall include, but not necessarily be limited to, the state itself, any city, county, city and county, public university system, including the University of California, community college district, school district, special district, or any other political subdivision or governmental instrumentality of or within the state.

(g) The remedies available for violations of this section shall be the same, regardless of the injured party's race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin, as are otherwise available for violations of then-existing California antidiscrimination law.

(h) This section shall be self-executing. If any part or parts of this section are found to be in conflict with federal law or the United States Constitution, the section shall be implemented to the maximum extent that federal law and the United States Constitution permit. Any provision held invalid shall be severable from the remaining portions of this section.

California Proposition 209 (1996)
Source: 1996 California Legislative Service, Prop. 209.