| Chap. 1 | Chap.
2 | Chap. 3 | Chap.
4 | Chap. 5 | Chap.
6 | Chap. 7 | Chap.
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
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
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.
LYNDON BAINES JOHNSON CALLS FOR AFFIRMATIVE ACTON
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 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
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
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
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),
AFFIRMATIVE ACTION: A BRIEF HISTORY
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
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
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.
RACE AND THE SUBURBANIZATION OF AMERICA
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
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.
BLACK WEALTH AND POVERTY, 1993
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
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
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 REGINALD LEWIS STORY
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
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.
ROBERT JOHNSON:BILLIONAIRE CAPITALIST
The following vignette is taken from a Forbes
Magazine profile of Robert L. Johnson, the first African American
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,
JESSE JACKSON AND THE RAINBOW COALITION, 1984
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
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
THE GOVERNOR OF VIRGINIA
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
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
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.
SOUTH AFRICA AND AFRICAN AMERICANS
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.
BLACKS AND JEWS: THE POLITICS OF RESENTMENT
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
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
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
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,
ASIAN AMERICANS AND AFRICAN AMERICANS: DIFFERENCES AND SIMILARITIES
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
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
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
Source: Ronald Takaki, ed., From Different
Shores: Perspectives on Race and Ethnicity in America (New York,
1987), pp. 215-216.
THE SHRINKING MINORITY
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
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
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,
THE NEW BLACK CONSERVATIVES
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
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.
CLARENCE THOMAS SPEAKS OUT
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
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
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.
THE UNDERCLASS, A DEFINITION
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.
THE LANGUAGE OF SEGREGATION
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
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
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.
KOREAN GREEN GROCERS: CHALLENGE AND OPPORTUNITY
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
"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
"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
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
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
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
Source: James Anderson, Portland Oregonian,
December 3, 1991, p. A11.
CRIPPIN: THE RISE OF BLACK GANGS IN POST-WATTS LOS ANGELES
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
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
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
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.
“CRACK IS JUST JIM CROW IN A PIPE”
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.
* * *
“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
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
CRIME AND PUNISHMENT: TWO BLACK GENERATIONS COLLIDE
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
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,
THE MILLION MAN MARCH PLEDGE
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
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),
THE CALIFORNIA CIVIL RIGHTS INITIATIVE
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.
PROPOSED AMENDMENT TO ARTICLE I
Section 31 is added to Article I of the California Constitution
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
(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
(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
California Proposition 209 (1996)
Source: 1996 California Legislative Service, Prop. 209.