It’s Nation Time: The 40th Anniversary of the Gary National Black Political Convention
It’s Nation Time
The 40th Anniversary of the Gary National Black Political Convention
[For publication the week of March 26, 2012]
March 10-12, 1972, an estimated 10,000 Black people converged on a small steel town in Indiana for one of the greatest gatherings in the history of Africans in America – the Gary National Black Political Convention. As I reflect on more than a half century on the frontlines of the Black Freedom Struggle, anyone who is intimately familiar with my work is aware that the Gary Black Political Convention was one of the defining moments for an emerging social/political activist from Youngstown, Ohio. March 23rd the Institute of the Black World 21st Century convened a National Symposium entitled It’s Nation Time in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. to mark the occasion. The goal of the Gary Convention was to adopt a National Black Political Agenda reflecting the interests of African Americans as a tool to run and/or endorse candidates for elective office. Devising a Black Agenda was seen as integral to holding candidates, who would seek Black votes, accountable to the interests and aspirations of Black people. Moreover, as the Preamble to the National Black Political Agenda adopted at Gary suggests, there was also an effort to encourage Africans in America to view ourselves as an independent, progressive force in the forefront of the struggle to create a more just and humane society.
The Gary Convention emerged after a decade of tumultuous and significant events in the Black Freedom Struggle. In August of 1963 major civil rights leaders, with the support of key allies in organized labor, organized the historic March on Washington – which provided the impetus for the Congress of the United States to pass the milestone Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Voter Rights Act of 1965 was signed into law by Lyndon B. Johnson after “Bloody Sunday” in Selma and the subsequent Selma to Montgomery March. 1968 witnessed the election of Carl B. Stokes in Cleveland, Ohio and Richard G. Hatcher in Gary, Indiana as the first Black mayors of major northern cities.
This period was also marked by the eruption of massive rebellions in urban centers like Los Angeles, Newark and Detroit and the reverberation of “Black Power” as a battle cry encapsulating the demands of Black poor and working people and dispossessed young people for economic justice and an end to police brutality and misconduct in America’s “dark ghettos.” Black Power spawned a new found “black consciousness” which included positive identification with Africa and Black Nationalism which rejected “Integrationism” in favor of the building of independent Black institutions, community control of places and spaces where Blacks were in the majority – Black control of the Black community. This Nationalist fervor and its growing support among increasing numbers of Black people put the leaders of mainstream civil rights organizations like the NAACP, Urban League and Congress of Racial Equality on the defensive as insurgent leaders excoriated them and their supporters as Uncle Toms, Handkerchief Heads and Oreos (Black on the outside and White on the inside). The internecine ideological warfare was brutal, reminiscent of the debilitating feuds between W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey and Dubois.
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