Dr. Matsemela Odom talks with Jalali, also known as Norman Otis Richmond about:
- COVID-19 and colonial violence against Africans in Canada
- History of the African liberation movement and the struggle for African unity in Canada
- Revolutionary international African culture
Jalali was born in Louisiana and raised in Los Angeles, California. He moved to Canada in the late-1960s where he became an early leader in the African Liberation Movement in Canada.
He’s dedicated his life to revolutionary cultural work. An accomplished musician himself and a musical historian, he has worked with a host of musicians such as Bob Marley, Abbey Lincoln, Hugh Masekela, and Fela Kuti.
Jalali is the host and producer of the “Diasporic Music” show
He is a prolific writer on African politics and culture, widely published including in the Pambazuka News, the San Francisco Bay View, the Black Agenda Report, CounterPunch and The Burning Spear newspaper, where he has a regular column.
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By Elliot Booker — 2 years ago
By Sybil C. Mitchell, The New Tri-State Defender Published January 24, 2019
On the eve of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s actual birthday (Jan. 15), allegations of counterintelligence versus arguments of unwilling victim of the FBI were passionately voiced during a discussion of Preston Lauterbach’s new book, “Bluff City: The Secret Life of Ernest Withers.”
A capacity crowd filled the book-signing space at Novel Memphis for the event that yielded riveting exchanges regarding the life and actions of Withers. The late and renowned civil rights-era photographer had pretty much unfettered access to Dr. King and movement figures national and local.
Lauterbach’s book attempts a balanced and unbiased perspective on what Withers’ legacy will be: a traitorous informant who spied for the FBI or a blackmail victim forced to do as he was told.
There is no doubt whether Withers funneled information to the FBI and was paid. But, says Lauterbach, the reasons why evolved just as the man did. It was a combination of several factors, he contends.
“Ernest Withers was a man with an extreme hustle bone,” said the author. “You have to remember that he had a wife and eight children to feed. He was paid, but Mr. Withers was doing what he needed to do to feed his family.”
Documents released after his death chronicled his secret relationship with the FBI. Those documents formed the basis for “A Spy in Canaan: How the FBI Used a Famous Photographer to Infiltrate the Civil Rights Movement,” a book by ex-newspaper investigative reporter Marc Perrusquia.
On Monday night, Lauterbach talked at length about the now iconic “I Am A Man” sign and slogan that came to embody the 1968 sanitation workers strike in Memphis and a struggle for racial equality. The famous photo that galvanized the striking workers and turned myriad eyes on Memphis showed Withers’ gift for not only framing the moment, but staging a scene.
“His motto was, ‘Pictures tell the story.’ The sticks that held the signs were used as weapons of violence in that first march. When the rioting broke out, it served the FBI’s purpose of discrediting Dr. King as a nonviolent leader and to embarrass him,” said Lauterbach.
“The Black Invaders took the blame for the violence, but they were actually there to protect Dr. King. J. Edgar Hoover needed that violence to be pinned on the Invaders. He wanted to create as much conflict between the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference]) and the black power group.
“Withers admitted buying the lumber for the sticks and the saw for the lumber,” said Lauterbach. “As the rioting began, the police swooped down on marchers with excessive force.”
A spirited exchange began between those who saw Withers’ actions as betrayal and others who leaned more sympathetically to characterize his actions.
“We marched with Dr. King. We were there,” said the Rev. Dr. L. LaSimba M. Gray Jr., pastor emeritus of New Sardis Baptist Church. “That is, perhaps, the most damnable revelation – that those sticks were made as weapons of violence.
“He could have gotten us killed. The rioting started, and the police came down in force. I’m wondering now if I might have been a target of the FBI. My family might have been put in danger.”
The Rev. Bill Adkins, pastor of Greater Imani Cathedral of Faith, recalled the day of the march.
“We were lining up for the march,” said Adkins. “And just before the march started, a pickup truck pulled up, loaded with signs. Anyone who wanted a sign could get one. After the march got started, the next thing we knew, windows were being broken, and the police moved in.
“I agree that we could have all been killed or seriously hurt. It never occurred to anyone, I’m sure, that the sticks attached to the signs were weapons of violence. These revelations are very disturbing.”
While some believe that Withers was guilty of counter-spying and working against leaders of the civil rights movement, others felt the term “informant” simply did not apply.
While the photojournalist was providing Hoover and the FBI information on everything he could, there is no proof that anyone was actually hurt by his reports, one member of the audience suggested.
“It could very well be that Withers didn’t tell the FBI anything they didn’t already know,” said Lauterbach.
“But however one sees him – as either a good man or a shadowy figure – Mr. Withers endured many trials and hardships as he recorded the movement with images that really did tell the story,” Lauterbach said.
“He was down there in Little Rock (Arkansas) when his mentor, former Tri-State Defender editor Alex Wilson, was beaten so badly that he sustained neurological damage to the head. This was a man he was very close to. Informant or not, the FBI was 100 percent the real power structure. It was Hoover who manipulated the civil rights movement. Let’s not forget, Hoover tried to make Dr. King commit suicide.
“Withers was a victim of ‘economic segregation.’ With a wife and eight children, he must have felt the pressure of financial hardship.”
Lauterbach explained that Withers “might not have seen himself as an informant.”
Adkins wasn’t buying that.
“Mr. Withers took photos of everything, including strategy meetings and closed sessions where we planned every move,” said Adkins. “Nobody put Mr. Withers out of those meetings. He was constantly moving around taking photos of everyone.
“We had no idea he was cooperating with the FBI. There is no way he didn’t know that he was acting as an informant and betraying the movement.”
Lauterbach countered with the argument that Withers was a conservative and concerned about the communist leanings and anti-war sentiment that was ever-growing.
“He may not have felt he could do anything other than what he was doing – reporting the actions of civil rights leaders to the FBI,” said Lauterbach.
“There are facts to support both sides – that Mr. Withers became an FBI informant for money, or he felt it was something he had to do to care for his family,” said Lauterbach. “Readers are left to make their own conclusions.”
Asked whether Withers had any regrets in his latter years, Lauterbach said he believes so, pointing to this reflection attributed to Withers:
“I was the cause of those signs being used as clubs. I bought the lumber and the saw to cut that lumber. I started the violence. People were hurt by the police and attacked with tear gas and billy clubs.”Post Views: 1,136
By Elliot Booker — 2 years ago
“In the absence of a renewed, grassroots street offensive against the armed occupation of Black communities, there will be no relief from the daily slaughter.”
Cops “have the right to shoot us, they get away with it every day,” said a despairing Dawnya Walker, one of 300 community residents that descended on Sacramento, California’s city hall to protest the police killing of Stephon Clark in his grandmother’s backyard . The numbers show that Walker is correct: U.S. police enjoy near-absolute impunity to gun down young Black males without any reasonable fear of punishment. Eight years of a Black, Democratic president in the Oval Office made not the slightest dent in that American reality, despite the re-emergence in 2014 of an incipient social justice movement under the heading of Black Lives Matter.
The youthful insurgency lost momentum — waylaid by the inexorable pull of Democratic Party politics and corporate philanthropy — long before Donald Trump entered the White House and installed a pure Dixiecrat as attorney general. Trumpian malevolence cast an orange chill across Black America. “It has been a long time since any victim was given as much attention as Stephon Clark,” writes Margaret Kimberley, in the current of issue of BAR.
“We are enveloped in a toxic miasma of Russia-hate that, by sheer weight and repetition, has infested every aspect of American political thought.”
There is “movement” afoot in the U.S., but it does not “arc towards justice.” Ever since Trump’s electoral victory, the collective national consciousness has been smothered in a maddening fog of manic, industrial-scale propaganda, spewed non-stop by corporate communications conglomerates working hand-in-glove with the most aggressive elements of the surveillance-intelligence “community” and the bi-partisan War Party. We are enveloped in a toxic miasma of Russia-hate that, by sheer weight and repetition, has infested every aspect of American political thought, distorting and subverting even the most progressive-minded “movements” struggling to find a way towards human dignity under late stage capitalism in a profoundly racist country. Voices for peace and social justice are asphyxiated in the pestilential plume — unless they find their own air.
Damn right, there is a conspiracy — possibly the loudest one in history! — megaphoned by a billionaire-owned media screaming “War, War, War” day and night, fouling the public mind with pure reactionary malice. The duopoly contest has devolved into a dance of death between Donald Trump’s raw white supremacist nationalism and Democratic Party corporate imperial warmongering. Only fools claim there is space for progressive maneuver in the interstices between such forces.
“The Democratic Party remains under the firm control of the Clinton/Obama forces that reinforced mass Black incarceration in the Nineties and militarized the police in this century.”
What is needed is clarity among genuine leftists and serious Black liberationists in the face of rampaging reaction. There is no lesser evil in this house of fear and apocalyptic brinksmanship. The Democrats have colluded in a budget whose gargantuan military outlays will inevitably doom what’s left of the U.S. social safety net — that is, if the human race is not annihilated, beforehand. They have replaced and outshouted the John McCain’s and Lindsay Graham’s of the Republican Party in demonizing, not just Vladimir Putin, but every government and movement in the world that resists U.S. lawlessness and aggression.
The Democratic Party remains under the firm control of the Clinton/Obama forces that reinforced mass Black incarceration in the Nineties and militarized the police at unprecedented levels in this century through the Pentagon’s 1033 program. In the absence of a renewed, grassroots street offensive against the armed occupation of Black communities, there will be no relief from the daily slaughter and the accompanying political evisceration of Black America.
Yes, it is certain that Trump’s very presence encourages the most swinish elements of the police. But it is also true that the Democrats — including Black Democrats — have controlled the city governments that maintain the police state in Black neighborhoods and relentlessly disperse our people through gentrification.
“What is needed is clarity among genuine leftists and serious Black liberationists in the face of rampaging reaction.”
And now it is the Democrats that take the lead in purging the Internet of dissenting political views, under the guise of defending fragile American minds against foreign manipulation. Silicon Valley — the big business sector most supportive of Clinton/Obama Democrats — is thus given license to shape reality in ways that make corporate dictatorship appear both logical and inevitable. Trump’s troglodytes could never finesse such a hijacking of fundamental democratic rights, but the Democrats are pulling it off with alarming speed. There’s nothing “lesser” about this evil.
When the Democrats got their wish, that Trump win the Republican presidential nomination, they became the predominant party of the U.S. ruling class and the most aggressive defenders of empire. Into Hillary Clinton’s campaign “Big Tent” slivered the dregs of the national security state, for whom peaceful coexistence among nations is anathema. Bernie Sanders cannot purge them from their central position in the party. The World Socialist Web Site reports that “an extraordinary number of former intelligence and military operatives from the CIA, Pentagon, National Security Council and State Department are seeking nomination as Democratic candidates for Congress in the 2018 midterm elections.” By WSWS’s count, if the Democrats capture a majority of seats in the House this November, “candidates drawn from the military-intelligence apparatus will comprise as many as half of the new Democratic members of Congress.”
Such a party is incompatible with any domestic social justice agenda — and a threat to the survival of the species. The Left’s job is to disentangle our people from the political clutches of the ruling class and to build independent people’s organizations. The Republicans are a white people’s problem, but Black activists cannot confront the police, the oligarchs or the warmongers without fighting the Democrats.