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By Elliot Booker — 3 years ago
Throughout US history, African Americans have pushed the limits — and beyond — of what America claims to be. The questions posed by both intellectuals and everyday African Americans during the Reconstruction, New Deal, and Civil Rights eras have all left lasting effects on the country. So too with the US left: time and again, black radicals have pressed for an expanded scope of political and economic freedoms, for Americans at home and for people abroad.
Christopher Tinson’s important new book, Radical Intellect: Liberator Magazine and Black Activism in the 1960s, spotlights one critical organ of the African-American left during the tumultuous Civil Rights and Black Power eras. At a time when intellectual currents were in flux, inchoate and colliding, Liberator simultaneously served as an important forum for debate and a reminder of the diversity of the African-American left. The magazine, Tinson writes, “stood at the crossroads of knowledge production and insurrection,” providing activists and intellectuals a place where they could hash out their ideas and make appeals to others. Intellectually, it proved to be an important waypoint between the resurgent black nationalism seen in places like Harlem in the early 1960s and the burgeoning Black Power movement of the late 1960s.
Liberator magazine was founded in 1961 by several radical African Americans living in New York City. It operated at the nexus of a rising black nationalism, the nascent New Left, the remains of the Old Left, and the more militant elements of the Civil Rights Movement. The founders of the publication embodied this ideological and temporal mix. Pete Beveridge was a former member of the Communist Party, while Richard Gibson spent his early career reporting on the anticolonial struggle in Africa. (Editor in chief Dan Watts was the relative outlier, with a background as an architect.)
Two tenets anchored the magazine’s politics: a Pan-Africanism “that appreciated some sense of the political and cultural unity of African descendants, while also fully embracing local exigencies of considerable difference”; and a skepticism “of liberalism and gradualist approaches to social change.”
Founded to provide news and analysis about decolonization from a more radical perspective than mainstream publications, Liberator was an unabashed partisan of anticolonial struggles. The magazine deplored the depredations of colonial regimes and championed the movements seeking to overthrow them. Emerging as it did in the early 1960s, when elements of the US left were concerned the Cold War superpowers would pull newly independent Third World nations into their spheres of influence, the magazine became an important organ for those opposing oppression in the Global South.
At home, the magazine’s brand of radicalism led it to look askance at more mainstream left figures. In their eyes, Martin Luther King Jr and other civil rights leaders were too cozy with liberal politicians, too limited in their tactics and demands. More laudable were figures like Malcolm X and radical organizations such as the Revolutionary Action Movement, or RAM.
The publication’s analysis of the 1963 March on Washington reflected these ambiguities. While they agreed with the economic aims of the demonstration — remember, it was a march for “jobs and freedom” — many of Liberator’s writers and editors expressed skepticism about the utility of “relying on such a dramatization to generate the full range of black political and economic desires.”
The question of what African Americans could achieve in the US — not just through civil rights victories but through wholesale changes in the American system — kept the Liberator’s pages alive with debate throughout the 1960s. New Left collided with Old Left, old-school Pan-Africanism came into play with the new black nationalism. The journal, Tinson writes, “demonstrate(d) the sheer amount of energy devoted to black radical futures, and yet it also reveals how deeply contested definitions and practices of radicalism were in this period.”
One noted participant in these intellectual battles was Harold Cruse. In 1963 and 1964, Liberator published a series of essays by the University of Michigan scholar titled “Rebellion or Revolution?” Cruse argued that Africans Americans needed to fight for thoroughgoing cultural change, to “move the struggle from a civil rights-based rebellion to a full-fledged revolution.” He explicitly linked the US civil rights struggle to Third World revolutions, where people waging battles for independence from European rule were fighting for control of not just political and economic but also cultural institutions.
Later that decade, in his 1967 magnum opus Crisis of the Negro Intellectual, Cruse would issue stinging rebukes of numerous black radicals and publications, including Liberator. But he was better off for having the magazine as a clearinghouse for his early, wide-ranging essays on black nationalism and Marxism.
Larry Neal also benefited from having Liberator as a playground for his ideas on black aesthetics, which would serve as key frameworks for the Black Arts Movement of the late 1960s and 1970s. Like Cruse and many others at Liberator, Neal argued that black people had to take ownership of the arts and culture within their community, and use them to benefit their fellow African Americans.
At the same time, he was critical of stalwarts on the black left like Bayard Rustin, who was close to labor liberals. In a 1965 Liberator essay, Neal invoked Malcolm X to push against Rustin, arguing that African Americans had to make their struggle part of a larger, international movement for human rights. Neal’s case for a “black spiritual and intellectual awakening” was, again, a window into the debates among African Americans over the future of the black freedom struggle in America.
Tinson also shows how Liberator served as an intellectual home for radical African-American women. Liberator ran articles about figures like playwright Loraine Hansberry and activist Gloria Richardson, and published some of the earliest works of Toni Cade Bambara, future editor of the groundbreaking anthology The Black Woman. The magazine gave women a chance to hone their literary and debating skills before assuming leadership roles in the Black Power and feminist movements of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Liberator operated during a golden age for African-American radical publications. Freedomways, cofounded by W. E. B. Du Bois, launched in 1961, the same year as Liberator. By the end of the decade, a revitalized Negro Digest — printed under the Johnson Publication Company banner (the same publisher of Ebony and Jet magazines) — would establish itself as a redoubt of black intellectual thought (and change its name to Black World to reflect its more radical stance on social issues). Black Scholar set up shop in 1969, and helped catalyze the first wave of black studies scholarship in the early 1970s.
But money was always a problem for publications like Liberator. In 1971, lacking a steady stream of income — and beset by personality clashes — the magazine closed its pages. Others on the black left would follow. Black World stopped printing in 1976. Freedomways made it through the decade, but closed in 1985. The Institute of the Black World, a black-run think tank that was another important institution for thinking through the black radical tradition was finished by the early 1980s.
Liberator’s lifespan was relatively short, and its subscription base was relatively small. Yet it was read by radicals across the United States — and quite a few abroad — who wanted to make sense of the world they lived in. Its links to groups well outside its New York City base gave the publication greater influence than its editors could have initially imagined. Fusing intellectual life and activism, the magazine demonstrated anew the centrality of the black radical tradition to the larger left project in America.
Today, as the Black Lives Matter movement calls out the contradictions of American democracy and sparks debates about the direction of the country, Radical Intellect reminds us of the vital role that intellectuals and periodicals can play in that tradition.Post Views: 1,168
By Elliot Booker — 3 years ago
The U.S. has deployed at least 1,500 troops to the Sahel and sub-Saharan regions, with little public debate and what experts call an unclear strategy.
America’s little-known war on terrorists in Africa is becoming more perilous as the U.S. deploys growing numbers of troops to the continent’s most lawless regions, including the part of Niger where four special operations soldiers died in an ambush last week.
The escalation is occurring with little public debate — and, some military experts say, too little attention from top decision-makers in Washington. The U.S. military presence in the Sahel and sub-Saharan regions has grown to at least 1,500 troops, roughly triple the official number of American troops in Syria, according to Pentagon and White House figures.
As with Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, the dispatch of hundreds of additional U.S. troops to countries like Niger, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Uganda and South Sudan is another instance where President Donald Trump’s “America First” rhetoric hasn’t kept his administration from being drawn deeper into far-flung war zones. And the U.S. lacks a comprehensive strategy for pursuing its mission in Africa, military and intelligence experts told POLITICO.
“I don’t think there is any congressional oversight in this,” said Michael Shurkin, a former CIA analyst specializing in Africa who is now a researcher at the Rand Corp., a Pentagon-funded think tank.
He also pointed to vacancies in top policymaking posts in the State and Defense departments, saying they’ve left military operations such as Africa Command and its special operations component “pretty much doing their own thing.”
“It is not that there is a good policy or bad policy,” Shurkin said. “There is just no policy. It is inertia.”
Last week’s deadly attack has thrust into the limelight a series of dangerous military deployments that normally receive scant attention compared with the far larger military missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A central focus of the mission is the vast desert nation of Niger, nearly twice the size of Texas, which has been a magnet for jihadists of many stripes, including those recruited locally and so-called foreign fighters drawn from North Africa, the Middle East and beyond.
In June, the official number of U.S. troops supporting Niger’s military as it fights the militant groups was 645, up from 575 in December 2016. But now it’s at least 800, according to the Pentagon.
Many of the troops are Green Berets, Navy SEALs and Marine Raiders, but officials said the reinforcements have mostly been Air Force personnel who are there to manage a surge in surveillance flights by unmanned drones and manned spy planes.
That’s a significant jump from the 100 troops that then-President Barack Obama deployed to Niger in 2013, notes a new report from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, the research arm of Congress. “This trend has coincided with sizable increases in U.S. security assistance for African countries over the past decade, of which Niger has been a major beneficiary.”
Plans are also underway to accommodate more forces, including $50 million that the Air Force requested to construct an air strip in the northern city of Agadez, considered one of the most volatile areas of the country.
The U.S. military presence has also been expanding elsewhere in the region.
As of June, another 300 U.S. troops were operating in neighboring Cameroon, up from 285 in December, according to the White House notifications to Congress required under the War Powers Act.
A Pentagon spokeswoman, Maj. Audricia Harris, confirmed the increase in American troops in Niger but did not respond to inquiries about more up-to-date U.S. troop levels elsewhere in the region.
U.S. intelligence has warned in recent months about the growing Islamic militant threat in the region that stretches from Mali in the northwest to South Sudan and Uganda in East Africa — and a number of countries in between.
“In North and West Africa, al-Qa’ida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) escalated its attacks on Westerners in 2016 with two high-profile attacks in Burkina Faso and Cote d’lvoire,” Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, reported to Congress in May. “It merged with allies in 2017 to form a new group intended to promote unity among Mali-based jihadists, extend the jihad beyond the Sahara and Sahel region, increase military action, and speed up recruitment of fighters.”
Current and former military officials say the distinction between advising and combat is blurring as U.S. troops expand their footprint and increase the patrols they conduct in terrorist sanctuaries alongside local allies.
“You’re damn right they’re in harm’s way,” said a former military officer with direct knowledge of the Africa operations who was not authorized to speak publicly, “because we are accompanying the indigenous forces and those forces are fighting an active, thinking enemy there.”
The level of danger to U.S. troops had been on display even before the deadly ambush in Niger last week.
Rep. Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations Subcommittee, said after the attack that “this was the first attack on U.S. forces on the ground in Niger.”
But two military officers — one current and one former — with direct knowledge of the operations in Niger told POLITICO that troops had previously been injured by an improvised explosive device or mine, though it remains unclear whether Americans were deliberately targeted in that incident.
The ill-fated patrol last week was an Expeditionary Forces mission, in a part of the country where troops are trying to hunt down and disrupt convoys of smugglers who travel through Niger’s open brush land from Mali and Chad to Libya carrying arms and terrorist funds. It is one of several areas in the broader Lake Chad Basin where advisers accompany the Expeditionary Forces and other local units.
While the Americans “stay back from actual raid,” the former military officer related, sometimes advisers have been under fire.
“We would go to the last covered and concealed spot” when going along with partner forces on a combat mission and then stay back from the actual raid, the former military source said. “But of course there’s no concealment out there” in an arid landscape with little vegetation to hide behind.
But as the military effort ramps up, so have concerns that the Trump administration lacks a comprehensive strategy for the region. Such a strategy would also emphasize more non-military tools such as economic aid and cooperation with allies to strengthen democratic institutions in some of the world’s poorest nations.
“There is a tendency to militarize things by deferring to the military,” Shurkin said, adding that the military effort “should be part of a larger strategy that will include other types of assistance.”
“You will end up with this piecemeal approach — focused on military stuff but in a very narrow way,” he added, noting that the U.S. military is only training a few elite units in these nations.
A senior State Department official on Wednesday told Congress that the administration is seeking to do more to assist countries hardest hit by the scourge of terrorist groups.
Donald Yamamoto, an acting assistant secretary of state, told a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee that the the administration’s $5.2 billion foreign aid budget next year will give priority to Mali, Nigeria and other African nations where Islamic terrorist groups have gained strength.
He called promoting these fragile states “a critical priority for the United States in Africa.”
But Congress received a warning last week that the larger U.S. military presence, along with that of other allies like the French, may already be angering local populations prone to the jihadist message.
“The growing foreign military footprint in the country appears to have fed a local backlash against both the government and Western countries,” the Congressional Research Service report said.
“One risk is that it is ineffectual and we are wasting money,” Shurkin said of the African counterterrorism mission. “We can also make things worse. Mucking around you bound to inflame things, exacerbate problems. We have no idea who these people are, which could be very, very dangerous.”
Army Lt. Gen. Kenneth Tovo, who oversees all Army special operations forces, pledged in an address Wednesday to the Association of the United States Army in Washington to get to the bottom of what happened to the troops killed in Niger last week.
“I think we owe that to the American people, we owe that to the mothers, fathers, and wives of the fallen, to look critically from every echelon to see if we can do our job better,” Tovo said. “I think it highlights the fact that really every mission around the world that we’re undertaking has got elements of risk.”
Both military sources with knowledge of the Niger operations questioned just how much the missions are accomplishing.
“I would be hesitant to say we and the Nigeriens are having significant effects in that part of Niger up near Mali,” said the former officer.
“We’re having an effect,” he added. “Is it going to win the war? No, because the war will never end.Post Views: 978
By Elliot Booker — 4 years ago
JOSEPH BLACKBURN BASS 1863 – 1934
Joseph Bass was born in 1863. He was an African American teacher, businessman and newspaper editor.
From Jefferson City, Missouri, Joseph Blackburn Bass taught school for seven years but in 1894, William Pope, editor of the Topeka Call offered him the job of newspaperman. In 1896, Pope died, and Joseph Bass became owner, publisher, and editor. In 1898, Nick Chiles purchased the newspaper and changed the name to The Topeka Plaindealer. J.B. Bass worked as Chile’s associate until 1905 when he moved to Helena, Montana to establish The Montana Plaindealer. Bass wrote, edited, and published the Plaindealer at 17 South Main Street in Helena, aided by an assistant, Joseph Tucker, from March 1906 to September 1911. An activist and promoter of civic organizations, Bass embraced progressive political goals and urged Helena’s sizable African American population—more than 450 in 1910—to be entrepreneurial and engage in cultural uplift. In 1906, Bass helped organize the St. James Literary Society, based in the St. James AME Zion Church. Three years later, Bass spearheaded the Afro-American Protective League, an ambitious statewide organization that meant to defend African Americans in Montana from racism. The group lasted only a few months, but Bass had established himself as a community leader. Two years earlier, in 1907, he helped organize a Helena chapter of Booker T. Washington’s National Negro Business League, which included more than a dozen businesses in town, and in 1908 Bass created the Afro-American Building Association, a self-help group of African American real estate owners in Helena.
In 1911, he went to San Francisco for one year, then on to Los Angeles for a brief visit around October 1912. J.B. Bass decided to stay and in late 1912 he paid a visit to the California Eagle, which was on 1328 Central in L.A. In 1913, Charlotta Spear hired J.B. Bass to do a limited amount of newspaper work, including running the newspaper for two weeks while she traveled north. At the end of 1913, she offered Bass the position of editor of the Eagle, they married in August 1914.. Joseph Bass held that position until his death in 1934.
An excerpt from Charlotta Bass’s column, “On the Sidewalk,” dated April 2, 1937, reads: “My last visit Sunday was to the grave of the late editor of this paper, J.B. Bass. I did not lay a large bouquet upon the grave of him who sleeps beneath, but gardenias three in number, with their fragrance mild but sweet, conveying a message I cannot here repeat.”
“Together we started,
“Together we parted,
“He sleeps, and I go on with the task, he would have me complete.
“Fellow traveler, I do not ask for a lift–
“I can carry my load.
“I only ask that you do not block my path.”
Black Past,Joseph Bass
CHARLOTTA A. BASS 1874 – 1969
Was an African American educator, newspaper publisher-editor, and civil rights activist. Bass was probably the first African-American woman to own and operate a newspaper in the United States; she published the California Eagle from 1912 until 1951. She used her influence as the publisher of a newspaper to uncover injustice and fight for civil rights.
Bass was born Charlotta Amanda Spears in October of 1880 in Sumter, South Carolina. She was the sixth of 11 children between Hiram and Kate Spears, but very little is known about her parents or her early life. Bass moved to Rhode Island soon after graduating from high school, and found work selling ads and doing odd jobs at a newspaper. She grasped the nuances of the business over 10 years of employment at the Providence Watchman. After moving to Los Angeles, California, in 1910, she found work selling subscriptions to the African American newspaper the Eagle.
Two years later, the Eagle’s publisher, J.J. Neimore, took ill and asked Bass to take over the operation of the paper upon his death. The surprise bequest made Bass the first African American woman to run a newspaper in the United States. However, the Eagle was in dire financial straits when she finally assumed the role of editor and publisher. Determined to correct the paper’s course, Bass changed the name to the California Eagle, and began hiring staff that were less interested in society reporting and more dedicated to reporting on the issues of the day. In 1912, she hired Joseph Blackburn Bass to be the paper’s editor. Bass had been one of the founders of the Topeka Plaindealer. He shared his concern with Spears about the injustice and racial discrimination in society. He eventually became Bass’ husband and they ran the newspaper together.
By 1915, the paper was staking out firm political stances. Bass ran editorials denouncing D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, a film that many found offensive for its glorification of the Ku Klux Klan and ideas of white supremacy. Bass’ protest motivated African American newspapers around the country to join her in condemning the film. When she realized the true scope of influence the media possessed, Bass redoubled her efforts to use the Eagle as a tool to fight for the rights of African Americans. The paper tackled issues such as fair access to housing, segregated schools, and illegal hiring practices by corporations. The Basses powerfully championed the black soldiers of the Twenty-Fourth Infantry who were unjustly sentenced in the 1917 Houston race riot. They also covered the case and supported the “Scottsboro boy,” nine young men who were framed and convicted of rape in Scottsboro, Alabama in 1931.
During the 1920s, Bass became co-president of the Los Angeles chapter of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, founded by Marcus Garvey. Bass formed the Home Protective Association to defeat housing covenants in all-white neighborhoods. She helped found the Industrial Business Council, which fought discrimination in employment practices and encouraged black people to go into business. As editor and publisher of the California Eagle, the oldest black newspaper on the West Coast, Charlotta Bass fought against restrictive covenants in housing and segregated schools in Los Angeles. She campaigned to end job discrimination at the Los Angeles General Hospital, the Los Angeles Rapid Transit Company, the Southern Telephone Company, and the Boulder Dam Project.
By the mid-1930s, the Eagle was in solid financial shape, and with a circulation of 60,000, was the largest African American newspaper on the west coast. Her husband’s death in 1934 was an emotional blow to Bass, and a key transitional point in her life. When she recovered from grieving, she began to dedicate herself to political activism beyond the newspaper. Bass worked diligently on the “Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work” campaign that urged African Americans to take a personal stand against discriminatory hiring practices, and only spend their money at businesses that hired, or were run by, African Americans. Soon, she began to consider the possibility of running for public office.
After rallying a group of black leaders in a battle against Los Angeles mayor Fletcher Bowron, Bass became convinced that politicians were not representing the issues that were important to the people. Although her group was successful in pressuring Bowron’s office to expand its Committee on American Unity, none of its other demands related to racism and discrimination were addressed. In 1945, Bass ran for Los Angeles City Council, and in 1950, became the Progressive Party’s candidate for state senate. She didn’t win either race, but gained a taste for politics and a platform for voicing ideas provided by political debate among candidates.
Because Bass’ political rhetoric was decidedly leftist as the United States entered the McCarthy era, and as suspicions toward communists, intellectuals, and activists reached a fever pitch, she found herself under surveillance by the FBI. In 1950, she was called before the California Legislature’s Joint Fact-Finding Committee on un-American Activities. Though neither Bass nor her paper were found guilty of any wrongdoing, she was subjected to surveillance for the remainder of her life. This did little to slow her political ambitions, however, and in 1951, after nearly 40 years as the managing editor and publisher of the Eagle, Bass sold the paper and began preparations for what would be her greatest challenge. Bass served in 1952 as the National Chairman of the Sojourners for Truth and Justice, an organization of black women set up to protest racial violence in the South. Also In 1952, she ran for vice president of the United States on the Progressive Party ticket with Vincent Hallinan. She did not aspire to win, but rather to broadcast her views into a more public and national forum with a motto of “Win or lose, we win by raising the issues.” The bid for the vice presidency made Bass the first African American woman to run for a national office.
Despite her splashy appearance on the national stage, Bass continued to be dedicated to political work in and around Los Angeles throughout the remainder of her life. She never saw the city become the place of racial harmony that she envisioned, but during Bass’ life, Los Angeles was one of the most progressive cities in the United States, due in great part to her own efforts. When Bass moved just outside of Los Angeles in 1960, to Lake Elsinore, she opened her own garage as a community center and reading room. She hosted voter registration drives and became a regular participant at local protests against South African apartheid policies and on behalf of prisoners’ rights.
Throughout her journalistic and political careers Bass fought for the rights of African Americans across a range of practical issues. In the course of her work, she befriended the famous activists Paul Robeson and W.E.B. Du Bois. Although Bass never was elected to public office, she was successful in her attempts to galvanize national energy around discrimination and civil rights.
In 1966, Bass suffered a stroke that confined her to a convalescent home. On April 12, 1969, she suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died in Los Angeles. She is buried alongside her husband in Evergreen Cemetery, East Los Angeles, California.
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