These Stories Must be Told

Sometime ago, those of us who entered political movements for change walked on our first picket line or marched in our first demonstration. At some point we got hooked on concepts like “Freedom”, “Direct Action” and “Resistance” to get rid of Jim Crow racism. Eventually we came to learn how to spend time in jail, survive police and vigilante  violence; to organize poor and working class black people; to extract perks and building blocks from federal programs and build coalitions among unpredictable community groups; to fight city hall; to negotiate agreements that produced opportunities and skill development for community development; and to manage campaigns to elect black politicians.

But then one day we looked around and realized that many of our friends (and enemies) who made that journey, or similar journeys, were no longer with us….to laugh with, relive old conquests, or just tell lies. Too many have moved to places unknown, gotten sick, or passed on to the next life.

So many of our collective stories go untold. This is true of stories about the Southern Movement, and especially the resistance movements that took place in the North.

Veterans of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) took it upon themselves to remedy this collective act of cultural amnesia by establishing the SNCC Legacy Project at Duke University. They have collected the stories and documents, celebrated the organizations and individuals that make the Southern Civil Rights and Black Power Movements come alive. Because of them, the world knows more about black resistance in places like Selma Alabama, Memphis Tennessee, and Macomb, Mississippi. But there were struggles in the North in cities like Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, and Newark, throughout the 1950s and into the 1970s. Some of these were based upon the principals of non-violence, but others were headline producing and destructive mass rebellions, as in Los Angeles, Detroit and hundreds of other cities.

These stories must be told, and hence the evolution of this project entitled, The North: Civil Rights and Beyond in Urban America. When Komozi Woodard, Bill Strickland and I sat down to first conceptualize this project, we had two things in mind: to capture the voices of the foot soldiers of the North who fought for empowerment of black people in cities like Newark, Detroit, Chicago and Oakland. And to pass these stories onto the next generation of young people who must continue to struggle. “One day we’ll get old and can’t fight anymore, but we’ll stand up and fight anyhow”….and part of that phase of struggle is to pass the knowledge forward. Conceptually, we all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. Therefore this story must contain the stories and knowledge gained by those who came before the 1960s as well.

When we think about the youth, we see those who are now coming into their own as thinking, feeling individuals; conscious but unsure about the world around them, and the people and institutions that create and direct their future. Few of them see the connection between history and their own range of coping and escape strategies from the negative forces that bind them. They go to school, where they read books, listen to their teachers, but the vast majority receives most of their information from the media and the Internet. For better or worse, this is how they are educated (or miseducated).

And so, inspired by the SNCC Legacy Project, we decided to expand our group of colleagues from the Movement and other supporters to put together “The North”. We have built a powerful multimedia, interactive website, the front door to which you are about to enter.  It is a new teaching tool for all people, but primarily for young people in grade school through college and beyond, to research and preserve the record of those people who were “foot soldiers” in the Civil Rights and other Movements in the North, starting with Newark, NJ; but continuing to places such as Detroit, New York, Chicago, Oakland, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia to name just a few.

This project will engage adults, college and grade school students, teachers, researchers and students of history to develop a critical theory of race and class as it played out in the challenges, successes, and failures of urban black politics based on the stories and analysis of northern and urban movements for black empowerment in the period stretching from the 1950s to the present, but with particular emphasis on the 1960s and 70s in the first stage; and through the remainder of the 20th century to the year 2015 in stage two. We even offer a brief glimpse of the journey taken by African Americans and their supporters and detractors from the colonial period to the 1950s.

“The North” identifies and highlights organizations and individuals who were instrumental in advancing the cause of black empowerment in each city studied; and the opposition they faced in critical steps along the way. It offers a critical resource for the teaching of black political history at the grade school level, college and for those currently on the new front lines of struggle such as Black Lives Matter.

This first episode (Newark) is presented in partnership with Rutgers University Newark, Washington University of St. Louis, the Newark Public Schools, the City of Newark, The Turrell Fund, Fund for Newark’s Future and other partners as set forth in our section on partnerships and supporters. As you will see, it is a site built for this generation: mobile friendly, socially optimized, social media friendly, with sharable content.  It is a site built for the not so young as well because it is simply designed, user friendly and completely searchable.

We hope you enjoy become engaged, and join in the research by telling your story, offering suggestions, and sharing your pictures and other materials from this period through the portal provided. Let’s stay in touch.