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Workers World in 1968

State attacks on Black youth; countrywide rebellions

Published Mar 29, 2008 10:14 AM

Workers World is in its 50th year of publication. Throughout the year, we will share with our readers some of the paper’s content over the past half century. Below are excerpts from two articles in 1968—one on the racist murders of Black youth by the National Guard in Orangeburg, S.C.; another on the rebellions that followed the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

H. Rap Brown calls for mass action to avenge Orangeburg murders

Three students were killed and 27 wounded. Two Black demonstrators killed in the Orangeburg Massacre lie on the ground at the edge of South Carolina State College in Orangeburg on Feb. 8, 1968. Following three days of protests, which began when Black people were barred from entering a bowling alley by the proprietor, state police and national guardsmen attacked demonstrators.

Feb. 16, 1968

“If we seek redress of our grievances through peaceful, legal means, we will be shot down and murdered. It is obvious that the time for marching, demonstrating, demanding and praying is over.”

So declared H. Rap Brown, chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, in a prepared statement last week.

Mr. Brown was speaking in response to the murders and attempted general massacre of Black college students by the racist National Guard in Orangeburg, South Carolina.

While Roy Wilkins, executive director of the NAACP, called for “prompt and thorough investigation” of themselves by the racist authorities, Mr. Brown warned the ruling class as follows:

“Let white America know that the name of the game is tit for tat, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and a life for a life. ...”

Two 18-year-old South Carolina State College students and a 17-year-old high school lad had been shot and killed on Feb. 9 after three days of demonstrations, which were touched off by the illegal refusal of a white bowling alley proprietor to allow Black customers on the premises.

The Guardsmen, with bayonets fixed, attacked the young Black men, who naturally fought back, throwing small articles, according to some observers. The three who were killed, said a spokesman for the college, were “in a group which patrolmen were charging.”

In the wholesale shooting that ensued, the Guard and the police wounded fifty as well as killing Samuel Hammond, Delano Middleton and Henry Smith.

Gov. Robert E. McNair, who called the Guard out in the first place, immediately took to the air waves and told a nationwide TV audience that “The incident last night was sparked by Black Power advocates.”

“It was one of the saddest days in the history of South Carolina,” added the murderer. But he did not comment on the “sadness” of the All Star Bowling Alley’s refusal to allow Black students to bowl.

McNair’s reference to “Black Power advocates” was thought to mean the presence of Cleveland Sellers, a field coordinator of SNCC, who was one of those wounded by shotgun fire.

Sellers, 24, has been living in a town 20 miles from Orangeburg and has bravely faced the white supremacist authorities in the area for some weeks. He has done the normal amount of speaking and organizing that SNCC organizers usually do, and under very difficult conditions.

The governor is now moving all the powerful forces of his office into position for a big whitewash and a lot of legalistic “proof” that he is in the right.

The Black people of Orangeburg are not being fooled, however. They have already mounted an economic boycott and intend to organize to go much further than that.

And organizations throughout the country are expressing their support, both in words and action.

Rap Brown may have voiced the sentiment of a very great many people when he said as part of his statement quoted above: “We will not forget the Orangeburg massacre and we will revenge.”

Ruling Class Talks ‘Non-Violence’ Sends 61,000 Troops in Reign of Terror

By Naomi Goldstein
April 11, 1968

Since the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King on April 4, every bourgeois politician from the racist Texan in the White House to the “liberal” mayor of New York City has called on the Black people to honor Dr. King by practicing his method of nonviolence.

“America is shocked and saddened by the brutal slaying of Dr. Martin Luther King. I ask every citizen to reject the blind violence that has struck Dr. King, who lived by nonviolence,” President Johnson piously requested, just one day before calling in thousands of federal troops to terrorize the Black community in Washington, D.C.

The mournful words were hardly out of their mouths when the representatives of the racist ruling class called on National Guard units and federal troops to invade flaming ghettos in cities across the country, including Washington, Chicago, New York, Detroit, Memphis, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and many others.

While the warmongers in Washington were conveniently preaching nonviolence to the Black people, 110 cities exploded in rebellion against the oppressor’s violence. By Monday evening 9,000 had been arrested and many more thousands wounded and beaten by the heavily armed troops.

In Washington, 4,000 Army and National Guard troops were called in to protect the White House and other government buildings. Flags flew at half staff and Congressmen eulogized the “man of peace” as combat troops set up machine gun posts on the steps of the Capitol building.

As the rebellion spread beyond the ghettos to within two blocks of the White House, Johnson warned from behind his troops, “America shall not be ruled by the bullet but by the ballot of free and just men.”

With these words of peace still lingering in the smoke-filled air, eight Black people were killed by cops and troops within three days in the city. There were over 1,000 injured and 5,000 arrested.

After just one day of battle, it was clear that the 2,800 man police force in Washington could not hold back the heroic rebellion of the Black masses, angered by the racist murder of Dr. King.

Their prime targets were the businessmen in their communities who have been robbing and cheating them. On one block, every building was burned to the ground except the headquarters of an agency which the Black people felt was trying to help them.

Nineteen Safeway Stores, which are notorious for overpricing food in the ghettos, were wiped clean or burned. At the same time that Johnson was urging Black people to be nonviolent, cops told store managers to arm themselves with shotguns, according to a report in the New York Times April. 7.

In New York City on April 5, Mayor Lindsay, who was co-chairman of the commission on “civil disorders” and who prides himself on being the expert in “human relations,” benevolently rushed to Harlem to quiet things down. But when the angry Black people shouted him down, Lindsay was hustled away by bodyguards to a waiting limousine.

A day later in a television appearance he quoted Dr. King, “I can only close the gap in a broken community by meeting hate with love.” One of Lindsay’s first acts of “love” was to increase by 80 percent the number of cops on duty by putting them on 13-hour-a-day, 6-day schedules.

Out of “respect,” Lindsay’s cops wore 1-inch black bands for mourning over their shields—which conveniently covered their badge numbers so no one could report them for police brutality.

The specially trained riot squad, the Tactical Patrol Force, was also immediately sent to the Black communities of Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvesant.

But Lindsay’s fine talk didn’t deter the Black people from setting fire to the property of their hated oppressors. In Brooklyn, windows were broken in a branch of the Manufacturers Hanover Trust Co. bank. And in Harlem, the people made it a policy to expropriate the goods of the shopkeepers (most of them white) who have been stealing from them for so long.

In Chicago, 22,200 armed troops, 5,000 Federal troops, 6,700 Illinois National Guardsmen and 10,500 Chicago police were called in to terrorize the Black community as the rebellion spread from the West Side ghetto to the South Side and Near North Side. Troops were mobilized from as far away as Fort Hood, Texas, and Fort Carson, Colo., to suppress what the ruling class admitted was an “insurrection.” (The New York Times revealed April 6 that 15,000 Army troops have been made available to help put down the rebellions.)

The troops were called in after a 28-block area on W. Madison Street was set afire and destroyed by the angry Black population. National Guardsmen armed with sniper scopes were ordered by the racist authorities to take “aggressive action” against “lawbreakers,” according to the New York Times of April 7.

Mayor Daley called a memorial meeting of the City Council for Dr. King, but at the same time threatened that “looters” should be shot. By Sunday, 11 Afro-Americans had been murdered, over 500 injured and 1,800 arrested. Bail was set at up to $1,000 just for disorderly conduct, making it impossible for most of the Black people to raise the necessary money to be released.

Fires in the city were so widespread that power and telephone service were out in some areas.

Troops with bayonets bared marched through the streets of eastern and western Baltimore Monday, where 100,000 Black people live in poverty. April 7, Johnson had 2,000 troops dispatched to Baltimore at Gov. Agnew’s request to help the 6,000 National Guardsmen and 1,600 city and state police. By April 8, there were 10,848 troops in Baltimore.

Five killed, 12 critically injured, over 500 injured and 3,200 arrested added to the mounting nationwide list of Black people murdered and wounded. The fifth person killed in Baltimore was a Black mean shot down in the street for “suspected looting.” One New York Times report of April 9 revealed that cops were using dogs against the people in the Afro-American communities.

April 8, it was reported that the Black people were beginning to use guerrilla warfare tactics to drive off the armed invaders. Police were shot at and stoned from the roofs and pelted with bottles and bricks as they patrolled the besieged Black communities.

The Hill district of Pittsburgh, too, erupted in rebellion. The Black community of 45,000 has an unemployment rate four times as high as the rest of the city. Four thousand National Guardsmen were called up, but not before a five-block stretch of small white-owned businesses had been destroyed.

In Cincinnati, the murder of a Black woman touched off a rebellion in Avondale, an Afro-American ghetto. One thousand three hundred National Guardsmen were called in and cops barricaded streets to seal off the downtown section of the city.

Government reports revealed that 61,000 troops had been called up by Tuesday, April 9, to suppress rebellions across the country. There were 31 dead, including two in Detroit and one each in Memphis, Minneapolis and Tallahassee, Fla.