"The Nature of the Current Revolts"

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    The Nature of the Current Revolts [1] In the slavery period of our American experience the main institution of confinement was the plantation. In the post slavery period[,] especially since the First World War, the main institution of confinement for the Black population in the [United States] is the ghetto. The Black ghetto has been described often and elaborately. It is an enclave within the larger American Urban setting, whose inhabitants pay high rents for slum houses or buy second-hand houses at inflated real estate prices; an area of run-down schools, over-crowded and poorly staffed, with a curriculum which is designed to give the child an inferior education and consequently handicap him in the competition for college or a good job later in life. The ghetto family pays marked up prices for poor quality food and other merchandise–with the weighted scale in the meat market and the padded credit accounts in the furniture store everyday forms of robbery. It is a population preyed upon by petty hustlers and charlatans and a variety of other social [parasites?] who wouldn’t be allowed to operate in other communities. It is a population occupied by a police force acting as overseers on this urban plantation.
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    [4] If as some people say these revolts “have nothing to do with Civil Rights,” it is only because the very concept of “civil rights” is too narrow to deal with the basic economic and political problems facing the black population today. If the method of resistance is no longer exclusively non-violent, it is because violence is the language of America and they the colonized wish to be heard. If they are not making their appeal by way of moral argumentation, it is because they have concluded from the record, that the leadership of this nation is basically immoral, in its dealing with non-white people, the world over. So their manifesto is in the dead rather than the rhetoric and in this course of action they are making the title of James Baldwin’s famous essay “The Fire Next Time,” a prophetic reality. Unlike the violence which has characterized American life and history, the violence of the ghetto rebellion is not motivated by greed and inhumanity. It is a form of resistance to deprivation and a protest against being ignored by the affluent society.
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    [5] In their confiscation of food and useful merchandise from stores whose owners have been looting their packets for years, they are showing their contempt for the "property rights" of all the petty exploiters and regard this as a way of "getting even." In their combative defiance of the armed forces of the regime and current popular notions among "sociologists" concerning the "emasculation of the negro male." Like millions of their [countrymen] Negro Americans increasingly understand that a government which is currently spending $75 billion a year on war and outerspace [sic] effort to put a man on the moon has no intention of providing adequate funds to end joblessness, slum conditions, and correct educational deprivation in the ghettos. In spite of the official deceptive propaganda to the contrary, racist wars abroad are not in the least likely to serve the cause of multi-racial democracy at home. If anything[,] racist wars abroad make forces of domestic racism more arrogant and the colonized nationalities in America (Afro-Americans, Spanish
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    [6] speaking and Indian), all of whom are the victims of racisms have an instinctive understanding of this. So certain of the colonized are acting upon their own definitions, for they are convinced ours is a struggle for survival in a hostile racist society. One does not have to be a [die-hard] advocate of violence or anarchy to recognize validity of a social rebellion by the oppressed[,] which takes a violent form. Riots have little to do with freedom, Revolts, or rebellion against oppression have everything to do with freedom. All reasonable people prefer to see social change and social emancipation [a]ffected in as peaceful and constructive a manner as possible. We are reminded that Detroit had the largest non-violent Civil Rights march in the history of one city in America. In June 1963[,] 125,000 people including thousands from the ghetto marches for Freedom Now led by Martin Luther King Jr. and Walter Reuther. This was two months before the March on Washington. I remember in 1959 how hundreds of people came from the Newark ghetto
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    [7] to the nation’s capital for the national march for integrated schools which brought 25,000 people to Washington led by Jackie Robinson, A. Philip Randolph and others. Today Newark has thousands of black children split shifts in overcrowded run down schools as do most ghettos across the country. As is well known there are more completely segregated schools in the Northern Urban centers today than there were when the Supreme Court decision on public education was declared in 1954, while the South has desegregated only about 25% of its school districts during this period. Through [lawsuits] and a variety of non-violent direct actions against segregation, far more than a decade, the many organizations of the Freedom Movement forced the nation to look at segregation and the daily humiliation that institutions imposed upon Negro Americans. Since 1964[,] in flash seasons of violent direct action[,] the dispossessed in the ghetto are forcing the country to look at their conditions as the particular class (the most painfully exploited) among Negro Americans. This is the same struggle for human dignity appearing in different forms.
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    [8] The revolts against the ghetto condition are centered among the youth and the poorest sections of the working class; those whose economic circumstances today are very similar to the condition of the majority of the American working class during the great depression. Of course one does not have to be an especially keen observer of society to recognize that the working class has many gradations within it–ranging from the poorest paid unskilled and semi-skilled workers to the higher paid skilled workers who are usually able to secure more steady employment than the unskilled for rather obvious reasons. In an industrial society rapidly advancing technology[,] the job experience of the unskilled is likely to include more part-time work (marginal employment) and longer periods of unemployment than the skilled worker. However they are all part of the working class because their class position is not determined by which one has a job and which is unemployed.
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    [9] The auto worker in Detroit who operates a tool and die machine and the farm laborer in Arkansas or Texas who picks vegetables are both part of the working class because neither owns the means of production (land, factory and machines) and each sells his labor power for wages. Unemployment and marginal employment make up a big part of the job experience of millions of black workers in America. This reality is linked to the whole history of institutionalized racism in America. The share cropper or tenant farmer who is pushed off the land by the rapid changes in technology in agriculture may settle with his family in Charleston, Savannah, or New York. He will live in the ghetto slums because that is the only kind of social environment a racist society has designed for him and his construction gang or down on the water front or he may join a group of migrant workers headed for the truck farms of New Jersey, upstate New York or Florida. In any of these as longshoreman, construction worker or migrant worker his employment is [likely?] to be marginal at best due to many factors including the seasonal character of some work
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    [10] or lack of seniority required for steady employment in such industries as maritime. However as part-time longshoreman, construction worker, or farm laborer, that he is part of the working class of America should be obvious. The working class within the ghetto, which is predominantly Negro and the working class which lives outside the ghetto and is multiethnic are component parts of the same class although some are parasites not concerned with employment. There are many anti-social elements in the ghettos and in the course of a revolt may "get into the act" because they are petty parasites. The liquor store is often their target on such occasions. All are not alike and all cannot be blamed for the activities of this group. Joblessness, police brutality, and the lack of recreational facilities are among the things deeply resented by the youth, the middle aged, the unemployed and the employed alike. The revolt is to be located in their resentment. In taking into account the significance of these events, one would be remiss not to recognize there was an element of rioting in this whole picture. The trigger happy[,] panicky[,] ruthless conduct of many police and National Guardsmen
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    [11] was on the scale of a riot. Apartment buildings suspected of hiding snipers were sprayed with machine gun bullets. In some areas a point was made of systematically damaging Negro owned businesses which had been left untouched by the uprising. In Plainfield, [New Jersey] the occupation troops conducted Nazi-type, house to house raids upon the ghetto neighborhoods, under the pretense of looking for guns. This was in clear violation of the Constitutional protection against illegal search and seizure. They also sprayed a kind of nerve gas on the streets of the ghetto which temporarily paralyzed whom ever it contacts. In Detroit more than six thousand political prisoners were taken and there are reports that part of the Belle Isle recreation park was converted into a temporary concentration camp[.] This was a grim replay of similar scenes occurring in the South a few years ago when State Fair grounds were converted into concentration camps and public school buses were used to transport children to jail[,] plus the wanton assassination of three unarmed black men in the Algiers motel in Detroit during the week of the revolt. The police state troopers and national guardsmen literally rioted as they occupied the ghettos[.]
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    [12] The summer of 1966, just as they had done in Watts, San Francisco and elsewhere since 1964. The long list of dead among civilians and those injured is testimony to this fact. The riotus conduct by the Armed Forces of the state, directed against the local civilian population is in the classic style of colonial rule and is today the most overt expression of the growing fascist pattern developing in the United States.
"The Nature of the Current Revolts"
Clark, Septima Poinsette, 1898-1987
Handwritten essay written by Septima P. Clark regarding riots and looting in ghettos, in response to institutionalized racism.
Septima P. Clark Papers, ca. 1910-ca. 1990
Contributing Institution:
Avery Research Center at the College of Charleston
Media Type:
Personal or Corporate Subject:
Clark, Septima Poinsette, 1898-1987
Topical Subject:
African Americans--Civil rights, African Americans--Education, African Americans--History--20th century, African American women teachers
Shelving Locator:
AMN 1000 Box 03 Folder 19
Internet Media Type:
Digitization Specifications:
300 dpi, 24-bit depth, color, Fujitsu fi-7160, Archival masters are tiffs.
Copyright Status Statement:
Copyright © Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture.
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For more information contact archivist at the Avery Research Center, 125 Bull Street, Charleston, SC 29424.