Racial Injustice—Will We Ever Be Relieved of It?
This is a question many persons today are asking. Is revolution the answer? Read how one black found the only successful way of achieving relief from injustice.
IN THE early morning light, I watched from the deck as frogmen slipped silently into the icy waters of the Canadian harbor. They were checking the submerged part of the boat for explosives. There were those who wanted to stop our departure, even if it meant blowing up the boat.
However, shortly we pulled away without incident. About 500 of us, mostly black Americans, were on our way to Cuba, ostensibly to help with the sugarcane harvest. But, really, more was involved.
Government leaders knew this. A few weeks later a U.S. senator told Congress: “American citizens are being indoctrinated and trained to attack and destroy our institutions and our Government. This activity is underway on our doorstep at this hour. Fidel Castro’s Cuba is the enemy base for the operation.”—Congressional Record, March 16, 1970.
The senator was right, at least about me. I was going to Cuba for advanced training in revolutionary tactics. My goal was to initiate armed insurrection against the American system.
Aboard ship, we asked ourselves, and particularly we asked the few whites who were with us, “Would you kill your own mother or father if they tried to interfere with the revolution?” Those who hesitated were checked off as requiring further education. They needed more fully to appreciate the necessity of relieving the suffering of the masses by overthrowing their oppressors, we felt.
“How twisted can peoples’ minds become!” you may be thinking. “Conditions may be bad, but surely they do not warrant a revolution.”
Yet thousands of sincere young people believe otherwise. Even persons from wealthy families, as news reports reveal, join in what they believe is a fight to relieve injustice. Why? What causes them to think that the destruction of the system is the only hope for relief from injustice?
Please, let me explain. It may give you insight into the thinking of others, particularly of millions of blacks. My own life and feelings, I believe, are illustrative.
GROWING UP BLACK IN AMERICA
I was born in the deep South in 1945, one of eleven children. We were sharecroppers. My first home was a wooden shack on the edge of a cotton field, and over the years I lived in a number of such shacks. We pasted newspapers to the walls to keep the winds out in the wintertime.
But simply being poor was not so bad; there were poor whites too. It was the treatment and attitudes toward blacks that hurt. We were barred from white schools, white restaurants, white rest rooms, or even from using the same drinking fountains as whites. And there were the signs, “COLORED AND DOGS NOT ALLOWED.”
In those days in the South, public places, such as bus stations, were sectioned off, and we had to sit in the back of the bus. When it appeared that we had forgotten our place, there were the belittling drawls: “Now, you-all know no niggers belong here. Now git on to the back.”
I remember when fourteen-year-old Emmett Till was killed—it was big news nationally, but to my parents and most Southern blacks, it was an old story—another black killed by whites—the unusual factor being his age. He was fished out of the Tallahatchie River dead—whites had viciously beaten him to death for reportedly whistling at a white girl. But do you murder for that?
This helped me to appreciate the fearful, pleading tones of grandma instructing us to remember always to look at our toes when speaking to white persons, and to say “Yes, sir” and “No, ma’am” and, above all, to play the part by smiling. But why, I asked myself, did whites want to keep us down? What was wrong with being black?
When I was still quite young my sister had an asthmatic attack, and the white landowner we worked for refused to be bothered with taking her to the doctor. My father, normally a mild man, in desperation held a gun on the man and forced him to drive for medical help. Of course, dad could never come back home or he would have been lynched. He fled north, and we moved to my grandmother’s in another county. Eventually, father sent for us to join him in New York city.
My father’s work as a house painter and caretaker resulted in our moving into an all-white residential area in Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn, where I was the only black in class. My teacher seemed to assume that I would be stupid, but I was determined to prove otherwise.
In the sixth grade, I was reading at the second-year college level, and so I was put in special classes for exceptional students. The following year I was chosen to join an experimental program called “Project Talent.” I had an avid interest in many things, and boundless energy. I studied singing, ballet, journalism and nursing, and I went to a modeling school.
After leaving high school, I became a recording artist, working at one time with Paul Simon of Simon and Garfunkle. This gave me opportunity to travel to other cities for television and other appearances. I also pursued a college education.
MAKING OF A REVOLUTIONARY
In time I realized, though, that I was a victim of deception, largely self-deception. I was unrealistic to think that perhaps the color of one’s skin did not matter. It was a lie that racism existed only in the South; it was bad, too, in the North, only neatly camouflaged. I had tried to push from my memory the image of the little nigger girl being shuttled to the back of the bus, unwelcome in white homes, in white schools, in white restaurants. But now I was forced to remember.
I had to fight to get an apartment in white neighborhoods, being forced to go to the New York State Commission on Human Rights. Also, as I pursued my education with certain careers in mind, I found doors closing and barriers rising. When I applied for one job, I remember being offered an unusually high salary, not for my skills but just to give the company the appearance of being integrated. I was outraged and told them to keep the job.
CRYSTALLIZING VIEWS AND OPINIONS
Headlines were exploding with shocking episodes, one right after another in the 1960’s. One September morning in 1963, a bomb blast shattered a Birmingham, Alabama, church during Sunday-school classes. Scores of terrified black children ran out screaming; others were bleeding and moaning. Four did not utter a sound. They were dead—murdered by whites. The following summer, three civil-rights workers, Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman, were murdered in Mississippi.
By now I had become involved in the fight for equal rights. I worked for CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) and SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee). I listened to more moderate black leaders, like Dr. Martin Luther King. I even did a feature article about him for the Harlem Valley Times. When he, too, was killed by a white man, I had to ask myself, as did many other blacks, “What did the non-violence he advocated accomplish?”
I began reading extensively about the history of blacks. I read about the cruel slave trade and the treatment of blacks as property, and how black families would be broken up and sold to different masters, without regard to human feeling. It angered me to learn that certain slave owners would use a well-built, powerful man to breed his slave women and thus produce offspring for the slave market or for work in the fields.
Such terrible injustices are best forgotten, some persons may say. But I could not forget, because it seemed to me that, though slavery was over, the attitudes were still very much alive.
OUTRAGED BY INJUSTICES
Everywhere I looked, I saw the same thing: black people clustered in ghettos suffering from discrimination, economic depression, injustice, bad housing, overcrowding, hopelessness. I began to see these places as colonies of oppressed people, people who needed to be freed.
The way I saw it then, we blacks were no different from the American colonialists who had rebelled against the British yoke in 1776; we also were a people denied certain “inalienable rights,” just as they had been. As the colonialists had rebelled, now it was our turn to do the same. That’s how I saw it, and I was not alone in this.
Then something happened that pushed me over the edge into action.
My own father was murdered. The police and clerks at the morgue said that no one knew who he was, that he was an unknown person. So they went ahead and cut out the organs they wanted. But it was not true that they did not know who he was, for they had contacted us by means of the identification he had on him!
To me it was as if he had been killed twice, first knifed on the street and then cut up at the morgue. When they finally showed dad to us, he was a mess. They had not even wiped the blood from his teeth or from his eyes. I was bitterly convinced that he was treated with such contempt because he was black and poor. I refused to cry. Instead, in my heart, I made a vow. I was going to do something about the injustices I saw my people suffering.
I felt that whites had grown accustomed to living a lie. They tried to get us to believe that it was our own inherent inferiority that was responsible for our oppressed condition. I saw that their racism held us oppressed. By nonviolent means, blacks had tried to point this out to whites. Now, I for one had to stop dealing with the white man’s attitude and deal solely and directly with the oppression itself.
I joined the Harlem branch of the Black Panthers. By then, I agreed with their ideology that it was time for blacks to arm themselves. Late in 1969, I read in a black radical newspaper about the trip to Cuba. Cuba had successfully mounted a revolution, and I wanted to go there and find out how they had done it. I immediately volunteered, and was chosen for the three-month trip.
A REVOLUTIONARY IN ACTION
I had been led to believe that Cuba was an ugly little poverty-stricken island. But my own impression was that it was the most beautiful place I had ever seen. Toward the end of our stay, we spent three weeks traveling the island, and from what I personally saw I became convinced that Cuba was clean, with no litter, nor any idlers, prostitutes, drunks or unoccupied youths roaming the streets. Everyone seemed to have something to do, both young and old.
At our camp in Cuba everything was run in a military way. Each morning we were awakened by an announcement, and by 6 a.m. we were on our way to the cane fields. It was hard work, but I enjoyed the discipline and working “to serve the people,” as the revolutionary slogan of the day went. We worked side by side with hard-core Communist fighters from Vietnam, Africa, Korea and Russia. They would share with us their experiences, thus developing in us an international concept of the struggle for liberation.
In the evenings veterans of struggles for liberation in Vietnam, Cuba, Africa and other places would speak to us. We saw films, including “The Battle of Algiers,” which showed how Moslem women disguised themselves and took an active part in driving out the French. I enjoyed the speeches of Fidel Castro, and was impressed by the rapport he seemed to have with the common people.
Also, karate instruction was available. But having already learned that, I concentrated on weapons. I knew how to make Molotov cocktails, and how to shoot a gun. But now, because I asked, one of the Cuban soldiers showed me how to handle a machine gun.
Toward the end of our stay, emphasis was placed on what we were going to do with what we learned. I was ready and eager. I was willing to fight and die to bring about the liberation of black people, as well as oppressed peoples world wide.
REVOLUTIONARY ACTIVITY IN AMERICA
Before leaving Cuba in April of 1970, I was asked by a revolutionary group to work with them. I was to camouflage myself by getting a respectable job, and when the time was right I would be contacted. In time I was. My assignment was to subvert the military, to use “any means necessary” to find and bring over to the revolutionary side black military men who had technical skills that could be used.
We learned, for example, of a black Air Force captain, a karate and munitions expert, who had been denied a promotion because of his color. I contacted him, and arranged a meeting. I played up to him and, in time, won his friendship. Eventually I sold him on the idea of organizing black armed forces men to work against the military system. The next few months I contacted a number of young men—all well-educated and skilled, at least for the purposes we were interested in.
Soon, however, I became totally repelled by the way I was using myself. Moreover, I found that, even when strategy was not involved, the revolutionaries I knew did not live up to the moral idealism I had come to expect of the liberation movement. They became grossly promiscuous. One night, after a comrade had relations with his woman companion, he turned to me. I saw this, not as revolutionary, but as revolting.
These things started to disturb me. I still believed that the removal of the system was necessary to correct conditions, but I began wondering about our methods. I had time to think now—hiding out, waiting to be contacted with new instructions, moving from place to place to avoid detection—and I began thinking about alternative ways of bringing relief from injustices. Then, one day, while alone in an apartment in a New York slum, a most attractive way was brought to my attention.
RELIEF FROM INJUSTICE—HOW?
A knock sounded at the door, and I opened to see a large, nearly six-foot-tall black woman who had climbed five flights to the apartment. She said something about enjoying meaningful life, and held up a blue book, The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life. I was an avid reader, and so accepted it. At that, she described a free study course, and offered to come back. I asked her to demonstrate what she meant.
The first chapter opened with the question: “Do you want to live in peace and happiness?” I thought: “Why, that’s why I have been fighting, so that blacks and all oppressed people can live in peace and happiness.” The second question asked: “Do you desire good health and long life for yourself and your loved ones?” “Of course! And that is what I saw in Cuba,” I said to myself—“better medical advances, and people looking forward to added years of life in good health.”
Another question inquired: “Why is the world so filled with trouble?” I had an answer: “These capitalists want everything for themselves.” The next question in the book was: “What does it all mean?” That was easy, I felt. It meant that the system had to be destroyed. It was rotten through and through.
Finally, the last question of the first paragraph asked: “Is there any sound reason to believe that things will get better in our lifetime?” “You bet it will,” I thought to myself. “Revolutionary struggles are going on all over the world to see that it does. Cuba got better; it got the imperialists off its back. Black people will get them off too.”
I had never seen a book with such thought-provoking questions. I thought I knew the answers, but was eager to see what the book said. As we studied, paragraph ten absolutely staggered me, hitting me like a thunderbolt. I read it aloud:
“All the many things foretold in God’s Word of truth indicate that the time for world change is upon us right now! What we see going on throughout the world today in fulfillment of Bible prophecy shows that our time is the one that will see the destruction of this entire wicked system. Present-day governments will be removed to make way for the rule of all the earth by God’s government. (Daniel 2:44; Luke 21:31, 32) Nothing can stop this change, because God has purposed it.”
“God’s government”? God has a government? It was the first time in my life I ever heard about God’s government. Why, all I had learned from the churches was that God was somewhere up in the sky, and he was going to burn all the bad in hellfire and take all the good to heaven. But now this book said that God was going to destroy present-day governments.
The woman invited me to consider this thought from the Bible. She opened to Daniel 2:44. I read it myself: “And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be brought to ruin. And the kingdom itself will not be passed on to any other people. It will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, and it itself will stand to times indefinite.”
“Well, how about that!” I thought to myself. “God does not like these governments either. And he is going to destroy them!” I just could not get over that! This idea, though seeming farfetched, stuck in my mind.
ANY MERIT TO IT?
Later I became suspicious. I wondered if the woman might have been a government agent. Not taking any chances, I moved the next day.
Although I had stopped working to subvert the military, I began recruiting ghetto youths for training in Cuba. Still, this prospect of God’s having a government persisted in my mind. I had been reared to believe in God, but things I saw made me skeptical. The churches seemed to portray God as mercenary; they always seemed to be milking people of their money and blinding them to the source of their oppression. And so it did not disturb me that in Cuba religion was somewhat suppressed. But now, I really wondered if God was real.
I decided to pray and see what would happen. I did not know how. Anyway, I made sure the curtains were closed so no one would see me, and got down on my knees. I said something to this effect: “God, whoever you are, if you’re still alive, help me. I don’t know what I need. But if you have what I need, please send it to me.”
The very next morning, a Saturday, a couple called and started talking to me about God’s government, so I knew they were the answer to my prayer. They invited me to the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the next day I attended.
I was deeply impressed by how warmly I was welcomed by both blacks and whites, and by the genuine friendliness among them. Skeptical, I went to other Kingdom Halls. But the situation was identical. The unity and warmth that existed among the Witnesses was beautiful to me. Furthermore, there was a commitment, an integrity, a willingness even to die for their convictions. I learned how Witnesses in Nazi Germany, Malawi and other places had suffered horribly, but refused to compromise in their loyalty to what they considered to be righteous principles.
This was puzzling to me. “What holds these people together? What is behind them, motivating them?” I wondered. It was obviously not some nationalistic government, for the Witnesses teach that God will destroy these. I came to appreciate, too, that they were not a secret organization with behind-the-scenes leaders.
A REAL GOVERNMENT WITH SUBJECTS
It was at this time that I began seriously to consider the idea of God as having a heavenly government with earthly subjects. Could it be possible that these Witnesses are earthly subjects of God’s government? And when God crushes all earthly governments to pieces, are these the people He will preserve to start a new earthly society?
The idea fascinated me, and I was determined to investigate further.
I remembered, as a child, learning the prayer that Jesus Christ taught his followers: “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” (Matt. 6:9, 10, Authorized Version) Now for the first time it dawned on me that this kingdom is a real government, having a king ruling over a domain with subjects. Jesus Christ himself is God’s appointed king; he, in effect, told Pontius Pilate that he was. (John 18:36, 37) I also learned that the Bible foretold about this ruler: “For . . . unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder . . . Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end.”—Isa. 9:6, 7, Authorized Version.
THE BEST CONSTITUTION
For a government to be real, I knew that it had to have a constitution or a set of laws that its subjects submit to. In planning a new government, we revolutionaries had given considerable thought to its laws. Now I came to view the Bible as, in effect, the constitution of God’s government. But whom does this Lawbook govern?
I was convinced that it did not govern the masses of professed Christians, not Christendom, not the people who have perpetrated the bloodiest wars in history and who, because of thinking themselves superior, have shamefully raped and oppressed minority groups. But I could see that Jehovah’s witnesses really are different. The Bible truly is their constitution, their Lawbook. What it says governs every aspect of their lives.
There is no hint of superiority of race taught in the Bible. We are all one family, equal in all respects in God’s sight. “God is not partial,” the Bible says, “but in every nation the man that fears him and works righteousness is acceptable to him.” (Acts 10:34, 35) You cannot imagine how much it meant to me to learn these things.
The white churches had told us that we blacks are a cursed race, hence inferior, animallike. In fact, numerous myths have been perpetrated to the effect that we have rudimentary tails and, as a race, that we are stupid, that we smell offensively, and so forth. How grand to be part of a people who allow God’s Word the Bible to help rid them of such demeaning falsehoods!
Do not get me wrong. I am not saying that Jehovah’s witnesses are perfect. At times I detect among certain ones of them leftover attitudes of racial superiority, and I have sometimes seen a certain uncomfortableness of some of them when in close association with persons of another race. But really, what can you expect after centuries of this world’s carefully indoctrinated hatred?
It is as the song explains in the well-known musical “South Pacific,” in which a young army man, distressed because he had fallen in love with a young girl of another race, sings: ‘your being taught to hate and fear; that you have got to be taught from year to year, having it drummed into your dear little ear—carefully taught to be afraid of people whose eyes are ugly made and whose skin is a different shade; carefully taught before it’s too late, before you’re six or seven or eight, to hate all the people your relatives hate.’
However, because they live by the constitution of God’s government, Jehovah’s witnesses have, to a degree unmatched by any other people on earth, rid themselves of racial prejudice. They do strive to love one another regardless of race, realizing, as the Bible says, “He who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot be loving God, whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:20) On occasion my heart has been warmed to the point of uncontrollable tears to experience the genuine love of white Witnesses, people whom shortly before I would have killed without hesitation to further the cause of a revolution.
THE RELIEF NEAR AT HAND
Today I am truly sorry for the part I had in scheming to overthrow human governments. Through Bible study I have learned that such a course is not only futile, it is in violation of what the Bible says at Romans 13:1-7. Hence, no government official need ever fear trouble at my hand. Yet, at the same time, I am convinced that those who continue to look to human governments for relief from injustices not only will be disappointed, but are in danger of being destroyed when God’s government soon ‘crushes and puts an end to all these governments.’
This means, of course, that Communist governments, too, are scheduled for destruction by God. Although such governments have, I believe, done many things to improve the condition of the masses of people, human rulers simply have proved incapable of providing justice for all. In fact, some Communist governments have committed terrible atrocities. Furthermore, people under those governments still get sick, grow old and die. Human rulers are unable to do anything to prevent this. But God can and he will! His Word says: “God himself will be with [mankind]. And he will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.”—Rev. 21:3, 4.
Thus relief for mankind from all forms of oppression, including even that enemy death, is available. But only in God’s way, not man’s. So, instead of supporting human attempts to root out oppression and injustice, I now look to God to do this. And I use my full time showing people that the only true hope for relief from injustice is by means of God’s kingdom, which soon now will bring this longed-for relief.—Contributed.
[Blurb on page 708]
“Why, I asked myself, did whites want to keep us down? What was wrong with being black?”
[Blurb on page 710]
“I was willing to fight and die to bring about the liberation of black people.”
[Blurb on page 712]
‘The churches always seemed to be milking people of their money and blinding them to the source of their oppression.’
[Blurb on page 713]
“There is no hint of superiority of race taught in the Bible.”
[Blurb on page 714]
‘Jehovah’s witnesses strive to love one another regardless of race.’