Revolution #138, August 3, 2008

Letter to Revolution from Hank Brown

Become Emancipators of Humanity

Out on the street this week, I was talking with a Black man about my age about the Chicago Police’s murderous rampage. He was angry about what the system does to the youth, but he was also critical of the youth themselves, not understanding that it’s the system that created the whole damn situation in the first place.

I talked with him about how the anger that the youth have at their situation is a good thing, it’s righteous, but it’s being expressed in very negative ways right now. I wanted to share with Revolution readers some of my own experience coming up in Birmingham in the early ’60s and what difference it made to have a revolutionary movement I could be part of, to direct my anger at the system and, eventually to get down with revolution and communism and be part of fighting to emancipate all of humanity.

Coming up, I was rebellious against old folks—as I saw it, that generation put up with this segregation and Jim Crow, and accepted it like it was, and told me I had to do the same shit. Fuck that, I wasn’t going to “yessir and nossir.” As much as I loved my parents, they were crazy if they thought I was going to do that. A whole different thing was in the air about what was possible. You didn’t like to see old folks like this, but I wasn’t going to bow down. People were talking about the need to have respect but some things you just don’t respect and, as a youth, you feel you can’t swallow. That respect shit is big in society right now, all of it, and this is what they’re trying to instill in you—and you choke on that respectability.

For me, it was this movement brewing all around me. Hell, people were out in the streets every day, going up against the cops as part of a whole atmosphere out there. I had a little crew that would get together and stage our own sit-ins. This wasn’t part of the official shit because sometimes those other demonstrations were too timid for us. We wanted to take on the system. That comes from what’s happening to you. It wasn’t just the four little girls that were killed in an explosion of the 16th Street Baptist Church by white supremacists—that was bad enough—but Black people were constantly being beaten and there were other people’s homes being bombed. I was a kid trying to register voters and old folks would answer the door and say “get the fuck away from my door, I don’t want my house blown up.” Back then, it bothered me that people had to live that way, that my parents weren’t more out in the streets. And then they wanted to reel me in. I wasn’t going to go with that even though I knew these motherfuckers—the sheriff’s and them—would kill you. But at that time, we didn’t give a fuck. So I can understand about the youth today, they don’t give about fuck whether they live or die, they just don’t want to live this way.

There are similarities—–what future was there for people growing up in the Jim Crow shit back then and what future do they have today? Back then, they called us niggers and boys. Today, we’re hoodrats and thugs.

What was different, though, was back then there was a revolutionary movement and this was something I was able to channel my anger into, something important. Even back then, getting into the revolution meant getting out of something else. There were people who quit college careers to be part of the revolutionary movement. For some people it meant getting out of what we used to call the “lumpen” thing. And even back then, some people thought you were crazy to get into this, and it was a struggle to get across to people that you were not who you used to be, that when you came to them you weren’t coming to them as what you used to be—you were coming to them as a revolutionary. So there was a lot of struggle. It wasn’t an easy thing. There were people who were proud of you for standing up, and people who didn’t understand why you were doing this.

And it’s not like I developed into a revolutionary overnight, but I learned to see that all the shit that was happening, all the segregation and racism and shit that I hated, was coming from a system, it wasn’t just racist white folks, though there were definitely a lot of them, but this was coming from a system. I learned this in the process of going out fighting against the injustices and digging more into revolutionary theory and revolutionary science. That’s important for the youth today, they need that, they need this revolutionary movement to be able to have a future. They need to understand there is a way out of this, and people don’t have to live the way they do. They need to understand that there is a whole new world that’s possible. And in the process of fighting against the shit that got them in the situation they’re in, they can begin to transform themselves. That’s what’s captured with “Fight the power, and transform the people, for revolution.” This is not just a slogan, but an actual way for people to go from here to there. For them to get up out of the shit they’re into and become emancipators of humanity. In a lot of ways, my own experience is a testament to that.

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