The hidden history of Fred Hampton

Fred Hampton addressing the public

It’s hard not to have a visceral reaction to Judas and The Black Messiah. The new trailer dropped earlier this year and as Daniel Kaluuya turns around in the first second of it, donning a beret and being viewed only through a keyhole, we wait with a big, held breath.

“Deputy Chairman Fred Hampton of the Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party”

The music drums through to intensify a legacy of a man many of us have never heard of. But his words blast the screen.

“I AM. A REVOLUTIONARY.”

He is pictured standing, invoking his audience’s emotion and reminding them that it is not him who is the key to their salvation, it’s each other. Black people, Latinx people and white people can be seen in the meeting hall where he is speaking. We know that the film will touch Fred Hampton’s time in the Black Panthers and the start of his Rainbow Coalition.

Many people may have come into contact with Fred Hampton for the first time. And if there’s anyone you should read about, it’s Fred Hampton. But if they weren’t going to teach us about Malcolm X in school, they sure as hell weren’t going to teach us about Fred Hampton.

So who was he?

Before we get into Fred Hampton, we have to understand the time he came up in, what he was walking into, and why he died so young. When the Chicago PD gunned him down, Fred instructed the FBI that in cold blood, as he lay sleeping next to his 8-month pregnant girlfriend, he was only 21 years old.

COINTELWHO?

Let’s talk about COINTELPRO.

COINTELPRO was a program by the FBI that targeted Black activists in the civil rights movement. Fred Hampton was many things but his death sparked the unmasking of a very concentrated, racially motivated eradication of Black revolutionaries that people, up until that point, could only chalk up to conspiracy theory. Black revolutionaries kept on being murdered and assassinated, and although everyone knew that it WAS the Feds, they couldn’t prove it until Fred came along.

The program was started in 1956 by J. Edgar Hoover. It aimed to infiltrate, discredit and surveilling and disrupting American political organizations. They targeted the Communist Party USA, anti-Vietnam war organizers, environmentalist and animal rights organizations, the American Indian Movement, The Young Lords and they even lightly monitored the Ku Klux Klan, and when I say lightly? I mean LIGHTLY.

But… the organizations that they thought were the most threat to national security in America? Black Nationalist groups and civil rights movements. But they had a real concentrated pressure and violence on the Black Panthers. They were billed the NUMBER ONE threat to National Security.

Here’s an excerpt from one of the classified documents:

Prevent the rise of a “Messiah” who could unify and electrify the militant Black nationalist movement. Malcolm X might have been such a “messiah”; he is the martyr of the movement today. Martin Luther King, Stokely Carmichael and Elijah Muhammed all aspire to this position. Elijah Muhammed is less of a threat due to his age. King could be a real contender for this position should he abandon his “obedience” to “white, liberal doctrines” (non-violence) and embrace Black Nationalism.

My Man Fred

Fred was the Black Messiah they were talking about. But we can’t talk about Fred unless we talk about his political ideology. Often we get wrapped up in singular speeches or moments. It happens with Martin’s “I have a dream” speech and Malcolm’s pilgrimage to Hajj. Fred gets wrapped up in the Black Panthers, naturally, but he was above all else, a revolutionary socialist.

He saw the most important factor in the fight for freedom. The real enemy was capitalism, fueled by white supremacy which permeated everyone’s struggles from poverty to xenophobia, islamophobia, sexism, anti-Blackness, anti-Semitism, transphobia and everything else. He knew that to be truly free, you had to mobilize everyone in the lower classes, to lead a revolution and that racism was a vehicle of distraction to keep us from tackling capitalism and the 1%. This was the key to making him one of the most feared Black revolutionaries of the time. That and the normal COINTELPRO tactics weren’t working.

Fred walked into the Black Panthers just before a power vacuum. Bob Brown stepped down because of all the tricks the FBI were doing. These included:

  • Anonymous letters which contained lies, blackmail and threats to violence (Martin Luther King had been blackmailed to try and make him kill himself.)
  • Illegal wiretaps.
  • Forged documents.
  • Informers

This is what Fred walked into. He’d been being watched since he was 18, anyway, but as he ascended to power through his charisma and socialist ideals, he became the FBI and Chicago PD’s biggest target. But there are things in his legacy that have changed the whole landscape of activism and socialism.

While Fred was Deputy Chairman, the Black Panthers started their Free Breakfast Program for children. Health Clinics and ambulance services were quickly started too. Although the Panther’s legacy is deeply rooted in the right to bear arms and create their own police force to protect Black and marginalized folx from the police, their programs strived to educate, feed and protect communities. When these nationwide programs gained success, they branched into services for blood banks and buses for relatives’ prisons. With all this going on, the Chicago chapter’s membership and credibility grew.

But Fred wasn’t stopping there. He thought turf wars between gangs were counter-productive towards real progress, so instead of leaving them to do their own thing, he tried to tackle it. He held meetings with rival gangs. They related to him because he was their age, and he could cut through to explain to them that the real enemies weren’t other gangs. It was the rich, running Chicago for their own means. This made a lot of sense to the gangs, especially the Young Lords. They said Fred helped them uplift their aims, and provide for their communities and they agreed that they didn’t want to lose their turf to developers. Fred helped “bring them out of right of the gang and start organizing the community” (José “Cha-Cha” Jiménez, leader of the Young Lords.).

This was essentially the heart of Fred’s revolutionary thinking; a broad coalition of all the oppressed that could rise against the rich capitalists that were gutting communities and keeping people in poverty. He knew he couldn’t stay mobilizing just Black people and Black Nationalists—he had to unite everyone. He saw the importance of strength in numbers. So as he began to change people’s thinking, he started crafting a broad coalition.

He reached out to the Brown Berets, the Young Patriots, the Red Guard Party and the Blackstone Rangers. He called them Rainbow Coalition. This in itself, was the only way towards a revolution, and the powers that be knew it. It would have changed history, but it put a target on Fred’s back, that sealed the fate of a life taken too soon.

The FBI was shaken to its core. In 3 short years, Hampton had mobilized a strong group living in poverty, and their gang affiliations meant they were done for a revolution, no matter how bloody. They couldn’t have it. They knew they’d found their Black Messiah and they knew he had to be stopped before he even started. Hoover had targeted Garvey in the 20s, and through the 60s, it was Malcolm, Martin and Fred. With Fred’s leadership skills and his universal communication, the usual tactics were trash. So Hoover had to come up with another plan, that was vicious.

Hoover originally contacted the Chicago Police who said hell no at first. Next on the list, Edward Hanrahan was an upcoming and coming democrat, and Cook County’s State Attorney. They came to an agreement, which probably had something to do with Hanrahan’s ambitions to take over from his mentor, Richard Daley, as mayor. Hanrahan put in an informer, William O’Neale.

Okay, let’s talk about William O’Neale.

He was a petty criminal who was recruited by the FBI extremely early on. He had been tracked as early as 1966. FBI agent Roy Martin Mitchell caught him driving a stolen car over the state line to Michigan. He was told these charges would be forgotten if he agreed to be an informant. So he did. He infiltrated the Black Panthers, and eventually ended up as their head of security. He had taken out leases for flats and had keys to nearly all of them, including Fred’s.

Unjustified murder

On December 4, 1969, Hanrahan chose 14 officers from his office and Neale put an X on the floor plan he had provided of Fred’s flat for the feds. The X was Fred’s bed. The night before, Fred had been teaching a class and Panthers had been at his flat, where O’Neale had drugged Fred’s drink and cooked food for the other Panthers. Some Panthers stayed, but O’Neale and a few others left.

At 4:20 AM, the police stormed the flat. They pounded on the door and the Guard, Mark Clark asked who was there. The first group of cops yelled “Tommy gun!”, and started to shoot. Clark was dead on impact. As a reflex, his trigger finger flinched and a bullet flew into the ceiling. This is the only shot the Black Panthers were able to shoot off. Now both teams of Feds were inside, and they continued shooting a spray of bullets at everyone in the flat.

Hampton’s pregnant girlfriend, Akua Njeri, laying next to him recalls the murder:

“I saw bullets coming from…the front of the apartment…Sparks of light. I had slid over on top of Chairman Fred. I don’t know what I was thinking, or what I was doing, I just moved over and covered his body,”

“He didn’t move. Just lifted his head up. It was like he was going in slow motion.”

“He never said a word, he never got up out the bed”

“[Someone] kept calling out, ‘Stop shooting! Stop shooting! We have a pregnant woman, a pregnant sister in here.’ At the time, I was 8 and a half, 9 months pregnant. Pigs [police] kept on shooting.”

When the shooting stopped, she said she slid over Fred’s body and put his house shoes on. She thought of all the things she needed to do to get her and her baby through a life or death night.

“Keep your hands up. Don’t stumble. Don’t fall. They will kill you and your baby.”

“There two lines of police, they were laughing. [They] grabbed me by the top of my head, slung me to the kitchen area.”

“Somebody said, ‘He’s barely alive, he’ll barely make it.’. . .The shooting started back again. The pigs said ‘he’s good and dead now.’”

Fred’s ghost

In the aftermath, several Black Panthers were severely wounded. They were all charged with aggravated assault and attempted murder, which was bullshit, so the charges were later dropped. Hampton, 4 months after his 21st birthday, and just as he had signed on to be the spokesman for the BPP Central Committee, had been slaughtered in his own bed.

While the raid had been swift, the coverup could be hailed as one of the most incompetent in history. They claimed they’d been in a shootout, but tests came back disproving it. The Panthers had only got off one shot from Clark, and that was obvious. Cops had fired at least 90 bullets for Clark’s one. They looked like murderous, callous, fools.

This wasn’t a victory, though. The coroner ruled “justifiable homicide”. Isn’t that some bullshit? The pigs went to my man’s flat when he was DRUGGED and shot up everyone in the thing and… justifiable homicide? Of a 21-year-old? Really? But if there’s one thing we know, the system is run by bitch boys who can’t take real opposition because the capitalist ideology is so weak. It barely stands up to criticism, or we wouldn’t lose so many of our revolutionaries. Their opposition wouldn’t be so callous, uncivilized and downright criminal.

After Fred’s death, the police’s incompetence was still thriving, and they unsealed his flat. The Panthers gave tours of it, showing the “bullet holes” that had been circled as their shots in the coverup, were actually nailheads. An understandable deep trauma of rage, anger and disdain swept across the Black community and the communities that had been aligned with Fred. When Hanharan tried to get re-elected, he was destroyed by his opponent and his career was done. Hoover always remained invisible, and his career was highly decorated in white circles whilst he was alive. But…

In 1971, 8 activists from Pennsylvania, set up a citizen’s commission to investigate the FBI and its dodgy dealings. One thing we have to remember about the FBI, CIA and all secret services around the world, they’re not for us, the people. They’re criminal sections of “intelligence” that work to uphold the murderous system we have now and instil fear and intimidation, so we all tow the line. They’re not for us; they’re for the criminals.

These absolute Gs, raided the Media, PA FBI office and stole a thousand documents. They found:

  • The FBI informers reported every single meeting and action on the Black Panther Party, the Student Non-Violent Co-ordinating Committee and lots of others.
  • They used informers to discredit and create distrust amongst the ranks of organizations.
  • Hoover had a special bias towards Black revolutionaries and had a personal vendetta in destroying Black freedom movements.

Now, these were things that were widely known in the community; you just needed proof. Nonetheless, seeing it all on paper? Wow. So, there was an investigation and the start of a Senate Investigating community. By this time, the state tried to say that COINTELLPRO was dead. I call shit on this and think it’s still operating today, just more carefully, and Hoover escaped any fault, dying in 1971.

But for once, the state was up for conviction. Black Panthers members had long been defendants and the tables had turned. The families and survivors sued. The trial took place years after the case was filed and the case lasted 18 months. In 1977, the jury had deadlocked on a verdict and the judge threw out the case. In 1979, the Court of Appeals found that the Government had hidden documents relevant to the case and demanded a new trial.

Njeri wrote in her book “My Dance with Justice”: “It got to the point that the plaintiffs didn’t trust each other; we were sick of the lawyers and they were sick of us. . . .The survivors just wanted this nightmare to be over.” While there was anxiety happening with the filing survivors, the police department defendants were getting increasingly paranoid that damning evidence was going to be revealed and their lives would be over.

In the end, both sides agreed to a settlement of $1.83 million which is just over $4.9million today. Each government branch, City, County and Federal paid about a third.

So what happened to O’Neale? Well… He admitted he didn’t feel bad for his part in it. In a 19984 interview with the Tribune, he stated he chose his sides early and didn’t feel bad about his part. He’d slipped drugs into Fred’s drink, he’d given the layout of Fred’s flat to the feds and he’d willingly given the feds intel in his time infiltrating the Panthers. But he did seem genuinely horrified at the murders. Fred’s body was dragged out and a pool of blood followed the trail; that’s how nasty it was. In O’Neale’s head, he thought it was only going to be a raid, and his uncle, speaking in 1990, says he got caught up, in far too deep. What started as him trying to learn a charge, turned into being the accomplice and the facilitator of one of the most gruesome and influential assassinations on a Black revolutionary.

O’Neale had gone into the witness protection program, as word of his work started to spread and he feared for his life. On the eve of Martin Luther King Day in 1990, he spent the day with his uncle, a retired truck driver. His uncle said he kept spending a long time in the bathroom and tried to get out of the back window. His uncle pulled him back a few times, but eventually, O’Neale got loose, ran down the highway and was struck by a car. His death was ruled a suicide.

After coming back to Chicago secretly from California secretly around 1984, he’d tried a similar suicide attempt in 1989 but was only injured.

Bill Hampton, a brother of Fred said:

“The act (of being an informant,) he committed was unjust. He tried to live with it and couldn’t”

And that’s how arguably, one of the biggest traitors in Black revolutionary history lived his last day. He was always adamant that he felt no remorse but the feelings of being a pawn in a bigger plan that became overwhelming must have weighed on his mind, along with the gruesome crime scene photos afterwards.

A long legacy

There are a few things we can learn from Fred. Read about socialism. Recognize that struggle is international, and the pull of white supremacy and capitalism are inexplicably linked. If we are to have a socialist revolution, we must unite the underclasses together. Educate yourself. Learn to separate communism and socialism from the dictatorial regimes that have used it to gain popularity and as a vehicle to get egotistical, power-hungry people into power.

And don’t let romance pull away from the horror. He was 21 years old. He was gunned down sleeping, in his bedroom, with his 8-month pregnant girlfriend next to him. Severely outnumbered and drugged, he was a sitting duck, brutally murdered for being too powerful. He was a socialist revolutionary with a call to action for all the oppressed. He knew that racism was just a vehicle for capitalism to continue to exploit from the masses. He knew of the importance of alliances and the power of education and knowledge. Ultimately, the murder of a far too young Fred Hampton tells us a few things. He was too smart for them. He was on the right track. He may have been the closest one to spark a socialist revolution.

It pains me deeply to remember Fred. For how young he was. What he was, could have been and what he could have started. His death sparked just as much like his life, but that doesn’t make it any less unjust. His death went on to expose the unconstitutional and murderous operation of COINTELPRO, sparked the formation of an operation that would shine a light of the truth of all of the FBI’s shady workings, and went on to get at least a settlement out of all 3 stages of government. So even in death, he was ruffling feathers and inspiring changemakers to carry on organizing.

But above all, he reminds us that organizing outside of the system, in our communities is vital for a socialist revolution. We can’t depend on the government that is killing us to make a stand for us. We must do it on our own streets and with the same message, Fred Hampton shouted in his short, short life.

“We don’t think you fight fire with fire best; we think you fight fire with water best. We’re going to fight racism not with racism, but we’re going to fight with solidarity. We say we’re not going to fight capitalism with black capitalism, but we’re going to fight it with socialism. We’ve stood up and said we’re not going to fight reactionary pigs and reactionary state’s attorneys like this and reactionary state’s attorneys like Hanrahan with any other reactions on our part. We’re going to fight their reactions with all of us people getting together and having an international proletarian revolution.”

Long live Fred Hampton’s spirit.

The closest we ever came, to a true revolution.

"Why Didn't You Tell Me?" a podcast about the miseducation of life

Felix Prince, Thierry Ngutegure, and Tinashe Nyamande sitting on a sofa

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Thierry Ngutegure in person so I was thrilled to see he had co-created a podcast:

“Why Didn’t You Tell Me?” is a fun, open and honest look at how three young men who thought the stuff they were taught in school would prepare them to be successful, confident and stable young adults. Little did they know that Pythagoras theorem wouldn’t help them buy houses and Henry VIII wouldn’t get them work experience. The transition into adulthood is abrupt and real world knowledge is the true key – so let’s shift the balance. This platform pokes fun, educates and inspires the next and current generation.

Thierry is joined by co-hosts Felix Prince and Tinashe Nyamande and, in his own words, he wanted to “create a space to inspire and push young black people”, “talk about the stupid shit he’d done, the things we wish we’d known & how we uplift each other today.” That’s what we like to see.

You can like and subscribe to the podcast on Spotify, YouTube, and follow the trio on Instagram.

Related: The Nerd Council: an online platform for Black nerds, The Black-Archivist project, and Afrodrops: a Black-owned shop for Afro hair.

The world according to James Baldwin

An illustration of James Baldwin

Christina Greer gave a 4-minute TED-Ed talk on James Baldwin and the time the FBI created a 1,884-page file on him (something I wrote about a while back).

In the 1960s, the FBI amassed almost 2,000 documents in an investigation into one of America’s most celebrated minds. The subject of this inquiry was a writer named James Baldwin, one of the best-selling black authors in the world at the time. What made him loom so large in the imaginations of both the public and the authorities?

If you haven’t already, you should immerse yourself in as many of his speeches and lectures as you can, read his books, actually listen to what he says, act on it, and never talk to Black people about it. Deal?

Stream the video below.

Notes of a native son: The world according to James Baldwin - Christina Greer

Angela Davis: Revolution today

angela davis

In a lecture for CCCB (Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona), Angela Davis discussed the meaning of revolution today.

She called on her audience to continue to fight for progress and criticised “the mainstream feminist movement”.

“The mainstream feminist movement has made serious, serious mistakes. You know, I often point out that when I wrote a book that was published in 1981 called Women, Race, & Class, everybody started referring to me as a feminist and my response was ‘I’m not a feminist, you know, I’m a black revolutionary’ because I didn’t see how the two had anything to do with each other. But I realized that I was talking about a certain kind of feminism, a bourgeois feminism, a feminism that is still unfortunately […] white bourgeois feminism which is unfortunately the most represented feminism today and most people think that as feminism.”

Stream the full lecture below with subtitles available in English, Spanish, and Catalan.

Angela Davis. Revolution Today

FlyGirl: a community and safe space for womxn

FlyGirl

(Note: the words women and womxn will be used throughout the article. The former should apply to all women but unfortunately doesn’t to some who use it, as you’ll see, so womxn will be used where applicable.)

It’s funny how my Twitter timeline works. Within minutes of seeing a questionable article title from the BBC—“Women and women of colour continue to change the face of Congress”—I found a community that didn’t separate women of colour from the perceived default. It’s called FlyGirl.

In their own words, FlyGirl is “a community of like minded womxn who understand and appreciate the value of working together to achieve great things.” It was created by Avarni Bilan, who initially wanted to create a comfortable and safe space for womxn to support one another. But as the idea grew, her intentions shifted slightly:

“[…] as the idea was developing it then became really clear to me that the only way I would ever be able to do it authentically would be if it works to represent womxn of colour. I wanted to create a very practical response to the clear lack of representation that womxn of colour experience on a daily basis and be able to unapologetically address topics that may largely only apply to these womxn.”

Excerpt from Avarni’s LeftLion interview

​Based in Nottingham, FlyGirl offers local events to support womxn of colour in the Arts, as well as providing financial and practical advice so they can fully realise their dreams.

According to the website, FlyGirl is inclusive of the following groups:

  • Cisgender women
  • Queer women
  • Trans women
  • Non-binary people
  • Intersex people of colour

Other services include:

  • D&I workshops
  • Bespoke HR training
  • Company-wide training days
  • Unconscious bias training
  • Interview skills
  • Business evaluation and feedback

There’s also a FlyGirl Directory (similar to Rememory) for businesses to find WOC and make practical changes to diversify their workplaces (hopefully after some unconscious bias training).​

EDIT: It has been brought to my attention that there is discourse around the term “womxn” and its intentions and impacts for trans women and non-binary people, as addressed in this Instagram post. I apologise if the terminology has offended or excluded anyone in this manner.

Love from a Black perspective

My Dad has always been full of wisdom. He once described love to me as a pure and positive force that could not take any other form but itself. He said that actions that were jealous, angry, or otherwise ego-driven weren’t in the name of love. And that stuck with me ever since.

I look back at how I’ve received love and a lot of them were in forms my father decried as false. I’ve tried my best to love as purely and openly as possible. It has backfired a lot but I don’t regret what I did or how.

And that got me thinking about how love has been discussed by some of the great Black scholars and thinkers of our times and in this article, I’d like to share some with you.

“Love is divine only, and difficult always.”

Toni Morrison

“Love is where you find it. And you don’t know here it will carry you. And it is a terrifying thing [love]. It’s the only human possibility but it’s terrifying. And a man can fall in love with a man, a woman can fall in love with a woman. There’s nothing that anybody can do about it.”

James Baldwin

“Love is space. It is developing our own capacity for spaciousness within ourselves to allow others to be as they are. That is love. And that doesn’t mean that we don’t have hopes or wishes that things are changed or shifted, but that to come from a place of love is to be in acceptance of what is, even in the face of moving it towards something that is more whole, more just, more spacious for all of us.”

Angel Kyodo Williams

“Some people forget that love is
tucking you in and kissing you
“Good night”
no matter how young or old you are”

Nikki Giovanni

“Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place.”

Zora Neale Hurston

“Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.”

Dr Maya Angelou

“Love quiets fear.”

Octavia E. Butler, Parable of the Talents

The gentrification of Black Lives Matter

White people laying down on their fronts at a Black Lives Matter protest. Who knows why as I don't see handcuffs

In 2016, there was a Black Lives Matter protest in Nottingham and a Black protester laid on the tram tracks. Hell ensued with comments from White people such as “Black Lives Matter is an American thing—it’s not as bad in the UK.”

Fast forward 4 years and it’s absolutely not an “American thing”, not that it ever was. And a shift in perspective has meant White people from the US, UK, and around the world who shrugged it off before are now taking notice but for the wrong reasons.

LA Times staff writer Erin B. Logan wrote an article entitled “White people have gentrified Black Lives Matter. It’s a problem” which addressed this shift and the gentrification of the movement. While it won’t have surprised many Black people who’ve seen first hand how White people have co-opted the protests for their own gains (remember those influencers who took pictures outside buildings pretending to help?), some of the quotes in the article struck a chord.

Historically, when Black people protest, they are responding to intolerable and immediate injustice — say, the water crisis in Flint. In contrast, Jeffries said, white Americans tend to protest over more abstract goals — like the Occupy Wall Street protests against economic inequality or the melting of Arctic glaciers — and are driven by the “fierce urgency of the future.”

“What you’re willing to sacrifice, demand and compromise is going to be different,” Jeffries said. “There is a shared sense of the problem but your immediate objective is fundamentally different.”

This is happening as we speak; Extinction Rebellion protesters have blocked newspaper printing presses, accusing the paper of “failing to report on climate change”. Well, shit, what’s new?

AJ Lovelace, an activist and filmmaker remarked on the motives behind some of the White female protestors:

“It was obvious to me that people were out there to say they were out there. White girls would agitate the police and then cry when they responded. This isn’t how a protest works.”

They should have cans of Pepsi with them.

One of the latest quotes from the piece summaries the involvement of White people for me:

Jeffries told me that if history shows one thing to be true, it’s that white attention and sympathy for Black social justice is fleeting. It wanes when cameras disappear.

Did you notice how attention was high in June but now the cameras are gone, White people have gone back to their regular chitchat? I guess that really was enough activism for one day.

(Thanks to Shakeia Taylor for putting me onto this article.)

The Free Black University

The Free Black University

What if Black Lives Mattered enough that education was free for them rather than Black people providing free education for others?

The Free Black University believes education can transform society for the better and understands the flawed system that leaves many Black students behind.

We are Afro-futurists, Black Feminists, Black Queer folk, Black Thinkers, Black Spiritualists, Black Academics, Black Artists, Black Activists, Black Healers, Black Philosophers, Black Writers, Black Creatives, and Black Visionaries.

We believe that education is at the heart of transforming society as we know it. We are all taught a curriculum, and institutionalised in to a knowledge system, that tacitly holds – Black Lives do not matter. We exist to transform this and to hold a space for the creation of radical knowledge that pertains to our collective freedom and healing. We envision a world in which we no longer have to fight and we aim to help produce the conditions for that world to remain.

Melz Owusu is the project’s founder and director, a Black queer transgender activist and academic (they’re set to take up a PhD position at the University of Cambridge) working to decolonise education. Alongside them is a powerful team of other Black activists striving to do the same.

On 1st September, The Free Black University opened its free e-library, offering a variety of books by the likes of James Baldwin, Kehinde Andrews, Angela Davis, and Octavia Butler.

https://twitter.com/freeblackuni/status/1300779695693332483

If you want to support, get involved today by donating your time or money and spreading the word.

America's Oldest Woman is Black and 116

hester ford

Hester Ford is America’s oldest person and on Saturday, she celebrated her 116th birthday in Charlotte, North Carolina.

As per reports, Hester was celebrated with a giant drive-thru celebration that included her family, beloved friends and members of her local community.

Her family usually throw her a big party each year, but due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic – and all the ensuing restrictions – this year’s bash was a little different.

Nevertheless, Hester turned 116 without plenty of pomp. In total she is said to have 12 children, 48 grandchildren, 108 great-grandchildren and around 120 great-great grandchildren.

The pandemic meant she couldn’t have the big party she usually does or go to church but that didn’t stop the celebrations.

https://twitter.com/CarepatrolC/status/1294748551390605313

To know a Black woman, who was born when Theodore Roosevelt was president, is still alive today and still enjoying life warms my lukewarm heart. Happy belated birthday, Hester!

The FBI kept a file on Albert Einstein

albert einstein

I wrote about the FBI’s file on James Baldwin a while back. His was 1,884 pages long. Albert Einstein’s file was a mere 1,427 pages. But why the hell did a government organisation have a file on one of the greatest minds in the history of mankind? Actually, that’s a foolish question—don’t answer that.

Instead, NatGeo answered it with the given facts: Einstein’s activism against racism, nationalism, and nuclear bombs, prompted “deep suspicion from J. Edgar Hoover”.

By the time of Einstein’s death on April 18, 1955, that FBI file would be 1,427 pages long. Agency director J. Edgar Hoover was deeply suspicious of Einstein’s activism; the man was quite possibly a communist, according to Hoover, and was certainly ‘an extreme radical.’

Einstein himself probably would have laughed out loud at those labels if he’d known about them; he’d heard far worse from the Nazis back home. And he was not at all intimidated by officialdom. ‘Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth,’ he declared in 1901.

The article goes on to discuss Einstein’s life and his battle against the Nazis.

There were some messed up theories in the file too including:

  • Einstein’s son, Albert Jr. was a Soviet hostage
  • Einstein was a Communist mailman
  • Einstein was a fraud and that relativity was a Soviet plot against American intelligence (as in the intelligence of its people)
  • Einstein helped some ex-Nazis build “a new beam of light secret report which could be operated from planes to destroy cities”

It says a lot about Hoover, the FBI, and the United States that they’d see someone opposing Nazis and racism as a Soviet extremist and a threat to the nation. Almost as if America was built on White supremacy like the… you get my drift.

You can read the whole file in parts on muckrock.com

Herbie Hancock on Buddhism and Creativity

Herbie Hancock speaking in a lecture about Buddhism and Creativity

Herbie Hancock is one of my all-time favourite jazz musicians, loitering around 2nd or 3rd place with Bill Evans but behind Miles Davis. His music has transcended more eras and genres than I can count on both hands but he has always remained true to his art and his being.

In a Harvard University lecture at Mahindra Humanities Center in 2014, he discussed his Buddhist beliefs and how they contributed to his life’s work:

Buddhism doesn’t write the notes for me but it absolutely and positively affects how I look at everything. Buddhism is uncovering and leading a creative life and, in the process, establishing your own story, A common viewpoint holds that one’s destiny is predetermined by external forces. However, the practice of Buddhism can break through that notion and carve out the kind of life where you’re the author of your book and not the co-author or a character in someone else’s story.

This is the 5th lecture from a series which you can watch on YouTube and I recommend that you do.

Herbie Hancock: Buddhism and Creativity | Mahindra Humanities Center

Alternatives to ableist terms

(Content warning: this article contains ableist slurs for the purposes of definitions)

We all know how language can evolve beyond our control. The word ‘literally’ can now mean the opposite, for example. But there are words that we use that have negative connotations.

The word ‘crazy’ used to mean ‘to be sickly and infirm’ back in the 1500’s but its meaning changed to ‘insane’ or demented’ a century later. In the 20th and 21st century, it became a colloquial term to describe something that was ‘unexpected’. But that change in use doesn’t make it okay in non-derogatory ways.

What is ableism?

Ableism is a form of discrimination against disabled people or those perceived to have disabilities. An example of ableism could be:

  • Calling someone ‘mental’ for leaving their door unlocked
  • Building difficult-to-read fonts
  • Creating a movie without audio descriptions or closed captions

Using ableist terms is a common form of ableism because of our dependence on media and conversation. Words like ‘crazy’, ‘stupid’, or ‘mental’ are still weaponised against people with mental illnesses and reinforce centuries of stigma.

Given the English language’s penchant for stolen—sorry, ‘loan’ words—there are plenty you can use in replacement of these terms. Here are some alternatives.

Note: context is key so some alternatives might not make sense for the same words. That’s for you to decide. These lists are also:

  1. Non-exhaustive
  2. Imperfect

So if I’ve included a term that is considered ableist and you have a better alternative, let me know in the comments and I’ll remove it. Nobody is above reproach regarding ableism and it’s all about doing better by people.

Are “idiot” and “moron” ableist?

Yes, they are but in varying degrees.

Here’s what disability activist and Paralympic medalist Elizabeth Wright had to say on the term “moron”:

Moron is a term attributed to Henry H. Goddard who was a psychologist and, perhaps most disturbingly, a eugenicist. He came up with the term to describe someone who was “feeble-minded.” According to MuseumHack, Goddard felt that the term “feeble-minded” wasn’t scientific enough, so he had to come up with his own.

From this point the history of moron gets even more disturbing. Remember Goddard was a prominent eugenicist at the time… he had his word, so he now had to figure out how to classify between people who he perceived to be intelligent or not. The tests that he came up with resulted in a stack of people, namely immigrants, being labelled as morons. This included Jews, Italians, and Hungarians.

Goddard decided that the best way forward was to sterilise people he identified as morons. Essentially anyone who was offensive or deemed “unfit” could and would be sterilised.

And for idiot:

Stepping right back into the history books, the origins of the term idiot are not that questionable. In fact the word idiot etymologically derives from the Greek word idiotes meaning “private person.” It was a term used to describe someone who kept their affairs to themselves.

In later years the word passed into Latin, becoming idiota. It is here that we start to see the problematic connotations of the word; it became synonymous with “ignorant person.” This meaning passed with the term throughout history, resulting in our use of it today to mean someone we perceive as being ignorant or stupid. You can read more about the history of the word idiot here — Tales of Times Forgotten.

I use the word idiot every day. I use it to describe myself sometimes and other people a lot. It is almost like a slip of the tongue, a common word in my linguistic insults dictionary. This one will be the hardest to stop using because it is literally everywhere.

Alternatives to crazy/mental/nuts

  • wild
  • unreal
  • incredible
  • bizarre
  • ridiculous
  • absurd
  • comical
  • farcical
  • silly
  • ludicrous
  • foolish
  • nonsensical
  • outrageous
  • shocking
  • astonishing
  • unbelievable
  • unthinkable

Alternatives to stupid

  • asinine
  • banal
  • clueless
  • fatuous
  • foolish
  • frivolous
  • gullible
  • ignorant
  • inept
  • insipid
  • irrational
  • misguided
  • misinformed
  • mistaken
  • naïve
  • oblivious
  • obtuse
  • uninformed
  • unwise
  • vacuous
  • vapid
  • wrong

Alternatives to idiot/moron/cretin

  • fool
  • asshole/arsehole
  • chump
  • jackass
  • jerk
  • melt
  • silly-billy
  • wally
  • git
  • muppet
  • tit
  • turkey
  • goofball
  • goof

Further reading

James Baldwin on the meaning of liberty

James Baldwin

What is liberty?

That was the question posed to James Baldwin in a 1985 documentary called The Statue of Liberty, directed by Ken Burns.

After quoting the Declaration of Independence—and a clip of Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech—Baldwin returns to the question and attempts an answer with a reflective poignance:

“I suppose it occurs on two levels. One is inside and one is outside. So that finally, or first of all, perhaps liberty is individual freedom or will to be free. But this passion, this will is always contradicted by the necessities of the state. Everywhere—for as long as we’ve heard of mankind, as long as we’ve heard of states. I don’t know if it will be like that forever. For a Black American, for a Black inhabitant of this country, the Statue of Liberty is simply a very bitter joke meaning nothing to us.”

You can watch further clips from the documentary on the PBS website. Stream the clip of James Baldwin below.

JAMES BALDWIN: "QUE REPRÉSENTE LA STATUE DE LA LIBERTÉ POUR MOI?"

Pets wore masks during the 1918 flu pandemic

Cat in a flu mask from Dublin, California (1918)

(Content warning: the following article contains reports of animal death)

Do you have pets and, if so, are they wearing masks to protect them from coronavirus? The answer is likely “no” for the majority of pet owners but back in 1918, people were protecting their pooches and pussy cats against the notorious flu pandemic (known as the H1N1 virus) that infected around 1/3 of the world’s population.

Quarantine wasn’t an option like it is today so every man, woman, child and their dog wore masks as they ventured outdoors. We know at least during the current pandemic that while pets can contract the virus, and dogs are more susceptible, it has only been tested in a controlled environment and masks would be more trouble than they’re worth (have you tried putting a collar on a cat?)

But during the flu pandemic of 1918, people worried their pets could carry the virus, with one Pennsylvania councilman claiming that dogs and cats were responsible for its spread across the country. His solution? Shaving or killing pets to prevent further infections. This sensationalist rhetoric lead to many peopling killing strays and some putting their own pets down.

But for the pets that survived, a few became local celebrities. A baseball game between Pasadena and Standard Murphy featured the mascot’s dog (below):

Groups of big league players and one of the umpires who participated in the first "masked" ball game. Featuring Carl Sawyer with masked mascot's masked dog.
Image from The Library of Congress

There was also Yancia, a Boston bulldog from Seattle and this cool Californian cat (below):

I wonder how long it took to put that mask on (from Dublin Heritage Park & Museum)

Not quite as fashionable as this fetching dog from 2019. And yes, it’s wearing a Supreme sweater, shorts, and trainers:

How should you social distance during the COVID-19 pandemic?

A crowd of people - something to avoid during social distancing

I’ve tried to avoid writing about COVID-19 because there are bigger and better publications doing it (and doing it better than I ever could). But I wanted to share something I found interesting for me and could be for you.

By now, you’ll have heard of the term “social distancing”. It relates to the reduction of social interaction in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19. That means things like not congregating in crowded public spaces (eg. coffee shops, book stores, shopping malls, city centres) and avoiding public transport but only if you can. Many people still have to work and aren’t in a position to avoid such environments so it’s pointless to tell them to cut that out when there isn’t an alternative (stupid capitalism).

How Should You Social Distance? l FiveThirtyEight

Above is a video made by FiveThirtyEight which gives an answer to the question “what does ‘social distancing’ mean?”. FiveThirtyEight’s Senior Science Writer, Maggie Koerth gave her views on social distancing and what she has been doing.

I have a son and I’ve struggled with what to do when I’ve not had him as we don’t live together. The video reassured me and confirmed some of the things I was already doing were correct (not being around loads of people, basically).

And it’s something we should all do. So if you’re reading, and you don’t have to be out and about… stay in.