The National Black Political Convention in 1972 was a high point of the struggles of the 1950s and 1960s
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
#5 African American History Month Series
On March 10–12, 1972, an estimated 7,000–10,000 African Americans gathered in Gary, Indiana for the National Black Political Convention (NBPC).
Because of the importance of the event, which brought together a wide spectrum of political currents within the African-American community, from elected officials, officials from the Democratic and Republican parties to leaders of the revolutionary grassroots, the confab received extensive coverage in the black, left-wing and mainstream press reports organizations such as the Black Panther Party (BPP) and the Congress of African People (CAP).
A report from the Indiana Historical Bureau on the event said: “About 3,000 official delegates and 7,000 visitors from across the United States met at Gary’s West Side High School March 10-12 as Reverend Jesse Jackson, Coretta Scott King , Amiri Baraka, Muslim leader Minister Louis Farrakhan, Black Panther co-founder Bobby Seale, and Betty Shabazz, widow of Malcolm X. Organizers tried to come up with a coherent political strategy for Black Americans by the end of the convention.” (https:/ /blog.history.in.gov/tired-of-going-to-funerals-the-1972-national-black-political-convention-in-gary/)
An industrial town known for steel production, Gary was representative of the then emerging black political movement sweeping urban areas in the United States. In 1967, Carl B. Stokes won the mayoral election in Cleveland, Ohio, against a white opponent who appealed to the racist feelings of those threatened by the previous year’s Hough Rebellion.
That same year, 1967, Richard Hatcher won the mayoral race in Gary, which at the time was a majority African American city. Between World War I and World War II, millions of African Americans flocked to the cities to seek industrial work and to escape the violent institutional racism of the Jim Crow South. After World War II, more African Americans immigrated to the urban areas of the North and West, while those who remained in the South launched the independent civil rights movement, beginning with the Montgomery bus boycott (1955-56), the sit-in movement, and the Liberty rides from 1960-1961.
A new radicalized African-American political mood emerged in the early 1960s, when organizations such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) advocated leading the mass struggle for desegregation and disenfranchisement. From 1963 to 1964, urban rebellion accelerated, leaving its mark on at least 200 cities from Los Angeles on the West Coast through Chicago and Detroit in the Midwest to Birmingham, Cambridge, Nashville, Atlanta, Miami and Memphis south to New Jersey. Philadelphia and New York City to the east.
The gains gained through the mass struggles led to legislative reforms with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968, passed as the flames of rebellion raged across the US and broader sections of the United States captured black population.
However, the racist system hit back with repression, including the killing of Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mark Clark, Fred Hampton, Medgar Evers, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, Carol Denise McNair (four African American girls in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham), among countless others. Hundreds of members of the Black Panther Party and the New African Republic, as well as numerous organizations, were imprisoned, imprisoned and exiled in the early 1970s. The NBPC was an attempt to refocus the African American struggle by building a broader unity across ideological perspectives.
Results of the NBPC
The strength of the Gary Convention was that it was able to mobilize such a diverse constellation of black organizing leaders. At the same time, this very important advance in the movement as a whole contained elements that hampered its effectiveness. A multitude of problems and questions lay before the African American people in 1972.
New York Congresswoman Shirley Chisolm, the first black woman elected to the House of Representatives, had launched a presidential campaign during the primary. Chisolm was an advocate of progressive social policies, including full rights for women. Her campaign for the Democratic Party nomination garnered significant support, including support from Huey P. Newton, former prisoner of conscience and co-founder of the Black Panther Party.
At the same time, there were numerous organizations calling for the immediate formation of a mass black political party independent of the Democrats and Republicans. This issue was the subject of intense debate and met with tremendous opposition from elected African-American officials such as Detroit Congressman Charles Diggs and then-State Senator Coleman A. Young, who would be elected Detroit City’s first black mayor the following year of 1973. Resolutions passed in the Linked to support for an independent party, some members of the Michigan delegation, including Diggs and Young, resigned.
Commenting on the NBPC findings, the Indiana Historical Bureau said: “After intense debate, a steering committee tentatively adopted a National Black Agenda. The committee officially released the 68-page document on May 19, the birthday of Malcolm X. The resolutions included black representation in Congress relative to the black population of the US, a guaranteed minimum income of $6,500 for four-person households, a 50 percent cuts in defense and space budgets and an end to national trade with countries that supply the US drug market. The resolutions, aimed at moving black Americans toward ‘self-determination and true independence,’ represented a major but weak compromise within the black community.”
After the NBPC, a National Black Political Assembly (NBPA) was formed, which held conferences in 1974 and 1976. In 1980 there was a call to transform the NBPA into the National Black Independent Political Party (NBIPP). That same year, rebellion broke out in Miami, while the failure of Jimmy Carter’s presidency further alienated many African-American activists from the Democratic Party. The disillusionment of African Americans, a key demographic within the electoral framework of democratic politics, coupled with the 1979 Iranian Revolution and subsequent seizure of the US Embassy in Tehran for more than a year, contributed to the rise of President Ronald Reagan and the dawn of a new era of imperialist militarism, political oppression and economic recession.
Although the NBIPP never consolidated into an effective fighting organization for various reasons beyond the scope of this analysis, the Reverend Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaigns in 1984 and 1988 mobilized African Americans, workers and some elements within the US to form a coalition that was able to address issues such as plant closures, Palestinian statehood and the liberation of South Africa and Namibia from apartheid settler-colonialism.
Lessons from Gary for today
Currently, President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda in Congress has stalled largely due to obstruction from moderate Democratic lawmakers. The progressive wing of the Democratic House and Senate are at odds with the moderates and conservatives. Republicans in the House and Senate are unanimous in opposing any initiative proposed by any faction of the Democratic Party.
Inflation is escalating rapidly while the social spending aspects of the Biden agenda have been largely abandoned as a legislative measure. While quickly falling in the polls, Biden provoked a military clash with the Russian Federation over the status of Ukraine and the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
A convergence of the burgeoning economic crisis with the prospect of a protracted war in Eastern Europe could result in major setbacks for the Democrats in the midterms of 2022. Such a scenario does not bode well for the African American and impoverished working class.
In similar historical circumstances, African Americans have called their own independent conferences, conventions, and conventions. Beginning in 1829, during the period of antebellum enslavement in response to Ohio’s Exclusion Laws regarding African people, a convention movement emerged that lasted through the Civil War through the late 19th century.
A resource website on this political history says of the congressional movement: “More than 200 state and national conventions for people of color were held between the 1830s and the 1890s, providing a strong structure and platform for black organizing. Filling churches, city halls, courthouses, lecture halls and theaters, the well-attended Colored Conventions exemplify the diversity of cultural life and political thought among black communities and their leaders. The meetings included the most prominent writers, organizers, church leaders, newspaper editors, educators, and entrepreneurs from the canon of early African-American leadership — and tens of thousands more whose names were not recorded. While most delegates were male, black women participated through their newspaper work, entrepreneurial activism, political involvement, and especially presence. They embodied the core values of the movement and challenged traditional beliefs about women’s place in public society.” (https://colourconventions.org/about-conventions/)
Although it is difficult to predict what form this independent political tradition will take in the 21st century, African Americans will undoubtedly assess their social situation and adopt new tactics and strategies aimed at achieving full equality and self-determination.
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