[Pnews] Rethinking H. Rap Brown (Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin) and Black Power

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Mon Oct 1 10:10:47 EDT 2018


  Rethinking H. Rap Brown and Black Power

By AAIHS Editors - September 29, 2018

/Conversations in Black Freedom Studies 
<http://blackfreedomstudies.org/> (CBFS) is a monthly discussion series 
held at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture 
<https://www.nypl.org/locations/schomburg>. Curated by Jeanne Theoharis 
<http://www.brooklyn.cuny.edu/web/academics/faculty/faculty_profile.jsp?faculty=510> and 
Komozi Woodard 
<https://www.sarahlawrence.edu/faculty/woodard-komozi.html>, the series 
was established as a space to discuss the latest scholarship in Black 
freedom studies, bringing the campus and community together as scholars 
and activists //challenge the older geography, leadership, ideology, 
culture, and chronology of Civil Rights historiography.////In 
anticipation of the planned discussion on //Rethinking H. Rap Brown and 
Black Power/ 
scheduled for Oct. 4th, //we are highlighting the scholarship of two of 
their guests//./

*Akinyele Umoja <http://www2.gsu.edu/%7Eaadbsf/umoja.htm> *is a 
Professor and the Chair of the Department of African-American Studies at 
Georgia State University. He is also the author of /We Will Shoot Back: 
Armed //Resistance/ and the /Mississippi Freedom Movement /(New York 
University, 2013). Along with Mayor Chokwe Lumumba and others, Umoja is 
also a founding member of the New Afrikan Peoples Organization and the 
Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. Follow him on Twitter @BabaAk 

*Arun Kundnani <https://www.kundnani.org/> *is the author of /The 
Muslims are Coming! Islamophobia, Extremism, and the Domestic War on 
Terror/ (Verso Books, 2014) and /The End of Tolerance: Racism in 21st 
Century Britain /(Pluto Books, 2007). He teaches at New York University 
and Queens College and is a former editor of the journal /Race & Class/. 
Follow him on Twitter @ArunKundnani 


*CBFS: Can you tell us about your research and how you came to study and 
write about Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin (H. Rap Brown) and Black Power?*

*Akinyele Umoja:* I first heard of H. Rap Brown 
(Jamil Al-Amin) when he was a spokesman for the Student Nonviolent 
Coordinating Committee 
(SNCC) in 1967. I was in junior high school at the time, living with my 
parents in Compton, California. His speeches and image on the news was 
inspirational to me. It was two years after the Watts Revolt 
<http://www.blackpast.org/aaw/watts-rebellion-august-1965> and Rap was 
one of the spokespersons who best articulated the rage of the rebellions 
that I witnessed in Watts and others occurring in urban centers 
throughout the United States empire. I looked and found information 
about him to gain more clarity. I first read his book /Die Nigger Die / 
I was in high school.

I first met Jamil Al-Amin after I moved to Atlanta in 1984. We had 
several conversations at his grocery store on the westside of the city. 
Later, he was arrested for shooting two Fulton County police officers. I 
served as a research consultant to Jamil Al-Amin’s legal defense team 
during his trial in Atlanta from 2000-2002. This is what led me to begin 
researching his life and political activity. I also had the opportunity 
to visit and interview him in Fulton County Jail. I’m completing an 
article focused on political repression against H. Rap Brown.

*Arun Kundnani:* In my book, /The Muslims are Coming/ 
<https://www.worldcat.org/title/muslims-are-coming-islamophobia-extremism-and-the-domestic-war-on-terror/oclc/1015820256&referer=brief_results>, I 
examined the cultural and political dynamics of the War on Terror and 
its effects on Muslims living in the United States 
<https://www.aaihs.org/reclaiming-blackness-and-islamic-identity/>. One 
of the cases I looked at was the 2009 FBI killing of Luqman Abdullah, a 
Black Muslim leader in Detroit <https://www.aaihs.org/tag/detroit/>. To 
understand who Abdullah was, I needed to study Jamil Al-Amin, the leader 
of the religious organization he belonged to. It soon became clear that 
the story of Al-Amin encapsulated many of the topics I had worked on in 
my first two books: political radicalism 
<https://www.aaihs.org/tag/black-radicalism/>, state violence 
surveillance, and racial capitalism 
<https://www.aaihs.org/tag/racial-capitalism/>. Writing his biography 
seemed to be a way to relate the 1960s to the present day, the Black 
experience to the Muslim experience (he converted to Islam in 1971), and 
domestic to international political struggles, in intellectually and 
politically productive ways.

Rap Brown was a household name in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a 
regular on national television, and one of four men listed in the famous 
1967 FBI COINTELPRO memo that targeted the Black freedom movement. Over 
the last eighteen months of Lyndon Johnson’s presidency, the White House 
received near-daily memos from the FBI on Rap’s activities. Rap’s 1969 
book /Die Nigger Die/ was said to be the most read in the US prison 
system. State and federal law enforcement pursued him relentlessly for 
three years before he went underground. Today, he is incarcerated in the 
federal prison at Tucson, Arizona, where scholars and journalists are 
not permitted to speak with him 
Challenging this policy has become a necessary part of my work 

*CBFS: Can you share a story from his history of organizing that our 
readers might not be familiar with?*

*Umoja:* When it was announced that Rap Brown would be Chairman and 
primary spokesperson for SNCC in 1967, he was virtually unknown to the 
national media. Brown came into the movement following the path of his 
older brother Ed, who had enrolled in Howard University after being 
expelled from Baton Rouge, Louisiana’s historically Black Southern 
University. After graduating high school, instead of pursuing a 
promising athletic career, Rap came to DC to work with his brother Ed in 
the Nonviolent Action Group 
SNCC’s organization on Howard’s campus. Rap involved himself in SNCC 
activity while visiting his brother. He represented SNCC at a meeting at 
the White House to confront President Johnson to provide federal 
protection for voting rights workers in Selma, Alabama. His willingness 
to vocally and militantly challenge President Johnson in the meeting is 
the first time he received a mention in the national media.

H. Rap Brown later worked in the Alabama Black Belt to create political 
alternatives to the Democratic and Republican parties. In particular, in 
1966, he organized an independent freedom political party in Black 
majority Greene County, which used a black panther as its logo. SNCC 
pursued building independent political parties in Black majority 
counties in the state since the Alabama Democratic Party openly endorsed 
segregation and white supremacy 
<https://www.aaihs.org/tag/white-supremacy/>. SNCC worked to build these 
parties or freedom organizations in Alabama, notably in Lowndes County. 
The building of the Alabama freedom organizations initiated the Black 
Panther political movement in the United States and globally. His work 
in DC and in Greene and Lowndes counties in Alabama solidified his 
reputation as a Black Power spokesperson for SNCC.

*Kundnani:* The internationalism 
of the Black Power movement is often understated. Rap embodied the sense 
that the Black freedom struggle was intertwined with anti-imperialist 
struggles around the world: in 1967, he was the first Black leader to 
speak publicly in solidarity with Palestine; in 1971, he visited 
Tanzania, where leaders of southern African liberation movements were 
based. Over the course of his life, he built relationships with 
revolutionary movements in Mexico, Puerto Rico, Trinidad, and Sudan.

Above all, Rap was someone who inspired others to act. He communicated 
political ideas in the language of the street. From the community 
response to racist policing in Detroit, to the founding of the Last 
Poets, and the protests at the 1968 Olympics, he is repeatedly cited as 
an agitator and instigator. Those who worked with him mention, above 
all, his bravery. At a certain point, he expected that his life would be 
ended but he continued his activism. When a bomb went off in his car, 
killing two of his comrades, he went underground. But rather than choose 
the safety of exile in Cuba or Algeria, he headed for Harlem to take on 
the drug barons and their links with the New York Police Department; all 
this while he was still in his mid-twenties.

*CBFS: Given the continuing struggles for racial justice today, how does 
this history help us understand or act in our current moment?*

*Umoja:* Rap Brown was one of the most important orators of the Black 
Power movement <https://www.aaihs.org/tag/black-power/>. Before the 
advent of social media, his voice and spoken word reflected the rage and 
rebellion of Black youth during the 1960s. As Rap Brown his image became 
synonymous with Black resistance and revolution. Like Malcolm X 
<https://www.aaihs.org/tag/rememberingmalcolm/>, Rap Brown distinguished 
between expressions of Blackness, which supported the status quo, and 
representations that were radical and transformative. His word and 
thought must be interrogated for the Black Lives Matter 
<https://www.aaihs.org/tag/blacklivesmatter/> generation and current 
manifestations of resistance.

*Kundnani: *So many of the questions Rap and his colleagues were 
wrestling with continue to be central to our movements today. Like them, 
we are trying to figure out how the fight against white supremacy 
intertwines with the struggle against capitalism. Like them, we are 
trying to understand how to connect our struggles in the United States 
with radical movements around the world. And like them, we are doing so 
while trying to survive and overcome the state’s immense capacity for 

In some ways, we have learned from the mistakes of movements of the 
past, particularly around their masculinism. But in other ways, their 
work embodied political wisdom that we have lost: for example, Rap’s 
organization, SNCC, combined a grassroots, radically democratic base in 
communities with a capacity for sophisticated strategic planning, 
informed by detailed analyses of power structures. We should also 
remember that Al-Amin is currently in prison in what I believe was one 
of the first of many unfair trials of Muslims after 9/11; part of our 
struggle today is to address those injustices which appear to be, in 
many ways, a continuation of the COINTELPRO practices of the 1960s. The 
past is not past.

Copyright © AAIHS. May not be reprinted without permission 

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