Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

“Unity and Struggle” – History of the Revolutionary Communist League (M-L-M)

Chapter One: Origins of the Congress of Afrikan Peoples and the Committee for a Unified Newark – 1966-70

The leading organization that shaped the formation of the Congress of Afrikan Peoples (CAP) and its overall orientation was the Committee for a Unified Newark (CFUN).

CFUN was a mass community organization which formed in Newark, New Jersey, in 1967. Through its mass ties and involvement in community struggles, its electoral work such as the campaign to elect the first Black mayor of Newark, and its extensive cultural nationalist programs and activities, CFUN became one of the leading forces in the Black nationalist movement in the U.S. in the late 1960’s, representative of militant cultural nationalism in particular.

CFUN was formed by revolutionary and progressive forces from the Black Arts movement, cultural nationalists and some elements who saw the electoral process as the main way for Blacks to achieve political power. It upheld the Kawaida doctrine developed by Ron Karenga. Kawaida emphasized the development and practice of Black culture based on African tradition as necessary for the liberation of Black people from white domination, and for providing the political direction for gaining Black power. Kawaida had a core of revolutionary nationalism, for at its essence was the call for self-determination. This basic revolutionary stand would be deepened and become more consistent over the years as the organization grew and developed.

I. The Black Arts movement and Spirit House

Much of CFUN had its roots in the resurgent Black Arts movement of the 1960’s. Black writers, playwrights, poets and artists were inspired by Malcolm X and the struggles of the Black masses. A new wave of cultural workers emerged to express the sentiments of the Black masses.

The Black Arts movement embraced the whole spectrum of views on self-determination and was militantly Black nationalist. It included various views of cultural nationalism, including the influences of the Nation of Islam, especially as reflected in Malcolm’s earlier speeches; the influence of Sunni (orthodox) Islam, since Malcolm had embraced orthodox Islam in his last year; and the Yoruba (a west African nationality) influence which emanated out of New York from various groups put together by musician and poet Baba Oserjeman.

In 1966, Amiri Baraka/ LeRoi Jones (one of the leading figures in the Black Arts movement), a group of people who had been active with him in Harlem at the Black Arts Repertory Theater, and local people from Newark formed the Spirit House in Newark. The Spirit House worked together putting on “Black theater” at a frame building on Stirling Street. The plays they produced all put forward the theme of Black nationalism and had a widespread impact and audience in the community. The Spirit House artists also traveled throughout the country and sponsored cultural events and festivals with speakers like Stokley Carmichael, Baba Oserjeman, Harold Cruse and others.

The Spirit House artists quickly became involved in organizing in the Black community as well. Black national oppression in Newark was incredibly intense. The largest city in New Jersey, Newark had a population of 380,000 – 61% of which was Black and 11% Puerto Rican. Though Blacks comprised the majority of the population, they lived in a subjugated status as a people. The overall unemployment rate in Newark was 14%, but for Blacks it was 30%. With one of the largest concentrations of Blacks in any of the northern cities in the U.S., it was no accident that compared to the whole country, Newark had the highest percentage of substandard housing, the highest rate of infant and maternal mortality and tuberculosis, and the lowest per capita income of cities of comparable size. The mayor of Newark, Hugh Addonizio, was a notorious racist and corrupt politician, and a symbol of the system of Black oppression.

The Spirit House artists became involved in the struggles of “Black Newark.” They attended meetings on community control of anti-poverty programs. They got involved in organizing against the city’s plans to rip off 155 acres of land in the central city to build a medical school. This plan caused the forced dispersal of 23,000 people in the Black Central and West wards, and was also aimed at breaking up Black political concentration.

The Spirit House artists also went to meetings denouncing Addonizio for failing to appoint a Black as secretary of the Board of Education in favor of a crony of Addonizio’s with less qualifications. They propagandized throughout the city about police brutality and the emergence of racist organizers like Anthony Imperiale. They produced a newspaper for the youth.

The Spirit House artists also got active in the struggle for quality education and community control of education when they tried to do plays for the youth and found the youths couldn’t read the scripts.

Through all its activities, the Spirit House became one of the centers of struggle in “Black Newark.” At one point, police came into a Spirit House rehearsal and seized the scripts. At another point, just before the 1967 rebellion, the police blocked a poetry reading at an artist’s loft and threatened to arrest those who wanted to read or attend.

During 1967, the Spirit House artists traveled to the West Coast, contributing to the spread of the Black Arts movement nationally. While there, they established contact with other forces in the Black Liberation Movement, in particular the Black Panther Party in San Francisco and Oakland, and Ron Karenga’s US organization in Los Angeles. This was to have a major impact on their political development.

In San Francisco, Amiri Baraka, then a visiting professor at San Francisco State College, and others helped set up the first Black studies program. Under the heading of the Black Communications Project, plays were performed up and down the West Coast with the Black Arts Alliance.[1] Rehearsals were held at the Black House, which was also the residence of Eldridge Cleaver and Marvin X. The group worked with the Black Panthers, doing benefits for the Panthers in San Francisco, with the Panthers helping with security at public events at the Black House. A number of Panther members were among the many actors and cultural workers participating in these performances.

The rise of the Panthers during this time as a leading force in the Black Liberation Movement had a big impact on the Spirit House artists. During the spring of 1967 the Panthers went into the California State Legislature carrying guns, drawing national attention to their call for Black people to organize themselves for self-defense. The Panthers’ bold revolutionary stand influenced the Spirit House artists to organize themselves more politically when they later returned to Newark.

The potential for a close working relationship with the Panthers was set back when one of the Panther leaders, Eldridge Cleaver, single-handedly pushed a split in the Black House and got the Panthers to kick out the Spirit House artists. Cleaver held an incorrect line that the cultural workers and the Black Panther Party could not work together because of the artists’ Black nationalism and cultural nationalism.

The Panthers and the cultural workers did come from different sectors of the Black Liberation Movement and there were differences between them. But to push the differences to the level of antagonism was destructive since the forces who held cultural nationalist ideas, like the Spirit House artists, were revolutionaries who stood on the side of the masses.

The Panthers’ criticism of the narrow nationalism of the cultural workers was correct. The artists did not recognize the importance of the unity of all oppressed peoples and many held anti-white views. Narrow nationalism was particularly prevalent in the Black Liberation Movement because of the history of chauvinism towards Blacks by so-called “left” forces, such as the revisionists and Trotskyites. The CPUSA called the nationalism of Malcolm X the same as the nationalism of the Ku Klux Klan, and called Malcolm X a police agent. They also held a bourgeois integrationist line. All this served to increase anti-white feelings among Black nationalist forces who didn’t see clearly that the CPUSA and Trotskyites were really just opportunists masquerading as “communists.”

At the same time, the Panthers themselves did not have a correct understanding of many other questions. They did not recognize clearly the role of cultural workers as a vital and positive force in the revolutionary movement and the Black Liberation Movement in particular. Thus, Cleaver, who later degenerated and played a destructive role within the Panthers, was able to label these Black Arts forces as reactionary and initiate a destructive split. He completely negated the revolutionary content of their cultural work in promoting the concepts of Black power, self-determination and the awakening of a Black national consciousness. Unfortunately, this split between the Panthers and the Black Arts forces never really healed.

While the Black artists were being ejected from the Black House by Cleaver and the Panthers, Amiri Baraka was in Los Angeles making contact with Ron Karenga’s US organization. Karenga had developed an entire cultural nationalist doctrine called Kawaida (“tradition” in Swahili).[2] Karenga carried cultural nationalism to the extreme of negating in practice the need for the Black masses to take up collective mass struggle, and focusing almost entirely on Black “consciousness raising.”

There was a basis for the Black artists from the Spirit House to identify with Karenga’s cultural nationalism. The artists were impressed with Karenga’s talk about the importance of culture for the revolution and the need for revolutionary Afro-American art. The Black artists were also impressed by the highly organized character of Karenga’s doctrine, which was systematized for easy memorization and recitation, and by his close-knit group of loyal followers. The artists began to see the disorganized and undisciplined character of the Spirit House as backward. They wanted to more tightly organize the Spirit House when they returned to Newark, and utilize the Kawaida doctrine as a guide in their work. They never actually carried it to the extremes Karenga did, however, in liquidating political mass struggle. In fact, when the Spirit House artists returned to Newark in the spring of 1967, they saw the need to organize the Spirit House along with other forces in the Black community into a mass political organization which would promote cultural nationalism and be involved in mass community struggles.

Almost as soon as the Spirit House artists returned the Black rebellion which had been building up not only in Newark but across the country erupted.

The rebellion in Newark was one of the fiercest of the Black urban uprisings in the U.S. during the late 1960’s. The rebellion had been brewing due to the heightening contradictions between “Black Newark” and the city government, particularly with the plan to disperse the Central and West wards to build the medical school, and the mayor’s refusal to appoint a Black to the Board of Education. The rebellion itself was sparked by the arrest and beating of a Black cab driver in the summer of 1967. Thousands of Blacks rebelled in the streets. The state police and National Guard were sent in and held the community in a state of siege. Armored tanks patrolled the community, and guardsmen gunned down people in the streets. By the end of two weeks the state had killed 23 Blacks and injured thousands more.

Amiri Baraka and others were beaten and arrested in the rebellion while they were picking up wounded people off the street and taking them to the hospital. The savage beating of Baraka and the others, and the publicity that followed, added still another shock to the general outrage the Black community felt in the wake of the police murders during the rebellion. This focused much attention on the Spirit House and the political work developing from there.

Soon after the rebellion, the 1967 Black Power Conference took place in Newark.[3] Some of the more politicized forces in the Spirit House brought forth Malcolm’s idea that a petition should be presented to the UN accusing the U.S. government of violating the human rights of the Afro-American people. Some of the signers of the petition were Huey P. Newton, H. Rap Brown, Stokley Carmichael, Amiri Baraka, and Imari Obadele of the Republic of New Afrika (RNA). A press conference presented the petition, and attending that press conference were H. Rap Brown, Ron Karenga, Amiri Baraka, Floyd McKissick and Brother Gaidi of the RNA.

The Newark rebellions and Black Power Conference in 1967 signaled a progression in the Spirit House artists’ development to the point where they were now emphasizing the political struggle for Black Power and a tighter organization. The Spirit House forces had attempted to put into concrete political use the message of Malcolm X and put forth a revolutionary interpretation of the Black Power message, including pointing out the need for revolutionary violence. The spread of the Black Arts movement nationally was another advance and contribution.

But while a revolutionary concept of Black Power was put forward, the Spirit House artists had no scientific or complete method or theory as a basis for struggle in the movement. The Spirit House artists were proceeding from their own limited experiences and perceptions, and this is one reason why Karenga’s cultural nationalist doctrine seemed so “profound,” as it seemed “systematized.”

In general, the Spirit House did not have a unified ideology but combined within it different perceptions and tendencies from the Black Liberation Movement. Taking Malcolm X as the lead, they were influenced by the Nation of Islam, Yoruba cultural nationalism, aspects of Mao Zedong’s teachings, Garvey and Pan Africanism, and a host of other theories. They were in the process of just beginning to deepen their understanding of how the struggle for Black political power and self-determination should be waged.

II. Three Black community groups form Committee for a Unified Newark

As the Spirit house began to broaden its activity, and political work began to supercede the dramatic work, it identified itself more and more openly with the Black Power movement. This was a forward development for the Spirit House and as a result it began to attract people not only because of its plays and as a center for Black Arts, but also because of its open Black revolutionary nationalist political stand.

The involvement of the Spirit House more openly and actively in politics did not come without struggle. The Spirit House drew groups and individuals of a wide range of persuasions, and not all of them agreed on taking up a more political orientation.

For example, one of the groups that came to the Spirit House in late 1967 was the Sunni (orthodox) Muslims. They promoted the idea that since Malcolm X had become an orthodox Muslim, the Islamic faith was the true road to Black liberation. They set up classes in the Spirit House in Arabic and Islam, and for a brief time the Spirit House became a Jamat, or a place for the gathering and teaching of orthodox Islam. They did not have Malcolm’s revolutionary and anti-imperialist consciousness. As the conflict sharpened, the idea of turning the Spirit House into a Jamat was rejected.

Around this same time a group of community activists, organizers and aspiring Black politicians seeking elected office in Newark also came together in the Spirit House for regular meetings to discuss Newark politics. These elements were all interested in achieving some form of “Black power” in Newark, but the tendency which emerged was to see “Black power” as something that could be achieved almost exclusively through the electoral process to “transform” the municipal government and local agencies. This group became formalized as the United Brothers.

Another group that came together during this time with the Spirit House and later established a relationship with the United Brothers was the Black Community Defense and Development (BCD). The BCD was from its outset a much looser, smaller and weaker version of Karenga’s US organization. It was put together by Balozi Zayd Muhammad, a small dealer in African arts and crafts; and a martial arts sensi, Mfundish Maasi. The BCD attempted to combine the surface images of Karenga’s US organization with a small merchant outlook and martial arts “philosophy.” A characteristic of one sector of cultural nationalism was the view of karate and the martial arts as a key element in the Black revolution. The BCD promoted a metaphysical image of the “Black revolutionary” as one who simply wore African clothes and could “fight” by being a karate expert.

The BCD had a sister organization, Sisters for Black Culture. There was also the United Sisters, a group that never formalized, but represented the wives of some of the United Brothers.

All of these groups came together around the Spirit House, drawn by its focus on Black self-determination and the influence of Karenga’s Kawaida doctrine. At first, the three groups represented three distinct but interrelated trends. There was Spirit House itself, which represented the Black Arts movement and which had moved to take up political work. There was the United Brothers which saw Black power in terms of gaining elected office in local government and “transforming” the political structure from within. And there was the Black Community Defense and Development which modeled itself after Karenga’s US organization.

While the three groups functioned together, they remained to a certain extent separate. The United Brothers met to discuss Newark politics. The BCD held Sunday night “Soul Sessions” patterned after the US organization. These were a combination of a rally and church service where people spoke on various parts of the Kawaida doctrine, and the leadership spoke to inspire the people. The Spirit House elements held rehearsals and performances, did street theater and traveled to colleges and other places in the area. They continued to do benefits for other Black nationalist forces including the Black Panthers on the East Coast.

In 1968, the three groups worked together to sponsor the first Black political convention in Newark. Later they ran several candidates for city councilmen. None of the candidates put forward by the United Brothers / Committee for a Unified Newark won that year, but more Black people in Newark voted than ever before in an election.

These were the beginnings of electoral work to attempt to win Black representation as a means to gain political power. The United Brothers organization actually contained within it at one period most of the Black politicians who later became councilmen and the mayor of Newark.

Karenga was in the city during the election and suggested the name Committee for a Unified Newark (CFUN) when the three groups joined together into one body. The BCD was seen as providing the cultural nationalist framework and security; the United Brothers, the thrust in electoral politics; and the Spirit House, the Black Arts and “spiritual leadership.”

III. CFUN programs and community struggles

CFUN formally adopted Kawaida cultural nationalism as its ideology. Classes on Kawaida were taught in CFUN. The organization practiced Kawaida in all aspects of its work – creating a Black “way of life” and new relationships on the Kawaida principles. It stressed self-respect, respect for others, discipline, and unity. All members adopted African traditional names.

CFUN established many self-reliance and collective community programs as part of what it termed “social organization,” that served the collective needs of the membership as well as the community. These programs were built as “alternative” institutions. The established public and private institutions in health, education and welfare failed to meet the needs of the community, and perpetuated racism towards Black people. The “alternative” institutions were supposed to be part of building a Black “cultural nation.”

One of the most well-known and successful programs was the Afrikan Free School. Started in 1968 and taking its name from the first “free public school” in the United States, it offered a full academic program for elementary school students. Its curriculum emphasized African and Afro-American history, political education about international and domestic affairs and current events, and a solid exposure to the Black Arts. The Afrikan Free School developed from an after-school community school program to a formal educational institution that was widely replicated by activists and educators in the Black Liberation Movement. One class of the school was even incorporated into a Newark public school as an “experimental program” and served as a model for progressive school teachers and administrators.

The program served as an organizer of the children’s parents as well. A parent’s group was set up to put on Afrikan Free School programs and helped put on events like the annual Youth Day which the Afrikan Free School sisters developed. Built in the main by the women in CFUN and later CAP-Newark, the Afrikan Free School was instituted later in other cities where CAP had cadre. The schools became a serious Black educational alternative.

A number of self-reliance projects were also developed which served the members of CFUN as well as the broader community.

One such project was a collective cooking and eating program set up in one of the buildings owned by CFUN. Groups of women worked in teams on an alternating basis preparing and cooking meals, restocking supplies, and budgeting the operating finances. The project served a dual function: women did not have to go home nightly to cook meals for the family and the collective effort freed women to take on political tasks. This collective cooking and eating project later developed into a community restaurant geared to serve the people well-balanced meals at a low price. The restaurant was also an organizing vehicle to increase the contacts with the community by providing a service and a way to carry out political discussions with those who got involved.

Similarly, there was a 24-hour child care and nursery that allowed CFUN members, particularly the women, to participate in more political work.

Another project was a sewing cooperative which channeled the creativity of women skilled at sewing, design, pattern-making and budgeting. Originally, this served the organization by producing the uniform dress and clothes that were worn as an expression of African culture. It later developed into making children’s clothes and served as a fund raising project for the Afrikan Free School. As traditional African dress became more popular in the Black community, the sewing cooperative produced the clothes at a low cost as a service to the community. The sewing cooperative also was a mechanism for organizing the community, as political education was combined with the promotion of African culture.

All these various programs were built on the theme of “self-reliance” and promoted the idea of Black people determining their own future as a people instead of being chained to the established institutions. They were similar to mass serve-the-people programs developed by other revolutionary Third World organizations in the late 1960’s when the concept of self-determination was widely popularized by revolutionary nationalists and interpreted generally to mean the right of an oppressed people to determine its own life economically, politically and socially.

The way in which the programs were conceived and run had both correct and incorrect aspects. They were overwhelmingly positive in serving the community and also as vehicles for political education and organizing, but a weakness was that there was also a tendency to see that these institutions could actually replace the established institutions. This tendency never became full-blown and CFUN was always active in working and waging struggle within the public schools, hospitals, etc.

The programs were run largely by the women of CFUN who were organized into a women’s unit headed by Amina Baraka, a major innovator of the Afrikan Free School and other projects. Women also ran much of the day-to-day functioning of the organization’s office and did the bulk of the work in organizing the many programs, conferences and activities sponsored by CFUN (and later CAP).

CFUN also fought against police brutality and the racism of the white vigilante group led by Anthony Imperiale. It led a successful campaign that mobilized thousands of people and defeated the city’s attempts to bring police dogs to Newark.

CFUN was active in the struggle in the schools, helping to build student organizations and organized the “Supersimbas,” a revolutionary youth group. It fought to change conditions in the City Hospital, fought for affirmative action on construction sites, organized housing councils and helped lead rent strikes.

The organization also did extensive cultural work and organized campaigns to promote Black history and culture in the city. CFUN led the struggle to put Black liberation flags in Newark classrooms. Through this struggle the names of many Newark schools were changed: from Robert Treat to Marcus Garvey and from South Side to Malcolm X Shabazz High School. Schools were named after Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rosa Parks. The student center at Rutgers’ Newark campus was named after Paul Robeson. CFUN also led a long but unsuccessful struggle to name a major street in the Black community after Malcolm X and to rename Essex County College to W.E.B. DuBois Community College.

CFUN did cultural work in the streets and in vacant lots, and brought many cultural workers, artists and musicians into the city. It held conferences on housing, employment, culture and Black political power. It also did strike support work for hospital workers, ambulance drivers and Blue Cross workers.

CFUN held adult education programs. It set up a city-wide communications program and taught video tape techniques and film making. It opened its own printing shop and a bookstore. In 1968, CFUN began publishing a monthly newspaper, Black Newark. Black Newark had regular coverage of the political and community struggles of the Black community with constant protests and demands aimed at the racist city government. It had news and features on the African liberation struggle. It had features and columns on Kawaida, nationalism and the Black struggle, and cultural features like poetry that promoted Black pride.

Black Newark was an active voice of the Black community and was widely read and supported by the people. Many Black businesses supported the paper through advertising. The circulation reached as high as 14,000.

CFUN also established a publishing house, called Jihad Productions. It published many pamphlets and booklets on Black cultural nationalism. It printed poetry by various nationalists and essays by African revolutionaries. Jihad also distributed records, video tapes and films produced by CFUN members. And from its beginning, CFUN did much propaganda and agitation around support for African liberation struggles.

Under Kawaida, CFUN developed as a strong organization that made many contributions and played a leading role in the Newark Black struggle. CFUN made it clear that Black people were determined to define and live their own lives and control their own institutions.

At the same time there were also weaknesses and incorrect aspects of CFUN’s views and practices. One major weakness was the feudalistic and male chauvinist attitudes practiced towards women. Under the Kawaida doctrine, women were seen as politically correct only if they were “submissive.” Separate political education classes were held for men and women, and the men and women were organized in separate units. This stifled the political development of many women and limited the contributions they could make to the struggle. But even though there were these practices, there was always a core of fighting women in the organization who sought to take the role of women to more and more progressive levels.

Another weakness in CFUN’s functioning under Kawaida was the tendency of overly-centralized leadership. There was little democracy in the organization, with political leadership given in a “top-down” fashion. This had the effect of limiting the political development and input of the membership.

But there were always some differences and conflicting tendencies between CFUN’s interpretation and practice of Kawaida, and Karenga’s Kawaida. For example, Karenga often criticized the Newark leadership for saying things that would “scare the blood,” like emphasizing the need for violent revolution. Karenga feared the role of the masses in political struggle.

CFUN also departed from the most backward male chauvinist practices of the US organization. For example, CFUN had always rejected polygamy. CFUN attempted to widen the scope of women’s participation beyond what was defined by orthodox Kawaida (i.e., the women’s role was to inspire the men and educate the children). CFUN added to Kawaida what was called a “necessary role” in social organization for women – the building of alternative institutions.

Another important difference between CFUN and Karenga was that Karenga never actually developed any significant mass work, while CFUN was extensively involved in the struggles of the community.

IV. Black Panther-US organization split – 1968

In 1968, a major split took place between the Black Panther Party and Karenga’s US organization. This split was to have a far-reaching impact on the whole movement.

By 1968, the Panthers and the US organization represented two distinct tendencies in the Black Liberation Movement. The Panthers called for building a revolutionary mass movement for the overthrow of imperialism and recognized the need to build alliances with other Third World peoples and anti-imperialist whites. The US organization was cultural nationalist and saw Black liberation as Black consciousness-raising. It emphasized less the need for political revolution, and opposed alliances with whites.

But while the differences were real and based on the divergent character of the two groups, the fact that they were fanned up to the point of bloodshed has since been clearly linked to the work of the FBI.

The FBI has admitted sending agents into both groups and carrying out provocations between them. In December 1968, an FBI-inspired shootout resulted in the deaths of Bunchy Carter and John Huggins, two Black Panthers. This shootout further split the movement, in some cases into openly hostile camps. It allowed police agents to undermine, kill and corrupt members of each group as they grew intent on attacking each other. On the West Coast especially, several more were killed and imprisoned. The FBI bombed both organization’s offices, shot at their members, and then blamed it on the other organization.

After the deaths of Carter and Huggins, a much publicized “war” broke out especially in the Los Angeles-San Diego area between the Panthers and US. During 1969, many activists in Los Angeles lived under a veritable state of siege. During this time, the US organization in general developed what they called a “foxhole” mentality. They became, as an organization, more and more sealed off from the rest of the Black Liberation Movement, isolated and wary of outside contacts. This, coupled with the barrage of attacks in the press that Carter-Huggins’ deaths were an “assassination” by Karenga, separated the US organization from the mainstream of the movement.

As the US organization became isolated from the movement, CFUN developed more independently, though it still maintained contact with US. CFUN still put forth Karenga’s Kawaida doctrine, but it made further elaborations and developed a broader political interpretation of Kawaida. CFUN became more deeply involved in mass community struggles and in the Black political movement in Newark. After the 1968 Black Power Conference, Karenga’s influence diminished and later CFUN’s work in the 1969-70 Gibson-City Council election was carried out with no consistent input from Karenga. By this time, he was so isolated he didn’t appreciate the dynamic character of the mass movement around Black participation in electoral politics. The US organization went on with mostly cultural nationalist programs, internal to its organization, most of which by then focused on strictly “military and security” aspects.

In 1969, as differences sharpened between the Committee for a Unified Newark and the US organization, conflicts also heightened internally in CFUN with the Black Community Defense and Development (BCD).

The Black Community Defense and Development group did not accept the move of CFUN to take up mass political work. The BCD glorified some of the superficial African “traditionalist” practices of Kawaida, such as the African “look,” karate martial arts, and various Swahili phrases and ritualistic practices. For the BCD leadership, the “Soul Session” and karate practice were the “real nationalism,” and they had little regard for politics.

Finally a split took place with the BCD leadership over whether classes in the Kawaida doctrine or karate training held precedence. Soon afterwards, the BCD withdrew from the Committee for a Unified Newark and CFUN was able to become for the first time a unified organization with one general leadership, though still composed of elements from all three organizations. After the withdrawal of the BCD, the leadership of the Spirit House and the United Brothers constituted the sole leadership of CFUN. From this point on, they began to revise the Kawaida doctrine, reshaping it to include the ideas of cultural nationalism combined with CFUN’s stress on politics and view of the electoral struggle.

V. The 1969-70 Gibson election

A major area of CFUN’s work was its involvement in Black electoral politics, and in particular, the 1970 election of Kenneth Gibson as mayor of Newark. This work afforded CFUN valuable experience and lessons.[4]

The 1968 National Black Political Convention had been effective in mobilizing “Black Newark” towards the thrust needed for the 1970 elections. In 1969 another much larger and more effective Black and Puerto Rican Convention was put together by a broad coalition of forces led by the Committee for a Unified Newark. This Convention mobilized a city-wide united front, the core of which was the United Brothers and its “steering committee,” which included all the soon to be successful Black councilmen and mayoral candidates. The Convention also mobilized much of the Black and Puerto Rican communities for the 1970 elections.

In the late 1960’s the cry of “Black Power” had become a rallying point in the Black Liberation Movement and was actually an expression of the masses’ demand for political power. In the oppressed Afro-American nation in the South, the demand of Blacks for self-determination is essentially a demand for political power, the only guarantee that the right of self-determination could be actually exercised by the Black masses. In the North, “Black Power” was the articulation of the masses’ demand for equal rights, including some form of local or regional governmental autonomy in areas of Black concentration.

CFUN’s call to rally and unite “Black Newark” to fight for Black political power had a basic revolutionary content in challenging the system of national oppression and the denial of equal rights. As in other northern cities with large Black communities, one aspect of the struggle became the fight for “community control.”

One aspect of this struggle was the fight for Black political representation in government. This was the thrust of the 1969-70 municipal election campaign in Newark. It was aimed at overturning the political machine run by the racist and corrupt Mayor Addonizio, and electing a Black mayor and a slate of Black councilmen.

The 1969-70 election campaign was a massive campaign, which brought Black and white entertainers and Black political activists from all over the country. CFUN succeeded in electing Gibson and three Black city councilmen, firsts in a major northeastern city. The victory represented a reform in bringing about more Black representation in government. In addition, other democratic reforms were gained. The Newark Board of Education for the first time had a Black and Puerto Rican majority. Soon the police department would have a Black police director, and Blacks were able to dominate the “community boards” for various anti-poverty programs.

The day Gibson was elected, the organization put posters up and down the streets of Newark listing the “five criteria” the Kawaida doctrine had formulated for Black elected officials. These were:
1. Accountability: He/she must be responsible to the needs and aspirations of Black people at all times.
2. Expose the system as corrupt and unworkable: He/she must expose the contradictions, corruption and flaws in the political system of the country, i.e., reactionary leaders, unworkable laws.
3. Raise controversial issues: He/she must always point out the issues in society which affect Black people, must always take a hard line on issues and never become passive.
4. Alliances and coalitions: He/she must make alliances with people of color and coalitions with others when deemed necessary for the benefit of the Black community.
5. Support Black nationalism: He/she must always support Black nationalism with a passion to liberate Black people from our present conditions of oppression.

These criteria alerted the masses to the fact that they would have to continue to struggle for Black liberation and their basic democratic rights, and that the system of Black oppression was an inherent part of the system.

However, there were problems in the way CFUN carried out the electoral campaign and in its view of the Black electoral struggle. CFUN was not clear about exactly what was necessary to achieve the goal of Black political power in Newark or in the country as a whole. For example, in an ad in Black Newark signed by the United Brothers of Newark, the slogan was put forth “Self-government is Possible in 1970.” The ad portrayed this as being possible through the election of a Black mayor, police chief, councilmen, principals of schools, fire chief, etc. The demand for some form of self-government is a democratic and legitimate demand of the Black masses, but it cannot be achieved through the electoral process – by simply electing Blacks into public office.

In the aftermath of the 1960’s rebellions, the ruling class tried to coopt the revolutionary demand of the Black masses for political power and self-government by confining the political struggle to the electoral arena and creating illusions that placing Black faces in high places was synonymous to “self-government.” In fact, real political power remained in the hands of the monopoly capitalist class and not in the hands of the masses. While certain reforms were gained through the struggle for Black representation, the basic conditions of oppression of the masses could not be alleviated through the electoral process.

Furthermore, as Black petty bourgeois and bourgeois politicians like Gibson did attain elected office, they were usually bought off to serve the interests of the bourgeoisie. Representing an upper stratum of the Black population, they had class interests in maintaining the political system; and as government functionaries, served a role as part of the oppressive state machinery itself.

The most important lesson that would be drawn by CFUN and other Black nationalist forces in the aftermath of the Gibson election was that electoral struggle could not be relied upon in the fight for self-government and Black political power. Though Black mayors, councilmen, state legislators, senators and congressmen were elected, Black people still did not have real political power, and the conditions of national oppression and exploitation of the masses continued unabated. Later as CFUN drew these lessons in the course of the mass political struggle itself, the early recognition it had about the inherent contradictions in the political system as reflected in the “Five Criteria” for Black public officials would be deepened, and the weakness of relying on the electoral process in winning the demand for Black power and self-government would be recognized.

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CFUN’s activities in helping to build an independent Black political movement by 1970 had broadened its contacts with other nationalist forces on a nationwide scale. The Gibson election was a high point in CFUN’s electoral political activity, and the organization itself got larger and more influential as it touched more people in Newark. Other nationalists around the country began to look to CFUN, following its movement. The organization’s political outlook was also broadening and it was acquiring valuable organizing skills. By 1970 CFUN recognized the need to form an ongoing national organization to unite the various Black nationalist forces throughout the country. This represented a major advance for the organization.

The founding of the Congress of Afrikan Peoples in 1970 came as a result of this recognition of the need to form a nationwide organization. The actual decision to convene the Congress came as a result of members of the Continuations Committee of the Black Power Conference deciding to create a stable organizational mechanism as an alternative to simply holding annual Black power conferences.

The formation of the Congress of Afrikan Peoples in 1970 represented an attempt to organize at a higher level and brought the CFUN forces to a new stage in their development.


[1] The Black Arts Alliance consisted of the Black Student Union of San Francisco State and Black Arts West, with Ed Bullins, Marvin X and others.

[2] The Kawaida promoted a “Black Value System” as found in the “Nguzo Saba,” or the Seven Principles:
1) Umoja (Unity) – To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race.
2) Kujichagulia (Self-determination) – To define ourselves, name ourselves, and speak for ourselves instead of being defined and spoken for by others.
3) Ujima (Collective work and responsibility) – To build and maintain our community together and to make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems and to solve them together.
4) Ujamaa (Cooperative economics) – To build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses and to profit together from them.
5) Ma (Purpose) – To make as our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
6) Kuumba (Creative) – To do always as much as we can, in the way we can in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than when we inherited it.
7) Imani (Faith) – To believe with all our heart in our parents, our teachers, our leaders, our people and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

[3] The first Black Power Conference had been organized by Adam Clayton Powell in 1966 in Washington, D.C., as a small gathering. It, however, attracted a great deal of attention, particularly because Powell called on Blacks to seek “Audacious Power.” The Black power conferences became a tradition which ran until the end of the 1960’s. In 1967 the Black Power Conference was held in Newark, New Jersey, in 1968 in Philadelphia, in 1969 in Bermuda in a smaller form because of interference from the state, and in 1970, the Black Power Conference became the founding meeting of the Congress of Afrikan Peoples.

At each of the conferences, Blacks from all over the country and the world would attend, including some of the best-known activists and militants. Essentially they were meetings of a broad united front of forces in the Black national movement, and were organized along lines that were supposedly most relevant to Black people. There were workshops in politics, economics, education, creativity, etc., and supposedly there was an elected continuations committee to see that whatever resolutions were passed in each workshop were brought to reality. But this did not happen with consistency, which is why in 1970 the Congress of Afrikan Peoples was formed.

[4] The powerful Black national movement of the 1960’s gave rise to this increased Black political representation. In 1973, the Joint Center for Political Studies in Washington, D.C., would report that more than 3,000 Black elected officials were serving on local, state and national levels. This was a 19% increase since 1969. Prior to this period, Black people had barely any political representation. For example, there were no Blacks in Congress between 1901 and 1945. There has been only one Black Senator since the time of Black Reconstruction (Brooke – 1967, when rebellions were at a high point); and only six Black congressmen between 1945 and 1965. Of the present 16 Black congressmen, half were elected since 1971. These reforms in increasing Black political representation demonstrated during these years the powerful force of the Black national movement in the American political arena. But even still, Black people, who are 15% of the U.S. population, account for less than 1% of all elected officials in the U.S.