The Black Power Mixtape: 1967-1975
Besides being a feat of editing and archival history, The Black Power Mixtape is a timely inoculation of revolutionary memory. At a time when we have finally begun to question the sterility of the planet’s socio-economic model of development, the Black Power Mixtape is a welcomed dosage of inspiration.
Shot at the end of the 1960s and early 1970s by a group of Swedish filmmakers with the intent of producing a film depicting America as it “truly was.” That film however was never released, until now. I present you here a synopsis/timeline/review/ thoughts and excerpts of the film.
1967: Stokely Carmichael
The film opens in 1967, the year in which “the U.S. has approximately 525,000 soldiers stationed in Vietnam“and the precise moment in which Stokely Carmichael begins to promote the concept of Black Power. Carmichael, known for his fiery and confrontational speeches is shown in a rather tender light: One of the most searing moments of the film is when Carmichael is shown interviewing his mother, prodding her to speak of the effects of racism and poverty on her family—reminding us that the Black Power’s radical rhetoric of liberation had at its roots a bitter experience and a collective urgency to break down these traditional structures of American apartheid.
This cool and collected volcano of a man captured, contained and vividly expressed the frustration and impatience of a younger and more militant generation of activist whom had grown tired of the passive resistance of the late 50’s and early 60’s. They prod us to remember that without the specter of militant activism power does not concede to change. As Talib Kweli explains in the film:
“Today you can tell how the passive resistance of the bus boycott… it did work. But it would never have worked without people like Stokely Carmichael on the other side. They studied the passive resistance. He studied power. And what power meant. He was the first one to really talk about black power. But I mean that was really what was missing from the equation … the power.”
At its core, people like Carmichael are the finely-honed scalpel by which power can be dissected, studied and made understood that when power doesn’t yield to the demands of nonviolence it quickly becomes threaten with the total destruction of its anatomy by the more radical militant.
1967 continued…: Martin Luther King
When we think of Martin Luther King we think of his moral and Gandhian leadership. The Swedish film crew reminds the viewer of what we are too soon to forget: that by then end of his career MLK had begun to call with increasing and active urgency for an assault against the structures of power that are driven not by racism but by the mad logic of economics and labor and which turns the majority of the earth’s peoples—black or white, American or not—into disposable hands.
As musician, Questlove explains while speaking of MLK’s assassination: “Martin Luther King sort of had a change of heart. Martin Luther King was starting to take a more militant, stronger position. And his new battle was “No War…” Governors is like ‘it’s one thing to let you take a shit in the same toilet that I do, you know, I’ll give you that. But you ain’t about to stop my money flow. You gotta’ go.’”
Harry Belafonte best illustrates MLK’s transcendence on the global stage as a leader that sought to critique and uproot a system of hyper-capitalism which buttresses global institutions of racism, poverty and militarism, when he stated:
“When he [MLK] said this is no longer about race, it’s now about the welfare and wellbeing of human life. We must talk about economics, we must talk about why people are poor, we must galvanize our nation to begin to take care of the poor… All these things put a huge bull’s eye on Doctor King because he was now tempering with the playground of the wealthy. ..When he came to that moment about dismantling the economic construct he had to go.”
1968: A litany of candles blowing out
No other year captures the complexity of these years better than 1968: And the film successfully mines this year by offering us a litany of the personalities and events that were murdered or suppressed in or around 1968. Here is that litany with some minor additions of my own—to further mine what the film intents to show: that the Black Power movement—as much as it was American-born—was intimately connected with the anti-imperialist struggles of Africa, Asia, and Latin America (note the Che portraits throughout the scenes depicting Black Panther headquarters and branches) and was subjected to the same methods of repression by the Empire’s machinery of death—already well oiled and in-tune from the practice of punishing anti-colonialist movements in the Congo, Vietnam, and in Cuba:
Patrice Lumumba of the Congo (1961)
Malcolm X (1965)
Ernesto “Che” Guevara (1967)
Robert Kennedy (1968)
Fred Hampton (1968)
Bobby Hutton (1968)
Tlatelolco Massacre (Mexico, 1968)
My Lai Massacre (Vietnam, 1968)
George Jackson (1971)
George Jackson (1971)
1969: The Black Panthers: Power to all the People
“I wanted some grassroots up power to the people. Legislation and laws that gave the grassroots real empowerment….What I believed in was: how do we get greater community control and community input into the political institutions that affect our lives? The very philosophy and slogan that we are spouting is all power to all the people. “--Bobby Seale
When we think of The Black Panther Party we think of police shoot-outs and violet extremism, we rarely if ever acknowledge the Party’s efforts to provide Black Americans with the basic needs their country had failed to provide: access to proper nutrition, education, child-care, legal aid etc.
1970: The U.S. government recognizes the Black Power Movement’s transcendence as part of a global struggle against Western Imperialism (note the film’s depiction of the Black Panther’s headquarter in Algeria—a country having recently freed itself from French colonial rule—and Eldridge Cleaver’s exile in the same country. The violent suppression of the movement begins through government infiltration, terrorism, hounding and execution of Black Panther Party leaders and their allies, and the government-backed flooding of heroin into Black ghettos.
J. Edgar Hoover states that the Free Breakfast Program is the most dangerous internal threat to the U.S.
The FBI unleashes COINTELPRO covert operation to neutralize the Black Power Movement.
Angela Davis becomes the third woman to appear on FBI’s Most Wanted List.
Nicolas Guillen—the Cuban Revolution’s poet-laureate—immortalizes the movement and Angela Davis in his poem Angela Davis (not in the film):
(Translation by Roberto Marquez)
I have not come to tell you you are beautiful.
I believe you are beautiful,
but that is not the issue.
The issue is they want you dead.
They need your skull
to decorate the tent of the Great Chief,
beside the skulls of Jackson and Lumumba.
we need your smile.
We are going to change the walls hate has constructed,
for the transparent walls of air,
and the roof of your anguish,
for a roof of clouds and birds,
and the guard who conceals you,
for an archangel with his sword.
How your executioners mislead themselves!
You are made of rough and glowing stuff,
a rustproof impulse,
capable of lasting through suns and rains,
through winds and moons
in the unsheltered air.
You belong to
that class of dreams in which time
has always forged its statues
and written its songs.
Angela, I am not before your name
to speak to you of love like an adolescent,
or to desire you like a satyr.
That, alas, is not the issue.
I merely say that you are strong, resilient
enough to leap at (and fracture) the neck
of those who have wanted , still want, and will always
to see you burned alive bound to the south of your
bound to a cinder post,
bound to a leafless oak,
bound to a burning cross alive bound to the South.
The enemy is clumsy.
He wants to silence your voice with his own,
but we all know,
your voice alone resounds,
that it alone ignites
high in the night like an exploding column ,
an arrested lighting flash,
a vertical consuming fire,
a recurring thunderbolt beneath whose light we glimpse
Blacks with fiery nails,
weakened and angry people.
Beneath the dream accomplished where I live
beside the decisive militia,
by the bitter edge of this terrible but friendly sea,
watching furious waves collapse on the breakers,
I yell, and make my voice travel on the shoulders
of the great passing wind
my wind our father the Caribbean.
Angela I say your name, vociferate. I join my hands
not in pleas, entireties, supplications, prayers
to your jailers for your pardon
but in applauding action, hand meeting hand,
hard and strong, very strong,
hand meeting hand so that you will know I’m yours!
“When you talk about a revolution most people think violence, without realizing that the real content of any kind of revolutionary thrust lies in the principles, in the goals that you are striving for, not in the way you reach them. On the other hand, because of the way this society is organized, because of the violence that exists on the surface everywhere you have to expect that they are going to be such explosions.”--Angela Davis
1971-1975: The Final Years
While the Black Power Mixtape tells a story of resistance and pride, it also reminds us of the painful chapters in the Black history of this country and of its continued repression: The assassination of MLK, the human cost of the Vietnam War, the Attica prison uprising, the flooding of heroin into Black ghettos, these are not stories of triumph. And yet these events remind us that sometimes certain tragedies can be as galvanizing as the most resounding of victories and perhaps more importantly that imperialist domination does not have to be everlasting; that the apparent inexpugnability of the powerful is not without its crevices, and that when an entire peoples’ creative will is put to revolutionary usage it is possible to overthrow those sterile institutions of death and destruction.
“Sometimes I feel like there is a lot of rebuilding in order and a lot of that is going to come from old fashion principles, reading books and more importantly we have to write, document our history right now. It really isn’t about black and white, it’s about the story. If we are going to tell the story we have to tell it right… We have to tell our own stories… When we allow someone else to document our history, the history becomes twisted and we get written out.”--Erykah Badu