During a 1966 speech in Berkeley, Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) said:
“Several people have been upset because we’ve said that integration was irrelevant when initiated by blacks, and that in fact it was an insidious subterfuge for the maintenance of white supremacy. In the past six years or so, this country has been feeding us a “thalidomide drug of integration,” and some negroes have been walking down a dream street talking about sitting next to white people. That does not begin to solve the problem. We didn’t go to Mississippi to sit next to Ross Barnett (former governor of Mississippi), we did not go to sit next to Jim Clark (sheriff of Selma, Alabama), we went to get them out of our way. People ought to understand that; we were never fighting for the right to integrate, we were fighting against white supremacy.”
That’s not what I was taught in school. I was taught that when the 1964 Civil Rights Bill passed, all was well with the world. I, as a black man, now had the right to sit at an integrated lunch counter and continue to enrich others who might very well believe me to be less than human. Kwame Ture marched during the Civil Rights Movement, was jailed and suffered immensely for his life of activism. Therefore, he is qualified to speak on the motivations of those who were there and he did not believe the purpose was to achieve integration. Yet somehow the narrative has been hijacked and in the process, many people, including blacks, have come to believe “mission accomplished.”
This dangerous, subtle hijacking of history has produced very damaging consequences. Chief among them, the decline and/or neglect of black institutions. Very simply, during segregation black people had to support and ensure the strength of black institutions. What was the alternative? Until the 1960’s HBCU’s were essentially the only option for black students. Interestingly enough, blacks from HBCU’s during the 70’s earned higher wages than blacks who matriculated from traditionally white universities. The reverse is true today. As it pertains to black businesses there is an equally disturbing narrative. Decades removed from integration (at least on paper), still, in his book “The History of Black Business in America,” Juliet E.K. Walker describes the “Golden age of Black Business” as being between 1900 and 1930- well before integration.
The Auburn Avenue neighborhood in Atlanta (where Dr. King originated) at one time was among the most cultured, vibrant and affluent black neighborhoods in the country. Today, it’s a shell of its old self. The fact that an interstate bisected the neighborhood was a factor in its decline but ultimately the fact that everyone who had means to move out after integration did (perhaps because of the interstate). The neighborhood is in itself a perfect illustration. No, I do not mean to suggest that segregation was a fairy tale- it certainly was not. What I am suggesting is that it required strong black institutions. As a friend once told me, you may not like segregation but it gave you a Thurgood Marshall (who wanted to attend the University of Maryland but was barred and had to attend Howard).