Almost four years ago, my book about the Republic of New Africa (RNA) came out entitled "How Social Movements Die: Repression and Demobilization of the Republic of New Africa. In the book, I attempted to strike a balance between theory and social science versus simply telling the story of the RNA. Unfortunately, I had to leave a lot of information out of the book and some of the details that were otherwise fascinating were eliminated. In this series, I revisit the archive and present the material 50 years later. Apologies for not being able to continue this piece for a while but life interfered. Enjoy. I will try to work my way backwards from this event as well as forwards.
From Non-Violence to Violence
I remember... being trapped in the basement of New Bethel Church, while Detroit police poured some 800 rounds in an around us. I did not want to die; I could have listed a hundred things I wished to do and needed to do before I checked out. But there we were: trapped, finally, in a dark and narrow stretch of the basement, with bullets ricocheting along the stairway above our heads. We were to die through stupidity, through my failure to check the army, to monitor its procedures and make sure it really was ready to carry out its assigned missions. We were to be killed like rats or wild hogs. And when at last I stood alone with my face to a darkened corner, my coat thrown over the back of my head by the dainty-minded white policeman whose shotgun, cocked, was pressed at the base of my skull, my last thought was a regret that in this life I would not again see my wife. But I knew the others were dying well too --- unwilling but uncringing. Well.
They were dying like Brother James Dawkins, a monumental hero of our struggle, once accused of being in an Underground Army unit that on the night of Martin Luther King’s assassination, trapped and machine gunned two white policemen in a patrol car and then won freedom in a brilliant murder trial conducted by Gaidi and O. Lee Molette. Dawkins, shot and knocked down during an early barrage, while he was standing on the pulpit, lay there without a cringe as a policeman who recognized him and called his name, emptied his gun at him, striking Dawkins twice more; then, still alive, barely conscious, he spat at his captors, “Go to hell!” as they sat with him in a patrol car outside the hospital, threatening to let him bleed to death if he did not tell them where he and his wife and three little boys now lived.
They were dying like young Larrie Edwards, married scarcely three weeks, who shot down in front of the pulpit, cursed his tormentors and challenged them to kill him as they dragged and stepped on him and kicked him. They were dying like my son Imari, Jr., scarcely five weeks past his thirteenth birthday, him in the uniform of the Junior Black Legion and, like the other Legionnaires, using their bodies to calm and shield the women and children while the sudden, 800-rounds of bullets crashed in and around them, as bullet-proof-jacketed white beasts in uniform vented a hatred for us that some of us had never really thought possible --- and, then, with lights on again in the cavernous sanctuary and the unbelieving survivors lined up 150 strong facing the walls, their hands up against the walls over their heads, and the Legionnaires pulled aside and whipped and placed under cocked guns because they were the soldiers but spitting magnificent black defiance --- because they knew how to die well.
And dying like Brother Abdullah Mohammad who, like Brother Oba, walked between bullets when the unannounced attack on us began, time and gain, to see to the people and that my orders were begin carried out, and Brother Oba, who never left my side because duty said his duty, even unto death, lay in the security of his government’s officials. Dying well. Brother Ware Bey, walking calmly with me among our people in the black basement corridor where we had been driven and trapped, he and I sharing a bitter curse at ourselves, and a quiet bitter joke at ourselves, because the enemy through our stupidity was going to kill so many at one time whom, from his point of view, most needed to be killed.