The African petty bourgeoisie, also had its own beneficial interest in trying to integrate into the social system.
The masses of African working people wanted to stop crackas from killing us, stop the brutality, stop the murder, stop the lynchings. We just wanted some kind of chance. We just wanted to know that we could have a child who might have a future.
There was no future! So all of them wanted change and wanted some kind of fundamental transformation
There was a convergence of interest between the African petty bourgeoisie, the liberal white ruling class, and African working people who also wanted some kind of change.
And this was change that was led by the white liberal sector of the bourgeoisie, through the African petty bourgeoisie. This is where you see people like Walter Mondale who represented the economic interests in the north.
This is what defined liberalism in this country at this time.
This movement was funded by the liberal sector of the white ruling class. That’s why it was nonviolent. That’s why Martin Luther King had a politic of nonviolence!
The whole Civil Rights Movement was based on nonviolence because the white liberals were not going to fund anything that could result in a real, meaningful fight back. And so, it wasn’t just tactical nonviolence, it was philosophically committed to nonviolence.
This was what it had to be; and the African masses, the Fannie Lou Hamers and the people who lived and worked the grueling jobs, were pawns in this process more or less.
I don’t mean to say that the Negro middle class was dishonest, it’s just like every social force that’s conscious of its position. When it speaks, it speaks for everybody.
So when the middle class say that black people want this, it’s what they wanted. They saw the masses of black people wanting the same thing they wanted. And so they spoke for the whole group.
Even after the right to vote and Civil Rights Movement was happening you saw people start saying what? Black Power. Black Power! We want Black Power!
You know preachers and the middle class got what they wanted, but we wanted black power. Black Power over our own black lives. This became the demand out there in the streets.
As a consequence of this, we began to see the emergence of the Black Panther Party and other revolutionary movements. You see a movement that is escalating the demands it’s making on the social system and also escalating its own ideological and political sophistication.
This was a major transformation. In 1966, you see a movement that has gone beyond the civil rights demand to integrate. Now the demand for Black Power is raised and is something that captivated the imagination of African people here and people all around the world.
It began to see the relationship that exists between African people here and the Palestinian people. Earlier on, in 1967 when SNCC [Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee] came out in support of the Palestinian movement, all of the Jewish people who had supported SNCC took their money back and left SNCC organizers in the worst places in Mississippi, in dangerous circumstances with no transportation, nothing.
And we were black power advocates in this city. Our office sign on 22nd Street South was a big black panther. This is before the Black Panther Party of Oakland, California.
SNCC had gone into Lowndes County, Alabama and created the Lowndes County Freedom Organization that had become a political party for black people in Alabama and had chosen the black panther as its symbol.
As SNCC organizers, that’s what we put up on the wall of our building right here in St. Petersburg, Florida and began to serve the people, and that was not something that was greeted kindly by the black middle class in the city.
The churches preached sermons against us when we started talking about demonstrating against the city government and they had secret meetings with city officials to demonstrate their loyalty to the system.
We busted in on at least one of the meetings at the largest black church in this city and on December 25, 1966, and SNCC, under my leadership, organized a demonstration at the largest black church in this city because they were having meetings and making secret deals with the city government.
That was four days before that mural was torn down and it’s really important to understand that we were seeing the rise of a whole new kind of movement of young black people. People were getting rid of that old ‘we shall overcome’ and the ‘white people finally like us’ kind of politic, and saying that we have to have our own freedom, our own power, that our future has to be in our hands.
The whole world is on fire!
That’s what the Black Power Movement was about. And we had this, old sector of the population––I’m not talking about old in terms of age, I’m talking about old in terms of attitude, because you got young sellouts as well––people who embrace the old ideas and who cannot see that the whole world is changing.
Now, just as in the 1960s the whole world is on fire! The Chinese used to say of the 1960s that it’s an era where Revolution is the main trend in the entire world!
And look at where we are today. It’s not just something that happened in Ferguson. All around the world, people are rising up and challenging the status quo.
Whether it’s in Afghanistan, whether it’s in Iraq, whether it’s in Venezuela, all over the Americas we are not living this way anymore, and that’s what’s happening in this country too.
The mural is a preemptive strike by the city
So now, 50 years after this mural was torn down, the city wants to put something up on that space. This is a preemptive strike of sorts. It is at the very same time where the status quo is being challenged. They want to put something up there that is a reflection of the status quo.
They want to say what the past 50 years was all about. Fifty years ago when we tore that mural down the world was demanding change and the people wanted to have our own power. The people wanted independence! They didn’t want some government that’s hostile to the interests of our people to be able to define who we are with an image of their choice.
So they got some Negroes together and these Negroes are the very same people we had to fight 50 years ago, demonstrating at their churches because they wanted to collaborate with white power.
Now they’re saying they will give $50,000 to somebody who comes up with a picture that they say reflects the history of why the mural was taken down in the first place. They say it has to show all the progress, civil rights and integration that’s happened in the city––and it’s a lie.
As bad as things were 50 years ago, there were black business districts in this city. Fifty years ago, right out there on 22nd Street, there were people who had service stations.
Fifty years ago, black people owned them. Fifty years ago, we had our own supermarkets and things like that, in this very same city.
But today you don’t have anything like that. There’s not a single black-owned service station. There’s no grocery stores, no business district. Except for a sham on 22nd Street that is supported by the government, there is nothing there.
It’s a sham
Now they’re gonna show this “progress” and pretend that they tried to get me to participate in this. So they make a plan, and then sometimes when they’re embarrassed because of the demonstrations we have at the City Hall, or because we call a press conference, then they say, well, if you wanna, you can come over and participate in this stuff.
They must be out of their minds! Because what they want is a stamp of approval, now from me, if they can get it, for what they want to do to redirect a revolutionary movement.
And if they don’t get it, then it’s evidence to them just how unreasonable Omali Yeshitela and the ‘Uhurus’ are. So we are unreasonable because they could always find a reasonable Negro.
They had a reasonable Negro here a couple of Sundays ago because he wants that $50,000. He calls himself an artist. And in the discussion with him he talks about how we have to stop fighting and we have to educate the ones who are oppressing us.
This is what he says, literally! Stop fighting the oppressor stop fighting the slave master––these are literal words that he used––and then educate them so that they would treat us better.
And he’s going to be the one that they choose to put up a mural that reflects history. What I’m saying is that it’s a sham, and it’s really a dishonest process from top to bottom.
We do not give anybody permission anymore!
It was dishonest when they put it up there the first time. It had no regard for our people. It came down because of rising consciousness in African people at that time. It was Black Power that scared them to death, and now they are being frightened by a new movement that’s awakening today, after they killed damn near everybody they could kill, jailed everybody else, now they are defining for a people who are coming into political life what it’s supposed to be about and they would define me as unreasonable.
I’m the same unreasonable person that you met fifty years ago that tore it down. We do not give anybody permission anymore! Not fifty years later, nobody can have permission to define who we are for us.
The city of St. Petersburg certainly hasn’t earned that responsibility. So I don’t even think it knows how to tell you the truth. I think in reality there needs to be a plaque up there that says what happened and why it happened.
It needs to acknowledge the six people who went to jail and some who went to prison for taking it down. It needs to acknowledge the offense that the mural represented to the African community.
It needs to be a part of a program that would have the city of St. Petersburg formally apologize to the African community for ever putting it up there and for letting it stay up there for thirty years.
It needs to be associated with a process that would have the city formally have the people who went to jail for taking that mural down––some of whom are dead now––but acknowledging them for what it is that they have accomplished despite the unwillingness of the city of St. Petersburg to remove that mural.
You need to say that this mural came down because this city was a bigoted organization that put it up there and refused to take it down after many letters that came from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee asking them to do that.
Tearing down the mural was a part of a historical trend
They charged me with eleven offenses for taking that mural down! They included disturbing the peace, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest with violence, resisting arrest without violence, grand larceny among others.
And, they need to accept responsibility for that and, and this community then can stand up straight, can stand up tall, and can recognize the role it has played in history.
Just two or three months after we went into that city hall and tore that mural down, the Black Panther Party went into the state legislature in Sacramento, California with guns.
So it was a part of an entire historical trend that we are talking about, not just one day, young Joe Waller just walked down to the city hall and tore a picture off the wall.
There is a historical context to it that we have to recognize so that this community, our people, can have the benefit of that history. It strengthens and empowers the community to know that we can set the terms for our own future and not have somebody from City Hall––regardless of the fact that they put together some committee of Negroes and white liberals––to do it for us, that we can be the ones to chart this future.
And it needs to be said that the reason that the mural is not there today is because we took it down. The city didn’t take it down. There was no committee organized by the city that brought it down. If we hadn’t taken that mural down on that day, that mural would still be up there today. That’s the reality that we are confronted with. Uhuru. [applause]