On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis has sparked a movement.
All across the country, people are stepping out and rallying against police brutality and institutionalized racism. The District has seen a surge in protests, as thousands of residents have gathered for the last week.
As riots and looting remain a part of these protests, many see a comparison to the riots after the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The comparisons between the fight for civil rights in the 1960s and today are easy to make, but how much do they have in common? What does this mean for the movement today and what happens next?
Produced by Julie Depenbrock and Richard Cunningham
- Greg Carr Chair, Dept. of Afro-American Studies, Howard University; @AfricanaCarr
- Virginia Ali Family Owner, Ben's Chili Bowl
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser scheduled to hold a press conference this hour. We're monitoring and we'll bring you any breaking news from her statements. The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis has sparked a movement. All across the country people are stepping out and rallying against police brutality and institutionalized racism, and Washington D.C. has been one focal point.
KOJO NNAMDIComparisons have been drawn between today's demonstrations and the uprisings that followed the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. But how has the fight for racial equity shifted in the past 50 years? And what makes the current unrest particularly of this moment? Joining us now is the Chair of the Department of Afro-American Studies at Howard University, Dr. Greg Carr. Greg Carr, thank you so much for joining us.
GREG CARRGood to be back with you, Kojo.
NNAMDIAlways a pleasure. I'm wondering if you can describe the atmosphere here in Washington in the spring of 1968 after Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated.
CARRWell, I mean, we know that the last year of King's life, when he came out against the War of Vietnam, a year to the day when he was assassinated, had been a year of mounting tensions and transformations. The Kerner Commission, the 11 member panel that President Johnson appointed in July of 1967 was appointed, because there had been insurrections in Detroit and a number of other places, obviously, before that L.A. and other places.
CARRSo the year before King's assassination was a year where he had become increasingly unpopular in mainstream media, even in the black press, by talking about militarism, violence, materialism. And so when he was assassinated it was almost as if -- and by the way, he has spent a lot of time in D.C. obviously planning for the Poor People's Campaign, which was coming to the city in '68. But when he was assassinated you found black folks spilled out into the streets expressing their grief, their rage, their tension.
CARRAnd many of the actors who would transform this city over the arch of the next generation were already in place. Marion Barry would come in 1965 with SNCC, Stokely Carmichael and others. And, you know, I feel like I'm preaching to the choir brother, because I'm talking about something you lived through and participated in. But the idea was after King's assassination some of these actors tried to quell tensions, calm people down, or at least tell them not to destroy particularly black owned business like Ben's Chili Bowl, but ultimately we saw an outpouring, almost a general strike against the existing social order.
CARRAnd the things finally the Kerner Commission had outlined as really being the problem in this country namely radical inequality, economic, educational inequality among others, really gave the fuel to the voicings in the media wake of the grief for Dr. King's assassination to a swath of destruction that the city really did not recover from until the last 10-15 years in some ways.
NNAMDIWell, I didn't get here until 1969, but I did know a lot of the people involved because my mentors were all former members of SNCC among them, of course, Stokely Carmichael. And before this interview is over Greg Carr is tired of me telling him every time I see him that he's a dead ringer for the late Stokely Carmichael or Kwame Ture as a matter of fact.
CARRKojo, I never get tired of that, brother.
NNAMDIWhat similarities do you see between the protests happening today and the unrest following Dr. King's assassination in 1968?
CARRWell, two jump out immediately. One is the underlying factors. You know, Malcolm X said as long as you have the ingredients for an explosion, the potential for explosion will remain. And those underlying factors outlined by the Kerner Commission, outlined in the wake of what happened here in 1968 continued to be a radical structural inequality, access to affordable housing, jobs, education. If anything the inequalities now really kind of -- what has been laid bear with the pandemic is the most vulnerable people in this society remain black and brown largely in this country.
CARRAnd the other one is frankly state violence. A police force that was 75 percent white in 1968 and that had been a constant source of tension in this city and around the country was let loose on the citizens of Washington D.C. And, of course, this being the federal city it was a federalized police force. So that similarity. What we see now is folks really pushing back against state violence and in the form of pushing back against police and over policing. Some people are even calling for the restructuring or the abolishment of the policing function as we lived through it. And so those are two of the major similarities that we see.
NNAMDIHow about the differences? What are the important differences between 1968 and today?
CARRWell, I think it's very interesting, of course. Social media is probably the most potent single difference in terms of galvanizing support kind of going around traditional media, commercial news media or just media platforms in general. And also we find that this kind of general strike against the existing social order is not organized as such. Although there are organized groups, elements along across the ideological spectrum involved, but it is multiracial. You know, Minneapolis is 60 percent white. So when we saw the crowds in the streets a lot times they were majority white, and we're seeing the solidarity movements internationally.
CARRWe're seeing here in the City of Washington D.C. I was down at St. John's yesterday for a moment. You see a lot of white folks out. And as people begin to push back against this kind of radical inequality we're seeing that there is an alloy of protestors in the streets that looks very different than 1968. One that may even overflow the boundaries of our capacity to narrate exactly who's out there.
NNAMDIGreg Carr, of course, one of the main differences today is that layered beneath these protests we also have a pandemic on our hands. What effect in your view is that having on the current movement?
CARRThat's very frightening, Kojo. It really is. I mean, I think we've been socialized in society, many of us to see things sequentially like they're episodes in a narrative with a beginning and an end. And as a consequence this kind of general strike that we see folks engaged in for whatever purposes they're in the streets it has come in the wake of a pandemic that is still going on. It's not over. So social distancing, the idea of contact tracing, people calling to find out, you know, if you're sick, who have you been in contact with, all that seems to, for some people at least, have been put on hold.
CARRBut as the pandemic kind of showed us how these inequalities work in American it has also in a way given us a preview as to what we might anticipate coming after or in the wake of these protests. I mean, we don't know. For example, how many people as a consequence of coming out to show support or for whatever reason they're doing it, are in the street, if they don't have their masks on, if they don't have personal protection equipment we don't know if this is going to show a spike in the coronavirus.
CARRAnd, of course, the most vulnerable are those, who are most susceptible to this because we don't use the regular workdays. You and I can work from home. But the vast majority of people, who are economically vulnerable cannot. And so finally a Thursday afternoon in Washington D.C. looks very different for those folks. And some people participating are there in part, because they don't have a job or they don't have access to support. And if they don't have a mask on as well they could be sick as a result of what we're seeing in the streets today.
NNAMDIHere now is Cleave in Capital Heights, Maryland. Cleave, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CLEAVEYes. I was a high school student in Cleveland, Ohio when Martin Luther King was murdered. I was part of a rebellion of young people in the high school. Of course, we had a whole fight in our community that was changing against, you know, raises of taxes and so on. I ended up in the in the U.S. Army and helped organize soldiers against the Vietnam War in 1969 and kicked out.
CLEAVEThis rebellion, these demonstrations, which I participate in in the D.C. area for the past three days -- I'm going back this afternoon to march as well are more akin in my view to the rebellion that follows Nixon's invasion into Cambodia. At that time you had millions of U.S. -- eight million in total out of that you had like four million on students' strikes throughout the country marching and participating in demonstrations all over the place. This is much more similar to that. Today's rebellion on police brutality is much more powerful I think than the 1968 rebellions, because it involves multiethnic, multiracial people from all across the country.
CLEAVEA good size participation from Latino, Caucasian, as well as, African American, and it involves people in the labor movement. Many of what do you call it? Bus drivers and transit workers have decided not to transport people who are in imprisoned or who arrested by the cops. And then all over the country people are defying the curfew in mass and because of these protests we got four other cops, all four of them charged. And then what we need to do we keep the pressure on because cops are killing people all over the country today and every day. And they should be immediately charged and arrested and then tried. You know the same as what would happen if you and I did it.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. Greg Carr, care to comment, because what happened in 1968 was more of a spontaneous revolt and uprising than an organized protest, wasn't it?
CARRYes, sir. Absolutely, absolutely, Kojo. But, you know, it's very powerful to hear him introduce a factor that is present again today. And that is this general tension between state violence whether at home or abroad and the resistance to the idea of a militarized state that extends beyond our borders. So the Vietnam War, of course, 1968 occurs. The general strike as I recall it or tension occurs as the antiwar movement continues to expand. We know that, you know, Linden Johnson is not going to run for reelection. And one of the things Nixon does in 1968 is come in on this idea that he represents the silent majority. In fact, today is the anniversary June 4th 1967 of when Muhammad Ali met with in Cleveland with Jim Brown and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Abdul-Jabbar is still a college student.
CARRAnd they say, you know, Ali, what's up with this you not going to Vietnam? Ali says, I'm not going to Vietnam. And these athletes come out in support of him. Contrast that to today. Many of the groups that are out and many of the people who are talking now in terms of this countering police violence, countering state violence are also saying, we must counter the rise of state violence around the world, and so that is a similarity. And then finally we have celebrities who are coming out in support. But the celebrities seem to be finding their voice in a trajectory that is leading back toward the type of thing Ali was saying.
CARRAnd I think that is kind of a difference that is beginning to show itself as a similarity as people are emboldened to voice the things perhaps they might not have been emboldened to voice even two weeks ago.
NNAMDIGreg Carr is Chair of the Department of Afro-American Studies at Howard University. We're going to take a short break. When we come back we'll be talking with Virginia Ali, the Owner of Ben's Chili Bowl. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're reflecting on the uprisings of 1968 following the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the protests movements that were occurring generally during that time and what is going on around the country today following what happened in Minneapolis. We're talking with Greg Carr, Chair of the Department of Afro-American Studies at Howard University. And joining us now is Virginia Ali, the Owner of Ben's Chili Bowl. Virginia Ali, thank you so much for joining us.
VIRGINIA ALIYou are so welcome. How are you?
NNAMDII'm trying to do my best in this pandemic environment. Your reflections on the riots of 1968 were featured in the latest episode of WAMU's Dish City. You and your husband Ben Ali, who I must say came from Trinidad and Tobago, co-founded Ben's Chili Bowl in the 1950s. And in 1968 you witnessed the riots destroy your neighborhood. What was that time like for you?
ALIThat was a very frightening time, because it was, you know, during the middle of the civil rights movements. So much was going on in this country, in the South and all of that. Dr. King was, you know, a wonderful, wonderful non-violent leader. He had demonstrations all over the South many many times. And I remember him coming up to Washington for that 1963 historic march on Washington with thousands and thousands of people without incident. And of course, remember, they passed The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and The Voting Rights Act of '65. But by 1968 the job equality and all those, the housing and all those things had not yet been met and there was all this talk about "We've got get equality. We've got to have equality."
ALIWe were surprised, when one evening on the fourth of April 1968 (unintelligible) that Dr. King has been shot. It was traumatic for everybody. (unintelligible) for quite some time that evening. Then when sadness turned to frustration and frustration to anger, the uprising begins. It was very very difficult, the burning, the looting, the curfew was put into place and we had three nights of curfew. The National Guard was here. (unintelligible) very very hard to deal with. We were the only place -- Ben's Chili Bowl was the only place that was allowed to remain open during those three nights of curfew.
NNAMDIAs a matter of fact, I'd like to ask you how come you were able to keep Ben's Chili Bowl open at the time. But there's a lot of background noise there. So we're going to try to make it a little slightly quieter environment even as we hear from Carol Ann in Bethesda, Maryland. Carol Ann, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CAROL ANNHi, Kojo. I've been really so impressed by the various speakers, who've come on the show today. I remember as a new mom in '67 and '68 when Sam Irvin was trying to try to get a bill against the No Knock. I don't if you remember the No Knock decision. I don't know if you remember that period where they were trying to basically test a bill where police could go into any home in D.C. without a warrant if they suspected a crime. And they were basically using it as a test case in the city. And then, you know, use it around the country. And that was a very frightening period.
CAROL ANNAnd as a new mom I ended up getting involved going around speaking to county councils and the counties and trying to get them to become aware of this and make sure that their congressmen voted against it. But, you know, it was kind of a moment that reminded -- this period right now is reminding me of that.
CAROL ANNI would also like to say that, you know, what we have seen today, what we didn't have in the 60s we see young people, who've gone to school and more mixed communities, they have become much more comfortable with each other in brown, black, white communities in college and high school. And I think that made a difference in this particular protest period where we didn't have that in the 60s as much.
NNAMDIOkay. And indeed, Greg Carr had made that point. Thank you for sharing that with us. But back now to Virginia Ali. Virginia Ali, how were you able to keep your business open through the protests? Are you there now?
ALIYou know, I never really know who made the decision that we should stay open. I do know that the SNCC office was across the street. Of course, Dr. King had a satellite office at 14th and U. So there were lots of people in town. But I remember Stokely Carmichael being a daily visitor during the summer of 1967 and the spring of 1968. And he certainly was saying that he wanted all businesses closed in honor of Dr. King when this thing happened. And all I know is we did get a call from the captain of the 13th precinct, which was just down U Street and said they were passes for our staff to work the evening shift and that would last throughout the curfew.
NNAMDIThat was ...
ALISo we were definitely open. I never really knew who made the decision. I invited the captain for lunch a few years ago. But he too didn't remember. He just said he knew that they were told to keep the Chili Bowl open. Now we had been here at that time for 10 years and well embedded in the community, and had been part of the community. And we had late hours. You know, we were open until three o'clock in the morning, four on weekends. And it was like a home away from home. It was a kind of a gathering place and a safe haven for city officials, police officers and activists. We've always had a little bit of everybody.
NNAMDIAnd in the years that followed the riots of '68, how did you keep Ben's Chili Bowl afloat especially when they were doing construction for Metro and a lot of other businesses closed down?
ALIWell, as I said we had been here 10 years when it happened. And then after the riots were over the businesses didn't rebuild. So many of -- like a Safeway was around at 14th Street. There was CNP Telephone Company. There were big businesses along with our own African American owned businesses. The businesses did not reopen. That was the issue and then the middle class began to move away. You know, now we're an integrated society. They began to move away. And the area took a down turn and became a serious ghetto. It took 20 years.
ALINow 20 years later the city decided to build that subway system. And when they did the survey they found only three businesses had survived in the immediate vicinity. That was Industrial Bank, Lee's Flower Shop and Ben's Chili Bowl.
ALISo that was very very hard as well, and so we were able to just hang in and hang on. We had to make changes, you know, like we're doing today. Back in those days of the construction had signs all over the area telling people that they could come up the one way street behind Ben's and come down the alley. Then they would have to reverse their car to get out. That wasn't much, but it was something. But like now during the pandemic, you know, it's difficult because there's social distancing and because folks cannot come in. And we certainly had a very very busy spring planned with reservations from tourists and eighth graders from across the country and large groups. So we just try to adjust and go with the flow and hopefully we'll have these positive change take place.
NNAMDIBefore we take a break, Virginia Ali, what have you been thinking as you see more demonstrations unfolding in the city?
ALII'm grateful to those demonstrators that are out here demonstrating and protesting peacefully. I think we need to bring attention to what's happening in this country. And I'm pleased to see how it's affecting young people and how diverse they are and where they are all over this country and all over the world. That for me has got to make a big impact.
NNAMDIVirginia Ali is the Owner of Ben's Chili Bowl. Virginia Ali, thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDIHere's Alexa in Rockville, Maryland. Alexa, your turn.
ALEXAThank you very much. So nice to speak with all of you. And, yes, I was in --
NNAMDIYou only got about 30 seconds, Alexa.
ALEXAOkay. I'd like to return to the topic of similarities and differences between today and 1968. Specifically that the Black Lives Matter movement has used a very dispersed form of leadership. I recall conversations on this show a few years ago talking about that strategy. In 1968, that wasn't the case. Could you comment on the implications of that difference?
NNAMDII will have Greg Carr comment as soon we come back from the break. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're contrasting and comparing what happened in 1968 after Dr. Martin Luther King was killed and what's happening with these protests today. We're talking with Greg Carr, Chair of the Department of Afro-American Studies at Howard University. Greg Carr, our last caller wanted to make a difference between today's forms of organization and the forms of organization that existed in the late 1960s saying the Black Lives Matter movement is organized differently. Care to comment?
CARRYes, yes, Kojo. I think technology again has been the tool that has disrupted the way that we organize. But in some ways it's both the similarity -- it has enabled both the similarity and a difference. One, the similarity is in, of course, you know, again going back to your mentors and comrades from Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. That model, the so called Ella Baker model for lack of a better term really spoke to decentralized leadership. It was black led for sure, but it was multiracial and it was driven by consensus-building.
CARRAnd I think that's very similar to the movement for Black Lives. It is black-led, a lot of black women, particularly, at the center. But it is indeed one that accommodates and, in fact, encourages allies, encourages the type of multiracial coalition building that we are seeing now rewrite, in some ways, the structural relationship between the people of this country and forms of government. So, there's a similarity and a difference.
CARRAny time you see the mayor of Los Angeles talking about taking $150 million away from the police, that's because it's not just black people in the streets. Anytime you see them talking about taking Robert E. Lee off Monument Row in Richmond, that's because there are more than just black people in the streets. And it is this multiracial correlation driven, certainly, by the Movement for Black Lives and other, you know, partner organizations, but it is this multiracial movement that is doing that, and that has absolutely been enabled by a de-centered kind of notion of leadership. These aren't elected people. These aren't appointed folks. These are people who are coming together around a commonality of ideas, of beliefs.
CARRThe other thing I would say very quickly in terms of a similarity between now and 1968, and I must say, you know, in tribute to Virginia and Ben Ali, you know, during this COVID-19 crisis, Ben's Chili Bowl, Ms. Virginia Ali, still on the frontline, delivering meals to our folks at Howard University Hospital, who are intervening to help save people's lives as they come to the hospital. And here's Ben's Chili Bowl, bringing food. I mean, talk about consistency. I just wanted to mention that.
NNAMDIOver half a century of consistency. The other aspect that I'd like you to discuss, Greg Carr, is that many people, because of Dr. King and the formation of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, SCLC, associate much of the leadership of the civil rights movement of the 1960s with religious leaders, even though, obviously, groups like SNCC and the Black Panther Party were exceptions to that. But are you seeing that at all today? What's changed in terms of religious leadership?
CARROh, that's very interesting. Certainly, there are faith leaders in the streets, from the mosques, from the churches. I was, day before yesterday morning, down at St. John's Episcopal, and there were a number of ministers, almost all black men but there were a couple of white women who were there as well, all clan in black, all quoting scripture and praying, you know, for the nation, praying to beat back fascism. And so the faith leaders are there, for sure.
CARRAt the same time, however, I think there's probably more of a secular bent to this movement. So, if there is a kind of spiritual dimension, it's less bound to any one particular religious practice. And, of course, we saw, with the President of the United States the other day, an attempt to kind of repurpose the notion of Christianity and wed it again to state violence that was pushed back against, you know, from all corners, but particularly from Christian faith leaders, including the sister who is in charge of St. John's, that Episcopal district, who was like, no, this is not what it's about.
CARRSo, I think there's a comingling that probably has a different ratio now than it did in '68, but it may have jailbroken even the idea that belief systems, that faith have to be weighed to one particular type of religious practice.
NNAMDII do have to mention that at her presser today, Mayor Muriel Bowser has announced that there will be no curfew in the District of Columbia tonight. Allow me to repeat that. There will be no curfew in the District of Columbia tonight. That said, let's move on to Atesh, in Prince George's County. Atesh, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ATESHThanks for taking my call. I think there's yet a deeper level we can go, because my observation is that if I look internationally, because of COVID-19, about a quarter of humanity is looking together at the fact that we need a paradigm shift at the root. Because I'm a privileged white guy. I'm retired, too, and I can be safe, but not everybody can. And I can't be out there joining with them, but what's going on, is there's an opportunity to rise up and say the system is rotten at the core. We have to pull up the roots and change it now in order to address the next issue, which will be climate change.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your call. Greg Carr?
CARROh, Atesh, I agree with you, man. I mean, you know, it's fascinating to see how our common humanity is emerging. You know, it's interesting. In 1968, for example -- and we know that every piece of major civil rights legislation that was passed in the '60s came in the wake of the shedding of black blood. Birmingham, the church bombing, you see the Civil Rights Act of '64, Selma, Montgomery March, Bloody Sunday, you see the Voting Rights Act.
CARRAnd the assassination of Martin Luther King, Lyndon Johnson used it to push through the Fair Housing Act. But, at that moment, Sam Irvine, who we heard mentioned before, tried to pass an Indian Bill of Rights appended to the Fair Housing Act by saying, well you know, the red man should get his rights, too, because the black man is getting his, that type of identity politic ploy.
CARRNow, come forward to where we are now, and what we see is our common humanity is coming into the streets. You have white allies jumping down between the police and the black protesters to say, my whiteness, I will relinquish it as a concept, but in this moment, it can perhaps save a life.
CARRAnd, you're right, internationally, something in terms of pop culture, the K-pop community in South Korea has reached out and said, our entire industry is based on black American culture. We stand in solidarity. And then, finally, the pandemic, of course, which seems to have improved the air and let the rest of our animal kindred out in the environment in greater numbers. That is really revealing that we need to change our behavior.
CARRAnd this type of structural change, indeed, it seems more possible today than it did even a week-and-a-half ago. Although I'm sure we all agree, we'd rather have George Floyd alive, but this trigger seems to have led to the possibilities of a paradigm shift. I agree.
NNAMDIBut you mentioned Alabama and Mississippi and other locations in the South, where, when civil rights protesters were marching peacefully, they were often set upon by vicious dogs. And that phrase “vicious dogs” is one of the phrases that President Trump used when he talked about how the protesters would be greeted if that attempted to come closer to the White House. To use a really bad pun, who was that dog whistle intended for among his support base?
CARRWell, you know, wow, Kojo, it gives me pause to think about that, man. When he said when the looting starts, the shooting starts, of course, he re-mixed 1967, the Miami police chief, Walter Hedley, who had said he was going to use shotguns and dogs. So, we see that similarity. I think that dog whistle -- well, it's almost more like a primal scream, there's no whistle involved, he just said it -- is really to those people who have, traditionally, in society, kind of served an extra police function.
CARRWe know policing in this society in the South emerged out of the slave patrols, and that at any given moment, a white person could assume the role, in some ways, of a deputy police person to control black bodies. Well, here we are. When Trump was giving that call, and then evoking the Second Amendment and these kind of things, he's really speaking to folks who might see themselves as part of the additional police force.
CARRI have students, for example, in Montgomery, Alabama. I was on the phone yesterday with some of my students, checking in with them. And one of the young women said, you know, we've had some demonstrations here, but she's concerned because the proliferation of Confederate flags and Klan flags out, as this is kind of pushback.
CARRIn Philadelphia, white men with baseball bats in the Fishtown section of the city standing in front of the police force, saying they're guarding the police, except the police aren't arresting them for being out in front with bats. So, yes, this call Trump is making is almost as if he's trying to expand the police labor force for a confrontation. And it's, you know, it's borderline fascist in my opinion.
NNAMDIJ. Thomas Johnson messages us on Twitter: just like the failed 1 percent movement of 2010s -- I don't know if he means the 1 percent or the 99 percent movement -- why hasn't this movement made clearer demands? Greg Carr?
CARRWell, you know, that's difficult, I think, Kojo, in the sense that because of the fact that is de-centered leadership, that folks are out around common ideas and not an organizational structure, the demands that it makes will be met by those, at least in the short term, who are already in elective office. So, after 1968, we see a surge -- because of the Voting Rights Act, of course, but also because of the idea of engaging in the political process -- we see a surge of black elected officials.
CARRYou know, Walter Washington, who had come the year before as the kind of appointed mayor becomes the elected mayor, of course followed by Barry and others. But this, where we are now, what that shows is that the movement has enabled some of these elected officials to take actions that they may not have been able to take even two weeks ago. So, when Randall Woodfin, Morehouse graduate who's the mayor of Birmingham, Alabama says, I'm going to take that Confederate monument down, he perhaps couldn't have said that two weeks ago. But that's a political decision made by an elected official who has been enabled by these protests.
CARRSo, in terms of demands, defund the police, for example. We see defunding of the police, and we see what is happening with Eric Garcetti in L.A., as I mentioned, cutting the budget of the police. And then, finally, Muriel Bowser, who has governed, you know, I'll say charitably, as kind of a moderate Democrat.
CARRWell, you know, the tension between the D.C. Police Department and the weaponized National Guard and federal prison guards over the last several days, the idea that while we were on the air, she says, there will be no curfew tonight. I think that's probably a decision that has been made that has been emboldened -- she's been emboldened as a political official by this movement in the street that's clearly not going away, and clearly will not honor a curfew, and hasn't done it so far, so she's able to lift. And I think that's a bit of a pushback at the federal government, with the administration that's in charge right now.
NNAMDICan you compare media coverage of these protests today, compared with the '60s?
CARRWell, absolutely. I think in the wake of 1968, we saw that hiring of so many black journalists, either veterans from the black press or apprentices, you know, we saw Max Robinson on the air, Jim Nance here, Dorothy Gilliam, Washington Post, and so forth, and so on. But today, we see their descendents in the media, I mean, yourself and others who have a platform really trying to engage in this conversation. But we also see in mass commercial news media -- which I call news entertainment media -- we also see a caution that was present in 1968, using the passive voice when referring to law enforcement.
CARRGeorge Floyd died in custody. Wait a minute. Did he kill himself? I mean, you know, the idea that the focus is on the rioters and on the protection of property and how to get past this and heal. Those are typical narratives in the media, and they were narratives present then.
CARRFinally, social media, again, to, you know, reiterate something we talked about a minute ago, has end-arounded that structure, to the point where if they're not careful, mass commercial news entertainment media will find itself being left in the wake of a media platform where everyone, a citizen journalist, is able to kind of, you know, discard those old narratives.
NNAMDIKay Lucas tweets to us: disinvestment after those protests and riots lefts blocks in whole neighborhoods scarred and blighted for 40 years. I was shocked to see it when I arrived in '06. It just took 10 years for those scars to disappear in the name of building stuff for white newcomers like me. The changes in the city, Greg Carr?
CARROh, yes. Yes, Kojo. I mean, you know yourself, I mean, I think about, for example...
CARROh, I'm sorry. Did you...
NNAMDINo, I said, of course. Go ahead.
CARROh, yes, yes, yes. In fact, the legendary Drum and Spear Book Store, which, you know, those of us who are readers and bibliophiles will venerate forever. Of course, right there...
NNAMDI(overlapping) And where I have, of course, both worked and managed, but go ahead.
CARRNo question. I'm telling you, man, you got to look up Drum and Spear Bookstore, if you don't know it.
CARRThose black businesses that emerged in the wake of 1968, but as Ms. Ali said, spotty though they were, there's an energy that emerged out of '68, as well, the kind of black power, black cultural flourishing. But it did not come and then trigger a complete renaissance in the black community. In fact, we would have to wait. Have to wait for the Metro, have to wait for the Walter Washington Convention Center.
CARRAnd as that happened, as those property values skyrocketed -- Ben's Chili Bowl, I've heard Ms. Ali say before, when they put that hole in the ground to build the Green Line, her property taxes tripled. So, as a consequence, what we found is that those who suffered, those who were the most vulnerable have not been able to partake in the flowering of Washington, D.C. in terms of an investment, investment in its material infrastructure.
CARRAnd part of the reason they haven't been able to do it is because they have always been shut out. We have always been shut out of that economic largess. And the reason that the place lay fallow in so many ways -- I'm thinking about U Street, 14th Street corridor -- the reason that it lay fallow for so many years in some ways was a distrust of black government on the behalf of folks who were not part of that black community. There's always been that tension, and it continues to this day.
NNAMDIWhen we look at how the government responded to the uprisings of 1968 and how they're responding now, what similarities and what differences do you see?
CARRWell, the Kerner Commission said that one of the solutions to curbing these urban insurrections was the strengthening of the policing function, which is, of course, absurd. But we know that in April, 1968 the National Guard was brought out, federalized. The 82nd Airborne was brought out. The 503rd militia was brought out by President Johnson. And so there was the hammer dropped on these black folks in the streets.
CARRHere we are today, in the federal city, we see Donald Trump threatening to evoke the Insurrection Act of 1807. We see people pushing back, saying, what about the Posse Comitatus Act of 1896, you know, trying to get back and forth in terms of -- 1897 -- in terms of a legal precedent.
CARRBut what is similar is we see this heavy emphasis on reinstating order through the use of physical violence. Except this time -- in an interesting convergence between the demographic shift in this country and this general strike against the social order -- those that the federal troops may be loosed on this time will be substantially white, including some of those very people who have benefitted from the gentrification of the city, who, because perhaps they have a different attitude toward race, are willing to literally put their bodies on the line. So, I really don't think we have a roadmap for what comes next, Kojo, and I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing.
NNAMDIYou mentioned the Insurrection Act of 1807. Talk about the relationship to race of that act. After all, it was preceded in 1804 by the revolution in Haiti.
CARRYes, sir. You already know, Kojo. No, no, 1791 to 1804, the Haitians overthrew their oppressors on that part of the Island of Hispaniola that we call Haiti. And after the Haitian revolution, there was a great fear that those types of insurrections would spread to the American mainland, to the United States mainland.
CARRAnd the Insurrection Act of 1807 is passed, in part, with that in mind. It's also passed in part because the young nation has to see itself trying to regulate those members in its states who might have different ideas about the function of the federal government. They sent troops to the United States-Canada border because United States merchants were trading with Canada in violation of federal law. But the function of that act has been to allow the federal government to weaponize the police in a state, and use that police force to maintain or restore order.
CARRAnd, of course, another great irony, as it relates to race, is that the times we've seen it used in the 20th century have often involved the President of the United States -- Eisenhower in '57, with Little Rock Nine, Kennedy in 1962 when James Meredith integrated the University of Mississippi to override segregationist governors in the South who refused to protect the civil rights of black folk. Not nearly enough, of course, but when we've seen it used, it's been used that way, too.
NNAMDIMark Henry emails, a lot of us had to go up against our very conservative parents when we spoke. We faced estrangement from parents and the wrath of teachers. Today, it looks like there are more parents and teachers of all colors out there protesting with their kids. Greg Carr, what I'd like you to talk about, speaking of kids, is the effect that 1968 had on the black community overall, how it changed perspectives, particularly among young people in the black community, for a very long time.
CARRWell, Kojo, again, as we wind to a close, I want to publically thank you for being part of that movement to change the minds of, not just black people, human beings, generally, but especially our people, again, with the cultural movement. There's a beautiful exhibit at the University of the District of Columbia Student Center, once it reopens, I encourage people to go look at it, to see how in the 1970s and '80s, there was this push for cultural education.
CARRAnd so D.C. becomes a center for this type of surge in black pride, black power and kind of, as well, the importance of self-knowledge and historical knowledge. And that really can't be understated. It's what made Howard University transform itself. That's when you get the push for the black university in 1969, 1970. It's what made D.C. a center for those of us around the country, African Liberation Day, the Antiapartheid Movement, the Million Man March.
CARRYou know, all of these things come as a consequence of this foundation of black, African-centered cultural focus. The Smithsonian Folkways (sic) Festival, Bernice Johnson Reagon and others. All that stuff comes just in the wake of 1968. And it's something that changed not only this city, but in many ways this country forever.
NNAMDINot to mention James Brown making “Say It Loud - I'm Black and I'm Proud.” (laugh)
CARRNo question, brother. (laugh)
NNAMDIHere's Mel in Washington, D.C. No, still can't get through to Mel. Oh, Mel, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MELHi, Kojo. Can you hear me?
NNAMDIYes, we can.
MELOkay. Yeah, April 4th was a Thursday, by the way, and I was 17 years old, and my mom was PTA president, or Homing School Association president. But, at any rate, I dropped out of school and enlisted in the Army that morning. So, obviously, the morning of April 4th, you had no inkling about what was going to happen that evening. And where I was inducted was Fort Bragg, North Carolina, so we actually saw the 82nd on the way up to D.C. for the riots.
MELAnd we weren't told anything about it. In fact, if you think about the Army, particularly the Army 50 years ago, we pretty much were told, if you don't have something to do, if all you got on your mind is the way these trucks are going, we'll find something for you to do.
MELBut June 4th, not so much '68, but June 4th of '70, I think about coming back home and seeing friends who had no interest in police work. In '68 or '69, the Police Cadet Corps was created, because as your guest and you have been saying, all over the country, but particularly in Washington, it's funny how these ideas came up 50 years ago, partly as a result of the Kerner Commission. But you needed to have the police look like the community. And you needed to have people hired from the community. They would have more empathy with what's going on.
MELSo, I had a few friends that, certainly I wouldn't have thought they had any idea or any inclination for police work, join the force pretty much just to have a job and then find something else to do. But I hear and certainly applaud the protests that are going on. It's a certain irony that I feel that we're discussing issues that we thought we were beginning to resolve 50 years ago. And it's like we're in the Army, using the expression, "march in place.” We're marching in place, and you're addressing the same issues.
MELYou know, before I hit WAMU, we all know here in Washington, you hear a little bit of C-SPAN. I hit that by accident, and I hear some of the same protests, same voices, same talk about thuggery, law and order, that I heard 50 years ago. They were excuses not to understand what people are feeling.
NNAMDI(overlapping) We're about out of time so I'm afraid I do have to cut you off. There's a novel called "Hard Revolution," though, by local novelist George Pelecanos that talks about the role of a particular black, of course, fictional police officer Derek Strange, during that time. And my friend Jack White, who was covering the riots for the Washington Post at the time, said he got it pretty right. But I'm afraid that's the only time we have. Greg Carr, always a pleasure talking to you.
CARRAlways a pleasure. Thank you for inviting me, Kojo.
NNAMDIGreg is the chair of the Department of Afro-American Studies at Howard University. Today's show was produced by Julie Depenbrock and Richard Cunningham. Coming up tomorrow, after a week of political unrest, we hear from Virginia Delegate Ibraheem Samirah about protests in D.C. and Virginia and removing Confederate statues.
NNAMDIPlus, D.C. Councilmember Charles Allen talks about the issues at this week's election and police reform, in light of the protests. That all starts tomorrow, at noon, on The Politics Hour. Until then, thank you for listening, and stay safe. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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