Soul School and Black History (1/2)
TRNN’s Eddie Conway talks to Babatunji Baloqun of the Soul School Institute and history professor Baba Zak A. Kondo about the founding of Soul School and the history of Baltimore’s Black Movement
EDDIE CONWAY, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News. I’m Eddie Conway, coming to you from Baltimore.
In honor of Black History Month, I have with me today as guests two people that have rich experience in black history. So please join me in welcoming Babatunde Baloqun from–the principal organizer of the Soul School Institute, and Zak Kondo, who is a professor at Baltimore Community College–a professor of history, in fact.
So thanks for joining me, Babatunde and Zak.
BABATUNDE BALOQUN: Thank you, Eddie, for inviting me and brother Zak.
BABA ZAK A. KONDO: Thank you.
CONWAY: Okay. One of the things that I wanted to do is, since you have such rich experience in our history, is maybe to get you to share a little bit of your history and what you’ve been doing over the last 40 or 50 years in relationship to the black struggle.
BALOQUN: Yeah. I just wanted to talk a little bit about that background that I have.
I started out in the civil rights movement when I was about 23 years old. At the time, there was a major project in Baltimore called Target City sponsored by the Congress of racial inequality. And that’s when I joined the movement, so to speak. And through all the years of protests and jailings by the police, harassment, etc., etc., we came to realize that once civil rights was enacted, that that was not going to complete our struggle. And at that point, myself, brother /əluːbulɑː.bɑlɑguː/, who is deceased, and three other brothers founded the Soul School.
/əluːblɑ/ was the name, was the one that came up with SOUL, which stood for Society Of United Liberators, and the school was located in the heart of the inner city on Freemount Avenue. And we set up the school.
CONWAY: What year was that?
BALOQUN: That was in 1968.
And I want to mention another brother, Brother /hɑˈkim/, who was the one that gave us the idea about setting up a school, because one of the things that came out of our discussion was that if anything else, black people need an education or reeducation so that we could begin to see our own reality and see our own situation in our own eyes.
So the school was set up in March 1968. At that time, we had classes for young people during the day and adults at night in black history, black philosophy, black politics. Children came during the day. And we had sisters there who were providing some instruction in terms of their children’s understanding about black folks, about themselves.
The school was also pretty much political. We also had culture, but political was really where people began to notice us, because we were out there at every meeting, at different protests that were still going on. We were there doing–when the rebellion occurred in Baltimore in 1968, when–this was after the death of Martin Luther King Jr.
So we had gained a reputation for being militant. We were talking about black people have to do more for themselves. And this is how I slowly evolved towards what we refer to as black nationalism.
CONWAY: Okay. Well, let me–’cause I’ve heard rumors in the past. And, of course, my history is that I was in the Black Panther Party–
CONWAY: –and a former political prisoner. I’ve heard rumors that Soul School hosted and maybe even helped organize the Black Panther Party.
BALOQUN: The initial contact, as far as I know.
Now, Eddie, I was in jail myself for a little while. So some of my history at SOUL School is only what was told to me. But a brother by the name of Shaguna Lumumba, one of the founders of the SOUL School, has set up a Black Panther group at SOUL School. And this is before–I think it was John Clark who came out of California to actually establish a chapter here, a formal chapter.
But, yeah, the first Black Panthers were out of SOUL School. And after Clark, then there was that episode with Warren Hart and what happened with that counterintelligence program. And then, after that, I think Paul Coates took over, who was the captain of the Panthers.
CONWAY: So you were in jail for SOUL School stuff?
BALOQUN: As a result of the rebellion in ’68, I was locked up–
CONWAY: Oh, okay. Okay.
BALOQUN: –and charged with bogus charges. But they had to get somebody, so they got me off the street. But that’s neither here nor there.
But, yeah, I was locked down for a brief time, not long. And so that part of it or some significant parts of that story, I was only given a narrative by /oʊluːbulaɪ/, who used to visit and tell me what was going on with the school.
But my own experience was that the school had developed a consciousness. And we were the first black nationalists, more or less, on the block at that time. And so the school, eventually, however, we ran out of steam–put it–make it short, make a long story short.
CONWAY: When? I mean, when are you talking about going? From 68 to what?
BALOQUN: Well, the soul school didn’t really–well, we were ’68 to ’73, approximately. The problems that, as I look back, you know, everything is always 20/20 hindsight. We didn’t have a clear ideology. We knew we had bits and pieces of what we meant by self-determination. But we didn’t have a clear program of self-determination. We didn’t have a membership. People came in. They did work.
CONWAY: You mean from the community.
BALOQUN: From the community.
BALOQUN: You know. And one of the other aspects, which I think is important, is that we had no women in leadership role in the soul school.
CONWAY: Oh, really? Okay.
BALOQUN: There were a lot of sisters that came there, but we never even thought, because this was back in the days. I guess chauvinism was still alive back then. We never even thought about a sistert being in leadership. She was–somebody came in, did work, whatever, and that was it. You know. But that was the mistake.
CONWAY: Mhm. Okay. Let’s stop right there for a minute and let’s get Zak Kondo in, because you have rich history. We were talking before we started filming here of studying Malcolm X. And apparently it expands over decades. So share a little bit of your story, your background, and so on.
KONDO: Sure. Well, I’m from Newport News, Virginia. And growing up in Newport News, I was the typical African child–miseducated, knew very little about my history, taught basically to despise myself. You know, just a typical African child growing up in a public school.
My seventh-grade year, Newport News implemented a bussing policy. And so we were bussed. I’m from an all-African neighborhood, and we were bussed to a midtown white school that apparently had not had a whole bunch of us in the past.
CONWAY: What year are we talking about here?
KONDO: We’re talking about 19–we’re talking about a school year, 1971 to 1972.
CONWAY: Okay. Okay.
KONDO: So I’m 12 years old. I’m in the seventh grade. So we’re bussed to the school. And then I’m ready for worse. And whenever there was conflict between us and the white kids, the teachers would automatically accuse us or whatever.
So, anyway, you know, so I’m combating racism. Previously I had went to a school that the racism was subtle, but now it’s blatant.
And so I’m in the library one day. My father was military, so I was on the post, Fort Eustis. And I’m just killing time. You know, I was not one–I wasn’t no scholar or nothing like that. I was considered pretty bright, but school, you know, in and out. You know, it’d interest me sometimes. I’d do it if it wasn’t–I didn’t care.
Anyway, I’m in the library and I’m just killing time, waiting for the bus, and I see on the stacks this book. And it’s a real big, thick book. And it was called the autobiography of Malcolm X.
Now, I had heard the name Malcolm X the year before, and all I knew about Malcolm X was that I had a cousin in New York who got suspended from school, him and some of his friends, because they put a poster of this guy, Malcolm X, on a post, you know, on a wall, and it got suspended. So, seeing how I’d been suspended myself several times as a student, I could identify with that. But I was also curious as to what is it about this guy, Malcolm X, that if you put a poster of him, you can get suspended. Anyway, I pull down the book. I started looking through it. And from the very beginning, it caught my attention. Now, keep in mind it’s a very thick book, and I was one of those people, you know, one of those type of students that when it was time to do a book report–remember those book reports?–I would go to the library and find the thinnest book imaginable. But this book was 300 and some pages, and it had photographs, and it had this guy speaking, you know, like this, and, you know, it was–I still remember the cover. You know, it said, he rose from hoodlum, thief, dope peddler, pimp, to become the most dynamic leader of the black revolution. He said he would be murdered before this book appeared, unquote.
So, anyway, I started reading this book, and I missed a couple buses reading this book. And then I did the unspeakable for me. When I was up to my last book–I mean, my last bus, you know, before I was going to be stranded on the base, I checked the book out, took it home. I read it. And for the next several days I became engrossed reading this book about this guy, Malcolm X, who I knew virtually nothing about.
And it began a process. My consciousness began to be awakened, and I began to appreciate more about who I was and my history and struggle and things like that.
He also introduced me to a lot of people. Whoever Malcolm talked about in the book, who I never heard of, I researched those people. Like, I didn’t know who Garvey was. So Malcolm talked about how his father, you know, was a Garveyite. And so I researched Garvey. And then I ended up studying Garvey as well.
But the point is is that Malcolm really was the introduction, my introduction to the study of African people. And once I kind of fell into that, I never left it. My family liked to say that’s when Zak got into that black power stuff, that African jive stuff. And basically I’d been there. I’ve been there ever since.
CONWAY: So when it says you were a professor of history, does that mean you study black history exclusively? Or you’re a professor of history in general?
KONDO: Yeah. Well, at a community college you don’t really specialize.
KONDO: Now, I spent 15 years teaching at Bowie State in Bowie, Maryland, where I was the founder and the coordinator of Pan-African Studies Program. So my emphasis was basically the history of Africans in the Diaspora and Africans on the continent.
KONDO: And so that’s been my–that’s always been my focus from the time of the seventh grade. So it made a lot of sense that in my adult life, that I would basically end up teaching or trying to share what I’ve learned as an African person about our history, about our struggles, about our culture, etc., etc., shared with younger generations. That’s pretty much what I’ve been doing for about 20–I guess this is probably about my 25th year of teaching.
CONWAY: Okay. Let’s stop right there. You were saying you’ve made a mistake, you’ve learned about not having women inclusive in your Soul School organization and stuff?
BALOQUN: That’s the mistake that the entire struggle needs to learn. Most of the leadership back in the ’60s and the ’70s were males, black males, for those organizations like the civil rights or black power movement. Perhaps the Black Panther Party was the exception. There was Kathleen Kennedy, Elaine Brown, etc., etc.
CONWAY: Cleaver, Kathleen Cleaver.
CONWAY: She will jump on me for that.
KONDO: You’re right. I’m sorry. You can edit that out.
CONWAY: No, that’s okay. Just leave it in it there.
KONDO: But anyway, what I’m saying is is that beyond that, most of the organizations had male leadership. Women didn’t have the type of power or voice in those organizations that they should have, because women were inclusive in almost any struggle that we’ve been in. And so that was one of the errors that we saw afterwards.
And, again, we didn’t have a membership, a clear membership, because once you have a membership, you have an organization, and organization is the key. But we didn’t have that. Actually, we just had classes where we taught. And we thought that was enough, but it wasn’t.
CONWAY: Mhm. Okay. We’re going to wrap up this segment, and we’re going to come back, and we’re going to talk about what those historical experiences have taught you and what maybe young people can learn, where you are today with the organizing you’re doing. And hopefully you’ll share with us from that rich history what you kind of, like, learned about Malcolm X since you’ve read, like, tons of books on him and how that’s relevant to today and today’s youth. So thank you for joining me.
KONDO: Yeah, and–
CONWAY: And–go ahead.
KONDO: –and I would really like to also–
CONWAY: Go ahead.
KONDO: –when we come back, I’d also like to accent the point that he just made with regard to African women, because I think he just made a very,–
CONWAY: And I think it’s an important–.
KONDO: –very important statement that needs to be addressed, and I would like to also discuss that as well.
CONWAY: Okay. That would be great if we could do that. So thanks for joining me.
BALOQUN: Yeah. Okay.
CONWAY: And thank you for joining me.
And thank you for joining The Real News.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.