BILL FLETCHER, HOST, THE GLOBAL AFRICAN: Today on The Global African, we’ll examine the Charleston shooting and right-wing extremism. We’ll also talk about SOUL!, an African-American program that played an influential role in developing black consciousness.
That’s today on The Global African. I’m your host, Bill Fletcher. Thanks for joining us. And don’t go anywhere.
On June 17, in an act of terrorism, Dylann Roof allegedly massacred nine members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. This historic church is not just the oldest black church in the South. The church of freedom fighter Denmark Vesey, Emanuel AME has long been a symbol of black freedom. Given the church’s history and the images that have leaked detailing Roof’s alleged admiration for the racist governments of Rhodesia and apartheid South Africa, it is clear that this incident was nothing other than an act of racist terrorism.
In his manifesto, Roof revealed that his recently formed ideology emerged from the website of an organization known as the Council of Conservative Citizens. This Missouri-based organization is known for its long history of promoting white supremacy and is very close to a major political party–none other than the Republican Party. The CCC has donated thousands of dollars to Republican candidates over the years.
After the shooting, some presidential candidates have announced that they’re returning donations from the CCC.
OFF CAMERA: In the name of Jesus, this flag has to come down. We come against [incompr.] hatred and oppression and violence.
FLETCHER: The movement to take down the Confederate flag has geared up as well, as South Carolina Republican governor Nikki Haley called for the Confederate flag to be taken down from the state capitol, and major retailers have stopped selling Confederate paraphernalia.
However, is this really enough? In this segment, we will dig deeper and shed light on the fundamental issue of white supremacy in a nation that refuses to do so.
Joining us for this segment are two outstanding activists and writers, Chip Berlet, who is a writer with Research for Progress. He’s a very well known investigative journalist, research analyst, photojournalist, scholar, and activist who specializes in the study of extreme right-wing movements.
Also joining us is Gerald Horne, an outstanding African-American historian who currently holds the John J. and Rebecca Moores Chair of History and African-American Studies. His research has addressed issues of racism in a variety of relations involving labor, politics, civil rights, international relations, and war.
Welcome to the program, gentlemen.
GERALD HORNE: Thank you.
CHIP BERLET: Thank you.
FLETCHER: So there’s a lot to cover. I want to actually start by looking at Charleston, South Carolina, and the massacre. But I want to specifically look historically. The church where the massacre took place had been a church associated with Denmark Vesey. The problem is many people in the United States have not a clue as to who Denmark Vesey was and what he was attempting to do. Gerald, I wondered if you could give us a snapshot.
HORNE: Denmark Vesey was a man of African descent, also a seafarer. And as you probably know, seafarers have played a pivotal role not only in U.S. history, but black American history in particular. And you may also know that the U.S. fleet in the early 19th century for various reasons was heavily dependent upon black sailors. There is evidence to suggest that Denmark Vesey in fact had sailed in and out of Haiti. Haiti, of course, had the first successful slave revolt in the hemisphere, minimally, 1791 to 1804, and established an abolitionist state. It was circa 1822 that Denmark Vesey was fingered for trying to conspire with other Africans, including enslaved Africans, to revolt and engage in a mass fleeing to Haiti. There’s also evidence to suggest that in the process, they were going to try to get their own form of reparations by taking some valuables with them. But the plot was betrayed, the conspirators were executed, and Denmark Vesey, who had played a pivotal role in the founding of Mother Emanuel AME Church, was amongst those who were executed. And, of course, after that, the church was razed, that is to say, torched.
FLETCHER: And, Chip, what is this Council of Conservative Citizens, and why don’t more of us know about it?
BERLET: Well, partly because there’s just cowardice in the mainstream journalist profession to talk about who they really are. They are the voice of white supremacy with a three-piece suit in America. The New York Times, in an act of journalistic cowardice, referred to them as white /ˈprɛməsi/, you know, /ˈprɛməsi/. They’re white supremacists. The words terrorism and white supremacy need to be used in talking about the Charleston massacre. And so the Council of Conservative Citizens is the successor group to the Citizens’ Councils, known as the White Citizens’ Councils in the South, which opposed the civil rights movement, and they were in essence the above-ground voice of the Ku Klux Klan.
FLETCHER: Now, in the photograph that Roof had of himself, he had these two symbols, one of which I was sort of stunned by, the flag of Rhodesia and the flag of apartheid South Africa.
HORNE: He also had a website where he titled himself the last Rhodesian, you may recall.
FLETCHER: That’s right.
HORNE: It’s striking to note that when that particular British colony was founded in the 1890s, euro Americans played a huge role in the founding. Likewise, it’s important to note that euro Americans also were involved in the late 1890s at the same time during the so-called Boer rebellion against British rule in South Africa. Interestingly enough, euro Americans were also involved in the founding of the Kenya colony, which takes place more or less at the same time.
I think one of the unfortunate lost aspects of history is the pivotal role that white Americans have played in forging white supremacy globally, on a global scale. And it’s also worth noting that during the liberation war that led to the creation of Zimbabwe, when there was a revolt against the white minority rule that existed in what was then called Southern Rhodesia, that it is estimated that hundreds, if not thousands, of euro Americans flocked to southern Africa to try to suppress African majority rule.
BERLET: [snip] –so if we fast-forward to the 1960s and the civil rights movement and the resistance to it is that Rhodesia and South Africa were used by racist white ideologues as examples of what would happen if they went black, which was that there’d be a wave of murders and the countries would collapse. There was fear mongering that the loss of white rule in these white colonial white supremacist nations was really an important organizing drive against the civil rights movement in the ’60s.
FLETCHER: [snip] a recurrence of a phenomenon with which we’re familiar, where when white right-wingers carry out an act of terror or are alleged to have carried out an act of terror, there is this immediate attempt by the mainstream media to psychoanalyze this person, to explore what might have been motivating them. And it’s unlike anything that happens when there’s any kind of act of terror committed by anyone else.
HORNE: What’s striking is that there’s no analysis today, even after the controversy and the bloodshed, about the paradox and contradiction that those who consider themselves the most stalwart and staunch patriots, that is to say, those in Dixie, patriots of the United States of America, are also devotees of the regime that tried to overthrow the United States of America, the Confederate States of America.
I think you resolve that paradox by trying to understand what they won’t say, which is that the United States was formed on the principle of African slavery, and they were formed on the principle of African slavery, and that’s what gives them confidence that they’re the rightful inheritors of the United States of America. And that’s what also leads to this heralding of–and throughout the South, where I’m speaking to you now, there are Confederate monuments all over the place. As a matter of fact, there are more monuments to the Confederacy than there are to the United States. And I think that that bespeaks a number of things. One, it bespeaks the number kind of counterrevolution that has become part of the credo of the United States of America. That is to say, you can overthrow the United States if you’re trying to go backwards to, say, the Confederate States of America, but movement forward is a no-no. And secondly, I think these monuments are an essential part of what Du Bois called the wages of whiteness. That is to say, people like Dylann Roof, the suspect in this case, he is a declassed element, an intermittently employed landscaper, obviously not wealthy. But there is a psychological wage that Du Bois talked about in terms of whiteness. And having these monuments spread all over the place helps to reinforce that and give him the idea that it least he’s not black and has no fear of being enslaved and no fear of being dubbed inferior.
And I think that hopefully the movement to replace all these monuments or change all these names will lead to a split in the Republican Party between their right-wing working-class base and these knuckleheads in the state capital, in Columbia, and elsewhere. And that would be a step forward not only for the United States, but for all of humanity.
BERLET: We all know the form of white supremacy of the neo-Nazis and the Klan and people like that, but there’s white supremacy in not just the Republican Party, but in the Democratic Party. In The New York Times, it has the audacity to retreat from calling the Council of Conservative Citizens a white supremacist organization. And you divide that into the Republican Party, the Tea Party, and the militia movement and groups like that, and then the extreme right, the armed insurgents, and what you have is three different modes of white supremacy in a white nationalist society. White nationalism was in Rhodesia. White nationalism was in South Africa. White nationalism is a European modality that was transferred to the United States. And we are, as white Americans, what I am, we are in denial that that is the foundation and the ongoing matrix of what runs American society.
FLETCHER: Now, what concerns me has been for years less these lone wolfs and more groups and movements like the oathers.
BERLET: Yeah, movements that if they were black people would have been rounded up and put behind bars decades ago. I mean, there’s been a double standard for years. There was a white breakaway city in Wisconsin that was run by white people for years before the Wisconsin government decided that, oh, you know, a hundred armed people who have seceded from the state need to be dealt with by testifying in front of the Wisconsin human rights commission about that.
FLETCHER: Tell us who the oathers are.
BERLET: They are a group of law enforcement people who have taken an oath to support the Constitution of the United States as they see it. And the Constitution as they see it and their worldview is one of a conspiracy against law-abiding people by an overarching federal government which is kowtowing to people of color, homosexuals, Jews, and anyone else who doesn’t fit the stereotype of who they want to be an ideal citizen. There are a handful of black people and other people of color in these movements. They do not represent the majority.
FLETCHER: One of the things that has been a source of a great deal of controversy is: how do we deal with right-wing terror? And I would expand it to the issue of right-wing populism in the United States.
HORNE: My own opinion is that politically the correlation of forces right now, as evidenced by the fact that the GOP controls both houses of Congress, it’s not necessarily favorable to progressive forces or forces like myself and yourself. It is evidenced by the defeat of the labor movement or in TPP and the defeat of the labor movement in Wisconsin trying to recall Scott Walker as governor and winding up catapulting him into the front ranks to gain the White House. And we’ve been faced with this situation previously, but previously, of course, we tried to make international connections to lengthen the battlefield, to countervail these ultra right wing forces. And that was part of an overall political strategy that seemingly has been lost.
FLETCHER: Why don’t you explain that a little bit more, Gerald? I don’t want to just move on from that. When you talk about the issue of international connections, what would that mean now in 2015?
HORNE: Well, for example, just a few–you know, like the human rights commission in Geneva, the U.S. authorities were called onto the dock and a number of demands were put to them with regard to the killing of black people by the police in Baltimore, Cleveland, Staten Island, and elsewhere. And within a few weeks, the United States is going to have to respond. We know that historically, slavery would not have collapsed if we just depended on the internal forces of the United States of America. Slavery collapsed because of the growth of the abolitionist movement in Britain, and not least the growth of the abolitionist movement in Haiti. We all know that because of the Cold War dynamic, where Washington was trying to charge Moscow with human rights violations, a dynamic was established whereby the U.S., in order to better accuse Moscow, had to get its own human rights in order.
BERLET: Human rights is–civil rights are a part and civil liberties are both part of human rights. There’s a website called BuildingHumanRights.us. We’re all in this together? Well, it depends on who we are and what your skin color is. But as a progressive community, we should be reaching out to a broader mass of people, including some across the political spectrum, that are willing to hold the United States accountable to what around the world are seen as basic human rights. And we have left this idea of basic human rights away from our organizing agenda for too long when so many people around the world fighting oppression have adopted it.
FLETCHER: Chip Berlet, Gerald Horne, thank you both very, very much for joining us on The Global African.
HORNE: Thank you.
BERLET: Thank you.
FLETCHER: And thank you for joining us for this segment of The Global African. I’m your host, Bill Fletcher. And we’ll be back in a minute.
FLETCHER: In 1968, New York PBS affiliate WNET aired SOUL!, the first African-American variety TV show. SOUL! showcased African-American dance, music, and literature and is accredited with having brought forth a consciousness of black power to television through the expression of culture, thoughts, and politics. Notable black artists, such as Stevie Wonder, Earth, Wind & Fire, The Dells, Gladys Knight, performed on the show and contributed to much of the show’s success. More than 65 percent of African-American households with access to the show were tuning in to watch it on a regular basis, and by 1970 SOUL! was airing on 72 public television stations. In 1973, the show came to an end and host Ellis Haizlip bid farewell to his loyal followers.
George Washington University professor Gayle Wald has just published a book titled It’s Been Beautiful. In it, she examines the historic TV program. And today she joins us to share just what she has found and interpreted.
And we’re here with Professor Gayle Wald, who is a professor of English at George Washington University. She is an author and wrote Shout, Sister, Shout!: The Untold Story of Rock-and-Roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe. And she also authored Crossing the Line: Racial Passing in Twentieth-Century U.S. Literature and Culture.
Thank you for joining us.
GAYLE WALD, PROF. ENGLISH, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIV.: Thanks for having me.
FLETCHER: So tell us about SOUL!.
WALD: Well, originally it was the idea of a producer, a white producer at WNET, then WNDT in New York, Channel 13. But after Ellis Haizlip, the producer, was hired to come on–the original idea was for a quote-unquote black Tonight Show. And Ellis Haizlip, the producer, was hired and decided to redo the whole notion of a variety show. So basically the vision for SOUL! was to have a one hour weekly variety show that was really going to showcase kind of a wide diversity of arts, culture, politics, talk, but it was going to do things in a totally new way. It was going to juxtapose talk and culture in a kind of innovative way. It was going to give dancers and poets and musicians a chance to kind of do their thing without having to kind of do their hit on TV and then just run off the stage, something like that, so to really stretch out. And it was going to, through, like, the careful programming choices, create a kind of conversation, through the way that it presented black culture, about black culture itself.
FLETCHER: The politics of this show–how would you describe the politics of it?
WALD: I mean, I think the politics, they were definitely–the people working on the show, Haizlip, they had–he was at Howard in the ’50s for this kind of, like, early moment in the freedom movement, where he had a kind of very experiment–got a kind of exposure to lots of things. And I think the show’s politics were progressive, but the idea was not to draw lines. And so one of the–so that it had a wide variety of political actors, and also artists with different political sensibilities on TV. So, for example, it had cultural nationalists next to Marxists, next to people from the church who had a different, kind of theological approach to civil rights, next to kind of old guard civil rights figures. So it included a Harry Belafonte, a Stokely Carmichael, a Kathleen Cleaver, a Louis Farrakhan.
And so one of the fascinating things is the way that the show kind of said this is all part of the movement.
FLETCHER: And what happened to the show?
WALD: Well, that’s a longer story. The short version is that by the early ’70s, of course, Nixon had been elected president. Public broadcasting was maturing or calcifying, depending on how you see it, from a kind of system of, like, kind of loosely connected production centers and distribution centers into something more centralized. And the Corporation for Public Broadcasting was created. It was supposed to be a neutral administrator of federal funds.
Once that came into place, SOUL! was subject to the kind of federal eyes and political eyes, not that it hadn’t been before, but in a new way. So by 1969, as early as 1969, there are people who speak for the interests of public broadcasting who are beginning to say, well, this format of an all-black television show is passe, because we live now in an integrated society. We’re in a post-civil rights moment. So SOUL! actually ironically gets canceled so that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting can invest in a show called Interface. And the idea of Interface was to have an interracial or interethnic dialog.
FLETCHER: Did SOUL! inspire other programs to the extent that you can determine it?
WALD: Yeah, you know, I think it did, maybe in an unusual way. I don’t think that there was any program that took up the mantle of SOUL! I think it was very difficult. It was the only show of the era to focus on black culture, to showcase black culture.
On the other hand, SOUL! was an important training ground for a lot of young people who were going to go on and do things. So the poet Nikki Giovanni, who had just begun to self-publish her poetry, became a kind of minor celebrity on SOUL! Ashford & Simpson, the singing group that came out of Motown, who were friends with Ellis Haizlip, they did their first, like, kind of national gig as a duo on SOUL! Anna Horsford, the actress, she was a production assistant on SOUL! Stan Lathan, the director who would go on to do Def Poetry Jam on HBO came out of SOUL! He was the first black director on SOUL! So it was this–Haizlip mentored a lot of people and he gave a lot of people their first opportunities to work in TV, whether it was as writers, secretaries, camera operators, whatever.
FLETCHER: Did someone come to you do with the idea for the book? Or did you go to a publisher and say, I’ve got an idea?
WALD: I went to the publisher and said, I’ve got an idea. What happened is that I found out about SOUL! and thought, wow–there’s this incredible–first of all, it’s totally written out of the history of television. The episodes of SOUL! that exist over these five transitional and intense years from ’68 to ’73 are a kind of archive of the period. And for me, one of the things I was excited about is how watching these TV shows gave me, at least, a different, more nuanced view into that moment.
So, for example, Haizlip was a gay man. And there’s an amazing episode with Farrakhan where Haizlip kind of says to him, I know that you recruit people into the Nation of Islam from prison, and we know that men and women in prison have homosexual relationships. What do you think of that? So a kind of provocative question.
WALD: And I’ve timed it. Farrakhan has–and this is before an audience–I should say that SOUL! was always filmed before a live audience, and the audience in this case is, just from the dress of the audience, all Nation of Islam. And so Farrakhan delivers, like, a four minute diatribe against homosexuality. And at the end of the diatribe–and it’s very powerful, and he’s incredibly charismatic, and you see people in the audience, like, sitting up straighter and feeling empowered by the vision that he’s offering. And at the end of it–except that there’s Ellis Haizlip. And at the end of it, they have this, like, moment where Ellis Haizlip says, you’re incredible. The crowd is clapping. He says, your incredible. And then they do, like, a soul handshake.
And so, for me that’s a really telling moment of, like, well, there’s these kind of modes of sociability and there’s a texturedness to the ways that people are relating that–I think historians are still trying to figure out a way of talking about that. So that’s what I find so beautiful about this archive is that you can see some of this.
FLETCHER: Well, thank you very much for joining us. This is–it’s really quite fascinating.
WALD: Thank you so much for having me.
FLETCHER: Yeah. Our pleasure, absolutely.
And thank you for joining us for this episode of The Global African. I’m your host, Bill Fletcher. And we’ll see you next time. Take care.
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