Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Merritt College and the Birth of the West Coast Black Consciousness/liberation Movement

We can say between the Black Panther Party and the West coast Black Arts Movement that also came out of Merritt, we shook up the world! Yes, the Black Panthers came out of Merritt, the Black Arts
Movement (west coast) came out of Merritt and Black studies came out of Merritt. No wonder the college was moved from the Hood to the hills.

Attorney Donald Warden (aka Khalid Abdullah Tariq al Mansour),
Chairman of the Afro-American Association centered at Merritt College. 
The AAA developed from a group of brothers attending UC Berkeley's Bolt Law School.

Merritt College was the hotbed of Black Nationalism, initiated by Donald
Warden's Afro-American Association that deeply influenced all the
above. When Eldridge Cleaver was released from prison, 1966, he
and I established the Black House, a political/cultural center in San
Francisco that was briefly the headquarters of the Black Arts
Movement and later the Sf headquarters of the Black Panther Party.

Eldridge Cleaver and Marvin X, circa 1977

When Eldridge Cleaver was released from prison, 1966, he and Marvin X established the Black House, a political/cultural center in San Francisco that was briefly the headquarters of the Black Arts
Movement and later the Sf headquarters of the Black Panther Party.

Amiri Baraka and Marvin X worked bi-coastal to establish the Black Arts Movement.
Baraka established the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/school in Harlem. Marvin X and 
playwright Ed Bullins established Black Arts West Theatre in the Fillmore, 1966, and
with Eldridge Cleaver, established the Black House in San Francisco, 1967. Baraka
came West to work at San Francisco State University on the BSU's Communications Project.
Marvin arrived in Harlem, 1968, to work at the New Lafayette Theatre. His BAM colleagues
included Askia Toure, Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, Ed Bullins, Barbara Ann Teer, Larry Neal,
Nikki Giovanni, Mae Jackson, the Last Poets, Milford Graves and Sun Ra.

As per the Black Arts Movement literature, two key journals came out of Merritt, Soulbook magazine writers were at Merritt, including Bobby Seale, Ken Freeman, Carol
Freeman, Ernest Allen and Marvin X. Richard Thorne wrote in Negro
Digest, Adam David Miller had the Aldridge Players West and taught
at Merritt. Poet Sarah Webster Fabio taught Black Studies at
Merritt. The brothers who founded Black Dialogue Magazine (Abdul
Sabry, Aubrey LaBrie and Marvin X) had transferred to San Francisco
State University from Merritt.  The Journal of Black Poetry evolved from
Black Dialogue. 

The Black Panther Party was critical in the establishment of Black Studies at Merritt College, but San FranciscoState University was first to establish Black Studies on a major college campus, suffering an eight month violent strike to do so!

Ed Howard


You bring back fond memories.

Too bad Merritt has changed “Black Studies” to “African-American Studies” (closer to Melville Herskovits’s “Afroamerican Studies” (1957), or even “African Studies” (1947). I seem to remember reading where Howard even had something called “Negro Studies” before then (see the groundbreaking article on Negro Colleges by Harvard professors, Reisman and Jencks, in the Harvard Educational Review (circa 1966/1967). I know they had a master’s degree in “African Affairs” (including three African languages) when I went to teach there in 1961. Two years earlier I had been a typist for the Journal of Asian Studies, housed at Northwester, Melville Herskovits’s haunt.  My wife and I had just been sharing an apartment with a couple from Lincoln University, the man a postman, and anytime he cornered me alone he was marveling about something Melville Herskovits had said when he was a visiting professor at Lincoln.

I don’t know what we would call the course I had in “Negro History” (Carter G. Woodson’s textbook) in 1948 at Tousssaint L’Ouversture High -- then a part of the “Slick Separate Schools of Creek County” (Oklahoma). Or the course in “Race Relations” at the University of Chicago in 1956. Where I was the only black student when a  white professor, an E. Franklin Frazier classmate, almost daily spoke of “Bourgeoisie Noir” (to be translated with acclaim in America the following year as “Black Bourgeoisie.)”  

Indeed, I had what we might call independent study in blackness the first grade at Toussaint l’Ouverture elementary school (where each morning our daily devotion would be devoted to singing Negro songs and reciting Negro poetry and Miss Ruff’s touting of Nat Turner and John Brown. Miss Ruff had told us we would pass from 1st to 2nd once we had completed the textbook (Dick and Jane or Tom and Spot, don’t recall just which). However, she would have us recite the two pages she presumed we had gone home and learned the night before, let alone to pace herself like psychotherapists traditionally leave ten minutes to take care of office chores and go to the restroom in the “hour” devoted to a session (The 50 Minute Hour).

One day Miss Ruff was making costumes for the eighth grade play and had two 8th grade students handling our daily reading recitations. They being female, I chose the opportunity to show off and kept right on reading and reading. Finally one called out to the teacher: “Miss Ruff, how many pages do they read?”  Not looking up she replied: “As much as they can.” I continued through the book. However, my sister was in the second grade, having been kept back a year due to a ringworm epidemic that had swept our community. So Miss Ruff held me in the first grade but gave me the run of the big white book cabinet pretty much all day, where I would read each as I wished independently and soon found delight in stories and pictures of little black children in books that had been published by a place in Okemah, Oklahoma (a so-called “Sundown Town” –  where the sign read: “Nigger, don’t let the sun set on you here”, or “Nigger, read and run; if you can’t read, run anyway.)”  

I would never see copies of those books until 1965, in a SNCC “Freedom School” in the basement of a predominantly white Unitarian Church in Washington D.C. And I have never seen a copy of them since.

The struggle continues.


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