by Marvin X
Marvin X appears in the film
On orders from Gov. Ronald Reagan, Marvin X was removed from lecturing at Fresno State University, 1969, along with Angela Davis, who was removed from the University of California,
"A notable and articulate advocacy of black conscientious objection came from
the Nation of Islam. In 1942 Elijah Muhammad was arrested in Chicago and
convicted of sedition, conspiracy and violation of the draft laws. After
serving time in a federal penitentiary until 1946, Muhammad continued in his
beliefs. Two decades later he vigorously urged his followers to refuse
participation in the Vietnam War. Among those who listened were world
heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali and Marvin X."
--Lorenzo Thomas, University of Houston, TX
According to Dr. Mohja Kahf, Marvin X's Fly to Allah, 1968, is the beginning of the literary genre Muslim American literature. She considers him and BAM poets Amiri Baraka, Askia Toure and Sonia Sanchez as the founders of Muslim American literature, also Sam Hamad. Of course the Autobiography of Malcolm X is iconic, except he didn't write it. Alex Haley wrote it and completed it after Malcolm's assassination, so it is a spurious narrative, although it impacted many lives as a modern "slave narrative".
If my memory is correct, the Black Panthers were at the Black House, San Francisco, when the first issue of the Black Panther Newspaper hit the press. Eldridge Cleaver and I had founded the Black House as a political/cultural center on Broderick Street, 1967, and after I introduced him to Bobby Seale and Huey Newton, co-founders of the BPP and he became Minister of Information. The Black House morphed into the San Francisco Headquarters of the BPP.
Ethna X. Wyatt, aka Hurriyah Asar, Marvin X's
partner and co-founder of Black Arts West Theatre
and Black House Political/Cultural Center,
San Francisco, 1966-67.
The Black House as a cultural center collapsed from ideological differences so the artists eased on down the road, including playwright Ed Bullins, Ethna Wyatt and myself.
Ed Bullins fled to New York as did many artists, especially musicians, whom I discovered, especially when I hit Harlem myself, were more politically astute than the so called politicos, especially the Panthers who did not recover from their anti-art or war against "cultural nationalists" stance until they attended the Pan African Cultural Festival in Algeria.
She was pregnant with the Baraka's first child, Obalaji, while at the Black House that was visited by such artists and politicos as Sonia Sanchez, Askia Toure, Sarah Webster Fabio, Avotcja, Emory Douglas, Samuel Napier, Judy Juanita, Chicago Art Ensemble, Reginald Lockett, Ellendar Barnes, George Murray, including Alprentice Bunchy Carter, Cleaver's close associate from Soledad Prison.
Cleaver and Bunchy Carter
Alprentice Bunchy Carter
Carter was one of most handsome Black men in the BLM, a former leader of the seven thousand member Los Angeles Slauson Street gang, poet and Cleaver's co-chair of the Soledad Prison
Black Culture Club that was the beginning of the American Prison Movement.
Left to Right: Aubrey LaBrie, Marvin X, Abdul Sabrey, Al Young, Arthur Sheridan (founding editor of Black Dialogue) and Duke Williams. Most ofus were students at San Francisco State College/University when we visited Soledad Prison. There was thus a unity in the Black Liberation Movement between students, prison inmates, Black intellectuals, artists and activists. There can be no revolution until all sectors of the community unite and become one fist, i.e., youth, students, workers, intellectuals, artists, women, progressive bourgeoisie and the spiritual leaders. The staff of Black Dialogue Magazine visited the club at Cleaver's invitation that we received from his lawyer/lover Attorney Beverley Axelrod, to whom he dedicated Soul on Ice and promised to marry upon his release. She smuggled his manuscript out of Soledad in her legal papers. She won a percentage of royalties by default after Cleaver went into exile from America. Of course he met Kathleen Neal and Beverly was out of the picture.
Ironically, a few days before I performed his memorial service in Oakland, her Pacifica house slid down the hill in a mudslide. I didn't know she was at the memorial until years later when I
viewed the video of the memorial. Kathleen and daughter Joju attended the memorial. Kathleen
to Marvin, "This was a nice memorial Marvin, but there were just too many Muslims." Alas,
their son is a Sunni Muslim, Ahmad Eldridge Cleaver.
Kathleen and Eldridge holding
son Ahmad Eldridge Cleaver
Bunchy was killed in the BSU meeting room on the campus of UCLA, along with BPP member John Huggins, supposedly by members of Ron Karenga's US organization, although Geronimo Pratt
Comrade John Huggins
Black Panthers inside the Sacramento Capitol building
The climax in my relationship with Cleaver and the Panthers occurred when I got into a confrontation with Lil' Bobby Hutton over the youth club in the basement. True, the youth were out of control and Hutton told me,"The Supreme Commander, i.e. Huey Newton, said close it down because it could be an excuse for the pigs to raid Black House." Of course Lil' Bobby and the BPP were correct, I was being emotional. We had received information from some progressive Black bourgeoisie sisters that the Black House was indeed going to be raided as they had information the police knew the youth were taking liberties with women or young girls, playing hookie from school and partying in the basement. Years later though, I met those youth who were grown and quite conscious culturally, and they thanked me for their Black House experience.
I identified with the youth and was their mentor, so I told Hutton, "Fuck the Supreme Commander! I'm not closing down shit!" I could see in his eyes, Hutton wanted to get me that instant but restrained himself, saying, "We'll deal with you later, dude!" That night all I heard was the click of 45 automatics outside my door. I wasn't intimidated and didn't give a fuck. I knew I was just as crazy as Huey, Bobby and Eldridge, but shortly after the incident, Eldridge evicted Ed Bullins, Ethna and myself. Ethna and I joined the Nation of Islam. After dropping out of San Francisco State College/now University, I was drafted but under Panther and Nation of Islam influence, I fled to Toronto, Canada, later Mexico City and Belize, from which I was deported and spent five months in jail and Federal prison at Terminal Island. The Panthers said, "We must not only resist the draft but resist arrest as well! Actually, no matter where I was, whether in exile or prison, the task was the same, i.e., to teach the deaf, dumb and blind the reality of our condition. So I did so in Toronto, Mexico City and Belize, Central America. And for doing so, one can be killed, exiled or jailed.
Somehow God saved me to tell this story. Years later, San Francisco County Jail Sheriff Charles Smith (who threw Muhammad Speaks newspaper in my cell during the three months I spent in jail at 350 Bryant Street) told me he attended a Interpol Conference in Belize at which they discussed my presence in Central America.
The killing of Denzil Dowell in Richmond was the first case of pigs killing North American Africans the BPP tackled. Fifty years later, where are we and the police? It seems another Denzil Dowell is murdered by the pigs every day coast to coast. Fifty years ago the Panthers took up arms to defend the community. Before them were brothers in the South such as the Deacons for Defense and Robert Williams in North Carolina (Negroes With Guns).
Since the BPP took up arms, many pigs were killed and many many Black Panther Party members were murdered by the pigs.
Cleaver's passport during his exile
During his exile, Cleaver met the North Vietnamese General
Giap who defeated America in the Vietnam war.
When Eldridge Cleaver returned from exile as a Born Again Christian, I traveled with him throughout the Western hemisphere, America, Canada, Jamaica. After giving his testimony about finding Jesus Christ in the moon, the white Christians would embrace him and confess they used to hate him and Blacks in general but since they were Born Again, they no longer hated him nor Blacks. On one occasion the police confessed they had murder squads who killed Panthers in particular and Blacks in general. The pigs and Cleaver embraced, both exclaiming, "Praise the Lord!"
Because the Born Again pigs and Cleaver confessed their new found love for each other, do not think they trusted him one iota. Before he had me organize his ministry independent of the whites, there were white Born Again Christians who traveled with us to maintain their surveillance of him. After all, he was the Black superstar on the white Born Again Christian circuit.
Charles Colson of Watergate was the other, along with Billy Graham, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Pat Boone, Debbie Boone, Jim and Tammy Baker, et al. I met most of them on more than one occasion. Since Black Christians were mortally afraid to work with Eldridge, as his chief of staff, I hired a crew of fearless Black Muslims that he fronted off as "heathens" he'd converted to Christianity. After giving his testimony, we'd usually have dinner with the white Christians (for a long time, he didn't deal with Black Christians), and they would ultimately turn to me with the question, "Marvin, when did you find the Lord?" And being an actor from Black Arts Movement Theatre, answered, "One Tuesday night!" The Christians would also ease up to me with the question, "Marvin, is Cleaver for real, did he really see Jesus Christ in the moon?" Of course I said yes. They also wanted to know if I was his bodyguard, even though he was twice my size at the time. I told them I was his just his travel companion and photographer, although he did provide me with a 45 automatic I carried in my camera bag.
When he went to Vancouver, Canada for a speaking engagement, they shook us down at the airport returning to the US and shook us down a second time when we arrived at San Francisco airport. They weren't sure Cleaver was truly Born Again and might still be a Communist dedicated to destroying America.
But it was a different feeling having the police greet us in a friendly manner when we arrived at the airport of various cities and accompany us to his engagements. I recently had a positive experience with the police while in Newark, New Jersey for the funeral of Amiri Baraka and also when I returned for the inauguration of his son, Ras Baraka, as Mayor of Newark NJ.
During the funeral, the police were all over the Baraka house as friends and security. Even before becoming Mayor, Ras had told me, "Marvin, we got brothers with legal guns on our side!" Indeed, many Black police supported the Baraka family, the "first family" of Newark, NJ.
Mrs. Amina Baraka told me that since her son became Mayor, the killing of Blacks by the police has stopped. Now it is only Blacks killing Blacks. During the time I was in Newark, I called California to tell friends there was a more positive relationship between the people and the police. They said I was crazy, this was unimaginable. I was tripping, they said. But it was true none the less, the antagonistic relationship between the people and the police in Newark was subsiding.
In Oakland, I recently asked my childhood friend, Paul Cobb, one of the elders in Oakland politics, are there any Black police on our side? He was not able to answer the question. In my mind, there must be some Black officers on the side of the people. They can't all be pigs, devils, beasts in blue uniforms. We know some of them can be won over to the cause of the people. We saw this in Egypt during the short lived Arab Spring. For a moment, the police and people became one.
As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Black Panther Party, we need to think about how we can come to a more civilized relationship with the police, even if it is symbiotic, it need not be totally negative. But the police cannot be allowed to continue their murder of Black people and other minorities under the color of law. Every human being in American has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And every human being has the right to self defense. Must we conclude the police are constitutionally unable to restrain themselves from killing us? Or is it possible for them to reach a higher level of understanding than the beast plane? If they can do it in Newark, they can do it in Oakland and Ferguson. Isaiah said let us reason together.
We know we cannot outgun the police. We saw in the 60s and we see now, the police have plenty back up, i.e., National Guard, Army, Air Force, Navy, FBI, Homeland Security, CIA, snitches and agent provocateurs. Yes, the Panthers in particular and the Black community in general suffered a military defeat during the 60s and 70s. Guns weren't the only weapon: there was disinformation, chemical (drugs) and germ warfare(HIV/STDs), toxic food and water.
Isn't it time to do something that works? Shall we continue doing the same thing but expect different results, the mark of insanity?
Fifty years later, it is almost impossible for me to attend rallies against the police for murdering our young men and women. I applaud people like Oakland's Cat Brooks,Chepus Johnson and the Black Lives Matter Movement. Thank God they have the energy. After fifty years, I'm emotionally and mentally drained, especially after losing my own son to suicide. Imagine, on psycho drugs, he walked into a train, a brilliant young man who graduated from UC Berkeley, attended Harvard and studied in Syria at the University of Damascus. Dr. Nathan Hare says suicide and homicide are but different sides of the same coin, often situational disorders caused oppression. Often homicides are suicides because the person didn't have the never to kill himself so he made someone else do the job. Franz Fanon said the only way the oppressed can regain their mental health is by engaging in revolution to end oppression. Revolution is seizing power. Ras Baraka has demonstrated this in Newark, NJ. And he was blessed with revolutionary parents, so he is well trained for his mission to transform Newark, NJ, a city much like Oakland.
Newark, NJ Mayor Ras Baraka and Marvin X
For sure, we are at war with the oppressor and the police are his first line of defense. Many of us are in denial we are at war until one of our children are killed. The tragedy is that there is no Black family in America that has not been impacted by police actions under the color of law, not to mention incarceration.
We know for a fact police behavior is quite different in the white community than in our community.
I've lived among white people in Castro Valley and they don't even treat Black people the same as they treat us a few miles away in Oakland. The son of a rich friend of mine was repeatedly stopped for speeding and driving without a license in Castro Valley. Did the police kill the boy? No. Did they give him a ticket? No. They called his father to come get the car and his son. Yes, they knew the father was a rich Black man so they treated him with respect. Once the youth had a party that got loud so neighbors called the police. Of course the youth were drinking and smoking. When the police came, they only wanted to know if there was an adult at the house. When I came to the door, the police said, "Are you the adult here, Sir?" I said, "Yes, Sir." The police said, "Good night, Sir."
Now we know money ain't gonna save you all the time, ask Harvard's Skip Gates! But we know if those armed white men in Oregon were Black, they would have surrendered or they'd be dead by now. Still we must make a way out of no way. We cannot continue going to funerals of our children from police homicide under the color of law or Black on Black homicide due to our addiction to white supremacy. We must arise from this morass of savagery. We must regain our self respect and demand others respect us.
I have called for the Red, Black and Green flag to fly up and down the Black Arts Movement Business District along the 14th Street corridor, downtown Oakland. Saluting the flag should help us regain our mental equilibrium and make others, including police, recognize we are a nation of people and must be respected as such. I often give the example of the gay/lesbian flag that flies down Market Street in San Francisco as one goes toward the gay/lesbian community. By the time one gets to the community, one gets the feeling that we must have respect for this community and not engage in homophobic language and behavior. It should and must be the same in the BAM Business District. This must be a sacred space that we must respect. And this vibration must spread throughout our community. I suggest the Red, Black and Green fly throughout our community to let ourselves and the world know we are a people with cultural consciousness, who originated from the womb of civilization. It will help us understand when we kill our brothers and sisters, we kill ourselves. When others kill us, they kill themselves as well. James Baldwin said, "The murder of my child will not make your child safe!"
Marvin X is a poet, playwright, essayist, organizer, one of the founders of the Black Arts Movement. He attended Oakland's Merritt College along with Huey Newton and Bobby Seale. He introduced Eldridge Cleaver to the Black Panthers. He was a member of the Negro Student Association/Black Student Union at San Francisco State University, 1964. Marvin co-founded Black Arts West Theatre, San Francisco, 1966, Black House, San Francisco, 1967, and was a member of Harlem's New Lafayette Theatre, 1968. He taught at Fresno State University, UC Berkeley, UC San Diego, San Francisco State University, Mills College, Laney and Merritt Colleges, Oakland; University of Nevada, Reno. He lectures at colleges and universities coast to coast. Marvin is prolific: he's written 30 books. His current project is the Black Arts Movement Business District, downtown Oakland. He is in the Black Panther film Vanguard of the Revolution directed by Stanley Nelson. See his memoir of Eldridge Cleaver: My friend the Devil, Black Bird Press, 2009, Berkeley CA.