Studies in Black Southern Radicalism

The tradition of Black radical resistance and liberation struggle is as grounded in the South as collard greens. The startling diversity of its forms and currents have slowly dawned on me as I’ve read the signs and listened carefully to the rhythms.

This morning I reflect on accounts of 18th century resistance in Sylviane Diouf’s Slavery’s Exiles. She writes “It can be said that Africans, and singularly “new Negros”, ran away as soon as they set foot in the Americas.” She devotes a chapter to a community of escaped Black freedom who built and sustained a community in BelleIsle, Georgia during the 1780’s

The study of the various schemes it devised to survive and protect itself when attacked provides an exceptional perspective on maroons’ strategies as they exploited the hinterlands, the borderlands, and the plantations. Moreover the types of settlements its members founded, one of which was a fortified camp comparable to the palenques and mocambos of Latin America, make it a distinctive case among known American maroon communities.

Slavery’s Exiles, Sylviane Diouf

In the geography of my mind, the radical traditions of maroon communities like BelleIsle (yes, Belle Isle is a place contrary to settler mythologies) lived on in the thousands of Black communities that emerged after Emancipation. In Black Reconstruction in America, DuBois presents accounts of how these communities continued the process of radically re-envisioning and re-inventing new ways of being. The radical tradition is evident in the Alabama Black communist workers — house cleaners, cooks, day laborers, sharecroppers, miners, and steel mill workers described by Robin D. G. Kelley in his Hammer and Hoe. Despite Alabama outright banning the Communist party in 1950, Kelly writes

Because the Party remained essentially “invisible” and its opponents made a concerted effort to erase or alter its history, the CP’s legacy is not always easy to locate in Alabama. Nevertheless, on the eve of the so-called modern civil rights movement a few surviving radicals quietly brought their experience, knowledge, and memories to the organizations of the the day. The aging Montgomery Party leader John Beans joined the Montgomery Improvement Association during the bus boycott, and he was joined by several former SNYC (Southern Negro Youth Congress) activists, many of whom recalled the Citizens Committee for Equal Accommodations on Common Carriers founded by SNYC thirteen years earlier.

Hammer and Hoe, Robin D. G. Kelley

The radicalism is apparent in the Atlanta housing activists described in Akira Drake Rodriguez’s Diverging Space for Deviants and in the revolution work in Jackson, Mississippi that Cooperation Jackson still does, analyzed in Jackson Rising. Black Southern resistance is testified to in Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin’s Anarchism and the Black Revolution. The radical work of building Black freedom is an on-going project — as essential to the essence of the Black South as Crunk, Blues, sweet potato pie, or collards. It is as Cedric Robinson writes

the continuing development of a collective consciousness informed by the historical struggles for liberation and motivated by the shared sense of obligation to preserve the collective being, the ontological totality.

Black Marxism: the Making of the Black Radical Tradition, Cedric Robinson

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