Recently, I came across the book, Days of Rage: America’s Radical Underground, the FBI, and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence, by Bryan Burrough. Based upon a book review by David Hines that is thick with detail, Days of Rage is a definite add to my reading list.
Political violence in the U.S. did not begin in the 1970s, or escalate in virulence during that period. America was birthed in revolutionary violence. One hundred years later there was a war between the States that capped off the previous centuries’ violence against African and indigenous people, with mass White on White violence. One hundred years after that war, the brutal violence of 1960s America included regular bombings throughout the South, including a church bombing that killed four young girls, as well as assassination of a President of the United States.
The most intriguing aspect of the violence accounted for in Days of Rage, then, is the framing of the political violence of the 1970s as violence that is not conducted by and for White people, but as organized violence in furtherance of Black liberation. According to the Hines book review, Days of Rage links the culture of violent resistance in the 1970s to the activism of Robert Williams, Malcolm X (though he died in 1965), Stokely Carmichael, H. Rap Brown, Huey Newton, and Eldridge Cleaver. Black men who, no doubt influenced by the recent revolutionary struggles for liberation and decolonization in Africa, pursued Black liberation in the U.S. using the traditional American means of violence.
I would say, then, that the revolutionary anti-colonialist struggles of Black people globally was indirectly connected to the American White mainstream’s anti-imperialist opposition to the war in Vietnam in the late sixties, and was directly connected to the violent struggle for Black liberation in the U.S. in the 1970s, which was, in turn, directly related to the American Right’s doubling down on asserting dominance and control over Brown people internationally, and Black people domestically from the 1980s onward. (Evidence of this doubling down being found in the 1983 U.S. invasion of Grenada, which efficiently communicated the dual message of America’s behooved subjugation of both “Third World” people and Black people. This was the first iteration of Making White America Great Again, you might say.)
The unremembered history of the violence of 1970s America not only provides much needed context for the ascendancy of the Reagan Right, but helps to explain the entrenchment of pacifism that occurred among academic theologians during this time period. As Martin Luther King, Jr. points out in his Letter from Birmingham Jail of 1963, most White theologians of this era were so constrained by a culture of White supremacy that they denounced even nonviolent activism by Black people, in deference to the maintenance of White “order.” If White Theology was passively, yet adamantly, nonaligned with Black people’s nonviolent resistance during the 1960s, then the violent resistance of Black people during the 1970s could have no other effect than to elicit an actively staunch opposition from White Theology.
I am looking forward to reading Days of Rage. I think it will be instructive in many different ways, not least of which will be aiding my understanding of the limits of what Black rage will accomplish.