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 The first and fundamental convictions of the political tactician fighting for human rights

of the people are: (1) Progress can be brought about only by revolution; (2) Revolutions

can only be started by incidents; (3) Incidents can be created only by martyrs.



Books by Chester Himes

If He Hollers Let Him Go!  /  Cotton Comes to Harlem  / Rage in Harlem  / The Third-Generation  / Cast the First Stone

The Quality of Hurt: The Early Years: Autobiography  / My Life of Absurdity-Autobiography  /  The Collected Stories of Chester-Himes

The End of a Primitive  /  Yesterday Will Make You Cry  /  Lonely Crusade  /  Conversations with Chester Himes

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Negro Martyrs Are Needed  

By Chester Himes


Martyrs are needed to create incidents. Incidents are needed to create revolutions. Revolutions are needed to create progress.

These are the tactics devised by people of the world who wanted freedom. No one has denied that these are the best tactics to employ for the attainment of this end; it has been proved that these are the only tactics to bring about such attainment.

The American colonials were not the first to recognize the singularity of these tactics, but they were the first to use them effectively for the benefit of a large number of people. Since the American Revolution they have become the ABC's of political advancement throughout the world. The first and fundamental convictions of the political tactician fighting for human rights of the people are: (1) Progress can be brought about only by revolution; (2) Revolutions can only be started by incidents; (3) Incidents can be created only by martyrs.

Of all the oppressed groups of people in the world today, racial, religious, and political, the thirteen million Negro Americans are the only group who have not yet employed these tactics in some manner or other in the quest for democratic equality. This is one of the strangest conditions in history. No serious unbiased scholar will deny that the Negro American have been the most oppressed minority group in the world for the past three hundred and twenty-three years. But yet no intelligent politician will deny that there is no other manner in which Negro Americans can release themselves from oppression.

Let us consider what a Negro Revolution will be and what it will do.

First, I must point out the possible ways of existence for all people. There are only three:

(1)   Wherein everyone is free. As of today, citizens of the communist dominated socialist state of the U. S. S. R have come closest to this goal. However, it does not matter whether the structure is communistic, socialistic, or democratic; this is the most preferable way of existence for the majority of people of the world.

(2)   Wherein a ruling class or race is free. This is the point to which citizens of the United States of America and the British Empire have advanced. Outwardly, this would seem preferable to the ruling class or race. But the fallacy of that is that this is not a fixed stage of existence; it is a pivot of change. The ruling class or race must share their freedom with everyone in order to preserve it; or they must give it up.

(3)   Wherein no one is free. Loosely we may say that this comprises dictatorships and imperialistic nations, especially if they are at this time our enemies. It is generally agreed that less than one-tenth of one percent of the people of the world prefer this way of existence; so we may state for point of argument that no one prefers it.

Aim of Revolution

There can be only one (I repeat: Only one) aim of a revolution by Negro Americans. That is the enforcement of the Constitution of the United States. At this writing no one has yet devised a better way of existence than contained in the Constitution. Therefore Negro Americans could not revolt for any other reason. This is what a Negro American Revolution will be: A revolution by a racial minority for the enforcement of the democratic laws already in existence.

What will a revolution by Negro Americans do:

(1)   Bring about the overthrow of our present form of government and the creation of a communistic state. A communistic organization of immense proportions already exists in this nation.

“I therefore defined,” Engels wrote, “the objectives of the communists in this way:

(1)   To achieve the interests of the proletariat in opposition to those of the bourgeoisie;

(2)   To do this through the abolition of private property and its replacement by community goods;

(3)   To recognize no means of carrying out these objects other than a democratic revolution by force.”

It is obvious that the Communist party of America will attempt to direct any revolution, whether by Negro Americans or any other group to the accomplishment of these aims. It is equally obvious that in any nation where great numbers of people are oppressed the Communists have fair chances of success.

(2)   Bring about the overthrow of our present form of government and the creation of a dictatorship

The first reaction of the people who are endeavoring to continue the existence of white supremacy in all its vicious destructiveness will be to stamp out this revolution with a maximum of violence and a minimum of mercy. Many Negroes will be shot. Many will be imprisoned. The remainder will be literally enslaved. If these people are successful.

But what is more to be feared in the historic progress of the human race: At this pivot of change where we now exist we will cease to go forward and go back. Law, order, decency, all the democratic principles which we have so far developed in this nation will be destroyed. The white race will become barbarians. The darker race slaves.

When people become barbarians they can no longer govern themselves. They respect only might. The strongest, the most deadly, most vicious, most cunning, most murderous, will become the ruler. He will rule as long as he is feared.

(3)   It may be successful and bring about the enforcement of the Constitution, democratic equality, and the acceptance of the democratic way of existence by all the citizens of the nation.

For this to happen it will be necessary that the majority of the people of the United States believe in democracy and will join with us in the bringing about its establishment. In this event a Negro Revolution will cease to be a revolution and become a movement of the people to stamp out injustices, inequalities, and violations of our laws. The people who would try to prohibit the people from so doing would become rebels, traitors, secessionists, and would be dealt with accordingly.

If the majority of the people of the United States do not believe in democracy as the best way of existence, we will not achieve democratic equality in any event. So we are forced to begin our thinking here; we have no other point from which to begin.

Martyrs Are Needed 

At this point Negro martyrs are needed. The martyr to create incidents which will mobilize the forces of justice and carry us forward from the pivot of change to a way of existence wherein everyone is free.

It is obvious that we can not stay here; we’ve got to go somewhere. If we cannot of our own accord go forward, we will against our own will be pushed backward.

The first step backwards is riots. Riots are not revolutions. In the best sense revolutions are the renunciation of the existing evil of governments by the governed. Revolutions are not necessarily brought about by force of arms. They may be successfully accomplished by the manifest will of the people. In the event of a Negro American Revolution it is to be hoped there will be no shooting.

Riots are tumultuous disturbances of the public peace by unlawful assemblies of three or more persons in the executions of private objects--such as race hatreds. No matter who passes the first blow or fires the first shot, riots between white and blacks occur only for one reason: Negro Americans are firmly convinced that they have no access to any physical protection which they do not provide for themselves.  It is a well-known and established fact that this conviction is rooted in history: Negroes in fact do not have any protection from physical injury inflicted by whites other that that which they provide from themselves.

It is a rather deadly joke among Negroes (especially since the Detroit riots) that the first thing to do in case of a race riot is to call the police to shoot them . . . “Man, what you mean call the police; them the people gonna kill you . . .”

White citizens who believe in democracy (and white citizens who do not believe in democracy but do not want to have race riots) can stop race riots whenever and wherever they occur by simply appearing on the scene and making it apparent to the white persons thus engaged that they do not approve. The reason for this is obvious: White persons who incite and engage in race riots are in the minority, but they are firmly convinced that the majority of white people morally support their actions. As a consequence most Negro Americans clearly realize that white citizens who stay at home and remain quiet during riots are morally as guilty as those who yield clubs and fire the guns.

Negro martyrs are needed to assemble these white citizens who believe in democracy and stay home; and to inspire them to fight for their beliefs.

Martyrs Are Rare  

It is necessary that such a Negro martyr be a person of integrity who loves freedom enough to make any sacrifice to attain it. Preferably, he should be a Negro leader, a person reasonably intelligent by the accepted standards, one who is well known to Negro and white Americans alike and who can not be ignored by either white or Negro media of news distribution. He must be a Negro who will not compromise, and who does not mind embarrassing his white liberal friends who sincerely believe that “adaptation” or “evolution” is the best policy for Negroes to follow. And, of course, he must be a Negro who will not sell out. Therefore we must get our lanterns.

He must be solidly supported by the Negro middle class for there is no Negro leader solidly supported by the Negro lower class. Not only should he be solidly supported by this group, but so identified with them as to make it impossible for them to abandon him. 

It is apparent that the Negro middle class must be out in front in any Negro American revolution, so this must be fixed in mind, and further reasoning must go forward from it. The Negro middle class must accept the responsibility for the successful culmination of any Negro attempt for democratic equality.

Therefore it is of singular importance that members of this group be able to recognize democratic equality when it comes, and not confuse it with social acceptance by members of other groups or races. We have not achieved equality by weekending with our white friends and drinking their liquor or flirting with their wives. In fact, many of us who are Negro American wish to retain the right to choose our house guest and paramours as much as any white American.

The incident, of course, must be a denial of some rights guaranteed to every citizen of the United States by the Constitution, such as the right of any decent, honest person to live wherever he chooses, or the right of a citizen to vote or serve on juries. Incidents such as an unjust accusation of rape serve no primary purpose other than to agitate or inflame and fix no constructive precedent for progress. 

The martyr must take a stand and refuse to yield. The Negro middle class must come to his assistance, also refusing to yield, and must influence the Negro lower classes to follow.

What is the utmost of importance is the stand. All of us Negro Americans must take a stand. And after we have made it, we must not give on any point. We must not compromise a breath. After all, we have nothing to lose, except our lives, and one preferable change to win: Democratic equality.              

Source: Gerald Early. Speech and Power

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The Last Holiday: A Memoir

By Gil Scott Heron

Shortly after we republished The Vulture and The Nigger Factory, Gil started to tell me about The Last Holiday, an account he was writing of a multi-city tour that he ended up doing with Stevie Wonder in late 1980 and early 1981. Originally Bob Marley was meant to be playing the tour that Stevie Wonder had conceived as a way of trying to force legislation to make Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday. At the time, Marley was dying of cancer, so Gil was asked to do the first six dates. He ended up doing all 41. And Dr King's birthday ended up becoming a national holiday ("The Last Holiday because America can't afford to have another national holiday"), but Gil always felt that Stevie never got the recognition he deserved and that his story needed to be told. The first chapters of this book were given to me in New York when Gil was living in the Chelsea Hotel. Among the pages was a chapter called Deadline that recounts the night they played Oakland, California, 8 December; it was also the night that John Lennon was murdered.

Gil uses Lennon's violent end as a brilliant parallel to Dr King's assassination and as a biting commentary on the constraints that sometimes lead to newspapers getting things wrong.Jamie Byng, Guardian

Gil_reads_"Deadline" (audio)  / Gil Scott-Heron & His Music  Gil Scott Heron Blue Collar  Remember Gil Scott- Heron

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In this urgent new book, Noam Chomsky surveys the dangers and prospects of our early twenty-first century. Exploring challenges such as the growing gap between North and South, American exceptionalism (including under President Barack Obama), the fiascos of Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S.-Israeli assault on Gaza, and the recent financial bailouts, he also sees hope for the future and a way to move forward—in the democratic wave in Latin America and in the global solidarity movements that suggest "real progress toward freedom and justice." Hopes and Prospects is essential reading for anyone who is concerned about the primary challenges still facing the human race. "This is a classic Chomsky work: a bonfire of myths and lies, sophistries and delusions. Noam Chomsky is an enduring inspiration all over the world—to millions, I suspect—for the simple reason that he is a truth-teller on an epic scale. I salute him." —John Pilger

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The White Masters of the World

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By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

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update 17 April 2012




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Related files:     Freedom Vision (Chester Himes)   The Need for Martyrs   Freedom Vision (Chester Himes)  The Dark Role of Excess in Literary Marketplace