A reading series of radical essays and speeches. Season one highlights six short texts related to Black liberation struggles in the U.S., from Claudia Jones to the Combahee River Collective. Introduced by historians and researchers and read by a range of poets, scholars, and activists. A companion series to Jacobin's People's History Podcast.
6. Assata Shakur — “Women in Prison: How It Is With Us”
Read by Aja Monet and introduced by Jackie Wang.
The teacher, poet, and revolutionary Assata Shakur was born in Flushing Queens. She became a socialist during her college years, and after a visit to the Oakland chapter of the Black Panthers, she joined the Party. Eventually Assata became head of the Harlem Panthers, and went on to join the Black Liberation Army—a loosely organized, underground offshoot of the Black Panthers, which advocated guerilla warfare against the US government.
She became the target of federal surveillance for this work, and was arrested in 1973. She wrote “Women in Prison: How it is With Us” during this period, recounting the experiences of the women she was incarcerated with and the racism that led to their imprisonment—especially the criminalization of their survival and their willingness to defend themselves.
“Women can never be free in a country that is not free. We can never be liberated in a country where the institutions that control our lives are oppressive. We can never be free while our men are oppressed. Or while the amerikan government and amerikan capitalism remain intact. But it is imperative to our struggle that we build a strong Black women’s movement. It is imperative that we, as Black women, talk about the experiences that shaped us; that we assess our strengths and weaknesses and define our own history. It is imperative that we discuss positive ways to teach and socialize our children.” — Assata Shakur
5. The Combahee River Collective Statement
Read and introduced by Beverly Smith, one of the original members of the Combahee River Collective.
For the fifth episode, we sat down with Beverly Smith, one of three co-writers of the 1977 statement. Renowned for its description of oppressions as “interlocking,” the statement serves as both an update on the “triple oppression” that Claudia Jones laid out in 1949, and as an inspiration for Kimberlé W. Crenshaw’s coining of the term “intersectionality” a decade later.
As Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor writes in How We Get Free: “It is difficult to quantify the enormity of the political contribution made by the women in the collective, because so much of their analysis is taken for granted in feminist politics today—especially their description of oppressions as happening ‘simultaneously,’ thus creating new measures of oppression and inequality. In other words, Black women could not quantify their oppression only in terms of sexism or racism, or of homophobia experienced by Black lesbians. They were not ever a single category, but it was the merging or enmeshment of those identities that compounded how Black women experienced oppression.”
4. Fred Hampton — “Power Anywhere There’s People”
Read by Malcolm London and introduced by Asad Haider.
Born in 1948, Fred Hampton was a talented organizer from an early age, brokering peace among street gangs in his hometown of Chicago and striving to build a class-conscious, multiracial movement he called the “rainbow coalition.”
An active Black Panther, Hampton was constantly surveilled by the FBI and Chicago police. He was considered such a threat to national security that, at the age of 21, the FBI and police murdered him in his bed while he slept.
Hampton’s speech “Power Anywhere There’s People” was delivered at a church just a few months before his assassination, and outlines his belief in the importance of engaging the masses through socialist public service programs.
“We have to understand very clearly that there’s a man in our community called a capitalist. Sometimes he’s Black and sometimes he’s white. But that man has to be driven out of our community, because anybody who comes into the community to make profit off the people by exploiting them can be defined as a capitalist. And we don't care how many programs they have, how long a dashiki they have. Because political power does not flow from the sleeve of a dashiki; political power flows from the barrel of a gun. It flows from the barrel of a gun!” — Fred Hampton
3. Jesse Gray — “The Black Revolution: A Struggle for Political Power”
Read by Phillip Agnew and introduced by historian Roberta Gold.
Born in 1923, Jesse Gray made his name in the 1960s as the organizer of the Harlem rent strikes. Involving over 100 buildings, the strikes achieved numerous concessions from the mayor (including the imprisonment of one landlord), but it was Gray’s militant tactics that dominated the newspapers, such as his encouraging of tenants to bring live rats into housing court.
These experiences led Gray to help create the Federation for Independent Political Action, a Black political group. It was at their founding conference in December 1964 that Jesse Gray gave the keynote address, “The Black Revolution: A Struggle for Political Power.” Found in the archives at the Schomburg Center, this is the first time the speech has been reproduced in full.
“We’ve had sit-ins, wade-ins, walk-ins, sleep-ins... and let us just refer to it as the ‘ins.’ The ‘ins’ in my opinion have just about reached an impasse. They have reached an impasse because they have not moved the Black masses. They have failed to move the Black masses because these movements have not reflected their basic needs; rather just the aspirations of the Black middle class—doctors, lawyers, and others who have removed themselves from the masses of the Black ghetto, for whom the concept of equality and integration is a means for their own escape. They still hold the Black masses of the ghetto in contempt.” — Jesse Gray, 1964
2. Jack O'Dell — “The July Rebellions and the ‘Military State’”
Read by poet Joshua Bennett and introduced by Nikhil Pal Singh.
Born in 1923, Jack O’Dell grew up in Detroit before becoming a merchant mariner and joining the National Maritime Union. It was this experience in the labor movement that led O’Dell to begin organizing sharecroppers and poor Black service workers in Alabama and Louisiana. He would later join Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference—until he was forced to leave due to his communist past.
This episode dives into O’Dell’s essay “The July Rebellions and the ‘Military State.’” A searing analysis of the “long hot summer” of 1967 that saw rebellions across the country, O’Dell argues that the violent response of the police was unjustified, and that moves to suppress the uprisings were reactionary.
“This really is one of his most harsh and confrontational essays. When he writes that ‘policemanship as a style of government is no longer confined to a southern way of life,’ he is making clear that racism and white supremacy have actually shaped the nation as a whole. They’re not regionally discrete, or solely a southern question. They have a wider global significance. And O’Dell goes on to emphasize how the oppression that Blacks suffer inside the United States is similar to the conditions that exist in areas of the world that have been struggling against colonialism.” — Nikhil Pal Singh
1. Claudia Jones — “An End to the Neglect of the Problems of the Negro Woman!”
Born in 1915 in Port Au Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, Claudia Jones grew up in Harlem during its renaissance and joined the Communist Party aged 18 before becoming a scholar and activist. After being incarcerated for her work with the party, she was deported in 1955 and found refuge in the United Kingdom. It was here that she founded the longstanding Notting Hill Carnival and made her most famous request: that she would be buried “to the left of Karl Marx.”
Read and introduced by Africana studies professor Carole Boyce Davies.
This episode dives into Claudia Jones’s 1949 essay “An End to the Neglect of the Problems of the Negro Woman!”—an early, woefully understudied text of Black feminist Marxism.
In our interview, Boyce Davies speaks to the importance of the essay: “One of my colleagues who is producing a book on Black feminism wants to date Black feminist thought from this particular essay. One could of course take it back further to Harriet Tubman or even Ida B Wells—but it is Claudia Jones who puts together questions that became central to Black feminist theorizing and the work of people like Angela Davis. Jones builds on classic Marxist thought to define the super-exploitation of the Black woman—how we are exploited not just through class, but through class, race, and gender.”