Young Patriots at the United Front Against Fascism Conference

ypo photo


The fol­low­ing speech was given by William “Preacher­man” Fes­per­man at the United Front Against Fas­cism Con­fer­ence held by the Black Pan­ther Party in Oak­land from July 18-21, 1969.1 Fes­per­man was the field sec­re­tary of the Young Patri­ots Orga­ni­za­tion (YPO) and a for­mer the­ol­ogy stu­dent. The YPO was a Chicago-based group of poor, white, and rev­o­lu­tion­ary south­ern trans­plants. They played a cru­cial role in found­ing the orig­i­nal 1969 Rain­bow Coali­tion, a ground­break­ing alliance ini­ti­ated by the Illi­nois chap­ter of the Black Pan­ther Party, which also for­mally included the Puerto Rican street gang-turned-polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion, the Young Lords, and Ris­ing Up Angry, another group that appealed to work­ing class white youth. The Young Patri­ots are also, because of their explicit iden­ti­fi­ca­tion as “hill­billy nation­al­ists” and sym­bolic adop­tion of the Con­fed­er­ate flag, one of the most fas­ci­nat­ing, con­tro­ver­sial, and under­stud­ied orga­ni­za­tions to emerge from the inter­sec­tion of the New Left stu­dent move­ment, civil rights move­ment, Black Power strug­gles, and new forms of com­mu­nity orga­niz­ing that unfolded over the course of the 1960s in urban neigh­bor­hoods across the United States.

The lack of atten­tion given to the group is under­stand­able; with the excep­tion of a two-page write-up included in the New Left col­lec­tion The Move­ment Towards a New Amer­ica, and a brief state­ment pub­lished at the end of the Black Pan­thers Speak anthol­ogy, very few writ­ings from the YPO are eas­ily avail­able to the pub­lic.2 More­over, until Amy Son­nie and James Tracy’s 2011 work Hill­billy Nation­al­ists, Urban Race Rebels, and Black Power: Com­mu­nity Orga­niz­ing in Rad­i­cal Times, a timely study of rad­i­cal and anti-racist activism dur­ing the 1960s and 70s within work­ing class white com­mu­ni­ties in Chicago, Philadel­phia, and New York, and Jakobi Williams’s recent book From the Bul­let to the Bal­lot: The Illi­nois Chap­ter of the Black Pan­ther Party and Racial Coali­tion Pol­i­tics in Chicago, one of the only full accounts of the his­tory of the Chicago Rain­bow Coali­tion, very lit­tle in-depth his­tor­i­cal care had been paid to the group.3 Repub­lish­ing this vital archival text is a small attempt toward fill­ing said void in the schol­ar­ship.

But just as impor­tant, we wager that, given renewed atten­tion to racism, the lega­cies of the South, and the Con­fed­er­ate flag today, dis­en­tan­gling the vis­i­ble con­tra­dic­tions of the YPO and ana­lyz­ing their role as a key con­stituency of the Rain­bow Coali­tion can help us demar­cate cer­tain posi­tions within con­tem­po­rary debates about rad­i­cal his­tory, orga­niz­ing strat­egy, and polit­i­cal iden­tity. In our cur­rent con­junc­ture, the idea of white and black rad­i­cals ral­ly­ing side-by-side around cries of “Black Power to black peo­ple!” and “White Power to white peo­ple!,” as the Chicago Black Pan­thers and the Young Patri­ots did, seems absolutely unthink­able; but to dis­miss this as mere anachro­nism would be to over­look a piv­otal episode in Amer­i­can polit­i­cal activism and thus dis­re­gard what “strate­gic traces” and resources this expe­ri­ence could hold.4 To be able to inves­ti­gate the YPO fur­ther, and under­stand how such a mul­tira­cial assem­blage of groups like the Rain­bow Coali­tion was pos­si­ble in the first place, we should heed the advice of Cha-Cha Jimenez, leader of the Young Lords: “in order to under­stand [the Young Patri­ots], you have to under­stand the influ­ence of nation­al­ism.”5 This also requires us to chart the speci­fic orga­ni­za­tional forms and styles of polit­i­cal work that this nation­al­ism assumed.


Formed in 1968, the YPO quite con­sciously mod­elled itself after the Pan­thers by com­bin­ing rev­o­lu­tion­ary nation­al­ism and com­mu­nity defense as a polit­i­cal strat­egy, and in their view­ing of the “pig power struc­ture” as a com­mon enemy for both poor whites and African Amer­i­cans. The YPO was also marked by the speci­fic con­di­tions of rad­i­cal pol­i­tics in Chicago where the “orga­nize your own” activist model, famously advo­cated by SNCC in its later phase, meant not iden­tity-based essen­tial­ism but a forg­ing of con­nec­tions across class, race, and eth­nic lines. This is reflected in the YPO’s own 11-Point Pro­gram, which, while mod­eled on the orig­i­nal ver­sion put forth by the Oak­land Pan­thers, con­tained a promi­nent addi­tion. Fol­low­ing demands for full employ­ment, bet­ter hous­ing con­di­tions, pris­on­ers’ rights, and an end to racism, the Patri­ots also pro­claimed that “rev­o­lu­tion­ary sol­i­dar­ity with all the oppressed peo­ples of this and all other coun­tries and races defeats the divi­sions cre­ated by the nar­row inter­ests of cul­tural nation­al­ism.” This prin­ci­ple of shared spheres of strug­gle and a divi­sion of polit­i­cal labor – a rel­a­tive auton­omy or inde­pen­dence at the com­mu­nity level – became dri­ving fea­tures of the “rain­bow pol­i­tics” devel­oped in Chicago.6 As opposed to the frus­tra­tions that many white rad­i­cals expressed con­cern­ing the new orga­niz­ing model pro­posed by SNCC and other Black Power groups, the YPO and a broader net­work of com­mu­nity activists treated it as an oppor­tu­nity for polit­i­cal exper­i­men­ta­tion from their own social posi­tion or frame: an open­ing to col­lec­tively think through the most effec­tive strate­gies for united action and novel forms of sol­i­dar­ity pol­i­tics, as well as the con­struc­tion of par­tic­i­pa­tory projects around the very real and speci­fic prob­lems fac­ing south­ern migrants that wouldn’t be eas­ily solved.

These ini­tial con­sid­er­a­tions gen­er­ate an obvi­ous ques­tion: on what grounds could the Patri­ots see them­selves as white rev­o­lu­tion­ary nation­al­ists? How could they claim sol­i­dar­ity with the strug­gles being fought in the name of national lib­er­a­tion by oppressed groups at home and abroad? After all, the YPO’s stu­dent activist con­tem­po­raries in the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Youth Move­ment (RYM) – a sec­tion of Stu­dents for a Demo­c­ra­tic Soci­ety (SDS) which later split into the Weather Under­ground and a num­ber of orga­ni­za­tions in the New Com­mu­nist Move­ment – took a rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent approach, the­o­riz­ing white­ness as a “rul­ing-class social con­trol for­ma­tion” born of strate­gic alliances con­sol­i­dated under the ban­ner of white racial iden­tity. Though these emerg­ing ten­den­cies agreed that white­ness con­ferred priv­i­leges on this sec­tor of the work­ing class, and that such ben­e­fits pre­sented a seri­ous obsta­cle to rev­o­lu­tion­ary class pol­i­tics, they dis­agreed in their strate­gic assess­ments of how to pro­ceed. The Weather Under­ground advo­cated for a com­plete divorce of white rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies from the white work­ing class. But the rest of RYM, ral­lied around the future lead­er­ship of the Sojourner Truth Orga­ni­za­tion, argued that the ben­e­fits bestowed by white supremacy ulti­mately proved to be a trap, a betrayal of any pro­le­tar­i­ans’ “real inter­ests.”7 So how did the YPO arrive at and rec­on­cile such a het­ero­dox posi­tion?

The answer lies in the fact that the Patri­ots had a coher­ent regional iden­tity around which to orga­nize, and one with a his­tory that often took on rad­i­cal polit­i­cal valences: its mem­ber­ship was com­posed of south­ern migrants mainly from Appalachia, whose fam­i­lies had set­tled in the Uptown neigh­bor­hood of Chicago, a major hub along the north­bound route dubbed the “hill­billy high­way.” His­tor­i­cally, Appalachia has had a fraught rela­tion­ship to other regions of the South, espe­cially in terms of racial for­ma­tion and ide­o­log­i­cal per­spec­tive; often, its inhab­i­tants were marked as dis­tinct from other white, Anglo-Saxon groups, and this pro­duced com­bat­ive expres­sions of both “national iden­tity” – as “moun­tain peo­ple” – and at times, expres­sions of dis­con­tent against eco­nomic and state author­i­ties and sol­i­dar­ity with other oppressed groups.8 In other words, there was a strong under­stand­ing of Appalachia as its own region of the South, and, because of its eco­nomic sta­tus as one of the most impov­er­ished areas in the coun­try, there was a gen­eral cur­rent of class resis­tance against the mas­sive coal and power com­pa­nies that monop­o­lized whole towns and even coun­ties (pop­u­lar­ized in films like Mate­wan and Har­lan County, USA). This went the other direc­tion, too: for exam­ple, cer­tain Marx­ist the­o­rists argu­ing for black self-deter­mi­na­tion in the South, like Nel­son Peery, saw poor Appalachian whites as a pri­mary basis for unity with the white work­ing class, and counted them as an “Anglo-Amer­i­can minor­ity” in the “Negro nation.”9 In this rework­ing and unset­tling of racial and national iden­tity cat­e­gories, com­mon ter­ri­tory, lan­guage, cul­ture, and post-Civil War labor forms became uni­fy­ing aspects, rather than color.10

A doc­u­ment from the South­ern Con­fer­ence Edu­ca­tional Fund, a social jus­tice and anti-racist orga­ni­za­tion led by Carl and Anne Braden, with a project-ori­ented approach pat­terned after SNCC, showed how far an under­stand­ing of the rela­tions of oppres­sion pre­vail­ing among poor white com­mu­ni­ties had pro­gressed by the 1960s, with a prac­ti­cally anti-impe­ri­al­ist bent:

Appalachia is a colony, lying mostly in the South­ern United States. Its wealth is owned by peo­ple who live else­where and who pay lit­tle or no local taxes… Like all colonies, Appalachia is run by men and women beholden to the absen­tee own­ers and the banks. Judges, sher­iffs, tax asses­sors, pros­e­cu­tors, and state offi­cials are tied to the coal oper­a­tors in one way or another. These peo­ple led the drive to stop union orga­niz­ing in the moun­tains in the 20 and 30s, and they now lead the fight against orga­niz­ing white and black peo­ple for polit­i­cal and eco­nomic power.11

Still, the com­po­si­tion of this “inter­nal colony” had been chang­ing for some time: between 1930 into the late 1960s, mil­lions of south­ern­ers trav­eled to North­ern indus­trial cities in search of work. Appalachia was espe­cially trans­formed soon after WWII when a wave of automa­tion and mech­a­niza­tion swept through the coal min­ing indus­tries in West Vir­ginia and Ken­tucky, leav­ing ram­pant unem­ploy­ment and poverty in its wake.12 For those who left, the trip to the North did not ease these dif­fi­cul­ties. Cities like Chicago and Detroit each faced their own prob­lems: in the con­text of emer­gent processes of dein­dus­tri­al­iza­tion, work was often hard to find for many new­com­ers.13 Migrants faced scrutiny from state author­i­ties, law enforce­ment, and other res­i­dents, with accusatory and sen­sa­tion­al­ist Chicago Tri­bune exposés labelling them as “one of the most dan­ger­ous and law­less ele­ments of Chicago’s fast grow­ing migrant pop­u­la­tion,” and police cap­tains demand­ing they be expelled from the neigh­bor­hood. 

Addi­tion­ally, the hous­ing sit­u­a­tion in Uptown was deplorable. Sin­gle-room ten­e­ment houses were carved out of larger homes, with spec­u­la­tors and land­lords pay­ing lit­tle atten­tion to real liv­ing con­di­tions. Bob Lee, a Black Pan­ther orga­nizer who would be inte­gral to for­mal­iz­ing the Rain­bow Coali­tion, remem­bers these as “some of the worst slums imag­in­able,” even when com­pared to the African Amer­i­can-con­cen­trated areas of the South Side; a Harper’s Mag­a­zine pro­file of Uptown was even more blunt, describ­ing the neigh­bor­hood “as the most con­gested whirlpool of white poverty in the coun­try.”14

The peo­ple who moved to Uptown did not leave every­thing behind, bring­ing their own cul­tural forms which were only rein­forced due to the skep­ti­cism and out­right prej­u­dice they expe­ri­enced. The area soon gar­nered com­par­isons to a “Hill­billy Harlem,” and the pop­u­lar pas­times of Appalachia – pool halls, honky tonks, bar­be­ques, coun­try and blue­grass music – became points of com­mu­nity pride. Nav­i­gat­ing this cul­tural land­scape was vital to indige­nous activists, and the young YPO orga­niz­ers pos­sessed a unique abil­ity to draw upon the polit­i­cal poten­tial and roots of these estab­lish­ments and prac­tices.15

This isn’t to say that a shared sense of resent­ment sim­mer­ing among Uptown res­i­dents didn’t exist already: faced with dis­crim­i­na­tory hir­ing prac­tices and wel­fare poli­cies, con­stant police harass­ment, and hous­ing dis­place­ment through urban renewal projects, the south­ern migrant com­mu­nity in Chicago proved that even in pur­port­edly homo­ge­neous white com­mu­ni­ties, there were lay­ers of stigma­ti­za­tion and processes of class strat­i­fi­ca­tion. As his­to­rian Jen­nifer Frost notes,

Whites, too, shared a con­scious­ness based on white­ness, but the white iden­tity of south­ern and Appalachian migrants in [Chicago and else­where] was com­pli­cated by class, as they were seen as “white trash” and “dumb hill­bil­lies.” In fact, well before SDS arrived in Uptown, res­i­dents had car­ried signs declar­ing “hill­billy power” at a local protest. Com­mu­nity par­tic­i­pants… did not think of them­selves as “poor,” but “as a Negro who is poor or a Hill­billy who is poor.”16

Encoun­ters with the exist­ing polit­i­cal appa­ra­tus made it evi­dent that munic­i­pal gov­ern­ment was a limit, not a route, towards enhanc­ing this power. As even the small­est attempts at chang­ing local con­di­tions could be blocked by the over­whelm­ing forces of Mayor Richard Daley’s elec­toral machine, a new pol­i­tics of com­mu­nity empow­er­ment began to coa­lesce and con­sti­tuted a speci­fic but mal­leable orga­ni­za­tional form and a range of insur­gent prac­tices that could con­nect issues of neigh­bor­hood improve­ment with bet­ter access to social ser­vices.17 Thus, a new front of strug­gle mate­ri­al­ized, and offered unique oppor­tu­ni­ties for height­en­ing the polit­i­cal capac­i­ties, aware­ness, and activ­ity of grass­roots forces.18

One of the vehi­cles for build­ing this kind of com­mu­nity power in Uptown came, para­dox­i­cally, through the par­tic­i­pa­tion of out­side stu­dent activists from SDS, albeit those from a dif­fer­ent polit­i­cal milieu and ide­o­log­i­cal back­ground than oth­ers who would go on to form the RYM the­o­ret­i­cal cur­rent.19 These ear­lier mem­bers of SDS would help form the JOIN (Jobs or Income Now) Com­mu­nity Union in 1964, which was the Chicago chap­ter of SDS’s Eco­nomic Research Action Project (ERAP), one of the first large-scale com­mu­nity-orga­niz­ing efforts of the New Left. The ini­tial ideas for ERAP stemmed from the broadly Key­ne­sian pre­cepts shared by the first lead­ers and the­o­rists of SDS, chiefly Tom Hay­den, and its first strate­gic plans included orga­niz­ing unem­ployed young men across the coun­try, call­ing for full employ­ment and/or guar­an­teed wages on a national scale, and, more gen­er­ally, advo­cat­ing demo­c­ra­tic plan­ning within the eco­nomic sphere. All these steps were intended to lay the ground­work for an “inter­ra­cial move­ment of the poor.”

But activists soon dis­cov­ered that such con­cep­tions were more dif­fi­cult to carry out in prac­tice. They hit a wall try­ing to frame unem­ploy­ment as a directly relat­able issue. Where JOIN found greater suc­cess, how­ever, was in engag­ing com­mu­nity con­cerns, or “imme­di­ate griev­ances”: wel­fare rights, hous­ing issues, police bru­tal­ity, to name a few. This shift towards address­ing inad­e­quate city and social ser­vices invited a high degree of skep­ti­cism from SDS mem­bers who wanted to keep push­ing a national pro­gram, and they snidely nick­named the new locally-focused approach GROIN (Garbage Removal or Income Now).20 In other words, many stu­dent lead­ers did not see any polit­i­cal con­tent to these felt griev­ances.

Despite the push­back, the new strate­gic ori­en­ta­tion, which responded to tan­gi­ble social strug­gles on the ground, turned the Uptown Chicago JOIN ini­tia­tive into a larger neigh­bor­hood-wide, and indeed city-wide, project. It was obvi­ous that the polit­i­cal ter­rain had shifted, and that, to use Ira Katznelson’s terms, the “pol­i­tics of com­mu­nity” could more suc­cess­fully tap into already exist­ing sources of polit­i­cal activism than the “pol­i­tics of work” approach taken by ERAP.21 Fol­low­ing a broader trend, orga­niz­ing issues pro­posed by com­mu­nity res­i­dents them­selves – wel­fare rights, voter reg­is­tra­tion and edu­ca­tion, pub­lic edu­ca­tion issues, hous­ing prob­lems – opened up new pos­si­bil­i­ties for polit­i­cal aware­ness, espe­cially fol­low­ing the often lack­lus­ter and highly restric­tive imple­men­ta­tion of many War on Poverty pro­grams.22

Stu­dent orga­niz­ers found indige­nous lead­er­ship already present in Uptown, as some com­mu­nity mem­bers had direct expe­ri­ences in the Civil Rights move­ment in the South and were ready to mobi­lize oth­ers around issues of racial dis­crim­i­na­tion. Sup­port of black-led orga­ni­za­tions and a con­sis­tent empha­sis on anti-racist work were a key part of JOIN’s out­look and mes­sage, and the orga­ni­za­tion linked up with Mar­tin Luther King’s first cam­paigns in 1966 to deseg­re­gate hous­ing and schools in the city by par­tic­i­pat­ing in the Open Hous­ing Marches (which encoun­tered intense reac­tionary vio­lence in the major­ity white sub­urbs). These new neigh­bor­hood-based activists included Peggy Terry, Ren­nie Davis, Dovie Thur­man, Mary Hock­en­berry, and Jean Tep­per­man. Terry in par­tic­u­lar became a highly respected com­mu­nity leader – a sea­soned activist who took after Anne Braden, and a for­mer mem­ber of CORE (and future vice-pres­i­den­tial can­di­date on a ticket with Eldridge Cleaver for the Peace and Free­dom Party), Terry assumed a men­tor­ship role for young mem­bers who would go on to join the Young Patri­ots Orga­ni­za­tion, not unlike Ella Baker’s rela­tion­ship with mem­bers of SNCC.

Rent strikes and ten­ant occu­pa­tions become effec­tive tac­tics to lever­age power against absen­tee land­lords and indif­fer­ent hous­ing boards. There was a pro­lif­er­a­tion of com­mu­nity-based projects: a JOIN com­mu­nity school was set up, where stu­dent orga­niz­ers tried to tie prob­lems in Uptown to national polit­i­cal and eco­nomic trends in dis­cus­sion with res­i­dents. Stu­dent orga­niz­ers and neigh­bor­hood activists formed a wel­fare com­mit­tee, which con­tested rules around pri­vacy, dis­pen­sa­tion of funds, and aid revo­ca­tion, and even­tu­ally won key pro­tec­tions for day labor­ers – a press­ing ques­tion in Uptown. Terry also became the edi­tor of a news­pa­per, The Fir­ing Line, which relayed infor­ma­tion about var­i­ous Black Power move­ments, the war in Viet­nam, and national lib­er­a­tion strug­gles abroad, includ­ing the strug­gle in Ire­land.

While this encoun­ter between stu­dent activists and neigh­bor­hood peo­ple even­tu­ally dis­in­te­grated in 1967 because of the fail­ure of the ERAP project and demands from Uptown res­i­dents for greater auton­omy, it also enabled more rad­i­cal cur­rents to emerge, includ­ing the Young Patri­ots. The roots of the YPO can be traced to the anti-police bru­tal­ity com­mit­tee of JOIN, founded in 1966. In fact, this work group was the Uptown Good­fel­lows, what Tracy and Son­nie describe as a “cross between a street gang and loose-knit rad­i­cal social club.” Com­posed mainly of young men, these were also some of the most vocal crit­ics of over­bear­ing SDS involve­ment in JOIN. Mem­bers included Jimmy Curry, Doug Young­blood (the son of Peggy Terry) Junebug Boykin, and Hy Thur­man, patient and skilled orga­niz­ers all. Their cen­tral issue and focus was a salient one; police harass­ment was a ubiq­ui­tous, quo­tid­ian phe­nom­e­non in Uptown, and JOIN mem­bers had already set up an infor­mal police watch and con­ducted sev­eral inde­pen­dent inquiries, with local help, into Uptown res­i­dents’ run-ins with police.

Like many youth gangs in Chicago of the period, includ­ing the Black Gang­ster Dis­ci­ples and the Black­stone Rangers, the Good­fel­lows had an explic­itly polit­i­cal mes­sage that went beyond turf skir­mishes: to unite and coor­di­nate with other local gangs, what­ever their race or eth­nic­ity, by fight­ing back against police harass­ment and intim­i­da­tion – the most vis­i­ble man­i­fes­ta­tion of the “real enemy,” i.e., cor­rupt politi­cians, cap­i­tal­ism, and the war. On this point, the Good­fel­lows bucked a dom­i­nant his­tor­i­cal trend by openly align­ing them­selves with black or brown-led gangs and social orga­ni­za­tions, since there is a long-estab­lished legacy in the United States of youth of color form­ing them­selves into gangs as a mea­sure of col­lec­tive self-defense against vio­lence and abuse car­ried out against them by not only the police, but by both white youth and white adult gangs.23

This nascent coali­tion-build­ing came to fruition in August 1966 when, with the help of other JOIN activists, the Good­fel­lows orga­nized a march with white, African Amer­i­can, and Puerto Rican youth on a local police sta­tion to protest police vio­lence, end­ing with calls for com­mu­nity con­trol of police. While the march proved that poor whites could play an active role in polit­i­cal orga­niz­ing with other oppressed com­mu­ni­ties, it also helped to spark a wave of police atten­tion towards the Good­fel­lows, fore­shad­ow­ing the even more vio­lent reac­tion that would befall the Rain­bow Coali­tion.

The Patri­ots offi­cially came together as an inde­pen­dent orga­ni­za­tion in 1968, with Boykin and Young­blood as de facto lead­ers. The YPO adopted the com­mu­nity con­cerns that JOIN con­fronted and rein­forced their iden­tity as south­ern migrants, or “dis­lo­cated hill­bil­lies.” As Tracy and Son­nie put it, this was meant to be “an orga­ni­za­tion of, by and for poor whites.”24 Their iden­ti­fi­ca­tion as an oppressed com­mu­nity, how­ever, was con­structed through a mil­i­tant oppo­si­tion to cap­i­tal­ism and con­stant agi­ta­tion against racism, a real prob­lem in Uptown (Bob Lee notes that even with its legacy of activism, the neigh­bor­hood was a “prime recruit­ing ground for white suprema­cists”). The cul­tural spaces of Uptown – pool halls, street cor­ners, bars – became spaces for polit­i­cal work, as the Patri­ots prac­ticed a “ped­a­gogy of the streets,” ven­tur­ing out and meet­ing com­mu­nity mem­bers in famil­iar loca­tions where they social­ized and might be more likely to dis­cuss their prob­lems and ideas for change.25 And, again fol­low­ing the lead of both JOIN and the Pan­thers, a news­pa­per, The Patriot (with the sub­ti­tle: People’s News Ser­vice), was also reg­u­larly printed and dis­trib­uted. After an influx of new mem­bers, includ­ing William Fes­per­man, the YPO soon made con­tact with the Pan­thers, and by the spring of 1969, the pre­con­di­tions of the Rain­bow Coali­tion were in place.

The first meet­ings between the Pan­thers and the Patri­ots in early 1969 had Lee, a core orga­nizer in the Chicago Pan­thers, trav­el­ling to Uptown in order to meet and dis­cuss shared expe­ri­ences, demands, and goals. Things did not always go smoothly, and Fred Hamp­ton, the leader of the Chicago Pan­thers, did not even imme­di­ately know about Lee’s trips to try and form an alliance. A turn­ing point came one night after Lee left a meet­ing with the YPO, only to be imme­di­ately appre­hended by police and herded into the back of a cop car. Wit­ness­ing this egre­gious instance of pro­fil­ing and harass­ment, Fes­per­man gath­ered every per­son he could – not only other Young Patriot mem­bers but also their part­ners and chil­dren – to sur­round the car and force the police to release Lee on the spot. These minor bat­tles and acts of sol­i­dar­ity rein­forced the mutual respect the two orga­ni­za­tions had for each other.

Some of the Panther/Patriot meet­ings were cap­tured in the film Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion 2, show­ing Lee suc­cinctly sum­ming up the need for polit­i­cal unity between the groups: “there’s police bru­tal­ity, there’s rats and roaches, there’s poverty up here, and that’s the first thing we can unite on.” Prin­ci­ples of rev­o­lu­tion­ary sol­i­dar­ity were linked to build­ing an alliance between eco­nom­i­cally dis­ad­van­taged groups. For the Patri­ots and Pan­thers, “poor people’s power” was a form of class power. This meant tak­ing mat­ters into their own hands and rein­vent­ing tried and true tac­tics. At the end of the scene, a deci­sion is made for sev­eral Uptown res­i­dents and Young Patri­ots to show up unan­nounced at an upcom­ing Model Cities meet­ing to voice their con­cerns about how gov­ern­ment funds were dis­trib­uted, and how many felt shut out of hav­ing any say in how the new antipoverty pro­grams in Chicago were being man­aged, repris­ing a fun­da­men­tal con­cern and strat­egy of JOIN.

Con­crete demands would lay the basis for link­ing local bases of power together, that is, for con­struct­ing mul­tira­cial sol­i­dar­ity across poor, work­ing-class com­mu­ni­ties in Chicago – among these south­ern­ers, Puerto Ricans, Chi­canos, and African Amer­i­cans. Other orga­ni­za­tions in the Rain­bow Coali­tion were won over by the YPO’s abil­ity to put the guid­ing line of “serv­ing the peo­ple” into prac­tice, and the Lords, Pan­thers, and Patri­ots col­lab­o­rated on sev­eral ini­tia­tives while also remain­ing focused on their own neigh­bor­hood work. Polit­i­cal edu­ca­tion classes, a “Rain­bow food pro­gram” that pro­vided free break­fasts and meals to fam­i­lies around the Chicago area, and cam­paigns against urban renewal were just some of the col­lab­o­ra­tive projects that the Coali­tion mem­bers embarked upon. Hous­ing and health­care con­sti­tuted the two of the most intense and pro­tracted sites of strug­gle.

The YPO already had expe­ri­ence in anti-gen­tri­fi­ca­tion strug­gles; in 1968, Uptown com­mu­nity mem­bers, many of whom par­tic­i­pated in JOIN, had fought against a pro­posal to direct fed­eral funds towards the con­struc­tion of a junior col­lege, Tru­man Col­lege, in Uptown, which would dis­place thou­sands of south­ern migrant res­i­dents. In response, they pro­posed their own build­ing plan for the area in ques­tion, accord­ingly named “Hank Williams Vil­lage.” This was to be a mixed-use com­mu­nity space mod­eled after the south­ern towns Uptown res­i­dents knew well, and was to con­tain acces­si­ble parks, day care cen­ters, clin­ics, and enough hous­ing to min­i­mize dis­place­ment. The pro­posal was rejected, but delayed the open­ing of Tru­man Col­lege; the Young Patri­ots chan­neled this expe­ri­ence by par­tic­i­pat­ing, alongside the Young Lords and the Poor People’s Coali­tion, in a build­ing occu­pa­tion protest­ing a pro­posed expan­sion of McCormick The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary which would require the abo­li­tion of nearby low-income hous­ing, much like the Tru­man pro­posal. This actu­ally resulted in a vic­tory, and the Patri­ots lent assis­tance to other build­ing and land occu­pa­tions, includ­ing some car­ried out by Amer­i­can Indian activists from Uptown’s siz­able Native Amer­i­can pop­u­la­tion.

The net­work of free health clin­ics set up by the dif­fer­ent Coali­tion groups was another admirable endeavor. Health pol­i­tics and care access had always been a prob­lem for poor com­mu­ni­ties, and Uptown was no dif­fer­ent. Encoun­ters with doc­tors and the health­care sys­tem in gen­eral were often expe­ri­enced as coer­cive and oppres­sive, and with the input of Terry, the Patri­ots strove to provide com­mu­nity health care by open­ing a free clinic that offered peo­ple some basic dig­nity. Staffed by activist doc­tors, the Patri­ots’ clinic was an impres­sive com­mu­nity-run solu­tion that tried to demys­tify the med­ical expe­ri­ence for poor whites; it also, like the Pan­thers’ and Young Lords’ own clin­ics, came under con­stant sur­veil­lance from the Board of Health and law enforce­ment. There were numer­ous crack­downs, and soon mount­ing legal costs were enough to close the clin­ics down.

With these mate­rial and often novel prac­tices of rev­o­lu­tion­ary sol­i­dar­ity, there came an accom­pa­ny­ing polit­i­cal vocab­u­lary, assem­bled and reworked from exist­ing lex­i­cons. The orga­ni­za­tional form of the Coali­tion, as a mul­tira­cial front, meant that a short­hand color-cod­ing sys­tem was put in place to denote its con­stituent ele­ments. These were rep­re­sen­ta­tives of col­o­nized com­mu­ni­ties, and their par­tic­u­lar efforts toward self-deter­mi­na­tion con­tributed to the broader tapes­try of rev­o­lu­tion­ary strug­gle, in the United States and abroad. Whence comes the roll-call of nods and over­tures Fes­per­man gives to both home­grown and inter­na­tional fig­ures of this strug­gle near the end of his speech: “Red Power to Sit­tin’ Bull, to Geron­imo, Kathy Rite­ger in Uptown. And yel­low power to Ho Chi Minh and Mao and the National Lib­er­a­tion Front. And Brown Power to Fidel and Che and the Young Lords and La Raza and Tijerina. And Black Power to the Black Pan­ther Party.” The fol­low­ing line, how­ever, is one that is quite dis­cor­dant to our con­tem­po­rary rad­i­cal sen­si­bil­i­ties, shows why some were hes­i­tant to imme­di­ately ally them­selves with the Patri­ots: “And white power to the Young Patri­ots and all other white rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies.”

Of course, Fes­per­man did not advo­cate any form of white supremacy. Indeed, the phrase “white power” was a com­monly heard expres­sion in speeches by var­i­ous mem­bers of the Illi­nois Pan­thers, even Hamp­ton. In the speci­fic con­text of the Rain­bow Coali­tion, “white power” was sim­ply “hill­billy power,” the par­tic­u­lar form of rev­o­lu­tion­ary sol­i­dar­ity that poor whites con­tributed to the coali­tion with African Amer­i­cans and Lati­nos, and who con­fronted sim­i­lar eco­nomic and polit­i­cal con­di­tions. The over­ar­ch­ing polit­i­cal slo­gan of these groups was “All Power to the Peo­ple,” with “the peo­ple” work­ing as a bind­ing or artic­u­lat­ing cat­e­gory rather than a divi­sive one.26 These were code­words – cru­cial pieces of polit­i­cal jar­gon – for the prac­tice of class strug­gle, as Lee and other vet­eran activists have reit­er­ated. An Uptown res­i­dent and mem­ber of JOIN accu­rately cap­tured this sen­ti­ment: “Just because we are poor, we should not have to live in slums and be pushed around because we are Puerto Rican, Mex­i­can, hill­bil­lies or col­ored.”27

Other fea­tures of the Patri­ots’ approach induced more deserved puz­zle­ment and even anger, specif­i­cally their appear­ance: it’s well-known that the bat­tle flag of the Con­fed­er­acy was at first an inte­gral part of the YPO’s image, both as a provo­ca­tion to other groups on the Left and as a mode of pop­u­lar out­reach to other south­ern­ers. The raw shock effect of this usage could be jar­ring: pho­tographs from the United Front Against Fas­cism con­fer­ence show mem­bers of the Pan­thers’ secu­rity detail stand­ing side-by-side with mem­bers of the Patri­ots dressed in denim jack­ets, Con­fed­er­ate flag patches stitched across their backs.

As the Patri­ots would them­selves later rec­og­nize, this usage of the South­ern Cross was a polit­i­cal error and deserv­ing of thor­ough crit­i­cism. Still, the rea­sons behind the adop­tion of this emblem – a uni­ver­sal sym­bol of white supremacy, a real mate­rial reminder of the tor­tured his­tory of racial vio­lence and bru­tal after-effects of slav­ery in the United States – were related to an attempt to under­stand polit­i­cally the racial­iza­tion of the cat­e­gory of ‘hill­bil­lies,” and there­fore need to be con­sid­ered in a nuanced fash­ion.

The Patri­ots’ appro­pri­a­tion of the rebel flag was related to a speci­fic analy­sis of the Civil War as an intra-elite con­flict: a “piss­ing match” or clash between a feu­dal­is­tic, slave-hold­ing south­ern plant­ing class and North­ern bour­geois indus­tri­al­ists, which then pro­duced the civ­i­liza­tional divide between North and South.28 By using the flag, they were attempt­ing to re-artic­u­late the social sym­bolic field through a détourne­ment of its sed­i­mented, accu­mu­lated mean­ings, a tak­ing back of South­ern his­tory from below. Even as we dis­agree absolutely with the adop­tion of the par­tic­u­lar sym­bol, the attempt to dis­rupt com­mon­sen­si­cal assump­tions about the clear-cut char­ac­ter of the Civil War (as an “incom­plete bour­geois rev­o­lu­tion,” for exam­ple) opens up avenues of his­tor­i­cal inquiry. Appalachia espe­cially was one of the most divided areas in the nation in terms of alle­giances to the North and South due to the fact that it was not eco­nom­i­cally depen­dent on slav­ery and sta­ple crops, and moun­tain par­ti­sans on both sides engaged in pro­tracted guerilla tac­tics. Union­ist and Con­fed­er­ate sup­port var­ied almost county to county, and the war irrev­o­ca­bly altered kin­ship bonds and dynam­ics along class and com­mu­nity lines.29

As his­to­ri­ans like Stephanie McCurry have shown, the Con­fed­er­acy itself was rocked by pro­found insur­gent move­ments from those it had polit­i­cally dis­pos­sessed and dis­en­fran­chised: from poor white and yeo­man women who trig­gered an intense wave of food riots in 1863, to the acts of slave resis­tance that com­menced on Con­fed­er­ate plan­ta­tions.30 Other recent schol­ar­ship has traced a com­plex net­work of col­lab­o­ra­tion between black peo­ple in the Appalachian high­lands ‒ either set­tled freed­men, enslaved per­sons, or escaped slaves ‒ and Con­fed­er­ate desert­ers and escaped Union pris­on­ers of war, who found safe havens in these remote moun­tain and bor­der­land com­mu­ni­ties and shared resources and infor­ma­tion.31 These instances of con­tentious pol­i­tics within the Con­fed­er­acy where black and white south­ern­ers strug­gled against oppres­sion were the threads the Patri­ots sought to empha­size and redis­cover.

In addi­tion, the Patri­ots idol­ized John Brown and were well acquainted with Du Bois’s Black Recon­struc­tion and Lis­ton Pope’s Mill­hands and Preach­ers; all of these ideas and events were folded together in their broader view of a rad­i­cal South­ern his­tory. Indeed, the Patri­ots were not the only ones to try and rework the mean­ing of the Con­fed­er­ate flag for social jus­tice causes at the time: the South­ern Stu­dent Orga­niz­ing Com­mit­tee, a group from Nashville inspired by SNCC, used a draw­ing of black and white hands super­im­posed over the Con­fed­er­ate flag as their logo in a bid to high­light their South­ern ori­en­ta­tion and roots.32 By this logic, the South’s “spirit of rebel­lion” rep­re­sented by the flag was some­thing to be proud of, but its real and dis­con­tin­u­ous his­tor­i­cal man­i­fes­ta­tions were those of poor people’s revolt and cross-racial sol­i­dar­ity.

By 1970, the flag sym­bol was dropped, on account that there was “no social­ist jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for a rev­o­lu­tion­ary group using a sym­bol of coun­ter­rev­o­lu­tion.”33 The YPO under­went an orga­ni­za­tional split, as well. Some mem­bers, like Young­blood, remained in Chicago and retained the Young Patri­ots name and would carry on doing local activist work together for a short time longer; oth­ers, includ­ing Fes­per­man, felt that the bru­tal police repres­sion in Chicago, which had taken the lives of sev­eral Patri­ots mem­bers and, most famously, Fred Hamp­ton, had taken too dras­tic of a turn, and that it was time to form a more national pres­ence. The lat­ter group rebranded itself as the Patriot Party and set up head­quar­ters in New York City. While there was some ini­tial suc­cess in open­ing sev­eral new Patriot chap­ters across the coun­try, from Eugene, Ore­gon (which boasted a Free Lum­ber pro­gram) to upstate New York, it too ulti­mately dis­solved under the pres­sures of state vio­lence, inves­tiga­tive scrutiny, and mount­ing legal fees.

With cur­rent calls to rethink ques­tions of sol­i­dar­ity work and mul­tira­cial coali­tion-build­ing in the con­tem­po­rary moment, a seri­ous ret­ro­spec­tive con­sid­er­a­tion of the Young Patri­ots and their polit­i­cal expe­ri­ence with the Rain­bow Coali­tion – both their advances and mis­steps – might remind us of the ever-urgent need to artic­u­late new lan­guages and coor­di­nate novel approaches within social move­ments. Poor rural whites still con­sti­tute a major tar­get of the carceral state, and even with the major reor­ga­ni­za­tions in the rela­tion­ships of race and class between black, brown, and white work­ing class com­mu­ni­ties wit­nessed over the past few decades, the focus the Young Patri­ots put on the dele­te­ri­ous effects of bru­tal polic­ing meth­ods and sen­tenc­ing man­dates within their own social base, as an effec­tive ground for strate­gic alliances, is as rel­e­vant as ever. As they put it them­selves:

We’re sick and tired of cer­tain peo­ple and groups telling us “there ain’t no such thing as poor and oppressed white peo­ple”… The so-called move­ment bet­ter begin to real­ize, that – first of all – we’re human beings, we’re real; sec­ond – we’ve always been here, we didn’t just mate­ri­al­ize; and third – we’re not going away, even if you choose not to admit we exist.34

— Patrick King

You can read more about the his­tory of the Young Patri­ots and the Orig­i­nal Rain­bow Coali­tion here.



Young Patriots at the United Front Against Fascism Conference

Sat­ur­day, July 19, 1969

Lis­ten here. I’m gonna say it. Turn off your tape recorders. Lis­ten here, out there moth­er­fucker. FREE HUEY.

We have a mes­sage from the peo­ple and the mes­sage from the peo­ple reads: “To you astro-pigs: ‘The moon belongs to the peo­ple.’”

We have another mes­sage to PL and that mes­sage reads, “PL, and Oak­land City Coun­cil, Chicago City Coun­cil, and the gov­ern­ment of the United States, all are paper pigs.”

Now, we have come from Chi­town and we come from a mon­ster. And the jaws of the mon­ster in Chicago are grind­ing up the flesh and spit­ting out the blood of the poor and oppressed peo­ple, the blacks in the South­side, the West­side; the browns in the North­side; and the reds and the yel­lows; and yes, the whites – white oppressed peo­ple. You talk about have any white peo­ple before ever known what oppres­sion is? Come to uptown Chicago. Five pig cars on a square block. White pigs mur­der­ing, bru­tal­iz­ing white broth­ers. Is it? Is it? Is it? We say, we talk to peo­ple a lot, and they say, “You hill­bil­lies ain’t plan­ning on pick­ing up a gun or any­thing are ya? I mean, that one you brought from Ken­tucky, or North Car­olina.” And we say to ‘em, “Lis­ten here, why, you know, a gun ain’t noth­ing,” you know. A gun on the side of a pig means two things: it means racism and it means cap­i­tal­ism. And the gun on the side of a rev­o­lu­tion­ary, on the side of the peo­ple, means sol­i­dar­ity and social­ism. Right on? Now, who in here and who out there is gonna let the moth­er­fucker with the gun shootin’ cap­i­tal­ism and racism out­shoot the peo­ple? Who’s gonna do it? Who is the racist dog? Let him walk up here and let me bite his head off. Let me get a hold of that son-of-a-bitch and you can beep it out if you want to. And Beep out Johnny Cash, you know, cause he tells the truth. When I get in front of McClel­lan, on behalf of the South­ern peo­ple, on behalf of all peo­ple, I’m gonna bite his head off, and spit it in Nixon’s face. 

Under­stand where we’re comin’ from when we talk about freein’ polit­i­cal pris­on­ers. Because when we talk about that, we talk­ing about con­cen­tra­tion camps like Fol­som Prison, San Quentin, Cook County Jail in Chicago and Statesville and we’re talk­ing about the Chair­man of the Black Pan­ther Party in Illi­nois, my brother, who was sent down the river for 2 to 5 years for sup­pos­edly sell­ing $71 worth of ice cream. Now, lis­ten here, and I say this, see, because I think we have to deal straight, see and the judge who sent that brother is a nig­ger.

Free all polit­i­cal pris­on­ers. We said to the city of Chicago, this is what we said to ‘em. Mayor Daley declared a war on gangs, you know, so we said, “We didn’t know any gangs fed 4,000 chil­dren a week.” And Mayor Daley’s talk­ing about “feed­ing the hun­gry if we can find them.” And the peo­ple know they’re there because that’s the peo­ple. We stood up to lame-brained Daley, and we said, “Look here, man, you sent Chair­man Fred off on 2 to 5 years and we got together, the Young Lords, the Young Patri­ots and the Black Pan­ther Party in Illi­nois, we said, ‘Now what are we gonna do?’ We said, ‘We’re gonna inten­sify the strug­gle, moth­er­fucker.’” We also said, “If Chair­man Fred don’t get sent down the river, if I get blowed away, or if I don’t get blowed away, we still gonna inten­sify the strug­gle.” So, what did Mayor Daley do after shakin’ in his boots and oinkin’ right on, right on. 

Now ya talk about fas­cism. I’ll tell you that since we all been in the Patri­ots the pigs don’t like it. You know that peo­ple being fed in uptown Chicago were the south­ern whites cause they don’t want to see any riot in a south­ern white ghetto. They don’t want to see that. You know, that’d wipe that moon shot off the front page, you know. For­get about that moon. It’s here. 

Since we been in this thing, and really, we’ve been in it all our lives, com­ing from the South and comin’ from the damn coal mines, mill towns, and some of them down there ain’t even up to cap­i­tal­ism yet. They’re still back, way back to feu­dal­ism or some­thing, you know. But, a Chicago pig, he has a loud oink, but let me tell you, you know, the peo­ple from the south, the white broth­ers and the black broth­ers, we’ve been to a lot of hog killings in our lives and I don’t know, but a lot of expe­ri­ence there and I think about ol’ Ham­mer­head Super­pig Hoover. You know, he’s old, I don’t even want to eat them chit­ter­lings out of that moth­er­fucker. Fuck it. 

Our strug­gle is beyond com­pre­hen­sion to me some­times and I felt for a long time and other broth­ers in uptown felt that poor whites was (and maybe we felt wrongly, but we felt it) for­got­ten, and that cer­tain places we walked there were cer­tain orga­ni­za­tions that nobody saw us until we met the Illi­nois Chap­ter of the Black Pan­ther Party. “Let’s put that the­ory into prac­tice about rid­din’ our­selves of that racism.” You see, oth­er­wise, oth­er­wise to us, free­ing polit­i­cal pris­on­ers would be hypocrisy. That’s what it’d be. We want to stand by our broth­ers, dig? And, I don’t know, I’d even like to say some­thing to church peo­ple, I think one of the broth­ers last night sad, “Jesus Christ was a bad moth­er­fucker.” Man, we all don’t want to go that route, under­stand. He laid back and he said, “Put that fuckin’ nail right there man. That’s the people’s nail. I’m takin’ it.” But we’ve gone beyond it, and all we’ve got to say from the Young Patri­ots, where we come from, where we’re goin’ is to all of you, and thou­sands of oth­ers here and all over the world. All we got to say is, “All Power Belongs To The Peo­ple.” Red Power to Sit­tin’ Bull, to Geron­imo, Kathy Rite­ger in Uptown. And yel­low power to Ho Chi Minh and Mao and the National Lib­er­a­tion Front. And Brown Power to Fidel and Che and the Young Lords and La Raza and Tijerina. And Black Power to the Black Pan­ther Party. And white power to the Young Patri­ots and all other white rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies. Whether the pigs or the pig power struc­ture likes it or not, fuck it. 

This speech was orig­i­nally pub­lished in The Black Pan­ther, Sat­ur­day, July 26th, 1969. page 8. 

  1. For more infor­ma­tion on the UFAF con­fer­ence and its imme­di­ate after­math, see Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Mar­tin, Black Against Empire (Berke­ley: Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia Press, 2013), 299-301. 

  2. Bar­bara Joyce, “Young Patri­ots,” in The Move­ment Towards a New Amer­ica: The Begin­nings of a Long Rev­o­lu­tion, ed. Mitchell Good­man (Philadel­phia: Pil­grim Press, 1970), 547-548; The Patriot Party. “The Patriot Party Speaks to the Move­ment,” in The Black Pan­thers Speaks, ed. Philip S. Foner (Cam­bridge: Da Capo Press, 1995), 239-243. 

  3. Amy Son­nie and James Tracy, Hill­billy Nation­al­ists, Urban Race Rebels, and Black Power: Com­mu­nity Orga­niz­ing in Rad­i­cal Times (Brook­lyn: Melville House, 2011; Amy Son­nie and James Tracy, Hill­billy Nation­al­ists, Urban Race Rebels, and Black Power: Com­mu­nity Orga­niz­ing in Rad­i­cal Times (Brook­lyn: Melville House, 2011; a con­densed ver­sion of the Son­nie and Tracy book can be found in James Tracy, “Ris­ing Up: Poor, White, and Angry in the New Left,” in The Hid­den 1970s: His­to­ries of Rad­i­cal­ism, ed. Dan Berger (New Brunswick: Rut­gers Uni­ver­sity Press, 2010), 214-230. More infor­ma­tion on the Patri­ots can also be found in Gor­don Keith Mantler, Power to the Poor: Black-Brown Coali­tion and the Fight for Eco­nomic Jus­tice, 1960-1974 (Chapel Hill: Uni­ver­sity of North Car­olina Press, 2013), 231-233 sqq. Mantler is crit­i­cal about what he sees as the “con­tin­gent” nature of the Rain­bow Coali­tion, as the orga­ni­za­tions involved faced dif­fer­ent prob­lems accord­ing to their con­stituen­cies, neigh­bor­hoods, etc., and thus often had dis­sent­ing views on the pri­mary fronts of strug­gle. The African Amer­i­can com­mu­nity in Chicago, for exam­ple, did not expe­ri­ence the same pres­sures stem­ming from urban renewal plans like the Puerto Rican and Appalachian pop­u­la­tions did. While this is cer­tainly a fair cri­tique of ide­al­ized ret­ro­spec­tive looks of the Coali­tion, a care­ful inves­ti­ga­tion of its inter­nal com­po­si­tion, dynam­ics, and insur­gent prac­tices can func­tion as a rebut­tal against accounts, like those of James Miller and Sid­ney Tar­row, that see social move­ments in post-68, post-Demo­c­ra­tic National Con­ven­tion Chicago as fol­low­ing a dynamic that frag­mented into “con­geries of smaller sin­gle-issue move­ments.” See James Miller, Democ­racy is in the Streets; From Port Huron to the Siege of Chicago (New York: Simon and Schus­ter, 1987), 317, and Sid­ney Tar­row, Power in Move­ment: Social Move­ments and Con­tentious Pol­i­tics (Cam­bridge: Cam­bridge Uni­ver­sity Press, 1997), 150. 

  4. I address this point in more detail below, but the polit­i­cal vocab­u­lary that per­me­ated the Chicago activist scene and the Rain­bow Coali­tion was replete with these kinds of dec­la­ra­tions. One of Fred Hampton’s most cir­cu­lated speeches, “Power Any­where There’s Peo­ple,” con­tains one vari­ant of this rev­o­lu­tion­ary nation­al­ist lan­guage that empha­sized the need for mul­tira­cial work­ing class unity: ”That the masses are poor, that the masses belong to what you call the lower class, and when I talk about the masses, I’m talk­ing about the white masses, I’m talk­ing about the black masses, and the brown masses, and the yel­low masses, too…We’re gonna fight racism with sol­i­dar­ity.” On the con­cept of “strate­gic traces,” see Bloom and Mar­tin, op. cit., 20, 405, n.34.  

  5. Son­nie and Tracy, 77. 

  6. For more on this ques­tion of rev­o­lu­tion­ary sol­i­dar­ity and the Rain­bow Coali­tion, see Johanna Fer­nán­dez, “Denise Oliver and the Young Lords: Stretch­ing the Polit­i­cal Bound­aries of Strug­gle,” in Want to Start a Rev­o­lu­tion? Rad­i­cal Women in the Black Free­dom Strug­gle, eds. Dayo F. Gore, Jeanne Theo­haris, and Komozi Woodard (New York: NYU Press, 2009), 271-293.  

  7. For a richer his­tor­i­cal account of these debates see Michael Stau­den­maier, Truth and Rev­o­lu­tion: A His­tory of the Sojourner Truth Orga­ni­za­tion 1969-1986 (Oak­land: AK Press, 2012). The most impor­tant texts in this debate were col­lected by Paul Saba, ed. The Debate Within SDS: RYM II vs. Weath­er­men (Detroit: Rad­i­cal Edu­ca­tion Project, 1969). The quo­ta­tions orig­i­nate from one essay in that col­lec­tion: Noel Ignatin’s [Ignatiev] “With­out a Sci­ence of Nav­i­ga­tion We Can­not Sail the Stormy Seas, or Sooner or Later One of Us Must Know.” 

  8. The clas­sic account of Appalachia as an idea and dis­course remains Henry D. Shapiro, Appalachia on Our Mind: the South­ern Moun­tains and Moun­taineers in the Amer­i­can Con­scious­ness, 1870-1920 (Chapel Hill: Uni­ver­sity of North Car­olina Press, 1978). For inter­est­ing explo­rations of the roles of poor whites had both in forms of slave con­trol but also slave resis­tance, and the fears that these poten­tial alliances stirred among the rul­ing classes, see John Inscoe, “Race and Racism in Nine­teenth-Cen­tury South­ern Appalachia: Myths, Real­i­ties and Ambi­gu­i­ties,” in Appalachia in the Mak­ing, eds. Mary Beth Pudup, Dwight B. Billings, and Altina L. Waller (Chapel Hill: Uni­ver­sity of North Car­olina Press, 1995), 103-131; Jeff For­ret, Race Rela­tions at the Mar­gins: Slaves and Poor Whites in the Ante­bel­lum South­ern Coun­tryside (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Uni­ver­sity Press, 2006), 115-156; also cf. Her­bert Aptheker, Amer­i­can Negro Slave Revolts (New York: Columbia Uni­ver­sity Press, 1943), 360-367. 

  9. See Nel­son Peery, The Negro National-Colo­nial Ques­tion (Chicago. Work­ers Press, 1978). 

  10. For more on this point, see Robin D.G. Kel­ley and Betty Esch, “Black Like Mao: Red China and Black Rev­o­lu­tion,” Souls 1 (Fall 1999), 6-41, 27. 

  11. South­ern Con­fer­ence Edu­ca­tional Fund pam­phlet, in The Move­ment Towards a New Amer­ica: The Begin­nings of a Long Rev­o­lu­tion, ed. Mitchell Good­man (Philadel­phia: Pil­grim Press, 1970), 261-262. For an sim­i­larly inter­est­ing, if dated, take on this inter­nal colony analy­sis for Appalachia that more explic­itly incor­po­rates insights from depen­dency the­ory and the­o­rists of decol­o­niza­tion, see Keith Dix, “Appalachia: Third World Pil­lage,” Antipode 5.1 (March 1973), 25-30, which sum­ma­rizes some of the work done by the People’s Appalachia Research Col­lec­tive and their jour­nal, People’s Appalachia. 

  12. SDS did make some inroads orga­niz­ing in Appalachia with the Eco­nomic Action and Research Project, explained below. The bal­ance sheets writ­ten by vet­eran activists of their suc­cesses and fail­ures in the poverty-stricken min­ing com­mu­nity of Haz­ard, Ken­tucky, remain essen­tial doc­u­ments to revisit: see Hamish Sin­clair, “Haz­ard, Ky.: Doc­u­ment of the Strug­gle,” Rad­i­cal Amer­ica 11.1 (Jan­u­ary-Feb­ru­ary 1968), 1-24, and Peter Wiley, “The Haz­ard Project: Social­ism and Com­mu­nity Orga­niz­ing” in the same issue, 25-37. The SCEF set up its own project along the same lines, the South­ern Moun­tain Project, with a spe­cial empha­sis on con­nect­ing the issues of work­ing-class rights to the con­tin­u­ing strug­gles of African-Amer­i­cans, or as they put it: “help­ing some of the poorest peo­ple in Amer­ica build on the expe­ri­ences of the South­ern free­dom move­ment to orga­nize for polit­i­cal and eco­nomic power.” On this and the legacy of the Bradens, see Cather­ine Fosl, Sub­ver­sive South­erner: Anne Braden and the Strug­gle for Racial Jus­tice in the Cold War South (Lex­ing­ton: Uni­ver­sity of Ken­tucky Press, 2006). 

  13. On this other “Great Migra­tion” of poor whites to the North and Mid­west, see Jacque­line Jones, The Dis­pos­sessed: America’s Under­classes from the Civil War to the Present (New York: Basic Books, 1992), and Chad Berry , South­ern Migrants, North­ern Exiles (Urbana: Uni­ver­sity of Illi­nois Press, 2000). 

  14. Son­nie and Tracy, op. cit., 21. An early, oral his­tory-focused sur­vey  of the trans­for­ma­tion of Uptown, con­ducted by two SDS orga­niz­ers, is Todd Gitlin and Nancy Hol­lan­der, Uptown: Poor Whites in Chicago (New York: Harper Colophon, 1971). A more recent and cul­tur­ally ori­ented study can found in Roger Guy, Diver­sity in Unity: South­ern and Appalachian Migrants in Uptown Chicago, 1950-1970 (Lan­ham, MD: Lex­ing­ton Books, 2007). 

  15. Indige­nous is used here both in terms of an approach to study­ing social move­ments “from below,” as pop­u­lar­ized by Aldon Mor­ris in his The Ori­gins of the Civil Rights Move­ment: Black Com­mu­ni­ties Orga­niz­ing For Change (New York: Free Press, 1984), and to sig­nal the prob­lem of form­ing lead­er­ship from the con­stituents or mem­bers of dom­i­nated or oppressed com­mu­ni­ties, through a par­tic­i­pa­tory process of activism that raises their sense of polit­i­cal under­stand­ing and aware­ness. For more on this term, its broadly Gram­s­cian con­no­ta­tions, and its cur­rency in the Civil Rights move­ment through fig­ures like Ella Baker, see Bar­bara Ransby, Ella Baker & The Black Free­dom Move­ment: A Rad­i­cal Demo­c­ra­tic Vision (Chapel Hill: Uni­ver­sity of North Car­olina Press, 2003), 273-298, 357-374. For some prob­lems in how this ideal has played itself out in protest move­ments before, dur­ing, and after the 60s, see Francesca Pol­leta, Democ­racy is an End­less Meet­ing: Free­dom in Amer­i­can Social Move­ments (Berke­ley: Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia Press, 2002). 

  16. Jen­nifer Frost, An Inter­ra­cial Move­ment of the Poor (New York: NYU Press, 2005), 114-115. 

  17. Besides Frost, two major resources for the his­tory of com­mu­nity orga­niz­ing in the United States are Wini Breines, Com­mu­nity Orga­ni­za­tion in the New Left, 1962-1968 (New Brunswick: Rut­gers Uni­ver­sity Press, 1989), and Robert Fisher, Let the Peo­ple Decide: Neigh­bor­hood Orga­niz­ing in Amer­ica (New York: Twayne Pub­lish­ers, 1994). Also Alyosha Goldstein’s recent book, Poverty in Com­mon: The Pol­i­tics of Com­mu­nity Action Dur­ing the Amer­i­can Cen­tury (Durham: Duke Uni­ver­sity Press, 2012). 

  18. Rhonda Y. Williams, Con­crete Demands: The Search For Black Power in the 20th Cen­tury (Lon­don: Rout­ledge, 2014); cf. Peniel Joseph, “Com­mu­nity Orga­niz­ing, Grass­roots Pol­i­tics, and Neigh­bor­hood Rebels: Local Strug­gles for Black Power in Amer­ica,” intro­duc­tion to Neigh­bor­hood Rebels: Black Power at the Local Level, ed. Peniel Joseph (New York: Pal­grave, 2010), 1-19. 

  19. On ide­o­log­i­cal shifts within SDS, see Kirk­patrick Sale, SDS: The Rise and Devel­op­ment of the Stu­dents for a Demo­c­ra­tic Soci­ety (New York: Ran­dom House, 1973). 

  20. A sober reflec­tive account of these strate­gic revi­sions is Richard Roth­stein, “ERAP: Evo­lu­tion of the Orga­niz­ers,” Rad­i­cal Amer­ica 2.2 (May-June 1968), 1-18. See also his “Short His­tory of ERAP,”avail­able at the SDS doc­u­ments archive. 

  21. Ira Katznel­son, City Trenches: Urban Pol­i­tics and the Pat­tern­ing of Class in the United States (Chicago: Uni­ver­sity of Chicago Press, 1981), 24-26. 

  22. For com­pa­ra­ble processes and events in Oak­land, which pro­vided the imme­di­ate con­text for the rise and decline of the Black Pan­ther Party there, see Robert O . Self,  Amer­i­can Baby­lon: Race and the Strug­gle for Post­war Oak­land (Prince­ton: Prince­ton Uni­ver­sity Press, 2003). The clas­sic account of these con­cerns in 1960s activism, espe­cially the prob­lem of orga­ni­za­tion-build­ing through indi­vid­ual and col­lec­tive griev­ances, which touches upon the same prob­lem­atic encoun­tered by ERAP and JOIN, remains Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward, Poor People’s Move­ments: Why They Suc­ceed, How They Fail (New York: Vin­tage, 1979), espe­cially 284-288, 296-308. 

  23. I owe this point to dis­cus­sions with Delio Vasquez and his unpub­lished paper “Crim­i­nal­ized Pol­i­tics and Politi­cized Crime: Ille­gal Black Resis­tance in the 1960s and 70s,” deliv­ered at the UC-Santa Cruz Fri­day Forum for Grad­u­ate Research, Feb­ru­ary 13th, 2015. 

  24. Son­nie and Tracy, op. cit.,  72. 

  25. The phrase is Son­nie and Tracy’s, but points to a real def­i­n­i­tional prob­lem in how we con­cep­tu­al­ize the bound­aries of polit­i­cal work and processes of polit­i­cal edu­ca­tion. 

  26. See Ernesto Laclau, On Pop­ulist Rea­son (New York: Verso, 2005), 67-128. 

  27. Frost, 116. 

  28. Son­nie and Tracy, 76. More exten­sive analy­ses of the Civil War existed on the New Left, and would flour­ish in the New Com­mu­nist Move­ment, with Theodore Allen and Noel Ignatiev’s for­ma­tive account, men­tioned above, of white-skin priv­i­lege within the his­tory of the United States labor move­ment, “The White Blindspot” and Ignatiev’s “Black Worker, White Worker,” being among the more robust. For a recent path­break­ing Marx­ist analy­sis of the causes and effects of the Civil War, and its con­nec­tion to the his­tory of forms of social labor in the United States, see Charles Post, The Amer­i­can Road to Cap­i­tal­ism (Lei­den: Brill, 2011). 

  29. See The Civil War in Appalachia: Col­lected Essays, ed. Ken­neth W. Noe and Shan­non H. Wilson (Knoxville: Uni­ver­sity of Ten­nessee Press, 1997); Wilma Dun­away, Slav­ery in the Amer­i­can Moun­tain South (Cam­bridge: Cam­bridge Uni­ver­sity Press, 2003). 

  30. Cf. Stephanie McCurry, Con­fed­er­ate Reck­on­ing: Power and Pol­i­tics in the Civil War South (Cam­bridge, MA: Har­vard Uni­ver­sity Press, 2010); for the author’s con­cise syn­op­sis of her research, see Stephanie McCurry, “Reck­on­ing with the Con­fed­er­acy,” South Atlantic Quar­terly 112.3 (Sum­mer 2013), 481-488. 

  31. Cf. John C. Inscoe, “‘Mov­ing Through Deserter Coun­try’: Fugi­tive Accounts of the Inner Civil War in South­ern Appalachia,” in Noe and Wilson, ed., op. cit., 158-186; also Steven Hahn, A Nation Under Our Feet: Black Polit­i­cal Strug­gles in the Rural South from Slav­ery to the Great Migra­tion (Cam­bridge, MA: Har­vard Uni­ver­sity Press, 2003). 

  32. Gregg L. Michel. Strug­gle for a Bet­ter South: The South­ern Stu­dent Orga­niz­ing Com­mit­tee, 1964–1969 (New York: Pal­grave Macmil­lan. 2005), 50, 247, n.47. 

  33. A pas­sage from an arti­cle in The Patriot news­pa­per from 1970. Thanks to Hy Thur­man and Ethan Young for the ref­er­ence. 

  34. The Patriot Party, op. cit., 239. Amiri Baraka made this argu­ment in remark­ably sim­i­lar terms four years later, in his “Toward Ide­o­log­i­cal Clar­ity”: “If we con­tinue to act as if whites do not exist in this soci­ety, we will be left try­ing to build a fan­tasy world in which the skin broth­er­hood will be the answer to all prob­lems rather than polit­i­cal con­scious­ness.” This posi­tion paper was pub­lished in Black World, Novem­ber 1974, 91. 

Author of the article

was the field secretary of the Young Patriots Organization (YPO).