A legacy forgotten: Lost history must be reclaimed

Alex Skaggs, Opinion Editor

Once a year, the country comes together to remember the legacy of a man who seemed to change the world in an instant. They speak of him in admiration and praise. Few, if any, could speak out against him besides those who are explicitly racist. And today, his message is generally accepted. I mean, who could possibly believe racism is right?

Yet, there’s one issue with this. Contrary to popular belief, Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t just speak out against racial prejudice, nor did any other who participated in the various interlinking movements of Black liberation, nationalism, and civil rights. MLK was only one of many belonging to a radical American tradition which spoke out against the systemic injustices in this country.

Yes, systemic injustice, problems which are so engrained in the very fabric of society that they oppress others in ways which we can be blind too. These are the issues to which groups and individuals such as the Black Panther Party, Malcolm X, Angela Davis, Assata Shakur, and MLK (among many others) spoke out against.

But the legacy of resistance which America remembers has been sanitized to erase any semblance of past organization against these systemic injustices, especially that of economic inequality, which even MLK started to criticize later in his life before his assassination. This, he said, was the one “genuine equality” which we should fight for.

In addition, The BPP and radicals like Malcom X or Shakur took this fight against systemic injustices even further, but their history is shrouded in a narrative of false accusations of crime and violence which have been perpetuated by the media and failure to properly teach this “lost history.” This wasn’t a mistake, either.

In fact, the government created its own special program to combat a variety of things, later including that of which they labeled “Black extremists,” coupled in with the likes of the Ku Klux Klan. In documents which are now available to the public due to the Freedom and Information Act, the FBI was controversially involved in invading the privacy and lives of American citizens, all because they were Black people who were willing to resist.

The program they created, under direction of J. Edgar Hoover, was called COINTELPRO, and its actions reverberated in almost every corner of the Black radical tradition starting in the 60s. Hidden to the country, COINTELPRO did everything it could to target prominent movements and leaders who could be seen as disruptive. According to PBS’s a Huey P. Newton Story, there where 233 documented actions taken against the Black Panther Party, out of a total of 295 against Black groups in general.

Those who challenged the status-quo of white supremacy and racism even in the smallest of ways became targets for government persecution. Even Martin Luther King became a target of the FBI and its investigative eyes. Things eventually escalated so badly that Fred Hampton, leader of the Chicago chapter of the BPP, was shot and killed in a raid.

Some might believe that he rightfully deserved it, just for his affiliation with the revolutionary group, but that stance would only be fueled by the same narrative COINTELPRO helped to create. The BPP, in a shadow of accusations of murder and terrorism, was a key organization in creating institutions that fed and took care of their communities. According to the Black Panther Party Research Project, the BPP created a total of 65 different programs serving various purposes to improve their community. For example, in almost every city where a BPP chapter was active, they created a program which was able to provide free food for children in need.

Remembering the legacy of the people and groups in our recent history is important, especially when considering the creation and impact of new movements like Black Lives Matter. What can we learn from the past? How will the government of today continue to oppress people? We already see how police departments all over the country, especially in places like Ferguson, St. Louis, or Baltimore, have reacted in response to protests over police brutality.

Educate each other, let’s keep this history alive and well.