Open Forum Co-Hosts (left to right), Abayomi Azikiwe, PANW Editor, Titilayo Akanke & Malik Yakini. Photo taken at WDTR, 90.9 FM in Detroit (Nov. 25, 2001), a photo by panafnewswire on Flickr.
Originally Published on Tuesday, September 05, 2006
PANW Editor Reviewed Legacy of Radical Media in Detroit
PANW Editor's Note: The following article was written in the aftermath of the 2005 Allied Media Conference (AMC) at Bowling Green University in Ohio. Abayomi Azikiwe, along with Prof. Charles Simmons of Eastern Michigan University's Journalism Department, spoke on the history of alternative media in Detroit. The AMC has beeen held in Detroit since 2007.
2005 Allied Media Conference Featured Panel on the History of Radical Media in Detroit
Charles Simmons & Abayomi Azikiwe spoke on alternative press outlets
By a Pan-African News Wire Correspondent
Bowling Green, OH, 18 June, 2005 (PANW)--A national conference on the role of alternative media was held during the weekend of June 17-19 at Bowling Green State University. Entitled the "Allied Media Conference, New Solutions to Old Problems", the three day event showcased a variety of spokespersons within the broad spectrum of radical communications outlets and networks that exist today across the United States.
Individuals and organizations representing community radio stations, press agencies, publishing houses, foundations, youth centers, magazines, journals and popular art put on displays and held workshops and panels on the experience they have acquired over the recent period in countering the monumental impact of an ever increasing concentration of ownership and programming in the corporate-controlled media.
Some of the panels that were held addressed topics such as: "Are Our Messages Reaching the Right Audiences?; Zine Reading; Grassroots Fundraising; Microradio: Overview & Operations, etc. Many of the speakers represented the burgeoning movement of activists who are seeking means to not only get out the news and information that needs to be seen and heard but to also influence social change in the contemporary era.
Perhaps one of the most interesting panels took place on June 18 which featured Charles Simmons, professor of journalism and law at Eastern Michigan University and Abayomi Azikiwe, the editor of the Pan-African News Wire and a broadcast journalist, who both examined the history of radical media in the city of Detroit.
Charles Simmons began the discussion by conveying his own personal experiences in the United States Air Force during the early 1960s. Simmons had expressed an unwillingness to participate in American plans to invade Cuba after the Bay of Pigs incident in 1961 and the missile crisis which occured in October of 1962.
After being threatened by his superior officers, he was placed in military detention along with other dissidents in the service. It was during this period that Simmons began to read socialist literature and anti-war tracts through a study group established by those who were resisting the cold war policy of the government. Prior to this time period he had spoken with older GIs who had participated in the Korean war. These soldiers held a totally different perspective on the war than what had been promoted by the Eisenhower administration.
"I thought we had won the war, but when I spoke with people who had actually gone there to fight, they kept talking about how they had been beaten by the Korean and Chinese military forces," Simmons said.
In regard to US-Cuba relations, Simmons said that "we had seen the newsreels of Malcolm X meeting with Castro during his visit in 1960 to Harlem and therefore we could not be against Castro if he was liked by Malcolm."
"We never had a fair media in the African-American community other than our own," said Simmons. "The media's handling of the African American community has been unfair from the beginning. It has been racist, it was biased in every way we can think of, it was exclusive and in many communities as it relates to African American societies, we only had some mention of the African American community one day a week.
Many of the mainstream papers would have a section called the "Colored Section" or the "Negro Section" and it was basically a discussion of some level of crime, entertainment and sports." According to Simmons, "it really hasn't changed since then, except we have more days of it and it is broadcast through cable and satellite.
"We were dealing with lynchings in that period and it really hasn't been that long ago. I can remember when Emmit Till was lynched. We were the same age. He was visiting his grandparents in the South and I would do the same thing."
Simmons then went on to discuss some of the organizations in the African-American community that have published newspapers. He mentioned the Nation of Islam which published the Muhammad Speaks.
After his release from the military he returned to Detroit and attended Wayne State University. He became a student activist with UHURU, one of the early militant organizations on campus during the 1960s. "We started to produce leaflets and we mimeographed them right on the campus. At that time people didn't get a lot of flyers and junk mail. We were not saturated with a lot of information. Television wasn't that old and experienced as it is now," Simmons continued.
"We published a newsletter called the Black Vanguard that was circulated in the factories. Also we put out a publication for students called The Razor. We were radicalized more by a trip we took to Cuba in 1964 designed to challenge the State Department's travel ban on the country. We were fortunate to meet Robert Williams there who was in exile from the struggle in the United States. We also met Che Guervara and got to talk with him. We got to play baseball and talk to Fidel Castro. There were a lot of young people in Cuba from the ANC (African National Congress) and the PAC (Pan Africanists Congress) from South Africa, there were people from Namibia and other countries."
Later the political activities of people in Detroit led to the organization of the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement (DRUM). Simmons discussed how the organizing expanded to other work places throughout the area. Eventually in 1969, the League of Revolutionary Black Workers (LRBW) was formed.
"There were newsletters printed in each plant named after each revolutionary union movement. When we had protests they were against both the company and the unions. We wanted to desegregate the leadership in the company and the union."
Simmons who later became an international correspondent for the Associated Press, also wrote for the Muhammad Speaks. He then discussed how the League of Revolutionary Black Workers took over the campus newspaper at Wayne State University, the South End, in 1968-69 and ran it as a city wide publication that was heavily circulated in the plants, the community and the schools.
Alternative media in post-industrial Detroit
Abayomi Azikiwe then spoke about the changing character of radical media in Detroit beginning in the middle to late 1970s.
"The whole evolution of radical and alternative media in Detroit was an outgrowth of the popular struggles of African people in the United States and around the world which took place coming out of the post World War II period--and of course becoming more intensified during the 1960s and early 1970s. As Charles talked about during the 1960s, the African American community was in a state of popular revolt. For example, if you read the Kerner Commission Report on Civil Disorder, which was published in the spring of 1968, it indicates that the previous year there had been over 164 rebellions in the United States that were principally led by African Americans."
"In 1968, right in the aftermath of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., over 125 cities had popular rebellions during that particular time period. That extended throughout the summer of 1968. This was also paralleled by a rise of activism in the white community, particularly among the youth. Also activism grew within the so-called Hispanic community, mainly among Puerto Ricans and Mexicans. Then among the Asian American youth as well, largely out on the west coast."
According to Azikiwe, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated as a result of his evolving position linking the Vietnam War with the struggle for civil and human rights in the country. After 1965 the civil rights movement began to reassess its position to address the economic conditions facing African Americans. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were tremendous victories but they could not totally address the socio-economic crisis in the African American communities across the country.
"All of this coincided with the so-called Counter-Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO). This program was designed by the FBI during the 1950s primarily to crush the Communist Party and the left in the United States.
However, by the early 1960s with the burgeoning civil rights movement, most of the efforts that emerged from the Counter-Intelligence Program were geared towards stifling and ultimately smashing the black liberation movement, both the civil rights aspects of the movement as well as the black power and black revolutionary aspects of the movement," Azikiwe continued.
"So by 1969-70, we had hundreds of members of the Black Panther Party and other organizations that had been incarcerated, who had been indicted on criminal charges. So we had a whole attempted criminalization of the African American liberation struggle."
"At the same time, we had burgeoning national liberation movements in Africa. In Guinea-Bissau you had the PAIGC (African Party for the Independence of Guinea). In Mozambique there was FRELIMO (Mozambique Liberation Front). In Angola there was the MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola). In Namibia there was the South-west African Peoples Organization (SWAPO). In Zimbabwe you had the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), and the Zimbabwe African Peoples Union (ZAPU). In South Africa it was the African National Congress (ANC). All of these organizations saw the United States as being a principal impediment to their own excercise in self-emancipation.
"The African-American liberation movement in the United States attempted to hook up with the Vietnamese liberation struggle as well as the national liberation movements in Africa and other parts of the so-called Third World," Azikiwe stated.
Illustrating the significance of the struggle in the United States during this period, Azikiwe recalled how the North Vietnamese government had offered to release all United States prisoners of war in exchange for the Americans releasing both Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale, the founders of the Black Panther Party for Self-defense. Seale and Newton were incarcerated during the fall of 1969 when the offer was made. The United States government under the Nixon administration immediately rejected the notion of linking the war in Vietnam with the black liberation struggle in the United States.
During the early 1970s there were numerous splits within various revolutionary organizations. It is Azikiwe's contention that these fissures were related to the pressure exerted against the black liberation movement by the Counter-Intelligence Program. All of these organizations had independent journals.
He cited the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee's (SNCC) newsletters: The Student Voice and the The Movement.
In addition, he spoke about the Black Panther newspaper, the Inner City Voice, published by the LRBW in Detroit, which lasted for several years.
These publications were viewed as a threat by the federal government. According to Azikiwe, J. Edgar Hoover targeted the Black Panther newspaper for disruption because it was the most effective tool the party had during its peak between 1968 and 1971. The newspaper's circulation was reported to have been a quarter-of-a-million copies every week.
"In the Black Panther newspaper you could not only find articles dealing with the struggle in the United States, you could also find international news. They had articles by Kim Il-Sung, Mao Tse-Tung. They had information about the struggles in South Africa, in Congo, in Congo-Brazzaville, in Cuba. In fact Eldridge Cleaver, who was the Minister of Information of the Black Panther Party at that time, when he fled the United States in 1968, the first place he went after he stopped in Canada, was Cuba. Robert Williams had also been there earlier," Azikiwe continued.
Azikiwe mentioned that the Muhammad Speaks, which Charles Simmons was a correspondent for, was one of the best newspapers coming out of the country during this time period. He mentioned that there would be some information on the religous views of the Nation of Islam under Elijah Muhammad. However, the bulk of the paper was objective news coverage of national and international issues confronting African people internationally.
"There were articles in the paper by Charles Howard, who was the United Nations correspondent for the Muhammad Speaks.
There were articles by Shirley Graham DuBois, who was the widow of W.E.B. Dubois, then living in Cairo and the People's Republic of China. All types of great information, in fact the Muahmmad Speaks is still available on microfilm for people who want additional information about that period. If you are really serious about doing historical studies about the 1960s and 1970s, the Muhammad Speaks is an excellent primary resource document. "
Azikiwe went on to discuss the impact of the Counter-Intelligence Program on the black alternative press during this era.
"Many of those organs that I mentioned earlier dissolved. For example, the Movement stopped publishing around 1970.
The Black Panther newspaper after the split in 1971 continued but it did not have the same impact as before. The newspaper published until 1980. The Inner City Voice stopped publishing around 1971.
The Muhammad Speaks, as a result of the death of Elijah Muhammad in 1975, his son, Wallace Muhammad, took over the organization in 1975 and about six months after the death of Elijah Muhammad, tremendous changes took place within the Nation of Islam. They closed down a lot of their businesses across the country and one of the casualties of that whole shift in the Nation of Islam was of course the dissolution of the Muhammad Speaks newspaper. This was a major loss to the African-American community and the world."
"The South End newspaper was taken over by the administration in 1973 at Wayne State University. They set it up where in fact students were not able to control the editorial direction of the newspaper. By the time I got to the University in the late 1970s, all of these things had been pretty much eliminated or were in decline. Joining black student organizations during that time period there was a void. It was in the aftermath of the tremendous impact of the Counter-Intelligence Program: the jailing of hundreds of activists in this country, the driving into exile of many others. The fact that the newspapers had been shut down and
gone out of business created a tremendous void as it related to radical and revolutionary ideas during that period.
"During that period," Azikiwe continued, "you had the development of smaller, more limited publications. For example in 1982, we created African Viewpoint, a newsletter.
"It only published a few issues dealing with the struggles in Africa and the anti-racist struggle in the United States. Later Pambana Journal was created which published for over 15 years. By the mid-1990s, with the development of the internet technologies, this phenomena had a tremendous impact on the movement building activities."
Azikiwe attributes the mass mobilizations around the defense of Mumia Abu-Jamal and the anti-war movement to the effective use of the world wide web. "Today we are in a position to effectively compete with the corporate media. We have to utilize technology to advance the popular struggles to a new level of development in the United States."
During the question and answer period, one audience particpant lamented the lack of knowledge by many younger people in Detroit about the tremendous historical legacy within the city.
Azikiwe pointed out that this information is not taught in the schools or advanced through the mass media and that it is the responsibility of the activists' community to find creative ways of telling the true peoples' history of the country.
Another question related to the status of educational radio in Detroit which has been leased to Detroit Public Television for management purposes. Azikiwe, who was a co-host along with Malik Yakini and Titilayo Akanke on the Open Forum weekly radio program over Detroit Public Schools radio, had there program eliminated due to the changes stemming from the current budget crisis in the city and the politcal conservativism of the state-controlled school board.
Azikiwe stated that "we have to make the leasing of 90.9 FM a political issue in the upcoming school board elections, the first in six years. The station was bought and paid for by the taxpayers of Detroit and they should control its programmatic direction. Public television does not broadcast to people in the city and therefore should not be in charge of a Detroit educational station. We are demanding full restoration of community programming over educational radio," he declared.
In concluding the panel, Azikiwe encouraged the media activists present and said that "the days of independent media are here."