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 last year's 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 is scheduled to be held in Detroit in 2007.

2005 Allied Media Conference Featured Panel on the History of
Radical Media in Detroit

Charles Simmons & Abayomi Azikiwe spoke on alternative press

By a Pan-African News Wire Correspondent

Allied Media Conference web site:

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

"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 to 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

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

"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

"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. Within the so-called Hispanic community, mainly
among Puerto Ricans and Mexicans. Also 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
be 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. And 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 do to the changes stemming from the
current budget crisis in the city and the political
conservativism of the state-controlled school board.

Azikiwe stated that "we have to make the leasing of 90.0 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."

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