Category Archives: United States of America

Who Pays for Think Tanks?


Who Pays for Think Tanks?

Corporate and foundation money often comes with an agenda


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Think tanks are important institutions that provide information and analysis to both policy-makers and the public. But when they court donations, it can become unclear whether that analysis is tainted by donor agendas.

Read MORE:
Wealthy Donors and Corporations Set Think Tanks’ Agendas

Just what is a think tank?

Revealed: who pays for the corporate lobbyist Think Tanks?

Ken Silverstein in the Nation (5/21/13) recently exposed the extent to which positions at the center-left Center for American Progress (CAP) and other think tanks were shaped by the interests of donors. “Staffers were very clearly instructed to check with the think tank’s development team before writing anything that might upset contributors,” Silverstein reported.

The 25 institutions in FAIR’s study of think tank citations have gotten money from corporations, foundations, governments and individual donors. The law does not require public disclosure of who the donors are, though donations above $5,000 are reported to the IRS. Many think tanks thank their donors in their annual reports, while others list donors on their websites. Sometimes the trawling of tax documents is required to figure out who is giving—and what they’re getting in return.

The sobering news about atmospheric carbon dioxide passing 400 parts per million (Guardian, 5/10/13) is another reminder that the global community needs to quickly take serious steps to avert looming ecological catastrophe, but with world leaders relying on research funded by the energy industry, it is unlikely the drastic measures required will be considered.

Pete Peterson (cc photo: Lingjing Bao/Talk Radio News Service)

Billionaire Pete Peterson has ties to five top think tanks (cc photo: Lingjing Bao/Talk Radio News Service)

Almost two-thirds of the think tanks studied (16 out of 25) took money from at least one oil company. Thirteen—more than half—were funded by ExxonMobil, while more than a third, nine, were funded by Chevron; the Koch brothers contributed to seven. Shell gave to four think tanks, and Conoco-Phillips and BP each funded three.

Reflecting the clout that big donations bring, various think tanks have Big Energy sitting on their boards. The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has Rex W. Tillerson, chair and CEO of ExxonMobil, on its board of trustees, along with John Hess of Hess Oil. Duke Energy chief Jim Rogers sits on the boards of the Brookings Institution and the Aspen Institute. Aspen also has David Koch of Koch Industries, who’s on the board of the Cato Institute as well. The board of trustees of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) features the “Honorable Richard B. Cheney.”

Lockheed Martin's SR-71 Blackbird

War-related issues are also of vital public concern—and the companies that most profit from war are using their wealth to shape the discussion in ways that benefit them. Just under half (12 of 25) of the most-cited think tanks take money from weapons manufacturers; General Electric bankrolls 11 of them, while Boeing and Lockheed Martin each contributed to six. Four got donations from Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon financed three.

Ten of the 25 think tanks received donations from finance corporations. Five have finance executives on their boards; Brookings has three different Goldman Sachs–linked individuals, while Aspen has two. The board of the Institute for International Economics (IIE) has three members linked to Citigroup, and the Carnegie Endowment has one.

Thirteen of the think tanks had connections to the for-profit healthcare industry, either by donation or by board members. Nine received donations from pharmaceutical interests like Pfizer, Merck and the lobbying group PhRMA, while three have accepted money from health insurance companies like MetLife. AEI’s board has Wilson Taylor, chair emeritus of Cigna, while Brookings’ contains former Cigna chair Ralph Saul. IIE’s board holds Karen Katen, former vice chair of Pfizer, and Ronald Williams, retired chair and CEO of Aetna.

Think tanks are also funded by charitable foundations, often channeling the fortunes of wealthy families of individuals, many of which have an ideological agenda that can be seen clearly in their choice of beneficiaries. Foundations tied to Richard Mellon Scaife, the Mellon banking heir who has helped to “fund the creation of the modern conservative movement in America” (Washington Post, 5/2/99), have bank-rolled the Manhattan Institute, AEI, Heritage, Hoover, Cato and CSIS. Scaife sits on the boards of Heritage and the Hoover Institution.

The Koch brothers foundations support Cato (where David Koch is on the board), Heritage, AEI, Manhattan and the Woodrow Wilson Center. The DeVos family, whose fortune derives from Amway, fund through various foundations AEI, Heritage and Cato. The Gilder Foundation funds the Manhattan Institute (where its founder is chair emeritus), Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), Cato and Heritage. The Bradley Foundation donates to AEI, Heritage, Manhattan, Hoover and Cato.

The Walton Family Foundation, created by the family of billionaires who own Walmart, have given money to conservative groups like AEI, Heritage, Manhattan, Hoover and Cato. They’ve also given money to the centrist Brookings and the center-left CAP, which backs President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, a program that may drive up costs for Walmart’s small business competitors (Business Insider6/30/09).

Wall Street billionaire Pete Peterson, who has relentlessly campaigned against retirement benefits through programs he helped launch like the Concord Coalition and the Fix the Debt campaign (Extra!3-4/976/10CounterSpin3/15/1311/16/12), is the former chair of the Council on Foreign Relations (and is still on CFR s board) and the founding chair of the IIE. His entities have bankrolled the Atlantic Council, Economic Policy Institute (EPI) and New America Foundation (NAF).

Billionaire financier George Soros is an outlier among wealthy givers, contributing through multiple foundations and corporations to a variety of institutions ranging from center-right to progressive: the Center for Economic and Policy Research, Woodrow Wilson Center, Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, Carnegie, Aspen, Brookings, Cato, CFR, EPI, NAF and CAP.

Think Tank Ties to Media


 

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Neo-Con Think Tanks that Drive Policy and Send us to WAR


The military-industrial-propaganda complex: The neo-con think tanks that drive policy and send us to war

Well-funded think tanks push corporate agendas through media “experts” and sustain the neo-conservative apparatus


America’s first think tanks developed in the early 1900s and grew out of a desire to improve government and to help government think, according to McGann. The first kind of think tank was the academic model, such as the Brookings Institution, founded in 1916 by reformers devoted to fact-based studies of national public-policy issues. Experts at Brookings played a role in shaping plans for the United Nations and the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after World War II. The next model, McGann says, was the RAND Corporation, established in 1920 as a consulting agency for the government.

The advocacy think tanks emerged in the 1960s. These new-style organizations, which campaigned actively for their policy preferences, tended to reflect that decade’s swing to the political left. But the next two decades saw what McGann calls “a sort of conservative counter-revolution,” leading to a “war of ideas,” with openly ideological or partisan think tanks proliferating on both sides.

In 1963, during the period of the Vietnam War and the Great Society, the first advocacy institution was the left-leaning Institute for Policy Studies. The neoconservative Heritage Foundation was founded in 1973.

Conservative think tanks have more power and influence today in U.S. politics, McGann says, adding that there is “increasing criticism and worry over the domination of the right on policy.” David Callahan wrote in the Washington Monthly in November 1999, “The big development of the 1990s is that conservative institutes have had spectacular new success in tapping business money to fund ideologically charged policy research.” According to Callahan, “Corporate giving to right-wing groups has steadily increased as private sector leaders have seen the effectiveness with which conservative think tanks, and their armies of credentialed ‘experts,’ advance business interests in the political arena. Money, it turns out, can buy scholars as well as politicians.”

Callahan wrote that the “current gusher of corporate funding for right-wing policy work has its roots in the 1970s, when leading conservative thinkers appealed to corporations to fund intellectuals who supported their economic interests.” He pointed out that corporate leaders make up the overwhelming majority of board members at most conservative think tanks. “Even the American Enterprise Institute, among the most scholarly of conservative think tanks, has some two dozen corporate leaders on its board and only one academic, James Q. Wilson.” Wilson, who taught at Harvard, died in 2012.

One of the most powerful underwriters of far-right-wing conservative causes is Koch Industries, the oil and chemicals conglomerate based in Wichita, Kansas, with annual revenues estimated to be $100 billion. The conglomerate operates oil refineries in Alaska, Texas, and Minnesota and controls some four thousand miles of pipeline.

Writer Jane Mayer described the political activities of Koch’s owners, David and Charles Koch, in an August 30, 2010, issue of The New Yorker magazine. Since the 1980s, the Koch brothers have provided more than $30 million to George Mason University, in Arlington, Virginia, much of it for a think tank called the Mercatus Center, which describes itself as “the world’s premier university source for market-oriented ideas and real world problems.”

Mayer quotes an environmental lawyer who has clashed with the Mercatus Center and who explained to her how corporate interests use think tanks to promote their private agendas. “You take corporate money and give it to a neutral-sounding think tank” that “hires people with pedigrees and academic degrees who put out credible-seeming studies. But they all coincide perfectly with the economic interests of their funders.” Among the largest and most influential of the conservative think tanks, in addition to the American Enterprise Institute, are the Heritage Foundation, based in Washington, D.C., and the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in California.

More than twenty AEI people wound up with top jobs in the George W. Bush administration. Paul Wolfowitz, the former deputy defense secretary and backer of the Iraq War, is now a visiting scholar at the AEI, which has an annual budget of about $20 million. It has about fifty so-called scholars and about 150 on the payroll. Its objective is to influence public policy. Christopher DeMuth, president of the AEI from 1986 through 2008, who worked in both the Nixon and Reagan administrations, put it this way: “We try to get in the newspaper op-ed pages and hawk our books and magazines much more aggressively than a university would feel comfortable with.”

If you watch the op-ed pages in the newspapers carefully, you will find the AEI and other think tanks well represented, week after week, month after month. You will also see them on television presenting their point of view. When network-television talk shows and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) want “experts” on foreign policy, they often turn to the AEI or other prominent think tanks. But they don’t always tell the public who is paying the salaries of the “experts.” You can bet it is corporate America.

DeMuth, for example, has said that his board of trustees is composed of twenty-four business and financial executives. “They read our work. They tell me what they like, and they tell me what they don’t like.” In his 2005 interview, DeMuth said the AEI raised $20 million to $25 million a year with a third of the money coming from corporations, a third from individuals, and a third from foundations. “We have over three hundred corporate donors,” he said.

Rob Stein, by profession a venture capitalist, but a former strategic adviser to the Democratic National Committee, has spent years studying conservative groups. From 2003 to 2005, by his estimate, conservative organizations spent about $295 million seeking to influence policy while those of the left spent about $75 million.

More recently, bestselling author Thomas Frank wrote in a New York Times column, “During the last three decades a cottage industry of conservative institutions and foundations has grown into a powerful quasi-academy with seven-figure budgets and phalanxes of ‘senior fellows’ and ‘distinguished chairs.’ While real academics dither and fret over bugbears like certainty and balance, the scholars of the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute act boldly in the knowledge, to quote a seminal conservative text, that ideas have consequences.” The AEI “has long been the reliable source of corporate money. Its principals effectively ran the Goldwater campaign in 1964 and it was deep thinkers from the institute who, after moving into the Bush administration, dreamed up the war in Iraq.”

A prominent opponent of the war was the libertarian Cato Institute, which is conservative on domestic issues but traditionally opposed to foreign intervention. In California’s Orange County Register, Cato vice president Ted Galen Carpenter wrote—just days before the war began—that the pro-war camp’s justifications for invading Iraq were faulty: “The United States is supposed to be a constitutional republic. As such, the job of the U.S. military is to defend the vital security interests of the American people. U.S. troops are not armed crusaders with a mission to right all wrongs and liberate oppressed populations. American dollars are too scarce and American lives too precious for such feckless ventures.”

As for the idea that Saddam’s overthrow would trigger a democratic transformation in the Middle East, Carpenter said, “This is a fantasy. The harsh reality is that the Middle East has no history of democratic rule, democratic institutions or serious democratic movements. To expect stable democracies to emerge from such an environment is naïve.” He went on, “If free elections were held today in such countries as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, they would produce virulently anti-American governments.”

The libertarians were right. The hawks were wrong.

HAWKS IN AFGHANISTAN

Two of Washington’s most successful think-tank hawks are Frederick and Kimberly Kagan, the husband-and-wife team who spent a year in Afghanistan working as unpaid volunteers for the U.S. general in charge of the war. Frederick Kagan is a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, which has a history of supporting American military intervention around the world.

Having written papers that advocate an aggressive U.S. military policy, the Kagans moved to Afghanistan in 2010 and embedded themselves as “de facto senior advisors” to General David Petraeus. The Kagans were given top-level security clearance in Kabul, where they reviewed classified intelligence reports and participated in strategy sessions. The Kagans used their positions to advocate substantive changes in the U.S. war plan, “including a harder-edged approach,” according to a Washington Post report about them, published December 18, 2012.

Think-tank hawks have always sought to impact defense policy. The Kagans found a way to go beyond traditional influence peddling and gain the ear of the military man in charge of a real war. The Kagans were not paid by the U.S. government for their work, but their proximity to Petraeus provided valuable benefits. The Post article reported that the arrangement with Petraeus “provided an incentive for defense contractors to contribute to Kim Kagan’s think tank,” the Institute for the Study of War, which advocates an aggressive U.S. foreign policy. At an August 2011 dinner, Kim Kagan thanked two contractors, DynCorp International and CACI International, for funding her institute and making it possible for her to spend a year in Afghanistan with Petraeus.


Excerpted from America’s War Machine: Vested Interests, Endless Conflicts by James McCartney with Molly Sinclair McCartney. Copyright © 2015 by Molly Sinclair McCartney and reprinted by permission of Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press, LLC. All rights reserved.

 

 

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How Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Letter to his Son About Being BLACK in America Became a Bestseller


How Ta-Nehisi Coates’s letter to his son about being black in America became a bestseller

Between the World and Me is a vital analysis of America’s race problem. Here Coates explains how James Baldwin and his own father inspired his powerful message
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates – extract

 | Sunday 20 September 2015 

Ta-Nehisi Coates

Coates’s book is a profound and angry address to a nation that refuses to prosecute police officers who kill innocent black men and women; that pursues a policy of mass incarceration hugely weighted towards its black population; and that routinely seems to think nothing of it. It is also an intimate confession of the fears of a black American father, fears that whatever positive values he gives his son, however hard he encourages him to work in school and do the right thing, out on the streets his body, the colour of his skin, will make him vulnerable to state-sanctioned attack. Coates has heard Samori weeping in his bedroom after watching the night-time news. The book is a response to the sense of powerlessness, and fear, that evokes in him.

“I write to you in your 15th year,” Coates explains by way of introduction. “I am writing to you because this was the year you saw Eric Garner choked to death for selling cigarettes; because you know now that Renisha McBride was shot for seeking help, that John Crawford was shot down for browsing in a department store. And you have seen men in uniform drive by and murder Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old child they were oath-bound to protect. And you know now, if you did not know before, that the police departments of your country have been endowed with the authority to destroy your body. It does not matter if the destruction is the result of an unfortunate overreaction. It does not matter if it originates in a misunderstanding… Sell cigarettes without the proper authority and your body can be destroyed. Resent the people trying to entrap your body and it can be destroyed. Turn into a dark stairwell and your body can be destroyed. The destroyers will rarely be held accountable. Mostly they will receive pensions. And destruction is merely the superlative form of a dominion whose prerogatives include friskings, detainings, beatings and humiliations. All of this is common to black people. All of this is old for black people. No one is held responsible.”

It is Coates’s contention in the book that despite civil rights, despite the symbolism of Obama, violence towards, and subjugation of, black men and women remains ingrained in American culture from slavery. The denial of that fact is part of the “Dream” by which, in a phrase borrowed from Baldwin, those “who believe themselves to be white” maintain power and righteousness. The book is extraordinary both for the depth of its feeling and the unusual power of its writing – Coates is an atheist, but inhabits the cadences of the great religious orators as well as the voices of his literary heroes, Baldwin and Richard Wright, and mixes in some of the verbal inventiveness of hip-hop with which he grew up. Toni Morrison, who knows something about the language of provocation and wisdom, suggests that “its examination of the hazards and hopes of the black male life is as profound as it is revelatory. This is required reading.”

I met Coates a couple of weeks ago in a cafe in Paris, where he has decided to live for a year with his wife and son. It is his son’s first day at his new school and Coates is a little preoccupied by the fact that he will be the only English-speaker in his new class. One of the conclusions of his book, its pessimism about the circumscribed nature of black American life, is that escape is one option. He remembers nearly a decade ago his wife wondering aloud if they should consider a move to Paris. She subsequently took a trip and came back full of hopes and stories and with a stack of photographs of the French capital’s enormous doorways, with which she had become fascinated. Coates, who at the time had never had a passport himself, examined these pictures in their cramped Harlem apartment. “It had never occurred to me that such giant doors could exist, could be so common in one part of the world and totally absent in another…” The doors looked a lot like a symbolic way out. Some years later, while writing his book, Coates made a trip himself, and was entranced above all by the freedom, the absence of fear (“because my eyes were made in Baltimore, because my eyes were blindfolded by fear”) that he felt as an “alien American” in Paris. The family came over for a summer, and now they have moved here.

I wonder first, if that original liberating feeling persists? “It does,” he says. “I fell in love with it here and I still feel that. I like the distance. It’s helpful for me. It is interesting for me to be here and to be seen just as an American, primarily that. I talk and that’s my identity. It is a very different mask to back at home.”

BALDWIN<br>Author James Baldwin, author of the influential 1963 book The Fire Next Time.
Author James Baldwin, author of the influential 1963 book The Fire Next Time. Photograph: Associated Press

It took James Baldwin, another exile in Paris, that same distance to reveal a truer understanding of his native country. Coates only did the final edits of his own book in Paris, but was that context part of the appeal too?

“It was, and it is helpful,” he says. “The lines around race are much, much harsher at home. I am not saying they don’t have issues around racism here or in London or wherever, but racism in America is very, very sexualised.

“I haven’t fully worked that out but I think the way people actually came to be in America, through sexual violence, really has affected how black folks are seen. It is not the same as an immigrant population, as someone who just happens to be from somewhere else. Especially down south. There was no United States before slavery. I am sure somebody can make some sort of argument about modern French identity and slavery and north Africa, but there simply is no American history before black people.”

I guess one other aspect of his chosen exile is that it removes him somewhat from the attention his book has afforded him. That attention has gone right up to the White House, where Coates has been invited a couple of times to put his views to the president. He has taken Obama to task for not being more vocal on race issues; the last time they met the president took him to one side to deliver a simple message: “Don’t despair.” He tries not to; instead he trusts in his writing to make a difference. He has a vivid blog about the issues he sets out in his book, and continues to write for the Atlantic – this week a long story about American prison policy has, he hopes, “kicked up some more dust” – but he has no wish to be a talking head. He wrote the book, he says, because he felt he had no option not to, the news of last year being so bad.

“I am a little surprised to be honest by the scale of the reaction to it,” he says. “My editor said he had never seen anything like it. I can’t explain it. Expecting a reaction is almost contrary to the idea of writing over a long period of time. I don’t know. I was like a doctor trying to deliver a baby – you can’t imagine that kid at 18. I just wanted to deliver the baby successfully.”

It is, I say, a different kind of voice to most of his journalism, that richness of language; it almost demands to be spoken out loud. Was that the plan? “I didn’t start off as a journalist, I started off as a poet,” he says. “My ambition was to practise poetry. Then I found journalism but that other voice never fled from me. See, everybody makes the James Baldwin comparison, and they think it is a political comparison. They say you are saying the kinds of things he was saying. But it’s not that. Or at least that is not the thing about Baldwin that inspired me. It’s more Baldwin understood that if you are going to say something important about the world it is best if you try to say it beautifully. I don’t mean like picking flowers or writing on fancy stationery. I mean how you say it actually makes it a more meaningful piece of writing. I am going to push that further. It makes it a truer piece of writing. What you are saying is: ‘Can I make somebody feel this in a deeper way?’ That was what I was obsessed with.”

Did that voice come easily? “Hell no. I wrote at least three complete drafts.” Was he adding poetry or taking it away? “It was stripping away. The early drafts were more flowery. The effort was to say more with less.”

The fact was, though, that he felt he had no choice but to do it. One impulse was a proper response to the protests in Ferguson, Missouri and New York and elsewhere – that and the fact he returned to reading The Fire Next Time, on its 50th anniversary, and found it spoke differently to him, more urgently perhaps than it had done before. “It’s easy to forget Baldwin was a journalist,” he says. “I mean he is interviewing [Nation of Islam leader] Elijah Mohammad and others in that book. It is not him sitting on his ass in Paris saying this is how I see the world.”

I point out that Baldwin was 39, like him, when he wrote it. Coates Googles to check; he thought Baldwin was younger. And I suggest that both books feel like mid-life books, not only in the sense of personal crisis, but also in that they are expressions not of the anger and hope of youth, but of the realism and anxiety of pushing 40.

Protests in New York
Coates was motivated to write about race by recent events such as the killing by police of Eric Garner, which sparked protests in New York (above). Photograph: Yana Paskova/Getty Images

“That’s about right,” he says. “I mean I read Baldwin when I was at Howard [the predominantly black university in Washington DC that counts many civil rights heroes and intellectuals among its alumni]. But it has taken until now to really get it. At the time, people were very excited about that crop of black intellectuals, Cornel West, Henry Louis Gates. They were wonderful thinkers but no one would claim they were beautiful writers. I read Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Sonia Sanchez. I would think about that shit for days. Those phrases stayed with me in my head you know, like Sanchez: ‘Do not speak to me of martyrdom/of men who die to be remembered/on some parish day./I don’t believe in dying/ though I too shall die/and violets like castanets/will echo me.’

“I mean: wow. It was so beautifully said. It took me a while to realise she was talking about Malcolm X. They shot him. There is immense grieving in that. And that seemed very relevant.”

University seemed to have offered Coates a way out of the quite brutalised life he had known as a child in Baltimore, where, as he recalled in his first book, a memoir called The Beautiful Struggle, a large part of his mental space was occupied by how to get safely to and from school in neighbourhoods where murderous gang violence had become the norm. As it was, he realised that escape was not so simple: a friend and peer of his at university, Prince Jones, a straight-A student, hoping to be a doctor, was shot in the back and killed by a plainclothes policeman in a case of “mistaken identity” in 2000. The officer was not prosecuted and kept his job. The sanctioned murder of Jones haunted Coates’s understanding of American life, and resurfaced with the spate of police killings in recent years. Some of the most moving passages in his book involve him going to see Dr Mabel Jones, his friend’s mother, whose loss and anger remain raw. It took all of that for him to get James Baldwin, nearing 40, and to fear for his own son’s life as he had once feared for his own, and to write.

“It’s like that phrase of Baldwin’s I use in the book,” he says: “‘Those who believe themselves to be white’: because once I got it, once I understood what he was saying, I thought it was the most beautiful thing I ever heard. What it does is introduce the idea of human agency into race. This shit isn’t natural, and it’s not accidental. There was a decision that was made here. And I realised beautiful writing could make you feel a certain way and you could carry those feelings in you for a long, long time. I really, really wanted to do that.”

What does Coates’s son make of the book that is addressed to him? “He likes it. It was not like it was a finished book and I handed it to him. He read it. He read a draft even before I turned it into a letter. And I asked him about doing that and he said sure. I would not have done it without his saying yes. I can’t yet see what he will make of it or do with it. He’s too young. I will know in 10 years.”

One of the reasons Coates thinks a lot about fathers and sons is that his own father, Paul Coates, tried to school him in similar ways. The substance of The Beautiful Struggle – a kind of hip-hop Portrait of the Artist, denser in its poetry than the new book – is the story of their relationship. Paul Coates was a Vietnam veteran and member of the Black Panther party, a follower of Malcolm X, a self-taught historian of black struggle in America and an obsessive collector of books that told the story of that history. When Coates himself was a boy, his father started a printing press and cottage publishing industry in their house to disseminate some of these stories in Baltimore and beyond. Paul Coates had six other children, practised free love, but unusually among his schoolfriends, Coates recalls, his father was ever-present in his childhood, encouraging him to read, encouraging him to write, and occasionally delivering brutal beatings when he strayed, justifying himself to Coates’s mother by asking: “Would you rather I did it or the cops?”

Coates with his son, Samori, in the summer of 2001.
Coates with his son, Samori, in the summer of 2001. Photograph: Ta-Nehisi Coates

“My dad always associated information with liberation,” Coates says. “He was very much in that Malcolm X tradition. I mean the story of Malcolm’s life was almost mythical. This guy goes into prison and he liberates himself through knowledge, finds a profound understanding of himself and his situation. That was an immensely powerful idea for men like my father. It was his version of the story of Jesus. He talked about it the way people talk about the crucifixion. You may not be able to change the course of government, but you can achieve some peace. And books were the path to that. I grew up in a house where books were everywhere. The authors my dad liked, the authors he likes, were all, like him, self-taught. He is talking about retiring at the moment but I think he might do it till the day he dies.”

His dad must be proud of Coates’s achievements? “Yes, he is very proud. And I am extremely pleased to have made him proud.”

You have become what he hoped you would become? “I don’t think he had any idea this was possible. I think he would have told you Ta-Nehisi is a smart kid he could get somewhere. But this is certainly beyond my imagination, and his.”

I wonder how much Coates felt himself in the tradition of that Black Panther movement that his father helped to organise, which advocated armed struggle as one means to achieve fuller liberation? “Violence was definitely part of it,” he says. “And that was powerful for me as a child, as I say in the book. Guns were romantic, right. But they were also part of the language that I recognise my country speaks. That is how we talk in America. The memoir was an attempt to take everything I was as a child, everything I had seen by the age of 19 or 20 and mash it together and try to find some kind of creative voice out of that.”

His experience of Baltimore at that time, he says, was very similar to that portrayed by David Simon in The Wire, a city falling apart because of the arrival of crack cocaine and abandonment of whole neighbourhoods by civic authorities. One way out was music: Coates’s first aspiration was to be a rap artist.

“Hip-hop was really the first literature I studied,” he says. “I tried to do it. But I wasn’t very good. It is extremely hard, it is not just a question of coming up with words that rhyme. When I first read Shakespeare, I fell in love with Macbeth. There was a particular scene where Macbeth is talking to the murderers, trying to get them to kill Banquo and they agree. ‘I am one, my liege, whom the vile blows and buffets of the world have so incensed that I am reckless what I do to spite the world.’ That sounded to me just like a rapper would describe his life. I’m just so beat down I don’t give a fuck. Bring it on. That is the core message of hip-hop right there. That realisation said to me there is something human in this, that desperation that is expressed there can’t be bounded by time, or place, or society, or race. It is a deeply human feeling.”

Coates with his father Paul. "Dad had been a captain in the Black Panther Party".
Coates with his father Paul. “Dad had been a captain in the Black Panther Party”. Photograph: Ta-Nehisi Coates
The act of articulating that feeling is, in a sense, the only hope that he offers Samori in his letter to him. The necessity is to understand the nature of the struggle, the way the land lies, and to be able to express it. Did he himself feel better for doing so? “Was it cathartic? I don’t know. I felt better that it was said. I didn’t want to walk around with it.”

In person Coates is warm and relaxed, full of intellectual energy, but his book is short on solace or solutions or much in the way of optimism. It preaches a gospel of brutal truths about race, and stresses the importance of acknowledging them as an aspiration in itself. Despite the fact of a black American president, despite the media focus on the protest against police killings, he sees no prospect of much change, at least not until America acknowledges the facts of its history. It is, I suggest, an argument above all against the requirement to be hopeful.

“Yes,” he says. “But I’m a writer. I have no responsibility to be hopeful. This is literature. I don’t need to be arguing that in five years we are going to turn a profit. I don’t need to look for redemption.”

But in America in particular, doesn’t that need for redemption, for optimism, run deep? “Yes and I think that it is deeply injurious to us all. If all your movies and all your stories have to end with the good guy winning on some fundamental level, your culture is not being honest about the world. My job is to look out and see what I see and to be just as honest as I can.”


Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates is published by Text Publishing (£10.99). Click here to order a copy for £8.79


Ta-Nehisi Coates: ‘In America, it is Traditional to Destroy the BLACK Body’


Ta-Nehisi Coates: ‘In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body’

Ta-Nehisi Coates | Sunday 20 September 2015 


Son,

The entire narrative of this country argues against the truth of who you are. I think of that summer that you may well remember when I loaded you and your cousin Christopher into the back seat of a rented car and pushed out to see what remained of Petersburg, Shirley Plantation, and the Wilderness. I was obsessed with the civil war because six hundred thousand people had died in it. And yet it had been glossed over in my education, and in popular culture, representations of the war and its reasons seemed obscured. And yet I know that in 1859 we were enslaved and in 1865 we were not, and what happened to us in those years struck me as having a certain amount of import. But whenever I visited any of the battlefields, I felt like I was greeted as if I were a nosy accountant conducting an audit and someone was trying to hide the books.

I don’t know if you remember how the film we saw at the Petersburg battlefield ended as though the fall of the Confederacy were the onset of a tragedy, not jubilee. I doubt you remember the man on our tour dressed in the grey wool of the Confederacy, or how every visitor seemed most interested in flanking manoeuvres, hardtack, smooth-bore rifles, grapeshot, but virtually no one was interested in what all of this engineering, invention and design had been marshalled to achieve. You were only 10 years old. But even then I knew that must trouble you, and this meant taking you into rooms where people would insult your intelligence, where thieves would try to enlist you in your own robbery and disguise their burning and looting as Christian charity. But robbery is what this is, what it always was.

At the onset of the civil war, our stolen bodies were worth four billion dollars, more than all of American industry, all of American railroads, workshops and factories combined, and the prime product rendered by our stolen bodies – cotton – was America’s primary export. The richest men in America lived in the Mississippi river valley and they made their riches off our stolen bodies. Our bodies were held in bondage by the early presidents. The first shot of the civil war was fired in South Carolina, where our bodies constituted the majority of human bodies in the state. Here is the motive for the great war. It’s not a secret. But we can do better and find the bandit confessing his crime. “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery,” declared Mississippi as it left the union, “the greatest material interest in the world.”

Coates with his son, Samori, in the summer of 2013.
 Coates with his son, Samori, in the summer of 2013.

But American reunion was built on a comfortable narrative that made enslavement into benevolence, white knights of body snatchers, and the mass slaughter of the war into a kind of sport in which one could conclude that both sides conducted their affairs with courage, honour and élan. This lie of the civil war is the lie of innocence, is the Dream. Historians conjured the Dream. Hollywood fortified the Dream. The Dream was gilded by novels and adventure stories. I, like every kid I knew, loved The Dukes of Hazzard. But I would have done well to think more about why two outlaws, driving a car named the General Lee, must necessarily be portrayed as “just some good ol’ boys, never meanin’ no harm” – a mantra for the Dreamers if ever there was one. But what one “means” is neither important nor relevant. It is not necessary that you believe that the officer who choked Eric Garner set out that day to destroy a body. All you need to understand is that the officer carries with him the power of the American state and the weight of an American legacy, and they necessitate that of the bodies destroyed every year, some wild and disproportionate number of them will be black.

Here is what I would like for you to know: In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body – it is heritage. Enslavement was not merely the antiseptic borrowing of labour – it is not so easy to get a human being to commit their body against its own elemental interest. And so enslavement must be casual wrath and random manglings, the gashing of heads and brains blown out over the river as the body seeks to escape. It must be rape so regular as to be industrial. There is no uplifting way to say this. I have no praise anthems, nor old Negro spirituals. The spirit and the soul are the body and brain, which are destructible – that is precisely why they are so precious. And the soul did not escape. The spirit did not steal away on gospel wings. The soul was the body that fed the tobacco, and the spirit was the blood that watered the cotton, and these created the first fruits of the American garden. And these fruits were secured through the bashing of children with stovewood, through hot iron peeling skin away like husk from corn.

It had to be blood. It had to be nails driven through a tongue and ears pruned away. It had to be the thrashing of a kitchen maid for the crime of churning the butter at a leisurely clip. It could only be the employment of carriage whips,tongs, iron pokers, handsaws, stones, paperweights or whatever might be handy to break the black body, the black family, the black community, the black nation. And the bodies were an aspiration, lucrative as Indian land, a veranda, a beautiful wife, or a summer house in the mountains. For the men who needed to believe themselves white, the bodies were the key to a social club, and the right to break bodies was the mark of civilisation. “The two great divisions of society are not the rich and poor, but white and black,” said the great South Carolina senator John C Calhoun. “And all the former, the poor as well as the rich, belong to the upper class, and are respected and treated as equals.” And there it is – the right to break the black body as the meaning of their sacred equality. And that right has always given them meaning, has always meant there was someone down in the valley because a mountain is not a mountain if there is nothing below.

You and I, my son, are that “below”. That was true in 1776. It is true today. There is no them without you, and without the right to break you they must necessarily fall from the mountain, lose their divinity, and tumble out of the Dream. And then they would have to determine how to build their suburbs on something other than human bones, how to angle their jails toward something other than a human stockyard, how to erect a democracy independent of cannibalism. But because they believe themselves to be white, they would rather countenance a man choked to death on film under their laws. And they would rather subscribe to the myth of Trayvon Martin, slight teenager, hands full of candy and soft drinks, transforming into a murderous juggernaut. And they would rather see Prince Jones followed through three jurisdictions and shot down for acting like a human.

Coates during his time as a student at Howard University in Washington DC.
 Coates during his time as a student at Howard University in Washington DC.

It is truly horrible to understand yourself as the essential below of your country. It breaks too much of what we would like to think about ourselves, our lives, the world we move through and the people who surround us. The struggle to understand is our only advantage over this madness. By the time I visited those battlefields, I knew that they had been retrofitted as the staging ground for a great deception, and this was my only security, because they could no longer insult me by lying to me. I knew – and the most important thing I knew was that, somewhere deep with them, they knew too. The struggle is really all I have for you because it is the only portion of the world under your control.

I am sorry that I cannot make it okay. I am sorry that I cannot save you – but not that sorry. Part of me thinks your very vulnerability brings you closer to the meaning of life, just as for others, the quest to believe themselves white divides them from it. The fact is that despite their dreams their lives are also not inviolable. When their own vulnerability becomes real – when the police decide that tactics intended for the ghetto should enjoy wider usage, when their armed society shoots down their children, when nature sends hurricanes against their cities – they are shocked in a way that those of us who were born and bred to understand cause and effect can never be. And I would not have you live like them. You have been cast into a race in which the wind is always at your face and the hounds are always at your heels. And to varying degrees that is true of all life. The difference is that you do not have the privilege of living in ignorance of this essential fact.

I am speaking to you as I always have – as the sober and serious man I have always wanted you to be, who does not apologise for human feelings, who does not make excuses for his height, his long arms, his beautiful smile. You are growing into consciousness, and my wish for you is that you feel no need to constrict yourself to make other people feel comfortable. None of that can change the math anyway. I never wanted you to be twice as good as them, so much as I have always wanted you to attack every day of your brief bright life in struggle. The people who must believe they are white can never be your measuring stick. I would not have you descend into your dream. I would have you be a conscious citizen of this terrible and beautiful world.


This is an edited extract from Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, published by Text Publishing (£10.99). Click here to order a copy for £8.79


Why ‘Transcending Race’ Is a Lie


O.J. Simpson gave Richard M. Nixon, then the president-elect, an autographed ball in 1968 with other college football stars. CreditAssociated Press 

I was born in the shadow of the 21st century, so I never knew O. J. Simpson as an athlete or as an actor. I wasn’t quite a year old on Jan. 1, 1989, the day Simpson beat his wife, Nicole Brown-Simpson, so badly that she fled their house screaming, “He’s going to kill me!” I was only 6 on June 17, 1994, when the N.B.A. finals broadcast cut away to a shot of Simpson’s white Ford Bronco creeping down a California highway, escorted by a line of black-and-whites, as if in a funeral procession. That was four days after Brown-Simpson, 35, and her friend Ronald Goldman, 25, were found dead in pools of blood, nearly decapitated. Some of my earliest memories are of that white Bronco, and of the “Trial of the Century” that followed, and of my parents’ happiness when Simpson was acquitted.

I understand now that I was watching Simpson’s fall. As recently as a few months ago, though, I still couldn’t contextualize Simpson, the things he had accomplished or the lofty position he occupied in America — in whiteAmerica. I approached older friends, people who had grown up watching Simpson move from a Hall of Fame N.F.L. career to mainstream megastardom, and asked them who his modern equivalent would be.

But there aren’t any. Few American athletes have been as widely beloved as Simpson was. Even today, his popularity seems inconceivable. “O. J.: Made in America,” the ESPN “30 for 30” documentary directed by Ezra Edelman that is airing this week, busies itself with the making of the man at the myth’s center and with the country that helped him become a monster. It’s the best thing ESPN has ever produced. And it answers my question: Simpson’s story is that of a black man who came of age during the civil rights era and spent his entire adult life trying to “transcend race” — to claim that strange accolade bestowed on blacks spanning from Pelé to Prince to Nelson Mandela to Muhammad Ali. Which is to say, it’s the story of a halfback trying, and failing, to outrun his own blackness.

This country was built on the backs of black slaves whose lives and labor were stolen by their white masters. That theft created a caste system in which both groups of people could occupy the same spaces yet have completely different experiences: a white America and a black America. This was true in 1619, in 1865 and in 1947, when Simpson was born; it holds true today.

Yet there are a few blacks — the most singular and spectacular among us — who have unique and priceless gifts to offer. Racial transcendence happens when white America takes these gifts for itself, in exchange for acceptance within white culture. It is the mechanism through which whites acknowledge the humanity of black superhumans and which allows these few to move, supposedly, beyond blackness, their talents granting them safe passage through white spaces, mouths and memories. Every black person, successful or not, has to overcome a steep handicap; the idea of racial transcendence is anchored in the fallacy that the handicap is blackness itself, rather than a society that terrorizes and undermines blacks at every turn.

Racial transcendence is a lie, but it’s one that Simpson believed in deeply. In the first installment of “O. J.: Made in America,” a sociologist and activist named Dr. Harry Edwards describes his efforts to recruit Simpson into a collective of black athletes working for civil rights in the late 1960s — people like Muhammad Ali, Lew Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), Jim Brown and the Olympic sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who raised their fists in a black-power salute at the 1968 Olympics.

Simpson refused. After just one season at the University of Southern California, it was obvious that he was a priceless talent. It wasn’t just that he was stronger and faster than everyone else was; Simpson ran almost daintily, tiptoeing through seams visible only to him, leaving defenders diving at air. He had emerged from nowhere, fully formed, already one of the best college running backs of all time and already more famous than most of the athletes in Edwards’s collective.

“His response,” Edwards remembers in the documentary, “was, ‘I’m not black, I’m O. J.’ ” In 1968, the same year Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, Simpson believed he could escape race in America.

For as long as there have been Negroes in the country, there have been “exceptional Negroes.” When Joe Louis was boxing in the 1930s and 1940s, his talent and humility allowed him to be thought of, his son claimed, “as an American, not as a black. By winning, he became white America’s first black hero.” The sportswriter Jimmy Cannon called Louis “a credit to his race — the human race.” This is the same fraudulent race-blindness that remains widespread today, found in people who claim that they “don’t see color” or that “All Lives Matter”; it’s a nasty bit of gaslighting — the denial of racism through the denial of race itself. At its best, Edelman’s documentary reveals what made Simpson unique: not simply that he tried to outrun his blackness, but the herculean efforts he made to do so. Simpson, with his team of friends and hangers-on, erected a self-contained, race-free universe, one he inhabited for much of his adult life.

At no point is this more obvious than when the documentary recounts the shooting of his famous 1978 Hertz commercial. To advertise the rental-car giant’s speed of service, the company’s chief executive, Frank Olson, enlisted Simpson to run through Newark International Airport. That simple conceit required that an entire false reality be built to support it. No other black people could be included in the shot. Fred Levinson, who directed the scene, instead added white bystanders, who cheered on Simpson as he sprinted through the empty hallways, telegraphing that he was safe, and therefore that they were, too.

Hertz’s universe was like Simpson’s, held together with lies, ever on the verge of collapse. Levinson was able to look at a man with hickory skin, full lips, a wide nose and a nappy Afro, and say this: “He’s African, but he’s a good-looking man. He almost has white features.” Olson continues: “For us, O. J. was colorless. None of the people that we associated with looked at him as a black man.”

One of the most alarming anecdotes in the documentary comes from Robert Lipsyte, a former sportswriter for The New York Times. “He was telling me a story about being at a teammate’s wedding with his wife and sitting at a table of mostly, as he said it, mostly Negroes,” Lipsyte recounts. “And he overheard a white woman sitting at the next table saying, ‘Look, there’s O. J. sitting with all those niggers.’ And I remember in my naïveté saying, ‘That must have been terrible for you.’ And he said, ‘No, it was great. Don’t you understand? She knew that I wasn’t black. She saw me as O. J.’ ”

In a time of black revolution, Simpson was a counterrevolutionary; as blacks embraced black power and self-love, Simpson surrounded himself with white people. There were plenty of great black football players around his time, but Simpson was special: Not only did he play better than most, he also used his wit and charm in the service of making white people feel safe. In a period of nationwide change and unrest, he was “one of the good ones.”

He played the role happily, and it brought him a level of fame as unprecedented as his eventual fall. “O. J.: Made in America” makes it very plain that Simpson almost certainly committed the murders and that he almost certainly was going to be acquitted from the beginning. The Los Angeles Police Department’s collection of evidence from the crime scene was botched, as was the prosecution itself. The trial was held just two years after Rodney King’s beating by L.A.P.D. officers, their acquittals and the ensuing riots. The two cases further divided the city along racial lines, laying bare the way that blacks and whites could occupy the same space yet live in separate worlds. When Simpson left the courthouse a free man, blacks across the country rejoiced, his white friends and fawners abandoned him and the universe around him crumbled.

Simpson seems to have understood many things about how so-called racial transcendence works. He understood how black talent could be co-opted for white gain and how, by denying his blackness, he could exercise a perverse control over his image. He understood that racial transcendence is less about who you are and more about who you aren’t. In this country, racially transcendent blacks are used as exemplars, direct foils to creeping black counterculture. Some blacks are complicit in the caper; Simpson was the perfect portrait of an anti-angry black athlete. When Richard Pryor was lacing his sets with the word “nigger,” Bill Cosby was beginning to peddle respectability politics; he remained transcendent until the world was reminded of allegations that he had spent his career drugging and raping women. When Allen Iverson was popularizing cornrows, baggy shorts and tattoos in the N.B.A., Tiger Woods was the respectable black athlete on the golf circuit. Even now, the N.B.A.’s most valuable player, Steph Curry — who transforms from a trash-talking showman during the game to a humble, God-fearing introvert minutes after — is the subject of all manner of racial projection and notes on skin tone. A white friend of mine once called him the league’s first Great White Hope since Larry Bird.

What Simpson may not have recognized, though, is that the United States’ history is a story of theft, and theft doesn’t require cooperation. Talents you don’t trade can be stolen through your silence, through your absence or after your death. And once you’ve been marked as having “transcended race,” the success you’ve earned in spite of white racism can be twisted into an example of white magnanimity. Muhammad Ali was a menace, a black fighter who engaged in psychological warfare with his opponents, changed his name after joining a black-supremacist sect and gave up the best years of his career in exile rather than killing for a country he decried as racist — yet after his death, the sportscaster Chris Myers could tweet that “When you saw #Ali, you didn’t see color, you didn’t see religion.” Martin Luther King Jr., harassed by the F.B.I. and ultimately assassinated, is now deployed as a symbol of a nation that has achieved colorblindness. Whitney Houston, a black woman who made black music after finding her voice in a black church, was congratulated on transcending race after her death. You can imagine the Barack Obama obituaries to come.

I grew up in a different America from the one in which Simpson did, but one thing still unites our two worlds: The highest compliment America will pay black people today is to say they escaped their blackness, which is to say they escaped themselves. As long as Simpson’s shortcomings were kept to cheating in golf against wealthy, white businessmen, and his physical abuse of Brown-Simpson was kept behind closed doors, he could pretend that he wasn’t black — just O. J. But when he stood trial for murder, he did so as a black man. Racial transcendence is, above all, probationary.


Correction: June 18, 2016
An earlier version of this article misquoted a former New York Times sportswriter, Robert Lipsyte, a subject in ESPN’s documentary on O. J. Simpson. When recounting what had caused him to ask O. J. Simpson if an interaction at a colleague’s wedding was terrible for him, Lipsyte said, “And I remember in my naïveté, (not ‘in my light of day’) saying, ‘That must have been terrible for you.’”


50 Years Ago Stokely Carmichael Called for ‘Black Power,’ Galvanizing a Movement


50 Years Ago Stokely Carmichael Called for ‘Black Power,’ Galvanizing a Movement

While the movement would eventually fade, groups like Black Lives Matter have kept its themes of black liberation alive.

Stokely Carmichael, aka Kwame Ture, on Nov. 30, 1967 STR/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Fifty years ago this Thursday, the call for “black power” by Stokely Carmichael in Greenwood, Miss., transformed the black freedom struggle.

Frightening white citizens while transforming black identity, the black power movement’s call for radical political self-determination challenged liberal frameworks for racial equality in profound ways that continue to reverberate to this day. Black power took us beyond civil rights protests and challenged the structural nature of race, class and gender inequality, and in the process galvanized domestic and international struggles for liberation.

Just as today’s Black Lives Matter activists have recognized the criminal-justice system as a gateway to multifaceted systems of racial oppression, black power activists identified the Vietnam War, Jim Crow racism and poverty as panoramic threats against racial equality and economic justice.

Under Carmichael’s leadership, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC (pronounced “snick”), turned “black power” into a clarion call, a phrase that identified an already existing movement for black liberation that had been led by the indefatigable Malcolm X.

But Malcolm’s ideas of black solidarity, the cultural politics of race, anti-colonialism and human rights flourished past his assassination.

Carmichael, a Trinidadian immigrant-turned-brash New Yorker activist, became the black power movement’s most well-known and charismatic spokesperson, publicly repudiating racism, war and white supremacy while vowing to fight for freedom by any means necessary.

“It is a call for black people in this country to unite, to recognize their heritage, to build a sense of community,” Carmichael said. “It is a call for black people to define their own goals, to lead their own organizations.”

The most famous group to heed Carmichael’s call to action was the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. Founded in Oakland, Calif., in October 1966, the Panthers derived their name from black sharecroppers in Lowndes County, Ala., but were inspired by Malcolm X. Maverick black nationalists, budding socialists and unconventional Marxists, the Panthers organized around ending police brutality, the tip of the spear in an expansive revolutionary program that called for “land, peace, bread and justice” for the black community.

Brandishing shotguns, pistols and bandoliers, with powder-blue T-shirts, leather jackets and black berets, the Panthers became the most enduring symbol of black power activism’s bracing challenge against institutional racism. In an era before mass incarceration and Black Lives Matter, the Panthers regarded the criminal-justice system as a racist gulag designed to demonize and denigrate poor blacks. On this score, the group developed innovative and enduring anti-poverty programs that offered free breakfast for children, health clinics, ambulance services, tenant and legal aid, and prisoner-rights advocacy.

The “black consciousness” movement spurred by Carmichael’s call for black power touched every sector of the African-American community. Black college and high school students responded to the movement by pushing for black-history and black-studies programs and changing the names of public schools to honor past activists. Poets, writers and artists embarked on a Black Arts Movement, led by Sonia Sanchez and Amiri Baraka, that embraced a new, complex black identity, one closely tied to Africa. Angela Davis, George Jackson and the Attica prison rebellion helped expand the movement’s political terrain by elevating black prisoners to the forefront of radical political organizing in the early 1970s.

A broad range of black artists, from Nina Simone to James Brown and Marvin Gaye, drew inspiration from a movement that challenged white supremacy from the inside out. For the black middle class, magazines like Essence (launched in 1970) provided new, expansive notions of black beauty that would culminate in a transformed media landscape by the 1970s. The search for black identity would reach its popular peak with the broadcast of the television series Roots, which was watched by over 100 million Americans in 1977.

But the black power rise was countered by multiple efforts to smash the movement. FBI, state and local authorities arrested, harassed, threatened and at times killed activists, dozens of whom remain in jail to this day. Carmichael himself was targeted by the FBI’s COINTELPRO, planting evidence that made him look like a CIA informant, causing Carmichael’s expulsion from both the Black Panthers and SNCC. President Richard Nixon attempted, at times successfully, to redefine black power as black capitalism, a maneuver that co-opted radical energies into believing that black faces in higher places would lead to freedom.

By the 1980s, black power activists could point to Harold Washington’s successful Chicago mayoral campaign, the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s passionate 1984 presidential run and the global impact of the anti-apartheid movement as testaments to the movement’s endurance, but its heyday had past.

But today, Black Lives Matter activism has served as a valediction of the movement. This passionate, disruptive activism against mass incarceration and police killings has spilled over onto college campuses in defiant displays of protest and civil disobedience that recall America’s heady black power years, echoing a time when a 24-year-old black revolutionary walked along a Mississippi highway and made the earth stand still.