Photo By Ivy Young
The Center for Black Education (CBE), an independent Black education institution, formally opened on Sunday, September 14, 1969, in Washington D.C. The opening day began with a rally/festival that spilled inside and outside its central location at 1435-37 Fairmount St. N.W., in Central. The CBE was located around the corner from its partner institution, Drum and Spear Bookstore. On that Sunday, vendors set up stalls to hawk African clothing and accessories, West Indian food and fruit drinks, United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) flags, and advertisements for newly opened coif hair-braiding studios. Over the course of the day, more than 500 Black people attended the gathering. People mixed together safely and well on that opening day, listening to short pronouncements delivered mainly by recently enrolled CBE students. They discussed their work on developing a Children’s Education Center, the Mbari (Family) Health Center, a Pan-African Skills Project (that initially addressed neighborhood residential renovation efforts), and a Culture and Communications Project. (( The Pan African [CBE newspaper], November 1969, James Garrett archive; Russell Rickford, We Are an African People: Independent Education, Black Power, and the Radical Imagination, Oxford, 2016. pp. 206-209.))
On the next day—Monday, September 15—with nearly 100 students enrolled, instruction began with a curriculum that included Pan-African World History, African People and World Reality, and Skills and Training for Black Communicators. ((Black Education Program list of courses, 1968-1969; Garrett archive.)) From FCC to CBE After a year of tumultuous struggle to establish a qualitative Black Studies curriculum at Washington D.C.’s newly opened Federal City College (FCC) in 1968—one that offered students both a total immersion curriculum and community involvement—a number of FCC faculty, including former SNCC veterans and several prominent scholars and activists, decided to abandon FCC and establish the CBE. ((Russell Rickford, “A B.A. in Revolution: The Federal City College Black Studies Program and the Limits of Black Power in Washington, D.C.”)) The CBE was established as a viable Black independent institution that operated fully in the interest of African people around the world. Global factors that affected the development of the CBE included the realization of a socialist Cuba, newly established Black-led nations on Caribbean islands and in South America, expanding African liberation struggles on the Continent; and pivotally, the consolidation of new nations on the African Continent. ((Rickford, We Are an African People, pp. 68-71.)) For over a decade, political and cultural consciousness fueled by street rebellions, Black conventions buttressed by Black student and community activism and infused by the art and literature of Black intellectuals past and present, and the levels of Black activism within the U.S. and throughout the Pan-African world almost demanded that those of us who dared and possessed some capacity should undertake such a venture as the CBE. The political goals of the CBE were in part drawn from dicta suggested by Mwalimu Julius Nyerere’s Education for Self-Reliance: Education must serve two purposes: Instill values and world views that reflect the needs, aspirations, and culture of the society. Secondly, it is vital to obtain social and technical skills so that one may serve as a productive member in the development of that society. Discussions were filtered through an array of political slogans: “We must take responsibility for the education and training of our people.” “We must take responsibility for the health and welfare of the people.” “We are the only people in this country, who voluntarily relinquish the education of our children to our oppressors.” ((Julius Nyerere, Ujamaa Essays on Socialism. London: Oxford University Press, 1968.)) During spring ’69, Charlie Cobb, Courtland Cox, Jean Wiley, Pamela Egashira, and Jimmy Garrett from the FCC Black Education Program and others including SNCC veterans Frank Smith and Ralph Featherstone met to discuss a transition from FCC to the community. It was agreed to continue the goals of the BEP’s curriculum that included both the study of the Pan-African world and the development of practical technical and scientific skills. We also discussed two parallel objectives: the first was to establish the institution within D.C.’s Black community; the second was to see that institution as a base to connect directly with African people around the world. ((Rickford, We Are an African People, p. 79.))
In April 1969, Ralph Featherstone located two large, adjoining brownstones on Fairmount St. near 14th Street. All the empty houses on that block were administered by the D.C. Redevelopment Land Agency (DCRLA). The two residences totaled about 5,000 sq. ft. of building space. With the assistance of Marion Barry, director of Pride, Inc., the RLA granted CBE leadership conditional title to the properties (and threw in another separate property located at the end of the block) for $1.00 each. The condition was that we use “sweat equity” to restore those musty, rat-infested quarters to livable conditions. In addition, there was an oral agreement (not in writing) that the group would return possession to the RLA following any determination to tear down the buildings. By May, when the BEP faculty agreed to end its struggle and leave FCC, the main focus had shifted to establishment of the CBE. While managing the Drum and Spear Bookstore, Ralph Featherstone took on the responsibility for preparing the buildings for occupation. He was joined by Clairmont Moore, a native of Guyana who had been living in NYC for several years and who helped to form an initial clean-up team. Clairmont had been a leading activist in Guyana’s struggle for decolonization from England in the early 1960’s. Clairmont enrolled in FCC in 1969 but immediately joined the group of students and faculty who were getting ready to leave the college. During the summer, Clairmont took on a bigger leadership role. He and Ivanhoe Donaldson met with Marion Barry at Pride, Inc. to secure needed clean-up supplies, including professional rat and roach extermination equipment. Clairmont, Dianne Scroggins, Robert Blandford, Sheila Hines, and Surae Eaton took on the main clean-up and renovation efforts. ((Clairmont Moore [recorded interview], Berkeley, Calif., 2017; Surae Eaton, M.D. [recorded interview], Las Vegas, Nev., 2019; Garrett archive.)) Topper Carew, Howard University School of Architecture graduate and founder of The New Thing Art and Architecture Center, led the design efforts. The third floors were combined into a single meeting space, the second floor into six classrooms. The first floor was left for office administration and lounge space. The basement floors were set aside for the health center, including a reception center and examination room. The third building at 1443 Fairmont served as the Children’s Center. ((Moore interview.)) Pamela Egashira, a Japanese-American, was born in a West Coast concentration camp during WWII. After gaining experience in the nascent student anti-war movement in the San Francisco Bay Area, Pam volunteered for the 1965 SNCC Mississippi Summer project, where she was arrested and jailed along with a thousand others on the Jackson Mississippi fairgrounds. In 1968, she relocated to D.C. to work with the BEP program at FCC. Pam used the year at FCC to learn all she could about student admissions and vetting, work-study, GI benefits, course distribution and grading, health issues, and government relations. Pam managed and organized CBE student admissions and registration alongside Sheila Hines, Renee Joyner, and Diane Scroggins. ((Cheryl Thompson-Garrett, MA [telephone interview], Oakland, Calif., 2020.)) Budget and Funding, 1969-72 In February 1970, CBE was registered as a non-profit, tax-exempt organization in D.C. CBE opened in 1969 with sufficient operating funds to carry through the first year with the budget at $100,000 for 1969-70, scaling upwards an increase of $25,000 each year. CBE bank accounts were established at DC’s Freedman’s bank. Early in its operation, CBE received grants from the Episcopal Church, FCD (Cummins Engine Foundation), and Black Unitarian Universalists. For 1971–72, CBE received grants from Catholic Charities. There were smaller donations and grants from local organizations including the Institute for Policy Studies and All Souls Unitarian Church.
Much of the sustaining donations came from a number of prominent Black academics including Acklyn Lynch and C.L.R. James (who also taught courses at CBE). D.C. Black professionals including doctors, dentists, fraternity and sorority organizations, and public-school teachers often contributed to CBE. Hon. John Conyers and other Congressional Black Caucus members helped with contributions as well. Members of the CBE leadership raised funds by accepting speaking engagements at a number of predominantly white universities. The FCC Student Association paid for more than a dozen speaking engagements. D.C.’s Pride, Inc. provided building materials and unpaid technical assistance for most of the CBE buildings’ renovations. Pride, Inc. also helped secure sub-contract projects for our technical training work group, which brought additional funds to the CBE. ((Moore interview.)) Community Canvassing Throughout September 1969, after being provided with a short orientation, incoming CBE students were dispatched in small groups to canvass the Central Cardozo neighborhood. The goals of canvassing were to introduce ourselves to the community and to gain valuable information for project development. An important result from canvassing the neighborhood was that the community expressed excitement with the possibility of a Children’s Education Center. The canvassers also learned that there were residents who had been living with ailments, injuries, and mouth sores for years without seeking medical or dental attention. There was a clear and expressed need for the free community health center. ((Ibid.)) Pan-African Cultural Festival, Algiers, Algeria, July 1969 During July 1969, about a dozen folks from the SNCC community were invited to attend the “First Pan-African Cultural Festival/Conference” (PACF), held in Algiers, Algeria. The 10-day conference was sponsored by the Algerian government and National Liberation Front, the party that led the fight for national liberation. ((James Garrett, “The Algerian Pan-African Cultural Festival,” Journal of Black Studies, Fall 1998, pp. 18-27.)) Tanzania and Mwalimu President Julius Nyerere During the PACF, Charlie Cobb and Courtland Cox introduced members of our group to Walter Bgoya, a leader of Tanzania African National Union (TANU) Youth League. TANU was the ruling party/mass organization that led the independence struggle against England. Members of our delegation were invited to leave the PACF early and visit Tanzania. It was suggested that while in Tanzania, we may meet with our icon, Mwalimu Nyerere. We had a very romantic view of Nyerere and his works at that time. A couple of days later, Courtland Cox, Charlie Cobb, and several others left Algiers with Bgoya and headed for Dar es Salaam. For several days, the delegation toured Ujamaa Villages and local worker cooperatives. The group met with TANU Youth League and Women’s Section representatives. Tanzania was a major “front line” state that supported and hosted a dozen African anti-colonial and national liberation organizations. Members of the delegation met with representatives from African National Congress (ANC), Pan African Congress (PAC) both South African organizations, and the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO). (( Garrett, Tanzania notes, File 162, Aug. 1969, p. 8.)) There were several meetings with President Nyerere, during which discussions centered around concepts of Pan-Africanism, the importance of African liberation struggles, and the roles to be played by Blacks in the diaspora in the development of the African Continent. On the return trip to the U.S., there was much talk about the importance of adding a newspaper or newsletter as a CBE project that was to be named The Pan African World. ((Eaton interview.)) Leadership Returns to D.C. In mid-August, members of the CBE leadership group returned from Africa to D.C. They joined those already at work in the ongoing process of putting together the Center for Black Education. A functioning policymaking structure for the Center was established. My role transitioned to director of the CBE, and I remained in that position. Aside from the director, the leadership group included Charlie, Courtland, Pamela, Jean Wiley, and Ralph Featherstone. At the day-to-day decision-making level, the student project coordinators—Cheryl Thompson, Surae Eaton, Dianne Scroggins, Bob Blandford, Eric and Geri Stark, Kojo Nnamdi, and Clairmont Moore—functioned as a coordinating committee working closely with the leadership group. Afro-American Resources (AAR) officers (owners of Drum and Spear Bookstore and Press) served as a “kitchen cabinet.” First-year instructors included Jean Wiley, Acklyn Lynch, Gayleetha and Charlie Cobb, Marvin Holloway, Jean Wheeler Smith, Belvie Rooks, Courtland Cox, Mary Wamboi, and me. The CBE Family: All participants in the CBE joined group meetings that were held generally once a month, or in crisis situations as needed. Key points at issue were the goals:
- Engage with transparency in discussion of any subject.
- Include all in the decision-making process.
- Update on any and all activities/projects and proposals.
Student Enrollment/Matriculation On opening day, about 100 students were enrolled. Although many students were from FCC, about 10 people (including Kojo Nnamdi) trickled down from the 1969 McGill University/Sir George Williams College student uprisings in Montreal, Canada, to join the Center. Students from Howard University were active with the CBE from the beginning, and their numbers increased over time. African Elders Presentations From 1969 to 1972, the most consistently exciting and well-attended events were the “Elders” presentations. The Elders—Queen Mother Audrey Moore, John Henrik Clarke, C.L.R. James, and Chancellor Williams—lectured and interacted with the students and community. Shirley Graham DuBois, Sonia Sanchez, Amiri Baraka, Angela Davis (while on the run), and Amilcar Cabral also participated in the monthly presentations. Children’s Education Center (CEC)
The CBE decided in its early days to include a Children’s Education Center (CEC). Cheryl Thompson was designated as temporary coordinator of the project. Cheryl had little prior experience in education, but she showed a high interest in working with children. In mid-August, the CBE called on Jean Wiley, a Freedom and Liberation School veteran, who agreed to co-chair a curriculum development committee. Olivia McQueen, a highly respected D.C. Public School teacher with a strong background in early childhood education was asked to join the committee. They enlisted support from a number of highly conscious professionals and advocates, including Dr. Alyce Gullattee, Acklyn Lynch, Dr. Frances Cress Welsing, and Jean Wheeler Smith. This committee drafted a curriculum and a basic teacher training manual. McQueen led a four-week teacher intensive training institute that was followed up by continued course work at CBE and supervised classroom practice. A dozen prospective teachers had signed up for the project. Cheryl stated, “Miss McQueen saved the day!” ((Thompson-Garrett interview.)) The CEC opened early in October with about 35 children recruited from the neighborhood, from families of Black professionals and government workers. Several were children of CBE students. By Fall 1971, more than 50 children attended the CEC. Mbari (Family) Health Center
The Mbari Health center was established to exhibit a model for addressing the basic health needs of the community and to provide students with technical and scientific skills to address those needs. Mbari Health Center was sponsored by Fletcher Robinson, M.D., a specialist in dermatologic medicine who had worked in Tanzania, and Vincent Roux, M.D., Fellow of the American College of Surgery (FACS). Surae Eaton, a Howard University student leader, was designated as student project coordinator. This team succeeded in securing medical equipment and supplies for the examination room and office furniture for what became a crowded reception center. Few of the dozen or so young people who were recruited to work with the health center project had any prior medical training or experience. Several participating students including Surae Eaton, became physicians.
Short-term courses of study included food science, biology, physiology, and military field examination techniques. Drs. Robinson and Roux arranged for CBE members to audit first-year medical and dental school classes at Howard University. They also recruited medical and dental students to assist CBE students with basic examination preparation and methods, thus adding to participants’ experience and skills. ((Eaton interview.)) Pan-African World Communications Project (PAWC)
The Pan-African World Communications Project (PAWC) included the publication of The Pan-African, a bi-monthly newspaper; the PAW Free Library, which held more than 2,500 books on African Peoples’ life and culture; and a production-ready photo and video lab, built from scratch by Harlee Little and Ivy Young and coordinated by Kojo Nnamdi. The Communications Project photo-recorded and preserved an oral history of CBE history, and worked on publications with Drum and Spear Press and the New Thing AAC. ((Rozsalind Brown interview, August 22, 2020; Garrett archive.)) Several PAWC students completed courses in 16mm film production at what is now the Corcoran School of Art and Design. Active students the project including Rozsalind Brown and James Lewis later became published poets and novelists. ((Ibid.)) MXLU Founders of the CBE played key roles in the development of Malcolm X Liberation University (MXLU), an independent Black education institution in Durham, N.C. BEP/CBE faculty assisted MXLU leader Owusu Sadauki in developing the framework for the university’s initial curriculum. Courtland Cox and Kwame Ture were principal speakers at MXLU’s opening day ceremony on October 25, 1969. ((Rickford, We Are an African People, p. 151.)) Council of Independent Black Institutions Between 1969 and 1972, more than 30 schools were established nationwide that declared themselves in various forms as “Black Independent Schools.” In June 1972, representatives from 14 schools met at Frogmore, S.C., to form the Council of Independent Black Institutions (CIBI). A main goal was to standardize curricula among all the member schools and to establish common goals and objectives. CBE played a key role in the formation of CIBI, including strong support for the adoption of the slogan/mantra, “We Are an African People.” CBE also lobbied the participants to agree to carry out education programs directed to the liberation of Black people worldwide. ((Ibid., p. 9.)) Students Organized for Black Unity CBE assisted in the formation of Student Organizations for Black Unity (SOBU) in 1969, as a network to unite activist student groups at more than a dozen Historic Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) campuses. SOBU’s initial goal was to merge HBCU student/faculty activism with Pan-Africanism and internationalism. ((Rickford, p. 166.)) International Projects: Caribbean and South America
A primary objective of the CBE was building connections between Black communities all over the world. We actively sought ways to establish concrete relations with a strong emphasis on the Caribbean islands. One of the first efforts took place when the African Society for Cultural Relations with Independent Africa (ASCRIA), a Guyanese cultural organization formed in 1963 and headed by Eusi Kwayana (Sidney King), invited the CBE to attend Guyana’s formal celebration as an independent Cooperative Republic. The invitation was made jointly with the Government of Guyana. Guyana’s head of state, Hon. Forbes Burnham ((Garrett, copy of Invitation Letter, ASCRIA, 1970; Eusi Kwayana [recorded interview/personal archive], 1993, retrieved, 2006.)) and Kwayana were two of the three leaders of the anti-colonial struggle against England that resulted in Guyana’s independence in 1966. (The third, Cheddi Jagan, a Howard University graduate, was the opposition leader). Six members of the CBE traveled as delegates to Georgetown, (Guyana’s capital city) to meet with ASCRIA. While in Guyana, CBE members participated in discussions with ASCRIA members on the subject of Pan-Africanism and solidarity projects. CBE and ASCRIA agreed to engage in student exchange and work projects. Over the next three years, more than a dozen CBE students traveled to Guyana. CBE built similar relationships with Caribbean labor and opposition groups such as the National Joint Action Committee (NJAC) in Trinidad and Tobago, the New Jewel Movement in Grenada, the People’s Progressive Party in Bermuda, and the People’s National Party and Bustamante Industrial Workers Union in Jamaica. ((Garrett archive)) African Liberation Movements/African Liberation Day Many veteran activists associated with CBE had longstanding relationships with African leaders and liberation movements dating back at least a decade. The visit to Tanzania during the summer of 1969 greatly enriched those relationships. A key outcome of the CBE’s Tanzania visit was the decision to focus the courses “The African World” and “African People and World Reality” on the European’s “usurpation of African History” and its consequent domination of Africa. ((Pan-African, November 1970, pp.5-6, Garrett archive; Center for Black Education, Struggle for Black Education, 1968-1971, James Garrett, ed. Washington, D.C.: Drum and Spear Press, 1972. pp. 24-25.)) Between the summer of 1969 and 1971, CBE’s relationships with liberation organizations were enhanced by a series of visits and meetings at both the CBE in Washington, D.C. and the U.N. offices in New York. During the 1960’s, Blacks in the U.S. developed a higher level of consciousness regarding international issues, including increased support for Vietnam and Cuba. That growth in consciousness included a greater interest in African liberation movements (ALM). As interest in ALMs increased, Black activists looked for ways to connect with liberation movements. The major ALM support groups in the U.S. such as the American Committee on Africa (ACOA) and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) were led and dominated by whites. White-led support organizations focused their efforts on propaganda, material support (food, sheltering refugees), and R&R for international representatives. There were Pan-Africanist activists who wanted to join the struggle as freedom fighters. Others sought to take over leadership roles in the major support organizations. CBE associates played key roles in this process. At the same time, liberation groups (and African leaders like Nyerere) were searching for any support to push the advancement of the liberation struggles. ((Ronald W. Walters, Pan-Africanism in the African Diaspora: An Analysis of Modern Afrocentric Political Movements, [African American Life Series], Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1993. pp. 71-73.)) In the summer of 1971, a conference, “International Support for Liberation Movements,” co-sponsored by ACOA, TANU, and the Organization of African Unity was held in Dar es Salaam. During the conference, CBE representatives, Owusu Sadaukai from MXLU, and Robert Van Lierop and SNCC veteran Bob Fletcher (who collaborated to produce the film, A Luta Continua) were invited by Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO) representatives to visit the liberated zones in Mozambique. FRELIMO’s goals were to provide the participants with firsthand observation of the progress of the struggle; to connect Blacks in the diaspora more deeply to the struggle against Portuguese settler-colonialism; and to provide a more independent context by which Black people in the U.S. and elsewhere in the diaspora could provide support for organizations such as FRELIMO. After receiving a report from those who visited the liberation zones, the delegation returned to the U.S. and formed the African Liberation Support Committee (ALSC) with Owusu at its head. The ALSC tasked itself with building support for African liberation movements among all Black social and political sectors and developing similar support groups in the diaspora. ((Howard Fuller with Lisa Frazier Page, No Struggle, No Progress: A Warrior’s Life from Black Power to Education Reform Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 2014. pp. 149-156.)) Owusu Sadauki led the effort to mount simultaneous demonstrations in locations all over the African world. James Turner, Ron Daniels, Hon. Charles Diggs, and Amiri Baraka were among those who participated in the effort. Sylvia Hill, Judi Claude, and Judy Richardson, among others, worked to gain support with the Congressional Black Caucus, and with diplomatic circles in D.C. In January 1972, with the aid of strong backing from Tanzania and the CBC, the OAU designated May 25 as a Worldwide Day of Solidarity with the People of Africa—African Liberation Day (this was the OAU’s diplomatic cover to support ALD). ((Fuller, p. 153.))
On February 17, 1972, Owusu formally announced that African Liberation Day would be held on May 27, 1972, in Washington, D.C. The CBE and MXLU served jointly as ALD headquarters until ALSC opened its national headquarters at 14th and U Streets in Northwest D.C. in March 1972. Shortly before ALD, D&S Press published African Liberation: An Analytic Report on Southern Africa. The publication was the result of a year-long research project led by Geri Augusto and edited by Courtland Cox. African Liberation was widely distributed at ALD and widely circulated in activist circles. ((Center for Black Education, ed., Courtland Cox, Washington, D.C.: D&S Press, 1972.)) At least five ALD demonstrations were held in the U.S. that year, including gatherings in San Francisco, New Orleans, Brooklyn, New York, and Chicago. ALD events also took place in Canada, in several Caribbean nations, and in Guyana. The most famous ALD commemoration was the mass march and demonstration by 40,000 people that took place in Washington, D.C. ((Fuller, p. 149.)) CBE, Fall 1969–Spring 1970 Beginning with the fall of 1969 through the spring of 1970, the atmosphere around the Center for Black Education seemed almost euphoric. ((Brown interview; Garrett archive.))
From its beginning, there was a deep synergy between D&S and the CBE. Students, teachers, and patrons commonly walked back and forth between the institutions to do research in the PAW library, buy a book, or talk politics or D.C. life with SNCC veterans Judy Richardson, Jennifer Lawson, Frank Smith, Ralph Featherstone, H. Rap Brown, or Kwame Ture. ((Eaton interview.)) The CBE leadership decided to take a one-month winter break to begin at the last week of December. A project to establish a café/cultural center in the Adams Morgan area was proposed. That project would help to further the Center’s position on self-reliance by including a paid membership component. Clairmont Moore was delegated to prepare a more formal proposal for the project. ((Moore interview, 2017.)) Ralph Featherstone/Che Payne Assassinations The CBE reopened at the end of January 1970. The positive energy and atmosphere seemed to peak as students returned from home or exchange trips for the spring classes. On the night of March 9, 1970, a bomb blast demolished a car carrying Ralph Featherstone and former SNCC worker William “Che” Payne, killing both men. The bomb had been placed under the driver’s seat. The incident took place on a highway two miles south of the courthouse in Bel Air, Md., where H. Rap Brown was set to go on trial the following day. Ralph and Che were looking for a motel or hotel that was secure enough for Rap to stay during the trial. The FBI immediately declared without evidence that the occupants had detonated an explosive device of their own making while looking for a site to plant it. ((Peter B. Levy, “FBI and the Civil Rights Movement” [podcast], History News Network, March 28, 2020; SNCC Legacy Project Website, 2019.))
Ralph and Che, a close associate of Rap Brown, were memorialized in ceremonies throughout the month of March. In Washington, D.C., hundreds of people attended gatherings at All Souls Church, Howard University, Federal City College, and on the steps of the D.C. City Hall. At those rallies, friends and associates of Ralph criticized the FBI and charged the U.S. government with “the assassination of Ralph Featherstone by the American nation!” According to one source, there were calls to “burn down the rest of white folks’ government.” ((“Rally Held for Bookstore Owner Killed in Blast,” (March 12, 1970), The Gay Blade, page 5, 9. Website archive. Retrieved, July 7, 2020.)) Ralph Featherstone’s ashes were transported to Nigeria by his widow Charlotte Featherstone, who was accompanied by Marvin Holloway and Donald Brown. There, he was honored by the Nigerian Government with a formal state funeral. ((Rickford, We Are an African People, pp. 224-226.)) The shift in atmosphere at the CBE was palpable. Grief was expected and necessary. Neither the CBE family nor the workers at D&S ever fully recovered from Featherstone’s death. Understandably, some students left the Center. For those who remained, the classes, projects and programs seemed to take on a new seriousness, a different kind of energy. The FBI/COINTELPRO Blowback A third component, fierce and relentless, soon showed itself. The blowback from FBI/COINTELPRO was immediate and harsh. Repressive weapons of the state came down hard and the pressure never ceased. FBI surveillance and scrutiny that had begun on the day D&S Bookstore opened in 1968 was greatly intensified after Featherstone’s death. Agents who in the past had been satisfied with external surveillance began to enter the bookstore and openly write down the names of the books sitting on the shelves. FBI agents openly photographed patrons and staff as they came and went. ((M. Wesley Swearingen, FBI: An Agent’s Expose, South End Press, 1995. pp. ii, 82; Testimony, Senate Committee on Government Misconduct, June 17, 1979; Recorded Speech, IPS, Wash., D.C., May 26, 1979. (Swearingen was an FBI agent for more than 25 years. Among many assignments, he reorganized and supervised the agency’s D.C. headquarters after the King uprisings in April 1968. He also claims to have developed “S-12,”an FBI project designed to infiltrate and neutralize radical and Black community organizations in the D.C. area.)) During the last week of March, inspectors from the D.C. Health Department began to conduct spot inspections of the Mbari Health Center. The next month, a report was issued that declared the health center had to close within 30 days because it had no license and could not qualify for a license to examine patients. Mbari was not shut down immediately because Dr. Fletcher Robinson was on site. Petitions and appeals by Black physicians (with the support of Dr. Roux) and medical personnel from Freedman’s Hospital enabled the Health Center to remain open to serve the community until Spring 1971, when D.C. Public Health Department officials finally forced its closure. ((Rickford, We Are an African People, p. 209.)) In April 1970, representatives from the D.C. Public Schools superintendent’s office arrived to examine the Children’s Education Center’s license to operate. A license for a childcare center had already been granted. However, D.C. Public Schools representatives surveilled and frequently conducted no-knock inspections. ((Ibid., p. 211.)) Pride, Inc., which supported the technical project by providing it with weatherization and renovation subcontracts, was warned by FBI to close off direct relations with CBE. Marion Barry rejected this pressure. ((Moore interview.)) The IRS conducted forensic audits of the CBE from 1970–1975. Hundreds of bank records and files were turned over to COINTELPRO. CBE members and operations had been the focus of IRS investigations from their initial involvement with FCC in 1968. We learned this from reports by former FBI supervisor M. Wesley Swearingen. ((Swearingen, May 26, 1979.)) Swearingen claims that in 1970, soon after Ralph and Che Payne were killed, the FBI shifted from marginal/short deployment and harassment to more direct tactics including infiltration of Black community organizations. The FBI recruited “compromised individuals and tasked them with a project of neutralization…that is, the destruction of the organization.” ((Swearingen op. cit., May 26, 1979.)) In 1972, while exposing his own role in mounting destructive projects against D.C. community activists, a second FBI agent named Robert Wall backed up Swearingen’s assertions regarding the infiltration and surveillance of CBE, D&S and other similar organizations. ((Robert Wall, (5 March 1972), “Confessions of an FBI Agent,” Washington Post; Rickford, We Are an African People, p. 25.)) Infiltration of the CBE was an easy task, given its open and welcoming style of operation and its heterogeneous student body and leadership. Apparently, such infiltration was deep and very effective. CBE Continues Classes resumed in the Fall, and throughout the remainder of 1970 and into 1971, the CBE/D&S community settled into a kind of quiet though rigid stability. The CBE lost about a third of its first-year admissions, but that number was replaced by new students, some of whom were college dropouts from various states. Although the health center closed, other projects and classes continued. Returning students were encouraged to set up or join other Black independent schools in the area. Some returnees, their experiences enhanced by travel, study, and collaborative work, took on roles as co-instructors in courses they had attended as students the year before. Planning for the café/cultural center took shape. There was a strong feeling that the café, buttressed by a prepaid membership component, could bring in sufficient funds that might provide financial stability to the Center. A proposed opening date for the café was set for early in 1972. ((Moore interview.)) The Sixth Pan-African Congress (6PAC) In January 1971, Roosevelt Brown (Pauulu Kamarakafego)—former member of the Bermuda Parliament and an early organizer of the Congress of African People (CAP) that took place in Atlanta, Ga., in September 1970—contacted C.L.R. James to seek his advice on the best way to advance the cause of international Pan Africanism. Kamarakafego had also contacted Kwame Nkrumah (then in Conakry, Guinea), and T. Ras Makonnen (who had provided the major funding support for the Fifth PAC held in Manchester, England, in 1945) to get their views on the possibility of a future conference of African people. ((Pauulu Kamarakafego: Me One! Autobiography of Dr. Pauulu Kamarakafego, Bermuda Islands: PK Press, 2002. pp. 157-169.)) Later that month, C.L.R. arranged a meeting between himself, Pauulu, and me in Washington, D.C. ((Kamarakafego, pp. 193-205.)) After a series of meetings with C.L.R. and Pauulu, the CBE became the base of operations for the organizing effort for 6PAC. Courtland Cox served as its Secretary-General. ((Rickford, We Are an African People, pp. 233-235.))
During the next three years, CBE and D&S people traveled the world to build and organize the conference. CBE activists accompanied C.L.R. to Nigeria, England, France, Holland, Kenya, and Nigeria. These activists, including Liz Gant, Geri Augusto, and Courtland Cox, participated in meetings with several major Pan-African figures such as former Nigerian President Nnamdi Azikiwie and T. Ras Makonnen. There were several visits to Tanzania for extended discussions and planning with Mwalimu Nyerere and his team of officials. ((Kamarakafego, p. 197; Walters, pp. 76-81.)) In 1973, an expanded group of organizers increased the level of organizational support for mounting 6PAC. Judy Richardson, Geri Augusto, Belvie Rooks, Jennifer Lawson, Edie Wilson, and Joanne Favors were experienced managers of time and space. ((Ashley Farmer, Remaking Black Power: How Black Women Transformed an Era, Chapel Hill, N.C.: UNC Press, 2017; pp. 138-158; Kamarakafego, pp. 201-205; Walters, pp. 68-81.)) In the summer of 1973, several members of the group, including Augusto, Wilson, and Kathryn Flewellen, joined Pauulu Kamarakafego in Dar es Salaam to establish the 6PAC international secretariat. ((Garrett archive.)) Pan-African Information Center In 1972, the CBE leadership shifted its strategy from a focus on building models of Black independent institutions in local and national Black communities in the U.S. to the establishment of a base of operations on the African continent. With the sponsorship of CBE and D&S, Charlie Cobb, Courtland Cox, and their families undertook a year-long stay in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to establish a Pan-African Information Center there. The main goal was to challenge the influence and propaganda of the United States Information Agency and Voice of America in its depiction of the life and condition of “African People in North America.” A second goal was to collaborate with the TANU youth league and the Tanzania Publishing House on joint publishing projects. The third goal was to establish a “physical presence” on the African continent. The final purpose was to assist in building for the 6PAC “in any way possible.” CBE: Final Chapters The decision by the leaders of the CBE and D&S to shift from their focus on local projects ultimately contributed to both institutions’ closures. The Center’s limited finances were already under strain. Over the next year, many Center members who were looking for a consistent physical presence from its leadership group felt increasing marginalization and perhaps abandonment. ((Eaton interview.)) This was coupled with increased alienation and growing conflict with the personal contradictions in the style and personal behavior of some of the CBE leaders, which further deepened problems at the Center. ((Brown recorded interview; Garrett archive)) During this period, COINTELPRO, through infiltration and disruption, continued its ceaseless project to exacerbate and magnify any conflicts, confusion, and disaffection. In November 1972, Freedmen’s Bank closed all CBE accounts. The remaining funds were frozen for nearly two months until Riggs Bank accepted a transfer. ((Joshua Clark Davis (Feb. 19, 2018), “FBI War on Black Bookstores,” The Atlantic; Betty Medsger, The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI. New York: Knopf, 2014.)) The Children’s Education Center closed in April 1972. The closure resulted from pressure imposed by government agencies on public school teachers who were associated with the CBE and the loss of financial support from middle-class parents, some of whom had been visited by the FBI. Pride, Inc., struggling with internal difficulties and pressed by FBI interference, effectively ended the pipeline that provided the technical project with subcontracts for D.C. government and Dept. of Labor weatherization projects. Young people from CBE who had acquired skills in installing lathe and plaster in residential construction and experience in weatherization and renovation were blocked from work on commercial building sites by the D.C. segregated craft unions. With the support of the Black Federal Employees Staff Caucus, some CBE technical project members were channeled into permanent government jobs. Funds set aside for the café/cultural center were drained away by funding demands from the Information Center in Tanzania and 6PAC. ((Clairmont Moore [telephone interview], 2020; Garrett archive.)) In the Summer of 1973, responding to demands by the D.C. Redevelopment Land Agency (RLA) to vacate the Fairmount Street buildings, CBE moved to 3217 Kilbourne St., N.W. Elder presentations, which remained popular, continued into 1974 along with history and media classes. Center members, upon returning from Africa, provided updates on the progress of 6PAC to the Black/activist community. In March 1974, as the remaining members of the staff of 6PAC’s U.S. secretariat moved its offices to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, the Center for Black Education, without formality, shuttered its doors. ((Garrett archive.)) On the positive side of history, the Center for Black Education:
- Established and sustained models of intentionally Black independent education that may serve future projects of development and sustenance by African people and all people in struggle.
- Created an atmosphere of education, consciousness raising, and cultural development that should aid those who seek to “Return to the Source.”
- Provided technical and scientific skills training and experience to young Black/African people that became useful in their careers/life over the years.
- Provided opportunities for international travel and work experiences to young Africans born in the American nation, some of whom had previously not traveled beyond the borders of the District of Columbia.
- Provided young Africans born in the Caribbean, South America, and the African continent with opportunities for travel, association, and joint work with African-Americans living in New Orleans, La., Youngstown, Ohio; and East Palo Alto, Calif., far beyond what was typical in those days.
- Contributed to the idea that African People working together with the goal of service to our people “can do” and take responsibility for moving history towards the liberation of our people and all humankind.
James P. (Jimmy) Garrett is a SNCC veteran who created the United States’ first Black Studies program in 1966 at San Francisco State University. He later moved to Washington, D.C., where he founded the city’s first Black Studies program at Federal City College (now UDC). He was co-founder and director the Center for Black Education, an independent Black education institution based in Washington, D.C.’s Black community. He is the author of the forthcoming book, Forged in the High Tide of Struggle: Notes of a Black Radical Organizer, 1960-1975. Copyright © 2020 James P. Garrett. All rights reserved. Photos by Ivy Young [maxbutton id=”2″ ]