The Long, Hot Summers of the 1960s

stencil of the Black Power fist on the ground

Image caption: Black Power stencil fist, from WikiMedia Commons.

By Lee

The 1960s in the U.S. and worldwide was a time of major social upheaval. People were reading Malcolm X and Mao Tse-tung, and they were making history in the streets. There was a war in Vietnam, and China was a revolutionary country.

In numerous cities across the country Black youth were hooking up with the Black Panthers and Malcolm X. There was heated struggle over non-violence and Martin Luther King.  

In 1964, from Aug. 28 to Aug. 30, riots took place in North Philly, centered around 23rd and Columbia. This followed other East Coast cities: Harlem, Rochester, Jersey City and Elizabeth. In the South activity took place in Birmingham, Alabama and in Mississippi, known as the Mississippi Freedom Summer.

On Sept. 15, 1963 in Birmingham, four children were murdered when a bomb exploded in a church on Sunday morning. There was widespread outrage and violent clashes between people and the police, drawing national attention to the struggle of Black people everywhere.

In 1964, students from across the country came to take part in the Mississippi Freedom Summer. If you have seen the film “Mississippi Burning” then you’ve seen Black homes being burned and Black people being lynched while police stood by and watched.

And in Philadelphia, Mississippi, three civil rights workers were murdered. They had been investigating the burning of a Black church.

* * *

The riot in Philly took place Aug. 28 to Aug. 30, 1964. It began when the police got into an argument with a Black woman, Odessa Bradford, at 23rd and Columbia. The police tried to pull her from her car, causing a large crowd to gather. A rumor spread that she had been beaten to death by the police. Later that evening, the riot began and lasted for several days. Sources say 341 people were injured, 794 were arrested and 255 business were damaged or destroyed.

Some say the riot contributed to the rise of Frank Rizzo, whose miserable statue still stands in Center City.

The rebellion of Black people in the U.S. merged with struggles internationally. The bombing of North Vietnam began in 1964. In different ways, the anti-war movement became one with the struggle of Black people. 

The Vietnam war was not a patriotic war. Vets came back from Vietnam and threw their medals at the White House, chanting, “We won’t fight a rich man’s war.” In Vietnam, many Black vets refused to fight the Vietnamese people, saying, “No Vietnamese ever called me n****r.” They said, “The war we are going to fight is the war at home.” And there was a war going on at home — in the streets across the country.

Mao sent this statement to people after the Kent State and Jackson State murders of students protesting the Vietnam war and the invasion of Cambodia:

“A new upsurge in the struggle against U.S. imperialism is now emerging throughout the world. Ever since World War 2, U.S. imperialism and its followers have been continuously launching wars of aggression and the people in various countries have been continuously waging revolutionary wars to defeat the aggressor. Revolution is the main trend in the world today and people in all countries must get prepared. Unable to win in Vietnam and Laos, the U.S. aggressors treacherously engineered the reactionary coup d’etat by the Lon Noi clique, brazenly dispatched their troops to invade Cambodia and resumed the bombing of North Vietnam and this has aroused the furious resistance of the Indochinese people.

While massacring the people in other countries, U.S. imperialism is slaughtering the white and black people in its own country. Nixon’s fascist atrocities have kindled the raging flames of the revolutionary mass movement in the U.S.

The Chinese people firmly support the revolutionary struggle of the American people.  

I am convinced that the American people who are fighting valiantly will ultimately win victory and that the fascist rule in the U.S. will inevitably be defeated. It is U.S. imperialism that fears the people of the world. It becomes panic stricken at the mere rustle of leaves in the wind. Innumerable facts prove that a just cause enjoys abundant support while an unjust cause finds little support. This is a law of history.

People of the world unite and defeat the U.S. aggressors and all their running dogs.”

Today is not the 60s. There are different contradictions. But we need to know our history, and the 60s are a good example of a time when the people of the world were decisive. To the future!

. . .

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