It is crucial that the ideology that fuels revolutionary struggle is centered in radical love and profound commitment. While Pan-Africanist devotion to principles of socialism, self governance, and cultural autonomy is necessary, it is dedication to people and not simply to ideas that will bring about the transformation of Black life. Earnest attachment and fierce loyalty to not only the concept of Blackness, but the reality of it, are at the heart of every pivotal and inexplicably courageous moment of the Black liberation movement, but these moments are few and far between.
When Harriet Tubman was a young woman, she accompanied a Big House cook to Bucktown Village Store, where they encountered an overseer berating his slave for leaving the plantation without permission. The overseer, a white man with the power to take her life, demanded that Harriet help him restrain the slave and she refused. This moment clearly highlighted Harriet’s integrity, but upon what value did she base her choice? One might argue that Harriet was claiming and defending her own right to autonomy, but since she was enslaved and had not yet challenged the infringement on that very entitlement, it is more likely that it was with the other enslaved individual in mind that Harriet put herself at risk. It is more likely that it was her loyalty to and compassion for someone intrinsically connected to her that sparked her defiance. The remainder of Harriet’s life was a testament to that same love and allegiance. In 1850, after just escaping to Philadelphia and securing her own freedom, she set her mind on securing that of others by helping them navigate the Underground Railroad. Harriet’s husband, John Tubman-a man who was legally free from slavery when they wed, didn’t approve of Harriet’s plan and refused to join her. So, Harriet left him. She understood that real Black love does and should transcend the romantic ideal and the institution of marriage. Harriet was married to the collective. Her life was defined and characterized by her profound love for her people and her steadfast belief in their entitlement to freedom.
In 1979, members of the Black Liberation Army held up a department store in New Jersey so as to procure funds for a rescue mission to retrieve their sister, Assata Shakur, from prison. Later that year, three of the same members freed the iconic revolutionary from Clinton Correctional Facility for Women with .45-caliber pistols, dynamite, and a van. After her escape, radical communities in New York and New Jersey organized to ensure local non-cooperation with federal attempts to capture Assata. The consequences for some were severe, with Mutulu Shakur and Marilyn Buck spending years in prison. Assata’s escape and subsequent refuge are indicative of the village mentality of those around her. The people who freed and protected Assata demonstrated and embodied a brand of fealty that is crucial to the modern movement for Black liberation. Members of Assata’s village were espoused to one another. They faced death, persecution, and imprisonment; none of which diluted their love and commitment, factors that ultimately empowered them to thwart both the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the entire United States Government.
One cannot talk about segments of the Black liberation movement that are/were rooted in profound love without discussing MOVE. MOVE emphasized the sanctity of life and the right the animate manifestation of it has to acknowledgement and reverence. MOVE protected itself and its members fiercely from influence external to its collective, going as far as to engage in shootouts with police and mislead city government to keep its family intact. The collective’s nine imprisoned members and death toll of eleven are testaments to each individual’s willingness to sacrifice for MOVE’s larger vision and mission. Furthermore, for the Philadelphia-based collective, the concept of individualism was clearly rejected when constituents each abandoned their slave-owner bequeathed surnames for the name Africa, demonstrating the collective’s commitment not only to the perceived principles of their mother continent, but to one another. It goes without saying that MOVE was married to movement.
Though poignant examples, Harriet Tubman, the BLA, and MOVE are exceptional and not indicative of a widespread adoption of Black platonic polygamy or collective commitment. The reality of Black organizing is that it has been ridden with and plagued by division, betrayal, mistrust and disloyalty. While the impact of those dynamics has not been as baleful as the strategically systemic racial oppression that began with slavery, it has certainly rendered impotent efforts to combat the genocide, disenfranchisement and marginalization visited upon the Black community. The truth of this statement is made evident by the participation of African royalty in the transatlantic slave trade, the COINTELPRO-fed paranoia that preceded the fall of the Panthers, and the counter-revolutionary machinations of weak hearted Black reformists disguised as well meaning activists.
mThe movement won’t make it if we fail to see ourselves as one unit; spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically impacted as a collective. The movement means nothing it if we don’t take one another as partners in struggle, to have and to hold, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish for as long as we all shall live. We must love each other as we would ourselves, as we would our mothers, as we would our partners, as we would our children. Only that variety of love and devotion will lead us to freedom.