Part Eight: My Friend the Devil
We discovered racism was as Canadian as hockey—and they play a lot of hockey in Canada, you can see children on the street playing hockey barefoot in the snow. As Austin Clarke explained in an interview, Canada may not have been involved in the slave trade and she might not have had colonies, but West Indian women workers described the journey from the Caribbean islands to Canada as the Middle Passage. And upon arrival they immediately became indentured servants with few rights of protest to harsh working conditions. One need only read the novels and short stories of Austin Clarke and others to get a taste of racial conditions in Canada. We made the mistake of not understanding racial dynamics when he held a rally at a West Indian night club and referred to the white women as snakes. Little did we know how many biracial children were in the audience, and they reacted to our racial insensitivity. After six months, I had enough of Canada, in fact I had renounced my US citizenship before the American consulate, having had enough of America as well. A fat man gave me a ride to Ottawa to tried to go to a Third World or Communist country. This same fat white man claimed he had helped Robert F. Williams escape to Cuba when he fled North Carolina ahead of lynch mobs because he advocated Negroes With Guns. A fat white man was also supposed to have helped James Earl Ray escape from Canada to England after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Well, we know there are some people who work both sides of the fence, from the right to the left.
After six months I made plans to return underground to the United States. I was homesick especially after receiving a letter from Ethna telling me about the Black Arts scene in Chicago, even sending me a book signed by a poet named Don L. Lee (Haki Madhubuti).
His book inspired me to pack up and make my way across the border to Detroit, where I was greeted by historian Harold G. Lawrence and Ahmed Alhamisi, editors of an anthology on BAM. From Detroit I slipped into Chicago where I worked under an assumed name in the Loop, eventually moving from the North side with Ethna’s sister to a room on the South side, 57th and Kimbark, Blackstone Ranger gang territory, walking home nightly knowing my life was in danger but having no fear, and there was never any incident between myself and the gang bangers. But one day there was a note on my door from Ethna’s sister saying the FBI had been to her house looking for me. I knew it was time to raise up from Chicago, but I didn’t get out of there fast enough. August 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated and America became a house on fire when North American Africans reacted nationwide with righteous indignation at the demise of King and his forever-gone era of non-violence. Cities burned coast to coast and Chicago was no exception: the West side went up in flames. When I got up early the next morning to go to work in the Loop, the South side was under National Guard occupation, with soldiers in jeeps, tanks, and military trucks manning intersections, especially along Cottage Grove, a main drive.
Four days later, we heard the news from California that the Panthers had a shootout with Oakland police in which Lil Bobby Hutton was murdered in cold blood and Eldridge Cleaver wounded. From his long experience in the California prison system, Cleaver knew when in confrontation with authorities you come out butt naked. The young hero of revolution, Lil Bobby probably had too much pride to come out naked and when he appeared from the house on 28th and Magnolia, the OPD murdered him in cold blood after he surrendered. The people released a cry of horror at what they witnessed. During the shootout other Panthers had threw down their guns and ran. One Panther leader was found by police hiding under a bed in a woman’s house. This cowardice is not unknown in revolutionary history. There were soldiers who turned heels and ran while fighting battles with Prophet Muhammad of Arabia 1400 years ago. As I wrote in a song, “Revolution is not a pretty thing..” What is worth nothing is that Eldridge told me after the assassination of MLK,Jr., suddenly black men appeared at the Panther office crying for guns to avenge the death of King. He described them as too clean for brothers in the hood. He said they had the look of military men disguised as common brothers from the community. We know Cointelpro or the FBI’s counter intelligence program was in full swing during this time. Furthermore, if anyone had anything to do with the assassination of Dr. King it was the FBI—see BET’s documentary of J. Edgar Hoover in the American Gangster series.