Friday, March 27, 2009

Rudy Lewis on My Friend the Devil, Part Eight


1967-1968 was a defining period for me as well. I was a student at Morgan State College in Baltimore . I had finished ROTC, which was mandatory at all public Negro colleges for freshmen and sophomore males, with plans of going into the junior program and onto becoming a second lieutenant. The Vietnam war was heating up.

The summer of 1967 changed all that. I was schooled by a Baltimore public librarian who had graduated from Hampton . She put me on a program of readings. That fall Stokely came to Morgan. Up from the country of Southside Virginia , I had never heard a black man speak like that in public, about white people. Other SNCC representatives came to campus. There was an active anti-war group on campus DISSENT. Students were burning their draft cards. I joined Baltimore SNCC, which was then headed by Bob Moore who had come up from Atlanta . But he was a native of Baltimore .

Spring semester came and I dropped out Morgan to join the Revolution. LeRoi Jones came to town invited by the Soul School . Maybe he had become Amiri Baraka by then, I can't remember. I can't recall whether it was before the assassination or after. But I rode with the little general across town to a party on the East side sponsored by VISTA workers after he and his troupe had put a play on at a local church. Stokely was there, as well as other noted persons in the movement.

My student deferment was soon moved up to 1 A, from 2 A. I carried on a protracted struggle with the draft board, first declaring myself a conscientious objector. After appeal I was finally required to report to Fort Hollabird , the local draft induction center. I passed leaflets out on the base. No one attempted to stop me. I was non cooperative with the paper work and the medical exams. After three days, they finally declared me unfit and was handed a 1 Y, unfit physically and mentally for military service. I was committed to not going into the service and would have done whatever was necessary. That was a 180 degree swing from May 1967.

After the death of King we were committed to closing down stores to honor King's death. This campaign inadvertently led to rioting in a black shopping district on gay Street in East Baltimore . That rioting spread like wildfire from one black shopping center to the next. Eventually the National Guard was brought into Baltimore and curfews were announced. The jails became so full that the Civic Center at Baltimore and Howard streets was used to detain young angry blacks.

The Baltimore Rebellion radicalized the entire city. Every Negro became black instantly. That argument was brought to an end. Every bougie Negro became a militant. This was when Spiro Agnew was governor of Maryland . His so called handling of Negro leadership led him to become vice president to Richard Nixon, and later to disgrace.

This radicalization of the city was ripe for 1199, a New York based health care workers union. In less than a year we organized a 5,000-member trade union, mostly women. Black candidates for office grew by leaps and bounds. Through the 70s Black Baltimore never looked back. Then came the 80s and retrenchment. The Uncle Toms wheeler-dealers were resurrected and betrayal of the masses was the watchword of the day.—Rudy

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