Young Patriots at the United Front Against Fascism Conference (1969)

ypo photo


The fol­low­ing speech was given by William “Preacher­man” Fes­per­man at the Unit­ed Front Again­st Fas­cism Con­fer­ence held by the Black Pan­ther Par­ty in Oak­land from July 18-21, 1969.1 Fes­per­man was the field sec­re­tary of the Young Patri­ots Orga­ni­za­tion (YPO) and a for­mer the­ol­o­gy stu­dent. The YPO was a Chicago-based group of poor, white, and rev­o­lu­tion­ary south­ern trans­plants. They played a cru­cial role in found­ing the orig­i­nal 1969 Rain­bow Coali­tion, a ground­break­ing alliance ini­ti­at­ed by the Illi­nois chap­ter of the Black Pan­ther Par­ty, which also for­mal­ly includ­ed the Puer­to Rican street gang-turned-polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion, the Young Lords, and Ris­ing Up Angry, anoth­er group that appealed to work­ing class white youth. The Young Patri­ots are also, because of their explic­it iden­ti­fi­ca­tion as “hill­bil­ly nation­al­ists” and sym­bol­ic adop­tion of the Con­fed­er­ate flag, one of the most fas­ci­nat­ing, con­tro­ver­sial, and under­stud­ied orga­ni­za­tions to emerge from the inter­sec­tion of the New Left stu­dent move­ment, civil rights move­ment, Black Pow­er strug­gles, and new forms of com­mu­ni­ty orga­niz­ing that unfold­ed over the course of the 1960s in urban neigh­bor­hoods across the Unit­ed States.

The lack of atten­tion given to the group is under­stand­able; with the excep­tion of a two-page write-up includ­ed in the New Left col­lec­tion The Move­ment Towards a New Amer­i­ca, and a brief state­ment pub­lished at the end of the Black Pan­thers Speak anthol­o­gy, very few writ­ings from the YPO are eas­i­ly avail­able to the pub­lic.2 More­over, until Amy Son­nie and James Tracy’s 2011 work Hill­bil­ly Nation­al­ists, Urban Race Rebels, and Black Pow­er: Com­mu­ni­ty Orga­niz­ing in Rad­i­cal Times, a time­ly study of rad­i­cal and anti-racist activism dur­ing the 1960s and 70s with­in work­ing class white com­mu­ni­ties in Chicago, Philadel­phia, and New York, and Jako­bi Williams’s recent book From the Bul­let to the Bal­lot: The Illi­nois Chap­ter of the Black Pan­ther Par­ty and Racial Coali­tion Pol­i­tics in Chicago, one of the only full accounts of the his­to­ry of the Chicago Rain­bow Coali­tion, very lit­tle in-depth his­tor­i­cal care had been paid to the group.3 Repub­lish­ing this vital archival text is a small attempt toward fill­ing said void in the schol­ar­ship.

But just as impor­tant, we wager that, given renewed atten­tion to racism, the lega­cies of the South, and the Con­fed­er­ate flag today, dis­en­tan­gling the vis­i­ble con­tra­dic­tions of the YPO and ana­lyz­ing their role as a key con­stituen­cy of the Rain­bow Coali­tion can help us demar­cate cer­tain posi­tions with­in con­tem­po­rary debates about rad­i­cal his­to­ry, orga­niz­ing strat­e­gy, and polit­i­cal iden­ti­ty. In our cur­rent con­junc­ture, the idea of white and black rad­i­cals ral­ly­ing side-by-side around cries of “Black Pow­er to black peo­ple!” and “White Pow­er to white peo­ple!,” as the Chicago Black Pan­thers and the Young Patri­ots did, seems absolute­ly unthink­able; but to dis­miss this as mere anachro­nism would be to over­look a piv­otal episode in Amer­i­can polit­i­cal activism and thus dis­re­gard what “strate­gic traces” and resources this expe­ri­ence could hold.4 To be able to inves­ti­gate the YPO fur­ther, and under­stand how such a mul­tira­cial assem­blage of groups like the Rain­bow Coali­tion was pos­si­ble in the first place, we should heed the advice of Cha-Cha Jimenez, lead­er of the Young Lords: “in order to under­stand [the Young Patri­ots], you have to under­stand the influ­ence of nation­al­ism.”5 This also requires us to chart the speci­fic orga­ni­za­tion­al forms and styles of polit­i­cal work that this nation­al­ism assumed.


Formed in 1968, the YPO quite con­scious­ly took after the Pan­thers by com­bin­ing rev­o­lu­tion­ary nation­al­ism and com­mu­ni­ty defense as a polit­i­cal strat­e­gy, and in their view­ing of the “pig pow­er struc­ture” as a com­mon ene­my for both poor whites and African Amer­i­cans. The YPO was also marked by the speci­fic con­di­tions of rad­i­cal pol­i­tics in Chicago where the “orga­nize your own” activist mod­el, famous­ly advo­cat­ed by SNCC in its lat­er phase, meant not iden­ti­ty-based essen­tial­ism but a forg­ing of con­nec­tions across class, race, and eth­nic lines. This is reflect­ed in the YPO’s own 11-Point Pro­gram, which, while mod­eled on the orig­i­nal ver­sion put forth by the Oak­land Pan­thers, con­tained a promi­nent addi­tion. Fol­low­ing demands for full employ­ment, bet­ter hous­ing con­di­tions, pris­on­ers’ rights, and an end to racism, the Patri­ots also pro­claimed that “rev­o­lu­tion­ary sol­i­dar­i­ty with all the oppressed peo­ples of this and all oth­er coun­tries and races defeats the divi­sions cre­at­ed by the nar­row inter­ests of cul­tur­al nation­al­ism.” This prin­ci­ple of shared spheres of strug­gle and a divi­sion of polit­i­cal labor – a rel­a­tive auton­o­my or inde­pen­dence at the com­mu­ni­ty lev­el – became dri­ving fea­tures of the “rain­bow pol­i­tics” devel­oped in Chicago.6 As opposed to the frus­tra­tions that many white rad­i­cals expressed con­cern­ing the new orga­niz­ing mod­el pro­posed by SNCC and oth­er Black Pow­er groups, the YPO and a broad­er net­work of com­mu­ni­ty activists treat­ed it as an oppor­tu­ni­ty for polit­i­cal exper­i­men­ta­tion from their own social posi­tion or frame: an open­ing to col­lec­tive­ly think through the most effec­tive strate­gies for unit­ed action and nov­el forms of sol­i­dar­i­ty pol­i­tics, as well as the con­struc­tion of par­tic­i­pa­to­ry projects around the very real and speci­fic prob­lems fac­ing south­ern migrants that wouldn’t be eas­i­ly solved.

The­se ini­tial con­sid­er­a­tions gen­er­ate an obvi­ous ques­tion: on what grounds could the Patri­ots see them­selves as white rev­o­lu­tion­ary nation­al­ists? How could they claim sol­i­dar­i­ty with the strug­gles being fought in the name of nation­al lib­er­a­tion by oppressed groups at home and abroad? After all, the YPO’s stu­dent activist con­tem­po­raries in the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Youth Move­ment (RYM) – a sec­tion of Stu­dents for a Demo­c­ra­t­ic Soci­ety (SDS) which lat­er split into the Weath­er Under­ground and a num­ber of orga­ni­za­tions in the New Com­mu­nist Move­ment – took a rad­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent approach, the­o­riz­ing white­ness as a “rul­ing-class social con­trol for­ma­tion” born of strate­gic alliances con­sol­i­dat­ed under the ban­ner of white racial iden­ti­ty. Though the­se emerg­ing ten­den­cies agreed that white­ness con­ferred priv­i­leges on this sec­tor of the work­ing class, and that such ben­e­fits pre­sent­ed a seri­ous obsta­cle to rev­o­lu­tion­ary class pol­i­tics, they dis­agreed in their strate­gic assess­ments of how to pro­ceed. The Weath­er Under­ground advo­cat­ed for a com­plete divorce of white rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies from the white work­ing class. But the rest of RYM, ral­lied around the future lead­er­ship of the Sojourn­er Truth Orga­ni­za­tion, argued that the ben­e­fits bestowed by white suprema­cy ulti­mate­ly proved to be a trap, a betray­al of any pro­le­tar­i­ans’ “real inter­ests.”7 So how did the YPO arrive at and rec­on­cile such a het­ero­dox posi­tion?

The answer lies in the fact that the Patri­ots had a coher­ent region­al iden­ti­ty around which to orga­nize, and one with a his­to­ry that often took on rad­i­cal polit­i­cal valences: its mem­ber­ship was com­posed of south­ern migrants main­ly from Appalachia, whose fam­i­lies had set­tled in the Uptown neigh­bor­hood of Chicago, a major hub along the north­bound route dubbed the “hill­bil­ly high­way.” His­tor­i­cal­ly, Appalachia has had a fraught rela­tion­ship to oth­er regions of the South, espe­cial­ly in terms of racial for­ma­tion and ide­o­log­i­cal per­spec­tive; often, its inhab­i­tants were marked as dis­tinct from oth­er white, Anglo-Sax­on groups, and this pro­duced com­bat­ive expres­sions of both “nation­al iden­ti­ty” – as “moun­tain peo­ple” – and at times, expres­sions of dis­con­tent again­st eco­nom­ic and state author­i­ties and sol­i­dar­i­ty with oth­er oppressed groups.8 In oth­er words, there was a strong under­stand­ing of Appalachia as its own region of the South, and, because of its eco­nom­ic sta­tus as one of the most impov­er­ished areas in the coun­try, there was a gen­er­al cur­rent of class resis­tance again­st the mas­sive coal and pow­er com­pa­nies that monop­o­lized whole towns and even coun­ties (pop­u­lar­ized in films like Mate­wan and Har­lan Coun­ty, USA). This went the oth­er direc­tion, too: for exam­ple, cer­tain Marx­ist the­o­rists argu­ing for black self-deter­mi­na­tion in the South, like Nel­son Peery, saw poor Appalachi­an whites as a pri­ma­ry basis for uni­ty with the white work­ing class, and count­ed them as an “Anglo-Amer­i­can minor­i­ty” in the “Negro nation.”9 In this rework­ing and unset­tling of racial and nation­al iden­ti­ty cat­e­gories, com­mon ter­ri­to­ry, lan­guage, cul­ture, and post-Civil War labor forms became uni­fy­ing aspects, rather than col­or.10

A doc­u­ment from the South­ern Con­fer­ence Edu­ca­tion­al Fund, a social jus­tice and anti-racist orga­ni­za­tion led by Carl and Anne Braden, with a project-ori­ent­ed approach pat­terned after SNCC, showed how far an under­stand­ing of the rela­tions of oppres­sion pre­vail­ing among poor white com­mu­ni­ties had pro­gressed by the 1960s, with a prac­ti­cal­ly anti-impe­ri­al­ist bent:

Appalachia is a colony, lying most­ly in the South­ern Unit­ed States. Its wealth is owned by peo­ple who live else­where and who pay lit­tle or no local tax­es… Like all colonies, Appalachia is run by men and wom­en behold­en to the absen­tee own­ers and the banks. Judges, sher­iffs, tax asses­sors, pros­e­cu­tors, and state offi­cials are tied to the coal oper­a­tors in one way or anoth­er. The­se peo­ple led the dri­ve to stop union orga­niz­ing in the moun­tains in the 20 and 30s, and they now lead the fight again­st orga­niz­ing white and black peo­ple for polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic pow­er.11

Still, the com­po­si­tion of this “inter­nal colony” had been chang­ing for some time: between 1930 into the late 1960s, mil­lions of south­ern­ers trav­eled to North­ern indus­tri­al cities in search of work. Appalachia was espe­cial­ly trans­formed soon after WWII when a wave of automa­tion and mech­a­niza­tion swept through the coal min­ing indus­tries in West Vir­ginia and Ken­tucky, leav­ing ram­pant unem­ploy­ment and pover­ty in its wake.12 For those who left, the trip to the North did not ease the­se dif­fi­cul­ties. Cities like Chicago and Detroit each faced their own prob­lems: in the con­text of emer­gent process­es of dein­dus­tri­al­iza­tion, work was often hard to find for many new­com­ers.13 Migrants faced scruti­ny from state author­i­ties, law enforce­ment, and oth­er res­i­dents, with accusato­ry and sen­sa­tion­al­ist Chicago Tri­bune exposés labelling them as “one of the most dan­ger­ous and law­less ele­ments of Chicago’s fast grow­ing migrant pop­u­la­tion,” and police cap­tains demand­ing they be expelled from the neigh­bor­hood. 

Addi­tion­al­ly, the hous­ing sit­u­a­tion in Uptown was deplorable. Sin­gle-room ten­e­ment hous­es were carved out of larg­er homes, with spec­u­la­tors and land­lords pay­ing lit­tle atten­tion to real liv­ing con­di­tions. Bob Lee, a Black Pan­ther orga­niz­er who would be inte­gral to for­mal­iz­ing the Rain­bow Coali­tion, remem­bers the­se as “some of the worst slums imag­in­able,” even when com­pared to the African Amer­i­can-con­cen­trat­ed areas of the South Side; a Harper’s Mag­a­zine pro­file of Uptown was even more blunt, describ­ing the neigh­bor­hood “as the most con­gest­ed whirlpool of white pover­ty in the coun­try.”14

The peo­ple who moved to Uptown did not leave every­thing behind, bring­ing their own cul­tur­al forms which were only rein­forced due to the skep­ti­cism and out­right prej­u­dice they expe­ri­enced. The area soon gar­nered com­par­isons to a “Hill­bil­ly Harlem,” and the pop­u­lar pas­times of Appalachia – pool halls, honky tonks, bar­be­ques, coun­try and blue­grass music – became points of com­mu­ni­ty pride. Nav­i­gat­ing this cul­tur­al land­scape was vital to indige­nous activists, and the young YPO orga­niz­ers pos­sessed a unique abil­i­ty to draw upon the polit­i­cal poten­tial and roots of the­se estab­lish­ments and prac­tices.15

This isn’t to say that a shared sense of resent­ment sim­mer­ing among Uptown res­i­dents didn’t exist already: faced with dis­crim­i­na­to­ry hir­ing prac­tices and wel­fare poli­cies, con­stant police harass­ment, and hous­ing dis­place­ment through urban renewal projects, the south­ern migrant com­mu­ni­ty in Chicago proved that even in pur­port­ed­ly homo­ge­neous white com­mu­ni­ties, there were lay­ers of stigma­ti­za­tion and process­es of class strat­i­fi­ca­tion. As his­to­ri­an Jen­nifer Frost notes,

Whites, too, shared a con­scious­ness based on white­ness, but the white iden­ti­ty of south­ern and Appalachi­an migrants in [Chicago and else­where] was com­pli­cat­ed by class, as they were seen as “white trash” and “dumb hill­bil­lies.” In fact, well before SDS arrived in Uptown, res­i­dents had car­ried signs declar­ing “hill­bil­ly pow­er” at a local protest. Com­mu­ni­ty par­tic­i­pants… did not think of them­selves as “poor,” but “as a Negro who is poor or a Hill­bil­ly who is poor.”16

Encoun­ters with the exist­ing polit­i­cal appa­ra­tus made it evi­dent that munic­i­pal gov­ern­ment was a lim­it, not a route, towards enhanc­ing this pow­er. As even the small­est attempts at chang­ing local con­di­tions could be blocked by the over­whelm­ing forces of May­or Richard Daley’s elec­toral machine, a new pol­i­tics of com­mu­ni­ty empow­er­ment began to coa­lesce and con­sti­tut­ed a speci­fic but mal­leable orga­ni­za­tion­al form and a range of insur­gent prac­tices that could con­nect issues of neigh­bor­hood improve­ment with bet­ter access to social ser­vices.17 Thus, a new front of strug­gle mate­ri­al­ized, and offered unique oppor­tu­ni­ties for height­en­ing the polit­i­cal capac­i­ties, aware­ness, and activ­i­ty of grass­roots forces.18

One of the vehi­cles for build­ing this kind of com­mu­ni­ty pow­er in Uptown came, para­dox­i­cal­ly, through the par­tic­i­pa­tion of out­side stu­dent activists from SDS, albeit those from a dif­fer­ent polit­i­cal milieu and ide­o­log­i­cal back­ground than oth­ers who would go on to form the RYM the­o­ret­i­cal cur­rent.19 The­se ear­lier mem­bers of SDS would help form the JOIN (Jobs or Income Now) Com­mu­ni­ty Union in 1964, which was the Chicago chap­ter of SDS’s Eco­nom­ic Research Action Project (ERAP), one of the first large-scale com­mu­ni­ty-orga­niz­ing efforts of the New Left. The ini­tial ideas for ERAP stemmed from the broad­ly Key­ne­sian pre­cepts shared by the first lead­ers and the­o­rists of SDS, chiefly Tom Hay­den, and its first strate­gic plans includ­ed orga­niz­ing unem­ployed young men across the coun­try, call­ing for full employ­ment and/or guar­an­teed wages on a nation­al scale, and, more gen­er­al­ly, advo­cat­ing demo­c­ra­t­ic plan­ning with­in the eco­nom­ic sphere. All the­se steps were intend­ed to lay the ground­work for an “inter­ra­cial move­ment of the poor.”

But activists soon dis­cov­ered that such con­cep­tions were more dif­fi­cult to car­ry out in prac­tice. They hit a wall try­ing to frame unem­ploy­ment as a direct­ly relat­able issue. Where JOIN found greater suc­cess, how­ev­er, was in engag­ing com­mu­ni­ty con­cerns, or “imme­di­ate griev­ances”: wel­fare rights, hous­ing issues, police bru­tal­i­ty, to name a few. This shift towards address­ing inad­e­quate city and social ser­vices invit­ed a high degree of skep­ti­cism from SDS mem­bers who want­ed to keep push­ing a nation­al pro­gram, and they snide­ly nick­named the new local­ly-focused approach GROIN (Garbage Removal or Income Now).20 In oth­er words, many stu­dent lead­ers did not see any polit­i­cal con­tent to the­se felt griev­ances.

Despite the push­back, the new strate­gic ori­en­ta­tion, which respond­ed to tan­gi­ble social strug­gles on the ground, turned the Uptown Chicago JOIN ini­tia­tive into a larg­er neigh­bor­hood-wide, and indeed city-wide, project. It was obvi­ous that the polit­i­cal ter­rain had shift­ed, and that, to use Ira Katznelson’s terms, the “pol­i­tics of com­mu­ni­ty” could more suc­cess­ful­ly tap into already exist­ing sources of polit­i­cal activism than the “pol­i­tics of work” approach tak­en by ERAP.21 Fol­low­ing a broad­er trend, orga­niz­ing issues pro­posed by com­mu­ni­ty res­i­dents them­selves – wel­fare rights, voter reg­is­tra­tion and edu­ca­tion, pub­lic edu­ca­tion issues, hous­ing prob­lems – opened up new pos­si­bil­i­ties for polit­i­cal aware­ness, espe­cial­ly fol­low­ing the often lack­lus­ter and high­ly restric­tive imple­men­ta­tion of many War on Pover­ty pro­grams.22

Stu­dent orga­niz­ers found indige­nous lead­er­ship already present in Uptown, as some com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers had direct expe­ri­ences in the Civil Rights move­ment in the South and were ready to mobi­lize oth­ers around issues of racial dis­crim­i­na­tion. Sup­port of black-led orga­ni­za­tions and a con­sis­tent empha­sis on anti-racist work were a key part of JOIN’s out­look and mes­sage, and the orga­ni­za­tion linked up with Mar­t­in Luther King’s first cam­paigns in 1966 to deseg­re­gate hous­ing and schools in the city by par­tic­i­pat­ing in the Open Hous­ing March­es (which encoun­tered intense reac­tionary vio­lence in the major­i­ty white sub­urbs). The­se new neigh­bor­hood-based activists includ­ed Peg­gy Ter­ry, Ren­nie Davis, Dovie Thur­man, Mary Hock­en­ber­ry, and Jean Tep­per­man. Ter­ry in par­tic­u­lar became a high­ly respect­ed com­mu­ni­ty lead­er – a sea­soned activist who took after Anne Braden, and a for­mer mem­ber of CORE (and future vice-pres­i­den­tial can­di­date on a tick­et with Eldridge Cleaver for the Peace and Free­dom Par­ty), Ter­ry assumed a men­tor­ship role for young mem­bers who would go on to join the Young Patri­ots Orga­ni­za­tion, not unlike Ella Baker’s rela­tion­ship with mem­bers of SNCC.

Rent strikes and ten­ant occu­pa­tions become effec­tive tac­tics to lever­age pow­er again­st absen­tee land­lords and indif­fer­ent hous­ing boards. There was a pro­lif­er­a­tion of com­mu­ni­ty-based projects: a JOIN com­mu­ni­ty school was set up, where stu­dent orga­niz­ers tried to tie prob­lems in Uptown to nation­al polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic trends in dis­cus­sion with res­i­dents. Stu­dent orga­niz­ers and neigh­bor­hood activists formed a wel­fare com­mit­tee, which con­test­ed rules around pri­va­cy, dis­pen­sa­tion of funds, and aid revo­ca­tion, and even­tu­al­ly won key pro­tec­tions for day labor­ers – a press­ing ques­tion in Uptown. Ter­ry also became the edi­tor of a news­pa­per, The Fir­ing Line, which relayed infor­ma­tion about var­i­ous Black Pow­er move­ments, the war in Viet­nam, and nation­al lib­er­a­tion strug­gles abroad, includ­ing the strug­gle in Ire­land.

While this encoun­ter between stu­dent activists and neigh­bor­hood peo­ple even­tu­al­ly dis­in­te­grat­ed in 1967 because of the fail­ure of the ERAP project and demands from Uptown res­i­dents for greater auton­o­my, it also enabled more rad­i­cal cur­rents to emerge, includ­ing the Young Patri­ots. The roots of the YPO can be traced to the anti-police bru­tal­i­ty com­mit­tee of JOIN, found­ed in 1966. In fact, this work group was the Uptown Good­fel­lows, what Tra­cy and Son­nie describe as a “cross between a street gang and loose-knit rad­i­cal social club.” Com­posed main­ly of young men, the­se were also some of the most vocal crit­ics of over­bear­ing SDS involve­ment in JOIN. Mem­bers includ­ed Jim­my Cur­ry, Doug Young­blood (the son of Peg­gy Ter­ry) Juneb­ug Boyk­in, and Hy Thur­man, patient and skilled orga­niz­ers all. Their cen­tral issue and focus was a salient one; police harass­ment was a ubiq­ui­tous, quo­tid­i­an phe­nom­e­non in Uptown, and JOIN mem­bers had already set up an infor­mal police watch and con­duct­ed sev­er­al inde­pen­dent inquiries, with local help, into Uptown res­i­dents’ run-ins with police.

Like many youth gangs in Chicago of the peri­od, includ­ing the Black Gang­ster Dis­ci­ples and the Black­stone Rangers, the Good­fel­lows had an explic­it­ly polit­i­cal mes­sage that went beyond turf skir­mish­es: to unite and coor­di­nate with oth­er local gangs, what­ev­er their race or eth­nic­i­ty, by fight­ing back again­st police harass­ment and intim­i­da­tion – the most vis­i­ble man­i­fes­ta­tion of the “real ene­my,” i.e., cor­rupt politi­cians, cap­i­tal­ism, and the war. On this point, the Good­fel­lows bucked a dom­i­nant his­tor­i­cal trend by open­ly align­ing them­selves with black or brown-led gangs and social orga­ni­za­tions, since there is a long-estab­lished lega­cy in the Unit­ed States of youth of col­or form­ing them­selves into gangs as a mea­sure of col­lec­tive self-defense again­st vio­lence and abuse car­ried out again­st them by not only the police, but by both white youth and white adult gangs.23

This nascent coali­tion-build­ing came to fruition in August 1966 when, with the help of oth­er JOIN activists, the Good­fel­lows orga­nized a march with white, African Amer­i­can, and Puer­to Rican youth on a local police sta­tion to protest police vio­lence, end­ing with calls for com­mu­ni­ty con­trol of police. While the march proved that poor whites could play an active role in polit­i­cal orga­niz­ing with oth­er oppressed com­mu­ni­ties, it also helped to spark a wave of police atten­tion towards the Good­fel­lows, fore­shad­ow­ing the even more vio­lent reac­tion that would befall the Rain­bow Coali­tion.

The Patri­ots offi­cial­ly came togeth­er as an inde­pen­dent orga­ni­za­tion in 1968, with Boyk­in and Young­blood as de fac­to lead­ers. The YPO adopt­ed the com­mu­ni­ty con­cerns that JOIN con­front­ed and rein­forced their iden­ti­ty as south­ern migrants, or “dis­lo­cat­ed hill­bil­lies.” As Tra­cy and Son­nie put it, this was meant to be “an orga­ni­za­tion of, by and for poor whites.”24 Their iden­ti­fi­ca­tion as an oppressed com­mu­ni­ty, how­ev­er, was con­struct­ed through a mil­i­tant oppo­si­tion to cap­i­tal­ism and con­stant agi­ta­tion again­st racism, a real prob­lem in Uptown (Bob Lee notes that even with its lega­cy of activism, the neigh­bor­hood was a “prime recruit­ing ground for white suprema­cists”). The cul­tur­al spaces of Uptown – pool halls, street cor­ners, bars – became spaces for polit­i­cal work, as the Patri­ots prac­ticed a “ped­a­gogy of the streets,” ven­tur­ing out and meet­ing com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers in famil­iar loca­tions where they social­ized and might be more like­ly to dis­cuss their prob­lems and ideas for change.25 And, again fol­low­ing the lead of both JOIN and the Pan­thers, a news­pa­per, The Patri­ot (with the sub­ti­tle: People’s News Ser­vice), was also reg­u­lar­ly print­ed and dis­trib­ut­ed. After an influx of new mem­bers, includ­ing William Fes­per­man, the YPO soon made con­tact with the Pan­thers, and by the spring of 1969, the pre­con­di­tions of the Rain­bow Coali­tion were in place.

The first meet­ings between the Pan­thers and the Patri­ots in ear­ly 1969 had Lee, a core orga­niz­er in the Chicago Pan­thers, trav­el­ling to Uptown in order to meet and dis­cuss shared expe­ri­ences, demands, and goals. Things did not always go smooth­ly, and Fred Hamp­ton, the lead­er of the Chicago Pan­thers, did not even imme­di­ate­ly know about Lee’s trips to try and form an alliance. A crit­i­cal junc­ture came, unsur­pris­ing­ly, through a con­fronta­tion with the repres­sive arm of the state: one night after Lee left a meet­ing with the YPO, only to be imme­di­ate­ly appre­hend­ed by police and herd­ed into the back of a cop car. Wit­ness­ing this egre­gious instance of pro­fil­ing and harass­ment, Fes­per­man gath­ered every per­son he could – not only oth­er Young Patri­ot mem­bers but also their part­ners and chil­dren – to sur­round the car and force the police to release Lee on the spot. The­se minor bat­tles and acts of sol­i­dar­i­ty rein­forced the mutu­al respect the two orga­ni­za­tions had for each oth­er.

Some of the Panther/Patriot meet­ings were cap­tured in the film Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion 2, show­ing Lee suc­cinct­ly sum­ming up the need for polit­i­cal uni­ty between the groups: “there’s police bru­tal­i­ty, there’s rats and roach­es, there’s pover­ty up here, and that’s the first thing we can unite on.” Prin­ci­ples of rev­o­lu­tion­ary sol­i­dar­i­ty were linked to build­ing an alliance between eco­nom­i­cal­ly dis­ad­van­taged groups. For the Patri­ots and Pan­thers, “poor people’s pow­er” was a form of class pow­er. This meant tak­ing mat­ters into their own hands and rein­vent­ing tried and true tac­tics. At the end of the scene, a deci­sion is made for sev­er­al Uptown res­i­dents and Young Patri­ots to show up unan­nounced at an upcom­ing Mod­el Cities meet­ing to voice their con­cerns about how gov­ern­ment funds were dis­trib­ut­ed, and how many felt shut out of hav­ing any say in how the new antipover­ty pro­grams in Chicago were being man­aged, repris­ing a fun­da­men­tal con­cern and strat­e­gy of JOIN.

Con­crete demands would lay the basis for link­ing local bases of pow­er togeth­er, that is, for con­struct­ing mul­tira­cial sol­i­dar­i­ty across poor, work­ing-class com­mu­ni­ties in Chicago – among the­se south­ern­ers, Puer­to Ricans, Chi­canos, and African Amer­i­cans. Oth­er orga­ni­za­tions in the Rain­bow Coali­tion were won over by the YPO’s abil­i­ty to put the guid­ing line of “serv­ing the peo­ple” into prac­tice, and the Lords, Pan­thers, and Patri­ots col­lab­o­rat­ed on sev­er­al ini­tia­tives while also remain­ing focused on their own neigh­bor­hood work. Polit­i­cal edu­ca­tion class­es, a “Rain­bow food pro­gram” that pro­vid­ed free break­fasts and meals to fam­i­lies around the Chicago area, and cam­paigns again­st urban renewal were just some of the col­lab­o­ra­tive projects that the Coali­tion mem­bers embarked upon. Hous­ing and health­care con­sti­tut­ed the two of the most intense and pro­tract­ed sites of strug­gle.

The YPO already had expe­ri­ence in anti-gen­tri­fi­ca­tion strug­gles; in 1968, Uptown com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers, many of whom par­tic­i­pat­ed in JOIN, had fought again­st a pro­pos­al to direct fed­er­al funds towards the con­struc­tion of a junior col­lege, Tru­man Col­lege, in Uptown, which would dis­place thou­sands of south­ern migrant res­i­dents. In respon­se, they pro­posed their own build­ing plan for the area in ques­tion, accord­ing­ly named “Hank Williams Vil­lage.” This was to be a mixed-use com­mu­ni­ty space mod­eled after the south­ern towns Uptown res­i­dents knew well, and was to con­tain acces­si­ble parks, day care cen­ters, clin­ics, and enough hous­ing to min­i­mize dis­place­ment. The pro­pos­al was reject­ed, but delayed the open­ing of Tru­man Col­lege; the Young Patri­ots chan­neled this expe­ri­ence by par­tic­i­pat­ing, alongside the Young Lords and the Poor People’s Coali­tion, in a build­ing occu­pa­tion protest­ing a pro­posed expan­sion of McCormick The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary which would require the abo­li­tion of near­by low-income hous­ing, much like the Tru­man pro­pos­al. This actu­al­ly result­ed in a vic­to­ry, and the Patri­ots lent assis­tance to oth­er build­ing and land occu­pa­tions, includ­ing some car­ried out by Amer­i­can Indi­an activists from Uptown’s siz­able Native Amer­i­can pop­u­la­tion.

The net­work of free health clin­ics set up by the dif­fer­ent Coali­tion groups was anoth­er admirable endeav­or. Health pol­i­tics and care access had always been a prob­lem for poor com­mu­ni­ties, and Uptown was no dif­fer­ent. Encoun­ters with doc­tors and the health­care sys­tem in gen­er­al were often expe­ri­enced as coer­cive and oppres­sive, and with the input of Ter­ry, the Patri­ots stro­ve to provide com­mu­ni­ty health care by open­ing a free clin­ic that offered peo­ple some basic dig­ni­ty. Staffed by activist doc­tors, the Patri­ots’ clin­ic was an impres­sive com­mu­ni­ty-run solu­tion that tried to demys­ti­fy the med­ical expe­ri­ence for poor whites; it also, like the Pan­thers’ and Young Lords’ own clin­ics, came under con­stant sur­veil­lance from the Board of Health and law enforce­ment. There were numer­ous crack­downs, and soon mount­ing legal costs were enough to close the clin­ics down.

With the­se mate­ri­al and often nov­el prac­tices of rev­o­lu­tion­ary sol­i­dar­i­ty, there came an accom­pa­ny­ing polit­i­cal vocab­u­lary, assem­bled and reworked from exist­ing lex­i­cons. The orga­ni­za­tion­al form of the Coali­tion, as a mul­tira­cial front, meant that a short­hand col­or-cod­ing sys­tem was put in place to denote its con­stituent ele­ments. The­se were rep­re­sen­ta­tives of col­o­nized com­mu­ni­ties, and their par­tic­u­lar efforts toward self-deter­mi­na­tion con­tribut­ed to the broad­er tapes­try of rev­o­lu­tion­ary strug­gle, in the Unit­ed States and abroad. Whence comes the roll-call of nods and over­tures Fes­per­man gives to both home­grown and inter­na­tion­al fig­ures of this strug­gle near the end of his speech: “Red Pow­er to Sit­tin’ Bull, to Geron­i­mo, Kathy Rite­ger in Uptown. And yel­low pow­er to Ho Chi Minh and Mao and the Nation­al Lib­er­a­tion Front. And Brown Pow­er to Fidel and Che and the Young Lords and La Raza and Tijeri­na. And Black Pow­er to the Black Pan­ther Par­ty.” The fol­low­ing line, how­ev­er, is one that is quite dis­cor­dant to our con­tem­po­rary rad­i­cal sen­si­bil­i­ties, shows why some were hes­i­tant to imme­di­ate­ly ally them­selves with the Patri­ots: “And white pow­er to the Young Patri­ots and all oth­er white rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies.”

Of course, Fes­per­man did not advo­cate any form of white suprema­cy. Indeed, the phrase “white pow­er” was a com­mon­ly heard expres­sion in speech­es by var­i­ous mem­bers of the Illi­nois Pan­thers, even Hamp­ton. In the speci­fic con­text of the Rain­bow Coali­tion, “white pow­er” was sim­ply “hill­bil­ly pow­er,” the par­tic­u­lar form of rev­o­lu­tion­ary sol­i­dar­i­ty that poor whites con­tribut­ed to the coali­tion with African Amer­i­cans and Lati­nos, and who con­front­ed sim­i­lar eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal con­di­tions. The over­ar­ch­ing polit­i­cal slo­gan of the­se groups was “All Pow­er to the Peo­ple,” with “the peo­ple” work­ing as a bind­ing or artic­u­lat­ing cat­e­go­ry rather than a divi­sive one.26 The­se were code­words – cru­cial pieces of polit­i­cal jar­gon – for the prac­tice of class strug­gle, as Lee and oth­er vet­er­an activists have reit­er­at­ed. An Uptown res­i­dent and mem­ber of JOIN accu­rate­ly cap­tured this sen­ti­ment: “Just because we are poor, we should not have to live in slums and be pushed around because we are Puer­to Rican, Mex­i­can, hill­bil­lies or col­ored.”27

Oth­er fea­tures of the Patri­ots’ approach induced more deserved puz­zle­ment and even anger, specif­i­cal­ly their appear­ance: it’s well-known that the bat­tle flag of the Con­fed­er­a­cy was at first an inte­gral part of the YPO’s image, both as a provo­ca­tion to oth­er groups on the Left and as a mode of pop­u­lar out­reach to oth­er south­ern­ers. The raw shock effect of this usage could be jar­ring: pho­tographs from the Unit­ed Front Again­st Fas­cism con­fer­ence show mem­bers of the Pan­thers’ secu­ri­ty detail stand­ing side-by-side with mem­bers of the Patri­ots dressed in den­im jack­ets, Con­fed­er­ate flag patch­es stitched across their backs.

As the Patri­ots would them­selves lat­er rec­og­nize, this usage of the South­ern Cross was a polit­i­cal error and deserv­ing of thor­ough crit­i­cism. Still, the rea­sons behind the adop­tion of this emblem – a uni­ver­sal sym­bol of white suprema­cy, a real mate­ri­al reminder of the tor­tured his­to­ry of racial vio­lence and bru­tal after-effects of slav­ery in the Unit­ed States – were relat­ed to an attempt to under­stand polit­i­cal­ly the racial­iza­tion of the cat­e­go­ry of ‘hill­bil­lies,” and there­fore need to be con­sid­ered in a nuanced fash­ion.

The Patri­ots’ appro­pri­a­tion of the rebel flag was relat­ed to a speci­fic analy­sis of the Civil War as an intra-elite con­flict: a “piss­ing match” or clash between a feu­dal­is­tic, slave-hold­ing south­ern plant­i­ng class and North­ern bour­geois indus­tri­al­ists, which then pro­duced the civ­i­liza­tion­al divide between North and South.28 By using this sym­bol­ism, they were attempt­ing to scram­ble the flag’s sed­i­ment­ed, accu­mu­lat­ed mean­ings – a tak­ing back of South­ern his­to­ry from below. Even as we dis­agree absolute­ly with the adop­tion of the par­tic­u­lar sym­bol, the attempt to dis­rupt com­mon­sen­si­cal assump­tions about the clear-cut char­ac­ter of the Civil War (as an “incom­plete bour­geois rev­o­lu­tion,” for exam­ple) opens up avenues of his­tor­i­cal inquiry. Appalachia espe­cial­ly was one of the most divid­ed areas in the nation in terms of alle­giances to the North and South due to the fact that it was not eco­nom­i­cal­ly depen­dent on slav­ery and sta­ple crops, and moun­tain par­ti­sans on both sides engaged in pro­tract­ed gueril­la tac­tics. Union­ist and Con­fed­er­ate sup­port var­ied almost coun­ty to coun­ty, and the war irrev­o­ca­bly altered kin­ship bonds and dynam­ics along class and com­mu­ni­ty lines.29

As his­to­ri­ans like Stephanie McCur­ry have shown, the Con­fed­er­a­cy itself was rocked by pro­found insur­gent move­ments from those it had polit­i­cal­ly dis­pos­sessed and dis­en­fran­chised: from poor white and yeo­man wom­en who trig­gered an intense wave of food riots in 1863, to the acts of slave resis­tance that com­menced on Con­fed­er­ate plan­ta­tions.30 Oth­er recent schol­ar­ship has traced a com­plex net­work of col­lab­o­ra­tion between black peo­ple in the Appalachi­an high­lands ‒ either set­tled freed­men, enslaved per­sons, or escaped slaves ‒ and Con­fed­er­ate desert­ers and escaped Union pris­on­ers of war, who found safe havens in the­se remote moun­tain and bor­der­land com­mu­ni­ties and shared resources and infor­ma­tion.31 The­se instances of con­tentious pol­i­tics with­in the Con­fed­er­a­cy where black and white south­ern­ers strug­gled again­st oppres­sion were the threads the Patri­ots sought to empha­size and redis­cov­er.

In addi­tion, the Patri­ots idol­ized John Brown and were well acquaint­ed with Du Bois’s Black Recon­struc­tion and Lis­ton Pope’s Mill­hands and Preach­ers; all of the­se ideas and events were fold­ed togeth­er in their broad­er view of a rad­i­cal South­ern his­to­ry. Indeed, the Patri­ots were not the only ones to try and rework the mean­ing of the Con­fed­er­ate flag for social jus­tice caus­es at the time: the South­ern Stu­dent Orga­niz­ing Com­mit­tee, a group from Nashville inspired by SNCC, used a draw­ing of black and white hands super­im­posed over the Con­fed­er­ate flag as their logo in a bid to high­light their South­ern ori­en­ta­tion and roots.32 By this log­ic, the South’s “spir­it of rebel­lion” rep­re­sent­ed by the flag was some­thing to be proud of, but its real and dis­con­tin­u­ous his­tor­i­cal man­i­fes­ta­tions were those of poor people’s revolt and cross-racial sol­i­dar­i­ty.

By 1970, the flag sym­bol was dropped, on account that there was “no social­ist jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for a rev­o­lu­tion­ary group using a sym­bol of coun­ter­rev­o­lu­tion.”33 The YPO under­went an orga­ni­za­tion­al split, as well. Some mem­bers, like Young­blood, remained in Chicago and retained the Young Patri­ots name and would car­ry on doing local activist work togeth­er for a short time longer; oth­ers, includ­ing Fes­per­man, felt that the bru­tal police repres­sion in Chicago, which had tak­en the lives of sev­er­al Patri­ots mem­bers and, most famous­ly, Fred Hamp­ton, had tak­en too dras­tic of a turn, and that it was time to form a more nation­al pres­ence. The lat­ter group rebrand­ed itself as the Patri­ot Par­ty and set up head­quar­ters in New York City. While there was some ini­tial suc­cess in open­ing sev­er­al new Patri­ot chap­ters across the coun­try, from Eugene, Ore­gon (which boast­ed a Free Lum­ber pro­gram) to upstate New York, it too ulti­mate­ly dis­solved under the pres­sures of state vio­lence, inves­tiga­tive scruti­ny, and mount­ing legal fees.

With cur­rent calls to rethink ques­tions of sol­i­dar­i­ty work and mul­tira­cial coali­tion-build­ing in the con­tem­po­rary moment, a seri­ous ret­ro­spec­tive con­sid­er­a­tion of the Young Patri­ots and their polit­i­cal expe­ri­ence with the Rain­bow Coali­tion – both their advances and mis­steps – might remind us of the ever-urgent need to artic­u­late new lan­guages and coor­di­nate nov­el approach­es with­in social move­ments. Poor rural whites still con­sti­tute a major tar­get of the carcer­al state, and even with the major reor­ga­ni­za­tions in the rela­tion­ships of race and class between black, brown, and white work­ing class com­mu­ni­ties wit­nessed over the past few decades, the focus the Young Patri­ots put on the dele­te­ri­ous effects of bru­tal polic­ing meth­ods and the lack of con­trol over fed­er­al ser­vice pro­grams with­in their own social base, as an effec­tive ground for strate­gic alliances, is as rel­e­vant as ever. As they put it them­selves:

We’re sick and tired of cer­tain peo­ple and groups telling us “there ain’t no such thing as poor and oppressed white peo­ple”… The so-called move­ment bet­ter begin to real­ize, that – first of all – we’re human beings, we’re real; sec­ond – we’ve always been here, we didn’t just mate­ri­al­ize; and third – we’re not going away, even if you choose not to admit we exist.34

— Patrick King

You can read more about the his­to­ry of the Young Patri­ots and the Orig­i­nal Rain­bow Coali­tion here.



Young Patriots at the United Front Against Fascism Conference

Sat­ur­day, July 19, 1969

Lis­ten here. I’m gonna say it. Turn off your tape recorders. Lis­ten here, out there moth­er­fuck­er. FREE HUEY.

We have a mes­sage from the peo­ple and the mes­sage from the peo­ple reads: “To you astro-pigs: ‘The moon belongs to the peo­ple.’”

We have anoth­er mes­sage to PL and that mes­sage reads, “PL, and Oak­land City Coun­cil, Chicago City Coun­cil, and the gov­ern­ment of the Unit­ed States, all are paper pigs.”

Now, we have come from Chi­town and we come from a mon­ster. And the jaws of the mon­ster in Chicago are grind­ing up the flesh and spit­ting out the blood of the poor and oppressed peo­ple, the blacks in the South­side, the West­side; the browns in the North­side; and the reds and the yel­lows; and yes, the whites – white oppressed peo­ple. You talk about have any white peo­ple before ever known what oppres­sion is? Come to uptown Chicago. Five pig cars on a square block. White pigs mur­der­ing, bru­tal­iz­ing white broth­ers. Is it? Is it? Is it? We say, we talk to peo­ple a lot, and they say, “You hill­bil­lies ain’t plan­ning on pick­ing up a gun or any­thing are ya? I mean, that one you brought from Ken­tucky, or North Car­oli­na.” And we say to ‘em, “Lis­ten here, why, you know, a gun ain’t noth­ing,” you know. A gun on the side of a pig means two things: it means racism and it means cap­i­tal­ism. And the gun on the side of a rev­o­lu­tion­ary, on the side of the peo­ple, means sol­i­dar­i­ty and social­ism. Right on? Now, who in here and who out there is gonna let the moth­er­fuck­er with the gun shoot­in’ cap­i­tal­ism and racism out­shoot the peo­ple? Who’s gonna do it? Who is the racist dog? Let him walk up here and let me bite his head off. Let me get a hold of that son-of-a-bitch and you can beep it out if you want to. And Beep out John­ny Cash, you know, cause he tells the truth. When I get in front of McClel­lan, on behalf of the South­ern peo­ple, on behalf of all peo­ple, I’m gonna bite his head off, and spit it in Nixon’s face. 

Under­stand where we’re com­in’ from when we talk about freein’ polit­i­cal pris­on­ers. Because when we talk about that, we talk­ing about con­cen­tra­tion camps like Fol­som Pris­on, San Quentin, Cook Coun­ty Jail in Chicago and Statesville and we’re talk­ing about the Chair­man of the Black Pan­ther Par­ty in Illi­nois, my broth­er, who was sent down the river for 2 to 5 years for sup­pos­ed­ly sell­ing $71 worth of ice cream. Now, lis­ten here, and I say this, see, because I think we have to deal straight, see and the judge who sent that broth­er is a nig­ger.

Free all polit­i­cal pris­on­ers. We said to the city of Chicago, this is what we said to ‘em. May­or Daley declared a war on gangs, you know, so we said, “We didn’t know any gangs fed 4,000 chil­dren a week.” And May­or Daley’s talk­ing about “feed­ing the hun­gry if we can find them.” And the peo­ple know they’re there because that’s the peo­ple. We stood up to lame-brained Daley, and we said, “Look here, man, you sent Chair­man Fred off on 2 to 5 years and we got togeth­er, the Young Lords, the Young Patri­ots and the Black Pan­ther Par­ty in Illi­nois, we said, ‘Now what are we gonna do?’ We said, ‘We’re gonna inten­si­fy the strug­gle, moth­er­fuck­er.’” We also said, “If Chair­man Fred don’t get sent down the river, if I get blowed away, or if I don’t get blowed away, we still gonna inten­si­fy the strug­gle.” So, what did May­or Daley do after shak­in’ in his boots and oink­in’ right on, right on. 

Now ya talk about fas­cism. I’ll tell you that since we all been in the Patri­ots the pigs don’t like it. You know that peo­ple being fed in uptown Chicago were the south­ern whites cause they don’t want to see any riot in a south­ern white ghet­to. They don’t want to see that. You know, that’d wipe that moon shot off the front page, you know. For­get about that moon. It’s here. 

Since we been in this thing, and real­ly, we’ve been in it all our lives, com­ing from the South and com­in’ from the damn coal mines, mill towns, and some of them down there ain’t even up to cap­i­tal­ism yet. They’re still back, way back to feu­dal­ism or some­thing, you know. But, a Chicago pig, he has a loud oink, but let me tell you, you know, the peo­ple from the south, the white broth­ers and the black broth­ers, we’ve been to a lot of hog killings in our lives and I don’t know, but a lot of expe­ri­ence there and I think about ol’ Ham­mer­head Super­pig Hoover. You know, he’s old, I don’t even want to eat them chit­ter­lings out of that moth­er­fuck­er. Fuck it. 

Our strug­gle is beyond com­pre­hen­sion to me some­times and I felt for a long time and oth­er broth­ers in uptown felt that poor whites was (and may­be we felt wrong­ly, but we felt it) for­got­ten, and that cer­tain places we walked there were cer­tain orga­ni­za­tions that nobody saw us until we met the Illi­nois Chap­ter of the Black Pan­ther Par­ty. “Let’s put that the­o­ry into prac­tice about rid­din’ our­selves of that racism.” You see, oth­er­wise, oth­er­wise to us, free­ing polit­i­cal pris­on­ers would be hypocrisy. That’s what it’d be. We want to stand by our broth­ers, dig? And, I don’t know, I’d even like to say some­thing to church peo­ple, I think one of the broth­ers last night sad, “Jesus Christ was a bad moth­er­fuck­er.” Man, we all don’t want to go that route, under­stand. He laid back and he said, “Put that fuck­in’ nail right there man. That’s the people’s nail. I’m tak­in’ it.” But we’ve gone beyond it, and all we’ve got to say from the Young Patri­ots, where we come from, where we’re goin’ is to all of you, and thou­sands of oth­ers here and all over the world. All we got to say is, “All Pow­er Belongs To The Peo­ple.” Red Pow­er to Sit­tin’ Bull, to Geron­i­mo, Kathy Rite­ger in Uptown. And yel­low pow­er to Ho Chi Minh and Mao and the Nation­al Lib­er­a­tion Front. And Brown Pow­er to Fidel and Che and the Young Lords and La Raza and Tijeri­na. And Black Pow­er to the Black Pan­ther Par­ty. And white pow­er to the Young Patri­ots and all oth­er white rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies. Whether the pigs or the pig pow­er struc­ture likes it or not, fuck it. 

This speech was orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in The Black Pan­ther, Sat­ur­day, July 26th, 1969. page 8. 

  1. For more infor­ma­tion on the UFAF con­fer­ence and its imme­di­ate after­math, see Joshua Bloom and Wal­do E. Mar­t­in, Black Again­st Empire (Berke­ley: Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia Press, 2013), 299-301. 

  2. Bar­bara Joyce, “Young Patri­ots,” in The Move­ment Towards a New Amer­i­ca: The Begin­nings of a Long Rev­o­lu­tion, ed. Mitchell Good­man (Philadel­phia: Pil­grim Press, 1970), 547-548; The Patri­ot Par­ty. “The Patri­ot Par­ty Speaks to the Move­ment,” in The Black Pan­thers Speaks, ed. Philip S. Fon­er (Cam­bridge: Da Capo Press, 1995), 239-243. 

  3. Amy Son­nie and James Tra­cy, Hill­bil­ly Nation­al­ists, Urban Race Rebels, and Black Pow­er: Com­mu­ni­ty Orga­niz­ing in Rad­i­cal Times (Brook­lyn: Melville House, 2011; Amy Son­nie and James Tra­cy, Hill­bil­ly Nation­al­ists, Urban Race Rebels, and Black Pow­er: Com­mu­ni­ty Orga­niz­ing in Rad­i­cal Times (Brook­lyn: Melville House, 2011; a con­densed ver­sion of the Son­nie and Tra­cy book can be found in James Tra­cy, “Ris­ing Up: Poor, White, and Angry in the New Left,” in The Hid­den 1970s: His­to­ries of Rad­i­cal­ism, ed. Dan Berg­er (New Brunswick: Rut­gers Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2010), 214-230. More infor­ma­tion on the Patri­ots can also be found in Gor­don Kei­th Mantler, Pow­er to the Poor: Black-Brown Coali­tion and the Fight for Eco­nom­ic Jus­tice, 1960-1974 (Chapel Hill: Uni­ver­si­ty of North Car­oli­na Press, 2013), 231-233 sqq. Mantler is crit­i­cal about what he sees as the “con­tin­gent” nature of the Rain­bow Coali­tion, as the orga­ni­za­tions involved faced dif­fer­ent prob­lems accord­ing to their con­stituen­cies, neigh­bor­hoods, etc., and thus often had dis­sent­ing views on the pri­ma­ry fronts of strug­gle. The African Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ty in Chicago, for exam­ple, did not expe­ri­ence the same pres­sures stem­ming from urban renewal plans like the Puer­to Rican and Appalachi­an pop­u­la­tions did. While this is cer­tain­ly a fair cri­tique of ide­al­ized ret­ro­spec­tive looks of the Coali­tion, a care­ful inves­ti­ga­tion of its inter­nal com­po­si­tion, dynam­ics, and insur­gent prac­tices can func­tion as a rebut­tal again­st accounts, like those of James Miller and Sid­ney Tar­row, that see social move­ments in post-68, post-Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Con­ven­tion Chicago as fol­low­ing a dynam­ic that frag­ment­ed into “con­geries of small­er sin­gle-issue move­ments.” See James Miller, Democ­ra­cy is in the Streets; From Port Huron to the Siege of Chicago (New York: Simon and Schus­ter, 1987), 317, and Sid­ney Tar­row, Pow­er in Move­ment: Social Move­ments and Con­tentious Pol­i­tics (Cam­bridge: Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1997), 150. 

  4. I address this point in more detail below, but the polit­i­cal vocab­u­lary that per­me­at­ed the Chicago activist scene and the Rain­bow Coali­tion was replete with the­se kinds of dec­la­ra­tions. One of Fred Hampton’s most cir­cu­lat­ed speech­es, “Pow­er Any­where There’s Peo­ple,” con­tains one vari­ant of this rev­o­lu­tion­ary nation­al­ist lan­guage that empha­sized the need for mul­tira­cial work­ing class uni­ty: ”That the mass­es are poor, that the mass­es belong to what you call the low­er class, and when I talk about the mass­es, I’m talk­ing about the white mass­es, I’m talk­ing about the black mass­es, and the brown mass­es, and the yel­low mass­es, too…We’re gonna fight racism with sol­i­dar­i­ty.” On the con­cept of “strate­gic traces,” see Bloom and Mar­t­in, op. cit., 20, 405, n.34.  

  5. Son­nie and Tra­cy, 77. 

  6. For more on this ques­tion of rev­o­lu­tion­ary sol­i­dar­i­ty and the Rain­bow Coali­tion, see Johan­na Fer­nán­dez, “Denise Oliv­er and the Young Lords: Stretch­ing the Polit­i­cal Bound­aries of Strug­gle,” in Want to Start a Rev­o­lu­tion? Rad­i­cal Wom­en in the Black Free­dom Strug­gle, eds. Dayo F. Gore, Jean­ne Theo­haris, and Komozi Woodard (New York: NYU Press, 2009), 271-293.  

  7. For a richer his­tor­i­cal account of the­se debates see Michael Stau­den­maier, Truth and Rev­o­lu­tion: A His­to­ry of the Sojourn­er Truth Orga­ni­za­tion 1969-1986 (Oak­land: AK Press, 2012). The most impor­tant texts in this debate were col­lect­ed by Paul Saba, ed. The Debate With­in SDS: RYM II vs. Weath­er­men (Detroit: Rad­i­cal Edu­ca­tion Project, 1969). The quo­ta­tions orig­i­nate from one essay in that col­lec­tion: Noel Ignatin’s [Ignatiev] “With­out a Sci­ence of Nav­i­ga­tion We Can­not Sail the Stormy Seas, or Soon­er or Lat­er One of Us Must Know.” 

  8. The clas­sic account of Appalachia as an idea and dis­course remains Hen­ry D. Shapiro, Appalachia on Our Mind: the South­ern Moun­tains and Moun­taineers in the Amer­i­can Con­scious­ness, 1870-1920 (Chapel Hill: Uni­ver­si­ty of North Car­oli­na Press, 1978). For inter­est­ing explo­rations of the roles of poor whites had both in forms of slave con­trol but also slave resis­tance, and the fears that the­se poten­tial alliances stirred among the rul­ing class­es, see John Inscoe, “Race and Racism in Nine­teen­th-Cen­tu­ry South­ern Appalachia: Myths, Real­i­ties and Ambi­gu­i­ties,” in Appalachia in the Mak­ing, eds. Mary Beth Pudup, Dwight B. Billings, and Alti­na L. Waller (Chapel Hill: Uni­ver­si­ty of North Car­oli­na Press, 1995), 103-131; Jeff For­ret, Race Rela­tions at the Mar­gins: Slaves and Poor Whites in the Ante­bel­lum South­ern Coun­tryside (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2006), 115-156; also cf. Her­bert Apthek­er, Amer­i­can Negro Slave Revolts (New York: Columbia Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1943), 360-367. 

  9. See Nel­son Peery, The Negro Nation­al-Colo­nial Ques­tion (Chicago. Work­ers Press, 1978). 

  10. For more on this point, see Robin D.G. Kel­ley and Bet­ty Esch, “Black Like Mao: Red Chi­na and Black Rev­o­lu­tion,” Souls 1 (Fall 1999), 6-41, 27. 

  11. South­ern Con­fer­ence Edu­ca­tion­al Fund pam­phlet, in The Move­ment Towards a New Amer­i­ca: The Begin­nings of a Long Rev­o­lu­tion, ed. Mitchell Good­man (Philadel­phia: Pil­grim Press, 1970), 261-262. For an sim­i­lar­ly inter­est­ing, if dat­ed, take on this inter­nal colony analy­sis for Appalachia that more explic­it­ly incor­po­rates insights from depen­den­cy the­o­ry and the­o­rists of decol­o­niza­tion, see Kei­th Dix, “Appalachia: Third World Pil­lage,” Antipode 5.1 (March 1973), 25-30, which sum­ma­rizes some of the work done by the People’s Appalachia Research Col­lec­tive and their jour­nal, People’s Appalachia. 

  12. SDS did make some inroads orga­niz­ing in Appalachia with the Eco­nom­ic Action and Research Project, explained below. The bal­ance sheets writ­ten by vet­er­an activists of their suc­cess­es and fail­ures in the pover­ty-strick­en min­ing com­mu­ni­ty of Haz­ard, Ken­tucky, remain essen­tial doc­u­ments to revis­it: see Hamish Sin­clair, “Haz­ard, Ky.: Doc­u­ment of the Strug­gle,” Rad­i­cal Amer­i­ca 11.1 (Jan­u­ary-Feb­ru­ary 1968), 1-24, and Peter Wiley, “The Haz­ard Project: Social­ism and Com­mu­ni­ty Orga­niz­ing” in the same issue, 25-37. The SCEF set up its own project along the same lines, the South­ern Moun­tain Project, with a spe­cial empha­sis on con­nect­ing the issues of work­ing-class rights to the con­tin­u­ing strug­gles of African-Amer­i­cans, or as they put it: “help­ing some of the poorest peo­ple in Amer­i­ca build on the expe­ri­ences of the South­ern free­dom move­ment to orga­nize for polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic pow­er.” On this and the lega­cy of the Bradens, see Cather­ine Fosl, Sub­ver­sive South­ern­er: Anne Braden and the Strug­gle for Racial Jus­tice in the Cold War South (Lex­ing­ton: Uni­ver­si­ty of Ken­tucky Press, 2006). 

  13. On this oth­er “Great Migra­tion” of poor whites to the North and Mid­west, see Jacque­line Jones, The Dis­pos­sessed: America’s Under­class­es from the Civil War to the Present (New York: Basic Books, 1992), and Chad Berry , South­ern Migrants, North­ern Exiles (Urbana: Uni­ver­si­ty of Illi­nois Press, 2000). 

  14. Son­nie and Tra­cy, op. cit., 21. An ear­ly, oral his­to­ry-focused sur­vey of the trans­for­ma­tion of Uptown, con­duct­ed by two SDS orga­niz­ers, is Todd Gitlin and Nan­cy Hol­lan­der, Uptown: Poor Whites in Chicago (New York: Harper Colophon, 1971). A more recent and cul­tur­al­ly ori­ent­ed study can found in Roger Guy, Diver­si­ty in Uni­ty: South­ern and Appalachi­an Migrants in Uptown Chicago, 1950-1970 (Lan­ham, MD: Lex­ing­ton Books, 2007). 

  15. Indige­nous is used here both in terms of an approach to study­ing social move­ments “from below,” as pop­u­lar­ized by Aldon Mor­ris in his The Ori­gins of the Civil Rights Move­ment: Black Com­mu­ni­ties Orga­niz­ing For Change (New York: Free Press, 1984), and to sig­nal the prob­lem of form­ing lead­er­ship from the con­stituents or mem­bers of dom­i­nat­ed or oppressed com­mu­ni­ties, through a par­tic­i­pa­to­ry process of activism that rais­es their sense of polit­i­cal under­stand­ing and aware­ness. For more on this term, its broad­ly Gram­s­cian con­no­ta­tions, and its cur­ren­cy in the Civil Rights move­ment through fig­ures like Ella Bak­er, see Bar­bara Rans­by, Ella Bak­er & The Black Free­dom Move­ment: A Rad­i­cal Demo­c­ra­t­ic Vision (Chapel Hill: Uni­ver­si­ty of North Car­oli­na Press, 2003), 273-298, 357-374. For some prob­lems in how this ide­al has played itself out in protest move­ments before, dur­ing, and after the 60s, see Francesca Pol­leta, Democ­ra­cy is an End­less Meet­ing: Free­dom in Amer­i­can Social Move­ments (Berke­ley: Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia Press, 2002). 

  16. Jen­nifer Frost, An Inter­ra­cial Move­ment of the Poor (New York: NYU Press, 2005), 114-115. 

  17. Besides Frost, two major resources for the his­to­ry of com­mu­ni­ty orga­niz­ing in the Unit­ed States are Wini Breines, Com­mu­ni­ty Orga­ni­za­tion in the New Left, 1962-1968 (New Brunswick: Rut­gers Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1989), and Robert Fish­er, Let the Peo­ple Decide: Neigh­bor­hood Orga­niz­ing in Amer­i­ca (New York: Twayne Pub­lish­ers, 1994). Also Alyosha Goldstein’s recent book, Pover­ty in Com­mon: The Pol­i­tics of Com­mu­ni­ty Action Dur­ing the Amer­i­can Cen­tu­ry (Durham: Duke Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2012). 

  18. Rhon­da Y. Williams, Con­crete Demands: The Search For Black Pow­er in the 20th Cen­tu­ry (Lon­don: Rout­ledge, 2014); cf. Peniel Joseph, “Com­mu­ni­ty Orga­niz­ing, Grass­roots Pol­i­tics, and Neigh­bor­hood Rebels: Local Strug­gles for Black Pow­er in Amer­i­ca,” intro­duc­tion to Neigh­bor­hood Rebels: Black Pow­er at the Local Lev­el, ed. Peniel Joseph (New York: Pal­grave, 2010), 1-19. 

  19. On ide­o­log­i­cal shifts with­in SDS, see Kirk­patrick Sale, SDS: The Rise and Devel­op­ment of the Stu­dents for a Demo­c­ra­t­ic Soci­ety (New York: Ran­dom House, 1973). 

  20. A sober reflec­tive account of the­se strate­gic revi­sions is Richard Roth­stein, “ERAP: Evo­lu­tion of the Orga­niz­ers,” Rad­i­cal Amer­i­ca 2.2 (May-June 1968), 1-18. See also his “Short His­to­ry of ERAP,”avail­able at the SDS doc­u­ments archive. 

  21. Ira Katznel­son, City Trench­es: Urban Pol­i­tics and the Pat­tern­ing of Class in the Unit­ed States (Chicago: Uni­ver­si­ty of Chicago Press, 1981), 24-26. 

  22. For com­pa­ra­ble process­es and events in Oak­land, which pro­vid­ed the imme­di­ate con­text for the rise and decline of the Black Pan­ther Par­ty there, see Robert O . Self, Amer­i­can Baby­lon: Race and the Strug­gle for Post­war Oak­land (Prince­ton: Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2003). The clas­sic account of the­se con­cerns in 1960s activism, espe­cial­ly the prob­lem of orga­ni­za­tion-build­ing through indi­vid­u­al and col­lec­tive griev­ances, which touch­es upon the same prob­lem­at­ic encoun­tered by ERAP and JOIN, remains Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward, Poor People’s Move­ments: Why They Suc­ceed, How They Fail (New York: Vin­tage, 1979), espe­cial­ly 284-288, 296-308. 

  23. I owe this point to dis­cus­sions with Delio Vasquez and his unpub­lished paper “Crim­i­nal­ized Pol­i­tics and Politi­cized Crime: Ille­gal Black Resis­tance in the 1960s and 70s,” deliv­ered at the UC-San­ta Cruz Fri­day Forum for Grad­u­ate Research, Feb­ru­ary 13th, 2015. 

  24. Son­nie and Tra­cy, op. cit., 72. 

  25. The phrase is Son­nie and Tracy’s, but points to a real def­i­n­i­tion­al prob­lem in how we con­cep­tu­al­ize the bound­aries of polit­i­cal work and process­es of polit­i­cal edu­ca­tion. 

  26. See Ernesto Laclau, On Pop­ulist Rea­son (New York: Ver­so, 2005), 67-128. 

  27. Frost, 116. 

  28. Son­nie and Tra­cy, 76. More exten­sive analy­ses of the Civil War exist­ed on the New Left, and would flour­ish in the New Com­mu­nist Move­ment, with Theodore Allen and Noel Ignatiev’s for­ma­tive account, men­tioned above, of white-skin priv­i­lege with­in the his­to­ry of the Unit­ed States labor move­ment, “The White Blindspot” and Ignatiev’s “Black Work­er, White Work­er,” being among the more robust. For a recent path­break­ing Marx­ist analy­sis of the caus­es and effects of the Civil War, and its con­nec­tion to the his­to­ry of forms of social labor in the Unit­ed States, see Charles Post, The Amer­i­can Road to Cap­i­tal­ism (Lei­den: Brill, 2011). 

  29. See The Civil War in Appalachia: Col­lect­ed Essays, ed. Ken­neth W. Noe and Shan­non H. Wilson (Knoxville: Uni­ver­si­ty of Ten­nessee Press, 1997); Wilma Dun­away, Slav­ery in the Amer­i­can Moun­tain South (Cam­bridge: Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2003). 

  30. Cf. Stephanie McCur­ry, Con­fed­er­ate Reck­on­ing: Pow­er and Pol­i­tics in the Civil War South (Cam­bridge, MA: Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2010); for the author’s con­cise syn­op­sis of her research, see Stephanie McCur­ry, “Reck­on­ing with the Con­fed­er­a­cy,” South Atlantic Quar­ter­ly 112.3 (Sum­mer 2013), 481-488. 

  31. Cf. John C. Inscoe, “‘Mov­ing Through Desert­er Coun­try’: Fugi­tive Accounts of the Inner Civil War in South­ern Appalachia,” in Noe and Wilson, ed., op. cit., 158-186; also Steven Hahn, A Nation Under Our Feet: Black Polit­i­cal Strug­gles in the Rural South from Slav­ery to the Great Migra­tion (Cam­bridge, MA: Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2003). 

  32. Gregg L. Michel. Strug­gle for a Bet­ter South: The South­ern Stu­dent Orga­niz­ing Com­mit­tee, 1964–1969 (New York: Pal­grave Macmil­lan. 2005), 50, 247, n.47. 

  33. A pas­sage from an arti­cle in The Patri­ot news­pa­per from 1970. Thanks to Hy Thur­man and Ethan Young for the ref­er­ence. 

  34. The Patri­ot Par­ty, op. cit., 239. Amiri Baraka made this argu­ment in remark­ably sim­i­lar terms four years lat­er, in his “Toward Ide­o­log­i­cal Clar­i­ty”: “If we con­tin­ue to act as if whites do not exist in this soci­ety, we will be left try­ing to build a fan­ta­sy world in which the skin broth­er­hood will be the answer to all prob­lems rather than polit­i­cal con­scious­ness.” This posi­tion paper was pub­lished in Black World, Novem­ber 1974, 91. 

Authors of the article

is a member of the editorial collective of Viewpoint and a graduate student at UC Santa Cruz.

was the field secretary of the Young Patriots Organization (YPO).