56 years ago what did the GR Press report on Malcolm X’s suspension from the Nation of Islam over comments on President Kennedy’s death?

Fifty six year ago, Malcolm X made comments about President Kennedy’s assassination, comments which got him suspended by Elijah Mohammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam.

Here on the right, you can read what the Grand Rapids Press ran, which was a brief article that was from the Associated Press. The AP story quotes part of what Malcolm X said in regards to the assassination of President Kennedy, specifically the comment about “chickens coming home to roost.”

However, what Malcolm X said included a whole lot more commentary. Unfortunately, there is no full record of what Malcolm X said on December 1st, 1963, in regards to the assassination of Kennedy. We only have bits and pieces of the talk he gave at the Manhattan Center. Here is part of what Malcolm X said that day, as is sourced in Manning Marable’s book, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention.

“God’s Judgment of White America” began with a sophisticated argument about political economies. “The Honorable Elijah Muhammad teaches us . . . it was the evil of slavery that caused the downfall and destruction of ancient Egypt and Babylon, and of ancient Greece, as well as ancient Rome,” Malcolm told his audience. In similar fashion, colonialism contributed to “the collapse of the white nations in present-day Europe as world powers.” The exploitation of African Americans will, in turn, “bring white America to her hour of judgment, to her downfall as a respected nation.” Malcolm’s core argument was that America, like the ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome, was in moral decline. The greatest example of its moral bankruptcy, Malcolm argued, was its hypocrisy. “White America pretends to ask herself, ‘What do these Negroes want?’ White America knows that four hundred years of cruel bondage has made these twenty-two million ex-slaves too (mentally) [Malcolm’s parentheses] blind to see what they really want.”

Therefore, the larger context of “chicken’s coming home to roost,” had to do with White America and the hate that the US government had created around the world and at home.

Eventually, Malcolm X broke his silence. In the video here, a reporter asks Malcolm X about what he said and how it has been interpreted by the news media.

 

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A History of Anarchism in Grand Rapids

Several years ago, Sprout Distro published a 4 part series of zines on the history of Anarchism in Grand Rapids.

These four zines not only are well written and well researched, they make it clear that there has been an anarchist presence in Grand Rapids since the late 19th century.

Volume 1 in the series covers the German anarchists in the 1880s in Grand Rapids and its connection in Chicago to the International Workingpeople’s Association (IWPA), along with the famous Grand Rapids anarchist Voltairine de Cleyre.

Volume 2 covers a number of different topics pertaining to anarchist activity in Grand Rapids in the early 1900s. We look at the Dutch anarchism of Hendrik Meijer who brought the ideas of Dutch anarchist Ferdinand Domela Nieuwenhuis to West Michigan, recount Emma Goldman’s several visits to Grand Rapids, tell the story of the solider-turned-anarchist William Buwalda, and explore the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and their activity in Grand Rapids in the 1910s, including their role in the famous Furniture Strike of 1911.

In volume 3 , topics include the story of Charles Bergman, an anarchist from the Grand Rapids area who organized talks in Grand Rapids for Emma Goldman and printed anarchist propaganda, the repression that anarchists and other radicals faced during World War I and the years immediately following the War, the efforts to keep anarchist resistance alive during the 1920s through the 1950s, and the resurgence of anarchy in the 1960s. Where activity in Grand Rapids could not be found, Mob Work fills the gaps by looking at anarchist activity on a national level. In terms of “the sixties” movement, the zine presents generally unexplored history of anti-war and counter-cultural resistance in Grand Rapids, including an examination of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), local underground newspapers, and the anti-police riots that took place in the late 1960s.

Volume 4 deals with relatively recent anarchist history is the topic of discussion with the 1980s through the 1990s being explored. In Grand Rapids, as was the case nationally, these years continued a resurgence in anarchist activity that started in the 1960s. Volume Four begins with an overview of what was happening on a national level during these years, looking at efforts around publishing, networking, and organizing. This overview provides an important outline of a history that often goes untold. Following this, the zine explores anarchist activity in Grand Rapids. Topics include anarchist visibility in the punk scene, various groups that were around over the years, organizing against police brutality and white supremacy, and participation in national efforts such as the Anarchist Black Cross and Food Not Bombs.

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Newly archived Labor Press available at the Grand Rapids Public Library

Thanks to longtime local labor historian Michael Johnston, the Grand Rapids Public Library now has both hard copy and digital archives of several different labor press sources from 1955 to the present.

The archived labor press sources are the Grand Rapids CIO News, the Grand Valley AFL – CIO News, Grand Valley Labor News and Work in Progress. All of these labor press archives have been digitized, making it easy for people to view the material online.

As a sample of some of the labor news archives, we found a January 1957 article in the Grand Rapids CIO News that focuses on a union victory at local companies that were attempting to engage in union busting…..posted here above, on the right.

Another, more recent article is from the Grand Valley Labor News, in a June 2000 edition. In this article, there is a story about an anti-World Bank protest held in Grand Rapids, where a World Bank official was meeting with members of the Grand Rapids Econ Club. (seen here on the left) We have written about this same protest in the summer of 2000, utilizing reporting from the indy media source media mouse.

This new labor press archive will provide anyone important insight into news from the perspective of organized labor in Grand Rapids, a perspective that is often ignore by the mainstream press.

A special thanks to the Grand Rapids Public Library for making these archives available and to Michael Johnston for preserving and sharing them with the public.

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How the press reported on an 1891 Labor Strike in Grand Rapids

I was recently reading Sidney Harring’s, Policing A Class Society: The Experience of American Cities 1865 – 1915,  and came across a brief description of a labor strike in Grand Rapids in May of 1891.  I decided to look up how the local newspapers reported on the strike.

Both cable and horse car workers went on strike May 10, 1891, for higher wages and union contracts. The company began hiring scab workers immediately. As the week progressed, workers tried to keep cars from running, first by inducing others not to take their jobs, but later also by blocking the cars.

The Grand Rapids Eagle and the Grand Rapids Democrat newspapers, both reported on the strike. The Grand Rapids Eagle even reprinted the text of a flyer that the striking workers were handing out, which includes information about a labor parade and the role of the local Sheriff’s office, as you can see here on the right.

The strike had the support of several merchants in the area, specifically because of how it impacted sales. Some 65 merchants signed a statement,  pleading with the company to settle the dispute with the striking workers, as is reflected in the headline of the Grand Rapids Democrat.

As the strike continued into several days, there were reported incidents of strikers and sympathizers stopping some of the few cable cars that were running. One report states:

either strikers or sympathizers stopped a South Division street car this morning and threatened the driver and the conductor unless they should stop running the car, and they did stop, the passengers being compelled to leave the car.

At a labor parade, which was organized in support of the strikers, where several thousand people showed up, one speaker shared the comments, which were reported on in the Grand Rapids Eagle, here on the right.

The day after the labor parade, which demonstrated significant public support, the Railway company put out a statement, which was reported on by the Grand Rapids Eagle. The company stated:

The management of the street railway system of Grand Rapids realizes that in the conduct of its business carrying passengers it is held more accountable to public opinion than would be any other corporation or individual.”

As the strike continued, there were other actions taken by striking workers, including marches and attempts to shut down roads, like what happened on South Division one night, where workers placed a large iron bar across the tracks to prevent it from moving.

Just before the strike had ended, other members of the business community decided to hold a meeting, which was chaired by furniture baron Charles Sligh. We include the headline for this meeting and comments by other businessmen here below, which  demonstrated that they would not tolerate disorder in Grand Rapids and that what they prized above all were law abiding citizens and obedient workers.

 

 

 

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New Prints celebrate the Animal Rights/Animal Liberation Movement in Grand Rapids

As we have noted in previous posts, there has been an organized effort fight on behalf of animals in West Michigan since the 1980s.

One of the first groups that came together was West Michigan For Animals. This group was doing anti-fur protests and challenging the slaughterhouse industry in the area. The first print to honor this work is from Emma Rupprecht, which honors the work done to confront the abuse of animals at area rodeos. There was a significant campaign that lasted for several years around raising awareness and ending the Rodeo events being held in West Michigan.

The second print to focus on the Grand Rapids Animal Rights movements was created by Catherine Reynolds. This print honors the work to confront the fur industry in West Michigan, which included education, mock fur shows and protests at stores that sold animal furs in the area.

Here is an excerpt from one of our posts about the anti-fur campaign:

At that time PETA was producing posters with a picture of a skinned animal with the words “Fur is Dead” on them.  A member had the idea to secure the posters on the back of our coats and go into the stores as costumers shopping. We were able to make a couple of visits like that to each store before they began recognizing us and kicking us out upon entrance for “creating a disturbance”.

We also targeted fur wearers. We would go to the GR Symphony performances and wait for the attendees to exit. We had our signs, traps, and furs that were donated to the group that we coated in “blood”. We would engage with those wearing furs as they left the building. These engagements turned into physical confrontations more than once.”

The third print is from Arianna Onesi, a print that focuses on the protests that have been organized over the past three decades to expose the abuse of animals whenever the circus comes to town.

Each of these three prints provide powerful visuals around the incredible commitment and work that dozens of people have done around animal rights & animal liberation in West Michigan since the early 1980s.

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New Print Celebrates the Central American Sanctuary Movement in Grand Rapids during the 1980s

A new print from GVSU student Michaela West celebrates the fact that Grand Rapids had a formal sanctuary for Central Americans who were fleeing US-backed death squad violence in the 1980s.

The Grand Rapids People’s History Project has several postings about the Central American Sanctuary Movement in the 1980’s. The first post provides an overview of the group that provided Sanctuary, the Koinonia House, which was a community house similar to a Catholic Worker House.

The second post looks at some of the local news coverage about the Grand Rapids Sanctuary for Central American refugees, specifically the Grand Rapids Magazine.

The third post takes a look at the larger community support that the Koinonia House had when offering sanctuary, which includes several dozen letters of support they received from organizations, families and individuals who supporter their efforts.

 

 

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Anti-Iraq War Organizing in Grand Rapids 2002 – 2008: Part X – resistance lost out to electoral politics

In our tenth and final post covering the anti-Iraq war organizing in Grand Rapids, we look at the final year of resistance in 2008.

The group ACTIVATE organized an End the Occupation demonstration on the fifth anniversary of the beginning of the US war/occupation of Iraq in March of 2008. Here is a video that Media Mouse produced about that demonstration.

The interest in going anti-war organizing in Grand Rapids had slowly dissipated and as with all presidential election cycles, people turned away from actual organizing and anti-war resistance to put their faith in electoral politics.

In May of 2008, when Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama came to Grand Rapids for a rally at the Van Andel Arena, the mood of those waiting in line was upbeat, since many people believed that Obama would usher in a new era of progressive politics. The group ACTIVATE didn’t drink the Kool-Aid and decided that people needed to take an honest look at his platform, especially as it related to the US occupation of Iraq (now it it’s 5th year) and the US war in Afghanistan (now in its 7th year.).

As a candidate, the Obama platform on Iraq and Afghanistan were not what most of his supporters thought, since his campaign rhetoric was significantly different that his actual platform. On the matter of Iraq, Obama didn’t condemn the war/occupation and as a Senator, he voted for every military spending bill related to Iraq. More importantly, the Bush administration had already brokered a deal that would see a significant US troop withdrawal from Iraq by the end of 2008, even though Obama supports wanted to claim credit for this. However, the US government continued to use private military contractors, which continued to be paid for by taxpayers, thus replacing government soldiers for mercenaries.

On the matter of Afghanistan, the Obama platform was to shift the focus from Iraq to Afghanistan, where Obama believed the War on Terror could be won. The candidate Obama proposed a US troop increase for Afghanistan, which ended up happening near the end of 2009.

When Obama was in Grand Rapids for the rally in May of 2008, ACTIVATE decided to hand out flyers with information on Obama’s Iraq and Afghanistan policies. They distributed nearly 1,000 that day, but many of the people who read the information that was being handed out, often responded with disbelieve or were antagonistic towards those who were flyering.

Of course ACTIVATE was not just against the Democratic platform on the war in Iraq, they also organized against the GOP. In fact, several members of ACTIVATE went to the Republican National Convention, held in Minneapolis in August of 2008, and took part in the resistance to the GOP platform, along with thousands of others who were protesting the Republican delegates to came to Minnesota.

Then in September of 2008, ACTIVATE organized one last demonstration against the US war/occupation of Iraq, when John McCain and Sara Palin came to Grand Rapids for a rally at GRCC. Here is how Media Mouse reported on that demonstration

Yesterday evening, around two-hundred people protested Republican presidential nominee John McCain and vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin outside of the Ford Fieldhouse at Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC) in downtown Grand Rapids. The loud and often boisterous protest went on for three hours–long enough to greet people on their way into the speech and greet them again on the way out.

As tends to be the case during election years, the protest was a mixed bag of messages, with the majority of those in attendance taking either a simple anti-McCain approach (waving signs reading “McSame” or “Palin = Pain”) or waving Obama signs. Throughout the evening, it was clear that much of the crowd wanted to engage in the highly partisan exchanges of insults that often come with these kind of events as people hurled insults at people attending the speech. Protestors yelled at attendees asking them if they “Took Palin’s ‘Bridge to Nowhere’” to the speech, told them to “Go back to East Grand Rapids,” and said that they were all “Rich white people.” These kind of comments increased as the night went on and reached their apex when McCain supporters left after the speech, with protestors yelling insults while McCain supporters waved their new “Country First” signs. Throughout the evening there were a number of chants as well, ranging from “No justice, no peace, US out of the Middle East” to “Obama, Obama.”

Amidst the partisan fray, two groups did attempt to get across a more focused message. ACTIVATE–a Grand Rapids based antiwar group–organized around fifty people to march to the Ford Field House with a message critiquing the Iraq War. The group–led by a banner reading “Stop Funding War”–called for an immediate end to the US occupation of Iraq and the funding of human needs over war. The group distributed a leaflet to those in attendance highlighting the cost of the Iraq War ($554 billion thus far) and explaining how the $1.2 billion that taxpayers in the 3rd Congressional District has spent could be used to fund healthcare (give insurance to 442,000 people for one year), education (provide 121,000 one-year university scholarships), and low income housing (build 9,488 low income housing units). The leaflet also reminded the crowd that the Democratic Party candidate–Barack Obama–has a reputation of being “antiwar” yet does not have a plan for actually ending the Iraq War. In light of this, the group calls for people to pressure both the Republican and Democratic candidate to support an immediate withdrawal from Iraq.

The other group was Progress Michigan who focused on McCain’s economic record. The group rallied behind a banner reading “Outsource McCain” and charged that McCain is out-of-touch with the plight of Michigan’s workers. They said that “Bush-McCain” policies–including support for foreign trade agreements that send US jobs overseas–have been responsible for 400,000 jobs lost in Michigan.

Throughout the protest, the Grand Rapids Police Department had a light deployment. Unlike when Bush was on GRCC’s campus in 2004, officers were not carrying gas masks and protestors were allowed to assemble directly across from the Field House. At various points, Police Chief Kevin Belk was seen outside directing officers. It is also worth noting that there were several undercover officers in the crowd. The only known incidents with police occurred when they confronted individuals carrying “obscene” signs. At one point, the officers confiscated a sign reading “Fuck McCain.”

After the 2008 Elections, most people forgot about Iraq even though the number of dead was astronomical and the devastation done to the country would put Iraq back decades. This reality played out all across the US and especially in Grand Rapids, thus demonstrating once again that electoral politics is the grave yard of social movements.

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