Pages from a Black Radical’s Notebook
A James Boggs Reader
Publication Year: 2011
Published by: Wayne State University Press
Series: African American Life Series
James Boggs eludes singular classification. A southerner by birth and disposition, he maintained throughout his life the cultural outlook, sensibilities, and language (he refused to stop speaking his “Alabamese”) of the rural black community in which he was raised. Yet, he lived nearly his entire adult life in Detroit, where he easily adapted to the rhythms of...
Introduction: The Making of a Revolutionist
Asked during a 1975 interview how he identified himself, James Boggs replied, “I describe myself as a revolutionist.” This was for Boggs a characteristically bold pronouncement, but it was not the posturing or empty rhetoric of a self-aggrandizing militant. In claiming to be a “revolutionist” Boggs did not mean...
Part I: Correspondence Newspaper
Introduction to Part I
Correspondence newspaper played a significant role in James Boggs’s intellectual and political development. He worked on the paper throughout its nearly eleven-year existence (from October 1953 to the spring of 1964), serving on the editorial board and writing dozens of articles. He also expended considerable...
Talent for Sale (1954)
Walter Reuther pretends that he has to beg. Not only does he pretend. He has to because he doesn’t use all force of the workers behind him. If the problems of workers were solved, Walter Reuther wouldn’t have any job. The same thing applies to Walter White. If it wasn’t for the racial question...
Viewing Negro History Week (1954)
I’ll always remember my school days when on this week there would be much preparation, just as there is for Christmas. This was the only time I had an opportunity to really find out about Negro people, their accomplishments, and their struggles for recognition of their human dignity. But somehow...
Negro Challenge (1954)
Everywhere today, where Negroes gather, one hears the common expression, “I’m fighting and working that my son will not have to go through what I had to endure.” It is the expression of a fighting race, not to be subdued under the footsteps of slavery and servitude...
The Paper and a New Society (1954)
Thirteen months ago and twenty-eight issues back seventy-five people decided to publish a twelve-page paper. We had a conception drawn from experience and history that the common people needed a paper where they could say what they thought about their government, the way it should be run...
The Negro in relation to American society has the sensitivity of an animal that can sense danger, something man can’t do. This comes not of his own making but out of the pressure of society against him. A little kid six years old senses first from his parents that there is something different...
The Stage That We Have Reached (1955)
All labor leaders, liberals, and radicals always say that the solution to the Negro question is with the class question. In theory that is true. But I think that if you look at the history of the United States from the very beginning, the formation of this country was on a class basis. The people who...
A Report on the March on Washington (1957)
Colored people streamed into Washington by every mode of transportation possible. Old women with run-down shoes, old women well dressed, kids with the South written all over their faces. New York sent eight thousand by chartered bus and car. The most significant of all was the determination...
Who Is for Law and Order? (1957)
For years untold numbers of colored people have been forced to maneuver in all directions, trying to avoid a head-on collision over the issue. They have allowed white people to name them “Negroes,” by which the whites mean a thing and not a person. They have stayed out of the public parks...
Who Is for Civilization? (1957)
While the white southern segregationists are squirming and trying to work out a new approach to further segregation, the colored people are quietly watching and waiting to see what the next move will be. To contrast the fanatical excitement of these southerners with the calmness of the colored...
The Weakest Link in the Struggle (1958)
A grim battle is taking place daily inside the shop between the company and the men. With thousands of men and women laid off and no demand for its products, the company is turning the heat on the workmen. Few workers have worked a full forty-hour week since Christmas. No worker knows...
Safeguarding Your Child’s Future (1959)
There is an old superintendent in my plant who comes by every now and then and calls out to me, “Hi, boy.” It isn’t that he is hostile. As a matter of fact, he wants to be friendly. Up to now he has gone by so fast that I haven’t had a chance to tell him what I think. But one of these days, very soon...
Land of the Free and the Hungry (1960)
A group of English City Council women, led by Mrs. Theresa Russell of Newcastleon-Tyne, has started an airlift of free baby food for Negro children in New Orleans, Louisiana. These Negro children have been purged from the state welfare rolls by a new law against “immorality.” In reality, as these...
The Winds Have Already Changed (1960)
Ever since the Congo got its independence people here have been making jokes about the names of the Congo leaders. Each day they joke about them as if they were dance tunes, but very few realize that though the sound of their names may remind people of a dance, Kasavubu and Lumumba...
What Makes Americans Run (1960)
Every day in any factory, auto shop, steel shop, office, or department store everyone is running as if his very life depends on outrunning the next man. Big shots and executives run to impress the bigger shots that they are go-getter types and best fitted to run the company to make it profitable...
New Orleans Faces We Still Haven’t Seen (1960)
We have seen two sets of faces. We have seen those of white women, twisted with hate, coaching their little ones to say “I don’t want to go to school with N——rs” before they can even say “Mama.” These women have made clear that they not only hate the little Negro children being escorted...
The First Giant Step (1961)
Busloads of Freedom Riders are now rolling across Alabama and Mississippi, and Negroes are determined to keep them rolling despite Kennedy’s appeal for a “cooling-off period,” an appeal in the same spirit and for the same purpose as Walter Reuther’s constant appeals to the workers...
A Visit from the FBI (1961)
Friday evening, September 1, two FBI men visited me. They wanted to know whether I knew Robert Williams and where he was. I told them that I had met Williams, that I knew of him and what had been happening in Monroe, North Carolina, in the last few years, but that I didn’t know where...
FBI Asks Me about Rob Williams (1961)
One of them, the talkative one, asked me if I knew Robert Williams. When I said that I did, he said, “I guess you know what he has done and why we’re looking for him. Do you know where he is? ” I replied that I didn’t know where Williams was, that I would not harbor him or even one...
Foreword to “Monroe, North Carolina. . . Turning Point in American History (1962)
Conrad Lynn is a lawyer who speaks not only for Robert Williams and the Monroe defendants but for millions of Americans in the most explosive trial of our day: the Negro people vs. the United States of America. That is how closely related his words are to their true thoughts and actions...
Part II: The American Revolution: Pages from a Negro Worker’s Notebook
Introduction to Part II
The American Revolution: Pages from a Negro Worker’s Notebook is James Boggs’s best-known and most enduring work. Published in the summer of 1963, the book arrived at a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement, and its thought-provoking assessment of the movement’s meaning and possible trajectory...
The American Revolution: Pages from a Negro Worker’s Notebook
In the last twenty years an industrial revolution has been taking place in the United States at a pace faster than that of any country in the world, transforming social layers of this country on a scale never before dreamed of. So fast has this industrial revolution been developing that 60 percent of the jobs held by the...
Part III: Black Power: Promise, Pitfalls, and Legacies
Introduction to Part III
The writings in this section document James Boggs’s engagement with the Black Power movement and its legacy. From the movement’s emergence in the mid-1960s to its dissipation a decade later, he was a consistent presence in the Black Power struggle both as an activist working to build the movement through various...
Liberalism, Marxism, and Black Political Power (1963)
In The Negro Revolt, Louis Lomax gives a moving historical account of the step-by-step movement of American Negroes into American life: first, their arrival as imported slaves; next, their rise as free men during Reconstruction; and then, as a result of political manipulations both in the national Congress...
The City Is the Black Man’s Land (1966)
Population experts predict that by 1970 Afro-Americans will constitute the majority in fifty of the nation’s largest cities. In Washington, D.C., and Newark, New Jersey, Afro-Americans are already a majority. In Detroit, Baltimore, Cleveland, and St. Louis they are one-third or more of the population...
Black Power: A Scientific Concept Whose Time Has Come (1967)
Black Power. Black Power. This is what is being written about and talked about in all strata of the population of the United States of America. Not since the specter of communism first began to haunt Europe over one hundred years ago has an idea put forward by so few people frightened so many in so...
Culture and Black Power (1967)
Recently I attended a conference on black culture. As I sat there looking at all the beautiful black faces, I could see in them the drive, the desire, the compassion, and the hope that in that meeting and out of that meeting they could find the unity to take them down Freedom Road. And yet inside myself...
The Myth and Irrationality of Black Capitalism (1969)
I cannot account for why many of us are here, but the fact that we are here indicates to me that the black movement has now reached the stage where it compels us to confront the question: What kind of economic system do black people need at this stage in history? What kind of economic system do we envisage...
Manifesto for a Black Revolutionary Party (1969)
The history of the two races in the United States is a history of the exploitation of blacks for the benefit of whites. Black people were not immigrants to this country but captives, brought here for the purpose of developing the economy of British America. The traffic in slaves across the Atlantic stimulated northern...
The American Revolution: Putting Politics in Command (1970)
Today, as we begin a new decade, the conflict between the social forces needed to drive the revolution forward has advanced far beyond our wildest expectations. Seven years ago the idea of a twentieth-century American revolution was so remote that most people assumed that the title of my book...
Beyond Rebellion (1972)
The black movement has gone through a number of stages in the last fifteen years. First, there was the civil rights movement, which reached a critical stage with the Birmingham confrontations of 1963 and finally collapsed with the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. Then, there...
Beyond Nationalism (1973)
Good evening. It is good to be in New York. Good to have the opportunity to speak to a group that has taken on the responsibility of reflecting upon the state of Ethiopian society in the last half of the twentieth century. All too often it has been my experience to meet African students who embody a conflict of...
Think Dialectically, Not Biologically (1974)
This is the first opportunity I have had to speak to an audience in Atlanta, a city that in the last few years has become the center for many tendencies in intellectual and political thinking by blacks. Many black groups from all over the country have held conferences here, and in this process you have had an opportunity...
Toward a New Concept of Citizenship (1976)
Last year when I spoke to this class, I talked about how, in the pursuit of individual success, millions of Americans have chosen the road of getting ahead in the economic arena. Therefore, we have become a nation of individualists who believe the further we get away from the communities or areas where we...
The Next Development in Education (1977)
I want to thank you for inviting me here to speak to you, especially since I have not come here to extol you for the sacrifices you are making in the pursuit of knowledge. Actually, I believe that the way most of you are pursuing knowledge is incorrect because you are pursuing what I call “received” knowledge...
Liberation or Revolution? (1978)
For a brief period during the Eisenhower years of the 1950s, it seemed that these questions were premature. To most people, preoccupied with the pursuit of goods that were pouring off the nation’s production lines, it seemed that the United States could continue on its merry and not-so-merry way...
The Challenge Facing Afro-Americans in the 1980s (1979)
Not too many years ago blacks from every strata of the population were engaged in great struggles to eliminate the racism that had for nearly four hundred years kept blacks out of the mainstream of American society. Most blacks, whether they actually participated in these struggles or cheered them...
Part IV: Community Building and Grassroots Leadership in Post-Industrial Detroit
Introduction to Part IV
This section presents writings from 1984 to 1993, the last ten years of James Boggs’s life. Though he battled cancer during the latter half of those years, first bladder cancer and then lung cancer, to which he succumbed on July 22, 1993, Boggs nonetheless continued his writing, speaking, and organizing throughout this period...
Letter to Friends and Comrades (1984)
It should now be clear to all who are for human progress that all great advances must be based on social and political struggles outside the electoral arena. Having lived through the demise of the movements of the 1960s and early 1970s, we should also be clear that once any movement allows itself to be incorporated...
Going Where We Have Never Been: Creating New Communities for Our Future (1986)
When we talk about communities, we are usually referring to people who live together in a particular geographical area, who have created social ties with one another, and who recognize their dependence upon one another. In that sense, except on some Native American reservations, there are few communities...
Community Building: An Idea Whose Time Has Come (1987)
Good morning. I start this way because I will always remember that when I first came to Detroit in 1937, I went over to Hastings and Theodore and said “Good Morning” to every old person I saw on the street. But nobody said anything back to me. When I told my auntie what happened, she said, “Boy, you are from...
Rebuilding Detroit: An Alternative to Casino Gambling (1988)
Monday night I went to the graduation for one of my grandsons in Ford Auditorium at which Mayor Young was the main speaker. The student who introduced Young said, with a smile, that he was the only mayor she had ever known. Young then said in the same joking vein that maybe some students should come...
We Must Stop Thinking Like Victims (1990)
Seldom a day goes by that I don’t hear someone say, “If it wasn’t for racism, I’d have everything under control. I’d have a good job and I’d be living in a good neighborhood.” What gives them this idea? There are a lot of whites and people of other ethnic groups in this country who don’t have jobs and don’t...
What Does It Mean to Be a Father? (1990)
In the past, when most Americans lived in rural communities or small towns, the value system of the community shaped the relationship between men and women. If a man impregnated a woman, the unwritten code of the community practically guaranteed that they would get married. People who conceived...
Why Are We at War with One Another? (1990)
Fifty residents on Field Street near Mack Ave. joined SOSAD, WE-PROS, and the DETROIT GREENS on September 17 to plant a tree in memory of the three little children killed in the firebombing of their home over Labor Day weekend. We held hands, sang, prayed, and pledged to start caring for one...
A “No” Vote Will Say Detroiters Want to Save What’s Left (1991)
These developers and contractors have no interest in our city’s past or future. They are interested only in how much money they can make by tearing down old buildings and constructing new ones. So they make generous contributions to the mayor’s coffers, and he uses our tax money to construct new...
How Will We Make a Living? (1991)
But today there are millions of Americans of all colors, ages, and skills who are out of work because so many jobs have been eliminated by high-tech or exported out of the country. So after you finish high school you discover that you have to go on to college if you want something better than a job at...
Why Are Our Children So Bored? (1991)
When I was growing up in the South before World War II, I had no time to be “bored.” I had so many things to do around the house: taking out the ashes, emptying the pan under the icebox, running to the store. Every day I looked forward to finally finishing my chores so that I could go out to play with my friends...
What Can We Be That Our Children Can See? (1991)
In the last ten years Americans in general and Detroiters especially have been concerned about our youth. Here in Detroit it seems that more teens are killing each other, using drugs, committing crimes, having babies, dropping out of school, going to jail, and more devoid of a purpose in life than at any...
Time to Act Like Citizens, Not Subjects (1992)
We were also aware that the devastation of Detroit is a symbol of the crisis facing all American cities east of the Mississippi. For most of the twentieth century Detroit was a mecca luring people from the country into the city who wanted to become industrial workers, earn enough money to become homeowners...
What Time Is It in Detroit and the World? (1992)
In the last fifteen to twenty years a lot of African Americans have been living on ideas from the past that have become myths and have even created new myths in order to evade facing the reality that, like every other ethnic group in the world, we have contradictions within and among ourselves. As a result...
We Can Run But We Can’t Hide (1993)
Detroiters have been living so long by the slogan “They won’t let us” that we now have two generations who blame everything on “the system” or “the man” and don’t believe that we can do anything ourselves. We can only see the external contradictions and we forget that as human beings what we do depends...
Beyond Civil Rights (1993)
In 1926 historian Carter Woodson started Negro History Week so that we could evaluate where we had come from, where we were, and where we still had to go. At that time hundreds of Negroes were being lynched every year. Most did not graduate from high school. Few people had indoor toilets, electric lights...
Why Detroit Summer? (1993)
Last summer we made a good beginning toward involving out-of-town youth with local youth in the struggle to build Detroit. We now know that there are some young people who can be counted on to join a cause that requires commitment to a vision larger than themselves. Creating parks out of vacant lots...