As Malcolm X lost his perfect vision, straining his eyes to read through prison nights, he learnt the history of blacks in America.
I have read his autobiography and it is clear that among its cardinal desire is to make a point on history. History, Malcolm X insisted, had been hidden from African Americans, left out of textbooks and public discussion. He knew that if it was only torn from the shadows and the stories of African civilization and the slave-trade exposed, there would certainly be revolution.
“If you find out what he did to you, you won’t have any forgiveness.” – It was exactly a lack of history that allowed for submission – “By keeping us completely cut off from our past, it is easy… to make us willing to stay at this level.”
Late sixties Montreal got on board with these insights. Students of Caribbean blood, grouped together. They were following the progress of America’s black power movement and had learnt the Marxist revolutionary tradition. Their imperative was to familiarize themselves with the “defeats, triumphs, and manifestations” of their history. Born from this intercourse was the Caribbean Conference Committee (CCC).
Annual CCC meetings hosted international figures like thinker C.L.R James. To our point, James not only spoke of his present troubles, but lectured extensively on the subject of the French and Haitian Revolutions. Accounts of his teachings reveal classes on the philosophy of Rousseau and of Marx’s Capital. George Lamming, essayist and writer, also took the floor to praise the unique project of the island city’s black players.
The CCC’s later Black Writers Congress of 1968, encountered the theme of black liberation much more explicitly. Responding to all the talk of rebellion, James Forman, member of the US Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, made it clear that he did not want to fall into a “nationalist revolution that won a flag, a new style of dress, and underneath the dregs of humanity remained the same.”
It was Stokely Carmichael, however, who moved the event to its most passionate and unexpected applause. His philosophy had much to owe to that of Malcolm X and of the panthers. He trusted in the unity of Africans, no matter how estranged they had become from their roots. He ordered the nourishment of undying mutual love amongst this race. They could build this solidarity if they willed a common culture.
And Carmichael, despite Forman’s complaints, insisted on speaking of revolution. It was, for the speaker, necessary to give back the power to the masses whose neglect was precisely evidenced in the sufferings of the black community. It would not be given peacefully, surely not through voting every few years. Revolutionary violence was, in his emphatic way, the only path towards liberation.
The fervent energy these popular lessons bore seems to have burrowed itself into Montreal’s 1969 Sir George Williams Affair. 200 protestors barricaded themselves into Sir George Williams’ computer lab for 14 days. The university’s alledged lack of investigation into discriminatory marking habits, had pushed students to the edge. Many of them, it should be noted, had been involved directly or through acquaintances with the CCC.
This, the largest student occupation in Canadian history, was not owed to a matter of brief circumstance, but was the result of building tensions in Montreal.
The students were conscious of their history, and as minister Malcolm had warned, they would no longer keep to their station.
Written by: Samuel Helguero