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Check out The Lumpen, the Black Panther Party’s resident ‘house band’
09:14 am

The Lumpen
First of all, “The Lumpen” is a fantastically cheeky name for a band of Black Panthers. It’s short for “lumpenproletariat,” Marx’s term for the working class that simply cannot achieve class-consciousness, and may in fact become an obstacle to revolution. (Think very poor, uninsured Tea partiers adamantly against food stamps or universal healthcare.) I’m already sold on the Marxist inside joke.

While The Lumpen were most certainly not the lumpenproletariat, they show that The Black Panther Party made sure to inject a healthy amount of arts and culture into their radical commitments. And though they often had very little time for band practice, (what with Party duties and all), their mission was the capstone to a larger, but usually far less explicit presence of black power politics and rhetoric in soul music—the fascinating book, Party Music: The Inside Story of the Black Panthers’ Band and How Black Power Transformed Soul Music, goes into it more thoroughly. Below, you can hear their one and only single, “Free Bobby Now,” an anthem for Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale, who was serving four years for contempt of court.

Band member Michael Torrance gives his fond recollection of his time spent in The Lumpen, from The Black Panther Party’s Legacy and Alumni:

Throughout history, oppressed people have used music as a means to not only document their struggle, but also to educate, motivate and inspire people to resistance. The Lumpen singing cadre grew out of that tradition. The purpose or mission of the Lumpen was “to educate the People…to use popular forms of music that the community could relate to and politicize it so it would function as another weapon in the struggle for liberation.”

The original members were Bill Calhoun, Clark (Santa Rita) Bailey, James Mott and myself, Michael Torrance. In the beginning we were just comrades who liked to harmonize while working Distribution night in San Francisco to “help the work go easier” (another tradition). We had all sung in groups in the past, Calhoun having performed professionally in Las Vegas, and it just came naturally. I don’t remember just how it came about, but Emory Douglas, Minister of Culture, suggested that this could be formed into a musical cadre. Elaine Brown had already recorded an album of revolutionary songs (Seize the Time) in a folk singing style, and this quartet singing in an R&B or “Soul” form could be a useful political tool. Some folks don’t read, but everybody listens to music.

Shortly thereafter, Calhoun wrote “No More” in a spiritual/traditional style, and then “Bobby Must Be Set Free”, a more upbeat R&B song. We recorded these two songs and soon we were singing at community centers and rallies. Emory named the group the Lumpen for the “brothers on the block,” the disenfranchised, angry underclass in the ghetto. From then on the Lumpen were a Revolutionary Culture cadre - working out of National Headquarters under the direction of the Ministry of Culture, and June Hilliard who was alternately very supportive and very critical.

It was determined that as representatives of the Black Panther Party and to “capture the imagination” of the people, the Lumpen had to perform at a high level - the “product” had to be good. We recruited progressive musicians from the community and they became the Lumpen’s band - The Freedom Messengers Revolutionary Musicians. Thanks to Calhoun’s expertise, we were able to put together a high-energy hour-long “act” complete with uniforms and choreography.

Soon we were performing at clubs, community centers, rallies and colleges throughout the San Francisco/Oakland Bay Area and as word of mouth spread, the Lumpen began to develop a following. By the time the Lumpen were about to go on an East Coast tour, the auditorium at Merritt College was packed for the kick-off concert which was recorded live. The whole audience sang along with “Bobby Must Be Set Free.”

In the winter of 1971, the Lumpen and comrade Emory went on an East Coast tour of colleges and fundraisers in St. Paul/Minneapolis, New York City, Boston, New Haven and the Revolutionary People’s Constitutional Convention in Washington DC. We promoted the Party’s mass line through re-working popular songs by the Impressions (People Get Ready - Revolution’s Come), the Temptations (There’s Bullets in the air for Freedom, Old Pig Nixon) as well as originals such as Revolution is the Only Solution, We Can’t Wait Another Day, Set Sister Erika Free, and Killin’ (If U Gon Be Free).

Upon returning to Oakland, the Lumpen continued to perform throughout California. Attempts to get airplay for the “Lumpen Live” recording were unsuccessful due to the “controversial” lyrics. Eventually, due to departures and shifting priorities, the Lumpen as a group disbanded.

It is important to stress that the Lumpen were Panthers first and foremost. Before, during and after the group, we did all the political and day-to-day work that was required of every rank and file comrade. The music was simply another facet of service to the Party and the Revolution. Furthermore, since we were an educational cadre, rigorous study was necessary to be able to translate the ideology of the BPP into song. At all times, we were representatives of the Black Panther Party.

Being a member of the Lumpen was only one of the various areas of work I was involved in during my years in the Party, but I am proud to have been a part of our struggle’s historic tradition and in the process to have possibly made a little history as well.



Posted by Amber Frost
09:14 am
The roots of OWS: Black power documentary captures the birth of a movement

The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 directed by Göran Hugo Olsson is a timely documentary on the birth of the Black Power Movement that combines recently discovered film footage and interviews from the the 1960s and early 70s with commentary from contemporary Black activists and musicians.

Shot in stunning 16mm black and white and color by a Swedish film crew at the height of civil unrest over Vietnam and racial inequality in America, BPM features compelling interviews with Stokely Carmichael, Eldridge Cleaver, Angela Davis, Huey Newton and other key activists of the period, interspersed with powerful scenes of ghetto life in Oakland and Harlem. Both poetic and potent, the film manages to stir the heart without resorting to hyperbole or cheap sentiment. The subject matter is powerful enough on its own. The images and words speak for themselves…and they speak eloquently.

The only sour moment in the film is when a reptilian Louis Farrakhan spews the Nation Of Islam company line, silver tongue wrapping itself around every vowel like a dung beetle rolling in it’s own excrement and eyes leering with the lascivious gleam of an encyclopedia salesman looking to slip his sweaty hands under the apron of an unsuspecting suburban housewife And Malcolm died for this fucker’s sins.

As scenes unfold on the screen, personal reflections on the era and its influence on their lives and thinking are shared by Talib Kweli, Erykah Badu, ?uestlove, John Forté and Robin Kelley, among others. These were formative decades for a new generation of Black American activists, artists and teachers and the inspiration of the The Black Panthers, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Bobby Kennedy endures.

I have my own memories of this pivotal period in American history. I recall one of my first acts of becoming politically engaged. I was 17 and living in Berkeley. It was 1968. I went to The Black Panther headquarters, an aging, two-story, clapboard house in Oakland, and asked them what I could do to help. After getting over their initial amusement of seeing a skinny, long-haired, white boy standing in their office, two Panthers engaged me in conversation, curious to know my motivations. I told them I’d just read Eldridge Cleaver’s “Soul On Ice” and had been inspired by it, enough to do whatever I could to make the world a more just place. They handed me a stack of The Black Panther Newsletter and sent me out the door. I became a paperboy for the revolution.

While I watched BPM, the parallels between the civil rights and anti-war actions of the 1960s with the current Occupy Wall Street movement were quite obvious. We are still fighting the good fight…and it never seems to end. We make small inroads toward justice and then are slapped back down. But there is forward movement. Historically, popular uprisings that become the target of government suppression may falter but they always find a way to re-invent, resurrect and re-engage. We are seeing it play out at this very moment as the OWS survives against all efforts by the government and its police force to extinguish it. The success of the uprisings of the Sixties remind us that people DO have the power. Listening to and watching the speeches of Stokely Carmichael and Martin Luther King (the night before he was assassinated) not only made me feel proud to have been in the crux of it all at the time, it emboldened me to continue the fight and also angered me in knowing that there is still a fight to be fought. 

The Black Power Mixtape is currently available for instant viewing on Netflix.

Unjustly imprisoned for being an accessory to the murder of a Judge, Angela Davis discusses violence and revolution in this jail cell interview from BPM. Not long after this interview, Davis was acquitted of all charges against her.

Posted by Marc Campbell
02:56 am
Fantastic Four: Introducing The Black Panther

Dangerous Minds pal Charles Johnson has posted another tasty classic comics cover over at Little Green Footballs. Wait until Glen Beck gets ahold of this, PROOF that Marvel Comics promotes racism or reverse racism or Communism… or something:

Since the New Black Panther Party has been the race-baiting rage lately, here’s a related cover image from the Lizard Collection: issue #52 of Fantastic Four, a classic released in July 1966, an arguably more innocent and open time. This book featured the first appearance of African superhero Black Panther, who would go on to become one of the Avengers. It’s Jack Kirby and Stan Lee at the top of their talents, drawing on 60s memes and cultural icons to create a new, distinct, and very influential form of pop art.

Posted by Richard Metzger
11:16 pm
Leary And Cleaver In Algeria

After reading Ginia Bellafante‘s NYT review of Lords of The Revolution (last mentioned in these pages here), I’m now even less inclined to spend my 5 hours on the VH1 special.  That being said, Bellafante does single out for praise the installments profiling Timothy Leary and The Black Panthers.  Despite their generational link, though, Leary and the Panthers didn’t always see eye-to-eye. 

After escaping from prison in 1970, Leary found refuge in Algeria with the Panthers’ Eldridge Cleaver, who was himself on the lam for attempted murder.  But rather than receiving Leary as a kindred spirit—and displeased with his drug-touting ways—Eldridge kidnapped Tim and his wife, Rosemary Woodruff…er, placed them under “revolutionary arrest.”  Eldridge eventually freed the pair, but, in the clip above, you can still get a sense of their uneasy Algerian alliance.


Posted by Bradley Novicoff
06:48 pm
Lords Of The Revolution

I’m looking forward to next week’s VH1 series, Lords Of The Revolution, with an excitement approaching…apathy!  I mean, we all know the drill: yet another 5-parter assembled from already available footage both superior and less sanitized.  Still, with Leary, Warhol, Ali, Cheech & Chong, and The Black Panthers each spearheading a night, I’m keeping my fingers crossed. 

If you’re curious as to what it might look like, check out the VH1 trailer.  And for those of you who lack the time—or energy—to “tune in,” but still want a hit of era-defining idealism, click right here.


Posted by Bradley Novicoff
01:21 am