CHICAGO, IL — When I was a kid we had Black History week. We discussed heroes in African American history and in the American Civil War. At that time, Black history wasn’t seen as central to American history, but knowledge of Black history was seen as essential to our survival. By 1970, the holiday evolved into Black History Month. It became a time when we discussed how far Black people have come in the past year and charted a course of struggle for the coming period.
Often the holiday focuses on the contributions of those Blacks who have “made it.” My neighborhood provides a glimpse of how far the mass of Black poor have come. Cabrini Green, and other working class communities like ours, is being destroyed. Fifty years ago the community was vital to production. Cabrini sat smack dab in the middle of four different industrial areas. When Cabrini was built, real estate companies opposed it because “public housing” was seen as “bad for business.” However, industrial manufacturers supported it because, no matter how low the slave wages public housing residents were paid, the workers kept a roof over their heads and could return to work each day. The relationship made industry millions in higher profits.
By the late 1960s, the area just south of Cabrini became known as “Ghost Town” because of the blocks of empty buildings that once housed businesses and jobs. Now they no longer needed our labor. The area was soon redeveloped around high tech and real estate. And guess what? You can’t have public housing and stay here when your labor is not needed. They started to run people out. We had no right to live in a home. Today a disproportionate number of blacks are homeless. This poverty is connected to the murder by Chicago police, which we saw in the murder of the young Laquan McDonald, shot 16 times.
Today, a lot of young people are leading the way. Groups like Black Lives Matter made the Chicago police stop the blatant murder of black working class people. People of all colors joined the fight. There is a real consciousness of poverty and destitution among young people today. Families are without healthcare and food, kids are murdered, schools are second-class. There’s no human rights and there’s no jobs. So people freeze to death in the streets homeless or get shot by the police. It’s not just Blacks either. The elimination of industrial jobs and poverty makes it about class too. Class means we are connected with everybody else that is being kicked down. African Americans are not a sizable enough portion of the population to carry out this fight by themselves. We are going to have to fight together.
The message of African American History Month, 2018 is that if the American people are to survive, we have to change the society. But it will take the unity of the people across lines of color. The deepening poverty of millions points the way to a new society where there is no such thing as racism or class exploitation. Human beings have a right to live in a society where we are all treated equally and where everyone has what they need to lead a happy, full life.