“Conflict in the Sixties” by Aileen Muhammad

aa_black_panthers_wa1966 Spring: Is the whole thing fixed like oceans coming to their shores, then bowing to the body, racing backward to the center, for a normal day?

I went to the NAACP meeting cause it was said that all Negros should be components in the struggle for equal rights. I said, Oh Black man, Night man, where are your stars? I listened and then felt the muscles contract and got frightened. I was still fifteen years old, wandering around looking for teachers.

“You’ re getting ready to have your baby. You better go home and get your mother to take you to the hospital.”  Mama had designed a plan. I would not see the baby and therefore I would not have a memory and therefore I would go on with my life as usual. She kept me in bed for a month and said I was not allowed to get up. She brought me breakfast and she’d come home from work and bring me dinner and magazines and pretty bed jackets.  Then it collapsed. My friends came over and said my mom was going up the street at night to my grandmom’s house, in the middle of the night and they thought they heard a baby cry.

I ran down the street and found out I could run. The baby was in a small drawer at the foot of my grandparents’ bed. A boy. I brought him home and by the summer, momma had placed him in an agency and I turned sixteen.

Then I met and married Edward and he got drafted and went to Vietnam.

1966 Summer: Some timeless fact. Some breathing gift, some capture swift did come announcing where the time had gone and where all hearts do mourn and when the dawn does rise and when the dusk has eyes, for in the change from dark to light is where the soul does gain its sight at being formed and molded by superior inquisition.

“Here Ginger, try this. But you have to hold the smoke in.” My big sister, Coriander loves me again. I had to get hurt really bad. I looked at my pretty sister who I thought would never smoke a joint. She came down to the basement where I stayed and wrote and painted and waited for my husband to come home from Vietnam. I pretended it was my first time. She said this would make me happy, and I‘d wait for her to bring me happiness. “I’ll be back for you tonight and we’ll go to the ‘Convention for Black Women.’ “ I started not to like her or anybody. I was separated by a universe and I was like the slaves on plantations who could not keep their children and at the moment of birth, the purpose was decided and money was to be made and the mother’s holdings were disregarded.

It was easy to listen to Toni tell me to stop looking like a white girl and take off my make-up and look like a black girl. Everyone had large and short afros then. The long-haired girls got jumped sometimes going to school , so they cut their hair and did all kinds of things to make it nap up. I stepped into the bathroom that day and cut all my hair off, washed off my make up and went to the store and bought African jewelry.  I really did not want the attention of any one. I just didn’t want to be told I was actin’ and lookin’ white. I wanted to be left alone. But the poets and radicals and extremists were attracted to me now. I was invited to revolutionary planning committees that decided to take over Temple University and lock the dean and the officials in their offices for 3 days. They wanted their history taught in school.

Then the Black Panthers wanted to bring dignity to the people. And since they studied law like my dad I gravitated toward them. Daddy came over and brought me a new typewriter. When he left, I took it to the Panthers’ headquarters cause they needed help. I went everyday and helped three hundred kids by serving and preparing breakfast until daddy called and said stop going. Two days later the place was bombed.

Fall 1966 Yesterday robbed elegance and simplicity. The thief took the prize and left castrated souls behind. They left wandering lame children looking for substance where the tide removed all nourishment.

Most of my days were spent traveling downtown and walking around Rittenhouse Square, where all the beatniks were. Sometimes poet revolutionary friends would come and get me and we would go to 144th and Lenox, in New York to watch plays about black people and their struggles. Other friends would take me to the Village. They didn’t know me . Others told me I should change my name and I went to the Hill District in Pittsburg to watch them, hostile, and screaming their poetry and playing drums. We went to one of the drummer’s homes for dinner and he had three wives at the table. African dancers came on that frightened me. They didn’t know my struggle. Each time the drummers would sweat and beat those drums I would think of Negros slicing away at my life. They didn’t know I wanted my child more than the oxygen mixing in my lungs. They didn’t know as they hollered about the atrocities of the white man that it was the atrocities of my black brothers that flattened me, and they never paid for crimes against me.

Coriander called them names, the ones that didn’t care. But Dick Gregory published a book called Nigga and gave it a different definition.  Mommy was taunted as the neighborhood changed and she never cut her hair to blend in to be accepted. I was gifted and stupid, the Negros used to say you are so smart but “Where‘s your common sense?”

Like when we all went to a party, I thought it was a normal party and some one passed everyone a pack of something. I thought it was something to get high with so I took it all and drank some water. When they found out they called me real dumb and said I wasn’t supposed to eat it I was supposed to sell it. They watched me after that for two weeks as hustlers on the hunt, and kept me with them. I don’t know who they were but I ended up in the hospital and daddy came and said since I was under 18, the narcs would be questioning me.

My husband finally wrote and was in the middle of a bad war when I started getting published in Muhammad Speaks newspaper –poems I‘d written abut how “Johnny” won’t fight or die for democracy.  Tony would come around from the University of Pennsylvania with his afro and circular glasses trying to tell me to join a socialist party and he used words that I never heard and I just listened and went to the black political convention with him at Temple cause he invited me. It was important to these conscientious men that the woman walking beside them looked like they were unafraid and knew about their black history and rejected any sign of European indoctrination.

Winter 1966: Who sows the connection that all existence dances to? Who rings the chord and elevates the station of the song? Precious the value of least resistance, the power of water you see, with the bounty of light mixing lavishly into the heart, molding and shaping and breathing a word, dancing to eternal sighs, dreaming in the valid corners of the earth.

I am still sixteen years old. I was coming home from downtown walking around where I used to meet mama and my sisters at Wanamaker’s Department store and we’d go out to lunch after school and go to a museum or the library. Downtown was beautiful then; so was Mama. Now downtown was ugly and every homeless person lying on the benches reminded me that the stories are complex and the loud holler to be black was not enough. I was on my way home stopping at 52nd street where I transfer to catch the bus after riding there on a train. Coming down the steps on each corner were the usual people selling Black Panther papers, Nation of Islam black Muslims selling Muhammad Speaks, the Jehovah Witnesses and the Seventh Day Adventists. And Bo was always on the corner vending his pocketbooks . He would barely get his words out but when he did he’d let out a screech -like moan and say thank you stretched out with a long breath and bright lemon teeth. Police were everywhere that day, on horses and in big wagons lining the street in both directions. Bo was retarded and was shot in the back of the head by a cop .A riot had broken out. The Muslims said our people were raped and that’s why we are living in hell, and that’s why we are a despised people. I didn’t know that. I didn’t think that and I wondered if that Muslim knew that his black brothers did that too. I promised that one day when I was better I would tell them that.

“Conflict in the Sixties” by Aileen Muhammad  (prelude to Cowards and Angels).

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