Originally posted to It’s Going Down
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In the summer of 1969, the Black Panther Party held the “Conference for a United Front Against Fascism” in Oakland, CA and brought together over 4,000 delegates from a variety of organizations and liberation struggles. It was at this conference that Chuck from the Pacific Northwest, was introduced to the Young Patriot Party, which was comprised of working-class white youth and former gang members from a neighborhood in Chicago called Uptown. The Young Patriot Party members were part of a community of poor whites that had immigrated from the South and faced systematic attacks such as police brutality, unemployment, and bad housing. As one website chronicling the Patriots’ history put it:
During the 1960’s a unique social movement arose in the Chicago neighborhood of Uptown. An estimated 40,000 southern migrants, many from the Appalachian mountains of West Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky lived in that diverse community. They had came to Chicago seeking work and new lives after leaving the largely rural poverty of the American South.
They found a world of brutal urban poverty and racism in a city known for its violence and corruption. Despite its legacy of slavery, political repression and white supremacy, the American South also had a tradition of multiracial resistance that had never been stamped out. This spirit of rebellion was reborn in Uptown against the economic deprivation and political repression of 1960’s Chicago.
Southern migrants from Uptown organized the Young Patriots and joined with African Americans in the Black Panther Party, Puerto Ricans in the Young Lords Organization, radical students from the Students for a Democratic Society and others across Chicago. Together they called themselves the Rainbow Coalition. It was a working class multi-racial liberation movement which challenged poverty, police brutality and the iron-fisted Democratic Machine of Mayor Richard J. Daley.
A former member of the Patriots, Hy Thurman further explained the group’s origins:
We organized the Young Patriots in 1968 in Chicago`s Uptown neighborhood to help alleviate the oppressive conditions that residents faced on a daily basis and to give the poor a voice to fight Mayor Richard J. Daley`s oppressive machine of class hatred and racism. The Uptown community was made up of mostly poor southern white migrants who began migrating north soon after World II to find jobs and to escape from the clinches of poverty only to enter another monstrous conditions that were in several ways worst that what had been experienced in the South. Estimates of southern residents over a ten year span was over 70,000 southerners entered the gates of Uptown. At any given time as many as 40,000 tried to put down roots to scrap out a living.
Seeking to build bridges across color lines in their common battles against political and economic elites, members of the Patriots formed alliances and close relationships with a variety of groups, including the Black Panthers and it’s young Chicago leader, Fred Hampton, who was later assassinated by the police and FBI. This alliance grew, and became known as the Rainbow Coalition (no relation to Jesse Jackson’s later outfit), and included similar groups such as the Young Lords, and many others. Here, Black Panther Bobby Lee discusses the Young Patriots and one of it’s leaders, William “Preacherman” Fesperman:
First of all, the Patriots’ leader William “Preacherman” Fesperman was one of the best human beings I have ever met. He was originally from North Carolina before he moved to Chicago. However, many of the Panthers left the group when we built alliances. Some didn’t like the Patriots, some just didn’t like white people in general. They were heavy into nationalism. To tell the truth, it was a necessary purging, except for these n*****s took themselves out of the organization. The Rainbow Coalition was just a code word for class struggle. Preacherman would have stopped a bullet for me, and nearly tried.
Once, I was in a meeting up in Uptown, and I decided to leave by myself. I immediately determined that the police were following me. I made the mistake of leaving alone. The cop called out “You know what to do,” and I put my hands up against the wall. Preacherman came outside and saw what was going on, and in the cold of winter brought the men, women and the children outside. The cops put me in the car and they totally surrounded it, demanding my release. The cop called someone and they must have told him to let me go. I’ll never forget looking at all those brave motherfuckers standing in the light of the police car, but staring in the face of death. Looking back, was there enough basis for unity? Hell, yeah! When I went to Uptown Chicago, I saw some of the worst slums imaginable. Horrible slums, and poor white people lived there.
Seeing himself in the Young Patriots, Chuck formed a Patriot Party (a split off from the Young Patriots) chapter in Eugene Oregon, and began to organize with the local chapter of the Black Panther Party and together they helped to facilitate a variety of programs in the poor and working-class white community and beyond. As a result of his organizing, Chuck was targeted by COINTELPRO, a counter-intelligence program that used frame-ups, false information, and straight up killings to neutralize and break apart a wide variety of liberation and anti-capitalist struggles. After several of his comrades turned on him in court, Chuck spent several years in prison where he continued to organize and took part in several prison strikes.
Throughout the program, Chuck speaks on a subject that we will discuss in several more upcoming episodes, about the need for revolutionaries and anti-capitalists to build connections and bridges into the white working-class while combating racism and promoting a class war politic. Chuck offers many stories, ideas, and words of advice for today’s generation, while staying true to the revolutionary spirit that radicalized him in the first place.