Independent Politics and the Legacy of the Gary Convention Fifty Years On:The National Black Political Convention of 1972

National Black Political Convention, Gary March 10-12, 1972. | Photo: AP

By Abayomi Azikiwe

From March 10-12, 1972, an estimated 7,000-10,000 African Americans gathered in Gary, Indiana for the National Black Political Convention (NBPC).

The confab was covered extensively in the Black, left and mainstream press due to the significance of the event which brought together a wide spectrum of political currents within the African American community from elected officials, functionaries of the Democratic and Republican parties to leaders of revolutionary grassroots organizations such as the Black Panther Party (BPP) and the Congress of African People (CAP).

One account of the event from the Indiana Historical Bureau says:

“Approximately 3,000 official delegates and 7,000 attendees from across the United States met at Gary’s West Side High School from March 10 to March 12. The attendees included a prolific group of Black leaders, such as Reverend Jesse Jackson, Coretta Scott King, Amiri Baraka, Muslim leader Minister Louis Farrakhan, Black Panther co-founder Bobby Seale, and Malcolm X’s widow Betty Shabazz. Organizers sought to create a cohesive political strategy for Black Americans by the convention’s end.”

Gary, an industrial city known for the production of steel, was representative of the then emerging Black political movement sweeping urban areas throughout the United States. In 1967, Carl B. Stokes won the mayoral elections in Cleveland, Ohio against a white opponent who appealed to the racist sentiments of those feeling threatened by the Hough Rebellion of the previous year.

That same year, 1967, Richard Hatcher won the mayoral race in Gary which was by that time a majority African American city. Millions of African Americans between the First and Second World Wars flooded into the cities seeking employment in industry and to escape the violent institutional racism of the Jim Crow South. After World War II, more African American migrated into the urban areas of the North and West while those remaining in the South launched the independent Civil Rights Movement beginning with the Montgomery Bus Boycott (1955-56), the sit-in movement and the Freedom Rides of 1960-1961.

A new radicalized African American political mood was in evidence by the early years of the 1960s, when organizations such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) took over the leadership of the mass struggle for the elimination of segregation and disenfranchisement. By 1963-64, urban rebellions accelerated making their mark on at least 200 cities from Los Angeles on the west coast to Chicago and Detroit in the Midwest all the way South to Birmingham, Cambridge, Nashville, Atlanta, Miami and Memphis to New Jersey, Philadelphia and New York City in the east.

The gains won through the mass struggles led to legislative reforms with the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968, adopted as the flames of rebellions across the U.S. raged encompassing broader segments of the Black population.

However, the racist system struck back with repression including the killings of Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mark Clark, Fred Hampton, Medgar Evers, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, Carol Denise McNair (four African American girls in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham), among countless others. Hundreds of members of the Black Panther Party and the Republic of New Africa, and numerous organizations, were jailed, imprisoned and driven into exile by the early 1970s. The NBPC represented an effort to realign the African American struggle through the building of broader unity across ideological perspectives.

Outcomes of the NBPC ….

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