Forty years ago this summer, Detroit burned, leaving 43 dead, 467 injured, and 2000 buildings burned to the ground. Although some argue that this ended up being the impetus for white flight, the fact of the matter is that even as whites had the opportunity to leave in droves (and many did), it took a hard fought electoral victory by Coleman Young to seal the deal. Whites, fearing what a black run city would look like, in effect took their marbles and fled.

What should we be focused on forty years later, when it appears as if the dreams of black power died where Jos Campau met the Chrysler Freeway? While the discussion rages as to whether we should follow Garvey, Washington, or Dubois, I think that Grace Boggs has the best handle on it. Thinking about the rebellion, she notes the following:

As we look at our communities, looking more and more each day like wastelands and fortresses, as we look at our younger brothers and sisters scrambling and nodding on the streets of our communities, as we think of the children whom we will be bringing into this world–we cannot just grab on to any ideas of liberation just because they are being pushed by old friends of ours or because they give us an emotional shot in the arm.

We can start by categorically rejecting astrology, drugs, religion, black capitalism, separatism and also all those messianic complexes that someone else or we ourselves are going to become “the leader” whom the black masses are waiting for, to lead them out of the wilderness of their oppression. In other words, we can start by turning our backs on all the various escape routes by which many people are still traveling, in the vain hope that somehow they can evade grappling with the real contradictions of this country, this society.

Read the entire essay here. While there is a lot we can gain from studying the ideas of those that came before us, invariably the context we are dealing with now is unique to us, and our task is to develop a response appropriate to it.