The following excerpts were transcribed from the video-recorded interview of General Gordon Baker, Jr. (September 6, 1941 – May 17, 2014) by Muhammad Ahmad (Maxwell C. Stanford, Jr.). The nearly three-hour interview, recorded in 1993 at Legacy Communications in East Cleveland, Ohio, was a part of Ahmad’s doctoral dissertation research. Dr. Ahmad sent the tapes to Dr. Bracey (Distinguished Historian and Chair of Afro-American History at University of Massachusetts – Amherst) to avoid loss should his home be raided. The tapes were mailed to the author by Dr. John H. Bracey. Dr. Ahmad granted this author-editor unrestricted rights to use the referenced recorded contents. For focus and space specifications, only a few of Gen’s statements are cited here.
These statements provide a glimpse of Gen’s historic significance in our national liberation struggle and the nature of his uncompromising revolutionary activism and fearless spirit, in his own voice. For over 50 years, Gen fought for the racial, political, environmental and economic justice, freedom and human rights (self-respect, self-defense and self-determination) for the black working class and the globally oppressed. Gen was a revolutionary theoretician, strategist, tactician and leader of the highest order, an intellectual, historian, teacher, orator, union labor organizer, human rights activist, a life-long analytical student, a deeply loving and beloved father and husband, and dedicated comrade-in-arms. He was one of the most important leaders to emerge in the 1960s.
Ultimately, Gen fought to create a new cooperative society. He struggled with and for the Black working class and those oppressed and dispossessed in Detroit, nationally and globally. Gen’s life is a quintessential example of the “new man” Frantz Fanon called for in his continuously relevant work, Les Damnes de la Terre [The Wretched of the Earth, New York, 1965].
“Yeah, I would just like to say, it is a real pleasure to be here today with Max, in the studio, making a recording of this past thirty years of the experience of struggle in the movement that we’ve had. This history has not been recorded in a real formal way. It’s real important for youth today and those who want to continue to struggle.”
“I was born in Detroit, Michigan on September 6th, 1941. I was raised in a family of three sisters and one nephew that was raised like a brother. My family was basically of sharecropper stock from Georgia and migrated to Detroit in the early forties seeking work in the auto factories there in the city. So, therefore my upbringing was conditioned specifically by ghetto life as it expressed itself in Detroit in the 1940’s, particularly in the old ‘Black Bottom’ section, south of Gratiot Avenue.
“My father belonged to the UAW. He worked at Bentley Ross plant, a steel mill in Detroit. It had a real militant local and he was an active member in that local. Other than that, my family had no other organizational expression except for the church. And my grandfather, on my mother’s side, had been a pastor from Georgia at a Christian Methodist Episcopal church and therefore my family sought out that church when they got to Detroit. And except for the church and the union, these are basically, the only organizations my family belonged to.”
“Back in the 40’s and the 50’s, most political discussions were shied away from. You got to remember, this is the period when we are making the transition from the New Deal years to the Eisenhower years during my early development. Except for discussions for the hate – generally – for Republicans and the love of Democrats, that’s about the limit of political discussions that took place in our household.”
“They [my parents] were never socially active. They mostly worked and went home and slept and expressed values of religion, the church, school, and education. Even though the U.N.I.A. [Universal Negro Improvement Association] had an active chapter, I never knew anything about them. My family never expressed anything about them.”
“I grew up like any kind of inquisitive ghetto youth in the 40’s.”
“The earliest [memory of racial injustice] would have been the Emmett Till case. To see Emmett Till’s pictures in Jet magazine mutilated…”
“My racial consciousness was beginning to develop rapidly because of the struggle.”
James and Grace Boggs – Apprentice
“At the time, I was sort of like an apprentice of theirs [James and Grace Boggs]. James and Grace were very active. Anyone active in Detroit would have to run into them. They were there at the Black Arts conferences. They were always there trying to give you some direction and leadership. Boggs was still working at the Jefferson plant at the time as an autoworker. He was able, often times, to give us some kind of leads in terms of how to struggle in the plants and what was available there. They always had foot in the struggle for the community. The Freedom Now Party, they were a part of that activity [and] – with GOAL, the Group on Advanced Leadership.
One of the most difficult things to learn is an oddity of Detroit. They [Boggs] were east-side based. Detroit, for some reason, has this antagonism between the east and the west side. It’s difficult to find a historical basis for it. And this lingers on today. But, Grace and Jimmy were on the east side. That was the side that probably was the most depressed. The old ‘Black Bottom’ was on the east side, south of Gratiot.
James and Grace provided some intellectual leadership. The kind of literature they had access to was important. By this time, Presence Africaine out of France was printing literature and getting access to international literature of a character that here to before we couldn’t find. I remember the discussions and reports of the Bandung Conference that was held in 1955 – that was printed on some of the Presence Africaine literature that Malcolm articulated in ‘Message to the Grassroots.’ These things become important.
We ran around internationally through R.A.M [Revolutionary Action Movement].”
“We will bleed Malcolm!”
“Malcolm was electrifying. I mean he was a spark. Whenever he came to town, I always found my way there. The numerous trips he made to the early Saviour’s Day at Olympia Stadium. The trip he made when he spoke at Wayne State University and all over Michigan – I was always there. Malcolm left you with a definite inspiration to continue to struggle. Yeah, we use to leave rallies where Malcolm spoke at prepared to hit the streets to take up any battle, anywhere, or to go back to the battles we had before, but do them more enthusiastically than before. So Malcolm was a real inspiration for us. A real revolutionary inspirational fighter who articulated the demands that we had [endorsed} much better than anyone on the scene at that time.”
“The conference that Malcolm [X] spoke ‘The Message to the Grassroots,’ I think it might have been around November of 1963 at King Solomon Temple. Like I said, every time Malcolm came to town, I never missed him. When he came – at that time he also spoke at a couple of other places. He spoke at Wayne State earlier that day and we went to King Solomon Church that evening. A few of us was working as security guards to provide protection for Malcolm along with the Nation of Islam. We were there in full force.
As a matter of fact, if you listen closely to the tape or the film presentation of the ‘Grassroots,’ you will hear us hollering in the audience. I think it’s at one point when Malcolm is talking about that the only revolution that’s a bloodless revolution is a Negro revolution. And he said, ‘You are afraid to bleed!” And you hear us hollering, ‘We will bleed Malcolm! We will bleed!’ So you hear us on that tape hollering in the audience. That’s the kind of – the kind of response you had when Malcolm spoke. That’s the kind of inspiration that he gave people when he spoke. That’s the kind of revolutionary fervor that he offered the movement. You know, in a national way, it was expressed so well. That was a real loss the movement suffered in a real way with his designed death.”
“1964, for us was a period of time when we tried to capture some of the gains the 1963 march [on Washington]. Clearly, there weren’t many.”
“I think the kind of climate that was set with the assassination of Malcolm and then the attack on our flank, you know, you kind of understand the type of repression back in 1965.”
Back in Detroit, a new section of the police department was created in 1965 called the Tactical Mobile Units. The use of tactical police – was first on the scene that period. They had high level mobility, a lot of new shotguns and military equipment to be able to break up street fighting and other kinds of things that happened in that period of time.”
“In 1965, we continued to try to press at Dodge Main plant. I’m working with the African American student movement. We published a couple of publications. We started printing a publication we called Razor, a publication for the African American student movement in Detroit and we circulated it at Wayne State campus and Highland Park Community College campus. We also printed a thing called The Black Vanguard that was a publication for black workers in union shops around the city.
We had learned, as I said earlier in the tape, some of the skills from some of the Left groups in terms of how to do leaflet work with mimeograph. We’d take some of the money we had earned at the plant and rent a typewriter, rent a mimeograph machine and ran all these things out of the basement of my apartment. And we attempted to try to do agitation.
Clearly, we had a few people around us, but it had not really caught fire, in a lot of ways, early in ’65. I think a lot of it could be attributed to our understanding of how to agitate and perhaps the articles we attempted to do was more like propaganda than agitation. There were too many ideas to try to be understood by the people we were trying to reach. We spent that time doing that.
Later, that year, I told you I had wrote a letter to the Draft Board [See Note 1]. I received, sometime on June of 1965, a letter from the Draft Board saying I was drafted and that I need to report to the Draft Board on September 10th, 1965 for induction.
Meanwhile, you got to remember in 1965 now, in August, LA erupted and the Watts Rebellion. It lasted about a week and a new point in the historical development was reached. A real proletariat uprising. And, you know, ‘Burn Baby, Burn!’ rose as a slogan and call of the day. And it kind of set tremors…tremors throughout the rest of the movements around the country about the potentialities of struggle.”
Robert F. Williams – Watts – September 10th Movement
“One of the critical things Robert Williams was doing with the publication of The Crusader, was printing in its edition an article called [USA:} The Potential of the Minority Revolution that was promoting the question of how we can be victorious as minorities in an uprising in America. And so the whole movement reached a new higher level than it was before the Watts Rebellion broke out.
So Detroit – meant for us, in a lot of ways – was to prepare ourselves for the upcoming struggle that summer and particularly, so far as I was involved, to try to carry the struggle out for September 10th, which was my induction date. What we did was to organize the September 10th Movement. And the September 10t was a movement that basically attempted to try to destroy the draft. We leafleted all the plants in the city of Detroit, most of the campuses, and some of the high schools to build up a resistance against the draft through general agitation around a general slogan, ‘No Vietnamese ever called me a nigger.’ You know, we need to fight discrimination here at home. And we called for a protest of 50,000 people at Fort Wayne Induction Center in Detroit.
As it may be, the Watts Rebellion, by breaking a month early, gave us more fuel for agitation. We had found out from some of the people that we were working with that the city’s fathers planned to arrest everyone who showed at the demonstration on September 10th and they were trying to try to play up new names. So tactically, what we decided to do was put out leaflets calling for people to stay as standby positions in the neighborhoods and if they attack The September 10th Movement, you know what to do, remember Los Angeles.
What actually happened on induction day, when I appeared that morning with my duffle bag – I should say, first of all, I took military leave from work so it would be easy if I got inducted and had to go to prison I may have a job to go to after I got out. What happened, I went down and took the physical, passed the physical and got to the point of swearing in and I told them, ‘I am not going to swear in. I’m not going to the army. I want to prove that I am physically fit and I’m not dodging the draft. I’m not going.’ At that point they took me in to see the captain. He said his name was Captain Cox – that ran the Induction Center at that military base in Detroit. They took statements from me. I basically stated that I wasn’t going into the army and if they like, they can call the police. And they sent me back home and declared me a security risk.
What happened when we got back out was have a demonstration with about 10 people for about a half hour. We tactically decided to carry signs that said, ‘Destroy the Draft,’ and nothing else. But, in the process of developing the work for the September 10th confrontation, the police had tipped their hand when they arrested us for posting signs on the walls. And they dropped the hint they were going to arrest us for criminal anarchy. What we did then was decide to have a slogan ‘Destroy the Draft’.”
League of Revolutionary Black Workers
“We are in the period of 1969. The main event that led to the formation of the League was the Eldon Avenue Gear and Axle Plant strike. I will never forget the date of the strike was January 29th, 1969 and it was after the distribution of leaflets from about nine to seven weeks. The people – the workers at Eldon had demanded we take some kind of action.
We had learned a few things from the Dodge Main strike. One was, once we strike, if it was successful, we are going to have to have some places for workers to go to retreat. It was not like a summer day, like the original Dodge Main strike. It was a cold January day. So we secured a hall we could go to. We sent picket lines to the plant that morning. Held down all four gates. The strike was an overwhelming success. We moved the workers back to the hall. We rallied them, fed them, prepared them to go back out and take out the afternoon shift when they came in about three o’clock that evening.”
Note 1: Gen’s Letter to the U.S. Draft Board
This letter is in regards to a notice sent to me, General Gordon Baker, Jr., requesting my appearance before an examining station to determine my fitness for military service.
How could you have the NERVE knowing that I am a black man living under the scope and influence of America’s racist, decadent society??? You did not ask me if I had any morals, principles, or basic human values by which to live. Yet, you ask if I am qualified. QUALIFIED FOR WHAT, might I ask? What does being “Qualified” mean: qualified to serve in the US Army?
. . . To be further brainwashed into the insidious notion of “defending freedom”?
You stand before me with the dried blood of Patrice Lumumba on your hands, , the blood of defenseless Panamanian students, shot down by U.S. marines; the blood of my black brothers in Angola and South Africa who are being tortured by the Portuguese and South African whites (whom you resolutely support) respectively; the deal people of Japan, Korea, and now Vietnam, in Asia, the blood of Medgar Evers, six Birmingham babies, the blood of one million Algerians slaughtered by the French (whom you supported); the fresh blood of ten thousand Congolese patriots dead from your ruthless rape and plunder of the Congo—the blood of defenseless women and children burned in villages from Napalm jelly bombs . . . With all of this blood of my non-white brothers dripping from your fangs, you have the damned AUDACITY to ask me if I am “qualified.” White man; listen to me for I am talking to you!
I AM A MAN OF PRINCIPLES AND VALUES: principles of justice and national liberation, self-determination, and respect for national sovereignty. Yet you ask me if I am “physically fit” to go to Asia, Africa, and Latin America to fight my oppressed brothers (who are completely and resolutely within their just rights to free their fatherland from foreign domination). You ask me if I am qualified to join an army of FOOLS, ASSASSINS and MORAL, DELINQUENTS who are not worthy of being called men! You want me to defend the riches reaped from the super0exploitation of the darker races of mankind by a few white , rich, super-monopolists who control the most vast empire that has ever existed in man’s one million years of History—all in the name of “Freedom”!
Why, here in the heart of America, 22 million black people are suffering unsurmounted toil: exploited economically by every form of business—from monopolists to petty hustlers; completely supported politically; deprived of their social and cultural heritage.
But all men of principle are fighting-men! My fight is for Freedom; UHURU, LIBERTAD, JALAUGA, and HARAMBEE! Therefore, when the call is made to free South Africa; when the call is made to liberate Latin America from the United Fruit Co., Kaiser and Alcoa Aluminum Co., and from Standard Oil; when the call is made to jail the exploiting Brahmins in India in order to destroy the Caste System; when the call is made to free the black delta areas of Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina; when the call is made to FREE 12TH STREET HERE IN DETROIT!: when these calls are made, send for me, for these shall be Historical Struggles in which it shall be an honor to serve!
General G. Baker, Jr.