Title Page
 Signature page
 Table of Contents
 The origins of the Uhuru!
 Reviving the movement
 Power to the populace
 The challenge for leadership
 Notes on abbreviations

Group Title: Black power still lives! : the Uhuru Movement in Saint Petersburg, Florida (1972-2001)
Title: Black power still lives!
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/AM00000283/00001
 Material Information
Title: Black power still lives! the Uhuru Movement in Saint Petersburg, Florida (1972-2001)
Physical Description: viii, 151 leaves : ; 29 cm.
Language: English
Creator: English, Junius
Publication Date: 2006
Subject: African Americans -- Civil rights -- History -- 20th century   ( lcsh )
African American political activists -- History   ( lcsh )
Genre: non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Statement of Responsibility: by Junius English.
Thesis: Thesis (M.S.) -- Florida A&M University, 2006.
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references (leaves 140-151).
General Note: Typescript.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: AM00000283
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: Florida A&M University (FAMU)
Holding Location: Florida A&M University (FAMU)
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: oclc - 77746251

Table of Contents
    Title Page
        Page i
        Page ii
    Signature page
        Page iii
        Page iv
        Page v
        Page vi
    Table of Contents
        Page vii
        Page viii
        Page 1
        Page 2
        Page 3
        Page 4
        Page 5
        Page 6
        Page 7
        Page 8
        Page 9
        Page 10
        Page 11
    The origins of the Uhuru!
        Page 12
        Page 13
        Page 14
        Page 15
        Page 16
        Page 17
        Page 18
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        Page 27
        Page 28
        Page 29
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        Page 31
        Page 32
        Page 33
    Reviving the movement
        Page 34
        Page 35
        Page 36
        Page 37
        Page 38
        Page 39
        Page 40
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        Page 60
        Page 61
    Power to the populace
        Page 62
        Page 63
        Page 64
        Page 65
        Page 66
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        Page 93
        Page 94
        Page 95
    The challenge for leadership
        Page 96
        Page 97
        Page 98
        Page 99
        Page 100
        Page 101
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    Notes on abbreviations
        Page 139
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Full Text

The Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University

School of Graduate Studies and Research

Black Power Still Lives!: The Uhuru Movement
in Saint Petersburg, Florida (1972-2001)


Junius English

A Thesis submitted to the School of Graduate Studies and Research in partial
fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Applied Social Sciences
with a concentration in History

Summer Semester, 2006

The members of the Committee approve the thesis, entitled, Black Power Still Lives!:
The Uhuru Movement in Saint Petersburg, Florida (1972-2001), by Junius English
defended on August 2, 2006.

Titus Brown, Ph.D.
Professor Directing Thesis

David H. Ja n Ph. D.
Committee e er

Keth immonds, Ph. D.
Assistant Dean of College
of Arts and Sciences

Derek Williams, Ph. D.
Committee Member


Departmt"of History and Political Science, David H. Jackson, Jr., Ph.D., Chair

bleg of Artsald Scienc Dr. Ralph Turner, Ph.D., Interim Dean

School of Graduate t dies and Research, Chanta Haywood, Ph.D., Dean



First, I would like to thank the Great Being, for offering me the energy and

opportunity to engage in this challenging task. Secondly, I would like to thank the

profound professors of my department, especially Dr. Titus Brown for orchestrating this

project and working under stressful time constraints, Dr. David Jackson who had great

impact on my worldview and scope in regard to black history, and Dr. Canter Brown (no

longer with the department) for pointing me toward this uncovered topic and refining the

quality of my scholarship. Third, I would like to thank Omali Yeshitela, Chimurenga

Waller, Nyabinga Ezimbahwe and Penny Hess for enduring my consistent phone calls

and fulfilling my many requests for information on a subject as delicate and dear to their

heart as this one. Fourth, I would like to thank the staff at Florida A & M University's

Samuel Coleman Library, special thanks to the Inter-library loan office, Florida State

University's Strozier Library staff, and University of Florida's Institute of Black Culture.

Fifth, I would like to thank my family and friends for supporting me through all of my

shortcomings and offering your love throughout the completion of this process.


African-American liberation movements, which have operated outside of the

conventional modes of civil rights activism, have often left unrecorded legacies.

Historically, the roles of these liberation movements in the fight for black rights have

been deemphasized and their contributions to the civil rights movement have largely gone

unmentioned. Not only is this true across the United States, it specifically holds true in

Florida. In Saint Petersburg, for example, the Uhuru movement has served as a catalyst

for serious social change, even though scholars virtually ignored its existence for almost

four decades. Omali Yeshitela, a self-proclaimed revolutionary, founded this movement

in 1972. Since its inception, the organization's goals and strategies have evolved in

successive stages. Today the Uhuru movement, also called the African People's Socialist

Party (APSP), advocates the creation of an international African state by way of a

working class revolution and the end of black oppression through combating European

colonialism and capitalism.

In an effort to argue the Uhuru movement's rightful place in history and to unveil

its captivating story, this work has recounted the organizations most significant activities

from its inception in 1972 to the present. In reconstructing the political history of the

APSP, this text has relied considerably on the firsthand accounts of Uhuru members and

their self-produced literature. In addition to the Uhuru's literature and perspective, the

Saint Petersburg Times and the Tampa Tribune have offered a wealth of information

regarding the organizations activities, specifically pertaining to recent Uhuru history.

Because the story of the APSP has for the most part been excluded from Florida's major

historical works and virtually omitted from Saint Petersburg's local histories, the aim of

this work is to demonstrate the crucial role they have played in local, state, and national

politics. The scope of this study is limited primarily to the historical activities of the

Uhuru movement, using the political life of Omali Yeshitela as a focal point.

Omali Yeshitela and the Uhuru movement have significantly altered St.

Petersburg's political climate, providing a consistent political voice for working-class

blacks. The APSP's sustained political existence links the Black Power era with the

struggles of modern-day African-American politicians. Having had a profound impact on

St. Petersburg's political landscape, the APSP has also maintained a significant national

following. Omali Yeshitela has emerged as a distinctive political leader and theorist and

a prolific writer who has consistently expressed his political insights. Most famous for

his role in the mural case of 1966 and the Tyron Lewis case of 1996, Yeshitela has been

the feature of hundreds of newspaper articles, maintaining the political aptitude to remain

in the public eye. As a political strategist, Yeshitela has tried almost every method of

civil resistance to create change in America's social fabric.


SignaturePage .... .......... .... ...... .......... .. .. .... iii

Acknowledgements ..................................... iv

Abstract. .................. .................. .v

Contents. ................ .................. .............vii


1. Introduction ..................................1

Aim and Scope of this Study
Historical and Histriographical Context

2. The Origins of the Uhuru!................................................... 12

The Childhood of Joe Waller
The Early History of the African People's Socialist Party
Early National Activities

3. Reviving the M ovement................ ....... .........................34

Uhuru philosophy and influences
Political Battles in Oakland
The Uhuru and Huey P. Newton

4. Power to the Populace................................................... 62

The Second series of National conferences
The Tyron Lewis Case and its political impacts
Yeshitela emerges as a community leader

5. The Challenge for Leadership......................................... 96

The Uhuru move to establish institutions

Yeshitela's bid for mayor
Police Chief Controversy

6. Conclusion ........................................................... ...129

7. Abbreviations Page............................... ......................39

8. Bibliography.............................................................140

Chapter 1: Introduction

African-American liberation movements, which have operated outside of the

conventional modes of civil rights activism, have left unrecorded legacies. Historically,

the roles of these liberation movements in the fight for black rights have been

deemphasized and their contributions to the civil rights movement largely, have gone

unmentioned. Not only is this true across the United States, it specifically holds true in

Florida. In Saint Petersburg, for example, the Uhuru movement has served as a catalyst

for serious social change, even though scholars virtually ignored its existence for almost

four decades. Omali Yeshitela, a self-proclaimed revolutionary, founded the movement

in 1972. Since its inception, the organization's goals and strategies have evolved in

successive stages. Today the Uhuru movement, also called the African People's Socialist

Party (APSP), advocates the creation of an international African state by way of a

working class revolution and the end of black oppression through combating European

colonialism and capitalism. As the organization evolved, the movement's members have

worked to strongly influence one of Florida's principal metropolitan areas while

broadcasting the movement's message of revolution on a far-broader scale. The simple

fact that exceptional organizations such as this one have remained obscured in history

and to Floridians illustrates why studies such as the present one remain a critical need.'

'The Uhuru movement's founder Omali Yeshitela, was born under the name Joe Waller.
Outside of the mural incident of 1966 and the Tyron Lewis case of 1996, the Uhuru
rarely appear in state and local histories. Neither of Florida's two current general
histories mentions the Uhuru movement. See Michael Gannon, The New History of
Florida (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1996) and Charlton W. Tebeau and

In an effort to argue the Uhuru movement's rightful place in history and to unveil

its captivating story, this work has recounted the organizations most significant activities

from its inception in 1972 to the present. To accomplish this, the initial chapter provides

an overview of the succeeding chapters contained in this manuscript. While much of the

Uhuru's self-produced literature is available, some works are no longer in print or exist as

archival material limited to the presence of a single library. Quality research has allowed

for the investigation of some of these texts, many quite obscure, while others lie beyond

the time constraints and monetary capacities of this work. Fortunately, many of the

Uhuru's older works are still in the organization's possession; nonetheless, at the time of

this essay, their earlier texts and newspapers were not available.

More importantly, the author has been unable to locate any scholars who have

written previous books or dissertations on this subject. This work will not attempt to

detail the number of members in the Uhuru organization because they have declared

those facts classified. Any information the author has obtained about the numerical value

of their membership stems from outside sources. The second chapter introduces the

historical account of the Uhuru epic, beginning with the childhood of its founder, Omali

Yeshitela. This chapter briefly examines his formative years and highlights the factors

that ultimately led to the movement's creation. Once the organization launched, it

William Marina, A History of Florida (Coral Gables, Florida: University of Miami Press,
1999). Similarly, see the local history written by Saint Petersburg's own current mayor:
Rick Baker, Mangroves to Major League: A Timeline of Saint Petersburg History (Saint
Petersburg: Southern Heritage Press, 2000).

functioned out of Saint Petersburg, Florida for its first six years, and then relocated to

Oakland, California.2

Chapter three encapsulates the Uhuru's experiences in Oakland and emphasizes

their political activity in the city. Serving as a platform for political maturation, Oakland

was where the organization encountered struggles that molded its ideology and prepared

its leadership for the challenges they soon encountered. By 1993, the Uhuru had left

Oakland to reconvene in Saint Petersburg, Florida, quickly becoming the premier black

revolutionary party in the state. Chapter four underscores the legendary Tyron Lewis

case of 1996. The Uhuru played a critical role in the highly publicized event, when a

white police officer killed a black motorist thereby initiating two outbreaks of civil

unrest. Some journalists and historians have called the case the greatest civil rights

disturbance in Saint Petersburg's history. Impressively, the Uhuru parlayed the

controversy into a prime spot in the city's mainstream politics. The fifth chapter

summarizes the activities and accomplishments of the APSP since their induction into

mainstream politics. Based on chapters two through five, chapter six will discuss the

implications of the research uncovered and the significance of the Uhuru movement as a

historical organization. It will conclude the argument for the Uhuru's historical position

and examine the project's strength as it relates to the original hypotheses.

2 Uhuru Chairman Omali Yeshitela only contributed these words when asked about their
size by the Saint Petersburg Times, "we are a small organization, we do not talk
numbers." Uhuru Historian Nyabinga Ezimbahwe, when asked about the fluctuation of
their membership over time, simply stated, "the numbers of our membership are
classified." He added only that the organization has recently obtained significant
international growth, specifically in West Africa.

In reconstructing the political history of the APSP, this text has relied

considerably on the firsthand accounts of Uhuru members and their self-produced

literature. Using primarily the publications of the Uhuru movement, their newspaper the

Burning Spear, and personal interviews with Uhuru members, the author has attempted to

paint an unbroken picture of the Uhuru phenomena. In addition to the Uhuru's literature

and perspective, the Saint Petersburg Times and the Tampa Tribune have offered a

wealth of information regarding the organization's activities, specifically pertaining to

recent Uhuru history.

Because the story of the APSP has for the most part been excluded from Florida's

major historical works and virtually omitted from Saint Petersburg's local histories, the

aim of this work is to demonstrate the crucial role they have played in local, state, and

national politics. This essay is exceedingly relevant considering the APSP's profound

impact on Saint Petersburg, Florida, and to a lesser degree in Oakland, California. Since

1987, the Saint Petersburg Times, the city's principal newspaper, has published over 800

articles pertaining to the Uhuru movement, which is sufficient proof of their obvious and

undeniable presence in local matters. However, with the exception of a single paragraph

describing a 1966 mural incident and another caption concerning the Tyron Lewis

incident, the Uhuru are strikingly absent from the histories of Saint Petersburg.3

The scope of this study is limited primarily to the historical activities of the Uhuru

movement, using the political life of Omali Yeshitela as a focal point. This work has

3 Technically, Joe Waller was still in SNCC so the mention of the mural incident does not
count as legitimately covering the Uhuru movement. NewsBank: America's newspapers,
"Saint Petersburg Times, a Search for: Uhuru" [document-online] available at

been tailored to provide a balanced perspective of the Uhuru phenomenon; however, this

task has proven exceptionally difficult. Newspapers and other media often report events

in ways significantly different from the Uhuru's own story. In order to rectify this

apparent contradiction, the author has presented both viewpoints as frequently as


Regardless of Omali Yeshitela and the APSP's distinct character and niche

within civil rights history, an understanding of their historical relevance and an

evaluation of their political perspective would not be possible without proper context.

This century old battle for social equality in America began shortly after slavery. Within

decades the appearance of notable race leaders, namely, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B.

DuBois, and Marcus Garvey furthered the cause for black political and economic power.

The early protests of the 1930s and 1940s and the social impacts of World War II

provided the platform for the riots that occurred during the civil rights era. The civil

rights movement, post-Rosa Parks, merely represented a more recognizable phase of

blacks' consistent attempts to evolve a healthy cultural and national identity within

American borders. A concise recount of the national civil rights organizations that

directly influenced the Uhuru, along with a brief summary of Saint Petersburg's civil

rights history, may enhance the reader's appreciation for the APSP.4

The context within which the Uhuru movement arose involved deep patterns of

racial prejudice and waves of racial violence. Unknown to many today, Florida stood

out, at least on a per capital basis, as the most lynch-prone state in the nation from the

4 Penny Hess, Overturning the Culture of Violence (St. Petersburg: Burning Spear Uhuru
Publications, 2000), 166-226.

1880s to the 1930s. In the twentieth century, events such as the Ocoee Riot of 1920 and

the Rosewood Massacre of 1923, among others, highlighted the state's racist character.

In the 1930s, Saint Petersburg's African-American community existed under the

oppressive restrictions of Jim Crow. Seven years into the decade, Florida legislation

removed the state poll tax, opening the door for some black suffrage. In 1945, civil rights

leader Dr. Gilbert Leggett and several other black leaders effectively petitioned the

Circuit Court to repeal the white primary system that previously dominated Saint

Petersburg's political landscape. Common throughout the south, this system had existed

in Saint Petersburg since 1913. This major civil rights victory furthered black

participation in the local political arena, raising the percentage of black voters thirty

percent, one of the highest rates in the South.

African-Americans in Saint Petersburg had significant racial hostility to

overcome. In 1937, over 200 knights of the Klu Klux Klan (KKK) marched through the

city's black neighborhoods, burning two, fifteen-foot crosses. The klansmen marched in

order to discourage African-American voter registration, specifically for a bill the KKK

supported, called the Civil Service Act. The Klan threatened to photograph and track,

"each Negro who votes," seeking to inspire terror in the minds of potential voters.

5 Michael Newton, The Invisible Empire: The Klu Klux Klan in Florida (Gainesville:
University Press of Florida, 2001), 1-2; Raymond Arsenault, St. Petersburg and the
Florida Dream 1888-1950 (Norfolk, Virginia: The Donning Company, 1988), 305;
Maxine D. Jones and Kevin M. McCarthy, African Americans in Florida (Sarasota:
Pineapple Press, 1993), 81-82; Michael D'Orso, Like Judgment Day: The Ruin and
Redemption of a Town called Rosewood (New York: Boulevard Books, 1996); Saunders,
Bridging the Gap, 65.

Despite the Klan's efforts, forty percent of the city's blacks turned out to vote, helping to

repeal the bill.6

By October of 1939, blacks had a featured section in the Saint Petersburg Times,

called the "News of Negroes of Saint Petersburg and Pinellas County." The section

covered articles on black schools like Gibbs High School and Davis Elementary as well

as prominent social groups like Hotel Bellman's club. This small segment of the

newspaper only received distribution in the black areas of town. By 1948, the articles

had expanded to become a daily insert, but the success was short-lived. In 1967, the

paper discontinued its black section, but that same year the Weekly Challenger, an

African-American newspaper, began.7

As the 1940s unfolded, disparities amongst Saint Petersburg's white and black

communities became apparent. Blacks did not serve on Saint Petersburg's grand jury

until 1941. However, city officials introduced the discriminative "work or jail" edict in

1942, forcing black men to remain employed or suffer incarceration. Police brutality led

to black casualties in 1942 and 1944. In 1943, the City Planning Commission evaluated

the black community's development and concluded that its physical condition hindered

the overall progress of the city. In response, the city initiated the Jordon Park Public

Housing Project, which assisted the black community but could not compensate for the

predominately substandard housing available. With fifteen-thousand black residents,

Saint Petersburg could only lay claim to two black doctors and no black lawyers. Despite

6 Baker, Mangroves to Major League, 170-180; Newton, The Invisible Empire:The Klu
Klux Klan in Florida, 1-2.

7 Baker, Mangroves to Major League, 182.

these disappointing statistics, shortly after World War II Saint Petersburg began hiring

African-American police officers.8

A black high school, Gibbs, taught 781 children while having a structural

capacity for only 350 students, remaining perpetually overcrowded and underfunded.

Inadequate schools and housing were not the only problems facing the black community,

their recreational facilities and parks also lacked in quantity and quality. To assist in

community development, city planners requested an enormous amount of government

funding and private capital. While some blacks were undoubtedly grateful for the effort,

the political agendas that the white supremacists attached to the money never left their

minds. Out of this period, a small black middle-class emerged, but this did not

overshadow the pervasive lack of economic development blacks experienced.9

As the 1950s progressed, the civil rights struggle intensified. In 1954, Pinellas

County paid no heed to Brown vs. The Board of Education, instead constructing seven

schools for black students within eight years. It was not until mandatory busing in 1971

that the city achieved full integration. In 1958, Gibbs Junior College emerged as a

collegiate institution designated for blacks. The city had soon fallen victim to a

communist scare when several sit-ins were staged at restaurants throughout the South to

protest segregation. By 1960, concerns had grown stronger after thirty Gibbs Junior

College students held lunch counter demonstrations at two of the city's restaurants.

White establishments denied them food, even though no Florida statutes prohibited their

8 Arsenault, St. Petersburg and the Florida Dream, 307-313.

9 Ibid, 307-313; Baker, Mangroves to Major League, 202.

dining. Many believed the demonstrations to be orchestrated by communists, but local

black leaders denied these accusations, declaring the sit-ins "a purely local movement." 10

In 1967, nine years after the establishment of Gibbs Junior College, the school

merged with Saint Petersburg Junior College, an institution that became integrated just

six years earlier. Saint Petersburg's schools did not accept black students until 1962,

when they admitted a single seventh grader and two twelfth graders. Hostilities amongst

blacks and whites did not end there. Six black parents filed a lawsuit against Pinellas

County in 1963, alleging the continued practice of segregation. By the time the county

had prepared to overcome the challenge of integration, many white students had fled to

private schools. In between 1967 and 1972, the population of students at private schools

doubled, a trend that continued for at least a decade. By 1981, fourteen percent of the

school population attended private school. Pinellas County in 1971, became the first

county in Florida to desegregate schools, busing 11,000 students to facilitate the


Beyond the city limits of Saint Petersburg, the civil rights struggle had long held

national attention. Intensifying in the 1950s and 60s, the civil rights movement

materialized into a force destined to alter American society. In the initial period of the

movement, blacks embraced the philosophy of nonviolence, but through trial and error,

many of its participants concluded that self-defense held a key place in the struggle. An

0o Baker, Mangroves to Major League, 200-228.

" Ibid., 255.

organization that played a central role in this tactical shift was the Student Nonviolent

Coordinating Committee (SNCC).'2

Beginning in fall of 1961, SNCC functioned as a southern collegiate-based black

youth organization committed to confronting the brunt of racial discrimination through

peaceful demonstrations. Labeled "the most serious social force in the nation," SNCC's

intense protests had such a powerful impact that the organization helped influence

lawmakers to create the Voting Rights Act of 1965. SNCC changed its methodology

when Stokely Carmichael became head of the organization the preceding year and began

to promote a new agenda of "Black Power." This ideological shift occurred within the

ranks of SNCC as well as other civil rights groups, like the Congress of Racial Equality

(CORE), reflecting a change in the attitude of the greater black community. SNCC

focused less on peaceful demonstrations and voting drives and began to embrace a policy

of armed self-defense and black economic independence, ushering in a new era of civil

rights resistance. Following SNCC's example, numerous organizations surfaced

representing this inclination, most notably the Black Panthers.'3

In 1966, Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton founded the Black Panther Party for

Self-Defense in Oakland, California. The organization captured the imagination of black

America and soon became the epitome of black nationalism. Their militant approach to

politics embodied Malcolm X's mantra, "by any means necessary" and-their grassroots

12 Mary Hull, Struggle and Love: Milestones in Black American History 1972-1997,
(Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 1997), 19; Clayborne Carson, In Struggle:
SNCC and the Black awakening of the 1960s (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University
Press, 1981), 1-5.

3 Howard Zinn, SNCC the new Abolitionists (Boston: Beacon Press, 1964), 1-4, 274;
Albert P. Blaustein and Robert L. Zangrando, Civil rights and the American Negro (New
York: Trident Press, 1986), 598-99.

approach galvanized black support on a national scale. The Black Panthers rejected the

civil resistance method of non-violence and sought to bring "power to the people" and

"Black Power" to African-Americans through a philosophy of self-defense. Within this

radical climate, a young man named Joe Waller, who had become a member of SNCC,

decided to take the path of Black Power.'4

The Uhuru movement arose out of the adverse conditions of the civil rights legacy

and the racism present in Saint Petersburg to become a political force that would

represent its black community for decades. Borrowing some ideology from the Black

Panthers, the Uhuru continued to modify and advance the paradigm of black

revolutionary thought in accordance with the changing times. They have gained

popularity and respect across the nation and particularly inside Saint Petersburg's black

community. At the same time, they have endured the scorn and criticism that

accompanies substantial political attention. Throughout the organization's history, Omali

Yeshitela and the Uhuru movement have attempted almost every method thinkable to

induce positive social change for blacks in America. Despite their undeniable presence in

Florida and particularly in Saint Petersburg, their story, like many other non-conventional

organizations, has gone untold.'5

14 Bobby Seale, Seize the time (New York: Random House, Black Classic Press: Reprint
edition 1968), 1-10; Benjamin Muse, The American Negro Revolution: From Non
violence to Black Power (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1968), 1; Hess,
Overturning the Culture of Violence, 208-220; Robert Carr, Black Nationalism in the
New World: Reading the African American and West Indian Experience (Durham and
London: Duke University Press, 2002), 186; San Francisco Chronicle, October 29, 1985.

15 Omali Yeshitela, Omali Yeshitela Speaks (St. Petersburg: Burning Spear Uhuru
Publications, 2005), 69, 108, 240, 271.

Chapter 2: The Origins of The Uhuru!

Joe Waller (later known as Omali Yeshitela), who founded the APSP in 1972, has

since served as its most significant leader and spokesperson. A brief summary of the

childhood and teenage experiences that deeply impacted his early development will give

the reader a greater understanding of his character. A product of his environment,

Waller's childhood transpired while revolutions surfaced throughout the globe. As he

matured, Waller witnessed most African countries gain their independence.

Simultaneously, he experienced and became a victim of the overt racism so prevalent in

the American South. These circumstances greatly affected his worldview and his life's


The Uhuru movement coalesced within that hostile racial climate, beginning in

the mid-1960s. By then, the organization's founder, Waller, had experienced the bitter

taste of prejudice for most of his twenty-five years. Born October 9, 1941, in Saint

Petersburg, Florida, Joe matured hearing members of his family and other adults of his

community discussing problems of racial discrimination and police injustice. As he grew

older, he witnessed the same conditions with his own eyes. That he eventually became

determined to change these conditions can be credited in part to his grandmother Della

Thomas. She spent hours reading him Biblical stories that served as an early supplement

to Joe's education. She stressed the saga of Joseph, whose brother sold him into bondage

and who went on to become a great leader that rescued his people from disaster

(coincidentally, with a character bearing young Joe's first name). The story provided

Waller with his earliest inclination to become a civil rights leader and to dedicate his life

to the "rescue" of black people. Grandmother Thomas's teachings crafted young Joe's

early thoughts on private property as well. She would criticize his individualistic

economic dreams and encouraged the concept of community sharing. When Joe longed

for material objects such as automobiles or houses, his grandmother would respond:

"Wouldn't it be better for you to make those things happen for everybody?" In the

process, she planted ideas that would develop into civil rights activism and a philosophy

of socialist revolution.'

Not surprisingly, Joe Waller found himself clashing with local authorities early in

life. Joe and his friends believed themselves victims of racial profiling due to local police

officers harassing the group since they allegedly "looked like they could be criminals."

Officers once jailed Waller for walking home in the early morning from his job at the

Saint Petersburg Times. Because of these and other experiences, he first began to

contemplate how to change the world around him. He later would have more intense run-

ins with the local police for his civil resistance. Ironically, one of the methods that he

ultimately would follow involved turning the table on the police. He and his associates

followed them around to keep an eye out for race-based corruption.2

Finding few opportunities in the world immediately surrounding him in Saint

Petersburg, Joe opted to pursue freedom and new horizons by joining the army as a high

school senior, an experience that served only to heighten his concerns and to further his

' St. Petersburg Times, December 14, 1996, August 31, 1997; Omali Yeshitela, Social
Justice and Economic Development for the African Community: Why I Became a
Revolutionary (St. Petersburg: Burning Spear Uhuru Publications, 1997), 3.

2 St. Petersburg Times, August 31, 1997; Personal interview, Nyabinga Ezimbahwe
(Uhuru historian) by the author October 15, 2005 (notes in collection of the author);
Yeshitela, Social Justice, 5.

impulse toward activism. Shipped out in December 1959, he received orders of

assignment in Germany. Despite its Nazi past, Joe found the country more free than his

oppressive hometown. Unfortunately, fellow United States soldiers imported their

American ideas of segregation and expressed anger towards African-American soldiers

who dared to enter German clubs because they considered them to be "for whites only."

Thus, at the same time, Joe experienced a German society, which lacked the constant

presence of overt racism while being reminded of the discrimination that he had faced

back in Florida.3

An understanding of imperialism gained during his European service influenced

Waller and the future direction of the Uhuru movement. He saw firsthand the operation

of French, British. United States, and Soviet forces during the height of the Cold War.

He became vividly aware of imperialism, a reality that never left his mind. Imperialism's

effect upon the world later played a significant role in the development of the

revolutionary-to-be's philosophy, particularly as he applied the lessons learned to the

situation of fellow blacks in America.4

Back in the United States, a series of events furthered Waller's movement toward

a revolutionary perspective. First, while stationed at Fort Benning in Georgia, Army

authorities attempted to dispatch him with others to Albany, Georgia, where hostile

whites were resisting the fight for black equality. Joe found himself stunned when he

discovered that the black troops in Albany had to execute their mission without

ammunition. Then, during the Cuban missile crisis of 1961, he endured racial

3 St. Petersburg Times, August 31, 1997; Yeshitela, Social Justice, 15.

4 Yeshitela, Social Justice, 6.

discrimination when a white-owned restaurant in Palatka, Florida refused him service,

even though he was traveling as part of a military convoy. Nevertheless, the straw that

broke the camel's back occurred at Fort Benning, where whites accused him of trying to

touch the hand of a white woman who worked in the snack bar. Joe commented, "I

refused to drop the money in her hand to pay for services in a way that would allow her

to avoid touching my black skin." Disgusted, Waller decided to leave the army and

return to Saint Petersburg, convinced that blacks in America remained as second-class


Small wonder that Waller's revolutionary tendencies began to appear, a fact that

hastened his departure from the service. In 1962, with mounting tensions over civil rights

issues surfacing in the South, he informed President John F. Kennedy in a twelve-page

letter that he no longer would participate in an army that protected a system of

oppression. He then went on strike and began passing out literature and organizing

people to resist what he saw as the anti-black practices of the military. Before long, a

military psychiatrist apparently had ordered his honorable discharge, labeling him "a

Garveyite" [referring to race leader Marcus Garvey]. "I didn't even know what a

Garveyite was," Waller admitted, while insisting that he followed no ideology beyond

staunchly being himself.6

Thus in 1963 Waller returned to Saint Petersburg with an honorable discharge,

but disheartened and filled with rage. The army had provided an outlet for him to see

contrasts in different countries and to undergo unique experiences with racism. As a

5 St. Petersburg Times, August 31, 1997.

6 Ibid., December 14, 1996; August 31, 1997.

result, he realized how deeply rooted American racism had become and he decided to do

something about it. That decision required him to take certain steps to lay a proper


First, following a period of several years spent back in Saint Petersburg as it

reeled from civil rights turmoil, Waller visited California before taking the important

initial step toward revolutionary action back in Florida. While in the Golden State, he

witnessed the explosive race riots that struck the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles.

Many African -Americans professed that the event was a culmination of the routine

police brutality blacks experienced in the area. Beginning August 11, 1965, following an

altercation between a young black man and a police officer, the Watts riots have been

described as "the worst racial incident in the city's history." Approximately 5,000 people

assembled, firing at police, damaging stores and burning automobiles; the damage

amounted to forty million dollars. The event revealed a change in the black psyche.

Blacks no longer feared the white power structure, and in months, many of them began to

proclaim Black Power. Where most people found the turbulent event intimidating,

Waller became fascinated. "I had never seen anything like that in my life," he

acknowledged. "For just a brief moment, the African people had a real democratic

situation going there." He perceived that the rioters' unified efforts commanded power,

and this fact struck a deep chord within him. Waller thereupon concluded that black

people, despite their willingness to participate, did not get fair representation in the

political arena and that democracy should and could be demanded in the streets instead of

7 St. Petersburg Times, December 14, 1996; Rick Baker, Mangroves to Major League: A
Timeline of St. Petersburg History (St. Petersburg: Southern Heritage Press, 2000), 235.

being requested through the ballot box. Following his realization that democratic action

did not limit itself to the electoral process, he returned to Saint Petersburg.8

In a time and place known for activism, Waller found little difficulty in

associating himself directly with activist groups. Initially, he investigated joining the

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), but almost

immediately, he grew dissatisfied with what he considered a narrow perspective and mild

orientation toward civil resistance. Waller condemned the NAACP's pursuit of racial

equality, scoffing at its attempts to fight for integrated movie theaters. He felt that the

organization's requests for fair treatment essentially begged whites to change their

negative influence on the black community but never challenged the presence of the

influence itself or what he called the "the white power structure."9

In Waller's eyes, the NAACP's moderate approach paled in comparison to the

philosophy of the SNCC. In 1966, SNCC captured Waller's attention with its focus on

Black Power, challenging the conservative and liberal aspects of the white power

structure and the black organizations that supported the same agendas. Joe continued to

reject the passive solutions of the NAACP and similar groups because they promoted

integration as a solution to civil rights questions, while accepting whites as a primary part

of the black struggle, and advocated non-violence as the only approach to gain these

8 St. Petersburg Times, December 14, 1996; Ann K. Johnson, Urban Ghetto Riots, 1965-
86 (New York: Columbia University Press, East European Monographs, Boulder, 1996),

9 St. Petersburg Times, August 31, 1997.

rights. Joe viewed such integrationist and non-violent philosophies of earlier times as

weak and compromising.'1

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., known as an avid supporter of integration, began to

adopt "a modified form of Black Power." Toward the end of his political career, he

concluded that only a few whites actually wanted "authentic equality." Furthermore, he

declared, "the vast majority of white Americans are racists." Because of this conclusion,

he stated that the civil rights movement "must address itself to the restructuring of the

whole of American society." As that long-standing perspective of white supremacy now

encountered a new philosophy of Black Power, Joe began helping to organize a branch of

Saint Petersburg's SNCC, the first membership-based group of its kind in the city. Other

SNCC chapters existed but they primarily consisted of volunteers, while Waller's branch

reflected a structure similar to the Black Panther Party."

These experiences behind him, Waller prepared to draw the proverbial line in the

sand. He wrote a letter that requested the city to remove from City Hall a painting of big-

lipped black musicians playing banjos, eating watermelon, and entertaining white people

while they partied at Pass-a-Grille Beach. Waller felt the mural, which had been hanging

for nearly thirty years, represented black people "in a most despicable, derogatory

manner" and that it highlighted the subordinate position imposed on black people in the

10 African People's Socialist Party, "History of the African People's Socialist Party,"
[document-online] (Official website of the African People's Socialist Party 2005,
accessed August) available at http://apspuhuru.org/apsp/history; St. Petersburg Times,
August 31, 1997.

11 African People's Socialist Party, "History," 1-5; St. Petersburg Times, August 31,
1997; Eric C. Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr.: A Profile (New York: Hill and Wang,
Noonday Press, 1970), 157-180.

old South. He hoped that the city would remove the painting willingly. This approach

represented Waller's initial method of resolution, before white city officials responded to

the issue in an insensitive manner. "I find nothing offensive in the portrayal of strolling

troubadours and picnickers at Pass-a-Grille Beach," Mayor Herman Goldner replied. He

went on to state: "I think you know that I, personally, am not a racist. I think ... that all

of our minority groups must mature to the point where self-consciousness is not a

motivating factor for complaints."2

The second response arrived from Chester K. Guth, chairman of the city's biracial

Community Relations Commission. That official insisted that the painting showed the

beaches "are open to our Negro citizens" and "pays tribute to the tremendous capacity

and talents of our Negro citizens." Waller attempted a last verbal appeal. "The fact that

our Saint Petersburg beaches are open to our Negro citizens must rank as the best kept

secret of modem times," he asserted. "For many years, we thought we were banished to

the south mole [now Demen's Landing]. Moreover, it may interest you to know that

racial unrest has existed in Saint Petersburg for many years."13

When words alone failed, Waller initiated action. On December 29, 1966 just

weeks after receiving these responses, Waller and fellow SNCC members marched to

City Hall. They marched in objection to a $50-million dollar federal grant allocated to

downtown beautification, which could have been used for the economic development of

black neighborhoods located only a few blocks away. After witnessing white reporters

and police make a mockery of an elderly black woman who spoke poor English, Joe

12 St. Petersburg Times, July 27, 1999, August 23, 1998.

'3 Ibid., July 27, 1999, August 23, 1998.

exploded emotionally, and the next few moments changed his life forever. He marched

up the steps of City Hall with four other members of SNCC. Without a word, he entered

the building and ripped the eight by twelve foot canvas off the wall. Waller walked out

with the artwork, unsure as to what he would do next, or where he would go.14

At that moment, Waller crossed an invisible threshold, and his character and

nature assumed a new form. He changed his name to Omali Yeshitela (Omali means

"son who returns" and Yeshitela derives from an Ethiopian word meaning "the shelter

for thousands and millions") in an effort to decolonize his persona and began

preparations to organize black people to fight against oppression. He would emerge as a

profound leader and one of Saint Petersburg's most significant citizens, dedicating his

life to the black revolutionary struggle.'5

Waller's first attempt to change the fabric of American society, its small scale

notwithstanding, carried significance. Though the act of tearing down the mural failed to

facilitate actual change in the lives of Saint Petersburg's citizens, it did become a famous

symbol and milestone of the civil rights struggle. It thrust the issues of institutionalized

racism and the legacy of Jim Crow into the forefront of Southern life and forced people to

finally come to grips with them. Within the black Saint Petersburg community, Waller

instantly became a hero. "I used to hear people on the street, when they felt they had

14 Yeshitela, Social Justice, 14; St. Petersburg Times, December 14, 1996, July 27, 1999.

15 St. Petersburg Times, December 14, 1996; Speech given by Omali Yeshitela, October
30 2005, at the Uhuru House, St. Petersburg, Florida (notes in collection of the author);
Wikipedia, 2005 ed.,"St. Petersburg, Florida." [Encyclopedia on-line] accessed
October, available from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St. Petersburg. Florida.

been wronged in some way, say, I'm going to go tell Joe Waller. I'll get Joe Waller" his

brother reminisced, "and this reputation has stuck with him to this day."'6

In the white community, Waller's spirited statement of resistance had been

misconstrued and reduced to an $11,000 act of vandalism. Whites perceived Waller as a

"black militant leader" and a criminal. So, shortly after the event, Waller was officially

charged by the city's Circuit Court with destruction of city property and disturbing the

peace. Afterwards, Waller also faced conviction in state court on multiple charges,

including grand larceny. He found himself sentenced to five years in prison. In the

United States Supreme Court, the judge concluded, after another conviction, that the

similar charges in the two previous cases amounted to double jeopardy, violating the

United States Constitution. On July 11, 1973, Saint Petersburg's City Council declined

to support Waller's request for a pardon from Governor Reubin Askew. Three months

later, however, Circuit Court Judge David Seth Walker decided to release Waller with

time served. He had served two and a half years. The consequences of his actions

reached thirty-five years into the future, however. He lost his voting rights and would not

regain them until the year 2000 at the age of fifty-nine.'7

On April 4 1968, while Waller sat behind bars, an assassin killed Dr. Martin

Luther King Jr. Dr. King's assassination sparked disturbances in over a hundred United

States cities. The civil rights legend had been gunned down on his motel room balcony

in Memphis, Tennessee, where he had planned to lead a protest in support of the city's

16 St. Petersburg Times, August 31, 1997, January 13, 1988, October 11, 2000, February
13, 2000; Baker, Mangroves to Major League, 241-251.

17 St. Petersburg Times, July 18, 1998, February 13, 2000, December 14, 1996; Baker,
Mangroves to Major League, 241-251.

sanitation workers. His death increased racial tension to unknown levels. In the

meantime, the number of soldiers in Vietnam had reached an all-time high of 540,000.

Later that year, 250,000 anti-war protesters rallied in Washington D.C., the largest anti-

war protests in American history. In Saint Petersburg, a man named Joe Savage led

predominantly black sanitation workers on a strike. The city had declined to give the

workers a portion of the profit produced from its new collection system. The strike

backfired as the city fired 211 of 235 sanitation workers. The event drew the attention of

the NAACP and SNCC who organized both an economic boycott and a protest. In

response, thirty city leaders at the Saint Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce created

the "Community Alliance," an organization forged in order to foster better conditions in

the black community. They focused primarily on education, employment and housing.

Saint Petersburg had changed slightly while Waller served time in prison. By the time he

saw freedom, Saint Petersburg schools had become desegregated and C. Bette Wimbish

had become the first African-American to be elected to the City Council.'8

Prison molded Waller's character, philosophy, and direction. While incarcerated,

he created an organization called the Junta of Militant Organizations (JOMO), composed

initially of inmates. After Waller attained freedom, JOMO expanded to include young

black workers. JOMO's orientation catered to politically conscious and militant black

youth, and while they represented a positive force in the black community, whites

considered them threatening troublemakers. Without question, JOMO stayed in the midst

18 Baker, Mangroves to Major League, 246-256; Janus Adams, Freedom Days: 365
Inspired Moments in Civil Rights History (New York, New York: John Wiley and Sons
Inc., 1998), 95; Michael Newton, The King Conspiracy (Los Angeles: Holloway House
Publishing Co., 1987), 49-65.

of controversy. In 1970, with Waller back on the scene, the organization frequented

Vietnam anti-war protests and appeared at school boycotts where social unrest

surrounded the issue of integration. Waller's organization also played a large role in the

116-day strike of 1968, the first major civil disorder that Saint Petersburg had

experienced. The activism again drew attention to the organizer. "I was in and out of jail

so often," he recalled, "that sometimes I had to read the newspaper to find out where I

was." 19

As it matured under Waller's leadership, JOMO pursued additional and diverse

methods of enhancing black social conditions. Members opened a restaurant and

encouraged entrepreneurship and support of black-owned businesses to improve the

economic status of the community. JOMO created after-school programs for children,

taught black pride, and undertook efforts to rid black neighborhoods of drugs. In 1969,

Joe launched The Burning Spear, a newspaper that informed people about social unrest

and Waller's ideologies. In 1970, when Pinellas County decided to desegregate its

schools, it forced the busing of 11,000 students. Waller, JOMO, and other black students

protested, threatening to boycott because the forced busing proved incredibly

inconvenient to black students, now made to travel great distances to attend school.20

As previously mentioned, the Black Panthers organized to prevent the brutal

violence inflicted by police on black people in Oakland, California. Such resistance

quickly became a rallying point in the black community generally and because of this,

19 Baker, Mangroves to Major League, 252, 255; St. Petersburg Times, December 14,

20 Baker, Mangroves to Major League, 255, St. Petersburg Times, March 11, 2000.

groups such as the Black Panthers and JOMO gained even more popularity. By 1972,

however, Waller had grown tired of JOMO's purely activist centered approach of protests

and demonstrations and sought a different venue for the creation of serious change.21

While rethinking the purposes for his actions, Yeshitela contemplated the

effectiveness of civil rights activism and passivism, rioting, and voting. Suddenly, in a

moment of revelation he understood prejudice to be insignificant. He identified the abuse

of power as the real culprit because power gave people the ability to oppress. Underlying

his previous efforts was a belief that he could dispel prejudice. After this revelation,

Yeshitela changed his orientation and ceased to be concerned with the elimination of

racism. He commenced to fight for the power necessary to prevent whites from

oppressing black people. This shift of focus from racism to the power of oppression

forced Yeshitela to view the world in a more materialist fashion, and he began to

contemplate the world's imbalanced distribution of resources. At this point, Yeshitela's

movement began to take a more philosophical and psychological approach."

As Yeshitela developed ideologically, the city of Saint Petersburg continued its

efforts toward integration and social equilibrium. In 1971, James Sanderlin, attorney for

the sanitation workers strike of 1968, became the first African-American elected county

judge. Sanderlin was not alone; Governor Reubin Askew appointed Joesph Woodrow

Hatchett, a black lawyer of Saint Petersburg, as a justice of the Florida Supreme Court.

21 St. Petersburg Times, August 31, 1997; Baker, Mangroves to Major League, 255.

22 St. Petersburg Times, August 31, 1997.

In 1977. Corinne Freeman, running a campaign tough on crime and city spending,

became the city's first female mayor.'

While Yeshitela evaluated the source of black oppression, America's government

prepared to eliminate the threat of a black revolution. In fear of a black uprising, the U.S.

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) launched COINTELPRO, a brutal attack on black

revolutionary movements and their supporters. By this time, SNCC had dissolved and

the BPP became the revolutionary vanguard. While the BPP enjoyed this rank, they also

suffered from espionage, being highly infiltrated with informants attacking the

organization from the inside. The FBI admittedly engaged in letter forging, wire-tapping

and telephone impersonations to disrupt the organization and planted at least sixty-four

informants in BPP chapters throughout the country. Not only does Yeshitela accuse the

government of murder, he asserts that they employed chemical warfare to end the black

revolutionary movement. "Counterinsurgency took the form of heroin, pumped into our

communities by the government. There was not a city that was too small or too rural- if

African people were there heroin was there."24

JOMO, with chapters in Florida and Kentucky, suffered from FBI attacks but

managed to survive the onslaught. The government's efforts eventually would dismantle

most of the black revolutionary organizations in the country. An unintended

consequence, though, soon appeared. In May of 1972, from the ashes of the-

23 Baker, Mangroves to Major League, 265-277.

24 African People's Socialist Party, "History," 4; Yeshitela, Omali Yeshitela Speaks, 45-6,
96; Komozi Woodard, A Nation within a Nation (Chapel Hill and London: The
University of North Carolina Press, 1999), 119; Judith Clavir Albert and Stewart Edward
Albert, The Sixties Papers: Documents of a Rebellious Decade (Westport, Connecticut
and London: Praeger, 1984), 26-7.

revolutionary movement, arose Chairman Omali Yeshitela and the APSP. The APSP,

initially very similar to JOMO, ultimately would evolve into a multi-layered international


Yeshitela resonated with Kenya's freedom fighters, the Mau Mau, who fought the

colonial British in an intense struggle to gain independence. The fight for "Uhuru" in

Kenya ended in 1963, when Jomo Kenyatta became the country's first prime minister and

president. Yeshitela's JOMO named itself after Kenyatta under the incorrect assumption

that he was a Mau Mau leader. This mistake possibly stemmed from the press release

after "Operation Jock Scott," when the British declared a state of emergency in Kenya

and arrested Kenyatta, along with eighty-seven members of his organization, the Kenya

African Union (KAU). After the arrests, British officials announced that they had

arrested leaders of the Mau Mau. because they associated the two organizations with each

other. However, as Yeshitela would soon discover, Kenyatta did not belong to the Mau

Mau, and after his release from prison, he denounced their revolutionary activities for a

more moderate political approach to independence. Kenyatta soon became the new

nation's first president and the Mau Mau would go down in history as Kenyan cultural

heroes who shed blood for their countries freedom.26

The APSP emerged under the cry "Uhuru!" a Swahili word meaning freedom or

liberation. Black Africans had made this term popular in their resistance to British

25 African People's Socialist Party, "History," 4.

26 Atieno E.S. Odhiambo and John Lonsdale, Mau Mau and Nationhood: Arms,
Authority and Narration (Oxford and Nairobi: Ohio University Press, 2003), 9-20; F.D.
Cornfield, "The Origins and Growth of the Mau Mau," (Nairobi: Sessional Paper No. 5,
1960), 301-308.

colonial domination in Kenya. Over time, Waller's group turned the word into a slogan,

greeting, and all-encompassing name for their movement. The APSP, founded in Saint

Petersburg, inherited this legacy and named itself the Uhuru movement. The new

organization combined three preexisting groups: JOMO, the Black Rights fighters of Fort

Myers, Florida, and the Black Study Group of Gainesville, Florida. APSP's outlook

appeared identical to JOMO's but the organization's agendas differed slightly. Initially,

APSP had defined its primary goals as keeping alive the Black Power movement;

defending the victims of government counterinsurgency (COINTELPRO); and fostering

relations with Africa and Africans worldwide. This turned a local resistance group into

an organization with a global agenda. The Uhuru movement, consequently, created a

national organization and spread its philosophy to the masses of people. It did not

randomly pass out information to the public. Instead, its leaders created separate

organizations for each sector of the population it wanted to reach. This new tactic proved

successful in diversifying the focus of the organization from the limitations of Saint

Petersburg's politics.27

In its first political challenge, the APSP helped two black men escape death row,

rallying behind the fight over the unlawful imprisonment of Wilbur Lee and Freddie Pitts.

In 1963, Florida courts sentenced these two men to death with no evidence for allegedly

killing two white gas station attendants, and police officers had beat confessions out of

them. The men remained incarcerated until 1975 when Governor Reubin Askew

27 African People's Socialist Party, "History," 4.

pardoned them. Yeshitela and Uhuru had campaigned to secure their release. This

groundbreaking case thrust the APSP into national prominence.28

The APSP created its first subdivision just four years after its inception, a

procedure that provided a new element to the movement. The African People's

Solidarity Committee (APSC) appeared in 1976 as an organization designed to give white

people an opportunity to support the black struggle for social change. The APSC aimed

to rally revolutionary support and did not demand integration or acceptance. The APSC

did not represent a new concept, earlier organizations like The Friends of the Black

Panther Party in Oakland and the Friends of Fight in Rochester, New York, had surfaced

to become twin organizations for white participants. Radical whites would benefit by

gaining membership into a "blacks only" organization, while blacks would receive

monetary support and resources from white sources. In these "sister organizations"

whites remained subordinate to the black leadership of the organization and the two

functioned as separate yet interdependent groups.29

This political approach differed from those of other black revolutionary

organizations such as the Nation of Islam, which argued that blacks and whites should

remain separate and help their own communities. As the call for Black Power

blossomed, many groups developed that believed it inappropriate for their organizations

to be integrated. Ironically, before the creation of the Friends of the BPP, one of the

organizations leaders, Eldridge Cleaver, remained hostile towards white participation.

28 Miami Herald, June 18, 2005; April 4, 1993.

29 Personal interview, Penny Hess (president of the African People's Solidarity
Committee) by the author, October 17, 2005 (notes in the collection of the author); Rhoda
Goldstein Blumberg and Wendell James Roye, Interracial Bonds (Bayside, New York:
General Hall, Inc., 1979), 71-87.

When journalists asked what whites could do to help the revolution, Eldridge Cleaver

responded, "donate us machine guns," and help us "kill some white people."30

Yeshitela's organization, on the other hand, aimed to organize white support for

the APSP and to send recruits into the white community to seek more allies and to ask for

resources to support Uhuru. Penny Hess, the president of the APSC explained: "We are

doing this because it is a real way the white community can participate in economic

development for the African community." The APSC found that allowing whites to

donate and give collectibles, furniture, and buy Uhuru goods yielded success. "This is a

good way for people to show support from afar, for people who wouldn't necessarily

come to a forum at the Uhuru House," Hess added. Hess and the APSC committed to

these activities to distinguish individuals from the mass of white people who claim they

are not racist yet do nothing to counteract the hostile treatment of African-Americans.

Some critics have accused the Uhuru of being a black separatist movement; however, the

APSC seemingly proved otherwise. Yeshitela shed light on this point. "We're not

opposed to biracial alliances," he stated, "and there is nothing contradictory about us

accepting white support." Importantly, the Uhuru are not integrationists. They reject the

notion that black people's integrating within white society would solve black issues.31

30 Malcolm X, interviewed by Alex Haley, May 1963, [online document] accessed x
November 12, 2005, and available at: http://users.rcn.com/beecee.interport/playbov.htm;
Hugh Pearson, The Shadow of the Panther: Huey Newton and the Price of Black Power
in America (Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1994), 170;
Blumberg and Roye, Interracial Bonds, 71-87.

31 Malcolm X, interviewed by Alex Haley, [online document]; St. Petersburg Times, May
17, 2001, January 12, 2000, April 29, 1997; Penny Hess interview; Pearson, The Shadow
of the Panther, 170; Omali Yeshitela, Build and Consolidate the African People's
Socialist Party (Oakland: Marcus Garvey Club, 1986), 12. This work is available at the
Institute of Black Culture located at the University of Florida, Gainesville.

Expanding their organization largely, ten years after the APSP launched, it held

its first Party Congress in Saint Petersburg, Florida. The Uhuru considered this national

congress meeting of all of its members its "most serious step towards building a

revolutionary capacity." The Party Congress was appointed the highest political body

within the movement, replacing the Central Committee, which had consisted of the

leaders of the organization. During the four-day event, members of the Uhuru renewed

their vows and refreshed themselves on the importance of their guidelines and ideologies.

They established strategies for refining their organization and improved their method of

introducing new members. For example, they discussed the importance of democratic

centralism, an orientation toward organizing each unit of the APSP so that efficacy can

be achieved. They borrowed this concept from the structural design of the BPP, who also

utilized and promoted democratic centralism. Each unit or chapter would have a single

quality leader, engendering more effective and consistent decision making. At the event,

Uhuru members constantly chanted the slogan, "from the people to the party; from the

party to the people," implying that their organization served and represented the greater

black population.32

A second slogan that arose out of the Congress was "Bread, Peace and Power."

The struggle for "Bread" represented the African-American struggle for economic

prosperity not only through jobs, but also through economic reparations, paid by the

United States government to reconcile centuries of racism. The term "Peace" had

32 Omali Yeshitela, Not One Step Backward! The Black Liberation Movement from 1978
to 1982 (Oakland: Burning Spear Publications, 1982), i-xi, 279-285. This work is
available at Mildred F. Sawyer University, Suffolk University, Boston, Massachusetts.;
Philip S. Foner, The Black Panthers Speak (United States: Da Capo Press, 1970), xiv-
xviii; Omali Yeshitela, Stolen Black Labor: The Political Economy of Domestic
Colonialism, (Oakland: Burning Spear Publications, 1983), 1-2.

multiple implications. It implied a ceasing of the American government's "War on

Crime" and construction of prison complexes, both activities they believed intentionally

attacked blacks. The Uhuru advocated arming the black masses with enough weaponry

to provide defense from any American onslaught, since they believed this was the only

certain way blacks could ensure peace. They set their goals to create a militia called the

"African People's Liberation Army" that could smooth the progress of and protect Black


Following the congress, the APSP attempted to reconcile the disparity of material

wealth amongst blacks and whites nationwide. In November of 1982, the APSP held the

first World Reparations tribunal for "African People" in Brooklyn, New York, where

participants was concluded that America and "the system of imperialism" owed black

people payment for the historic suffering they had encountered. Reparations pertained to

compensation for the suffering blacks endured during the cataclysm of slavery, the era of

Jim Crow, the assassinations conducted by the COINTELPRO, institutionalized

discrimination, and the comparative subtleness of modern-day racism. The Uhuru

decided that the U.S. government owed African-Americans $4.1 trillion in damages for

the trauma incurred over the last four centuries. In order to better promote the cause of

reparations, the Uhuru created the African National Reparations Organization (ANRO),

which according to their leaders, helped spawn the modern-day reparations movement. A

multitude of groups showed up in support of the conference, including the Pan-Africanist

Congress of South Africa (Azainia), the Sandinista National Liberation Front, and the

Black Veterans for Social Justice. The Uhuru recalculated the $4.1 trillion figure, using

3 Yeshitela, Not One Step Backward!, i-xi, 279-285; Yeshitela, Stolen Black Labor, 1.

the 1982 Consumer Price Index, converting older monetary values into the equivalent

values of the time. They criticized American economists who ignored slave labor as the

start up capital in the growth of capitalism and the resultant accumulation of unparalleled

wealth. Yeshitela declared that instead of acknowledging this obvious reality "bourgeois

economists" often attributed the ascension of capitalism to some form of "moral right,

personal genius, or racial superiority." The Uhuru maintained annual reparations

tribunals for eleven years following this initial meeting.34

Yeshitela insisted that reparations, if received, be rewarded directly to working-

class blacks, instead of allowing it to trickle down from the black middle-class. Since

working-class blacks constituted approximately ninety percent of the black population, a

segment that often received little genuine political representation, the Uhuru felt inclined

to defend their interests. The APSP's leader believed middle-class blacks were disloyal

to the race, often having ulterior monetary motives or becoming pawns of white liberals.

Some conservative blacks disagreed with the APSP's perspective on race and class,

stressing that the black "underclass" was a product of its own making. While the Uhuru

demanded that the American government pay its debts to American blacks, they

appropriately acknowledged that African people in Britain, France, Germany, and South

Africa also suffered similar fates. At the conference, the APSP also passed a resolution

34 According to the Burning Spear, reparations did not become a popular or realistic idea
until Reagan gave the Japanese reparations in 1986 for those placed in concentration
camps during World War II. Omali Yeshitela, The Road to Socialism is painted Black,
(Oakland: Burning Spear Publications, 1987), 39-54. This work is available at P.H.
Welshimer Memorial Library at Milligan College, Tennessee.; African People's Socialist
Party 4th Congress brochure, 19; Yeshitela, Stolen Black Labor, 69-95; Yeshitela Omali
Yeshitela Speaks, 15; Philadelphia Daily News, December 8, 1986; Burning Spear (the
serial publication of the Uhuru movement), December 2001.

to build the African Socialist International (ASI), an "international African revolutionary

organization to unite Africans worldwide into a single organization that would defeat

colonialism and neo-colonialism, creating a liberated and united Africa under an all-

African Socialist government." This organization would stand for the Uhuru's ultimate

goal, an opportunity to unite blacks and other oppressed people worldwide to overthrow

the colonial powers. A slogan of the organization urged its members to, "build to win

independence, in our lifetime!"35

As the political scope of the APSP became increasingly national, they decided to

relocate to Oakland, California. In an effort to fill the vacuum of the once highly

influential BPP, they set out to revive the Black Power movement of the sixties. They

transferred the headquarters of the national office to Oakland, and began to challenge

Oakland's city officials to adjust to their political interests. While in Oakland, they

elucidated their ideology and fought key political battles. They also helped lay to rest the

legacy of a fallen panther.

35 Yeshitela, The Road to Socialism is Painted Black, 39-54; Myers, Civil Rights and
Race Relation in the post Reagan-Bush era, 231-3; African People's Socialist Party 4th
Congress brochure, 19; Omali Yeshitela, Build and Consolidate, 25; Resolution of the
African People's Socialist Party on The African Socialist International, (Oakland,
California, Adopted at the First Congress of the African People's Socialist Party,
September 1981).

Chapter 3: Reviving the Movement

"Why assume that free markets work? (a key element of capitalism) They
don't. The reality is that we live in a world today where over half the
people on earth live on less than two dollars per day, so where is the success
of free markets. It doesn't exist. Some say it exists because America is
wealthy and the greatest place on earth, but America is wealthy not because
of free markets but because it has the weapons and force to keep the rest of
the world suppressed so that it can take their resources.... the vast majority
of people's resources are being sucked up by imperial powers (U.S., Britain,
France). This is a "free" market that's not free at all....The theory of free
markets doesn't work for the majority of people on this earth.
-Omali Yeshitela'

Oakland, California once housed the legendary BPP a powerhouse amongst black

revolutionary groups that rose to political prominence only to be devastated by the

onslaught of the United States government. Oakland's police force became notorious for

its anti-black sentiment, so much so, that some officers described it as "the norm" in the

department. Consequently, the controversial Panthers had grown famous for their

revolutionary memorabilia: toting law books, tape recorders, cameras, and loaded guns.

The BPP's guns served as a signal to American society that the BPP would defend the

black community "by any means necessary." For the Panthers, carrying around armed

weapons legally persisted until the state of California passed the Mulford Bill, preventing

the open display of loaded firearms in public places. From 1967 to 1969, the Panthers

had repeatedly clashed with police, killing nine officers and wounding fifty-six; however,

Omali Yeshitela, Omali Yeshitela Speaks (St. Petersburg: Burning Spear Uhuru
Publications, 2005), 362.

the police inflicted comparable damages on the BPP, killing ten Panthers and arresting

over 348.2

In 1970, a Lou Harris Poll reported that sixty-four percent of the black population

declared that the BPP gave them a sense of pride. This level of acceptance reflected the

popularity of the BPP at its peak; though their status as the revolutionary vanguard

proved short-lived. In future years, the BPP endured a sharp decline in their organization

and its effectiveness. United States Attorney General John Mitchell, who intended to

destroy the organization, announced that the BPP would be exterminated by the end of

1969. As a white backlash to the Watts, San Francisco, and Oakland riots and the black

militancy brewing amongst California's youth, the populace elected conservative

Republican Governor Ronald Reagan.3

Richard Nixon's administration swayed the public to believe that the invisible

hand of Soviet aggression had orchestrated the black nationalist struggle, thereby turning

America against poor blacks who fought for their human dignity. This numbed the

nation's conscience, making it permissible for the Black Power Movement to be treated

as an internal manifestation of the Cold War. Even in its absence, the BPP left a

passionate legacy for aspiring revolutionaries. Members of the Uhuru credited the BPP

2 Alan A. Altshuler, Community Control: The Black Demand for Participation in Large
American cities (New York and Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Company Inc., 1970), 43;
Albert and Albert, The Sixties Papers, 24-7; Robert Scheer, Eldridge Cleaver. Post-
Prison Writings and Speeches (New York: Random House, 1968), xvi-xxviii.

3Omali Yeshitela, Stolen Black Labor: The Political Economy of Domestic Colonialism
(Oakland: Burning Spear Publications, 1983), 2. This work is available at St. Johns
University, New York.; Altshuler, Community Control, 43; Yeshitela, Omali Yeshitela
Speaks, 45.

as the highest expression of revolutionary leadership. Omali Yeshitela, the Uhuru's

chairman, modeled a great deal of the APSP's internal structure after the BPP and

acknowledged the Panthers as the most prominent organization of the civil rights

movement that represented the black working-class. The Uhuru emerged and, after six

years, migrated to the hometown of the BPP. Moving to seemingly fertile ground,

Yeshitela chose to relocate to Oakland because of its notable support of the BPP in the

1960s. The Uhuru were also magnetized to change the desperate living conditions of

working-class blacks in the area.4

Before detailing the political activities of the APSP in Oakland, a summary of the

organization's primary influences and essential philosophy seems appropriate. Many of

their ideas materialized while stationed in Oakland. The theories that created the APSP's

paradigm simultaneously influenced their political tactics and agenda. Ideologically, the

Uhuru drew significantly from the works of Karl Marx and the ideas of Marcus Garvey.

Karl Marx, a German philosopher and economic theorist, is known historically as the

most prominent proponent of communism. Marx's The Communist Manifesto helped

4 Three of Yeshitela's works, This Time Till It's Won, Not One Step Backward! and The
Road to Socialism is Painted Black are all comprised primarily of excerpts from the
Burning Spear published during this period. Omali Yeshitela, This Time Till It's Won,
(Oakland, California: Spear Graphics, 1988), 29; Omali Yeshitela, Not One Step
Backward! The Black Liberation Movement from 1978 to 1982 (Oakland: Burning Spear
Publications, 1982), i-xi, 86-88; African People's Socialist Party, "History of the African
People's Socialist Party," [document-online] (Official website of the African People's
Socialist Party 2005, accessed August) available at http://apspuhuru.org/apsp/history, 4;
Beth Bagwell, Oakland: The Story of a City (Novato, California: Presidio Press, 1982),
83-84; Hugh Pearson, The Shadow of the Panther: Huey Newton and the Price of Black
Power in America (Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company,
1994), 119, 206, 215.

inspire a multitude of future movements towards working-class revolution and

communist governments. In 1848, his book described the development of human society

from the perspective of class struggle. Marx opposed capitalism and predicted a

working-class revolution that would overthrow the existing governments, resulting in a

worldwide shift to communism. Marxist ideas emanated from the same spirit that

engendered the Russian Bolshevik Revolution in 1917.5

The history of the interaction between communists and African-Americans

reaches back to the aftermath of World War I. As early as 1919, U.S. intelligence

reported deep concerns about the spread of communist ideology to radical black

Americans, expressing fear of a unified internal and external opposition. African-

American intellectuals soon embraced the revolutionary zeal of communism

wholeheartedly; some of notable mention were: W.E.B. DuBois, Claude McKay, Paul

Robeson, and Langston Hughes. Claude McKay soon became the first politically minded

African-American to visit the Soviet Union. DuBois described Marxism as a "superior

framework" to analyze and understand the racial problem in America.6

Vladimir Lenin produced two articles in 1920: "The Theses on the National

Colonial Question" and "The Formerly Slave-Owning South" both in support of black

self-determination. Signifying its support of black nationalism, the Moscow-based party,

5 Kate A. Baldwin, Beyond The Color Line and The Iron Curtain: Reading Encounters
Between Black and Red, 1922-1963 (Durham and London: Duke University Press), 42.

6 Brenda Gayle Plummer, Window on Freedom, (Chapel Hill and London: The
University of North Carolina Press, 2003), 48-49, 53; Baldwin, Beyond The Color Line
and The Iron Curtain, 42; Theodore Kornweibel, Jr., Seeing Red: federal campaigns
against Black militancy, 1919-1925 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998), 20.

Communist International, produced a shocking statement in 1928, declaring, "the

Communist International must prove to the Negro people that Negroes do not suffer

alone... and that the Negroes fight against imperialism is not the fight of one nation, but

of all the nations of the world." They pledged their assistance to African-Americans in

their struggle against segregation and second-class citizenship. Because of the

communists' stance, they were perceived as enemies to the Western powers and the

capitalist nations, while appearing to be a viable political option in the black community.

When the Communist Party of the United States of America began, it had almost

no black members. The Communist Party's anti-colonialist opinions allowed it to

support African-Americans, with dreams of national liberation. This support was short

lived. After six years, the Communist Party regarded blacks as members of a separate

struggle and denounced the NAACP as "class enemies." However, throughout the 1930s

and 1940s, the Communist Party consistently fought against racial discrimination and

aided in the creation of many black labor unions. By 1936, Stalin had outlawed racism.

On October 1, 1949, Mao Tse-tung declared China a communist nation, soon to ally itself

with Russia, further increasing Cold War anxiety. As the civil rights movement evolved,

the BPP became the first African-American group to publicly identify itself as

communist. Before the BPP, blacks only had access to communism through membership

in white communist organizations. The Uhuru gained inspiration from the philosophy of

dialectic materialism found in Marxist literature. The Uhuru, like Marx, strongly

7 Baldwin, Beyond The Color Line and The Iron Curtain, 42.

believed that history and its important events were shaped by the mobilized will of the

masses of people and not by special individuals.8

Marx's critical assessment of capitalism could be found throughout Uhuru

literature. The Uhuru firmly believed as Marx had stated in his general law of capitalist


In proportion as capital accumulates, the situation of the worker
be his payment high or low, must grow worse-It makes an
accumulation of misery a necessary condition, corresponding to
the accumulation of wealth. Accumulation of wealth at one pole
is, therefore at the sometime accumulation of misery, the torment
of labor, slavery, ignorance, brutalization and moral degradation at
the opposite pole...

Not only did Yeshitela's ideology resonate with this concept, but it also embraced

Marx's essential law of profit. This law stated that as "the capitalist pays the worker only

enough to survive and bare children.....then profit is made off the commodities produced

by the labor-only after enough wealth is accumulated to give the capitalist control over

the power of production." The Uhuru believed that Africans had served as capitalism's

"start up capital" and were destined to be the revolutionary proletariat.'0

Uhuru philosophy had some sharp distinctions from Marxist doctrine. The Uhuru

described their perspective as Marxism, reevaluated from "the point of view of a slave."

They labeled African slaves as the "primitive accumulation" needed to launch capitalism.

They charged Marx with eurocentrism because he claimed to assess the development of

8 Charles M. Payne and Adam Green, Time Longer Than Rope (New York and London:
New York University Press, 2003), 373-375; Baker, Mangroves to Major League: A
Timeline of St. Petersburg History (St. Petersburg: Southern Heritage Press, 2000), 213.

9Yeshitela, Stolen Black Labor, 2.

'1 Ibid., 2.

human society, but in fact, used the evolution of Western society as his fundamental

model. Therefore, Marx could describe capitalism as a progressive development when it

resulted in the dissolution of many of the world's, and especially Africa's, most

sophisticated societies. Yeshitela stated bluntly "he would not have been able to describe

capitalism that way if he were ruling, writing from Angola or as an enslaved African in

South Carolina." Africa never experienced Europe's period of feudalism, but it did

encounter the cruelty of chattel slavery, a circumstance with significant economic

differences and extraordinarily brutal conditions. African labor produced the major

staple crops of tobacco, sugar, and rice, bringing enormous wealth to colonialists.

"Without slavery you have no cotton, without cotton you have no modern industry."

According to Yeshitela, the African slave served as "ready-made capital" and an

"advanced means of production" transported from the African continent. Differing from

the industrial proletariat, slaves produced commodities but they did not constitute a

market for them. The Uhuru considered the true primitive capital of capitalism to stem

from the slave trade, slavery, and the theft of America from Natives. Yeshitela claimed

African labor to be the economic basis for all American social and cultural institutions."

Although communism proved highly influential to Yeshitela and his movement,

Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and its philosophy

of "Race First" became perhaps even more so. His "Race First ideology" and "Back to

Africa movement" captured the attention of the Uhuru and galvanized black people more

intensely than socialism. Garvey had organized the largest black organization in the

" Yeshitela, Stolen Black Labor, 9-22; Yeshitela, Omali Yeshitela Speaks, 311-317.

history of the United States. By the 1920s, the UNIA had, "over 800 chapters, and forty

chapters, on four continents, totaling one million members." The UNIA proved more

practical to African-Americans than socialist organizations, largely due to the racism and

discrimination blacks often experienced within socialist groups, especially those located

in the South. The Uhuru, like the BPP before them, would eventually blend the concepts

of socialism and Garvey's "Race First theory" into a racially based liberation philosophy.

The Uhuru generally called African-Americans, "Africans", because they found it

illogical "for a human to get on a ship off the West coast of Africa [an African] and arrive

in North America as a Negro, or black American, or Afro-American."'2

While the general theme of black liberation permeated the Uhuru's early

literature, their ideas expanded to address various aspects of black life. The APSP boldly

demanded that the United States government adhere to the social changes they deemed

most important. The major concerns the Uhuru highlighted were black reparations,

freedom of all black prisoners, the end of black oppression, and worldwide African

liberation and sovereignty. Their Pan-African perspective stemmed from their desire to

have an international African nation. They labeled "Pan-Africanism" as the highest

expression of Black Power. One of the first notable African leaders to promote Pan-

12 Payne and Green, Time Longer Than Rope, 373-375; Charles I. Glicksberg, The Self in
Modem Literature, (University Park, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University
Press, 1963), 150-152; Yeshitela, Stolen Black Labor, 24, 31; Tony Martin, Race First:
The Ideological and Organizational Struggles ofMarcus Garvey and the Universal
Negro Improvement Association, (Westport, Connecticut and London, England:
Greenwood Press, 1976), 42-50.

Africanism was Kwame Nkrumah, who paved the way for African liberation by leading

Ghana to its independence in 1957 and served as its first president in 1960.13

At the close of the seventies, the demographics of the United States went through

a metamorphosis. Within the last decade, the phenomenon of "white flight" left large

populations of blacks in the inner cities, usually relegated to impoverished areas. Black

communities suffered severely from poverty and crime. Statistics showed that black

children were four times as likely to be in poverty as whites; black teens were five times

as likely to be murdered and three times as likely to be unemployed. As poverty for the

general black population increased, paradoxically the black middle-class expanded.

Upper and middle-class blacks removed themselves from the inner cities and relocated to

suburban areas. A clear class schism had become apparent.14

As the Uhuru established their organization in California, they began to develop

and espouse their own unique philosophy and perspective on class, race, and power.

Yeshitela served as the organization's primary spokesperson and theorist, generating an

influence that had an immeasurable influence on the movement. After the Uhuru settled

into Oakland's predominately African-American area, they began to structure the

fundamental tenets of their philosophy. Upon entering the city, the APSP had acquired

little fame or prestige, yet they embarked on a journey to reawaken the Black Power

'3 South African apartheid, modern Arab enslavement, European economic domination,
etc. were all viewed as contrary to African liberation and sovereignty. Yeshitela, Not One
Step Backward!, i-xi, 15; Omali Yeshitela Speaks, 311-317; Ivan Van Sertima, Great
Black Leaders: Ancient and Modern (New Brunswick, N.J.: Journal of African
Civilizations, 1988), 21-22.

" Mary Hull, Struggle and Love: Milestones in Black American History 1972-1997,
(Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 1997), 57.

movement of the sixties. The mission involved organizing and mobilizing working-class

blacks in order to facilitate an end to what they called "a neo-colonialist peace."

Yeshitela sought to end the oppressive political climate that ensued after the Black

Panthers met defeat. '

The Uhuru vehemently opposed the views of Oakland's middle-class blacks who

stressed that "Oakland is the most integrated city in the United States." They reasoned

that these views were evidence of a political compromise and did not reflect the harsh

reality the greater black population endured. Quoting Malcolm X, the Uhuru argued, "the

masses suffer peacefully" without violent uproar. Only in cases involving drugs they

claimed, did violent reactions against the establishment typically arise. As mentioned

previously, the APSP stressed that following the collapse of the Black Power movement,

"the white ruling class" imposed a drug economy on Oakland's black communities.

According to Yeshitela, this drug economy became the main industry in black

neighborhoods nationwide, eradicating black families and greatly reducing their property


In September of 1979, some of the first documents produced by the Uhuru

surfaced. The Basic Line of the African People's Socialist Party and The Working

Platform of African People's Socialist Party described the movement's fundamental

15 Yeshitela, Not One Step Backward! i-xi; Bagwell, Oakland: The Story of a City, 251;
Chris Rhomberg, No There There (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California
Press, 2004), 183.

16 Yeshitela, Not One Step Backward!, i-xi; James Jennings, Race, Politics, and
Economic Development: Community Perspectives, (London and New York: Verso,
1992), 29.

goals and aspirations. These documents convincingly demonstrated that the Uhuru were

an African liberation movement inviting blacks, in America and elsewhere, to aid them in

the "defeat of imperialism and colonialism" through a socialist revolution. Their Basic

line warned: "The destruction of colonialism led by a conscious black revolutionary

socialist party will constitute the critical blow in the struggle for socialism within U.S.

borders." In addition to Marx, the Uhuru drew motivation from communist theorists like

Mao Tse-Tung and Vladimir Lenin. Although they embraced socialism, their idea of

revolution centered on race and history as strongly as it did class.7

Yeshitela, imbued with decades of civil rights struggle, now transmuted his

experiences and observations into a philosophy, one that he announced to the world. He

called it African Internationalism (and later Yeshitelism). His philosophy attacked the

basis of capitalism and global white supremacy. In it, he asserted, "capitalism is a

parasitic system born out of the genocide of the Native Americans, the oppression of

African people and other colonized people worldwide." Though capitalism seemed to

produce wealth, he argued that it "created a lifestyle of material comfort and used a cloak

of democracy to the benefit of white people." Unconcerned with personal prejudice

Yeshitela addressed the system and institutions that he felt reinforced racism. He

identified the unique history of African people and argued that they represented an

economic class not based solely on economic standings but on the concept of race.

"Anywhere you look in the world, blacks suffer from exploitation and whites are living

'7 Yeshitela, Not One Step Backward!, i-xi, 57-8; Yeshitela, The Road to Socialism is
Painted Black (Oakland, California: Burning Spear Publications, 1987), 107.

affluently," he declared. "Physical slavery created this parasitic relationship, and created

a global slave economy."'8

The Uhuru contended that blacks in America existed as a "colonial entity,"

meaning that African-Americans constituted an independent nation subjugated by the

United States government. Yeshitela attributed America's ability to impose racism on

blacks to the exploitative system of colonialism. He declared that outsiders controlled the

fate of the black community, resulting in a predicament of extensive oppression.

Yeshitela saw the civil rights movement as a response to this injustice and asserted that it

evolved into the philosophy of Black Power, a torch the Uhuru proudly carried. Black

Power as a construct rejected the philosophical and political assumptions of white

supremacy. Proponents of Black Power disagreed with the perspectives of more

conservative blacks, who believed that further integration into American culture would

help solve the race problem.19

In the profound work, The Political Economy of the Black Ghetto (1968), William

Tabb chose to explore the validity of Yeshitela's premise as it pertained to black

Americans. Before Yeshitela's assertions had materialized, Tabb concluded that the

black ghetto in America was an "internal colony of a dominant white society," with the

typical characteristics of an underdeveloped nation. Excluding distance, he argued that

the black ghetto had a virtually identical relationship to the United States as a third world

country has to its mother country. Yeshitela took it a step further. He used world

18 Yeshitela, Omali Yeshitela Speaks, 21-25, 27-30; African People's Socialist Party,
"History," 7.

" Yeshitela, Omali Yeshitela Speaks, i-xi, 120-4.

economics as a metaphor. charging that "Europeans serve as a tapeworm to African

people, taking the nourishment for themselves and while Africans starve, they get more

and more 'healthy'." Yeshitela argued that ninety-seven percent of Africa's trade leaves

for Europe, the United States, or Japan, while only three percent of the resources

remained on the continent itself. This. he held, created the constant famine and lack of

economic development often portrayed in the media.20

On September 1, 1979, only months after they had solidified their philosophy,

APSP began the African National Prison Organization (ANPO), a subdivision designed

to spread its mission amongst blacks inside of penitentiaries. Over 100 people arrived in

California from sixteen states, twenty-five cities, and the District of Columbia, to

officially birth the organization. The Uhuru sought to connect with inmates by informing

prisoners of its ideology and political stance, in hopes of creating a greater support

system for their revolutionary cause. According to Yeshitela, the ANPO marked the first

attempt to assemble prisoners behind a national revolutionary cause since the Black

Power movement. The Uhuru believed that the United States should release all black

prisoners of war and political prisoners, to whatever "friendly country" would accept

them, as a tactic to cease the military bondage of the African-American community. 21

APSC's president Penny Hess had passionate remarks for America's prison

system. "Prisons are filled with young black men, [who are] victims of discriminatory

20 Yeshitela, Omali Yeshitela Speaks, 21-25, 27-30; African People's Socialist Party,
"History," 7; Tabb, The Political Economy of the Black Ghetto, 21-24, Glicksberg, The
Self in Modem Literature, 153.

21 Yeshitela, This Time Till It's Won, 29; Yeshitela, Stolen Black Labor, 58.

sentencing. While whites with the same charges are let off and given rehabilitative

treatment, I know because some of them are members of my own family." A white

American, Penny Hess described her disbelief when her relatives were repeatedly given

preferential treatment after being arrested. Hess associated this discrimination with the

history of American injustice "since there are over six million African people in the

prison system, it is fair to say that slavery is not over and that for black people capitalism

is a form of fascism, colonialism, or terrorism." Unfortunately, for Yeshitela and Uhuru

members internal and external organizational conflicts did not allow the organization to

accomplish its mission. The ANPO did not survive past 1980.22

By April 1980, the APSP had encountered its first major internal controversy.

Some members of the Uhuru movement, in conjunction with former party members,

attempted to overthrow the leadership and change the agenda of the APSP. The attempt

failed, but the detractors began an anti-Uhuru campaign and the betrayal frazzled several

party members causing them to leave the movement. The Uhuru's turmoil ultimately

resulted in the collapse of the ANPO. Consequently, the detractors took advantage of

structural weaknesses that the Uhuru had not corrected over time and the general

inexperience of the organization. The APSP acknowledged itself as a small organization

22 Penny Hess's quote regarding the number of inmates in prison is erroneously high.
According to the federal Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics' annual report,
last year they were 2,186,230 prisoners in 2005, an increase of 56, 428 from 2004.
Yeshitela, Not One Step Backward!, i-xi, 136-174; Yeshitela, Stolen Black Labor, 58;
Personal interview, Penny Hess (president of the African People's Solidarity Committee)
by the author, October 17, 2005; Bureau of Justice Statistics, "Prison Statistics"
[document-online] (U.S. Department of Justice website, 2006, accessed August) available
from http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/prisons.htm.

in terms of membership, but attributed its political potency to the quality of its theoretical


Little more than a year later, Ronald Reagan became the nation's president,

promoting a conservative agenda diametrically opposed to Yeshitela's ideology. A

Republican, President Reagan began his economic campaign of "Reaganomics," intended

to lower taxes, increase military spending, and promote a smaller government. The

program's trickle down economics theory rewarded the entrepreneurial sector of

America, while the policy abandoned the support of welfare, affirmative action, and aid

to the poor. He promoted the idea of a "color-blind society" emphasizing that "anyone

could make money if they worked hard enough," implying that poor Americans and

African-Americans only had themselves to blame for their condition. Deeply engaged in

the Cold War, Reagan fervently rejected communism, labeling it a source of evil with no

redeeming values.24

Reagan later initiated the War on Drugs, a campaign introduced to fight against

substance abuse and the recent explosion of crack cocaine. The War on Drugs campaign

implemented stronger punishments for offenders and served to drastically, increase the

prison population. While the "rich man's drug," cocaine, was not pursued in courts with

23 Yeshitela, Stolen Black Labor, 49; Pearson, The Shadow of the Panther, 206-210, 278-

24 Kuell Lejon, Reagan, Religion and Politics: The Revitalization of "a Nation under
God" (Sweden: Lund University Press, 1988), 123-131; Ollie A. Johnson and Karin L.
Stanford, Black Political Organizations in the Post Civil Rights Era (New Brunswick,
New Jersey and London: Rutgers University Press, 2002), 181-2; Charles T. Banner-
Haley, The Fruits of Integration: Black Middle-Class Ideology and Culture (Jackson:
University Press of Mississippi, 1994), 158-162.

the same vigor due to the upper-class status of its abusers, crack was highly punishable

and blacks suffered severely for possessing it. Courts made mandatory minimum

sentences four times higher than they previously were for similar abuses. The disparities

between whites and blacks grew tremendously, resulting in troubling statistics. At this

time, only one white person could be found imprisoned for every eight blacks. The

Uhuru's enthusiasm to fight for the rights of working-class blacks and the suffering

blacks experienced heightened under Ronald Reagan's leadership.25

As housing deficiencies in Oakland grew to chronic proportion, the Uhuru helped

the city's homeless population by creating a "Tent City," using a public park as an

opportunity to provide free food and shelter. In nearly two months, the Uhuru served

10,000 free meals and organized a park council that removed local drug dealers and

elected its own leaders. The Uhuru attributed Oakland's homeless population to the

system of capitalism and the cost of housing in the city. They charged "ruling class

whites" with hiding homelessness, rather than addressing the inherent factors of

capitalism that caused poverty. Specifically, Yeshitela identified how cities with rampant

homelessness removed abandoned houses from their real estate market in order to

maintain property values and the cost of housing. They insisted that this process opened

the door to gentrification.26

25 Reagan had already served as governor of California in the 1960's. Johnson and
Stanford, Black Political Organizations in the Post Civil Rights era, 181-2; San
Francisco Chronicle, January 15, 1985; Harry S. Ashmore, Civil Rights and Wrongs,
(New York: Random House, 1994), 324-326; Banner-Haley, The Fruits of Integration,

26 Yeshitela, This Time Till It's Won, 30-39.

As the Uhuru endeavored to represent and assist the black working-class of

Oakland, they launched the "Measure O" campaign in November of 1984. Measure O

challenged some key tenets of capitalism, individual rights, and the ownership of

property. The Measure O initiative proposed several opportunities to help Oakland's

poor, including a diagram to divide Oakland into nine districts. Secondly, the measure

sought to establish a general rent ceiling (twenty-five percent of the average income) for

each district. Measure O also included commercial rent control for small businesses and

non-profit groups, and a plan to make vacant houses in the city available for the homeless

through eminent domain. The Uhuru accumulated over 25,000 votes in public support to

earn the Measure O initiative a slot on the November ballot. Local realtors, property

owners, and Oakland's African-American Mayor, Lionel Wilson, vehemently opposed

the initiative, in fear that it would cripple Oakland's real estate market. Local

businesspersons and politicians in opposition to the initiative labeled it "sheer insanity."

In efforts to crush the proposal, they sponsored a million dollar "No O" campaign and

eventually had the initiative defeated. Oakland's City Council voted against the rent-

control proposal four to one. This political battle revealed to the Uhuru that upper-class

whites and blacks worked together "to maintain capitalism."27

Nationally, black political participation began to increase in urban areas,

producing noticeable effects. Harold Washington had already become the first black

27 According to Uhuru member Sandy Thompson, the O in Measure "O" merely served
as means to identify the initiative, it was later reintroduced under the title, Measure "H".
San Jose Mercury News (CA), July 26, 1985; The San Francisco Chronicle, January 24,
May 26, June 4, 1986, November 11, 1987; African People's Socialist Party 4th Congress
brochure, 20; Yeshitela, The Road to Socialism is Painted Black, 115-25.

mayor of Chicago. While his election drew national attention, African-American Lionel

Wilson had reigned as Oakland's mayor since 1977. Before Wilson's bid for mayor, he

had a successful career in law, becoming Alameda County's first black judge. In

Oakland, shortly after the Measure O initiative met its defeat, the Uhuru decided to

formally influence the city's politics, organizing a boycott of Oakland's mayoral

elections. Before he became mayor, Wilson had loosely affiliated with the BPP, to such

an extent that the Panthers supported him in his election, where they registered thousands

of voters on his behalf. Apparently, Wilson's policies did not stay consistent with the

interests of the black working-class. The Uhuru only found it reasonable to vote for a

candidate that represented the masses of black people and their interests, qualities they

did not attribute to Wilson.28

In efforts to summarize working-class blacks' interests, the Uhuru designed the

People's Democratic Platform. The platform proposed that Oakland's politicians

consider restoring the rights of those who fell victim to the War on Drugs, hiring

Oakland's residents to serve as police, and allocating reparations to the black community.

The city had a habit of employing a disproportionate number of outsiders as officers; an

estimated eighty-five percent of the city's police resided outside of Oakland. The boycott

drastically affected the elections of 1984, producing the lowest voter turn out in the city's

28 Myers, Civil Rights and Race Relation in the post Reagan-Bush era, 231; Rod Bush,
The New Black Vote (San Francisco, California: Synthesis Publications, 1984), 55-57;
Rhomberg, No There There, 180-200; Pearson, The Shadow of the Panther, 247, 274.

history. While the APSP succeeded in discouraging black political participation, Wilson

triumphed at the polls, and continued to serve as mayor.29

By November, the Uhuru had devised a second attempt to affect Oakland's

political scene. They sought to eliminate homelessness in the city with the Community

Control of Housing Law by organizing Oakland into twelve different sectors, based on

income and nationality. Similar to Measure O, the Community Control of Housing Law

suggested that each sector should have a rent ceiling no higher than twenty-five percent

of the average income of the residents in each individual sector. In addition to the

lowering of rent prices, this proposal sought to elect a housing board for each potential

district. Ideally, those housing boards would limit homelessness by allowing people

without homes to take residence in abandoned buildings. The Community Control of

Housing Law won 17,000 signatures from petitions; nonetheless, it did not win approval.

Though the Uhuru lost their battle to eliminate Oakland's housing deficiency, they found

satisfaction in the failure. They believed their actions conveyed a crucial message to the

public concerning capitalist society. Even though they did not change the conditions of

homelessness, they highlighted that land ownership permitted the upper-class to

dominate, regardless of their level of morality. Considering that the APSP valued the

proliferation of their ideology as much as political victory, their campaign served as a

form of mass propaganda. Unfortunately, this year also marked the release of the

narcotic crack cocaine in Oakland, California, a cheaper version of cocaine that could be

29 Yeshitela, The Road to Socialism is Painted Black, 119-20; San Francisco Chronicle,
February 12, 1985, April 23, 1987; Bush, The New Black Vote, 55-57; Pearson, The
Shadow of the Panther, 247, 274.

smoked rather than inhaled. It quickly replaced cocaine as the city's most rewarding

drug to sell.30

Simultaneously, the APSP decided to provide medical assistance to Oakland's

impoverished black communities in an attempt to improve the local healthcare shortage.

They instituted the Bobby Hutton Freedom Mobile Health Clinic in memory of sixteen-

year-old Black Panther Bobby Hutton, who had been killed by Oakland police in 1968.

Afterwards he became a revolutionary martyr. Hutton had supervised the anti-poverty

program for the BPP before his death. With ingenuity, the Uhuru serviced the black

community, distributing medicine to the city's sick and poor blacks from a twenty-seven

foot recreational vehicle. Eventually, the city officials disapproved of the clinic, yet they

responded by providing health services in areas previously ignored. The Uhuru did not

endeavor to compete with the city's services, instead they focused on their capacity to

meet the needs of the black masses.31

As black political participation rose, the Uhuru focused primarily on Oakland's

political milieu, while Reverend Jesse Jackson cast his first bid for the presidency. In

1984, running under the ticket of the Democratic Party, Jackson acquired 300 delegates at

the Democratic National Convention. Many doubted Jackson's ability to succeed in the

controversial presidential race. He finished third in the Democratic primaries, garnering

3.5 million votes and winning five primaries. His platform appealed directly to those

30 Yeshitela, This Time Till It's Won, 40-44, 46-47; Altshuler, Community Control, 28-47.

3' The Uhuru were again following in the BPP's footsteps. In 1969, the BPP had created
the first Bobby Hutton Health Clinic in Kansas City, Missouri Yeshitela, This Time Till
It's Won, 43-47; Philip S. Foner, The Black Panthers Speak (United States: Da Capo
Press, 1970) xiv-xviii, 104.

normally locked out of American society, and he formed the Rainbow Coalition to

embody the various ethnicities and segments of society he sought to represent. Yeshitela

questioned Jackson's legitimacy as a representative of the black working-class. The

Uhuru opposed his alliance with the Democratic Party, and charged Jackson with

building the voting base for the Democrats, "the liberal sector of the white ruling class."

Jesse Jackson's allegiance forced the Uhuru to oppose rather than support him,

describing his campaign as a distraction from the real issues.32

As the eighties reached its midpoint, Oakland's political scene began to change

color. The city's mayor, director of economic development, owner of the daily

newspaper, and five of nine City Council members, were all African-American. "The

black urban regime" had succeeded in being elected to various offices but did not have

the same results across the board. Oakland's police department remained predominately

white. Oakland's black population consisted of forty-seven percent of the general

population, but only twenty-three percent of its police force. By this time, the city's drug

market had increased to such an extent that illegal drugs were openly sold on at least fifty

comers. The underworld that the BPP had initially tried to mitigate eventually emerged to

dominate Oakland's black community.33

In April of 1985, the Uhuru chose again to boycott the election for mayor under

the premise that no candidate represented the black masses or their platform. Disturbed

32 Hull, Struggle and Love, 10; Thomas H. Landess and Richard M. Quinn, Jesse Jackson
and the Politics of Race (Ottawa, Illinois: Jameson Books, 1985), 189-195; Lucius J.
Barker and Ronald W. Walters Jesse Jackson's 1984 Presidential Campaign (Urbana and
Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1989), 3-5; Yeshitela, This Time Till It's
Won, 35-53.

33 Pearson, The Shadow of the Panther, 303; Rhomberg, No There There, 183-185.

by black politicians' apathy toward their outlook, the Uhuru decided to avoid the election

entirely. The Uhuru's platform centralized around increasing local political control as a

method to fight unemployment and decrease police brutality. They proposed that

Oakland's businesses hire more local residents to decrease unemployment, and suggested

that each community should have control of its police in order to combat brutality. The

agenda also supported the case for black reparations and the eradication of laws that

enabled the removal of citizen's rights based on the severe sentencing that accompanied

the War on Drugs. This election produced a more dismal turnout than the previous year;

only eighteen percent of the potential voting block visited the polls. Lionel Wilson, was

convincingly reelected for a third term, easily defeating top opponent and City Council

member, Wilson Riles. Some of Oakland's politicians accused the Uhuru of

contradictory behavior because they encouraged their supporters to vote for the

Community Control of Housing Law and discouraged their voting for mayor. The Uhuru

retorted that their tactics were based on their political strategy and that for their

opponents "the question [of voting] has nothing to do with issues," instead they

encouraged people to "just vote and validate the system even if you have nothing to gain

by voting." For the second time, the APSP had succeeded in preventing people from

going to the polls, but following the election, did not use this influence to their political

advantage. Their boycott strategy produced quantifiable results but did not change the

conditions of Oakland's black population.34

34 Yeshitela, This Time Till It's Won, 50-52; San Francisco Chronicle, April 13, 1985,
April 22, 1985, April 23, 1987, November 8, 1988; Pearson, The Shadow of the Panther,

As the era of civil rights and Black Power became more distant, groups that once

thrived became more rare and estranged. America's efforts to eradicate the last vestiges

of the Black Power movement continued through the 1980s. For instance, in 1985, the

city of Philadelphia attacked and destroyed the MOVE organization, a back-to-nature

movement that shared many similarities with the Uhuru. On May 13, the police

attempted to evict members of MOVE from their row houses but were met with gunfire.

The police department of Philadelphia then dropped a bomb from a helicopter on the

houses, killing eleven of MOVE's black men, women, and children. After the bombing,

sixty-one houses were destroyed and 250 black people were left homeless, leaving the

surrounding communities in turmoil. MOVE members and masses of other people

believed the bombing to be racially motivated. Ramona Africa, one of the two MOVE

members that survived the bombing, asserted that, "had it been a predominately white

neighborhood, no bomb would ever have been dropped." At the time, Philadelphia's

African-American Mayor, Wilson Goode, stood at the forefront of the city's attack.

Apparently unrepentant about the results of the event, Goode later commented, "yes, I

gave the order and I'd do it again." Highly critical of Wilson Goode, the Uhuru's

historian labeled him a treacherous African neo-colonialist and charged him with being a

member of the "petty bourgeoisie," a class of functional traders aligned with the white

power structure rather than the black community. Eleven years later, in June of 1996, the

city of Philadelphia was found guilty of injustice in a civil trial.35

3 Hull, Struggle and Love, 92-93; Yeshitela, This Time Till It's Won, 53-56; Hizkias
Assefa and Paul Wahrhaftig, Extremist Groups and Conflict Resolution: The MOVE
crisis in Philadelphia (New York and London: Praeger, 1988), 19-39; Nyabinga

The Uhuru perceived the MOVE confrontation to be extremely significant

because it revealed the weakness of the modern-day Black Power movement. In the

sixties, Black Power organizations influenced national politics on issues such as the draft

and the death penalty. The Black Power movement became so formidable that J. Edgar

Hoover, who then served as executive director of the FBI, described it as, "the greatest

internal threat to the security of the U.S. since the Civil War." Only twenty years later,

MOVE was openly bombed on U.S. soil without grave social repercussions. The Uhuru

felt that this event signified America's racial climate and represented a return to the

temperament that dominated the Jim Crow era. They again attributed a large part of this

political weakness to middle-class black leadership, which often aligned itself with

"white liberals," rather than the black masses.36

While MOVE felt the brunt of American injustice, the Uhuru continued to fight to

improve the lives of Oakland's black residents. In 1986, the APSP once again acquired

immense support to place the Community Control of Housing Law on the ballot. In this

election, they received significant opposition from local businesspersons and politicians.

Despite high-end political opposition, the Uhuru acquired 30,000 signatures in public

support, the highest number ever recorded for a ballot measure in the city's history. The

Uhuru charged the city government with intentionally deceiving the public by implying

that their initiative did not make it to the ballot. In response, they held a forty-eight hour

Ezimbahwe (Uhuru historian) interview with author, June 3, 2006; Yeshitela, Omali
Yeshitela Speaks, 102-103.

36 Yeshitela, This Time Till It's Won, 53-56; Hull, Struggle and Love, 92-93; Margot
Harry, "Attention, MOVE! This is America!" (Chicago, Illinois: Banner Press, 1987),
57-60; Yeshitela, Omali Yeshitela Speaks, 93.

vigil in front of the City Hall plaza until the initiative's place on the ballot was officially

announced. Allegedly, some of the petitions had gone uncounted and had been

rediscovered. Although the percentage of votes gained by the initiative was statistically

similar to the previous year, the campaign reached beyond poor black communities and

obtained support from a diverse population. The APSP endured another unsuccessful

campaign, ending their political blitz of Oakland's elections.37

After the series of consecutive political campaigns, a clear schism existed

between the local and national branches of the Uhuru movement. Many of Oakland's

local branch members felt the national organization burdened them with too much

responsibility. The phrase "(this is) too much work" became the chapter's most popular

slogan. To clarify the extent of the complaint, the local chapter likened the relationship

between them and the national party to the relationship between a slumlord and a tenant.

The issue was resolved by the political bureau of the Uhuru movement, which also

finalized the last push for the Community Control Housing Law.38

After two years of consecutive campaigning, the APSP turned its attention to a

racially charged event in Charlotte, North Carolina. In November of 1986, the Uhuru

visited Charlotte in support of the black community's opposition to a KKK march. In full

regalia, fifty-six KKK members marched through the city with the support of the Aryan

Brotherhood. The Aryan Brotherhood carried arms to protect the KKK from the 700

blacks that protested the march. Fourteen local police led the march, sixteen police cars

37 Yeshitela, This Time Till It's Won, 60-63; San Francisco Chronicle, May 22, 1986,
June 17, 2001.

38 Yeshitela, This Time Till It's Won, 60-63.

surrounded the KKK, and law enforcement' sharpshooters laid on rooftops. Police

attempted unsuccessfully to block the Uhuru's participation in the march. The Uhuru

complained that police brutalized blacks opposing the march, throwing them against

walls while conducting weapons searches. Despite the KKK's overwhelming police

protection, the Uhuru and the black community still managed to disrupt the march by

throwing bricks with the names of black heroes written on them. After the protest,

Yeshitela asserted, "party members were able to prevent the Charlotte cops from

arresting at least fifteen African youths and the people forced an end to the Klan march

after only five blocks." The Uhuru considered this countermarch a victory, utilizing

methods that contrasted drastically with the recommendations of local preachers, who

simply suggested that blacks ignore the KKK.39

Back in Oakland, on August 22, 1989, police found Huey P. Newton dead from

three shots to the head. Since 1970, Newton had admittedly been snorting cocaine and

had become addicted to crack. Prior to Newton's death, the Uhuru had reintroduced him

to political life. Huey spoke at the Uhuru house and gave several other speeches. In his

own words, he considered the Uhuru an equivalent to the BPP honoring their

continuation of the Black Power struggle. Newton bragged, "you may not have the Black

Panther Party but you have the Uhuru movement. You may not have the Black Panther

newspaper, but you have the Burning Spear."40

9 Local police did not participate in the march but instead attempted to provide protection
for the klansmen. Ibid, 60-67.

40 Personal interview, Nyabinga Ezimbahwe by the author June 3, 2006 (notes in the
collection of the author); Personal interview, Sandy Thompson (Member of the Uhuru

Many people showed their respect to the fallen Panther. Over 6,000 people

attended his wake and more than two-thousand attended his funeral at Allen Temple

Baptist church. As young men at Newtons' funeral began to wrestle with camera

operators, the Uhuru movement along with Newton's family, interceded providing

security. Fifty members of the Uhuru movement protected the hearse in berets, carrying

red, black, and green flags and Panther posters. During the funeral, the Uhuru raised a

huge banner that read, "Huey Lives." As his burial commenced, they compelled the

crowd to chant, "Long Live Huey P., African people must be free" and "Who killed

Huey, don't tell no lie, the government, the government, the FBI!"41

As Newton's death reached the media, negative press dominated his legacy.

Within four days headlines read, "From Prime Minister to Bum," describing Newton's

fall from the forefront of the revolutionary movement and the media's perception of his

life since. Bobby Seale, co-founder of the BPP, emerged after Newton's death, blaming

him for the organization's decline. While Seale criticized Newton, the Uhuru responded

with a campaign to counteract the profusion of negative media tarnishing his legacy.

Uhuru member Biko Lumumba led multiple demonstrations inspiring the black

community to uphold Newton's name. Biko Lumumba stated, "America does not want

black people to have heroes like Huey Newton...[they would] rather Bill Cosby and

Eddie Murphy." The Uhuru viewed Newton's name and life as a symbol of the black

movement for over twenty years) interview with the author, June 3, 2006; Pearson, The
Shadow of the Panther, 1-9.

" Nyabinga Ezimbahwe interview; Sandy Thompson interview; Pearson, The Shadow of
the Panther, 323.

revolution and took criticism of his actions as a direct attack on the African revolutionary

process. The Uhuru sold shirts and banners with Newton's name on them featuring the

words, "Long Live the African Revolution." Two years later, the individual who shot

Newton was convicted of murder.42

On December 6, 1991, a Molotov cocktail was thrown into Yeshitela's Oakland

bedroom, where two of his children slept. The early morning attack burned the outside of

the bedroom but injured no one. It appeared the attackers also planned to destroy his van,

which he found drenched in gasoline. Oakland's Uhuru house announced that it had

received numerous threats from an anonymous caller, while Yeshitela remained aloof on

a tour. Members of the group believed that his political adversaries may have been

behind the attempt. This would not be the last time Yeshitela would risk death to fight in

the struggle for blacks' rights.43

The Uhuru defined and refined their organization while in Oakland, California.

Picking up where the BPP had reached its end, they kept alive the legacy of the Black

Power movement and survived the forces that crushed their contemporaries. Their

political blitz prepared them with the tenacity to embrace future social challenges. By

1996, the Uhuru played a crucial role in two racially based rebellions. Omali Yeshitela

utilized the events to catapult into mainstream politics.44

42 Nyabinga Ezimbahwe interview; Sandy Thompson interview; Pearson, The Shadow of
the Panther, 323.

43 San Jose Mercury News (CA), December 6, 1991; Nyabinga Ezimbahwe interview.

44 Banner-Haley, The Fruits of Integration, 158-162.

Chapter 4: Power to the Populace: The Uhuru in Saint Petersburg, Florida

Blacks represent America's conscience. It is the black American
who puts pressure upon the nation to live up to its ideals. It is
[they] who give tension to [the] struggle for justice and for the
elimination of these factors, social and psychological, which make
for slums and shaky suburban communities...Without the black
American, something irrepressibly helpful and creative would go
out of the American spirit, and the nation might well succumb to
the moral slobbism that has ever threatened its existence from
within. Ralph Ellison'

Between the APSP's political bouts in Oakland and their transfer to Saint

Petersburg, the APSP expanded its horizons, hosting multiple national events. When the

APSP resumed their second Party Congress in 1988, on their fifteenth anniversary, they

reflected on their recent business ventures and organizational additions. Spear Graphics

emerged as a typesetting and printing business, located in both the Oakland and Saint

Petersburg Uhuru houses. Spear Graphics had encountered considerable success and

acquired a reputation as a noteworthy small business in Oakland. The APSC's Oakland

branch headed the venture of Uhuru Foods, a business that distributed baked goods

throughout the Oakland Bay area. Shortly thereafter, the Party Congress and the APSP

opened the Uhuru bakery. The Burning Spear, the group's newspaper, had existed since

its inception and continued to evolve into a more complex publication with a greater

audience. Finally, the Uhuru aspired to launch Black Star vitamins, a business they

desired to develop into a national chain.2

'For Ralph Ellison excerpt, see Derrick Bell, Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The
Permanence of Racism, (New York: Basic Books, 1992), 157.

2 Omali Yeshitela, This Time Till It's Won, (Oakland: Spear Graphics, 1988), 69-71.

Though the Uhuru experienced various economic and political successes, the

Congress revealed some significant difficulties. On the national level, the Uhuru suffered

from organizational issues, leaving some of its major offices unfilled and an extra

workload on its functionaries. At the second Party Congress, this issue primarily

concerned the APSP. In addition to organization, the party stressed political education as

a tool to better facilitate organization and maintain the balance within the group's

structure. The Uhuru made pointed efforts to emphasize the relevance of an intimate

relationship with the black masses and converting them to the revolutionary platform.

The Congress praised the work of The Burning Spear and the APSP for spreading the

party's revolutionary message and the maintenance of its leadership. Finally, the

Congress introduced two emerging aspects of their movement: the African Socialist

International (ASI), an organization planned to unite black revolutionaries worldwide,

and the Women's Commission, a union designed to emphasize the role of women in the

struggle for revolution.3

At a conference in Chicago, Illinois, the APSP founded another branch

organization, the National People's Democratic Uhuru Movement (NPDUM). Yeshitela

created NPDUM to reawaken black political life inside America. Their goals, similar to

the APSP's, focused on defending black rights, fighting the use of drugs, ending unfair

imprisonment within the global black community, and stopping the America's

counterinsurgency inside of black communities worldwide. In 1991, the APSP created

NPDUM as a mass organization that welcomed membership from all races and focused

3 Ibid, 75-77.

on democratic rights, similar to groups that had emerged during the civil rights

movement. At the core of these goals, they placed the right to self-determination, which

NPDUM defined as the highest form of democracy. Democracy to this organization

relied on the ability or lack of ability for a people to determine the relationship between

them and their government. In this sense, they argued, blacks in the U.S. did not have a

democratic situation. After NPDUM's creation, the APSP merged the new organization

with the ANPO.4

For its first eight years, the leadership of NPDUM played a large role in its scope

as an organization. Appointed by the APSP, Akua Njeri served as NPDUM's first

president. She also served as a member of the BPP and was the mother of Fred Hampton,

Jr. During this time, the organization took a more national rather than international

approach, as Njeri fought for community improvement by boycotting schools, lobbying

for better public housing, and protesting police brutality in the areas of Philadelphia,

Oakland, and Saint Petersburg. Njeri served as president until 1999, when the APSP

appointed Dwight Chimurenga Waller (Joe Waller's younger brother) to serve the post.5

NPDUM endeavored to contest racism and police brutality, producing some

notable results. A good example of one of its accomplishments was the successful fight

4 Personal interview, president of the International People's Democratic Uhuru
Movement, Dwight Chimurenga Waller, by the author October 20, 2005; Personal
interview, president of the African People's Solidarity Committee, Penny Hess, by the
author October 17, 2005; Omali Yeshitela, Omali Yeshitela Speaks (St. Petersburg:
Burning Spear Uhuru Publications, 2005), 50-51; National People's Democratic Uhuru
Movement, Party Constitution, 2000.

5 Burning Spear (the serial publication of the Uhuru movement) July-October 2001;
Dwight Chimurenga Waller interview, October 20, 2005.

to free the son of Fred Hampton and Akua Njeri, Fred Hampton Jr. Twenty-five-year-old

Fred Hampton died at the hands of the FBI while he slept in his bed with his pregnant

wife, Akua Njeri (then Debra Johnson). Before his death, Hampton had organized the

largest chapter of the BPP in the country, providing breakfast for school children and free

sickle-cell anemia testing for Chicago's black population. His son Alfred Hampton was

born a few weeks after his death and entered into the political world years later, through

the Uhuru movement. He would later grow up to become a political prisoner. Accused

falsely of bombing a Korean merchant store in response to the Rodney King verdict, the

court sentenced him to eighteen years in prison. According to the Uhuru, an all-white

jury tried him with no eyewitnesses or physical evidence. NPDUM rallied behind the

case. With his mother Akua Njeri testifying to his location on the day of the crime, they

secured Hampton a lawyer, and held demonstrations outside the courtroom to inspire a

fair trial. NPDUM fought for his freedom for eight years and on September 14, 2001,

young Fred Hampton regained his freedom. Upon attaining his freedom, Hampton Jr.

became the president and chair of his own organization, the Prisoners of Conscience

Committee (POCC). A few years after the creation of NPDUM, the Uhuru decided to

return their headquarters to Saint Petersburg. They had expanded their organization and

prepared to emerge as a major influence in the city.6

6 Burning Spear, July-October 2001; San Francisco Bay View, November 9, 2005; Omali
Yeshitela, Not One Step Backward! The Black Liberation Movement from 1978 to 1982
(Oakland, California: Burning Spear Publications, 1982), 279-285; Dwight Chimurenga
Waller interview, October 20, 2005.

On October 16, 1995, Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam, called

upon the presence of one million black men to facilitate a massive demonstration at the

nation's capital. This impressive event called for black men to become more active and

unified in their communities, invest in black businesses, and build a black political

agenda through empowerment. This event served as the largest political demonstration in

America's history, shortly revitalizing the sprit of protest that arose in the sixties. Some

political analysts dispute the number of people who attended. Estimates ranged from

670,000 to 1.1 million. This event showed that blacks still had not achieved the goals

sought through the protests decades ago, and were still seeking a sense of nationhood and

community unity.7

Yeshitela, who attended the event, totally disapproved of Minister Farrakhan's

agenda for the march, calling it "reactionary and backwards for black people to go to

Washington D.C. to atone for our sins." He viewed the nation's capital as the crime

headquarters of the world. From his perspective, instead of African-Americans atoning

for their sins, they should have demanded "Clinton to come out with his hands up!"

While Minister Farrakhan had galvanized a plethora of black people to revisit the

traditions of protest established in the sixties, the next year Omali Yeshitela would be

involved in rebellions reminiscent of the riots of that same era.

7 Felton O. Best, Black Religious Leadership From the Slave Community to the Million
Man March: Flames of Fire (Lewiston, New York: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1998), 243-
247; Yeshitela, Omali Yeshitela Speaks, 106-7.

8 Felton O. Best, Black Religious Leadership From the Slave Community to the Million
Man March: Flames of Fire (Lewiston, New York: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1998), 243-
247; Yeshitela, Omali Yeshitela Speaks, 106-7; Omali Yeshitela, "Birthday speech at the
Uhuru House," Speech, Uhuru House, St. Petersburg, Florida, October 30, 2005.

As suggested, a key turning point in the history of the Uhuru movement occurred

in the latter part of 1996 when in Saint Petersburg police shot an eighteen-year-old black

man. With racial tensions at a boil, this event thrust the black community into a fury that

culminated into an outbreak of substantial violence. The controversy that sparked the

violence commenced on October 24, 1996, when two white police officers shot Tyron

Lewis at a routine traffic stop, just three blocks from Uhuru headquarters. Lewis refused

to roll down his window, step outside of his automobile, or turn himself over to the

police. Despite the fact that Lewis did not have a weapon and committed no crime, the

officer shot him through his windshield five times. The act enraged much of the black

community whose members viewed the shooting as unwarranted.9

Facts later surfaced to place Lewis's resistance in a new light, but this information

had not factored into the shooting. Specifically, police discovered that he had three

outstanding warrants, crack cocaine in his possession, and did not have a license. Still,

Officer James Knight insisted that he reacted to Lewis hitting him with his automobile,

an action he claimed had endangered his life by thrusting him on the hood of the car. The

officer's accusation did not jibe, however, with the recollections of witnesses. Out of

9 St. Petersburg Times, October 31, November 2, 3, 15, 1996; Tampa Tribune, November
15, 16, 24, 1996, November 4, 1997; Penny Hess, Overturning the Culture of Violence
(St. Petersburg: Burning Spear Uhuru Publications, 2000), 450-468; Omali Yeshitela,
"The Dialectics of Black Revolution": The Struggle to Defeat the Counterinsurgency in
the U.S. (St. Petersburg: Burning Spear Uhuru Publications 1997), iii; African People's
Socialist Party 4th Congress brochure, 12 (copy in collection of the author); African
People's Socialist Party, "History of the African People's Socialist Party," [document-
online] (Official website of the African People's Socialist Party 2005, accessed August)
available at http://apspuhuru.org/apsp/history, 8-9; Newsday (Melville, NY), November
15, 1996.

thirty individuals interviewed, twenty-eight stated that they never saw a car hit the

officer. The black masses did not stand alone in their belief that the shootings were

unjustified. Soon-to-be Police Chief Goliath Davis affirmed the point: "Officers should

not be able to put themselves in front of or behind a moving vehicle and then claim to be

hit," he observed, "thereby giving them an excuse to execute civilians." Davis added,

"this was inappropriate and the officer should have been terminated." The events that

followed caused city officials to declare a state of emergency. Ultimately, the shooting

sparked the greatest civil disturbances in Saint Petersburg's history.10

Those disturbances ensued on October 25, 1996, when supporters of the Uhuru

movement and other enraged African-Americans took to the streets. Using bricks,

bottles, Molotov cocktails, guns and other weapons, these blacks, through what the Uhuru

called "organized rebellions," ejected the police from their neighborhood. The Uhuru

meanwhile organized black residents through community meetings, vigils, and

demonstrations. Later, angered blacks strategically wreaked havoc on the city, burning

white and foreign (Korean and Arab, for example) owned businesses and destroying

police substations. The Uhuru labeled the businesses targeted as "parasitic merchants"

inside the black community. After the tumult had subsided, city officials accused the

Uhuru of inciting the riot, a third-degree felony. The Uhuru leadership denied the

accusation although comments from Sobukwe Bambaata, the party's national director of

1o St. Petersburg Times, November 15, 1996; Tampa Tribune, November 15, 16, 24,
1996, November 4, 1997; Hess, Overturning the Culture of Violence, 450-3; African
People's Socialist Party 4th Congress brochure, 12; Personal interview, St. Petersburg
Police Chief Goliath Davis by the author, February 24, 2006; African People's Socialist
Party, "History," 9-10; Washington Post, November'l6, 1996.

organization, made their denial appear contradictory. He stated during the mayhem, "We

have to push the pigs back across Central Avenue! They might be coming back in body

bags if we get our sh[i]t together!" Despite these inflammatory words, authorities found

it difficult to prove that the Uhuru incited the outbreak and, after investigation, they

determined that the Uhuru never directly threatened to commit or incite violence.I

To reach their conclusion, authorities had distinguished Uhuru commentary from

the type of verbal agitation that legally qualifies as language intentionally intended to

start a riot. On their part, members of Uhuru explained that they foresaw violence as a

community response and natural consequence to the shootings. Sobukwe Bambaata

clarified the point: "The Uhuru movement, we told you that this was gonna happen," he

began, "but you didn't want to listen." Bambaata continued, "we said that if you don't

stop what you're doing, then this city's gonna go up in flames." Nyabinga Ezimbahwe,

the Uhuru historian, personally assured the author, "we never told nobody to bum shit."

Far from inciting a riot, the Uhuru portrayed their role in the event as strategists,

"summing up the contradictions" and political motivations behind the event. The Uhuru,

in fact, charged the police as the culprit, stressing that their negative relationship with the

black community and disregard for the life of Tyron Lewis had incited the riots.

Chimurenga Waller, an Uhuru leader, remarked, "the so-called riots were the people's

response to their people not being treated as citizens." "[This] is an expression of self-

defense after being violated as a people." The department's record certainly appeared

" St. Petersburg Times, November 15, 20, 1996, August 10, 1998; Tampa Tribune,
November 15, 16, 24, 1996, November 4, 1997; Yeshitela, Dialectics of Black
Revolution., iii; African People's Socialist Party, "History," 4; Miami Herald, November
15, 1996; Columbus (GA) Ledger-Enquirer, November 15, 1996.

less than perfect. In 1995 alone, the organization received 283 allegations of police

misconduct. It also had a history of shooting young black men.12

Uhuru leaders opted to utilize their own judicial hearing to make their point. On

November 1, the organization and many members of the black community held a

"tribunal," or a mock trial. The proceedings found the two officers guilty of murder.

Participants thereupon "sentenced" the men to the state electric chair. When the

controversial results reached the public, many perceived the news as a threat. Yeshitela

urged caution. "Those were not threats of a street execution," he noted, "we don't have

an electric chair." Uhuru, nonetheless, endured a wealth of criticism in the media, and

the misunderstanding served to heighten hostility between its members and city


The community soon faced renewed challenge. On November 13, weeks after the

initial explosion, the grand jury cleared Officer Knight of any crime in the Tyron Lewis

case. The Saint Petersburg Times asserted that the Uhuru threatened to respond with

violence if the trial did not result in conviction. The combination of the previous riot, the

statements about an electric chair execution, and the new potential threat made police

exceedingly nervous. In fear of another violent outbreak, Police Chief Darrel Stephens

ordered the strategic arrest of key members of the Uhuru movement. The plan backfired,

12 St. Petersburg Times, November 15, 20, 1996; African People's Socialist Party,
"History," 9-10; Memorandum from St. Petersburg Police Department, Statistical
Analysis 1995-2005, March 2006; Dwight Chimurenga Waller interview, April 14, 2006;
Personal Interview, Uhuru historian, Nyabinga Ezimbahwe interview, by the author June
3, 2006.

'3 St. Petersburg Times, November 15, 20 1996; Hess, Overturning the Culture of
Violence, 458; Tampa Tribune, November 16, 17, 1996.

causing yet another rebellion. The police department intended to prevent the Uhuru from

inspiring another night of unrest, but the arrests occurred at the Uhuru headquarters, an

event police stated that they did not anticipate. In any event, officers arrested three

Uhuru members on minor charges in full view of seething protesters, and only hours

later, the police returned, undoubtedly upsetting Uhuru members.14

Events soon spun out of control. Women, children, church leaders, civic leaders,

and Uhuru members had gathered to discuss recent events at the Uhuru house. When the

police returned, they demanded the building's evacuation. Afterwards, officers were

pelted from the headquarters and fired upon, as one account detailed. Police officers

subsequently attempted to raid the building, with officers later asserting that Uhuru

advocates had prepared for violence that night. Intelligence reports, they insisted,

divulged that the Uhuru had stockpiled six tons of bottles and rocks as potential

weaponry. Whatever the case, before the Uhuru members could depart, the police

unleashed an assault, with 300 heavily armed troops from local, county, and state

organizations swarming the house. Inside, over one-hundred civilians found themselves

trapped in the building and tear-gassed so thoroughly that the assault depleted the city's

police armory. Tear gas was shot into the trees above the house and sparked a fire, a

maneuver that Yeshitela claimed constituted an attempt to "kill the Uhuru Leadership."

14 Tampa Tribune, November 17, 1996; St. Petersburg Times, November 14, 21,
1996; Hess, Overturning the Culture of Violence, 454-58; Philadelphia Inquirer,
November 15, 1996; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA), November 15, 1996; Lexington (KY),
Herald-Leader, November 15, 1996; Stuart News, November 15, 1996.

A videotape of the event revealed an officer pepper spraying Yeshitela without

provocation. Some individuals escaped, while police detained others.'5

Outraged, the black community decided to fight for the detained members of the

Uhuru movement. While members of Uhuru were stuck inside of their headquarters, the

townspeople used rocks, bottles and automatic weapons to engage the police's militarized

armed forces. Once the violence began, it quickly spiraled out of control. "Before it was

over, an officer on the street and a Pinellas County sheriffs deputy in a helicopter were

shot, a tavern patron was shot and a motorist's jaw was broken when an object came

through his window," The Saint Petersburg Times related. "There were thirty-three

confirmed fires, most or all set by Molotov cocktails." Police Chief Stephens

commented on the local police department's lack of preparedness, while acknowledging

that under normal circumstances police came prepared for potential violence. He

admitted that nonetheless, "in our training, we never contemplated the level of gunfire we

had (Wednesday night)." Police claimed to have found at least fifty rounds of gunfire at

one intersection alone. 16

15 Tampa Tribune, November 15, 17, 1996; Omali Yeshitela Speaks, 69-89; St.
Petersburg Times, November 14, 1996; Omali Yeshitela, Social Justice and Economic
Development for the African Community: Why I Became a Revolutionary (St. Petersburg:
Burning Spear Uhuru Publications, 1997), iv-v; African People's Socialist Party,
"History," 9-10; Miami Herald, November 17, 1996; Buffalo (N.Y.) News, November 15,
1996; Austin (TX) American-Statesman, November 15, 1996.

16 Tampa Tribune, November 15, 16, 17, 1996; St. Petersburg Times, November 20, 21,
1996, November 10, 2000; Yeshitela, Omali Yeshitela Speaks,79; African People's
Socialist Party, "History," 9-10; Hess, Overturning the Culture of Violence, 460-1;
Burning Spear, August 2000-January 2001.

Yeshitela offered his own perspective. "They were going to get rid of us by a

military attack," he observed, "and when they attacked they got their asses kicked right

there in the street." Night's end saw ten people arrested, five buildings burned, and for

the second time the police pushed out of the black community. With these events, Uhuru

members had made genuine attempts to establish themselves as community leaders.

Combined, the two riots produced an estimated $5 million in property damage and caused

seventy-four reported fires, while leaving over one dozen injured and twenty arrested.

Four years later, the Uhuru and thirty-nine other people injured in the teargassing of the

Uhuru house, filed a class action lawsuit. Yeshitela called the police actions an attack on

blacks' rights to assemble and the suit sought compensation for physical and

psychological damages. Rioting as an act of civil resistance has received criticism

because it has traditionally decreased the likelihood of future economic investment in the

area. However, in this instance the riots produced some unusual consequences.7

Despite some criticism from local authorities, concrete results flowed from the

crisis. The tumultuous events brought the black community of Saint Petersburg together

as never before, and, directly following the disturbances, residents created an executive

organization known as the African-American Leadership Coalition (AALC). This group

17 A semblance of community unity in the AALC, the city's first black police chief,
federal and city economic investments and Yeshitela's pardon and bid for mayor all
stemmed from the disturbances. Tampa Tribune, November 15, 16, 17, 1996; St.
Petersburg Times, November 20, 21, 1996, November 10, 2000 ; Yeshitela, Omali
Yeshitela Speaks,79; Yeshitela, Social Justice, iv-v; African People's Socialist Party,
"History," 9-10; Hess, Overturning the Culture of Violence, 460-1; Contra Costa (CA)
Times, November 15, 1996; Philadelphia Inquirer, November 15, 1996; African People's
Socialist Party 4th Congress brochure, 10; Nyabinga Ezimbahwe interview, June 3, 2006;
Burning Spear, August 2000-January 2001.

combined various aspects of the black community including local ministers, the SCLC,

the NAACP, the Uhuru members, local politicians, and businesspersons. They joined to

serve as a council to make decisions to better the black community. Uhuru members

declared themselves community leaders, boasting, "we are the political leadership of the

African community." City officials found themselves compelled to hear the AALC's

voice. Comprised of sectors of the black community that usually remained segmented,

the AALC intended to represent the black population of Saint Petersburg, which at that

time, comprised twenty percent of the city's 250,000 citizens. "We found common

ground around the need [for police] to essentially stop the killing of young black males,"

local SCLC President Sevell C. Brown, III, explained. Regardless of pressures from city

officials aimed at influencing members of the organization to disassociate themselves

from the Uhuru, the group produced a statement about the Tyron Lewis case. It

demanded "the prosecution of the killer cops" and "reparations for the family of Tyron

Lewis," as well as a "hands off the Uhuru movement policy."18

On its part, the coalition intended to secure jobs and monetary assistance from the

federal government to help rebuild the black community and to coerce city officials into

sharing power with black leaders. The coalition also publicly addressed its exclusion

from Mayor David Fischer's plan to form a community action committee, a group

designed to improve the city's poor areas. Rosa Hemingway, a member of the AALC,

commented on that situation: "We don't need someone to plan for us," she declared.

8 Hess, Overturning the Culture of Violence, 460; Washington Post, November 16, 1996;
St. Petersburg Times, November 28, 1996; Tampa Tribune, November 15, 1996; Houston
Chronicle, November 15, 1996.

"We need someone to come in here and plan with us." Soon, Mayor Fischer acquiesced

and invited the group to committee meetings. Fischer tempered his action, however, by

insisting that he did not want the Uhuru to control the coalition because its philosophy

"doesn't mesh" with economic development.19

Just as it appeared that Yeshitela had solidified his role as a new political leader, a

schism developed within the AALC. Only weeks later, in the midst of developing a

blueprint for the black community's revitalization, the coalition encountered internal

conflicts with Yeshitela playing a primary role. The Reverend Sevell Brown of the

SCLC and the chairman of the coalition, had a rift with Yeshitela and his supporter, the

Reverend Manuel Sykes. Brown voiced complaints regarding how the group should be

run, respect for members within the coalition, and the group's democratic process.

Yeshitela and Brown maintained differing views on the concept of democracy and its

application. According to the Uhuru historian, the SCLC did not represent a significant

segment of the black community because their organization was not active at the time.

Regardless of the political dissension within the AALC, Yeshitela maintained his

membership within the group while Reverend Sevell Brown's affiliation ended. 20

19 Tampa Tribune, November 23, 1996; St. Petersburg Times, November 21, 23, 1996;
Newsday, November 17, 1996.

20 St. Petersburg Times, January 20, 29, 30, 1997, June 14, 1998; Tampa Tribune,
November 24, 25, 1996, February 5, 1997; Goliath Davis interview, February 24, 2006;
Memorandum from St. Petersburg Police Department, Statistical analysis 1995-2005,
March 2006; Nyabinga Ezimbahwe interview, June 3, 2006; Rick Baker, Mangroves to
Major League: A Timeline of St. Petersburg History (St. Petersburg: Southern Heritage
Press, 2000), 308.

As the AALC attempted to unify the black community, a representative of the

United States government helped change the city's perspective of the Uhuru movement.

On November 23, the African-American Leadership Coalition and Uhuru leaders met

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) head Henry Cisneros. A

member of President Bill Clinton's cabinet and the leader of a federal task force,

Cisneros had arrived in Saint Petersburg to assess the city's recent civil disturbances.

Yeshitela and fifty other members of the AALC expressed to him concerns over

employment, police brutality, and public respect for blacks. The potential destruction of

the Jordan Park housing complex, the largest and oldest housing project in the city,

received additional consideration. Pleased that his efforts placed the issues of poor and

oppressed African-Americans in the political spotlight, Yeshitela found renewed

confidence in the sessions. Cisnero's reports to city officials satisfied the leader as well.

"Before constructive change occurs," he told the city's leaders, "civic leaders first must

build a bridge to those who feel disenfranchised on the city's Southside." Statistically,

Saint Petersburg's 1990 census revealed great disparity between the poverty levels of

blacks and whites. Over twenty-nine percent of blacks lived below the poverty level,

while a mere six percent of whites suffered the same fate. Cisnero went so far as to say

that Saint Petersburg's situation appeared to him, "the most racist in the country" and

suggested that the city must seek input from non-mainstream black groups. Cisneros

specifically mentioned that local officials should listen to the "thoughtful" Yeshitela.21

21 St. Petersburg Times, November 23, 1996; Hess, Overturning the Culture of Violence,
472-7; Yeshitela, Omali Yeshitela Speaks, 81; 1990 Census of population and housing,
Population and housing characteristics for census tracts and block numbering areas.
Tampa- St. Petersburg- Clearwater, FL MSA.

Shortly after Cisneros's comments reached the public, Yeshitela accepted an

invitation to join the fifty-member special task force created to facilitate federal relief

efforts. He would serve alongside other black leaders, Chamber of Commerce members,

and representatives from the mayor's administration. The task force eventually dispersed

$20 million in federal aid to assist the black community. After that, the black community

honored Yeshitela for his decades of commitment in the fight against injustice and his

dedication to working-class blacks. Yeshitela informed residents that now his plans for

the black community consisted of community-directed development that included low-

interest loans, increased black business ownership, and the creation of African cultural


Saint Petersburg's police department moved to ease racial tensions in a different

way. In a startling change, the police department replaced white Police Chief Darryl

Stephens with African-American Goliath Davis. This change resulted directly from the

riots. Many blacks understandably had believed that the Stephens administration had

added strain to the already tense relationship between the police and their community.

Early in his tenure as Chief, Davis demonstrated that he would not hesitate to fire white

officers who abused privileges by treating black males inappropriately. Boldly, Davis

went so far as to declare the Uhuru house an embassy, ordering his officers not to arrest

anyone on the property. Initially, Yeshitela appeared highly skeptical that Davis would

help, charging the city with being "obsessed with providing a police solution," and

22 Tampa Tribune, November 23-27, 1996, January 9, 1997; St. Petersburg Times,
November 23, 24, 26, December 20, 1996; Hess, Overturning the Culture of Violence,

saying, "having a black police chief will not improve inner-city life unless the policies

Davis has to work with are changed."23

Perhaps as a test, the Uhuru leader and the AALC soon thrust the issue of Weed

and Seed on Davis's plate. This two-fold federal program intended to remove the

unsavory element of a given community by increasing the area's police presence and the

community's penalties for crime. This segment they labeled the "weed" aspect of the

program. Simultaneously the "seed" aspect of the program offered funds to the city for

economic development of the area. Following the riots, the city had declared areas of the

Southside as Weed and Seed sites, and the federal government had planned to contribute

$325,000 to assist with both programs. This figure pleased neither Chief Davis nor

coalition leaders. The AALC responded that this funding was too miniscule to improve

an entire neighborhood. "I had a seven million dollar police budget already," Davis

recalled. "I felt they should transfer that money allocated to increased police presence,

and dedicate it all to economic development." He explained that he disliked the program

because it treated the "law-abiding and the criminal in the same light." As assistant

Chief, Davis had attended several meetings about the Weed and Seed program; the

meetings had stirred his concerns, particularly when a speaker declared that the increased

police presence should be like an "occupying army."24

23 St. Petersburg Times, January 20, 29, 30, 1997, June 14, 1998; Tampa Tribune,
November 24, 25, 1996, February 5, 1997; Goliath Davis interview, February 24, 2006;
Memorandum from St. Petersburg Police Department, Statistical analysis 1995-2005,
March 2006; Nyabinga Ezimbahwe interview, June 3, 2006; Baker, Mangroves to Major
League, 308.

24 Tampa Tribune, May 14, June 12, October 24, December 23, 1997; St. Petersburg

On the issue of Weed and Seed, Chief Davis and Yeshitela agreed. The Uhuru

leader charged that the program is "an insidious attack on the black community" and

declared, "it leads to an increased police presence and federal involvement."

Consequently, they asserted, "it leaves residents open to wire-tapping and other

surveillance techniques not found in white neighborhoods." Nyabinga Ezimbahwe,

Uhuru historian, called the program illogical, mocking the idea by stating, "it's like

saying we must get rid of the niggas to save the niggas."25

On August 23, the Uhuru-AALC conglomerate passed out pamphlets that

informed the community about the issue. Uhuru argued that "police containment" did not

help the black community, but instead it demonstrated city officials' unwillingness to

address the source of crime, the problem of economic development. Yeshitela supported

his views with statistics. "The unemployment rates there [in the black area] are twice the

average for the city, and the average annual income is about $12,000." He added that

one-third of the black community lived below the poverty level. Lastly, Yeshitela

criticized the $325,000 offered for economic development. He found this amount of

money comical. In disgust he replied: "they talk about a total amount of money that is

less than salaries of the mayor, his chief administrator and chief of staff."26

Times, July 27, October 19, 1997, June 14, 1998; Goliath Davis interview, February 24,
2006, Yeshitela, Omali Yeshitela Speaks, 84.

25 Yeshitela, Omali Yeshitela Speaks, 86-87; Nyabinga Ezimbahwe interview, June 3,
2006; Penny Hess interview, October 17, 2005.

26 Tampa Tribune, May 14, 30, June 12, 1997; St. Petersburg Times, July 27, December
20, 1997; Goliath Davis interview, February 24, 2006; The Dallas Morning News,
October 26, 1997; Boston Globe, July 7, 1997; Penny Hess interview, October 17, 2005.

Mayor Fischer soon made groundbreaking efforts to contribute to the critical

problems facing the black community. Fischer proposed Challenge 2001, a five-year

plan, "to create 2,500 new jobs, help 425 families buy their first homes, raise housing

values by twenty-five percent, lower school dropout rates and help make sure children are

reading by the third grade." The plan aimed to rectify the economic disparities of Saint

Petersburg, where the unemployment rate equaled twice the national average. Mayor

Fischer declared an end to an era of divisiveness and separation, and requested the

assistance of everyone seriously concerned with helping the city.27

These declarations did not convince Yeshitela, who replied, "while jobs are

critical, the programs can't be tied to police intervention -- which is included in the

federal initiative known as Weed and Seed that the mayor's plan is following," and he

concluded that, "the city is treating this economic situation like a police problem." In

light of the economic situation, Yeshitela tried desperately to persuade the taskforce to

allocate the funding in a manner that may benefit the majority of African-Americans.

Sevell Brown, Yeshitela's political adversary in the split of the AALC, countered

Yeshitela's perspective, asserting that Weed and Seed represented just a minor portion of

the total federal assistance, which included programs for job training, childcare services,

education, and the development of leadership skills. However, Marvin Davies, a city

commissioner, complained about the task force's monetary distribution, stating, "at least

half of the money already awarded is going to programs that don't benefit poor African-

27 Tampa Tribune, May 30, 1997; St. Petersburg Times, June 9, 1997.

Americans." Davies continued his critique, charging that the federal funding "is still not

community-based or community-driven, and that's my problem with it."28

In October of 1997, months after Yeshitela rejected Mayor Fischer's Challenge

2001 program the mayor suddenly changed his tune. With increasing pressure from the

Uhuru movement and national attention on the racial dynamics of the city, Mayor Fischer

reconsidered his stance. Yeshitela had convinced Mayor Fischer to reject the Weed and

Seed program, an unprecedented decision that satisfied the veteran activist. When

Southside's Jordan Park housing project became the promised target of $27 million

dollars, Yeshitela experienced another success. Vice President Al Gore visited the city to

announce the grant named "Hope 6." In a rare moment, Yeshitela commented positively

on the potential capital planned to enter Saint Petersburg's black community. "The city

appears to be moving in a way that shows a lot of possibilities, greater than I have seen in

my lifetime," he asserted. Yeshitela gladly acknowledged that the plan showed

"promise" and boasted that the city's business sector "realized inner-city black residents

can contribute to the money pool."29

Though satisfied with the federal assistance proposal, Yeshitela remained aware

that finances had not yet reached the public. In anticipation of its arrival, he insisted that

local banks have enough faith to invest in the black community. Yeshitela declared the

money a form of social justice and prophetically asserted that if things continued in this

28 Tampa Tribune, May 30, 1997; St. Petersburg Times, June 9, 1997; Hess,
Overturning the Culture of Violence, 266, 476; Miami Herald, May 31, 1997

29 Tampa Tribune, October 3, 1997; St. Petersburg Times, October 3, 12, 1997; Baker,
Mangroves to Major League, 308; Nyabinga Ezimbahwe interview, June 3, 2006.

direction, he "doesn't envision a repeat of last year's violence." With the black

community united under the AALC after the civil disturbances and Yeshitela influencing

public policy, this period marked his entrance into mainstream politics.30

Whatever the mayor's opinion of Weed and Seed, Police Chief Goliath Davis

would make an authoritative decision. Goliath Davis became the first Police Chief in

Weed and Seed's six-year history to reject the program. He offered a straightforward

explanation. "You can't expect economic investment to occur if others view the black

community as pathological and dysfunctional." In addition, "accepting this Weed and

Seed program assumes the worst of the entire black community, thereby leaving no room

[reason] for investment." He contended, like Yeshitela, that the presence of the program

would deter investors from viewing the area as lucrative and that increased police

presence would not eradicate the criminal element as effectively as serious economic

development and genuine treatment for offenders. Davis took into account that last years

rioters would also be affected by the program, (that paid police officers overtime to make

more arrests) openly admitting, "I don't want to set those people off again." The police

chief also felt uneasy about the program's sectional approach to fighting crime stating

that "my law enforcement program has always been city wide and that's how I want to

keep it." Davis expressed why he viewed economic development as important when he

30 Tampa Tribune, October 3, 1997; St. Petersburg Times, October 3, 12, 1997.

remarked: "Why would people burn down their own community? ----- What

community? [Those] people don't own anything down there."31

As Davis stood in opposition to Weed and Seed, he received ample criticism.

Many felt the chief's policy seemed insensitive to the problems the city experienced with

its criminal sector. City Council member Connie Kone expressed her perception of

Davis's decision. "It comes across as tolerating drugs, [the] citizens want to be assured

that we're going to continue to aggressively pursue drug dealers," she noted. While

Davis rejected the "weed" part of the program, that dedicated $100,000 to increased

police presence in selected neighborhoods, he accepted the $225,000 dedicated to

economic development. In efforts to compromise, he even requested a transferal of the

"weed" money over to the "seed" part of the program. He told critics "we won't relax our

enforcement of drugs .... we will continue to do that. However, as a police chief, all I

am saying is we need to think differently about the way we do business." The rejection

of Weed and Seed evidenced a new height in the political influence of Omali Yeshitela

and the Uhuru movement, its biggest opponent.32

In the end, the city still endorsed the program. Pinellas County Sheriff Everett

Rice strongly supported the program and made efforts to implement it in spite of

opposing political opinions. After a great deal of debate and some compromise, the

police chief agreed to approve the program, only under the condition that the program

31 Tampa Tribune, December 9, 13, 20, 1997; Goliath Davis interview, February 24,

32 St. Petersburg Times, December 10, 14, 16, 1997.

coverage became citywide. Ultimately, the city expanded the "weed" part of the program

to cover the entire city of Saint Petersburg.33

After the Weed and Seed issue ended, Yeshitela reflected on his transition from

political outcast to an accepted community leader with exceptional composure. "I'm not

doing anything different than I did before except sitting down with these guys. It's been

they all along who did not want to sit down," Yeshitela explained. He revealed that he

never intended to be on the outside of mainstream politics, but instead he planned to

ensure that working-class blacks had representation on the inside of it. Consequently,

other politicians often dismissed Yeshitela's perspective as radical and labeled the Uhuru

a "fringe group." Yeshitela rejected the idea that he had become mainstream, since his

political orientation remained unchanged. Yeshitela explained, "I have not gone

mainstream, it is they who have gone Uhuru!" His idea of economic development as the

key method for fighting poverty found acceptance with Jack Soule, the head of the police

union. Although Soule had disagreed with Yeshitela in the past, he "agreed with

Yeshitela that economic development was the best strategy for reducing crime and

violence in urban areas, and that the city's bureaucracy could be streamlined to help."34

With Yeshitela's new notoriety came the inevitable suspicions about whether he

had betrayed his original audiences and allegiance. His decisions to work with white

business bankers and leaders seemed to contradict his philosophy of black independence.

Not surprised at the accusations, Yeshitela retorted that the comments come "from

33 Ibid., January 16, 1998.

34 St. Petersburg Times, October 3, 12, 1997; Tampa Tribune, October 25, 1997;
Yeshitela, Omali Yeshitela Speaks, 88-9.

quarters that have never supported us....Those are the same people who, in the past, have

said we're too strident, or too black, or too prone to violence, or too something. Now that

it doesn't appear to be the case, we're (accused of being) sell-outs. So it's a no-win

situation." Yeshitela defined being a sell-out as someone who relies more on the

relationship with people like the mayor and the head of the police union, than with the

masses of black people. Since blacks were in no position to cause revolution, Yeshitela

opted for the next viable option, political power inside the city of Saint Petersburg.

Because of the Uhuru's new elevated political status, working class blacks received

greater attention in the local media and their interests reemerged as relevant to politicians

when they considered economic development. 35

With Yeshitela receiving positive press, he put pressures on the city to deliver its

monetary promises. The Uhuru staged a march on City Hall to protest the discrepancy

between the money allegedly awarded to help the black community and the money

received. They proposed that the community development block grant money "went to

build the Hilton, Tropicana Field parking lot, etc." In the process of building Tropicana

Field, the city tore down the gas plant, destroying many black businesses and the

neighborhood where Yeshitela had grown up. Lou Brown, a realtor representing AALC,

remarked, "we're not going to be pushed off to the side with jobs selling peanuts. We

want real jobs." As a member of the federal task force, Yeshitela opposed the entire

process of the city's distribution of money almost every step of the way. He supported

self-determination in the black codnmunity, and specifically desired the power to create

3 St. Petersburg Times, October 12, 1997; Yeshitela, Omali Yeshitela Speaks, 87.

jobs and determine the allotment of federal funding. Although Mayor Fischer's monetary

plan had not satisfied the black community, the mayor admitted, "Saint Petersburg

probably would have gotten some of the money despite last fall's disturbances," but, "it

probably would have been considerably less."36

As money finally arrived in the black community, Yeshitela's prominence

increased. Business owners, government officials, and community activists attended a

meeting at the over-packed Enoch Davis Center to announce the arrival of new economic

support for the inner city. Yeshitela spoke, thanking the black community for its support

and his speech received passionate applause. Mayor Fischer and Paul W. Bailey, a South

Trust bank executive, also received applause; Fischer for his efforts at inner-city

development and Bailey for his commitment to lend more money to African-American

entrepreneurs. Less than two weeks later, WHJoint Venture LLC, a Maryland-based

corporation, proposed a $16 million plan to create a mail-order pharmaceutical company

that would bring over 800 jobs to Saint Petersburg. The company's president, Charles

Washington, assured the public that he was, "committed to hiring local low and

moderate-income residents."37

Federal support did not last forever. By late February of 1998, Andrew Cuomo,

the U.S. Housing Secretary, decided that the Federal Interagency Task Force, which

Omali Yeshitela participated in, had completed its mission. In its fourteen months of

existence, the task force facilitated the distribution of over $45 million dollars in aid,

36 Tampa Tribune, August 13, 1997; St. Petersburg Times, June 9, August 24, 1997;
Nyabinga Ezimbahwe interview, June 3, 2006.

37 St. Petersburg Times, November 5, 1997; Tampa Tribune, November 14, 1997.

intended to inspire economic development in the black community. As a composite

entity, it consisted of various people from divergent sectors of society and its mission

forced the group to appeal to both grass roots and political motivations. However,

Yeshitela afterward confessed that the task force did not produce any tangible results that

could change the conditions of the black inner city. He argued that the democratically

based federal task force evacuated because Saint Petersburg's grass-roots activists would

not tolerate its inclination to produce positive political reports without any substance.3

While the federal task force planned to disband, public advisory commissioner

Marvin Davies challenged Mayor Fischer's similar Challenge 2001 plan alleging that,

"there's no money attached to it. It's an illusion for hope. There's nothing there." As

federal support exited the city, many black leaders expected Saint Petersburg to return to

business as usual. Yeshitela returned to his disbelief in Challenge 2001's promises and

transitioned his focus from the federal task force to the locally based Citizens Advisory

Commission. He admitted, "I believed a year ago we had an opportunity to truly move

into the future with a win-win process --- But I do not see that now."39

As Yeshitela coped with the tumult of economic development, he did not forget

about the life of Tyron Lewis. Already displeased with the city's economic development,

Yeshitela became disgusted with the city's relaxed approach to punishing the officers

involved in the killing. On the anniversary of Lewis's death, the Uhuru held a

candlelight vigil in his honor and memory. The Uhuru requested that members of the

38 St. Petersburg Times, February 26, 1998; Tampa Tribune, February 27, 1998.

39 St. Petersburg Times, February 26, 1998; Tampa Tribune, February 27, 1998.

crowd "remain disciplined" in order to prevent a repeat of the previous year's violence.

Police Chief Goliath Davis met briefly with Yeshitela on his tour through the black

community to monitor the sentiment of the public.40

Days after the vigil, courts dealt a serious blow to the relationship between the

black community and the police department. A Pinellas grand jury concluded that

Officer Knight had not violated the civil rights of Tyron Lewis in the shooting. The

Justice Department investigated only whether the officer, "actually knew he was using

excessive force at the time of the shooting," and did not assess recklessness or

negligence. This announcement ended the possibility of criminal punishment against the

officer. Knight shared his perspective on the event, stating that he believed his actions to

be morally correct, but admitted, "I regretted then and continue to regret that such

extreme action was necessary to protect my life." Lewis's family then pursued a civil

suit in the Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court for the cause of a wrongful death and the

violation of civil rights. They did not seek a specified amount of damages. Both

Yeshitela and Lewis's family expressed a desire to see the officers imprisoned. Yeshitela

vowed to have both officers fired and wanted the city to pay reparations to Lewis's

family. He collected petitions to support his cause. The Uhuru declared the court's

verdict a part of the continued, "cover-up" of Lewis's murder.41

40 Ibid., October 25, 1997.

41 Tampa Tribune, November 4, 1997; St. Petersburg Times, November 4, 1997;
Nyabinga Ezimbahwe interview, June 3, 2006.

Seven years earlier the Uhuru had succeeded in freeing Fred Hampton Jr. but the

results of Lewis's trial did not produce results as flattering. In March of 1998, the courts

released a new decision in the Tryon Lewis litigation, concluding that Officer Knight did

not violate any of the police department's rules. Due to this ruling, the court demanded

that Knight be paid compensation for the sixty-day suspension he received in response to

the killing. Ironically, Knight had already received enough in public donations to cover

the money he had lost during his suspension. Former Police Chief Darryl Stephens and

Chief Goliath Davis both disagreed with the court, explaining that the officers acted

against department policy. Officer Knight admitted to watching a video on handling car

situations that warned officers, "don't place yourself in the path of the vehicle," but

explained that he viewed the video as funny rather than instructive. The court's arbitrator

ruled that the video did not address the real situation the officer encountered. Quite

plausibly, Yeshitela felt offended and protested that the police officers had permission to

penalize black people with death for not stepping out of a vehicle, while, "Officer Knight

cannot even get a slap of the wrist. The message is that it is all right to kill Africans in

this fashion." This event, Yeshitela argued, proved that the system did not value black

life. At a civil trial in 2004, James Knight allegedly admitted to murdering Lewis,

stating, "I intended to kill him." Though the statement seemed incriminating, it served to

assist Knight in winning his case because the charges were based on negligence.42

Still aiming to secure economic development in the black community, the Uhuru

sought alternative methods of negotiation. As the mayor and 45,000 of Saint

42 St. Petersburg Times, March 24, 1998; Tampa Tribune, March 24, 1998.

Petersburg's citizens prepared for the opening of its new baseball stadium housing the

Tampa Bay Devil Rays, the Uhuru prepared to protest. Yeshitela and AALC felt blacks

had been excluded from the park's economic opportunities. The Uhuru protested in

support of Campbell Park Neighborhood Association president Janice Teemer, who

advocated that the blacks that lived in the neighborhood near Tropicana Field should be

able to charge visitors for parking. Yeshitela had had enough of the city's policy of

leaving blacks out of baseball revenue, and he "vowed to disrupt traffic approaching

Tropicana Field," admitting, "we intend to rain on this ballgame."43

The Uhuru intended to remind city officials that they built Tropicana Stadium

over a black neighborhood. Protesters believed their community deserved a small share

of the benefit from the stadium since they had already made a significant sacrifice.

During the opening game, the APSP protested on the exit ramp of highway Interstate 75

at Fifth Avenue South in order to block traffic to the game. Police arrested six members

of the Uhuru merely thirty seconds after the protest began. At the following game, police

arrested four more members who protested at a second demonstration. This second

demonstration showed the Uhuru movement's commitment to risk themselves as political

activists for the black community.44

Frustrated with the results of the protest, Yeshitela moved to explain his

perspective to upscale local executives. He spoke at the Suncoast Tiger Bay Yacht Club,

43 Tampa Tribune, March 31, April 5, 1998; St. Petersburg Times, March 31, April 1,

44 Tampa Tribune, March 31, April 5, 1998; St. Petersburg Times, March 31, April 1,

a prestigious private white institution where the city's top investors frequented. As a

representative of poor blacks, Yeshitela used this opportunity to give a history lesson to

the city's ruling class. He delivered a speech to 190 listeners on economic development

in the black community. He explained:

Blacks were "brought" to Saint Petersburg to serve mainly
as a cheap source of labor for the tourism industry. At the
same time, the presence of so many frustrated Black folks
threatened the peaceful stability of that industry. So city
power-brokers long ago adopted a policy of "police
containment" to keep them in line.

Yeshitela argued that this hostile environment had persisted until the present day,

and served as a catalyst for the Tyron Lewis event. He argued that true economic

development, meaning major black businesses and franchises, not minimum wage jobs,

welfare, nor a few corporate positions, would be the only solution to the black

community's problems. Yeshitela finished by stating that increasing the police presence

in a community will always lead to conflict and confrontation, but community commerce

would lead to social justice. He also accused the city of trying to develop an "African-

free, sanitized zone" around the Tropicana Field. Yeshitela had finally gotten the

opportunity to express his views to the city's top businesspersons of the city without

igniting some sort of serious civil disturbance.46

Now that Yeshitela held a place in the political mainstream, city officials began to

rethink his 1966 mural case. In the latter part of 1998, to show some sensitivity to race

relations, Saint Petersburg City Council considered giving Yeshitela a plaque as a form of

45 St. Petersburg Times, July 10, 1998; Yeshitela, Omali Yeshitela Speaks, 108-115.

46 St. Petersburg Times, July 10, 1998; Yeshitela, Omali Yeshitela Speaks, 108-115.

an apology for the damages he incurred because of his 1966 act of ripping down a racist

mural. For years, a blank wall remained where the mural once hung, but once the idea of

a formal apology and a plaque surfaced, this issue quickly turned into an intense debate.

Half of the council members openly supported an apology for the "incorrect caricature of

African-Americans" and labeled Yeshitela "a hero whose act should be remembered."

These same council members advocated that Yeshitela's voting rights be restored. Some

local residents wanted a picture of Omali Yeshitela to replace the blank space. In 1996,

local artist Derek Washington received $7,500 from the Saint Petersburg Public Arts

Commission to create a mural painting of Yeshitela. After the Tyron Lewis case, the city

discarded the mural. In 1998, Washington sought to install the painting in City Hall but

abandoned his mission midway. Unfortunately, he concluded that city officials "don't

think any differently than they thought thirty years ago."47

The debate over Yeshitela's plaque continued. More than a year after the

controversy began, no conclusion had been reached. Everyone on the council agreed that

George Snow Hill's mural represented racism and that Yeshitela's actions symbolized

justice, but half of them still had issues with an apology. In September of 1998, the

council had requested the mayor to issue a public apology, but it produced no results.

The council itself could not agree to apologize half a year later. Council Chairwoman

Bea Griswold, for example, did not want to "immortalize a man" who promoted the

overthrow of the government. Griswold said Yeshitela's actions since the mural incident

have violated the constitution, an institution she felt obligated to uphold. She

47 St. Petersburg Times, September 11, November 11, 1998; Tampa Tribune
September 11, 1998.

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