Today, I smoked a Spike Lee Joint, BlackKlansman, better than Acapulco Gold, sho’ nuff better than Jamaican Trip Weed, and slightly better than Tuskegee Red.
I walked out of the theatre euphoric, as only a Spike Lee Joint can leave one who inhales his intoxicant. My salient takeaway from Lee’s masterpiece on the hatred that begot hate, is that the Nazis, no matter how hard they try, will not replace us.
Lee’s epic film of Ron Stallworth’s infiltration of the Ku Klux Klan starts with a scene from Gone With the Wind, where one would have suspected the white supremacist ethos would have been swept away in the wind that blew Sherman’s fires throughout Atlanta.
The scene depicts Scarlett O’Hara at the train depot in Atlanta, walking over dead and wounded Confederate soldiers after Sherman had routed Atlanta as he marched from the North Georgia Piedmonts to the marshes in coastal Georgia.
Although Lee does not cover it in his film, it is important to note, following this great Civil War, Blacks who had been enslaved in the United States from 1619 until 1865, quickly gained Black political power, which they held onto for 10 years from 1868 until 1878.
Black political participation came to a squeaking halt when federal troops were removed from the southern states. The troop removal allowed the emergence of the KKK. Their goal was to stop the Black man from participating in the political process through fear, intimidation and degradation.
This tactic of the KKK worked to perfection as Blacks were driven out of political office at the point of a gun. However, Blacks continued to thrive economically because during enslavement they had mastered the trades that the American economy needed in order to prosper. Due to segregation the money that Black people made stayed in their community and seldom left it to enrich the white supremacists paradigm. The supremacists harbored resentment that Blacks were thriving and they were not as fortunate.
At the turn of the 19th century Blacks, encouraged by Booker T. Washington to build up their own communities did so and suddenly again became a threat to white dominance. Black lawyers, doctors, shopkeepers, etc. left the supremacists in a quandary: What to do about these uppity Negroes?
Klansmen got their answer in the year that Booker T. Washington died, with the 1915 release of D. W. Griffith’s epic silent film, The Birth of A Nation. This film was originally entitled The Clansman.
From the Gone with the Wind scene Lee juxtaposed action from the silent film The Birth of A Nation. While Margaret Mitchell’s epic talking film Gone with the Wind, leaves the south defeated in war and driven into the poor house without resource to free labor, The Birth of A Nation, emboldens the south to rise again.
It is essentially a story which pits northern abolitionists against a southern slaveholder who is captured during the war. The daughter of the northern abolitionist begs for the life of the southern slaveholder to be spared. When he is allowed to live, he goes back home to South Carolina after the war and takes up battle against the father of the woman who begged for his life and the father’s Negro protege. The father was a congressman who taught the political ropes to his Black protege.
The former slaveholder feared the Black protege would gain political power in South Carolina, so he concocted a false charge against the Black protege. You probably guessed it already, the “fake” charge was the rape of a white woman. To avenge the honor of the southern belle, the Klan rides again.
At this point, the crafty Lee, masterfully introduces Stokely Carmichael who along with Willie Ricks ushered the term “Black Power” into the lexicon of 20th century political thought.
Bam, a perfect time to reintroduce the striving of Black people in the Americas since 1619. It all comes down to Blacks having people in key positions wielding political power, which is defined as “who gets what, when, where and how much.”
Here Lee struggles with the narrative. On the one hand, he has the originator of “Black Power” at a pivotal point in the film, when the Klan has risen up to deny Blacks an opportunity to participate in the political process.
However it is at a time in Carmichael’s life when he has moved from “Black Power” to Pan Africanism, from being known as Stokely Carmichael to being known as Kwame Toure; from being a Black Power advocate to being a student of Pan Africanism; and at a time when he would have been less inclined to give a rabble rousing Black Power speech and more inclined to give a lecture on Consciencism, “the philosophy and ideology for decolonization and development with particular reference to the African revolution.”
Lee has to find a countervailing force to the reemergence of the Klan in the early 1970s and Carmichael is it. The speech Lee has Carmichael giving at Colorado Springs College sounds more like Malcolm X before his break with the Nation of Islam than Kwame Toure.
During the year depicted in this film, I squatted with Toure for a couple of days at Tuskegee Institute and a couple of years later at Howard University. By this time he had been under the tutelage of Kwame Nkrumah (first President of Ghana) and Ahmed Sekou Toure (first President of Guinea), thus the name change to Kwame Toure.
President Nkrumah’s government had been toppled in a coup d'etat in 1968 while enroute to China with a peace plan to end the war in Vietnam. President Toure invited Nkrumah to come and live in Guinea.
Together they mentored the radical Stokely Carmichael into becoming an advocate of the Pan African People Revolutionary Party, a political party designed to gain the hearts and minds of African people wherever found in the diaspora.
His rhetorical style had changed. It was linear, more logic, less polemical. At Tuskegee the absence of a reference to Black Power in his speech caused one Jewish philosophy professor, Herbie Mosher, to ask him if Black Power had died.
Carmichael noted that literally overnight, Maynard Jackson had been elected as the first Black mayor of a major southern city to prove to the professor that Black Power in the context of his 1967 rhetoric was alive and well by saying, “Yesterday there were no Black mayors of a major southern city, today there is one.”
Of such was the rhetorical style of Carmichael in 1973.
Lee has Carmichael in the film telling Ron Stallworth following the speech at Colorado Springs College that he should get his gun because a revolution is coming.
Again, Lee takes poetic license with the philosophy of Toure. While Carmichael preached self-defense during his brief time as Honorary Prime Minister of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, by the 1970s he advocated study groups and organizing for people interested in bringing about political change through the Pan African People Revolutionary Party.
A case in point, following his above referenced lecture in the Tuskegee Chapel in 1973, a male student called out from the balcony and asked to join the revolutionary vanguard that Carmichael had spoken about only to be rebuffed by Carmichael and told that he should “study, study, study and organize, organize, organize!”
Yet Lee made his point: Black people should refocus on gaining Black Power in the face of growing white supremacist rhetoric.
From here Lee lets Stallworth tell his story, how he pulled off an elaborate yet simple ruse to get the Grand Wizard, David Duke to fly to Colorado Springs and initiate a Black man into the KKK.
This was some funny stuff. I could not stop laughing out loud, spilling popcorn and beverage into the air and onto the floor.
After pulling off his ruse which led to the deaths of two Klansman and jail time for a wife of a Klansman, Stallworth was ordered to disband his uncover role as a Klansman.
Then Lee brings the opening scene from Gone with The Wind full circle by having Stallworth and his girlfriend travel through time and space to Charlottesville, Virginia, August 12, 2017(alas, Lee’s Malcolm X scene outside of the Audubon Ballroom)initially in a scene depicting a group of Nazis marching on the campus of the University of Virginia shouting: “Jews will not replace us.”
This was followed by the carnage in the streets of Charlottesville in the aftermath of the murder of Heather Heyer. My, how times have changed; instead of the wounded and dead of the Confederacy lying in a southern street, the wounded and dead were the progenies of the abolitionists and the enslaved.
It was then that I realized what Lee must have known all along, the Klan and the Nazis are a small band of cowards who can never replace the good and decent people in America.
The Klan and the Nazis will not replace us simply because there are more of us than there are of them.
Never forget that Hillary Clinton polled more votes than the Grand Wizard of hatred and division who is attempting a rebirth of a nation conceived in white supremacy and dedicated to the proposition that all others should be excluded from participating in the pursuit of happiness within its borders.
Harold Michael Harvey is an American novelist and essayist. He is a Contributor at The Hill, SCLC National Magazine, Southern Changes Magazine, Medium and Black College Nines. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org