Creating a Movement, Empowering a People, Perpetuating a Memory
The House of the Lord Church was the incubator of powerful movements. One of which was the Black United Front/ National Black United Front. Excerpts of the following story have been told, but repetition is important and particularly in this story about our church, which had such a powerful impact on history and whose influence is felt in the presence and will be felt until the end of time.
In the summer of 1977, Sam Pinn, Albert Vann, Jitu Weusi, and I began to meet. At that time, Pinn was chairman of the Brooklyn Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Vann was Assemblyman in the 56th AD, and Weusi was the founder and leader of The East, a cultural and educational organization that generated some of the most innovative and progressive programs in the city. All three were educators. Pinn later became a professor at Ramapo College of New Jersey. Vann and Weusi taught in the New York City public schools, both having played prominent roles in the struggle for community control in Ocean Hill-Brownsville. In fact, both taught at P.S. 271, one of the main schools in the Ocean Hill-Brownsville school complex. Both Vann and Weusi had been some yard by the charge of anti-Semitism as was anyone who played a leading role in the struggle. Over the years, the four of us have been politically involved with one another in various ways but never in the way that we were then. At that time, we were particularly concerned about the deplorable state of people of African Ancestry in Brooklyn and throughout the country.
In Brooklyn, despite our numbers, Blacks were relatively powerless, a frustrating situation pervasive throughout the city and the nation. We four decided to set aside one morning a week just to analyze and evaluate our political situation and to plan for better conditions.
In November 1976, a police officer named Robert Torsney killed a 15-year-old Black youth named Randolph Evans for no apparent reason. A year later, almost to the day, the jury rendered a decision to place Torsney under psychiatric treatment and to allow him weekends at home. The Black community was incensed. Once again, a White policeman had unjustly killed a black youth, and again there was neither recompense nor apology. There have been others; 11-year-old Ricky Borden from Staten Island; 11-year-old Clifford Glover from Jamaica Queens; and 14-year-old Claude Reese from Brooklyn. Various kinds of demonstrations followed the Evans killing.
Four of us, calling our movement the Concerned Leaders and Citizens to Save Our Youth, began to plan an appropriate response that would not only express our anger but would at the same time promote something positive to perpetuate the memory of Randolph Evans. We vowed to build a movement that would eventuate into the political and economic empowerment of our community. We decided on a three-pronged attack:
In December 1977, we launched our citywide boycott of the business community. We called it “Black Christmas 1977.” In time the boycott focused on downtown Brooklyn, whose major stores then included Abraham & Strauss, Korvettes, Martin’s, and May’s.
After ten months of boycott and demonstration, we said we settled for a ten-point agreement:
Minority bank deposits
Minority media advertising
Minority employment in the construction and maintenance of the Fulton Mall
Randolph Evans Community crisis fund (RECCF)
Randolph Evans Scholarship Fund (RESF) (The business community would fund both the RECCF and the RESF for a five-year period. Abraham & Strauss, under the leadership of vice president Robert McMillan and Francesco Canterella, who is still active, continued the scholarship fund until it merged with Macy’s.)
Brooklyn fair for minority vendors
Peddlers –space for peddlers to set up tables to sell their products.
Community advisory committee
(Presently, there is a multi-million-dollar development under construction in downtown Brooklyn; some aspect of this development is exactly what we argued for in our initial meeting with the merchants in 1978.)
2. Legal Action at the Federal Level
We demanded the U.S. Justice Department indict Officer Torsney for violation of Randolph Evans’ civil rights. The Justice Department refused, citing “insufficient evidence.”
Comprehensive Youth Program
We demanded that New York City appropriate special funds and activities for our youth. On January 12, 1978, the Coalition and other community leaders met with Mayor Ed Koch. The meeting grew out of a demonstration we led during Koch’s inauguration at the Brooklyn Museum on January 1, 1978. (See Chapter 7: Edward I. Koch: Mayor of New York City.) Joining us at the meeting with the Mayor were Basil Paterson, who had been appointed Deputy Mayor, and David Dinkins, who was then the New York City Clerk. At the meeting, we discussed three issues with Koch.
Police Brutality. Koch said that we should meet with his newly appointed Police Commissioner, Robert McGuire.
The Indictment of Robert Torsney. We asked Koch to write a letter to United States Attorney David Trager in support of our demand for the indictment of Officer Robert Torsney on the violation of Randy Evans’ civil rights. Koch agreed to write a letter.
A Comprehensive Youth Program. Koch said a Blue-Ribbon Commission on youth had been established. But not too much, if anything, came of it. The meeting was very cordial, and Koch was very agreeable.
The Honorable Basil Paterson, then Deputy Mayor, was widely respected and helped to negotiate the agreement. Other members of our negotiating team, in addition to the four (Pinn, Vann, Weusi, and myself), included: Safiya Bandele, who would later become head of the Black United Front Women’s Section and who currently serves as Director of the Center for Women’s Development at Medgar Evers College; Peggy Smith (now Washington), who served as assistant coordinator of the demonstrations; Job Mashariki, who organized the Black Veterans for Social Justice; and Michael Amon-Ra, who coordinated the boycotts and later became the executive organizer of the Black United Front and then became Executive Director of Career Opportunities for Brooklyn Youth, one of the many programs influenced by the movement. Also included were my wife, Karen S. Daughtry, Director of the Alonzo A. Daughtry Memorial Day Care Center, and Annie Evans Brannon, the mother of Randy Evans Scholarship Fund.
THE CREATION OF THE BLACK UNITED FRONT
The Concerned Leaders and Citizens to Save Our Youth was expanding rapidly, and we realized we needed more structure and a more clearly defined strategy. In July 1978, we formed the Black United Front (BUF) with a steering committee consisting of:
Rev. Herbert Daughtry –The House of the Lord Church
Jitu Weusi –Black Community Congress
Dr. Vernal Cave –Black Community Council of Crown Heights
Sam Pinn –Brooklyn Congress of Racial Equality (CORE)
Andy Gill –Arthur Miller Community Defense Committee
Rev. Clarence Norman –First Baptist Church of Crown Heights
Leon E. Modeste –New York Urban League
Mahmud Ramza –Ramza Associates
Rev. Hernon Sam – St. Mark’s Episcopal Church
Also, we developed five Principles of Unity:
Opposition to racism, bigotry, and racial violence
Redistribution of the resources and wealth of the nation to provide abundantly for all citizens
Opposition to genocide through miseducation
Opposition to police brutality
Opposition to national and international denial of human rights.
The Black United Front became the umbrella organization for a variety of organizations, and many people joined. At a news conference on July 5, 1978, on the steps of City Hall, we formally announced the formation of BUF as “a vehicle to agitate, educate, and organize our community.”
NATIONAL BLACK UNITED FRONT
After our success with the BUF model in New York City, we decided to duplicate it across the country. So on June 26, 1980, the Founding Convention of NBUD met at the Sumner Avenue Armory in Brooklyn, attended by over a thousand delegates from thirty-five states and five foreign countries. We adopted a temporary constitution and we also elected temporary officers:
Herbert Daughtry, National Chairperson
Ron Herndon, Portland, Oregon, National Secretary
Florence Walker, Philadelphia, PA, National Treasurer
Jitu Weusi, Brooklyn, NY, National Coordinator
After the heated atmosphere of the convention, my wife and I immediately embarked on a three-week cross-country drive, visiting the delegates in hope of healing wounds and resolving differences.
To be continued…