As the U.S. celebrates the accomplishments of Black-Americans during Black History Month, The Phillipian aims to revisit Andover’s history with Black scholars and public figures, as well as Black Andover students, by publishing select works from our archives. However, The Phillipian recognizes that this is just the start of recounting the Black student experience in its totality, from celebrating Black accomplishments to acknowledging the deep-rooted presence of anti-Black racism on campus.
In January 1968, The Phillipian conducted an interview with Dr. Nathan Wright Jr. on the topic of race relations and Black Power. Wright, a minister and scholar, was also a well-known advocate of racial pride and the social and economic empowerment of African-Americans. In the summer before this interview, a group of policemen raided a welcome-home party held for two Vietnam War veterans at an illegal after-hours drinking club. With the pre-existing tensions of unemployment, police brutality, and racial segregation, this police raid, in which 82 African-Americans were arrested, acted as the catalyst for the rise of racial tensions across the U.S. In the following months, more than one hundred violent protests occurred in Atlanta, Boston, Cincinnati, Buffalo, Tampa, and other cities. These “civic disorders” were considered as one of the underlying causes behind the emergence of the Black Power movement. Wright’s comments on riots, interracial unity, and Black pride continue to remain relevant and powerful in the current political sphere.
Dr. Wright, what is your definition of Black Power?
My definition of Black Power is simply the capacity for Black people to be themselves. This means that people will express Black Power in different ways. A person who has a pacific, peaceful kind of disposition will express Black Power in a pacific or irenic way; a person who is belligerent or bellicose will express Black Power in ways that are aggressive.
What is the best way for Black people to attain Black Power?
The same way that all ethnic groups who have no more than a residual basis for power must do. That is through the implied power that comes through unity in their ethnic group numbers. Black people have been encouraged over their period of legal enslavement and their period of economic enslavement to be divisive and disunited. Black people must overcome this feeling of divisiveness, and must develop a wholesome sense of their own worth, integrity, and value.
How can the Black people instill pride and self-respect in themselves?
I think that it is a simple matter, if only Black people would do it. Black people have to clear the slate. Black people have a negative sense of their own identity. Black people feel that any kind of ethnic pride is something that is alien to the American tradition for Black people, and yet every other group in this nation has many, many devices for this. Tactically, we feel that the nation’s survival depends upon Black people developing some kind of sense of power and some semblance of pride.
How do last summer’s riots tie in with the Black Power movement?
The term “riot” is your term. Those were civic disorders. The rioting was done against Black people and simply was a surfacing of looting and violence against Black people which has been going on in this country ever since the Black people have been here. This was simply rebellion. The overt rioting in terms of massacre was done by the public, by the state police in Newark, and the National Guard. They were the ones who did the violence to human life.
Just how far has the Black man progressed in the past 20 years?
There is no such thing as progress. The economic gap has remained the same over the years. To even use or suggest a term as progress is absolutely not justified. I cannot see this in some of the major civil rights organizations. I cannot see this in the federal government. I think this is a travesty.
The effective place of Black people is worsening. Yet people point out with pride that Black people are in positions they never were before. Certainly, because the economy is growing and because the blue-collar trades, particularly in the agricultural pursuits, are diminishing, and the white-collar pursuits are growing, we are having many new jobs of greater prestige on top of the white-collar jobs. There have been new prestigious jobs that have opened with our expanding economy on top of them. So a lot of our white-collar jobs have simply dropped down to where Black people are. Black people have not risen to them.
Do you see any hope for integration and do you want integration?
Social goals should always be expressed in terms of ends and not means. Integration of people is not a justifiable social end. If integration takes place, it should take place to give people freedom to offer new experiences to people. Whatever your goal is, it should be expressed.
We have always had effective integration in this country between the Germans and the Jews, between the English and the Irish, but never as an end in itself. It was always a means towards an end. Integration implies the deliberate mixing-up of people. This is not our purpose. The term integration is a very unfortunate term which is expressive of a growing manipulative mindset in the nation’s life.
The other day a Black student at Andover told me that his friend back home said he was “selling out” to white society by attending a white prep-school. Do you think that this reflects jealousy or a sincere belief on his part?
I think it reflects a sincere belief. In part it may be true, and in part it may not be true. All of us have to sell out every day of our life to some extent, but what you should do is be mindful of where you are selling and make sure that you only sell out in those areas where you feel that it is strategically necessary for you to. There is no way for anybody to not be part of the society or the system which is represented by the society of which they are part. And we belong to a racist society that has a racist system.
Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Emeka, Traqina Quarks. “Detroit Riot of 1967”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 16 Jul. 2020, https://www.britannica.com/event/Detroit-Riot-of-1967. Accessed 4 February 2021.