Remembering the Black Radical Congress

Remembering the Black Radical Congress

By Bill Fletcher, Jr.

            On the afternoon of June 19, 1998 I was sitting near the registration desk at the founding conference of the Black Radical Congress.  The Continuations Committee, which had served as the planning group for the conference, anticipated approximately 500 people attending.  But as each hour passed the numbers kept growing.  By the end of the conference, on Sunday, June 21st, close to 3000 people had registered and participated in all or part of the founding of the Black Radical Congress.

Fast forward.  Approximately two years ago I was in a bookstore where I stumbled across a recently published book about Black radicalism.  I looked to see what was said about the Black Radical Congress, an organization which had been in existence for approximately ten years.  Nothing!  Not a word.  I was stunned.

The Black Radical Congress was a broad coalition of activists from the Black Left who, in the aftermath of the 1995 Million Man March, concluded that there needed to be a Black radical voice in the larger political mix.  The organizers and core of the BRC recognized that there has always been a current of radicalism within the Black Freedom Movement, a current that recognizes that Black freedom will necessitate a radical transformation of the USA AND that such a transformation must be in solidarity with freedom fighters around the world.  It was with that in mind that we gathered in Chicago that June Teenth weekend in 1998 to embark on a mission.

The initial success of the Black Radical Congress could be found in its breath.  There were different political tendencies operating within the same organization.  There were many activists who had been at each other’s throats in the past, but were now prepared to work together.  As a result, BRC organizing committees were established around the USA which became the focal points for many different projects including but not limited to anti-police brutality; a campaign around “education, not incarceration”; work to free Charleston, South Carolina dockworkers locked up for protesting (the Charleston 5 case); work against the persecution of former Black Panther and current exile Assata Shakur; and direct involvement in the historic United Nations World Conference against Racism, held in South Africa in 2001.

The scope of work was remarkable and while many of the differences within the BRC were successfully resolved, as with most new formations, there were mistakes, some of which led to splintering.

I have been struck, over the years, with how often I encounter activists who had been BRC members or were aware of its existence who have said:  “Where is the BRC when we need it?”  Though the question is rhetorical it remains very real.  The BRC was not a single-issue formation or movement and, for a time, it concentrated the work of Black radicals in a way that was making a real-world difference.  That legacy should never be forgotten.


For more information on the BRC, please see the essay that the BRC’s former national organizer, Jamala Rogers, and I wrote:

4 thoughts on “Remembering the Black Radical Congress

  1. We need the Black Radical Congress more than ever. How do I become a part of the Black Radical Congress?

    • Thanks for this note.

      The BRC dissolved in 2008. There are important organizations that I would suggest exist as part of the legacy of the BRC, including BlackLivesMatter, as well as a variety of groups that are associated with the Movement for Black Lives. But I must say that I think that the BRC made a unique contribution. Thanks for your interest.

  2. I remember this happening a year or so after we first met during my participation in a union education delegation in 1996. I used to follow the BRC from here in Sydney and occasionally share info about its activities with friends and comrades in our movement. I often wondered why it “disappeared”, if I can use that word. So, I will read the reference you provide with interest. Sometimes these developments come back in a new form.With best wishes and solidarity. Don. P.S. Its a great pity we wont have you in Australia as we were hoping for this coming spring (here).

    • The BRC made an important contribution but it was difficult to sustain. While money–or the lack there of–was certainly a factor, what Jamala Rogers and I try to address in the essay that we wrote, were some of the other lessons that one can learn from what was done well and what challenges we did not handle well.
      I, too, regret that I cannot get to Australia this year. Part of the complication with being a consultant and trying to address the needs of my clients.

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