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The Black Radical Congress (BRC) emerged out of a series of informal discussions that five leading African-American activists and academics – Barbara Ransby, Abdul Alkalimat, Bill Fletcher, Leith Mullings and Manning Marable – began to have in the mid-1990s on the subject of “organizing the movement of the Black Left.”
One hundred seventeen black radicals stepped forth as “Endorsers of the Call” for the formation of BRC in 1998. These included such luminaries as Amiri Baraka, Angela Davis, Lewis Gordon, Julianne Malveaux, Manning Marable, Rosalyn Pelles, and Cornel West. Also among the endorsers were leading figures from radical organizations such as the Communist Party USA, the Freedom Road Socialist Organization, the Global Pan African Movement, the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, the International Socialist Organization, the League of Revolutionaries for a New America, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, and the National Welfare Rights Union. Other BRC endorsers were labor-union officials affiliated with the National Postal Mail Handlers Union, the International Longshoremen’s Association, the AFSCME, and the Service Employees International Union.
From BRC's inception, its leaders elected to incorporate the term “Radical” in the organization's name as a way to emphasize its “ardent desire to dismantle ideas and policies fundamentally adverse and/or obstructive to the progressive movement of the Black Left.” Moreover, said BRC, “the term evokes a sense of unity with Blacks from the past who were pioneers of the Black civil rights movement” that “fought to overcome ... injustices.”
In its March 16, 1998 mission statement, the newly formed BRC asserted that black people faced “a deep crisis” that could only be addressed by “a new movement of Black radicalism” through which African Americans could “unite against the real enemy.” That foe was “America’s capitalist economy,” which had “completely failed” black people and had given rise to social ills like “class exploitation, racism, sexism and homophobia.” While "Working people ... pay more taxes and receive fewer services," said BRC, "the rich and the corporations grow fat."
Characterizing the United States as a nation rife with racism, BRC's mission statement lamented that “police brutality, violence and the international drug trade threaten our [black] children with the greatest dangers since slavery.” While politicians “build more prisons” and “hire more cops,” added BRC, they “slash welfare” and “cut budgets for public schools, day care and health care.”
The first BRC assembly, attended by some 2,000 people, was held on June 19, 1998 in Chicago. It featured a host of workshop sessions that focused heavily on the theme of black victimization at the hands of a racist white power structure. Among the workshop titles were:
A significant proportion of the panelists who participated in these workshops were affiliated with the Communist Party USA and the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism. Members of the Socialist Workers Party and the New Party also played a role. The most notable panelists were Van Jones, Michael Eric Dyson, Cornel West, and Jeremiah Wright. (The latter three were panelists in a workshop titled "Faith as a Weapon: Spirituality and the Role of the Church in the Radical Movement.")
In February 2003, BRC charged that America's “impending war in Iraq is supplemented by an accelerated war at home under the banner of Homeland Security”; that “Africans in America,” who “have been the main victims of the oppression and war against the poor inside the USA,” constituted “a disproportionate number of those who are being called up to go to the frontlines” in Iraq; and that “the draconian measures being taken by the present [U.S.] government include the use of more sophisticated instruments of coercion and repression than was available at the time of the Nazis in Germany.”
Today BRC consists of more than 20,000 members, organized into local chapters that mobilize primarily around “social injustices perpetrated against Blacks.” BRC points out, however, that its work is “not restricted to only fighting against racism, but addresses also the issues of sexism, homophobia and class antagonisms ... as they are played out in the context of the overall Black community.”