The Black Radical Congress (BRC) emerged out of a series of informal discussions that five leading African-American activists and academics—Abdul Alkalimat, Bill Fletcher, Manning Marable, Leith Mullings, and Barbara Ransby—initiated in 1996 on the subject of “organizing the movement of the Black Left.” Their objective was to “brin[g] together the varied sections of the Black radical tradition—Socialists and Communists, revolutionary nationalists, and radical Black feminists and womanists.”
In March 1997, approximately 70 activists from more than 20 U.S. cities convened in Chicago to begin planning BRC’s eventual formation. These participants were affiliated with such groups as African American Agenda 2000, Black Workers for Justice, the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS), the Communist Party USA (CPUSA), the Labor Party, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, and the New Afrikan Peoples Organization.
A core group of leaders from among the aforementioned activists held three subsequent national meetings to continue laying the groundwork for BRC. These gatherings took place in Washington, DC (May 1997), Atlanta (September 1997), and New York City (January 1998). Along the way, the organizers drafted a “Call for the Congress” and issued the names of over 100 conveners.
In early 1998, some 117 black radicals stepped forth as “Endorsers of the Call” for the formation of BRC, which was now imminent. These included such notables as Amiri Baraka, Angela Davis, Lewis Gordon, Julianne Malveaux, Manning Marable, Rosalyn Pelles, and Cornel West. Also among the Endorsers were leading figures from organizations such as the CPUSA, 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 included labor-union officials affiliated with the AFSCME, the International Longshoremen’s Association, the National Postal Mail Handlers Union, and the SEIU.
From BRC’s inception, its leaders elected to incorporate the term “Radical” into 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, by BRC’s telling, was “America’s capitalist economy” which had “completely failed” black people, even as it gave 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.”
BRC’s mission statement also 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.”
BRC’s first national 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 CPUSA and CCDS. Members of the Socialist Workers Party and the New Party also played a role. Among the most notable panelists were Michael Eric Dyson, Van Jones, Cornel West, and Jeremiah Wright.
In February 2003, BRC charged that America’s “impending war in Iraq” was being “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 … being called up to go to the frontlines” in Iraq; and that “the draconian [anti-terrorism] measures” being taken by the U.S. government included “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.”