James Tracy and Amy Sonnie, authors of Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels, and Black Power: Community Organizing in Radical Times, recently joined Jakobi Williams, author of From the Bullet to the Ballot: The Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Part and Racial Coalition Politics in Chicago, Hy Thurman, founding member of the Young Patriots Organization, and historian Edward Onaci, for OYO’s panel, Original Rainbow Coalition, at the Slought Foundation in Philadelphia. If you missed the event, full audio of the program can be found on Slought Foundation’s website by clicking here.
We’ve included an excerpt of James Tracy’s interview with Hy Thurman in which the two discuss the Original Rainbow Coalition below. For the full interview click here.
James Tracy: Your organizing led to an alliance with the Panthers and Lords, the Original Rainbow Coalition
Hy Thurman: On April 4,1969, which was also the first anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Fred Hampton, Bobby Rush and Bobby Lee of the Illinois Black Panther Party invited the Young Patriots to join with them and the Young Lords – a former Puerto Rican street gang to form the original Rainbow Coalition of revolutionary solidarity. The Black Panthers were aware of our commitment to the movement of racial equality due to the Good Fellows and other poor organizations participating in the Eldridge Clever-Peggy Terry Presidential Campaign in 1966.
Peggy Terry a poor white woman and organizer living in Uptown was chosen to run as Eldridge Cleaver`s Vice Presidential partner on the Peace and Freedom Campaign ticket running against Alabama`s Governor due to his racist and white supremacist beliefs. The campaign also wanted to show that poor blacks and whites could unite in solidarity. It was agreed by the three groups that neither organization would control the coalition. Each organization would control their community and fight for self-determination. The three would make a statement that in the most segregated city in the United State that it was possible for all races to work together. We would come together in solidarity to support each others programs and challenge the Daley Administration, Unite in demonstrations and stand side by side to defeat racism and fascism. We agreed to serve with their security detail by standing shoulder to shoulder at many functions.
JT: As a consequence of your work in the Original Rainbow Coalition, you were harassed for many years by the government. Why did the ORC scare the powers that be so badly?
HT: I think a lot of the fear was generated by how the federal and local governments view the Black Panthers and us stepping out of our assigned roles in society. The day after we cemented our solidarity of revolutionary brotherhood the FBI and their illegal COINTELPRO began surveillance of the Young Patriots. They were already aware of us because Chicago Police departments Red Squad had been gathering information on the Good Fellows and the Young Patriots for years. They were watching us due in a large part because of Mayor Daley`s fear that the Rainbow Coalition showed real promises to diminishing his power.
FBI documents that had been sealed after the Chicago Police and the FBI clearly states that the Black Panthers were the number one threat to national security to the FBI and that the BPP had recruited other like minded organizations. The memo from the FBI in Chicago to J. Edgar Hoover identifies the two dangerous organizations as The Young Lords and The Young Patriots. Hoover stated in a separate memo the there was a rising messiah in Chicago that had t be eliminated. Everyone in the coalition believed that to be Fred Hampton.
I believe that if the Original Rainbow Coalition Continued that if would have been a major force in Chicago by uniting thousands of poor people who hat usually fought against or avoided each other a model to organize and gain power in Chicago and the rest of the country. Daley and hoover was not about to let that happen. College students protesting were easily obtained. But poor communities uniting, especially poor whites uniting with other racial and minority groups preaching revolutionary change and socialism was a major threat. The coalition either had to be controlled or destroyed. I strongly believe that the Rainbow model can be used today if it is effectively organized.