The Black Manifesto

The full text of The Manifesto of the Black National Economic Conference has not until now appeared in any national publication. It deserves to be printed not for the chance that it will alter our present history but with the hope that it can illuminate it. We speak of it generally as James Forman’s demand for $500 million from the churches as reparations for the black community, and pretty fairly so as such summaries go: Forman created the Black Manifesto and is the coup de théâtre’s almost single instrument of its propagation among the communions of the National Council of Churches.

The Black Manifesto had its genesis at the April conference of the Interreligious Foundation of Community Organizations, Inc., “a unique coalition of Roman Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, Black and Methodist organizations” formed, in the words of Dr. J. Edward Carothers of the Board of Missions of the Methodist Church, “by religious bodies to help disadvantaged people to help themselves.”

IFCO seems to have been blessed by the pieties and burdened with the penuries of the churches since its formation in September of 1967. “All the denominations are lagging,” complains the Rev. Mr. Lucius Walker, IFCO’s executive director. “We requested $300,000 from the Episcopalians and the Episcopal Executive Committee voted $120,000.” The Presbyterians promised $70,000 and gave only $20,000.

“I’m not going to be a house nigger,” Mr. Walker says. “Churches have gotten a hell of a lot of mileage out of IFCO, pretending they are doing something. A $1.5 million response to the urban crisis is like a drop in the bucket.”

We may not unkindly assume that, from this sense of being neglected, IFCO called its Black Economic Development Conference in Detroit last April because it had nothing much else to do, and that James Forman was drawn there for very much the same reason. Forman has been much criticized for the vagaries of his life since the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee lost its faith in us. The existence of the black revolutionary, of course, is only too often the business of making do between the time he is noticed and the time he is shot. Forman’s arena, then, is those forums which have agendas and no purpose; his function is kicking down doors to empty rooms.

The mechanics of his capture of the National Black Economic Conference are obscure; the most plausible inference seems to be that it was an open city; by its second day, he held its platform and could present the Black Manifesto he had brought with him. The Manifesto itself was preceded by an introduction which said, in part:

…We shall liberate all the people in the United States…. It follows from the laws of revolution that the most oppressed will make the revolution, but we are not talking just about making the revolution. All the parties on the left who consider themselves revolutionary will say that blacks are the Vanguard, but we are saying that not only are we the Vanguard, but…

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