Seek Audacious Power by Adam Clayton Powell

Melanin, the aromatic biopolymer and organic semiconductor that makes Black people black is worth over $350 a gram more than gold. Black people in the USA possess over $1.1 Trillion in economic buying power, and a Black man named Barack Hussein Obama lives in the White House with his Black wife Michelle and their daughters. How much has changed in the 50 years since this speech was presented in 1966?

“So beware not only of Greeks bearing gifts but colored men seeking loans and Northern white liberals!” advised Adam Clayton Powell in the baccalaureate delivered before the graduating class of Howard University Sunday May 29th 1966 following is the complete text of Representative Powell’s address.

“Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?”

Almost two thousand years ago that question was a contemptuous inquiry in the Book of John. “And Nathanael said unto Philip. ‘Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?'” Philip saith, ‘Come and see.'”

Nazareth was the Mississippi of Galilee. There were no great artists or philosopher-kings or musicians. There was no center of learning such as Howard University. In this commencement of your life, the world will ask: Can there any good thing come out of Howard?

As Black students educated at America’s finest black institution of higher learning, you are still second-class citizens. A mere one hundred years in the spectrum of time separates us from slavery and a lifetime of indignities. Next year on March 2nd 1967 Howard will celebrate the Centennial of its founding. Next year on March 21st 1967 the Committee on Education and Labor of which I am the chairman will also celebrate its 100th anniversary.

How ironic that the Committee on Education and Labor which was formed immediately after the Civil War to help black slaves make the transition into Freedom should have a black man years later as its chairman.

One of the purposes of the Committee’s founding was to take care of Howard University. It is too late for you who are graduating to know this unless you plan to pursue graduate work here, but it is not too late for the faculty to know it: the Education and Labor Committee is in charge of Howard University. Howard, along with other Federal institutions such as St Elizabeth and the Gallaudet College, is under the jurisdiction of my Committee. While both Howard and I, as Chairman of this Committee, will celebrate our 100 years together, joy of our success is tempered by the sobering fact that our status as black people has been denied first-class acceptance.

Keith E. Baird, writing in the spring edition of “FreedomWays,” gives voice to these thoughts in his poem, “Nemesis”:

“You snatched me from my land,
Branded my body with your irons,
And my soul with the slave-name, ‘Negro’
(How devilish clever to spell it upper case
And keep me always lower!)”

To possess a black skin today in America means that if you are in Los Angeles driving your pregnant wife to a hospital you’ll be shot to death by a white policeman. A Black skin means that if your family lives in Webster County Mississippi your average family income will be $846 a year–$16.30 a week for an entire family. A Black skin today is an unemployment rate twice that of whites despite a skyrocketing gross national product of 714 billion dollars and an unprecedented level of employment.

A black skin means that you are still a child, that all the white liberals who have helped you to take your first steps towards freedom and manhood now believe they own your soul, can manage your lives and control your civil rights organizations. Only SNCC has been able to resist the seductive blandishments of white liberals.

So beware not only of Greeks bearing gifts but colored men seeking loans and Northern white liberals! At this graduation today this is the reality of self you must face. Your graduation comes at a particularly critical period of the Black man’s searching re-assessment of who he is, what he should become and how he should become IT. The history of the last 25 years of the freedom struggle has been capsuled in only two concepts: integration and civil rights.

During those years, our leaders — and black people are the only people who have “leaders” — other groups have politicians, statesmen, educators, financiers and businessmen — but during those years our leaders drugged us with the LSD of integration. Instead of telling us to seek audacious power — more black power — instead of leading us in the pursuit of excellence, our leaders led us in the sterile chase of integration as an end in itself in the debasing notion that a few white skins sprinkled amongst us would somehow elevate the genetics of our development.

As a result, ours was an integration of intellectual mediocrity, economic inferiority and political subservience. Like frightened children, we were afraid to eat the strong meat of human rights and instead sucked the milk of civil rights from the breasts of white liberals, Black Uncle Toms and Aunt Jemimas.

From the book of Hebrews, a diet of courage is offered to black people:

“For everyone that uses milk is unskillful in the
word of righteousness: for he is a babe.
But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age,
Even those who by reason of use have their senses
Exercised to discern both Good and Evil.”

Historically, strong meat was too risky for most black people or it would have enabled them to discern both good and evil, the difference between civil rights and human rights.

Human rights are God-given. Civil rights are man-made. Civil rights has been that grand deception practiced by those who have not placed God first, who have not believed that God given rights can empower the black man with superiority as well as equality.

Our life must be purposed to implement human rights:

  • The right to be secure in one’s person from the excessive abuses of the state and its law enforcing officials.
  • The right to freedom of choice of a job to feed one’s family.
  • The right to freedom of mobility of residence.
  • The right to the finest education man’s social order can provide.
  • And most importantly the right to share fully the governing councils of the state as equal members of the body politic.

To demand these God-given rights is to seek Black power, what I call audacious power the power to build Black institutions of splendid achievement. Howard University was once well on its way to becoming a lasting Black institution of splendid achievement when it struggled to contain the intellectual excitement and dynamic creativity of search Black scholars as Alain Locke, Sterling Brown, E. Franklin Frazier, Sam Dorsey, Eugene Holmes, James Nabrit and Rayford Logan — all on the campus at the same time. What glorious symbols they were of Black creativity!

But where are the Black symbols of creativity of 1966? Where is the greatness of our yesteryears? Where are the sonnets Black poets once sung of the Black man’s agony of life? Can any good thing come out of Howard today?

There can and there must. I call today for a Black Renaissance at Howard University. Resurrect Black creativity, not only in literature, history, law, poetry, and English, but more so in mathematics, engineering, aerodynamics and nuclear physics. Like Nicodemus, Howard must be born again– Born Again in the image of Black greatness gone before.

Will one Black woman here today dare to come forth as a pilgrim of God, a Sojourner Truth– as a black Moses, Harriet Tubman– Nannie Burroughs? Will one Black man here today dare to be a Denmark Vesey, a Nat Turner, a Frederick Douglass, a Marcus Garvey, W.E.B. Dubois or a Malcolm X?

One with God is a majority. This Divine Oneness can restore Howard to the Glory of Charlie Houston whose classrooms were the womb of the Civil Rights Movement– a womb that birthed a Thurgood Marshall. But the womb has aborted and the good thing which must come out of Howard must also come out of black people.

Ask yourselves that higher question: Can any good thing come of Black people? We are the last revolutionaries in America– the last transfusion of Freedom into the bloodstream of democracy. Because we are, we must mobilize our wintry discontent to transform the cold hard and white face of this nation.

Indeed we must “drop our buckets” where we are. We must stop blaming “Whitey” for all our sins and oppressions and deal from situations with strength. Why sit down at the bargaining table with the white man when you have nothing with which to bargain? Why permit social workers and various leagues and associations to represent us when they are representing the decadent white power structure which pays their salaries, their rent and tells them what to say? Such men cannot possess the noble arrogance of power that inspires men, moves nations and decides the fate of mankind.

I call for more arrogance of power among black people, but an arrogance of power that is God-inspired, God-led and God-daring. As Cassius said: “The fault dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in yourselves, that we are underlings. So, every bondman in his own hand bears the power to cancel his captivity.” We can cancel the captivity of our souls and destroy the enslavement of our minds by refusing to compromise any of our human rights. The era of compromise for the Black man is gone!

Birmingham, Harlem and Watts have proved this. You cannot compromise man’s right to be free, can you sit down and “reason together” whether man should have some rights today and full rights tomorrow. Let somebody reason with Mrs. Barbara Deadwyler in Los Angeles that a White policeman really did not intend to kill her Black husband. Let somebody tell her that the passion of her love for her husband should bow to the reason of diaphanous official alibis. Only God Can reason with her and soothe her grief. And there is a ” God who rules above with a head of power and a heart of love, and if I’m right he’ll fight my battle and I shall be free this day.”

This same God calls us first to the conference table, and His Son, when the word of reason was no longer heeded, went into the temple and “began to cast out those that sold.” Those who sell black people down the river must be cast out. Those conference tables which defile the human spirit must be overturned. Conferences are for people who have time to contemplate the number of angels dancing on a civil rights pin. Conferences are for people who seek a postponement until tomorrow of a decision which screams for a solution today. Conferences are an extravagant orgy of therapy for the guilt-ridden and a purposeless exercise in dialectics for the lazy.

America has been holding too many conferences, conducting too many seminars; writing too many books and articles about the Black man and his right to freedom for over a century. This week, 3000 Black and White people will gather once again in our nation’s capital to whisper words of futility into the hurricane of massive indifference. Certainly the Federal Government should cease to be a partner in this cruel historic charade with the Black man’s rights.

To fulfill these rights? Let us begin with first things first. The largest single employer in the United States is the Federal Government– 2,574,000 employees. Yet, racial discrimination within the Government –more subtle, more sophisticated, more elegantly– structured continues almost as rampant as yesterday. The times have changed, but the system hasn’t.

Though racial persecution presses its crown of thorns on our brows, our faith in God must never falter. We must sustain that Faith which helps us to cast off the leprosy of self-shame in our Black skins and lift us up to the Glorious healing power of belief in the Excellence of Black power. We must have the faith to build Mighty Black universities, Black businesses and elect Black men as governors, mayors and senators. Our faith must be sustained by our passion with dignity and our trust in God, not man’s faithless reason in himself. What is easier–” to say to the sick of the palsy Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise and take up thy bed and walk?”

Black children of Howard, take up thy beds and walk into the new era of excellence. Arise, and walk into a new spirit of black pride. “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Come and see, said Philip.”

Nathanael came and saw Jesus and the world felt, as he did the power of his love and the beauty of his words. Can there any good thing come out of Howard University here today? “Come and see,” you Howard graduates must say. “Come and see,” us erect skyscrapers of economic accomplishment, scale mountains of educational excellence and live among the stars of audacious political power. “Come and see” us labor for the black masses– not the black leaders– but the black masses we have yearned for audacious leadership.


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