John Lewis funeral marred by its speakers

PBS NewsHour / YouTube Former President Bill Clinton

Anyone who thinks it was fine and proper for the Jeffrey Epstein pal Bill Clinton to be a featured speaker at the funeral of John Lewis, a former Black civil rights icon, ought to read Elaine Brown’s brilliant 2002 book “The Condemnation of Little B.”

In this classic radical Black text, Brown—a former chair of the Black Panther Party—tried to explain how the City of Atlanta, including its prominent Black citizens, had unjustly condemned a poor 14-year-old Black boy, Michael Lewis, for the murder of a White man visiting a well-known drug haven in one of that city’s Black ghettoes.

Brown showed how Lewis’s conviction was “effectively predestined” by the “comfortable New Age racism of White liberals and middle-class Blacks alike who have abandoned the cause of civil rights and equal opportunity.”

The most biting chapter in Brown’s bitter volume was titled “The Abandonment.” There Brown demonstrated how a host of Black bourgeois elites (her list included William Julius Wilson, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Colin Powell, Vernon Jordan, most members of the Congressional Black Caucus and, of course, Oprah Winfrey) aligned themselves with the insidious, “post-racial” neoliberal racism of the Clintons.

These Black misleaders, Brown showed, had joined the Clintons and other White elites in:

  • Smearing and trying to delete the Black radical tradition.
  • Backing Bill Clinton’s removal of millions of poor Black women and children from the welfare rolls.
  • Supporting the Clintons’ vicious corporatist hit job on efforts to provide national governmental health insurance as a human right to poor Black and other Americans.
  • Backing Bill Clinton’s racist mass-incarcerationist “three strikes” crime bill.
  • Blaming the Black poor for their own oppression. Black bourgeois elites applauded as President Clinton “audaciously admonished” Black Americans “for creating the deplorable state of Black America,” Brown wrote.

How pathetic but predictable it was then to see the racist and rapist Bill Clinton invited to speak at the John Lewis funeral last week. True to his longstanding socio-pathological and lane-crossing form, Clinton (who seems to think of himself as a Black insider) thought the assignment gave him license to crap on the historical legacy of the great Black freedom fighter Kwame Ture (1941-1998), previously known as Stokely Carmichael.

“There were two or three years there where the [mid-1960s Civil Rights] Movement went a little bit too far towards Stokely,” Clinton opined, “but in the end, John Lewis prevailed.” For this remark, Clinton got and deserved an eloquent slap in the face from the Black historian Barbara Ransby:

“Who is Bill Clinton to weigh in on whether or not Ture went ‘too far’ when he was at the helm of SNCC? And how dare he poke jabs at a Black Freedom Movement leader who has been dead over 20 years, at a memorial service for another: too far toward what, ‘freedom’?

“Kwame Ture was a Trinidadian-born former Howard University student, powerful orator and brilliant intellectual. He drew inspiration from Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Fannie Lou Hamer, and by the late 1960s, he was an unapologetic revolutionary.

“Ture made enormous personal sacrifices toward his vision of liberation. He believed that the systems of capitalism, White supremacy, imperialism and paternalistic White liberalism had to be undone in order for true human freedom to flourish.

“After he left SNCC, Ture worked briefly with the Black Panther Party, then moved to West Africa and founded the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party. He wrote, traveled, agitated and organized, never garnering much fame and never earning much money. He had been jailed, harassed and threatened during his work in the South. He had become close to some of the fiercest freedom fighters in Mississippi and Alabama, and later to heroic anti-colonial leaders throughout the African continent.

“For some of those early years he fought alongside John Lewis, and then the two men took different paths.”

Bill Clinton’s presence on the Lewis funeral stage—and his despicable shot at Kwame Ture—was no less offensive than that other Epstein buddy Donald Trump’s failure even to pay his respects by visiting Lewis’s casket.

Equally inappropriate as a Lewis eulogizer last week was George W. Bush—the man who let Black New Orleans drown while spending billions of dollars that needed to be invested in meeting the vast needs of the nation’s ghettoes on the arch-criminal, mass-murderous, and racist invasion and occupation of Iraq.

John Lewis was a lovely man. I ran into him (an unmistakable presence) once at an airport (either Reagan or Hartsfield) and asked him some questions about the history of the Civil Rights Movement (I was teaching a class on post-WWII U.S. History at the time.) He kindly took time to answer and reflect and wished me and my students well.

It’s a shame Lewis got all wrapped-up in the great corporate-imperialist ruling class crime syndicate that is the Democratic Party.

Paul Street is a nationally known political essayist and political commentary writer.