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March 30, 1969 - Image 5

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1969-03-30

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_ _


Black Messiah:


important as



The Black Messiah, by Rev. Albert
Cleage Jr. Sheed and Ward, $6.50.
Rev. Albert Cleage and his congregation
at Detroit's Shrine of the Black Madonna
believe in a black Christ and a black
Mary, a black Moses and black Children
of Israel. They believe, that they are de-
scendents of black people liberated from
Egypt. The point of all of this for the
Cleage group is that black America, like
those chosen people led by Moses and
Jesus, are a Nation-"a holy nation."
The Black Messiah is one of the most
important books around today, as im-
portant as the Bible and as important as
Stokeley Carmichael's and Charles Ham-
ilton's Black Power. More than merely
providing a limited program for black
control of black communities, Rev.
Cleage's book provides a myth, and con-
temporary America is a killer of myths.
As the, existential psychologist Rollo
May said here last month, a myth isn't
merely a fairy story, it is, a world view
and a statement of the human condition
which gives meaning *and direction to'
life. And as another existential psycho-
logist, Viktor Frankl, writes, without a
sense of meahig in an often insane
world, the neuroses of "existential
vacuum" make. life unendurable. Clearly
Cleage has formulated a religious myth
which can serve a group which most
needs it.
There *are two ways to accept a myth
of the past like that of the Black Mes-
siah. JOne can identify strongly with a
hero or people of the past and mold dne's
life accordingly. Or a person can anthro-
pologically trace himself to those with
whom he identifies. In a racist world,
the latter is a racist move. For example,
the. New Left can well identify with the

goals, values and achievements of Eng-
lish Romantics such as Shelley, Coleridge
and Byron. But that identification be-
comes all the more real when one con-
siders these Romantics the original White
Anglo Saxon Protestants.
By placing his people through race
and identification in the Biblical tradi-
tion, Cleage testifies that the blacks are
more than their present misery, more
than their despair, actually the current
embodiment of a tradition of marchers
to freedom.
The Jews have been claiming Christ
as their own, in a halfhearted way, for
centuries. As Bloom tells the Citizen in
Ulysses, "The Savior was a Jew and his
father was a Jew. Your God." Rev. Cleage
says that the Jews lived out the story
of liberation destined for American blacks
and that any race living in the Middle
East at such times had to be black.
He does not want to quibble on the
anthropological geneology of blacks in'
his congregation and in old Jerusalem.
Instead he says,
The black Madonna is a black woman
standingsIthere with a little black child
in her arms. And in every generation
that's what we are fighting for---that
little black child. We don't care whose
child it is. He's our child, and that's
what we're fighting for. Because he has
to carry' on the ,Nation, because you
are not' going to be here forever either!'
This is a full psychological and moral
break from the worship by blacks of a
white Christ. Like other social, political
and religious steps Rev. Cleage urges,
he wants blacks to consider history and
conditions and re-think their theology
for themselves.
In America, one drop of black makes
you black. So by American law, God


You're under
arrest, buddy

Police Power: Police Abuses= in
New York City, by Paul Chev-
igny. Pantheon Books, $6.95.
The police have become a very
fashionable topic for books of:
late. In part, this is a result of
the great amount of attention
being paid to urban problems
and the attendant realization
that police are, after all, an ur-
ban problem.
Another factor contributing to
the increased interest, b o t h
academic and popular, in the
police hasbeen the increasing
incidence of overt mass actions
by the police themselves: C h i-.
cago, the beating of Black Pan-
thers in a Brooklyn courthouse,
the increased militancy of police
benevolent associations.
Paul Chevigny's Police Power
is the latest entry in the field
of police books. The book is a
compilation of case histories
which came to the author's at-
tention while he was running
the Police Practices Project for
the New York Civil Liberties
Union (ACLU). The cases
themselves are' the normal dis-
mal lot - arbitrary arrests,
particularly of black and Puerto
Rican youths and "hippies,"
phony charges of assault to co-
ver physical abuse by cops, har-
rassrhent of anti-war or civil

traffic violation and a misde
meanor. If there is violence, the
citizenis charged with resist
ing arrest. or, in extreme cases
with assault, to cover any in
Juries the officer may have in-
This theory is neither ver;
original nor particularly sophis
ticated. Chevigny presents ar
impressive amount of evidenc
to demonstrate that in substan
tiated cases of police abus
there Is virtually always som
element of "symbolic assault" b:
the victim. What he unfortun
ately neglects to consider i;
what happens when the citize
issues an intentional or unin
tentional challenge to the po
liceman's authority which is no
countered by arrest or a beat
ing. Certainly this must hap
pen thousands of times a day i:
New York and elsewhere an(
from a research standpoint, it i
as important to know why abus
es do not occur as why they dc
Considering the ci'cumstanc
es under which information fo
the book was gathered, thi
failing is understandable. Afte
all, Chevigny only got involve
in a case when there was
complaint of abuse; the far mor
numerous occasions when abus
did not occur passed by unnot
iced. The theory is fine as far a
it goes, but any first-semeste
logic student can tell you ther



is black, and by any practical interpre-
tation, why would God have made
seven-eights of the world non-white
and yet he himself be white? That is
not reasonable. If God were white, he'd
have made everybody white. And if
he decided to send his son to earth, he
would have sent a white son down to
some nice white people. He certainly
would not have sent him down to a
black people like Israel.,
Christ, like Moses, was largely a rev-
olutionary figure. He came to unify and
liberate a black people:
Jesus came to an oppressed black
people who were in bondage to the
white Gentiles, exploited by the Roman
government and policed by the Roman
army. As a Black Messiah, he came to
offer black people a way or organizing
against their oppression, of coming
togeher, and again becoming a Black
Nation. So Jesus was essentially a
The continuing effort of the twenty
sermons in Bladk Messiah is not merely
story telling. Rather it is the rebuilding
of a Black Nation. Rev. Cleage's sermons
provide a type of political and sohial
therapy. He has perhaps five hundred or
more persons before him every week, and
he is preaching so they can work to-
gether, bring their families and friends
into the Nation, fight against insensitive
school administrators, refrain from ex-
ploding in self-destructive violence and
rebuff constantly the brainwash of the
white exterior culture.
The form of the book is sermons end-
ing with invocations to a blacknsavior.
They are informational, tightly reasoned
and inspirational. That* is to say, the
form of the book works.
But The Black Messiah is extraordinary
qs well because it originates from Cleage's
Church, The Shrine of the Black Madon-
na, where the artist and "black organizer
Glanton Dowdell did indeed paint the
Black Madonna above the altar. The

church is in that most inner of inner
cities where despair and violence are
highest. The metal doors of the church
are locked during the day. Young chil-
dren throw rocks through back windows.
Inside, however, there are Afro-American
history courses for every age group. And
Rev. Cleage gives his sermons.
The Black Messiah is important to
blacks because it helps formulate their
revolution. For whites it is just as im-
portant, for it suggests how a myth-
Christianity, no less-can be reclaimed
to provide meaning in an activist direc-
tion. Indeed, young white radicals can
use mythic support for their lives.
Rev. Cleage and his congregation must
feel that they are holding down their
spot in time, just as the Apostles held
down theirs. And white radicals, who
have a Nation-building job of their own
ahead, need to be able to focus them-
selves similarly.
Rev. Cleage has developed one type
of myth for one type of people, and of
course white adolescent radicals shouldn't
buy for themselves a faith in a Black
Messiah. But anyone seriously interested
in socially, politically and culturally mak-
ing American life meaningful needs a
myth" in which to see himself and his
role as heroic, perhaps, or at last mean-
ingfull for all times.
That is part of what the visionary
William Blake meant when he wrote:
Mock on, Mock on Voltaire, Rousseau:
Mock on, Mock on: 'tis all in vain!
You throw the sand against the wind,
And the wind blows it back again.
And every sand becomes a Gem
Reflected in the beams divine;
Blown back they blind the mocking Eye,
But still in Israel's paths they shine.
The atoms of Democritus
And Newton's Particles of light
Are sands upon the Red sea shore,
Where Israel's tents do shine so bright.


. , .

Paintings by

Today's writers.
NEAL BRUSS is a Romantic
former Daily magazine editor
who will graduate next month
with a double major in English
and philosophy. He has been
active in People Against Rac-
ism (PAR) and has written for
The Daily and Time, among
other things.
former Daily managing editor
who was arrested foi alegedly
assaulting an officer while try-
ing to cover a story last year.
He is a sociology major cur-
rently doing research on police-
community relations.

rights protestors, ad nauseum.
Most of the book is taken up
with a presentation of the cases'
in great detail. This in itself is
a service, since most cases of
police abuse pass by unnoticed,
except by the victims and their
relatives, and any information
about such cases is of great help
to the student of police behav-
Police Power also presents a
picture of what passes for crim-
inal Justice in New York City,
made more depressing by Chev-
igny's assertion that the situa-
tion in New York is probably
better than that in most large
.U.S. cities. But Chevigny also
has a theory.
He maintains that incidents of
police abuse - either physical
abuse, harassment or capricious
arrest - occur when the law of-
ficer sees a "symbolic assailant"
posing a threat to his author-
ity. The "assailant" does n o t
have to actually challenge the
officer. All that is necessary is
that the cop perceives a threat
real or imagined..
The "symbolic assailant" may
be a white middle-class . adult
protesting his rights or espous-
ing an unpopular cause, but
more likely it is a black youth
giving a cap lip, a homosexual, a
skid-row bulm or, a student sus-
pected of possessing illegal drugs.
If there is no violence, the un-
fortunate citizen is charged with
disorderly conduct, an offense
which in New York has a ser-
iousness somewhere between a
Circle Books
215 S. STATE ST.
2nd FF. 769-1583

is an awful lot of difference be-
tween a necessary cause and a
necessary and sufficient cause
and Chevigny fails to make the
On another level, Chevigny is
guilty of a greater error by fail-
ing to place incidents of abuse
in any perspective. He leaves
the reader with the impres-
sion that police abuse takes place
every time an officer confronts
a citizen. However, in an ap-
pendix covering a 16-month
period he cites 325 complaints of
"abuse, of which about a third
could be substantiated to t h e
point, where they might stand
up in court or beforeareview
Certainly, many more abuses
took place than were reported.
And many cases could not be
substantiated not because they
did not occur but because there
were noreliable corroborating
Although abuses by police pro-
bably occur in less than o n e
per cent of all dealings between
citizens and big city police, this
small percentage tends to de-
stroy general confidence in the
police, especially among those
groups, most likely to be abus-
ed, and represents one of t h e
most serious elements in the
crisis of the city. But by great-
ly overstating his case, Chev-
igny seriously weakens the book.
P o I i e e Power represents a
thoughtful and well-document-
ed research into the origins
and nature of police abuse and
the futility of attempting to
obtain justice in such cases.
Chevigny should'have left it at


Petitions For
Due 5 P.M. Tomorrow

Is Sunday, March 30, at SDT sorority
1405 Hill St. from 5:00-8:00 P.M.




Albers, Appel, Chrysso, Indiana, Lindner,
Reinhardt, Rivers, Vasarey, Wesselman
10-6 MONDAY through THURSDAY

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