Chicago, IL – The strains of the civil rights anthem, Oh, Freedom, rang out in Trinity Episcopal Church on Chicago’s South Side, Feb. 12, sung by Evangeline Jackson. Jackson, a registered nurse, is a leader in her union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 1216. As a young woman in the South in the 1980s, her hospital was unionized with the help of Frank Chapman, a veteran of the Black liberation movement.
The song introduced a Black History Month program where Chapman spoke about his upcoming book, “A Marxist-Leninist Perspective on the Struggle for Socialism and Black Liberation.” A leading member of Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO), Chapman explained that the book sets forth the thesis that an important part of revolutionary content of Marxism-Leninism lies precisely in seeing the centrality of the national question in the struggle against imperialism and the struggle for socialism.
For Chapman, history is alive. He illustrated that the struggle for democratic rights that was the period of Black Reconstruction is still on the agenda today. “We lost the right to vote in the 1890s, we fought to get it back in 1965, and the Supreme Court just took it away again.” He explained that it was political power backed by arms in the South after the Civil War that guaranteed Black equality.
Chapman began by establishing that the idea of Black people as a nation in the U.S. grew organically out of the Black liberation movement, starting before the Civil War. He recounted the development in the 1920s, when the Communist Party USA, with the leadership of Black communists like Harry Haywood and the influence of the Communist International, “dealt with Black people as an oppressed nation within this nation.” Once this happened, the Party began to play a leading role in the Black movement, including the campaign to free the Scottsboro Boys, and organizing textile workers in North Carolina. Chapman even argued, “In the South, without the role of the Communists, there would have been no Civil Rights Movement.”
A former member of the Communist Party, Chapman joined FRSO because of the organization’s view of “the strategic alliance,” expressed in a statement adopted at the organization’s 2007 congress: “Our basic strategy for revolution and socialism is building a united front against the monopoly capitalist class, under the leadership of the working class and its political party, with a strategic alliance between the multinational working class and the oppressed nationalities at the core of this united front.”
The event opened with comments by Aislinn Pulley of Black Lives Matter-Chicago, who spoke of the recent Amtrak Police shooting of Chad Robertson; the refusal of prosecutors to bring charges against the cop who killed Quintonio LeGrier and Bettie Jones on Christmas morning 2015; and the Chicago police department murder of a mentally ill woman two days before the event. This helped place Chapman’s talk in the context of the ongoing struggle against racist discrimination and national oppression.