Omali Yeshitela: ‘I was attacked by the FBI for fighting for black power’

January 6, 2023
Omali Yeshitela APSP
African People's Socialist Party Chairperson Omali Yeshitela at the Oxford Union Debate in 2019. Photo: APSP

I live in the most impoverished neighbourhood of North St. Louis and the scene of the pre-dawn raid on my home was very different from the one on the palatial estate of Donald Trump.

At 5am on Friday July 29, 2022, approximately 30 FBI agents and police in armoured vehicles, using flash-bang grenades, broke down the door of my home. With assault rifles pointed at my chest, they forced me out of the house along with my wife Ona Zené Yeshitela, a critical leader of our movement.

Even though we were not formally under arrest and faced no charges, they handcuffed us and told us to sit on the curb, which we refused to do.

Three homes of five other Uhuru Movement leaders in two cities and two of our centers were also raided at the exact same time.

At our house they showed us no warrant. They said this assault was connected to the indictment of a Russian man who is in Russia who was supposedly spreading “Russian influence” in the United States. My name was connected to this indictment as an “unindicted co-conspirator”.

It is almost laughable to consider the possibility that a Russian — or anyone — could tell a black man in America anything about the life we face in this country every day. It was not Russia that killed George Floyd and countless others of us.

When I was a small child in St Petersburg, Florida, I once told my grandmother that when I grew up I wanted to have a nice house. She said that would be fine but it would be far better if I worked to make sure that everyone in the community got a nice house too.

That was advice I could never forget. It was always in my consciousness that people who looked like me were poor and oppressed while whites were prosperous and free. As I got older I realised that everywhere on the planet that black people are located we are one people and we all suffer the same colonial indignity.

When I was 25 I became an SNCC [Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee] organiser. One day in December 1966, our SNCC branch held a press conference about a community issue on the steps of the St Petersburg city hall. Some of the reporters made fun of the poor English spoken by an elderly African woman. In response I marched inside city hall and ripped down an offensive, racist mural that had hung on the wall for 30 years.

I was tried twice for this felony, sentenced to 5 years and was in and out of prisons during the late ‘60s.

As the US government’s war against our movement grew in intensity during this period, leaving the bodies of our leaders in its wake, I began to realise that for black people — African people — to be truly free and able to chart our own future free of poverty, police violence and white attacks, we had to do more than fight racism.

We had to fight colonialism, the whole system, not just the mere ideological expression of colonial reality.

It is clear that African people are the foundation of this system. Without the kidnapping and stolen labour of hundreds of millions of Africans; without the looting of Africa that continues today; without the stolen land of the Indigenous people and the European exploitation of most of the nonwhite people of the world there wouldn’t even be an “America”, North or South. France and England would be nothing and white people would still be poor and in an oppressed state of existence in what would become Europe.

It was clear to me that our objective should not be to make white people fond of us. African people in the US, in Africa and the Caribbean, wherever we are, we need power over our lives. We need our reparations, the return of the value of our stolen labour and resources and genius to build an economy that negates the economy that from its birth was created to feed a few at our expense. Today, under my leadership, thousands of white people have united with the reparations demand.

African people everywhere need political and economic power to make sure no “racist” can ever hurt us again and that we can truly flourish in our own culture and in our own community’s interest.

I have always fought for the liberation of our homeland Africa and the unification of the forcibly dispersed African people around the world in unity with oppressed peoples everywhere.

I spent my life struggling for Black Power and building an organisation to make it a reality.

On the streets of Oakland, St Petersburg, Philadelphia and St Louis we fought for the interests of the African working people, the true working class. I have taken this struggle to Birmingham, Leicester, Manchester and London, and to Belfast during the “Troubles” as well as many other places.

I have traveled the world speaking and advocating for African liberation. I have built community centres and a newspaper that has been continuously published since 1968.

I launched the first International Tribunal on Reparations for Black people in 1982 based on the United Nations covenants on Human Rights and Genocide. I set out to make reparations a household word which indeed it is today.

We have always built institutions and believe that the economic and the political are one. We built furniture stores, and a foods and pies institution seen for the past 40 years at street fairs and festivals in the Bay Area of California.

In North St Louis, after the police murder of Mike Brown in 2014, we began constructing the Black Power Blueprint which has transformed the impoverished neighbourhood where I live with a community garden, a farmers’ market, beautiful murals, an outdoor basketball court, a Doula training program and so much more.

No, no one has ever told me what I needed to do or understand about being colonised in the United States. I rest on the shoulders of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Marcus Garvey, Paul Robeson, Patrice Lumumba and Kwame Nkrumah and learned from all those who have gone before me.

Today the US is in a serious crisis due to the resistance of African people and oppressed peoples around the world who are determined to end our station as host to a parasitic social system.

This is why on July 29 the FBI violently assaulted seven properties of the Uhuru Movement and homes of our leaders, including my own. But they cannot tear down what we have built from the ground up with the support and participation of so many people, including thousands of white people as a stand of reparations.

At nearly 81 years old, pre-dawn flash-bang grenades or not, I will never stop fighting for African people and for the interests of all oppressed and working peoples of this world.

We are winning!

[To contact the Hands Off Uhuru! Campaign email]

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