Our members-only podcast is now available to all! A People’s Anthology is a reading series of radical essays and speeches. Season one highlights six short texts related to Black liberation struggles in the U.S., from Claudia Jones to the Combahee River Collective. Find the other episodes and links to Apple, Spotify, and more here.
Read by Joshua Bennett and introduced by Nikhil Pal Singh.
Born in 1923, Jack O’Dell grew up in Detroit before becoming a merchant mariner and joining the National Maritime Union. It was this experience in the labor movement that led O’Dell to begin organizing sharecroppers and poor Black service workers in Alabama and Louisiana. He would later join Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference—until he was forced to leave due to his communist past.
This episode dives into O’Dell’s essay “The July Rebellions and the ‘Military State,’” A searing analysis of the “long hot summer” of 1967 that saw rebellions across the country, O’Dell argues that the violent response of the police was unjustified and that moves to suppress the uprisings were reactionary.
This really is one of his most harsh and confrontational essays. When he writes that ‘policemanship as a style of government is no longer confined to a southern way of life,’ he is making clear that racism and white supremacy have actually shaped the nation as a whole. They’re not regionally discrete, or solely a southern question. They have a wider global significance. And O’Dell goes on to emphasize how the oppression that Blacks suffer inside the United States is similar to the conditions that exist in areas of the world that have been struggling against colonialism. — Nikhil Pal Singh
Joshua Bennett is the Mellon Assistant Professor of English at Dartmouth College. He is the author of The Sobbing School, Being Property Once Myself, Owed, and Spoken Word: A Cultural History, which is forthcoming from Knopf.
Nikhil Pal Singh is Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis and History at New York University and Faculty Diretor of the NYU Prison Education Program. His most recent book is Race and America’s Long War.
Note: A transcript of this episode is available here.