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 Phillip Agnew and introduced by Roberta Gold.

Born in 1923, Jesse Gray made his name in the 1960s as the organizer of the Harlem rent strikes. Involving over 100 buildings, the strikes achieved numerous concessions from the mayor (including the imprisonment of one landlord), but it was Gray’s militant tactics that dominated the newspapers, such as his encouraging of tenants to bring live rats into housing court. 

These experiences led Gray to help create the Federation for Independent Political Action, a Black political group. It was at their founding conference in December 1964 that Jesse Gray gave the keynote address, “The Black Revolution: A Struggle for Political Power.” Found in the archives at the Schomburg Center, this is the first time the speech has been reproduced in full.

We’ve had sit-ins, wade-ins, walk-ins, sleep-ins… and let us just refer to it as the ‘ins.’ The ‘ins’ in my opinion have just about reached an impasse. They have reached an impasse because they have not moved the Black masses.

They have failed to move the Black masses because these movements have not reflected their basic needs; rather just the aspirations of the Black middle class—doctors, lawyers, and others who have removed themselves from the masses of the Black ghetto, for whom the concept of equality and integration is a means for their own escape. They still hold the Black masses of the ghetto in contempt. — Jesse Gray, 1964

Phillip Agnew is an activist and organizer. He co-founded the Dream Defenders and Smoke Signals Studio. 

Roberta Gold is a historian and author of When Tenants Claimed the City: The Struggle for Citizenship in New York City Housing.

Note: A transcript of this episode is available here