Sunday, January 27, 2013

Manual Graduate Mark Clark a true civil rights leader

Continued from EmergePeoria...

“Likewise, Clark is important because of the work that he did. He opened up a Black Panther Party branch in a city where there was not a tremendous amount of radical activity, which means he could not hide from authorities. He was right out front and there were few other radical groups whose members experienced the repression levied by the police.”

Thirteen years ago, to its credit the Journal Star printed a feature article by me about Clark at the time of the 30th anniversary of the Chicago raid. However, it failed to include several lines of my original draft, which if I recall correctly, dealt with the editorials in question.

Years later, in 2007, the paper ran a piece by staffer Pam Adams, “Panther sensed his own death.” It was an anniversary remembrance printed in late November that included this statement near the beginning of the piece:

“There is the suspicion, never confirmed, never squashed, just hanging in the air like stale smoke, that he may have been involved in an unsolved, 38-year-old murder case. Police named him as a possible suspect in the slaying years after he was gone.”

Wow, talk about consistency. Some things apparently never change when it comes to Mark Clark, the cops, and the Peoria Journal Star.

More recently, three years ago on what would have been Clark's 62nd birthday in the 40th anniversary year of the raid, the Journal Star shirked off the opportunity to print my submitted commentary on the 1969 editorials. In an email, Opinion Page Editor Mike Bailey blithely offered, “Due to budget cuts, we no longer have an op-ed page that can accommodate a piece of this length. I can flip it to the newsroom if you’d like to see if they have any interest.”

Talk about flipping your responsibility.

And this year, when I wrote Bailey again with an updated commentary on the editorials, which included the museum details, the opinion page editor didn't even bother with a reply or an excuse, lame or otherwise.

Wanting to be thorough, I also contacted several writers at the paper just prior to the most recent December 4 raid anniversary, hoping to get at least something in the paper about Clark. One columnist, Phil Luciano, actually wrote back:

“I was considering it seriously, until I read this line: 'Your paper especially has a lot to make up for in recognizing the good and significant work of Peorian Mark Clark.' “Perhaps. Perhaps not. I don't speak for my paper, just myself.
“However, I never will be bullied and/or shamed into considering a story. Please peddle this idea elsewhere.”

If Luciano wasn't so busy being such an ethical paragon of journalistic integrity, or whatever he is, the Journal Star's columnist might have found the time to do at least a little relevant reporting. Then, perhaps, he would have contacted US Congressman Bobby L. Rush of Chicago.

Among his many accomplishments, Congressman Rush might be best known these days as the only person to ever defeat Barack Hussein Obama in an electoral contest, back in 2000 when the then-Illinois state senator attempted to unseat Congressman Rush from his 1st Illinois district seat in a primary battle. The Illinois 1st District mostly covers the Windy City's South Side. Rush has represented the district since 1993.

Long before he soundly trounced the Hawaiian-born community organizer 61 to 30 percent, Congressman Rush had been a community organizer of a slightly different type. Rush was a founding member of the Illinois Black Panther Party, and a co-leader back in 1969 of that revolutionary socialist black liberation and civil rights defense group along with Party Co-Chairman Fred Hampton.

To get an idea of the times, 1969 was an incredibly tense one in Chicago between the Panthers and police. A quick rundown of the incidents are cited in "Violence in the U.S. Volume 2, 1968-71," published by Facts on File, Inc. (1974):

“5 Chicago policemen were wounded July 31 in a gun battle with Black Panther Party members at the party's Illinois headquarters. Both sides accused the other of firing the initial shot.

“A Chicago policeman was wounded Oct. 4 in a gun battle on the roof of Black Panther Party headquarters. 7 party members were arrested and charged with attempted murder and resisting arrest.

“2 Chicago policemen were killed and 6 wounded Nov. 13 during a gun battle between the police and Black Panther members. A 19-year-old youth associated with the party was killed by the police after he allegedly shot a patrolman.”

And then the infamous December 4, 1969 raid when Chicago police under the direction of Cook County State's Attorney Edward Hanrahan killed Clark and shot Hampton point blank in the head on his mattress where he had been next to his nine months' pregnant fiance Deborah Johnson (now Akua Njeri).

The policeman who shot Hampton is reported to have said, “Bobby Rush is next!”
Fortunately Rush, the Panthers' Defense Minister, was not present that night at the raid house located at 2337 W. Monroe Street. Fortunate too that Rush was not at his home, also raided the same night by police.

“I remember Mark Clark as a quiet young man who was resolute in his compassion, in his social consciousness,” Congressman Rush, 66, said last week via email.

“And I remember him being someone that had a charisma that was an example of quiet determination. Mark wasn't a man of many words, but he was a guy who led by example. So a lot of people loved Mark. A lot of the members from Peoria followed him. They were loyal to him.”
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Congressman Rush did not know Clark for long, but the brief time they spent together was extraordinary.

“The only time that I actually was in his presence was when he came to Chicago right before his death, his murder. So my impressions of him were profound, but they were . . . they . . . they were short and sweet.

“Mark kinda stays with you. He had such impact, such charisma that I remember. And his spirit lingers. Even today. That was over 40 years ago.”

Asked if Clark, 22 at the time of his death, still had an importance for people locally and nationally, Congressman Rush remarked, “Oh absolutely!

“He was among the leaders who gave their lives so that this nation would be a better nation. He sacrificed his life for his people. So Mark is in the Hall of Fame . . . in heaven. Even at a young age he paid the ultimate sacrifice for his people. How can we forget someone who supremely sacrificed so that we could all be in a better place?”

On January 17, 2009, the Meridian (MS) Star printed an editorial "We honor and we apologize" that stated, in part, "There was a time when this newspaper – and many others across the south -- acted with gross neglect by largely ignoring the unfairness of segregated schools, buses, restaurants, washrooms, theaters and other public places. We did it through omission, by not recording for our readers many of the most important civil rights activities that happened in our midst, including protests and sit-ins. That was wrong. We should have loudly protested segregation and the efforts to block voter registration of black East Mississippians."

According to the Associated Press, The Richmond Times-Dispatch stated in an editorial on July 16, 2009 that it played a central role in the "dreadful doctrine" of Massive Resistance — a systematic campaign by Virginia's white political leaders to block school desegregation. The newspaper says that "the record fills us with regret."

Perhaps now the Journal Star will also find the time, and finally recognize its institutional responsibility, to help set the record straight by specifically addressing its awful 1969 editorials as a whole new generation is beginning to know more about a true civil rights leader through the Hall of Fame and new city museum.

A public apology to Mark Clark, his comrades, and their remaining family members for the paper's racist and paternalistic declarations published in the wake of Clark's horrific demise would be a good place to start. []

Born and raised in Peoria, IL., Lawrence J. Maushard is an author and journalist in Portland, Oregon. More of his work at