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Militarism - Teachings from Rev Daniel Buford

Sometime in the early 1980’s I met the Rev. Daniel Buford. I was walking down a hallway at Antioch College, inside one of its buildings, and I noticed two Black men at an easel, standing together, presenting on a topic, MILITARISM=APPLIED RACISM. His colleague, whom I would later meet, was Dr. Michael Washington. I eased into a desk in the back of the room not sure I would be welcomed. I thought both were Nation of Islam. Dr. Washington was wearing a bow tie and Rev. Buford had one of those deeply sonorous voices that God gives Black preachers. Both were wearing white shirts. Stereotypes notwithstanding, I sat down to listen. The two would influence my life and my career in many ways.

The occasion was HUMAN DAY, sponsored by a local group of activists, community organizers, and culturalists in Yellow Springs, Ohio. HUMAN was an acronym for HELP US MAKE A NATION - one of the best acronyms I had ever seen or heard. I prided myself on being a seasoned community activist in my own right, but I was still intimidated by the two of them. Militarism, as Buford would say, was not just the military, but was best understood as “the martial enforcement of genocidal policies” aimed at people of color (to paraphrase poorly). Washington was talking about the YAMMERS, a group of young people who had their own radio broadcast and were opposing military recruiters inside local schools in the Cincinnati area (“Youth Against Militarism”). I was transfixed. The analysis would later be deemed “Critical Race Theory” by scholars, but I didn’t have a name for it at the time. I just knew I had never heard anything like it nor had I met anyone like the two of them except for the legendary Dr. Jim Dunn, the founding creative spirit behind The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond. I plan to write on each of these men from time to time, but let me start with the Rev. Daniel Buford: I consider myself a Christian evangelical preacher out of the Protestant tradition before the right wing of the church stole that nomenclature and claimed it in the name of white supremacy. My theological roots were liberatory and hopefully inclusive and were shaped more by Will Campbell and Peggy Billings than Jerry Falwell and Phyllis Schlafly. But, I digress. Buford is what European cultural historians would call a Renaissance Man. He would be insulted by this, of course, and would say his lineage was thousands of years old, long before Europeans emerged from what they themselves called “the dark ages.” Buford is a poet, a spoken word artist who speaks fluent Archie Shepp, a sculptor whose wood carvings require moving vans to transport, and a linguist whose dissection of the English language is rare and uncompromising. Buford’s analysis and teachings have influenced a generation of antiracist organizers including myself. I am attaching part of a report by the US Department of Justice that he sent to me which I share at the end of this blog, “Good Ol’ Boy Round-up,” in light of the current public discussion about racism in policing - “militarism” in Buford’s language. There is a long legacy of white supremacists who have often hidden under the protective guise of legitimized, sanctioned law enforcement agencies including the National Guard and now – as we know -- the Capitol Police. At Ole Miss, where I went to college, James Meredith integrated the student body only by way of the forcible intervention of federal troops and the Mississippi National Guard in 1962. Many of those same national guardsmen were classmates and neighbors to those rioting to prevent his enrollment. Prior to mobilization, they were in the crowd protesting Meredith’s presence, especially if they were male students at Ole Miss. Joining the Guard was a rite of passage for many. It was a resume enhancer; some were given honorary status as “Colonel Rebels” by the same governor who was urging the rioters on. This convergence of police and rebels still reverberates today in the aftermath of the siege of the U.S. Capitol. The exerpt from a report below about the ‘Good Ol’ Boy Roundups” (1980-1996) that Buford sent helps us understand how white supremacists have been recruited to the ranks of law enforcement in the U.S. Good Ol' Boy Roundup Report

Executive Summary [US Dept of Justice Office of Inspector General] March, 1996 I. Introduction In July 1995, national attention focused suddenly on an annual private gathering in southeastern Tennessee known as the "Good O' Boy Roundup" (Roundup). News stories reported that the Roundup was a "whites-only" gathering of Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) and other federal law enforcement officers that resembled a "Klan rally" and at which these agents discriminated against blacks by posting racist signs, wearing racist T-shirts, performing racist skits, and playing racist music. A widely-publicized excerpt from a home video allegedly filmed at a Roundup showed a sign that read, "Nigger check point." In addition, allegations of criminal conduct, including narcotics distribution and rape, were raised at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing held within ten days of the original news stories. Regardless of their source, if true, these allegations threatened to seriously undermine the ability of these agents to perform their critical missions, particularly enforcing federal criminal law, upholding civil rights laws, and providing equal protection under the law. These allegations also threatened to taint the public reputation of the agencies that employed these agents... [There follows an exhaustive report of the DOJ investigation not only of DOJ participants but of hundreds of others.]

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Christine Schmidt
Christine Schmidt
Apr 25, 2021

Tell us more about Rev. Daniel Buford! Sometimes we're propelled to do anti-racist work but don't know whose shoulders we stand on. Strengthen our foundations by sharing their stories! Much appreciated, David.

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