by Allyssa Victory
“Each generation must discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it, in relative opacity” Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth
The Black Unity Council launched on June 19 with a seed campaign ramping up to a kickoff event in August with their first CommUNITY Town Hall. The Black Unity Council is envisioned as a resurrection of the 1966 Council formed with the purpose to facilitate and promote maximum communication and cooperation among and between Black individuals and organizations. The 2023 relaunch will carry the same purpose but with improved focus on inclusion of young people, formerly incarcerated residents and African-identified communities.
In 1966, at the precipice of the Black Power movement, Black clergy, civic and social justice leaders in Oakland, Calif created the Black Unity Council. One of the original founders Reverend W. Hazaiah Williams served as the Chairman of the Council for some time and led in various other faith and church-based coalitions. Documentation of Williams’ work with the Council is included in his archives held at the African American Museum & Library in Oakland. No other Council positions were listed in records with several pages of contacts for people who regularly attended meetings and provided input on the Council’s work. Some meeting records reflect that former Mayor and Congressman Ron Dellums and other local Black leaders were active with the Council.
The Williams archives include the Council’s original purpose and goal statements as well as regular meeting notes. The Council’s work documented in the Williams files heavily focused on public education and racial disparities in government contracting. The Council advocated locally seeking to increase student decision-making power in schools and advocated to the state opposing cuts to mental health services and to higher education.
In 1968, the Council was recorded raising funds among its members for legal defense of contractors. The Council appears to have provided comments on various government contractor programs and hearings. The Williams archives included the Council’s general meeting minutes reflecting that residents discussed a range of issues including federal economic opportunity programs, BART, housing development, the Huey Newton case and upcoming elections. General meetings were held on15th Street near Lake Merritt in Oakland, Calif. The Council also held emergency meetings to discuss rapid response on issues like labor strikes. Several meetings occurred in Berkeley and there appeared to be a strong partnership with the Council and other Black-focused organizations like the Berkeley Chapter of the NAACP.
The Black Unity Council is being revived at a time now when Black communities are dwindling in east Bay cities and recent elections have revealed the fragmented attitudes on fundamental issues of policing, housing, and economics. Black workers and residents are acutely affected by extreme racial inequity in these and all other quality of life indicators. In this moment,reparations for Black Americans are being studied and discussed at all levels of government and Black people continue to face disparities from public education to government contracting, a space to discuss unity in the Black community is critical.
The relaunch of the Black Unity Council is spearheaded by myself and other young leaders throughout the Bay Area with the wisdom of our longtime residents and leaders. Young leaders include Jervon Graves who brings a long history of organizing for a range of public and private workers and providing his expertise on grassroots campaigns. The Council has already begun meeting its mission by hosting voter registrations. The Council has several high school summer interns who are educating their peers on voting rights like Oakland Youth Vote and preparing all voters for the November 7 special district 5 school board election in Oakland.
The first CommUNITY Town Hall is slated for August with a unique format that will feature topical information presented by community members coupled with time for intentional community building. The Council hopes to grow to provide year-round unifying spaces for Black residents, workers, and businesses; to expand knowledge of Black political history and civic engagement; and to become a trusted source for voter registration and information. The first event will focus on education. Volunteers can sign-up now to join or host a voter registration event with the Council or to assist with Town Hall preparations.
The Black Unity Council of the 1960s was concerned with the same issues plaguing and harming the Black community over a half century later. Though they found issues to unite on, their demands were not met by those in power. Their work is sitting in archives when it should be in the hands of those currently seeking to lead on Black unity. Black unity must be inclusive of our young leaders, formerly incarcerated people and African diasporic communities.
The relaunch welcomes anyone to support the vision and work of the Black Unity Council with a contribution to the seed funding campaign: bit/ly/seedBlackunity. Seed funding will sustain our interns and allow us to become a stronger operation. Visit the “read more” section to sign-up to be involved in the first CommUNITY Town Hall slated for August 2023.
Allyssa Victory is a civil rights attorney, former Oakland mayoral candidate and community leader. Contact her on Twitter at @Victory4Oakland.