Cass Technical High

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Thu Feb 21 12:15:17 MST 2002

Joe Freemen:
>John Watson played an important role in this process - one that altered the
>political fabric of America, and needs to be mentioned in as much as he died
>November 16, 2001. Watson - Kenneth John Watson was born January 11, 1944,
>Detroit, Michigan and began his political activism based on his parents
>support and activism, who were early supporters of SCLC (Southern Christian
>Leadership Conference). At age 16, Watson had led a protest that led to the
>desegregation of public swimming pools in Michigan. Watson was an
>intellectual, having graduated from Cass Technical High School and then
>enrolled in Wayne State University. Cass Technical High has an unbroken
>history of intellectual excellence and even been the home of "Jazz Greats"
>like Donald Byrd - "Spaces and Places" album, Christ-o Redento (Christ the
>Redeemer), Flight Time, "Black Jack" album, "Street Lady" and the phase of
>jazz called fusion. The idea that the workers do not draw a line of
>distinction between the intellectuals of their soul, administrators and
>bureaucrats who exercise arbitrary authority by virtue of a "job" leads to
>wrong conclusions.

Two of the more extraordinary African-American Marxists I had the good
fortune to know during my lifetime were both graduates of Cass. One was
Derrick Morrison, the other was Norman Oliver. Like thousands of others,
they went through the revolving doors of the Socialist Workers Party.

Derrick is about my age and the last I heard he was working in longshore in
New Orleans and studying math in grad school, mostly for pleasure. He came
around the party after hearing George Breitman speak at a Militant Forum in
Detroit. Breitman was the SWP leader who first called the party's attention
to Malcolm X, while he was still in the Nation of Islam and railing against
white devils. This is one of the reasons, by the way, that I tend to cut
Islamic radicalism more slack today than most Marxists. Maybe I'm wrong,
but it is a risk worth taking. One of my most vivid memories of Derrick was
at a 1969 YSA convention at which Fred Hampton had been invited to speak.
After haranguing the crowd of mostly white radicals long past his allotted
time for being "chicken shit liberals", Derrick went up to him and told him
his time was up. That took a lot of guts, both politically and personally.
Hampton would be murdered in his bed by Chicago cops a year or so later.

The other guy was Norman Oliver, now known as Mohammed Oliver. Like most
people in the 1980s who would drop out, he found that the party simply
could not supply the kind of intellectual and political challenge that we
had known in the 1960s and 70s. He pursued an interesting path outside the
party, getting twin degrees in anthropology and medicine. The last I heard,
he was practicing in Alaska in order to meet obligations for financial aid
advanced him in school--just like in the TV show "True North".

I didn't know Mohammad half as well as Derrick, but whatever was going on
at Cass when they were there should be bottled and sent out to the black
community today. It was potent stuff.

Louis Proyect
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