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Text and Meaning in T.J. Reddy's Poems in One-Part Harmony (part 2 of 4)

“Most poetry of value derives its power and significance from the living experience of masses of people who put words to the rhythms of their hearts in order to survive.” –– H. Bruce Franklin, Introduction to Poems in One-Part Harmony

Artist and poet T.J. Reddy in performance at a library in Charlotte.
Postered Poetics

Professor Raymond J. Michalowski, working at the time with the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, described the Charlotte Three case as “a prime example of the systematic attempt to replace cruder and morally less palatable methods of political repression which had become common in the South with more sophisticated methods of legal lynchings.”

Writing in the summer 1975 edition of the Crime and Social Justice Journal, Michalowski had pointed his journalistic finger directly at “the South.” However, a culture of guerrilla decontextualization in the form of the FBI’s infamous COINTELPRO operations (as in COunter INTELligence PROgram operations) had been well-established throughout the United States by the time the Charlotte Three’s case began to make national headlines. An FBI directive on “Black Nationalists-Hate Groups” issued in 1967 targeted specific cities for special attention, and among those listed on the directive was Charlotte, North Carolina.

Exactly as he records in several poems, T.J. Reddy protested against racial discrimination in general and, as one of the foot soldiers of the black campus movement, did the same against discriminatory policies, practices, and curriculums in American universities. He also gave voice to his grievances against the Viet Nam War. In short, some might say he was as well known for his political activism as he was for his cultural arts aspirations.

In COINTELPRO terms, basically any black man who chose to publically question or challenge his social and political status as an American was considered “radical” or “dangerous.” It might even be argued, as the following excerpt from the FBI directive on “Black Nationalists-Hate Groups” demonstrates, that COINTELPRO was an official government-sponsored guerrilla decontextualization operation:

“The purpose of this new counterintelligence endeavor is to expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize the activities of black nationalist, hate-type organizations and groupings, their leadership, spokesmen, membership, and supporters, and to counter their propensity for violence and civil disorder.”

The use of the term “hate-type” and the phrase “propensity for violence” could almost convince you that the FBI was wise to maintain such a race-fueled agenda. Then one notices the names of the organizations listed, including: “the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference,” and, “the Deacons for Defense and Justice” among others. A generic grouping of Black Male Poets and Artists would not have come as a surprise.

Writing in Love and Revolution, A Political Memoir, author Sigma Waller summed up the situation in North Carolina this way: “The Charlotte Three case reeks of that racist arrogance and contempt with which the government was attempting to herd leaders of the people’s movement into jail.”

A Poet and His Poems

The biographical profile at the back of T.J. Reddy’s Poems in One-Part Harmony point out that he was born in Savannah, Georgia, on “the same day that the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.” Having been born at the conclusion of one war and grown into maturity during the height of another, international conflicts were as pervasive a part of his reality as it has been for the Millennial generation since September 11, 2001. An added dimension to Reddy’s experience was the more overt racial clashes of the times that formed a kind of undeclared second civil war in itself.

The 33 poems that comprise Poems in One-Part Harmony chart the author’s geographical journey out of the South (a journey many African Americans took during the Great Migration) to Brooklyn, New York, then later southward again to attend college in Charlotte, and eventually to endure the ordeal of the Charlotte Three. His passage is also one of the inner self wherein he surveys the racial landscape and takes measure of the political, intellectual, and moral dilemmas of the period. In the face of chaos taking over his life, the poet-artist grounds himself firmly in passion-driven creativity and faith in love’s power to sustain his sanity and purpose.

NEXT: Text and Meaning in T.J. Reddy’s Poems in One-Part Harmony Part 3

by Aberjhani
author of The River of Winged Dreams
and co-author of Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance

More on T.J. Reddy and Aberjhani’s Text and Meaning Series

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