Revolutionary Action Movement
Revolutionary Action Movement
The Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM) was one of the earliest expressions of revolutionary black nationalism. It was founded in 1963 by Robert Franklin Williams, former head of a local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) branch in North Carolina who gained national attention for advocating black self-defense and was in exile in Cuba, then China, while serving as RAM's president. RAM was a Marxist-Leninist organization that believed that violence was the only way fundamentally to alter the structure of American society and "free black people from colonial and imperialist bondage." Based in Philadelphia and New York, RAM claimed several hundred members, including teachers, students, clerks, and businesspeople, all of whom were passionately dedicated to the struggle of which they were a part.
RAM's goal was to build a liberation army by educating and mobilizing young African Americans. Through grassroots organizing, it sought to maintain a base in the black community. The organization published a bimonthly magazine, Black America, and distributed a free weekly titled RAM Speaks. RAM also sent out field organizers to form local groups, organize street meetings, and hold African and African-American history classes. RAM worked with more traditional civil rights groups, but its members were critical of their piecemeal reform agenda. On one occasion, RAM joined the NAACP in demonstrations over discrimination on a school construction site. However, RAM was less interested in integrating the job site than in educating people on the pitfalls of reform struggles and the necessity of revolutionary organization.
Despite its small size and relative obscurity, RAM's militant posture and commitment to grassroots organizing made it a target of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) infiltration. By 1965, as part of a larger program to undermine radical black organizations, undercover FBI agents had penetrated RAM's structure. On June 21, 1967, New York City and Philadelphia police rounded up seventeen RAM members, including Maxwell Sanford, field chair of RAM, in predawn raids and seized about 130 weapons. Fifteen members were charged with criminal conspiracy, but they were never brought to trial and charges were eventually dropped. The other two, Herman Ferguson, an assistant principal at a New York City school, and Arthur Harris, unemployed at the time, were convicted of conspiracy to assassinate Roy Wilkins of the NAACP and Whitney Young of the National Urban League and sentenced to three and a half to seven years in prison. After failed attempts at appeals, Harris fled to Sweden, where he remains today, and Ferguson went to Guyana, where he lived for nineteen years. Upon returning to the United States in 1989, Ferguson was immediately taken into custody, but he was released on parole in 1993.
In another raid, in September 1967, seven RAM members in Philadelphia were charged with conspiring to assassinate local and national leaders, blow up city hall, and foment a riot, during which time they planned to poison the city's police force. Charges against RAM members consisted of conspiracy and intent based on fiery speeches or militant rhetoric rather than acts committed. The testimony of informers was the primary evidence used to convict RAM members, who vehemently denied the allegations and claimed that local police and FBI agents had instituted a frame-up to discredit them.
The FBI infiltration and raids on RAM were devastating. With most of the leadership either in prison, under surveillance, or in hiding, few were left to sustain the organization's activities. In 1968 RAM collapsed. Some ex-RAM members helped form the Republic of New Africa, which was intended to be a provisional government of a separate black state within the United States. Despite the short-lived existence of RAM, it was an important example of the changing nature of the black political movement of the 1960s: the disillusionment with conventional politics and the desire to effect social and political change by more radical means.
Bracey, John H., Jr., August Meier, and Elliot Rudwick, eds. Black Nationalism in America. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1970.
Brisbane, Robert. Black Activism: Racial Revolution in the U.S., 1954–70. Valley Forge, Pa.: Judson, 1974.
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