Twenty-five years ago, on October 24, 1996, 18-year-old TyRon Lewis was shot and killed by cops James Knight and Sandra Minor in St. Pete, Florida.
In response, the African community rose up in what was strategically the most significant uprising in the history of African rebellion in the United States.
This uprising has come to be known as The Battle of St. Pete. There are two waves to The Battle of St. Pete.
The African community of St. Pete immediately rose up in defense of TyRon Lewis. Africans attacked the cops and held reparations raids against parasitic merchants on the Southside for two days.
Four hundred cops and 200 Army National Guard soldiers were employed against the African community. Uhuru Movement organizers demanded Black Community Control of the Police and led the cry “You Can’t Kill Us All” and “Stop the Genocide.”
The State’s response followed their general strategy. The State slandered TyRon Lewis after his murder. Knight and his partner Minor were put on paid leave. Then, the State convened a grand jury show trial.
On November 13, 1996 the grand jury concluded with no charges filed against Knight and Minor. This led to the second wave.
In a preemptive assault against the African community, the State blocked the roads, attempting to stop the community from getting to the Uhuru House as they planned to raid the building in a clear attempt to neutralize the leaders of the Uhuru Movement.
Nevertheless, leaders escaped the building and brought organization to the community support that arrived in defense of the Uhuru Movement. As Chairman Omali Yeshitela has noted, what commenced was as serious a guerrilla struggle as anywhere around the world.
African youths, later identified as “Ghost Faces,” wrapped t-shirts around their faces and armed themselves with everything from guns to bottles. They did not only fight the various manifestations of State military forces, but they also won.
The African community brought down a police helicopter and forced the colonial soldiers to retreat.
The Battle of St. Pete began with politics
The result of most urban rebellions of African communities since the 1960s has been the advanced political development of the African community that led the resistance. This was surely the outcome of the major uprisings during the African Revolution of the 1960s: the Watts-Los Angeles Rebellion (1965), Newark (1967) and Detroit (1967). In Los Angeles, and elsewhere, African street organizations were developed into units of various African revolutionary organizations.
This political process has repeated itself many times over since the 1960s except for one place: St. Petersburg, Florida.
Most rebellions end with politics, but The Battle of St. Pete began with politics. Thirty years of Uhuru Movement activity, 24 years of the African People’s Socialist Party (APSP) and five years of the National People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement all prefaced The Battle of St. Pete.
Following the rebellions of the 1960s, a coalition of State and African petty bourgeois forces generally co-opted revolutionary upsurge of the African working class.
Anti-poverty programs and black middle class elected officials became the State’s answer to demands for African community control.
The colonial State and petty bourgeoisie were not able to get out in front of this movement. It was not simply that the Uhuru Movement had been on the ground since 1966. The Uhuru Movement is guided by strategies and tactics that bring organization to the spontaneous uprising of the African masses and clearly show what genuine economic development looks like.
In their assault, the State had already acknowledged the leadership of the Uhuru Movement. This meant that the African working class, not the African middle class, dictated what change looked like. It was a decade before another African was killed by St. Petersburg police.
Remembering The Battle of St. Pete turns history right side up
The Battle of St. Pete is a significant point in a series of important historical landmarks for the APSP and the Uhuru Movement from 2021 to 2022.
This year marks the 55th anniversary of the founding of the Uhuru Movement with the establishment of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee branch in St. Petersburg, Florida in 1966.
It marks the 45th anniversary of the African People’s Solidarity Committee, founded in September 1976, opening up a strategic front of the African Revolution into the colonizer nation.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Party’s victorious campaign to free Dessie Woods. Dessie Woods was released from prison in 1981. It is also the 40th anniversary of the African People’s Socialist Party’s First Congress in the Fall of 1981.
Next year marks the 40th anniversary of the first World Tribunal on Reparations to African People held in Brooklyn, New York in 1982.
April 2021 marked the 30th anniversary of the founding of the National People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement (NPDUM) in Chicago, Illinois.
All of these important dates lead to the most significant of them all, the APSP’s 50th Anniversary on May 25, 2022.
The APSP was formed with the expressed goal of completing the African Revolution of the 1960s, which had suffered a military defeat by the hands of U.S. counterinsurgency.
Counterinsurgency is a war without terms. As a strategy, counterinsurgency assassinates and imprisons leaders and demoralizes the masses. Part of that demoralization involves the distortion and the erasure of Africans from history.
The APSP’S 1981 African Martyrs Day Resolution states: “Historically, the oppressors of African people have attempted to turn history upside down and present the heroic examples of our freedom fighters as evidence of the futility, the hopelessness of our cause for political independence, African liberation and world socialism.”
We must celebrate the history and historical achievements of the APSP in our quest to break the chains of colonial capitalism. Remembering The Battle of St. Pete, in anticipation of The Party’s Semicentennial, is an important tactic in the larger strategy to win the liberation of African people.
Off the internet and into the streets
In 1977, Chairman Omali Yeshitela outlined the seven tactics and strategies to winning African liberation. The first strategic objective is to “Win Black people to the position of political independence” and the final strategic objective is to “Build An African People’s Liberation Army.”
The International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement (InPDUM) is an important force in achieving these objectives. The Battle of St. Pete is historical evidence of the correctness of these strategic objectives.
To achieve these, we must move from the internet and into the streets. For ten years, the colonial superstructure has equated social media trends with a genuine mass uprising.
The internet is a medium, a communication platform. To paraphrase a famous poet: The revolution will not be tweeted. It will be live.
At the time it was founded, InPDUM was the result of 25 years of Uhuru Movement mass organizing efforts.
A stroll through The Burning Spear digital archive reveals the first decade of InPDUM as defined by a fierce series of campaigns in defense of the African working class. The Battle of St. Pete is bookended by the defense of the 1992 defense of the Cross City 5 and subsequent struggles against the Philadelphia police.
This moment is significant because the internet existed 25 years ago as it does now. Yet, it existed as a vessel and not a venue.
So while these platforms that we know today are used to the extent that they remain available to us, to insert African Internationalism on every critical question roiling the mainstream, this cannot be seen as a substitute to the practical work of organizing our communities, building an organizational presence of the African People’s Socialist Party and Uhuru Movement wherever we are.
Shares and retweets do not equate to selling The Burning Spear newspaper out in the community, where the latter positions you as a leader in your neighborhood and presents a mighty weapon in the war of ideas.
It was this type of organization that resulted in the African working class engaging in full guerrilla warfare with the colonial State in St. Petersburg, Florida in 1996.
It was the constant work being done to expose the nature of this system and the way forward that allowed for Africans to jump right into action, knowing exactly where to go in the face of pitched battle.
The battle continues
As we learn from the struggles of the past, we should heed their tactical lessons as well.
The Battle of St. Petersburg can be regarded as one of the most important revolutionary rebellions certainly in the history of the African Nation, moreover the world.
It was a devastating blow to the entire colonial system because of what it did for the morale of the African working class, not just in St. Pete, but those of us around the world who had the opportunity to witness it.
We see what the African working class, against the military might of the imperialists, is capable of when organized under revolutionary leadership.
When we learn of the courageous fight made by the people of Viet Nam who defeated the U.S. in 1975, after 20 years of revolutionary armed struggle, when we see the people of Afghanistan expelling the U.S. from their land in 2021—we see the results of an organized, ideologically united people, with a will more formidable than any army tank.
That was the African community in St. Petersburg, FL in 1996.
Our task at hand is to create the conditions for revolution, to win our people to African independence, to provide the necessary leadership, bringing us two, three, many St. Petes!
Long live TyRon Lewis!
This time til’ it’s won!