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Oral History Interview with Malik Rahim, May 23, 2006. Interview U-0252. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007).
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  • Abstract
    Malik Rahim argues that Hurricane Katrina highlighted the institutional racial and class divide he sees as being deeply embedded in New Orleans society. Rahim describes how his family's example of racial pride, civil rights activists' Black Power rhetoric, and racial indignities led him to embrace the Black Panther Party. He joined the military for economic reasons, but his service in Vietnam was a lesson in race relations for him: he recognized in himself racist attitudes toward Vietnamese soldiers. In 1967, he received an honorable discharge with 4-F status. After returning home, Rahim noticed the lack of desegregation in the industrial sector, even for war veterans. The interview is punctuated with such stories of white oppression. He explains that New Orleans had a large chapter of Garveyites in the 1920s, which he says made the area ripe for the founding of the Black Panther Party in the 1970s. In the early 1970s, Rahim formally joined the Black Panther Party, where he served in the Department of Security. He describes a growing cleavage among Panther members from a politically revolutionary ideology to an increasingly gangster mentality. The latter stance, Rahim argues, exploited people, while the former made people self-sufficient. He discusses the effective collective strategies and community uplift programs of the Panthers, including breakfast, anti-drug, and anti-violence programs. These programs frequently benefited public housing residents, who formed the Panthers' largest constituency.

    Rahim discusses two shootouts between the Panthers and New Orleans police officers, the subsequent court cases, and the lessons he learned from these events. He discovered the local black community's support for the Panthers and the necessity of community organization, both of which reaffirmed his sympathy with Black Power ideology. Rahim also discusses his continued connection with imprisoned Panther members and his founding of the National Coalition to Free the Angola Three (an organization that focused on Herman Wallace, Albert Woodfox, and Robert King, who in 1972 were accused of murdering a corrections officer in prison and were placed in solitary confinement for life). Rahim argues that the government's handling of Hurricane Katrina confirmed New Orleans' racist practices and maintains that police targeted blacks and poor people as criminals. He says that the residents who remained in New Orleans after Katrina were predominantly women, children, and elderly people and that the criminals reported on by the national newscasters had left the city. Rahim maintains that there is a lack of political organization and outrage among African Americans and low-income people throughout the city, and he expresses his frustration with Mayor Ray Nagin and local leadership. After Katrina struck, Rahim formed Common Ground to help provide remaining residents with basic goods and services. He hopes that the organization will serve as a global force in restoring hope and teaching environmental and civic responsibility. His fusion of environmentalism with his interest in sustainability practices led Rahim to run on the Green Party ticket for the United States House of Representatives in 2006.

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