Some blacks call Brown's death a plot Conspiracy theorists appeal to history

April 21, 1996|By Gregory Kane

WHILE WATCHING the evening news the weekend after Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown was killed in a plane crash, my nephew Joey asked me if I thought Brown's untimely end came about as a result of a conspiracy.

"It's too soon to tell," I answered, not wanting to jump to any conclusions about a conspiracy but not prepared to rule one out either. Joey then swore Brown's death was part of an evil, insidious plot: the Great White Conspiracy to keep black folks oppressed and downtrodden.

I attributed Joey's rush to judgment -- he is, after all, only 24 -- to youthful fancy. But apparently it's not just young black folks who believe Brown was the victim of foul play. The Rev. St. George Crosse and Meldon Hollis, two talk show hosts on WEAA, Morgan State University's radio station, recently raised questions about the plane crash.

At the behest of the Perspective editor, I went to the University of Maryland Baltimore County recently to hear Derrick Bell, a former Harvard Law School professor and author, speak about a chapter in his book "Faces At The Bottom Of The Well." I decided to take an impromptu poll, completely unscientific and unofficial, afterward. The results were revealing.

Of the 14 black people I asked, nine definitely said foul play was involved. Only one gave a definite "no," while four said they weren't sure.

"I don't think we'll ever know the facts," one young man said. Bell seconded the idea, saying that without further evidence he was prepared to consider Brown's death an accident. But the conspiracy theorists were adamant, using as evidence to back up their claim the absence of a black box on the plane, the fact that it was flying in bad weather and the suicide shortly after the crash of the Croatian who was supposedly guiding the plane.

Conspiracy theorists cited at least two motives. The simplest is that Brown was a black man in a position of power and influence. Others hinted at a Republican plot to remove the man who was most instrumental in getting Bill Clinton elected to the presidency. I'm not totally convinced of either theory. Planes, after all, do crash. But anyone wondering why so many African-Americans can believe their government -- or, at the very least, certain members of that government -- can be so evil need only look at history.

"It's better to overestimate the enemy than underestimate him," another young man said in justifying his belief in a conspiracy. To him, whites -- and the government -- are the enemy. While many of us would like to argue with such logic, the fact is it's damned hard after the Tuskegee experiment, in which doctors let a group of black men stricken with syphilis go untreated for nearly 30 years to study the effects of the disease.

Black conspiracy theorists list a string of black men who died prematurely and whom they believe were bumped off by either the government, a cabal of white racists, or both. Black conspiracy theory history begins in 1830, when black abolitionist David Walker was found dead in his printing shop one year after publishing his "Walker's Appeal to the Colored People of the World."

"Walker's Appeal," as his tract came to be known, was a clarion call for U.S. slaves to wage armed rebellion against slaveholders. The state of Georgia put a price on Walker's head and his death remains a mystery. Other blacks considered to be conspiracy victims are: Richard Wright, acclaimed author of "Native Sun" and "Black Boy" was resting and awaiting a checkup at the Clinique Gibez in Paris when he died unexpectedly on Nov. 28, 1960. Black conspiracy theorists insist Wright was murdered by the CIA for his frequent criticism of U.S. racial and foreign policies. Skeptics may dispute the claim, but they should consider that for Western countries Wright was an undesirable. Two years before his death, British officials denied him permission to live in London.

Patrice Lumumba, first elected premier of the Congo, which is now Zaire. On this, the conspiracy theorists are correct. The CIA is guilty, guilty, guilty in the death of Patrice Lumumba.

Conspirarcy theorists say Malcolm X is the victim of a FBI-CIA plot. But the evidence suggests he was killed by a Nation of Islam hit squad, worked into a homicidal frenzy by its leaders. Consider Elijah Muhammad Jr.'s suggestion to 100 NOI security officials on how to deal with Malcolm: "Cut the nigger's tongue out and put it in an envelope and send it to me, and I'll stamp it approved and give it to the messenger."

I know of no black person who believes James Earl Ray acted alone when he shot Martin Luther King, Jr. Skeptics should read Tony Brown's book "Black Lies, White Lies" for his account of who killed King and why.

Others considered conspiracy victims are reggae singer Bob Marley, mega-businessman Reginald Lewis, black author Henry Dumas and Harold Washington, the late mayor of Chicago. Often blacks jump immediately to a conspiracy theory without even a scintilla of evidence. Those of us not in the conspiracy camp will continue to scoff at the claims. But black conspiracy theorists no doubt believe the adage spoken by a man at UMBC:

"There's more than one way to get people off this earth, and it doesn't have to be through the barrel of a rifle."

Gregory Kane is a columnist for The Sun.

Pub Date: 4/21/96

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