L. Brooks Patterson’s cancer announcement elicits zero sympathy

Two demonstrators stand against the National Action Group, a white supremacist group, at an event in February 1972.
Two demonstrators stand against the National Action Group at an event in February 1972. The white supremacist group helped L. Brooks Patterson make a name for himself by hiring him as their lawyer. | Photo: Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions, and Utility Shutoffs

By Jerry Goldberg and David Sole

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson’s cancer announcement brings back a lot of memories, but no sympathy. Patterson made his name as the lawyer for the racist anti-busing organization, the National Action Group (NAG), when busing was court ordered in 1970 in Pontiac, Michigan, to implement integration. NAG was the public face of the anti-busing movement whose real force was the Ku Klux Klan. When school busing for integration first started in Pontiac, the KKK blew up the school buses.

Robert Miles was the Grand Dragon of the Michigan KKK. He was arrested and later convicted of bombing those buses. When he appeared for a speaking engagement at Wayne State University (to talk about “fraternal associations) in February 1972, a group of us from Youth Against War & Fascism, confronted him. While Miles was being interviewed by TV news we opened an anti-KKK banner and started chanting “Ku Klux Klan – Scum of the Land.” One youth threw an egg that broke on Miles’ face. He assaulted our demonstration and got his ass kicked with the news cameras rolling. One of us stopped beating this white supremacist long enough to explain who he was and why he deserved his beating to a crowd of students who gathered around. Much of the media condemned our confrontation with Miles, but the student newspaper, the Southend, did publish one letter supporting our action. It was signed by an African American student named Chokwe Lumumba. He later became a leader of the Republic of New Africa and in 2013, he was elected Mayor of Jackson, Mississippi.

The very next day, the National Action Group was holding a national anti-busing conference in Pontiac. We held a demonstration right outside the hotel to defend the Black community’s right to self-determination. Our slogan was “Busing or Community control, let the Black community decide.” The demonstration was attacked by the KKK, but as more demonstrators arrived, we began winning the fight. The Pontiac police eventually arrived to save the KKK, arresting eight of us and three Klansmen. Among the anti-racists, several were charged with disorderly conduct and fighting while one was charged with public obscenity, for calling the cops “racist motherf***ing pigs.” The KKK members had their mugshots taken in the police station with their arms around the cops. We built a campaign for the “Ant-Klan 8” that was tied to the defense of busing. At trial, we were acquitted on the fighting charges, and in a parallel court case, we succeeded in getting the obscenity charges declared unconstitutional. The higher court ruled that you had the right to call a cop a “racist motherf***ing pig.”

At the trial held for the KKK members, Irene McCabe, the head of the National Action Group, was present to show her solidarity with them and was also quite chummy with their leader. This struggle, where a few of us youth went into the KKK hotbed, led to the formation of a parents’ group of Black and white parents in Pontiac to support busing. Busing, in fact, went well in Pontiac, and at least for a while proved an avenue to improved school conditions.

L. Brooks Patterson went on to be the lead attorney on a case against cross-district busing as it went through the courts all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States. That court decision in 1974 severely curtailed busing for integration in Milliken v. Bradley. (Patterson did not argue the case before the Supreme Court.)

That same year, when busing for integration was implemented on a large scale in Boston, the KKK surfaced as the leader of the opposition and Workers World Party built a coalition that led a March Against Racism in Boston attended by 25,000 people. It was a great victory over the KKK and racism and set them back greatly in Boston.

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