I suppose that like me, most people’s only mental and lived association with Greenlee is through that ground breaking and utterly reckless book, The Spook who sat by the door, and the film that defied Hollywood and told the story in pictures (trailer here).
Margaret and her revolutionary publishing house brought us this film at a time when we were waging our own struggles with the British state, rejecting any attempts on its part to have us conform to, and act in role according to, its definition of us. We were rejecting, too, the obsession of the British state with essentialising and constructing archetypes based upon the most extreme and amoral conduct of the alienated and dispossessed among us and using this as representative of black people as a whole.
Spook appeared on bookshelves and was bought in handfuls and read and debated in black communities at the same time as we were reading about George Jackson, Angela Davis, Jonathan Jackson, Rosa Parks, Watts, New Jersey, Alabama, Chicago and all those other literal hot spots in which African Americans were up against Jim Crow, McCarthy and an oppressive, barbarically racist federal government and constituent states. But, we became increasingly aware, too, that before the USA farts, the British state smells it and responds. So, we were ever conscious that we, too, were under scrutiny and were subject to the same oppressive surveillance as our Sisters and Brothers in the USA.
Spook was therefore essential reading for many of us as we sought to understand what motivated Huey Newton, Stokely Carmichael, Eldridge Cleaver, Angela Davis and the rest of them as they stood up fearlessly against the power and might of the USA.
We all took away our own individual lessons and intelligence from Spook and it shaped our thinking in ways that were anything but consensual. Nevertheless, as a creation of its time it was invaluable.
So, as Margaret Busby pays tribute to Sam Greenlee, let us join her in that but also pay tribute to her for her courage, vision and foresight in getting it from the ‘get go’ and making that historical text available to us and to the world as she so modestly describes.
“Sam Greenlee author & filmmaker” by vagabond Beaumont
(Flickr – All rights reserved by vaga_bond)