Ray McKay (Raymond Ford), September 1, 1946 – June 24, 2014

    June 24, 2014

    Ray 5


    In the Brooklyn Museum’s current exhibit, Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties, Nina Simone plays and sings “Mississippi Goddam” on a looping film. Her song was one of Ray Ford’s favorites. A Marxist-Humanist activist and theorist, he loved music and wrote poems and songs in that era, singing and playing the guitar. Some of his lyrics appear below. Ray McKay’s pen name came from Claude McKay, the Harlem Renaissance poet.

    Ford was a young factory worker in Baltimore in the 1960s when he became a militant in the Civil Rights Movement. Having grown up Black and poor—he and his brother integrated a Washington, D.C. elementary school–he was influenced by the Berrigan brothers’ liberation theology and joined the “Freedom Now” movement, working with the local chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). In 1966, he was active in the independent labor union it instigated, called the Maryland Freedom Union (MFU). Composed primarily of Black women nursing home workers, its story appears in a pamphlet of that name, available at the bottom of our Archives page. Ford’s own mother’s life was changed when SEIU District 1199’s East Coast organizing campaign came to the Baltimore hospital where she worked in the kitchen and forced a raise in wages to $100 a week. In the MFU, Ford helped and encouraged young women to organize themselves.

    In Baltimore and on trips to New York City, Ford met Marxist-Humanism and began to study philosophy, politics and history. In a film made two years ago, Raya Dunayevskaya: Biography of an Idea,” Ford describes his first meeting with Dunayevskaya, founder of the philosophy of Marxist-Humanism, and how he knew at once that her philosophy was different from the others leftists—those who came to the Civil Rights Movement for recruits to their political organizations so they could boss them around. Ford joined Dunayevskaya’s organization and was a colleague of hers for the next two decades, until her death in 1987. [Read more...]

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