Sam Greenlee, author of “The Spook who Sat by the Door”, died Monday. He was 83.
I read Spook a long time ago. I was a student of Cheyney University, and a member of Alkebulan Nation, a small Black nationalist organization that held meetings in Yarnall Hall. You’re probably wondering, “Who?! Wha?!” Let me sort it out for you.
Up until college, I was a chronic “only”. One friend put it like this when I was a Junior in High School. He crumbled up a Hostess Ho Ho and spread the chocolate crumbs across the white formica lunch table. He then pointed at one of the crumbs, way over there, lost in a sea of white. And he said, “That’s you.”
Nailed it. That’s what it’s like being the only Black kid in most of your classes.
What’s a brown crumb to do, when it’s surrounded by a sea of white formica? Go to the first HBCU that will accept him, that’s what.
Cheyney University. Take Hillman (Different World), dust it with Philly grime and then plant it in Chester County. That was Cheyney in the 90’s.
The smell of Black Ice incense permeated the halls. Brothers were listening to Biggie and Pac, and there I was making mix tapes of Poor Righteous Teachers and Brand Nubians… and Peter Gabriel. I was a fist raising radical, wrapped in a soft, suburban shell.
The Spook who Sat By the Door was one of the only books that I’d ever read that seriously considered the idea of Brothers and Sisters rising up. And I loved it. Not because I thought that insurrection was the answer to all of our problems. I mean, even the book acknowledges that Black revolution will make things seriously Fucked for Black folk in America. But before Spook, Black uprising was something that I’ve only heard in passing. I knew about Nat Turner… And that’s it. Besides him, we were genuinely supposed to believe that Black people silently and patiently waited for hundreds of years, for our freedom.
That didn’t sit right. People aren’t supposed to let other people enslave them. People aren’t supposed to allow other people that kind of power over them, for generation after generation. Since then I’ve learned about the many insurrections and rebellions that took place, and the insidious lengths that the slaveholders were would go to, to prevent them. But when Spook landed in my hands, I was hungry.
The book depicted ex Black CIA agent, Dan Freeman (based on Greenlee, who one of the first Black officials to serve overseas with the United States Information Agency) as he quietly turned a bunch of Chicago gang members into young, armed revolutionaries. They were trained in Judo and firearms, organized into cells and deployed using CIA tactics and practices.
It was published in England in 1969. American publishers wouldn’t touch it.
In 73, a movie version had a limited theatrical release before it disappeared. Greenlee said that the FBI had tried to suppress it. So, of course, he was carrying around copies in a shoulder bag as late as 2004 because, Fuck the Man! You can check it out on YouTube.
He was 83 when he died. By all accounts, he raised hell every second of every day. He lived all over the world, both as an Agent of the U.S. and as a bad-ass Black dude. Ghana, Spain, Baghdad, Chicago, Greenlee was the real, “Most Interesting Man in the World.”