From the 1960s to present, the book examines how computing technology has been used to neutralize the threat that black people pose to the existing racial order, but also how black people seized these new computing tools to build community, wealth, and wage a war for racial justice.Through archival sources and the voices of many of those who lived and made this history, Black Software centralizes African Americans’ role in the Internet’s creation and evolution, illuminating both the limits and possibilities for using digital technology to push for racial justice in the United States and across the globe.
The first part of the book presents what the author call “the heroes” presenting their progression as the black community has little to no access to university, some people managed their way through often by unconventional means.
Under N.Wiener impulse institutions such as MIT “began to think about information societies [but] they failed to think about what kind of scociety they were building” “The Folks at MIT and hose like them were building a new society [ ] they made the de-facto decision to exclude Negroes from designing, building, or deciding what computer systems would be built” p.21
Some structures tried to correct this a lot latter it was to little and to late, still: Derrick Brown Who was fascinated by databases and got recruited in high school by a Clemson University professor, in the 90’s Clemson had programs designed to attract students of colors into electrical enginering.He quickly got involved in the recruitment of other of his comrades, supported by Dr Robert W,Snelsire (Dr Bob) and Dr Sue Lasser. p.16
Derrick continued his path to Georgia Tech were he also participated to the Black Students Association where he created a comitee on Tech: the BGSA p.99
Other people like William Murrell secured access to computer through employement. Born in Harlem in 1955 William was fascinated by radio broadcast and electronics and his FCC license allowed him to get hired at Duke Power in North Carolina. Later William Murrel entered an IBM facility in North Carolina, in 1978, to become a customer engineer, using IBM’s own networked application called: “personal office system” p.32
While IBM was sermoned by the equal opportunity employment commission because in the 60’s it was still practicing discrimination in their employement they started to build plants in “Broklyn Bedford Stuyvesant Ghetto” to meet their demand for technical labor, it was a success, they continued in Charlotte North Carolina. p.41
William then accepted a job at Ohio Nuclear (a company doing scanner and radiology) and moved into the heart of “Black Boston” where the CORE (Congress on Racial Equality) was revived in the 60’s by the many of the southern racial non violent demonstrations that they supported. Furthermore pushing the limits of CORE, MIT black students associated to Harvard peers and formes EPIC (Emergency Publlic Integration Comitee). EPIC founder: William Rogers was in line with MIT spirit, he wanted to connect basic science to engineering, targeting real world application, through EPIC they wanted to tear down the artificial wall built by MIT between computer and civil right revolution “EPIC boycotted, petitioned, and raised funds for students expelled from southern universities because they resisted racial domination.” “they faced immediate opposition” from MIT administration, but still got more active in pickets and demonstrations (1960) p.45-49
“Students had come to MIT to be transformed into what the institute had promised to make them: leaders, capable of, and charged with, fashioning better tools and machines to support and extend America’s political and economic standing in the world, They were bulding the technologies that would soon begin to govern the nation [ ] A government that began to see Black America as an enemy target for the country’s new computing machines” p.55
By 1971 Mel King as adjunct professor in urban studies in 1983 he would run as mayor, William Morrel will be an important activist in his campaign providing Osborn computers organising workshops to support people repairing their machines, Processing data sheets, and vote tallies. Little time after William Morrel started running the successful metroserve computer company in Cambridge.
The new distribution possibilities offered by electronic media has also been quickly seized by the Black music community. Some from this community engaged with network and also as other started building BBS, which brought computers to remote communities, bringing some black students to get interested and graduate from prestigious universities or MIT.
A Vanguard of people were forming: Lee Bailey Kamal David, Malcom
Kamal Al MAnsour a UCLA graduate in law who was coming out from NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory started to build a database about black history. In 1989 he filled a patent for CPTime, and started to develop a black history database and software called BlackSoftware and a company called Afrolink. He also moved to Boston in Roxbury, where he met William Butler. Dr Molefi Asante (Chair of African Studies department at Temple University) got in contact with Kamal to buy his software, and so did many others, “Kamal began to build and distribute a new knowledge base, by about, and for black people all over the world.” p.83 selling software on flopy disks and CD roms.
In the mean time the firsts African American usenet forums happened under the impulse of Deering: “The online world had now an open invitation to talk about African Americans. Some of the people doing the talking might even be African American thamselves. The process was democratic, open, fair and transparent […] Yet the people controlled their own fate. And the flame wars on soc.culture.african.american ignited on day one. […]Here these people were buiding a so-called new society online. They wanted to talk about issues of concern to black people. But almost inevitably they began to regurgitate the stereotypes that had dogged black people since they arrived in America” p.86
1993 Ken Onwere Launches Afronet. “Afronet was a FidoNet [type] system. SYSOPS controlled access to their respective boards. Mst were free, and thrived on openess. If I knew your number, I was free to connect to your system and partake of all the network had to offer. But Afronet was a who-ya-know kind of system.” p.97 Therefore Afronet was a safe place for Afro Americans on the otherwise racist (as the rest of society) Internet. “A black neighborhood in this electronic village” and it quickly grew connecting users all over north America. Auickly Idette Vaughan toke over Afronet management p.95
BGSA got very effective in bringing together tech students on their electronic platforms mailing lists and news groups. They made sure black students had there e-mail activated, organized conversations groups parties and workshop on how to use the tools they maintained. By oct 23, 1994 they had their own page on the WWW and announced the project of the soon to come Universal Black Pages, referencing Afro American content on the Internet.
In the meantime Afronet was the point of encounter of the Black people’s association such as the International Association of Black Fire Fighters, or the Black Data Processors Association.
African-American Cultural Computer Symposium was called out in 1994 in Washington DC by Thimothy Lee Jenkin’s publisher of American Visions, in collaboration with the ALC conference of the Congregational Black Caucus Foundation. American Visions readily connected with some Afronet SYSOPS (many refused not willing to loose their autonomy) to get organize a compuserve commercial service Go Afro. ALC was a success and also a corporate success some critics emerged Kamal Al Mansour could not hide his doubts, not finfing in this success the grounds for social change. p.120
From the west coast parallel ideas emerged originating frompeople closer to the musical and newly building multimedia scene. David Ellington and Malcom CasSelle devised the NetNoir project "A cybergateway into Afrocentric Cultures"p.125 They got funded by America Online greenhouse program, they were planning to build a successful commercial cultural business, “for the masses, not just for the geeks” “a platform from which other black people could launch their new ventures”. p.130
Indee dNetnoir was instrumental into the success of Farai Chideya popandpolitics.com and her award winning book: Fighting Cultural Misinformation
Meanwhile at Georgia tech Derrick Brown and Alou Macarry started a new project Universal Black Pages: a comprehensive directory of African-related Internet resources, with a business model based on advertisement.
But it was a newspaper related project. Black Voices that made it out from the walled garden of AOL to the open web.
But it was the web page launched by Anit Brown: Black geeks online that finally managed to get the larger userbase by federating the community favoring peer learning and onboearding, a sense of care.
“No matter how far the Vanguard seemed to get, their progress was always constrained, prescribed, limited, like a dog on a chain that is only permitted to go so far before being chocked by its collar.
The Vanguard could not see their chains but they were there placed there from the very beginning when the computer revolution first encountered the black freedom struggle. That story begins in 1960” p.171
“Automation sat rather impatiently at the crossroads where civil rights and and the computer revolution first crossed paths.” to all it seemed like a supplemental difficulty targeting Afro-Americans as they were more at risk and vulnerable. However Cybernated systems brought along different issues, "Cybernation made decision making easier […] Cybernation made helped government better manage its citizens. It made them easier to govern, regulate and control"p.178 And the Civil Rights defender in the late 60’s had no understanding of this while institutions where closed to Afro Americans.
1965 President Johnson established “The Comission” to inquire in the causes of crime and deliquency, the same year Watts riots surged to become a “towering national beacon for a newfound blackpower” reported on the news as propaganda for the police forces in an IBM sponsored documentary “Watts riot or revolt?” as Television channels were learning to satisfy public’s desire for live action broadcasts. The documentary portrayed the rioters as dropouts from broken homes, illiterates, unemployed and on welfare. Without backing their assertions by facts or statistics.
President Johnson agreed there was a national problem to be solved, IBM thought they were in position to solve it, reprocess the situation. p.193 IBM was already active in tracking black population in south Africa p.194
The committeemen sitting at Johnson’s commission were the best representation of the day’s technological vanguard, many IBM researchers and managers, police officers MIT, Harvard, Yale professors. p.196 The task force was provided with FBI collected data and New York State Intelligence system, There was a permeability between those and IBM new law enforcement program, where was developed a new database for crime information based on their experience with military software. From the commission emerged the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration focus on building automated criminal justice information systems.
1967 was the summer of revolts, all over the country. Pdt Johnson named The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders Homestead was IBM headquarters for Business and relation, situated in a remote mansion, where “Media Conferences” where held. Meeting’s first day focused on planning efficient relation between media the police and city governments; and media actions during riots p.210 But more important was to be discussed at Homestead Media conference, about the Simulmatics corporation. Inthiel De Sola Pool from MIT proposed to treat data from pooling survey in order to influence the 1960’s up to come elections