A Message for Black Feminists, Black Nationalists, and Black Members of the LGBT Community

The Black Liberation Movement/Struggle throughout history helped our people to wake up, clean up and stand up.” We became aware of our connection with Africa and the Diaspora; We straightened our backs as we demanded and fought for justice; We built organizations and institutions to advocate for and solve our own problems. We did all of this despite state-sanctioned deprivation, discrimination, political impotence and murder.

Our superhuman feats and faith informed and inspired other disempowered people who then launched or re-launched their own effective sociopolitical movements (women, LGBT).

To the extent that opressed and marginalized people were empowered, this was a good thing. No one should be mistreated or deprived of dignity, regardless if we understand or agree with their belefs. Ultimately, we all yearn to be free.

This of course includes Black women and members of the LGBT community. However the emergence of these two groups has not been without conflict.

As Black people themselves, they face discrimination and restriction from whites. And then they face additional mistreatment and rejection from some elements of the larger Black community. Narrow-minded and fundamentalist elements within the Nationalist community with our sometimes chauvinist and insensitive rhetoric and behavior have not helped the situation. Such intolerant and repressive attitudes and behavior (similar to that of racist rednecks) has developed radical or “extremist” factions in the Black Feminist and LGBT communities (like similar factions in the Nationalist community) who develop unsound, inaccurate, and imbalanced perspectives as a result. Those who disagree with their perspectives are soon painted with broad (negative) strokes, ostracized, and met with indifference, distrust or flat out hostility.

Whether we acknowledge this or not, such intra-group hostility, insensitivity and inability to work together, constitute MAJOR threats to our collective and unique interests and success.  The simple truth is Black Feminists Black Nationalists and the LGBT community have existed for longer than we imagine, and most likely aren’t going away just because anyone disagrees or feels “uncomfortable” by them. We are left with two choices: Continue to attack, ignore or isolate one another, or begin discussions to heal, understand and work together. I am convinced that the first option will make all who participate in it, unwilling collaborators with white supremacy and Black subversion….in addition to making us inhumane and unprincipled.

We must seriously discuss ways to preserve/empower ourselves as a race against those who seek to eliminate us, while ensuring that we don’t maintain oppression, hostility or indifference among the various subsets of our race, all vying for recognition, respect, and power themselves (and rightfully so). Unless we give this serious energy, our alliances, priorities and hostilities will cause us to rot from within, seek each others’ decimation, and be absorbed and manipulated by outsiders and interlopers who despise and seek to dominate us all.

__________

Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In 2013, he wrote The Blueprint: A BSU Handbook, teaching Black student activists how to organize and lead. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. In 2015, he wrote My Two Cents: Unsolicited Writings on Race, Politics, and Culture. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” Currently, Agyei is a member of theBlack Power Cypher, five Black Nationalist men with organizing backgrounds, who host a monthly internet show addressing issues and proposing solutions. He runs his own business publishing books, public speaking, and teaching Black people how to organize and fight for empowerment. He is the founder and coordinator ofHarlem Liberation School and the YouTube channel Black Liberation University.

 Agyei earned his Bachelor’s Degree in sociology from Syracuse University, his          Master’s Degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University, and his Master’s Degree in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at truself143@gmail.com

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Why I Now Renounce Black Nationalism and Race-Based Activism

Good morning, family! After much reflection and soul-searching, I’ve come to the conclusion that my previous political ideas and activities were misled and inaccurate. For this reason, I”m moving to Britain, marrying a white woman I met at a Republican convention, and will begin to write books and deliver speeches explaining how racism no longer exists, how Black people are to blame for all of our problems, why ancient Greece is the cradle of world civilization, and why cultural assimilation is our best choice going forward. Because I believe in organization-building, I’ve started the Uncle Rawkus Club and Ronald Reagan Publishing Inc. to spread my new ideals. I hope you will support my new mission. Hakuna Matata!

Given my political past, I owe my faithful readers an explanation. I do so with the following points:

  • Based on my new research, the TransAtlantic Slave Trade was a hoax, and whites never participated in such a thing. African people traveled to parts of the Caribbean, North and South America on their own and volunteered their free labor for 400 years.
  • Greece, not Africa, is the actual cradle of world civilization. Ancient Greece created the foundations of math, law, science, philosophy, religion and art from which the entire world borrowed and benefited.
  • Malcolm X and Marcus Garvey were FBI agents sent to warp Black Americans with hatred and finger-pointing. Their objectives were to divide the Black community and set us up for a race war we’d lose.
  • “Race” is a social construct developed by Black people to degrade innocent white folk and engender sympathy and pity

APRIL FOOLS!   APRIL FOOLS!   APRIL FOOLS!  APRIL FOOLS!  APRIL FOOLS!

The only way I’d believe and write any of that crap is if someone abducted, labotomized, and drugged me!! But since I have your attention, on a serious note, I have created a campaign to donate 3000 copies of my book Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens, to schools and youth development programs throughout the United States. To accomplish this, I created a page on Gofundme.com. Please visit the link and read more about this campaign. Then if you are willing, please donate what you can and share the link with friends, family members and co-workers. Thank you.

_______________________________

Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” 

Agyei earned his Bachelor’s Degree in sociology from Syracuse University, his Master’s Degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University, and his Master’s Degree in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at truself143@gmail.com.

Black Nationalism 101

nationalists

Note: It would take an entire book at minimum to adequately discuss and explain Black Nationalism. In fact, several books on this topic exist (I provide a list of some at the end of this essay). If you are looking for a detailed and exhaustive discussion of the topic, this essay is not for you. If you are thoroughly knowledgeable about Black Nationalism, this essay will prove much too elementary for you. This essay, as indicated in the title, is a preliminary and basic discussion of Black Nationalism, for those readers who know nothing about the topic or very little.

—————————————————————————————————-

Throughout my years as an undergraduate and graduate student, along with my involvement in activist circles, Facebook discussions, and street corner “debates”, I’ve encountered various Black people who harbor negative views of Black Nationalism.

Feminists who are familiar with the misogynist behavior of some nationalists, refer to specific nationalist personalities of the Black Power Movement, and tend to classify nationalism as chock full of machismo, sexist and patriarchal. All-too-often, the dominant image of the ideology is one in which women walk 10 paces behind their male partners, and spend significant time in domestic activities, raising children and silently “supporting their man” uncritically.

In addition, some feminists argue that nationalists obscure women from leadership positions and scarcely attempt any rigorous gender analysis, if any at all.

Members of the LGBTQ community, incensed by offensive references to their sexuality made by “heteronormative” nationalists, characterize the ideology as patently homophobic.

Black people of the Marxist or Socialist persuasion often argue that nationalists focus too narrowly on racial issues and fail to critique capital and class.

And the cultural pluralists/multiculturalists (along with their leftist counterparts) believe nationalists – with their blanket hatred/rejection of whites – are chocolate-covered racists trapped in a 1960s time warp who subscribe to simplistic and outdated notions of biological determinism. I can hear them now saying in unison, “ALL white people are NOT the enemy.” (Incidentally, I find this statement true but very annoying).

In summary, we Black Nationalists are typically mischaracterized as hate-mongers, demagogues, advocates of random violence, misogynists, Black supremacists, and irrational idealists who romanticize an era long gone. It doesn’t help that rigid fundamentalist nationalists behave in ways or espouse views that empower and seem to justify these flawed archetypes.

Because sensational images of nationalists are those most depicted by the corporate media, and since some nationalists themselves give the ideology a questionable reputation, we will attempt to briefly describe Black Nationalism and its different ideological branches. There is not enough space or time here to present a complete paper on Black Nationalism. But I do hope to present the ideology as more nuanced and sophisticated than its critics do, and to challenge the way people sometimes paint the ideology with such broad strokes.

It is important to note that Black Nationalism is not the “evil twin” of pluralism, nonviolence or integration. Nor is it a “Johnny-come-lately” school of thought that first emerged with the rise of Black Power in the sixties.

Actually, Black Nationalism is as old as America itself – older in fact. As James Cone notes:

The roots of Black Nationalism go back to the seventeenth-century slave conspiracies, when Africans, longing for their homeland, banded together in a common struggle against slavery…;

It was also found in the rise of mutual-aid societies, in the birth and growth of black-led churches and conventions, and in black-led emigration schemes. Unity as a people, pride in African heritage, the creation of autonomous institutions, and the search for a territory to build a black nation were the central ingredients which shaped the early development of the nationalist consciousness.[1]

And while there are some advocates of nationalism that DO EMBODY MANY OF ITS NEGATIVE CRITIQUES, we should also note that many clear-thinking, balanced and serious-minded individuals championed Black Nationalism from the 19th century until the present: Martin Delaney, Robert Alexander Young, Henry Highland Garnett, David Walker, Henry McNeal Turner, Alexander Crummell, The Honorable Elijah Muhammad, Prophet Noble Drew Ali, Marcus Garvey, Queen Mother Moore, Malcolm X, Assata Shakur, Robert F. Williams, Mutulu Shakur, Kwame Ture, (aka Stokely Carmichael), Imari Obadele, Sister Souljah, and many more.

There is a tendency to view Nationalism in simplistic terms. Yet it has different branches, some conservative some fundamentalist, and others more progressive.

Groups like The Moorish Science Temple or Nation of Islam embody religious manifestations of Nationalism. Such organizations focus on Black solidarity, industry, and a renunciation of chauvinist white religious principles. For example, in such organizations, the Supreme Being is Black and Black people are considered God’s “Chosen people.”

Organizations like the Black Liberation Army or Revolutionary Action Movement, represent revolutionary manifestations of nationalism which advocate armed insurrection and an overthrow of repressive white government. The Black Panther Party, African Blood Brotherhood or the League of Revolutionary Black Workers embody nationalist organizations with a strong critique of class and capitalism in additional to interracial cooperation.

Nationalism often promotes issues of Pan African solidarity, race pride and Black industry as in the case of the Universal Negro Improvement Association. The “US” organization is an expression of cultural nationalism which emphasizes Blacks’ identification with African views and values along with the rejection of European-imposed definitions.

Groups like the Republic of New Afrika as did the Nation of Islam, argue for separatism and seek American territories Black occupation and nation development. Clearly, the philosophy is by no means monolithic.

Nevertheless, we can identify some core concepts of Black Nationalism. Among these are:

  • Self-Determination: The right for Black people to define their own leadership, values and methodologies.
  • Black solidarity: Unity around race pride, the common experience of oppression, and common values.
  • Self-reliance: The formation of Independent Black organizations and institutions that operate in Black interests, and the idea that Black people unify and organize to solve their own problems rather than looking to whites to do so.
  • Race pride: A conscious attempt to instill pride of African/Black history, culture, perspectives, values and phenotype.
  • Self-Defense: The right of Black people to defend their lives and property from physical attack (i.e. mob violence, lynching, church burnings, sexual assault). Sometimes, as evidenced by revolutionary nationalists, proactive violence against oppressive government agencies is also upheld.

Therefore some individuals and organizations believe and implement all of the above principles or any combinations of the above. As noted, some are more conservative, while others embody more progressive ideas. Given the breadth of this ideology, it is inaccurate to assume a person’s complete political menu just because he/she is nationalist. Nationalist ideology is interpreted and practiced in vastly different ways.

In fairness to its critics, Black. Nationalism does have its fair share of advocates with half-baked plans, misogynist ideals, oversimplified analysis and cult elements. But these individuals do not represent the entirety of Black Nationalism. The same holds true for Christianity, Socialism or any ideology.

During Black History Month, perhaps we can learn more about the Black Nationalist tradition, debunk the myths, and develop a more comprehensive and balanced understanding of the ideology. It would surely be tragic if Black people fail to do this, and simplify nationalism as an ideology which teaches that “all white people are evil,” or that Black people should use violence indiscriminately. It is erroneous to conclude that nationalism is too narrow and restricted to entertain allies or include an accurate analysis or gender and class. And in a context wherein Black people still find themselves the victims of hate attack, police brutality, poverty, the miseducation of our youth and so many other issues, Black Nationalism remains relevant and useful.

Reading List

– Black Nationalism: A Search for Identity E. U. Essien-Udom

– http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_nationalism

– Classical Black Nationalism: From the American Revolution to Marcus Garvey, Wilson Jeremiah Moses

– Modern Black Nationalism: From Marcus Garvey to Louis Farrakhan, William Van deburg

– Black Nationalism in the United States: From Malcolm X to Barack Obama, James Taylor

-The Ideological Origins of Black Nationalism, Sterling Stuckey

– The Crisis of the Negri Intellectual, Harold Cruise

[1]  James H. Cone, Martin & Malcolm in America: A Dream or a Nightmare?, (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books 1991) , 9.

Race, Africa, and Empowerment for the “New Negro”: Contrasting the Racial Ideology and Political Programs of Marcus Garvey and Cyril Briggs

garveybriggs

The first two decades of the 20th Century constituted a watershed moment in African American history; Approximately 750,000 southern Blacks migrated to Northern cities seeking better economic opportunities and refuge from the brutality of the Jim Crow South. Joining them was a large number of Caribbean migrants; In 1917 the successful Bolshevik Revolution in Russia led to the creation of the Soviet Union which inspired black soldiersoppressed people around the world; Proud African-American soldiers fought bravely in WWI believing their sacrifice had earned recognition as American citizens. This “New Negro” attitude which developed among Black people in the post WWI period was met with unbridled racial hostility in the form of lynching and race riots in over a dozen cities.

Within this matrix of developments during the pre and postwar periods, existing Black organizations and newly created ones worked to translate the New Negro attitude into programs that would articulate and address Blacks’ grievances.  Marcus Garvey and Cyril Briggs (both Caribbean immigrants who would establish their headquarters in Harlem), appealed to similar demographics and concerns, but advanced decidedly different methods of advancing Black liberation. Garvey drew from Pan-African thought and Black Nationalism, while Briggs fused Pan-African ideas with Black Nationalism and Communist ideology.  For them, issues of racial solidarity, the role of an independent Africa, and a program for economic empowerment were central concerns that guided much of their propaganda and political action. This paper will explore how both of these leaders articulated and attempted to manifest such themes.

Racial Identity and Solidarity

Race consciousness and pride constituted the cornerstone of Garvey’s ideological infrastructure. In fact, it is impossible to responsibly speak of Marcus Garvey without referencing this component of his thinking. Garvey traveled widely around the world prior to

UNIA nurses march at 1922 parade in Harlem

UNIA nurses march at 1922 parade in Harlem

his 1916 arrival in the United States. His observations of similarly oppressive and exploitative conditions for Black people throughout Europe, the Caribbean and Central and South America influenced his belief that the Black race received such persecution because of their “blackness.”[1] The 1920 UNIA Declaration of Rights refjlects this belief:  “We are everywhere discriminated against and made to feel that to be a black man in Europe, America and the West Indies is equivalent to being an outcast and a leper among the races of men, no matter what the character and attainments of the black man may be.”[2] His perspectives on the matter of race however ideological they would become for Garvey were largely forged through his personal experiences.

Garvey believed that Black people suffered injustice and oppression primarily due to their racially proscribed designation of being inferior and not accomplished. His famous proclamation “Up you mighty race! You can accomplish what you will,” reflected this position. Garvey envisioned a race of proud, successful Black people who would one day prove themselves equal to white men by establishing a record of accomplishment that equaled those of white men. He reasoned that Blacks would never realize true freedom and empowerment until they were able to collectively demonstrate their competence and power in the world.[3]  For Garvey this specifically meant that Blacks must “produce scientists, statesmen, philosophers, leaders, creators, similar to those of the white race.” He continued that “when he can lay down a proper system of civilization, which is the standard of the white man, the prejudice from which he now suffers will disappear as the mist before the dawn of day.”[4]

A key impediment to Black accomplishment identified by Garvey was Blacks’ acceptance of the psychologically damaging beliefs that they were incorrigible, unattractive, unworthy and ill-fated. Thus a key objective for Garvey was to instill racial pride within his followers and the larger Black community. This approach he believed would eliminate Blacks’ subservience to whites and at the same time, provide them with anegro world much-needed capacity for self-reliance and the creation of a global and national Black “empire.” Garvey then used his organizational newspaper The Negro World, to both inform his readers and provide them with the inspiration to build their own “empire.” His efforts did not go unnoticed by Government officials, and there is evidence to suggest that Garvey’s objectives and effective manner of conveying them to Blacks through The Negro World concerned federal agents. One agent, C.B. Treadway wrote a letter in 1919 noting that “Such literature as this is causing a great deal of unrest among the negroes. . . and particularly those negroes who are trying to find some grievance against the white people.”[5]

Perhaps the best example of Garvey’s position on race is his famous editorial “African Fundamentalism.”

The time has come for the Negro to forget and cast behind him his hero-worship and adoration of other races, and to start out immediately, to create and emulate heroes of his own.We must canonize our own saints, create our own martyrs, and elevate to positions of fame and honor black men and women who have made their distinct  contributions to our racial history. Sojourner Truth is worthy of the place of sainthood alongside of Joan of Arc; Crispus Attucks and George William Gordon are entitled to the halo of martyrdom with no less glory than that of the martyrs of any other race. Toussaint L’Ouverture’s brilliancy as a soldier and statesman outshone that of a Cromwell, Napoleon and Washington; hence, he is entitled to the highest place as a hero among men. Africa has produced countless numbers of men and women, in war and in peace, whose lustre and bravery outshine that of any other people. Then why not see good and perfection in ourselves? [6]

Garvey’s race first ideology included strong elements of race purity. Suspicious of white patronage or agendas, he believed that Black organizations should consist of exclusively Black leadership and members. His rejection of race amalgamation extended into personal as well as political affairs, causing Garvey to criticize interracial organizations and marriages, and Blacks that were “mulatto” or had biracial parentage.[7] In 1919 in fact, Garvey was sued by Cyril Briggs for referring to the African Blood Brotherhood  leader as a “White man passing for Negro.”[8] His extreme belief in race purity would eventually lead Garvey to find common ideological ground with white racist groups like the Ku Klux Klan, leading to him to invite white supremacist leaders to address the UNIA and to his bizarre and ill-advised meeting with Klan “Imperial Giant” Edward Young Clarke in 1922.[9] Garvey’s position of race amalgamation naturally made him critical of Black contemporaries like Harlem Renaissance satirist George S. Schuyler, who believed racial oppression would diminish with racial amalgamation  To Garvey such an idea was unthinkable:

Some Negro leaders have advanced the belief that in another few years the white people will make up their minds to assimilate their black populations; thereby sinking all racial prejudice in the welcoming of the black race into the social companionship of the white. Such leaders further believe that by the amalgamation of black and white, a new type will spring up, and that type will become the American and West Indian of the future. This belief is preposterous. I believe that white men should be white, yellow men should be yellow, and black men should be black in the great panorama of races, until each and every race by its own initiative lifts itself up to the common standard of humanity, as to compel the respect and appreciation of all, and so make it possible for each one to stretch out the hand of welcome without being able to be prejudiced against the other because of any inferior and unfortunate condition. [10]

Like Garvey, Cyril Briggs also embraced race as a primary explanation of Blacks’ oppression and suffering. His organization, the African Blood Brotherhood published its Aims and Objectives which clearly demonstrates Briggs’ emphasis on racial solidarity and consciousness. Among other things, this document called for a liberated Race, absolute race equality, the fostering of racial self-respect, and a United Negro Front.[11] In his 1918 article “The American Race Problem,” Briggs explains racial subordination, critiques prevailing solutions to this problem offered by fellow Black leaders, and offers his own solution to the problem. Clearly then, Briggs acknowledged race, and like Garvey, called for race pride and solidarity among Black people. In fact, like Garvey, crusaderBriggs saw himself and his organization as being interested solely in the affairs of Black people. For example, in a 1920 Crusader article Briggs notes that the sole purpose of his organization was the “liberation of Africa and redemption of the Negro race.”[12]

Briggs however, did not support race purity as Garvey did. While his organization was composed solely of Black people, Briggs’ communist leanings made him amenable to interracial cooperation, particularly among workers. Admittedly “inspired by the national of the Russian Bolsheviks and the anti-imperialist orientation of the Soviet state,” [13] Briggs’ embraced a class analysis in addition to a race analysis. This led Briggs to be explicitly critical of capitalist exploitation and imperialism in addition to racial oppression and to champion Black worker activism and labor rights. Consequently he called for interracial worker solidarity or cooperation with “Class-Conscious white workers.”[14]

abb flier

An ABB flier and application calling for Black self-defense

Nevertheless, Briggs saw himself as an advocate for Blacks and addressed himself to the larger Black community, seeking as he called it, “a radical change in the Negro’s pattern of thinking.” He therefore urged Black people to organize for “Negro” liberation and fused this with a communist-influenced call to develop cooperative enterprises, join  labor unions, (as doing so would increase their standard of living and benefits), and create a “Great Negro Federation” composed of trained and dedicated Black people to provide (presumably armed) protection to fellow Blacks.[15] Like Garvey he called for Blacks to organize along the principle of “race first” without ignoring “useful alliances with other groups.”[16] A June 1920 editorial entitled “The African Blood Brotherhood” summarized the thinking and strategy of Briggs. Among other things, he advised Blacks to support Black businesses, refrain from divisive complexion discrimination among themselves, instruct their children in Black history, and challenge the false ideas that Black people were lazy, unintelligent and servile. In contrast to Garvey, he also spoke of the need for Black people to identify and work with other oppressed groups, to study modern warfare, and to affiliate themselves with labor movements of all stripes.[17]

Unlike Garvey, Briggs and his organization did not enjoy widespread appeal among the Black community. Briggs himself admitted that the African Blood Brotherhood never exceeded 3000 members nationally, most of whom were concentrated in Harlem.[18] Briggs attributed this to the ABB not having the emotional appeal, flamboyance, or ability to pay its organizers like the Garvey Movement [19] though we might also add Briggs’ lack of charismatic appeal in contrast to Garvey, largely because of his severe stuttering.

The ABB’s failure to take root on the mass level is also explained by communism’s similar failure to gain mass acceptance in the Black community during the 1920s. As a neglected and disputed component of American citizenry, Blacks were often compelled to “prove” that they too were American citizens that upheld “American” ideals. The Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 led to a “Red Scare” in America from 1917 to 1919.  Former Communist Party member Murray Levin described this as  “a nation-wide anti-radical hysteria provoked by a mounting fear and anxiety that a Bolshevik revolution in America was imminent—a revolution that would change Church, home, marriage, civility, and the American way of Life.”[20] Coupled with intense feelings of patriotism resulting from America’s successful involvement in WWI and the equally intense American hostility toward immigrants and organized labor during this period, references to communism, union activity, and radical politics which many deemed explicitly unpatriotic and threatening to American life and values. Evidence of this climate was the Espionage Act of 1917 which when amended in 1918, limited and punished speech and writing critical of the American government or its involvement in WWI. In addition, the law gave the United States government the authority to censor mail and other documents perceived to be in violation of the act. Those convicted of violating this act could receive prison sentences of up to 20 years.[21] Given the communist hostility and persecution fostered in America during and after WWI, Black people had strong incentive to adopt a similar suspicion of communist ideas and activities.

At the same time, some Black people rejected communism due to their critique of communist analysis and practice. Some felt that communism did not sufficiently address Black issues or interests, a legitimate critique given that communism made its way to America via European immigrants unfamiliar with the racial animus or brutality that Blacks encountered in America.[22] Referring to this aspect of Communism, Mark Solomon notes, “The distinctive dimensions of the black experience were not understood; the special needs and demands of African-Americans were ignored.”[23] Mark Naison in Communists in Harlem During the Depression, provides an alternative explanation of communism’s failure to resonate with Black leadership in Harlem during the 20s. According to Naison, many black organizations and leaders eschewed worker solidarity as impractical given rampant racial discrimination and viewed socialist revolution as untenable.[24]

For these and other reasons Briggs’ organization was limited in magnitude and did not receive mass support like the UNIA; it proved incapable of implementing its larger aims and political objectives, leading scholar Mark Naison to harshly characterize the ABB as “little more than a discussion group,” and claiming that “one can find no evidence of an (ABB) organizing strategy, or program of action.[25] However, Briggs’ magazine The Crusader which he founded in 1918 grew to a circulation of 36,000 [26] and proved highly effective as an instrument of racial and political propaganda.

The Role of Africa

While references to Garvey’s campaign as a “Back to Africa” Movement are oversimplified at best, Garvey’s affinity for Africa and desire to see it free and governed by Black people are indisputable. Two “Objects and Aims” of the 1918 UNIA constitution pay special attention to assisting Africa, and Garvey viewed its emancipation and “redemption” as being of critical importance to Black liberation worldwide. Speaking at his Harlem headquarters in August of 1921, Garvey made this point clear and unequivocal:

I understand that just at this time while we are endeavoring to create public opinion and public sentiment in favor of a free Africa, that others of our race are being subsidized to turn the attention of the world toward a different desire on the part of Negroes, but let me tell you that we who make up this Organization know no turning back, we have pledged ourselves even unto the last drop of our sacred blood that Africa must be free. The enemy may argue with you to show you the impossibility of a free and redeemed Africa, but I want you to take as your argument the thirteen colonies of America, that once owed their sovereignty to Great Britain, that sovereignty has been destroyed to make a United States of America. George Washington was not God Almighty. He was a man like any Negro in this building, and if he and his associates were able to make a free America, we too can make a free Africa.[27]

Garvey’s call for the “redemption” and reclamation of Africa certainly preceded him.  As Tony Martin notes, Garvey’s Pan-African ideals such as “Africa for Africans” paralleled those of his antecedents including Martin Delaney, Henry McNeil Turner, Edward Blyden and J. Theodore Holly.[28]  Like them, Garvey was a champion of African repatriation. Garvey’s ideals concerning African repatriation were both symbolic and political.  He identified Africa as Blacks’ ancestral yet displaced home and argued a “natural order” philosophy stipulating that every race of people should be sovereign citizens within their place of origin. Furthermore he believed that an Africa free of colonial control and ruled by Black people would protect and empower Black people the world over, “serving a similar role for Blacks as Israel does for Jews.”

Cyril Briggs’ appreciation of Africa is implied in the name of his organization the “African Blood Brotherhood.” That he would include such nomenclature at a time when Black people referred to themselves as “Negroes” and tended to disassociate themselves from references to Africa is telling (Even Garvey himself used the term “Negro” in his organizational name).Yet the ABB leader shared more than a romantic affinity for Africa. He recognized the vast continent as Black people’s “motherland,” understood its history of white colonization, and listed as one of his objectives to develop a “worldwide Negro federation” entrusted to reclaim, liberate, and develop Africa, even to the point of creating a “Pan-African Army” to “drive respect and terror into the hearts of the white capitalist-planters.”[29]

In the first two years of The Crusader’s publication, Briggs used his editorials to call for liberating Africa from white colonialists and to advocate for repatriation to Africa. So skeptical was Briggs that Blacks would ever receive justice in America that he wrote, “The ultimate, equitable, peaceful solution of this country’s race problem is by all signs a chimera and an idle dream. Thus it is Glory and Necessity both that call us to the mother land to work out a proud and glorious future for the African race.”[30] Here, Briggs takes a position similar to that of Marcus Garvey. . . namely that Blacks themselves must work to liberate and control Africa.

By 1919 and 1920 Briggs’ position became radicalized, as he began to call for the international spread of communism as an effective challenge to the oppression of other nationally oppressed people including Africans. [31] Briggs move from a Black-led liberation of Africa to an interracial one was no doubt influenced by communist ideas spurred on by the Bolshevik Revolution. However, even with his ideological inclusion of interracial cooperation, Briggs still called on Blacks to lead the charge for African liberation. Perhaps nothing better illustrates this point than an advertisement in a February 1920 issue of The Crusader calling for Black people to enlist for service with the African Blood Brotherhood in their effort toward “African liberation and Redemption.” By 1921 the ABB founder even softened his original position that Blacks could never find justice in America when he conceded that multiracial nations (i.e. America) might be able to coexist peacefully once capitalism was defeated. [32]

Interestingly, as Briggs adopted increasingly more radical positions concerning the liberation of Africa, Garvey – likely affected by the “Red Scare” environment of America during the time and his desire to obtain American citizenship began to distance himself from radicalism even to the point of speaking directly against it. Garvey was never particularly fond of communism, referring to it as “a dangerous theory of economic and political reformation because it seeks to put government in the hands of an ignorant white mass who have not been able to destroy their natural prejudices towards Negroes and other non-white people. While it may be a good thing for them, it will be a bad thing for the Negroes who will fall under the government of the most ignorant, prejudiced class of the white race.”[33] However, Garvey did for a moment, support the military liberation of Africa, as evidenced in a 1919 speech when he declared, “It will be a terrible day when the blacks draw the sword to fight for their liberty. I call upon you 400,000,000 blacks to give the blood you have shed for the white man to make Africa a republic for the Negro.”[34] Garvey, like Cyril Briggs, even displayed admiration for the revolutionary activity then underway in “white” Ireland. [35]

black sar line

Stock certificate for the Black Star Line

Beginning in about 1921 however, Garvey’s militant and anti-establishment rhetoric subsided and was replaced by a more conservative and patriotic tone.  The Bureau of Investigation, a forerunner of the FBI, noticed the change leading one agent to note, “For some unknown reason all the officials of the Black Star Line and Garvey’s other organizations seem to have undergone a change of mind. They are very patriotic in their speeches and have eliminated all the antiwhite talks and in its place are preaching loyalty to the U.S.A.”[36]

Economic Empowerment

One Garvey theme that never changed was his emphasis on Black self-reliance and industry. Inspired by Booker T. Washington’s gospel of self-reliance through industrial development, the last of the UNIA’s Aims and Objectives was “to conduct a world-wide Commercial and Industrial Intercourse for the good of the people.” Like Washington, Garvey was pro-capitalist and believed that Blacks would gain respect, protection and equality through making themselves commercially indispensable and prosperous. But Garvey expanded Washington’s vision, insisting that they aspire to positions of political leadership and challenge America’s racial oppression of Black people. Referring to Booker T. Washington’s philosophy, Garvey would write, “No leader can successfully lead this race of ours without giving an interpretation of the awakened spirit of the New Negro, who does not seek industrial opportunity alone, but a political voice. [37]

Yet unlike Briggs who decried American capitalism and called for Black cooperative enterprises, Garvey envisioned and in fact created several businesses using the traditional capitalist model. Rather than attacking the underlining philosophy and impact of capitalism, Garvey defended and embraced it as a model for Blacks to emulate. This can be explained by Robert Hill’s suggestion that “For Garvey. . . success was measured solely according to the criteria of white Europe’s achievements, despite Garvey’s being the most outspoken black opponent of continued European domination of Africa in the postwar period. Paradoxically, he held up to blacks the system of European civilization as a mirror of racial success.” [38]

His embrace and absorption of white values sometimes led Garvey to take positions that seemed counter-intuitive  Hence much to the chagrin of communists and union workers, Garvey would state, “It seems strange and a paradox, but the only convenient friend the Negro worker or laborer has in America at the present time, is the white capitalist. The capitalist being selfish is seeking only the largest profit out of labor–is willing and glad to use Negro labor wherever possible on a scale `reasonably’ below the standard white union wage.” Garvey went so far as to praise white corporate chiefs as points of reference rather than as those guilty of greed and labor exploitation: “The glittering success of Rockefeller makes him a power in the American nation; the success of Henry Ford suggests him as an object of universal respect, but no one knows and cares about the bum or hobo who is Rockefeller’s or Ford’s neighbor. So, also, is the world attracted by the glittering success of races and nations, and pays absolutely no attention to the bum or hobo race that lingers by the wayside.” [39]

In fact, Garvey’s admiration of political strength, military might, and technological advancement often blinded him to the gross exploitation and abuse that accompanied such. During WWII, long after the peak of his influence as a mass leader, Garvey was quoted as saying, “We were the first Fascists, when we had 100,000 disciplined men, and were training children, Mussolini was still an unknown. Mussolini copied our Fascism.” [40]

We might speculate that Garvey perhaps underestimated or failed to fully appreciate the hegemonic nature of capitalism and its ability to absorb and dissipate self-reliance based small business initiatives. The evidence shows that in addition to mounting opposition from other Black leaders (Briggs among the most vocal) and disenchanted UNIA members, financial mismanagement, unacceptable political moves (like meeting with the  Klan in 1922) and questionable business ventures eventually became the straws that broke the back of Garvey’s movement and eventually led to his arrest and deportation back to Jamaica.

Nevertheless, Garvey’s vision for Black self-reliance was not completely unrealized. In 1919 the UNIA established the Negro Factories Corporation which created a “chain of co-operative grocery stores, a restaurant, a steam laundry, a tailor and dressmaking shop, a millinery store, and a publishing house.” [41] The UNIA newspaper The Negro World began publication in 1918 and grew to have a circulation of between 30,000 to 60,000 subscribers. To accommodate its worldwide scope, the paper was translated into French and Spanish. Following this was the creation of the Black Cross Navigation and Trading Company, the African legion (a paramilitary unit composed of male UNIA members) and the Black Cross Nurses. Perhaps his largest venture, The Black Star Shipping Line incorporated on June 23, 1919 in the state of Delaware with a total capital stock of $500,000. [42] Created both to demonstrate Black industrial accomplishment and to more practically transport passengers, raw materials, produce and goods to Black businesses throughout the Diaspora, and to facilitate Black repatriation to Africa, the line purchased its first ship the SS Yarmouth in September of 1919. [43] The shipping line was suspended by 1922 due to financial mismanagement, the purchase of structurally inadequate ships, and Garvey’s imprisonment for mail fraud regarding the sale of the line’s stock, it did represent in a symbolic sense, the potential for Black commercial achievement and was a great source of inspiration for Blacks throughout the world.

Briggs’ position on both capitalism and economic empowerment differed vastly from that of Marcus Garvey. Whereas Garvey drew economic ideals from the capitalist model, Briggs was influenced by communist thought. In accordance with his communist ideology, Briggs’ ABB fought for industrial development, higher wages for Negro labor, shorter hours, and better living conditions. [44]

In Briggs’ estimation, capitalism was just as inimical to Black liberation as was racism or imperialism: [T]he corporate power that stood behind the imperialist conquest of Africa was the enemy of the black masses of this country … Since the oppression of Negroes in America … was analogous to the total and systematic political, economic, and cultural oppression of blacks in the colonies of Africa and the West Indies, the battle against that oppression had to be both anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist.

While Garvey would applaud the material achievements and tenacity of white business titans, Cyril Briggs criticized their achievements as consequences of worker exploitation and corporate greed. In the October 1919 issue of The Crusader, he explained that Carnegie for example “accumulated his vast wealth by the inhuman and grinding exploitation of other men and of weak women and children.” Linking his analysis directly to communist thought, he encouraged his readers to “read Karl Marx’s work on ‘Value, Price, and Profit’ which demonstrates “in unanswerable logic…that labor receives only enough of the wealth it creates to live and reproduce its kind for further capitalist exploitation.” [45]  In addition to challenging Carnegie’s depiction as a noble philanthropist, Briggs more importantly explained that capitalism was innately exploitative and that the working class could never hope to gain wealth or power through laboring for the bourgeoisie.

Naturally then, the ABB leader would be highly critical of both Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey’s pro-capitalist self-reliance approach to Black empowerment. In a 1918 article entitled “The American Race Problem,” he observed, “Whether it was the advice to “buy pigs” or the declaration that white men would learn to respect and honor Negroes as soon as Negroes acquired sufficient property and education it was all diametrically opposed to human nature, the lessons of history and the facts
in the case.” [46] If Black people sought white respect or economic power by working harder or attaining bourgeois achievements, they were misled in Briggs’ opinion.

The New Negro attitude that emerged during the WWI period swept through America and had profound effects upon Black leaders and organizations in Harlem, and people throughout the world. Influenced by the large migration of Black southerners to northern cities, Caribbean intellectuals to America, Black soldiers’ triumphant return from war and the violence they faced upon their return, and the Bolshevik and Irish revolutions, leaders like Marcus Garvey and Cyril Briggs created organizations, analyses, and action programs to protect and advance Black interests. Both  concerned themselves with African liberation and Black redemption and both created highly effective newspapers to inform and articulate their positions to Black people.

Both of these leaders – like the New Negro mood itself – experienced pinnacles and valleys of popularity and influence, and were marginally successful in certain political endeavors. However, both produced blueprints, ideas, and a spirit of resistance that influenced Black politics and activism years after their deaths.  Garvey’s dogged insistence on Black solidarity, self-reliance, and self-determination would greatly influence the Nation of Islam and give birth to the Rastafarian Movement, while Briggs’ complicated blend of Black Nationalism and communism would anticipate and inform organizations like the Black Panther Party, Black Liberation Army and Revolutionary Action Movement in the 60s and 70s .[47]

BIBLIOGRAPHY

 “African Blood Brotherhood.” Wikipedia. 2003. 28 May 2011 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afrian_Blood_Brotherhood.com>.

“Hon. Marcus Garvey Comments on Establishment of Irish Free State and Efforts of Hindus and Egyptians to Gain Their Independence – Points out Meaning to Negro Peoples of World,” Negro World, Saturday, 14 January 1922.

“Summary of the Program and Aims of the African Blood Brotherhood,” Leaflet in the Comintern Archive, RGASPI, f. 1515, op. 1, d. 37, ll. 13-14.

Briggs, Cyril (1919 – 1920) The Crusader (Vol. 2). New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1987.

Briggs, Cyril, Program of the African Blood Brotherhood, Communist Review, London, v. 2, no. 6 (April 1922), page 2.

Briggs, Cyril. (1918 – 1919) The Crusader (Vol. 1). New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1987.

Briggs, Cyril. ( 1920-1922) The Crusader. (Vol. 3-6). New York & London: Garland, Inc., 1987.

Cronon, E. David, Black Moses: The Story of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1969.

Garvey, Marcus “An Appeal to the Conscience of the Black Race to See Itself,” 1923, http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/index.asp?document=740

Garvey, Marcus, “African Fundamentalism,” Negro World, 6 June 1925.

Garvey, Marcus, “If I Were a Negro (by a White Man),” Black Man, 1 (January 1934)

Garvey, Marcus, “Negroes Sharpen Swords for War of Races, Says Garvey,” New York World, Friday, 31 October 1919.

Garvey, Marcus, ed. Amy Jacques-Garvey, Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey The Journal of Pan African Studies 2009 eBook, page 35, http://www.jpanafrican.com/ebooks/eBook%20Phil%20and%20Opinions.pdf

Garvey, Marcus, ed. Robert Hill, The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Papers, (1826-1919), Vol. I, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983.

Garvey, Marcus, ed. Robert Hill, The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Papers, (1924-1927), Vol. VI, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989.

Garvey, Marcus, Message to the People: The Course of African Philosophy, The Majority Press, Dover: Massachusetts, 1986.

Kuykendall, Ronald A., “African Blood Brotherhood, Independent Marxist During the Harlem Renaissance,” The Western Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 26 No. 1, 2002.

Naison, Mark, Communists in Harlem During the Depression, New York: Grove Press, 1983.

Rogers, Joel A., 1937 interview with Marcus Garvey, in Negroes of New York series, New York Writers Program, 1939, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York.

Rovira, Carlito, “Harlem and Socialism: Recovering the History,” February 2, 2010, PSLweb.org, http://www2.pslweb.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=13615&news_iv_ctrl=1261

Solomon, Mark, The Cry Was Unity: Communists and African Americans, 1917-1936 (Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 1998.

Footnotes 

[1] Marcus Garvey, “The Negroes Greatest Enemy,” In the UNIA Papers, Volume 1, p. 5.

[2] “Declaration of Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World,” Philosophy and Opinions, Vol. 2, p. 136.

[3] The UNIA Papers, Volume V, p. 129.

[4] Marcus Garvey, “If I Were a Negro (by a White Man),” BM 1 (January 1934):7

[5] Letter from C.B. Treadway, Special Agent-in-Charge, to Frank Burke, in UNIA Papers, Vol. I, p. 479.

[6] Marcus Garvey,  “African Fundamentalism,” Negro World, 6 June 1925

[7] E.David Cronon, Black Moses: The Story of Marcus Garvey, p. 191.

[8] Race First, 239-241.

[9] Ibid., 188-190.

[10] Philosophy & Opinions, p. 20.

[11] Summary of the Program and Aims of the African Blood Brotherhood, p. 1.

[12] The Crusader, June 1920, 7.

[13] Letter to Draper, 1.

[14] See point 7 of the ABB Summary of its Program and Aims.

[15] See “Program of the ABB”, p. 3-4.)

[16] The Crusader, June 1920, 22.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Letter to Draper, 2.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Political Hysteria in America: The Democratic Capacity for Repression, p. 29.

[21] “Senate Accepts Sedition Bill,” New York Times, May 5, 1918, http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=9B01E1DD103BEE3ABC4D53DFB3668383609EDE, (Accessed, June 15, 2012).

[22] Carlito Rovira, “Harlem and Socialism: Recovering the History,” February 2, 2010, PSLweb.org, http://www2.pslweb.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=13615&news_iv_ctrl=1261, (accessed June 19, 2012)

[23] Mark Solomon, The Cry Was Unity, 4.

[24] Mark Naison, Communists in Harlem During the Depression, 1.

[25] Ibid., 7.

[26] Cyril Briggs, Letter to Draper, 2.

[27] Marcus Garvey, Speech Delivered at Liberty Hall in NY City during the Second International Convention of Negroes. August 1921, cited in Philosophy and Opinions, 59.

[28] (Race First, pg. 111).

[29] (Cyril Briggs, Program of the African Blood Brotherhood, Communist Review, [London], v. 2, no. 6 (April 1922), page 2.

[30] The Crusader, April 1918, 8.

[31] Ibid., February 1920, 5.

[32] Ibid., April 1921, 8.

[33] Marcus Garvey, Message to the People: The Course of African Philosophy, (The Majority Press, Dover: Massachusetts, 1986,) 134.

[34] “Negroes Sharpen Swords for War of Races, Says Garvey”, New York World, Friday, 31 October 1919

[35] See “Hon. Marcus Garvey Comments on Establishment of Irish Free State and Efforts of Hindus and Egyptians to Gain Their Independence – Points out Meaning to Negro Peoples of World,” Negro World, Saturday, 14 January 1922, p. 2.

[36] See UNIA Papers, General Introduction, lxxx.

[37] See Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey edited by Amy Jacques-Garvey, The Journal of Pan African Studies 2009 eBook, page 35, http://www.jpanafrican.com/ebooks/eBook%20Phil%20and%20Opinions.pdf, assessed June 30, 2012 and the Marcus Garvey Papers, Vol. 1 pg. lxvii)

[38] The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Papers, Vol. 1 Introduction, p.li

[39] “An Appeal to the Conscience of the Black Race to See Itself,” 1923, http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/index.asp?document=740, assessed July 8, 2012.)

[40] 1937 interview reported by Joel A. Rogers, “Marcus Garvey,” in Negroes of New York series, New York Writers Program, 1939, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York.

[41] Black Moses, 60.

[42] Certificate of Incorporation of the Black Star Line, Inc., in The UNIA Papers, 441.

[43] Black Moses, 53.

[44] “Summary of the Program and Aims of the African Blood Brotherhood,” Leaflet in the Comintern Archive, RGASPI, f. 1515, op. 1, d. 37, ll. 13-14.)

[45] Cyril Briggs, The Crusader , October 1919, 13.

[46] Cyril Briggs, “The American Race Problem,” The Crusader [New York], v. 1, no. 1-4 (Sept.-Dec. 1918) p. 4)

[47] Ronald A. Kuykendall, “African Blood Brotherhood, Independent Marxist During the Harlem Renaissance,” The Western Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 26 No. 1, 2002, p. 5.

_______________________

Agyei Tyehimba is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” Mr. Tyehimba is a professional consultant and public speaker providing political advice and direction for Black college student organizations, community activist groups, and nonprofit organizations. If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at truself143@gmail.com.