Republic of New Africa

views updated

Republic of New Africa


In 1967 Milton Henry, an African-American attorney and former acquaintance of Malcolm X, and his brother, Richard Henry, founded the Malcolm X Society, an organization based in Detroit whose purpose was to encourage the establishment of an autonomous black nation within the United States. By 1968 the brothers had adopted new namesMilton became Brother Gaidi Obadele and Richard renamed himself Imari Abubakari Obadeleand issued a call to black nationalists for the creation of an independent black republic in the Deep South.

In March 1968 the Obadeles, along with black militant activist Robert F. Williams, convened several hundred nationalists in Detroit, where a declaration of independence was adopted and the Republic of New Africa (RNA) was established. The delegates called for the creation of an independent, communitarian black nation stretching across "the subjugated territory" of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. The republic's economy would be organized according to the guidelines of ujamaa, the Tanzanian model of cooperative economics and community self-sufficiency, but political rights and freedom of the press would be limited, unions discouraged, military service made compulsory, and men allowed multiple wives.

Soon several "consulates" were established across the country, officials were chosen, and members declared their allegiance to the "provisional government." In its manifestos, largely written by Imari Obadele, the RNA called on the U.S. government to grant $400 billion in reparations for slavery and racist oppression and to cede the five "homeland" states to the Republic. In anticipation of the government's rejection of the proposal, the RNA's leaders developed a contingency plan of armed resistance in the South and guerrilla sabotage in the North.

Detroit police conducted a violent raid on the RNA's one-year anniversary conference, held in 1969 at the New Bethel Baptist Church. One police officer was killed and four RNA members were wounded after hundreds of rounds of ammunition were fired into the church. Three RNA members were tried and acquitted of murder charges. One of the accused, Chaka Fuller, was stabbed to death several months later by an undiscovered assailant.

In 1971 the RNA purchased twenty acres of land in Hinds County, Mississippi, to be used as the capital, El Malik, but the original owner of the land, an African-American farmer, reneged on the agreement. Soon thereafter local police conducted a raid on the RNA headquarters in Jackson, Mississippi, during which a white police officer was killed. Eleven RNA members, including Imari Obadele, president of the provisional government, were arrested and convicted on charges of murder, assault, and sedition. Ten of the "RNA-11" served sentences ranging from two to ten years. Hekima Ana was convicted of firing the shot that killed the officer and was sentenced to life in prison.

In 1971 five RNA members were accused of robbing a bank in Manhattan. Three of the five were caught at the scene, and a fourth was killed. The fifth, a twenty-four-year-old schoolteacher, Patrick Critton, who was the lookout, escaped. He later hijacked a plane to Havana. In 2004 a police detective in Canada investigating the old case found Critton in Mount Vernon, New York. Critton was arrested and convicted.

Three RNA members who were driving through New Mexico on route to Mississippi to assist the besieged headquarters murdered a police officer when he stopped their car. The three, Michael Finney, Charles Hill, and Ralph Goodwin, then hijacked a commercial airplane and ordered it flown to Cuba. Finney and Hill continue to live in Cuba (Goodwin died there in 1973).

Imari Obadele was released from prison in 1973, but shortly thereafter he and six others were convicted on federal conspiracy charges and incarcerated in a federal prison in Illinois. While serving his seven-year sentence, Obadele filed a civil suit against the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 1977, which resulted in the release of government documents confirming that the RNA had been targeted for subversion by COINTELPRO, the FBI's antiradical program.

Formed at the height of the Black Power movement, the RNA attracted a significant number of sympathizers in both radical and liberal political circles. Communist Party leader Angela Davis organized support campaigns for the group, and prominent Democratic politicians such as Julian Bond, John Conyers, and George Crockett provided legal assistance on various occasions. At the grass-roots level, the diffusion of RNA offices in cities throughout the United States attested to the group's position as one of the most popular and influential black nationalist organizations.

Imari Obadele was released from prison in 1980 and went on to pursue an academic career. He received a Ph.D. in political science from Temple University in 1985 and through the late 1980s taught at several colleges, including Beaver College in Pennsylvania and the College of Wooster in Ohio. Obadele has also published numerous books and articles on the RNA and black separatism in which he continues to advocate reparations, the acquisition of land, and the establishment of an independent, socialist republic where a distinctive and autonomous black culture could flourish. His works include War in America: The Malcolm X Doctrine (1968), Revolution and Nation-Building: Strategy for Building the Black Nation in America (1970), and America the Nation-State: The Politics of the United States from a State-Building Perspective (1988).

After the imprisonment of most of its leaders the RNA declined in prominence but remained committed to its original principles. In the mid-1980s the group moved its headquarters from Detroit to Washington, D.C., and claimed a membership of between five thousand and ten thousand. The RNA, which considers all African Americans to be citizens of the Republic, periodically holds elections on street corners in black neighborhoods to elect officials for the provisional government.

See also Malcolm X; Revolutionary Action Movement; Williams, Robert Franklin

Bibliography

Hough, Robert. "Unusual Suspect: Thirty Years After He Robbed a Bank and Hijacked a Plane to Cuba, Patrick Critton Was Finally Busted." Toronto Life 38, no. 3 (March 2003): 54.

Lumumba, Chokwe. "Short History of the U.S. War on the Republic of New Africa." Black Scholar 12 (JanuaryFebruary 1981): 7281.

Milloy, Courtland. "State of a Nation." Washington Post, March 30, 1986, p. B3.

Obadele, Imari. Free the Land! The True Story of the Trials of the RNA-11 in Mississippi and the Continuing Struggle to Establish an Independent Black Nation in Five States of the Deep South. Washington, D.C.: House of Songhay, 1984.

Van Deburg, William L. New Day in Babylon: The Black Power Movement and American Culture, 19651975. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.

thaddeus russell (1996)
Updated by publisher 2005

About this article

Republic of New Africa

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article