Black Nationalism

views updated May 14 2018

Black Nationalism

Raymond A. Winbush

The Ideology of Black Nationalism

Early Black Nationalism in the United States

Black Nationalism in the Twentieth Century


Black Nationalists and Pan-African Theorists


Black nationalism is the ideology of creating a nation-state for Africans living in the Maafa (a Kiswahili term used to describe the continued suffering of Africans throughout the world). Black nationalism is expressed orally and in writing with its core philosophy being the cultural and political return of African people to a place that would allow for complete self-determination in all aspects of their lives. The earliest protests against American slavery had black nationalistic overtones as evidenced by written narratives that emerged during the last half of the eighteenth century. The nineteenth century would see attempts to establish self-governing home-lands for Africans in the Maafa that continue today in the United States and Africa. At the core of all black nationalist philosophy is resistance to either cultural or political assimilation into Western culture. The expression of this resistance was seen in revolts of Africans during the Middle Passage within certain countries where displaced Africans resided.

African nationalism is distinguished from PanAfricanism, with the former describing political ideology focusing on Africa, and the latter describing its expression by Africans throughout the Maafa. Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, and Jomo Kenyatta advocated an “Africa for Africans” when they rebelled against colonialism during the twentieth century. Their ideological ancestors were Paul Cuffe, Martin Delany, Alexander Crummell, and other Pan-Africanists who linked black freedom with Africa.

Since their forced removal from Africa, Africans in the Maafa created political and cultural representations of their yearning to return. These creations were often mythological as in the folklore of captured Africans who felt that they could literally fly back to Africa. Beginning with the horrors of the Middle Passage, Africans created a folklore that emphasized joining forces with their ancestors to defeat their European captors. The often-repeated but mistaken notion that most of the Africans who jumped from the ships during the Middle Passage were committing suicide ignores the fact that, emerging from the folk traditions of many of the captives, was the belief that they would reunite with their drowned ancestors and revolt against their enslavers. Similar resistance was seen in the members of the Igbo tribe who, upon being removed from the hull of a slave ship bringing them to the Georgia Sea Islands in 1803, marched slowly but deliberately into the cold Atlantic Ocean and drowned themselves rather than undergo the humiliation of slavery. The resistance aspect of black nationalism is often disconnected from the history of black nationalism, but it is fundamental in understanding how Africans responded to slavery and its aftermath. It explains how the Underground Railroad was a sophisticated resistance movement created by

blacks to obtain their freedom, and that while whites participated at several levels, the movement was led by the notion of black self-determination—the cornerstone of black nationalism.

Nationalistic revolts on slave ships frequently took place, reaching their zenith in 1839 with the Amistad incident. Sengbe Pieh (renamed Joseph Cinque by his captors), a Mende farmer from Sierra Leone who mutinied aboard the Spanish ship, told its captain to return the ship and its human cargo to Africa. The incident, which garnered international attention, illustrated how black nationalism is more than a political ideology. It is a philosophy centered on resistance and self-determination. It is rooted in the desire for liberation and is reflected in movements as diverse as the Universal Negro Improvement Association of Marcus Garvey, the notion of a

unified Africa in the writings of George Padmore, and the Haitian revolution in 1789 led by Touissant L’Ouverture. In Europe, black nationalist thought appeared in the writings of several Africans captured during the Middle Passage. In British African Olaudah Equiano’s best-selling book of 1789, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, Equiano saw the return of Africans to Africa as critical to their future.


Most historians consider Paul Cuffe the father of black nationalism in the United States. One of the wealthiest men in the American colonies, Cuffe believed that “commerce furnished to industry more ample rewards than agriculture,” and he turned to shipbuilding as an expression of his belief. Cuffe acquired enormous wealth after the American Revolutionary War. The crews on his ships were always black, demonstrating Cuffe’s belief that the best proof of black excellence was to show that they could manage, work exclusively with one another, and turn out quality products. In 1780 at the age of 21, he and his brother refused to pay taxes since blacks and Native Americans were excluded from voting in Massachusetts.

After his first voyage to Africa in 1811, Cuffe became convinced that economic and cultural exchange was possible between the Africans there and those in America. James Forten, Absalom Jones, and Richard Allen supported Cuffe’s idea of providing African American workers to Sierra Leone to aid in the resettling of African Americans in Africa. Cuffe would increasingly support these efforts with his generous gifts to the American Colonization Society (ACS), a group dominated by whites who wanted free blacks returned to Africa. Several persons criticized Cuffe and accused him of being used by the ACS. This would be the first time black nationalists would confer with white supremacists in support of their philosophy of separatism. Marcus Garvey, over a century later, would receive similar criticism from W. E. B. Du Bois after meeting secretly with the Ku Klux Klan to solicit their aid in financing a resettlement movement.

In the 1791 Haitian revolt, Toussaint L’Ouverture used Boukman, a Jamaican, as his secretary because L’Ouverture knew of rebellious efforts in Jamaica. Discussions among enslaved Africans throughout the Maafa about insurrections were numerous and were influenced by persons such as Gabriel Prosser of Virginia. In 1800, he organized 600 people and nearly consummated what historians believe would have been a successful takeover of the entire state of Virginia by enslaved Africans. Only a last minute thunderstorm and the betrayal by nervous conspirators sabotaged the rebellion. Denmark Vesey, though freed in 1800, would later organize 9,000 people in 1822 to lead another nearly successful rebellion. Vesey saw both Prosser and L’Ouverture as inspirational for his quest to free enslaved people in South Carolina.

Maria Stewart of Boston, the first African American woman to record her speeches, spoke about slave rebellions and always referred to herself as an “African.” She opposed the white-controlled American Colonization Society—a group that sought to repatriate free African Americans to Liberia—and helped to establish Boston as the seat of early black nationalism. Born in Connecticut in 1803, she remained outspoken about the need for African Americans to “build their own schools and stores.” Her essays were published by the white abolitionist, William Lloyd Garrison. Her book Meditations from the Pen of Mrs. Maria Stewart (1879) outlined her feelings about being an African in America.

The nineteenth century spawned other black nationalists vocal in their denunciation of slavery and their advocacy of an African homeland. In 1829, David Walker published Walker’s Appeal in Four Articles: Together with a Preamble, to the Coloured Citizens of the World, but in Particular, and Very Expressly, to Those of the United States of America. Widely known as Walker’s Appeal, it asserted, “it is no more harm for you to kill the man who is trying to kill you than it is for you take a drink of water.” The author saw violence as self-defense in the war against slavery. Walker felt that peaceful means of eliminating slavery had failed and that violent retaliation was the only way to succeed. The Appeal was denounced by many abolitionists and supporters of repatriation, even by William Lloyd Garrison. The Georgia State Legislature placed a $10,000 reward on Walker’s head if he were delivered alive and a $1,000 reward if he was delivered dead. In the South, it was illegal to distribute his missive. Walker died mysteriously nine months after the Appeal was published.

Walker’s Appeal was well-received by Pan-Africanist Martin Delany, the highest-ranking African American in the Union army. His 1852 work, The Condition, Elevation, Emigration, and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States, was the first book that described the conditions of African Americans in the United States from a black nationalist perspective. Delany was strongly in favor of African Americans voluntarily emigrating to Africa, although he denounced the actions of the American Colonization Society as a form of forced emigration. In 1859, he signed a contract with the Nigerian government that allowed cotton production by free West Africans and the eventual repatriation of Africans in the Maafa.

Delany’s ally, Alexander Crummell, shared similar emigrationist views. In 1861, he published The Relations and Duties of Free Colored Men in America to Africa and argued that because of white supremacist views, blacks should be motivated to return to Africa and support the continent’s development. Crummell saw Christianity as a vehicle for achieving that development. In general, however, nineteenth century black nationalists were ambivalent about the role that Christianity played in their liberation. Crummell adopted a traditional view of Christianity and molded it to fit his political views toward black nationalism. Although advocating self-help, which took the form of establishing the American Negro Academy while he taught at Howard University, he was highly critical of Booker T. Washington’s obsequious nature toward whites. Crummell’s Christianity informed his 1892 book The Greatness of Christ, which argued for a social gospel that fused religion and works into the liberation of Africans from slavery. In 1797, Richard Allen and Absalom Jones founded the Free African Society and their subsequent establishment of the African Methodist Episcopal Church reflected the “spiritual nationalism” advocated by nineteenth century black nationalists showing their firm Christianity. Remnants of African religious rites were already part of this modified Christianity in the form of music, worship, and scriptural interpretation. They formed the basis for what would be known in the twentieth century as “Black Theology.” Henry McNeal Turner would expand the membership of Richard Allen’s African Methodis Episcopal (AME) Church during the latter half of the nineteenth century and would advocate emigration to Haiti as he grew more disgruntled with the treatment of African Americans after the Civil War. His views would be echoed by Henry Highland Garnet, who, like David Walker, called for violence in the fight to end slavery. He ended his 1843 speech in Buffalo by declaring to the persons at the National Negro Convention:

Let your motto be Resistance! Resistance! Resistance! No oppressed people have ever secured their Liberty without resistance. What kind of resistance you had better make, you must decide by the circumstances that surround you, and according to the suggestion of expediency. Brethren, adieu. Trust in the living God. Labor for the peace of the human race, and remember that you are three millions.

In the speech, Garnet cited the rebellions of Vesey, Turner, and Cinque as examples of the type of resistance that would eventually lead to the freedom of Africans in America. The use of violence as an alternative was a common thread through many of the writings of early black nationalists.

The century would end with the writings of one of the greatest Pan-Africanist theorists, Edward Wilmot Blyden. Born in the Virgin Islands, Blyden’s unwavering devotion to Africa led him to attend school in 1850 in the American Colonization Society’s Liberian colony. The publication of A Vindication of the Negro Race was one of the earlier treatises that challenged the notion of black intellectual inferiority. Blyden became a Liberian citizen and his devout Christian beliefs resembled those of many nineteenth century black nationalists. Blyden, like Crummell and Walker, saw a love for capitalism, Christianity, and Western education as key to the liberation of Africans in the Maafa. The contradictions in this view became the focus of contemporary black scholars such as Wilson Jeremiah Moses and Frances Cress Welsing who saw Christianity as part of the system of white supremacy that had historically oppressed Africans in the Maafa.

There was an elitism about nineteenth century black nationalism that would become even more apparent during the colonial struggle against the European powers during the second half of the twentieth century. This elitism would emerge as one of the major deterrents to a “United States of Africa” as advocated by Kwame Nkrumah and Julius Nyerere.

The differences that were emerging among the various factions of Pan-Africanists during the late nineteenth century were set aside in 1884 when German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck convened a meeting in Berlin of 14 European nations regarding the partitioning of Africa. No Africans were invited, and what would become known as the “scramble for Africa” began. The conference gave the European nations the opportunity to expand their political and economic powers without resorting to military conflict in Europe or Africa. From a Pan-African viewpoint, the conference was the most destructive action toward Africa since the advent of slavery. The economic dependency that the Berlin Conference would spawn among African nations is still being felt on the continent.


Six years after the partitioning summit, Henry Sylvester Williams called the first Pan-African Conference in London as a reaction to what Europeans were doing in Africa. Thirty delegates attended the meeting, including a recent graduate of Fisk University named W. E. B. Du Bois who would later be dubbed the “Father of PanAfricanism.” There were discussions about bringing African persons together through better communication, but what united the delegation was the anxiety over how the European powers were shaping the destiny of Africans in the Maafa. It was in London that Du Bois would first utter his famous phrase that the “problem of the twentieth century was the problem of the color line—the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men in Africa, in America, and the islands of the sea.”

Du Bois, along with Marcus Garvey of Jamaica and George Padmore of Trinidad, would dominate the black nationalist movement during the first quarter of the twentieth century. Du Bois drew deeply from the influence of Crummell and Delany, but rejected their amalgam of Christianity in his Pan-Africanism. Garvey and Du Bois would clash despite the similarity of their views. The issue of skin color ran through the early writings of Du Bois, who referred to Garvey as a “fat black monkey.” They were opposites in personality: Du Bois seeking links with whites and other progressives interested in the future of Africa and Garvey seeing whites as destroying black self-determination and therefore excluding their participation in the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). Du Bois’ founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909 was an anathema to Garvey. The First Black Parliament held in New York by Garvey in 1916 would rival in size the 1900 London Pan-African Conference. Du Bois countered these large meetings by convening the First Pan-African Conference in Paris in 1919 and several others in following years. It was clear that Du Bois’ meetings were more elitist and drew from the European-educated leaders of Pan-Africanism. No amount of editorializing by Du Bois against Garvey during his editorship of the NAACP’s Crisis magazine affected Garvey’s influence over the masses of black people throughout the world. What was even more frustrating to Du Bois was the evidence of Garvey’s PanAfricanism. Ships, businesses, and newspapers flourished under his leadership, whereas Du Bois’ vision of PanAfricanism remained primarily theoretical. Even during Garvey’s imprisonment, his wife, Amy Jacques Garvey, ran the UNIA while Henrietta Davis directed the Black Star Line. Du Bois gloated when Garvey was convicted in 1922 by the government and deported in 1926, although their black nationalist goals were nearly identical. Garvey had been successful in mobilizing the largest mass movement ever among African Americans, but the visceral contempt that he and Du Bois had for one another hindered the realization of their dream of an Africa for Africans.

In 1909, Du Bois proposed the publication of an “Encyclopedia Africana,” a Pan-African treatise that would examine the world from an African-centered point of view—an important perspective not found in European-centered encyclopedias. Lacking the funds in the United States for its completion, Du Bois would later revive the project at Kwame Nkrumah’s invitation during his self-imposed exile in Ghana, but Du Bois would never see it realized. Since that time though, the project has been resurrected by a publishing team in Accra, Ghana, under the title Encyclopaedia Africana. According to Grace Bansa, secretary of the project, three volumes have been published with the remaining volumes scheduled for completion by 2009—the 100th anniversary of Du Bois’ initial conception of the reference work.

The 1920s would see the emergence of black nationalistic expression throughout the Maafa. In the United States, it was called the Harlem Renaissance and was led by the poetry and writing of persons such as Claude McKay, Zora Neale Hurston, Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, Jessie Fauset, and Alain Locke. In Africa, Aime Cesaire, Leon Demas, and Leopold Senghor would create a movement known as Negritude. A reaction against colonialism in general and French colonialism specifically, the movement had inherent contradictions. While describing an “African personality” common to all black people in the world, it was heavily influenced by a love for the colonial powers and sought to merge the two together in what was really an “African-European” personality. The effects of nearly a half century of colonialism were evidenced in the psychological attachment that many Africans still had toward their European colonizers, and while Negritude reacted to the colonized mentality, many felt it did not go far enough in its denunciation of European domination and support of the nascent freedom struggles beginning in Africa.

Garvey’s influence on black nationalism would last for the remainder of the twentieth century and was dynamically linked to several movements. Jamaicans were attracted to his reference to the rise of kings in Africa. In 1928, when Ras Tafari was crowned Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia, another black nationalist religion, Rastafarianism, was born. Rastafarianism would establish its roots in Jamaica, but its influence would be global with musicians such as Bob Marley and Peter Tosh teaching others about the white supremacist world of “Babylon.” It would emphasize pride in appearance, and the religion’s “dread-locks” hairstyle would become famous around the world.

Garvey’s death in 1940 did not subdue his influence on black nationalism. Elijah Poole, a Georgia farmer who had come under the influence of Islam in 1931, began to carve out an urban religion known as the Nation of Islam that would include a mystical theology that described the white man as the “devil” and characterized African Americans as a “lost people” in a strange land. C. L. R. James would fuse Marxism with black nationalism in England and write Black Jacobins, a book that provided a Marxist critique of the Haitian Revolution under Touissant L’Ouverture. With Duse Mohammed Ali and Adelaide Hayford, England became the center of black nationalism in Europe. George Padmore befriended Du Bois and Nkrumah as Ghana began its struggle for independence from the United Kingdom. Padmore rejected Marxism when it took a soft approach to the colonization of Africa, and his vocal opposition to its indifference toward the Third World led to his break from the philosophy. His criticism of the Communist Party eventually led to his ouster in 1934, and he spent his final years in England and Ghana.

World War II forced the end of the colonial system. The colonized nations of Africa with their allies in the United States and Great Britain took notice of this and called for a Fifth Pan-African Congress in 1945. This Manchester, England, conference included T. R. Makonnen of Ethiopia, George Padmore of Trinidad, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, and chairman Peter Millard of British Guiana. Its honorary chair was W. E. B. Du Bois. Padmore advised the politically minded Nkrumah to return to the Gold Coast and become involved with the rapidly evolving anti-colonial waves sweeping the country. Nkrumah’s subsequent rise to power in Ghana was heavily influenced by the ideas of Padmore.

Nkrumah made several attempts at uniting Africa’s newly independent nations. The Gold Coast attended and was inspired by the final declaration of the 1955 Bandung Conference, where 24 nations called for increased economic, political, and educational cooperation among their countries. The conference also featured a forceful condemnation. In 1958, just one year after becoming Prime Minister of Ghana, Nkrumah called for the first Conference of Independent African States. The eight states in attendance included members above and below the Sahara, and discussed the challenges ahead of them as independent states. That same year, Guinea became independent of France under the leadership of Sekou Toure and rejected France’s offer to become part of what was referred to as “The New French Community.” France’s anger led it to order its colonial bureaucrats home, which caused the collapse of the infrastructure of the country. Toure turned to several nations to aid the newly freed Guinea. Nkrumah answered Toure’s call and formed a union between the two nations outlined in the Conakry Declaration of 1959. The Central Intelligence Agency added to the chaos of independence by participating in the destabilization of the Congo and the assassination of Patrice Lumumba in 1964. Nkrumah was ousted from Ghana in a coup in 1966.

In the United States, black nationalism took a back seat to integration when the nation began a long period of national introspection over treatment of its African American citizens after the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas decision in 1954 declared segregated schools unconstitutional. Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. became household names as the struggle for liberation in the form of desegregation engulfed the nation. The most significant group espousing black nationalism during this time was the Nation of Islam. Elijah Poole had become Elijah Muhammad and was slowly building a religious group that rejected Christianity as a tool of the white man and encouraged its followers to change their last name to “X.”

Before his release from prison in 1952, Malcolm Little discovered the urban prophet’s writings and was converted to Islam. Marcus Garvey’s legacy influenced Malcolm since his father had been an active member of the United Negro Improvement Association in Michigan. Despite his career as a criminal, Malcolm was transformed by the ideology in the teachings of those who told black people in the Maafa to look inward for self-determination. Malcolm’s attraction to the Nation of Islam and his outspoken critique of white America soon became the subject of newspaper articles and television documentaries. The religion flourished with the attention toward civil rights and through Malcolm’s fiery oratory. Television aided the personalization of the civil rights movement, and Malcolm provided a counterpoint to Martin Luther King Jr.’s racial inclusiveness in a way similar to that of Du Bois, who had castigated Booker T. Washington. Malcolm’s speech, made shortly after the 1963 March on Washington, criticized the entire civil rights establishment, and his story of the Field Negro and the House Negro captured the black nationalist philosophy of separation. His break with the Nation of Islam and his trips to Africa led him to increase his Pan-African views. He was assassinated in 1965 before these views could be fully articulated in a theory of Pan-Africanism. After the death of Elijah Muhammad in 1975, the Nation of Islam would struggle with internal division, but would be revitalized by Louis Farrakhan. His Million Man March in 1995 attracted global attention.

The political assassinations of the 1960s brought a renewed interest in black nationalism due to the cynicism that African Americans felt toward the civil rights movement. Stokely Carmichael, H. “Rap” Brown, and others forced integrationists to deal with the issue of black pride and self-determination. The Black Pride movement begun by Malcolm X and exemplified in South Africa by Steven Biko led to the Black Arts movement of the 1960s that saw the most creative expression of black artists since the Harlem Renaissance. Nikki Giovanni, Don Lee, and Gwendolyn Brooks wrote poetry that was uncompromising in its call for black introspection into white supremacy. Plays, books, films, and festivals celebrated the African roots of the black struggle and created meetings that discussed black self-determination. Mau-lana Karenga would introduce Kwanzaa, an African American holiday that would be celebrated by many African Americans by the end of the century.

A 1972 meeting in Gary, Indiana, established a black political agenda similar to the Negro conventions of the nineteenth century. There were tensions that had always existed between those who wanted a Marxist approach to political empowerment and those who wanted nothing to do with any white philosophy. There had always been a close relationship between blacks and Marxists dating back to the early 1920s. Du Bois, Padmore, Randolph, Baraka, and others had believed that a coalition of labor, progressive whites, and committed blacks could eliminate racial injustice. The most organized, though short-lived, movement of Black Marxism was the Black Panther Party of the 1960s. Though it is popular to portray it as being all black, the BPP allowed for white membership from its very beginning. Haki Madhubuti, offering a stinging rebuke of Marxism as a viable alternative to black suffering, argued:

Our major problem is not with the white communists, but with their trained Black ones who are trying to co-op Black nationalism and Pan Afrikanism to make these ideologies and movements something they ain’t. There is in our midst the subtle presence of “Black Marxists” pushing a European socialist analysis of Black nationalism and Pan Afrikanism. The Marxist position is that white racism—which to us is the only functional system of racism in the world—is a result of the profit motive brought on by the European slave trade and that white racism or anti-Black feelings didn’t exist before such time. The left (generally described as Marxist-Leninist) whether white or black has always been anti-Black nationalism and this can be documented. Yet, one of the major facts of history is that white racism preceded and advanced itself thousands of years before European capitalism and imperialism was even systematically conceived. It is important to understand that the ideology of white supremacy precedes the economic structure of capitalism and imperialism, the latter of which are falsely stated as the cause of racism.

The conflict between black nationalists and Marxists continued with the formation of the Black Radical Congress (BRC), which convened its first annual meeting in June 1998. Formed immediately after the Million Man March, part of its aim was to regain influence over young black people who they believed had deserted Marxism in favor of the Afrocentric analysis espoused by Marimba Ani, Molefi Asante, John Henrik Clarke, and Theophile Obenga. The BRC held its first meeting in Chicago and pointedly denounced Louis Farrakhan as being sexist, homophobic, and exclusionary. Attendees included socialists such as Angela Davis, Amiri Baraka, Manning Marable, Cornel West, and Barbara Smith. It was noted by many in attendance that “exclusionary ideologues,” such as the Afrocentrists and the Nation of Islam, were absent as main program participants. Black nationalists argue that the absence of spirituality in Marxist ideology is antithetical to religious expression, which is an ever-present factor in most black nationalist ideology. Most black nationalists see spirituality as necessary in a world replete with white supremacy and struggle with a religious expression that will fit their aims. The rise of “urban religions” among young African Americans, such as Ausar Auset, the Five Percent Nation, and the Nation of Islam, reflects the need of a younger generation to embrace faiths that speak to their condition. Contemporary hip hop artists openly mention Louis Farrakhan and the “Mother” (Africa) in their lyrics. Their rhymes reflect the black nationalist tradition of making all things black, including religion.


Toward the end of the twentieth century, it became clear that the most significant contribution of black nationalism was its work to garner global support for reparations for Africans and people of African descent living in other places. With leaders such as Queen Mother Moore, the Reparations Movement, long thought to be a marginalized black nationalist issue, entered mainstream dialogue when Randall Robinson’s book, The Debt: What America Owes to Black People, hit the bestseller lists. Robinson had been instrumental in focusing public attention during the 1980s on the anti-apartheid movement. In The Debt, he eloquently expressed the enormous obligation that the United States owed the descendants of slaves. Groups that had strongly advocated reparations for many years, such as the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N’COBRA), National Black United Front (NBUF), and the December 12th Movement (D12), forged ties among their organizations and with traditional civil rights groups.

The first formal petition for reparations occurred in Massachusetts in 1782 when an ex-slave known only as Belinda petitioned the Massachusetts legislature for reparations from her former master, Isaac Royall, who she claimed had denied the enjoyment of one morsel of that immense wealth, a part whereof hath been accumulated by her own industry. Petition of an African slave to the Legislature of Massachusetts is an eloquent statement and captures the essence of the reparations struggle by Africans in America. The poignancy of the appeal is reflected in the first sentences:

To the honourable the senate and house of representatives, in general court assembled:


THAT seventy years have rolled away; since she, on the banks of the Rio de Valta [Volta River in Ghana] received her existence. The mountains, covered with spicy forests—vallies, loaded with the richest fruits spontaneously produced—joined to that happy temperature of air, which excludes excess, would have yielded her the most complete felicity, had not her mind received early impressions of the cruelty of me, whose faces were like the moon, and whose bows and arrows were like the thunder and lightning of the clouds.

These opening sentences reveal Belinda’s sense of dislocation wrought by her enslavement. Belinda calls herself an African and speaks longingly of her homeland and the mental anguish of being kidnapped at 12 and placed in bondage. The “Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome” (PTSS) is a recurring theme in the Black Redress movement and has been documented by several writers. Black social scientists have not been alone in discussing the lingering effects of enslavement on contemporary Africans and the need for addressing PTSS. White psychiatrists have long discussed this so-called “mark of oppression” as have black psychiatrists and psychologists. The reparations struggle has been characterized by literature pointing to the need for “internal healing” and “self-repair” as a necessary condition for reparations. In fact, the two and a half centuries of enslavement saw a narrowing, but continual, stream of consciousness about things African—a river, to use Vincent Harding’s metaphor—between newly stolen Africans conversing and already enslaved Africans who wanted to know about the lost homelands where they or their ancestors had been born.

Belinda knew that her petition for reparations was based on the damage done by her being stolen from Ghana. Her words reveal her awareness of being traumatized in her separation from her homeland, her parents, her friends, and her sense of self.

Her petition argues that her labor had enriched her former master and that she had a right to lay claim on the accumulated wealth. Her appeal was successful for her freedom and the freedom of her daughter. She was also granted a small pension ($15 per month) from the wealth that had been accumulated by the Royall family on the Ten Hills Plantation operations as restitution for her 40 years of enslavement. As a footnote, scholars speculate that the actual petition could not have been written by Belinda since she was illiterate, but by black poet Phillis Wheatley or Primus Hall, the son of Prince Hall who founded the first Black Masonic Lodge in the United States.

Belinda’s petition is a milestone in reparations history. First, it shows how deeply embedded the Black Redress movement has always been in the lives of Africans in America. Again, there are those who wish to mark the beginning of the reparations movement with “Forty Acres and a Mule” occurring over 83 years after Belinda’s petition. Second, the petition shows how even during slavery, an American legal body recognized the justice of reparations for unpaid labor and unjust enrichment and a crime against humanity. This would be affirmed 60 years later when President John Tyler on December 6, 1842, in his second State of the Union address quoted from the Tenth Article of the Treaty of Ghent, signed by the United States and Great Britain that ended the War of 1812. It plainly and unequivocally stated that “The traffic in slaves is irreconcilable with the principles of humanity and justice.” Third, the Massachusetts legislature did not view Belinda’s petition as a “handout,” but rather a compensatory act for an injustice perpetrated on her and her family. It affirms Belinda’s efforts to secure reparations from those who committed crimes against humanity in the form of slavery.

The most common thread running through the black nationalist movement in the United States is reparations. Its largest modern expression occurred during the United Nations World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) held in Durban, South Africa, during August and September 2001. At the conference, black nationalists from all over the world succeeded in having the United Nations declare the trans-Atlantic slave trade a crime against humanity and made reparations one of the gathering’s top three issues. Even though the tragic events of September 11, 2001, occurred within one week of the close of the U.N. conference, the issue of reparations became part of the global dialogue on race. In October 2002, nearly 1,200 delegates from 30 countries met in Bridgetown, Barbados, and formed the Global Afrikan Congress (GAC). The GAC was a direct outgrowth of the African-African Descendants Caucus formed at the WCAR. Members are in some 35 nations and they are arguably the first and largest pan-African/black nationalist group in the world, since organizations and not individuals seek membership, a model based on the work of Marcus Garvey.

Though in existence prior to the WCAR, the Reparations Coordinating Committee, chaired by Harvard law professor Charles Ogletree and consisting of high profile attorneys such as Johnnie Cochran, Willie Gary, and Alexander Pires, earnestly began to seek legal redress for the impact of slavery upon African Americans. Dead-ria Farmer-Paellmann, a longtime reparations advocate, filed suit in New York in March 2002 against three corporations, Aetna Life Insurance, CSX Railroad, and Fleet Bank, for their active roles in perpetuating American slavery. Another suit quickly followed with the expectation that several more would come to challenge the complicity of private corporations and the U.S. government in the enslavement of Africans. During the first half of 2005, J.P. Morgan and Wachovia Bank not only apologized for their slave trading pasts, but “made restitution” for them by establishing scholarships for African-American high school graduates in Louisiana and donating to traditional civil rights organizations in North Carolina. These funds totaled nearly $16 million dollars and were cynically referred to by some black nationalists as “reparations down-payments.” On December 13, 2006, a historic victory was won by the reparations movement by Farmer-Paellmann. In the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago, the three-judge panel ruled that corporations concealing their slave trading past from consumers are guilty of consumer fraud. This was the first legal victory in the long struggle for reparations and will form the basis of many lawsuits in the future.

Reparations activism, anchored firmly in the black nationalist tradition, became the most significant social justice movement in the United States since the civil rights era and caught many mainstream human rights groups off guard. Many were forced to balance advocacy for reparations with white board members who saw reparations as an “extremist” movement devoid of civil rights implications. The leaders of these groups, however, knew that at the grassroots level—where black nationalism historically has its strongest following—it had grown into an issue that mainstream civil rights groups could not ignore. Furthermore, the international conversation on reparations forged strong bonds between black nationalist groups and traditional civil rights organizations with dialogues that would have been impossible in the late 1990s. The dialogues continue into the twenty-first century with major civil rights organizations conventions, e.g., NAACP in 2005, holding major forums on reparations.


(To locate biographical profiles more readily, please consult the index at the back of the book.)


MARIMBA ANI Scholar, Author

Marimba Ani was brought to the Department of Africana and Puerto Rican Studies by Dr. John Henrik Clarke in 1974 as she was completing her PhD dissertation at the Graduate Faculty of New School University. She had worked as a field organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Mississippi from 1963 to 1966, and had acted as Director of Freedom Registration for the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party in 1964, which challenged the all-white Mississippi delegation to the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City that summer. Dr. Clarke became her Jegna (warrior-teacher, intellectual father, ideological influence) as she moved back to New York and into graduate school. It was through his influence that she became committed to Pan-African liberation.

After having traveled in Africa, Marimba Ani (born Dona Richards) began formal study of the nature of African Civilization, focusing on the “deep thought,” which underlies its fundamental common cultural themes and the varying constructs of African social organization. She has done extensive work on African spiritual conceptions and systems. She is using her articulation of the African world view as a frame of reference from which to critique European cultural thought, and to construct paradigms for Pan-African reconstruction.

Marimba Ani has developed the concepts of Maafa, Asili, Utamawazo, and Utamaroho as part of the ongoing process of African-centered reconceptualization, in which several Pan-African scholars are involved. She has helped to initiate an intellectual and ideological movement, the purpose of which is to construct a theoretical framework that will allow people of African descent to explain the universe as it reflects their collective interests, values, and vision.

Her most recent work has been the development of the Maat/Maafa/Sankofa paradigm as an analytical tool for understanding and explaining the African experience in the Diaspora and to suggest modalities for cultural reconstruction. Dr. Ani has been lecturing throughout the United States, the Caribbean, and Africa on this new theoretical construct that is part of her endeavor to develop a pragmatic African Cultural Science. This new science becomes the basis for the creation of African institutions and nation-building in the Diaspora.

EDWARD WILMOT BLYDEN (1832–1912 ) Black Nationalist, Repatriationist

Although he was not American, Edward Blyden had a great influence on American Pan-African philosophy. He wrote about blacks in Africa and America and about Christianity and Islam. Later, he held many different political and diplomatic offices in Liberia.

Blyden was born in 1832 in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. When he was 12, a white pastor undertook his education and encouraged him to become a minister. When he was 18, he went to the United States, but was unable to find a seminary that would accept a black student. Instead, under the sponsorship of the New York Colonization Society, he went to Liberia to study at the new Alexander High School in Monrovia. Seven years later, he became the principal of the school.

As a writer and editor, he constantly defended his race, championed the achievements of other blacks, attacked slavery, and advocated the repatriation of blacks in Africa. As a teacher, he held many prominent posts at Liberia College. He was a professor of classics from 1862 to 1871 and the school’s president from 1880 to 1884. At the same time, Blyden was also a politician and diplomat in Liberia, holding many different offices. He

was Secretary of State from 1864 to 1866, Minister of the Interior from 1880 to 1882, Minister to Britain from 1877 to 1878, as well as in 1892, and Minister Plenipotentiary to London and Paris in 1905.

Blyden traveled to the United States eight times. In 1861, he was commissioned by the Liberian government to interest Americans in a Liberian education. He returned the following year to recruit African American immigrants to Africa. His last visit in 1895 was in hope of furthering racial accommodation in the South so that racial problems in America would not travel to Africa with new emigrants.

Because of his own religious training, Blyden was interested in Islam as a religion for Africans. Between 1901 and 1906, he was director of education in Sierra Leone. He studied both Christianity and Islam extensively and summed up his views in an influential book, Christianity, Islam and the Negro Race.

JACOB H. CARRUTHERS (1915–2004 ) Black Nationalist, Educator

Born on February 15, 1930, in Dallas, Texas, Jacob Carruthers received his B.A. from Sam Houston College, his M.A. from Texas Southern University, and his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Colorado. In 1950, he was among the first African Americans to integrate the University of Texas Law School. After teaching at Kansas State University from 1966 to 1968, he moved to Chicago and joined the faculty of the Center for Inner City Studies at Northeastern Illinois University. The Center is considered one of the foremost institutions in the world in studying the impact of African culture, politics, and history on the world.

Carruthers was the author of several books, including Intellectual Warfare, Essays in Ancient Egyptian Studies, and The Irritated Genie: An Essay on the Haitian. He was also one of the founders of the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations. He lectured at universities around the world and was well-known for his study tours of ancient Egypt. It is estimated that the study tours included nearly 2000 students, teachers, artists, and scholars from across the world.

He died on January 4, 2004, in Chicago.

JOHN HENRIK CLARKE (1915–1998 ) Black Nationalist, Educator

John Henrik Clarke was born on January 1, 1915, in Alabama. His family moved to Georgia when he was four, and he was raised in the South. Despite an aptitude for reading, he was forced from school after the eighth grade by poverty. In 1933, he left Georgia to go to Harlem and begin a new life.

In Harlem, Clarke discovered new reading materials on African American history. He studied at New York and Columbia universities, and found a mentor in Arthur Schomburg. After serving in the Army during World War II, he began to teach African American history at community centers in Harlem. From 1956 to 1958, he taught at the New School for Social Research in New York. He then traveled to West Africa and taught at universities in Ghana and Nigeria.

In 1964, Clarke was licensed to teach at People’s College on Long Island and began a career in academia. Clarke was a leading exponent of Afrocentric scholarship and the Black Power movement. In 1969, he began teaching at Hunter College, City University of New York, and, in 1970, was appointed a professor in the department of Black and Puerto Rican studies. Clarke retired in 1985.

On July 16, 1998, Clarke died of a heart attack. He made contributions to African and African American studies for more than six decades. He wrote six books and edited or contributed to 17 others in addition to helping found several important black quarterly publications. Besides his academic work, Clarke published more than 50 short stories.

ALEXANDER CRUMMELL (1819–1898 ) Black Nationalist, Repatriationist, Minister

Alexander Crummell was born in New York City on March 3, 1819. Crummell began his education at the Mulberry Street School in New York City. In 1831, he began attending high school but transferred in 1835 to a school founded by abolitionists in Canaan, New Hampshire. The school was destroyed by a mob of angry townspeople, and Crummell began attending the Oneida Institute in Whitesboro, New York. He later studied in Boston and was ordained into the Episcopal Church in 1844. In 1847, he went to England and studied at Queens College, Cambridge, from 1851 to 1853, and was awarded an A.B. degree.

Crummell then spent several years in Liberia as professor of mental and moral science at the College of Liberia and in Sierra Leone. In 1873, he returned to St. Mary’s Mission in Washington, D.C., and founded the St. Luke’s Protestant Episcopal Church. In 1897, he was instrumental in the founding of the American Negro Academy.

Crummell published three collections of his essays and sermons, titled Future of Africa (1862), Greatness of Christ (1882), and Africa and America (1892). Crummell died on September 10, 1898, at Point Pleasant, New York.

PAUL CUFFE (1759–1817 ) Black Nationalist, Repatriationist, Entrepreneur

Paul Cuffe was born January 17, 1759, on Cuttyhunk Island near New Bedford, Massachusetts. He was the son of Cuffe Slocum and Ruth Moses, a Wampanoag Indian.

When Cuffe was 16, he was a sailor on a whaling vessel. After making numerous voyages, he was captured by the British and later released. He then studied arithmetic and navigation, but soon returned to the sea. In 1795, he had his own ship, Ranger, and in 11 years he had become a landholder and owner of numerous other sailing vessels. He employed only African Americans on all of his ships because he believed in creating wealth within African American communities and showing whites that blacks were competent in the business of merchant seamanship.

Besides being a merchant seaman, Cuffe was also a black nationalist activist. He discarded his father’s slave surname and took his father’s Christian first name in its place. He filed suffrage complaints in Massachusetts court and, although unsuccessful, his legal action laid the groundwork for later civil rights legislation.

Cuffe was also a believer in free blacks repatriating to Africa. In 1811, he sailed to Sierra Leone where he founded the Friendly Society, which helped African Americans return to Africa. In 1815, he sailed with 38 colonists for Africa. It was to be his last voyage as he died on September 9, 1817.



MARTIN ROBINSON DELANY (1812–1885 ) Black Nationalist, Repatriationist

Born in Charles Town, Virginia, in 1812, Martin Delany received his first education from a book peddler who also served as an itinerant teacher. Since African Americans were forbidden in the South to learn to read, his family was forced to flee north to Pennsylvania so that their children could continue to study. At the age of 19, he left home to seek further education. He then studied with a divinity student and a white doctor for a time.

As an adult, he became involved in anti-slavery reform and the literacy movement. He began to publish The Mystery, a weekly newspaper devoted to news of the anti-slavery movement. When it folded after only a year of publication, Delany became co-editor of the North Star, a newspaper started by Frederick Douglass.

In 1848, Delany quit the North Star to pursue his medical studies. After being rejected because of his race by several prominent Pennsylvania medical schools, he was able to attend Harvard Medical School. However, after a year, he was again expelled due to his race. While he did not receive his degree, he did learn enough to practice medicine the rest of his life. In the 1850s, he saved many lives during a fierce cholera epidemic in Pittsburgh.

Delany became an ardent black nationalist and recommended emigration to establish an independent colony for African Americans in South America or Africa. He wrote on the subject, held several national conventions, and set out on an exploratory expedition to Africa.

After the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, Delany met with President Abraham Lincoln to discuss the establishment of African American regiments in the army. Lincoln commissioned him as the first African American major and highest ranking person of color in the United States Army.

After the Civil War, Delany worked with reconstructionists to get fair treatment for newly freed slaves and advocated emigration to Africa. He also continued to pursue his scholarship and published Principal of Ethnology: The Origin of Races and Color in 1879, in which he discussed the role of black people in the world’s civilization. He died in 1885, before he was able to move to Africa.


LOUIS FARRAKHAN (1933– ) Black Nationalist, Nation of Islam National Minister

Born in New York City in 1933, Louis Farrakhan (then known as Louis Eugene Walcott) was an honor student at Boston English High School and then attended Winston-Salem Teacher’s College. Farrakhan was a musician who played the violin and was a calypso singer. While a singer in the 1950s, Farrakhan converted to Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam. He quickly worked his way up to a leadership position, becoming the minister of the Boston mosque. He denounced Malcolm X after Malcolm split with Elijah Muhammad in 1963, and assumed leadership of Malcolm’s Harlem mosque. After Elijah Muhammad’s death in 1975, he briefly supported Muhammad’s son and designated successor, Warith Muhammad, as leader of the Nation of Islam. Shortly after Warith Muhammad began accepting whites as members of the Nation of Islam, now renamed the World Community of Al-Islam in the West, Farrakhan split from the group and established a rival organization with about 10,000 members.

Farrakhan’s vigorous support for Jesse Jackson’s presidential candidacy in 1984 quickly became an issue after Farrakhan made several controversial statements, most notably, calling Judaism a “gutter religion.” Overshadowed in the controversy was the involvement of Nation of Islam leaders in American electoral politics for the first time. Previously, Muslims had generally followed Elijah Muhammad’s counsel not to vote or to take part in political campaigns.

In January 1995, Qubilah Bahiyah Shabazz, the daughter of Malcolm X, was arrested and charged with trying to hire FBI informant, Michael Fitzpatrick, to kill Farrakhan, who some believe was involved in the 1965 assassination of her father. Farrakhan publicly defended Shabazz and claimed that the charges were an FBI attempt to entrap her.

On October 16, 1995, African American men from across the United States convened in Washington, D.C., for the Million Man March. The march was organized by Farrakhan. Marchers were urged to make a commitment to improve themselves, their families, and their communities. The U.S. Park Service and organizers of the march have disagreed as to how many people actually attended the rally in which Farrakhan challenged the marchers to return home and work to make their communities “safe and decent places to live.”

Farrakhan embarked on an 18-nation tour of Africa and the Middle East in early 1996. During the tour, he visited Iran and Libya, nations that the United States believes support international terrorism. Farrakhan, always a lightning rod for controversy, was criticized for the trip.

In 1999, Farrakhan became gravely ill with prostate cancer and sought medical treatment in Phoenix, Arizona. He rebounded in 2000 and continued to be politically active. In June 2001, Farrakhan met with nationally prominent Rabbi Marc Schneier as a first step toward repairing Farrakhan’s relationship with American Jews.

Later that same year, the British High Court overturned a 15-year ban on Farrakhan’s entering the country. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, however, British Parliament began deliberating whether it was safe to have Farrakhan in the country because of his very public views against America’s retaliation against Osama Bin Laden and the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan. In 2002, the British ban against Farrakhan was reinstated. In a U.S. court battle, Farrakhan was vindicated in early 2002 when the highest court in Massachusetts ruled that Farrakhan had a legal right to bar women from a speech he gave there in 1994.

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JAMES FORTEN (1766–1842 ) Nationalist, Entrepreneur

James Forten was born to free African American parents in Philadelphia in September 1766. He studied at a Quaker school, but at the age of 15 quit to serve as a powder boy aboard the privateer Royal Louis during the American Revolution. He was captured by the British and held prisoner for seven months. He eventually spent a year in England where he was introduced to abolitionist philosophy.

Upon his return to America, Forten apprenticed to a sailmaker. In 1786, he became foreman and, by 1798, was owner of the company. The business prospered and employed 40 workers in 1832.

By the 1830s, Forten had become active in the abolitionist movement and was a strong opponent of African colonization. He became a noted pamphleteer, a nineteenth century form of social activism, and was an early fundraiser for William Lloyd Garrison’s The Liberator.

Forten was president and founder of the American Moral Reform Society and was active in the American Anti-Slavery Society. He was a vigorous opponent of northern implementation of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793. Forten died in Philadelphia on March 4, 1842.

HENRY HIGHLAND GARNET (1815–1882 ) Black Nationalist, Religious Leader

Henry Highland Garnet was born a slave in Maryland on December 23, 1815. His family escaped to Pennsylvania and then arrived in New York. In 1826, Garnet attended the African Free School and was first exposed to abolitionism. In 1829, he made several voyages on schooners, working as a steward. Upon returning from one of these voyages, he found his family was in hiding from slave catchers and all their possessions had been taken.

In 1835, Garnet and his friend Alexander Crummell attended the Noyes Academy in Canaan, New Hampshire, until hostile residents destroyed the school. They then attended the Oneida Institute in Whitesboro, New York. Garnet graduated with honors in 1840 from Oneida.

Garnet worked as a Presbyterian minister and abolitionist after his graduation. He also was active in the temperance movement. He became dissatisfied with the moral suasion abolitionists used and urged direct action by slaves against the institution of slavery. He also became active in the American Colonization Society.

Garnet supported the employment of African American soldiers by the Union Army during the Civil War, and in 1865, became the first African American to deliver a sermon in the chamber of the House of Representatives in the U.S. Capital. In 1881, he was appointed minister to Liberia. He died there the following year.

MARCUS GARVEY (1887–1940 ) Black Nationalist, Pan-African Theorist

Marcus Garvey was born in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica, on August 17, 1887. Garvey moved to Kingston at the age of 14, found work in a print shop, and became acquainted with the living conditions of the laboring class. He quickly involved himself in social reform, participating in the first Printers’s Union strike in Jamaica in 1907 and in setting up the newspaper The Watchman. He left Jamaica to earn money and found similar living conditions for blacks in Central and South America.

Garvey returned to Jamaica in 1911 and began to lay the groundwork of the Universal Negro Improvement Association. Garvey left for England in 1912 to find additional financial backing. While there, he met a Sudanese-Egyptian journalist, Duse Mohammed Ali. While working for Ali’s publication African Times and Oriental Review, Garvey began to study history, particularly of Africa. He read Booker T. Washington’s Up From Slavery, which advocated black self-help.

In 1914, Garvey organized the Universal Negro Improvement Association and its coordinating body, the African Communities League. In 1920, the organization held its first convention in New York. The convention opened with a parade down Harlem’s Lenox Avenue. That evening, before a crowd of 25,000, Garvey outlined his plan to build an African nation-state. In New York City, his ideas attracted support, and thousands enrolled in the UNIA. He began publishing the newspaper The Negro World, and toured the United States preaching black nationalism. In a matter of months, he had founded over 30 UNIA branches and launched various business ventures including the Black Star Shipping Line.

In the years following the organization’s first convention, the UNIA began to decline in popularity. With the Black Star Line in serious financial difficulties, Garvey promoted two new business organizations, the African Communities League and the Negro Factories Corporation. He also tried to salvage his colonization scheme by sending a delegation to appeal to the League of Nations to transfer the African colonies taken from Germany during World War I to the UNIA.

Mail fraud charges led to Garvey’s imprisonment in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary for a five-year term. In 1927, his sentence was commuted and he was deported to Jamaica by order of President Calvin Coolidge. Garvey then became involved in Jamaican politics. Electoral defeats ended his career. He died on June 10, 1940, in London, England.


ASA HILLIARD (1933– ) Writer

A professor of educational psychology, Asa Hilliard III was born in Galveston, Texas, on August 22, 1933. After completing high school, Hilliard attended the University of Denver, earning his B.A. in 1955, his M.A. in counseling in 1961, and an Ed.D. in educational psychology in 1963.

After earning his bachelor’s degree in psychology, Hilliard began teaching in the Denver Public School system, where he remained until 1960. That year, he began as a teaching fellow at the University of Denver, where he remained until he earned his Ph.D. Joining the faculty at San Francisco State University in 1963, Hill-iard spent the next 18 years there. While at San Francisco State, Hilliard first became department chairman and spent his final eight years as dean of education. He also served as a consultant to the Peace Corps and as superintendent of schools in Monrovia, Liberia for two years. Departing from San Francisco State, Hilliard became a professor at Georgia State University. Today he is the Fuller E. Callaway Professor of Urban Education, serving in both the Department of Educational Policy Studies and the Department of Educational Psychology and Special Education.

Hilliard is a founding member of the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations and serves as vice president. He has served as an expert witness in court testimony on several federal cases regarding test validity and bias, and is the co-developer of an educational television series, Free Your Mind, Return to the Source: African Origins. He has written hundreds of articles on a wide variety of topics, including ancient African history, teaching strategies, and public policy. Hilliard is the recipient of the Outstanding Scholarship Award from the Association of Black Psychologists, a Knight Commander of the Human Order of the African Redemption and the Distinguished Leadership Award from the Association of Teachers of Education. He and his wife, Patsy Jo, have four children.

CHARSHEE MCINTYRE (1932–1999 ) Educator, Black Nationalist

Charshee McIntyre was born in Andover, Massachusetts, on May 14, 1932, and was raised in Roxbury, Massachusetts. She married jazz instrumentalist Makenda Ken McIntyre, and helped George Wein, founder of the Newport Jazz Festival, to bring key jazz figures to the event. In her early thirties, she entered Central State University in Ohio to pursue her education. She transferred to Wesleyan University in Connecticut, majored in African history, and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa after graduating summa cum laude in 1971. She earned a M.A. in philosophy, a M.A. in African history, and a Ph.D. in history from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. She taught at various universities in New York including SUNY Old Westbury, Rutgers, and City College.

McIntyre was the first woman president of the African Heritage Studies Association. She also was active in the National Council for Black Studies and the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations (whose membership included John Henrik Clarke), First World, and the African American Heritage of Long Island.

In 1994, McIntyre published a work about the impact of African, Native American, and European worldviews on people of African descent. She believed that the struggle of Africans in the Maafa was primarily based on the ancient and sacred relationship between African men and women—a critical bond that had been severely damaged during the period of slavery and its aftermath. Her belief in the male-female bond in Africa influenced many black nationalists to reconsider and, in most cases, abandon their belief in the primacy of males at the expense of women.

When the 1999 African-African American conference convened in Ghana on May 15, 1999, it paused when the news of her death reached the delegates.

AUDLEY MOORE (1898–1997 ) Black Nationalist, Pan-African Theorist

Audley Moore was born in New Iberia, Louisiana, on July 27, 1898. Her parents were both dead by the time she was 14, and she became the primary support for her two sisters. She worked as a nurse during World War I, and after moving to Anniston, Alabama, organized the first USO for African American soldiers who had been denied entrance by the official USO organization. She also assisted them in receiving medical care and food.

Moving with her husband and sisters to New York City in the 1920s, she became an active member of the Communist Party and help organize support for the 1932 Scottsboro Boys case in Alabama. She was considered the best African American community organizer in the country and helped local groups protest racist policies in housing discrimination, political prosecutions, and unfair employment practices. She created the model for organizing legal redress for political prisoners in the United States.

She became increasingly disenchanted with the Communist Party and resigned her membership in the 1950s. Her roots in Marcus Garvey’s teachings could be heard in speeches that encouraged “denegroization” and a demand for reparations for Africans living in the Maafa. During the last 20 years of her life, she traveled internationally and continued to exhort others to pay attention to the “little people” that needed help against racism in the community. She traveled to Ghana where she was officially installed in an Ashanti ceremony as a “Queen Mother.” Nelson Mandela met with her during his visit to New York in 1990. She, Rosa Parks, and Dorothy Height were featured prominently by Louis Farrakhan at the Million Man March.

Many believe that Queen Mother Moore, Marcus Garvey, and Elijah Muhammad are the greatest organizers of black nationalism of the twentieth century. She died on May 2, 1997.

ELIJAH MUHAMMAD (1897–1975 ) Black Nationalist, Nation of Islam Spiritual Leader

Elijah Muhammad was born Elijah Poole in Sandersville, Georgia, on October 10, 1897. His father was a Baptist preacher and former slave. As a boy, Elijah worked as a manual laborer. At the age of 26, he moved with his wife and two children to Detroit. In 1930, he met Fard Muhammad, also known as W. D. Fard, who had founded the Lost-Found Nation of Islam. Poole soon became Fard’s chief assistant, and in 1932 went to Chicago where he established the Nation of Islam’s Temple, Number Two. In 1934, he returned to Detroit. When Fard disappeared later that year, political and theological rivals accused Poole of foul play. He returned to Chicago where he organized his own movement’s followers. In the resultant organization, which came to be known as the “Black Muslims,” Fard was deified as Allah, and Elijah (Poole) Muhammad became known as Allah’s Messenger.

During World War II, Elijah Muhammad expressed support for Japan, on the basis of its being a non-white country, and was jailed for sedition. The time Muhammad served in prison was significant in his later, successful attempts to convert large numbers of black prison inmates, including Malcolm X, to the Nation of Islam. During the 1950s and 1960s, the Nation grew under Muhammad’s leadership. Internal differences between Muhammad and Malcolm X, followed by the break between the two men and Malcolm’s assassination, yielded a great deal of unfavorable media coverage but did not slow the movement’s growth. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Elijah Muhammad moderated the Nation’s criticism of whites. When Muhammad died on February 25, 1975, the Nation was an important religious, political, and economic force among African Americans, especially in major cities.

Elijah Muhammad was not original in his rejection of Christianity as the religion of the oppressor. Noble Drew Ali and the black Jews had arrived at this conclusion well before him. However, Muhammad was the most successful salesman for this brand of African American religion. He was able to build the first strong, African American religious group in the United States that appealed primarily to the unemployed and under-employed city dweller. In addition, his message on the virtues of being black was explicit and uncompromising. He also sought to bolster the economic independence of African Americans by establishing schools and businesses under the auspices of the Nation of Islam.

KHALLID ABDUL MUHAMMAD (1948–2001 ) Black Nationalist, Nation of Islam Lecturer

Khallid Abdul Muhammad was born Harold Moore Vann in January of 1948 in Houston, Texas. He excelled in academics and athletics as a youth and graduated from high school in 1966. He then spent four years at Dillard University, where his attendance at a 1967 speech given by Nation of Islam figure Louis Farrakhan changed his life. He became one of Farrakhan’s original security personnel and soon changed his name to Khallid Abdul Muhammad.

After the death of longtime Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad in 1975, Khallid Muhammad relocated to Uganda to work with black nationalist leader Idi Amin. He returned to the United States upon learning that Farrakhan was reviving the Nation of Islam. By the late 1970s, Muhammad was a minister of the group’s Los Angeles mosque. Farrakhan depended heavily on him to help resurrect the Nation of Islam. Beginning in 1978, he and Farrakhan traveled by car throughout the United States establishing study groups and making speeches that eventually led to Farrakhan announcing the rebirth of the Nation in 1981. Muhammad led the Nation’s fundraising, spoke on Farrakhan’s behalf, and organized mosques that had deteriorated since the death of Elijah Muhammad. He later headed congregations in New York City and Atlanta. He continued to play a role in the Fruit of Islam, the security team assigned to protect the outspoken Farrakhan. In 1988, Muhammad was charged with the fraudulent use of a Social Security number to obtain a mortgage and spent nine months in prison.

After his release, Muhammad became supreme captain of the Fruits of Islam and, in 1991, became Farrakhan’s national assistant, a position once held by Farrakhan and Malcolm X under Elijah Muhammad. Muhammad’s speeches soon attracted renewed interest in the Nation of Islam, especially among prominent figures in rap music. His discourses often promoted an

independent nation for people of African descent. In a 1993 oration in Union, New Jersey, Muhammad uttered fiery pronouncements about black-white relations as well as anti-Semitic remarks, causing a controversy from inside and outside of the Nation. Farrakhan demoted Muhammad soon afterward.

Despite the demotion, Muhammad continued to be popular on the lecture circuit and maintained ties with the Nation. He organized the Million Youth March in New York in October 1998.

From 1998 to his death on February 17, 2001, Muhammad served as national chairman of the New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, an organization dedicated to self-help and defense of Africans in America. Rooted politically in Huey P. Newton’s Black Panther Party of the 1960s, the group is active in the reparations movement. Attorney Malik Zulu Shabbazz was elected to replace Muhammad, his close friend, as the group’s chairman after Muhammad’s death.




HENRY MCNEAL TURNER (1834–1915 ) Black Nationalist, Repatriationist, Minister

Henry McNeal Turner was born on February 1, 1834, near Abbeville, South Carolina. He was ordained a minister

in the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1853 and as a bishop in 1880. In 1863, Turner became the first African American Army chaplain. He was also president of Morris Brown College for 12 years. Turner was a leading advocate of repatriation. In 1876 he was elected vice president of the American Colonization Society. He made several trips to Africa and lectured throughout world. Turner was convinced that African Americans had no future in America. Instead, he felt that God had brought African Americans to the New World as a means of spreading Christianity and preparing them to redeem Africa. Turner edited and published several papers, including Voice of Missions and Voice of the People, in which he advocated African American repatriation to Africa. Turner died on May 8, 1915.

ROBERT F. WILLIAMS (1925–1996 ) Civil Rights Activist

Robert Franklin Williams was born in Monroe, North Carolina, on February 26, 1925. In 1956, he was elected president of the Monroe NAACP. The organization’s membership had dwindled to six. Williams went out and recruited working class people and the unemployed to become members, as opposed to the NAACP’s practice of appealing to middle and upper-class professionals.

Williams then targeted institutions in Monroe for desegregation. He tried the county library. It was desegregated without protest. Williams then tried to desegregate Monroe’s municipal swimming pool, which failed. In response, Williams led groups of African American youths on sit-ins and other organized protests.

In 1959, responding to the acquittal in Monroe of a white man for the attempted rape of a pregnant African American woman, Williams pronounced: “Since the federal government will not bring a halt to lynching in the South, and since the so-called courts lynch our people legally, if it’s necessary to stop lynching with lynching, then we must be willing to resort to that method. We must meet violence with violence.” The next day the national office of the NAACP suspended Williams from office for six months. Later in 1959, he was indicted for kidnapping. He became a fugitive and fled to Cuba.

He was reelected president of Monroe’s NAACP chapter in 1960. From Cuba, Williams produced a revolutionary radio program, “Radio Free Dixie,” and produced a Cuba edition of the Crusader. In 1966, Williams sought refuge in the People’s Republic of China. In 1968, Williams published a pamphlet, Listen Brother!, hoping to dissuade African American servicemen to stop fighting in Vietnam.

In 1968, a group of African Americans, dedicated to establishing a separate African American nation within the United States, formed the revolutionary Marxist-Leninist Republic of New Africa. The RNA elected Williams as its president-in-exile. In 1969, the U.S. embassy granted Williams a passport to return to the United States. Disillusioned with the RNA’s internal struggles, he resigned as its president in December of 1969.

Williams won a Black Image Award from a Michigan chapter of the NAACP in 1992. He died from Hodgkin’s disease in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on October 15, 1996.

CONRAD W. WORRILL (1941– ) Activist

Conrad Walter Worrill was born August 15, 1941 in Pasadena, California. His mother, Anna, was the first African American to sing in the Pasadena Philharmonic Orchestra and his father, Walter, gave Conrad an early interest in sports because of his management of a local YMCA. At age nine, Worrill moved to Chicago. Keen at sports, his early encounters with racism occurred when he was racially harassed by competitors during swim meets. Serving in the U. S. Army in Okinawa, Worrill became a voracious reader of African history and African American history, politics, education, and culture. Returning from the army, he received his bachelor’s degree in 1968 and became an activist during the Black Power era and received his doctorate in 1973 from the University of Wisconsin.

He was instrumental organizing for the election of Chicago’s first black mayor, Harold Washington, in 1983. He was also one of the primary field organizers of the 1995 Million Man March in Washington, D.C., and was elected economic commissioner for the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N’COBRA). In 1997, he led a delegation to Geneva, Switzerland, and presented to the Union Nations a petition containing over 150,000 signatures that charged the United States with genocide. Considered one of the most effective community organizers in the nation, Worrill was also involved with organizing the Durban 400, the largest delegation of Africans present at the UN World Conference against Racism in Durban, Africa in 2001. He is currently National Chair of the National Black United Front one of the oldest black nationalist organizing groups in the United States.

MALCOLM X (EL-HAJJ MALIK EL-SHABAZZ) (1925–1965 ) Black Nationalist

Born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska, on May 19, 1925, Malcolm was the son of a Baptist minister who was a supporter of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association. In 1929, the family moved to Lansing, Michigan. While in Michigan, Malcolm’s father was killed. In his autobiography, written with Alex Haley, Malcolm asserted that his father might have been killed by members of the Ku Klux Klan. His mother, stricken by the death of her husband and the demands of providing for the family, was committed to a mental institution.

Malcolm left school after the eighth grade and made his way to New York. He worked as a waiter at Smalls Paradise in Harlem. Malcolm began selling and using drugs. He then turned to burglary and was sentenced to a 10-year prison term on burglary charges in 1946.

While in prison, Malcolm converted to the Nation of Islam, headed by Elijah Muhammad. Following his parole in 1952, he soon became an outspoken defender of Muslim doctrines, accepting the basic argument that evil was an inherent characteristic of the “white man’s Christian world.”

Unlike Muhammad, Malcolm sought publicity by making provocative statements on white supremacy to both black and white audiences. Based on the theology taught by Elijah Muhammad, he branded white people “devils,” and spoke of a philosophy of self-defense and “an eye for an eye” when white supremacists attacked African Americans. When, in 1963, he characterized the Kennedy assassination as a case of “chickens coming home to roost,” he was suspended from the Nation of Islam by Elijah Muhammad.

Disillusioned with Elijah Muhammad’s teachings, Malcolm formed his own organizations, the Organization of Afro-American Unity and the Muslim Mosque Inc. In 1964 he made a pilgrimage to Islam’s holy city, Mecca, and adopted the name El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. The pilgrimage gave birth to the views that not all whites were evil and that African Americans could make gains by working through established channels.

His new view brought him death threats. On February 14, 1965, his home was firebombed. A week later, Malcolm was shot and killed at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem. Although three men were arrested for the crime, there remains a controversy to the present day over who conspired to kill Malcolm.

Malcolm X had a profound influence on both blacks and whites. Many African Americans responded to a feeling that he was a man of the people, experienced in the ways of the street rather than the pulpit or the college campus, which traditionally had provided the preponderance of African American leaders. His emphasis on black pride and doing for self was in the tradition of black nationalism and similar to that of Steven Biko of South Africa. He provided a contrast to Martin Luther King Jr.’s idea of integration.

Black Nationalism

views updated May 21 2018

Black Nationalism






In the strictest meaning of the term, black nationalism refers to those ideas and movements that are associated with the quest to achieve separate statehood for African Americans. The goal of statehood was especially important during the classical period of black nationalismthe time of Marcus Garvey (the 1920s) and of the early activists who preceded him. During the modern period, especially after World War II, black nationalism encompasses more broadly both those who favored true political sovereignty through separate statehood, and those who favored more modest goals like black administration of vital private and public institutionsthe latter being the common cause of those who invoked the slogan of Black Power after 1966. Black nationalism must always be understood in its historical context, therefore, as particular ideas and movements invariably bear the marks of their respective eras.


Classical black nationalists advocated political sovereignty and they insisted that such a goal required the creation of a nation-state with clear geographical boundaries. There was not much support for this idea before the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Part of the Compromise of 1850, this act denied captured slaves (or those simply accused of being fugitive slaves) the right to a trial and granted marshals the power to force citizens to assist in the recapture of runaway slaves. It also prohibited testimony by those accused, and thus raised the possibility that free blacks could be captured into slavery. This was an era in which the U.S. political elite defined the meaning of citizenship in white nationalist terms. Justice Taney stated this perspective forcefully in the infamous 1857 Dred Scott case. Concerning the phrase all men are created equal, Justice Taney commented that it [was] too clear for dispute that the enslaved African race [was] not intended to be included and formed no part of the people who framed this declaration. The African race, Taney argued, had no rights which the white man was bound to respect. Until the eve of the Civil War, politicians worked to expand and secure rights for the majority of whites (males), while at the same time they increasingly restricted the rights of free blacks with prohibitions against intermarriage, rules that barred the migration of blacks to different states, and laws that denied suffrage and that even established formal segregation. Thus, by the mid-nineteenth century Martin Delaney, James T. Holly, and others began to argue that black people should leave the United States for Canada, Haiti, or other destinations.

What set apart these nationalists from other black historical actors of the period were their positions on emigration and nation-building, not their views of culture. As Wilson Moses explains in his Golden Age of Black Nationalism (1978) and other writings, classical black nationalists were Christians, and they believed that Western civilization was the measure of progress when it came to letters, arts, commerce, and governance. All free black Americans of this period shared these views. It was not until after World War II that black (cultural) nationalists began to try to break entirely from Western convention.

Marcus Garvey founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in 1918, and built the largest black nationalist movement in the history of the United States. The movement originated in Harlem, New York, and grew out of the social, economic, and political experience of native and foreign-born blacks of the period. Garveys nationalism was classical in the sense that his final goal was political autonomy, and he was Western in orientation. In terms of ideas and practice, however, the UNIA also reflected developments unique to its era. The 1920s was a period of heightened anticolonial, nationalistic consciousness among many oppressed peoples of the world, and thus in tone, if not in substance, the arguments advanced by supporters of Garveys vision was akin to arguments against colonial domination seen in, say, Ireland or Indiaespecially in the Caribbean region, where the UNIA established a number of chapters. The 1920s might also have represented the height of white American nationalism in the United States. The Ku Klux Klan peaked in membership (at several million), by defending pure womanhood and opposing immigration and all forms of labor activism. This was also the period when, in 1924, the U.S. government instituted immigration quotas that favored Northern Europeans over all others. In terms of membership numbers and visibility, the UNIAs apex was congruent with the rise of white American nationalism of its time.

In terms of its program, the UNIA was conservative socially, economically, and politically. Although Garvey initially explained the ambitions of the organization in language that clearly reflected the influence of revolutionary (Bolshevik) thought, as well as anticolonialism, very quickly after the founding of the UNIA his message (in the United States) reflected conventional, even reactionary, thinking about race and political empowerment in the United States. Echoing conventional wisdom about the enduring significance of racial identity, Garvey argued for racial purity. While Garvey and his followers articulated a kind of racial chauvinism, a pride in black identity, that few had previously articulated, he nevertheless was reproducing the racist ideology of that period. After all, it was the Klan who argued most forcefully for racial purity. Starting with an organic view of racial identitywhich ignored diversity among black peopleGarvey eschewed talk of class struggle and union organization and argued for a strategy of building black businesses, believing the race would find redemption in the economic marketplace. The most prominent of the UNIA business ventures was the unsuccessful Black Star Line. Unlike the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Garvey and the UNIA did not devote much effort toward expanding civil rights for blacks in the United States. In this respect, the organization foreshadowed the Nation of Islam, arguably the most successful black nationalist organization in the postwar period.

Garvey is known for his back to Africa philosophy, but his organization was working for selective emigration, not mass return. Garvey argued that full equality in the United States was illusory at best, and so he supported a Negro Zionism. Black people in the Western hemisphere, he argued, should support the creation of an African nation in the eastern hemisphere (his choice was Liberia); by ensuring the development of the Negro Zion, black people in the United States, the Caribbean, and Africa would elevate their status. This reasoning was similar to that of James T. Holly and others of the antebellum period.

Black nationalism must also be understood with a number of spectra in mind. Since the second decade of the twentieth century, there have been disagreements among nationalists on social issues like racial purity, and religious belief. There have also been differences in terms of economic philosophyspecifically whether black equality could be achieved under capitalism. Nationalists have differed over political tacticsfor example, they have argued over whether black people could win emancipation through lobbying and electoral strategies or only through armed insurrection. During the 1920s, the UNIA vastly dwarfed another organization, the African Blood Brotherhood (ABB), which combined racial nationalism with a socialist critique of capitalism. The ABBs founder, Cyril Briggsa native of St. Kitts in the West Indiesargued that black people constituted a separate nation, but unlike Garvey he sought to establish political sovereignty by revolutionary means. The Fenian Irish Republican Brotherhood was the likely model for the ABB. At its peak, the organization claimed several thousand members. It was eventually absorbed by the Communist Party.


Of the modern black nationalist organizations operating in the postwar period, the National of Islam (NOI) has been the largest and most enduring. The Nation of Islam expanded in size and significance largely due to the efforts of one convert, Malcolm X. Born Malcolm Little, Malcolm X converted to Islam while in prison, abandoned his slave name, and adopted the X to represent the African name lost as a result of slavery. Malcolm Xs organizing skills and street savvy helped to expand the organization and vastly increase its visibility in the United States, while his oratorical gifts helped spread Elijah Muhammads message. In some respects this message was a form of neo-Garveyism: It endorsed black pride, self-help through economic enterprise, and the creation of a separate territory in the American South. However, the NOIs unique, heretical interpretation of IslamElijah Muhammad was believed to be a prophetset the organization apart from other black nationalist groups of the period. The NOI established mosques in cities across the country. Among their business activities were laundromats, restaurants, and a newspaper, Muhammad Speaks. The NOI also established separate schools for the children of its members.

The fact that the organization eschewed political engagement might have been its most striking feature. The late 1950s and 1960s was the period of civil rights struggle, and the NOI did not participate in any of the major campaigns of the era. Indeed, in his Autobiography (1965) Malcolm X makes it clear that he was bothered by the common criticism of NOIthat it was all talk, and little action. After leaving the organization, he spent the final years of his life seeking to fashion a secular, and engaged version of black nationalism that was represented in his short-lived Organization for Afro-American Unity (OAAU). The OAAU called for black control of the various institutions that touched black life. Malcolm X, who was assassinated in 1965, might have had his greatest impact in death. Most nationalists of the Black Power era (post-1965) drew inspiration from the life and martyrdom of Malcolm Xespecially his explicit rejection of integration as a goal of the black freedom struggle, and his questioning of nonviolence as a political strategy.

Among the groups operating during the 1960s and early 1970s that adopted and propounded an explicitly nationalist agenda were the post-1965 Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), Mualana Ron Karengas US organization, the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM), and the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (BPP).

These organizations and activists were influenced by the anticolonial struggles of the 1950s, and especially the independence of a number of sub-Saharan African nations, starting with Ghana in 1957. Part of the inspiration came out of the fact that black activists in the United States and around the African Diaspora had long embraced Pan-Africanismthe idea that black people of the African Diaspora shared a common destiny. For nationalists of the period, the significance of these anticolonial struggles was also theoretical. First, activists understood anticolonial efforts as analogous to the struggle for civil and economic rights in the United States: Throughout the Diaspora, African liberation meant transforming, if not rejecting, Western social, political, and economic beliefs. Second, the nature of anticolonial struggle informed discussions of tactics within the United Sates. In some cases independence came peacefully. In other cases Africans gained political sovereignty through armed and bloody confrontation.

While proponents of black nationalism all pondered the same general questions during the 1960s, they arrived at different conclusions. Karenga, US, and cultural nationalists of the period believed that liberation was tied to the recovery of an African identity. Karenga therefore urged his followers to learn and speak Swahili, to dress in traditional African garb, and to live according to seven principles (the Kawaida) that distilled elements of an African cosmology. The Black Panther Party hoped to topple capitalism, and rejected the view that black equality could be achieved by changes in lifestyle that did not directly change political and economic realities. To help change those realities, they published a newspaper and established schools, health clinics, and free breakfast programs. US and the BPP were fierce rivals, and this rivalry (which in part was fueled by the FBI) proved deadly in 1969 when members of US shot and killed a member of the Los Angeles chapter of the BPP.

Both organizations, along with other black nationalist groups of the era, were active in what is known as the Black Power phase of the civil rights struggle. Black Power, first proclaimed as a slogan in 1966, had as many definitions as it did adherents. At base, its meaning was captured by another popular slogan of the timeblack faces in previously white places. The basic ideathat blacks as a group should organize and pursue power collectively as other ethnic populations had done previouslywas elaborated in Stokely Carmichael and Charles Hamiltons Black Power (1967). Black Power demands for control of school curricula and city administrations coincided with the rioting (or urban rebellions) that marked the eraoutbreaks that affected hundreds of cities across the United States. By the early 1970s, however, it was clear that Black Power represented conventional tendencies far more than radical ones. For a number of reasons, starting with the success of U.S. intelligence in undermining the strength of radical black nationalist organizations, Black Power soon looked more like ethnic pluralism than like a programmatic orientation that could transcend the terms of and limitations of urban politics in the United States (Allen 1970).


In the postcivil rights context, the NOI has been the principal representative of black nationalism as a political movement. After the death of Elijah Muhammad in 1975, one of his sons, Warith Deen Muhammad, took control of the organization and adopted Sunni Islamic beliefs and practices. This meant, among other things, that the organization was no longer racially separatist, nor working toward political sovereignty. Louis Farrakhan subsequently led a group of defectors out of that organization and reestablished the NOI along traditional lines.

Farrakhan enjoyed considerable popularity among black Americans, especially during the early to mid-1990s. He drew large audiences to hear his lectures/sermons. Farrakhan organized the Million Man March in 1996, which drew upward of 750,000 black men to Washington, D.C. The Million Man March was intended to serve as a catalyst for the creation of a broad-based political movement that would tackle the problems that continued to plague black Americadisproportionately high levels of unemployment, high rates of incarceration, unequal access to capital, and so on. However, the fundamental theme of the march was atonement, and sounlike the famous march on Washington of 1963, which demanded Jobs and Freedomit demanded nothing but greater black male responsibility. It did not trigger a new wave of grassroots mobilization, and indeed might have had the opposite effect. By maintaining a view of political action that depends on group consciousness and eschews collaboration with movements that cross racial and class lines, such as organized labor, the NOI has not been able to transcend limitations that have hampered the organization from its inception.

Less overtly political, but also quite visible during the late 1980s and 1990s was the academic push for an Afrocentric paradigm. Afrocentric had once been synonymous with Pan-Africanist, but by the 1990s the term had developed a narrower connotation. Molefi Kete Asante of Temple University was the chief architect of this new usage. He insisted that to study African peoplebe they black Americans in Detroit, black West Indians in Barbados or Dominica, or the Wolof of Senegalscholars must look to classical Africa, by which he meant ancient Egypt, or Kemet. Just as Ancient Greek thought provides the basis of Western philosophy, so too, he argued, did ancient Egypt serve as the basis of African philosophy. For Asante, this was more than an intellectual point. Rather, this counter-epistemology was a first step toward black empowerment. In this regard, Asante and proponents who shared his views extended the arguments of cultural nationalists of the 1960sand of the NOIwho had insisted that black empowerment depended on an embrace of a lost cultural identity. Asante was not the first to emphasize an understanding of black or African history, nor to suggest that proper knowledge of identity could be emancipatory; however, Afrocentricity as Asante and other proponents spelled it out added ingredients of its timeespecially the theoretical bent toward poststructural modes of understanding. In the end, though, his was only an attempt at a counter-epistemology. Despite Asantes claim that Afrocentricity was a first step toward black empowerment, the conservative aspects of this ideology should be clear: This was fundamentally an intellectual, as opposed to a political, movement.


In a very broad sense, black nationalism and Black Power are not uniquely American phenomena. South Africa and more recently Brazil are other countries where activists have pushed for a consciousness about (black) identity as a way to catalyze and organize for social change. However, a proper understanding of black nationalism in any context requires special attention to the specificity of a given political and historical context. Simple analogies between movements that emphasize black or African identity invariably miss crucial differences. When scholars who revisit the Black Power era in the United States, or Black Consciousness in South Africa, focus on what activists did as well as what they said, the significance of local context becomes clear. Analogies to anticolonial struggle, or Pan-African solidarity, or black pride do not change the fact that black nationalists ultimately face the challenge of building social movements within national boundaries.

SEE ALSO African Americans; Afrocentrism; Black Conservatism; Black Panthers; Black Power; Blackness; Capitalism, Black ; Dred Scott v. Sanford; Garvey, Marcus; Ku Klux Klan; Malcolm X; Marxism, Black; Nation of Islam; Nationalism and Nationality; Pan-African Congresses; Pan-Africanism; Reconstruction Era (U.S.); Separatism; U.S. Civil War


Allen, Robert L. 1970. Black Awakening in Capitalist America: An Analytic History. Garden City, NY: Anchor Books.

Carmichael, Stokely, and Charles V. Hamilton. 1967. Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America. New York: Random House.

Hill, Robert A., ed. 1983. The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Malcolm X, with Alex Haley. [1965] 1992. The Autobiography of Malcolm X. 1st Ballantine Books ed. New York: Ballantine Books.

Moses, Wilson Jeremiah. 1978. The Golden Age of Black Nationalism, 18501925. Hamden, CT: Archon Books.

Moses, Wilson Jeremiah. 1990. The Wings of Ethiopia: Studies in African-American Life and Letters. 1st ed. Ames: Iowa State University Press.

Pinkney, Alphonso. 1976. Red, Black, and Green: Black Nationalism in the United States. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press.

Robinson, Dean E. 2001. Black Nationalism in American Politics and Thought. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press.

Dean E. Robinson

Black Nationalism

views updated May 08 2018


BLACK NATIONALISM. The idea that black people should establish a nation-state that would manifest their social and cultural aspirations can be located in the thought of African Americans in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. While the particulars of the nationalist idea have changed with shifts in the political and social climate, four elements consistently surface in dialogue about the proposition: assumptions about racial traits and black identity, the prospect of a territorial homeland, the self-help emphasis, and antiwhite ideology.

As white hostility toward free blacks increased throughout the North during the first half of the nineteenth century, black communities launched many self-help institutions such as churches, schools, and benevolent associations. But as political steps taken to disenfranchise free blacks in Northern states spread rapidly, many blacks abandoned the hope of meaningful freedom in the United States and turned their attention to the possibility of migration to Africa, Canada, or other countries.

Expressions of nationalism in this period were grounded in the contemporary ideas about "race" and "nation." Proponents of emigration and a sovereign state assumed that certain inherent values, abilities, and temperaments of black people would provide the cultural and social cohesion necessary to mold a new and just nation. From the perspective of the theories about racial traits characteristic of Western social thought at the time, the goal of a sovereign state seemed logical, if not practical. But leaders like Frederick Douglass rejected the claim that there were inherent differences between blacks and whites and questioned the notion of a nation organized around racial group membership. Douglass conceded the need for blacks to act collectively and aggressively against racial oppression, but he held forth for racial justice on American soil.

The annual Negro Conventions that met from 1830 to 1861 thoroughly debated the merits of colonization and racial separatism. Blacks in several Northern cities launched programs to relocate blacks outside of the United States. In 1816 an ideologically eclectic group of whites formed the American Colonization Society (ACS) to promote and orchestrate colonization of the free black population in Africa. The ACS could claim limited success when, in 1821, despite strong opposition in urban black communities, 17,000 blacks voluntarily migrated to Liberia on the west coast of Africa.

Through the abolitionist 1850s, few blacks opted to seek well-being abroad. Yet some of the best-educated blacks, including Edward Wilmot Blyden, Alexander Crummel, and Martin Delaney, continued to press for a black nation on African soil. Emancipation and the defeat of the slaveholding South produced a surge of optimism in black America. A significant number of blacks elected to acquire land in the Midwest and establish all-black towns, under the rubric of state and regional authorities. But as political and economic conditions worsened for blacks at the end of the nineteenth century in the North and South, the ideological seed of racial nationalism found an effective host in Marcus Garvey.

Garvey, born in Jamaica, was an activist for workers' rights and racial justice in his native land and later in London. He formed the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in 1914 in Jamaica to promote black self-help programs in the West Indies, Africa, and in the United States, to which he moved in 1916.

Garvey found a receptive audience for his race pride and self-help message. The virulent racism of the first decades of the twentieth century heightened the racial consciousness of the urban black masses. Many Southern blacks had migrated to the industrial North seeking economic gains, yet found themselves relegated to low-paying and irregular employment. Black soldiers returned from World War I and the European theater only to again confront racial hostility. The contrast between the degree of liberty black soldiers enjoyed in Europe and the social climate they were expected to weather in the United States was dramatic. The agendas of mainstream black organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) reflected priorities of the nascent black middle class, rather than the concerns of laboring black masses. The UNIA spoke to these needs. It became the largest black mass organization in American history.

Garvey confronted the "race"/"nation" conundrum in an interesting way. He urged that blacks every where consider themselves part of a black nation and take aggressive steps to build institutions and enterprises to enhance the well-being of blacks. This formulation dodged the question of a sovereign territory, yet encouraged a "race-first" or Pan-Africanist development. Garvey's foray into territorial separatism led to his downfall. A project to organize a steamship line to build trade with Africa and relocate blacks in Africa ran into management difficulties. Garvey's foes—black and white—pressed to remove him from the political equation in America. He was convicted for mail fraud and served three years in federal prison before receiving a pardon from President Calvin Coolidge and agreeing to leave the country. When the charismatic Garvey was deported, the UNIA declined in both membership and impact

The next forceful expression of racial nationalism came from the Nation of Islam (NOI) under Elijah Muhammad. The NOI (whose members are often referred to as Black Muslims) blended key elements of the Garvey self-help program and demanded land in the South on which to found a black nation. They considered the requested land as reparation for the economic and social subjugation of blacks during slavery. Unlike Garvey, Muhammad's nationalism was religiously grounded in Islam and contained a robust strain of antiwhite ideology that appealed to poor urban blacks. Buoyed by the potential of racial self-sufficiency, the NOI created farms, fisheries, and other businesses designed to break links of dependency with "the white devils." Elijah Muhammad's protégé Malcolm X emerged in 1962 as a militant and charismatic voice for NOI-style nationalism.

In the mid-1960s, the optimism of the Southern civil rights movement collapsed in the face of white indifference. Youthful black-consciousness advocates steered many blacks and intellectuals away from the integrationist ideals of Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights campaigns. The term "black nationalism" quickly made its way into the American lexicon, but unlike the earlier land-based nationalism, the term spread into literature, music, and the arts. Paralleling the pan-racial vision of Garvey, cultural nationalists like Amiri Baraka spoke about the "oneness" of African people wherever they were. Arguments about the existence of a black aesthetic leavened the social and cultural thought of the period.

At the start of the twenty-first century, black nationalists had all but abandoned hope for a sovereign state. Yet blacks from across the political spectrum endorse the idea of group self-help even as they debate the government's obligation to ameliorate black disadvantage. Continuing patterns of racial inequality and oppression guarantee that a significant number of black people will remain estranged from white society. The national dialogue has now shifted away from polarizing approaches to "blackness" and its meaning, but racial pride and consciousness have veered toward nationalism in times of sharp social conflict. The future of black nationalism is uncertain.


Evanzz, Karl. The Messenger: The Rise and Fall of Elijah Muhammad. New York: Pantheon, 1999.

Franklin, Vincent P. Black Self-Determination: A Cultural History of the Faith of the Fathers. Westport, Conn.: Lawrence Hill and Company, 1984.

Fredrickson, George M. Black Liberation: A Comparative History of Black Ideologies in the United States and South Africa. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

McCartney, John. Black Power Ideologies: An Essay in African-American Political Thought. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1992

Moses, Wilson Jeremiah, ed. Classical Black Nationalism: The American Revolution to Marcus Garvey. New York: New York University Press, 1996.

Vincent, Theodore G. Black Power and the Garvey Movement. Rev. ed. Berkeley, Calif.: Ramparts Press, 1972.

William M.Banks

See alsoAfrica, Relations with ; Black Panthers ; Black Power ; Emigration ; Pan-Africanism ; andvol. 9:Black Power Speech .

black nationalism

views updated Jun 08 2018

black na·tion·al·ism • n. the advocacy of separate national status for black people, esp. in the U.S.DERIVATIVES: black na·tion·al·ist n.