Recent issues of Third Way have discussed the music of Public Enemy and the politics of Malcolm X. Both are generally classified as Black Separatists or Nationalists (although the designation may not be an entirely accurate description of Malcolm X’s ideology in the last year of his life, when he moved toward a “we are all brothers under Islam” perspective). The major media all uniformly uphold a racial integrationist perspective and the implication of their massive propaganda machinery is that all those opposed to vast social, racial and cultural mingling are bigots motivated by hatred. We are constantly being told that unless we support inter-racial marriage and overall amalgamation of our unique ways of life, we must be “haters”.
Of course, a good case could be made that just the reverse is true, that those who sincerely care about the races of men are concerned with preserving, not destroying them. In fact those who push for wholesale integration are generally those who are indifferent to the history and traditions of both European and African peoples.
As part of the media attempt to convince us that the destruction of all differences between people is the only way to brotherhood among men a deliberate censorship is imposed on all those who have attempted and are attempting to offer an alternative vision. Increasingly, as imposed integrationism fails to satisfy both Black and White, the establishment seeks to eradicate the memory of those who have spoken out for racial pride and solidarity in the past and ignore those doing so at present.
Third Way has broken this silence, but the true tale needs to be told at greater length. Indeed, racial pride, a sense of a people’s link to past and future has been forcefully and ably articulated over the past two centuries by scores of Black Leaders. Alas, they are unlikely to have a TV mini-series on their live commissioned…..
It should be pointed out that among Blacks there have been three general positions on race. The first which may be labelled integrationist sees race as of no significance whatever and hopes to bring about a time when racial traits will be completely irrelevant. To this group, the characteristics, traditions, myths, songs, customs, collective memories and natural loyalties of a people are not deserving of respect and love nor of defence and perpetuation. The second group are best described as believers in racial solidarity yet devoted to multi-racialism. This positions’ ideology is difficult to pin down. It refers to Blacks and Whites as collective bodies, seeks legislation based on racial distinctions, associations socially with its own race, but calls for the elimination of race as a factor of any import. In this group fall large numbers of establishment tolerated Black leaders and movements. Third are the Black Nationalists who see their people as unique with a distinct past, present and future. They hope to reverse the process of integration, advocating anything from a return to Africa and (or) the granting of territory within North America and Europe for independent Black Nations or, at the very least, local autonomous government for Black communities.
Our concern at present is with the third position just outlined. The advocates of the second stance often possess a sense of racial awareness which conflicts with their political rhetoric and might make them also worthy of study. The confused nature of their position, however, places them outside the confines of our topic. Despite the fact that they may be Black Nationalists in thought and perhaps deed, they are not in word.
Black Nationalism: Early Stirrings
Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the largest population of displaced Black people was to be found in America. It was there that the notions of solidarity and autonomy that would pave the way for Separatists Doctrines were born. In 1789 the Free African Society of Newport. Rhode Island (a Black fraternal organisation) sent a proposal to its sister group in Philadelphia appealing for a return-to-Africa movement. By 1815 actual steps in this direction by a wealthy Black Shipowner, Paul Cuffee, who began repatriating Blacks to Sierra Leone.
In 1817 shortly before Cuffee’s death the American Colonisation Society (ACS) was founded to accomplish with greater efficiency his plan. The ACS founded Liberia and between 1822 and 1861 approximately 15,000 Blacks choose to return there under its auspices.
Support for a return to Africa was growing amongst American Blacks. In 1827 the country’s first Black newspaper Freedom’s Journal was published in New York City and after some initial internal battles its editor John B Russwurm firmly embraced emigration. Practising what he preached he eventually settled in Liberia himself as a superintendent of schools, sponsored by the ACS.
After the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law in 1850 which required that all escaped slaves be returned to their owners large numbers of Blacks embraced colonisation because of what they saw as the hopelessness of their situation in America. Among prominent Black leaders who supported emigration during this period were Alexandra Crumwell, Samuel Ward, Henry Highland Barrett and Martin R. Delany. Howard Bell in his monumental study A Survey of the Negro Convention Movement, 1830-1861 maintains that by the mid 1850’s the majority of Black leaders favoured repatriation.
Delany and Barrett felt that the ACS was too dominated by Whites. They associated with the Black controlled African Civilisation Society. Delany spent lengthy periods of time in the Niger Valley and is the source for the oft quoted slogan, “Africa for the African Race, and Black Men to Rule Them”.
Crumwell was a Black Preacher who eventually settled in Liberia and as an official of that Government frequently journeyed to America to persuade Blacks to return to Africa. He was a deeply religious man who wrote:- “Races, like families, are the organisms and the ordinance of God and race feeling like family feeling is of Divine Origin.”
In passing it is worth noting that President Abraham Lincoln who freed the slaves was a strong advocate of either establishing a Black colony in the Caribbean or aiding a general return to Africa. Even in August 1862, in the midst of the Civil War, when a delegation of Black Leaders visited him at the White House he told them he favoured repatriation – which was “better for us both”.
Post Civil War Separatists
The turmoil of reconstruction after the Civil War in which the Federal government used draconian measures to enforce mult-racialism on the South resulted in the violent resistance of the Ku Klux Klan. It was a scenario to be frequently repeated up till the present day. Forced integration provoking hatred and leading to violence. Eventually the South restored segregation, but this was far from the “separate but equal” principle demanded by the nineteenth century courts. Blacks were second class citizens deprived of elementary rights to vote, go to school or earn a living. They were seen as inferior people with no identity or need for self-determination.
In response to this horrid situation Blacks organised the Liberian Exodus Joint Stock Steamship Company which in 1878 brought the steamship Azor to Liberia full of repatriates. Financial problems followed and only one trip was made.
This failure was followed by a fascinating experiment in Black Separatism. Benjamin Singleton known among his followers as the “Moses of the Coloured Exodus” led some eight thousand Blacks from the South to settle in virgin territory in Kansas during the winter of 1879. The community survived for a brief time, but soon racism had infected Kansas and Singleton began to look elsewhere. In 1885 he founded the United Transatlantic Society to expedite Black transportation to Africa. The Society never put its goals into practice, but it went on record supporting “separate Negro national existence”.
The most prominent Black Nationalist of the Pre-World War One period was Bishop Henry M. Turner. In 1891 he visited Africa and encouraged by what he saw returned a year later to outspokenly advocate emigration. That same year he was in the forefront of those lobbying in congress for passage of the Butler Bill which would have committed the government to financially aid all Blacks wanting to return to Africa. Turner and the still existing ACS were aided in their lobbying by Professor Edward W. Blyden of Liberia. Blyden is generally seen as the father of Pan-Africanism – the belief in racial unity among Blacks world wide. A West Indian by birth he settled in Africa in 1851. Although the Butler Bill was defeated (it is interesting to imagine what the future development of America and Africa would have been had it been passed!) Byden’s extensive writings had a tremendous effect on a young Jamaican called Marcus Garvey.
Bishop Turner continued the Nationalist struggle helping to found the International Migration Society. This group originally followed by the Liberian Colonisation Society sent ships full of repatriates to Africa in the late 1890’s. Money, however, was always short. The emigrants could not afford to pay their own way and the government refused to help.
“My Race Is Mine”
Bishop Turner’s efforts reaped little practical fruit and he died in 1915. Yet, his death almost coincided with the spiritual genesis of the greatest Black Nationalist movement of all time. In 1913 Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican living in London, read Booker T. Washington’s Up From Slavery. Washington advocated Black Economic self-determination, not political and social autonomy, but Garvey saw the three as linked. Washington’s book changed his life. He later wrote of that time, “My doom – if I may so call it – of being a race leader dawned on me. Where is the black man’s government, his army, his President?….I could not anymore remain in London. My brain was afire”.
Arriving back in Kingston in mid-summer 1914 Garvey founded the United Negro Improvement and Conservation Association and African Communities League. The name was later shortened and it became known as the UNIA: a group with a multi-purpose program. Members devoted to themselves to Black self-help programs, African independence struggles, back-to-Africa plans, and the promotion of racial pride.
After a year, though, Garvey recognised that his movement was struggling. Talk about the glories of ancient Africa meant little to those suffering in the present. Thus, in 1916 at age 28 Garvey went to America to raise funds and enthusiasm for his movement. It was a trying time as he worked part-time and gave speeches on assorted street corners in New York’s Harlem area. After three months he began to cross America all the while speaking for the UNIA. Eventually in 1917 he was able to found a UNIA chapter in New York city. In 1918 he began publishing what was to become the internationally distributed newspaper Negro World. At its peak circulation would reach over 60,000. The paper’s masthead said it all — “One God, One Aim, One Destiny”. It was a direct message of racial solidarity and a popular one at that. By 1919 the UNIA had thirty chapters world-wide and two million members.
It was to be a furious yet short period of success for Garvey. He held huge national conventions, staged uniformed parades in Black communities, founded a shipping company to raise money for his cause, sent a delegation to the League of Nations asked for African Independence and preached long and hard the message of Black pride and solidarity:-
The time has come for the Asiatics to govern themselves in Asia, as the Europeans are in Europe. So too it is wise for the Africans to govern themselves at home…… There is no other way to avoid the threatening war of the races that is bound to engulf all mankind; there is not better method than by apportioning every race to its own habitat.
It was a powerful doctrine and one that was firmly opposed by both the integrationist and white supremacist forces of that period. The result was swift. In January 1922 Garvey was imprisoned on trumped-up charges of mail fraud. He was kept in prison for fifteen months before ever being brought to trial. On June 21, 1923 he was sentenced to five years imprisonment. All appeals proved futile, and in 1925 Garvey began serving his sentence in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary.
From the prison cell his activities continued. It was there he wrote the poem The Tragedy of White Injustice with the memorable stanza:-
Every man on his own foothold should stand
Claiming a nation and a fatherland!
White, Yellow and Black should make their own laws
And force no one-sided justice with flaws…
In 1927 President Coolidge commuted Garvey’s sentence. He was released, but apparently it was all a set-up for shortly thereafter the government deported him. Back in Jamaica he set to work strengthening the local UNIA chapter. In 1928 he journeyed to England to launch a European chapter of his movement.
From then on things took a downward turn for Garvey. Although the organisation’s 1929 convention held in Kingston was successful, overall support was dwindling. Garvey’s efforts to rebuild his once great Association from Jamaica failed and in 1935 he returned to England. Membership declined steadily despite a last attempt on his part, the founding in 1937 of the School of African Philosophy.
Marcus Garvey’s last years were lived in poverty and relative obscurity. He died on June 10th 1940, shortly after suffering a stroke. Of his family he said, “I have nothing to leave for them, but the service I have cheerfully given my race.”
The battle between integrationists and White Supremacists was fought in the West after World War Two. Victory went to the former. Yet, the Black man still suffers. He is still persecuted, impoverished and alienated. Lingering doubts remain. White supremacy is evil, but is integration the answer?
Large numbers of Blacks do not believe it is. Either ignored or castigated by the media for their beliefs they continue to maintain that all races are special with unique needs and destinies. Some like the Black Power advocates of the late sixties and early seventies, via organisations such as the Black Panther Party in America, called for black economic and communal self determination. Although shying away from talk of repatriation or statehood their movement was one of exclusionist racial memory, pride, culture and self-defence. Bobby Seale, Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver led the party while the likes of Stokely Carmichael and H. Rapp Brown functioned as movement spokesmen.
One of the oldest Separatist groups is the Nation of Islam or, as they are commonly called, Black Muslims. Founded by Elijah Muhammad and currently led by Louis Farrakhan they maintain, amidst a backdrop of unique religious doctrine, a commitment to territorial secession from White America. All they ask is that they be granted “four or five fertile States” and “twenty years of government assistance” to make their new nation work.
Osiris Akkabala carries on the Garvey tradition via his Pan-African International movement. His program calls for an eventual return to Africa and emphasises black history, pride and racial solidarity. It is continuation of the old Garvey tradition – a call for a return of the black race to its former African greatness.
There are others. UNIA itself struggles on, and Elijah Muhammad’s son Wallace leads an alternative Muslim organisation. Indeed, it seems safe to say that most black street activists although demanding a non-racist attitude in their rhetoric are, in reality, primarily racial nationalists at heart.
Obviously members of all races interested in their particular heritage’s and respective ways of life are a minority today. Most whites and blacks pledge their loyalty to nothing more than vapid consumerism and shallow “fun”. Hollywood and Wall Street dominate all races.
In this climate of “hollow men” it is foolish to speak of repatriation, of a return to ancestral soil, be it of Europe or of Africa. Before social policy can change there must be a change in the minds and hearts of men. We must strive to present the beauty of community, of being together with others, those alive, dead, and yet unborn; we must emphasise that quality of life is man’s highest goal and his greatest source of joy.
Third Way is devoted to developing a true sense of community and to the dignity of men living with their fellows. For black and white alike it means a return to one’s innermost self. Only after we are in touch with who we are can we turn to the practical questions of land, autonomy and the like.
Marcus Garvey was a giant, a hero for both Black and White. Before his death he said, “When I am dead look for me in the whirlwind of the storm, look for me all around you, for, with God’s grace, I shall come…to aid you in the fight for Liberty, Freedom and Life.” In the Third Way the fight goes on.
Suggestions For Further Reading
For a general introduction to Separatist movements both past and present Raymond L. Hall’ Black Separatism in the United States (Dartmouth, 1978) is a fine place to start. Pre-Garvey movements are covered, albeit critically, in The Golden Age of Black Nationalism 1850-1925 by W.J. Moses (Oxford, 1978). A fascinating recounting of “Pap” Singleton’s journey to Kansas may be found in Pap Singleton and his Followers in the Journal of Negro History, 33, No 1, pp 7-23. Of great importance is Edwin Redkey’s Black Exodus: Black Nationalist and Back to Africa Movements 1890-1910 (Yale, 1969).
On Malcolm X and the Muslims a neglected, but sensitive work is Peter Goldman’s The Death and Life of Malcolm X (Illinois, 1979).
Literature on Garvey and the UNIA is growing steadily. The Majority Press (PO Box 476, Canton, Mass. 02021 USA) offers at least ten books in its New Marcus Garvey Library. Of particular note are those by Tony Martin, among them Race First, Literary Garveyism, The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey and The Pan-African Connection: from Slavery to Garvey and Beyond.
Other works of interest are Marcus Garvey’s Foot Soldiers of the U.N.I.A. by Jeanette Smith-Irvin (Frenton, 1989) and Black Power and the Garvey Movement by Ted Vincent (Nzinga, 1988).