Intro to Afro-American Studies


Nationalism and Pan-Africanism

Toward a Paradigm of Unity in Afro-American Studies

LOGIC OF CHANGE Social Cohesion Traditional Africa - Slavery - Rural Life - Urban Life
Social Disruption - Slave Trade - Emancipation - Migrations -
UNITS OF ANALYSIS Ideology A1 B1 C1 D1 E1 F1 G1
Nationality A2 B2 C2 D2 E2 F2 G2
Class A3 B3 C3 D3 E3 F3 G3
Race A4 B4 C4 D4 E4 F4 G4


Ladies and gentlemen, I want you to realize that the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities league, the organization which I have the honor to represent, is a worldwide movement that is endeavoring to unite the sentiment of our people. Our objective is to declare Africa a vast Negro empire. We can see no right in Belgium's retention of the Congo. We are going to wait until peace is completely restored, and then will we work Belgium out. And when we ask Belgium, "What are you doing there?" America will have nothing to do with it. Under the League of Nations when Africa revolts America will have to call upon Negroes to fight Negroes, therefore the League of Nations must be defeated by every Negro in America, or it will mean that Africa will have to fight the combined nations of the world.

Marcus Garvey, Objects of the U.N.I.A.

     Afro-American nationalism and Pan-Africanism have been historically legitimate responses by Black people to racist oppression. Nationalism seeks a solution to the problems faced by Black people as its  first priority. It focuses primarily on Black people in the United States. Some Black nationalists view all white people as the enemies of Black people. They argue that only complete separation of Blacks from whites will solve the problems that Black people face. Other nationalists seek unity with nationalists of other oppressed people of color (Native American Indians, Chicanos, Puerto Ricans, etc.) In general, nationalists make distinctions between the problems facing Blacks and whites and the solutions for each. In fact, many nationalists argue that a separate Black solution is needed even for a problem that Blacks share with whites.

     Pan-Africanism is similar to nationalism. It holds that all Black people share common historical links to Africa, that the liberation of Black people is closely tied to the liberation of Africa, and that Black people should support the freedom struggle of African



people. More recently, some Pan-Africanists have claimed that freedom for Black people in the United States cannot be won (and should not be our major goal) until the liberation of Africa has been completed. The extreme of this view states that all Black people in the United States should go to Africa.


The basis for Black nationalism is rooted in the historical experience of Black people. In the United States, two aspects of the Black experience molded Black people into a distinct nationality: Their shared material (economic and social) conditions, and the racism they faced. The foundations for a distinct nationality were laid in the rural Black Belt South during the slave period. In this sense, the Black Belt South is the national homeland of Afro- American people. It is in the Black Belt South that Black people have national rights that can be exercised if the masses of Black people make such demands in order to resolve the problems they face in the United States.

     During the rural period, the common Black experience was tenancy, a semi-free, semi-slave experience in which Blacks had control over the work process itself, but did not control the products of their work. Tenant farmers worked the land and often set their own work schedules, but they had to give up the fruits of their labor because they did not own the land. The tenancy system, like slavery, meant the economic exploitation of Black people.

     In order to survive these material conditions, Black people formed cooperative social relationships. The social life of the Black community was centered mainly around the church and fraternal Organizations that took the form of mutual aid societies, burial societies, etc. A common culture, including the development of a distinct dialect (speech pattern), also flowed out of this shared socioeconomic experience (see Chapter 9 for a discussion of the creolization process and Afro-American culture). Thus, a common economic life - based on exploitation and their mutual cooperation to combat it - served as the material basis for their national existence.



     In addition, Black people have always experienced brutal and vicious racism. The main defense, though it has taken many different forms, has been Black unity. This unity frequently has been a call for Black nationalism (meaning that Black people should unite as Black people to fight against their own oppression) and not a call for Black people to unite with people of other nationalities who are also committed to fighting against the oppression facing Black people. The appeal of nationalism is facilitated by racism as it forces Black people to turn inward toward the strengths of their own community.

     It should be pointed out that Afro-American nationalism is fundamentally different from white nationalism. Black nationalism is the nationalism of an oppressed nationality and expresses the desire of Black people to be free. White nationalism is chauvinistic, includes racism, and is never a progressive force. Black nationalism can be positive or negative, but white nationalism is always reactionary.


     The historical basis for Pan-Africanism among Afro-Americans is found in the United States but is conditioned by events in Africa. The reasons for Pan-Africanism are three-fold. First, racism and repression, which have been the common, everyday experiences of Black people in the United States, have led to the view that there can be no major change in the United States, that the hope for a better life lies with Africa. The turn to Pan- Africanism has become particularly acute when there has been a downturn in the economy and a rise in political repression).

     Second, African countries and personalities have been shining examples of Black achievement in a world dominated by white racism and imperialism. The most important person and country in this respect are the late - President Kwame Nkrumah and Ghana. Nkrumah was trained by Afro-Americans, W. E. B. DuBois and Horace Mann Bond, and received his political orientation from the decisive 5th Pan-African Congress (held in Manchester, England in 1945). He guided Ghana to independence (the first Black African country to gain its independence from a colonial power), and he led independent Africa in founding the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1963. Many Afro-Americans went to Ghana to help in the development of this newly independent nation. Nkrumah will always be an important symbol of pan-Africanism  the middle of the 20th century. 



     The third basis for Pan-Africanism among Afro-American people is that Africa offers opportunity for enterprising Blacks from the U.S.A. Black people in the United States have acquired technical training and skills which can be of critical importance in the development of Africa. This cuts two ways: while the African countries can use these technical skills, Blacks from the United States who go there with these skills can also seek to satisfy their own individual self-interests (and the U.S. multi- national corporations they frequently represent) at the expense of Africans.


How can we assess the impact and potential of nationalism as an ideology and strategy in the struggle for Black liberation and social change? This ideology and political line has changed as the historical experiences of Black people have changed, but we must ask of any ideology how it sees the main problem that is faced by Black people. The main problems facing Black people are racism and economic exploitation caused by capitalism and imperialism.

There, are three different types of nationalism and each calls for a different response from Black people engaged in the struggle for freedom: reactionary nationalism, reformist nationalism, and revolutionary nationalism.

Reactionary nationalism - This is Black nationalism based on a very conservative, pro-capitalist view. Politically, this has led some nationalists to openly support U.S. imperialism against the interests of Black people. Examples of this include support for Ronald Reagan, deep involvement in various Black capitalist schemes, and advertisements in the Black nationalist-oriented magazine Black Collegian (distributed "free" throughout the United States) touting "the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) as an equal opportunity employer." This type of nationalism must be exposed, and those advocating it must be defeated in their attempts to destroy the struggle against imperialism or to lead the struggle astray.



Reformist nationalism - This is based on the view that freedom for Black people is possible by leaving the basic economic and political system as it is (by either staying within it or leaving it). Proposals from nationalists of this type include the following: a separate Black state in the South, Black political and economic control of cities and Black communities, large and influential businesses which serve the interests of the masses of Black people, and even mass emigration back to Africa. These nationalists wrongly assume that the U.S. ruling class would grant these proposals or would allow them to develop without being dominated. Other nationalists, believing self-cultivation is the solution, have retreated into health foods, astrology, or prayer. This type of nationalism is a withdrawal from struggle and confrontation with imperialism. Those who hold this view should be won over to support the struggle for Black liberation and to get involved in it.

Revolutionary nationalism - This type of Black nationalism maintains that the solution to the oppression of Black people will come only through their struggle to defeat monopoly capitalism in the United States. Defeating U.S. imperialism at home is viewed as the most significant contribution that Black people in the United States can make to the African liberation struggle. Revolutionary nationalists view the interests of the ruling class as diametrically opposed to the interests of Black people.

     Thus, while revolutionaries do fight for reforms that serve the immediate needs of the masses of Black people (e.g., community control of schools, daycare centers, an end to discrimination in hiring and college admissions, etc.), they recognize that these struggles must be qualitatively transformed to a struggle to defeat imperialism if Black people are to gain their freedom. What makes this revolutionary is that it aims at the source which causes exploitation and oppression of everyone in the society.

     Revolutionary nationalism is a positive position for Black people that emphasizes struggle and relies on the masses of people (as opposed to "great leaders;") for decisive action. The major problem with revolutionary nationalism is that it has not developed a model for rebuilding all of U.S. society. Though it has successfully focused on destroying existing relations of domination and control over Blacks, i has fallen short of providing the necessary framework for a new socialist society. 


Thus, while it provides revolutionary fervor and direction in a short-term sense, it fails to lay the groundwork for a long-term revolutionary struggle for Black liberation. If the liberation of Black people is to occur, Black nationalism and pan-Africanism must be combined with class struggle-in the USA as well as internationally. 

     This sums up the ideological and political character of nationalism and pan-Africanism. It is necessary to have a general understanding of these two positions so that their continued recurrence can be understood within their specific historical context. The historical development of these ideological and political stands can be traced best in the context of the three fundamental stages of historical development of the Black experience. 

The Slave Period

During slavery, pan-Africanism and nationalism manifested themselves in tow main trends: 1) emigration, and 2) militant resistance or the position that Black people should stay here and fight. some black people advocated leaving the United States and going to Africa, but only a few succeeded. For instance, in 1792 some 1,100 Black people went to Sierra Leone (where the British had resettled 400 Africans five years earlier), and in 1815 more joined them under the leadership of a Black petty-bourgeois capitalist named Paul Cuffee. Given the totally oppressive conditions of the slave system and the fact that many slaves were born in Africa, this action was a legitimate and progressive response. the main criticism of these efforts initiated by Black people is that they left the institution of slavery  intact. They thus served the interests of only a few Blacks, mostly middle-class free Blacks who could make the trip.

     During the slave period, various emigration schemes were also pushed by the ruling class, most notably those led by the American Colonization Society (ACS).  The ACS was founded in 1817 ostensibly so that Black people could develop themselves and Africa. While Cuffee had emphasized emigration as a self-help program, the ACS for many Blacks came perilously close to being a deportation scheme which they vigorously opposed. Though sometimes  using ACS resources, Black people carefully distinguished between emigration and deportation.  


     As Edwin Redkey put it in his study of nationalist and back- to-Africa movements, "Colonization was essentially a white man's solution to the race problem and emigration was a black nationalist answer." John Henry, in a 1977 article, was even more pointedly critical of the ACS's efforts to repatriate Black people:

This was rationalized as a process to bring 'civilization and Christianity to the backward primitive condition of blacks in Africa. But the real intent was stated by the reactionary Henry Clay of Kentucky: "to rid our country of a useless and pernicious, if not dangerous portion of its population....."

     Colonization efforts were intended to eliminate slavery as a backward fetter on industrial capitalism emerging in the North, to drain away a source of weakness for the slavocracy of the South (e.g., the slave rebellions), and to establish a beachhead in Africa for U.S. capitalist interests. 

In 1822, the ACS founded Liberia Oust adjacent to Sierra Leone) and helped former slaves go there. Henry, offers this criticism of the Liberian resettlement scheme and the colonization effort: in general:                

Most people who went there either died, or became part of a Liberian aristocracy ("Americo-Liberians") who, in turn, forced the indigenous population into virtual slavery. On the other hand, the efforts by the U.S. ruling class, through state governments and the American Colonization Society, were reactionary because they often forced people to choose between slavery and emigration. Their efforts were not in the interest of Blacks or the working class in the U.S., and certainly not in the interests of the people of Liberia. 

Nevertheless, by the 1850s there was a great deal of interest in emigration (whether to Africa, Canada, the West Indies, or South America). Conditions. for Blacks were rapidly deteriorating, particularly with the passage of the fugitive slave law in 1850.

Most, however, chose to offer militant resistance by remaining in the United States and fighting to overthrow slavery. This position was held by such people as Henry Highland Garnet and Frederick Douglass (see Chapter 4 on "The Slave Experience"). It was the revolutionary way out of slavery and the main trend during the period. The many slaves who sabotaged production, plotted slave revolts, escaped to the North, and later joined the Union army in armed struggle to defeat the slave system all testified to the revolutionary aspirations of the masses of Black slaves.

It should also be remembered that during the period of slavery



some Black people were living in the urban environment. Facing rejection by the white society, free Blacks in the North were forced to concentrate on developing separate Black social institutions. This created a race consciousness based on organized Black unity, particularly in churches, fraternal societies, businesses, and publications.

     It is important to point out the difference here between race consciousness and nationalism. During the slave period, the main thing was race consciousness - Black versus white - with the historical identity of being an African accepted as a possible alternative to being a slave in America. Only after several generations - when there was a material and subjective basis for "national" identity --was race consciousness fully transformed into nationalism. The modal forms of nationalism developed most fully in the rural period.


Pan-Africanist and Black nationalist thoughts and actions began as direct responses to racist oppression. Generally speaking, when time are particularly bad the conditions are ripe for some form of Pan-Africanism. When times have been relatively good, there is an upsurge of Blacknationalisrn.

     During the rural period, a consistent pattern of emigrations developed as a response to oppression and hard times. With the collapse of Reconstruction in the late 1870s, there was an emigration movement led by Blacks from South Carolina who tried to organize an exodus to Liberia. Though their scheme failed, it did mark the beginning of emigrationist efforts initiated in the South.

     Emigration schemes reached a peak in the mid-1890s when the cotton economy failed and Black people were disfranchised and subjected to unprecedent violence. The idea of going to Africa was particularly popular among Black peasants, who were eager to go anyplace that offered a sanctuary from the oppression they were experiencing.

     Bishop Henry Turner of the A.M.E. Church in Georgia was one of the main advocates of emigrationism and inspired much enthusiasm among Black people of the South. But his efforts were doomed by transportation problems, reports of a harsh life in Africa, inadequate financial backing, and a lack of interest on the part of the Black middle class and the educated Black elite. Chief Alfred C. Sam from Ghana faced similar problems when he later went to Oklahoma and tried to organize an emigration plan for Black people who had become disillusioned by the racism and economic subjugation they experienced in the Southwest.


     Just as emigration "back to Africa" was a resettlement scheme, so too was the-Black town movement. This movement was led by enterprising and ambitious people who wanted to use the all- Black town as the basis for economic and political power. More- over, they saw collective unity as a protection from racist oppression. A movement to Kansas (by "exodusters" as they were called) was led by Pap Singleton. This was a major attempt to escape repression in the South. Between 1860 and 1880, the - Black population of Kansas increased, from 840 to 43,000. Around the turn of the century, Edwin P. McCabe organized a movement of Black people to Oklahoma. Over twenty-five Black towns were founded there, including Langston (the first) and Boley. He  had visions of making Oklahoma an all-Black state and becoming its governor or senator. Racism and an inhospitable economic environment soon dashed those dreams and led many to later embrace Chief Sam's emigration scheme.

     During fairly good times, there is a tendency for bourgeois aspirations to dominate. The bourgeois nationalist perspective was reflected in Booker T. Washington and those who organized the National Negro Business League in 1900. While these efforts engaged a small group of leaders, another form of nationalist action emerged during the rural period that involved the masses of Black people. This was the development and consolidation of national institutions.

     During slavery, there was a clearly defined limit to Black social life, based on (1) the objective limitations of life requiring long hours of forced labor, and (2) the legal-violent methods of social control to keep Black people powerless and unable to collectively deal with problems. The social life that did develop was significant but quite restricted. After the Civil War, however, new conditions allowed for a more developed collective social life. In this context Black people discovered that there was strength in unity: both the negative reason to protect oneself from enemies, and the positive reason to unite with people whose cultural tastes and behavioral preferences were the same as one's own. The church and fraternal organizations were the two main social institutions to develop during this period.


     The first major political manifestation of Pan-Africanism during the 20th century was based on the historical links of Black people to Africa and was a reaction to the rising imperialist plunder of Africa. Simultaneous with the intensifying oppression of Black people in the United States after 1877, Africa was increasingly under attack by imperialist colonialism. Whereas in 1876 only 10% of, Africa was under the control of the imperialists by 1900 this had increased to about 90%. As World War I drew to a close, it was clear that the imperialists intended to continue and expand their presence in Africa.

     Black people were learning the valuable  lesson that Black liberation meant fighting against imperialist oppression. Simply  emigrating to Africa would not solve Black people's problems since imperialism had to be faced there, just as oppression had to be faced in the United States. The link between what was happening to Black people in the United States and what was happening to Africans was becoming obvious to increasing numbers of Black intellectuals. The struggle for Black liberation had to take place not only in the United States but also in Africa.

     The Pan-African Conference, initiated by DuBois and other middle-class intellectuals in 1900, and the Pan-African Congresses that subsequently emerged provided essential support in the struggle for African liberation. The Pan-African Congresses focused on demands for self-government, education, freedom of religion and social customs, the return of land and resources to Black people, protection against the greed of capitalist investors, and the enrichment of the many rather than a few.

     The Fifth Congress, held in 1945, was most important because for the first time it was composed of a majority of African delegates and took a militant anti-imperialist stand. This laid the basis for the African independence struggle in the 1950s and 1960s and for the African liberation movements today. After the Fifth Congress, African students, intellectuals, and trade union leaders returned to Africa and helped to intensify the anti-colonial struggle. Their Afro-American comrades took up the struggle to force changes in U.S. policy toward Africa.




The urban period of the Afro-American experience resulted from the migration of Black people to the cities of the North and South and their concentration into factory jobs. The general crisis of adjusting to an urban/industrial pace, World War I, racial attacks, and the political fermentation of the post-war crisis all laid the basis for the biggest mass-based nationalist movement among Black people - the Garvey movement.

Marcus Garvey found6d the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in Jamaica in 1914 and transplanted it to New York in 1916.. The UNIA was a movement built by the Black middle class of the cities  struggling shopkeepers, preachers, lawyers, and the like - and southern sharecroppers who had recently moved to the city. It rapidly grew to several hundred chapters and had a following estimated by some at several million.

There were two sides to the Garvey movement. On one hand, Garveyism helped to crystallize the national consciousness of Black people. It sparked a greater interest and appreciation for the history and culture of Black people, and undoubtedly inspired many Black people to set their aims higher to equal the past achievements of Black people. These were very much a part of the UNIA doctrines. On the other hand, Garvey's emigrationist back-to-Africa plans, which became the main aspect of his program, did not speak realistically to the problems facing the masses of Black people in the United States. Domestically, Garvey argued for Booker T. Washington's policies of accommodationism. He branded political struggle for full equality as impossible and dangerous, and he asked the ruling class to reject the "aggressive" program of DuBois and to accept his "reasonable" program of taking Black people back to Africa. Garvey outlined the objectives of the movement:

The Universal Negro Improvement Association ... believes in and teaches the pride and purity of race. We believe that the white race should uphold its racial pride and perpetuate itself, and that the black race should do likewise.... 

The Universal Negro Improvement Association seeks ... the creation of an African nation for Negroes, where the greatest latitude would be given to work out this racial ideal....

The time is opportune to regulate the relationship between both races. Let the Negro have a country of his own. Help him to return to his original home, Africa, and there give him the opportunity to climb from the lowest to the highest positions in a state of his own. If not, then the nation will have to hearken to the demand of the aggressive, "social equality" organization, known as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, of which W. E. B. DuBois is leader, which declares vehemently for social and political equality, viz.: Negroes and whites in the same hotels, homes, residential districts, public and private places, a Negro as president, members of the Cabinet, Governors of States, Mayors of cities, and leaders of society in the United States. In this agitation, DuBois is ably supported by the "Chicago Defender," a colored newspaper published in Chicago. This paper advocates Negroes in the Cabinet and Senate. All these, as everybody knows, are the Negroes' constitutional rights, but reason dictates that the masses of the white race will never stand by the ascendancy of an opposite minority group to the favored positions in a government, society and industry that exist by the will of the majority, hence the demand of the DuBois group of colored leaders will only lead, ultimately, to further disturbances in riots, lynching and mob rule. The only logical solution therefore, is to supply the Negro with opportunities and environments of his own, and there point him to the fullness of his ambition....

     This plan when property undertake and prosecuted will solve the race problem in America in fifty years. Africa affords a wonderful opportunity at the present time for colonization by the Negroes of the Western world. 



     Eventually, Garvey capitulated  to U.S. capitalism. His position was made clear when he urged Black people to believe that "white capitalists are Black people's best' friend" and to stay out of trade unions.

     The UNIA's objective was a nation-state. The Black Belt had provided the foundation for a Black social and political life that many carried with them to the cities. Its objective reality continued to be a part of Black people's lives and consciousness. The UNIA was able to appeal to that consciousness and attract a following of like-mind nationalists.

     The migrations that subsequently took place, especially during and following World War II, significantly altered the Black experience. As the urban experience came to dominate Black people's lives, the objective reality of the Black Belt South ceased playing such an important role. Most Black political movements thus have been based in the city, including the latest stage of the nationalist-pan-African movement that arose in the 1960s.

     The most recent explosion of the nationalist and Pan-Africanist movement came on the heels of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. The nationalist movement came first and was followed by a Pan-Africanist movement. This nationalism was based on two converging trends: (1) the rising Black middle class, which reaped the rewards of the civil rights protests, and which was further encouraged by the Nixon-backed program of Black capitalism; and (2) the dispossessed Blacks, who saw their faith in the benevolent  role of the federal government betrayed and their dreams shattered with the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., The middle class saw in nationalism a way to further its own interests. It needed the masses of Black people to make money and gain more power. The masses of poor Black people, at the same time, saw in nationalism collective protection from a hostile racist environment.


     There are six major issues that should be discussed in summing up the major trends of nationalism and pan-Africanism since the 1960s.

The Role of Malcolm X

The most important ideologue of nationalism during this period was Malcolm X. Malcolm went through important personal and political changes that paralleled the growth and development of the Black liberation struggle. From a hustling pimp and drug dealer, he was transformed in prison by the teachings of the Nation of Islam (though he later broke with the stand-on-the-sidelines policies of Elijah Muhammad). He was attempting to organize a non-sectarian Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAU) when he was assassinated in 1965. Malcolm provided insistent opposition to the nonviolent, passive resistance philosophy of Martin Luther King. He proposed armed self-defense as the alternative. Until the last year of his life, he was an articulate spokesman for the view that all white people were the enemies of Black people. In a 1965 interview, he stated his reason for rethinking his views:

I used to define black nationalism as the idea that the black man should control the economy of his community, the politics of his community, and so forth.

But, when I was in Africa in May, in Ghana, I was speaking with the Algerian ambassador who is extremely militant and is a revolutionary in the true sense of the word (and has his credentials as such for having carried on a successful revolution against oppression in his country). When I told him that my political, social and economic philosophy was black nationalism, he asked me very frankly, well, where did that leave him? Because he was white. He was an African, but he was Algerian, and to all appearances he was a white man. And he said if I define my objective of the victory of black nationalism, where does that leave him? Where does that leave revolutionaries in Morocco, Egypt, Iraq, Mauritania? So he showed me where I was alienating people who were true revolutionaries, dedicated to overturning the system of exploitation that exists on this earth by any means necessary.

So, I had to do a lot of thinking and reappraising of my definition of black nationalism. Can we sum up the solution to the problems confronting our people as black nationalism? 



When questioned at an OAU meeting in Harlem, he elaborated:

I haven't changed. I just see things on a broader scale. We nationalists used to think we were militant. We were just dogmatic. It didn't bring us anything.

Now I know it's smarter to say you're going to shoot a man for what he is doing to you than because he is white. If you attack him because he is white, you give him no out. He can't stop being white. We've got to give the man a chance. He probably won't take it, the snake. But we've got to give him a chance.

We've got to be more flexible. Why, when some of our friends in Africa didn't know how to do things, they went ahead and called in some German technicians. And they had blue eyes.

 I'm not going to be in anybody's straitjacket. I don't care what a person looks like or where they come from. My mind is wide open to anybody who will help get the ape off our backs. 

Malcolm was opposed to capitalism and imperialism, and he set the pace for the development of revolutionary nationalism among young Black people. His complete identification with and commitment to serving the needs and aspirations of Black people provided a positive model that many Black people sought to emulate.


 "Black    Power" was the most significant slogan to emerge in the nationalist movement of the 1960s. While it sounded revolutionary, it was essentially reformist in content. The phrase was first popularized by Stokely Carmichael of SNCC during a march to urge Black voter registration in Mississippi. This reformism was further elaborated in Carmichael. and Charles Hamilton's Black Power in 1967:

This book presents a political framework and ideology which represents the last reasonable opportunity for this society to work out its racial problems short of prolonged destructive guerilla warfare. 

More importantly, the Black Power Conferences of 1967 (Newark) and 1968 (Philadelphia) proposed no fundamental changes in the U.S. political and economic system. In fact, the first conference was chaired by an Episcopalian priest and invitations were mailed out on "Miss Clairol" stationery (obviously borrowed from the company where his brother was employed). The main aim of all of these efforts was to get for Black people a bigger piece of the existing American capitalist pie.



     There were, however, revolutionary aspirations among the nationalists of this period. The Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM), officially organized in 1963, sought "to free Black people from colonial and imperialist bondage everywhere and to take whatever steps necessary to achieve that goal!' Its philosophy was further elaborated by a Black revolutionary activist, Max Stanford:

RAM philosophy may be described as revolutionary nationalism, black nationalism or just plain blackism. It is that black people of the world (darker races, black, yellow, brown, red, oppressed peoples) are all enslaved by the same forces. RAM's philosophy is one of the world black revolution or world revolution of oppressed peoples rising up against their former slave masters. Our movement is a movement of black people who are coordinating their efforts to create a "new world" free from exploitation and oppression of man to man.... 

 RAM feels that with the rise of fascism, the black man must not only think of armed self-defense but must also think aggressively.

  Our black nation is still in captivity. RAM feels that the road to freedom is self-government, national liberation and black power. Our slogan is "Unite or perish." 

     The League of Revolutionary Black Workers, centered on Detroit's auto industry, attempted to organize Black workers as the leading revolutionary vanguard. According to spokespersons: "The League of Revolutionary Black Workers is dedicated to waging a relentless struggle against racism, capitalism, and imperialism. We are struggling for the liberation of Black people in the confines; of the US as well as to play a major revolutionary role in the liberation of all oppressed people in the world:' (See Chapter 7 for a further discussion of the League.)

     In the manifesto of the Black Revolutionary Party, James Boggs put forward ideas that reflected the perspectives and activities of several local and regional organizations:

The role of the Black Revolutionary Party is, first, to develop and keep before the movement, the nation and the world the real meaning and objectives of the life and death struggle in which the Black community is now engaged; second, to bring together in a disciplined national organization the revolutionary individuals who are being constantly thrown up by spontaneous eruption and the experience of struggle; third, to devise and project, in constant interaction with the masses in struggle, a long-range strategy for achieving Black Revolutionary Power in the United States....

The Black Revolutionary Party must be distinguished clearly not only from the traditional civil rights organizations which have been organized to integrate Blacks into and thereby save the system, but also from the ad hoc organizations which have sprung up in the course of struggle, arousing the masses emotionally around a particular issue and relying primarily on the enthusiasm and good-will of their members and supporters for their continuing activity. By contrast, the Black Revolutionary Party must be a cadre- type organization of politically-conscious individuals, totally committed to the struggle for Black Revolutionary Power and the building of the Black Revolutionary Party as the only solution to the problems of Black people.

     A revolutionary party cannot be made up of just enthusiastic and emotionally-aroused individuals. Its essential core must be cold, sober revolutionaries who are bound together by a body of ideas, recognize the vital importance of disciplined organization and strong leadership to the revolutionary struggle, and are convinced that their own future and that of Black people can be assured only through Black Revolutionary Power...

     The Black Revolutionary Party will pay special attention to the development of the political consciousness and revolutionary dedication of Black street youth. These youth have no place in the existing society except as mercenaries, preying on people of color in the far-flung imperialist armies of the United States or on their own people in the streets of the ghetto. On the other hand, under the leadership of the Black Revolutionary Party and imbued with the consciousness of the new society which Black Revolutionary Power will create, they are the best guarantee of the success of the Black revolution.

     The Black Revolutionary Party will repudiate any tendency to Black male chauvinism or the tendency to relegate Black women to an inferior position in the struggle in order to compensate for the emasculation which Black men have suffered in white America. The extraordinary fortitude which Black women have brought to the struggle for survival of Black people in America is one of the greatest sources of strength for the Black Revolutionary Party...

      The most difficult and challenging task is the organizing of struggles around the concrete grievances of the masses which will not only improve the welfare of the Black community but also educate the masses out of their democratic illusions and increase their consciousness that every administrative and law-enforcing agency in this country is a white power...

     The Black Revolutionary Party must devise strategies which give the masses of Black people a sense of their growing power to improve their conditions of life through struggle and which enable them to create dual or parallel power structures out of struggle. Struggle therefore must be on issues and terrains which enable the Black community to, create a form of liberated area out of what are at present occupied areas. It is for this reason that struggles for Community Control of such urban institutions as Schools, Health, Welfare, Housing, Land and Police are such powerful steps on the road to Black Revolutionary Power...

     Because of the nationalist character of the Black revolutionary struggle, the Black Revolutionary Party must be O-Black in its membership....

     Finally, the Black Revolutionary Party must at  times keep before the movement the need to support the national liberation struggles in Asia, Latin America and Africa, and the need for international support for the revolution inside the United States. No revolution was ever successful without international support. This truth ... is even more relevant today because of the basic unity which the Black Revolution in the United States has with the world Black revolution, because of the minority position of Blacks inside the United States, and because of the world character of -the American counter-revolution.

     The Black Revolution in the United States is an integral part of the world revolution against American imperialism. Racism, like imperialism, is a totalitarian system for the dehumanization of one people by another... The revolution against racism and/or imperialism, therefore, is not only to free the oppressed people or nation from the physical presence of their oppressors but to destroy the institutions of total dehumanization and to create in their place totally new relations between people, totally new relations between people and their institutions, and totally new institutions. 















Revolutionary groups used this document as a programmatic statement, particularly on the role of "Black street youth." Whereas street youth traditionally had been viewed as undisciplined and totally lacking revolutionary potential, they were now seen as potential activists of insurrection. Revolutionary groups thus began to focus on developing this revolutionary potential.

Culture and Art 

An important characteristic of a nation and of nationalism is a common cultural orientation which manifests itself in common values and behavioral  preferences. This has been an  essential aspect of Black nationalism. Thus, a key slogan that  emerged during the 1960s was "Black is Beautiful." This slogan was part of the process which raised the political consciousness  of Black people. It was, not color alone that was being spoken   of, but a shared historical experience - a history of common oppression (of which racism was an essential component) and collective resistance and struggle. The Black Arts Movement also developed during the Black Power period and it served to instill and deepen a collective consciousness among Black people (see Chapter 9). The rebellion after the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968 revealed the depth of this collective or national consciousness among Black people.

On the other hand, "Black is Beautiful" was a convenient cover for small-time (and some big-time) entrepreneurs in the Black community. They tried to cash in on the newly developing national market for 'African dashikis, Afro-combs, hair conditioners, and other products and artifacts that were in demand as the impact of the nationalist and Pan-Africanist movement spread. "Buy Black!" became their rallying cry, a cry that conveniently fit in with the maintenance of the economic and political system.



The Black Nation

The national question will be explored more fully in the next chapter, which treats the relationship between national oppression (like the Afro-American nation) and class exploitation (i.e., the entire working class of all nationalities). In this chapter, the focus is on the particular problems of Black people as an oppressed nationality and the solutions proposed by Black nationalists. A separate and independent nation with the right of self determination    (or self-rule) has been a key demand in the program of some nationalists. This was the meaning of the slogan put forward in the late 1960s and early 1970s - "What Time Is It? It's Nation Time!" But there have been different views concerning the concrete existence of this nation.

Both the Nation of Islam (Black Muslims) and the Republic of New Africa made common territory in the United States a criteria. Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Nation of Islam, declared in 1959:

If they don't want us to mix with them in their equality, give us a place in America. Set it aside.... Give us three, four or more states. We have well earned whatever they give us; if they give us twenty-five states, we have well earned them. Give us a territory... Demand some earth. We have come to the point we must have a home on this earth that we can call our own. 

The Republic of New Africa later specifically argued for five states in the Black Belt South on the following grounds:

We have lived for over 300 years in the so-called Black Belt, we have worked and developed the land, and we have fought to stay there - against night riders and day courts, against cultural genocide and economical privation, against bad crops, and no crops, against terror and ignorance and the urgings of relatives to come North. In the Black Belt, running through the Five States that the Republic claims as the National Territory of the Black Nation (Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina), we have met all the criteria for land possession required of us by international practice, international law. We have, incidentally, met these tests too in cities of the North like Boston, Philadelphia, New York, Baltimore (though our precise locations in these cities have shifted through the years).

What the Republic of New Africa says, however, is that we give up our claim to these cities as, national territory (that does not mean that all Africans have to move from them) in exchange for the five states of the Deep South. 


On March 28, 1971, the  Republic of New Africa consecrated land in Mississippi as the "first African capital of the northern Western Hemisphere." They continued in their efforts "to array enough power ... to force the greatest power, the United States, to abide by international law, to recognize and accept our claims to Independence and land."

     Stokely Carmichael's All-African Peoples Revolutionary Party (AAPRP) argued for the acquisition of land in Africa as a Territorial base for Black liberation. Carmichael declared:

In the final analysis, all revolutions are based on land. The best place, it seems to me, and the quickest place that we can obtain land is Africa. I am not denying that we might seek land in the United States. That is a possibility, but I do not see it clearly in my mind at this time. We need land and we need land immediately, and we must go to the quickest place for it....

To seize any of the countries in Africa today that are dominated by white people who have physically oppressed us is to confront an armed struggle, a prolonged struggle.

But once we have seized a base we will be on our way. We will then have to demonstrate our willingness to fight for our people wherever they are oppressed. I believe that people basically defend their own kind.... In the Middle East they [Americans] did it even in 1967 with Israel. People who didn't have any rights in that country were flying in from all over the world to fight. There's nothing wrong with our doing the selfsame thing. It can be done and, most important, we are trying to secure a political ideology as we seek a state. 

     For the Congress of African People (CAP), a Pan-Africanist Organization led by Imamu Baraka which emerged in 1972 to replace the nationalist Black Power Conferences, a separate land case was not the basis for the Black nation. CAP conceived the 31ack nation as more of a cultural entity to which all Black people would belong regardless of location. The "cultural nation" it proposed was to be based on Nguzo Saba, the seven principles of i Black value system that had been formulated by Maulana Karenga:

UMOJA (Unity) - the commitment to the principle and practice of togetherness and collective action on crucial levels, i.e., building and maintaining unity in the family, community, nation and race: This is the first and foundational principle because without unity our possibilities as a people are few and fragile, if existent at all.

KUJICHAGULIA (Self-Determination) - a commitment to the principle and practice of defining, defending and developing ourselves instead of being defined, defended and developed by others. It demands that we build our own lives in our own image and interests and construct, thru our own efforts, institutions that house our aspirations. 

UJIMA (Collective Work and Responsibility)- a  commitment to active and informed togetherness on matters of common interest. It is also recognition and respect of the fact that without collective work and struggle, progress is impossible and liberation unthinkable.

UJAMAA (Cooperative Economics) - a commitment to the principle and practice of shared wealth and resources. It grows out of the fundamental African communal concept that the social wealth belongs to the masses of people who created it and that no one should have such an unequal amount of wealth that it gives him/her the capacity to impose unequal, exploitative and oppressive relations on others.

NIA (Purpose) - a commitment to the collective vocation of building, defending and developing our national community in order to regain our historical initiative and greatness as a people. At the core of this principle is the assumption and contention that the highest form of personal purpose is, in the final analysis, social purpose, i.e., personal purpose that translates itself into a vocation and commitment which involves and benefits the masses of Black people.

KUUMBA (Creativity) - a commitment to the principle and practice of building rather than destroying, of positive proactive construction rather than negative reactive destruction. Inherent in this principle is the commitment to leave our national community stronger, more beautiful and more effective in its capacity to define, defend and develop its interests than when we inherited it.

IMANI (Faith) - a commitment to ourselves as persons and a people and the righteousness and victory of our struggle. Moreover, it is belief in and commitment to our brothers and sisters, to their defense and development, and to the fullness of our collective future. Inherent in the principle of Imani is the call for a humanistic faith, an earth-oriented, earth-based, people- centered faith in the tradition of the best of African philosophies and values. 


This "cultural nation" thus -was something less than the demand for the full political self-determination that was included in the call for a separate national territory.

     Despite this lack of clarity over the concrete basis of the Black nation, or whether it even existed, the slogan "It's Nation Time!" provided a programmatic orientation for nationalists. This orientation was reflected, for instance, in the attempts of Black academics to organize the Black Studies movement and the Black caucus movement within predominantly. white professional associations (e.g., the American Sociological Association and the African Studies Asi3ociation). These movements were primarily intended to open up new jobs and programs for the middle class, and to protect the ones that had been won by the struggle of the masses. Most Black Studies programs and Black caucuses have not provided a revolutionary analysis of the Black experience or a direction for the Black liberation struggle.

     Outside of academia, one group of nationalists even started a business called Nationtime, Inc., which manufactured products adorned with red, black, and green - the colors of the Black nation's flag that had been resurrected from the Garvey movement. Owners of several large Black businesses in Chicago fly this flag next to the U.S. flag. In this case, Black nationalism and capitalism stand side by side.



Two Lines on Pan-Africanism in Africa

      Pan-Africanism historically has had its greatest impact on the African continent. It was a unifying ideology that galvanized Africa in the fight against colonial domination during the days of Kwame Nkrumah. Today, however, Pan-Africanism is undergoing careful analysis in Africa.

There are two sides to pan-Africanism in Africa. On the one hand, within Africa, there are pan-Africanists who have embraced imperialism in order to serve their own selfish interests. Thus, freedom fighters in Africa have recognized that Pan-Africanism can serve as a tool of imperialism rather than as a tool for African liberation. There is a special danger that the imperialists will use Black people from the United States who may be well-received because they are Black. As John Henry, a critic of pan-Africanism, put it, "The line that Afro-Americans are 'really' Africans enables lackeys of the imperialists to operate openly in Africa and make U.S. imperialism more palatable."

On the other hand, pan-Africanism could be used to unite Africa in its struggle against imperialism and superpower intervention. The main progressive form of pan-African unity is emerging in contexts like southern Africa where the liberation fighters have united in the conduct of armed struggle against white minority rule, imperialism, and sell-out Africans. This is very different from the very early days when pan-Africanism took the form of mainly paper declarations. It is in this context of anti-imperialist struggle that revolutionary patriots will decide the future of pan- Africanism on the continent of Africa.

Two Lines on Pan-Africanism in the United States

      "We are an African People," emerged as the key slogan of the pan-Africanist movement in the 1970s. Identification with African liberation struggles became particularly important as the Black liberation movement in the United States faced increasing repression at the hands of the state. There are two types of pan- Africanists, however. 



     Some, like Stokely Carmichael and the AAPRP, argue that the hope for Black liberation lies in Africa. They attribute these notions to the late Kwame Nkrumah. Carmichael has stated:

Nkrumahism is reality grounded in our African experience.... 
  Were they [critics of Nkrumahism] grounded in the reality of Nkrumahism, they would know the "total liberation and the unification of Africa under an All-African socialist government must be the primary objective of all Black Revolutionaries throughout the world. It is an objective which, when achieved, will bring about the fulfillment of the aspirations of Africans and people of African descent everywhere." . . . These heretics [critics) of Nkrumahism . . . see the primary objective of Black Revolutionaries in America as the transformation of the American society; an obvious conclusion if one has an a-historical analysis....

     We know that any ideology concerning African people, who have been maliciously scattered all over the world, during the calculated period of the disruption of our society, must consider all the component parts while maintaining "the core of the Black Revolution in Africa." 

     This view suggests that Blacks in the United States should work primarily for African liberation rather than for their own liberation. The theoretical underpinnings of this sort of pan- Africanism are faulty, as John Henry points out:-

In regard to Afro-Americans, Pan Africanism negates historical change in two major ways: it maintains that they are Africans as they have always been, and that Africa is the focus of the struggle of black people all over the world and it has always been. This view relegates the historical struggles of Afro-American people to being misguided and misinformed, because the goal has been to transform this country into a just society for all people and not primarily to transform Africa. 

     The second type of pan-Africanism argues that there should be a fight against the oppression of Black people in the United States and in Africa. Imperialism is seen as an international system headquartered in the United States that exploits Black people "at home and abroad:' These pan-Africanists and nationalists argue that defeating U.S. imperialism at home is the basis for the liberation of Black people in the United States and a contribution to the liberation of Africa, as well as Black people in the "diaspora" (a Yiddish term which means "to scatter" and refers to Black people dispersed throughout the world by the slave trade).




John Henry, who is neither pan-Africanist nor a nationalist, makes these observations concerning pan-Africanism in Africa:

On the international scale, Pan Africanism can be a positive force if it contributes to the united front. . . . But the struggle is sharpening up in Africa, particularly southern Africa, and becoming more complicated. It is especially complicated because in many cases there is the task of overthrowing reactionaries in the U.S. camp while also defeating the "wizard of Oz" social- imperialists, who can bribe opportunist elements or mislead honest forces into vacillating on opposing their superpower hegemonic plans. Pan Africanism as an ideology won't provide the answers to these complex problems because it fails to correctly and concretely analyze the forces at work. It does not base itself on the analysis of different class forces within Africa, or on the fact that Africa is not an undifferentiated whole but a continent divided. into countries facing some common problems but also different conditions. It also has no clear analysis of the nature of different countries, including the Soviet Union. Clearly Pan Africanism cannot lead the struggle for liberation in Africa. 

Nor does he see pan-Africanism leading to Black liberation in the United States:

There are aspects of the Pan Africanist movement that are positive and have contributed to struggle. Pan Africanism has led to the mobilization of people in support of African liberation, provided increased awareness of U.S. imperialism in Africa and promoted the will to fight it. This is clearly the case when we examine the impact of Pan Africanism on the militant Black youth, and some Black workers. But ... the development of this movement and the consolidation of forces within it can turn into its opposite and become a force for reaction. 

     Pan-Africanism in both Africa and the United States has contributed to revolutionary struggle insofar as it has focused on imperialism and the fight against national oppression. However, it has also led away from Black liberation because it has failed to base itself in an analysis of class forces within the context of national struggles. Thus, in both Africa and the United States, pan-Africanism has served reactionary as well as revolutionary  forces. Whether it encourages or retards revolutionary action in the future remains to be seen

     Nationalism will remain a force in the Black liberation struggle. This is so because of the escalating racist oppression that Black people will continue to suffer under U.S. capitalism. In addition, nationalism will continue to be the ideological prop of the aspiring Black middle class which needs the masses of Black people as allies in its quest for individual advancement - as customers, as voters, as militant foot soldiers who can "shake up the establishment."

The main question is whether Black nationalism will be reactionary, reformist, or revolutionary. We have the lessons of history to understand that the political character of Black nationalism can change. Nationalism started out as reformist. The spontaneous rebellion of the masses during the 1960s led to the development of revolutionary nationalism (though a few turned toward reactionary politics). The repression of the Black liberation movement in the early 1970s led to pan-Africanism and again reformism. Black people today face a deepening social and economic, and political crisis. There is an increasing need to escalate the struggle against the oppression of Blacks. The future will reveal whether Black nationalism will return to the forefront of the revolutionary struggle for Black liberation and social change or be swept aside as incapable of contributing to the total liberation of Black people. 




Black-is-Beautiful  Nguzo Saba 
Black Power  Race consciousness
Black town movement Red-Black-Green
Emigration/Back-to-Africa movements Pan-Africanism 
Nation/Nationalism Self-determination



1. What is nationalism? Pan-Africanism? Compare the similarities and differences between the two.

2. Compare the theories of Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, James Boggs, Stokely Carmichael, Maulana Karenga, and John Henry.

3. What are the differences between reactionary, reformist, and revolutionary nationalism?

4. Is Black nationalism in the U.S.A. likely to survive into the 21st century? How about pan-Africanism?


1. E. U. Essien-Udom, Black Nationalism. A Search for an Identity in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962.

2. Tony Martin, The Pan African Connection. Boston: Schenk- man, 1983,

3. Alphonso Pinkney, Red, Black and Green, Cambridge: Cam- bridge University Press, 1976.

4. Edwin Redkey, Black Exodus: Black Nationalism and Back-to- Africa Movements, 1890-1910. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1969.

5. Sterling Stuckey, ad., The Ideological Origins of Black Nationalism. Boston: Beacon Press, 1972.





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