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Background on the international dimensions of the African-American question
Part 2: The global struggle’s link to Detroit’s 1967 rebellion
Published Aug 13, 2007 9:47 AM
On July 23, 1967, a confrontation between Detroit vice squad officers
and a section of the Black community exploded into a major rebellion, the
largest in U.S. history up to that time. President Lyndon B. Johnson sent in
National Guard and U.S. Army paratroopers to repress the population. The result
was 43 dead, 467 injured and more than 7,200 arrests. More than 2,000 buildings
burned down. The following is Part II of excerpts based on a talk given by Abayomi Azikiwe, editor
of the Pan-African News Wire, to a Workers World forum in Detroit this July 21.
The African struggle against slavery, racial exploitation and national
oppression has always been international. Africans were brought here for the
sole purpose of slavery beginning in the 17th century. Some of the earliest
institutions formed by Africans in North America were self-identified as
efforts to reclaim their national historical and cultural identity.
Hence the First African Baptist Church of the late 18th century in the
southeast region of the country and the African Methodist Episcopal Church
formed during the late 18th and early 19th centuries in the Northeast
illustrated that despite the period of slavery, Blacks still identified
themselves as Africans.
It has been well documented that during the slave period there were many
revolts that took various forms of expression. This phenomena has been written
about by historians such as C. L. R. James in “A History of Negro
Revolt” (1938), Herbert Aptheker in “American Negro Slave
Revolts” (1943), and W. E. B. DuBois in “John Brown” (1909),
and “Black Reconstruction” (1935).
The Pan-African Conference movement was begun in Chicago in 1893 with such
people in the leadership as Bishop Henry McNeal Turner. This Pan-African
movement continued with conferences held in England in 1900 under the direction
of Trinidadian Henry Sylvester Williams, with W. E. B. DuBois and other African
Americans playing a prominent role.
In the aftermath of World War I, the Pan-African movement was revived with
DuBois organizing a Congress in Paris in 1919 with other leaders from the
African world, including Addie W. Hunton, who had gone to France during the war
to work with African-American servicemen suffering under deplorable
The [Marcus] Garvey Movement—the Universal Negro Improvement Association
(UNIA)—founded in Jamaica and relocated in New York, reached its zenith
during the 1920s with millions of members and supporters, its Negro World
newspaper and its establishment of chapters throughout the world, including the
Pan-African labor movement
The work of George Padmore through the Communist International sought to
establish a Pan-African workers movement during the late 1920s and early 1930s.
Padmore in his classic work “The Life and Struggles of Negro
Toilers” (1931) chronicled the international plight of African peoples on
the continent and in the diaspora. With the Italian invasion of Abyssinia in
1935, thousands of Africans rebelled against Italian merchants in Harlem and
sought to travel to East Africa in order to fight to save Africa from
Mussolini’s fascist regime.
In the aftermath of World War II, the Fifth Pan-African Congress at Manchester,
England, was organized by George Padmore, Kwame Nkrumah and W. E. B. DuBois,
setting the stage for the post-war struggles for national independence, civil
rights, Black power and Pan-Africanism.
When the United Nations was formed in 1945, the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the National Negro Congress sought to
utilize the new international body as a mechanism for raising the question of
the plight of African people in the U.S. W. E. B. DuBois, who had rejoined the
Association in 1944, conducted research for a publication to expose the
hypocrisy of the U.S. as a purported champion of human rights around the world.
As a result of these efforts to bring the plight of African Americans before
the United Nations, a serious split developed with the Association by 1948. The
Civil Rights Congress under attorney William Patterson and Paul Robeson did
eventually present a petition entitled “We Charge Genocide,” in
1951 to the United Nations.
During this period, the so-called anti-Communist witch hunts were in full
swing. Organizations like the NAACP were forced to expel anyone who did not
pledge full allegiance to the U.S. Organizations such as the Civil Rights
Congress, which presented the “We Charge Genocide” petition, and
the Council on African Affairs were driven out of existence as a result of
The leadership of this wing of the movement was persecuted: driven underground,
economically sanctioned, vilified in the press, put on trial and imprisoned.
Even W. E. B. Dubois was brought before the federal courts for being a foreign
agent. Although he was acquitted of these spurious charges, his passport was
confiscated and he was eventually isolated by certain intellectual and
It was only the resurgence of the civil rights movement of the late 1950s and
early 1960s that really broke the back of [Sen. Joseph] McCarthyism and
anti-Communist hysteria. In addition, the advent of Malcolm X as the national
spokesperson of the Nation of Islam, liberated the speech of the
African-American people. When Malcolm X broke with the Nation of Islam in March
of 1964, he openly declared that his aim was to merge the struggles of Africans
in the diaspora with those taking place on the continent.
In the founding address for the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU)
delivered on June 28, 1964, Malcolm X stated that: “Just ten years ago on
the African continent, our people were colonized. They were suffering all forms
of colonization, oppression, exploitation, degradation, humiliation,
discrimination, and every other kind of –ation. And in a short time, they
have gained more independence, more recognition, more respect as human beings
than you and I have. And you and I live in a country which is supposed to be
the citadel of education, freedom, justice, democracy and all of those other
“So it was our intention to try and find out what it was our African
brothers were doing to get results, so that you and I could study what they had
done and perhaps gain from that study or benefit from their experiences. And my
traveling over there was designed to help find out how,” he said.
Ideological struggle in Detroit
In the city of Detroit, the ideological struggle within the civil rights
movement was intensifying. After the huge march down Woodward Avenue on June
23, 1963, a split eventually arose within the Detroit Council for Human Rights
between Rev. C. L. Franklin and the Henry brothers along with Rev. Albert
Cleage. One major issue over which disagreement arose was support for the newly
formed Freedom Now Party that sought to run independent African-American
candidates for political office.
In November of 1963 both the Group on Advanced Leadership (GOAL) led by Cleage
and the Henry brothers and DCHR under the direction of Franklin held separate
conferences in the city. The most notable of course was the Negro Grassroots
Leadership Conference that took place at King Solomon’s Baptist Church on
the city’s west side. Malcolm X delivered his famous “Message to
the Grassroots” speech, which in a sense represented his last will and
testament to the Nation of Islam.
In this speech Malcolm questioned the commitment to non-violence on the part of
the Civil Rights Movement. He also said that “If you are afraid of Black
nationalism, you are afraid of revolution.” This was an open challenge to
the wing of the movement led by Dr. King, Rev. C. L. Franklin, Rep. Adam
Clayton Powell and others.
In 1964, attorney Milton Henry traveled to Egypt on behalf of the Afro-American
Broadcasting Corporation, an independent media group which hosted a radio
program over the Black-owned WCHB, in order to cover Malcolm X’s visit to
the Organization of African Unity’s (OAU) second annual summit.
Malcolm’s aim was to lobby African leaders and seek their support for
bringing the plight of African Americans before the U.N. This was an effort to
re-kindle the work done earlier by the NAACP and the Civil Rights Congress
during the late 1940s and early 1950s.
In a letter from Malcolm X written from Cairo dated Aug. 29, 1964, he stated
“You must realize that what I am trying to do is very dangerous, because
it is a direct threat to the entire international system of racist
exploitation. It is a threat to discrimination in all its international forms.
Therefore, if I die or am killed before making it back to the States, you can
rest assured that what I’ve already set in motion will never be
“The foundation has been laid and no one can hardly undo it. Our problem
has been internationalized. The results of what I am doing will materialize in
the future and then all of you will be able to see why it is necessary for me
to be here this long and what I was laying the foundation for while
here.” (Taken from “By Any Means Necessary,” Pathfinder
Next, Part 3—Soul Serenade: The role of international affairs in
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