ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
To reach the sea African rivers must plunge through mountains,
reaching the coast by waterfalls and cataracts.
George Padmore Jomo Kenyatta
Books by Jomo Kenyatta
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Books by Roi Ottley
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Books by George Padmore
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God Save His Majesty’s Blacks
By Roi Ottley
Back in 1945, six African editors arrived in London to place urgent native grievances before the British Colonial office. The Nigerian, Nnandi Azikiwe, who had been educated in the U.S., led the group which represented four British colonies in west Africa. Before leaving home these men had spent months gathering documented material to support the arguments they planned to present. They might have stayed in their tropical beds.
When they saw the Rt. Hon. Oliver Frederick Stanley, Secretary of State for the Colonies, in his seedy office in Downing Street, this gentleman opened the meeting with a long innocuous discussion of English weather, food and customs, made some thoughtful inquiries about wives, children and friends, and had tea brought in to complete the amenities.
His Majesty’s blacks had hardly swallowed the tea, when Colonel Stanley rose abruptly and announced that he had a cabinet meeting to attend. the four Negroes were flabbergasted. After all, they had spent nearly a year in correspondence arranging this particular conference arranging this particular conference with His majesty’s minister. they somehow hastily managed to explain the bundles of material they had brought along.
Colonel Stanley accepted the documents, thanked them warmly, and promised to arrange a second meeting soon. Not until six weeks had elapsed, and they were scheduled to return to Africa, did they hear from him. He sent them a polite note, explaining they would hear from him in due course and wishing them bon voyage. He closed this missive with that wonderfully meaningless anachronism, “I remain your obedient servant.” This was the brush-off, British style.
* * *
There was no recourse in London for these frustrated Negroes, as British imperialists operate in Africa without the checks of English public opinion. Actually, Africa is beyond the control of rank-and-file Englishmen, and very often beyond their knowledge or concern. The Dark Continent is the exclusive preserve of British officials and planters and they run the show as they choose, brooking no interference. one soon learns that freedom and liberty applied to Africans, as Americans understand these words, are completely outside the vocabulary of official England.
Americans presumptuous enough to apply these terms to Negro colonial peoples are considered not only naïve but showing bas taste. today British imperialists stand squarely before the dikes, so to speak, trying to stem the tide of history. Fundamentally, English racialism is inspired by the need to control the blacks of Africa who form a population of more than one hundred millions.
Winston Churchill made the Tory position clear in the midst of World War II–a position essentially that of the socialist Labour Government today. In his absence, deputy prime Minister, Clement R. Attlee, had told a meeting of Negroes in London that the Atlantic Charter, as he understood this document, implied that freedom would not be denied to any races of mankind.
Churchill corrected him publicly and bluntly. He declared in a Parliament address that Point Three of the Charter, providing for “the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live,” applied to white people only. “We had in mind, primarily,” he said, “the restoration of the sovereignty, self-government and national life of the states and nations of Europe now under the Nazi yoke . . . so that it is quite a separate problem from the progressive evolution of self governing institutions in the regions which owe allegiance to the British Crown.”
There was a dramatic footnote to this speech: I noticed in the House of Commons in the summer of 1944 that the Tories were so confident of the status quo being preserved that when the fate of India was debated and the stark fact of famine faced the Indian people, only twenty-seven members were present. Afterwards I talked with pugnacious Leopold Amery, formerly Secretary of state for India and Burma, who seemed to me to display contempt for the Indian people in a manner which bore broadly on official British thinking about all colored peoples.
He branded the saintly Gandhi a “Fascist” and his Hindu followers “rabble,” even though he himself had been born in India. “Incredible as it may be to Americans,” he declared, “the Indians would rather have us there than any foreigners. And they are not likely to be weakened in their attitude by incidents that they notice in the U.S.–incidents which are exemplified by race riots!”
To be sure, imperialism’s end is a terrible idea for most Britons to face, whether they belong to the right or left. before the recent elections, English newspapers, with notable impartiality, published the platforms of every party. Not one party had included a plank for colonial reformation or civil rights for Negroes. The position of the left-wingers is especially ludicrous. This was illustrated to me one day while I lunched with Peggy Cripps, daughter of Sir Stafford Cripps.
This young lady was manifestly shocked, for example, that Negroes were victims of racial discrimination in the U.S. Her pleasant freckled face lighted up, though, when she spoke of the racial progress made in the Soviet Union, where she had lived while her father was British ambassador. This remark, plus her employment by the Soviet Information Service in London, betrayed me into sharply criticizing British racial policy. I suppose my observations were a bit heavy-handed, because she flushed perceptibly.
But she countered in a quietly modulated aristocratic voice: “There are so many, many problems to be solved of races, religions, and minorities, which you Americans know very little about. If Americans did know, maybe they wouldn’t be soc critical, and so quick to judge ill of us.”
Peggy Cripps urged me to talk with her father, who she declared could “clarify” my thinking. I talked with Sir Stafford Cripps at Whitehall. He defended British racial policy as stoutly as any hard-bitten Tory. His views turned out to be old hat. But towards the end of our conversation, he did advance a novel theory of racial democracy which gave me sharp pause.
“It is important to bear in mind,” the bespectacled minister declared with considerable emphasis, “the fact that racial and religious minorities are in a very different position in a democracy from political minorities. the political minority can always hope to become by propaganda and persuasion a majority and so control government. But a religious or racial minority is permanently relegated to a position of inferiority, in which it can be oppressed by the majority race or religion.”
* * *
The magnitude of Black Africa’s problem is staggering–beyond the grasp of most people. To begin with, Africa south of the Sahara Desert, where the bulk of Negroes are concentrated, covers 8,260,00 square miles–an area three times the size of the U.S. The section has a population between one and two hundred million. Actually no one knows exactly. only some two million are white people. Yet fifty-five percent of the total population, ninety-six percent of the white population, forty-four percent of the area and seventy-seven percent of the capital, comes under the British flag. Each of the colonies, actually black nations, ruled by Britain has a British governor and British civil servants to administer its affairs.
Africa’s interior resembles a gigantic saucer. Mountains rim the continent from Algeria down the west coast to the Cape, and from the Cape all the way up the east coast to Egypt. To reach the sea African rivers must plunge through mountains, reaching the coast by waterfalls and cataracts. Ships cannot navigate these rivers, which explains why much of the interior was sealed off from nearly all European contacts for hundreds of years. Besides, the area straddles the equator, where the Africans have to fight disease and pests unknown to Europe. Africans in the interior have to scrape a living from the desert and endless bush. those on the coast have to fight predatory whites.
[British African colonies include Gambia, Sierre Leone, Nigeria and the Gold Coast on the West. In the east and Central Africa, Britain has Tanganyika Nyasaland, Uganda, Southern Rhodesia, and Anglo Sudan, and such protectorates as Basutoland, Bechuanaland and Swaziland.]
Africa’s Negro society, as compared with that of Europe, was static when white men first invaded the continent. Nearly every tribe and nation observed the same laws and taboos. These ruled every action and every hour of the day. The tribal codes determined what each member should wear. The food he should eat. The work he should do. The beasts he should kill. the hut he should build. the crops he should grow. The woman he should marry. The god he should worship. These codes bound everyone, from the oldest chief to the youngest child. through the rigid uniformity, however, the African found the means for survival and stability.
[Editor’s emphasis. Yambo Ouologuem’s perspective suggests that African nations, though not moving toward its own Industrial Revolution, had their own dynamism, however negative, in their individual contest for wealth and power. Ottley, I am afraid, describes a stereotypical view of an isolated primitive society. His static view of African nations with their rise and fall may be an atypical characteristic.]
The British shattered this forever. But they have given little in return. For only in this century have some Englishmen come to regard colonies, not as “possessions” but as “trusts.” However, it is the abuses of “ownership” which threaten Africa today. The one-crop system, for instance, is swiftly ruining the soil and famines are more and more frequent. Those Africans who have abandoned farming for paid employment have become victims of a new man-made plague–unemployment.
Under the old ways of living, when an Africa’s hut became unlivable or too small as his family increased, he could burn it and erect a new one. Now he often must rent one from English landlords and pay the crushing hut-tax which caused nineteen thousand Africans in Kenya alone to be jailed for inability to pay.
Black Africa exports eight products mainly–gold diamonds, copper, wool, cotton and cotton-seed, palm products, ground nuts and cocoa. The African’s dependence upon products chosen by his English masters exposes him tot he violent and unpredictable fluctuations of prices in the world markets, and his ignorance of the causes of “bonus” and “depressions” makes his resentments and revolt against his condition all the fiercer, because he feels himself in the grip of some blind, incalculable force.
London merchants and financiers swallow the gravy of this system. Ben Riley, Laborite M.P., in criticizing British colonial administration, accurately reported that only one million pounds has been spent in a five-year period for the social welfare of some fifty-odd million Negroes, which, according to his computation, averaged about one cent a year per African.
* * *
Before leaving London, I went to see the secretary of State for the Colonies, the Rt. Hon. Oliver Frederick Stanley, hoping to hear some positive statement about the future of Negroes in Africa. As I reached the entrance to Downing Street–that small symbolic dead-end where the empire is ruled–two skeptical bobbies stopped me. I was escorted to the Colonial office building, one of a group facing a square black with the soot of ages.
A one-armed man ushered me up a wide sweeping marble stairway, by a shabby statue of Queen Victoria, down a long hall and into a small, paneled anteroom, which somehow resembled a country doctor’s waiting-room. Three secretaries to the minister bounded to their feet as I entered. One came forward and exchanged pleasantries. A blonde woman swished up, smiled engagingly, shook hands warmly, and took my hat and hung it on a nearby wall hook.
Everyone’s manners were impressive. Colonel Stanley’s private office was a huge affair, with massive mahogany furniture, and had the quiet ornateness of English interiors. Tarnished gold frames held paintings of England’s past colonial secretaries, who seemed now to be keeping a vigilant eye on present-day goings-on. The floor was covered with a faded green carpet, frayed about the edges. A tall, spare figure stood erect opposite a tremendous desk. The sunlight from a huge window at his back made his body cast a long shadow at my feet. the shadow lengthened as he walked toward me and extended his hand. He wore black rimmed glasses and a dark sack suit. On a long table lay the paraphernalia of British diplomacy–a black Eden hat and umbrella.
This was the man who administered Britain’s vast chain of Negro colonies in the midst of World War II — a man who in his entire lifetime has spent exactly three weeks in Africa. We spent an unhurried hour or so talking. the total of what he said concretely about the future of the colonial blacks can be boiled down into one thin cliché: “The faults of British colonization have been those of omission rather than commission.” He was sure that beneficial social changes would follow eventually.
What, precisely, he was unable to predict, though he added: “I put education in the forefront of plans for the future.” I asked if he envisioned eventual self-government for the African peoples. he was frankly shocked by the question. His manner made me feel as though I had said something offensive, at the very least impertinent. His reply nailed Tory policy into place. “You must remember,” he countered, “the Africans are savages, still eating each other in places like Nigeria.”
A word about these African. I talked a great deal in Europe and Africa with those detached from their tribes. I think I came to know a few quite well. We exchanged experiences about life for black men under white rule. I reported the manner in which Negroes in the U.S. conducted movements for democratic rights, the steady progress of the group, and, off the top of my head, offered some advice about their own affairs. They, in turn, were frank in describing their views and the conditions under which they lived. But they were a great surprise to me in many ways. I expected, I suppose, to feel the emotion of meeting a racial kinsman.
Actually, I was a little shocked to discover that we had little in common beyond our complexions — indeed, we were total strangers, drawn as we were from vastly different social and cultural environments. There were so many subtleties about them which escaped detection, too many shadings beyond my grasp. The soul of Africa eluded me.
Yet they met in every particular Leo Frobenius’ test of a Negro: they were people in strange cultures still capable of emotional exaltation and ecstasy; they were still musical, had kept their sense of humor, and were able to smile at their fate without cynicism or mockery. They showed in every way the two dominant cultural strains which form the Negro: the Ethiopian, which has always given to the Negro a deep emotional life; and the Hamitic, which has given him vitality and a healthy, practical outlook. And yet they were foreign to me. the reason, perhaps, was that they did not think and act like people who belonged to an oppressed racial minority.
The black African is oppressed indeed–but mainly because imperialist nations found him backward socially, economically and militarily and therefore it was easy to exploit the riches of his country, both human and natural. Race is a secondary consideration in this equation, in the minds of both the exploited and exploiter. Nor does the African see his problem in racial terms altogether, though oppressed by white men mainly. Actually, his is the problem of winning national liberation–not racial or religious freedom. moreover, black men in Africa belong to the dominant community and have a dominant group psychology, not the minority temper of Jews in Europe and Negroes in the U.S.
I first discovered this in a curious way. One evening I was having dinner at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem with the Ethiopian Consul to Palestine, M. Haddis Alemayhou. He looked like any dark Negro seen on the streets of a Southern city. But he was vastly different in outlook. He had very sad eyes, his hair was prematurely white, and he walked with the gait of an elderly man, though he was barely thirty-two years old when I met him. His manner was deferential, perhaps out of habit: he had survived seven years in a Sardinia prisoner-of-war camp, having been captured by the Fascists when Italy invaded Ethiopia. He was liberated by the Americans. Alemayhou was unhappy, though not bitterly so, about having spent much of his youth in prison–“the time when one should be free and careless,” he said wistfully.
As I remember, a story about Negro participation in the invasion of Italy caused him to express bewilderment about the racial attitudes of Negro Americans. He told me about one who had been brought to Ethiopia to edit an English-language newspaper in Addis Ababa. hardly had the fellow arrived when the front-page appeared with an “Open Letter” to Emperor Haile Selassie, complaining he was being discriminated against by the Ethiopians because of his color!
The reason, so the letter ran, was that the Emperor’s financial adviser, a white American banker, received more wages than the Negro editor. He declared that Ethiopia was a black man’s country and therefore should treat white men as black men are treated in the U.S. This sort of logic astonished the Ethiopians; they do not think of themselves as a race, but as a nation. Alemayhou shook his head and concluded with, “Sir, we do not understand your countrymen!”
But Africans are tremendously concerned with the white man. Those I met in England call him Mzunga — pronounced ma-zon-ga — a term which seemingly is used universally in West Africa. The word has approximately the same meaning as “ofay,” which Negroes in the U.S. use to label white persons. Mzunga, in a subtle way, implies certain peculiar characteristics the African has discovered in the white man’s behavior and thinking.
To illustrate: The African is completely bewildered by the white man’s ethical standards, for most Africans are deeply religious. When the white man says, “Yes, this is the ethical thing thing to do, but it isn’t practical,” the Africans recognize an inherent ethical dilemma which is never resolved. But what completely amazes them is the Christian missionary’s support of an imperialism which exploits Africa with little benefit tot he native. This is the Mzunga!
The African has a tremendous case against the British and feels keenly his condition. But what they say in the way of social comment is good-natured, sometimes incisive, but mostly naïve about the imperialist role of the white man. Yet one should not get the impression that Africans are a simple people–far from it. They are wise in a venerable, practical, mellow way. African wisdom might well be adopted by American Negroes with profit to themselves.
One key to the African’s mentality is found in the epigrams and sayings of a sort of African Aesop named Kwegyir Aggrey [African missionary (AMEZ) born 1875 in Gold Coast (now Ghana- died 1926 in New York]. His aphorisms express the personality of Black Africa. He said: “Be morose, resentful, and you create your own inferno,” and “You can never beat prejudice by a frontal attack, because there is mere emotion at the root of it.”
Such thinking produces enviable resilience. But black Africans, after all, are conscious of having a distinct civilization, with historical and cultural continuity. They proudly talk of the ancient civilizations in the Sudan–Niger, Benin, and Timbuctoo. For example, when the Moors marched on Timbuctoo in 1591, they found a flourishing society. The capital city was in trade, art, scholarship, and gracious living. the workshops produced embroidered robes, leather boots, fabrics, soft carpets, perfumes, snuffboxes, mirrors, jewelry and teapots, and a merchant fleet of river boats, operating on the Niger, brought in dates and cloves, tea and coffee, paper cups, needles and silks. The city’s universities and libraries were famous, and the manufacture and sale of books was one of the important businesses until Timbuctoo was destroyed by invaders.
African blacks astounded the most learned men of Islam by their erudition. These people were the first to smelt iron. They invented at least four different alphabets, with characters as phonetic symbols. There are today approximately six hundred languages and dialects among the blacks in Africa. the richness and flexibility of these tongues is reported to be such that each has twenty or more words to describe a man walking, sauntering, or swaggering, for example. Each manner is expressed by a single word. Thus, the African is able to express the most delicate shades of thought and sentiment. Built on systematic and philosophic foundations, and grammatical principles, few languages have such breadth, character and precision.
The black African, in consequence, is completely without racial inhibitions. Who else among Negroes but an African would write love letters to Queen Victoria as one chief did the last century and seriously offer himself in marriage as monarch to monarch! King Japa of Nigeria, who was received by Queen Victoria, flatly refused to observe the amenity of bowing before Her majesty with the remark: “I am a King. She’s a Queen. I need not bow to her. She could be one my wives!”
Racial inhibitions would prevent the Negro American from performing in the manner of Jomo Kenyatta, a native of Tanganyika [nay, Kenya] whom I met in England. he published his own picture on a pamphlet he wrote, Hands Off the Protectorates, which showed him wearing a van Dyke beard, bearing a spear and swathed in a bright leopard skin. When in mufti, Jomo always went bare-headed, wore a pink shirt, brick-red sports jacket, and carried a silver-headed cane. this costume against his satiny black skin made a startling picture along London’s Piccadilly. But Jomo did not regard himself as an exhibitionist. he explained simply that he was unconcerned about Bond Street fashions, for, after all, they belong to the Englishmen.
Jomo worked as a farm hand seasonally. he was an utterly charming person and a fabulous story-teller. His tales always had social content. One such story explained how an African tribe ended lesbianism for all time.
Because of the many tribal wars, according to Jomo, the men of this particular tribe were away from their womenfolk for long periods, often to nine months. Lesbianism swept the community, and a situation developed resembling the plot of the Greek pay Lysistrata.
To combat this development, since there always would be wars, the men introduced the practice of circumcision for women, a practice that afterwards became a religious rite which every girl had to submit to in her puberty. Jomo declared there is no more nonsense in this story than in the vogue for chastity belts for women in medieval Europe during the Crusades.
The African is intrigued by America, which has provided black Africa with Negro heroes. The names of Joe Louis, Marian Anderson, Duke Ellington, Dr. Ralph J. Bunche and Paul Robeson, for example, are known and admired by every literate African. Africans are proud that members of their race, “a tribe that wandered off centuries ago,” made the most of their contacts with the white race. I have before me a 50-page picture magazine, called Zonk, published by Negroes in Johannesburg, South Africa, the contents of which dramatically illustrate this point.
On this edition, dated August 1949, nearly one-third of the stories are concerned with Negro Americans. Under the head, “American Letter,” is a full-page portrait of Lena Horner, accompanied by “The Story of Miss Horne’s Rise to Stardom.” A music feature, “Negro Spirituals,” with a word about Harry T. Burleigh (1866-1949), observes that “through the old Negro spiritual songs breathes a hope, a faith in the ultimate justice and brotherhood of man. the cadences of sorrow invariably turn to joy.” The article concludes with, “They were never composed, but sprang into life as folk songs in the days when African slaves worked plantations in America.”
A department in Zonk, called “Books to enjoy,” contains a review of Last of the Conquerors by William garner Smith, a Negro American soldier, with the remark that “the novel emphasizes the moral poverty that exists between Black and White.” The well-dressed man, according tot he advertisements, is wearing a jazzy hat called “The Harlem Special” and casual shoes known as “The 5th Avenue Swagger.” The Harlem Swingsters, a Bantu aggregation who have adopted such un-African nicknames as “Pork Chops,” Gravy,” “Manhattan” and “Brooklyn,” are given a layout. They are shown “going to town” wearing zoot-suits and pork-pie hats.
The “Record guide,” prominently featuring the “Negro Kings of Swing,” lists Louis Armstrong, teddy Wilson, Slim Gaillard, Dizzy Gillespie and Count Basie; and adds such local combos as the “Broadway Black Boys” and “African Ink Spots.” Duke Ellington, who tops the list, is described as “the number one gentleman of American music.”
But much of this feeling about America is often inspired by a curious sort of reasoning which is not altogether flattering. Today Africans of every tribe and nation are encouraging all young people to study in the U.S. The reason: strident prejudice in the U.S. makes these young people much more race conscious than if they go to relatively free Europe. The elders believe the bitter racialism the young African will experience, as well as contact with race-conscious Negro Americans, will afterwards be useful in developing a cadre of racially truculent blacks to deal with the white rulers of Africa.
The rabid revolutionary George Padmore, a British colonial forged in the crucible of U.s. race relations, illustrates the profound implications in the decision to educate Negro youngsters in race-conscious America. the British today officially label this angry agitator the most dangerous black radical alive. He is in fact a first-class conspirator, a specialist in decoys, codes, and stratagems. But his bespectacled appearance certainly does not make him look the part, despite the ample testimony of his exploits as a New York radical, efficient Berlin streetfighter, slick Moscow organizer and noisy London pamphleteer.
He is dark, wiry and of medium height, with the mild inoffensive manner of a Negro professor at a Southern state college. His speech has a cultivated accent and his manners are graceful. when, in characteristic fashion, he draws a handkerchief from his jacket sleeve, the act is done with all the grace of a courtier.
This Negro was born Malcolm Nurse in 1903, in Trinidad, B.W.I., where he attended St. George’s College briefly. His father, a biologist, was a British civil servant and tried earnestly to teach his son tractability. But young Malcolm’s radical career began early when he exposed British exploitation of the island’s peasants, as a fledgling reporter for the Trinidad Guardian. to cool his radical ardor, his horrified parents shipped him off to the U.S. to attend Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn.
He arrived in 1925, only to be stunned by the discovery that Negroes were forced to ride Jim Crow trains–a discrimination unknown in the West Indies. He soon afterwards kicked up a fuss when attempts were made to eject him from a “white” theater.
His refusal to bulge caused a mild consternation and made him into a campus hero. He became editor of the student newspaper, Fisk Herald, and soon launched attacks upon the school’s administration. Fisk, in those days, was administered in the backward manner of the period. President Fayette McKenzie, a white man who believed Negroes should be trained for accommodation to the parochial South, thought Negroes were developing a dangerous assertiveness. He arbitrarily suspended the student paper, council and athletic association. Negroes, led by Malcolm, promptly went on strike. But the Nashville police quickly clubbed them into submission. Thirty boys were hauled off to jail. In protest three hundred withdrew from the university.
Fisk lost taste for Malcolm’s radical antics. He made his way to Washington where he enrolled in Howard University’s Law School. Malcolm’s matriculation at Howard brought him within the orbit of Marxist thinkers and he moved North and joined the New York radical groups. He entered the Workers’ School, conducted by the Communist Party, and had the dubious distinction of being the school’s first Negro graduate. He became a paid “functionary” and formally made his bow as a full-fledged radical under the name “George Padmore.”
He already had been fired by the Chinese Revolution, which he had followed through a countrymen, Eugene Chen. This revolutionary, born in Trinidad of Chinese-Negro parentage, had migrated to China, where he became a member of the Sun Yat-sen Government. He kept up a steady correspondence with the Negro radical. but it is more likely that Padmore’s observations of British imperialism in the West Indies, plus his cruel racial experiences in the South, were the determining influences that turned him into a political and racial activist, However, not until the Stalin-Trotsky controversy did his political horizons broaden into the international field and give his boiling racial angers a chance for wide expression–and this because he had stood staunchly with Stalin.
The reason was racial: Stalin had advocated a drive to win Negroes everywhere and Padmore mad his choice to side with Stalin. The Fourth World Congress in 1928 had heard Chinese, Indian, and Negro delegates criticize the communist leadership for neglecting their color problems–Padmore says they already had received side-mouth encouragement to raise this issue. Negroes from the West Indies and the U.S. were particularly critical of the British and American Communists, and proposed a special department in the Comintern to direct this work. This proposal dovetailed neatly with Stalin’s view, for he saw as inevitable a war against nations with big Negro populations. Thus was the policy of the Communists adopted to develop “a struggle for liberation of the Negro peoples.”
George Padmore, né Nurse, was chosen to head the new Comintern racial department. And thus was an implacable enemy of the British set into motion. he left the U.S. and went to Moscow, where he was installed as chairman of a Negro bureau. The office opened in 1930, with the announced objective of finding Negroes to be trained in Moscow. Padmore operated with a staff of several hundred, with experts on every phase of Negro and colonial life. He published in English, French, and Spanish an internationally circulated newspaper, The Negro Worker. Sufficient progress had been made by 1931 to hold a Congress of Negro Workers in Hamburg, Germany. About a thousand Africans, West Indians, and American Negroes participated and formulated plans for a world-wide struggle against colonialism and color prejudice.
These were extraordinarily thorough operations. Padmore tells a story to illustrate this “Russian penchant for political and racial organization.” One day, he said, he was in his office conferring with an African recruit, Albert Nzula, known as “Comrade Jackson.” Nzula developed into one of the ablest Marxists in the Comintern–but, oddly, died drunk in Moscow, so say the reports. While they talked, an official unknown to them rushed into the office and instructed the two men to follow him. he gave no explanation but urged them to hurry. He led them to a waiting automobile and they were whisked off to a flower shop. The official bounced in and struggled out with a huge wreath.
“What’s happened?” Padmore asked anxiously. “Wait!” was the laconic reply.
They finally drew up before a building in Red Square, where the two Negroes were hurriedly ushered into a small ante-room, given red armbands, instructed what next to do, and led to the entrance of a great, bare hall. In the distance they saw a coffin standing on wooden stilts. Bearing the huge wreath between them, they marched up to the bier, and before the flashing bulbs of a battery of photographers, gingerly placed the wreath at the foot of the coffin.
They drew back respectfully to view their handiwork–and only then did did they discover that the body lying in state was that of Stalin’s deceased wife. They had been paying solemn homage to her in the name of the “Negro Communist Party”–that is, according to the legends on the armbands and a red banner strung across the wreath which bore the gold inscription: “With sympathy to Comrade Stalin from the Negro Proletariat.”
The black radical found time to meet and rub shoulders with the Soviet great. He became a friend of Marshal Budenny, an associate of Molotov, and was elevated to a colonelcy in the Red Army. He also found time to run unradical errands in Europe for his Moscow friends–one such errand involved buying razor blades for Molotov. Padmore says in Moscow he had social equality aplenty but no intellectual, racial or personal freedom. But this he was to discover much later–a fact which was to turn him, belatedly, into a racial radical exclusively.
Before this, however, Padmore had been dispatched to organize in Europe and Africa. He had unlimited funds placed at his disposal. there was, according to him, a network of Communists in Europe which facilitated his movements, legal and illegal. He selected Hamburg as the key point from which to direct his operations. His work made headway in this city, because Russian ships had free movement in and out of the ports, which meant he could receive money and instructions without too much difficulty with the German authorities.
For example, from time to time British operatives would discover inflammatory anti-British literature in Africa. They would lodge formal protests with the German Government, as the place from which the material had emanated. But on such occasions the German police would visit Padmore and inform him of the complaint and advise him that they planned a raid to satisfy the British. They would seize leaflets and pamphlets and inform the British that they were being destroyed. next morning Padmore would be called to retrieve them.
His work took him to Africa finally, which he entered with the credentials of an “anthropologist” who planned to study the life and customs of primitive peoples. Padmore utilized the trip to make strategic contacts and recruit Negroes. His facility with languages aided him immeasurably. When the race-conscious Union of South Africa attempted to bar him, he entered that country posing as the chauffeur of a white man, actually a Communist.
He succeeded in recruiting a bumper crop of potential radicals. He personally smuggled sixty out of Africa. They were shipped to Moscow where they formed the first Negro cadre. They were trained in the hard methods of protest and agitation, and returned to Africa eventually to become headaches to the British.
Today George Padmore is very sad about all this. he feels that somehow he hoodwinked his black brothers. he says ruefully, “Negroes assumed that it was their own movement.” What actually happened was that Communist tactics changed when Russia sought recognition of the western democracies. one price, according to Padmore, was that Stalin had to call of the Negro bureau’s activities.
When the Communists became alarmed by the rise of Hitlerism, Stalin proposed a policy of “collective security,” in which he sought to win the democracies to a United Front against Fascism. This too had a price says Padmore. Consequently the emphasis on Negro and colonial problems became secondary in the Soviet’s scheme of things. Hence they were soft-peddled and the Comintern’s Negro office was left stranded.
Padmore protested vigorously, within prescribed limits. he declared he would be selling out those black people who had trusted him and had accepted his leadership. The Communists denounced him as a “black nationalist”–something akin to being called a traitor. He quickly broke his association with the Comintern, and with a few faithful black followers moved his office to Berlin, and, in his words, “attempted to give a new organization a real Negro face.” He appealed to the British labor Party for help. He says bitterly, “They reacted like Tories.”
This was the beginning of the end. Without funds, and without the disciplined personnel of the Communist party in key places, the Negro organization floundered and finally died. By now, Hitler had come to power and the Negro was seized and thrown into jail. He afterwards was deported to England where he renewed his angry struggle against British color prejudices.
Britain, in his view, is the fountainhead of all race prejudice in the world today. “Lest we forget,” he reminded,” Englishmen introduced color prejudice into the U.S.”
When told that American Negroes were deeply moved by the civilized treatment they had received from the English people, and perhaps might not understand his unrelenting attacks, Padmore laughed and said: “It’s the [white] pukka Sahibs who are mainly prejudiced against the dark skin. Britons rarely go in for rough-house prejudice within England. But meet these fellows in Africa and you’d think you were dealing with a Georgia cracker!”
He offered as an illustration of the English attitude the fact that in 1945 not one British party including the Communists included a plank in its party platform for Negro social and civil rights in the British Isles.
His fateful tussle with the British came during World War II when he flatly refused to serve in the army. his loud objections were typical of the man. “If in this fifth year of war,” ran his truculent letter to the Minister of Labour and National Service, “the mighty British Empire considers that its existence depends upon my active cooperation, then I am afraid its chances of survival are slim, for I am prepared to face the maximum penalty for disregarding the summons and stand four-square behind my political principles rather than be used as an instrument of its imperialist policy . . . I think it is a piece of bold effrontery to expect a victim of imperialism, who is excluded from all the lofty declarations of the Atlantic Charter, to contribute to the perpetuation of my own enslavement.”
The Negro, who today ranks as an elder statesman of the struggle against British prejudice, envisions the collapse of the British Empire within our time, and consequently the collapse of racialism–with the U.S. gleefully kicking the props from under the racial structure. He sees little hope for Negroes under the rule of the British Labour Party.
“Remember,” he warned, “a British Socialist is a Briton first, and a socialist second. I don’t even believe there is any such thing as a ‘British radical’–actually the words are contradictions. Even with them in power, the Empire will never survive another storm, for the next war will be fought as an anti-racial and anti-imperialist war. There will be no more anti-Fascist slogans to cover up the old racial racket of the British!”
Today this man is an unhappy and forlorn exile, with the British keeping a wary eye on his movements. when he sought a passport to return to the U.S., perhaps the one place the British might permit him to go, the American embassy in London informed him that he is forever barred from this country. Padmore suspects collusion. So today his flat in London is a racial way-station for Negro radicals of independent political persuasion. he has spent the last few years in research, reflection and writing.
His book, How Britain Rules Africa, a wholly racial approach to colonial problems, brought him praise from Sir Stafford Cripps. Today his ably written columns in Negro newspapers in the West Indies, Africa, and the U.S., have profound if distant influence on the Negro world and keep alive anti-British feelings among Negroes.
Source: Chapter 4 of Roi Ottley. No Green Pastures . New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1952
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Roi Ottley (2 August 1906-1 October 1960) was born in New York City and educated at St. Bonaventure College (1926-1927), University of Michigan, and St. John’s Law School (Brooklyn). Ottley worked for the Amsterdam News as reporter, columnist, and editor (1931-1937). In 1937, he joined New York City Writers’ Project as editor. His bestseller New World A-Coming: Inside Black America (1943), a survey of Harlem’s history, incorporated Writers’ Project reports and became a bestseller and was adapted into a series of radio programs. Harry Hansen called it “a book that might be classified as a social study, actually so entertaining that it reads like a novel.
Roi Ottley grew up in Harlem, “the nerve center of advancing Black America,” and was for several years a reporter and columnist for Harlem’s Amsterdam Star News, as well as a social worker. more bio
George Padmore (1901-1959), born in Trinidad, joined the Communist Party and broke away in 1935. Leaving Russia, he set up in London the International African Service Office (IASO), an establishment which adopted Marxism but disentangled itself completely from Soviet communism. In 1944, IASO became the Pan-African Union (PAU) embracing all black students’ associations and trades union in Britain. The PAU adopted an action program which called for self-determination and independence for all African people; the first such call in the history of Pan-Africanism. Kwame Nkrumah became his protégé.
Dedicated all his life to black liberation, Padmore authored a great number of books. The most prominent are: The Life and Struggles of Toiling Africans; How Britain Rules Africa; Africa and International Peace; The White Man’s Burden; Africa: The Third British Empire; The Gold Coast Revolt; and Africa Or Communism: The Future Struggle for Africa, the book presently under review.
Africa Or Communism: The Future Struggle for Africa is important in that it provides the layout for Negro movements. It gives us an insight into Garveyism and Pan-Africanism on the intellectual and institutional planes, both in its New World and African settings. It tells of the many battles fought to insure Africa’s unity and solidarity. The book targets young Africans fighting for their freedom as well as for that of their mother continent. Inside the Caribbean
Source: Current Biography 1943
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Our African Journey
We stood in El Mina slave dungeon, on the Cape Coast of Ghana on a recent trip to West Africa, overwhelmed by despair, grief, and rage. Without needing to verbalize it, we were both imagining what reaching this spot must have felt like for some long-ago, un-remembered African ancestor as she stood trembling on the precipice of an unknown and terrifyingly uncertain future. It was hard to process the fact that for over three hundred years, millions of women, men and children, mothers, fathers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters, brothers, potters, weavers, had begun their long and brutal journey of being captured, kidnapped, sold, and enslaved from the very spot where we now stood the portal now infamously known as the door of no return. Growing a Global Heart
Belvie and Dedan at the Door of No Return
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Bob Marley was a Jamaican singer-songwriter and musician. He was the lead singer, songwriter and guitarist for the ska, rocksteady and reggae bands The Wailers (19641974) and Bob Marley & the Wailers (19741981). Marley remains the most widely known and revered performer of reggae music, and is credited for helping spread both Jamaican music and the Rastafari movement (of which he was a committed member), to a worldwide audience.
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By Bob Marley Exodus! Movement of Jah people! oh-oh-oh, yea-eah! Well uh, oh. let me tell you this:
Men and people will fight ya down (tell me why!) When ya see Jah light. (ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!) Let me tell you if you’re not wrong; (then, why? ) Everything is all right. So we gonna walkAll right!through de roads of creation: We the generation (tell me why!) Trod through great tribulationtrod through great tribulation. Exodus! All right! Movement of Jah people! Oh, yeah! o-oo, yeah! All right! Exodus! Movement of Jah people! oh, yeah! Yeah-yeah-yeah, well! Open your eyes and look within. Are you satisfied with the life you’re living? uh! We know where we’re going, uh! We know where we’re from. We’re leaving Babylon, We’re going to our father’s land.
One, Two, Three, Four Exodus! Movement of Jah people! oh, yeah! Movement of Jah people!send us another Brother Moses! Movement of Jah people!from across the Red Sea! Movement of Jah people!send us another Brother Moses! Movement of Jah people!from across the Red Sea! Movement of Jah people! Exodus! All right! oo-oo-ooh! oo-ooh! Movement of Jah people! oh, yeah! Exodus! Exodus! All right! Exodus! now, now, now, now! Exodus! Exodus! oh, yea-ea-ea-ea-ea-ea-eah! Exodus! Exodus! All right! Exodus! uh-uh-uh-uh!
One, Two, Three, Four Move! Move! Move! Move! Move! Move! Open your eyes and look within. Are you satisfied with the life you’re living? We know where we’re going; We know where we’re from. We’re leaving Babylon, yall! We’re going to our father’s land. Exodus! All right! Movement of Jah people! Exodus! Movement of Jah people! Movement of Jah people! Movement of Jah people! Movement of Jah people! Movement of Jah people!
Move! Move! Move! Move! Move! Move! Move! Jah come to break downpression, Rule equality. Wipe away transgression. Set the captives free! Exodus! All right, all right! Movement of Jah people! oh, yeah! Exodus! Movement of Jah people! oh, now, now, now, now! Movement of Jah people! Movement of Jah people! Movement of Jah people! Movement of Jah people! Movement of Jah people! Movement of Jah people! Move! Move! Move! Move! Move! Move! uh-uh-uh-uh! Movement of Jah people! Move! Movement of Jah people! Move! Movement of Jah people)! Move! Movement of Jah people! Movement of Jah people! Movement of Jah people)! Movement of Jah people)! Movement of Jah people! Movement of Jah people! Movement of Jah people!
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By Marcus Rediker
In this groundbreaking work, historian and scholar Rediker considers the relationships between the slave ship captain and his crew, between the sailors and the slaves, and among the captives themselves as they endured the violent, terror-filled and often deadly journey between the coasts of Africa and America. While he makes fresh use of those who left their mark in written records (Olaudah Equiano, James Field Stanfield, John Newton), Rediker is remarkably attentive to the experiences of the enslaved women, from whom we have no written accounts, and of the common seaman, who he says was a victim of the slave trade . . . and a victimizer. Regarding these vessels as a strange and potent combination of war machine, mobile prison, and factory, Rediker expands the scholarship on how the ships not only delivered millions of people to slavery, [but] prepared them for it. He engages readers in maritime detail (how ships were made, how crews were fed) and renders the archival (letters, logs and legal hearings) accessible. Painful as this powerful book often is, Rediker does not lose sight of the humanity of even the most egregious participants, from African traders to English merchants. Publishers Weekly
Marcus Rediker is professor of maritime history at the University of Pittsburgh and the author of Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea (1987), The Many-Headed Hydra (2000), and Villains of All Nations (2005), books that explore seafaring, piracy, and the origins of globalization. In The Slave Ship, Rediker combines exhaustive research with an astute and highly readable synthesis of the material, balancing documentary snapshots with an ear for gripping narrative. Critics compare the impact of Redikers history, unique for its ship-deck perspective, to similarly compelling fictional accounts of slavery in Toni Morrisons Beloved and Charles Johnsons Middle Passage. Even scholars who have written on the subject defer to Redikers vast knowledge of the subject. Bottom line: The Slave Ship is sure to become a classic of its subject.
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By Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem (Author)
Salim Ahmed Salim (Preface), Horace Campbell (Foreword)
Dr Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem’s untimely death on African Liberation Day 2009 stunned the Pan-African world. This selection of his Pan-African postcards, written between 2003 and 2009, demonstrates the brilliant wordsmith he was, his steadfast commitment to Pan-Africanism, and his determination to speak truth to power. He was a discerning analyst of developments in the global and Pan-African world and a vociferous believer in the potential of Africa and African people; he wrote his weekly postcards for over a decade. This book demonstrates Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem’s ability to express complex ideas in an engaging manner. The Pan-African philosophy on diverse but intersecting themes presented in this book offers a legacy of his political, social, and cultural thought. Represented here are his fundamental respect for the capabilities, potential and contribution of women in transforming Africa; penetrating truths directed at African politicians and their conduct; and deliberations on the institutional progress towards African union. He reflects on culture and emphasises the commonalities of African people.
Also represented are his denunciations of international financial institutions, the G8 and NGOs in Africa, with incisive analysis of imperialism’s manifestations and impact on the lives of African people, and his passion for eliminating poverty in Africa. His personality bounces off the pageone can almost hear the passion of his voice, ‘Don’t Agonise! Organise!’
Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem (1961-2009) was a Rhodes scholar and obtained his D. Phil in Politics from Oxford University. In 1990 he became Coordinator of the Africa Research and Information Bureau and the founding editor of Africa World Review. He co-founded and led Justice Africa’s work, becoming its Executive Director in 2004, and combined this with his role as General Secretary of the Pan-African Movement. He was chair of the Centre for Democracy and Development and of the Pan-African Development Education and Advocacy Programme in Uganda and became the UN Millennium Development Campaign’s Deputy Director in 2006.
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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updated 16 October 2007