Black nationalism

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Black nationalism (BN) advocates a racial definition (or redefinition) of national identity. There are different indigenous nationalist philosophies but the principles of all Black nationalist ideologies are unity and self-determination—that is, separation, or independence, from European society.

Early history[edit]

Martin Delany (1812–1885), an African-American abolitionist, was the grandfather of Black nationalism.[1]

Inspired by the success of the Haitian Revolution, the origins of Black and African indigenous nationalism in political thought lie in the 19th century with people like Marcus Garvey, Henry McNeal Turner, Martin Delany, Henry Highland Garnet, Edward Wilmot Blyden, Paul Cuffe, etc. The repatriation of African-American slaves to Liberia or Sierra Leone was a common Black nationalist theme in the 19th century. Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association of the 1910s and 1920s was the most powerful black nationalist movement to date, claiming millions of members. Garveyite movement was opposed by mainline black leaders, and crushed by government action. However its many alumni remembered its inspiring rhetoric.[2]

According to Wilson Jeremiah Moses, Black nationalism as a philosophy can be examined from three different periods giving rise to various ideological perspectives for what we can today consider what Black nationalism really is.[3]

The first period was pre-Classical Black nationalism beginning from the time the first Africans were brought ashore in the Americas up to the Revolutionary period. The second period began after the Revolutionary War, when a sizeable number of Africans in the colonies, particularly in New England and Pennsylvania, were literate and had become disgusted with the social conditions that arose out of Enlightenment ideas.[clarification needed] We find in such historical personalities as Prince Hall, Richard Allen, and Absalom Jones a need to found certain organizations as the Free African Society, African Masonic lodges and Church Institutions. These institutions served as early foundations to developing independent and separate organizations.

The third period of Black nationalism arose during the post-Reconstruction era, particularly among various African-American clergy circles. Separated circles were already established and accepted because African-Americans had long endured the oppression of slavery and Jim Crowism in the United States since its inception. The clerical phenomenon led to the birth of a modern Black nationalism that stressed the need to separate from non-blacks and to build separated communities to promote racial pride and to collectivize resources. The new ideology became the philosophy of groups like the Moorish Science Temple and the Nation of Islam. Although the 1960s brought a period of heightened religious, cultural and political nationalism, still it was Black nationalism that would lead the promotion of Afrocentrism.

20th century[edit]

Marcus Garvey[edit]

Main article: Marcus Garvey

Marcus Garvey encouraged African people around the world to be proud of their race and to see beauty in their own kind. This form of black nationalism later became known as Garveyism. A central idea to Garveyism was that African people in every part of the world were one people and they would never advance if they did not put aside their cultural and ethnic differences and contrast. He was heavily influenced by the earlier works of Booker T. Washington, Martin Delany, and Henry McNeal Turner.[4] Garvey used his own personal magnetism and the understanding of black psychology and the psychology of confrontation to create a movement that challenged bourgeois blacks for the minds and souls of African Americans. Marcus Garvey's return to America had to do with his desire to meet with the man who inspired him most, Booker T. Washington but unfortunately Garvey did not return in time to meet Washington. Despite this Garvey moved forward with his efforts and two years later, a year after Washington's death, Garvey established a similar organization in America known as the United Negro Improvement Association otherwise known as the UNIA.[5] Garvey's beliefs are articulated in The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey as well as Message To The People: The Course of African Philosophy.

Malcolm X[edit]

Between 1953 and 1964, while most African leaders worked in the civil rights movement to integrate African-American people into mainstream American life, Malcolm X was an avid advocate of black independence and the reclaiming of black pride and masculinity.[6] He maintained that there was hypocrisy in the purported values of Western culture – from its Judeo-Christian religious traditions to American political and economic institutions – and its inherently racist actions. He maintained that separatism and control of politics, and economics within its own community would serve blacks better than the tactics of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and mainstream civil rights groups such as the SCLC, SNCC, NAACP, and CORE. Malcolm X declared that nonviolence was the "philosophy of the fool," and that to achieve anything, African Americans would have to reclaim their national identity, embrace the rights covered by the Second Amendment, and defend themselves from white hegemony and extrajudicial violence. In response to Rev. Martin Luther King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech, Malcolm X quipped, "While King was having a dream, the rest of us Negroes are having a nightmare."[7]

Prior to Malcolm X's pilgrimage to Mecca, he believed that African Americans must develop their own society and ethical values, including the self-help, community-based enterprises, that the black Muslims supported. He also thought that African Americans should reject integration or cooperation with Caucasians until they could achieve internal cooperation and unity. He prophetically believed there "would be bloodshed" if the racism problem in America remained ignored, and he renounced "compromise" with whites. In April 1964, Malcolm X participated in a Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca); Malcolm found himself restructuring his views and recanted several extremist opinions during his shift to mainstream Islam.

Malcolm X returned from Mecca with moderate views that include an abandonment of his commitment to racial separatism. However, he still supported black nationalism and advocated that African Americans in the United States act proactively in their campaign for equal human rights, instead of relying on Caucasian citizens to change the laws that govern society. The tenets of Malcolm X's new philosophy are articulated in the charter of his Organization of Afro-American Unity (a non-secular Pan-Africanist group patterned after the Organization of African Unity), and he inspired some aspects of the future Black Panther movement.[8]

Frantz Fanon[edit]

While in France, Frantz Fanon wrote his first book, Black Skin, White Masks, an analysis of the impact of colonial subjugation on the African psyche. This book was a very personal account of Fanon’s experience being black: as a man, an intellectual, and a party to a French education. Although Fanon wrote the book while still in France, most of his other work was written while in North Africa (in particular Algeria). It was during this time that he produced his greatest works, A Dying Colonialism and perhaps the most important work on decolonization yet written, The Wretched of the Earth. In it, Fanon lucidly analyzes the role of class, race, national culture and violence in the struggle for decolonization. In this seminal work, Fanon expounded his views on the liberating role of violence for the colonized, as well as the general necessity of violence in the anti-colonial struggle. Both books firmly established Fanon in the eyes of much of the Third World as one of the leading anti-colonial thinkers of the 20th century. In 1959 he compiled his essays on Algeria in a book called L'An Cinq: De la Révolution Algérienne.[9]


Norm R. Allen, Jr., former director of African Americans for Humanism, calls Black nationalism a "strange mixture of profound thought and patent nonsense".

On the one hand, Reactionary Black Nationalists (RBNs) advocate self-love, self-respect, self-acceptance, self-help, pride, unity, and so forth - much like the right-wingers who promote "traditional family values." But - also like the holier-than-thou right-wingers - RBNs promote bigotry, intolerance, hatred, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, pseudo-science, irrationality, dogmatic historical revisionism, violence, and so forth.[10]

Allen further criticizes black nationalists' strong "attraction for hardened prisoners and ex-cons", their encouragement of black-on-black violence when African-American individuals or groups are branded as "Toms," traitors, or "sellouts", the blatantly sexist stance and the similarities to white supremacist ideologies:

Many RBNs routinely preach hate. Just as white supremacists have referred to African Americans as "devils," so have many RBNs referred to whites. White supremacists have verbally attacked gays, as have RBNs. White supremacists embrace paranoid conspiracy theories, as do their African counterparts. Many white supremacists and RBNs consistently deny that they are preaching hate, and blame the mainstream media for misrepresenting them. (A striking exception is the NOI's Khallid Muhammad, who, according to Gates, admitted in a taped speech titled "No Love for the Other Side," "Never will I say I am not anti-Semitic. I pray that God will kill my enemy and take him off the face of the planet.") Rather, they claim they are teaching "truth" and advocating the love of their own people, as though love of self and hatred of others are mutually exclusive positions. On the contrary, RBNs preach love of self and hatred of their enemies. (Indeed, it often seems that these groups are motivated more by hatred of their enemies than love of their people.)[10]

Nigerian-born professor of History and Director of the African American Studies program at the University of Montana, Tunde Adeleke, argues in his book "UnAfrican Americans: Nineteenth-Century Black Nationalists and the Civilizing Mission" that 19th-century African-American nationalism embodied the racist and paternalistic values of Euro-American culture and that Black nationalist plans were not designed for the immediate benefit of Africans but to enhance their own fortunes.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ William L. Van Deburg, ed., Modern Black Nationalism: From Marcus Garvey to Louis Farrakhan (1996)
  3. ^ Wilson Jeremiah Moses, Classical Black Nationalism (1996)
  4. ^ Skyers, Sophia Teresa (1982). Marcus Garvey and the philosophy of black pride (M.A. thesis), Wilfrid Laurier University.
  5. ^ Watson, Elwood (Winter 1994 – Spring 1995). "Marcus Garvey's Garveyism: Message from a forefather". Journal of Religious Thought. 51 (2): 79. 
  6. ^ Robert L. Harris, "Malcolm X: Critical Assessments and Unanswered Questions." Journal of African American History 98.4 (2013): 595-601.
  7. ^ James H. Cone (1992). Martin and Malcolm and America: A Dream or a Nightmare. Orbis Books. p. 49. 
  8. ^ Manning Marable, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention (2011)
  9. ^ David Macey, Frantz Fanon: a biography (Verso Books, 2012).
  10. ^ a b Document sans titre[dead link]
  11. ^ [1],; accessed March 30, 2016.

Further reading[edit]

  • Gavins, Raymond, ed. The Cambridge Guide to African American History (2015).
  • Levy, Peter B. ed. The Civil Rights Movement in America: From Black Nationalism to the Women's Political Council (2015).
  • Bush, Roderick D. We Are Not What We Seem: Black Nationalism and Class Struggle in the American (2000)
  • Moses, Wilson. Classical Black Nationalism: From the American Revolution to Marcus Garvey (1996), excerpt and text search
  • Price, Melanye T. Dreaming Blackness: Black Nationalism and African American Public Opinion (2009), excerpt and a text search
  • Robinson, Dean E. Black Nationalism in American Politics and Thought (2001)
  • Taylor, James Lance. Black Nationalism in the United States: From Malcolm X to Barack Obama (Lynne Rienner Publishers; 2011), 414 pages
  • Van Deburg, William. Modern Black Nationalism: From Marcus Garvey to Louis Farrakhan (1996)