Notes on African-American History Since 1900


Who were Cyril Briggs and Richard B. Moore and What were they leaders of?



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Who were Cyril Briggs and Richard B. Moore and What were they leaders of?
Briggs founded the African Blood Brotherhood (ABB) in 1919. ABB was a semi-secret organization that advocated Black armed self-defense and aligned itself with the Communist Party.
During this period the African Blood Brotherhood (ABB), the first nationwide revolutionary nationalist organization in the history of the Black Liberation Movement emerged. The ABB was a secret organization organized by Cyril P. Briggs in 1919. The ABB was tight knit, semi-clandestine, paramilitary group which saw itself as the Pan African army of a world wide federation of black organizations. ABB membership ranged from 3,000 to 5,000, most of whom were ex-servicemen, though a sizeable contingent was West Indian. The membership was kept small to keep the organization tight. Briggs started a monthly magazine titled The Crusader in 1919.114
Between 1921 and 1924, at least two towns that were predominantly African-American (Tulsa, Oklahoma and Rosewood, Florida) were destroyed by White racists.115
Initially Moore was a member of the Socialist Party. However, he became disenchanted with the Socialist due to their lack of concern with the plight of African American people. After leaving the Socialist Party, he joined the Communist party. He joined the ABB and worked in a position of leadership along with Briggs. Richard B. Moore was the mass orator for the ABB.116

What was the Harlem Renaissance about?
Harlem attracted a cultural milieu of African people from around the world, especially Caribbeans, Africans and former slaves all seeking a place where they might best express their cultural heritage through the arts. This mixture spawned an outpouring of literature, poetry, dance and theater which launched the careers of several well known artists – including Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, and Paul Robeson to name a few.
Who was Harry Haywood and what did he do?
Harry Haywood was undeniably one of the leading proponents for Black Nationalism and self-determination. After serving in WWI he settled in Chicago. He was a member of the African Blood Brotherhood and the Young Workers League. In the late 1920’s he studied in Moscow where he became acquainted with several anti-colonial revolutionaries. He articulated the Communist position on Black self determination at the Six Congress in Moscow. He favored organizing a revolution movement in the South, where Blacks were in the majority, and creating an independent nation. Other areas of the country would continue to work for social and political equality.117
The Crusader became the ABB’s official organ and at its peak had a circulation of 33,000.118 The monthly magazine expressed a program including (1) the possibility of a black republic in the Southern U.S. for which they worked openly in the North, underground in the South, (2) control of the rich resources of the land, (3) international unity, Pan Africanism and alliances with other oppressed nations, (4) support for socialism, especially Lenin’s emphasis on oppressed nations, (5) force as necessary to achieve goals, (6) protective, economic, educational, physical, and social benefits for their members.119 Briggs also circulated The Crusader News Service which was distributed to 200 black newspapers. The ABB’s headquarters were in New York with fifty branches including locations in Chicago, Baltimore, Oklahoma, Omaha, West Virginia, the Caribbean, Trinidad, Surinam, British Guyana, Santo Domingo, and the Windward Islands and throughout Africa.
The African Blood Brotherhood was a revolutionary nationalist organization which applied a Marxist world view and the theory of class struggle to the plight of New Africans. The organization was headed by a Supreme Council, led by Briggs. It was the first black revolutionary organization to utilize a race and class analysis.
Unlike the Pan African Movement led by Dr. DuBois, the Brotherhood emphasized working class leadership and consciousness. This also distinguished it from Marcus Garvey’s Movement. As to the latter it was differentiated because it felt that a successful struggle for liberation by the black millions inside the United States was possible and necessary and would itself be a decisive contribution to the liberation of Africa. In that regard the Brotherhood’s outlook and that of DuBois were very close.120
The ABB advocated armed self-defense and applied this theory in 1921 in the armed defense of the black community of Tulsa. It took the National Guard and aerial bombings to defeat them.121 Part of the ABB’s program was organizing black workers in labor unions which would work for the betterment of their economic conditions and would act in close cooperation with class conscious white workers on common issues. The ABB also proposed establishing cooperatives as an economic strategy. On alliances the ABB saw a coalition with the Third World and radicalized white workers in the United States.
There can only be one sort of alliance with other peoples and that is an alliance to fight our enemies in which case our allies must have the same purpose as we have. Our allies may be actual or potential just as our enemies may be actual or potential. The small oppressed nations who are struggling against the capitalist exploiters and oppressors must be considered as actual allies.
The class conscious white workers who have spoken out in favor of African Liberation and have a willingness to back with action their expressed sentiments must also be considered as actual allies and their friendship cultivated.122
The ABB and the Crusader were supporters of the Russian Revolution and saw social revolution as the answer to African-American liberation.
Briggs was definitely a revolutionary nationalist, that is he saw the solution of the race problem in the establishment of independent black nation states in Africa, the Caribbean and the United States. In America he felt this could be achieved only through revolutionizing the whole country. This meant he saw revolutionary white workers as allies.123
Briggs raised the question of a self-governing black state in the United States in an editorial as editor of the Amsterdam News in 1917. This idea of a black republic in the United States was to reoccur often in the 1920's, and at a UNIA convention in the early part of the decade, the question of a Black Republic in the South was raised, but the proposal was defeated.3124 The ABB’s early ideological development of the notion of an independent Black Republic in the United States paved the way for its refinement in the Communist Party of the United States of America.
By 1923-24, the Brotherhood had ceased to exit as an autonomous organized expression of the National Revolutionary trend. Its leading members became Communists or close sympathizers and its posts served as one of the Party’s recruiting grounds for Blacks.125
During this period, Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. DuBois engaged in a bitter ideological debate that often degenerated into personal attacks. Essentially, DuBois was opposed to Garvey’s de-emphasis of domestic mass activity against racial segregation in the United States and his emphasis on separation of the races and race purity. DuBois believed Garvey’s ideas about capitalism were naive, his business adventures grandiose, and his concepts of building an African Empire were romantic. Garvey on the other hand criticized DuBois for being an elitist and alienated from the masses of Africans. Garvey built a mass movement and DuBois worked with the radical intelligentsia. Both were staunch Pan Africanists but varied in style and tactics.126
The Great Depression, New Deal and World War II
The Stock Market began to fall on October 24, 1929 and crashed on October 29, 1929. In the early 1930's thousand of banks and small businesses failed. The Stock Market continued to decline throughout 1932. By 1932 approximately one-quarter of the employable population was out of work. In Chicago, the unemployment rate for African-American men reached 40%, in Pittsburgh it rose to 60%. Two-thirds of all families and persons living alone had incomes below $1500.
In the 1930’s fifty million Americans were dependent upon the bread lines set up by the Salvation Army or other charitable institutions. At that time, the population was about 150 million.
At the beginning of the 1930’s, most African Americans still lived in the rural South. As cotton prices plunged from 18 cents a pound to 6 cents, sharecroppers could no longer make a living on the land. Unemployment among African Americans soared. In Chicago, the unemployment rate for African Americans reached 40%, in Pittsburgh it rose to 60%. The rate of unemployment among African Americans was greater.
During the 1930's and 40's an estimated 10,000 African-Americans joined the Communist Party, making up 10% of its 100,000 membership at its peak. By linking its work with the unemployed leagues in massive campaigns to protect evicted tenants and victims of police brutality the Communist Party throughout 1934 expanded its popular base. In the 1930's, the Communist Party decided to champion the cause of Negro rights. Its willingness to fight racism won many African-American recruits. The Communist Party fought the infamous Scottsboro Boys case in Alabama. Coming to the defense of the Scottsboro Boys, the Communist Party began to clash with the NAACP and other traditional Negro organizations.

Who were the Scottsboro boys?
Nine young African Americans boys who hitch-hiked a ride on a train during the Depression along with several white men. A fight broke out and when the dust settled the nine young African Americans stood accused of raping two white women who were also riding the train. Although the alleged victims testified that no rape occurred, the boys were tried and convicted of the rape. This was a landmark case that highlighted the injustices of the American justice system.127
The Scottsboro Boys were nine African-American youth ranging from age 12 to 19, who were convicted on false charges of having raped two white girls while riding on the same freight train in 1932. The Communist Party through the ILD (International Labor Defense), took up the case and came into conflict over legal strategy with the NAACP. The case became a famous international case and reached the Supreme Court twice. It was not until the 1950's that all the Scottsboro Boys were let out of jail.
Who was Jesse Owens?
Jesse Owens was a track and field star who grew up in Cleveland. In 1936, he won four gold medals at the International Olympics held in Germany. Prior to the event, Adolf Hitler had declared the superiority of the “Aryan” race. After Owens win, Hitler refused to invite Owens to his box to receive his personal congratulations as he had the other gold medal winners. Be that as it may, Owens was a hero to the German People.128
Who was Joe Louis?
Louis, also known as the Brown Bomber, was a professional prize fighter who became heavyweight champion of the world in 1937. Although a formidable foe in the ring, outside of the ring he was known for his dignity and gentlemanly demeanor. He was revered by the Americans both Black and White. For African Americans he symbolized victory and accomplishment in their struggle for acceptance and racial parity.129
Who was Paul Robeson?
Robeson was a gifted singer, actor, scholar, and political activist. He was sympathetic to communism and was harassed by Senator Joe McCarthy during McCarthy’s witch hunt to rid the country of communist influences. Robeson lived abroad for some time in England and the USSR.130
The Multi-Racialism of Paul Bustill Robeson
Paul Bustill Robeson was born on April 9, 1898 in Princeton, New Jersey to ex-slaves. In 1909 the family moved to Somerville, New Jersey where Robeson attended predominately white Somerville High School. In 1915, Robeson became the third Negro to enter Rutgers College. Tall and broad shouldered he became a star athlete at Rutgers. By the end of his college career the football team was built around him. “His versatility in the sports field was increasingly evident at Rutgers: he was catcher in the varsity baseball team, center in the basketball team, and threw the discus for the track team131. However, Paul never lost sight of his studies. He was elected to the national honor fraternity of Phi Beta Kappa, America’s highest scholastic honor at the end of his junior year.
After graduating from Rutgers in the summer of 1919 Robeson moved to Harlem where his reputation preceded him. He had been nationally publicized in the country’s newspapers and was received as a hero, admired for his sporting achievement as well as for his intellect. “He had transcended seemingly insurmountable hurdles, with honour”132 Robeson had come to Harlem at a time that would come to be known as the Harlem Renaissance.
Here the creation efforts of the Renaissance brought into being various forms of protest from black intellectuals against economic and social injustices. Uninterested in revolutionary politics, through novels, poetry, drama and music, many of them criticized the white establishment. This coterie of black intellectuals included James Weldon Johnson, Claude McKay, Jean Toomer, Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen. Another Harlem resident W. E. B. Du Bois, the distinguished black scholar, had preceded them by a generation. This was the intellectual Harlem that Robeson called his homeland133
In 1920 Robeson entered Columbia University Law School. During this time he took a number of jobs to cover his tuition and personal care. This coupled with participation in a number of activities limited his time to socialize. However, during his second year at Columbia he met and married Essie Goode – Upon seeing that Paul did not possess the same brilliance and zest for law as he had in his undergraduate years, it was Essie who prompted him to try his hand at acting. She once said of Paul: “Unless he was wild about something he wasn’t good at it at all”134
Paul Robeson began his acting and singing career with a very minor role in a YWCA production of “Simon the Cyrenian”. Robeson’s career flourished with appearances in “Taboo” (1922) and plays such as “All God’s Chillun” and “The Emperor Jones” in 1925. Also in 1925 Robeson performed a concert consisting of all Negro or black music – spirituals, folk and dialect songs. In doing this he launched the use of black culture to assist the black struggle in America and throughout the world135
From the late twenties and throughout the thirties Robeson spent most of his time in Europe linking the black struggle for freedom and equality with non-black working class people concluding “the Negro must be conscious of himself and yet internationally linked with the nations which are culturally akin to him”136 “Robeson had the ability and courage to politicize black aesthetics and black culture for the liberation of black people in America and throughout the world. On his performances he used elements of black culture such as Negro spirituals, black folk songs and black dialect as his “weapons” to enlighten and sensitize whites and blacks to unjust conditions among African Americans”137. Paul Robeson once said: “In my Music, my plays, my films I want to carry always this central idea: to be African. Multitudes of men have died for less worthy ideals; it is even more emently worth living for”138
Paul Robeson was the first American artist who used his artistry as a political weapon for his race. His use of black culture for the liberation of black and white workers in America, Africa and throughout the world caused him to suffer greatly in America139. This situation was exacerbated by his respect and embrace of the Soviet Union and its peoples in the thirties, forties and fifties. In 1949 Robeson declared:
The Soviet Union is the friend of the African and West Indian peoples. And no imperialist wolf disguised as a benevolent watchdog, and not Tito disguised as a revolutionary, can convince them that Moscow oppresses the small nations. Africa knows the Soviet Union is the defender and champion of the rights of all nations – large and small – to control their own destinies.
To those who dare question my patriotism, who have the unmitigated insolence to question my love for the true America and my right to be an American –to question me, whose father and forefathers fertilized the very soil of this country with their toil and with their bodies – to such people I answer that those and only those who work for a policy of friendship with the Soviet Union are genuine American patriots140
As Robeson biographer, Lloyd Brown states, “America’s No. 1 Negro had become for many whites their number one hate. Robeson, they said, was a dangerous Red. Robeson, they said, was a dangerous Black. Thus there was directed at him both the virulence of anti-communist witch hunt which had developed as a consequence of the Cold War, and the corrosive poison of American racism, which historically saw a so called ‘uppity nigger’ as a threat that could not be tolerated141 Robeson was viscously attacked from all angles. Angry letters were published in U. S. Newspapers, record companies would not release any of his recordings and radio stations would not play any of his songs. Many Blacks also joined the anti-Robeson crusade. Yielding to editorial pressure various Black writers omitted any mention of Robeson from their books142. The wiping out of Robeson’s name, which began when he was about fifty, would be continued long after the “red scare” had faded and long after expressions of Black militancy had become common place. Still, his viewpoints never changed. Robeson was an staunch anti-imperialist. One his 75th birthday in 1973, Robeson summarized his position:
Here at home, my heart is with the continuing struggles of my own people to achieve liberation from racist domination, and to gain for all black Americans and the other minority groups not only equal rights but an equal share. In the same spirit, I salute the colonial liberation movements of Africa, Latin America and Asia, which have gained new inspiration and understanding from the heroic example of the Vietnamese people, who have once again turned back an imperialist aggressor143
Paul was Robeson died January 23, 1976, in Philadelphia one year to the day before “Roots” by Alex Haley appeared on national television144
Who was Mary McLeod Bethune?
In addition to being the founder Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, Florida. She was also a well respected adviser – “kitchen cabinet member” – of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt especially on issues pertaining to race relations. She was also founder of the National Council of Negro Women.145
Who were W. D. Fard and Elijah Muhammad and what did they organize?
They were both leaders in the African American community who believed in and taught Eastern theology and were instrumental in founding the Nation of Islam.146
The American Communist Party began a major cultural program in the African-American community publishing the Negro Liberator newspaper, combining artistic events with politics and encouraging young African-American writers to write for The New Masses, The Communist and The Daily Worker. Black cadres of the Communist Party worked with almost every African-American organization during this period. The Communist Party was instrumental in helping a group of African-American Alabama sharecroppers, threatened with eviction, to organize the Alabama Sharecroppers Union. The Alabama Sharecroppers Union organized 12,000 African-American sharecroppers around a program calling for redistribution of the land, total racial equality and extensive federal relief. The Union engaged in several gun battles with local authorities which was the beginning of mass radical armed struggle of the rural African-American poor against the ruling class. But the independent organizing of African-Americans by the Communist Party threatened many white cadres inside the Communist Party. Concerns around African-Americans having nationalist tendencies were always raised against radical working class organizing. The principle objection was that nationalism and independent African-American organizing divided the working class and alienated white workers. The working class was already divided by racism.
In the early 1930's a Black mass don’t buy where you can’t work campaign started in Chicago. Soon it spread to Detroit, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Baltimore, Maryland, Washington, D.C., and New York.147 In the Spring of 1933 Sufi Ali Hamed began organizing this movement in Harlem. Garveyites joined Sufi and they organized mass rallies and picketing of stores in Harlem on 135th Street. During the campaign anti-white and anti-Jewish sentiments came from the demonstrators and the Communist Party, fearing the rise of another black nationalist movement they did not control, labeled Sufi a Harlem Hitler. To counter the black nationalist movement, the Communist Party initiated demonstrations and a boycott of large Harlem cafeterias. The campaign was fully integrated and had the support of the CIO and Adam Clayton Powell, Jr..
The Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work movement in Cleveland was led by John O. Holly who helped organize in 1935 the Future Outlook League (F.O.L.). The F.O.L. was organized because the NAACP didn’t have an economic program of action to deal with the crisis. The F.O.L. used direct mass action picketing to desegregate businesses in Cleveland. African-Americans were asked to pay their phone bills in pennies when the Cleveland telephone company refused to comply with the F. O.L.’s fair hiring demands. Long lines of picketers and African-Americans filing in to pay their telephone bills in pennies caused the Cleveland telephone company to become of the first major Cleveland company’s to desegregate. Holly later mentored Carl B. Stokes.148
In 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt of the Democratic Party was elected President with his New Deal program. Roosevelt’s New Deal in which the federal government provided eventual relief for the poor and destitute saved capitalism from socialist revolution.
1933: Communist Party

-Organized unemployment councils.

-Led march on unemployed of 1.5 million to demand unemployment insurance

-Demand for social security


Congress of Industrial Organizations (C.I.O.)

-Led By John L. Lewis.

-White workers began to organize in unskilled jobs. United with African American community to avoid big businesses response to strikes. Wanted social security and unemployment benefits

-NAACP supports CIO, and urges Blacks to join.


The Communist Party led a march on Washington in 1933 of unemployed of one and a half million people to demand unemployment insurance and social security. Both were enacted into law by Congress and the President. John L. Lewis of the United Mine Workers help organize the Committee of Industrial Organizations (C.I.O.) which organized industrial workers. The C.I.O. won the right to unionize through the U.A.W. which initiated Sit-Down Strikes of auto workers occupying the plants in 1937.


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