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Black Power in the United States and Black Consciousness in South Africa: Connections and Comparisons

  • George M. Fredrickson

Abstract

Since the early 1980s, comparative historians of South Africa and the United States have shifted much of their attention from the structures and ideologies of white domination to the movements for black liberation that developed after the end of slavery or the completion of conquest. The pioneering top-down comparisons of John Cell, Stanley B. Greenberg, and myself, have been replaced by bottom-up studies of the commonalities and interactions of black struggles against white political and cultural hegemony. J. Mutero Chirenje and James Campbell have studied the transit of turn-of-the-century religious separatism, or ‘Ethiopianism’; Robert Hill and Gregory Pirio, following the lead of Robert Edgar, have examined the Garvey movement’s extension to South Africa; Tim Couzens has dealt with the black South African literary response to the African American cultural renaissance of the 1920s and 1930s; and David Coplan has probed musical and theatrical influences. These studies reveal the salience of black America as an example or inspiration for South African blacks in the period between the 1880s and the 1940s and suggest that there was more of a sense of identity or similarity than might have been anticipated from the comparisons of patterns of domination.1

Keywords

Black People Comparative Perspective White Supremacy Black Nationalism Black Liberation 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    For comparisons of white supremacy, see G. Fredrickson, White Supremacy: A Comparative Study in American and South African History (New York, 1981);Google Scholar
  2. J. Cell, The Highest Stage of White Supremacy: The Origins of Segregation in South Africa and the American South (New York, 1982);CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. S. Greenberg, Race and the State in Capitalist Development: Comparative Perspectives (New Haven, 1980);Google Scholar
  4. and Lamar and L. Thompson (eds), The Frontier in History: North America and Southern Africa Compared (New Haven, 1981). Studies of the connections between African-American and black South African ideologies and movements includeGoogle Scholar
  5. J. Mutero Chirenje, Ethiopianism and Afro-Americans in Southern Africa, 1883–1916 (Baton Rouge, 1987);Google Scholar
  6. J. Campbell, Songs of Zion: The African Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States and South Africa (New York, 1995);Google Scholar
  7. R. Hill and G. Pirio, ‘“Africa for the Africans”: The Garvey Movement in South Africa’, in The Politics of Race, Class, and Nationalism in Twentieth Century South Africa, edited by S. Marks and S. Trapido (London, 1987), pp. 209–53;Google Scholar
  8. R. Edgar, ‘Garveyism in Africa: Dr Wellington and the American Movement in the Transkei’, Ufahuma, 6, 1 (1976), pp. 31–57;Google Scholar
  9. T. Couzens, ‘“Moralizing Leisure Time”: The Transatlantic Connection, 1918–1936’, in Industrialization and Social Change in South Africa, 1870–1930, edited by S. Marks and R. Rathbone (London, 1982), pp. 314–37;Google Scholar
  10. D. Coplan, In Township Tonight! South Africa’s Black City Music and Theatre (Johannesburg, 1985);Google Scholar
  11. and D. Anthony III, ‘Max Yergan in South Africa: From Evangelical Pan-Africanist to Revolutionary Socialist’, African Studies Review, 34 (1991), pp. 27–55. I have made use of some of this work in my broader comparative study, Black Liberation: A Comparative History of Black Ideologies in the United States and South Africa (New York, 1995). This essay is adapted from Chapter 7 of that work.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 3.
    G. Gerhart, Black Power in South Africa: The Evolution of an Ideology (Berkeley, 1978), pp. 273–81 and passim.Google Scholar
  13. 4.
    J. Lester, Look Out, Whiteyf Black Power’s Gon’ Get Your Mama! (New York, 1968), p. 91. On earlier manifestations of African-American black nationalism, see Fredrickson, Black Liberation, Chapters 2 and 4.Google Scholar
  14. 5.
    The shifting attitudes in SNCC are well described and analysed in C. Carson, In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s (Cambridge, 1981), pp. 111–211, passim. On CORE’S similar evolution toward separatism and away from nonviolence,Google Scholar
  15. see A. Meier and E. Rudwick, CORE: A Study in the Civil Rights Movement, 1942–1968 (New York, 1973), pp. 374–408.Google Scholar
  16. 6.
    A good account of the Meredith March can be found in Carson, In Struggle, pp. 206–11. Carmichael did not actually invent the term Black Power, even in the context of the mid-1960s. Adam Clayton Powell, for one, had used it earlier. Carmichael was not even the first to use it on the Meredith march; but his usage was the first to be widely publicized. Quote on the rejection of nonviolence is from James Boggs in F. Barbour (ed.), The Black Seventies (Boston, 1970), p. 35.Google Scholar
  17. 8.
    G. Wilmore and J. Cone (eds), Black Theology: A Documentary History (Maryknoll, NY, 1979), p. 27;Google Scholar
  18. N. Wright, Black Power and Urban Unrest: Creative Possibilities (New York, 1967), p. 61.Google Scholar
  19. 9.
    Wright, Black Power and Urban Unrest, p. 7; Wright, ‘The Crisis Which Bred Black Power’, in F. Barbour (ed.), The Black Power Revolt (Boston, 1968), pp. 116–17.Google Scholar
  20. 10.
    S. Carmichael and C. Hamilton, Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America (New York, 1967), pp. 44–5.Google Scholar
  21. 11.
    S. Carmichael, Stokely Speaks: From Black Power to Pan-Africanism (New York, 1971), pp. 35, 97.Google Scholar
  22. 13.
    This discussion is based mainly on M. Marable, Race, Reform, and Revolution: The Second Reconstruction in Black America (Jackson, Miss., 1991), pp. 86–148 (quote p. 110);Google Scholar
  23. J. McCartney, Black Power Ideologies: An Essay in African American Political Thought (Philadelphia, 1992);Google Scholar
  24. and W.L. Van Deburg, New Day in Babylon: The Black Power Movement in American Culture, 1965–1975 (Chicago, 1992), pp. 112–91. Conspicuous separatists (or in Van Deburg’s terminology ‘territorial nationalists’), in addition to those named above, included the poet Imamu Amiri Baraka (Leroy Jones) and Imari Obadele I (Richard Henry), founder of a sect called the Republic of New Africa. Prominent among those that political scientist John McCartney labels ‘counter-communalists’ — but whom I prefer to call, in accordance with the terminology of the late 1960s and Van Deburg’s classifications, ‘revolutionary nationalists’ — were (in addition to Newton and other Black Panther leaders like Eldrige Cleaver) James Foreman, the former SNCC leader, and Robert Allen, author of the book that made the strongest case for a black-led revolution against American capitalism: Black Awakening in Capitalist America (New York, 1969).Google Scholar
  25. 17.
    On NUSAS in the 1960s, see Gerhart, Black Power in South Africa, pp. 257–9; T. Lodge, Black Politics in South Africa since 1945 (London, 1983), pp. 322–3;Google Scholar
  26. and B. Hirson, Year of Fire, Year of Ash: The Soweto Revolt: Roots of a Revolution (London, 1979), pp. 65–8.Google Scholar
  27. 18.
    Gerhart, Black Power in South Africa, pp. 259–70; Hirson, Year of Fire, pp. 68–84; R. Fatton, Black Consciousness in South Africa: The Dialectics of Ideological Resistance to White Supremacy (Albany, 1986), pp. 63–80;Google Scholar
  28. B. Pityana et al (eds), The Bounds of Possibility: The Legacy of Steve Biko and Black Consciousness (Cape Town, 1991), pp. 154–78 and passim.Google Scholar
  29. 19.
    Gerhart, Black Power in South Africa, pp. 288–90; A. Stubbs (ed.), Steve Biko — I Write What I Like (San Francisco, 1978), pp. 80–6 (quote on p. 86.).Google Scholar
  30. 26.
    The best source on the development of Black Theology is Wilmore and Cone, Black Theology: A Documentary History. Among its major expressions were A. Cleage, The Black Messiah (New York, 1968);Google Scholar
  31. J. Cone, Black Theology and Black Power (New York, 1969), A Black Theology of Liberation (Philadelphia, 1970), and God of the Oppressed (New York, 1972);Google Scholar
  32. and G. Wilmore, Black Religion and Black Radicalism (New York, 1972). A work that shows the connections between American and South African versions isGoogle Scholar
  33. D. Hopkins, Black Theology: USA and South Africa (Maryknoll, NY, 1989).Google Scholar
  34. 27.
    J. Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation, p. 7. Buthelezi quoted in L. Kretzschmar, The Voice of Black Theology in South Africa (Johannesburg, 1986), p. 62.Google Scholar
  35. 29.
    Cone, Black Theology of Liberation, p. 6; Buthelezi quoted in Hopkins, Black Theology: USA and South Africa, p. 99; Cone quoted in B. Moore (ed.), The Challenge of Black Theology (Atlanta, 1973), p. 48;Google Scholar
  36. A. Boesak, Farewell to Innocence: A Socio-Ethical Study of Black Theology and Black Power (Johannesburg, 1976), p. 78. For a discussion of the differences, see Kretzschmar, The Voice of Black Theology, pp. 65–8.Google Scholar
  37. 32.
    Stubbs, Biko — I Write What I Like, p. 69; S. Biko, Black Consciousness in South Africa (New York, 1978), p. 99.Google Scholar
  38. 34.
    See A. Marx, Lessons of Struggle: South African Internal Opposition, 1960–1990 (New York, 1992), pp. 39–60, 194–5; and G. Budlender, ‘Black Consciousness and the Liberal Tradition’, in Pityana, Bounds of Possibility, pp. 234–5. For a good example of white leftist criticism of BC, see Hirson, Year of Fire, passim. Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    Good accounts of black politics in South Africa in the 1980s can be found in Marx, Lessons of Struggle, pp. 106–234; R. Price, The Apartheid State in Crisis: Political Transformation in South Africa, 1975–1990 (New York, 1991), pp. 152–219;Google Scholar
  40. and S. Mufson, The Fighting Years: Black Resistance and the Struggle for a New South Africa (Boston, 1980).Google Scholar
  41. 40.
    Statements of former Black Consciousness supporters who embraced non-racialism as a more advanced form of struggle can be found in J. Frederikse, The Unbreakable Thread: Non-racialism in South Africa (Bloomington, Ind., 1990), pp. 114–15, 134–5, 161–2.Google Scholar
  42. 45.
    For the text of McKay’s poem, as well as some commentary on it, see N. Huggins, Harlem Renaissance (New York, 1971), pp. 71–2. On Newton’s concept of ‘revolutionary suicide’, see McCartney, Black Power Ideologies, pp. 139–40 and Newton’s book Revolutionary Suicide (New York, 1973). Newton distinguished revolutionary suicide from ‘reactionary suicide’, the throwing away of one’s life out of despair without engaging in direct resistance to the oppressor.Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1998

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  • George M. Fredrickson

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