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

  • George M. Fredrickson


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 The pioneering top-down comparisons of John Cell, Stanley B. Greenberg, and myself, have been replaced by bottom-up studies of the commonalities and interactions of black struggles against white political and cultural hegemony.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


Black People Comparative Perspective White Supremacy Black Nationalism Black Liberation 
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  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
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    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
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  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
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  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
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  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
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    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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