3: From Anticolonialism to Anti-Apartheid: African American Political Organizations and African Liberation, 1957–93
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THREE From Anticolonialism to Anti-Apartheid AFRICAN AMERICAN POLITICAL ORGANIZATIONS AND AFRICAN LIBERATION, 1957–93 Ronald Williams II African Americans have always had an interest in Africa. This awareness can be traced back to the arrival of the first slave ships in the New World in the early seventeenth century. Considering the migratory conditions of this culturally and geographically displaced population, it is no surprise that this group would feel some attraction to their ancestral homeland. By the nineteenth century African Americans, both enslaved and free, became more than merely interested in Africa. They possessed more than a longing for their ancestral homeland. As the social status of African Americans rose after the abolition of slavery, so, too, did their ability to participate in the political and economic struggles of the African Diaspora. As they became more aware of the conditions of African people throughout the world, they realized that their struggles against the various manifestations of American racism were inextricably linked to the experiences of their oppressed brethren the world over. This understanding of a common experience of oppression and diasporic longing was the basis upon which nationalist sentiments and movements emerged. However, this notion of a diasporic nationalism became complicated by the varying ideological approaches of dominant African American protest organizations and movements throughout the twentieth century. Nevertheless, the transnational social realizations served as the basis of the emerging sense of obligation that African Americans felt to aid in the struggles of African people throughout the Diaspora. By the late nineteenth century African American interest in Africa and the African Diaspora was evolving into Pan-Africanism—a trans- 65 Nature & Dynamics 66 national movement focused on the liberation of African people all over the world from the forces of European colonial domination. In marrying the often-conflicting ideologies of integration, nationalism, and socialism/ Marxism, a cadre of African American intellectuals and political figures were immensely involved in the liberationist efforts on the domestic front, while remaining committed to a Pan-African vision. They, to varying measures , understood the struggles of African Americans as linked to the struggles of oppressed Africans and African descendants all over the world. This understanding of a common struggle and fate thrust African Americans into African affairs in particular and international affairs in general. This chapter chronicles the sundry ways that African Americans, through their work with political organizations and domestic and transnational social movement activities, connected themselves with the politics of continental Africa. Specifically examining the years between 1957 and 1993, this chapter explores the rising social position of African Americans and the changing political dynamics in the then new and soon-to-be independent nation-states of continental Africa. It points to some of the major ideological conflicts in the efforts of well-known African American intellectuals and political organizations to connect with the political affairs and liberation struggles of the various parts of continental Africa during the same time period. By examining the work of these organizations and their respective leaderships, this chapter illustrates how ideological conflicts during this period were prevalent among African American leaders in domestic freedom struggles and in what was understood as a global African freedom struggle. Focusing on the advances of the civil rights movement and the black power movement,this chapter shows how African American political organizations differed over the role that African Americans should play in the global African freedom struggle. The efforts of African Americans to influence U.S. foreign policy toward Africa in the 1970s and 1980s, particularly policy toward South Africa , illustrate the crystallization of various approaches to African American politics both domestically and internationally. This chapter attends to the often-overlooked contributions of radical-minded organizations and individuals to the advancement of the global African freedom struggle. In its totality, this chapter traces African American involvement in foreign affairs from the first ruminations of Pan-Africanism in the nineteenth century to the late twentieth-century and early twenty-first-century work of organizations and individuals to directly influence U.S. foreign policy in both official and unofficial capacities. The central assertion that foregrounds the analysis offered in this chap- 67 williams ) From Anticolonialism to Anti-Apartheid ter is that as the social position of African Americans began to change, the ideological conflicts operating among African Americans became increasingly pronounced, particularly on issues related to global African Diaspora freedom struggles. However, the integration of African Americans into the American political and social arrangement also functioned to alter, and in some ways...



Subject Headings

  • African Americans -- Politics and government.
  • African American politicians.
  • African American legislators.
  • Political participation.
  • World politics
  • International relations.
  • United States -- Politics and government.
  • United States -- Foreign relations.
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