By every metric of international law, Black people in America constitute a historically formed nation.
Yet our collective vision has rarely given agency to the aspirations of a nation empowered with the right of self-determination to create a sovereign homeland.
Rather, the Black majority continues to view itself through the lens of a racial minority. Committed to the Civil Rights doctrine of creating a post-racial, multi-cultural society, the prevailing integrationist consensus accepts provisional citizenship and co-existence with American capitalism as a tradeoff for access to the accoutrements of a middle-class lifestyle.
The absence of an alternative Black vision—one that seeks exit and nationhood-- can be attributed in part to Black Nationalists’ inability to establish an enduring political presence in our communities. Ironically, since Martin Delaney first called for emigration to Sierra Leone to build a Black state in 1852, Black Nationalist proponents of creating a nation-state on North America's shores have been in the minority. But times are changing.
A wave of populist nationalism is surging across the planet. Weaponized by the Alt-Right and Trump’s presidency, white nationalism is becoming part of the furniture of America’s political mainstream, as it has in Europe. Nationalism is in vogue, except if you're Black in America. Black Nationalists--according to the FBI--are now "Black Identity Extremists," and subject to surveillance and active "counterterrorist" measures.
Nevertheless, the scourge of police brutality and ascendant white nationalism triggered a Black millennial resistance movement that sprang to life in mass demonstrations in 2013. Black Nationalists that survived fifty years in the political wilderness after the 60's post-Black Power Movement have resurfaced. A new political battlefield is taking shape; one that is not likely to return to the status quo ante.
America is flirting with ethno-nationalist balkanization primed by race-based cultural warfare. A prominent feature of this period has been conjuring nostalgia to defend Southern Confederate history and Civil War statues. Another was HBO and Amazon’s attempts to pilot two alternative history series (‘Confederate’ and ‘Black America’) in which separate white and Black ethno-states are formed after a third civil war.
Marvel comics Afrofuturist blockbuster movie “Black Panther” transported the Black homeland of Wakanda to the frontiers of interstellar space. Chuck Palahniuk’s (author of Fight Club) 2018 release of the novel “Adjustment Day,” depicts a national revolt resulting in the formation of two ethno-states: Blacktopia and Caucasia.
What’s transpiring in the cultural sphere goes beyond the clairvoyant imaginings of Hollywood filmmakers and authors. It’s no coincidence that the Black ethno-states in the proposed television series and Palahniuk’s book are located in the “Black Belt South.” This is the same territory designated as the Black homeland in the original Soviet Communist Party’s policy on Black Self-Determination adopted in 1928.
Over the years, the Comintern’s formulation on Black Self-Determination has become the signature doctrine adopted by most on the American left, Black Marxists and Black Nationalists. Even White Nationalists desirous of creating a white homeland without a bloody race war, concede the Black Belt South to the Darker Nation.
These developments suggest the surf is up. Black Nationalists have a unique opportunity to leverage this “nationalist moment.” That means removing the clutter that's accumulated in Black Nationalisms’ house since Martin R. Delaney articulated his ‘First Wave’ vision of a Black state. Cleaning house requires us to return to first principles.
Our first principle is reaffirming that Black people are still a historically constituted nation, with a right to self-determination. By nation, we mean 'a stable community of people, formed on the basis of common origin, language, territory, economic life, ethnicity and psychological makeup manifested in a common culture.’
The common origin of the Black nation in the United States is Africa. Half the Black slave population forcibly transported from Africa to America were from the Senegambia region and the west-central Africa region, inclusive of the Congo, Gabon, and Angola. Other major slave transshipping ports included Ghana, Ivory Coast and the Bight of Biafra.
Over several decades, Black slaves speaking a variety differing African local and ethnic tribal tongues began speaking English as their common language.
Common Territory and Economic Life
The historical formation of Black people as a nation within America's borders primarily occurred between the 1820’s and the 1880’s. Black historian Harry Haywood described the common territory Blacks inhabited, and their status as the majority population that created a Black Nation in the “Black Belt South this way;
“an area girding the heart of the South, encompassing its central cotton-growing states and 180 counties in which the Negroes constitute more than half (50 to 85.5 per cent) of the population. From this core, the Black Belt Negro community overflows into 290 or more neighboring counties, whose populations are from 30 to 50 per cent Negro. In the
whole of this area, then, in a total of approximately 470 counties, live five million Negroes.”
Haywood also noted that by the 1890's Blacks were already in the formative stages of developing a class structure of peasants/sharecroppers, workers, middle-class business owners, intellectuals, craftsmen and artisans. Black capitalists were also making their presence felt in the insurance, banking and real estate sectors. Haywood's point is that Blacks were developing all the features common to the trajectory of nation-state development in Europe and the U.S. that began in the 14th Century.
Common Culture / Psychological Makeup
Black slaves and freedmen shared a common culture forged in resistance to slavery and Jim Crow. Their culture was manifested in song, dance, storytelling, poetry, literature, religion and politics. Black cultural development also incorporated a variety of rituals and customs from African societies.
Black culture today, as it was during slavery, the Harlem Renaissance, and the Black Power era of the sixties, continues to evolve, adapt to changing circumstances and create new offerings that bind and reinforce Black identity and consciousness. Afro-Punk and Afrofuturism can be considered two of the more recent manifestations of this legacy.
As a captive nation of slaves, and subsequently as an oppressed nation liberated from involuntary servitude, Black people are entitled to exercise the right to self-determination. Black people have the right to express their preference to create a sovereign Black homeland on America’s continental land mass (the Black Belt South) and/or exercise a menu of other options.
Additional options may include reparations, regional autonomy, independent Black city-states and voluntary incorporation into a designated multi-racial state. Exercising these options would be achieved by carrying out a national Black referendum or plebiscite.
As a nation, Black people have never engaged in a formal process to exercise their right to self-determination. The passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, that ended slavery, granted citizenship status and the right to vote, does not constitute Black people exercising the right to self-determination, as some suggest.
Because Blacks dispersed across the U.S. during “The Great Migration” between the early to mid-1900’s, we are no longer the majority population in the Black Belt South (Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Mississippi, and Louisiana). This demographic shift does not render the right to self-determination superfluous.
There are those who argue that Blacks are no longer an oppressed people. That's debatable on its merits, but hardly the point. The right to self-determination is the right of a people determine their own destiny. This right is not dependent on wealth or the lack thereof. To speak of wealth or income levels or class stratification as the measuring stick to discern nationhood, is a sterile, crass, consumerist driven notion of nationhood that is typical of a soulless capitalist society. This argument also conveys a fundamental lack of understanding of the principles of self-determination which holds the democratic right to choose as inviolate.
It should be said that the option to create a homeland begins the debate about what kind of nation Black people want to build; an all Black nation which excludes other races and nationalities or a predominantly Black-led nation that welcomes diverse communities. The Black majority would also have to render its judgement on the type of economic system--capitalist or cooperative--it would deploy to sustain the nation.
As Alternative Black Nationalists, we are not Black separatists. There are Black religious-based nationalists and other Black separatist groups who want to separate from whites and/or Jews, and others. That is certainly their right. We are pluralists and welcome divergent views. Our first concern is whether they support a Black homeland, because separatists are not necessarily nationalists. Our second concern is whether they want to build a new society free from economic exploitation or oppression of any type.
Alternative Black Nationalists also condemn the arrogance of those Marxists and Socialists who profess to uphold the right of Black self-determination, but argue that the highest calling of Black radicals and revolutionaries is to fight to eliminate capitalist exploitation of the multi-racial working class. And by what method of scientific socialism or dialectical materialism did these Marxist reach that conclusion? We recall that in the sixties upsurges, the majority of the white working class supported patriotism and capitalism and a deadly U.S. imperialist war against the Vietnamese people; or did we miss something? And how much has changed in the age of the Sun King Trump?
These Marxist presume that "when the revolution comes, only they can lead it. Furthermore, they act as if the Black nation will have to "make its case' to them to establish its own sovereign state. Like jesters, we are to appear in their court as subjects clothed in the knee britches of servility. We don't need their patronizing paternalism. If they want to debate Lenin's Collected Works on the principles of self-determination, we'd be happy to oblige them any time.
As Black Nationalists, these principles of self-determination are non-negotiable. They must be. At the end of the day, no one is or can fight our battles for us. Our interest as a people cannot be outsourced to the Democratic Party or the Civil Rights Movement or to Marxists, no matter how well intentioned. Black Nationalists must remain on the front line fighting for the independent interest of the Darker Nation. We must also be the first line of defense we our people are attacked.
The Journey Toward a Black Nation-State: 1852-2019
Black Nationalism, like the nation it represents, is a relatively young movement. For the better part of its first 167 years, Black Nationalists theory and practice focused on establishing a homeland in Africa. It wasn't until 1968 that an advanced detachment of Black nationalists broke from maze of Black radical groups to call for a sovereign homeland in the Black Belt South.
Because Black Nationalists supporting the creation of their own ethno-state within America's borders, have historically represented the minority viewpoint, Alt-Black.com has characterized our trend as Alternative Black Nationalism. From our standpoint, the Black Nationalist project has advanced through four successive waves of intense political activism--each building on the prior waves' advances.
Martin Delany and 1st Wave Black Nationalism
When Martin Delany (Father of Black Nationalism) penned his 1852 pamphlet “The Condition, Elevation, Emigration and Destiny of the Colored People,” his First Wave Black Nationalists doctrine characterized Black people in America in this way,
“We are a nation within a nation, as the Poles in Russia, the Hungarians in Austria,
the Welsh, Irish and Scotch in the British Dominions."
By identifying the predominantly Black slave population as constituting a nation, Delaney’ defied the conventions of his time. There was no precedent anywhere for slaves constituting a nation, much less slaves of color transported from their homelands to foreign soil.
By comparing the Black slave nation to Poles, Hungarians, and the Welsh, Delaney linked their common relationship as "oppressed nations" of dominant empires. In doing so, he implied that the right to self-determination for America's Black slave nations was universal. On both counts, Delaney was years ahead of his time.
"Back to Africa" - Garvey's Second Wave
Marcus Garvey’s “Back to Africa” Movement” in the 1920's marked Black Nationalism's Second Wave, and the largest mass-based Black Nationalist movement in American history. Garvey’s pro-capitalist program called for building a Black global empire in Africa. The Universal Negro Improvement Association which Garvey helped launch in 1917, claimed over four million members by 1921.
Garvey’s call to relocate large numbers of Blacks to Liberia was a failure. But his significance to Black Nationalists goes beyond the tangible. He was the first Black leader to inspire a vision of nationhood (albeit rooted in Africa) that cut deep in the Black conscious.
Simultaneously, he infused the People of a Darker Hue with its first mass racial identitarian experience. While the Harlem Renaissance movement claimed it represented the "New Negro," Garvey's identitarian vision was of Blacks from the West Indies, South America, the United States and Africa united as in one fist. Garvey would cast a long shadow over the Black Nationalist experience well into the 1960's.
The Return of Black Nationalism: The Third Wave and the Black Power Movement
Rising in opposition to the Civil Rights integrationist program of peaceful change to eliminate racial iniquities, a new radical Black Nationalist Movement burst on the scene in the sixties. Amid 200 urban Black rebellions that erupted across America during the decade, Pan-African Socialists, Black Cultural Nationalists, 3rd World Black Marxists, and Revolutionary Black Nationalists competed for the hearts and minds of the Darker Nation.
For most of these radical movements, including the two most dominant forces to emerge during the Black Power movement: Malcolm X and the Black Panthers, supporting the creation of a sovereign Black state was not their priority. The most notable exception would be a small group of revolutionary Black Nationalists called the Republic of New Afrika.
Pan Africanists insisted Black liberation in the U.S. would come once all Africans and African descendants were unified, and the African continent was freed from imperialist domination. A Black homeland in America would have to wait.
Black Cultural Nationalists asserted that Blacks minds had to liberated first from the “mental slavery” of white slavery. As a practical matter that meant adopting African hairstyles, customs, African ideology, and cultural practices like Kwanzaa. A Black homeland was a bridge too far.
With the rise of Third World socialist revolutions for national liberation in Vietnam, Cuba, and Africa, Black Marxists played a crucial role in the theoretical battles over Black self-determination. While no longer viewing the Soviet Union as a revolutionary force, most Black Marxists supported the Soviets 1928 policy on Black self-determination. They split however, over the issue of supporting the creation of a Black nation-state or supporting Black workers fighting for a multi-racial working class revolution.
When the high tide of the Black rebellions and Vietnam anti-war movement subsided, most Black Marxists either left the movement or joined one of several new multi-racial Maoist-leaning Communist parties that formed during the 1970’s. By the mid 1980’s virtually every one of those Communist parties had dissolved.
The animating force of Black Nationalisms' rise in the 1960's was Malcolm X. As the Nation of Islam’s National Spokesman, Malcolm X espoused Black separatism, clothed in a modified version of Nobel Drew Ali's Moorish Islam. Incorporating Garvey's Pan-Africanist stylings, Malcolm X frequently mouthed the NOI's platitudes for Blacks to return to Africa. But that ship had sailed long ago, and there was no clamor for it to return to its port of call. After breaking with the NOI, Malcolm X articulated a new definition of Black Nationalism that made no mention of a Black homeland in Africa or the United States. Although his admonishment for the Black community to control its politicians and economy stressed self-sufficiency and independence, his formulation eventually provided cover for reformist schemes by Black Nationalists and other fellow travelers to capitalize on the mantra of"Black Power." Malcolm X articulated his new vision of Black Nationalism this way;
“The social philosophy of Black Nationalism is where instead of the black man trying to force himself into the society of the white man, we should be trying to eliminate from our own society the ills and the defects and make ourselves likeable and sociable among our own kind.”
The political philosophy of Black Nationalism means that the Black man should control the politics and the politicians in his own community.”
“The economic philosophy of Black nationalism only means that our people need to be re-educated into the importance of controlling the economy of the community in which we live, which means that we won’t constantly have to be involved in picketing other people in other communities in order to get jobs."
Perhaps the most radical attempt to implement Malcolm X's new Black Nationalism was the Black Panther Party. Equally inspired by Malcolm X’s doctrine of armed self-defense and embracing the militancy of the Black urban rebellions, the Black Panthers were the largest and most radical Black organization to emerge during the sixties. Nationalists, but not separatists: supporters of 3rd World socialist revolutions, but not Marxists, the Panthers were an ideologically eclectic group.
The Panthers 10 Point Program closely followed Malcom X’s rebranded version of Black Nationalism. They supported community control of politicians and the police. They opposed Blacks serving in the military, advocated for criminal justice reform and took responsibility for initiating breakfast, health, and education programs. Other factions within the Panthers took actions in support of launching armed urban guerilla warfare. Ultimately, the Black Panthers never developed a unified strategic doctrine to guide their movement, before the FBI's Cointelpro operation decimated significant sections of their leadership ranks. Nor did the ever give serious consideration to Black Nationhood. That task would fall to a small group of revolutionary Nationalist that held a conference convened by the Malcolm X Society on March 31, 1968, in Detroit.
The 500 conference participants at the Detroit conference drafted a declaration of independence and a constitution establishing a new government: the Republic of New Afrika. Consistent with the Black Belt South doctrine, the RNA claimed five Southern states: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina as a Black national territory. Robert F. Williams, former Monroe, North Carolina organizer of armed self-defense and rifle clubs to combat KKK violence was elected as the RNA's first president while in exile in China. Detroit Attorney Milton Henry was named first vice president; and Betty Shabazz, widow of Malcolm X, served as second vice president. In 1971, the RNA purchased land in Hinds County, Mississippi to establish a capital of the new homeland in the Black Belt South. Listed as a seditious group by the FBI because they advocated succession, an RNA property in Jackson, Mississippi was assaulted by law enforcement. In the confrontation, two policemen were killed and several RNA members were arrested. The armed clash with the forces of the state slowed the RNA's momentum, as did the waning of the Black revolutionary tide in 1970's. But the RNA's successors would return to write the next chapter in the most advanced effort to forward the cause of creating a Black nation state. Toward the 4th Wave of Black Nationalism and a Black Nation-State
The awakening of Black millennials in 2013 to resist police brutality gave rise to the militant "Black Lives Matter Movement." Organizing outside the boundaries of the Civil Rights Establishment, and incorporating new leadership methods, Black Feminists and Transgender leaders, BLM brought a new look and political vibe to the first Black mass movement since the 1960's.
Concurrent with BLM's accent, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM) and New Afrikan Peoples Organization (NAPO) comprised of former RNA members and other Black Nationalists were busy giving form to the republic founded in 1968. Led by Detroit Attorney Chokwe Lumumba, and supporter that relocated to Jackson, Mississippi in 1988, the two organizations put together what became known as the Jackson-Kush plan. Its architecture called for Jackson (80 percent Black) to become the capital of the Black Belt South. It would be supported by a core of ten contiguous counties with majority Black populations, which constituted the Kush basin on the Mississippi River's alluvial floodplain.
In 2009, Lumumba was elected to the City Council, and in 2013 he was elected mayor of Jackson on the Democratic Party line. Lumumba, openly espoused radical socialist ideas. To convert Jackson into America's most radical city, the "Cooperation Jackson" movement was launched. Peoples Assemblies were formed, where citizens regularly met to debate and give input on the city's budget and funding priorities. They also participated in discussions to re-engineer Jackson's local economy to empower the cities' working class.
Turning convention upside down, the Cooperation Jackson movement opposed local and state corporations and Mississippi's white power structure plans to redevelop Jackson's downtown. They rejected a plan to build an expensive new sports stadium, demanding that the football facility at Jackson State University' (Historical Black College). Jacksonites also pushed back against the State government's efforts to expand the University of Mississippi Medical Center further into Jackson's predominantly Black west side, which would lead to mass displacement of Jackson's Black neighborhoods.
Going on the offensive, Cooperation Jackson supported the formation of a Community Development Bank to purchase properties and homes in the Black community to prevent white commercial real estate sharks and speculators from gaining a foothold in its Black communities. Cooperation Jackson's radical approach to beat back gentrification and displacement efforts was just the beginning. Unfortunately, Chokwe Lumumba tragically died in 2014. In 2017, his son Antar was elected mayor .
Throwing out the capitalist playbook for economic development, Cooperation Jackson called for Blacks to develop a network of worker-owned, democratically self-managed enterprises. A cooperative grocery store, Green Team Landscaping Coop, Community Land Trust, Artists Collective and a Recycling and Composting Cooperative were all set into motion.
Looking to the future, the Cooperation Jackson plan seeks to make Jackson a green city, outfitting homes with solar panels, developing urban gardening techniques to achieve food sovereignty, building digitally fabricated houses and networks of 3-D printing factories. Cooperation Jackson's cooperative eco-socialist model leans forward to develop and sustain a new type of economy that directly benefits its own working people.
Not surprisingly Mississippi's white power structure has attempted to crush this Black-led political insurrection in the heart of Dixie. They're attempt to take over Jackson's municipal airport, and highjack critical revenue belonging to the city government has moved into it's third year of litigation. The state Board of Educations' attempt to take over Jackson Public Schools was recently beaten back as well.
In many ways, Jackson is the front line of the revolutionary fight to establish a base-area for a future Black nation in the Black Belt South. The Cooperation Jackson movement is Black-led, multiracial, and internationalist. Its activists leaders like Kali Akuno have attended and hosted international meetings with eco-socialist activists and environmentalists to further develop its understanding of building environmentally sustainable communities.
Jackson's revolutionary experiment in self-determination is providing a real-time window into the process and challenges of building a future Black nation. It provides a model, and prototypes of transformational vehicles that can be replicated in Black communities across the country. For all Black Nationalists Jackson and the Cooperation Jackson movement represents the rising tide that is gathering momentum to make landfall. It is the 4th Wave of Black Nationalism.
We close with the words of poet and author extraordinaire, Alice Walker. "The absence of models: in literature, art, behavior, grow, spirit and intellect--even if rejected enriches ones life and enlarges ones view of existence. What is always needed in art and life is the larger perspective."