AFAM 162: African American History: From Emancipation to the Present (2010)
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African American History: From Emancipation to the Present (2010)
AFAM 162 - Lecture 9 - The New Negroes
Chapter 1. Introduction: The New Negro [00:00:00]
Professor Jonathan Holloway: Okay, I’m going to get started. Let me begin with a quote by Marcus Garvey from his Declara–Declaration of Rights for the Negro Peoples of the World. One of his points reads:
Today I want to pick up on the theme I ended the last lecture with, and that is that black Americans, talking heading–talking about the nineteen-teens, heading into–into World War I, we’re now in the wake of the challenges of that era, and the domestic disappointments of World War I, when soldiers came home and some were lynched, that black Americans were going to claim their civil rights instead of wait patiently for them. These were, as a group–and I’m generalizing here–the New Negroes. This is a term used now and again really after 1900, and one of the first proponents of the phrase was Booker T. Washington, but using it in a–in a very different way. I’m using it in a very different way than–than Washington was using it. When people talk about New Negroes, they’re most often using it in a very different way than Washington intended.
Anyway, these were the New Negroes, this new–this new kind of black consciousness that really becomes articulated on a wide scale when black troops come home after World War I; the New Negro that was forged out of political and economic frustration. And it’s always important to remember that this frustration grew out of more than just returning soldiers; It grew out of the race riots of 1917 and 1919; It grew out of the cultural shocks and changes that were part of the Great Migration as well. I want to show an image right now that captures some of that spirit. “The New–The New Negro crowd, making America safe for himself.” It’s a play of Woodrow Wilson’s, “The New Neg–the word–just drew a complete blank.”
Student: “Making the world safe for democracy?”
Professor Jonathan Holloway: Thank you so much. “Making the world safe for democracy.” I don’t know why, it’s a–it’s already a long day. [pointing to slide] Anyway, you see a–a black troop in an army jeep or some kind of vehicle, the New Negro blazoned on the side, guns coming out in all directions. He’s going after German troops, giving the Hun a dose of his own medicine. But notice the banner that he’s carrying: Longview, Texas, the site of a race riot; Washington DC, a site of a race riot; Chicago, Illinois, site of a race riot. “Since the government won’t stop mob violence, I’ll take a hand.” The New Negro, in this case the black soldier, “If Wilson can’t do it for black soldiers, for black citizens, if the country can’t do it, blacks will take it upon themselves to do it.” This is–This editorial cartoon is yet one manifestation of a New Negro mentality. Another point–hmm–Another aspect that’s important to understand about the New Negro mentality, and this phenomenon in general, was that it wasn’t just about black self assertion, like this–this cartoon suggests. It was also about white reaction. The white reaction to the New–to the New Negro manifests itself in negative and positive ways. The positive ways, although fraught with complication, will be really the foundation for Wednesday’s lecture.
Today we’re going to hear more about the more obvious negative manifestations of white reaction to this New Negro mentality. The most–the clearest manifestation of course is the rise of the lynch mob, again the resurrection of the Klan. But from an institutional standpoint, from the standpoint of the state, the most negative manifestation of white reaction to the New Negro mentality is federal surveillance. The riots of 1917 and 1919 made white politicians nervous. Property was at stake, after all. Perhaps it goes without saying that these pol–same politicians easily ignored the real race dynamics of the riots, where white employers and property owners, black and white–well, black and white property owners, in terms of raising rents–but white employers and property owners attacked and organized attacks against black residents.
Chapter 2. J. Edgar Hoover [00:05:42]
This anxiety is deeply felt and broadly felt and becomes manifest in a very famous way with one politician in particular. The story for this person begins in 1919. The person I’m talking about is twenty-four years old, twenty-four years old, a native of Washington, D.C. Becomes the head of the Department of Justice’s new organization, the General Intelligence Division, the GID. A young man. His job is to keep tabs on, and I’m quoting here, “liberal activity,” whatever that’s going to mean. Among other organizations being investigated, you have a wide range of black groups that are targeted for some sort of investigation. The Conservative Black Elks, who are anything but liberal, to the radical and separatist African Blood Brotherhood. The man in question is J. Edgar Hoover. His leadership of the General Intelligence–Intelligence Division, parlays himself into the directorship–directorship of the FBI when that organization was formed. And it’s a position that he would hold until his death in 1972. He will have claimed that he was the most powerful person in the country. And there’s a lot of merit to that kind of claim for the way that he investigates seemingly everybody.
Now why does Hoover’s foundational moment matter? It matters in part because of Hoover’s world view. When race riots occur in Washington, D.C., Hoover, who is a native of the area, concluded that their cause lay in the, quote, “series of–excuse, excuse me. The numerous assaults committed by negroes against white women.” Once again, the trope appears, the fear of black male interlopers attacking or–or alluring white women. But aside from this recurring trope that demonized black males and exalted white women, why is Hoover’s so–story so important? It’s important not only because Hoover would organize obsessive campaigns against Martin Luther King, Jr. and social activist groups in the 1960s–and we’ll–we’ll come to this later on in the course–because it–but it’s also important because it’s under Hoover’s leadership that the federal surveillance of African Americans starts and its most intense focus of this surveillance rests upon a black nationalist Jamaican, who took up residence in Harlem in 1916. And I’m talking here about Marcus Garvey.
Chapter 3. Marcus Garvey and J. Edgar Hoover [00:08:34]
Garvey’s born in Jamaica in 1887, but he is mainly educated in London. Now there’s no little irony in the fact that this person who eventual–eventually fights against the spread of a white empire that oppresses black people around the world, and who organizes this fight by calling for his own black empire, there’s no little irony in the fact that he himself was trained in the seat of empire. Apparently while in London, he learned his lessons well. A colonial subject, trained in the heart of the–of colonial control, who ends up advocating a new colonial presence. I mean in a nutshell, this is sort of the–the sort of fundamental irony of Marcus Garvey, and I’ll be expanding upon it through the course of the lecture. Anyway, Garvey’s educated for the most part in London and returns to Jamaica in 1914, and he has a plan. Having learned how to organize movements and how–how empire operated at its core, he decides in short order to organize the Universal Negro Improvement Association, the UNIA.
In formulating his plan for the UNIA, Garvey was inspired by Washington’s–Booker T. Washington’s Up From Slavery. This book, published at the turn of the century, but its most famous section or chapter is the story of Washington’s famous Atlanta Cotton Exposition address, something that Garvey, sort of from an ideological standpoint, embraced. Now Garvey’s not interested in that element of Washington’s plan that called for at least temporary accommodation to the white South, but he was committed ideologically, deeply so, to Washington’s idea of economic self-sufficiency. If you remember back to Washington, “in all things truly social, separate as the fingers.” Garvey soon realized that his plan to emancipate blacks by economic empowerment, that his plan to emancipate blacks across the globes with the vehicle of empire formation, would not take off in Jamaica. The platform was too small. Two years after he comes back to Jamaica, he decides that if he really wanted to get at the heart and soul of blacks throughout the world, he had to move his operation to what was then popularly considered the heart of the black world, and that’s New York City, more specifically, Harlem.
Now this is all a rather new phenomenon, Harlem, as far as being the sort of the center of the black world, as again popularly felt. This is a direct result of the Great Migration. And as we’ll see on–on Wednesday’s lecture, sort of focusing a fair amount of what’s happening in Harlem for particular reasons. But for the standpoint of propagating a message, demographics and such, New York City was the place to be. Garvey’s family had a background in typesetting and printing, and he gets his own training in publishing, and quickly produces a magazine or paper, called The Negro World, a journal that serves as the mouthpiece for his nationalist philosophy of racial–race pride and race unity. In short order, when he moves his operation to New York City, Negro World would have the second largest circulation of black periodicals in the country, second only to the Chicago Defender. So it’s sort of out of the blue, Garvey steps into the fray and becomes incredibly popular, as does his periodical. Garvey would claim, soon, up to six million followers. Although there were never nearly that many official Garveyites, the best estimates of official followers of Garvey’s movement, members of the UNIA, were around five hundred thousand. But there’s no doubting the importance of the UNIA, or–or the significance of Garvey himself.
The UNIA established laundries, groceries, and other retail operations that were by and for black people, or, more accurately, UNIA members. The UNIA was about instilling race pride, and Garvey embodied it with ostentatious displays that smacked–more than smacked of–that, that represented sort of the logic of–of empire. He would organize these parades with his auxiliaries, black UNIA members dressed up in uniforms, in hierarchy, in orders, marching in parades, Garvey as the grand marshal, epaulets, gold buttons and trim, plumage, all the trappings of the benevolent–benevolent emperor. This was a performance certainly that was designed to instill race pride among sojourning blacks who were struggling with city life. Indeed, the most popular–or Garvey and his movement were the most popular amongst individuals who were fairly recently arrived–arrived to the cities. The UNIA then inspires hope for the future and also racial solidarity. You can go to a safe space, a UNIA laundry or grocery store, or just another store, buy what you need and believe that you’re not getting ripped off like you were if you were going to a share–a, a planters’ store, if you were a sharecropper, or if you’re one generation removed from sharecropping. You could buy from the race, be treated with respect, and be part of something bigger than yourself.
Now Garvey’s aware that there’s a growing desire for self determination by oppressed people around the world, especially after World War I. And Garvey, aside from just having these stores and these parades, marries this desire for self determination with a call for blacks to return to Africa and to build their own country. This was not just the trappings of military and of empire in terms of just what you’re dressed in, what you’re wearing, but also a call to actually create that space back in Africa. Garvey first tries to get permission to establish his own colony in Africa, his target is Liberia, but he’s denied permission. Upset over the rebuff, Garvey decides to form quasi militaristic groups that were designed to kick whites out of Africa. He even declared himself the provisional President of the new Empire of Africa, naming potentates to rule with him, and creating a nobility of–of anointed knights. He wanted all the sort of the trappings, the declarations, of empire. Maybe this might get him there, but to no avail.
But he does organize something that, for a moment it seems, at least for a lot of followers, seems that Garvey might be more than just about words and retail operations, and this is the Black Star Steamship Line. This is the crown jewel of Garvey’s efforts, the UNIA’s efforts. Garvey unfolds his plan in 1919, again, this incredibly important year, this changing notion of poss–possibility with African Americans–unfolds his plan in 1919 to build the steamship line, and he sees it as representing an effort to demonstrate black self-sufficiency and truly the potential for black nation-building. Now this is an era you need to realize that you built nations, you express international power, by navies. And Garvey’s idea is eventually to build his navy and have that be the vehicle, literally and figuratively, the vehicle for his empire.
By 1920, the Black Star Steamship Line is now the focus of Garvey’s Back to Africa movement. And he starts to sell bonds to raise money to purchase these ships. These ships would embody black power. They would have all black crews, for example. They would be the means for blacks to get to Africa. They would become the lynchpin of the global economy. Garvey shares this idea, this vision, this excitement, and within three months of his first call for contributions to purchase a ship, he buys his first ship. It seems to me–to be that this might actually happen, at least some change. Well, the Black Star Steamship Line quickly becomes Garvey’s undoing. The steamship line ends up being three ships over the course of the steamship line’s existence. Garvey drastically overpaid for each of the three ships. The first ship he probably paid eight–eight hundred percent more than he should have. The captain, as it turns out, was taking kickbacks. The second ship sprang a leak and sank shortly after the UNIA purchased it. And the third ship blew a boiler on its maiden voyage and killed a man. A comedy of errors and tragedies.
But when those ships that actually proved seaworthy for a little while, when the ships actually did make it to a port of call, traveling up and down the North American seaboard on the East Coast, thousands of black well wish–well wishers crowded the piers, stand on the hillsides, wanting to catch a glimpse of the first all black crew that they had ever seen. Certainly the Black Star Line was a complete business fiasco, there’s no doubting about that, but it was a powerful symbol for black possibility. For that reason alone it would be important. But the importance doesn’t end there. The Black Star Line, the business dealings that it created, remain important for the shady financing that eventually gives J. Edgar Hoover the hook that he needed to snare Garvey. We can’t forget Hoover through all of this. Garvey’s mass popularity his appeals for race pride, his haughty imperialist style, all of these conspire to make people like Hoover more than a little worried.
Now the fact is although that we will never know how many people were actually following Garvey, his movement did represent the first organized grassroots mass protest movement in African American history. It was the first organized grassroots mass protest movement in African American history. So if one were concerned about black autonomy, and one were already convinced that blacks, particularly black males, represented a perpetual threat, then Garvey’s UNIA, Garvey himself, would have appeared terrifying. What was he going to do? When you add the specter of Garvey, the mass movement of the UNIA, to the violence in 1917 and 1919 ripping through cities where the UNIA was at its most powerful, then you would have been convinced, if you were someone like Hoover, that something had to be done.
So Hoover took action. He decides he’s going to put Garvey in jail and then sets out to find a justification for his arrest. So he knows he’s going to put him in jail; he’s got to find a way to do it. The first thing Hoover does is hire four black agents and assign them to infiltrate the UNIA. It’s really remarkable, the Garvey Papers, it’s a massive collection. Yale has it on microfilm, and you can look at the reports from these agents going back to their superiors, bits of information redacted, as we become used to in our modern world. The–some–sometimes just sort of–it’s the level of silliness about going to, you know, Mrs. Johnson’s last night for, you know, for her suspected UNIA involvement. She made a wonderful pie and we drank tea. I mean this is, you know, the extent of some of the reports. The rep–the infiltration did not get very far.
Hoover then tries to prove that Garvey was an agent of the British or Canadian governments, which made–which would have made him something like an unregistered foreign agent. I mean, this is rather stretching things, since the British and Canadian governments really aren’t such powerful enemies of the United States, but this was still Hoover’s next gambit. It doesn’t work. Garvey’s star is rising. We’re not into the 1920s. Then Hoover finally succeeds in getting him indicted–gets him indicted on mail fraud charges. Gets Garvey thrown in jail in 1925 for five years. But before Garvey’s term could be completed, he’s pardoned by President Calvin Coolidge on the condition that he leaves the country, that he’s deported as an undesirable alien at the moment of his release from jail. So Hoover gets mail fraud charges leveled against Garvey in twenty-three. He’s in jail in twenty-five He’s out in twenty-seven, but he is sent down to Jamaica immediately.
With Garvey’s deportation, federal surveillance of blacks basically disappears until the start of World War II. And it’s really quite shocking that it disappears, because this is an era of real radicalism, as you’ll see in the–the Manning Marable reader for this week, this week and next week. This is an era of real political radicalism, yet Hoover was so focused on Garvey and his exhortations of a Back to Africa movement and race pride that the other organizations just don’t merit his attention, not nearly to the same level of attention. Once Garvey’s gone, “the problem” is gone. Now what are the charges? What of the, the–those sort of steps that got Garvey kicked out of the country? And what about Garvey’s relationship to other blacks? I mean he was not the only black leader of this era. And, also, what shall we make of Garvey’s political legacy? The charges were literally trumped up, but they were actually basically true. Garvey was at best an inept, and at worst a dishonest, businessman. He sold bonds many times over when he shouldn’t have been selling them, to raise money for his ships. He did commit mail fraud. Is it enough to deport somebody? That’s another issue.
Chapter 4. Marcus Garvey, W.E.B. Du Bois and A. Philip Randolph [00:26:32]
What about his relationship with black leaders? Other black leaders, the most prominent ones, did not have a high opinion of Garvey. Du Bois, who offered information to Hoover to try to get Garvey in trouble. Du Bois called him, and I quote, “a little fat black man, ugly, but with intelligent eyes and a big head.” He was to Du Bois, quote, “the most dangerous enemy of the Negro race in American–Americas and the world, either a lunatic or a traitor.” A. Philip Randolph, a powerful labor leader that we’ll be talking about next week, referred to Garvey–whose, whose, who is powerful at this moment in time, referred to Garvey as, quote, “the supreme negro Jamaican jackass, or a monumental monkey, who is also an unquestionable fool, an ignoramus.” Why such anger? Jealousy, certainly part of the equation. Du Bois had been struggling for his entire adult life to build the kind of movement that Garvey shows up and builds within three or four years. Du Bois, powerful intellect, influential editor, but he cannot command the same kind of numbers and followers as Garvey could. Randolph, a rising labor leader, couldn’t command the kind of following and passions that Garvey could.
So certainly jeal–jealousy, but there’s also an awareness of what they saw, what Du Bois and Randolph saw, as limitations to Garvey’s agenda. How was a Back to Africa movement really going to happen? Was it even possible? There have been Back to Africa movements for a hundred years at this point, led by black radicals, led by very conservative whites, led by progressive whites. You know, everybody, politically across the spectrum, was trying to figure out a way to get blacks out of the country. None of them worked. They logistically weren’t feasible. So what’s Garvey selling here? Du Bois and Randolph says our problems, blacks’ problems, are here on this soil. We need to solve them here. Du Bois and Randolph wondered if Garvey was merely preying on the wild aspirations of those people who could least afford to invest their money in his plan. Garvey raised money from a lot of recent migrants to places like New York and Chicago, Detroit, people who didn’t have much money at all to spend, not extra, not disposable income. Du Bois and Randolph believed that they, in their own separate ways, were leading the charge to care for this most vulnerable population, and that Garvey was doing something different.
And now what about Garvey’s political legacy? Was it radical or was it conservative? Was Garvey a revolutionary, like Hoover believed, or was he merely a black capitalist? Did he want to save Africa, or merely establish economic and political control over part of it? I mean think of this–of his militaristic and imperialist trappings, the performance of his attire during these parades. Think of the rhetoric that I used to begin the lecture, “We demand Africa for the Africans.” To get at some of the answers to these questions–is Garvey radical, is he conservative, revolutionary or capitalist? Do you want to save Africa for Africans or for blacks–black Americans?–to get at some of the answers, it’s useful to–helpful to plumb the depths of Garvey’s own publicly offered philosophies. These are all very short excerpts from the Manning Marable and Leith Mullings reader, but I want to call your attention to a few choice phrases here. On race pride and race suspicion, I guess it’s a clumsy way of putting it, Garvey is dumbfounded by the white leadership of the NAACP.
Now there’s no doubt that Du Bois–that Du Bois is an elitist. There’s no doubting that. And that he believed that the Talented Tenth were the people to save the race, but getting into political bed with these white progressives Garvey thought was insane. “You cannot trust white people to do the right thing in that regard.” Du Bois hated the blood in his own–the, the quote, “Negro blood in his own veins.” On racial self preservation, Garvey was against blacks fighting for the United States in World War I. He says here,
Powerful words. The kind of words you might hear out of a different revolutionary some forty years later. Similar–Similarly,
Blacks will not fight unless the leader of the Negro people says they should fight. That would be Garvey. And so he said that, you know, blacks should not fight for the white man, except as a matter of national defense. So when we do get our land, our plot and what is or was then and still is Liberia, sort of is his real goal, his first goal, then we fight for self defense. We don’t fight for them. Speaking about racial pride, Garvey had much to say:
Can’t trust whites, you can’t fight for whites, you need to recognize the glory of our own past. And if this sounds a bit like the civilizationist rhetoric that I was talking about two weeks or so ago, you’re exactly right. Garvey was a civilizationist in this way.
The power is within African Americans, but they aren’t expressing it. And when they do tap into those great things from their own racial past, recognize their long history of civilizationist behavior, looking back in antiquity, when they take the kinks out of their mind instead of out of their hair, then they will rise up, demonstrate their greatness to the world, be respected, have their nation, have their civilization, and as part of this, have their king. That would be Garvey.
Chapter 5. Marcus Garvey and Father Divine [00:36:22]
Now just as Garvey wasn’t the only race leader operating in this sort of trying to save the race mode, you have Du Bois and you’ll have–you’ll learn more about A. Philip Randolph next week. There was another charismatic individual at the same time operating, another African American, who’s really operating at the other end of a sort of spectrum of a sense from Marcus Garvey, but also tremendously popular. His name’s Father Divine. Well that’s his popular name. His birth name is George Baker, known as Father Divine, and also known by his followers as “God.” Father Divine was born, excuse me, was head of the Peace Mission Movement, that becomes very popular during this era. But where Garvey’s UNIA was absolutely monoracial, it was black only, Divine’s was absolutely interracial. In its very structure, black and white come together.
Now while historians are learning more about the–the women in the UNIA and the very important roles that they played, from the standpoint of the public perception of the UNIA, it’s a very male ordered and dominated organization. Father Divine is a very different sort of thing, the Peace Mission Movement. He relies on his Angels to do a lot of work, black women and white women. Now there were some similarities. The most important for our purposes right now is that both UNIA and the Peace Mission Movement were profoundly self-help in their orientation. And it is in this way that Father Divine, like Garvey, was deemed a threat–a threat to authorities. He’s deemed a threat because he represents to so many black autonomy. He’s also deemed a threat because he consorts openly with white women in his organization, has white women involved in such prominent positions.
Now quickly here, who was Father Divine and what did he do actually? His early history is murky. He’s an itinerant preacher who extolled the virtues of what was called New Thought, the power of positive thinking regimen. That can be seen as a precursor of sorts to the New Age ideologies of the 1980s. God was in every person, according to Divine’s philosophy, but he was perfectly manifested in Divine himself. Divine advocated, as I said before, interracial life, strict celibacy, communal living, and most famously, communal feasts. He was known for serving feasts every Sunday at his various peace missions that were around the country, and this was a national organization. And these feasts would run all day long with seemingly endless supplies of food, available to anybody who wanted to come by, as long as he stayed for the meal and for some proselytizing.
Divine did not represent a Back to Africa movement. He’s very Victorian in his style. But he was determined to support materially, and also from the standpoint of faith, African Americans who were overwhelmingly the people he was serving, during this age of great instability and change. Garvey sees a threat in Father Divine, and he attacks Divine for preaching race suicide, celibacy and interracial relationships. You don’t get more black babies if you have interracial relationships, and also if you’re really preaching celibacy. The problem is, is that many of Garvey’s followers also followed the Peace Mission Movement. But you can’t reconcile the two from the standpoint of their ideologies. How do you make sense of it? You make sense of it in light of the migration, the violence of the era, and the increasing poverty of the era: overcrowded cities, slum lords, black and white, charging exorbitant rents, a lack of support, despite the fact you might be getting four dollars a day, a lack of institutional and structural support for African American communities. Garvey gave hope to African Americans who were poor and struggling, new to the city. He gave them safe places to conduct commerce. Divine tapped into a sense of a–a larger belonging, of something much greater than the individual, to something metaphysical perhaps, and he fed people.
So thinking about Garvey and Divine and how to make sense of these two different ideologies–one race, interracial, Back to Africa, taking care of business here– it sort of undergirds the sense of flux that the society’s in at the moment. People are being opportunistic on the ground, trying to find a way to make ends meet, to try to find a better way of living, better quality of life. Exhausted by external threats, whether it’s federal surveillance or the Klan or simple, systematic segregation, blacks were scrambling. Now it doesn’t help that in addition to this federal surveillance and the rise of the Klan, Garvey actually goes to negotiate with the Klan, with Klan leadership, trying to get their support for Back to Africa politics. If you believe the reports, the leaders of the Klan and Garvey actually admired each other about at least being honest, about not liking the other person. And they can find a way to work together to get them out of each other’s hair.
Divine himself courts white leaders of a very different type than Klan, the people with money who bolster the Peace Mission Movement’s various holdings. They own all–they, they provide all their own food. They own all their own property. They’re a cash and carry operation. A lot of it was coming from white benefactors. So you have this curious mix of high-level interactions between blacks and whites in Garvey and in the Peace Mission Movement. You have the erasure of that interaction in the–in the UNIA movement, because you couldn’t trust whites, actually. You have the embracing of it in the Peace Mission Movement, interra–interracial support and cooperation. You have an extensive, a wide scope of interactions when you sort of throw the veil back from all of this stuff, between whites and blacks during this era. Despite the popularity of the UNIA, despite the racial violence, there is a great amount of exchange, politically, socially, and culturally. And this cultural exchange is where we’re going to pick up matters on Wednesday. And that’s when I’ll see you again. Thank you very much.
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