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The struggle over the anti-African mural is a 600-year struggle

Dec 13, 2016
Chairman Omali Yeshitela

The following is a transcribed speech which was made at the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement’s (InPDUM) Sunday Rally on July 7, 2016 by Chairman of the African People’s Socialist Party, Omali Yeshitela.

InPDUM St. Petersburg is engaged in a fierce struggle with the State to control the replacement art of an anti-African mural which was torn down from the wall of St. Petersburg City Hall by the Chairman in 1966, fifty years ago.

Here, Chairman Omali takes us through the important historical context which is important in understanding why the mural struggle is critical.

This is part three in a series of four articles.

So there has always been these tendencies. There’s always been a time since the struggle began where a minority of us relied on white power, on the white man as the way to be free, to learn his ways, to be like him, on the one hand.

On the other hand, there has been this sector who has demanded nothing short of total freedom on our own terms; as a people, we can be self-governing and this has always been reflected in black politics in this country.

The highest expression of this politic––in what we might call modern history, when we don’t count Nat Turner, Denmark Vesey or the hundreds of rebellions that developed throughout this country––the highest expression of this politic, the self-determination movement, was thrust into history in the first part of the twentieth century by the Universal Negro Improvement Association that was led by Marcus Garvey.

Africa for Africans

Garvey said, "Africa for Africans, those at home and those abroad,” but there was a political context for this too.  

Garvey lived on a tiny island in Jamaica, but he didn't build a movement to free Jamaica, he wanted to free all African people.

In 1919, at the end of first imperialist world war, World War I, they created through the Versailles Treaty, this organization of white countries called the League of Nations which was a precursor to what is now the United Nations.

It was a ‘peace agreement’ that gave the white countries of the world custody of the people’s and lands of the non-white world.

That was Africa and all the other peoples and lands. They were going to lead us into civilization and create a situation where they would never have to fight over black people anymore.

They had been struggling over who was going to get what parts of Africa, because, initially you had, for example, the Belgians who were controlling different parts of Africa given to them in 1884 or 85 at the Berlin Conference when the white countries got together in another ‘peace meeting’ so that they wouldn't have to fight each other for parts of Africa. 

At the beginning of the war, Germany had controlled certain African territories and other white countries had controlled others, but Germany lost the war! So at the end of the war someone else got Germany's territories in Africa.

It's in this context that Marcus Garvey made the statement, "Africa for Africans, those at home and those abroad."

You must understand this: Garvey was not born in Harlem. Garvey was born in Jamaica! And he came from Jamaica here! He didn't try to start a Jamaican revolution, he tried to start a revolution that would free African people around the world, with a core understanding of Africa for Africans, ‘those at home’ meaning those in Africa, and ‘those abroad’, which means those of us dispersed around the world.

W.E.B. DuBois opposed Garvey

This was one of the greatest expressions of the struggle for independence that we've seen in modern history. And of course, Garvey was opposed by every imperial power in the world.

The United States, England, France––all of them opposed Garvey because all of them controlled territories that had African people colonized and enslaved. Garvey had created this incredible movement saying that this is our land, this is our country, these are our people, and we want to be free and independent.

Others, like middle class Negro W.E.B. Du Bois––who has achieved some celebrated status as a great black leader––was one of the biggest opponents of Marcus Garvey.

There were others. Some of them called themselves 'socialists.’ They opposed Garvey because they saw their future as being with white power and so they saw Garvey as a threat.

Du Bois went so far as to actually work with the attorney general of the United States and went to Africa––where Garvey had purchased land in Liberia and taken equipment and materials there to actually establish a base––and told the Liberian government not to let Garvey set up because all Garvey wants to do is take over Liberia.

Du Bois actually worked with the United States government to try to get them to give him a ship so that he could use this ship to somehow establish a relationship with the Blackstar Lines that had been created by Marcus Garvey so he could destroy it.

That was what Du Bois was trying to do! You had Africans who saw their future, their fate as being with white power. This is during a time when Du Bois was saying that this 'Go back to Africa' doesn't make sense because black people who live in this country can't live in Africa. Africa is too harsh. Africans who live here can’t live in Africa.

This was a so-called educated person saying this. He was educated in Berlin, Germany and Harvard University. He was not some dummy who didn't know better! Du Bois knew better, but they had a different politic. This is what you have to understand!

There has always been those Africans who demanded independence and self government

They were alienated from their black selves. They were taught to have no affinity for being black, and being with black people, so they saw another future.

And then there was the others who wouldn't be satisfied with anything less than independence and that tendency has always been here. There's never been a time in our history where you would not find not just Garvey, but also others like the original Nation of Islam, and other forces that demanded independence and self government.

That's the only thing that any people with any ounce of integrity can fight for.

The second imperialist war

In the ’50s we saw this incredible Civil Rights Movement emerge in this country, basically because of changes that happened in the economy.

Those changes were informed by the second imperialist war. The war had devastated most of Europe.

The United States of course dropped two atomic bombs on Japan and knocked it out of any kind of economic contention.

And the United States, because no war occurred on the U.S. mainland, comes out of this war structurally intact as the most powerful country and economy in the world. The world monetary system which up to that time had been located in England is now moved to the United States!

This is when you see the emergence of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the world bank. They become institutions through which the United States would be able to control economically most of the world.

And now, where it used to be that France and England was able to get all the loot that’s coming from Africa, now the United States is there demanding a greater portion of the stolen loot.

So now it's not just England that is looting India, the United States is also getting a part of the loot. Its financial interests are there! Its corporations are there!

African workers of the south

With much of these material resources now coming into the United States with Europe being wounded economically, with the economy being nearly destroyed and all of them leaning on the United States, the U.S. now has the greatest productive capacity that it has had since the beginning of what they call slavery.

The question becomes, how does the United States now transform these raw materials that used to go to Europe­­––France, England, Belgium and all these other places––into finished product so that they can make money with it?

In order to do that, they had to have workers. In the past, when they needed workers, they went to what was called eastern Europe. But they can't go to eastern Europe now, because eastern Europe is part of what they call, a part of the Soviet Block!

So where do they get the workers from? They go down south, because in this country, capitalism functions in two ways.

There was what people referred to as capital-intensive, production, based on machines and factories, and then there was labor-intensive production.

Labor-intensive production was in the south, where backbreaking labor that was done by black people, the “niggers.” They did this work and got paid nothing for it. It was cruel work and there was no assumption that under these terms there was any need for anything like education, the idea of voting, etc.

In fact, if they could, they would've got monkeys to do this labor, and sometimes they did call us monkeys. In fact, they called us porch monkeys.

“Nigger work”_

So now, you have a situation where they want workers to be able to leave the south and go to the north because the economy is growing, and in order for the economy to grow, they need to have the ability for Africans to work in these factories in the north.

And they had the ability to open factories in the south. But there are these relations of production that exist in this country. And in the south, black people can’t work in no damn factories at the time!

In fact, in this city [St. Petersburg, Florida], even in my childhood, an African couldn't work for the city of St. Petersburg and drive trucks, tractors, or anything, because that puts them up higher than the white man who was on the ground.

And so there was “nigger work” and that was the only thing African people could do in the south! And you couldn’t leave if you wanted to go. There are tons of books written about people who had to literally escape the south.

If they wanted to go and get a job, and the white man thought you're trying to go and get a job or recruiters were sent from the north to get Africans to come work in factories in California or work in factories in Detroit and other places, the recruiters were sometimes lynched and had horrible things done to them.

Leaving the south was difficult

So getting out of the south was a very difficult thing. In order to change that, the liberal sect of the white ruling class began to support a liberal sector in the African community––that sector that I just talked about, that saw the solution as somehow integrating into the white system.

Because remember this: there were a lot of educated Africans even under the most horrible circumstances in the south. Those were your school principals, those were the people who ran the funeral homes, they sometimes were even a couple of preachers that had some kind of education, but your county sheriff your white guy who was a sheriff, was a backward guy who knew nothing! They were totally ignorant!

Most of the white people who read had no education at all! So you got these African Negroes, these liberals who knew that if they were able to run for office, they could get elected, and they could do a much better job than the white people. They had aspirations.

They were more like white people than the white people who dominated them! These were the kinds of restrictions that they found themselves facing, and they were also the ones with connections.

They were the ones who had the ability to connect with the liberal white people in the north and other places who wanted Africans to be able to go into these factories.

Series continues in January 2017 issue of The Spear.

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