Radical Black Internationalism in the Bandung Era

Saturday, April 1, 2023, 1:30 PM - 3:00 PM

Type: Paper Session

Tags: African American; Nationalism and Transnationalism; Race


The idea of crisis can be a relative one depending on one’s position in the world. This panel engages the crisis of European and North American imperialism in the post-World War II era of the Cold War, Decolonization, and revolution, or what many younger Black radicals in the United States termed the “Bandung Era” after the Afro-Asian Conference of 1955 in Bandung, Indonesia. During this crisis Black radicals in the U.S. saw new opportunities to connect with their counterparts around the world, seeing themselves are part of an ascendant liberatory majority rather than simply a minority embattled by Jim Crow, racist revanchism, and McCarthyism. This new Black internationalism energized both the more radical manifestations of the Civil Rights Movement, including the Black Student Movement that coalesced into the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, and the Black Power and Black Arts movements. This panel will take up various cultural and political manifestations and expressions of this radical Black internationalism during what might be thought of as the long Bandung Era from 1950s to 1970. The papers presented in the panel will discuss the We Charge Genocide petition presented to the United Nations by the U.S. Civil Rights Congress in 1951, the history and impact of the Patrice Lumumba Peoples’ Friendship University (founded in 1960), the Black internationalist visions of Alice Childress’s play Gold Through the Trees (1952) and Ossie Davis’s film of Wole Soyinka’s play Kongi’s Harvest (1970), and Caribbean Artists Movement (founded in London in 1967) the interchange between the Black Arts Movement in the U.S. and the U.K. By putting these papers in dialogue with each other, the objective of this panel is to further the scholarly conversation about the ways Black liberation in the U.S. was inspired by the efforts of Black and “Third World” political and cultural movements across the globe and vice versa.

Papers Presented

“Monopoly’s Way of Life—And Death”: We Charge Genocide, Black Internationalism, and the Critique of Racial Capitalism

This essay theorizes We Charge Genocide as a form of Black Internationalism and a critique of racial capitalism. The Petition, I argue, continued the tradition of transforming the oppression and superexploitation of African Americans from a national issue into a global one. We Charge Genocide did so by linking violence against Black Americans to “the larger genocide that is predatory war” because both were key pillars of the pursuit of profit. As such, taking the issue of antiblack genocide in the United States to the United Nations was not only in the interest of Black folks suffering at the hands of racial capitalist imperialism, but was also in the interest of the nations that would be subjected to similar policies and practices—especially those whose self-determination had been curtailed by Euro-American domination. Relatedly, We Charge Genocide meticulously demonstrated that the foundation of this genocide was economic; contrary to those who construed racism, and the actions emanating therefrom, as matters of morality, heritage, or custom, this radical document asserted that profit was the ultimate motive. In centering the political economic imperatives of white supremacist terrorism and racial ordering codified in U.S. law and social institutions, We Charge Genocide, like other articulations of Black Internationalism, offered a scathing critique of racial capitalism.

Presented By
Charisse Burden-Stelly, Wayne State University

Moscow’s Patrice Lumumba Peoples’ Friendship University and Western Response

Patrice Lumumba Peoples' Friendship University (PLPFU) was founded in 1960; its stated objective wasto provide higher education for the developing world, particularly to students from Africa and Asia. This paper introduces PLPFU's operation as a concrete nexus of interaction among the various African, Asian, and Latin American countries whose students traveled there, the USSR as host and “instructor,” and the reading of the university's mission in the West. It focuses on the ways in which the university provides a useful lens on a fascinating set of international relations centered on the ways the US and USSR deployed the “Third World” as part of a protracted political, economic, and cultural power struggle. This paper also focuses on how the work of PLPFU has been received in African American media and activist circles. For instance, Paul Robeson and Angela Davis spoke at the University, and it was covered in African American publications such as Jet.

Presented By
Rachel Rubin, American Studies Department, UMass Boston

"A Black International Was Possible": The Caribbean Artists Movement and the U.S./U.K. Black Arts Movement

In her excellent history of the Caribbean Artists Movement (CAM), Anne Walmsley describes the origins of the group as being motived by the desire of Kamau Brathwaite, Andrew Salkey, and John La Rose to create a new institution that could publicize and promote Caribbean writing and writers, both in the Caribbean and in the British metropole. This paper will consider CAM's engagement with U.S. Black Arts and Black Power aesthetically and organizationally. In many ways, the paper will argue, CAM was a transitional Black Arts institution, like the Umbra Poets Workshop in the U.S. (a direct influence on CAM through poet Calvin Hernton) as Salkey, Braithwaite, La Rose, and other writers, artists, and activists discussed and attempted to work through what might be considered notions of a Black Aesthetic (or of Black Aesthetics) though in Caribbean or Black British modalities. At the same time, CAM and its subsequent descendants, especially the Radical Black and Third World Book Fair, made an international (and internationalist) sense of Black art and culture more concrete and vivid for U.S. Black Arts activists.

Presented By
James Smethurst, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Reimagining Black Internationalism Before and After the Emergence of the New African Nations

This paper will look at the origins, production history, and representational strategies of two fictional efforts to invite audiences to “imagine Black internationalism.” Black arts radicals Alice Childress and Ossie Davis, infused with the spirit of 1940s left wing black internationalism and committed to link struggles against US white supremacy with struggles on the African continent against colonialism and imperialism, generated two efforts to imagine black internationalism, Childress with a 1952 dramatic revue, Gold Through the Trees, and Davis with a 1970 filmed version of Nigerian playwright Wole Soyinka’s play, Kongi’s Harvest, first presented at the World Festival of Negro Arts at Dakar, Senegal in 1966 and then performed in the US by the Negro Ensemble Company in 1968. Soyinka was involved in the 1970 film production in Nigeria, playing the lead role of Kongi.

Presented By
Judith Ellen Smith, American Studies UMass Boston

Session Participants

Chair and Commentator: Daniel Widener, University of California, San Diego
Daniel Widener is Associate Professor of History at the University of California, San Diego. He is the author of Black Arts West: culture and struggle in postwar Los Angeles (2010) and co-editor of Another University is Possible (2010) and Black California Dreamin’: The Crisis of California’s African American Communities. He serves as faculty director of the PATH/Mellon Summer Institute of the Humanities. He is currently at work on two books: Third Worlds Within: multiethnic radicalism in 20th Century America and The Twice Forgotten War: African Americans in the Korean Conflict. His teaching areas include Cuba, California, the Cold War, the history of sport, third world revolutionary movements, and jazz.

Presenter: Charisse Burden-Stelly, Wayne State University
Charisse Burden-Stelly is Assistant Professor of Africana Studies and Political Science at Carleton College. She is the co-author, with Gerald Horne, of W.E.B. Du Bois: A Life in American History, and is currently working on a book manuscript tentatively titled Black Scare/Red Scare: Antiblackness, Anticommunism, and the Rise of Capitalism in the United States in which she examines the rise of the United States to global hegemony between World War I and the early Cold War at the intersection of racial capitalism, Wall Street imperialism, anticommunism, and antiblackness. She is also the co-editor, with Dr. Jodi Dean, of the forthcoming volume Organize, Fight, Win: Three Decades of Black Communist Women’s Political Writings (Verso, 2022) and the co-editor, with Dr. Aaron Kamugisha, of the forthcoming collection of Dr. Percy C. Hintzen’s writings titled Reproducing Domination: On the Caribbean and the Postcolonial State (University of Mississippi, 2022).

Presenter: Rachel Rubin, American Studies Department, UMass Boston
Rachel Lee Rubin is Professor and Chair of American Studies at University of Massachusetts Boston, with a PhD in American Studies and a PhD in Slavic Languages and Literature. She is author of Creative Activism: Conversations on Music, Film, Literature, and Other Radical Arts; Merle Haggard’s “Okie from Muskogee"; Well Met: Renaissance Faires and the American Counterculture; and Jewish Gangsters of Modern Literature. She is co-author of Immigration and American Popular Culture, publisher of a scholarly edition of A House Is Not a Home by Polly Adler (with a new introduction and annotations), and co-editor of Southern Radicalism since Reconstruction, American Identities: An Introductory Textbook, and American Popular Music: New Approaches to the Twentieth Century. She is currently working on a book about the Patrice Lumumba Peoples’ Friendship University in Moscow.

Presenter: James Smethurst, University of Massachusetts Amherst
James Smethurst is Professor of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He is the author of The New Red Negro: The Literary Left and African American Poetry, 1930-1946, The Black Arts Movement: Literary Nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s, The African American Roots of Modernism: From Reconstruction to the Harlem Renaissance, Brick City Vanguard: Amiri Baraka, Black Music, Black Modernity, and Behold the Land: A History of the Black Arts Movement in the South. He also co-edited Left of the Color Line: Race, Radicalism and Twentieth-Century Literature of the United States, Radicalism in the South Since Reconstruction, and SOS—Calling All Black People: A Black Arts Movement Reader. He is currently working on a project examining the relationship between the Black Arts Movement in Britain and in the United States during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.

Presenter: Judith Ellen Smith, American Studies UMass Boston
Judith Smith is Professor of American Studies Emerita at University of Massachusetts Boston. She has published essays on radio in the 1930s and 1940s, live television drama, and on film from the mid 1940s to the mid 1960s; recent essays include “Hollywood Imagines Revolutionary Haiti: The Forgotten Film Lydia Bailey (1952)” in Historical Journal of Film, Radio, and Television, and “’It is Time for Artists to be Heard:’”Artists and Writers for Freedom, 1963-4,” in Kalfou. Her books include Becoming Belafonte: Black Artist, Public Radical; Visions of Belonging: Family Stories, Popular Culture, and Postwar Democracy, 1940-1960, and Family Connections: A History of Italian and Jewish Immigrant Lives in Providence, RI, 1900-1940. She has served as researcher/consultant for historical documentary films Faith Petric: Singing for Justice (forthcoming); Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart: Lorraine Hansberry (2018); Left on Pearl (2017); Brownsville: Black and White (2001); and Love Stories: Women, men and Romance (1987).