American Exported Black Nationalism: The Student Coordinating Committee, the Black Panther Party, and the Worldwide Freedom Struggle, 1967-1972

Article excerpt

For the most part, the image of American black nationalism in the twentieth century depicts it as the product of foreign influences that extended from Marcus Garvey and Franz Fanon to Che Guevera and Mao Tse Tung. Such images create the impression that African-Americans were greatly influenced by foreign contacts with little impact or contribution of their own. This essay answers two basic questions. First, in what ways did American black nationalist organizations, specifically the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Black Panther Party (BPP), contribute to the concept of a worldwide freedom struggle in the late 1960s? Second, how were the efforts of these groups received abroad?

While nationalism often is defined as loyalty to a native country, with black nationalism, the nation can consist of the black people who live in a particular country, as in the United States. Black nationalism also can be defined as a desire for a separate geographical nation within a country, or as a feeling of community with other blacks in the world--an extension of pan-Africanism. Still, black Americans who exported black nationalism not only sought community with other blacks in the world but also supported and sought kinship with other ethnic groups engaged in similar struggles like the Cubans, Vietnamese, and Koreans. This feeling of community, however, was not limited to expressions of solidarity with the third world, but was evident in the treatment and influence of American black nationalists abroad.

In 1967, SNCC formed an alliance with the Black Panther Party that placed the two organizations at the forefront of militant black protest in the United States. Founded in 1960 by students seeking to coordinate protest activities, SNCC labored for six years in the nonviolent struggle for integration and civil rights in the southern United States. By 1966, however, SNCC abandoned nonviolence as a tactic and integration as an objective and began to espouse a new militancy that called for black power. Meanwhile, in Oakland, California in 1966, Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, and others who sought a new revolutionary black organization, formed the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. The BPP projected many different images ranging from a political gang to a responsible community-based organization. The BPP used strategies of political education and community organization to create a wide range of programs designed to help community, members develop new attitudes of self control and power in their own community.

After forging an alliance with SNCC in 1967, the BPP became more international in its outlook, and members appointed Stokely Carmichael to prime minister and James Forman to minister of foreign affairs. The BPP benefited from the national and international celebrity of its new allies--especially Stokely Carmichael--and thus became a more recognizable. Indeed, a 1970 poll taken by Market Dynamics found that black Americans in New York, San Francisco, Detroit, Baltimore, and Birmingham considered the BPP the third most effective group behind the NAACP and the SCLC during the previous two years. The survey further revealed that 62% of the people polled admired what the BPP was doing. They also predicted that the BPP would be the only black organization that would be effective in the future.(1)

While the BPP borrowed heavily from the revolutionary literature of the third world, it also contributed to the growing concept of a world wide freedom struggle in the late 1960s. Members of SNCC and the BPP attempted to link their ideological struggle with struggles in the third world. For example, Stokely Carmichael redefined his call for"Black Power"into an appeal for pan-Africanism. Huey Newton contributed the idea of "intercomunalism" and asserted that imperialism had reached such a degree that sovereign borders were no longer relevant and that oppressed nations no longer existed; only oppressed communities within and outside artificial political borders existed. …