White Violence and Black Response: From Reconstruction to Montgomery

By Herbert Shapiro | Go to book overview

SEVEN
Garvey and Randolph

AS THE UNITED STATES moved into the 1920s many Afro- Americans did not find the strategy of civil rights protest an adequate perspective for the future. For a variety of reasons, gaining increasing support was the view that new conditions required a new strategy. Operating within a context of a racism more virulent than ever, some considered futile any strategy based on the assumption that white racism could be eliminated as a dominating factor in American society. Others, stirred by the anti-imperialist, anticolonial movements emerging from the war, sought a means of expressing a new consciousness of nationality, sought stronger identification particularly with the African roots of the Afro-American experience. For still others, who saw the war experience in terms of a confrontation of classes, identification with the labor movement, identification with revolutionary socialism, appeared more pertinent than affiliation with a civil rights movement influenced by middle-class intellectuals and white liberals.

Marcus Garvey was first and foremost among those who came upon the scene to generate a mass movement geared to a perspective diverging sharply from that held out by the civil rights activists. One must distinguish the popular mood that appeared to find a voice in Garvey, that propelled him forward as a mass leader, from the specific programmatic course he outlined. For those who desired to answer racism with a new pride of color, race, and heritage, for those who believed that Afro- America must develop its own independent political and economic institutions, Garvey appeared to be the right leader at the appropriate place and time. He held out the possibility that despite the formidable power of racism blacks could gain their freedom and also contribute to greater freedom for Africa. The weak link in Garvey's armor was that the success of the "Back to Africa" program was linked to reaching an accommodation with the European colonial powers and American corporations interested in Africa. Such accommodation was beyond his reach, and the final reality was that Afro-Americans could not mount an effective strug

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