Black Political Activism and the Cuban Republic

Black Political Activism and the Cuban Republic

Black Political Activism and the Cuban Republic

Black Political Activism and the Cuban Republic


While it was not until 1871 that slavery in Cuba was finally abolished, African-descended people had high hopes for legal, social, and economic advancement as the republican period started. In Black Political Activism and the Cuban Republic, Melina Pappademos analyzes the racial politics and culture of black civic and political activists during the Cuban Republic.

The path to equality, Pappademos reveals, was often stymied by successive political and economic crises, patronage politics, and profound racial tensions. In the face of these issues, black political leaders and members of black social clubs developed strategies for expanding their political authority and for winning respectability and socioeconomic resources. Rather than appeal to a monolithic black Cuban identity based on the assumption of shared experience, these black activists, politicians, and public intellectuals consistently recognized the class, cultural, and ideological differences that existed within the black community, thus challenging conventional wisdom about black community formation and anachronistic ideas of racial solidarity. Pappademos illuminates the central, yet often silenced, intellectual and cultural role of black Cubans in the formation of the nation's political structures; in doing so, she shows that black activism was only partially motivated by race.


Hear this!: even when the most outstanding of our race struggles in organizations
other than our party, though they are our friends we will not join their battle; nor will
we grasp at American eagles.

Black affiliates of the National Party of Oriente (1904)

As one segment of the national whole, the class of color has only one task, that of
working within the parties to fulfill, more than their considerable collective needs,
the general needs of the entire country. Without believing that any of our political
parties are evangelical apostles, we can draw from them abundant resources for an
outcome of practical convenience and regeneration.

Rafael Serra, “To the Class of Color,” in Para blancos y negros (1907)

The Imprecision of Community

In July 1900, as European armies installed themselves on the African continent, taking lives and pillaging resources in places such as the Congo Free State, French West Africa, and Southern Rhodesia, thirty eminent black leaders, representing the United States, Africa, and the West Indies, met in London. There they formed a permanent committee of the Pan- African Association and convened a Pan- Africanist conference—arguably the first of several twentieth- century, international, Pan- African congresses meeting to establish Pan- African unity and challenge the horrors of colonialism in Africa and elsewhere—on behalf of the “natives in various parts of the world, viz. South Africa, West Africa, the West Indies, and the United States.” W. E. B. Du Bois delivered the event’s culminating address, “To the Nations of the World.” in the opening paragraph, he asked how long power would be used to deny the “darker races” opportunities and privileges in the modern world. He then pronounced the famous edict: “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line,” thus identifying racial inequality as the most salient political issue of the new century and urging an interna-

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