Race to Revolution: The United States and Cuba during Slavery and Jim Crow

By Kerr-Ritchie, Jeffrey R. | The International Journal of Cuban Studies, Spring 2016 | Go to article overview

Race to Revolution: The United States and Cuba during Slavery and Jim Crow


Kerr-Ritchie, Jeffrey R., The International Journal of Cuban Studies


Gerald Horne, Race to Revolution: The United States and Cuba during Slavery and Jim Crow (New York, NY: Monthly Review Press, 2014) 276pp. IsBN: 9781-583-644-51

Reviewed by Jeffrey R. Kerr-Ritchie

This book pursues connections. In 1959, the US-backed regime in Cuba was overthrown in a remarkable revolutionary coup. At the same moment, a powerful Civil Rights Movement was gearing up to destroy Jim Crow racism in the US. While most scholars agree on these events' significance, few pursue their historical conjuncture. Race to Revolution's key objective is to explain how 'these interlinked processes' (p. 27) destroyed US legal inequality and American influence in Cuba. This ambitious agenda results in a sweeping transnational narrative that should inspire students, provoke scholars and intrigue general readers.

Gerald Horne, the John and Rebecca Moores Professor of African American History at the University of Houston, is a prolific scholar. His university webpage lists 15 book publications since 2001. Professor Horne's research focuses upon the transformative roles of workers and intellectuals of African descent, especially in colonial and anti-colonial struggles on the global stage. This book places him within an African American radical tradition in which Cuba was vital to liberation in the US from abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass, Martin Delaney and Henry Highland Garnet, to intellectuals such as Zora Neale Hurston, Rayford Logan and Langston Hughes, to communists such as James W. Ford, Harry Haywood, Paul Robeson, Ben Davis, William Patterson and Angela Davis.

Race to Revolution examines 'U.S.-Cuban relations in the bitter context of slavery and Jim Crow', with a focus 'on the words and deeds of U.S. Negroes - and their "white" counterparts' (p. 8). One prominent activity was cross-border travel by Americans to Cuba and Cubans to the mainland, including runaway slaves, anti-colonial rebels, Confederate refugees, US Negro musicians, American and black Cuban baseball players, missionaries, travellers, soldiers, communists and so forth. The author's key focus, though, is upon broader social and political processes (but strangely not economic; sugar production, marketing and consumption receive scant attention) in which the US, especially Texas and Cuba, fortified African slavery in Cuba, while Jim Crow attained a 'more muscular presence' in Florida and Cuba after 1898 (p. 21). Push-back by African Americans opposed to Jim Crow and lynching as well as black communists in Cuba and the US meant that the 'concentrated racism of Jim Crow was being assailed from both sides of the straits, shortening its shelf life' (p. 23).

Because Race to Revolution does not critically engage the historiography on Cuban slavery, colonialism/anti-colonialism and revolution, Jim Crew, and so forth it is sometimes hard to pin down the overall argument. We are provided with a general narrative on extensive cross-border movements mainly from the 1820s through the 1950s leading to both the demise of Jim Crow in the American South and the overthrow of US imperialism in Cuba. Thus, Race to Revolution conveys both this long historical process and the movement from race-based towards class-based actions.

The book contains eleven chapters in chronological order that can be roughly broken down into four stages. The opening four chapters examine the expansion of American and Cuban slavery as well as slave runaways, revolts and abolitionist protest primarily from the 1820s through the 1850s. It works well. Less successful is stage two (Chapter 5) examining the connections between American emancipation and Cuban slavery followed by the failure of US reconstruction and the rise of Cuban abolition. Chapters 6 through 9 (stage three) examine the origins, nature and consequences of the 1898 war focusing on people of African descent. Black American soldiers during the 1898 invasion ended up marrying Cuban women. …

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