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Black August and a look at the future of African Americans


Black August is the annual designation of a month of Black significant historical events and personalities who have helped to define what it is to be Black in America and what is possible in changing that status.
For example, for those who still regard the late 1960s and early 1970s as the watershed period in the on-going political-culture wars (remember the Black aesthetic, Black studies, Last Poets, Black Power salutes?), young Jonathan Jackson’s Marin County Courthouse adventure in trying to free Ruchell Magee, Fleeta Drumgo, and a number of other Black prisoners as a statement of protest for his brother.

George Jackson’s continued incarceration, and his subsequent assassination in San Quentin Prison, all occurred in August.

Michael Jackson was born in August. Nat Turner’s rebellion occurred during this month, as did the Watts Riot (Rebellion), and the first Tommy Jacquette-organized Watts Summer Festival (remember Watts Stax and Rufus Thomas’ pink suit?).

Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent deadly breaks in the levees occurred in August, and Jazz great Lester “Prez” Young was born to a poor Mississippi sharecropping family during the eighth month of the year.

Just as important as all the above (and much, much more in August), the month also saw the birth of Marcus M. Garvey in Jamaica.

Garvey would migrate to Harlem by 1916 in search of Booker T. Washington, who had just died, and would become the seminal historical leader of the largest organization of Black Americans yet known, and a beacon for downtrodden Black folk wherever they resided to stand up for and to redeem themselves. “Up you mighty race, you can accomplish what you will,” he liked to say.

This August marks the 97th year of the birth of Garvey’s UNIA-ACL, (Universal Negro Improvement Association-African Communities League). The group was initially established in Garvey’s home country in 1914, and re-formulated for the United States of America in 1917. The organization eventually morphed into the only known African descendant nation-within-a-nation by achieving a 20,000 vote plebiscite at its 1920 convention, an agreed-upon constitution and name, and a mission statement/objective to set up a successful repatriation process for Black Americans and those from the Caribbean who wanted it–to make the choice of going back to Africa.

Make no mistake about this objective, it was never, as the myth says, a ‘Back to Africa’ movement to encourage, support or even advocate that all Black folks emigrate to the African continent. As Garvey said, ‘Negroes who are no good in America, will be no good in Africa.’

Instead, Garvey, through the speeches, parades, Black Cross Nurses, Black Stevedores, and such, both encouraged and implemented the creation of a broad, skilled core of Black Americans ready to move to Africa to build a brick-and-mortar place that could eventually expand into real nation-state status. It was quite a dream, and one still pursued by a new generation of African nationalists.

In his heyday, Garvey not only had his signature newspaper–the Negro World (first issued and disseminated on Aug. 17, his birthday) read in more than 50 countries, a remarkable feat in itself in the 1920s and 1930s–he and his colleagues also spurred the creation of more than 856 chapters of the UNIA-ACL in places as far-flung as Costa Rica, Cuba, Nicaragua, Panama, Belize, Barbados, London, Paris, Madrid and Cape Town, South Africa, as well as at least 20 states in the U.S.A.

The Garvey program promised Black folk a return to dignity and self-worth, as well as an end to inferiority and being disregarded. Garvey represented the African nationalist version of Pan-Africanism and Negro self-help (just as Dr. W.E.B. Dubois, another outstanding leader of the time, represented what is called the Pan-African heritage, or cultural bridge version of Pan-Africanism).

To Garvey and his followers, the acquisition and maintenance of land by Black folk, to the point of being able to establish and defend sovereignty in some bounded territory, was a fundamental and indispensable element in achieving and preserving real freedom and independence.

Garvey advocated that Black folk be educated and prepared in the U.S.A. (just as they were discriminated against and abused in the U.S.A.) buy, seize, discover, or otherwise acquire control over a body of land they could call their own and use as leverage to gain influence, respect and consideration in the world of nation states.

Garvey’s movement inspired the creation of the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X’s Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), the Republic of New Africa, both the Black Panther Party for Self Defense and Maulana Karenga’s US Organization, former Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah’s advocacy of a United States of Africa, the creation of both the OAU (Organization of African Unity) and the current continent-wide collective the AU (African Union), among many others.

From an era that spawned a great many leaders and history-making groups seeking to better the Black condition in America and elsewhere, and that later saw virtually all of them pass their prime and either abruptly die or fade into obscurity, only a very small handful have stood the tests of time, including the NAACP, Urban League, the Prince Hall Masons, and the UNIA-ACL.

In a northwest neighborhood of Philadelphia, with the backdrop of massive Black male under- and un-employment, the 54th International UNIA-ACL Convention will be held Aug. 16-21; in Baltimore, the fifth annual Sixth Region Diaspora Caucus is being held from Aug. 19-21; on Aug. 28, the gigantically significant celebration of Dr. King’s memorial on the Washington Promenade occurs, and closer to home, Our Weekly kicks off its version of the new Black business expo at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

We still have miles to go, even during August, but any month with all that going.

Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or Non-Governmental Organization (NGO). It is the step-parent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.

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