The African Blood Brotherhood (...for African Liberation and Redemption) was a radical black liberation organization with ties to the Communist Party. The group was the brainchild of Cyril Briggs, a West Indian-born radical of mixed racial parentage living in New York. Briggs was a staunch exponent of the theory of racial separatism who, after feeling his work had been censored at The Amsterdam New, quit and launched his own monthly magazine The Crusader in November 1918. The African Blood Brotherhood was launched shortly thereafter, early in 1919, beginning with about a score of activists in Harlem and gradually adding membership through the recruiting clout of the magazine, which had a peak circulation of 36,000.
The ABB was a propaganda organization built on the model of the secret fraternity, organized in "posts" with a centralized national organization based in New York City. The group's size has been variously estimated between 1,000 to Briggs' claim of "less than 3,000" members at its peak. In the words of historian Mark Solomon, Briggs' ABB "sought to draw together the themes of race patriotism, anticapitalism, anticolonialism, and organized defense against racist assault. The organization projected fraternity and benevolence, and even offered a program of calisthenics." [pp. 9-10]
The early ABB was an independent radical organization -- not an auxiliary of the Communist Party. That situation changed only in 1921, when Briggs was convinced by Rose Pastor Stokes tojoin the underground CPA, becoming the 3rd black member of that organization. The party sought to make the ABB into a vehicle for mass work among the black working class.
In June of 1921 The Crusader formally announced that it had become the official organ of the African Blood Brotherhood. With Communist Party funds tight in 1922 and Briggs' own financial situation no better, The Crusader was not long for the world, however; publication was terminated in February 1922. In the aftermath Briggs continued to operate the Crusader News Service, providing news material to affiliated publications of the American black press. Briggs later asserted that central to this decision was a desire to fight the ideology of Marcus Garvey and his "back to Africa" movement, which Briggs believed to be bourgeois.
Sometime during the early 1920s the African Black Brotherhood was dissolved, with many of its members merged into the regular Workers Party of America and later into the National Negro Labor College.
[fn. Barbara Bair, "The Crusader" in Buhle et al. (eds), Encyclopedia of the American Left, First Edition, pp. 170-171; Mark Solomon, The Cry Was Unity: Communists and Afrioan Americans, 1917-1936, chapters 1&2, passim.; Cyril Briggs, letter to Theodore Draper, Draper Papers, Hoover Institution Archives, box 38.]
"The American Race Problem," by Cyril Briggs [serialized Sept.-Dec. 1918] This set of four articles, serialized as "The American Race Problem" by editor Cyril Briggs in his new monthly, The Crusader, puts the pioneer black radical on the radar screen of the black liberation movement of his day as a leading exponent of racial separatism. Briggs sees American White-Black racism as a form of "hatred of the unlike" which draws "its virulence from the firm conviction in the white man's mind of the inequality of races -- the belief that there are superior and inferior races and that the former are marked with a white skin and the latter with dark skin and that only the former are capable and virtuous and therefore alone fit to vote, rule and inherit the earth." Briggs reminds his readers that racial antipathy is a two-way street and that "the Negro dislikes the white man almost as much as the latter dislikes the Negro." Briggs takes aim at fundamental flaws of white economy and society, including the systemic peonage of black agricultural workers in the South, the brutality of lynch mob rule, the horror of convict slave labor, and the dehumanizing effect of Jim Crow segregation, using as illustrations of these evils quotations from those he depicts as "white men, naturally in half-sympathy with the South and only protesting when cracker cruelty went too far." Briggs proffers the "new solution" then emerging, in which the American black had come to the realization that "the salvation of his race and an honorable solution of the American Race Problem call for action and decision in preference to the twaddling, dreaming, and indecision of 'leaders.'" Instead, "nothing more or less than independent, separate existence" was called for -- "Government of the (Negro) people, for the (Negro) people and by the (Negro) people."
"Claude MacKay Describes His Own Life: A Negro Poet," by Claude MacKay [Sept. 1918] Jamaican-born black American poet Claude MacKay offers this brief autobiography to the readers of Pearson's Magazine, detailing his origins and his journey to America. The grandson of slaves and son of a free-born agrarian, MacKay was raised by an older brother, a teacher, who instilled a love of classical literature in him at a young age. MacKay trekked to America in 1912 to study agriculture at Tuskegee University, coming face to face with virulent Southern American racism for the first time. Not finding the quasi-military structure of Tuskegee to his liking, MacKay left for two years of study at Kansas State, before moving to New York City, where he briefly and unsuccessfully ran a restaurant with a friend. MacKay married, but after 6 months his wife went home to Jamaica, while MacKay remained in New York City, working a series of service industry jobs and writing poetry. The article includes 5 of MacKay's poems from his early New York period, including the provocative and aggressive anti-racist verses of "To the White Friends."
"Summary of the Program and Aims of the African Blood Brotherhood (Formulated by 1920 Convention)" [circa June 1920] While there is some doubt as to whether Cyril Briggs' African Blood Brotherhood ever held a convocation that can be accurately characterized as a "convention" in 1920, there is no doubt that a leaflet was published including a "summary of the program and aims" of the organization said to have been adopted at such a gathering. This leaflet, reprinted here, was apparently issued in May or June of 1920, in anticipation of a forthcoming convention of Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association, held in August of that same year. A 9 point program is put forward for the African Blood Brotherhood: (1) A Liberated Race; (2) Absolute Race Equality - Political, Economic, Social; (3) The Fostering of Racial Self-Respect; (4) Organized and Uncompromising Opposition to the Ku Klux Klan; (5) A United Negro Front; (6) Industrial Development; (7) Higher Wages for Negro Labor, Shorter Hours, and Better Living Conditions; (8) Education; and (9) Cooperation with the other Darker Peoples and with the Class-Conscious White Workers.
"The Negro Convention," by Cyril Briggs [events of Aug. 1-28, 1921] Writing under the pseudonym "C.B. Valentine," founder of the African Blood Brotherhood Cyril Briggs gives his account of the "2nd International Convention of Negroes" called by the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League, headed by Marcus Garvey. Briggs draws contrast between the Garveyites' obsession with matters of rank and privilege, such as various "knighthoods" and a "ladyship" awarded, and the designation of President-General Garvey as the "Provisional President of Africa," etc., with the practical and single-minded desire of the ABB for "real constructive action." Briggs states that "The ABB delegation...demanded among other things a constructive program for 'the guidance of the negro race in the struggle for liberation,' and suggested and agitated before the congress the creation of a federation of existing negro organizations 'in order to present a united and formidable front to the enemy,' and the adoption of a program calling for means 'to raise and protect the standard of living of the negro people,' to "stop the mob-murder of our people and to protect them against sinister secret societies of cracker whites, and to fight the ever expanding peonage system.' They further demanded that Soviet Russia be endorsed by the congress and the real foes of the negro race denounced." The ABB's publication of a weekly journal and other literature hostile to the brazen pocket-stuffing of the Garveyite leadership brought about a crisis late in the month, culminating with Garvey's denunciation of the ABB as "traitors and Bolshevist agents" and the expulsion of the ABB delegates from the convention, Briggs notes.
"The Negro Liberation Movement," by "C. Lorenzo" [Dec. 10, 1921] This survey of the black liberation movement from December 1921 appears to have been written by a white American Communist under a pseudonym and was published in the pages of the official organ of the Workers Party of America. "Lorenzo" sees two main tendencies in the negro liberation movement of the day -- the Universal Negro Improvement Association, headed by Marcus Garvey, and the African Blood Brotherhood, headed by Cyril Briggs. In addition, the existence of a number of "minor phases" of the movement are noted, including the Equal Rights League from Boston, and the Pan-African Congress; plus two African-based tendencies, the Mohammedan movement and the Ethiopian movement. "Lorenzo" states that the African Blood Brotherhood is "the only Negro organization that the capitalists view with any degree of alarm," owing to its reputation as having lead the armed self-defense of the black community in the Tulsa race riot and to its willingness to seek "the cooperation of all other forces genuinely opposed to the capitalist-imperialist system" (i.e. the communists and other radical white movements). "While placing a free Africa as the chief of its ultimate aims, the ABB has no intention of surrendering any rights that the Negro has won in any parts of the world, or of letting up on the fight for liberty -- 'political, economic, social' -- in the United States. It is at present carrying on a most uncompromising fight for the rights of the Negro workers in this country to organize for the betterment of their condition, the raising of their standard of living, and for shorter hours and higher wages. At the same time it seeks to imbue the Negro workers with a sense of the necessity of working class solidarity to the success of the struggle against the capitalist-imperialist system, which it asks Negroes to wage both as Negroes and as workers," "Lorenzo" declares.
Program of the African Blood Brotherhood. [As published April 1922] Programatic statement of the African Blood Brotherhood, as published in the April 1922 issue of the theoretical journal of the Communist Party of Great Britain. Of particular note is a tendency to follow the tactics practiced in the Irish liberation struggle by Sinn Fein by establishing a "Pan-African army, whose very existence would drive respect and terror into the hearts of the white capitalist-planters, and protect our people against their abuses." It was to be American blacks who were destined "to assume the leadership of our people in a powerful world movement for Negro liberation," according to the ABB's program. To this end, alliances with class-conscious whites should be forged and the "New Negros" of the ABB "should immediately establish contact with the Third International and its millions of followers in all countries of the world."
"The Racial Question in America," by Claude McKay. [Nov. 21, 1922] Claude McKay's succinct and forthright analysis of the position of the black worker in America and his frankly anti-socialistic tendencies, published in the weekly organ of the Comintern. McKay states that "at present the blacks distrust and hate the whites to such an extent that they, the blacks, are very hostile to the radical propaganda of the whites.... The blacks are hostile to Communism because they regard it as a "white" working-class movement and they consider the white workers their greatest enemy, who draw the color line against them in factory and office and lynch and burn them at the stake for being colored."
"A Report on the American 'Negro Problem' for the Communist International, November 1922," by Claude McKay. This is an unpublished report written by Claude McKay for the Communist International, preserved in the Comintern Archive in Moscow. Here McKay not only outlines his views of the political situaton, but details concrete activities that should be taken, specifically: a weekly newspaper, a press service, and a lecture bureau. McKay estimates a budget for each of these activities, as well as funds for the manufacture of posters and an ambiguous $10,000 line "for special purpose." McKay's thinking is international in scope with the recipient organization affiliated to the Comintern not explicitly stated to the African Blood Brotherhood itself -- rather, some new organization seems to be implied. Also interesting is McKay's thinking about internal organization, explicitly based on a 7-step "masonic" progression, from the neophyte to the extremely disciplined 7th Degree, class-conscious organizational leader.
"Report on the Negro Question: Speech to the 4th Congress of the Comintern," by Claude McKay. Claude McKay's lengthy report on the situation of the black workers' movement in America. McKay states that "the American capitalists are using Negro soldiers in their fight against the interests of labor." The situation was ugly and "the Socialists and Communists have fought very shy of it because there is a great element of prejudice among the Socialists and Communists of America. They are not willing to face the Negro question," leaving the task to the "reformist bourgeoisie." The job ahead was difficult: "If we send white comrades into the South they are generally ordered out by the Southern oligarchy and if they do not leave they are generally whipped, tarred and feathered; and if we send black comrades into the South they generally won't be able to get out again -- they will be lynched and burned at the stake."
"To General Secretary of the ECCI Vasil Kolarov from Claude McKay in Moscow, Dec. 23, 1922." Claude McKay, a renowned poet and political activist, was one of the leading black American Communists during the decade of the 1920s. In Moscow as a delegate to the 4th Congress of the Communist International, McKay took a direct interest in the Comintern's plans to subsidize a propaganda paper targeted to American blacks. In this letter to the General Secretary of the Executive Committee of the Communist International and member of the ECCI Presidium Vasil Kolarov (1877-1950), McKay argues for a delay in the subsidy until the political situation in the American CP stabilizes. He also argues the unsuitability of Cyril Briggs, former editor of the African Blood Brotherhood's official publication, to serve in a comparable role with the new publication, instead favoring W.A. Domingo, the former editor of the newspaper The Emancipator.
"Soviet Russia and the Negro," by Claude McKay. [Dec. 1923] Claude McKay's account of his Nov. 1921 trip to Soviet Russia. McKay found a lack of racism that was a marked change from the attitude to blacks pervasive in America, England, and Germany. He attributed this fact in large measure to the fact that "Russia is a country where all the races of Europe and of Asia meet and mix." McKay found himself freely accepted among equals as a poet and states that at every meeting with factory workers, military men, and students he was "received with boisterous acclaim, mobbed by friendly demonstration."
"Letter to Theodore Draper in New York from Cyril Briggs in Los Angeles." (extract) [March 17, 1958] This is a fascinating first-hand account of the origins and development of the African Blood Brotherhood by its founder and leading force, Cyril Briggs. Briggs states that he was never a member of the Socialist Party, not believing that the SPA had anything of import to offer American blacks, but that he was won to the CPA by Rose Pastor Stokes, who competed with Robert Minor of the UCP in attempting to win Briggs to the movement. Briggs states that he thus became the 3rd black in the CPA, joining Otto Huiswoud and a certain Hendricks. (The rival UCP actually had a black District Organizer in this period, it should be noted, William Costley.) Briggs says that he quit The Amsterdam News in 1918 over editorial censorship at the behest of Federal authorities, and launched The Crusader soon there after. This publication preceded the formation of the African Blood Brotherhood, Briggs states. "The Brotherhood never attained the proportions of a real mass organization. Its initial membership was less than a score, and all in Harlem. At its peak it had less than 3,000 members," Briggs says, noting that most of the group's members were recruited through the pages of the magazine, which had a peak circulation of 36,000. Briggs dismisses the assertion made in the press that the ABB was behind the Tulsa race riots of 1919 as a "canard," probably related to the military-sounding name of the group's primary organizational units, "posts." The ABB morphed into the Crusader News Service, Briggs indicates, a free service which exerted a great influence in the pages of the American black press. "If organizing the Brotherhood was not inspired by any particular event or development, the creation of the Crusader News Service was inspired by our fight against certain policies and tactics of Garvey and his lieutenants. We wished to set the widest possible audience for our polemics against those tactics and policies," Briggs states. Briggs tells Draper that he is "quite correct in assuming that the Communist Party had no part in initiating the organization of the Brotherhood. Nor did the Brotherhood owe its inspiration to the Communist movement." While he is unsure of the date of founding of the ABB, Briggs believes that it was launched shortly after the founding of The Crusader in Nov. 1918 -- that is, in early 1919.