Civil Rights International: The Fight Against Racism Has Always Been Global

August 11, 2020
Hyde Park

In her latest article for Foreign Affairs, Carr Center fellow Keisha N. Blain describes how by connecting national concerns to global ones, BLM activists are building on a long history of Black internationalism. 

"In establishing such links, BLM is very much following in the footsteps of previous movements against racism. In the early twentieth century, civil rights activists often called on African Americans to see their interests as tied to those of people of color elsewhere. In January 1919, for example, the Black journalist John Quincy Adams published an open letter to U.S. President Woodrow Wilson in The Appeal, an influential Black-owned newspaper, demanding that the United States seek to protect the rights and recognition of people of color everywhere. 'Through the centuries,' Adams noted, 'the colored races of the globe have been subjected to the most unjust and inhuman treatment by the so-called white peoples.'

At around the same time, Madam C. J. Walker, a business pioneer who rose to fame after making a fortune marketing beauty and hair products for Black people, established the International League of Darker Peoples with several other well-known Black activists, including the Jamaican Black nationalist Marcus Garvey, the labor organizer A. Philip Randolph, and the Harlem clergyman Adam Clayton Powell, Sr. During World War I, the ILDP provided a platform for Walker and her associates to advocate for the rights and dignity of marginalized groups across the world and to tap into surging anti-imperialist and anticolonial fervor. In January 1919, Walker coordinated a historic meeting in New York City between a delegation from the ILDP and S. Kuriowa, the publisher of the Tokyo newspaper Yorudo Choho. At the meeting, members of the ILDP asked Kuriowa to encourage Japanese officials to advocate racial equality at the Paris Peace Conference, which was scheduled to take place several days later. They received a favorable response from Kuriowa, who assured them: 'The race question will be raised at the peace table.' Western officials ultimately sidelined the issue of racial prejudice at the conference. But Walker’s actions laid the groundwork for a new generation of Black activists and intellectuals who sought international support in the decades that followed."

Read the full article at Foregin Affairs.