Critiquing Harold Cruse’s Misunderstanding of Black Power in the Caribbean

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In The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual Harold Cruse spends some time criticizing Kwame Ture (then known as Stokely Carmichael) and other “West Indian Black Power sponsors” such as Roy Inniss and Lincoln Lynch. The problematic aspect of Cruse’s critique of the West Indian activists in America is that his critique is based on his own lack of understanding of the history and politics of the Caribbean. For example, Cruse writes:

[T]he Garveyite success was in the United States, but Garveyism left “not much to be seen in the islands in the way of concrete organization.” Thus, today we have West Indian nationalists in the United States but no nationalist movement in the black West Indies.

Cruse was wrong on two points here. As Tony Martin demonstrates in Race First, Garvey’s organization was very successful in the Caribbean islands. Cuba had more branches of the UNIA than any other country except for the United States. The UNIA also had a very strong presence in Jamaica and in Trinidad. There were also branches of the UNIA in Barbados, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, St. Kitts, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, and St. Thomas. Guyana (then known as British Guiana) was another West Indian nation where Garvey’s movement was strong. Eusi Kwayana, a Guyanese Pan-Africanist, recalled the excitement when Garvey visited Guyana in the 1930s:

When Marcus Garvey came to Guyana I was about 11 years old and I heard the big people talking about it and singing: “Keep cool you fool and hear what Garvey says.’”

As an adult, Eusi Kwayana encountered many Pan-Africanists in Guyana who considered themselves to be Garveyites, which demonstrates the lasting impact of Garveyism in Guyana. This leads me to the second point on which Cruse was wrong. In the 1960s Eusi Kwayana co-founded two Pan-African organizations, the African Society for Racial Equality (ASRE) and the African Society for Cultural Relations with Independent Africa (ASCRIA). Throughout the 1960s and 1970s there were a number of nationalist organizations which emerged in the Caribbean. The most well-known of which is perhaps the Rastafarian movement, which gained global recognition thanks to the music of artists such as Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. As I’ve explained in “The Popular Image of Rastafarians and Bob Marley”, the Rastafarian movement in the Caribbean was a real revolutionary force. Rastas were involved in the coup which helped to bring Maurice Bishop into power in Grenada.

Cruse explained that “Black Power in Trinidad is not nationalist separation from the British Crown, but gradualistic, integrated Commonwealth-partnership within the Empire.” Cruse is not describing Black Power. He is describing Eric Williams’ neo-colonial government in Trinidad. Cruse was a bit premature in his judgment of the situation in Trinidad. The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual was published in 1967. Three years later Trinidad would experience a Black Power uprising on the island which challenged Williams’ administration. Williams’ administration was so beholden to foreign forces that Kwame Ture himself was banned from legally entering Trinidad, despite the fact that he was born there.

Cruse also wrote that in the West Indies “Black Power has not changed the economic situation at all…” What Cruse was interpreting as Black Power in the West Indies was really neo-colonialism. Black Power in the Caribbean emerged as a reaction to this neo-colonialism, which is why Black Power was met with a hostile reaction from the Caribbean ruling class. Walter Rodney was denied re-entry into Jamaica because he was preaching a message of Black Power there. In Barbados, Prime Minister Errol Barrow passed a Public Order Act to restrict freedom of speech in Barbados. This act was aimed directly at the Black Power activists. Barrow also prevented a Black Power conference from being held in Barbados in 1970.

Simply put, Cruse’s assessment of the political situation in the Caribbean was misinformed partly because he dismissed Black Power in the Caribbean before the Black Power movement really took off. Cruse explained that “Black Power in the Caribbean has not created and brought to the fore a black Fidel Castro — which explains a lot about the black West Indies today.” Cruse obviously wrote this before the revolution in Grenada, which brought Maurice Bishop into power.

We must also keep in mind that much of the political developments in the Caribbean did not occur in isolation. The Black Power advocates in the Caribbean were working directly with African Americans. I have already addressed the work that Eusi Kwayana did with African American activists in a previous article. I also referenced the fact that prior to leading the Black Power uprising in Trinidad, Makandal Daaga had gone to the United States and met with the Black Panther Party in New York. Trinidad would later develop its own branch of the Black Panther Party. Queen Mother Moore and Florynce Kennedy were among those who attended the 1969 Black Power Conference in Bermuda. The reality of the situation was that a nationalist movement did develop in the West Indies and that movement was deeply connected to the nationalist movement which was taking place in the United States.

Dwayne is the author of several books on the history and experiences of African people, both on the continent and in the diaspora. His books are available through Amazon. You can also follow Dwayne on Facebook and Twitter.

Dwayne Wong (Omowale) is a Guyanese born Pan-Africanist, author, and law student.

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