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In either case Houser did his best to try and utilize the ACOA as a prophylactic for the Africa

solidarity movement to prevent it from being infected by those who may have been influenced

by the thinking of Du Bois, Robeson and Hunton. This approach serves to mask



No Easy Victories: African Liberation and American Activists over Half a Century, 1950-2000

Edited by William Minter, Gail Hovey and Charles Cobb Jr. Africa World Press, 2007.

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No Easy Victories

Repudiating the Legacy of Du Bois, Robeson, and Hunton

 Book Review by Jean Damu


No Easy Victories is the latest book to focus on the Africa solidarity movement in the US. Four organizations, the editors would have us believe, were the movement’s cornerstones.

Of these organizations, the American Committee on Africa, TransAfrica, the American Friends Service Committee, and the Washington Office on Africa (an outgrowth of the American Committee on Africa), ACOA was by far the most influential; the one with the longest standing and the most controversial. It is the organization to which many activists interviewed in No Easy Victories constantly return when acknowledging their earliest influences in the African liberation solidarity movement.

But who and what was ACOA?

In contributor Lisa Brock’s feature on ACOA and its founder George Houser, Brock delineates the role of an earlier organization, the Council on African Affairs [CAA], that was first formed in 1937 and was ultimately led by W.E.B. Du Bois, Paul Robeson and Dr. Alphaeus Hunton. The Council on African Affairs  called for not only the overthrow of colonialism in Africa but promoted an anti-imperialist vision for Africa as well.

In his interview with Brock, Houser claims he founded ACOA because he didn’t agree with the politics of the CAA and felt it his duty to bring noncommunist whites into the movement.

However in his autobiography, “No One Can Stop the Rain” (a curious title for a book about African liberation), Houser goes quite a bit further.

In May of 1953, Houser says he and his friends did a survey of the organizational scene in the US, and ignoring the existence of the CAA said there needed to be an American Committee on Africa because there was no other organization concerned “with the overall continent of Africa.”

Therefore, as early as 1953 under the leadership of George Houser and presumably to counter the CAA’s radical leadership, the ACOA ignored Black America’s role in the movement to support Africa and sought to supplant it, which thanks to the aid of the US government, it did.

Further reflecting ACOA’s  concern with communist participation in the movement, Houser goes on to quote letter written to him by his longtime aid Homer Jack after his return from a visit to South Africa.

“He (Dr. Yusuf Dadoo, president of the Indian People’s Congress) is a devoted man,” writes Jack, “ albeit an unabashed Communist…If I were in South Africa I would definitely participate in the campaign and work overtime to oust the commies from control.”

These Cold War attitudes expressed by Jack and Houser set the tone for the work of the ACOA for the next thirty five years.

While members of the Council on African Affairs were subjected to US conditions of apartheid and finally forced to shut down because its leaders were either imprisoned, forced to go underground, subjected to national house arrest by having their passports confiscated, or forced to turn over its records to the Justice Dept, Houser and the American Committee on Africa never once stood up to protest.

A key ally of ACOA was Tobias Channing and the Phelps-Stokes Fund which played an important role in convincing liberal Black leaders to embrace the anti-communist, pro-US imperialist policies of the Truman Doctrine. That doctrine linked advances in civil rights legislation to efforts to convince the world the US was the world’s leader in promoting human rights, despite Truman’s refusal to intervene in a rash of lynchings after Black servicemen returned from WWII. More about the Phelps-Stokes Fund later.

Curiously and sadly, despite Brock’s rigorous attempt to highlight Houser and the ACOA as enthusiastic Cold War warriors other contributors to No Easy Victories get sidetracked (perhaps willfully) and fail to heed the warning signs that indicate when the anti-colonialist, anti-communist path, trail blazed by Houser, diverges from the far more radical anti-imperialist path, trail blazed in large part by the African Blood Brotherhood of the 1920’s (who advocated the armed destruction of colonialism) and later by DuBois, Robeson and Hunton of the Council on African Affairs.

Though the book is ample with interviews with solidarity activists, many of them respected fighters for African liberation like Prexy Nesbitt or the late Damu Smith, still it promotes the concept that ACOA and its related organizations were the foundations of the African solidarity movement and creates the false impression that mostly white people were the engines of the movement.

This perception is enforced by the time period covered in the book, 1950-2000. ACOA was created in 1953. Before then no significant number of whites outside the communist influenced Council on African Affairs were involved in Africa solidarity work. If the editors had chosen to review the period as far back as 1919 with the creation of the African Blood Brotherhood or Marcus Garvey’s UNIA, then they would have had to acknowledge Black America’s anti-imperialist role in the Africa solidarity movement until it was crushed by the government.

Furthermore the book does not note the modern role in the movement of America’s Black press. The important contributions of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, the National Conference of Black Lawyers or any of the many radical national white or multi-racial organizations are also ignored.

The 1980 national Southern Africa solidarity conference held at NYC’s historic Riverside Methodist Church featured African National Congress leaders Oliver Tambo, Tabo Mbeki, leading members of Namibia’s South West Africa People’s Organization, Shirley Chisholm and others. Current Congresswoman Barbara Lee, then representing Congressman Ron Dellums, served as the conference secretary. It was the largest and most important African solidarity conference ever held in the US. Unbelievably, it also warrants no mention in No Easy Victories.

The relationship between US Civil Rights organizations and leaders with South Africa is totally ignored. The role of Madie Hall Xuma, the social worker from North Carolina who married Albert Xuma, who became president of the ANC, and who founded the modern version of the ANC Women’s League goes unmentioned. Nor is there any mention of the historic relationships between African American church organizations and Africa.

What is evident from No Easy Victories, despite participation from a substantial number of Blacks is a sense of white paternalism towards Africa and Black America.

This paternalism can be traced back to George Houser whose politics No Easy Victories seems to mimic.

“I felt that the US civil rights struggle was not essentially revolutionary,” wrote Houser. “It aimed more narrowly against discrimination and segregation…It could not be a model for South Africa.” The CAA leaders were too revolutionary and the civil rights leaders were not revolutionary enough.

In either case Houser did his best to try and utilize the ACOA as a prophylactic for the Africa solidarity movement to prevent it from being infected by those who may have been influenced by the thinking of Du Bois, Robeson and Hunton. This approach serves to mask the almost universally acknowledged belief that it was the existence of the socialist countries throughout most of the 20th century that created the geopolitical space that allowed the national liberation movements, particularly of Asia and Africa,  to succeed.

In fact, however, it was the anti-apartheid movement, as defined mainly by ACOA, that was narrow. Gaye McDougal, a noted human rights attorney, who worked in close proximity to ACOA in the Washington, D.C. area noted “In many ways it (the anti-apartheid movement) was a shallow movement politically.”

Similar feelings are expressed elsewhere in the book.

If the book’s editors had come down into the trenches of the Black communities and organizations that supported African liberation, likely the summary feelings would have been far different.

Longshore workers, who refused to unload cargo from South African ships in the Bay Area will tell you the movement was the high point of their lives; something they will remember with pride until the day they die.

The Bay Area’s noted Vukani Mwethu, a choir that has been promoting US-South African solidarity since the early 1980’s is as strong and politically relevant as ever-but no one from Vukani Mwethu was interviewed.

Recently the American Committee on Africa and the Washington Office on Africa merged with the Africa Policy Information Center to create what is known as Africa Action.

Today Africa Action, as did the ACOA in earlier times, often appears to consider the US government an ally, albeit from time to time a wayward ally, as evidenced by its scolding the Bush Administration for not being more aggressive toward Sudan on the Darfur issue while  ignoring US policies that inflame the crisis there.

Even though the Cold War is apparently over Africa Action continues to embrace its old Cold War time partners.

Consider this. The executive director of Africa Action, Gerald LeMelle, was a long time fundraiser for the Phelps-Stokes Fund, that primary pillar of the Truman Doctrine. Although today the foundation provides scholarships for Africans to study in the US, for much of the 20th Century it was the primary source of funding for the American Colonization Society, the organization that encouraged the removal of free Blacks from America, until it mercifully went out of business in 1964.

Have they no shame?

Jean Damu organized the 1978 Bay Area Trade Union Conference in Solidarity with South Africa and along with Alameda County Supervisor John George, noted labor journalist David Bacon and former National anti-Imperialist Movement in Solidarity with African Liberation chair Franklin Alexander and others, founded the Bay Area Free South Africa Movement.

William Minter taught at the secondary school of the Mozambique Liberation Front in 1966-68 and 1974-76. An independent scholar and activist, he is the author of Apartheid’s Contras and other books.

Gail Hovey was among the founders of Southern Africa magazine in 1964 and worked in South Africa in 1966-67. She served as research director for the American Committee on Africa/The Africa Fund, as managing editor of Christianity and Crisis, and as executive director of Grassroots International.

Charles Cobb Jr., senior correspondent for, was a field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Mississippi in 1962-67. His books include Radical Equations (with Robert Moses) and On the Road to Freedom: A Guided Tour to the Civil Rights Trail.

No Easy Victories: African Liberation

and American Activists over a Half Century, 1950-2000

Edited by William Minter, Gail Hovey and Charles Cobb Jr.

posted 4 February 2008

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Sylvia Hill, center, and Gay McDougall were among African American activists

invited by Nelson Mandela to visit South Africa in October 1991

on what was called a " Democracy Now" tour.  Photo courtesy of Sylvia Hill.

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Sylvia HillFrom the Sixth Pan-African Congress to the Free South Africa MovementWilliam MinterSylvia Hill and her fellow local activists in the Southern Africa Support Project were at the heart of the Free South Africa Movement that brought demonstrators to be arrested at the South African Embassy in the United States in 1984 and 1985. Hill was also one of the key organizers for the Sixth Pan-African Congress in Dar es Salaam in 1974, and for Nelson Mandela's tour of the United States following his release from prison in 1990. Today Hill is professor of criminal justice at the University of the District of Columbia. She serves on the board of TransAfrica Forum. This profile draws on interviews with Sylvia Hill by William Minter in 2003 and 2004.noeasyvictories


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Soul of a People

The WPA Writers' Project Uncovers Depression America

By David A. Taylor

Soul of a People is about a handful of people who were on the Federal Writer's Project in the 1930s and a glimpse of America at a turning point. This particular handful of characters went from poverty to great things later, and included John Cheever, Ralph Ellison, Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, and Studs Terkel. In the 1930s they were all caught up in an effort to describe America in a series of WPA guides. Through striking images and firsthand accounts, the book reveals their experiences and the most vivid excerpts from selected guides and interviews: Harlem schoolchildren, truckers, Chicago fishmongers, Cuban cigar makers, a Florida midwife, Nebraskan meatpackers, and blind musicians.

Drawing on new discoveries from personal collections, archives, and recent biographies, a new picture has emerged in the last decade of how the participants' individual dramas intersected with the larger picture of their subjects.

This book illuminates what it felt like to live that experience, how going from joblessness to reporting on their own communities affected artists with varied visions, as well as what feelings such a passage involved: shame humiliation, anger, excitement, nostalgia, and adventure. Also revealed is how the WPA writers anticipated, and perhaps paved the way for, the political movements of the following decades, including the Civil Rights movement, the Women's Right movement, and the Native American rights movement.

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Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.”

Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—WashingtonPost

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The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

By Michele Alexander

Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama's political success and Oprah Winfrey's financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today... than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits.

Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don't know the truth about mass incarceration—but her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.—Publishers Weekly

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The Last Holiday: A Memoir

By Gil Scott Heron

Shortly after we republished The Vulture and The Nigger Factory, Gil started to tell me about The Last Holiday, an account he was writing of a multi-city tour that he ended up doing with Stevie Wonder in late 1980 and early 1981. Originally Bob Marley was meant to be playing the tour that Stevie Wonder had conceived as a way of trying to force legislation to make Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday. At the time, Marley was dying of cancer, so Gil was asked to do the first six dates. He ended up doing all 41. And Dr King's birthday ended up becoming a national holiday ("The Last Holiday because America can't afford to have another national holiday"), but Gil always felt that Stevie never got the recognition he deserved and that his story needed to be told. The first chapters of this book were given to me in New York when Gil was living in the Chelsea Hotel. Among the pages was a chapter called Deadline that recounts the night they played Oakland, California, 8 December; it was also the night that John Lennon was murdered.

Gil uses Lennon's violent end as a brilliant parallel to Dr King's assassination and as a biting commentary on the constraints that sometimes lead to newspapers getting things wrong. Jamie Byng, Guardian / Gil_reads_"Deadline" (audio)

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Faces At The Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism

By Derrick Bell

In nine grim metaphorical sketches, Bell, the black former Harvard law professor who made headlines recently for his one-man protest against the school's hiring policies, hammers home his controversial theme that white racism is a permanent, indestructible component of our society. Bell's fantasies are often dire and apocalyptic: a new Atlantis rises from the ocean depths, sparking a mass emigration of blacks; white resistance to affirmative action softens following an explosion that kills Harvard's president and all of the school's black professors; intergalactic space invaders promise the U.S. President that they will clean up the environment and deliver tons of gold, but in exchange, the bartering aliens take all African Americans back to their planet. Other pieces deal with black-white romance, a taxi ride through Harlem and job discrimination.

Civil rights lawyer Geneva Crenshaw, the heroine of Bell's And We Are Not Saved (1987), is back in some of these ominous allegories, which speak from the depths of anger and despair. Bell now teaches at New York University Law School.—Publishers Weekly

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The River of No Return

The Autobiography of a Black Militant and the Life and Death of SNCC

By Cleveland Sellers with Robert Terrell

Among histories of the civil rights movement of the 1960s there are few personal narratives better than this one. Besides being an insider's account of the rise and fall of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, it is an eyewitness report of the strategies and the conflicts in the crucial battle zones as the fight for racial justice raged across the South.  This memoir by Cleveland Sellers, a SNCC volunteer, traces his zealous commitment to activism from the time of the sit-ins, demonstrations, and freedom rides in the early '60s. In a narrative encompassing the Mississippi Freedom Summer (1964), the historic march in Selma, the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, and the murders of civil rights activists in Mississippi, he recounts the turbulent history of SNCC and tells the powerful story of his own no-return dedication to the cause of civil rights and social change.

The River of No Return is acclaimed as a book that is destined to become a standard text for those wishing to perceive the civil rights struggle from within the ranks of one of its key organizations and to note the divisive history of the movement as groups striving for common goals were embroiled in conflict and controversy.

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Southern History Across the Color Line

By Nell Irvin Painter

The color line, once all too solid in southern public life, still exists in the study of southern history. As distinguished historian Nell Irvin Painter notes, historians often still write about the South as though people of different races occupied entirely different spheres. In truth, although blacks and whites were expected to remain in their assigned places in the southern social hierarchy, their lives were thoroughly entangled.

In this powerful collection, Painter reaches across the color line to examine how race, gender, class, and individual subjectivity shaped the lives of black and white women and men in the nineteenth- and twentieth-century South. Through six essays, she explores such themes as interracial sex, white supremacy, and the physical and psychological violence of slavery, using insights gleaned from psychology and feminist social science as well as social, cultural, and intellectual history. — Southern Literary Journal

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Natives of My Person

By George Lamming

Natives of My Person focuses on slave traders of the sixteenth century. The novel reconstructs the voyage of the ship Reconnaissance, which is led by a character known as the Commandant. To atone for his past cruelties and barbarism, the Commandant plans to establish a Utopian society on the island of San Cristobal. The enterprise fails for many reasons: fighting amongst the crew, loss of interest, greed, and an inability to erase the past. The novel argues that an ideal society cannot be built by those who have committed moral atrocities and unnecessary bloodshed in their past. . . . Although Natives of My Person has a historical setting and deals with the voyage of the Reconnaissance, a vessel ostensibly engaged in the slave trade, a specific historical phenomenon, it is only partly accurate to describe it as a work of historical realism. Its realist component is not to be found in its fidelity to period costume, living conditions, or similar revealing detail. Instead of the veneer of verisimilitude that such usages provide, the novel locates its realism in the way in which it elaborately recapitulates an outlook.

George Lamming: Contemporary Criticism

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Season of Adventure

By George Lamming

First published in 1960, Season of Adventure details the story of Fola, a light-skinned middle-class girl who has been tipped out of her easy hammock of social privilege into the complex political and cultural world of her recently independent homeland, the Caribbean island of San Cristobal. After attending a ceremony of the souls to raise the dead, she is carried off by the unrelenting accompaniment of steel drums onto a mysterious journey in search of her past and of her identity. Gradually, she is caught in the crossfire of a struggle between people who have "pawned their future to possessions" and those "condemned by lack of learning to a deeper truth." The music of the drums sounds throughout the novel, "loud as gospel to a believer's ears," and at the end stands alone as witness to the tradition which is slowly being destroyed in the name of European values. Whether through literary production or public pronouncements, George Lamming has explored the phenomena of colonialism and imperialism and their impact on the psyche of Caribbean people.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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