Also upon his return to the United States, Fort-Whiteman initiated the disbanding of the African Blood Brotherhood – a black self-defense organization which, although only having a peak membership of less than 3,000 members, operated a magazine which in the words of the Brotherhood’s founder and leader Cyril Briggs in a letter to historian and ex-communist Theodore Draper “had a peak circulation of 36,000 and reached many Negro communities throughout the country” and had become the Communist Party’s most successful tool in their attempts to gain a black American audience after its leaders had been recruited into the Communist Party in 1921. In the Brotherhood’s place, Fort-Whiteman and black Communists formed the Party-controlled American Negro Labor Congress [ANLC], hoping to continue the work they were doing under the Brotherhood on a more party-line basis. It was a disaster. In his letter to Draper, Briggs wrote:
After I, Dick Moore, and some other members of the Supreme Council joined the CP, we sought to and succeeded in establishing a close relationship between the two organizations. This was successful, however, only in northern industrial centers. Few of our Southern members joined the CP or followed us into the American Negro Labor Congress when we decided to liquidate the Brotherhood and turn our efforts to building the Congress.
An FBI report from Chicago dated November 5, 1925 recounts the events of the ANLC founding conference. The report noted:
- October 25th, 1925: “Lovett Fort-Whitman, national organizer of the Congress, made the principal talk. In brief, his remarks were that ‘the aim of the congress is to mobilize and coordinate into a fight-machine the most enlightened and militant and class conscious workers of the negro race in the struggle for the abolition of lynching, Jim Crow’ism, industrial discrimination, political disfranchisement, and segregation of the race.’ He attacked President William Green of the American Federation of labor as misrepresenting that body, stating that the negroes want no Jim Crow unions. Continuing, he said: ‘We demand that the American Federation of labor tear down the barriers that segregate us from the white workers and keep us out of the white unions. We colored workers will, through this congress, correct the mistakes of our white brothers, who have been foolishly misled by the wrong kind of leaders.’ He concluded with a class-conscious appeal, stating that ‘the natural enemies of the negro are the boss, the landlord and the capitalist’. ”22 (Fort-Whiteman’s conclusion about the enemy of the black worker being “the capitalist” is in direct contradiction with the attitudes of the black leadership of the time, including Marcus Garvey, who, as recounted by Walter Williams, urged “blacks to undercut union wages as a means to employment and combating union racism, [stating] ‘the only convenient friend the Negro worker or laborer has in America at the present time is the white capitalist ’.” )
There was a significant change in Party policy in 1928. Making the final move in the power struggle that had engulfed the Soviet leadership since the death of Lenin, Stalin made his move against fellow Bolshevik Nikolai Bukharin and, having gained the upper hand, purged the Comintern of Bukharinites by initiating a shift to an anti-reformist ultra-left. This era would come to be known as the “Third Period.” As a result, the Comintern was able to convince Harry Haywood, one of the black Americans recruited by Fort-Whiteman, to adopt a new policy. The new policy came as a surprise to the new ANLC head chosen for the mission, William Nowell. Nowell – years later, after he defected from the Communist Party and became an anti-Communist – recounted to police investigator Jacob Spolansky how he had received his instructions during a visit to the Soviet Union:
“Comrade, [Nowell was told], “we consider you the best available choice for our Negro program in the South.”
“We have decided that a separate Negro republic should be established in the South, a buffer state under our leadership.”
The details were filled in for Nowell, and, as he later explained to [Spolansky], the program called for the Negro population of the United States, a minority group which the Soviet has long courted and coveted, to play a featured role in the timetable of the revolution prescribed for America.
Handing the startled Nowell a crudely drawn map, the Russian official bluntly demanded: “Do you recognize this, Comrade?”
Nowell examined the drawing for a few seconds and then replied, “Yes, it looks like a map of part of the southern portion of the United States.”
The Communist leader grunted. “We call it the ‘Black Belt,”’ he explained. “It represents more than fifty counties in which is concentrated the heaviest Negro population.”
The fantastic scheme of the Russians called for intensive missionary work in that area to arouse the Negroes to form their own separate republic.
“Thus,” Nowell was told, “when the revolution is launched by the workers of the North, at our signal, the Negroes of the South, well organized, will deliver a crushing attack from the rear against capitalism. Do you understand?”
“I think so.”
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