Black Americans and West Indians: One People, One Struggle

Dwayne Wong (Omowale), Florida International University

Speaking before a Black American audience, Kwame Ture explained: “The only difference is when the slave ship got to Trinidad they kicked me off in Trinidad and brought you here. That’s the only difference, we are the same people.” Ture was echoing a similar point that Marcus Garvey had made previously. Garvey explained: So, if I was born in Jamaica, it was no fault of mine. It was because that slave ship which took me to Jamaica did not come to American ports. That is how some Negroes of America were not born in the West Indies.” Marcus Garvey and Kwame Ture were born in the Caribbean, but were able to garner a significant following during the years that they operated as leaders in the United States. Neither of the two felt out of place as West Indians who were taking part in the Black American struggle because in their view we are all African people and our struggle is the same struggle.

malcolm-x-15-raw.jpg

The struggles of West Indians and Black Americans have always been intertwined. We can obviously look at Marcus Garvey and Kwame Ture as two examples of this, but there are many other examples of the interconnected nature of the Black American and West Indian struggles for freedom. Malcolm X, who served as the national spokesman for the Nation of Islam and later founded the Organization of Afro-American Unity, was born to a Grenadian mother. The Nation of Islam was founded in the United States, but the organization has also established branches throughout the Caribbean. One of the best known members of the Nation of Islam in the Caribbean is David Muhammad, who is a member of the Trinidadian branch of the Nation of Islam. Denmark Vesey, who was executed for his role in plotting a massive slave uprising in South Carolina, was born in St. Thomas. Martin Delany, who is regarded as the Father of Black Nationalism, made an expedition to West Africa to develop a settlement for Black Americans who wished to return to Africa. Accompanying Delany on this expedition was a Jamaican man named Robert Campbell.

marcusgarvey.gif

Garvey founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association in his native Jamaica. At the pinnacle of its influence, the Universal Negro Improvement Association had established branches in more than forty countries around the world. Garvey was motivated to create the Universal Negro Improvement Association after reading Booker T. Washington’s autobiography, Up From Slavery. The Haitian intellectual Jean Price-Mars is another example of a prominent leader from the Caribbean who was influenced by Washington’s work. After visiting Washington’s Tuskegee program, Price-Mars concluded that a similar institution of learning was needed in Haiti. Booker T. Washington was born in the United States, but his ideas were a significant influence to people of African descent throughout the world. The Black Power movement in the United States also profoundly influenced the Black Power movement that would emerge in the Caribbean during the 1960’s and 1970’s. These are just some of the many examples of the ways in which Black Americans and West Indians have worked together or influenced each other.

Black Americans and West Indians are not only a people who share the common experience of being stolen from our African homelands and enslaved in a foreign land, but our struggles for freedom and dignity have been intertwined and have influenced each other throughout the years. The slave trade dispersed people of African descent throughout the Western hemisphere and although we are separated by geography, we have always been united by the common struggles that we face and by our common identity as children of the African Diaspora.