Monday, October 15, 2007

Pioneers in Pan-Africanism: Dr. Alphaeus Hunton and the Council on African Affairs

Council on African Affairs (1942-1955)

Council on African Affairs Protest, New York City, 1952

The Council on African Affairs (CAA) was founded in 1942 and quickly emerged as the leading voice of anti-colonialism and Pan-Africanism in the United States and abroad before becoming a casualty of Cold War liberalism and anti-communism in the early 1950s. Paul Robeson served as the CAA's chairman for most of its existence while W.E.B. Du Bois served as vice-chair and head of the Africa Aid Committee.

Alphaeus Hunton, Jr. was the group's executive director, editor of its publication, New Africa, and the motive force behind much of its activity and vision. Despite its radical politics, in the early and mid 1940s the Council on African Affairs benefited from the support of a range of liberal activists and intellectuals, including E. Franklin Frazier, Mary McLeod Bethune, and Rayford Logan, indicating the widespread appeal of its program and message.

The Council on African Affairs articulated and promoted a fundamental linkage between the struggle of African Americans and the fate of colonized peoples in Africa, Asia and elsewhere in the world. Among a host of other campaigns, it lobbied the federal government and the United Nations and lent material support on behalf of Indian independence, striking trade unionists in Nigeria, and African famine relief, all while publicizing the connections between these campaigns and its larger critique of colonialism and capitalism. The CAA's most significant work involved South Africa, where it supported striking miners and helped direct worldwide attention to the African National Congress's struggle against the Union of South Africa government and its implementation of racial apartheid.

The Council on African Affairs advocated an internationalization of domestic civil rights, support for African liberation groups, and a non-aligned stance on the part of developing nations toward the Cold War superpowers. Combined with many CAA leaders' past and current associations with the Communist Party, this position had become politically untenable by the early 1950s. Liberal supporters abandoned the CAA and the federal government cracked down on its operations. In 1953 the CAA was charged with subversion under the McCarran Act. Its principle leaders, including Robeson, Du Bois, and Hunton, were subjected to harassment, indictments, and in the case of Hunton, imprisonment. Under the weight of internal disputes, government repression, and financial hardships, the Council on African Affairs disbanded in 1955.

Penny M. Von Eschen, Race Against Empire: Black Americans and Anticolonialism, 1937-1957 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997); Hollis R. Lynch, Black American Radicals and the Liberation of Africa: The Council of African Affairs, 1937-1955 (Ithaca: Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University, 1978).

Hunton, William Alphaeus, Jr. (1903-1970)

Church, 1946 A leading intellectual and activist of the post-WWII period, Alphaeus Hunton, Jr. was the executive director of the Council on African Affairs (CAA) and editor of the CAA's publication, New Africa, from 1943 through the organization's dissolution in 1955. In this capacity, Hunton did more than perhaps any other individual to articulate an anticolonial critique of post-war liberalism and racial capitalism and to advance a vision of Pan-African black identity that stressed the inextricable linkage between African Americans, Africans, and colonized peoples around the world.

Hunton was born in Atlanta in 1903. His family migrated to Brooklyn in the wake of the Atlanta race riot of 1906. He graduated from Howard University in 1924, earned a master's degree in Victorian literature from Harvard in 1925, and studied for a doctorate at New York University from 1934-1938. Hunton's political voice began to emerge during his years at New York University. Attracted to Marxism-Leninism, he was involved in union organizing, joined the Communist Party, and served on the executive board of the National Negro Congress in 1936.

In 1943 Alphaeus Hunton joined the CAA as its educational director. In short order he transformed the CAA from an educational outreach group with limited reach into a political action organization with widespread influence. Lobbying through the federal government, the United Nations, and the burgeoning black press, Hunton spearheaded CAA campaigns on behalf of striking Nigerian trade unionists, famine relief in West and South Africa, and the African National Congress (ANC) which had initiated its nearly century-long struggle against apartheid in South Africa.

A combination of government repression and financial difficulties doomed the CAA, and with it, Hunton's influence as an activist and intellectual. The CAA was prosecuted under the McCarran Internal Security Act of 1950, and in 1951 Hunton was imprisoned for six months for contempt of court. The CAA formally disbanded in 1955. Hunton published Decision in Africa: Sources of the Current Conflict in 1957 but was unable to find work commensurate with his education and experience. In 1960 he moved to Guinea and shortly thereafter joined W.E.B. Du Bois in Ghana. In 1966 he relocated to Zambia where he spent his final years as a correspondent for the ANC publication Mayibuye.

Penny M. Von Eschen, Race Against Empire: Black Americans and Anticolonialism, 1937-1957 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997); Hollis R. Lynch, Black American Radicals and the Liberation of Africa: The Council of African Affairs, 1937-1955 (Ithaca: Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University, 1978).

1 comment:

Pan-African News Wire said...

Alphaeus Hunton: Why Worry about Africa?

Dorothy and Alphaeus Hunton in Conakry, Guinea, in 1962.
Photo reproduced from Hunton 1986.

William Alphaeus Hunton Jr., who led the Council on African Affairs and edited its publications from 1943 to 1955, was born in 1903 in Atlanta, Georgia. His parents, William Alphaeus Hunton Sr. and Addie Hunton, were national and international leaders of the YMCA and YWCA respectively. The younger Alphaeus Hunton graduated from Howard University, received a master's degree from Harvard University, and taught English at Howard from 1926 to 1943. He was active in the National Negro Congress and moved to New York in 1943 to work for the Council on African Affairs.

As editor of the council's magazine New Africa, Hunton received a letter from a reader questioning the group's emphasis on Africa. According to James H. Meriwether (2002, 271), the letter was written in July 1950. The letter and Hunton's reply are included in a book by Hunton's widow.

Reprinted from Dorothy Hunton, Alphaeus Hunton: The Unsung Valiant (Richmond Hill, NY: D. K. Hunton, 1986), 60-62.

Alphaeus Hunton
" Dear Sir, I have come upon a copy of your paper New Africa. I have read and re-read with fervent interest the articles contained therein. First, allow me to ask a question. Why in the world would one worry about the racial conditions in Africa when we as a minority group catch hell in this country? Chances are that I'll never make it to Africa, therefore, I'm not the least bit interested in what goes on over there, but very concerned about conditions here at home.

I would appreciate an answer to this question and also any literature you have concerning the problems of our illustrious race, and additional information from your organization."

Alphaeus replied:

You ask why one should worry about racial conditions in Africa, when as a minority group we catch hell in the U.S.A.? It is a question that arises frequently, although usually asked by liberal minded white people instead of Negroes.

The answer is two-fold. First, we have to be concerned with the oppression of our Negro brothers in Africa for the very same reason that we here in New York or in any other state in the Union have to be concerned with the plight of our brothers in Tennessee, Mississippi or Alabama. If you say that what goes on in the United States is one thing, quite different from what goes on in the West Indies, Africa or anywhere else affecting black people, the answer is, then you are wrong. Racial oppression and exploitation have a universal pattern, and whether they occur in South Africa, Mississippi or New Jersey, they must be exposed and fought as part of a worldwide system of oppression, the fountain-head of which is today among the reactionary and fascist-minded ruling circles of white America. Jim-Crowism, colonialism and imperialism are not separate enemies, but a single enemy with different faces and different forms. If you are genuinely opposed to Jim-Crowism in America, you must be genuinely opposed to the colonial, imperialist enslavement of our brothers in other lands.

Our great leaders from Frederick Douglass to Paul Robeson have emphasized and re-emphasized this lesson in both word and deed. It was Douglass' support of the Irish people's freedom struggle in his day that made it possible for Britain to rally the British workers to fight [with] the North in the Civil War. The workers of England took their stand on the side of Lincoln and emancipation. This leads to the second important part of the answer.

It is not a matter of helping the African people achieve freedom simply out of a spirit of humanitarian concern for their welfare. It is a matter of helping the African people, because in doing so we further the possibility of their being able to help us in our struggles in the U.S. Can you not envision what a powerful influence a free West Indies or a free west Africa would be upon American Democracy? . . .