Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Pan-Africanism, Socialism and African American History
Abayomi Azikiwe with Ramona Africa and others after the lecture in Philadelphia
at Calvary Church on Feb. 25, 2014. (Photo: Joe Piette)
A Pan-African News Wire staff interview with Editor Abayomi Azikiwe

Note: Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, visited several cities on the east coast of the United States during February 21-26. The trip was a tour in honor of African American History Month and had a special focus on the role of Africans in the overall struggle against imperialism and for national liberation, Pan-Africanism and Socialism. The PANW staff sat down with Azikiwe to get his perspective on the tour and the significance of this venture to the work related to raising consciousness and building a progressive movement inside the U.S.

PANW: What is the significance of African American History Month in 2014? Does this commemoration still hold the importance as it did when you were coming along as a student and youth activist?

Azikiwe: This is an important question to ponder. I have thought a lot over the years about the intellectual tradition of Africans on both the Continent and the Diaspora. With specific reference to the U.S., during the entire period of the 20th century scholars and public intellectuals such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Shirley Graham Du Bois, Anna Julia Cooper, J.A. Rodgers, Ida. B. Wells-Barnett, William Alpheus Hunton, Claudia Jones, C.L.R. James, Paul Robeson, Eslanda Robeson, Walter Rodney, Ella Baker, Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) , Malcolm X, Julian Mayfield and many others played a significant role through their articles, essays, research studies, pamphlets and books but they were also activists and organizers forming and working with groups such as the Pan-African Congress, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Communist Party, the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the Black Panther Party, the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), etc. It was their work in both the scholarly and political arenas that pushed forward the struggle against national oppression and economic exploitation. The thrust was both ideological and organizational and was heavily rooted in the African American communities not just in the South but across the country.

This important role of the revolutionary intelligentsia in alliance with the working class and farmers is lacking in the second decade of the 21st century with the purported “mainstreaming” of African American and even “Africana” studies within the universities and through corporate-sponsored public media outlets. I think I am safe to say that almost none of the people that are recognized by the establishment within academia and the capitalist-controlled television and print industries are connected with any significant movement or organization in the African American community. Consequently, their approach borders on the notion “disinterested scholarship” and is not concerned with supporting, let alone creating, organizations and movements that fundamentally challenge the ongoing oppressive conditions prevailing in the U.S. and indeed throughout the African Diaspora.

Therefore, since 1976 when President Gerald R. Ford designated February as Black History Month on the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of Negro History Week by Dr. Carter G. Woodson, who formed the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915 and the Journal of Negro History in 1916, there has been a concerted effort to commercialize the popular commemoration.

We must recall that in 1976 the U.S. and the world were embroiled in rigorous debates and struggles over the battle against racism, capitalism and imperialism. In the late 1960s African American students waged campaigns on college campuses and at high schools around the country demanding Black and Pan-African Studies. This coincided with the Civil Rights, Black Power, Pan-African, Anti-War, Women’s, Anti-Imperialist and Left Movements of the period. Not only were African Americans in the forefront of these enormous efforts, they supplied much of the ideological weight that proved most effective in at least breaking up the obvious legalized forms of institutional racism.

Nonetheless, today a struggle is still being waged and the role of African American intellectuals and students are brought into question due to the changing economic and social character of U.S. society. African Americans are being systematically forced out of the colleges and universities, the prisons are filled with the oppressed peoples who are descendants from both the Continent and Latin America and the socio-economic status of African Americans is becoming more dire every year despite the existence in his second term of a president who self-identified as Black during his 2008 campaign.

PANW: We wanted to specifically talk about your tour of the east coast during African American History Month. How did this come about?

Azikiwe: Two organizers for Workers World Party in Philadelphia have been eager to bring me to the city for at least five years but were not able to arrange the necessary resources to do so. Well they contacted me in January saying that they had mobilized transport and other costs and if I was willing to come they would be glad to have me come to the city to deliver a lecture.

This was African American History Month and since there is so much going on today in Africa as it relates to U.S. and European imperialist intervention it would be a perfect time to speak on these issues and the role that must be assumed by the Left in regard to this situation.

PANW: What cities did you lecture in and what were some of the highlights of the trip?

Azikiwe: I visited New York City, Boston, Baltimore and Philadelphia. The entire trip was exciting and illuminating. I was able to talk with people from various organizations and to view directly the conditions prevailing in these cities. In Boston, the United Steelworkers Local 8751 that represents the school bus drivers has been under attack and four of leading organizers were terminated last year.

When I was in Boston on February 22-23, I spoke at a public meeting organized by the local Workers World branch and the turnout was phenomenal. There were people from Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean along with African Americans and European-Americans who are progressives and socialists. The response was tremendous to my lecture entitled “Africa and the Struggle Against Imperialism.”

I was able to meet and talk with people from Haiti, Cape Verde, Ireland, Dominican Republic and Jamaica.  Boston has an interesting history in regard to African people. Malcolm X spent a part of his youth under the guardianship of his older sister Ms. Ella Collins in Boston. During the mid-1970s, a protracted struggle was waged to breakdown segregation in the public schools.

When bussing was ordered by the courts in 1974, the African American students and community came under attack. The USW Local 8751 in Boston that represents the school bus drivers was built out of the struggle to defend the African American community in the city. This of course is clearly related to why the four workers have been attacked in an effort to destroy the anti-racist legacy of the union. During the lecture I expressed my solidarity with the fight to win their jobs back and maintain the union as a strong bastion of the ongoing movement in the city.

On Feb. 23-24 I visited Baltimore where I also spoke on Feb. 24. Baltimore was quite interesting due to the striking similarities to conditions in the city of Detroit. Large sections of the African American community has been devastated and decimated by the banks. In areas where the African American community settled after the migration to the cities in the Post-World War I and II periods, there are rows, blocks and neighborhoods of vacant homes. Poverty is widespread and police brutality runs rampant.

At the same time in the areas around John Hopkins University Hospital there is large-scale dislocation of the African American community for construction projects and the gentrification of existing housing and commercial establishments. Being there I thought of the legacy of Frederick Douglass whom spent time in Baltimore and was enslaved in the state of Maryland which very much today is still a southern state in the most political and social sense of the description.

PANW: You then ended your tour in Philadelphia. How was this visit?

Azikiwe: Philadelphia was perhaps the most interesting. My hosts took me on a whirlwind tour of the city focusing on the African American community which extends back to the 18th century. We visited the landmarks of the Free African Society and the African Methodist Episcopal Church, one of the first organized African churches in the U.S. The AME Church was founded by Richard Allen and Absalom Jones and it was the successor to the Free African Society.

We also visited the last home of Paul Robeson, the legendary athlete, artist, social scientist who worked within the Pan-African, Left and Anti-Imperialist movements from the 1930s through the early 1960s. I was very moved when I was taken to the Robeson home and later to a mural that was constructed in his honor in Philadelphia.
Abayomi Azikiwe outside the last home of Paul Robeson.
(Photo: Joe Piette)
I visited both West and North Philadelphia. In North Philly I was able to visit Kensington where one of the first urban rebellions took place in 1964. My hosts took me to key areas where NAACP leader Cecil B. Moore worked to breakdown segregation. There were instances where he worked directly with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

We too visited the Historic Church of the Advocate in North Philly which has been a base for progressive activities in the city. The Black Panther Party, which during the period between 1968-1971 was strong in Philadelphia, would hold meetings there. Mumia Abu-Jamal would speak there in his Panther days.

In a brochure given to me during my visit at the Church it says that “The Advocate became a center of activism during the Civil Rights Movement embracing the cause of African American and women’s rights. It was the site of several nationally significant events of these movements including the National Conference of Black Power (1968), the Revolutionary People’s Constitutional Convention organized by the Black Panther Party in 1970 and the first ordination of women in the Episcopal Church in 1974.”

The Church was built during the late 19th century by Charles Burns, who is recognized as one of the most prominent church architects of the period. He designed churches across the city and in other areas of the U.S.

The staff of the Church was very welcoming and cordial. They took me along with my hosts on an extensive tour of the building which is under renovation. There are murals in the Church that are representative of the African American struggle.

We then visited the Osage Avenue area on the west side where the MOVE home was bombed by police on May 13, 1985. The incident resulted in the deaths of 11 MOVE members including four children and the entire area was burned down due to the actions of the city administration, the police and the fire department. 62 homes were destroyed and even today the efforts by the city to cover up the crime by reconstructing the homes were done is such a way that the homes today are unlivable and are at present vacant.
Abayomi Azikiwe delivering lecture on Africa and the Struggle
Against Imperialism at Calvary Church in Philadelphia.
(Photo: Joe Piette)
I delivered a lecture at Calvary Church on the evening of February 25 in Philadelphia. I was delighted to meet with MOVE leaders Pam and Ramona Africa, Ramona being one of two survivors of the May 13, 1985 bombing. She also spent seven years in prison afterwards on trumped-up charges. After coming out of prison she became a powerful spokesperson and organizer for MOVE and in the struggle to free Mumia Abu-Jamal, the MOVE 9, who were imprisoned in 1978 resulting from a previous attack on the organization, as well as other political prisoners and movements aimed at revolution and social justice.

In addition to meeting with MOVE at the Calvary Church lecture, another old friend and ally, Godfrey Sithole, who has represented the African National Congress (ANC) in Philadelphia for many years, attended the lecture. I first met Sithole in 1984 when he was working with ANC youth organizer Kgathi Sethegke who was living in Detroit then. At the time I was the Chair of the Pan-African Students Union and editor of Pambana Journal.

Later in Nov. 1984, we organized with the ANC and the South-West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO), the Mid-west Conference Against Apartheid at Wayne State University in Detroit. The conference was the first held during this period to recognize the ANC and SWAPO as the vanguard national liberation movements and sole representatives of the peoples of South Africa and Namibia, both then still under white settler-colonial rule.

PANW: In conclusion, what do you think of the future role of the Left and Pan-African Movements in the current crisis of imperialist intervention in Africa?

Azikiwe: Much more needs to be done to publicize the reality of the political situation involving the increasing role of U.S. imperialism in Africa. This was the purpose of my tour to encourage and motivate progressive forces and leftists to not only pay more attention to the role of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) but also international finance capital and the transnational mining firms which are bleeding the continent dry.

What we need is a consistent political education program that explains the primary role of Africa in the world struggle against imperialism. We must recruit cadre to go out and conduct political work to organize around the intensifying crisis on the Continent. The present world economic crisis has exposed the fragility of international finance capital. Like Lenin, Nkrumah and other revolutionaries, we must not only clearly define the enemy but we must attack it at its roots.
Abayomi Azikiwe lecturing in Boston on Feb. 22, 2014.
(Photo: Steve Kirschbaum)

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