Briggs and the Marxist African Blood Brotherhood (Episode 5 of 14); Black power origins
Afro-American militancy tonight. Deal with Cyril V. Briggs. Modern black militancy has been plagued with dissension between nationalist and socialist. The life of serial the brig's gives hope that reconciliation between these two forces is possible. Briggs was one of many immigrants from the West Indies to get involved in post-World War 1 Negril radicalism. His mother and Negredo lived with a white man on the island of St. Kitts. Their young Briggs was born taking his name from his mother's side of the family his parents never having officially married a capable young man he was still in his 20s and preferably i ones when he landed a job as editor of The New York Amsterdam News. He brought a degree of militant to that paper and then often see what's found far freer expression when he began his own crusade or monthly late in 1918.
In a way Briggs was forced into a writer's career and as much as a serious speech impediment kept him from many other professions. In the spring of 1919 he founded the African blood brotherhood. This version of socialist alternative to Garvey ites was created because of Darby's failure to tackle domestic problems of Negro workers and because the back to Africa dream was seen as visionary and predestined. These negative factors and Garvey ism outweighed the emphasis on race consciousness and African redemption which brigs considered constructive and appropriate. On occasions Briggs even aided the gobby ites not withstanding his ideological differences with him with them. During going to you know 1999. Here which radicals are too busy for seemed fighting race riots and other problems to divide among
themselves during this year. Briggs played a leading role in the Black Star Line purchase of a steamship general counsels the Black Star Line was Artie's Garvey's steamship company to take Nicholas back to Africa. Blonde hair and light complection went down to brass street and passed as a white man in the shipping business and he bought the girlfriends and later the former owners became irate when they learned that they had sold it to a prop man for a group of Meg rose. They were even more surprised to learn that they had already started the girlfriends to a Negroni Briggs. The form of socialism evolved by Briggs and expressed in the Crusader incorporated much of the nationalistic spirit of the post-World War one period. There was a free mixing of anti-capitalism with emotional diatribes against whites in general and brags that it toils the American way of life stacked up as an arch villain of
history. In November of 1999 ish in the issue of November 1999 the American intervention in Mexico to chase poncho via. What's this ass regs Americans trying to preserve law and order in Mexico. The mob rule in the United States will make law and order in Mexico the barbarous and benighted United States raids the land of a people who I all indications seem quite able to live together without engaging in race wars mob violence and the fiendish torture of human beings which are so freely and hardly indulged in on this side of the Rio Grande and which more than any other thing in contemporary American history are the salient identifying features of the much vaunted American civilization. The reasons for the invasion according to Briggs were the desire of American capitalists and their hunters to seize Mexican oil and mineral wealth. And the rationale for this imperialism rested in the fact that Mexico was peopled by a colored race the independence of which white America saw no
reason to respect. Briggs was a staunch supporter of the I.W.W. the left wing of the Socialist Party. His goal was to have Negras organize among themselves and then work with the right left. The African blood brotherhood of which Briggs was executive head was structured as a secretive society much like a larger fraternity with members under the leadership of a supreme executive council. There was a death penalty for revealing certain secrets of the Brotherhood. As an aide in the elite organization of militants the Brotherhood was to be the power behind a federation of radical negro groups and for a time there were active Brotherhood branches and a number of Caribbean islands. The logic of the brotherhood working with leftists such as the I.W.W. and socialist was expressed in terms of self preservation for the Nigro group. In describing why we are bastard Rex Briggs explained we would not for a
moment hesitate to align ourselves with any group if by such an alliance we could compass the liberation of our race and the redemption of our fatherland in favoring the I.W.W. Briggs accented the more immediate tangible benefits to us by supporting the I.W.W. we force the FML to provide job openings by voting socialist. We can force belated justice and consideration from the Republicans. The nationalistic streak in the Crusader was shown not only by Briggs but by other writers as well. Whites were again and again described with adjectives like themes and fiends incarnate and it appeared to be crusader style to substitute mob ocracy for democracy when referring to America. Briggs would become an outspoken critic of garbage he's back to Africa scheme. But in the emotional year of 1919 the Crusader expressed agreement with with drawl. Agreement with the central nationalist programme of the day. And this is a
socialist agreeing to such a programme. I wanted a toilsome eyes that existing as we are in a hell on earth where mob murders court injustice widespread prejudice are the rule. It should be a comparatively easy matter to pull up stakes from out of this hellish soil of American mob ocracy. They superiority of Negroid over Caucasoid the classic subject of nationalist street corner orators had it's airing in the Crusader. And a spoof on the racist views of cinema producer D.W. Griffith and titled The Negro in his instinct. The alleged writer A.J. Griffith commented the negro mind instinctively believes in himself and his race. What the negro needs to know is that many qualities he is superior to the white man. This may be accounted for by the fact that the Negril has not had the opportunity to be mean brutal cruel and inhuman that the white have had for several centuries taken as a whole the Negril people are better looking than the whites. Take the colored women for instance. They are much more
beautiful judging them by every physical measure that can be applied. They are better formed of better Kerridge and full of life and female vanity. Her Riggs alternative to American civilization presuppose the creation of not a black copy of Western ways but the creation of an entirely new civilization based on socialism. This was a distinguishing feature from Briggs brand of nationalism. From that of Garvey's Briggs would not condone American institutions either white or black. Crusader articles on religion such as saviors of souls and sellers of man. Damn the Uncle Tom church man. The old negro goes let him go in peace. Derided whole past generations of times the established Negro press was criticized for missed opportunities to be militant and finally the uncompromising position that opposition to Garvey and the UN
for a time Briggs in the Brotherhood tried to infiltrate and influence the US. Like 1920 an important meeting of left radicals was called called to discuss the possibilities of making the UN I more class conscious and present where Brotherhood members Briggs who had which would be more NWA Domingo Hubert Harrison the then literary editor of the Negra world that called the meeting and brought with him the poet Claude McKay and the white communist Robert minor. The details of what transpired are unknown but Harrison soon resigned from Garvey's newspaper and the members of the Brotherhood turned to a conscientious war on Garvey ites using their contacts in the U.N. IAEA for the war. Briggs and associates were able to run cover some our practices and Darby's business dealings. Brotherhood spokesman Moore and Thomas Potter accused Darby of advertising on a ship in a ship which he did not own. Darby dared them to find out who owned the
shady side. They did and it wasn't Darby or the U.N. I say and moreover there was a second ship without proper title. The Crusader published the findings and pointed out that Darby had been selling tickets for a trip to Africa on one of the phantom ships. It was when the ticket holders who read read these exposé complained to authorities that proceedings were started which eventually led to Garvey's prosecution imprisonment and exile. Kirby retaliated against Briggs by advertising in the Nigro world that Briggs was really a white man passing as an equal. The irate Briggs brought suit and in a tense courtroom scene the two men were brought face to face. Blake's mother was present in all her light brown splendor. Gabi opened by bringing a counter libel suit. He told the judge of a crusader article in which Briggs had said Gabi lost money in escrow because he didn't know enough about business to properly put money in escrow. And besides Briggs had insinuated crookedness in an article which urged the Jamaican to forego a trip abroad
and remain in New York during this critical period in the human eye a shipping enterprise. At this the judge asked if it were not true that the Black Star Line was in financial trouble and didn't God Himself see a need to remain in New York. Gabi admitted he had had only one run to Cuba in the last six months. Then he produced with appropriate fanfare a letter written by Briggs and addressed to Garvey which once said Garvey an open invitation to cooperate in overthrowing governments. The judge read the letter over but he didn't see such meaning in it and found it otherwise irrelevant. Bobby lost his countersuit Briggs eventually dropped his case when the U.N. I re printed a retraction the retraction really did prove much Garvey's opinion. Briggs being white in color as a white man even if the court said one drop of black blood makes him a colored American. Briggs complection problem was a recurring annoyance. He was once arrested by a New York
police for walking late at night with his negro right. On another occasion Gabi I took a street corner rally brought up the old Briggs's right line. He happened to be in the audience and demanded a chance to reply. Mounting the platform he forgot his hopeless stuttering problem and somehow found eloquence to hold forth for nearly a full three hours. The brig's feud carried on into the 1930s. There was a time to put a stop to Briggs meeting by writing on turning out the lights. Sometime in the mid twenties the BR. Heard of Briggs was merged with the Communist Party. The Brotherhood continued on to exist at least through 1927 primarily as a recruiting agent for the party. Henceforth Briggs would be cooperating with the part of White America communist part but nonetheless American this coalition came about according to Brotherhood member Harry Haywood because the black militants were too few to pull off a revolution alone. The
CPUSA offered acceptable revolutionary allies when Briggs died in 1066. He was still a nominal member of the Communist Party. His years of service were also years of independent action and of per the prodding of white party members to purge themselves of American ways of race prejudice. In other words he attempted to maintain focus of Negro first much as he had done in working with the I.W.W. previously. To the degree that the party was responsive to the negro question to that degree Briggs would work as national officials dictated. He heartily endorse the emphasis on the next row shown at the World Congress in one thousand twenty eight. Writing for the party house organ the communist he commended the Congress for its rigorous attack on white chauvinism and he went on to add his opinion that prior to that Congress prejudiced overt and covert had made progress in Nigro work
well-nigh impossible white chauvinism had manifest itself in open or concealed opposition to doing work among Negroes. The tendency was to ignore the leading negro comrades when formulating policy. Furthermore there was apparent punishment for Nigro complaints. The negro comrades were refused support in getting out weekly new service which was being sent to some 300 negro papers said Briggs and Briggs could get away with this candid criticism. Many other party members might not. Briggs had valuable ties in the ghetto. In 1929 he was put in charge of the party's Harlem Weekly. The Liberator under his editorship the Liberator became a most important organ of Negro protest covering both parties sponsored programs and activities of other guitar groups. A major test for Briggs was to win over to communism the remnants of the Garvey ites his understanding of nationalism and his sympathy for many of its tenants made him
particularly fit for this role. His task for his tactic for converting nationalist was to criticize their leaders and their one sided approach while arguing at the same time that the party encompassed both a nationalistic perspective and a revolutionary attack on prejudice and discrimination which would make integration and black and white unity a reality. This approach significantly differed from the party line. It should be noted that wherever the party was active in the either white Minneapolis or Negril Harlem communist organizes often took leeway with their instructions from above. They had to to be effective. Now on the party line while the national parties made statements lumping together as petty bourgeois nationalists and the Garvey ites negro businessmen Sepi and there have been league in most other organizations in Briggs approach. The Guard units were treated separately. He acknowledged that
quote the main social base of the movement was the negro agricultural workers and farming masses groaning under the terrific oppression of peonage and sharecroppers slavery and also included were the who or sections of the negro industrial workers for the most part recent migrants from the plantations into the industrial centers of north and south and one of the leaders of this Garvey movement leaders which Briggs had fought with for so long. How were they to be described in the 1930s. They were described as the poorest stratum of Negro intellectuals D class TELLEMENT struggling businessmen and preachers lawyers without a brief it cetera who stood more or less close to the negro masses and felt deeply the effects of the crisis. For the depression decade but croaked Briggs potentially the Garvey rank and file members are good fighters willing and ready to wage a relentless struggle to free Africa the West Indies and the Black Belt of the Southern states.
Briggs paternalism with Garvie ites was coupled with a merciless criticism of Negro businessmen and black liberals at the end of the ACP. He repeatedly exposed the emptiness of hopes and building race business. The self-help racket was seen as a blind alley. The scandal of an n WCP official who was a wife beater got a sizable spread in the Liberator on the other hand the problems and emotions of the Harlem masses were written up gingerly. Bitterness of poor Nigro toward Jewish and Italian shop owners was criticised. And special stories were run to show how capitalist exploited other ethnic minorities as well as Negroes. However Briggs was reluctant to be doctrinaire on the question of the shop owner exportation. An article in the November 18 1933 liberator deserves full quotation. It began El Levi proprietor of a lady's shop sold a missile is about
Heiler a pair of shoes which turned out on close inspection at home to be of two different sizes. Miss either immediately took them back to the store for an exchange. Levi was in no mood to dicker for an exchange. He refused and said it was her own fault that the shoes were odd sizes and he wound up his little sermon by threatening miss Heiler with a damn good punch in the jaw. He called her names and added that every nigger should be run out of Harlem and that he would help to do it. Two colored workers who entered the store heard Levi cursing Miss Tyler and told him to refund the money to her. Levi much frightened refunded the money adding he was going to see every black son of a bitch would be run out of Harlem. This story is printed in a communist newspaper. Thirdly the nationalist newspaper. Criticism of the party was handled in the Liberator with unusual
objectivity in editorials Briggs chided white party members for racial prejudice in new stories he went so far as to allow a modest amount of criticism by non party members. A story on a forum held at the Harlem YMCA told of a Miss Lady Elaine who urged the party to cease labeling Dr. DuBois as a middle class to apologise which the party was certainly doing in the early 1930s. She said the party had distorted his position by calling him a segregationist. According to Miss Lane De Boer's himself distinguished between segregation forced upon us by law and custom on the one hand and segregation which we voluntarily elect in forming our own trade group social clubs and cooperative societies on the other. She said that to what Dubois was arguing was the question of whether negro radicals decided themselves on policy or would it be forced upon
negroes by communist party dictate. She went on to argue that the Communists were forcing an unrealistic program in their black belt Republic given brigs interest in negro independence of action. It is worth pondering the possibility that Miss Lane story was purposely published as an expression of the editor's own viewpoint. The fade out of Cyril Briggs as an important party figure began in 1935 significantly at the time of the turn to the United Front and the submerging of the Negril problem into the general category of white labor and labor in general. The Liberator which had undergone a name change under Briggs to become the Harlem liberator now underwent a further change to become the Negra liberator. Benjamin J Davis Jr. the rising star of the party was named as editor in chief to replace Briggs who would no longer be as active as before. Eventually Briggs moved to Los Angeles where he worked with the left wing Weekly the California
eagle and later with the nationalistic Herald Dispatch. In Briggs's notes there was a comment to the effect of something of a nervous breakdown causing him to leave New York. Thirty five what. Whether this was from over her work or political problems is not known. According to Briggs's friend Harry Haywood Briggs in the latter years was in recurring opposition to party policies and is alleged to have been critical of the party's drastically pro-Soviet line in the Russia-China doctrinal dispute. Finally Briggs after years in the political background he returned to the forefront Just-So year ago 1966. He submitted a series of four articles on neocolonialism to the blatantly anti-white liberator magazine out of Harlem and an aptly titled organ for Briggs. But unusual choice for a Communist Party member. The liberator is thoroughly
- Black power origins
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- In this fifth episode, Ted Vincent discusses Cyril V. Briggs, founder of the Marxist oriented "African Blood Brotherhood" of the 1920's. Briggs later became a Communist Party member, and at the time of the recording was active in the Black power movement.
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- Briggs, Cyril V. (Cyril Valentine), 1888-1966; African Blood Brotherhood; African Americans--Civil rights--History
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