From email@example.com Sat Jun 3 07:37:09 2000
Date: Fri, 2 Jun 2000 17:52:02 -0400
From: Lee Hubbard <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: [BRC-NEWS] CORRECTION: Father of the Modern Reparations
Imari Obadele: The Father of the Modern Reparations Movement
By Robert C. Smith <email@example.com>, Africana.com,
1 June 2000
The issue of reparations has received increased attention in
the last several months. Local and state legislative bodies
have taken up the issue; articles have appeared in leading
newspapers and magazines; it has been a topic of lively
debate on the Internet and local and national television and
radio programs; and Randall Robinson's TransAfrica conducted
a nationally televised symposium on the subject. Also, The
Boston Globe reports that Harvard's much publicized "dream
team" of African American intellectuals is considering legal
and legislative actions to secure reparations.
In virtually all of this discussion, hardly any mention has
been made of Imari Obadele, the individual who probably
should be described as the father of the modern reparations
That Obadele's work has been ignored is not surprising,
given how the mainstream media, black and white, covers
African American politics. This coverage is frequently
uninformed and almost always biased and myopic, focusing
mainly on the familiar disputes between black liberals and
conservatives and black Democrats and Republicans, while
ignoring - relegating to the fringes - the powerful
tradition of nationalism in the black community's politics.
Bishop Henry M. Turner was the first African American leader
to call for reparations. He did so near the end of the
Reconstruction era. The Nation of Islam has, since its
inception, called for reparations, and the Republic of New
Africa (RNA), organized by Obadele and his Malcolm X Society
associates in 1968, demanded payment of $400 billion in
"slavery damages." However, the modern movement for
reparations did not take organizational form until 1988,
when Obadele and his associates formed the National
Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (NCOBRA).
NCOBRA initiates litigation, publishes a newsletter and
sponsors national and regional conferences. Professor
Obadele gave the closing argument in a mock trial at
Bethune-Cookman College in 1998, where a bi-racial jury
voted to award reparations. At its tenth annual convention
held in St. Louis in June 1999, NCOBRA adopted the "Six
Down-Payment Demands on the U.S. Government," which demanded
that a billion dollars each be given to ten black colleges,
that a billion dollars be placed in a black economic
development fund, that $20,000 be awarded to each black
family, that a billion dollars be given to black farmers,
and that all "political prisoners" be released. For more
information, visit the NCOBRA website.
Imari Obadele is currently a professor of political science
at Prairie View A & M University, where he has been on the
faculty since 1990. A leading scholar of nationalism,
Obadele served for twenty years as Provisional President of
RNA and is currently a member of the group's national
legislative council. The principal aim of the RNA since its
formation has been the organization of a plebiscite among
African Americans in order to determine whether they would
wish to form an independent nation-state within the current
boundaries of the United States. Professor Obadele has
written extensively on the right of blacks under prevailing
standards of international law to have been accorded after
the Civil War the opportunity to choose independent
nation-state status rather than forcible incorporation into
the United States.
In August of 1971, as part of its COINTELPRO program to
"expose, disrupt and otherwise neutralize" black nationalist
and other radical organizations, the FBI conducted a
pre-dawn raid on the Jackson, Mississippi headquarters of
the RNA. In the ensuing gun battle, a Jackson police officer
was killed and an FBI agent and another policeman were
wounded. Obadele and several other RNA officials were
sentenced to long prison terms. He spent nearly five years
behind bars, but as a result of national grassroots
mobilization and a legal campaign, he was eventually freed.
He immediately resumed his leadership work in the RNA.
But he also decided to combine his life of activism with
scholarship, enrolling at Temple University where he earned
a BA in 1981, a Master's in 1982 and a Ph.D in 1985. His
areas of specialization include American government,
constitutional law, international relations and African
American politics. Before joining the faculty at Prairie
View, Obadele taught at William Paterson College and the
College of Wooster.
A prolific scholar, Professor Obadele has written three
textbooks, co-edited two volumes (including The Forty Acres
Documents, an important reference source on reparations) and
in 1984 authored Free The Land, an autobiographical account
of his work in the RNA during the 1970s.
I recently spoke to Imari Obadele.
Q: When did you first become active in the black freedom
A: I grew up in Philadelpha, Pennsylvania, and managed to
join the Boy Scouts at 11, in 1941. My brother Milton, a
Lincoln University student, had joined the 99th Pursuit
Squadron to begin training as a radio operator. He was
commissioned by the Signal Corps as a second lieutenant and
then went on to become a fighter pilot. Milton was one of
the leading black officers who fought against the
discriminatory impositions suffered by black officers,
including the inability to be admitted to officers' clubs on
various bases, the frequent refusals of white enlisted men
to salute black officers. He took his complaints to Air
Force Headquarters at Mitchell Field, New York, and was
ultimately court-martialed and given an "other than
honorable" discharge. He completed work at Lincoln
University without the GI Bill, was then refused admission
at Temple University Law School, but was admitted to Yale
Law School, from which he graduated in 1947 and subsequently
passed the Michigan bar.
As teenagers, myself and my neighborhood buddies, as
Explorer Scouts, avidly followed Milton's struggle as it was
reported in the Pittsburgh Courier and other Afro-American
national newspapers. His dauntless struggle -- particularly
as he continued his fight against racism when he returned
home -- inspired all of us, including myself, to make a
commitment to ending our people's oppression and injustice.
In Philadelphia in those early years Milton and I were
instrumental in forming a Civil Rights group, which brought
W.E.B. Du Bois to town, and which also led to an effort to
create a boycott against the segregation in the U.S.
military. This case -- with Devreaux Tomlinson of
Philadelphia as main plaintiff -- never went to trial, but
we believe that Truman's order to integrate the army in
terms of units (not within units), as the Korean War began
in the summer of 1950, was a response to this campaign.
Q: What led you to conclude that an independent state is the
optimum outcome of the black freedom struggle in the United
A: My brothers Milton Henry and Lawrence Henry (a freelance
news reporter and photographer) met with Malcolm X and
shortly before King's "March on Washington" introduced me to
the brother. The Detroit organization which we had formed, a
civil and economic rights group called "The Group on
Advanced Leadership" (GOAL), invited Malcolm X and others
involved in the rights movement to speak for us in Detroit.
Here he made his formidable "Message To The Grassroots"
This was a turning point in my political life. I was married
with four children and employed at the U.S. Tank-Automotive
Command as a technical writer, and attending classes at
Wayne State University when I could. GOAL was peopled by
many persons, some of whom have become educators and
political luminaries in Detroit. Malcolm's speech was early
November 1963. Kennedy was killed two weeks later, and
Elijah Muhammad, head of the Nation of Islam, suspended
Malcolm for having commented that "the chickens have come
home to roost." Milton and myself and others in Detroit, and
armed brothers in Brooklyn and the Los Angeles area, who
were followers of Malcolm but not members of the Nation of
Islam, became Malcolm's support, though we failed to stop
his 1965 assassination.
Within three years our Malcolm X Society had called a "Black
Government Conference" in Detroit and established a
Provisional Government, named the unfree nation as the
Republic of New Africa, and charged the Provisional
Government with leading the struggle for independence of the
Republic. The Declaration of Independence was signed 31
March 1968, the same Sunday that Lyndon Johnson announced
that he would not seek re-election as President of the
United States. Robert Williams, in exile in China, was named
our first President. Milton was named First Vice President
and Betty Shabazz was named second Vice President. I was
named Minister of Information.
Q: How do you respond to critics who say the idea of an
independent black nation-state is a fantasy -- completely
unrealistic -- because it is not desired by most blacks, and
not achievable even if desired?
A: Our effort is to recruit those who do believe that
creating a state as independent as Canada is possible and
will work to achieve it. People have a right to believe it
is a fantasy. But what's new? The United States and its
institutions have worked to make all of our people believe
that because of the Fourteenth Amendment we have been "made"
into U.S. citizens. Even many Black professors refuse to
write in their books or teach their classes that New African
people -- persons born in the United States and descended
from Africans once held in slavery -- had and have after the
Thirteenth Amendment the right to political
We should have been asked -- as a group and individually --
what we wanted to choose as our political future. Instead,
the United States, which theretofore had refused the
application of the Rule of Jus Soli [an ancient legal
standard that tied citizenship to place of birth] to
Africans born in America, assumed that they could deny us
the right to self-determination when they passed the
Thirteenth Amendment and, then, passing the Fourteenth
Amendment two-and-a-half years later, could impose the Rule
of Jus Soli upon us. The most modest count indicates that
over nine percent of our 40 million population desire
independence today, despite the years of U.S. brainwashing.
Time and events will bring the reality to the rest of us.
The key is information and choice.
Q: Given your long-time involvement in the reparations
struggle, what do you think of the recently highly
publicized efforts of Randall Robinson and others?
A: Mr. Robinson's book [The Debt: What America Owes Blacks]
has helped to make reparations a household word, coming
after ten years of struggle by NCOBRA. Those who are joining
the fight will emphasize, we trust, the importance of the
27-odd chapters across the country continuing their
consultations with Black organizations everywhere to decide
the forms of reparations and establish elected local organs
to deal with the collective aspects of the payment, economic
development, education, and release of people from jail
based on reviews by elected community parole boards.
Q: What's your thinking on the Africa-based initiatives led
by the OAU and Ali Mazrui? Are there connections,
coordination between the African American and African
initiatives? If not, should there be?
A: We in America and our people throughout the diaspora must
work together. NCOBRA is involved in this work.
Q: Also, to what extent is there communications or
coordination between NCOBRA, Robinson and other activists
who have recently embraced the cause?
A: NCOBRA is a mass-based organization, which includes
members like Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, the National
Conference of Black Political Scientists, the National
Conference of Black Lawyers. The NAACP has passed a
resolution asking chapters to work with NCOBRA.
Q: Some blacks say that while reparations are owed it is not
likely that the debt will be paid, and that a highly visible
national debate on the issue will be racially divisive (a
1997 poll found that while 65% of blacks supported
reparations, it was opposed by 88% of whites) and in the
long run harmful to blacks. What's your judgment?
A: Many New African people, unfortunately, must have our
souls repaired and appreciate our history. We have always
achieved things that were supposed to be impossible. The
United States will do what all countries do: They pay when
they MUST, when paying is the best alternative to what else
they face. What is this about racial divisiveness? We are
supposed to allow a nation of thieves, the whites, to remain
comfortable with the wealth and rectitude stolen from us?
Q: At this point, where do you see the movement going in the
next several years?
A: Movements reach critical points. In the next several
years, reparations will be won and we will begin to use the
proceeds in the best manner to repair ourselves as a people
and once more provide black genius to the world.
Robert C. Smith is a professor of Political Science at San
Francisco State University. He has written extensively on
African American politics and has published numerous books,
including Racism in the Post-Civil Rights Era (SUNY, 1995),
We Have No Leaders (SUNY, 1996), and African American
Leadership (SUNY, 1999).
Copyright (c) 2000 Africana.com, Inc.
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