Dana Johnson // Separation or Death1: One Hundred Years of White Supremacist-Black Nationalist Alliances in America

The Spark | REL355 FA07 | Johnson – With that we jump ahead to the 1960’s and the Nation of Islam’s alliances with various white supremacist groups. I have already mentioned briefly George Lincoln Rockwell’s attendance at an NOI convention in 1962, but instead of focusing on it for my analysis I would like to address a separate encounter. The NOI’s first friendly contact with white supremacists occurred in 1961, when Elijah Muhammad sent Malcolm X and Jeremiah X, a local Muslim leader, to meet with the Ku Klux Klan in Atlanta. At the meeting the two sides established an agreement by which the Klan would abstain from attacking mosques in the South in return for a guarantee that the Nation would not participate in the Civil Rights Movement.12 Muhammad and his associates recognized the power of the Klan in the South, both in sheer membership numbers and behind the scenes with politicians and policemen. Thus, like Garvey, Muhammad felt that his position was the only reasonable one for overcoming the disenfranchisement of his race. Further, both sides of the alliance were aware of the disastrous consequences that a successful Civil Rights Movement would have for the “purity” of their race (also like Garvey, though he may not have called it this), and thus an alliance could help to combat this from both sides of the racial fence. But the Klan and the NOI took a different line of reasoning than the UNIA for their separatist agendas, both using not the language of science but that of divinely superior and inferior races. It is through this lens that their alliance can be understood further, but this claim needs to be clarified.

Garvey understood racism to be a part of human nature, and thus he saw separatism as the “natural” solution to racial strife in America. When the black race had its own territory, it could focus its energies on building its prestige and thus improving its image in the eyes of other races.13 But until then, success for blacks in America was dependent on a social structure created and controlled by whites, which not only prevented blacks from having self-determined lives but also deceived them into participating in a society that would see their extermination before it gave them equality.14 While Garvey saw God as the reason behind this unavoidably racist predisposition in human beings, he did not believe that one race was superior to any other.15 Instead, racial superiority was determined by the most accomplished civilization at any one time – civilizations were first and foremost racially defined – and a race’s standing with God was determined by how well it maintained its “purity.”16

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