African-Americans and American foreign policy: "voices in the wilderness: the role and influences of African-American citizens in the development and formation of foreign policy 1919-1944".

Author:Johnson, Benita M.
 
FREE EXCERPT

African Americans' Influence on American Foreign Policy After World War I

The Pan-African Association was an organization that emerged from the Pan-African Conference that was held in London in 1900. The purpose of this conference was to address the spread of colonialism abroad and segregation African-Americans faced at home. The association originally called for British colonies to end its exploitative labor practices and racial discrimination in Africa. Members of the conference appealed to Queen Victoria and the Colonial Office to end the practice, but their petitions for human rights were ignored. Although the object of the conference was not achieved, the Pan-Africa Association continued its message by changing its tactics to influence American foreign policy. After World War I, the Association saw the opportunity to organize and develop a new strategy to demand political and economic rights.

After World War I, the Association renewed the opportunity for people of color to place their agenda before an international body. The war had fractured the great empires of Europe and called into question the legitimacy of colonial rule. The once great empires of Germany, Austria, Hungry, Russia and Turkey could no longer control diverse nationalities that now demanded political freedom. Delegates from African countries made similar appeals for freedom, while African-Americans began discussing what the postwar settlement would mean in terms of racial equity in the United States. Following Germany's surrender on November 11, 1918, the allied governments decided to hold a peace conference in Versailles France. Groups from all over the world interested in shaping the proceedings were planning to attend and African-American organizations were determined to play a vital role in addressing an international body regarding their concerns. Prominent African-American leaders who supported the Pan-African movement, such as Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. Du Bois lead the call for African people throughout the Diaspora to become involved in international affairs by joining or creating organizations to address universal issues. "Both Garvey and Du Bois were keenly aware that the destiny of African peoples were intractably linked to global events." (2)

The National Race Congress selected civil rights activist Reverend William H. Jernagin as their envoy, and the International League of Darker People elected Madam C.J. Walker, Marcus Garvey and Reverend Adam Clayton Powell Sr., as delegates to attend the conference in France. "The National Race Congress elected civil rights advocate Rev. William H. Jernigan its representative to the peace conference.

The International League of Darker Peoples emerged. The league was born on January 2, 1919 at the Hudson River Estate of black businesswoman C.J. Walker. Principals included Walker, Marcus Garvey, socialist A. Philip Randolph, and Harlem community leader Rev. Adam Clayton Powell Sr. Its primary purpose was to help the plethora of black groups make coherent demands at Versailles" (3)

The focus of the African-Americans attending the peace conference was to help Black groups speak with one voice regarding their demands at Versailles. The goal of the African-American delegation was to raise the issues of discrimination and human rights before an international body. African-Americans who wanted to attend felt they had a stake in the peace process because of the direct participation of African-Americans solders in combat with colonial troops during the war. The interaction between blacks and whites on the battlefield forever altered perceptions of race relations for many black soldiers, who would no longer accept separate and unequal treatment in America. African-Americans wanted to use the experiences of the Black soldiers to improve race relations at home and abroad.

Du Bois saw the opportunity to bring before an international body the plight and pain of African-Americans and their brothers and sisters on the Continent. Du Bois viewed the conference as a platform where African-American and African delegates could express their views on world peace by incorporating language into the treaty that protected the sovereign rights of indigenousness peoples who lived under racial segregation and colonial rule. On November 27, 1918 Du Bois wrote President Wilson regarding his views on racial segregation and to petition the United States government to include African-Americans as official delegates at the Versailles conference. The objective of Du Bois was to establish a dialog with Wilson regarding the image of America being tarnished because of racial segregation. Du Bois hoped to persuade the President to extend an invitation to African-Americans to join the United States delegation and create an international document that would include language to remove racial segregation at home and address ties to countries who imposed colonial rule abroad.

The International Peace Conference that is to decide whether or not peoples shall have the right to dispose of themselves will find in its midst delegates from a nation which champions the principal of the consent of the governed and government by representation. That nation is our own, includes in itself more than twelve million souls whose consent to be governed is never asked. They have no member in the legislatures of states where they are in the majority, and not a single representative in the national Congress." (4) However, Woodrow Wilson did not want any agitation at the Versailles conference. Wilson felt that the African-Americans would derail the peace process by airing America's "dirty laundry" of black soldiers being lynched, racial injustice and the political influence of the Ku Klux Klan to an international assembly. Wilson wanted to create a League of Nations to avoid future global conflicts and did not want America's image to be tarnished.

"Faced with the prospect of having African Americans at Versailles who were not only interested in Africa but also critical of the way in which the Wilson administration has treated black soldieries as well as black civilians at home, officials on Washington decided to withhold the passports of African Americans planning to go to France or otherwise make it difficult for them to get there" (5)

W.E.B Du Bois was one of the few Blacks who were allowed to leave the country and attend the conference as a reporter for the NAACP monthly magazine, The Crisis. At the conference Du Boise met with members of the Pan-African Association and other African-American delegates (who were allowed to leave). Black delegates agreed to work together and demand a provision in the treaty to protect native languages and territories from economic exploitation under colonial rule. The provision would include language, which focused on self-determination and the establishment of inalienable rights for people of color living under colonial rule. The language called for:

* Self-determination for all colonies in which African peoples predominated

* Equal rights with Europeans for Africans in education, work, and travel

* An end to discrimination and segregation of African people where they can live side-by-side with other races

* Restoration of lands seized from Africans in South Africa

* The eviction from Africa of all those who interfered with or violated African customs

* Equal representation of blacks in any scheme of world government

* Turning over of captured German colonies in Africa to the natives with educated Western and Eastern Negroes as leaders" (6)

Pan-Africanists at the 1919 conference knew they had an up-hill battle to persuade the great powers to bring democracy to Africa. Many nations would not endorse broad and sweeping reforms because it would jeopardize their interests. Pressing the matter from an African point of view would have also weakened efforts by Japan to get the equality principle accepted without overt reference to race. The radicals within the African-American delegation did not agree with this tactic but the moderates felt that the Japanese approach to the subject of race would be accepted. The radicals compromised and agreed to cooperate with the Japanese regarding the question of racial equity. African-Americans saw that Japanese advocacy for equality had broader implications and the language was not as threatening to European holdings in Africa or the Pacific Rim. In January 1919, Madam C.J. Walker initiated a meeting between the International League of Darker Peoples and the Japanese publisher S. Kuroiwa. The League of Darker Peoples wanted Japanese assistance in placing the issue of racial equality before the peace conference in Versailles.

Count Nobuaki Makino, head of the Japanese delegation, presented the proposal for racial equality before the League of Nations and asked the League to adopt an equity clause in the Versailles Treaty. "The United States and Britain opposed to the measure, but when the resolution came to a vote it was passed by a majority. Woodrow Wilson, presiding, then declared that only unanimity could make the principle binding and refused to recognize it. In so doing, he blatantly departed from past parliamentary practices. Pan-Africanists also failed to dent the hard surface of colonialism in Africa and racial discrimination elsewhere" (7)

The United States and its Western allies primary objective was to punish Germany by allowing countries such as France and England to seek reparations and created a military alliance to deter future acts of German aggression. Wilson did not see Africans as voting members of the conference and the only remnant of language adopted by the Pan-Africanist and the Japanese delegation to address the issue of human and sovereign rights of indigenous people living under colonial rule "called for an absolutely impartial adjustment of all colonial claims, based on the principal that the interest of the population must have equal weight...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP