5 Caribbean Born US Civil Rights Fighters You Should Know

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The late Stokely Carmichael, aka Kwame Ture.. (Photo by William F. Campbell/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images/Getty Images)
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News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, Fri. June 12, 2020: It is Caribbean American Heritage Month and with protests raging over the killing of George Floyd, forcing the conversation to shift to the wider issue of systemic racism, there is no better time than now to look back in history at five Caribbean immigrants who fought alongside Black Americans for Civil Rights in  America. Here are 5 you should know:

1: Stokely Carmichael

Stokely Standiford Churchill Carmichael, who later became known as Kwame Ture, was born on June 29, 1941 in Trinidad but migrated with his family to the US at age 11. He became an activist while attending Howard University and eventually developed the Black Power movement, first while leading the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and was one of the original SNCC freedom riders of 1961 under Diane Nash’s leadership. He became a major voting rights activist in Mississippi and Alabama after being mentored by Ella Baker and Bob Moses.

Like most young people in SNCC, he became disillusioned with the two-party system after the 1964 Democratic National Convention failed to recognize the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party as official delegates from the state. Carmichael chose to develop independent black political organizations, such as the Lowndes County Freedom Organization and, for a time, the national Black Panther Party. He would go on to serve as the “Honorary Prime Minister” of the Black Panther Party (BPP), and lastly later as the leader of the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party (A-APRP). J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI, secretly identified Carmichael as the man most likely to succeed Malcolm X as America’s “Black Messiah” and the FBI targeted him for personal destruction through its COINTELPRO program, and Carmichael fled to Africa in 1968. He died on November 15, 1998 in Conakry, Guinea.

2: Hubert Henry Harrison

Hubert Henry Harrison was born on April 27, 1883 Estate Concordia, St. Croix, now USVI and came to New York in 1900 as a 17-year-old orphan. There he confronted a racial oppression unlike anything he previously knew. Harrison was especially “shocked” by the virulent white-supremacy typified by lynchings, which were reaching a peak in these years in the South.

In the beginning, Harrison worked low-paying service jobs while attending high school at night. For the rest of his life, Harrison continued to study as an autodidact. While he was still in high school, his intellectual gifts were recognized. He was described as a “genius” in The World, a New York daily newspaper. At age 20, he had an early letter published by The New York Times in 1903. In 1912-14 he was the leading Black organizer in the Socialist Party of America. In 1917 he founded the Liberty League and The Voice, the first organization and the first newspaper of the race-conscious “New Negro” movement. From his Liberty League and Voice came the core leadership of individuals and race-conscious program of the Garvey movement.

Harrison’s appeal was both mass and individual. His race-conscious mass appeal utilized newspapers, popular lectures, and street-corner talks. He was later described by activist A. Philip Randolph as “the father of Harlem radicalism” and by the historian Joel Augustus Rogers as “the foremost Afro-American intellect of his time.” John G. Jackson of American Atheists described him as “The Black Socrates.” Harrison died on December 17, 1927 at age 44.

3: Claude McKay

Claude McKay was born in Clarendon, Jamaica in 1889 where he became a poet. He left for the U.S. in 1912 to attend Tuskegee Institute and was shocked by the intense racism he encountered when he arrived in Charleston, South Carolina, where many public facilities were segregated. At Tuskegee, he disliked the “semi-military, machine-like existence there” and quickly left to study at Kansas State University. At Kansas State, he read W. E. B. Du Bois’ Souls of Black Folk, which had a major impact on him and stirred his political involvement. In 1914 he moved to New York City where he became a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance of black artists in the ’20s and ’30s. In this period McKay joined the Industrial Workers of the World and also became involved with a group of black radicals who were unhappy both with Marcus Garvey’s nationalism and the middle-class reformist NAACP. Together they founded the semi-secret revolutionary organization, the African Blood Brotherhood. Hubert Harrison had asked McKay to write for Garvey’s Negro World, but only a few copies of the paper have survived from this period, none of which contain any articles by McKay. McKay soon left for London, England, writing later that it was to take advantage of an all-expense paid trip, but growing pressure from the Justice Department might also have played a part in his sudden decision to leave the country.

4: Cyril Briggs

Cyril Valentine Briggs was born on May 28, 1888, on the Caribbean island of Nevis. He would later become a writer himself, taking jobs with the St. Kitts Daily Express and the St. Christopher Advertiser.  Recognized for his promise as an aspiring writer, in his later teenaged years Briggs was awarded a scholarship to study journalism at the university level and migrated to the United States in July 1905 to join his mother, who had already emigrated here.  Briggs’ first American writing job came in 1912 at the Amsterdam News. In 1917, Briggs founded the African Blood Brotherhood (ABB), one of the seminal groups of African-American associations. His goal was to stop lynching and racial discrimination, and ensure voting and civil rights for African Americans in the South. He also called for black self-determination. In 1918, the ABB started a magazine called The Crusader, which helped expose lynchings in the South and discrimination in the North. Briggs became a leading exponent of racial separatism and saw American White-Black racism as a form of “hatred of the unlike” that draws “its virulence from the firm conviction in the white man’s mind of the inequality of races—the belief that there are superior and inferior races and that the former are marked with a white skin and the latter with dark skin and that only the former are capable and virtuous and therefore alone fit to vote, rule and inherit the earth.” Briggs proposed a “new solution” then emerging, in which the African American had come to the realization that “the salvation of his race and an honourable solution of the American Race Problem call for action and decision in preference to the twaddling, dreaming, and indecision of ‘leaders.’” Briggs died on October 18, 1966, in Los Angeles, California.

5: Richard B. Moore

Harlem World Magazine Image

Richard Benjamin Moore was a Barbadian writer born on August 9, 1893 in Barbados. Moore migrated to US and arrived in New York City on July 4, 1909. There he was immediately faced with ethnic discrimination when it came to employment and educational opportunities among other things. Due to the struggles he encountered and observed, he became a strong advocate for the rights of African Americans. In 1919 he joined the African Blood Brotherhood (ABB), which was an organization formed to defend African Americans from race riots and lynching. Moore, along with other black advocates, joined the Socialist Party in the early 1920s. Moore joined the Socialist Party, in part, because at the time the Socialist party was transforming itself into a force to fight against segregation. In 1928 he ran for U.S. Congress in New York’s 21st Congressional District. In 1934, Moore ran on the Socialist ticket for Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals. In 1935, he became the organizer for the International Labor Defense in the New England Territory. He used his position in this organization to speak on behalf the Scottsboro Boys, a case in which nine young African-American males were accused of raping two young European-American women. He continued his efforts for equal rights in America and also played a leading role in Caribbean advocacy groups. In his lifetime, he collected over 15,000 books and pamphlets on the African-American experiences worldwide and featured them in the Frederick Douglass Book Center in Harlem. This collection of books is currently housed in a library that Moore developed in Barbados. Moore died in his homeland of Barbados in 1978 at the age of 85.