“We are an African people :” the development of Black American solidarity with Portuguese Africa

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2014-05

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Beginning in 1961, the struggle for decolonization in the Portuguese colonies of Mozambique, Angola, and Guinea-Bissau captured world attention. A transnational movement developed in the western world in solidarity with these predominantly socialist struggles for liberation. In the United States, African Americans helped lead the charge in the 1970s. Historians have tended to ignore this pivotal period due to its timing between the high tide of African independence and the rise of the anti-Apartheid movement, but the global campaign for Portuguese Africa represented a pivotal transition. It linked activists across national borders and provided models for organizing that would be carried into the solidarity campaigns of the next decade. This solidarity did not emerge fluidly, but had to be forged by a combination of motivated African nationalists and receptive American audiences. Black minorities in the United States continued to sympathize with the independence cause in Africa, but responses to the 1961 Angolan revolution diverged on the question of the proper role of African Americans in shaping foreign policy. A radical minority helped develop sympathy into a wider activist movement through educational campaigns and rallies. Conducted in direct cooperation with liberation groups such as the Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (FRELIMO) and the Partido Africano da Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde (PAIGC), these activities introduced blacks to the successful armed revolutions and socialist philosophies of Portuguese Africa. The assertive visions of black independence contrasted with the quieter struggle against Apartheid and helped inspire domestic calls for communal development in places like New York, Boston, and elsewhere. This coalition of African nationalists and black American activists collapsed the distance that had always separated the poles of the global struggle for racial and economic equality and established networks of transnational exchange. Using the experience gained from this successful organizing, American activists expanded their support of leftist nationalist causes to the rest of southern Africa after the Portuguese states achieved independence in 1975.

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