Black Nationalism in America

Black men, throughout their history in America, have manifested nationalist sentiment. Some have always leaned toward separatist ideology and solutions. Even essentially integrationist and assimilationist thinkers have often had nationalist strains in their social philosophies. Thus, in 1897, W. E. B. Du Bois wrote :

. . . One ever feels his two-ness-an American, a Negro; two
souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings ; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from
being torn asunder .

The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife, this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. He does not wish to Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa.

He does not wish to bleach his Negro blood in a flood of white Americanism, for he believes . . . that Negro blood has yet a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American without being cursed and spit upon. . . .

W. E. B. Du Bois, “Strivings of the Negro People,” Atlantic
Monthly, LXXX (August 1897), 194-195.

Nationalist ideologies have been in the ascendant only at certain historical periods; in others, the major emphasis has been on racial integration and assimilation. During four periods, nationalist sentiment in various forms has been prominent in Negro thought: the turn of the eighteenth century, roughly from 1790 to 1820; the late 1840s and especially the 1850s; the nearly half-century stretching approximately from the 1880s into the 1920s; and since the middle 1960s. In general, nationalist sentiment, although present throughout the black man’s experience in America, tends to be most pronounced when the Negroes’ status has declined, or when they have experienced intense disillusionment following a period of heightened but
unfulfilled expectations.

This introductory essay will describe the chief recurring varieties of black nationalism and trace black nationalism as a whole in the main periods of black history in the United States .

In a concluding section the three editors will present their differing interpretations of the nature and pattern of the phenomena they first describe.

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