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The African Blood Brotherhood (ABB) was a radical U.S. black liberation organization of the early 20th century that developed ties to the Communist Party. The group was a propaganda organization built on the model of the secret fraternity, organized in "posts" with a centralized national organization based in New York City. The ABB had a total membership of less than 3,000 members at its peak.[1], and it likely had only a few dozen truly active members.

The CrusaderEdit

The inspiration for what would become the African Black Brotherhood began with the appearance of a monthly journal. Journalist Cyril Briggs left the Amsterdam News to start the monthly magazine The Crusader in 1918. The first issue, published by the Hamitic League of the World, espoused African nationalist politics, but within a Marxist and Afro-Marxist context. Editorials endorsed a separatist African-American state, with government control of the means of production. Briggs demanded African-American independence from the United States, in conformance with the principles of President Wilson's Fourteen Points proposal as applied to former African colonies of European governments. The same issue of The Crusader endorsed A. Philip Randolph's campaign for New York State Assembly on the Socialist Party ticket. The Brotherhood viewed independence of the black community in the United States as a prerequisite to equality. Only with genuine political power, which included control of the means of production, including the land, could African Americans obtain genuine equality. Briggs proposed a “new solution”: “nothing more or less than independent, separate existence” was called for — “Government of the (Negro) people, for the (Negro) people and by the (Negro) people.”

The Crusader also asserted the right of African Americans to defend themselves against lynching and racist attacks. Racially motivated violence against African-Americans was endemic in the Jim Crow era. Large-scale attacks by white vigilantes against African-American neighborhoods were common. Historian Charles Crowe found that between 1898 and 1908, there were 40 major race riots in the South. In addition, large-scale attacks occurred in Atlanta in 1906; Springfield, Illinois in 1908; East St. Louis in 1917; Chicago, Phillips County, Arkansas and Omaha in 1919; and Tulsa in 1921. The Crusader would eventually reach a total readership of 36,000 persons, mostly in Harlem.[2]

The African Blood BrotherhoodEdit

In response to these attacks, The Crusader advocated armed self-defense. Politically, Briggs drew comparisons between government attacks on white and black radicals. He identified capitalism as the underlying cause of oppression of poor people of all races. While endorsing a Marxist analysis, The Crusader advocated a separate organization of African-Americans to defend against racist attacks in the United States, and likened this to Africans' combating colonialism abroad.

In September 1919, The Crusader announced the formation of the African Blood Brotherhood, to serve as a self-defense organization for Blacks threatened by race riots and lynchings. The ABB also organized inside the UNIA-ACL and advocated a policy of critical support for Marcus Garvey. ABB leaders Briggs and Claude McKay participated in the UNIA's 1920 and 1921 international conferences in New York. At the second conference, McKay arranged for Rose Pastor Stokes, a white leader of the Communist Party, to address the assembly.

The ABB became highly critical of Garvey following the apparent failure of the Black Star Line and Garvey's July 1921 Atlanta meeting with Grand Kleagle Clarke of the Ku Klux Klan. In June 1921, The Crusader announced that it had become the official organ of the African Blood Brotherhood. Arguing that the UNIA was doomed unless it developed new leadership, the magazine sought to convert the UNIA's membership to the ABB. In seeking to replace the UNIA, the ABB competed with Randolph's socialist publication The Messenger, which had called for Garvey's expulsion from the United States. In return, Garvey called for his followers to disrupt meetings of these oppositional groups.

Conflicts with Garvey and the Bureau of InvestigationEdit

In addition to the dispute with Garvey, Briggs and the ABB were targeted for investigation by police and federal law enforcement agencies. Historian Theodore Kornweibel reports that the government began manipulating radical organizations in conjunction with legal prosecution under the pretence of disrupting opposition to World War I. Following the end of the war, a government campaign against communists, anarchists, and other radicals was instituted at the direction of Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer (himself the victim of two anarchist bomb attacks) in what came to be called the First Red Scare. Government agents were secretly planted in the UNIA, ABB and The Messenger. These agents provided intelligence to the Bureau of Investigation while in some case sabotaging meetings, and acting as agents provocateurs.

The ABB enjoyed a period of notoriety following the Tulsa Riot of 1921. Tulsa had an ABB chapter and news reports credited the organization with inspiring resistance to racist attacks.

Fusion with the CPUSAEdit

The Crusader ceased publication in February 1922, following Garvey's indictment for mail fraud. Briggs continued to operate the Crusader News Service, providing news material to affiliated publications of the American black press. As cooperation with the Communist Party increased, the ABB ceased to recruit separately.

The leadership of the Communist International, while largely ignorant about the particulars of the situation of blacks in the United States, did understand the importance of ethnic and other non-class forms of oppression, and pushed the early CP to pay more attention to blacks in the U.S. Before this intervention by the Comintern, the party had largely ignored blacks, and thus was not particularly attractive to black radicals like Briggs. Instead, it was the Bolshevik Revolution that attraced their attention.

Poet and ABB member Claude McKay has previously been active in the Left Communist Workers Socialist Federation in London and subsequently visited the Soviet Union several times in the mid-1920s, writing about conferences of the Communist International for African-American audiences. McKay's book, The Negroes in America (published in Russian in 1924 but not in the U.S. until 1979) argued, against the official Communist position of the time, that the oppression of black people in the U.S. was not reducible to economic oppression, but was unique. He argued against the color blindness that the Communists had inherited from the Socialist Party. McKay made argued vociferously for national self-determination in support of national independence for oppressed peoples, which to him meant an independent African-American government separate and apart from that of the United States. Subsequently, in the aftermath of the Sixth Comintern Congress in 1928, the CPUSA adopted a policy of national self-determination for African-Americans living in the Black Belt of the American South. The policy was neglected after the Popular Front period began in 1935, but was not formally replaced until 1959.

As the Communist Party developed, it regularized its structure along the lines called for by the Communist International (Comintern). Semi-independent organizations such as the African Blood Brotherhood with its divergent Afro-Marxist political theories were anathema to the Comintern and its Soviet leaders, who believed all communist and Marxist-Leninist organizations should be unified in a single communist party and platform in each nation under Moscow's overall direction and control. In the early 1920s the African Black Brotherhood was dissolved, with its members merged into the Workers Party of America and later into the National Negro Labor Congress. Many early ABB members, however, went on to be key CP cadres for decades.

ABB PublicationsEdit

See alsoEdit

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  1. Briggs, Cyrus, Letter to Theodore Draper in New York from Cyril Briggs in Los Angeles, (extract) 17 March 1958: According to founding member Cyrus Briggs, "The Brotherhood never attained the proportions of a real mass organization. Its initial membership was less than a score, and all in Harlem. At its peak it had less than 3,000 members."
  2. Briggs, Cyrus, Letter to Theodore Draper in New York from Cyril Briggs in Los Angeles, (extract) 17 March 1958

External linksEdit

Further readingEdit


  • Research files on African-Americans and communism 1919-1993, (Bulk 1919-1939). Created by Mark Solomon. Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. 4.25 linear feet (4 boxes). Call Phrase: Tamiment 218. online guide to the archive retrieved April 10, 2005.
  • Theodore Kornweibel Research Papers, 1910-1960. Research materials assembled by Theodore Kornweibel, a professor of African American studies at San Diego State University, used in the writing of monographs about federal surveillance of and campaigns against African Americans, 1917–1925, and federal efforts to compel Black loyalty during World War I. The collection consists of copies of FBI and other federal agency records, including case files obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, detailed notecards, printed federal documents, and Kornweibel's correspondence with federal agencies. 30 cubic ft. Call Number: Midwest MS Kornweibel. Held at Newberry Library, Chicago.


  • Bair, Barbara. "The Crusader" pp. 170–171 in Buhle et al. (eds), Encyclopedia of the American Left. 988 pages. Oxford University Press; 2nd edition (November 1, 1998). ISBN 0-19-512088-4.
  • Crowe, Charles. Racial Violence and Social Reform: Origins of the Atlanta Riot of 1906. Journal of Negro History Vol. 53. July 1968. p 254.
  • Crowe, Charles. Racial Massacre in Atlanta September 22, 1906. Journal of Negro History. Vol 54. April 1969.
  • Hill, Robert A. "Racial and Radical: Cyril V. Briggs, The Crusader Magazine, and the African Blood Brotherhood, 1918-1922." Introductory Essay to The Crusader. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1987
  • Kuykendall, Ronald A. The African Blood Brotherhood, Independent Marxist During the Harlem Renaissance. The Western Journal of Black Studies. 2002. 26(1): 16-21.
  • Wald, Alan. African Americans, Culture and Communism (Part 1): National Liberation and Socialism', Against the Current Vol.XIV no.6, #84, January/February 2000


  • Arnesen, Eric. Black Protest and the Great Migration : A Brief History with Documents The Bedford Series in History and Culture. 226 pages. Bedford/St. Martin's (November 6, 2002). ISBN 0-312-39129-3.
  • Dawahare, Anthony. Nationalism, Marxism, and African American Literature Between the Wars: A New Pandora's Box Margaret Walker Alexander Series in African American Studies. 208 pages. University Press of Mississippi (December 1, 2002). ISBN 1-57806-507-0.
  • Dawson, Michael C. Black Visions : The Roots of Contemporary African-American Political Ideologies. 352 pages. University Of Chicago Press (March 1, 2003). ISBN 0-226-13861-5.
  • Draper, Theodore. American Communism and Soviet Russia. New York: Vintage Books. 1986
  • Haywood, Harry. Black Bolshevik: Autobiography of an Afro-American Communist. Chicago: Liberator Press. 1978. ISBN 0-930720-53-9.
  • Hill, Robert A. Compiler and Editor, The FBI's RACON: Racial Conditions in the United States during World War I. Ithaca, N. Y.: Northeastern University Press. 1995.
  • James, Winston. Holding Aloft the Banner of Ethiopia: Caribbean Radicalism in Early Twentieth Century America'. London: Verso Books. 1998
  • Kornweibel, Theodore, Jr. "Investigate Everything": Federal Efforts to Compel Black Loyalty During World War I. 416 pages. Indiana University Press (May 1, 2002). ISBN 0-253-34009-8.
  • Kornweibel, Theodore, Jr. Seeing Red: Federal Campaigns Against Black Militancy, 1919-1925 Blacks in the Diaspora Series. 248 pages. Indiana University Press (December 1, 1999). ISBN 0-253-21354-1.
  • Solomon, Mark I. The Cry Was Unity: Communists and African Americans, 1917-36. 400 pages. University Press of Mississippi (October 1, 1998). ISBN 1-57806-095-8.
  • Tyson, Timothy and David S. Cecelski (Editors). Democracy Betrayed: The Wilmington Race Riot of 1898 and Its Legacy. 352 pages. University of North Carolina Press (November 1, 1998). ISBN 0-8078-4755-0.


  • Solomon, Mark I. Red and Black: Communism and Afro-Americans : 1929-1935. 633 pages. Harvard Dissertations in American History and Political Science. Garland Pub (February 1, 1989). ISBN 0-8240-5148-3.
  • van Enckevort, Maria Gertrudis. The Life and Work of Otto Huiswoud: Professional Revolutionary and Internationalist (1893–1961). University of the West Indies, Mona Ph.D. Thesis. 2001. Especially chapters one, two and three.
  • Warren, Maurie I. Moses and the Messenger: The Crisis of Black Radicalism 1921 - 1922. Harvard University Bachelor's Thesis. 1974.
  • Zumoff, Jacob A. The Communist Party of the United States and the Communist International, 1919-1929. Chapter 9, The American Communist Party, the Comintern and The 'Negro Question'. University of London Ph.D. Thesis. 2003sv:African Blood Brotherhood