Irish Republicans and the African Blood Brotherhood. A Dossier from a Moment in Anti-Imperialist Solidarity with articles on Ireland from ‘The Crusader,’ organ of the African Blood Brotherhood in the United States, 1919-1922.
It is fair to say that many Black people in America, especially in the not so distant past, would single out Irish-Americans as the most racist and hostile segment of the white population in the U.S., and not without good reason. However, on occasion there were precious moments of the greatest solidarity, respect, and even emulation on the part of Black American for the Irish Freedom struggle. It may be hard to believe, but in the middle of 1920 Harlem existed a ‘A Black and Irish Coordinating Group for Irish Freedom.’ 50 years later and the inspiration would be reversed as the Northern Irish Civil Rights struggle of the 1960s reciprocated and took on the tactics, language, and songs of the U.S. Civil Rights movement.
Between 1919 and 1921, Irish republicans fought a desperately lopsided war of liberation, and inspired oppressed peoples around the world to fight for their own freedom. In the U.S., post-War Black militancy connected to the larger African Diaspora fully embraced the Irish struggle and its Irish Republican Army. Cyril Briggs, ‘New Negro’ radical, editor, and pioneering Black Communist consciously emulated the Irish Republican Brotherhood to create the African Blood Brotherhood, a secret revolutionary paramilitary organization dedicated to the physical defense and liberation of Black people around the world. Most immediately from the Ku Klux Klan where the A.B.B. engaged in armed defense during the Tulsa pogrom. Their vision included the entire diaspora and connected the Black struggle here with the anti-colonial struggle in Africa and around the world.
Here is a dossier of articles from the ‘Crusader’ mostly written by editor Cyril Briggs from August 1919 to January 1922. Titles include: ‘Approaching Irish Success,’ ‘McSwiney’ (sic), ‘British Rule in Ireland,’ ‘The Sinn Feiner, a New Irish Review,”Heroic Ireland,’ ‘The Irish Boycott of British Goods,’ ‘A Black and Irish Co-ordinating Group from Harlem,’ two Irish-Americans return the solidarity with letters strongly supporting the militant stance of the A.B.B., Irish-born Edward J. Irvine, Secretary of the Washing D.C. Socialist Party and Irish-American Detroit worker Sean Coughlin requesting copies of the Crusader to show his Irish friends and family. Lastly, a near-perfect five line poem from Rozafkeriefo on the new ‘Free State,’
‘Approaching Irish Success’ by Cyril Briggs from the Crusader Vol.1. No. 12 August, 1919.
There is little doubt that the Irish principle of “when you fight, FIGHT!” is soon to be vindicated and Irish sacrifices for liberty crowned with great and important, if not complete, success.
By strikes, riots, rebellions and other forceful means the Irish people have forced the world to take cognizance of British misrule and oppression of Ireland, and world public opinion is today exerting a potent influence to bring the English around to a recognition of the fact that the Irish people have rights which the English are bound to respect.
One of two things seems bound to hap pen very soon. Announcement by England of a Dominion form of government within the “Bloody Empire” for Ireland, or an embarrassing recognition for England of the “Irish Republic” by other nations. led by the United States. Whichever way it goes. the Irish people are bound to benefit greatly in the near future from their heroic sacrifices of blood and treasure in the cause of Irish freedom. And the maxims remain true: “When you fight. FIGHT!” and “he who would be free himself must strike the blow.” There is no middle course when dealing with the oppressor.
‘MacSwiney; by Cyril Briggs from the Crusader. Vol. 3 No. 4. December, 1920.
Dying that the attention of the world might be attracted to the unhappy plight of his country under the blight of brutal British rule, the late Lord Mayor of Cork, Terence MacSwiney, must be listed in the impartial records of history as great a patriot as any of the brilliant array of men and women who have died for their race and country. His death, by slow degrees, evinces a courage and a loyalty to country more marvelous by far than the hot courage of the battlefield.
And MacSwinev has not died in vain! His soul, like John Brown’s, will go marching on until the world is free of the overshadowing despotism of “great empires.” Already have the shackles dropped from the land he died for British rule in Ireland died with MacSwiney’s last departing breath. Only the shell and the ghost of “British prestige” now remain. No, MacSwiney has not died in vain. May God grant the Negro race such heroic spirits in its fast-approaching hour of trial
‘British Rule in Ireland’ from the Crusader. Vol. 3 No. 4. December, 1920.
Three More Irish Towns Destroyed as Reprisal Acts. New York World, Nov. 5.
Vengeful Burning of Granard Done as Wreckers Sing-Terrorized Irish Inhabitants Watch Black and Tans at Work from Distant Fields. New York World, Nov. 6. Drunken Troops in Skirts Dance as Houses Burn-Correspondent Finds Reprisal Campaign in Ireland Is War on Women and Children. New York World, Nov. 7.
It is not often that the pitiless glare of publicity is given to the murderous methods of the British Government in their dealings with the many peoples and races that they rule and exploit because of the possession of superior force. India has had its Amritsars, and before that its crawling orders and aeroplane bombing of defenseless villages and various other highly “kultured” methods of the “Brutish Empire.” Africa has had her towns plundered and laid low and her children tortured and enslaved and despoiled of their ancestral lands under the pretext of “civilizing influences”: Egypt, Nigeria, Rhodesia, South Africa-all bear eloquent witness to the philosophy that force makes right. But these latter atrocities have occurred behind an effective censorship screen in the lifting of which no one in the outside white world was particularly interested.
But Ireland is nearer home. Moreover there are several million Irish in America who. unlike the African in America, are not afraid to make known their presence and their sentiments. And therefore the news value of British atrocities in Ireland and the enterprise of the Newark World in having its correspondents in the field.
It is to be hoped that these belated exposures of British brutality in dealing with “subject peoples” will have the effect of at last opening the eyes of the world to the real truth and import of the autocratic control over more than four hundred million human beings which fifty-five million people, massed for the most part in the island of Britain, have by a conjugation of fraud, hypocrisy and force established and are trying to maintain by the brutal and cynical exercise of force. Here lies the real menace to world peace.
‘The Sinn Feiner, a New Irish Review Appears in New York City’ from the Crusader. Vol. 2 No. 11 July, 1920.
The Sinn Fein Publishing Company, composed or stockholders interested in the cause of Ireland, announces the publication of the first number of the “Sinn Feiner,” a semi-monthly review. The paper was issued under formal auspices at a mass meeting held under the auspices of the editorial staff at All Saints’ Church Hall, New York City, June 9, 1920.
The hall was packed to suffocation, every available space being occupied. The printer’s dummy, which was the first make-up of the publication, sold for the record price of $185 to Mrs. Kate Greenawald. The first ten copies off the prepress, certified by the secretary of the company, sold at an average of $20 apiece. The next 200 copies, certified by the secretary, were presented one to each of 200 stockholders.
Addresses were made by Rt. Rev. James J. Power; Very Rev. Willard J. O’Farrell: Dr. George Allen, or the Protestant Friends of Ireland; Rev. John H. Dooley; James V. Hayes. The meeting was presided over by John Martin, president or the Speakers’ Bureau for Irish Independence. Stock subscriptions to the amount of $3,800 were sold. Four thousand five hundred copies of the “Sinn Feiner” were sold. Volunteer circulation workers to the number of one hundred and fifty, signed pledges to work, while four hundred annual subscriptions at $3 a year were given.
The office of the company is No. 23 Duane Street, New York City. The company announces that it will answer all inquiries made.
‘Heroic Ireland’ by Cyril V. Briggs from The Crusader Vol. 3 No. 6. February, 1921.
THE spectacle of a Little People intrepidly and tirelessly opposing the might of the world’s greatest Empire and Oppressor, is one that must thrill all lovers of liberty and give birth to aspirations of freedom and emulation of daring deeds in the breasts of all the oppressed peoples of the world.
The Irish fight for liberty is the greatest Epic of Modern History. It is a struggle that should have the sympathy and active support of every lover of liberty – of every member of an oppressed group.
The Negro in particular should be interested in the Irish struggle, for while it is patent that Ireland can never escape from the menace of ‘the overshadowing empire’ so long as England is able to maintain her grip on the riches and manpower of India and Africa, it is also clear that those suffering together under the heel of British imperialism must learn to CO-ORDINATE THEIR EFFORTS before they can HOPE TO BE FREE. The mighty tyrant is not to be toppled over by an unaided Ireland, however courageously her valiant sons may fight, nor yet by an Africa or India unaided. England menaced in ONLY ONE QUARTER AT THE SAME TIME can successfully defend her ill-gotten spoils and her bleeding conquests-can easily maintain her grave-yard peace–her boasted pax Britannica. But England menaced on many quarters AT THE SAME TIME, faced by the determined bayonets of ALL her ‘subject peoples’ would be an England AT THE END OF ROPE. And until England is brought to the end of her rope there will be no freedom for Ireland, India or Africa.
Coordination of efforts will win the day, but preceding co-ordination there must be understanding and appreciation of the aims and aspirations of each other. The British are now trying to embarrass the Irish fight for freedom as well as to justify their own Hunnishness in Ireland by the belated publication of papers pertaining to prove Irish collusion with “the enemy” during the recent war. There is so little proof of this given in the British “papers” that their publication has failed to raise a ripple of interest even in England. But suppose there had been collusion between the Irish and the Germans. Who, from the Irish standpoint, was the enemy? The Germans who, have not had the opportunity, even though possibly possessed of the inclination, had not murdered Irish men, women and children, burned Irish cities to the ground, destroyed Irish creameries and factories, and in a thousand and one atrocious ways made war upon the Irish people –or the English who have both the opportunity and the inclination had done (and are still doing) these thing?
In shocked tones they tell us of “wanton Sinn Fein attacks on constituted authority” in the shape of British soldiers and officials in Ireland. But by what right are British soldiers and officials maintained on Irish soil in direct violation of the plebiscite by which more than nine-tenths of the Irish people declared themselves in favor of an independent republic and elected their own constituted authorities. When Englishmen complain of attacks on their mercenaries stationed in Ireland and brand such attacks as “murderous” and speaks of their casualties in battle as “murder,” it is time to ask by what divine decree is British rule established in Ireland that it is to be considered as inviolate and unchanged.
It should be easily possible for Negro to sympathize with the Irish fight against tyranny and oppression, and vice-versa, since both are in the same boat and both the victims of the same Anglo-Saxon race-albeit the Negro suffers in the New World as well as in the Old World, in Africa as well as in the United States.
‘The Irish Boycott of British Goods’ by Cyril Briggs from The Crusader. Vol. 4 No. 1. March, 1921.
The Irish people and the Negro people have much in common. To begin with, they are both oppressed by stronger groups. Secondly, the oppressors, in the main, of both Celt and Negro, are identified with the Anglo-Saxon race. Thirdly, the great enemy of the Irish people is also the greatest enemy of the Negro people. Not only does Great Britain tyrannize it over. More Negroes and other colored races than are ruled by any other nation in the world, but Great Britain is also the bulwark of the Anglo-Saxon White Guards and of all the reactionary things for which they stand.
But how differently do Irish and Negroes meet the common foe! That is, the members of the two races in America. The difference is not so marked in Africa. And Ireland, where both races are engaged in deadly war against the Anglo–Saxon-the war in Egypt and other parts of Africa being none the less deadly for its apparent spasmodic qualities. But how different in America I While the Irish in America persist in carrying the war to the enemy’s pocket book in a determined boycott that is giving John Bull many a sleepless night, the while giving hope and moral support to the warriors in Ireland, the Negro, on the other hand, goes blindly on unintelligently supporting, by buying their goods, the great enemy of his race-the British.
How long will we Negroes of America remain indifferent to the sufferings of our kindred under “British” rule, and blind to the vast power of the economic boycott to chastise our enemy and effect reprisals for the wrongs and insults heaped upon us by the supercilious Anglo-Saxons?
A Negro boycott of British goods, loyally carried out, would at any time be effective. But at this time, more than ever, since it would have the co-operation of the Irish whose boycott the British are already beginning to feel.
And why not now? Should not two groups fighting the same enemy act in unison and move in co-operation? Let every Negro purchaser, whether buying for himself or an employer, agree to boycott all goods of British manufacture or British handling and the self-styled “ruler of the subject races” would soon have to lay aside her proud and cruel ambition to boss the darker millions of the earth. On with the boycott! Press home the war for liberation! Strike for a free Africa and a redeemed Race! Hit them where it will hurt most-in their pocketbooks! Aim at the bulwark of Anglo-Saxon domination! On with the boycott!
‘From an Irish Patriot’ by Sean Coughlin Briggs from The Crusader. Vol. 4 No. 1. March, 1921.
80 Medbury Street. Detroit, Mich.
My Dear Friends: Received your card and magazine. Please find enclosed 45 cents in stamps for three additional copies February number. Want to send them to my friends and relatives…
Am glad you are in the fight to a finish. That’s what wins. Hope you win soon. I see in the magazine that Africa educated Europe. Well, I think, the Irish have a share in that according to history and what I have read. Of course I think that the Irish and other Celtic races came by way of Greece, et al (and others). I see the “Irish People” paper is in a fight to a finish also, and the Sinn Feiner. Would be good, I think, if your publication advertised “Irish People” and they advertise The Crusader, just like you and Sinn Feiner advertised yours. That is a great guide to me the Sinn Feiner. Very glad to see it advertised in The Crusader. I looked at a map of Africa. So many nations have possession of that country, but I think Germany is best. But every nation and people and race have a right to their country. Hope we all win soon. I hope you won’t think any idea I suggest to you is dictation or meddling, but I would. like to see boycotts, and goods to be boycotted mentioned in your magazine. Perhaps you have already done that, I don’t know, I have read. only one issue so far. I think Irish and Colored people and Indian, (East) are superior people. I don’t believe in re-incarnation of Darwinism. I like your magazine very much.
Am thinking or trying “The Chicago Whip.” If I do I will mention that I saw it advertised in The Crusader.
Yours in the cause of freedom, and God bless you. Sincerely and respectfully yours. Sean Coughlin.
‘A Black and Irish Co-ordinating Group’ from The Crusader. Vol. 4 No. 2. April, 1921.
Colored and white residents of the Harlem district (New York) united Sunday afternoon, March 6, at 270 West 136th street in organizing for their community a council of The American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic. The meeting was called at the instance of Mr. TJ. Day, secretary of the New York County Committee. with the cooperation of leading local Americans of the colored and white races
An election of temporary officers was held and a committee appointed to consider a name for the council as well as the general lines of organization. All meetings are to be held every Sunday at 2:30 p. m., at the council rooms at 270 West 116th street. It is proposed to make the council a coordinating factor in the cause of oppressed humanity.
‘Irresistible Idealism’ by Edward J. Irvine Irish-born Secretary of the Washing D.C. Socialist Party from The Crusader. Vol. 1 No. 5. July, 1921
There is no such thing as prison for the idealistic spirit, prisons are illusions that frighten narrow minds. The idealistic spirit roams at will. Ideals are more durable than iron bars.
Martyrs munching bread and water have munched on the luscious fruit of idealism. Ankles are weak and chains are strong, but no chain can hind a great spirit.
Toussaint L’Ouverture “in prison” was greater than Napoleon “free.” Terrence McSweeney starved, but there was sublimity in his soul. And Eugene Debs (caged like a lion) walks the heights which his jailors dare not tread upon.
So, too in Ireland and Ethiopia, suffering in their chains, almost a pleasure in their pain, for the tire of righteousness of their cause burns in their hearts’ core, for the good cause will triumph in the end. The “Black and Tans” of Ireland and the “Black and Tans” of Georgia must five way to their idealistic spirit that oppose them.
‘The Question’ by Rozafkeriefo from The Crusader. Vol. 6 No. 1. January-February, 1922.
The papers say Ireland will be
A free state. But will she be free?
For you know and I know
How free was the CONGO-
Yes, I’m from MISSOURI- show me!
The Crusader was published in New York City between 1918 and 1922, becoming the paper of the The African Blood Brotherhood for African Liberation and Redemption and the earliest Black Communist publication in the US. Founded by Cyril V Briggs, who had arrived to the city from the Caribbean in 1905, at first it was the journal of the Hamitic League of the World, a Pan-African group led by George Well Parker. Increasingly in sympathy with the Russian Revolution and new Communist International, in October 1919 the paper announced the African Blood Brotherhood and its adherence to Marxism. In June 1921, The Crusader officially became the journal of the ABB and the Black publication of the US Communist movement. Antipathy with Marcus Garvey’s movement led the Communist Party, at the insistence of Claude McKay, to withdraw support and Its last issue was in January, 1922. The African Blood Brotherhood with dissolve into the Workers Party of America with many activists joining the American Negro Labor Congress in 1925.