The Untold Story of the Black Radical Tradition in Canada

by Norman (Otis) Richmond aka Jalali

The author is a veteran of the Black political struggle on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border, having emigrated to Canada in the Sixties. He points out the similarities -- and differences – in Black radical politics in the two countries. For example, early on, “Africans born in Canada organized as Jamaicans, Trinidadians, Barbadians or Black Canadians.”

The Untold Story of the Black Radical Tradition in Canada

by Norman (Otis) Richmond aka Jalali

“The untold story of the Radical Black Tradition in Canada is beginning to unfold.”

The Afro American Progressive Association (AAPA) was one of the first Black Power organizations in Canada. It was organized by Jose Garcia, Norman (Otis) Richmond and D. T. in Toronto in 1968. Their first public event was a commemoration of the assassination of Omowale El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X). The meeting took place on Bathurst Street (Toronto’s Lenox Avenue) the Home Service. Guest speakers were Jan Carew, Guyanese-born scholar/activist who later would write:” Ghosts in Our Blood: With Malcolm X in Africa, England, and the Caribbean” and Ted Watkins. A year before ancestors like Austin Clarke, Howard Matthews and others started the ball rolling.

Watkins (1941-1968) was an African born in America who played Canadian football. Watkins played wide-receiver for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Ottawa Rough Riders. He won the Grey Cup with Hamilton in 1967. He previously played college football at the University of the Pacific in
Stockton, California. Watkins was killed in 1968 allegedly robbing a liquor store.

This is a direct quote from a Canadian daily: “STOCKTON, Calif. (AP) -Ted Watkins, Negro professional Canadian football player, and a leading Black Power advocate' in Canada, was shot dead in an attempted liquor store holdup Sunday, police said.”

“The AAPA’s newsletter was called Harambee (Swahili) for ‘Let’s pull together.’”

The Black Youth Organization (BYO), the Black Action Defense Committee (BADC), the Biko Rodney Malcolm Coalition (BRMC) and Black Live Matters spring from the AAPA. The AAPA’s newsletter was called Harambee (Swahili) for “Let’s pull together.” Harambee preceded “Contrast,” “Share,” “Pride” and the “Caribbean Camera.”

Chris Harris has been one of the few attempting to keep the untold history of the Black Radical Tradition and the AAPA alive. Harris’ article, “Canadian Black Power, Organic Intellectuals of Position in Toronto, 1967 – 1975” was published quietly. He is quoted extensively in David Austin’s 2014 Casa de las Americas Prize winning book on Caribbean Literature, in English or Creole, Fear of a Black Nation: Race, Sex, and Security in Sixties Montreal.

Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report talks about how a Black miss-leadership is high jacking the African liberation struggle in the United States. Ditto for Canada.

The untold story of the Radical Black Tradition in Canada is beginning to unfold. A new autobiography, Burnley “Rocky” Jones Revolutionary by Jones and James W. St. G. Walker gets the ball rolling in this work. Jones gives credit to the AAPA in this volume for keeping the radical Black tradition alive in the Great White North.

Jones discusses how tribalism ruled during the late sixties and early Seventies in Toronto’s history. Africans born in Canada organized as Jamaicans, Trinidadians, Barbadians or Black Canadians. He talks about a rally that took place at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education on Bloor Street in Toronto.

“Jones gives credit to the AAPA in this volume for keeping the radical Black tradition alive in the Great White North.”

Says Jones: “The chair was José Garcia, of the Afro American Progressive Association, a Marxist, and Black Nationalist organization in Toronto. Although that organization was Canadian, its name reflected the interaction with the States; there was continual movement back and forth across the border with Detroit and Buffalo, with Panthers and CORE and various Black Nationalist associations. Many of these people were also at the conference, in particular a group known as the Detroit Revolutionary Union movement, DRUM, extremely militant and connected to the Panthers.”

Jones was incorrect on the name of DRUM; DRUM is an acronym for the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement. The Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement was an organization of Black workers formed in May 1968 in the Chrysler Corporation‘s Dodge Main assembly plant in Detroit. While I was a co-founder of the AAPA I was also a member of DRUM, which later would blossom into the League of Revolutionary Black Workers.

The term Afro-American had nothing to do with Black America. It was inspired by Malcolm X’s Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU). The group was a Pan-Africanist organization founded by (Omowale) Malik Shabazz in1964. The group was modeled on the Organization of African Unity, which had impressed Malik during his visit to Africa in April 1964. The purpose of the OAAU was to fight for the human rights of Africans in America and in the Western Hemisphere who speak English, French, Spanish, Dutch and Papiamento. One of the co-founders of the AAPA, Jose Garcia, could speak Papiamento, Dutch, Spanish, French and English better than me. We were internationalist from the get-go.

“It was Carlos Cooks who first defined the difference between the terms Black and/or African as opposed to ‘Negro.’”

While we were moved by Malik, he was influenced by a person who if imperialism has anything to do with it will be written out of history – Carlos A. Cooks. Cooks was a Caribbean man who used the term African-American to unite Africans in the West. He was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. His parents were from the nearby island of St. Martin. Robert Acemendeces Harris, author of Carlos Cooks and Black Nationalism, pointed out: “It was Carlos Cooks who first defined the difference between the terms Black and/or African as opposed to "Negro" and fought to have the latter word abrogated as a racial classification. You can even ask Richard Moore, a foundation member of the African Blood Brotherhood (and author of The Word Negro And Its Evil Use) about this. Or you can read the documentation in BLACK NATIONALISM: A Search for Identity in America by Prof. E. U. Essien-Udom of the University of Ibadan, Nigeria.

I was blessed to have heard Richard B. Moore speak in Montreal in 1967 and met and work with Elombe Brath, a disciple of Cooks. Moore spoke at a Black community meeting that I attended during Expo 67. When I first went to Detroit and met General Gordon Baker Jr. I found a copy of Brath’s comic book “Color Them Colored” where he ridiculed everyone from Harry Belafonte to Malcolm X for not being “Black” enough. Baker explained to me how he had for a brief moment associated with Cooks African Nationalist Pioneer Movement.
There are aspects of Cooks philosophy I united 1000 percent behind. At their convention called in 1959 the ANPM called for the abrogation of the word Negro as the official racial classification of black people and to replace the term with “African” when speaking of land origin, heritage and national identity (irrespective of birthplace ) and the proud usage of “black” when dealing with color (in spite of complexion).

“Elombe Brath’s comic book ‘Color Them Colored’ ridiculed everyone from Harry Belafonte to Malcolm X for not being “Black” enough.”

There are others aspects of his views that I totally disagree with. I have always united with Huey P. Newton’s statement, ”Blackness is necessary, but not sufficient.” I was never down with Cooks’ anti-communism. When Fidel Castro visited Harlem, Cooks refused to meet him. Malik took the opposite view.

Brath is quoted in Rosemari Mealy’s book, Fidel & Malcolm X: Memories of a Meeting. Says Brath, “While Malcolm as an individual was developing as an anti-imperialist champion, he boldly met with Premier Fidel Castro when the Cuban leader stayed at the Hotel Theresa in Harlem, arguing a class analysis in non-Marxist terms, that is, the field Negro versus the house Negro.

Cooks however, took a completely different position. U. Essien-Udom, a Nigerian who wrote Black Nationalism: A Search for an Identity in America, published in the early 1960s, discussed Cooks and Malik. Udom points out: “Nearly all of the present-day black nationalist groups are anti-communist. Recently, Mr. Carlos Cooks (African Nationalist Pioneering Movement) in a 4th of July speech in Harlem self-righteously explained how in the Thirties they (the nationalists) were having street fights with the communists and they do not welcome ‘the regime of Dr. Fidel Castro’s Cuba.’”

“Instead, Mr. Cooks expressed some admiration for ex-President Bastisa. He said that under Batista Negroes had a “fair deal” in Cuba and that Premier Castro’s regime was a returning to “white supremacy.” For a brief moment in my history I did have a problem with Cuba. This was because of the anti- communism propaganda we were taught from the womb to the tomb in the USA where I was born.

For a brief moment I supported Jonas Savimbi‘s The National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). Founded in 1966, UNITA fought alongside the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) in the Angolan War for Independence (1961 – 1975) and then against the MPLA in the ensuing civil war1975–2002). UNITA received military aid from the imperialist USA and apartheid South Africa while the MPLA received support from the Soviet Union and other members of the Socialist block at that time. We apologize to Africa for this error in judgment.

In the 21st Century Africa, Africans and the oppressed generally must be anti-imperialist, anti-racist, and anti-sexist and be for socialism -- period. As Fred Hampton used to say, “If you are afraid of socialism you are afraid of yourself.”

Norman (Otis) Richmond, aka Jalali, was born in Arcadia, Louisiana, and grew up in Los Angeles. He left Los Angles after refusing to fight in Vietnam because he felt that, like the Vietnamese, Africans in the United States were colonial subjects. After leaving Los Angeles in the 1960s Richmond moved to Toronto, where he co-founded the Afro American Progressive Association, one of the first Black Power organizations in that part of the world. Before moving to Tronto permanently, Richmond worked with the Detroit-based League of Revolutionary Black Workers.
He was the youngest member of the central staff. When the League split he joined the African People’s Party. In 1992, Richmond received the Toronto Arts Award. In front of an audience that included the mayor of Toronto, Richmond dedicated his award to Mumia Abu-Jamal, Assata Shakur, Geronimo Pratt, the African National Congress of South Africa, and Fidel Castro and the people of Cuba. In 1984 he co-founded the Toronto Chapter of the Black Music Association with Milton Blake.Richmond began his career in journalism at the African Canadian weekly Contrast. He went on to be published in the Toronto Star, the Toronto Globe & Mail, the  National Post, the Jackson Advocate, Share, the Islander, the Black American, Pan African News Wire, and Black Agenda Report. Internationally he has written for the United Nations, the Jamaican Gleaner, the Nation (Barbados), and Pambazuka News.Currently, he produces Diasporic Music a radio show for Uhuru Radio and writes a column, Diasporic Music for the Burning Spear Newspaper. For more informantion norman.o.richmond@gmail.com