Religion 355   |   Fall 2007
Professor: Melissa Wilcox

Separation or Death1:
One Hundred Years of White Supremacist-Black Nationalist Alliances in America

Dana Johnson

 

    On February 25, 1962, George Lincoln Rockwell, founder of the American Nazi Party, and ten of his “storm troopers” arrived at the Chicago International Amphitheater, where twelve thousand Black Muslims were gathering for a convention organized by the Nation of Islam (NOI). Placed in the front row, Rockwell and his fully-uniformed companions sat and listened as Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad addressed the crowd. Then, Rockwell himself was invited to the podium. “You know that we call you niggers,” he said. “But wouldn’t you rather be confronted by honest white men who tell you to your face what the others all say behind you back?”2 Despite receiving a mixture of applause and ridicule, Rockwell had the approval of Muhammad, whom he had just deemed “the Adolf Hitler of the black man.”3

    The picture painted here is astonishing. One struggles to imagine two more disparate parties gathering together nonviolently, let alone with smiles and applause. Yet what happened in Chicago on that day is not singular; over the last one hundred years white supremacists and black nationalists have come together repeatedly and often for the same sorts of reasons. This paper is an attempt to loosely trace a history of such encounters, from Marcus Garvey and the Ku Klux Klan to Grand Dragon Tom Metzger’s donation to Louis Farrakhan and the NOI. Meanwhile, I will use the writings and speeches of a number of the leaders involved to see if there is an underlying logic to these gatherings. Granted, the history that I attempt to reconstruct here will not be a complete one. Not only would such a task be next to impossible, it would also be tiresome to both the reader and writer. But neither have I been selective, using only examples that support the hypothesis I will put forward. Instead, I have selected three examples because they are the most documented or involve leaders with the most accessible writings, and also cover the broadest period of time. What is revealed throughout these examples is that is an underlying logic to these encounters, a logic that is, well, “insanely logical.”4 In each of the examples I will highlight, both parties share the common goal of establishing separate, racially-pure nations and have decided that forming an alliance, even with the racial inferior to whom their hate is directed, can quicken the fulfillment of this goal. As I will show, this separatism is an often complex concept that can be justified in a number of ways – for instance, theologically or practically – and the formulation of the racial problem at hand, nor the conception of the final objective, are entirely consistent throughout the examples. Nevertheless, a consistent pattern remains behind these bizarre encounters.

    In June of 1922, Marcus Garvey traveled to Atlanta to meet with Imperial Kleagle5 Edward Young Clarke of the Ku Klux Klan. Garvey had sought to strengthen his Universal Negro Improvement Association’s (UNIA) influence in the South, but the Klan’s widespread power made any inroads difficult to achieve. Realizing the bargaining power he had in the situation, Clarke agreed to let Garvey to sell stock in the variety of businesses his organization had started - Universal Printing House, Negro Factories Corporation, Black Star Line – under the guarantee that Garvey would also work to weaken organizations like that NAACP that were fighting for civil rights and integration.6 Why would Garvey agree to help fight those that were trying to improve the social status of his fellow African-Americans? And why would he make that agreement with an organization that robbed, beat, raped, and murdered the people he sought to liberate? Likewise, what would motivate Clarke to risk undermining the social hegemony his race held in the southern states by giving more power to the UNIA? From Garvey’s account of the meeting (no such account exists from Clarke’s perspective), the two did little more than mutually reinforce their similar, already-held racial ideologies. As Garvey recounts, “I asked [Clarke] whether he was interpreting the spirit of just a few people who make up his organization or not, and he said ‘no; we are interpreting the spirit of every true white American; but we are honest enough to say certain things that others do not care to say.’”7 Later in the speech, Garvey describes a moment in the meeting when he asks how the Klan feels about blacks who want to be President, followed by the same questions as regards a senator or congressman, and once again, what percentage of white Americans the opinions of the Klan represent. The question-and-answer here seems to be merely for rhetorical effect, and after Garvey notes that once again Clarke claimed to speak for all whites, he states: “Mr. Clark [sic] did not tell me anything new; he told me what I discovered seven years ago. He told me the thing that caused me to have organized the Universal Negro Improvement Association four and a half years ago.”8 That “thing” was a deep belief that humans are inherently racist. In the second volume of Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey, first published three years after his meeting with Clarke, he writes that racial “self-preservation […] naturally is the first law of nature [….] What must the Negro do in the face of such a universal attitude but to align all his forces in the direction of protecting himself from the threatened disaster of race domination and ultimate extermination? [my emphasis]”9 In America, blacks were both disenfranchised and severely outnumbered. Combined with the inherent “self-preservation” in whites, they could be deceived by the whites that dominated society into supporting integration, which would only lead to their “mongrelization” and eventual elimination.10 For Garvey, the solution to the problem – an all-black Africa, an all-white America – was the only reasonable one for him under such circumstances. With some logic, then, Garvey admired the Ku Klux Klan for its explicit recognition of the incompatibility of the races. By joining forces, the two could quicken the polarization of America and the subsequent exodus of blacks to “Motherland Africa.”11 Though the explicit beliefs of Clarke are unavailable, one can imagine that they differ only in their formulation of the problem (as a Klansman, Clarke may or may not have expressed his ideology from a more theological position). Regardless, the agreement never seems to have materialized; within two years Clarke was in jail for soliciting a prostitute, and once word got out that Garvey had met with the Klan, the UNIA became embroiled in a dispute that the organization never recovered from.

    With that we jump ahead to the 1960’s and the Nation of Islam’s alliances with various white supremacist groups. I have already mentioned briefly George Lincoln Rockwell’s attendance at an NOI convention in 1962, but instead of focusing on it for my analysis I would like to address a separate encounter. The NOI’s first friendly contact with white supremacists occurred in 1961, when Elijah Muhammad sent Malcolm X and Jeremiah X, a local Muslim leader, to meet with the Ku Klux Klan in Atlanta. At the meeting the two sides established an agreement by which the Klan would abstain from attacking mosques in the South in return for a guarantee that the Nation would not participate in the Civil Rights Movement.12 Muhammad and his associates recognized the power of the Klan in the South, both in sheer membership numbers and behind the scenes with politicians and policemen. Thus, like Garvey, Muhammad felt that his position was the only reasonable one for overcoming the disenfranchisement of his race. Further, both sides of the alliance were aware of the disastrous consequences that a successful Civil Rights Movement would have for the “purity” of their race (also like Garvey, though he may not have called it this), and thus an alliance could help to combat this from both sides of the racial fence. But the Klan and the NOI took a different line of reasoning than the UNIA for their separatist agendas, both using not the language of science but that of divinely superior and inferior races. It is through this lens that their alliance can be understood further, but this claim needs to be clarified.

    Garvey understood racism to be a part of human nature, and thus he saw separatism as the “natural” solution to racial strife in America. When the black race had its own territory, it could focus its energies on building its prestige and thus improving its image in the eyes of other races.13 But until then, success for blacks in America was dependent on a social structure created and controlled by whites, which not only prevented blacks from having self-determined lives but also deceived them into participating in a society that would see their extermination before it gave them equality.14 While Garvey saw God as the reason behind this unavoidably racist predisposition in human beings, he did not believe that one race was superior to any other.15 Instead, racial superiority was determined by the most accomplished civilization at any one time – civilizations were first and foremost racially defined – and a race’s standing with God was determined by how well it maintained its “purity.”16

    In contrast, both the NOI and the KKK grounded their separatist agendas on a theology of divine preference among the races. While full explanations of each groups’ theology are not possible here, a few basic points should be made to differentiate them from each other, and both from Garvey. Muhammed came onto the scene in the wake of the black nationalist discourse that Garvey was so elemental in developing. But Muhammad also considered himself to be a bearer of the words of Allah and of the prophesied Mahdi – a man he met in Detroit named W. Fard Muhammad. Elijah Muhammad preached a complex theology that he claimed was the final revelation of God and the capstone of the teachings of the Abrahamic traditions. This theology claimed to fill in the ambiguities of the Qur’an in particular, but also went radically beyond them, arguing that blacks were the first human beings and that a scientist named Yakub, actually the Devil, used “special birth control” to develop slowly lighter-skinned people until he the white race was created. Yakub and his followers were banished from black civilization for their experimenting, and have ever since sought to deceive and destroy God’s true chosen people – the black race.17 From this perspective, separatism is an obvious philosophy; if one’s blood was divine why would one ever consider tainting it with the blood of Satan? Much like Garvey, Muhammad saw value in allying with white supremacists in order to free his people from the lies of the dominant race, but the consequences were cosmically significant: despite his or her divine lineage, a black person deceived by the descendents of Yakub into race-mixing would spend eternity in Hell.18

    The KKK has never had a figure like Muhammad (either Elijah or W. Fard): generally, they have never been led by someone claiming to be a messiah figure, and more specifically to the time of the 1961 agreement, the organization was not structured around one seminal figure whose writings we could examine to understand Klan theology en total.19 Further, it is not clear from sources who exactly organized or attended the meeting from the Klan side, and thus we cannot turn there for exegesis of Klan beliefs. However, one text provides invaluable insight into Klan theology of that era, especially in relation the NOI. This is a letter written to a gathering of NOI members from Imperial Wizard J.B. Stoner in 1957. The letter begins abruptly: “Infidels: Repent of Mohammedanism or burn in hell forever, throughout eternity.”20 Stoner immediately presents Muhammad and his followers with a stark ultimatum, and follows this statement with a series of biblical passages denoting Christ as the sole means of salvation.21 But as the letter goes on, it becomes clear that the issue for Stoner is not so much with the religious identity of the members as the underlying connection to their race. “Islam is a product of the colored race,” he writes. “Islam is a dark religion for dark people [….] Christianity, the one and only true religion, has only been successful in white nations among white people [….] Christianity prevails in every white nation, even when outlawed, but does not appear to have roots in any colored nation that could withstand tribulation. Therefore on a racial group basis, it would appear that only the superior white race is capable of appreciating Christianity and that the dark inferior races prefer a heathen religion like Islam.”22 Stoner’s words on the connection between religion and race become the historical evidence that Stone then uses to prove the truth of a biblical passage (Acts 16:31) that prophesies America to be a white Christian nation.23 The connection suggested is therefore Christian/white/American and Muslim/black/somewhere else, and the one Stoner believes is superior is clear. Still, the religion-race connection is not automatic. A black person can become a Christian and avoid damnation – this is why white missionary work is critical.24 Thus the relation between whites and blacks is not Evil-Good, as with the NOI, as it is superior-inferior. The place of separatism lies in the prophecy of America: God has promised to establish it as an all-white utopia. Those that support integration fool themselves and others into thinking otherwise, while those in opposition, like the NOI, expedite the process.25

    What is clear in this examination is that both the KKK and the NOI of the 1960’s differed greatly from Garvey in their motivation for separatism, but the two allies also differed from each other in their theologies. Still, one final piece of the examination is missing: the role of anti-Semitism as a motivating factor for the alliance. Both groups have a well-documented history of strong anti-Semitic rhetoric, though the Klan probably more so than the NOI, and the 1961 meeting between the two sides reportedly saw Malcolm X blame the whole Civil Rights Movement on a Jewish conspiracy.26 But each group’s anti-Semitism was only one part of its larger understanding of race. From the perspective of the NOI, it has already been mentioned that their primary enemy was the white race, descendents of Satan, and thus were Jews involved in some conspiracy they could only be one part of a larger, white-dominated power structure that exploited blacks. As regards the Klan, their goal in the pact was assistance in fighting integrationists, and if Malcolm X was right about the conspiracy, then the pact would be all the more advantageous because the Klan would be working to separate itself from both races at the same time.

    Lastly, we turn to a more recent encounter between the NOI and white supremacists. In 1985, founder of White Aryan Resistance Tom Metzger attended an NOI rally held by Louis Farrakhan, leader of the re-formed NOI, in Los Angeles, donating $100 to the group while there.27 Why? At a white supremacist gathering later that year organized in support of Farrakhan, Metzger explained: “America is like a rotting carcass. The Jews are living off the carcass like the parasites they are. Farrakhan understands this.”28 Meanwhile, others at the gathering expressed similar feelings. Art Jones from Chicago explained: “The enemy of my enemy he is my friend. I salute Louis Farrakhan and anyone else who stands up against the Jews.”29 The consensus support for Farrakhan was coming in response to a number of anti-Semitic comments that Farrakhan had made, including calling Judaism a “gutter religion” and proclaiming that Jews were liars when they espoused themselves, and not blacks, to be the true progeny of God.30 From the words of the supremacists it seems that their support for the NOI leader was based on a belief that in him they had an ally in the black community for their struggle against Jews. Like its role in the 1961 agreement between the NOI and the KKK, anti-Semitism cannot be understood here as distinct from the role of separatism. Instead, it makes it clear that the separatist goal of white supremacists is not limited to the groups’ relationship to blacks. Their separatist agendas extend much more broadly, and when one is fighting for power over a multitude of races, the ways in which these agendas intertwine can be complex. This is certainly true when the races are placed in a hierarchy of inferiority, and an alliance with a race less inferior may benefit the supremacists in combating a more inferior one.

    In the case of the Farrakhan’s NOI, the leader claimed that his relationship with the white supremacist groups did not go beyond one of shared separatist values: “There is no linkage of myself with the KKK or any of these groups that you name. But I must tell you that I have got respect for any white man who wants to keep his race white, ‘cause I certainly wanna keep mine black.”31 As far as anyone can tell, Farrakhan’s anti-Semitic feelings were not motivation enough to form an alliance with white supremacists. The point remains, however, that such feelings seem to have informed his ideology. While the point should be made here as with white supremacists that Farrakhan’s separatist views extend beyond merely his relationship with whites (separatists want to free themselves from all other races, not just one), the point should also be made that organizations like the NOI, nor people like Farrakhan, are static entities. Instead, that we may find differences in their ideologies over the years merely tells us that they are constantly evolving. That Farrakhan did not act on his beliefs leads me to my final remarks.

    As I have attempted to show, black nationalists and white supremacists made alliances throughout the twentieth century, and throughout the sides were motivated by a separatist ideology. The differences among the actors involved lay in their formulations of the racial problem at hand – be they scientific, theological, or practical – and even in this regard there were at times some remarkable similarities. But despite the number of examples I came across, the rarity of such events must be stressed above anything else. The leaders who entertain the idea of mixing it up with their enemies always run the risk of causing a rapid fallout within their organizations. As mentioned above, Garvey’s meeting with the KKK played a large part in the downfall of the UNIA. Both the KKK and NOI risked a great deal in their 1961 agreement, and thus met in secret: both were fighting against the Civil Rights Movement, and any leak that the two were joining sides could greatly diminish the credibility of the organizations in the eyes of those who still held out hope for segregation or separation. By 1985, white supremacist groups existed on the fringes of society, and thus had little to lose by supporting Farrakhan, but Farrakhan at that time was and still is walking a fine line between his often hate-filled rhetoric and his much more widely respected social work in the black community. (Most notably, the Million Man March in 1995, while in 1985 Farrakhan had only recently reorganized the NOI, as well as just established People Organized and Working for Economic Rebirth (POWER).) Farrakhan has much at stake whenever he does anything publicly. Thus is not unreasonable to think that he or any other black nationalist or white supremacist leader is aware of the history of dicey deals that I have recounted here when they must decide whether or not to affiliate with an organization of the opposite race.

 

Endnotes

  1. The title of the paper is a reference to the name of a speech given by Malcolm X at a Nation of Islam rally in Washington D.C., June 25, 1961, and attended by American Nazi Party leader George Lincoln Rockwell.
  2. Chicago Sun Times, February 26, 1962, quoted in William H. Schmaltz, Hate: George Lincoln Rockwell and the American Nazi Party (Washington: Brassey’s, 1999)
  3. Martin A. Lee, “Strange Bedfellows: Some American Black Muslims make common cause with domestic neo-Nazis and foreign Muslim extremists,” Intelligence Report, Spring 2002. http://www.splcenter.org/intel/intelreport/article.jsp?sid=82.
  4. “The Messenger Passes.” Time Magazine. March 10, 1975. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,917218,00.html.
  5. The title “Imperial Kleagle” designates Clarke as being head of recruitment for the Klan.
  6. Unfortunately, the exact deliberations of the meeting have never been published. As a result the information here comes primarily from a speech given by Garvey a couple of weeks after the fact (“Speech by Marcus Garvey, Liberty Hall, July 9, 1922,” The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers, Vol. IV, ed. Robert A. Hill (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), pp. 707-715), while the specifics of the agreement mentioned here come from a letter written by Walter F. White, Assistant Secretary of the NAACP, to his lawyer (Walter White to Lewis R. Gravis, August 28,1924, DLC, NAACP, footnote 2 to “Cable by Marcus Garvey to Chairman, Liberty Hall, Atlanta, 25 June 1922,” Garvey Papers, Vol. IV, pp. 679-680.) The source of the letter makes the information about the NAACP potentially inflated or perhaps entirely false, but for my argument the specifics of the agreement are less important than the ideological statements from Garvey’s speech.
  7. “Speech,” Garvey Papers, Vol. IV, pp. 711.
  8. Ibid., pp. 712-713.
  9. Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey, ed. Amy Jacques-Garvey (New York: Atheneum, 1970), pp. 2.35.
  10. Ibid., 1.47; 2.4, 25, 38.
  11. Ibid., 1.52.
  12. Claude Andrew Clegg III, An Original Man: The Life and Times of Elijah Muhammad (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997), pp. 152-153.
  13. Philosophy and Opinions, 1.26.
  14. Ibid., 2.25.
  15. Ibid., 2.38, 62; 1.32.
  16. Ibid., 1.20-21, 2.18-19, 62. Also, in reading Garvey it seems that the line between race and nation is a fairly ambiguous one, as he uses the language of each interchangeably. Unfortunately I cannot expand on the issue further, but it would be an interesting matter to look into.
  17. See Elijah Muhammad, Message to the Blackman in America (Secretarius Memps Publications, 1997), esp. Ch. 5, 29 (quote from Ch.29 under heading #7). Accessed from http://www.seventhfam.com/temple/books/black_man/blkindex.htm.
  18. Ibid., Ch. 92, heading # 8.
  19. This statement suggests that the writings of Elijah Muhammad defined NOI philosophy exclusively during this time. I do not mean to take the claim to such an extreme level. Still, I believe the point still stands that the Klan did not have its own Muhammad.
  20. J.B. Stoner to Muslim Convention, Feb. 1957. Quoted in Muhammad, Message, Ch. 139, header 4.
  21. Ibid., header 5.
  22. Ibid., headers 6-7.
  23. Ibid., header 20.
  24. Ibid., header 7. Stoner writes that missionary activity has been “instrumental in saving the individual souls of millions of colored people in spite of their racial weakness and racial inferiority [….] If GOD had only wanted one race, He would have created one race.”
  25. Ibid., header 13.
  26. Clegg III, An Original Man, pp. 152-153.
  27. Mattias Gardell, In the Name of Elijah Muhammad: Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam (Durham: Duke University Press, 1996), pp. 277.
  28. Wayne King, “White Supremacists Voice Support of Farrakhan,” The New York Times, Oct. 12, 1985, Sec. 1, Page 12. LexisNexis Academic. http://www.lexisnexis.com.
  29. Ibid.
  30. Ibid.
  31. Gardell, In the Name, pp. 279.

Bibliography