I intend for my talk to be very informal, because our position in America is an informal position, and I find that it is very difficult to use formal terms to describe a very informal position. No condition of any people on earth is more deplorable than the condition, or plight, of the twenty-two million Black people in America. And our condition is so deplorable because we are in a country that professes to be a democracy and professes to be striving to give justice and freedom and equality to everyone who is born under its constitution. If we were born in South Africa or in Angola or some part of this earth where they don’t profess to be for freedom, that would be another thing; but when we are born in a country that stands up and represents itself as the leader of the Free World, and you still have to beg and crawl just to get a chance to drink a cup of coffee, then the condition is very deplorable indeed.
So tonight, so that you will understand me and why I speak as I do, it should probably be pointed out at the outset that I am not a politician. I don’t know anything about politics. I’m from America but I’m not an American. I didn’t go there of my own free choice. If I were an American there would be no problem, there’d be no need for legislation or civil rights or anything else. So I just try to face the fact as it actually is and come to this meeting as one of the victims of America, one of the victims of Americanism, one of the victims of democracy, one of the victims of a very hypocritical system that is going all over this earth today representing itself as being qualified to tell other people how to run their country when they can’t get the dirty things that are going on in their own country straightened out.
So if someone else from America comes to you to speak, they’re probably speaking as Americans, and they speak as people who see America through the eyes of an American. And usually those types of persons refer to America, or that which exists in America, as the American Dream. But for the twenty million of us in America who are of African descent, it is not an American dream; it’s an American nightmare.
I don’t feel that I am a visitor in Ghana or in any part of Africa. I feel that I am at home. I’ve been away for four hundred years, but not of my own volition, not of my own will. Our people didn’t go to America on the Queen Mary, we didn’t go by Pan American, and we didn’t go to America on the Mayflower. We went in slave ships, we went in chains. We weren’t immigrants to America, we were cargo for purposes of a system that was bent upon making a profit. So this is the category or level of which I speak. I may not speak it in the language many of you would use, but I think you will understand the meaning of my terms.
When I was in Ibadan at the University of Ibadan last Friday night, the students there gave me a new name, which I go for — meaning I like it. “Omowale,” which they say means in Yoruba — if I am pronouncing that correctly, and if I am not pronouncing it correctly it’s because I haven’t had a chance to pronounce it for four hundred years — which means in that dialect, “The child has returned.” It was an honor for me to be referred to as a child who had sense enough to return to the land of his forefathers — to his fatherland and to his motherland. Not sent back here by the State Department, but come back here of my own free will.
I am happy and I imagine, since it is the policy that whenever a Black man leaves America and travels in any part of Africa, or Asia, or Latin America and says things contrary to what the American propaganda machine turns out, usually he finds upon his return home that his passport is lifted. Well, if they had not wanted me to say the things I am saying, they should never have given me a passport in the first place. The policy usually is the lifting of the passport. Now I am not here to condemn America, I am not here to make America look bad, but I am here to tell you the truth about the situation that Black people in America find themselves confronted with. And if truth condemns America, then she stands condemned.
This is the most beautiful continent that I’ve ever seen; it’s the richest continent I’ve ever seen, and strange as it may seem, I find many white Americans here smiling in the faces of our African brothers like they have been loving them all of the time. The fact is, these same whites who in America spit in our faces, the same whites who in America club us brutally, the same whites who in America sic their dogs upon us, just because we want to be free human beings, the same whites who turn their water hoses upon our women and our babies because we want to integrate with them, are over here in Africa smiling in your face trying to integrate with you.
I had to write a letter back home yesterday and tell some of my friends that if American Negroes want integration, they should come to Africa, because more white people over here — white Americans, that is — look like they are for integration than there is in the entire American country. But actually what it is, they want to integrate with the wealth that they know is here — the untapped natural resources which exceed the wealth of any continent on this earth today.
When I was coming from Lagos to Accra Sunday, I was riding on an airplane with a white man who represented some of the interests, you know, that are interested in Africa. And he admitted — at least it was his impression — that our people in Africa didn’t know how to measure wealth, that they worship wealth in terms of gold and silver, not in terms of the natural resources that are in the earth, and that as long as the Americans or other imperialists or twentieth-century colonialists could continue to make the Africans measure wealth in terms of gold and silver, they never would have an opportunity to really measure the value of the wealth that is in the soil, and would continue to think that it is they who need the Western powers instead of thinking that it is the Western powers who need the people and the continent that is known as Africa. The thing is, I hope I don’t mess up anybody’s politics or anybody’s plots or plans or schemes, but then I think that it can be well proved and backed up.
Ghana is one of the most progressive nations on the African continent primarily because it has one of the most progressive leaders and most progressive presidents. The president of this nation has done something that no American, no white American, wants to see done — well, I should say “no American” because all the Americans over there are white Americans.
President Nkrumah is doing something there that the government in America does not like to see done, and that is he’s restoring the African image. He is making the African proud of the African image; and whenever the African becomes proud of the African image and this positive image is projected abroad, then the Black man in America, who up to now has had nothing but a negative image of Africa — automatically the image that the Black man in America has of his African brothers changes from negative to positive, and the image that the Black man in America has of himself will also change from negative to positive.
And the American racists know that they can rule the African in America, the African-American in America, only as long as we have a negative image of ourselves. So they keep us with a negative image of Africa. And they also know that the day that the image of Africa is changed from negative to positive, automatically the attitude of twenty-two million Africans in America will also change from negative to positive.
And one of the most important efforts to change the image of the African is being made right here in Ghana. And the Ghanaian personality can be picked right out of any group of Africans anywhere on this planet, because you see nothing in him that reflects any kind of feeling of inferiority or anything of that sort. And as long as you have a president who teaches you that you can do anything that anybody else under the sun can do, you got a good man.
Not only that, we who live in America have learned to measure Black men: the object we use to measure him is the attitude of America toward him. When we find a Black man who’s always receiving the praise of the Americans, we become suspicious of him. When we find a Black man who receives honors and all kinds of plaques and beautiful phrases and words from America, we immediately begin to suspect that person. Because it has been our experience that the Americans don’t praise any Black man who is really working for the benefit of the Black man, because they realize that when you begin to work in earnest to do things that are good for the people on the African continent, all the good you do for people on the African continent has got to be against someone else, because someone else up to now has benefited from the labor and the wealth of the people on this continent. So our yardstick in measuring these various leaders is to find out what the Americans think about them. And these leaders over here who are receiving the praise and pats on the back from the Americans, you can just flush the toilet and let them go right down the drain.
This president here is disliked. Don’t think that it’s just the American press, it’s the government. In America when you find a concerted effort of the press to always speak in a bad way about an African leader, usually that press is actually reflecting government opinion. But America is a very shrewd government. If it knows that its own governmental position will cause a negative reaction from the people that it wants to continue to exploit, it will pretend to have a free press and at the same time sic that free press on a real African leader and stand on the sideline and say that this is not government policy. But everything that happens in America is government policy.
Not only is the president of this country disliked, the president of Algeria, Ben Bella, is disliked because he is revolutionary, he’s for freedom of everybody. Nasser is disliked because he’s for freedom of everybody. All of them are referred to as dictators. As soon as they get the mass of their people behind them, they’re a dictator. As soon as they have unity of their people in their country, they’re a dictator. If there is no division, fighting, and squabbling going on, the leader of that country is a dictator if he is an African; but as long as it is in America, he’s just an American president who has the support of the people.
I am coming to America in a minute, but I just want to comment on our relations I’ve noticed since being here. I heard that there is a conflict among some of our brothers and sisters over here concerning whether or not it’s advisable for the government to play such a prominent role in guiding the education — the curriculum and what not — of the people of the country and in the various universities. Yes, any time you have a people who have been colonized for as long as our people have been colonized, and you tell them now they can vote, they will spend all night arguing and never get anywhere. Everything needs to be controlled until the colonial mentality has been completely destroyed, and when that colonial mentality has been destroyed at least to the point where they know what they are voting for, then you give them a chance to vote on this and vote on that. But we have this trouble in America, as well as other areas where colonialism has existed, the only way they can practice or apply democratic practices is through advice and counsel.
So my own honest, humble opinion is, anytime you want to come out from under a colonial mentality, let the government set up the educational system and educate you in the direction or way they want you to go in; and then after your understanding is up to the level where it should be, you can stand around and argue or philosophize or something of that sort.
There is probably no more enlightened leader on the African continent than President Nkrumah, because he lived in America. He knows what it is like there. He could not live in that land as long as he did and be disillusioned, or confused, or be deceived. Anytime you think that America is the land of the free, you come there and take off your national dress and be mistaken for an American Negro, and you will find out you’re not in the land of the free. America is a colonial power. She is just as much a colonial power in 1964 as France, Britain, Portugal, and all these other European countries were in 1864. She’s a twentieth-century colonial power; she’s a modern colonial power, and she has colonized twenty-two million African-Americans. While there are only eleven million Africans colonized in South Africa, four or five million colonized in Angola, there are twenty-two million Africans colonized in America right now on May 13, 1964. What is second-class citizenship if nothing but twentieth-century colonialism? They don’t want you to know that slavery still exists, so rather than call it slavery they call it second-class citizenship.
Either you are a citizen or you are not a citizen at all. If you are a citizen, you are free; if you are not a citizen, you are a slave. And the American government is afraid to admit that she never gave freedom to the Black man in America and won’t even admit that the Black man in America is not free, is not a citizen, and doesn’t have his rights. She skillfully camouflages it under these pretty terms of second-class citizenship. It’s colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism.
One of our brothers just landed here today from New York. He told me that when he left New York, the police were walking in Harlem six abreast. Why? Because Harlem is about to explode. You know what I mean by “Harlem”? Harlem is the most famous city on this earth; there is no city on the African continent with as many Africans as Harlem. In Harlem they call it little Africa, and when you walk through Harlem, you’re in Ibadan, everyone there looks just like you. And today the police were out in force, with their clubs. They don’t have police dogs in Harlem, ‘cause those kind of people who live in Harlem don’t allow police dogs to come in Harlem. That’s the point, they don’t allow police dogs to come in Harlem.
They are troubled with the existence of little gangs who have been going around killing people, killing white people. Well now, they project it abroad as an anti-white gang. No, it’s not an anti-white gang, it’s an anti-oppression gang. It’s an anti-frustration gang. They don’t know what else to do. They’ve been waiting for the government to solve their problems; they’ve been waiting for the president to solve their problems; they’ve been waiting for the Senate and the Congress and the Supreme Court to solve their problems; they’ve been waiting for Negro leaders to solve their problems; and all they hear are a lot of pretty words. So they become frustrated and don’t know what to do. So they do the only thing they know how: they do the same thing the Americans did when they got frustrated with the British in 1776 — liberty or death.
This is what the Americans did; they didn’t turn the other cheek to the British. No, they had an old man named Patrick Henry who said, “Liberty or death!” I never heard them refer to him as an advocate of violence; they say he’s one of the Founding Fathers, because he had sense to say, “Liberty or death!”
And there is a growing tendency among Black Americans today, who are able to see that they don’t have freedom — they are reaching the point now where they are ready to tell the Man no matter what the odds are against them, no matter what the cost is, it’s liberty or death. If this is the land of the free, then give us some freedom. If this is the land of justice, then give us some justice. And if this is the land of equality, give us some equality. This is the growing temper of the Black American, of the African-American, of which there are twenty-two million.
Am I justified in talking like this? Let me see. I was in Cleveland, Ohio, just two months ago when this white clergyman was killed by the bulldozer. I was in Cleveland, I was there. Now you know if a white man in the garb, in the outfit, the costume, or whatever you want to call it, of a priest…if they run over him with a bulldozer, what will they do to a Black man? They run over someone who looks like them who is demonstrating for freedom, what chance does a Black man have? This wasn’t in Mississippi, this was in Cleveland in the North. This is the type of experience the Black man in America is faced with every day.