Theses Bachelor's

Two Sleeping Giants: African American Perceptions of China, 1900-1939

Jenkins, Destin K.

My senior thesis examines individual leaders, organizations, and newspapers, in an attempt to explore exactly who supported or critiqued China, how these perceptions changed over time, and why some of these figures came to recognize China as an ally during the early twentieth century. Different strands of black internationalism emerged between 1917 and 1919. Using a wide disposal of ideological weapons, black American leaders in cities like Chicago and New York formulated their opinions of China based on the combinations of various ideologies, their own experiences with colonialism and U.S. racism, and the economic inequalities rampant in metropolitan areas. I explore the writings of W. E. B. DuBois, Marcus Garvey, Hubert Harrison, A. Phillip Randolph, among others, to determine why these leaders supported and/or dismissed China's struggle. Newspapers served as political agents and were responsible for making international events accessible to local populations. I have primarily relied on two black newspapers, the Chicago Defender and New York Amsterdam News. I also examine the NAACP's Crisis Magazine, the United Negro Improve Association's Negro World, The Messenger, and the Student Association Newsletter. I explore African American responses to pivotal movements in Chinese history. Indeed, black Americans looked with great interest at the 1911 Revolution, the anti-Christianity and anti-imperialist movement during the 1920s, as well as the early stages of the Second Sino-Japanese war. From their analyses of China, many black Americans found models for development. During China's protest against Christianity and imperialism, the Defender looked at China's use of the boycott as a strategy against job discrimination. In 1937, the Defender reaffirmed a common struggle by concluding that both the Chinese and millions of black American's "have no national program, no leadership, and no unity." According to the weekly, unity among both groups was essential to bright about the "miracle of racial cohesion." In this thesis, I argue that by examining the African American encounter with China between 1900 and 1939, we can better understand the long civil rights movement of the north. As recent scholars have shown, African Americans living in northern cities saw the connections between 1960s black America and the third world. Through an analyses of African American perceptions of China, we discover that the roots of the 1960s critique of the black community as a colony can be traced to 1920s Chicago and Harlem. Indeed, throughout the twentieth century, African Americans have always had an international perspective, which helped clarify and develop methods of protest against racism and economic exploitation at home. By analyzing the affairs of colonized, non-white peoples, black Americans recognized that imperialist nations exploited others both because of a racialist perspective and because of a demand for resources. In short, the African American encounter with China allowed many to see the linkage between the assorted elements of exploitation.



More About This Work

Academic Units
B.A., Columbia University
Published Here
May 14, 2010


Senior thesis.