March 13 marked the 37th anniversary of the revolution in Grenada that brought Maurice Bishop into power. The revolutionary government of Grenada was at odds with America at the time for a number of reasons. The new government suspended elections. Grenada's revolutionary government also maintained close ties with Cuba and the Soviet Union, while espousing the ideology of Marxist-Leninism. The strained relationship between Grenada and America at the time has sometimes overshadowed the popular appeal that the revolution had among many African-Americans.
Some of the American critics of the revolution in Grenada were afraid of the revolution's potential appeal to African-Americans. This was a socialist revolution in an English-speaking nation that was made up of over 90% black people. This was something that Maurice Bishop pointed out when he addressed an American audience at Hunter College in New York:
They said that 95 percent of our population is Black -- and they had the correct statistic -- and if we have 95 percent of predominantly African origin in our country, then we can have a dangerous appeal to 30 million Black people in the United States.
Given the historical oppression that African-Americans have undergone in America, African-Americans have often found encouragement through the successes of African people elsewhere. Events such as the Haitian Revolution or Ethiopia's defeat of Italy, for example, held particular significance for African-Americans. Grenada was yet another example of this.
In In Nobody's Backyard, Tony Martin compiled articles from Grenadian news sources during the revolution. The second volume of this work includes a chapter titled "Afro-America and Afro-Britain," which contains articles on the influence that Grenada's revolution had on African Americans. One member of a delegation that visited Grenada said:
Grenada is an inspiration to us. We need a victory every now and then, and this is definitely one. When more black people in the U.S. learn the truth about the process being built here and, even better, come to see for themselves, they will be strengthened in their own work and see what is possible more clearly.
Maurice Bishop was invited by TransAfrica (a D.C. based organization that lobbies on behalf of African and Caribbean countries) to address their sixth annual dinner in 1983. Bishop's visit on this occasion was also cosponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus.
In addressing the dinner, Bishop spoke to the historical links between the black people of Grenada and black people in America:
The links between our people and the 30 million Black people of America go far back into the chronicles of the European assault on our ancestral land and our common struggle against racist oppression and the enforced transportation of our ancestors to the Americas.
In the same speech, Bishop also spoke of the many notable figures in American history that were from the Caribbean or had Caribbean parentage, such as Marcus Garvey, Kwame Ture, and Malcolm X, whose mother was born in Grenada. As people in the Caribbean remember the revolution, and its significance to Caribbean politics, I think it is also worth remembering the impact that Grenada's revolution also had among African-Americans who found much inspiration in the successes of the revolution. For this reason the revolution stands as a reminder of the historical connection between the struggles of people of African descent in the Caribbean and in America.
Dwayne is the author of several books on the history and experiences of African people, both on the continent and in the diaspora. His books are available through Amazon. You can also follow Dwayne on Facebook.