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Black Political Activism and the Cuban Republic

Black Political Activism and the Cuban Republic

Melina Pappademos
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  • Book Info
    Black Political Activism and the Cuban Republic
    Book Description:

    While it was not until 1871 that slavery in Cuba was finally abolished, African-descended people had high hopes for legal, social, and economic advancement as the republican period started. InBlack Political Activism and the Cuban Republic, Melina Pappademos analyzes the racial politics and culture of black civic and political activists during the Cuban Republic.The path to equality, Pappademos reveals, was often stymied by successive political and economic crises, patronage politics, and profound racial tensions. In the face of these issues, black political leaders and members of black social clubs developed strategies for expanding their political authority and for winning respectability and socioeconomic resources. Rather than appeal to a monolithic black Cuban identity based on the assumption of shared experience, these black activists, politicians, and public intellectuals consistently recognized the class, cultural, and ideological differences that existed within the black community, thus challenging conventional wisdom about black community formation and anachronistic ideas of racial solidarity. Pappademos illuminates the central, yet often silenced, intellectual and cultural role of black Cubans in the formation of the nation's political structures; in doing so, she shows that black activism was only partially motivated by race.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0276-9
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION: At the Crossroads of Republic
    (pp. 1-16)

    In July 1900, as European armies installed themselves on the African continent, taking lives and pillaging resources in places such as the Congo Free State, French West Africa, and Southern Rhodesia, thirty eminent black leaders, representing the United States, Africa, and the West Indies, met in London. There they formed a permanent committee of the Pan-African Association and convened a Pan-Africanist conference—arguably the first of several twentieth-century, international, Pan-African congresses meeting to establish Pan-African unity and challenge the horrors of colonialism in Africa and elsewhere—on behalf of the “natives in various parts of the world, viz. South Africa,...

  5. CHAPTER ONE “Political Changüí”: Race, Culture, and Politics in the Early Republic
    (pp. 17-62)

    In January 1901, as constitutional delegates hammered out the new republic’s architecture, even coming to ideological blows over such issues as North American occupation (1898–1902) and the restricted suffrage, the polemical Havana dailyLa Lucharan an editorial derisively titled “Changüí Político.”¹ The piece ridiculed ranking Republican Party activists in the capital busily campaigning for the island’s first-ever general elections, to be held later that year in December.² Havana’s Republican Party, representing white and some black Liberation Army leaders and their supporters, was one of several, disparate, Republican Party organizations dotting the island and competing against each other for...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Black Patronage Networks
    (pp. 63-91)

    “The issue,” said black political activist Juan Gualberto Gómez in 1902, “is to begin, and begin on the inside.”¹ Gómez spoke with satisfaction after Cuba’s new head of state, Tomás Estrada Palma, announced his intention to set aside one hundred public service jobs for “deserving” Cubans of color.² Government set-asides were far from novel in Cuban politics, particularly when used to cinch political loyalties. In fact, centralization of administrative resources (such as jobs and public works contracts) were long a convention of Cuban politics. Even before independence it was an important mechanism of corruption and control at all levels of...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Inventing Africa and Creating Community
    (pp. 92-124)

    In the months following the republic’s inauguration, Domingo Julia and Leon Escobar, both self-proclaimed Africans, used newly granted constitutional rights to petition the governor of Santa Clara province. At the heart of their request was a plan to repatriate to the African continent with government assistance. The two claimed to represent about one hundred Africans—ex-slaves—living in and around the central coastal towns of Remedios and Caibarién in Santa Clara province, a historic stronghold of sugar production since the mid-nineteenth century. African laborers, brought throughout much of the nineteenth century to work the region’s cane fields, had increased the...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Africa in the Privileged Black Imaginary
    (pp. 125-147)

    If Africanist club members struggled to assert complex and dynamic definitions of selfhood and to merge Afro-diasporan sensibilities with Cuban patriotic nationalism, privileged black Cuban leaders, such as Juan Gualberto Gómez, journalist Miguel Gualba, and journalist and politician Rafael Serra, were nearly unanimous in their public disdain of “Africa.” Africa’s legacy in Cuba, they asserted, was an obstacle not only to national progress but to black Cubans’ socioeconomic status in the nation as well. Long a source of conflict and controversy among sectors of the African-descended population, for republican black activists the island’s African legacy seemed to work against rather...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Power and Great Culture
    (pp. 148-169)

    In the first three decades of the twentieth century, black leaders and civic activists advanced the idea that refinement, patriarchy, and bourgeois respectability should be the basis of Cuban leadership, irrespective of a leader’s race. Black civic organizations promoted this ideology and enabled black leaders’ public performance of the cultural practices (respectability, refinement, and adherence to normative values) that reinforced their political authority. Dr. Miguel Ángel Céspedes, a politician and board member of Unión Fraternal, one of the largest black civic organizations in Cuba (and brother of Emilio Céspedes Casado), advocated for the use of education to modernize and uplift...

  10. CHAPTER SIX We Come to Discredit These Leaders: Political Change and Challenges to the Black Political Elite
    (pp. 170-222)

    In May 1936, on the eve of Cuba’s first constitutional elections since Gerardo Machado took office in 1925, the editors ofAtómo(The Atom), a new youth-run black newspaper, threw down the gauntlet. They called out the political machine that had dominated Cuban politics since the republic’s inception and that had betrayed blacks: “There are those corrupted by experience . . . and their thirst for sinecures . . . who seek to . . . exploit the collective anguish of a Race.”¹ Speaking to politicians of all colors generally and to black politicians in particular,Atómo’s editors blasted Cuban...

  11. CONCLUSION: Republican Politics and the Exigencies of Blackness
    (pp. 223-230)

    Because neither the formal birth of the Cuban republic nor the promulgation of the 1901 democratic constitution were defining moments in the black Cuban battle for resources, a narrative of republican black activism must draw on alternative watersheds. Arguably, a black activist atlas would include, among many other salient actions, the 1902 Veterans and Societies of Color mobilization for greater black representation in the civil service sector; the 1906 August Revolution, which confirmed the decisive importance of black participation in national political conflicts; the 1912 Race War, which violently demonstrated just how little tolerance dominant political parties had for challenges...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 231-276)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 277-296)
  14. Index
    (pp. 297-323)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 324-324)