Almost four years ago, my book about the Republic of New Africa (RNA) came out entitled "How Social Movements Die: Repression and Demobilization of the Republic of New Africa. In the book, I attempted to strike a balance between theory and social science versus simply telling the story of the RNA. Unfortunately, I had to leave a lot of information out of the book and some of the details that were otherwise fascinating were eliminated. In this series, I revisit the archive and present the material 50 years later. Apologies for not being able to continue this piece for a while but life interfered. Enjoy. I will try to work my way backwards from this event as well as forwards.
The Second National Legislative Convention and the New Bethel Incident
50 years ago a group of several hundred black nationalists from around the United States came together in order to assess what they had done when they created the Republic of New Africa (the RNA). Confronted with an America that seemed to not only hinder black success and integration but which seemed to be actively engaged in a campaign to systematically constrain or potentially destroy them, the RNA had decided to conduct a census of the black population in order to ask what they wanted to do regarding their citizenship, politically secede from the United States, acquire 5 states in the deep south (in the "Black Belt") to develop a new nation, acquire reparations for the move as well as development, and obtain recognition for the new government. This was to be the Second National Legislative convention and two different types of people could attend: 1) Duly elected representatives (i.e., persons that attended the founding convention, elected representatives from consulates which did not have ten signers of the Declaration and individuals in cities/areas/college campuses where there were ten or fewer citizens) and 2) observers (i.e., regular folk who were interested). At this event, the RNA was expecting to deliberate and pass laws as well as construct hearings on diverse topics.
While this sounds kind of out there, it really wasn't and this was acknowledged by the RNA. Indeed, there had been numerous efforts in this direction: e.g., Edward P. McCabe in the latter part of the 1800s as well as Oscar Brown and Bindley Cyrus in the early 1900s with their National Movement for the Establishment of a Forty-Ninth State and Nation of Islam.
The convention began (at about 8;30pm on March 28th at the C.B. Club) with an overview of the Ocean Hill Brownsville project where the RNA had been quite active in trying to get this community to secede. Almost a dozen RNA citizens from Brooklyn were in attendance and they each spoke about what was going on there - i.e., prep for plebiscite, discussion about morale in the community, etc. Ocean Hill had been controversial because it represented something of an opportunistic pivot for the RNA: it was not in the deep south (their primary target) and there was no consulate or concentrated RNA presence (the nearest consulate was in Manhattan and they did not appear to solidly support the effort - feeling rolled by the central leadership in general and Minister Imari Obadele in particular). I'll discuss this more in another blogpost.
Following this discussion, the meeting was broken down into different ministries for more specific discussions and the meeting ended at around 2am. While the official meeting ended, smaller groups would continue into the next morning discussing talking points and plans of action for the next day.
Continuing on Saturday (March 29th), the meeting picked up where it left off. Feeling the tension around the effort, Obadele put forward the reasons for the RNA continuing in Brooklyn. He stated that Ocean Hill Brownsville was precisely what the RNA was talking about. The community there (engaged in a heated discussion of local/community control regarding education as well as other socio-political services) was ripe for secession and the global media was present for the discussion. This was the group's Selma. Herman Ferguson continued this discussion noting that the Freedom Corps had been tasked with assisting the effort and that everyone from receptionists to nurses to writers were needed to create a new political entity. Virginia Collins then asked a host of questions regarding the effort - what it meant, how it could be helped and so forth. This convention closed at around 8pm so that members could attend a rally held at New Bethel Baptist church (Aretha Franklin's father's church) at 10pm.
Following the rally (around 11:30pm), there was an altercation between Detroit police department and RNA security forces generally referred to as "the New Bethel Incident". At its conclusion, one police officer was left dead, another officer as well as 4 RNA members were injured, New Bethel Baptist church was shot up as well as raided by at least 50 police officers from diverse precincts, and approximately 150 people were arrested/interrogated (several of the events are depicted in the illustration below).