The Messenger / The Crusader
The Messenger, The Crusader and The Radical Black Imagination in the Early 20th Century
This paper considers two periodicals published by black radical activists in the United States during the “New Negro” era of the early 20th century. Amid the outbreak of World War I, the Russian Revolution, and the stirring of anti-colonial movements in the global South, black Americans struggled to find new strategies for their liberation. This period in the U. S. was characterized by virulent Jim Crow segregation and discrimination, widespread racial violence, and the resulting “great migration” that fueled the movement of millions of black people from the rural South and the Caribbean to the urban North and West. Out of this maelstrom emerged a generation of New Negro Militants who deployed the press as a critical tool for organizing and critique. They forged a black radical imagination through print culture that, in keeping with the themes of this workshop, supported a black counter-public, alternative forms of cultural expression, and transnational projects.
The Messenger was founded in 1917 by A. Philip Randolph and Chandler Owen, young migrants from the South who sought intellectual and political inspiration in Harlem. They found it in the burgeoning Socialist Party which actively sought black participation in the quest for universal brotherhood. The Messenger brought together artists, poets, journalists, and activists who linked black American’s condition with the rapacity of empire and capitalism, and with the cause of anti-colonialism. Over time the magazine shifted its emphasis from socialist transformation to advocacy for black solidarity through trade unions. The Crusader, created by Caribbean-born activist Cyril Briggs in 1918, was a monthly magazine that blended black nationalism with Communist Party doctrine in calls for autonomy and self-determination. Briggs established The Crusader to “promote the idea of self-government for the Negro and Africa for the Africans,” he wrote in an early issue. Briggs is best known for his leadership of the African Blood Brotherhood (ABB) founded in 1919, a quasi-secret society linked to the Communist Party that advocated armed self-defense. The Crusader would become the ABB’s official organ in 1921. The two magazines debated—often virulently — the merits of black nationalism vs. interracial cooperation while also sharing an overlapping network of editors and contributors who moved among ideological camps. In the process these periodicals created and sustained a radical black public sphere. These editors and their periodicals grappled with the same challenges as their 21st century counterparts — state repression, lack of resources, and disagreements within their communities.
Jane Rhodes is Professor and Head of the Department of African American Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Rhodes earned a Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is trained as a mass media historian with specialization in African American history and culture. Rhodes is the author of Mary […]
Lynn M. Hudson is an associate professor of history at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she is also an affiliated faculty member of the African American Studies department. She earned an M.A. in history from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and her Ph.D. in history at Indiana University. Her areas of […]