Black Nationalism

What is Black Nationalism? Where did it originate and what leaders have promoted it throughout history? What does it have to do with the decline of imperialism in Africa and other social and political movements?  With so many prominent racial justice efforts taking place throughout the world in recent years, being able to compare and contrast Black Nationalism with present-day efforts is especially important now. This article will provide you with a definition of Black Nationalism and will give you an overview of the Early and the Modern Black Nationalism!

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Table of contents

    Black Nationalism Definition

    Black Nationalism is a form of pan-nationalism; a type of nationalism that transcends traditional political boundaries of nation-states. Pan-nationalism is marked by the idea of creating a nation based on characteristics like race, religion, and language. The two main characteristics of Black Nationalism are:

    • Common Culture: The idea that all Black people share a common culture and rich history, one that is worthy of advocacy and protection.
    • Creation of an African Nation: The desire for a nation that represents and celebrates Black people, whether they're located in Africa or around the world.

    Black Nationalists believe Black people should work together as a community to promote their political, social and economic status worldwide. They often challenge the ideas of integration and interracial activism.

    Black Nationalism has promoted slogans such as "Black is beautiful" and "Black power". These slogans are intended to invoke pride, celebrating Black history and culture.

    Early Black Nationalism

    The origins of Black Nationalism have often been traced back to the travels and work of Martin Delany, an abolitionist who was also a soldier, a doctor, and writer in the mid-1800s. Delany advocated for freed Black Americans to relocate to Africa to develop nations there. W.E.B. DuBois is also credited as an early Black Nationalism, with his later teachings having been impacted by the 1900 Pan-African Conference in London.

    Black Nationalism Photograph of WEB DuBois StudySmarterW.E.B. DuBois, Kalki,Wikimedia Commons

    Modern Black Nationalism

    Modern Black Nationalism gained momentum in the 1920s with the introduction of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL) by Jamaican activist Marcus Garvey. The UNIA-ACL aimed to elevate the status of Africans worldwide, and its motto, "One God! One Aim! One Destiny!", resonated with many. The organization enjoyed widespread popularity, but its influence declined after Garvey was deported to Jamaica amidst suspicions of misusing UNIA funds for personal gain.

    The ideas of modern Black Nationalism were centered on promoting self-determination, cultural pride, and political power for Black people.

    Black Nationalism Photograph of Marcus Garvey StudySmarterMartin Garvey, Martin H.via WikiCommons Media

    The Nation of Islam

    The Nation of Islam (NOI) is a political and religious organization that was established in the U.S. during the 1930s by Wallace Fard Muhammad and later led by Elijah Muhammad. The NOI wanted to empower Black people and believed they were ‘The Chosen People.’ The NOI advocated believed that Black people should have their own nation, and be given land in southern America as a form of reparations from being enslaved. A key figure of the NOI was Malcolm X, who helped grow the organization in the U.S. and Britain.

    Malcolm X

    Malcolm X was a human rights activist and African American Muslim. He spent his childhood in a foster home due to his father’s death and his mother’s hospitalization. During his time in prison as an adult, he joined the Nation of Islam and later became one of the organisation's influential leaders, continuously advocating for Black empowerment and the separation between white and Black people. During the 1960s, he began to distance himself from the NOI and started to embrace Sunni Islam. After completing the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, he renounced the NOI and established the Pan-African Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU). He said that his experience in Hajj showed that Islam treated everyone as equals and it was a way that racism can be resolved.

    Black Nationalism and Anti-Colonialism

    In many instances, revolutions in other nations inspired advocates of Black power in America, and vice-versa. The African revolutions against European colonialism in the 1950s and 1960s were vivid examples of success, as were wars for independence in Southeast Asia and Northern Africa.

    For instance, Black Power advocate Stokely Carmichael’s five-month world speaking tour in 1967 made Black power a key to revolutionary language in places like Algeria, Cuba and Vietnam.

    Carmichael was a co-founder of the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party and advocated for Pan-Africanism.

    Black Nationalism Photograph of Stokely Carmichael StudySmarterStokely Carmichael, GPRamirez5CC-0, Wikimedia Commons

    Black National Anthem

    The song ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ is known as the Black National Anthem. The lyrics were written by James Weldon Johnson, with music by his brother J. Rosamond Johnson. It was widely sung in Black communities in the U.S. as of 1900. In 1919, The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) referred to the piece as "the negro national anthem” as it expressed strength and freedom for African-Americans. The hymn includes biblical imagery from the Exodus and expressions of gratitude for faithfulness and freedom.

    Beyoncé famously performed the 'Lift Every Voice and Sing' at Coachella in 2018 as the first Black woman to open the festival.

    Lyrics: "Lift Every Voice and Sing"1

    Lift every voice and sing,’Til earth and heaven ring,Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;Let our rejoicing riseHigh as the listening skies,Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,Let us march on ’til victory is won.Stony the road we trod,Bitter the chastening rod,Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;Yet with a steady beat,Have not our weary feetCome to the place for which our fathers died.We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,Out from the gloomy past,’Til now we stand at lastWhere the white gleam of our bright star is cast.God of our weary years,God of our silent tears,Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;Thou who has by Thy mightLed us into the light,Keep us forever in the path, we pray.Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,Lest our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;Shadowed beneath Thy hand,May we forever stand,True to our God,True to our native land.

    Black Nationalism Quotes

    Check out these quotes on Black Nationalism from prominent thought leaders associated with the philosophy.

    The political philosophy of black nationalism means that the black man should control the politics and the politicians in his own community; no more. - Malcolm X2

    “Every student of political science, every student of political economy, every student of economics knows that the race can only be saved through a solid industrial foundation; that the race can only be saved through political independence. Take away industry from a race, take away political freedom from a race and you have a slave race.” - Marcus Garvey3

    Black Nationalism - Key Takeaways

    • Black Nationalists have the belief that Black people (generally African Americans) should work together as a community to promote their political, social and economic stance worldwide and to also protect their history and culture, with a vision for the creation of an independent state.
    • Black Nationalist leaders have challenged the ideas of integration and interracial activism.
    • The key components of Black Nationalism are; an African nation and common culture.
    • Key leaders and influencers of Black Nationalism were; W.E.B. DuBois, Marcus Garvey, and Malcolm X.


    1. J.W Johnson, Poetry Foundation
    2. Malcolm X, Speech in Cleveland, Ohio, April 3, 1964
    3. M Garvey, Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey Quotes
    Frequently Asked Questions about Black Nationalism

    What is Black Nationalism?

    Black Nationalism is a form of pan-nationalism.  Black nationalists have the belief that black people (generally African Americans) should work together as a community to promote their political, social and economic stance worldwide and to also protect their history and culture which will lead to the creation of an independent state

    What is Black Nationalism according to Malcolm X?

    Malcolm X wanted racial independence and advocated for an independent nation.  After taking part in Hajj (a religious pilgrimage to Mecca), he began to believe in unity among the races.

    What is the difference between Black Nationalism and Pan Africanism?

    Black nationalism is different than pan-Africanism, with Black nationalism contributing to pan-Africanism. Black nationalists tend to be pan-Africanists but pan-Africanists are not always black nationalists

    What is the Black National Anthem?

    "Lift Every Voice and Sing" has been known as the Black National Anthem since 1919, when The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACO) referred to it as such for its empowering message.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    When can black nationalism seem to have been established?

    How many periods of black nationalism is there?

    Which key figure left the Nation of Islam?


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