This post is part of our blog series that announces the publication of selected new books in African American History and African Diaspora Studies. Free the Land: The Republic of New Afrika and the Pursuit of a Black Nation-State was recently published by University of North Carolina Press.
Author of Free the Land: The Republic of New Afrika and the Pursuit of a Black Nation-State is Edward Onaci, Associate Professor of History and African American & Africana Studies at Ursinus College. Onaci recieved his Ph.D. in history at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and his BA at Virginia State University. Also known as Brotha Onaci, Edward is a DJ-producer and activist who co-founded the People’s DJs Collective and Sonic Diaspora. Follow him on Twitter @onaci7.
On March 31, 1968, over 500 Black nationalists convened in Detroit to begin the process of securing independence from the United States. Many concluded that Black Americans’ best remaining hope for liberation was the creation of a sovereign nation-state, the Republic of New Afrika (RNA). New Afrikan citizens traced boundaries that encompassed a large portion of the South–including South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana–as part of their demand for reparation. As champions of these goals, they framed their struggle as one that would allow the descendants of enslaved people to choose freely whether they should be citizens of the United States. New Afrikans also argued for financial restitution for the enslavement and subsequent inhumane treatment of Black Americans. The struggle to “Free the Land” remains active to this day.
This book is the first to tell the full history of the RNA and the New Afrikan Independence Movement. Edward Onaci shows how New Afrikans remade their lifestyles and daily activities to create a self-consciously revolutionary culture, and argues that the RNA’s tactics and ideology were essential to the evolution of Black political struggles. Onaci expands the story of Black Power politics, shedding new light on the long-term legacies of mid-century Black Nationalism.
In this engaging and meticulously researched book, Edward Onaci tells the story of how the New Afrikan Independence Movement captured the imagination of thousands of Black Americans during the twentieth century. With incisive analysis and vivid examples, Onaci reveals how the movement laid the intellectual groundwork for contemporary movements for Black liberation and reparations for the injustices of slavery and segregation. By centering the lives and ideas of those who led and supported the movement, Onaci’s book provides a lens to better understand the complex and multilayered meanings of citizenship and belonging in the United States.”–Keisha N. Blain, author of Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom
AAIHS Editors: Books have creation stories. Please share with us the creation story of your book—those experiences, those factors, those revelations that caused you to research this specific area and produce this unique book.
Edward Onaci: This book begins with my academic and personal interests in political movements in Africa and its diaspora that emphasize land, including Black revolutionary nationalism in the United States. As I researched in African and African American history, I started to see the name Republic of New Afrika (RNA). At some point, I read Huey P. Newton’s letter to Robert F. Williams who was then the elected president of the RNA’s Provisional Government (PG-RNA). Upon reading his letter, I developed questions that I couldn’t find answers to within the available scholarship. The absence of a thorough historical investigation struck me as an opportunity to learn about the RNA and help contribute new research to the growing body of Black Power histories and also to the activist networks in which I was working and developing relationships.
I must admit that as a critical scholar, I first considered the goals of the New Afrikan Independence Movement as impractical. But as I read more into the foundational texts that movement participants developed, and as I compared and contrasted New Afrikan goals with those of their contemporaries, I realized how radically imaginative, yet historically grounded, the concept of self-determination is for oppressed peoples. Having multiple opportunities to speak with and get to know movement veterans helped in this regard. The people with whom i spoke humbly offered their personal stories for academic scrutiny and with the hope that younger generations can learn from their victories and losses, their correct actions and their mistakes. I am honored to be able to share their ideas and lessons.
One of the most important revelations that I experienced while researching for this book is the interconnectedness and reach of New Afrikan Independence ideas. Considering that many of the most well-known Black activists and intellectuals participated in the founding convention of the PG-RNA, it is logical that participants in other organizations and formations of the era saw themselves as working toward the goals of the New Afrikan Independence Movement. After all, the praxis of Black liberation was centered self-determination and self-sufficiency, concepts that everyone from the Black Panther Party to the Revolutionary Action Movement, Congress of African People, and the Us Organization all utilized.