Japan & African Americans from the Russo-Japanese War to Pearl Harbor

by
Ben Carp at Temple University

I had the pleasure of viewing Mr. Ben Karp’s presentation at the Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies, Temple University in Japan on the Golden Era of Black and Japanese relations. He discusses W.E. Du Bois’ travels to Japan and provides insights to a period considered a peak of Black – Japanese relations.

Additionally, Mr. Karp had the priviledge of meeting Dr. Kearney while in Okinawa, Japan and had this to say:

“I had the great honor to spend two days on Okinawa talking with Dr. Reginald Kearney, the author of the first book to outline African American – Japanese relations. He is a living repository of knowledge on the subject and also on the Civil Rights movement; Selma, March on Washington, when he was a student leader. I videoed some of our discussion and will edit to about a half hour and will post FB. Most of what we talked about was somber; war and other violence, racism, segregation, but in this picture we were joking around and I got a good smiling shot.”

Dr. Kearney provides keen insight on W.E. Du Bois and race relations in the United States and Japan via the “The Pro-Japanese Utterances of W.E.B. Du Bois” in this abstract:

“When the United States entered the first world war as a direct participant, William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, in a controversial editorial that he would later regret, called upon black Americans to “close ranks” with their white fellow citizens in order to defeat the common German menace. Some years later when his country went to war against Japan, however, Du Bois lacked enthusiasm and issued no such clarion call due to his belief that Japan was a colored nation, that color was a root cause of the war, and that there was “a certain bond between the colored peoples because of world-wide prejudice.”

In a letter to Andrew J. Allison, the alumni secretary at Fisk University dated February 3,1941, Du Bois said that he was glad his alma mater had not yet yielded to the war hysteria. His satisfaction, he explained, was due to the conviction that “in this war we are trying to attack Japan because of race prejudice,” but he did feel that the United States might be justifiable in the event of a defensive war.

As one of the most learned men of his generation and the premier spokesman and propagandist for the higher aspirations of black Americans, Du Bois analyzed international events and tried to explain how the rise of Japan affected their ongoing struggle for justice and equality. For more than three decades, his interpretations consistently sought out the positiveness in the policies of the government of Iapan. More simply stated, W. E. B. Du Bois’ remarks regarding Japan’s position in East Asia were invariably favorable toward Japan.”

Recommended Citation: Kearney, Reginald (1995) “The Pro-Japanese Utterances of W.E.B. Du Bois,” Contributions in Black Studies: Vol. 13, Article 7. Available at: http://scholarworks.umass.edu/cibs/vol13/iss1/7

For those not familiar with Dr. Kearney, here is a previous Black Tokyo article mentioning one of his works, African American Views of the Japanese:

African American Views of the Japanese reveals a page of history long ignored. In black America, Japanese were not always known for racist remarks, Sambo images, and discriminatory hiring practices. Once, thousands of African Americans thought of the Japanese as “champions of the darker races.” Ordinary urban ghetto dwellers, share-croppers, and tenant farmers looked to the Land of the Rising Sun for salvation. Some of the greatest leaders in the fight for equal rights and greater freedoms–such as W. E. B. Du Bois, Monroe Trotter, Mary Church Terrell, Ida Wells Barnett, George Schuyler, A. Philip Randolph, and James Weldon Johnson–saw allies in the struggle for equality. The Afro-centric Marcus Garvey shared his stage with the Japanese. In his teachings, Elijah Muhammad taught that the original black man was Asian and acknowledged Japan’s role as leader.

Here Reginald Kearney examines the role played by Japan and its people in the dreams of prosperity for many African Americans. He also uncovers the shock many blacks felt upon learning that this high regard for the Japanese had been betrayed by discriminatory remarks and actions. But overall Kearney remains optimistic that the African American-Japanese rift can be mended.

“There is an unintended timeliness about the theme of this book in the form of various affirmative responses to Japanese life while, in our own time, a wave of antipathy has risen between African Americans and Asians. Kearney has opened a corner of World War II black cultural life that many historians have known about but have never taken up: the ambiguity of the group toward Japanese whom they regarded in part as oppressed ‘brown’ brothers. Kearney makes imaginative use of the archival sources such as the Office of War Information and other federal agencies. He has reached into a pool of American social life heretofore unrevealed.” — Thomas Cripps, Professor Emeritus, Morgan State University

Reginald Kearney is Visiting Professor at Clark Atlanta University. He is the author of Nijuuseiki no Nihonjin: Amerika Kokujin no Nihonjinkan (The twentieth century Japanese: African American views of the Japanese), 1900-1945 (translated by Shin Yamanoto) and Reconcilable Differences: Issues in African American-Japanese Relations.

Enjoy the presentation and please feel free to comment using the new “real time’ Disqus comment section.

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