A black separatist organization, the Republic of New Afrika (RNA), was born in March 1968, when five hundred black nationalists met in Detroit. The RNA’s avowed purpose was to culturally and literally separate African Americans from mainstream American culture and to set up a new nation consisting of five states in the South—Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina.
The 1968 Detroit conference chose outspoken black nationalist Robert Williams to serve as the RNA’s provisional president. As head of the Monroe, North Carolina, chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, he had advised his constituency to use weapons to defend themselves against racial violence. Williams had fled the United States in 1961 following allegations that he had kidnapped and robbed a white couple. After several years of self-imposed exile in Cuba and China, Williams returned to the United States.
His tenure as RNA president was short. Brothers Richard and Milton Henry took over the group and opted to begin RNA operations in Mississippi. Richard Henry became president of the new nation and changed his name to Imari Abubakari Obadele to symbolize his ancestral affinity with the African diaspora; Milton took the name Gaidi Obadele. As the leaders of the RNA the Obadeles requested that the US government cede the states of Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina to the organization, along with four hundred billion dollars in reparations. Although Imari Obadele personally delivered his demands in a memorandum to the US State Department, his efforts were never acknowledged. Undaunted, he and the RNA purchased twenty acres of land from Lofton Mason in Bolton, Mississippi, and named the parcel El Malik, in honor of El-Hajj Malik El Shabazz (Malcolm X).
Since the US government refused to acknowledge the RNA’s demands, the group began to organize a plebiscite. The RNA anticipated an overwhelming vote in favor of separation and planned to use the vote as leverage in its effort to secure the desired territory. Leaders noted that most African Americans lived in the South and chose to start work in Mississippi because African Americans constituted 40 percent of the state’s population. The RNA believed that if its government became functional, African Americans would migrate south from the northern United States and provide a large black vote in support of the proposed plebiscite. If the plebiscite did not succeed, the RNA and its military wing, the Black Legion, anticipated fighting a guerrilla war against the US government until the group garnered international support for its cause.
In Mississippi, the RNA made a number of converts and was growing increasingly popular, but authorities soon began to resist. The City of Jackson and the Federal Bureau of Investigation began surveillance of the organization, culminating in an early morning raid on 18 August 1971 by local and federal authorities on the RNA’s main compound. The resulting shootout left one Jackson police officer dead and two federal agents wounded. Eleven members of the RNA were subsequently indicted on charges of murder. Several of the defendants, including Imari Obadele, were convicted on the murder charges and sentenced to life in prison. With their leaders incarcerated, members of the RNA began to campaign for their freedom, banding together with other nationalistic groups.
The RNA’s separatist movement was never fully realized, and the government against which members fought quelled their dreams of nationhood.
- Raymond Hall, Black Separatism in the United States (1978)
- Peniel E. Joseph, ed., The Black Power Movement: Rethinking the Civil Rights–Black Power Era (2006), Waiting till the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America (2006)
- Timothy B. Tyson, Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams and the Roots of Black Power (2001)
- William L. Van DeBurg, Modern Black Nationalism: From Marcus Garvey to Louis Farrakhan (1997)
- William L. Van DeBurg, New Day in Babylon: The Black Power Movement and American Culture, 1965–1975 (1992)