“No longer shall others speak for us,” wrote the founders of Black America’s first newspaper, Freedom’s Journal, in 1827. From that moment on, stories of the struggles and the achievements of Black Americans would no longer languish in invisibility, ignored by the White-owned press.
By 1890, six hundred Black newspapers had been started and by the turn of the century, reported Phlyon: The Atlanta University Review of Race and Culture, 150 Black papers were in operation with several circulated throughout the country.
Founded in 1940 by Dr. W.E.B. DuBois, the Phylon featured a headline article titled “Black Journalism’s Opinions about Africa during the Late Nineteenth Century.” It read: “If many of the race leaders followed a policy of studied lack of comment about Africa, the black press might be expected to also follow this policy. Yet, because of their position as a forum of debate for the black community, these papers carried a number of articles and surprisingly large letters about Africa.”
If we fast forward to the early 1960s, we discover the work of Charles P. Howard, the Muhammad Speaks United Nations Correspondent. Muhammad Speaks was the ground breaking weekly published by the Hon. Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam in the 1960s and 1970s.
His journalism training was at Howard University, and he was founder, publisher and editor of the Iowa Observer newspaper and a co-founder of the National Negro Publishing Association, today called the National Newspaper Publishers Association.
As an attorney he, along with five others cofounded the National Bar Association.
A renowned attorney with a degree in international law, Howard never lost a capital case and was a strong advocate against government surveillance, investigation and trials of alleged Communist Party members and civil rights leaders. According to the University of Iowa Press, Howard’s relationship with Paul Robinson, W.E.B. DuBois and publisher Charlotte Bass designed to, among other things, fight Jim Crow segregation in the Panama Zone and ended up with his election as a U.S. delegate to the World Peace Conference in Poland. Following the Warsaw conference, he accepted Joseph Stalin’s invitation to visit the Soviet Union. In the 1950s he unsurprisingly found himself under FBI surveillance.
After being unjustly disbarred, he moved to New York. Having a background in journalism and newspaper publishing, he worked in the United Nations as a representative of African nations. He wrote and published essays on African independence movements and on the civil rights movement in the U.S.
Mr. Howard’s articles—which appeared in publications like Freedomways: A Quarterly Review of the Freedom Movement—“castigated United States and European nations’ exploration of newly independent African states.”
Unfortunately, he died in 1969, and there was no mention of Howard becoming the UN Correspondent for Muhammad Speaks in eulogies found by this writer.
Hardly anywhere was there mention of his being a part of the Muhammad Ali entourage that traveled to Africa after the Muslim boxer took heavyweight title from Sonny Liston.
Cambridge University Press, in a May 2009 study “U.S. black newspaper coverage of the UN and U.S. white coverage, 1948-1975” mentions Muhammad Speaks only saying the newspaper “… was not always published as a weekly.” This is in the face of Howard’s weekly columns that went on for years.
If you peruse editions of Muhammad Speaks, you discover sometimes multiple articles written on a weekly basis by Mr. Howard.
We don’t actually know when Howard took on the UN Correspondent role. This author discovered his columns going as far back as 1962. Muhammad Speaks began publishing, not as a weekly, in 1960.
In 1962 in a cover story titled “Drive On To Free All Africa,” during an exclusive interview with Algerian leader Ahmed Ben Bella, at New York’s Barclay Hotel, Howard said he admired civil rights fighters in America.
A third way through the interview, he questions Ben Bella on Africa’s “most immediate and pressing problem confronting the African continent,” Ben Bella responded: “Decolonization. As long as part of the continent is still under outside domination, the people of Algeria will not only disapprove of such domination, but they will take alternative steps and do whatever is necessary to remove this problem. We are prepared to use whatever means necessary.”
In 1962 Muhammad Speaks referred to Mr. Howard as “an accredited UN Correspondent on behalf of Muhammad Speaks.” According to Muhammad Speaks, “Mr. Howard … is personally acquainted with the vast majority of African and Asian leaders.”
Discussing his interview with Ben Bella, correspondent Howard, who served as a U.S. army officer in World War One, said to Muhammad Speaks: “As I talked to the youthful Algerian, I realized that a new phase of African liberation had emerged. This new phase is led by seven men of unusual stature: Gamel Abdel Nasser of Egypt, Sekou Toure of Guinea, Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, Joshua Nkomo of Rhodesia, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Modibo Keita of Mali and the new Algerian President … .”
In one of Howard’s columns, written in 1968 and that still resonates to this very day, is titled “Why Independent Black Nations Must Forge a United and Federated Africa.” Howard wrote in part:
“The hard economic facts of Africa argue forcefully against the Western-imposed political walls which have been built around each of the new African states. It is ridiculous that cocoa from Ghana, Nigeria and Ivory Coast must first go to London and New York and then return to Africa in the various processed forms.
“Why should the bauxite of Ghana and Guinea be sent thousands of miles to be processed and then returned as cooking utensils, automobile bodies and other commodities to be sold at high prices to all Africans? Oil from Africa is refined elsewhere and the kerosene and gasoline trade in Africa is handled by British, Dutch, French and American monopolies.
“The copper, cobalt, uranium and tin from the Congo and Nigeria all go to stoke the economic furnaces (and war machines) of the Western imperialist countries. The cotton exported to the West from Africa is returned as high-priced clothing and the suits worn by the new African governmental officials and businessman and made in London, Paris or New York.
“Frantz Fanon, in his brilliant analysis of the African revolution, Wretched of the Earth, foretold current developments when he said nationalism would be perverted into an instrument by those who assumed power perpetuate themselves as middlemen between Western capitalist and the African peoples. As long as Africa remains balkanized, each country with its unilateral tie to metropolitan markets and financial capitals, the African masses never will taste the fruits of their freedom victory.
“As of now, in most cases, they have experienced only a change of administration. They must produce and bring to market the same commodities they did when the white man ruled. And they must buy from the same white merchants the same imported goods they purchased when their countries had the status of colonies.”
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