African-American Civil Rights Movement

A History of Japanese Participation in America’s Civil Rights Movement

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“It is Japan’s duty to save you; they have been given the power by the Asiatic nation to save you in the West.” – Elijah Muhammad

When Barack Obama won the presidential election back in 2008, it brought a glee of “hope” for many disenfranchised people living in America. The excitement and fervor this election caused, while it may seem unprecedented, was quite similar to the expectations captured among many people globally in the early half of the last century. The Rise of Modern Japan, edited by Linda K. Menton, states the following on page 61:

“In May 1905 Japan won a stunning navel victory at the Battle of Tsushima when Japanese ships pounced on Russia’s Baltic Squadron as it moved between the straits between Korea and the Japanese island of Kyushu….Japan’s victory over Russia caught the world by surprise. For the first time an Asian nation had defeated a European nation in war.”

Native Japanese Negrito Family, pre-WWII, courtesy of Life Magazine

Native Japanese Negrito Family, pre-WWII, courtesy of Life Magazine

The news of Japan’s defeat of Russia took the world by storm. It was the first time in our modern era that a European nation was defeated by a non-European power. This brought hope to other Asian nations that would eventually spread to the black population of America. Sun Yat-Sen: His Political and Social Ideals, compiled and translated by Leonard Shihlien Hsu, quotes Sun Yat-Sen:

“Since the rise of the Japanese , the Caucasians dare not look down upon other Asiatic peoples. Thus the power of Japan not only enables the Japanese to enjoy the privileges of a first class nation, but enhances the international people of other Asiatic peoples.“

Shortly after defeating Russia, secret societies in China and Japan began to focus on freeing Asia from European domination, which led to communication and support of various leaders in the black community before WWII.

Richard Aoki, who died  at the age of 70, was a field marshal in the Black Panther Party, and along with Panther leaders Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, wrote the Panthers’ famous 10-point platform. He was a founding member of the Asian American Political Alliance

Richard Aoki, who died at the age of 70, was a field marshal in the Black Panther Party, and along with Panther leaders Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, wrote the Panthers’ famous 10-point platform. He was a founding member of the Asian American Political Alliance

Relations between Japanese factions and leaders of the black community were strengthened after Baron Makino Nabuaki, Japan’s principal delegate to the 1919 Peace Conference, submitted what would late become known in history as the Racial Equality Proposal. Wikipedia cites some details about the amendment:

“The first draft was presented to the League of Nations Commission on 13 February as an amendment to Article 21:

The equality of nations being a basic principle of the League of Nations, the High Contracting Parties agree to accord as soon as possible to all alien nationals of states, members of the League, equal and just treatment in every respect making no distinction, either in law or in fact, on account of their race or nationality.

While the amendment was approved by a majority vote, it was ultimately overturned by President Woodrow Wilson, who knew it would create differences among pro-segregationists. Wikipedia continues:

Australian Prime Minister Billy Hughes clarified his opposition and announced at a meeting that “ninety-five out of one hundred Australians rejected the very idea of equality.”

Then, Makino Nobuaki announced at a press conference.

“We are not too proud to fight but we are too proud to accept a place of admitted inferiority in dealing with one or more of the associated nations. We want nothing but simple justice.”

The proposal was also problematic for U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, who knew he was dependent on pro-segregation Southern Democrats if he was to have any hope of getting the two-thirds majority needed to ratify the final treaty in the United States Senate. The presence of such strong opposition from the British Empire delegations was undoubtedly a relief to Wilson as it gave him a pretext to scupper the proposal….The chairman, President Wilson, overturned it, saying that although the proposal had been approved by a clear majority, that in this particular matter, strong opposition had manifested itself, and that on this issue a unanimous vote would be required.”

Ryōhei Uchida- founder of The Black Dragon Society

Ryōhei Uchida- founder of The Black Dragon Society

In the United States, race riots occurred as a result of amendment’s rejection. Relations between Japan and the western powers were severed because of the West’s refusal to ratify racial equality. This, however, did not stop relations between the Japanese and several leaders in the black community. At a meeting in December 1918 for the purpose of electing delegates to the Peace Convention at Versailles, Marcus Garvey warned:

“The next war will be between the Negroes and the whites unless our demands for justice are recognized…. With Japan to fight with us, we can win such a war.”

Following Garvey’s statement over the next two decades, members of Japanese nationalist groups would work closely with Black Muslim leaders in the United States. In an online article entitled, Chinese Triads, Japanese Black Dragons & Hidden Paths of Power by Mehmet Sabeheddin, we read:

“Established in 1901 by a Black Ocean society leader and Buddhist monk, Ryohei Uchida, the Black Dragons, with their Pan-Asian vision, had links with the Triads and supported China’s 1911 Republican Revolution. Their agents undertook intelligence gathering operations in China, Korea, Manchuria, Mongolia, Siberia, and established relations with anti-colonialist circles in the Muslim world… Forming alliances with revolutionaries in Indochina, India, Indonesia and the Philippines, the Black Dragons also had close contact with several Buddhist sects. Throughout the 1920s and 30s the Black Dragon society supported Indian independence activities, providing political and financial assistance to Indian nationalists who looked to Japan as the only Eastern power capable of liberating Asia from the stranglehold of European colonialism.

By the start of the Second World War agents of Japanese secret societies, all lumped together by Western intelligence agencies under the name Black Dragons, were operating worldwide from North Africa to the United States. One successful Black Dragon agent in America was Satohata Takahashi. Sent to the US in 1929, Takahashi formed a mystico-political movement called the Society for the Development of Our Own, recruiting several thousand members to his Pan-Asian cause, most of them of African-American, Filipino, or East Asian descent. The “Five Guiding Principles” of the group were “Freedom, Justice, Equality, Liberty, and Honour.”

Through Takahashi the Black Dragon Society channeled financial aid to Black Muslim groups in the US. The Moorish Science Temple, founded by Noble Drew Ali in 1913, taught the true origin of Black Americans was “Asiatic.” Another Muslim teacher, Master Wallace D. Fard, the mysterious leader of the Allah Temple of Islam declared, “I’m an Asiatic black man. I have come to America to save my long lost uncle [the Black Americans].” Fard’s chief disciple the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, prophet of the Nation of Islam, told his followers, “It is Japan’s duty to save you; they have been given the power by the Asiatic nation to save you in the West.” Another organization to enjoy Takahashi’s patronage was the Pacific Movement of the Eastern World, which campaigned for the US to stay out of the war and promoted the Pan-Asian agenda among non-white Americans.”

The Black Scholar had published an article written by Ernest Allen Jr, entitled, Satokata Takahashi and the Flowering of Black Messianic Nationalism. The article discusses key points about “hope” that circulated from Japan’s newly gained prominence prior to WWII and the efforts of the legendary Black Dragon Society:

“Moreover Japan’s new-found prestige gave inspiration to people of African descent as well. The arch-racist Lothrop Stoddard noted that the Russo-Japanese war “produced all over the Dark Continent intensely exciting effects”..It was not without cause that the “defeat of Russia by Japan,” as Du Bois later noted, would give rise to a fear of colored revolt against white exploitation” on the part of the western powers………Known for its political assassinations within and without Japanese territory, the society assumed as its mission the emancipation of the “colored races” from white, western domination…”

It is interesting to note that Satokata Takahashi, who served as an intermediary for the Black Dragon Society and their funding of the Moorish Science Temple of America and the Nation of Islam, was married to Pearl Sherrod, a former member of the Nation of Islam.

Post WWII

Japan remained silent after WWII. Victims of atomic bombing had crushed the dreams of many and the proponents of the Black Dragon Society soon went underground. In the United States, over 100,000 people of Japanese descent who lived on the Pacific Coast of the US were confined. Shinto, as having existed in Japan up until WWII, was made illegal for about ten years after the war. All seem quiet, but only for a time.

"Yellow peril supports Black power"  Oakland, CA 1968. Photograph by Roz Payne

“Yellow peril supports Black power” Oakland, CA 1968. Photograph by Roz Payne

It should also be noted that out of all the groups in America that spoke out against the Japanese being confined to internment camps, it was African-Americans. Civil Rights lawyer, Loren Miller, stated:

“We remarked a few lines ago that a few Negroes supported the evacuation of Japanese in WWII. Most did not. They protested and they said that race and race alone was the root of the policy….Negroes urged Congress to end laws barring Japanese from citizenship.”

The groundwork laid down by those of the WWII era was beginning to bloom. Black Americans were making strides in society as a new chapter in Civil Rights History was beginning to open up, and although many media sources would make it seem that the black liberation movement of the 1960’s is an unlikely place for a Japanese-American woman, history before WWII states otherwise. Yuri Kochiyama, the daughter of Japanese immigrants, faced the hardships of a World War II internment camp. However, she would later develop a close relationship with Malcolm X. She rushed to his aid at the moment he was gunned down. She would become a leading forces in Human Rights and working closely as an advocate for prisoners.

Yuri Kochiyama, a civil rights activist who formed an unlikely friendship with Malcolm X when he was still promoting black nationalism and later cradled his head in her hands as he lay dying from gunshot wounds in 1965

Yuri Kochiyama, a civil rights activist who formed a friendship with Malcolm X when he was still promoting black nationalism and later cradled his head in her hands as he lay dying from gunshot wounds in 1965

 

In 1968, Beherein, an organization of Japanese artists and writers, invited members of The Black Panther Party, Kathleen Cleaver and Earl Anthony,  to come speak at a conference that coincided with other talks held against the Vietnam war and nuclear weapons. “Cleaver and Anthony were almost prevented in Hawaii from obtaining visas, but protests in Japan overcame this position.”

The first place outside the United States where Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is observed with equal importance is in the Japanese city of Hiroshima under mayor Tadatoshi Akiba, who holds a special banquet at the mayor’s office as an act of unifying his city’s call for peace with King’s message of human rights.

The Black Dragon Society in Modern Times

 The Black Dragon Society remains active in the practices and teachings of the Art of Ninzuwu. Instead of placing a political agenda to the forefront, members of The Esoteric Black Dragon Society seek the transformation of self and the world we live in by cultivation of the Ninzuwu Tradition and using such to provide aid in their community.

 

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