Once we completed our post on a history of White Supremacy, it seemed almost natural that a history of Black Supremacy follow. Although titled “A History of Black Supremacy,” clearly what is commonly referred to as “Black Supremacy” represents a fear of “Black Greatness” beyond the perception of melanin challenged people who call themselves “white.”
Believe it or not, the phrases “White Supremacy” and “Black Supremacy” have much in common. They both originated in the early 19th century, several decades apart. Both were inspired by emancipation or the desire for freedom. The two were also invented by people who call themselves white. Both take their inspiration from an ominous fear melanin challenged people were facing a “revolution of the wheel of fortune” which made Thomas Jefferson “tremble.”
Black Supremacy was actually preceded by “Negro Supremacy.” It is found in a review of “Hamel, the Obeah Man,” from the April 1, 1827 weekly newspaper Examiner. The review, describes the book’s plot as driven by a conspiracy between an “Obeah” man and a Methodist Missionary to “produce Negro supremacy or insidiously seek to promote discontent and insurrection.” This plot seemed plausible to melanin challenged readers despite the very inspiration for “Hamel” being the exploits of a maroon leader and Obeah man from St. Thomas, Jamaica who never needed to conspire with any “Methodist missionary” to gain his freedom or engage in a campaign of insurrection lasting a year against enslavers of African people in Jamaica.
Although the earliest instance of the use of the actual phrase “Black Supremacy” comes in an article from The Democratic Review No. CLXII in 1852, both continued to be used interchangeably up to the 1950s. The article entitled “Soulouque and the Dominicans,” goes into detail about the truce between the Dominican Republic and Haiti. The article defines “black supremacy” as:
That power came into existence when the colony in the West (Haiti) was decisively lost to France by the massacre of the whites and the establishment of the black supremacy, that power obtained, by cession of Spain, possession of the Spanish colony in the East (the Dominican Republic) and exercised jurisdiction over it till the year 1808…
The Haitian portion of the island the two countries share was ceded to France by Spain in 1697. The entire island became French territory in 1795. The article mentions black supremacy as being extended over the entire island in 1822. It also, describes black supremacy as being “Great Britain’s West India policy.” Apparently, political dominance results in supremacy. The population in majority has political domination. The assumption being no group being in a numerical majority would submit to political domination by anyone not part of the majority.
Opposition to emancipation used “Black Supremacy” to claim abolitionists were not as unselfish in their pursuit of an end to forced servitude as they wanted to seem, an idea apparently inspired by “Hamel.” Likely, this was an attempt to bolster opposition to emancipation as a “conspiracy theory” to enslave whites. “White supremacy” was used to similar effect, (see Cora Montgomery’s “On Negro Ascendancy in the West Indies” for example.)
Over time the concept of “Black Supremacy” changed. It began a rallying cry to oppose African American voting rights after the end of the U.S. Civil War. The alleged threat posed by black supremacy was due to areas where both candidates and the majority of voters were Black.
Author and “Southern Rebel” George Washington Cable wrote against “discrimination as inhumane, immoral and based on ridiculous fears of Negro supremacy.” Extreme opposition to his position led to him relocating his family to Massachusetts in 1885. Cable also published a book entitled “The Negro Question,” originally published as a series of magazine articles. The book defends full citizenship rights for African Americans, while interchangeably using the terms “Black Supremacy” and “Negro Supremacy.”
In 1890, Frederick Douglass gave an address on the “Negro Problem” at a meeting of Bethel Literary and Historical Association in Metropolitan A.M.E. Church of Washington, DC. He mentions both negro and black supremacy in expounding upon the fears and alarm of Southern states “by the possibility of negro supremacy over them.” He saw “black supremacy in any part of our common country [as] utterly impossible.” By stating, “[t]hey have the sword and the purse of the nation behind them, and yet they profess to be shaking in their shoes,” he ridicules the notion of Black supremacy and the irrational fear behind it.
The 19th century was only the beginning of the delusions of melanin challenged people in fear of a imagined “Black supremacy.” In part two of this series we cover how Black supremacy fears continued during the twentieth century.