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Mon, 05.28.1888

Cyril Briggs, Political Activist born

Cyril Valentine Briggs

*On this date in 1888 Cyril Briggs was born. He was a Black writer and political activist.

Born in Nevis, West Indies. Cyril Valentine Briggs moved to New York City in 1905 and got his first writing job at the Amsterdam News in 1912. In 1917, Briggs founded the African Blood Brotherhood (ABB) to stop lynching in the South and racial discrimination in the North.  In 1918, the ABB began publishing a magazine called The Crusader.

As the leader of the ABB, Briggs called for “control by African American workers of the means of production which employed them, whether in industry or in agriculture.” He also became a leading exponent of racial separatism, calling for “government of the Negro people, for the Negro people and by the Negro people.”

Briggs joined the Communist Party in 1921.  He intellectually merged his Black radicalism with Communism, and he eventually called for a separate state for African Americans, something he had originally written about in the New York Amsterdam News.  Briggs not only called on this state to be created but also to be defended by Blacks.

All of this frightened federal authorities, which infiltrated the organization to monitor and sabotage it.  Around the same time, the ABB worked under the umbrella of Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). Briggs and the writer Claude McKay, also a member of the ABB, attended Garvey's 1920 and 1921 conventions.

Briggs became a critic of Garvey after the UNIA leader announced the formation of the Black Star Line, his plan to take Blacks back to Africa on black-owned ships. Like many Black intellectuals, he was wary of Garvey's ideas and management skills. He also was highly critical of Garvey's meeting with the Ku Klux Klan, the white terrorist organization responsible for so much violence against Blacks.

Briggs joined the socialist A. Philip Randolph and other Black intellectuals in urging the United States to deport Garvey.  In 1958 Briggs was brought before the House Un-American Activities Committee. He told the committee he would not answer its questions, since the committee had ignored those who kept Jim Crow thriving, especially the Ku Klux Klan.  Cyril Valentine Briggs died on October 18, 1966.

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