Research and study of ideologies of social and national emancipation and their application to conditions within imperialist society

Commemorating the 65th anniversary of the visit by Dr W E B Du Bois and his wife Shirley Graham Du Bois to China in February-March 1959,

Introductory address to the international webinar on the theme “Black Liberation and People’s China – Rediscovering a history of transcontinental solidarity” organised by Friends of Socialist China and the International Manifesto Group.

11 May 2024.


Comrades and Friends


Good afternoon. As it is here in London. Or good morning or good evening, depending on where you are in the world.

And welcome to this webinar on the theme of ‘Black Liberation and People’s China: Rediscovering a History of Transcontinental Solidarity’, which has been jointly organized by Friends of Socialist China and the International Manifesto Group.

My name is Keith Bennett and I’m a co-editor of Friends of Socialist China and a member of the Coordinating Committee of the International Manifesto Group. And the subject of this afternoon’s webinar is one that has fascinated me for half a century.

I’m therefore really delighted that we have been able to assemble today such a distinguished group of committed experts, who have kindly agreed to share some of their insights and the results of their research, scholarship, and activism.

The theme of this webinar constitutes a fascinating story and a remarkable chapter of revolutionary history. Over succeeding generations, the form may have changed in accordance with the objective situation and the demands and opportunities of the times, but its essential content has remained the same.

When I was growing up and developing my interest in China, for me, the country’s opening up didn’t just mean the visit of President Nixon in February 1972. It also meant the visit by the delegation of the Black Panther Party, led by Huey P. Newton, in September and October 1971.

The inspiration for this meeting was the 65th anniversary of the visit by Dr WEB Du Bois and his wife Shirley Graham Du Bois to China in February-March 1959, where the great scholar and revolutionary celebrated his 91st birthday, just after their passports had been restored, the Supreme Court having ruled that their denial on political grounds was unconstitutional, and despite the proscription those documents contained on travelling to the People’s Republic.

During their stay, the Du Bois’ received just about every honour that the Chinese state could bestow. On March 14, in Wuhan, joined by the revolutionary American writer Anna Louise Strong, who by then was living in China, they were received by Chairman Mao, who hosted a luncheon in their honour. In her transcript of the event, Strong notes that it was the first time for Mao to meet with an American since 1949.

But as we noted in the publicity for this meeting, this is a story that neither begins nor ends with the 1963 visit.

Dr. Du Bois himself had previously visited Shanghai in the 1930s. The visit by the poet Langston Hughes had inspired him to write the poem, Roar China, which forms part of the title of an important book written by Dr. Gao Yunxiang, one of our speakers today. From that same period on, Paul Robeson frequently sang the ‘March of the Volunteers’ in Chinese – the song that was to become, and remains, the national anthem of the People’s Republic of China.

Following on from Dr. Du Bois’ visit, it’s worth noting that, although Chairman Mao issued comparatively few public statements on international affairs, he issued two in support of the black struggle in the United States – the first, in August 1963, at the height of the civil rights struggle, at the request of Robert F. Williams, the first African-American leader to publicly advocate armed self-defence, and the second in April 1968, following the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr., and in support of the wave of rebellions that swept the USA’s urban centres in response. In both these statements Mao asserted his belief that “the evil system of colonialism and imperialism arose and throve with the enslavement of black people and the trade in black people, and it will surely come to its end with the complete emancipation of the black people.”

Robert F. Williams, his wife Mabel, and their two sons were to make their home in China for several years. In 1996, at his funeral in Monroe, North Carolina, he was buried in his ‘Mao jacket’.

Malcolm X, his life tragically cut short, was never able to make it to China, but he referred to China again and again in his writings and speeches and was a staunch supporter of the Chinese revolution. As a typical example, in November 1964, at a rally in Harlem, he said:

“They used to have a saying that one doesn’t have a Chinaman’s chance. But they don’t say that anymore. They used that expression back when China was weak. But now that Mao Zedong has been successful in making China a strong country, the Chinese have more chance than anybody else. So, this saying has become outdated.”

These are just a few examples of the relationship we recall and celebrate today.

In the mid-1980s, I happened to meet a comrade who’d been a member of the then recently dissolved Communist Workers ‘Party USA. This party is perhaps best remembered for the deaths of five of their comrades at the hands of the Ku Klux Klann in Greenboro, North Carolina, in November 1979.

Reflecting on this special relationship between Socialist China and African-American revolutionaries, he noted: ‘Did the African-American revolutionary movement support Cuba? Yes, of course, it did. But tens of thousands of people didn’t follow the progress of the Cuban revolution, literally on a daily basis, in the way they did with China. Yet Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai never visited the United States. They never stayed in Harlem. But Fidel Castro and Che Guevara did.”

One connection is surely the part played by Chinese communists and progressives in the United States in the pre-liberation period. Liu Liangmo had taught Robeson ‘The March of the Volunteers’. Tang Mingzhao, and his daughter Tang Wensheng, also known as Nancy Tang, as well as Ji Chaozhu, were able to provide Mao and Zhou Enlai with first hand perspectives on the United States, not least on the African-American struggle. As Mao’s English-language interpreters, Ji and Nancy Tang had access to the Chairman on a daily basis. The New China had almost no contact with the United States from 1949-71, but the Chinese leadership were surprisingly well informed.

So, this is part of the story. But in the words of Bob Marley: “Half the story has never been told.”

To help remedy that deficit, it’s my pleasure to introduce our first speaker, Dr. Gerald Horne.  Dr. Horne holds the John J. and Rebecca Moores Chair of History and African American Studies at the University of Houston. By my calculations, he has written around 40 books, possibly more, and I’m sure many of you must have read at least some of them. He is truly an outstanding, committed and revolutionary scholar, and it’s a great privilege to have him join us.








Writings of Keith Bennett


Writings of Keith Bennett