GERALD HORNE. White Supremacy Confronted: U.S. Imperialism and Anti-Communism vs. the Liberation of Southern Africa, from Rhodes to Mandela.
Gerald Horne is a tour de force. He has published close to forty books and has fundamentally transformed our understanding of how white supremacy and antiradicalism have worked in tandem to shape the history of the United States. While Horne’s scholarship has not been solely confined to the twentieth century, much of his work has meticulously traced the transnational coalescence of racist and anti-communist politics that has stifled the liberation struggles of people of African descent around the world. This intervention, referred to by the historian Erik S. McDuffie as the “Horne Thesis,” has been hugely influential for younger generation of scholars who have gone on to make vital contributions to the vibrant field of Black international history.
These themes again come to the fore in White Supremacy Confronted, Horne’s effort to trace the development of Black American engagements with anticolonial liberation struggles throughout Southern Africa from the late nineteenth century to the fall of the apartheid. The breadth and ingenuity of the archival research that underpins the book is staggering, as Horne draws on diplomatic files, organizational records, personal papers, print media, music, film, and television to expansively trace the Black international networks that bound together anticolonial activists in the United States to liberation movements throughout sub-Saharan Africa.
Horne moves beyond studies that focus on Black American ties with specific national liberation struggles, arguing that “Southern Africa is best contemplated as a whole” (3) when it comes to understanding the history of decolonization in the region. This is a real strength of the book, shedding light on the complex transnational forces that ultimately determined the fate of African liberation movements and white settlerism in the region. Furthermore, while the transnational engagements of Black activists are always placed at the fore, this work makes a valuable contribution to tracing the development and perseverance of what Horne terms “White Atlantic Brotherhood” (54), which stubbornly worked to counteract movements for Black self-determination. Horne clearly documents how political lobbying, financial investments, business opportunities, travel, and tourism all worked to cast white settlerism in Southern Africa as not only something that was tolerable but desirable for many conservatives in the United States. Specifically, the book examines the extensive lobbying and propaganda efforts of the South African government as they worked with individuals such as the media mogul John P. McGoff and the South Africa Foundation to defend Afrikaner interests in the United States. Horne also focuses on the efforts of Pat Robertson, Jesse Helms, and the John Birch Society to defend white settler rule in Africa and in the process adds significantly to our understanding of how anti-communism worked as a racialized language to bolster white supremacy on a global scale. As the ANC’s Walter Sisulu noted in one telling quote, “[it was] no longer open to doubt … that the imperialists have long used the cloak of anticommunism to impede the struggles of the colonial and former colonial peoples” (566).
However, what makes White Supremacy Confronted all the more fascinating is the way in which the author himself emerges as an important protagonist in this complex historical narrative. Indeed, when covering the transatlantic resonance of the Soweto uprising, a certain “Jerry Horne” is quoted alongside other activists, delivering the following incisive line to the US press: “Kissinger was shaking hands with Spínola of Portugal, then Pinochet of Chile and now Vorster … IBM, Coca-Cola and General Electric have their tentacles in South Africa. It’s one struggle and one fight—down with apartheid, stop the genocide.” Horne was a key figure in the National Conference of Black Lawyers (NCBL), a radical legal association that embraced a global vision of the struggle for civil and human rights and played a key role in the international anti-apartheid movement. Operating within and beyond the NCBL, it is clear Horne worked tirelessly to denounce US imperialism and its underwriting of global white supremacy in Southern Africa from the late 1970s, connecting the struggles of Black Americans and Africans by taking to the streets to protest, developing networks of financial aid, and providing legal advice. For example, Horne’s training as a lawyer came in particularly handy as the anti-apartheid movement expanded in the United States during the 1980s, with the author detailing how “I coordinated the arrests at the South African consulate on the East Side of Manhattan—and represented arrestees in court—and was besieged with requests from those who wished to be arrested (671).
Horne expertly combines his experiences as an activist with his skill as a historian to bring these transnational connections to life. He is particularly good at documenting the diverse and often divided nature of Black diasporic activism in the United States. Indeed, Horne’s own emphasis on the importance of Soviet and Cuban support for African liberation movements often put him and his allies in conflict with pro-China Black nationalist groups, as well as more liberal figures whose international engagements were often distorted by their faith in anti-communism. While this claim is not made explicitly in the book, it is clear Horne and his associates inherited and expanded upon the radical Black international activism of Paul Robeson, W. E. B. Du Bois, William Alphaeus Hunton, and the Council of African Affairs, who, as White Supremacy Confronted also documents in detail, were systematically marginalized during the early Cold War as white supremacy and anti-communism fused to sideline those who drew attention to how racism fundamentally shaped American foreign policy.
This book has some limitations. It is occasionally repetitive, while there might have been more of a sustained theoretical engagement with existing scholarship on Black internationalism that would have shed additional light on the complexities and broader historiographical implications of the histories Horne ties together here. But it is difficult to critique a book when you learn something new on practically every page. For example, Horne’s detailing of how NAACP executive director Walter White attempted to put ANC leader Z. K. Matthews in touch with the CIA is not only fascinating but forces us to rethink long, ongoing scholarly debates relating to co-option of more moderate Black organizations who engaged in anticolonial politics. These kinds of key archival discoveries are scattered throughout the text.
In summary, White Supremacy Confronted is a vital resource for anyone interested in Black internationalism, US foreign policy, and decolonization. It is equally fascinating as a historical text and a firsthand account of transnational Black activism, while also offering a master class in how to recover hidden histories.