Omali Yeshitela, Founder and Chairman of the African Socialist People’s Party
Published August 1, 2023
Black Owned Conversation interviews Omali Yeshitela, founder and chairman of the African Socialist People’s Party, about indictments handed up in April by a federal grand jury accusing him and two of his comrades of acting as agents for the Kremlin.
Attorneys representing Yeshitela, Penny Hess, chair of the African People’s Solidarity Committee and Jesse Nevel, chair of the Uhuru Solidarity Movement, assert that the indictment is an abridgement of their clients’ free speech; all charges contained in the indictment are protected under the First Amendment, including publishing statements in The Burning Spear newspaper, delivering speeches at an international conference in Russia, gathering petition signatures and granting interviews to reporters.
As such, the federal charges are redolent of the communist witchhunts that characterized the McCarthy era, and ultimately derailed the careers of such iconic African Americns artists such as Paul Robeson, Canada Lee, and labor leaders such as Coleman Young, who went on to become the first Black mayor of the city of Detroit.
Free speech activists have rallied around the “Uhuru 3,” however, and the new “Hands Off Uhuru! Fightback Coalition” has “denounce[d] all FBI/U.S. government raids, politically motivated indictments, arrests, surveillance, slander and attacks against the African (Black) Liberation Movement as well as against all anti-colonial movements and social justice, anti-war, anti-imperialist and free speech organizations and movements. .”
Black Owned Conversations’ co-hosts Jon Jeter and Denise Young interview Chairman Yeshitela–who founded the African Socialist People’s Movement and the international UHURU movement more than 50 years ago–about the the FBI’s early morning raid on his St. Louis home last year, African Americans’ complicated relationship with Russia and the former Soviet Union, and the seamless continuity between his case and the the FBI’s counterintelligence program, COINTELPRO, that destroyed the radical Black Power movement of his youth.
The Justice Department’s indictment of the Uhuru 3 is also reminiscent of the House Un-American Activities Committee that compelled testimony from suspected radicals during the height of the Red Scare in the years after World War II. African Americans autoworkers in Detroit were a key target of HUAC.
In his testimony before the panel in 1952, Coleman Young was combative, and in language that Chairman Yeshitela might well use today, said that the Soviet Union did not represent the threat to democracy that Jim Crow did. Said Young:
I am part of the Negro people. I fought in the last war and I would unhesitatingly take up arms against anybody that attacks this country. In the same manner, I am now in the process of fighting against what I consider to be attacks and discrimination against my people. I am fighting against un-American activities such as lynchings and denial of the vote. I am dedicated to that fight and I don’t think I must apologize or explain it to anybody . . .”