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July marked 154 years since the ratification of the 14th Amendment, which granted citizenship and equal protection under the law to formerly enslaved Africans, along with other people born and naturalized in the U.S.
Even with the 14th Amendment, the newly emancipated and their descendants experienced second-class citizenship throughout the 19th and 20th centuries via unfettered acts of race-based terrorism, economic and social marginalization and the lack of ballot access, especially in the South.
Such circumstances inspired the civil rights movement, the efforts of which secured many legal protections under threat today in state and federal courts.
As grassroots organizers and Democratic politicians continue to stress the importance of voting, Ukali Mwendo and others want Blacks to scrutinize their relationship with the U.S. government and question the authenticity of their citizenship as outlined in the 14th Amendment.
Mwendo serves as an officer in the Provisional Government of the Republic of New Afrika (PGRNA), a nationalist formation established in 1968 with the goal of establishing a politically independent country in the Southeastern United States, securing reparations from the U.S. government and conducting a plebiscite, or referendum, that provides New Afrikans, as PGRNA members call African Americans, the chance to freely decide whether they want to be U.S. citizens.
The latter point, Mwendo said, highlights the fallacy of the 14th Amendment, ratified at a time when African Americans were neither considered chattel nor U.S. citizens.
“Free people make informed decisions and we were denied that opportunity. One of the reasons why we see self-inflicted damage in this society is because we don’t have a sense of full, first-class citizenship,” said Mwendo, PGRNA’s minister of finance.
“We have not been embraced by the ideals of full humanity in this country. That’s why the 14th Amendment can only be looked at as something that should’ve been an offer, not an imposition,” added Mwendo, a New Orleans resident.
Upcoming midterm elections follow the passage of restrictive voter laws in several states. Since Donald J. Trump and his supporters called into question the results of the 2020 presidential election, states have passed laws imposing obstacles to mail-in ballots, strengthening voter ID requirements and eliminating Election Day registration.
During the redistricting process, majority-Republican legislatures used gerrymandering to increase their power and eliminate majority-Democratic districts, which oftentimes had sizable Black populations. Nationally, the White House and the Democratic Party, which have taken on moderate, pro-police positions amid skyrocketing gun-related deaths, continue to frustrate African Americans dealing with socio-economic problems.
Even so, African-American voters, particularly those who identify as Baby Boomers and Gen-X, continue to reject any notion that Blacks should abandon the Democratic Party or avoid the ballot box. In making their case, they cite the Supreme Court’s recent decisions on abortion rights, Miranda rights and other protections,
Meanwhile, PGRNA officers and supporters continue to spread a nationalist message centered on the human right to struggle for political independence. They do so while aligning with the reparations movement and grassroots efforts to free Black political prisoners. Part of their strategy centers on establishing a social media presence and utilizing various opportunities to broaden young people’s perspectives on current affairs.
PGRNA supporter Karanja Keita Carroll said he does his part to promote the idea of New Afrikan independence by dropping gems of knowledge on Twitter and other social media platforms. Carroll, an educator-scholar-organizer and member of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, credits his elder comrade Baba Akinyele Umoja with raising his awareness about nationhood.
With a new Afrikan identity he describes as a combination of West African traditions forged in the Diaspora, Carroll said he has spent much of time as an organizer focused on causes directly tied to establishing political independence for Black people.
Given the circumstances surrounding the 14th Amendment’s ratification, along with the violence and subjugation that African Americans experienced after the Tilden-Hayes compromise secured the removal of troops from former Confederate states, Carroll said Blacks have no choice but to think of themselves as part of a separate nation.
“We have a history [where] even though we have legislation telling us we’re citizens, everything else tells us these people don’t want us here,” said Carroll, a lecturer of Black and Latino Studies at Baruch College in New York City and affiliate of Northeast Political Prisoner Coalition and Black Alliance for Peace.
“We should be concerned with trying to move national territory. Some of us have decent education and skill sets that can be used in the building of a Black nation but we’re quick to work for a Fortune 500 company and give our skill sets back to those oppressing us,” he said.