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Pride or Prejudice? Relationships Between Africans and American Negroes Race & Class

"I wrote this in 1966, having suggested the subject to Life Magazine in New York in '65 (funny, I can just now recall the name of the commissioning editor, David, perhaps Dave, Manness) who announced: I like it! And that was that. I travelled up & down the States in some style: a wonderful experience. I was 27. In the deep South it was still rather racially dangerous: a trio of young men, working for civil rights, had just been thrown into a dam to their deaths.

I travelled to perhaps 17 cities, some villages and a few hamlets. I side-stepped to Santa Fe because D H Lawrence, one of my college days heroes, had been invited there by car heiress Mabel(?) Dodge. Later in the day, after I had seen the house, perhaps 40 years afterwards, when I called on Lady Brett, the English aristocrat who had followed DHL like the wind to America, now a sprightly little sparrow, she said to me: "Did you see a kennel near the house? That's where that Mabel Dodge put me!" I couldn't suppress laughter!"

In San Francisco two lean gentlemen whose contact I'd been given, and who lived at very fashionable no.1 Telegraph Hill, invited me as their guest to a perhaps $500 (a colossal sum then!) plate luncheon in support of a man trying to be Governor of California. Needless to say I was the only Black there, among perhaps 300 souls. The man, who obviously loved to be loved, told some pretty feeble jokes when his turn came, greeted by raucous laughter - me the exception throughout.

I told my friend John Gilbert back in New York about my lunch, ending: "That prat will never make Governor of California, the very idea!" Said Gilbert: "You've absolutely no idea of the US. He can go even higher!" It was a Mr Reagan, actor.

My tour through the US, on a subject of my own choosing, was a lucky thing. I was in the right place at the right time, with the Black people (called Negroes in my article, but I am afraid that was what it was then!) starting to flex their muscle. "Black is Beautiful" was right round the corner. The young fellow I was, very much an individualist, as I still largely am, saw a truth which I never relinquished: that to fight for your long-denied rights, groupings are critically important. In this case the Group was Black, and it was in America I learnt this, 47 years ago.

In the event Life never published this article which they had commissioned. Towards the end of '65, I left New York for London, en route for home. I thought I'd finish the article in London & send it on to Life. It wasn't until twenty years later that I arrived back in Uganda to stay, although a couple of times I sneaked in, once to play an international cricket match; twice, in one year, 1973, to bury my parents: my father in January as a result of Parkinson's Disease, my mother through the resultant heartbreak, in September. (Otherwise Uganda was too hot a potato to live in, as records testify; especially if it was suspected - and the suspicions would be accurate in some of our cases - that you were unfriendly to the State.)

Also in January '66, the Uganda Government, under Obote, sent Amin Dada (later to grow exceedingly notorious) to capture dead or alive King Mutesa II of Buganda. Uganda's centre  couldn't hold; collapsed. My concentration on the article (a mere article!) also broke. I was unable to write. By the time I recovered enough to do so, Life Magazine thanked me, but said I had missed my slot. Fortunately a small but important publication in London, the Race journal published it instead. Thanks a million, as the Irish say.

And here's another miracle! Only three days ago, having despaired that after all these years I would find any copy of this article; all mine seemed to have disappeared, one after another, down the loom of years! I emailed, almost as a dare, the fact that I doubted I would ever see a copy of this article again. The recipient of my email, Alex Lucas, in NY, NY, aroused by the challenge, took it up. Within a couple of days the article was an attachment to me. Never say die! Thanks a million Alex Lucas!

And, in a way, the suspense might have been worth it. Doesn't it say: 'Throw your bread upon the waters and it shall return to you after many days!' "

John Nagenda
February 2012.

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Relationships Between Africans and American Negroes,October 1967: Race & Class by John Nagenda

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