Japan’s Peculiar History with the African-American Civil Rights Movement

How an island Empire across the Pacific inspired and supported such champions of Black liberty as W.E.B. DuBois, Elijah Muhammad, and Pearl Sherrod.

W.E.B. DuBois (center, front) with Japanese professors in Tokyo, 1936
Image inspired by a sketch by German Kaiser Wilhelm II whose original German caption reads; “Peoples of Europe, Guard Your Most Sacred Possessions”. On the cliff we can see Germania, Lusitania, Marianne, Britannia, and other personifications of the European nations.

“Indeed, all movements of national liberation in Asia were inspired by that outcome, which seemed to prove that the white man was beatable.” — Rotem Kowner, University of Haifa

Dubois (front, far right) as one of the speakers at the graduation ceremony for Harvard University class of 1890.

“The colonial enterprise by a colored nation need not imply the caste, exploitation, and subjection which it has always implied in the case of white Europe” — W.E.B. DuBois upon touring Japanese-controlled Manchukuo

“Americans and Europeans, [DuBois] wrote, proceeded to make it difficult if not impossible for Japan to buy raw materials, raising the prices of items such as cotton and iron until Japan was forced to annex North China.” — Reginald Kearney

“The Japanese run Japan, and that even English and Americans recognize and act accordingly…. In Japan, [there was an absence of] English overbearance and American impudence that could be seen daily in China, India, Africa, the West Indies, and the United States.” — W.E.B. DuBois

Pearl Sherrod and Satokata Takahashi

“[Sherrod] remained steadfast in her belief that Japan’s military triumph and political ascendancy was a viable step towards realizing liberation for people of African descent — and all people of color globally. To that end, federal records indicate that Sherrod and a group of supporters made another visit to the office of the Japanese Consul in 1939 — this time with a financial contribution of an estimated three hundred dollars for the Japanese government.” — Keisha N. Blain, University of Pittsburgh

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