Martin Luther King et l’Algérie

Ben Bella’s visit to the United States received coverage in the mainstream American press as well, as the New York Times ran, among other articles on Ben Bella’s visit, one on his historic meeting with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Meeting at the Barclay Hotel, Dr. King and Ben Bella spoke with one another, with the aid of a translator, for nearly two hours. The New York Times headline read, “Ben Bella Links Two ‘Injustices,’” along with the subheading, “Tells Dr. King Segregation Is Related to Colonialism.” Thus, chief among the issues they discussed was the nature of the relationship between the segregation that African Americans were facing, the colonialism that the Algerian people faced under French rule, and Europe’s continuing colonial and neocolonial domination of much of Africa and of the so-called Third World.12 Arriving at a press conference following their meeting, Dr. King was described as having “emerged sounding more like Malcolm X than the civil rights leader reporters knew.”13 King explained that “Ben Bella had made it ‘very clear’ that . . . he believed there was a direct relationship between the injustices of colonialism and the injustices of segregation here [in the U.S].”14 King went on to say that he agreed with Ben Bella and that “the struggle for integration here was ‘a part of a larger worldwide struggle to gain human freedom and dignity.’”15 Ben Bella followed King by noting that the African American struggle was “widely publicized in Algeria, and in Africa more generally,”16 and concluded by declaring that “the United States could lose its ‘moral and political voice’ in the world if it did not grapple with segregation problems here in a forthright manner.”17 After his meeting with Ben Bella, King wrote an article himself for the widely read Black newspaper New York Amsterdam News titled “My Talk With Ben Bella” in which he detailed the nature of their conversation. He described Ben Bella and Algeria in these terms: “A few days ago I had the good fortune of talking with Premier Ben Bella of the New Algerian Republic. Algeria is one of the most recent African nations to remove the last sanction of colonialism. For almost two hours Mr. Ben Bella and I discussed issues ranging from the efficacy of non violence to the Cuban crisis. However, it was on the question of racial injustice that we spent most of our time.”18 King continued, apparently surprised and encouraged, “the significance of our conversation was Ben Bella’s complete familiarity with the progression of events in the Negro struggle for full citizenship. Our nation needs to note this well. All through our talks he repeated or inferred, ‘We are brothers.’ For Ben Bella, it was unmistakably clear that there is a close relationship between colonialism and segregation. He perceived that both are immoral systems aimed at the degradation of human personality. The battle of the Algerians against colonialism and the battle of the Negro against segregation is a common struggle.”19 Before returning to Algeria to assume his role as president, Ben Bella went on to meet with Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., as well as Malcolm X—both significant figures in the emerging Black Power movement—at the well-known Absynnian Baptist Church in Harlem.20 As Malcolm X embarked on a trip to the Middle East and Africa some two years later, he would again meet with Ben Bella during his stop in Algeria. The impact that his experience there had on him became evident when, just after returning from his trip, he spoke at the Militant Labor Forum in May 1964. In responding to the allegations that there existed some sort of “hate-gang” called the “Blood Brothers” that was based in Harlem and calculatedly committed crimes against whites, Malcolm declared,

I visited the Casbah . . . in Algiers, with some of the brothers—blood brothers. They took me all down into it and showed me the suffering, showed me the conditions they had to live under while they were being occupied by the French . . . They showed me the conditions that they lived under while they were colonized by these people from Europe. And they also showed me what they had to do to get these people off their back. The first thing they had to realize was that all of them were brothers; oppression made them brothers; exploitation made them brothers; degradation made them brothers; discrimination made them brothers; segregation made them brothers; humiliation made them brothers . . . The same conditions that prevailed in Algeria that forced the people, the noble people of Algeria, to resort eventually to the terrorist-type tactics that were necessary to get the monkey off their backs, those same conditions prevail today in America in every Negro community.21

In this speech, and in others that he made after this time, Malcolm X drew important parallels between the Algerian revolution and the African American freedom movement. As a result, he helped spread awareness of the Algerian struggle but 104 Black Routes to Islam simultaneously advocated for a global perspective on the situation and conditions of African Americans in America. In particular, his comparison of the Casbah in Algiers to Harlem in New York City was to become a familiar one, especially with the release of the film The Battle of Algiers in 1966

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