Robin Kelley’s Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination

TEACHERS: Robin Kellye’s Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination is a critically acclaimed book that is essential to understanding the Black Radical Tradition and the mindset of revolutionary Cuba. Incorporate it into your classroom using our complete syllabus guide based on Black and Cuba!

Robin Kelly meme

The First Cuban Revolution

Fidel Castro outlines his “26th of July Movement” before the Rotary Club of Havana.

Fidel Castro outlines his July 26th Movement before the Rotary Club of Havana. Photo courtesy of The Rotarian, 1959.

Condemn me, it does not matter. History will absolve me.”-Fidel Castro, from his four-hour trial defense speech following capture at the start of the Cuban Revolution.

This month marks the 60th anniversary of the beginning of the Cuban Revolution, and it is an apt time to reflect on this pivotal moment in history. Fidel Castro, a young lawyer, was appalled by the misery of the Cuban people under the rule of U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista. Castro petitioned the Cuban courts to oust Batista, accusing him of corruption and tyranny. When legal means proved unsuccessful, Castro decided to take up arms and overthrow the government. Fidel and Argentine revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara led the July 26th Movement as a vanguard organization intent on toppling the Batista regime. The Movement’s name originated from a failed attack on an army facility, named the Moncada Barracks, in the city of Santiago de Cuba on July 26, 1953. Many of the revolutionaries were captured or killed in the battle. Shortly after the July 26th siege, Fidel Castro and his brother Raul were seized by Batista’s forces and put on a highly politicized trial. The men were convicted and sentenced to fifteen and thirteen years in prison, respectively. In 1955, growing political pressure forced the Batista government to free all political prisoners in Cuba. The Castro brothers joined other exiles in Mexico, regrouping and receiving training from Alberto Bayo, a leader of Republican forces in the Spanish Civil War. In that same year, Fidel met Guevara, who agreed to join the July 26th Movement as one of its leaders.


20 Influential Black Protest Songs

Black Fist

The history of Black struggle is intricately tied to the history of Black music. From slave songs to Civil Rights hymns, hip-hop to jazz, blues to punk, Black musical expression is an arena of political engagement. This is Progressive Pupil’s list of 20 influential Black protest songs. Be sure to let us know what your favorites are in the comments!

1. Get Up Stand Up by Bob Marley

Get up, stand up: stand up for your rights!
Get up, stand up: don’t give up the fight!

The simplicity of the hook embodies the entire revolutionary spirit of Bob Marley. This live performance in Germany of his iconic call to arms also highlights Marley’s master showmanship.

2. We Shall Overcome by Mahalia Jackson

Simultaneously heart-wrenching and inspiring, the incomparable Mahalia Jackson sings this Civil Rights Era standard.

3. Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud by James Brown

Lest we forget, Brown reminds us to be proud of our heritage.


Unity Among Legends

Yuri & Angela

Mountains that Take Wing is an intimate portrait of two revolutionary lives. The documentary follows activists Angela Davis and Yuri Kochiyama in a series of dialogues which trace their lifelong struggles against racism, oppression and violence. Topics range from the legacies of Japanese internment and Jim Crow segregation to their contemporary efforts to end prisons, poverty and imperialism.


A Tale of Two Abuses

This photo of a man being arrested was taken on March 13, 2013 during a protest against the shooting of Kimani Gray. The photo is courtesy of Press TV and accessed via their Facebook Page

This photo of a man being arrested was taken on March 13, 2013 during a protest against the shooting of Kimani Gray. The photo is courtesy of Press TV and accessed via their Facebook Page

After visiting the country for two months last year, I decided to move to Cape Town, South Africa after completing my Masters at The New School. One of the reasons I decided to make this international move was that  it was easy for me to see how the struggle for change within Black and Brown communities in the States and the struggle for true freedom here in South Africa are so connected. I marveled at the similarities of experience. While people of color may be in very different lanes economically, the likeness between the two countries comes from a close-knit beginning. The colonization of both Cape Town and New York began with the Dutch East India Company settlements only 25 years apart. Beyond this, the sharing of ideas regarding discrimination and subjugation between the South Africa and the United States – from business development to urban planning to laws – has been historically commonplace. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960 in the United States and the Black Consciousness Movement in South Africa along with the historical impact of the Harlem Renaissance and Négritude Movement in Francophone Africa helped produce the work of notable change-makers like Steve BikoMamphela Ramphele and Barney Pityana. Even the marriage between Miriam Makeba and Stokely Carmichael was symbolic of the synergy between the two countries and the continuing feelings of discontent caused by racial injustice. Following the successes of the Civil Rights Movement and the liberation of South Africa from apartheid rule, people from both sides seem to forget that everything is not rainbows and sunshine and that there is still a need for further reform.

And yet in 2013, we have the case of Kimani Gray in Brooklyn and Mido Macia in Daveyton, South Africa.


How can I see “Black and Cuba?”

Black and Cuba QuotesThank you for all of your encouragement and enthusiasm about Black and Cuba. At work-in-progress screenings in San Juan, East Harlem and Greenwich Village, for audiences from all walks of life, we’ve heard tremendous support for the project and a strong desire to learn more about the AfroCuban experience and how we can overcome racism and class.

We are hard at work incorporating your input into our next draft of the film so that Black and Cuba can be a long-lasting tool for educators, students, activists and allies working to address the consequences of racial and economic injustice. In addition to conducting research and editing, we are raising money for the project so we can provide you with a film that is beautiful, inspiring and informative.


Freedom “Now!”

Now! is a short film directed in 1965 by Cuban filmmaker Santiago Alvarez and produced by Cuba’s state-run filmmaking agency ICAIC (El Instituto Cubano de Arte e Industria Cinematográficos) that empathetically portrays the African American struggle for civil rights in the United States.

Progressive Pupil learned of this film from the H-Net email list on African American Studies an outlet for informational exchange between professionals, faculty and advanced students in the field of African American Studies.

Women, Race and Revolution

An image of Carlota with a machete.

Black women around the world and throughout history have fought for their freedom and inclusion in society. In the United States, we are most familiar with the likes of Rosa Parks, Ella Baker and Claudette Colvin – African American women leaders that fought for Civil Rights throughout the 1960s. The struggle for freedom in the Americas actually started much earlier than that. Today marks the anniversary of a Cuban revolution that began nearly a century before Fidel Castro and Che Guevara’s July 26th Movement. Carlota, who predates both Guevara and Castro, was one of several female Africans responsible for leading a string of successful slave uprisings in Cuba from 1843-44. The freedom of her compatriots would eventually cost Carlota her life.


Revolution Soldier

Photos taken at Bob Marley’s resting place; near Saint Ann’s Bay, Jamaica. Courtesy of Rebecca Alvy

On a recent, very brief trip to Ocho Rios, Jamaica, I was not surprised to experience the high quality of respect given to the memory of Bob Marley. Anything less would have been disappointing. However, as a lifetime follower of Marley, this trip highlighted a pattern much of the world is guilty of—pigeonholing Bob Marley as nothing more than a reggae artist and—thus losing sight of his revolutionary spirit.