Horace Cayton on Iranian Nationalism
Writer Suggested Black People of the World Follow Iran's Lead
“What is happening today in Iran will happen all over the world if the West does not learn to respect the natural and justifiable ambitions of brown, yellow and black people...” — March 31, 1951
Horace R. Cayton, Jr. (1903-1970) was a noted African-American sociologist, activist, educator, author and columnist with a background in the labor movement. He co-wrote the books Black Workers and the New Unions (1939) and Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City (1945). His 1965 memoir Long Old Road: An Autobiography chronicled his “attempts to find identity in a confusing and conflicting morass of black and white, in a nation that, although dedicated to equality, somehow managed to deny this ideal with almost every action.”
Cayton had a noteworthy lineage. His grandfather, Hiram Rhodes Revels (1827-1901), was the first African American to win a place in the Senate, representing Mississippi in 1870-71 on the Republican ticket. His father, Horace Cayton (1859-1940), was also a Republican politician, in addition to journalist and newspaper publisher.
Horace Cayton’s friends included famed poet Langston Hughes, the great novelist and playwright Sinclair Lewis (who cited him in his book Kingsblood Royal), and Austrian novelist Lore Segal, who based a character in her book Her First American (1985) on Cayton. He was also the subject of a 1949 oil painting by famous portrait artist Alice Neel.
As the United Nations correspondent for African-American newspaper The Pittsburgh Courier, Cayton was in attendance when the Iranian delegation held an October 1951 press conference explaining their dispute with Britain. In 1952 he interviewed Iran’s UN Ambassador Nasrollah Entezam.
Third world nationalism and the decline of the British empire interested Cayton greatly, particularly developments in Egypt and Iran. In his regular column for the Courier, Cayton penned about a half-dozen pieces on the Iranian conflict with England. Like his Courier colleague Percival Leroy Prattis, Cayton recognized clear parallels between the oil nationalization battle in Iran and the civil rights struggle at home.
A couple of his columns following Mossadegh’s trip to America expressed hope that Africans would learn to emulate Iranian methods of pursuing their liberation. Cayton came away from the UN deliberations highly impressed with the “wise, wily” Premier Mossadegh and his “clever, smart, well-informed” Foreign Minister Hossein Fatemi.
“The simple fact was that little Iran out-smarted, out-maneuvered and out-did the West’s most skillful delegates. The way they did it is a lesson for the dark people of this country and Africa.” — October 27, 1951
Why Can’t the Black People of the World
Play It Smart Like The Iranians Did?
by HORACE CAYTON
[November 17, 1951 — The Pittsburgh Courier]
THE TITLE of this column is “Why Can’t the Black People of the World Do It Too?”
Here is the story. Iran wanted to nationalize their oil and get the British out. So she did. The British put up a big to-do and for a long period of time world – public opinion, especially American, supported her. The matter came up before the Security Council of the United Nations. Then the Iranians played it smart but plenty.
They sent over Mohammed Mossadegh and a skilled corps of diplomats who held daily press conferences. It was a two-way play. Dr. Hossein Fatemi would talk to the press every morning, predicting and blocking England’s move, and Dr. Mossadegh would infuriate Sir Gladwyn Jebb with his cold calm logic each afternoon at the meeting of the Security Council.
The rout was complete. It was so complete that Dr. Mossadegh didn’t even bother to show up at the last meeting of the Security Council. He knew full well that England had lost America’s support. The wise, wily old doctor went on to Philadelphia to make a talk about justice and freedom to the American people from Independence Hall. Then he went on to Washington to make a deal with the United States, whom he knew and the British knew and the world knew was holding all the chips.
NOW IT has come out in the open that America put the pressure on the British to make peace with the Iranians, not because they loved England less, but because they feared Russia most.
The New York Times has published the fact that there is a fundamental disagreement between the United States and Britain over Premier Mossadegh’s Government and how much the British should give up. That is in itself a complex situation that I can’t go into in this column, and it isn’t particularly pertinent to the story. The point is—and it can’t be made too often—the Iranians employed diplomacy and the free press to rout the English and did it completely.
This next session of the General Assembly will spend a considerable portion of its time dealing with problems of Africa and Africans. We have got to get on the ball with seasoned, skillful diplomats, with penetrating newspaper coverage, as much can be polished for the dark people of the world as was for the Iranians.
AND WHY should we be as concerned with Africa? I’ll answer for myself at least.
In the first place, there is a bond between colored peoples throughout the world because the colored peoples have been kicked around, to use a Damon Runyon phrase, more than somewhat.
That doesn’t mean that I don’t consider myself an American. I’m no Garveyite. [famed black nationalist Marcus Garvey (1887-1940)] I want to go to Africa but don’t want to go back to Africa, if you know what I mean. Give me Times Square or, better yet, Greenwich Village, and I’ll settle for that. But until all of Western European civilization stops looking down on people with black skins, I'm going to have trouble getting into the Stork Club, [elite NYC nightclub popular with jet set] not that I want to go there, or could afford it.
And then, there is the bigger issue, bigger than color. That’s the issue of democracy and freedom. The struggle for man’s dignity and freedom and manhood is now being fought out in Africa.
That’s why I hope the black people of the world can do it too.
The Pittsburgh Courier Editor Percival Leroy Prattis on the 1953 Coup in Iran
Columnist Carl Rowan on Iran and Mossadegh — March 21, 2000
Arthur James Siggins Blasts “white imperialism” in Africa and the Middle East (1951)
MOSSADEGH t-shirts — “If I sit silently, I have sinned”