One of my literary heroes is a character named Dr. Henry Belsidus. Dr. Belsidus is the protagonist in a novel called “Black Empire.” The novel is actually a collection of two serialized stories published in the Pittsburgh Courier between 1936 and 1938 by a Black writer named George S. Schuyler writing under the pen name Samuel I. Brooks. The two stories were “The Black Internationale” and “Black Empire.” The stories are considered speculative science fiction. Set in the 1930’s a Black doctor, Belsidus, amasses a large fortune and uses it to gather together all the Black geniuses in the world to aid him in his quest to destroy white supremacy and establish the Black race as a world power in Africa. Indeed the subtitle of “The Black Internationale” is “Story of Black Genius against the World.”
An interesting nuance is that Black Empire may have been a message to the Garvey movement that was going on at that time. Garvey is even mentioned in the story in the following statement as Dr. Belsidus tells the character who serves as the point of view for the story, Carl Slater, his plans to elevate the Black race.
It sound mad doesn’t it? He (Belsidus) said.
“Yes, rather Garveyistic, I’d say.”
Reportedly Schuyler’s major criticism of Garvey was that he was too public. In some ways the story was about how Garvey should have done things as in several passages Belsidus or his assistants talk about how they never tell the public what they’re doing.
The Black Empire was a great read but like all science fiction I saw a message. In many ways how the Black geniuses, The Black Internationale, built their organization provides a lesson for any group, particularly Black men, on how to build a movement. It starts with a vision of one committed man, in this case Dr. Belsidus. His plan was to elevate the Black race and in that regard he was “absolutely ruthless.”
Then Dr. Belsidus gathered Black geniuses from around the world. Men and women who were willing to die to follow his vision. One problem with movements in the Black community is that many are not movements. Many are just fan clubs. You have a charismatic speaker who charges money to people who essentially amount to fanboys and groupies. Quite frankly in most movements dedicated to Black empowerment the only thing getting empowered is the speaker’s bank account. The diabolical Dr. Belsidus never gave any public speeches until he had accomplished all of his goals. He was the mastermind behind the scenes for most of the book.
Once he gathered the talented geniuses the first thing his organization did was establish an economic base. This is important because in this day and age many Black organizations exist but whatever vision they have is either compromised because they are taking corporate funding or they fail because they can’t pay basic bills. All revolutions have to be financed. Indeed more than few chapters in the story talked about the businesses created by The Black Internationale. Having a self-sustaining economic base is vital for any movement. Not only having an economic base but not announcing it to the world as was emphasized throughout the story.
Once the economic base was established one of the things Dr. Belsidus did was establish a new religion to draw in the Black masses. In that way Dr. Belsidus was able to organize large groups of Blacks right under the nose of various enemies. Another thing Belsidus did was manipulate white groups into fighting each other so they wouldn’t pay attention to what his organization was doing. It’s interesting that in the story the Black Internationale manipulated World War II by killing European leaders and making it look like another European nation was behind the assassinations. This was a few years before the actual World War II. Schuyler like many writers was a prophet.
At the end the Black Internationale was able to establish a Black Empire in Africa.
Now the purpose of this article isn’t to foster a revolutionary movement. In today’s world it’s not about territory but rather the power of an organized group. It’s important that an organized group go about acquiring power in a productive way. As mentioned too many movements in the Black community are based on empowering the charismatic speaker and not the group as a whole. So what can we learn from Dr. Belsidus?
First there has to be a vision. That vision can come from one person or a small group of people. Whatever the case that vision must exist before anything else can happen. Movements fail because they lack vision. Indeed most movements are just reactions to some event. There is no vision and thus they fail.
Once the vision is in place then the people who can make the vision a reality must be brought in. The thing with charismatic speakers is that they tend to surround themselves with yes people they can control. A male charismatic speaker will typically have a couple of male flunkies and plenty big booty women to keep his bed warm at night. It’s telling that in the Black community that many speakers and politicians are brought down by scandals from sleeping with the wrong woman. To make a movement work the leaders can’t have sycophants but people who are talented in their own right who can get things done.
The most important piece is the economic base. Back in the early nineties I had some ideas about starting new political party as I saw the two party system didn’t really serve Black interests back then. Same as now. A friend of mine didn’t want to talk politics. He only wanted to talk business because he said nothing’s happening without money. If one pays attention to the charismatic speakers they spend a lot of time asking for money. This has a tendency to turn off supporters as questions rise about what is being done with the money. Happens every time. Also an economic base gives a movement some freedom. A powerful entity can control any movement by simply paying its bills.
Finally, when it came down to controlling the masses Dr. Belsidus didn’t offer up packages for membership in the Black Internationale. He started a simple religious movement to capture the emotion of the masses and thus he was able to control millions without them knowing who he was. One thing I’ve always said is that if you want to control the movement of sheep it’s more efficient to control movement of shepherds.
Take a little time and think on that one.
Check out “Black Empire.” Though it was science fiction there were many lessons in the story. Dr. Belsidus served as a conduit for George Schuyler who, if he was alive today, would ironically be vilified in many corners of the Black community because he was a Black conservative. That’s a conversation for another time. In the meantime check out the machinations of the diabolical Dr. Belsidus.