Black activists in the United States have a long history of using an international human rights framework to address regional and national human rights violations against People of African Descent. W.E.B. Du Bois and Malcolm X advocated for the United Nations to address the issues of Black people in the United States as distinct and simultaneously interconnected to issues of Black people around the world.
Black female activists like Ida B. Wells and Rosa Parks also used a human rights framework to fight for the rights of Black women in the United States, but ingrained international structural racism makes it difficult for us to know the roles that they truly played in engaging with international human rights bodies.
The International Decade for People of African Descent is an answer to what activists like Du Bois, Malcolm X, Ida B. Wells, and Rosa Parks fought for -- a meaningful opportunity for People of African Descent to bring their unique and specific issues to an international stage.
Read more about W.E.B. Du Bois’ and Malcom X’s engagement with the UN below.
W.E.B. Du Bois and the NAACP
Peoples of the World, we American Negroes appeal to you; our treatment in America is not merely an internal question of the United States. It is a basic problem of humanity; of democracy; of discrimination because of race and color; and as such it demands your attention and action. No nation is so great that the world can afford to let it continue to be deliberately unjust, cruel and unfair toward its own citizens.”
In 1947, the NAACP submitted a petition, “An Appeal to the World: A Statement of Denial of Human Rights to Minorities in the Case of citizens of Negro Descent in the United States of America and an Appeal to the United Nations for Redress” edited by W.E.B. Du Bois to the United Nations to address the denial of human rights to African Americans in the United States.
The 99-page appeal offered a historical account of human rights violations against People of African Descent in the United States and discussed ongoing discrimination faced by Black communities.
We believe our problem is one only of civil rights but of human rights…Not only are we denied the right to be a citizen of the United States, but we are denied the right to be a human being.”
Malcolm X saw African American issues in the United States as not one of a national proportion, but rather deserving of international attention and pressure, and as deeply related to the problems of People of African Descent around the world. Based on this worldview, Malcolm X advocated for bringing the United States to the United Nations, taking the problem out of the hands of the violators. When Malcolm X was assassinated, he was working on a project to gain African states’ support for a UN resolution condemning the United States government's violation of Black human rights.