I wish there was more conversation around the lack of human rights protection of Black people in America. Black people have been at the hands of human rights abuses since our capture in 1619 from Africa. Throughout my studies on history, I did not learn about the “We Charge Genocide” campaign in 1951 that was led by William Patterson and Paul Robeson. On the day of December 17th in 1951, famed actor Paul Robeson and leader William Patterson has submitted a petition from the Civil Rights Congress to the United Nations. It was titled “We Charge Genocide: The Crime of Government Against the Negro People”, and it was actually completed with the signatures of nearly 100 Black activists.
The petition was presented to the United Nations by Patterson and Robeson and included acts of brutality and lynching towards Black Americans. The goal of this petition was to highlight an overwhelming pattern of racial discrimination by the American government towards Black people. It connected the UN definition of genocide to the physical and systemic genocide that Black people were facing. The petition had stated that “the oppressed Negro citizens of the United States, segregated, discriminated against, and long the target of violence, suffer from genocide as the result of the consistent, conscious, unified policies of every branch of government. If the General Assembly acts as the conscience of mankind and therefore acts favorably on our petition, it will have served the cause of peace” (Robeson and Patterson, 1951).
This petition proved to be powerful and UN officers worked to repress the messages of the petition to the coalition. Both men were accused of being unpatriotic and unsupportive of democratic principles. In response to this, the goal of this campaign was to show the discrepancies of American principles in regards to Black Lives. Both men were also faced with repercussions with their ability to travel across countries being provoked. Also, with the anxieties of the Cold War and the Red Scare growing, Patterson and Robeson were targeted because of their beliefs. Their views would cause harm to their careers and damage their reputation for the remainder of their lives.
Although their views were shunned at the time, their views on the lack of human rights for Black Americans set a precedent for the emerging Civil Rights Movement on the horizon. It is always surprising how little this is discussed in conversations surrounding social justice in the present day. This event is important, as it was a blatant expression of the wrongdoings committed against Black Americans. This event should definitely be discussed more as we are continuing to fight for the human and civil rights of all people in America. There is a lot that can be learned from the “We Charge Genocide” petition that can be applied to the fight for human rights.