Excerpted From: Rohit Tallapragada, The History of the Black-Indian Alliance, 14 Georgetown Journal of Law & Modern Critical Race Perspectives 227 (Summer, 2022) (151 Footnotes) (Full Document)


RohitTallapragadaAlliances are not permanent. They change with time and evolve with political circumstance and social need. The discussions and ideas they produce can seem transformative in one era but may be forgotten by the next.

This is what happened to the Black-Indian alliance of the early- and mid-twentieth centuries. It is, largely, a forgotten story in American and world history: an inspiring story of Black civil rights leaders in the United States and Indian independence leaders corresponding, strategizing, and supporting one another in their freedom struggles. They saw, in their respective conflicts, a common oppression: white-supremacist colonialism, manifested in the United States by Jim Crow and in India by the British Raj.

United by this common struggle, figures like W.E.B. Du Bois, Lala Lajpat Rai, Marcus Garvey, Jawaharlal Nehru, and many others spent decades cultivating and advancing a radical notion of transnational unity between “colored people.” Together they created a powerful intellectual force that significantly shaped their respective successful struggles for freedom.

But the alliance has withered since the 1960s. By that time both Black and Indian leaders had, apparently, won their freedom battles: Jim Crow and British colonialism had been defeated. After those victories came new struggles, ones less easily defined, and subsequently the alliance, once rich and transformative, faded.

What were the reasons for the rise and fall of this alliance? How did it shape and advance its participants' fights for freedom? And could this alliance still have relevance today--is there the potential for it to provide new power, new momentum to the racial struggles of contemporary America?

These are the questions this paper attempts to answer. It seeks to shine a light on a radical alliance that today receives little to no attention, between two communities that most people do not associate with each other. It wonders if the past could be a guide to the future, and whether the United States' greatest freedom fighters, African-Americans, and one of the fastest-growing groups of a rapidly diversifying America, Indian-Americans, ought to fashion a new alliance for the future of civil rights in the United States, based on the one forged by their forebearers.

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Most importantly, the moral need and power of this alliance would be necessary even without the growing threat posed by white supremacists. Indian Americans and Black Americans have much in common, including a common history, a common set of ideas, and a common belief in the individual dignity of human beings in the face of oppression. The new Black-Indian alliance should not simply be a product of need or political expediency, but instead an expression of human solidarity; a moral alliance more than simply a strategic one. The new century requires a new moral imagination. America needs new coalitions and new strategies to confront its challenges and enrich its soul. There are perhaps no two groups better able to provide that, together than Black people and Indian Americans.

J.D., Georgetown University Law Center, 2024, Notes Editor, Georgetown Journal of Law and Modern Critical Race Perspectives, 2023-2024.