Black nationalist pioneer, Carlos Cooks

Herb Boyd | 4/13/2017, 11:38 a.m.
African and African-American history can hit you in some of the most unpredictable places, if you pay attention.
Carlos Cooks Contributed

African and African-American history can hit you in some of the most unpredictable places, if you pay attention. During a recent session with photographer Kwame Brathwaite, as we thumbed through his astonishing collection of photos, there was one of Carlos A. Cooks, arrayed in his leopard patterned hat, reviewing his troops.

Unless you’re a devotee of Black Nationalist thought, you may not have heard of Cooks and his contributions. He may not have had as great a global following as his mentor, Marcus Garvey, but there was a time, particularly on the streets of Harlem in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, when Cooks and his African Nationalist Pioneer Movement captured the political pulse of the community with an influence beyond its small cadre.

Although Cooks was born June 23, 1913, in the Dominican Republic, his recognition was forged in Harlem, where he was an unwavering advocate of the philosophy and opinions of Garvey. A year after Garvey’s death in London in 1940, Cooks, on his birthday, founded the African Nationalist Pioneer Movement, with the expressed purpose of keeping Garvey’s legacy of African redemption and reclamation alive.

One of the first notices of Cooks and ANPM (he adamantly avoided the press) appeared in the New York Age newspaper in a guest column written by Jane Cooke Wright in September 1941. Introducing Cooks to her readers, Wright wrote, “The Honorable Carlos Cooks, an important character in the advance division of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, exemplifies the views of Marcus Garvey. He preaches the supremacy of the Blacks. This wishful thinking, he believes will someday come true. At present the white people in Europe are killing each other off and therefore the final battle will be between the whites and the Blacks on the sands of Africa.”

Wright went on to say, in her description of Cooks’ organization, calling it the African Pioneering Syndicate, that it had obtained the right “to buy, sell, import and export products within the United States and the right to establish businesses and industries” in the U.S. and foreign countries.

Such aims and ambitions, emulating Garvey’s vision, may have been paramount in the beginning of the ANPM, but it was gradually superseded by its political outlook. And much of what was known about the organization flowed from the speeches Cooks delivered on the streets of Harlem. Wright, in her column, notes that Cooks, along with Arthur Reid, Robert Jordan and Ras DeKiller, were the foremost street speakers of the day, and they would pave the way for such notables as Ed “Porkchop” Davis, Charles Kenyatta and even Malcolm X.

This point is underscored by Robert Acemendeces Harris, a loyal follower of Cooks who kept the ANPM flame burning until his death several years ago. Often during his appearance at the Harriet Tubman School as part of presentations sponsored by Elombe Brath and the Patrice Lumumba Coalition, Harris would expound on the importance of Cooks and the impact he had on the evolution of Black nationalism and Pan-African ideology.