After fleeing lynching in Monroe, NC, Robert Williams goes to Canada, Mexico, and finally settled in Cuba. Cuba treated him as a celebrity, the hero that defended Monroe. Fidel Castro saw to it he had a luxury apartment and a chauffeur. Williams and his family lived in the lap of luxury. The Cuban government also allowed him to have a radio show broadcast at 50,000 Watts, known as Radio Free Dixie.
The show lasted an hour, and they played the best in contemporary Jazz and Blues. They also talked about many topics involving Civil Rights and Black Empowerment. Much of the programming was Anti-American. The government did not protect Black people’s rights, so there was no reason to fight for a democracy that did not include them. When the station began, it could be heard from Cuba to Canada.
It was one of the only platforms in which Blacks could speak freely. Williams wanted to make Radio Free Dixie a conduit to a new Black militancy. It was not communist or nationalist. Williams considered his philosophy internationalist. He had no problem working with Whites, yet he was realistic that few Whites wanted to work for the betterment of Black people. Black people have to make their own way and fight whoever opposed them.
The Cuban Communist Party also allowed “The Crusader” to circulate circulated from Havana. The now monthly periodical continued the same message that it had when it began in North Carolina, self-reliance. An underground network of socialists and Black nationalists distributed the paper.
However, Williams’s principle of freely speaking would get him into trouble with the Communist Party. He criticized the party for not having enough Blacks in leadership positions. When he was told to quieten down he replied he had never been a Tom and didn’t want to start now. The Communists also didn’t like the radio station playing Jazz. Jazz was born in America, and as an American product it was automatically imperialist and had no place on a Communist station.
The mission of Black Empowerment was not conducive to a communist agenda of class war. The working class must unite to overthrow the Capitalist of America. Therefore the proletariat class must always be addressed as a unit. Since race divided the class, racial discussion was counter-productive. Once the proletariat takes over, race would end because race is a social construct used for economic exploitation.
The poor white of Monroe showed that the white working class was more willing to capitulate with the wealthy than unite with Black people. Williams lived experience made it difficult to accept that there would ever be a unified opposition to Capital. He stuck to his guns in making a separate Black liberation movement.
The communists did not understand cultural nuance. That is why they didn’t understand Jazz was anti-imperialist. The art form was created by Blacks in America in part to fight oppression. Communism forced cultural assimilation into a population. The lack of understanding of Black culture prevented Communism from growing in the Black community. Most Blacks would never sign onto a philosophy that forced them to let go of their identity.
Radio Free Dixie had its wattage reduced because it would not comply with the Communist Party. The American Central Intelligence Agency jammed the signal to the few places it was broadcast. The show was taped and distributed through underground networks to get the message out. The show was a big hit in California, where it impacted Bobby Seale and Huey Newton. These men would later form the Black Panther Party.
The writing was on the wall, and it was time to leave Cuba. An opportunity arose to help the North Vietnamese in their war effort. He helped the Vietcong set up a propaganda station to get soldiers to defect from the army. He met and talked with Ho Chi Minh, who also spent time in Harlem. They were able to trade stories, and Ho told Williams about his love for Black Nationalist leader Marcus Garvey.
While he was making moves in Vietnam, he sent his children to study in China in 1964. He had some of the earliest correspondence with Mao Tse Tung. Mao credited him as his inspiration in writing a letter in support of the Black Freedom Struggle in August 1963. Williams was able to win an invitation to China by Mao as a distinguished guest in 1965. William would not only live in the lap of luxury in China but also be an insider in Chinese politics. He got to see all the inter-workings of the palace. As one of the only Americans with an inside view of China, he would become valuable.
Robert Williams had always longed to come back to America. His longing grew as the Black Power movement became more popular. He kept correspondence with many Black leaders, such as Kwame Ture. The Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM) and the Republic of New Africa (RNA) named Williams president in exile. In the Spring of 1969, the most unlikely source answered Williams’s prayers.
Richard Nixon was attempting to open trade relations with China. There were few Americans that knew about the inner workings of the palace. The need for insider information motivated Nixon to get the charges dropped on Williams. He came back to Detroit and consulted on Chinese Affairs through the Ford Foundation for a year. After he bought a farm, he retired to a remote location in Michigan. He died at the age of 71 from Hodgkins Disease. Rosa Parks spoke at his funeral, and she said it was great to see a true revolutionary make it to old age.