10 Things To Know About Imari Obadele, Legendary Leader For Black Separatism And Reparations

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Written by PK Krentsil
Obadele
Imari Obadele was a key figure in Black liberation movements for 60 years. A student of Malcolm X, he fought for reparations for slavery. Imari Abubakari Obadele (Richard B. Henry), 1969. Photo: Republic of New Afrika, courtesy of Walter P. Reuther Library, archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University

Imari Obadele (1930 to 2010) was a key figure in Black liberation movements for over six decades. A student of Malcolm X, Obadele fought for an independent Black nation and reparations for slavery.

Despite the struggle he endured pursuing these goals, he remained committed to his mission and encouraged fellow fighters to “walk together…and don’t get weary.

These are 10 things to know about Obadele.

He began his activism at an early age

Starting as a teen, Obadele organized in his Philadelphia community. He encouraged draft dodging in response to military segregation, founded the United Negro Assemblage with his brother Milton (Gaidi Obadele), and hosted W.E.B. DuBois’ 1953 visit to the city.

He adopted an African name

Obadele’s given name was Richard Bullock Henry. After forming the Republic of New Africa (RNA) in the 1960s, he chose the name Imari Abubakari Obadele. In the Yoruba language, Obadele translates to “the king arrives at home,” signifying a “defiant return to his Africanness.” 

He had ties to Malcolm X

In 1963, Imari first met the civil rights leader Malcolm X in Detroit through brothers Milton and Lawrence. In an interview with Robert C. Smith, he called this experience, “a turning point in my political life,” citing the “Message to the Grassroots” speech as incredibly influential to his politics. He and others would continue their support of Malcolm after his murder, forming the Malcolm X Society to spread his message. 

He supported an independent Black nation-state for descendants of enslaved Africans

Imari and the RNA’s slogan became “free the land,” demanding that the U.S. government cede land in five Southern states for a sovereign Black nation and encouraging Black people to prepare to achieve this reality through violence. 

His brother separated from the movement

Gaidi Obadele split from the movement in 1970 after coming to reject violence. The year prior, the RNA’s Black Legion was involved in a gunfight in Detroit that ended with the death of a police officer.

He was a political prisoner

Imari spent five years in prison on a conspiracy conviction after the 1971 gunfight between the RNA and law enforcement resulted in an officer’s death. He was one of the first Americans labeled a political prisoner by Amnesty International. 

He was a scholar and academic

After his release from prison, Obadele earned a Ph.D. in political science from Temple University and taught at various universities, including at Prairie View A&M University for 12 years

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He was one of the leaders of the modern reparations movement

In 1988, Obadele and other organizers formed the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N’COBRA). Political scientist Robert C. Smith believed Obadele should be regarded as “the father of the modern reparations movement.”

He was a target of the FBI

Imari was on the FBI’s radar as early as 1948. His work with the RNA earned him the label of “key Black extremist,” with suggestions that he “be kept off the streets.”

He believed in the eventual victory of the reparations movement

When asked about the future of the movement, Obadele said, “In the next several years, reparations will be won and we will begin to use the proceeds in the best manner to repair ourselves as a people and once more provide black genius to the world.”