Pan-Africanism Research Paper

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Pan-Africanism is a political and social movement that has historically encouraged both a political agenda of African unity and a broad cultural orientation of black identity in Africa and the African diaspora. Its ideology has roots in the early nineteenth century, while its specific political program emerged in 1900.

The roots of the Pan-African movement lie in the ideas and efforts of several key nineteenth-century intellectuals and activists from the United States and the Caribbean. These individuals were responding to the oppressive institutions of slavery, racist discrimination and segregation, and colonialism, as well as to the racial-cultural and psychological oppression and denigration that reinforced these institutions.

Origins and Themes

Much recent research has demonstrated the significance of African culture among North American blacks from the time of slavery to the present, while such information concerning Caribbean black culture has long been well known. Thus, it is appropriate to locate the roots of Pan-Africanism in the slave experience itself, as that experience fostered the development of “African nationalism”—an effort by slaves to resist oppression and to “bridge ethnic differences” that “proceeded from an impulse that was Pan-African” (Stuckey 1987, ix).

Black abolitionists such as David Walker (1785– 1830), Henry Highland Garnet (1815–1882), Maria Stewart (1803–1879), and Frederick Douglass (1817–1895) used their interpretations of African culture and ancient history from the time of Egypt and Ethiopia to argue against slavery. They were also all influenced by the redemptive promise of Christianity, particularly as expressed in biblical references to Africa such as Psalms 68:31 (AV): “Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God,” in which “Ethiopia” was taken as a synonym for Africa and African Americans. This quotation was widely used into the twentieth century.

Martin Delany (1812–1885), Alexander Crummell (1819–1898), and Edward Blyden (1832–1912) were all primarily black nationalists, though with signifi- cant differences. All three actually experienced Africa: Delany traveled to the Niger valley and Liberia while Crummell was a missionary for twenty years in Liberia before returning to the United States, and Blyden emigrated from St. Thomas in the Caribbean to live in both Liberia and Sierra Leone. Delany is credited with originating the phrase in 1861, “Africa for Africans,” one of the later slogans of the Pan-African movement, though the original formulation was actually “Africa for the African race, and black men to rule them. By black men I mean, men of African descent who claim an identity with the race” (quoted in Brotz 1992, 110), which significantly implied a key role for African-American emigrants to help uplift Africa.

Alexander Crummell, like Delany, was a nationalist who also supported small-scale emigration to Africa. But he was primarily a missionary who had very little interest in or knowledge of indigenous African culture and called for the Christianization of Africa in order to “civilize” it. In contrast to Crummell, Delany was much more secular in his approach and advocated the emigration of free blacks to Africa with skills in teaching, medicine, business, transportation and other fields.

Edward Blyden was the most significant black scholar of the nineteenth century, with complex and sometimes contradictory views of Africa. According to the historian Hollis Lynch, as early as the 1870s Blyden originated the concept of the “African personality,” by which he meant the unique characteristics of African culture and psychology, a notion that presaged the negritude movement of the twentieth century. Blyden had a great influence on West African nationalists and Pan-African theoreticians. In the words of Lynch, “Blyden’s pan-Negro ideology was undoubtedly the most important historical progenitor of Pan-Africanism” (Lynch 1967, 250).

Thus some of the early ideas leading to Pan-Africanism included black nationalism, the idea of Africa for Africans, emphasis by some but not all on a return to the African homeland, and the concept of the greatness of African history and culture, emphasizing Egypt and Ethiopia as black civilizations. Other aspects emphasized by some included the need to uplift and regenerate Africa through missionary activity in order to fulfill God’s promise as expressed in Psalms 68:31.

Political Pan-Africanism

In his path-breaking and controversial paper, “The Conservation of Races,” delivered in 1897 at the American Negro Academy, W. E. B. Du Bois (1868– 1963), who had recently earned his doctorate and Harvard, and who later became known as the father of Pan-Africanism, called upon African Americans to “take their just place in the van of Pan-Negroism” (quoted in Foner 1970, 79). Du Bois called for “race organization,” “race solidarity,” “race unity,” and a spirit of self-help, since “for the development of Negro genius, of Negro literature and art, of Negro spirit, only Negroes bound and welded together, Negroes inspired by one vast ideal, can work out in its fullness the great message we have for humanity” (Foner 1970, 79). Inspired to a large extent by Alexander Crummell as well as by European nationalist theorists, Du Bois in the late 1890s began his transformation first into a race man (a person primarily concerned with African American issues in the late 1890s) and eventually into a Pan-Africanist advocate and organizer.

The most important early political organizer of Pan-Africanism, however, was not Du Bois, but Henry Sylvester Williams (1869–1911), a lawyer from Trinidad resident in London since 1896. He founded a black organization called the African Association on 24 September 1897. The first documented use of the phrase “Pan African Conference” is found in an 1899 letter by Williams calling for a meeting in 1900.

The Pan-African Conference met 23–26 July 1900 in London. Approximately thirty-eight delegates attended from the United States, the Caribbean, and Africa. The delegates agreed to form a permanent Pan-African Association with headquarters in London and branches overseas, and to hold future meetings.

Du Bois was chosen chairman of the Committee on Address, which wrote the “Address to the Nations of the World” adopted at the end of the meeting. The Address contained one of Du Bois’s most famous statements, which later appeared in revised form in his 1903 book, The Souls of Black Folk: “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line” (Foner 1970, 125; Du Bois 1961, 23). The main points of the Address were appeals to end racism and economic exploitation and to “give, as soon as practicable, the rights of responsible government to the black colonies of Africa and the West Indies” (Foner 1970, 126).

This 1900 meeting was thus significant as the first Pan-African gathering, but Sylvester Williams’s tireless efforts did not result in a permanent organization. Williams began to focus on his law career instead of Pan-African organizing, and the people who had promised to follow up on organizing local chapters and the next international conference failed to do so. Consequently, The Pan-African Association was defunct by 1902, and Williams died in Trinidad in 1911.

The practice of convening international Pan- African meetings was revived by Du Bois, who in 1919 organized what he called the First Pan-African Congress (as opposed to conference), which met in Paris at the same time as the post–World War I Peace Conference. The fifty-seven delegates from Africa, the United States, and the West Indies adopted a resolution stating that “the natives of Africa must have the right to participate in the Government as fast as their development permits, in conformity with the principle that the Government exists for the natives, and not the natives for the Government” (quoted in Langley 1979, 740).

The 1921 Pan-African Congress was held in three sessions in London, Brussels, and Paris with 113 delegates. Du Bois delivered the presidential address, and the delegates endorsed a “Declaration to the World” that called for “local self-government for backward groups” (Padmore 1972, 109). A delegation headed by Du Bois presented a petition to the Mandates Commission of the League of Nations calling for the appointment of “men of Negro descent” to the Commission, and for the formation of an “international institute for the study of the Negro problem” (Padmore 1972, 112). (The “Negro problem” referred to worldwide racial discrimination, including colonialism.)

Du Bois was the chief organizer for two more meetings, in 1923 and 1927. The 1923 meeting took place in London and Lisbon. At the London session the resolution adopted demanded that Africans be granted a voice in their government and access to land and resources and that Africa be developed “for the benefit of Africans, and not merely for the profit of Europeans” (Padmore 1972, 118). The 1927 congress, held in New York City, generated no significant new demands.

Du Bois wanted to hold the next congress on African soil and proposed Tunis in 1929, but the French colonial government refused permission. The worldwide economic depression and the rise of Fascism and Nazism prevented efforts to hold any more Pan- African meetings between 1927 and 1945.

The Garvey Movement

Marcus Garvey (1887–1940), a Jamaican immigrant to the United States, organized and inspired a whole set of Pan-African ideas and activities in the 1920s. His efforts are primarily significant due to his mass appeal, his efforts to stimulate emigration to Africa, and the example he set by forming local chapters of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (an organization he founded in Jamaica in 1914) around the world. In 1918 he founded a paper called Negro World, and he held annual conventions of the UNIA beginning in 1920 that aroused great emotional excitement. His movement influenced some future leaders of Africa and the development of Rastafarianism in Jamaica and the Nation of Islam in the United States. But a steamship line that he started failed, and he was convicted of mail fraud in 1923, served three years in prison, and was deported back to Jamaica. He died in London in 1940.

Ethiopia and Pan-Africanism

The Italian Fascist invasion and occupation of Ethiopia between 1935 and 1941 brought unprecedented worldwide attention to the Pan-African symbol of Ethiopia. The biblical Ethiopia, as in Psalms 68:31, continued to be a symbol for the rising hopes for black freedom, but by the late 1890s African-Americans began to gain more specific knowledge about Ethiopia, the country. One stimulus for this increased interest was the Battle of Adwa on 1 March 1896, in which the armies of the Ethiopian emperor Menilek II (1844–1913) overwhelmingly defeated the invading forces of Italy. As the only military resistance that successfully preserved the independence of an African country in the era of European colonialism, this battle was widely reported in the black press and sparked a tremendous worldwide interest in the country. After Adwa, diplomatic and personal contacts increased between Ethiopians and African-Americans, particularly after the young heir to the Ethiopian throne, Ras (Prince) Tafari Makonnen (1892–1975; known after his 1930 accession as Haile Sellassie) sent the first official Ethiopian mission to the United States in 1919.

These increased connections may be illustrated by the career of Malaku Bayyan (or Bayen, 1900– 1940). Malaku (Ethiopians go by their first name) attended college in Ohio in the 1920s. In 1929 he entered Howard University Medical School, from which he graduated in 1935. He later stated, “My belief in Race Solidarity caused me to select Howard University for my studies, in order that I might have a closer contact with my people” (quoted in Harris 1994, 22). He married an African-American who was working at Howard, and he traveled back and forth between Ethiopia and the United States in the 1930s.

After the defeat of Haile Selassie’s armies in 1936, the emperor went into exile in England and ordered Malaku “to coordinate the black solidarity movement” in the United States and specifically to take control of the collection of funds for the scattered Ethiopian refugees (Zewde 2002, 206). In 1937 Malaku founded the Ethiopian World Federation and a newspaper, Voice of Ethiopia, whose slogan was “Ethiopia is Stretching Forth Her Hands unto God” (Harris 1994, 130). The paper saw itself as the successor to Garvey’s Negro World, but advocated the use of “black” instead of “Negro” as a term allowing a greater sense of unity among African Americans, West Indians, Ethiopians, and other Africans. It had a clear Pan-African perspective, stating, “We are out to create a United States of Africa” (Harris 1994, 131).

Pan-Africanism Since World War II

Two important supporters of Ethiopia in Britain in the 1930s—George Padmore (1900–1959) and T. Ras Makonnen (1899/1903–197?), a name adopted by George Thomas Nathaniel Griffith in honor of RasTafari Makonnen)—illustrate the Pan-African connections of the Ethiopian and World War II movements. Padmore was born Malcolm Nurse in Trinidad and adopted his new name when he joined the Communist International in the late 1920s, but later rejected the “pretentious claims of doctrinaire Communism” (Padmore 1972, xvi) in favor of African nationalism and Pan-Africanism.” Makonnen was from Guyana but claimed Ethiopian ancestry. He lived in the United States, England, Ghana, and Kenya, and acted through a plethora of personal contacts with people of African descent in the diaspora, using face-to-face lobbying and advocacy in cases of police brutality or colonial injustices, thus exemplifying “practical Pan-Africanism.”

Makonnen’s business acumen enabled him to help finance and organize the Pan-African Federation, formed in 1944 by the merger of several groups, including the International African Service Bureau that had been formed in 1937 to support Ethiopia. The Pan-African Federation organized the 1945 Manchester Pan-African Congress and continued into the postwar era, as did Makonnen’s journal, Pan-Africa.

The 1945 Pan-African Congress marked a signifi- cant revival of the movement, being the “largest and most representative Pan-African Congress yet convened” (Padmore 1972, 127). Delegates to this congress included some of the leading future political and intellectual leaders of Africa and the Caribbean. At the age of seventy-seven, Du Bois also took an active part in the proceedings.

The resolutions of this congress were more radical than any previous ones. They rejected all euphemisms for colonial rule, such as partnership, trusteeship, guardianship, and the mandate system, demanding “autonomy and independence,” and the right of all colonies to be “free from imperialist control, whether political or economic” (Langley 1979, 758, 760).

Political Pan-Africanism after 1945 has consisted of the ultimately contradictory movements for national independence and African unity. Culturally, Pan-Africanism has involved a series of conferences of black writers and artists, held periodically since 1956, and the publication of the journal, Presence Africaine. The political movement was led by Kwame Nkrumah (1909–1972), the head of state of independent Ghana from 1957 to 1966. He sponsored two Pan-African meetings in 1958, the Conference of Independent African States, and the more significant All-African Peoples’ Conference, the latter described as the “true successor” to the series of Pan-African congresses (Wallerstein 1967, 33).

Julius Nyerere (1922–1999), the leader of Tanzania from 1961 to 1985, supported the cause of liberation in southern Africa, playing a significant role in the Liberation Committee of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), formed in 1963, and hosting liberation movements. He also hosted a Pan-African Congress at the University of Dar es Salaam in 1974. This congress was spearheaded by African- American and Caribbean activists who developed a consensus theme of “self-reliance, self-determination and unity of black people throughout the world” (Abdul-Raheem 1996, 7), emphasizing participation by people’s organizations and liberation movements rather than governments. Yet another Pan-African Congress was held in Kampala, Uganda, in April 1994. By that time, the political independence of the continent was essentially complete, and the congress dealt with such important issues as reparations, economic development, democracy, social problems, science and technology, and the women’s movement.

These issues and others reflecting the realities of Africa today show the continuing need for Pan- African based actions. Though there is as yet no United States of Africa, there is a growing recognition among African leaders and thinkers that Africa must unite in some form. At present, there are at least twelve economically based regional groups, such as the Economic Community of West African States, the Common Market for East and Southern Africa, the Economic Community of Central African States, and the Southern African Development Community. Moreover, the OAU has been transforming itself into the African Union during the last several years, and has stated an aim of creating an African Economic Union in the next two decades. Achieving the increased unity needed to deal with internal African problems may be the most significant hurdle of the current Pan-African agenda. Although Africa and the African diaspora have made great progress in the last two centuries, work remains for Pan-Africanists and their supporters in the present and the future.


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