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Pan-Africanism

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  • Pan-Africanism

    Ma'at Hetep this is for some of us who need to know about Pan Africanism.

    A movement, founded around 1900, to secure equal rights, self-government, independence, and unity for African peoples. Inspired by Marcus Garvey, it encouraged self-awareness on the part of Africans by encouraging the study of their history and culture. Leadership came from the Americas until the Sixth Pan-African Congress, in Manchester, UK, in 1945, which saw the emergence of African nationalist figures, notably Kwame Nkrumah and Jomo Kenyatta, with a programme of African ‘autonomy and independence’. With independence, however, the concept of a politically united Africa was soon replaced by the assertion—within colonial frontiers—of competing national interests.


    has more to do with race than with geography. In its eighteenth-century origins, it overlapped the concept of black nationalism, the idea that a modern nation-state with distinct geographical boundaries should be established in Africa as a center of racial unity and identity. Because it ignored or sought to override political, cultural, and economic differences in the heritages of a broadly defined "racial group," the movement always flourished more successfully in the realms of ideological romanticism and ethnic sentimentalism than in the domain of practical politics.

    Pan-Africanism, which is as much a passion as a way of thinking, is more successfully defined in terms of its rhetorical manifestations than by its nominal characteristics. The term has always communicated various, sometimes contradictory ideas to the diverse individuals who professed to be Pan-Africanists. Some scholars refer to Pan-Africanism as a "macronationalism," a term applied to ideologies or movements among widely dispersed peoples who claim a common ancestry—in this case "black African," although Pan-Africanists often reject that term, insisting that Africans are by definition black, or, as they prefer to say, "Africoid." Like all nationalistic and macronationalistic movements, Pan-Africanism possesses a fundamentally religious quality.

    Origins and Early Developments

    The roots of Pan-Africanism are traceable to the late eighteenth-century writings of westernized Africans expressing the pain and resentment of humiliating encounters with slavery, colonialism, and white supremacy. In 1787 a group of twelve Africans living in England drafted a letter of appreciation to the British philanthropist Granville Sharp for his efforts toward abolition of the international slave trade. One of the drafters, Olaudah Equiano, had traveled widely in Britain's Atlantic empire as a ship's steward, and eventually published his Interesting Narrative, revealing emotional commitments to the universal improvement of the African condition. Ottobah Cugoano, one of Equiano's associates, also issued a pamphlet denouncing slavery, significantly "addressed to the sons of Africa," in 1791.

    A group of enslaved Africans petitioned the General Court of Massachusetts at the onset of the American Revolution for the right to the same treatment as white indentured servants, who were able to work their way out of bondage. They were aware that their counterparts in Spanish colonies sometimes had that right, and they expressed the hope of eventual repatriation in Africa once free. In the late eighteenth century, a few African Americans pledged themselves to the universalistic doctrines of Freemasonry, but did so in segregated institutions, thus illustrating Pan-Africanism's ideological paradox—a commitment to the universal solidarity of all humanity, but a special solidarity with African populations in Africa and the Caribbean. This sense of solidarity was animated by the Haitian revolution, which, like the American and French Revolutions, enlisted Enlightenment ideals in support of its bloody nationalistic objectives.

    In the early 1800s, two free African entrepreneurs in the maritime professions, Paul Cuffe, a sea captain, and James Forten, a sail maker, took steps to establish a West African trading company, and actually settled a few people in the British colony of Sierra Leone. In 1820 the slave conspiracy planned in South Carolina by Denmark Vesey, putatively a native of the Danish West Indies, aimed at creating an empire of emancipated Africans throughout the American South and the Caribbean. Vesey's conspiracy influenced another South Carolinian, David Walker, who published his Appeal, in Four Articles, Together with a Preamble, to the Colored Citizens of the World (1829), an example of Pan-African sentiment, as its title declares. The Convention of the Free People of Color, meeting in 1831, likewise demonstrated a hemispheric Pan-Africanism as it considered a plan for a college in New Haven, Connecticut, arguing that a seaport location would facilitate communication with the West Indies.

    Early Pan-Africanism disassociated itself from the West African colony of Liberia, established by the white-controlled American Society for Colonizing the Free People of Color. Some African Americans were willing to cooperate with the liberal abolitionist wing of that group by the mid–nineteenth century, however. By that time, the term "African Movement" was used by a black organization known as the African Civilization Society, established in 1858 and dedicated to "the civilization and christianization of Africa, and of the descendants of African ancestors in any portion of the earth, wherever dispersed." The organization's leader, Henry Highland Garnet, resuscitated the idea of a Caribbean empire, reminiscent of that envisioned by Denmark Vesey thirty years earlier. He also encouraged selective and voluntary migration to Africa, where, he believed, a new nation-state was destined to emerge as "a grand center of Negro nationality."

    In 1859, Martin Delany, one of Garnet's associates, published a serialized work of fiction, Blake, or the Huts of America, presenting his dreams for an African nation, a Caribbean empire, and global unity among all African peoples. Under the nominal auspices of the African Civilization Society, Delany made a tour of West Africa and negotiated a treaty with the king of Abbeokuta. In the course of this pilgrimage he visited the missionary Alexander Crummell, the son of a West African father and an African American mother, born in New York and educated at Cambridge University in England. Crummell had migrated to Liberia in 1853 and published his first book, The Future of Africa (1862), an extensive contemporary defense of Liberian nationalism, calling on African Americans to accept responsibility for uplift of the entire continent. His associate Edward Wilmot Blyden, a native of the Danish West Indies, became the most prominent advocate of Pan-Africanism until his death in 1912. Blyden's publications included occasional reflections on what he called "the African personality," an amorphous expression of racial romanticism that was recycled more than once in the twentieth century. After the Civil War, Blyden, Crummell, Delany, and younger African Americans cooperated intermittently with the Civilization Society.

    Pan-Africanism in the Twentieth Century

    In 1900, Henry Sylvester Williams, a Trinidad barrister, organized in London the first meeting of Africans and Africans of the diaspora under the banner of Pan-Africanism, a term that appeared in related correspondence, although the meeting officially came to be known as the London Conference. Williams was apparently the first person to apply the term "Pan-Africanism" to what had earlier been called "the African movement." Alexander Walters and W. E. B. Du Bois were among the principal promoters of the conference in the United States. In 1919, Du Bois still used the term "African Movement" to denote "the redemption of Africa …,the centralization of race effort and the recognition of a racial fount." Later, Du Bois preferred the term "Pan-African," which he applied to a series of six conferences that he convened in the capitals of European colonial empires from 1919 to 1945.

    African intellectuals meanwhile became increasingly prominent in the movement for black world solidarity. The Gold Coast intellectual Joseph Ephraim Casely Hayford cooperated with Booker T. Washington, founder of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, to organize a series of conferences on Africa. Heartened by the victory of Ethiopian troops over an Italian army at Adowa in 1896, Hayford published the novel Ethiopia Unbound in 1911, dedicated "to the sons of Ethiopia the world wide over." That same year, Mojola Agbebe, a Yoruba from Lagos, addressed the First Universal Races Conference in London, which was attended by Blyden and Du Bois.

    The Pan-African sentiment of highly literate intellectuals was not disassociated from the consciousness of the masses. The historian Edwin S. Redeye found evidence that black peasants in the South were aware of such leadership figures as Blyden. The cultural historian Miles Mark Fisher has insisted that folk songs and folklore gave evidence of a continuing identification with Africa among the masses. Working people in the Midwest subscribed to an emigration project led by the Barbadian Orishatukeh Faduma and the Gold Coast chief Alfred C. Sam during World War I, although most of the migrants soon returned to the United States. In 1916, the year following the exodus led by Sam and Faduma, Marcus Garvey arrived in the United States from Jamaica to organize an immensely popular international movement for "Universal Negro Improvement." Garvey denied, with indignation, any linkage or continuity between Sam's movement and his own, and although his program contained a back-to-Africa component, his goal was to develop the international commercial and political interests of African peoples everywhere.

    William H. Ferris, a collaborator with Garvey and an associate of Faduma, drew on his broad knowledge of African leadership on four continents to produce his magnum opus, The African Abroad or His Evolution in Western Civilization, Tracing His Development Under Caucasian Milieu (1913). Ferris was a member of the American Negro Academy, an organization with Pan-African membership, presided over by Alexander Crummell and including among its active and corresponding members Du Bois, Casely Hayford, Faduma, Edward W. Blyden, and other African and Caribbean intellectuals. Ferris and the formerly enslaved autodidact John Edward Bruce were a bridge between the American Negro Academy and the Garvey movement.

    The Pan-African conferences, including that of 1900 and those organized by Du Bois in 1919, 1921, 1923, and 1927, were the forerunners of another, held in Manchester, England, in 1945, which focused on the promotion of African independence from European colonialism. The Pan-African Congress that met in Ghana in 1958 was no longer dominated by Americans and West Indians. African independence had been achieved in most of the former European colonies, and the movement focused on the political unification of the continent.

    Although many of Pan-Africanism's twenty-first-century American adherents still thought of a movement for achievable economic and political goals, the ideology, for better or for worse, was not dominated by such concerns. Pan-Africanism had merged with "Afrocentrism," a semireligious movement, existing mainly on the sentiment level, among the many people who identified emotionally with black Africa and believed their own interests to be tied inextricably to its fortunes.

  • #2
    Does anyone have an idea what the current status of Pan Africanism is?

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    • #3
      I have been thinking a lot about what Pan Africanism really means now. Back in the early-mid 20th century, there was really movement. Now, I'm not so sure. Perhaps it has transformed into something that is far more subtle, but just as powerful?

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