Relations Between Africans and African Americans: Are they Good or Bad?
Godfrey Mwakikagile, "Relations Between Africans and African Americans: Misconceptions, Myths and Realities" (Grand
Rapids, Michigan, USA: National Academic Press, 2005), 302 pages, sofcover edition, $12.95.
Order the book from: http://www.lulu.com/godfrey
This work looks at relations between Africans and African Americans from the perspective of an African, and of shared
perceptions on both sides of the Atlantic. Incorporated into the analysis are stories of individuals who have interacted,
worked and lived with members of both groups in Africa and in the United States, including the author himself. Stereotypes
and misunderstandings of each other constitute an integral part of this study, explained from both perspectives, African and
The author, a former journalist in Tanzania and now an academic author whose books are found in public and university
libraries arund the world, has lived in the United States, mostly in the black community, for more than 30 years. He articulates
his position from the vantage point of someone who has lived on both sides of the Atlantic, focusing on a subject that has
generated a lot of interest among Africans and African Americans through the years. And it continues to be one of great misunderstanding
between the two sides, in spite of increased contacts and communication between Africa and Black America, and between individual
Africans and African Americans in the United States and in Africa.
Enduring Ties Between Africa and the Diaspora
My Life with African Americans
The Image of Africa in America
The Attitude of Africans Towards African Americans
The Attitude of African Americans Towards Africans
Misconceptions About Each Other
African Americans in Tanzania: Black Panther Leader
Pete O'Neal and Others
Back to the Motherland: Fihankra: An African American Settlement in Ghana and Other Diasporans
Appendix: What Africans and African Americans Think About Their Relations: Voices From Within
About the Author
AFRICANS on both sides of the Atlantic, that is Africans in Africa and African Americans who as a people of African descent
are also Africans, equally inspired this study. So did African immigrants and students in the United States. I went to school
in the United States myself and have lived and interacted with African Americans for more than 30 years.
Although African Americans are also Africans in the genealogical sense, I have used the term Africans in the book exclusively
to mean those born in the motherland for identification purposes to distinguish them from African Americans in my study of
relations between the two.
The idea for this book has been in my mind for quite some time, although I cannot say for sure exactly when I first thought
about writing it. It probably goes back to the eighties, when I was in my thirties, although my interest in the subject goes
back further than that, at least to the early seventies when I was a student in Detroit, Michigan, and wrote an article in
a student newspaper about relations between Africans and African Americans. I wrote the article in 1973 and it was published
in Open Door, a student newspaper of Wayne County Community College which I briefly attended before transferring to Wayne
State University in the same city where I graduated in 1975. Part of my article was reproduced in The Michigan Chronicle,
a black weekly newspaper published in Detroit, and the state's largest black newspaper and one of the most influential black
papers in the country for years.
I remember the editor of the school newspaper asked me to write an article on the subject. One factor that played a role
in his decision to ask me to write the article was my background. He knew that I once was a news reporter in Tanzania. He
was a black student from Detroit, a city with a long history of black activism, also known as the birthplace of black nationalist
organizations such as the Nation of Islam founded in the early thirties; the Shrine of Black Madonna (Black Christian Nationalism),
in 1967 by Reverend Albert Cleage; the Republic of New Afrika in 1968; and the Pan-African Congress-USA, founded in 1970,
and which sponsored me as a student. It is also a city to which Malcolm X had strong ties, personal anf family. Many people
who knew about him or followed his political career also remember him by his nickname, "Detroit Red."
When I wrote the article in the student newspaper, Open Door, I was free to address the subject the way I wanted to.
But the focus of my article was undoubtedly influenced and dictated by my interest in attempting to answer one perennial question
Africans from Africa are often asked by black people in the United States: "Is it true that they don't want us over there?"
Or something along those lines. And later on, towards the end of 2004 when I started writing this book, I stumbled upon an
article by a Nigerian student at the University of North Carolina in the student newspaper addressing the same subject, although
from a perspective different from mine in this inquiry.
There were, however, no fundamental differences, if any, between what he said in his article and what I say in this
book in terms of the nature of relations between Africans and African Americans, and on why there are some misunderstandings
between the two groups. The difference may have been on the focus. And I am sure others have tackled the same subject from
different angles and perspectives, agreeing and disagreeing on a number of issues critical to an understanding of what is
at the heart of some of this misunderstanding between Africans and African Americans, and what binds us together.
Therefore, in a very direct way, it is African Americans who have had a profound impact on my decision to write this
book probably more than Africans from the motherland have. And I am grateful to them for being the source of such inspiration.
It is African Americans, at least from my experience and I am sure of many others, who have shown great interest in the
relations between the two groups probably more than Africans have. It is they who ask questions about Africa, whether or not
it is true that they are not welcome over there. And it is they who see all of us, black people in Africa and in the United
States, as one people, although there are also many among them who don't want to have anything to do with Africa because they
are ashamed of their African heritage rooted in a "backward, primitive" continent.
But even they, the hostile ones, helped to inspire this study, focusing my attention on some of the myths propagated
in the United States and elsewhere about Africa, the so-called Dark Continent. Many of our white conquerors believe that because
we have a dark skin, our continent is also dark, living in darkness, and we also have a dark mind. And some of our people
are ashamed of their African roots, and of themselves, because of this. It is a myth that has inspired me to write this book
as much as positive attributes of Africa have.
Therefore, in acknowledging the interest of African Americans in Africa as an inspiration in my pursuit of this study,
I must also admit that our detractors have been an equally powerful motivation in my decision to undertake the project even
if such motivation has sometimes been out of anger because of the way many people look at us as the most backward, and most
primitive human beings, in the world.
Fellow Africans born and raised in Africa like I was, also inspired me in a very special way to write this book. I am
a part of them as much as they are a part of me in terms of common experience as a people born and raised in Africa. Therefore
we share common perspectives on a number of issues. They are also the focus of this study as much as African Americans are.
Many of them are also genuinely interested in the subject and in the well-being of our brethren, African Americans. And probably
just as many are equally interested in the improvement of relations between the two, a subject that continues to be of paramount
importance to both groups, especially to those individuals who sincerely believe that we all have one destiny as children
THIS work looks at relations between Africans and African Americans from the perspective of an African, and of shared
perceptions on both sides of the Atlantic. Incorporated into the analysis are stories of individuals who have interacted,
worked and lived with members of both groups in Africa and in the United States, including myself. Stereotypes and misunderstandings
of each other constitute an integral part of this study, explained from both perspectives, African and African-American.
As a former journalist in Tanzania, I have drawn upon my experience as a news reporter to write this book, with fairness
and a passion for truth even if some of the things I say may offend some people. But my interest is not please anyone. I am
interested in only one thing: to tell the truth as I know it. And having lived in the United States, mostly in the black community,
for more than 30 years, I have first-hand knowledge of African Americans I have used to complement my analysis.
I also articulate my position from the vantage point of someone who has lived on both sides of the Atlantic, focusing
on a subject that has generated a lot of interest among Africans and African Americans through the years. And it continues
to be one of great misunderstanding between the two sides, in spite of increased contacts and communication between Africa
and Black America, and between individual Africans and African Americans in the United States and in Africa.
Although some people such as Professor Harold Cruse of the University of Michigan in contemporary times, and others such
as Professor E. Franklin Frazier of Howard University in the past, contend that after more than 300 years of physical separation
since the slave trade, virtually all cultural ties between Africa and black America have been severed, I believe that there
are still some elements in African-American culture which can be traced back to Africa. You find that in music, foods, and
life styles; and may be even in linguistic patterns of African Americans as Professor Geneva Smitherman at Michigan State
University and others argue. Therefore, it was more than just hair braids that survived the middle passage across the Atlantic.
Other people have made the same arguments in the past. One of them was Kwame Nkrumah when he was a student in the United
States. He once debated Professor Frazier at Howard University on this subject, contending that there were still vestiges
of African culture among African Americans, proving that slavery and centuries of physical separation had not erased all cultural
ties to Africa. Nkrumah won the debate, partly because of his oratorical skills which served him well years later when he
became a leader of the African independence movement and president of Ghana, but mainly because of his factual presentation.
However, Frazier maintained his position and the two agreed to disagree.
Many Africans and African Americans may also disagree with me and others who contend that some elements of African culture
survived slavery. And probably just as many will agree with this position. But whatever the case, it is one of the subjects
I address in this book but in a much wider context with an emphasis on the ties that have existed between Africa and black
America for centuries.
A number of other subjects are also covered in this book. The image of Africa among Americans of all races, the attitude
of Africans and African Americans towards each other, misunderstandings, myths and realities which characterize their relationship,
and the role African Americans played in the liberation struggle in Africa are some of these subjects.
And their role in this struggle cannot be underestimated, especially by some Africans who may be inclined to minimize
the contribution of their brethren in the United States. Because of their strategic position within the United States as American
citizens, African Americans kept the struggle in the spotlight with marches, demonstrations and contributions, with the support
of other Americans and remained a constant reminder to the American government and racist forces supporting the apartheid
regime in South Africa and other white racist governments that nothing was going to stop them from supporting the independence
struggle in Africa until the white minority regimes were swept out of power. Black people in the United States also pushed
economic sanctions against the apartheid regime and exposed the hypocritical nature of the American leaders who supported
white minority regimes in Africa while professing democracy at home and abroad.
There is no question that African Americans played a bigger role in supporting the liberation struggle in Africa than
Africans did in supporting the civil rights movement. But it was also for understandable reasons. African countries were still
under colonial rule or had just won independence and could not have supported the civil rights struggle in the United States,
through international forums, as much as they would have liked to.
Other subjects covered in this book include the treatment of African Americans by Africans in Africa, especially those
who have returned to the motherland after centuries of separation, seeing Africa for the first time. Have they been well-received?
Do they have any regrets? Do they wish they had never gone back to Africa? These are some of the questions I try to answer,
citing disgruntled and satisfied African Americans who have lived in Africa as the primary source of information.
Some of them lived in my home country, Tanzania. There were those who stayed, and there were those who left. Some of
those who stayed include a well-known Black Panther leader, Pete O'Neal, who has lived in Tanzania since the early seventies
and whose life became the subject of documentary film shown in the United States, Tanzania and other countries. His life in
Tanzania and as a former Black Panther leader is one of the subjects I also address in this book.
I have also addressed the treatment of African Americans by the white majority in the United States, and how Africans
see the United States especially in terms of her relations with Africa and as a predominantly white nation in whose bosom
are millions of people of African descent who ended up where they are by "accident." It was this "accident"
of history that has also been a subject of utmost importance in trying to understand what the United States is all about,
as nation that portrayed itself to the whole world as the embodiment of the ideals of liberty and equality while at the same
time upholding the institution of slavery.
Even today, the subject of slavery inflames passions across the racial divide. And the demand for reparations by African
Americans, which I also discuss in the book, has only fueled intense debate on the legacy and relevance of slavery in contemporary
Coincidentally, it is a subject on which many Africans and African Americans agree on, even if they disagree on other
things, because people in Africa are also demanding reparations from the European powers who played the biggest role in the
enslavement of Africans. They also also colonized us, which is another case for reparations. As Ed Vaughn, one of the leaders
of the Detroit-based Pan-African Congress-USA who later served as assistant to Detroit Mayor Coleman Young and as a state
representative in the Michigan state legislature, said about reparations: they have paid everybody else except us. And as
Wole Soyinka, the Nigerian writer, also put it, others have been paid reparations. So why not African Americans? He also supports
the claim for reparations by African countries but has made it clear that if we are going to demand that from Europeans, we
should also claim reparations from the Arabs who also enslaved us.
But that is a subject that is beyond the scope of this work in terms of comprehensive analysis. I have restricted myself
to the case for reparations by African Americans in the American context. And even here I may not have done justice to the
subject, although I have tried my best to do so.
I have concluded my study on an optimistic note in the quest for greater cooperation and understanding between our two
peoples who have always been one in spite of centuries of physical separation resulting from slavery whose devastating impact
is still felt across Africa and Black America. It is also encouraging to note that in acknowledgment of our common ties,
the African diaspora which includes Black America is represented in the African Union (AU) as an integral part of Africa and
the African world.
Enduring Ties Between Africa and the Diaspora
AFRICA has always been in the consciousness of black Americans as their ancestral homeland even if some of them have not
positively identified with it. And there are those who still don't. But even when they became Americans after they ended up
in the United States in chains, they never ceased to be African whether some of them like it or not.
Even those who have a negative attitude towards Africa know where they came from. They know Africa is their motherland.
They also know they were taken away in chains to a country that claims to have been founded on the twin ideals of liberty
and equality while denying Africans freedom on its soil. Instead, it kept them in chains as slaves for centuries, a factor
that helps to keep alive memories of Africa among millions of black Americans, and sustain a longing for their motherland.
Black people in the United States have ties to Africa that can never be broken even if those ties are just historical
and psychological because of the physical separation from the motherland. But they have bonds that are even deeper than that.
They are biological ties. All blacks in the United States, including those who are racially mixed and have some European and
other blood, have blood ties to Africa. In fact, every black person in the United States has relatives in Africa. All of them
were not enslaved and shipped to America, or die during slave raids or perish in the Atlantic, thrown overboard. Most of the
relatives remained in the motherland.
Even people with very little African blood have relatives in Africa. This can go on and on, of course, in terms of biological
and genealogical roots. But it is a fact that, however little it may be, you could not have been born without that blood.
You cannot flush it out of your veins or change your genes. If there is some African blood in you, even just one drop, you
have ties to Africa, and have relatives in Africa still living today as you read this book. In fact, it is estimated that
between 70 million and 100 million whites in the United States have some African blood. And I wouldn't be surprised if it's
more than that. This does not mean that they are Africans, like African Americans are, any more than black people who have
some European blood are European. But it means that denying this biological fact does not change your roots, or at least a
part of what you are. You were born that way, and you will die that way, with all your genes intact.
But besides the genetic link to Africa, and the cultural and historical ties that have maintained the identity of black
Americans as an African people, the oppression and discrimination they have suffered in the United States through the centuries
at the hands of the white majority has also been a powerful motive in their strong identification with Africa. However, it
is also important to remember that even after blacks won the civil rights struggle, at least in the courts and in the legislative
chambers, a very large number of them have always identified with Africa and have shown great interest in their African
Therefore, it is not only during hard times that black Americans have shown great interest in Africa, and a longing for
their motherland from which they were forcibly removed. They have also shown great interest in the continent and in things
African even when they are prosperous. And that includes a large number of middle- and upper-class blacks who have strongly
identified with Africa and African causes as an African people themselves. But even those who identify themselves as Americans
only, also have shown great interest in Africa. We should, however, not forget that there is also a significant number of
blacks of all classes who don't want to identify with Africa even if they don't say so publicly but instead profess their
love for Africa and pride in their African roots. Privately, they resent that or feel ashamed.
Yet, from the slave songs on the plantations and the establishment of the African Methodist Church (AME) and other African-oriented
institutions and organizations by blacks throughout their history in the United States, to the founding of Liberia, there
is strong evidence that interest in Africa among blacks Americans has always been there, even if it has not been one of enduring
obsession of the nationalist kind in all cases.
Sometimes, there have been conflicting responses to African events from the black American community, showing that not
only as a people blacks in the United States are not a monolithic whole but also that there are those who are not concerned
about Africa as might be expected. For example, during the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935, some leading black Americans
said Ethiopians should not expect help from blacks in the United States because black people in America had never been given
any help by Africans during their struggle against racial oppression; and that they had their own problems to contend with.
Africans should therefore do the same over there: help themselves.
However, this attitude cannot be said to have been typical of the majority of black Americans during that time, or of
even a large number of them, although there was no way to accurately or even approximately gauge such sentiment. Still, the
mere fact that there were some influential blacks, as well as others, who felt this way shows that relations between Africa
and black America have had some serious problems through the years. It is also worth remembering that it was during the same
time that a number of black American pilots and soldiers volunteered to go to Ethiopia to help the Ethiopians fight Mussolini
and his forces, even when it was felt that Ethiopians in general did not want to identify themselves with black Africa, as
black people, as Professor Martin Kilson stated in one of his articles in the sixties.
Others made the same observation which has some credibility even today, as it does in the case of Somalis, as well, who
also in general don't want to identify themselves with black Africans and think they are better than other Africans, clearly
shown by the brutal mistreatment of members of Bantu tribes from Tanzania and Mozambique who were taken to Somalia by the
Arabs as slaves more than 300 years ago. Their descendants are still mistreated in Somalia today.
Some of them, for example, members of the Zigua tribe from Tanga region in northeastern Tanzania, returned to their ancestral
homeland in the late 1990s with the help of the Tanzanian government and were given some land and some help to settle in Tanzania
permanently. They told of the persecution they suffered in Somalia at the hands of the Somalis who considered them to be inferior
and fit only for slave labor. And more than ten thousand other Bantus from Somalia were allowed to emigrate to the United
States with the help of the American government and the United Nations in the late nineties and beyond, fleeing persecution.
And during the civil war when American troops were sent to Somalia in the early nineties to help capture one of the warlords
and restore order, black American soldiers complained about insults by Somalis when they tried to identify with them. They
made fun of their "Negro" features - kinky hair, thick lips, black skin, and wide noses - and made it clear that
they had nothing to do with them.
However, one cannot generalize and argue that all Somalis and Ethiopians feel that they are better than other Africans
and don't even consider themselves to be black. There are those who do and those who don't. But even from my own experience,
I have noticed that quite a few of them don't want to mingle with other Africans the way members of different African tribes
do, identifying themselves as one people: black Africans. I have roots of northeast African origin myself, on my mother's
side, and a number of my family members and relatives are easily identified by those features, including my mother. And I
know Ethiopians and Somalis who don't have a problem identifying themselves with other Africans. But there is a problem with
some of them.
And it is a problem other Africans have noticed, including some Nigerians and Liberians as well as Kenyans I knew when
I was a student in the United States, as Professor Martin Kilson did back in the sixties when he wrote an article about black
America and the newly independent states of Africa and how blacks in the United States identified with them. That is how Ethiopia
and the Italian invasion of Ethiopia came into the picture. Ethiopia was seen as symbol of African dignity, being the oldest
independent country in Africa that was never colonized until it was briefly occupied by Mussolini.
Ethiopia's long history of independence, unprecedented anywhere else in Africa, was one of the main factors in the decision
by African leaders in 1963 when they chose Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital, to be the headquarters of the Organization of
African Unity (OAU), now of the African Union (AU). The choice also was in deference to Emperor Haile Selassie, the Lion of
Judah, King of Kings, and descendant of King Solomon, although some dispute his lineage as Solomon's descendant.
But whatever the case, a number of black Americans paid attention to all that, especially the humiliation of Ethiopia
and Emperor Haile Selassie by the Italian invaders. Some of them were deeply offended by the invasion, prompting them to volunteer
as soldiers and pilots to go to Ethiopia and fight the Italians, not only as brothers in the struggle for justice which they
themselves were waging in the United States, but mainly as fellow Africans or members of the same black "race."
Unfortunately, their feelings were probably not reciprocated, to the extent that they should have been, by the Ethiopians
who were expected to fully embrace black Americans as their kith-and-kin, although there were those who appreciated the help.
And in terms of race, Ethiopians are not "Negro" like black Americans are. They also have their own physical features
of Semitic origin just like the Somalis do.
Those are some of the examples, Ethiopia and Somalia, that help to demonstrate the complex nature of the relations between
Africans and African Americans, and between Africans themselves, but which also should be viewed in their proper context instead
of making sweeping generalizations that don't have validity in all cases.
Compounding the problem is the way some black Americans have treated Africans in Africa through the years. There were
a number of American blacks who went to Africa as missionaries in the nineteenth century, and others even in the twentieth
century after the continent had already been "saturated" with missionaries from Europe. While their migration to
Africa demonstrated an enduring interest in the continent among them and other black Americans, there was also a paternalistic
attitude towards the "natives" in Africa as a "primitive," "backward" people who needed to be
So, they went to Africa not only to propagate the gospel among these "heathens"; they returned to the motherland
to "civilize" them, whatever the term entails in terms of Western civilization in the African context. There may
have been some black American missionaries who saw African "natives" as their equal, especially as members of the
same black race. But a higher percentage of them obviously saw Africans as inferior to them, in terms of education and civilization,
along the same lines Albert Schweitzer did; that great humanitarian and missionary doctor who, while working in Gabon in
French Equatorial Africa, bluntly proclaimed to whole world: "The Negro is a child, and with children nothing can be
done without authority. We must, therefore, so arrange the circumstances of daily life that my natural authority can find
expression. With regard to the Negroes, then, I have coined the formula: 'I am your brother, it is true, but your elder brother.'"
Then came the founding of Liberia around the same time some black American missionaries were thinking about spreading
the gospel in Africa. And their kinship with Africans was a critical factor in their decision to embark on this mission. Even
some American whites who wanted to spread the gospel in Africa felt that black American missionaries were better equipped
to do that than they were.
Although the black American missionaries knew that as Christians they were supposed to spread Christianity to all peoples
regardless of race, they felt they had a special obligation to do so first in Africa for a number of reasons. They believed
that they would be more welcome than their white counterparts because of their biological ties to their ancestral homeland
as blacks themselves. They also, together with whites, believed that they were better equipped, physically, to survive in
tropical Africa than white missionaries would because of their genetic adaptation to this environment; that is why American
blacks die from sickle cell anemia. They can no longer fight malaria in their new environment in a totally different climate
in North America. What was a weapon, in their system, in the African tropical climate to fight malaria has now been turned
Racism also was a critical factor. Very often, whites directed their attention to other parts of the world to spread
the gospel, ignoring Africa. And when they did go to Africa and other parts, such as the Caribbean, inhabited by blacks, their
racist attitude and practices alienated many would-be converts and even those who had already been converted. That was also
the case with white missionaries from Europe. For example, in Nyasaland, now Malawi, Scottish missionaries did not even allow
blacks to wear shoes, and they refused to share the same quarters with black missionary workers. And it happened in other
parts of Africa, including my country Tanzania even in contemporary times.
I remember Professor Henry Louis Gates, chairman of the African American studies department at Harvard University, explaining
what he experienced when he worked in Tanzania as a young student. He said in one of his books, Great Zimbabwe to Kilimatinde
published in 1996, that when he was a student at Yale University, he went to Tanzania and stayed there for one year from 1970
to 1971, the entire academic year, working at a hospital in Kilimatinde in the central region. He lived in an ujamaa village
and was trained to deliver general anesthesia at an Anglican Missionary Hospital. He said the hospital was run by white Australian
missionaries, and their racism towards black patients and other Africans working there was clearly evident.
This is one of the main reasons why many Africans did not trust white missionaries working on the continent. We also
remember very well that missionaries helped pave the way for the colonization of Africa. As Jomo Kenyatta said, "When
the white man came, he said 'Shut your eyes, let us pray.' When we opened our eyes it was too late. Our land was gone!"
Chinua Achebe, in his classic work Things Fall Apart, articulates the same sentiment when, towards the end of his book, Obierika,
in a conversation with Okonkwo, laments: "The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion
and...put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart."
This kind of sentiment was obviously still strong among many Africans in the nineteenth century when American missionaries,
especially of the Baptist church, were making plans to spread Christianity in Africa. The slave trade was still fresh in the
minds of Africans, having ended only recently, and it would have been hard for many of them to trust the people, whites, who
not too long ago had been busy shipping their kith-and-kin across the Atlantic into slavery in America. The only people who
could have been well-received, also as brothers and sisters returning home after being freed as slaves, were black American
Black Baptists were among the first Christians to launch missionary campaigns in Africa and elsewhere. For example, David
George and other American blacks went to Sierra Leone in 1792 and established the first Baptist church on the continent. They
also settled there permanently. In 1815, Lott Carey and Hilary Teague together with a white deacon, William Crane, of Richmond,
Virginia, formed the Richmond African Baptist Foreign Missionary Society to spread Christianity in Africa. In 1821, Carey
and his wife went to Sierra Leone and established a mission among members of the Mandingo tribe. He was killed in 1828 in
a battle with some of the indigenous people in Liberia and is acclaimed as the first American missionary to Africa.
Together with the Southern Baptist Convention and the American Colonization Society, the Richmond African Baptist Foreign
Missionary Society, founded by Lott Carey who was the pastor of the African Baptist Church in Richmond, sent missionary workers
to West Africa from 1845 and continued its activities on the continent in the following years. Liberia was one of the main
targets. Even before then, Lott Carey and Hilary Teague were, in the early 1820s, among the first missionaries to work in
an area that later became the Republic of Liberia. They settled there permanently, spreading the gospel among the indigenous
tribes in the region.
After the Civil War, other black Christian groups also sent missionaries to Africa. They included the Virginia Baptists
who continued to send missionaries overseas well into the twentieth century; the Baptist Foreign Mission Convention organized
in 1880; the National Baptist Convention established in 1895; the Lott Carey Baptist Convention launched in 1897, and other
Baptist and non-Baptist missionary groups.
Other black missionaries who spread the gospel in Africa included Robert Hill who was sent to Liberia by the Southern
Baptist Convention; Alexander Crummell who settled in Liberia and encouraged other African Americans to move to Africa; John
Bryant Small who established a mission station in the Gold Coast, what is Ghana today; William Colley who was sent to Nigeria;
William Henry Shepherd who went to Congo; Mary Tearing, and Joseph Phipps, also to Congo. And other black American missionaries
went to other parts of Africa including South Africa.
Especially since the mid- and late 1800s, black American missionaries continued, together with other Christians including
Presbyterians, to spread the gospel well into the twentieth century and beyond, especially in West Africa, the ancestral homeland
of the majority of black Americans, although not all; a significant number of them came from East Africa, especially what
from is Mozambique and Tanzania today, mainly after the slave trade was officially abolished and the slave traders turned
their attention to East Africa because of the anti-slavery patrols on the West African coast. For example, I remember reading
an article in The New York Times in 1998 which contained excerpts of old slave records showing that some of the slaves who
arrived and were sold in Louisiana were members of the Yao tribe who had been captured in what is southern Tanzania
One of the West African regions which attracted the largest number of black missionaries from the United States was,
of course, Liberia. Founded by freed black American slaves in 1822, at the behest of the American Colonization Society some
of whose members wanted all blacks kicked out of the United States and sent back to Africa or to some other place including
Venezuela, Liberia became a haven of peace for these former slaves, away from the persecution and lynchings in the United
States. Yet, for the "natives" it became, in a very tragic way, living hell.
Black Americans who settled in the area expropriated land owned by the "natives," launched wars against them
to forcibly acquire more land, and established a country in which the indigenous people were denied equal rights and virtually
became slaves in their own native land; ironically, at the hands of former slaves and fellow blacks. As late as the 1930s,
native Liberians were also being sold as slaves to work in Panama, ostensibly sent there on labor contracts negotiated on
their behalf by the Liberian government dominated by descendants of the freed American slaves who came to be known as Americo-Liberians.
Even within Liberia itself, members of the local tribes were treated as second-class citizens and had no political rights
comparable to those enjoyed by Americo-Liberians. House servants and others working for Americo-Liberian families were treated
as virtual slaves. Native Liberian leaders such as Didwho Tweh tried to fight for their rights as equal citizens, to no avail.
Their plea for help from the League of Nations in the 1930s fell on deaf ears. It was not until 1980 when members of the indigenous
tribes in the army launched a military coup against the government that domination by Americo-Liberians came to an end. It
had been a long time since the country was founded in 1822 and became a republic in 1847, but with the total exclusion of
the indigenous people from power.
The plight of the native Liberians, at the hands of the settler community known as Americo-Liberians, was unique in one
way: They were the only blacks on the continent who were colonized by fellow blacks. And the people who colonized them were
fellow citizens who, ironically, proclaimed to the whole world when they first arrived there to found the colony: "The
love of liberty brought us here." To which the indigenous people could have responded: "We have known nothing but
misery and oppression since you came here." And it was a sentiment that was expressed in various ways by members of the
native tribes some of whom attended school in the United States during the same time I did.
When I was a student in Detroit, Michigan, in the early and mid-seventies, I remember some of them confronting their
fellow countrymen, Americo-Liberians who were also students, with ominous warnings such as this: "You Americo-Liberians
are going to pay for this one day." Their prediction was fulfilled in one of the bloodiest military coups in African
post-colonial history when 17 members of the Liberian army led by a 28-year sergeant, Samuel Doe, a member of the Krahn tribe,
stormed the Executive Mansion, the president's official residence, in April 1980 and killed President William Tolbert. They
also disemboweled him, and his body was displayed in public.
He was the last Americo-Liberian president in the dynasty of the Whig Party that had ruled Liberia for 150 years. Like
his predecessor, William Tubman, his family members had emigrated from South Carolina and became some of the most prominent
members in the Americo-Liberian settler community which dominated politics and the economy. And like Tubman, Tolbert was also
born in Liberia.
But although the mistreatment of the indigenous tribes by Americo-Liberians had some negative impact on relations between
Africans and African-Americans, it was only in a limited way. The wrath was directed against the oppressive Americo-Liberian
settler community, and not against African Americans in the United States, although Americo-Liberians were descended from
freed American slaves.
And most of this wrath and anger came from members of the indigenous tribes within Liberia itself, and not from other
African countries, although there were people in other African countries who sympathized with them. There was not much response
from the people in other African countries to the plight of the members of the native tribes in Liberia at the hands of Americo-Liberians
partly because many of them did not know what was going on in that country, and partly because they had their own problems
to contend with in their own countries.
But even if many of them had known what was going on in Liberia, they may not have responded as forcefully as they did
against racial oppression in South Africa under apartheid because they would not have seen Americo-Liberians as outsiders,
like whites in South Africa. They were fellow blacks, and racial solidarity was paramount in the struggle against the apartheid
regime and other white minority regimes on the continent. The Americo-Liberian dynasty in Liberia certainly did not fit in
that category as a foreign institution created by and belonging to whites. It was black. Apartheid was white. The difference
was clear as day and night. And it was obvious who the real enemy was.
It should also be remembered that Liberia was only one of two independent countries in black Africa. The other one was
Ethiopia. And both, in international forums, spoke on behalf of the rest of the African countries that were still under colonial
and white minority rule. And when Ethiopia was invaded by Mussolini, Liberia was the only independent African country during
that time that spoke out against the invasion.
Therefore, in spite of the oppressive rule imposed by the Americo-Liberian community on the indigenous people of Liberia,
the Americo-Liberian rulers still had some credibility among other Africans as champions of African rights and independence
in the international arena, especially at a time when African colonial subjects across the continent had no spokesmen to speak
for them in international forums. Only Liberia and Ethiopia did.
And while Liberia has served as a bridge between Africa and black America, it has also facilitated dialogue in a wider
context internationally. As the oldest republic in black Africa, it was seen as a beacon of hope for the rest of the continent
south of the Sahara during the struggle for independence and inspired those still under colonial rule to fight for their freedom.
Liberia also was a source of inspiration to African Americans in their struggle for racial equality which gained momentum
in the fifties and sixties. Together with Liberia were other black African countries which were among the first to win independence:
Ghana in 1957, Guinea in 1958, and many others in 1960 which came to be known as Africa's Year and was declared as such by
the United Nations because of what happened that year. It was the year in which the largest number of African countries, 17
of them, won independence. And the feat was not duplicated in any of the following years; by 1968, most African countries
had won independence.
Coincidentally, it was also during this period that the civil rights movement in the United States gained full momentum.
By 1964 when the Civil Rights Bill was passed, more than 30 black African countries had won independence in less than 10 years,
beginning with Ghana in 1957. Thus, where some American blacks had been ashamed of Africa, there was now pride, by the same
people, of their African heritage. They, and many other blacks, looked to Africa for vindication. If blacks in Africa could
prove their worth and rise to towering heights to be equal to the best among the best in governance and other achievements
including education, black people in the United States could do no less. That was the rationale.
Even before independence, Africans in Africa had profound influence on black America in terms of inspiration in the struggle
for racial equality. The civil rights movement, which simply came to be known as the Movement, started to gain momentum in
the 1950s, especially after Dr. Martin Luther King was thrust into the international spotlight by the Montgomery bus boycott
in Alabama in December 1955 when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the city bus to a white man. She came to be known
as the "Mother of the Civil Rights Movement," although she had been preceded by Claudette Colvin, a 15-year old
black girl, who refused to give up her seat on the city bus to a white man many months earlier in March the same year. But
black civil rights leaders in Montgomery decided not to use her as a test case and rallying point because she was very dark,
a liability even among blacks in those days, unlike Rosa Parks who was light-complexioned. Claudette was also pregnant and
not married, while Rosa Parks was married. And she was already active in the struggle for racial equality as a member of the
NAACP and did some work for the organization.
The bus boycott would probably have taken place, anyway, even if nothing had taken place in Africa in terms of struggle
for racial equality. But a precedent had been set earlier, in South Africa, when black people and a few whites and Indians
as well as Coloureds launched the Defiance Campaign in 1952 led by the African National Congress (ANC), which was multiracial
but predominantly black.
They employed non-violent tactics to protest against racial injustice, the same tactics Dr. Martin Luther King and others
used in their struggle for racial equality during the civil rights movement. There is no question that the spirit of this
campaign in South Africa inspired black in the United States during the Montgomery bus boycott and in their struggle for justice.
Defiance against injustice was one of the main characteristics of both campaigns. As Rosa Parks said in an interview with
Scholastic years later when she was asked, "What made you decide on December 1, 1955, not to get up from your seat?":
"That particular day that I decided was not the first time I had trouble with that particular driver. He evicted
me before, because I would not go around to the back door after I was already onto the bus.
The evening that I boarded the bus, and noticed that he was the same driver, I decided to get on anyway. I did not sit
at the very front of the bus; I took a seat with a man who was next to the window - the first seat that was allowed for 'colored'
people to sit in. We were not disturbed until we reached the third stop after I boarded the bus.
At this point, a few white people boarded the bus, and one white man was left standing. When the driver noticed him standing,
he spoke to us (the man and two women across the aisle) and told us to let the man have the seat. The other three all stood
up. But the driver saw me still sitting there. He said would I stand up, and I said, 'No, I will not.' Then he said, 'I'll
have you arrested.' And I told him he could do that. So he didn't move the bus any farther. Several black people left the
Two policemen got on the bus in a couple of minutes. The driver told the police that I would not stand up. The policeman
walked down and asked me why I didn't stand up, and I said I didn't think I should stand up. 'Why do you push us around?'
I asked him. And he said, 'I don't know. But the law is the law and you are under arrest.' As soon as he said that, I stood
up, and the rest of us left the bus together.
One of them picked up my purse, the other picked up my shopping bag. And we left the bus together. It was the first time
I'd had that particular thing happen. I was determined that I let it be known that I did not want to be treated in this manner.
The policemen had their squad car waiting, they gave me my purse and bag, and they opened the back door of the police car
for me to enter."
It was defiance against injustice at its best. And as the campaigns for freedom and equality went on around the same
time in Africa and in the United States, they also reinforced each other and strengthened ties that had always existed between
blacks on both sides of the Atlantic.
Apart from the non-violent struggle for freedom that went on in Africa against the colonial authorities and which encouraged
the civil rights struggle among blacks in the United States, was the more militant campaign waged by Mau Mau in Kenya. Coincidentally,
the launching of the Defiance Campaign in South Africa in 1952 coincided with the arrest of Jomo Kenyatta who was accused
of leading Mau Mau. He was arrested in the same year, 1952, together 182 other African leaders. In 1953, he was sentenced
to seven years in prison, with hard labor, and was sent to the barren region of northwestern Kenya to serve his sentence.
He was released in 1961.
His release in 1961 was another important milestone in the struggle for freedom and justice for black people on both
sides of the Atlantic. It took place only about three years before passage of the Civil Rights Bill in the United States in
1964, and there is no doubt that Kenyatta's release from prison further inspired blacks in America in their struggle for racial
justice. If blacks in Kenya could win, there was also some hope that blacks in the United States would win one day. As the
civil rights movement anthem went: "Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe, we shall overcome someday."
The militancy of Mau Mau in Kenya, involving armed struggle by the Kikuyu against the British, also inspired pride among
many blacks in the United States including those who may not have used violence themselves to win freedom. But they saw in
the Kikuyu the same burning desire to be free they saw among themselves in the United States. Black militants even endorsed
Mau Mau tactics. And the father of the black militant movement in the United States, Malcolm X, spoke proudly of Mau Mau,
as much as he did about the liberation war in Algeria which drove the French out after seven years of bitter conflict in which
about one million Algerians were killed. And as he said about the Mau Mau in one of his speeches: "It was Mau Mau that
brought independence to Kenya."
Malcolm X also worked diligently to forge new and strengthen existing ties between Africa and black America. In 1964,
he went to Africa and visited a number of countries where he met with different leaders. He also addressed the OAU summit
of the African heads of state and government in Cairo, Egypt, in July 1964 where he almost died when his food was poisoned
in a hotel. He was followed by CIA agents throughout his African trip and the American intelligence agency may have been behind
the attempt on his life.
His speech to the Organization of African Unity (OAU) conference of African leaders was a plea for help. He believed
African countries would be able to help African Americans in their struggle for racial equality in the United States by bringing
up the case before the United Nations. And a number of African countries agreed to do so. Among the leaders he talked to about
the plight of African Americans were Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, Presidents Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, Julius Nyerere
of Tanzania, Nnamdi Azikiwe of Nigeria, and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana. And he was well-received wherever he went in Africa. Tanzania
was one of the countries he visited, and he mentions this trip in one of speeches.
When I was working on the second edition of my book, Nyerere and Africa: End of an Era, in 2004, I was in regular contact
with Andrew Nyerere, President Nyerere's eldest son who was my high schoolmate in Tanzania, and who said he remembered when
Malcolm X visited them at their house in Dar es Salaam in July 1964. As he said in a letter to me: "When he came to Msasani
(on the outskirts of Dar es Salaam where President Nyerere and his family lived in a simple house instead of living in the
official residence, the State House), he gave Mwalimu the record of 'Message to the Grassroots,' a speech by Malcolm X."
President Nyerere, popularly known as Mwalimu which means teacher in Kiswahili since he was once a teacher, understood
the plight of African Americans even before he talked to Malcolm X and was one of the African leaders, together with others
such as Nkrumah, who strongly identified with the struggle for racial equality in the United States. And he believed there
was an imperative need to strengthen ties between the nations of Africa and black America which black American sociologist
E. Franklin Frazier defined as a nation, even if a captive one. In his book, Black Bourgeoisie published in 1957, Professor
Frazier argued that black people in the United States constituted "a nation within a nation." And it is a thesis
that has some credibility. Their isolation, because of segregation, helped to solidify this identity. And they looked to Africa
for inspiration and spiritual sustenance in their struggle for racial equality in a country that was supposed to be the citadel
Therefore, the success of the independence struggles in different African countries in the fifties and sixties served
as a great source of inspiration to African Americans during the civil rights movement as much as the civil rights struggle
in the United States was a source of great encouragement to many Africans still groaning under white minority rule, especially
in South Africa. The situation of black people under apartheid was similar to that of black Americans. And both were being
oppressed by a power that was an integral of their country. It was a colonial power within, not a foreign power like in the
rest of the African countries ruled by the British, the French and the Portuguese. They were fighting for freedom from fellow
citizens who were going nowhere, unlike the British, the French and the Portuguse who left their African colonies and returned
to Europe after the colonies won independence. Black Americans were also "colonized" within.
It is also critical to remember that even during the darkest hour in the history of our continent when we were under
colonial rule and did not even have political parties fighting for independence, Africans in the diaspora played a major role
in championing the cause of African freedom going as back as the early 1900s. Sylvester Williams from Trinidad, and W.E.B.
DuBois from the United States, were the most prominent, followed later by George Padmore and CLR James also from Trinidad.
They were joined by Kwame Nkrumah, Jomo Kenyatta, Nnamdi Azikiwe and other African leaders in the 1940s, carrying on a tradition
that went back to the early years of the twentieth century when the first Pan-African Congress was held in London in 1900.
The second Pan-African Congress was held in Paris in 1919. It coincided with the Paris Peace Conference by the Allied
Powers ending World War I and demanded the right to self-determination in the African colonies. It was also in the same year
that there were widespread protests against the exclusion of racial equality from the Covenant of the League of Nations, and
delegates from the Pan-African Congress presented resolutions to the League of Nations demanding freedom and independence
for Africans. A few years earlier, the African National Congress (ANC) was founded in January 1912 in Bloemfontein, South
Africa, and more than 80 years later won the struggle against apartheid.
Dr. DuBois played a critical role in organizing these conferences. It was he, together with Blaise Diagne, a Senegalese
and highest-ranking African in French politics and deputy to the French parliament, who organized the Pan-African Congress
in Paris in 1919. It was attended by at least 57 delegates representing 15 countries and colonies, including Liberia, Haiti,
the British West Indies, West African British and French colonies, and the United States. At least 19 delegates came from
The 1919 conference is often referred to as the First Pan-African Congress. But it was actually patterned after the Pan-African
Conference, which was really the first Pan-African Congress, convened by Henry Sylvester Williams in London in 1919. DuBois
also attended this conference as a delegate. The London conference petitioned the Allied Nations to take specific steps to
end oppressive political and economic conditions in predominantly black colonies in Africa and the West Indies.
The Second (or third) Pan-African Congress was held in 1921 in the three main colonial centers - London, Paris, and Brussels
- and was attended by 113 delegates. Again, Africans in the diaspora, with DuBois being the most prominent among them, played
a major role in organizing this conference. The NAACP was also represented at the conference and provided financial support.
The Third Pan-African Congress was held in 1923 in London, and in Lisbon, Portugal, pursuing the same goals as those pursued
at the previous conferences. The main goal was independence for black countries in Africa and in the Caribbean.
The Fourth Pan-African Congress was held in Harlem, New York, in 1927 and was funded by an organization of black women,
the Circle of Peace and Foreign Relations, long interested in improving the lives of black people in Africa and in the diaspora,
including attainment of independence for the African colonies. The conference was chaired by Dr. WEB DuBois and attended by
208 delegates. And about 5000 people participated in the conference. Several sessions were also held in black churches in
Harlem. African countries represented included Sierra Leone, the Gold Coast (later renamed Ghana), Nigeria, and Liberia. There
were also representatives from the United States and the West Indies.
Dr. DuBois tried to make arrangements for the Fifth Pan-African Congress to be held on African soil, in Tunis, Tunisia.
He chose Tunis because it was accessible by shipping lines and was somewhat centrally located to enable many delegates from
Africa and Europe to attend the conference. But the French government feared that such a conference held on African soil would
lead to unrest in the colonies on the continent, and denied the organizers permission to hold the conference in the French
colony of Tunisia.
The French told DuBois and other organizers that they could hold the conference in Paris, but the Depression, which came
in 1929, the same year the conference was planned, precluded any possibility that the conference would be held anytime soon.
Financial problems were one of the main reasons why other conferences could not be held sooner. There were also ideological
divisions among the organizers. There were those who supported the ideology of Marcus Garvey which was strictly racial and
excluded anybody who was not black or considered black enough including racially mixed people such as Dr. DuBois himself.
And there were those who supported Dr. DuBois and his colleagues whose philosophy was inclusive.
It was not until 16 years later, in 1945, that the Fifth Pan-African Congress was held. It was held in Manchester, England,
and was attended by Dr. DuBois, George Padmore, CLR James, Kwame Nkrumah, Jomo Kenyatta, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Ras Makonnen, and
others. Nkrumah and Kenyatta served as secretaries and played a critical role in organizing the conference.
It was also in the same year that Nkrumah left the United States for Britain after attending school in America for 10
years. When he was still a student in the United States, he met CLR James. CLR James said Nkrumah used to talk a lot and
"he talked a lot of nonsense in those days," as he said in an article he wrote. But he said he was very much impressed
by him because of his determination to achieve his goals. Other people who met Nkrumah were also very much impressed by his
personality. He was charismatic. He was dynamic. I remember Professor Ali Mazrui, a Kenyan, saying when he first met Nkrumah,
he was impressed by his charisma right away.
CLR James went on to say that when Nkrumah was getting ready to go to Britain to study at the London School of Economics,
he wrote George Padmore introducing Nkrumah to him. Padmore lived in London. CLR James said he told Padmore to help Nkrumah,
and went on to say: "He's not very bright. But he's determined to throw the white man out of Africa."
Nkrumah also read Karl Marx when he was student in the United States. CLR James, who was a Marxist, didn't think that
Nkrumah understood Marxism well. But he gave him credit saying that he studied further, and when he gave a speech at the fifth
Pan-African Congress in Manchester, "it was an absolute masterpiece."
Nkrumah never looked back. He returned to the Gold Coast in 1947 and, ten years later, led his country to independence,
earning it distinction as the first black African country to emerge from colonial rule. When the Gold Coast won independence
as Ghana on March 6, 1957, representatives from the African diaspora were invited to Accra, Ghana's capital, to celebrate.
Nkrumah also invited people of African descent to go to Ghana and other parts of Africa to help build the continent.
The people invited by Nkrumah to celebrate Ghana's attainment of independence included Dr. Martin Luther King, Ralph
Bunche, A. Philip Randolph, Adam Clayton Powell, Andrew Young, Ralph Abernathy, Richard Wright. There were also common citizens
from the diaspora, such as Lucille Davis, an African American who was working in Los Angeles when the Gold Coast won independence
and became Ghana. She wrote Nkrumah directly asking him to intervene on her behalf when the British embassy in Washington
tried to stop her from going to Ghana to attend the independence celebrations. As Mary Ellen Ray who has lived in Ghana for
almost 20 years stated in her article, "Ghana: 'Home' For African Americans":
"Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana's first president, sent out a call to skilled and talented African Americans to come to Ghana
to help with the building of a new independent African nation. Many came; some left and some stayed. Today, it's estimated
there are between 1,500 and 2,000 residing permanently in the country. This count isn't entirely accurate because many settled
outside the larger towns and cities preferring to stay in villages and/or not registering with the U.S. Embassy.
African Americans residing in Ghana represent almost every state in the U.S., even Hawaii. A large number came as the
wives of Ghanaians they met in the States. And each year more retirees arrive. Though inflation has hit Ghana and the "bargain"
prices are not as much of a bargain anymore, water and electricity and telephone services continue to 'come and go' without
notice, and cultural differences can get sticky at times, many of us African Americans 'hang in thar'.
Several have been here for fifty years. Dr. Robert Lee, a classmate of Kwame Nkrumah at Lincoln University, and his wife,
Dr. Sara Lee (now deceased) were among Ghana's pioneering dentists. Sara Lee started the nation's first school dental clinic.
After five decades of dental practice, Dr. Lee retired in 2002.
When Lucille Davis heard about the upcoming independence of Ghana in 1957 she was working in Los Angeles, an Upper State
New Yorker, and decided she wanted to attend this historic event. The British Consulate discouraged her from making the trip.
Undeterred, she went home, sat down and wrote a letter directly to Kwame Nkrumah, the president-to-be, explaining her desire
and her plight. Within two weeks the British Consulate called Mrs. Davis saying Kwame Nkrumah was inviting her to the independence
celebration as an honored guest. She now owns and operates the Beachcomber Guest House facing the Guinea Sea in Teshie Nunga,
a suburb of Accra."
Dr. DuBois was one of the African Americans who moved to Ghana and renounced his American citizenship. In 1961, Nkrumah
invited Dr. DuBois to spend his last days in Ghana. DuBois was then in conflict with the American authorities in the United
States for his opposition to America's Cold War and imperial policies. He became a citizen of Ghana and died on August 27,
1963, in Accra, the day before the March on Washington when Dr. Martin Luther King gave his famous "I Have A Dream"
speech on August 28. He was 95 and died shortly after becoming a Ghanaian citizen.
The involvement of Dr. DuBois and others in the African independence struggle, and the participation in Pan-African conferences
by Africans from Africa together with those from the United States, the Caribbean and Europe, demonstrates the indissoluble
bonds that have always existed between Africa and the diaspora. Black people in the Americas and elsewhere have always known
that the well-being of Africa is inextricably linked with their destiny because whatever affects one, affects the other. No
black person is free until all blacks are free.
And until Africa is free and united, there is no hope for the black race. If there is dignity in numbers, there is also
humiliation in numbers. If more than 600 million black people in Africa - more than 200 million Africans in Africa are not
black - cannot do anything to uplift the black race, 35 million blacks in the United States, or others elsewhere in the diaspora,
cannot do it alone. Therefore the destiny of the black race lies with Africa. That is where the numbers and the resources
are. And the bonds that have always existed between Africa and the diaspora should be strengthened to help Africans, at home
and abroad, achieve their goals to be among the best among men.
When the Sixth Pan-African Congress was held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in 1974, under the stewardship of President
Julius Nyerere almost 35 years after the Fifth Pan-African Congress was held in Manchester in England in 1945, it was the
first of its kind to be held on African soil. It was held in Nkrumah Hall at the University of Dar es Salaam. The hall was
named after Nkrumah in memory of his dedication and achievements as a Pan-Africanist and Pan-African leader, one of the greatest
leaders Africa has ever produced. In a survey of Africans in 2000, as reported by the BBC, the majority of the people voted
for Nkrumah as the most influential African leader.
And in a Pan-African context, he probably had the strongest links to black America among all African leaders. And the
years he spent as a student in the United States helped to strengthen those ties. But it was the depth of his Pan-African
commitment, his ability to fully embrace the people in the diaspora as fellow Africans, as well as his colorful style as a
leader, which was the biggest attraction to him among African Americans.
When he was a student, he was also attracted to Marcus Garvey and said in his autobiography that it was the teachings
of Garvey which had the biggest influence on him. As he stated: "Of all the literature that I studied, the book that
did more than any other to fire my enthusiasm was Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey. Garvey, with his philosophy of
'Africa for Africans' and his 'Back to Africa' movement, did much to inspire the Negroes of America in the 1920's."
Garvey founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1914 at the age of 28. After
he moved to Harlem in 1916, New York became the new headquarters of the movement. It was the largest black movement in American
history, attracting millions of followers and admirers with its mission to uplift the black race.
Marcus Garvey wanted to united blacks worldwide and build a strong empire in Africa. Thus, the UNIA also became a back-to-Africa
movement. As Garvey stated when he developed his vision for the Universal Negro Improvement Association: "Where is the
black man's government? Where is his King and his kingdom? Where is his President, his ambassador, his country, his men of
big affairs? I could not find them, and then I declared, 'I will help to make them.'" And the place where he was going
to achieve his goal was Africa.
Garvey's vision undoubtedly had a profound impact on Nkrumah when he was a student in the United States and after he
became president of Ghana as he sought to unite Africa. He became the most forceful exponent of immediate continental unification
with his slogan, "Africa Must Unite." It was also the title of his book published to coincide with the founding
of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in May 1963.
Nyerere had the same kind of Pan-African commitment like Nkrumah. He embraced the African diaspora as much as Nkrumah
did but did not have a flamboyant style like Nkrumah's. His style was simple, deceptively simple. Underneath lay a deep commitment
to Pan-African causes transcending continental boundaries, without parallel among his contemporaries since Nkrumah whose political
career was abruptly cut short by a military coup engineered by the CIA in February 1966.
And while Nkrumah, together with Jomo Kenyatta, played a key role in organizing the Fifth Pan-African Congress which
was attended by a number of future African leaders including future presidents such as Nnamdi Azikiwe, Dr. Hastings Kamuzu
Banda, and Nkrumah and Kenyatta themselves; Nyerere presided over the Sixth Pan-African Congress during a period when the
liberation struggle in southern Africa was most intense. It was also during this critical phase that African Americans launched
a sustained campaign to influence American policy towards Africa, especially southern Africa. Leaders such Reverend Leo Sullivan
who drew up the Sullivan principles with which American companies doing business in apartheid South Africa were required to
comply to advance the cause of racial justice in that country; black members of the United States Congress who formed the
Congressional Black Caucus (CBC); and groups such as TransAfrica led by Randall Robinson, played a critical role in this campaign
and in helping to advance the cause of liberation in southern Africa. It was Pan-African unity at its best.
In Africa, Nyerere was, among all African leaders since Nkrumah, the most relentless supporter of the African liberation
movements and their most articulate exponent in international forums. And he believed, until his last days, that the destiny
of Africans in Africa was inextricably linked with the destiny of black people in the diaspora whom he considered to be Africans
like Nkrumah and other African leaders did. As he said in one of his last interviews with the New Internationalist in December
1998 almost one year before he died in October 1999:
"After independence, the wider African community became clear to me. I was concerned about education; the work of
Booker T. Washington resonated with me. There were skills we needed and black people outside Africa had them. I gave our
US ambassador the specific job of recruiting skilled Africans from the US Diaspora. A few came, like you (the interviewer,
Ikaweba Bunting). Some stayed; others left.
We should try to revive it (Pan-Africanism). We should look to our brothers and sisters in the West. We should build
a broader Pan-Africansim. There is still room - and the need."