Minkah Makalani – Rutgers University

Pan-Africanism represents the complexities of black political and intellectual thought over two hundred years. What constitutes Pan-Africanism, what one might include in a Pan-African movement often changes according to whether the focus is on politics, ideology, organizations, or culture. Pan-Africanism actually reflects a range of political views. At a basic level, it is a belief that African peoples, both on the African continent and in the Diaspora, share not merely a common history, but a common destiny. This sense of interconnected pasts and futures has taken many forms, especially in the creation of political institutions.

One of the earliest manifestations of Pan-Africanism came in the names that African peoples gave to their religious institutions. From the late-1780s onward, free blacks in the United States established their own churches in response to racial segregation in white churches. They were tired, for example, of being confined to church galleries and submitting to church rules that prohibited them from being buried in church cemeteries. In 1787 a young black Methodist minister, Richard Allen, along with another black clergyman, Absalom Jones, established the Free African Society, a benevolent organization that held religious services and mutual aid for “free Africans and their descendants” in Philadelphia. In 1794 Jones accepted a position as pastor of the Free African Society’s African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas. Allen, desiring to lead a Methodist congregation, established in southern Philadelphia’s growing black community the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, which also served as a way station on the Underground Railroad. Africa in the name of these early black religious institutions reflected an expansive worldview and an African consciousness evident also in Allen’s support for emigration back to Africa and Haiti. Indeed, in 1824 this impulse led approximately six thousand blacks from Philadelphia and other U.S. coastal cities to immigrate to Haiti; a community descended from Philadelphia blacks who settled in what was then eastern Haiti still exists in Samaná, a small peninsula city in the northeast of the Dominican Republic.


African Religious Identity

That impulse toward an African identity was also apparent in the religious practices of enslaved people throughout the Americas, who tended to develop syncretic religions that blended African deities and belief systems with Christianity and Catholicism, giving rise to Santería in Cuba, Vodun in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and Candomblé in Brazil. In contrast, enslaved people in the United States tended not to develop elaborate belief systems, but their African-informed religious practices helped foster a sense of collective identity, just as Vodun and Santería did, and served as the basis of certain radical political practices. The Haitian revolution, itself facilitated and organized through Vodun, inspired several southern enslaved ministers like Nat Turner, Gabriel Prosser, and Denmark Vesey to lead or plot slave revolts.

Another important political form of a religious Pan-Africanist worldview appeared in the form of Ethiopianism. Ethiopia’s African diasporic religious symbolism grew in the 1800s among blacks in the United States and the Caribbean, through a reading of Psalm 68:31, “Ethiopia shall soon stretch forth its hands unto God,” as a prophesy that God would redeem Africa and free the enslaved. The verse served as a bulwark against a racist theology that declared black people were the descendants of Ham, the cursed son of Noah whose children were to be the hewers of wood and drawers of water. Ethiopianism thus emerged initially as a psychic resistance to racist theology, soon becoming the basis of a nascent political organizing.

In southern Africa in the late-1800s, Ethiopianism assumed institutional form following visits from the African Methodist Episcopal Church, especially Bishop Henry McNeal Turner. Two groups, one led by Joseph Mathunye Kanyane Napo in 1888, the other by Mangena Maake Mokone in 1892, broke from the Anglican and Methodist churches, Mokone establishing the Ethiopian Church in 1892, which joined the African Methodist Episcopal Church four years later. This led to several South Africans visiting the United States and attending historically black colleges, including some of the earliest leaders of the African Native National Congress. Ethiopianism was also believed to have played a role in the 1906 Natal Zulu Rebellion.

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Pan-African Conferences

At the same time that Ethiopianism took institutional form in South Africa, African diasporic activist-intellectuals were beginning to convene pan-African conferences. The first of these was the Chicago Conference on Africa, convened on August 14, 1893. Lasting a week, it drew, among others, Henry McNeal Turner and Alexander Crummell, the Egyptian Yakub Pasha, and African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church bishop Alexander Walters. Topics of discussion included “The African in America,” “Liberia as a Factor in the Progress of the Negro Race,” and “What Do American Negroes Owe to Their Kin Beyond the Sea.”

A few years later, the Trinidadian barrister Henry Sylvester Williams began thinking about a political movement organized around a series of conferences that would draw representatives of the “African race from all the parts of the world.” In September 1897, Williams established the African Association (AA) to “encourage a feeling of unity [and] facilitate friendly intercourse among Africans,” and “promote and protect the interests of all subjects claiming African descent, wholly or in part, in British Colonies and other place, especially in Africa.” Based in London, the AA published studies, news reports, and appeals to “Imperial and local governments.” The AA’s leadership came from throughout the African diaspora: Rev. H. Mason Joseph of Antigua served as chairman; T. J. Thompson of Sierra Leone was deputy chairman, while the South African woman A. V. Kinloch was treasurer. As honorary secretary, Williams quickly directed the African Association into politics. In October of that year, he submitted a petition to Joseph Chamberlain, secretary of state for the colonies, to include a clause in the Rhodesian constitution to protect native Africans’ interests, respect their customs, create industrial schools, and teach “a simple and true Christianity.” News of the African Association’s lobbying British government and members of parliament on behalf of Africans spread throughout the continent and served as the basis for enthusiastic response from Africans toward the organization.

Williams used the momentum to aid in organizing a Pan-African conference, which met in London’s Westminster Town Hall, from July 23 to 25, 1900. This conference drew to London approximately thirty-two delegates from Africa, the United States, the Caribbean, and parts of Europe (the largest contingent being African Americans, with only four African delegates). The London Pan-African Conference produced the Pan-African Association (PAA), which replaced the African Association. The PAA continued the political work of the African Association but took as its focus building a Pan-African movement. Its goals included securing civil and political rights for African peoples; promoting friendly relations between races; encouraging African peoples in education, industry, and business; lobbying governments on behalf of African peoples; and ameliorating conditions of black people in Africa, America, the British Empire, and other parts of the world. The proposed scope portended a dynamic organizational and intellectual current that would join the multiple segments of the Diaspora in a global movement.

The PAA hoped to establish branches throughout Africa, the Caribbean, the United States, and had planned to hold a conference every other year. It launched a monthly magazine, the Pan-African, that would “diffus[e] information concerning the interests of the African and his Descendants in the British Empire.” Published in London under Williams’s editorship, it appeared only once, and foretold of the PAA’s rapid demise. When Williams left London for the Caribbean early in 1901, several of the PAA’s London-based members dissolved the organization. Though Williams would return and attempt to reestablish the organization, it faded silently into history.

The spirit of the Pan-African Conference and the Pan-African Association would continue in various parts of the African Diaspora. John E. Bruce and the Puerto-Rican Arturo Schomburg, drawing on their experiences in Alexander Crummell’s American Negro Academy, established in Harlem the Negro Society for Historical Research, which included Africans and blacks in the Americas. Alongside W. E. B. Du Bois, Alain Locke, and the Panamain Marie Du Chatellier, members included Edward Wilmot Blyden from the Virgin Islands, the lawyer Casely-Hayford from the Gold Coast (Ghana), and the Sudano-Egyptian Dusé Mohamed Ali. Later Ali and Joseph Casely-Hayford launched The African Times and Orient Review in 1912. The ATOR had a six-year run and circulated in the United States, the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, Europe, and India.

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Garvey and the UNIA

At the same time that Dusé Mohamed Ali prepared to launch his journal, a young Jamaican printer by the name of Marcus Garvey was traveling throughout the Caribbean and Central America. Garvey would land in Europe in 1912, and upon arriving in London, he joined the ATOR staff. Ali’s journal and the political ferment in London exposed Garvey to an even wider diasporic world than he had encountered in his travels throughout the Americas. He began to envision a global movement that would unite the race and found an African empire. Upon returning to Jamaica in 1914, Garvey established the Universal Negro Improvement and Conservation Association and African Communities League. He met little success in Jamaica, but a trip to the United States to raise money for a university and to meet Booker T. Washington altered his life.

Washington died before Garvey arrived in the United States. Yet it would be the brutal and horrific 1917 race riot in East Saint Louis, Illinois, that led Garvey to re-form the UNIA in New York in 1918. Among its objectives, the UNIA sought to promote race pride, “strengthen the imperialism of independent African States,” promote worldwide commerce and industry, and “promote a conscientious Christian worship” that would aid “in civilizing the backward tribes of Africa,” a civilizationist approach standard for the time. Though suffering organizational problems and receiving criticism from contemporaries and its members, the UNIA quickly grew into one of the largest organizations in the history of Pan-African liberation movements and the African Diaspora. Its weekly newspaper, The Negro World, which was published in English with Spanish- and French-language pages, circulated around the globe, alarming colonial officials, who banned the paper from their colonies. Garvey’s rhetorical call of “Africa for the Africans” earned him considerable praise as well as numerous enemies in the United States and the Caribbean.

By 1920, the UNIA claimed over one thousand divisions in forty countries. Garvey’s desire to establish a steamship company to facilitate international trade between Africa and blacks in the Caribbean and United States captured the imagination of millions. The UNIA also entered into negotiations with the Americo-Liberian elite in Liberia to establish a UNIA “colony” that would facilitate repatriating western blacks to Africa, though these plans fell through due to pressure from the U.S., French, and British governments.

Perhaps Garvey’s greatest achievement and the organizational effort that was most suggestive of his political vision was the UNIA’s International Conventions of the Negro Peoples of the World. The first of several conventions convened for the entire month of August, 1920. Despite widespread disagreement over attendance figures, those present came from countries throughout the African world and adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World, which adopted the red, black, and green flag as the “colors of the Negro Race” and called for the “complete control of our social institutions without interference by any alien race or races.” Garvey’s political shortcomings overshadowed his vision, however. At the convention, he was elected provisional president of Africa, prompting Hubert Harrison, a longtime Harlem radical and The Negro World editor, to call the election a farce. Others, like the largely Afro-Caribbean membership of the African Blood Brotherhood (ABB), questioned whether Africans themselves would want a black person from the Caribbean, as opposed to their own able leaders. Members of the ABB also questioned Garvey’s emphasis on building an African empire, which they felt would re-create all the problems of the British and French empires.

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Congresses and Communist Movements

By the 1920s, Pan-Africanism represented an ideology with multiple currents. Along with Garvey and the UNIA, several others pursued Pan-African liberation. The African Blood Brotherhood was an extremely small organization by comparison, never reaching more than a few thousand members. Its members, especially its founder Cyril Briggs (from the small Leeward Island of Nevis), the Barbadian orator Richard B. Moore, and the African-American social worker and clubwoman Grace Campbell, articulated a Pan-African politics that sought to link African liberation, national independence in the Caribbean, and anti-racist struggles in the United States with proletarian revolution for socialism. Many ABB members became the first black members of the American Communist Party and pursued their Pan-African vision within the institutions of the Moscow-based Communist International, where they met and built ties with Francophone black radicals in Paris, as well as West African activists.

The most enduring representation of early-twentieth-century Pan-Africanism came in the Pan-African congresses. W. E. B. Du Bois, the renowned scholar and intellectual who headed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s publicity department, where he edited its magazine The Crisis, had been a member of Crummell’s American Negro Academy and participated in the 1900 Pan-African Conference in London. The approaching Paris Peace Conference would decide the future of Germany’s African colonies. Du Bois called for the Pan-African Congress to meet in Paris, and it was convened February 19–21, 1919, at the Grand Hôtel. Presided over by Blaise Diagne of Senegal and Du Bois, it attracted delegates from throughout the African Diaspora, though no representatives came from the British West Indies, and hardly any were present from West Africa. White representatives from France, Belgium, and Portugal defended their countries’ colonial policies, while the U.S. representative William Walling (an NAACP cofounder) argued that changes to American racial policies were on the horizon. Indeed, the resolution adopted at the congress tended more toward moderation and gradual reform than anything approximating a demand for immediate independence. The resolution called on the proposed League of Nations to establish rules and codes for governing African colonial subjects and outlined a series of guidelines for governing Africans and peoples of African descent.

Du Bois seemed to recognize the problems that attended the first Pan-African Congress, especially the lack of voice from Africans themselves. In planning the second congress, he expressed a desire to “have a strong representation of the West Africans.” The second congress met in London, August 27–29, 1921, and in Brussels and Paris from August 31 to September 2, 1921. Importantly, a third of its participants came from Africa, though only seven of the 113 were from the Caribbean. The congress’s resolution came out more forcefully for self-government in Africa, the return of expropriated lands, the development of the masses, and for race leaders to align themselves more closely to black workers rather than white capitalists.

This congress also established a second Pan-African Association, which Du Bois controlled. This PAA fared little better than its first iteration, but it did allow Du Bois to stave off the deep schisms that began to develop between the Anglophone and Francophone participants. In 1923 Du Bois was able to convene a third PAC in London and Lisbon, Portugal. The fourth PAC, organized by the Women’s International Circle for Peace and Foreign Relations (a black women’s club in New York led by Addie W. Hunton, Nina Du Bois, and Minnie Pickens,) met in 1927. It was originally to meet in Tunisia or the Caribbean, but when the French and British governments blocked the congress, it was moved to New York City. At the New York congress, former African Blood Brothers Richard B. Moore and Otto Huiswoud pushed the adoption of a resolution supporting black workers and calling for Egyptian, Chinese, and Indian liberation, and urging Caribbean national liberation and federation.

Moore and Huiswoud soon emerged at the fore of an effort among black radicals in the communist movement to build an international organization with African diasporic radicals from the Caribbean and Africa. The Trinidadian George Padmore had joined the American Communist Party while a student at Howard University in 1927. Rising rapidly within the party, he found himself in 1930 in Hamburg, Germany, heading the Communist International’s Negro Bureau and leading the newly formed International Trade Union Committee of Negro Workers (ITUCNW). The ITUCNW organized black maritime workers in Europe, who helped circulate the organization’s journal, The Negro Worker.

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The International African Service Bureau

In 1935 Padmore resigned from the Communist International, settling in London where, with several former ITUCNW members—among them Jomo Kenyatta (future president of Kenya) and Sierra Leonean I. T. A. Wallace-Johnson—as well as Amy Ashwood Garvey (Marcus Garvey’s first wife) and his childhood friend the Trinidadian writer C. L. R. James, he established the International African Service Bureau (IASB). Much like the African and Pan-African associations, the IASB advocated for African liberation from colonialism and engaged in intellectual activity that produced not only its journal, International African Opinion, but James’s monumental study of the Haitian revolution, The Black Jacobins.

In 1938 C. L. R. James traveled to the United States on a speaking tour for the Trotskyist movement and soon became one of the most important African diasporic theorists of the century. James would also meet Kwame Nkrumah in the United States and introduce him to Padmore, who was still in London. A long-term political relationship developed that later earned Padmore a position in Nkrumah’s government in the newly independent Ghana. Before that time, however, Padmore and Nkrumah, led by IASB veteran T. Ras Makonnen, organized the fifth Pan-African Congress, which convened in Manchester, England. They invited Du Bois to participate in the planning and in the congress itself, though this time Africans made up over a quarter of the delegates at the fifth PAC. This congress also showed greater radicalism and voiced a decidedly leftist anti-colonialism, along with immediacy in its calls for African liberation. The congress’s resolution condemned “the monopoly of capital and the rule of private wealth and industry for private profit alone,” and unlike previous Pan-African congresses that characterized western blacks the leaders of African liberation, the 1945 meeting declared “African Negroes themselves … capable of expressing their desires.” In addition, Amy Ashwood Garvey raised for the first time the need to address the special struggles of black women in the Caribbean and the African world.

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The Last PAC

Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere convened the last Pan-African Congress June 17–19, 1974, in Dar es Salaam. Commonly known as the Six PAC, this was the first congress held in Africa. Nyerere considered this meeting, coming after national liberation had spread throughout Africa and the Caribbean, as an opportunity to discuss the “means, and further, the progress, of opposition to racialism, colonialism, oppression and exploitation everywhere,” and placing these in “the context of a worldwide movement for human equality and national self-determination.” Alluding to the new challenges presented by independence, Nyerere asked those present to recognize that “an end to colonialism is not an end to the oppression of man,” and to continue working “against oppression by the leaders of those countries which have recently attained freedom, whether this is directed against other black men and women, or against people of different races.”

Speeches and debates at the Six PAC focused on race and class and the African Diaspora, but the proceedings were punctuated by heated disagreements among delegates from the United States and the Caribbean. Despite the contentiousness, the resolution adopted at the Six PAC reflected the efforts of delegates to envision the tasks of a new struggle and a new liberated future. This resolution focused on neo-colonialism as the new threat to African diasporic independence and on the continued oppression of Africa; took up the struggle against apartheid in South Africa; class differences and exploitation in Africa; and the Palestinian liberation movement.

The Six PAC held several sessions on the oppression and exploitation of women, the resolution itself calling for the democratization and “transformat[ion] of gender relations … on the continent and in the diaspora.” Coming over a half-century after the first Pan-African Congress in Paris, and some eighty-odd years after the Chicago Conference on Africa, the Six PAC showed the imaginative daring that drew those first delegates to London in 1900 and inspired Du Bois to work so diligently on the congresses from 1919 to 1927.

In its closing lines, the resolution talked of the Six PAC delegates daring “to dream the same dream that has always filled the villages, ghettos, townships and slave quarters with hope, that has always animated the spirit of resistance.” It resonated with the optimism of those earlier meetings, if it betrayed in a far more public way the limits of that illusive ideal to racial unity. A struggle against new forms of exploration and oppression awaited the African Diaspora, and the resolution concluded with a fitting echo of Du Bois, but also Malcolm X, when it declared: “We the African people are our own liberators and thinkers whose task is to make a mighty stride towards genuine freedom by any means necessary."

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