Background Reading on Afrocentrism

Background Reading on Afrocentrism


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



Alexander Crummell’s sermons and addresses are classic illustrations of

the Christian  Afrocentrism that later characterized the Garvey Movement.  

He was a solid advocate of African American political rights. 



Books by Wilson Jeremiah Moses

Golden Age of Black Nationalism, 1850-1925 (1988)  / The Wings of Ethiopia  (1990)

 Alexander Crummell: A Study of Civilization and Discontent (1992)  / Destiny & Race: Selected Writings, 1840-1898  (1992) 

 Black Messiahs and Uncle Toms: Social and Literary Manipulations of a Religious Myth (1993)

Liberian Dreams: Back-to-Africa Narratives from the 1850s  / Afrotopia: The Roots of African American Popular History (2002)

Creative Conflict in African American Thought (2004)

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Basic Background Reading on Afrocentrism

By Wilson J. Moses Ph. D.

Joseph Ephraim Casely Hayford

Everyone deserving of the name, African American intellectual, should try to become familiar with the thought and writings of Joseph Ephraim Casely Hayford (1866–1930), member of the Fante ethnic group, editor of the Gold Coast Leader, lawyer, educator, and ethnologist.   He was a supporter of Pan-African nationalism, and a bridge between Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois, both of whom respected him very highly.   He was Du Bois’s exact contemporary and his intellectual equal, a point that Du Bois readily acknowledged. Du Bois knew that Hayford was the first to offer a critical assessment and rejection of Du Bois’s “two souls paradigm,” on intellectual grounds, and with a reasoned argument.  Every Negro intellectual, wither Francophone, Anglophone, or Lusophone, should read Hayford’s Ethiopia Unbound, which is of parallel importance to Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk, which used to be the backbone of any program in African Studies.

Edward Wilmot Blyden

The other most neglected figure among American Negro intellectuals is Edward Wilmot Blyden (1832 – 1912).  Born in the West Indies to people, putatively of the Igbo ethnic origin, he became a leading figure in the histories of Liberia and Sierra Leone.  His contemporary, William J. Simmons, says he knew 32 West African languages, in addition to Arabic, Latin, Hebrew.  He taught Classical Greek at Liberia College in the 1860s, despite the fact that his fellow faculty member Alexander Crummell had studied those languages at the University of Cambridge. (Crummell taught mathematics).  The great Afrocentrist pioneer, Dusé Mohamed Ali, instructed Marcus Garvey to study Blyden’s writings and arranged for Garvey to have access to the library of the British Museum for that purpose.  Shortly before Blyden’s death, Du Bois asked Blyden to be on the Board of his planned “Encyclopedia Africana.”  Francis J. Grimke hosted a dinner for Blyden during his farewell tour of the United States.  He was supported by Bishop Henry McNeal Turner, and thousands of humble working Negroes celebrated his name, acknowledging him as their world leader. 

Alexander Crummell

The third, and most egregiously neglected Pan African intellectual black nationalist is Alexander Crummell (1819-1898).  Born in New York, brought up as an Episcopalian, as a youth he was introduced to Greek, Latin, and biblical languages thanks to the support of his father, who was born in Africa, a member of the Temne ethnic group.   He received his bachelors degree, and passed his examination in classical Greek at the University of Cambridge in England.  In 1853, he took up missionary work in Liberia.  His sermons and addresses are classic illustrations of the Christian Afrocentrism that later characterized the Garvey Movement.   He was a solid advocate of African American political rights.  Gravitating towards high church ritual, he anticipated Elijah Muhammad’s hostility to grass roots black religion, which he viewed as a plantation survival and part of a slaveholder’s conspiracy to undermine the moral and intellectual development of African Americans.

Crummell’s prolific writings include three books:

*    Africa and America: Addresses and Discourses.  Springfield, Massachusetts: Willey, 1891. 

*    The Future of Africa: Being Addresses, Sermons, Etc., Delivered in the Republic of Liberia.   New York: Charles Scribner, 1862. 

*    The Greatness of Christ and other Sermons.   New York: Thomas Whittaker, 1882. 

*    There are ten reels of microfilm containing the bulk of his unpublished writings

Also see Wilson J. Moses.  Alexander Crummell: A Study of Civilization and Discontent .   New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

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In 1951 Magnus J. Sampson edited some of Hayford’s writings under the title, West African Leadership: Public speeches delivered by the Honourable J. E. Casely Hayford

Among Hayford’s many publications, the following are most readily available at major university libraries: 

    * The Truth About The West African Land Question (1898. Reprinted, 1913. Reprinted London: Cass, 1971)

    * Gold Coast Native Institutions: With Thoughts Upon A Healthy Imperial Policy for the Gold Coast and Ashanti (1903. Reprinted London: Cass, 1970, ISBN 0-7146-1754-7)

    * Ethiopia Unbound: Studies in Race Emancipation (1911. Reprinted London: Cass, 1969, ISBN 0-7146-1753-9)

    * Gold Coast Land Tenure and the Forest Bill (1911)

    * William Waddy Harris, the West African reformer (1915)

    * United West Africa (1919)

There are articles on Casely Hayford, Edward Wilmot Blyden, and Dusé Mohamed Ali, at

The standard work on Blyden is by Hollis R. Lynch.  Edward Wilmot Blyden:  Pan-Negro Patriot, 1832-1912 (London: Oxford University Press, 1967; repr. 1970).

For connections between Blyden and Bishop Turner, read Edwin Redkey, Black Exodus: Black Nationalism and Back to Africa Movements, 1890-1919 (New Haven CT, Yale University Press, 1969).

Blyden’s works include:

    * Africa for the Africans

    * African Life and Customs

    * West Africa Before Europe

    * The Call of Providence to the Descendants of Africa in America

    * Christianity, Islam and the Negro Race, London,

    * The Elements of Permanent Influence

    * Liberia as a Means, Not an End. Liberian Independence Oration

    * The Negro in Ancient History, Liberia: Past, Present, and Future, Washington

    * The Origin and Purpose of African Colonization

    * A Vindication of the African Race; Being a Brief Examination of the Arguments in Favor of African Inferiority

    * Report on the Falaba Expedition 1872

    * Liberia at the American Centennial

    * America in Africa, Christian Advocate

    * The Negro in the United States

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Wilson Jeremiah Moses (Ph. D., Brown, 1975) is Ferree Professor of History at the Pennsylvania State University.  He has been Director of Africana Studies programs at Brown University, Southern Methodist University, and Boston University.  He has taught at the Free University of Berlin, the University of Vienna, and Harvard University, and has lectured widely at other American, European, and African Academies and Universities.

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Nobel Peace Prize Winners are Subjects of Prominent PBS Broadcasts—Three women—Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, her compatriot Leymah Gbowee, and pro-democracy campaigner Tawakul Karman of Yemen — have been named co-recipients of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize for their nonviolent role in promoting peace, democracy, and gender equality. Their remarkable stories are part of public media’s Women and Girls Lead pipeline of documentaries. Public media leaders from ITVS, PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting joined the rising chorus of voices congratulating Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, her co-patriot Leymah Gbowee, and pro-democracy campaigner Tawakul Karman of Yemen, the three women named co-recipients of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.” Pray the Devil Back to Hell   / Leymah Gbowee Wins 2011 Nobel Peace Prize

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Pray the Devil Back to Hell

A film directed by Gini Reticker

Pray the Devil Back to Hell is a captivating new film by director Gini Reticker. It exposes a different story angle for the largely forgotten recent events of the women of Liberia uniting to bring the end to their nation’s civil war. This film is amazing in the way it captivates your attention from the earliest frames. It doesn’t shy away from showing footage of the violent events that took place during the Liberian civil war. But the main story of the film is that of Leymah Gbowee and the other women uniting, despite their religious differences, to force action on the stalled peace talks in their country. Using entirely nonviolent methods, not only are the peace talks successful, but Charles Taylor, the president of Liberia, is forced into exile leading to the first election of a female head of state in Africa. The women of this film are truly an inspiration and no one can fail to be moved by the message of hope that comes through clearly in this film. These are heroes that deserve to be remembered and with Pray the Devil we are able to do that, gaining both a knowledge of the history we are ignorant of through archival footage and an understanding of the leaders of this movement through close-up interviews with the many women who lead it. The film also offers a great soundtrack & inspirational song- “Djoyigbe” by Angelique Kidjo & Blake Leyh.—Amazon Reviewer

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Mighty Be Our Powers

How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War

By Leymah Gbowee

As a young woman, Leymah Gbowee was broken by the Liberian civil war, a brutal conflict that tore apart her life and claimed the lives of countless relatives and friends. Years of fighting destroyed her country—and shattered Gbowee’s girlhood hopes and dreams. As a young mother trapped in a nightmare of domestic abuse, she found the courage to turn her bitterness into action, propelled by her realization that it is women who suffer most during conflicts—and that the power of women working together can create an unstoppable force. In 2003, the passionate and charismatic Gbowee helped organize and then led the Liberian Mass Action for Peace, a coalition of Christian and Muslim women who sat in public protest, confronting Liberia’s ruthless president and rebel warlords, and even held a sex strike. With an army of women, Gbowee helped lead her nation to peace—in the process emerging as an international leader who changed history. Mighty Be Our Powers is the gripping chronicle of a journey from hopelessness to empowerment that will touch all who dream of a better world.—Beast Books  / Pray the Devil Back to Hell

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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updated 15 December 2007 




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