ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
Few black leaders had been so completely preoccupied with the welfare
of Africans and the African continent as was Du Bois, and none had so
convincingly researched facts that set forth the African village and community
as the cornerstone of past and future civilizations.
Books by Rose Ure Mezu
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Black Nationalists: Reconsidering
Du Bois, Garvey, Booker T., & Nkrumah
Edited by Dr. S Okechukwu Mezu &
Among the proponents of black nationalism, our choice of W. E. B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, Booker T. Washington, and Kwame Nkrumah as the quadruple theme of the 1999 International, Interdisciplinary Pan-African Conference of Writers of African Descent Speak!( WADS): Black Creativity and the State of the Race held at Morgan State University (April 7-9, 1999) was both novel and crucial.
It was novel because it was arguably the first time the four great black nationalists had been juxtaposed in that order at any conference. And it was crucial to the orientation of the three WADS Conferences so far held to evaluate Black Creativity and the State of the Race (1997-1999). These four black leaders so well illustrate the stated direction of the Pan-African conferences which, in the tradition of both W.E.B. Du Bois and Marcus Garvey, seek to encourage a rapprochement between the various peoples of African descent in Africa and the black diaspora.
The accent is on the necessity for black people to work closely together. From Du Bois comes this wish that “when once the blacks of the United States, West Indies, and Africa work and think together, the future of black [people] in the modern world is safe” (W.E.B. Du Bois: A Reader 403). He meant work with and not for black Africa a theme that was echoed by Marcus Garvey when he insisted that “we must work together . . . not to go to Africa for the purpose of exercising over-lordship over the natives . . . but brotherly co-operation which will make the interests of the native African and the American and the West Indian Negro one and the same . . . a common partnership to build up Africa in the interests of our race” (The Philosophy & Opinions of Marcus Garvey 70-71).
Some of the Big Four knew themselves and, to some degree, interacted with one another at different times. W.E.B. Du Bois knew, corresponded, collaborated, as well as fought with Booker T. Washington. It may not be known by everyone that Booker T. Washington admired the scholarly achievements of Du Bois, sought without success to conscript the haughty man of letters as a possible lieutenant (Quarles, The Negro in the Making of America 172), and did publish the latter’s article, “The Talented Tenth,” in a book he edited.
Du Bois, on the other hand, in “The Negro in Literature and Art” (1913) praised Washington’s Up From Slavery as “the latest” in the voices of “Negro authors being heard in the United States” (W. E. B. Du Bois: A Reader 232). Ironically, while in London in 1899, Booker T. Washington pledged his support to Henry Sylvester Williams, the lawyer from Trinidad who was organizing activities towards the 1900 Pan-African conference; Washington encouraged as many people as possible to attend the said conference (Claypole & Robottom 79-80).
As is common knowledge, Marcus Garvey admired Booker T. Washington’s successful institutional and economic experiment at Tuskegee Institute (1881), and came to the United States to meet him. Garvey knew and fought with Du Bois, but they both acknowledged the potency of each other’s vision even if by way of protest, even as each doubted the wisdom and direction of the other’s program.
Kwame Nkrumah’s revolutionary black nationalist ideology was a mix of inspiration from both Marcus Garvey and Du Bois. Kwame subsequently worked very closely with the Grand Old Father of Pan-Africanism; he harbored and sheltered Du Bois until the latter’s death in Ghana in 1963.
Consequently, WADS Conference organizers sought to synthesize from the black nationalist ideologies of our four heroes, positive principles that should continue to serve the greater common interests and enhance the progress of all black people because the four leaders embodied different aspects of black nationalism. If Black Nationalism can be regarded largely as the centralization of efforts at race pride, unity, political and economic self-reliance, liberation from colonial / neo-colonial manipulation, then the four subjects together embodied all of these aspects.
They inherited the definitional nature of black nationalism from fore-runners such as David Walker, Edward Wilmot Blyden, Martin Delany and Alexander Crummell; at least, three of them – Du Bois, Garvey and Nkrumah inherited, to a greater or a lesser degree, the revolutionary spirit of Gabriel Prosser and Nat Turner: Du Bois’s Niagara Movement (1905) was both radical and revolutionary; for Du Bois, Pan-Africanism was a tool he used to promote the movement’s radical ideological, political concept of multicultural democracy while under Garvey, the black nationalist ideology reached its apogee as racial purism; he was against miscegenation and so was Du Bois.
Garvey advocated complete separatism – through his “Back-to-Africa” movement; he worked with the Ku Klux Klan; he advocated Africa for the Africans “every race to its own habitat,” (The Philosophy & Opinions of Marcus Garvey 68, 72). Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey extended and perfected the institutional and economic philosophy of black nationalism. All of these ideologies would later inspire Kwame Nkrumah’s Pan-Continentalism by which he sought to effect the political and economic unity of African states (Nkrumahism) so that Africa would rid itself of European colonial rule and exploitation.
Moreover, the WADS Conference theme itself cuts across disciplines (as it must need do) since W.E.B. Du Bois alone was a scholar with expertise in several fields simultaneously History, Political Science, Sociology, Literature, ancient as well as modern Languages, et cetera. If nothing else, because of the commonality of black peoples’ social heritage of suffering under slavery, solidarity as the oppressed under colonialism, and what Gbadagesin terms “the kinship of the dispossessed” (W.E.B. Du Bois 231), our quadruple conference subjects confer on all peoples of African descent that trans-regional consciousness, even expanding it, as Du Bois did after his seven-month world tour of 1936, to the level of rhetoric of a global liberation struggle of the world’s oppressed against Western imperialism and colonialism.
Du Bois, Garvey, Booker T. and Nkrumah therefore qualify highly as representative nationalists because of the important legacies their activities spawned. Each of them possessed: charisma, a definite program with a vision, and great powers of oratory. W.E.B. Du Bois remains foremost among the most extraordinarily gifted, articulate and influential explicators of the depths of racial meaning in this century.
His writings were prolific, wide-ranging and of far-reaching effect; his thrusting mind traversed even the social sciences. Supremely self-confident and super-educated, he wrote incessantly on a broad range of topics. He made prophetic statements as evidenced by his uncanny1900 prophecy that the color line would define twentieth century civilization -which it did, and is still continuing to do. If some modern scholars are presently having misgivings about the future relevance of his writings owing to his language which at times waxed romantic, idealistic and old-fashioned, many other scholars will state without equivocation that Du Bois’s ideas and importance will last and last, because the issues he fought about concern abstract but timeless ideas that define the quality of the existence of individuals as well as nations.
From The Souls of Black Folk (1903) came the most aware articulation of the cultural and psychological burden under which the black individual in America lives beleaguered by a double identity as both black and American. From Du Bois’s refining insight stems most modern literary and analytical studies of the Negro condition his Atlanta papers issuing from the 1897-1910 conference studies while he was Atlanta University professor of History and Economics, and especially The Negro (1915), laid the foundation of later Black and African Studies programs in universities; and he continues to act as guide and resource-authority for scholars and students in the academy just as his triple concept of Race, Class and Gender inspired Multicultural Studies in universities.
Du Bois promoted Liberal Arts education for blacks and immediately, Greek-letter societies came into existence. Du Bois’s urban cultural concept of the exceptionally qualified “Talented Tenth” provided the leaven with which to lead the masses in the agitation for political and civic rights and in the enlightened advancement of the race. His Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study (1899) would lay the foundations of modern Sociology as a scientific discipline.
There are still in existence ongoing projects which were the fruits of his prodigious talents – the NAACP (1909), the journals – Phylon and the monthly magazine Crisis: A Record of the Darker Races (1910); the Pan-African Congresses he organized in 1919, 1921, 1925, 1927 became the platform for the struggle to empower the nations of Africa and eventually the exploited nations of other races to liberate and govern themselves. These efforts will culminate in the 1945 Manchester Pan-African Congress at which featured a well-represented vanguard of intellectual and political leaders of the black world some of whom became future leaders of states at independence.
Perhaps, his greatest legacy and one that places his view on an enlarged, global plane – one that fortuitously began during his lifetime – is his prophetic pronouncement of African and Asian nationalism long before the countries of both continents started gaining their independence.
Nkrumah confessed his debt to Du Bois who advised him to assume leadership in eliminating all artificial barriers of language, religion, or culture separating African countries, and to help organize a Pan-African political union with its independent units working together to develop a new African economy and cultural center standing between Europe and Asia, taking and contributing to both…. It should avoid subjection to and ownership by foreign capitalists who seek to get rich on African labor and raw materials and should try to build a socialism founded on African communal life (Du Bois The World and Africa 296).
Few black leaders had been so completely preoccupied with the welfare of Africans and the African continent as was Du Bois, and none had so convincingly researched facts that set forth the African village and community as the cornerstone of past and future civilizations. Believing as he did that the power of social science would provide the knowledge to combat racial discrimination, it is gratifying that his monumental project – the Encyclopedia Africana which he started in Ghana was by 1999 completed by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Wole Soyinka, et al and is featured in the internet as Encarta Africana.
A charge often leveled against Du Bois was that, although he had challenged Marcus Garvey relentlessly, he changed from his integrationist ideology to adopt an almost separatist stance after Garvey’s death. It bears repeating that Du Boisian ideas about the eradication of racism, and advocacy of equal treatment for all human beings never did change. Over his long span of existence – 93 years – what would change from time to time, depending on the social and political circumstances of the period, was his approach towards achieving his objectives.
For instance, it is not often known that despite their disagreements, not long after Garvey’s death, Du Bois on February 9, 1944 reached out in a letter to Garvey’s widow, Amy Ashwood Jacques Garvey, discussing with her and other black leaders that included Paul Robeson, the idea of developing an African Freedom Charter and the setting up of another Pan-African Congress.
She subsequently came to Manchester for the 1945 Pan-African Congress and Manning Marable records that “Amy Jacques Garvey received warm applause from all participants” (210-217). No doubt, at the critical period in which Garvey and Du Bois interacted, it would have served the cause of black nationalism immeasurably if both of them, instead of working against each other, had joined forces to free the black peoples of Africa and black diaspora from the shackles of Western economic and political imperialism.
If Du Bois’ greatness is anchored in the realm of abstract ideas and ideals, Booker T. Washington on the other hand, advocates boast, personifies concretely visible and lasting edifices the first, all-black-staffed Veterans’ Administration Hospital (1924) and, especially, Tuskegee Institute founded in 1881 and maintained with grants from Mellon and Andrew Carnegie. The latter in 1903 provided a grant of $600,000 to Washington since “to me he seems one of the foremost of living men because his work is unique” (qtd. by Quarles 166).
This acclaim and admiration by privileged white hegemony is one reality that bedeviled and continues to haunt Washington’s reputation, for by advocating industrial education and mechanical skills, it was as if, as Du Bois accused him, he was leading the race backwards, wanting to keep Negroes still mired in slavery, still serving white people. Booker T.’s landmark 1895 Atlanta Exposition address to Negroes on race relations would always be largely viewed resentfully as a counsel to Negroes to forego their political and social rights as equal and autonomous beings.
Yet this turn-of-the-century greatest of black leaders justified his philosophy by pointing out that his brand of education while developing mechanical skills also developed character, citing in 1907, the positive result of his investigation – that not one Tuskegee graduate could be found within the precincts of any penitentiary in the United States. Thus, Booker T. Washington, remains an exponent par excellence of the ideology that the economic success of Negroes will provide the basis for political strength and usher in great overall advancement for the race as exemplified in the illustrious career of Dr. George Washington Carver trained at Tuskegee.
Booker T.’s revolutionary legacy in creating a merchant class is thus the fulfillment of the dream of other black nationalists such as Martin Robison Delaney, the Pittsburgh newspaper editor who in “The Condition and Destiny of Africans in the United States” recommended that basic, practical knowledge of various business enterprises, professions and sciences, is the cornerstone for the elevation of the colored race.
Additionally, Booker T. in 1900 founded the Negro Business League as a black chamber of commerce designed for the rising black merchant class, and by 1915, its local and state branches totaled some 600. Insurance companies and banks followed. Under Washington’s leadership, Blacks may have wielded little political power, nevertheless, they were motivated by race pride to invest in black businesses.
Booker T. Washington’s Up From Slavery, above all other considerations, as Benjamin Quarles puts it, was “an affirmation of faith in the future” progress of black people (The Negro in the Making of America 168). This love for the progress and welfare of black people makes the method Booker T. employed to realize his goals one of expediency during the turbulent post-Reconstruction era.
Then, in 1916, Marcus Garvey stepped into a United States landscape steeped in violence – protest over lynching, virulent Jim Crow laws in operation, military segregation of black soldiers and the disillusionment resulting from Woodrow Wilson’s betrayal of the urban Negroes’ hopes of eradicating the color line following the 1912 elections. With his great talents of oratory, persuasion and organizing the masses, the charismatic Garvey found the non-elite black masses receptive to his black nationalist rhetoric.
The details of his flamboyant organization are now part of history. Receiving inspiration from Booker T. Washington, he expanded the latter’s philosophy of economic self-sufficiency through black-owned business a philosophy made concrete when Garvey established the Black Star Line and other businesses. And, Garvey would go beyond the insular confines of the United States to reach the black masses in Africa, West Indies and South America bringing to the American Negroes an awareness of the wider world.
With his United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), and the weekly Negro World, his exhortations excited the imagination of the poor, urban Negroes to whom he gave the gifts of self-respect and pride in themselves and in their race. Although Garvey did go too far with his black supremacist views, his legacies include merging religion and politics as the basis for a new liberation theology – he established an African Orthodox Church which extolled African religious and cultural principles already expounded by Edward Wilmot Blyden in an earlier age. Garvey’s ideas of black nationalism had sweep and would inspire struggles for liberation against colonialism.
Du Bois’s and Garvey’s social backgrounds and academic experiences were dissimilar, thus making their now famous dispute really one based on contrasting educational and social positions. Du Bois was in approach introspective, idealistic, elitist and encouraged native Africans towards leadership assumption in Africa, Garvey, as a man of the masses, was gregarious, practical and sought to establish for diasporan blacks a homeland in Liberia, Africa, from where all blacks would unite to build up the African Continent to greatness. These were two very different approaches to the same complex race problem.
Thus, in the post-World War I era, Marcus Garvey and Du Bois ranked as the two most outstanding black leaders. While it might be romantic to imagine how formidable a Booker T. / Du Bois team or a Du Bois / Garvey team working jointly could have been, yet even in their dispute, the disparity in their explosive positions highlighted the black nationalist cause, propelling it into a global arena, such that African nationalist leaders such as Jomo Kenyatta, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Kwame Nkrumah were able to base their activities on the elders’ ideologies and achievements.
Kwame Nkrumah, the last but not the least of our four black nationalists under consideration, stands out as a favored son from the motherland, an inheritor of the struggles and ideologies of black nationalism. In Nkrumah also, the aspirations of black nationalism would find both practical and symbolic fulfillment. Marcus Garvey, though dead long before Ghana’s independence in1957, was an early inspiration to Nkrumah through his economic self-sufficiency ideology and his emancipation call: “Awake! The day is upon you, go forth in the name of the race and build yourselves a nation, redeem your country Africa, the land from whence you came and prove yourselves worthy of the recognition of others” (qtd. in Amy Jacques Garvey 99).
But it was W.E.B. Du Bois, blessed with longevity, who lived to see aspects of his political ideology come to fruition in Nkrumah as some African nations (led by Nkrumah’s Ghana) became free. Introduced to the London socialist / Marxist circle by George Padmore, Nkrumah came into prominence during the 1945 Manchester Pan-African Congress which he organized jointly with Padmore.
Nkrumah’s legacies include the founding of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) which he envisaged as a prelude to more concrete efforts at a continental union. His dream of economic and political emancipation of Africa and its subsequent greatness among the international committee of nations continues to shine as a beacon to African nations (presently reeling in the grip of post-independence native and neo-colonialist exploitation), to transcend artificially created barriers and harness more efficiently their economic and political self-government programs.
Nkrumah’s sponsorship of freedom movements in Africa, his generous monetary help to emerging black nations, and his close association of the independence of Ghana to a free Africa, all these legacies will ensure that whenever and wherever black nationalists are considered, Kwame Nkrumah will always feature as one of the ablest, most energetic and charismatic.
The above considerations constituted the rationale for organizing the Third International Interdisciplinary WADS Black Creativity Pan-African Conference (April 7-9, 1999). The response was tremendous. Scholars came from universities across the country. Nwalimu Nyerere, founding president of United Republic of Tanzania was flying in from Africa and the Hon. Dudley Thompson, Q.J., Q.C. reputed as Jamaica’s national treasure who gave the conference opening keynote address, equally was flying in from the West Indies.
Dr. Bernard W. Bell, a Du Bois scholar from The Pennsylvania State University, was the keynote lecturer for the second day while Amiri Baraka, formerly Leroi Jones founder of the Black Arts Movement was the distinguished star attraction for the third and last day of the conference. These represented a continuation of the tradition of actual geographical, spatial movement of scholars and Pan-Black nationalists attending the WADS Pan-African Conference in the last three years.
The three-day conference was a remarkable trajectory; the twenty (20) sessions were well-attended; the quality of the sixty (60) scholarly papers presented was outstanding; audience participation was scholarly, informed, intensely passionate and committed. 1999 WADS Conference subjects – DuBois, Garvey, Booker T. and Nkrumah were protectively vigilant, ensuring that all would go well.
This led Dr. Rose Mezu to point out that, despite formidable handicaps, a set of cultural heroes have been able to rise above crushing disabilities to progressively reverse, individually and collectively, an established status quo in order to create for black people worldwide alternate choices. These choices include freedom movements, ideology of self reliance, belief in common cultural affinity, and sometimes belief in a unified political destiny of racial greatness.
The Hon. Dudley Thompson embodied Pan-African history itself as he spoke, intimately and from firsthand knowledge, of incidents in the lives of Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, Kwame Nkrumah, C.L.R. James, George Padmore, Jomo Kenyatta, Nelson Mandela. Amiri Baraka, founder of the Black Arts movement, initiator and interpreter of Kwanzaa was to be showcased together with Nwalimu Julius Nyerere. In coming, Baraka was enticed both by the subject matter and by a desire to be re-united with the great nationalist Nwalimu Julius K. Nyerere (himself, also a young participant at the historic 1945 Manchester pan-African Congress). Nwalimu Nyerere, involved with the Burundi Peace Talks, faxed an urgent message stating his predicament.
Baraka’s talk caught and held the fascinated interest of students and the conference audience, whom he moved to near tears with his electrifying speech. For three days, the conference community explored, debated and re-evaluated all aspects of the issues plaguing black people, youth and adult alike in Africa and especially in its diaspora today. The Conference sessions generated a lot of anguished soul-searching and resolutions were arrived at for every black person to do the utmost wherever he / she happens to be, for all to be instructed by the lessons of the achievements and the mistakes of earlier and present black nationalists.
At the end, Amiri Baraka’s sobering final message struck a chord that would be food for thought:
there is nothing intrinsically good about being black or being white. The commanding question is: “what is your ideology? What is it that you do?” It is not what you say. People can say anything. The point is … what you do…. The fundamental question of black liberation is the unification of all the ideologies in the black community to struggle against imperialism. Whether you are nationalist or communist, Baptist or Republican, Presbyterian or Buddhist, the whole question is unification against imperialism.
Therefore, the essays that follow are selected from the many numerous MSU WADS 1999 Conference lectures. Rose Mezu’s “Of Black Rebels and Nationalist Struggles” takes a look at black nationalists down the ages and, in reconsidering Du Bois, Garvey, Washington and Nkrumah, seeks to connect the different positive strands of the various ideologies of black nationalism – a unification that can only serve the present and future interests of black communities.
Then, the Hon. Dudley Thompson came from Kingston, Jamaica to relive the highlights of the 5th Pan-African Congress in Manchester, England in 1945.
As a living witness to the great Pan-African events of the post-World War II era when the ideals of black nationalism were being given articulation, the Hon. Dudley Thompson as an embodiment of black history was a not-to-be-missed experience in himself. The conference audience thrilled to his powerful voice demanding reparation for the dehumanizing abuses of centuries of slavery, and for the economic and political rape of Africa. Listing other countries who had been compensated for racial oppression, he urges a more determined and concerted effort towards renewing the demand.
Amiri Baraka astounded and humbled a much younger generation by the clarity of his vision and focused direction of his goal, by his fire and the vibrant force of his nationalist spirit. Delving into history, he explains the meaning, impact and objectives of black nationalism; he examines its nature as it is espoused and manifested in the ideologies of past generations of black nationalists, especially Olaudah Equiano, Frederick Douglass, Du Bois, Booker T., Garvey, Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Sekou Tour, Amilcar Cabral and Kwame Tour. Baraka expands the meaning of nationalism to embrace the fate of blacks in Africa and other parts of the black diaspora.
While pointing out the interplay of race, American culture and the struggle for authentic equality, he underscores the need for increased individual and communal consciousness in order to grasp the essence of being black without apologizing for it even while still being American:
don’t let nobody run you off…you deserve the same thing, anything any other American has. But don’t let nobody trick you into thinking that somebody is going to give it to you. You should understand this! You must have that self determination to create the instruments even to struggle for democracy. Is that clear?
Amiri Baraka as an active participant in the epoch-making 1960s and afterwards. He leaves with him the central message for blacks to acquire individual and racial consciousness based on education in the truest sense of it, a thorough knowledge of black history and cultural heritage, self-reliance and the unification of all the ideologies operating in black communities, and directed towards a common purpose, so that black people can bargain from a position of strength.
The youthful Rev. Dr. Jamal-Harrison Bryant, NAACP Director of Youth, in his youth-oriented lecture, left a deep impression.
He delineated the defining principles of black nationalism as “the right kind of education, group awareness and cohesion, economic self-sufficiency, and a clear distinction between faddism and mature focus, between inane consumerism and self-run economic ventures since, as it appears, we have become professional consumers and amateur producers. . . . [We] have a new generation of nationalists who have their hair twisted, but have Tommy Hilfiger on their shirts…we have a demented mentality about finances…we buy what we do not need with money we do not have to impress folks we do not like ” (73).
In order to succeed, every group must possess a dynamic and clearly envisioned ideology. The generation of the 1960s had the Civil Rights, Black Arts Movement and Vietnam; in the 1970s, there was still Vietnam and the Black Panthers; the 1980s even had the Gay Rights. For the Nineties generation, there is nothing but divisive controversies over Hip-Hop, gang-murders and shootings by school boys over designer products enslaving products from the mainstream have already brainwashed and marginalized a black minority.
How can one better motivate the black youth? The youthful, but clear sighted Dr. Bryant re-emphasized the great need for a transforming, elevating and guiding ideology around which black youth can rally and unify – an ideology that unites all others besides and, which is built and maintained on love.
Another thread that connects all the essays is this idea of a pooling together of resources and of thoughts, human and material resources. Okechukwu Mezu in reviewing the heroes and villains of Pan-Africanism traces the history of Pan-Africanism and African independence. Each black leader, he believes, contributed some unique thought to the concept of black nationalism. None of its disparate aspects must be neglected or thrown away. He examines the genesis, growth and results of Pan-African thoughts, and going beyond Du Bois and Garvey, evaluates the import of Pan-Africanism on the African continent itself against a backdrop of pervasive colonial and neo-colonial economic imperialism.
While decrying Western hegemonic intrigues which destabilize newly independent democracies, Mezu nonetheless indicts black-on-black oppression and the seemingly established tradition of military take-overs hatched by political overlords reminding one of Nkrumah’s lament that each country is being “destroyed by those very pressures and forces which only a continental government could have erased” (122).
The concept of Pan-Continentalism advocated by Du Bois, the implementation of which was begun by Nkrumah, echoes once again in Mezu’s essay. Sebastian Okechukwu Mezu in expanding the Pan-African Conference history brings to mind the fact that during the monumental 1960s, he was a young student at Georgetown University and the Johns Hopkins University, witnessing the independence of various African nations, the founding of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1963, and participating as a Biafran nationalist cum Envoy (1967-1970) in the fight against black-on-black oppression.
During this time in addition to writing the definitive work on Leopold Senghor’s philosophy and poetry, Leopold Sedar Senghor et la defense et illustration de la civilisation noire (1968), he [Sebastian Okechukwu Mezu] interacted, as Biafran Envoy, with Presidents Houphouet-Boigny of Cote d’Ivoire, Leopold Senghor of Senegal, Omar Bernard Bongo of Gabon in addition to attending the Peace Conferences sponsored by President Hamani Diori in Niamey, Niger Republic (1968) and Emperor Haile Selassie in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (1968) before establishing Black Academy Press (1970), one of the earliest black-owned academic publishing houses.
His incisive and comprehensive essay, in posing the question, “Who are the Heroes, who are the villains of Pan-Africanism?” reiterates the call made in the preceding essays for present black leaders to strive to find common grounds in their pursuit of black liberation and self-determination.
As already articulated by the great Dr. Du Bois and Garvey, Mezu counsels peoples of African descent to develop an abiding interest in the welfare and progress of the continent of Africa whose independence, inspired by African nationalists in the diaspora, in turn gave impetus to black political and Civil Rights gains in the 1960s. As Kwame Toure who was Stokely Carmichael stated in Black Power, “the extent to which Black Americans can and do trace their roots’ to Africa, to that extent will they be able to be more effective on the political scene [in America]” (45).
On his part, Bernard W. Bell’s essay distills the essential difference between W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington as one of “agency, authority and authenticity” – (terms he defines convincingly) since both men “aspired to move their race up from slavery to economic, cultural and political freedom, literacy and unity” (138). Bell lends his voice to preceding voices in decrying the frequency and the gruesomeness of the “chilling…brutal and murderous acts committed with impunity against black people by too many law enforcement officers” (116-7) – a practice that Baraka in his address has likened to the rituals of lynching:
You know instead of the Klan now, you got the cops; they took off the white stuff, now you got blue stuff; it’s still the Klan.” It was lynch law that killed Amadou Diallo in New York. Was that pure lynching? What do you think happened to Byrd in Texas? Was it pure lynching? Of course it was lynching. What about the brother in North Carolina that was burned to death? What about the brother in Florida that they set fire on? It was pure lynching? What about those one hundred and thirty churches they set fire to? Was that any different? No it was not (Baraka).
Bell concludes by identifying Du Bois’s double consciousness as a biracial, bicultural trope which Americans of sub-Saharan West and Central African descent employ to reconcile the complexity of life in America lived both as ascribed object/outsider, and as socio-culturally constructed subject/ insider.
The essay by Etta Hill explains the extraordinary vision of Marcus Garvey who sought to effect the total liberation of all African peoples from Western racist exploitation, while Abraham Smith traces the influence of Garvey’s UNIA to the Panama, Costa Rica regions of Central America. The fact was pointed out that both continental and diasporic blacks benefitted from Garvey’s vision of Pan-Africanism, and that Garvey himself was supremely confident that he had inspired in many blacks an imperishable legacy of hunger for a psychological if not a physical return to the African homeland.
Indeed, the remarkable appeal that Marcus Garvey has had on generations of black people was made manifest during the organization of the April 1999 WADS Black Creativity Conference. This nationalist who lacked the polish, erudition and elitism of Du Bois actually inspired more abstracts and papers from individual and panel lecturers than did any of our other three ideologues. Evidently, interest in his person and ideas is far from diminishing even with the passage of time.
Garvey’s legacy is further highlighted in Okoro-Effiong’s essay, “Revisiting Pan-Africanism” which explores response to the flamboyant Jamaican’s call to Africans to return and rebuild Africa and to construct an African personality. She deftly delineates the many aspects of Pan-Africanism and its relation to African political thought. While reconciling the far-reaching effects of both Du Bois and Garvey’s ideologies on Nkrumah, Effiong-Okoro concludes that Nkumah’s dream of a cooperative association of African states can only ever be realized by African leaders if disputed boundaries and similar complications created by the hegemonic West are resolved and rearranged in the interest of greater cooperation.
And finally, Yuichiro Onishi tackles W.E.B Du Bois effort to apply his black nationalist thought based on African peoples’ historical experiences of racial oppression to an international context. Onishi explicates the peculiar and unique circumstances of the Asian region and how Du Bois used this new political tool to encourage struggles, beyond ethnic and national boundaries, against European and American claims of racial supremacy.
Onishi maintains that Du Bois failed to perceive that race was also a crucial factor in Japan’s imperialism moves against Manchuria. Onishi sees Du Bois’s Japan-Manchuria rhetoric of internationalism as a blind spot in his race and culture theory. Nevertheless, Yuichiro commends the efforts of Du Bois towards internationalizing his anti-imperialist race struggle by extending it and linking it with the struggles of other colonized peoples in the present “third” world.
In a work of this nature, neither the list of black nationalists nor their different brands of ideology can in any way be exhaustively explored. Of the many excellent papers submitted at the conference, the editors have selected only a few that explore the Great Four black nationalists who are thus treated as paradigms to illustrate the importance of the eternal quest by peoples of African descent for individual and racial identity.
Enlightenment will continue to be the key to the realization of these goals. Realistically speaking, the role present day intellectuals can play in building up enlightenment and group solidarity may be limited for excessive expectations can only produce intense disappointments. Yet, that role even if limited is nevertheless crucial. Ideas move the world and ideas, because of their creative force, never die. As long as the fate of millions of Blacks the world over hangs in the balance, the intellectual must continue to proffer ideas for black self and group liberation.
Finally, despite the shortcomings in the leadership styles of Du Bois, Garvey, Booker T. and Nkrumah, they did the best they could working with very limited resources in an era of severe political, social and economic disabilities. They worked in pain and encountered martyrdom. Their reward was the firm hope and belief in the liberation and eventual greatness of the black world. Their achievements should act as a source of inspiration for this generation, children of a more privileged and a less oppressive age. Thus empowered, Africa and the diaspora could strive, individually and collectively, for an enriched and more enlightened future for the black race and all humanity
Dr. Rose Ure Mezu
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Carmichael, Stokely & Charles V. Hamilton. Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America. New York: Random House, 1967.
Claypole, William & Robottom, John. Caribbean Story, Book Two: The Inheritors. London: Longman, 1981.
Du Bois, W.E.B. The World and Africa. New York: International Publishers, 1981.
—–. “The Talented Tenth.” In Booker T. Washington, ed. The Negro Problem: A Series of Articles by Representative Negroes of Today. New York: James Pott & Co., 1903.
Garvey, Amy Jacques. comp. The Philosophy & Opinions of Marcus Garvey. Dover, Mass: Majority Press, 1986.
Gbadegesin, Segun. “Kinship of the Dispossessed.” In W.E.B. Du Bois: On Race & Culture. Ed. Bernard W. Bell, Emily Grosholz & James B. Stewart. New York: Routledge, 1996, 219-242.
Marable, Manning. “The Pan-Africanism of W.E.B. Du Bois.” In W.E.B. Du Bois: On Race & Culture. Ed. Bernard W. Bell, Emily Grosholz & James B. Stewart. New York: Routledge, 1996. 193-218.
Mezu, S. Okechukwu. Leopold Sdar Senghor et la defense et illustration de la civilisation noire. Paris: Editions Marcel Didier, 1968.
Quarles, Benjamin. The Negro in the Making of America. New York: Macmillan, 1964.
Weinberg, Meyer. ed. W.E.B. Du Bois: A Reader. New York: Harper and Row, 1970.
Source: Dr. S Okechukwu Mezu & Rose Ure Mezu, eds. Black Nationalists: Reconsidering Du Bois, Garvey, Booker T. & Nkrumah. Baltimore: Black Academy Press, 1999.
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Other essays by Dr. Rose Ure Mezu:
A History of Africana Women’s Literature (Introduction)
Chinua Achebe The Man and His Works (Introduction)
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Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis
Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America. This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as “the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field ‘cut their teeth’.”
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By Melissa V. Harris-Perry
According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless Mammys behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own familys needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.
As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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updated 3 November 2007