Who are the True Pioneers of Pan-Africanism?

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As I have said time and time again, the reason why I am writing these articles regarding the ADOS movement is because so much of what is coming out of the movement is misinformation which only helps to further divide African people. For instance, a common claim that I have had to address is the notion that Black Americans are the pioneers of Pan-Africanism. This is one of those misguided claims which helps to divide African people by giving the impression that Black Americans were the ones who invented Pan-Africanism, thereby minimizing the role that other groups have contributed to the development of Pan-Africanism.

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A comment that I received from someone on YouTube

Based on my position regarding the ADOS movement some people seem to think that I am placing a burden of Pan-Africanism on Black Americans, but I am not even sure what this “burden” is. I am an immigrant from Guyana (not by my own choice as the comment above suggests), and as such I come from a nation that has historically had a very strong Pan-African spirit. Guyana is the nation which has produced Pan-African scholars and leaders such as Ivan Van Sertima, George M. James, Walter Rodney, Eusi Kwayana, T. Ras Makonnen, Elsa Goveia and others. Liden Forbes Burnham, Guyana’s first president and a man that I have been very critical of in my writings, made significant contributions to the anti-colonial struggles across Africa. Guyana is also a country that has Pan-African organizations such as Cuffy250. Cuffy250 is named after Cuffy, or more accurately Kofi, which is an Akan name. Cuffy was the leader of one the largest slave uprisings in the Americas.

I do not know of any Pan-Africanist from Guyana who has ever tried to place the burden of Pan-Africanism on Black Americans, especially given the fact that so many of us have contributed to the Black American struggle. I have written before about the work that the African Society for Cultural Relations with Independent Africa (ASCRIA) was going in Guyana to support the Black American struggle for liberation. Mamadou Lumumba and Shango Umoja, two American Pan-Africanists, were expelled by the government of Guyana for their ties to ASCRIA. Although Burnham supported anti-colonial struggles in Africa, he was very wary of any attempts to build grassroots Pan-African movements in Guyana. Most Caribbean leaders at the time were wary about this, which is why Walter Rodney was deported from Jamaica. My main point here is that I am not sure what this “burden” is, but Guyanese people have certainly made an important contribution to the Pan-African struggle. We have never expected Black Americans to carry this so-called burden alone.

Anyone who has read my work knows that I have a great deal of admiration for Martin Delany. As I have explained previously, people who support the ADOS movement seem to only want to reference Delany and ignore Robert Campbell, Delany’s Jamaican colleague who accompanied Delany in the journey to Africa. Whereas Delany returned to America where he later involved himself in the Civil War and Reconstruction before once again promoting return back to Africa, Campbell settled in Africa with his family and spent the rest of his life in Africa engaged in various educational and business endeavors.

The other thing to keep in mind is that although Delany and Campbell were not born in Africa, they were warmly received and in some cases even treated as kin by the Africans that they met. Whereas Frederick Douglass, who had never visited West Africa, complained about the “savage chiefs on the western coast of Africa,” Delany came back from Africa very encouraged by his experiences and eager to inform other Black Americans about Africa. The same could be said of Campbell as well. Western propaganda has always associated Africa with savagery and Delany was among the first in the diaspora to challenge this propaganda about Africa.

Pan-Africanism cannot exist unless it is reciprocated by other groups of Africans. Although Pan-Africanism as we think of it today began in the diaspora, the Pan-African spirit of unity has always existed on the continent. This is why every diaspora based Pan-African leader from Delany to Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Walter Rodney, and others were embraced by Africans on the continent. Pan-Africanism would have never survived if it were not reciprocated on the continent. I know from my own experiences that when I involved myself in the struggle to liberate Togo, I was surprised by the overwhelming support I have received from Togolese brothers and sisters who have treated me as if I am part of the Togolese family. The reception has been so strong that I have been inspired to begin studying Ewe, which is one of the many languages which is spoken in Togo.

I mention this to say that there must have been a strong Pan-African spirit in Africa for Delany, an American, to be able to go to Africa and to be treated like family. Despite the fact that African societies have always been divided by ethnicity and cultural differences, ancestral ties and family bonds are traditionally very strong in Africa. This is why those such as Delany, Campbell, and others who returned to Africa were warmly welcomed because most Africans saw them as long-lost kin. Chief Ogubonna treated Campbell as a family because Ogubonna had lost so many of his ancestors to the slave trade that for all he knew Campbell was the descendant of one of those lost ancestors. Emma White was an American who moved to Opobo, which is located in present day Nigeria. In Opobo she worked as a teacher and eventually changed her name to Emma Jaja, in honor of Jaja the king of Opobo who had received her in Opobo.

We also cannot forget the tremendous role that Haiti played in the Pan-African movement. The Haitian Revolution was sparked not by a native born Haitian, but by Dutty Boukman, who was Jamaican. The revolutionaries of Haiti saw themselves as fighting a struggle to avenge all of the Africans who were enslaved throughout the diaspora, which is one of the reasons why Haiti decided to declare that anyone with African blood could come to Haiti and be regarded as a citizen. It is apparent from Delany’s writings that the revolution in Haiti was a major influence on him, so much so that Delany named one of his children Toussaint. Delany was also inspired by the Afro-Cuban struggle against slavery, which is why the main character in Delany’s book Blake or Huts of America is a Cuban born man who plans to organize Black Americans and Cubans to create a massive international slave uprising.

Keep in mind that when we talk about Pan-Africanism the term “Pan-African” did not actually exist during Delany’s time. It was not until the 1900 Pan-African Conference which was organized by the Trinidadian Henry Sylvester Williams that “Pan-Africanism” came into popular usage as a phrase to define the vision of global African unity. The Trinidadian influence in developing Pan-Africanism was so strong that Dr. John Henrik Clarke described Williams, C.L.R. James, and George Padmore as the “three greatest Pan-Africanists.”

I have noticed that some who support the ADOS movement have been quoting Dr. Clarke, but I do not think they realize what Dr. Clarke really stood for. Dr. Clarke’s scholarship made it very apparent that the early formation of Pan-Africanism was a joint effort between Caribbean people and Black Americans. Some scholars believe that Prince Hall was from Barbados. Dr. Clarke was among those scholars who held this view. And as the video above demonstrates, in Dr. Clarke’s opinion the greatest Pan-Africanists came from Trinidad. Although Dr. Clarke was a Black American, he did not feel the need to claim Pan-Africanism solely for Black Americans as some seem to be doing now.

We also must remember that it was the Puerto Rican scholar Arthur Schomburg who first introduced Dr. Clarke to Africa’s ancient history. So Dr. Clarke never allowed himself to be caught up in the bickering about who was Caribbean or who was Black American because he recognized that we shared a common struggle and a common African identity, regardless of where we find ourselves in the world today. As the video below demonstrates, he also did not tolerate such division among his students. He taught his students that we all belong to the same African family, regardless of where we were born.

The beauty of Pan-Africanism is that we have all contributed to it. To say that Black Americans alone were the pioneers is historically inaccurate. As I have told others, if you want to support the ADOS movement then you are free to do so. My issue is not with the attempt to redefine Black Americans or African Americans as ADOS — although I do not believe that any of us in the diaspora should use slavery to define ourselves. Where I take issue is when those in the ADOS movement feel the need to distort history in an attempt to further the divide that exists among African descendants around the world. Pan-Africanism belongs to all African people and should never be used as a tool to further divide us.


Dwayne is the author of several books on the history and experiences of African people, both on the continent and in the diaspora. His books are available through Amazon. You can also follow Dwayne on Facebook and Twitter.

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