Pan-Africanism: Reality or Myth?

   Do you know this Man?

 A Note to Pan-African Revolutionaries

One of the things that interest me most is the persistence of certain ideas in Afro-American thought.  They are transmuted and refashioned to suit the particulars of the era, but some fundamental concepts persists none-the-less.   One of these ideas is Black Nationalism and Pan-Africanism, which has been called different things at different periods of our history.  One of the fundamental things that distinguish human beings from other animals over whom we rule is the gift of language, learning, and the ability to construct a narrative i.e. tell a story.Human beings are the creatures of stories, they shape our perception of who we are and what our place is in the universe.  There are two kinds of stories: fictional or imaginative stories, and the narratives of professional historians which are based on the scientific method, i.e. verifiable evidence!!

Hence I have a suggestion for all Afro-Americans and others from the black Atlantic diaspora who fancy themselves grand Pan-African theorists, seeking to solve the complex problems of the vast African world:  You should seriously study the history of Pan-African thought and movements!  Then you will discover that the problems you are contemplating and the efforts of Afro-Americans in solving those problems have been a subject of discussion since the 18th century!  You will also discover that many Afro-American Nationalists who are concerned  about Africa’s problems today are more confused than the activists in the 19th century.  I am referring to people like Edward Wilmont Blyden, Alexander Crummell, Martin Delany, Robert Campbell, Henry McNeal Turner, et al.

These men referred to themselves as “Pan-Negro Patriots,” and all of them actually went to Africa and checked the situation out first hand.  Some stayed there for years working to “redeem” Africa!  They were the intellectual and spiritual fathers of Marcus Garvey – which is why Garvey built his movement in New York and not Kingston where blacks were the majority but had no tradition of Black Nationalism.   Afro-American can claim a tradition that goes back to the 18th century!   However it is important to note that Garvey only “talked a good game,” he never actually settled in Africa like the 19th century Black Nationalists.

There is something else that you should know about the Pan-Negro “African Redemptionists:” They were all Christian Ministers except Martin Delany and Robert Campbell, who were men of science – a medical doctor and a chemist.  This is of critical importance, because contemporary Black Nationalists are mostly hostile to the black protestant church – preferring Islam, indigenous African religions or even atheism – yet it is the womb in which black nationalism was conceived and nurtured!

By the way, Delany went to Harvard and Campbell was a Jamaican who actually explored the west coast of Africa in 1859, before Garvey was born!!!!!  They produced the first scientific analysis of the physical environment of the West Coast of Africa from whence our immediate ancestors came.

Two weeks ago I delivered a speech at a distinguished church here in Harlem of the AME Zion denomination.  The title of my speech was “The Heroic Role of the Afro-American preacher in the Pan-African Liberation Struggle.”  It was videotaped and will soon be on Youtube.

The minister of the church, Reverend Deforest Raphael,  is an exemplar of the learned clergy represented by the men I have named here – in fact their Bishop, Alexander Walters, was a founding member of the Pan-African movement at the turn of the 20th century.  He was a co-organizer of the first Pan-African Conference in 1900 along with Dr. Dubois and the Trinidadians Henry Sylvester Williams and Dr. Alcindor – a barrister and medical doctor.

AME Zion Bishop Alexander Walters

A Father of Pan Africanism

Anyone who would like to understand the distinctions between these 19th and early twentieth century Afro-Americans that became African Redemptionist, and those of the second half of the 20th century who are the ideological fathers of contemporary “Pan-Africanists,” can do a quick study by reading my essay “In The Tradition” which is the “Afterword” to “Ready for Revolution.”  the autobiography of Kwame Toure aka Stokely Carmichael,

This is the single most important first-hand account of the Pan-African revolution that I am aware of.   Toure is the best example that we have of the true Pan-African Redemptionist tradition among the black activists in the last half century.  You will also learn some valuable lessons about the distinctions between the 19th and late twentieth century Pan-African revolutionaries in my essay “On the Burden of History,”  which can be read at  For a first-hand account of the most serious effort by new world blacks to contribute directly to the success of the Pan African Revolution read “The Rise and Fall of a Proper Negro” by Leslie Alexander Lacy.

AME Bishop Henry McNeal Turner

A father of the black liberation movement in South Africa

 However if you care to fathom – i.e. get deep – read the works of Dr. Wilson Jeremiah Moses, especially “Classical Black Nationalism” and “On the Wings of Ethiopia.”  Also read “Edward Wilmont Blyden: Pan-Negro Patriot,” by Dr. Hollis Lynch, and Martin Delany by Dr. Cyril Griffith.  You should also read Black Zion, which is a collection of letters written by the first Afro-American pioneers to settle in West Africa – the founders of Liberia.  You should also read the essay “Ideology In Black: Africans, Afro-Americans and Afro-West Indians, in Harold Cruses’ masterwork “The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual.” 

George Padmore’s historic masterpiece “Pan-Africanism or Communism” and CLR James’ “History of Pan-African Revolution” are also must reads in order to understand Pan Africanism as a 20th century political movement.  To these texts must be added “Pan-Africanism” by Colin Legum and “Black Revolutionary,” a biography of George Padmore by Dr. J. R. Hooker.  Of course, I could go on.  However in order to even think about seriously developing a “theoretical approach” addressing the global position of black people, and hasten the modernization process in Africa – which is, after all, the root of Africa’s problems  – one must be familiar with the wisdom these narratives provide.

Otherwise one will end up with mysticism and wishful thinking posing as “theory,” fostering a mythical vision of Africa rather than deal with the bewildering complexity of the real African predicament.  The first thing such serious study will reveal is the folly inherent in the idea that Black Americans can any influence in determining what happens in African politics today.

The fact is that the best thing black Americans can do for Africa is increase our influence on the direction of American foreign policy….specially in the areas of aid and trade!  THIS BEGINS WITH THE RE-ELECTION OF PRESIDENT OBAMA AND RETURNING BOTH HOUSES OF CONGRESS TO THE DEMOCRATS!!!!!!  All else is folly, much of it dangerously misguided!!!   Failure to address these imperatives – which are both contemporary and ancestral – Afro-American Pan-Africanists will surely end up like “Jack the Bear,” making tracks but getting nowhere!!!!!

Dr. WEB DuBois:

Father of 20th century Pan-African Liberation Movement

Published in 1903: almost 14 years before Garvy Came to the US 
Marcus Mosiah Garvey: Black  Nationalist Leader

A Jamaican visionary who was a late comer to black Nationalism in US


* The Cover Photo is of Alexander Crummell, Anglican Priest, pioneering Black natonalist intellectual, and African Redemptionist. A man whose contibution to the advancement of the movement to reconstruct Africa was so profound that Dr. Dubois wrote an essay on him in his timeless masterpiece, “The Souls of Black Folk,” in which he said he wanted to bow before him when they met!

Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

March 10, 2012

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