During an official visit to Washington DC in 1962, the founding President of Cameroon Ahmadou Ahidjo informed President John F. Kennedy of his discontent with anti-black racism in the United States. Ahidjo met and rented the direction of the National Association for the Advancement of People of Color (NAACP), the oldest African-American civil rights organization, for its willingness to unite with Africa “in a global movement to combat the evils of racial discrimination, injustice, racial prejudice and hatred ”.
He later wrote that:
Every time a black man [and woman] is humiliated all over the world, all the niggers in the world are hurt.
President Ahidjo called for a united front between Africans and African Americans to fight anti-black racism.
He was not the first postcolonial African leader to make such a request. The Founding President of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah, pan-Africanism was a message about the upliftment and unity of blacks, and his close ally, Sekou Touré of Guinea, advocated similar goals.
These calls for a crusade against anti-black racism were deeply rooted in the best of African nationalism.
Across the Atlantic, calls for collaboration to end racism were also taking place. One of the main supporters of this message was the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. He and many of his generation rejected negative prohibitions from Africa and called on Africans and African Americans to join forces in the crusade against racism.
They spoke fondly from their roots in Africa:
we are the descendants of Africans… “our heritage is Africa. We must never seek to sever ties, neither should Africans.
Africans and African Americans must rekindle the spirit of collaboration and cooperation that existed among black nationalists more than half a century ago to counter the rising tide of anti-black racism in the United States. It was a relationship with mutual political, economic and cultural benefits.
I am a specialist in modern African history with a particular focus on Africa-US relations and have widely published in the field. My last publication, on relations between Cameroon and the United States, discusses among other things the importance of collaboration between Africans and African-Americans to uplift blacks.
King’s revealing visit to Ghana
King’s knowledge of Africa evolved slowly and was initially interspersed with the usual beliefs of the African backwardness. But a trip to Ghana was transformative. In 1957, President Kwame Nkrumah invited him to his country’s independence ceremony.
King honored the invitation. During the King’s ceremony ”started to cry … to cry for joy“When the British flag was replaced by the Ghanaian flag. He kept talking about the endurance, determination and courage of the African people. The anti-colonial struggle in Ghana mirrored what was happening across Africa.
Later the king Noted that the independence of Ghana
will have global implications and repercussions – not only for Asia and Africa, but also for America.
This gave African Americans new perspectives on the anti-colonial struggle.
Increasingly, King saw parallels between the anti-colonial movement in Africa and the struggle for civil rights in the United States. In his sermon, “The birth of a new nation“, he said that the example of Ghana reinforced his conviction that a
the oppressor never voluntarily gives freedom to the oppressed.
He added that non-violence was an effective tactic against oppression. European colonialism in Africa and segregation in America were both “systems of evil,” he writes, and summoned all to work to defeat them.
African nationalism meets American civil rights movement
While racial segregation remained entrenched in America, the stream of independence was changing rapidly in Africa. In 1960, 17 Africans nations have gained independence. They took their anti-racism message to the United Nations, where they berated the United States for its failure to stop anti-black racism.
African representatives in the United States were often victims of American racism. Given the Cold WarUS Secretary of State Dean Rusk said one of America’s major problems during the Cold War was the continued anti-black racism in the country.
After Nigeria, King increasingly spoke of a sense of urgency. In his article, “The hour of freedom has comeHe praised the independence movement in Africa while denouncing the slowness of change in the United States. He called the independence movement in Africa a
greater international influence on black American students.
African nationalists such as Nnamdi Azikiwe, Tom Mboya, Hastings Banda were “popular heroes on most black college campuses,” King said. He urged African governments to do more to support the struggle for the civil rights of “their brothers [and sisters] in the USA”.
In addition, newspapers in several African countries have used the treatment of African Americans to question America’s role as leader of the “free world”.
Ebb and flow
King and his contemporaries took the partnership with Africa seriously. African American leaders, activists and academics have looked to Africa for inspiration. For example, WEB Du Bois, whose credentials included being a co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Pan-African Movement, moved to Ghana. Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture), who introduced the concept of Black Power to the civil rights movement in Guinea. Many others immigrated to Africa.
Poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou was transformed by the African experience. She wrote:
Because it is Africa which struts in our round calves, wriggles in our protruding buttocks, and crackles in our broad and frank laughter.
The 1960s and 1970s were decades of remarkable collaboration and cooperation between Africans and African Americans.
American political leaders have taken note of the collaboration between Africans and African Americans. President John F. Kennedy, the first US president to treat Africa with respect, created a more enlightened US foreign policy towards African nations – in part solicit support from African Americans in elections.
These new policies coincided with a deep level of ignorance of Africans by African Americans and vice versa. And little effort has been made on either side to close the gap. African Americans increasingly saw Africans through a stereotypical lens invented by Western society to justify colonialism and slavery.
In turn, the Africans accepted without criticism dominant society labels on African Americans. The kind of relationships and advocacy King’s generation forged had evaporated.
But the tide can change. There was a resurgence of interest after the release of the film Black Panther which showed black people as capable, determined and civilization possessed. Following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the African Union publicly condemned America for its continued racism against black people.
Spokesman Ebba Kalondo Posted a firm condemnation of
the persistence of discriminatory practices against black citizens of the United States of America.
Kalondo demanded a full investigation into the murder.
This new position could rekindle the spirit of cooperation and collaboration that characterized the King era. An important part of ending anti-black racism in the United States is discovering the role Africa played in shaping the idea of the West and Africa’s contributions to world civilizations.
This knowledge will implode the age-old myths of Africa’s backwardness and inability. It is up to African Americans to champion this conversation in college classrooms and many other public spaces.
Finally, what King said of Africa as full of “rich opportunities,” calling on African Americans to “provide technical assistance” to a thriving continent remains as true today as it was when. ‘he said almost 60 years ago.
Failure to do so has increasingly given way to other actors who continue to exploit the continent.