The radical evolution of Du Boisian Pan-Africanism.

Author:Ratcliff, Anthony J.
 
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Eight days prior to his ninety-five birthday Dr. William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, the preeminent African American scholar, became a naturalized citizen of Ghana. The fact that he suggested that his expatriation and the renunciation of his American citizenship carried "out the logic of [his] life," (1) demonstrates the centrality of Pan-Africanism to Du Bois's evolving ontology. Moreover, in Dusk of Dawn, written in 1940, he elucidated why Africa was vitally important to the development of his identity:

"Since the concept of race has changed and presented so much of a contradiction that as I face Africa I ask myself: what is it between us that constitutes a tie which I can feel better than explain? Africa is of course my fatherland. Yet neither my father nor my father's father ever saw Africa or cared over-much for it. My mother's folk were closer and yet their direct connection, in culture and race, became tenuous; still, my tie to Africa is strong. On this vast continent were born and lived a large portion of my direct ancestors going back a thousand years or more.

But one thing is sure and that is the fact that since the fifteenth century these ancestors of mine and their other descendants have had a common history; have suffered a common disaster and have one long memory. The actual ties of heritage between the individuals of this group vary with the ancestors that they have in common and many others: Europeans and Semites, perhaps Mongolians, certainly Indians. But the physical bond is least and the badge of color relatively unimportant save as a badge; the real essence of kinship is its social heritage of slavery; the discrimination and insult; and this heritage binds together not simply the children of Africa, but extends through yellow Asian and into the South Seas. It is this unity that draws me to Africa." (2)

By the 1940s, Du Bois clearly recognized the complexity of "race" and "color," as well as the centrality of class, which led him to postulate a non-essentialist Pan-African framework predicated on socio-historical and economic factors, such as enslavement, discrimination, and ultimately Marxism-Leninism. In this article, therefore, I analyze the evolution of Du Boisian Pan-Africanism, specifically the role that the Fifth Pan-African Congress in 1945 and subsequent independence of Ghana played in radicalizing his political and intellectual position on African unity. In addition to his commitment to exposing the racist and capitalist forces that oppressed Black people, the issue that dominated much of Du Bois's later scholarly and activist endeavors was his unwavering commitment to revolutionary Pan-Africanism. (3)

The confluence of Du Bois's intellectual and political interests in African selfdetermination was initially sparked off during his involvement with the early Pan-African Congresses (1900-1927). Through the vehicles of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and its ("his") journal, The Crisis, Du Bois helped organize the aforementioned PACs, as well as propagandize the plight of Africa and her descendants, which subsequently earned him the moniker "Father of Pan-Africanism." While there are numerous studies that examined Du Bois's role in the early PAC movement from 1919-1927, his participation in the Fifth Pan-African Congress in 1945 and beyond received minimal, if any, illumination.

To properly contextualize this study, however, it is imperative to begin with a brief discussion of Du Bois's early commitment to the Pan-African Congress movement. Although Pan-Africanists such as George Padmore, T.R. Makonnen, and Kwame Nkrumah recognized him as the "Father" of Pan-Africanism, the usage of the term first occurred as early as 1893. (4) What is more, in 1900, Henry Sylvester Williams, a lawyer from Trinidad, organized the first Pan-African Conference in London. It was at this event that a thirty-two year old Du Bois addressed those convened with his most prophetic articulation:

"The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the colour line, the question as to how far differences of race, which show themselves chiefly in the colour of the skin and the texture of the hair, are going to be made, hereafter, the basis of denying to over half the world the right of sharing to their utmost ability the opportunities and privileges of modern civilization." (5)

Six years later, Du Bois restated this assertion: "The Negro problem in America is but a local phase of a world problem." (6) In both instances, he observed the necessity of internationalizing the struggle for Black equality.

With the culmination of the First World War and the advent of the League of Nations in 1919, the potentiality for international solidarity amongst people of African descent intensified. In the United States, Du Bois competed with Marcus Garvey for control of this ascending Black internationalism. While Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), with its mantra of "Africa for the Africans," galvanized substantial support among the masses of African Americans. Du Bois developed an approach to Pan-Africanism that mobilized intellectual and political leadership ("The Talented Tenth") from throughout the African Diaspora (7) Between 1919 and 1927, he, with the financial support of the NAACP, organized Pan-African Congresses in Paris (1919); London, Paris, and Brussels (1921); London and Lisbon (1923); and, with the organizational leadership of Mrs. Addie Hunton and the National Association of Colored Women, in New York City (1927). While Du Bois planned a fifth PAC for 1929 in Tunis, the French colonial government thwarted his vision of convening a Congress in Africa. Despite the apparent shortcomings of focusing solely on elite people of African descent and seeking redress directly from Colonial governments, Du Bois nevertheless established Pan-Africanism as a legitimate political framework in which to address problems besieging Blacks worldwide.

By the early 1930s, the global economic depression led to a momentary diminution in the internationalism of many African Americans. It would take the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935, to re-ignite the internationalist fervor amongst Black radicals, primarily those associated with the Communist Party. (8) For Du Bois, the focus inward was especially pronounced as he spent much of the early 1930s codifying his position on economic cooperatives and the desirability of Black self-determination (self-segregation), which ultimately led to his departure from the NAACP in 1934.

Despite the apparent respite in his Pan-Africanist proclivities during the 1930s, as a professor at Atlanta University, Du Bois continued to pen essays and articles on the importance of people from throughout the African diaspora recognizing the conflation of racism and economic exploitation. For example, in 1936, the doctor wrote an article in the Pittsburgh Courier, in which he correlated the issues of antiracism and anticolonialism. He asserted that only through Pan-African solidarity would people of African descent be able to counter the global system that oppressed them.

Unfortunately, argued Du Bois, most African Americans at that time were ambivalent about Pan-Africanism because they viewed their predicament as a question of attaining rights in the United States, rather than international liberation. (9) The following year, the doctor again wrote an article advocating Diasporic unity, which restated his position on Pan-Africanism. In it, he posited that Pan-Africanism "is a movement to begin a leadership of the exploited among the most exploited, with the idea of its ultimate expansion to the colored laboring class of the world and to the laboring class of all colors throughout the world." (10) Despite now seeing the Black working class as having a role in Pan-Africanism, Du Bois still envisioned the PAC as a movement organized by an elite cadre of intellectuals that would ultimately liberate the oppressed masses.

In spite of the rather bourgeois predisposition inherent in his statement, when it came to propagating a Pan-Africanist worldview, Du Bois remained one of its foremost architects. This is further evidenced by his response to a press release issued by Rayford Logan in April 1941. Logan's statement urged Black intellectuals to develop a program for people of African descent following World War II, to which Du Bois replied:

I agree with you and make the following proposal: suppose that in my capacity as Permanent Secretary of the Pan-African Congress, I announce through you a Fifth Pan-African Congress to be held in Port-au-Prince as soon as it is practical after the close of the present war with the understanding that such congress should immediately appoint delegates to wait upon the peace conference or any organization which is re-arranging the world to put before them the demands of the peoples of African descent. If you will look after this and work out a plan of the sort, I shall be very glad to sign it and ask you to act again as my chief assistant. (11) Just as the First World War led to the formation of the League of Nations, Logan and Du Bois anticipated the establishment of another world institution to broker peace. In this, they believed, as did many other anti-colonialists at the time, that an international organization would be the best entity to ensure increased political rights for colonized peoples.

The idea for a fifth Pan-African Congress did not begin to gain international currency until 1944, however. Early that year, Du Bois received correspondences from Amy Jacques Garvey, the wife of Marcus Garvey, and, Harold Moody, president of the League of Coloured Peoples (LCP) in London, reiterating Logan's idea of organizing an international conference on Africa. They both urged Du Bois "to help frame this African Freedom Charter for Africans at home and abroad." (12) Mrs. Garvey's letter dated April 5, 1944 is...

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