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Du Bois: Father of Pan-Africanism and Black Thought
While best known for his 1903 book, The Souls of Black Folk, one of the essential pieces of literature in African-American thought, W.E.B. Du Bois has a large catalogue of work that laid the foundation for numerous movements in American dissent. His contributions to the creation of the NAACP, as well as its' official magazine The Crisis, which published the work of many African-American dissenters associated with the Harlem Renaissance including Langston Hughes, shows how his actions also opened the door for future generations of dissent.[1]Du Bois's philosophy and ideas influenced countless dissenters of all colors and creeds including Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Bob Dylan, Public Enemy, Al Sharpton, Ralph Nader and Cornel West as well as his philosophically opposed contemporaries such as Marcus Garvey and Booker T. Washington. In "Strivings of the Negro People," Du Bois explains his famous "double-consciousness" theory. Double consciousness is the soul-tearing dilemma of the African-American experience. The dilemma lies in the inability to fully reconcile two souls: the African soul and the American soul. African-Americans struggle with merging their seemingly opposed souls seeking "to be both a Negro and an American without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without losing the opportunity of self-development." In addition to this essential element of African thought, Du Bois outlines the effects of slavery after emancipation, arguing that ruling whites have used compulsory ignorance, voter suppression, and outright prejudice in order to keep blacks subordinate to whites.[2] Du Bois argues that the "Negro problem" is a test of the very principles which America claims to uphold, a challenge echoed in Martin Luther King's assertion that the United States must "live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be selfevident, that all men are created equal.'"[3] Du Bois influence on the Civil Rights movement frequently overshadows one of his bolder forms of dissent, his advocacy of Marxism. In "Marxism and The Negro Problem," Du Bois argues that "the class struggle of exploiter and exploited" as Karl Marx describes in The Communist Manifesto, "is a reality." This assertion sets Du Bois apart from many of his more capitalistic contemporaries like Garvey and Washington as well as others in the Civil Rights movement. Du Bois ties Marxism and class struggles together stating that "the mass of Negroes in the United States belong distinctly to the working proletariat." Du Bois explains that the bourgeoisie uses the racial divide to pit white laborers and black laborers, who have similar interests, against each other[4]. Years after The Crisis publishes "Marxism and The Negro Problem," the escalation of the Cold War

In addition to contributing to these ideologies. From Muhammad Ali's shouting "what's my name?" to his opponents to James Brown's chanting "I'm black and I'm proud. such as the Civil Rights movement. The assertion of racial identity is a common element to dissent and the AfricanAmerican experience." serves as an essential example of the assertion of this identity. Du Bois. Marxism. and Pan-Africanism.B. His writing is ingrained in the DNA of those very movements." Du Bois points to the absurdity of racism. exclaiming.E. Du Bois wrote throughout his life set the stage for later dissenters within various movements of dissent." "sheathing devils' darts. "The Song of Smoke. It illustrates the torment brought through prejudice as he laments the "wreathing broken hearts." and "shedding the blood of bloodless crimes. The arguments and ideas W. The Pan-African Congresses."subjected [Du Bois] to increasing governmental restrictions and harassment" which eventual caused his departure from America to Ghana[5]. Through its repetition of the chorus "I am the smoke king. holding America accountable to its unfulfilled promises and bettering conditions for other Americans. asserted the importance of a unified "black" identity. This cycle became a key theme in the Civil Rights movement and the Black Power movement (as evidenced by the reprinting of this poem in Black Panther in 1979). promoting a proactive solution to prejudice rather than a reactionary approach." pride of race and self have remained essential to the black struggle against hegemony[6]. he applied them practically. hailed as the Father of Pan-Africanism. "What's the hue of a hide to a man in his might![7]" Du Bois's poem exemplifies destruction of the common consensus of black inferiority and the subsequent creation of a new reality for the black identity. 1900-1945 Click Here for Previously Posted Perspectives Articles . The poem connects the essential elements of being black in America. I am black" Du Bois drills the concept of a powerful black identity into the reader's conscious. His poem.

culture. and Africa met six times to discuss colonial control of Africa and develop strategies for eventual African political liberation. First. Belgium. Pan-Africanism‟s roots lie in the collective experiences of African descendants in the New World. Pan-Africanist philosophy held that slavery and colonialism depended on and encouraged negative. the likes of which Pan-Africanism sought to eliminate.1921 Image Ownership: Public Domain In the nearly half century between 1900 and 1945 various political leaders and intellectuals from Europe. Brussels. In the article that follows. and values of African people. Pan-Africanist ideals emerged in the late nineteenth century in response to European colonization and exploitation of the African continent.Speakers at The Pan African Congress. unfounded categorizations of the race. As a broader political concept. the increasing futility of their campaign for racial equality in the United States led some African Americans to demand . Africa assumed greater significance for some blacks in the New World for two primary reasons. North America. historian Saheed Adejumobi describes the goals and objectives of these six Pan African Congresses and assesses their impact on Africa. These destructive beliefs in turn gave birth to intensified forms of racism.

its vice president Henry B. the role of Africa in world history. Despite these ambitious plans.African conferences. Perhaps of even greater significance was the formation of two committees. attracted global attention. drafted an address “To the Nations of the World. held in London. W. and its general secretary Sylvester-Williams. the importance of independent nations governed by people of African descent. etc. For the first time. In 1900. opponents of colonialism and racism gathered for an international meeting. B. the legacy of slavery and European imperialism. such as Ethiopia. for the first time the term Africans. The conference. political. became a source of pride for early black nationalists. In 1897. who had links with West African dignitaries. Conference participants read papers on a variety of topics. Haiti. formed the African Association in London to encourage Pan-African unity.” demanding moderate reforms for colonial Africa. Next. including the social. who was to become the torchbearer of subsequent Pan. the appeals of conference participants made little or no impression on the European imperial powers who controlled the political and economic destiny of Africa. through the conscious elevation of their African identity black activists in America and the rest of the world began to reclaim the rights previously denied them by Western societies. Hence. which had often been used by racists as a derogatory description. The second committee planned for the formation of a permanent Pan-African association in London with branches overseas.voluntary repatriation to Africa. Among them was black America‟s leading intellectual. . believed that Africans and those of African descent living in the Diaspora needed a forum to address their common problems. One group.” The address. Liberia. and the impact of Christianity on the African continent. and economic conditions of blacks in the Diaspora. especially throughout the British colonies. The initial meeting featured thirty delegates. Haiti. a West Indian Barrister. placing the word “Pan-African” in the lexicon of international affairs and making it part of the standard vocabulary of black intellectuals. was published and sent to Queen Victoria of England. Brown.Williams organized the first Pan-African meeting in collaboration with several black leaders representing various countries of the African Diaspora. signed by committee chairman Du Bois as well as its president Bishop Alexander Walters. Henry Sylvester-Williams. chaired by Du Bois. The address implored the United States and the imperial European nations to “acknowledge and protect the rights of people of African descent” and to respect the integrity and independence of “the free Negro States of Abyssinia. mainly from England and the West Indies. Sylvester. and Liberia. E. Du Bois. Sylvester-Williams. but attracted only a few Africans and African Americans. or congresses as they later came to be called.

who had served with the U. Army in France. Prominent American attendees included black members of the NAACP such as John Hope. Conference participants adopted a resolution calling for the drafting of a code of law “for the international protection of the natives of Africa. Among the other delegates from the United States were Roscoe Conklin Simmons. to abolish slavery and capital punishment of colonial subjects who . was more “pan” than African since most of the delegates had little. George Jackson. the socialist William English Walling. Following the war. a black American missionary in the Congo. Logan. president of Morehouse College. and the Masons. and Dr. however. The Congress. protectorates. attended by approximately sixty representatives from sixteen nations. Du Bois. In 1919. and colonies. black women‟s rights activist Ida Gibbs Hunt. Du Bois proposed the formation of a Pan-African Congress. France. Rayford W. such as the Columbia University professor Joel Spingarn.It was not until after World War I that Du Bois revived the Pan-African congresses. as the Versailles Peace treaty deliberations ran their course.known black orator. and the socialist muckraking author Charles Edward Russell. Galvanized by the gathering of world leaders and the discussion of colonial Africa‟s future. European and American politicians gathered for a peace conference in Versailles. as well as white NAACP members. Du Bois. who had served with black troops in France under the auspices of the Young Men‟s Christian Association (YMCA). Du Bois expressed hope that the peace treaty would address “the future of Africa” and grant selfdetermination to the colonized peoples.” Although historians have questioned the impact Du Bois‟s request had on Wilson‟s Fourteen Point memorandum. if any. Moreover. first-hand knowledge of the African continent. a member of the French Parliament from the West African colony of Senegal. In a letter to Wilson. and Addie W. with the support of Blaise Diagne. Hunton. convened a Pan-African Congress in Paris. President Wilson subsequently released a Fourteen Point memorandum. which suggested the formation a League of Nations and called for “an absolutely impartial adjustment of all colonial claims. and funding from African American civil rights and fraternal organizations such as the NAACP. it was apparent that the loudest voice on behalf of oppressed blacks in the New World and colonized Africa belonged to the participants of the Pan-African Congress. based on the principle that the interests of the population must have equal weight with the equitable claims of the government. appealed to President Woodrow Wilson.S. he urged the American government to initiate a comprehensive study of the treatment of black soldiers. a well. who attended the conference as a special representative of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). the Elks.” Other demands called for direct supervision of colonies by the League of Nations to prevent economic exploitation by foreign nations.

the Caribbean. and Nigeria. and Africa who echoed earlier PanAfricanist reformist ideas. the European and American powers represented at the Versailles Peace Conference remained noncommittal. in an effort to inhibit further Pan-African gatherings. The small number of African delegates was due in part to travel restrictions that the British and French colonial powers imposed on those interested in attending the congress. „While congress attendees insisted that African natives should be allowed eventually to participate in their own government. Several members of previous meetings participated in the deliberations that addressed the conditions of the African Diaspora as well as the global exploitation of black workers. The congress featured 208 delegates from twenty-two American states and ten foreign countries. and to insist on colonial peoples‟ right to education. the Black Review. Europe. especially in the Belgian Congo. Wells and Harold Laski attended the London session. Despite the moderate nature of the demands. others claim that the international gatherings laid the foundation for the struggle that ultimately led to the political emancipation of the African continent. Moreover. While some scholars argue that the 1921 and 1923 congresses were effective only in keeping alive the idea of an oppressed people trying to abolish the yoke of discrimination. Delegates reconvened for a fifth Pan-African Congress in New York in 1927. Africa.worked on the plantations of European colonial powers in Africa. the delegates demanded local self-government for colonial subjects and Du Bois stressed the need for increased interracial contacts between members of the black intelligentsia and those concerned about the political and economic status of colonial peoples. Both meetings featured representatives from the Americas. Moreover. In 1923. was represented only sparsely by delegates from the Gold Coast. the gathering stressed the need for further congress meetings and suggested the creation of an international quarterly. denouncing imperialism in Africa and racism in the United States. however. The Pan-African Congress reconvened in London in August 1921 and a month later in Brussels. the Pan-African Congress met in two separate sessions in London and in Lisbon. an interracial organization that had been founded in 1919 by opponents of World War I. The congress was primarily financed by Addie W. . Most of the delegates were black Americans and many of them were women. Sierra Leone. Similar to previous Pan. G. they did not demand African selfdetermination. Liberia. which was to be published in several languages. participants discussed the status and conditions of black people throughout the world.African congresses. Noted European intellectuals such as H. Hunton and the Women‟s International League for Peace and Freedom.

The Manchester meeting marked a turning point in the history of the gatherings. who took an increasing interest in Africa. delegates named him president of the 1945 congress. the organized movement was revived in Manchester. Congress participants unequivocally demanded an end to colonialism in Africa and urged colonial subjects to use strikes and boycotts to end the continent‟s social. provided the initiative for this meeting. notoriety. For the first time representatives of political parties from Africa and the West Indies attended the meetings. and political emancipation. and the educator and political activist William A. Congress participants encouraged colonized Africans to elect their own governments. While the Pan-African congresses lacked financial and political power. and Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya were among several attendees of congresses who subsequently led their countries to political independence. trade unionists. and economic demands. The final declaration of the 1945 congress urged colonial and subject peoples of the world to unite and assert their rights to reject those seeking to control their destinies. Recognizing Du Bois‟s historic contribution to the Pan-African movement. and political exploitation by colonial powers. It is unclear whether Du Bois or George Padmore. the Manchester meeting was dominated by delegates from Africa and Africans working or studying in Britain. the conservative credo of the forum gave way to radical social. who soon won fame. and a growing radical sector of the African student population. they helped to increase international awareness of racism and colonialism and laid the foundation for the political independence of African nations. the influence of these men helped galvanize the formation of the . While previous Pan-African congresses had been controlled largely by black middle-class British and American intellectuals who had emphasized the amelioration of colonial conditions. economic. England. economic.The financial crisis induced by the Great Depression and the military exigency generated by World War II necessitated the suspension of the Pan-African Congress for a period of eighteen years. arguing that the gain of political power for colonial and subject peoples was a necessary prerequisite for complete social. and power in their various colonized countries. delegates consisted mainly of an emerging crop of African intellectual and political leaders. The new leadership attracted the support of workers. African leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana. In May 1963. Hunton Jr. political. In 1945. the minister and politician Adam Clayton Powell. Nnamdi Azikiwe of Nigeria. a West Indian Marxist. This politically assertive stance was supported by a new generation of African American activists such as the actor and singer Paul Robeson. Moreover. With fewer African American participants.

Organization of African Unity (OAU). an association of independent African states and nationalist groups. .