Ghana: the diaspora presence that made such a huge difference; If Ghana under Nkrumah was a huge success, part of it was due to the presence of Diasporic Africans who heeded Nkrumah's call to return and help rebuild the ancestral homeland. Dr Yvette Marie Alex-Assensoh reports.
Nkrumah was returning to Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, his alma mater, at the invitation of the university's then president, Horace Mann Bond (the father of Julian Bond, chairman of the USA-based National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, NAACP). Nkrumah was to receive an honorary Doctor of Laws (LL.D) degree that was approved overwhelmingly by the university's board of trustees.
The Ghanaian leader was an undergraduate student of Lincoln University, one of the oldest colleges of higher learning established in the 1800s for freed slaves. Nkrumah earned two academic degrees from Lincoln: a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics and Sociology (1939); and a Bachelor of Theology degree (1942) from the Lincoln Theological Seminary (after which he went on to earn two Master's Degrees in Education and Philosophy from the nearby University of Pennsylvania, a prestigious Ivy League institution).
In June 1951, Nkrumah was honoured as part of Lincoln University's speech and prize-giving day (called "commencement exercises" in the USA). The Ghanaian leader was asked to give the commencement speech, in which he invited African-Americans (then called Negroes) to return to Ghana and help develop the country.
"We are aiming to work under democratic-principles such as exist in Britain and in the United States," Nkrumah told the crowd at Lincoln University and spoke about how the Gold Coast needed technicians, machinery and capital to develop its natural resources.
There was much for African-Americans to do to help their ancestral country, Nkrumah said, adding that it was the intention of his Convention People's Party (CPP) to re-name the country Ghana. It was Nkrumah's clarion call that inspired many African-American leaders to pack their bags and baggage to return to their ancestral country.
The exodus to Ghana began in March 1957 when the late civil rights icon, Dr Martin Luther King Jr and his wife Mrs Coretta Scott King paid their first and only joint visits to Ghana and, later, Nigeria as a result of Nkrumah's invitation.
After the visit, Dr King preached a sermon about the new Ghana titled "Birth of a New Nation" at his famous Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. Mrs King, too, wrote in admirable and historic terms about the 1957 trip in her 1969 book, My Life With Martin Luther King Jr.
Some of the historic events and selected correspondence between the Kings and Nkrumah have recently been documented in Volume VI of the Stanford University-based Martin Luther King Jr Papers Project (on which I served in the 1980s as a graduate student intern from the Ohio State University).
As documented, among diaspora-based black leaders who made the 1957 trip to witness the birth of the new Ghana, were such men and women like A. Phillip Randolph, the trade unionist; Congressman Adam Clayton Powell; the Nobel Peace Prize winner and UN under-secretary-general Ralph Bunche; Lucille Armstrong (representing her husband, Louis Armstrong, the jazz legend); and the University presidents Horace Mann Bond (Lincoln) and Mordecai Johnson (Howard).
Also on the trip were Prof Lawrence Dunbar Reddick who wrote Crusader Without Violence, an authorised biography of Martin Luther King, and a close friend of Dr Nkrumah and Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe; Julian and Ana Cordero Mayfield; W. Alphaeus Hunton; Roy Wilkins; Ras Makonnen of Guyana who helped in organising the 1945 Pan-African Congress in Manchester, UK, and later directed Nkrumah's African Affairs Bureau in Ghana; Michael Manley, the future radical prime minister of Jamaica; C.L.R. James, the Trinidadian radical scholar; and George Padmore (formerly called Malcolm Nurse), the great Caribbean-born Pan-Africanist.
Dr. W.E.B. DuBois, who would later move to, and die in Ghana, was invited but he could not make the trip because his American passport had, reportedly, been "withdrawn" by the State Department at the time, allegedly, on suspicion of being a Communist sympathiser.
It was at Ghana's independence event that Dr and Mrs King first met America's then vice-president, Richard Nixon, who was leading the official USA delegation to Accra. Not knowing who Dr King was at the time, Nixon reportedly congratulated him on his country attaining its freedom. "No, I am not free yet. I am from Alabama. My name is Martin Luther King Jr," Dr King reportedly told Nixon.
In heeding Nkrumah's call to return home, many diaspora-based blacks, including those from Caribbean nations, flocked to live and work in Ghana. Some other black leaders paid casual visits only. One of them was Malcolm X who arrived in Ghana on 10 May 1964 on a pilgrimage-type of trip.
Julian Mayfield headed a committee to welcome and shepherd Malcolm to his speaking engagements in the Ghanaian capital, Accra. According to Dr Kevin K. Gaines, author of the 342-page book, American-Africans in Ghana (published in 2006), Mayfield told Malcolm that there were about 300 African-Americans in Ghana at the time, who were working hard to help the Nkrumah government with various levels of involvement, to which Malcolm reportedly replied: "Beautiful. That's beautiful ... That's what I call making a real revolution."
Dr DuBois and his wife, Mrs Shirley Graham Dubois, too, moved to Ghana. In February 1963, he celebrated his 95th birthday in Accra, during which he was visited by Nkrumah and his Egyptian wife, Fathia. DuBois had taken a Ghanaian citizenship as part of his protest against the Vietnam War. At the time, he was working on the historic Encyclopedia Africana project, which sadly did not achieve as much as Dr DuBois expected due to his death in late 1963. The Ghanaian professor, Ofosu-Appiah, took over the project as its new director, but it later collapsed.
When the Harvard University professor, Henry Louis Gates Jr, and the Princeton University philosophy professor, Kwame Anthony Appiah, published their much-praised Microsoft's 1999 Encarta Africana Encyclopedia, it was seen as a sequel to Dr DuBois' project. Ghana's media and academic institutions benefited immensely from the expertise of the African-American professionals and scholars who heeded Nkrumah's call to return home. They included Maya Angelou, the well-known author noted for her 1984 book on African children, All God's Children Need Travelling Shoes, and the acclaimed 1993 book, The Heart of a Woman; and Leslie Alexander Lacy, author of the 1970 memoir of his Ghana years, The Rise and Fall of a Proper Negro.
Others were Alphaeus Hunton; Alice Windom; Wendell J. Pierre; St Clair Drake, the noted author and former dean of the University of Ghana, Legon.
The presence in Ghana of diasporic blacks became a popular occurrence. Among those who visited or chose to stay either briefly or on a long-term basis also included Eric Eustace Williams, the Oxford-educated scholar and author of Capitalism and Slavery who later became prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago; Neville Dawes, the famous Jamaican novelist; Frantz Fanon, the Martinique scholar well known for such radical books as Dying Colonialism, Wretched of the Earth, Black Skin White Mask; and Sir W. Arthur Lewis, the West Indian economist known for his In-Put/Out-Put economic theory (Lewis later won the Nobel Economics Prize and also became an economic adviser to Nkrumah).
Also in Ghana were James Farmer, the civil rights leader; Muhammad Ali (the world's greatest boxer to date then called Cassius Clay); Prof John Henrik Clarke, then of Hunter College (New York) who donated his papers--including some useful correspondence with Nkrumah--to the New York Public Library's Schomburg Centre for Research in Black Culture.
In his new book, American Africans in Ghana: Black Expatriates and the Civil Rights Era, Prof Kevin Gaines underscores the point that "the story of the African American expatriate community in Nkrumah's Ghana illuminates the challenges and contradictions posed by Cold War liberalism and American hegemony during the 1960s. The American nation's declared support for desegregation, formal equality and decolonisation masked the repression of black radicals."
In fact, Nkrumah considered so seriously the return of African-Americans to Ghana, that he even wrote a letter of favourable attestation (styled "To Whom It May Concern") as the then Leader of Government Business to Richard Wright, author of various classics, including the book, Black Boy. The letter was for Wright to get an entry visa to the then British-controlled Gold Coast to do research for his book, Black Power.
Although Nkrumah encouraged diaspora-based blacks to return home, he surprised several of them after the 24 February 1966 coup d'etat that overthrew his government by accusing Ambassador Franklin H. Williams, an African-American diplomat who headed the American embassy in Accra just before the coup, of either knowing of, or encouraging, the plot to overthrow his government.
Ambassador Williams, as a young student, reportedly knew Nkrumah at Lincoln University. In fact, according to knowledgeable sources, Williams was initially to be accredited, as an envoy, to another African country but, on Nkrumahs insistence for a black ambassador to come to Ghana, President Lyndon B. Johnson changed his posting and sent him to Ghana. It has also been confirmed that Nkrumah was much elated when Williams arrived in 1965, and that he often invited him to events organised by his government.
Williams, a Fordham University-educated lawyer, was appointed to serve as the first deputy director of the American Peace Corps by President John F. Kennedy, whose brother-in-law, Sergeant Shriver, headed the Peace Corps as its first director. In fact, it was through Williams that Ghana became the first African nation to approve of, and also receive, Peace Corps volunteers.
Sadly, it was in Nkrumah's 1968 book, Dark Days in Ghana, that he made his first allegation that his fellow Lincoln University alumnus (Ambassador Williams) was involved in his 1966 overthrow. Among other details, Nkrumah revealed in the book: "In Ghana, the embassies of the United States, Britain, and West Germany were all implicated in the plot to overthrow my government. It is alleged that the US ambassador, Franklin Williams, offered the traitors $13m to carry out a coup d'etat ..."
Many African-Americans were surprised by Nkrumah's allegation and, indeed, it undermined the cordial relations between Nkrumah and many diaspora-based black leaders. Ambassador Williams, who later became the distinguished president of the Phelps-Stokes Fund in New York, vehemently denied Nkrumah's allegation. The Phelps-Stokes Fund had assisted Nkrumah with some of his financial needs during his student years in America.
However, despite the accusation, Stokeley Carmichael, the proponent of Black Power, and his then South African spouse, Miriam Makeba, moved to live in Guinea in 1967--a decision reportedly influenced by Nkrumah's presence in Guinea where he lived after his overthrow.
Carmichael even changed his name to Kwame Ture, in honour of the then co-presidents of Guinea, Sekou Toure and Nkrumah. Kwame Ture paid regular visits to Nkrumah but, as Nkrumah's literary executrix, June Milne, says in her 1974 biography, PanafGreat Lives Series, Nkrumah put an end to Ture's visits. "But as time went by," June Milne reports, "Nkrumah became increasingly disappointed in his [Ture's] lack of personal discipline and in his racialist views. Finally, Nkrumah told him not to visit Villa Syli again unless he sent for him."
This was the second time that Nkrumah was known to have shown open disenchantment with a diasporic black person, the first being the accusation against Ambassador Williams. But overall, Nkrumah's interactions with African-Americans were very positive and mutually rewarding for his country and those who went to Ghana. It was a give-and-take relationship, whereby Ghana served, even if temporary until February 1966, as a sanctuary for diasporic blacks and several African liberation movements.
No wonder, when Nkrumah died in Romania in 1972, still in exile, many African-Americans mourned his death and held memorial services in honour of him; some of them even attended his official funeral ceremonies in Conakry (Guinea) and (years later) in Accra, Ghana.
The respect for Nkrumah, from many black leaders of the USA, the Caribbean and other parts of Africa, stemmed from his progressive leadership, especially as a leading pan-Africanist, who encouraged these diaspora-based men and women to visit or live in Ghana.
Nkrumah very well and loudly echoed James Brown's "I'm Black and proud" musical message. Therefore, as Ghana celebrates 50 years of independence, Ghanaians and their diasporic black kith and kith have every right to be happy together. Long live Ghana-Diasporic-African solidarity.
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|Author:||Alex-Assensoh, Yvette Marie|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2007|
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