Pan–African Congresses

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PanAfrican Congresses








Pan-African congresses is the name given to seven international meetings planned by W. E. B. Du Bois between 1919 and 1929, of which four actually materialized, and another meeting in 1945 in which he participated only peripherally in planning and organizing, but over which he presided. At the 1945 congress, he called for another to take place nine years later. This materialized only in 1974, after his death. Another congress took place in 1994, with another proposed a few years later.


Pan-African was coined, it is claimed, by the Trinidadian lawyer Henry Sylvester Williams in an 1899 letter concerning the Pan-African Conference of 1900. It appears, however, that Du Bois had a much greater claim to the term. It is plausibly derived from the Pan-Slav, Pan-German, and Pan-American movements, of which the most influential for residents of the Western Hemisphere would logically be the Pan-American movement.

Du Bois is the only major participant to link explicitly in print all four of these pan-movements. In 1888 he gave as his valedictory address at Fisk University a speech titled Bismarck; Du Bois said that Otto von Bismarck, the German chancellor, was his hero because of his feat in organizing the reunification of Germany. While at the University of Berlin from 1892 to 1894, Du Bois wrote a PhD dissertation in economics under the Pan-German Gustav von Schmoller. Heinrich von Treitschke, whom Du Bois described as a fire-eating Pan-German, was the philosophical leader of the Pan-German League, and discussed its tenets in class. During this period, Du Bois also traveled to Pan-Slav centers in Prague, Bohemia; the borders of Russia; and Krakow, Poland. The movement held a demonstration in Prague in 1898. Du Bois wrote of these travels in his letters from Europe to the New York Age, a weekly newspaper, from 1892 to 1894 and in his 1940 and 1968 autobiographies. Also in his autobiographies, Du Bois wrote of James G. Blaine, the U.S. secretary of state in 1881 and from 1889 to 1892, and the architect of the U.S. governments Pan-American policy. Thus, Du Bois mentioned in published writings the individuals or sites associated with all three prior pan-movements. The European pan-movements differed from the American movement, which was based on the unity of independent territorial states only, without regard to language or ethnicity.

By contrast with Du Bois, Williams used the term Pan-African only in one unpublished letter and in the documents promoting the 1900 conference. For him, there is no indication of the provenience of the term.

Three other aspects of Pan-African conferences/congresses are considered in this entry: (1) the participants; (2) the public resolutions and other documents; and (3) the organizations established to continue the movement.


It should be noted that continuity from congress to congress was guaranteed, because each of the meetings from 1919 to 1974 was organized by participants from previous meetings. Du Bois, as stated, participated in every meeting between 1900 and 1945. C. L. R. James, Amy Ashwood Garvey, T. Ras Makonnen, and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. provided direct links between the 1945 and 1974 congresses. However, the Seventh Pan-African Congress, held in Kampala, Uganda, in 1994, had no participants from previous congresses.


The documents produced by the Pan-African meetings through 1945 include:

  • 1900: Address to the Nations of the World
  • 1919: the Du Bois Memorandum and the Resolutions of the Pan-African Congress
  • 1921: the Manifesto of the Second Pan-African Congress and The Pan-African Association Declared the 8 December 1921 Statutes
  • 1923: Resolutions
  • 1927: Announcement of the Fourth Pan-African Congress, About the Pan-African Congress, and a press release on the resolutions
  • 1945: a Memorandum to the U.N.O. and Resolutions

Du Bois wrote most of these documents. Several themes in them stand out. Perhaps most striking is his use of the term Africa for the Africans, which appeared from 1921 to 1927. Second, Du Bois always began with a demand for self-government in the African colonies. Third, with the exception of 1919, he always addressed the plight of those of African descent in the Americas, and elsewhere in the African diaspora. Brazil, however, was addressed only in 1921 and 1923. In 1927 his horizons extended beyond Africa to China and India. The 1945 documents contained no reference to the plight of the African diaspora, but in his own speech, Du Bois did stress that theme repeatedly. Fourth, he always spoke of the plight of black labor, and of black access to land and capital.

The General Declaration of the 1974 congress acknowledged the need to consolidate the unity between the peoples of Africa and of African descent, as had Du Bois. That congresss General Statement on Economics declared that the purpose of economic development was the liberation of our people at home and in the diaspora. The Resolution on Democratisation of International Institutions, also from the 1974 congress, recommended that African regional and subregional organizations permit the participation of counterpart organizations in the Caribbean and North America.


The international Pan-African meetings held between 1900 and 1945 established four organizations intended to be permanent. These were the Pan-African Association, 19001902; the International Pan-African Association, 19211925; the New York Pan-African Congress Committee, 19231927; and the Pan-African Federation, 19441947. The headquarters of these four organizations were located in the very capitals of the colonial countries the conferees wished to displace: London, Paris, and New York.


Between 1945 and 1974 most Pan-African activity took place on the African continent. The 1945 congress was organized by George Padmore and Kwame Nkrumah, the latter of whom was inspired by black nationalist Marcus Garvey. A native of Trinidad, Padmore was a former law student at Howard University who became an important official of the Communist International. Nkrumah, who graduated from Lincoln University and the University of Pennsylvania, became the first president of an independent Ghana in 1957, the foremost advocate of Pan-Africanism during this period, and the principal founder of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1963. The Sixth Pan-African Congress resulted from the long-term actions, sometimes in concert, but often not, of three men: Julius K. Nyerere (19221999) of Africa, Adam Clayton Powell Jr. (19081972) of North America, and C. L. R. James (19011989) of the Caribbean. At the Cairo summit meeting of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) held in July 1964, which was attended by Malcolm X, Nyerere, then president of Tanzania, introduced and negotiated to passage a resolution recognizing the Afro-American struggle as a concern of the OAU. In an October 17, 1967, address titled After the Arusha Declaration, Nyerere invited foreigners, including African Americans, to come to Tanzania to assist in nation building. In the late 1960s Nyerere went to Harlem and issued an invitation to African Americans to come to Tanzania to assist in building a socialist African state. As a result of these efforts, the number of African Americans in Tanzania increased rapidly to about eight hundred in 1974. Among the most important for the Sixth Pan-African Congress were Sam Dove and Bill Sutherland. Dove served as a consultant to the Tanzanian government on the sixth Pan-African congress. Sutherland was the founder of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), a founder of the American Committee on Africa (ACA), a consultant of President Nkrumah, and a liaison between the Tanzanian government and the African American community in Tanzania. Also resident in Dar es Salaam at this time was Walter Anthony Rodney, a Guyanese.

The Black Power Conferences were initiated in Washington, D.C., in 1966 by Powell, a U.S. congressman who had participated in the 1945 Manchester congress. The Newark Black Power Conference of July 1967 resolved to sponsor an International Black Congress. Chairing the economics workshop was Robert S. Browne of Fairleigh Dickinson University. The Philadelphia Black Power Conference of the late summer of 1968 resolved to thank the government of Tanzania for its invitation to hold the Fourth Black Power Conference in Tanzania. This could not be arranged, however, and so at the Bermuda Black Power Conference of July 1969, C. L. R. James chaired a workshop on Politics, including a subworkshop on Pan-Africanism. His closing address to the conference advocated a new Pan-African congress. James, a Trotskyite socialist, was a professor at the Federal City College and Howard University, both in Washington, D.C., from 1966 to the mid-1970s, and from this base he began preparing a new congress in 1970.

James formed an entirely new group consisting of the principal survivors of the Manchester congress, or their widows and ex-wives, and some of his students. Most important of the veterans were T. Ras Makonnen, Amy Ashwood Garvey (18971969), and Shirley Graham Du Bois (19071977), who lent their names as sponsors of the new congress. Jamess students included Walter Rodney; Courtland Cox, formerly of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; and Marvin Holloway. The organizing group, based in Washington, D.C., styled itself the Provisional Secretariat for a Sixth Pan-African Congress.

The group organized itself into regional committees for North America, the Caribbean and South America, and Africa. European, Asian, and Pacific organizations and individuals were recognized by the secretariat on an ad-hoc basis. In 1972 the organizing committee issued a call to the Sixth Pan-African Congress, written largely by James, Rodney, and Cox. Two years later it issued a briefing paper. Rodney contributed a paper, Toward the Sixth Pan-African Congress: Aspects of the International Class Struggle in Africa, which was distributed by the organizers in April 1974. A 1945 Du Bois speech, The Pan-African movement, was reprinted and issued by the organizers, also in 1974.

Three regionwide meetings took place in North Americaat Kent State University, at the Center for Black Education (CBE) in Washington, D.C., and in Atlanta. The Temporary Organizing Committee for a Sixth Pan-African Congress was established, with headquarters in Washington. Cox of the CBE was elected international secretary-general by acclamation. Sylvia Hill of the CBE was elected secretary-general for North America, and Julian Ellison of Columbia University and the Black Economic Research Center (BERC) was elected associate secretary-general for North America. This trio was denominated the Temporary Secretariat. James Turner of Cornell University accepted a Secretariat invitation to head the actual North American delegation, which had not yet been selected. At a regionwide meeting in Atlanta, Cox, Hill, and Ellison were formally elected as permanent officers. Cox then left for Dar es Salaam, taking with him several staff workers, including Geri Stark, who served as information officer.

North American delegates included Queen Mother Audley Moore, Julianne Malveaux of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Gay McDougall of Yale University, William Sales of Columbia, Matthew Meade of Yale, Carroll Clarke of Brooklyn College, Wentworth Ofuatey-Kodjoe of the City College of New York, Barbara Britton of BERC, Owusu Sadaukai of Malcolm X Liberation University, Amiri Baraka of the Congress of African Peoples, Haki Madhubuti of Black Books Bulletin, and Oba TShaka of San Francisco State University. At a final meeting of the delegates at Columbia University on June 9 and 10, Clarke and Ellison finalized drafts of North American position papers.

In March 1974 the Caribbean and South American Regional Steering Committee elected Eusi Kwayana chairman, with Tim Hector and Maurice Bishop among those selected as delegates. However, no official nongovernmental delegation from this region was finally permitted.

The Sixth Pan-African Congress opened on June 20, 1974, in Nkrumah Hall at the University of Dar es Salaam. In the first order of business, Nyerere was elected president of the congress by acclamation. Conducting the opening plenary session as co-masters of ceremonies were Cox and Aboud Jumbe, the vice president of Tanzania. A taped message from Ahmed Sékou Touré, president of Guinea, was played. Papers were presented on the three major issues of the congresspolitics, science and technology, and economicsthe last of which Ellison persuaded the Secretariat to add. Two speeches, by Samora Machel and Peter Onu, deputy secretary-general of the OAU, were devoted to politics. The economics paper was by D. M. Nomvete of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. The congress proceeded with daily plenary sessions followed by simultaneous sessions of committees A, B, and C, for political; economic development; and African science, technology, education, and culture, respectively.

The Seventh Pan-African Congress convened in April 1994 in Kampala, Uganda. The organizers, led by Naiwu Osahon of Lagos, Nigeria, included no one who had participated at the Dar es Salaam or earlier congresses.


In 2002 the OAU was replaced by a new organization, the African Union (AU), which was a more politically and economically integrated confederation of African states. By this time, all former colonies on the continent, as well as South Africa, were ruled by Arab or black governments, as were all colonies in the Caribbean except those of France. The AU represented the near accomplishment of the dream of Williams, Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, George Padmore, James, and Kwame Nkrumah.

SEE ALSO Black Nationalism; Black Power; Colonialism; Decolonization; Du Bois, W. E. B.; James, C. L. R.; Malcolm X; Marxism, Black; Nyerere, Julius; Pan-Africanism; Rodney, Walter


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Julian Ellison