History of the Pan-African Congress, George Padmore (editor) 1947

The Congress in Perspective.

By Peter Abrahams (South Africa).
Publicity Secretary, Pan-African Congress.

The Fifth Pan-African Congress was held in the Chorlton Town Hall, Manchester, from October 13th-21st, 1945. Some two hundred delegates holding mandates from political, social and trade union organisations, attended. Dr. W. E. Burghardt Du Bois, the eminent Negro scholar and writer, was unanimously elected International President of the Congress. This Congress, therefore, was the most representative yet assembled by African and peoples of African descent to plan and work for the liquidation of Imperialism.

On the occasion of the British Labour’s victory over Toryism, the Pan-African Federation issued an Open Letter to Prime Minister Attlee, in which it declared that “to condemn the Imperialism of Germany, Japan and Italy while condoning that of Britain would be more than dishonest. It would be a betrayal of the sacrifice and sufferings and the toil and sweat of the common people of Britain. All Imperialism is evil.” Believing this, the Federation therefore demanded “for the Colonial peoples the immediate right to self-determination” as an effective step in the process of banishing wars.

Once again at the Fifth Pan-African Congress the banner against Imperialism, against man’s political and territorial domination by other men was raised high by representatives of the Colonial and Coloured masses. By its behaviour, the European Left, with rare exceptions, has forfeited the right to leadership of the struggle against Imperialism. The delegates to the Fifth Pan-African Congress brought the spirit and purpose of a new leadership.

The background of the Congress is discussed by Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois in the address which follows. He can, justly, be called the “Father” of the Pan-African movement, motivated by the inspiration of contacts with Negroes of different origins and nationalities. “My plans,” he writes In Dusk of Dawn, “had in them nothing spectacular nor revolutionary. If in decades or a century they resulted in such world organisation of black men as would oppose a united front to European aggression, that certainly would not have been beyond my dream...Out of this there might come, not race war and opposition, but broader cooperation with the white rulers of the world, and a chance for peaceful and accelerated development of black folk.”

The more immediate inspiration of the Fifth Congress arose after the World Trade Union Conference in London in February, 1945. The Colonial delegates to the World Trade Union Conference were invited to Manchester, where the British section of the Pan-African Federation was just in the process of coming to life. An informal meeting was held, at which representatives from the various Colonies exchanged information and discussed their problems. As a result of these discussions, George Padmore, Chairman of the International African Service Bureau, threw out the idea of convening another Pan-African Congress. It was warmly received and endorsed by Dr. Peter Milliard, President of the British Section of the Pan-African Federation, and its Treasurer, T. R. Makonnen; Jomo Kenyatta, Secretary of the Kikuyu Central Association of Kenya, I. T. A. Wallace-Johnson, General Secretary of the West African (Sierra Leone) Youth League, and representatives of Negro organisations in Great Britain. The oversea delegates took it to their respective countries and discussed it with their peoples. The response was immediate, and the business of organising the Fifth Congress quickly proceeded.

Colonial Unity.

Earlier in 1945, a Subject Peoples’ Conference was held in London. It was not as representative as the Fifth Pan-African Congress, but Indians, Burmese, Ceylonese, Malayans, Africans, West Indians, and others, took part. Representation was mainly from Colonial organisations in Britain.

This Subject Peoples’ Conference was largely an exploratory gathering aimed at the setting-up of some permanent organisation for the co-ordination of the Colonial struggle. Its success and the warm response to the World Pan-African Congress and officially organised Asian Relations Conference in India, bring international Colonial and Coloured unity in sight.

Our own contribution to this unity has expanded, since the Fifth Pan-African Congress, into the closer establishment of fraternal contacts between the African and Asiatic liberation movements, out of which it is hoped that in due course a Colonial and Coloured Peoples’ Freedom Front will develop.

We see, then, that the Colonial struggle has entered a new phase, a militant phase. It is important that the Left in Britain and other Imperialist countries should recognise this and aid it. But while militant, this phase is not chauvinistic, narrow or racial. It is positive and constructive. This is evident in the declarations made at the Fifth Pan-African Congress and the resolutions adopted by it, which are recorded in this report. It is a synthesis of experience and deliberate opinion that clearly reflects the political economic and social aspirations of Africans and peoples of African descent. Indeed it constitutes the programme upon which the struggle for national liberation and social emancipation of the Colonial and Coloured peoples will be based, a struggle which must be fought and won before we can establish the Century of the Common Man.

Forward to the Socialist United States of Africa!
Long Live Pan-Africanism!

The Pan-African Movement.

By W.E. Burghardt Du Bois (U.S.A.).
International President, Pan-African Congress.

The idea of one Africa uniting the thought and ideals of all native peoples of the dark continent belongs to the twentieth century, and stems naturally from the West Indies and the United States. Here various groups of Africans, quite separate in origin, became so united in experience, and so exposed to the impact of a new culture, that they began to think of Africa as one idea and one land. Thus, late in the eighteenth century, when a separate Negro Church was formed in Philadelphia, it called itself “African”; and there were various “African” societies in many parts of the United States.

It was not, however, until 1900 that a black West Indian barrister, H. Sylvester-Williams, of Trinidad, practising in London, called together a “Pan-African” Conference. This meeting attracted attention, put the word “Pan-African” in the dictionaries for the first time, and had some thirty delegates, mainly from England and the West Indies, with a few coloured Americans. The Conference was welcomed by the Lord Bishop of London, and a promise was obtained from Queen Victoria through Joseph Chamberlain not to “overlook the interests and welfare of the native races.”

This meeting had no deep roots in Africa itself, and the movement and the idea died for a generation. Then came the First World War, and among American Negroes at its close there was determined agitation for the rights of Negroes throughout the world, particularly in Africa. Meetings were held, a petition was sent to President Wilson, and finally, by indirection I secured passage on the Creel press boat, the “Orizaba,” and landed in France in December, 1918.

I went with the idea of calling a “Pan-African Congress” and trying to impress upon the members of the Peace Congress sitting at Versailles the importance of Africa in the future world. I was without credentials or influence, but the idea took on.

I tried to get a conference with President Wilson, but only got as far as Colonel House, who was sympathetic but non-committal. The Chicago Tribune said, January 19th, 1919, in a dispatch from Paris dated December 30th, 1918:

An Ethiopian Utopia, to be fashioned out of the German colonies, is the latest dream of leaders of the Negro race who are here at the invitation of the United States Government as part of the extensive entourage of the American peace delegation. Robert R. Moton, successor of the late Booker Washington as head of Tuskegee Institute, and Dr. William E. B. Du Bois, Editor of the Crisis, are promoting a Pan-African Conference to be held here during the winter while the Peace Conference is on full blast. It is to embrace Negro leaders from America, Abyssinia, Liberia, Haiti, and the French and British colonies and other parts of the black world. Its object is to get out of the Peace Conference an effort to modernize the dark continent, and in the world reconstruction to provide international machinery looking toward the civilization of the African natives.

The Negro leaders are not agreed upon any definite plan, but Dr. Du Bois has mapped out a scheme which he has presented in the form of a memorandum to President Wilson. It is quite Utopian, and it has less than a Chinaman’s chance of getting anywhere in the Peace Conference, but it is nevertheless interesting. As “self-determination” is one of the words to conjure with in Paris nowadays, the Negro leaders are seeking to have it applied, if possible, in a measure to their race in Africa.

Dr. Du Bois sets forth that while the principle of self-determination cannot be applied to uncivilised peoples, yet the educated blacks should have some voice in the disposition of the German colonies. He maintains that in settling what is to be done with the German colonies the Peace Conference might consider the wishes of the intelligent Negroes in the colonies themselves, the Negroes of the United States and of South America and the West Indies, the Negro Governments of Abyssinia, Liberia and Haiti, the educated Negroes in French West Africa and Equatorial Africa, and in British Uganda, Nigeria, Basutoland, Swaziland, Sierra Leone, Gold Coast, Gambia and Bechuanaland and in the Union of Africa.

Dr. Du Bois’ dream is that the Peace Conference could form an inter-nationalized Africa, to have as its basis the former German colonies, with their 1,000,000 square miles and 12,500,000 population.

“To this,” his plan reads, “could be added by negotiation the 800,000 square miles and 9,000,000 inhabitants of Portuguese Africa. It is not impossible that Belgium could be persuaded to add to such a State the 900,000 square miles and 9,000,000 natives of the Congo, making an international Africa with over 2,500,000 square miles of land and over 20,000,000 people.

“This Africa for the Africans could be under the guidance of international organization. The governing international commission should represent not simply Governments, but modern culture, science, commerce, social reform, and religious philanthropy. It must represent not simply the white world, but the civilised Negro world.

“With these two principles the practical policies to be followed out in the government of the new States should involve a thorough and complete system of modern education, built upon the present government, religion, and customary law of the churches. Within ten years 20,000,000 black children ought to be in school. Within a generation young Africa should know the essential outlines of modern culture. From the beginning the actual general government should use both coloured and white officials.

“We can, if we will, inaugurate on the dark continent a last great crusade for humanity. With Africa redeemed, Asia would be safe and Europe indeed triumphant.”

Members of the American delegation and associated experts assured me that no congress on this matter could be held in Paris because France was still under martial law; but the ace that I had up my sleeve was Blaise Diagne, the black deputy from Senegal and Commissaire-Général in charge of recruiting native African troops. I went to Diagne and sold him the idea of a Pan-African Congress. He consulted Clemenceau, and the matter was held up two wet, discouraging months. But finally we got permission to hold the Congress in Paris. “Don’t advertise it,” said Clemenceau, “but go ahead.” Walter Lippman wrote me in his crabbed hand, February 20th, 1919: “I am very much interested in your organization of the Pan-African Conference, and glad that Clemenceau has made it possible. Will you send me whatever reports you may have on the work?”

The Dispatch, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, February 16th, 1919, said: “Officials here are puzzled by the news from Paris that plans are going forward there for a Pan-African Conference to be held February 19th. Acting Secretary Polk said today the State Department had been officially advised by the French Government that no such Conference would be held. It was announced recently that no passports would be issued for American delegates desiring to attend the meeting.” But at the very time that Polk was assuring American Negroes that no Congress would be held, the Congress actually assembled in Paris.

First Pan-African Congress.

This Congress represented Africa partially. Of the fifty-seven delegates from fifteen countries, nine were African countries with twelve delegates. The other delegates came from the United States, which sent sixteen, and the West Indies, with twenty-one. Most of these delegates did not come to France for this meeting, but happened to be residing there, mainly for reasons connected with the war. America and all the colonial powers refused to issue special visas.

The Congress influenced the Peace Conference. The New York Evening Globe, February 22nd, 1919, described it as “the first assembly of the kind in history, and has for its object the drafting of an appeal to the Peace Conference to give the Negro race of Africa a chance to develop unhindered by other races. Seated at long green tables in the council room today were Negroes in the trim uniform of American Army officers, other American coloured men in frock coats or business suits, polished French. Negroes who hold public office, Senegalese who sit in the French Chamber of Deputies...”

The Congress specifically asked that the German colonies be turned over to an international organization instead of being handled by the various colonial powers. Out of this idea came the Mandates Commission. The resolutions of the Congress said in part:

(a) That the Allied and Associated Powers establish a code of law for the international protection of the natives of Africa, similar to the proposed international code for labour.

(b) That the League of Nations establish a permanent Bureau charged with the special duty of over-seeing the application of these laws to the political, social, and economic welfare of the natives.

(c) The Negroes of the world demand that hereafter the natives of Africa and the peoples 01 African descent be governed according to the following-principles:

1. The land and its natural resources shall be held in trust for the natives and at all rimes they shall have effective ownership of as much land as they can profitably develop.

2. Capital. The investment of capital and granting of concessions shall be so regulated as to prevent die exploitation of the natives and the exhaustion of the natural wealth of the country. Concessions shall always be limited in time and subject to State control. The growing social needs of the natives must be regarded and the profits taxed for social and material benefit of the natives.

3. Labour: Slavery and corporal punishment shall be abolished and forced labour except in punishment for crime; and the general conditions of labour shall be prescribed and regulated by the State.

4. Education: It shall be the right of every native child to learn to read and write his own language, and the language of the trustee nation, at public expense, and to be given technical instruction in some branch of industry. The State shall also educate as large a number of natives as possible in higher technical instruction in some branch of industry. The State shall also educate as large a number of natives as possible in higher technical and cultural training and maintain a corps of native teachers...

5. The State: The natives of Africa must have the right to participate in the Government as far as their development permits in conformity with the principle that the Government exists for the natives, and not the natives for the Government. They shall at once be allowed to participate in local and tribal government according to. ancient usage, and this participation shall gradually extend, as education and experience proceeds to the higher offices of State, to the end that, in time, Africa be ruled by consent of the Africans...Whenever it is proven that African natives are not receiving just treatment at the hands of any State or that any State deliberately excludes its civilised citizens or subjects of Negro descent from its body politic and cultural, it shall be the duty of the League of Nations to bring the matter to the civilized World.

The New York Herald, Paris, February 24th, 1919, said: “There is nothing unreasonable in the programme, drafted at the Pan-African Congress which was held in Paris last week. It calls upon the Allied and Associated Powers to draw up an international code of Jaw for the protection of the nations of Africa, and to create, as a section of the League of Nations, a permanent bureau to ensure observance of such laws and thus further the racial, political, and economic interests of the natives.”

Second Pan-African Congress.

The idea of Pan-Africa having been thus established, we attempted to build a real organization. We went to work first to assemble a more authentic Pan-African Congress and movement. We corresponded with Negroes in all parts of Africa and in other parts of the world, and finally arranged for a Congress to meet in London, Brussels, and Paris, in August and September, 1921. Of the hundred and thirteen delegates to this Congress, forty-one were from Africa, thirty-five from the United States, twenty-four represented Negroes living in Europe, and seven were from the West Indies. Thus the African element showed growth. They came for the most part, but not in all cases, as individuals, and more seldom as the representatives of organizations or of groups.

The Pan-African movement this began to represent a growth and development; but it immediately ran into difficulties First of all, there was the natural reaction of war and the determination on the part of certain elements in England, Belgium, and elsewhere, to recoup their war losses by intensified exploitation of colonies. They were suspicious of native movements of any sort. Then, too, there came simultaneously another movement, stemming from the West Indies, which accounted for our small West Indian representation. This was in its way a people’s movement rather than a movement of the intellectuals. It was led by Marcus Garvey, and it represented a poorly conceived but intensely earnest determination to unite the Negroes of the world, more especially in commercial enterprise. It used all the nationalist and racial paraphernalia of popular agitation, and its strength lay in its backing by the masses of West Indians and by increasing numbers of American Negroes. Its weakness lay in its demagogic leadership, its intemperate propaganda, and the natural fear which it threw into the colonial powers.

The London meetings of the Congress were held in Central Hall, opposite Westminster Abbey, August 28th and 29th, 1921. They were preceded by conference with the International Department of the English Labour Party, where the question of the relation of white and coloured labour was discussed. Beatrice Webb, Leonard Wolf, Mr. Gillies, Norman Leys, and others were present.

Paul Otlet, once called Father of the League of Nations, wrote me in April, 1921: “I am very happy to learn your decision. We can put at your disposal the Palais Mondial for your Pan-African Conference, August 31st and September 1st and 2nd.” Otlet and La Fontaine, the Belgian leaders of internationalism, welcomed the meeting warmly to Belgium, but strong opposition arose. The movement was immediately confounded by the press and others as a part of, if not the real, “Garvey Movement.”

The Brussels Neptune wrote, June 14th: “Announcement has been made...of a Pan-African Congress organized at the instigation of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People of New York. It is interesting to note that this association is directed by personages who it is said in the United States have received remuneration from Moscow (Bolsheviki). The association has already organized its propaganda in the lower Congo, and we must not be astonished if some day it causes grave difficulties in the Negro village of Kinshasa, composed of all the ne’er-do-wells of the various tribes of the Colony, aside from some hundreds of labourers.”

Nevertheless, meetings of interest and enthusiasm were held. The Crisis reported:

“The Congress itself was held in the marvellous Palais Mondial, the World Palace situated in the Conquantenaire Park. We could not have asked for a better setting. But there was a difference. In the first place, there were many more white than coloured people- there are not many of us in Brussels-and it was not long before we realized that their interest was deeper, more immediately significant, than that of the white people we had found elsewhere. Many of Belgium’s economic and material interests centre in Africa in the Belgian Congo. Any interference with the natives might result in an interference with the sources from which so many Belgian capitalists drew their prosperity.”

Resolutions which were passed without dissent at the meeting in London contained a statement concerning Belgium, criticizing her colonial regime although giving her credit for plans of reform for the future. This aroused bitter apposition in Brussels, and an attempt was made to substitute an innocuous statement concerning good will and investigation which Diagne declared adopted in the face of a clear majority in opposition.

At the Paris meeting the original London resolutions, with some minor corrections, were adopted. They were in part:

To the World: The absolute equality of races, physical, political, and social, is the founding stone of world and human advancement. No one denies great differences of gift, capacity, and attainment among individuals of all races, but the voice of Science, Religion, arid practical Politics is one in denying the God-appointed existence of super-races, or of races, naturally and inevitably and eternally inferior.

That in the vast range of time, one group should in its industrial technique, or social organization, or spiritual vision, lag a few hundred years behind another, or forge fitfully ahead, or come to differ decidedly in thought, deed and ideal, is proof of the essential richness and variety of human nature, rather than proof of the co-existence of demigods and apes in human form. The doctrine of racial equality does not interfere with individual liberty: rather it fulfils it. And of all the various criteria of which masses of men have in the past been prejudged and classified, that of the colour of the skin and texture of the hair is surely the most adventitious and idiotic...

The beginning of wisdom in inter-racial contact is the establishment of political institutions among suppressed peoples. The habit of democracy must be made to encircle the earth. Despite the attempts to prove that its practice is the secret and divine gift of the few, no habit is more natural or more widely spread among primitive people, or more easily capable of development among masses. Local self-government with a minimum of help and oversight can be established tomorrow in Asia, in Africa, America, and the Isles of the sea. It will in many instances need general control and guidance, but it will fail only when that guidance seek ignorantly and consciously its own selfish ends and not the people’s liberty and good.

Surely in the twentieth century of the Prince of Peace, in the millennium of Mohammed, and in the mightiest Age of Human Reason, there can be found in the civilized world enough of altruism, yearning, and benevolence to develop native institutions whose aim is not profit and power of the few...

What, then, do those demand who see these evils of the colour line and racial discrimination, and who believe in the divine right of suppressed and backward people to learn and aspire and be free? The Negro race through their thinking intelligentsia demand:

  1. The recognition of civilized men as civilized despite their race or colour.
  2. Local self-government for backward groups, deliberately rising as experience and knowledge grow to complete self-government under the limitation of a self-governed world.
  3. Education in self-knowledge, in scientific truth, and in industrial technique, undivorced from the art of beauty.
  4. Freedom in their own religion and social customs and with the right to be different and nonconformist.
  5. Co-operation with the rest of the world in government, industry, and art on the bases of Justice, Freedom, and Peace.
  6. The return to Negroes of their land and its natural fruits, and defence against the unrestrained greed of invested capital.
  7. The establishment under the League of Nations of an international institution for study of the Negro problems.
  8. The establishment of an international section of the Labour Bureau of the League of Nations, charged with the protection of native labour...

In some such words and thoughts as these we seek to express our will and ideal, and the end of our untiring effort. To our aid, we call all men of the earth who love justice and mercy. Out of the depths we have cried unto the deaf and dumb masters of the world. Out of the depths we cry to our own sleeping souls. The answer is written in the stars.

The whole press of Europe took notice of these meetings, and more especially of the ideas behind the meeting. Gradually they began to distinguish between the Pan-African Movement and the Garvey agitation. They praised and criticized. Sir Harry Johnston wrote:

“This is the WEAKNESS of all the otherwise grand efforts of the Coloured People in the United States to pass on their own elevation and education and political significance to the Coloured Peoples of Africa: they know so LITTLE ABOUT REAL Africa.”

Even Punch took a good-natured jibe (September 7th, 1921): “’A PAN AFRICAN MANIFESTO,’ ‘NO ETERNALLY INFERIOR RACES’ (headlines in The Times) No, but in the opinion of our coloured brothers some infernally superior ones!”

The Second Pan-African Congress had sent me with a committee to interview the officials of the League of Nations in Geneva. I talked with Rappard, who headed the Mandates Commission; I saw the first meeting of the Assembly; and especially I had an interesting interview with Albert Thomas, head of the ILO. Working with Monsieur Bellegarde of Haiti, a member of the Assembly, we brought the status of Africa to the attention of the League. The League published our petition as an official document, saying in part:

The Second Pan-African Congress wishes to suggest that the spirit of the world moves toward self-government as the ultimate aim of all men and nations, and that consequently the mandated areas, being peopled as they are so largely by black folk, have a right to ask that a man of Negro descent, properly fitted in character and training, be appointed a member of the Mandates Commission so soon as a vacancy occurs.

The Second Pan-African Congress desires most earnestly and emphatically to ask the good offices and careful attention of the League of Nations to the condition of civilised persons of Negro descent throughout the world. Consciously and sub-consciously, there is in the world today a widespread and growing feeling that it is permissible to treat civilized men as uncivilized if they are coloured and more especially of Negro descent. The result of this attitude and many consequent laws, customs, and conventions, is that a bitter feeling of resentment, personal insult, and despair is widespread in the world among those very persons whose rise is the hope of the Negro race.

We are fully aware that the League of Nations has little, if any, direct power to adjust these matters, but it has the vast moral power of public world opinion, and as a body conceived to promote Peace and Justice among men. For this reason we ask and urge that the League of Nations take a firm stand on the absolute equality of races, and that it suggest to the colonial powers connected with the League of Nations to form an International Institute for the study of the Negro problem, and for the evolution and protection of the Negro race.

Late Bellegarde revealed to the world the disgrace of the bombing of the African Bondelschwartz, and in retaliation was recalled by the American forces then in power in Haiti.

We sought to have these meetings result in a permanent organization. A secretariat was set up in Paris and functioned for a couple of years, but it was not successful. Just as the Garvey movement made its thesis industrial co-operation, so the new young secretary of the Pan-African movement, a coloured Paris public school

teacher, wanted to combine investment and profit with the idea of Pan-Africa. He wanted American Negro capital for this end. We had other ideas.

Third Pan-African Congress.

This crucial difference of aim and method between our Paris office and the American Negro interested in the movement nearly ruined the organization. The Third Pan-African Congress was called for 1923, but the Paris secretary postponed it. We persevered, and finally without proper notice or preparation, met in London and Lisbon late in the year. The London session was small and was addressed by Harold Laski and Lord Olivier and attended by H. G. Wells. Ramsay McDonald was kept from a tending only by the pending election, but wrote:

“Anything I can do to advance the cause of your people on your recommendation, I shall always do gladly.”

The meeting of the Congress in Lisbon was more successful. Eleven countries were represented there, and especially Portuguese Africa. The Liga Africana was in charge. “The great association of Portuguese Negroes with headquarters at Lisbon which is called the Liga Africana is an actual federation of all the indigenous associations scattered throughout the five provinces of Portuguese Africa and representing several million individuals...This Liga Africana which functions at Lisbon in the very heart of Portugal, so to speak, has a commission from all the other native organizations and knows how to express to the Government in no ambiguous terms but in a highly dignified manner all that should be said to avoid injustice or to bring about the repeal of harsh laws. That is why the Liga Africana of Lisbon is the director of the Portuguese African movement; but not only in the good sense of the word, but without making any appeal to violence and without leaving constitutional limits.”

Two former colonial ministers spoke, and the following demands were made or Africans:

  1. A voice in their own government.
  2. The right of access to the land and its resources.
  3. Trial by juries of their peers under established forms of law.
  4. Free elementary education for all; broad training in modern industrial technique; and higher training of selected talent.
  5. The development of Africa for the benefit of Africans, am not merely for the profit of Europeans.
  6. The abolition of the slave trade and of the liquor traffic.
  7. World disarmament and the abolition of war; but failing this, and as long as white folk bear arms against black folk, the right of blacks to bear arms in their own defence.
  8. The organization of commerce and industry so as to make the main objects of capital and labour the welfare of the many rather than the enriching of the few...

“In fine, we ask in all the world, that black folk be treated as men. We can see no other road to Peace and Progress. What more paradoxical figure today fronts the world than the official head of a great South African state striving blindly to build Peace and Good Will in Europe by standing on the necks and hearts of millions of black Africans?”

From that Lisbon meeting I went to Africa for the first time, to see the land whose history and development I had so long been studying. I held from President Coolidge of the United States status as Special Minister Plenipotentiary and Envoy Extraordinary to represent him at the second inaugural of President King of Liberia.

So far, the Pan-African idea was still American rather than African, but it was growing, and it expressed a real demand for examination of the African situation and a plan of treatment from the native African point of view. With the object of moving the centre of this agitation nearer other African centres of population I planned a Fourth Pan-African Congress in the West Indies in 1925. My idea was to charter a ship and sail down the Caribbean, stopping for meetings in Jamaica, Haiti, Cuba, and the French islands. But here 1 reckoned without my steamship lines. At first the French Line replied that they could “easily manage the trip,” but eventually no accommodation could be found on any line except at the prohibitive price of fifty thousand dollars. I suspect that colonial powers spiked this plan.

Fourth Pan-African Congress.

Two years later, in 1927, a Fourth Pan-African Congress was held in New York. Thirteen countries were represented, but direct African participation lagged. There were two hundred and eight delegates from twenty-two American states and ten foreign countries Africa was sparsely represented by representatives from the Gold Coast, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Nigeria. Chief Amoah III of the Gold Coast spoke; Herskovits then of Columbia, Mensching of Germany, and John Vandercook were on the programme.

Negroes everywhere need:

  1. A voice in their own government.
  2. Native rights to the land and its natural resources.
  3. Modern education for all children.
  4. The development of Africa for the Africans and not merely for the profit of Europeans.
  5. The reorganization of commerce and industry so as to make the main object of capital and labour the welfare of the many rather than the enriching of the few.
  6. The treatment of civilized men as civilized despite difference of birth, race, or colour.

The Pan-African Movement had been losing ground since 1921. In 1929, to remedy this, we made desperate efforts to hold the fifth Pan-African Congress on the continent of Africa itself, and selected Tunis because of its accessibility. Elaborate preparations were begun. It looked as though at last the movement was going to be geographically African. But two insuperable difficulties intervened: first, the French Government very politely but firmly informed us that the Congress could take place at Marseilles or any French city, but not in Africa; and finally, there came the Great Depression.

Fifth Pan-African Congress.

The Pan-African idea died, apparently, until fifteen years afterwards, in the midst of the second World War, when it leaped to life again in an astonishing manner. At the Trades Union Conference in London in the winter of 1945 there were black labour representatives from Africa and the West Indies. Among these, aided by coloured persons resident in England, there came a spontaneous call for the assembling of another Pan-African Congress in 1945, when the International Trades Union had their meeting in Paris.

After consultation and correspondence a Pan-African Federation was organized.

“On August eleventh and twelfth there was convened at Manchester, the headquarters of the Pan-African Federation, a Delegate Conference representing all of the organizations which have been invited to participate in the forthcoming Congress. At that ad hoc meeting a review of the preparatory work was made. From the reports it revealed that the position was as follows:

“A number of replies had been received from Labour, Trade Union, Co-operative, and other progressive organizations in the West Indies, West Africa, South and East Africa, in acknowledgment of the formal invitation to attend the Conference. Host of these bodies not only approved and endorsed the agenda, making minor modifications and suggestions here and there, but pledged themselves to send delegates. In cases where either the time is too short or the difficulties of transport at the present time too great to be overcome at such short notice, the organizations will’ give mandates to the natives of the territories concerned who are travelling to Paris to attend the World Trades Union Conference. Where territories will not be sending delegates to the Trades Union Conference, organizations will mandate individuals already in Great Britain to represent them.

“In this way we are assured of the widest representation, either through people travelling directly from the colonial areas to Britain, or individuals from those territories who are already in the British Isles. Apart from these overseas delegates, more than fourteen organizations of Africans and peoples of African descent in Great Britain and Ireland will participate in the Conference.”

There is no organization in the British colonial empire which has not been invited. The philosophy back of this meeting has been expressed by the West African Students Union of London in a letter to me:

“The idea of a Congress of African nations and all peoples of African descent throughout the world is both useful and timely. Perhaps it is even long overdue. But we observe that four of such Pan-African Congresses had been held in the past, all within recent memory, and that the one at present under discussion will be the fifth. It is unfortunate that all these important conferences should have been held outside Africa, but in European capitals. This point is significant, and should deserve our careful attention...

“Our Executive Committee are certainly not in favour of this or any future Pan-African Congress being held anywhere in Europe. We do rather suggest the Republic of Liberia as perhaps an ideal choice. All considerations seem to make that country the most favourable place for our Fifth Pan-African Congress. And, especially, at a time like this when Liberia is planning to celebrate the centenary of the founding of the Republic two years hence, the holding of our Congress there seems most desirable. We have good reason to believe that the Government of Liberia would welcome this idea, and would give us the encouragement and diplomatic assistance that might be necessary to ensure success.”

The convening committee agrees that: “After reviewing the situation, we do feel, like you, that our Conference should be merely a preliminary one to a greater, more representative Congress to be held some lime next year, especially as a new Government has come into being in Britain since we started planning the forthcoming Conference.” But they decided to call a congress this year in Manchester, since “it is now officially announced that the World Trades Union Conference will begin on September twenty-fifth and close on October ninth, we are planning to convene the Pan-African Congress on October fifteenth. It should last a week. This will enable the colonial delegates to get from France to England between the ninth and fifteenth of October. It will also enable us to hold some informal meetings and finish off our plans.”

Difficulties of transportation and passport restrictions may make attendance at this Congress limited. At the same time there is real hope here, that out of Africa itself, and especially out of its labouring masses, has come a distinct idea of unity in ideal and co-operation in action which will lead to a real Pan-African movement.

Singularly enough, there is another “Pan-African” movement. I thought of it as I sat recently in San Francisco and heard Jan Smuts plead for an article on “human rights” in the preamble of the Charter of the United Nations. It was an astonishing paradox. The Pan-African movement which he represents is a union of the white rulers of Kenya, Rhodesia, and Union of South Africa, to rule the African continent in the interest of its white investors and exploiters. This plan has been incubating since 1921, but has been discouraged by the British Colonial Office. Smuts is now pushing it again, and the white legislatures in Africa have asked for it. The San Francisco trusteeship left a door open for this sort of thing. Against this upsurges the movement of black union delegates working in co-operation with the labour delegates of Russia, Great Britain, and the United States in order to build a new world which includes black Africa. We may yet have to see Pan-Africa as a real movement.