This poster is an overview of a research project for HST 210: Historical Methods and Skills. I wanted to explore the relationship between Africans and African Americans relating to their parallel struggles for freedom during the 1950s and 1960s. My research has led me to discover that the African independence movements, their leaders, and their Pan-African ideas were inspirational for people of African descent living in the United States and participating in the civil rights movement.
Between 1955- 1970, over thirty African nations gained independence from their previous colonial rulers. During this same time period, the US civil rights movement was fighting for freedom of their own. Although their struggles and goals were different, the US civil rights Movement drew inspiration from the African independence movements and the Pan-African ideas that influenced many of them. Seeing Africans fight against oppression helped Black American activists to continue believing that what they were trying to accomplish was possible.
Starting as a primarily intellectual movement in the early 20th century, Pan-Africanism became an influential aspect of Black freedom struggles across the African Diaspora. While different thinkers hold various ideas about Pan-Africanism, it is essentially a belief in the unity and connection between people of African descent. It places an emphasis on destroying colonialism and imperialism, with a focus on Black self-determination. Although it originated in the Caribbean and United States, Pan-Africanism became an important factor in various African independence movements, particularly among their leaders.
One of these leaders was Kwame Nkrumah, who helped Ghana achieve independence in 1957. Nkrumah was a Pan-Africanist, and he believed that political and economic unity was the key to dismantling colonial power and strengthening the continent. His leadership abilities, his passion for liberation, and his promotion of Pan-African ideas was influential for multiple leaders within the US civil rights movement. For example, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, James Forman, and Kwame Ture.
Although Nkrumah was particularly influential, the African independence movements in general also provided inspiration among Black activists and citizens. King recalls in one of his speeches that, “The civil rights movement in the United States has derived immense inspiration from the successful struggles of those Africans who have attained freedom in their own nations”. Describing people who participated in the US movement, James Forman writes, “Images of black men in flowing African robes, sitting at the United Nations, and carrying on the business of their governments, had a profound effect on the consciousness of these black babies born during World War II”. Both King and Forman were major leaders in the US movement and their acknowledgement of the impact African movements had is significant.
As a result of the African independence movements, the civil rights movement was able to further connect their struggles to those of the continent many of them originated from. During this time, both Africans and African Americans were fighting different battles against their common foes of oppression and exploitation.
Forman, James. “1967: High Tide of Black Resistance.” New York SNCC, 1967.
King, Martin Luther Jr., “Let My People Go, Hunter College”, New York City, Dec. 10, 1965, http://rtksafilm.org/speeches/peopleking.php.
Top left image, US civil rights demonstrations
Center image, Kwame Nkrumah and Martin Luther King Jr.