Was King a Pan-Africanist? Martin Luther King and the African Liberation Movements

Topics: Africa, African Union, Sub-Saharan Africa Pages: 11 (3962 words) Published: December 16, 2012
Hist 101.
12/14/12
Was King a Pan-Africanist? Martin Luther King Jr. and the African Liberation Movements. By Kenechukwu Nwosu The King-era civil rights movement coincided closely with the peak of freedom struggles on the African continent. When the Montgomery bus boycott began in December 1955, all but four African nations were under colonial rule; when King delivered his last public speech on April 3, 1968, thirty-six African countries had gained their independence. Most scholarship on King’s international involvement neglects his relationship with Africa, focusing instead on his dealings with India and Vietnam. The few scholarly works that exist tend to paint far too simplistic a picture of this relationship, suggesting that the activist King was always a Pan-Africanist, who held the unchanging opinion that all people of African descent were homogeneous, and must work together to overcome white oppression. From a close study of King’s speeches, writings and actions regarding Africa, I arrive at a different conclusion. I posit, firstly, that King’s view of Africa was essentially dynamic—prior to 1957, King possessed only a cursory concern for the continent; his Ghana trip in March 1957 precipitated genuine interest in African affairs; and his continued interaction with Africans after that trip motivated him towards a deeper involvement and commitment to African issues. Secondly, I argue that despite this increasing engagement in African affairs, King never truly adopted the philosophy of Pan-Africanism. King grew up in an environment that was infertile for the cultivation of a positive attitude towards Africa. The African-American education system at the time seldom included topics dealing with Africa and its peoples. As Carter Woodson made clear in his 1933 book, The Mis-education of the Negro, “the African was excluded altogether” from the educational curriculum. “No thought was given to Africa except so far as it had been a field of exploitation for the Caucasian.” Media coverage of the African continent at the time was almost non-existent. The few stories that dotted the mass media portrayed Africa in an inaccurate, negative light, “propagating the distorted symbol of ‘savage Africans’” It is likely then that King grew up with little knowledge of, and concern for, the land of his forbears. That none of King’s writings from graduate or doctoral school, reference in any substantial regard, the African continent or colonialism, is a manifestation of this. Coretta Scott King wrote later that “we ourselves had been victims of the propaganda that all of Africa was primitive and dirty,” showing that the little knowledge King possessed about Africa was from the jaundiced image the American media painted. When King was launched into the civil rights movement in 1955, he began to show a minor awareness of African issues. An upsurge of anti-colonialist movements had generated increased African-American interest in Africa, and King was beginning to see a parallel between colonialism in Africa and racial discrimination in America. Coretta recalled that he “often compared European colonialism with Negro oppression in America” in his sermons. In a speech delivered at the Alpha Phi fraternity banquet in 1956, he noted that “ the uprisings in Africa... and the racial tensions of America… are indicative of the fact that a new world order is being born and an old order is passing away.” While he recognized that the struggles on both sides of the Atlantic were parallel, he did not advocate a connection or co-operation between them. Hence he failed to identify himself as holding any role in African struggles. Martin Luther King was invited to the Ghanaian independence ceremony in March 1957. His adviser, Bayard Rustin, had arranged for the invitation, perhaps in order to secure King’s position as a key African-American leader (other notable African-American figures such as Adam Clayton Powell, Ralph Bunche and A. Philip Randolph were...

Bibliography: ACOA, “Correspondence and Subject Files on South Africa, 1952-1985,” Records of the American Committee on Africa. Bethseda, Maryland: University Publications of America, 2010, microfilm, pt. 2, reel 42.
ACOA, “Executive Minutes and National Office Memoranda, 1952-1975” Records of the American Committee on Africa. Bethseda, Maryland: University Publications of America, 1995: microfilm, pt 1, reel 5.
Baldwin, Lewis V. To Make the Wounded Whole: The Cultural Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992.
Geiss, Imanuel, The Pan-African Movement; Translated [from German] by Ann Keep. New York: Africana Publishing Co, 1974.
Houser, George M., No One Can Stop the Rain: Glimpses of Africa 's Liberation Struggle. New York: Pilgrim Press, 1989.
King, Coretta Scott, My Life with Martin Luther King, Jr. New York: NY Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1969.
King, Martin Luther, Jr., “Non-violence: The Only Road to Freedom,” In A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., ed. James Washington New York: Harper Collins, 1986.
King, Martin Luther, Jr., “Remarks Delivered at Africa Freedom Dinner at Atlanta University,” in The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr. Volume 5: Threshold of a New Decade, January 1959-December 1960. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992.
King, Martin Luther, Jr., “The Birth of a New Age,” in The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr.: Volume 3: Birth of a New Age, December 1955 - December 1956. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992.
King, Martin Luther, Jr., “The Birth of a New Nation” in The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr. Volume 4: Symbol of a Movement, January 1957 - December 1958. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992.
King, Martin Luther, Jr., “To Tom Mboya” in The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr. Volume 5: Threshold of a New Decade, January 1959-December 1960. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992.
King, Martin Luther, Jr., Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? In A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., ed. James Washington. New York: Harper Collins, 1986.
Meriwether, James H. “The American Negro Leadership Conference on Africa and its Arden House Conference: Politicizing and Institutionalizing the relationship with Africa,” Afro-Americans in New York Life and History 21, no, 2, 1997. ProQuest.
Nkrumah, Kwame, “Nkrumah to King” in The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr. Volume 4: Symbol of a Movement, January 1957 - December 1958. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992.
Onipede, Oladipo “Hollywood’s Holy War against Africa,” Africa Today 3, no. 4 (1956): 1-5.
Woodson, Carter Godwin. The Miseducation of the Negro. New York: AMS Press Inc. 1977.
[ 2 ]. Carter Godwin Woodson, The Miseducation of the Negro. (New York : AMS Press Inc. 1977), 21.
[ 5 ]. Coretta Scott King, My Life with Martin Luther King, Jr. (New York: NY Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1969) 155.
[ 6 ]. George M. Houser, No One Can Stop the Rain: Glimpses of Africa 's Liberation Struggle. (New York: Pilgrim Press, 1989.) 177.
[ 8 ]. Martin Luther King Jr., “The Birth of a New Age,” in The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr.: Volume 3: Birth of a New Age, December 1955 - December 1956 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), 340.
[ 9 ]. Kwame Nkrumah, “Nkrumah to King” in The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr. Volume 4: Symbol of a Movement, January 1957 - December 1958 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), 112.
[ 11 ]. Martin Luther King, “The Birth of a New Nation” in The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr. Volume 4: Symbol of a Movement, January 1957 - December 1958 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), 158.
[ 16 ]. Martin Luther King, “The Birth of a New Nation” in The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr. Volume 4: Symbol of a Movement, January 1957 - December 1958 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), 158.
[ 23 ]. James H. Meriwether, “The American Negro Leadership Conference on Africa and its Arden House Conference: Politicizing and Institutionalizing the relationship with Africa,” Afro-Americans in New York Life and History 21, no, 2 (1997) 5. ProQuest.
[ 24 ]. Martin Luther King Jr., “The Ben Bella Conversation,” October 21, 1962, The King Center Online Archives, accessed December 1, 2012,
http://www.thekingcenter.org/archive/document/ben-bella-conversation
[ 27 ]. ACOA, “Correspondence and Subject Files on South Africa, 1952-1985,” Records of the American Committee on Africa, (Bethseda, Maryland: University Publications of America, 2010) microfilm, pt. 2, reel 42 p. 84.
[ 28 ]. ACOA, “Correspondence and Subject Files on South Africa, 1952-1985,” Records of the American Committee on Africa, (Bethseda, Maryland: University Publications of America, 2010) microfilm, pt. 2, reel 7 p. 546
[ 29 ]
[ 31 ]. Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? In A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., ed. James Washington (New York: Harper Collins, 1986), 588.
[ 33 ]. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Non-violence: The Only Road to Freedom,” In A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., ed. James Washington (New York: Harper Collins, 1986), 56.
[ 35 ]. Martin Luther King Jr., “The Negro Looks at Africa,” New York Amsterdam News, December 8, 1962, from The King Center Online Archives, accessed December 1, 2012,
http://www.thekingcenter.org/archive/document/people-people-negro-looks-africa
[ 37 ]. Jean White, “Negro Leaders propose trip to Nigeria,” Washington Post, March 9, 1968, pg. A3. Proquest.
[ 38 ]. Taylor Branch, At Canaan’s edge, America in the King years, 1965-68. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006.) 766.
Continue Reading

Please join StudyMode to read the full document

You May Also Find These Documents Helpful

  • Martin Luther King Essay
  • Martin Luther King Essay
  • Martin Luther King Essay
  • Significance of Martin Luther King Jr. Essay
  • Essay on Martin Luther King Memorial
  • Segregation: Martin Luther King Essay
  • Gandhi and Martin Luther king Research Paper
  • Analysis Of Martin Luther King Essay

Become a StudyMode Member

Sign Up - It's Free