Cross Currents In the African Diaspora


Joseph E. Holloway

California State University, Northridge



Africa has been the world’s primary source of peoples on the move since the dawn of time. Consider what we know of the earliest human beings, where they lived and where the urge to go elsewhere took them. There was movement, to be sure, among peoples in the Americas, among peoples in Europe, among peoples in the Near East and Far East. For the most part, the movement was within rather than without.

Africa constitutes the one great exception, far more extensive than had been recognized before.  Africa’s Diaspora has global dimensions, global implications. One of the first comprehensive and systematic approaches to the African Diaspora is found in Martin L. Kilson and Robert I. Rotberg, The African Diaspora: Interpretive Essay (1976). They contributed to defining and bringing some clarity to the concept as it applies to Africans and their descendants living in the Diaspora.  Probably the best-known work on the Diaspora as relates to Africa is Joseph E. Harris’ Global Dimensions of the African Diaspora (1982), which provides a conceptual framework for studying Diasporas.

Another study that serves as a model for understanding the importance of the African Diaspora in the Islamic world is St. Clair Drake’s, Black Folk Here and There (1990). A more recent study that focuses on Blacks in the Islamic World is Ronald Segal’s Islam’s Black Slaves: The Other Black Diaspora Slaves (2001). Diasporic scholars have not generally concerned themselves with the African Diaspora in the Islamic world, which is a primary focus of Segal’s essay.

Conceptually, Diasporic scholars do not confine the concept of a Diaspora exclusively to people of any one ancestry, because the concept is borrowed from Jewish history, and initially referred to the scattering of the Jews after their Babylonian captivity.  The Jewish Diaspora has ancient roots going back 2,000 years and serves as a model for understanding the Black Diasporic experience.

Dictionary definitions can be helpful or confusing. As a noun, Diaspora is defined as the dispersion or spreading of something that was originally localized (as a people or language or culture).

Two other definitions are Jewish in nature: “The dispersion of the Jews outside Israel; from the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 587-86 BC when they were exiled to Babylonia up to the present time, or the body of Jews (or Jewish communities) outside Palestine or modern Israel.”

No one has attempted a systematic and comprehensive definition of the term African Diaspora. The African concept of Diaspora is based on land, a place and a collective identity which shares a common “homeland.” A homeland identity can exist metaphorically, linguistically or symbolically. A useful working definition within this framework is the dispersal of a group of people who share a common cultural or ethnic identity with a homeland such as Africa.

In other words, to speak of a separate and homogeneous African Diaspora in North America is misleading because the African groups that arrived in North America during the slave trade were as diverse as human beings all over the world.  There was no one central African identity, as in the Jewish concept of a Diaspora with the state Israel at the center, because for centuries the idea of Israel only existed in Jewish religious and philosophical thought, and did not materialize until the creation of a Jewish homeland in 1949.  Likewise, the African Diasporic reality materializes with the establishment of the first Pan African State, Ghana, under the leadership of Kwame Nkrumah in 1957. How the concept of an African homeland has changed over time and adapted to diasporic conditions while experiencing slavery, forced labor, and racial discrimination in North America, contributed to an African identity both for continental Africans, and African American living in the Diaspora.

As far as Africa is concerned there were no single Diasporic movements, but a series of what Colin Palmer calls Diasporic streams flowing from a common river source.  The African Diaspora cannot simply be understood in its macro or global dimensions, but is better understood in its micro dimensions or regional realities.

Colin Palmer identifies several African diasporas, the beginning about 100,000 years ago when the first Africans migrated from Africa to colonize the world.   According to Palmer, the second major Diasporic movement began around 3000 B.C.E., “before the common era,” with the migration of Bantu-speaking peoples from the Cameroon region, populating and extending their culture over two-thirds of the African continent. The third major stream in this Diasporic movement was what he calls a trading Diaspora, involving the movement of traders, merchant, slaves, soldiers and concubines to parts of Europe, the Middle East and Asia beginning around the fifth century B.C.E.  The Middle East African Diaspora involved the movement of African traders, merchants, slaves, soldiers and concubines to the Middle East and Europe.  This Diaspora, stimulated by trade between Arabia, Persia and the Middle East with East Africa began long before the birth of Islam, and simply accelerated with the birth of Islam.  The African Diaspora in the Middle East was expanded by the Arabs through trade and commerce predating Islam.

That religious Diaspora allowed the Moors to expand their civilization into Europe starting in 711, where the Moorish Diaspora spread to Portugal (1312), France, Sicily, Italy and eventually to the New World as the Moricsos came from Spain to the New World with first Columbus, Balboa, Coronado, Cortes and others. Frank Snowden has noted that the Ethiopians (Greek word for blacks) entered the Greco-Roman world in large numbers as the result of military, diplomatic and commercial activities, and that there was a sizable Ethiopian (black) population in the Roman world.[1] Hannibal also extended elements of the African Diaspora when he crossed the Alps into Southern Italy with the world’s first multiracial army composed of Africans, Berbers and Iberians.

The first part of the discussion below is primarily concerned with two Diasporas--The African Diaspora in the Islamic world and the transatlantic Diaspora created by the Atlantic slave trade.  The second part of this essay is primarily concerned with historical and modern African Diaspora as it is manifested in African cultural legacies in American and African American cultures. The last part of this essay examines Pan Africanisms, Black Nationalism, and the Black identity movement that will reveal how African Americans struggled to maintain contact with an African identity, and how the concept of a “homeland,” shaped the African Diaspora in North American.


Slavery was known throughout the Old World, in ancient Egypt, ancient Greece, and Europe.  In Africa domestic slavery was quite popular. The Egyptians enslaved whomever they captured, including Jews, Semites, Mediterraneans and Ethiopians.  The East African Diaspora extended to China and the Middle East by way of the slave trade and formed the largest slave markets until the coming of the transatlantic slave trade.

Africans from East Africa were exported from Opone (Southern Somalia) to Egypt in ancient times.  East African soldiers from East Africa were also exported to Mesopotamia.  The slave trade from the East African coast to Arabia was constant between 100 and 1498 C.E. According to the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, an anonymous work by an Egyptian Greek written around the first century, East Africans, taken to Mesopotamia, worked on sugar cane plantations.  Africans sold into the Middle East by way of Yemen and Persian Gulf slaves carried from Africa to Malaysia and the Indonesian Islands eventually arrived at the Polynesia Islands in the Pacific.

According to the Periplus manual, enslaved Africans were exported from the Horn of Africa on a regular basis.  Southern Arabs, settled along the East African coast,[2] were joined by people of the Horn who were Berbers.  The Arabs referred to them as “Black” Berbers in order to distinguish them from Arabs. Several Muslim communities were established by merchants from Arabia and Persia.  Through intermarriages with local Africans, many new communities emerged giving rise to a new Swahili culture, which was a synthesis of Arab and Bantu cultures fusing together.  By the 9th century, Islam was strongly rooted in the East African coastal regions.



Enslaved Africans from East Africa were found in faraway places including China.  For instance, the Chronicle of the T’ang Dynasty documents in the year 724 the presentation of an African girl to the Emperor, and a similar form of tribute is recorded in the 9th century. The Chronicle of the Sung Dynasty records that in 976 an Arab merchant brought to the imperial court “a black K’un Lun slave with deep-set eyes and black body.”[3] Tuan Ch’eng’shih, who wrote in the 9th century, referred to African slaves from Somalia. In 1110 B.C.E., it was noted that most of the wealthy families of Canton possessed African slaves.

In 1119, Chu Yu, a Chinese scholar from the Sung era, wrote: “In Kuang-chou [Canton] most of the wealthy people keep devil-slaves [kueinu], who are very strong and can lift weights of several hundred catties.  Their language and tastes are unintelligible [to the Chinese].  Their nature is simple and they do not abscond.  They are also called ‘wid men’ [yeh-jen].  Their colour is as black as [Chinese] ink, their lips are red, their teeth white and their hair curly and yellow [sic].  There are both males and females among them . . . They live on the islands beyond the sea.”[4] Another Chinese writer, Chan Ju-Kua, refers to African slaves in a book published in 1226 C.E.  He writes that Africans were “enticed by offers of food and then caught and carried off from Pemba for slaves to the Ta-shi [Arab] Countries, where they fetch a high price”[5] when sold to Arab countries.

Chinese mariners were active across the Indian Ocean.  The Arab geographer, al-Mas’udi, mentions the trade in which slaves, ivory and iron were exported from Mogadishu and Pemba in exchange for Chinese pottery.  The eunuch admiral Cheng Ho, himself a Muslim from the province of Yunnan whose father had made a pilgrimage to Mecca, led seven successive naval expeditions, the first in 1405 to 1407 and the final three, ending in 1433, explored the east coast of Africa, including Mogadishu and Malinda (Malindi).

During the 7th century, enslaved Africans worked on date plantations in places such as Basra, Bandar, Abbas and Minab.  African slaves were used for pearl diving in Lingeh and Bahrain.  In the 9th century in Iraq, Africans labored removing salt incrustations from the land.  For centuries, Africans from the East African coast had a greater impact in the military in Egypt and western Arab territories.

In the 9th century, Africans played a decisive role in the formation of a new state by waging war for 20 years.  In 868-869 (the Islamic year of 255), ‘Ali ibn Muhammad, proclaimed himself the new prophet of Islam.  He acquired a large following of Zanjs [East Africans] by promising them power and authority.  He successfully organized an army of more than 15,000 rebels.  ‘Ali ibn Muhammad’s African army captured the city of Ahwaz between 869 and 870.  The Caliphate armies, which had many Zanj soldiers, deserted, reinforcing the rebels.  By the fall of 871, the Zanj forces had captured and pillaged Basra, destroying the city by fire and killing more than 100,000 people.[6] By 878 and 879, the Zanj rebels captured Wasit and moved to take Baghdad, the greatest city of Islam.

In the Arab marshlands, ‘Ali ibn Muhammad established his headquarters in the fortified town of Mukhtara, which served as the capital and was an independent Black state.  From their new state they raided towns, trading caravans, army camps and commercial shipping forts.  Finally, Muwaffag’s forces retook territories from the Zanj, but the process was long and costly.  The Zanj at Mukhtara withstood a three-year siege.  By 883, because of hunger and desertions, the Zanj fell, and the victors placed ‘Ali ibn Muhammad’s head at Muwaffaq’s feet.

Although the Zanj was finally destroyed, the revolt by the African slaves had far-reaching consequences which contributed to the fall of the Abbassid Caliphate and ended the construction of dams in Southern Iraq.  Arab rulers who had been using African slaves to guard their palaces and fight in their armies now shifted to Eastern Europe and Asia as sources for slaves.

During the 10th century more than 200 Africans were exported from East Africa to Oman annually.  In all, more than 1,000 ships from Oman were involved in the trade with East Africa.  The Hadrarni Chronicles confirms that large numbers of Africans from East Africa were imported into Arabia, the Persian Gulf, and especially Bahrain, between the 10th and 12th centuries.  Raymond Maury estimates that 300,000 black slaves were traded to Islamic countries in the first half of the 20th century.  He suggests the figure of 100,000 for the 7th century, 200,000 for the 8th, 400,000 for the 9th and 500,000 for each of the next four centuries, 1,000 for the 14th century, 2,000,000 for each of the following five centuries, a total of 14,000,000.[7] These figures do not take into account the trans-Saharan slave trade, which started almost 3,000 years before the transatlantic slave trade.  It is possible that the total figure is around 300 million.

Africans, prominently represented in Middle Eastern countries, participated in numerous rebellions.  Large numbers of Africans were recruited into military service throughout the expanding Arab dominated world.  For example, the caliphs in Baghdad recruited large numbers of Africans into their army.  Additionally, several Islamic rulers in medieval Egypt depended heavily on Nubian troops.  At times, African troop soldiers held the balance of power.  One Muslim ruler was said to have had an army of 45,000 blacks and 24,000 whites.  African and white troops were organized separately and from time-to-time there were outbreaks between them.  One such outbreak occurred in 930 C.E., in which the white cavalry attacked and massacred black infantry in Baghdad.  Another case illustrating ethnic tension occurred in Egypt in 1169 when black slaves attempted to overthrow the Sultan.  Saladin, the vizier of Egypt, discovered a plot by the chief black Eunuch.  As a result, the Sultan dismissed all of the black eunuchs of the palace.  According to a medieval Arabic chronicler, 50,000 black troops fought against Saladin’s army and almost defeated the Sultan of Egypt.  After the “battle of the Blacks,” black troops became rare in the East, but constituted the majority of troops in the West.

Ahmad Ibn Tulun, the first independent ruler of Muslim Egypt, recruited 40,000 Nubians to fight in his army.  They were chosen because they were great archers.  Muhammad Ibn Tughj, founder of the Ikhshidid dynasty, also recruited Nubians into his army.  When he died his personal guard, a Nubian eunuch Abu’Misk Kafru, became the ruler in Egypt for 20 years.  Most Africans in the Arabic world worked as domestics, military soldiers, eunuchs and concubines.  Men labored primarily as servants, gardeners and watchmen.  Women served as chambermaids, cooks, seamstresses, wet nurses and confidantes.  Dark-skinned women performed hard labor because they were seen as unattractive. Light-skinned women, who were believed to be prettier than the dark-skinned women, were generally assigned lighter workloads.  They received special privileges such as being educated in the arts, poetry and music.

African Eunuchs played a crucial role in extending the African Diaspora into Syria, Egypt and the Middle East.  The main centers of demand for African Eunuchs were Baghdad, Beirut, Cairo, Istanbul, Jeddah, Mecca and Smyrna.  African Eunuchs worked as vizier (prime minister), military generals, supervisors of the harems, managers of the royal households, administrators of the realm, drafters of documents, dispatchers of documents to the provinces, receivers of diplomatic envoys and constructors of public buildings and mosques. Many Eunuchs even controlled access to the Sultans.[8]

The African forms of domestic slavery were nothing like what evolved in the Americas.  Under the African form of slavery, a slave had almost equal rights with free men living in the same community.  For instance, if the slave proved superior in abilities, he could rise to a high position of power and leadership.  They could marry and have children.  Their offspring were free and not tied to perpetual slavery.  By customary law, the master had to provide food, clothing and a certain amount of personal freedom and movement.

During the pre-Islamic time there were several large communities composed of Abyssinians [Ethiopians] living in Arabia.  In fact, there were several expeditions of Ethiopian Christians, crossing into Arabia to protect Christian communities from attacks by the local pagan Arabs.  One such Abyssinian expedition crossed the Red Sea around 512 C.E. to restore authority and protect the Christians.  Having accomplished this they withdrew and returned home.  Later, a group of Ethiopian deserters overthrew the puppet ruler who remained in the country.  Abraha, the leader of the Ethiopian contingent, who had been a slave of a Byzantine merchant in the Abyssinian port of Adulis, rose to power. After trying to remove him unsuccessfully, the Abyssinians granted him some recognition.

Centuries before the introduction of Islam, Arabs imported Africans through several routes. Ethiopians comprised the earliest source of slaves for the Arab world.  Arabs moved Nubians up the Nile through Egypt via the ports of Massawa and Suakir and the Red Sea.  Africans from Kenya and eastern Tanzania were taken by sea to Aden, Arabia, Iraq and Yemen.  Arabs transported West Africans via the trans-Sahara using overland routes to the western and eastern Maghrib.  The Arabs called the people south of the Sahara Bilal as Sudan, meaning “land of the Blacks.”  Sudan would become the term used for the whole area from the Atlantic to the Red Sea.  However, it was not applied to the Egyptians, Berbers and rarely to Ethiopians.

Next we will turn our attention to the birth of Islam and how this religious movement spread southward from the Fertile Crescent between the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf across the Indian Ocean, finding converts along coastal East Africa and the Swahili Coast. More than Christianity, Islam became the major vehicle for facilitating the African Diaspora to Spain, Portugal and Italy.



The story of the great Arab-Moorish civilization began with the birth of Muhammad in the year 570 C.E.  This birth, like Akhenaten’s, Moses’ and Jesus’ would transform the world.  The Prophet Muhammad (570-632) belonged to the Hashim clan of the quraysh ethnic group.  Scholars know little about the personal life of Muhammad because he left no account of his life.

The Prophet Muhammad began preaching in Mecca (in what is now Saudi Arabia) about 610 C.E.  Muhammad regarded himself as the last in the line of earlier prophets from the Jewish tradition of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the Haijttan tradition of Jesus.  Muhammad actually made no claims to having founded a new religion, although a new religion was the result.  Rather, he said that his message was to complete the divine revelation already given to humankind by earlier prophets such as Abraham, Moses and Jesus.  Muhammad’s first convert was his wife Khadijah, soon followed by the conversion of an African servant named Bilal.

Bilal represented an Abyssinian presence in Arabia.  As result of a large number of Abyssinians living in Arabia, Bilal ibn Rabah was born a slave in Mecca and was the first convert to the new religion.  Muhammed’s wealthy uncle bought Bilal after his master mistreated him for following the Prophet.  Bilal became Muhammad’s first companion and personal attendant of the Prophet, accompanying him on all his many expeditions.  Later, he became the first muezzin when the call to prayer was instituted after Muhammad’s arrival in Medina, and a member and integral part of his inner circle.  Bilal was later celebrated for his exploits as a warrior in the conquest of Christian Syria.[9] Muhammed’s other Abyssinian companion was Abu Bakra, known as the father of the pulley.  He acquired the nickname by letting himself down with a pulley during the Muslim siege of Talif and then joined the Muslim fighters.  The Prophet accepted and manumitted Abu Bakra. He later settled in Basra where he died in 672. Muhammad had been a slaveholder early in his career.  He, however, freed his slaves and established structures for regulating slavery in Islam.  He encouraged others to emancipate their slaves as he did.  Muhammad accepted black people as equals in his new religion and community.  Ethiopians [blacks] held a special place in the heart of the Prophet.

Bilal fought in the ranks of the army and was given the honor of taking the surrender of Prince Constantine.  Bilal died in Damascus and his tomb became a shrine for pilgrims.  The relationship between Bilal and Muhammad no doubt helped contribute to the positive attitudes the Prophet had toward black people, for there is no anti-black prejudice found anywhere in the Qur’an.  Muhammad eliminated racism during the first generation of Islam.  However, in the generation following the Prophet, as the Bedouins spread Islam, they brought anti-black prejudices to the land of the peoples they conquered and enslaved.

Abyssinians from across the Red Sea served prominent roles in Arabia, and in Mecca they had been used as a protective garrison for the city.  During the time of the Prophet, several of his inner circle found refuge in Abyssinia (Ethiopia) from the persecution of pagan Arabs.  In 614 C.E., Muhammad sent a group of his followers across the Red Sea to the African kingdom of Axum to escape religious persecution.[10] As a result of this positive relationship with black Africa, Ethiopia became a cherished and important symbol of Islam during the formative years.



Muhammad used jihads (holy wars) to expand his religious kingdom.  Jihads developed out of the political belief that “Muslims ought to be ruled by Muslims.”  Muslims divide the world into the “house of Islam” (dar al-Islam) and the “house of war” (dar al-harb). The first Jihad occurred during Muhammad’s lifetime when he led victorious armies against the Jews in Medina and the animist in Mecca in 630 C.E.  According to Islamic tradition, Muhammad sent messages to the leaders of the Byzantine Christians, the Persian empires and the kingdom of Ethiopia, requesting that they accept Islam.  Following Muhammad’s death, his successor Abu Bakr united Arabia under Islam and conquered Christian Syria, which the Byzantine Christian Empire controlled.  By 644 C.E., the Muslims had conquered and controlled Syria, Egypt, Iran and Iraq.

The Islamic Revolution transformed a group of desert Bedouins into one of the largest religious empires, which later threatened Christianity in Europe.  The Arab armies left their sun-baked desert and conquered Egypt, Palestine, Libya, Syria and Spain, all four parts of the Byzantine Empire, and overran Persia.  During the next 100 years, Islam spread to all of North Africa through the force of Moors (blacks), who crossed the Strait of Gibraltar in 711, conquered the Visigoth kingdom of Spain, and then moved across the Pyrenees into France in 725.  By the eighth century, a little more than 100 years after the death of the Prophet, the Islamic revolution had closed upon Christianity.

Egypt at the time of the Arab conquest was part of the Byzantium Empire (the eastern Roman Empire with its capital at Constantinople, modern Istanbul).  As a direct result of the corruption and persecution by the Coptic Church, the majority of Egyptians offered almost no resistance to the Arabs.  By 642 C.E. the Arab army had expelled the unpopular Byzantine administrators from Egypt, but because of the strong Byzantine navy, the Arabs moved their headquarters to the interior near the ruins of the ancient Egyptian city of Memphis.  There they built a new Islamic capital at Cairo.  From Cairo they controlled the trade and traffic of the Nile and expanded their trading links with Syria and Arabia.

However, the Islamic Jihad (holy war) did not penetrate Christian Nubia.  Islam first spread by the sword, and when that was not possible, traders spread it, who doubled as merchants and Islamic missionaries.  In North Africa, Islam spread through wars of conquests.  In Africa south of the Sahara, Islam extended slowly through trade and cultural interactions.  The kingdoms of Nubia and Makurra presented fierce opposition to Muslim infiltration.  Finally, Nubia and Egypt negotiated an agreement, and a long period of peaceful coexistence and trading was established between Islamic Egypt and Christian Nubia.

Once the Arabs had established a foothold in Egypt, they quickly settled down as administrators and merchants.  Most of the Coptic Christians were left in possession of their land.  When the Arabs conquered Egypt, they continued the Roman system of taxation and collecting food.  In a short period of time, Christian Egyptians realized that they could escape taxes by converting to Islam since taxation was reserved for non-Muslims.  In Egypt, the Arabic language and culture gradually spread throughout the population.  Combined with the immigration of Arab peasants in the 8th and 9th centuries, foreign populations overwhelmed the indigenous peoples, pushing them further south and completing the Islamization of Egypt and North Africa.  Between 632 and 733, one after another Islam conquered the old provinces of the Roman Empire.



The Arab conquest of North Africa was completed in 708 C.E. when Musa Ibn Nusair conquered all of Morocco except Ceuta, which was already under the rule of the Byzantine governor Count Julian.  The Visigoth (the monarch of Spain) decided to take advantage of Count Julian’s daughter when he sent her to Spain for a visit.  In an act of revenge, Count Julian opted to aid the Moors.  The Moors, (black Africans from North Africa who converted to Islam), were also referred to as Berbers and Almoravids.  It was these Islamized Berbers or Moors, who crossed the Straits of Gibraltar in 711 C.E. and conquered Spain, where they would rule parts of southern Spain until 1492.

In 711 C.E., Musa Ibn Nusair placed an army of 300 Arabs and 12,000 Africans under the leadership of the Moorish general, Tarik, and crossed the Strait of Gibraltar, landing at Guadalupe in southern Spain.  Tarik’s African army captured several Spanish towns near Gibraltar, among them Heraclea.  The Moors took over the city of Cordoba as the capital of their new conquest.  Tarik then advanced northward into Andalusia.  The battle lasted about a week and, finally, Tarik’s army was victorious.  He conquered Spain and established an African dynasty, bringing Spain under the rule of the Moors.  After overrunning the Iberian Peninsula, the Moors attempted to extend their rule to France. In France, the Moors experienced a setback when Charles Martel defeated them.  The Moors settled down, retired to Spain, and laid the foundation for Spanish civilization.  Their influence in Spain lasted until 1492.

Abd al-Rahman (r. 756-788), established the Umayyad dynasty in Spain with his capital at Cordoba.  Conflict arose, however, and by the 11th century the Umayyad caliphate broke into many petty kingdoms.  With the Muslims divided, Christian princes supported by the Frankish (French) rulers retreated to northern mountain fortresses while the Muslims controlled most of Spain.  The Jews in Moorish Spain were allied with the Moors and were treated very well, for the Moors employed many of them.  Al-Hakam I (r. 796-822) appointed blacks to positions as palace guard, and even some as mawla, military-religious prayer leaders.

Abd-al-Rahman II (r. 822-852) had thousands of Berbers and black soldiers.  Under the rule of Abd-al-Rahman II, Spain entered a golden age.  He introduced the works of Greek philosophers, enlarged the Great Mosques, built schools and hospitals.  He constructed aqueducts made of lead pipes to carry water from the nearby mountains to homes and baths for the city. He built universities, public parks, schools and orphanages for poor children.  He maintained the Roman highways, and, in times of drought and famine, relieved the citizens of taxation.  As a result, he was referred to as the “Father of the Poor.” Abd al-Rahman II centralized the administration of al-Andalus, securing financial sustenance for his rule by developing state monopolies, and creating a new bureaucratic class of merchants and ruler’s clients.  The resources were channeled through the court and supported extravagant and luxurious tastes of Abd al-Rahman that would compete with the splendor of the courts of Baghdad.

The splendor of this golden age was fueled by a black musician, singer and poet named Abu ‘l-Hasian Ali ibn Nafi, commonly known as Ziryab (789-857).  Born in Iraq, he rose to high favor at the court of the Caliphate in Baghdad, Haroun er Rashid.  His skill aroused the jealousy of his teacher and resulted in his banishment.  Abd al-Rahman welcomed him with a palace, slaves, eunuchs and 50,000 pieces of gold. Soon he had the ear of the Caliphate and was exercising a great deal of influence over the new ruler.  He eventually had the people of Cordova at his feet.  Ziryab imposed the Iraqi style of singing and added a fifth string to the lute, “giving the music a new sweetness.”  Ziryab changed the music style of Cordova and founded a school of music. He introduced the use of toothpaste and underarm deodorants.  He also introduced new styles of clothing and fashions for the four seasons of the year, instead of only summer and winter.  He promoted particular hairstyles and a clean-shaven look for men.  Additionally, he introduced several epicurean dishes, such as spiced meatballs and asparagus. Ziryab’s fricasee is still served in Spanish households.[11]

The Black singer, Ziryab, is also credited with making wine consumption acceptable and a widespread practice among the Muslims of al-Andalus.  Vineyards were generally cultivated for grapes and raisins, with wine a minor product, mainly for the domestic market of the Christian and Jewish communities. Through Ziryab’s efforts new varieties of grape were introduced and Islamic rulers declared that the drinking of wine was permissible.[12]

Abd-al-Rahman III was probably the greatest ruler of the Western Omayyads.  For the first 25 years of his reign he lived in ksar, next to the river (the Arabic word, al ksar, became the Spanish word, alcazar). His son Hakim’s library is estimated to have held 6,000 volumes. The reign of Al-Hakam II was a golden age.  More than seven libraries existed beside the great one at Cordova, which made literature available to rich and poor Muslims and Christians.  Education was free and universal.

Yusef ibn-Tashufin, the founder of the Berber Almoravid dynasty in Spain, as part of his policy exchanged African boys for white Christian boys with Moorish slave traders. As part of his military strategy, he used “blue-eyed, blond haired troops” against Christians.  This policy actually widened the dispersal of Africans in Europe, once again extending the North African Diaspora in Europe. While the Moors were willing to trade with Europeans, they were reluctant to travel beyond the comfort of their own communities.  Finding mosques or the food they preferred, which was essential to maintaining their Islamic way of life, proved difficult for the Moors.  Also, to travel beyond one’s community meant that they had to have direct contact with infidels and non-believers.  Therefore, when the Moors were required to meet Europeans, they preferred to send the dhimmis--that is, Jews or Christians as intermediaries on their behalf.  The Moors came as conquerors and viewed the European (infidel) culture as inferior to theirs.  Apart from the wool from the Frisian Islands in the Northern Sea, which they desired, Europeans had little to offer except white slaves.  From a commercial perspective, during the Middle Ages the largest slave trade existed in Europe and not Africa as commonly believed.

The Moors brought a high level of civilization to Europe and assisted Spain greatly in emerging from its period of the Dark Ages.  They began a great civilization which lasted more than 700 years, bringing many contributions in the sciences, particularly in agriculture.  They had a significant impact on agricultural developments, including introducing rice, sugar cane, citrus (oranges, lemons, and grapefruit), date, fig, ginger, eggplant, carrot, strawberry and cotton cultivation into Spain.  The introduction of these crops, along with innovations in the methods of field irrigation, led to “a green revolution.”  Southern Spain developed an agricultural system that produced a great yield per acre and provided northern Europe with products that were heretofore unknown to Europeans. Moors, gifted engineers, under the Caliph Abd-al-Rahman II constructed aqueducts, which conveyed water from the mountains to Cordoba through lead pipes to the cities.

Spain was rich in mineral wealth of gold, silver, copper, quicksilver, tin, lead, iron and aluminum.  All these metals were heavily mined.  Trade and commerce were the mainstays of the economy.  Until the 12th century, the maritime commerce of the Moors on the Mediterranean was greater than that of the Christians.  Thousands of ships were engaged in trade and there was a great deal of manufacturing in Moorish Spain.  The sword blades of Toledo were the best in all of Europe and the factory near Cordoba produced more than 12,000 shields annually.

The Moors built beautiful cities, including Toledo, Seville, Granada, Cordoba (the capital of Moorish Spain), Malaga, Jaen, Almeria, Valencia and Badajoz.  Cordoba in the 10th century had many of the amenities of modern cities today.  For example, the streets were paved and there were raised sidewalks for pedestrians.  The Moorish cities were lit at night by lamps.  This was a hundred years before there were paved streets in Paris or streetlights in London.

The Moors, enlightened patrons of learning, maintained immense libraries and offered fortunes for new manuscripts.  In the year 970 C.E., Caliph Al-Hakem of Cordoba completed one of the greatest libraries of the world.  He collected books and manuscripts from all over the known world.  His libraries contained more than 600,000 volumes.  The Caliph Al-Malum of Baghdad imported hundreds of camel loads of books into the East.  His collection included rare literary works of Ptolemy on the mathematical construction of the heavens.  The Caliph translated these into Arabic under the title, The Almages.  Al Hakem appointed a Christian scholar college president in Damascus.  He figured out the obliquity of the ecliptic and calculated the size of the Earth.  Finally, he sent an expedition that measured the length of degree of latitude on the shores of the Red Sea.

Via the Moors in Spain, Arabic knowledge and intellectual achievements profoundly influenced Western Europe.  Caliph Harun al Rashidi, a Moorish scholar, founded the University of Baghdad and hired Professor Joshua Ben Nun, a Jewish scholar, to translate the Greek classics into Arabic.  Harun was a patron of the medical college of Djondesabour in Southern Persia.  Graduates had to pass an exam to practice the art of healing.  In education, the Muslims adopted the decimal system from the Chinese, Greeks and Hindus, which Muhammad Ben Musa improved.  Musa wrote the first systematic treatise on Algebra.  He also derived the formula for the quadratic equation and wrote the Treatise on Spherical Trigonometry. Moorish mathematician al-Khwarizmi wrote the important treatise Algebra, which was the first work to use the word algebra in relationship to mathematics. Omar Khayyam reformed the calendar and composed a book on algebra.  In the Mosque-University of Cordova, science, medicine, music, poetry and art were taught in the department of Theology.  The Arabic digits of Indian origin and the zero enabled arithmetic to discard the roman numerals.  The Moors created Algebra.  From alchemy grew discoveries in chemistry, in metallurgy and the art of distillation, giving the world alcohol, sulphuric acid, distilled water and the essence of the rose.  In medicine there were numerous discoveries in surgery, hygiene, anesthetics and pharmaceutical botany. Moreover, the invention of the sine and cosine, and tangent and cotangent, as measurements for giant triangles occurred here.  Out of their passion for astrology grew astronomy.  Astronomers determined the hour of prayer and the direction of Mecca.

Moorish Spain produced some great scholars for Europe.  For example, El Idrisi (Abu Adullali Muhammad) was a Moorish scientist and geographer.  Ibn-al-Awam and Abu Zacaria wrote important works on agricultural and animal husbandry.  Ibn Khaldun, an expert on agriculture, also wrote valuable works on agriculture and the theory and nature of pricing.  Sheik Ash Shakandi, a Moorish citizen of Cordoba and scholar of the early 13th century, was a writer who traveled to both Spain and Morocco.  Other famous Moorish scholars included Al Hazen, a famous optician; Ali Ibn Isa, a noted oculist; Ibn-Sina of Bokhara, also known in the West as Vicenna of Bokhara (980-1037), a philosopher, physician, geologist, poet and author of several scientific and philosophical treatises.  Ibn-Sinal al-Qanun compiled most of the available Greco-Arabic medical knowledge.  He described the contagious nature of tuberculosis, the spreading of diseases and listed over 760 pharmaceutical drugs for the treatment of various illnesses.

The medical knowledge of the Moors made significant contributions to European knowledge of medicine.  Geber in the 8th century was an outstanding chemist.  In the 9th century, Arabic physicians translated most of the treatises of Hippocrates.  The Baghdad physician al-Razi (865-925) wrote an encyclopedic treatise on medicine that was translated into Latin and circulated widely in the West.  Al-Razi was also the first physician to make a medical distinction between measles and smallpox.  The great Moorish surgeon of Cordoba, al Zahrawi (d.1013), wrote and produced important works on the cauterization of wounds and the crushing of stones in the bladder.

While the Muslim and Christian worlds fought in Europe (France, Portugal and Spain) for converts and territory, eventually the Muslims were pushed back and forced to settle down in Spain.  Before being expelled from Spain, Muslim words, such as admiral, alcohol, algebra, almanac, candy, cipher, coffee, damask, lemon, strawberry, orange, sherbet and zero, found their way into English. The science of irrigation turned Andalusia into a great garden of oranges and roses, and that knowledge would be passed from Moor to Spaniard, and eventually would transform the deserts of California into an oasis of garden and orchards.  Thus, the Moors left indelible footprints in the California deserts.

As a result of the Christian Crusades, after seven centuries of a continuous African presence in Spain, the Moors began to loosen their political foothold in Spain.  By 1250, Moorish rule had ended in Portugal and the Moors had retreated to their last stronghold of Granada on the southern edge of the peninsula.  Finally, the Moorish hold over Spain would be completely broken by 1492. After the Moors were defeated by the Spaniards, both Moors and Jews were expelled and those who stayed forcibly converted to Catholicism.  These Muslims became known as Moriscos.  Christians enslaved other Muslims who remained in Spain.  The Spanish began sending Moriscos or Moors on their expeditions to the New World.  The Moriscos were among the first discoverers of the New World.  They came to the Americas as explorers, navigators, soldiers, servants and later slaves, and they made their impact on the history and culture of the Americas.  One example of the strong Moorish presence during Columbus’ first trip to the New World was Alonzo Pedro Nino, his pilot, known as the Morisco or Moor.

In 1501,  Spain lifted the earlier ban and permitted Africans to go to the new Spanish lands.  Thirty Moriscos Africans, including Nuflo de Olano, were with Balboa when he discovered the Pacific Ocean.  Herman Cortes carried Moriscos with him to New Spain (Mexico), and one of them planted and harvested the first wheat crop in the New World.  In 1520, two Africans accompanied Velas.  Alvarado took 200 blacks with him to Quito.  Moriscos were with Pizzaro on his Peruvian expedition, and carried his body back to the Cathedral after he was murdered by the indigenous inhabitants.  The Moors in the expeditions of Almagro and Valdivia in 1525 saved the Spaniards from  death by Indians.

From the interior of North America to the southwestern part of United States, Moors assisted in the discovery of new lands.  Moors came with Alarcon and Coronado in the conquest of New Mexico.  Moriscos accompanied Narvaez on his expedition of 1527-1530 and were with Cabeza de Vaca during his exploration of southwestern United States.  The best known of these African explorers was Estevanico, who opened up New Mexico and Arizona for the Spaniards.  Little Stephen (Estevanico), was something over seven feet tall.  He was a black Moroccan guide and interpreter who came to Florida from Spain in 1527 with the Panfilo de Narvaez expedition.  He accompanied Cabeza de Vaca during his six-year exploration of North America.  In 1539, as a guide to Friar Marcos expedition, Estevanico set out from Mexico City in search of the fabled Seven Cities of Cibola.  Estevanico sent back wooden crosses to indicate his progress.  Spaniards believed his mission to find the fabled seven cities of gold was successful when they received crosses sent by Estevanico that were the size of people.  After entering the city, Estevanico was murdered by the Indians, who believed he represented the intentions of Spanish colonizers.[13]


During the 18th century Muslims were always given more respect and the opportunity to be purchased by the Sultan of Morocco.  The latter, as a policy of state, offered to purchase enslaved Muslims in North America.  African Muslim traders had maintained a curious relationship with the American South.  An interesting case exists in which an African Muslim trader crossed the Atlantic to consolidate relations with her American trading partner.  Fenda Lawrence, a Gambian slave trader had visited the American South in 1772 as a tourist.  The government of Georgia issued her a certificate stating that “a free black woman and heretofore a considerable trader in the River Gambia on the Coast of Africa, hath voluntarily comes to be and remain for some time in this province, with the permission to pass and repast on her lawful and necessary occasion.”[14]

Another enslaved Muslim, Job Ben Solomon (c.1700-1773), spent a brief time in slavery in Maryland until he attracted the attention of James Oglethorpe and was eventually freed in 1734 and returned to Africa as a celebrity among his fellow Foulah and neighboring Wolofs and Mandingoes.  He was born Ayuba Suleiman Ibrhima Biallo in the kingdom of Futa (Senegal) around 1700.  Job Ben Solomon came from a prominent Fulbe family of Muslim religious leaders.  The town of his birth, Bondu, had been founded by his grandfather.  As a member of this royal family, he was the companion and friend of Sambo, the prince and heir to the throne of Futa, and as part of the nobility he studied the Qur’an and Arabic.

In 1730, while on a trip to the coast to sell two slaves to buy some paper for his father, Job was himself captured and sold into slavery by the Mandingoes, who were at war with his people.  Ironically, he arrived in Annapolis, Maryland, in the slave ship to which he planned to sell his father’s slaves.  While enslaved in America, Job attempted to maintain his cultural identity.[15]

Probably the most famous of these Muslim slaves was Abd al-Rahman Ibrhima (known as “Prince” on the plantation), a West African prince from the kingdom of Tambo, who was kidnapped from Africa and sold into slavery in New Orleans in 1788.  When captured Ibrhima attempted to ransom with gold, as was the custom for Muslims, but his captors, fearing reprisal, sold him.  Abd al-Rahman Ibrhima, a West African prince, was sold into slavery at age 26 and released some 40 years later through the intercession of United States President John Quincy Adams.  He was born in 1762 in the kingdom of Timbo, now part of Guinea.

Abd al-Rahman Ibrhima who resigned himself to slavery in the Natchez, Mississippi, cotton and tobacco plantation, married a slave woman named Isabella, and fathered nine children.  He eventually became the overseer of the plantation.  However, a chance meeting some 25 years later in 1807 changed his life.  An Irish ship’s surgeon whose life his father saved many years earlier, recognized “Prince” at the market, learned what happened to him and immediately began petitioning for his freedom.  A Southern journalist told the story to President John Quincy Adams’s Secretary of State Henry Clay, whose personal intercession persuaded “Prince’s” master to sign his manumission papers.  In the case of Job Ben Solomon an Abd al-Rahman Ibrhima, Muslim slaves were accorded more respect and prestige.  In the slave south there was also a tradition to view Muslim slaves more positively than the other Africans.[16] This fact did not go unnoticed by the plantation slaves.



The transatlantic slave trade or the African “holocaust” was the largest forced migration in human history.  W.E.B. Du Bois estimated the total volume of the transatlantic trade at more than 100 million for four centuries.  Of that 100 million, only 20 million Africans arrived alive in the New World, and roughly 60 to 80 million were lost along the way in the enslavement process.  The total volume of the slave trade may never really be known because the numbers may even exceed Du Bois’s estimate, but any tally of the mass human exportation must include not only the African who arrived alive, but those who died in the raids, wars, factories and those who passed through the Middle Passage.  They died in the interethnic warfare instigated by European traders.  Still more perished inside the stockades called factories, while other died en route to the New World from sickness bought on by the filthy conditions of the ships where men and women were forced to lie in their excrement for days.

This trade in human beings established a permanent link between Africa and Europe and the Americas.  Most enslaved Africans were exported from the region comprising modern Senegal and Angola.  Roughly 60 percent came from western Africa and 40 percent from Central Africa.  Between 1530 and 1600, an average of 13,000 enslaved Africans a year were exported to the Americas.  In the 17th century the number rose to 27,500 a year, 70,000 a year in the 18th century and to 135,000 by the 1830s into Brazil and Central America.  So vast was this traffic that by the 1850s, one third of all Africans lived outside the African continent.

The slave trade had a profound impact on the African continent.  Walter Rodney believes that the slave trade had a disastrous impact on African development.  The wealth European nations accumulated helped fuel the Industrial Revolution in Europe at the expense of Africa and prevented African development at an important period in history.  Africa was to pay a high price for its role in this one-way trade.  The slave trade was a commercial system to recruit forced workers from one society and then transport them to another, providing labor without compensation for the next 400 years. That wealth in the form of human bodies was used to develop and build the infrastructures of Europe, North, South and Central America.

The rise of the transatlantic slave trade was brought on by several factors in history.  The collapse of the Sudanic empires of ancient Ghana, Mali and Songhai contributed directly to the trade.  From the 10th through the 15th century, there was no stronger civilization in the world.  With the collapse of the Sudanic empire the world would never be the same for the Africans.  As successor states fought to fill the power vacuum left by the collapse, war raged throughout the region.

The impact of the slave trade devastated the African continent, causing widespread depopulation and creating chaos throughout the region.  The slave raids and wars generated and intensified a great deal of misery, bloodshed and destruction.  Entire villages were burned and fortunes were lost as a direct result of these activities.  The slave raids and wars created an atmosphere of insecurity and fear throughout Africa.  The wars were demoralizing and set the seeds for self-destruction, death, chaos and underdevelopment in African. The process created a permanent, irreversible linkage with Africans now living in the Diaspora.

The following chart shows the number of African groups coming the U.S. over time between 1700 and 1808:

TABLE 1. Cultural groups imported into South Carolina



Cultural group












Mano River




Niger Delta



Rep of Congo




















The slave trade into South Carolina between 1700 and 1808 totaled 91,591. These Africans are identified by clusters, cultural and language groups only.


Bantu contributions to South Carolina and Louisiana include not only the popular wrought-iron balconies but also forms of woodcarving, basketry, woven cloth and early aspects of ceramics such as clay-baked figurines and pottery. Cosmograms, grave designs and decorations, funeral practices and the wake are also Bantu in origin. Distinctive Bantu musical contributions include Bantu instruments such as banjos, drums, diddley bows, mouth bows, quilts, washtub bass, jugs, gongs, bells, rattles, idiophones and the lokoimni, a five-stringed harp.

The Bantus constituted the largest African group in South Carolina, and possibly in several other areas of the southeastern United States, including Alabama and Louisiana.  Herskovits noted that the Bantu center in North America was the South Carolina Sea Islands off the coast of Carolina.

Given the homogeneity of Bantu culture and the strong similarities among Bantu languages, this group no doubt influenced West African groups of larger size. Also, since the Bantus were predominantly field hands or did other work that required little or no contact with European-Americans, they were not confronted with the same problems of acculturation that West African domestic servants and artisans experienced. Coexisting in relative isolation from other groups, the Bantus maintained a strong sense of unity and retained a cultural vitality that laid a foundation for African-American culture.  Whereas the Mande had a greater influence on the developing white American culture, the Bantu had the greatest influence on the developing African-American culture.


Br’er Rabbit, Sis' Nanny Goat, and others were characters in Wolof, Hausa, Fula (Fulani) and Mandinka (Mandingo) folklore transported to the New World. Other West African tales, such as those involving a Trickster Hare, were also introduced. The Hare (Rabbit) stories can also be found in parts of Nigeria, Angola and East Africa. The Tortoise stories are found among the Yoruba, Igbo and Edo-Bini people of Nigeria. Other examples of folklore from West Africa are tales such as the "Hare Tied in the Bean Farm," or the "Three Tasks of the Hare" (where he goes to ask God for more Wisdom). These tales are widespread among the Mandinka and Wolof of West Africa and also common in black American folklore.[17] Most of the Uncle Remus stories, as retold in the Sea Islands (cf. Walt Disney's "Song of the South"), are African in origin, especially Hausa and Mandinka. These Africans tales, especially such stories as "Chicken Little," laid the foundation for American nursery tales. More recently, the influence of Br’er Rabbit on contemporary America’s most famous trickster rabbit, Bugs Bunny, has been noticed.[18]

The Anansi (Spider) stories, Akan in origin, remained intact in the New World. In Surinam, these stories are referred to as Anansitori. The West Indian black people of Curacao call them Cuenta de Nansi. The Spider Trickster Anansi tales maintained a peripheral existence as the "Aunt Nancy" stories of the Georgia and South Carolina Sea Islands. The Anansi stories were told in the 19th century in the United States among a limited group of people, mainly Gullahs. After the 20th century influx of West Indians into America, the Anansi tales again became widespread.

The Hare and Hyena tales correspond to Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox tales as Trickster figures brought to North America by the Wolof. These tales from the Mandinka heartland spread south to countries such as Liberia, Sierra Leone and Cote d'Ivoire. As the Mandinka Jula traders migrated, they brought these tales with them. The Africans who came from those areas during the transatlantic slave trade brought the folklore and tales as part of their oral tradition. African slaves who fled to the Creek Indians introduced these West African Tricksters’ tales, and the Seminoles in Florida also adopted them.[19]


Dance is part of folk tradition. Enslaved Africans maintained continuity in their music, song and dance cultures, as well as in the religions that influenced those cultures, as they adapted to life in North America. Many African dances survived because they were reshaped and adopted by Euro-Americans, while others remained intact, or changed with the new circumstances. For example, the ring shout started as a sacred Kongolese dance but later found expression in non-sacred dance. In both Africa and the New World, the circle ritual meant different things in different cultures. In the Kongo, the ring shout-circle is identical to the Gullah counter clockwise dance, which is linked to one of the most important African ceremonies—rites of passage. Among the Mande, the circle dance is a part of the marriage and birth ceremonies, and in Wolof culture, the ring circle is central to most dancing. The Bamboula and the Calinda, variations of voodoo dance, became popular forms of dance expression in early New Orleans. The Cakewalk and the Charleston travelled from Africa to become integral to American dance forms on the American plantation.

The Calinda, also known as La Calinda, is one of the earliest forms of African dance seen in America. This Kongo/Angolan dance first became popular in Santo Domingo, then in Haiti and New Orleans. La Calinda is first reported by Dessalles in 1654 and by a French monk, Jean Baptiste Labat, who went to Martinique as a missionary in 1694. The Calinda is a variation of a dance used in voodoo ceremonies, and is always performed by male and female dancers in couples. The dancers move to the middle of the circle and start dancing. Each dancer chooses a partner and performs the dance, with few variations, by taking a step in which every leg is straightened and pulled back alternatively with a quick strike, sometimes on point, sometimes with a grounded heel. This dance is performed in a manner slightly similar to that of the Anglaise. The male dancer turns by himself or goes around his partner, who also makes a turn and changes her position while waving the ends of a handkerchief.  Her partner raises his hands in almost clenched fists up and down alternately, with his elbows close to his body. This dance is vivid and lively. In 1704, records show that a police ordinance was issued prohibiting night gatherings from performing the Calinda on plantations.[20]

The dance now known as the Charleston had the greatest influence on American dance culture of any imported African dance. It is a form of jitterbug dance, which is a general term applied to unconventional, often formless and violent, social dances performed to syncopated music. Enslaved Africans brought it from the Kongo to Charleston, South Carolina, as the Juba dance, which then slowly evolved into what is now the Charleston. This one-legged-sembuka-step, over-and-cross arrived in Charleston between 1735 and 1740. Similar in style to the "one-legged" sembuka style of dancing found in northern Kongo, the dance consists of "patting," (otherwise known as "patting Juba"), stamping, clapping and slapping of arms, chest and so forth.

The name “Charleston” was given to the Juba dance by Euro-Americans. In Africa, however, the dance is called the Juba or Djouba. The word Juba was used for many things, such as songs sung on the plantation, the food given to the field slaves, and the dance that later became known as the Charleston. The Juba dance itself was primarily a competitive dance of skill.

Later, the Charleston dance, which had evolved over the centuries, spread northward as African-Americans migrated north. At first, the step was a simple twisting of the feet to rhythm in a lazy sort of way. When the dance hit Harlem, a new version surfaced. It became a fast kicking of the feet both forward and backward, later done with a tap.

The Charleston and other African dances started out as spectator dances and slowly became participant dances. Nevertheless, the Charleston became so popular that a premium was even placed on hiring of black domestics who could dance it well enough to teach the lady of the house. The dance can also be seen in other parts of the world, such as Haiti where it is called La Martinique. Josephine Baker, the famous black entertainer, introduced the dance to European audiences. It became increasingly popular during the 1920s and today, when we hear of the Charleston dance, it is usually associated with the “Roaring Twenties.”[21]

The Ombliguide was a dance performed by slaves in La Place du Congo, Kongo Square, in old New Orleans. An ordinance of the Municipal Council, adopted on October 15, 1817, made the name of this traditional place law. It was considered one of the unique attractions of old New Orleans, ranking second only to the Quadroon Ball. At the square, women wore dotted calico dresses, and brightly colored Madras headgear tied about their hair to form the popular headdress called the tignon. Children wore garments with bright feathers and bits of ribbon.

Slaves came regularly to Kongo Square to perform the Ombliguide and other Kongo dances, such as the Calinda, Bamboula and Chica, all transplanted directed from Central Africa.[22] The Ombliguide was criticized in 1766 by the New Orleans City Council. Performed by four men and four women, it involves sensual movements with navel-to-navel contact, a common trait of Angolan traditional dancing.


African medical knowledge of diseases in both the Old and the New Worlds crossed the Atlantic Ocean and contributed to the medical well-being of Americans. Although African-American practitioners as a group were considered folk and root doctors as compared to their European counterparts, African-American medical practices were generally superior in that era.[23] For example, Africans are credited with introducing certain folk treatments for small pox. Famed anthropologist R. S. Rattray reported that variolation of smallpox was practiced "from time immemorial by the Akan of Ghana."

Variolation is known today as the obsolete process of inoculating a susceptible person with material taken from a vesicle of a person who has smallpox. Likewise, the Scottish explorer Mungo Park, during his travels to the windward Coast at the end of the 18th century, was informed by a European doctor stationed there that the people of the Gambia practiced inoculation for small pox as their traditional prevention.[24]

Lt. Gov. William Gooch of Virginia in 1729 manumitted a slave named Panpan for his secret concoction of roots and herbs because it was a cure for yaws and syphilis.[25] He was freed from slavery at a cost of 60 pounds. Bryan Edwards, listening to one of his Akan women, learned that vaccination was a medical technique used on the Gold Coast to inoculate children with infectious matter from yaws, thus giving them a mild case of the disease and providing resistance later in life. "Mothers inoculate their infants about the period of weaning, that they may be indulged in nursing them until their recovery; and many believe, from an African opinion and custom in that country, that children should undergo the disease at an early period of life."[26]

In another example, a slave by the name of Caesar was known to have cured several persons who had been poisoned. One, an overseer named Henry Middleton, found Caesar's antidote very effective. Caesar cured Middleton from intolerable pain in the "stomack [sic] and bowels" after he had found no cure or relief in the medicines of the "most skilful doctors of the country."[27] Caesar also cured a person bitten by a rattlesnake and a man afflicted with yaws with his body covered from "top to toe" with scabs. The cure for yaws required the use of flowers of sulphur and burnt niccars. He also cured those afflicted with the deadly symptoms of pleurisies.[28] In exchange for Caesar's antidote to poison and snake bite,[29] he was given his freedom and financial compensation for life.

Sampson, another slave, gained his freedom as a reward for discovering a cure for rattlesnake bites.[30] His cure was said to have been even more effective than Caesar's.[31] Colonial planters generally had more respect for their enslaved Africans’ knowledge of herbs, medicines and poison than did the so-called doctors of the era. Enslaved Africans brought indigenous skills and knowledge to North America directly from Africa. They contributed these cultural traditions concerning the uses of plants, as well as the new flora they encountered in South Carolina, in many ways similar to that of West and Central Africa.

Sampson walked into the Commons House of Assembly of South Carolina on May 9, 1754, and offered a cure for rattlesnake bites. To demonstrate the effectiveness of his medicines, he held in his hand poisonous snakes and then pressed them against his flesh and was bitten several times. He was bitten by so many venomous snakes that it was doubted he would recover. Sampson declared that he would return in three days alive and well. To everyone's surprise, he returned alive and offered the cure. In proof of the efficacy of his medicines, Sampson on several occasion suffered himself to be bitten by the most venomous snakes, and once let his wounds come so near mortification, that it was doubted whether he could recover, yet he cured himself with them; he disarmed any snake of its venom with one of the herbs. He was immediately given his freedom and a cash annuity for life.

Likewise, Africans knew that smallpox inoculation was done by simply taking some of the sap from the scalp and inoculating those who were not exposed. Smallpox was the most feared epidemic in colonial America. Charleston, for example, had several smallpox epidemics during that period. However, the outbreak of spring, 1760, was the most widespread. South Carolina had adopted the African practice of using individuals who had previously had smallpox to inoculate the population. In Charleston, townspeople had protested that the Government had "negroes seized with that Distemper in the country are immediately brought to town and many others Persons are daily inoculated in order to go through the disease in Charles Town..." In other words, "Persons are brought in from the Country, to take the Disease by Inoculation, which Practice, it not speedily prevented..."[32]

Through the root doctor, Africans brought holistic health practices to American plantations. African healers brought knowledge of treatment for many diseases, and health practitioners such as midwives and nurses contributed to New World health care services. During antebellum plantation slavery, midwives delivered more than 90 percent of children delivered during the early 19th century. Africans contributed to cures of numerous New World diseases based on their knowledge of similar diseases from the Old World. Their gift of medicine enriched the development of the medical field of America, fusing the worlds of Africa and Europe, adopting practical use as well as a holistic approach to curing and treating diseases.


The earliest ties between Africa and Europeans in North America can be traced back to 1619, when the very first Africans were brought to Jamestown. John Rolfe wrote in his journal, “A Dutch ship sold us twenty Negars.”[34] This was the first non-African reference made to blacks in North America, even though the term African had been used since the 13th century to identify black people from Africa.  The English word Negro derives from the the Spanish word meaning black.

Contrary to the usual media portrayal of white cowboy historical figures, most people are unaware that one in every five of the cowboys of the American West was black. Also, cowboy culture has some African roots, only recently being recognized. The annual north-south migratory pattern followed by the cowboy is unlike the cattle-keeping patterns of Europe, but analogous to the migratory patterns of the Fulani cattle herders, who live scattered from the Senegambia through Nigeria and Niger to the Sudan. Texas (African) longhorns were on the first slave ships to Mexico, followed by African cattle egrets that later migrated farther north. Many details of cowboy life, work and even material culture, such as open grazing of cattle, can be traced to Fulani antecedents, but historians of the American West have rarely investigated this.

The literature on black cowboys, like that for African contributions to American culture in general, is meager. Major works about cowboys and the American West have ignored black Americans. Black cowboys have been left out of most movies and historical accounts of this period. Also omitted are the accounts of African cattle brought with enslaved Africans to the New World.

Even the search for surviving African culture among white Americans has largely ignored cowboy culture. Historian Peter Wood, however, found that the survival of African culture among white Americans was pervasive and specific, influencing almost every aspect of American culture. He has argued that the American cattle industry owes its origins to Africans.

For example, Fulanis from the Futa Jallon, accustomed to cattle raising, oversaw the rapid expansion of the British American cattle herds in the middle of the 18th century. They were responsible for introducing patterns of "open grazing," now practiced throughout the American cattle industry. Wood believes that the word cowboy originated from this early relationship between cattle, Africans and Europeans in the colonial period when African labor and skills were still closely associated with cattle raising. As late as 1865, following the Civil War, Africans, whose livestock responsibilities included overseeing cattle, were referred to as "cowboys" in plantation records. After 1865, whites associated with the cattle industry referred to themselves as "cattlemen" to distinguish themselves from black "cowboys."[35] The annual North-South migratory patterns followed by the cowboys correlated with the migratory patterns of the Fulani cattle herders who traveled from the Senegambia throughout Nigeria and Niger.

Many words associated with cowboy culture and originating from this relationship have found their way into American English. For example, bronco (probably of Efik/Ibibio and Spanish origins) was used centuries ago by the Spanish and by enslaved Africans working with cattle and horses. Buckra, also deriving from this relationship, comes from mbakara, the Efik/Ibibio word for "white man." Buckaroo, also coming from mbakara, was used to describe a class of whites who worked as bronco busters. Dogies, a word that even found its way into popular cowboy songs, as in "get along little dogies," originated from the Kimbundu kidogo, a little something, and (ki) dodo, small. After the Civil War, when large cattle roundups became necessary because of neglect during the war, black American cowboys introduced such Africanisms to cowboy language and songs.



As noted above, the Wolof arrived in large numbers in the American South between 1670 and 1700 as a result of political disturbances in Senegambia with other Senegambians.[36] The Wolofs were the largest group of Africans to come to the American colonies in the 17th century and were predominantly house servants. Having extensive, close contact with Euro-Americans, they may have been the first Africans whose cultural elements and language were assimilated into and retained within the developing cultures of America. They also had greater opportunity for admixture and interaction with whites than any other African group in the early years.

As a result of numerous Wolofs on American plantations in the early years, Wolof served as a lingua franca during the 1700s, and many words of Wolof origins found their way into American English. The Wolof had a greater impact on the language than their numbers would indicate. For example, one Wolof/Mande word now used throughout the world is “okay,” or “O.K.” Americans were mystified by its origins from the time of its popularization around 1839. Clues were found in the 19th century Black English of Jamaica, Surinam and the Gullah speech of South Carolina, all of which have numerous forms of the word. Two prime examples from Mande and Wolof are o ke, "that's it" or "all right," and Wolof, waw kay, “all correct.” “O.K.” is recorded in the speech of black Americans from 1776, but was probably used earlier in the 1700s.

Another Wolof word popular in Black English is "dig," as in "dig this man." This word originates from Wolof dega, meaning either "look here" or to "understand," used to mark the beginning of a sentence. In Black English of the 1960s, “dig” meant "to understand something." The verb dega is similar in sound and meaning to the Wolof verb dega, meaning to understand, pronounced similarly to the English "digger." An example in Wolof is dega nga olof, Do you understand Wolof?”

David Dalby draws a direct parallel between the Wolof term gay and the American term guys, used informally to mean “persons” or "fellows." In Wolof it is always used as a plural. Other Africanisms found in American English include uh-hum (yes) and unh-unh (no), which occur in various parts of the world but nowhere as frequently and regularly as in Africa and the United States. The word Cush was used in the American South during the slavery period to describe "corn meal soaked in water." A similar word is used in Wolof for millet meal soaked in water.

Honkie, a term popular during the 1960s, was first used to describe white men who would drive to African-American communities and honk automobile horns for their black dates. The word hong in Wolof means red or pink, and whites are described in most African languages as "red." The word Sambo, considered an abusive term by African-Americans, is respectful in Wolof and a common family name throughout West Africa.

Several Wolof words were popularized during the jazz era. For example, “jive” in Ebonics means "misleading talk," which is code language originating from the Wolof word jey. The American words hep, hip and hippie translate roughly into "to be aware or alive to what is going on," including drugs. In Wolof, the verb "hipi" means "to open one's eyes." The American slang cat means a person, as in hep-cat or cool cat, and is similar to the Wolof kai used as a suffix following the verb. The Wolof lexicon jamboree is now a standard part of American language. Originally, a jamboree was a noisy slave celebration. A jam-session in the old days of the plantation was slave musicians and slaves assembling for dance and entertainment. The origin is the Wolof word for slave, jaam.

The verb "sock" in the sense of “to strike” or the sexual connotation of "sock it to me, Baby" is found in Wolof and has a similar sound and meaning in Wolof, "to beat with a pestle." The word "bug," as in jitterbug or Bugs Bunny, denotes an enthusiastic person. The word "fuzz" has been used by African-Americans to mean “police.” Historically, it meant a policeman, or those who patrolled the plantation at night and hunted down runaways on horseback. In Wolof the word fas, pronounced between fas and fuss, means a horse.

Enslaved Africans used the term Masa for master. Many planters thought their slaves could not use the King's English properly. The word mansa was a title for many kings of West Africa; during the empire of ancient Mali, it meant chief or leader. (One such leader of note was Mansa Musa.) Enslaved Africans saw the masters as persons of authority and simply used their indigenous word for leader, Ma[n]sa. On the American plantation, the "n" in mansa became silent.

A large number of Wolof words survived in American English because many Wolof interpreters were used during the early European voyages along the coast, and they used Wolof names for African foodstuffs, such as yam and banana, that became part of Standard English.

African lexical items found their way into American English speech. The American Southern dialect in particular has been greatly influenced by Africa. Black servants, who raised the children of the Southern aristocracy, passed on their distinctive pronunciations, which then became uniquely southern. The musical quality of Southern speech is also believed to have derived from Africa. Generations of interaction with African speech patterns gave white Southerners their distinctive drawl. Charles Dickens, commenting on the speech of Southerners, noted that there was little difference between the speech of whites and slaves. Edward Kimber, a traveler in the South in 1746, wrote that "one thing they [whites] are very faulty in, with regard to their Children, which is, that when young, they suffer them too much to prowl amongst the young Negroes, which insensibly causes them to imbibe their [sic] Manners and broken Speech.”[37] Black speech patterns are now found in the larger speech pattern of Americans, particularly among the youth.

White Southerners have adopted and assimilated African speech patterns and have retained Africanisms such as baton twirling, cheerleading and expressions and words that were once Africanisms but are now Americanism, such as O.K. (okay), bowdacious, bozo (stupid), cooter (turtle), dig, goober, fuzz (police), (peanut), guy, honkie, hippie, hullabaloo, hully-gully, jazz, jam, jamboree, jive, juke (box), moola (money), pamper, Polly Wolly-Doodle, wow, uh-huh, unh-unh, daddy, buddy and tote, to name a few. Other English words first used by Africans include banana, banjo, Kola (as in Coca-Cola), elephant, gorilla, gumbo, okra, tater, tote and turnip. These African words retained in American English have greatly influenced the richness of the language.

White Southerners also borrowed the elaborate African social etiquette system, with its terms of endearment and kinship in speaking to neighbors, using such titles as "aunty” and “uncle" as signs of respect for elders. This tradition of respect for elders not only continued but also was reinforced by African social etiquette in the New World.

Finally, Herskovits noted similarities between black and white religious behavior, particularly in Pentecostal sects, such as ritual dancing, drumming, trances and speaking in tongues. He traced many of these behaviors to the Sango cult. That trance form is characteristically African, but it is often found among whites who belonged to churches with large numbers of African-Americans and in those of certain Pentecostal sects.

Other Africanisms found among white Americans, according to Peter Wood, are such practices as leaving gourds on poles for birdhouses and using African techniques of alligator wrestling. As late as the 1930s, whites used funerary pottery in a manner identical to blacks. Both African and European cultures contributed fairly evenly, given the circumstances, to what was to become American. Culturally, Americans shared many experiences--some born in Europe and some in Africa.

The African house servants learned new domestic skills, including the art of quilting, from their mistresses. They took this European quilting technique and Africanized it by combining it with their appliqué style, reflecting a pattern and form still found in the Akan and Fon textile industries of West Africa.

The culture of the Mande had a profound effect on Euro-Americans by way of the "Big House." It was the planter who witnessed the transmission of European culture to the Africans and African culture to the Europeans. The acculturation process was mutual, as well as reciprocal; Africans assimilated white culture, and planters adopted some aspects of African customs and practices such as the African agricultural method of rice cultivation, African cuisine (southern cooking), open grazing of cattle and use of herbal medicines to cure and treat new World diseases such as smallpox.

A diversity of Africans, including the Bantu of Central Africa, changed North American culture, contrary to the popular belief that only West Africans contributed. Because West Africans had a great influence on white American culture by their presence in the plantation "Big House," scholars have assumed the same occurred in African-American culture. Nevertheless, recent scholarship suggests a Bantu origin for much of African-American culture because, unlike the more numerous Senegambians (Mandes), the Central Africans brought a common culture and language. Both these African groups contributed to the richness and diversity of American and African- American cultures.



The evidence is pronounced on the extent to which both historical and modern African Diaspora have had an impact on African Americans.  An examination of African cultural contributions in nomenclature, Pan Africanisms, Black Nationalism, Black identity movement and Black Zionism reveals how African Americans  struggled to maintain contact with their African identity, and how the concept of a “homeland,” whether real or imaginary, brought meaning and form in the shaping of the North American Diaspora.

Identification with Africa was strong in both the North and the South.  In the North, African cultural institutions were established in the black governor’s parade during the Pinkster celebration, where African dances and songs were performed.  In New Orleans a corresponding African extravaganza at Congo Square took place every weekend until 1817.

Also, in the 1800s, a movement was started by blacks who worked as house servants, many of whom had white as well as black forebears.  The term colored was used by these offspring to distinguish themselves from the Africans who worked in the field.  The light-skinned children who were the product of relationships between planters and house servants formed themselves in a distinct class.  In Charleston in 1794, the Brown Fellowship was established, admitting members of mixed heritage only.  A similar society in New Orleans was called the Blue Vein Society; membership was based on skin color so light that the blue veins could be seen.

By the 1830s the term colored was no longer used exclusively by blacks of mixed heritage but was common in black leadership circles that included abolitionists, integrationists and nationalists.  Many blacks sought to disassociate from their African identification because of the activities of the American Colonization Society, which wanted to send free blacks back to Africa.  Fearing both lost status and the possibility of a forced return to an African “homeland,” the black leadership moved away from African identification.  From 1830 to 1860, integration and nationalism began to ascend over the forces of African cultural identification.  A major thrust began to remove the word African from both educational and organizational titles to bolster the fight by African Americans to resist colonization schemes.

Beginning in the 1890s, the age of Booker T. Washington, strong support arose for Black Nationalist ideas and linkages with Africa.  Marcus Garvey’s “back to Africa” movement of the 1920s contributed to strong nationalistic feelings.  The term Afro-American gained popularity in the titles of black organizations.  Washington himself played a role in getting the United States government to use the word Negro as a unity word.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the term black took on new meaning and made possible a connection to a “homeland” for African descendents because it gained respectability during the Civil Rights, African independence, and black identity movements.  These movements contributed to an elevation in black status and pride throughout the world, particularly in Africa and the United States of America.

Over time the changes in terminology reflect many changes in attitude, from strong African identification to nationalisms, integrations and attempts at assimilation back to a strong cultural identification.  This struggle to reshape and define the African Diaspora in both the concrete and the abstract also reflects the renewed pride of black people in shaping a future based on the concept of one African people living in the African Diaspora.



It is believed that Prince Hall was born free in British West Indies, and that his father, Thomas Prince Hall, was an Englishman and his mother a free black woman of French extraction.  In 1773, he acquired property and was qualified to vote and became a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Prince Hall during the 1770s founded the African Grand Lodge of North America, which became known as the Prince Hall Mason in 1791.  He believed that the original masons were black people who built the pyramids of ancient Egypt, and wanted to provide some direct linkages to that heritage, which he associated with his African heritage, even though he looked white. As early as 1787, Prince Hall petitioned the Massachusetts legislature to support efforts by black Bostonians to establish a colony in Africa. He sent a petition to the Legislative Assembly of Massachusetts saying men of African blood continued to suffer discrimination which they feared would continue as long as they lived in North America.  The petitioners urged the Legislature to assist them and other blacks that wished to immigrate back to Africa. The petition was ignored and Prince Hall now turned to fight for civil liberties on American soil. In 1789, the Union Society of Africans in Newport reopened the issue of emigration to Africa and argued that Americans of African decent were treated as strangers and outcasts.  The society drew attention to the “heathenish darkness and barbarity,” which existed in their ancestral homeland.[38]

Prince Hall, like other Boston black leaders, was preoccupied with African identity and linkage to an African homeland.  After fighting in the War of Independence, he mistakenly believed that once African Americans had demonstrated their loyalty by fighting and dying for their country, racism would be removed as a factor in their lives. Prince Hall and the post-Revolutionary black leaders endorsed African American migration and nationalism and believed that African Americans must achieve their own nation either in Africa, Latin America, and the West Indies or somewhere in the American West.

Paul Cuffe also shared this mindset.  One can argue that the Back-to-Africa movement officially materialized with Paul Cuffe, the son of an Asante father and Wampanoag Indian mother. Paul Cuffe was born near New Bedford, Mass.  He became a prosperous New England sea captain and wealthy ship builder and landlord. As a successful shipbuilder and owner, he accumulated an estate worth more than $20,000. In 1797, he purchased a farm on which he built and opened the first integrated school in Massachusetts because his own children had been denied access to the public school. Paul Cuffe believed that African American colonization of Africa was the way to end the Atlantic slave trade, spread Christianity to Africans, and create a refuge for free black people.  On New Year’s Day, 1811, Paul Cuffe and a crew of nine black seamen sailed from Philadelphia aboard his flagship, the Traveller.  This was his first trip to Sierra Leone to investigate the feasibility of establishing a colony for blacks in West Africa. While in Sierra Leone he made careful plans for emigration. During his three-month visit to the west coast of Africa, he met with government officials and local chiefs, and visited schools and attended Methodist meetings where he distributed Bibles. He tried to establish friendly relations and open a dialogue between continental and Diaspora Africans.  As an example of his good faith, he purchased a house in Freetown, which symbolically was to signal his return.[39]

While in Sierra Leone, Paul Cuffe accepted an invitation by an English abolitionist to visit London, Liverpool and Manchester. He was received as an honored guest by members of Parliament, including the Duke of Gloucester, who was nephew to the king and president of the African Institution, an organization of abolitionists, who were dedicated to “promoting the civilizations of the people of Africa.” Near the end of his visit, the Liverpool Mercury published a “Memoir of Captain Paul Cuffee [sic],” which described his early life and notable achievements for a black man.

In 1815, he made his second trip to Sierra Leone, taking about 34 African Americans settlers to the British free black colony of Sierra Leone in West Africa at his own expense.  Paul Cuffe would probably have settled in Sierra Leone, but his Native American wife, Alice Pequit, refused to leave her homeland. Upon his return to America, he urged descendants of Africans in Baltimore, Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Westport to support colonization in Africa.  Paul Cuffe had planned more trips to Africa, but his health failed and he died in 1816, ending the first black initiative for migration, but his plan was picked up by the American Colonization Society in 1817.  Their goal and purpose was to send any Free black person or slaves emancipated for the purpose of migration back to Africa.

The emigration of Africans emancipated was supported by both missionaries and slave holders.  The American Colonization Society bore the main responsibility for organizing and funding the project.  Southerners supported emigration to Africa in order to get rid of the free Black population whom they believed represented a major threat to the institution of slavery.  For the best of reasons and the worst of reasons, they supported African emigration.

Numerous African societies began to grow because early Boston was the center of the black world in North America. Traditional African culture had a series of balances to help people in need.  The black community in Boston modeled on African institutions which had created mutual aid societies.  They provided for members’ burial and medical expenses, and supported the widows and children.  In 1780, Newport, Rhode Island, organized the first black mutual aid society.  In 1787, Richard Allen and Absalom Jones established the Free African Society in Philadelphia.

From the 18th century through the first third of the 19th century, black religious and educational organizations used the prefix African in their names, providing a sense of cultural integrity and a link to their African heritage.  The first black religious organization established in Savannah in 1787 was the First African Baptist Church.  The second oldest black denomination in North America, founded in 1787, was the African Methodist Episcopal.  In 1806, blacks constructed the first African Meeting House in Boston.  Other educational and political organizations included the African Free School and the Sons of Africa.  The first mutual beneficial societies that had direct roots in African secret societies called themselves African as late as 1841.  One such society was the New York African Society for Mutual Relief. The idea of Africa was so important to African Americans that it would continue to be used by them as their preferred term for identification until the American Colonization Society had adopted this plan.  This preference would dominate the black experience until 1817 when the American Colonization Society was established to send free blacks back to Africa.  As a result, the black elite began to distance themselves from any identification with Africa out of fear that they would be deported back to Africa.

Eighteenth century African Americans struggled to maintain identities with Africa as a homeland, but found it increasingly difficult to be associated with Africa and Africans, and at the same time be considered Americans. The most important black intellectual who emerged during the 18th century as forerunners to the movements for Pan African Diasporic connections were Martin R. Delany (1812-1885), Alexander Crummell (1822-1898), and Edward Wilmot Blyden (1832-1912). Delany was born in the southern United States, moved to Pennsylvania in his youth and was the first black American to enter Medical School at Harvard.  He was forced to leave before completing his studies because white students refused to work alongside him.

Martin Delany became a medical doctor by apprenticeship and was otherwise a journalist, novelist, explorer, anthropologist and military officer during the Civil War. Delany believed that African Americans should control their own destiny.  He stressed strong identification with Africa as a homeland and wanted black people to become independent from the white majority, and to depend on their own resources in order to elevate themselves and their culture.  Delany at first believed that African Americans could work within the system in order to transform it. The dominant society demanded cultural acculturation and the adopting of the “white man ways.”  Martin Delany would emerge after the Civil War as the new leader of the Black homeland identity movement. Prior to the Civil War, African Americans still believed that it was possible to have a connection with a “historic homeland” and an “adopted homeland.”

Delany became active in the Pittsburgh Anti-Slavery society and worked in the Underground Railroad helping enslaved Africans escape bondage.  He settled down and married Catherine Richard, the daughter of a well-to-do black butcher.  He named all his children after black historic figures: Toussaint L’Ouverture, (the black leader of the Haitian Revolution) Alexander Dumas (the French novelist who had African ancestry), Ramses II, Saint Cyprian, Faustin Soulouque, Charles L. Redmond, and their daughter, Ethiopia Halle.

Delany’s writings in the 1850s clearly reveal the mixture of the motives and methods that characterized early Black Nationalism.  He wanted to end slavery, and to put black people into a position to be eligible for citizenship.  He also looked toward Africa as the hope and promise where African Americans could produce cotton, he hoped, and would undercut the economy of the American South.  He sought to build black nations, and he wanted to build black business enterprise. In his words: Africa, to become regenerated, must have a national character, and her position among the existing nations of the earth will depend mainly upon the high standards she holds compared to them in her moral, religious, social, political and commercial relations.[40]

Delany argued that a black nation should be built with black resources only. Other blacks held similar views.  Edward W. Blyden and Alexander Crummell emigrated to Liberia as a place to start the advancement of black nationhood.  Africanus Horton attempted to build black nationhood from his base in his native Sierra Leone.

In 1852, Delany published The Condition, Elevation, Emigration and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States in which he articulated his views on Black Nationalism. Only in a country without white people could black people flourish.  “We are a nation within a nation.”  He went on to state that people of African descent should abandon the United States and migrate to Central America, South America, or Hawaii.  Delany was now getting involved in the “Back-to-Africa” movement and he became one of the key figures in organizing the National Emigration Convention in Cleveland in 1854.

Delany and Robert Campbell, two competing black nationalists, left independently of each other to survey the Niger region of West Africa for possible African American settlement. Delany, in this search for a place for African Americans, first arrived in Liberia where the reception was courteous, but not enthusiastic because he was known as an opponent of the American Colonization Society that preceded him.  As Delany traveled through Liberia in the Egba-Yoruba region from Lagos to Ilorin, he never lost sight of his mission—to develop an African American nation in the heart of Africa, and thus establish a permanent linkage for Africans and their descendants in the New World. Delany’s mission was clearly a search for a homeland, and it is this homeland image, which served as the foundation for his identity as a black man.  Frederick Douglass, when speaking about Martin Delany, said: “I thank God for making me a man, but Delany thank Him for making him a black man.”

In his Official Report of the Niger Valley Exploration Party (1861), Delany wrote after he returned from Africa that the continent of Africa is “our fatherland.” He argued that its regeneration required the development of a “national character,” and that Africa should be for the African race.”[41] Next to Paul Cuffe, this is the earliest Diasporic connections by African Americans.

Alexander Crummell was born in New York and the first African American to study at Cambridge University in England, becoming an ordained Anglican priest.  He had already been living in Liberia for two decades when he met Delany on his visit to that country in 1859.  In The Future of Africa (1862), in a collection of essays and lectures written while in Liberia, he developed a vision of an African Diaspora with Africa as the Motherland for all peoples of African descent.  He argued further that God had given black divine providence and that it was Christian of free black men in America to convert their ancestral continent to Christianity.

In the essay, “The Relations and Duties of Free Colored Men in America to Africa,” Crummell laid out the racial philosophical basis for the Diaspora.  He defined black identity based on race, land and culture.  He saw black identity as “a compact homogeneous population of one blood ancestry and lineage.

Throughout the Civil War, the African identification with the homeland continued.  African Americans believed that the war had removed most obstacles for black achievement. Martin Delany’s homeland identity movement was a failure because the times had changed with the end of the Civil War.  The majority of African American and West Indian migration to West Africa occurred before the Civil War.  One cannot dismiss this movement as inconsequential because thousands of African Americans heard Delany’s call and emigrated from the Western Hemisphere to Liberia, Sierra Leone and the Niger River area.  Delaney demonstrated the importance of a homeland in building self-esteem for Africans in the Diaspora.

Bishop Henry McNeal Turner (1834-1915) was a contemporary of Martin Delany.  He was born free near Abbeville, South Carolina. He was converted to Christianity at the age of 20 and was licensed as a traveling evangelist for the Methodist Episcopal Church.  He preached to both black and white audiences throughout the South until 1858 when he joined the AME.  In 1862, he moved to a church in Washington D.C., where congressmen attended to hear his fiery sermons.  Along with Martin Delany and Frederick Douglass, he agitated for putting black troops into the Civil War. Later, he became the first black chaplain to be commissioned in the Union Army by President Abraham Lincoln.

By the end of the war, Turner was assigned to the Freedmen’s Bureau in Georgia, but later resigned to recruit African Americans for his Church, and later to organize them for the Republican Party, which was trying to gain a foothold in the South. Turner participated in the Georgia Constitutional Convention of 1868, and later was elected to the legislature.  However, whites refused to seat the black legislator, and Turner was appointed postmaster at Macon, Ga., and then customs inspector at Savannah.  In 1876, he was elected manager of the AME Book Concern, and in 1880 he was elected Bishop of the AME.[42]

During the 1870s Bishop Turner became disillusioned with America due to his experiences in Reconstruction politics. He wrongly believed that the Civil War would remove all the obstacles for black uplifting and would open the door for blacks participating in the political, economic, social and racial reconstruction of America. He now became more nationalistic, and believed that only blacks themselves could contribute to their own liberation and freedom, and that none of these goals could be guaranteed because the white man would never let the black man become a part of the system because of institutional racism. Bishop Turner now believed that a homeland needed to be created for African Americans.  In 1871, he argued for black migration out of the South and first suggested Haiti as a possible place for black emigration.  Three years later, he proposed that the federal government reserve New Mexico Territory for African American settlement. Turner now turned toward Africa as a potential homeland for African Americans.   He urged talented young blacks to establish a nation in Africa to give pride and encouragement to blacks of African descent. To accomplish this goal, he argued, the federal government should pay reparation to people of African descent for slavery.

In order to accomplish his emigration plan, Bishop Henry McNeal Turner formed an alliance with white segregationist organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan. For him, this move was not contradictory with his ideology because both groups wanted the same thing—the removal of blacks from the United States.  In 1878, Turner became the vice president of the white-dominated American Colonization Society, whose purpose was to provide free passage to any African American who would leave the United States. Turner believed that emigration to Africa was the best opportunity for blacks to prosper and advance.

In Atlanta, Bishop Turner founded the Southern Recorder (1888), the Voice of Missions (1892), and the Voice of the People (1901).  He also published a catechism, a hymnal and The Genius and Theory of Methodist Polity (1885).  He was a supporter of self-protection and in the Voice of Missions March 1897 issue, advocated for African Americans to acquire firearms and “to keep them loaded and prepared for immediate use” against white lynch mobs.

Bishop Turner’s nationalism led him to African emigration. During the 1890s, Turner made four trips to Africa, visiting Liberia, Sierra Leone British South Africa, and the Transvaal to publicize his “Back-to-Africa” emigration plan. In 1893, he summoned a national convention of black leaders to protest lynching and political attacks on blacks and to find support for his emigration movement. As a theologian, Bishop Turner was the first to introduce the concept of a black theology of liberation.  He argued that God is a black man created in the image of the Creator, and that black people needed to stop worshiping a God who is white-skinned, blue-eyed, compressed-lipped, and who is in the image of a finely robed white gentleman. He argued that the oppressed are God’s chosen ones, and that no one is more oppressed that the black man, who was created in God’s image. He would go on to say that even the African knows that their God looks like them. He urged blacks to reject everything the white churches said about black inferiority and believe in the 11th commandment: “Love thyself with all thy heart and with thy entire mind.”  Turner underscored the role of the black church in instilling racial pride and black consciousness among African Americans and in uplifting the black masses through a theology of black freedom and liberation from the white man’s world.[43]

Like other black nationalistic movements, it was elitist in that he wanted to attract well-to-do African Americans, who had the necessary resources to build a black state from where Diasporic streams could emanate.  The reality of his movement was that only poor dirt farmers, who had no stake in the American dream, became the real disciples for emigration to Africa.  Clearly, the sum total of his early work was a worldwide strategy for African and African American manhood by making a direct connection with one’s African ancestors and redeeming Africa for Africans and her descendants.

Paul Cuffe, Martin Delany, Robert Campbell, Bishop Henry McNeil Turner, Edward Blyden and Alexander Crummell were the intellectual fathers of the Pan African Movement. However, W.E.B. DuBois was the first to conceptualize the ideal into what he called Pan Negroism. While Pan Africanism as an intellectual movement begins with these founders, the history of Pan Africanism starts with Henry Sylvester Williams, a London lawyer born in Trinidad.  His dream was to bring together people of African origin from around the African Diaspora in 1897.  There was a preliminary conference in 1899 where the term Pan Africanisms was adopted.  The first official conference took place in London in 1900.  Four African representatives were present from Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Liberia and the Gold Coast (later Ghana), and DuBois showed up from the United States. Another 11 representatives came from the West Indies and five from London.

The purpose of the first meeting was to allow blacks to discuss the conditions of blacks in colonial Africa and in the Americas.  W.E.B. DuBois was responsible for organizing the first Pan African Congress in 1919 in Paris, which brought together for the first time people of African descent from the Americas, Europe and Africa. DuBois remained instrumental in the two Pan African Congresses until Kwame Nkrumah and the continental Africans joined to link the African struggle for independence and the African American struggle for Civil Rights.

The Pan African and identity Movements were a response to racial discrimination, as were the series of Pan African Congresses.  Writers who have most influenced the literature on Pan Africanism are George Shepperson, who emphasized the African American contributions to Pan African thought; Immanuel Geiss, who distinguished modern and nostalgic Pan African thought; J. Ayodele Langley, who focused on ideologies of liberation within the tradition of Pan African thought; and P. Olisanwuche Esedebe, who focused on the Africans instead of the colonizers.[44]

The first continental African to join this Pan African Movement which called for blacks to emigrate back to their African homeland was Chief Alfred C. Sam.  He sought to create a Diasporic connection between West Africans and African Americans by establishing a shipping line between the United States and the West Indies (as Garvey later did, however without much success). After being frustrated by the American and the British governments, he turned to recruitment of the Oklahoma black farmers.

In the summer of 1913, Chief Alfred C. Sam began selling stock in his company, Akim Trading Company Limited, and advocating for African American emigration to the Gold Coast, where he was a chief and owned some land. Chief Sam appealed to the residents of several all-black towns, the remnants of E. P. McCabe’s settlement projects. The Oklahoma black community was ripe for emigration with increasing disfranchisement and state racism. Numerous blacks had fled to Oklahoma from southern states trying to escape Jim Crow. Now, in their despair they embraced Chief Sam’s emigration plan and invested their money accordingly with the hope of going to Africa.  Chief Sam purchased a steamship and christened it “Liberia.” He sailed from Galveston with 60 emigrants and an all-black crew.  Several hundred black Oklahomans who had gone to Galveston in the hope of sailing the first voyage were left behind. Hundreds more waited in Oklahoma for Chief Sam to return.   A few did arrive in and settled in the Gold Coast, but they were too few in number and resources to build an African American state in the heart of West Africa. Financial and political problems cost him “Liberia” and his plan to build a state run and organized by continental Africans and their descendants from the United States.[45]



The Noble Drew Ali was one of the most influential Black Nationalist leaders of the century.  He strongly influenced the growth and development of Black Nationalist identity between 1913 and the 1930s.  His movement combined black Messiah feelings, Black Nationalism, and a theology of deliverance from the white man’s world, culture and religion. His movement was a direct response to Jim Crowism and exclusion of blacks from participation in the American Dream.  His ideas and philosophy have contributed to, and have made possible the rise of black Messianic figures such as Father Divine, Sweet Daddy Grace and others.

Moorish Orthodoxy is not a new religion.  Historically, it had its beginnings with the message of the American prophet Noble Drew Ali.  In 1913, Noble Drew Ali established the Moorish Science Temple in Newark, N.J., and began to teach a synthesized version of orthodox Islam, Garveyism, Christianity and various extractions from oriental philosophy.  From Newark, Ali’s teaching spread to the northern cities of Detroit, Harlem, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and various cities in the South, eventually embracing an estimated membership of between 20,000 and 30,000.

Born in Moor County, South Carolina, in 1886, Noble Drew Ali was raised by Cherokee Indians.  At the age of 16, Ali joined a circus performing magic tricks, and later became a merchant marine, traveling to Egypt where he received self knowledge and direction as a high priest, the last of the cult of magi practiced for centuries in the pyramid of Cheops.  At the pyramid of Cheops, the priest asserted that Ali was the reincarnation of former leaders of cult.  Hence, a prophet materialized.  Ali learned the messages of the Circle Seven Koran and returned to North America where he was told in a dream to become the founding father of a religion that was intended to “uplift the fallen mankind.”

Although his first mosque was in Baltimore, Ali and his followers were forced to move to Chicago because they declined to fight in WWI.  It was here that his movement, the Moorish Science Temple, began to grow.  Jealousy was prevalent amongst the members, and several times Ali’s life was threatened.  In 1935, the prophet announced that he was about to leave his present body and foretold the hour of his death.  At the same time that this was announced, violent police raids on his mosque took place, and it is presumed that he died later at the hands of police brutality, or more than likely, was poisoned by members of his organization.  Ali named his son his successor, but soon his chauffeur claimed to have dreamed that Ali had declared him the successor.  The chauffeur formed a splinter group, which today has more adherents than the “Mother” mosque.

The mystic side of Moorish Science was stressed and included symbols, music and words from all the religions of the world.  A concept of ritual aid is practiced.  This means that those of all cultures who have found and expressed the way provide aid.  Art, music, religious literature, poetry, medicine, physics, herbalism and yoga are all part of Moorish Orthodoxy.  The rule of life in Moorish Orthodoxy is spiritual expediency.  Followers of the Moorish Orthodoxy religion have close ties with the Sufi movement, both ancient and modern.

The contentions of Noble Drew Ali’s religious nationalism, which were the key to the salvation and liberation of African people in the United States, lay in the discovery and acceptance of their national origin as Moors.  Islam was the only instrument for black unity and advancement.  Whites were the opposite and negative to blacks and were soon to be destroyed.  The need to obey the law set by the government and religion outweighed any radicalism.  The essentiality of love, harmony and peace in the world, especially among African Americans, was relevant to his message that urged his followers to struggle to build a better world.  The Noble Drew Ali urged his followers to struggle to be righteous and to build a better world.[46]

In summary, Noble Drew Ali’s basic contentions and principles laid a basis for the Nation of Islam, which grew out of the Moorish Temple Movement.  The stress of name change both of land and of nationality created a division of the world into dark and white people.  The political conservatism and the conception of divine retribution of Allah toward whites found a new expression in the ideology and practices of the Nation of Islam.

While we know very little about his life, we know that his movement influenced the rise of consciousness of African-Americans as they attempted to cope with Jim Crow Laws.  As a direct response to Jim Crow, he provided African Americans with an identity based on identification with Africa.  He remains the most mysterious of African American religious leaders but his legacy continues to live on in the black identification movement of today.  He contributed greatly to the racial pride movement and the elevation of black identity, culture and heritage with Africa.  Ali laid the foundation for African Americans to rediscover their lost history, heritage, culture and stolen identity.



Marcus Garvey was born on the West Indian island of Jamaica in 1887.  He worked as a printer, labor organizer, and later as a newspaper publisher.  He attempted to expose the racial situation inside Jamaica and give the darker colored Jamaicans fairer treatment.  After becoming dismayed by the living conditions of workers and the exploitation by white and mulatto overseers, Garvey tried in vain to persuade Jamaican officials to intervene.  In 1912, he was exiled from Jamaica to London by the British Colonial government.  There he met Duse Mohamed, a black Egyptian who was promoting the defeat of European colonialism everywhere.  He worked on Duse Mohamed’s magazine Africans Times and the Orient Review. There he met Africans and studied about the continent, and became a Pan African nationalist.  Strongly influenced by Booker T. Washington’s autobiography, Up From Slavery, he returned to Jamaica in 1914 and set up an organization called the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and the African Communities League to unite people of color all over the world.

Garvey moved to New York in 1916 and resided in Harlem.  He recruited during the war years but was not successful because the economy was good.  However, with WWI ending, the race riots of 1919 swayed many African American ex-soldiers to join his organization.  Garvey was able to increase his numbers through his brilliant analysis of the world situation and blacks in relations to the new economic and political trends.  For instance, WWI, in Garvey’s view, “had been a fratricidal war among Europeans for control over colonies in Africa and throughout the nonwhite world.”  He reasoned that future Africans in the Western Hemisphere would find themselves in rapidly declining circumstances.  The unskilled labor poor blacks would become obsolete in the work force with advancing technology.  The black intelligentsia would face frustration in societies that reserved the privilege of advancement for whites.  If left unchanged, Garvey’s world would consume the populations of Africa as the industrialized nations competed over its mineral wealth.  Like Bishop Henry McNeil Turner, central to Garvey’s philosophy was the need to unite all black people and to give them a racial self-confidence that would enable them to throw off white oppression.  Economic independence was another factor in the UNIA plan.  Garvey was one of the first blacks to urge his followers to “buy black—to patronize their own businessmen,” similar to Booker T. Washington’s stress on self-sufficiency.  The UNIA opened several business projects, including the Negro Factories Corporation to assist black businesses.  Garvey founded the Black Star Steamship Line to serve as a commercial and spiritual tie among black people everywhere.  Like Bishop Turner’s shipping attempts, the Black Star Ship Line stocks were sold to blacks only and Garvey promised stock buyers that they would not only be helping their race, but might also make a profit.  Garvey collected enough money between 1919 and 1925 to buy four secondhand ships and to begin trade in the Caribbean.

For Garvey, the only path to economic independence and black pride was the redemption of “Africa for the Africans.”  According to Garvey, the black man must organize the world over and build up for the race a mighty nation of their own in Africa.  In August, 1920, the Garvey movement was at its peak.  In New York City, 25,000 African Americans attended a month-long convention.  Black Nationalism and an African homeland was the focal point.  Garvey was designated the “Provisional President of the African Republic.”

Garvey was aware that most of Africa was still under colonial rule.  He also felt that Africans would need to be brought into the 20th century.  Using Liberia as a base, Garvey proposed sending a limited number of African Americans with skills, professions and capital (20,000 to 30,000 families to begin with) to settle in Liberia.  Liberia was the only independent Republic in West Africa at the time.  Liberia was experiencing a financial crisis and needed funds to pay off a national debt.  Garvey offered the money in exchange for settlement of his people in Liberia.  After 1920, several teams of Garvey’s representatives visited Liberia to lay the groundwork for Garvey’s plan.  The United Stated had sent Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois to represent the State Department and to counter Garvey’s plan.  The British were also concerned about Garvey’s policies on African liberation.  Du Bois made the UNIA seem like a threat to the Americio-Liberians (an elite group of descendants of African Americans from North America).  The Americo-Liberians were convinced that Garvey had a secret plan to take over the country, which he did.  To the delight of the United States and the European colonial powers which felt threatened by Garvey’s Africa for the African policy, Liberia broke off negotiations and refused to allow any UNIA members to settle in Liberia after accepting five million dollars from the Garvey movement.

Garvey had promised to liberate Africa through his African Legion and Black Flying Eagles.  Many of the affluent African American leadership opposed Garvey and the UNIA.  The black elite—businessmen and intellectuals—resented Garvey; similar to the way Bishop Turner was resented.  A. Philip Randolph of the Messenger, a socialist journal, thought Garvey’s Africa would be a reactionary dictatorship, not a democracy.  Robert Abbott, of the influential Chicago Defender, arranged to have Garvey harassed for selling stock in Illinois without a license.  African American Churchmen resented Garvey’s establishment of an African Orthodox Church, which threatened to win members from them.  W.E.B. DuBois, editor of the NAACP magazine, The Crisis, accused Garvey of being the worst enemy of the Black race.  He attempted to work on a number of Pan African Conferences to bring together intellectual blacks and upper-class blacks whose aim was to push for the independence of Africa away from Colonial control.



Nnamdi Azikiwe was perhaps the most famous West African who studied in the United States.  His experience of the 1920s helped transform him into Pan African and nationalistic leader in Nigeria.  Nnamdi Azikiwe was born in 1904 to Igbo parents in Northern Nigeria, where he lived until 1912, when he went to live with relatives in Onitsha and joined the Anglican Church.[47] In 1915, he was sent to school in Lagos, the capital of Nigeria, where he attended the Wesleyan Boys’ High School, the second oldest in Nigeria.[48] In 1918, he returned to Onitsha, where he continued his education at the CMS [Church Missionary Society] Central School. He passed his Standard VI examination a year later and was posted as a teacher to a nearby CMS school.  Because of his youth, his family encouraged him to continue his education, for which purpose he joined his father at Calabar.[49] He was strongly influenced by Rev. Dr. James Emmanuel Kwegyir Aggrey, who also studied in the United States.  Zik was now more than ever determined to go to America.  In his own words, “I planned to go to the United States and be re-educated from my mis-education.”[50] Although Azikiwe had already acquired a cosmopolitan worldview from his travels around Nigeria and interactions with schoolmates and teachers from many different parts of the Anglo-Atlantic world, it was at his new school, Hope Waddell Training Institution, that he first heard of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association, and both captured his imagination.  In particular, he was attracted to Garvey’s motto of “One God, One Aim, One Destiny,” which he states came to shape his philosophy of life.[51] The ideas and philosophy of Marcus Garvey would transform him into one of the early fathers of the African nationalism that eventually influenced Kwame Nkrumah, who would lead the movement for African independence.  Nnamdi Azikiwe’s American educational experience, where he witnessed racism, discrimination, American apartheid and Jim Crow, planted the seeds of African liberation.

He randomly selected Howard University as his choice.  Funding was not available at Howard, however, and after much correspondence and a very circuitous route; he ended up at Storer College in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, a place of little historical significance.  He notes in his autobiography that he was especially appreciative of “the philanthropic spirit of American educators, who were so sympathetic to the aspiration of African youth for higher education in America.”[52] After two years at Storer, Nnamdi Azikiwe subsequently studied at Howard University in Washington, D.C., but the financial and personal problems that had plagued him since arriving in America forced him to withdraw before graduating.  Finally, he completed his senior year at Lincoln University, in southeast Pennsylvania, graduating with his B.A. in 1930.  Before returning to West Africa in 1934, Zik also completed M.A. degrees at both Lincoln and the University of Pennsylvania.

Kwame Nkrumah, another great Pan African nationalist leader and the first prime minister of Ghana, headed the first West African state to gain independence from its colonial rulers.  Born in 1909 at Nkroful in Nzima, at the extreme southwest of Ghana, Nkrumah followed a familiar path through the educational opportunities available in the rural Gold Coast at that time.  After completing his primary education at Half Assini, where his parents had moved when he was three, he became a student-teacher.  In 1926, he was recruited from Half Assini for teacher training by the principal of the Government Training College at Accra.  “This marks a turning point in my life for in the following year I came to his college, a raw youth bewildered at first by city life and like most boys who leave home for boarding school, thoroughly homesick,” he wrote.[53] A year later, Achimota College opened, where Nkrumah was among the first group of teachers to be trained and Aggrey was vice principal and first African member of staff.  “To me he seemed the most remarkable man I had ever met and I had the deepest affection for him... It was through him that my nationalism was first aroused.”[54] His death in 1927 was a shock to the young Nkrumah, especially as it followed the death of his father only a year previously.  It should come as no surprise, then, that Nkrumah declared, “It was because of my great admiration for Aggrey, both as a man and a scholar, that I first formed the idea of furthering my studies in the United States of America.”[55]

During his third year at Achimota, Nkrumah played the lead role in a school drama called “Kofi Goes Abroad,” perhaps foreshadowing his own ultimate journey.[56] Upon graduation in 1930, he assumed a teaching position for the Roman Catholic Church at Elmina, although he remained determined to study in America.  The following year he became head teacher at Axim and studied to prepare for the London Matriculation examination.  He next taught at Amissano, near Elmina, but he was still eager to continue his education in America.

In 1935, Nkrumah decided to leave for America, although he had little funding available.  He was headed to Lincoln University, where Zik had studied and with which he had already corresponded.  Despite financial difficulties, Nkrumah graduated from Lincoln in 1939 with his B.A., and earned a B.Th. from there in 1942.  In that same year, he also received a M.Sc. in Education from the University of Pennsylvania.  A year later, he earned a M.A., as well, from Penn State.[57] During his 10 years in the United States, which he left in 1945, Nkrumah, like both Aggrey and Azikiwe, worked at a variety of jobs and came to know the country, and especially its people of African descent, very well.  He was active among the growing group of African students in North America and worked to organize them politically.  He was also engaged in promoting the study of Africa.  He read widely. “But I think that of all the literature that I studied, the book that did more than any other to fire my enthusiasm was Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey, published in 1923.”[58]

Kwame Nkrumah experienced a hard time in America similar to Zik experiences. He dated black American women and familiarized himself with African American culture, trying to understand the Diasporic connections.  He was attracted to the Black Church, and joined the Father Divine Peace Movement because he could get a “good chicken meal for half a dollar and a haircut for ten cents.”[59] He was inspired by Father Divine’s charismatic oratory preaching. Later, he adopted that particular style when he became leader of the independence movement in the Gold Coast (later Ghana).

The experiences of Diasporan Africans like Nnamdi Azikiwe and Banda, as well as American racism and segregation, sensitized Nkrumah to issues of racial separation and made him aware of the power that the white world used to exclude the black world.  Nkrumah quickly made the connection between American racism and European colonialism and thus concluded that the struggle of Africans for independence and African Americans from white domination were one and the same.  It was in America where Nkrumah rediscovered his African identity. He had now made an important connection in the African Diaspora. Nkrumah realized that the heart of this liberation movement would first begin with the liberation of the black mind.  Africans would need to learn and write their own history, and black Americans needed to liberate themselves from their slave mentality, so he began the process of building bridges of understanding between continental and Diasporan Africans.

Nkrumah organized the African Studies Association of African Students in America and Canada.  Many of these African students, such as Dr. Banda, would become leaders and presidents in their own countries.  Ako Adjei and Jones Quartey, two African students who assisted Nkrumah with his African student association, became prominent members of Nkrumah’s government when he was elected Prime Minister of Ghana in 1957.  Ako Adjei became minister of the Interior and Jones Quartey became director of Extra-Mural Studies at the University College, Achimota.[60] Nkrumah’s African Studies Association is the forerunner for the African Studies Departments in America, and African Studies Associations.  He envisioned the academic study of African history, heritage and culture. But he saw this movement as a vehicle by which people of African descent in America would be able to make diasporic connections and emigrate to Africa to join their African brothers and sisters in building a United States of Africa.

It was in America where Nkrumah and, later, many future African leaders became born-again nationalists, and would use their American experience to begin the struggle to liberate Africans in the wider Diaspora. In the words of Nkrumah: “We believe that unless territorial freedom was ultimately linked up with the Pan African movement for the liberation of the whole African continent, there would be no hope of freedom and equality for the African and for people of African descent in any part of the world.”[61]

America had a profound impact on the Pan African ideas and philosophy of Kwame Nkrumah and of all the black leader ideas he encountered, it was the ideas and philosophy of Marcus Garvey that influenced him more than any other black leader.  Nkrumah said it was Garvey’s philosophy of “Africa for African, and his Back-to-Africa movement, did more to inspire the Negroes of America in the 1920s.”[62]

Nkrumah left the United States in 1945 as the leader of the Pan African Movement.  Diasporic Africans found themselves in America influenced by African American philosophical thought on Pan Africanism, and captured the leadership and armed themselves with what they had learned would transform the African continent.  These Pan Africanists now become leaders in the movement to liberate Africa from European colonialism as well.

Nkrumah attended the Pan African Congress in Manchester in 1945, during which the baton was handed from African Americans to Africans.  Nkrumah returned to the Gold Coast and became the leader of the independence movement.  In 1957, he was elected prime minister and became the first leader of Ghana.  In Ghana he created the first Pan African State and invited Diasporan Africans to return home.  He built a public square in honor of his hero, Marcus Garvey, and called it Black Square. He adopted the Garvey flag as a symbol of black and African pride, and he recreated Garvey’s Black Steamship Line. Then he invited one of the pillars of the Pan African Movement to emigrate to Ghana, Dr. W.E.B. DuBois. He cemented his role in uniting the two Diasporas into one.  Finally, he wanted to achieve Marcus Garvey’s plan for a homeland for all peoples of African descent.  It envisioned one homeland, one people, one destiny unified by a common experience under one God, who was finally in the image of the African, and lost children in the Americas.

The next movement had Diasporic streams that would make important contributions in the area of African Studies in the United States. The African Studies movement in higher education began as a direct result of Kwame Nkrumah’s efforts to establish the African Studies Association, and the turbulence of the 1960s. Before that, only a few campuses—Northwestern University, the University of Chicago, Indiana University at Bloomington and UCLA—offered African Studies.  For many years, African Studies existed as an appendix to the standard university curricula in history, anthropology and political science, and was seen as a minor part of the academy.  In short, at its best, African Studies initially was part of the colonial perspective of social sciences, with the history of a colonized people, too frequently taught by those who supported colonialism.  For almost 10 years, throughout most of the 1970s, African Studies was characterized by divisionism and squabbling over content, methodology and organization of curricula.  Some early Africanists felt that the new discipline was a mere political construct to neutralize student protests, while others debated whether to open the doors of the program to both African and African American scholars.

The African liberation and independence movements of the 1960s created a greater awareness of how important it was for Africans to control their own history.  History records the struggle of men and women to humanize the world, that is, to shape it in their own image to reflect their interests.  African history is the record of the efforts, failures and achievements of Africans and their descendants throughout the Diaspora.  African history is a process by which human beings use knowledge of themselves to understand the present and the future patterns of all areas of the world.  By recording historical events in an understandable chronology, insights and knowledge can be passed on to future generations.  History is not a mere record of events, but it is the study and transmission of human activity and progress.  The importance of history is not simply the past per se, but the study of the past to better understand human beings living in the present.  The concept of an African Diaspora becomes central to a Africanizing the African Studies Movement and achieving the Nkrumah model that African and African American studies should become the vehicle for the transformation of the African and black minds.  In short, education about self would become the tool for mental liberation for Africans throughout the Diaspora.

Nnamdi Azikiwe, Hastings Banda and Kwame Nkrumah, were important figures in the early African Studies Student Association. The program, an influential American predecessor, Melville J. Herskovits founded at Northwestern University in 1948 was the first academic center of its kind dedicated to the study of the cultures and history of Africa and African people, including African Americans.  Other universities were teaching some concepts.

In the field (W.E.B. DuBois received a doctorate from Harvard in 1896 with a concentration in African-area studies), but Herskovits was the pioneer in the United States for high-level African Studies.  His classic work on Diasporan studies, The Myth of the Negro Past (1941), provided a foundation for linking Africans with their descendants in the New World.

Likewise, Nkrumah’s American experiences allowed him to transcend “African Personality” to explore the “Pan African Personality,” Herskovits united the struggle of Africans and people of African descent living throughout the African Diaspora. Ultimately, the knowledge of oneself and one’s cultural heritage would transcend and uplift the African Diaspora through a greater understanding of the American dimensions within the Pan African context.

Pan Africanism in the 19th and 20th centuries was not about the artificial dreams of unity, but instead, encompassed progressive views that provided Africans and their descendants in the New World, a foundation upon which to build economic, political and racial unity based on a common ancestry and common problems in a white world.  Through political mobilization and cultural pride, Africans and African Americans would be able to protect black interests in Africa and North America. Booker T. Washington best articulated the accommodation wing of the economic Pan African philosophy.

Pan Africanism began as an emigration envisioned by Paul Cuffe to relocate enslaved Africans in an African homeland.  The purpose was to provide a place where blacks could be masters of their own faith and destinies. Out of Pan Africanism grew Black Nationalism as it took an intercontinental and radical form in response to racial discrimination and Jim Crow in America.  The foundation of Pan African unity lay not so much on the rejections and repression of African Americans by whites, but on the things that united blacks living in the Diaspora. The experience of enslavement, colonial rule and racial segregation united Africans living in the Diaspora. Pan African thought and philosophy for Africans and people of African descent resulted in a struggle that would give birth to the African independence movements in Africa, and the struggle for Civil Rights in the United States.


[1] Frank M. Snowden Jr., Blacks in Antiquity: Ethiopian in the Greco-Roman World (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970).


[2] Hubert Gerbeau, “The Slave Trade in the Indian Ocean,” in the African SlaveTtrade from the Fifteenth to the Nineteenth Century, 189-90.


[3] Y. Talib, “The African Diaspora in Asia,” in General African History of Africa, vol. III: Africa from the Seventh to the Eleventh Century, ed. M. El Fasi, op cit., 731-32.


[4] Entitled Ping-chou K’otan and cited in “Geographical Notes on Some Commodities Involved in the Sung Maritime Trade,” Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 32, no 2 (1961), 141.


[5] Bethwell A. Ogot, “Population Movements between East Africa, the Horn of Africa and the Neighboring Countries,” in The African Slave Trade from the Fifteenth to the Nineteenth Century (Paris: UNESCO, 1985), 176.


[6] According to the tenth-century historian al-Mas’udi, Les praires d’or, vol. VIII (Paris, 1861-77), 58.


[7] Raymond Mauvy, Les Siecles obscurs de l’Afrique Noire (Paris: Fayard, 1970), cited in The African Trade Slave from the Fifteenth to the Nineteenth Century (Paris: UNESCO, 1979), 169-70, 173.


[8] Miura Toru and John Edward Philips, Slave Elites in the Middle East and Africa: A Comparative Study. (Kegan Paul International: London and New York), 39.


[9] G. I. Kheirallah, Islam and the Arabian Prophet (New York: Islamic Publishing Co., 1938) p. 34; Lewis, Race and Color, 64-96.


[10] See Kheirallah, Islam and the Arabian Prophet, pp.38-40, “The Flight to Abyssinia,” and John A. Williams, ed., Islam (New York: George Braziller, 1961), 64-65.


[11] Eleanor Hoffmann, Realm of the Evening Star: A History of Morocco and the Lands of the Moors. (Chilton Books: Philadelphia and New York, 1965), 64.


[12] Ronald Segal, Islam’s Black Slaves: The Other Black Diaspora (Farrar, Straus and Giroux: New York, 2001), 81.


[13] John Hope Franklin, Alfred A. Moss, Jr. From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African American 7th edition.  Publisher McGraw-Hill, Inc.: New York, 1998), 30-31.


[14] Ulrich Bonnell Phillips, American Negro Slavery: A Survey of the Supply, Employment and Control of Negro Labor as Determined by the Plantation Regime (New York: D. Appleton, 1940), 16.


[15] Elizabeth Donnan, Documents Illustrative of the History of the Slave Trade, vol. 2; also see “Memoirs of the Life of Job Ben Solomon,” 420-27.


[16] Terry Alford, Prince Among Slaves: The True Story of an African Prince Sold into Slavery in the American South.


[17] Interview by Joseph E. Holloway with David P. Gamble, December 5, 1985, and Moffett, "Uncle Remus Was A Hausaman?"  Southern Folklore Quarterly (1975), vol. 39, 151-66.


[18] For example, by David Roediger ("The Long Journey to the Hip Hop Nation." St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 18 (March 1994) and by Joe Adamson Bugs Bunny: Fifty Years and Only One Grey Hare (New York: Henry Holt, 1990) both cited in Shelley Fisher Fishkin “Reframing the Multiculturalism Debates and Remapping American Studies” Journal of American Studies of Turkey (1995) 1: 3-18.


[19] Joseph E. Holloway and Winifred K. Vass, The African Heritage of American English (Indiana University Press, 1993), xxiii.


[20] Moreau de Saint Mery, Description topograpique, physique, evile, politique et historique de la partie Francaise de l'ile de Saint Domingue Tome 1, 52-56.


[21] Robert Farris Thompson, "Kongo Influences on African-American Culture" in Holloway, ed. Africanisms in American Culture (Indiana University Press, 1990), 151.


[22] The partial Europeanization of some of these African movements eventually created the national dances of Latin American countries such as the marcumbi, a dance learned by the Spanish and later brought to the New World through Spain.  The fandango, the national dance of Spain, originated in Cuba from African dances.  Other dances derived from the Ombliguide are the Chacharara, Cabomba, Melongo, Malamba, Gati, Semba, rhumba, Conga and the Tango.  See Joseph Holloway Papers, #4511 Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.


[23] William D. Pierson, Black Legacy: America's Hidden Heritage. (The University of Massachusetts Press, 1993), 99.


[24] Bryan Edwards, The History, Civil and Commercial, of the British Colonies in the West Indies, 3 vols. (London, 1993-1801) and R.S. Rattray, The Tribes of the Ashanti Hinterland 2 vols. (Oxford, 1932).


[25] J. H. Russell, The Free Negro in Virginia (Baltimore, 1913), R3n.; and Todd L. Savitt, Medicine and Slavery (Urbana, IL, 1978) p. 76.  See South Carolina Gazette, 9 May 1740.  Also quoted in Ira E. Harrison, “Health Status and Healing Practices: Continuations from an African Past.”  Journal of African Studies Winter 1975/6 Volume 2 No. 4 and Peter H. Wood, Black Majority (New York, 1974), 289.


[26] James Steward, A View of the Past and Present State of the Island of Jamaica (1808; reprint ed. Edinburgh, 1823), 303-4, and Dr. David Mason, "A Descriptive Account of Framboesia or Yaws," Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Caribbean, 271.


[27] SC-Ars Upper House Journal March 16, 1750, 478.

[28] Ibid, SCCH, November 28, 1749.


[29] See Appendix.  These cures were published in SCCHJ, SC-AR Commons House Journal November 29, 1749, 304; and also in the South Carolina Gazette; The London Magazine, xix (1750), 367-68, and in The Gentleman's Magazine, xx (1750), 342-43.


[30] Certificate No. 1876 mark by Negro Sampson, August 23, 1775, Treasury Receipts, 1774-1778, South Carolina Archives, 280.


[31] Sampson’s Cure was reported by the committee to the House on March 6, 1775 in the SC-ARR Commons House Journal no. 30, part I, 295.


The Cure for the Bites of a Rattle Snake by Sampson a Negro.  Take Heart Snake Root, both Root and Leaves, two Handfuls, Polypody leaves one handful, bruise them in a MORTAR press out a Spoonful of the Juice and give as soon as possible after the bite, then scarify the wound, and take the Root of the Herb Avens, bruise it, poor [sic] a little Rum over it, and apply to the part, over which it is to be put the Hartsnake [sic] Root and Polypody which remains [sic] after the Juice is squeezed out.  These Medicines and Applications must be repeated according to the Violence of the Symptoms, so as in some dangerous Cases it must be given to the Quantity of eight spoonfuls in an Hour and the wound dressed two or three ties a day.

The above Herbs may also be bruised and beat up into a Paste with Clay, and when necessary may be scraped down to the Quantity of half a Common Spoonful and given amongst a little Rum and Water, and repeated as the doses of the Juice above mentioned.  A little of this Paste may be wet with Rum and rubbed over the Wound.

N. B. He always uses this method when he can’t find the Green Herbs.

Sometimes the Cure is entirely performed by the Patients chewing the Heartsnake Root and swallowing the Juice and applying some of the same Herb bruised to the Wound.

When the part is greatly inflamed and swelled, all the Herbs in the following List are taken to the quantity of some handfuls of each and boiled into a strong decoction with which it is to be fomented several times a day.  The Herbs presented last by Sampson are:


1.  Asarum cyclamini folio or Hartsnake [sic] root of this Province.

2.  Polypodium Vulgare or common Polypody

3. Caryophyllidae Virginiana radices inodora or Virginian Avens (Called here five


4.  Lonchitis Aspera or rough Spleenwort [sic]

5.  Hypnum julaceum or small erect Clubmoss

6.  Gnaphaliem [sic] huile or Creeping Gold Locks.


The public was informed of these additions to science in The South Carolina Gazette on April 8, 1756, and the House did provide Sampson with an annual annuity of b50.


[32] South Carolina Gazette April, 19, 1760.


[33] For a groundbreaking study of African cultural survivals among whites in the United States that prepares the way for more research in this important but neglected area, see John Edward Philips’s “The African Heritage of White America” in Holloway, ed. Africanisms, 225-239.


[34] Capt. John Smith, Works, 1608-1631.  Edited by Edward Arber. Birmingham, England, 1884.

[35] Peter H. Wood, “More Like a Negro Country: Demographic Patterns in Colonial South Carolina, 1700-1740,” in Stanley L. Engerman and Eugene D. Genovese, eds., Race and Slavery in the Western Hemisphere: Quantitative Studies (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1975). Also see Peter H. Wood, [illegible] Majority: Negroes in Colonial South Carolina from 1670 through the Stono Rebellion (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1975).


[36] D. P. Gamble.  The Wolof of Senegambia (London, 1957).


[37] “The Speech of Negroes in Colonial America.” The Journal of Negro History. Volume XXIV  July, 1939--No. 3.


[38] Joseph A. Walkes, Jr., Black Square and Compass – 200 years of Prince Hall Freemasonry. Macoy Publishing and Masonic Supply Co.  Richmond, Virginia, 1979, p.8; Prince Hall Masonic Directory, Conference of Grand Masters, Prince Hall Mason, 4th Edition 1992.


[39] Hollis R. Lynch, “Pan-Negro Nationalism in the New World Before 1862.” In August Meier and Elliott Rudwick, Eds. The Making of Black Americans, Vol. I (New York: Athenaeum, 1969), 46.


[40] Martin R. Delany, Official Report of the Niger Valley Exploring Party, reprinted in Howard H. Bell, ed., Search for a Place (Ann Arbor, 1969), 111.


[41] See Search for a Place: Black Separatism and Africa, 1860. The University of Michigan Press, 1969.  It contains Martin R. Delany’s original Report of the Niger Valley Exploring Party and Robert Campbell’s A Pilgrimage to My Motherland: An Account of A Journal Among the Egbas and Yorubas of Central Africa in 1859-60.


[42] Edwin S. Redkey. Black Exodus: Black Nationalist and Back-to-Africa Movements 1890-1910 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1969.


[43] See. E. S. Redkey, Black Exodus: Black Nationalist and Back-to-Africa Movements, 1890-1910 (1969); E. S. Writing and Speeches of Henry M. Turner; Mungo M. Ponton, Life and Times of Henry M. Turner (1917).


[44] George Shepperson, “Notes on Negro American Influences on the Emergence of African Nationalism, Journal of African History 1 (1960), 299-312; Immanuel Geiss, The Pan African Movement: A History of Pan Africanisms in America Europe, and Africa, trans. Ann Keep (New York, 1974); J Ayodele Langley, Ideologies of Liberation; P. Olisanwuche Esedebe, Pan Africanism.


[45] W. Bittle and G. Geis, The Longest Way Home: Chief Alfred D. Sam’s Back to-Africa Movement (Detroit, 1964); “Chief Alfred Sam,” in Robert A. Hill, ed. The Marcus Garvey and UNIA Papers, vol. 1 (Berkeley, 1983), 536-547.


[46] See Herbert Booker’s The Noble Drew Ali and the Moorish Science Temple Movement. Publisher: New World African Press, Northridge, 2000.


[47] Nnamdi Azikiwe, My Odyssey: An Autobiography (London, 1970), 7, 9.


[48] Ibid., 17, 20.


[49] Ibid., 27-29.


[50] Azikiwe, My Odyssey, 45.


[51] Ibid., 32-35.


[52] Ibid., 75.


[53] Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana- The Autobiography of Kwame Nkrumah (New York, 1971; 1st London, 1957), 13.

[54] Ibid., 14.


[55] Ibid., 15.  Another prominent African political leader who was inspired to study in the United States following a meeting with Dr. Aggrey in 1921 at Johannesburg was Kamuzu Bandu, former President of Malawi.  See Philip Short, Banda (London and Boston, 1974), 18-20.


[56] Nkrumah, Ghana., 18.


[57] Ibid., 31-33.


[58] Ibid., 45.  See Amy Jacques Garvey (ed.) Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey (New York, 1969), two volumes in one, with new preface by William Loren Katz (Vol. 1: 1st ed. 1923; Volume 2: 1st ed (1925).


[59] Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana – The Autobiography of Kwame Nkrumah (London, 1957), 35.


[60] Ibid.


[61] Ibid., 36.


[62] Ibid., 37.