The American Negro Leadership Conference on Africa and Its Arden House Conference: Politicizing & Institutionalizing the Relationship with Africa

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The American Negro Leadership Conference on Africa and its Arden House Conference: Politicizing & Institutionalizing the Relationship with Africa

We believe the 19 million American Negro citizens must assume a greater responsibility for the formation of United States policy in sub-Saharan Africa...We believe that a meeting of Negroes in positions of leadership in organizations that are active in, and a part of the Negro community would be fruitful in terms of supplying information, crystallizing opinion, developing a program to activate the masses of Negro citizens, and in providing a continuing channel through which our voices can be heard by our own government.

James Farmer, Dorothy Height, Martin Luther King, Jr., A. Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young, August 1962(2)

In November 1962 a group of approximately one hundred African American leaders met at the Arden House campus of Columbia University. The major civil rights leadership called for the meeting: James Farmer, Dorothy Height, Martin Luther King, A. Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins, and Whitney Young. The topic focus was on the relationship of African Americans to Africa, and the ways to most effectively influence U.S. policy toward Africa. These leaders recognized that they had no organized political link to Africa, and had no institutional voice on U.S. policy toward Africa.

The formation of the American Negro Leadership Conference on Africa (ANLCA) indicates just how important contemporary Africa and its freedom struggles had become to the civil rights leadership and to the struggle in America. Even as voter registration drives, demonstrations in Albany, Georgia, and confrontations over James Meredith entering the University of Mississippi occupied the attention of African Americans, African American leaders cleared their schedules to take part in the ANLCA's efforts. The civil rights leadership, witnessing events in Africa and concerned with U.S. policy toward it, had adopted a broader, pan-African perspective. They believed that U.S. policy could better support African peoples and nations, and that black Americans needed to exert their influence to bring about such a position. "We intend to activize American Negro participation in every phase of our government's many African programs," declared Ted Brown, ANLCA Director, after the first ANLCA conference. "We intend to stimulate increased interest in every segment of Negro life so that American Negroes will be not only informed, but alert to every influencing force - political or economic - that has some impact on the shaping of U.S. policy in Africa."(3)

The formation of the ANLCA, and the holding of its major Arden House Conference, marks a politicization and institutionalization of the African American relationship with Africa. It also shows that the civil rights leadership, along with other elements of the black community, had expanded their concepts of identity to readily include contemporary Africa.

BACKGROUND TO THE ANLCA

For many years, African Americans had realized that they had no organization which fully reflected their desires and ambitions in regards to Africa. The most prominent African American organization focused on Africa in the 1940s and early 1950s, the Council on African Affairs (CAA), never had held widespread support. The leftist nature of the CAA had caused some black Americans to shy away from it, and many others had felt wary about allying with the CAA during the Cold War years.

People throughout the 1940s and 1950s worked to convince the NAACP to institutionalize an organizational framework for black American interest in Africa. When W.E.B. Du Bois returned to the NAACP in 1944, he viewed his Department of Special Research as "a sort of foreign affairs department of the NAACP reviving and carrying on the work of the Pan-African Congresses."(4) Du Bois never felt satisfied that the NAACP leadership properly appreciated or supported his work, and he felt that the NAACP particularly neglected issues concerning Africa. …