African-Americans and American Foreign Policy: "Voices in the Wilderness: The Role and Influences of African-American Citizens in the Development and Formation of Foreign Policy 1919-1944"

By Johnson, Benita M. | Journal of Pan African Studies, June 2007 | Go to article overview

African-Americans and American Foreign Policy: "Voices in the Wilderness: The Role and Influences of African-American Citizens in the Development and Formation of Foreign Policy 1919-1944"


Johnson, Benita M., Journal of Pan African Studies


African Americans' Influence on American Foreign Policy After World War I

The Pan-African Association was an organization that emerged from the Pan-African Conference that was held in London in 1900. The purpose of this conference was to address the spread of colonialism abroad and segregation African-Americans faced at home. The association originally called for British colonies to end its exploitative labor practices and racial discrimination in Africa. Members of the conference appealed to Queen Victoria and the Colonial Office to end the practice, but their petitions for human rights were ignored. Although the object of the conference was not achieved, the Pan-Africa Association continued its message by changing its tactics to influence American foreign policy. After World War I, the Association saw the opportunity to organize and develop a new strategy to demand political and economic rights.

After World War I, the Association renewed the opportunity for people of color to place their agenda before an international body. The war had fractured the great empires of Europe and called into question the legitimacy of colonial rule. The once great empires of Germany, Austria, Hungry, Russia and Turkey could no longer control diverse nationalities that now demanded political freedom. Delegates from African countries made similar appeals for freedom, while African-Americans began discussing what the postwar settlement would mean in terms of racial equity in the United States. Following Germany's surrender on November 11, 1918, the allied governments decided to hold a peace conference in Versailles France. Groups from all over the world interested in shaping the proceedings were planning to attend and African-American organizations were determined to play a vital role in addressing an international body regarding their concerns. Prominent African-American leaders who supported the Pan-African movement, such as Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. Du Bois lead the call for African people throughout the Diaspora to become involved in international affairs by joining or creating organizations to address universal issues. "Both Garvey and Du Bois were keenly aware that the destiny of African peoples were intractably linked to global events." (2)

The National Race Congress selected civil rights activist Reverend William H. Jernagin as their envoy, and the International League of Darker People elected Madam C.J. Walker, Marcus Garvey and Reverend Adam Clayton Powell Sr., as delegates to attend the conference in France. "The National Race Congress elected civil rights advocate Rev. William H. Jernigan its representative to the peace conference.

The International League of Darker Peoples emerged. The league was born on January 2, 1919 at the Hudson River Estate of black businesswoman C.J. Walker. Principals included Walker, Marcus Garvey, socialist A. Philip Randolph, and Harlem community leader Rev. Adam Clayton Powell Sr. Its primary purpose was to help the plethora of black groups make coherent demands at Versailles" (3)

The focus of the African-Americans attending the peace conference was to help Black groups speak with one voice regarding their demands at Versailles. The goal of the African-American delegation was to raise the issues of discrimination and human rights before an international body. African-Americans who wanted to attend felt they had a stake in the peace process because of the direct participation of African-Americans solders in combat with colonial troops during the war. The interaction between blacks and whites on the battlefield forever altered perceptions of race relations for many black soldiers, who would no longer accept separate and unequal treatment in America. African-Americans wanted to use the experiences of the Black soldiers to improve race relations at home and abroad.

Du Bois saw the opportunity to bring before an international body the plight and pain of African-Americans and their brothers and sisters on the Continent. …

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