Proudly We Can Be Africans: Black Americans and Africa, 1935-1961

Proudly We Can Be Africans: Black Americans and Africa, 1935-1961

Proudly We Can Be Africans: Black Americans and Africa, 1935-1961

Proudly We Can Be Africans: Black Americans and Africa, 1935-1961


Meriwether explores the dynamic nature of Africa's role in African American lives from the middle 1930s to the early 1960s, during the confluence of the liberation struggles in Africa and the civil rights movement in the United States.


In the summer of 1935, as Italian dictator Benito Mussolini gathered his forces to invade Ethiopia, African Americans looked on in dismay, for Ethiopia and Liberia remained the last black-ruled nations in Africa. Yet the Pittsburgh Courier, one of the leading African American newspapers of the day, pondered the fate of Ethiopia and pronounced, “Much as we all sympathize with Ethiopia, it is evident that our burdens here are sufficiently heavy without assuming those of Negroes 7,000 miles away. It is noteworthy that, while our disabilities have been fairly well publicized throughout the world since Emancipation, no aid has ever come from our brethren across the seas. We have fought the battle alone and they will have to do likewise.”

Just over twenty years later, in early 1957, Ghana celebrated its independence, becoming the first African nation south of the Sahara to cast off colonial rule. This time the Courier offered a far different portrait of the meaning of African freedom struggles: “[As] Ghana enters the society of free nations today, the event has a particularly pertinent significance for American Negroes…. Are American Negroes an inferior people? Can they meet the full challenge of modern, Western civilization? We American Negroes look to Ghana to furnish the answers to these questions…. Ghana's contributions, as a free nation, to peace, to art, to industry, to government, will be regarded by American Negroes as symbols of their own worth and potential.”

The book that follows analyzes, over the course of a quarter century and a series of specific events, major shifts in the salience and significance of contemporary Africa in African American intellectual and political life. This complex and ever-changing relationship underwent critical changes during the pivotal years between 1935 and 1961 —from the anger and bitterness over Italy's invasion of Ethiopia in 1935–36 to the heady years of the early 1960s, when dozens of colonized African nations gained their independence. Responding to the development of independence in Africa, during this time African Americans embraced contemporary, as opposed to historic, Africa.

Previously, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, African American missionary advocates and emigrationists had spoken reverentially about Africa's glorious past, yet they typically had much less regard for . . .

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