The Struggles of John Brown Russwurm: The Life and Writings of a Pan-Africanist Pioneer, 1799-1851

The Struggles of John Brown Russwurm: The Life and Writings of a Pan-Africanist Pioneer, 1799-1851

The Struggles of John Brown Russwurm: The Life and Writings of a Pan-Africanist Pioneer, 1799-1851

The Struggles of John Brown Russwurm: The Life and Writings of a Pan-Africanist Pioneer, 1799-1851

Synopsis

"If I know my own heart, I can truly say, that I have not a selfish wish in placing myself under the patronage of the [American Colonization] Society; usefulness in my day and generation, is what I principally court."

"Sensible then, as all are of the disadvantages under which we at present labour, can any consider it a mark of folly, for us to cast our eyes upon some other portion of the globe where all these inconveniences are removed where the Man of Colour freed from the fetters and prejudice, and degradation, under which he labours in this land, may walk forth in all the majesty of his creation- a new born creature- a Free Man!"
- John Brown Russwurm, 1829.

John Brown Russwurm (1799-1851) is almost completely missing from the annals of the Pan-African movement, despite the pioneering role he played as an educator, abolitionist, editor, government official, emigrationist and colonizationist. Russwurm's life is one of "firsts": first African American graduate of Maine's Bowdoin College; co-founder of Freedom's Journal, America's first newspaper to be owned, operated, and edited by African Americans; and, following his emigration to Africa, first black governor of the Maryland section of Liberia. Despite his accomplishments, Russwurm struggled internally with the perennial Pan-Africanist dilemma of whether to go to Africa or stay and fight in the United States, and his ordeal was the first of its kind to be experienced and resolved before the public eye.

With this slim, accessible biography of Russwurm, Winston James makes a major contribution to the history of black uplift and protest in the Early American Republic and the larger Pan-African world. James supplements the biography with a carefully edited and annotated selection of Russwurm's writings, which vividly demonstrate the trajectory of his political thinking and contribution to Pan-Africanist thought and highlight the challenges confronting the peoples of the African Diaspora. Though enormously rich and powerfully analytical, Russwurm's writings have never been previously anthologized.

The Struggles of John Brown Russwurm is a unique and unparalleled reflection on the Early American Republic, the African Diaspora and the wider history of the times. An unblinking observer of and commentator on the condition of African Americans as well as a courageous fighter against white supremacy and for black emancipation, Russwurm's life and writings provide a distinct and articulate voice on race that is as relevant to the present as it was to his own lifetime.

Excerpt

He is almost completely missing from the annals of the Pan-African movement. the two leading studies of the movement do not even mention him, let alone register or analyze his contribution. a third mentions him only briefly and in passing, devoting four sentences to the pioneer in a book almost three hundred pages long. the great George Padmore, in his Olympian, if polemical, historical overview of the Pan-African movement, correctly registers his name among the New World pioneers of Liberia but has him leading twenty-one African American emigrants to the settlement almost a decade before he actually left the United States—alone. and despite his Jamaican roots and Caribbean allegiance, he is unknown and so unremembered in his native island and the rest of the archipelago. His name is absent from Jamaican and Caribbean history books, and he has no pedestal in the remarkable pantheon—from Blyden to Padmore to Fanon to Rodney— of Caribbean Pan-African intellectuals and activists. It is true that he left the Caribbean at an early age, but so did Blyden, and unlike Blyden he returned to the Caribbean as a young man, in the vain hope of resettling there. Moreover, early in his youth he became fascinated with Haiti and the Haitian Revolution, wrote and spoke about them, and seriously considered and even planned to settle in the “Black Republic” after graduating from college. His interest in Haiti abided with him, even after his emigration to Liberia, to the very end of his days. He is better known in the United States, but not by much; there his image is distorted in much of the historical scholarship, and his true achievements are inadequately recognized and appreciated.

John Brown Russwurm, as I shall demonstrate and argue, deserves better. His pioneering efforts, achievements, and example—as educator, abolitionist, editor, government official, staunch emigrationist, and colonizationist—put him in the vanguard of the Pan-African movement. Moreover, Russwurm’s own internal struggle with the perennial Pan-Africanist dilemma of whether . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.