Congo Love Song: African American Culture and the Crisis of the Colonial State

Congo Love Song: African American Culture and the Crisis of the Colonial State

Congo Love Song: African American Culture and the Crisis of the Colonial State

Congo Love Song: African American Culture and the Crisis of the Colonial State

Synopsis

In his 1903 hit "Congo Love Song," James Weldon Johnson recounts a sweet if seemingly generic romance between two young Africans. While the song's title may appear consistent with that narrative, it also invokes the site of King Leopold II of Belgium's brutal colonial regime at a time when African Americans were playing a central role in a growing Congo reform movement. In an era when popular vaudeville music frequently trafficked in racist language and imagery, "Congo Love Song" emerges as one example of the many ways that African American activists, intellectuals, and artists called attention to colonialism in Africa.

In this book, Ira Dworkin examines black Americans' long cultural and political engagement with the Congo and its people. Through studies of George Washington Williams, Booker T. Washington, Pauline Hopkins, Langston Hughes, Malcolm X, and other figures, he brings to light a long-standing relationship that challenges familiar presumptions about African American commitments to Africa. Dworkin offers compelling new ways to understand how African American involvement in the Congo has helped shape anticolonialism, black aesthetics, and modern black nationalism.

Excerpt

’Way down where the Congo is a-flowing,
’Way down where the bamboo is a-growing
Down where tropic breezes are a-blowing
There once lived a little Zulu maid;
Each night, very silently canoeing
Up stream, came a Kaffir chief a-wooing
He came for the maiden’s hand a-suing
Singing as along the banks they strayed:

CHORUS:

“As long as the Congo flows to the sea,
As long as a leaf grows on the bamboo tree,
My love and devotion will be deep as the ocean;
Won’t you take a notion, for to love-a but me?”

The Maiden, though his gentle words believing,
Told him that she thought he was deceiving,
This set his poor Kaffir heart a-grieving,
Yet he never changed his ardent theme;
One night, to her father’s kraal he traced her,
And there in his lusty arms embraced her,
Then in his canoe he gently placed her,
Singing as they floated down the stream:

[CHORUS]

This maid, in the wilds of Umbagooda,
Down where this bold Kaffir chieftain wooed her,
May have been perhaps, a trifle cruder
Than girls on the Hudson or the Seine;
Yet, though she was but a little Zulu,
She did just what other artful maids do,
And showed there were tricks of love that she knew;
For she kept him singing this refrain:

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.