Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Claude Barnett and the Coverage of African Conferences Leading to the Formation of the Organization of African Unity

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Claude Barnett and the Coverage of African Conferences Leading to the Formation of the Organization of African Unity

Article excerpt


There is an adage that says journalists write the first draft of history. This is particularly true for volatile political activism, for the media cover the momentous events as well as the minutiae on a continuing basis. As it happens this raw data cannot really be classified because documentation of events cannot discern what will be historically important. However, the information it provides to the involved activists is invaluable. This is particularly true for pan-African activists because they were scattered throughout the African diaspora and unable to afford to travel to Africa to contribute or witness fundamental conferences that determined the ways in which Pan-Africanism could be applied in nation-building.

And of course these activists wanted to be involved in the last leg of the movement's goals: Africa's clear autonomy from Europe and the establishment of the free African nation-states that included a "return" policy for people in the diaspora who wanted to become citizens of the "homeland." (1) This meant that activists had to depend on media, and in particular, Black media to report on events on the African continent.

Claude Barnett: Biographical Sketch

This paper addresses the crucial role played by Claude Barnett whose news wire service covered negotiations during the period of African independence and state building conferences. Barnett was the founder of the Associated Negro Press (ANP,) a wire service he founded in 1919. At its zenith, ANP served 400 papers in the U.S. and the Afro-Caribbean. In his unfinished autobiography, Flying in the Dark, he says he used the Associated Press as the archetype for the ANP. (2) This well-established wire service helped him build the communication infrastructure and as importantly a business model that insured an efficient distribution and payment structure. Barnett advocated the non-ideological model of the AP. He would insist that reporters not focus on rivalries or ideological aspects of a story. (3) Rather report the objective facts and actions involved. The ANP had reporters in New York, Washington D.C., Port-au-Prince, Haiti; Kingston Jamaica; Panama, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Monrovia Liberia; Accra Ghana; Durban South Africa, and Lagos Nigeria. He also had reports from London and Paris. ANP was in a position to report on world events for the diaspora.

ANP's dependable service provided national and some international news to Black newspapers in America and the diaspora. Having established and run the ANP for over 40 years, Barnett was attuned to the various ideological movements and stayed abreast of political activity, including parts of Africa. For example Barnett had participated with the Tuskegee led agrarian development project in Liberia, and had long-standing relationships with the African leaders involved in the modern nation-states' development. In fact he knew Liberian president Tubman and Ghana's Nkrumah, both were key figures of the conferences. Therefore his understanding of the physical terrain and colonial politics in Africa meant that he was neither naive nor unrealistic about the challenges free African states faced. In fact, he was seen as a top authority on Africa. (4) He was key in linking the diaspora to the conferences, which led to the founding Organization of African Unity in 1963. (5)

He did so by establishing a second wire service, World News Service (WNS) for African papers. Serving over 400 papers in the U.S. and the African diaspora via ANP and also 200 papers in Africa via WNS, Barnett connected the activists together through these wires services. This meant that he had in essence, interlocked the two services (ANP and WNS) and as such provided an invaluable international service for Pan-Africanists and other Black interested readers. (6) In his own words he explains why the WNS was founded.

"It (WNS) covers every phase of activity in which Africans and American Negroes are engaged. …

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