Teaching

Source Collection: Pan-Africanism, Anticolonialism and Addressing the Problem of the Global Color Line in the 20th Century

"U.S. Lynchings Shock World, Says White," The Chicago Whip, 19 November 1921 "The Pan-African Congress," The Monitor, 4 August 1921 "The Pan-African Congress," Clayton's Weekly, 19 April 1919, Seattle, Washington "Fourth Pan-African Congress Ends Session and Issues Manifesto," The Monitor, 2 September 1927, Omaha, Nebraska

Overview

At the turn of the 20th century, a growing number of Black intellectuals and activists across the Atlantic world no longer saw institutionalized racial inequality, racial hierarchy, and white supremacy as problems confined to the borders of individual nations. Rather, they increasingly viewed the “color line” as a power dynamic that operated globally and transcended national borders. Because racial inequality was an international rather than local problem and because all African people and people of African descent had been affected by European colonization, slavery, and the international slave trade, a subset of Black transnational activists and intellectuals argued that the “color line” or white racial hegemony needed to be undermined through transnational organization and cooperation among Black people in and around the Atlantic in Africa, the Americas, Europe, the West Indies, and the Caribbean. This transnational approach to addressing the problem of the global color line eventually culminated in the Pan-African movement and creation of the Pan-African Congress. Inspired and modeled after the July 23 to 26 1900 Pan African Conference organized by Trinidadian activist and intellectual Henry Sylvester Williams in London, the Pan-African Congress was founded by African American activists WEB Du Bois and Ida Gibbs Hunt. The First Pan-African Congress took place in 1919 in Paris, France; brought together Black activists and representatives from the United States, the French West Indies, Haiti, France, Liberia, the Spanish Colonies, Portuguese Colonies, Santo Domingo, England, British Africa, French Africa, Algeria, Egypt, Belgian Congo, and Abyssinia; and produced a platform that advocated anticolonial self-determination, decolonization, equal rights of citizenship, and equal access to economic and educational opportunities. During the 20th century, the Pan-African Congress met a total of seven times. This primary source set contains Black American newspaper coverage of some of these early meetings and provides instructors with suggestions and tips for introducing students to the topic of transnational anticolonial activism and the Pan-African movement.

Essay

In his influential 1903 collection of essays, The Souls of Black Folk, Black American intellectual, activist, and author WEB Du Bois declared that the “problem of the 20th century” was “the problem of the color line – the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men in Asia and Africa, in America and the islands of the Caribbean.” For Du Bois and other Black intellectuals during this period, white supremacy and anti-black racism were not problems particular to any one country. Rather white racial hegemony was an international problem that reverberated throughout the 20th century world. Black intellectuals like Du Bois fostered a notion of Pan-African identity in which Black people throughout the world were seen as a single community with a common history of being affected by European colonization, slavery, and the international slave trade and a shared experience of being subjected to white hegemonic political and economic control.

The experience of World War I and the subsequent anti-colonial self-determination movements in Asia and Africa further illuminated the global nature of the “color line.” Seeing racial inequality as an international rather than local problem and understanding all African people and people of African descent as having been adversely affected by European colonization, slavery, and the international slave trade, a growing number of Black transnational activists and intellectuals argued that the “color line” or white racial hegemony needed to be undermined through transnational organization and cooperation among Black people in and around the Atlantic in Africa, the Americas, Europe, the West Indies, and the Caribbean. This transnational approach to addressing the problem of the global color line eventually culminated in the Pan-African movement and creation of the Pan-African Congress. Inspired and modeled after the July 23 to 26 1900 Pan African Conference which had been organized by Trinidadian activist and intellectual Henry Sylvester Williams in London, the Pan-African Congress was founded by African American activists WEB Du Bois and Ida Gibbs Hunt. The First Pan-African Congress took place in 1919 in Paris, France, brought together Black activists and representatives from fifteen nations and European colonial outposts including the United States, the French West Indies, Haiti, France, Liberia, the Spanish Colonies, Portuguese Colonies, Santo Domingo, England, British Africa, French Africa, Algeria, Egypt, Belgian Congo, and Abyssinia. At the meeting, representatives produced a platform that advocated anticolonial self-determination, decolonization, equal rights of citizenship, and equal access to economic and educational opportunities for all people regardless of race.

Examining Black American newspaper coverage of the 1919, 1921, and 1927 Pan-African Congress meetings provides insight into the goals and ideologies of Pan-Africanism and allows us to better account for continuity and change in how the Congress articulated the problem of the “color line” and sought to address it. One common theme throughout the articles is the notion that European colonialism and white hegemony are international problems and that the problem of white anti-black racism in different countries such as South Africa and the United States are interrelated and interdependent. For example, the 1921 The Chicago Whip article notes that a South Africa not only drew a comparison between white-on-Black violence in the United States and South Africa but also suggested that there was a direct correlation between anti-Black racial violence in the United States and South Africa. According to the South African delegate, white South Africans felt emboldened to act on “racial hatred” because they saw how the U.S. federal government had taken no legislative steps to prevent lynching despite such anti-Black racial violence becoming the subject of international attention via international newspaper coverage. The Pan-African Congress consistently insisted that overcoming the international problem of white supremacy and hegemony necessitated transnational cooperation, activism, and unity.

This collection of newspaper articles also helps illustrate the anti-imperialist and anti-colonial dimensions of the Pan-African Congress. The Pan-African Congress consistently denounced white South Africans’ monopoly on the nation’s natural resources. As evidenced in newspaper coverage of the 1927 meeting, members of the 1927 Congress also articulated support for the anti-colonial and self-determining national independence movements in India, Egypt, China and Asia. They also spoke out against the United States’ interference in the affairs of South America and Central America. The Congress also denounced US occupation of Haiti and called for the United States to remove its troops.

This primary source set may be of use to instructors wanting to provide students an example of anti-colonial activism and transnational activism during the 20th century. Focusing on non-state actors, the primary source set might be of particular interest to instructors looking for examples of United States citizens engaging with the World during the 20th century.

Primary Sources

Newspaper Report on Pan-African Congress's Response to U.S. Lynchings

"U.S. Lynchings Shock World, Says White," The Chicago Whip, 19 November 1921
Annotation

This November 19, 1921 article comes from The Chicago Whip, a Chicago-based newspaper founded by William C. Linton, an African American editor and publisher originally from Atlanta, Georgia. The paper frequently reported on racial inequality in the United States. This article in particular covers a speech Walter F. White, then secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and American delegate to the Pan-African Congress, gave in the United States after returning from the 1921 Pan-African Congress in London, England. According to White, during this most recent meeting of the Pan-African Congress, European delegates to the Pan-African Congress in general, and British people in particular had expressed disgust and abhorrence at the rate at which whites lynched Black people in the United States. White further noted that an un-named delegate from South Africa not only drew a comparison between white-on-Black violence in the United States and South Africa but also suggested that there was a direct correlation between anti-Black racial violence in the United States and South Africa. According to the South African delegate, white South Africans felt emboldened to act on “racial hatred” because they saw how the U.S. federal government had taken no legislative steps to prevent lynching despite such anti-Black racial violence becoming the subject of international attention via international newspaper coverage. The author further notes that during this session of the Pan-African Congress, delegates framed anti-Black racism and racial inequality as an international problem and proposed these disparities be addressed through economic resources.  

Newspaper Article Promoting the Pan-African Congress

"The Pan-African Congress," The Monitor, 4 August 1921
Annotation

This article appears in the August 4, 1921 edition of the Omaha, Nebraska based newspaper, The Monitor. The Monitor was an African American run newspaper and typically featured stories about African Americans. This article contains quotes from African American intellectual, writer, and activist W.E.B. Du Bois, an organizer and American delegate for the 1919 Pan-African Congress. The article follows a question-and-answer pattern and offers readers insight into the who, what, when, where and why of the Pan-African Congress. The author notes that “Pan-African” refers to all the people of African descent regardless of national identity and reveals that the Pan-African Congress seeks to unite Pan-Africans and their white allies in a fellowship that seeks to address the “color problem” (a term used during this period to describe racial inequality and white racial and political hegemony) at the international level through cooperation, rather than local level. The article also makes reference to all modern problems having an international dimension and directly ties the fate of people of color living in the United States to those living in Jamacia or other parts of the world noting that the modern world is an interdependent world. The article also emphasizes that “the Pan-African Congress is not a scheme of migration to Africa or elsewhere.” Although the article does not specifically explain this, this is likely a reference to Garveyism and Ethiopianism, other competing black nationalist movements during this period that sometimes advocated for people of African descent to migrate to Africa. The author also explains that the Congress “is not a project of veiled or open war or conquest. It is not based on revolution or race hatred. It seeks knowledge and action through reason and law.” This clarification is likely a preemptive response to anyone wishing to discredit the group or its intentions. The article ends with a note about how the NAACP is helping to fund the Pan-African Congress’ upcoming meeting and asks if readers will contribute financially to the cause.   

W.E.B. DuBois Details the 1919 Pan-African Congress in Newspaper Article

"The Pan-African Congress," Clayton's Weekly, 19 April 1919, Seattle, Washington
Annotation

This article comes from Cayton’s Weekly, a historically Black newspaper published in Seattle, Washington. The article, written by W.E.B. Du Bois, offers readers insight into the 1919 Pan-African Congress held in Paris, France. This Congress was comprised of fifty-seven delegates from fifteen nations and European colonial outposts including the United States,  the French West Indies, Haiti, France, Liberia, the Spanish Colonies, Portuguese Colonies, Santo Domingo, England, British Africa, French Africa, Algeria, Egypt, Belgian Congo, and Abyssinia. According to Du Bois, delegates expressed their desire to promote racial unity. Some delegates also utilized a human rights discourse, to challenge the legitimacy of racial inequality while the delegate from Liberia presented his country as an example for the rest of the world of a Black republic. France’s Chairman of Foreign Affairs pointed to the fact that France had six chamber members that were persons of color as proof that France was committed to liberty and equality regardless of race. This is contrasted with other white hegemonic states such as Britain and the United States who, despite racial diversity within their populations, lack diversity in government. Several delegates also make reference to the need to people of color to assert and claim rights. 

Newspaper Report on the Fourth Pan-African Congress Meeting in 1927

"Fourth Pan-African Congress Ends Session and Issues Manifesto," The Monitor, 2 September 1927, Omaha, Nebraska
Annotation

This article comes from The Monitor, a historically African American newspaper published in Omaha, Nebraska. The article offers readers insight into the fourth Pan-African Congress meeting held in 1927 in New York City. According to the article, this meeting comprised of delegates from twenty states,  the West Indies, South America, South Africa, Japan, Germany, the Gold Coast, Nigeria, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, resulted in the publication of a manifesto. This manifesto called for Black people to have a larger presence in government, for “native rights to the land and its natural resources,” “modern education for all children,” “the development of Africa for the Africans and not merely for the profit of the Europeans,” “the re-organization of commerce and industry so as to make the main object of capital and labor the welfare of the many rather than the enrichment of the few,” and “the treatment of civilized men as civilized despite differences of birth race or color.”  The article also notes that members of this Congress argued that the United States should remove its troops for Haiti, criticized white South Africans for settling onto lands occupies by Black South African Natives, and advocated for “the cessation of interference by the United States in Central and South African countries. Connecting the fate of Black Americans to other people of African descent around the world, the Congress further noted that Black Americans should focus on “the international problems of the color line.” Members also expressed support for national independence for Egypt, China, and India thus further demonstrating a critique of colonialism.  Members of the Pan African Congress also declared themselves in favor of Black Americans joining trade unions.   

Teaching Strategies

Categories of Analysis

1. International and Transnational: This primary source set allows readers to better understand international and transnational dimensions of the Pan-African Congress. For members of the Congress, white anti-Black racial discrimination, imperialism, and white political and economic hegemony were international problems experienced throughout the world. Because these issues transcended national borders, members of the Pan-African Congress consistently argued that the international problem of “the color-line” needed to be addressed to transnational cooperation and activism.

2. Pan-Africanism: The Pan-African Congress fostered a notion of Pan-African identity in which Black people throughout the world were seen as a single community with a common history of being affected by European colonization, slavery, and the international slave trade and a shared experience of being subjected to white hegemonic political and economic control. This sense of kinship and community was transnational.

Bibliography

Blain, Keisha N. Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018.


Getachew, Adom. Worldmaking after Empire: The Rise and Fall of Self‐Determination. Princeton, N.J., Princeton University Press, 2019.


Grant, Nicholas. Winning Our Freedoms Together: African Americans & Apartheid, 1945-1960. University of North Carolina Press, 2017.


Von Eschen, Penny M. Race against Empire: Black Americans and Anticolonialism, 1937-1957. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1997.

Credits

Georgia Ferrell is a PhD candidate in history at George Mason University and a graduate affiliate with the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (RRCHNM). She earned her bachelor's degree in history from Randolph-Macon College in 2015 and her master's degree in history from George Mason University in 2018. Her research interests include Native American history, settler-colonialism, race, and US imperialism.

How to Cite This Source

"Source Collection: Pan-Africanism, Anticolonialism and Addressing the Problem of the Global Color Line in the 20th Century," in World History Commons, https://worldhistorycommons.org/source-collection-pan-africanism-anticolonialism-and-addressing-problem-global-color-line-20th [accessed October 3, 2022]