There are many misunderstandings constantly spread about African Americans and our relationship with Africans and or the African continent. Additionally, there are many misconceptions about Pan Africanism and its relevance in our lives.
In an effort to bring clarity to these conversations, I’ve started the #PanAfricanFacts series. This is the first post of the series.
Some would have you to believe that African Americans and Africans don’t have familial bonds or cultural ties. However, this belief couldn’t be farther from the truth. The truth is, the Pan African world remains connected and maintains relationships that uplifts the global Black collective.
One such example of this is Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s trip to Ghana. In 1957, Dr. King and Coretta Scott King went to Ghana to celebrate its independence from Britain. Dr. King met with then Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah, who would later go on to be Ghana’s first president (Elnaiem, 2018).
Dr. King was so inspired by Ghana breaking from its colonial master that he shed tears during the independence ceremony.
In his speech titled, “The Birth of a New Nation”, Dr. King described his emotions in detail:
The old Union Jack flag came down and the new flag of Ghana went up. This was a new nation now, a new nation being born. And when Prime Minister Nkrumah stood up before his people out in the polo ground and said, “We are no longer a British colony, we are a free, sovereign people,” all over that vast throng of people we could see tears. And I stood there thinking about so many things. Before I knew it, I started weeping. I was crying for joy. And I knew about all of the struggles, and all of the pain, and all of the agony that these people had gone through for this moment.
After Nkrumah had made that final speech, it was about twelve-thirty now. And we walked away. And we could hear little children six years old and old people eighty and ninety years old walking the streets of Accra crying: “Freedom! Freedom!” They couldn’t say it in the sense that we’d say it, many of them don’t speak English too well, but they had their accents and it could ring out “free-doom!” They were crying it in a sense that they had never heard it before. And I could hear that old Negro spiritual once more crying out: “Free at last, free at last, Great God Almighty, I’m free at last.” They were experiencing that in their very souls. And everywhere we turned, we could hear it ringing out from the housetops. We could hear it from every corner, every nook and crook of the community. “Freedom! Freedom!” This was the birth of a new nation.
He then returned to the U.S.A, using Ghana’s independence as a source of inspiration, recognizing that if Ghana was free, African Americans would one day be free. He saw that African American and African freedom was intertwined as he pushed the Nixon Administration towards change.
Later in his speech, Dr. King linked the struggles of colonialism to the struggles of Jim Crow and segregation.
The road to freedom is difficult, but finally, Ghana tells us that the forces of the universe are on the side of justice. That’s what it tells us, now. You can interpret Ghana any kind of way you want to, but Ghana tells me that the forces of the universe are on the side of justice. That night when I saw that old flag coming down and the new flag coming up, I saw something else. That wasn’t just an ephemeral, evanescent event appearing on the stage of history. But it was an event with eternal meaning, for it symbolizes something. That thing symbolized to me that an old order is passing away and a new order is coming into being. An old order of colonialism, of segregation, of discrimination is passing away now. And a new order of justice and freedom and good will is being born. That’s what it said. Somehow the forces of justice stand on the side of the universe, so that you can’t ultimately trample over God’s children and profit by it.
In 2019, thousands of African Americans traveled to Ghana for the Year of the Return. Some seek to dismiss the occasion as simply a tourism ploy. However, they are wrong. The Year of the Return signifies the continuing cultural ties and recognition of our shared fight for freedom in the Pan African world.
The Year of the Return pays homage to our ancestors and uplifts our humanity by recognizing that our heritage did not start with enslavement. Our heritage and cultural lineage began on the continent of Africa. Our collective freedom and struggles for liberation will forever be linked to our motherland – and despite everything the world throws at us those bonds will never be broken.
This MLK Day, let us remember that Martin Luther King Jr. fought for the civil rights of African Americans, while being galvanized by the liberation of African nations. Remember that in his work, he recognized the connectedness of the Pan African world and it helped him to continue visualizing and working towards freedom for his people.
Elnaiem, M. (2018, August 16). The African Roots of MLK’s Vision. Retrieved December 5, 2019, from https://daily.jstor.org/the-african-roots-of-mlks-vision/
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute. (2018, April 4). Ghana Trip. Retrieved December 5, 2019, from https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/ghana-trip
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute. (1957, April 7). The Birth of a New Nation,” Sermon Delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/birth-new-nation-sermon-delivered-dexter-avenue-baptist-church
Photo credit: 23econfoey [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D