W.E.B Du Bois – Letter to Kwame Nkrumah on Peace Program, February 1957

I came across this letter from Du Bois to Kwame Nkrumah and wanted to share it with you. In it, Du Bois apologizes for his absence in Ghana upon Nkrumah’s invitation due to restrictions placed upon his passport, which the State revoked in 1952. I was reminded once more of the biographical contiguities between the trajectories taken by Du Bois’s and Robeson’s lives—the deep politics of their friendship and their common persecution by the white-ruled government of their country. In 1950, Robeson applied for a passport renewal so that he could fulfill his acting and singing committments and continue his crusade for peace in the world. However, the State Department presses him to submit an affidavit renouncing his affiliation with the Communist Party and confirm his allegiance to the United States government. Robeson roundly refused and drew upon his legal acumen to conduct his own defense.

Du Bois takes the letter as an opportunity to comment upon the state of affairs in Ghana and what role it ought to play in the future of Africa. Looking forward to a New Africa under a leadership accountable to the people and committed to the development of Pan Africa and Pan Asia and the preservation, above all, of human civilization, Du Bois observes that

with a program of Peace and no thought of force…Pan Africa will seek to preserve its own past history and write the present account, erasing from literature the lies and distortions about black folk which have disgraced the last centuries of European and American literature; above all, the new Pan Africa will seek the education of all its youth on the broadest possible basis without religious dogma and in all hospitable lands as well as in Africa and for the end of making Africans not simply profitable workers for industry nor steel-pigeons for propaganda, but for making them modern, intelligent, responsible men of vision and character.

The letter is both a plea to Nkrumah and a paean to Africa’s rich history as a decisive power in the world and its always flowering civilization. Semper novi quid ex Africa: Always something new comes out of Africa. He also shares important insights about his organization of the PAC’s following the First World War, after which he sought in earnest to “establish some means of cooperation between the peoples of African descent throughout the world.” Other notable details include his insights about early modern African history and the founding of Timbuktu and ancient Ghana’s connection to the Roman Empire—Bernal’s thesis which he develops in the three volumes of Black Athena echoes Du Bois.

This seemed particularly important, given our conversations in our Year of Du Bois World And Africa Reading Group and I will be sure to share with participants next time we meet. I also found it significant that Du Bois impresses upon the necessity of Ghana’s alliance with sub-Saharan Africa and the special oppression faced by “Black Africa below the Desert” under white rule. More comment on this later. Sharing here, too, Anthony Monteiro’s reading of this letter on WURD this morning.

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