on march 6, 1957 in ghana, the union jack was replaced with a flag of red, gold & green with a distinctive black star at its center. the british-ruled gold coast was now a self-determining country. ghana became the 1st sub-saharan nation to claim its independence from colonialism.
this was a historic event, heralded as the force urging other sub-saharan nations forward in their quest for liberation. often not discussed & usually overlooked is the impact ghana's independence also had on america's civil rights movement, or the impact black america had on dr. kwame nkrumah, the brilliant man who eventually lead his country to freedom.
many african intellectuals of that era completed their tertiary & post-graduate education in europe: it was customary, if not expected. ever the visionary, nkrumah set his sights on america & enrolled in lincoln university, one of america's oldest historically black colleges. he studied economics, sociology & theology; he also received an informal education in the politics of race & the plight of american-born black folk.
when nkrumah was not in school in philadelphia, he lived in the village of harlem, where he sold fish on the streets & waited tables on merchant ships. nkrumah attended black churches in harlem & philly. he aligned himself with black political organizations like the n.a.a.c.p., where he met & began working with the scholar w.e.b. dubois, who quickly became a mentor to nkrumah.
upon completing his studies in lincoln, nkrumah attended the university of pennsylvania, where he earned master's degrees in education & philosophy. while there, an already politicized man began to shape his ideas of pan-africanism as well as his vision for a liberated & unified continent - a place where all people of the african disapora could return to & call their home.
marcus garvey, the jamaican freedom fighter who advocated black self-reliance in america, was another instrumental figure in nkrumah's life. nkrumah noted in his autobiography, "but i think, that of all the literature i studied, the book that did more than any other to fire my enthusiasm was philosophy and opinions of marcus garvey, with his philosophy of 'africa for africans' and his 'back to africa' movement, did much to inspire the negroes of america in the 1920's."
during nkrumah's time at the university of pennsylvania he helped to establish its african studies section. he also established the african students association of american & canada, while serving as its first president. given his investment in his country's future, its no wonder some of the most notable black people in american history were present to witness ghana's independence.
the a-list includes u.n. undersecretary for special political affairs ralph bunche, also a nobel peace prize recipient; senator charles diggs; rep. adam clayton powell, jr.; mordecai johnson, the 1st black president of howard university; international labor activist maida springer; horace mann bond, the 1st black president of lincoln university & father of julian bond; rev. dr. martin luther king, jr. & his wife coretta scott king; as well as lucille armstrong, representing her husband, louis, who could not attend.
also present was then vice-president richard nixon, who approached a group of black folk whom he assumed were ghanaians & asked, "how does it feel to be free?" they said, "we wouldn't know, we're from alabama." ironically, the 1st time nixon met rev. dr. king, jr. was two days b4 the event. king said, "i want you to come visit us down in alabama, where we are seeking the same kind of freedom the gold coast is celebrating."
the repeated reference to alabama & freedom was especially poignant because ghana's independence occurred virtually on the heels of a major civil rights victory there: the montgomery bus boycott. the yearlong boycott began on december 1, 1955 when rosa parks refused to get up & give up her seat to a white person. in november of 1956, the u.s. supreme court issued a ruling in which it was declared the laws of segregation on buses were unconstitutional.
in his book, african americans in ghana: black expatriates and the civil rights era, author kevin kelly gaines writes, "the fulfillment of ghanian and african demands for national independence informed many african-americans' struggles for equal citizenship." during a radio interview in accra, rev. dr. king jr. said of ghana's independence, "it renews my conviction in the ultimate triumph of justice. and it seems to me that this is fit testimony to the fact that eventually the forces of justice triumph in the universe, and somehow the universe itself is on the side of freedom and justice. so that this gives new hope to me in the struggle for freedom."
ghana's close relationship with black america, which was forged by nkrumah, continues today. dubois, who was not at the independence celebrations because the u.s. government refused to issue him a visa, moved to ghana in 1961 & spent his remaining years there. among the african-americans who have called ghana home include activist, educator & poet dr. maya angelou, writer & pan-africanist george padmore, writer julian mayfield & lawyer-author rev. dr. pauli murray.
in 2001 ghana's parliament passed "the right to abode," unprecedented legislation affording any person of african descent the ability to live & work there indefinitely. ghana is the 1st african country to extend such an overture to people in the diaspora.
when u.s. president barack obama addressed ghana's parliament in july 2009 he said, "africa's future is up to africans. the people of africa are ready to claim that future. and in my country, african-americans - including so many recent immigrants - have thrived in every sector of society. we've done so, despite a difficult past, and we've drawn strength from our african heritage." for obama to choose ghana as the destination of his 1st official visit to africa was a befitting tribute to the legacy of kwame nkrumah.
- mark j. tuggle
- harlem, usa
- same-gender-loving contemporary descendant of enslaved africans. community activist, feminist, health educator, independent filmmaker, mentor, playwright, poet & spiritual being. featured at, in & on africana.com, afrikan poetry theatre, angel herald, bejata dot com, bet tonight with tavis smiley, blacklight online, black noir, brooklyn moon cafe, gmhc's barbershop, klmo-fm, lgbt community services center, longmoor productions, nuyorican poets cafe, our corner, poz, pulse, rolling out new york, rush arts gallery, saint veronica's church, schomburg center for research in black culture, sexplorations, the citizen, the new york times, the soundz bar, the trenton times, the village voice, upn news, uzuri, venus, vibe, wbai-fm, wnyc-fm & wqht-fm. volunteered with adodi, bailey house, inc., black men's xchange-new york, colorofchange.org, drug policy alliance, east harlem tutorial program, imagenation film & music festival, presente.org, save darfur coalition, the enough project, the osborne association, the sledge group & your black world. worked on films with maurice jamal & heather murphy. writing student of phil bertelsen & ed bullins. firstname.lastname@example.org.