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Some Early Pan African Nationalists

By Adib Rashad (

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There were several forerunners to the Back to Africa/Pan Africanist concept of the Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey; some of them actually laid the groundwork for a return to Mother Africa. I will briefly discuss some of them and their passionate ideas for repatriation.

Edward Wilmot Blyden was a very vociferous race man; he studied the great achievements of Africans in an attempt to dispel the racist myths about Africa and Africans. He strongly believed that each Black man should strive to project himself as a distinctive African personality. He intellectually immersed himself, totally, in African life and customs.

He published fifteen of his articles and essays under the title, Christianity, Islam and the Negro Race. One of these articles, Mohammedanism in West Africa, was written for the Methodist Quarterly Review. After two expeditions into the interior of Sierra Leone, he wrote another article, Mohammedanism and the Negro Race. Blyden never ceased to laud the Muslims for their ban on alcoholic drinks, their devotion to knowledge, and the stimulus they gave to artisan crafts and trade.

He seemed convinced that it was the African convert to Mohammedanism and the Negro colonist from Christian countries who most advanced civilization in equatorial Africa. He believed that Mohammedanism with its structured worship, literature, and political, social and economic institutions would rapidly supersede a detrimental and debilitating paganism. The reader must bear in mind that Blyden, while an intellectual Pan Africanist, was still a mental Victorian Christian, who was challenging Christians to acknowledge Africans by elevating Islam over the creed of Christianity--Blyden never became Muslim in the sense that he took a verbal declaration (Shahada).

He constantly attacked Christianity for having imposed racial inequalities upon Black people, and felt that the absence of pictorial representation in Islamic societies had saved Blacks from always having distinguished and saintly people depicted to them as white. Among the first lessons the African convert learned in Islam was that a man of his own race, Bilal Ibn Rabah, an African, assisted in the birth of the religion he was to accept. In subsequent study, the African's imagination never for one moment endowed the great men of whom he heard or read with physical attributes essentially different from his own.

There is no doubt that Blyden's philosophy contributed greatly to historical roots of African Nationalism and Pan Africanism. He should be considered one of the great forerunners of Pan African thought and African Islamism. His racial, nationalistic, and African Islamic thought, directly, or indirectly, influenced Noble Drew Ali, Elijah Muhammad, George Padmore, and Marcus Garvey. It might be safe to say that Blyden reinforced Duse Muhammad Ali's Islamic, African nationalism. I will discuss that later.

It is important to reiterate that though Blyden was a religious nationalist (missionary), he often contended and condemned Christianity, from an Europeanized standpoint; it had a disruptive and deleterious influence on the African mind. He considered Islam more appropriate to the basic African lifestyle. Blyden was/is considered to be the Vindicator of the Race.

Blyden believed that in order for Pan African unity to take place, Liberia and Sierra Leone should have regular intercourse with the Mohammedan states of the interior with the aim eventually of incorporating them into the Negro Republic.

He learned Arabic and taught this language to his students in order for them to be emissaries to these Muslim states. He was fiercely dedicated to the creation of a unified Africa for Africans in the Diaspora. There is a statue of Mr. Blyden in Sierra Leone.

Paul Cuffe:
Paul Cuffe was a noted shipbuilder, captain, philanthropist, and African nationalist. He supposedly descended from Muslim families of Ghana. His father was brought to the North American shores at age eleven. His father's name was Saiz kufu. Kufu, Kofi and Koffee are common surnames in Ghana. The name was anglicized from Solocum to Cuffe. He was born in Cuttyhunk, Massachusetts in 1759. After reaching adulthood and acquiring wealth, he engrossed in Africa and African repatriation. He dedicated his life and fortune to this venture.

He circumnavigated Africa eighteen times; crossed it from east west three times and from north to south once. In 1815,he took 38 African Americans to Sierra Leone on his ship. Paul Cuffe was the first man of African descent to petition the ruling powers at the time concerning slavery. His document was addressed to the legislature of New Jersey and asked that it petition the Congress of the United States to free every slave and allow every colored man and woman desiring to leave America to be able to do so. This petition gave birth to the American Colonization Society. Interestingly, excluding David Walker's Appeal, this was the first manifestation of African nationalism in America--it had its greatest impact on Marcus Mosiah Garvey in the 1920s.

The American Colonization Society was founded in 1817 just before Cuffe died. With funds from Caucasian philanthropists and support from federal and some state governments, it founded Liberia. The society's primary objective was to resettle free Blacks where they could best use their talents for their own benefit and for that of Africa. Before the American Civil War, the society transported 13,000 African Americans to Liberia, most of whom were ex-slaves whose masters freed them for the purpose of emigration. Needless to say the Colonization Society became immersed in political and ideological quagmire. That is another story for discussion.

Captain Harry Dean: Another African nationalist and a blood relative of Paul Cuffe was Harry Dean. He, too, was a captain. Dean was born on November 20,1864,he was the offspring of Susan Cuffe and John Dean. Captain Dean's family came from Quata, Morocco; for three generations, they had be wealthy merchants in Philadelphia. Harry Dean maintained the family Muslim tradition; first during his seafaring days aboard the Pedro Gorino and later in southern Africa where he sought to build an African empire. Captain Dean founded the first Black nautical training school in America.

Captain Dean influenced W. E. B. Dubois in his late Pan African adoption. As I stated earlier, Dean remained in touch with his Islamic background. He was not only associated with the Muslim Mosque of London, England, but later distributed Islamic literature in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Seattle, Washington.

The following are very significant statements from Dean: I am an African and proud of it. There's not a drop of white blood in my veins. My ancestors have been sea captains and merchants and I have spent my life at sea.

Captain Dean felt that the word Negro was of false derivation, indescriptive, and in every way unfit for the position it filled in the American language. He claimed that There is no Negro race, only African races.

Duse Muhammad Ali: Duse Muhammad Ali, one of Africa's fervent African nationalists, was born of an Egyptian father and a Sudanese mother in Alexander, Egypt, November 21, 1866. His study and love of history prompted him to him to found his famous and influential journal The African Times and Orient Review, which began publication in July 1912,the same year that Edward Wilmot Blyden died.

As an editor, Ali actively supported African nationalism and anti-colonialism and advocated higher education in Africa. He felt that what was needed most was a thoroughly equipped university in Africa whose degrees would be recognized by universities of England. This idea had been voiced earlier by Edward Blyden. Both of them harbored a Victorian mindset despite their nationalistic leanings. They had a double ideological consciousness.

Disregarding his Victorian inclinations, his most important contribution to African nationalism was his effort to awaken students in England to the importance of African history. He generated in them racial nostalgia for looking back to past greatness. Ali worked very diligently to show the achievements of the African ancestors. His profound knowledge of African history led to his election to membership in the Negro Society for Historical Research and later to the American Negro Academy. His emphasis on African history instilled pride in the African students of that period.

Ali's ideas and personality had a profound impact on the philosophy and organizational policies of Marcus Garvey. Garvey's early political involvement in Jamaica and his uncompromising racial views prompted him to go to London in 1912. While in London, he was in contact with many African students and workers, finally, he became associated with Ali and The African Times and Orient Review.

Garvey, was an astute student of Ali and tireless worker for the journal. He absorbed much knowledge about history, geography, Islam, and Africa's mineral resources. Ali's intense convictions had a magnetic attraction and a profound influence on Mr. Garvey. In fact, Garvey's slogan, Africa for the Africans, at home and abroad was indicative of the pride and dignity he received from Duse Muhammad Ali.

Another of Ali's influence on Garvey can be seen in the Garvey motto One God, One Aim, One Destiny, the one God aspect being akin to the Islamic emphasis on the oneness of God or God's unity. In 1918,Garvey began a newspaper in New York, called The Negro World, on which Ali later worked during his stay in the United States.

Many pioneer Garveyites, including my grandfather, mentioned the fact that Mr. Garvey was inspired and taught by a Muslim and many said that he at times referred to Islam as the Black man's religion. Consider the Garveyite hymn and its Islamic wording in the first stanza: Father of all creation Allah Omnipotent Supreme O'er every nation God bless our President.

Although Duse Muhammad Ali was a fervent nationalist, he was not, in the strict sense of the word, embittered. Duse was a race man, intellectually, who believed strongly in the religion of Islam and in the advancement of educational standards for Africans in the Diaspora. He devoted his life to the reconstruction of the economic, moral, and cultural life of African people. He died June 25,1945; like the forerunners, he contributed much to the ideological platform of African/Black nationalism.

Suggested Reading:

The reader is encouraged to read Duse Muhammad Ali's prolific and historical account of modern Egypt: In the Land of the Pharaohs. For more on Captain Harry Dean, the reader should consult The Pedro Gorino, by Harry Dean and Sterling North (Houghton Mifflin Company, 19290 For more on Paul Cuffe, the reader should consult the book by Sheldon H. Harris, Paul Cuffe: Black American and the African Return, (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1972)

For more on the American Colonization Society, and early Black nationalist movements, read Edwin Redkey, Black Exodus: Black Nationalism and Back to Africa Movements, 1890-1919 (New Haven CT, Yale University Press, 1969) Hollis R. Lynch, Edward Wilmot Blyden, Pan-Negro Patriot 1832-1912 (London: Oxford University Press, 1967)

Adib Rashad ( is an education consultant, education program director, author, and historian. He has lived and taught in West Africa and South East Asia.

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