W.E.B. Du Bois


March 1, 1921

The growth of a body of public opinion among peoples of Negro descent broad enough to be called Pan-African is a movement belonging almost entirely to the twentieth century.

Seven hundred and fifty years before Christ the Negroes as rulers of Ethiopia and conquerors of Egypt were practically supreme in the civilized world; but the character of the African continent was such that this supremacy brought no continental unity; rather the inhabitants of the narrow Nile Valley set their faces toward the Mediterranean and Asia more than toward the western Sudan, the valley of the Congo and the Atlantic.

From that time even in the rise of the Sudanese kingdoms of the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries there was still no Pan-Africa; and after that the slave trade brought continental confusion.

In 1900 at the time of the Paris Exposition there was called on January 23, 24 and 25 a Pan-African Conference in Westminster Hall, London. This conference said in its address to the world:

In the metropolis of the modern world, in this the closing year of the nineteenth century, there has been assembled a congress of men and women of African blood, to deliberate solemnly upon the present situation and outlook of the darker races of mankind. The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the colour line, the question as to how far differences of race, which show themselves chiefly in the colour of the skin and the texture of the hair, are going to be made, hereafter, the basis of denying to over half the world the right of sharing to their utmost ability the opportunities and privileges of modern civilization.

A second conference was held at Tuskegee Institute about 1912.

Finally, at the time of the Peace Conference in Paris, February 1919, the first Pan-African Congress was called. The interest in this congress was worldwide among the darker peoples. Delegates were elected in the United States, the West Indies, South and West Africa and elsewhere. Most of them, of course, were prevented from attending by war measures and physical difficulties.

However, there did assemble in Paris, 57 delegates from 15 countries where over 85,000,000 Negroes and persons of African descent dwell. Resolutions were adopted taking up the question of the relation of Africa to the League of Nations, and the general questions of land, capital, labor, education, hygiene and the treatment of civilized Negroes. Blaise Diagne, Deputy from Senegal and Commissioner in charge of the French Colonial Troops, was elected president of a permanent organization, and W.E.B. DuBois of the United States, Editor of The Crisis, was made secretary. A second congress was called to meet in Paris in September, 1921.

Meantime, the feeling of the necessity for understanding among the Africans and their descendants has been growing throughout the world. There was held from March 11-29, 1920, the National Congress of British West Africa. This body after careful conference adopted resolutions concerning legislative reforms, the franchise, administrative changes, a West African University, commercial enterprise, judicial and sanitary programs. They also stated their opinion concerning the land question and self-determination and sent a deputation to the King. The deputation, consisting of 3 lawyers, 2 merchants, an ex-Deputy Mayor, a physician and a native ruler, went to England and presented to the King a demand for the right to vote, local self-government, and other matters.

Other movements have gone on. In the agitation for Egyptian independence there is a large number of men of Negro descent. In South Africa, the African Political Organization and the Native Congress have had a number of conferences and have sent delegates to London, protesting against the land legislation of the Union of South Africa.

In the Canal Zone and in the West Indies have come movements looking toward union of effort among peoples of African descent and emphasizing the economic bond. In the United States there is the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, with its 90,000 members and its very wide influence and activities.

Many of these movements will be represented in the second Pan-African Congress next fall, and out of this meeting will undoubtedly grow a larger and larger unity of thought among Negroes and through this, concerted action. At first this action will probably include a demand for political rights, for economic freedom—especially in relation to the land—for the abolition of slavery, peonage and caste, and for freer access to education.


For attribution, please cite this work as:
Du Bois, W.E.B. 1921. “Pan-Africa.” The Crisis 21 (5): 198–99.