Ghana’s role in honouring a US civil rights hero

Ghana’s role in honouring a US civil rights hero


WEB Du Bois pictured in 1918

WEB Du Bois pictured in 1918

In our sequence of letters from African journalists, Elizabeth Ohene seems at plans to construct a state-of-the-art complicated in Ghana to honour the pioneering US black civil rights activist William Edward Burghardt Du Bois.

Short presentational grey line

Short presentational gray line

A cadre of radical African-American intellectuals and artists moved to Ghana after its independence in 1957 and contributed to the invigorating environment of these occasions.

WEB Du Bois – the well-known African-American scholar and black activist – was most likely probably the most high-profile determine among the many coterie of African diasporans who got here to reside right here.

The first African American to earn a doctorate from Harvard University in 1895, he fought prejudice and racism in the US, talking out in opposition to lynching and calling for the equality for all residents.

He was one of many founders on the flip of the twentieth Century of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

And he was seen usually by many Africans as the daddy of contemporary pan-Africanism.

His role in establishing the Pan-African Congresses in the early 1900s and his agitation for an finish to colonialism made him an inspiration to many African leaders.

By the time Du Bois got here to reside in Ghana in 1961 on the invitation of then-President Kwame Nkrumah, he was frail, sick and 93 years previous.

Officially he got here to begin the massive Encyclopaedia Africana challenge, nevertheless it was apparent time was not on his facet.

However, he did discover the peace, and was accorded the respect, that America had denied him all through his life.

He and his spouse, Shirley Graham Du Bois, got a snug seven-room authorities home in the capital, Accra, on an acre of land – No 21 First Circular Road, Cantoments – and so they had a workers of 4: a steward, a prepare dinner, a night time watchman, and a driver who was accountable for the 2 vehicles given to them.

WEB Du Bois with his wife author, playwright, composer, and activist Shirley Graham Du Bois at their home at 31 Grace Court in Brooklyn Heights in 1958 in New York, the US

WEB Du Bois, seen right here together with his spouse Shirley, not lengthy earlier than they left the US for Ghana

To set the tone for the dialog in the house which was a hive of exercise, the Du Bois embellished it with the busts of Karl Marx, Lenin and Chairman Mao.

The diasporan intellectuals have been referred to as “Afros” by the locals, who saved properly out of their typically livid inner ideological rows.

Some of these names nonetheless ring a bell: Maya Angelou, George Padmore (there may be a library named after him right here in Accra), Marcus Garvey, Bill Sutherland, Julian Mayfield and the dentists Robert and Sara Lee.

Pull for US vacationers

There will definitely be a stunning symmetry to the story when No 21 First Circular Road, the present Du Bois Memorial Centre in Accra the place the couple are buried, turns into a world-class vacation spot for students and heritage vacationers.

"I have returned so that my remains may mingle with the dust of the forefathers"", Source: WEB Du Bois on becoming a Ghanaian citizen, Source description: , Image: WEB Du Bois, 1911 - image has been digitally colorised using a modern process

“I have returned so that my remains may mingle with the dust of the forefathers””, Source: WEB Du Bois on becoming a Ghanaian citizen, Source description: , Image: WEB Du Bois, 1911 – image has been digitally colorised using a modern process

The government of Ghana and the Du Bois Foundation recently signed an agreement in New York to transform it into “a vibrant, cultural and analysis centre”.

It is already the fulcrum of African diaspora activity, playing host to the yearly Emancipation Day wreath laying, the annual Nkrumah-Du Bois-Padmore Memorial lecture series and serving as the offices for the African-American Association of Ghana and the Diaspora African Forum.

It attracts heritage tourists who come to pay homage and is also a popular pop-up market for artefacts and fashion items during weekends for Ghana’s growing African diaspora community.

The proposed multi-million dollar complex will be designed by, who else: Sir David Adjaye, the famous Ghanaian-British architect.

He’s the designer of Ghana’s National Cathedral, which is currently being built, and for the purposes of the Du Bois-American connection – the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC, which opened in 2016.

The complex will emphasise the fact that Ghana has always sought to attract the African diaspora.

The historic 2019 “Year of Return” and “Beyond the Return” campaigns that encourage the return to the continent, and to Ghana in particular, of African diaspora from around the world is not new to us.

A woman at Ghana's Cape Coast Castle in 2019

Tourists visit Cape Coast Castle from where many slaves were transported

This is a drive that has been ongoing since independence.

More than half a century on, Stevie Wonder and other black Americans are continuing the tradition by taking the decision to come and live in Ghana.

During the Year of Return in particular there were many high-profile black visitors to Ghana, including Idris Elba, Boris Kodjoe, Steve Harvey, Cardi B and Naomi Campbell – treading a well-known path.

Granted Ghanaian citizenship

Du Bois died in his Cantoments home on 27 August 1963, a day before the famous March on Washington, at which US civil rights leader Martin Luther King made his “I’ve a dream” speech.

"According to our traditional beliefs, the rainfall signified that Du Bois had been welcomed among the gods of the land"", Source: Elizabeth Ohene, Source description: Journalist, Image: Elizabeth Ohene

“According to our conventional beliefs, the rainfall signified that Du Bois had been welcomed among the many gods of the land””, Source: Elizabeth Ohene, Source description: Journalist, Image: Elizabeth Ohene

As is well-known, no-one does a funeral like Ghanaians and he was given a full-scale state funeral.

During the ceremony, stories say there was a temporary and highly effective rainfall that stopped as immediately because it had began.

According to our conventional beliefs, the rainfall signified that Du Bois had been welcomed among the many gods of the land.

Five months earlier than he died he was granted Ghanaian citizenship – after the US authorities refused to resume his passport.

He stated that turning into a citizen of Africa’s first unbiased nation south of the Sahara was the completely satisfied finish of a journey begun by his nice grandfather who had been stolen means from the continent into slavery.

“I have returned so that my remains may mingle with the dust of the forefathers,” he stated.

“Now my life will flow on in the vigorous young stream of Ghanaian life which lifts the African personality to its proper place among men. And I shall not have lived and worked in vain.”

The hope right here is that the brand new Du Bois museum complicated will entice extra returnees.

The goal is to create a residing museum that revives the transformative spirit and imaginative and prescient of Du Bois for a unified ancestral dwelling for Africans in the diaspora.

The complicated will function a historic memorial website the place guests can honour his life and legacy, hook up with their cultural and ancestral roots, and function an impetus to encourage solidarity between folks of African descent.

Ghana is hoping that having been the principle gateway by way of which a lot of the slaves have been transported in the course of the transatlantic slave commerce, the nation would be the most important supply for Africans in the diaspora to reconnect to the continent.

More Letters from Africa:

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