The Fourth Pan-African Congress in New York in 1927 was the first held in the Americas, and the first organized by women.
The Fourth Pan-African Congress was held in New York City from August 21st to 24th, 1927. Arguably, it is among the least recognized of the series of Pan-African gatherings held during the twentieth century. Part of a cluster of interwar congresses associated with W. E. B. Du Bois, the 1927 Congress followed on the heels of meetings in Paris in 1919, in London, Brussels, and Paris in 1921, and in Lisbon in 1923. These congresses were preceded by Henry Sylvester Williams’ small but pioneering 1900 London Pan-African Conference, a conference that bequeathed us with the phrase “pan-Africanism,” and whose closing appeal to the nations of the world presciently declared that “the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the colour line.” They were followed by the 1945 Pan-African Congress in Manchester, a congress that represented a new militancy in the Black world, and anticipated the post-war movements towards decolonization and African and Caribbean independence.
In the proceedings of the 1945 Congress, published as Colonial and Coloured Unity: A Program of Action, W. E. B. Du Bois had little to say about 1927. He lamented that “direct African participation lagged” in the congress and gave a listless summary of its resolutions. Significantly, the 1927 Congress was the first Pan-African congress to be held in the Americas. In fact, Du Bois had hoped to hold it in the Caribbean, with some sessions in Port-au-Prince, but logistically, this proved impossible and they settled on New York.
More importantly, the congress was the first Pan-African Congress organized by women. While Du Bois is generally given credit (and, it should be said, he often took credit) for organizing the Pan-African congresses, fundraising, planning, and hosting of the 1927 congress was done by the Circle of Peace and Foreign Affairs. The Circle of Peace was an organization of African American clubwomen led by Addie Waite Hunton, an activist and internationalist who had worked with the YWCA and the NAACP. Other members of the congress organizing committee included choreographer Dora Cole Norman, editor and writer Jessie Redmon, educator Dorothy R. Peterson, and a number of figures from uptown society associated with the NAACP and The Crisis.
In the conference call the organizers connected the conditions of African Americans to that of the position of Africa, arguing that without the progressive development of the continent, the prospects of Black citizenship in the United States would remain dire. “We are never going to be able satisfactorily to settle the questions of race equality and poor citizenship in the United States,” they wrote in their statement of objectives, “as long as there exists in the world a continent and one hundred fifty millions of people whose rights and status are undetermined and in serious question.”
The conference sessions reflected this concern with Africa. Although typically, despite the fact that the organizers were Black women, the proceedings were dominated by men. After the opening session, where Addie Hunton introduced Du Bois (who gave a history of the Pan-African Congresses), only one panel contained women. The panel was on missionary work and African development with Coralie Franklin Cook, Helen Curtis, Addie Dickinson, and A.B. Camphor. Other sessions included a range of conversations on African history, politics, economics and culture. The Gold Coast’s Chief Asmoah III spoke on African economic development and Gold Coast businessperson and African nationalist Winifred Tete-Ansa advocated a pacifist approach to the path toward self rule.
Asmoah and Tete-Ansa were the only Africans present but dispositions on the importance of researching Africa’s past came from Leo William Hansbery, Rayford Logan, Arturo Schumburg, and Charles H. Wesley. “No nation can play its part without a belief in a great past,” stated Wesley during his talk. White anthropologist Melville Herksovits spoke on “The African and his American Half-Brother” and Haitian statesperson M. Dantès Bellegarde gave an address on “The Dispersed Children of Africa.” Bellegarde traced the history of the Haitian Republic, condemned the US intervention and occupation, and demanded “that actual self government be restored.” “If this experiment of self-government fails,” Bellegarde said, referring to Haiti, “it is a blow to all Negroes of the world."
Other delegates also spoke on the question of anti-imperialism. Dr. Georges Normail Sylvain described the political and economic conditions in the Caribbean and there were addresses on the status of the Virgin Islands, Bahamas, and Barbados. William Pickens of the NAACP gave a report on the League Against Imperialism conference held earlier that year in Brussels and argued for Black solidarity with all groups pushing for self-determination. ““The American Negro and the Pan-African Congress must see common interset and make common cause with the other oppressed and exploited peoples of the world,” stated Pickens, his address reprinted in The Daily Worker. Richard B. Moore of the American Negro Labor Congress criticized the conference for its insuffient attention to Black workers and urged an alliance with other anti-imperialist organizations. The Trinidadian student activist F. Eugene Corbie attacked the role of the Church in Black politics, complaining that the race was being led by “bootleggers and ministers”; as the latter institution was well represented at the conference, his comments were met with some anger.
The resolutions passed by the delegates were not as militant as those of later Pan-African congresses. While they demanded respect for the sovereignty of Liberia and Abyssinia, and called for an end to the US occupation of Haiti, their approaches to British, French, and Belgian colonial practice are tepid, conciliatory, and reformist. There is a friendly note in support of the Soviet Union and a call for labor unity across racial lines but nothing in the way of a program of radical action. Of course, what is absent from the resolutions is as important as what is present. There is no mention of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association, even though at the time of the Congress Garvey was imprisoned in the Atlanta penitentiary and would soon be deported from the United States. It was said that Du Bois refused to have Garvey’s name included in the resolutions.
Nevertheless, the 1927 Congress is significant in many respects. And while Du Bois’s abbreviated commentary of its proceedings seem to have diminished the dynamism of its sessions, the Congress’s historical importance is clear - from the role of Black women in its planning to the prominent voices of Haitian intellectuals and activists. The resolutions of the 1927 Pan-African Congress are reprinted below.
Resolutions Passed by Pan-African Congress, 1927
The fourth Pan-African Congress assembled in New York City August 21, 22, 23 and 24, 1927, with representatives from twenty American States, from nearly all of the West Indies Islands, from Germany, Japan, India, South America, Siera Leone, Gold Coast, Nigeria, Liberia, South Africa, adopts this statement to express the legitimate aims and needs of the peoples of Negro descent. Negroes everywhere need:
- A voice in their own government.
- Native rights to the land and its natural resources.
- Modern education for all children.
- The development of Africa for the Afridcans and not merely for the profit of Europeans.
- The reorganization of commerce and industry, so as to make the main object of capital and labor the welfare of the many, rather than the enriching of the few.
- The treatment of civilized men as civilized, despite differences of birth, race or color.
Specifically and in particular we stress the need of reform in the following countries:
In accordance with the report of the “Committee of Six Disinterested Americans” and our representative from Haiti, we demand the withdrawal from Haiti of all military forces of the United States and all officers, military, naval or otherwise, except only regularly accredited diplomatic representatives or consular agents. We demand that actual self-government be restored. We demand that in 1928 Haitina elections should be held. We demand that the American REceiver General of Customs be replaced,by equitable agreement with the bondholders, and that in general the attempt of americans to dominate the industry and monopolize the land of Haiti be decisively checked and turned into such channels as will encourage industry and agriculture the benefit of Haitian people.
The attitude of all the imperial powers who own Africa is fundamentally wrong. They are seeking profit, not men; they want trade and industry more than civilization and spiritual uplift. This attitude is a menace not simply to Africans, butto modern democratic culture. It must and will be changed.
BRITISH POLICY COMMENDED
We congratulate Great Britainon granting increased political power to the four colonies of British West Africa. We urge an extension of this policy, so that the Africans may control their own legislative councils.
We urge the restoration of their land and the granting of a voice in the government to the natives of Kenya and of Northern and Southern Rhodesia.
We are alarmed at the attempt of the white minority in the Union of South Africa to monopolize the land of the black aborigines; to exclude them from profitable labor; to maintain, in effect, their present disenfranchisement and to reduce them to impotent serfdom. We regard the reactionary program of the Herzog government as the greatest challenge to decent race relations in our day.
In all British Africa it is lamentable to note how little is being done to educate the natives, despite the founding of Achimota.
We urge in French Africa a further development of their admirable scheme of native education and an extension of political rights for a larger number of natives. We ask protection for the natives against the exploitation of French industry and commerce of the resources of this great colony.
We still await in the Belgian Congo real evidence of a movement on the part of Belgium to restore land ownership to the natives; to give them some voice in their own government and to restraint the effort to make the Belgian Congo merely a profitable investment for European industry, with almost no concerted effort to uplift and develop the natives and conserve the natural resources for them. We are glad to see an increase in the appropriation for education in the Congo, but it is still far below the amount needed.
ABYSSINIA AND LIBERIA
We demand the continued independence of Abyssinia, coupled with international movements on the part of philanthropists to bring modern education to the people of that land and modern industry, planned for the benefit of the Abyssinaians and not simply for the Europeans.
We congratulate Liberia upon her improved financial position, but we are alarmed at the increasing power and influence of the Firestone rubber concession. We urge the authoritiesof Liberia and the Negro votes in the United States to be vigialnat, lest this industry’s concession encroach upon the political independence of Liberia. We believe that the solution of Lieria’s problems lies in the establishment of a strong system of universal education for both natives and Liberians.
We demand for Portugal and her African colonies a curbing of that financial and industrial power which is forcing her into banruptcy and making her colnies the property of slave driving concessioanries, despite the liberal and far-sighted colonial legislation of Portugal.
We believe in MISSIONARY EFFORTbut in missionary effort for health, morales and education, and not for military aggression and sectarian superstitions.
We urge the people of the West Indies to begin an earnest movement for the federation of these islands; the reduction of their present outrageous expenses of government; the broadening of educational facilities on modern lines and labor legislation to protect the workers against industrial exploitation. We regard the first step towards this to be an utter erasing of that color line between mulattoes and blacks, which sparng from slavery and is still being drawn and encouraged by those who are the enemies of Negro freedom.
We believe that the Negroes of the United States should begin the effective use of their political power and that, instead of working for a few minor officers or for merely local favors and concessions, they should vote with ehtier eyes fixed upon the international porbelms of the color line and the national problems which affect the Negro race in the United States. Only independent votes for candidates who will carry out their desires regardless of party will bring them political and economic freedom.
The economic situation of American Negroes is still precarious. We urge the entrance of Negroes into trade unions. We believe that, along with their entry into industry as skilled and semi-skilled workers and their growing ownership of land and homes, that they should especially organize as consumers and from cooperative effort seek to bring to bear upon investors and producers the coercive [sic} power which cooperative consumption has already attained in parts of Europe and of America. Lynching, segregation adn mobv violence still oppress and crush black America, but education and organized social and political power begin got point the way out.
Upon matters that lie outside our own problems, we must also express our thoughts and wishes, because the narrow confines of the modern world entwine our interests with those of other peoples. We desire to see freedom and real national independence in Egypt, in China and in India, and the cessation of the interference of the United States in the affairs of central and South America.
We thank the Soviet Government of Russia for its liberal attitude toward the colored races and for the help which it has extended to them from time to time.
We urge the white workers of the world to realize that no program of labor uplift can be successfully carried through in Europe or America so long as colored labor is exploited and enslaved and deprived of all political power.
“Resolutions Passed by Pan-African Congress,” The New York Amsterdam News (August 26, 1927).