Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Alexander Crummel ― The Black Conservative Founder of Pan-Africanism

The conservative writer and professor, Alexander Crummel, offers historians a glimpse into the intellectual and regional diversity within early black thought. Crummel (a Northern, black conservative) often sparred with Southerner Booker T. Washington. He is today regarded as being one of the founding fathers of what is called"pan-Africanism".


I saw Alexander Crummell first at a Wilberforce commencement season, amid its bustle and crush. Tall, frail, and black he stood, with simple dignity and an unmistakable air of good breeding. I talked with him apart, where the storming of the lusty young orators could not harm us. I spoke to him politely, then curiously, then eagerly, as I began to feel the fineness of his character,—his calm courtesy, the sweetness of his strength, and his fair blending of the hope and truth of life. Instinctively I bowed before this man, as one bows before the prophets of the world.—W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk

"As opposed to earlier treatments, recent scholarly investigations have correctly identified early black nationalists‘ conservatism. Wilson Jeremiah Moses has constantly noted the conservative and elite character of nationalism during the “classical” or “golden age of black nationalism.” 

His work on one of the most important African American black nationalist intellectuals, Alexander Crummell, remains the most authoritative treatment of any figure within this segment of black intellectualism. As Moses‘s fitting subtitle of his intellectual biography of Crummell suggests, “civilization and discontent” aptly describes the epistemological frameworks of several of the major black nationalists during the nineteenth-century. In the case of the Crummell, the Episcopalian minister‘s disdain for “slave religion” and culture led him to vehemently protest the Negro‘s subjugation to ignorant, quasi-Christian southern whites. 

“What the Negro needs is CIVILIZATION” lamented Crummell, a black man educated at the Queen‘s College (Cambridge University) who was well aware that a great number of whites, representative of all social and intellectual strata, regarded him simply, and at best, as an exception. Though he probably would have viewed such a comment as offensive to his “full-blooded African” lineage, Crummell knew that he was always considered to be a classically educated Victorian “Negro,” in the worst sense."

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