Friday, August 7, 2015

New Book ― Booker T. Washington and Africa: The Making Of A Pan Africanist

The Liberian Commission hosted in Tuskegee, AL at Tuskegee Institute by Booker T. Washington in 1907. L-R standing Charles Branch - Secretary of Rep. of Liberian Commission, Booker T. Washington, President of Tuskegee Institute, Charles Anderson Collector of the Internal Revenue. Seated L-R Charles B. Dunbar, G.H Gibson former President of Liberia and J.J. Dossen former Vice President of the Liberia. Seated on the ground, L-R. Far left Emmett J. Scott personal secretary to Booker T. Washington and far right Thomas Calloway. Photo Credit: Tuskegee University Archives.

Booker T. Washington and Africa: The Making Of A Pan Africanist is a paradigm-shifting book about Washington's evolution as a Pan Africanist and his clandestine role in African affairs. The book takes a rare look into Booker T. Washington’s private endeavors through his personal papers. The man many considered the iconic Accommodationist, pacifist and even Uncle Tom had a clandestine life as a very progressive Pan Africanist who wielded measurable power in the realm of African affairs. When out of the public eye, Booker T. Washington could be found propagandizing against the atrocities taking place in the Congo Free State under King Leopold, denouncing colonial domination in Africa, serving as key negotiator in the Liberian Crisis and tactfully orchestrating the demise of the African Exclusion Measure designed to target and exclude African and Black persons immigrating to the US from the Caribbean, Central and South America. This book establishes that Booker T. Washington belongs amongst the canon of Pan Africanists that shaped the 20th century, therefore the discourse and narrative on Booker T. Washington has shifted.

The Congo Free State: When few were aware of the Congo Free State, its strategic position in the world and its wealth of resources, Booker T. Washington was actively propagandizing against the atrocities taking place there under King Leopold.  Recognizing the US as the first nation to acknowledge Leopold’s sole ownership of the Congo, Washington lobbied the government in an attempt to highlight the atrocities perpetuated by his regime.  Washington actively engaged in organized efforts meant to address the crisis in the Congo and assumed the role of Vice President of the Friends of the Congo whose members included Mark Twain and other notables of his time. However, Washington’s efforts and stream of articles meant to address the atrocities also earned him the attention of King Leopold.  

The Liberian Crisis: In 1907 Liberian officials contacted Booker T. Washington and requested his assistance in halting the impending annexation of Liberia by French, British and German colonial forces in Africa, due to debt.  Eager to colonize Liberia, one of only two independent African nations on the continent, the French, British and German forces attempted to encroach upon the country. However, Booker T. Washington intervened and served, as the key negotiator in the Liberian Crisis and was able to resolve the immediate debt issue that ensured the long-term survival of Liberia. The details of the Liberian Crisis reveal a blueprint for Pan Africanist relations that produced measurable results in the realm of African affairs and policy.

The African Exclusion Measure: The completion of the Panama Canal in November of 1914 provoked a measure injected into the large Immigration Bill of 1915. The US would systematically exclude any and all persons of the “African or Black race ” from the US hereafter and place them in the same category as criminals and undesirables attempting to gain entry into the country.  Ironically enough, although named the “African Exclusion Measure” the language in the bill was designed to target the African/ Black population immigrating from the Caribbean, Central and South America, not the continent of Africa per say.  Having used African/Black laborers to complete the Panama Canal the US intended to send a clear message on the issue of immigration. By this time, the last year of his life, Booker T. Washington was in full political bloom and the combination of his Pan African consciousness, his aggressive campaign in the Black Press and his effective use of the Tuskegee Machine; allowed for defeat of the measure within a week. Washington’s intervention in this case of the African Exclusion Measure had a direct impact on policies targeting the African /Black population and the  demographic composition of the  African population within the US forever.

Booker T. Washington and Africa: The Making of A Pan Africanist challenges age old and traditional interpretations of the preeminent African-American leader and educator. Booker T. Washington and Africa is evidence of his direct role and influence in Africa, which  is astonishing and unparalleled by his contemporaries.

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