The Pan-African Congress was a series of meetings held in various locations around the world that sought to address the rampant European colonization of Africa. Later, the Congress became known as a peace broker regarding the clashes between colonizers in the West Indies and Africa and natives of their respective regions. On this day in 1919, civil rights leader W.E.B. Du Bois (pictured) led the first of seven Pan-African Congress sessions.
Du Bois’ mission on behalf of the Congress was multi-layered. After the end of World War I in 1918, the allied victors laid claim to lands formally seized by enemy forces as laid out during the Paris Peace Conference. The Congress demanded that the Allies lead the transfer of former territories to Africans who lived in the occupied lands.
Du Bois and the 57 delegates also asked that Africans take the lead in governing their own country.
Du Bois also intended to interview African-American soldiers for an upcoming book, regarding their dealings as part of World War I and was shadowed by U.S. authorities to validate any findings of soldiers being mistreated abroad.
Du Bois discovered that Black soldiers, even those who fought in armed combat, were undermined by their White superiors. It was also found that many Black war veterans were given low-performing roles based on the color of their skin.
Chief among the 57 delegates representing 15 countries at the Congress were, Tuskegee Institute (now University) Principal Robert Russa Moton, former slave and civil rights advocate Richard R. Wright, Liberian President Charles D.B. King, and French politician Blaise Diagne.
Du Bois returned from Europe with renewed dedication to fighting for equal rights for African Americans. With the emergence of the “New Negro” personification, many Blacks returned home from war with aims of establishing themselves in northern cities with measurable dignity.
In an article for the NAACP’s official publication, “The Crisis,” Du Bois wrote about what he observed in the soldiers after the war:
But, by the God of Heaven, we are cowards and jackasses if, now that the war is over, we do not marshal every ounce of our brain and brawn to fight a sterner, longer, more unbending battle against the forces of hell in our own land, wrote Du Bois in an editorial.
In 1921, the second Pan-African Congress met over a series of sessions in London, Paris, and Brussels. Diagne would abandon the idea of Pan-Africanism shortly after, citing the Congress’ demands were becoming extreme.