Black Expatriates and Civil Rights Activism in 1950/60s Ghana

May 26, 2011

Lecture at the GHI | Speaker: Kevin Gaines (University of Michigan) | Lecture Series: Crossing the Color Line: A Global History of the African American Freedom Struggle

In 1957 Ghana became one of the first sub-Saharan African nations to gain independence from colonial rule. Over the next decade, hundreds of African Americans--including Martin Luther King Jr., George Padmore, Malcolm X, Maya Angelou, Richard Wright, Pauli Murray, and Muhammed Ali--visited or settled in Ghana. Kevin K. Gaines explains what attracted these expatriates to Ghana and how their new community was shaped by the convergence of the Cold War, the rise of the U.S. civil rights movement, and the decolonization of Africa.

Posing a direct challenge to U.S. hegemony, Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana's president, promoted a vision of African liberation, continental unity, and West Indian federation. Although the number of African American expatriates in Ghana was small, in espousing a transnational American citizenship defined by solidarities with African peoples, these activists waged along with their allies in the United States a fundamental, if largely forgotten, struggle over the meaning and content of the formal American citizenship conferred on African Americans by civil rights reform legislation.


Kevin Gaines is the Robert Hayden Collegiate Professor of History and Afroamerican and African Studies, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, at the University of Michigan. He received his B.A. from Harvard University and his Ph.D. from Brown University in the Department of American Civilization. He is author of Uplifting the Race: Black Leadership, Politics, and Culture During the Twentieth Century (University of North Carolina Press, 1996), which was awarded the John Hope Franklin Prize of the American Studies Association. His most recent book, American Africans in Ghana: Black Expatriates and the Civil Rights Era (UNC Press, 2006) was a Choice Outstanding Academic Title. He is a past president of the American Studies Association (2009-10).

Spring Lecture Series 2011

Crossing the Color Line: A Global History of the African American Freedom Struggle

Organized by Martin Klimke (GHI)

African American civil rights activists early on conceived of their struggle for racial equality as part of a larger struggle against colonialism in Africa, Asia, and South America. This lecture series brings together scholars from both sides of the Atlantic to reflect on this booming field of African America history and to shed light on how both African Americans' quest for equality and the responses to it transcended the borders of the United States. Focusing on new actors and geographic regions, the series will offer a more comprehensive perspective on the civil rights movement.

  • Bourgeois Radicals: The NAACP and the Struggle for Colonial Liberation, 1941-1960
    March 24, 2011
    Speaker: Carol Anderson (Emory University)

  • Global Perspectives on the Black Freedom Struggle
    April 21, 2011
    Speaker: Manfred Berg (University of Heidelberg)

  • Black Expatriates and Civil Rights Activism in 1950/60s Ghana
    May 26, 2011
    Speaker: Kevin Gaines (University of Michigan)

  • The Night Malcolm X spoke at the Oxford Union, England: Race Protest in the Subversive Special Relationship
    June 9, 2011
    Speaker: Stephen Tuck (University of Oxford)