The 1960’s and 70’s proved itself a paramount time for Black Folks. Not since the beginning of the century with mass organization led by Marcus Garvey, had there been such great instituting towards a better future for Africans globally. In North America there was a rise in Black nationalism and racial pride, ultimately emphasizing the need for Power. Africans in the Caribbean and parts of South America participated in active armed struggles and insurrections against colonial supported governments. They fought strategically to dismantle the systems of economic subjugation that were based upon race.
In Europe, Africans held mass demonstrations in an effort to gain liberation. On the African Continent, nations plagued by European imperialism demanded their autonomy and ability to control their own destiny. Although these events are named separately from each other, each mass movement that took place worked hand in hand for the transcontinental attainment of power for African people.
In this article the phrase “Pan-African Movement in/of the 1960s and 70s” consists of all social, political, and economic movements and campaigns taking place during this time period that were centered around revolutionary liberation of Black peoples. At the heart of this social, economic, and political movement lay mass communication. Mass communication holds a tremendous importance and responsibility in the spread of Pan-African ideologies and teachings and it is what helped catapult the 1960s and 70s Movement.
Although an unappreciated facet of mass communication today, radio was once a driving force behind awakening the consciousness of African people globally. Radio prompted community development, investment, and involvement. Local Black owned radio stations, funded and operated solely by the community, epitomized the rewards of collective economics. Listening with a purpose became the reason behind social gatherings on the campuses of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Radio is what conjured the political consciousness of a people, connecting them to their brethren in neighboring territories and overseas. Its impact extended far beyond geographical bounds. Whether used as an instrument of economic activism, social transformation or political education, radio was the bedrock of the Pan-African Movement in the 1960s and 70s, in its geographical entirety.
Following the mid to late twentieth century, it was not uncommon to see in the dangling medallions of Black teenagers on busy street corners and in the enamel pins fastened to our shirts the colors: Red, Black, and Green. Not only on the keepsakes of many Black Folks appeared the RBG colors, but the three colors illuminated our neighborhoods on murals and cultural art expressions. “The colors represent the blood of our Ancestors (RED), the melanin of the original people (BLACK), and the wealth and prosperity of our African homeland (GREEN)” (Pan-African Alliance, 2021). Hailed as the most revered symbol of Pan-Africanism, these colors were composed in their given order by Marcus Garvey in 1920, in an effort to showcase African self-determination.
A flag not only affirms a people’s sense of collectivism, but displays a unified front of pride and strength to those who threaten that group’s livelihood. A flag represents a nation, a nation of many. Africa’s interaction with the western world and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade displaced millions of Africans from their home, and forever altered their lives on and off the continent. After the so-called abolition of slavery in the Western Hemisphere, living under white dominion imposed the desperate need for the African in America to redefine their image of self. The RBG flag served that purpose. As an emblem of race pride and vision, it reconnected Africans in the diaspora to the continent. Although the curation of a flag, representing the African’s longing for liberation, sparked international rapport, the emergence of Pan-Africanism occurred long before its most notable messiah’s illustration.
Pan-Africanism is a political, social, and economic philosophy that seeks to promote the unification of Africans on the continent of Africa and throughout the diaspora. Pan-African thought has been at the center of several Black mass movements, like the Black Power Movement in the United States and the African Nationalist/ Independence movement that took place in Africa. The connection to a mother land was severed in the diasporan African by force. This separation would succeed generations and the impact of this untethering would be severely felt. Primarily in the United States after the abolition of slavery many formerly enslaved Africans desired to flee the reality in which they lived, one that operated on white supremacy and brutal subjugation. The abolition of slavery in the United States enacted a new era known as Reconstruction, and although it seemed a promising time for Africans in America this twelve year period would not live up to its name.
A Brief History of Pan-Africanism
Leader of the African M.E Church, Bishop Henry McNeal Turner, was a widely respected and followed clergyman of the Reconstruction and Post-Reconstruction era. Deemed radical for his views on reparations, emigration, and female participation in the church, Bishop Henry McNeal Turner was one of the first Pan-Africanists prior to the establishment of the term. As a Black Chaplain fighting for the Union in the Civil War, Turner witnessed first hand the discrimination against Black soldiers and recognized the great hypocrisy of fighting for freedom yet being regarded as second class citizens.
After his participation in the war efforts, Turner immersed himself in Black activism. Not only did Turner participate in religious and military affairs, but also was an elected official working in the political arena on behalf of the Black community. Before administering a National Colored Convention in 1893, Turner worked at the Freedmen’s Bureau and later became a state representative for Macon, Georgia.
The 1893 National Colored Convention, also known as Turner’s Convention, was held in Cincinnati, Ohio, and attracted around five hundred delegates . . .Turner urged African Americans to emigrate”coloredconventions.org
Turner went on to build schools, churches and help settle Africans throughout the diaspora on the African continent. His efforts were not only spearheaded by spreading the gospel, but an understanding that the African in Americas best interests were found far beyond the Western world. However, it was not until thirty seven years later that Pan-Africanism was formally named.
Regarded as the father of Pan-Africanism, Henry Sylvester Williams enacted the first ever Pan-African Conference in London, England on July 23, 1900. Williams, a Trinidadian native, became a lawyer in London where he witnessed the mistreatment of Africans both home and abroad. This prompted his interest in obtaining justice for African people globally. Amongst the participants at the conference were intellectuals, activists, and organizers from the United Kingdom and other nations around the world. Williams gathered all who took great interest in “the fate of Black people”(afropen.org, 2014). Unlike any other assembly, “they addressed a number of issues including: discrimination, equal rights, self-government, perceived inferiority of black people, progress of the race, inadequate education, and exploitation to identify just a few” (afropen.org, 2014). Although the ill-treatment of Africans in the diaspora was an important issue surrounding the meeting’s agenda, the decolonization of the African continent was the primary objective.
Some of the most crucial decisions regarding the liberation of African people would be conjured at later Pan-African Conferences, with the most notable being the Fifth Pan-African Congress with participants such as Kwame Nkrumah, W.E.B. Dubois, and Jomo Kenyatta. Henry Sylvester Williams truly paved the way for future generations in the fight to achieve liberation, primarily inspiring those of the 1960’s and 70’s, a time of great restoration of African consciousness.
Recognizing Collective Economics at the Local Level
In the spirits of self determination and obtaining Black liberation, a group of local activists, college students, academic professors, and community residents would use public radio to educate the African community in Durham, North Carolina. The WAFR-FM radio station was located on the infamous East Pettigrew Street, one of the city’s most sacred grounds for African triumph where two years earlier Malcolm X Liberation University had been built. WAFR-FM radio aired its first show on September 5, 1971.
After the failed attempt to purchase a station with community donations, North Carolina Central University alumni Robert Spruill and his cohorts formed the Community Radio Workshop Inc., an organization with the sole purpose of educating our people. With this newfound organization the group was able to secure the proper funding in grant money, to purchase a non-commercial radio station. The difference between this particular radio station and the other Black owned stations that began to emerge nationwide was that WAFR-FM was the first Black-owned, not for profit, non-commercial radio station in the country.
Ebony Magazine recognized WAFR-FM as a “unifying force in Durham’s Black community, partially because of its strong emphasis on community’s participation in the station’s broadcasting . . . and because of the family atmosphere . . . everyone is simply a brother or sister trying to communicate a message to the larger Black community” (Erwin, Carolyn 118). Gaining over 75,000 listeners, WAFR became a household name within the local area, and achieved great success in both entertainment and education.
With shows like Black Seeds and Children’s Workshop, thought-provoking pieces were produced to not just reach the adults within the community but also Black youth. From infancy to maturity WAFR-FM and those who volunteered their time at the station, kept community economic participation at the forefront, in order to keep the station controlled by and for the masses.
Social Transformation on Black Campuses
Activism takes up many forms. Conventional thought recognizes the activist as someone, particularly a young person, in the streets promoting an idea or philosophy to evoke political or social change. This conventional thought would be challenged as the streets became university campuses and classrooms. Between 1965 and 1972 at Historically Black Colleges throughout the nation, there was a complete transformation in the consciousness of Black students. This duration of militancy, the formation of organizations and coalitions, and the overall demand for control and representation in academia, is known as the Black Campus Movement.
Radio played a key role during this time of social transformation within the Black student, who now recognized their cultural and historical ties to the African continent and Africa’s relevance to prevalent issues faced in the U.S. and abroad. Neighboring radio stations of the campus, along with those coming straight out of the university, “promoted African music as part of their cultural and political missions” (Davis, Joshua). African music was simply one of the many devices used in the reigniting of the African Self among Africans in the diaspora. This manifested in their way of dress, diets, and perspectives. This new Afrocentric/African-centered way of life in the Black student would fuel their activism on the campus and throughout the community.
Kwame Nkrumah’s Ghana
Nearly 5,271 miles from each other, Ghanaians and Africans in the Americas faced a similar predicament, yet also a promising future between the years of 1960 and the 1970s. Africa was undergoing a period of decolonization the likes of which had never seen before. African nations were demanding their economic, political, and cultural freedom and power from their imperialist masters. Ghana, a West African country, formally misrepresented as the British Gold Coast, would be the first nation to gain their independence in Africa on March 6th, 1957.
Spearheading this revolutionary campaign for African sovereignty, Kwame Nkrumah and the Convention People’s Party led the Ghanaian people into their most prosperous six years of development in industry, education, and political power. Many overlook the fact that before Kwame Nkrumah rose to national prominence he worked tirelessly in media, helping establish the Accra Evening News and exposing the masses to Pan-African thought, civil disobedience, and de-colonial thought.
Kwame Nkrumah made it his primary mission as president to revolutionize broadcasting, and it was determined that radio was to “operate as a centralized system in order to serve as a tool for unification” (Arhin, Kwame 88-89). To legitimize this national priority, the three pre-existing broadcasting networks, that reeked of colonial hegemony, were converted into one national broadcasting network known as the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC). To Nkrumah, freedom for Ghana did not exist if parts of the continent remained under colonial control. Radio under Nkrumah aimed to cease tribalism, not only in Ghana but all over Africa. Ghana’s policy on radio broadcasting epitomized true Pan-African thought and goals for liberation.
Next Steps & the Role We Play
When there are Africans living under neo-colonial rule, facing police genocide, domestic and settler colonial living conditions, and cultural warfare at the hands of the same oppressive forces, the spread of Pan-Africanism was and still is inevitable. During the movement, not only was securing representation in broadcasting the goal, but educating the African community was at the forefront. There was a greater emphasis on power and total control over the media we consume and our avenues of mass communication. We have strayed away from this concept and the results have been catastrophic in our true advancement as a people.
Today amongst our people there is a misconception that representation reflects progress, and this is not just unique to broadcasting and entertainment, but also in the political aspects of our lives. Our focus needs to be back on community control and direct influence. The media has always been a political and social tool, used to shape and mold societal consciousness. During the Movement we demanded authority over the specific consciousness that was being instilled in our communities, today we have willfully weakened that appeal. We have settled for platforms that do not address the harsh realities we as Africans face on a daily basis, ones that simply parrot what mainstream media is spoon feeding the masses. Our people now flock to whatever is trending on social media, The Shade Room, or Hollywood Unlocked to inform them of the actions needed to be taken against growing societal grievances. These entities of the capitalist-imperialist state, which plant seeds of destructiveness, disunity, and confusion in us, never give an accurate account of the ills of our condition or those who perpetuate our hellish reality.
With history comes lessons, and it is almost as if an answer key has been placed in front of preceding generations to learn the failed or lost practices conducted by our ancestors. The purpose of this written piece is to showcase that which has been and can be achieved at the local, national and international level with media and mass communication in our struggle. Organized action must be taken to restore the legacy our revolutionary ancestors have left us. As revolutionaries we understand the intricate role media plays in the liberation struggle and with that knowledge we must institute around weaponizing it. These institutions we build must be free of miseducation, misinformation, imperial propaganda, distorted images of self/group, and anti-African values. We must create avenues of mass communication that work to overthrow, dismantle and destroy all oppressive forces birthed from white supremacy. Then and only then can we confidently say that we are engaged in revolutionary broadcasting.