Back-to-Africa movement

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The Back-to-Africa movement, was also known as the Colonization movement, originated in the United States in the 19th century, and encouraged those of African descent to return to the African homelands of their ancestors. This movement would eventually inspire other movements ranging from the Nation of Islam to the Rastafari movement.

The United States of America

In the early 19th century, the black population in the United States increased dramatically. Many of these black people were free people seeking a better life. Many Southern freed blacks migrated to the industrial North to seek employment while others moved to surrounding Southern states.[1] But their progress was sometimes met with hostility as many whites around that time were not used to so many blacks being free. Many did not believe that free Africans had a place in America and thought the very existence of free blacks undermined the system of slavery and encouraged slaves to revolt.[2] In the North, whites feared that they would lose jobs to free blacks, while other whites did not like the idea of blacks integrating with whites. Riots swept the nation in waves, usually in urban areas where there been recent migration of blacks from the South. During the height of these riots in 1819, there were twenty five recorded riots, with many killed and injured.[3] The back-to-Africa movement was seen as the solution to these problems.

The idea of a Back to Africa Movement, however, started long before 1848. The American Colonization Society, founded in 1816 by Charles Fenton Mercer, was made up of two groups: “philanthropists, clergy and abolitionist who wanted to free African slaves and their descendants and provide them with the opportunity to return to Africa. The other group was the slave owners who feared free people of color and wanted to expel them from America.”[4] In 1811, Paul Cuffee, “a black man who was a wealthy man of property, a petitioner for equal rights for blacks” [5] began to explore the idea of black people returning to their native land as he was convinced that “opportunities for the advancement of for black people were limited in America, and he became interested in African colonization.” [6] With the help of some Quakers in Philadelphia he was able to transport thirty eight blacks to Freetown, Sierra Leone in 1815.[7] It was the American Colonization Society, however, that made the most progress with the Back to Africa Movement.

According to the Encyclopedia of Georgia History and Culture, “as early as 1820, black Americans had begun to return to their ancestral homeland through the auspices of the American Colonization Society” and by 1847, the American Colonization Society founded Liberia and designated it as the land to be colonized by all black people returning from the United States of America.[8] By the decline of the Back to Africa Movement, the American Colonization Society migrated over 13,000 blacks back to Africa.

Post-Emancipation

The back-to-Africa movement began to decline but revived again in 1877 at the end of the Reconstruction as many blacks in the South faced violence from groups such as the Ku Klux Klan.[9] Interest among the South's black population in African emigration peaked during the 1890s, a time when racism reached its peak and the greatest number of lynchings in American history took place.[10]

The continued experience of segregation and discrimination of African Americans after emancipation and the belief that they would never achieve true equality attracted many African Americans to a Pan-African emancipation in their mother land.

Soon thereafter, the movement declined following many hoax and fraudulent activities associated with the movement. According to Crumin, however, the most important reason for the decline in the back-to-Africa movement was that the “vast majority of those who were meant to colonize did not wish to leave. Most free blacks simply did not want to go "home" to a place from which they were generations removed. America, not Africa, was their home and they had little desire to migrate to a strange and forbidding land not their own.” [11]

The eventual disillusionment of those who migrated to the North and frustrations of struggling to cope with urban life set the scene for the back-to-Africa movement of the 1920s, initiated by Marcus Garvey.[12] Those who migrated to the Northern States from the South, found that although they were financially better off, they remained at the bottom both economically and socially.[13]

Liberia

The History of Liberia (after the arrival of Europeans) is unique in Africa as it started neither as a native state nor as a European colony, but began in 1821 when private societies began founding colonies for free blacks from the United States on the coast of West Africa. Liberia gained independence on 26 July 1847.[14] With an elected black government and the offer of free land to African American settlers, Liberia became the most common destination of emigrating African Americans during the 19th century.[15]

See also

References

  1. David Jenkins, Black Zion: The Return of Afro-Americans and West Indians to Africa. (London: Wildwood House, 1975), 41-3.
  2. Kenneth C. Barnes, Journey of Hope: The Back-to-Africa Movement in Arkan. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004), 3.
  3. Ronald L. F. Davis, "Creating Jim Crow." The History of Jim Crow. Creating Jim Crow: In-Depth Essay (accessed: 14 October 2007).
  4. Waite, P. Home page. 14 October 2007 The American Colonization Society
  5. Campbell, M. Back to Africa: George Ross & The Maroons, From Nova Scotia to Sierra Leone, New Jersey: Africa World Press, Inc., 1993.
  6. Lapsanskey-Werner, E. and Bacon, M. eds Back to Africa: Benjamin Coates and the Colonization Movement in America 1848-1880, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania University Press, 2005.
  7. Stewart, J. 1001 Things Everyone Should Know About African American History, New York : Doubleday, 1996.
  8. The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture. 2007. The Central Arkansas Library System. 14 October 2007 Back-to-Africa Movement
  9. The Ending of Reconstruction America's Reconstruction, People and Politics After the Civil War: The Ending of Reconstruction. University of Houston Digital History. 18 October 14, 2007
  10. Kenneth C. Barnes, Journey of Hope: The Back-to-Africa Movement in Arkansas in the Late 1800s. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004), 2
  11. "Back to Africa?" The Colonization Movement in Early America Timothy Crumrin, 2007. Conner Prairie. 14 October 2007
  12. Daniel M. Johnson and Rex R. Campbell, Black Migration in America: A Social Demographic History (Durham, N.C.; Duke University Press, 1981), 62.
  13. David Jenkins, Black Zion: The Return of Afro-Americans and West Indians to Africa. (London: Wildwood House, 1975), 43
  14. Kenneth C. Barnes, Journey of Hope: The Back-to-Africa Movement in Arkansas in the Late 1800s. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004), 5
  15. Kenneth C. Barnes, Journey of Hope: The Back-to-Africa Movement in Arkansas in the Late 1800s. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004), 2; James Campbell, Middle Passage: African American Journeys to Africa, 1787-2005. (New York: Penguin Press, 2006), xxiii

External links

Bibliography

  • Barnes, Kenneth C. Journey of Hope: The Back-to-Africa Movement in Arkansas in the Late 1800s. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004.
  • Campbell, James. Middle Passage: African American Journeys to Africa, 1787-2005. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.
  • Clegg III, Claude A. The Price of Liberty: African Americans and the Making of Liberia. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004.
  • Jenkins, David. Black Zion: The Return of Afro-Americans and West Indians to Africa. London: Wildwood House, 1975.
  • Weisbord, Robert G. Ebony Kinship: Africa, Africans, and the Afro-American. Westport, Conn., Greenwood Press, 1973.