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Author Topic: Evolution of an Africanist Perspective  (Read 9517 times)
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« on: August 12, 2003, 04:30:28 AM »

Edward Wilmot Blyden--Evolution of an Africanist perspective


Evolution of an Africanist Perspective

Edward Blyden's Africanist writings and speeches are
the foundation of the Pan- Africanist ideologies of
the twentieth century. The effect of his ideas on
black political leaders such as Marcus Garvey of
Jamaica, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Nnamdi Azikiwe of
Nigeria, Sekou Toure of Guinea and on a whole movement
of black historians and philosophers like C.L.R.
James, Cheik Anta Diop, John Henrik Clark makes him
one of the most influential African figures of recent
history. He is all the more remarkable because he was
mostly self-taught, which may be the reason his work
remains so original long after the particular contexts
of his time. Blyden's life was a physical, spiritual
and intellectual journey that is hard to interpret
without a knowledge of his biography. Through
intellectual challenge and personal exploration he
changed the view of Africans from one of savages whose
only salvation was christianity to the revolutionary
and empowering vision of Africans as the originators
of civilisation and the guardians of spirituality for
the human race. Many of his pronouncements are still
revolutionary and inspiring today.

Blyden's journey began when in 1850, as a teenager
withouth family or friends, he emigrated to Liberia in
West Africa from America. From the moment of his first
exposure to Africans living on African soil, he began
to construct a vision of Africa's place in the world--
a task to which he would dedicate the rest of his
life. His occupation as a christian educator and
later, Presbytarian Minister initially made him
elaborate his ideas- defensively- within the framework
of the 'christianizing mission' of his employers.
He saw himself and his mission as one of proving
the African equal to other races and only lacking the
enlightenment of christianity. As the twenty-nine year
old head of Alexander High School in Monrovia, he
replies to a condescending letter from his
Presbyterian employers in the U.S. by accepting the
challenge to vindicate his race:

"You remark: 'The great problem to be solved is
whether black men, under favourable circumstances can
manage their own affairs, especially their own
literary institutions.' Will the efforts now put forth
in the Alex. High School if efficient and successful,
contribute to a partial solution of the problem?"

As a journalist in Liberia and publishing by
correspondence in Colonization and Abolitionist
newspapers and journals of the time (notably The
African Repository and Colonial Journal), he began to
develop his own ideas about the black race and to
counter the European stereotypes of his day that
formed the basis of altruism towards Africans. He saw
Liberia as a model of a much grander scheme and tried
to encourage the descendants of the Freed Slaves in
Monrovia to become guardians of a dialog between a
natural and spiritual indigenous African and the
materialistic world of Europe and America. His ideas
were threatening to Monrovian society however, and he
found himself at odds with them much of the time.
Despite this fact, they recognised his abilities and
qualifications for serving the State. He served for
three terms (1864-1871) as Secretary of State of
Liberia and later on three postings as Ambassador to
the Court of St. James (Great Britain) in 1877, 1879
and 1892-94. Travelling in Europe, he was able to
personally set an example of African statesmanship
that greatly impressed Europeans and won him many

It was during his diplomatic missions to the interior
of Africa however, that he found the deepest sources
of inspiration for his ideas. The major expeditions,
commissioned by the British Crown, exposed him to an
African religious, political and cultural etiquette
which changed his views about the role of the
"christianizing mission". His discussions with
scholarly African muslims, and his observations of
Islam's influence on the societies in which he found
them forced him to break away from the Christian
framework into a more African oriented view of the
role of Africans. In 1887, a collection of his sermons
was published in the book "Christianity, Islam and the
Negro Race" that quickly became a seminal work of
African philosophy and caused a sensation in Victorian
London. By 1890, in "The Elements of Permanent
Influence" a sermon he delivered in Washington,
DC, he had conceptually unified Africans not only
geo-politically, but with their rightful role in

"Everybody knows that the basis of civilization and
literature of the present day was on the Nile and not
among the Caucasian race-not on the Ilissus, the
Tiber, the Rhine or the Thames, but on the rivers of
Ethiopia. There were only two steps between Egypt and
modern Europe- Greece and Rome. Greece took not only
civilization and literature but even religion from
Ethiopia. Such were the wonderful developments of
civilization and literature and religion in that
country that the early poets and historians of Greece,
unable to understand such marvellous indigenous growth
attributed it to the direct interferance of the gods,
who they affirm went every year to feast with the

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