4 Pan-African Leaders You Should Know

Pan-Africanism Mural

Michael Branz / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-2.0

Pan-Africanism is an ideology that argues encouraging a united African Diaspora. Pan-Africanists believe that a unified Diaspora is an essential step in creating a progressive economic, social and political climate.

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John B. Russwurm: Publisher and Abolitionist

Portraits of John B. Russwurm and Samuel B. Cornish on the cover of a Freedom's Journal
John B. Russwurm and Samuel B. Cornish founded "Freedom's Journal" in 1827. It was the first African American owned newspaper in the nation. Public Domain

John B. Russwurm was an abolitionist and co-founder of the first newspaper published by African Americans, Freedom's Journal

Born in Port Antonio, Jamaica in 1799 to an enslaved person and an English merchant, Russwurm was sent to live in Quebec at the age of 8. Five years later, Russwurm's father moved him to Portland, Maine.

Russwurm attended the Hebron Academy and taught at an all-Black school in Boston. In 1824, he enrolled in Bowdoin College. Following his graduation in 1826, Russwurm became Bowdoin's first African American graduate and the third African American to graduate from an American college.

After moving to New York City in 1827, Russwurm met Samuel Cornish. The pair published Freedom's Journal, a news publication whose aim was to fight against enslavement. However, once Russwurm was appointed Senior Editor of the journal, he changed the paper's position on colonization—from negative to advocate of colonization. As a result, Cornish left the newspaper and within two years, Russwurm had moved to Liberia.

From 1830 to 1834, Russwurm worked as the colonial secretary for the American Colonization Society. In addition, he edited the Liberia Herald. After resigning from the news publication, Russwurm was appointed Superintendent of Education in Monrovia.

In 1836, Russwurm became the first African American governor of Maryland in Liberia. He used his position to persuade African Americans to move to Africa.

Russwurm married Sarah McGill in 1833. The couple had three sons and one daughter. Russwurm died in 1851 in Cape Palmas, Liberia.

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W.E.B. Du Bois: Writer and Activist

W.E.B. Dubois Standing at Table
Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

W.E.B. Du Bois is often known for his work with the Harlem Renaissance and The Crisis. However, it is less known that DuBois is actually responsible for coining the term, "Pan-Africanism."

Du Bois was not only interested in ending racism in the United States. He was also concerned with people of African descent throughout the world. Leading the Pan-African movement, Du Bois organized conferences for the Pan-African Congress for many years. Leaders from Africa and the Americas assembled to discuss racism and oppression—issues that people of African descent faced all over the world.

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Marcus Garvey: Political Leader and Journalist

Marcus Garvey In Harlem
Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

One of Marcus Garvey's most famous sayings is "Africa for the Africans!"

Marcus Mosiah Garvey founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association or UNIA in 1914. Initially, the UNIA's goals were to establish schools and vocational education.

Yet, Garvey faced many difficulties in Jamaica and decided to travel to New York City in 1916.

Establishing the UNIA in New York City, Garvey held meetings where he preached about racial pride.

Garvey's message was spread not only to African Americans but people of African descent throughout the world. He published the newspaper Negro World, which had subscriptions throughout the Caribbean and South America. In New York he held parades in which he marched, wearing a dark suit with gold striping and sporting a white hat with a plume.

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Malcolm X: Minister and Activist

Malcolm X in Front Of Connecticut Capitol Building
Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

Malcolm X was a Pan-Africanist and devout Muslim who believed in the upliftment of African Americans. He evolved from being a convicted criminal to a learned man who was always trying to change the social standing of African Americans. His most famous words, "By any means necessary," describe his ideology. Key accomplishments in Malcolm X's career include:

  • Establishing Muhammad Speaks, the official newspaper of the Nation of Islam in 1957.
  • Participating in nationally broadcasted radio stations in the early 1960s.
  • According to The New York Times, X is considered one of the most sought after speakers in the United States.
  • In June of 1963, X organizes and leads one of the United States' largest civil rights events, the Unity Rally.
  • In March of 1964, X establishes Muslim Mosque, Inc and the Organizations of Afro-American Unity (OAAU).
  • "The Autobiography of Malcolm X" is published in November 1965.
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Lewis, Femi. "4 Pan-African Leaders You Should Know." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/pan-african-leaders-45183. Lewis, Femi. (2023, April 5). 4 Pan-African Leaders You Should Know. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/pan-african-leaders-45183 Lewis, Femi. "4 Pan-African Leaders You Should Know." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/pan-african-leaders-45183 (accessed May 28, 2023).