Prominent African-Americans in Africa

Sunrise in savannah
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American and African Politics Meet

Most people know about the forced emigration of millions of Africans to the Americas as slaves. Far fewer think of the voluntary flow of the descendants of those slaves back across the Atlantic to visit or live in Africa.

This traffic began during the slave trade and escalated briefly in the late 1700s during the settlement of Sierra Leone and Liberia. Over the years, a number of African-Americans have either moved to or visited various African countries. Many of these trips had political motivations and are seen as historical moments.

Let's take a look at seven of the more prominent African-Americans to visit Africa in the past sixty years.

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W. E. B. Dubois

"Du Bois, W. E. B., Boston 1907 summer." by Unknown. From the UMass galleries. ). Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

William Edward Burghardt "W. E. B." Du Bois (1868-1963) was a prominent African-American intellectual, activist, and pan-Africanist who emigrated to Ghana in 1961.

Du Bois was one of the leading African-American intellectuals of the early twentieth century. He was the first African-American to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard University and was a professor of history at Atlanta University. He was also one of the founding members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

In 1900, Du Bois attended the first Pan-African Congress, which was held in London. He helped draft one of the Congress's official statements, "Address to the Nations of the World." This document called on European nations to grant a greater political role to African colonies.

For the next 60 years, one of Du Bois's many causes would be greater independence for African people. Finally, in 1960, he was able to visit an independent Ghana, as well as travel to Nigeria.

One year later, Ghana invited Du Bois back to oversee the creation of the "Encyclopedia Africana." Du Bois was already over 90 years old, and he subsequently decided to remain in Ghana and claim Ghanaian citizenship. He died there just a few years later, at the age of 95.

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Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X

Martlin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Marion S. Trikosko, U.S. News & World Report Magazine - This image is available from the United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3d01847. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X were the leading African-American civil rights activists of the 1950s and 60s. Both found they were welcomed warmly during their trips to Africa.

Martin Luther King Jr. in Africa

Martin Luther King Jr. visited Ghana (then known as the Gold Coast) in March 1957 for Ghana's Independence Day Celebrations. It was a celebration that W. E. B. Du Bois had also been invited to. However, the U.S. government refused to issue Du Bois a passport due to his Communist leanings.

While in Ghana, King, along with his wife Coretta Scott King, attended numerous ceremonies as important dignitaries. King also met with Kwame Nkrumah, the Prime Minister and later President of Ghana.  As Du Bois would do three years later, the Kings visited Nigeria before returning to the United States via Europe.

Malcolm X in Africa

Malcolm X traveled to Egypt in 1959. He also toured the Middle East and then went on to Ghana. While there he acted as the ambassador of Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam, an American organization to which Malcolm X then belonged.

In 1964, Malcolm X made a pilgrimage to Mecca that led him to embrace the idea that positive racial relations were possible. Afterward, he returned to Egypt, and from there traveled to Nigeria. 

After Nigeria, he traveled back to Ghana, where he was welcomed enthusiastically. He met with Kwame Nkrumah and spoke at several well-attended events. After this, he traveled to Liberia, Senegal, and Morocco. 

He returned to the United States for a couple of months, and then traveled back to Africa, visiting numerous countries. In most of these states, Malcolm X met with heads of state and attended the meeting of the Organization of African Unity (now the African Union). 

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Maya Angelou in Africa

Maya Angelou giving an interview in her home, April 8, 1978. Jack Sotomayor/New York Times Co./Getty Images

The famed poet and writer Maya Angelou was part of the vibrant African American ex-patriot community in Ghana in the 1960s. When Malcolm X returned to Ghana in 1964, one of the people with whom he met was Maya Angelou. 

Maya Angelou lived in Africa for four years. She moved first to Egypt in 1961 and then to Ghana. She moved back to the United States in 1965 to help Malcolm X with his Organization for Afro-American Unity.  She has since been honored in Ghana by a postal stamp issued in her honor.

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Oprah Winfrey in South Africa

Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls - Class of 2011 Inaugural Graduation. Michelly Rall / Stringer, Getty Images

Oprah Winfrey is a popular American media personality, who has become famous for her philanthropic work. One of her central causes has been an education for disadvantaged children. While visiting Nelson Mandela, she agreed to put forward 10 million dollars to found a girls' school in South Africa.

The school's budget ran in excess of 40 million dollars and was quickly mired in controversy, but Winfrey and the school persevered. The school has now graduated several years' worth of students, with some gaining entry into prestigious foreign universities.

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Barack Obama's Trips to Africa

President Obama Visits South Africa As Part Of His African Tour. Chip Somodevilla / Staff, Getty Images

Barack Obama, whose father is from Kenya, visited Africa numerous times as President of the United States of America.

During his presidency, Obama made four visits to Africa, traveling to six African countries. His first visit to Africa was in 2009 when he visited Ghana. Obama did not return to the continent until 2012 when he traveled to Senegal, Tanzania, and South Africa in the summer. He returned to South Africa later that year for Nelson Mandela's funeral. 

In 2015, he finally made a much-anticipated visit to Kenya. During that trip, he also became the first U.S. President to visit Ethiopia. 

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Michelle Obama in Africa

Pretoria, South Africa, June 28, 2013. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Michelle Obama, the first African-American woman to be the First Lady of the United States, made several state visits to Africa during her husband's time in the White House. These included trips with and without the President.

In 2011, she and their two daughters, Malia and Sasha, traveled to South Africa and Botswana. During that trip, Mrs. Obama met with Nelson Mandela. Mrs. Obama also accompanied ​her husband on his 2012 trips to Africa.