Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
A Defender Special
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The traditional narrative about America’s Civil Rights Movement and its leaders is that they informed and inspired Black freedom movements globally, especially on the continent of Africa. But that is only half the story. African nations and movements had their fair share of impact upon happenings during the 1960s with Blackfolk in the U.S.
Case in point: the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. King’s impact on African freedom movements from the 1960s to today has been powerful, and both symbolic and tangible. And the impact the continent of Africa had on King was just as meaningful, if not more so.
AFRICA’S IMPACT ON KING
What many don’t know about the historic Montgomery Bus Boycott for which King was the spokesman, was in the aftermath, according to scholar Jossyln Jeanine Luckett, he felt disillusioned and depressed because of the “extreme violence” whites inflicted upon Blacks nationally. Kevin Gaines, professor of Africana Studies, said during that period, the U.S. had neither the plan nor political will to desegregate a divided nation.
It was in this context that King had the opportunity to visit Ghana in March 1957 and attend the first African independence ceremony. Witnessing the victory of African leader and legend Kwame Nkrumah’s non-violent struggle to rid the Gold Coast colony of West Africa from the British restored hope in King that the struggle in America could be won.
Debo Folorunsho, executive director, Society for Africans in Diaspora Institute
Debo Folorunsho, executive director of the Society for Africans in Diaspora Institute (SAiD), recalled King’s own Ghana testimony: “After attending Ghana’s independence ceremony, he said, ‘This event, the birth of this new nation, will give impetus to oppressed peoples all over the world. It renews my conviction in the ultimate triumph of justice. And it seems to me that this is testimony to the fact that eventually the forces of justice triumph in the universe, and somehow the universe itself is on the side of freedom and justice. So that this gives new hope to me in the struggle for freedom.”
Upon returning to the U.S., King shared part of his Ghana experience with his Dexter Avenue Baptist Church congregation in a sermon titled “Birth of a New Nation,” saying “I could hear that old Negro spiritual once more crying out: ‘Free at last, free at last, Great God Almighty, I’m free at last,’” his first public proclamation of the phrase that has become synonymous with King.
He said “Ghana tells us that the forces of the universe are on the side of justice…An old order of colonialism, of segregation, discrimination is passing away now. And a new order of justice, freedom and goodwill is being born.”
Ella Baker, who was sent by MLK’s organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1960 to help found the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), was even more to the point about Africa’s influence, saying, “the liberation movements in Africa and other parts of the world spurred on the U.S. Civil Rights movement.”
Additionally, King acolyte and SNCC chairman John Lewis said during the March on Washington, “One man, one vote is the African cry. It must be ours!”
Thus, it is no stretch to say the reinvigoration King experienced in Ghana helped reinvigorate the movement he served in the U.S.
DN: See how Dr. King influenced and impacted movements on the African continent
(Source: “The African Roots of MLK’s Vision;” daily.jstor.org)