This is Part 1 of the 50 Most Important Pan-African Leaders in history. A Pan-Africanist is described as one who believes in the political jurisdiction of an independent African state, the ability of Africans to control and influence their own culture and affairs, and the freedom of Africans around the world to pursue their own self interests.
While there are millions of men and women who have given their lives to advance the cause of Pan-Africanism, many names have been lost to Euro-centric miseducation. Though they are not listed here, they are honored in spirit alongside the names presented below.
This list is not presented in order.
C.L.R. James Biography
We included C.L.R. James on this list for his life long advocacy for Pan-Africanism. C.L.R. James was named Chair of the International African Friends of Abyssinia – a Black organization whose leading members included Amy Ashwood Garvey, Jomo Kenyatta and Chris Braithwaite.
C.L.R. James Books
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Birthplace Bafatá, Guinea-Bissau
Born September 12, 1924
Assassinated January 20, 1973
Amilcar Cabral Biography
Amilcar Cabral was one of Africa’s most powerful anti-colonial leaders. Cabral personally led the guerrilla war of independence and the nationalist movement of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde Islands. Prior to the war, Cabral created training camps in Ghana with the permission of Kwame Nkrumah to train his officers. He mobilized Guinean chiefs to support the war efforts, and taught his troops to live off the land with better farming techniques to feed their own family and tribe, as well as the soldiers enlisted in the movement’s military wing.
Eight months before the war was won, Cabral was assassinated in a western engineered plot.
Amilcar Cabral Books
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J. E. Casely Hayford
Birthplace Cape Coast, Ghana
Born September 29, 1866
Transitioned August 11, 1930
J. E. Casely Hayford Biography
In 1910 J.E. Casely Hayford became the President of the Aborigines’ Rights Protection Society, the first anti-colonial Black organization founded in the Gold Coast, Ghana. He was one of the men who flanked Nkrumah on Independence eve. In addition to Pan-African Activism, he was also an author, a lawyer, an ordained Methodist minister, and a politician.
J. E. Casely Hayford Books
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Birthplace Zungeru, Nigeria
Born November 16, 1904
Transitioned May 11, 1996
Nnamdi Azikiwe Biography
The first President of Nigeria, Nnamdi Azikiwe began his career as a newspaper journalist where he, “In his passionately denunciatory articles and public statements he censured the existing colonial order: the restrictions on the Africans’ right to express their opinions, and racial discrimination. He also criticised those Africans who belonged to the “elite” of colonial society and favoured retaining the existing order, as they regarded it as the basis of their well being.”
In 1944, he co-founded the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC), a political Black organization that would lead him to the presidency. Azikiwe was removed from power in a military coup in January 15, 1966 that would lead to the Biafra Wars of Secession.
Nnamdi Azikiwe Books
Birthplace Tarkastad, Eastern Cape, South Africa
Born December 18, 1946
Assassinated September 12, 1977
Steve Biko Biography
Steve Biko was the founder of the Black South African Students’ Organisation (SASO) after leaving a multiracial organization. He became convinced that Black students needed an organization of their own, and outlined plans for a new movement to be known as the Black Consciousness Movement. Inspired by the ideas of Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, Frantz Fanon, Amilcar Cabral, and the Black Panther Party, he was a key organizing force behind the protests that led to the Soweto Uprising of 16 June 1976.
On 18 August 1977, Biko was arrested at a police roadblock, interrogated for 22 hours, tortured, and beaten until he was comatose. He was then chained to a window grille for a day.
On 11 September 1977, police stripped him naked, restrained him with handcuffs, and drove him a thousand miles away to Pretoria to take him to a prison with hospital facilities.
Nelson Mandela said of Biko: “They had to kill him to prolong the life of apartheid.”
Steve Biko Books
Dr. John Henrik Clarke
Birthplace Union Springs, AL
Born January 1, 1915
Transitioned July 16, 1998
Dr. John Henrik Clarke Biography
Powerful people cannot afford to educate the people that they oppress, because once you are truly educated, you will not ask for power. You will take it. – John Henrik Clarke
Dr. Clarke was most known and highly regarded for his lifelong devotion to studying and documenting the histories and contributions of African peoples in across the diaspora. His teaching and research formed the foundation of Pan-African studies across the world.
In his autobiographical documentary, “A Great And Mighty Walk” , Dr. Clarke made mention of the many influential men and women that he has had the opportunity to come across:
“I have walked majestically with kings and queens and presidents and other heads of states. My special destiny with Africa, early on in this walk, afforded me the opportunity to mentor Kwame Nkrumah when he arrived in the United States as a student. The reciprocity of our relationship was manifested in my sojourn to post-independence Ghana as a young journalist. Without question, my walk has been sweeter because I have shared the path with Kwame Nkrumah, Betty Shabazz and Malcolm X, Zora Neale Hurston, Jimmy Baldwin, Martin Luther King Jr., Richard Wright, Julian Mayfield, John G. Jackson, Cheikh Anta Diop, John O. Killens, Hoyt Fuller, Chancellor Williams, Drucella Dundee Houston.”
Dr. John Henrik Clarke Books
Dr. Clarke has written more books that we can list here. His works include:
His works include:
- Christopher Columbus and the Afrikan Holocaust: Slavery and the Rise of European Capitalism (Ebook version)
- African People in World History
- Who Betrayed the African World Revolution?
- World’s Great Men of Color, Volume I: Asia and Africa, and Historical Figures Before Christ, Including Aesop, Hannibal, Cleopatra, Zenobia, Askia the Great, and Many Others (Ebook version)
- John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History
- Marcus Garvey and the Vision of Africa (Read for Free on Kindle here)
Birthplace St. Petersburg, FL
Born October 9, 1941 (Age 77)
Omali Yeshitela Biography
Omali Yeshitela is the founder of the Uhuru Movement, a group of organizations that include The International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement, African Socialist International, African People’s Solidarity Committee, and Burning Spear Productions, the African People’s Education and Defense fund and the All African People’s Development and Empowerment Project, the African People’s Education and Defense Fund, which seeks to address disparities in education and health faced by African Africans, and Burning Spear Productions.
Omali Yeshitela is the brains behind several organizations that each have specific tasks and purposes, but under the philosophy that the only way for Africans to achieve liberation and self-determination is to struggle for an all-African socialist government under the leadership of African workers and poor peasants. He seeks to unite African socialists and national liberation movements under a single revolutionary umbrella in opposition to imperialism and neocolonialism.
Omali Yeshitela Books
Dr. Chancellor Williams
Birthplace Bennettsville, South Carolina
Born December 22, 1893
Transitioned December 7, 1992
Dr. Chancellor Williams Biography
Dr. Chancellor Williams is the author of The Destruction of Black Civilization, required reading for all members of the Pan-African Alliance and members United Black America. After graduating from Howard University, Chancellor Williams devoted his life to education and changing academic discourse in relation to African studies. His books serve to inspire generation after generation of Black thinkers. He is survived by 14 children; 36 grandchildren; 38 great-grandchildren; and 10 great-great-grandchildren.
Dr. Chancellor Williams Books
Dr. Cheikh Anta Diop
Birthplace Diourbel, Senegal
Born December 29, 1923
Transitioned February 7, 1986
Dr. Cheikh Anta Diop Biography
“ the formation of a federated and unified Africa, culturally and otherwise,is the only way for Africa to become the power in the world that she should rightfully be.” – Cheikh Anta Diop
Dr. Cheikh Anta Diop is a Senegalese historian, anthropologist, physicist, and politician. Dr. Diop’s Works served as a manifesto for his political party – a Black organization calledthe Mass Senegalese Bloc (BMS).
Armed with a faith in Pan-Africanism and Dr. Diop’s manifesto, the BMS won the hearts and minds of so many Senegalese that they became a clear threat to then President Leopold Senghor. Diop was arrested and tortured to the point of death, and his political party was banned in Senegal.
All his work was nearly lost, and would have been forgotten had it not been for other loyal BMS fighters. Diop supporters unleashed a barrage of anti-Senghor campaign messages, threats, and stand-ins. Ultimately, President Senghor folded, and offered to not only release Diop, but to offer him a position in a new government. Diop refused when Senghor declined to release all other political prisoners, and disappeared from politics until 1975 while continuing to expose the truth behind African civilization.
Dr. Cheikh Anta Diop Books
El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X)
Birthplace Omaha, Nebraska
Born May 19, 1925
Assassinated February 21, 1965
El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X) Biography
El-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz served as the spokesman for the Nation of Islam for 12 years under Elijah Muhammad.
After growing disillusioned with the Nation of Islam he embraced Sunni Islam and, after a period of travel in Africa and the Middle East, returned to the United States to found Muslim Mosque, Inc. and the Organization of Afro-American Unity modeled after Kwame Nkrumah’s Organization for African Unity.
In September 1960, at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Malcolm X was invited to the official functions of several African nations, alongside Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, Ahmed Sékou Touré of Guinea, Kenneth Kaunda of the Zambian African National Congress, and Fidel Castro, who was so impressed with Malcolm that he suggested a private meeting, and after two hours of talking Castro invited Malcolm to visit Cuba.
Malcolm X was executed by members of the Nation of Islam with the help of the United States Government before his organization could gain momentum.
El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X) Books
Edward Wilmot Blyden
Birthplace Saint Thomas, United States Virgin Islands
Born August 3, 1832
Transitioned February 7, 1912
Edward Blyden Biography
Before there was a Malcolm X, a Kwame Nkrumah, a Marcus Garvey, or a George Padmore, there was Edward Wilmot Blyden – one of the men we consider the Father of Pan Africanism (the other is Henry Sylvester Williams). He believed in three primary courses of action for the redemption of the Black race:
1. Complete autonomy from White culture, colonialism, and religious influence.
2. The establishment of a major, single, modern African state, which would protect and promote the interests of peoples of African descent everywhere.
3. The complete adoption of the African personality, including the Islamic faith, in place of Euro-centric mimicry.
Blyden was born in the West Indies but moved to Liberia where he lived most his life. Served as the president of liberia college in 1880 and as Ambassador for Liberia to Britain and France. Blyden believed that Black Americans could end their suffering of racial discrimination by returning to Africa and helping to develop it. He was criticized by African Americans who wanted to gain full civil rights in their birth nation of the United States and did not identify with Africa, but time has proved his assertion correct.
Edward Blyden Books
H.I.M. Haile Selassie (PBUH)
Birthplace Ejersa Goro, Ethiopia
Born July 23, 1892
Assassinated August 27, 1975
Haile Selassie Biography
His Imperial Majesty, Emperor Haile Selassie Ras Tafari Makonnen – the last emperor in the 3000-year-old Ethiopian monarchy – is a triumphant figure of Black History that will forever be celebrated for his passion, his power, and his leadership by example as a Pan-African and an Ethiopian.
Haile Selassie was revered in his time as a God in the flesh who would lead his people (and ultimately all African peoples) into a new Golden Age of peace and prosperity. It is from his name, Tafari, that the Rastafari movement arose. Today, there are 800,000 men and women who declare themselves as Rastafarians. Selassie, however, was an Orthodox Christian his entire life, and never attempted to found a religion solely based on his personal views.
Emperor Selassie served as both the very first and the fifth head of the legendary Organization of African Unity – a position that would also be held by Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, and Muammar Gaddafi. The OAU would serve as inspiration for Malcolm X’s Organization of African American Unity. In a speech, Haile Selassie said;
That until there are no longer first-class and second class citizens of any nation; That until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes; That until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race; That until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained;
And until the ignoble and unhappy regimes that hold our brothers in Angola, in Mozambique and in South Africa in subhuman bondage have been toppled and destroyed; Until bigotry and prejudice and malicious and inhuman self-interest have been replaced by understanding and tolerance and good-will; Until all Africans stand and speak as free beings, equal in the eyes of all men, as they are in the eyes of Heaven; Until that day, the African continent will not know peace.
We Africans will fight, if necessary, and we know that we shall win, as we are confident in the victory of good over evil.
Haile Selassie Books
Ahmed Sekou Touré
Birthplace Faranah, Guinea
Born January 9, 1922
Transitioned March 26, 1984
Ahmed Sekou Touré Biography
Ahmed Sékou Touré was the first President of Guinea. Descended from the founder of the Wassoulou Empire and freedom fighter Samory Touré, Ahmed grew up anti-Colonial and specifically Anti-French. During the age of Revolution that spread across Africa, France offered its colonies a choice between freedom or becoming a formal part of the French nation to avoid armed revolutions.
Under the leadership of Toure, Guinea rejected the offer in favor of peace, and led the way for the rest of Francophone Africa to declare their independence as well. The French punished Guinea by withdrawing abruptly, taking files, destroying infrastructure, and breaking political and economic ties.
Ahmed Toure has been criticized as a dictator, but his strategies were effective in stabilizing the country and banning potential political allies of Europe. When Nkrumah was overthrown in Ghana, Ahmed Toure offered him assylum and made him Co-President.
As a key figure in the Pan-Africanist movement, Touré consistently opened his country to activists facing political persecution in the United States, including Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael, who would take the names of both Touré and Ghanaian President Nkrumah.
Ahmed Sekou Touré Books
Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah
Birthplace Nkroful, Ghana
Born September 21, 1909
Transitioned April 27, 1972
Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah Biography
Kwame Nkrumah was Afria’s Malcolm X, the first President of the first free nation in Africa – Ghana, and a founding father of the Pan-Africanist movement. Kwame Nkrumah was a visionary upon whom the hopes and dreams of the diaspora rested.
Over his lifetime, Nkrumah was awarded honorary doctorates by Lincoln University, Moscow State University; Cairo University in Cairo, Egypt; Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland; Humboldt University in the former East Berlin; and many other universities.
In 2000, he was voted Africa’s Man of the Millennium.
Ultimately, he fell victim to the economic hit-men of the United States of America, capitalism, and the same program devoted to the destruction of the Black race that is still in existence today.
Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah Books
Birthplace Qasr Abu Hadi, Libya
Born ca. 1942
Assassinated October 20, 2011
Muammar Gaddafi Biography
Gaddafi took Marcus Garvey’s concept of a United States of Africa – a unified federation of the 55 sovereign states of Africa – and put it into action.He was the first African leader to propose and work towards a unified passport system, one African currency, and Pan-African trade blocks to establish an independent unified economy.
His own nation of Libya was one of the most successful nations in Africa due solely to their independence from European influence. When Gaddafi came to power, he – like Mugabe of Zimbabwe – ended virtually all relations with the West in favor of building alliances with his own people and Arabs.
He was the best hope for a true United States of Africa, until he was assassinated by a United States backed coup d’etat, and all of the progress that he made for his people was erased.
Muammar Gaddafi Books
The Hon. Marcus Garvey
Birthplace Saint Ann’s Bay, Jamaica
Born August 17, 1887
Transitioned June 10, 1940
The Hon. Marcus Garvey Biography
Of all great figures in Black History, none are as important or as forgotten as Marcus Garvey, one of the founding fathers of Pan-Africanism and one of the first men to give us a universal vision that demanded a free and redeemed United States of Africa.
On 10 June 1940, Garvey died in London after suffering two strokes. According to rumors, he died after reading his own obituary in the Chicago Defender which stated, in part, that Garvey died “broke, alone and unpopular”. Other rumors have it that Garvey was poisoned on a boat while he was traveling from Jamaica to Europe.
We may never know the true fate of our leader, but Marcus Garvey will live forever in our pantheon of martyrs for Pan-Africanism.
The Hon. Marcus Garvey Books
W. E. B. Du Bois
Birthplace Great Barrington, Massachusetts
Born February 23, 1868
Transitioned August 27, 1963
W. E. B. Du Bois Biography
The legendary adversary of the Honorable Marcus Garvey, W. E. B. Du Bois was the founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the leader of the Niagra Movement – a group of African Americans who fought for civil rights.
DuBois is listed here, but he is not without his faults. His closest friend was Joel Spingarn – a white Jew after whom the NAACP’s highest award is named. His ego-driven war with Marcus Garvey caused considerable damage to the United Negro Improvement Association – Garvey’s organization, and DuBois’ elitist views caused more division than unity in the Black community. He established the headquarters of the Pan-African Congress in France (of all places), and was a vocal integrationist.
Despite his shortcomings, Dubois contributed to the advancement of Black Consciousness and Pan-Africanism as the organizer of several Pan-African Congresses to free African colonies from European powers. Du Bois helped to submit petitions to the UN concerning discrimination against African Americans. These culminated in the report and petition called “We Charge Genocide”, submitted in 1951 with the Civil Rights Congress. “We Charge Genocide” accuses the US of systematically sanctioning murders and inflicting harm against African Americans and therefore committing genocide.
At the end of his life, he began to see the error of his ways, became more of a segregationist, and agreed that Garvey’s way was more effective than his had been.
W. E. B. Du Bois Books
Birthplace Arouca, Trinidad and Tobago
Born February 15, 1869
Transitioned March 26, 1911
Henry Sylvester-Williams Biography
Henry Sylvester-Williams is the founder of the Pan-African Association, based in Trinidad in 1897. By 1900, the organization had grown to the point where Williams was able to hold the first Pan-African Congress – a three-day gathering that was held on 23, 24, and 25 July with delegates comprising “men and women of African blood and descent” from all over the world. W. E. B. Du Bois, who was to become the movement’s torchbearer at subsequent Pan-African Congresses, was a participant and his Address to the Nations with its prophetic statement “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line” came to be regarded as the defining statement of the conference.
Following the Congress, Williams formed more than a dozen branches of his organization around the world. After the death of Williams, DuBois would establish the headquarters for the Congress in Paris and continue Williams’ legacy. The Pan-African Congress continues, with the 8th Congress scheduled to be held in Accra, Ghana, 4-9 November 2014.
Birthplace Katakokombe, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Born July 2, 1925
Assassinated January 17, 1961
Patrice Lumumba Biography
The first democratically elected Prime Minister of the Republic of the Congo, Patrice Lumumba was one of the best hopes of the Congo, until his infamous Blood and Fire Speech. By speaking truth to power to his former Belgian masters, he sealed his fate. Within twelve weeks of his rise to office, Lumumba’s government was overthrown in a CIA backed coup.
To this day, the Congo has been in the midst of the worst genocide in modern history. You can read about it here.
To his supporters, Lumumba was a good man of strong character who supported Pan-Africanism and liberation for colonial territories. He is quoted as saying “We are not Communists or Catholics. We are African nationalists.”
CIA agent John Stockwell gave this interview to Democracy Now nearly 5 years after the assassination.
JOHN STOCKWELL: The CIA had developed a program to assassinate Lumumba, under Devlin’s encouragement and management. The program they developed, the operation, didn’t work. They didn’t follow through on it. It was to give poison to Lumumba. And they couldn’t find a setting in which to get the poison to him successfully in a way that it wouldn’t appear to be a CIA operation. I mean, you couldn’t invite him to a cocktail party and give him a drink and have him die a short time later, obviously. And so, they gave up on it. They got cold feet. And instead, they handled it by the chief of station talking to Mobutu about the threat that Lumumba posed, and Mobutu going out and killing Lumumba, having his men kill Lumumba.
Belgian troops later confessed to disposing of Lumumba’s body by chopping it into pieces and melting his body down with acid. Each of the men kept one of his teeth as souvenirs.
Patrice Lumumba Books
Birthplace Kutama, Zimbabwe
Born February 21, 1924
Robert Mugabe Biography
The only surviving member of the age of African Revolution, Mugabe was Africa’s longest serving Democratically elected head of state. That is, until his “fall from Grace” As one of the leaders of Zimbabwe’s National War of Liberation, Mugabe led his Revolutionary Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) to political and military victory. One of the first acts of Prime Minister Mugabe was to revoke white privilege. Under Mugabe, Zimbabwe became an example to follow for the rest of the continent. His achievements included:
- Reducing infant mortality rates from 86 to 49 per 1000 live births, under five mortality was reduced from 128 to 58 per 1000 live births,
- Increasing immunization from 25% to 80% of the population.
- Reducing child malnutrition from 22% to 12%
- Increasing life expectancy from 56 to 64 years of age
- Increasing the literacy rate of his people to 98% (a rate better than the United States. According to a study by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy, 32 million adults in the U.S. can’t read. That’s 14 percent of the population)
- Cutting HIV/AIDS prevalence in half
Despite his fall from grace, his contributions to Pan-Africanism cannot be ignored.
Robert Mugabe Books
Birthplace Parsonsburg, Maryland
Born July 14, 1941
As a cultural warrior, one of the most noteworthy achievements of Dr. Karenga is the invention of Kwanzaa, the annual African-American holiday celebrated from December 26 until January 1. Kwanzaa, a name derived from the Swahili matunda ya kwanza, or first fruits of the harvest, celebrates the Nguzu Saba—the seven principles of African Heritage. These seven principles are:
- Umoja (Unity): To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.
- Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.
- Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems, and to solve them together.
- Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics): To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.
- Nia (Purpose): To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
- Kuumba (Creativity): To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
- Imani (Faith): To believe with all our hearts in God, our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.
Since the establishment of the holiday over 40 years ago, the number of participants has grown to 2 to 4 million people in the United States and Canada on average, to over 20 million at the peak of the holiday’s popularity.