This is Part 2 of the 50 Most Important Pan-African Leaders in history. You can check out Part 1 here.
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.
Paul Cuffee (January 17, 1759 – September 9, 1817)
Paul Cuffee was born to his father Kofi or Cuffee Slocum – a member of the Akan’s ethnic Ashanti subgroup – in Massachusetts. As a child, Cuffee taught himself the alphabet in order to read scriptures, and served aboard whaling and cargo ships at the age of 16.
During his time on the seas, he was able to learn to navigate and sail, braved pirates and the British (who captured and held him for 3 months during the Revolutionary War), and learned to turn a profit form a small ship that he and his brother both financed.
With profits come taxes, but Cuffee refused to pay because free blacks did not have the right to vote. His defiance led to the Legislature in 1783 to grant voting rights to all free male citizens of the state.
Paul Cuffee was an abolitionist, an entrepreneur, but he is most well known as one of the founding ideological fathers of Sierra Leone. After the abolition of slavery in Britain, crews would deliver thousands of formerly enslaved Africans to Freetown, after liberating them from illegal slaves ships.
Cuffee landed in Freetown, Sierra Leone in 1811 to build trade and commerce, but met with failure thanks to the system of mercantilism that British settlers created to exploit locals. Cuffee and local black entrepreneurs came together to found the Friendly Society of Sierra Leone as a mutual-aid merchant group dedicated to furthering prosperity and industry among the free peoples in the colony and loosening the stranglehold that the English merchants held on trade.
The society was successful, building a grist mill, saw mill, rice-processing factory and salt works. At his death, Cuffee left an estate with an estimated value of almost $20,000 (six figures in today’s money). He is buried in the graveyard of the Westport Friends Meetinghouse, and his legacy lives on in the name of the Paul Cuffee Maritime Charter School.
George Padmore (28 June 1903 – 23 September 1959)
In 1959, Kwame Nkrumah, then President of Ghana, wept publicly over the burial of a Black West Indian man named George Padmore.
In the early 1920s, Padmore, born Malcolm Ivan Meredith Nurse, joined the Communist Party and quickly rose to become President of the Negro Bureau of the Communist Trade Union International. Padmore, in fact, played a leading role in the Communist plot to create an African-American republic.
Padmore organized an elaborate network of thousands of anti-colonial militants throughout the Caribbean and Africa during the Great Depression. Later, in 1931, he would write The Life and Struggles of Negro Toilers, which championed the cause of Black labor throughout the world. His achievements earned him the attention of Marcus Garvey at a time when the UNIA was at its height.
Padmore and his allies in the 1930s and 1940s—among them C. L. R. James, Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta, the Gold Coast’s Kwame Nkrumah and South Africa’s Peter Abrahams—saw publishing as a strategy for political change, and formed the International African Service Bureau (IASB).
Padmore’s intellectual contribution to Pan-Africanism earned him a position among the greatest thinkers of the 20th Century.
Martin Robison Delany (May 6, 1812 – January 24, 1885)
One of the first three blacks admitted to Harvard Medical School and the first African-American field officer in the United States Army during the American Civil War, Martin Delany is the first true proponent of Black Nationalism – the belief that separation or independence from European society was the path to Black self-determination.
His writings heavily influenced the philosophies and opinions of Marcus Garvey. Delany only wrote one novel – called Blake – which was inspired by the events of the Haitian Revolution.
Delany’s book is one in a series of texts written by African American authors in response to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Indeed, Delaney’s hero Henry Blake is placed in the exact same place time and position as Uncle Tom, but instead of heroically suffering and dying and inspiring while refusing to physically resist slavery, Henry Blake runs away from slavery to organize an international revolution against slavery.
His other books, The Origin of Races and Color and The Condition, Elevation, Emigration, and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States argued that blacks had no future in the United States.
In reaction to his message and to whites’ regaining power suppressing black voting, Charleston-based Blacks formed the ‘Liberia Exodus Joint Stock Steamship Company’, with Delany as chairman of the finance committee. A year later, the company purchased a ship, the Azor, for the voyage to return to Africa.
Dr. Khalid Abdul Muhammad (January 12, 1948 – February 17, 2001)
At a very early age, Khalid Abdul Muhammad (born name Harold Moore, Jr.) demonstrated exceptional intelligence and athleticism. He was a star quarterback, an Eagle Scout, the President of the Houston Methodist Youth Fellowship, and a talented debater. Upon graduating from Phyllis Wheatley High School in his hometown of Huston, Texas, Khalid was awarded a scholarship to Dillard University (Louisiana).
In 1970, Khalid Abdul Muhammad joined the Nation of Islam under Elijah Muhammad, and would rise to the position of National Spokesperson under Louis Farrakhan. He would maintain this position until 1993, when his infamous Kean College speech would cause Louis Farrakhan to turn his back on him.
Following Muhammad’s speech at Kean College in 1993, The United States Senate unanimously passed House Resolution 343 on delivered in February 1994 condemning his speech. Muhammad became the only private citizen in American history to be officially condemned by means of a resolution.
Immediately after the United States rejected the Minister, so too did Louis Farrakhan. Farrakhan removed Khalid Abdul Muhammad from his position as second in command, silenced him, and reassigned him to Chicago headquarters. Ultimately, Minister Khalid would step down and become the National Chairman of the New Black Panther Party until his death in 2001.
Dr. El-Hajj Khalid Abdul Muhammad, The Truth Terrorist, was one of the greatest Black men of the 20th Century, and deserves his place among our ancestors.
Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe (5 December 1924 – 27 February 1978)
As one of the greatest South Africans in history, Sobukwe founded the Pan Africanist Congress in opposition to South Africa under apartheid.
He was a strong believer in an Africanist future for South Africa and rejected any model suggesting working with anyone other than Africans, defining African as anyone who lives in and pays his allegiance to Africa and who is prepared to subject himself to African majority rule. He later left the ANC to form the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), and was elected its first President in 1959.
Sobukwe was arrested and placed in solitary confinement in 1960 on Robbin Island where he had no contact with other prisoners. Despite these restrictions, he still studied and received a degree in economics from the University of London by correspondence courses.
Sobukwe was released in 1969, but was kept under house arrest with his family at a distant outpost. Again, despite all odds, Robert Sobukwe finished his law degree with the help of a local lawyer and started his own practice in 1975 in Kimberley.
He contracted lung cancer in 1977, prompting his doctors to beg for his release and freedom of movement. The request was denied by the racist white government, and he died on 27 February 1978.
Queen Afua (August 1953 – )
For more than 40 years, Queen Afua has been an inspiration, a spiritual mentor, and a master healer for the global human family. She is a Kemetic priestess, a yoga teacher, natural healer, and lay midwife. Her clients include Erykah Badu, Vanessa Williams, Stevie Wonder to name a very few.
She is the author of several books including Sacred Woman: A Guide to Healing The Feminine Body, Mind and Spirit, and has been the co-director of the Heal Thyself Natural Living Centre, which has operated for over 20 years in Brooklyn.
As if her many contributions to our people weren’t enough, she has also been a lecturer or writer for Essence magazine, the United States based NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration); The National Coalition of 100 Black Women; and at colleges and universities throughout the USA.
For more information, and for a full list of here works, please visit the Queen Afua Wellness Center by clicking here.
Henry Mcneal Turner (February 1, 1834 – May 8, 1915)
One of the ‘Four Horsemen’ of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Henry McNeal Turner was the first Black chaplain in the United States Colored Troops under Delany during the Civil War before becoming the the first southern bishop of the AME Church. Many of the AME churches in Georgia today owe their existence to Bishop Turner.
Jim Crow and the oppression of Southern Democrats following the Civil War turned Turner into a Pan-African, and he began to support black nationalism and emigration of blacks to Africa. He founded the International Migration Society, supported by his own newspapers: The Voice of Missions (he served as editor, 1893-1900) and later The Voice of the People (editor, 1901-4).
He organized two ships with a total of 500 or more emigrants, who settled in Liberia in 1895 and 1896 with the help of Paul Cuffee and the American Colonization Society.
He is buried in Atlanta, where a portrait of him hangs in the state capitol.
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela (September 26, 1936 – April 2, 2018)
Wife of President Nelson Mandela of South Africa, Winnie Mandela is a revolutionary in her own right. She fueled the revolution and violence in the name of the ANC that led to the release of her husband and the destruction of apartheid. In 1986, she gave a speech where she said “With our boxes of matches and our necklaces we shall liberate this country” (‘a necklace’ was a tire filled with gasoline placed around the body and arms of whites and traitors which were then set on fire).
During South Africa’s transition to democracy, she refused to forgive or compromise with the white South African community n contrast to her husband. In fact, in a 2010 interview, Madikizela-Mandela attacked her ex-husband, claiming that he had “let blacks down”, that he was only “wheeled out to collect money”, and that he is “nothing more than a foundation”. She further attacked his decision to accept the Nobel Peace Prize with De Klerk.
Regardless of the controversy that surrounds her, it was Winnie Mandela’s revolutionary spirit that helped to destroy the wicked system of Apartheid in South Africa.
Henry Highland Garnet (December 23, 1815 – February 13, 1882)
Those were the words of the baddest Black man of the 19th Century. Never heard of him? There is a reason why.
History would like us to forget men like Henry Highland Garnet because he argued for active resistance to slavery in a time when appealing to white Christians was the thing to do. In an 1843 speech to the National Negro Convention in Buffalo, New York, he said “You had far better all die—die immediately, than live slaves and entail your wretchedness upon your posterity.” Garnet’s critics – including Frederick Douglass – feared that he was encouraging actions which might lead to a blood bath, and turned their back on Garnet.
While his calls were then rejected, the outbreak of the Civil War, the enactment of the Fugitive Slave Law, the Dred Scott case, the Mexican War, and the general political climate which led to the Civil War eventually made Garnet’s advocacy of civil disobedience, indeed resistance, appear appropriate as a response to slavery.
By 1863, Garnet and Douglass were united in recruiting Negro troops for the Union Army, and they later joined in efforts to raise funds for Mary Todd Lincoln. In February, 1865, when Congress enacted the bill which became the Thirteenth Amendment, President Lincoln invited Garnet to deliver a sermon in the House of Representatives. He was the first of his race to speak before that body, the first black to enter the House except as a servant.
When his calls for resistance fell on deaf ears , he left the United States. For the next several years, he continued to lecture on economic subjects and on civil rights, and in 1881, having been appointed Minister Resident and Consul General, he traveled to Liberia, where he died.
Molefi Kete Asante (August 14, 1942 – )
One of the greatest minds in African history, Dr. Molefi Kete Asante has written over 70 books and 400 articles. He is President and Senior Fellow of the Molefi Kete Asante Institute for Afrocentric Studies , one of the few International African Think-Tanks, and holds a Ph.D. degree in communications from the University of California, Los Angeles.
He has served as an assistant professor at Purdue University and UCLA, and as professor and head of the Department of Communication at State University of New York at Buffalo and as professor and department chair of the African American Studies department at Temple University in New York. He founded the first Ph.D. program in African American Studies in the nation of Zimbabwe, and was in charge of the first diplomas in journalism in the nation.
In 1996 he was enstooled (made a chief) of Tafo in Ghana, and in 2011, he was made a Wanadu (intermediary of the King) of the Court of Amiru Hassimi Maiga of the Songhay Kingdom in Mali. Asante has directed more than one hundred and forty Ph.D. dissertations making him one of the leading producers of African American doctorates.
He has won over 100 awards, honorary doctorates and distinguished professorships. He is the leading authority on African culture and philosophy.
Frederick Douglass (February 1818 – February 20, 1895)
Nothing can be said about our ancestor Frederick Douglass that has not already been said. If pictures are worth a thousand words, videos are worth a volume. Here is the best documentary on Frederick Douglass that we have found.
Yaa Asantewaa (1840 – October 17, 1921)
Yaa Asantewaa was appointed queen mother of Ejisu in the Ashanti Empire—now part of modern-day Ghana—by her brother Nana Akwasi Afrane Okpese, the Ejisuhene—or ruler of Ejisu. When her brother died in 1894, the British used his death as an opportunity to seize control of the Ashanti Empire, starting the War of the Golden Stool.
The Ashanti government was built upon a sophisticated bureaucracy in Kumasi, with separate ministries to handle the state’s affairs, and so Asantewaa was not allowed to act alone. Earlier, the King of the entire area had been banished by the British as well, and the council was convened to decide how to rescue him.
There was a disagreement among those present on how to go about this. Yaa Asantewaa, who was present at this meeting, stood and addressed the members of the council with these now-famous words:
Now I see that some of you fear to go forward to fight for our King. If it was in the brave days of Osei Tutu, Okomfo Anokye, and Opoku Ware I, Chiefs would not sit down to see their King to be taken away without firing a shot.
No European could have dared speak to Chiefs of Asante in the way the Governor spoke to you this morning. Is it true that the bravery of Asante is no more? I cannot believe it. It cannot be!
I must say this: If you, the men of Asante, will not go forward, then we will. We, the women, will. I shall call upon my fellow women. We will fight! We will fight till the last of us falls in the battlefields.
With this, she took on leadership of the Asante Uprising of 1900, gaining the support of some of the other Asante nobility. In the end, the British won and exiled all Asante leaders – including Asantewaa.
Yaa Asantewaa died in exile in the Seychelles on 17 October 1921. Yaa Asantewaa’s dream for an Asante nation free of British rule was realized on 6 March 1957, when the Asante protectorate gained independence as the new nation of Ghana under Kwame Nkrumah.
The Asante empire had fallen, but Queen Yaa Asantewaa’s legacy of courage and resistance stands today as a representative of the fighting spirit of the Asante people.
Kwame Ture ( June 29, 1941 – November 15, 1998)
Stokely Carmichael, who would later change his name to Kwame Ture, has been called the father of Black Power. He worked alongside Ella Baker, the founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
Honorary prime minister of the Black Panther Party. Bestselling author. All-African People’s Revolutionary Party (A-APRP) leader. Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) is a legend, one whose work as a civil rights leader fundamentally altered the course of history — and our understanding of Pan-Africanism today.
Ella Baker (December 13, 1903 – December 13, 1986)
Ella Baker played a key role in some of the biggest civil rights organizations and campaigns of the 20th century. In 1938 she joined the NAACP under W.E.B. DuBois. She was named director of branches in 1943, making her the highest ranking woman in the organization.
In her position as the Director of Branches, she led revolutionary leadership conferences around the country while pushing for greater autonomy for field officers.
Ella Baker’s philosophy emphasized four things that the Pan-African Alliance has integrated into its platform:
- She believed that the strength of an organization grew from the bottom up and not the top down.
- She believed that the work of the branches was the life blood of the NAACP.
- She recognized that the bedrock of any social change organization is not the eloquence or credentials of its top leaders, but rather, it lies in the commitment and hard work of the rank and file membership and willingness and ability of those members to engage in a process of discussion, debate, and decision making.
- She especially stressed the importance of young people and women in the organization.
She was the founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee after leaving Martin Luther King’s new organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) around 1957.
She mentored so many activists like Diane Nash, Stokely Carmichael, Rosa Parks, and Bob Moses that she has been called the most influential woman in the civil rights movement. Her legacy lives on in The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.
Carlos Cooks (June 23, 1913 – May 5, 1966)
The most important link between Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X was World War II Veteran Carlos Cooks. After Marcus Garvey was deported, it was Carlos Cooks who administered the Advance Division of the UNIA.
He founded the African Nationalist Pioneer Movement based on three objectives:
1. The total mobilization of all the material resources of the Black race in all areas of the world, binding them together into one grand racial hegemony, whose only purposes shall be the welfare and security of Black people everywhere
2. The activation of African-Community Leagues in all communities where people of the African ethnic group are in the majority. The economy of all African communities must be marshaled, controlled, and channeled in a progressive direction, so that the commerce business life, and body politics of the community be controlled totally by the resident majority.
3. The synchronization of all organizations, regardless of religious passions, or sectional sentiment, to one overall aim and endeavor towards the complete freedom of Africa, for the benefit of the African peoples of the world. This should include moral, physical and material support to the needy cause of the valiant Africans at home who are fighting against tremendous odds.
It was Carlos Cooks who maintained an African Nationalist Legion, mentally prepared and physically ready to join the African Liberation struggle, who designated August 17th – the birthday of Marcus Garvey – as the first Black holiday, official or unofficial, and who first formed an independent school, complete with a course in Kiswahili at a time (1954) when many of our people didn’t even know where Africa was, let alone what Swahili was.
His Nationalist Manifesto can be read here, and the books below should be in the libraries of every real revolutionary!
Frantz Fanon (20 July 1925 – 6 December 1961)
“For a colonized people the most essential value, because the most concrete, is first and foremost the land: the land which will bring them bread and, above all, dignity.”
During World War II, he joined the Free French forces, fighting in Italy and then Germany where he was wounded in the back during the Alsace campaign. Decorated for bravery, Fanon stayed on in France to study psychiatry and medicine at Lyon University.
According to the Oxford University Press, ‘Living in France confronted Fanon with the racial contradictions of French republican ideology. It made him realize that for all the talk of liberty, equality, fraternity espoused by the Fourth Republic, a French Caribbean man like himself would never be seen as a true citizen.
The Republic might claim to be universal but in reality his presence was unnerving for a French society where whiteness was the norm and blackness was equated with evil. It was a painful experience that led him to write his first book, Black Skins, White Masks, in 1952.’
Fanon’s influence extended to the liberation movements of the Palestinians, the Tamils, and was a key influence on the Black Panther Party, particularly his ideas concerning nationalism.
After his death from Leukemia, his body was returned to Algeria and buried with full military honors by the Algerian National Army of Liberation.
Dr. Albertina Sisulu (21 October 1918 – 2 June 2011)
Wife of revolutionary Walter Sisulu (who spent 25 years in custody on Robben Island alongside Nelson Mandela), Ma Sisulu joined the African National Congress (ANC) Women′s League in 1955, and took part in the launch of the Freedom Charter the same year. She would later serve as a key member of the United Democratic Front in the 1980s.
Sisulu was arrested and held in solitary confinement for almost two months for her political involvement in 1963, and would be banned from political activism throughout the 60s.
President Jacob Zuma paid tribute to Ma Sisulu in the wake of her death. “Mama Sisulu has, over the decades, been a pillar of strength not only for the Sisulu family but also the entire liberation movement, as she reared, counseled, nursed and educated most of the leaders and founders of the democratic SA”.
According to Wikipedia, for more than 50 years, Sisulu committed herself to The Albertina Sisulu Foundation, which works to improve the lives of small children and old people. She was honored for her commitment to the anti-apartheid struggle and her social work when the World Peace Council, based in Basel, Switzerland, elected her president from 1993 to 1996. She recruited nurses to go to Tanzania, to replace British nurses who left after Tanzanian independence. The South African nurses had to be “smuggled” out of SA into Botswana and from there they flew to Tanzania.
In 2004 she was voted 57th in the SABC3’s Great South Africans.
Assata Shakur (July 16, 1947 – )
Before I (Asad Malik) came into consciousness, the autobiography of Assata Shakur was one of the first books I read. I can therefore attribute my genesis in part to her. A true revolutionary, Assata Shakur was mentored by then political science instructor and legendary historian Dr. Leonard Jeffries while a student at CCNY.
She became a Black Panther and then a member of the Black Liberation Army – fighting on the front line of the domestic insurgency of the 1960s and 70s.
In 1972, Shakur was the subject of a nationwide manhunt after the FBI alleged that she was the “revolutionary mother hen” of a Black Liberation Army cell that had conducted a “series of cold-blooded murders of New York City police officers”, including the “execution style murders” of New York Police Officers Joseph Piagentini and Waverly Jones on May 21, 1971 and Gregory Foster and Rocco Laurie on January 28, 1972.
Later, Assata was even identified as the “soul of the Black Liberation Army”, making her “the final wanted fugitive, the soul of the gang, the mother hen who kept them together, kept them moving, kept them shooting”.
By 1973, she was officially labeled by law enforcement as the most dangerous woman in America.
She was convicted and imprisoned shortly thereafter, but was rescued by a group of BLA members. Three members of the Black Liberation Army visiting her drew concealed .45-caliber pistols, seized two guards as hostages and drove a prison van through an unfenced section of the Clinton Correctional Facility for Women in New Jersey.
A mile away, two cars were waiting to transfer the crew away from the scene, and to take Assata underground into a network of BLA safehouses.
She was taken to safety in Cuba where she remains today.
Julius Nyerere (13 April 1922 – 14 October 1999)
First President of free and liberated Tanzania, also known as Baba wa Taifa (Father of the Nation), Julius Kambarage Nyerere was the author of ‘The Arusha declaration’, a five part manifesto that outlined the creed of the political party of which he was the head, the Policy of Socialism, he Policy of Self Reliance, the TANU Membership; and a Resolution.
It is for this declaration and his intellectual contribution to political philosophy that he is included in this list. To read the entire Arusha Declaration, click here.
Julius Nyerere’s legacy remains in contention due to strongman political strategies and failed policy.
Carter G. Woodson (Dec 19, 1857 – Apr 5, 1950)
Father of Black History Month and the author of The Miseducation of the Negro, Carter G. Woodson authored more than 16 books, 125 book reviews, and 100 articles.
Carter G. Woodson died on April 3, 1950 of heart disease. At the time of his death, he was working on a six volume Encyclopedia Africana. He left behind no children and was never married. When asked why, his response was “I am married…to my work”.
His Washington, D.C. home has been preserved and designated the Carter G. Woodson Home National Historic Site.
Anna Cooper – Mother of Pan Africanism (August 10, 1858 – February 27, 1964)
Anna Cooper’s life was distinguished by her vocation as an educator and a political, social and community activist. Throughout her life she was concerned with the welfare of women and African- Americans, and devoted her energies to writing and speaking extensively on her belief in empowerment through education.
She participated in conferences on racial and gender equality and education, including the World’s Congress of Representative Women at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, the Woman Suffrage Congress in 1893, and the Pan-African Conference in London in 1900.
She was also the first woman to become a member of the American Negro Academy, an intellectual organization founded by the Rev. Alexander Crummell, an Episcopal priest, to further higher education and racial equality.
Amy Jacques Garvey (December 31, 1895 – July 25, 1973)
If you have ever read The Philosophies and Opinions of Marcus Garvey, you owe it to his wife, Amy.
After Garvey’s deportation and death, Amy Garvey compiled, published, and used the last of her savings to mail copies of the book Garvey and Garveyism to libraries around the world.
Were it not for her tireless work to preserve the legacy of the largest Pan-African organization in history, we may not have known it ever existed.
Duse Muhammad Ali (21 November 1866 – 25 June 1945)
Mohammed is best known as Marcus Garvey’s Mentor. Garvey came to England in 1912, it was at the offices of the African Times and Orient Review journal under the leadership of Duse Mohammed Ali. Ali became Garvey’s professional mentor and gave young Garvey the confirmation he needed to pursue his Pan-African ideals.
Gervey subsequently left England, and World War I destroyed Mohammed’s business – a paper called the African and Orient Review.
In 1921, following the demise of the African and Orient Review, Ali traveled to the United States, never returning to Britain. In the US he briefly worked with Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association movement.
He also contributed articles on African issues to UNIA’s the Negro World. He also taught in a department of African affairs and was one of the driving forces behind the success and worldwide distribution of the Negro World.
General Harriet Tubman (Ca 1822 – March 10, 1913)
Born Araminta Ross, Harriett Tubman was one of the baddest Black women to walk on American soil. During a ten-year span she made 19 trips into the South and escorted over 300 slaves to freedom.
And as she once proudly pointed out to Frederick Douglass, in all of her journeys she “never lost a single passenger.”
Frederick Douglass said, “Excepting John Brown — of sacred memory — I know of no one who has willingly encountered more perils and hardships to serve our enslaved people than [Harriet Tubman].”
And John Brown, who conferred with “General Tubman” about his plans to raid Harper’s Ferry, once said that she was “one of the bravest persons on this continent.”