In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Pan-Africanism

  • Introduction
  • Nationalism, Identity Formation, and the Struggle for Independence
  • The Postcolonial State and the Management of Independence
  • The Challenges of Democracy and the New Wave of Authoritarian Regimes
  • Democratization and the Contours of Neoliberalism

African American Studies Pan-Africanism
Omolade Adunbi
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 September 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 September 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190280024-0059


Pan-Africanism encompasses a variety of historical, political, literary, and cultural movements seeking to draw connections among diverse societies of black African heritage, both on the African continent and beyond. Beginning with early critiques of slavery from the 18th century and continuing into the post-modern and post-capitalist present day, Pan-Africanism has ignited political struggles, inspired artistic endeavors, and sparked diverse academic inquiries all over the world. This article includes the work of key political leaders, scholars, and activists of Pan-Africanism, as well as a broad range of disciplinary, transdisciplinary, and comparative scholarship from fields including history, anthropology, political science, sociology, political economy, and literary criticism. These resources are divided into four broad historical moments. The first centers on the ideological foundations of the African independence movements of the mid- to late 20th century, incorporating scholarship on anti-colonialism, self-determination, and the establishment of Pan-African black identities on both sides of the Atlantic. The second moment focuses on the early stages of the postcolonial moment when many African countries faced the challenges of state-building, identity construction, and the entrenchment of democratic practices in the newly independent states. Much scholarship of this era focused on African state-building, including discussions of democracy, sovereignty, and Afrocentrism. The third moment examines the ongoing issues faced by many African nation-states to balance nationalism, authoritarianism, political exclusion, and poverty within the context of international development. Finally, the fourth moment centers on critiques of neoliberalism, featuring scholarship on African participation in 21st-century systems of global capitalism. From celebrations of black identity to harsh critiques of postcolonial African politics, this collection reflects the diverse perspectives and achievements of the many activists, artists, writers, and scholars devoted to the unity of African states, African peoples, and African heritage around the world.

Nationalism, Identity Formation, and the Struggle for Independence

The works in this section reflect the diversity of ideological positioning leading up to independence. Beginning with early critiques of the African slave trade, the following selections trace the development of Pan-Africanism as a unifying sociopolitical movement, culminating in the struggles for independence that engulfed the African continent throughout the mid-20th century. Critical to the understanding of this era is also the struggle for an identity among Africans and those in the diaspora. Gilroy 1995, for example, contends that we think about a transnational black identity that is unifying across the Atlantic because black cultures are not separate but unifying. On the other hand, Adi and Sherwood 2003 provides a succinct account of the biography of some important figures in the Pan-African movement. Hakim and Sherwood introduce key figures in the formation of Pan-Africanism, including Stokely Carmichael (later Kwame Ture), W. E. B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, Kwame Nkrumah, and C. L. R. James. James 1995, for example, asserts that black people everywhere are united through their shared African ancestry and shared experiences under the racist Western hegemonic system. He further asserts that revolts have always occurred under condition of oppression, and they will continue to occur as long as those conditions remain. Padmore 1971 presents Pan-Africanism as a nonviolent, anti-racist movement that offers “an ideological alternative to Communism on the one side and Tribalism on the other” (p. 355). Carmichael 2007 argues for an expanded meaning of Pan-African organizing in ways that connect the struggles of all oppressed people across the world. For example, Carmichael sees linkages between Pan-Africanist struggles for liberation and the struggles of the Palestinians, the peoples of Latin America, and others. Padmore 1971 cautions against allowing Cold War politics to undermine the struggles of black people across the world. Padmore’s cautionary note is understandable considering the ways in which Africa and its diasporas were turned into proxies in the struggle for supremacy by both capitalist-leaning and socialist-leaning powers. Diop 1974 seems to have followed Padmore’s cautionary notes when the author advocates for a distinct identity for Africans in postulating that the history of ancient Egypt was reconstructed to follow a particular racial patter; hence, his assertion that ancient Egypt be seen as a black African civilization. Garvey 2004 is a collection of essays that aims to recapture all of Garvey’s interest in seeing a unified Africa that welcomes its diaspora to the continent. Garvey does this in a variety of ways, including a critique of slavery and imperialism and his giving flesh to his “Return to Africa” movement. Legum 1962 provides an analysis of the anti-slavery movement and the emergence of Pan-Africanism, while Fanon 1963 criticizes both colonialism and nationalism, expressing hope for international unity of all oppressed people through future revolutionary acts.

  • Adi, Hakim, and Marika Sherwood. Pan-African History: Political Figures from Africa and Diaspora since 1787. London: Routledge, 2003.

    This book introduces key figures in the Pan-African movement, from lesser known anti-racism activists to leaders like W. E. B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, Kwame Nkrumah, and Nelson Mandela. Ordered alphabetically rather than chronologically, each chapter provides a succinct account of the political figure’s biography, key works and ideas, and a review of their legacy within the larger Pan-African movement. This book represents a useful reference for navigating through this multifaceted and multinational movement.

  • Carmichael, Stokeley. Stokeley Speaks: From Black Power to Pan-Africanism. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2007.

    Originally published in 1971. Stokeley Carmichael (who later changed his name to Kwame Ture) (b. 1941–d. 1998) was a leading voice of the Pan-Africanism movement. This compilation of Stokeley’s essays examines power, racism, the black liberation movement in the United States, solidarity with struggles in Latin America and Palestine, and goals for the future.

  • Conyers, James L., Jr., ed. Reevaluating the Pan-Africanism of W.E.B. Du Bois and Marcus Garvey: Escapist Fantasy or Relevant Reality. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen, 2005.

    This collection of essays by scholars of African and diaspora studies asks challenging questions about the enduring legacies of W. E. B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, and the Pan-African movement in general. These essays delve into the biographical details of these two key figures, analyzing their places in aesthetics, religion, feminism, postcolonial critique, capitalism, and modern political movements in countries such as Belize and Haiti.

  • Diop, Cheikh Anta. The African Origin of Civilization. Chicago: Lawrence Hill, 1974.

    Cheikh Anta Diop was a leading scholar of African historical reconstruction. He criticizes contemporary racial theory as essentially false, discriminatory, and an impediment to global development. Most famously, he postulates a black African origin to the ancient Egyptian people. This volume, published in English in 1974, collects and translates selections from Diop’s 1955 book Nations nègres et culture (Paris: Éditions africaines) and his 1967 book Antériorité des civilisations nègres (Paris: Présence africaine).

  • Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth. Translated by Constance Harrington. New York: Grove Press, 1963.

    This book analyzes the psychological effects of living under colonization, and Fanon calls for widespread anti-colonial revolution. Fanon critiques European imperialism and its establishment of the dominant ideology pervading most African societies of the time. Notably, especially among critics of this book, Fanon argues that violence is an inevitable and necessary tool within the larger anti-colonial struggle.

  • Garvey, Marcus. Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey. Edited by Bob Blaisdell. New York: Dover, 2004.

    Marcus Garvey (b. 1887–d. 1940), credited with founding Pan-Africanism, has remained a powerful figure in civil rights and other political movements around the world today. Controversially, among other activists such as W. E. B. Du Bois, Garvey favored the unification of Pan-African peoples through the relocation of diaspora communities to the African continent. This book presents a collection of Garvey’s most influential works, covering topics including Pan-African identity, anti-imperialism, and civil rights.

  • Gilroy, Paul. The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995.

    Gilroy rejects the siloing of geographically separate black cultures, and instead posits a transnational black identity he terms “the Black Atlantic.” Gilroy focuses on race-based slavery as a foundational element of Western civilization and as a unifying experience among black Atlantic communities. He analyzes black Atlantic identity through the lenses of music and literature, examining these media as tools of political mobilization.

  • James, C. L. R. A History of Pan-African Revolt. Chicago: Charles H. Kerr, 1995.

    Originally published in 1938 as A History of Negro Revolt (New York: Haskell House), this book today remains highly influential in the development, enactment, and study of African and black diaspora resistance. James unites Marxist political critique with religious and other populist black resistance movements throughout history and around the world. He asserts that black people are united through their historical experiences, and that revolts will continue as long as conditions of oppression persist.

  • Legum, Colin. Pan-Africanism: A Short Political Guide. London: Pall Mall Press, 1962.

    This concise historical account of Pan-Africanism begins with early anti-slavery efforts in the Americas, describes the growth of Pan-African ideals among diaspora communities, and traces these ideas back to Africa. Legum then analyzes Pan-Africanism in the context of African independence movements and their role within the larger geopolitical climate of the Global South.

  • Padmore, George. Pan-Africanism or Communism. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1971.

    Originally published in 1956. This landmark work has become central to the political struggle for freedom and determination throughout Africa and the diaspora. Padmore cautions against allowing Cold War tensions to undermine the growing black civil rights, nationalist, and independence movements. He uses Pan-African history to debunk allegations of communist or Soviet collusion on the part of political leaders and activists.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.