BOOK REVIEW: Reflections on the Black Diaspora

Hollis R. Lynch Edward Wilmot Blyden:

Pan Negro Patriot, 1932 – 1912, London, Oxford University Press, 1967, 42s net.

 Three West Indians were among the most influential figures in the development of the African Revolution that brought into being over 35 new nations between 1952 and 1967, and which is now approaching its climax in southern Africa. As an indirect influence upon the maturation of African nationalism, the impact of Jamaica-born Marcus Garvey was of incalculable significance. The myth of Garvey as the Massiah who was coming to proclaim “Africa for the Africans” swept over the African continent during the 1920’s and his PHILOSOPHY AND OPINIONS has been cited by both Kwame Nkrumah and Nnamdi Azikiwe as an inspiration to them in their student days. The Trinidadian, Malcolm Nurse better known under his assumed name, George Padmore, profoundly affected the course of political events in Africa through his vigorous advocacy as journalist and author between 1931 and 1945, and later as working partner with Kwane Nkrumah until his death in Ghana in 1959. The Prime Minister of that African state, delivering the funeral oration outside Christianborg Castle by the Gulf of Guinea, spoke of Padmore with deep emotion:

” … We had that indescribable relationship that exists only between brothers … Who knows but from this very spot his ancestors were carried away across the ocean there while the kinsman stood weeping here as silent sentinels?”

Franz Fanon, psychiatrist-cum-revolutionary from Martinique, not only played a crucial role in the Algerian war of liberation, but also, before he died, developed a theoretical analysis in THE WRETCHED OF THE EARTH that has provided the same kind of Ideological orientation for the present generation of African nationalists that Padmore’s ideas as summarized in PAN AFRICANISM OR COMMUNISM gave to a previous generation.

No West Indian, African, or Afro-American scholar has ever taken Garvey seriously enough during the 27 years since his death to either develop a full-scale biography of him or to analyse his impact upon Africa. It was a white American, Edmund Cronon of the University of Wisconsin, who honoured him with BLACK MOSES in 1955. Similarly, it was Professor Hooker of Michigan State University who, in 1967, published BLACK REVOLUTIONARY, a biography of George Padmore . It is, therefore, significant, that Hollis A .Lynch, a young West Indian historian, now an associate professor at Roosevelt University in Chicago, has decided to bring his quite considerable scholarly talents to bear upon analyzing and assessing the career of an eminent fellow West Indian, Edward Wilmot Blyden, who, even before Garvey, Padmore and Fanon, played a major role in the development of African nationalism and emerged as what Professor Lynch calls a “Pan-Negro Patriot.” This volume takes its place along with contributions by Thomas Hodgkin, A.A. Wraith, Christopher Fyfe, and Freda Wolfson in the Oxford University Press West Africa History Series.

The present Principal of the University College of Sierra Leone Dr. Abioseh Nicol, threw out a challenge in 1949 when he wrote of Blyden that “He was a great man; so great indeed as to require the writing of a full-length biography of him, as one of the greatest sons of Africa.” Hollis Lynch accepted the challenge although he states modestly that “This study is only a partial attempt to meet the plea of Dr. Nichol and others, for it is not “a full length biography… It is primarily intellectual history” But that not the intimate details of his personal life in Lytton Strachey fashion is precisely what a pioneering study of Blyden should be, for, as the author quite correctly says, “Blyden was easily the most learned and articulate champion of Africa and the Negro race in his own time. And a champion was sorely needed during the second half of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th. Theories of the innate inferiority of the Negro that had been elaborated to justify slavery and the slave trade were being revivified to rationalise colonial imperialism in Africa, an emergent colour-caste system in the United States of America, and an all pervasive colour-class system in the West Indies. (As late as 1911, the St. Louis Book and Bible House was publishing a volume, THE NEGRO A BEAST with the sub- title. “Created with Hands and Speech that he may be of Service to His Master, the White Man.”)