The Truth About Going Back to Africa

Pan African Flag/Marcus Garvey/WikimediaPublic Domain

July 10, 2017

It’s popular for people to say they are going “Back to Africa,” but rarely do we talk about former movements of doing so. To be honest, “Back to Africa” efforts have come in waves and seen their share of success and failure.

As early as 1820, Black Americans began journeys back home via the American Colonization Society (ACS) founded by Charles Mercer and Robert Finley. Comprised of prominent white religious leaders and slave owners, the ACS had contradictory intentions for supporting the migration of free Blacks to Africa.

While religious figures thought that Blacks would have a better chance for true freedom by leaving the U.S., slave owners either desired to get rid of them out of fear of rebellion or wanted them to stay in order to exploit them for further economic gain.

Many free Blacks had doubts about leaving the country and were often too afraid to leave what they were conditioned to view as “comfort” near white people.

It was around this time when many American-born Africans began considering themselves African-Americans despite living in a nation that clearly did not want them there.

But what about the Blacks who chose to leave?

The ACS founded the Republic of Liberia and welcomed nearly 13,000 residents by time of the Civil War. The Liberian government promised 25 acres of land to Black migrants from America, but those who came over encountered unexpected challenges.

Although Liberia was described as a new home and land of opportunity, many of these formerly enslaved folks had been stripped of their original languages and customs and converted to Christianity leaving them with few solid connections to their roots.

Additionally, the first rulers of Liberia were white and the subsequent Blacks from America who rose to power often emulated what they learned from these past leaders, which led to the subjugation of native Africans who were in the region.

Migration died down for a while until the next wave resurfaced with the rise of the KKK in South. Blacks feared for their lives and saw no hope for achieving true equality in America.

Unfortunately traveling to Africa was costly, so lots of people who hoped to go were precluded from doing so.

Up until this point there had been no Black-led efforts to get people back to the motherland, but then arrived the legendary Marcus Garvey bringing with him the idea of African Zionism.

In Garvey’s own words, “many white men have tried to uplift them [the Negroes], but the only way is for the Negroes to have a nation of their own, like the Jews, that will command the respect of the world with its achievements."

Garvey developed a three-pronged approach to getting people to Africa. First, he established the Universal Negro Improvement Association, which birthed crucial organizations that aided in the effort to get resources to Liberia.

Second, he created the Black Star Line that provided direct transportation to different parts of Africa. Finally, he instituted the Negro Factories Corporation to encourage Black economic independence by building factories, grocery stores, restaurants, and other businesses.

Unlike the ACS, Garvey was not simply motivated by the idea of racial separation from white Americans but rather a definitive need for Black nationalism. Much of his political and religious thought spawned rastafarianism and inspired the Nation of Islam.

Revisiting these “Back to Africa” movements begs us to ponder what such a push would look like today. Media-driven stereotypes about Africa may hinder our ability to even conceptualize what life could be like for us there.

Additionally, “Back to Africa” rhetoric often focuses on the idea of freedom and returning to roots, but are most people prepared for that cultural immersion?

If a new “Back to Africa” movement is going to work, we must all come together and repair what has been lost culturally and reject much of the poison Europeans have injected us with. Stokely Carmichael said it best when he articulated that it all starts with a focus on Africa and accepting ourselves as African, not just being Black.

If you are interested in planning your return home, Ghana has implemented a “Right of Abode” program which welcomes all brothers and sisters in the Diaspora to become citizens of the nation.

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