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The Fifth Pan African Congress

The Fifth Pan African Congress

During the worse years of the capitalist depression there were many organizational forms of Pan Africanism. The Rastafari movement and the Kimbangist movements were expressions of Pan Africanism at the grassroots. Among intellectuals such as C.L.R James, George Padmore, Kwame Nkrumah, Paul Robeson and W. Alphaeus Hunton, Jr., there were formations such as the International African Service Bureau (IASB) and the Council on African Affairs (CAA). The Italian Invasion of Abyssinia in October 1935 elicited a wave of Pan African response all over the world and the 5th Pan African Congress grew out of the galvanized and organized Pan African forces.

The 5th Pan African Congress took place in Manchester, from 15-19 October 1945. This Congress took the decisive stand on colonialism and the racism of that period and set in motion the networks for the independence struggles all over Africa. Amy Ashwood Garvey and Amy Jacques Garvey provided the crucial linkages between the forces of the UNIA conventions and the intellectuals who had been organized in the Council for African Affairs, the West African Students Union (WASU) and the International Africa Service Bureau (IASB). Shirley Graham DuBois was another such force who went on to serve the movement with distinction for decades.

At the 1945, Congress the major forces of decolonization was represented. Along with the above named women the IASB luminaries such as Kwame Nkrumah, George Padmore and DuBois, there was Wallace Johnson (Sierra Leone), Awolowo and Nnamdi Azikiwe (Nigeria), Jomo Kenyatta (Kenya), Ken Hill and Dudley Thompson (Jamaica), Hasting Banda (Malawi), Peter Abrahams (South Africa), Ako Adjei (Ghana), Jaja Wachukwu (Nigeria), along with D. M. Harper and Ras T. Makonnen (Guyana). There was a very strong representation of trade unions at this meeting.

One of the limitations of the representation of the 5 Congresses up to 1945 was the silencing of the frontline role played by progressive women. Two children of one of the main organizers of this meeting wrote a book about the male centered narrative of the five Congresses. Their book, In Search of Mr McKenzie : two sisters’ quest for an unknown father, highlighted the limitations of the male centered movement when the men were involved in Progressive Pan African politics in public but in private neglected their families and children. The story of Ernest McKenzie Mavinga, who was a key organizer of the 5th Pan African Congress, has been repeated by Pan Africanist women since the publication of this book in order to highlight the fact that in the written narratives of the Pan African Movement, women have been in the main excluded.

Books on the history of the Pan African Movement by scholars such as Immanuel Geiss wrote black women out of the movement. Women, with the exception of Adelaide Casely-Hayford, Shirley Graham DuBois, Amy Ashwood Garvey and Amy Jacques Garvey, were virtually invisible in this history, particularly for the first five Congresses. There were, however, several forthright women who participated in these congresses. Some of the Black women participants in the early Congresses included Annie J. Cooper, Jessie Faucet, Ida Gibbs Hunt and Mary McLeod Bethune. A group of twenty-one women of African descent were the main organizers of the Fourth Pan African Congress, held in New York, 1927. Many of them were members of a women’s organization called “The Circle of Peace and Foreign Relations.” Dorothy Hunton, who was the President of this organization, was involved in the struggle for Pan Africanism for many years.