Chief Alfred C. Sam The Akim Trading Company, Limited and Afro-American emigration to the Gold Coast The impact of African emigrationism upon white Americans was minimal. Only when actual migrations took place did most whites suspect that such black sentiment existed. On such occasions, furthermore, they were always caught unawares because customary “Negro spokesmen” had perpetuated the myth of the docile black peasant, content to stay at the bottom of society. While European immigrants by the millions entered the country, the very thought that anyone would want to leave the United States to look for better opportunities elsewhere seemed absurd to most Americans.
Within this general context, white reactions varied. Northern liberals like Tourgee rejected emigration because they believed the American love of justice would overcome the prejudice of race. More conservative whites endorsed the “gospel of wealth,” as interpreted by Booker T. Washington, as the proper approach to race relations; they preferred the vision of industrious, uncomplaining workers to the prospect of radical malcontents who might upset the social equilibrium. The few whites who supported the American Colonization Society were either remnants of the pre-Civil War group that pictured emigration as a paternalistic solution to the race problem or representatives of a later generation that was concerned only for the welfare of Liberia. Although reactionaries like Thomas Dixon advocated deportation of blacks from the country, they found little support for the actual removal of Afro-Americans. Most whites simply wanted to keep the blacks at the lowest possible level of American society.
In Africa, however, the Afro-American emigration movement had considerable impact, although the thousand or so black peasants who sailed to Liberia between 1890 and 1910 helped that country but little. But the rhetoric of nationalism and the climate of protest among AfroAmericans reached far, and Bishop Turner’s newspapers found avid readers in Sierra Leone, the Gold Coast, and Lagos. His visits to West and South Africa stirred the Africans, to the dismay of colonial officials. Just as important, African students who had studied in American colleges returned home with a newly militant attitude toward the colonial powers. If white Americans considered blacks passive and content, Africans learned otherwise.1
Perhaps the most important effect of Bishop Turner’s campaign was to foster the hope for a better life in Africa in the memories of black Americans. For the African emigration movement did not stop in 1910; it has continued, in periodic outbursts, well into the twentieth century. The best-known movements were those led by Chief Alfred C. Sam and Marcus Garvey. But if the leaders and organizations changed with time, the blacks who responded so vigorously remained essentially the same.
Chief Alfred C. Sam, from Gold Coast Colony in West Africa, suddenly appeared in Oklahoma in the summer of 1913. He was selling stock in his company, Akim Trading Company, Limited, and advocating Afro-American emigration to the Gold Coast, where he claimed to own land. Sam appealed particularly to the residents of several all-black towns, remnants of E. P. McCabe’s settlement projects. Increasing prejudice and statewide disfranchisement had dashed all hopes for even local black independence; the blacks who fled to Oklahoma for refuge had found none. In their despair they embraced Chief Sam’s nationalistic emigration scheme, invested their money accordingly, and prepared to sail to Africa. After purchasing a steamship and christening it “Liberia,” Sam confounded his critics by sailing from Galveston with sixty emigrants and a black crew. Indeed, several hundred black Oklahomans who had gone to Galveston in the hope of sailing on Sam’s first voyage were left behind, while hundreds more waited in Oklahoma for Sam to return. Financial, diplomatic, and political troubles cost Sam the ship, and many of the emigrants eventually returned to the United States. Like other schemes before it, Sam’s efforts did little more than demonstrate Afro-American dissatisfaction.2
Chief Sam could hardly have found a state more hospitable to his scheme. In 1913 most of the blacks in Oklahoma had come from other states in their search for land and security.3 When Oklahoma proved to be just another Southern state in racial matters, the blacks were bound to be disillusioned, and candidates for emigration. National ism, moreover, already had a strong foothold in Oklahoma, as evidenced by its separate communities and the attempt to build a black state in the territory in the 1 890S. African emigration also had a strong local tradition. The blacks who traveled from Oklahoma to New York in 1892 and 1899, expecting to go to Africa, were solid evidence of that tradition. Samuel Chapman’s emigration clubs helped keep it alive in the late 1890s, while Bishop Turner’s newspapers and speeches fed the Afro-American desire to leave home for greener pastures. Chief Sam reaped what Turner had planted.4
The better-known Marcus Garvey came to the United States from Jamaica in 1916, just a year after Turner died. During the next ten years he built the largest mass movement in Afro-Ameri- can history around his Universal Negro Improvement Association. Garvey’s appeals to black nationalism and African emigration earned him the title “Black Moses,” a designation bestowed earlier on Bishop Turner. The black masses who had moved to Northern cities responded to this ideology in astounding numbers and intensity. Lack of business skill, however, caused the downfall of Garvey and his movement, and he was imprisoned for mail fraud and eventually deported. Few, if any, in his legion of followers settled in Africa, but the Afro-American community was thoroughly aroused. Many white Americans realized for the first time that the myth of the docile, satisfied black Sambo was false.5
1. For the impact of American black nationalism on Africa see, for example: Shepperson and Price, Independent African; Shepperson, “American Negro Influence on the Emergence of African Nationalism,” Journal of African History, I (1960), 299-312; idem, “Ethiopianism and African Nationalism,” Phylon, 14 (Spring 1953), 9-18, idem, “External Factors in the Development of African Nationalism, with Particular Reference to British Central Africa,” Phylon, 22 (Fall 1961), 207-25 idem, “The United States and East Africa,” Phylon, 13 (Spring 1951), 25-34; Mary Benson, The African Patriots: The Story of the African National Congress of South Africa (Chicago, 1963), pp. 28, 29, 47, 49, and passim; Sundkler, Bantu Prophets, pp. 38-64; Thwaite, Seething African Pot, pp. 36-39; Coan, “The Expansion of Missions,” passim Thomas Hodgkin, Nationalism in Colonial Africa (New York, 1957), pp. 81, 101, 108, 180 f.; David Kimble, A Political History of Ghana (London, 1963), pp. 537-44; Ruth M. Slade, English-Speaking Missions in the Congo Independent State, 1878-1908 (Brussels, 1959), passim.
2. Bittle and Geis, The Longest Way Home, passim.
3. Oklahoma’s black population multiplied almost sevenfold between 1890 and 1910; see U. S. Bureau of the Census, Negro Populatior’, 1790-1915 (Washington, 1918), p. 129.
4. See Chapter 5 and p. 250 above.
5. Cronon, Black Moses, passim; Frank Chalk, “DuBois and Garvey Confront Liberia: Two Incidents of the Coolidge Years,” a paper delivered at the 52d annual meeting of the Associa- tion for the Study of Negro Life and History, 13-17 October 1967, Greensboro, N.C.
From: Edwin S. Redkey. Black Exodus: Black Nationalist and Back-to-Africa Movements, 1890-1910 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1969). pp. 291-293.