More than one hundred years since the beginning of modern Pan-Africanism and the birth of the African-American civil rights movement, many people still speak of both movements as two separate and independent struggles. The African is considered to have fought alone to regain his land from intruders, while African-Americans rejected indignity and demanded equality for their people. However, one must realize that both legacies are not separate. In fact, both legacies are deeply entwined and dependent on one another in furtherance of their struggles.
As Americans, in particular, and the world, in general, celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it is common and natural that his legacy is recognized for its impact and contribution to the American society. However, to recognize his work on that narrow basis is to do injustice to a legacy that is so wide reaching, that it transcends mere geographic and cultural borders.
Dr. King cannot simply be remembered as an African-American civil rights leader. He was also a brother, a friend and a positive contributor to the continent of Africa. He was a man who was influenced by the Pan-Africanist movement, and implemented the knowledge he gained from that movement in furtherance of African-American civil rights. On December 10th, 1965, in commemoration of Human Rights Day, Dr. King explained that “the civil rights movement in the United States has derived immense inspiration from the successful struggles of those Africans who have attained freedom in their own nations.” He looked at the Pan-Africanist movement and saw a struggle that had began to attain success: one that can only be reached through a methodical approach. And to gain the same success in America, he realized he must implement the same strategies.
First, Dr. King confirmed the importance of persistence. He understood that struggle for a new order, be it decolonization, equality, or restoration of human dignity, can only be attained by determination. The oppressed has to understand that his oppressor is determined to hold on to control and will do whatever it takes to keep hold of control. Thus, like the Africans who fought for years to attain freedom, the African-American must continue, steadfast, in his mission to attain equality.
MLK and Dr. Kwame Nkrumah
Next, Dr. King embraced the effectiveness of non-violent protests and spoke about it in his April 7, 1957 speech, “The Birth of a New Nation”. It takes a person of strong will, high tolerance and a big heart to respond to violence with peace and love. However, this method is an effective means of not only communicating your desire to be set free, but also, retaining good relations with your oppressors.
Pleasantly surprised, Dr. King witnessed Africans who were colonized and dehumanized by colonialists embrace the colonialists after independence. He watched them discuss with these former colonial masters without animosity, but with peace, happiness and acceptance. The reason for this behavior was that the Africans had not forced their freedom with violence. They had not killed off colonialists and taken back their land with force. Rather, they had negotiated for freedom with intelligence, peace and brotherhood. This method intrigued Dr. King deeply, and he realized that the most effective way to secure long-lasting equality in America is through non-violent protests.
In addition to gaining motivation from the Pan-Africanist movement, Dr. King was a passionate supporter of Africa, against exploitation, inequality and humiliation. For instance, he supported black South Africans against an oppressive Apartheid government. On many occasions, he appealed to the United Kingdom and the United States to sanction the Apartheid government of South Africa.
In December, 1964, he said: "If the United Kingdom and the United States decided tomorrow morning not to buy South African goods, not to buy South African gold, to put an embargo on oil, if our investors and capitalists would withdraw their support for the racial tyranny, then apartheid will be brought to an end.” Dr. King called for these actions because they were a non-violent, but very effective means of removing a government that was synonymous with oppression, exploitation and inequality. It was a method, he had hoped would free South Africans and return possession of South Africa to its people.
On Monday, January 21, 2013, as we celebrate the life and contributions of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we must remember him as a man who is more than an American hero and more than a leader of the African-American civil rights movement. We must remember him as a brother, a friend and a contributor to African progress.