With money from white supremacists, black activists have been funding “Back to Africa” movements for centuries

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tags: racism, Black History, Back to Africa



Keisha N. Blain, Ph.D. is assistant professor of History at the University of Iowa and co-editor of Charleston Syllabus: Readings on Race, Racism, and Racial Violence (University of Georgia Press, 2016). She is one of the co-developers of #Charlestonsyllabus, a crowdsourced reading list on Twitter relating to the history of racial violence. Blain’s research has been featured on CSPAN and her writing has appeared in The Huffington Post, The Feminist Wire, and Public Books. Follow her on Twitter @KeishaBlain.

In a new twist on the age old racist call to “go back to Africa,” a black man in Indiana just created a GoFundMe page daring racists to cover his travel expenses to the continent. “If you want me to go back to Africa,” Larry Mitchell says, “I will gladly go.” Telling white racists to “put their money where their mouth is,” Mitchell called on members of the Ku Klux Klan and anyone else who shared their views to submit a donation.

It sounds like a stunt (and according to Mitchell it started as one), but for many years this kind of move was a real political strategy employed by black activists.

For centuries, black men and women have attempted to relocate to Africa, often maintaining the belief that black emigration — also referred to as repatriation — would reunite them with their ancestors and return them to their native land. One of the earliest efforts of this kind was led by Paul Cuffe, a wealthy African American businessman and an avid sailor who traveled extensively to and from West Africa in the 19th Century. Concerned about the welfare of people of African descent in the United States, Cuffe began to endorse emigration to Sierra Leone, where he led a group of thirty eight individuals, using his own funds to cover travel expenses.

In the years following Cuffe’s death in 1817, the American Colonization Society (ACS), an organization founded by a coalition of white slave owners and Quakers, played a central role in supporting black emigration. While members of the ACS advocated the abolition of slavery, they founded the organization on the racist premise that African Americans and whites could not peacefully coexist. As a result, they actively endorsed black emigration and played a significant role in relocating African Americans to West Africa during the early to mid-nineteenth century. The organization received widespread support from prominent white Americans and — believe it or not — a $100,000 appropriation from Congress in 1819. Between 1817 and 1866, the ACS sent an estimated thirteen thousand African Americans to Liberia and established the nation as a colony for freed men and women in 1822.

While many race leaders criticized the racist agenda of the ACS, a cadre of black leaders welcomed the organization’s assistance. During the late nineteenth century, Bishop Henry McNeal Turner of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church became one of the most vocal proponents for black emigration. Insisting that African Americans should take pride in their homeland, and convinced that extinction was the only alternative to emigration, Turner appealed to African Americans to leave the country.  ...




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