One of the most influential books in my intellectual and activist life has been W.E.B. Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk: Essays and Sketches, published in 1903. This book not only opened my eyes wider to the challenge of racial justice but also endowed me with the tools I needed in order to discern between race hustlers and authentic justice activists. Du Bois is among the most revered founding fathers of Pan Afrikanism. He was there at the beginning structures of the men and women who organised themselves not only for diaspora emancipation projects, but worked tirelessly for the liberation of Afrika’s various countries, and his last days were spend in Ghana wherein he lies buried. Like many Pan Afrikanists of his day, and even many of us today, he was mostly concerned with the building of properly equipped and ideologically sound institutions for the development of Black people. I hereby would like to quote him where he wrote about the establishment of Afrikan American colleges.
“The function of the Negro college, then, is clear. it must maintain the standards of popular education, it must seek the social regeneration of the Negro, and it must help in the solution of problems of race contact and co-operation. And finally, beyond all this, it must develop men. Above our modern socialism, and out of the worship of the mass, must persist and evolve that higher individualism which the centers of culture protect; there must come a loftier respect for the sovereign human soul that seeks to know itself and the world about it, that seeks a freedom for expansion and self development; that will love and hate and labor in its own way; untrammeled alike by old and new.
Herein the longing of black men must have respect: the rich and bitter depth of their experience, the unknown treasures of their inner life, the strange rendings of nature they have seen, may give the world new points of view and make their loving, living and doing precious to all human hearts.” – page 73 ( The Souls of Black Folk )
When I read such words, written so long ago by men who strove for real justice and whose primary focus was on freeing their own kind yet whose scope was truly about freeing the whole human race, I shudder in shame. Somehow with all our technology and knowing, we have not really achieved the great feats that these men and women fought and worked so hard for. Yes of course there are many shining examples of Black excellence, there are now many schools and institutions that do great work in our communities globally, but the missing link is still unity of purpose. Many are either divided by religious dogma while others have perished through the corrosive egotistical character of their founders or inheritors. All in all, we are moving forward, but rather slowly or too gradually. This is why it appears as if the posturing and shock tactics of radical Black political activists are our main hope. Groups such as the Economic Freedom Fighter, the Black First Land First movement and others appear as the clearest choices for people who have long given up putting their hopes in standard political processes. But herein lies the difference between the likes of Marcus Garvey, Du Bois and other Pan Afrikan leaders of the past, while they were engaged in political processes, they were also engaged in community uplift projects that were entrepreneurial in nature, but above all that, they were also educators and institution builders, the foundations of which are strong because even after a century we still look to them for guidance.