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James Emman Kwegyir Aggrey: Educator, Minister, and Global Black Intellectual  

Ethan R. Sanders

James Emman Kwegyir Aggrey (1875–1927) was a transatlantic black intellectual, educator, and Christian minister. Aggrey was raised in West Africa, where as a young man he became a rising figure among the educated elite of the Gold Coast and played an important role in the Gold Coast Aborigines’ Rights Protection Society’s defeat of the Public Lands Bill of 1897. For two decades, he served as a professor at Livingstone College, the chief educational institution of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion (AMEZ) Church, and as a pastor in two AMEZ churches in rural North Carolina. Throughout this period, he became connected to a number of black intellectuals and educators in Washington and New York, including Robert Moton, James Cromwell, W. E. B. Du Bois, John Edward Bruce, Arthur Schomburg, and Carter G. Woodson. Through these connections, he became a promoter of Ethiopianist ideas and developed a vision for Africa’s redemption and a positive outlook toward the continent’s role in the future of the world. In 1920–1921 and again in 1924, Aggrey was selected to join two educational commissions to visit eighteen African territories. Over the course of eighteen months, Aggrey made hundreds of appearances and spoke to thousands of Africans through both public speeches and private audiences. His fame during this time led to his becoming the first continental celebrity of sub-Saharan Africa. His fame in the West also peaked during the early 1920s, and he became one of the most sought-after Christian speakers in Britain and North America, leading one scholar to suggest that Aggrey was perhaps the most well-known African in the United States during this period. Aggrey had a long-lasting impact on the African continent, in large part through helping the people of the continent to see themselves as belonging to an African nation of people who had a glorious future once they unified as one people. Aggrey helped to infuse a positive value into an “African” identity, and his vision was interpreted in various ways throughout colonial Africa and led to numerous educational, political, and social movements and shaped the ideas of many prominent African figures throughout the 20th century.