Reverend Edward Wilmot Blyden the Father of Pan-Africanism and Afrocentrism
by Ndagi Abdullahi
Reverend Edward Wilmot Blyden was an exceptional personality. His intellectual achievements are such that he was truly an intellectual giant. There is no denying the fact that Reverend Edward Wilmot is one of the greatest Black intellectuals in the history of Western civilization.
Reverend Blyden experienced racism first hand very early in life and it seems that experience affected and influenced him throughout his latter life. He was born in 1832 to free Black parents in the Virgin Islands of the United States. Early in life he became very close to a White American pastor called John Knox who was actually a missionary from the USA. Under the influence and mentorship of this Pastor Knox the young Edward Wilmot was thoroughly educated and became well informed.
The young Edward Wilmot was also noted for his exceptional intelligence and intellectualism. He was also a bookworm. Pastor Knox also thoroughly instructed him in Christianity to the extent that the young Edward Wilmot decided that he is going to become a missionary.
In 1850 Pastor Knox’s wife then took the young Edward Wilmot to the USA to be admitted into Christian Seminary but three seminaries in the North rejected the young Edward Wilmot one after the other based simply on his being Black and not White. That rejection of admission into a seminary college based on racism and the colour of his skin had a devastating effect on the young and very intelligent Edward Wilmot Blyden.
When the young Edward Wilmot Blyden came back home to the Virgin Islands pastor Knox advised and encouraged him to go to Liberia in West Africa where he can best put his exceptional intelligence and intellectualism to work. At last Edward Wilmot, and in that same year 1850, came to Monrovia in Liberia and settled down to a life of intellectualism and scholarship.
A Life of Intellectualism in Liberia
He immediately became very famous and popular as a very brilliant editor of several newspapers and magazines in several British colonies on the West African Coast including in Sierra Leone and Nigeria. He was also an editor for a newspaper in the USA.
In all his editorials and newspaper write-ups Edward Blyden focused on the concept of the superiority and supremacy of the African race in counteraction to the racism of the White people. It was through these write-ups that he gradually developed and refined his Pan-Africanist ideology and theories.
Soon Edward Blyden had integrated himself into the Liberia society as he married into a famous and powerful family in Monrovia while he became a very popular public figure in Liberia because of his regular newspaper articles and columns.
His articles and columns in the newspapers exhibited a rare and peculiar type of intellectualism and scholarship unprecedented among Black Africans in those days. This gained for Edward Blyden great fame and recognition. Soon he was a Professor and was appointed as the President of the Liberia College from 1880 to 1884. Before long he was a diplomat and an ambassador of Liberia to Britain and France.
In all these what made Edward Blyden such a remarkable personality was his exceptional write-ups, articles, columns and books all of which showcased a type of refined and scholarly intellectualism unheard of among Black Africans. As a matter of fact what made his book ‘Christianity, Islam and the Negro Race’ so popular and famous in Europe and North America was not only the controversial topic of the book as was also the fact that many White people in Europe and North America argued vehemently that the scholarship and intellectualism behind the writing of the book was such that it could not have been written by a Black African.
In any case Reverend Blyden’s writings are centred on the concept that all the African peoples of the world are one and should recognize the unifying factors binding them together. As a matter of fact Reverend Blyden promoted the idea in his books and works that Africa is the home of the Black Man and that all Africans in Diaspora should come back to Africa if they are to regain the respect for their true identities.
Reverend Edward Blyden was the first to rigorously defined the Back to Africa theory in a very scholarly and intellectual manner. He passionately argued that the African in Diaspora can never be able to experience fulfillment in life and will always remain unfulfilled as long he refused to come back to Africa.
Reverend Blyden’s argument is that it is only in Africa that the Black man can ever be able to develop his potentials to the fullest. He pointed out that wherever the African remained outside the African continent he will remain a second class citizen and, worse still, a miscegenation and therefore a subhuman African.
It was obvious that Reverend Blyden’s ideology of Ethiopianism or Back to Africa philosophy was based on his personal experience in life. His biography is a clear manifestation of this fact. We see that Reverend Blyden was born in Diaspora but ended up living the rest and main part of his life here in West Africa in Liberia and Sierra Leone. It is no wonder therefore that his philosophy and ideology in life was for Africans born in Diaspora in all other parts of the world to come back to Africa.
Reverend Edward Blyden was able to use the skills, education and expertise he acquired in Diaspora to come and develop Africa and that formed a major aspect of his Ethiopianism or Back to Africa philosophy mainly that Africans born or living in Diaspora should return back to Africa to use the skills and education they have acquired for the development of Africa.
Reverend Blyden was of the strong view that Africa in his days needed the education and skills of Africans in Diaspora for the development of Africa. He pointed out the fact that others, especially the White man, will not develop Africa for the Africans. In fact he pointed out that instead of developing Africa the White man will only exploit and oppress Africa and that it is only left to the African himself, especially the African in Diaspora who had acquired the sophistication and learning of the White man, to develop Africa.
In fact this philosophy of Ethiopianism or Back to Africa of Reverend Edward Wilmot Blyden was a personal philosophy as it was based on and develop from his personal experience in life. He was born in Diaspora but he came back to Africa and successfully and extensively used the education and sophistication he had acquired in Diaspora to immensely develop Africa.
As a matter of fact the contributions of Reverend Edward Wilmot to the development of West Africa and Africa in general are immense and cannot be over estimated. He initiated a new, progressive and revolutionary way of thinking for the Black Africans in a manner that was uplifting and dignifying for the Black Africans.
He was also the one who demonstrated through his hard work and dedication to his ideologies and convictions that the Black man can be self reliant in effecting the development and advancement of Africa.
Reverend Blyden’s Intellectual Ideology
He was one in a million – he wrote in a style and manner that even many of the White scholars and intellectuals cannot, let alone his Black African Negro people who were generally unlettered in those days.
Reverend Blyden story of intellectualism started in the sense that he was born and flourished in a world that was torn between his Black identity and the White society in which he lived. Unfortunately for him the White culture and civilization in which he was brought up in was completely racists and unfavourable to him. And that was what forced Reverend Blyden to seek out an intellectual supremacy and escapism for him from the wicked and unfavourably White society in which he lived.
In any case the story is that Reverend Blyden was able to develop a theory of Black Supremacy that was unprecedented in those days of Slave Era mentality. He was among the first people to come up with a thoroughly scholarly demonstration of the theory that the Black African Negro people were once upon a time a great race of people who were on the same equal footing with the White race.
Reverend Blyden used the Bible to totally discredit the claim in those days that the Black race is a cursed race descended out of Ham the son cursed by the Biblical patriarch Noah for exposing his nudity. Using Biblical verses and passages themselves Reverend Edward was able to painstakingly demonstrate to the White people that the Bible never cursed or condemned the Black race and that instead the Bible had always held the Black races in high esteem right from Genesis to the Book of Revelation.
Reverend Blyden actually took the great pain of meticulously studying ancient Latin texts and prehistoric and historic documents he could lay his hands on either directly or through secondary sources and references to remonstrate his point to the effect that the Black race had once upon a time been a great and enviable race who established great cultures and civilizations on the face of this very planet earth in very prehistoric times.
Reverend Blyden actually depended heavily on ancient Latin manuscripts and the writings of the Classical Greeks of antiquity to demonstrate the fact that the Black race and the Negro people of Africa had in former times been a great people of great achievements and great contributions to prehistory and history of humanity.
The main point here is that in those days this line of thought of Reverend Blyden was revolutionary and unprecedented in Europe the rest of the world. By the days of Reverend Blyden the Slave Era had come and denigrated the Black people and the Negro race to an unenviable position that nobody would ever like to be. In those days the Black people were being shipped as chattel properties to the plantations in the Americas and some parts of Europe and Western scholars and philosophers were busy writing books and propounding theories to the effect that the Black man was subhuman and had never initiated or even appreciate any culture or civilization before. It was therefore revolutionary on the part of Reverend Edward Blyden to come up with convincing evidences to the effect that Black race was really a great race of marvelous achievements in the past of humanity.
Actually it is not that Reverend Blyden was the first to come up with Black supremacist theories. No, so many other people have done so in the past before the time of Reverend Edward Blyden. What was so special and peculiar about Reverend Blyden was that he was practically the first person to use rigorous and incontrovertible scholarly approach in proving this school of thought. People like Paul Cuffee have before the time of Reverend Edward pointed out that the Black people were a great people in the ancient past. But all these people before Reverend Edward Blyden were not able to use the Bible, the writings of the Classical Greeks or other ancient scriptures or scripts to prove or remonstrate their points.
Reverend Edward Blyden was practically the first to used scholarly and intellectual means to corroborate the Afrocentric claims that have been bandied around for some times before his days. Reverend Blyden was able to convincingly quote passages from the Bible and from the works of the Classical Greeks and even medieval workers to prove that the Black Negroes were a great people in prehistoric times.
In fact Reverend Blyden was able to so articulately present his view to the point that he in fact, and to some extent, actually turned White racism on its head in the sense that he was to some extent able to prove that the Black people are actually superior to the White people and that in the past the Blacks did once upon a time ruled over a section of the White people. He was the first to use scholarly documents to irrefutably show that the Black race had not always been an inferior race as we see the Black race in the days of the Slave Trade era.
It is the postulation of Reverend Edward Blyden that the Black race used to be a superior one in very ancient times but that some cataclysmic prehistoric factors must have led to the degeneration of the Black race to the extent that in his days the Black race was practically enslaved to the White race.
This method of using the White man’s own scripture, the Bible, and the White man’s own ancient records of the Classical Greeks, the Latin world and the medieval era to demonstrate to the White man that the Black man had not always been an inferior race but was actually a superior one in ancient times was first used rigorously by Reverend Edward and he was so successful with it that he is today looked upon as the father of Afrocentrism.
Black and otherwise historians are today looking back in retrospect and are seeing that Reverend Edward Black is definitely the right person to be crowned the father of Afrocentrism. For he was practically the first person to use scholarly methods to reconstruct the prehistory and even the history of the world from a Eurocentric perspectives to an Afrocentric one. Reverend Edward Blyden was the first person to rigorously and studiously use Western scholarship sources to demonstrate the worldview that the beginning and past of humanity was far more Black, African and Negroid than the White man was ready to admit.
Father of Pan-Africanism
We should also note the fact that Reverend Edward Blyden was practically the founder or father of modern Pan-Africanism as he was the one who singularly defined, refined and codified the ideology into a definite one. He was the one who laid the foundations of Pan-Africanism on very solid foundations such that future generations of workers and researchers were able move and develop the ideology further without much difficulties.
As a matter of fact Reverend Edward Blyden is one of the greatest Black philosophers and writers in the history of Western civilization. Against so many odds and difficulties he was able to come up with a clearly articulated ideology about the superiority of the Black race and the fact that the Black race is just as superior as the White race.
There was a time Reverend Blyden toured the USA delivering speeches at large rallies and gatherings of African Americans whereby he repeatedly told the African Americans that they will never be fulfilled individually in life or as a nation of Black Africans as long as they remained in the USA. Reverend Blyden made it clear that for as long as the Black man remained in the USA, even if it is for the next five hundred years, the Black man will remain an unfulfilled, dehumanized and denigrated miscegenation with no self worth or worthwhile identity.
Reverend Blyden prophesized that a day will come when a Moses-like Black African figure will appear in the future and will end up repatriating all the African Americans back to Africa in a large exodus reminiscent of the exodus of the ancient Israelites under Moses across the Red Sea back to Canaan.
Reverend Blyden insisted that the Black African peoples are a single and one family regardless of wherever they found themselves today in different parts of the world – whether in the Americas, in India, in Oceania, in the Arab world or elsewhere. He argued that all these African peoples had better return back to Africa if they are to regain their pristine African Identity.
Reverend Edward Blyden also had no doubt whatever that Africa will dominate the future of humanity. Despite the bad condition and ignoble situation of the Black African race in his days Reverend Edward Blyden pointed it out in his works that the future of humanity is Black, African and Negroid.
Reverend Edward Blyden pointed it out that Africa will definitely rise to become the greatest power in the world of the future. He demonstrated the fact that Africa was once upon a time a great world power in the past and that Africa will go back to being a great world power in the future. Reverend Edward pointed it out that it is this great and superpower Africa of the future that will redeem all the Black peoples in all parts of the world in that great future.
Reverend Blyden actually developed an ideology and a movement he called Ethiopianism. This Ethiopianism movement was essentially a Back to Africa movement which seriously argued that Africans in Diaspora should all migrate back to Africa. In fact Reverend Blyden categorically likened his Ethiopanism to the Zionist movement of the Jews which was in those days headed by people like Theodore Herzl who were also telling Jewish people in Diaspora in all parts of the world to emigrate to Israel.
It was this relentless call by Reverend Edward Blyden on all the Africans living outside Africa to come back to Africa that came to be known as the Pan-African movement. In other words it was Reverend Edward Byden’s Ethiopianism that became Pan-Africanism.
Basically Reverend Edward Blyden argued that the Africans in Diaspora have been cut off from their true roots and are therefore incapable of attaining true fulfillment in life and also will be incapable of development their talents and potentials – both physical and metaphysical – to the zenith unless they come back to Africa where they will be able to do all these.
Reverend Edward Blyden also argued that the knowledge and sophistication of the Africans in Diaspora in the White man’s land are very necessary for the development of the African continent. He requested the Africans in Diaspora to come back t Africa to use their knowledge to build and develop Africa into the great superpower of the world that it is supposed to be.
Reverend Edward Blyden in all these arguments and remonstrations of his in support of his Ethiopianism movement wrote quite a number of articles, newspaper columns and books in those days. His distinctive style of writing and his exceptional strategy of using the scriptures and ancient writings of the White man to convince the White man himself was what really made him so popular and famous in his days.