Black Women Organize for the Future of Pan-Africanism: the Sixth Pan-African Congress

*This is the first of a new blog series on Women, Gender and Pan-Africanism edited by blogger Keisha N. Blain. Blog posts in this series will examine how women and gender have shaped Pan-Africanist movements and discourses of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in the United States, Europe, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. In this post, AAIHS blogger Ashley D. Farmer examines the significant role women played in the Sixth Pan-African Congress (6PAC), held in Tanzania in 1974.

Last month marked 42 years since the Sixth Pan-African Congress (6PAC), a meeting of thousands of activists, leaders, and organizers in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in June 1974. Convened during the “century of black power,” the meeting brought together activists, organizers, and leaders from across the African Diaspora to chart a course for the future of Pan-Africanism in the postwar era. With the rising interest in black power history, scholars have now begun to assess the impact of 6PAC on late 20th century Pan-Africanism, African state formation, and the black power movement.1 However, few have adequately addressed the importance of women and gender to this international meeting. In fact, without the tireless organizing of a cohort of women activists, 6PAC would not have occurred.

6PAC was the latest in a series of international summits that began at the turn of the century. Trinidadian barrister Henry Sylvester Williams started the tradition of holding the Pan-African Congresses. In 1900, he held the first meeting of about 30 delegates, primarily from England and the West Indies. W.E.B. Du Bois revived the Congresses after World War I in 1919, hoping to focus world leaders’ attention on decolonization and Africa’s future. The Diaspora’s elite met in 1923 and again in 1927 in New York City. The Fifth Pan-African Congress (5PAC) held in Manchester, England in 1945 marked a turning point. Whereas the black elite controlled the previous meetings, working-class delegates and trade unionists dominated 5PAC. This new group of leaders eschewed the older generation’ focus on gradualism and called for the immediate and unequivocal liberation of African peoples all over the world.

Although 5PAC marked a decisive shift in Congress participation and goals, it retained the patriarchal ethos of the previous four meetings. Women like Anna Julia Cooper and Amy Jacques Garvey served as delegates at the first five Pan-African Congresses and women’s groups like Addie Hunton’s International Circle of Peace and Foreign Relations helped organize 4PAC. However, women’s participation in these congresses “did not, in an of itself, constitute a merging of Pan-African and women’s interests.”2

As the idea for 6PAC germinated among African American and Caribbean activists, it was not immediately clear what role women would play in the meeting. What was evident, however, was that 6PAC would be the first congress to be held on African soil and that participants would need to redefine Pan-Africanism and its objectives given the transformations taking place across the African continent. During the 1960s, record numbers of African countries threw off the yoke of their colonial oppressors through bloody and peaceful revolutions. In the early 1970s, other liberation groups in Mozambique and Cape Verde were still in the throes of liberation struggles. The challenge for 6PAC participants was how to harness Africa’s new independent power, deconstruct neocolonialist regimes, and unite the diaspora under a common Pan-African agenda.

Sylvia Hill, center, and Gay McDougall with Nelson Mandela in 1991 (Credit: Sylvia Hill via No Easy Victories)

Women’s organizing of and participation in 6PAC also challenged conventional ideas about gender and Pan-African liberation. Nowhere was this more evident than among the group of women organizers that helped bring the 1974 congress to fruition. Women like Sylvia Hill, Judy Claude, Kathy Flewellen, among others were responsible for the immense amount of planning that afforded over 200 men and women from North America the opportunity to attend the Congress. Hill, then a professor at Macalester College, became the secretary-general for the North American region. Along with Claude and Flewellen, she was in charge of the series of planning meetings to select delegates and develop the North American Delegation’s congress agenda.

Kathy Flewellen, Geri Augusto, Walter Bgoya (Credit: Loretta Hobbs)
Kathy Flewellen, Geri Augusto, Walter Bgoya (Credit: Loretta Hobbs via No Easy Victories)

African American women also shaped 6PAC internationally. In 1973, organizers Geri (Stark) Augusto and Edie Wilson relocated to Dar es Salaam and headed the International Secretariat of the Congress. Wilson was in charge of protocols and passports. In addition to writing the “Call to Congress” or the announcement of 6PAC, Augusto was also the information officer and the official liaison with the anticolonial African nationalist organizations headquartered in Dar es Salaam.3 Without their work, the coordination and participation of African liberation groups and leaders would not have been possible.

Sonia Sanchez and Queen Mother Moore, Trinity College, Hartford, 1980s, on occasion of Sonia receiving an honorary doctorate.
Queen Mother Audley Moore

Thanks to the efforts of these women, thousands of participants convened at the University of Dar es Salaam from June 19–27 to chart a new course for Pan-Africanism. Not only was the meeting the most diverse in the history of the congresses, it also included more women delegates. 6PAC brought together elder women activists like Queen Mother Audley Moore and Mae Mallory with younger organizers like Florence Tate and Brenda Paris. And, as Augusto noted in pre-congress interviews, the “position of sisters throughout the African world [was] sure to be discussed” at 6PAC.4

During the meeting, participants foregrounded the importance of women’s equality in Pan-African struggle. Numerous delegations, including the North American one, offered speeches and resolutions about the centrality of women to the future of Pan-Africanism. The Grenadian delegation spoke of “The Role of Women in the Struggle for Liberation” while the Guyanese group submitted a paper analyzing  “The Contribution of Women to the Development of the Pan African World.”5 The 6PAC program included workshops on “Women’s Contribution to the Pan-African Struggle.”6 Participants also ratified a “Resolution on Black Women” that declared their “total support to the political struggles for equality undertaken by black women” and called on “all the states and organisations [sic] participating in this Congress to tackle the problems of the oppression of women thoroughly and profoundly.”7

African American women activists had always organized within an eye toward Africa. However, events like 6PAC created new opportunities to refine their Pan-African commitments and identities. Through their organizational skills, resolutions, and participation they shaped the direction of late twentieth century Pan-African organizing and the discourse on the intersection of women, gender, and Pan-Africanism. Focusing on their involvement and goals in 6PAC offers another vantage point from which to think about the ideological and organizational evolution of Pan-Africanism and how women’s expectations and goals for these international meetings differed. Most importantly, it is a reminder that analyses of Pan-Africanism must always be approached from a gender-inclusive perspective.

  1. Fanon Che Wilkins, “‘A Line of Steel’: The Organization of the Sixth Pan-African Congress and the Struggle for International Black Power, 1969–1974,” in The Hidden 1970s: Histories of Radicalism ed. Dan Berger (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2010), 97–115; Russell Rickford, We Are an African People: Independent Education, Black Power, and the Radical Imagination (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016).
  2. M. Bahati Kuumba, “Engendering the Pan-African Movement: Field Notes from the All-African Women’s Revolutionary Union,” in ed. Kimberly Springer, Still Lifting, Still Climbing: African-American Women’s Contemporary Activism (New York: New York University Press, 1999), 167-88.
  3. “Memo from North American Secretariat to Delegation Members, 5/15/74”; folder 38, box 5; “Press Release, 1/17/1974,” folder 85, box 3, Sixth Pan-African Congress Records, Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University.
  4. “Interview with Conf. Official: Sixth Pan African Congress in Tanzania,” African World, May 31, 1974, 5.
  5. “The Role of Women in the Struggle for Liberation” and “Contribution of Women to the Development of the Pan African World,” in Resolutions and Selected Speeches from the Sixth Pan-African Congress (Dar es Salaam: Tanzania Publishing House, 1976).
  6. Sixth Pan-African Congress Program, Box 1, Folder 22a, Muriel S. and Otto P. Snowden Papers, Archives and Special Collections, Northeastern University Library, Boston, Massachusetts.
  7. “Resolution on Black Women,” in Resolutions and Selected Speeches, 197.
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Ashley Farmer

Ashley Farmer is an Associate Professor of History and African and African Diaspora Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. She is a graduate of Spelman College and holds a Ph.D. in African American Studies and an M.A. in History from Harvard University. Her book, Remaking Black Power: How Black Women Transformed an Era, is the first intellectual history of women in the black power movement. Follow her on Twitter @drashleyfarmer.

Comments on “Black Women Organize for the Future of Pan-Africanism: the Sixth Pan-African Congress

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    Thanks very much for opening a much needed discussion. One of the things I’ve learned from working in the past few years with the SNCC legacy project is that, in doing our own histories, divergent memories are part of the process, and can even sharpen the discussion. For example, my own memory would add to Dr. Farmer’s post that the Center for Black Education, where I was a member at the time as were many other young women activists, played an important role in organizing 6PAC. That Courtland Cox was the Secretary-General of the office in Dar where Kathy and I worked. We all three worked daily from October to June, with Tanzanian colleagues, on the ground, to organize the meeting. That I stayed on afterwards, as did Edie, to work in Tanzania. That while I wrote the final version of the Call that went out, I did so at the urging of CLR James (another story not for now) and based on past drafts and a sheaf of historical documents that he thrust into the hands of a very young and hesitant militant black woman–assuring her that she could do it! And that in doing so, I drew on a struggle discourse–a black radical tradition in motion– and set of concerns among independent black institutions in the USA and the Caribbean at the time, as well as our knowledge of African independence and African liberation movements. This is not a criticism of the much-needed research of contemporary scholars. Just a modest contribution and a bent for calling on praxis! –Prof. Geri Augusto, Brown University

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    Thanks for sharing this! I have been working on finishing Florence L. Tate’s memoir, begun with her in 2010, prior to her passing. It will include a piece she wrote, titled, “A Very Personal Point of View — Some observations, Impressions, Opinions re: the Sixth Pan African Congress – Dar es Salaam University, Tanzania, June 19 – 27, 1974.” I am excited to read that there is a continued and growing interest in both the history of the Black Power movement and more investigation of women within that movement. This scholarship should be readily available and accessible for everyone interested in history, not only of the movement, but of America — and the world.

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    Thank you for your article! It is very informative and staunchly places African Diaspora women back in the history of Pan Africanism. I wrote a piece on the 4th PAC in New York and the women organized it. It’s good to see more work on these women without which the 4th would have occurred and had a very high turnout. This piece was in an on-line project with Michael Hanchard called the Global Mappings of the African Diaspora. It was online under Northwestern University and has since been removed. I am working on a book about African American women activists that do political work day in and day out for the people. These are women that are not recognized for the political infrastructure built for continuous activism. If you know of any Black women activists in city or state politics please let me know. I also would love to include your work. Again, it is so refreshing to read about us.

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