As black Americans lived through two World Wars in which they fought for democracy overseas only to return to domestic oppression and racial terror-- war heroes scorned by those they were sent to protect—they began to envision other political formations through which to gain civil and human rights. Although the notion of connectivity throughout the Black Diaspora had been ever-present since the beginning of the Atlantic slave trade, political Pan-Africanism emerged in the United States as a concerted movement at the turn of the century. In 1900, the first pan African conference assembled and the Pan African Congress was established. First meeting in 1909, under the leadership of W.E.B. DuBois, and four times subsequent to that, the Pan African Congress was an alliance of black intellectuals and activists throughout the black Diaspora who sought to create critical political connections to secure rights and leadership for oppressed people of color.
Unlike Garvey’s Back to Africa movement, the Pan African Congress was never interested in transplanting black people back to an African homeland, although DuBois and others were at various times interested in settlement schemes. Instead the leaders of the PAC saw Pan-Africanism as a political movement where racism and economic oppression was a shared experience through which to mobilize against colonialism, imperialism, and for the rights to land and political voice.
Throughout the early part of the twentieth century, in European destinations such as London and Paris, Pan African Congress leaders, mostly from the United States and Europe discussed common issues of oppression and formulated coalitions through which they could lobby governmental powers on both local and international issues of inequality. By 1945, American and European imperialism, solidified by the end of World War Two negotiations, shifted the attention of the Congress away from the issues of racism, inequality, and violence facing black Americans to issues facing young leaders on the African continent. Formerly chaired by DuBois, the 1945 Manchester Conference was taken up by a younger generation of militant African leaders including Jomo Kenyata and Kwame Nkrumah, future presidents of independent African nations, with a focus on decolonization, independence and anti-imperialism.
Here, the delegates advanced a militant pan-Africanism rooted in forming political collectives throughout the Diaspora to push for decolonization of the continent. This language of decolonization of the oppressed resonated for black Americans throughout the nation. In the coming of the Civil Rights Movement, the language developed in the 1945 PAC would inform the ways in which black radical activists would conceptualize and frame their ideas of freedom. Freedom would be informed by the words of various black leaders pushing for an international understanding, including DuBois, Garvey, Nkrumah and Kenyatta, who sought to create a political voice, self-determination, independence, and decolonized communities for people of color throughout the Diaspora.