6th Pan-African Congress
“We believe that the future of Africans lies in the fullest utilization of our human resources instead of continued dependency on loans and gifts from abroad …if we do not control the means of survival and protection in the context of the 20th century, we will continue to be colonized.” These words were part of the “Call” for a Sixth Pan African Congress.
In June 1974, Black leaders from Africa and its diaspora convened in Tanzania to continue the series of international meetings that first began in 1900 as the Pan African Conference organized by Trinidadian barrister Henry Sylvester Williams. W.E.B. Du Bois initiated five more in 1919, 1921, 1923, 1927, and 1945. Although the first four of these Congresses discussed the decolonization of Africa and the West Indies, participants were mainly from the elite. However, the 1945 Fifth Pan-African Congress included a newer generation of working class and trade unionists as delegates who called for immediate Black liberation.
The Sixth-PAC, or 6PAC, as it eventually became known, was unlike all of the preceding delegations. It was the first to be held on the continent, an important symbol for progress in the latter twentieth century following a number of new nation-states gaining their independence in Africa and the Caribbean in the 1960s.
Its organizing idea largely came from Washington D.C. activists, especially SNCC veterans who were exploring Pan-African work in the area. Among them, Courtland Cox, James Garrett, and Charlie Cobb, other activists in the larger Black power movement, along with Africans associated with liberation movements like South African poet Keorapetse Kgositsile. Greatly influencing all of this was scholar and activist C.L.R. James, who had helped organize the fifth meeting. African and Caribbean embassies made for important network building in the nation’s capital.
The Sixth-PAC was the first to include women’s interests in the Pan-African struggle. Sylvia Hill, former SNCC worker who worked in Mississippi, became secretary-general for North America. Kathy Flewellen and Geri Stark Augusto, along with Secretary-General Courtland Cox, organized and worked in the Dar es Salaam-based International Secretariat. They worked as liaisons to nationalist organizations and on the protocols and passports for the meeting.
The following June, two hundred leaders, activists, and organizers arrived in Tanzania, hosted by Pan-Africanist and then Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere. Courtland Cox served as the Secretary-General, initially, alongside C.L.R. James, who resigned after a dispute over the inclusion of a Caribbean opposition group. Delegations were primarily people from Africa, and also African-descended individuals from Europe, the United States, the Caribbean, South America, and the Pacific. The immediate objectives of the Congress were to discuss how to end economic exploitation and dependency, the “fulfillment of the potential of political independence,” and most importantly, to build international support for the struggle in southern Africa.
There were differences on a variety of issues. Some believed African Americans had an isolated experience compared to other Black people in the world. Some in the U.S. delegation wanted to discuss race as a primary factor, while others saw class as more significant to Black liberation. And finally there was the question of opposition groups from independent African and Caribbean nations.
Despite the work of women leaders and the fact that this Congress had more women delegates than any in their history, women were still somewhat overshadowed by their peers. President Nyerere sent word that he wanted to meet with the leaders of the delegation. James Turner, who served on the North American Secretariat, announced that all those leaders would be men. Later on, U.S. Ambassador Paul Bomani spoke to Sylvia Hill and told her, “There will be a car to pick you up to take you to the president. You will meet with the president alone, and when the gentlemen get there, you will already be there.” With the plan set in motion, Sylvia Hill recalled, “I was there half an hour before they got there. I was already on my second cup of tea when they walked in and they were so stunned to see me sitting there.”
For all of this, the Sixth Pan-African Congress was successful in creating people-to-people ties and aligning figures from independent African nations and across the diaspora to come together. As Cox stated in his closing remarks to the delegation, “I believe this Congress has clearly advocated new imperatives: an end to neo-colonialism and imperialism, and the revolutionary social transformation of African societies and communities…I think this Congress has ratified the validity of African people meeting to chart a political course for our common problems. We as African people still have an obligation to continue our own most important contribution to human advancement—the building of a strong, just Africa, and the forging of a United African People.”
Ashley Farmer, “Blank Women Organize for the Future of Pan-Africanism: The Sixth Pan-African Congress,” African American Intellectual History Society, July 3, 2016.
William Minter, et. al., “Sylvia Hill: From the Sixth Pan-African Congress to the Free South Africa Movement,” No Easy Victories: African Liberation and American Activists over a Half Century, 1950-2000.
“A History of the 6th Pan-African Congress w Mama Irene and Dr. Sylvia Hill,” I Mix What I Like!, June 27, 2015.
La TaSha Levy, Sylvia Hill, and Judy Claude, “Rethinking Pan-Africanism for the 21st Century,” The Black Scholar vol. 37, no. 4 (Winter 2008): 39-47.
Courtland Cox, “African Liberation,” The Black Scholar vol. 5, no. 7 (April 1974): 32-34.
Imamu Amiri Baraka, “Some Questions about the Sixth Pan-African Congress,” The Black Scholar vol. 6, no. 2 (October 1974): 42-46.
Resolutions and Selected Speeches from the Sixth Pan-African Congress (Dar es Salaam: Tanzania Publishing House, 1976).