Organizing 6PAC

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Part 5

As they embarked on the work organizing the Sixth Pan-African Congress (6PAC), Courtland Cox and Geri Augusto were guided by the seasoned Pan-Africanist thinker, C.L.R. James. 67-years-old and living in Washington, D.C., James had been working closely with the former SNCC organizers at the Center for Black Education. He guided them along as they sought to understand the seventy-year trajectory of the Congresses and the complex history of Pan-Africanist thinking. “We have the energy,” Courtland Cox remembered, “but he has the overall view of the sweeping view of history, and he studied it.”

Before moving to Tanzania, Augusto would bring foreign newspapers and pastries over to C.L. R. James’ apartment on Sunday mornings. He’d pull books from his personal Pan-African library off of the shelf, and they’d discuss. “So it’s the education about Africa and the diasporan notion of Black politics that I got before I ever went,” Augusto explained.

Geri Augusto “Learning from C.L.R. James”

For James’s part, the young SNCC organizers’ rootedness in the community impressed him. He saw the potential of marrying their grassroots orientation with the international platform of the Sixth Pan African Congress.

Geri Augusto “Rootedness in Community”

By 1973, Geri Augusto, Kathy Flewellen, and Courtland Cox moved to Dar es Salaam to work full time on organizing the Sixth Pan African Congress. Tanzania had agreed to host the conference, but it was important for Nyerere that the gathering also had the support of other now-independent African states. Representing no state of his own, the 32-year-old Courtland Cox, accompanied by C.L.R. James, and Bobby Fletcher, appeared before the Organization of African Unity to ask for a resolution of support.

I walk into this room. [Sekou Toure’s] sitting in the middle and all sorts of people are around him … And he wants me to tell him about the Sixth Pan African Congress. Again, 32 years old… my whole thinking is, ‘You’re not gonna let him see ya sweat.’ – Courtland Cox

SNCC’s Foreign Policy

One of Geri Augusto’s responsibilities as information officer was drafting “The Call” for the Sixth Pan African Congress that would go out across the world. It opened with “The 20th century is the century of Black Power” and called on “Africans everywhere” to come to the Congress. Here, Courtland Cox reads from the Call:

Courtland Cox “The Call”

It also called for the establishment of a Pan-African Science and Technology Center, “consistent with our commitment to independence and self-reliance,” an idea that emerged directly from the Center of Black Education. C.L.R. James, who had been helping write the Call, questioned Augusto after he read that part in an early draft.

Geri Augusto “Drafting the Call”

As organizational work got underway, one of the most significant challenges was the distinction between state versus nonstate actors. There had been no independent African states at the 1945 conference, but by 1973, scores of African nations had freed themselves from their colonial oppressors. As an independent state, the Tanzanian government felt obligated to give preference to fellow governments over liberation movements or other non-state actors.

The Tanzanians “didn’t think we’d be able to advance on the agenda if you didn’t have people who were actually in government power. – Geri Augusto

Preference to Independent States

This debate came to a head in the Caribbean where there was a split between governments and opposition parties. African Society for Cultural Relations with Independent Africa (ASCRIA) in Guyana, the New Jewel Movement in Grenada, and other non-state political organizations across the Caribbean responded to the Congress Call. They felt like it spoke to their vision for the Caribbean, not that of the existing Black-led, but neo-colonial state governments. Tanzania’s explicit preference for interacting with independent states put Courtland Cox, the secretary general with Trinidadian roots, in a difficult position.

Courtland Cox “Caribbean and Non-State Actors”

In the end, the disagreement over state versus nonstate actors emerging from the Caribbean proved unresolvable and C.L.R. James, one of the Congress’s most vehement supporters, withdrew his support. Another distinction was drawn between the full delegates who came as a part of an independent state or from a country that Black people were in a minority and between the representatives of African liberation movements, who were invited to attend as honored observers because they did not control their own state. All of the southern African liberation movements had offices in Dar es Salaam, and Geri Augusto was assigned to be their liaison, sometimes to competing liberation movements from within the same country.

Geri Augusto “African Liberation Movements as Observers”

Part 5: Legacy of the Sixth Pan-African Congress