Council on African Affairs

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Duration: 1937 - 1955
Location: New York, New York, United States


The Council on African Affairs (CAA), formed in 1937, was perhaps the first U.S. solidarity organization in support of African struggles against colonialism and apartheid. It was a largely African-American organization which was centered in Harlem. Max Yergan, who was the first African-American to work for the YMCA in South Africa and had contact with Govan Mbeki and other members of the African National Congress, served as Executive Director of CAA. In 1943 William Alphaeus Hunton became Educational Director of CAA during a one-year leave of absence from Howard University. The following year, Hunton resigned from his job as a professor and moved to New York. When Yergan resigned, Hunton additionally assumed the role of Executive Director - assuring, often alone, the functioning of the organization until its dissolution in 1955. (Yergan moved to the right and eventually collaborated with the FBI against the CAA.) Other prominent members included W.E.B. Du Bois, Paul Robeson, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. and Mary McLeod Bethune. The CAA sought to educate the public about the history of Africa and its struggle against colonialism and imperialism. CAA published a monthly bulletin, New Africa, and a regular newsletter, Spotlight on Africa, which featured in-depth stories on Africa by renowned scholars including Du Bois and Hunton. One of CAA’s first campaigns was against invasion by Italian fascist forces of Ethiopia and later the partition of the former Italian colonies in East Africa by the NATO powers in 1949. The Council mounted effective public campaigns in and raised funds around specific issues such as the Campaign of Defiance Against Unjust Laws in South Africa, against the jailing of African leaders in Kenya and South Africa, in support of workers’ struggles in South Africa, Nigeria and Ghana and for the end of South Africa’s mandate over South West Africa (Namibia). Tens of thousands attended mass rallies at Madison Square Garden and Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. But the emergence of the Cold War and activities of the House Un-American Activities Committee crippled the work of the Council. Robeson, Du Bois and Hunton were Marxists or left leaning and refused to dissociate themselves from friends in the U.S. Communist Party. The CAA also refused to back off of its criticism of race relations and segregation in the U.S., supported African struggles against colonialism and remained critical of U.S. policy towards Africa. The CAA and its officers were repeatedly investigated and accused of subversion, being unpatriotic and disloyalty. In 1954 Hunton was subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury and was forced to surrender all documents detailing CAA’s relationship with the African National Congress. In 1955 the CAA dissolved. (Sources: “The 1950s: Africa Solidarity Rising” by Lisa Brock in No Easy Victories: African Liberation and American Activists Over a Half Century, 1950-2000 and the finding aid for the William Alphaeus Hunton http://catnyp.nypl.org/record=b2646610)

Related Archive
Title: Robeson; Paul
Time Span: 1925-1956 (Council on African Affairs 1944 - 1955)
Description: Collection includes material relating to the Council on African Affairs (CAA), 1944 - 1955. Paul Robeson, one of the preeminent figures in 20th century U.S. history, was an athlete, actor, singer and linguist as well as a Pan-African and progressive activist on many fronts. He was one of the founders and served as chairman of the Council on African Affairs. In the 1930s and 1940s he was probably one of the most widely known and respected Americans of any race around the world. After he was targeted for government repression in the McCarthy period, his name recognition was reduced and his influence marginalized. But his legacy is now being rediscovered by scholars and public interest is again rising, as reflected by the recent postage stamp in his honor. The collection of material referenced here, related to the CAA, is part of a large collection of Paul Robeson material. The material on the CAA consists of correspondence, reports, resolutions, press releases and clippings. Correspondents in this sub-series include: Lord Halifax, British ambassador to Washington (1944); Edward Stettinius, chairman of the United States delegation to the United Nations on the subject of colonial trusteeship, then under consideration in regard to the United Nations charter; the Natal Indian Congress in South Africa, founded by Mahatma Gandhi in 1894; Oliver Tambo, General Secretary of the African National Congress in South Africa (1954), and Mrs. Funmi Ransome Kuti, a Nigerian political activist and mother of the Afro-beat band leader Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Also included are two different drafts of Robeson's message to the Asian-African Conference in Bandung (Indonesia) in 1955 and related correspondence.
Housed At: Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
Location: The New York Public Library, 515 Malcolm X Boulevard, New York, NY 10037-1801, United States
Catalog/Finding Aid: view
Phone: (212) 491-2200
Related Website: http://www.nypl.org/research/sc/sc.html

Related Archive
Title: Hunton; William Alphaeus
Time Span: 1926 - 1970
Description: Personal, professional, organizational and literary papers of William Alphaeus Hunton, an African American scholar, expert on Africa, political activist, administrator of the Council on African Affairs, 1943-1955, and the Encyclopedia Africana Project in Ghana, 1962-1966. He became the Educational Director of the Council on African Affairs (CAA) in 1943, during a one year leave of absence from Howard University. The following year, he resigned from his job as a professor and moved to New York. After the withdrawal of Max Yergan from the post of Executive Director of the CAA, Hunton additionally assumed the role of executive secretary - assuring, often alone, the functioning of the entire organization until its dissolution in 1955. Hunton's book, Decision on Africa was published in 1957. At the invitation of President Sekou Toure he immigrated to Guinea. In 1962 he accepted an invitation from W.E.B. Du Bois to work in Ghana. In February 1966 President Kwame Nkrumah was overthrown and Hunton was later expelled from Ghana. Hunton returned to New York but a year later moved to Zambia at the invitation from President Kenneth Kaunda. He died of cancer in Lusaka on January 13, 1970 at the age of 63. Correspondents in the collection include Kwame Nkrumah; Eleanor Roosevelt; Ralph J. Bunche; Jawarharlal Nehru; and Walter Sisulu, Secretary-General of the African National Congress of South Africa. The collection also includes Hunton's writings consisting of lectures, articles, and reviews, 1938-1968; and two manuscripts articles written by Dorothy Hunton about William Alphaeus Hunton.
Housed At: Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
Location: The New York Public Library, 515 Malcolm X Boulevard, New York, NY 10037-1801, United States
Catalog/Finding Aid: view
Phone: (212) 491-2200
Related Website: http://www.nypl.org/research/sc/sc.html