The Kenya Airlift, 1959-1963 (Unearthing Africana Collections and Providing Global Access, Part 2)

by Cora Weiss, Africana Librarians Council, Laverne B. Page (moderator), Regina Roberts (video production), Peter Limb
New Orleans, Louisiana, United States
November 19, 2009
Duration: 34:56
Type: Presentation
Coverage in Africa: Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, East Africa
Coverage outside Africa: United States
Language: English
Presentation made by Cora Weiss, former Executive Director of the African American Students Foundation (AASF), as part of the African Librarians Council panel on “Unearthing Africana Collections and Providing Global Access” at the African Studies Association. Weiss says Kenyan trade unionist Tom Mboya was concerned about the insufficient number of Kenyans who would be prepared to become civil servants after independence, so he launched an effort to solicit scholarships in the U.S. AASF was formed after Mobya’s April 1959 tour of U.S. colleges and universities, organized by the American Committee on Africa, during which he gave speeches and met with officials. AASF raised money to charter airplanes and flew African students to the U.S. to take advantage of those scholarships. Weiss says Mboya remained involved in AASF, and eventually students were brought from a number of East African countries. Wangari Maathai, Africa’s first woman Nobel laureate, arrived on the 1960 airlift. Barack Obama Sr. also was a recipient of AASF support. Other airlifted students went on to become diplomats, professors, medical doctors, lawyers, agronomists, civil servants and at least one champion long-distance runner as well as a vice-president of Kenya. Weiss relates her experience and describes the organization’s collection, which she donated to the African Activist Archive at the Michigan State University Libraries Special Collections. This collection was used by Tom Shachtman to inform his book, Airlift to America: How Barack Obama Sr., John F. Kennedy, Tom Mboya and 800 East African Students Changed Their World and Ours (St. Martin's Press, 2009). This book describes the impact of the airlift on the United States and East Africa as students returned home to become nation builders in post-colonial East Africa. Cora Weiss ran the U.S. end of the airlift; she served as student advisor and a member of the Board of Directors along with founder William X. Scheinman, George Houser, Frank Montero, Ruth Bunche (wife of Ralph Bunche), Buell Gallagher, Jackie Robinson, Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte. The panel is moderated by Laverne B. Page (Library of Congress). (A videotape of the talk was produced by Regina Roberts of Stanford University, from which this audio is taken.)

Used by permission of Regina Roberts