Science and Technology Committee Co-chair Dr. Fletcher Robinson and Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere
“The 20th century is the century of Black Power. It has already been marked by two dynamics. First, a unified conception of all peoples who have been colonized. They are known by friends and enemies as members of the Third World. And the most significant members of the Third World are those who strive for power to the people and Black Power to the Black people. On the one hand, white power, which ruled unchallenged for so long during this very century, is marked by the unparalleled degeneration, first by two savage and global wars such as the world had never before seen. The same mentality prepares for a third war. Its barbarism unpurged, European power strives at all costs to maintain that domination from which the formerly colonial peoples of the world are breaking. That is the world white power seeks to maintain at a time when the colonial peoples have begun one of the greatest movements towards freedom that the world has ever known. The Sixth Pan-African Congress, to be held in the United Republic of Tanzania in June 1974, is part of that movement.” – The Call to the Sixth Pan-African Congress, 1972.
Brief Overview of the Sixth Pan-African Congress
Following in the tradition of the previous four conferences from 1919 – 1945, and of the Pan-African leadership from both H. Sylvester Williams, the first architect of the Pan-African Congress, and W.E.B. DuBois, who continued the Congress’ tradition until 1945, members of the Center for Black Education, in consultation with Bermudian Roosevelt Browne (Pauulu Karamarakafego) and Trinidadian revolutionary C. L. R. James, committed to organizing the Sixth Pan-African Congress.
After considerable planning with varying participants, serious planning for 6PAC began in 1972 in Washington, D.C. A steering committee consisting of Geri Stark Augusto, Edward Brown, Courtland Cox, Charlie Cobb, Jimmy Garrett, and Sylvia Hill began to meet. They also engaged in international travel to identify potential allies as organizers. The International Secretariat office was organized in 1973 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, by Courtland Cox as the Secretary-General, Geri Stark Augusto as communication liaison, and Edi Wilson and Kathryn Flewellen as the administrative support team.
The North America organizing infrastructure was organized regionally including Canada, the Caribbean, and the USA. While logistical organizing was housed in the Institute for African Education (an after-school children’s program administered by Drs. Sylvia Hill and JoAnn Favors at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn.), Drs. James Turner of Cornell University and Julian Ellison of the Black Economic Research Center (BERC) were the leadership team responsible for hosting political discussions with the various groups opposed to the Congress’ convening.
Seth Markel, historian and international studies professor, captured the priorities of the Congress and the complexity of its proceedings when he observed, “the last section of The Call prioritized ‘complete and absolute’ liberation in southern Africa and the development of a pan-African science and technology center and agenda.” He continued to identify the primacy of the idea of self-reliance, which would mean “the fullest utilization of our own human resources instead of continued dependency on the West.” As Markel observed, fashioning a discussion internal to the delegation would be challenging since the leading personalities were embroiled in a debate on whether race or class predominated an analysis of the problem for Black people in the United States and the world while the declaration of the Congress asserted a class analysis. The listed references offer many interpretations of the Congress’ proceedings and the implications of the declarations.
Solidarity with Southern Africa Liberation Movements
A central agenda item of the Congress was to create an opportunity for liberation movements to build international solidarity with Black people from the different regions of the world to strengthen their cause: to defeat Portuguese colonialism and apartheid in South Africa, Namibia, and Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). By the time of 6PAC, some participants were familiar with the anti-colonial struggles in southern Africa because of the seminal visit of Amilcar Cabral to New York, which was hosted by African-American filmmaker Robert Van Lierop of the Africa Information Service and later published in 1973 as the groundbreaking book, Return to the Source: Selected Speeches of Amilcar Cabral. By 1971, the historic film A Luta Continua, produced, directed, and narrated by Van Lierop was being circulated for showing at college campuses, churches, and social gatherings throughout the USA. The film reinforced the central tenet of FRELIMO, MPLA, SWAPO, and PAIGC: that the national liberation struggle includes the armed struggle phase but most importantly the social reconstruction phase of nation-building in liberated zones. Film viewers grasped the importance of health centers, educational centers for the young, collaborative leadership with equity for women, and collective farming to feed the community. Most importantly, the film showed the elevation of women as partners in the armed struggle with men as well as nation-building activities in the liberated zones. The equality of women in the national liberation struggle was affirmed by posters that showed women with a rifle on their shoulders and children in their arms.
One of the organizational design complexities – with political implications that we did not fully appreciate in our zeal to forge a worldwide Pan-African agenda against imperialism – was the different power and class interests between the liberation movements and African as well as Caribbean nation-states. FRELIMO, ANC, PAIGC, and MPLA focused on asserting the interests of the liberation movements’ political agenda of international solidarity as a primary outcome and objective of the Congress’ agenda. While this was consistent with our agenda as Congress organizers, there were many logistical challenges to making the centrality of the liberation movements a reality in terms of allotted time on the agenda. For example, the Congress had several official languages such as Portuguese, French, Arabic, and Kiswahili that not only created the need for a variety of translators and the reproductions of proceedings daily in the different languages, but it also limited the time for delegate presentations and participant discussions.
FRELIMO, MPLA, and ANC feared that African-American delegates, in particular, would concentrate on the symbols of African cultural solidarity as in clothes, music, and art as opposed to identifying strategies they would wage against U.S. foreign policies in the southern African region. Samora Machel, FRELIMO leader and Mozambique’s first President, said it best when he urged that “international solidarity is not an act of charity; it is an act of unity between allies fighting on different terrains toward the same objective.”
Center for Science and Technology
Ronald Walters, an African-American political scientist and leading scholar of the Pan-African movement, observed that “in the prevailing atmosphere, the proposal for a Center for Science and Technology was attacked on the grounds that it represented ‘bourgeois science’ and was improperly understood by the collective delegation of representatives. In any case, this most promising of projects did elicit some useful resolutions concerned with 1) the mobilization of skilled scientific manpower; 2) the development of African natural resources for the benefit of the common heritage; and 3) the extension of health care benefits to the people and the rejection of ill-advised health practices.” Fletcher Robinson, a co-chair of the Science and Technology Committee along with Donald Coleman, captured the sentiments of many scientists when he stated, “When we left the conference in 1974, for many of us, it was the most devastating experience of our lives. We participated in an effort that we gave a lot to, over a period of about four years.” He went on to explain in an interview with Black Books Bulletin that
“our reception at a formal level was a terrific blow to many of us. We were not accepted in the kinship of Pan-Africanism. There could not be discussion of science and technology in terms of how we could use our expertise and training for African interest wherever we were in the world, because the discussion was entirely politicized. There were people from Arab countries who never allowed the discussion to get on the floor, because they claimed that there could be no serious talk with people who did not represent a country, who only represented themselves.
Not only that, “the Arabs also raised the question of why should there be talk about building a science center for science and technology, when Egypt had always welcomed their brothers from the South to their institutions?” Another important characterization of these challenges by Dr. Robinson was his recollection that “this force was joined by people from Guinea, Somalia, and Congo-Brazzaville who said that we were pawns of the imperialists who came to bring forth whatever their doctrine was of imperialism.“ He continued with the observation, “Interestingly enough, when we would talk outside the meeting halls in the ad-hoc groups, then there was a feeling of Pan-Africanism—touching and getting to know each other’s experiences. When we did make our speeches and got a chance to show what we were talking about and why we came there, we got standing ovations.”
Nevertheless, plans for a Science and Technology Center were not adopted. Many local D.C. and national science and technology activists participated in the local planning for the Center such as Drs. Neville Parker and Donald Coleman from the engineering department at Howard University, Drs. Alyce Gulattee and Calvin Sinnette from Howard University Hospital as well as noted Afrocentric psychiatrist, Dr. Frances Cress Welsing.
Women and the Sixth Pan-African Congress
Aside from being the organizational heartbeat of 6PAC, the female participants forged a women-centered agenda during workshops and collective meetings in the after-hours as well as during the formal proceedings. The conference theme, “The role of women in the African liberation struggle” provided an important context for affirming the leadership role of women as delegates discussed with women of the African liberation movements the challenges of assuring girls’ education, women’s health care, and their leadership roles in organizations and societies. There had been a long tradition of USA and Caribbean women of African descent in leadership advocacy role of Pan-Africanism. Women like Amy Jacques Garvey, Queen Mother Moore, and many others were trailblazers for those of us participating in the 6PAC. Geri (Stark) Augusto captured the role of women in the conference when she observed that the position of sisters throughout the African world was discussed and a central part of the agenda.
In her seminal work, “Black Women Organize for the Future of Pan-Africanism: The Sixth Pan-African Congress,” Ashley Farmer noted an important observation that serves as a summary of the significance of the role of 6PAC when she wrote:
“African-American women activists had always organized within an eye toward Africa. However, events like 6PAC created new opportunities to refine their commitments and Pan-African identities. Through their organizational skills, resolutions, and participation they shaped the direction of twentieth-century Pan-African organizing and the discourse on the intersection of women, gender, and Pan-Africanism.”
Outreach to Local USA Communities
A central objective of the 6PAC Steering Committee was the democratization of the North American delegation, particularly USA participants, that would have an opportunity to travel to Tanzania and participate directly or indirectly in the Congress’ cultural and political activities. Other forces like the traditional leadership of Pan-African and progressive thought, Amiri Baraka, and Owusu Saudaki, felt that only the Pan-African political leadership should attend the conference in order for the African-American view to be presented by intellectual and experiential leadership that would be equal to the nation-state leadership of other participants in the Congress.
Our analysis of social change – and this was particularly emphasized by Courtland Cox – was that in order to build people-to-people solidarity for the Pan-African movement, we needed to create an opportunity for the largest number of non-governmental African-American, Afro-Canadian, Caribbean, and other people of African descent worldwide to visit Tanzania to enhance their knowledge of and solidarity with the African world based on their experiences at 6PAC. Other countries invited and sponsored delegations, so the experiences of many participants went beyond opportunities to build solidarity ties with Tanzanians.
To accommodate the range of North America travelers, the North America Secretary-General organizational team created three categories of participants: delegates; observers, and visitors. A central organizing objective of the Secretariat was to be inclusive by negotiating an affordable airfare and by conducting outreach to women, seniors, young people, unions, community organizations, and professionals as well as within the cultural, religious, academic, and science and technology sectors. While many written and vocal commentaries chided the large number of North Americans, particularly African-Americans, attending the conference as delegates and observers while visiting Tanzania as visitors, there was a pragmatic decision made in the Secretariat that this permitted the lowest airfare and maximized the largest number of participants able to participate while accomplishing our political objective of renewing and building a contemporary constituency for Pan-African activism.
As part of the USA and Canada organizing efforts, participants collected medicines as well as medical supplies and delivered them to the liberation movements as an act of solidarity.
Outreach and Mobilization of Diaspora Communities
Roosevelt Browne (Pauulu Kamarakafego), one of the architects of the 6PAC at the behest of President Kwame Nkrumah traveled throughout the Pacific Islands, Australia, and Europe to mobilize participants to attend the conference. (Later, he coordinated housing and meal availability at the University of Dar es Salaam.) Thus, the Congress had a Pan-African representation including Afro-Europeans, Pacific Islanders from Fiji and New Hebrides (which later became Vanuatu), and Afro-Australians. Caribbean radicals were minimally represented, however, because some Caribbean governments refused to participate if radicals of their country were also permitted to participate. This was a concession that President Nyerere made in the interest of his governmental relations. As a result, Dr. C. L. R. James (interview transcript), one of the original 6PAC organizers, refused to participate in solidarity with the progressives from his region.
The Struggle Continues
By fall 1974, activists and fellow 6PAC organizers Sandra Hill, JoAnn Favors, Kathryn Flewellen, and I relocated to Washington, D.C. to raise public consciousness against U.S. foreign policies in Southern Africa. Our focus on this international Pan African solidarity work stemmed from a statement by Secretary General Courtland Cox, who said during his closing remarks, “Each of you who has participated in the Sixth Pan African Congress carries with you, as you leave this hall, an historical and political duty to translate your words into struggle.”
Closing Remarks by the Secretary General, Courtland Cox
Hindsight is always better than foresight. In retrospect I am keenly aware of the mistakes made in organizing this Congress. Having just participated in ten days of proceedings, I am also as aware as any one of you of the positive contributions of the meeting itself. I would like to remark first, if you don’t mind, on the positive contributions the Sixth Pan African Congress has made to the African liberation struggle.
As many speakers in this Hall have documented, the imperative of the African World at the time of the Fifth Pan African Congress was an end to colonialism. For that aim people organized and moved, and history remembers the energizing role of the Fifth Pan African Congress in the anti-colonial struggle.
Our world, the world which African people have such dynamic potential to change, has progressed since 1945. 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.
It remained for energetic people to give life to the call for an end to colonialism after the Manchester Congress. I believe it will remain for energetic people going out from this Congress to prove whether, by speaking against neo-colonialism and for a new social order, we were sowing the wind or planting a crop for liberation. I think it will take a few years to be sure, but we have at least been clear in this meeting about our determination.
Some have questioned all along the validity of calling together a meeting of African people in 1974, given an understanding that peoples of many races and geographies struggle against imperialism, oppression and exploitation. 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.
That we listened to each other under one roof has been tremendously important. That we exchanged ideas and assessments of problems — even if they were sometimes conflicting ideas — has been positive, because ideological struggle leads to ideological clarity. That those whose analysis has been shaped in the crucibles of different arenas of the struggle have met, argued, discussed, and written is important. I do not know of another forum which has brought together people struggling in Southern Africa, on African Islands elsewhere throughout the continent, with brothers and sisters from Britain, North and South America, the Caribbean and the Pacific Islands. As Brother Sadaukai remembered for us from Cabral—it is one thing to be Brothers and Sisters, and another to participate in the long struggle of African people for liberation which makes us comrades, as well. Any meeting which promotes this understanding is worthwhile.
Another positive contribution I believe the Sixth Pan African Congress has made is the introduction of the political use, and I stress political use, of modern science and technology, in the struggle to defeat our enemies and build our world. Again I believe it will be some years before the impact of some of these concepts about science and technology as tools in the liberation of the masses of our people will be fully felt.
There has been an emphasis in this meeting on the liberation struggles in Africa against the last vestiges of colonialism, and there has been a leadership role played by the representations of the liberation movements here. Our emphasis on support for the liberation of Southern Africa has been a reflection of the future course that Pan Africanism must take, and marks the recognition by African people everywhere that Southern Africa is one of our foremost battlegrounds.
I believe the major and most serious shortcoming of this Congress has been that some who should have been here were not. History will, I am sure, take us to task for this. There should have been more people’s movements represented, more women represented, more young people participating. That gap in participation in the Sixth Pan African Congress mirrors very real contradictions at work in the African World.
When, and if, there is a Seventh Pan African Congress, I believe the composition of delegates and the issues for discussion will show the progression of our struggle—for one thing is sure, the movement of African people forward towards total liberation is an irreversible process.
I wish to thank all delegates and guests for your participation, your patience, your understanding — and in the case of several hundred of you, for your blood, given to the blood bank for the Liberation Movements.
The Temporary Secretariat must also take this opportunity to thank TANU, the Afro-Shiraz Party, the University of Dar es Salaam, and the People of Tanzania for hosting the Sixth Pan African Congress. It made all the difference in the world that this Congress could be held on African soil.
I have only one final point to make which will end my closing remarks:
Each of you who has participated in the Sixth Pan African Congress carries with you, as you leave this hall, an historical and political duty to translate your words into struggle.
Africa Information Service. Return to The Source: Selected Speeches of Amilcar Cabral. New York: NYU Press, 2019.
Black Books Bulletin. (Fall 1975). “BBB Interviews Dr. J. Fletcher Robinson,” Black Books Bulletin, (5)3.
Cox, Courtland. “Closing Remarks by the Secretary General.” Resolutions and Selected Speeches from the Sixth Pan African Congress. Dar es Salaam : Tanzania Publishing House, 1976. 217-218.
Farmer, Ashley D. (2016). “Black Women Organize for the Future of Pan-Africanism: The Sixth Pan-African Congress.” https://www.aaihs.org/black-women-organize-for-the-future-of-pan-africanism-the-sixth-pan-african-congress/
Farmer, Ashley D. “The Pan-African Woman, 1972-1976,” in Remaking Black Power: How Black Women Transformed an Era. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2017.
Garrett, James. (March 1975). “A Historical Sketch: The Sixth Pan-African Congress,” Black World (26)5: 4-21.
Hill, Sylvia. (April 1974). “Progress Report on Congress Organizing.” Black Scholar (5)7: 35-40.
Kadalie, Modibo M. (2000). “Chapter 9: The Sixth Pan- African Congress and the Struggle Over Issues,” in Internationalism, Pan-Africanism and the Struggle of Social Classes. Savannah, GA: One Quest Press. 329-358.
Kamarakafego, Pauulu. (2002). “Chapter 10: Sixth Pan-African Congress,” in Me One: The Autobiography of Pauulu Kamarakafego. Bermuda: PK Publishing.
Levy, La Tasha. (2008). “Remembering Sixth PAC: Interviews with Sylvia Hill and Judy Claude, Organizers of the Sixth Pan-African Congress,” The Black Scholar (Winter2008): 43-44.
Madhubuti, Haki R. (1974). “Sixth Pan-African Congress: what is being done to save the Black race.” Black Books Bulletin (2)4: 43-56.
Markle, Seth M. “Convergence and Rejection at the Sixth Pan-African Congress,” in A Motorcycle on Hell Run: Tanzania, Black Power, and the Uncertain Future of Pan-Africanism, 1964-74.
Walters, Ronald W. (1993). Pan-Africanism in the African Diaspora: An Analysis of Modern Afrocentric Political Movements. Detroit, Mi: Wayne State University Press.
Wilkins, Fanon Che. (2010.) “The Organization of the Sixth Pan-African Congress and the Struggle for International Black Power, 1969-1974,” in The Hidden 1970’s: Histories of Radicalism, Dan Berger (ed). New Jersey: Rutgers University Press. 97-114.
Dr. Sylvia Hill is an educator, co-chairperson of the Southern Africa Support Project, and leader of both the Free South Africa Movement and the Sixth Pan-African Congress.
Copyright © 2020, Sylvia Hill. All rights reserved.