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This Day in History: August 3rd

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Edward Blyden, Father of Pan-Africanism, Was Born

Before Marcus Garvey, there was Edward Blyden, who is considered to be the “Father of Pan-Africanism.” Blyden was an intellectual and his philosophy urged for a return to Africa and the re-creation of an African Nation.

He was born on Aug. 3, 1832, in the Virgin Islands, where he spent his formative years. His family moved to Porto Bello, Venezuela where Blyden found that the free Black Venezuelans performed menial tasks similar to that of the enslaved Blacks in the Virgin Islands.

His parents returned to the Virgin Islands and began associating with the Dutch Reformed Church of St. Thomas. The church’s pastor, American missionary  John P. Knox, observed Blyden’s potential and encouraged him to get involved with ministry. After receiving his parents’ approval and having the support of Knox, Blyden decided to become a Christian minister.

Blyden migrated to the United States in the 1850s to get an education but his move did not go as planned. He visited America with the hopes of matriculating at Rutgers Theological College, but he was denied admission. Rutgers, like other institutions Blyden had an interest in, rejected him because he was Black.

Following the rejections, Blyden decided to go to Liberia where he taught at Alexander High School in Monrovia and was appointed the school’s principal. He began self-directed studies in theology, the classics, geography and mathematics. Blyden also became an ordained minister and worked with Liberia’s first newspaper, the Herald, during this time. Blyden often spoke out against concepts of black inferiority, which were popular themes in Europe and North America. He used examples of successful contributions to society made by people of African ancestry to support his claims. He authored several books, including his popular piece, Christianity, Islam and the Negro Race.  

During the 1860s, Blyden became Liberia’s Secretary of State and used his position to advocate for the emigration of skilled and intelligent Black West Indians and African-Americans to Liberia. Blyden even made an unsuccessful campaign for the Liberian presidency. 

Edward Blyden spent the remainder of his life in a self-imposed exile in Sierra Leone. His early work and philosophy was able to lay the foundation for what we now know as Pan-Africanism. Blyden died while in exile in Sierra Leone on February 7, 1912. 

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