Ghana’s feat as the first country south of the Sahara to attain independence in 1957 made it politically alluring to African-American intellectuals who harboured a deep yearning to return to the continent – the land of their ancestors. William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (popularly known as W.E.B. Du Bois) was one of such scholars from the African diaspora who resolved to return to the African continent after he had become disillusioned with the United States.
Ghana’s then President Kwame Nkrumah warmly received W.E.B. Du Bois to Accra and gave him the most comradely treatment among revolutionaries. The latter eventually passed on in Accra in 1963 and his remains are interred at his home.
The Ghanaian government recently signed a historic agreement with the W.E.B Du Bois Museum Foundation (based in New York, U.S.) that will see the current Du Bois Memorial Centre and burial site in Accra, Ghana being transformed into an exquisitely and contextual state-of-the-art museum complex. It will serve as a top global destination for academics, activists, and heritage tourists.
The rights to implement the construction process and bring the new museum complex to life have been granted to the W.E.B Du Bois Museum Foundation by Ghana. The modern complex will be designed by Sir David Adjaye, the well-known Ghanaian architect famous for designing the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.
The Du Bois Memorial Centre and burial site became accessible to the public in 1985, but waning upkeep and maintenance has necessitated the construction of a modern complex to preserve his legacy for the whole world. This move will also see Ghana registering high numbers of tourists from the African diaspora who seek their ancestral links with the motherland.
W.E.B. Du Bois was by far the most influential African-American intellectual/activist advancing the Black agenda for equality against capitalist racism in the first half of the 20th century. Armed with unparalleled academic discipline, Du Bois spread his political and social ideas (as the rather de-facto leader of the Black protest in the early 20th century) via his academic credentials as a sociologist, historian, author, editor, and also an a fiercely committed activist. This made him an unrivalled civil rights pioneer.
He led a prolific life in terms of writings and speeches, which saw him in antagonism with other Black protest leaders such as Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey. Du Bois is credited as the iconoclastic pioneer of Pan-Africanism – a political and cultural belief that all African people, whether on the continent or in the diaspora, inherently have common interests and should thus be unified to realize these common interests. He played a gigantic role in organizing the Pan-African Congresses in the early 1900s.
Du Bois advanced the cause of racial equality by establishing the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He became the NAACP’s monthly magazine editor from 1910 to 1934. He named the magazine “The Crisis”. Internecine ideological struggles within the NAACP compelled Du Bois to resign from the NAACP (also resigning as the The Crisis’ editor) in 1934, arguing that the organization served the interests of the Black bourgeoisie while being oblivious to the real issues that the masses excruciatingly endured on a daily basis.
Although he never became a full-fledged Communist as regards political identity, he was sympathetic to left-leaning ideologies inspired by Marxism-Leninism. He was not fond of the poor material realities of the Soviet Union but was greatly moved by the patriotism in the country and the special role of workers in the economy who gave their all for the nation’s counter-hegemonic cause. Having read Marx and Lenin later in his life (which altered his initial visions of Black capitalism) he came to believe socialism was a better alternative in achieving racial equality and defeating colonialism as compared to capitalism.
Because of sympathizing with Socialist causes, the U.S. federal government increasingly sanctioned him. These leftist inclinations, largely inspired by reading Karl Marx, saw Du Bois being “identified with pro-Russian causes” and was indicted in 1951 as an “unregistered agent of foreign power”. He was acquitted but he had become disillusioned with the U.S.
In 1961, Du Bois moved to Ghana at the invitation of Kwame Nkrumah. By then, Du Bois was aged 93 and was not as vibrant as he used to be. He was still nonetheless convinced that coming to Ghana was a happy ending to his contradictory, turbulent but widely influential intellectual life.
In Ghana, he spent his last years “in peace” and was given the respect and dignity that he had been denied while in the U.S. He arrived in Ghana with the initial plan of producing the Encyclopaedia Africana – an encyclopaedia for the African diaspora. Together with his wife Shirley Graham Du Bois, they were given accommodation by the Ghanaian state in the capital Accra, No 21 First Circular Road, Cantoments.
Du Bois delighted in the materialization of his return to the continent as embodied by these words he said: “I have returned so that my remains may mingle with the dust of the forefathers. Now my life will flow on in the vigorous young stream of Ghanaian life which lifts the African personality to its proper place among men. And I shall not have lived and worked in vain.”
The plans to build this state-of-art museum complex will solidify Ghana’s “Year of Return” and “Beyond the Return” campaigns that promote the return of African Diaspora from different parts of the world. It will also spark and reinvigorate conversations about Du Bois’ legacy and the relevance of his ideological dispositions to contemporary Africa and its diaspora.
It is an “international treasure” that perpetually honors the legacy of Du Bois, while at the same time cultivating an aura of unity among the African diaspora and those on the continent through a “vibrant cultural and research centre”. It will be a safe haven for all organic intellectuals not only of African descent but encompassing all races in fostering a unified world.