fifty years ago September 14, 1971 Archives

From the Archives (September 14, 1971): Reception of American blacks in Africa

Lagos, Sept. 13: A Cambridge-educated Nigerian judge and a visiting American civil rights leader met at a diplomatic reception in Lagos not long ago, and their conversation turned to the race problem in the United States. The black American told of brutal treatment he had received at the hands of Alabama policemen, and moving to unbutton his shirt, he offered to show the scars that they had left on his back. But the Nigerian stopped him saying, “I am simply not interested.” He later explained. “That young American assumed that he and I had some special common bond. But all we really have in common is that we both have black skin, and that’s evidently more important to him than it is to me.” The incident reflects what some regard as a new estrangement between American [blacks], many of whom look to Africa for their cultural heritage, and black Africans who are in charge here after a century of colonial domination. A black man who advises the black President of a country in southern Africa recalled a meeting with American [blacks]. “The Americans were talking about racism, and about burning down buildings in Detroit. Well, we sympathise, but now we’re in charge of our country, we’re trying to develop it, and we need all the buildings we have.” As tourists and as diplomats, as businessmen and even as potential settlers, American blacks are still streaming to Africa, but often it turns out not what to be they expected.

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