By Professor Ola Uduku, Acting Joint Head of Architecture, MMU, Dr Shirin Hirsch, Senior Lecturer in British History, MMU, Dr Marie Molloy, Senior Lecturer in American History, MMU.
‘We are determined to be free. We want education. We want the right to earn a decent living; the right to express our thoughts and emotions, to adopt and create forms of beauty…. We will fight in every way we can for freedom, democracy and social betterment.’
‘The Challenge to the Colonial Powers’, Statement from the Fifth Pan-African Congress, Manchester 1945.
For the past 12 months, we have worked hard to forge a tripartite University Initiative celebrating the 75th anniversary of the fifth Pan-African Congress that took place in Manchester in October 1945. Despite COVID-19, and the implications that a global pandemic has had on us all, our plans for the PAC October celebrations have continued, albeit in an online form and we are thrilled with the upcoming three-day schedule of events from 15-17th October 2020. These celebrations are vital as they not only draw on a historic event in Manchester’s history, but they also highlight present day issues connected to systemic racism that continue to exist across the world, as illustrated by the murder of George Floyd in the USA, which sparked a summer of BLM protests. The past and present are intimately connected and therefore in examining the Pan African Congress that took place in Manchester in 1945, we shine a light on the modern day struggle for racial equality.
Despite the fifth Pan African Congress often being much forgotten within our city, this critically significant event played a key role in the shaping of modern world history. It was the first time after WW2 that emerging Africans took on the leadership of the struggle, to demand self-rule and freedom from British colonialism, supported by allies from across the world. The plaque commemorating this event is sited in the recently rebuilt MMU Arts Faculty Building facing onto All Saints Square in what had previously been Chorlton Town Hall where the six-day event had actually taken place. The congress had 200 attendees from across the world; including delegations from Africa, America, the Caribbean and Asia, as well as black and white delegates from Manchester and across the UK.
A number of future independent African leaders were delegates at the Congress, including Kwame Nkrumah, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Jomo Kenyatta. The Congress provided a forum, which would be a springboard for these key figures in connecting with each other and developing new national strategies towards hastening decolonisation and ultimately self-rule. The black American civil rights activist and sociologist W.E.B Du Bois, past organiser of the previous Congresses, attended as a delegate, whilst the writer Peter Abrahams represented pre-apartheid South Africa.
The Manchester 1945 meeting was a precursor to the development of a number of African independence movements that went on to successfully secure self-rule for countries across Africa. It also signified the movement of the intellectual discourse on African self-realisation and solidarity with other causes moving from the Americas and the West Indies to the UK and then on to Africa. Joe Appiah, the representative of the West African Students Union in the UK for example went on to play a key role in Ghana’s independence working directly with the nation’s first premier Kwame Nkrumah. His son Professor Kwame Anthony Appiah is one of the leading philosophers in the world and we are delighted to be hosting him in the marking of this anniversary, where he will be delivering a keynote lecture.
The demands for self-rule and decolonisation that were tabled at the Congress in 1945 are not far away from the Black Lives Matter protests that we are evidencing today. Our University campuses are also included in this movement. It is significant that the opening session of the Congress focused on the ‘Colour Problem in Britain’. We feel this anniversary comes at a critical time in our history and allows us to reflect on Manchester’s role in its support of the freedoms of the oppressed.
We are particularly excited to be hosting this 75th anniversary event in association with colleagues from the Universities of Manchester and Salford, echoing the solidarity formed across various peoples and nations of the Manchester Congress. In these extraordinary times, the celebrations will take place online with plans to have socially distanced events across the three University Greater Manchester campuses over the second weekend in October.
As part of these celebrations, we wanted to ensure that we reached the whole community, not just our students, but also the local community and schools. The History, Politics and Philosophy Department have worked closely with the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah RACE Centre and Education Trust and will host an online sixth form conference on Thursday 15th October. Contributors include well-known speakers including Hakim Adi, Marika Sherwood, and Terence Dooley. There will be a live online Q and A session with leading scholars and aspirational figures, including writer Alex Wheatle MBE, Paul Okojie, Chair of the Board of Trustees, Ahmed Iqbal Ullah RACE Centre and Education Trust, and student representatives. In the afternoon, students will be involved in creative workshops led by MMU academics, and colleagues, Jade Munslow Ong (Salford University) and Tunde Adekoya (Big Music Company) on issues relating to race through history, poetry and literature.
The MCPHH will be hosting a public history talk on the evening of Thursday 15th, also linked to Black History Month, with a talk by Ray Costello on what black lives were like in the region around the time of the congress. Ray is well placed as both a historical researcher and former Adviser for Racial Equality for Liverpool Education Authority Schools Inspection Department. On Friday 16th October, we are holding a series of city based activities culminating in a keynote talk by Professor Kwame Anthony Appiah, with expected contributions from Paul Gilroy and Afua Hirsch. On Saturday 17th October, there will be further conversations with academics with connections to Manchester that will take place at a number of physical venues and be relayed live digitally. Finally, we are hoping to host a reflective discussion amongst poets including Lemn Sissay, Jackie Kay and Carol Ann Duffy on Sunday to close the celebrations.
We will have interactive coverage of events throughout the weekend using various digital media, and participation in all public events will be free to all. This enormously important event aims to celebrate the past and critically supports the Black Lives Matter agenda by publicly celebrating Black history.
Professor Ola Uduku, Acting Joint Head of Architecture, MMU.
Dr Shirin Hirsch, Senior Lecturer in British History, MMU.
Dr Marie Molloy, Senior Lecturer in American History, MMU.