“We Have a Country There”: US Diplomacy and Black Travel in Africa, 1877–1900

Friday, January 5, 2018: 4:10 PM
Maryland Suite C (Marriott Wardman Park)
Jeannette Eileen Jones, University of Nebraska
In 1877, the African Repository (the organ of the American Colonization Society) published “African Destiny,” an article reprinted from the Christian Recorder. In it, the author called on fellow “negroes” to “have a hand in possessing Africa,” instead of standing by neutrally while Europeans subjugated the continent. Arguing that the black man was entitled to his “rightful share of the inheritance” that was Africa’s riches, the author stated: “We should strengthen Liberia, not by any wholesale exodus, but by men of business going thither and engaging in the cultivation of coffee and cotton.” 1877 marked the end of Reconstruction but also fifteen years of official American diplomatic recognition of Liberia. Minister Resident and Consul General J. Milton Turner had been serving in Liberia since 1871 and was among several black leaders encouraging black emigration to the country in 1877. However, other black leaders saw Africa not only as a place for resettlement but also as a site for black missionary work and commercial activities.

This paper explores black travel in Africa during the US Gilded Age from four vantage points: the emigrant, the diplomat or plenipotentiary, the businessman, and the missionary. Building off digital methodologies used to create a relational database and digital map of African Americans in Africa, the paper reveals hidden relationships between many of these individuals travelling to the continent. Of particular concern are the sites in Africa outside Africa where American Blacks show up. The paper raises several questions: To what extent do these travelers link the domestic Negro Question to the international African Question in their travel accounts? What is the relationship between black travelers and US diplomats and consular servants in Africa? How are blacks performing their own diplomacy in Africa? How is black travel in Africa a critique of US Empire?