Advertisement

Journal of Transatlantic Studies

, Volume 16, Issue 1, pp 1–19 | Cite as

Performances in the theatre of the Cold War: the American Society of African Culture and the 1961 Lagos Festival

  • Lonneke GeerlingsEmail author
Open Access
Article

Abstract

In December 1961 the American Society of African Culture (AMSAC) organised a large music festival in Lagos, Nigeria. American celebrities such as Nina Simone, Langston Hughes, and Lionel Hampton went on AMSAC’s fully sponsored trip to strengthen African-American/African connections. The performances and AMSAC’s image-building will be examined through photographs of the Lagos festival. These photographs are records of staged acts - acts that were meant to generate positive images of Black America and to reinforce (unequal) power relations between Nigerians and (Black) Americans. The visit of the group provides an interesting case study on the intersecting histories of the Cold War, the American Civil Rights Movement, and the decolonisation of the African continent.

Keywords

African-American History Nigeria Cold War Decolonisation Performance 

Notes

  1. 1.
    Howard University, Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Washington, DC [hereafter MSRC], AMSAC Collection, Box 30, Folder 7: Lagos Festival Participants. This delegation included four members of the AMSAC organisation: Dr Horace Mann Bond, Mr and Mrs John A. Davis, and Yvonne O. Walker. The other 34 participants were: William B. Branch, Lawrence Burgan, Alex Cambrellan, Martha Flowers, Amella Goodman, Dave Gonzalez, Lionel Hampton, Laline Harris, Natalie Hinderas, Professor Willis James, Geoffrey Holder, Langston Hughes, Booker T. Erwin, Oliver Jackson, Leon James, Virgil Jones, Bruce Langhorne, Ahmed Abdul-Malik, Al Minns, Leo Moore, Michael Olatunji, Odetta, Edward Pazant, Brock Peters, Rosey E. Pool, Al Schackman, John Sellers, Nina Simone, Clarence Stroman, James Wall, Randy Weston, Hale Woodruff, and photographer of Ebony magazine G. Marshall Wilson. See also ‘33 Americans Going to Negro Art Fete’, The New York Times, December 3, 1961, 87.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Stephen Greenblatt, Cultural Mobility. A Manifesto (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 251.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    MSRC, AMSAC Collection, Box 1, Folder 55; Box 35, Folder 6; Box 25, Folder 39. Interestingly, there were three Dutch members: anthologist and poet Rosey E. Pool, anthologist Paul Breman, and the Leiden African Studies Centre director P.J. Idenburg.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    University of Sussex, Brighton, UK, The Keep Special Collections, Rosey Pool Collection, SxMs19/10/1/6: Scrapbook 1961–1963 AMSAC, n.p. ‘A Statement on the American Society of African Culture and Its Purposes and Activities’, 1.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Alistair Cooke, ‘More Organisations Find They Are On CIA’s Fund List’, The Guardian, February 18, 1967, 9Google Scholar
  6. 5a.
    Neil Sheehan, ‘5 New Groups Tied To C.I.A. Conduits’, The New York Times, February 17, 1967, 1, 16Google Scholar
  7. 5b.
    Richard Harwood, ‘8 More Groups Linked to CIA’s Fund Activities’, The Washington Post, Times Herald, February 21, 1967, A6.Google Scholar
  8. 5c.
    See also Hugh Wilford, The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 5d.
    Hugh Wilford, ‘The American Society of African Culture: The CIA and Transnational Networks of African Diaspora Intellectuals in the Cold War’, in Transnational Anti-Communism and the Cold War. Agents, Activities, and Networks, ed. Luc van Dongen et al. (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, Houndsmills, 2014), 23–34, 30.Google Scholar
  10. 6.
    ‘Opening of AMSAC’s West African Cultural Center in Lagos To Be Marked by International “Gifts of Art” Celebration’, AMSAC Newsletter, 4, no. 2 (1961): 1–2, 1.Google Scholar
  11. 7.
    MSRC, AMSAC Collection, Box 4, Folder 5: Questionnaires. Langston Hughes, 2.Google Scholar
  12. 8.
    MSRC, AMSAC Collection, Box 6, Folder 2: Letter Alioune Diop to John Davis, December 4, 1961.Google Scholar
  13. 9.
    James Meriwether, Proudly We Can Be Africans. Black Americans and Africa, 1935–1961 (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press 2002)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 9a.
    Penny M. Von Eschen, Race Against Empire. Black Americans and Anticolonialism, 1937–1957 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997); Wilford, The Mighty WurlitzerGoogle Scholar
  15. 9b.
    Ronald Aminzade, Race, Nation, and Citizenship in Post-colonial Africa. The Case of Tanzania (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013) especially the chapter ‘Foreigners and Nation-Building’, 60–105CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 9c.
    Gerald Horne, ‘Who Lost the Cold War? Africans and African Americans’, Diplomatic History 20, no. 4 (1996): 613–26CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 9d.
    John Munro, ‘Imperial Anticommunism and the African American Freedom Movement in the Early Cold War’, History Workshop Journal 79, no. 1 (2015): 52–75CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 9e.
    Inderjeet Parmar, Foundations of the American Century: The Ford, Carnegie, and Rockefeller Foundations and the Rise of American Power (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012), especially the chapter ‘Promoting Americanism, Combating Anti-Americanism, and Developing A Cold War American Studies Network’, 97–179.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 10.
    MSRC, AMSAC Collection, Box 6, folder 3, ‘Report on African attitudes Towards the American Negro and the American Negro Attitude towards Africa. (Adopted by the Special Meeting called by AMSAC, May 27, 1961). Part III’, 1–6, 2.Google Scholar
  20. 11.
    MSRC, AMSAC Collection, Box 11, Folder 33, Letter John A. Davis to Alioune Diop, October 3, 1961.Google Scholar
  21. 12.
    Wilford, ‘The American Society of African Culture’, 24-8.Google Scholar
  22. 13.
    Frank Gerits, ‘The Ideological Scramble for Africa. The US, Ghanaian, French and British Competition for Africa’s Future, 1953–1963’ (PhD diss., European University Institute, Florence, 2014).Google Scholar
  23. 14.
    John A. Davis, ‘Keynote Address: Pan-Africanism: Nascent and Mature’, in Pan-Africanism Reconsidered, ed. John A. Davis (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1962), 29–34, 30.Google Scholar
  24. 15.
    Hakeem Ibikunle Tijani, ‘Britain and the Foundation of Anti-Communist Policies in Nigeria, 1945–1960’, African and Asian Studies 8, no. 1/2 (2009), 47–66, 63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 16.
    Larry Grubbs, Secular Missionaries. Americans and African Development in the 1960s (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2009), 106.Google Scholar
  26. 17.
    John A. Davis, ‘An Editorial Statement’, African Forum 1, no. 2 (1965): 3–6, 4.Google Scholar
  27. 18.
    MSRC, AMSAC Collection, Box 2, Folder 6: Misc. Lagos. ‘Memo No. 9’, October 11, 1961, Calvin H. Raullerson to John A. Davis.Google Scholar
  28. 19.
    Even in October 1962, NIGERSAC still had not formalised itself, which made cooperation between AMSAC and NIGERSAC difficult. See MSRC, AMSAC Collection, Box 11, Folder 33: ‘Memorandum: NIGERSAC, from John A. Davis to Calvin H. Raullerson, October 9, 1962.Google Scholar
  29. 20.
    Tony Perucci, Paul Robeson and the Cold War Performance Complex. Race, Madness, Activism (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2012), 5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. 21.
    Susan Sontag, ‘The Image-World’, in Visual Culture. The Reader, ed. Jessica Evans and Stuart Hall (London: Sage, 1999), 80–94, 92.Google Scholar
  31. 22.
    Susan Legêne. Spiegelreflex. Culturele sporen van de koloniale ervaring (Amsterdam: Bakker, 2010), 83–118.Google Scholar
  32. 23.
    MSRC, AMSAC Collection, Box 2, Folder 41: Lagos Correspondence. ‘[untitled]’, n.d.Google Scholar
  33. 24.
    John E. O’Connor, ‘History in Images/Images in History: Reflections on the Importance of Film and Television Study for an Understanding of the Past’, The American Historical Review 93, no. 5 (1988): 1200–09, 1202.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. 25.
    George Shepperson, ‘Notes on Negro American Influences on the Emergence of African Nationalism’, The Journal of African History 1, no. 2 (1960): 299–312, 312.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. 26.
    Recently, AMSAC has become a topic of interest amongst historians. See, for example, Edward Brooks Marmon, ‘The American Society of African Culture and Southern Africa’s Struggle for Liberation (1957–1967): A Policy of Pragmatic Protest’ (unpublished MA thesis, n.d.); and Wilford, ‘The American Society of African Culture’.Google Scholar
  36. 27.
    On the first evening, there were performances by Michael Olatunji, Clarence Stroman, Olu Sowande (baritone), Odetta, Francesca Pereira, and Wole Soyinka (folk), Al Minns and Leon James (jazz dance), the Atilogu Dancers, Brother John Seller (gospel) with Bruce Lan-ghorne on guitar, the Alum War Dancers, Brock Peters (baritone), Nina Simone and the Randy Weston Quartet. On the second evening, Michael Olatunji and Clarence Stroman performed again shortly. Others were Femi Bucknor (piano), Natalie Hinderas (piano), Christoper Oyeshiku (bass), Martha Flowers, the Tiv Women Dancers, Geoffrey Holder (dance) with Alex Cambrellan, and Lionel Hampton. The evening was concluded by a best of: Francesca Pereira together with the Bob Fowler Combo; Nina Simone together with Al Schackman (guitar), Abdul Malik (bass fiddle), and Clarence Stroman (drums); and a grand finale was a ‘Jazz Blend’ with the Lionel Hampton Quintet, the Randy Weston Quartet, Michael Olatunji, Bobby Benson, Zeal Onyia, Bill Friday, and Mike Falani.Google Scholar
  37. 28.
    Arnold Rampersad, The Life of Langston Hughes. Volume II: 1914–1967, I Dream a World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 348. Italics in original text.Google Scholar
  38. 29.
    Randy Weston, African Rhythms. The Autobiography of Randy Weston (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010), 104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. 30.
    William Branch, ‘Festival in Nigeria’, AMSAC Newsletter, 4, no. 4 [supplement] (1962): 4–6, 4.Google Scholar
  40. 31.
  41. 32.
    ‘Scenes from the Lagos Cultural Festival, December 18–19, 1961’, AMSAC Newsletter, 4, no. 5 (1962): 3–4, 3.Google Scholar
  42. 33.
    MSRC, AMSAC Collection, Box 2, Folder 44: Lagos Correspondence. Letter D.T. Chad-wick [Cecil Turner, Ltd.] to C.H. Raullerson, AMSAC Center, Lagos, August 2, 1962.Google Scholar
  43. 34.
    Geoffrey Holder, ‘Barefoot in Lagos. An American Cultural Platoon Finds Nigerian Tastes, Manners and Critical Skills Far from Underdeveloped’, Show. The Magazine of the Arts, 2 (1962): 86–8, 88.Google Scholar
  44. 35.
    Penny M. Von Eschen, Race Against Empire. Black Americans and Anticolonialism, 1937–1957 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997), 128.Google Scholar
  45. 36.
    James Campbell, Middle Passages: African American Journeys to Africa, 1787–2005 (New York: The Penguin Press, 2006), 222–3; AMSAC Director Guest of Nigerian Government for Inauguration of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe as Governor General’, AMSA C Newsletter, 3, no. 3 (November 30, 1960): 1. Other African Americans that attended the inauguration included Dr William T. Fontaine, Dr Leo Hansberry, Ms Poppy Cannon White, Mr J. Newton Hill, Mr Clarence Holte, and Mr George S. Schuyler.Google Scholar
  46. 37.
    Rampersad, Life of Langston Hughes. Volume 2, 324-5.Google Scholar
  47. 38.
    AMSAC stressed American influence in their newsletter, see, for example, George Shepperson, ‘Notes on Negro American Influences on the Emergence of African Nationalism’, The Journal of African History 1, no. 2 (1960): 299–312, 311-12. Reprinted in: AMSAC Newsletter 3, no. 10 [supplement no. 20] (1961): 4–6. Historians have stressed these relations as wellCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. 38a.
    Levi A. Nwachuku, ‘Nnamdi Azikiwe and Lincoln University: An Analysis of a Symbiotic Relationship’, Lincoln Journal of Social and Political Thought 1, no. 1 (2002): 27–36Google Scholar
  49. 38b.
    Jason C. Parker, ‘“Made-in-America Revolutions”? The “Black University” and the American Role in the Decolonization of the Black Atlantic’, The Journal of American History 96, no. 3 (2009): 727–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. 39.
    African-American Cultural Exchange. Nigerian and U.S. Negro Artists Blend Talents at AMSAC Festival in Lagos’, Ebony A Johnson Publication 17, no. 5 (1962): 87–94, 94.Google Scholar
  51. 40.
    MSRC, AMSAC Collection, Box 6, Folder 3: ‘Report on African Attitudes Towards the American Negro and the American Negro Attitude Towards Africa. (Adopted by the Special Meeting called by AMSAC, May 27, 1961). Part III’, 1–6, 2.Google Scholar
  52. 41.
    Obiwu [Obi Iwuanyanwu], ‘The Pan-African Brotherhood of Langston Hughes and Nnamdi Azikiwe’, Dialectical Anthropology 31, no. 1/3 (2007): 143-65, 144.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. 42.
    James S. Coleman, ‘Nationalism in Tropical Africa’, The American Political Science Review 48, no. 2 (1954): 404–26, 409.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. 43.
    Ellen Tops, Foto’s met gezag. Een semiotisch perspectief op priesterbeelden 1930–1990 (Nijmegen: Vantilt, 2001), 46.Google Scholar
  55. 44.
    Sylvester Okwunodu Ogbechie, Ben Enwonwu: The Making of an African Modernist (Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2008), 76.Google Scholar
  56. 45.
    Wouter Welling, ‘African Art After Independence: A New Chapter’, in The Sixties. A Worldwide Happening, ed. Mirjam Shatanawi and Wayne Modest (Amsterdam: Tropenmuseum, 2015), 90–5, 94.Google Scholar
  57. 46.
    MSRC, AMSAC Collection, Box 2, Folder 44: Lagos Correspondence. ‘Tape Sent by Dr. Bond from CHR [Calvin H. Raullerson], November 27, 1961’, 1–7.Google Scholar
  58. 47.
    MSRC, AMSAC Collection, Box 4, Folder 13: Lagos Festival Program. ‘Proposed Celebration for Official Opening of AMSAC’s West African Cultural Center in Lagos, Nigeria. December 18–19, 1961’ [dated October 10, 1961].Google Scholar
  59. 48.
    MSRC, AMSAC Collection, Box 2, Folder 44: Lagos Correspondence. Letter D.T Chad-wick [Cecil Turner, Ltd.] to C.H. Raullerson, AMSASC Center, Lagos, August 2, 1962.Google Scholar
  60. 49.
    Geoffrey Holder, ‘Barefoot in Lagos’, 88; Peter Pan, ‘Stop Faking African Culture. An African Editor Warns American Negroes ...’, Negro Digest, 12, no. 1 (1962): 16–20.Google Scholar
  61. 50.
    African-American Cultural Exchange. Nigerian and U.S. Negro Artists Blend Talents at AMSAC Festival in Lagos’, Ebony. A Johnson Publication 17, no. 5 (1962): 87–94, 87.Google Scholar
  62. 51.
    MSRC, AMSAC Collection, Box 19, Folder 12: Press Lagos. All following newspaper articles are from this folder, unless stated otherwise. American Society of African Culture (AMSAC) Presents A Stupendous Display’, Africa, February 1962, 11–14, 11.Google Scholar
  63. 52.
    Sango Africanus [Abiodun Aloba], ‘The Shortcomings of AMSAC Show’, Morning Post, January 2, 1962, 13.Google Scholar
  64. 53.
    Peter Pan [Peter Anaharo], ‘Odetta Had Me in Tears’, Daily Times, December 22, 1961, 5.Google Scholar
  65. 54.
    Lateef Jakande, [no title], Daily Express, December 28, 1961, 3.Google Scholar
  66. 55.
    Quoted in: African-American Cultural Exchange. Nigerian and U.S. Negro Artists Blend Talents at AMSAC Festival in Lagos’, Ebony. A Johnson Publication 17, no. 5 (1962): 87–94, 88.Google Scholar
  67. 56.
    Pan, ‘Stop Faking African Culture’, 18.Google Scholar
  68. 57.
    Wole Soyinka, ‘The Very Last Sir! It Is Amsac Again as Wole Soyinka Pleads’, Daily Express, January 31, 1962.Google Scholar
  69. 58.
    Pan, ‘Stop Faking African Culture’, 16–20.Google Scholar
  70. 59.
    Lateef Jakande, [no title], Daily Express, December 28, 1961, 3.Google Scholar
  71. 60.
    Pan, ‘Stop Faking African Culture’, 18.Google Scholar
  72. 61.
    ‘Nigerians Ridicule AMSAC Production’, N.Y. Amsterdam News, February 10, 1962, 2.Google Scholar
  73. 62.
    MSRC, AMSAC Collection, Box 2, Folder 41: Lagos Correspondence. ‘Memorandum: Reviews of Lagos Festival in the American Negro Press’, February 1, 1962.Google Scholar
  74. 63.
    MSRC, AMSAC Collection, Box 2, Folder 41: Lagos Correspondence. Letter John A. Davis to William A. Boone [Ebony magazine], March 15, 1962.Google Scholar
  75. 64.
    MSRC, AMSAC Collection, Box 4, Folder 5: Questionnaires. Geoffrey Holder, 1.Google Scholar
  76. 65.
    Steve Rhodes, ‘That Failure Of A Show’, Morning Post, December 28, 1961, 13.Google Scholar
  77. 66.
    ‘Opening of AMSAC’s West African Cultural Center in Lagos To Be Marked by International “Gifts of Art” Celebration’, AMSAC Newsletter, 4, no. 2 (1961), 1–2, 1; Ulli Beier, ‘Negro and Afro Art’, Sunday Express, December 31, 1961, 15.Google Scholar
  78. 67.
    Joseph Harris and Slimane Zeghidour, ‘Africa and Its Diaspora since 1935’, in General History of Africa. Vol. 8: Africa since 1935, ed. Ali A. Mazrui (Oxford: Heinemann, 1993), 705–23, 718.Google Scholar
  79. 68.
    Alioune Diop, Africa Seen by American Negroes (Paris: Présence Africaine, 1958), XII.Google Scholar
  80. 69.
    MSRC, AMSAC Collection, Box 4, Folder 5: Questionnaires. Geoffrey Holder, 2.Google Scholar
  81. 70.
    Langston Hughes was questioned in 1953 by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Rosey E. Pool had also been involved in communist activities before and shortly after WWII. After the Lagos Festival Pool went to Accra, Ghana, to visit her friends W.E.B. Du Bois and Shirley Graham Du Bois. HUAC suspected that they were both communists.Google Scholar
  82. 71.
    Ruth Feldstein, ‘“I Don’t Trust You Anymore”: Nina Simone, Culture, and Black Activism in the 1960s’, Journal of American History 91, no. 4 (2005): 1349-79, 1375; What Happened, Miss Simone? Directed by Liz Garbus. Los Gatos, CA: Netflix, 2015.Google Scholar
  83. 72.
    ‘Hampton at Nigerian Fete’, The New York Times, December 21, 1961, 32.Google Scholar
  84. 73.
    MSRC, AMSAC Collection, Box 4, Folder 1: Letter Gladys Hampton and Lionel Hampton to Edward C Mazique, M.D. (The US.-Nigerian Foundation for the Ojike Memorial Medical Center, Washington DC), January 11, 1962.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/), which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, and is not altered, transformed, or built upon in any way.

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of HistoryVrije Universiteit AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations