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Exiles, Expatriates, and Malcolm X: Debating the Racial Politics of Liberation in the Black Star of Africa

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 April 2022

Jean Allman*
Washington University in St Louis
*Corresponding author. E-mail:


On 10 May 1964, on his return trip to the United States from Mecca, Malcolm X landed in Accra for a weeklong visit to the capital of the ‘Black Star of Africa’. This high-profile visit, which took place only nine months before Malcolm X's assassination, has assumed an important place in biographical accounts of his life, as key to understanding his religious and political transformation or ‘conversion’. Yet we know surprisingly little about how Malcolm X's visit resonated locally, what kinds of meanings it generated, especially in the new nation's capital. Based on newspaper accounts, private paper collections, and written and oral reminiscences, this article explores Malcolm X's visit as a significant moment for accessing the conflicting interpretations of race and liberation politics that converged, cohered, and collided in Ghana during the first decade of independence.

Research Article
Copyright © The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press

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1 Lewis, D. L., ‘Ghana, 1963: a memoir’, American Scholar, 68:1 (1999), 42Google Scholar.

2 For the most thorough historical discussion of this community, see Gaines, K., American Africans in Ghana: Black Expatriates and the Civil Rights Era (Chapel Hill, NC, 2006)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

3 See Horne, G., Race Woman: The Lives of Shirley Graham Du Bois (New York, 2000), 187–8Google Scholar. Horne is probably quoting H. M. Basner, ‘The conversion of Malcolm X’, Ghanaian Times, 29 May 1964.

4 K. Gaines, American Africans, 187. Gaines credits Horne with this argument. See his Race Woman, 188. See also Marable, M., Malcolm: A Life of Reinvention (New York, 2011), 318–20Google Scholar.

5 The John Henrick Clark Papers (ScMG 572) and the Julian Mayfield Papers (ScMG339) are both on deposit at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Shirley Graham Du Bois's Papers (MC 476) are held at the Schlesinger Library. Windom's papers are not on public deposit, but her lengthy report on Malcolm X's visit to Ghana, ‘An Account by Sister Alice Windom of Malcolm X's Visit to Ghana in 1964’, dd. 21 May 1964, is included in Mayfield's papers, box 6, file 21.

6 Al-Shabazz, I. and Boyd, H. (eds.), The Diary of Malcolm X: El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, 1964 (Chicago, 2014, Kindle e-book)Google Scholar.

7 See Campbell, J. T., Middle Passages: African American Journeys to Africa, 1787–2005 (New York, 2006)Google Scholar; Gaines, American Africans; Horne, Race Woman; and Marable, Malcolm X.

8 The capitalization herein of ‘Black’ and ‘White’ reflects my agreement with recent public commentary. See, for example, K. A. Appiah, ‘The case for capitalizing the B in Black’, The Atlantic, 18 June 2020,, and N. I. Painter, ‘Why “White” should be capitalized, too’, The Washington Post, 22 July 2020,

9 In addition to Gaines, American Africans, a recent and important contribution to the scholarship on African American migration to Ghana is Taylor's, S. J. L. Exiles, Entrepreneurs, and Educators: African Americans in Ghana (Albany, NY, 2019)Google Scholar, which compares the ‘politicals’, who came as ‘returnees’ to Nkrumah's Ghana in the early 1960s, with the entrepreneurs and educators who have made Ghana their home since the 1980s.

10 This is a reference to Kwame Nkrumah's oft-quoted axiom, ‘We face neither East nor West, we face forward’. See Public Records and Archives Administration Department, Accra, Ghana (PRAAD), K. Nkrumah, opening speech, Positive Action Conference for Peace and Security in Africa, 7 Apr. 1960,

11 Kelley, R. D. G., Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination (Boston, 2002)Google Scholar. As Kelley explains in his preface, ‘the desires, hopes and intentions of the people who fought for change cannot be easily categorized, contained, or explained’. Nor should their ideas be judged solely on the basis of whether they succeeded or failed. Quite simply: dreams matter. ‘Without new visions’, Kelley writes, ‘we don't know what to build, only what to knock down’ (ixxii).

12 I am borrowing here from Fields, K. E. and Fields, B. J., Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life (London, 2012)Google Scholar.

13 Glassman, J., War of Words, War of Stones (Bloomington, IN, 2011)Google Scholar; Hall, B., A History of Race in Muslim West Africa, 1600–1960 (New York, 2011)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Ray, C., Crossing the Color Line: Race, Sex and the Contested Politics of Colonial Rule in Ghana (Athens, OH, 2015)Google Scholar.

14 It is impossible to provide a full or representative listing of this recent literature, but an excellent starting point is S. J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni's Epistemic Freedom in Africa: Deprovincialization and Decolonization (London, 2018). An early and compelling intervention can be found in A. Mbembe. ‘Decolonizing knowledge and the question of the archive’, Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research, Public Lecture, University of the Witwatersrand, 2015,

15 See Bowles, L. R., ‘Black feminist ethnography and the racial politics of porter labor in Ghana’, Feminist Anthropology, 2 (2021), 6577CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Holsey, B., Routes of Remembrance: Refashioning the Slave Trade in Ghana (Durham, NC, 2008)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Pierre, J., The Predicament of Blackness: Postcolonial Ghana and the Politics of Race (Chicago, 2013)Google Scholar.

16 Pierre, Predicament, xii and xv. See also her ‘Structure, project, process: anthropology, colonialism and race in Africa’, Journal of Anthropological Sciences, 96 (2018), 213–19.

17 Pierre, Predicament, xiv, and borrowing from Matory, J. L., ‘Afro-Atlantic culture: on the live dialogue between Africa and the Americas’, in Appiah, K. A. and Gates, H. L. (eds.), Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience (New York, 1999), 3644Google Scholar.

18 Campbell, Middle Passages, 353. See also Gaines, American Africans, 188–9 and Marable, Malcolm X, 315.

19 The two headlines are from editorials in the Evening News Evening News, 6 Apr. 1964.

20 Ibid.

21 Lewis, ‘Ghana’, 57. Lewis tendered his resignation from the University of Ghana in July 1964.

22 Evening News, 10 Feb. 1964.

23 Gaines, American Africans, 175–6; Lacy, L. A., The Rise and Fall of a Proper Negro (New York, 1970), 180–5Google Scholar; Lewis, ‘Ghana’, 14. For an extremely detailed account of campus life during the time of these deportations, see also M. Legassick, ‘Situation in Ghanaian Universities: February 1963 [sic 1964]’, The National Archives (United Kingdom), Dominions Office [DO] 153/62.

24 See Gaines, American Africans, 175. See also, Lacy, Rise and Fall, 183.

25 Lacy, Rise and Fall, 183

26 Gaines, American Africans, 353. See Lacy's very different perspective in Rise and Fall, 183–4 and ‘African responses to Malcolm X’, in A. Baraka and L. Neal (eds.), Black Fire: An Anthology of Afro-American Writing (Baltimore, 2007 [1968]), 24–6.

27 Campbell, Middle Passages, 353

28 See, especially, Gaines, American Africans, 179–209; Campbell, Middle Passages, 324–56; Marable, Malcolm X, 314–20.

29 Most of the secondary sources reference Alice Windom's very careful and detailed report of the visit, which she sent to a wide range of people in the US, in a letter dd. 21 May 1964. See Mayfield Papers, box 6, file 21. Some of the wording Windom uses is replicated verbatim in Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X (New York, 1964), 352–60, which suggests that Alex Haley probably had access to it as he worked on the autobiography. See also Interview with Alice Windom, Item 72194, 2 tracks, Henry Hampton Collection, Washington University in Saint Louis and Al-Shabazz and Boyd, Diary, 10–17 May 1964.

30 Windom, ‘An Account’, 2.

31 Daily Graphic, 13 May 1964

32 Ghanaian Times, 13 May 1964.

33 See Lacy's account in Rise and Fall, 191 and in ‘African responses’, 19–38. Duggan was an undergraduate student in economics from the Virgin Islands. Hesse was from Accra and a student in Law. He would also go on to work with Alphaeus Hunton on W. E. B. DuBois's Encyclopedia Africana.

34 Malcolm X, Autobiography, 355–6.

35 Windom, ‘An Account’, 2–3.

36 Lacy, Rise and Fall, 206.

37 Malcolm X, Autobiography, 356.

38 Ibid., 359–60.

39 Gaines, American Africans, 189.

40 Lewis, ‘Ghana’, 58.

41 Campbell, Middle Passages, 355.

42 Evenings News, 6 Apr. 1964.

43 Ghanaian Times, 16 May 1964.

44 Lewis, ‘Ghana’, 59.

45 Lacy, Rise and Fall, 206.

46 Malcolm X, Autobiography, 357.

47 Angelou, Maya, All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes (New York, 1986), 141–2Google Scholar. Angelou was not pleased with the fact that Graham DuBois waited until the last moment to arrange the meeting. See, esp., 141–5. See, also, Horne, Race Woman, 189.

48 Windom, ‘An Account’, 3. Windom says that she and Lacy waited at the Mayfield house for Mayfield and Malcolm X to return from their meeting with Nkrumah. Lacy reports (31) in ‘African responses’, that he accompanied Malcolm X to the meeting with Nkrumah.

49 Lacy, ‘African responses’, 31.

50 J. Mayfield, ‘When Ghana was Ghana: The Nkrumah Era’, Mayfield Papers, box 14, file 5, p. 194 of the manuscript.

51 Malcolm X, Autobiography, 355–6.

52 Windom, ‘An Account’, 2.

53 C. Duodu, email correspondence with author, 29 Mar. 2015. For Duodu's contemporaneous account of Malcolm X, see ‘Malcolm X: prophet of Harlem’, Drum [Ghana edition], Oct. 1964.

54 Angelou, All God's Children, 137–8.

55 Lacy, ‘African responses’, 23. In his account, for example, ‘one young lady wiped Malcolm's face free of sweat and said to him, “Go, Brother Malcolm and rest, you are safe – you are home”’.

56 Pierre, Predicament, xv.

57 See Shohat, E. and Stam, R.: ‘French intellectuals and the U.S. culture wars’, Black Renaissance, 3:2 (2001), 90119Google Scholar, and Race in Translation: Culture Wars around the Postcolonial Atlantic (New York, 2012).

58 Lacy, ‘African responses’, 24–5.

59 Lewis, ‘Ghana’, 50.

60 H. M. Basner, ‘Watching the world from Accra: Malcolm X and the martyrdom of Rev. Clayton Hewett’, Ghanaian Times, 18 May 1964. The political memoir that Basner's wife, Miriam Basner, assembled after his death in 1977 is entitled, Am I an African? The Political Memoirs of H.M. Basner (Johannesburg, 1993).

61 Basner, ‘Watching the world’, 18 May 1964.

62 Ghanaian Times, 19 May 1964.

63 Ibid.

64 See Malcolm X, Autobiography, 361–2 for Malcolm X's recounting of his speech on his return. See also, Gaines, American Africans, 198–9 and 309n43. Lacy also notes that ‘it was rumored that Nkrumah had ordered the dispute discontinued’: see Lacy, Rise and Fall, 211. See Ghanaian Times, 29 May 1964 for Basner's last word.

65 Mills, C. W., ‘The chronopolitics of racial time’, Time & Society, 29:2 (2020), 297317CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

66 Mills borrows ‘time maps’ from Zerubavel's, E. Time Maps: Collective Memory and the Social Shape of the Past (Chicago, 2002)Google Scholar.

67 Mills, ‘Chronopolitics’, 312.

68 Mills, ‘Chronopolitics’, 314.

69 The coup occurred on 24 Feb. 1966.

70 Mills, ‘Chronopolitics’, 297.

71 Holsey, Routes of Remembrance, and Bowles, ‘Black feminist ethnography’, 67.

72 Pierre, Predicament of Blackness, 77.

73 Ibid.

74 Pierre, ‘Structure’, 213. For my recent reflections on Whiteness and African Studies, see ‘#HerskovitsMustFall? A meditation on Whiteness, African studies and the unfinished business of 1968’, African Studies Review, 62:3 (2019), 6–39.

75 Mills, ‘Chronopolitics’, 312.

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