From World War I To Pan-Africanism: Rayford Logan’s Evolution
Rayford Whittingham Logan’s evolution into one of the most formidable and yet lesser known of the 20th Century Pan-Africanist began when he met W.E.B. Du Bois in Paris, France in 1921 for the second Pan-African Conference. At the time Du Bois was for black America arguably the most learned man of the era. Having graduated with a liberal arts education from Fisk University in 1888, Du Bois went on to graduate with honors from Harvard University in 1890 with an undergraduate degree in philosophy. After Harvard, Du Bois studied sociology and economics at the University of Heidelberg in Germany before returning to the U.S. to finish his doctorate in history from Harvard in 1896. Du Bois already showed interest in Africa with a doctoral dissertation on the trans-Atlantic slave trade. In addition to being well educated and having traveled Europe it was Du Bois in 1903 who prophesized with poetic clarity that “The problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line.”
Rayford Logan was thirty years Du Bois’ junior and he too was well educated considering his liberal arts education from the renowned M Street High School in Washington, D.C. where he finished valedictorian in 1913. Luminaries in the school’s history included Mary J. Patterson, considered the first black woman to earn a college degree, Richard T. Greener the first black Harvard graduate, Robert H. Terrell the districts first black judge, Mary Church Terrell, a pioneer in the early women’s rights and civil rights movement and Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the “Father of Black History.” Logan went on to earn a degree in history from the prestigious William’s College in 1917 and as valedictorian gave the commencement address.
After Williams, Logan enlisted in the 1stSeparate Battalion District of Columbia National Guard in 1917 at the rank of second Lieutenant, which became a part of the 93rdf Infantry Division that saw combat. After the war, instead of coming back to the U.S., Logan lived in Paris and traveled Europe for two years giving him valuable experiences about European and world culture. Although Logan was budding into a cosmopolitan thinker himself he was not yet actively engaged in any movement or struggle outside fighting military racism as a black officer in the U.S. army. As revealed later in his life he did make observations about race and race culture, normally ending in a negative assessment of the racist attitudes of white Americans traveling abroad.
Logan’s evolution as a Pan-Africanist involved his assessment of world politics and movements from the end of the 19thcentury through World War I. To be sure, both Du Bois and Logan were not only professionally trained historians but serious students of current events and modern world history. In fact, Du Bois had recognized as early as 1915 in a provocative essay entitled, “The African Roots of War,” that the entire conflict of World War I lay in which European power would dominate and control African [and Asian] land and resources. Logan believed that when Germany sought to expand its empire and sent the battleship Panther to the coast of Morocco in 1911, that the action was a precursor to Du Bois’ thesis that the industrialized European powers would fight over Africa. Du Bois had also given his valedictorian address on Otto Von Bismarch the German chancellor most responsible for the unification of Germany in the late 19thcentury. After the Berlin Conference of 1885 it seemed that Africa increasingly received the attention of the major European powers for economic and political reasons that were very clear by the end of the century. Du Bois deplored European imperialism in Africa and wrote forcefully:
The methods by which this continent has been stolen have been contemptible and dishonest beyond expression. Lying treaties, rivers of rum, murder, assassination, rape, and torture have marked the progress of Englishmen, German, Frenchmen, and Belgium on the Dark Continent. The world has been able to endure the horrible tale by deliberately stopping its ears while the deviltry went on.
He continued by using modern historical events to strengthen his argument,
consider a moment the desperate flames of war that have shot up in Africa in the last quarter of a century: France and England at Fashoda, Italy at Adua, Italy and Turkey at Tripoli, England and Portugal at Delagoa Bay, England, Germany and the Dutch in South Africa, France and Spain in Morocco, Germany and France at Agadir, and the world at Algecirus.
And although Britain and France controlled the lion’s share of colonial possessions in Africa, after the Berlin Conference of 1884-85, they both took heed of the potential German threat along Africa’s north coast. According to one authority, “Many Germans demanded a colonial empire simply because other great powers had colonial empires reinforced by the simple dogma give Germany colonies and the Germans will be as prosperous as the English.” In addition, Du Bois argued that the economic aspects of the current world war could serve as the basis for future conflicts between the European powers. Even the United States was not exempt from this process as the U.S. marine corps by the end of World War I sang, “From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli…” encompassing Central America and North Africa in their previous military record over the centuries.
By the time Germany demanded a return of its pre-World War I colonies and with Italy invading Ethiopia in 1935, there was merit to Du Bois’ thesis that Africa would be the basis of future wars including possibly world war. This background is significant. In 1921, Jesse Faucet, Logan’s former French teacher at M Street High School and then editor of Crisis Magazine, wrote to Logan in Paris to meet Du Bois. This contact would forever change Logan’s evolving views of race and the possibilities for Africa in the future world.
Logan’s development as a Pan-African thinker, therefore, began with the activism and scholarship of Du Bois within this broad international context. As a disgruntled World War I veteran, one could argue that Logan saw an opportunity to strike back at racism through an organized and intellectual medium. A full twenty years before he became a journalist for the Pittsburgh Courier in the 1940s, Logan already had firm views of the European encroachment in Africa. His initial orientation began officially with the Pan-African Congress of 1921. At the time, Paris was the location for the Peace Conference between the Allied powers that won the war and the Central powers that lost the war. The Treaty of Versailles that officially ended World War I and the Covenant of the League of Nations, began the terms of the so-called peace process, especially effecting Germany’s African colonies (and the former territories of the Ottoman Empire which became the Middle East).Logan witnessed the Versailles Treaty with skepticism and as Du Bois’ protégé’ helped to organize four Pan-African Conferences throughout the 1920s. After reading the Covenant of the League of Nations Du Bois and Logan argued that the former German colonial possessions in Africa such as modern day Ghana, Togo, Cameroon, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania and Namibia be allowed to developed into sovereign states with European assistance. Logan was now a Pan-Africanist committed to using his academic talents to fight on behalf of African peoples at home and abroad.
W.E.B. Du Bois, The Autobiography of W.E.B. Du Bois: A Soliloquy on Viewing My Life from the Last Decade of Its First Century (1968; repr., New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 83-114. Also, see his The Suppression of the African Slave-Trade to the United States of America, 1638-1870. (New York: Longmans Green, 1896).
W.E.B Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (1903; repr., New York: Dover Publications, Inc, 1994), 9.
Apparently Logan was not only a Paris contact for famous Americans such as W.E.B. Du Bois but another soon to be famous black American poet named, Langston Hughes, who he helped get a job. See Langston Hughes, The Big Sea: An Autobiography by Langston Hughes (New York: Hill and Wang, 1993), 164-65.
Viscount Grey of Fallodon, Twenty-Five Years, 1882-1916 (New York: Stokes, 1925), 216.
W.E.B. Du Bois, “The African Roots of War,” AtlanticMonthly 115 (May 1915): 707-714.
Ibid., The locations listed by Du Bois were all conflict areas between the European colonizing powers directly inside or near continental Africa: Fashoda in the Egyptian Sudan, Adua in North Africa, Turkey in the Middle East bordered the Mediterranean Sea, Black Sea and Aegeatic; Tripoli lie in Lybya, North Africa bordering the Mediterranean, Delagoa Bay was in Southeastern Mozambique, Agadir was in Southwest Morocco in North Africa and Algecirus was a port city in southern Spain opposite the rock of Gibraltar in North Africa.
A.J.P. Taylor, “Bismarck’s Accidental Acquisition of African Empire,” in Problems in European Civilization: The Scramble for Africa, Causes and Dimensions of Empire, (Boston: D.C. Heath and Company, 1966), 19-22. Although older yet still informative see also the essay by Sybil E. Crowe in the same work entitled, “The Scramble and the Berlin West Africa Conference” concerning the rivalries between France, Germany, England, Portugal and Belgium of the fourteen countries represented.
Alan Sharpe, The Versailles Settlement: Peacemaking in Paris, 1919. (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991), 159-170.