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Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Day – A brief History on the First Black President of Ghana

Fierce in thoughts and ideologies, Nkrumah's will and relentlessness at seeing the decolonization of Africa was seemingly unparalleled.

The year is 1909 somewhere in Nkroful, in the Gold Coast era, a man is born and would later become a global icon, a pan Africanist and a leader whose resolve will later transform his country and the continent’s political landscape. Fierce in thoughts and ideologies, Nkrumah’s will and relentlessness at seeing the decolonization of Africa was seemingly unparalleled.

“the ideology of a New Africa, independent and absolutely free from imperialism, organized on a continental scale, founded upon the conception of one and united Africa, drawing its strength from modern science and technology and from the traditional African belief that the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all”

Born on September 21st to Kofi Ngonloma of the Asona Clan and Elizabeth Nyanibah of the Anona Clan. Originally named after Francis Nwia-Kofi, Nkrumah’s penchant for knowledge was evident at an early age. Having attended the notable Prince of Wales’ Achimota School in Accra, He picked the famous Kwegyir Aggrey as his mentor.

Kwame Nkrumah U.S. Studies
By 1935, Nkrumah undertook advance studies in the United States at Lincoln University, Pennsylvania. In 1939, he earned a BA in Economics and Sociology. By 1942, he earned a BA in Theology. By 1943, Nkrumah had earned an M.Sc. (Education), an MA (Philosophy), and completed course work for a Ph. D. degree at the University of Pennsylvania.

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During his U.S. undergraduate studies, Nkrumah also pledged the predominately African-American Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, an academic honor society. He is said to have introduced African traditional steps to the fraternity’s stepping tradition, including cane stepping.

Kwame Nkrumah Organizes Pan-Africans in Europe
When he arrived in London in May of 1945, Nkrumah organized the 5th Pan-African Congress in Manchester, England and began networking through organizations like the West African Students’ Union, where he served as vice-president. This same year he officially changed his name from Francis Nwia-Kofi to Kwame Nkrumah.

By December 1947, Nkrumah had returned to his homeland as a teacher, scholar, and political activist. He became General Secretary of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), which explored strategies for gaining independence from colonial England. Under Nkrumah’s leadership, the UGCC attracted local political support from farmers and women. Women did not have the right to vote in many traditional patriarchal societies and farmers who were not land-owners also did not have the suffrage. In 1948, Accra, Kumasi, and other areas of the Gold Coast were experiencing general social unrest, which the British colonial government accredited to the UGCC. By 1949, Nkrumah had galvanized wide support and reorganized his efforts under the Convention People’s Party (CPP).

Kwame Nkrumah advocated for constitutional changes. This included self-government, universal franchise without property qualifications, and a separate house of chiefs. Jailed by the colonial administration in 1950 for his political activism, the CPP’s 1951 election sweep was followed by Nkrumah’s release.

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A devout Pan-Africanist, Nkrumah supported African federation under the auspices of the United States of African. He also had meaningful dialogue with African intellectuals from the diaspora, including W.E.B. DuBois, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Marcus Mosiah Garvey. He also corresponded with Trinidadian C.L.R. James, whom he credited with teaching him how an “underground movement worked.” Nkrumah played a pivotal role in developing the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1963, the same year he was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize.

President of Ghana in West Africa
Ghana was declared an independent state from British colonization on March 6, 1957. By 1964, Ghana was operating as a one-party state with Kwame Nkrumah as it’s first President and Prime Minister — with a life term of office. Nkrumah is often criticized for developing non-participatory governance after independence in Ghana. By 1966, the Ghanaian military overthrew Nkrumah’s administration. Nkrumah died in exile on April 27, 1972 in Bucharest, Romania.

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