The Rhetoric of Freedom: The Pan-African Struggle for Civil Rights and Decolonization, 1945-1965

The history of African decolonization and the civil rights movement in the United States has seen no lack of coverage in recent decades. Despite the increased attention these fields have gained, little of the existing historiography examines the interconnected nature of the two. Historians and social scientists who have drawn attention to this phenomenon have described it primarily through the terms of “Pan-Africanism.” While these works have contributed to a fuller understanding of the various issues of the African diaspora, they often overlook more general connections. The dual struggle of African colonial subjects and African-Americans to establish political citizenship along the lines of Western political philosophy has received scant coverage in traditional historiography. The goal of this project is to begin filling in this gap by connecting three fields of historical research; US Civil Rights, African Decolonization, and Pan-Africanism. Decolonization in Africa and the civil rights movement in the United States exemplify how classical liberal traditions have launched reform. This paper argues that the rhetoric of freedom which emerged in British East Africa and West Africa along with that in the US South during the two decades after World War II (1945 to 1965) created an interconnected network of rebels and reformers. Examining the rhetoric of leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Kwame Nkrumah and Jomo Kenyatta and their connections through published personal accounts and newspaper articles I highlight how the articulation of their experiences and actions, infused with the tenets of classical liberalism, informed and influenced their respective movements