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Roaming around the Gold Coast in 1953 had been somewhat difficult for

Richard. . . . He discovered that he was more American than African,

but he fought to be objective about the book he was writing.



Books by Richard Wright

  Richard Wright: Early Works  / Black Boy  / Native Son  / Uncle Tom's Children / 12 Million Black Voices  / Richard Wright: Later Works

The Outsider  /  Pagan Spain Black Power  /  White Man Listen!  / The Color Curtain Savage Holiday / The Long Dream

Eight Men: Short Stories  / Haiku / American Hunger /  Lawd Today!

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Richard Wright's Seven Photos 

of Traditional Ghana in the 1950s

from Natasha Gerson (Holland)


26 Oct 2004 

Dear sir,

I am sorting out a lot of stuff from my grandfather AE Bayer who was an anthropologist mainly writing on Africa and come across seven photos taken in Africa (Ghana?) looks like the fifties and all credited on the back to Richard Wright. So I don't know if this is the writer Richard Wright but I think it's very probable also because I remember long ago he told me he'd met the author of Black Boy and at the time I thought he meant Baldwin (well I was only fifteen or so) but now I realise he was talking about Wright.

I haven't been able to locate an email address for his daughter but maybe you can help me there. The handwriting on all the photos is my granddads except one which says "R. Wright Black Power" this is a photo of two young men drumming. The others are: old lady in tribal dress, woman cooking, old man, houses, street scene and all credited to Richard Wright (name in full). I rang the institute (museum voor volkenkunde, or now tropenmuseum) where they supposedly came from (also on the back) but they were so vague and disinterested as Dutch institutes always are I'm not about to return them as they would just get lost.

If they are this Richard Wright (couldn't find any other possibilities really) I would gladly pass them on to Wright’s daughter or possibly they would be of interest to someone studying his work and travel? I don't send unsolicited attachments but if you would like me to mail scans let me know.

Yours faithfully, 

Natasha Gerson


Rudy Responds

[I responded to Natasha telling her that I would be eternally grateful if she would share the photos with us and within a day or so she responded. Thanks, Natasha. You are an angel. 

[It is curious how right events converge. I have been thinking about Wright for several months intensely and have thought of him through the eyes of Kwame Anthony Appiah, the Princeton philosopher, and John A. Williams, novelist. Appiah attacks Wright's Western view of Africa; and Williams defends Wright and also Peter Abrahams, the South African writer, sympathizes with Wright in his essay Kwame Nkrumah, Kenyatta, and the Old Order.

[I read Wright's White Man, Listen! last summer and made a few notes. I too sympathize with Wright for his attempt at objectivity, his honesty, and sincerity. Like Williams, I believe Wright has been misunderstood, terribly. Few African Americans have been as honest as truthful as Wright, in an initial visit to an African country, whether fifty years ago or even more recently.

[But a review of related documents may help us today to clarify our own views and sentiments on how the American Negro views an African identity. In Africa he found himself isolated in a strange land, even among the Western educated, especially Nkrumah. There were too many barriers generating misinterpretations and uneasiness, too much honesty and too much truth.  The honesty and truth of a poet.   -- Rudy]

Ghana 1950s Photos Received


Here are the scans of the photos. I've scanned the back of two of them as you can see it looks as if they have been used for publication and that's why I thought maybe this institute could have told me what and where, but alas. But possibly they would be more helpful to someone academic and American if need be!  

My grandfather met Richard Wright in Paris in either 1955 or 1956 and probably wrote about him then, it's possible they met before, maybe Africa, but I couldn't find out exactly when Wright was there. My grandfather was in Ivory Coast, Ghana and mid Africa himself in 53/54.  We have alas not as yet found the article(s). 

My grandmother died last year and since then I have been sorting out both their many gatherings of sixty years of global travel and fascinating acquaintances, and of course I'm trying to do this as well as possible. But also because I've been stuck in all sorts of research lately which has been like reassembling a dropped egg, I now realise with every envelope and folder I open that I might be holding something that might fill gaps in the field or the history of someone!

These photos were in an envelope together with many photos from press agencies, embassies, etc. etc. all Africa 1954-1965 approx some quite interesting such as one with prominent resistance leaders, agriculture, education. If I come across anything else possibly relating to Wright I will scan and mail. Let me know what you think of them!

All the best for now, 


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John A. Williams,  A Biography of Richard Wright: The Most Native of Sons


New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc. 1970. The excerpt below from Chapter 11:

America's disregard of Richard as an artist and a man, plus his own interest in examining the mechanics of the oppression of black people, may have led him into his next venture--a trip to Africa. For it all began in Africa; the slave trade and slavery; lost roots, forgotten heritages. Where better to continue the study of what was happening to Negroes than in Africa?

The idea was first suggested by Mrs. George Padmore, who was a guest of the Wrights. Her husband had remained behind in London to work with Kwame Nkrumah, who was going to ask for self-government for the Gold Coast (later Ghana) that summer.

In fact, Mrs. Padmore's suggestion was specific: go to the Gold Coast. The postwar years had seen a ferment for freedom around the world in the colonies of Britain, France, The Netherlands, and Belgium. "What about the Four Freedoms?" the people in the colonies wanted to know. Keeping pace with the cresting desire for independence, the Fifth Pan-African Congress had been held in Manchester, England, only the year before.

Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois, the same who had been guest of honor at a party back in New York in the 1940s when Richard had felt slighted, was the originator of the concept of Pan-Africanism. Du Bois had been working for it since World War I, insisting that black people in the United States, the islands of the Caribbean, and Africa could unite and bring independence to black people everywhere.

Richard himself had long worked with Africans. He'd helped to establish Présence Africain in 1947 and was to assist in organizing the Society of African Culture in 1956. He had known C.L.R. James, a West Indian who was active in the Pan-Africanist movement. Richard worked with black writers from the French colonies: Léopold Senghor, soon to be President of Senegal; Aimé Césaire, from Martinique; David Diop, also from Senegal, and a host of others who had swarmed to Paris.

Richard believed that only the West could "nobly save Africa," and it would be judged, finally, on the events that happened in Africa. He felt that the West was in a race with the Soviets to see which would carry the greatest influence in the land where about three hundred million black people lived under the command of a few hundred thousand whites.

The African continent constitutes 20% of the world's land mass. It is rich in minerals--gold, diamonds, aluminum, uranium. In fact Uranium that went into the making of America's atomic bombs came from the Congo. Oil deposits have just barely been tapped in Africa; it provides most of the cocoa for the world, along with peanuts and palm oil. Dr. Du Bois long held the theory that World War I had not been fought over Europe at all, but over Africa, for its tremendous wealth. Only Libya of all the colonies had achieved independence by the time Richard was ready to leave. In black Africa, independence was moving at a snail's pace.

Finally, Richard knew that there were many people who believed he'd turned his back on Negroes, that he "thought he was white," that his commitment was not to the underclasses. Those who believed this were supported, they thought, by his book on the Gold Coast, Black Power, which of course was published after his trip.

The people Richard was to meet and the things he was to do were arranged by George Padmore. Kwame Kkrumah, the Prime Minister of the Gold coast and chief of the Convention people's party, was one of the people he saw. In a long, personal letter to Nkrumah at the end of Black Power, Richard was, as usual, prophetic:

Make no mistake. Kwame, they are going to come at you with words about democracy; you are going to be pinned to the wall and warned about decency; plump-faced men will mumble academic phrases about "sound" development; gentlemen of the cloth will speak unctuously of values and standards. . . ." 

(A dozen years later, after being under attack by the West for leaning toward Communism, Nkrumah was overthrown as President of the Republic of Ghana; it had become independent in 1957.)

Roaming around the Gold Coast in 1953 had been somewhat difficult for Richard. His people had come from Africa, but so long ago that he didn't know what to expect. the Africans he knew in Paris seemed to be more French than African. He discovered that he was more American than African, but he fought to be objective about the book he was writing.

He felt that there was a similarity in the way people danced in the Gold Coast and the way blacks danced in some of the religious sects in the United States; he saw a resemblance in the way Africans and Afro-Americans laughed. But he was appalled at how the British had come, cut out the heart of the tribal culture, and operated from that vacuum. It was obvious that they had come for the wealth of the land and nothing more, for the four million citizens of the God, Coast remained only superficially touched by the white man's way.

They abided by his law, and they used his money. They sometimes went to his church. In the outlying regions where tribal systems were permitted to remain, the chiefs owed their allegiance first to the British and then to their people.

Richard understood that Nkrumah had taken politics African style and employed it to fill the vacuum the British had created with their missionaries and soldiers; he had welded tribal emotion with nationalism. Freeedomm! was the cry that followed Nkrumah's upraised hand; freeedomm! curled in the air around his smile.

The hungry boy from Mississippi, grown to forty-five years, walked the land of his ancestors and felt himself an alien. He had not really expected to feel otherwise, yet he wished for more between himself and the Africans of the Gold Coast.

The days were humid and the sun hot; the customs were strange, and he could understand only the Africans who spoke English, and most of these were from what he called the "elite." Other Africans, if they spoke English at all, spoke "pidgin"; that is, a mixture of English and tribal dialect. Tirelessly, Richard visited unions, schools, societies, ceremonies, villages; he talked to ranking officials and men in the street; he saw how the well-to-do--black and white--lived, and the poor--all black--existed. 

He visited both Christiansborg and Cape Coast castles, forts with dungeons had held people who had been captured to be sent as slaves to the New World. From the windows in the thick-walled buildings Richard gazed out at the sea. How many, he wondered, went from these places? The floors of the dungeons were worn smooth with the tread of many feet and the scraping of chains.

"No one will ever know the number or identity of the black men, women, and children who passed through these walls," Richard wrote later.

As he paused to contemplate the deaths of millions who were victims of slavery and the slave trade, he was "numbed" to observe that "millions of men . . . in Africa assign more reality tot heir dead fathers than tot he crying claims of their daily lives: poverty, political degradation, illness, ignorance."

But he condemned "white Western Christian civilization," too, for smashing cultures and tribal societies, for its greed, for its twisted "belief that their God had entrusted the earth into their keeping. . . ."

How would the Africans unwind from the coil of an awful history? In his letter to Nkrumah, Richard advised that African life had to be organized in a manner for peace, production, and the release of African minds from the "mumbo jumbo" of ancestor worship.

But, with all his criticisms, at the end of his time in the Gold Coast. Richard felt "an odd kind of at-homeness," not because of race, "but from the quality of deep hope and suffering" that he shared with t he people there."

He returned to Paris exhausted. he saw the first signs that there might be a war of independence, and France, which was reluctant to grant it. There was no time for Richard to rest; Black power had to be written. The trip had incurred enormous expenses, and he hoped to recoup his expenditures through a successful book.

But the reception the book received was generally shrill. Richard expected shrillness from American reviewers; he had hoped, with some reservations, that the Europeans might be more objective. Black Power enraged many Europeans. they could not look beyond the fact that they were colonial masters. For the first time, Richard had difficulty publishing a book in France. The British publishers, too, seemed to avoid the book, although it did finally appear. 

Only the Germans, who had no colonies in Africa (although they'd held some before World war I) appeared to be genuinely interested in the book. It was clear that Richard would not recoup the money he'd spent on the trip, so he embarked on a series of lectures to help earn what the book had not.

Europeans and Americans were sour on Black Power, but so were Africans. They accused Richard of going to Africa expecting to be treated as royalty and of writing a "vicious" book when he was not.

Thirteen years after Richard's book came out, the phrase "black power" would create equally hostile attitudes among American whites. Yet the phrase belonged neither to Richard nor to Stokley Carmichael of the Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. It came out of America's Revolutionary period and is attributed to Benjamin Banneker, a black man who helped to lay out the city of Washington, D.C. In his time, as in Richard's and Carmichael's, black power always meant political, economic, and social self-determination for black people.

So Black Power , like Savage Holiday, like The Outsider, was consigned to a gray area that was not quite oblivion, but certainly the next thing to it.

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Ghana—Samia Nkrumah

 Relations Between Africans and African Americans: Misconceptions, Myths and Realities

By  Godfrey Mwakikagile

 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: National Academic Press, 2005) 302 pages


Chiefs in Cape Coast, Ghana  /  Grand Durbar Parade  / Attitude of Africans Towards African Americans

Cape Coast Castle. A Collection of Poems By Kwadwo Opoku-Agyemang

Forts and Castles of Ghana by Albert van Dantzig

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Dentist Dr. Robert Lee

Championed African-American Community in Ghana

In the mid-1950s, Dr. Robert Lee, a dentist from South Carolina, moved to Ghana to escape racism in the south. Over the next half century, Lee became a fixture in the African-American community in the West African country. Dr. Lee died on Monday, July 5th at the age of 90. But few here in his home state, or in the States at all, knew of his work. But in Ghana, he made a name for himself. Dr. Robert Lee, trained as a dentist, moved to Accra in the mid-1950s. Over the past half century, Lee became a fixture in the black American ex-patriot community in Ghana. NPR

Host Michel Martin talks to NPR West African correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton about his life and legacy. Dr. Robert Lee NPR Interview

Dentist Championed African-American Community In Ghana  / Dr Robert Lee passes on


Dr. Robert Lee (right) in 2009 with Kwame Zulu Shabazz

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Submission of King Prempeh—Lord Baden Powell of the boyscouts (who was said to love young boys a BIT too much)— who was buried in Kenya and killed many Africans, was the leader of the expedition to overthrow King Prempeh the First of Ghana. He made the deposed king kneel in front of him, as he sat on a throne made of boxes of biscuits.— Binyavanga Wainaina

The Downfall—Then came the demand for payment of the indemnity for the war. Due notice had been previously given, and the Ashantis had promised to pay it; but unless the amount, or a fair proportion of it, could now be produced, the king and his chiefs must be taken as guarantee for its payment. The king could produce about a twentieth part of what had been promised. Accordingly, he was informed that he, together with his mother and chiefs, would now be held as prisoners, and deported to the Gold Coast. The sentence moved the Ashantis very visibly. Usually it is etiquette with them to receive all news, of whatever description, in the gravest and most unmoved indifference; but here was Prempeh bowing himself to the earth for mercy, as doubtless many and many a victim to his lust for blood had bowed in vain to him, and around him were his ministers on their feet, clamouring for delay and reconsideration of the case. The only "man" among them was the queen. In vain. Each chief found two stalwart British non-commissioned officers at his elbow, Prempeh being undercharge of Inspector Donovan. Their arrest was complete.—PineTreeWeb

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.


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Weep Not, Child

By Ngugi wa Thiong'o

This is a powerful, moving story that details the effects of the infamous Mau Mau war, the African nationalist revolt against colonial oppression in Kenya, on the lives of ordinary men and women, and on one family in particular. Two brothers, Njoroge and Kamau, stand on a rubbish heap and look into their futures. Njoroge is excited; his family has decided that he will attend school, while Kamau will train to be a carpenter. Together they will serve their countrythe teacher and the craftsman. But this is Kenya and the times are against them. In the forests, the Mau Mau is waging war against the white government, and the two brothers and their family need to decide where their loyalties lie. For the practical Kamau the choice is simple, but for Njoroge the scholar, the dream of progress through learning is a hard one to give up.—Penguin 

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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update 4 March 2012




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Related files: Dark Tourism in Ghana: The Joseph Project   Tarzan Can Not Return to Africa (A-B-C-D)   Tarzan Can Not Return to Africa   (E-F-G-H)  Tarzan Can Not Return to Africa  (I-J-K-L)  

Tarzan Can Not Return to Africa   (M-N-O-P-Q-R)    Tarzan Can Not Return to Africa (S-T-U-V-W-X-Y-Z)  Wright's Ghana in the 1950s    Miriam in Ghana  Pilgrimage  to Ghana    Randolph Visits Ghana 

Right to Abode  Where Ghana Went Right    Wright Bio 1908-1960