Council on African Affairs

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The Council on African Affairs (CAA), until 1941 called the International Committee on African Affairs (ICAA), was a volunteer organization founded in 1937. It emerged as the leading voice of anti-colonialism and Pan-Africanism in the United States and internationally before Cold War anti-communism and liberalism created too much strife among members 1955.[1] The split was also precipitated by co-founder Max Yergan's abandonment of left-wing politics and his subsequent advocacy on behalf of colonial rule in Africa.[1]

Founding members[edit]

Paul Robeson served as the CAA's chairman for most of its existence while W. E. B. Du Bois served as vice-chair and head of the Africa Aid Committee. Activist Max Yergan, who taught at the City College of New York (until 1941), was its first Executive Director. Alphaeus Hunton Jr. (1903-1970), an assistant professor in the English and Romance Languages department at Howard University, joined the CAA in 1943 as its Educational Director. He was also made its Executive Director, after the resignation of Yergan. Hunton was the editor of the CAA publication, New Africa, and the primary force behind much of the CAA's activity and vision.[1][2] Other pioneer members of the ICAA were Raymond Leslie Buell and Ralph J. Bunche. The CAA, from its beginning in 1941, received the support of mainstream activists and liberal intellectuals like Franz Boas, E. Franklin Frazier, record producer John H. Hammond, Mary McLeod Bethune (from the National Youth Administration) and Rayford Logan.[1][3]

Goals and message[edit]

The Council on African Affairs articulated and promoted a fundamental connection between the struggle of African Americans and the destiny of colonized peoples in Africa, Asia and elsewhere in the world. Among a host of other campaigns, it lobbied the federal government and the United Nations and lent material support on behalf of Indian independence, striking trade unionists in Nigeria, and African famine relief, all while publicizing the connections between these campaigns and its larger critique of colonialism and capitalism via their monthly bulletin New Africa. The CAA's most significant work involved South Africa, where it supported striking miners and helped direct worldwide attention to the African National Congress's struggle against the Union of South Africa government and its implementation of racial apartheid.

Reaction to United Nations Conference 1945[edit]

Members of the CCA were hopeful that following World War II, when Western Powers adopted new resolutions on the issue of colonialism that they would move towards encouraging Third World independence under the trusteeship of the United Nations.[4] To the CCA's dismay, the United States introduced a series of proposals at the April–May 1945 conference that set no clear limits on the length of colonialist occupation and no motions towards allowing territorial possessions to move towards self-government.[4]

Cold War[edit]

The Council on African Affairs advocated an internationalization of domestic civil rights, support for African liberation groups, and a non-aligned stance on the part of developing nations toward the Cold War superpowers. Combined with many CAA leaders' past and current associations with the Communist Party USA, this position had become politically untenable by the early 1950s. Liberal supporters abandoned the CAA and the federal government cracked down on its operations. In 1953, the CAA was charged with subversion under the McCarran Act. Its principal leaders, including Robeson, Du Bois, and Hunton, were subjected to harassment, indictments, and in the case of Hunton, imprisonment.

Under the weight of internal disputes, government repression, and financial hardships, the Council on African Affairs disbanded in 1955. Advocacy for the liberation of colonialist Africa was considered a "Communist cause" and therefore contrary to the interests US government during the Cold War.[5] In turn, Max Yergan had become disillusioned with Communism and spoke out against it. In 1952, he spoke against Communism on a visit to South Africa and, in 1964, he praised aspects of the South African government's "separate development" plan. In the last decade of life, he co-chaired the conservative American-African Affairs Association.[6]


  1. ^ a b c d Duberman, Martin, "The Apex of Fame", Paul Robeson, 1989, pp. 284-285.
  2. ^ Johanna Selles, "The Hunton Family: A Narrative of Faith through Generations" (pdf).
  3. ^ Anthony, David Henry: Max Yergan: Race Man, Internationalist, Cold Warrior, NYU Press, 2006, p. 212.
  4. ^ a b Duberman, Martin, "Postwar Politics", 'Paul Robeson, 1989, pp. 296-297.
  5. ^ Robeson, Susan, "The Pinnacle of Fame and Fortune", A Pictorial Biography of Paul Robeson: The Whole World in His Hands, 1981, p. 118.
  6. ^ "Max Yergan", South African History Online.