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Racial Identity and the Civilizing Mission: Double-Consciousness at the 1895 Congress on Africa

Paul W. Harris
Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation
Vol. 18, No. 2 (Summer 2008), pp. 145-176
DOI: 10.1525/rac.2008.18.2.145
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/rac.2008.18.2.145
Page Count: 32
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Racial Identity and the Civilizing Mission: Double-Consciousness at the 1895 Congress on Africa
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Abstract

The Congress on Africa was held in Atlanta, Georgia, in December 1895 as part of a campaign to promote African American involvement in Methodist missions to Africa. Held in conjunction with the same exposition where Booker T. Washington delivered his famous Atlanta Compromise address, the Congress in some ways shared his accommodationist approach to racial advancement. Yet the diverse and distinguished array of African American speakers at the Congress also developed a complex rationale for connecting the peoples of the African diaspora through missions. At the same time that they affirmed the need for "civilizing" influences as an indispensable element for racial progress, they also envisioned a reinvigorated racial identity and a shared racial destiny emerging through the interactions of black missionaries and Africans. In particular, the most thoughtful participants in the Congress anticipated the forging of a black civilization that combined the unique gifts of their race with the progressive dynamics of Christian culture. These ideas parallel and likely influenced W. E. B. Du Bois's concept of double-consciousness. At a time when the missionary movement provided the most important source of awareness about Africa among African Americans, it is possible to discern in the proceedings of the Congress on Africa the glimmerings of a new pan-African consciousness that was destined to have a profound effect on African American intellectual life in the twentieth century.

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