In his 1903 hit "Congo Love Song," James Weldon Johnson recounts a
sweet if seemingly generic romance between two young Africans.
While the song's title may appear consistent with that narrative,
it also invokes the site of King Leopold II of Belgium's brutal
colonial regime at a time when African Americans were playing a
central role in a growing Congo reform movement. In an era when
popular vaudeville music frequently trafficked in racist language
and imagery, "Congo Love Song" emerges as one example of the many
ways that African American activists, intellectuals, and artists
called attention to colonialism in Africa.
In this book, Ira Dworkin examines black Americans' long cultural
and political engagement with the Congo and its people. Through
studies of George Washington Williams, Booker T. Washington,
Pauline Hopkins, Langston Hughes, Malcolm X, and other figures, he
brings to light a long-standing relationship that challenges
familiar presumptions about African American commitments to Africa.
Dworkin offers compelling new ways to understand how African
American involvement in the Congo has helped shape anticolonialism,
black aesthetics, and modern black nationalism.