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'Black America Cares': The Response of African Americans to the Nigerian Civil War, 1967-1970

James Austin Farquharson


PhD Thesis, Australian Catholic University, November 7, 2019

Far from having only marginal significance and generating a 'subdued' response among African Americans, as some historians have argued, the Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970) collided at full velocity with the conflicting discourses and ideas by which black Americans sought to understand their place in the United States and the world in the late 1960s. Black liberal civil rights leaders leapt to offer their service as agents of direct diplomacy during the conflict, seeking to preserve Nigerian unity; grassroots activists from New York to Kansas organised food-drives, concerts and awareness campaigns in support of humanitarian aid for Biafran victims of starvation; while other pro-Biafran black activists warned of links between black 'genocide' in Biafra and the US alike. This thesis is the first to recover and analyse at length the extent, complexity and character of such African American responses to the Nigerian Civil War. Drawing on extensive use of private papers, activist literature, government records and especially the black press, it charts the way African Americans conceptualised, over time and in complex ways, their varied understandings of issues such as black internationalist solidarities, territorial sovereignty and political viability, humanitarian compassion and great power realpolitik, as well as colonial and neo-colonial influence in Africa. The thesis initially explores the longer twentieth century history of African American engagement with Nigeria by way of establishing context, before providing in-depth analysis of the key initiatives and events that comprised African American engagement with the civil war. Chapters move chronologically and thematically to discuss direct diplomatic efforts to broker peace, African American responses to alleged genocide in Biafra, the rise and fall of pro-Biafran political support, and the latter’s loss to what emerged as a stronger political bloc of those supporting Nigerian political unity. Situated methodologically and historiographically at the intersection of scholarship on black internationalism and the international history of the Nigerian Civil War, this thesis demonstrates the way the civil war not only provoked intense activism, but did so in ways that fundamentally connected with the central ideas, themes and concerns of the black freedom struggle in the United States.

Full Text:


Biafran War Database.
Editor: Azuka Nzegwu.

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