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The History of Black Women Traveling The World

By Leroy Adams of Culture Travels magazine

I am a student of Black Internationalism. 

For the unfamiliar, the history of Black Internationalism is broadly defined as a global political, intellectual, and artistic movement of African-descended people engaged in a collective struggle to overthrow global white supremacy in its many forms.

In the 1940s, activists, scholars, and intellectuals engaged the ideas of black internationalism as an insurgent political culture emerging in response to slavery, colonialism, and white imperialism. The movement described the political and cultural ways Black communities collectively raised questions of struggle and liberation on a global scale and how Black people across the diaspora envisioned themselves beyond the boundaries of colonialism and European nation-states. And finally, to capture how people of African descent articulated global visions of freedom and forged transnational collaborations and solidarities with other people of color.

Even before the term became common parlance, numerous writers—W.E.B. Du Bois, Amy Jacques Garvey, Kwame Nkrumah, and Merze Tate, among them—engaged such ideas through various lenses, including Pan-Africanism, Garveyism, socialism, and Black Power.

In living our mission of celebrating, exploring, and connecting you to Black travel and culture globally, this Women’s History Month, we’re sharing the stories of Black women’s transnational (and space exploration) movements throughout history.

Through international alliances, these women became powerful agents of change on global issues; through resilience and determination, they became international record-setters in sports and entertainment; and through a “phenomenal woman, that’s me” attitude, they became history-makers in the galaxy.

Let’s take a trip back in time to experience Black Internationalism through the travels and global contributions of some of history’s most influential women.

POLITICAL & CULTURAL ACTIVIST

MAYA ANGELOU (Egypt and Ghana)

“I encourage travel to as many destinations as possible for the sake of education as well as pleasure.”- Maya Angelou

EGYPT

In 1960, Maya Angelou moved to Cairo, Egypt. Historically, Egypt has provided a political space for Black Americans and Africans to envisage opportunities for mutual exchange and solidarity. In Egypt, Maya acquired a job as an editor for the Arab Observer – an English-language magazine. Angelou knew nothing about being a journalist, but David Du Bois – stepson to W.E.. Du Bois, a journalist in Cairo, introduced her to Zein Nagati, president of the Middle East Feature News Agency. 

“Du Bois warned her that since she was neither Egyptian nor Arabic nor Moslem and since I would be the only woman working in the office, things would not be easy. He mentioned a salary that sounded like pots of gold to my ears…”

Du Bois would tell Maya, “Girl, you realize you and I are the only Black Americans working in the news media in the Middle East?”

Egypt’s influence is not lost on many Black Americans and is seen in the works of the late poet Maya Angelou. In her poem, “For Us, Who Dare Not Dare,” she articulated her desire to dream by writing:

Be me a Pharaoh

Build me high pyramids of stone and question

See me the Nile

at twilight

and jaguars moving to

the slow cool draught.

For Angelou, Egypt embodied the hopes and dreams of grandeur, not just because of its physical landscape but also the ability of its people to govern — especially given its 1952 independence from British military rule. Egypt occasionally featured as the backdrop to Angelou’s poems, as a trance coming to fruition. It was a living realm in which the African American poet collaborated with anti-colonial leaders from Ghana and South Africa.

On her arrival in 1960, Angelou’s descriptions of Cairo were visual and sonic. In one of her recollections, she exclaimed:

Street vendors held up their wares, beckoning to passersby. Young boys offered fresh fruit drinks, and on street corners, men stooped over food cooking on open grills. Scents of spices, manure, gasoline exhaust, flowers, and body sweat made the air in the car nearly visible. (The Heart of a Woman, Chapter 15)

GHANA

Maya Angelou and Malcolm X in Ghana.

In the 1960s, a group of African American artists and intellectuals moved to Ghana to attempt to redefine their relationship to citizenship in the U.S. and their African identities. Maya Angelou was part of this group.

In 1963, she settled in Ghana. There, Angelou became close to the Nkrumah regime, continuing her work as a journalist, broadcaster, and editor for a Pan-Africanist magazine. Drawing on her own experiences of racism in the U.S., her writing emphasized the connections between African and American activism, situating the struggle for civil rights within global campaigns against imperialism and discrimination.

They joined a small, tight-knit expatriate African American community, which included the great scholar and activist W. E. B. Du Bois, the writer William Gardner Smith, lawyer Pauli Murray, journalist Julian Mayfield, and sociologist St. Clair Drake. Angelou continued her work as a journalist and administrator at the University of Ghana. Her impression on her hosts was so strong that they honored her with a postal stamp.

Read the full story here

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