Nkrumah (1909-1972), M.S. in Educ. 1943, M.A. 1944, was born in Africa's
Gold Coast (now Ghana). As a young man, he was a school teacher before leaving
his homeland to further his education in American universities. He later traveled
to England where he worked for the decolonization of Africa and in the Pan-African
movement before returning to Africa to lead his country's independence movement.
After the 1957 British withdrawal from his country, Nkrumah became Prime Minister
and then, in 1960, the first president of the modern nation of Ghana. Despite
his early studies of Marxism, Nkrumah's political views tended toward socialism
rather than to capitalism or communism. During his early years in office, Nkrumah
did much to modernize his country. Despite high hopes, however, the difficulties
of financing power plants and organizing armies in a poor African country led
to corruption, police tactics and wide-spread dissatisfaction. In February 1966,
Nkrumah was overthrown while on a state visit to China. He never returned to Ghana
but from his exile in Guinea, Nkrumah gained worldwide recognition for his continued
efforts on behalf of Pan-African unity.
Nkrumah arrived in Philadelphia in 1935 to begin undergraduate
study at Lincoln University. After completing a bachelor's degree in Sociology
magna cum laude, Lincoln admitted him to its Theological Seminary in
1939 for an additional degree in Sacred Theology. It was at this time, however,
that Nkrumah began concurrent enrollment at the University of Pennsylvania in
the hopes of acquiring multiple degrees simultaneously. Supporting himself through
a precarious combination of scholarships and seasonal work in the segregated shipyards
of Philadelphia, Nkrumah regularly visited Harlem and Washington to speak on anti-imperial
themes in churches, on street corners, at political rallies, and in classrooms.
In so doing, he managed to meet such prominent intellectuals of the African diaspora
as C.L.R. James, Nnamdi Azikiwe, and Marcus Garvey. As he later recalled
in his autobiography, "Life would have been so much easier if I could have
devoted all my time to study. As things were, however, I was always in need of
After receiving his Master's degree from Penn's Graduate School
of Education in 1941, Nkrumah began another program of study with the Department
of Philosophy on a University Scholarship. His advisor Glen Morrow noted
that he satisfied the requirements for a Master's degree in Philosophy in 1943,
and by 1944 it appears that he had passed his preliminary exams for a doctorate.
He then began working as a Twi instructor for Zelig Harris in a new African Studies
graduate group, and in 1945 he left the United States for London and Manchester.
He finally returned to the Gold Coast in 1947.
We have some more tangible
traces of his intellectual life during this time. While his theses in education
and philosophy have unfortunately been lost by the University, he did publish
two articles in Penn's Educational Outlook that give some indication
of the extent to which he was already developing the Pan-Africanist challenge
to colonialism that we now associate with him.
His first article was in
1941, when he was most probably completing his education degree, and it is not
surprisingly titled "Primitive
Education in West Africa." In it, Nkrumah suggested that the traditional
educational institutions of Africa conformed to the prevailing educational theories
of the mid-20th century. He notes that
of a child is largely a process of acquiring, in the first place, conditioned
reflexes, and then, the more permanent associations and systems of conditioned
reflexes that we call habits. The leaders of primitive West Africa, for a long
time, consciously or unconsciously, have been aware of this psychological fact.
also proposes that African teachers rightly understood the importance of early
childhood in the learning process, and thus began education at a very young age,
and he pointedly observes that the colonial-era need for African orphanages was
a consequence of the destruction of traditional educational institutions, which
unlike the European model, integrated "infant welfare" and schooling.
His conclusion: West African education "gave efficient preparation for the
activities of life and so it fulfilled its purpose," an implicit suggestion
that it was the equal ofand in some ways superior toits colonial counterparts.
other article, which appeared in 1943, is a more explicit connection of colonialism
and the struggle over African educational institutions. In "Education
and Nationalism in Africa," Nkrumah presents a focused discussion of
the tensions between European colonial rule, education, and national emancipation.
After referring his reader to the previous discussion of traditional education
in West Africa, Nkrumah presents a short history of European mission schools in
Africa, which he suggests were the primary educational institutions of colonial
Africa. After noting that their Eurocentric curricula carefully excluded
African religion, culture, and history, he observed that
such a system of education the youth of Africa is not prepared to meet any definite
situations of the changing community except those of the clerical activities and
occupations for foreign commercial and mercantile concerns.
..any educational program which fails to furnish
criteria for the judgment of social, political, economic, and technical progress
of the people it purports to serve has completely failed in its purpose, and has
become an educational fraud.
Pointing to the hypocrisy of a
civilizing educational mission that permanently delayed graduation, the moment
when Europeans would deem Africans capable of managing their own affairs, Nkrumah
ultimately concluded that "Higher education is incompatible with colonial
Two dissertation-length manuscripts from this period of Nkrumah's
life can now be found in the Ghana National Archives, one entitled "The History
and Philosophy of Imperialism with Special Reference to Colonial Problems,"
and another, "Mind and Thought in Primitive Society: a study in Ethno-Philosophy
with Special Reference to the Akan Peoples of the Gold Coast, West Africa."
While these texts are not readily available to the researcher, their titles suggest
the Educational Outlook articles of Nkrumah's time in Philadelphia were
closely tied to both his dissertation plans and his more general political development.
We are pleased to make these Educational Outlook articles available to
the general public through the links in the bibliography
For inquiries about the University's archived materials
relating to Kwame Nkrumah (1909-1972), M.S. in Educ. 1942, A.M. 1943, please contact: