Several heroes and heroines of African descent have been intentionally wiped out from African and world history. One such hero was a great African sage, teacher, and scholar who through his own intelligence and sacrifices liberated the African continent from illiteracy and ignorance. Unfortunately, this personality has been rebuffed by many Africans. Through sacrifices and contributions, he made unprecedented strides towards education and gender equality in Africa. Perpetually, the educational system and media has not done much to spread his name or fame to our current technological and fourth dimensional generation. Before we would go on to dissect a little that we could about this great Pan-Africanist, there is this particular point I want us to clarify. Africa has produced several great leaders and personalities from time immemorial, these leaders helped the African continent with their strength and knowledge. Our Educational system, Culture, Religion, and Socio-Politico affairs have all been crippled by colonialism. European ideologies and in correspondence to Africa’s past leaders and great personalities has been wiped out from history. “Dr.James Emman Kwegyir Aggrey”, was truly one of the greatest intellectuals Africa has ever produced, he was affectionately known as “Aggrey of Africa”.
CHILDHOOD AND EDUCATION
Dr. Emman James Kwegyir Aggrey was born on October 18, 1875 in Anomabo a fishing community located in the central region of Ghana. He was a teacher, orator, sociologist, and preacher. He was known to be a Civil Right leader, Gender activist, Pan-Africanist, sage, Theologian and the pioneer of Education in Africa. His parents were Okyame Kodwo Egyir, a chief linguist at the court of King Amonoo V of Anomabo, and Princess Abena Anowa, the daughter of a great traditional herbalist. Aggrey was said to be the seventeenth child of his father and fourth of his mother. The third wife of Okyeame Egyir, Dr. Kwegir Aggrey’s father had 21 children, nine by his first wife, four by his second, and eight by his third wife, who was Dr. Kwegyir Aggrey’s mother. Dr. Kwergyir Aggrey’s name was a typical Fanti’s name.
His entire Fanti name was Emman Kodwo Mensa Otsiwadu Humamfunsam Kwegyir Aggrey. Emman/oman which translates, Great city or a country’, Kodwo,‘ a male born on Monday’, Mensa, third male child’, Otsiwadu, Du means ten so he was the tenth after Otsiwa’, Humamfunsam, ‘an emperor or a great ruler, Egyir was the father’s name or the family name. A little revelation about the meaning of the name Aggrey is it originated from an Akan word “Opusu” in English, it means Gurgling. The name later became Gegley. During the colonial days, the Fantis was predominantly fishermen or farmers and found it difficult to pronounce an English name or word of this sort, because of this factor the Gegley became Aggrey which is known today.
As he was growing up, there was a sign of a greatness in his everyday life. Aggrey wanted to learn and know everything, he was always asking questions about things he don’t understand and things that don’t seems right to him. He was intelligent, smart and particular. His dream is to help mankind especially the poor, the needy and most importantly Africans. Kwegyir Aggrey’s dream came true when he met Rev. Dennis Kemp, a missionary of the Wesleyan (Methodist) sect, from Barbados in the West Indies. Rev. Kemp arrived in Cape Coast around 1888, he was looking to adopt brilliant and intelligent African children, to be trained as clergies to curb the higher illiteracy rate during that time. He also wanted to train brilliant Africans to carry on the task of the colonial masters, amid this notion he wanted to sponsor 20 boys, because only boys were educated at that time. Women on the other hand, were mostly condemned to accept kitchen and household chores as their only feasible profession. However, through this sponsorship deal, Kwegyir Aggrey got the chance to be educated. He along with other boys was taught to read and paint. He woke up early in the mornings, ahead of his siblings to start household chores such as fetching water from the well, sweeping, and etc before making his way to school. Kwegyir Aggrey often excelled in school no lower than fourth (4th) in class. Whenever Aggrey became weary while learning, he would tie a soaked towel around his head and sit with his feet in a basin of cold water. This became a popular sleeping antidote with students in Ghana when learning. Kwegyir Aggrey was taught on subjects such as natural science, home science, mathematics and logic, at the Wesleyan School ( Mfanstipim school) in Cape Coast. Kwegyir Aggrey was extremely intelligent and imbibed in books often. It was said that Dr. Aggrey could recite whatever he was taught at school including the Apostle’s Creed, The Lord’s Prayer, Thirty days hath September, the Multiplication table and more. He was often heard saying “I want to know everything”. He was also a great lover of the staple Ghanaian dish, fufu. After his formal education in Ghana he got scholarships to study in the U.S.A. Kwegyir Aggrey was honored with the following; a degree in Master of Arts (Livingstone College), Doctor of Divinity (Hood Theological Seminary), Master of Arts (Columbia University, USA), Doctor of Philosophy (Columbia University U.S.A). He won gold medals for English composition and for general scholarly deportment.
DR. KWEGYIR AGGREY
Kwegyir Aggrey was concerned about how women were educated in Africa and the racial prejudice and injustice suffered by many Africans. During the colonial era, the system only favored those whom had access to the missionaries like Kwegyir Aggrey and children born to wealthy parents. Dr. Kwegyir Aggrey completed Wesleyan mission school at the age of 14. He immediately accepted a post as a temporary pupil’s teacher in Abura-Dunkwa, a town 25 miles from Cape Coast, with a monthly salary of 35 shillings. His influence on students and women during his days at Abura-Dunkwa helped curb much illiteracy in the central region of Ghana. He notably advocated for the education of women. Aggrey was a staunch supporter of equal rights, justice, human rights, and development of the African continent. He exclaimed his affection of teaching during his days at Abura-Dunkwa, he wrote this:
“In 1889 I was sent to Abura Dunkwa to teach a village school. I was a kindergarten teacher, primary teacher, headmaster and all” . . . and yet looking back upon my life, if I had the chance to live again, I would gladly do it (teaching) again.
Aggrey began to preach at age 16 permissioned by the Wesleyan authorities. They conceived him to be a genius; He became Assistant Headmaster at the Wesleyan Centenary Memorial School by the age of 20. Aggrey took all the Teacher’s Certificate examinations offered by the Department of Education at that time. He stood first among a 119 candidates nationwide, who also entered the examinations; he became the only one who gained a second class. The certificate of distinction he obtained qualified him without further examination to teach at any school in the British Colonies of Africa.” The Legislative Council voted (NC30.00) 15 pounds in his favor for the purchase of books in appreciation of his abilities.
Cape Coast, the capital city of the central region of Ghana, started developing with awesome pace. Construction of schools and other amenities were on going, the colonial or European architecture were used to build houses such as flats, bungalows, mission houses, banks, and factories. Other entertaining hubs and social clubs like the Brass bands, masquerade or fancy dress clubs, boys’ and girls’ scout, boys’ and girls’ brigade, and the Y.M.C.A were becoming rampant in the city. Businesses were booming. Europeans and people from other African countries were flooding in to experience the Gold Coast. The emergence of railway lines, gold mines, newspapers, and the use of machinery was also introduced in the city. The English Language was in high demand as everyone wanted to learn how to speak and write it. Fitting into this emerging social environment and mingling with the Europeans especially the British was a goal for many. During this cultural expansion is when Kwegyir Aggrey resulted in Cape Coast to teach at the Wesleyan Memorial School or the Mfanstipim School. Kwegyir Aggrey was pivotal in helping the school become one of the best schools in Ghana. He traded with missionaries by giving lessons to them in the Fanti language in exchange for Geography, French, Latin, Psychology, and etc. Kwegyir Aggrey was fond of inventing his own vocabulary, examples are “In the tropics, nature excels herself in superabundant productiveness” and another one is the tropician is satisfied on land, the frigidian, ever on the icy water”. He also coined his own word for a certain Fanti instrument called “Tantaba “, Aggrey used to call this instrument a Tantanbulator. Kwegyir Aggrey also served in the Fanti-Ashanti War; he worked as an interpreter for Colonel Sir Francis Cunningham Scott, a veteran of the Gold Coast Constabulary. In 1896, he was conscripted to the Telegraph Unit under Lieutenant McInnes and Captain R. S. Curtis. Sources suggest, he was enstooled as a field Marshall or Tufuhen in his hometown, Anomabo when he returned from his brief and brave spell in the army. Dr. Aggrey was a fashionista; he dressed like Europeans more than Fanti. Often, the youth would imitate how he dressed. Dr. Aggrey had this to say about how people imitate his style of dressing:
“On the Gold Coast (Ghana) I was so popular that if I wore my hat over my right brow all the young men wore theirs in the same way. I did not know then that I knew nothing. From the Gold Coast I went to America, where I obtained two doctorates. Then I perceived that I knew nothing.” Dr. Kwegyir Aggrey also became the time keeper and Secretary of the Aborigines Rights Protection Society. He carried about a petition against the notorious Public Lands Bill (1897). He was said to walk in the course of a single day or 36 miles to Assin-Manso to send an important Telegram to London on behalf of the Society.
AGGREY IN U.S.A
Kwegyir Aggrey later got assistance from Rev. John Bryan Small on July 10th 1898 to travel to the USA, where he was trained as a minister in the Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. While in the USA, he worked hard to pay for his fees, books, and accommodation. He faced prejudice and racial discrimination when searching for a job. This statement was from him during one of his searches; “When I asked for work, they told me they had no work except for a devil. I began to black my face more, as it is easy to do when you are using these hand machines, In 3 weeks, I was moved on to be a journeyman and in another 3 weeks, I was made a proof reader.” Due to Dr. Aggrey’s hard work he maintained steady work as an editor during his stay in the USA; this was what one of his employers called Mr. H.E.C Bryant said about him “He’s dark as dark, but very few in America can use English as he can. His articles go in without any blue-penciling”. Dr. Aggrey became the first black Registrar and Financial Secretary at the Livingstone College; he intricately proceeded to teach English, Literature, Sociology, and Economics. He also acted as Treasurer of the college athletic association, in 1923. Kwegyir Aggrey also faced a lot of financial hardship in the U.S.A; he mortgaged his house in America and furniture for 500 pounds. He sold his farm together with other property at a considerable loss, he lost over NC 3,400.00 on the transaction, all this happened getting to the latter part of his life but he stood strong to execute all that he has to do for Africa. Kwegyir Aggrey was so well recognized and sought after, every organization wanted him to be on board, and he acted within his full capacity as a President, Secretary, or Speaker during the following programs and conferences; the School of Theology and the School of Religious Pedagogy, First Congregational Church of Jersey Conference, Eastern Union of Students Volunteers Conference, the National Conference of Methodist Episcopal Church, Foreign Missions Conference of North America, Kennedy School Mission Conference, National Conference of Canadian students and the International Convention of the Students Volunteer Movement Conference and the British West Africa Congress.
BACK TO AFRICA
Aggrey was said to be a close friend of Gordon Guggisburg so in 1924, Kwegyir Aggrey returned home to help lay the foundation of education in Ghana and Africa. He was appointed by his friend Governor Gordon Guggisburg to become the Assistant Vice-Principal of the newly founded Achimota college. He represented the College at the Centenary Celebrations at Fourah Bay College in Sierra Leone. He had this to say about Achimota College amid the celebrations: “My case reminds me of a young girl who returned home from a party and told her father that a young man had kissed her. Her father said, “How many times did he kiss you?” She looked into his face and replied: “Father, I came to confess, not to boast.” He had come, Aggrey continued, “not to boast of Achimota, but to confess what debt Achimota, Gold Coast, owed to Fourah Bay College.
Dr. Aggrey return to Ghana purposely and assisted Gordon Guggisburg to map out an educational development plan to help the British colonies in Africa. It started in 1909, when a widow, Miss Caroline Phelps-Stokes stated in her will that an amount of a million dollars should be used to educate Africans and the blacks in the United States, North American Indians, the needy, and deserving white students. With this big educational project, the sponsors needed a person with deep knowledge about the people of Africa, so he was chosen to be the one to take on the mantle of educating Africa. Through this program he managed to groom leaders who would go on to become freedom fighters of Africa, such leaders mentored were Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of Ghana, Hastings Kamuzu Banda, first president of Malawi, Nnamdi Azikiwe, the first president of Nigeria, and many whom did not become presidents but people of greater status in Africa.
With such a hefty task on his shoulders as a commissioner of education in Africa, he traveled extensively to countries such as Sierra Leone, Liberia (1920), the Gold Coast (Ghana, November, 1920), Nigeria and Fernando Po (November to December 1920), Cameroon (December 1920), the Belgian Congo (January 1921), Angola (January to February 1924), Kenya ( February to March 1924), Uganda (March 1924), Tanganyika (Tanzania) and Zanzibar ( March to April 192), Nyasaland and Rhodesia (Zimbabwe April to June 1924), South Africa (June 1924), and back to the Gold Coast (October, 1924). All of these countries reaped benefits because Dr. Kwegyir Aggrey sowed seeds of enlightenment. His determination alone helped Africa understand and embrace education. Through him Africa flourished in world affairs academically and intellectually. He led Africa away from the ignorance and maltreatment of the colonizers. For this he had this to say in a letter to his wife:
“I can bear witness that turning the right check wins ultimately. Rightly does Shakespeare make the critical Iago – Shakespeare’s consummate Satan – the critic of critics, pay sweet-soul Desdemona this most excellent tribute: She holds it a vice in her goodness not to do more than is requested.… I go forth, Rose, first to serve my God, our God Who has appeared to me by the side of the mountain and asked me to go lead my people away from the Egypt of ignorance and maltreatment … I go to serve my people”.
Kwegyir Aggrey was an intelligent conscious genius and some of the white colonizers were baffled. During one public lecture, whites were so amazed, they couldn’t believe a black man could produce such intelligence; this is what was said about Aggrey:
“Damn his color, he’s a saint. “His idea of education was the “All inclusive” type Secular education” was abhorrent to him; to him education meant the full development of the human personality. “By education,” he said,” I do not mean simply learning. I mean the training of the mind, in morals and in a hand that helps to make one socially efficient. Not simply the three R’s, but the three H’s the head, the hand and the heart.”
One could ask, did he manage to travel and performed these entire tasks peacefully without any mishap? He suffered various setbacks but he managed to sail through it all. Noted of these setbacks was when he escaped a shipwreck on October 17th 1925 and also in Koforidua Ghana, all his belongings were stolen, this was what happened from Aggrey’s own account; “all my things were stolen including 9 suits, 25 shirts, trunks, a brand new suit-case, and 6 pounds 11 shillings in cash. They left one old trunk and my visiting cards…I lost very heavily, I can never restore some of the valuables stolen, much less those above value, I determined not to give up, but move on to success”.
KWEGYIR AGGREY’S FAMILY
A man who traveled so extensively like Aggrey also managed to have time to raised a family, he married Miss Rosebud Douglas a black American woman from Portsmouth, he wedded his wife on November 8th, 1905 in the U.S.A. They were blessed with four children, two boys and two girls namely; Abena Azalea Aggrey (1907), Kwegyir Aggrey jnr (1908) Rosebud Aggrey (1910) and Orson Rudolf Guggisberg Aggrey (1926).
KWEGYIR AGGREY’S DEATH
“No man will live forever on earth”, the life of one of Africa’s greatest son came to a sad end on the 30th July, 1927, USA. Dr. Kwegyir Aggrey died of pneumococcal meningitis. His funeral was attended by the great, noble, and ordinary at the Livingstone College, his funeral service was presided by Bishop W. J. Walls.
8 FAMOUS QUOTES OF KWEGYIR AGGREY
1.”I don’t care what you know; show me what you can do. Many of my people who get educated don’t work, but take to drink.They see white people drink, so they think they must drink too. They imitate the weakness of the white people, but not their greatness. They won’t imitate a white man working hard… If you play only the white notes on a piano you get only sharps; if only the black keys you get flats; but if you play the two together you get harmony and beautiful music”
2. “No race or people can rise half slave, half free.The surest way to keep a people down is to educate the men and neglect the women.If you educate a man you simply educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a family.“
3.You can play a tune of sorts on the black keys, and you can play a tune of sorts on the white keys,but for harmony you must use both the black and the white.“True co-operation,” he said “involves a certain measure of equality – equality of opportunity, if not of actual political status.It means that each side has something to contribute – something more than braun on one side, brain on the other – to the well-being of both”.
4.”I am proud of my colour; whoever is not proud of his colour is not fit to live.”
“Keep your temper and smile,” he would say, “that’s what Jesus meant when he told men to turn the other cheek.“I have no time for revenge – That’s not African.“Some white people ought to be transformed to negroes just for a few days, so as to feel what we feel and suffer what we suffer.
5. “ Some people took to war; we took to love; some people took to hate: we took to song; some people took to anger; we took to laughter; some people took to despair; we took to hope. ‘ Patrol is going to get you; the bloodhound is going to get you; you can’t run as fast as the bloodhounds; what are you going to do, black man?’. In the darkest part of the night when everybody else might have despaired, we looked and we sang, long before our white brothers thought of an airplane, ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, coming for to carry me Home.’
6.No first class educated African wants to be a White man,Every educated Negro wants to be a first class Negro,not a third class European.The superiority complex is doing a tremendous mischief in Africa,When I am worried, I go on my knees and I talk to God in my own language”.
7.”I tell the southern people of America, with whom I have lived for over twenty years, that they have a special contribution to make towards the solving of the race problem, and of the civilization of Africa. They have lived side by side with us; they know our faith, our loyalty, our honesty, our sensitiveness; they know the things we prize the most: such knowledge should be used for the extension of God’s Kingdom”
8.”I prefer to be a Spokesman for my entire country: Africa, my Africa.”You can never beat prejudice by a frontal attach. Because there is mere emotion at the root of it. Always flank it. You can catch more flies with molasses than you can with the vinegar.”