Nnamdi Azikiwe Addresses Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity at its 35th Annual Convention in Washington, D.C. (1949)
Here Nnamdi Azikiwe, future first President of Nigeria, delivers an address to his fellow fraternity members at the Banneker High School Auditorium, Washington, D.C., on December 27, 1949, at the 35th Anniversary of the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity.
I have travelled 8,500 miles in order to be present on this momentous occasion. It took me less than 40 hours to make the trip by aeroplane, in two stages, thanks to modern scientific knowledge. I bring you greetings from Sigma men who are scattered over the continent of Africa. In concert with their comrades-in-arms they are playing their part in the great awakening which has gripped that continent of everlasting spring, having been imbued with the idea of ‘Culture for service and service for humanity’.
What is the nature of the struggle for national freedom in contemporary Africa? What are the forces at work to intensify that struggle? What is the reaction of the African people towards national realization? What is the role of the United States in this attempt of the African towards national self-determination? These are some of the issues I shall attempt to clarify within the limited time at my disposal. Throughout Black Africa, a struggle for national freedom is in the offing, because factors of imperialism have stultified the normal growth of Africans in the community of nations. Consequently, our indigenous people present a sorry spectacle of degraded humanity. Politically, they are dominated by alien races and are denied the basic human rights. Socially, the African has been made to witness discrimination of different kinds against him in his own native land. Economically, the African has been subjected to exploitation of a most heinous type, whilst he vegetates below the minimum subsistence level of existence. Yet, in spite of his plight he has become self-assertive and he is demanding a place in the sun.
What forces have been at work to intensify this struggle of the African for self-determination? Let me take the liberty of referring to comments made by Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt during the World War II, when it appeared that certain sections of American society were diffident in participating wholeheartedly in the war. She said: ‘We are fighting a war today so that individuals all over the world may have freedom. This means an equal chance for every man to have food and shelter and a minimum of such things as spell happiness to that particular human personality. If we believe firmly that peace cannot come to the world unless this is true for men all over the world, then we must know in our nation that every man, regardless of race and religion, has this chance. Otherwise we fight for nothing of real value. . . . If the future holds only a repetition of the past, if in each nation there are to be real slaves, even though they do not exist in name, then the boys who say they do not know why they fight have a right to say so. There would be no world worth fighting for and the only men who would have any reason for fighting would be the professional soldiers who fight for the love of fighting.