Today marks Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2020 and while for many it’s a day off from work, or an excuse to party through the weekend, it’s really a time to reminisce about the great works he was able to accomplish. While MLK was the chief spokesperson for America’s Civil Rights Movement, he was no stranger to worldwide activism. More specifically, he was there to witness the Gold Coast’s first-ever independence day celebration on March 6, 1957. He not only identified with Ghana’s struggle but also recognized a strong parallel between resistance against European colonialism in Africa and the struggle against racism in the United States. King and his wife, Coretta Scott King, were invited to the independence ceremony by Ghana’s new Prime Minister, Kwame Nkrumah. They were amongst many politicians, educators, and even President Nixon.
“Well, the minute I knew I was coming to Ghana I had a very deep emotional feeling, I’m sure. Thinking of the fact that a new nation was being born symbolized something of the fact that a new order is coming into being and an old order is passing away. So that I was deeply concerned about it. And I wanted to be involved in it, and be a part of it, and notice the birth of this new nation with my own eyes.” – MLK
At midnight on 6 March, King attended the official ceremony in which the British Union Jack was lowered and the new flag of Ghana was raised and the British colony of the Gold Coast became the independent nation of Ghana. King later recalled, “As we walked out, we noticed all over the polo grounds almost a half a million people. They had waited for this hour and this moment for years” (Papers 4:159). King’s reaction to the Ghanaians’ triumph was outwardly emotional. “Before I knew it, I started weeping. I was crying for joy. And I knew about all of the struggles, and all of the pain, and all of the agony that these people had gone through for this moment” (Papers 4:160). The recently incarcerated Nkrumah and his ministers wore their prison caps at the ceremony, symbolizing their struggle to win Ghana’s freedom. King wrote “When I looked out and saw the prime minister there with his prison cap on that night, that reminded me of that fact, that freedom never comes easy. It comes through hard labor and it comes through toil”.
Published in The Papers of Martin Luther King, King wrote a letter to Kwame Nkrumah for the courtesies he extended during the Ghanaian independence celebrations:
Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Prime Minister
Dear Dr. Nkrumah:
I have been intending to write you ever since I left Ghana in 1957 after having a most rewarding experience at your independence celebration. Words are inadequate for me to express my appreciation to you for the hospitality that you extended to me and my wife. It was most gracious of you to take time out of your extremely busy schedule and receive us for lunch at your residence. These things will remain in my thoughts so long as the cords of memory shall lengthen.
Since that time I have watched you and the growth of your nation with great pride. I am sorry that I was in Mexico last summer when you were in the United States and did not have an opportunity to attend any of the affairs in your honor.2 I have just returned to the United States from India and I was more than delighted to learn from Prime Minister Nehru and many others that you had been in India a month or so earlier and that your impact on the Indian people was tremendous.
I am sending you, under separate cover, a copy of my book, Stride Toward Freedom. which was published a few months ago. It is an account of our bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama and also an exposition of my philosophical and theological convictions on nonviolence.
I certainly hope that our paths will cross again in the not-too-distant future. If I come to Nigeria next year for the independence celebration, I will certainly plan to stop by Ghana.3
Very sincerely yours,
Martin Luther King, Jr.
MLK and Nkrumah’s daughters Bernice King and Samia Nkrumah, Jan 2019