The Americans Are Coming! — 2012

Dreams of African American Liberation in Segregationist South Africa

By Robert Trent Vinson

“Vinson stresses that though Garveyism germinated in the U.S., its broad tenets found fertile ground in South Africa…where South Africans exploited it in numerous ways to fight racism.”


“Through his extensive archival work in South Africa, Vinson manages to go beyond many existing accounts in order to demonstrate how black South Africans were active participants in constructing the African American struggle for civil rights as a global issue.”

Journal of American Studies

“This is a timely and important book, a great contribution to transnational and Atlantic history, and a genre-buster that dispenses with the border between American studies and African studies.”


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For more than half a century before World War II, black South Africans and “American Negroes”—a group that included African Americans and black West Indians—established close institutional and personal relationships that laid the necessary groundwork for the successful South African and American antiapartheid movements. Though African Americans suffered under Jim Crow racial discrimination, oppressed Africans saw African Americans as free people who had risen from slavery to success and were role models and potential liberators.

Many African Americans, regarded initially by the South African government as “honorary whites” exempt from segregation, also saw their activities in South Africa as a divinely ordained mission to establish “Africa for Africans,” liberated from European empires. The Jamaican-born Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association, the largest black-led movement with two million members and supporters in forty-three countries at its height in the early 1920s, was the most anticipated source of liberation. Though these liberation prophecies went unfulfilled, black South Africans continued to view African Americans as inspirational models and as critical partners in the global antiapartheid struggle.

The Americans Are Coming! is a rare case study that places African history and American history in a global context and centers Africa in African Diaspora studies.

Picture of Robert Trent Vinson

Robert Trent Vinson is University Associate Professor of Teaching Excellence in history and Africana studies at the College of William and Mary. He has published several book chapters as well as articles in the Journal of African History, the Journal of South African Studies, and the African Studies Review. He serves on the editorial board of Safundi: The Journal of South African and American Studies.

Cover of 'The Americans Are Coming!'


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