Ira Dworkin

Congo Love Song

African American Culture and the Crisis of the Colonial State

University of North Carolina Press 2017

New Books in African American StudiesNew Books in African StudiesNew Books in Arts & LettersNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Literary StudiesNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Popular CultureNew Books Network July 20, 2017 James P. Stancil II

In his 1903 hit “Congo Love Song,” James Weldon Johnson recounts a sweet if seemingly generic romance between two young Africans. While the song’s...

In his 1903 hit “Congo Love Song,” James Weldon Johnson recounts a sweet if seemingly generic romance between two young Africans. While the song’s title may appear consistent with that narrative, it also invokes the site of King Leopold II of Belgium’s brutal colonial regime at a time when African Americans were playing a central role in a growing Congo reform movement. In an era when popular vaudeville music frequently trafficked in racist language and imagery, “Congo Love Song” emerges as one example of the many ways that African American activists, intellectuals, and artists called attention to colonialism in Africa.

Congo Love Song: African American Culture and the Crisis of the Colonial State (University of North Carolina Press, 2017) examines black Americans’ long cultural and political engagement with the Congo and its people. Through studies of George Washington Williams, Booker T. Washington, Pauline Hopkins, Langston Hughes, Malcolm X, and other figures, the author brings to light a long-standing relationship that challenges familiar presumptions about African American commitments to Africa. Congo Love Song: African American Culture and the Crisis of the Colonial State offers compelling new ways to understand how African American involvement in the Congo has helped shape anticolonialism, black aesthetics, and modern black nationalism.

Author Ira Dworkin is an assistant professor of English at Texas A&M University who specializes in African American and African Diaspora literature, American literature and culture, race and ethnicity studies, and transnational literatures. After Congo Love Song: African American Culture and the Crisis of the Colonial State, Dworkin’s current book project is focused on two autobiographies published by African Muslim and American Civil War soldier Nicholas Said in 1867 and 1873, tentatively titled Imperfectly Known: Nicholas Said and the Routes of African American Narrative. The work will consider the place of Africa, including Islamic religious traditions, in early African American narrative by examining oral accounts within African American communities, northern literary venues like the Atlantic Monthly, and publishing in the Reconstruction-era South.


James P. Stancil II is an educator, multimedia journalist, and writer. He is also the President and CEO of Intellect U Well, Inc. a Houston-area NGO dedicated to increasing the joy of reading and media literacy in young people. He can be reached most easily through his LinkedIn page or at [email protected]org.

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