Dr James Kwegyir Aggrey’s family. And James is his baptismal name. The others name explained as Emman, ‘ Great city’ supposed to be “Oman” Fantse language but Cape Coast pronounciation affected it and Aggrey accepted it. Kodwo, ‘male child born on Monday, Mensa, is a ‘third male child’ Otsiwadu, tenth after Otsiwa Humamfunsam, ‘wide-ruling Agyeman’; Kwegyir, father’s name; Aggrey, family name. Kwegyir is a contraction of Kwaw Egyir. Egyir seems original family name anglicised Aggrey. Dr. Kwegyir Aggrey’s father, respected linguist spokesman of a chief or king, a warrior. His mother, a daughter of a medicine man so he was born in traditional family who became Christians and Dr. Aggrey was baptised, as James. Prior to this he was popularly known as Kojo, or Kodwo, Mensa. James recounted when he stated: “My father and my mother, brothers and sisters became Christians through me. I got a taste for this when 8 years old.” Dr Aggrey`s Bust at Achimota School, Accra, Ghana. Shortly before eightieth birthday, entered the Wesleyan School in Cape Coast. Father left with mother to seek employment as “goldtaker’ with Mr. John Sarbah indigene of Anomabu and father of late lawyer John Mensah Sarbah, CMG, prosperous merchant and member of Legislative Council. But after bankruptcy of the Hon. George Kuntu-Blankson, whose firm Kodwo Kwegyir held position several years at Anomabu, fifteen miles east of Cape Coast. Dr. Aggrey’s younger sister his favourite admired him for prowess of learning to recite what he was taught at school like Lord’s Prayer, Apostle’s Creed, ‘Thirty days has September, the multiplication table and so on. A lot is said about how thin he grew but strong and healthy so his mother said he detests ‘fufu.’ But most importantly, from boyhood, Dr. Kwegyir Aggrey diligently pursuing knowledge. He rose early than members of family, shared ‘water-carrying’ and sweeping, puts little boiled maize under his cloth with books, goes to Amanfu at the seashore reads till school time. He is seen everyday walking across Chapel Square, the centre of town, “oblivious of everything but book his eyes were glued to.”Its said he was among the top four (4th) in class.
In Achimota School in 1888, Dr. James Kwegyir Aggrey’s life changed with the arrival of Rev. Dennis Kemp, Wesleyan missionary, who arrived in Cape Coast from Barbados, West Indies. As part of his efforts to curb illiteracy at the time, proposed to take 20 people (all boys) to mission house for training so favoured among them was Dr. James Kwegyir Aggrey. Young Emmanuel distinguished himself in all branches of knowledge, so easily won admiration of Rev. Dennis Kemp. In a spacious mission home, “the most palatial residence in Cape Coast,” Aggrey and twenty three lads received instruction in joinery, blacksmithery, home decoration, painting, in addition to formal literary education, science, logic, etc. As expected, Aggrey became more engrossed in his books. He was quoted to declare many times, “I want to know everything.”Aggrey had no time for ‘games.’ He lived for books. He would stay up reading long after others were asleep, when weary, tie a soaked towel around his head and sit with his feet in basin of cold water. He loved God as a boy so history books refer to him as ‘a natural Christian.’ Two years later he at 14 years, completed his course at this college, and accepted post of temporary pupil teacher, Abura-Dunkwa, 20 miles east of Cape Coast on monthly salary of 35 shillings. Aggrey was responsible for a class of about 30 boys. Rev. Dennis Kemp appointed to spiritual oversight of the Coast to the Prahso district. And Aggrey and Rev. Dennis Kemp made a two-day journey to this large circuit. At Ekroful, they were handicapped for lack of accommodation, no hotels or lodging houses, slept in the chapel; Rev. Kemp in the pulpit, and Aggrey in one of the pews. By age 15, was in sole control of the school and compelled to show his leadership prowess. He succeeded in raising standard of pupils’ work under his guidance both the day school and Sunday school became the largest in the circuit. In a letter to the school 37 years later, Aggrey recounted, “In 1889 I was in Abura Dunkwa to teach in a village school. I was kindergarten teacher, primary teacher, headmaster and all. He lamented about the poor conditions of teachers but stated, “and yet looking back on my life, if I had chance to live again, I will gladly do teachin again.
A year afterwards, Aggrey transferred to Cape Coast, now prosperous; several Christian missionaries had arrived and fraternal, literary and social clubs, the Singing Band, Band of Hope, and Chris’t Little Band and Y.M.C.A. all establishing themselves. Trade was prosperous, with speculation in gold mines, machinery increasing; railways introduced in the nearby district. Banks were established, newspapers springing up, and study of English language becoming popular. So
Aggrey joined the staff of the Wesleyan Memorial School, built in 1881, taught for many years. So studying for Aggrey was a lifestyle and not a task. He asked for lessons to prepare for Cambridge Local Examination. Studied Magnetism, Electricity, traded with the missionaries giving lessons in the Fanti language. In return, learnt lessons in French, Latin and Psychology, always ready to share knowledge with pupils. Dr. Aggrey is known for delight in use of long English words. Quoted in a youthful essay, “ In the tropics, nature excels herself in superabundant productiveness.” If he did not find word to suit him creates one quoted as saying, “ the tropician is satisfied on land, the frigidian, ever on the icy waters.” He coined the title ‘tantabulator’ after the name of music instrument, tanta-ba in fanti, probably because it was the only instrument he could play so well. Dr. Aggrey excelled in everything he ‘touched’ and he was proud of himself. He is quoted to have said, “ when I was being trained for the ministry, I ranked first in Greek, in Latin, in Bible History, in Logic, in Exegesis, yes, first in everything.” He was so good the Wesleyan authorities permitted him to preach at age 16. By the time Dr. Aggrey turned 20, he was Assistant Headmaster at the Wesleyan Centenary Memorial School. Anomabo Etsiwa Posuban Asafo group or military Dr James Kwegyir Aggrey belongs. In 1889, when Rev. J.B. Graham entered ministry, Aggrey a Headmaster of the school at age of 23. He took all the Teachers’ Certificate examinations of Department of Education; and in 1895, stood first among the 119 candidates all over the country. Only one who gained second class certificate of distinction he obtained qualified him without further examination, “to teach in similar school in any British Colony, the world over.” The Legislative Council voted (NC30.00) 15 pounds in his favour for purchase of books in appreciation. His success made Cape Coast Wesleyan School the best school in the Colony. As stated by then Director of Education with 400 enrolled students, Aggrey is a figure of great man in the Gold Coast even at that time.
Dr James Emman Kwegyir Aggrey. From 1895 – 1898, Aggrey is educational giant, a politician and soldier. Aggrey became recording Secretary, Aborigines Rights Protection Society and short time acted as Chief Secretary of Society. He carried about a petition for signatures against notorious Public Lands Bill (1897). On one occasion, performed splendid task of walking, in the course of a single day, 36 miles to Manso to send an important cablegram to London on behalf of the Society. Aggrey contributed articles in a Gold Coast Methodist Times, his friend Rev. Jacob Anaman then editor, helped to get the unpopular Bill withdrawn. As a soldier in Fanti-Ashanti war, Aggrey served his expedition under Colonel Sir Francis Cunningham Scott, a veteran of Gold Coast Constabulary who had on his staff two British princes. Prince Henry of Battenberg and the Prince Christian Victor. Aggrey an interpreter was paid 7/6d. per day attached to Telegraph Unit with Captain R. S. Curtis and Lieutenant McInnes marched from Cape Coast to Kumasi in December, 1896. Saw fighting in Kumasi, the following year returned to Cape Coast unhurt. Afterwards, his father’s people made him the Tufuhene a Field Marshall according to the native custom. Although accepted the honour politely sought to be relieved of office, as it would have stood in the way of his education and other civic programmes. This refusal, was not for lack of interest in African customs, but because he felt he could not fulfil all functions at same time. Dr Aggrey was popular amongst the Gold Coast educated elites whatever he wear they mimic his style. In his own words: “In Gold Coast I was popular if I wore my hat over my right brow all young men wore theirs in the same way. I did not know I knew nothing. From Gold Coast I went to America, to obtain two doctorates. Perceived knew nothing.” For the next twenty-six years, from 10th July, 1898 to October 15th 1924, Aggrey pursued knowledge and education in America. Through the generous offer of Rev. John Bryan Small a native of Barbados, Aggrey proceeded to America to train to join the Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. Aggrey left for United States, 10th July, 1898, SS “Accra” reaching America a month later. Aggrey describes life-time student, successfully took examinations every year. Aggrey combined good academic attitude with his diligence and hard work raise funds during long vacation to pay his fees. He recounted an experience seeking a job at publishing firm, “ When I asked for work, they told me they had no work except for a devil. So I begun to black my face more black, easy to do when using the hand machines. In 3 weeks, moved to be journeyman in another 3 weeks, made a proof reader.” For his hard work occasionally asked by editors of Charlotte Daily Observer, publishing firm to contribute articles to the papers. Mr. H.E.C Bryant, through whose hands his contributions passed noted:“ He’s dark as dark, but very few in America can use English as he can. His articles go in without blue-penciling.” In 1902 Kwegyir Aggrey graduated with B.A honours. He won gold medal for English composition and a second gold medal for general scholarly deportment. In the same year, delivered a Latin salutatory at Commencement in American colleges at close of the term. He earlier delivered first Greek oration heard in the college.
In 1912 degree of M.A, conferred on him by Livingstone College. And also a Hood Theological Seminary Doctorate Degree.
Prior to graduating, given assistance to staff of the College. When professor, A.B Johnson fell ill, Aggrey worked for him. Death of A.B Johnson, meant appointed Registrar, Financial Secretary, taught English Language, Literature, Sociology and Economics. He acted as Treasurer of the college athletic association, was superintended of College Sunday School ordained an Elder of the Zion Methodist Church in 1903. Made Pastor at Miller’s Chapel and Sandy Ridge in 1914. After completing course, College authorities pressed him to stay. Dr. Kwegyir Aggrey always conscious of time, was known by students as a ‘stickler for punctuality.’ Students accused him of ‘putting on the clock.’They tried to catch him late, but never succeeded. A fellow student and one-time principal, Dr. W.J. Trent wrote:
“His influence at Livingstone, where he taught for more than 20 years was very precious and had a great deal to do with improvement of moral and spiritual conditions of whole college life” In 1917, position of the President of Livingstone College became vacant passed over, many expected, supported him for the post, Dr. Aggrey remained strong. He stated in a letter: “ I believe the Lord has something else in store for me. I am doing my best, patiently waiting until He gets ready for me to go where He leads I follow. Dr Aggrey obtained Philosophy Degree, Divinities in 1923. He returned home to Achimota College as foundation member of staff in 1924, Assistant Vice-Principal, thanks to Governor Guggisbery, who made the foundation of College possible. In 1924, position of President of Livingstone College vacant again and Dr. Kwegyir Aggrey in Gold Coast was invited to take over as President but declined the offer. Committing himself to work as a staff member of Achimota School in Accra. Despite the big disparity between the income offered or one taken at time. In a letter to a friend, Dr. Aggrey explained his position: “ In the United States, the Livingstone College stands first in my heart. I love her. And God’s choicest blessing attend her. But in the whole wide world my Africa comes first.” It is Aggrey’s contribution to welfare of the Gold Coast in particular and Africa in general helped in three major fields. He served as only African member on two internationally reputed education commissions for Africa. Phelps-Stokes fund Commission, regarded a key-stone to raising the standard of education in Africa. In will dated 1909, Miss Caroline Phelps-Stokes bequeathed her fortune, amounting to almost a million dollars, to trustees with instruction the income be used, inter alias, “for education of Negroes, in Africa and the United States, North American Indian and needy and deserving white students.” Out of this came two Commissions, which toured countries in Africa for fact-finding, on which Aggrey features prominently. It is during this journey Aggrey made a significant impression and underscored importance of education among people who became important figures in Africa including Hastings Kamuzu Banda, later president of Malawi, Nnamdi Azikiwe, first president of Nigeria, and Kwame Nkrumah, first president of Ghana. We hear of Aggrey in Sierra Leone, Liberia, September, 1920. Gold Coast, October to November, 1920. Nigeria, Fernando Po November, December 1920. Cameroon, December 1920, Belgian Congo January 1921, Angola January to February 1924, Kenya, February to March 1924, Uganda March 1924, Tanganyika and Zanzibar March, April 1924, Nyasaland Rhodesia in April to June 1924, South Africa again in June 1924, Again Gold Coast October, 1924. In a letter to his wife, wrote about his work on the commission. He said the characteristic of Christian is to do more than he is commanded to do. He added:
“I can bear witness turning the right check wins ultimately. Rightly does
Shakespeare make the critical Iago, Shakespeare’s consummate satan critic of critics, pay sweet-souled Desdemona 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 Egypt, ignorance and maltreatmet, I go to serve my people.” While visiting Kenya, Commission recommended four separate Education Advisory Committee for racial groups in Kenya: Europeans, Arabs, Indians and Africans. They steer educational development for each race until independence. So recommended rural education and industrial training. The recommendations were adopted in 1925, Jeans School, Kabete opened to train artisans. In South Africa delivered a lecture used, keys of piano as image of racial harmony: “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 drink too, imitate weakness of white people, but not their greatness. They won’t imitate a white man working hard. If you played only the white notes on a piano you get only sharps; if play only the black keys you get flats; but if you play two together you get harmony and beautiful music”
Dr Aggrey so much impressed the white settlers at public lectures his audience wildly admiringly exclaimed, “Damn his colour, he’s a saint.” His idea of education was “All inclusive” type, “Secular education” was abhorrent to him; education is full development of human personality. “Education,” he said, “Does not mean simply learning. it means training the mind, in morals hand helps to make socially efficient. Not simply three R’s but the three H’s the head, the hand and the heart.” He wanted all-round training for girls and boys “No race or people can rise half slave, half free, surest way to keep a people down is educate men, neglect the women. If you educate a man you educate an individual, if you educate a woman you educate family nation.”
On University education, said it should combine the best of east with best of the west, the best of Africa with the best of Europe, Asia and America. “Encourage original thinking, encourage research, helps add to human knowledge. West Africa proved we get classics, theology, philosophy, masters in jurisprudence and dialectics. The question is, can we turn knowledge more and more into the service of common weal? Can we give back with interest what we received? I believe, we can. University Education is to prove what scientific training can do. University education should aim to give women, training co-education to subdue the earth. Training for character: that is Christian: Christianity not Church going.
In United States, greatly helped needy negroes at the mercy of money lenders by encouraging formation Co-operative Farmers’ Association, Farmers Unions Credit Union Banks, and agricultural enterprises to relieve negro’s financial embarrassment. On return to the Gold Coast, while a staff at Achimota, sought permission of Director of Agriculture and toured length and breadth of Gold Coast, preaching same ideals. The result was output and quality of farmers’ crop in twenties improved radically. As an advocate for inter-racial co-operation, Aggrey contributed to cause of peace. So his ideas based on bi-racial grouping, stood for civic pride, social betterment, taking pride in own race but seeking friendly relationship with all races. This was radical opposite view of ultra-racial group of thinkers of ultra-conservative school of intellectuals of Marcus Garvey described a great champion. Aggrey always urged his people to be proud of their race and colour. He believed they should remain distinct because of their definite particular contribution makes harmony of mankind. Amalgamation of no conflict, but co-operation is Aggrey’s ideal. He expressed example Piano Keys
“You can play a tune of sorts on the black keys, and play a tune of sorts on the white keys, but for harmony you must use both black and the white.”
“True co-operation “involves certain measure of equality of opportunity, if not actual political status. It means each side has something to contribute more than braun one side, brain on other seek well-being of both.”
Aggrey noted for hundreds conferences attended, acted as president, secretary, leading member, represents university, sometimes church, sometimes Africa in
general. Too numerous to be listed, but a few mentioned: National Conference of Methodist Episcopal Church Foreign Missions Conference of North America, Kennedy School Mission Conference, School of Theology, School of Religious Pedagogy, Congregrational Missionary Society Conference, First Congregation Church of Jersey City Conference, And Eastern Union of Students Volunteers Conference, National Conference of Canadian students and International Convention of the Students Volunteer Movement Conference, and British West Africa Congress. Aggrey did not have everything smooth. He suffered many perils, but did his best to overcome them all. He escaped shipwreck October 17th, 1925, as he and Mrs. Aggrey sailed in SS “Cedric” for America. Earlier, July 1925, he experienced his real baptism of fire while away in Koforidua in Eastern part of Gold Coast during long vacation. “All things stolen including 9 suits, 25 shirts, trunks, brandnew suitcase and 6 pounds 11 shillings in cash. Left one old trunk and visiting cards, lost very heavily and never restored valuables stolen, much less those above value. I determined not to give up but moved on to success.”Big blow to him and his family, Aggrey, recorded the financial troubles, mortgaged house in America and furniture for 500 pounds mortgagor wished it redeemed; further related that to raise funds to redeem it, Aggrey sold his farm together with other property at a considerable loss lost over NC 3,400.00 on the transaction. But a man always in good spirits nothing depressed him and
had unexhaustible fund of wise saying, a few recorded as a matter of interest:
“I am proud of my colour; whoever is not proud of his colour is not fit to live.“Keep your temper and smile,” “that’s what Jesus meant when he told men to turn other cheek. “I have no time for revenge that’s not African “Some white people be transformed to negroes for a few days to feel what we feel and suffer what we suffer.” If I find a man scowling at me, I smile back. He scowls again I smile. I don’t find anyone scowl third time.” Some people go to war; we choose to love; some people hate we sing; some angry we take to laughter; some despair; we hope. Patrol bloodhound wants to get you, can’t run as fast as bloodhounds; what can you do, blacks? In darkest night when everybody despaired, we look and sang, long before our white brothers thought of airplane, ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, coming for to carry me Home. I tell the southern people of America, with whom I lived over twenty years made contribution towards solving race problem and the civilization of Africa. They live side by side with us; know our faith, our loyalty, our honesty, sensitiveness; know things we prize most knowledge used for extension of God’s Kingdom”
“No first class educated African wants to be a White man. Every educated Negro wants to be a first class Negro, not third class European. Superiority complex is a tremendous mischief in Africa. If I am worried I go on my knees talk to God in my own language. Laughing is the way to go through life. It is the positive side of Christ’s law of peaceful resistance.”
I prefer to be a Spokesman for my entire country: Africa, my Africa.”
“You never beat prejudice by frontal attack because mere emotion at the root of it. Always flank it. You catch more flies with molasses than with the vinegar. I receive kicks from both sides – white and black. But all of that is in the day’s work. One needn’t be surprised.”Only the best is good for Africa.” Aggrey was a far-sighted man. Those who doubted his words lived to see the truth therein in the end. He compared Africa to the Sleeping Beauty, and asserted his confidence in her future that she would one day wake up to find herself very important in the comity of nations. This he put in a letter to Dr. Jesse Jones, a highly reputed American minister of religion and a great intellectual, who was Aggrey’s great friend. “It seems to me,” he wrote to Dr. Jones in September, 1919, “this is psychological moment for Africa. and I believe you are destined metaphorically to stoop down and kiss Sleeping Beauty Africa back to life from her centuries of sleep.” Dr. Jones confessed what Aggrey said seemed gross exaggeration to him; “they were fantastic imaginations of an emotional African. I believe in Aggrey, I could not share his forecasts.” But came to see Aggrey was right looking back on the gratifying results that followed the Commission, wrote; “In answer to my own doubts and in acknowledgement of my error, I here record that Aggrey’s dreams have come true with almost miraculous accuracy. Signs of the future indicate that they will continue in their realization until Aggrey’s Africa will take its place amongst the continents of the world.”Aggrey, for all his greatness, was a man of simple life even when the Headmaster of the most outstanding school in his time in 1895. He always washed his own clothes although his younger brother, Awir, “as soon as he began clerkship, employed a laundress.”
While in America as a professor, in spite of illness he preached four times every Sunday.“I did not want to disappoint the public, so I told sickness to hold off for a day, and Monday it returned with a vengeance.” He was a man full of humour, one whose sense of humour captivated and subdued the intentions of his enemies. Once, as Assistant Vice-Principal, at Achimota, he proceeded to Sierra Leone to represent the College at the Centenary Celebrations of Fourah Bay College, Sierra Leone. The situation was delicate, but occasion important. Aggrey had many friends in Freetown, but some of these friends, and several others, (rightly) looked askance at Achimota. Fourah Bay College had long
occupied the pre-eminent position on the West Coast, its graduates were to be found everywhere in West Africa, and consequently it stood emphatically for the academic tradition in education, at least in West Africa. It was affiliated to Durham University in Great Britain. On the contrary, Achimota was not first nor second college in Gold Coast looked on as upstart; ideals unlike Fourah Bay ideals. Aggrey was expected to attend a conference at Fourah Bay College as a spokesman of a serious competitor Achimota. It was feared that he would be mobbed and killed. It required the tact, shrewdness, and intelligence, which could be Aggrey’s alone. He got up and started, “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. Fourah Bay College stands to the Gold Coast as the symbol of the African’s educational capacity.” It is recorded that “after the speech every door and every heart was open to him”. Between November 19th and December 4th, he was called upon to deliver twenty-four speeches. Enough said so far of “Aggrey the Great” himself, and something now must be said about his family or private life. Aggrey was married to a young pretty and learned American negress, a Miss Rosebud Douglas of Portsmouth, USA and the wedding took place on November 8th, 1905, at Portsmouth. Within five years of marriage, three children were born to them, namely, Abena Azalea (1907), Kwegyir (1908), and Rosebud (1910). On 24th July, 1926 a fourth child was born, Orson Rudolf Guggisberg. Aggrey was a great lover of children, and took great pains to train his children, advising them on how to be careful in life his end was drawing near. Aggrey, a co-founder of Achimota College, first in many examinations he took; holder of degrees of Master of Arts (Livingstone College), Doctor of Divinity (Hood Theological Seminary), Master of Arts (Columbia), Doctor of Philosophy (Columbia holder of many diplomas, joined staff of Achimota in July, 1924. He left for America in July, 1926, returned in November that year. Achimota (Gold Coast) his dream, was formally opened on 28th January, 1927, and in May that year he left for England and America once more, only to die on 30th July of pneumococcal meningitis.
His death was a sad but great affair; he was mourned in all the continents. Two thousand mourners, white and black, attended the service in the auditorium of Livingstone College. Bishop W. J. Walls conducted the service, and tributes were paid by many dignatories, including Dr. W.H. Goler, ex-President of the College, Professor Branley of Shaw University, Dr. Jesse Jones, Bishop W.W. Jones, Dr. George E. Davis of the State Department of Public Instruction, and Dr. S. G. Aikins, President of the Teachers’ College at Winston-Salem.
||Jul. 30, 1927
New York, USA
Son of Kodwo Kwegyir Aggrey & Abna Andua, he was born in Anamabu, Ghana, West Africa.Married Rosebud “Rose” Douglass on November 8, 1905Father of: Abna Azalea (Aggrey) Lancaster(1907-1997)
Kwegyir Aggrey (1908-1986)
Rosebud Douglass Aggrey (1910-1990)
Orison Rudolph Aggrey (1926- )
The honorary pall-bearers were all white citizens of Salisbury: Mr. E.C. Gregory the exMayor, A.L. Smoot, Mr. J.M. McCorkle, Mr. A Buerbaum, Mr. W.H. Leonard and Mr. J.C. Kasler. In Europe, Africa, Asia, America and Australia similar ovations and last respects were offered in his honour: and in the Gold Coast (the land of his birth), every town and village observed his death by weeping and mourning.
For that was the physical end of the man everybody loved, the man who apparently never had an enemy, and the man whose talent and virtues were admired by all classes of the society.
The Aggrey Students’ Society, formed in April, 1928, in America and the Gold Coast, and the Aggrey House, Achimota (Ghana), together with millions of Africans and Europeans who admire his noble achievements will always make Aggrey immortal, and inspire those of later generations to further greatness.
Anomabo beach source:
Dr J E Kwegyir Aggrey is Special
‘Only the best is good enough for Africa. My people of Africa, we were created in the image of God, but men have made us think we are chickens, and we still think we are, but we are eagles. Stretch forth your wings and fly! Don’t be content with food of chickens’. Dr J E Kwegyir Aggrey.
When, at dawn, 50 years ago on Independence Day, Kwame Nkrumah uttered the following memorable words, ‘A greater than Aggrey is here!’ few considered that statement a hyperbole. Admittedly, Nkrumah had had some ground prepared for him by yesteryears’ freedom fighters, and by the Big Five who invited him become the Big Sixth, to lead the struggle for Independence, but the way he rallied the population to achieve the seemingly impossible, namely the translation of Colonial Gold Coast into Self Governing Ghana, placed him in the history books. No mean Feat! However, the mere fact that Nkrumah found it necessary to link his achievement to the name of Kwegyir Aggrey, proved Kwame Nkrumah, held Dr Kwegyir Aggrey in greatest esteem.
Mount Everest. Ghanaian see, Kwame Nkrumah considered justifiably Mount Everest, Kwegyir Aggrey is delegated to Second Highest Peak in the Himalayas of national and international esteem. Inspiration-wise, Kwegyir Aggrey has no rivals, for Kwame Nkrumah inspired nations, Aggrey inspired internationals, including Kwame Nkrumah when he was a student at Achimota College. Read and see, New African Survey highly respected London-based international journal, New African, with a worldwide readership of more than 200,000 results of a 12-month long survey regarding who the readers thought were ‘THE 100 GREATEST AFRICANS OF ALL TIME’. The Editor asked readers to state why they voted as they did. Commenting on votes, and attached reasons show why they voted as they did, New African’s brilliant Editor Mr Baffour Ankomah, said ‘The total shows Nelson Mandela is No. 1 Greatest African of all time closely followed by Nkrumah ‘Ankomah says in some respect ‘results disappoint’ (New African August/September 2004, page 14). Readers voted 5 Ghanaians, 2 (Yaa Asantewa & Kwame Nkrumah) late Kofi Annan, Abedi Pele, plus myself in their list, giving their reasons for their choice -reasons published order of merit. As I read list I shared Baffour Ankomah’s disappointment wrote letter to Editor, published in very next issue, October 2004, page 4. Aggrey Of Africa surprised to find my name among “100 Greatest Africans of all time” more surprised Aggrey of Africa not mentioned at all, made me agree totally with comment (New African August/September 2004) ‘in certain respects the results are disappointing.’ I make two pleas: First, my name be replaced by Dr James E K Aggrey to write article for subsequent issue of New African to help the readers world-wide to realise why a great man called ‘Aggrey of Africa’, unknown by many today. Felix I D Konotey-Ahulu, London, UK On page 50 of same October 2004 issue of the magazine, the Editor published article reproduced around date plaque was unveiled at Anomabo in honour of Dr Kwegyir Aggrey and others who made Ghana proud. The man Dr James Emman Kwegyir Aggrey the title ‘Aggrey of Africa’ but he was an early 20th Century phenomenon. I first heard of his name from my father many decades ago. Aggrey was born a mere 15 miles from Cape Coast, at Anomabo, in Ghana on 18th October 1875. His father was Prince Kodwo Kwegyir, chief linguist in the court of King Amonu V of Anomabo, and mother Abena Andua, was a princess of Ajumako. Aggrey’s father was also an expert goldsmith.
At 22, Aggrey left for the USA to pursue further studies. Racial prejudice, known then as ‘Colour Bar’ at its worst, went to ‘Negro’ Colleges. The Americans were surprised at his knowledge of English. A Mr H E C Bryant was to remark: ‘He is dark as dark, but very few in America can use English as he can.’ Aggrey took Masters in 1912, awarded a Doctorate of Divinity by Hood Theological Seminary. His sermons amazed white and black Americans alike. Married Rose Douglass African American Portsmouth, Virginia, on November 8 1905, and they had two girls and two boys [Abena, Kwegyir, Rosebud, Rudolph]. Orison Rudolph Guggisberg Aggrey, last born became a diplomat in the U S Foreign Service and worked in Senegal, Romania. Phelps-Stokes an American lady, Miss Caroline Phelps-Stokes, in her Will dated 1909, bequeathed $1 m (a huge sum in those days) to Trustees to be used mainly ‘on the education of Negroes, in Africa and United States, North American Indians, needy deserving white students. And so Commissioners appointed to do the groundwork, and Aggrey was included among all-white members. This enabled him to return to tour Africa twice in four years. Wherever he went, Aggrey was in demand to speak, advise, and preach. He found the ‘Colour Bar’ as vicious on his continent as in the USA, but he was remarkably equipped to deal with it. In the Belgian Congo, the governor left him out when he invited the Commission to dinner! In Angola, when Aggrey saw the treatment of the Portuguese masters to labourers in the forced labour gangs, he wept. In South Africa In South Africa alone, Aggrey addressed audiences 120 times. On one occasion when the hall was packed in Cape Town and Aggrey arrived, the white gate keeper refused to let him in. Calmly, and in a dignified voice, Aggrey said: ‘It is me they are all gathered to hear’. Still gate keeper was recalcitrant, while others filed past him into the hall, until the white chairman of meeting, becoming anxious, rushed out to look for Aggrey. He discovered he was being obstructed. Aggrey was given a standing ovation. In Pretoria, when he was trying to board train to lecture, he was pushed out, offered two professorships on the spot; one at Fort Hare, and the other at South Africa College. People listened to him with amazement. USA and Canada
before Phelps-Stokes Commission tour again of Africa, Aggrey lectured in USA and Canada. His ex tempore lectures followed by a series of questions, and once a Dutch South African minister shed tears of shame at the horrors of the race problem. It was during a lecture in Canada that Aggrey made one of his great statements: ‘Only the best is good enough for Africa’. Second Phelps-Stokes Commission In January 1924, Aggrey sailed from New York for England to join the Second Phelps-Stokes Commission to go to the places in Africa where they had not visited before – Abyssinia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanganyika and Zanzibar, Nyasaland, Rhodesia, South Africa again, and the Gold Coast. After hearing him lecture on the second visit to South Africa, a white man exclaimed; ‘Damn his colour, the man is a saint!’ Fraser, Guggisberg, Aggrey Aggrey turned out to be a great educationist, just as he had wished when he was young. By an amazing stroke of fortune, he met two great white men with whom he co-founded Achimota College in Accra, the Rev A G Fraser and Sir Gordon Guggisberg, the colonial governor. Rev Fraser wanted best for Africa, Guggisberg, rare among colonial governors, recognised potential of the black man, and set about building Takoradi Harbour, Korle Bu Hospital, Achimota College School. Rev Fraser was Principal, and Aggrey was Assistant vice-Principal. Apparently the Colonial Office in London objected to making a black man vice-Principal in a college which was originally called Prince of Wales College. Aggrey’s Vision of Co-education It was Aggrey who persuaded Governor Guggisberg that the college should be co-educational. Aggrey said: ‘The surest way to keep people down is to educate men and neglect women. If you educate a man you simply educate an individual but educate a woman, you educate family.’He stressed education to encourage ‘original thinking, research, to help to add to human knowledge. We in West Africa prove we can get classics, theology, and philosophy. We are great masters in jurisprudence and dialectics. The question is turn sknowledge into service of common wealth. Original Thinking & Character Training shows
Aggrey held essential part of education was training the mind, encouraging good character, and being original. Aggrey could think on his feet. He was not a ‘by heart’ man; this was what most amazed his audience, both white and black. Lectures brilliantly given could be thought to have been carefully prepared for the sole aim of making an impression, but come question time after lecture, if he did not know what he would be quizzed on, Aggrey was even more brilliant in the lecture itself. His knowledge encyclopaedic. Co-operation in the right measure Aggrey believed in co-operation which involved equality of opportunity. ‘It means that each side has something to contribute – something more than brawn on one side, brain on the other – to the well being of both’. [Please read that again; I love it!] Hence his famous piano keys illustration on the badge of Achimota School. ‘You can play a tune of sorts on the black keys only, and you can play a tune of sorts on the white keys only, but for perfect harmony, you must use both the black and the white keys’, Aggrey said. The co-operation he was calling for between whites and blacks was not that between an ass and its rider. I always like to think of his piano keys illustration as depicting what he (black key) and Fraser and Guggisberg (white keys) managed to achieve in brings Achimota School about. Aggrey’s humility of the man’s humility too is worth mentioning, he took his fellow Fante, Rev Anaman, by surprise by polishing Anaman’s shoes when he spent the weekend with him. On a sea voyage to South Africa, a ship’s white steward insisted separating Aggrey from the white people by giving him his own table far away from every body, to embarrassment of colleagues, Aggrey later remarked: ‘They thought they were punishing me, but who else had a table all by himself?’ Aggrey’s Ambition for Africa Kwegyir Aggrey’s burning ambition for his continent – described as enigmatic, pointing out its shape on the map as posing a question of burning ambition is demonstrated in the following story he narrated. Read carefully: A certain man went through a forest seeking any bird he might find. He caught a young bird, brought it home, and put it among his fowls and ducks and turkeys, and gave it chicken’s food to eat. Five years later, a naturalist came to visit the man, and noticed the bird. He said to the owner; ‘Look here, this is an eagle, not a chicken.’ The man replied ‘Yes, you may well be right, but I have trained it to be a chicken. It is no longer an eagle; it is a chicken though it is enormous’. Said naturalist: ‘No, it is an eagle, it has the heart of an eagle, and I shall make it soar high to the heavens’. The owner comes back with a retort: ‘No, it is now a chicken, and it will never fly.’ They agreed to test it. The naturalist picked up the bird, held it up, and said loudly: ‘Eagle, thou art an eagle; thou dost belong to the sky and not down here. Stretch out thy wings and fly’, and with that he hurled the bird up. The eagle turned this way and that, and then looking down, saw the chickens eating, and came to join them. The owner said: ‘I told you it is now a chicken’. ‘No’, said the naturalist, ‘This bird is an eagle. I shall come back and prove this to you’. The exercise was repeated three times, with the same result. The bird always came back to feed with the chickens. The naturalist returned yet again, chose a hill, and held the bird aloft, pointing it to the rising sun, and shouted ‘Eagle! Thou art an eagle; thou dost not belong down here. Thou dost belong to the sky; stretch forth thy wings, and fly!’ The eagle looked round, trembled as if new life was filling it, and suddenly it stretched out its wings, and with the screech of an eagle, it mounted higher, and higher, and never returned. It was really an eagle, though it had been kept and tamed as a chicken! ‘My people of Africa’ Aggrey continued ‘were created in image of God, but men make us think we are chickens, and still think we are, but we are eagles. Stretch forth your wings and fly! Don’t be content with food of chickens.’ Opening of Achimota College Final Journey Achimota School was opened in 1927, and Aggrey went to USA lecturing, preaching, completing a book in Columbia University. He fell ill on 30 July 1927 from meningococcal meningitis in New York, and died very quickly. Great lamentation was made on both sides of the Atlantic. Tributes included that of one his best friends, Dr Jesse Jones. The honorary pall bearers who carried his coffin were all white citizens of Salisbury, USA – a real token of Aggrey’s influence in the community in days of ‘Colour Bar’. He is a Source of Immense Inspiration His ability to inspire Africans, especially Ghanaians never abated. There is an Aggrey House in Achimota, Aggrey Memorial Chapel, and the country has an Aggrey-Fraser-Guggisberg Lecture series. There is an Aggrey Memorial School, a Kwegyyir Aggrey Annual Prize Examination at the University of Cape Coast, linked to the Personal Distinguished Professorship graciously bestowed on me a Professor Samuel K Adjepong, Vice Chancellor. We must never forget Kwegyir Aggrey. Kwame Nkrumah’s statement ‘A greater than Aggrey is here’, history established Nkrumah a great judging not only from blow dealt Colonialism but from way he made Black Diaspora proud. African voters place Kwame Nkrumah second to Nelson Mandela, in their list of ‘ONE HUNDRED GREATEST AFRICANS OF ALL TIME’ indicating he is really great. James Emman Kwegyir Aggrey is rather special, inspiration lengthens with time: Apart from inspiring Nkrumah himself, Kwegyir Aggrey inspired and taught D A Chapman Nyaho, who inspired, taught K B Asante, who inspired and taught me Physics in Achimota School me, who (I’m told) inspired my students, who in turn are inspiring their students. Thus Kwegyir Aggrey’s inspiration chain progresses. His name is yet alive. Just GOOGLE Search the name ‘Kwegyir Aggrey’ on the Internet, and you find man marches on. Anomabo. It is most fitting, as reported by Ghana News Agency on Jan. 8 2007, that ‘Memorial plaques to honour 3 heroes of Anomabo great exemplary contributions made to country, be unveiled on February 24, by President John Agyekum Kufuor as part of the Golden Jubilee Celebration of nationhood. Dr Kwegyir Aggrey, the visionary philosopher and educationist, George Ekem-Ferguson, the celebrated surveyor, credited with the survey of the area that became the Gold Coast, and Nana Amoonoo V, the Anomabo chief, who led other traditional rulers in the Colony to sign the Bond of 1844’. We say ‘Ayekoo!’ to Anomabo Association and Traditional Area, Paramout Chief and other Chiefs for bringing this to pass. Gratitude of Kwegyir Aggrey’s Relatives in USA There are 4 surviving generations of Kwegyir, Rose Aggrey’s relatives living in USA today. Rudolph, the last of the 4 children is yet alive, and has one daughter Roxane Rose Aggrey not married. Middle children Kwegyir, Rosebud Douglass Aggrey no children. Abna Azalea Aggrey Lancaster, eldest of childen of Kwegyir & Rose Aggrey, had three girls Raemi Rosemarie Lancaster Evans, Carol Aggrey Lancaster Meeks, and Harriet Azalea Lancaster Graves [Generation-3 from Kwegyir Aggrey & Rose as Generation-1]. Raemi, married to Fred M Evans, and have a son Fred and daughter Janine [Generation-4] both with 2 children each [Generation-5] – Janine & Guanah Davis’ are Adria Marie & Lauryn Janine, while Fred & Evette Evans’ are called Kristen Maria and Fred Junior. Abna’s middle girl, Carol has a daughter Abigail who is married to Stewart Mitchell II, and they have just had another Generation-5 offspring, Stewart Mitchell III. Now, Harriet is married to Hubert C Graves, and have a daughter called Meredith Patrice Graves. I took note that Carol’s full name is Carol Aggrey Lancaster Meeks. Speaking to her on the telephone across The Atlantic, it was as if I felt the genetic acoustics of Aggrey of Africa percolating down the generations to me. They are all very, very, grateful that we in Ghana are remembering, in Golden Jubilee Year, Y/our beloved beloved James Emman Kwegyir Aggrey’s dearly beloved Rose. So am I.
BY:Felix I D Konotey-Ahulu, Kwegyir Aggrey Distinguished Professor of Human Genetics, University of Cape Coast, Ghana