The Book I Should Have Written: Congo Journey
“I wanted to go to Africa. It began when I was quite small. Africa was the place we Negroes came from originally. Lots of Americans, when they could afford it, went back to see their ‘old country.’ I remember wanting very much to see my ‘old country’, and wondering what it would be like” (Robeson, African Journey, 13).
Eslanda Robeson wrote these words in 1945 in the introduction to her travel narrative African Journey. In 1945, Robeson was reflecting on her first trip through southern Africa in 1936 with an eye toward her future travels through central Africa in the coming year.
This digital mapping project takes as its point of departure the assertion made by Barbara Ransby, Robeson’s biographer, that “It is possible to chart Essie’s movements as she traveled around the world. It is more difficult to map her thinking as it evolved” (Ransby 175). Mapping Robeson’s travels through central Africa reveals the evolution in her reflections on race and anticolonial resistance in the African diaspora. She was profoundly influenced by the African women, workers and politicians she met and interviewed, and likewise left a lasting impression on the French and British colonial administrators who, alarmed at her probing questions on inequality and African independence, set off a flurry of international surveillance.
Three central questions underlie this project:
- What does Robeson’s journey say about the relationship between Africa and the diaspora in terms that go beyond defining Africa as point of origin or return?
- What can we learn from her travels about women’s use of mobility as a way to contest colonial power?
- In what ways were her views and experiences influenced by the reality of race relations in the United States at the time?
In mining Robeson’s unpublished works–the nearly 400 pages of text from her travel diary, letters and interview transcripts which nonetheless form a small fraction of her copious writings over the decades–I hope to trace the arc of her anticolonial resistance and to show her important contributions to black transnationalism and the articulation of diaspora. This digital map is a first step to reading what Robeson in 1955 called “Congo Journey: the book I should have written.”
Ransby, Barbara. Eslanda : The Large and Unconventional Life of Mrs. Paul Robeson. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013.
Robeson, Eslanda Goode. African Journey. New York: John Day Company, 1945.
Primary sources for this exhibit are located at the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University.
This digital map is created as a tool for teaching and scholarly research. Material is cited and used here under Fair Use.
Please contact A. Joseph-Gabriel at ajosephgabriel [at] email [dot] arizona [dot] edu