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Aggrey, James Emman Kwegyir
1875 to 1927
African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church
Gold Coast (Ghana)


African minister and educator.

Aggrey was born in Anamabu, Gold Coast Colony (now Ghana), seventeenth son of an important chiefdom counselor and of chiefly lineage on his mother's side. The family converted during his childhood. Taken into the house of a Wesleyan missionary, he became teacher and preacher, and by 1898 he was headmaster of a Wesleyan school at Cape Coast. That year the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church gave him the opportunity to study at Livingstone College, North Carolina, and at the associated Hood Theological Seminary. He excelled there (B.A. with honors, 1902; M.A. and D.D., 1912), became professor at Livingstone (1902-1920), was ordained an elder of the AME Zion Church, and married an African American, Rosebud Douglass. From 1914 he was pastor of two rural black churches, combining evangelism with community development. The latter led into schemes for credit unions and African American land ownership. He was appointed into the influential commission on African education initiated by the Phelps-Stokes Foundation and supported by combined missionary societies, visiting West, Central, and South Africa (1920-1921) and East and South Africa (1923-1924).

As the only black commissioner, he met racial discrimination in several colonies, but his personal and intellectual qualities, powerful utterance, and conciliatory tone made an overwhelming impression, especially in his native Gold Coast and in South Africa (where he was offered a professorship at Fort Hare College). Despite his increasing celebrity, he resumed doctoral studies in sociology at Columbia University, until he agreed in 1924 to be assistant vice-principal to A. G. Fraser at Achimota College, Gold Coast. His mediation with African society was vital to the success of the visionary college. He died in New York while on leave, seeking to complete the book intended as his doctoral dissertation.

Aggrey's goal was an Africa characterized by Christianity, education, (classical, social, and practical, all to the highest standards), agricultural development, and civilization (but not Westernization). His famous unscripted speeches, studded with memorable aphorisms, stressed interracial cooperation, African self-help, and the distinctive contribution of African culture to world civilization.

Andrew F. Walls


Bibliography:

T. J. Jones, Education in Africa (1922) and Education in East Africa (n.d.); E. W. Smith, Aggrey of Africa (1929); C. K. Williams, Achimota: The Early Years (1962).

This article is reproduced, with permission, from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, copyright © 1998, by Gerald H. Anderson, W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.