Christian educationalist; became noted as an interpreter of Africa to western audiences, and as an advocate of cooperation between black and white.
Born at Ahamabu, Gold Coast (now Ghana) and educated in Wesleyan Methodist schools, he taught in mission schools until sailing for the United States in 1898. There he studied at Livingstone College, Salisbury, N.C., an institution sponsored by the African Methodist Episcopalian Zion Church, where he graduated with a B.A. 1902. He married an American woman and remained in Salisbury on the faculty of the College, also taking an active role as a pastor of rural Amez churches. Later he enrolled at Columbia University and commenced work for a doctorate. Through his friendship with T. Jesse Jones he was invited to become a member of the Phelps-Stokes Commissions on education in Africa, and toured Africa in that capacity in 1920 and again in 1924. As the only African on the commission he attracted immense interest when he addressed African audiences, and in Britain and the USA he became equally well-known as an interpreter of Africa to whites. In late 1924 he returned to his homeland as a senior member of staff for the newly established Achimota College. But his long absence from Ghana made for certain difficulties, and his wife found it impossible to live in Ghana. In May 1927 he went on leave, intending to write the dissertation needed to complete the Ph.D., but died suddenly in New York in July of that year. His life has been used as an example to African schoolchildren of what they can achieve through education, and of the necessity for cooperation between the races.
Mark R. Lipschutz and R. Kent Rasmussen
Smith, Edmin W. Aggrey of Africa: A Study in Black and White. London: Student Christian Movement, 1929.
Howard, Thomas. “West Africa and the American South: Notes on James E. K. Aggrey and the Idea of a University for West Africa.” Journal of African Studies 2 (4) (1975-6): 445-65.
Ofusu-Appaih, L. H. The Life of Dr. J. E. K. Aggrey. Accra: Westville, 1975.
Dictionary of African Biography. Vol. I: Ethiopia-Ghana. New York: Reference Publications, 1977.
This article is reproduced, with permission, from Dictionary of African Historical Biography, 2nd edition, copyright © 1986, by Mark R. Lipschutz and R. Kent Rasmussen, University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, California. All rights reserved.