Kwame Nkrumah

Kwame Nkrumah
Photo credit: University Archives

Former Ghanaian Prime Minister and President Kwame Nkrumah came to Penn as a graduate student in 1939, after obtaining his bachelor’s degree in sociology from Lincoln University. While here, he supported himself by working in the city’s segregated shipyards. His travels along the East Coast introduced him to such luminaries as black nationalist Marcus Garvey, and Nnamdi Azikiwe, a Penn alum who later became the first president of Nigeria.

Nkrumah received his master’s degree from the Graduate School of Education in 1941, and a master’s in philosophy in 1943. He then moved to London, where he advocated for African decolonization, before returning to Ghana (then called Gold Coast) in 1947. After Ghana broke free from British colonialism in 1957, Nkrumah became the country’s first prime minster and later, its first president. He modernized Ghana in his first few years in office and promoted political unity in Africa, suggesting a “United States of Africa.” He is pictured here receiving an award from Vice Provost Roy Nichols, Governor George M. Leader and City Representative Frederick Mann in 1958.

Controversial legislation, such as his Preventative Detention Act, which allowed for arrest and imprisonment without trial, and his declaration of himself as president for life eventually led to Nkrumah’s demise in 1966, when he was overthrown in military coup allegedly aided by the CIA. Exiled in Guinea, where he was named honorary co-president, he died in 1972 having never returned to his homeland. His remains, however, now rest at a mausoleum at Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park.

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Originally published on January 8, 2009