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The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

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“Ripples in a Pond”: African American reverse migrations

Kwame Essien, Ph.D., professor of history and Africana studies at Lehigh University, visited St. Joe’s campus Feb. 23 to speak about the reverse migration of Black Africans to the Gold Coast Colony and independent Ghana as part of the St. Joe’s history department’s “Our Americas Lecture Series.”

The lecture series highlights often-overlooked American groups.

Titled “Ripples in a Pond: Black Oklahomans, Chief Sam and the Origins of African American Reverse Migrations to the Gold Coast/Ghana,” Essien’s lecture highlighted a moment in history in which African Americans returned to their home countries after being taken to America and forced into slavery. 

The “ripple in a pond” metaphor represents African Americans’ search for belonging, Essien said.  

“The ripple could be in any format,” Essien said. “A search for identity, a search for a place that you feel more comfortable, a place where people look like you, a place that you feel like you have some dignity.”

Brian Yates, Ph.D., associate professor of history, said the objective of the “Our America Lecture Series” is to “highlight groups that are undoubtedly American” but who “fall out of what we define as American.”

After growing up in Ghana, Essien moved to the U.S. to study architecture. However, after discovering the racism present in the U.S., he said he felt a connection to the topic and switched his studies to history.

“This is my story,” Essien said, referring to American racism. “I feel like there is something that I can learn more about and contribute to. So that’s how I switched my research interest from architecture straight to history and writing about those who are searching for their roots.”

Christina Carideo ’26, a student of Yates, said she attended the lecture after Yates offered the opportunity during class. 

Carideo said she was intrigued by the way Essien moved about as he conducted his research. 

“I thought it was really interesting how he studied in so many different places,” Carideo said. “He did part of it in Illinois and then he studied about Oklahoma and then he got it published through Michigan State University.”

Yates said he believes the topic of reverse migration is important in the context of American history.

“In my experience, a lot of times it’s true that Black Americans are marginalized, but I would say at the same time, they’re absolutely central to understanding what America is,” Yates said.

Essien said it is important to teach about reverse migration because African Americans have greatly contributed to their countries they have gone back to, and also have challenged racism in America.

“Reverse migration and the contributions of African Americans have to be acknowledged through this lens, as we talk about why they’ve decided to go back, how they’ve challenged structural racism, and how they have contributed to conversations that we have today about the segregation or significance of equity,” Essien said. 

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