Date of Completion

January 1981


History, United States




This study examines the evolution of American-African ties in the Second World War and considers the impact which the war had upon American perceptions of Africa and its peoples. The United States responded to the grave threat to its security posed by Germany and Japan by incorporating the land and resources of Africa into its overall strategy for survival. Americans, especially policy-makers, had their awareness of Africa shaped in an era of wartime upheaval and uncertainty.^ The Second World War altered irrecoverably America's relationship with Africa. Colonial Africa occupied a central place in Allied strategy. The two most important developments were the creation of the American operated trans-African air ferry supply route, and, the incorporation of the port city of Dakar, Senegal {on the bulge of French West Africa} into the Allied network for the defense of the South Atlantic and North Africa. President Franklin D. Roosevelt displayed a keen interest in both of these projects and used them in several of his fireside chats to impress upon Americans Africa's important role in the defense of the western hemisphere. Economically, the raw materials of Africa fueled American war industries and supplied the Allied homefront with much needed foodstuffs. And, it was uranium from the Belgian Congo which enabled the United States to win the race for the atomic bomb. These twin concerns--raw materials and military strategy--determined American policy toward colonial, sub-Saharan Africa in the war years.^ In light of the overriding strategic and material stakes Africa held for the United States in the Second World War, it is not surprising that most Americans took little note of the African peoples themselves. Official Washington, especially, was hesitant to support nationalism in Africa and thereby risk upsetting its allies and disrupting the war effort. Washington offered no serious resistance to postwar European rule in sub-Saharan Africa despite Roosevelt's first-hand 1943 observation of the debilitating impact of British imperialism upon the Africans of Gambia, West Africa, and, his often-stated desire to prevent the French from reclaiming Dakar after the war. The exigencies of total war, including the need for a secure flow of raw materials, a strategic base, and, the desirability of maintaining a close relationship with Great Britain, precluded a bold assault on the imperial policies of one's allies, especially in an area of the world such as Africa with which there had been little previous, sustained contact and even less understanding.^ American reticence to speak out against colonialism in Africa flowed in part from an easy, rarely vocalized evaluation that the Africans were simply ill-prepared for self-determination. The denigration and segregation of Afro-Americans in the United States influenced an American policy which rendered the peoples of Africa all but invisible and relegated them to an inferior status in the evolution of human societies. American policy-makers during the war years dismissd nascent African nationalism as immature. A general ignorance about African conditions also influenced American officials who preferred the order and stability of colonial rule to the seemingly certain chaos self-government would bring. Given Africa's importance to the defense of the Western community, and emerging tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union at the close of the war, Washington viewed as inappropriate African decolonization. This was the key lesson that guided American policy-makers on African affairs in the Cold War years prior to 1960.^ The chief resource materials for this study included recently screened or declassified records at the National Archives, as well as the holdings of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, the Library of Congress, the Naval Historical Center, the Public Record Office, London, and the Rhodes House Library, Oxford, England. ^