American Committee on Africa

According to the African Activist archive, "The American Committee on Africa (ACOA) was founded in 1953 to support the liberation struggle in Africa. It was a national organization supporting African struggles against colonialism and apartheid. ACOA grew out of the ad hoc Americans for South African Resistance (AFSAR) which was formed to support the Campaign of Defiance Against Unjust Laws led by the African National Congress (ANC)."*

Founded by George Houser, the staff over time was made up of several members from CORE such as James Robinson, Reverend Wendell Foster, Marv Rich, Conrad Lynn, Sandy Boyer of NYU CORE, and Roger Baldwin from CORE's advisory board. Annie Page King who had been a secretary in the national CORE office served as office manager for ACOA.

George Houser: "(Walter) Sisulu (of the ANC), he wrote to us and said we would like your help in supporting our campaign. I said to myself, maybe to them - I don't know what's in print - that the campaign, the Defiance Campaign, defiance against unjust laws, was very much like some of the CORE activities - civil disobedience against Jim Crow laws here, against apartheid laws there.

(Nelson) Mandela, Sisulu, (Oliver) Tambo, these were people that I was working with.

The only other organization at that time that really was in existence was the Council on African Affairs."

The Council on African Affairs, however ended about this time, partially due to the fact communists such as Paul Robeson were among its leadership.

The resulting Americans for South African Resistance that Houser created along with Bayard Rustin and Bill Sutherland eventually gave way to the American Committee on Africa out of a desire to also deal with 'the problem of colonialism'.

Houser: "I was still on the staff of the FOR, I was still executive secretary of CORE, and this was just another project that I took on, so there was no budget, no salary for any staff people or anything like that."**

I left that in 1955 to become the executive director of the American Committee on Africa.

Our board in the ACOA was probably 50/50 - I don't know that we ever counted it up, but it was black and white. It was an interracial organization. I always felt, and I brought it up to the board, I said, " A white person should not be the head of this organization." And there was some debate on that within the organization."

By 1965, Rev. Wendell Foster took over as executive director but Houser and James Robinson stayed an essential part of the leadership. Primarily based in New York City, ACOA also opened an office in Washington, D.C. It created the magazine Africa Today, and the Africa Fund, a non-profit charitable organization whose main purpose was "to provide funding for humanitarian projects in Africa with its main emphasis on South Africa."***

Besides sponsoring several visiting of African leaders such as Julius Nyerere and Kenya's Tom Mboya, ACOA also created what Houser referred to as "the first American civil rights movement with Africa", the American Negro Leadership Conference on Africa.

Houser: "...that was Phil Randolph and Jim Farmer, Roy Wilkins. This was a movement that was set up to join the organizations dealing with the race situation in the United States into a combined organization dealing with Africa.
I set it up, but I was White and it was obviously not something that a White person could take a real leadership position in."

The organization primarily supported African liberation movements throughout the continent which eventually led to the creation of several independent nations. Houser, Robinson, and Foster were personally there to eyewitness one country after another across the African continent as they broke free from the colonial powers and established their own governments. These travels predate those of Roy Innis and his CORE staff in 1971.

Many of these groups that they supported, such as the independence movement against France in Algeria, advocated and practiced armed revolt against their respective governments. Some, like the African Nationalist Congress in South Africa, were even designated as terrorist organizations. This can be seen as somewhat of a contradiction in that the ACOA, led by mainly by individuals from CORE, supported Black power overseas but objected to it within CORE and how Black nationalism manifested in the United States.

Houser: "That was my problem and not the ACOA's problem, because I had come out of a pacifist background.

But that was not a problem for the ACOA, because the ACOA was not a pacifist organization. My mission was not - wrongly, or rightly, whatever - my mission was not to make it what it was not. And we supported the liberation struggle. That was the purpose of ACOA. We supported the liberation struggle in Africa, and we worked with the Organization of African Unity, the OAU, and with elements in the United Nations and with the freedom movements in Africa."**

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