Two formidable intellectual couple, Yvette Alex-Assensoh and A. B. Assensoh, endorses an earlier view on Aggrey, while adding new materials to push the debate. Based at Indiana University, they recently published the widely-received book, African Military History and Politics published by Palgrave.
Again, we must thank Toyin unlimitedly for the opportunity to read from and share tremendous resources of colleagues, friends, brothers and sisters of the inky fraternity!
Indeed, perusing the excellent treatise of Professor Abdul Karim Bangura (Karim) on "Aggrey of Africa" --within the context of the hero that Africa needs today -- I and Dr. Yvette Alex-Assensoh of Indiana University (as co-researchers on the great Dr. J.E.K. Aggrey, or "Aggrey of Africa") promptly decided to share a few words about this intellectual hero, as we recalled the bold but yet-to-be-fulfilled efforts that we made in 1996 (as Indiana University professors) to embark on an ambitious publishable research project that would eventually help in (i) unearthing, and (ii) preserving several aspects of Dr. Aggrey's life that has, over the years, been either hidden or not given proper scholarly treatment. With a research grant from Indiana University's Multidisciplinary Grants program, we drew up a proposal to complete Africa's Aggrey: A Man of Destiny. Part of the research involved several trips to Livingstone College in Salisbury, North Carolina, Dr. Aggrey's undergraduate alma mater.
Since Dr. Aggrey and his bereaved family (including former U.S. Ambassador O. Rudolph Aggrey, who was, on his father's insistence, baptised with bottled water from the Atlantic Ocean) had left an enviable and respectable legacy in Salisbury area (where Dr. Aggrey was a licensed preacher), Yvette and I received a lot of cooperation from the local community. We still remember a memorable summer 1996 research visit to Livingstone College, coupled with with a visit to Dr. Aggrey's nearby gravesite, where we placed a bouquet of beautiful roses on the grave. Later, that summer, we co-authored two lengthy pieces in the then West Africa Magazine of London: "Remembering `Aggrey of Africa', Part I" (october 14-20, 1996), with a 1927 photograph of Dr. Aggrey, Gov. Guggisberg and other officials on the steps of Achimota College; and "Remembering `Africa of Africa', Part II" (October 21-27, 1996), spotting a photo of when we placed flowers on the grave of Dr. Aggrey, near Livingston College in Salisbury, North Carolina.
Our research helped Dr. Alex-Assensoh and me to come across a lot of useful information about Dr. Aggrey, particularly about sevreal events of his last few years that many African scholars do not seem to know very much about. We learned, for example, that on June 16, 1927, Dr. Aggrey, his pregnant wife (Mrs. Rosebud Douglas Aggrey), and their three children arrived in New York on the ship, SS Mauritania; on the ship was a Bishop from Washington, who held conversations and was so impressed with Dr. Aggrey that he recommended his name to Dr. Anson Phelps-Stokes of the Phelps-Stokes Fund, a relationship that would place Aggrey on the Fund's Commission on African education.
As a decent husband and father, Dr. Aggrey traveled with Mrs. Aggrey and their children to their Salisbury home, although he had a full "plate" of engagements to fulfill in New York. He left his family in Salisbury and promptly returned to New York, where he stayed at the St. Nicholas Avenue home of Rev. M. Norman Wilson, a Sierra Leonean minister (who was the son of Dr. Aggrey's friend, Archdeacon Wilson). Dr. Aggrey was in demand as a speaker, hence his engagements, at the time, included a speaking invitation from Professor Carney of Columbia's Teachers' College (for which Aggrey was completing his doctoral dissertation that summer); a speech to 2000-person Pro-Livingstone College alumni event at Mother Zion Methodist Church in New York, with Dr. James mason as his host, which also featured the famous Livingston College quartet that sang rousing Negro spirituals; and again, Dr. Aggrey addressed a large July 21, 1927 Columbia University teachers' meeting planned for teachers that were mainly from America's South.
Early on July 30, 1927, Dr. Aggrey asked Rev. and Mrs. Wilson (the Sierra Leonean couple) to help him to cancel his remaing engagements in the New York city area as he had become suddenly ill. On Aggrey's instructions, Rev. Wilson summoned Dr. A.A. Holdbrooks, a former student of Aggrey from North carolina, who had also become a family friend of the Ghanaian scholar. As the records showed, Dr. Holdbrooks rushed to the residence of the Wilsons and found "Dr. Aggrey lying in a stupor, with signs of celebral pains." Dr. Holdbrooks saw the need to bring in a brain specialist by the name of Dr. I. D. Hoage, who immediately applied ice to the head of the ailing Aggrey and, immediately, both doctors decided to send him to the nearby Harlem Hospital, and at that time Aggrey was in a coma; he never regained consciousness.
An autopsy report recorded that Dr. Aggrey of Africa died on July 30, 1927 "from pneumococcus meningitis." The strange co-incidence that we have been investigating, as part of our research for our book, was that Dr. Aggrey was very close to Booker T. Washington of Tuskegee Institute (now University) fame, and that he (Aggrey) was often caught between the DuBois-Washington fracass (or enemity). Over 2,000 personalities attended Dr. Aggrey's funeral at Livingstone College Auditorium, at which the service was conducted by Bishop W.J. Walls. Back in the then Gold Coast and in honor of Aggrey, who was the Assistant Vice-Principal of Achimota College, British Governor Sir Ransford Slater issued on August 3, 1927 an Extraordinary Gazette. Over 1,000 dignitaries from all walks of life attended an August 7, 1927 service of remembrance in honor of Dr. Aggrey at the Great Hall of Achimota College. The British Colonial Secretary, Governor and Mrs. Slater, accompanied by their family and local chieftains, including Sir Ofori Atta I and the Omanhene and elders of Dr. Aggrey's birthplace, Anomabu. The sermon for the service, delivered by Rev. C. Kingsley Williams, was titled "God is not the God of the Dead but of the Living." Another memorial service was held for Dr. Aggrey at the Accra Holy Trinity Cathederal with the Chaplain of Achimota College, Rev. C.E. Stuart presiding.
The Gold Coast Legislative Council Gazette -- through a motion by Gold Coast Education Director D.J. Oman -- inserted a motion that read: "This council [and its members] do place on record its sense of the great loss to the cause of education, social service and moral progerss which the Gold Coast has sustained in the death of Dr. J.E.K. Aggrey." Both the late Presidents Nnamdi Azikiwe of Nigeria and Kwame Nkrumah, respectively, registered their profound sorrow at the death of Dr. Aggrey, who had influenced both of them profoundly. In his autobiography, My Odssey, Dr. Azikiwe showed how he ws influenced by a book on Negro education that Dr. Aggrey gave to him in Lagos, hence he travelled to the USA for college eucation; later, Dr. Azikiwe influenced Nkrumah in a similar manner. However, since Nkrumah (as a student in Teacher Training) knew Aggrey, as an administrator at Achimota College, he inter alia registered the following in his 1957 published autobiography: The sudden shock of this news [about Dr. Aggrey's death in America] followed by the gradual realisation that I had lost for ever the guidance of this great man, sapped everything from me and I was quite unable to eat for at least three days...It was because of my great admiration for Aggrey, both as a man and as a scholar, that I first formed the idea of furthering my studies in the United States of America."
Both Achimota College of Ghana and Livingstone College of Salisbury, North Carolina have honored the memory of Dr. Aggrey in varied ways. For example, the student union building at Livingstone College was in 1962 re-named "Aggrey Student union Building". Dr. Aggrey's grave is well maintained by the College, friends and family members. Our book is still in the making, as we do not want to rush with it!