Category Archives: Uncategorized

African American Identification with Ghana Before Genetic Genealogy

African American identification with being part of the African diaspora varied throughout time, place, and circumstance. In the U.S. where society is still battling with institutional racism and personal prejudices against people racialized as Black and against people from Africa [cite], it can be difficult to identify publicly with the African ethnic homeland. Despite the difficulty, there is a growing trend of African Americans doing just that.

For African Americans, the choice to identify publicly with their ethnic homeland of Africa was not easy and sometimes politically motivated. For many African descendants, aspirations of freedom included the liberation of Africa from colonial rule and a return to the African continent. Beginning in the 1920s, Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) promoted the mission of African liberation and uniting the Black people of the world. Garveyism was well known for its “Back to Africa” ideology, which gave the African diaspora a charge of developing Africa. Garveyism also included a charge for the African diaspora to uplift members of the Black race from the effects of slavery and discrimination in every country where Black people lived. It was a working class movement and, at its peak, had 6 million members in the Black world (Guridy, 2010). It carried the ideal of being able to both return “home” to uplift the ethnic homeland of Africa while also experiencing full citizenship in their birth countries where their African ancestors developed through forced labor and severe limitations on self-determination.

However, Marcus Garvey envisioned an Africa that was in need redemption (Kendi, 2016; Walters, 1993). He promoted the narrative that people of African descent were genetically inferior, a narrative which continued until W. E. B. Dubois’s 1908 publication and E. Franklin Fraizer’s 1932 publication stating that Black people were actually socially pathological rather than genetically pathological (Dilworth-Anderson et al., 2009). This rationale was partly based on Fraizer’s observation that as Black people gained upward mobility and moved away from poorer Black neighbors, their lifestyles were more aligned with White Americans (Dilworth-Anderson et al., 2009). The Black elite class of the time encouraged the cultural assimilation of White American cultural values, particularly the function and structure of White American middle-class families and their gender norms (Dilworth-Anderson et al., 2009; Kendi, 2016).

What became the racial uplift ideology of respectability not only regarded the highly functional Black extended family structure as pathological (Wilson, 1986) and African peoples and cultures as inferior (Kendi, 2016), Black American elites also held White American middle-class values as the standard by which to judge other Black Americans. They reasoned that showing this form of moral standing would help to reduce anti-Black racism from White people (Kevin Kelly Gaines, 1996; Kendi, 2016). Those considered as different from this narrow representation of morality were shunned within their communities (Collins, 2005; Kevin Kelly Gaines, 1996). While many ascribed to Black respectability politics regardless of their education or income levels, others sought to identity with Africa due to their ancestral heritage and common racialization.

Therefore, in 1957, when Ghana became the first African nation to gain independence from colonial rule, many people of the African diaspora celebrated their victory and drew inspiration from the possibilities of a liberated Africa. Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, invited many African, West Indian, and African American dignitaries to attend the ceremonies celebrating the birth of the nation of Ghana (Kevin K. Gaines, 2008). According to Gaines (2008), these members of the African diaspora held positions almost on par with the Duchess of York in the independence ceremonies (Kevin K. Gaines, 2008).

From the late 50s to the late 60s, as struggles continued for decolonization in Africa, many members of the African diaspora in the U.S. continued to fight for civil rights. The U.S. South fought for desegregation while the U.S. North spoke up for African liberation and began calling themselves by the ethnic reference of “Afro-American”. During this time, many in the U.S. diaspora location also emigrated from the U.S. to Africa via Ghana (Kevin K. Gaines, 2008). “At the height of the civil rights movement, from the late 1950s to 1966, scores of African Americans, including intellectuals, technicians, teachers, artists, professionals, entrepreneurs, and trade unionists, left the United States for Ghana” (Kevin K. Gaines, 2008, p. 6).

While segments of the African diaspora, such Martin Luther King, Jr. and his followers, pushed for civil rights through integration, others, such sociologist E. Franklin Frazier, regarded the pursuit of integration as a compromise for social justice. Frazier saw the U.S. federal government as co-opting integration as a Cold War, top-down tactic adopted because of international criticism from countries of color. He felt that this legalistic approach to integration would not improve the socioeconomic conditions of the African diaspora in the U.S. Frazier also opposed the condition attached to federal support for integration which effectively required that the African diaspora reject all except an U.S. national identification (Kevin K. Gaines, 2008).

Some African Americans, such as Julian Mayfield, rejected Cold War censorship which resulted in them fleeing to Ghana. Ghanaian president Kwame Nkrumah welcomed dissenting African Americans and explicitly encouraged people of African descent to emigrate from Western countries and relocate to Ghana to help build the nation. As African Americans did so, many were not rejecting the U.S. specifically. They were rejecting the harsh treatment that Blacks faced in the U.S. They also refused to have their identification with their African ethnic homeland to be censured by the U.S. federal government (Kevin K. Gaines, 2008).

Others, such as Martin Luther King, Jr. on his return from Ghana’s celebration of becoming an independent nation, decided to silence his identification with Africa and African liberation to pursue the American dream by pressing for legalized integration and assimilation. Towards the end of King’s life, he became more vocal about his critique of U.S. economic discrimination and foreign policy. Towards the end of Malcom X’s life, he too began to openly criticize U.S. policies toward Africa. As more and more African countries gained independence from colonial powers and former colonial rulers began shifting to neocolonial positions, the U.S. government moved to support U.S. financial strongholds in Africa while silencing those African descendent U.S. citizens who disagreed with the U.S. neocolonial practices in Africa. African Americans who were brave enough to speak out were considered unpatriotic and faced repercussions (Kevin K. Gaines, 2008).

With the assassination of major leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X (who both spoke of racial unity, economic equality, and African liberation increasing before being murdered) and leaders of self-determinate movements such as the Black Power movement murdered by the U.S. government or silenced, the federally supported top-down integration project moved forward. As long as African Americans were willing to silently and peacefully assimilate into the pursuit of an American Dream of individual family successes based on White standards, they would more likely achieve upward mobility. Whereas organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) have worked tirelessly for legal wins against discrimination of Blacks, successes seemed to disproportionately benefit those already in positions of relatively individual financial privilege.   

In contemporary times, it is the African countries’ roots tourism industry, rather than major political figures, that seems to be inviting African Americans. The African Americans that create African transnational lifestyles for themselves are doing so less as a collective protest and more to pursue individual liberties.


Collins, P. H. (2005). Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender, and the New Racism. Routledge.

Dilworth-Anderson, P., Burton, L. M., & Johnson, L. B. (2009). Reframing theories for understanding race, ethnicity, and families. In Sourcebook of family theories and methods (pp. 627–649). Springer.

Gaines, Kevin K. (2008). American Africans in Ghana: Black Expatriates and the Civil Rights Era (1 edition). The University of North Carolina Press.

Gaines, Kevin Kelly. (1996). Uplifting the Race: Black Leadership, Politics, and Culture in the Twentieth Century (2nd ed.). The University of North Carolina Press.

Guridy, F. A. (2010). Forging Diaspora: Afro-Cubans and African Americans in a World of Empire and Jim Crow (1 edition). The University of North Carolina Press.

Kendi, I. X. (2016). Stamped from the beginning: The definitive history of racist ideas in America. Nation Books.

Walters, R. W. (1993). Pan Africanism in the African Diaspora: An Analysis of Modern Afrocentric Political Movements. Wayne State University Press.

Wilson, M. N. (1986). The Black extended family: An analytical consideration. Developmental Psychology, 22(2), 246.

Dismantling White Supremacy through Finding African Relatives

Drawing from my interactions with Africans and people of African descent who are interacting with each other as family members, a friend’s Facebook post brought something to mind. To explain it, I need to highlight a certain aspect of the idea of white supremacy first.

White supremacy is the idea that people racialized as white and who have no African ancestry are superior to other peoples due to inherent traits in European biology. It also carries the idea that people racialized as black due to their African ancestry are inherently inferior and less than human. White and black are at opposite ends of this erroneous human ranking with other groups thought to be in between. A black person who loves black people but who thinks something is wrong with black people is subject to white supremacy. Dismantling the idea of white supremacy has a psychological component that also needs to be addressed in Africans and people of African descent who suffer from the belief in the idea of white supremacy. In other words, internalized racism. A person thinking they are lesser than others regardless of their own accomplishments or how well they treat others often suffer mentally and physically.

So I find it quite interesting that people of African descent who are engaging in genetic genealogy and reuniting with their relatives from Africa are also POSSIBLY dismantling the ideas of white supremacy for themselves and their family members. It is usual for African Americans exploring results from an ancestry DNA test from companies like to also explore African history. When African Americans identify and interact with their relatives from Africa, African Americans often focus their learning on the specific African histories connected to their own family history. I have seen where some take on an Afrocentric view akin to an Eurocentric view such that everything about Africa is wonderful and superior. They like to emphasize that Africa is a place of Kings and Queens. But then some, after learning more details about the historical context of specific African peoples and locations because of their newly found family connections, begin to see Africa as neither lesser or greater than people in other geographies. They being to see Africa as a set of places with people who treat individuals both well and poorly. I mean, Africans are people. And people are people. A normalization of Africa. But, if this normalization of Africa in the minds of African American relatives is a true phenomenon, then that means that African Americans are either beginning to view or fortifying their view that Africa and, by extension, blackness, is not inherently bad. It is mental liberation at the root. Not only do they see themselves and the people they are a part of as not inherently bad, but they also have their budding relationships with their newly found African relatives to continue to reinforce this understanding with experiences of acceptance and inclusion.

Imagine the impact as this level of acceptance and inclusion ripples throughout segments of the African American population through those who desire to engage in genetic genealogy.

What are your thoughts about this?

Refocusing Blog to Discuss the Impact of African Family Reunions

Up until this time, this blog focused on initial family reunions between people of African descent in the diaspora and Africans immigrants. Many people, including academics, never thought this would be possible because of the amount of time that has passed between the time of separation into the Transatlantic Slave Trade and now. But people of African descent are increasingly finding their African relatives through a relatively accessible commercial product, enabling them to fill in major gaps in their family and community narrative. Rather than focusing on the initial finding of the relatives, which several individuals and organizations are facilitating, I am redirecting this blog to focus on the short- and long-term impact of these reunions.

As confirmed by autosomal DNA tests, families that were separated by the Transatlantic Slave Trade are being reunited at the 4th to 8th cousin level. Some companies, such as and 23andMe, use autosomal DNA testing to compare the DNA profile of one customer with the DNA profile of another customer to determine relatedness based on the percentage of DNA the two customers have in common. When African immigrant customers take an autosomal DNA test and have their DNA profile compared to the company’s vast database of customers, the African immigrant customer receive a list of people with whom they share a certain amount of DNA. The majority of the people in the results list are African Americans. With basic knowledge of DNA science, people of African descent are then able to identity African immigrant relatives. In this way, African families that were separated by the Transatlantic Slave Trade are actually being reunited.

What comes as a surprise to many, including academics, is that these reunions are possible. Common thinking was that African Americans and other people of African descent would never be able to find their African families from before slavery. Unfortunately, the usefulness of the autosomal DNA test is being confused with results that offer African ethnicity estimates. With good reason, many question the accuracy of ethnicity estimates and the motives of companies that offer these types of services. However, the methods to determine relatedness is different from the methods used to estimate ethnicity. Without going into too much detail, estimating relatedness is determined by calculating how much DNA two customer saliva samples have in common. Those meeting a certain threshold of common DNA are listed in the results as a DNA relative. Using this information, along with other genealogy tools, people of African descent are identifying African immigrant relatives from among the customers listed as their DNA relatives.

With that being said, I think the real hesitation with embracing the fact of reuniting African families is the idea that the moment of separation happened too long ago to be reconciled. But it is happening and the general public will soon catch on to this amazing phenomenon. So what does it mean if people of African descent still share enough DNA with a person born in Africa to be detected? How must our thinking about family and identity development change to accommodate the impact of new types of relatives? What does this mean for future engagement?

That brings me back to the point of this blog entry. Instead of focusing on these amazing reunion stories, I would like to engage you in conversations about the meanings of these reunions. The next several blog posts will be thought pieces that I hope you care to engage in. I do this as an African American woman in the journey of finding African family members and filling in major gaps in my family history. I also do this as a PhD student at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign (UIUC) in the department of Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS). All this really means is that I spend a lot of time thinking about the impact of these reunions and I would really like to talk with you about it. What would you like to discuss more?

Visiting Ghana 2016: Slave Camps

For 10 weeks in May to July 2016, my mother (Wylene Hameed) and I traveled to 5 of the 10 regions of Ghana. I explored the question of reuniting with descendants of family members who were taken away during the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Conversations took place in Accra (Greater Accra Region), Elmina (Central Region), Ejisu (Ashanti Region), Kumasi (Ashanti Region), Tamale (Northern Region), Navrongo (Upper East Region), and Paga (Upper East Region).

On February 1, 2017, see the new Projects tab for an introduction to four elderly women from Paga, Ghana who took AncestryDNA tests to identify descendants of family members who were separated from their homes a few generations ago.

The following are a set of pictures from former slave encampments and other locations during our travels. (See the picture and the description under each picture.)


Pikworo Slave Camp in Paga, Upper East, Ghana

Paga, Ghana is a border town in the Upper East region of Ghana. Within the neighborhood of Nania, Paga is the site of the Pikworo Slave Camp. The community narrative of Nania is that slave raiders came and took the strong, leaving the remaining family to plummet into poverty.


Pikworo Slave Camp in Paga, Upper East, Ghana

When slave raiders took people from Nania and the surrounding communities, raiders would hold their captives in chains at this camp until they were ready to march selected captives southward to the Salaga slave market.


Pikworo Slave Camp in Paga, Upper East, Ghana

The grooves in the boulders were “bowls” where slaves ate their food.


Pikworo Slave Camp in Paga, Upper East, Ghana

The grooves are “bowls” where slaves ate their food.


Pikworo Slave Camp in Paga, Upper East, Ghana

This was the water source for the camp. The existence of this natural water source may have been the reason this site was selected as a camp by slave raiders.


Pikworo Slave Camp in Paga, Upper East, Ghana

The water level depends on the rains.


Pikworo Slave Camp in Paga, Upper East, Ghana

This was the Punishment Rock used to punish African captives. Chains would bind the captive forcing them to sit in the blazing sun all day. Some would die from enduring the treatment.


Pikworo Slave Camp in Paga, Upper East, Ghana

The large groove going around the bottom of the Punishment Rock is from wear of the chains.


Pikworo Slave Camp in Paga, Upper East, Ghana

“Cemetery for Dead Slaves”


Pikworo Slave Camp in Paga, Upper East, Ghana

In the Cemetery for Dead Slaves, each rock formation of a large rock surrounded by several smaller rocks marks the location of a mass grave. There are three mass graves depicted in this picture.


Former Pikworo Slave Camp in Paga, Upper East, Ghana

“Watch Tower of the Slave Raiders”


Pikworo Slave Camp in Paga, Upper East, Ghana

The slave raiders would climb on this rock formation and look far beyond the camp for those who attempted to come free the captives.


Pikworo Slave Camp in Paga, Upper East, Ghana

Musicians were called to pacify captives. Here, drummers from the Nania neighborhood demonstrate a song being played on the drum (rock) as was done when captives were held there.


Pikworo Slave Camp in Paga, Upper East, Ghana

“Meeting Place of the Slaves.” Here, slave raiders would get a last look at captives before selecting those who would be marched to the Salaga slave market to be sold. On being sold at Salaga, they would be marched as far as to the Elmina and Cape Coast castles. I was reminded of the U.S. Trail of Tears. Many Africans suffered and died on the way from Pikworo to Elmina/Cape Coast.


Pikworo Slave Camp in Paga, Upper East, Ghana

“Meeting Place of the Slaves”


Slave raiders would bind two people together using links such as this on captives who were marched from the Pikworo slave camp to the Salaga slave market. (In the photo is LaKisha David and Regina Nyaaba.)


Leaving the Pikworo Slave Camp. I felt a sort of symbolic gladness when I was walking away, leaving the slave camp in my freedom. (In the photo is LaKisha David, Wylene Hameed, Regina Nyaaba, with Regina’s friend in the back.)


Crocodile Pond in Paga, Ghana

One day, before work, I decided to pet a crocodile! Paga, Ghana is known for its legendary ponds of sacred crocodiles. Before entering the area, a guide explains the history and its meaning to the town. Then you buy a live bird (chicken or guinea fowl) held in a cage. The guide catches the bird and leads you into the pond grounds. The guide then makes the bird chirp which catches the attention of crocodiles in the water. The guide also makes noises and pets the approaching crocodile to calm it down. The crocodile decided whether or not to eat the bird but then relaxed, allowing the guide to position both the crocodile and me for pictures.


Shea Nut Fruit

This is the fruit of a shea nut. The fruit is edible. Tthe nut is used to make shea butter!


Shea Nut Fruit

The fruit of the shea nut naturally comes in two flavors, sweet and not sweet. You cannot tell which is which from looking at it. Only a bite into the fruit can help to identify the flavor. I’m (LaKisha David) in the middle of the picture; the one I selected was sweet! Mom (Wylene Hameed) in the left of the picture selected one that was not so sweet. Regina Nyaaba is sharing in our experience of tasting shea fruit for the first time.


The Slave Market in Saakpuli, Savelugu/Nanton, Northern Region, Ghana

The Saakpuli slave market is located in a village of the Dagomba people. Before touring the market grounds, the current chief of the village sat with us, explained to us their history, and answered any questions we had. They told us that the former chiefs of this village were slave raiders. They explained to us that when a young boy looked like he would grow up to be strong, he was selected to be trained to be a slave raider. Somewhat bewildered at this forthcoming of the village history, I asked if he understood who I was as an African American, that I was a descendent of one of the ones likely taken by this village and sent off into slavery in the U.S. He said he understood and continued to answer any questions I had.


The Slave Market in Saakpuli, Savelugu/Nanton, Northern Region, Ghana


The Slave Market in Saakpuli, Savelugu/Nanton, Northern Region, Ghana

The chief’s representative would sit here and store money he received for African captives.


The Slave Market in Saakpuli, Savelugu/Nanton, Northern Region, Ghana

The hole is the money storage area.


The Slave Market in Saakpuli, Savelugu/Nanton, Northern Region, Ghana

The markings on the tree are from the passage of chains that held captives (determined by researchers from the University of Ghana).


The Slave Market in Saakpuli, Savelugu/Nanton, Northern Region, Ghana

Artifacts discovered from the site


The Slave Market in Saakpuli, Savelugu/Nanton, Northern Region, Ghana

Old chains used to hold people.


The Slave Market in Saakpuli, Savelugu/Nanton, Northern Region, Ghana

A cowry shell (money in this area during the time of the Transatlantic Slave Trade).


The Slave Market in Saakpuli, Savelugu/Nanton, Northern Region, Ghana

The current chief of Saakpuli, village of former slave raiders, after he told us about the village’s history and we toured the grounds. (In this picture is LaKisha David, the current Saakpuli chief, Wylene Hameed, and Yaw Annafi.)


The Slave Market in Saakpuli, Savelugu/Nanton, Northern Region, Ghana

Current chief of Saakpuli (traditional attire)


Kalpohin Cultural Exchange (Tamale, Ghana)

There is a program called the Kalpohin Cultural Exchange in Tamale Ghana where women share local culture with visitors. The women still live in according to many traditional ways due to their low-income status. They made an arrangement with Walisu Alhassan (the man in the picture above) such that each housing area (compound) would share a different aspect of the local culture in exchange for a fee that would be shared with the members of the neighborhood and the keep a local elementary school operating. Walisu can be contacted at 233 050 744 0426 or

Here, an elderly woman was teaching us how to spin yarn from cotton in her home. I found it ironic that I was there to “reconnect to my African roots” but was there learning how to spin cotton, something that had always reminded me of slavery in the U.S. After the initial mental adjustment to get over my aversion to ever touching raw cotton, and after I stopped wondering about the ways in which cotton planting got to this part of Ghana, I settled in to enjoy the company of this elderly lady sharing her time, craft, and kindness with us young folks. In the picture above, we were pulling out the cotton seeds.


Kalpohin Cultural Exchange (Tamale, Ghana)

In her very skillful way, she used a calabash bowl and a top to spin the loose cotton into yarn.


Kalpohin Cultural Exchange (Tamale, Ghana)

Then she let me try. After a few times, I finally got the hang of it! After spinning for a short time, she took the yarn we made and tied them around our wrists, making bracelets for my mom and I. That was such a special piece of yarn to us!!


Kalpohin Cultural Exchange (Tamale, Ghana)

In a neighboring housing area, they shared how to make shea butter. The shea nuts are getting ready!


Kalpohin Cultural Exchange (Tamale, Ghana)

In another housing area, they showed us how to make pottery.


Kalpohin Cultural Exchange (Tamale, Ghana)

The shaping of the small pot is finished. Other steps include decorating the outside of the pot with color.


Akwasidae Festival (Kumasi, Ghana)

Every 40 – 42 days, the Ashanti kingdom chiefs gathered at the Manhyia Palace of the Ashanti king to honor ancestors and to hold court. This is Kwaku, the grandson of a queen mother who governed a few neighborhoods in Kumasi at the time. At the Akwasidae Festival, traditional clothes are typically worn.


Akwasidae Festival (Kumasi, Ghana)

In the sitting area of the palace grounds, waiting for the Ashanti king.


Akwasidae Festival (Kumasi, Ghana)


Akwasidae Festival (Kumasi, Ghana)

An elderly man decided to dance to the drumming.


Akwasidae Festival (Kumasi, Ghana)

A younger man decided to join in.


Akwasidae Festival (Kumasi, Ghana)


Akwasidae Festival (Kumasi, Ghana)

Future chiefs (just being children on this day!)


Friends enjoying the day (Kumasi, Ghana)


Elmina, Ghana

On the way to the Elmina Slave Castle


Elmina Slave Castle


Elmina Slave Castle


Elmina Slave Castle


Elmina Slave Castle

“Female Slave Dungeon”


Preparing to take an AncestryDNA test (Accra, Ghana)

Here we are in Accra, Ghana with friends Fatim and Gabriel Oppong. Gabriel, an Ashanti, decided to take an autosomal DNA test from AncestryDNA to help locate his relatives in the diaspora.


Ready to send the AncestryDNA test kit off for processing!

He was one of the first few Ghanaians to take an AncestryDNA test through TAKiR, as indicated by signing the number 4. On GEDmatch (A200704) as of January 17, 2017, he had 45 matches at 10 cMs or above, including 6 at 15 cMs or above. Now he starts the process of reaching out to his relatives in the diaspora and rebuilding family connections.