Kwame Nkrumah was born in about 1909 in Nkroful, Gold Coast. Although his mother, whose name was Nyanibah, later stated his year of birth was 1912, Nkrumah wrote that he was born on 18 September 1909, a Saturday, and by the naming customs of the Akan people was given the name Kwame, that being the name given to males born on a Saturday. During his years as a student in the United States, though, he was known as Francis Nwia Kofi Nkrumah, with Kofi being the name given to males born on Friday. The name of his father is not known; most accounts say he was a goldsmith. According to Ebenezer Obiri Addo in his study of the future president, the name “Nkrumah”, a name traditionally given to a ninth child, indicates that Kwame likely held that place in the house of his father, who had several wives. Kwame, though, was the only child of his mother.

Image credit: Michael Pahre

Image credit: Michael Pahre

Nkroful was a small village, in the far southwest of the Gold Coast, close to the frontier with the French colony of the Ivory Coast. His father did not live with the family, but worked in Half Assini before his death while Kwame was a boy. Kwame Nkrumah was raised by his mother and his extended family, who lived together in traditional fashion, with more distant relatives often visiting. He lived a carefree childhood, spent in the village, in the bush, and on the nearby sea.

Nkrumah’s mother sent him to the elementary school run by a Catholic mission at Half Assini, where he proved an adept student. He progressed through the ten-year elementary programme in only eight. By about 1925 he was a student-teacher in the school, and had been baptised into the faith. While at the school, he was noticed by the Reverend Alec Garden Fraser, principal of the Government Training College (soon to become Achimota School) in the Gold Coast’s capital, Accra. Fraser arranged for Nkumrah to train as a teacher at his school. here, Columbia-educated deputy headmaster Kwegyir Aggrey exposed him to the ideas of Marcus Garvey and W. E. B. Du Bois. Aggrey, Fraser, and others at Achimota taught that there should be close co-operation between the races in governing the Gold Coast, but Nkrumah, echoing Garvey, soon came to believe that only when the black race governed itself could there be harmony between the races.

 

Kwegyir James Aggrey

Kwegyir James Aggrey

After graduating from Achimota in 1930, Nkrumah was given a teaching post at the Catholic primary school in Elmina, and after a year there, was made headmaster of the school at Axim. In Axim, he started to get involved in politics and founded the Nzima Literary Society. In 1933, he was appointed a teacher at the Catholic seminary at Amissa. Although the life there was strict, he liked it, and considered becoming a Jesuit. Instead, he decided to further his education. Nkrumah had heard journalist and future Nigerian president Nnamdi Azikiwe speak while a student at Achimota; the two men met and Azikiwe’s influence increased Nkrumah’s interest in black nationalism. The young teacher decided to further his education. Azikiwe had attended Lincoln College, a historically black college in Chester County, Pennsylvania, south of Philadelphia, and he advised Nkrumah to enroll there. Nkrumah, who had failed the entrance examination for London University gained funds for the trip and his education from relatives. He travelled by way of Britain, where he learned, to his outrage, of Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia, one of the few independent African nations. He arrived in the United States, in October 1935.