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Spotlight: Cross-Border Cosmopolitans: The Making of a Pan-African North America by Wendell Adjetey (’18 Ph.D., History & African American Studies)

November 2, 2022

by Ira Hafer

Wendell Adjetey (’18 Ph.D., History & African American Studies) is a historian, humanitarian, and author of upcoming monograph Cross-Border Cosmopolitans: The Making of a Pan-African North America (UNC Press, 2022). In his debut book, Adjetey uses a diasporic and North American/transatlantic lens to illustrate the creation of a Pan-African community in North America, where he is particularly concerned with issues such as imperialism, neo-colonialism, racial identity, civil rights, immigration, and revolution. 

Adjetey is assistant professor and William Dawson chair in the department of History at McGill University in Montreal, where he specializes in post-Reconstructionist U.S. history and instructs undergraduate and graduate courses and seminars about U.S., African-American, African-Canadian, African-diasporic, and global history. He is an established keynote speaker and author, having written previously about injustice, the African diaspora’s relationship with Canada and the U.S., Ethiopianism, and Pan-Africanism.

Cross-Border Cosmopolitans is an extension of work Adjetey started at Yale with his dissertation that received Yale’s Edwin M. Small Prize for its impressive and necessary contribution to U.S. history, alongside other awards such as the Sylvia Ardyn Boone Prize for African American Studies, the Canadian Studies Prize, and the Willard “Woody” Brittain, Jr. Award. “From the North Star to the Black Star: African North Americans and the Search for a Land of Promise, 1919-1984” sought to explore Pan-Africanism in North America and the Caribbean; Cross-Border Cosmopolitans elaborates on this search for connections between the African diaspora, Black American history, and the nation-state, particularly as it relates to descendants of enslaved peoples and citizenship.

This project is the first of its kind, wherein Adjetey interrogates the pan-African roots of African-American, African-Canadian, and African-Caribbean history and identity in the scope of the twentieth century. He explores the community built by these groups' shared experiences and histories to highlight the self-determination of people who “came gradually to see themselves as a transnational family and community, in part principally to resist the forces of colonization, the forces of white domination.” While Adjetey highlights the themes of resistance, reconciliation, and resilience of its target communities, Cross-Border Cosmopolitans also addresses the pushback activists received in this reifying of identities by the United States and Canadian governments, who used propaganda, intelligence, and suppression to undermine the authority of the pan-African movement and Black liberation.

Adjetey’s approach to research is multi-faceted, utilizing primarily archival sources and primary accounts, as well as government records, ephemera, magazines, radical periodicals, and classified intelligence records received through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

At Yale, Adjetey continued the activist work he started as an undergraduate student in Canada and became particularly concerned with barriers to education for marginalized people. From 2013 – 2015 he served as a graduate student fellow in the Yale Office for Graduate Student Development and Diversity (formerly the Office for Diversity and Equal Opportunity). He co-founded Tujenge Africa Foundation in 2014 with Etienne Mashuli (’15 M.A.), which focuses on the economic advancement and education of youth in Burundi. In 2015, he was an Echoing Green Global Fellow. Adjetey was an Edla J. McPherson, Falk Foundation, and Felix G. Evangelist Fellow concurrently, while also working in community development, education, social policy, and youth engagement. His volunteer work mirrors his scholarship, in that he seeks to put to the forefront marginalized communities, their stories, the potential of education, and the power of voice.