“In 1960, Boniface Odero, an Airlift student from Kenya, came to live with my family in our house in Riverdale, New York. Due to her education by Cora Weiss, (executive director of the African American Students Foundation, the airlift organizers) my mother took to this idea like a dove to its mate. After all, she and Cora were fast friends and co-activists, and during the years when my sisters and brother and I were all underage, it was not atypical of my mother, Andrea Simon, to invite students and actors, poets and political protesters for a 'little stay' at our boisterous, busy and crowded house. Boniface stayed a year. I am so proud of this book, proud of the history of the unique initiative which brought Odero and his fellow students to this country, and proud of our lasting humanitarian program and the hearty spirit which drives it.”
"A little more than half a century ago when I was in college, the few Africans on campus felt isolated by Negro students, most of whom were running as fast as they could away from African students and from any hint of our own African ancestors. Due in large measure to the thawing spawned by the far-sighted and brilliantly executed African Airlift, African and American brothers, sisters, cousins and ancestors, have since produced enterprises in commerce, politics and education enriching to parties on both sides of the Atlantic. It was a noble and far-sighted endeavor."
Roger Wilkins, a former board chair of the Africa America Institute, is Clarence J. Robinson Professor Emeritus of the Clarence J. Robinson program at George Mason University.
“[This] bold initiative charted a new course in the preparation of African leaders, created new relationships with United States institutions of higher education, and helped pave the way for increased access by African-Americans to colleges and universities whose closed doors were opened by those who came under the auspices of the program. These airlift students returned home to become builders of the newly independent East African nations and helped unravel the threads holding colonialism together. I am proud that Adelphi gave scholarships to three of the participants.”
Dr. Robert A. Scott, President, Adelphi University
“Shachtman’s text, gleaned from the organization’s files and interviews with principals, offers a compelling portrait of nation-building abroad and nation-changing at home. A valuable case study of the effectiveness of NGOs when they are operated with care and confidence.”
One of the true global cultural exchange programs that paid huge dividends, the African American Students Foundation (AASF), is the timely topic of Shachtman's (Rumspringa) new book. The brainchild of Kenyan politician Tom Mboya and American businessman William Scheinman, the AASF's goal was to bring top African students to America between 1959 and 1963 in order to establish a group of accomplished young Africans to staff government positions and the educational system in their native countries upon the fall of colonialism. Called the “airlift generation,” prized students from Kenya, Tanganyika, Uganda and Rhodesia, among them President Obama's father, Barack Sr., and Wangari Maathai, the winner of the 2004 Nobel Prize, were chosen to study in American colleges and universities. Shachtman relates the political controversies surrounding the program and U.S. government involvement, as African nations gained independence and became proxies in the cold war. A memorable and poignant recounting of a significant endeavor that is still scoring successes around the world, this book is not to be missed by African and American history buffs. 8 pages of b&w photos. (Sept.)
A Kenyan student, one among a large group of students airlifted to the United States in 1959 by the African American Students Foundation, has a son who, 50 years later, becomes the President of the United States. It is upon that stunning truth that Schachtman (Rumspringa: To Be or Not To Be Amish) builds his premise: the airlift, which brought hundreds of Kenyan students to American colleges and universities, changed the face not only of America but of American politics. Central to this story is Kenyan Tom Mboya, here portrayed as a heroic figure fighting the colonial powers that still ruled Kenya in the 1950s and 1960s. His rising international prominence enabled him to meet notables, such as Harry Belafonte, who would help him fund the airlifts, and he used the presidential election of 1960 as leverage to finesse funding from John F. Kennedy's family foundation. Whether that affected Kennedy's election, as Schachtman posits, is not so clear. But this little-known period of African and American history ultimately had a profound effect on American life, especially in race relations and politics. VERDICT A well-written and fascinating account that all students of history will appreciate.—Jane B. Marino, Great Neck Lib., NY
The story of communal American liberality 50 years ago and how it affected today's world, retrieved from the files of an almost forgotten nongovernmental organization. In 1959, many Africans and African-Americans saw their circumstances as connected, with colonialism and segregation mirroring each other. "Uhuru! Freedom Now!" was the cry in sub-Sahara Africa, and if education was the key to black freedom and independence for both populations, education in America-rather than England or the Soviet Union-was seen as crucial for Africans. The African American Students Foundation, whose founders included charismatic Kenyan activist Tom Mboya, sought to arrange transportation to the United States for young East Africans who had secured scholarships at American colleges. The organization's first airlift brought President Obama's father and 80 more bright, eager students from a dozen tribes. Though some were inadequately prepared for their new lives as American scholars, most succeeded remarkably, Shachtman (Rumspringa: To Be or Not to Be Amish, 2006, etc.) demonstrates in revealing character sketches. Ultimately, the students returned home to become doctors, academics and government officials in their newly formed nations. The airlift effort became a political football between Nixon and Kennedy in the 1960 presidential campaign, with both candidates seeking to somehow take credit for its success. Though the AASF was strongly supported by Jackie Robinson and Martin Luther King Jr., among other luminaries, raising money for the charter flights was difficult until the government took over funding the flights in 1964. Nonetheless, the efforts of the AASF proved to be a crucial element in thedevelopment of numerous students who would become significant figures in their home nations. Shachtman's text, gleaned from the organization's files and interviews with principals, offers a compelling portrait of nation-building abroad and nation-changing at home. A valuable case study of the effectiveness of NGOs when they are operated with care and confidence. Agent: Mel Berger/William Morris Agency