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Dr. Aggrey


Dr. James Emman Kwegyir Aggrey
Founder of Achimota School
Asst. Vice Principal (1924 - 1927)
 (b. 1875 - d. 1927)

“Only the Best is Good Enough for Africa.”

Dr. James Emman Kwegyir Aggrey is one of the founders of Achimota School and was the first Assistant Vice Principal. The other founders are Sir Frederick Gordon Guggisberg, former governor of the Gold Coast (1919-1927), and the Reverend Alexander G. Fraser, MA, CBE, the first Principal of the School (1924 - 1935).

Anomabu & Livingstone College
Dr. Aggrey was born on October 18, 1875, in Anomabu, Gold Coast, and educated at the Wesleyan Methodist School in Cape Coast. In 1898, he left the Gold Coast to continue his education at Livingstone College in Salisbury, North Carolina, and graduated at the top of his class with honors. He was later ordained an elder of the AME Zion Church.  In 1905, he married Miss Rose Douglass, an educationist, of Portsmouth, Virginia, and they had four children - two boys, Kwegyir and Rudolph, and two girls, Abna and Rosebud. He continued his education when he enrolled for postgraduate studies at Livingstone College. In 1912, he graduated with a master’s degree and a Doctor of Divinity from Hood Theological Seminary. In 1914, through a correspondence course, he earned a Doctor of Osteopathy degree from the International College of Osteopathy in Elgin, Illinois.

Columbia University and the Phelps-Stokes African Education Commission
In 1918, he enrolled in Columbia University, in the City of New York, with the goal of obtaining a doctorate degree in Sociology and Economics. In 1920, he earned a Teaching certificate from Columbia University. It was during this time that one of his professors at Columbia University who was a member of the board of trustees of the Phelps-Stokes Fund recommended the inclusion of Dr. Aggrey as a member of the Phelps-Stokes African Education Commission. In July 1920, Dr. Aggrey traveled to the Gold Coast, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and several other African countries with members of the Phelps-Stokes African Education Commission. The highlight of his visit was the reunion with his mother and family and his installation as an Okyeame of Anomabu, a position that his late father had held. During the visit to the Gold Coast, Dr. Aggrey met the newly appointed Governor, Sir Frederick Gordon Guggisberg. Neither Guggisberg nor Aggrey realized how intertwined their lives would become. Dr Aggrey returned to the US and in October 1922, Columbia University awarded him a Teaching Diploma and Masters Degree. Finally in December 1923, he completed the course work for his doctorate degree in Sociology and Economics.

Achimota College & School
In 1924, the Gold Coast’s colonial government approved the funding for the proposed Prince of Wales College and School, now known as “Achimota School”. Dr Aggrey returned to the Gold Coast and accepted a position as the school’s first Assistant Vice Principal. Dr. Aggrey helped supervise the construction and equipping of Achimota School and it became his passion. Aggrey and the other founders made personal sacrifices to realize their dream of the first co-educational institution in the Gold Coast. They battled racism and harsh, often unfounded criticism. Dr. Aggrey even donated his own books to fill the library shelves. “He and Reverend Fraser hammered nails when they required hammering; they scrubbed floors and washed windows.”“* Dr. Aggrey campaigned vigorously for women’s education at a time when the idea was not popular, and held the belief that “to educate a man was to educate an individual”, while educating a woman had more far-reaching benefits to family and community. This led to an increase in the number of places offered to girls by the College.  Classes commenced at Achimota School on February 27, 1926, and the school, then known as the “Prince of Wales College and School” was formally opened by the Governor, Sir Guggisberg on January 28, 1927.

Achimota School Crest
Achimota School’s Crest, comprising the black and white piano keys, is attributed to Dr. Aggrey. As he said, “You can play a tune of sorts on the white keys, and you can play a tune of sorts on the black keys, but for harmony, you must use both the black and the white.”

Dr. Aggrey’s Words of Wisdom
Dr. Aggrey is credited with several words of wisdom or "Aggreyisms" including “Only the Best is Good Enough for Africa.” Dr. Aggrey's words of wisdom are summarized on the next page.

Dr. Aggrey’s Passing and Legacy
Dr. Aggrey returned to New York on June 16, 1927, to complete his dissertation for his doctorate degree from Columbia University. He had previously completed all the course work required for the doctorate degree. Upon his return to the U.S., he ad
dressed a number of gatherings and his message stressed racial tolerance. His last word’s to an audience at a Columbia University gathering on July 21, 1927, was “Maybe I shall be standing by St. Peter when you come to the pearly gates and I shall say a good word for you.”*

On July 30, 1927, Dr. Aggrey died peacefully in New York City. He was only 52 years old. He did not live long enough to see Achimota School flourish and grow into its full glory. If he had lived to see the full realization of his dream, he would have been proud of the men and women trained by Achimota School and their contributions to the development of the Gold Coast and Ghana.

Recently discovered information sheds more light on Dr. Aggrey's last days in New York and the painful aftermath of his passing.

"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 remaining 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."

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 progress 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 Odyssey", Dr. Azikiwe showed how he was influenced by a book on Negro education that Dr. Aggrey gave to him in Lagos, hence he travelled to the USA for college education; 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."

Written by Drs. Yvette Alex-Assensoh and A. B. Assensoh (http://www.utexas.edu/conferences/africa/ads/24.html)

The Aggrey Memorial Chapel at Achimota School, Aggrey House at Achimota School, Aggrey Memorial School in Cape Coast, Ghana, Aggrey Livingstone College’s Aggrey Student Union, and the Phelp Stokes Fund's "Aggrey Medal" were all named in his honor. In November 2004, the State of North Carolina and the City of Salisbury, North Carolina, both honored Dr. Aggrey and Mrs. Rose Aggrey for their contributions to education in the State of North Carolina and the City of Salisbury by placing a historical marker at their home.

The Aggrey Family
Dr. James Emman Kwegyir Aggrey is survived by his son, Ambassador Orison Rudolph Aggrey, and grandchildren. Ambassador Aggrey served as the U.S. ambassador to Gambia, Senegal, and Romania during the Carter Administration. Ambassador Aggrey still lives in Virginia. Dr. Aggrey’s granddaughter, Mrs. Raemi Evans (oldest daughter of their daughter, Abna) and her husband, Fred Evans, currently live in the home located near Livingstone College, Salisbury, North Carolina, that Dr. and Mrs. Aggrey lived in and raised their children. They are also survived by three other granddaughters, Roxanne Aggrey (Ambassador Aggrey’s daughter), Mrs. Harriet Graves (Virginia), and Dr. Carol Aggrey Lancaster-Meeks (Salisbury, North Carolina) and several great grandchildren. Harriet and Carol are also Abna Aggrey’s daughters.

1. Dr. Donal Brody.Permission granted by Dr. Brody: GREAT EPICS NEWLETTER © Great Epic Books. (Summarized from the Great Epic website newletters date May 1998, June 1998, and July 1998. The website is no longer in operation.
2. Cambridge University Library: Royal Commonwealth Society Library, J.E.K. Aggrey and A.G. Fraser, Y30448S
3. Ward, William Ernest Frank (1965), ‘Fraser of Trinity and Achimota’, [Accra]: Ghana Universities Press.
4. http://www.ghana.edu.gh/past/colonialEra.html
5. Drs. Yvette Alex-Assensoh and A. B. Assensoh http://www.utexas.edu/conferences/africa/ads/24.html