Basil Davidson

Basil Risbridger Davidson (1914-2010) was a British Africanist scholar, Pan-Africanist, Anti-Apartheid and Anti-Imperialist activist, soldier, and reporter, born November 9, 1914. Davidson married Marion Young and fathered three sons, Nicholas, Keir, and James. He died July 9, 2010, at the age of 96.


He was born in Bristol to Thomas and Jessie Davidson. He left school at 16, trying to pursue a writing career. He worked for the Economist and later for the Star of London, a now defunct paper.

During the 1930s, he traveled extensively throughout Europe. When World War II broke out, he was an invaluable asset to Special Operations Executive (SOE).  As a soldier he worked in Budapest, trying to organize a resistance force against the Nazis. From 1943 to 1944, he resided in Yugoslavia. After the war Davidson was awarded the Military Cross.

Returning to civilian life, he became a journalist for the Times, positioned in Paris and later London. In 1949, he left the Times to work as secretary of the Union of Democratic Control (UDC). He was also hired on to the New Statesman.

During the 1950s, Basil Davidson interest in African history took off. African History in the west told of a history that was non-existent before Europeans.

During the 1960s, he toured Guinea-Bissau, Angola, and Mozambique, traveling with guerilla groups, risking  great physical harm to himself.

Between 1969 through 1985, he served as secretary of the Anti-Apartheid Movement in London. He was offered an editor job at Unesco, which was vetoed by the British government.
In 1984, Davidson pursued his famous eight part historical series on Africa, going against the grain of reporting gloom and doom at that time and presenting African History in populist fashion, making the subject more accessible to the lay-person. This series caused him to be banned in Apartheid South Africa.

List of Works

Basil Davidson wrote about 30 books and 5 novels.

Old Africa Rediscovered (1959)
The Lost Cities of Africa (1960)
Africa: History of a Continent (1966)
The Africans, An Entry to Cultural History (1969)
In the Eye of the Storm: Angola's People (1972)
Special Operations Europe (1980)
No Fist is Big Enough to Hide the Sky (1981)

Modern Africa (1982)
The Black Man's Burden: Africa and the Curse of the Nation-State (1992)
The Search for Africa (1994)
West Africa Before the Colonial Era: A History to 1850 (1998)
The liberation of Guiné: Aspects of an African Revolution


British Military Cross
in 2002 Portugal's democratic government decorated him for his opposition to its authoritarian predecessor.
US Bronze Star
Yugoslavia's Zasluge za Narodj.
Freeman of Genoa
1960 Anisfield-Wolf Award
1970 Gold Medal from Haile Selassies
Honorary Degree from Open University of Great Britain(1980)
Honorary Degree from University of Edinburgh (1984)
Gold Award, from the International Film and Television Festival of New York in 1984 for "Africa" film

Works Cited

Basil Davidson. The Telegraph, August 16, 2011. retrieved 15-August-2011
Brittain, Victoria. Basil Davidson Obituary., july 9, 2010. retrieved 15 August 2011.
Africa Voyage of Discovery with Basil Davidson.
Adesokan, Akin. Basil Davidson, Honorary African Patriot. Next. retrieved 16-August-2011
Biney, Ama. Basil Davidson:Populariser of African History. Zeleza Post, July 30, 2010. retrieved 17-Aug-2011.
Harding, Jeremy. On Basil Davidson. LRB(London Review of Books) Blog July 14, 2010. retrieved 16-August-2011.

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