Morah Sheli Village | The Scramble for Africa
World War I, Great War, Africa, 369th Infantry, Harlem Hellfighters, Berlin Conference, Black History, African American History, US History, American History
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The Scramble for Africa {freebie}

UPDATE (February 2018): You can use this lesson to teach about colonization as it relates to the hit film Black Panther! Understanding what colonization is helps students to grasp some of film’s messages.  

We’ve been studying the Great War (later known as World War I) for the past two weeks. For each lesson or unit, I aim to expose my students to Blackness so they are constantly affirmed as they study. In my research to learn more about African-American presence during the War, I learned lots of history! Today, I’d like to share so you are better equipped to teach your Brown or Black students.

The Berlin Conference


The Great War did not just happen. There were events that happened before which led up to it. A little less than 20 years after the abolishment of slavery, in 1884, European powers held a meeting which was known as the Berlin Conference. They decided that they would go into Africa forcibly and violently to acquire its wealth and resources for Europe. They were economically weak and wanted a change quickly!  (Apparently, it was not enough to purchase and enslave the people, now it was time to rob the continent of its resources). Here’s a list of the European nations who colonized Africa:

  • France
  • Great Britain
  • Spain
  • Belgium
  • Italy
  • Portugal
  • Germany



World War I


At the turn of the 20th Century, Africa had been invaded, occupied, and colonized by the above nations. At first, these countries were slow to recognize the benefits of acquiring African territories, but once the rush to claim land began in 1876, the continent was quickly (and violently) taken over. This takeover was known as The Scramble for Africa. (Yes, this really was a thing. An entire agenda to just rob the people and the land). By 1914, European nations controlled 90% of Africa. The only African nations which remained independent were Liberia and Ethiopia.

The heavy-hitters were France and Great Britain. Together, they controlled about 50% Africa. This caused quite the stir over in Europe. The nations there began to feud over who had what and a fight broke out. In the beginning, the war was called the Great War and it was inside fight amongst Europeans.

Germany did not conquer as much as they would have hoped and by the time the War had began, it did not really have a dog in the fight. It was completely at a disadvantage because it could not compete with the Allies for both material and human resources.

Photo Credit: Public Domain

The 369th Infantry


The United States remained neutral for most of the War until it became apparent that a side had to be chosen. So, America enters WWI in 1917. Both Black and White men were drafted by the US Army to serve in WWI. Because the military was segregated, Black soldiers served in separate units. More than 380,000 African Americans served in Army. Most of them were required to either build roads or dig ditches. However, about 42,000 were active in combat. The most famous unit was the 369th Infantry. They were nicknamed the “Harlem Hellfighters.” In the end, the 369th Infantry suffered 1,500 casualties in heavy fighting. [A moment of silence for these brave men.]

Let’s note the GREATNESS of BLACKNESS, shall we?

*The Harlem Hellfighters spent 191 day in combat, longer than ANY OTHER American unit in the War.
*They NEVER gave up a foot of captured ground.
*They often ADVANCED FASTER through German lines than nearby French troops.
*They were the MOST DECORATED American unit.
*171 members were awarded French Criox de Guerre medal for BRAVERY.

An Honorable Mention…

A soldier of this Infantry, Henry Johnson, fought off a German raiding party of 12 soldiers. Under intense fire, he and a fellow soldier were badly wounded. Johnson engaged in hand-to-hand combat armed with ONLY his knife until help arrived. In 2015, President Obama posthumously awarded Johnson the Medal of Honor.

It’s hard to believe that African-Americans fought in a war that was originally an European war in nature. It’s further hard to believe that Africans fought to defend America as they fought for Europeans who were adamant about robbing their homeland, the Motherland…..while America treated Black soldiers as less than citizens. (Yes, the audacity and the hypocrisy is so real).

As Dre’ stated on the latest of Black’ish:

“I love this country, even when it didn’t love me back!” ~Anthony Anderson (as Andre Johnson)

The Scramble for Africa Activity Freebie


As a result, Africa looks much different today than it did at the beginning of the the 20th Century. Visit to download a map of what Africa looked like before the Berlin Conference and compare that to the map in the “Scramble for Africa” download below.

  • The first page is a chart of the Europeans nations and the African nations they colonized. Use this chart a reference guide for shading the map.
  • Decide on 7 different colors to make a map key.
  • Shade in the African nations by its correct European power to see how much of Africa was occupied and by whom.

As the 20th Century went on, Africa continued to be colonized until the end of the World War II where they began to fight for independence. By 1990, Africa had gained back its independence.

If you rewind history to the time Spain and Portugal began to “interfere” with Africa and fast forward to the end of WWII, you’d count almost 500 years of history where Europe was interrupting Africa in someway whether by conversion, slavery, colonization, etc.  The Second World War ended in 1945. So in 45 years (ending at 1990), Africa got it all back. What a strong people! ~500 years v. 45 years is quite an appalling battle!

Of course, Europe has left its influence on the entire continent, but at least Africa fought back and won.


Download the Scramble to Africa activity as a freebie!