Much of his early education came from Catholic missionaries and he initially decided to pursue a career in teaching. He taught at elementary schools along the coast, but felt a need to further his education in the United States. Nkrumah left for America in 1935 where he attended Lincoln University and the University of Pennsylvania. He obtained degrees in economics, sociology, education, theology, and philosophy.
A decade after venturing to America, Nkrumah relocated to Europe to earn a PhD from the London School of Economics. He got involved with anti-colonialist and black-nationalist organizations in addition to publishing controversial papers that advocated for African independence and unity. He helped established the Pan African Congress in 1945 and was in strong opposition against colonialism in Africa.
In 1947, Nkrumah made his return to the Gold Coast and caught the attention of Ghanaian politician J. B. Danquah. The two connected and Nkrumah was hired to serve as general secretary of the United Gold Coast Convention. However, by 1949 Nkrumah left the convention in pursuit of his own political party. He founded the Convention People’s Party (CPP) on the premise of self-government.
As head of the CPP, Nkrumah led a variety of protest against British rule and in favor of self-government. His protests led to his arrest by the British authorities in 1950, and he was released the following year. After his release, he was elected prime minister in 1952 due to the CPP’s victory in the general election. While serving in the role of prime minister, he led campaigns for independence until it was achieved in 1957.
He established a new form of government to solidify the Republic of Ghana, and found allies in other countries such as Mali and Guinea. Nkrumah and other African leaders formed the Organization of African Unity to help establish a league of African states. In his efforts to unify Africa and restore Ghana, he carried a reputation for suppressing political opposition. In 1961, he appointed himself as the absolute head of the CPP and outlawed other political parties. His reign as supreme ruler did not last long because his government was overthrown in 1966.
Nkrumah spent the remainder of his life in exile and died in Romania on April 27, 1972.