Kwame Nkrumah’s loyal and long-standing literary executive, June Milne passed away on 9 May 2018 at the age of 98. Of Australian origin, June was a staunch Pan-Africanist and committed to Nkrumah and ensuring his prolific writings were published. As Nkrumah grew ill in Guinea-Conakry where he lived following the coup of 24 February 1966 that ousted him from power, he wrote his will entrusting June Milne with the publication of all his writings. She took up this task with utmost quiet and steely diligence for almost 50 years.
I got to know June soon after she published Kwame Nkrumah: The Conakry Years: His Life and Letters in 1990, which I reviewed, and we became friends. As I embarked on my doctoral research on Nkrumah in 1998, she was immensely supportive to the extent that she opened her home to me during the decade of the 2000s. I poured through some of the materials she had rescued from Guinea-Conakry and had in her private collection in her beautiful detached home in North London.
June welcomed me and other Pan-Africanists on several occasions to her abode. She was always generous in her hospitality as well as in gifts of books that stimulated my thinking. June was also generous in her time and attention to me.
Milne and her husband Van Milne were dedicated to publishing the works of African political and literary figures. Van Milne died on 20 December 2005 at the age of 85 and helped found the Heinemann African Writers Series in which the novelists Chinua Achebe, Cyprian Ekwensi, Wole Soyinka and Ngugi wa Thiong’o were given an international platform.
Privately, June told me that she wished ideally that Nkrumah’s Conakry papers could be housed in Africa but the realities of poor state funding for the preservation and proper documentation of archival material in Africa, encouraged her to hand over some of the materials to the Moorland-Spingarn Center at Howard University in Washington DC, where they remain to this day. As one of America’s fine historically black colleges and universities – it is an equally appropriate place for such documents and considering that Nkrumah believed that: “All peoples of African descent whether they live in North or South America, the Caribbean, or in any other part of the world are Africans and belong to the African nation” – It is likely that Nkrumah would have approved of the choice of Howard University. Whilst the great Amilcar Cabral spoke at Nkrumah’s funeral of “the cancer of betrayal” – which referred to the coup d’état that overthrew Nkrumah, June expressed to me personally on at least two occasions that she suspected that Nkrumah’s cancer was engineered by neo-colonial and imperialist forces.
As Nkrumah required little sleep, his energetic mind allowed him to write over 15 books that were published by Panaf Books that was set up in 1968 by Nkrumah and June managed the London office at 89 Fleet Street. With June’s retirement from Panaf in 1987, the work continues under the management of S. S. and E. R. Kakembo.
In the pages of The Conakry Years, one gets a glimpse of the working relationship between June and Nkrumah. She was responsive not only to Nkrumah’s need for “Cadbury chocolates” and other eateries, but his frequent requests for many books that shaped his thinking and writing, as well attending meticulously to his manuscripts. Since June was an historian by training and had received a first honours degree in History, she was therefore well suited to be Nkrumah’s literary executrix.
Whilst some of the reserved English character may have rubbed off on June over the years she spent her life in Britain, she always had a spark in her eye when she spoke to me about Nkrumah. She would often say to me in an eager tone of voice: “A united Africa is the only way!”
Very few are aware of the commitment of June to Panaf Books as well as her efforts to preserve Nkrumah’s papers from Conakry – particularly as June bitterly recalled how the coup plotters destroyed much of Nkrumah’s personal correspondence and papers in his office in Flagstaff House. With an academic background in history, such material was precious to June who had a deep understanding of the historical worthiness of such material.
Perhaps no other African head of state has left such a prodigious work as Nkrumah. Therefore, June Milne is to be highly commended for this endeavour in continuing to publish Nkrumah’s works, for his thinking remains available for historical posterity and for future generations to realise his ambition of a Union Government for Africa in which the ordinary people of Africa will be in control of the resources of Africa.
Farewell indeed June Milne.
* Dr. Ama Biney is a scholar-activist and Pan-Africanist living in London, United Kingdom.