Tai Solarin: Atheist of Africa

Today is the Day of Solidarity for Black Atheists, launched by African Americans for Humanism and announced by our own Black Skeptics Los Angeles. And amen to that. So I’m putting up something I’ve done (albeit long ago) that’s of interest on this subject, especially since it’s something most people never hear about and never look into, even my most avid fans: my article on the late but famous atheist intellectual and activist, the Nigerian of Nigerians, Tai Solarin (1922-1994).

So famous an atheist he was that you could send a letter addressed to “Tai Solarin, Ikenne, Nigeria,” and the letters would always get to him. He had famous debates with Chinua Achebe in Nigerian newspapers, started a godless school for children (the Mayflower School, whose motto is “Knowledge Is Light,” which is still in operation), and much else besides. He was a social critic, a patriot, and an avid and outspoken defender of nonbelief. He later had a Nigerian university named after him (the Tai Solarin University of Education, which specialized in educating educators, but is now slated for closure, sadly).

Back in college, my sophomore year, I wrote a class paper on him. It’s a pretty basic, sophomore-level paper. But I spent a whole day in the UCLA library reading Nigerian newspapers and whatever else I could find, and I’m told it remains to this day one of the most detailed summaries of his life and work available online. So if you want to celebrate Solidarity with a Black Atheist day, educate yourself about this guy. Because he deserves to be remembered. Check out Tai Solarin: His Life, Ideas, and Accomplishments.

And take note: atheist movements are arising all across Africa now, from Ghana to Uganda (and beyond), and this isn’t the kind of place where it’s exactly “safe” to be an out atheist, much less known as publicly promoting atheism. So African atheists are pretty damn courageous, needless to say. I’ll solidarity that!


  1. gwen says

    Thanks Richard. I’d never heard of Tai Solarin, I was extremely lucky to know 2 outspoken black atheists as a child; my mom and her brother. I will be reading the article.