The Academy began as an Academy of Learning in 1959; two years after Ghana had attained independence from colonial rule. It started with 20 foundation members, including the President himself, who was the Chairman. The foundation members were chosen on the basis of recommendations by a small working party. At the time it was established, the Academy was the first in Black Africa.

On 21 November 1959 the Governor General, the Earl of Listowell, signed an instrument of incorporation. On 27th November 1959, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, at the Great Hall of the University College of Ghana, formally inaugurated the Academy. Prince Philip became the first President of the Academy, and Dr Nkrumah its Chairman. Since Dr Nkrumah was also the Head of State, meetings of the Academy were held in the Flagstaff House. A temporary office near the Ghana Law School was used for purely administrative work.

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