Pan-African History: Political Figures from Africa and the Diaspora since 1787

By Hakim Adi; Marika Sherwood | Go to book overview

Henry Sylvester Williams

(1869-1911)

Henry Sylvester Williams convened the first Pan-African Conference in July 1900 in London. It was the first international gathering of people of African origins and descent and established the phrase and the notion of Pan-Africanism.

Williams was the first son of immigrant parents from Barbados settled in Trinidad. His father Henry was a wheelwright, and thus as a tradesman one of the 'respectable' lower middle class. But as a Black man Williams would have lived a segregated life in the British colony which was completely under British and local planter domination. Young Henry attended the Arouca government primary school and qualified as a teacher at Tranquillity Normal School. This meant little more than having his elementary school certificate and minimal additional training in the 'basics'.

Williams taught in country schools around Trinidad until 1890 when he left for the USA to gain qualifications unobtainable in Trinidad, where even high school education was the preserve of the rich. How he got to the USA (it would have been impossible to save the passage money from his meagre wages) is unknown. Equally unknown are his places of sojourn and activities in North America. The only concrete information is that he studied law at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia for the academic year 1893-4. At that time there were no entrance qualifications for Dalhousie. We have to surmise that he participated in some of the many political meetings taking place at this time in the USA - meetings to protest lynchings, to advocate unity and various forms of action in the face of the retrenchment of the promises of Reconstruction.

Arriving in London in 1896, Williams enrolled at King's College as an evening student taking Latin. The following year he was admitted to Gray's Inn to prepare for legal qualifications. As the entrance examinations for Gray's Inn included Latin, again we have to surmise that he might have taken some college courses which included Latin while in the USA.

Williams earned his living as an official lecturer for the Temperance Society. In 1898 he married Agnes, daughter of Capt. Francis Powell of Gillingham, Kent, despite the captain's objections to his colour. The couple were to have five children.

Williams lectured on colonial issues on many platforms around Britain and in Ireland. He was, for example, one of the hundred or so lecturers speaking at the series on 'Empire' sponsored by the South Place Ethical Society in 1895-8. There he criticised Britain's administration of Trinidad and asked for representative government, free and compulsory education and higher wages. In 1899 he succeeded

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Pan-African History: Political Figures from Africa and the Diaspora since 1787
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • Dusé Mohamed Ali 1
  • Further Reading 6
  • Ahmed Ben Bella 7
  • Edward Wilmot Blyden 11
  • Main Publications 15
  • Amilcar Lopes Cabral 16
  • Aimé Césaire 20
  • Quobna Ottobah Cugoano 26
  • Constance Cummings-John 29
  • Further Reading 33
  • Martin Robinson Delany 34
  • Further Reading 39
  • Cheikh Anta Diop 40
  • Main Publications 43
  • Frederick Douglass 44
  • W.E.B. Du Bois 48
  • Further Reading 52
  • Olaudah Equiano 53
  • Main Publications 56
  • Nathaniel Akinremi Fadipe 57
  • Frantz Fanon 64
  • Amy Ashwood Garvey 69
  • Marcus Garvey 76
  • Joseph Ephraim Casely Hayford 82
  • Main Publications 85
  • James Africanus Beale Horton 86
  • W. Alphaeus Hunton 90
  • C.L.R. James 95
  • Main Publications Not Cited in the Text (London Editions) 99
  • Claudia Jones 100
  • Martin Luther King Jr 105
  • Toussaint L'Ouverture 109
  • Patrice Émery Lumumba 113
  • Main Publications 116
  • Ras T. Makonnen 117
  • Malcolm X 123
  • Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela 129
  • Further Reading 133
  • Harold Moody 134
  • Jamal Abd Al-Nasir [Nasser] 138
  • Further Reading 142
  • Francis Nwia Kofi Kwame Nkrumah 143
  • Julius Kambarage Nyerere 147
  • George Padmore 152
  • Paul Leroy Robeson 159
  • Walter Rodney 163
  • Further Reading 168
  • Léopold Sédar Senghor 169
  • Further Reading 173
  • Ladipo Felix Solanke 174
  • Sékou Ahmed Touré 177
  • I.T.A. Wallace-Johnson 181
  • Further Reading 184
  • Eric Williams 185
  • Henry Sylvester Williams 190
  • Index 195
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