Henry Sylvester Williams

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Henry Sylvester Williams

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Henry Sylvester Williams

  1. 1. Page 1 of 6Henry Sylvester WilliamsFounder of the Pan-African Association (1897) and First Pan-AfrikanCongress (1900) Henry Sylvester Williams (February 15, 1869 – March 26, 1911[1]) was a lawyer, councillor and writer. He was a prominent Trinidadian in the late 19th and early 20th century. Most notably, he was known for his involvement in the Pan- African Movement. Arriving in Britain in 1896, the Trinidadian formed the African Association which was to challenge paternalism, racism and imperialism. He stated that "the time has come when the voice of Black men should be heard independently in their own affairs".Text from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Sylvester-WilliamsHistorical NotesThe major works on him remain the biographies written by late Trinidadian journalist OwenMathurin and Professor James R Hooker of the Department of History, Michigan StateUniversity.Williams was born in 1869 in Arouca. As a young man he went to North America to further hiseducation, and also to Canada.Organizing the first Pan African conference was a unique achievement for which Williams isgiven little credit today. When he formed the African Association, as it was first called, one of itsaims was to "promote and protect the interests of all subjects claiming African descent, wholly orin part, in British colonies and other places especially Africa, by circulating accurate informationon all subjects affecting their rights and privileges as subjects of the British Empire, by directappeals to the Imperial and local Governments."Henry Sylvester WilliamsFounder of the Pan-African Association (1897) and First Pan-Afrikan Congress (1900)
  2. 2. Page 2 of 6Williams influenced W. E. B. Du Bois, who participated in the 1900 conference and who hascome to be known as the father of modern Pan-Africanism. His famous Address to the Nationswith its prophetic statement "the problem of the 20th century is the problem of the colour line"came to be regarded as the defining statement of the conference. But the idea for the conferenceand the association came from Williams.There is a slight difference of opinion as to the month in which Williams was actually born. Thelate journalist Owen Mathurin, in his book Henry Sylvester Williams and The Origins Of ThePan African Movement 1869 - 1911, puts the date at St Valentines Day (14 February), 1869.Hooker, based on interviews with the son (Henry F.S. Williams) and daughter (Agnes W Burns),puts the date at March, 1869. His father Bishop Williams was a wheelwright from Barbados. Hismothers name was Elizabeth. Williams attended the Arouca School which at the time was run bya Chinese Trinidadian known as Stoney Smith.His experiences turned him into a devoted Pan Africanist.Early careerIronically though, he loved, married and had children with a white English woman.He started off his working life at age 17, becoming a teacher with a Class III Certification, and in1887 was posted to the government school in San Fernando. This was significant, becauseaccording to the records he was one of only three teachers with certificates in that year. A yearlater he was the only certified teacher at the school in Canaan, just south of San Fernando; andthe following year he was transferred to San Juan, where he remained until he left Trinidad in1891. A cultured man, he was also qualified to teach singing and played the piano regularly.An interesting point is that in January 1890 Williams became a founding member of the TrinidadElementary Teachers Union. The feature address was given by Chief Justice Sir John Gorrie, wasin favour of reform in government and was constantly at odds with the white ruling class. Hefrequently gave judgments against the establishment and was so beloved by the man in the streetthat he was known as "Papa Gorrie".He exhorted the teachers to act as professionals. This is a free country, he reminded them, even ifit is a Crown Colony. Gorrie undoubtedly would have influenced his thinking.Around that time as well, one of Williams acquaintances, a coloured lawyer named EdgarMaresse Smith, petitioned the Governor to declare August 1 a holiday for the celebration ofEmancipation. Robinson did not support it but Gorrie did.Even at that time, there was in Trinidad a highly-educated, articulate and race-conscious group ofblack men, among them John Jacob Thomas, Maresse Smith, Mzumbo Lazare, C E Petioni, theReverend Phillip Henry Douglin. Thomas particularly was famous for his book FroudacityHenry Sylvester WilliamsFounder of the Pan-African Association (1897) and First Pan-Afrikan Congress (1900)
  3. 3. Page 3 of 6(1889) in which he refuted and questioned the view espoused by Oxford historian JamesAnthony Froude that black people could not be entrusted with self-government. Thomass ideascertainly inspired Williams.Williams obtained a law degree at Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, and at KingsCollege London before going on to practice as a barrister in South Africa from 1903 to 1905, thefirst black man to do so. He practiced around the same time as Mahatma Gandhi practiced as alawyer. On his return to London, he became involved in municipal politics and won a seat on theMarylebone Borough Council in November 1906. He and John Archer became among the firstpeople of African descent to be elected to public office in Britain.He wrote to newspapers and journals on matters touching on Pan-African interests and lecturedpublicly on related topics—a series of activities which led to his organizing the first Pan-AfricanConference in 1900 and becoming its first General Secretary.He returned to Trinidad in 1908 where he rejoined the bar and practiced until he died four yearslater.Middle of LifeWilliams wanted to get ahead; Teaching did not pay well (the salary was 83 pounds per annum).But then as even now, especially as he had not attended either of the two prestige boys schools—Royal College or St Marys he had to go abroad. Most likely he did so in 1891 for he is listed inthe register of teachers in that year. A group of friends took up a collection for him dated July 10.So he went first to New York, but that city in 1891 was for a black man a poor prospect. He whohad been a school-master in the country of his birth could only get work shining shoes. Hemoved in 1893 to Dalhousie University, in Halifax, Nova Scotia again his experience was therewas not happy and he did not graduate. In 1895, he went to London and entered Kings CollegeLondon, but although it is known he studied there, there is no record of his enrolment at thattime.In his book on the life of Williams, Owen Mathurin notes "Williams was not as fortunate assome of his fellow Trinidadians who had come to study for professions at the expense of wealthyparents or as young winners of a government scholarship who received singularremittances."[page needed]It was therefore not until 1897 he enrolled as a student of Grays Inn to read for the bar. There hesatisfied the entrance requirements by passing a preliminary examination in Latin, English andHistory.During this time Williams earned some money through lecturing for the Church of EnglandTemperance Society. This took him to all parts of the British Isles speaking under the auspices ofHenry Sylvester WilliamsFounder of the Pan-African Association (1897) and First Pan-Afrikan Congress (1900)
  4. 4. Page 4 of 6parish churches. He also lectured on thrift for the National Thrift Society whose chairman, DrGreville Walpole, wrote that Williams "heroic struggle to make ends meet won his admirationbecause the little he was able to earn by his lectures simply defrayed the cost of living."[pageneeded]Things had begun to move in the then 29-year-old Williams life. He was friendly with 32-year-old Agnes Powell who worked as a secretary with the Temperance Society. She was the eldest ofa family of three sons and four daughters of Captain Francis Powell of Kent.He was prominent in local Masonic and Conservative political circles. They married in 1898 inthe face of the strongest opposition of her father who refused to give his consent and thereafterrefused to receive him. They had five children; the first Henry Francis Sylvester was born thefollowing year.Pan-African Movement DevelopmentSome time after June 1897 Williams formed what he first called the African Association, andlater the Pan African Association. Williams good friend, Trinidad attorney Muzumbo Lazare,who at the time was in London taking part in Queen Victorias 60th anniversary celebrations asan officer of Trinidad Light Infantry Volunteers also met Kinloch and was appalled at thehorrible treatment the Africans were receiving.The meeting of these minds resulted in the formation of the Association and Williams gave hisfirst address as honorary secretary in the common room at Grays Inn.Some English people felt the Association would not last three months but by 1900 Williams wasready to hold the first Pan-African Conference (subsequent gatherings were known asCongresses). The three-day conference took place on July 23, 24, and 25 with delegatescomprising "men and women of African blood and descent" from West and South Africa, theWest Indies, the United States and Liberia.After this Williams set about spreading the word and he embarked on lecture tours to set upbranches in Jamaica, Trinidad and the United States. On June 28, 1901 the Trinidad branch ofthe Pan African Association was formed with branches in Naparima, Sangre Grande, Arima,Manzanilla, Tunapuna, Arouca and Chaguanas. He spent two months here and after his departurefor the US even more local branches were formed.But after this the profile of the Association suffered because he was not able to give it his fullattention. On his return to London he finished his bar exams and went like Mahatma Gandhi topractice in South Africa where he stayed from 1903 to 1905. Williams was the first black man tobe admitted to the bar in the Cape Colony.Henry Sylvester WilliamsFounder of the Pan-African Association (1897) and First Pan-Afrikan Congress (1900)
  5. 5. Page 5 of 6 Mr. Sylvester Williams was admitted as a barrister in the Supreme Court of Cape Colony lastmonth. He is a West Indian. He was educated for the most part at Dalhousie University Canada,where he spent eight years and took his degree. Afterwards he became a member of Grays Inn,London. He has practised for several years in London, mainly at the Old Bailey. - Indian OpinionNov 12, 1903.He knew that non-whites were badly treated, but still he took this step. He was soon agitating forthe rights of blacks. He also presided over the opening of a coloured preparatory school staffedby West Indians. He was eventually boycotted by the Cape Law Society for it was felt he was"preaching seditious doctrines to the natives against the white man".Return to LondonOn his return to London, Williams decided to run for public office as he felt there should be anAfrican spokesman in Parliament and his South African experience had given him theknowledge he needed to speak competently on these affairs. The blacks and coloureds were "mypeople" and on his arrival he gave the Colonial Office his views. "We should not be deprived ofequal justice because of the color of our skins," he said.Williams did not make it to Parliament but was elected to the Marylebone Borough Council in1906. However, service as a councillor did not take him away from his interest in and devotionto Africa. He became involved with Liberian affairs and went there in 1908 at the invitation ofPresident Barclay. He died on March 26, 1911, at the age of forty-two.Recent eventsThe University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad & Tobago held a conference on‘Henry Sylvester Williams and Pan-Africanism: A Retrospection and Projection’ on 7–12January 2001.He was named 16th on a recent list of the 100 Great Black Britons.BibliographyWiki letter w.svg This section is empty. You can help by adding to it.ReferencesHenry Sylvester Williams Biography | Encyclopedia of World BiographyLinksHenry Sylvester WilliamsFounder of the Pan-African Association (1897) and First Pan-Afrikan Congress (1900)
  6. 6. Page 6 of 6http://www.mainlib.uwi.tt/oprepweb/notes.html Works by or about Henry Sylvester-Williams in libraries (WorldCat catalog)Henry Sylvester WilliamsFounder of the Pan-African Association (1897) and First Pan-Afrikan Congress (1900)

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