Henry Sylvester Williams

(1869—1911) pan-Africanist

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(1869–1911). Founder of the African Association, which held the first major Pan-African Conference in 1900. Born in Arouca in Trinidad, Williams qualified as a teacher and taught until 1890, when he left for North America. Little is known of his time there but he arrived in England in 1896, studied law, and married an Englishwoman, Agnes Powell. He lectured for the Temperance Society and on colonial topics. He formed the African Association, mainly with fellow West Indians, and organized the Conference in London in July 1900. Its aims were to secure ‘the full rights and promote [the] business interests’ of all Africans. Encouraged initially by Booker T. Washington, it was attended by W. E. B. DuBois, Washington's rival. DuBois was to call the second conference at the end of the First World War. His hand can be seen in its final declaration that the problem of the 20th century was the ‘problem of the colour line’. Williams visited the West Indies to publicize its aims, founded a monthly journal, The Pan-African, but this and the Association were both dead by 1903. Called to the Bar in 1902, he left for South Africa, being admitted to the Cape Town Bar, and argued vigorously for equal rights. He returned to England in 1905, continued his campaigning, and in 1906 was elected to Marylebone Council. By 1908 he had left with his wife and children for Trinidad, where he practised law, but ill health curbed his political activities and he died in March 1911.

From The Oxford Companion to Black British History in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: British History.

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