By the 1880s the post-slavery institutionalization of national oppression and economic exploitation of people of African descent was well underway in the United States.
Although a series of presidential orders, constitutional amendments and legislative measures enacted during 1862-1875 sought to breakdown the legal basis for the enslavement of African people, these actions were restricted by the entrenched interests of both the militarily defeated Southern planters and the emerging Northern industrialists, the two factions of the American ruling class which fought bitterly between 1861-65 for dominance over the economic system which would determine the future of society for the remaining decades of the 19th century.
President Abraham Lincoln, who was assassinated at the conclusion of the Civil War in April 1865, had no definitive plan for a post-slavery reconstruction of republican democracy as it related to African people. The Emancipation Proclamation was essentially a war document designed to undermine the political and economic basis of the South and its secessionist aims designed to preserve slavery as a system of exploitation, oppression and social containment.
The 13th Amendment to the Constitution passed in 1865 declared that involuntary servitude was prohibited unless carried out against people who are incarcerated. Nonetheless, state laws passed by the planter class in the readmitted Confederate states were designed to reinstitute slavery just the same through the mass criminalization and imprisonment of African labor power.
In 1868, the 14th Amendment was passed by Congress ostensibly to grant Africans the rights of citizenship through the application of due process, equal treatment under the legal system and access to public facilities. Later in 1870, the 15th Amendment was drafted and passed to enshrine the right to vote for African men as well as to hold public office.
In a general sense the process of the reversal of the gains of Federal Reconstruction began in the aftermath of the 1876 elections where a split within the electorate created the necessity for the Hayes-Tilden Compromise. The Republican Party candidate Rutherford B. Hayes was allowed to take the presidential office in exchange for the withdrawal of federal troops from the South.
Consequently, a process of re-enslavement in fact continued throughout the 1880s to the beginning of the 20th century. Africans resisted the imposition of the black codes and other pseudo-legalistic forms of racial dominance. In response the whites established work camps through penal administration and extra-legal methods such as economic sanctions and lynching.
The Philosophical and Educational Contributions of African American Women
It has been reported that Anna Julia Haywood was born into slavery on August 10, 1858 in Raleigh, North Carolina. Her mother, Hannah Stanley Haywood, was an African woman. The identity of her father was never clear due to the legacy of slavery and the exploitation of African women. Many white slave owners, male members of their families and employees routinely sexually assaulted and exploited African women. The paternity of these offspring was often denied by the perpetrators. These children of African women were subjected to the same degree of discrimination and repression as others who were not of mixed ancestry.
The mother of Anna J. Haywood was said to have been illiterate and therefore encouraged learning for her daughter. By the age of nine, Haywood was attending the St. Augustine’s College, an institution designed for former enslaved Africans. She studied in the fields of math, Greek and philosophy. Overcoming gender barriers, she persisted in excelling in the curriculum exclusively designed for males.
Haywood academic achievements landed her a position as a teacher at the school. She would later marry another instructor named George Cooper, a teacher of Greek and the second African American in North Carolina to be ordained as an Episcopal minister. Haywood took a leave of absence from the education profession for two years until her husband died suddenly.
Returning to her academic pursuits, she would study at Oberlin College in Ohio earning a bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 1884. Three years later in 1887, Cooper completed a master’s degree and returned to teaching math, Greek, Latin and science. She also became a renowned public speaker.
It was in 1892 that Cooper would produce her seminal work entitled “A Voice from the South: By a Black Woman of the South.” The book is considered a milestone in African women’s social and political philosophy.
Undergirding the thesis laid out in the text is the belief that African American women are most capable of achieving higher levels of education. In addition, the education of women and their involvement in public life would make a monumental contribution to not only African American communities but U.S. society as a whole. The harnessing and unleashing of the enlightened power of women would transform historical processes leading to greater awareness of human potentialities.
A chapter in this book entitled “Higher Education of Women”, asserts
“Now I claim that it is the prevalence of the Higher Education among women, the making it a common everyday affair for women to reason and think and express their thought, the training and stimulus which enable and encourage women to administer to the world the bread it needs as well as the sugar it cries for; in short it is the transmitting the potential forces of her soul into dynamic factors that has given symmetry and completeness to the world’s agencies. So only could it be consummated that Mercy, the lesson she teaches, and Truth, the task man has set himself, should meet together: that righteousness, or rightness, man’s ideal,–and peace, its necessary ‘other half,’ should kiss each other.” (Cooper, p. 57)
Nonetheless, the woman question in the U.S. is linked with the problems of racism and national oppression. The African American woman faces discrimination on the basis of national origin as well as gender and social class.
Cooper surmises in “The Voice from the South” on the issue of racial oppression:
“We would not deprecate the fact, then, that America has a Race Problem. It is guaranty of the perpetuity and progress of her institutions, and insures the breadth of her culture and the symmetry of her development. More than all, let us not disparage the factor which the Negro is appointed to contribute to that problem. America needs the Negro for ballast if for nothing else. His tropical warmth and spontaneous emotionalism may form no unseemly counterpart to the cold and calculating Anglo-Saxon. And then his instinct for law and order, his inborn respect for authority, his inaptitude for rioting and anarchy, his gentleness and cheerfulness as a laborer, and his deep-rooted faith in God will prove indispensable and invaluable elements in a nation menaced as America is by anarchy, socialism, communism, and skepticism poured in with all the jail birds from the continents of Europe and Asia. I believe with our own Dr. Crummell that ‘the Almighty does not preserve, rescue, and build up a lowly people merely for ignoble ends.’ And the historian of American civilization will yet congratulate this country that she has had a Race Problem and that descendants of the black race furnished one of its largest factors.” (pp. 173-4)
Laying the groundwork for broader intervention in the international situation, Cooper later addressed the World Congress of Representative Women in May 1893. The event was held in conjunction with the World Columbian Exposition (the Chicago World Fair). There were 81 meetings held on the conditions of women spoken to by 500 women from 27 different countries.
This World’s Congress of Representative Women was organized, funded and publicized through the women’s branch of the World’s Congress Auxiliary. This section of the Chicago gathering was directed by the President of the Women’s Auxiliary Bertha Honoré Palmer, the wife of wealthy Chicago retailer Potter Palmer. The men’s section of the Auxiliary ran seventeen departments and convened over 100 panels including discussions related to political, social and technical affairs. The women’s division organized one phase of the event. Out of all the congresses activities held by men at the World’s Columbian Exposition, the World’s Congress of Representative Women attained the largest attendance.
A number of leading African American women presented papers at the Congress of Representative Women including Hallie Quinn Brown, who was born in Pittsburg in 1849 to free African parents. She earned a bachelor’s degree at Wilberforce University in Ohio. Brown later went on to teach and administer at Allen University in South Carolina and Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. She would become a professor at Wilberforce.
Brown was a leading force in the founding of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs (NACWC). The organization grew out of a merger of other similar groups concerned with women’s suffrage, an end to lynching and the end of racial oppression.
Other African American women presenters were Fannie Barrier Williams, born in 1855 in New York State. Barrier Williams earned a bachelor’s degree from Brockport College, a division of the State University. Despite her educational achievements for the period, she was subjected to severe racial discrimination.
Barrier Williams was an advocate for the social and political advancement of African American people through community activism, professional achievement and the acquisition of the vote for women. She would marry S. Laing Williams, an attorney, and they later settled in the city of Chicago.
At the World Congress of Representative Women in Chicago, Williams presented a paper entitled “The Intellectual Progress of the Colored Women of the United States Since the Emancipation Proclamation.” She also delivered a paper to the World Parliament of Religions entitled “What Can Religion Further Do to Advance the condition of the American Negro?”
In the address to the World Parliament of Religions, she decried the segregation of churches and spoke on the ability of sacred institutions to bring about change within American society.
She was a co-founder of the National League of Colored Women, which eventually became the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs (NACWC).
Fanny Jackson Coppin also spoke at the gathering. She was born into slavery in 1837 in Washington, D.C. and later attended Oberlin College where she became an educator. Later she would be employed as a teacher in Philadelphia where she instructed in Greek, Latin and mathematics.
Another African American woman who spoke at the 1893 World Congress was Sarah Jane Woodson Early. She was born as a free African in 1825 in Ohio where her parents had settled after being liberated from slavery. She was educated at Oberlin College and later taught at Wilberforce, becoming the first African person to teach at a Historically Black College and University (HBCU).
Woodson Early’s paper delivered at the Chicago Congress was entitled “The Organized Efforts of the Colored Women of the South to Improve Their Condition.” In previous years Early held the position as national superintendent (1888–1892) of the African American section of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). She delivered over 100 lectures in five states. The public speaker authored a biographical sketch of her husband’s life focusing on his liberation from enslavement making a contribution to a number of such narratives published after the conclusion of the Civil War.
Finally, in relationship to the World Congress of Representative Women, a paper presented by Frances E.W. Harper entitled “Woman’s Political Future”, was one of the most notable. Born in 1825 in Baltimore, Harper was a published poet even during the era of antebellum slavery. She was born a free African but pursued a career of advocacy for the abolition of involuntary servitude and women’s suffrage.
Her speech was indicative of some within the women’s movement including African Americans who also spoke in favor of the need for literacy as a prerequisite to access to the ballot. She was as well an official in the WCTU. The notion of literacy and voting rights would become controversial during the proceeding decades of the 20th century since this was one mechanism utilized to deny the vote to millions of African Americans in the South.
The Reason Why: Interventions by Ida B. Wells and the Role of Oppositional Politics
Although many of the references to educational achievement, economic self-reliance, sobriety, and religious adherence, suggests that the influence of western bourgeois values informed the thinking and organizational approaches to the leading African American women intellectuals and activists, however what must be taken into consideration is the contradiction of the overall social conditions created by the failure of Reconstruction during the previous decades.
A profit-driven system of institutional racism and national oppression required the super-exploitation of the African people. They were systematically denied access to education, adequate wages, quality housing and opportunities within the labor market. The criminalization of the rural and urban communities across the U.S. represented through law-enforcement key aspects of the repressive mechanism which served the capitalist system.
Knowing and acknowledging that there would be in all likelihood no assistance from the federal government and the corporations in regard to alleviating the social conditions of the masses of workers and farmers, African Americans out of necessity were compelled to create their own institutions to foster social reproduction and to ensure survival. Consequently, there was a strong emphasis on self-improvement through education, personal discipline and the adoption of what was perceived societal norms during this period in history.
Nonetheless, the anti-lynching crusader Ida B. Wells would expose the fallacy of the myths of the “criminally-driven over-sexed” Black man who was a threat to the “sanctity of white womanhood.” When Wells wrote in an editorial for her paper the Free Speech and Headlight that in many cases white women sought social relations with African American men she was subjected to threats and the destruction of her offices in Memphis in 1893.
Born in Holly Springs, Mississippi in 1862 as an enslaved African child, Wells parents instilled in her a sense of pride and yearning for education. Her parents died in the late 1870s during the yellow fever epidemic which hit northern Mississippi and Southwest Tennessee.
Wells went to Memphis to live with relatives and became a school teacher in the Shelby County school system. She would file a lawsuit against the Chesapeake, Ohio Railroad Company in 1884 for discrimination after being ejected from a train in Woodstock, Tennessee because she refused to move out of the lady’s coach. Prevailing in the lower courts and winning a judgement, the railroad line appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court which ruled in favor of Chesapeake, Ohio, overturning the settlement won earlier by Wells.
In later years Wells became well known as a public school teacher and newspaper editor. She was eventually relieved of her duties with the school system after criticizing the inferior education provided to African American students.
Wells had protested the lynching of three African American men in Memphis in 1892 whom were guilty of only defending themselves against a lawless white racist mob. A subsequent boycott of the street car services, white-owned businesses and a mass exodus of Black people from Memphis to Oklahoma, served to create the conditions as well for Wells to be driven out of the city.
Wells intervened in opposing the terms under which the Columbian Exposition was held in Chicago. African American organizations, churches and newspapers had called for a boycott of the World’s Fair in 1893. The community was demanding positions on the board of directors and planning committees designing the project. These legitimate requests were rejected by the ruling class interests involved in the project. Eventually some concessions were made although many remained dissatisfied and refused to attend.
Prior to the beginning of the Chicago World’s Fair, a document was edited and published by Wells with the majority contributions written by her along with other sections by Frederick Douglass, Ferdinand L. Barnett and I. Garland Penn. This attack on the World’s Fair was released as a pamphlet entitled “The Reason Why: The Colored American is not in the World’s Columbian Exposition, the Afro-American’s Contribution to Columbian Literature.”
In the preface to The Reason Why, Wells notes that: “Columbia has bidden the civilized world to join with her in celebrating the four-hundredth anniversary of the discovery of America, and the invitation has been accepted. At Jackson Park are shown exhibits of her natural resources, and her progress in the arts and sciences, which would best illustrate her moral greatness has been ignored. The exhibit of the progress made by a race in 25 years of freedom as against 250 years of slavery, would have been the greatest tribute to the greatness and progressiveness of American institutions which could have been shown the world. The colored people of this great Republic number eight millions – more than one-tenth the whole population of the United States. They were among the earliest settlers of this continent, landing at Jamestown, Virginia in 1619 in a slave ship, before the Puritans, who landed at Plymouth in 1620.
They have contributed a large share to American prosperity and civilization. The labor of one-half of this country has always been, and is still being done through them. The first credit this country had in its trade with foreign nations was created by productions resulting from their labor. The wealth created by their industry has made it possible for them to make the most of their progress in education, art, science, industry and invention.”
Wells continues saying:
“Those visiting the World’s Columbian Exposition who know these facts, especially foreigners will naturally ask: Why are not the colored people, who constitute so large an element of the American population, and who have contributed so much to American greatness, more visibly Present and better represented in this World’s Exposition? Why are they not taking part in this glorious celebration of the four hundredth anniversary of the discovery of their country? Are they so dull and stupid as to feel no interest in this great event? As far as possible, this exhibition has been published.”
Throughout the pages of this pamphlet, documented proof of the exclusion, exploitation and repression of the African American people are laid out for examination. Wells had returned from a speaking tour of England, Wales and Scotland in 1893 while the World’s Fair was already underway. It appears in the existing evidence that Wells did not address the participants of the Columbian Exposition. However, through the publication of the document her voice was heard loud and clear.
In highlighting the dangerous situation facing the African American people, Wells recounted many extra-judicial mob killings throughout the U.S. She writes on the March 1892 atrocities against the three men which were never punished by the courts.
Taken directly from chapter four entitled “Lynch Law”, Wells says: “A lynching equally as cold-blooded took place in Memphis, Tennessee, March, 1892. Three young colored men in an altercation at their place of business, fired on white men in self-defense. They were imprisoned for three days, then taken out by the mob and horribly shot to death. Thomas Moss, Will Stewart and Calvin McDowell, were energetic business men who had built up a flourishing grocery business. Their business had prospered and that of a rival white grocer named Barrett had declined. Barrett led the attack on their grocery which resulted in the wounding of three white men. For this cause were three innocent men barbarously lynched, and their families left without protectors. Memphis is one of the leading cities of Tennessee, a town of seventy-five thousand inhabitants! No effort whatever was made to punish the murderers of these three men.
It counted for nothing that the victims of this outrage were three of the best known young men of a population of thirty thousand colored people of Memphis. They were the officers of the company which conducted the grocery: Moss being the President, Stewart the Secretary of the Company and McDowell the Manager. Moss was in the Civil Service of the United States as a carrier, and all three were men of splendid reputation for honesty, integrity and sobriety. But their murderers, though well-known, have never been counted, were not even troubled with a preliminary examination.”
Douglass although submitting an article for The Reason Why, was in attendance and delivered an address. Within those aspects of the Exposition which focused on the affairs of African people some administrative control was relinquished. The formerly self-emancipated enslaved African turned abolitionist and propagandist in opposition to slavery as early as the 1840s, Douglass, was placed as the administrator over the Colored American Day.
Despite the concessions related to Douglass, an article on this opposition to the Columbian Exposition written by Christopher Robert Reed of Roosevelt University in 1999 emphasizes the role of Wells and others recounting: “Nonetheless, some prominent African Americans declined to appear, such as the renowned coloratura soprano, Sissieretta Jones, known as the Black Patti. Whether it was a matter of contractual misunderstanding or support for the boycott, she nonetheless canceled her appearance. Ida B. Wells stayed away from the celebration but retroactively reversed her assessment both of the propriety of staging the event and of its value to racial progress. Originally motivated by a whimsical impulse, it appeared she responded to favorable white newspaper accounts to the event, especially in the Inter Ocean, by later seeking out Douglass at the Haytian Pavilion. There, she apologized to the “grand old man” for placing her youthful exuberance before the qualities of racial leadership he had displayed in deciding to participate. African Methodist Episcopal Bishops Benjamin Arnett and Henry McNeal Turner absented themselves from the event while two of the organizing committee’s vice presidents also avoided the event. Former U. S. Representative John Mercer Langston skipped the event after having urged Chicago audiences previously that they should follow his lead.”
The Chicago Congress on Africa in 1893
During the course of the time in which the Columbia Exposition was being held, there was another historical gathering which took place known as the Chicago Congress on Africa. This gathering is referred to by some as the First Pan-African Conference or Congress in world history. The event took place in several areas of the city of Chicago including venues associated with the Exposition and others which were not.
It was during this period that the rise of colonialism in Africa was intensifying at a rapid rate. Just nine years before the Berlin Conference was held in Germany which divided the continent up as political spheres of economic influence by Europe and the U.S.
The impact of the Atlantic Slave Trade from the 15th through the second half of the 19th centuries had set the stage for the rise of colonialism in Africa, Central America, South America and the Caribbean. However, there was a long time commitment among African Americans to either repatriate to the continent or to play some role in its reconstruction from slavery and colonialism.
This was reflected in the mass outpouring surrounding the Chicago Congress on Africa. Reed illustrates:
“From August 14, 1893, to August 21, 1893 probably the largest number of African American participants in a world’s fair event assembled as part of the Congress on Africa, or as it was sometimes referred to, the Congress on African Ethnology, or the Congress on the Negro. Its eight-day length included a citywide Sunday session that entered the sanctuaries and pulpits of scores of churches, so thousands of interested church congregants listened to information on the status of the global African population. Identified fully for what it was, the Congress on Africa combined the intellectual with the ideological, religious, philosophical and scientific to formulate an agenda facilitating, in effect, a dualistic American African public policy on the status of continental and Diaspora Africans.”
Well known political figures such as Edward Wilmot Blyden, a repatriated African born in the Caribbean and living in Liberia, along with Booker T. Washington of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, had been anticipated to attend and present papers, however neither appeared at the gathering. Nevertheless, there were papers delivered on “The African in America”; “Liberia as a Factor in the Progress of the Negro Race”; and a very challenging presentation entitled “What Do American Negroes Owe to Their Kin Beyond the Sea.”
Bishop Henry McNeal Turner of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church was joined with Bishop Alexander Walters of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion (AMEZ) and Alexander Crummell of the Episcopal Church. Turner during the Chicago Congress advanced the notions of the African origins of humanity and civilization.
He also strongly advocated for the repatriation of Africans to the continent as a means of exercising self-determination and nation-building. Turner had stated several months prior to the Congress that France was enhancing its territorial ambitions towards Africa, particularly Liberia, being a major factor in the colonization of the continent.
This Congress provided the impetus for another Pan-African Conference held in Atlanta, Georgia two years later in 1895. This gathering was sponsored by the Steward Missionary Foundation for Africa of the Gammon Theological Seminary. This meeting was attended by John Henry Smyth, who was the minister resident and consul general to Liberia.
In his paper presented to the Atlanta conference, Smyth emphasized that:
“European contact has brought in its train not merely the sacrifice, amid unspeakable horrors, of the lives and liberties of twenty million Negroes for the American market alone, but political disintegration, social anarchy, moral and physical debasements.”
Two years after the Atlanta meeting, the African Association (AA) was formed in Britain on September 24, 1897 led by Barrister Henry Sylvester Williams, who was born in Trinidad. Minkah Makalani of Rutgers University wrote of the AA noting:
“[T]he Trinidadian barrister Henry Sylvester Williams began thinking about a political movement organized around a series of conferences that would draw representatives of the ‘African race from all the parts of the world.’ In September 1897, Williams established the African Association (AA) to ‘encourage a feeling of unity [and] facilitate friendly intercourse among Africans,’ and ‘promote and protect the interests of all subjects claiming African descent, wholly or in part, in British Colonies and other place, especially in Africa.’ Based in London, the AA published studies, news reports, and appeals to ‘Imperial and local governments.’ The AA’s leadership came from throughout the African diaspora: Rev. H. Mason Joseph of Antigua served as chairman; T. J. Thompson of Sierra Leone was deputy chairman, while the South African woman A. V. Kinloch was treasurer. As honorary secretary, Williams quickly directed the African Association into politics. In October of that year, he submitted a petition to Joseph Chamberlain, secretary of state for the colonies, to include a clause in the Rhodesian constitution to protect native Africans’ interests, respect their customs, create industrial schools, and teach “a simple and true Christianity.” News of the African Association’s lobbying British government and members of parliament on behalf of Africans spread throughout the continent and served as the basis for enthusiastic response from Africans toward the organization.”
Alice Kinloch and Addie B. Hutton: Pan-African Congresses From 1900-1927
Inns of Court law students Henry Sylvester Williams of Trinidad and Thomas John Thompson of Sierra Leone are often recognized as the principal organizers of the Pan-African Conference held in London during July 1900. This conference, which is also characterized as the First Pan-African Congress, was attended by Dr. W.E.B. DuBois, the Harvard graduate in history who wrote his Ph.D. dissertation at Harvard in 1896 on the Suppression of the African Slave Trade.
However, the formation of the African Association (AA) which organized the Pan-African Conference of July 1900, was encouraged by the work of a South African woman, Alice V. Kinloch, originally from Natal. It is possible that Kinloch traveled to Britain in 1895 with her mixed race husband Edmund, the offspring of a Scottish man and his Zulu wife. Edmund Kinloch had worked in the mining industry in South Africa.
In 1897, Kinloch met H.R. Fox Bourne, the Secretary of the Aborigines Rights Protection Society (ARPS) and was invited to deliver a lecture on the conditions of African workers in the mining industry in South Africa. A series of lectures were given in early May 1897 and attended by a large audiences’ at the Central Hall, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the Friends’ Meeting House in York, and in Manchester. (David Killingray, South African Historical Journal, Vol. 64, Issue 3, Aug. 2012)
The theme for these discussions was “The Ill treatment of the Natives throughout South Africa, but principally on the Compound System as Obtains throughout the Mining Districts.” Mrs. Kinloch addressed a meeting in Newcastle on May 3, in York on May 4, and the following day in Manchester.
At the Newcastle-upon-Tyne gathering a resolution was passed emphasizing: “that this meeting having heard the statements of the present position from Mrs. Kinloch and Mr. Fox Bourne, calls upon Her Majesty’s Government to take such action as shall effectually stop the cruel and violent measures by which the native races in South Africa and elsewhere are being deprived of their lands and liberty.” Later the same year, Kinloch was invited by Jane Cobden Onwin to address the Writer’s Club in London, where her address, “Are South African Diamonds Worth their Cost?,” was eventually published as a pamphlet by the Labour Press in Manchester under the authorship of A.V. Alexander, her maiden name.
Williams in his correspondence to Harriette Colenso, written in June 1899, he conveys that “The Association is the result of Mrs. Kinloch’s work in England and the feeling that as British subjects we ought to be heard in our own affairs.” After the convening of the Pan-African Conference in 1900, the following year, Williams returned to Trinidad and Emmanuel Lazare, who introduced Williams at a public meeting in Port of Spain, recounted Kinloch’s pivotal role in the founding of the AA.
In an article published in the Quaker weekly, Alice Kinloch acknowledged that
“with some men of my race in this country, I have formed a society for the benefit of our people in Africa … I think the time has come for us to bear some of our responsibilities, and in so doing we will help the Aborigines’ Protection Society. I am trying to educate people in this country in regard to the iniquitous laws made for blacks in South Africa.”
Alice and Edmund Kinloch returned to South Africa in February 1898 and therefore were not present for the Pan-African Conference of 1900. Coming out of the London gathering was a further consolidation of the AA, which changed its name to the Pan-African Association (PAA). The organization published a short-lived journal called The Pan-African.
Two women who did present papers at the 1900 Pan-African Conference were Anna Julia Cooper whose topic was “The Negro Problem in America.” Another woman, Anna H. Jones of Missouri, was a leader in the State chapter of the NACWC. She delivered a paper on “The Preservation of Racial Equality.”
Williams returned to Britain to complete his examinations and was qualified as a lawyer. He practiced in the Cape Colony of South Africa during 1903-1905, becoming the first person of African descent under the colonial system to be admitted to the bar. Having taken a position against the racist colonial system, Williams was eventually banned from practicing law in South Africa and went back to live in Britain where he became involved in electoral politics.
He died in1911 in Trinidad at the relatively young age of 42. Williams’ death would place a damper on the development of the Pan-African Movement. Nevertheless as result of the rise of industrialization and the mass migration it fostered, African people were dislocated and dispersed into many other areas of the world.
The advent of World War I would spark a renewed sense of national consciousness and internationalism. In 1919, following the conclusion of the War and the negotiations surrounding the Treaty of Versailles, DuBois and others reactivated the Pan-African struggle through the convening of the Pan-African Congress in Paris.
Addie Waites Hunton was a central figure in the development of the Pan-African Movement during this period. She was born in 1866 in Norfolk, Virginia to Jesse and Adeline Waites.
Waites earned a high school diploma at the Boston Latin School and in 1889 became the first African American woman to graduate from Spencerian College of Commerce in Philadelphia.
She would marry William Alpheus Hunton, Sr. in 1893. Hunton was a pioneer in the Young Men’s Christian Association’s (YMCA) work among Africans in the U.S.
The family moved to Atlanta, Georgia after their marriage, where Addie worked as a secretary at Clark College. Later in the aftermath of the 1906 race terror leveled against the African American community, the Huntons relocated to New York City. Between the years of 1906-1910, Addie Hunton worked as a staff organizer for the NACWC. In addition, she was a proponent of women’s suffrage advocating in the campaign for the ratification of the 19th amendment which granted the right to vote to white women. Hunton urged leaders in the white women’s movement to also support the abolition of disenfranchisement of African people as a whole in the U.S.
During the U.S. involvement in World War I, which came late towards the end of the imperialist conflagration, Hunt along with Kathryn Johnson, served on behalf of the YMCA in Paris, assisting the hundreds of thousands of African American troops deployed there. Hunton and Johnson published a book about their observations and experiences in France entitled “Two Colored Women With the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) released in 1920.
This book provides first-hand accounts of the horrendous conditions that the African American troops were subjected to during their terms of service in France. There was widespread discrimination by the U.S. armed forces where Black soldiers were routinely denied food, medical treatment and access to public accommodations.
Hunton attended the Pan-African Congress organized by W.E.B. Du Bois in Paris. The event has been labelled the Second Congress by historians. Du Bois requested the intervention of a Senegalese parliamentarian for the French assembly Blaise Diagne in order for the gathering to be held.
According to Du Bois:
“Diagne secured the consent of Clemenceau to our holding a Pan-African Congress, but we then encountered the opposition of most of the countries in the world to allowing delegates to attend. Few could come from Africa; passports were refused to American Negroes and English whites. The Congress therefore, which met in 1919, was confined to those representatives of African groups who happened to be stationed in Paris for various reasons. This Congress represented Africa partially. Of the fifty-seven delegates from fifteen countries, nine were from African countries with twelve delegates. Of the remaining delegates, sixteen were from the United States and twenty-one from the West Indies.” (Andrew G. Paschal, Editor, A W.E.B. Du Bois Reader, 1971, p. 242)
In addition to the participation of Addie W. Hunton, another African American woman, Ida Gibbs Hunt, the daughter of a U.S. diplomat who had been stationed in Madagascar, delivered a paper at the 1919 Congress. Ida Alexander Gibbs was born November 16, 1862 in Victoria, British Columbia in Canada.
Gibbs later attended and earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Oberlin College in Ohio in 1884. She became an instructor at the M Street High School in Washington, D.C. Gibbs retired from teaching after marrying career diplomat William Henry Hunt in 1904.
Although she traveled with her husband in his diplomatic assignments, she continued the activism in the areas of civil rights, women’s affairs and Pan-Africanism. An entry on the Black Past website notes: “In 1905, she joined a handful of black women in founding the first Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) in Washington, D.C. for African Americans. She participated in the Niagara Movement, the Femmes de France, the Bethel Literary Society, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Washington Welfare Association, the Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom, and the Red Cross.” (http://www.blackpast.org/aah/hunt-ida-alexander-gibbs-1862-1957)
This same biography continues saying:
“While traveling abroad with her husband, Ida Gibbs Hunt published various articles and wrote reviews on literary and cultural themes. She also wrote and gave speeches in support of peace, women’s suffrage, and civil rights for African Americans. She was able to promote her ideals internationally, an influence no doubt from her husband and father who had been diplomats. Ida Hunt was the assistant secretary for the Second Pan-African Congress in Paris in 1919. She delivered a paper entitled “The Coloured Races and the League of Nations” at the Third Pan-African Congress in London in 1923 and co-chaired the Conference’s Executive Committee with W.E.B. DuBois. Ida Gibbs Hunt died in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 19, 1957.”
1919 was a tumultuous year in the U.S. as it relates to race relations. A series of race riots occurred with the largest and most deadly being in Chicago, Illinois. African American troops who had served in France were not about to suffer the same indignations as their ancestors. Out of the 1919 disturbances came a plethora of political, cultural and literary outpourings popularly known as the Harlem Renaissance.
Marcus Garvey, the Jamaican-born Pan-African propagandist and organizer, established his headquarters in New York City after coming to the U.S. in 1916. By 1920, his organization, the Universal Negro Improvement Association and the African Communities League (UNIA-ACL) had gained the membership and support of millions throughout the U.S. the Caribbean and Central America.
In 1921, Du Bois sought to organize another Pan-African Congress, known as the second, through a succession of meetings in London, Brussels and Paris. The editor of the Crisis Magazine of the NAACP, worked to build a broader representation for the movement. He would invite people from various geo-political regions of the world to the meetings that did convene in England, Belgium and France during August and September of that year.
At the meeting there were 113 delegates who attended, forty-one of which originated from the African continent, thirty-five from the U.S., twenty-four living in Europe and seven more with Caribbean nationalities. Much emphasis was placed on condemning the atrocities committed by the Belgian colonial authorities in Congo where millions were slaughtered during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
By 1923, Addie W. Hunton had focused her attention on the world peace movement seeing a direct link between the ending of imperialist war and national liberation of the colonial territories as well as the African American people. A secretariat was established in Paris in the aftermath of the 1921 Congress which gained limited success. By 1923, the funding for the Pan-African Movement was largely carried out by the International Women’s Circle for Peace and Foreign Relations which made it possible for Du Bois to travel to London and Lisbon for the holding of the Third Pan-African Congress.
Du Bois sought to hold another Pan-African Congress, considered the fourth, in 1925. However, the venture gained insufficient support for it to be realized. The Circle for Peace and Foreign Relations took up the cause in 1925 pledging to raise the funds for the convening of the Fourth Congress in New York City in August 1927.
Du Bois was forced to admit in 1955 that: “In 1927, American Negro women revived the Congress idea and a fourth Pan-African Congress was held in New York. Thirteen countries were represented, but direct African participation lagged. There were two hundred eight delegates from twenty-two American states and ten foreign countries. Africa was sparsely represented by representatives from the Gold Coast, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria, Chief Amoah II of the Gold Coast, and Anthropologist like Herskovits, then at Columbia, and Mensching of Germany and John Vandercook were on the program.” (Du Bois taken from Pan-Africanism: A Mission in My Life, 1955)
In an article published by the New York Amsterdam News on August 23, it reported: “For the afternoon the Congress considered African Missions, with Coralie Franklin Cook in the chair. Helen Curtis gave the principal address, in which the missionary opportunities were stressed. She believes that the responsibility of Africa’s redemption rests with the Negro race in America. She pleaded that hard economic opportunities and climatic conditions as arresting agents of the native’s progress. She thought that the churches carrying on missionary labors ought to be diligent in sending supplies and money promptly and ought to pay the workers’ living wage.”
The Congress was convened on August 21, 1927 and lasted until the August 24. There was an impressive list of members, hosts and speakers for the event.
Proceedings were held in several churches throughout the city. Thousands were in attendance over the course of four days. Although there were 208 official delegates, mass participation at the venues were estimated at 5,000 people. This was the largest of such Pan-African gathering since the New York UNIA-ACL Convention of 1920 and the Chicago Congress on Africa held in 1893.
Delegates to the Fourth Pan-African Congress passed resolutions and made demands on the imperialist powers. The gathering reaffirmed the manifestos of the previously held Congresses.
The Congress once again upheld the rights of Africans to land, universal suffrage, and quality education. Delegates called for all Africans to be recognized “as civilized men despite differences of birth, race or color.” The participants rejected the U.S. occupation of Haiti as well as the continuing white minority rule in South Africa. They demanded genuine liberation and sovereignty for Egypt, emphasizing that imperialism was incompatible with democracy.
There was support given to the League Against Imperialism and Colonial Oppression which had held a conference in Belgium earlier that year in February. The resolution was motivated by Richard B. Moore, then a lead organizer in the Communist Party in the U.S. The League Against Imperialism and Colonial Oppression was aligned with the Communist International based in Moscow of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and was headed by German Communist Willi Muzenberg.
It would be another eighteen years before the Fifth Pan-African Congress was held in Manchester, England in October 1945. This event ushered in a new phase of anti-colonial militancy leading to the advances in the national independence movements of the late 1940s through the 1970s.
Nonetheless, interest in continental affairs among African Americans and Caribbean Africans would continue during the 1930s, particularly as a result of the Italian invasion of Abyssinia in 1935. Both Communist and Nationalist organizations in the U.S. advocated against the role of Italy in Abyssinia leading to a rebellion in Harlem.
In Britain, C.L.R. James along with George Padmore and Amy Ashwood Garvey, would establish the International African Service Bureau (IASB) in the late 1930s. In the U.S., the Council on African Affairs (CAA) was formed by Paul Robeson, W.E.B. Du Bois and Max Yergan in 1937. Later, William Alpheus Hunton, Jr., the son of Addie W. Hunton, became the executive secretary of the CAA in 1943, working full time for African liberation until the mid-1950s when the CAA was dissolved due to government repression. Hunton would spend several months in prison for refusing to turn over documents to the government seeking to prove that the organization was a front for the Communist Party.
Hunton, who held a Ph.D from New York University, resigned from his academic career at Howard University to devote his complete attention to African solidarity work beginning in 1943. Prompted by the Rand Miners’ strike of 1946, thousands of people were mobilized for a rally at Madison Square Garden in New York in support of the African workers.
In 1957, he published his classic work, “Decision in Africa: Sources of the Current Conflict”, which prefigured the academic work of Walter Rodney of Guyana, whose “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa”, published in 1972 in Tanzania, had a tremendous impact on the overall perspectives of African revolutionaries in relationship to imperialism.
Hunton left the U.S. in 1960 to settle in Guinea-Conakry under the leadership of President Ahmed Sekou Toure, the Secretary General of the Democratic Party of Guinea (PDG). Later he would move to Ghana under the leadership of President Dr. Kwame Nkrumah of the Convention People’s Party (CPP). He joined W.E.B. Du Bois, who had become a citizen of the country, in establishing the Encyclopedia Africana Project in 1962. Hunton left Ghana after the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and U.S. State Department engineered coup against the CPP government in February 1966. He died in Zambia in 1970.
Women played an instrumental role in both the formation of the Pan-African Movement from the late 19th century through the national liberation struggles of the middle to late 20th century. In Ghana, South Africa, Egypt, Guinea, Algeria, Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and other states, women were at the forefront of the independence efforts in the areas of mass mobilization, political education, armed struggle and national reconstruction.
In the U.S., it was the activities of women such as Mamie Till Mobley, Rosa L. Parks, Jo Ann Robinson, Ella Baker, Diane Nash, Fannie Lou Hamer, Septima Clark, Gloria Richardson, among many others, who provided the social impetus for the reemergence of the Civil Rights and Black Power struggles of the 1950s and 1960s. Since the 1960s and 1970s, consciousness related to the essential role of women in popular movements and intellectual culture has grown immensely.
This review of the philosophical and political contributions of women as it relates to the organizational origins of Pan-Africanism from the 1890s to the conclusion of the 1920s provides a glimpse of the significance of these issues. Much more work is needed by scholars, journalists and activists in uncovering and exposing this important history to wider audiences including emerging generations of revolutionaries within the western industrialized states and the broader world.