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Negro Conference


Le 25 mai 1900, Williams described the planning meeting as a "Pan-African Conference", probably the first use of the phrase.

The Pan-African movement

The Pan-African movement has played a significant role in world history during the present century, affecting the New World and Europe as well as Africa. Trinidadians should be proud of the role they have played in this movement. Its originator was a little known Trinidadian, H.S. Williams. He later became over-shadowed by others, such as W.E. Du Bois, but the fact remains that this Negro from Trinidad was historically the founder of the Pan African movement.

Williams was born in Arouca in 1869. His parents were both Barbadians, his father was a wheelwright. So Williams came from the lower-middle class Negro group which was ambitious for its children,anxious to take advantage of the existing educational facilities. It was from this kind of environment that many members of the emerging Negro middle class were to come. Williams was educated at the Arouca Government School, and then went to the Normal School at Woodbrook as a trainee. Primary school teaching was one of the few "respectable" jobs open to the young Negro of small means. Williams taught at various primary schools after he had completed his training.

But the young man was ambitious, and probably restless. He looked beyond the confines of the small, restricted island society. In 1891, he left for the USA, then to Canada, where he apparently studied at Dalhousie University, but he did not graduate. He came to London in 1896, entering Kings College, but his object was to read law. In 1897 he enrolled as a student of Gray’s Inn. In these student days he was always desperately short of cash – a young black student "scrunting" in the great metropolis of the Empire. The next year (1898) Williams married an English girl - an early example of inter-racial unions between West Indians studying abroad and Europeans or North American women – against considerable hostility from her family.

It was as a student that Williams organised the African Association in 1897, of which he was the Honorary Secretary and the moving spirit. Its aims were to encourage links between Africans everywhere, and to promote the interests of all Negroes within the British Empire. The Association got M.P.s to ask questions in Parliament about the conditions of black people in the empire, especially South Africa, and wrote letters to the newspapers.

Williams decided to organise "Negro Conference" for 1900, timed to coincide with an International Exhibition in Paris. Delegates from the British Empire, from the U.S.A. and from non-British Africa were invited. Williams described the planning meeting as a "Pan-African Conference", probably the first use of the phrase. The conference was chaired by Bishop Alexander Walters of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in the USA. W.E. Du Bois attended. The 1900 meeting marks the origin of the Pan African movement.

In 1901 Williams visited Trinidad to organise local branches of the Association. News of his work had preceded him and when he arrived in June 1901, he was enthusiastically received. For the educated Negro Middle class, Williams’ message was one of racial pride and upliftment, which proved very attractive in view of the prevailing anti-African racism of the day. It was educated Negroes like C.P. David, Edgar Maresse Smith and Emmanuel Lazare who responded most enthusiastically.

Williams told the people that they should join the agitation for constitutional change, and that they should form a branch of the Pan African Association to create a united front to win better conditions. He went all over Trinidad addressing meetings. The response was such that a central executive of the Association was set up in Port of Spain andbranches were formed in San Fernando, Chaguanas, Arouca and even very small settlements like Manzanilla and Sangre Grande. Lazare was elected Vice President for Trinidad, and Mrs. Philip John, Secretary of the Central Branch. (It is interesting to note that he encouraged women to take an active part in the movement. Besides Mrs. John, other women were co-opted onto the various committees, and Williams told his audiences that they should place more emphasis on the education of girls.)

The swift formation of these branches, even in the more remote rural districts, indicated that race pride and race unity were strong among Trinidad Negroes at the turn of the century. And the local Association created an awareness of the need for the Trinidad Negroes to support radical political campaigns. It is true that the Trinidad Pan African Association was short lived. It was weakened by personal rivalries and by 1902 seems to have been moribund. One reason was Williams return to London, which removed the guiding inspiration. Another reason was that the young black radicals like Maresse Smith and Lazare turned their attention to the Rate Payers’ Association, which led the agitation culminating in the 1903 Water Riots.

Williams returned to London to resume his studies. By 1902 the London Pan African association seems to have been dead – the result, probably, of the small size and the poverty of the West Indian and African community in London at that time. Much later, it was to be revived.

On his qualification as a barrister, Williams returned to Trinidad in 1908 and set up his legal practice. In these years he was connected with the Trinidad Workingmens’ Association and spoke at their meetings, but he did not attempt to revive the local branches of the Pan African Association. He died in 1911 at the tragically early age of 42. Williams’ great contribution was to originate the Pan African movement. This contribution is not well known to most Trinidadians. But much more information about his life will become available when his biography by Mr. Owen Mathurin, now in preparation, is published.

Rédigé le Vendredi 23 Mai 2003 à 00:00 | Lu 722 fois | 0 commentaire(s)

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