The grandfather of African liberation: if, as is now almost universally acknowledged, George Padmore was the "father" of African liberation, then Edward Wilmot Blyden, as Padmore's intellectual mentor, was the "grandfather", argues Cameron Duodu.

Author:Duodu, Cameron
Position:DIASPORA - Biography

THE WORK OF EDWARD WILMOT Blyden had such an effect on George Padmore, as he became known, that when Padmore was leaving Trinidad for America in 1924, he left instructions with his pregnant wife that she should name the unborn child "Blyden"--whether it was a boy or a girl!

The child turned out to be a girl. Padmore's wife, probably against her will, did as she was told and gave her the Christian name, Blyden. Poor girl--she can be easily forgiven if she became a bit hung-up on names, for shortly after her father arrived in America, he changed his name, for political reasons, from Malcolm Nurse to George Padmore. This means that while he was addressing the letters he sent to his only daughter "To Miss Blyden Nurse," she, on her part, would be replying: "To Mr George Padmore"!

The poor girl must have learnt early on in life that her father was a most unusual man. But as she grew and came to understand the dangerous nature of his work--a wanderer from America, to the Soviet Union, to Germany, Norway and England--she must have welcomed the sensitivity and prescience that enabled him to protect his family from the notoriety that his political work attracted unto himself.

Blyden Nurse, known by her married name, "Blyden Nurse-Cowart", is alive and well and is now 84 years old. The writer and publisher, Margaret Busby, met Blyden in the flesh 10 years ago, when Blyden visited London. Ms Busby, whose father was a boyhood friend of Padmore's (Padmore visited their family at Suhum when he was living in Ghana) confirmed to me: "Yes, Padmore had decided that he was going to name his child after Edward Blyden, whatever the child's gender. I met Blyden (and her daughter Lyndia Randall) in 2000, when they were in London for the conference that Lester Lewis organised to mark the centenary of the first Pan-African Conference in London in July 1900, at which my Dominican grandfather [Mr G. J. Christian], was a delegate."

Busby adds: "Our families were close in Trinidad, and Blyden told me she was at school with one of my Trinidadian cousins. She and Lyndia live in Las Vegas, USA, I believe."

The 1900 Pan-African Conference, organised by Sylvester Williams, was the first Pan-African Conference and a unique achievement of Williams'. But it is often overlooked, in favour of the 1919, 1921, 1923, and 1927 conferences, and especially, the 1945 congress in Manchester.

Williams formed an "African Association", to "promote and protect the interests of all subjects claiming African descent, wholly or in part, in British colonies and other places, especially Africa."

It was time, he said, for all people of African descent to begin talking directly about matters of concern to themselves. Williams influenced Dr W. E. B. Du Bois to participate in the 1900 conference. Du Bois' famous "Address to the Nations", with its prophetic statement that "the problem of the 20th century is the problem of the colour line", came to be regarded as the defining statement of the 1900 conference.

Sylvester Williams was born at Arouca in Trinidad, from where he went, first to Canada and then to England, to read law. He obtained a law degree at Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, and at King's College, London, before going on to practise as a barrister in South Africa from 1903 to 1905. He was the first black man to do so, and he practised around the same time as Mahatma Gandhi was also practising as a lawyer in South Africa. Williams's experience in South Africa must have politicised him a lot, for on his return to London, he became involved in municipal politics and won a seat on the Marylebone Borough Council in November 1906. He was one of the first people of African descent to be elected to public office in Britain. He returned to Trinidad in 1908, where he practised as a lawyer until he died in 1912.


If--as is now almost...

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