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Tue, 10.16.1849

George W. Williams, Writer, and Global Activist

George W. Williams

On this date, George Washington Williams, a Black historian, minister, officer, and writer, was born in 1849.

Williams was born in Bedford Springs, PA, and enlisted in the Union Army at 14.  He served and went on to become a lieutenant colonel in the Mexican Army, and after the fall of Maximilian, he moved west.  Later Williams attended Howard University and Newton Theological Seminary, eventually becoming a minister.

After graduation, Williams was ordained as a Baptist minister. He held several pastorates, including the historic Twelfth Baptist Church of Boston. Williams served as a pastorate in Washington, DC. While there, with support from many of the leaders of his time, such as Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison, Williams founded The Commoner, a weekly journal.

His career reached into journalism, and Williams wrote for two newspapers and practiced law and politics. He served in the Ohio State Legislature and was a minister to Haiti.  Williams wrote two definitive books on the Black experience in the American Civil War, in the period from the Jamestown landing to the end of Reconstruction, "A History of Negro Troops in The War of Rebellion" and "The History of the Negro Race in America, 1619-1880."

After the publication of these books, Williams turned his attention to the plight of Africans under European colonial rule. He was interested in conditions within the Belgian Congo.  He met with King Leopold II of Belgium, planning to travel to the Belgian Congo to review the conditions. The King strongly objected to Williams' trip but went ahead with his plans. When he returned, Williams wrote a letter to the King detailing the extensive greed and cruelty of the Belgian rulers that he observed in the Congo.

He charged that the slave trade was still active in Africa through the cooperation of the European powers, and workers were being exploited and denied access to the wealth they produced. Williams' grueling travels to Africa took a tremendous toll on his health. George Washington Williams died in England in 1891.

To be a Writer


Duke University

Black First:
2,000 years of extraordinary achievement
by Jessie Carney Smith
Copyright 1994 Visible Ink Press, Detroit, MI
ISBN 0-8103-9490-1

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