By Nomali Cele
Advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi’s “The Land Is Ours” is a project that honours not only the lawyers that came before him but puts black thinkers at the centre of lawmaking. One such black lawyer was the Trinidadian Henry Sylvester Williams whose work lives side-by-side with that of American sociologist and activist, W. E. B. Du Bois. In his lifetime, Williams travelled extensively learning from people of African descent and sharing his knowledge and skills everywhere he went.
Who was Henry Sylvester Williams?
Henry Sylvester Williams is, perhaps, one one of the most impactful black thinkers, his work and thinking affects our understanding of black consciousness to this day.
In 1900, Henry Sylvester Williams organised the first ever Pan-African Conference, which was held in London.
Keeping with the mandate of Pan-Africanism, Williams and other delegates at the inaugural conference, in 1900, sent seven items that outlined how black and coloured people were being maltreated in South Africa to Queen Victoria. The difficulty of getting property and the vote were among the seven items.
In 1903, Henry Sylvester visited South Africa and provided legal counsel to black and coloured people who were standing against the white minority government.
Staying in South African from 1903 to 1905, Henry Sylvester Williams became the first black man to be admitted to the bar in the Cape Colony and practice as a lawyer
It was also his time in South Africa that encouraged Williams to act as a spokesperson for marginalised Africans. Speaking in Britains Colonial Office, Williams was in pursuit of equal justice for Africans.
He then spent a number of years proving legal counsel to African people seeking redress against Britain’s colonial actions.
Read an excerpt from “The Land Is Ours” here.