Papers of Pan African Lawyer Handed over to the UWI Main Library
Posted: Thursday, June 23, 2005
By Chike Pilgrim
"Organized Plunder and Human Progress Have Made Our Race Their Battlefield"
The handing over ceremony began with the National Anthem of Trinidad & Tobago, and the opening remarks were given by Dr. Glenroy Taitt, the chairperson. Dr. Bhoe Tewarie was unable to give the welcome address through absence, so he was replaced by Dr. Rampersad, who advocated for a "Collections and Acquisitions Fund," as well as a "Friends of the Library" group. He expressed the appreciation of the UWI library to Mrs. Appiah and assured her that Christian's papers would be made available to Caribbean scholars. Two of Christian's granddaughters were present: Mrs. Estelle Appiah, from Accra, Ghana, and Dr. Maude Christian-Mayer, of the U.S.A. Another of Christian's granddaughters was mentioned, Moira Stuart, who is the first black female newscaster in Britain, working for the BBC.
Dr. Haraksingh, the head of the Library Committee of the UWI, stated that this handover was an important step in the expansion of the primary resources of the library. He expressed that it was also important to have these primary pieces in order to counter the mainstream material that is produced by the more official records. He felt that the persons who had gone out of "the Diaspora" should be congratulated for returning their papers to the Caribbean. He felt that the papers were extremely important to the legal community in T&T and the Caribbean as well. He noted that Caribbean lawyers had made many seminal contributions in America, Africa, as well as India. The presence of the Solicitor General of T&T, Ms. Stephenson, was acknowledged at this point.
Dr. Margaret Rouse-Jones, the University and Campus Librarian gave an overview of the papers. She acknowledged members of the Judiciary and of the legal fraternity. She noted that the history of this handover began in 1974, when she met Estelle Appiah, then Estelle Forster. They began research into the life of George Christian in 1991. Oral history records were taken of his surviving relatives and friends, as well as the archives in Dominica, Accra, the Cape Coast and Sekondi-Takoradi (which is the capital of the Western Region of Southwest Ghana, and the third largest city in Ghana).They searched for his tombstone, and the tombstone of his daughter in Ghana.
George James Christian was born in the village of Delices, in southeast Dominica. He was educated in Dominica and Antigua, and went to the Mico Training Institute, which was popular because it was one of the few education institutions open to post-slavery blacks in the Caribbean. Christian went on to study law in England, and was admitted to Gray's Inn, London, in 1899. In 1900, he attended the first Pan-African Congress in London, at which he led a discussion of slavery and colonization called "Organized Plunder and Human Progress Have Made Our Race Their Battlefield." Just after being called to the bar on June 11, 1902, Christian migrated to Ghana (then called the Gold Coast), where he was joined by other West Indians including George Stanley Lewis of St. Lucia, brother of Noble Laureate Sir Arthur Lewis. Christian went on to be a prominent criminal and concessions lawyer, as well as managing a private practice. He was involved in the famous trial of Benjamin Knowles, and made inroads into the Ashanti Region with his legal profession. He served on the Sekondi Council from 1911-15, and again from 1920-26. He drew attention to the lack of medical staff, and the poor education system in the area of Sekondi-Takoradi, and suggested ways that funds might be funneled to the local youths. Christian also served as consul for the independent West African state of Liberia for thirty years.
In 1932, Christian debated on issues of direct taxation, the protection of the mining industry and the income tax. He referred to having visited Trinidad and questioned whether the Imperial College (now the UWI) was really meeting the needs of Agriculture on the island. Christian became a Freemason and founded the St. George Lodge. In 1937 he was introduced to the Grand Lodge. He fathered three children in the Caribbean, and then had a further eight in Ghana. He built a house called Dominica House in Ghana, and a house called Sekondi House in Dominica, which is still standing today. Christian maintained his links with the West Indian Community, both in Ghana (Gold Coast) and the Caribbean. Some of his friends include the medical doctor, Dr. Hoyte, as well as Dr. Busby of T&T. His friend George Stanley Lewis, of St. Lucia, moved to Ghana in 1929 and died there in 1991.
The overview of George Christian's papers came as part of a presentation to a conference on Henry Sylvester Williams and Pan-Africanism in 2001 by Ms. Rouse-Jones. The papers that were donated are over 1500 items and counting. They consist of letters, legal documents, minutes, pamphlets, financial documents, election manifestos, school report cards, newspaper clippings and funeral programmes. The bulk of the papers covers the period 1890 to 1940. Three letters exist where Dudley Huggins wrote to Christian asking for advice about the Gold Coast.
The Main Library of the UWI St. Augustine is the final resting place for the papers. Dr. Hoyte Jr., who lived in Ghana with his father, was present for the ceremony. Mrs. Estelle Appiah stated that she wanted to bring the papers to the Caribbean, because she felt that with the increase in nationalism in Ghana, the contribution of foreigners, even Caribbean ones, was being marginalized to an extent. Estelle's mother was the first female lawyer in Ghana, and she pointed out that she was always encouraged by her grandfather to be all that she could be. She said that her family had a history of formal education in England, and she noted that they had experienced various levels of racism there.
Finally, Dr. Rouse-Jones signed for the documents, as well as the Campus Registrar. Dr. Maude Christian-Mayer and Dr. Haraksingh signed as well. The papers can now be considered the legal property of the UWI St. Augustine Library. Dr. Maude Christian-Mayer also expressed her thanks. She hails from Wisconsin where she left her husband and five children to be part of this historic event. Tokens of appreciation were given to Christian's granddaughters, by Mrs. Cathleen Hellenese-Paul of the West Indiana Special Reserve Division. Mrs. Jennifer Joseph, the Deputy Campus Librarian, moved a vote of thanks. She expressed joy at this cultural, intellectual and social fusion of the West Indies and Ghana.
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