7. THE FIRST HERETIC

LEOPOLD'S WILL treated the Congo as if it were just a piece of uninhabited real estate to be disposed of by its owner. In this the king was no different from other Europeans of his age, explorers, journalists, and empire-builders alike, who talked of Africa as if it were without Africans: an expanse of empty space waiting to be filled by the cities and railway lines constructed through the magic of European industry.

To see Africa instead as a continent of coherent societies, each with its own culture and history, took a leap of empathy, a leap that few, if any, of the early European or American visitors to the Congo were able to make. To do so would have meant seeing Leopold's regime not as progress, not as civilization, but as a theft of land and freedom. For the first time, however, a visitor now arrives in the Congo who sees the colony around him with such eyes. Let us catch up with him at a station on the banks of the Congo River, on the muggy mid-July day in 1890 when he first puts his feelings on paper.

There are now a number of Leopold's stations on the river network, each a combination of military base and collecting point for ivory. Typically, a few buildings with thatched roofs and shady verandas, sheltered by palm trees, provide sleeping quarters for white officials. From a pole flies the blue flag with the gold star. Some food comes from banana trees, a garden growing manioc and other vegetables, and pens for chickens, goats, or pigs. A wooden blockhouse with rifle ports atop a small man-made hillock provides defense; often there is a stockade as well. Elephant tusks lie in a shed or in the open, guarded by armed sentries and awaiting transport to the coast. African dugout canoes are drawn up on the riverbank beside piles of wood cut in short lengths for steamboat boilers. One of the most important stations is a thousand miles upstream from Leopoldville at Stanley Falls, the upper limit of navigation on the main stretch of the Congo River.

At the Stanley Falls station on this July day, a forty-year-old man sits down in a white-hot blaze of anger. In a graceful, energetic hand, he begins writing. Perhaps he sits outside, his back against a palm trunk; perhaps he borrows the desk of the station clerk. As we can see in the handful of stiff, formal portrait photos we have of him, his hair is cropped short; his mustache tapers to long tips; he wears a bowtie and a high, white, starched collar. Maybe it is too hot for the collar and tie this day on the riverbank, but maybe not: some visitors dress formally in the Congo at all times.

The document that flows from the man's pen over the next day or two is a milestone in the literature of human rights and of investigative journalism. It is entitled An Open Letter to His Serene Majesty Leopold II, King of the Belgians and Sovereign of the Independent State of Congo, by Colonel the Honorable Geo. W. Williams, of the United States of America.

George Washington Williams was indeed an American. He was not, however, a colonel, a claim that was to cause him problems later. And he was black. Largely because of that, he has long been ignored. Among the eager throng of visitors drawn to the Congo as Leopold began to exploit it, Williams became the first great dissenter. And like many travelers who find themselves in a moral inferno, he had begun in search of something he hoped would be more like paradise.

***

Williams had come to the Congo over a route that seems almost as if it had taken him through several different lives. Born in Pennsylvania in 1849, he had only scanty schooling, and in 1864 he enlisted—semiliterate, underage, and with an assumed name—in the 41st U.S. Colored Troops of the Union Army. He fought in several battles during the drive on Richmond and Petersburg in the closing months of the war and was wounded in combat.

Afterward, like some other Civil War veterans in search of work, he enlisted in the army of the Republic of Mexico, which was fighting to overthrow King Leopold II's ambitious but unlucky brother-in-law, Emperor Maximilian. When he returned home, with no job skills except soldiering, Williams reenlisted in the U.S. Army and passed the better part of a year with a cavalry regiment fighting the Plains Indians. Sometime during the second half of 1867, when they both spent time at various army posts in Kansas, Williams's path may have crossed that of a young newspaper correspondent, Henry Morton Stanley.

After leaving the army the next year, Williams studied briefly at Howard University, which, when he mentioned it in later years, sometimes came out sounding like Harvard University. Later in his life, he also claimed a doctoral degree he had never earned. He was a brilliant student, however, and, moving on to the Newton Theological Institution, outside Boston, managed to compress a three-year graduate theology curriculum into two. In letters he wrote just after his army days, barely a word is spelled correctly, and the sentences are painfully garbled. But a few years later he could compose fluently in the rolling cadences of the nineteenth-century pulpit. A speech he gave when he graduated from Newton in 1874 sounded the theme that would lead him to the Congo sixteen years later:

For nearly three centuries Africa has been robbed of her sable sons.... The Negro of this country can turn to his Saxon brothers, and say, as Joseph said to his brethren, who wickedly sold him, "...we, after learning your arts and sciences, might return to Egypt and deliver the rest of our brethren who are yet in the house of bondage." That day will come!

Williams had already begun writing and speaking about a bondage closer to home—the position of American blacks, enduring the long post-Civil War backlash of lynchings and Ku Klux Klan violence, and the return of white supremacist rule throughout the South. As a veteran, he was especially angry that so few hopes of the war that ended slavery had been realized.

The year he graduated from the seminary, Williams married and became pastor of the Twelfth Baptist Church, the major black congregation in Boston. In this job, as in others to come, he did not stay long. His life seems to have been infused with restlessness, for although he had considerable success in each new profession he took up, he seldom remained in it.

After only a year as a minister, he moved to Washington, D.C., and founded a national black newspaper, the Commoner. The first issue proudly printed congratulatory letters from the famous Abolitionists Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison, but the paper soon folded, and Williams returned to the ministry, this time in Cincinnati. He became a columnist for a local newspaper and once again started a paper of his own. Then, in another abrupt turn, he resigned his pulpit, studied law, and apprenticed himself to a lawyer. In 1879, at the age of thirty, he was elected the first black member of the Ohio state legislature, where he raised hackles by trying to win repeal of a law banning interracial marriages. He left the legislature after only one term.

In his next career, Williams made a much greater mark, and by the time he again moved on, he left something substantial and lasting behind him. It was a massive book, History of the Negro Race in America from 1619 to 1880. Negroes as Slaves, as Soldiers, and as Citizens, together with a preliminary consideration of the Unity of the Human Family and historical Sketch of Africa and an Account of the Negro Governments of Sierra Leone and Liberia. Published in two volumes, in 1882 and 1883, the book took its readers from early African kingdoms all the way through the Civil War and Reconstruction.

Williams was a pioneer among American historians in the use of nontraditional sources. He sensed what most academics only began to acknowledge nearly a hundred years later: that in writing the history of powerless people, drawing on conventional, published sources is far from enough. While traveling around the country, Williams did look through innumerable libraries, but he did much more. He wrote a letter to a national black newspaper asking readers to send him "minutes of any colored church organization" and other such documents. He wrote to General William Tecumseh Sherman, asking his opinion of his black troops. He interviewed fellow Civil War veterans. And when his 1092-page book appeared, it was widely and favorably reviewed. Several decades earlier, wrote the New York Times, patronizing but impressed, "it would have been very generally doubted if one of that race could be the author of a work requiring so much native ability." W.E.B. Du Bois would later call Williams "the greatest historian of the race."

Williams began to travel the lecture circuit, addressing veterans' groups, fraternal organizations, and church congregations, black and white. He seemed to have a speech for any occasion, from Fourth of July celebrations to a meeting of the Philomathian Literary Society of Washington, and he soon signed up with the leading lecture agent of the day, James B. Pond, one of whose clients was Stanley. He managed to meet everyone from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to Presidents Grover Cleveland and Rutherford B. Hayes; and many who met him came away with a positive impression of the earnest young man. Less impressed were many black Americans, who thought Williams too quick to turn his back on them in his eagerness to consort with the high and mighty.

Despite his successes, money flowed through Williams's fingers, and he left a string of angry creditors behind him. He continued to pour his immense energy into a variety of projects. He wrote a second book, about the experience of black soldiers in the Civil War. He went to New Mexico in search of land for a possible settlement of black farmers. He fired off articles for newspapers. He worked as a lawyer for the Cape Cod Canal Company. He wrote a play about the slave trade. He threw himself into the work of Union veterans' organizations, receiving the honorary title of colonel from the most important of them, the Grand Army of the Republic. He testified before Congress in favor of a monument to black Civil War veterans. He was nominated as minister to Haiti by President Chester A. Arthur, for whom he had campaigned. But Arthur left office, and political enemies circulated rumors about Williams's debts, so the appointment did not take effect.

Once when Williams was meeting with Arthur at the White House, someone else had chosen the same time to see the president: Henry Shelton Sanford, then lobbying in Washington for United States recognition of Leopold's Congo. The president introduced his two visitors to each other. In the embryonic Congo state that Sanford described, Williams saw a chance to pursue the dream he had first mentioned in his seminary graduation speech. He wrote to one of Leopold's aides, proposing to recruit black Americans to work in the Congo. In Africa, surely, there would be the chance for pioneering and advancement then denied blacks in the United States. He also submitted a statement to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations urging recognition of the International Association of the Congo and added the Congo to his list of lecture topics.

In 1889, Williams won an assignment to write a series of articles from Europe for a press syndicate. He also tried but failed to be appointed an American delegate to the Anti-Slavery Conference in Brussels; nonetheless, he passed himself off as a delegate when he visited London. Brussels, he found, was a city filled with Europeans trying to outdo each other in condemning slavery, and in this atmosphere the young American descendant of slaves made a good impression. Yet despite his impressive list of achievements, Williams could not resist embellishing it:

Colonel Williams [reported the newspaper L'Indépendance Belge], who won his rank during the Civil War ... has written at least five or six works about Negroes.... He was the first person to propose official recognition of the Congo state by the United States and was allowed, to this end, to give a major speech to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in Washington which was crowned with complete success.

The first newspaper piece Williams sent home from Belgium was an interview with Leopold, whom he described as "a pleasant and entertaining conversationalist. His hair and full beard were carefully trimmed and liberally sprinkled with gray. His features were strong and clear cut and keen; and his eyes, bright and quick, flashed with intelligent interest from behind a pair of eyeglasses."

When Williams asked what the king expected in return for all the money he had spent developing the Congo, Leopold replied, "What I do there is done as a Christian duty to the poor African; and I do not wish to have one franc back of all the money I have expended." On this first meeting, Williams, like many others, was dazzled by the man whom he called "one of the noblest sovereigns in the world; an emperor whose highest ambition is to serve the cause of Christian civilization, and to promote the best interests of his subjects, ruling in wisdom, mercy, and justice."

Leopold clearly saw that the way to charm this particular visitor was to offer a sympathetic ear to his projects, for in the same article Williams reported that the king "proved himself a good listener." What he listened to, apparently, was Williams's long-cherished plan to put black Americans to work in Africa. Williams struck an agreement with a Belgian company to sign up forty skilled artisans and take them to work in the Congo, and also made plans to write a book about the territory. When he returned to the United States, however, and gave his recruitment pitch at a black college in Virginia, he found a skeptical audience with many questions about life in Africa that he could not answer. At that point he postponed the recruiting plan and decided to go first to the Congo and gather material for his book.

That presented him with the job of raising the money for steamship tickets, food, supplies, and porters for the long trek around the rapids. The main patron he pursued was the American railroad baron Collis P. Huntington, who was a minor investor in the planned Congo railway. Williams sought him out and followed the visit with a stream of flattering letters, which eventually produced a small subsidy for his African travels.

In December 1889, Williams met President Benjamin Harrison at the White House. It is not clear that Harrison did more than wish him a good trip to Africa, but, as was often the case in his life, Williams later used this meeting with a man of power to imply that he was carrying out an important confidential mission for him.

As Williams prepared for his trip, dropping references to his connection with the president and Huntington, Leopold and his aides grew suspicious that he might be covertly serving American businessmen intent on moving into the territory. When Williams passed through Brussels on the way to the Congo, he later said:

every possible influence was exerted to turn me aside from my mission. An officer of the King's Household was dispatched to me for the purpose of persuading me not to visit the Congo. He dwelt upon the deadly character of the climate during the rainy seasons, the perils and hardships of travelling by caravans, and the heavy expenses of the voyage.... After this the King sent for me [and] said ... that it was difficult to travel in the country, and more difficult to obtain wholesome food for white men; that he hoped I would postpone my visit to the Congo for at least five years; and that all necessary information would be furnished me in Brussels. In reply I told His Majesty that I was going to the Congo now, and would start within a few days.

Between January 1890 and the beginning of the following year, Williams sailed around the entire African continent, periodically sending Huntington urgent requests for more money. He managed to meet everyone from the vice president of the Boers' Transvaal Republic to the Sultan of Zanzibar to the Khedive of Egypt, as well as to receive an honorary membership in Zanzibar's English Club and to deliver a lecture at Cairo's Khedival Geographical Society. But his most important visit was to the Congo, where he spent six months, proceeding on foot around the lower rapids and by steamer up the great river, with many stops, all the way to Stanley Falls.

***

Traveling the river by steamboat at this time was a matter of progressing perhaps thirty miles a day, sometimes fewer when heading upstream. Each day the boat stopped in the late afternoon, sometimes docking at a state post or mission station, but more often being moored to the riverbank for the night. The captain posted sentries and sent a crew of black woodcutters to chop down trees as fuel for the following day's run. One traveler described the typical scene:

At dusk huge fires were lit, and by the blaze of these the men cut up the logs into small chunks, three or four feet in length.... It was a ... sight attended with ... the thud, thud of the axes, the crash of the falling trees, then the firelight scene, with the scraping of the saw ... the blocks were ... then tossed from hand to hand till they were all loaded on to the steamer.

European or American passengers slept in cabins on board, usually on the upper deck; the woodcutters slept on shore on the ground. At dawn, a whistle blast brought the crew back on board or into canoes or a barge towed by the boat, and the paddlewheel at the stern slowly pushed the boat upstream.

Making his way up the river in these slow stages, Williams had ample time to take in the Africa he had long dreamed of. A keen observer and experienced interviewer, he had the ability—as rare among journalists as it is among historians—to be uninfluenced by what others had already written. And in the villages and state posts and mission stations along the banks of the river, he found not the benignly ruled colony described by Stanley and others, but what he called "the Siberia of the African Continent." His impressions were distilled in the remarkable document he wrote at Stanley Falls, when he could contain his rage no longer.

At the beginning of his Open Letter to the king, Williams is respectful: "Good and Great Friend, I have the honour to submit for your majesty's consideration some reflections respecting the Independent State of Congo, based upon a careful study." By the second paragraph, though, he is referring Leopold to a higher authority, the "King of Kings." And God, it is clear, is not pleased by what he sees happening in the Congo.

The Open Letter is the work of a man who seems doubly horrified: first by what he has seen, and second by "how thoroughly I have been disenchanted, disappointed and disheartened" after "all the praisefull [sic] things I have spoken and written of the Congo country, State and Sovereign." Almost immediately, Williams gets down to business, assuming the tone of one of his many professions, that of a lawyer:

"Every charge which I am about to bring against your Majesty's personal Government in the Congo has been carefully investigated; a list of competent and veracious witnesses, documents, letters, official records and data has been faithfully prepared." The documents would be kept "until such time as an International Commission can be created with power to send for persons and papers, to administer oaths, and attest the truth or falsity of these charges." It is easy to imagine Leopold's fury on finding himself addressed in this prosecutorial voice by a foreigner, by someone he had tried to dissuade from going to the Congo in the first place, and, no less, by a black man.

If it were printed as this book is, the Open Letter would run to only about a dozen pages. Yet in that short space Williams anticipated almost all the major charges that would be made by the international Congo protest movement of more than a decade later. Although by 1890 scattered criticism of Leopold's Congo state had been published in Europe, most of it focused on the king's discrimination against foreign traders. Williams's concern was human rights, and his was the first comprehensive, systematic indictment of Leopold's colonial regime written by anyone. Here are his main accusations:

• Stanley and his white assistants had used a variety of tricks, such as fooling Africans into thinking that whites had supernatural powers, to get Congo chiefs to sign their land over to Leopold. For example: "A number of electric batteries had been purchased in London, and when attached to the arm under the coat, communicated with a band of ribbon which passed over the palm of the white brother's hand, and when he gave the black brother a cordial grasp of the hand the black brother was greatly surprised to find his white brother so strong, that he nearly knocked him off his feet.... When the native inquired about the disparity of strength between himself and his white brother, he was told that the white man could pull up trees and perform the most prodigious feats of strength." Another trick was to use a magnifying glass to light a cigar, after which "the white man explained his intimate relation to the sun, and declared that if he were to request him to burn up his black brother's village it would be done." In another ruse, a white man would ostentatiously load a gun but covertly slip the bullet up his sleeve. He would then hand the gun to a black chief, step off a distance, and ask the chief to take aim and shoot; the white man, unharmed, would bend over and retrieve the bullet from his shoe. "By such means ... and a few boxes of gin, whole villages have been signed away to your Majesty." Land purchased in this way, Williams wrote, was "territory to which your Majesty has no more legal claim, than I have to be the Commander-in-Chief of the Belgian army."

• Far from being a great hero, Stanley had been a tyrant. His "name produces a shudder among this simple folk when mentioned; they remember his broken promises, his copious profanity, his hot temper, his heavy blows, his severe and rigorous measures, by which they were mulcted of their lands." (Note Williams's assumption, so unimaginable to his white contemporaries, that Africans had a right to African land.) Of the hundreds of Europeans and Americans who traveled to the Congo in the state's early years, Williams is the only one on record as questioning Africans about their personal experience of Stanley.

• Leopold's establishment of military bases along the river had caused a wave of death and destruction, because the African soldiers who manned them were expected to feed themselves. "These piratical, buccaneering posts compel the natives to furnish them with fish, goats, fowls, and vegetables at the mouths of their muskets; and whenever the natives refuse ... white officers come with an expeditionary force and burn away the homes of the natives."

• "Your Majesty's Government is excessively cruel to its prisoners, condemning them, for the slightest offenses, to the chain gang.... Often these ox-chains eat into the necks of the prisoners and produce sores about which the flies circle, aggravating the running wound."

• Leopold's claim that his new state was providing wise government and public services was a fraud. There were no schools and no hospitals except for a few sheds "not fit to be occupied by a horse." Virtually none of the colony's officials knew any African language. "The Courts of your Majesty's Government are abortive, unjust, partial and delinquent." (Here, as elsewhere, Williams provided a vivid example: a white servant of the governor-general went unpunished for stealing wine while black servants were falsely accused and beaten.)

• White traders and state officials were kidnapping African women and using them as concubines.

• White officers were shooting villagers, sometimes to capture their women, sometimes to intimidate the survivors into working as forced laborers, and sometimes for sport. "Two Belgian Army officers saw, from the deck of their steamer, a native in a canoe some distance away.... The officers made a wager of £5 that they could hit the native with their rifles. Three shots were fired and the native fell dead, pierced through the head."

• Instead of Leopold's being the noble antislavery crusader he portrayed himself as, "Your Majesty's Government is engaged in the slave-trade, wholesale and retail. It buys and sells and steals slaves. Your Majesty's Government gives £3 per head for able-bodied slaves for military service.... The labour force at the stations of your Majesty's Government in the Upper River is composed of slaves of all ages and both sexes."

Williams was not done. Three months after writing the Open Letter, he produced A Report upon the Congo-State and Country to the President of the Republic of the United States of America. President Harrison probably had no more expected to hear from him than Leopold had. In writing to the president, Williams repeated his charges, adding that the United States had a special responsibility toward the Congo, because it had "introduced this African Government into the sisterhood of States." As in the Open Letter, he supported the charges with personal examples. "At Stanley-Falls slaves were offered to me in broad day-light; and at night I discovered canoe loads of slaves, bound strongly together." Williams called for this "oppressive and cruel Government" to be replaced by a new regime that would be "local, not European; international, not national; just, not cruel."

Whether Williams was calling for self-government or for international trusteeship, it would be many years before anyone else from Europe or the United States would do the same. In a letter Williams wrote to the American secretary of state, he used a phrase that seems plucked from the Nuremberg trials of more than half a century later. Leopold's Congo state, Williams wrote, was guilty of "crimes against humanity."

***

The Open Letter was printed as a pamphlet, and before the end of 1890, while its author was still completing his circuit of Africa, it was distributed widely in both Europe and the United States. It is not clear who arranged for the distribution, but it was probably a Dutch trading company, the Nieuwe Afrikaansche Handels Vennootschap, which had trading posts in the Congo and owned the steamboat, the Holland, on which Williams traveled. Company officials were angry that Leopold was aggressively shutting out foreign traders from his new colony, saving the lucrative supplies of ivory for himself and his business partners. But Williams did not allow the company to shape his message: the Open Letter mentions the issue of free trade only briefly, and far down on the list of accusations.

After the Open Letter was published, the New York Herald, which had sent Stanley to Africa, devoted a full column to it under the headline, THE ADMINISTRATION OF THE AFRICAN FREE STATE DECLARED BY AN AMERICAN CITIZEN TO BE BARBAROUS—INVESTIGATION DEMANDED. The article quoted Stanley, who called the Open Letter "a deliberate attempt at blackmail." What was more ominous for Williams was that Collis P. Huntington, his benefactor, thought him grossly unfair to the king, who was "solicitous of the best welfare of the natives of that country."

A furious Leopold told the British minister in Brussels not to believe Williams. "Colonel Williams may be all the King says he is," the envoy reported to his home office, "but I suspect there is a good deal of disagreeable truth in his pamphlets." In his memoirs, one of Leopold's advisers recalls an urgent meeting held to discuss what to do about "le pamphlet Williams" of which the Paris press was making "un vrai scandale."

Leopold and his aides quickly orchestrated a counterattack. The Journal de Bruxelles asked, "First of all, who is Mr. Williams? This man is not a United States colonel." In subsequent articles the paper referred to him as "the so-called 'Colonel'," "the pseudo colonel," "an unbalanced negro," and "Mr. Williams, who is not a colonel." (The Belgian press, of course, had never questioned the rank of "General" Henry Shelton Sanford.) Le Mouvement Géographique, a newspaper closely tied to Leopold's Congo venture, also attacked Williams and pointed out that, though Congo natives did not always receive full justice, neither did the American Indians.

Other Belgian newspapers, however, took Williams's accusations seriously. "With commercial speculation dominant in the Congo, a personal, absolute and uncontrolled regime, whose chief autocrat has never set foot in the country he is governing, is fatally bound to produce the majority of grave deeds pointed out by the American traveler," wrote the liberal La Réforme. "We are not inclined to accept as gospel truth everything the Congolese administration wishes to offer in its own defense," declared Le Courrier de Bruxelles. Papers in other countries also picked up the story, reporting Williams's allegations and sometimes printing long excerpts.

By June 1891, the furor reached the Belgian Parliament, where several deputies and the prime minister rose to speak in the king's defense. Some weeks later, the État Indépendant du Congo issued a forty-five-page report signed by its top administrators. It was clearly aimed, the British legation in Brussels reported to London, at "refuting the accusations brought by Colonel Williams and others."

Williams, in the meantime, had completed his circuit of Africa and was in Egypt, where he had fallen seriously ill with tuberculosis. As usual, he was out of money. With his customary air of being on urgent business for the powerful, he somehow persuaded the British minister in Cairo, Sir Evelyn Baring, to dispatch a physician to take care of him. Down to his last £14, he sent desperate pleas for money to Huntington. When he recovered some strength, he wangled free passage to England on a British steamer. On board he met a young Englishwoman who had been a governess in a British family in India, and by the time they arrived in Britain, the two were engaged. Williams settled in London, despite problems over his debts incurred there on a previous visit. But his tuberculosis grew worse. His fiancée and her mother took him to Blackpool, where they hoped the sea air would cure him so that he could resume working on his book about Leopold's Congo.

Their hopes were in vain. Early on the morning of August 2, 1891, tended by his fiancée, her mother, a minister, and a doctor, George Washington Williams died. He was forty-one years old. In Belgium, Le Mouvement Géographique noted his death with satisfaction, comparing him with those who had burned the temple at Delphi. "His early death," writes a modern diplomatic historian, S.J.S. Cookey, "...saved the Congo government from what might have been an embarrassingly formidable opponent." He was buried in Blackpool in an unmarked grave. Not until 1975 did his grave acquire a proper tombstone—arranged by his biographer, the historian John Hope Franklin.

Only after the funeral, apparently, did Williams's British fiancée learn that he had abandoned a wife and a fifteen-year-old son in the United States. In this deception and other ways, from his neglect of debts to his vaunting a nonexistent doctoral degree, there was something of the hustler about him. But, in a sense, this was the flip side of the extraordinary boldness that enabled him to defy a king, his officials, and the entire racial order of the day. By contrast, for example, there was George Grenfell, a veteran British missionary whom Williams visited on the Congo River. He too had seen firsthand the full range of abuses, including Leopold's state employees buying chained slaves, but, he wrote home within a few days of meeting Williams, he did not feel he could "publicly question the action of the State." And whatever Williams's elaboration of his own résumé, virtually everything he wrote about the Congo would later be corroborated—abundantly—by others.

Williams's Open Letter was a cry of outrage that came from the heart. It gained him nothing. It lost him his patron, Huntington. It guaranteed that he could never work, as he had hoped, to bring American blacks to the Congo. It brought him none of the money he always needed, and in the few months he had left before his life ended in a foreign beach resort, it earned him little but calumny. By the time he went to the Congo in 1890, close to a thousand Europeans and Americans had visited the territory or worked there. Williams was the only one to speak out fully and passionately and repeatedly about what others denied or ignored. The years to come would make his words ever more prophetic.

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