Teacher, author, lawyer, politician, Pan-Africanist, and founder of the National Congress of British West Africa (one of the continent’s first Pan-African organizations). In the period following WWI JE Casely Hayford was probably the most important nationalist leader in Africa.
Date of Birth: 29 September 1866, Cape Coast, Gold Coast, West Africa
Date of Death: 11 August 1930, Gold Coast (now Ghana)
An Early Life
Joseph Ephraim Casely Hayford was born on 29 September 1866 at Cape Coast, part of the Gold Coast Colony (now Ghana) of West Africa. His father, Reverend Joseph de Graft Hayford, was a minister of the Methodist Church and a prominent figure in Fanti politics; his mother was from the elite Brew family (a mixed heritage dynasty descended from the European trader Richard Brew who arrived in Africa in 1745). JE Casely Hayford grew up as part of the privileged Gold Coast elite.
Casely Hayford was educated at the most prominent school in the Gold Coast, the Wesleyan Boys’ High School in Accra. He completed his studies at the Fourah Bay College of Freetown, Sierra Leone. It was while in Sierra Leone that he fell under the influence of one of the key thinkers of Pan-Africanism, Edward Wilmot Blyden. (Blyden had fled to Sierra Leone in 1871 after his polemic against people of mixed race — he referred to them as ‘mulattos’ — was revealed to the public in Liberia.)
Becoming an Nationalist
On completing his secondary education, Casely Hayford returned to Accra and took up a teaching post at the Wesleyan Boys’ High School, but was shortly dismissed for his political activism. In 1885 he was given the chance to become a journalist by his uncle, James Hutton Brew, on the Western Echo, of which he was the founder. By 1888 Casely Hayford was editor, and the paper was renamed the Gold Coast Echo. Two years later he became co-owner of the Gold Coast Chronicle. Casely Hayford’s journalism was politically motivated — like many amongst the educated elite of the Gold Coast, he saw it as his rôle to advocate nationalistic ideals.
At the start of the 1890s Casely Hayford decided to pursue a career in law, and became an articled clerk with a lawyer in Cape Coast. In 1893 he traveled to the UK and began studying economics at Peterhouse, Cambridge. He completed his legal studies in 1896, when he was called to the Bar at the Inner Temple, Inns of Court. While in the UK he met, and married, Adelaide Smith — a Sierra Leonean Creole, nationalist and feminist, who became a prominent Pan-Africanist writer in her own right.
The Aborigines’ Rights Protection Society
Casely Hayford returned to the Gold Coast and established his own legal practice. In 1897 he became legal advisor to the Gold Coast section of the Aborigines’ Rights Protection Society (GCARPS) which had just been founded and was campaigning against a restrictive land act introduced by the colonial government — the Crown Lands Bill of 1897 — which effectively removed land from indigenous Africans and awarded it to the colonial authorities. GCARPS was the first anti-colonial organization founded in the Gold Coast, and was run by local chiefs and the Western educated elite.
Casely Hayford was back in London in 1903, when he published his first book: Gold Coast native institutions: With thoughts upon a healthy imperial policy for the Gold Coast and Ashanti. When the British took over Ashanti, deporting the young king and demanding the sacred Golden Stool (they claimed they were bringing an end to barbarous customs and human sacrifice and slave-raiding in the region),
Casely Hayford’s Pan-African Mentors
When Edward Wilmot Blyden published his important text West Africa Before Europe in 1905, Casely Hayford was invited to write the introduction. Casely Hayford was much enamored of Blyden — he wrote: “Blyden has sought for more than a quarter of a century to reveal everywhere the African unto himself ; to fix his attention upon original ideas and conceptions as to his place in the economy of the world ; to point out to him his work as a race among the races of men; lastly and most important of all, to lead him back unto self-respect. He has been the voice of one crying in the wilderness all these years, calling upon all thinking Africans to go back to the rock whence they were hewn by the common Father of the nations.”
In 1911 Casely Hayford published his novel Ethiopia Unbound, dedicated on the cover to the ‘sons of Ethiopia the world wide over’. The book is one of the first novels written in English by an African, and has a particularly strong Pan-Africanist theme.
The following year he was once again in London, as part of the GCARPS delegation campaigning over the 1911 Forest Ordinance Bill. When Dusé Mohamed Ali‘s African Times & Orient Review fell into financial disorder, he was part of a West African consortium which stepped in to save it. Later that year he attended Booker T Washington’s International Conference on the Negro at Tuskegee, Alabama.
Appointed to the Gold Coast Legislative Council
British rule in the Gold Coast was at a turning point – the process of indirect rule required traditional chiefs to act as intermediaries rather than selected individuals from the Western educated elite. This was starting to cause tension. In 1916, on the recommendation of the British governor, Casely Hayford was nominated as a member of the Gold Coast Legislative Council. It was a body that had very limited power – mostly acting as an advisory group to the colonial authorities.
Becoming an Influential Pan-Africanist
Increasingly involved in politics in the Gold Coast (and West Africa as a whole) Casely Hayford contributed regularly to the press, particularly the Gold Coast Leader, a newspaper that championed African political rights. As the Great War (WWI) in Europe drew to a close, talk there was of nationalism and self-determination, but in colonial ruled Africa the indigenous African had little or no political power. Casely Hayford wrote of a united West Africa, of nationalism, and constitutional reform. Britain’s colonies would remain part of the Empire, he suggested, but with local African rule under British oversight.
Casely Hayford was appointed to various commissions, and received an MBE (Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) in 1919 for his service to the Gold Coast.
Casely Hayford’s Legacy — The National Congress of British West Africa
Possibly Casely Hayford’s most important Pan-African act was to found the National Congress of British West Africa (NCBWA), the first Pan-African political movement in West Africa — it brought together nationalists from Sierra Leone, Nigeria, the Gold Coast, and the Republic of Liberia. The NCBWA was ultimately unsuccessful in its call for political development, but it laid the groundwork for all future nationalist groups in West Africa. Casely Hayford initially served as vice-president, and then as president.Casely Hayford also found natural allies in WEB DuBois and Marcus Garvey in America. In 1920 he represented the NCBWA in London (although the British Colonial Secretary refused to see him) and addressed the League of Nations.
In 1927 Casely Hayford became an elected (rather than nominated) member of the Legislative Council. He also saw the culmination of many years of campaigning for a Gold Coast University to cater for Africans — the Prince of Wales School in Accra (now Achimota College) was founded in 1927, and has had several famous West African leaders as alumnae.
JE Casely Hayford died on 11 August 1930, aged sixty-three. He was buried in the Gold Coast (now Ghana). His wife, Adelaide, outlived him by another thirty years, and achieved her own MBE in 1950.