First Pan-African Congress Held

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On this day in 1919 the first Pan-African Congress was held in Paris, France. By the turn of the 19th century, most of the African continent was under colonial rule by European powers. Henry Sylvester-Williams, a barrister from the West Indies, saw the need to organize a group that could provide some representation and channels for discussion between Africans across the colonies and in the Diaspora. In 1897 he formed the African Association in London to facilitate Pan-Africanism, with particular emphasis on the British colonies. In 1900 he setup a Pan-African meeting, coordinating with black leaders from multiple countries. This first meeting, held in London, attracted 30 delegates, many of whom were from the West Indies and England. W. E. B. Du Bois, an African-American intellectual, was in attendance, and later became a leading force of the Pan-African movement. In 1919 after World War I, the first actual Pan-African Congress was held with 57 attendees from 15 different countries, expanding upon Sylvester-Williams’ original conference. Scheduled to coincide with the Versailles Peace Conference and located in Paris, the Congress attempted to draw the gathered world delegates’ attention to issues surrounding economic and political empowerment as well as basic human rights in the colonies. Subsequent conferences were held in 1921, 1923, 1927 and 1945. Calling for decolonization and an end to racial discrimination, these meetings were important to addressing the systems of oppression and exploitation that black people faced throughout the world.

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