1849 1891

George Washington Williams, who was a politician, journalist, historian and fearless soldier, was one of America’s finest renais¬ sance men. He began his first career by lying to the army in order to join the 6th Massa¬ chusetts Regiment at the age of 14. Williams was discovered, returned to civil¬ ian life, and reenlisted as a sergeant major two years later.

Fearless in combat, Williams was wounded for the first time near Fort Harrison, Virginia, in 1864. He was dis¬ charged in 1865, when he promptly joined the Mexican army. He resigned a year later and joined the US Army’s 10th Cavalry, under whose service he was wounded a sec¬ ond time during a campaign against the Comanche Indians of the western plains.

This time, he accepted a medical dis¬ charge and changed careers. The second skill in a long list of those he mastered was theol¬ ogy. Williams graduated from the Newton Theological Institute in Massachusetts in 1874 and served as an ordained minister in Boston for a year before moving to Wash¬ ington, DC.

Williams finally chose his life work when he began writing and publishing an influen¬ tial newspaper called The Commoner. Men like Frederick Douglass (see no. 14) put their support behind it, and though the paper eventually went under, Williams continued to write for several other papers while he took up the study of law.

In 1879, he was elected to the Ohio legislature, and began to collect the details of African-American lives. His collection grew to encompass two volumes entitled History of the Negro Race From 1619 to 1880. Published in 1883, it received enormous praise for the depth of its research.

Like everything Washington pur¬ sued, this book was an excellent piece of work, and it stood alone as one of the great histories of American life.After five years, Williams published his second book, History of the Negro Troops George Washington Williams.

in the War ofRebellion. The success of both books made Williams a popular speaker who was often invited to lecture throughout Europe. After he’d been in Belgium one year, Williams was convinced by King Leopold II to help develop the Congo Free State in Africa.

Williams was so interested that he went to visit this supposed free state, which was, in fact, owned by the King. Not only were the Congolese people under the jurisdiction of King Leopold, but the work¬ ers were treated like slaves.

The conditions he found were so shock¬ ing and demoralizing that Williams wrote An Open Letter to His Serene Majesty, Leopold II, King of the Belgians, in which he denounced the cruelty and inhumanity of the king’s Congolese colony.

With this and two more reports, Williams raised international interest in the Congo. He went on to research the Portuguese and British colonies in the rest of the continent.Though he died very young, his life had been spent in the service ofjustice and com¬ munity, and millions of lives were effected by his passion.