Joseph Ephraim Casely Hayford

Joseph Ephraim Casely Hayford
Joseph Ephraim Casely Hayford
J. E. Casely Hayford made enormously important contributions to the theory of Pan-Africanism and organized the National Congress of British West Africa. Casely Hayford became an inspiration for Ghana's independence movement leader and first president, Kwame Nkrumah, though Nkrumah's generation no longer accepted the British presence in the way that Casely Hayford and his colleagues had.

Born in 1866, the man whom many would later describe as the "uncrowned king of West Africa" enjoyed educational opportunities in Africa and in England. He completed his secondary education at a Wesleyan (Methodist) boys' high school in Cape Coast, the major port in the colony known to the British as the Gold Coast. He spent several years as a teacher and principal in Wesleyan schools in both Accra (Nigeria) and Cape Coast.

Following an apprenticeship to a European lawyer, he traveled to London in 1893 to become a lawyer himself. He completed legal training in 1896 and soon returned to Cape Coast, where he established an active, admired private practice.

Casely Hayford largely identified himself with other professional, European-educated black Africans, but he did not forget the traditions and worldview characteristic of the Fanti. During his youth Casely Hayford's father had participated in protests against the British erosion of native autonomy and customs, particularly with regard to land distribution and usage.

This early exposure to political activism and to debates about the virtues (and flaws) of traditional, as opposed to British, law prepared Casely Hayford to become involved in the activities of the Aboriginal Rights Protection Society (ARPS) that formed at the end of the 19th century.

Shortly after the introduction of the 1897 Lands Bill into the British parliament, traditional elites and intellectuals of the Gold Coast joined together in the ARPS to resist this proposed introduction of British property laws. Casely Hayford and John Mensah Sarbah supported the ARPS's effort by authoring pamphlets that explicated the traditional systems and presented cogent arguments against the Lands Bill.

Over the next few decades, he augmented his already strong reputation by publishing several books that revealed his intelligence and his passionate commitment to achieving prosperity in Africa. Gold Coast Native Institutions, published in 1903, dealt with the issues at stake in the Lands Bill controversy.

He asserted that these societies already possessed democratic institutions and a high degree of civilization. He thought of native institutions as an asset, not a liability, in the quest for progress and modernization.

In his 1911 autobiographical novel, Ethiopia Unbound: Studies in Race Emancipation, Casely Hayford provided a fictionalization of Pan-Africanist themes and ideals. By evoking the achievements and influence of the "Ethiopian" (in Pan-Africanist ideology, this signified all Africans and not just the inhabitants of a particular country in Africa), Casely Hayford boasted that the African could feel proud of his heritage despite the various racial theories that cast him as inferior.

The goal of activism should be to encourage the expansion of education, the preservation of indigenous customs where they proved durable and useful, and the unification of Africans both within a single colony and within a region governed by a single imperial power. Eventually, this unity should extend across Africa and would reap tremendous economic, political, and cultural benefits for all Africans as they strived to modernize.

In keeping with his ideology, Casely Hayford worked to organize the National Congress of British West Africa in the years immediately following World War I. The group met for the first time in 1920, and Casely Hayford became its vice president.

The congress's agenda of promoting economic development, education, and democratic institutions without seeking complete independence from Britain reflected Casely Hayford's own hopes. He expected that British West Africa would become the continent's leader in the overall effort to modernize.

Future generations might criticize Casely Hayford for his gradualism and willingness to accept British rule. Even when frustrated by British intransigence, he never resorted to violence or other radical tactics that might have gotten results.

Despite his relatively few concrete achievements, he became the leader of his generation and urged his fellow citizens to prepare to govern themselves and to take pride in their culture and traditions.