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J. E. Casely Hayford (1866-1903) was a Gold Coast lawyer, politician, journalist, and educator. He was a leading pan-African nationalist.
On Sept. 29, 1866, J. E. Casely Hayford was born of a prominent family in the coastal town of Cape Coast. He attended the Wesleyan Boys' High School there and Fourah Bay College in Freetown, Sierra Leone (1872-1874). In Freetown, at this time the leading educational and pan-African center in western Africa, Hayford became a staunch admirer and disciple of Edward Wilmot Blyden, the foremost pan-African figure of his time, who edited the Negro, the first explicitly pan-African journal in West Africa.
Although a militant advocate of African and pan-African causes, Hayford never became bitter and always acted "constitutionally." He was a dapper man of medium height, charming, and with a keen sense of humor. To point up the hypocrisy of "Christians," he often referred to himself as a "pagan." He was no prig: he enjoyed a social drink and the company of women. He was twice married. He had a son, Archie Hayford, the well-known Ghanaian lawyer, by his first wife, and a daughter, Gladys, by his second.
Hayford began his career as a journalist, serving as an assistant editor on the Western Echo (1885-1887) and as editor of the Gold Coast Echo (1888-1890). He edited the Gold Coast Chronicle and contributed articles to the Gold Coast Independent (1891-1893). Later he helped edit the Gold Coast Methodist Times and was closely associated with the Gold Coast Aborigines. In 1902 Hayford and three other colleagues founded the Gold Coast Leader, which became the main organ of his propaganda until his death.
Hayford's formal career as a teacher was short-lived. He was headmaster of the Wesleyan Boys' High School at Accra (1891-1893). But throughout his entire adult life he was a staunch advocate of education at all levels along "racial and national lines." In 1902 he became one of the founders of the Mfantsi National Education Fund to provide for the "proper education" of the children of the Gold Coast. Children were to be taught to read and write in Fante, and the study of Gold Coast history, geography, institutions, and customs was to be emphasized. But the scheme aborted.
In 1911, in his book Ethiopia Unbound, Hayford publicly advocated the establishment of a national university with a curriculum relevant to African needs and conditions. In 1919 he and other colleagues sought unsuccessfully to establish secular independent high schools through the newly formed Gold Coast National Education Scheme. Hayford's educational dream was partly realized when the Gold Coast government opened Achimota College in 1927. Its curriculum was Africanized, and throughout the remainder of the colonial period it was the premier primary and secondary educational institution in the Gold Coast. Hayford was a member of the Achimota Council and also served on the Gold Coast Board of Education.
Hayford saw the knowledge of law as an important asset in promoting his political ambitions. In the late 1880s he worked as a law clerk in Cape Coast. During the academic year 1893/1894 he studied jurisprudence at St. Peter's College, Cambridge, and during the next 2 years continued his study of law at Inner Temple, London. He was called to the bar on Nov. 17, 1896, and shortly thereafter returned to the Gold Coast.
As a lawyer-politician, Hayford successfully argued and agitated against two measures which would have resulted in the alienation of African lands to the British crown: the Lands Bill of 1897 and the proposed Forest Bill of 1911. The research for his briefs against these two bills formed the basis of three of his books: Gold Coast Native Institutions (1903), Gold Coast Land Tenure and the Forest Bill (1911), and The Truth about the West African Land Question (1913). In the Legislative Council he fearlessly criticized the shortcomings of colonial rule and constantly demanded a larger African say in running their affairs. He himself served on several government commissions.
Early in his career Hayford came to see the essential problem of Africans—both in the ancestral home and abroad—as regaining self-confidence and self-respect, which had been crushed by European exploitation and degradation. He therefore inveighed strongly against the uncritical acceptance of European ideas, customs, and institutions. In 1888 he publicly stressed the need to retain African languages and African dress. In his newspapers he regularly recalled the achievement of outstanding Africans so as to foster racial pride. In 1916 he published William Waddy Harris: The Man and His Message, a biography of an outstanding African religious prophet.
Hayford took an especially keen interest in Afro-Americans and encouraged the pan-African aspirations of Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois and Marcus Garvey and their followers. Hayford's last pamphlet, The Disabilities of Black Folk and Their Treatment, with an Appeal to the Labour Party, was in the tradition of pan-African protest.
In West Africa, Hayford's pan-African dream took the form of an independent federation of the British colonies— Gambia, Sierra Leone, Gold Coast, and Nigeria—within the British Commonwealth. In 1914 he began seriously to discuss the idea of a conference of representatives from the four British colonies. In 1919 he made the case for west African unity in a pamphlet, United West Africa.
In March 1920 he succeeded in convening a conference in Accra of some 50 British West African delegates which resulted in the National Congress of British West Africa. The Congress met on three subsequent occasions: Freetown in 1923, Bathurst at the turn of the year 1925/1926, and Lagos in 1929. The Congress lacked mass support and did not realize any of its goals. However, it did act as an important stimulus to African nationalism. With Hayford's death on Aug. 11, 1930, the guiding spirit of the Congress was removed, and it became defunct.