I’ve been slow in posting the iTunes videos of the Duke Human Rights Center events. This is a great one, featuring noted historian John Hope Franklin talking with CUNY scholar Lea Wernick Fridman about African-American politician, historian and journalist George Washington Williams.
Williams had a fascinating, complicated life. A Civil War veteran, he fought with Mexican rebels against the emperor Maximilian, served in the Ohio state legislature, wrote several volumes of African-American history and was appointed to a diplomatic post in Haiti. In 1889, he decided to visit King Leopold’s Congo. Appalled by the conditions there, he wrote “An Open Letter to His Serene Majesty Léopold II, King of the Belgians and Sovereign of the Independent State of Congo” in 1890. The letter condemned the brutal and inhuman treatment the Congolese were suffering at the hands of the colonizers.
Williams told the King that these crimes were committed in his name, making him as guilty as the actual culprits. He appealed to the international community of the day to “call and create an International Commission to investigate the charges herein preferred in the name of Humanity…”
He’s widely credited with coining the term “crimes against humanity.”
John Hope’s biography of Williams is a fascinating read, review here in the New York Times.