George W. Williams
George Washington Williams
George Washington Williams was the first African American elected to the Ohio General Assembly.
Williams was born on October 16, 1849, in Bedford Springs, Pennsylvania. At fourteen years of age, he enlisted in the Union Army during the American Civil War. Following this conflict, he moved to Mexico, where he fought beside the Mexican populace to remove Emperor Maximilian from power. By 1867, Williams had returned to the United States of America, where he enlisted in the United States Army. In 1868, Williams was wounded in a skirmish with Native Americans in the Western United States. Because of his injuries, Williams received an honorable discharge.
Upon leaving the military, Williams enrolled at Howard University and eventually in Newton Theological Institution, where he was ordained as a Baptist minister. He found employment in numerous churches, but he eventually moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he studied law. He also served in the Ohio General Assembly from 1880 to 1881. He was the first African American elected to the Ohio legislature. In 1885, President Chester A. Arthur appointed Williams as the United States ambassador to Haiti, but Williams did not assume this position.
Williams is most famous for his condemnation of Belgian actions in the Congo. In 1890, Williams visited the Congo, which was the possession of King Léopold II of Belgium. On July 18, 1890, Williams sent "An Open Letter to His Serene Majesty Léopold II, King of the Belgians and Sovereign of the Independent State of Congo." In this letter, which was published in newspapers across the world, Williams condemned Léopold II for the brutal treatment of residents of the Congo. Nations around the world criticized Belgium for its actions.
Besides his political activities, Williams also was an active author. Over the course of his life, he published two books: A History of Negro Troops in the War of Rebellion and The History of the Negro Race in America 1619–1880. Williams died on August 2, 1891, in Blackpool, England. He was returning home to the United States, following his trip to the Congo.
- Franklin, John Hope, George Washington Williams: A Biography. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1985.