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Edward Wilmot Blyden
c 1860s, London
c 1860s, London
Born:  3 August 1832
Place of birth:  Saint Thomas (now Virgin Islands)
Died:  7 February 1912
Place of death:  Freetown, Sierra Leone
Nationality:  Creole, Americo-Liberian
Known for:  "Father of Pan-Africanism"
Liberian ambassador and politician
Occupation:  educator, writer, diplomat, politician
Spouse(s):  Sarah Yates
Partner(s):  Anna Erskine

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Edward Wilmot Blyden (3 August 1832 – 7 February 1912) was a Sierra Leone Creole and Americo-Liberian educator, writer, diplomat, and politician in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Because Blyden was an intellectual force in both Liberia and Sierra Leone, historians regard him as both a Sierra Leone Creole and an Americo-Liberian.


Early life

Blyden was born in Saint Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands (then under Danish rule) to free parents on August 3, 1832. His parents claimed to be of Igbo descent.[1][2]

In 1845 a new and important influence came into Blyden's life when the Reverend John P. Knox, a white American, went to St. Thomas for reasons of health, and assumed the pastorship of the St. Thomas Protestant Dutch Reformed Church. Blyden and his family lived near the church and Knox was impressed with the studious and pious boy of pious parents and became his mentor, encouraging his considerable aptitude for oratory and literature. Mainly because of his close association with the able and kindly Knox, Edward Wilmot Blyden decided to become a clergyman, an aspiration which his parents encouraged. In May 1850, Blyden accompanied by Reverend Knox's wife to the United States and attempted to enroll in Rutgers' Theological Collge, Knox's alma matter. He was refused admission due to his race. Efforts to get him enrolled in two other theological colleges also failed.

Later that year, Blyden arrived in Liberia and was soon deeply involved in its development. Some of Blyden's descendants still reside in Freetown, and one of his descendants is the controversial Sylvia Blyden who is also an editor of the Awareness Times. Blyden married Sarah Yates an Americo-Liberian mulatto who was from the prominent Americo-Liberian Yates family. Sarah Yates was the niece of Liberian vice president, Hilary Yates and she gave birth to three children with Blyden. Blyden later on (in Freetown, Sierra Leone) had a relationship with Anna Erskine an African American from Louisiana who was also the granddaughter of the mulatto President of Liberia James Spriggs-Payne. Blyden had five children with Anna Erskine and his descendants in Sierra Leone are descended from this union. He died in Freetown, Sierra Leone, on February 7, 1912 and was buried at Racecourse Cemetery in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Blyden believed that Black Americans suffering discrimination had a role to play in the development of Africa by leaving America and returning to the African continent. He was critical of African-Americans who did not associate with Africa[3].


From 1855-1856, Blyden edited the Liberia Herald and wrote "A Voice From Bleeding Africa".

As a diplomat, he served as an ambassador for Liberia to Britain and France. He also spent time in other British colonies in West Africa, particularly Nigeria and Sierra Leone, writing for early newspapers in both colonies.

Blyden was the Liberian Secretary of State (1862-1864) and Minister of the Interior (1880-1882).

In addition to holding many positions of leadership in politics and diplomacy, he also taught classics at Liberia College (1862-1871) and served as its president (1880-1884). From 1901-06, Blyden directed the education of Muslims in Sierra Leone.


As a writer, Blyden is regarded widely as the "father of Pan-Africanism"; his major work, Christianity, Islam and the Negro Race (1887), pushed forward the idea that Islam, a major religion in sub-Saharan Africa, has a much more unifying and fulfilling effect on sub-Saharan Africans, while Christianity, also a major religion in Africa which was mostly introduced by its European colonizers, had a demoralizing effect. This idea would play a major role in the 20th-century revival of Islam among African-Americans, which ran parallel to the rejection of Christianity as a white man's religion.

Blyden supported the creation of a Jewish State in Israel and praised Theodore Herzl as the creator of "that marvelous movement called Zionism."[4]

His work Christianity, Islam and the Negro Race caused the most controversy in Britain not because of its content but because of disbelief that a black African had written it. [5]


  • Africa for the Africans, <<African Repository>>, Washington, January, 1872.
  • African Life and Customs, London, C.M. Phillips, 1908.
  • West Africa Before Europe, London, C.M. Phillips, 1905.
  • The Call of Providence to the Descendants of Africa in America. A Discourse Delivered to Coloured Congregations in the Cities of New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Harrisburg, during the Summer of 1862, <<Liberia's Offering>>, New York, 1862.
  • Christianity, Islam and the Negro Race, London, W.B. Whittingham & Co., 1887; 2nd Edition1 888; 3rd Edition 1967 University of Edinburgh Press.
  • The Elements of Permanent Influence: Discourse Delivered at the 15th St. Presbyterian Church, Washington, D.C., Sunday, February 16 1890 Washington. R. L. Pedleton, printer, 1890.
  • Liberia as a Means, Not an End. Liberian Independence Oration July 26, 1867; African Repository, Washington. November, 1867.
  • The Negro in Ancient History, Liberia: Past, Present, and Future, Washington, M'Gill & Witherow Printer, <<Methodist Quarterly Review>>.
  • The Origin and Purpose of African Colonization. A Discourse Delivered at the 66th Anniversary of the American Colonization Society, Washington, D. C., January 14, 1883, Washington, 1883.
  • A Vindication of the African Race; Being a Brief Examination of the Arguments in Favor of African Inferiority (First Published in Liberia, in August, 1857), <<Liberia's Offering>>, New York, 1862.
  • Report on the Falaba Expedition 1872. Addressed to His Excellency Governor J. Pope Hennessy, C.M.G. by E. W. Blyden M.A. Published by authority Freetown, Sierra Leone. Printed at the Government office., 1872.
  • Liberia at the American Centennial. << Methodist Quarterly Review>>, July, 1877.
  • America in Africa, Christian Advocate I., July 28, 1898, II August 4, 1898.
  • The Negro in the United States, A.M.E. Church Review, Jan. 1900.


  1. ^ "Edward Wilmot Blyden". Edward Wilmot Blyden. Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2008-11-19.  
  2. ^
  3. ^ Africa For The Africans!
  4. ^ The Colors of Zion: Black, Jewish, and Irish Nationalisms At the Turn of the Century, George Bornstein,Modernism/modernity 12.3 (2005) 369-384 [1]
  5. ^ Edward Wilmot Blyden Photograph

See also

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