Slave Narratives

What is the importance of George Washington Williams?

George Washington Williams (1849–1891) was the author of the first major history of blacks in America. His History of the Negro Race in America from 1619 to 1880, published in 1882 in two volumes, was a major event and earned him respect for meeting the standards of professional historians. Williams was born in Bedford Springs, Pennsylvania, and spent time in a home for refugees. A wayward teenager, he changed his name and, in the summer of 1864, joined the Union Army. After his discharge in 1868, Williams received a license to preach in a church in Hannibal, Missouri, and attended Wayland Seminary in Washington, D.C. On June 10, 1874, he completed the theological program at Newton Theological Institution near Boston. While he was pastor of Twelfth Baptist Church in Boston, he wrote his first historical work, History of the Twelfth Baptist Church. In 1875 he was ordained as a Baptist minister but later turned to law and politics, serving a term in the Ohio legislature. Williams passed the Ohio Bar in 1881 and returned to Boston in 1883, where he became a member of the Massachusetts Bar. His active life did not preclude the collection of materials for his histories. His other writings include the valuable History of the Negro Troops in the War of the Rebellion in 1877. His last efforts were attacks on the inhumane government of the Congo Free State, following an 1890 visit there.

George Washington Williams’s History of the Negro Race in America from 1619 to 1880 is the first major history of blacks in America to be published.


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