The True Nature Of King Leopold's Congo

3894 words - 16 pages

As the Scramble for Africa intensified, it became clear that certain fundamental rules had to be established; with this purpose in mind, Bismarck formed the Berlin Conference in November, 1884 (Hochschild, 84). Despite not being present at the conference, Leopold made out quite well. He gained the seaport Matadi and all the land required to build his railway from that port all the way around the rapids to Stanley Pool (Hochschild, 86). Leopold was able to gain so much because he successfully maintained the notion that this colony would be a free trade zone for Europeans; they still did not realize that he alone had a trade monopoly of the region (Hochschild, 86). The conference ended in February, 1885 and in May of that year, “the king named his new, privately controlled country the État indépendant du Congo, the Congo Free State” (Hochschild, 87).
In 1890, an African-American named George Washington Williams discovered for himself the true nature of Leopold's Congo. Williams' path to the Congo took a curved route; he was a former soldier who earned a theology graduate's degree from Howard University, was a newspaper writer and founder, as well as a former politician and historian (Hochschild, 102-105). After being introduced to Henry Shelton Sanford during his lobbying campaign in Washington, Williams himself became enthused with the Congo and saw there an opportunity for African-Americans (Hochschild, 105). He met with Leopold for an interview, where he was as enchanted by the king and his noble mission in Africa as all who had come before (Hochschild, 106). While attempting to recruit young, black Americans for work in the Congo, he was faced with questions regarding life there; realizing his own ignorance, he personally visited the Congo (Hochschild, 106-107).
His illusions were almost immediately shattered. Upon traversing the land, an enraged Williams penned his famous Open Letter to Leopold (Hochschild, 108). This open letter made several significant accusations; for example, that Stanley had been a tyrant, that he and others had tricked Africans into concessions, that the government was cruel to prisoners, that the courts were corrupt, that whites had kidnapped African females to be concubines, and that white officers were shooting Africans indiscriminately for intimidation or even for sport (Hochschild, 109-111). Finally, even though Leopold had portrayed himself and his mission as thoroughly and devoutly antislavery, Williams charged that his government was “engaged in the African slave trade, wholesale and retail. It buys and sells and steals slaves” (Hochschild, 111).
This open letter achieved virtually nothing. It certainly got the attention of the world, but most disregarded Williams because he had embellished his own resume, calling himself a Colonel who had a doctorate when he wasn't and didn't, thereby undermining his integrity (Hochschild, 113-114).
Meanwhile, Leopold was turning his attention to...

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