History Of Malawi

THE TALE OF THREE ‘JOHNS’: CHILEMBWE, DUBE AND BROWN.

John Chilembwe (left).

John Dube was a South African scholar, evangelist and politician. He was the founding President of the South African Native National Congress (SANNC) which later changed its name to the African National Congress (ANC) in 1923. John Dube served as SANNC president between 1912 and 1917.

In 1897, John Dube returned to the USA for further studies. He enrolled at the Union Missionary Seminary in New York. This is the same year that John Chilembwe also arrived in USA from Nyasaland with Joseph Booth. 

John Dube was of the same age as John Chilembwe. While in USA the two met, intensely interacted and spent some time together.

Having arrived in the USA previously on a study program at the age of 16, John Dube had had almost a decade of exposure to the higher levels of consciousness of black American society. 

By 1897 when John Dube came to closely interact with John Chilembwe, John Dube had emerged as a highly articulate, confident and well-connected young native from Africa in whose company John Chilembwe could have been so much impressed and inspired.

A historian, Peter Baxter in his article A Parting of the Ways concludes:

“John Chilembwe came very much under the influence of John Dube, and would have emerged from several weeks of close association with a great deal to think about. The three men, Chilembwe, Dube and Booth, were thrust together in Brooklyn as all three were energetically pursuing the same ideal – that of the commencement of independent blacks churches and missions in Africa.”

Both John Dube and John Chilembwe were profoundly influenced and inspired by Booker T Washington the black educator, pan-africanist and most influential speaker for the welfare of Africans in America between 1895 and 1915.

In March 1899, John Dube was ordained as a priest by the Congregational Church. 

In 1900, like John Chilembwe, John Dube also left USA for home (South Africa) where again like John Chilembwe who founded the Providence Industrial Mission in Chiradzulo, he established the Zulu Christian Industrial Institute which was renamed the Ohlange Institute in 1901. 

But there is another person by the name of John from whom John Chilembwe drew some inspiration during his stay in USA. This man is John Brown an American abolitionist who had a strong conviction that only armed resistance was the effective way to dismantle the institution of slavery in USA.

In October 1859, John Brown led an uprising at Harper’s Ferry in USA for the emancipation of enslaved Africans in USA.

George Mwase’s book (1967) Strike a Blow and Die, argues that John Chilembwe spoke highly during his pre-rebellion sermons about John Brown and the October 1859 Uprising at Harper’s Ferry in USA.

From George Mwase’s book, one learns that inspired by a desperate spirit of anti-slavery demonstrated by John Brown at Harper’s Ferry in USA in 1859, John Chilembwe realized that his movement could not succeed but that some natives had to make a protest against the injustices of the plantation owners and the colonial regime in Nyasaland: a blow had to be struck for freedom and then the rebels must die.

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