Joseph Ephraim Casely-Hayford or Ekra-Agiman (29 September 1866–11 August 1930) was a Fante journalist, author, lawyer, educator, and politician who supported pan-African nationalism. He was born on 29 September 1866 in Cape Coast, in the British Gold Coast colony, now Ghana.
His family, part of the Anono clan, was fairly wealthy; his father was the Reverend Joseph de Graft Hayford.
He attended the Wesleyan Boys High School in Cape Coast, and Fourah Bay College in Freetown, Sierra Leone. While in Freetown, Casely Hayford became an admirer and follower of Edward Wilmot Blyden, the foremost pan-African figure at the time, who edited Negro, the first explicitly pan-African journal in West Africa. Upon his return to Ghana, he became a high school teacher, and eventually principal at Accra Wesleyan High School. He was dismissed from his position at the school for his political activism, which prompted him to go work as a newspaper editor, first for his uncle James Hutton Brew at the Gold Coast Echo, then the Gold Coast Chronicle, and the Wesleyan Methodist Times.
In 1893, Casely Hayford traveled to London, and trained to be a barrister at the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple, and at Peterhouse, Cambridge. It was whilst lodging at a hostel for African bachelors that he met his wife Adelaide Casely-Hayford (née Smith) who was inspired by him and became a prominent writer. He was called to the Bar on 17 November 1896 and returned to Ghana in that year to private law practices in Cape Coast, Axim, Sekondi and Accra, as well as continuing his work as a journalist, editing the Gold Coast Leader. In 1904, he helped found the Mfantsipim School, and in 1910 succeeded John Mensah Sarbah as president of the Aborigines’ Rights Protection Society.
Casely Hayford went on to write several books, primarily as commentary and opposition to British land management acts, such as the Crown Lands Bill of 1897, and the Forest Ordinance of 1911. His view was that African identity and African social stability were inextricably linked to conservation of existing conventions concerning land rights.
Casely Hayford was also heavily involved in the political movement for African emancipation. He participated in Booker T. Washington’s International Conference on the Negro in 1912, and his correspondence with Washington fostered the pan-African movement in both Africa and the United States.
Casely Hayford’s career in public office began with his nomination to the Legislative Council in 1916. As a legislator he served on various public commissions, and received an MBE in 1919. In the same year he formed West Africa’s first nationalist movement, the National Congress of British West Africa, one of the earliest formal organizations working toward African emancipation. He represented the Congress in London in 1920, to demand constitutional reforms from the colonial secretary, and address the League of Nations Union, but was criticized for accepting inadequate concessions from the British. He became the first patron of the West African Students’ Union in 1925, and was elected as municipal member for Sekondi in September 1927. The National Congress was dissolved shortly after Casely Hayford’s death in 1930.
Casely Hayford’s novel Ethiopia Unbound is one of the first novels in English by an African. It has been cited as the earliest pan-African fiction. The novel is set in both Africa and England. It relies on philosophical debates between an African and his English friend, as well as references to contemporary African events and ancient African history, to provide a context for its exploration of African identity and the struggle for emancipation.
The Truth About The West African Land Question (1898. Reprinted, 1913. Reprinted London: Cass, 1971)
Gold Coast Native Institutions: With Thoughts Upon A Healthy Imperial Policy for the Gold Coast and Ashanti (1903. Reprinted London: Cass, 1970, ISBN 0-7146-1754-7)
Ethiopia Unbound: Studies in Race Emancipation (1911. Reprinted London: Cass, 1969, ISBN 0-7146-1753-9)
Gold Coast Land Tenure and the Forest Bill (1911)
William Waddy Harris, the West African reformer (1915)
United West Africa (1919)
West African Leadership: Public speeches delivered by the Honourable J. E. Casely Hayford – edited by Magnus J. Sampson (1951)