Chilembwe, John

1871–1915
Malawian nationalist

John Chilembwe was a church leader and opponent of European colonialism in Africa. His activities helped inspire the independence movement in his country of MALAWI and nationalism in Africa. Schooled at a Scottish Presbyterian mission in Malawi, Chilembwe broke with the Presbyterians in 1892 after meeting Baptist missionary Joseph Booth. Booth took Chilembwe to the United States to attend a black Baptist seminary in Lynchburg, Virginia. Upon his return to Malawi in 1900, Chilembwe established the Providence Industrial Mission. In addition, he criticized local European estate holders for their treatment of African workers.

In 1914, on the eve of World War I, Chilembwe published a letter titled “The Voice of African Natives in the Present War.” The letter was an early expression of African nationalism. Chilembwe also secretly organized an uprising against colonial rule. Authorities put the rebellion down quickly, and Chilembwe was killed. His reputation, however, lived on. The memory of Chilembwe played a major role in Malawi’s eventual independence and the breakdown of colonial rule in central Africa. (See also Colonialism in Africa.)

Chilembwe, John