Jones, Ethelred Nathaniel
The Rev. Ethelred Nathaniel Jones (June 28, 1884-. 29, 1954) who from the 1920s, onwards also used the name Laminah Sankoh, was one of the most outstanding and fearless leaders in pre-independence Sierra Leone. Passionately dedicated to the unification of Colony and Protectorate, he founded the People’s Party in 1948 towards the end of a long career as a radical churchman, political writer and educator.
He was born at Gloucester in the mountain district of Freetown, the eldest son of Edward Jones, a merchant who exported peanuts (groundnuts) from Gambia to England, and of his wife Ransolina. Educated at the village school, the Cathedral School, Albert Academy, and the Church Missionary Society (CMS) Grammar School, (now Sierra Leone Grammar School), he graduated from Fourah Bay College with a B. A.
His father wished him to study medicine in England, but contrary to this wish, Jones decided instead to take holy orders, in order to preach and teach among the people. With this in view, he entered Wycliffe College, Oxford, where he studied theology and philosophy, disciplines which colored his thoughts and actions throughout his life.
At Oxford he had a sharp taste of racial prejudice, when, after hearing a sermon in which an Anglican bishop had appealed for candidates for ordination, he wrote offering himself for the ministry. The bishop replied saying that on no account would he lay his hands on a black man’s head. Being a regular columnist in the Spectator, Jones took up the issue, and wrote to the editor in scathing terms of this open manifestation of racial discrimination within the church. He got little satisfaction, however, for the editor, summoning him to his office and confirming that he was indeed black, lost interest and failed to honor a second appointment to meet.
Jones was eventually ordained a deacon in 1923 by the Bishop of Peterborough who wore white gloves in protection against his “blackness,” which he removed after the service. But the earlier episode had so embittered him that as well as his European names he also began using the Temne name Laminah Sankoh. In so doing he was also expressing solidarity with the peoples of the Protectorate, to whom the majority of the Krios (Creoles) were opposed.
He returned home in 1924, but his relations with the church were from the beginning strained. Unorthodox in small matters, such as the arrangement of his vestments, as well as in the content of his sermons, which were searching and provocative, he annoyed his colleagues and irritated his seniors. Later in 1924, he was ordained as a priest, and was appointed curate of Holy Trinity Church. He held the post until 1927, during which time, given the meager resources of the church, his father paid him a stipend. During his curacy, he relieved Bishop T.S. Johnson as lecturer in logic at Fourah Bay College.
In 1927, greatly disappointed at the lack of progressive thinking in the church in Sierra Leone, Jones resigned his curacy and returned to Britain, where he read Education at Oxford. A year later he travelled to the United States, where he taught at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, and the state college at Orangeburg, South Carolina. In 1930 he returned to Britain once more, where he was active in the West African Students’ Union (WASU), a political pressure group for self-government, founded through the efforts of H. C. Bankole-Bright. He became a regular contributor to the WASU journal, of which he later became editor. He also made a study of cooperatives in Manchester, from which he gained certain key ideas which had a definitive effect on his social and political thinking.
In the early 1940s he returned again to Sierra Leone where he immediately embarked on political and civic work of all kinds. At the grass-roots level he was concerned to educate his fellow countrymen in their political rights and duties while at the same time he was deeply involved in the political conflict between Colony and Protectorate. He took an active part in the reconstruction of the Freetown City Council and was elected a councilor for the Central ward in 1948. He also gave an extra-mural course in co-operatives in association with the Extra-Mural Department of Fourah Bay College, and was at one time president of the Freetown Adult Education Committee. One of his last official assignments was to be appointed to a commission set up to investigate the financial affairs and future of Fourah Bay College, which the CMS had declared it could no longer support as a private institution.
Laminah Sankoh put into practice ideas gained from his study of Manchester co-operatives, and founded the Sierra Leone Aro (Co-operative) Society. This met with the bitterest opposition from the government, as it appeared to defy the special ordinance decreeing that official permission was essential for the use of the word “co-operative” in forming associations. By using the Yoruba word ‘aro’, almost the same in meaning, Sankoh had technically avoided the issue. It was believed, wrongly, that his Aro Society was affiliated to the Co-operative Society in Britain, but that could only have been possible had each member paid the necessary £50 to join. But Sankoh’s membership was concerned with pennies, not pounds.
Another of his ideas was to establish a “Penny Bank,” with a passbook being issued to each of his supporters to enter the penny savings. Unfortunately, it did not become popular, as a result of propaganda by his enemies that he would misappropriate the savings.
In addition to his political field-work, in 1948 Laminah Sankoh, with the assistance of a prominent lawyer, C. D. Hotobah-During, founded a daily newspaper in Freetown called the African Vanguard, which continued publication until 1962. He edited this paper until a few months before his death. He also continued to pursue a cherished aim to found an African church whose theology and philosophy would be free of Western accretions and influences. The “People’s Church,” to which his supporters adhered, was Christian in outlook, but the main accent was on the African approach to God. It was open to anyone, irrespective of creed or nationality.
Meanwhile Sankoh wrote and published work which reflected his characteristic qualities of elegance of style and simplicity. Among his many pamphlets are the 2* Ps or Politics for the People* (dealing with Colony-Protectorate politics), Recreation, A Root Cause of the Dissension Between the Peoples of the Colony and the Protectorate, and Fourah Bay Fund: The Alternative.
It was, however, in national politics that this committed political philosopher made his most lasting impact. After his second return to Sierra Leone in the early 1940s he initiated the (People’s) Forum, a mainly cultural organization intended to examine the views and values held by Sierra Leoneans. It met initially in his house at Wilberforce Street on Sunday evenings, but when the crowds became too large it transferred to the Memorial Hall. The Forum became so popular that the Freetown intelligentsia spread word that Sankoh was a revolutionary.
While almost the entire Colony was misguided enough to uphold a “united country based on segregation and prescriptive rights,” this Colony-born man had the courage to stand by his conviction that Sierra Leone was one country, and that its inhabitants should live and work for the common weal.
When it became inevitable that the Stevenson Constitution of 1947, which gave much greater representation to the Protectorate in the Legislative Council, would be implemented, the articulate political groups in the Colony formed a federation in August 1950. This was the National Council (N.C.) of the Colony of Sierra Leone. Among its leaders were Dr. H. C. Bankole-Bright, C. D. Hotabah-During, and C. M. A. Thompson. The sole group not represented in the federation was Sankoh’s People’s Party, founded in 1948, and consisting of liberal Krios (Creoles).
Eight months after the formation of the N. C., the People’s Party merged with the Sierra Leone Organization Society (SOS), primarily representing the people of the Protectorate. The new party was called the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP). Formed in 1951, its leadership included Dr. M. A. S. Margai, Chief Bai Farima Tass, A. J. Momoh, and Kande Bureh. Laminah Sankoh also transferred ownership of the *African Vanguard *to the new party.
Sankoh contested the 1951 elections to the Legislative Council as an SLPP candidate for Freetown, acting as a spokesman for the Protectorate Africans and the Krios. He was, however, defeated.
The explicit program of the National Council was to oppose the unification of the Colony with the Protectorate because it would spell the end of Krio domination in politics. “We object to foreigners (i.e. Protectorate Africans) preponderating in our Legislative Council,” declared their election manifesto, issued in the 1951 election to the Legislative Council. After the council meeting of November 29, 1951, Bankole-Bright, the leader of the N. C., uttered the unfortunate statement that the peoples of the Colony and the Protectorate were like two hills standing opposed to each other which would never meet. Seven months later he went so far as to move for a grant of immediate independence for the Colony.
It was the arrogance and obstinacy of the leaders of the N.C. that spurred Laminah Sankoh to publish in 1952 his most discussed work, 2 Ps or Politics for the People, in which he proposed his solutions for bridging the widening breach between Colony and Protectorate. His arguments fired the imagination of almost the whole population, causing a stir of unprecedented political fervor among Sierra Leonean Africans.
To the people of the Protectorate he said: “When you think of the Colony, do not think so much of those who have insulted you, those who have said they would not be ruled by gowned men. Think more of those who, like yourselves, are members of the ILPP and who are working for the unification of the country. When you meet to legislate, do not think exclusively of the Protectorate, but of the country as a whole. This [the Stevenson] constitution has put us all in the same boat. We shall either reach our destination together–Freedom–or sink together. I am confident that under your direction the barque will arrive safely in port.”
On the other hand his advice to the Colony was: “Change or Perish! By your refusal to adapt yourselves to a changed environment you have forfeited the ship of the country. In the process of time, after you have rehabilitated yourselves, after you have realized that a man is a man by virtue of his humanity not by his antecedents or profession, you may succeed in producing a man who is capable of commanding the heights and commanding the allegiance of the whole country.”
Like many outstanding men who were in advance of time, Laminah Sankoh did not live to see the results of his untiring work. His aim was not self-glorification but the unity of his country. After his defeat in the 1951 elections, however, his personal fortunes declined. Convinced of the rightness of his cause, he lost his property in an attempt to save African Vanguard, and as a result was financially ruined.
He died in 1954, poor and broken-hearted, but had a decent and honorable funeral.
D. H. Thomas
E. N. Jones (Laminah Sankoh), The Significance of Our Acceptance of the Municipality Ordinance, Freetown, 1947, The Fourah Bay College Fund: The Alternative, Freetown, 1948, The Root Cause of Dissension Between the Peoples of the Colony and Protectorate, Freetown, 1951, The Two Ps or Politics for the People, Freetown, 1952; K. Little, Negroes in Britain, London, 1947; M. M. Kilson, Political Change in a West African State, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1966; A. T. Porter, Creoledom, London, 1963; D. H. Thomas, “The Black Moses of Sierra Leone’s Independence,” Aureol Review, August, 1969.
This article was reprinted from The Encyclopaedia Africana Dictionary of African Biography (In 20 Volumes). Volume Two: Sierra Leone-Zaire, Ed. L. H. Ofosu-Appiah. New York: Reference Publications Inc., 1979. All rights reserved.