Denbow, Claude H. A.
Denbow, Claude H. A.
March 28, 1911
January 6, 1979
Claude Hicks Augustus Denbow epitomized the mission of his alma mater, Howard University, in providing "leadership for America and the global community." The son of Sarah Louisa and Charles Denbow, chief county sergeant major of police, he attended Leonora Primary School, West Coast Demerara, and the prestigious Queen's College in Georgetown, Guyana, where he excelled academically. In the early 1930s he was unable to obtain employment at the Royal Bank of Canada, Georgetown, likely because he was a dark-skinned African Guianese, so he became a conductor with the Transport and Harbours Department before attending Howard University, beginning in 1935. Denbow was a brilliant undergraduate student and was awarded a chemistry scholarship to attend the College of Dentistry in 1937. He returned home in 1942 and began a career as a dentist. He was also a politician and community leader.
Denbow practiced dentistry for thirty-one years. As president of the British Guiana Labour Union from 1945 to 1952, he was instrumental in improving labor conditions in the colony. He chaired the Waterfront Enquiry Commission (the Denbow Commission) from 1969–1970, which investigated the working conditions of waterfront workers and resulted in significant reforms. Denbow was a founding member of the National Democratic Party in 1943, the forerunner of the United Democratic Party of 1947 that merged with Forbes Burnham's People's National Congress in 1958 and led British Guiana from colonial status to independence from Great Britain as Guyana.
As leader of British Guiana's branch of the League of Coloured Peoples (LCP), founded by Dulcina Armstrong in 1937, Denbow endeavored to fulfill the organization's aims, including instilling in the peoples of African descent racial consciousness and pride, promoting and protecting the general interests of its members, and cooperating and affiliating with sympathetic organizations. The LCP was formed in England in 1931 by Jamaican-born Dr. Harold A. Moody with the assistance of the African Americans Drs. Charles Wesley Harris and St. Clair Drake, along with Jamaican Joel Augustus Rogers, a self-educated historian, to fight the racism that people of color encountered there.
From 1944 to the 1960s, Denbow initiated and organized the LCP's Annual Exhibition and Fair, which showcased local talent, skills, and crafts. The event attracted and promoted African, Caribbean, and African-American artists and entertainers and raised funds for the purchase of the Harold Arundel Moody LCP Hall. Apart from functioning as the organization's headquarters and as a venue for dances, ice-cream banquets, and concerts, it accommodated a school from kindergarten to high school grades, serving its members and children countrywide. It also provided space for co-op savings societies, credit unions, penny banks, and affairs held by the juvenile and women's sections.
Denbow encouraged the study of African culture and languages, and LCP funds provided scholarships for members or their children to study abroad. A scholarship granted to E. V. Liverpool enabled him to train at Boni College, West Africa, as a teacher of the Ibo language. In 1950 Denbow's invitation to King Eze II of Oweri, Nigeria, to visit the country created controversy because some East Indians and the British governor publicly questioned if Eze was indeed royalty and deserved welcome as such. Denbow immediately solicited help from Dr. Ralph Bunche at the United Nations, who had taught him when he was a Howard undergraduate, in making the visit possible. The visit is captured in the 1954 publication Seven Amazing Days. Mary McLeod Bethune emphasized that "this book is most vital since it portrays the great potentials of mankind through the experiences of real people … through the inspiration of their own pride in themselves and in the accomplishments of their kind" (Bethune, 1954).
Denbow maintained linkages with African Americans, including George S. Schuyler of the Pittsburgh Courier. He visited the United States in 1950 and was a guest on Schuyler's Negro World Program on radio station WLIB. Still, Denbow's greatest contribution to Guyana and the African diaspora was his launching of one of the first newspapers by a Howard University alumnus from the Caribbean. The Sentinel, the LCP's organ, was published beginning on April 30, 1950. On August 21, 1950, Howard's president, Dr. Mordecai W. Johnson, belatedly acknowledged Denbow's invitation to write a column on Africa in the inaugural edition of the newspaper. He praised Denbow for his "efforts towards improving conditions touching people of African descent" and congratulated him for his "insight, vision, and industry." Dr. Johnson regarded Denbow as a "credit to Alma Mater."
Denbow's marriage to Catherine Mood Griffith in 1943 produced two sons: Charles, a heart specialist at the University of the West Indies Hospital, Jamaica, and Claude Jr., a law professor at the university's Trinidad campus.
"African Royalty to Set Foot on BG Soil Saturday: Historic Event for Colony." Sentinel (August 6, 1950).
Bethune, Mary McLeod. In Seven Amazing Days in the Life of Eze A. Ogueri II, compiled by the League of Coloured Peoples, British Guiana. Boston: House of Edinboro, 1954.
Denbow, Claude H. "Class of 1941." Howard University Bulletin. The Dentoscope 18 (July 31, 1938): 37–39.
"Dr. Denbow Interviewed by George S. Schuyler." Sentinel (November 5, 1950).
"Dr. Denbow Returns from Business Trip: Had Enjoyable Stay in U.S.A." Sentinel (November 12, 1950).
Foreign Service Despatch, American Consulate, Georgetown, The Department of State, Washington, Decimal File (1910–1963), Memorandum of British Guiana Branch of League of Colored People, July 13, 1944, and 741D.00/8-261, August 2, 1961, Record Group 59, National Archives at College Park (Archives 11), Md.
"He Is King" and "HRH. Eze Anyuara Receives Biggest Welcome Ever: Historic Event in BG." Sentinel (December 31, 1950).
"Howard University President Writes Dr. Denbow." Sentinel (September 24, 1950).
Interviews with Sir John Patrick Carter, QC, KB, CCH, OR, by Barbara P. Josiah. Bethesda, Md., 2003–2004.
Public Record Office (The National Archives), London, Colonial Office (CO) 111-1950-51/820/8, Reports and Correspondence 6655/10, British Guiana. 1950 Visit by King Eze Ogueri of Obibi, Nigeria.
"They Met at Lake Success." Sentinel (September 30, 1950).
barbara p. josiah (2005)