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Hunton, William Alphaeus, Jr.

Hunton, William Alphaeus, Jr.

September 18, 1903
January 13, 1970

Political activist and educator William Alphaeus Hunton Jr., was born in Atlanta, Georgia. After the Atlanta race riot of 1906 Hunton's parents, William Hunton Sr., and Addie Waites Hunton, moved the family to Brooklyn, New York. He received his B.A. from Howard University in 1924. Two years later, Hunton graduated from Harvard University with an M.A. in English and accepted a position as an assistant professor in Howard's English department.

Hunton taught at Howard for over fifteen years, earning a Ph.D. from New York University in 1938 in the process. As a member of Howard's faculty, Hunton participated in the general intellectual activism prevalent at Howard during this period. He was a member of the national executive board of the National Negro Congress (NNC) and remained involved even after the moderates left the NNC and the organization was increasingly dominated by the Communist Party. Thereafter, Hunton was closely associated with the public positions of the party. In 1941 the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC), a congressional committee investigating supposed subversive behavior, accused Hunton of Communist Party membership. After leaving Howard in 1943, Hunton moved to New York City, got married, and became the director of education for the Council on African Affairs (CAA).

While with the council, Hunton prepared and wrote pamphlets, produced news releases, and lobbied international organizations on African issues. In the late 1940s he was active in lobbying the United Nations to prohibit South Africa from annexing South West Africa (now Namibia); he also protested the visit of South African prime minister Jan Smuts to the United States in 1946. Other South African campaigns included an attempt to improve conditions for black South African mineworkers.

In 1951 Hunton and other leftists formed the Civil Rights Bail Fund, which provided bail for those unwilling to give names to HUAC. After refusing himself to provide the names of contributors to the fund, Hunton was sentenced to six months in jail for contempt of court in July 1951. In 1953 the federal government, citing the CAA's aid to the African National Congress and its ongoing ties to the Communist Party, ordered the council to register as a subversive organization. Continued harassment led Hunton to disband the CAA two years later.

Despite the closing of CAA, Hunton remained interested in African affairs, and in 1957 he published Decision in Africa: Sources of Current Conflict. Late the following year he attended the All African People's Conference in Ghana and did not return to the United States until August 1959, after extensive tours of Africa, Europe, and his first of many trips to the Soviet Union. In May 1960 Hunton and his wife moved to Conakry, Guinea, where he taught English in a lycée. After less than two years, the Huntons moved to Accra, Ghana, at the behest of W. E. B. Du Bois, who required Hunton's aid with his Encyclopedia Africana project. Du Bois died in 1963 before the project was complete. Hunton and his wife were deported after Kwamé Nkrumah's government fell during a military coup in 1966. After briefly returning to the United States, the Huntons settled in Lusaka, Zambia, in 1967. He lived there until his death from cancer in early 1970.

See also Atlanta Riot of 1906; Intellectual Life


Hunton, Dorothy. Alphaeus Hunton: The Unsung Valiant. New York: Eppress Speed Print, Inc., 1986.

Hunton, William Alphaeus, Jr. Decision in Africa: Sources of Current Conflict. New York: International Publishers, 1957.

Von Eschen, Penny. Race Against Empire: Black Americans and Anticolonialism, 19371957. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1997.

john c. stoner (1996)
Updated bibliography

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