Francis Zaccharius Santiago Peregrino was a journalist and public intellectual who, in the early 1900s, challenged notions of Black racial inferiority in the pages of the fortnightly newspaper that he produced for Black readers, the South African Spectator. He was also instrumental in shaping Coloured politics in the Cape at that time.

He was born in 1851 in Accra, Gold Coast (Ghana) to Zaqueu Francisco. Zaqueu Francisco was the son of a West African woman who was enslaved and taken to Brazil, and who took her children with her when she returned to Accra.

Peregrino gained his elementary school education in Accra, and thereafter studied first in Sierra Leone, and then England. He stayed in England after he had completed his studies and found work as a clerk in the iron industry. He also married an American woman, Ellen Sophia Williams, in 1876. Within two years, the couple had two children.

In 1887, Peregrino moved from England to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in America. (He may well have done so to find better economic opportunities as England faced a recession.) His family joined him in America within a year, and by 1896, he was living in Buffalo, New York and publishing the Buffalo Spectator, a weekly newspaper which was geared toward the “Coloured people” and thus served as a forerunner of sorts to the activities the he would undertake in South Africa. And three years later, he wrote and published the Fortnightly Spectator in Albany – the publication had a similar profile to the Buffalo Spectator.

Peregrino was influenced by Booker T. Washington, an African-American leader who promoted the idea that Blacks should uplift themselves. Peregrino also drew from W.E.B. DuBois, the American historian, activist and sociologist who advocated black unity. And he forged ties with the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which was the independent African-American church. That church also engaged in missionary work in South Africa – which engagement, to the extent that the efforts involved South Africa, presaged activities that Peregrino would undertake before long.

He attended the first Pan African Congress in London in 1900, and, on the strength of experiences there, he chose to go to Cape Town to propagate Pan African views on Black race pride, and on solidarity of people of African extraction. (He and his family made their home in District Six). In pursuit of that goal, he established the South African Spectator within two weeks of reaching Cape Town. The fortnightly newspaper first appeared on 1 December 1900. Among other things, the publication invited aggrieved Blacks to share their concerns with the newspaper. Peregrino also provided publicity for Black political organisations that he established in Cape Town.

Peregrino founded quite a few organisations. The Pan-African society was the first of them, but it did not fare very well after its 1900 establishment. The Coloured Men’s Protectorate and Political Association (CMPPA) – which was also set up in 1900 by Peregrino – did better, as did the Coloured People’s Vigilance Society (CPVS), which came about in 1901. Both organisations admitted Blacks only, even though W.A. Roberts, a very prominent member of the Cape Town Coloured elite, served as president of both organisations. And both organisations sought the extension of the franchise to all Blacks, whether in the British colonies or the Boer Republics. Peregrino, who served as secretary of both CMPPA and CPVS used the South African Spectator to promote the organisations.

He used the South African Spectator to foster his views on three linked issues: first, it challenged the notion that Blacks were racially inferior. Second, it advanced Black racial pride. And third, it advocated that Blacks should cultivate certain traits such as sobriety – which was very much in keeping with the doctrine he inherited from Booker T. Washington that Blacks were largely responsible for their own betterment, and that they should endeavour to improve themselves. Peregrino envisioned Blacks becoming assimilated into White society, and thus comportment by Blacks that would have agreed with notions of propriety accepted by Whites was important to him. Perhaps he overlooked the possibility that he advocated ceding the power to shape social conventions to Whites which, in a sense, somewhat undermined indigenous Black notions of rectitude. He even attacked instances of Black “immorality” in the South African Spectator. Thus, Peregrino was in many ways an unapologetic Anglophile and he set social standards that were consistent with British norms as the pinnacle of Black societal achievement. He was also against the Afrikaner Bond – and his aversion to it was in keeping with his high opinion of British conceptions of propriety.

Other Coloured political organisations outshone the CMPPA and CPVS. Future organisations such as the African Political Organisation (APO) and the SACPO gained far greater followings. Thus, Peregrino’s historical significance does not really lie in having established organisations that garnered broad support. Rather, his significance lies in his intellectual and ideological contributions. In addition to his publishing and political organisational activities, Peregrino also helped set up the “Stone Meetings.” Those meetings were really informal debating sessions which were held on Sundays in District Six for the purpose of educating local residents. John Tobin, a Coloured businessman in the Cape, had the idea to establish the informal meetings and procured Peregrino’s help to do so.

Peregrino was not wholly enamoured of the Cape Coloured population. His views did provide an intellectual basis for people of colour to unify in the face of political and economic repression. But, he took a dim view of Coloureds who sort to distinguish themselves from Blacks, as that ran counter to his more comprehensive vision of Black solidarity.

He died of a heart attack on 19 November 1919 in Cape Town. After he died, most of his family, including his widow, left South Africa for either England or America. 

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