Academy of Achievement Logo
Achiever Gallery
  The Arts
   + [ Public Service ]
  Science & Exploration
  My Role Model
  Recommended Books
  Academy Careers
Keys to Success
Achievement Podcasts
About the Academy
For Teachers

Search the site

Academy Careers


If you like John Hume's story, you might also like:
Benazir Bhutto,
Millard Fuller,
Coretta Scott King,
John Lewis,
George Mitchell,
Shimon Peres,
Albie Sachs,
Desmond Tutu,
Lech Walesa
and Elie Wiesel

Related Links:
Nobel Prize

Share This Page
  (Maximum 150 characters, 150 left)

John Hume
John Hume
Profile of John Hume Biography of John Hume Interview with John Hume John Hume Photo Gallery

John Hume Biography

Nobel Prize for Peace

John Hume Date of birth: January 18, 1937

Print John Hume Biography Print Biography

  John Hume

John Hume Biography Photo

John Hume was born in the city of Derry, in Northern Ireland. In the British-ruled northern counties of the partitioned island, Catholics suffered keenly from discrimination in employment and housing. The oldest child of a Catholic family in the Bogside district of Derry, John Hume belonged to the first generation in Northern Ireland to have access to free public education, and he seized the opportunity to escape the seemingly endless cycle of poverty and unemployment. At first, he planned to study for the priesthood, but after three years of religious studies, he determined to serve his community by other means. He graduated from the National University of Ireland in 1958 with a B.A. in French and History. He spent several summers studying in France, at St. Malo, Brittany and at the Institut Catholique in Paris. He received his Master's degree from St. Patrick's College, Maynooth, Ireland in 1964.

On returning to Derry, he taught in the local schools, and began looking for other ways to relieve the distress of his community. With a few friends, John Hume founded the Derry Credit Union, the first credit union in Northern Ireland. Modeled on similar institutions in the United States, the Derry Credit Union began with only four members and only seven pounds in its account; 36 years later it would have 14,000 members and assets of £ 21 million. By the time he was 27, John Hume was president of the island-wide Credit Union League of Ireland and Vice President of an international credit union movement. In 1964 Hume helped establish the Derry Housing Association to relieve the city's housing shortage. The Association built many homes, but soon met resistance from the city government, which feared any change in the city's carefully drawn electoral map.

John Hume Biography Photo
Thwarted by the political system, Hume and his associates sought electoral reform through the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association. Inspired by the example of Martin Luther King, Jr., Hume counseled his followers to emulate Dr. King's strategy of nonviolence, but nonviolent demonstrations were met with violent resistance, and the British Army entered the city to restore order. While trying to defuse a confrontation between demonstrators and the Army in 1968, Hume was repeatedly knocked down with a fire hose and finally arrested for "obstructing Her Majesty's forces." He was only fined £20, but he refused to pay, on principle, and appealed his case all the way to the House of Lords in Westminster, where his conviction was overturned.

In 1969, Hume was elected to the Northern Ireland Parliament, defeating a more hard-line Nationalist candidate. The following year, Hume and his associates founded the non-sectarian Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP). In 1971, the British government responded to the SDLP and the fair housing marchers by creating a central independent housing authority, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, to take control of public housing out of the hands of the local authorities.

John Hume Biography Photo
By the time this reform relieved the housing crisis, armed extremists on both sides of the conflict had embarked on a devastating cycle of murder and retaliation. In 1972 the British Government terminated regional government in Northern Ireland and began direct rule from London. The following year, both Britain and Ireland joined the European Economic Community (forerunner of the European Union), and John Hume increasingly looked to the example of European unity for a solution to the problems of Northern Ireland. In 1979, Hume was elected to represent Northern Ireland in the European Parliament at Strasbourg; that same year, he was chosen as leader of the SDLP.

In 1983, Hume was elected or the first time to represent the constituency of Foyle in the House of Commons at Westminster. Voters in Northern Ireland increasingly turned away from more extreme parties to embrace the non-violent, non-sectarian approach of the SDLP. In 1985, the governments of Britain and Ireland reached their first major agreement over Northern Ireland since the 1920s. Both Governments confirmed that there would be no change in the status of Northern Ireland without the consent of a majority of its citizens, and the British government recognized, for the first time, a consultative role for the Irish government in the affairs of Northern Ireland.

John Hume Biography Photo
Hume now undertook one of the most delicate actions of his career, initiating private talks with Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Féin, a party ostensibly committed to the unconditional unification of Ireland, by violence if necessary. It would take five years for these talks to bear fruit. When they became public in 1993, both men were subjected to ferocious criticism, and physical attacks were made on the homes of SDLP members, but the Hume-Adams Initiative opened the door for Britain's affirmation in the Downing St. Declaration that it had no selfish interest in retaining control over Northern Ireland if the population of the region should freely choose unification with Ireland.

Hume seized the opportunity to pressure the governments in Dublin and London to enter into talks with all parties to the conflict. He traveled frequently to the United States to enlist American support for the peace process, and American investment in Northern Ireland's struggling economy. He became such a familiar figure in the halls of the U.S. Congress that Capitol observers took to calling him the "101st Senator." He found an attentive listener in U.S. President Bill Clinton, who in 1995 became the first U.S. President to visit Belfast and Derry, lending visible American support for multi-party talks.

John Hume Biography Photo
An unexpected partner joined the peace process in 1995 when the mainstream Unionist Party, the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), chose a new leader. David Trimble (born October 15, 1944) had been a Unionist member of Parliament for five years when he won an upset victory in his Party's leadership contest. His hard-line reputation suggested that he intended to draw the Party away from any agreement with other parties in Northern Ireland, and from any contact with the Irish government. To the surprise of his followers, he agreed to meet with John Hume, and with leaders of the major parties in Ireland.

Former U.S. Senator George J. Mitchell was invited by the British and Irish governments to chair the peace negotiations that resulted in the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. Trimble signed on, over the objections of more than half of his parliamentary colleagues. He won them to his point of view and campaigned vigorously in the island-wide referendum that ratified the agreement, an accomplishment for which he shared the Nobel Prize for Peace with John Hume in 1998. Although there were many difficulties yet to be overcome, these brave men had set in place the foundation of a lasting peace.

John Hume Biography Photo
David Trimble served as First Minister for the first five years of the new Northern Ireland Assembly, and struggled mightily to sustain his party's support for the power-sharing arrangement. In November 2003, elections for the Assembly resulted in dramatic gains for more extreme parties from both sides of the sectarian divide. At first, it appeared that these results would threaten the stability of the power-sharing agreement, but despite initial fears, the peace agreement has held. Isolated incidents of violence have taken place, but a return to armed conflict has been soundly rejected by the great mass of the population on both sides of the sectarian divide.

In May 2005, David Trimble was defeated for re-election to the British Parliament and stepped down as leader of the UUP. The party's representation in Parliament had fallen to a single seat, out of 18 constituencies in Northern Ireland. The following year, David Trimble received a lifetime appointment to the House of Lords and was named Baron Trimble of Lisnagarvey. He did not stand for re-election to the Northern Ireland Assembly at the next election. On joining the House of Lords as a working peer, he joined the Conservative Party, and has proposed an alliance between the Conservatives and the Ulster Unionist Party. He is expected to play a significant role in any future conservative government in Britain.

John Hume served for three years in the Northern Ireland Assembly. He continued to serve in the Parliaments of Europe and the United Kingdom until 2004, when he retired from electoral office. He remains one of the elder statesmen of European politics, a powerful voice on issues related to the Credit Union movement, European integration and global poverty. In the words of former U.S. President Clinton, John Hume remains "Ireland's most tireless champion for civil rights and its most eloquent spokesman for peace."

This page last revised on Oct 24, 2009 12:57 EDT
How To Cite This Page