Wednesday, July 4, 2018
In 1852 while Africans in America were held in slavery, African American abolitionist/activist Frederick Douglass was invited to speak at a July 4, 1852, celebration in Rochester, N.Y. As the keynote speaker for the American Independence Day celebration Frederick Douglass famously asked the white audience: “Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day?” He bravely and honestly informed them: “This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.” Murphy Browne © Monday, February 17, 2014 ABOLITIONIST FREDERICK DOUGLASS FEBRUARY 14, 1818 - FEBRUARY 20, 1895 “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sound of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants brass fronted impudence; your shout of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanks-givings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy -- a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.” Excerpt from speech given by Frederick Douglass on July 5, 1852, Douglass gave a speech at an event commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence held at Rochester's Corinthian Hall. In his 2010 published book “The State of the American Mind: Stupor and Pathetic Docility Volume II” African professor Amechi Okolo has included this information about Douglass’ July 5, 1852 speech: “On July 5, 1852, Douglass gave a speech at an event commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence, held at Rochester's Corinthian Hall. It was biting oratory, in which the speaker told his audience, "This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn." And he asked them, "Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day?"” During this month of February when many acknowledge/celebrate the contributions, culture and history of Africans there are several events around and about the city, the province and the country. At these events oftentimes Africans are invited to speak. I say “oftentimes” because even though this is supposed to be Black History Month/African History Month/African Liberation Month you will find that sometimes the speaker can by no stretch of the imagination be described as African or Black. Take for instance Tim Wise a White man who is considered an authority on anti-racism and is invited to speak at Black History Month events. On such occasions I am reminded of Fredrick Douglass’ July 5, 1852 speech. In that speech Douglass took to task the White people who were so insensitive as to invite a formerly enslaved African to hopefully give a glowing speech in praise of American Independence when slavery as an institution was very much a part of the American society. Similarly it is at least insensitive to invite a White person who would never have experienced what it is to be an African living in a White supremacist culture to speak at a Black History Month event. Black History Month/African History Month/African Liberation Month began as Negro History Week in 1926. This month was chosen by Carter Godwin Woodson because he wanted to honour Frederick Douglass who chose February 14 as his birth date. Douglass like many other enslaved Africans did not have their birth date documented. Douglass chose February 14 because he remembered his mother referring to him as her little “Valentine.” Douglass thought that he was born on February 14, 1818 but there is no documentation of his birth. In his autobiography Douglass wrote: “I was born in Tuckahoe, near Hillsborough, and about twelve miles from Easton in Talbot county, Maryland. I have no accurate knowledge of my age, never having seen any authentic record containing it. By far the larger part of the slaves know as little of their ages as horses know of theirs, and it is the wish of most masters within my knowledge to keep their slaves thus ignorant. I do not remember to have ever met a slave who could tell of his birthday. They seldom come nearer to it than planting-time, harvest-time, cherry-time, spring-time, or fall-time.” Douglass wrote in his autobiography that he only saw his mother about four or five times in his life before she transitioned when he was 7 years old. She was sold when he was an infant and would walk about 12 miles to see her child because she was sold to people who lived in the same area. Many enslaved Africans never saw their children or other relatives once they were sold. In “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself” which was first published in 1845 Douglass wrote: “It is a common custom, in the part of Maryland from which I ran away, to part children from their mothers at a very early age. Frequently, before the child has reached its twelfth month, its mother is taken from it, and hired out on some farm a considerable distance off, and the child is placed under the care of an old woman, too old for field labor.” In his autobiography Douglass wrote about the horrors of slavery he had witnessed as a child as an adult. Douglass wrote about witnessing his aunt being brutalized by the White man who enslaved many of his relatives: “He was a cruel man, hardened by a long life of slaveholding. He would at times seem to take great pleasure in whipping a slave. I have often been awakened at the dawn of day by the most heart-rending shrieks of an own aunt of mine, whom he used to tie up to a joist, and whip upon her naked back till she was literally covered with blood. No words, no tears, no prayers, from his gory victim, seemed to move his iron heart from its bloody purpose. The louder she screamed, the harder he whipped; and where the blood ran fastest, there he whipped longest. He would whip her to make her scream, and whip her to make her hush; and not until overcome by fatigue, would he cease to swing the blood-clotted cowskin.” Douglass’ autobiography was used by abolitionists and the anti-slavery movement in which he was very actively involved. He is credited with playing a major role in the eventual abolition of slavery in the USA. Douglass (February 14, 1818 – February 20, 1895) was an abolitionist, human rights and women’s rights advocate. He was definitely a man before his time. When the history of the abolition movement is written the heroes are invariably White. Not surprising as Chinua Achebe, the late Igbo author is famous for this quote: “Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” Fortunately Douglass wrote his autobiography and much of his work is archived at the American Library of Congress. It is important for us to know our history not only during February but very day. Because our names and languages were taken away from us during the centuries of enslavement many Africans in the Diaspora are lost and disconnected. Now is a good time to start reconnecting. Attend African History events and read, read, read!! Murphy Browne © Monday, February 17, 2014
Monday, November 14, 2016
On the night of November 7, 1841, Madison Washington a 22 year old enslaved African man seized control of the slave ship “Creole” which was transporting him and 134 other enslaved Africans from Virginia to be sold in New Orleans. Washington led a group of 18 other enslaved Africans in seizing control from the White captain and crew of the “Creole.” Washington first demanded that they sail to Liberia then changed that plan to Nassau, Bahamas.The British had colonized the Bahamas in 1649 and made it a British Crown colony in 1718. Following the successful American rebellion against British rule (1765-1783) some of the British Loyalists had fled to the Bahamas taking the Africans they had enslaved in the USA. Britain abolished slavery on August 1, 1838 after a four year “apprenticeship” for the Africans from August 1, 1834. On November 7, 1841 when the Africans on board the “Creole” seized control of the vessel they first demanded to be taken to Liberia in West Africa. Liberia had been developed as a colony in 1821 by the American Colonization Society to settle formerly enslaved Africans. The American Colonization Society was a group of White people who did not want to share space with Africans who were not enslaved. They felt that all freed Africans should leave the USA and be taken to Africa even though they were born in America as were their ancestors for several generations. Liberia, West Africa was the first choice of resettlement for Madison Washington after seizing control of the “Creole.” Some of the other Africans on board wanted to try for the Bahamas which was much closer. They had heard about the slave ship “Hermosa” which had been shipwrecked in the Bahamas in 1840 and that the enslaved Africans onboard had been set free. On October 22, 1840 the American slave ship “Hermosa” was towed to Nassau, Bahamas with 38 enslaved Africans on board. The Africans were freed once they landed in Nassau because slavery had been abolished by the British six years before.
When the “Creole” landed in Nassau, Washington and his 18 co-conspirators were jailed because they were accused of killing a White man during their bid for freedom on the “Creole.” Inexplicably, of the 135 enslaved Africans on the “Creole” three women, a boy and a girl choose to remain onboard to return to slavery in New Orleans. Several of the people from the “Creole” who escaped slavery choose resettlement in Jamaica. Washington and the 18 people he led during the uprising on the “Creole” were tried and found not guilty. The Admiralty Court of Nassau held a special session in April 1842 to consider the charges. The Court ruled that the men had been illegally held in slavery and had the right to use force to gain their freedom. They were released on April 16, 1842 and disappeared into history. Madison Washington is said to have escaped slavery two years before the “Creole” incident but was recaptured when he returned to the USA to rescue his wife. It has also been said that Washington was reunited with his wife, who according to legend was on the “Creole.” Perhaps Washington and his wife settled in the Bahamas after he was released because there was a substantial free African community in the Bahamas. This free African community had grown after the British abolished the international slave trade in 1807. Thousands of Africans liberated from slave ships by the British Royal Navy were resettled in New Providence, Grand Bahama, Exuma, Abaco, Inagua and other islands in the Bahamas.The incident of enslaved Africans who rose up and seized their freedom on the “Creole” is regarded as one of the most successful “slave revolts” in American history. Enslaved Africans resisted their enslavement by any means necessary wherever they were enslaved. Africans were enslaved by Europeans in every country in the Americas (Central, North and South) and on the Caribbean islands. Their resistance included sabotage, such as breaking tools or setting fire to buildings and/or crops. They sometimes pretended to be too sick to work, worked as slowly as they could or pretended not to understand instructions. Some enslaved Africans poisoned their enslavers. There were some cases of enslaved Africans accused of poisoning their owners, who were tried and executed. In 1755, a group of enslaved Africans were accused of killing their owner. Phillis an enslaved African woman in Cambridge, Massachusetts was accused of poisoning her owner and executed by being “burned at the stake.” Mark an enslaved African man who was accused of conspiring with Phillis was hanged and his body gibbeted (left on display.) An article published in the September 25, 1755 issue of the “Boston News-Letter” described their execution: "Thursday last were executed at Cambridge, pursuant to their sentences, Mark and Phillis, two Negro Servants belonging to the late Captain John Codman of Charlestown, for poysoning their said Master: They were both drawn from the Prison to the Place of Execution, attended by the greatest Number of Spectators ever known on such an Occasion; where the former was hanged by the Neck until dead, after which the body was Gibbeted; and the latter was burned to Death." In 1681, an enslaved African woman named Maria tried to kill her owner by setting his house on fire. She was convicted of arson and burned at the stake in Roxbury, Boston, Massachusetts. An enslaved African man named Jack, convicted in a separate arson case, was hanged at a nearby gallows and his body was thrown in the fire with Maria’s body as she was burned at the stake.
Slavery in Canada was abolished on August 1, 1834 as elsewhere in British colonized countries at the time. There was no “apprenticeship” period to be served by the emancipated Africans in Canada unlike in the Caribbean. Slavery in the USA was abolished 31 years later in 1865. The history of enslaved Africans is rife with examples of African resistance which led to the end of the practice of enslaving Africans by Europeans. There are many stories naming White abolitionists and hardly is credit given to the Africans who resisted in various ways including armed struggle like the Africans on the “Creole.” The African struggle to end their enslavement is often ignored, underestimated or forgotten. African resistance was documented by Europeans only when there was substantial damage to European interests such as uprisings on slave ships and arson.The African resistance movement included fleeing plantations and establishing maroon communities (Brazil, Jamaica, Suriname etc.,) from where war was often waged against the Europeans. In Europe, African abolitionists launched or participated in civic movements to end enslavement of Africans. They delivered speeches, provided information, wrote newspaper articles and books. Using various means Africans in Africa, the Caribbean, the Americas and Europe were consistently involved in the struggle to end the slave trade and slavery. The abolition of slavery was very much the result of African resistance and incidents such as the uprising on the “Creole” hastened the end of slavery.
The descendants of those enslaved Africans continue to struggle against the White supremacist cultures in the Americas and Europe. Racial profiling exists in workplaces, educational institutions, housing, policing etc. The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) has recognized that: “As racial stereotyping and discrimination exists in society, it also exists in institutions such as law enforcement agencies, the education system, the criminal justice system etc., which are a microcosm of broader society.” Madison Washington and the other freedom fighters from the “Creole” are lost in history, seldom remembered. There are names of our freedom fighters (including Charles Roach, Dudley Laws, Sherona Hall) that must not be lost, who we must never forget as we continue the struggle.
Research has shown that the sound of a baby crying triggers certain physical reactions including activating parts of the brain involved in fight-or-flight responses. Scientists have found that our brains are hard-wired to respond to the sound of a crying baby making us more attentive and priming our bodies to help whenever we hear it. Reading about the abuse of children can send some people into a frenzy accompanied by thoughts of revenge on the perpetrator as evidenced by some of the posts found on the internet. Children are defenceless, helpless and vulnerable in a society ruled by adults. Many countries have laws in place to protect children and their rights are recognized by the United Nations. On 20 November 1959, the Declaration of the Rights of the Child was adopted unanimously by all 78 Member States of the United Nations General Assembly in Resolution 1386 (XIV). Article # 9 reads that children have: “The right to protection against all forms of neglect, cruelty and exploitation.” Over the decades there has been much progress in detecting and addressing the issue of child abuse.Children are not the only group in our society that is vulnerable to abuse. The elderly are also defenceless, helpless and vulnerable in many cases even though they are adults. In spite of the fact that many elderly are almost as helpless as children, progress in all areas of research, causes, consequences and interventions of elder abuse has been very slow. According to information on the Canadian (http://www.seniors.gc.ca/eng/pie/eaa/elderabuse.shtml) government website: “One in five Canadians believes they know of a senior who might be experiencing some form of abuse. Seniors from all walks of life are vulnerable to elder abuse and it is happening in communities across Canada.” The website defines elder abuse as: “Elder abuse is any action by someone in a relationship of trust that results in harm or distress to an older person. Neglect is a lack of action by that person in a relationship of trust with the same result. Commonly recognized types of elder abuse include physical, psychological and financial. Often, more than one type of abuse occurs at the same time. Abuse can be a single incident or a repeated pattern of behaviour. Financial abuse is the most commonly reported type of elder abuse.” A few months ago a friend who is a social worker raised the alarm as she told me that elder abuse was on the rise with many elderly people being defrauded of their property and life savings by relatives or people who pretended to be relatives. At the time I thought it was an interesting subject but there were many other interesting subjects to write about. More recently my siblings and I have had to actively deal with that subject as our elderly father was defrauded of his house and land in Guyana by a triumvirate of two women and a man who slithered their way into our father’s life.
Our first inkling that all was not well was a desperate message from my father’s nurse (in Guyana) that an eviction notice on my father’s house and property had been served by a man who lives in New York City. My father had suffered a stroke in 2012 and had made great progress over more than a year of therapy. He travelled back and forth from Canada to Guyana where he has/had a house that was supposed to be a place where he could enjoy months away from the winter each year following his retirement. A nurse lived in my father’s house in Guyana to take care of my father. It was with great shock that we realised that Compton Scipio, a man who lives in New York along with his sister Carlotta Scipio Bowman who lives in Toronto under the alias Carlotta Caesar and her daughter Tamara Bowman who lives in Guyana had colluded to defraud my elderly and vulnerable father of the proceeds of his hard earned life’s work. We could not believe how easily these people had gained possession of my father’s documents including his Canadian passport. The passport was not difficult to recover because after the woman in Guyana refused to return my father’s passport we contacted the Canadian government representative in Guyana who demanded that she surrender the passport to the Canadian embassy or face the consequences.At first there was denial/disbelief: "You could not just take someone's house; that is impossible!" However, there it was in the Official Gazette of Guyana in black and white; this man who lives in New York City had gained possession of my father's house, his name was on the transport and the date he gained possession, October 10th 2015. I stared in disbelief at the words that meant all the hard work and sacrifices my father had made working his entire youth and adult life to secure his future and his old age had been wiped out by a crooked family. The date now seems to be seared into my memory; this man had fraudulently gained ownership of my elderly father's property (56/57 Atlantic Ville, East Coast Demerara, Guyana) on October 10th 2015.
I was in shock, still am. There have been sleepless nights and tears hoping to wake up from this nightmare. My emotions have vacillated between grief and anger. Various thoughts race through my mind including: How did this happen? It could not be true. Surely no one could be this wicked, this evil to rob an elderly man of the results of years of hard work. Surely Guyana has laws against this kind of fraud/elder abuse. Papa used to be a police officer surely there would be help from a fraud squad. This cannot be happening to my Papa who worked so hard to make provision to ensure comfort in his old age!Over the past few months I have found that the sound of my elderly father crying triggers certain physical reactions including activating parts of my brain involved in fight responses. I have found that the sound of my elderly father crying triggers thoughts of revenge against the trio who defrauded him of his house. I had seen my father cry twice before; when his mother transitioned (he was her last child and they had a special bond) and when my mother transitioned. This is different, now Papa is defenceless, helpless and vulnerable in a society that does not seem to care about the vulnerability of the elderly.
As of August 31, 2016 my elderly, vulnerable father had to be removed from his house which had been fraudulently obtained by a man who lives in New York City and whose niece and her children now occupy my father's house. It is distressing when he does not sometimes understand that he cannot go back to his house because someone else is living there. I am here in Toronto feeling helpless and just hoping that I do not ever run into the third party of the triumvirate (who lives in Toronto) who stole my father's house. I am not sure I would be able to quietly watch her and not publicly expose her perfidy! I have to hold on to the good thought that “justice will prevail!!”My father did not survive the shock of having to be moved from his home and one month later he transitioned. He was distressed and I hold Compton Scipio of Far Rockaway New York, Carlotta Scipio Bowman alias Carlotta Caesar of Toronto and Tamara Bowman who now lives in my father's house at 56/57 Atlantic Ville on the East Coast, Demerara, Guyana directly responsible for my father no longer being alive. They stole his house and his life.
“United Nation General Assembly designated October 1, as the International Day of older persons; Guyana has opted the entire month to celebrate and recognise the elderly. The theme this year is ‘Take a stand against ageism.’ According to the World Health Organization (WHO), ageism is stereotyping and discriminating on the basis of person’s age. Ageism is widespread; it is a negative practice which has harmful effects on the health of older adults. The WHO has also posited that older people who feel they are a burden may also perceive their lives to be less valuable, often putting them at risk of depression and social isolation.”Excerpt from an article entitled “Guyana observes month of the elderly” published in the Guyana daily newspaper “Kaieteur News”
It is ironic that during this Guyanese “Month of the elderly” my elderly father who was a victim of elder abuse and fraud succumbed to the stress and distress of losing his home. My father was in his eighties when he succumbed to the effects of months of distress after being defrauded of his house and land at 56/57 Atlantic Ville, East Coast Demerara. My parents were married when my mother was in her late teens and my father in his early 20s. My mother transitioned many years ago so my siblings and I only had one parent since we were all very young.My father had worked since he was a teenager; he joined the Guyana Police force in the 1950s where he served on the coastland and in the Rupununi. He resigned from the force and moved to Canada where he returned to school to attain Canadian qualifications. My father worked for decades in Canada planning to retire and divide his time between Canada and Guyana. To that end he saved his money and built a house at Atlantic Ville on the East Coast of Demerara. He rented out his house at Atlantic Ville while living in Canada. Upon retirement he divided his time between his home in Atlantic Ville and Canada. In March 2012 my father suffered a massive stroke which left him incapacitated. He spent eight months in hospital in Canada recovering which included speech therapy and physical therapy. He made tremendous progress and within a year was walking but never regained all his faculties. Papa had excellent penmanship which I always admired but could never imitate try as I might. Following the stroke he could no longer write legibly and his speech deteriorated because there was no speech therapy follow up while he was in Guyana.
My father was at his house in Guyana when disaster as we could not even imagine struck in the form of Compton Scipio who lives in Far Rockaway, New York, Scipio’s sister Carlotta Scipio Bowman (who lives in Toronto under the assumed name Carlotta Caesar) and her daughter Tamara Bowman who lives in Guyana. In August 2015 Compton Scipio (who had several aliases when he lived in Guyana) traveled to Guyana and somehow obtained what he alleges is my father’s thumbprint on a document transferring ownership of my father’s house and land at 56-57 Atlantic Ville to Scipio. By some devious sleight of hand Scipio became the proud owner of 56-57 Atlantic Ville on October 10, 2015. A mere two months passed between August 2015 when Scipio visited Guyana and bamboozled my elderly, vulnerable father and October 2015 when Scipio’s name was registered in the Guyana Gazette as the owner of 56-57 Atlantic Ville. Sometime between August 2015 and December 2015 Scipio’s niece Tamara Bowman who lived at Martin Luther King Housing Scheme in Berbice was in possession of my father’s Canadian passport and his pension book. She was using these documents to gain possession of my father’s pension and doling out groceries at her whim to feed my father. While we waited to sort out this catastrophic situation my siblings and I had to financially support our father. We had to contact the Canadian government authorities in Guyana to recover my father’s Canadian passport from Bowman. To add insult to injury my father was no longer allowed to live in his house as of August 31, 2016. As of September 1, 2016 Tamara Bowman, Scipio’s niece and her brood of four children have been occupying my father’s house at 56-57 Atlantic Ville while my father lived in my brother’s house (his eldest son) in Berbice.During this Guyanese “Month of the elderly” my siblings and I travelled to Guyana to lay our father to rest. We are left to mourn Papa. As I shared my memories of my father in the eulogy I had prepared I looked across the podium into the eyes of Carlotta Scipio Bowman alias Carlotta Caesar who lives under an assumed name in Toronto, Canada. We had heard rumours that the woman was in the country; then there were reports of sightings of this woman in Berbice. I could not fathom that she would be so disrespectful and presumptuous as to crash my father’s funeral. Yet there she was where she had positioned herself to ensure that she was highly visible surrounded by the father of her children and her daughter Tamara Bowman who now occupies my father’s house at 56-57 Atlantic Ville with her brood. Summoning almost superhuman self-control I shared with the mourners in the church my memories of my father and controlled the impulse to sob out my anger and frustration at the sight of two of the three people I hold responsible for my father’s passing. There was some drama after the church service and I am forever grateful to my youngest sibling Ingvar who “had my back” during that trying time. He was beside me, his arm around me ready to take on anyone in my defence. I firmly believe my father had many more years to live if he was not distressed and stressed by members of an evil notorious (Scipio) family who defrauded him of his hard earned livelihood. My father comes from a family known for longevity. His grandfather Kelly Murphy Jonas (after whom my father and I are named) was over a hundred years old when he transitioned. Some of my father’s relatives are still going strong in their 90s.
I spoke about Papa’s love of storytelling, his artistic bent, his effervescent personality. Papa was an extravagantly handsome, charming man who would light up a room with his laughter. He was always impressively, immaculately dressed (pants creased sharply, shoes with mirror like shine) He had a wonderful singing voice but would frequently forget the words of songs; he would never let that stop him from singing! As a child I thought the sun rose and set in my Papa. I could hardly contain myself as my brothers and nephews laid his casket into the tomb. I knew he was gone; I had seen him at the mortuary as they were transferring him to the funeral home. As I talked to him and touched him he was so cold that I lost control of my usual calm. At the cemetery as he was laid to rest amidst his ancestors, his siblings and various other relatives I felt some comfort that he was in a familiar place. There are generations of Papa’s family throughout the cemetery in the village where he was born on the Corentyne Coast. The village was established by Africans after slavery in Guyana was abolished through a four year process from August 1, 1834 to August 1, 1838. I had heard stories from Papa about his grandfather who is still famously remembered as “Pa Kelly/Big Jonas.” I will ensure that my grandchildren and great-grandchildren know about my Papa who is gone but will never be forgotten.We left Papa peacefully laying with his “generation.” My father was the youngest of his parents’ children and the last to transition. I read some of the tombstones, sometimes surprised at familiar names and dates of birth. I am back in Toronto occasionally weepy, numb, distracted, distraught, moody, angry, missing the first important man in my life, my father, my Papa.
Thursday, January 22, 2015
As the end of January approaches it is time to begin thinking about February when we recognize and celebrate African history. Whether we name our celebration/recognition “African Heritage Month,” “African Liberation Month” or “Black History Month” it is our choice. We learn about our heroes and sheroes. We learn about events in our history that makes us aware that we as a people have achieved much under very trying circumstances. We also learn or reiterate that our history did not begin with slavery. Yet those of us in the Diaspora know that the enslavement of our ancestors has an enormous effect on how we are treated today. We know that because of the enslavement of our ancestors and the stripping of our names, languages etc., many of us (even today) continue searching for an identity. We do not know who we are because many of the names that were forced on us have been accepted by many of us. Viewing the scene from the 1977 miniseries “Roots” where the enslaved African Kunta Kinte is beaten almost to death until he answers to the name “Toby” gives some idea of how our African names were stolen and replaced by European names. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ByhFz5e5Tno
There was always African resistance to enslavement. From the moment they were captured on the African continent; while they were being transported to the “slave dungeons,” while they were being loaded onto those filthy disease ridden ships, as they stood on auction blocks, as they were forced to work from sun-up to sun down, Africans resisted in various ways. Even those Africans born into the condition of slavery on the various plantations owned by members of the various White tribes, resisted. As they were sold from plantation to plantation, from country to country they resisted. They resisted by burning crops, by destroying property, by malingering, by learning to read and write, by fleeing to freedom, by assisting other enslaved Africans to flee slavery. Some of these heroes and sheroes are well known. Countless others are not as well known. Some of these freedom fighters remain nameless. However we have an obligation to “dig up the past” as Carter Godwin Woodson urged. In his 1933 book “The Mis-education of the Negro” Woodson wrote: “Truth must be dug up from the past and presented to the circle of scholastics in scientific form and then through stories and dramatizations that will permeate our educational system.” Woodson established “Negro History Week” during the second week of February in 1926 and the week was later expanded to include the entire month. The month was first known as “Black History Month” but over many years and Africans expressing their Kujichagulia (Self-Determination) it has evolved into “African Heritage Month” and even “African Liberation Month.” One of the many examples of Africans liberating themselves from slavery, gaining wealth through entrepreneurship and using that wealth to support the fight to liberate enslaved Africans was Barney Launcelot Ford.Barney Launcelot Ford was born on January 22, 1822 to an enslaved African woman and a White plantation owner. He was given one name “Barney” his other names he chose later in life. The children of enslaved African women inherited their mother's status so Ford became the property of his mother's owner. His mother Phoebe wanted her child to escape slavery. She was determined that her child should learn to read and live as a free person. Phoebe was determined that her child would learn to read even at the risk of both their lives. According to information from the “Encyclopedia of African American Business, Volume 1” published in 2006, edited by African American historian Jessie Carney Smith: “Phoebe longed for her son to become free and live to do good for other people. She knew that young Barney must learn to read and write, and she wanted him to learn every word in the dictionary she borrowed. So in the evenings she took him to a fellow slave who taught him to read words from a ‘spelling book.’”
After the death of the plantation owner and the owner's widow attempting to engage Barney as a "house slave" his mother planned his escape. In attempting to find a way for her son to escape slavery Phoebe was found frozen to death. Barney was sold soon after his mother froze to death. Information from the “Encyclopedia of African American Business, Volume 1” documents that: “Friends found Phoebe frozen in the river one night soon thereafter, having attempted to find a way for Ford to escape. The day after his mother's funeral, Ford was sold.” Barney was hired out to work on a Mississippi River Boat by his new owner. When he was 25 years old in 1847 Barney escaped slavery. Seizing the opportunity to walk off while the Mississippi River Boat was docked at Quincy, Illinois he made his way to Chicago with support from members of the Underground Railroad. While living as a free man Barney decided to claim a middle and last names. He took his middle and last names (Launcelot Ford) from a steam locomotive in Chicago. In Chicago he worked as a barber. He met his wife, Julia Lyoni, in Chicago and they were married in 1848. The Fords left the USA for Nicaragua and between 1850 and 1885 Ford used money that he earned as a prospector for gold in Colorado to build several successful businesses. While prospecting in Colorado the hill where he supposedly “struck it rich” was given the dubious honour of being named “Ni--er Hill” a name it retained for approximately 100 years until 1964 when it was renamed “Barney Ford Hill.” In the 2006 published book “Hiking Colorado's Summit County Area: A Guide to the Best Hikes In And Around Summit County” White American author Maryann Gaug describing the area where Ford worked as a prospector writes: “Locals called the area ‘Ni--er Gulch’ and ‘Ni--er Hill.’ In 1964 the names were changed to ‘Ford Gulch’ and ‘Barney Ford Hill.’”Ford and his wife used the money they earned from their barbershops, hotels and restaurants to support Africans fleeing slavery. Following the abolition of slavery in the USA Ford used his money to establish the first adult education classes (1871) for African Americans in Colorado. He was a Civil Rights activist who lobbied for African Americans to have the right to vote in Colorado. Today Ford is recognized in Colorado as an abolitionist and a Civil Rights activist.
During February it is important that we do more than share food, dance and provide entertainment. We must return to the true purpose for which Woodson established the one week recognition of our history. In his 1933 published book “The Mis-education of the Negro” Woodson wrote: “Philosophers have long conceded, however, that every man has two educators: 'that which is given to him, and the other that which he gives himself. Of the two kinds the latter is by far the more desirable. Indeed all that is most worthy in man he must work out and conquer for himself. It is that which constitutes our real and best nourishment. What we are merely taught seldom nourishes the mind like that which we teach ourselves.” We need to make the month an opportunity to educate ourselves about ourstory. It will be a great start to the decade declared by the United Nations as the “International Decade for People of African Descent.”
"I know you are asking today, 'How long will it take?' I come to say to you this afternoon however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because truth pressed to earth will rise again. I know you are asking today, 'How long will it take? How long will prejudice blind the visions of men, darken their understanding, and drive bright-eyed wisdom from her sacred throne? When will wounded justice, lying prostrate on the streets of Selma and Birmingham and communities all over the South, be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men? When will the radiant star of hope be plunged against the nocturnal bosom of this lonely night, plucked from weary souls with chains of fear and the manacles of death? How long will justice be crucified, and truth bear it?' I come to say to you this afternoon, however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because 'truth crushed to earth will rise again.' How long? Not long, because 'no lie can live forever.' How long? Not long, because 'you shall reap what you sow.' How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."Excerpt from “How long, Not long” speech made by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., on March 25, 1965 on the steps of the capitol building in Montgomery, Alabama
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., made his famous “How long, Not long” speech on the steps of the state capitol building in Montgomery, Alabama on the completion of the 54 mile long Selma to Montgomery march to petition for African American right to vote. On Sunday, March 21, 1965 approximately 8,000 people assembled at Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Selma, Alabama in preparation for the to 54 mile walk to Montgomery, the state capital. On March 25 a group of approximately 25,000 people gathered to listen to Dr. King speak after the completion of the 4 day, 54 mile walk Although Dr. King was the recognized leader of that 3rd attempt during March 1965 to make the journey from Selma to Montgomery, there were many African Americans in Alabama and specifically Selma who had worked for years advocating for African American right to vote. The movie “Selma” which is in the theatres in time for Martin Luther King Jr., Day 2015 pays tribute to some of those activists. The movie “Selma” brings to life on “the big screen” the story of the African American struggle during March 1965 to gain what is the right of every citizen (the right to elect our government representatives.) African Americans in the southern US states were denied that right even though they and their ancestors built the US economy with their blood, sweat, tears and (during slavery) unpaid labour.Reading and even writing about “Bloody Sunday” the first attempt on March 7, 1965 to walk from Selma to Montgomery did not prepare me for the sight of that fateful day acted out on screen “in living colour.” I re-read John Lewis’ 1998 published book “Walking With the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement” on the January 3-4 weekend and then went to see the movie “Selma” on Thursday, January 8. Even with Lewis’ description of police using “rubber hose wrapped with barbed wire” to brutally beat peaceful African Americans I was not prepared for the sights on the screen as I watched “Selma.” In his description of March 7, 1965 Lewis writes: “I was bleeding badly. My head was exploding with pain. There was mayhem all around me. I could see a young kid – a teenaged boy- sitting on the ground with a gaping cut in his head, the blood just gushing out. Several women, including Mrs. Boynton, were lying on the pavement and the grass median. People were weeping. Some were vomiting from the tear gas. Men on horses were moving in all directions, purposely riding over the top of fallen people, bringing their animals’ hooves down on shoulders, stomachs and legs.” Lewis suffered a fractured skull from the vicious police attack on March 7, 1965 and he carries the scars from that “Bloody Sunday” of 50 years ago.
The movie “Selma” presents the brutal facts of “Bloody Sunday” and many of those who laid their lives on the line are portrayed. The Mrs. Boynton that Lewis refers in his book is Amelia Boynton Robinson (born on August 18, 1911) who was a 54 year old Civil Rights activist in 1965. In December 2014, Boynton Robinson now 103 years old was interviewed by the New York Post and spoke of being savagely beaten by White police who then pumped tear gas into the unconscious woman’s throat leaving her for dead. Boynton Robinson recovered and photographs of her unconscious on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965 remain as evidence of that horrific day. She plans to attend the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in March 2015. In “Selma” Boynton Robinson is portrayed by African Trinidad actress Lorraine Toussaint who visited Boynton Robinson when she was researching the role.Following the savage and vicious beating and other brutality visited upon peaceful African Americans by White police in Selma, caught on camera for the world to witness, American President Johnson was shamed into signing the Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965. The signing of the Voting Rights Act did not change the attitude of White people in the South and especially did not affect the behaviour of those who were in power. From the history channel website: “Although the Voting Rights Act passed, state and local enforcement of the law was weak and it was often outright ignored, mainly in the South and in areas where the proportion of blacks in the population was high and their vote threatened the political status quo.” In the movie “Selma” President Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act in the presence of Dr. King and other Civil Rights activists.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., would have been 86 years old on Thursday, January 15, 2015 if he had survived the single (.30-06 bullet) fired from a Remington Model 760 that entered through his right cheek, breaking his jaw and several vertebrae as it traveled down his spinal cord, severing his jugular vein and major arteries before lodging in his shoulder on April 4, 1968 at 6:01 p.m. After viewing “Selma” I have to wonder what Dr. King would say of the recent spate of White police killing African American men, women and children. Would he still say: “Not long, because 'you shall reap what you sow.' How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice?" Since 1965 “Not long” seems like a very long time!
"At the very same time that America refused to give the Negro any land, through an act of Congress, our government was giving away millions of acres of land in the West and the mid-West, which meant that it was willing to undergird its white peasants from Europe with an economic floor. But not only did they give the land, they built land grant colleges with government money to teach them how to farm. Not only that, they provided county agents to further their expertise in farming. Not only that, they provided low interest rates in order that they could mechanize their farms. Not only that, today many of these people are receiving millions of dollars in federal subsidies not to farm. And they are the very people telling the Black man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps. And this is what we are faced with. Now this is the reality. Now when we come to Washington, in this campaign, we are coming to get our check."Excerpt from a speech made by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in 1968.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was born Michael King Jr., on January 15, 1929 to the Reverend Michael King and Alberta Williams King. King senior later changed his name and his son’s name (reportedly in 1934) to Martin Luther King and Martin Luther King Jr., respectively. The speech quoted above was made when Dr. King visited rural African American communities in the southern states in a bid to gain support for his planned “Poor People’s Campaign.” In this video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Doi_U0f8OA) Dr. King is seen and heard speaking with members of an African American community in Mississippi who spoke passionately about the level of poverty in the African American community. Dr. King commiserated and empathized and then spoke about the American government’s policy of giving land to White people and training them to farm the land by building special colleges for this purpose. At the time White people were receiving these special favours (1850s) African Americans remained enslaved. The idea of publicly funded agricultural and technical educational institutions in the USA was brought forward by Jonathan Baldwin Turner as early as the 1830s. In the 2001 published book “Together We Can: Pathways to Collective Leadership in Agriculture at Texas A&M” White American authors Steven Lee Bosserman and Edward Allan Hiler write: “In the 1830s, 1840s, and 850s Jonathan Baldwin Turner developed and tirelessly promoted a plan to achieve universal education for those who did not normally have the opportunity to pursue it – the sons and daughters of what he called the working class.” This brilliant idea of course did not include African Americans who were enslaved and whose unpaid labour would underwrite the education of the White “working class.” During slavery it was illegal for African Americans to read and write and any enslaved African who was literate was risking their life. The first land-grant bill was introduced in Congress by Representative Justin Smith Morrill of Vermont in 1857 and became law in 1862. Africans in America gained their freedom in 1865 and have never been compensated, never received reparations. The 40 acres and a mule they were each supposed to receive never materialised. However every White person (even those who never owned a “slave”) benefited from the coerced labour of enslaved Africans. This is put in perspective by T. D. Allman a White American historian in his 2013 published book “Finding Florida: The True History of the Sunshine State” where he writes: “In America, Irishmen, Jews, Russians, Italians even Turks and Arabs could be Americanized. Even as they were devastating native Americans and enslaving black people, Americans were announcing to the world that the ‘wretched refuse of your teeming shore’ was welcome, but it had to be white.”Dr. King’s words of encouragement to the group of African Americans gathered in that church just a few weeks before he was assassinated probably caused much alarm to the American government who preferred the August 28, 1963 “dreamer.” A King speaking about reparations for the descendants of enslaved Africans was a threat. A King speaking about the extreme poverty of African Americans and linking that to the advantage (including unearned privilege) that was handed to white skin people regardless of when they arrived in the USA was threatening to White America.
To this day, in the 21st century Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech is co-opted by the most dreadful racist White supremacists. Not the entire speech but these 35 words: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”As we approach January 15, the date that would have been Dr. King’s 85th birthday, Dr. King has been reduced to a dreamer whose words are frequently used to justify White supremacist/racist rhetoric. The Dr. King who wrote in his 1964 published “Why We Can’t Wait” seems to have been forgotten: “Whenever this issue of compensatory or preferential treatment for the Negro is raised, some of our friends recoil in horror. The Negro should be granted equality, they agree, but he should ask for nothing more. On the surface, this appears reasonable, but it is not realistic. For it is obvious that if a man enters the starting line of a race three hundred years after another man, the first would have to perform some incredible feat in order to catch up.” In an interview with Alex Haley (author of Roots) which was published in the January 1965 issue of “Playboy Magazine” Dr. King is quoted: “Can any fair-minded citizen deny that the Negro has been deprived? Few people reflect that for two centuries the Negro was enslaved, and robbed of any wages—potential accrued wealth which would have been the legacy of his descendants. All of America's wealth today could not adequately compensate its Negroes for his centuries of exploitation and humiliation.” These are not the words of the dreamer whose birthday has been observed with a National holiday on the 3rd Monday of January since 1986. Some states including Alabama, Arizona, Mississippi, Virginia, Wyoming and New Hampshire resisted observing the holiday to honour Dr. King until (New Hampshire) 2000.
The 29th official Martin Luther King Jr., Day will be observed on January 19, 2015 throughout the USA with a holiday when Americans are expected to honour the life and legacy of Dr. King. The day is usually spent exploring the life of Dr. King, his contribution to the Civil Rights movement and the Civil Rights movement. With the research and the availability of books written about the Civil Rights movement and Dr. King’s life hopefully there will be more than his “I Have A Dream” speech featured in newspaper articles and other media. On May 8, 1967 approximately 11 months before he was assassinated Dr. King said in an interview: “I must confess that that dream I had that day in many points turned into a nightmare.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sHhJYKPWb8k) The nightmare continues with the constant instances of African American men, women and children killed by White police who suffer no consequences. During this United Nations (UN) declared “International Decade for People of African Descent” beginning in 2015 we can work to ensure Reparations for the descendants of enslaved Africans become a reality. We can shine the light on the continued and sustained abuse of Africans in North America. Shining a light on these abuses may help to make the perpetrators scatter like so many dangerous rodents and other pests.