Thursday, July 31, 2014


On June 29 the people of the Seychelles Islands, an African nation will celebrate 39 years of independence from Britain. The Republic of the Seychelles gained independence on June 29, 1976 and is a member of the African Union. The Seychellois people had lived under a British colonial government for 165 years from 1810 (when the British seized possession from the French) to June 29, 1976. Before the British the Seychelles Islands were colonised by the French. Like many former European colonies the fate of the Seychelles islands was determined by the whims of the European tribes that battled for possession. The islands were captured and “freed” several times during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars, then officially bcame British under the 1814 Treaty of Paris. During this time of turmoil in Europe the enslaved Africans on the Seychelles islands never knew if they would wake up on any given day and have to speak English or French. With the British in control slavery flourished on the Seychelles islands. Under French colonization there were 2,759 enslaved Africans and by 1818 after less than 10 years of British colonization there were 6,638 enslaved Africans in the Seychelles.
As in every place where Africans were enslaved there was resistance. The history of the Seychelles includes a Maroon community led by an African who was a member of the Macondé people captured from Mozambique. This man is described in the Seychelles National Archives as: “a black from the Macondé tribe, aged around 44, with a height of 5.4 and a half feet and he had a tattoo on his face.” The information from the Seychelles National Archives also recognizes that: “The black maroons were hunted like wild animals. Very often they were killed and when caught, they were cruelly punished.” There is not much information about this Maroon leader whose name in some documents is given as “Castor” however Seychelles National Archives acknowledges his existence with this information: “There exists in the upper Anse Aux Pins, on Mahé, a place name Castor, a place with enormous boulders, better known as ‘cap de roches’ in Seychelles and to which access is extremely difficult. This name is linked with the history of maroons in Seychelles, as Castor was the name of a famous black maroon who took refuge in this place more than 150 years ago.” There were other Africans who were imprisoned in Mahé including members of the Ashanti royal family who the British colonial government kidnapped in Ghana and transported to the Seychelles.
Freedom from enslavement finally came to the African Seychellois in 1837 two years after it was declared in 1835. The National Archives informs that: “Slavery was abolished in 1835 but that was effectively implemented only two years later.” Following the final emancipation of enslaved Africans in the British Empire in 1838, the British became very self-righteous and began “liberating” the captive Africans from slave ships of other nations. These “liberated” Africans were usually transported to British colonies where they were forced to work on British owned plantations for very meagre wages. This was not much different from the system of chattel slavery which the British had “abolished.” Between 1861 and 1874 approximately 2,500 “liberated slaves” who were “rescued” by British ships patrolling the seas, were taken to provide labour on British owned plantations in the Seychelles.
When the French colonised the Seychelles in 1770 they took enslaved Africans to cultivate the islands. These enslaved Africans were forced to work building the plantation houses where the White slaveholders lived in relative luxury while the enslaved Africans laboured to enrich these human parasites. In an article published in the New African Magazine, Seychellois writer Tony Mathiot wrote: “In 1772, when the administrator of Mauritius and Reunion, Pierre Poivre, concocted his grandiose scheme to introduce cinnamon to Seychelles, it was slave labour that created the legendary Jardin du Roi, the spice garden at Anse Royal. Later, in May 1780, the ship that the French authorities mistook for a British vessel, where they consequently ordered the destruction of the spice garden, lest the precious spices should fall into enemy hands, was actually a French slave ship flying the British flag and bringing slaves to Mahe. Before the British occupation, slaves from Madagascar and mainland Africa were brought to Seychelles to work on cotton plantations which occupied around 1,600 acres of land on Mahé. In fact, cotton was the first crop to be exported from Seychelles in 1796, two years after the first capitulation of Seychelles to the British. In Seychelles, the Emancipation Act saw the freedom of 6,521 slaves from a total population of 7,500 inhabitants. So it is not a hyperbole to say that most of the inhabitants then, were slaves!”
After slavery was abolished in the British colonies the British continued to exploit Africans on the continent. In Ghana the Ashanti resisted the British efforts to colonise their country. In an effort to crush this resistance the British kidnapped members of the Asante royal family and transported them to Mahé in the Seychelles. In 1897 Nana Prempeh 1, King of the Asante, his mother Asantehemaa Yaa Akyaa, his broth¬ers, uncles and several other members of the royal household were taken to Mahé in the Seychelles and kept as prisoners until November 1924. This outrage led to the war led by Nana Yaa Asentewaa against the British. At approximately 70 years old this amazing African woman became leader and commander in chief of a resistance movement against the British. In the 2008 published “Encyclopedia of the African Diaspora: Origins, Experiences, and Culture” edited by African Trinidadian history professor Carol Boyce Davies, the history of that event and Yaa Asantewa’s role is written by Ghanaian scholar Ivor Agyemang-Duah: “She built a personal army of 4,000 and appointed field commanders. The war lasted from April 2, 1900 to March 1901.” Agyemang-Duah also writes that Yaa Asantewa became a prisoner of war after she was betrayed and captured on March 3, 1901. “A prisoner of war, she was taken to Kumase and eventually sent to Mahé in the Seychelles Islands, where she joined Nana Prempeh and other Asante exiles. She passed away in the Seychelles in 1922 at about 90 years of age.”
The exploitation and oppression of racialized people by White colonists and colonial governments in Africa, Asia, the Americas, the Caribbean and elsewhere is well documented. The resistance movements and struggles for independence went on for decades before colonized people were able to gain their independence from these colonizers. In the Seychelles Islands the White planter class owned most of the wealth, inherited from their slave owning ancestors and made sure that laws entitled them to continue as a privileged class. In 1939 the “Planters and Taxpayers Association” was founded by this group to protect the interests and the wealth of the White people who owned the plantations. After the 1939-1945 war, “they also benefited by being granted the vote, which was limited to literate property owners; just 2,000 in a population of 36,000. At the first elections in 1948, most of those elected to the Legislative Council were predictably members of the Planters and Taxpayers Association.” Two years before in 1937 The League of Coloured People was founded by those who did not benefit from or enjoy White skin privilege to demand a minimum wage, a wage tribunal and free health care for all. Malcolm James Coe wrote in the “Biogeography of the Seychelles Islands” published 1998: “1937 The League of Coloured People was created and laborers’ wages and health care were prominent items on the agenda.” It was this state of affairs that prompted the Seychellois struggle for independence in earnest. On June 29, 1976 when the Seychelles Islands gained their independence they were governed by a coalition and included a President and a Prime Minister. From a time of slavery to independence this African nation was home to Africans like Castor who was a Maroon leader and Nana Yaa Asantewa freedom fighter. Their fighting spirit must have in some way inspired the latter day activists who led their country to independence on June 29, 1976.


"The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere."
From "General Order No. 3" read by the Union Army’s Major-General Gordon Granger on June 19, 1865 as he stood on the balcony of Ashton Villa in Galveston, Texas.
Juneteenth is celebrated as Emancipation Day on June 19th by many African Americans across the United States and is recognized as a state holiday in 43 states and the District of Columbia. As of May 2013 the following states officially recognized Juneteenth: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
The celebration of Juneteenth by African Americans came about as a result of the Emancipation proclamation read on June 19, 1965 in Galveston, Texas and since then has spread with the migration of African Americans who left Texas in search of the freedom that eluded them in their home state. The Emancipation proclamation read on June 19, 1865 by the representative of the victorious Union army of the American Civil War brought an end to the enslavement (on paper) of Africans in Texas. The enslaved Africans in Texas were the last group to be given their freedom even though President Abraham Lincoln had signed an Emancipation proclamation on January 1, 1863. Lincoln's proclamation did not include those slave holding states that were part of the Union or those that remained neutral. The border states of Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland and Missouri were neutral and so exempt from Lincoln’s Emancipation proclamation. In reality Lincoln was not serious about emancipating enslaved Africans with his January 1, 1863 proclamation because the proclamation only included areas where he had no authority since those states had seceded from the Union. Slaveholders in the states that remained loyal to the Union remained in possession of those enslaved Africans.
The states that seceded from the United States were known as the Confederate States of America or the Confederacy. The Confederacy set up a separate government in 1861 with 7 states (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas) following the November 1860 election of Abraham Lincoln as the President. Those seven states created their "confederacy" in February 1861 before Lincoln took office in March. After the Civil War began on April 12, 1861, four other states (Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia) declared their secession and were admitted to the Confederacy. The Confederacy later accepted two additional states as members (Kentucky and Missouri) although neither officially declared secession nor were ever controlled by Confederate forces.
On June 19, 1865 when the proclamation was read in Galveston, Texas that informed enslaved Africans that they were free and that there was: “an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor” those words did not make it so. In her 2006 published book “Lone Star Pasts: Memory and History in Texas” White American history professor Elizabeth Hayes Turner writes: “Soon after the declaration of emancipation on Galveston Island, the news spread quickly, but the official announcement did not result in the day of jubilee the slaves expected. The former Confederate mayor rounded up black ‘runaways’ and returned them to their owners. The Union army’s provost marshal went along with this action but did so for the purpose of holding them as laborers for the military. Freedmen who entered the town after that found themselves pressed into military service. Although the announcement had come, for many, freedom still seemed elusive.”
It speaks to the resiliency of Africans that in spite of being denied their freedom for generations and having freedom denied even after a declaration from the President of the USA that they still found something to celebrate and persevered throughout the decades and centuries until the celebration is now almost a national holiday. In “Lone Star Pasts: Memory and History in Texas” after writing about the brutal suppression that African Americans endured from their White compatriots in Texas including: “In Texas either violence or continued slavery met many slaves as they learned of their freedom. There is much evidence to suggest that southern whites – especially Confederate parolees – perpetrated more acts of violence against newly freed bondspeople in Texas than any other state. The Joint Committee on Reconstruction in hearings held from February to April 1866, discovered from military observers that between the Brazos and Nueces rivers former slave owners, disappointed by lack of compensation for their lost ‘property,’ used violence even murder against freedpeople” the author comments on the perseverance of African Americans to ensure the recognition of Juneteenth: “Juneteenth has survived- a living energetic testimony to subversion. And while Texas legislators are now planning to build a monument to Juneteenth, there is the event itself, an anniversary and official state holiday that reminds Texans and the nation that freedom from slavery is a memory never to be eclipsed. Juneteenth is part of African American commemorative culture. Historically it punctured an oppositional perspective, produced a community of celebrants and observers and offered a counter-memory to those who could not and would not bow to power represented by white memories and commemorations.”
It is not surprising that Juneteenth celebrations were not welcome by White Texans who would not allow African Americans to use public spaces for the celebration and resorted to violence against the celebrants. In order to celebrate Juneteenth in safety from White violence African Americans had to buy land, or "emancipation grounds" in several areas of Texas. The land for Emancipation Park in Houston was purchased in 1872, the Booker T. Washington Park in Mexia was purchased in 1898 and Emancipation Park in East Austin was purchased in 1909. During the Great Depression and the Great Migration (when African Americans left Southern states seeking better jobs and life experiences in Northern states) the Juneteenth celebrations were not as popular. In 1979 African-American state representative from Houston, Albert Edwards, sponsored two legislative bills urging the state of Texas to make Juneteenth an official state holiday. The legislation passed, and as of January 1, 1980, Texas became the first state to observe Juneteenth as a holiday.
On Thursday, June 19, 2014 the Juneteenth celebration in Texas will include a concert at the Jack Johnson Park in Galveston (Jack Johnson who was born on March 31, 1878 in Galveston became the first African American to win the world Heavyweight Boxing Championship in 1908.) The continued celebration of Juneteenth in the 21st century is a testament to the African survival spirit.


There's a man at my house he's so big and strong He goes to work each day, stays all day long He comes home each night looking tired and beat He sits down at the dinner table and has a bite to eat Never a frown always a smile When he says to me how's my child I've been studying hard all day in school Tryin' to understand the golden rule Think I'll color this man father I think I'll color him love Said I'm gonna color him father I think I'll color the man love, yes I will
Excerpt from “Color him father” by African American group “The Winstons” released 1969
The Winstons won a Grammy Award for Best R&B song in 1970 for their hit song “Color him father” about a man who married a widow with 7 children and was a loving father to those children. At the height of the Vietnam War this song resonated with Americans because the lyrics included: “My real old man he got killed in the war and she knows she and seven kids couldn't of got very far.” As Fathers Day approaches there are plans to honour fathers and father figures who have advised, cared for, nurtured and loved their biological children and children who were not blood relatives.
We all have fathers and we exist because a male contributed sperm/DNA to make up half of who we are together with the female egg/DNA. “Humans normally carry 23 pairs of chromosomes: 22 autosomal pairs and one pair of sex chromosomes, either two copies of the X for a female or an X and a Y in the case of males. By Mendel’s law of segregation we receive one copy of each pair from our mother and one copy from our father.” However all fathers are not created equal. Some take their responsibility seriously and support their children emotionally, physically and financially. Some fathers are in their children’s lives physically and support them financially but are absent emotionally. Some fathers are absent from their children’s lives in every way while others do great harm by their very presence in their children’s lives. A biological contribution to a child’s existence is not enough to be a father.
The accepted norm of a father’s interaction with his children has changed over the years (due in large part to American television images.) There were the images of the White men who were heads of their households in the early television sitcoms who worked and came home to solve the family’s problems. Father knew best and was large and in charge of his household and everyone in the household knew and respected his position. The African American father figure was mostly absent from television with the first sitcom featuring an African American family (“Julia” 1968-1971) having a widowed single mother (husband and father killed in Vietnam) and her 6 year old son. Americans were then introduced to African American fathers via television in the form of Fred Sanford (“Sanford and Son” 1972-1977) James Evans Snr. (“Good Times” 1974-1979) George Jefferson (“The Jeffersons” 1975-1985) Lester Jenkins (“227” 1985-1990.) Then came Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable, his lawyer wife Clair Huxtable and their 5 children. With this sitcom Americans were treated to a new kind of African American father via television. This father was not a “blue collar” worker struggling to make ends meet. African American father character Dr. Huxtable did not “move on up” as an “uneducated” businessman who tried too hard to fit in with his hard won wealth. All Americans were being treated to the image of a professional, educated upper middle class African American father an image that had been missing from popular American culture.
The image of the professional and involved Dr. Huxtable was so powerful that one writer credited that image with helping Barack Hussain Obama gain the vote of some White people who came of age during the “Cosby years.” In an article headlined “The Huxtable Effect and Obama” journalist Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez wrote in November 2008: “There are no accidents of public consciousness, and there is no better tool for changing perceptions of social roles than popular culture. So it is, I believe, that Barack Obama's successful candidacy and likely presidency were heralded with the arrival of The Cosby Show in 1984. On the air for eight seasons, The Cosby Show featured Bill Cosby as Cliff Huxtable, an all-American father, medical doctor, and love husband, in the lead role. Never before in American TV had there been such a character. But the impact of Cosby's weekly presence in America's family rooms, as the fair-minded, fun, quirky Dr. Huxtable, cannot be underestimated in its affect upon the consciousness of Americans who were children and young adults at the time.” The Huxtable father as powerful as it is or was, is just that, a character. The fathers who will be celebrated/honoured on Sunday June 15 are not characters on the small or large screen. The fathers whose children (biological and others) will be taking them out to breakfast/brunch/lunch/dinner, presenting gifts, sending them on trips etc., will show their appreciation to men who while they may not be perfect their children believe they deserve the honour.
There are some people whose fathers have transitioned and all they have are memories (fond or otherwise) of their father. I am fortunate that my Papa is still here although we did have a few scary moments two years ago when he suffered a devastating stroke. Papa has made amazing progress since then and has travelled to Guyana where he seems to prefer to live most of the time. Not surprising especially in light of the past winter which thankfully he did not have to endure. One of my fondest memories of my childhood is my father trying unsuccessfully to comb and braid my hair. I was not a fan of his braiding skills at the time but it is amazing how time changes our perception. My mother was spending time with her sister in McKenzie after the birth of Dale, baby number 6 of 9. My brothers Dale and Ingvar (born in Lethem, Rupununi) are the only two members of our family who were not born in Berbice. My father was a police officer stationed at Eve Leary (police headquarters) in Georgetown and we lived in Agricola (one of the more than 100 villages established by Africans freed from slavery on August 1, 1834) on the East Bank of the Demerara River. As an adult I wonder how my father was able to take care of 5 children (with minimal domestic help) and go to work. At the time I just cared about clean, well pressed school clothes, nicely braided hair and the fabulous food my father cooked. My father is an amazing cook of all things Guyanese!
As Father’s Day 2014 approaches I wish all the fathers and those mothers doing double duty as father and mother “Happy Fathers Day” and a very happy Fathers Day to my Papa who thankfully lives to see another Fathers Day. Color him father, color him love!


You may write me down in history With your bitter, twisted lies, You may tread me in the very dirt But still, like dust, I'll rise. Does my sassiness upset you? Why are you beset with gloom? 'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells Pumping in my living room. Out of the huts of history's shame I rise Up from a past that's rooted in pain I rise I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide, Welling and swelling I bear in the tide. Leaving behind nights of terror and fear I rise Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear I rise Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, I am the dream and the hope of the slave. I rise I rise I rise.
Excerpt from "And Still I Rise" published 1978 by Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou, actor, author, calypsonian, journalist, poet and writer was born Marguerite Annie Johnson on April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri and transitioned on May 28, 2014 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Angelou is best known for her inspiring poetry including "Caged Bird" "And Still I Rise" "Phenomenal Woman" and "Equality." And then there is "Coleridge Jackson" a poem that Angelou wrote which describes the devastating effects of White supremacy on an African American family. Angelou's extraordinary life is chronicled/detailed in seven autobiographies beginning with "I know why the caged bird sings" published in 1969 and ending with "Mom & Me & Mom" published in 2013 when Angelou was 85 years old.
What is not as well known is her writing and singing calypso as a young woman before she became the famous author/poet. In 1957 Angelou recorded a calypso album "Miss Calypso" and she also sang and danced to calypso music in a movie which was filmed on one of Columbia Pictures soundstages decorated to give the appearance of a Caribbean island. The movie "Calypso Heat Wave" features Angelou as "Miss Calypso" a name she used during her musical performances when she sang calypso. In her second autobiography "Gather together in my name" published in 1974 Angelou wrote about the role of music in her life: "Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness." In her third autobiography "Singin’ and Swingin’ and getting’ merry like Christmas" published in 1976 Angelou details her days of performing on stage as she made her living singing and dancing.
It is not surprising that Angelou was attracted to calypso music because her maternal grandfather was Trinidadian. In her 7th autobiography "Mom & Me & Mom" published last year Angelou wrote about her mother's father: "Her father, a Trinidadian with a heavy Caribbean accent had jumped from a banana boat in Tampa, Florida and evaded immigration agents successfully all his life." Angelou acknowledged the interconnectedness of Africans in the Diaspora when she spoke with African Trinidadian journalist Renee Cummings during an interview published in the Trinidad Express newspaper: "West Indians and African-Americans are more alike than we are different. Culturally, we also share the same experience; the way we use music, literature and lyrics; and that feeling for family is very tight in African-American and Caribbean communities. We both love telling these long tales with no documents to back them up. The black man in the Caribbean and in America has had to fight, every step of the way, for his own dignity.”
In 1957 when Angelou was performing calypso in American clubs the genre was enjoying great popularity. In the Spring 2004 newsletter for the “Institute for studies in American music” White American professor Stephen Stuempfle under the heading “Documenting Calypso in New York and the Atlantic World” described this “calypso craze” that swept through the USA in the 1950s: “During the calypso craze, numerous nightclubs in cities across the U.S. shifted to an all-calypso format. Among the best-known venues were the Calypso Room and Le Cupidon in New York, the Blue Angel in Chicago, and the Malayan Lounge in Miami. Typically, calypso clubs created an imaginary Caribbean atmosphere with fishnets, palm fronds, and other trappings. Performers often wore straw hats and striped and floral outfits, unlike the dress suits worn by calypsonians in Trinidad. Among the many artists who worked the clubs were Lord Flea, Calypso Eddie, the dance team of Scoogie Brown and Leo Ryers, and the singer Maya Angelou, before embarking on a literary career. In spring 1957 Angelou and Flea appeared in Caribbean Calypso Festival, a short-lived revue produced by Trinidadian dancer/painter Geoffrey Holder at Loew’s Metropolitan Theatre in Brooklyn. The show also featured Latin bandleader/percussionist Tito Puente and Lord Kitchener, a top Trinidadian calypsonian based in England.”
Maya Angelou as a calypsonian was honouring her African ancestry like generations of Africans in the Diaspora who used music and words like the storytelling/historian griots of Africa. Her writing describing her experience living in a White supremacist culture beginning with “I know why the caged bird sings” was an extension of her talent as a storyteller. In his 1972 published book “The Trinidad Carnival” African Trinidadian Errol Gaston Hill wrote: “The antecedents of the calypso were the praise songs and songs of derision of West African natives captured as slaves and brought to the West Indies.” African Trinidadian historian Dr. Hollis Urban Lester “Chalkdust” Liverpool in his 2001 published “Rituals of Power & Rebellion: The Carnival Tradition in Trinidad & Tobago, 1763-1962” expands on this as he compares the calypsonians to the griots of Africa: “The history of the griot tradition show that in West Africa, in all the areas from which the enslaved Africans in Trinidad were taken, griots as praise singers and storytellers can be found. Among the Africans enslaved in Trinidad, there were inevitably many praise singing griots whose main role it was to praise and deride their leaders in their homelands during official ceremonies and masquerades.”
As we celebrate another Black Music Month it is important to remember that our music began on the African continent with the drums, the poets, the griots etc., before those sounds were transported on the slave ships with our enslaved ancestors. Since then we have been improvising and giving voice to our joys and sorrows in whatever language our enslavers and oppressors forced on us. Africans have revolutionized the music and language of the world. Dr. Maya Angelou from humble beginnings overcame adversities that would have destroyed a lesser woman and she contributed to the literary genre with her 7 autobiographies and other inspirational writing including more than 100 poems. Truly she was a “Phenomenal Woman” who was confident in her skin even though she was “not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size.” Angelou’s life mirrored her poem “And Still I Rise” where she wrote
“I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide, Welling and swelling I bear in the tide. Leaving behind nights of terror and fear I rise Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear I rise Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, I am the dream and the hope of the slave. I rise I rise I rise.”

Tuesday, June 3, 2014


"A lot of people don't realize that just about all Negro spirituals are written on the black notes of the piano. Probably the most famous on this slave scale was written by John Newton, who used to be the captain of a slave ship, and many believe he heard this melody that sounds very much like a West African sorrow chant. And it has a haunting, haunting plaintive quality to it that reaches past your arrogance, past your pride, and it speaks to that part of you that's in bondage. And we feel it. We feel it. It's just one of the most amazing melodies in all of human history."
Quote from gospel singer Wintley Phipps during his performance at Carnegie Hall in 2002
Wintley Augustus Phipps is an African American gospel singer who was born in Trinidad and Tobago on January 7, 1955 and grew up in Montreal, Quebec where his family moved when he was about 5 years old. Phipps is one in a long line of talented inspirational African American gospel singers and has performed for several US Presidents including Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Hussein Obama at National Prayer Breakfast events and other celebrations. He also performed at the 1984 and 1988 National Democratic Conventions, Rosa Parks' 77th Birthday gala at the Kennedy Center and for the late South African President Nelson Mandela.
Phipps’ quote in 2002 during his performance of Amazing Grace at Carnegie Hall not surprisingly has garnered both praise and condemnation. Comments from some White people included that he was racist because he expressed too much pride in his Africanness. Phipps’ comment was pertinent because many people do not know the history of African contribution to popular contemporary music. That is why it is so important that we continue to celebrate/observe Black Music Month. June has been recognized as Black Music Month since 1979. In June 1979 then US President Jimmy Carter designated June as “Black Music Month.” Carter made that declaration at the urging of songwriter and producer Kenneth Gamble of Gamble and Huff and broadcasters Ed Wright and Dyana Williams who lobbied for the official recognition of a Black Music Month. Huff, Wright and Williams were members of the “Black Music Association.” In an interview with Hillary Crosley of “The Griot” published on May 30, 2013 entitled: “The Economic Origins of Black Music Month” Kenneth Gamble explained the need for the recognition of Black Music Month: “The Black Music Association was a trade association at the time, and it was an educational forum for young producers and writers -- African Americans in particular -- where they could discuss the benefits of the music industry. History says that most African Americans in the industry were robbed of their songs and their property. The Black Music Association spoke to the marketing of black music. The whole theme was "Black Music Is Green," and it dealt with the economics of African-American music. It was very helpful not only to us but also the industry at large. Then the Black Music Association created Black Music Month, which was another original, because October was Country Music Month. What happens when you have a music month? You get additional marketing dollars, and it helps to market and promote the artists. It's still working, because right now we're talking about something that started 34 years ago.”
In an interview published in the July 2013 edition of Ebony Magazine under the title “Dyana Williams: Godmother of Black Music Month” the woman who many consider the “Mother of Black Music Month” is quoted: “While it was declared by President Carter in 1979, as far as the US government was concerned, it didn’t become official until 2000. People refer to me as the “Mother of Black Music Month” because of my work in getting Black Music Month legislatively recognized by Congress. I also established an organization called the International Association of African American Music Foundation (IAAAMF). Through this foundation, we enacted this legislation. It was a very proud moment when they called me and said the bill was going up for a vote. Congressman Chaka Fattah from Philadelphia was the individual I worked with to get the legislation passed. He was the one, who introduced it on the floor of the House of Representatives.” In that interview Williams was asked about the relevance of celebrating/observing Black Music Month today and her reply was: “It is important to celebrate Black Music Month because it’s a recognition and ownership of our culture. It’s something that we need to be proud of. If you ask artists from different cultures, they’ll tell you how influential black music has been to them. Ask Mick Jagger. Ask Paul McCartney. Ask Eric Clapton. Ask Kid Rock. Ask them how much black music influenced their careers. The Rolling Stones got their group name from an old Muddy Waters record. In some cases, most White artists know our music better than we do. It’s important to know because it’s a source of inspiration and a motivating factor. It enhances our overall life experience and that’s why I’m so passionate about this music. It serves as a source of pride and a source of great history as well. How can you not be proud when you look at the timeline of our musical history? We’ve struggled and our music has paralleled those struggles in America. It tells our stories of enslavement, our desire for freedom, and our victories and defeats. It’s the soundtrack to our experience in this country.”
Making music was one of the few pleasures that enslaved Africans enjoyed, that helped them to retain some of the culture that was brutally torn from them by the White slave holders in their attempt to dehumanize the Africans. The spirituals that were used as a coded language by many enslaved Africans when planning their escape is a testament to the power of our music.
Music has sustained Africans dealing with myriad oppressions as expressed by the African American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872 - 1906) in his poem “Sympathy” (published 1899) I know why the caged bird sings, ah me, When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,— When he beats his bars and he would be free; It is not a carol of joy or glee, But a prayer that he sends from his heart's deep core, But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings — I know why the caged bird sings!
At his soul stirring rendition of Amazing Grace which he delivered at Carnegie Hall in 2002 Wintley Phipps explained some of the history: “Just about all Negro Spirituals are written on black notes of the piano. This is absolutely true, you can go home tonight and play almost any Negro Spiritual, just play the black notes on the piano. There are five black notes on the piano, and those same black notes just keep occurring. And you can go home tonight and play almost any Negro Spiritual just play the black notes. That’s because the slaves didn’t come to America with: “Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti Do”. That’s somebody else’s scale. All they had in their musical scale were the five black notes we know as the Pentatonic scale and they built the power and the pathos of the Negro spiritual on five notes. When you study music you also come across what are known as: “White spirituals.” Did you know that? And there are white composers who work with that scale, in early America they used to call it “The Slave Scale.” And I’m gonna play for you what some musicologists think is the most famous white spiritual built on the slave scale with just the black notes.”
Amazing Grace was published in 1779 with John Newton credited as the author but the melody is documented as composed by “Unknown.” There is no official recognition that the melody is a West African mourning chant. However we know that over the centuries the music of Africans has been appropriated by White people who made a fortune from that music and refused to acknowledge the source or compensate the composers/originators.
Newton reportedly had his spiritual conversion in 1748 when a violent storm battered his ship so severely that he called out to God for mercy and his ship and life were spared however he continued his slave-trading even after this “Road to Damascus” epiphany!! In the introduction to the 1962 published book “The Journal of a Slave Trader (John Newton), 1750-1754, with Newton's Thoughts upon the African Slave Trade’ authors Bernard Davis Martin and Mark Spurrell write: “When Newton began his journal in 1750, not only was slave trading seen as a respectable profession by the majority of Britons, its necessity to the overall prosperity of the kingdom was communally understood and approved.” Today the descendants of enslaved Africans are demanding reparations for the unpaid labour of their ancestors that enriched White people for generations. During Black Music Month we can begin to consider who is reaping riches from the talents of African musicians and demand reparations there also!


The African Union (AU) is an organization which was established on May 26, 2001 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The AU has a membership of 54 African states. The AU replaced the Organization of African Unity (OAU). The most important decisions of the AU are made by the Assembly of the African Union, a semi-annual meeting of the heads of state and government of its member states. The AU's secretariat, the African Union Commission, is based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The Organization of African Unity (OAU) the forerunner of the AU was established on May 25, 1963 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The OAU Charter was adopted on May 23, 1963 by representatives of 32 governments. Other African states joined the organization over the years, with South Africa becoming the 53rd member on 23 May 1994. Since then with the establishment of the Republic of South Sudan on July 9, 2011 there are now 54 member states of the AU. The OAU was postcolonial Africa’s first continent-wide association of independent states. Many of these states came into being after the arbitrary division of the African continent by European colonizers following the infamous “Scramble for Africa.”
The “Scramble for Africa” began after the abolition of chattel slavery by some European nations including Britain (August 1, 1834) and the impending abolition by others including the Spanish (Cuba, October 7, 1886) and Portuguese (Brazil, May 13, 1888.) Not being satisfied with the centuries of exploitation of African bodies and labour and the subsequent devastation of the African continent, greedy Europeans planned to continue the exploitation. In his 1974 published book “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa” Guyanese scholar and historian Walter Rodney wrote: “From the beginning, Europe assumed the power to make decisions within the international trading system. An excellent illustration of that is the fact that the so-called international law which governed the conduct of nations on the high seas was nothing else but European law. Africans did not participate in its making, and in many instances, African people were simply the victims, for the law recognized them only as transportable merchandise. If the African slave was thrown overboard at sea, the only legal problem that arose was whether or not the slave ship could claim compensation from the insurers! Above all, European decision-making power was exercised in selecting what Africa should export – in accordance with European needs.” Much of the wealth that gives European dominated nations the status of “developed” countries was derived from the unpaid labour of generations of enslaved Africans who were routinely worked to death so that the Europeans could accumulate undeserved wealth.
The “Scramble for Africa” and the decades of colonization of the African continent began with a diabolic meeting of the minds on November 15, 1884 at the Berlin Conference. This meeting lasted until February 26, 1885 and when the dust cleared the African continent had been carved up by the representatives of several European nations. The masterminds of this atrocity included representatives of Austria-Hungary, Belgium, Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden-Norway (unified from 1814-1905), Turkey and the USA who decided to carve up the African continent for their benefit. At the time Britain, France, Germany and Portugal had colonies on the African continent so the other European tribes wanted the opportunity to exploit Africans and Africa. Chattel slavery, the European four hundred year plunder and brutalization of Africans was almost at an end (at least on paper) so these parasites were seeking another method of leeching off of the human and other resources of Africa. With no regard for African culture or history, no consultation with any African, this group of White men drew borders that separated families and forced together groups that traditionally lived separately with a delicate balance of keeping peaceful relations by living separately. At the launch of the OAU on May 25, 1963, His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I the late Emperor of Ethiopia spoke about the European ravishment of Africa and the effects: “The events of the past hundred and fifty years require no extended recitation from Us. The period of colonialism into which we were plunged culminated with our continent fettered and bound, with our once proud and free peoples reduced to humiliation and slavery; with Africa's terrain cross-batched and checkerboarded by artificial and arbitrary boundaries. Many of us, during those bitter years, were overwhelmed in battle, and those who escaped conquest did so at the cost of desperate resistance and bloodshed. Others were sold into bondage as the price extracted by the colonialists for the "protection" which they extended and the possession of which they disposed. Africa was a physical resource to be exploited and Africans were chattels to be purchased bodily or, at best, peoples to be reduced to vassalage and lackeyhood. Africa was the market for the produce of other nations and the source of the raw materials with which their factories were fed.”
The idea for an organization of African nations came out of the process of decolonization in Africa. For decades after the infamous “Scramble for Africa” the continent was occupied by Europeans who stole African land and not only kept the most fertile land for their use by displacing the Africans but they also passed laws forcing Africans to provide cheap labour on the farms/plantations the Europeans established. Africans were brutalized by Europeans who were protected by well-armed European military personnel provided by the various European nations. The struggle for decolonization gained momentum after the second European tribal conflict which lasted from 1939 to 1945. Many Africans were forced to fight in what was a battle between mostly European nations at war with each other. Following that conflict which was mostly fought in Europe the Africans who returned to their continent realised that White men were not all powerful or immortal and died from bullet wounds just like the Africans the Europeans routinely killed.
The 1950s witnessed the victory of several African nations regaining their independence from the colonizing Europeans. Many of the freedom fighters were inspired by the Pan-Africanist philosophy of the Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey. After gaining their independence these African nations united to preserve and consolidate their independence as a political collective. His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I said on May 25, 1963 in his greetings to the delegates of the first gathering of the independent African nation states at the launch of the OAU: “We seek, at this meeting, to determine whither we are going and to chart the course of our destiny. It is no less important that we know whence we came. An awareness of our past is essential to the establishment of our personality and our identity as Africans. This world was not created piecemeal. Africa was born no later and no earlier than any other geographical area on this globe. Africans, no more and no less than other men, possess all human attributes, talents and deficiencies, virtues and faults. Thousands of years ago, civilizations flourished in Africa which suffer not at all by comparison with those of other continents. In those centuries, Africans were politically free and economically independent. Their social patterns were their own and their cultures truly indigenous. The obscurity which enshrouds the centuries which elapsed between those earliest days and the rediscovery of Africa are being gradually dispersed. What is certain is that during those long years Africans were born, lived and died. Men on other parts of this Earth occupied themselves with their own concerns and, in their conceit, proclaimed that the world began and ended at their horizons. All unknown to them, Africa developed in its own pattern, growing in its own life and, in the nineteenth century, finally re-emerged into the world's consciousness.”
May 25 is African Liberation Day and has been observed as such since May 25, 1963 with the launch of the AOU. It is well for us to remember what we have suffered and what we have achieved. As May 25, 1914 approaches let us remember the words of The Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey who said: “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” And also keep in mind the words of His Imperial Majesty Haile Sellasie I: “An awareness of our past is essential to the establishment of our personality and our identity as Africans.”


All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Excerpt from the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution adopted on July 9, 1868, as one of the Reconstruction Amendments.
On May 17, 1954 (60 years ago) the Supreme Court of the United States of America issued its landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka ruling declaring that racially segregated public schools were unequal. The 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution was used as the argument to end the practice of forcing African Americans to attend segregated and inferior public schools. The argument against desegregation was that the schools for White Americans and the schools for African Americans were separate but equal. Every African American who had attended those racially segregated schools knew that was not true. African Americans including Maya Angelou, Mildred Taylor, bell hooks and Richard Wright wrote about their experiences attending segregated schools. In the 1976 published book “Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry” African American author Mildred D. Taylor writes about a separate but unequal school for African Americans in 1930s Mississippi: “The Great Faith Elementary and Secondary School, one of the largest black schools in the county was a dismal end to an hour’s journey. Consisting of four weather-beaten wooden houses on stilts of brick, 320 students, seven teachers, a principal, a caretaker, and the caretaker's cow, the school was located near three plantations.” In “Roll of Thunder” Taylor also writes about the textbooks that were provided to the African American students after White students had used the books until they were dirty and falling apart. These textbooks were considered suitable to be passed on to African American students after the Board of Education had deemed them unsuitable for use by White students. In the 2003 published book “Brown V. Board of Education: The Case Against School Segregation” White American author Wayne Anderson writes: “The attitude of most policy makers in the South (and many in the North) was that education was wasted on African Americans, whom they regarded as not being much more than a cheap source for labor. Accordingly, the southern states spent comparatively little on public education for blacks. Black schools were inferior in every way. Typically they were housed in rundown buildings that lacked adequate heating and plumbing.” On December 8, 1953 African American lawyer Thurgood Marshall in his argument for the plaintiffs in the Brown v. Board of Education said: “They can't take race out of this case. From the day this case was filed until this moment, nobody has in any form or fashion, despite the fact I made it clear in the opening argument that I was relying on it, done anything to distinguish this statute from the Black Codes, which they must admit, because nobody can dispute, say anything anybody wants to say, one way or the other, the Fourteenth Amendment was intended to deprive the states of power to enforce Black Codes or anything else like it. It can't be color because there are Negroes as white as the drifted snow, with blue eyes, and they are just as segregated as the colored man. The only thing can be is an inherent determination that the people who were formerly in slavery, regardless of anything else, shall be kept as near that stage as is possible, and now is the time, we submit, that this Court should make it clear that that is not what our Constitution stands for.” Marshall’s argument in this case is considered one of the great Civil Rights speeches and is included in the 2003 published book “Ripples of Hope: Great American Civil Rights Speeches” edited by Josh Gottheimer.
This landmark case is considered the official beginning of the modern Civil Rights campaign which eventually led to legal (at least on paper) desegregation of American society. Although African Americans were at the forefront of this fight and countless African American lives were lost in this struggle African Americans are not the main beneficiaries of the Civil Rights struggle and the resulting laws. Other racialized people have benefited to such an extent that some of them have become proponents of White supremacy and target African Americans. Some of the more infamous of this ilk are Ted Cruz, Dinesh D’Souza and Geraldo Rivera. The other group that has benefited tremendously from the sacrifices of African Americans during the Civil Rights struggle/movement and the subsequent Affirmative Action laws are ( White women: “According to the United States Labor Department, the primary beneficiaries of affirmative action are white women. The Department of Labor estimated that 6 million women workers are in higher occupational classifications today than they would have been without affirmative action policies.” North Carolina State University is just one of many sites where the information about White women being the main beneficiaries of Affirmative Action is available.
When the decision to desegregate public schools in the United States was made on May 17, 1954 Canada had not desegregated all its public schools. The myth of a non-racist Canada makes it surprising to many people that at one point African Canadians were forced to attend separate and unequal schools in this country as in the USA. It was not until the 1960s after concerned African Canadians took up the challenge of desegregating these schools that they were closed. The last segregated school in Ontario (Merlin, Ontario near Chatham) closed in 1965 and the last segregated school in Canada closed in Nova Scotia in 1983. In his 1980 published book “A History of Blacks in Canada: A Study Guide for Teachers and Students” White Canadian author James W. St G. Walker wrote “Blacks were denied equal use of public schools in Nova Scotia and Ontario, and this division was recognized by the law. The most important manifestation of colour prejudice in Canadian history is in education.”
White supremacist ideas in public education is alive and well here in the Great White North in the 21st century. On March 5, 2007 an African Canadian teacher teaching in a French Language School (École Francois Buote) in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island (PEI) was vilified by a group of White “colleagues” in a video where one of the White staff was in blackface. The video was shown at a staff meeting. A complaint was made to the P.E.I. Human Rights Commission which took 6 years (January 2013) to make a decision. The School Board apologized! “The French School Board acknowledges that the skit was inappropriate and unacceptable and regrets that the comments made by Mr. Gilles Benoit, the school principal, may have given the impression that the incident was not a serious matter. The French School Board wishes to ensure no person or group feels discriminated against.”
Just last week on May 6, 2014 I read this on the website of “Citynews Toronto” and watched the accompanying video: “Warning: contains disturbing content. Here’s video of a schoolyard fight that reportedly took place at Sutton District High School in April. Source: YouTube.” In the video a 17 year old African Canadian student is defending himself in a physical attack by a White student who is encouraged by a group of other White students making blatantly White supremacist remarks. Eventually some of the other White students become involved in the physical altercation.
In the wake of Brown v. Board of Education when African American students were finally allowed to enter “White” public schools, the mental, psychological, physical and spiritual injury to which they were subjected by White adults and children was horrendous. In the 21st century the physical abuse and White supremacist taunts to which the 17 year old African Canadian student was subjected is mindboggling. A friend who lives in the Southern USA called me to verify that this really happened in Canada. It has been 60 years since Brown v. Board of Education was decided in the USA. What is happening in Canada in 2014? The culture of denial and blame the victim has been the response from the White community where this child was physically and psychologically abused.