Thursday, November 20, 2014

BLACK AWARENESS DAY (DIA DA CONSCIENCIA NEGRA) IN BRAZIL

Angola, Congo, Benguela Monjolo, Cabinda, Mina Quiloa, Rebolo Here where the men are There’s a big auction They say that in the auction, There’s a princess for sale Who came, together with her subjects Chained on an oxcart To one side, sugarcane To the other side, the coffee plantation In the middle, seated gentlemen Watching the cotton crop, so white Being picked by black hands When Zumbi arrives What will happen Zumbi is a warlord A lord of demands When Zumbi arrives, Zumbi Is the one who gives orders
Excerpt from "Zumbi" composed and sung by African Brazilian singer Jorge Ben released in 1974
“Black November” is celebrated in the city of Salvador in the Brazilian state of Bahia which has the largest number of African Brazilians. Black Awareness Day ("Dia da Consciência Negra") has been celebrated in Brazil every year on November 20, since 1960. On November 20 the enslavement of Africans and other injustices since the abolition of slavery are discussed and the contributions of African Brazilians are recognized and celebrated. November 20 was chosen as Dia da Consciência Negra/Black Awareness Day to remember the transition of Zumbi a famous Brazilian Maroon leader. Zumbi dos Palmares (1655-1695) the last leader of the famous Palmares Quilombo was beheaded on November 20, 1695 by the Portuguese and his head publicly displayed both as a warning to enslaved Africans and proof that Zubmbi was not immortal. In 2011 Dilma Rousseff the President of Brazil signed into law a bill that makes November 20 a Brazilian National Holiday although many Brazilian states had previously recognized November 20 with a public holiday.
Zumbi who posthumously has risen to the status of National Hero to many Brazilians and even has a Brazilian airport (Zumbi dos Palmares International Airport) named in his honour and a postage stamp (2008) commemorating his memory was once the bane of the Portuguese colonizers/enslavers in Brazil. Zumbi was born a free African in the community of Palmares where Africans had established a free Maroon community (quilombo) in 1594. Palmares was the most successful community of quilombos established by Africans who fled enslavement in Brazil and survived and thrived for 100 years. Combined forces of Dutch and Portuguese attacked the Palmares community as the presence of Africans living free in a country where White people enslaved millions was a beacon of hope to enslaved Africans. During one of these attacks 6 year old Zumbi was kidnapped by a group of Portuguese who sold him to a Catholic priest. When he was 15 years old Zumbi escaped and returned to Palmares where by the time he was in his early 20s he was a respected military strategist and a leader in the community. In 1678, the Portuguese governor negotiated a deal with the leader of Palmares. The deal was a cessation of hostilities between the White inhabitants and the people of Palmares if they would agree to move from the location they had settled since 1594 and that they would capture and return any enslaved Africans who fled to their community seeking freedom. The leader of Palmares agreed but Zumbi wisely refused to agree to those terms. The Portuguese proved to be deceitful and enslaved the Africans who believed their promises and left the safety of Palmares. Mary Karasch a White American historian wrote in her article “Zumbi of Palmares: Challenging the Portuguese Colonial Order” published 2013 in "In The Human Tradition in Colonial Latin America" edited by Kenneth J. Andrien: “The Portuguese were not to be trusted, and to live in peace with them would only lead to reenslavement. To preserve their freedom they had to resist and fight for their people and their own way of life.”
With Zumbi’s refusal to leave Palmares (where Africans had lived as free people for more than 80 years) and his supporters’ determination to defend their territory and their freedom the Portuguese renewed their attacks on Palmares. Zumbi as the new leader of Palmares led the fight against the Portuguese. In her 2013 published article “Zumbi of Palmares: Challenging the Portuguese Colonial Order” Mary Karasch also wrote “What is clear from the documentation is that a newly unified and revived Palmares under the leadership of Zumbi took the offensive. One wonders if the particularly raided plantations where their former comrades had been reenslaved. For a period of thirteen years (1680-1693) Luso-Brazilian expeditions were ineffectual in stopping Palmarino attacks.”
On January 6, 1694 Palmares suffered a surprise attack because of a careless sentry who failed to warn Zumbi of an approaching army of Portuguese. Although Zumbi and his followers from Palmares fought valiantly, they were surrounded and outnumbered. The Portuguese destroyed the Palmares Quilombo, captured 510 Africans and sold them in Bahia.
Zumbi and a few men escaped and continued the fight. Zumbi was eventually betrayed by one of his trusted men who bargained Zumbi’s life for his own with the Portuguese. Zumbi was killed in the ensuing fight on November 20, 1695 and his body was delivered to the officials of the city council of Porto Calvo. In her “Zumbi of Palmares: Challenging the Portuguese Colonial Order” Mary Karasch writes: “An examination revealed fifteen gunshot wounds and innumerable blows from other weapons; after his death he had been castrated and mutilated. The last degradation by his enemies occurred in a public ceremony in Porto Calvo, in which his head was cut off and taken to Recife, where the governor had it displayed on a pole in a public place. His objective was to destroy the belief that Zumbi was immortal.”
Although Palmares was one of several quilombos established by Africans in Brazil, the Quilombo of Palmares was the largest with a population of 30,000 and lasted longer than any other (100 years) from 1594 to 1694. Some of Zumbi’s followers who escaped the carnage visited upon them by the Portuguese attack on Palmares escaped to live in other quilombos and enslaved Africans also continued to flee until slavery was abolished in Brazil in 1888. Some of the quilombos were so well hidden that they were never discovered by the Portuguese and the inhabitants lived in freedom and seclusion. In one case the inhabitants of a quilombo (Remanso, Bahia) were unaware until they were discovered in the 1960s that slavery had been abolished for more than 80 years! Since 1988, the quilombos have received protective status under Brazil’s constitution in an attempt to maintain the distinctive culture, history and language developed by these communities.
During the November 20 recognition of Zumbi’s contribution to Brazilian culture and history many events take place at Zumbia National Park which has a monument created in his honour. In spite of the special day to honour Zumbi and the recognition of his place in Brazil’s history, African Brazilians continue to experience oppression in a White supremacist culture.
In his 1989 published book “Brazil, Mixture Or Massacre?: Essays in the Genocide of a Black People” African Brazilian scholar and historian Abdias do Nascimento wrote: “On the whole in this pretentious concept of ‘racial democracy,’ there lies deliberately buried the true face of Brazilian society: only one of the racial elements has any rights or power – whites. They control the means of dissemination of information, educational curriculum and institutions, conceptual definitions, aesthetic norms and all other forms of social/cultural values.” Nascimento who transitioned on May 23, 2011 was a Pan-Africanist who played a significant role in raising awareness among African Brazilians and also wrote "Racial Democracy in Brazil, Myth or Reality?: A Dossier of Brazilian Racism" (1977), "Race and ethnicity in Latin America – African culture in Brazilian art" (1994), "Orixás: os deuses vivos da Africa" (Orishas: the living gods of Africa in Brazil) (1995) and "Africans in Brazil: a Pan-African perspective" (1997.) Recognition of Zumbi would not be complete without recognition of Nascimento as the African Brazilian activist scholar who has been described as a “militant Pan-Africanist” and spent his life raising awareness of the struggle of African Brazilians to navigate a White supremacist culture/system.

Friday, November 14, 2014

CHINUA ACHEBE NOVEMBER 16, 1930 - MARCH 21, 2013

People say that if you find water rising up to your ankle, that's the time to do something about it, not when it's around your neck. The last four or five hundred years of European contact with Africa produced a body of literature that presented Africa in a very bad light and Africans in very lurid terms. The reason for this had to do with the need to justify the slave trade and slavery.
Quotes from Chinua Achebe Nigerian (Igbo) author of the classic novel "Things Fall Apart" published 1958
Chinualumogu Achebe was born on November 16, 1930 in Ogidi, Nigeria. He was the fifth of 6 children born to Janet Anaenechi Iloegbunam and Isaiah Okafo Achebe. The name "Chinualumogu" means "God will fight on my behalf" and since Achebe was born during the British colonization of Nigeria his parents probably thought their child would need the intervention of the Almighty to survive the imposition of a foreign power in their land. Achebe who transitioned on March 21, 2013 was an acclaimed novelist who published several books about the negative effects of European colonization, domination and exploitation of Africans.
In his first book "Things Fall Apart" published in 1958 Achebe introduced Okonkwo the Igbo leader whose life and the lives of his people are devastated by the arrival of the Europeans and the destruction of the traditional way of life. In chapter 7 of "Things Fall Apart" in this allegory of the arrival of the colonizers from Britain, Achebe writes: "And at last the locusts did descend. They settled on every tree and on every blade of grass; they settled on the roofs and covered the bare ground. Mighty tree branches broke away under them." At the end of "Things Fall Apart" as "things are falling apart" for the Igbo leaders facing the domination of the White colonizers, 2 of the central characters (Obierika and Okonkwo) have this conversation: "“Does the white man understand our custom about land?” “How can he when he does not even speak our tongue? But he says that our customs are bad; and our own brothers who have taken up his religion also say that our customs are bad. How do you think we can fight when our own brothers have turned against us? The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.”"
Achebe's depictions of the social and psychological damage that accompanied the imposition of Western customs and values upon traditional African society are probably the reason he was never awarded a Nobel Prize for Literature. When asked by Onuora Udenwa of "Quality Weekly" how he felt about never winning a Nobel Prize, he reportedly replied: “My position is that the Nobel Prize is important. But it is a European prize. It’s not an African prize. It’s not a Nigerian prize. Those who give it, Europeans who give it are not responsible to us. They have their reasons for setting it up. They have their rules for determining who should get it. Literature is not a heavyweight championship.”
Achebe was uncompromising in his stance on challenging conventional Western perceptions of Africans and provided alternatives to the negative stereotypical images of Africa constructed by European authors. On February 18, 1975 while he was a professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Achebe presented a Chancellor’s Lecture at Amherst entitled “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’” where he deconstructed the racism in Conrad’s novel and described Conrad as “a thoroughgoing racist” (http://kirbyk.net/hod/image.of.africa.html) That lecture has been described as “one of the most important and influential treatises in post-colonial literary discourse.” In "Things Fall Apart" Achebe describes in vivid language through various characters the damaging and ruinous effects of European imposition on African culture, civilization and society which continued in the 1960 sequel "No Longer at Ease." In his 1964 published book "Arrow of God" Achebe also wrote about traditional Igbo culture clashing with European Christian missionaries and colonial government policies as the British Empire prevailed in Africa. "A Man of the People" published in 1966 and "Anthills of the Savannah" published in 1987 are also powerful stories told by an African about Africans and African culture. In one of his essays published in "Morning Yet on Creation Day" in 1975, Achebe explained in "The Novelist As Teacher": “I would be quite satisfied if my novels (especially the ones I set in the past) did no more than teach my readers that their past – with all its imperfections – was not one long night of savagery from which the first Europeans acting on God’s behalf delivered them.” Achebe also wrote in an essay entitled "The Role of the Writer in a New Nation" which was published in "Morning Yet on Creation Day" in 1975: "The worst thing that can happen to any people is the loss of their dignity and self-respect. The writer's duty is to help them regain it by showing them in human terms what happened to them, what they lost. There is a saying in Ibo that a man who can't tell where the rain began to beat him cannot know where he dried his body. The writer can tell the people where the rain began to beat them"
With the publication of “Things Fall Apart” in 1958, Achebe revolutionized the telling of African stories and set the standard for successive generations of African authors/writers, including Buchi Emecheta and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Achebe was the founding editor of the "Heinemann African Writers Series" (established in 1962) which provided a forum for many African writers who came of age after their countries’ independence from European colonizers. His collection of poems "Beware Soul Brother" was published in 1972 and won the Commonwealth Poetry Prize.
Achebe born on November 16, 1930 was born during a time when Africans were agitating for their independence from European colonization. Nigeria had been occupied by Britain since the arrival of the “Royal Niger Company” which was founded by a group of White men in 1879 as the “United African Company” renamed the “National African Company” in 1881 and then the “Royal Niger Company” in 1886. Whatever name the group gave themselves their purpose was always to exploit the Africans and the resources. On January 1, 1900, the “Royal Niger Company” transferred the territories it occupied to the British Government and was paid £865,000. No Africans were consulted during the transaction. In the 1920s several Nigerians joined other Africans on the continent and in the Diaspora began organizing in a Pan-African movement to liberate Africans from European domination and the attendant racism to which Africans were subjected in White supremacist cultures. The Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey founded the “Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League” (UNIA-ACL) in 1914 in Jamaica and expanded the organization after immigrating to the USA in 1916. The influence of Garveyism with his (Garvey’s) philosophy of “Africa for Africans at home and abroad” galvanized the Pan-African movement and influenced generations of African and Caribbean leaders. In 1923 Olayinka Herbert Samuel Heelas Badmus Macaulay established the Nigerian National Democratic Party (Nigeria’s first political party) which successfully contested three Lagos seats in the Legislative Council. Macaulay came to be regarded as the “father of modern Nigerian nationalism" in spite of the British colonialist efforts to suppress the movement. Macaulay was jailed twice by the British as he agitated for African self-rule in Nigeria. Macaulay led protests in Lagos over water rates, land issues and exposed British corruption of their “mishandling” of railway finances. In 1918 Macaulay successfully handled the cases of chiefs whose land had been taken by the British in front of the Privy Council in London. As a result of his campaigning, the colonial government was forced to pay compensation to the chiefs. On June 23, 1923 he established Nigeria’s first political party the “Nigerian National Democratic Party.” Macaulay like many other African leaders who campaigned for independence from European domination was a Pan-Africanist.
In a letter to Garvey in June 1919 (http://wyatt.elasticbeanstalk.com/mep/MG/xml/mg080008.html) expressed his support of Garvey’s initiative to establish a shipping company “The Black Star Line.” Macaulay ended his letter to Garvey with these words: "With the most heartfelt prayer for the success of "The Black Star Line," and in the fervent hope that the undertaking will be conducted upon lines based on strict moral rectitude, fair and healthy competition qualified by the most scrupulous and resolute Self-determination, I remain Your Fellowman of the Negro Race, H. Macaulay"
Although he was not a politician Achebe was as much an activist as the people who agitated for African freedom from colonization. He used his talent as a writer to educate and agitate and his work has been recognized by universities in Britain, Canada, Nigeria and the United States with honorary degrees.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

VIOLA DESMOND NOVEMBER 8 -1 946

“The province has granted an official apology and free pardon to the late Viola Desmond. Mrs. Desmond, of Halifax, was an African Canadian wrongfully jailed and fined in 1946 for sitting in the white peoples’ section of a New Glasgow movie theatre. Mrs. Desmond passed away in 1965. On the advice of the Executive Council, the lieutenant governor has exercised the Royal Prerogative of Mercy to grant a Free Pardon. A free pardon is based on innocence and recognizes that a conviction was in error. A free pardon is an extraordinary remedy and is considered only in the rarest of circumstances. This is the first time a free pardon has been posthumously granted in Canada.”
Excerpt from “Late Viola Desmond Granted Apology, Free Pardon” a press release from the office of the Premier of Nova Scotia on April 15, 2010
Most Canadians know the names of African American Civil Rights activists like Angela Davis, Mohamed Ali, El Hajj Malik El Shabazz (Malcolm X) Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. Not too many know the name Viola Desmond. Viola Davis Desmond was an African Canadian Civil Rights activist. On November 8, 1946 Davis a 32-year-old African Canadian businesswoman was arrested at the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia for refusing to move from the “white section.” While White Canadians pride themselves on being different from their American counterparts and proudly proclaim Canada’s “multiculturalism” the treatment of African Canadians and other racialized people is very similar to those who live in the USA. The White supremacist culture of the USA is well documented and displayed but the White supremacist culture of Canada is well hidden. Canadian students can pass through the education system from elementary school through post-secondary without learning about the enslavement of Africans, the internment of Japanese Canadian families, the exclusionary Chinese head tax or the capture and abuse of First Nations children in residential schools. I was extremely surprised while attending a class at a post-secondary institution where the lecturer during a discussion of “Components of Racial Discrimination in Immigration” had no knowledge of the incident involving the racist treatment of the passengers of the Komagata Maru in August 1914. To survive at post-secondary institutions sometimes racialized students have to “bite their tongues” or risk victimization and unnecessary extra stress.
On November 8, 1946, Desmond was traveling on business from her Halifax, Nova Scotia home when she experienced car trouble in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. After taking her car to a garage and having to wait for her car to be repaired she decided to pass the time at the Roseland Theatre. She bought a ticket for the main floor of the theatre as she was unaware of the theatre’s policy that the main floor was a “Whites only” seating area. Desmond did not know that African Canadians were relegated to the balcony at the Roseland Theatre because unlike the blatant White supremacist Jim Crow laws of the U.S.A there were no “Whites” and “Coloured” signs. To this day many White Canadians practice a subtle/polite kind of racism where they can pretend/proclaim that their target was mistaken, that their actions were “taken out of context” or misunderstood. It is not surprising that Toronto’s recently elected Mayor declared that White skin privilege does not exist. It will be interesting to witness how he deals with the racial profiling to which African Canadians and other racialized Torontonians are daily subjected within our fair city.
On November 8, 1946 when Desmond was ordered to vacate her seat and move to the balcony she refused. She was after all a Canadian whose ancestors had lived here for generations why should she be treated differently because of her race? She was a successful business owner a respectable hardworking woman who had paid her hard earned money for a seat on the main floor and she was not going to move. Although she explained that she could not see from the balcony and that she had paid to sit on the main floor the manager insisted that she move. Following that stand off the manager left the theatre and returned with police force. The slim, 4’11” Desmond was unceremoniously lifted out of her seat by the two burly White men and dragged out of the cinema. Desmond suffered hip and knee injuries while being dragged out of the cinema. She was taken to jail, arrested and charged with attempting to defraud the provincial government of a one cent amusement tax. After spending an uncomfortable and terrifying night in jail with no opportunity to contact relatives or even a lawyer, at the trial next day Desmond was found guilty and ordered to pay a fine or spend more time in jail. She paid the fine but determined to fight to clear her name and change the segregationist law.
Desmond was supported in her fight by the Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NSAACP) which raised money for her cause. Desmond also received support from Carrie Best, African Canadian journalist and founder of “The Clarion.” In 1942 Best and her son Calbert were arrested and charged with disturbing the peace for sitting in the "white section" of the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow. They were convicted and fined with no mention that their crime was sitting in the “white section” of the cinema (that subtle underhanded version of Canadian racism at work.) Best had unsuccessfully filed a civil suit against the management of the Roseland Theatre. She supported Desmond throughout her fight using the newspaper “The Clarion” (founded in 1946) to publicize the case. The two African Canadian women (Best and Desmond) working together organized other African Canadians to lobby the Nova Scotia government which finally 8 years after the November 8, 1946 incident repealed the segregation law of Nova Scotia in 1954 one year before Rosa Parks was arrested in Montgomery, Alabama.
It is important to note that on December 1, 1955 when Parks was arrested on the Montgomery city bus she was sitting in the first set of seats at the back of the bus that were designated for “colored” people. Over the years there have been erroneous accounts that she was sitting in the “white section” and refused to move. No! Rosa Parks refused to move further back when a White man could not find a seat in the “white section” of the bus and the driver demanded that she and 3 other African Americans find seats further back or stand. Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat at the back of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama and the subsequent year long boycott (December 5, 1955 - December 20, 1956) saw the end of segregation on public transportation in Montgomery. Viola Desmond’s battle to bring an end to segregation in Nova Scotia took a 9 year fight.
At the time that Desmond, Best and other African Canadians in Nova Scotia were fighting to end segregation, African Canadians had recently returned to Canada from fighting in Europe in what was described as the second World War which was supposedly fought to bring freedom to the world. Canada at that time was a dominion of the British Empire whose Prime Minister Winston Churchill made his famous “Finest Hour” speech on June 18, 1940 which included these words: "Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire." Obviously Churchill’s “Christian civilization” did not include White Canadians being “civil” to African Canadians or considering their “Civil Rights” of any importance. After all their “war efforts” African Canadians in 1946 did not have the “freedom” to sit where they wanted in a cinema. The men who came back from Europe after fighting for “freedom” could only expect to get “good” jobs as sleeping car porters. African Canadian author Stanley Grizzle wrote about his experiences as a soldier in the Canadian armed forces and as a porter on the Canadian railroad in his 1998 published book “My name's not George: The story of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters : personal reminiscences of Stanley G. Grizzle.” On May 18, 1945 the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in Canada signed an agreement that represented the first unionized agreement for African Canadian workers with an employer. The men were porters working with the Canadian Pacific and the Northern Alberta Railway. The May 18, 1945 unionization meant that for the first time African Canadian Sleeping Car Porters could bargain for better wages and working conditions and lobby federal and provincial governments to create legislation prohibiting discrimination in employment and housing. It was not until 1964 that African Canadian porters were finally employed in other positions at the Canadian Pacific and Canadian National Railways (CPR and CNR.)
Viola Desmond was honoured with a Canadian postage stamp in February 2012 but her status as a Canadian Civil Rights activist is still not widely recognized.

Friday, October 31, 2014

MARGARET BURROUGHS - DUSABLE MUSEUM OF AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY

What shall I tell my children who are black Of what it means to be a captive in this dark skin? What shall I tell my dear one, fruit of my womb, of how beautiful they are when everywhere they turn they are faced with abhorrence of everything that is black. What can I do to give him strength That he may come through life's adversities As a whole human being unwarped and human in a world Of biased laws and inhuman practices, that he might Survive. And survive he must! For who knows? Perhaps this black child here bears the genius To discover the cure for... cancer Or to chart the course for exploration of the universe. So, he must survive for the good of all humanity. He must and will survive. I have drunk deeply of late from the fountain of my black culture, sat at the knee of and learned from mother Africa, discovered the truth of my heritage. The truth, so often obscured and omitted. And I find I have much to say to my black children. I will lift up their heads in proud blackness with the story of their fathers and their father’s fathers. And I shall take them into a way back time of kings and queens who ruled the Nile, and measured the stars and discovered the laws of mathematics. I will tell him this and more. And knowledge of his heritage shall be his weapon and his armor; It will make him strong enough to win any battle he may face. And since this story is so often obscured, I must sacrifice to find it for my children, even as I sacrifice to feed, clothe and shelter them. So this I will do for them if I love them. None will do it for me. I must find the truth of heritage for myself and pass it on to them. For it is the truth that will make us free!
Excerpt from the poem “What shall I tell my children who are Black” by Dr. Margaret Burroughs published 1992
The woman who would eventually become Dr. Margaret Taylor Goss Burroughs and establish the “DuSable Museum of African American History” was born Margaret Taylor on November 1, 1917 in St. Rose, Louisiana. In 1922 when she was 5 years old her family moved north to Chicago as millions of African Americans from southern states were doing at the time. In the case of the Taylor family they fled after a relative was kidnapped and murdered by a gang of White men. Known as “The Great Migration” the period between 1910 and 1960 saw a mass movement of African Americans from Jim Crow southern states to northern states. In the southern states where Jim Crow laws ruled and segregation was a fact of life African Americans could not vote, were forced to accept menial jobs working for White people and were at risk of being brutalized, maimed or killed if they did not “know their place.” African American children were forced to attend schools that were housed in little more than tumbledown shacks and accept third and fourth hand school books after the books had been used and abused by White students in well kept schools. Many African American children in those southern states were forced to leave school for many months of the year to help their families pick cotton to sustain their livelihood as tenant farmers (sharecroppers) where they dwelled on land owned by White farmers.
Two White American professors in the 2011 published book “The Muse in Bronzeville: African American Creative Expression in Chicago” write about Burroughs’ early life: “Educational opportunities were scant, as black children missed large parts of each school year to pick cotton or chop cane. In 1922, sometime after a gang of whites kidnapped and murdered a family member, the Taylors moved to Chicago. They moved many times always searching for better living conditions. Moving up meant moving south as the Black Belt expanded slowly, block by block, into formerly all-white neighborhoods. When the family moved into a house on Sixtieth Street, a transitional area, racial taunts were hurled, bricks were thrown through windows and finally their front porch was firebombed.” Obviously it was not a “bed of roses” for African Americans even in northern cities like Chicago but at least they did not have to live legally segregated lives.
In her 2003 published autobiography “Life with Margaret: The Autobiography of Dr Margaret Burroughs” Burroughs remarked that although she attended an integrated school in the northern city of Chicago the lack of information about Africans in the curriculum negatively affected her academic achievement. Burroughs wrote that while she attended “Englewood High School” she would doze off in class until the teacher mentioned something about African Americans and she would become fully alert when there were discussions about the accomplishments or failures of African American women. After graduating from Englewood High School in 1933 Burroughs attended the Chicago Normal College (now the Chicago State University) where she earned a teaching certificate in 1937 and in 1939 an upper-grade art certificate. In 1939 Burroughs co-founded the South Side Community Arts Center to serve as a social center, gallery and studio to display the work of African American artists. She also married the artist Bernard Goss in 1939 and they divorced in 1947. In 1946 Burroughs earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Art Education from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a Master of Arts degree in Art Education in 1948. In 1949 she married Charles Gordon Burroughs and in 1961 they co-founded the “Ebony Museum of Negro History and Art” in their home at 3806 South Michigan Avenue. The historic building had at one time served as a boarding house for African American Pullman porters and other African American railroad workers.
“Ebony Museum of Negro History and Art” was the first of its kind; an African American self-governing museum designated to collect, interpret and preserve the achievements, experiences and history of African Americans. In 1973 the museum moved to its new home at the former South Park Commission headquarters in Washington Park at 740 East 56th Place. The museum also acquired a new name with the move; it was renamed the “DuSable Museum of African American History.” The name DuSable chosen to honour the African American Haitian born Jean Baptiste Point DuSable who is recognized as the founder of Chicago when he settled there in the 1760s. This information about DuSable was published in the March 18, 1996 edition of the Chicago based African American Jet Magazine: "Jean Baptiste Pointe Du Sable was born in San Marc, Haiti, in 1745. His mother, an enslaved African woman, was killed when he was about ten years old. His father, who was his mother's 'owner', sent Du Sable to be educated in France, then later employed him as a seaman. Du Sable was 20 years old when he was shipwrecked near New Orleans and had to go into hiding for fear of being enslaved on U.S. soil. He eventually made his way to the area now known as Chicago and was the first African settler as well as the first 'non-native' settler in that area."
The museum which appropriately bears DuSable’s name remains the only independent institution in Chicago established to collect, interpret and preserve the achievements, experiences and history of African Americans. The museum became a center and resource for teaching about the African Diaspora as well as African American history and culture. African American communities and groups in the USA (including Boston, Detroit, Philadelphia and Los Angeles) have replicated its model. The museum expanded in 1993 with a 28,000 square foot addition named after late Mayor Harold Washington (he became the first African American Mayor of Chicago in 1983) featuring new galleries and a 450-seat auditorium. On its website at http://www.dusablemuseum.org/about/history the description of the museum includes: “The DuSable Museum is proud of its diverse holdings that number more than 15,000 pieces and include paintings, sculpture, print works and historical memorabilia. Special exhibitions, workshops and lectures are featured to highlight works by specific artists, historic events or collections on loan from individuals or institutions.”
Dr. Margaret Taylor Goss Burroughs who transitioned on November 21, 2011 achieved what she wrote in her poem “What shall I tell my children who are Black” she wanted to: “find the truth of heritage for myself and pass it on to them. For it is the truth that will make us free!” tiakoma@hotmail.com

Thursday, October 23, 2014

ZAMBIA CELEBRATES 50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE!

“Zambia will be celebrating its 50th Anniversary on 24th October, 2014 enjoying 50 years of Peace, Stability and Prosperity.”
From the website of the “High Commission of the Republic of Zambia in Canada”
On Saturday October 24, 1964 Zambia became an independent country. Zambia today with a population of over 15 million is a landlocked country in Southern Africa with the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the north, Tanzania to the north-east, Malawi to the east, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia to the south and Angola to the west. Between Zambia and Zimbabwe is the Zambezi River from which the country is named. The “Mosi-oa-Tunya” meaning “The Smoke that Thunders” (Victoria Falls) is part of the Zambezi River. The Zambezi River is the fourth longest river in Africa, after the Nile, Congo, and Niger Rivers. It is the longest east flowing river in Africa flowing 2,700 kilometres through six countries from its source in northwestern Zambia to the Indian Ocean. The "Mosi-oa-Tunya" Falls are considered the boundary between the upper and middle Zambezi.
The history of Zambia goes back to the beginning of humanity with evidence of human habitation in the country presented by archaeologists. Information from the "Encyclopedia of African History and Culture: Ancient Africa (Prehistory to 500 CE), vol. 1." states that: “Archaeologists trace the origins of humanity to the Great Rift Valley, which extends to the Lower Zambezi River, in southern Zambia. Artifacts unearthed at sites in Zambia suggest that early humans lived there between 1 and 2 million years ago. The most significant of these sites are at Kalambo Falls in the north and "Mosi-oa-Tunya" Falls in the south. At Kabwe, north of Lusaka (the capital city of Zambia) archaeologists have found evidence of activities by humans that dates back 100,000 years. Early Iron Age peoples settled in the region with their agriculture and domestic animals about 2,000 years ago. By 350, copper came into use both for currency and for adornment. The Bantu-speaking ancestors of the present-day Tonga people reached the region between 800 and 1000 CE. These newcomers kept cattle, made pottery and metalwork, and lived in lathe and plaster houses.”
There are several ethnic groups living together in Zambia today because of the European colonization of the continent with arbitrary assignment of borders. The main ethnic groups are Bemba, Kaonde, Lozi, Luvale, Ngoni, and the Tonga with the Bemba the largest ethnic group in the country. Present day Zambia was colonized by the British beginning in 1840 when missionaries (including David Livingstone) descended quickly followed by colonizers (including Cecil Rhodes.) The countries that are now Zambia and Zimbabwe were at the time governed by the “British South Africa Company” which was owned by Rhodes. The White colonizers/settlers who accompanied the “British South Africa Company” took the best land and became farmers. Any African who protested the stealing of their land by the White colonizers/settlers were brutalized or killed by the “British South Africa Company” police. The stolen lands were named Southern and Northern Rhodesia to honour Rhodes. Today these countries are Zimbabwe and Zambia. In 1923 the British government took control of the territory. The administration of Northern Rhodesia was transferred to the British colonial office in 1924 as a protectorate. A legislative council was established with 5 members elected by the 4,000 White people while no African was consulted or had a vote.
During the 1920s and 1930s the discovery of copper saw the arrival of more Europeans in the area. By 1938 the mining of copper in the area produced 13% of the world's copper. Two large companies monopolized the industry the South African Anglo American Corporation (AAC, North-American) and the Rhodesian Selection Trust (RST, South African) with predominantly American shareholders; both controlled the sector un-till independence.
In 1953 Southern and Northern Rhodesia were combined with Nyasaland (now Malawi) to form the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. Africans had resisted European colonization and after two wars (1914-1918 and 1939 to 1945) where Africans had been conscripted into fighting or at least fetching baggage and ammunition for White military personnel, White men no longer seemed invincible even with their “superior” weapons. They were just men some brave some cowardly and they died from bayonet wounds and gunshots. Africans began armed resistance in some instances and they also were demanding a say in the governing of their countries.
In 1955 Kenneth Kaunda and Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula who were leaders in the independence struggle in Zambia were imprisoned for two months with hard labour for distributing “subversive literature.” They were both members of the African National Congress (ANC) but Kaunda broke from the ANC and formed the Zambian African National Congress (ZANC) in October 1958. The ANC was willing to negotiate with the White minority on the issue of African majority rule. The White minority were advocating that only educated Africans who owned property should be allowed to vote instead of one man/woman one vote. Kaunda’s ZANC was banned in March 1959 by the British colonial regime.
In June 1959 Kaunda was sentenced to 9 months in prison. On February 3, 1960 British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan made his famous "There is a wind of change blowing through Africa" speech in South Africa. Speaking in the Houses of Parliament in Cape Town Macmillan said: “In the twentieth century, and especially since the end of the war, the processes which gave birth to the nation states of Europe have been repeated all over the world. We have seen the awakening of national consciousness in peoples who have for centuries lived in dependence upon some other power. Fifteen years ago this movement spread through Asia. Many countries there, of different races and civilisations, pressed their claim to an independent national life. Today the same thing is happening in Africa, and the most striking of all the impressions I have formed since I left London a month ago is of the strength of this African national consciousness. In different places it takes different forms, but it is happening everywhere. The wind of change is blowing through this continent, and whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact. We must all accept it as a fact, and our national policies must take account of it.” On December 31, 1963, the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was dissolved and Northern Rhodesia became the Republic of Zambia on October 24, 1964. Kenneth Kaunda became the country’s first president.
On Friday October 24, 2014 Zambians will be celebrating 50 years of independence from British colonial rule. The Zambian Canadian Association in Toronto is hosting a 50th Independence celebration on October 25th, 2014 at the North York Memorial Community Hall at 5110 Yonge Street. Tickets are $35 for adults and $10 for children. For more information contact the organization at zamcan.association@gmail.com or 416-880-6758 or visit their website at www.zamcan.ca Happy 50th year of independence to all Zambians as they celebrate 50 years of peace, stability and prosperity!!

Friday, October 17, 2014

JOHN CARLOS AND TOMMIE SMITH OCTOBER 16-1968

On Wednesday October 16, 1968 two African American athletes raised their fists in the Black Power salute as they stood on the podium to accept their Olympic medals and they remain icons of the Civil Rights struggle. The action of then 23 year old John Wesley Carlos and Tommie Smith then 24 years old was a protest against the oppression of African Americans who had been struggling to claim their rights as American citizens since the abolition of slavery in 1865. It is surprising that there were any African American athletes representing their country at the Olympics in Mexico City in 1968. The Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR) organized by a then 25 year old African American professor Harry Edwards (now Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley) advocated a boycott by African American athletes of the 1968 Summer Olympics if the “Whites only” athletic teams from the White supremacist controlled African countries South Africa and Rhodesia were allowed to participate at the Olympics. The OPHR had four demands: “withdrawal of South Africa and Rhodesia from the games, restoration of Muhammad Ali’s world heavyweight boxing title, Avery Brundage to step down as president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the hiring of more African American assistant coaches.” After the IOC strategically withdrew invitations for South Africa and Rhodesia to attend games the boycott failed to achieve widespread support. However Carlos and Smith as members of the OPHR decided to stage a protest when they received medals. Many years later when asked if they had planned the protest at the 1968 Summer Olympic Games Tommie Smith reportedly replied: "It was in my head the whole year. We first tried to have a boycott but not everyone was down with that plan. A lot of athletes thought that winning medals would supercede or protect them from racism. But even if you won the medal, it ain't going to save your momma. It ain't going to save your sister or children. It might give you fifteen minutes of fame, but what about the rest of your life? I'm not saying that they didn't have the right to follow their dreams, but to me the medal was nothing but the carrot on a stick."
There was no doubt that these two athletes would be successful at the Olympic Games since Tommie Smith was one of the greatest sprinters in the world in 1968 (he is the only man in the history of track and field to hold 11 world records simultaneously and had equalled or broken 13 world records) and at the 1968 Olympic Trials, John Carlos won the 200-meter dash in 19.92 seconds surpassing the world-record of Tommie Smith by 0.3 seconds.
After finishing first (Smith) and third (Carlos) in the 200 meter dash at the Mexico City Olympics the two African American athletes chose to put their lives and livelihood on the line to make a profound political statement. Smith adorned with his gold medal and Carlos with his bronze medal bravely bowed their heads as the American national anthem played. Both African American athletes were shoeless as they stood on the podium only wearing black socks to represent the economic disadvantage of African Americans. The athletes also wore one black glove each; Smith wore his on his right hand, Carlos wore his on his left hand. Smith later said that his right handed demonstration was meant to represent Black Power in America while the glove on the left hand of Carlos represented unity among African Americans. After the protest there were boos and racist name calling from the White American spectators. When asked for a reaction to the abuse Carlos said: "When we arrived at the award stand there was a lot of applause. When we left there were many boos and thumbs down. Well, John Carlos and Tommie Smith want the people who booed to know that black people are not lower animals like roaches and rats. ... We're not like some sort of a show horse who does its job and then had some peanuts tossed at it. We'd like to tell all white people that if they don't care for things black people do, they should not go see black people perform." Speaking of the treatment they received during the 1968 Olympics Smith said: "It is very discouraging to be in a team with white athletes. On the track you are Tommie Smith, the fastest man in the world, but once you are in the dressing rooms you are nothing more than a dirty Negro.”
Avery Brundage got his revenge on the two athletes who were members of the movement (OPHR) that had called for his removal as president of the IOC. The IOC decided to strip the 2 African American athletes of their medals and expel them from the Olympic village. As president of the IOC Brundage issued this statement: "The basic principle of the Olympic Games is that politics plays no part whatsoever in them. US athletes violated this universally accepted principle....to advertise domestic political views." Carlos and Smith were suspended by the American Olympic Committee and ordered to leave Mexico City.
When questioned during an interview about their reason for not wearing shoes when they stood on the podium to receive their medals on October 16, 1968 Carlos said: "We wanted the world to know that in Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, South Central Los Angeles, Chicago, that people were still walking back and forth in poverty without even the necessary clothes to live." Carlos speaking on the significance of the beads that were worn said: “The beads were for those individuals that were lynched, or killed that no-one said a prayer for, that were hung and tarred. It was for those thrown off the side of the boats in the middle passage. We were trying to wake the country up and wake the world up to.”
Their principled stance on October 16, 1968 in Mexico City took a toll on the lives of both Carlos and Smith. In his 2011 published book “The John Carlos Story: The Sports Moment That Changed the World” Carlos writes about leaving the podium: “I was ready to get off that track, proud that we’d said our piece. But I had no idea the moment on the medal stand would be frozen for all time. I had no idea what we’d face. I didn’t know or appreciate at that precise moment, that the entire trajectory of our young lives had just irrevocably changed.” The abuse they had experienced in Mexico was nothing compared to what awaited them on their return to America. In the 2005 published book "What's My Name, Fool?: Sports and Resistance in the United States" White American sports writer David Zirin interviewed Carlos who spoke of the negative effect of the racist backlash on his and his family’s life which he partly blames for his wife’s suicide in 1977. Speaking of his struggle to support his family following the 1968 protest Carlos said: “We were under tremendous economic stress. I took any job I could find. I wasn't too proud. Menial jobs, security jobs, gardener, caretaker, whatever I could do to try to make ends meet. We had four children and some nights I would have to chop up our furniture and make a fire in the middle of our room just to stay warm.” His family was subjected to abuse from the CIA and the FBI including surveillance and emotional harassment. In an October 2011 interview with Amy Goodman of “Democracy Now” Carlos spoke of his phone being tapped, he, his wife and children followed by members of the FBI and CIA. His wife was sent anonymous letters accusing her husband of various types of misconduct until she suffered a breakdown and eventually committed suicide.
Both men survived the attacks and today Carlos and Smith are recognized as heroes of the Civil Rights movement and both have written autobiographies: “The John Carlos Story: The Sports Moment That Changed the World” published 2011 and “Silent Gesture: The Autobiography of Tommie Smith” published 2008. Unfortunately you would have to search far and wide to find an African American athlete who would be willing to speak out or stand up against the abuse of fellow African Americans today. African American sports writer Shaun Powell addresses this in his 2007 published book: “Souled Out? How Blacks Are Winning and Losing in Sports” where he writes: “Every once in a while a lonely cry in the wilderness from the rare black athlete who chooses to speak out on issues. Otherwise muffled by wealth and softened by a fawning society black athletes today share a common role model and mentor. They’d rather not be like Tommie Smith and John Carlos. They’d rather be like Mike.”

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

BLACK HISTORY MONTH IN BRITAIN 2014

October is Black History Month in the United Kingdom. There has been an African Presence in Britain for centuries although we are led to believe that Africans arrived in Britain as enslaved people during the dreadful Maafa when millions were kidnapped and dragged out of the African continent. Guyanese historian Dr. Ivan Van Sertima and African American historian Dr. Runoko Rashidi published "African Presence in Early Europe" in 1985.
The documented African presence in Britain according to White British author Peter Fryer goes back to the year 210. In his 1984 published book “Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain” Fryer wrote: “There were Africans in Britain before the English came here. They were soldiers in the Roman imperial army that occupied the southern part of our island for three and a half centuries. Though the earliest attested date for this unit’s presence here is 253-8, an African soldier is reputed to have reached Britain by the year 210.” African historian and anthropologist Dr. Cheikh Anta Diop in his 1974 published book “The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality” wrote about the megalithic culture of Africans which can be found replicated in Britain proving the presence of Africans in ancient Britain. Writing of the construction of megalithic structures Diop states: "These are found only in lands inhabited by Negroes or Negroids, or in places that they have frequented, the area that Speiser calls “the great megalithic civilization,” which extends from Africa to India, Australia, South America, Spain and Brittany. That megalithic civilization in Brittany belongs to the second millennium, the period when the Phoenicians frequented those regions. This combination of facts should leave no doubt on the southern and Negro origin of the megaliths in Brittany."
Anthony Richard Birley a White British historian has written about the African presence in ancient Britain in his 1971 published book “Septimius Severus: The African Emperor.” Britain had been invaded, conquered and was part of the Roman Empire from 54 BC to AD 409. Britain was part of the Roman Empire when the African Emperor Septimius Severus was in power (AD 193 to 211) and there were Africans living in Britain. Information from the UK National Archives state: “In Roman times, Black troops were sent to the remote and barbaric province of Britannia, and some of them stayed when the Roman legions left Britain. Africans have been present in Europe from classical times. In the 2nd and 3rd centuries Roman soldiers of African origin served in Britain, and some stayed after their military service ended.”
The 2012 published book “Black Salt: Seafarers of African Descent on British Ships” by Black British historian Dr. Ray Costello is a source of information about this group: “In this fascinating work, Dr. Ray Costello examines the work and experience of seamen of African descent in Britain's navy, from impressed slaves to free Africans, British West Indians, and British-born Black sailors. Seamen from the Caribbean and directly from Africa have contributed to both the British Royal Navy and Merchant Marine from at least the Tudor period and by the end of the period of the British Slave Trade at least three per-cent of all crewmen were black mariners. Black sailors signed off in British ports helped the steady growth of a black population.” In spite of such information about the African presence in Britain most of what is acknowledged when the history of Africans in Britain is recognized is the British enslavement of Africans and the aftermath of emancipation. The most recognized, acknowledged and documented group of Africans in Britain are the descendants of enslaved Africans from the Caribbean who immigrated to Britain on the MV Windrush (June 22, 1948) known as “The Windrush Generation.” According to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) “The arrival of the SS Empire Windrush in June 1948 at Tilbury Dock, Essex, in England, marked the beginning of post-war mass migration. The ship had made an 8,000 mile journey from the Caribbean to London with 492 passengers on board from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and other islands. Most of the passengers were ex-servicemen seeking work. This marked the beginning of post-war mass migration. When they walked down the gangplank onto British soil they could not have imagined that their journey would begin an important landmark in the history of London and the rest of country. The passengers on board the Windrush were invited to come to Britain after World War Two, to assist with labour shortages. Many of the passengers had fought for Britain during the war. They later became known as the 'Windrush Generation.’”
Jamaican poet and educator Louise Simone Bennett-Coverley (Miss Lou) immortalized that experience in her poem Colonization in Reverse https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hmi-UXZ_tN8 In his poem Inglan is a Bitch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zq9OpJYck7Y. UK based Jamaican dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson has addressed the plight of the Windrush Generation and those who followed.
Even though there has been an African presence in Britain for these many centuries there still remains a need for a British “Black History Month” because the history is not part of the curriculum and many British are not aware of that history.