Saturday, April 19, 2014

EASTER 2014

Students who attend elementary and secondary schools at the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) will be away from school for the four day long Easter weekend of Friday April 17 (Good Friday) to Monday April 21 (Easter Monday.) It is expected that for the entire weekend the temperature will be above freezing. The weekend will be a welcome break and a time for families and friends to spend time together socializing while recovering from the cold winter and celebrating the milder spring weather.
In the Guyana of my youth we enjoyed two weeks of Easter Holidaysinstead of March or Spring Break. Guyana does not have four seasons and the weather hardly changes between the two (rainy and dry) seasons. I recently checked and yes schools in Guyana will be enjoying two weeks of Easter Holidays so at least that tradition continues. Unlike Easter in Canada, there was no Easter Bunny nor were there any eggs, chocolate or otherwise, in the Guyanese Easter celebration. Although Easter is supposed to be a Christian holiday, the Easter bunny has no connection to Christianity. The word Easter is also pagan, supposedly from the pagan fertility goddess Ishtar (Babylonian) or Eastre (Anglo-Saxon). There are actually several goddesses from various nations who are credited with lending their names to the Easter celebration as we know it in North America. Until I immigrated to Canada Easter was a time for people to attend church and Good Friday was the holiest day of the year when everything was closed. Imagine my surprise to find that in Canada Easter is a holiday that often involves a church service at sunrise, a feast which includes an "Easter Ham," decorated eggs and stories about rabbits. I often wondered how Easter as I knew it transformed from commemorating the period when Jesus was crucified and arose from the dead to decorated eggs, chocolate eggs, rabbits and ham. My research led me to the goddesses Ishtar, Eastre, Eoestre, Oestre and Ostara. Or they might be the same goddess with different names. Ishtar was the goddess of romance, procreation and war in ancient Babylon while a similar Saxon goddess was known as Oestre or Eastre and in Germany there was Ostara. Since these were fertility goddesses naturally there would be some eggs involved. Eoestre is also considered the origin of the word estrogen the female hormone. Her symbol is a rabbit which has a connection to the modern-day Easter bunny. The pagans worshipped the goddess Eostre by serving tiny cakes, often decorated with a cross at their annual spring festival; maybe a forerunner of cross buns.
The history of Easter as we know it today seems to be a mix of the Christian faith and some related practices of the early pagan religions. Easter history and traditions that are practiced today in Canada evolved from pagan symbols, from the ancient goddesses to Easter eggs, the Easter bunny and cross buns.
Easter, the most important of the Christian holidays, celebrates Christ's resurrection from the dead following his death on Good Friday and a rebirth that is commemorated around the vernal equinox, historically a time of pagan celebration that coincides with the arrival of spring and symbolizes the arrival of light and the awakening of life around us. The Easter of bunny rabbits and eggs is named for the Babylonian goddess Ishtar and/or the Saxon goddess also known by the names of Oestre or Eastre and in Germany by the name of Ostara. She was also a goddess of the dawn and the spring and words for dawn, the shining light arising from the east are also derivatives of her name.
It is not surprising that Ostara was also a goddess of fertility. Signalling the end of winter after the vernal equinox with the days growing longer and brighter Ostara’s presence was credited for the flowering of plants and the birth of babies both animal and human. The rabbit was supposedly the sacred animal of Ostara. Given their ability to produce up to 42 offspring each spring, it is not surprising that rabbits are a symbol of fertility.
Easter eggs and the Easter Bunny featured in the spring festivals of Ostara which were also held during the feasts of the goddess Ishtar. In appreciation of Ostara's gift of rejuvenated life brightly coloured eggs, chicks and bunnies were all used during the spring festivals. The history of Easter Eggs as a symbol of new life should come as no surprise.
In ancient times in Northern Europe, eggs were a potent symbol of fertility and often used in rituals to guarantee a woman's ability to bear children. Dyed eggs are given as gifts in many cultures. Decorated eggs were used as a wish for prosperity and abundance during the coming year. In anticipation that the arrival of spring with its emerging plants and wildlife would provide them with fresh food in abundance, it was customary for many pagans to begin fasting at the time of the vernal equinox, clearing the "poisons" (and excess weight) produced by the heavier winter meals that had been stored in their bodies over the winter. This practice of fasting is probably a forerunner of "giving up" foods during the Lenten season.
Christianity is Guyana's dominant religion because of the country’s colonial history. The colonial European administrators made Christianity a prerequisite for social acceptance and in many cases education and employment. Enslaved Africans, stripped of their languages, names, cultures and religious practices, were forced to embrace the foreign beliefs of their enslavers. After several generations, this was all that many of them knew. The arrival of indentured labourers after the abolition of slavery, East Indians/South Asians from the Indian sub-continent (May 5, 1838) and Chinese (January 12, 1853) with their language, religion and culture intact did not lessen the British/Christian stranglehold on Guyanese culture. The first group of Portuguese indentured labourers arrived in Guyana (May 3rd, 1835) with a Catholic celebration of Easter. For generations, embracing Christianity was the means of achieving an education in schools founded and run by missionaries so it is not surprising that Easter a supposedly Christian celebration has been embraced by Guyanese of every religious belief and race. After the solemnity of Good Friday, the day that the faithful believe Jesus was crucified and Easter Sunday, when those who could afford attended church in their best, new outfits, everyone looked forward to Easter Monday and kite flying.
Kite flying even though not a British activity was part of the Guyanese Easter ritual for people living on Guyana’s coastland. The seawall at Kitty, Georgetown and # 63 Beach on the Courentyne coast were two of the most famous places for kite flying in Guyana. Extended families with several generations (children, parents, grandparents, even great grand parents) would pack baskets of food and spend the day socializing with family, friends, neighbours and sometimes strangers as they flew their kites.
Happy Easter to all those celebrating/commemorating this holiday however you choose to do so!!

THE BRITISH EASTER DESCECRATION AND LOOTING OF MAQDALA 1868

Many Christians consider the Easter season to be the holiest season of the Christian faith. Easter is a special time of celebration for millions of Christians around the world. It is believed that Christ’s crucifixion, death and resurrection happened around that time. The Easter weekend (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Saturday and Easter Sunday) is supposed to be a time that Christians commemorate the culminating event of their faith. Some Christians believe that it is a time that proclaims God's purpose of loving and redeeming the world through Christ’s supreme sacrifice. However, in the eyes of some, not all Christians are created equal.
Easter of 1868 was an especially brutal time for Christian Ethiopians living in Maqdala. Over the three day Easter weekend of 1868 a group of Christian White men slaughtered a group of Christian Africans in Ethiopia. On Easter Monday, 1868 after three days of fighting that began on Good Friday when the British attacked, the Ethiopian Emperor Tewodros II committed suicide rather than allow his enemies to capture him. On that Easter Monday of 1868 after the British captured the fortress of Maqdala, which was Emperor Tewodros’ mountain capital in north-west Ethiopia, the British soldiers celebrated by desecrating the body of the Ethiopian monarch looting everything of value and burning the town. The British "expedition" was led by Robert Napier who had been promoted to Lieutenant General and given command of 32,000 men.
Clements R. Markham, who has been recognized as the leading British historian of the time was part of the expedition. Markham wrote that Napier's men, on entering the citadel, swarmed around the body of the deceased monarch then: "gave three cheers over it, as if it had been a dead fox and then began to pull and tear the clothes to pieces until it was nearly naked." British journalist Henry Morton Stanley who wrote glowingly about the British “victory” at Maqdala corroborated Markham’s account of the events. In the 1874 published “Coomassie And Magdala: The Story Of Two British Campaigns In Africa” (reprinted in 2009) Stanley wrote of the scene where the Emperor’s desecrated body lay: "mob, indiscriminate of officers and men, rudely jostling each other in the endeavour to get possession of a small piece of Theodore's blood-stained shirt. No guard was placed over the body until it was naked, nor was the slightest respect shown it. It lay subjected to the taunts and the jests of the brutal-minded."
These good Christian British soldiers swarmed the area like locusts and looted not only the Emperor’s treasury but also the Christian church of Medhane Alem, including its store house, “constituting a gross act of sacrilege.” Describing the scene of the British soldiers dividing the property they looted from the Ethiopians Stanley wrote: “The perambulatory roll of the drum which in all well governed and systematically military encampments announces a new move or new event, assembled all the officers and crowds of on-lookers around the piled trophies of Magdala which covered half an acre of ground. Fathoms of finest carpets of all countries were spread about, and all the paraphernalia of a thousand churches glittered in the morning sunlight.” Stanley described the British soldiers at the scene who were covetously waiting to take some of the loot back to Britain in this manner: “and jostling each other in the characteristic confusion of mobs (and the most belligerent mob in the world is an English one.)” The religious manuscripts, crosses and other ecclesiastical objects stolen by the British troops, today grace museums and some private collections in Britain. Sir Richard Rivington Holmes who was Assistant in the British Museum's Department of Manuscripts, wrote in an official report that at dusk, he met a British soldier, who was carrying the crown of the Abun, the Head of the Ethiopian Church, and a "solid gold chalice weighing at least 6lbs." Holmes bought the crown and the chalice for “£4 Sterling.”
Not satisfied with looting the treasures of the Ethiopian people, the British destroyed Maqdala. The well planned and executed arson attack began with destroying the fort/citadel. The palace and all other buildings, including the church of Medhane Alem, were also set on fire. The British journalist Stanley reporting on the destruction wrote: "The easterly wind gradually grew stronger, fanning incipient tongues of flame visible on the roofs of houses until they grew larger under the skillful nursing and finally sprang aloft in crimson jets, darting upward and then circling round on their centres as the breeze played with them. A steady puff of wind leveled the flaming tongues in a wave, and the jets became united into an igneous lake! The heat became more and more intense; loaded pistols and guns, and shells thrown in by the British batteries, but which had not been discharged, exploded with deafening reports. Three thousand houses and a million combustible things were burning. Not one house would have escaped destruction in the mighty ebb and flow of that deluge of fire."
The looted treasures of Maqdala were transported to the Dalanta Plain on fifteen elephants and two hundred mules. The stolen goods were shipped to Britain from the Dalanta Plain. On April 20th and 21st, the British military held a two-day auction to disperse the stolen Ethiopian property. The British coveted the many "richly illuminated Bibles and manuscripts" and other property of the Ethiopian people and wanted them as souvenirs of the horror they had visited upon the Ethiopian people. The British Museum, now the British Library benefitted from the auction and received 350 Ethiopian manuscripts, many of them “finely illuminated.” The Royal Library at Windsor Castle received six “exceptionally beautiful specimens.” Some other recipients of the stolen Ethiopian manuscripts were the Bodleian Library in Oxford, Cambridge University Library, the John Rylands Library in Manchester, the Royal Library in Vienna, the German Kaiser and the Biblioltheque Nationale in Paris. Several of these manuscripts contain extensive archival material, including Tewodros's tax records and other data essential for the study of Ethiopian history. The stolen property also includes two of Emperor Tewodros’ crowns and a royal cap, his imperial seal, the golden chalice and ten tabots from the church’s altar. Several beautifully decorated processional crosses were given to the South Kensington Museum, the name later changed to the Victoria and Albert Museum; two of the Emperor's richly embroidered tents are now in the Museum of Mankind, London. The barbarity of the British knew no bounds as they also stole locks of Emperor Tewodros’ hair, some of it displayed in the National Army Museum, London.
Not content with looting and destroying Maqdala, the British took the widowed Empress Tiruwork Wube and her son the seven year old Ethiopian prince Dejazmach Alemayehu Tewodros prisoner. While the Empress and prince were being taken away from their home, the Empress transitioned and the prince was orphaned. Prince Dejazmach Alemayehu was taken to England where he transitioned in 1879 when he was 18 years old. His remains are buried in a crypt beside St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle. Over the years his tomb has been visited by numerous Ethiopians including His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I.
Beginning with Emperor Tewodros’ successor, Emperor Yohannes IV, there have been numerous requests to the British monarchy and government for the return of Ethiopia’s stolen property. On August 10th 1872 Emperor Yohannes IV, wrote to Queen Victoria and the British Foreign Secretary, Earl Granville, requesting the return of a Kebra Nagast and an icon, the Kwer’ata Re‘esu. Since they possessed more than one stolen copy, the British Museum very generously returned one copy of the Kebra Negast to Ethiopia. On 18 December, 1872 Queen Victoria replied to the Emperor declaring: "Of the picture (icon) we can discover no trace whatever, and we do not think it can have been brought to England." The icon was indeed part of the looted property that was taken to England but was not publicly acknowledged until 1890, a year after Emperor Yohannes's death. In 1905 a photograph of the icon appeared in The Burlington Magazine, a British art journal. Since the return of the Kebra Negast in the nineteenth century there has been great resistance to return Ethiopia’s property. An English woman who had in her possession a collection of Ethiopian manuscripts from Maqdala had several of them published in London, with translations by Sir Ernest Wallis Budge. These manuscripts were seen by Emperor Menelek’s envoy Ras Makonnen, (Emperor Haile Selassie I’s father) who was in England in 1902, for the Coronation of King Edward VII. In January 1910, perhaps in an attack of conscience, the woman who possessed the Ethiopian manuscripts bequeathed them in her will to Emperor Menilek. The Times reporting this, stated that "envoys from the Emperor were sent over to arrange for their [the manuscripts’] recovery, and it is believed that the present bequest is the fulfillment of a promise then given". The English woman died on 20 December 1910 but the powers that be refused to honour her bequest to return the manuscripts to the Ethiopian people.
The Ethiopian president made a formal request to Queen Elizabeth II for the remains of Prince Alemayehu to be returned to Ethiopia in time for the celebration of the Ethiopian Millennium (September 12th 2007.) In an article published on Sunday, June 3, 2007 the BBC News reported: “The royal household at Windsor Castle, where Prince Alemayehu was buried, is said to be considering the request.” Like the looted treasures of his homeland the remains of the teenage prince who was taken prisoner after being orphaned by the British still remains in Britain 7 years after that request was made.

MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. MORE THAN A DREAMER!!

Well, I don't know what will happen now; we've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life - longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over, and I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the Promised Land. And so I'm happy tonight; I'm not worried about anything; I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
Excerpt from the speech: "I've been to the mountaintop" and the last words spoken publicly by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., on April 3, 1968
On Wednesday, April 3, 1968 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., gave his last speech. He spoke at the Mason Temple Church of God in Christ in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. King was in Memphis to support a group of African American sanitation workers who had been forced to go on strike. The strike was sparked by an incident on February 1, 1968 when Echol Cole and Robert Walker both African American sanitation workers in Memphis were crushed to death as they worked inside a sanitation truck. White American author Taylor Branch in his 2007 published book “At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-68” described the death of Cole and Walker: “It was a gruesome chore to retrieve the two crushed bodies from the garbage packer and pronounce them dead at John Gaston Hospital. Echol Cole and Robert Walker soon became the anonymous cause that diverted Martin Luther King to Memphis for his last march.” The deaths of Cole and Walker were just another insult that the Memphis Department of Public Works had dealt to African American sanitation workers. Within the same week the Department sent a group of African American workers (who had turned up for work) home during a rain storm refusing to pay them while White workers who did no work on that day received their salaries. The African American workers met on Sunday night February 11 and went on strike Monday, February 12, 1968. The callous disregard displayed by the authorities in Memphis for the lives of the two dead African American sanitation workers coupled with the latest blatant disrespect and disregard for the labour and lives of African Americans in their employ drove the estimated 1,300 African American employees of the city to go on strike. The incident resulting in the death of Cole and Walker was the most egregious in a long line of abuse and neglect of African American workers by the Memphis Department of Public Works. The sanitation workers, led by African American sanitation worker T. O. Jones embarked on a strike that would bring Dr. King to Memphis. T.O Jones was the leader of Local 1733 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Workers (AFSCME) and took a risk in calling the workers out on strike without support from his national office which was led by White men. The Mayor of the city of Memphis Henry Loeb III refused to negotiate with the striking workers instead he threatened to permanently replace the strikers. In an effort to demoralise the striking workers city police escorted garbage trucks with replacement strikebreaking workers in an effort to break the strike. While the workers were on strike city police attacked the workers and their supporters with clubs and mace (pepper spray.) The strike would eventually become more than a group of African American sanitation workers fighting for dignity and better pay on their job. By the time the strike ended on April 16, 1968 it would have become a rallying point for African Americans fighting for dignity and respect in Memphis, Tennessee.
The African American sanitation workers in Memphis with the support of the African American community in the city had been on strike for five weeks when Dr. King was invited to support them. Dr. King flew to Memphis and on Monday, March 18, he spoke at a rally attended by about 17,000 people where he advocated that a citywide march be held in support of the striking workers. Dr. King returned to Memphis on Thursday, March 28, to lead the protest march. The Memphis police department came out in a show of force and attacked the marchers with guns, batons, mace and tear gas. Surprisingly only one person was killed by police gunfire; unarmed 16 year old African American Larry Payne was shot o death by police who also injured 60 people and arrested 280. The state legislature authorized a 7:00 p.m. curfew and 4,000 National Guardsmen moved through the city to curb the movements of African Americans.
Dr. King returned to Memphis on Wednesday, April 3 to address another rally planned to support the striking workers. That night (April 3, 1968) during his last speech at the Mason Temple Church of God in Christ in Memphis, Tennessee Dr. King gave his final speech. During that speech he compared the lives of African Americans to those struggling to unionize. “Memphis Negroes are almost entirely a working people. Our needs are identical with labor’s needs — decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children and respect in the community. That is why Negroes support labor’s demands and fight laws which curb labor. That is why the labor-hater and labor-baiter is virtually always a twin-headed creature spewing anti-Negro epithets from one mouth and anti-labor propaganda from the other mouth.” The following day as Dr. King stood on the balcony of his room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee he was shot and killed by a sniper. His assassin has never been verified; although White supremacist James Earl Ray was tried and found guilty of the assassination there have always been doubts about who really assassinated Dr. King. Ironically the strike which was his last civil rights action ended 12 days after he was killed. On April 16, 1968 the sanitation workers reached an agreement with the city and the strike ended.
It has been 46 years since Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee and since he spoke these famous words: “And I've looked over, and I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the Promised Land.” We have still not entered that “Promised Land” of which Dr. King dreamed where his four little children would live in a world “where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Admittedly those words are from another of Dr. King’s famous speeches; however with the murders of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis not much has changed since Dr. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968. In this 21st century we must keep fighting the fight Dr. King, Fannie Lou Hamer, Dudley Laws, Charles Roach, Sherona Hall and countless others fought. The Black Action Defence Committee (BADC) which was co-founded by some of the ancestors I mention here is carrying on that fight with a class action law suit to address racial profiling. We need to support this action!!

AZANIA (SOUTH AFRICA) MARCH 2014

The child is not dead. The child lifts his fists against his mother Who shouts Afrika! Shouts the breath of freedom and the veld In the locations of the cordoned heart The child lifts his fists against his father in the march of the generations who shouts Afrika ! Shout the breath of righteousness and blood in the streets of his embattled pride The child is not dead not at Langa nor at Nyanga not at Orlando nor at Sharpeville nor at the police station at Philippi where he lies with a bullet through his brain The child is the dark shadow of the soldiers on guard with rifles Saracens and batons the child is present at all assemblies and law-givings the child peers through the windows of houses and into the hearts of mothers this child who just wanted to play in the sun at Nyanga is everywhere the child grown to a man treks through all Africa The child grown into a giant journeys through the whole world Without a pass
Excerpt from the poem "The child who was shot dead by soldiers at Nyanga" by Ingrid Jonker published in 1963
Nelson Mandela read this poem "The child who was shot dead by soldiers at Nyanga" in Afrikaans during his address at the opening of the first democratically elected parliament in South Africa on May 24, 1994. The poem was written by a White woman who was born in South Africa and was written in the language of the White people who settled and occupied South Africa beginning in 1652 with the arrival of a ragtag bunch of mostly Dutch men (with a few Germans thrown in) from the Dutch East India company. On July 19, 1965, the poet Ingrid Jonker, a descendant of the Dutch settlers who occupied South Africa committed suicide by walking into the sea and drowning herself. She had written the poem "The child who was shot dead by soldiers at Nyanga" after a child who was travelling on its mother's back was murdered by White police at a checkpoint in the township of Nyanga in Capetown, South Africa.
Following the slaughter of 69 Africans by White Police in Sharpeville South Africa on March 21, 1960, the white supremacist regime in South Africa declared a state of emergency on March 30, 1960. After the brutal murder of the Africans who had been peacefully protesting the pass laws the White men and women who occupied South Africa and ruled with such inhumane cruelty towards Africans decided to become even more so in spite of international condemnation. On April 1, 1960 the United Nations adopted Resolution 134 in condemnation of the brutal action of the regime in South Africa. The resolution condemned: “the situation arising out of the large-scale killings of unarmed and peaceful demonstrators against racial discrimination and segregation in the Union of South Africa.” Of course most of the condemnation was half hearted at best because there was no action to back up the words. It would take years of activism by millions of people before the governments of European nations and the governments of countries governed by White men and women including Australia, Canada, the USA and New Zealand would apply economic sanctions to their brothers and sisters in South Africa. In spite of the call from the United Nations to recognize that the white supremacist regime in South Africa had gone beyond the pale (pun intended) the governments of the aforementioned nations refused to sanction their kin who held power in South Africa. Even after the murder of the baby carried on its mother’s back in 1960 during the stepped up reign of terror the White supremacist regime visited upon Africans following the Sharpeville massacre those governments sat on their hands and refused to apply economic sanctions to their kin in South Africa. It would take the concerted effort of millions of protestors worldwide over two decades to force them to stop doing business with the murderous regime in South Africa.
The checkpoint at Nyanga where the African baby was murdered by White police was one of several instituted by the White regime in South Africa determined to control the movements of Africans in their own country. During the five month state of emergency (March to September 1960) thousands of Africans were jailed and many killed by White police. Dr Zweledinga Pallo Jordan member of the National Executive Committee of the African National Congress and former cabinet minister from 1994 until 2009 describes the five month state of emergency: “After the declaration of the first peacetime state of emergency on March 31, 1960, army and police units laid siege to Cape Town’s African townships for five months. To enter or leave them, one ran the gauntlet of police checkpoints.”
In 2014 it is truly a sight to see a White woman striving to become president of South Africa. Seeing this woman campaigning among Africans whose kin were slaughtered by a regime of White people who “governed” South Africa for centuries I am reminded of a recent quote by grieving African American father Ron Davis. At a recent dinner in Washington, D.C hosted by members of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) at a dinner in Washington, D.C. Davis is quoted: “Black people are the most forgiving people in the world. We have taken it for years.” Davis is the father of teenager Jordan Davis who was 17 years old and (like Trayvon Martin) was unarmed when he was shot to death on November 23, 2012 in Jacksonville, Florida by Michael Dunn a White man who claimed that he was “standing his ground.” The White woman in South Africa who is busily campaigning to become President of South Africa is supposedly an old time anti-apartheid activist and she is the leader of the opposition in South Africa!! Where is Mama Nomzamo Winifred Zanyiwe Madikizela Mandela!!

INTERNATIONAL DAY FOR THE ELIMINATION OF RACIAL DISCRIMINATION MARCH 21-2014

One little boy had on an old blanket coat, which he held up behind his head, thinking, perhaps, that it might save him from the bullets. Some of the children, hardly as tall as the grass, were leaping like rabbits. Some were shot, too. Still the shooting went on. One of the policemen was standing on top of a Saracen, and it looked as though he was firing his gun into the crowd. He was swinging it around in a wide arc from his hip as though he were panning a movie camera. Two other officers were with him, and it looked as if they were firing pistols. Most of the bodies were strewn on the road running through the field in which we were. One man, who had been lying still, dazedly got to his feet, staggered a few yards, then fell in a heap. A woman sat with her head cupped in her hands. One by one the guns stopped. Before the shooting, I heard no warning to the crowd to disperse. There was no warning volley. When the shooting started it did not stop until there was no living thing in the huge compound in front of the police station.
Excerpt from Sharpeville Massacre (March 21, 1960) eyewitness account by Humphrey Tyler, assistant editor of Drum Magazine
On Monday, March 21, 1960 a group of Africans in Sharpeville, South Africa were peacefully demonstrating against the white supremacist apartheid "pass laws" when they were murdered by White police. The pass laws of the white supremacist settler group who had seized the African country decades before had become an unbearable burden for the Africans. African men and women were forced to carry the passbook, an identifying document that restricted their movement in urban areas where White people had settled and occupied exclusively. On March 16th 1960, the organizers of the protest, the Pan African Congress (PAC), had written to the commissioner of police, Major General Rademeyer, stating that there would be a five day, non-violent, disciplined and sustained protest campaign against pass laws, starting on 21 March. At a press conference on 18 March, Robert Subukwe, leader of PAC said: "I have appealed to the African people to make sure that this campaign is conducted in a spirit of absolute non-violence, and I am quite certain they will heed my call. If the other side so desires, we will provide them with an opportunity to demonstrate to the world how brutal they can be." The White police did indeed show the world how brutal they could be during what became known as the Sharpeville Massacre. There were 69 Africans killed and almost 300 wounded (shot in the back as they fled the murderous gunfire of the White police) and this massacre led to worldwide condemnation of the white minority who had seized power in the African nation. In the wake of the Sharpeville Massacre where the white minority government declared a state of emergency and arrested more than 18,000 people even the very conservative United Nations (UN) was forced to take a stand and condemn the action of the state sanctioned massacre of peacefully protesting Africans.
In 1966 the General Assembly of the UN proclaimed March 21, the “International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.” The UN called on the international community to redouble its efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination. In spite of the brutality of the white supremacist regime in South Africa, disinvestment did not happen on a large scale until the 1980’s.
The Canadian government and various institutions in Canada including Carleton University and the University of Toronto, colluded with the white supremacist apartheid regime of South Africa by refusing to divest and continuing to trade with the regime in South Africa and White owned businesses in South Africa. On March 21, 1986, Canada’s Prime Minister proclaimed in the House of Commons, the country's participation in the United Nations call to all states and organizations to participate in the “Program of Action for the Second Decade to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination.” In September, 1988, ministers attending a federal/provincial/territorial ministerial conference on human rights agreed to commemorate March 21 in all Canadian jurisdictions. (http://www.gov.sk.ca/news?newsId=80e2018a-1142-4f65-9235-ec3f03dca78f) The Board of Governors of McGill University voted on 18 November 1985 to divest from companies doing business in South Africa. In January 1986, York University followed suit and voted to divest. The Board of Governors at Carleton University made its decision in March 1987. Governing Council at the University of Toronto resisted taking action on apartheid despite mounting calls from students, staff, faculty and alumni. It was not until January 1988 that they voted to divest and then dragged their feet for another two years before fully divesting. The Divestment Committee founded by the African and Caribbean Students’ Association, launched a multi-year awareness campaign and sought support from student groups (Anti-Apartheid Network) across campus. They were instrumental in forcing Governing Council’s eventual decision to divest.
On March 21, 1965 five years after the Sharpeville Massacre African Americans marched from Selma to Montgomery to bring attention to the American brand of apartheid which prevented African Americans in the southern USA from exercising their right as citizens to elect their government. The successful march was completed after two attempts where African Americans were brutalized by police viciously wielding billy clubs and fire hoses. http://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/civilrights/al4.htm.
March 21, has been recognized by the UN as the “International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination” since 1966. The struggle continues even in Toronto with members of the African Canadian community launching a racial profiling class action law suit against Toronto police in November 2013.

CHLOE COOLEY CANADA 1763

On March 14, 1793 Chloe Cooley, an enslaved Black woman in Queenston, was bound, thrown in a boat and sold across the river to a new owner in the United States. Her screams and violent resistance were brought to the attention of Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe by Peter Martin, a free Black and former soldier in Butler's Rangers, and William Grisley, a neighbour who witnessed the event. Simcoe immediately moved to abolish slavery in the new province. He was met with opposition in the House of Assembly, some of whose members owned slaves. A compromise was reached and on July 9, 1793 an Act was passed that prevented the further introduction of slaves into Upper Canada and allowed for the gradual abolition of slavery although no slaves already residing in the province were freed outright. It was the first piece of legislation in the British Empire to limit slavery and set the stage for the great freedom movement of enslaved African Americans known as the Underground Railway."
From a plaque dedicated (August 23, 2007) to the memory of Chloe Cooley located on the east side of Niagara Parkway 3 km north of York Road (Road 81) in Queenston
On March 14, 1793 Chloe Cooley an enslaved African woman made history when she fought for her freedom. Cooley was being sold once again and she vigorously resisted one more indignity to her sense of self, her humanity. Being tied up and sold was just one more incident in a lifetime of indignities against her personhood. Cooley’s struggle for her freedom gave the lie to the myth of the happy slave and set in motion an unsuccessful effort to end slavery in Upper Canada (Ontario.) During the four hundred years enslavement of Africans by Europeans there was a concerted effort to portray the enslaved Africans as being happy with their lot. The image of the fat grinning desexualized mammy who loved the White family more than she loved her own life was used by White people to rationalize the inhumanity of slavery. To deal with the cognitive dissonance of holding other humans in captivity and exploiting their labour White people had to convince themselves that enslaved Africans enjoyed being enslaved and loved the people who enslaved them. Members of White families would brutalize enslaved Africans on a daily basis and then on Sunday attend church and worship so they had to convince themselves that as good Christians the brutality they meted out to the Africans they enslaved was justified.
In the 1982 published book “The Plantation Mistress: Woman’s World In The Old South” White American history professor Catherine Clinton explains: “The Mammy was created by white Southerners to redeem the relationship between black women and white men within slave society in response to the antislavery attack from the North during the ante-bellum period. The Mammy was the positive emblem of familial relations between black and white. She existed as a counterpoint to the octoroon concubine the light skinned product of a ‘white man’s lust’ who was habitually victimized by slaveowners’ sexual appetites.”
There is no evidence that Cooley was sexually exploited by her owner or his friends and relatives but it is hardly likely that this would have been documented unlike the infamous slaveholder of the Jamaican plantation Egypt. In 1989 African Jamaican history professor Douglas Gordon Hall published the diary of British slaveholder Thomas Thistlewood. In his diary Thistlewood documented his systematic and matter of fact rape of enslaved African women on his plantation. He had the time and the opportunity for rape and documentation of these rapes because he did no work since he was the owner of a plantation and had enslaved Africans who were forced to do the work. Reading “In Miserable Slavery: Thomas Thistlewood in Jamaica, 1750-86” about the abuse of enslaved Africans on Thistlewood’s plantation (in the parish of Westmoreland) is not for the faint of heart. In his 2007 published book “The Trader, The Owner, The Slave: Parallel Lives in the Age of Slavery” White British historian James Walvin comments on the diary of Thistlewood: “Thomas Thistlewood left a 14,000 page diary. He details the daily life of a slave owner and the quite extraordinary levels of brutality he meters out to his slaves; the sexual brutality to the women, and the physical brutality to all of them.” Walvin also muses on the oxymoronic reasons given for the continued enslavement of Africans and the hypocritical reality: "One of the justifications for slavery put forward by the planters was that you could treat slaves like this because they were not like us: they were sub-human. But against that of course was the fact that all the planters had sex with their slaves, so if they're sub-human what were they doing have sex with them, and having children with them?” African women whether they were enslaved in the Caribbean, Central, North or South America or even in Europe suffered the same fate.
Cooley’s struggle against her enslavement in Ontario, Canada also helps to explode the myth that there was no slavery in Canada. The popular stories of enslaved Africans fleeing slavery in the USA to find freedom in Canada continue into the 21st century. Documentation of slavery in Canada is mostly ignored and the few books that have been published are not particularly popular even during February, African History Month. I found it truly ironic that Toronto celebrated 180 years since it was incorporated as the capital of Ontario on March 6, 1834 because the enslavement of Africans in this city and throughout this country ended on August 1, 1834. Coincidentally the same year (1793) that Cooley made a valiant effort to gain her freedom is the same year Toronto (the home of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation) was occupied by the British. In an article published on March 6, 2014 by CBC News commemorating Toronto’s 180th birthday this information was provided: “The British settlement formally began with John Simcoe, who renamed Toronto in 1793, proclaiming the town of York and centring around Fort York, which was located in the area around the present-day St. Lawrence Market. It would be 41 years and one five-day American invasion later that York would revert to its native name, Toronto, on March 6, 1834.”
It is not surprising that there was no mention of Chloe Cooley even though her struggle happened in 1793 and led to Simcoe passing the first legislation in the British colonies to restrict the slave trade. It is also not surprising that the same people who held Africans in slavery also cheated the rightful owners of this land. The CBC News article commemorating Toronto’s 180th birthday provided this information about the history of White occupation of this land: “That history begins with the contentious purchase of the land that would become metropolitan Toronto from First Nations. In the Toronto Purchase of 1805, the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation were given 10 shillings for the land — somewhere in the area of $45 today.”

Sunday, March 9, 2014

INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY 2014

Saturday March 8 will be celebrated throughout Canada as International Women’s Day (IWD.) IWD has been official in this country since 1977 following a United Nations (UN) resolution calling for member states to proclaim a day for women’s rights and international peace. The idea of IWD began two years before in 1975 during International Women's Year when the UN began celebrating International Women's Day on March 8. In adopting its resolution, the General Assembly recognized the role of women in peace efforts and development and urged an end to discrimination and an increase of support for women's full and equal participation. In 2014 the theme for IWD is “Inspiring Change.”
Usually during this time the women who are celebrated are White women. We read and hear about the history of White women. There might be one or two racialized women who are mentioned but it a celebration of White women. Even reading about the history of IWD it supposedly began with White women in Europe (1911) or in the USA (1908.) The stories abound of these White women fighting for the right to work shorter hours, receive better pay and the right to vote. Ironically at the same time White women were living on the African continent and other areas where racialized women were forced to work as domestic help for little or no pay. This women’s struggle for equal rights with men did not include those racialized women. In America in 1908 while 15,000 White women “marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights” African American women were on their hands and knees cleaning the homes of White women. Slavery had only been abolished (1865) in the USA 43 years before. Not much had changed in the lives of African American women many of whom just exchanged the unpaid drudgery and brutality of chattel slavery for a life of drudgery with hardly any financial compensation for their labour as “free” women. The exploitation of African American women in New York was exposed in 1935 when African American Civil Rights activists Ella Baker and Marvel Cooke wrote an expose of the “Bronx Slave Markets,” which was published in the November 1935 issue of the magazine “The Crisis.” The magazine had been founded by W.E.B. DuBois in 1910 as the official publication of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP.)
The five part series documented the experience of African-American women (between 17 and 70 years old) in New York who worked as domestic servants. These African American women desperately seeking paid employment “would stand on a two-block stretch as White housewives from the suburbs drove by in their cars and negotiated to hire them for domestic service.” The area on 170th Street between Jerome and Walton Avenues was the area considered advertised as the “Bronx Slave Market” and this is where the African American women stood in good or bad weather waiting for some White housewife to drive through and choose them for a day’s work cleaning house. In her first article of the series Cooke wrote: “I was part of the “paper bag brigade,” waiting patiently in front of Woolworth’s on 170th St., between Jerome and Walton Aves., for someone to “buy” me for an hour or two, or, if I were lucky, for a day. That is The Bronx Slave Market, where Negro women wait, in rain or shine, in bitter cold or under broiling Sun, to be hired by local housewives looking for bargains in human labor. It has its counterparts in Brighton Beach, Brownsville and other areas of the city.”
Following in-depth interviews and hours of research, Baker and Cooke observed: “Rain or shine, hot or cold, you will find them there, Negro women old and young sometimes bedraggled sometimes neatly dressed waiting expectantly for Bronx housewives to buy their strength and energy for an hour, two hours or even for a day at the munificent rate of fifteen, twenty-five or, if luck be with them, thirty cents.” The African American women who waited patiently and anxiously to be “picked” for work were also known as the “paper bag brigade” because they carried their “work clothes” in paper bags. In their groundbreaking expose, Baker and Cooke also discussed the backbreaking work and the sexual assault the women often encountered on the job from the male relatives and friends of the White women who employed them as domestic workers. Describing her experience as a member of the “paper bag brigade” Cooke wrote: “I took up my stand in front of Woolworth’s in the early chill of a December morning. Other women began to gather shortly afterwards. Backs pressed to the store window, paper bags clutched in their hands, they stared bleakly, blankly, into the street. I lost my identity entirely. I was a member of the “paper bag brigade.” Local housewives stalked the line we had unconsciously formed, picked out the most likely “slaves,” bargained with them and led them off down the street.”
We owe women like Baker and Cooke who documented the abuse of African American women in New York during the 1930s a debt of gratitude because without their work this history would not be available for us to read today. IWD is also supposed to address the absence of women from the history books. While White women’s history may have been relegated to the margins of the history books, African women’s history is usually in the footnotes or entirely absent.
As I read the theme for this year’s IWD celebration “Inspiring Change” I could not help thinking about the numerous African women who have inspired change. The history of those women has been researched and documented by our historians including Dr. Afua Cooper who published a book about Marie Joseph Angelique (The Hanging of Angelique 2006) and Natasha Henry who has written an article about Chloe Cooley (http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/chloe-cooley-and-the-act-to-limit-slavery-in-upper-canada/) Books about other African Canadian women who inspired change have also been written including “Sister to Courage” about the life of Viola Desmond published in 2010 by her younger sister Wanda Robinson, the 1998 published “Mary Ann Shadd Cary: The Black Press and Protest in the Nineteenth Century” by Jane Rhodes and “Sylvia Stark: A Pioneer” by Alfred Ernest Jones, Torie Scott and Karen Lewis published in 1991. There are many more African Canadian women who inspired change and who we remember for their unstinting work to bring about change. Some of those names are Rosemary Brown, Sherona Hall, Peggy Pompadour, Lucie Blackburn, Carrie Best, Rose Fortune and Portia White. African women from elsewhere in the Diaspora and from the continent have also contributed to “inspiring change” and some of the names include, Nehanda Charwe Nyakasikana, Nana Yaa Asantewa, Queen Nzingha, Rosa Parks, Fanny Mae Hamer, Ida Bell Wells-Barnett and Sojourner Truth.
On March 8, International Women’s Day let us ensure that ourstory is included in women’s history and the names of our sheroes are recognized as having contributed to “inspiring change” internationally.