Tuesday, December 29, 2009


“The women’s movement has made it possible to ask new questions of the past. In some ways our absence from so much of what is called history, is like the absence of other groups without power – workers, peasants, blacks, the colonized. Like these other oppressed people, women have demanded a history in which they are included. What gets into history is a highly political affair. Who gets in and who gets left out is not a matter of chance.”

The above quote is taken from a book published by two white feminists and shows that even some white women who identify as feminists are not inclusive of women from racialised communities. They write about the “women’s movement” and the absence of women from the history books but obviously they are lamenting the fact that white women’s history is absent. It is therefore important for us as African people to recognize and celebrate the women in our community and ensure that ourstory includes the achievement of all people from our community regardless of gender. This month as the country celebrates “Women’s History Month,” take the opportunity to recognize and celebrate African women who went before us and those who are making history now regardless of where they were born, when they lived, where they lived or are living. We know the names of many African women who sacrificed much to move us forward as a people. Sometimes we forget what they endured and how they resisted, thinking that the rights we have today were given to us. Whatever we have access to in 2007 did not come easily. We need to pause and think about those women who went before us and the sacrifices they made to get us to where we are today.

During this year as we commemorate the bicentenary of the abolition of the British transatlantic slave trade we need to remember that we owe much to those who went before us. Slavery was a brutal institution that sought to dehumanize an entire race of people. Female slave bondage was different from that of men. It was not less severe, but it was different. Sexual abuse, child bearing and child care responsibilities affected how enslaved females conducted their lives and their patterns of resistance. In her book “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl,” Harriet Jacobs documented some of the different roles that were forced on enslaved women and her struggles to cope with sexual abuse. Jacobs was constantly exposed to threats as she resisted her owner’s sexual abuse. The enslaved woman’s choices of seizing her freedom were limited compared to the males because she had to consider her children. As a mother she had different responsibilities. Women were less able to leave their chains and children behind. Deborah Gray White in her book "Aren't I a Woman?" wrote; "for those fugitive women who left children in slavery, the physical relief which freedom brought was limited compensation for the anguish they suffered."
The routine rape of enslaved African women is well documented by mostly white men who were the perpetrators. Thomas Thistlewood, an Englishman, went to Jamaica in 1750 as a manager for a plantation. He eventually bought his own plantation and in a 10,000 page diary documented his systematic abuse of the enslaved Africans on his plantation, especially the sexual abuse of the women, including the sexually transmitted diseases he brought with him. The book; “In Miserable Slavery: Thomas Thistlewood in Jamaica 1750-1786” is not for the faint of heart.

Documented court cases also testify to the routine rape of African females, not only adult women but young girls. In the book “Celia A Slave” the author uses court documents to tell the story of a 14 year old enslaved African child, bought by a 56 year old white plantation owner who brutally raped her the day he bought her. Repeatedly raped over the next four years, she gives birth to two children sired by her rapist. In 1855 when the court case is documented she is pregnant with the third child and charged with murder of her owner. She was tried, found guilty and hanged after she gave birth to the child. The abuse of enslaved African women occurred wherever they were enslaved regardless of which group of white people practiced this criminal activity. In the book, “Caetano Says No: Women's Stories from a Brazilian Slave Society”; an eerily similar case is documented of the rape of an enslaved African female child by the much older Portuguese man, on the same night he bought her.

Enslaved women in Canada were also brutalized and even sold away from their families. In Dr Afua Cooper’s book “The hanging of Angelique” court documents are used to tell the story of Marie Joseph Angelique, an enslaved African woman who was hanged in Montreal on June 21st, 1734. Angelique was accused of setting fire to her owner’s home in an attempt to camouflage her escape after learning that she was being sold. A confession was tortured out of her and on June 4, 1734, Judge Pierre Raimbault handed down his sentence, "Marie Joseph Angelique, negress, slave woman of Thérèse de Couagne, widow of the late François Poulin de Francheville, you are condemned to die, to make honourable amends, to have your hand cut off, be burned alive, and your ashes cast to the winds."

Other examples of the abuse of enslaved African women in Canada include the story of Chloe Cooley who is responsible for the acclamation that John Graves Simcoe receives on the first weekend of August. When we celebrate Simcoe day we also need to remember Chloe Cooley whose valiant struggle to gain her freedom led to Simcoe’s effort to limit slavery in Upper Canada in 1793. On Wednesday, March 21st, 1793 Peter Martin, a free African man, appeared before members of the Executive Council of Upper Canada (Ontario). Present were Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe, Chief Justice William Osgoode and Peter Russell, a prominent citizen who owned slaves. Martin informed the Council that a “violent outrage” had occurred to an enslaved African woman named Chloe Cooley. Martin had witnessed a resident of Queenston named William Vrooman trying to sell Cooley to someone in New York State. When she resisted being sold (she fought and screamed) Vrooman and two other white men violently subdued her, tied her with ropes and forcibly transported her across the Niagara River to her new owner. Cooley’s loud and vigorous resistance compelled Simcoe to make the effort to limit slavery in Ontario. His effort was unsuccessful which is not surprising since Peter Russell who became Lieutenant Governor when Simcoe returned to England, advertised in a Toronto newspaper dated February 10, 1806 that he was selling a 40 year old black woman named Peggy and her 15 year old son Jupiter. What is not part of that advertisement is the fact that even though Russell and his sister Elizabeth “owned” Peggy, she was married to a free African man Mr. Pompadour. Peggy Pompadour also had two young daughters. Even though their father was a free man, Peggy’s three children belonged to the Russells, since the law conferred the status of enslaved women on their children. The Russells could then sell Peggy Pompadour and her three children.

Harriet Jacobs, Celia, Peggy Pompadour, Chloe Cooley, Marie Joseph Angelique and many other nameless enslaved African women risked their lives in resisting their enslavement by any means necessary. The enslavement of Africans would have lasted for much longer than it did if women had not resisted in their own way. We must continue to tell their stories, keep their memory alive, lest we forget. The history of enslaved people in Canada is documented at a free exhibit located at 880 Bay Street (Bay and Grosvener.)


Written in October 2007


If we look after the attack of 9-11 immediately in Canada like in the United States people were attacked on the streets. If we look at who it was that was attacked it becomes very, very clear that Muslims today, don’t just refer to a religious identity– Muslims have become a racialized category of exclusion. If we look at who was attacked in Canada and in the United States, Hindu temples were desecrated, Sikh temples were attacked. In the United States, two Sikh men were shot to death, Hindus were attacked, Pakistanis were attacked, an aboriginal woman –a Cherokee --was attacked. So when we look at who is being constructed in the popular imagination of this potential Muslim terrorist, it becomes very clear that it is black and brown people who are being targeted regardless of what their religion is like.

Excerpt from Dr. Sunera Thobani's speech (delivered on October 23rd, 2004) about the impact of September 11 on the Arab and Muslim communities in North America.

Dr. Thobani is an assistant professor at the Centre for Women and Gender Studies at the University of British Columbia. In 1993 she became the first woman from a racialized community, to serve as President of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NAC). Almost immediately the organization came under attack. On April 23, 1993, John MacDougall, a Tory MP stood in the House of Commons and declared: Earlier today I learned that [Thobani] first is not a Canadian, and second does not have a work permit for this country. Does the Deputy Prime Minister believe that the taxpayers of Canada should be funding such an organization with an illegal immigrant as its head? Thobani again came under attack when on October 1st, 2001 she criticized the US foreign policy and the US “war on terror.” The white media was practically foaming at the mouth as they attacked her speech. The reports were rife with misinformation and innuendo with much of what Thobani said taken out of context. The Canadian government got in on the action when the RCMP launched a hate crime investigation against Thobani claiming that she had publicly incited hatred against Americans. The investigation was apparently dropped since she was never charged (everything she said was factual) but I have never read that she received an apology from the politicians or the newspapers that maligned her.

As Dr. Thobani said in her speech on October 23rd, 2004 “it becomes very clear that it is black and brown people who are being targeted regardless of what their religion is like.” The war on terror is an attack on Muslims or those who look like they could be Muslims. On April 19, 1995 after white Christian terrorist Timothy McVeigh bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma he was stopped by State Trooper Charlie Hanger because he was driving without a license plate. Even after Hanger found that McVeigh was “unlawfully” carrying a gun he did not suspect that McVeigh could be the terrorist whose bomb just minutes before had ripped through the office complex killing 168 and injuring more than 800 people. This is not surprising because America believed that the bombing of the Federal building was the work of Muslim terrorists. A few hours after the bombing, Jim Stewart of CBS News declared: “The betting here is on Middle East terrorists." John McWethy from ABC News announced: "The fact that it was such a powerful bomb in Oklahoma City immediately drew investigators to consider deadly parallels that all have roots in the Middle East.” The next day an editorial from the New York Post trumpeted: "Knowing that the car bomb indicates Middle Eastern terrorists at work, it's safe to assume that their goal is to promote free-floating fear and a measure of anarchy, thereby disrupting American life. In due course, we'll learn which particular faction the terrorists identified with—Hamas? Hezbollah? the Islamic Jihad?—and whether or not the perpetrators leveled specific demands." Some writers became downright bloodthirsty. Jeff Kamen writing for the New York Newsday the day after the bombing thought that officials were wrong to ignore "a sizable community of Islamic fundamentalist militants in Oklahoma City," and urged that military special forces be used against "potential terrorists": "Shoot them now, before they get us," he demanded. On April 21st, two days after the bombing Mike Royko wrote in the Chicago Tribune: "I would have no objection if we picked out a country that is a likely suspect and bombed some oil fields, refineries, bridges, highways, industrial complexes. If it happens to be the wrong country, well, too bad, but it's likely it did something to deserve it anyway." During his first public address on the bombing, President Bill Clinton stated that the terrorist act was an "attack on the United States, our way of life and everything we believe in." There were “alerts” at airports for young men travelling alone to Middle Eastern countries. Even after warrants were issued for white male suspects Weldon Kennedy, the FBI agent in charge at the bombing site, did not rule out possible connections to Muslim fundamentalists. After their trials it was obvious that neither McVeigh nor his accomplice Terry Nichols, in their murderous venture, had any connection with Muslims or anyone from the Middle East.

On July 27, 1996 during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, a terrorist struck, detonating a bomb which killed two people and injured 111 others. The authorities knew that they were looking for a white man because a “white American male with ‘an indistinguishable accent’” had called 911 to report that the bomb would explode in half an hour. The language used to describe the suspect was very different from the language used when Muslims were suspected during the Oklahoma City bombing. White men in Atlanta were not subjected to attacks by their fellow citizens neither were they over policed in their communities. The terrorist, Eric Rudolph who was responsible for the bombing at the Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta, Georgia, was eventually arrested on May 31, 2003. On July 18th, 2005 Rudolph was sentenced to two consecutive life terms without parole for a January 1998 bombing which killed a police officer in Birmingham, Alabama. Like Timothy McVeigh, Eric Rudolph was a white Christian terrorist born and bred in the USA.
In his 2006 “Address to the Nation” to mark the fifth anniversary of 9/11, President Bush said in part: “Nineteen men attacked us with a barbarity unequaled in our history. Since the horror of 9/11, we've learned a great deal about the enemy. We have learned that they are evil and kill without mercy -- but not without purpose. We have learned that they form a global network of extremists who are driven by a perverted vision of Islam -- a totalitarian ideology that hates freedom, rejects tolerance, and despises all dissent. And we have learned that their goal is to build a radical Islamic empire where women are prisoners in their homes, men are beaten for missing prayer meetings, and terrorists have a safe haven to plan and launch attacks on America and other civilized nations. The war against this enemy is more than a military conflict. It is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century, and the calling of our generation.” As Muslims observe the holy month of Ramadan, they have to cope with a world in which a new word is now part of our vocabulary, “Islamophobia.”

Written in September 2008

David Walker

The whites have had us under them for more than three centuries, murdering, and treating us like brutes. They want us for their slaves, and think nothing of murdering us in order to subject us to that wretched condition — therefore, if there is an attempt made by us, kill or be killed. Now, I ask you, had you not rather be killed than to be a slave to a tyrant, who takes the life of your mother, wife, and dear little children? Look upon your mother, wife and children, and answer God Almighty; and believe this, that it is no more harm for you to kill a man, who is trying to kill you, than it is for you to take a drink of water when thirsty.

Excerpt from David Walker’s “Walker’s Appeal, in Four Articles; Together with a Preamble, to the Coloured Citizens of the World, but in Particular, and Very Expressly, to Those of the United States of America.” Written in Boston, Massachusetts, September 28, 1829.

David Walker was born on September 28th, 1785 in Wilmington, North Carolina to a free African woman and an enslaved African man. David Walker was born a free person because it was the law throughout North America that children inherited the status of their mother. This law ensured that Africans retained slave status because it was very rare for an African woman to gain her freedom. Most free Africans were men who were skilled in a trade, were “rented” out to work for people other than their “owners,” where they were allowed to keep part of their wages and eventually bought their freedom. There were occasions where the “master” promised that an enslaved African could buy his freedom and reneged on that promise after the unfortunate “slave” paid the agreed sum of money. Moses Grandy whose life story is documented in the book “Narrative of the Life of Moses Gandy, Late a Slave in the United States of America,” was cheated by three white men after he paid each of them the agreed price for his freedom. The father of Sylvia Stark, one of the pioneer women of British Colombia, was also cheated by his “owner” after he paid the man the agreed price for his freedom. In Ontario, the case of Peggy Pompadour who was sold along with her son Jupiter in 1806 is evidence of the children of Africans in North America inheriting the status of the mother. Peggy Pompadour was married to a free African man but she and her children were owned by Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, Peter Russell and his sister Elizabeth Russell.

Even free Africans in North America were at the mercy of their white compatriots. In some states (e.g. Delaware and California) any white person could claim that a free African was their slave and the African would not be allowed to counter that claim because they were not allowed to give evidence against a white person. In California this law was extended to include anyone who was not white being prevented from giving evidence against a white person. In 1854 the California Supreme Court overturned the conviction of a white man, George Hall in the murder of Ling Sing, a Chinese man because the three witnesses who had testified were all Chinese. The law stated that African Americans, mulattoes and Native Americans could not give evidence against white people and since Chinese were not white they were included in the group who could not testify against white people in a court of law. George Hall was set free even though he was guilty of murdering Ling Sing.

David Walker as a free African living in an American slaveholding society was therefore not entirely free. He witnessed the degradation of Africans and the injustices to which they were subjected. He wrote about the horror of witnessing an enslaved African man forced to whip his mother to death by a sadistic slaveholder. Walker eventually left the Southern state where he was born because as he said, “If I remain in this bloody land, I will not live long. I cannot remain where I must hear slaves' chains continually and where I must encounter the insults of their hypocritical enslavers.”

Walker traveled throughout the USA then settled in Boston where he opened a clothing store close to the waterfront. Many of his customers were sailors whose patronage would be very important in his most important venture. Walker became a member of organizations that denounced the enslavement of Africans in the Southern states and the discrimination to which Africans in the Northern states were subjected. He was a regular contributor to the abolitionist newspaper, Freedom’s Journal and by the end of 1828; he had become Boston's leading agitator against slavery.

On September 28th, 1829 he published a pamphlet in which he urged enslaved Africans to fight for their freedom; he advocated that they seize their freedom by any means necessary, including violence. “Walker’s Appeal” was considered militant because of his denunciation of slavery, those who profited from it, and those who willingly accepted it. To reach his target audience, the enslaved men and women of the South, Walker relied on African American sailors who worked on ships that traveled to the southern states. Walker used his clothing business which, because of its location close to the waterfront, was patronized by sailors who bought clothing for upcoming voyages. He sewed copies of his pamphlet into the lining of sailors' clothing. Once the pamphlets reached the South, they could be distributed throughout the region.
Slaveholders already worried by the success of the Haitian Revolution were panicking because an African man had articulated what they feared most, a violent uprising of enslaved Africans in America. The white slave holders were not the only people who panicked when they read “Walker’s Appeal.” In 1829, when 50 copies of “Walker’s Appeal” were delivered to an African American minister in Savannah, Georgia, the minister informed the police. The police informed the governor of Georgia which led to the state legislature passing a bill making the circulation of materials that might incite slaves to riot a capital offense. The legislature also offered a reward for Walker’s capture, $10,000 alive and $1,000 dead. Other Southern states took similar measures. Louisiana enacted a bill ordering the expulsion of all free Africans who had settled in the state after 1825. By 1830, white authorities in the Southern states had begun a campaign to suppress “Walker’s Appeal.” In New Orleans, four black men were arrested for owning it and vigilantes attacked free Africans in Walker's home town, Wilmington, North Carolina. In Savannah, Georgia, the white authorities seized dozens of copies and banned African American sailors from going ashore at the city's port. The mayor of Savannah demanded that the mayor of Boston arrest Walker and outlaw the pamphlet. White slave holders offered a $3,000 bounty for Walker's death, and a $10,000 reward for anyone who brought him to the South alive. In June 1830, shortly after publishing the third edition of his “Appeal,” David Walker was found dead on the doorstep of his home.

David Walker also opposed the resettlement of freed Africans (in Liberia and Sierra Leone) who had been enslaved in America. He articulated his reason in these words; “Let no man of us budge one step, and let slave-holders come to beat us from our country. America is more our country, than it is the whites, we have enriched it with our blood and tears. The greatest riches in all America have arisen from our blood and tears: and will they drive us from our property and homes, which we have earned with our blood?”

David Walker’s words, written 178 years ago are of value today. “Ignorance, my brethren, is a mist, low down into the very dark and almost impenetrable abyss in which, our fathers for many centuries have been plunged...
When we take a retrospective view of the arts and sciences—the wise legislators—the Pyramids, and other magnificent buildings—the turning of the channels of the river Nile, by the sons of Africa or of Ham, among whom learning originated, and was carried thence into Greece, where it was improved upon and refined. Thence among the Romans and all over the then enlightened parts of the world, and it has been enlightening the dark and benighted minds of men from then, down to this day. I say, when I view retrospectively, the renown of that once mighty people, the children of our great progenitor I am indeed cheered. Yea further, when I view that mighty son of Africa, Hannibal, one of the greatest generals of antiquity, who defeated and cut off so many thousands of the white Romans or murderers and who carried his victorious arms, to the very gate of Rome, and I give it as my candid opinion, that had Carthage been well united and had given him good support, he would have carried that cruel and barbarous city by storm. But they were dis-united, as the coloured people are now, in the United States of America, the reason our natural enemies are enabled to keep their feet on our throats.
Ignorance and treachery one against the other—a grovelling servile and abject submission to the lash of tyrants, we see plainly, my brethren, are not the natural elements of the blacks, as the Americans try to make us believe.
Men of colour, who are also of sense, for you particularly is my APPEAL designed. Our more ignorant brethren are not able to penetrate its value. I call upon you therefore to cast your eyes upon the wretchedness of your brethren, and to do your utmost to enlighten them—go to work and enlighten your brethren!—Let the Lord see you doing what you can to rescue them and yourselves from degradation.”

Written in September 2007

September 4, 1957

Elizabeth Eckford was a 15 year old student on September 4, 1957 when a photograph of her surrounded by a snarling white mob made history. Eckford was one of a group of nine African American students in Little Rock, Arkansas who attempted to integrate Little Rock Central High School in the wake of the “Brown versus Board of Education” US Supreme Court ruling in May 1954. The National Guard troops, at gunpoint, under orders of Governor Orval Faubus, had just prevented the 15 year old from entering the school grounds, when a white mob descended on the obviously terrified child. Right on Eckford’s heels is the unforgettable image of a white girl, her face distorted with hate, mouth wide open, spitting racist venom. The infamous photograph has been recognized as one of the most important photographs of the 20th Century by the Associated Press and the Encyclopedia Britannica. Another photograph from that horrific period which has the dubious honour of being part of a list of “ the most important photographs of the 20th Century” is one of Alex Wilson, an African American reporter covering the story of the attempt to integrate Little Rock Central High School, being brutalized by a white mob.

I was a small child the first time I saw those photographs (browsing through old Ebony and Jet magazines) and they had a chilling effect. Over the years I would see the photographs in books and frequently wondered if the white people captured in the act of terrorizing a lone 15 year old felt any shame or regret as those images were reproduced internationally. I especially wanted to know the name of the white girl, seen in each photograph of Elizabeth Eckford’s traumatizing experience. I wondered where she was living, if she had children how would she explain those photographs in the wake of the “victories” of the Civil Rights movement? Was she one of those people who provide “entertainment” on talk shows by expressing their hate for people who are not White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP)? My questions were answered a few years ago when I attended the “Word on the Street” book and magazine festival while visiting the booth of one of our community bookstores, A Different Booklist. There on the cover of this book was one of the photographs that had been seared into my memory when I was a small child and it was on sale. The book had been published in 1999 and contained the photographs taken by Ira Wilmer Counts who was sent to cover the desegregation of his alma mater, Central High School in Little Rock by the Arkansas Democrat newspaper.

At last I had the name of Elizabeth Eckford’s tormentor, Hazel Bryan Massery. I was not surprised to read that Eckford who had been contacted by Massery in 1997 had forgiven the woman. We are the most forgiving people when it comes to forgiving people who torment, brutalize, oppress and terrify us because of our race. Could this be the reason why our people continue being racially harassed, profiled, terrorized, tormented, brutalized and oppressed? The image of the two middle aged women, one white one African American, smiling and hugging each other, has not in my mind erased the image of the hate filled white face dogging Eckford’s footsteps in the 1957 photographs. To her credit Massery is the only white person who has apologized to Eckford. Admittedly her face is the most hate filled image of the mob stalking the slender 15 year old child in those 1957 images but there were hundreds of adults in that mob (Massery was also a teenager in 1957) including a woman who spit in Eckford’s face.

Counts, the photographer whose work documented the Little Rock trauma for posterity is white, blended in with the crowd and photographed not only the terror to which the 15 year old Eckford was subjected on September 4th but also the brutal and cowardly assault of African American journalist Alex Wilson on September 23rd.

Unlike Counts whose white skin protected him from being terrorized and brutalized by the mob, Wilson and other African American journalists were identifiable and vulnerable. When the mob descended shouting, “Run n---er run,” Wilson refused to follow the other African American journalists who fled. He calmly let the howling white mob know “I fought for my country in the war and I'm not running from you." He suffered for his brave stand. Nattily dressed topped by his trade mark fedora he continued walking in dignity even after he was borne to the ground several times by members of that vicious cowardly white mob. It is heartbreaking to watch the images of this slim 6 foot 3 inch dignified African man subjected to the brutal indignity of being slapped, punched, kicked, choked, hit on the head with bricks wielded by cowards backed by a screaming mob of white men and women. It has been recorded and reported, each time Wilson was knocked down, he picked up his fedora replaced it on his head and kept walking in dignity. The frenzied white mob could not make this African man lose his dignity and run like a terrified creature. The baying pack of Wilson’s attackers left him bruised, bloodied but not vanquished when the cry went up that a group of African American students had succeeded in entering Little Rock’s Central High School.

Wilson never recovered from the brutal assault to which he was subjected in Little Rock, Arkansas on September 23rd, 1957. This man who as editor in chief of the African American newspaper Tri-State Defender from Memphis, Tennessee had traveled to Little Rock, Arkansas to cover the story of the nine brave students who put their lives on the line to hold white supremacist America accountable, paid with his life. He suffered neurological damage as a result of the abuse and died when he was 50 years old on Oct. 11, 1960.

Elizabeth Eckford was not the only African American student in Little Rock who suffered mental and physical abuse. Each member of the Little Rock Nine have told their stories and some have even written books about their experience as the first to try to desegregate Little Rock Central High School. Terrence Roberts another member of the Little Rock who was also 15 years old in 1957 spoke about his experiences in school where there were no cameras to capture images of the vicious attacks he and his classmates suffered at the hands of white students and the racism from teachers. "They did everything you could possibly think of that one human being might do to another.” He talked about being hit on the side of the head with a combination lock in the gymnasium locker room, so hard it drove him to his knees. He was left stunned and bleeding from the head wound that resulted from the vicious attack. Each member of the Little Rock Nine persevered in spite of the daily abuse to which they were subjected and triumphed by graduating from high school, advancing to post secondary education and fulfilling careers.

Ontario’s public school system was integrated without the drama of Little Rock. However the trauma was not absent. The last segregated school in Ontario closed in 1965. Speaking with African Canadians who attended integrated schools in Toronto in the 1960s and even 70s there are many stories of traumatic incidents suffered at the hands of white teachers and classmates. Imagine a six year old African Canadian child, a descendant of Africans who had lived in this country for six generations, being used by her white teacher as the teaching aid for the reading of “Little Black Sambo.” For her entire grade one year in a Toronto public school, she was tormented by the teacher sitting her in front of the class and making derogatory remarks about the texture of her hair, the shape of her nose, her lips and the colour of her skin.
Elizabeth Eckford whose image fired my interest in the story of the Little Rock Nine even before I understood the significance of their action, suffered more trauma as an adult. On the morning of January 1, 2003, her son Erin, 26, was shot and killed by police in Little Rock. He was a student at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. She has not allowed this tragedy to destroy her.

On Tuesday, August 30th, 2005 when the sculpture to honour the Little Rock Nine was unveiled at the Arkansas State Capitol she was there with the other eight members. A commemorative postage stamp was also released on the same day by the United States Postal Service in honour of the nine extraordinarily brave young people who risked life and limb to desegregate Little Rock Central High School. This year, 50 years after the nine students (Ernest Green, Elizabeth Eckford, Jefferson Thomas, Dr. Terrence Roberts, Carlotta Walls Lanier, Minnijean Brown Trickey, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Thelma Mothershed-Wair, and Melba Pattillo Beals) made history they will return to speak on the steps of the high school on the morning of September 25, remembering the day 50 years ago when they integrated Little Rock Central High School. A new center will be dedicated to educating visitors about the role of the Little Rock Nine in the civil rights movement.

Written in September 2007

The Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey

Jamaica’s first National Hero, the Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey was born on August 17, 1887 in St. Ann's Bay, Jamaica. Garvey is recognized as one of the world’s greatest leaders. His words and philosophy have influenced many generations of Africans on the continent and in the Diaspora including politicians, activists, academics and artists. The celebration of Kwanzaa reflects Garvey’s philosophy in the Nguzo saba (seven principles) and even the use of the red, black and green colours. The Honourable Robert “Bob” Nesta Marley, Winston “Burning Spear” Rodney, both considered geniuses and visionaries in the music industry and both born in St Ann’s Bay, Jamaica were influenced by Garvey.

In Marley’s Redemption Song he encourages “emancipate yourselves from mental slavery,” these are Garvey’s words and philosophy. Rodney named an entire album “Marcus Garvey” with “Old Marcus Garvey” as the title of one of the songs. Garvey’s philosophy is also reflected in Max Romeo’s “Maccabee Version” from his album, "Holy Zion." Max Romeo encourages us to "Give Black God the glory" Garvey said: “White people have seen their God through white spectacles, we have only now started out (late though it be) to see our God through our own spectacles. We (Africans) believe in the God of Ethiopia, we shall worship him through the spectacles of Ethiopia.” Garvey’s philosophy influenced the Rastafarian movement. Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Nnamdi Azikiwe of Nigeria, Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, Martin Luther King Jr and El Hajj Malik El Shabazz are examples of African leaders who were influenced by Garvey’s philosophy.

Garvey is considered the father of modern Pan-Africanism. The result of his inspired work among African people throughout the world was a sense of pride in their African heritage. He was the founder of the UNIA, later renamed the UAIA to better reflect and express the self determination of Africans. Garvey understood the importance of Africans uniting and speaking for themselves. He was uncompromising in his goal of the total and complete redemption and liberation of African people across the planet. In pursuit of this goal Garvey traveled throughout the Caribbean, Europe, Central, North and South America. He succeeded to a great degree in a time when there was no internet or even television. The UAIA included approximately 1200 branches in 40 countries across the globe. There were branches in several African countries including Ghana, Gambia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria, South Africa and Namibia. Garveyites, followers of Marcus Garvey’s teaching were to be found globally from Australia to Zimbabwe.

Garvey’s philosophy of “Race First” encouraged unity, coupled with self reliance, self determination and economic development; if his efforts had not been sabotaged Africa would now be “for Africans at home and abroad.” Instead we are still in a place where white people think they can determine who we are. This was our reality for more than four hundred years during the enslavement of Africans and the colonization of our nations and territories. It seems that not much has changed. At a recent forum, after several members of the African community had expressed their concern at the level of racial profiling some of them had experienced in the public education system and where their children are experiencing the same, a white man decided that he would tell us how to solve “our problem.” In a patriarchal, white supremacist mind frame he decided to “educate” us about our history and culture. Not surprisingly, his “knowledge” of our culture and history was inaccurate but given his sense of entitlement and white skin privilege he felt very comfortable expressing his opinion. He was not there to share the power and privilege his skin colour affords him.

Garvey said; “For over three hundred years the white man has been our oppressor, and he naturally is not going to liberate us to the higher freedom—the truer liberty—the truer Democracy. We have to liberate ourselves.”

It is amazing what Garvey was able to achieve given the “interesting times” in which he lived. Many of us take for granted what we have today without giving thought to those whose lives were sacrificed for the small gains that our race has made. Garvey was born a mere 49 years after the enslavement of Africans was abolished in the British “dominions” which included his birthplace. From 1904 to 1908, while Garvey was a young adult, the Germans were making a “valiant” effort to exterminate an entire group of African people. The four years from 1904 to 1908 Germans in Namibia systematically and savagely murdered Herero people. Coveting the Herero land, cattle and other property, the Germans experimented and perfected vicious, brutal and cruel methods in an effort to destroy the Herero some of which would later be reported to have been used on oppressed people during the second world war. The surviving Herero, some of whom had to flee to neighbouring countries have not yet received reparations from the Germans.

This weekend Africans worldwide will be celebrating the birthday of the Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey. It is time we live up to the reality of that “mighty race” that Garvey told us we are. We must emancipate our minds from mental slavery and colonization. Stop allowing white people to feel comfortable when they behave as if they have a right to direct our thought processes, choose our leaders, chastise us for the manner in which we celebrate our culture. No other group would tolerate outsiders dictating to them in this manner. Garvey told us that we do not need to feel that anyone is better than us, we are the equal of any other group of people. “The Black skin is a glorious symbol of national greatness.” He also realized that his teachings would not resonate with every African person. “I have no desire to take all black people back to Africa; there are blacks who are no good here and will likewise be no good there.”

In honour of he sacrifices that Garvey made to educate us, let us work to make “Africa for Africans at home and abroad” a reality. This weekend the 15th celebration of Marcus Garvey Day in Toronto will be a two day celebration. Entitled “Healing the Effects of Slavery” there will a recognition of the Bicentenary (two hundred years since the abolition of the British transatlantic slave trade) and a tribute to Lucie and Thornton Blackburn who started the first taxicab business in Toronto. The two day event will begin on Friday, August 17, 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. at 19 Sackville Street – the historic site of Lucie and Thornton Blackburn’s home. The recognition will continue on Saturday, August 18 at the Pure Spirit Patio, 55 Mill Street, in the Distillery Historic District, from noon until 10 p.m. Attend this two day event and be educated, Garvey said; “A people without the knowledge of their history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” For more information about the Marcus Garvey Day celebrations contact Terry Brown at mgcel@marcusgarvey.net or (416) 783 – 1792

Written in August 2007

"Colonizin' in Reverse"

Wat a joyful news, Miss Mattie, I feel like me heart gwine burs, Jamaica people colonizin Englan in reverse.
By de hundred, by de tousan, From country and from town, By de ship-load, by de plane-load Jamaica is Englan boun.
Dem a pour out a Jamaica, Everybody future plan Is fe get a big-time job An settle in de mother lan.
What a islan! What a people! Man an woman, old an young Jus a pack dem bag an baggage An tun history upside dung!
Some people doan like travel But fe show dem loyalty Dem all a open up cheap-fare- To-Englan agency.
An week by week dem shippin off Dem countryman like fire, Fe immigrate an populate De seat a de Empire.
Oonoo see how life is funny, Oonoo see de tunabout? Jamaica live fe box bread Out a English people mout'.
Wat a devilment a Englan! Dem face war an brave de worse, But me wonderin how dem gwine stan Colonizin in reverse."

Excerpt from "Colonizin' in Reverse" (1966) by The Honourable Louise Simone Bennett-Coverley (Miss Lou)

October is Black History Month in Britain and people from the Caribbean are a large part of that history. African people from the Caribbean first began to settle in Britain in large numbers after the Second World War. According to information from the exhibit From War To Windrush housed at the Imperial War Museum, in London, England until March 29 2009, approximately 16,000 men from the Caribbean volunteered to fight for Britain in the First World War, and over 10,000 servicemen and women answered the call of the ‘Mother Country’ during the Second World War. This exhibit marks the 60th anniversary of the arrival of the MV Empire Windrush in Britain on June 22nd, 1948. The Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury, Essex on 22 June 1948, carrying 492 passengers from Jamaica and Trinidad. The arrival of the passengers and the image of the Caribbean passengers disembarking has become an important landmark in the history of Britain, symbolising the beginning of modern multicultural relations which significantly changed British society over the past 60 years. In 1998, an area in Brixton was renamed Windrush Square to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the arrival of the Caribbean migrants.

The Empire Windrush had quite a checkered past. Built in Germany by the Hamburg firm Blohm and Voss, the 500ft vessel named the Monte Rosa and launched in December 1930 was designed as a passenger cruiser with the capacity to carry 1,372 people. It sailed the South American tourist route between Hamburg and Buenos Aires, Argentina before being used by the Germans as a troop ship and then a hospital ship during the Second World War. It was eventually seized at the German port of Kiel by British forces and refitted as a British troop carrier in 1947 when it was renamed Empire Windrush. The Empire Windrush would have disappeared from the pages of history if not for the historic voyage it undertook in 1948. Travelling from Australia to England, the ship docked in Kingston, Jamaica where an advertisement had appeared in Jamaica’s Daily Gleaner newspaper on April 13th, offering cheap fare to anyone who wanted to work in the United Kingdom. The fare was a bargain at £28 and 10 shillings. When the Empire Windrush left Jamaica on May 24th, 1948, there were 300 passengers below deck and 192 above, from the British colonies of Jamaica and Trinidad. Two of the passengers were Trinidadian calypsonians, Aldwyn “Lord Kitchener” Roberts and Egbert “Lord Beginner” Moore. Jamaicans and Trinidadians were British subjects and there was no immigration restrictions placed on them.

One month later, on June 22nd, the ship docked at Tilbury in Essex. Most of those who bought tickets were former members of the British armed forces from the Second World War. They were promised that jobs would be waiting for them and some looked forward to rejoining the Royal Air Force. When they first arrived, 202 of the passengers found employment right away. Many of them were employed by the National Health Service, some found work in factories and mills, but most were employed by London Transport. The SS Orbita, the SS Reina del Pacifico and the SS Georgic followed the Empire Windrush in transporting large numbers of Caribbean exodusters to Britain. Colonizing in reverse was in full swing. On Tuesday, August 2nd, 1955, the SS Auriga left Kingston, Jamaica with the previously unheard of number of 1,100 passengers. In less than a week, the SS Castle Verde followed with another full shipload.

Immigrants from Britain’s other Caribbean colonies joined the exodus and colonizing in reverse. In 1955, there were 27,550 migrants from the Caribbean arriving in Britain. By 1960, the numbers of Caribbean people migrating to Britain had risen to 49,650 and the rate had increased to 66,300 in 1961. The Commonwealth Immigrants Act was passed in 1962, limiting immigrant entry and the number decreased to 31,800. In 1963 there were only 3,241 Caribbean immigrants allowed into Britain and the numbers peaked at 14,848 in 1965 then began falling rapidly to less than 10,000 each year.

Although the passengers of the Empire Windrush have their place in history as the first large number of Africans travelling from the Caribbean to settle in Britain, they were not the first Africans who made Britain their home. There is documented African Presence in Britain from as early as the 2nd century A.D. (The Oxford Companion to Black British History by David Dabydeen, John Gilmore and Cecily Jones published in 2007.) Britain monopolised the Trans-Atlantic slave trade from the 16th century until slavery was finally abolished in the Caribbean in 1838.

Kidnapped and enslaved Africans were taken to Britain to provide unpaid labour and were amongst those who campaigned to end slavery. Ottobah Cugoano and Olaudah Equiano were two formerly enslaved Africans who on gaining their freedom became abolitionists. Africans were also involved in other areas of British life, including the arts and politics. Samuel Taylor Coleridge (October 21st 1772 –July 25th 1834) was a poet and composer whose work included The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Kubla Khan and Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast. Robert Wedderburn and William Davidson both born in Jamaica to enslaved African women and white slave holders suffered because of their political involvement. Wedderburn was jailed several times and Davidson was hung and quartered at Newgate Prison on May1st, 1820. Like many of the Caribbean people who migrated to the “Mother Land,” they found as Linton Kwesi Johnson, Jamaican born and British raised dub poet says, “Inglan is a bitch, dere´s no escapin it, Inglan is a bitch, a noh lie mi a tell, a true.”



On November 1st 1945 an enterprising 27 year old African American male changed the history of journalism. African American soldiers were returning from the battlefields of Europe, the scene of the latest European tribal conflict. They had been involved in what was supposedly the fight for democracy, however when they returned home from making life safe for Europeans they were still second class citizens in their own country. They were still living under Jim Crow rule where they could be lynched because a white person did not like the way they walked or talked. Nothing much had changed for African Americans after they returned home from World War 11. The publication of Ebony Magazine on November 1st 1945 would herald a new era for African Americans and eventually all other Africans across the globe.

John Harold Johnson was born in Arkansas on January 19th, 1918. As a descendant of enslaved Africans living in the white supremacist Southern United States it is hardly surprising that his father, Leroy Johnson was killed in a sawmill accident when he was eight years old. Countless numbers of African Americans had been “accidentally” killed at their worksites, safety standards were not important. The Johnson family, now mother and son had to survive without the male adult presence. Like many African women before her, Eunice Johnson set about surviving and rearing her only child. Determined to give her child opportunities that he would never have in Arkansas, (there were no high schools for African Americans) Gertrude Johnson worked as a washer woman and cook to save the money for their fare north to Chicago. In July 1933, the Johnsons moved to Chicago where John H. Johnson attended Dusable High School, Chicago’s first high school built for African American students, and graduated in 1936. What amazing coincidence that the man who is considered the African American poster person for entrepreneurship in Chicago attended a high school named in honour of Jean Baptiste Pointe Dusable, the Haitian born African man who was the founder of Chicago.

On graduating from high school with honours, Johnson was invited to speak at the Chicago Urban League luncheon for outstanding high school students. He met one of the featured speakers, Harry H. Pace, president of the largest African American owned business in the USA, Supreme Life Insurance Company. Pace offered Johnson a job, encouraging him to work part-time and attend university part-time.

Beginning work as an “office boy” at Supreme Life Insurance Company in 1936, by 1939 Johnson was the editor of Supreme’s monthly newspaper, “The Guardian.” In 1942, Johnson was given the task of compiling a weekly digest of major news items about African Americans gleaned from various magazines and newspapers. Realising that there were no magazines that highlighted African American culture and achievement, Johnson seized the opportunity to publish a commercially viable monthly magazine catering to African Americans.

Johnson planned to use the mailing list of the Supreme Life Insurance Company to solicit subscriptions for his magazine and needed a $500.00 loan. Upon being refused a loan from the First National Bank of Chicago, Johnson approached the Citizens Loan Corporation and secured a $500.00 loan by using his mother’s furniture as collateral. On November 1st 1942, the Negro Digest was published and Johnson Publishing Company Inc. was established. The Johnson Publishing Company Inc. went from strength to strength with the publishing of Ebony Magazine launched on November 1st 1945,

Jet Magazine launched on November 1st 1951 and several other magazines including Ebony Man in 1985 and Tan Magazine, a true confessions type magazine in 1950. Jet, a weekly news magazine has had such an influence on African American life that African Americans would frequently say; “If it wasn’t in Jet, it didn’t happen.” The publications of Johnson Publishing Corporation Inc. told the stories of African Americans when white American media either ignored or distorted the reality of African American life.

When Johnson launched Ebony Magazine on November 1st 1945 he could not have dreamt of the success of Johnson Publishing Company Inc. In his autobiography "Succeeding Against The Odds," published in 1989, Johnson wrote, “I never thought I would be rich. Never in my wildest dreams did l believe that Negro Digest would lead to the Johnson Publishing Company of today. If I'd dreamed then of the conglomerate of today, I probably would have been so intimidated, with my meager resources, that I wouldn't have had the courage to take the first step." The legendary Maya Angelou describing John H. Johnson said, “John Johnson had the vision of a William Randolph Hearst and the perseverance of the legendary hero, John Henry. With his gifts, he introduced an entire race to the beauty and the brilliance they already had. Through his magazines, we learned that we were poets and plumbers and preachers and pundits." African American celebrities were featured in the pages of the magazine as well as the lived reality for most African Americans who were being victimized by a white supremacist American culture. Ebony was the chronicler of African American life, the good, the bad and the ugly. Who can forget the image of Coretta Scott King comforting her five year old daughter Bernice at Dr King’s funeral? That image of Coretta dignified even in her grief gained photographer Moneta Sleet of Ebony Magazine a Pulitzer Prize. Ebony magazine was the training ground for many talented photographers and journalists who might otherwise never had an opportunity to practice their craft. Ebony and Jet played key roles in the Civil Rights movement. Johnsons Publications changed the colour and content of American media which had not cared to show positive images of African Americans.

Not only did Johnson influence generations of African Americans with his publications, that influence was felt as far away from Chicago as Stanleytown, Berbice in then British Guiana. Johnson Publications Inc. brought the lives of African Americans to us in the pages of Ebony, Jet and Tan magazines. These publications were part of our family while my mother and her siblings were elementary school students. The next generation, my siblings, cousins and I read about Lena Horne, Billy Eckstein, Nat Cole, Harry Belafonte etc in old Ebony and Jet magazines. We were fascinated with the large, dramatic photographs of glamorous men and women before we could even read the stories. Some of the stories we did read however, were far from glamorous. Reading about the murder of 14 year old Emmett Till, the terrorizing of Elizabeth Eckford and the Little Rock Nine, the imprisonment of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks’ arrest was a puzzle to us as children living in a culture where we did not experience overt racism. We were educated about the history and culture of African Americans as we read Ebony, Jet and Tan magazines. Tan magazine is no longer published but we continue to read Ebony and Jet magazines regularly, sharing information with the younger generation. It speaks volumes about the culture of North America that Ebony and Jet magazines remain relevant.

John H. Johnson transitioned to be with the ancestors on August 8th, 2005 but his legacy which he created and launched on November 1st 1945 lives on in the pages of Ebony magazine which continues to chronicle the lives of Africans and educate the world about the history of Africans.

Written in October 2007


Slavery was a brutal institution that dehumanized a race of people. Female slave bondage was different from that of men. It was not less severe, but it was different. Sexual abuse, child bearing, and child care responsibilities affected enslaved females’ pattern of resistance and how they conducted their lives. The enslaved woman's choices of seizing her freedom were limited compared to the males because she had to consider her children. As a mother she had different responsibilities. Harriet Jacobs' book “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl,” documents the different role of female slaves and the trauma of having to cope with sexual abuse. Jacobs was constantly exposed to sexual abuse from her master. The enslaved woman's choices of seizing her freedom were limited compared to the males because she had to consider her children. As a mother she had different responsibilities.

Women were less able to leave their chains and children behind. Deborah Gray White in her book "Aren't I a Woman?" wrote; "for those fugitive women who left children in slavery, the physical relief which freedom brought was limited compensation for the anguish they suffered."

The routine rape of enslaved African women is well documented by mostly white men who were the perpetrators. Thomas Thistlewood, an Englishman, went to Jamaica in 1750 as manager for a plantation. He eventually bought his own plantation and in a 10,000 page diary documented his systematic abuse of the enslaved Africans on his plantation, especially the sexual abuse of the women, including the sexually transmitted diseases he brought with him. The book; In Miserable Slavery: Thomas Thistlewood in Jamaica 1750-1786 is not for the faint of heart.

Documented court cases also testify to the routine rape of African females, not only adult women but young girls. In the book “Celia a slave” the author uses court documents to tell the story of a 14 year old enslaved African child, bought by a 56 year old white plantation owner who brutally raped her the day he bought her. Here is this 14 year old, traumatized by being separated from all that is familiar to her, family, friends and brutally raped on the same day. Repeatedly raped over the next four years, she gives birth to two children sired by her rapist. In 1855 when the court case is documented she is pregnant with a third child and charged with murder of her owner. She was tried, found guilty and hanged after she gave birth to the child. During the years of rape she had in vain sought help from the children (all older than her) of her owner, especially his daughters who she probably erroneously thought would come to her aid in some way. Not surprisingly there was no help, no sympathy. White people, especially the women blamed the enslaved Afrikan females when they were raped by white men. So it is not surprising that the women of the family that enslaved Celia ignored her pleas for help even though she was very sick during the third pregnancy.

This abuse of enslaved women took place everywhere African women were enslaved regardless of the European nation that perpetrated this criminal activity. In the book “Caetano Says No: Women's Stories from a Brazilian Slave Society”; an eerily similar case is documented of the rape of an enslaved African female child by the much older white owner on the same night he bought her, complete with her beseeching other white people’s in hopes of stopping the abuse.

In recent years where the rape of an enslaved African woman by a prominent white politician, namely the third American president, has become public knowledge, there has been an attempt to make it a romance. How much romance is there when the female is fourteen and owned by the sexual predator who is in his 50s? The man had also owned Hemings’ entire family, when he demanded sex. With that much power in his hands, over her life and the life of her family, that must have been very romantic. The Jefferson family over the past century and more denied that the children Sally Hemings bore were fathered by Jefferson. When modern day science in the form of DNA test results of Sally Hemings descendants proved that Jefferson was the sire, suddenly the story was not about rape or at least coerced sex, instead it became a romance.

Incidentally, Sally Hemings was the result of Jefferson’s father in law’s sexual relationship with an enslaved woman. He gave this woman and the children he had sired on her to his daughter who was married to Jefferson, so Sally Hemings was his wife’s half sister. What moral upstanding people ruled the American nation.

Enslaved women in Canada were also brutalized and sold away from their families. In Dr Afua Cooper’s book “The hanging of Angelique” again court documents are used to tell the story of Marie Joseph Angelique, an enslaved African woman who was tortured and hanged in Montreal in 1734. On June 4, 1734 Judge Pierre Raimbault handed down his sentence, "MARIE-JOSEPH ANGELIQUE, negress, slave woman of Thérèse de Couagne, widow of the late François Poulin de Francheville, you are condemned to die, to make honourable amends, to have your hand cut off, be burned alive, and your ashes cast to the winds."

Other examples of the abuse of enslaved African women in Canada include the story of Chloe Cooley who is responsible for the acclamation that John Graves Simcoe receives on the first weekend of August. When we celebrate Simcoe day we need to also remember Chloe Cooley whose valiant struggle to gain her freedom led to Simcoe’s effort to limit slavery in Upper Canada in 1793. On Wednesday, March 21st, 1793 Peter Martin appeared before members of the Executive Council. Present were Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe, Chief Justice William Osgoode and Hon. Peter Russell, a prominent citizen who owned slaves. Martin informed the Council that a violent outrage had occurred to an enslaved African woman named Chloe Cooley. Peter Martin was one of those few free Africans who lived in Ontario. Martin had witnessed a resident of Queenston named William Vrooman, who owned Chloe Cooley trying sell her to someone in New York State. When she resisted leaving the province (and she resisted, she fought, she screamed, it took three white men armed with ropes to get her into that boat) Vrooman forcibly transported her across the Niagara River to her new owner. Martin said he knew of other enslaved Africans who had suffered a similar fate and he reported hearing that several other slave owners in the area intended doing the same thing with their slaves. Simcoe resolved that steps would be taken immediately to prevent further acts of this nature. Council directed the attorney general to prosecute the man who had sold Chloe Cooley, however, Simcoe and his Attorney General, John White, knew that under the existing law Vrooman was acting within his rights and could not be prosecuted. This is not surprising because Peter Russell who became Lieutenant Governor when Simcoe returned to England has an ad in a Toronto newspaper dated February 10, 1806 where he advertises for sale a woman named Peggy and her son Jupiter. What the ad does not say is that even though Russell and his sister Elizabeth own Peggy, she is married to a free African man Mr. Pompadour and has two young daughters. The law says that even though their father is a free man, Peggy’s three children belong to the Russells, so they can sell her and her three children. The history of enslaved people in Canada is documented at a free exhibit located at 880 Bay Street, Bay and Grosvener, until December 31st 2007.

Written in October 2007


Until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned; until the colour of a man's skin is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes; until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race; until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained; until all Africans stand and speak as free beings, equal in the eyes of all men, as they are in the eyes of Heaven; until that day, the African continent will not know peace. We Africans will fight, if necessary and we know that we shall win, as we are confident in the victory of good over evil.

Excerpt from His Imperial Majesty, Haile Selassie I’s address to the United Nations in October 1963 (used by Bob Marley in his 1973 song “War”)

When His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I spoke those now famous words immortalized in song by the Honourable Robert “Bob” Nesta Marley he was calling for world peace. We enter the year 2008 with some African nations destabilized by the machinations of greedy and unconscionable people who are not African but in many cases these non- Africans have manipulated and bolstered the regime of puppet leaders they have foisted on the people. These short sighted “leaders” do not seem to care that they are being used, as non- Africans loot and rape the resources of their countries in a manner reminiscent of years of the brutal slave trade when Africans were dragged out of the continent in shackles in the holds of filthy slave ships. The words of Selassie I still ring with confidence in our will to survive. We can take hope “that we shall win, as we are confident in the victory of good over evil.” As we enter this new year we can also take hope because our ancestors survived the middle passage and four hundred years of brutal enslavement. We are here as testament to their will to survive. During the year 2007 we commemorated the bicentenary of the abolition of the British Trans Atlantic slave trade. During the year of commemoration we were not surprised when the Canadian government ignored the bicentenary. We were not surprised that the British government tried to make the year a celebration of white so called abolitionists. We were ecstatic and proud when on March 27th in Westminster Abbey, our brother Toyin Agbetu called a halt to the British monarchy and government’s attempt to shirk their responsibility for the hundreds of years of brutal enslavement of Africans. He made them face their hypocrisy of celebrating their ancestors who had benefitted from the horrific slave trade as they refused to acknowledge the role that African freedom fighters played in the abolition of the slave trade. He was celebrated across the Pan-African world. Agbetu spoke out, in the spirit of freedom fighters like Nanny of the Maroons, Nana Yaa Asantewa of the Ashanti, Queen Nzingha of Angola and Kofi, Guyana’s National Hero who led the Berbice Revolution of 1763. During the year of commemoration our community in Toronto with the leadership of Dr. Afua Cooper and the members of the Committee to Commemorate and Memorialize the Abolition of the Slave Trade (CMAST) recognized the role of the freedom fighters of Haiti in the British decision to end the slave trade and eventually slavery.

On January 1st 1804, formerly enslaved Africans living and toiling under French brutality in Haiti surprised the European world by defeating the combined armies of the USA several European nations and seizing their freedom. They became the first group of enslaved Africans to successfully overthrow their European enslavers. They founded an independent African controlled nation after a 13 year war in which several European nations and the USA tried to keep them enslaved. From 1791 to 1804, the Africans in Haiti united to launch such a massive, brilliantly executed war of liberation that the armies of France, Spain, England and the United States of America failed to defeat them. The Europeans were desperate to prevent the Africans from gaining their freedom and taking possession of the island where they (the Africans) had toiled to make it one of the most prized and coveted European possessions. Haiti at that time was the most prosperous colonial possession of any European power. The unpaid coerced labour of enslaved Africans had made France the envy of Europe. Famous for its prosperous plantations, by 1750 Haiti (Saint-Domingue) was the largest sugar producer in the world. Coffee, cotton, indigo, cocoa and ebony were also grown with slave labour and added to the profits the French used to build their elegant and extravagant palaces, chateaus and townhouses in France. The lucrative sugar cane industry also helped to make France the envy of other white nations and Haiti became the target of warring colonizing nations (Spain, France and Britain) who fought to own and control this “Pearl of the Antilles.” The enslaved Africans had been subjected to horrific unspeakable acts of terror and torture as France filled its coffers at the expense of African lives. The enslaved Africans were worked to their physical limit, literally worked to death, quickly replaced by other African bodies that would, in turn, be worked to death in an endless cycle of violence to body and spirit. It was because of these horrific and barbaric conditions that the Africans planned and executed the revolution which ended in success on January 1st 1804.

The government of the United States of America, in 1804 the only other independent nation in this hemisphere and one of the most notorious of the slave owning countries, refused to recognize the new nation of Haiti believing that recognizing Haiti's independence would threaten its own inhumane system of slavery. Regardless, the success of the Haitian revolution caused shock waves across the white world and was the beginning of the end of the enslavement of Africans. Fearing similar scenarios in their colonies, the British ended their Trans Atlantic slave trade in 1807 and the Americans in 1808. The end of the Trans Atlantic slave trade did not bring an immediate end to the enslavement of Africans in America, Canada or the Caribbean. Slavery in Canada ended on August 1st 1834, in the Caribbean on August 1, 1838 and in the USA on January 1st 1863.

We are free people because many of our ancestors never gave up the struggle to be free during four hundred years of brutal and horrific chattel slavery. We can never understand what they endured regardless of how many books we read about their experience as enslaved people. Sitting in a cramped seat during an 11 hour flight across the Atlantic I thought about what my ancestors endured in the filthy holds of slave ships (for weeks and sometimes months) to satisfy the greed of Europeans and realized that we have a duty to continue fighting white supremacy and racism wherever it rears it ugly head. We owe this to the memory of our ancestors and the future of our people. As we continue the battle for the right to have our children educated in African centred schools we must keep in mind the struggles our ancestors waged to ensure our future. We have a responsibility to secure the future of our children by any means necessary including the right to attend schools where they can thrive in a culturally appropriate environment. We must not be silenced.

In a 1944 book edited by African American historian and Pan-African activist Rayford W. Logan, Mary McLeod Bethune is quoted: "If we accept and acquiesce in the face of discrimination, we accept the responsibility ourselves and allow those responsible to salve their conscience by believing that they have our acceptance and concurrence. We should, therefore, protest openly everything...that smacks of discrimination or slander."
(Mary McLeod Bethune, African American educator and activist, 1875 - 1955)

NAKUMBUKA November 11

On Sunday, November 11, a group of Africans will gather at 20 Grosvenor Street (close to College and Yonge) to remember our ancestors who died during the 400 year European enslavement of Africans. There will be a procession from 20 Grosvenor Street to Queens Park where our ancestors, especially those who died resisting slavery will be recognised. Nakumbuka (Kiswahili for “I remember”) is the annual November 11th public remembrance ritual for the victims of the Maafa. It was the brainchild of Jomo Nkombe, a Tanzanian who lived in Toronto, Canada and pioneered the idea as a public ritual in 1990. His original idea was to remember the Africans who had been enslaved from East Africa but after meeting Africans in the Diaspora and learning about their ancestors who had been enslaved through the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, those victims were also included. Nkombe met Charles ‘Mende’ Roach who is a Canadian activist lawyer/jurist, and asked him to take the idea of Nakumbuka to the World Pan African Movement Conference which was held in Nigeria in 1992. At that conference it was resolved that the delegates at the World Pan African Conference would promote Nakumbuka to remember the Maafa in which millions of Africans died. Since 1992 Nakumbuka has been promoted in Nigeria by Naiwu Osahon of the World Pan African Movement. Baye Kes-Ba-Me-Ra and Adande Ima-Shema-Ra of the Pan African Associations of America who were attending the conference in 1992 returned to San Diego, California and established the Nakumbuka observance which was celebrated for the first time at San Diego State University, California on November 11, 1994. Trinidadian born Roach went to Kingston, Jamaica in 2003 and with Jamaican writer/educator Basil “Koosoonogo” Lopez, established the first Nakumbuka Ceremony at Mico College. Roach has also been the driving force behind the Nakumbuka observance in Toronto since the 1990’s.

Observing Nakumbuka reminds us that we can never afford to dismiss, minimize or simplify these past five hundred years of horror and devastation. It is a day to remember those Africans who died unknown except by the relatives who mourned them. We remember the countless Africans who were kidnapped and taken away from their families and friends on the continent who were never able to say goodbye and never saw their loved ones again. On this day Africans are urged to take time to read and talk with their friends and family, children of all ages about the Maafa and what we must do to prevent it from ever happening again. Those who do not know their history are at risk of having it repeated.

We have not found a way to bring psychological, emotional and spiritual closure to the trauma we have experienced in the last five hundred years. The Maafa has been the least discussed human tragedy in the past five hundred years even among African people, yet this period of time has stunted the growth of a continent, its people and its children of the Diaspora. The inability of its victims to freely and openly express their grief and speak about the trauma has made this tragedy even more horrific. There has hardly been any discussion of the negative effects of the Maafa on the social, economic and cultural evolution of the African continent and the people that it lost due to the genocidal nature of an emerging European Capitalism seeking free labour to build its empires. The European aggression against African people reached an apex of violence and brutality as centuries of the trade in human beings destroyed and erased the existence of villages, communities, empires, peoples, traditions, rituals, ceremonies, histories and languages. As a result of this barbarity it has been estimated that 60 to 90 million African lives were lost in the Middle Passage, on plantations in the Caribbean, North America, Central America and South America and households in European countries.

African people were worked to death for the sole purpose of increasing the wealth and domination of white skin people at the expense of Africa and her people. Untold numbers of Africans also perished under various types of white domination, oppression and terrorism including colonialism, neo-colonialism, apartheid, segregation and cultural assimilation. It has resulted in many Africans being lost and disconnected, denying their Africanness, hating themselves and those who look like them. They can only see themselves reflected through the eyes of people who despise them.

It is important that we know our history including our history on this continent where we live so that we are not doomed to repeat the tragedies or have them repeated. The stories of Africans who struggled to rise above the status to which they were relegated are numerous. So too are the stories of white people who were determined that Africans should remain in a subservient position. Prosperous African communities have incurred the envy of their white neighbours in Canada and the USA and the Africans have suffered physical violence including lynching. On November 10th 1898, an armed white mob of “Red Shirts” in Wilmington, North Carolina, murdered untold numbers of African Americans, forcing others to flee for their lives, their homes and businesses destroyed by the howling, covetous mob. Wilmington was North Carolina’s largest city in 1898 and was considered a shining example of African American achievement. African Americans owned numerous thriving businesses and real estate, they were also elected officials in city government. That could not be allowed to continue in a white supremacist culture. In a similar manner to the attacks on the African Canadian community of Shelburne, Nova Scotia in July 1784, the African American community of Tulsa, Oklahoma in June, 1921 and the African American community of Rosewood, Florida, in January 1923, the African American community of Wilmington, North Carolina was attacked and destroyed by its white neighbours on November 10th, 1898.

A 13-member “1898 Wilmington Race Riot Commission” reported to the North Carolina General Assembly in 2006 that “Unknown numbers of Blacks were killed in the conspiracy designed to end black political power and the progressive government in Wilmington and establish white supremacy and a control by a new government.” In a summary of the commission report it is also stated that “Blacks lost positions in government, in professional arenas and as skilled artisans. Black businesses and workers suffered economic decline.” On October 12th 2007 as part of the 64th Annual North Carolina NAACP State Convention at the Wilmington Hilton Riverside Hotel, hundreds of delegates attended a national NAACP “Symposium on the 1898 Wilmington Terrorist Attack.” Carolyn Coleman, national NAACP Board member, said in her speech; “The 1898 Wilmington terrorist attack provided a model and framework for white supremacy across the nation.”

During this year as we remember and commemorate the abolition of the British Trans-Atlantic slave trade we need to remember those of our ancestors who died resisting their enslavement. The significance of this year must not be allowed to deteriorate into a praisefest for white “abolitionists.” We must remember, recognize and praise our freedom fighters who sacrificed their lives for freedom. Nakumbuka, I remember, we all need to remember.

Written in November 2007

October is Women’s History Month in Canada

October is Women’s History Month in Canada. The observance of October as Women’s History Month in this country was officially recognized by the Federal government in 1992. Women’s History Month is usually about the recognition of white women given that October was chosen because of the “Persons Case.” The “Person's Case” involved five white women, all living in Alberta at the time, who launched a successful challenge to the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision to deny women the right to sit in the Canadian Senate. The British Privy Council, at the time the highest court of appeal for Canadians, reversed a Supreme Court of Canada decision in October 1929 to recognise white women as persons who could sit in the Canadian Senate. On October 18, 1929, white Canadian women became persons. If African Canadian women were recognized as “persons” in 1929, would Viola Desmond have been dragged out of a cinema in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia (November 8th, 1946) and arrested because she was sitting in the area reserved for white “persons?”
Surprisingly, this year the theme is “Celebrating Immigrant Women in Canada.” It will be interesting to see which immigrant women are officially celebrated during this month. There are numerous immigrant women in our community who do not get recognition for the work they do. My neighbour Brenda Pierre who immigrated to Canada from Trinidad in 1969 is one of the women I admire for the work she does in the St Jamestown community. Pierre comes by her enterprising spirit honestly as a descendant of enslaved Africans who escaped slavery by fighting on the side of the British during the war of 1812. Her ancestors Amphy and Bashana Jackson were part of a group of the Corps of Colonial Marines from the Chesapeake area who were given land in Moruga in 1816 in what became known as Fifth Company of the Company Villages. As a descendant of people who took the initiative to change their status from enslaved to free people, it is not surprising that in 1999 when Pierre observed that our children in St Jamestown needed help she organized and facilitated the Children First Youth Educational Program. Volunteering five days a week during the school year from 3:30 to 7:00 p.m in the basement of an apartment building Pierre offers much needed academic support to a group of children from kindergarten to grade 8. Some children begin the program hardly able to read and within a short time they are reading fluently and confidently. Pierre also volunteers her time during the summer to ensure that there is a support program for the neighbourhood children which was especially valued this year since the provincial government did not fund a summer school program. With no sustainable funding, merely sporadic donations of books, pencils etc. from various sources, this amazingly enterprising woman has kept the Children First Youth Educational Program going for eight years.

Brenda Pierre is an example of African women who have been immigrating to Canada since the 18th century. Enslaved African women brought to Canada as chattel are not immigrants since they did not choose to settle in Canada. Since the first arrivals in the 18th century, immigrant African women have made their contributions to Canadian life. We can look to the examples of pioneers like Rose Fortune, Mary Ann Shadd and Sylvia Stark, educators like Dr Afua Cooper, social justice and human rights activists like June Veecock and Sherona Hall.
Rose Fortune who is recognized as Canada’s first female police officer came to Canada as a member of the first wave of African immigrants. She was born in Virginia in 1774, into a family of enslaved Africans. The family seized their freedom by escaping to New York which was a free state. They immigrated to Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia in 1783 as members of the United Empire Loyalists. Like thousands of other enslaved Africans during the American Revolution, her parents supported the British who had promised freedom to enslaved Africans. Fortune also started a trucking service for ferry boat passengers transporting luggage to their homes or hotels. She died in 1864 at the age of 90 leaving the legacy of a leader and entrepreneur. The business enterprise that Rose Fortune started became a family business and thrived until the 1960s. A scholarship program has been established in her name by the Association of Black Law Enforcers. In 1984, one of her descendants, Daurene Lewis (elected in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia) became the first African woman mayor in North America.
In 1839, Sylvia Stark was born into an enslaved African family in Clay County, Missouri. In 1851 after her father bought the family’s freedom from their “owners” they left for California, a free state. In 1850 the California legislature passed laws that jeopardized the safety of free Africans in the state. Sylvia Estes had married Louis Stark in 1855 and the Estes and Stark family immigrated to Vancouver at the invitation of the Governor. In 1858 the African American community of California received a letter of invitation to immigrate from the Governor of Vancouver Island, Sir James Douglas (an African man born in British Guiana). Sylvia and her husband, Louis Stark with their family settled on Salt Spring Island in 1860. They were homesteaders who worked at making a home of the log cabin in which they lived and clearing the wilderness around their home for farming. As a pioneer woman, Sylvia Stark had to contend with wild animals (bears and cougars) stealing her livestock and the backbreaking work neccesary to survive as a farmer during the early settlement of B.C. She also served her community as a midwife. She died in 1944 at age 106 and her life is recognised as an important part of B.C history.
Mary Ann Shadd is a famous African woman born in Wilmington, Delaware in 1823 who immigrated to Canada when the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 made life dangerous for free Africans in the USA. In 1853 she became North America’s first female newspaper editor when she began the Provincial Freeman newspaper in Windsor, Ontario. The following year she moved her newspaper to King Street in Toronto, then eventually to Chatham, Ontario where it was published until 1859. The Provincial Freeman was considered militant because Shadd did not pull any punches in her condemnation of slavery and racism.
Dr Afua Cooper who immigrated from Jamaica in 1980 has brought African Canadian history into the 21st century and the consciousness of Canadians. The exhibit at 880 Bay Street (Bay and Grosvenor) is a testament to the meticulous research skills of Dr Cooper. The exhibit is free and the community is invited to visit and hear Dr Cooper speak about the history of Africans in Canada. Visitors are usually awed by her knowledge of the mostly hidden history of Africans in this country we call home. Dr Cooper is the author of “The Hanging of Angelique” where she has documented (after 15 years of research) the life story of Marie Joseph Angelique, an enslaved African woman who was hanged in Montreal in 1734.

Other African women who immigrated to Canada during the 20th century include June Veecock who immigrated from Guyana in 1967. Veecock, an anti-racism activist and Human Rights advocate is also recognized in the labour movement for her groundbreaking work as a trade unionist. She was the first woman from a racialized community to work for a central labour organization in a senior position when she became Director of Human Rights for the Ontario Federation of Labour in 1986. As Director of Human Rights she was responsible for the Ontario Federation of Labour’s Anti-racism and Equity programs. Veecock is a founding member of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, Ontario, Canada chapter and was instrumental in securing charter status from the parent body. Veecock has proven herself to be a fearless and savvy advocate. Our sister Sherona Hall who transitioned in December 2006, was an activist involved in several social justice campaigns in Jamaica, Canada and the African continent. She was a veteran of the anti-apartheid movement, a founding member of the Black Action Defense Committee and was very involved in supporting our youth who live in Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) buildings across the city. Hall is one of the women in our community who did not receive the recognition she deserved for her tireless advocacy and activism. These are some of the immigrant women who need to be recognized during this month, Women’s History Month.

Garrett Augustus Morgan

On July 25th 1916, African American inventor Garrett Augustus Morgan made history when he used his invention to save the lives of city of Cleveland workers trapped underground and exposed to toxic fumes. The disaster was caused by the lack of proper safety measures at the Cleveland Water Works Department. An existing tunnel which had been built in 1856 in Lake Erie to deal with the city’s contaminated water supply, needed to be expanded. In 1856 Cleveland’s city leaders had authorized the construction of the water tunnel, to extend 300 feet into the lake, water would be pumped through the tunnel to a Reservoir to supply safe drinking water. In 1914 a decision was made to extend the 1856 tunnel an additional 20,000 feet into the lake. On the evening of July 24th, 1916, night shift workers entered the work elevator, which would carry them to a 10 foot wide pipe 120 feet below the surface of the lake. There had been problems with the air quality in the shaft the previous day. Work had been suspended because of the presence of highly explosive methane gas and the workers of the day shift on July 24th had left off digging after only five hours. By the night shift’s turn, it was believed that the gas had dissipated and that it was safe for the next shift to continue working. At 9:40 p.m. there was an explosion and smoke billowed out of the tunnel. A rescue party was organized but they were overcome by gas fumes and within minutes they were unconscious. The next group of would be rescuers wrapped their heads in wet towels but were useless and had to leave almost overcome by gas. After the unsuccessful attempts at rescue, the authorities contacted Garrett Morgan at approximately 3:00 a.m on July 25th. They requested that he take his invention (the gas mask) to the scene of the explosion to join the rescue efforts. Morgan contacted his brother Frank Morgan and they gathered the equipment they needed.

The Morgan brothers were taken to the scene of the explosion on the tug, the George A. Wallace. They were accompanied by fire fighters and Mayor Harry L. Davis.

Morgan was born in Paris, Kentucky in 1877 and left home when he was 14. Although he only had a sixth grade education, he was determined to improve his life through education. He taught himself to repair sewing machines and worked with a number of companies before opening his own business specializing in sewing machine sales and repair in 1907. He used some of the money he made, to hire a tutor to improve his education.

In 1913, Morgan had applied for a patent of a “gas safety hood.” When the patent was granted in 1914, he established the National Safety Device Company. By 1915, Morgan had been awarded a government contract to supply safety hoods to U.S. naval vessels.

When they arrived at the scene of the disaster, Morgan and his brother went down into the tunnel, wearing their safety masks and rescued several people. His photograph appeared on the front pages of the Cleveland newspapers. In spite of his heroic efforts which saved the lives of many, he was identified by name in only one newspaper article. “G. A. Morgan was in charge of a party from the National Safety Device Co., 5204 Harlem Avenue, S.E.” The other newspapers named two white men as the heroes of the rescue effort. The two white men, Thomas J. Clancy and Thomas Castleberry were recognized as “heroes” and received medals and reward of $500 by the Carnegie Commission. Mayor Harry L. Davis, who had traveled with Morgan and his brother on the tug George A. Wallace to the site of the explosion on July 25th and had witnessed Morgan’s brave rescue of several men, refused to recommend Morgan for the Carnegie Commission’s medal and award.

Even at the hearing held to investigate the cause of the disaster, neither Morgan nor his brother was called to testify. In October, 1917, Morgan wrote a letter to Mayor Davis demanding an explanation. The letter reads in part; “I am interested in knowing why it was that you and your Director of Law, Mr. Fitzgerald, would not permit me to testify at the investigation of the disaster; when you knew and was an eyewitness to the fact that I positively lead the first successful rescue party that entered the tunnel and came out alive, bringing with me dead and alive bodies, among them Supt. Van Dusen. Why was it you remained silent and allowed awards [to be given] to men who either followed me into the tunnel, or if they went in at all, went in after my return in your presence with dead and alive bodies, when I returned you congratulated me and told me you would see that I was treated fairly and would be commended for my bravery. You also knew that the police, firemen and lifesavers had worked nearly all night without success and that they looked upon my effort as a last hope of saving persons imprisoned in the tunnel.” Although Morgan was treated unfairly by the city he did receive recognition and awards from other organizations including the NAACP.

In 1929, Morgan’s brother Frank was experiencing episodes of ill health and Morgan applied to the city of Cleveland for a pension of $25,000.00 in recognition of their heroism at the time of the Water Works disaster. Thomas J. Clancy, one of the white men who had received the Carnegie Commission’s “hero award” was called upon to testify before the City Council at the time. In his testimony he said, “Morgan was not an outstanding figure in the rescue as he claims to be and did not arrive until about 8 a.m., nearly 12 hours after the explosion and after I and others had made six or eight trips into the submarine chambers of death.” Clancy omitted the fact that no rescue attempt that morning was successful before the arrival of the Morgan brothers with their “gas masks.” In spite of all the eyewitnesses to the part that the Morgan brothers played during the Waterworks disaster, their role was negated because of racism.

Morgan’s invention which was used during the rescue operations at the Water Works disaster scene on July 25th, 1916 was also used by American military during the first world war and is the prototype of the gas masks used by firefighters today. Morgan also invented the first stoplight to use a caution signal between red and green lights. In 1923, he sold his patent to the General Electric Company for $40,000. A few months later, several traffic lights based on Morgan’s invention were installed along Euclid Avenue in downtown Cleveland. None of the newspaper articles written about this wonderful invention being used to save lives, even mentioned Morgan. In 1923, a refined model of his gas mask won a gold medal at the International Exposition of Sanitation and Safety, and another gold medal from the International Association of Fire Chiefs.

Morgan died on July 27, 1963, just a few days after the forty-seventh anniversary of the Waterworks Disaster. He is buried at Lakeview Cemetery in Cleveland, his papers are part of the collection of the Western Reserve Historical Society. The passage of time has seen the recognition of the heroism and contributions of this great African American inventor.


A recent “letter to the editor” supposedly written by an East African male was published in one of the white newspapers. The writer was lamenting the fact that he did not “look black” and expressed concern that students with a similar “look” might be mistaken for white and denied admission to a “black school.” The writer of this letter used this as one of his objections to the establishment of “black schools” in Toronto. It is not surprising that this misguided soul wrote such a letter. This mental attitude is partly the result of the manner in which the white media and some others have been framing our community’s push to establish African centred schools as a means of correcting the negative effect of white, European centred education on many of our children. The framing of African centred schools as “schools based on skin colour” has caught the attention of many people, who not knowing the facts have entered the fray, condemning such “segregation.” These schools are not about “segregation” but about saving those of our children whose lives are being ruined by the gross neglect of the education system. “Segregation” was forced on Africans when they were relegated to ill equipped and underfunded schools. Our community has been advocating for African centred schools to assist in addressing the overwhelming numbers of our children who are not thriving in the present system. Over the years there have been studies done, reports written complete with recommendations that the present education system is not working for some of our children. There have been alarming statistics quoted about the amount of African Canadian youth who have left school without the education necessary even to work at entry level positions at any company. Some of these young people have been pushed out of school through the racial profiling “Safe Schools Act.” This Act gave many of the white supremacists who work in the education system carte blanche to exercise their hatred and bigotry. Many of our children have disengaged from the education system when subjected to the rabid anti-African racism that can exist in the schools.

Some of these children who have disengaged from the system are among our most intelligent and brightest minds who when not seeing themselves represented in a positive manner in the curriculum sometimes lose interest, become bored and “act out.” When white students “act out” it is usually recognized that they need support which they receive. If African Canadian students “act out” they are punished severely by different means but with the same result. Whether they are suspended or expelled, they are denied an education. White students can be sure that they will learn about the contributions, achievements and history of white people whether they are studying language, social sciences, mathematics etc. History, for instance is taught from a Eurocentric point of view, to all students in the education system. This is presented as history, not white history but white people are at the centre, it is all about their lives. White students have their sense of personhood affirmed. When our children are taught about the medieval times in Europe there is no balancing of the information with facts about African life during that period. They are given elaborate social studies units about Europe and nothing about the great African empires that thrived in West Africa during that period. Some children cannot fathom that Africans lived in well ordered, wealthy, societies with well established social welfare systems and centres of learning including the Sankore University at Timbuktu, Mali which was built in 989. Around the 12th century, the University had an attendance of 25,000 students in a city with a population of 100,000 people. The Sankore University is still standing today and there is a campaign to preserve the ancient manuscripts which includes subjects as varied as mathematics, chemistry, physics, geography, astronomy and medicine. It is hardly surprising that no provincial government has ever allocated stable, sustainable funding for the African Heritage Black Cultural Program. The thought of confident young African Canadians, knowledgeable about who they are, ready to compete in the job market seems to strike fear in the hearts of some members of this society.

Why is this such a threatening concept? Could it be that they are afraid that the spectre of the criminal with dark skin will be eroded over time? After all racial profiling has its roots in the myth that was carefully constructed after slavery as a means of controlling African bodies by criminalizing the colour of our skin. Those carefully constructed myths about who is a criminal and deserving of punishment, affect our lives to this day. A rich white woman steals trousers from a department store, when the incident is made public, her rich and powerful white husband threatens bodily harm, even death to the person he believes has made her criminal act public. The white media actually were very kind to her, framing her criminal act as the result of pressures in her life. Imagine the pressures in the life of any racialized woman living in poverty, raising children on a very limited budget and how she would have been portrayed. Compare the consequences for the criminal act of the rich white woman who stole trousers (April 1999) to that of an African man who was accused of stealing baby formula a few months later (September 1999). She was not prosecuted; the African man died after being handcuffed from behind and held face down on the sidewalk by three security guards even after he complained that he could not breathe.

In spite of the naysayers we will have African centred schools in Toronto. Harriet Tubman is credited with this quote “I freed a thousand slaves I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.” Many of us are still in that condition today. The myth must be debunked that African centred schools will be exclusively for black/African children. The myth must be debunked that all African/black children will be forced to attend these schools. Students regardless of their “look” will have an opportunity if that is their parents’ choice, to attend an African centred school because these schools will be public schools.

As a community we will need to be vigilant about the issue of sabotage. We have waited patiently for too long to allow anyone to sabotage these schools and set them up for failure. In the 1990s the school board established an “alternative” African centred program housed in a room at a Toronto secondary school. The program was taught by a brilliant, energetic and enthusiastic young African Canadian and an equally enthusiastic and qualified assistant (Child and Youth Worker) who were not given the support to make this program a success. Students who needed remedial reading and mathematics support were routinely sent to the program which was not a remedial program, not a program for students who needed help with behavioural issues. It was a program that was supposed to give students a grounding in their history and culture at an academic level that would afford them an opportunity to access post secondary education if that was their ambition. Spending much time dealing with needy students who had been failed by the education system and in some cases could not work to the level expected for them to achieve success in the program took its toll and the teacher moved on. Successive teachers shared the same fate, until frustrated they eventually moved on also and the program was transferred to another school in a different area of the city where its fate is uncertain. We need to be vigilant to prevent a similar fate to the much anticipated African centred schools. When our children need help with reading, writing, mathematics etc. we must demand that those services/supports are provided and not allow that to detract from our goal of providing safe, nurturing, supportive, African centred environments for those of our children who attend African centred schools.

Written in November 2007