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)