Wednesday, January 20, 2010


The end of 2009 and also the end of the first decade of the 21st century. Wow! I have to take a deep breath, exhale slowly and think about what we have lived through since December 31st 1999. Some events brought great joy and some were horrendous and traumatic but they are mostly in the past, history and merely memories. However as African American singer and song writer Johnny Bristol sang in his popular 1974 song: Memories don’t leave like people do, they always stay with you. Whether they’ve been good or bad, they’re never something that you had.

The first day of 2000 was horrendous and traumatic as just minutes after midnight on December 31, 1999/January1, 2000, Henry Hidaya Masuka, a young African Canadian father was gunned down by police at St Michael’s hospital. Masuka had taken his infant son who had reportedly suffered an asthma attack at home and when the promised medical aid failed to arrive at the family’s home, the 26 year old concerned father took his three month old baby to the emergency department of St Michael’s hospital. As the fireworks celebrating the New Millennium exploded so did the head and chest of the 26 year old Masuka when Toronto police (at least 10 members of the Emergency Task Force were present) opened fire on the young father. The three month old baby witnessed police killing his father but of course could not give evidence at the subsequent inquiry.

Greeted by that news on the first day of the New Millennium was traumatic especially after the anxiety of waiting for the non-existent Y2K disaster. Already in the throes of the Mike Harris Conservative government and their Commonsense Revolution the year did not get any better after our neighbours to the south had George Bush foisted on them. Bush was sworn in as president on January 20, 2001 after a month-long controversial vote recount in Florida that ended with the U.S. Presidency being awarded to Bush by an officially sanctioned 537 votes. Eight months later on September 11th 2001, I arrived at work to witness the surprising sight of staff and students huddled around a television set watching what I thought was a movie, only to discover that they were watching the destruction of the World Trade Centre. The fall out of which affected the world but especially us here in Canada because of our close proximity to the USA. Former Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau reportedly said to the Press Club in Washington, D.C. on March 25, 1969: Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt. The paranoia that gripped the USA resulted in Bush being given carte blanche by Americans to attack other nations under false pretences sanctioned by Canada and other developed nations. The Weapons of Mass Destruction were a figment of Bush’s overactive imagination but American lives are still being lost in the bogus war on terror in Iraq. On October 7, 2001 Afghanistan was invaded and we are entering the new decade 2010 as Canadian lives continue to be squandered in Afghanistan.
Some of the not so great events of the past decade that touched my family, friends and community may not have had international recognition but did span several continents. We said goodbye to a warrior sister who transitioned on December 30, 2006. Sister Sherona Hall was a social justice activist whose work spanned from her birthplace (Jamaica) across the Caribbean, North America and the African Continent. Our sister was a champion for the marginalized and the voiceless of all races and faiths. The accolades continue even three years after she transitioned and there are community plans to honour her memory in a very significant way.

My family was devastated when my brother Ras Kelly (the fifth of my parents’ nine children) transitioned in Rome, Italy on December 4, 2007. My brother and his family had left Canada for Italy in 2003 and that was the last time we had seen him alive. In the midst of commemorating the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the British slave trade I left Toronto and arrived in Rome in December 2007 just in time to say a final goodbye to my brother. Looking at that beautiful face that I had known for little more than forty years was traumatic especially when I knew that if one of the people who hurried by him as he collapsed at the busy Stazione di Roma Termini in Italy’s capital had stopped to call for help he would quite possibly be alive today. We still wonder what could have caused a young healthy man (a Boboshanti Rasta who was very particular about diet and exercise) to collapse of a massive heart attack. My brother was an intelligent, educated, lavishly handsome man with such a peaceful and beautiful spirit that he easily made friends wherever he lived (I met the members of the Rasta community and friends who had become his family in Rome) and it was extremely difficult to come to terms with the manner of his passing.

There were other disasters and losses during the past decade including the New Orleans disaster when the levies broke and African Americans were shamefully neglected by the Bush administration. My soul mate Isaac Hayes transitioned on August 10, 2008. I admit we never met, but I could have sworn that when he sang Come live with me it was a personal invitation. However I had to refuse because I did not hear any sense of long term commitment and my overprotective family members would have been up in arms if I had accepted the invitation.

As I look back I have to count my blessings because the past decade has not been all doom and gloom. I am fortunate to have lived in a time when an African American with an African name was elected President of the USA, a country where Africans were enslaved for centuries, suffered horrendous brutality and inhumane treatment. It was so satisfying to watch the inauguration and witness an African American woman, the descendant of enslaved Africans, getting ready to live in the White House (built by enslaved Africans) as First Lady. During the past decade I also experienced the overwhelming joy of seeing and holding the child of my child and I enter 2010 with three gorgeous grandchildren.


Over the course of the past decade, Canada's leading officials and most prestigious commentators have learned how to approach Haiti in the spirit of cynical power politics and racist condescension (or worse) while maintaining a posture of national self-flattery. With attention again riveted on Haiti following the horrific tragedy inflicted by Tuesday's earthquake, this ugly mixture is once again on display. The need for emergency aid is, without question, urgent. But established patterns of "help" for Haiti need to be overcome if the destructive impact of this catastrophe is to be somehow limited.

From the article: Relief Efforts in the Shadow of Past "Help": Moving from crimes-as-charity to actual support for Haiti by Dan Freeman-Maloy

For the past 10 days since January 12th we have been inundated with heartbreaking images of a devastated Haiti, the result of a massive earthquake. The lurid headlines and many skewed articles about Haiti and Haitians in the white newspapers are not surprising given the history of Haiti. The Globe and Mail in its January 13th editorial described Haiti as the "basket case of the Western hemisphere." Haiti was once known to the international white community as the “pearl of the Antilles” when the labour of enslaved Africans provided untold wealth for France and the French. Since the Africans in Haiti successfully seized their freedom and declared their home a free Republic (January 1, 1804) the international white community has never forgiven them. It has been more than 200 years since the Africans in Haiti overthrew the sadistic French plantation owners and slave holders and defeated the French army.

Haiti’s history as recorded by the Europeans who invaded, settled and colonized the island began on December 24, 1492 when Christopher Columbus having lost his way attempting to reach India, stumbled upon the island Ayiti, home of the Taino. Although he found people on the island, Columbus claimed the island for Spain, renaming it La Isla Española (Hispaniola.) Many scientists believe that the Taino were living on the island since around 5000 BCE. There were five caciquats (kingdoms) on the island; Magua, Marien, Xaragua, Maguana and Higuey governed by a cacique and a council of elders called the Nytaino. It is estimated that when Columbus landed on Ayiti the Taino population was close to a million. Within 50 years of the arrival of Columbus and his cut-throat crew the Taino population was almost extinct. Apart from infecting the native population of the island with European diseases including smallpox and tuberculosis to which they had no immunity, the bloodthirsty and covetous Spaniards, slaughtered, enslaved and worked the Taino people to death in their quest for gold.

There was Taino resistance including the Battle of Santo Cerro in 1495 and the resistance of the famous Taino warrior Anacaona, queen of Xaragua who was murdered by the Spanish in 1503. In A Voyage long and strange: rediscovering the new world published in 2008, Tony Horwitz writes: “In 1503, Anacaona called together eighty of her principal subjects to entertain Hispaniola’s Spanish governor. After three days of dancing, feasting and games he ordered his men to surround a building where the Taino leaders had gathered. The governor had heard rumours of an impending revolt, and was determined to crush Taino resistance once and for all. The Spanish set fire to the place burning alive everyone inside. Queen Anacaona was hanged.”

After decimating the indigenous population the Spanish resorted to enslaving and transporting Africans to provide free labour in their mines and on their plantations. Beginning in 1501 the Spanish brought Africans to provide free labour on Hispaniola (modern day Dominican Republic and Haiti.) The Africans were taken from the great African empires of West and Central Africa including Mali, Songhai, Kanem-Bornu, Ghana, Angola, Benin and Kongo. Many of these Africans were skilled trades people and farmers and their knowledge and labour were exploited to enrich the Spanish and later the French who began to settle on the island in the early 1600s and gained control of the western part of the island in 1697 with the signing of the Treaty of Ryswick. The French named their part of the island Saint-Domingue; where the enslaved Africans grew sugar, coffee, cotton, indigo and cocoa on 8,500 plantations. By 1789 approximately 4,100 ships were registered leaving and entering the ports of the French colony carrying the fruits of the labour of the enslaved Africans to Normandy, Bordeaux, Marseilles, Dieppe and Orleans in France. Two-thirds of the French colonial wealth, estimated at 400 million francs in the late 1780s, came from the free labour provided by enslaved Africans on Saint-Domingue (Haiti.)

Ironically, today Haiti is considered the poorest country in the western hemisphere and we need to know the history of why that has happened. In his 1973 published book How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, Guyanese scholar Walter Rodney includes a quote from a presentation made in 1791 by Cardinal Maury, a member of the French National Assembly:

If you were to lose each year more than 200 million livres that you now get from your colonies; if you had not the exclusive trade with your colonies lo feed your manufactures, lo maintain your navy, lo keep your agriculture going, lo repay for your imports, lo provide for your luxury needs, lo advantageously balance your trade with Europe and Asia, then I say it clearly, the kingdom would be irretrievably lost.’

Bishop Maury (of France): Argument against France’s ending the slave trade and giving freedom to its slave colonies. Presented in the French National Assembly, 1791.

With the devastation of the capital of Haiti by an earthquake and the subsequent media feeding frenzy which morbidly concentrates on the poverty of the Africans living in Haiti, they have lost sight of the role that Europe and Europeans including those living in the USA and Canada have played in the state of Haiti today.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


The United States was said not to be ready to elect a Catholic to the Presidency when Al Smith ran in the 1920's. But Smith's nomination may have helped pave the way for the successful campaign John F. Kennedy waged in 1960. Who can tell? What I hope most is that now there will be others who will feel themselves as capable of running for high political office as any wealthy, good-looking white male.

Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm (1924-2005)

On January 25, 1972, when Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm formally announced that she would seek the Democratic presidential nomination, she was paving the way for Jesse Jackson in 1984, Carol Moseley Braun and Al Sharpton in 2004 and now Barack Obama in 2008. Barack Obama seems to stand a chance of becoming president of the United States of America even though he is not a “wealthy, good-looking white male” because of Shirley Chisholm’s foresight, sense of pride and confidence. In the public address following her announcement to seek the Democratic presidential nomination Chisholm said, "I stand before you today as a candidate for the Democratic nomination for the Presidency of the United States. I am not the candidate of black America, although I am black and proud. I am not the candidate of the women's movement of this country, although I am a woman, and I am equally proud of that. I am not the candidate of any political bosses or special interests. I am the candidate of the people." In her book “The Good Fight” published in 1973, Chisholm wrote: “In this country everybody is supposed to be able to run for President, but that's never been really true. I ran because most people think the country is not ready for a black candidate, not ready for a woman candidate. The next time a woman runs, or a black (person), a Jew or anyone from a group that the country is 'not ready' to elect to its highest office, I believe he or she will be taken seriously from the start. The door is not open yet, but it is ajar." If the African American contender, Obama was not taken seriously when he entered the race he is definitely being taken seriously now, especially since the Iowa state upset.

Shirley Anita St. Hill was born in Brooklyn, New York on November 30th 1924. Her father was Guyanese and her mother Barbadian and as immigrants to the USA faced some financial hardship which prompted them to send their children to Barbados. In 1927, the St. Hill children were sent to Barbados to live with their maternal grandmother and returned to live with their parents in Brooklyn seven years later. When Chisholm became a politician, her parents being immigrants was an issue for some African Americans who thought that she was not “black” enough. Obama whose father was Kenyan has faced similar challenges from some sections of the African American community. An article written by a “black American” defines being black in America as someone who is the descendant of enslaved West Africans in America (she even excluded people who immigrated from the Caribbean). The esteemed journalist and author who has written articles and books about “blackness” appeared on a television program where she defined Obama’s status in America as an “African African American.” Not surprisingly the white host of the television show made her theory the brunt of his jokes for the few minutes she appeared on the show. Enslaved Africans were not only taken from West Africa, many of us in the Diaspora, including the USA have ancestors who were from the Congo, Angola and many other places on the continent. The first enslaved African whose presence in Canada is documented was a six year old child (who was given the name Olivier Le Jeune) kidnapped from Madagascar and sold in Canada in 1628. The trading (selling and buying) of kidnapped Africans taken anywhere, whether it was the Caribbean, South America, Central or North America and even Europe makes it nonsensical for anyone to declare that to be “black” in the USA one has to be a descendant of enslaved West Africans.

Like Obama, Chisholm was 47 years old when she sought the nomination of the Democratic Party in her bid to become president of the USA. They were both virtually ignored by the established African American organizations and some of the people who are considered leaders of the African American community. In Obama’s case some of those “leaders” are supporting Hilary Clinton and one was brazen enough to claim that Bill Clinton has as much claim to being “black” as Obama. The elderly African American leader reportedly said; "Bill is every bit as black as Barack. He's probably gone with more black women than Barack.” What a shame that Bill Clinton is being given “black” status in 2008 by an elder in the African American community based on how many African American women he may have “gone with.” One would think that this kind of debasement of African American women which was rife during slavery would have no place in the conversation of a leader of the community in the 21st century. Since this comment was made there has been a deafening silence from the leaders of the community, even those who have been very vocal questioning Obama’s candidacy. Obama has proven that he is the better person and has not responded to the provocation.

Bill Clinton and by extension his wife may be considered “black” by some in the African American community because of some dubious criteria but those same people have either forgotten or have chosen to ignore some of the racist policies of the Clinton administration. A Justice Policy Institute study showed that through both of Clinton’s terms as President the rate of incarceration for African American men (which was 2,800 per 100,000 as Reagan left office) increased to 3,620 per 100,000. Clinton also adopted law-and-order rhetoric to pass laws that negatively impact on the lives of racialized people, “Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA). “The Effective Death Penalty Act” limits appeals in death penalty cases and expanded the number of crimes that could lead to a death penalty sentence. “The Anti-Terrorism Act,” the forerunner of Bush’s USA PATRIOT Act prohibits fundraising for vaguely defined "terrorist" organizations and made it easier for the American government to deport legal immigrants. The Clinton administration aggressively expanded their economic power globally at the expense of racialized people in developing countries by using free trade and international institutions like the World Trade Organization, World Bank and International Monetary Fund. During his 1992 campaign for the Democratic nomination, Clinton was quoted in the Miami Herald: "I think the president (George Bush) played racial politics with the Haitian refugees. I wouldn't be shipping those poor people back." After being elected President, Clinton said in a radio address to the Haitian people: "Those who do leave Haiti for the United States by boat will be stopped and directly returned by the United States Coast Guard."

While some of the elders in the community may consider the Clintons “black” some of the youth are aware of the hypocrisy and are not shy about speaking out. Author, activist rapper Sista Souljah speaking on the Today show said about Clinton. "I think he is like a lot of white politicians -- they eat soul food, they party with black women, they play the saxophone, but when it comes to domestic and foreign policy, they make the same decisions that are destruction, destructive to African people in this country and throughout the world."

As a presidential candidate, Chisholm had to file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission in order to participate in a televised debate with McGovern and Hubert Humphrey. Barack Obama did not have to file a complaint with the FCC to participate in debates with other presidential hopefuls because Shirley Chisholm won that fight more than thirty years ago. However, Obama and other African Americans were reminded that the door is still not wide open for an African American seeking the highest office in the USA and that the pre Civil Rights era has not disappeared. When she reacted to Obama’s victory in Iowa, Hilary Clinton proved that she knows she is not black and she is well aware of her power as a white woman in America. She proved that a white woman’s tears in the USA can still spell trouble for an African American man even if he does not end up as “strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.”


On January 1st 1863 when U.S. President Abraham Lincoln’s (written on 22nd September 1862) Emancipation proclamation became official it was not meant to free all enslaved Africans in America. The language of the proclamation specified freedom for all “slaves” residing in states that were considered rebel states by the federal government. The rebel states named in the proclamation were Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia. This Emancipation Proclamation did not apply to enslaved Africans who were toiling in states that were loyal to the Federal government. If the leaders of those ten states named in the Emancipation Proclamation had not rebelled against the Federal government, Lincoln would not have signed that proclamation and perhaps another generation of Africans in America may have had to endure the brutality of chattel slavery. All enslaved Africans in America were finally freed when the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was passed on December 18, 1865

On January 2nd, 1863, one day after Lincoln’s proclamation, a male child was born to Willis and Lucretia Williams, an enslaved African couple in Georgia. According to the Federal government, this child had been born free because he lived in one of the rebel states. So depending on whose laws are used, the maternal grandfather of Martin Luther King Jr. was the first of his (MLK’s) ancestors born in America who was a free person or he was the last to be born a “slave.” Adam Daniel Williams the maternal grandfather of Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 2nd 1863 in Penfield, Greene County, Georgia and lived until March 21st 1931.

Martin Luther King Jr. is recognized as one of the leaders of the modern Civil Rights movement. The third Monday of January is recognized by law in the USA as Martin Luther King Jr. Day or Martinsday. Martin Luther King Jr Day is recognized by many people internationally even though the country in which they live might not legally endorse the day. The stories of Dr. King’s non-violent response to the terrorism and violence of white southerners determined to deny African Americans equal rights, are legendary. King did not come by his oratorical skills, his activism, or his dedication to working for the freedom of his people, accidentally. His maternal great grandfather (Willis Williams) although born during the time Africans were enslaved in American, was a preacher to other enslaved Africans in Georgia. Following in the footsteps of his father, Adam Daniel Williams, (King’s grandfather) became a preacher also. He left Greene County, Georgia and traveled to Atlanta in 1893, 28 years after the abolition of slavery in the USA. When Williams arrived in Atlanta in 1893, he became a minister at Ebenezer Baptist church. The congregation of the church was 13 members strong. Using the pulpit to preach the gospel as well as collective work and responsibility and cooperative economics, the Reverend Williams increased the membership of Ebenezer Baptist church to 750 by 1913. Williams expanded his advocacy and activism in September 1895 when he became a delegate, joining two thousand other delegates who met at Atlanta's Friendship Baptist Church when three groups united to organize the National Baptist Convention of the United States of America, considered one of the largest African American religious organizations. In February 1906, A.D. Williams took the lead (in response to W. E. B. Du Bois' call for civil rights activism) by joining five hundred other African Americans in Georgia to form the Georgia Equal Rights League. In 1917, Williams became one of the founders of the Atlanta branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). On becoming the second president of the local chapter of the NAACP in 1918, he mobilized a voter registration campaign to register African American voters (a dangerous undertaking in 1918). The membership of the local NAACP grew to 1400 members within five months under his leadership. In a speech to the NAACP national convention the following year, he convinced the delegates to meet in Atlanta in 1920, the first national NAACP convention to meet in a Southern state. Williams’ activism and leadership led to the city eventually building the Booker T. Washington High School, a secondary school for African American students which Martin Luther King Jr. attended.

Given his ancestry, it is not surprising that Martin Luther King Jr. graduated from high school when he was 15 years old, an age when most students are entering their second year of secondary school. He graduated from Morehouse College at age 19 in 1948 (his grandfather A.D. Williams had attended Morehouse). Morehouse College, founded more than 140 years ago is one the many Historically Black Colleges and Universities that still exist today. It is unique in that the student body is all male and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is one of the many prominent African American men who have been educated at Morehouse. Black Enterprise Magazine has ranked Morehouse as the best school for African Americans for undergraduate study and its prestigious standing has led to its favourable comparison to Harvard. King came to national attention as the young minister of the Dexter Avenue Baptist church in Montgomery, Alabama who was elected leader of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA). As leader of the MIA, King was also leader of the Montgomery bus boycott which not only brought him international attention but endangered his life and the life of his family. King’s life work reflected the work of many of our ancestors who risked their lives for their community. King recognized the role of ancestors like the Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey as pioneers in the struggle for African human rights. In June 1965 he visited Garvey’s grave, laid a wreath and spoke of Garvey’s activism which gave Africans a "sense of personhood, a sense of manhood, a sense of somebodiness.” On December 10, 1968 King was the posthumous recipient of the first Marcus Garvey Prize for Human Rights issued by the Jamaican Government.

In the tradition of Garvey and other freedom fighters, King was harassed and even imprisoned for his work on behalf of his people. In the same tradition, he refused to be silenced. When he was imprisoned in Birmingham in April, 1963 he wrote his famous “Letter from a Birmingham jail” in response to criticism from a group of white religious leaders (Bishop C. C. J. Carpenter, Bishop Joseph A. Durick, Rabbi Hilton L. Grafman, Bishop Paul Hardin, Bishop Holan B. Harmon, the Reverend George M. Murray. the Reverend Edward V. Ramage and the Reverend Earl Stallings) who thought that African Americans should “wait” and not be in such a hurry to have their human rights recognized. Dr King’s letter to the group of white religious leaders detailed why African Americans could not continue to “wait.”

Dr. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968 while he was in Memphis Tennessee to support striking African American sanitation workers. His life ended while he was working to improve the lives of his people. On Monday, January 21st, America will observe a public holiday to celebrate the life of Dr. King. Many of us here in Canada will celebrate Dr. King’s life in various ways. We can all observe that day by reading some of his words, especially his thoughts on reparations. In his book, “Why we can’t wait” published in 1964, Dr. King writes; “No amount of gold could provide an adequate compensation for the exploitation and humiliation of the Negro in America down through the centuries. Yet a price can be placed on unpaid wages. The ancient common law has always provided a remedy for the appropriation of the labor of one human being by another. This law should be made to apply for American Negroes. The payment should be in the form of a massive program by the government of special, compensatory measures which could be regarded as a settlement in accordance with the accepted practice of common law.” Keep in mind that Africans were also enslaved in Canada.
Written January 2008


French philosopher Alain Finkielkraut unhappy with the manner in which the French colonization of Africa is being taught, expressed his dismay when he was interviewed for a newspaper article in November 2005. In this excerpt from that interview he said; “But in France, they’re actually changing the teaching of colonial history and the history of slavery in the schools. Now they teach colonial history as an exclusively negative history. We don’t teach anymore that the colonial project also sought to educate, to bring civilization to the savages. They only talk about it as an attempt at exploitation, domination and plunder.” His interview came on the heels of the youth protest which began on October 25th 2005 when two youth, Ziad Benna and Bouna Traore were electrocuted as they hid from police in an electric transformer. The two children were part of a group of youth being chased by police, terrified of being caught and brutalized, they hid in the transformer where they were electrocuted and burned to death. Like many racialized youth living in white dominated societies, they had fled at the sight of police. Racialised people living in any country where they are the target of overpolicing usually have a fear of police brutality because of their lived experience.

There have been long-standing tensions between the French mostly white police force and members of racialised communities mostly living in low income neighbourhoods. Many of the youth who protested are the children and grandchildren (most of them born in France) of the 5 million African and Arab immigrants in France who are warehoused in segregated neighbourhoods on the outskirts of major cities. This is a direct result of employees of low income housing agencies practicing segregation along racial lines when placing clients into public housing. Racism and police brutality are the norm in these communities and in a November 4th statement, the Movement Against Racism and for the Friendship of Peoples (MRAP) described their lived reality as a “territorial, ethnic and social apartheid.”

The protest in October and November of 2005 against racism, poverty and police brutality was sparked by the words of then Minister of the Interior, (now France’s President) Nicolas Sarkozy. Sarkozy, describing the racialized youth as "scum" had for several months beforehand been promising to "pressure clean" the largely racialized neighbourhoods with a "Kärcher," (a well-known brand of industrial-strength pressure-washer which is used to clean dog excrement off the streets). His words had already created an extremely toxic and explosive atmosphere and the deaths of the two youth triggered an outpouring of mass anger which led to thousands of disenfranchised young people pouring into the streets of more than 300 cities and towns across France to express their rage. The situation facing the affected communities in France today is a result of the French colonization of Africa.

On November 8th, 2005, the French government declared a state of emergency, invoking an April 3rd, 1955 law passed to oppress supporters of Algerian liberation from France. The “state of emergency” declaration in 2005 evoked memories of the October 17th, 1961, massacre of approximately 400 Algerians peacefully protesting in Paris. Hundreds of protesters were shot or beaten to death and their bodies dumped in the Seine River. Many demonstrators died when they were violently herded by police into the Seine River, with some thrown from bridges after being beaten unconscious. Other demonstrators were killed within the courtyard of the Paris police headquarters after being arrested and driven there in police buses. In 2005, Sarkozy’s referral to demonstrating youth as “scum” would have been a reminder of France’s brutal and barbaric response to the October 1961 protesters. The deaths of Ziad Benna and Bouna Traore ignited many pre-existing tensions. Protesters quoted in newspaper articles said that the protest was an expression of frustration with high unemployment and police harassment and brutality. Ten percent of French workers are unemployed, according to official statistics but for young people in the suburbs, largely populated by African immigrants, the rate is as high as 50 percent. Sarkozy promised to deport anyone rounded up by the police who might be involved in the protest movement. By November 12th, close to 2,500 people had been arrested, including 450 youths under 18 who were rushed through emergency juvenile court proceedings.

Two years later, speaking at the Cheik Anta Diop University in Dakar, Senegal on 26 July 2007, as France’s President, Sarkozy is quoted: “The problem of Africa, and allow a friend of Africa to say it, is to be found here. Africa’s challenge is to enter to a greater extent into history. Africa’s problem is to stop always repeating, always mulling over, to liberate itself from the myth of the eternal return. It is to realise that the golden age that Africa is forever recalling will not return because it has never existed.” He described the French who colonized Africa as; “men of goodwill, men who thought they were carrying out a civilizing mission...They thought they were bringing freedom. They thought they were breaking the chains of obscurantism, superstition and servitude.”

On Sunday, November 25th 2007 at 5:00 p.m. an eerily similar situation to the one in October 2005 occurred when two youth riding on a motorbike were hit by a police car and were left for dead. Some witnesses to the collision between the motorbike and police car say the officers left the scene without helping the victims. Larami Samoura, 16 and Moushin Souhelli, 15 were killed on November 25th, 2007. Media use of the term “involuntary homicide” infuriated residents of the area, many of whom were convinced the collision was deliberately provoked by the police. According to one newspaper report, the 16 year old had been threatened by police the previous week. As minister of the Interior in 2003, Sarkozy had championed a policy of permanently stationing riot police and mobile police divisions in neighbourhoods of largely racialized populations, capable of rapidly mobilizing great numbers of police to raid these poor neighbourhoods. With the openly racist policies of the government, racialized people in France have found themselves targeted by police. This racist trend in France is not surprising given the disrespect that the President of the country and influential figures like philosopher Alain Finkielkraut have openly expressed towards Africa and Africans.

It was into this white supremacist French society with its proven anti-African racism that a group of white men and women who had lied their way into communities in a North-Central African country, were planning to take 103 kidnapped African children. Chad, once colonized by France was the scene of this act of international terrorism with the attempted kidnapping in October 2007 of some of its most vulnerable citizens. The children aged between one and ten years old were covered in fake blood and bandages in an attempt to obscure their identity. When the children were rescued they were found to be severely traumatized, many of them weeping for their mothers. When the news of the capture of the kidnappers hit the French airwaves there were angry white people in France who had paid handsomely (between 2,800 and 8,400 euros) to lay claim to the African children.

Given the recent spate of white pedophiles roaming the globe in search of victims from developing countries it was not surprising that Idriss Déby, the Chadian president feared the children were in the hands of an international gang of pedophiles. The gang of white kidnappers included one Belgian, seven Spanish and nine French men and women. The Chadian government arrested the kidnappers but eventually allowed the seven Spaniards, the Belgian and three of the French people to leave the country. On November 4th, 2007 ten days after the October arrest, Sarkozy, Africa's "big friend" was in Chad to take seven of the gang of kidnappers home. On November 10th, six days later, four other members of the gang were allowed to leave Chad. The remaining six French people, apparently the masterminds of the kidnapping plot were tried, found guilty and sentenced to eight years hard labour. On Friday, December 28th, two days after the trial and sentencing, the six French kidnappers were back in France, courtesy of Sarkozy. Great concern was expressed about the health of the kidnappers who had spent two months in a Chadian jail. Not surprisingly, no one in France seemed to care about the trauma of the kidnapped children who have not yet been reunited with their families.

Written in January 2008


"For 40 years, the U.S. Public Health Service has conducted a study in which human guinea pigs, not given proper treatment, have died of syphilis and its side effects. The study was conducted to determine from autopsies what the disease does to the human body."

Excerpt from Jean Heller’s article published July 25th, 1972 in the Washington Star

An article published in the Washington Star on July 25, 1972 and written by Associated Press reporter Jean Heller outraged and horrified most Americans. The African American community was traumatized and the effects of the experiment are felt to this day. This experiment sanctioned by the American government and conducted on American citizens has been compared to the medical experiments in the Nazi death camps during the second world war. Incidentally, the medical experiments of the Nazi death camps were first conducted on the Herero people of Namibia from 1904 to 1908 in the German genocidal attacks against the Herero.

Bad Blood: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment written by white historian James Jones published in 1981documents the atrocity committed against African American families in Macon County, Alabama from 1932 to 1972. African American men infected with syphilis were used as guinea pigs in one of the most racist experiments documented. The men were “observed” for 40 years as they deteriorated, their wives became infected and their children were born with congenital syphilis. The white doctors knew that syphilis could cause blindness, mental illness and death. They knew that children born with congenital syphilis could be born with various deformities. During the 40 year experiment the men were never told that they were infected with syphilis so they did not know the risk to their wives and children. When publicity and public outrage forced a halt to the experiment in 1972, there were only 74 survivors of the horrific experiment.

Although it has been 36 years since the Tuskegee Experiment ended, the trauma persists into the 21st century where there are some African Americans who mistrust the entire medical establishment and are convinced that AIDS is a man-made disease created by their government with the “express purpose of killing off blacks.” The skepticism with which African Americans view the medical profession is legitimate as borne out by a 2002 report. In 2002, an Institute of Medicine (IOM) report requested by Congress listed more than 100 studies documenting a wide range of disparities in the nation's health care system. The report said that racialized people often receive a lower quality of health care than people of European descent, even when their income levels and medical insurance coverage are the same. One of the studies found that African Americans were far less trusting than whites of the medical establishment and of medical researchers in particular. African Americans were 79.2 percent more likely to believe that someone like them would be used as a guinea pig without his or her consent, versus 51.9 percent of the whites surveyed. This study also found that 62.8 percent of African Americans (versus 38.4 percent of whites) believe that physicians often prescribed medication as a way of experimenting on people without their consent.

In writing Bad Blood: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, Jones searched archives, reviewed medical reports, read the physicians' official letters (many with references to ''ignorant darkies'' and ''the Ethiopian population''.) Jones suggests that the Tuskegee Experiment was rooted in the Social Darwinism and pseudoscientific beliefs of white America through most of the 19th and early 20th centuries, that African Americans were an inferior people with large genitalia and small brains, being destroyed by freedom. Jones has been criticized for portraying the doctors (Dr. Taliaferro Clark, Dr. Oliver C. Wenger, Dr. Kario Von Pereira-Bailey, and Dr. Raymond H. Vonderlehr) involved in the experiment as ''liberals'' and ''reformers'' who had genuinely wanted to help African Americans. Reading the ''progress reports'' of racist doctors with very obviously white supremacist thinking makes it extremely difficult to agree with Jones’s characterization of the white doctors as “liberals” and “reformers.” In explaining why he chose Macon County as the site for the experiment Dr. Taliaferro Clark of the US Public Health Service wrote that the “rather low intelligence of the Negro population and the depressed economic conditions” made Macon County “a natural laboratory; a ready-made situation.” These “liberal, reformer” doctors watched African American men for 40 years as they suffered swollen glands, circulatory problems, paralysis, blindness and eventually death.

In 1973, the surviving victims of the experiment sued the government in a class action suit that was settled out of court in December 1974. "The plaintiffs agreed to drop further action in exchange for cash payment of $37,000 to every `living syphilitic' who was alive on July 23, 1973." On May 16th, 1997, the survivors of this reprehensible experiment and their families received an apology from President Bill Clinton. Clinton said in part: “To the survivors, to the wives and family members, the children and the grandchildren, I say what you know: No power on Earth can give you back the lives lost, the pain suffered, the years of internal torment and anguish. What was done cannot be undone. But we can end the silence. We can stop turning our heads away. We can look at you in the eye and finally say on behalf of the American people, what the United States government did was shameful, and I am sorry. The American people are sorry -- for the loss, for the years of hurt. You did nothing wrong, but you were grievously wronged. I apologize and I am sorry that this apology has been so long in coming.”

Not surprisingly, since Clinton’s apology there has been some effort to rationalize the Tuskegee Experiment. Tuskegee's Truths: Rethinking the Tuskegee Syphilis Study edited by Susan M. Reverby and published in 2000 contains some of those attempts. However, the Tuskegee experiment was just the most publicized in a long and continuing history of the American medical establishment using African-Americans as human guinea pigs. Harriet A. Washington documents that history in Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present, published in 2007. The documentation of the Tuskegee experiment is matched by the gruesome experiments that were carried out on enslaved African women.

In 1972, the federal government began requiring that hospitals, clinics, universities, and researchers who conducted experiments with human subjects submit the plans for their experiments to an Institutional Review Board (IRB). No experiment could begin until the IRB evaluated its design, agreed that the potential benefits to subjects outweighed potential risks, and concluded that subjects would be able to understand what they were agreeing to by consenting to participate. Harriet A.Washington, documents the continued medical exploitation of vulnerable Africans in America, including the 1998 New York State Psychiatric Institute and Columbia University drug experiments on 34, six to ten year old males to supposedly determine a genetic predisposition for 'disruptive behavior.' Dr. Clyde Kaiser was mistaken when he said to the 1969 Ad Hoc Committee to Consider the Tuskegee Study: "This is not a study that would be repeated now. The public conscience would not accept it."

Written in July 2008


I was called a terrorist yesterday, but when I came out of jail, many people embraced me, including my enemies, and that is what I normally tell other people who say those who are struggling for liberation in their country are terrorists. I tell them that I was also a terrorist yesterday, but, today, I am admired by the very people who said I was one.

Quote from Nelson Mandela on Larry King Live, May 16, 2000

Rolihlahla Mandela was born on July 18th, 1918 in Mvezo, a village in the Mtata district of South Africa. His parents were Gadla Mphakanyisawa, the chief of Mvezo and his wife Nosekeni. Mandela is a member of the Thembu people of the Xhosa nation. In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela details the history of his ancestry. That is something most Africans in the Diaspora cannot do because of the legacy of slavery. In Long Walk to Freedom he explains; “Each Xhosa belongs to a clan that traces its descent back to a specific forefather. I am a member of the Madiba clan, named after a Thembu chief who ruled in the Transkei in the eighteenth century. I am often addressed as Madiba, my clan name, a term of respect.”

When Mandela was an infant his father was stripped of his hereditary chieftainship by a white colonial magistrate. Chief Gadla Mphakanyisawa of Mvezo did not recognize the assumed power of the white interloper settlers in his country and he suffered for that principled stand. Refusing to accept that the magistrate representing the king of England had any legitimate power over him, he was charged with insubordination. In Long Walk to Freedom Mandela writes; “There was no inquiry or investigation; that was reserved for white civil servants. The magistrate simply deposed my father, thus ending the Mandela family chieftainship. My father who was a wealthy nobleman by the standards of his time, lost both his fortune and his title. He was deprived of most of his herd and land and the revenue that came with them.” His family was forced to move to Qunu, the village where Mandela spent his childhood.

Mandela was educated by his people before he entered the white supremacist school system when he was seven years old. He has written that the education he received was a British education, in which British ideas, British culture, British institutions, were automatically assumed to be superior. On his first day of school he was given the name “Nelson” to replace his African name, Rolihlahla. The education Mandela received in the British education system is obviously not the education which inspired him to become a leader in the African National Congress (ANC). The education he received from his community before he entered the education system came from his father who refused to abandon the traditions of his people. “My father remained aloof from Christianity and instead reserved his own faith for the great spirit of the Xhosas, Qamata, the God of his fathers.”

Mandela wrote about the influence of the stories his mother told him as well as the history of his people that he learned from an elder griot, Chief Joyi. “Chief Joyi railed against the white man, who he believed had deliberately sundered the Xhosa tribe, dividing brother from brother. The white man had told the Thembus that their true chief was the great white queen across the ocean and that they were her subjects. But the white queen brought nothing but misery and perfidy to the black people, and if she was a chief she was an evil chief. Chief Joyi's war stories and his indictment of the British made me feel angry and cheated, as though I had already been robbed of my own birthright. Chief Joyi said that the African people lived in relative peace until the coming of the abelungu, the white people, who arrived from across the sea with fire-breathing weapons. Once, he said, the Thembu, the Mpondo, the Xhosa, and the Zulu were all children of one father, and lived as brothers. The white man shattered the ubuntu, the fellowship, of the various tribes. The white man was hungry and greedy for land, and the black man shared the land with him as they shared the air and water; land was not for man to possess. But the white man took the land as you might seize another man's horse.” The queen referred to in Chief Joyi’s reminiscences was Victoria who ruled the British Empire, including the African countries that had been colonized, from 1837 to 1901.

In spite of the British education he received at the several schools he attended, Mandela was educated in the knowledge of his people’s system of governance partly through his father’s involvement with the Thembu royal family. “My father has sometimes been referred to as the prime minister of Thembuland during the reigns of Dalindyebo, the father of Sabata, who ruled in the early 1900s and that of his son, Jongintaba, who succeeded him. As a respected and valued counselor to both kings, he accompanied them on their travels and was usually to be found by their sides during important meetings with government officials. He was an acknowledged custodian of Xhosa history and it was partially for that reason that he was a valued adviser.”

Refusing to be contented living as a second class citizen in the country of his birth cost Mandela dearly. In his struggle to ensure the human and civil rights for Africans in South Africa, Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment on June 11 1964 where he remained until February 11th, 1990. He was not allowed to attend his mother’s funeral in 1968 or the funeral of his eldest son Thembekile who died in a car accident in 1969. Spending almost three decades in prison, Mandela may well have been forgotten by the world except that the amazing woman he had married shortly before being sentenced to life imprisonment would not allow that to happen. Mandela has acknowledged the role that Nomzamo “Winnie” Madikizela-Mandela played in the anti-apartheid struggle. “My former wife is a remarkable person whom I respect even today. She suffered a great deal and kept the name Mandela alive when I was in jail. She also looked after my children and played a very prominent role in the struggle.” In “Part of My Soul Went With Him” published in 1985, Madikizela-Mandela documented that struggle including the years of police brutality, false imprisonment and harassment by the white supremacist culture of the minority settler community of whites in South Africa.

Since Mandela’s release from prison and his election as South Africa’s first legitimate President, the world has celebrated his capacity for forgiveness and reconciliation. He has received accolades, honorary degrees and statues have been erected in his honour. A birthday celebration to recognize his 90th birthday was held at Hyde Park in London, England on Friday, June 27th. I wonder how many of those at the birthday party had once labelled Mandela a terrorist when he was fighting for the freedom of his people.
Written in July 2008


Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, fellow members of the motion picture industry and honoured guests: This is one of the happiest moments of my life, and I want to thank each one of you who had a part in selecting me for one of their awards, for your kindness. It has made me feel very, very humble; and I shall always hold it as a beacon for anything that I may be able to do in the future. I sincerely hope I shall always be a credit to my race and to the motion picture industry. My heart is too full to tell you just how I feel, and may I say thank you and God bless you."

Hattie McDaniel's Acceptance Speech delivered on February 29, 1940 at the 12th Annual Academy Awards.

Gone With the Wind, released in 1939, was the featured movie for two weeks (Tuesday, June 24th and Monday, June 30th) at the Yonge-Dundas Square. Hattie McDaniel, who won the Oscar in 1940 for Best Supporting Actress for her role of Mammy in Gone with the Wind, was the first African American to win an Academy Award. The Mammy character was one of the myths that white slaveholding Southerners used to rationalize their continued enslavement of Africans. It is not surprising that the first African American “honored” with an Oscar was someone who brought to life, in living colour, a stereotype of Africans which had been used to salve the conscience of white America during slavery. Mammy was the epitome of the contented, happy enslaved African woman. She grinned and laughed incessantly, loved the white people who owned her more than she loved herself or any family she was allowed to have. She was fat and desexed so offered no threat to the comfort of the white woman, unlike the Jezebel character. The Mammy and Jezebel myths are two sides of the same coin. The Jezebel myth of the promiscuous, oversexed creature that tempted the good white Christian men was created to justify the rape of enslaved African women. Mammy was proof that there were good enslaved African women who caused no problems for their white owners, were happy with their lot and slavery was the best life for Africans if they knew how to behave. It was safe for Mammy to live in the plantation house because no white man would lust after her. The movie Gone With the Wind, reinforced for white America that slavery was not so bad for Africans, some of them, the decent ones, were happy, contented, loved the white people who kept them in bondage and did not want to be free.

In the novel Gone with the Wind, published in 1936, Margaret Mitchell writes: “Scarlett heard Mammy's lumbering tread shaking the floor of the hall … Mammy emerged from the hall, a huge old woman with the small, shrewd eyes of an elephant. She was shining black, pure African, devoted to her last drop of blood to the O'Haras.” Mitchell’s novel Gone with the Wind, is rife with white supremacist myths which historians have debunked. African American historian Deborah Gray White in her 1987 book Ar’n’t I a Woman?,” has written that the Mammy image was constructed as pro-slavery propaganda where the image of Mammy’s large desexualized body was used to counteract the reality that white slave holders were sexually attracted to the bodies of enslaved African women. In The Plantation Mistress: Woman's World in the Old South published in 1982, Catherine Clinton, a white historian acknowledges: The Mammy was created by white Southerners to redeem the relationship between black women and white men within slave society in response to the antislavery attack from the North during the ante-bellum period. In the primary records from before the Civil War, hard evidence for its existence simply does not appear. One of my sheroes, bell hooks, the foremost African American critical thinker has addressed the Mammy myth. She wrote in “Ain’t I A Woman: Black Women and Feminism,” published in 1981; The mammy image was portrayed with affection by whites because it epitomized the ultimate sexist-racist vision of ideal black womanhood--complete submission to the will of whites. In a sense whites created in the mammy figure a black woman who embodied solely those characteristics they as colonizers wished to exploit. They saw her as the embodiment of woman as passive nurturer, a mother figure who gave all without expectation of return, who not only acknowledged her inferiority to whites but who loved them.

In Mitchell’s novel which is the basis of the movie, Mammy was the gatekeeper. The modern day Mammy figures are not necessarily fat and old. There are many of them who are considered successful in their jobs. In their role as Mammy, they are ready to chastise or use nefarious means to silence those “uppity negroes” who dare challenge the white folks. The modern day Mammy, like her male counterpart, Uncle Tom (named after the mythical character from Uncle Tom’s Cabin), is not a myth. She is indeed the gatekeeper who grins and laughs incessantly to make white people feel comfortable. She is the loyal, ultimate colonized mind, not involved with her community but used by her masters as a spokesperson for her community. It is essential to her survival that she is never perceived as “the angry black woman.” Her role is also to sound the alarm, “the Negroes are restless, they are tying to take over, what is we gwine do Massa?”

In 1939 and 1940, the African American press and civil rights organizations protested the making of the movie Gone With the Wind. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Pittsburgh Courier, one of the most influential African American publications protested and organized boycotts of the movie. African American journalist Benjamin J. Davis wrote a review titled “Gone With the Wind–an Insidious Glorification of the Slave Market.” William L. Patterson, in an article published in the Chicago Defender (an African American newspaper) on January 6th, 1940 wrote; “Gone With the Wind” has made the Negro man a grotesque and ravishing beast. It has made Negro womanhood a wanton wench ready to accept the advances of any man. Trinidad born Pan Africanist George Padmore, also writing for the Chicago Defender wrote an article about African American boycott of the film on February 3, 1940. In “multicultural” Toronto, in 2008, the authorities responsible for choosing the movies shown at Yonge-Dundas Square saw fit to screen Gone With the Wind, with its white supremacist story line that among other things, glorified the Ku Klux Klan and portrayed some of the most virulent stereotypes of Africans.

Written in July 2008


In the mid 1970s a group of African Canadians met to discuss the education of the community’s children (It takes a village to raise a child.) Many of these community members had come from the Caribbean to study at Canadian post secondary institutions and settled here to raise families. Their children were attending schools at the Toronto Board of Education (TBE) and there was some concern about the quality of education their children were receiving. These community members contributed to the findings of the Board’s Workgroup on Multiculturalism, Race Relations and Heritage Languages which submitted its Final Report in 1976. The finding of the Final Report of the Workgroup on Multiculturalism, Race Relations and Heritage Languages helped to facilitate the institution of the Black Cultural Program at the Toronto Board of Education in 1977. In 1977, the Ontario Ministry of Education released a memorandum which read in part: “The Ministry of Education will implement a Heritage Languages Program to be effective as of July 1, 1977. For the purposes of this program, a heritage language is any language other than the two official languages of Canada.”

On May 10, 1980 a conference on Education for Parents of Black Children was held at Oakwood Collegiate which was attended by more than 500 people. People who attended the conference were concerned about the exclusion of information about Africans in the textbooks their children were using in school. In November 1985 representatives of the OPBC met with the Associate Director of Education at the TBE and identified concerns including the high drop-out rate, low self esteem, the persistent invisibility of African history and culture within the curriculum, streaming of African Canadian students and the persistent ignorance of teachers about African history and culture.

In 1982, after a year of battling with the Toronto Teachers’ Federation, the Toronto Board of Education (TBE) adopted a policy that allowed elementary schools to extend the school day by 30 minutes for heritage language instruction. The Toronto Teachers’ Federation was against the extension of the school day to teach the Heritage Languages Program. The Federation and the Board eventually agreed to binding arbitration to resolve the issue. In June 1986 the arbitration board in a 28 page decision found that the TBE could rightfully extend the school day by 30 minutes in schools where a majority of parents requested that model. The arbitration board also expressed that: “Giving heritage programs prime time during the school day serves to erode and diminish the alienation that ethnic communities feel towards one of our most important institutions. Moreover in our view, the teaching of the heritage language after school serves to segregate and ghettoize elementary school children. The new-found respect and rapport that immigrant and refugee families find in an integrated system enhances the long-term prospects to educate children from immigrant families.”

In the school year 1984-1985 there were 15 integrated/extended day classes run by the TBE. In July, 1986 the Board released the research report Teaching Heritage Languages and Cultures in an Integrated/Extended Day. This report described the Integrated/Extended Day Heritage Language and Black Cultural Program in terms of social, cultural, economic, educational, political, demographic and psychological variables. The text and tables of this report describe and detail the methods of implementation, effects on the children, effects on the regular staff and school day, working and social accommodations between the teachers and instructors, reactions of regular staff as described by themselves and perceived by others, opinions about the instructors, distribution of information, responsibilities and duties of regular staff and instructors, involvement of parents, materials and resources and changes that should be made if the program was to be continued. In the fall of 1990 there were 21 integrated/extended day programs operating in TBE schools as part of the regular school day.

In 2008, 18 years later, the African Heritage Black Cultural Program is almost extinct at the Toronto District School Board (TDSB). The program barely exists as an after school program in 4 of the TDSB’s 464 elementary schools. The integrated/extended day program limps along in 2 schools where it has been reduced to 4 hours a week spread over 5 days (50 minutes Monday to Friday) in one school and 7.5 hours a week spread over 5 days (1.5 hours Monday to Friday), in the other school, rendering it useless. The hypocrisy of the Ontario government is obvious when the Premier and the Minister of Education object to the establishment of an Africentric alternative school but do not fund the African Heritage Program. Several studies have been done which urge that children strive for success when the curriculum includes positive information about their culture. Recommendations to implement the teaching of African culture and history have been made from several studies and reports including the Report on the Education of Black Students in 1987, the African-Canadian Working Group in 1992 and the Royal Commission on Learning in 1994. In the “Stephen Lewis Report on Racism in Ontario to the Premier --- Summer 1992” which was presented on June 9th, 1992, it was reported: “Everywhere, the refrain of the Toronto students, however starkly amended by different schools and different locations, was essentially the refrain of all students. Where are the courses in Black history? Where are the visible minority teachers? Why are there so few role models? Why do our white guidance counsellors know so little of different cultural backgrounds? Why are racist incidents and epithets tolerated? Why are there double standards of discipline? Why are minority students streamed? Why do they discourage us from University? Where are we going to find jobs? What's the use of having an education if there's no employment? How long does it take to change the curriculum so that we're a part of it?”

On June 11th, 2008 a meeting was held at 5050 Yonge Street (TDSB head office) to discuss the future of the African Heritage Program. There were no plans to expand the integrated/extended day program even though it is obvious that is the most effective method of delivering the program, but it is not cost effective. The powers that be at the TDSB do not think our children’s lives are worth the money it would cost to administer the program during the school day. It was suggested that many parents are not aware that the after school program exists and it should be advertised in the Caribbean community’s newspapers. A member of the administration complained about the cost of placing the advertisements. She did not comment on how much it costs when the TDSB advertises in the white newspapers. The hypocrisy of the administration at the TDSB is evident when recommendations from several reports over many years for an inclusive curriculum cannot be accommodated yet within a few months of the Falconer Report there are concrete plans for armed, uniformed police to be housed in secondary schools across the TDSB.
Written in July 2008


I was born in the U.S.A.
But because of my colour I'm suffering today,
The white man preaching democracy,
But the truth and in fact it's hypocrisy.

And we want Martin Luther King for president,
Tell it north and tell it south, mama,
Martin Luther King for president,
Spread the story all about,
Join together now and shout,
When Kennedy's finished without any doubt,
Martin Luther King for president,

Equality is what I crave,
I'll fight for it even to the grave,
Colour of skin is not my line,
Lord, you know I am colour blind!

Martin Luther King is the name,
A little Negro man with a hell of a brain,
Lord, Lord, Oh, what a brain,
He was sent by God from heaven above,
To integrate the south with peace and love

Excerpt from Martin Luther King for President by Slinger ”The Mighty Sparrow” Francisco from his album The Mighty Sparrow Sings True Life Stories Of Passion, People And Politics, released in 1964

The hope that the Mighty Sparrow expressed in this popular 1964 calypso died with the 1968 assassination of Dr. King. In 2008 there is another African American whose name is being celebrated in song, who is closer to becoming the President of the USA than any of us could ever have imagined when Sparrow sang “Martin Luther King for President.” Barack Obama is the first African American to become the presidential candidate of a major political party. Shirley Chisholm, born to immigrant parents (Guyanese father and Barbadian mother) in New York City, was the first African American to seek nomination as the Democrat’s presidential candidate in 1972. She was followed by several others including Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. All their efforts opened the door a little wider so that when it was Obama’s turn he did not have to fight the same battles they did. He did have similar battles to fight especially when the Clintons began their race baiting. The Clintons seemed to take offence that an African American would dare to challenge their white entitlement to the White House. So much so that at one point the Clintons were behaving as if they preferred to have the Republicans back in the White House just to ensure that if they (Bill and Hilary) did not get in, there would definitely be white people living in the White House. The Clintons made several remarks which were at least insensitive and at worst white supremacist.

In January 2008 Hilary Clinton said: “I would point to the fact that Dr. King's dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, when he was able to get through Congress something that President Kennedy was hopeful to do, the president before had not even tried, but it took a president to get it done. That dream became a reality. The power of that dream became real in people's lives because we had a president who said, "We are going to do it," and actually got it accomplished.” There was a storm of protest from not only African Americans, but Americans of every stripe who had witnessed the tenacity, sense of purpose and the sacrifices of Dr. King and many other Civil Rights activists who put their lives on the line during the fight for basic human rights for African Americans. Clinton’s words seemed an attempt to negate the unwavering courage that Dr. King displayed as he battled a system that treated African Americans as though they were less than human in the land where their ancestors’ blood, sweat and unpaid labour had enriched white people.

Hilary Clinton seemed to forget that it was Dr. King’s leadership in June, 1964 that helped break the filibuster in the United States Senate and led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, known as the Open Accommodations Act. The Open Accommodations Act which became law on July 2nd, 1964, was the first piece of Civil Rights legislation, outlawing segregation in all public places and facilities. Dr. King was one of nine activists arrested when they attempted to integrate the Monson Motor Lodge restaurant in St. Augustine, Florida. One week later a group of activists, including several children, attempted to integrate the swimming pool at the Monson Motor Lodge. James Brock, the owner of the Monson Motor Lodge, enraged that African Americans had entered his “whites only” swimming pool, poured acid into the swimming pool. The photographs of Brock pouring the dangerous, toxic chemical into the swimming pool, barely missing a group of African American children, was broadcast internationally.

An article written by Dr. King which was published in January, 1969, nine months after his assassination, documents his thoughts about the role of the politicians who were in power during the Civil Rights struggle. Dr. King wrote; “The past record of the federal government, however, has not been encouraging. No president has really done very much for the American Negro, though the past two presidents have received much undeserved credit for helping us. This credit has accrued to Lyndon Johnson and John Kennedy only because it was during their administrations that Negroes began doing more for themselves. Kennedy didn't voluntarily submit a civil rights bill, nor did Lyndon Johnson. In fact, both told us at one time that such legislation was impossible. President Johnson did respond realistically to the signs of the times and used his skills as a legislator to get bills through Congress that other men might not have gotten through. I must point out, in all honesty, however, that President Johnson has not been nearly so diligent in implementing the bills he has helped shepherd through Congress.”

It was not the President who made the dream a reality as Clinton declared in January. It was the courage and determination of the demonstrators in St. Augustine plus the shocking pictures of acid poured into a swimming pool occupied by children that finally pushed the politicians to act. The courageous actions of Dr. King and other activists had a direct impact on the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Forty four years after expressing support for Martin Luther King to become the first African American president, the Mighty Sparrow again has cause to sing a calypso urging Americans to elect an African American as President of the USA. Barack! Barack! The first black President to lead this mighty nation! Barack! We’ll regain worldwide respect with Obama’s vision and excellent comprehension! Excerpt from the Mighty Sparrow’s “Barack the Magnificent.”


I see no changes. Wake up in the morning and I ask myself,
"Is life worth living? Should I blast myself?"
I'm tired of bein' poor and even worse I'm black.
My stomach hurts, so I'm lookin' for a purse to snatch.
Cops give a damn about a negro? Pull the trigger, kill a n--ga, he's a hero.
Give the crack to the kids who the hell cares? One less hungry mouth on the welfare.
First ship 'em dope & let 'em deal the brothers.
Give 'em guns, step back, and watch 'em kill each other.
"It's time to fight back", that's what Huey said. 2 shots in the dark now Huey's dead.
I got love for my brother, but we can never go nowhere
unless we share with each other. We gotta start makin' changes.
Learn to see me as a brother 'stead of 2 distant strangers.
And that's how it's supposed to be.
How can the Devil take a brother if he's close to me?
I'd love to go back to when we played as kids, but things change, and that's the way it is.

Changes by Tupac Shakur, released in 1998 two years after his 1996 assassination.

June is Black Music Month, time to celebrate the contributions that Africans have made to world music and Tupac Shakur was one of the best and brightest. He was one of our griots who verbalized the reality of many Africans not only in America but the Diaspora. The lived reality he rapped of is true in America, Britain, Canada, France, Germany and anywhere else we live in a white dominated society. Africans in the Diaspora have been fighting against overwhelming odds since the Portuguese began kidnapping our people in the 15th century and scattering us across the globe as chattel. When Christopher Columbus lost his way to India and “discovered” the New World, other European tribes became involved in the trading of kidnapped Africans. It has been written that when the Portuguese first entered into trade with Africans in the 1430s they were interested in gold and spices. Their eventual interest in trading in human bodies began as a crime of opportunity when they happened upon friendly and defenceless Africans going about their peaceful business. The genocide of two groups of people, the Aboriginals of the Americas and the Africans began with European occupation of land that belonged to the original people of the New World and European covetousness that would not allow them to share the land with the rightful owners. To obtain free labour for the mines and plantations of the land they coveted and stole, the Europeans began a systematic brutalization of the Native people who being familiar with their surroundings sometimes managed to flee to safety. Many more of the indigenous people were worked to death, murdered, tortured or died from exposure to European diseases for which their bodies had no immunity. With the destruction of communities like the Tainos who lived in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica and Puerto Rico before the arrival of the Europeans, there was soon a need for another source of free labour. The Tainos did not quietly surrender their land but they were no match for the viciousness and cunning of the Europeans. In Cuba, Hatuey, a Taino chief who led his people in their fight to remain free, was sentenced by the Spanish Crown to a public death and was burned alive at the stake. The Spanish priest, Bartolome de las Casas, recorded the words of the chief to his people: "These tyrants tell us they adore a God of peace and equality, yet they usurp our land and enslave us. They speak of an immortal soul and of eternal rewards and punishments. They rob us, seduce our women and violate our daughters. Unable to match us in valour, these cowards cover themselves in iron that our spears cannot pierce." Bartolome de las Casas also documented the barbarism of the Europeans when dealing with the Tainos. "A village of around 2500 was wiped out. They (the Spaniards) set upon the Indians, slashing, disembowelling and slaughtering them until their blood ran like a river. And of those Tainos they kept alive they sent to the mines, harnessing them to loads they could scarcely drag and with fiendish sport and mockery hacking off their hands and feet and mutilating them in ways that will not bear description." As “protector of the Indians” Bartolome de las Casas suggested Africans as an alternative and unleashed a four hundred year genocide of Africans. Most of the information that is available to us tells of Africans being brought to the New World as “slaves” but we also know that Africans came here before Columbus lost his way and stumbled upon these lands. In his book They came before Columbus, Guyanese historian Ivan Van Sertima documents the evidence of his extensive research to prove that Africans traveled to and lived in North, South and Central America before any European. Many of the Africans kidnapped and held in bondage were farmers and skilled craftsmen and women whose talents were used to enrich the white people who kept them in bondage. These Africans came from well ordered societies and great civilizations.

This history is mostly ignored in the education system that our children must navigate where they only learn about the history, culture and achievements of white people. The most recent and glaring example is the Genocide full-credit course approved by the Ontario Ministry of Education and the Toronto District School Board (TDSB). Their “rationale” is that “the study of the tragedies and horrors of genocidal acts in the past and present must be studied and addressed. Democracy, justice, and the rule of law must be understood, claimed, and defended by each generation of citizens if we are to confront this demonstration of human evil.” The course will centre on study of the Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide. This initiative came out of a motion that was put forward on July 13th, 2005 at the TDSB. The TDSB approved the motion and resolved: That previously written documents on the Holocaust and its contemporary implications be revised to reflect the current high school program and recent global events such as Rwanda. I have to wonder if Rwanda was thrown in as an afterthought and how much of the curriculum will be spared to deal with Rwanda.

Not surprisingly there is no mention of the genocide against the First Nations people of Canada even though this is an educational initiative for Canadian students. There is no mention of the genocide of the Germans against the Herero people of Namibia 1904-1908. No mention of the Belgian genocide (under the leadership of King Leopold II, cousin to Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II) against the people of the Congo 1885-1908. Unlike the public hearings and accompanying media frenzy around the establishment of an alternative African centred school, there were no public hearings, no media frenzy for this genocide program. A Steering Committee was struck consisting of “a number of different Toronto District School Board departments, including: Equitable Schools, Student and Community Equity, Social, Canadian, and World Studies, and Special Projects. Academics from OISE/UT and York University, as well as members from Facing History and Ourselves, The Holocaust Centre, Yad Vashem, The Canadian Centre for Genocide Education, and UNICEF Canada have played an integral role in the creation of the course.”

Of course there is no mention of the four hundred year Maafa, the millions of African lives lost, the generations of Africans stripped of their names, language, culture and the spirit injury that endures in the 21st century. In these times we need to heed the words of the Honourable Robert Nesta “Bob” Marley, another one of our best and brightest griots: “Don't forget your history. Know your destiny, in the abundance of water, the fool is thirsty”
Written in June 2008


Robert Nesta “Bob” Marley sang; “One good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain.” Music has always played a very important role in the lives of Africans. As we approach June, Black Music Month it is time to remember that the popular music we hear today owes much to Africans. June has been recognized as “Black Music Month” since 1979 when President Jimmy Carter designated June as Black Music Month after being persuaded by Black Music Association founders Kenneth Gamble and Ed Wright. Music (singing, drumming, dancing) was an important part of African culture and was probably one of the few joys in the lives of enslaved Africans. They were forbidden the joy of playing drums but expressed their creativity by singing and dancing. Music served to lift their spirits as they toiled in the fields, sometimes waist deep in mud, doing the backbreaking work that enriched the white families that held them in captivity.

There has been much written about the role the spirituals played in the escape to freedom of enslaved Africans. Cloaked in non-threatening religious language, the words lulled the white enslavers into a sense of false security and enabled the Africans to share important information. The words of the spirituals were used as coded communication by enslaved Africans as they planned and executed their escape from enslavement. The words of the spiritual “Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home” when heard by the enslavers meant that the enslaved were happy with their lot and looked forward to their reward in heaven. The same words meant something different when heard by the enslaved Africans. Those words meant that there was hope of escape to freedom to a “free” state or to Canada. The coded messages are evident in many other spirituals including; Didn’t my Lord deliver Daniel? O Canaan, Steal Away and Wade in the water. Harriet Tubman, the most famous conductor on the Underground Railroad is said to have sung spirituals as she planned to rescue her people from slavery. Tubman, known as the “Moses” of her people was an extraordinary woman who is credited with making 19 trips to rescue more than 300 people from slavery. It has been speculated that the spiritual “Go down Moses, way down in Egypt land” was her signature song. As “Moses,” Harriet Tubman did more than “conduct” enslaved Africans to freedom on the Underground Railway. On June 2nd, 1863 she was the “brains” behind the successful rescue of more than 800 enslaved Africans in South Carolina. Many of the rescued Africans were recruited by Tubman and joined the Union army to fight in the Civil War. In November 2005, the site where the rescue took place in 1863 at the Combahee River Ferry was recognized by the South Carolina Department of Transportation. The site, where the bridge which crosses the Combahee River on U.S. Highway 17 stands, was excavated by a group of historians and archaeologists.

The spirituals, the blues, worksongs were part of the expressions of joy, despair and sorrow of the enslaved Africans. That music, steeped in African traditions of call and response gave birth to gospel, jazz, rock and roll and hip hop music. The rhythms and lyrics have helped African Americans endure tremendous suffering and face injustice, white supremacy and racism with courage, faith and hope.
The music used during the Civil Rights era helped lift spirits and also to define the time. In 1968, African Americans were singing along with James Brown, Say it loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud. James Brown was so Black and Proud he wore his hair in an Afro for a while. One of the anthems of the Civil Rights movement was Nina Simone’s November 1969 released song Young gifted and Black. The Staple Singers asked When Will We Be Paid For the Work We’ve Done?

The spirituals were also sung during that time (Civil Rights protests) when African Americans were brutalized because they dared to demand that they be treated as human beings. The white police and their dogs attacking African American men, women and children, was not a deterrent to a group of people who were confidently singing the spirituals as they knew they had right on their side. Fannie Lou Hamer, one of my sheroes, sang This Little Light of Mine and Go Tell it on the Mountain as she put her life on the line attempting to register to vote in Mississippi in August 1962. During many of the marches, sit-ins and other protests, participants sang We shall not be moved and We shall overcome.

While African American music was better known during the 60’s than other forms of African music, there is similar music from other Africans in the Diaspora. Slinger “The Mighty Sparrow” Francisco’s Slave and Banana Boat Song sung by Harry Belafonte tell of the plight of Africans oppressed during slavery and even after slavery was abolished. Sparrow’s Dan Is the Man in the Van is also a protest against colonial education. Robert Nesta “Bob” Marley, who can be described as the first Caribbean superstar, took Reggae music, Rastafarian culture, Jamaica and the Caribbean to new heights internationally. His Africa Unite became an anthem for Africans worldwide. Marley also urged us to Get up, stand up for our rights.
Winston Hubert “Peter Tosh” McIntosh, a member of Marley’s group, The Wailers released the ultimate Black Music Month anthem in 1977 on his album “Equal Rights.”

Don’t care where you come from
As long as you're a black man
You're an African
No mind your nationality
You have got the identity of an African

'Cause if you come from Clarendon
And if you come from Portland
And if you come from Westmoreland
You're an African

'Cause if you come Trinidad
And if you come from Nassau
And if you come from Cuba
You're an African

No mind your complexion
There is no rejection
You're an African

No mind denomination
That is only segregation
You're an African

'Cause if you go to the Catholic
And if you go to the Methodist
And if you go to the Church of God
You're an African

So don’t care where you come from
As long as you're a black man
You're an African
No mind your nationality
You have got the identity of an African

'Cause if you come from Brixton
And if you come from France
And if you come from Brooklyn
And if you come from Queens
And if you come from Manhattan
And if you come from Canada
And if you come from Miami
And if you come from Switzerland
And if you come from Germany
And if you come from Russia
And if you come from Taiwan
As long as you're a black man
You're an African
Written in June 2008


"These Negroes, they're getting pretty uppity these days and that's a problem for us since they've got something now they never had before, the political pull to back up their uppityness. Now we've got to do something about this, we've got to give them a little something, just enough to quiet them down, not enough to make a difference. For if we don't move at all, then their allies will line up against us and there'll be no way of stopping them, we'll lose the filibuster and there'll be no way of putting a brake on all sorts of wild legislation. It'll be Reconstruction all over again." --Senator Lyndon B. Johnson (Democrat, Texas), 1957

Excerpt from "Wrong on Race: The Democratic Party's Buried Past." By Bruce Bartlett, published January 2008

Bruce Bartlett, a white economist who was an official in the Reagan and the senior George Bush administrations and helped President George W. Bush craft his early tax cuts has written an “exposé” of the racist roots of the Democratic Party. With racist, white supremacist quotes from American presidents (Democrats) and several other prominent Democrats beginning in 1787 up to 2008, he exposes the racist history and present of the Democratic Party. With an African American as the frontrunner for the position of Democratic Presidential candidate this book is a reminder that the Democrats were in power for many of the years during the enslavement of Africans and even during the Jim Crow era when African American men, women and children were routinely lynched by white people. Members of the Republican Party on the other hand were championing the cause of enslaved Africans at the time the party was founded. The Republican Party, so the story goes, was founded by a few dozen anti-slavery activists, men and women, in Ripon, Wisconsin on March 20, 1854. Their mission was to stop the pro-slavery agenda of the Democrats. The Democrats who were in power in 1850 had passed the Fugitive Slave Act. The passing of the Fugitive Slave Act into law meant that any African living in America was fair game for any white person to claim them as their “runaway slave.” Africans who had managed to buy their freedom or who had been bought out of slavery were as much at risk as any “runaway.” Africans could not testify in court so were not allowed to prove their status in a court of law. The passing of the Fugitive Slave Law, made life unsafe even for Africans who lived in free states, many African Americans fled to Canada where slavery had been abolished in 1834.

In 1854 when Congress decided to allow Kansas and Nebraska into the Union, they were supposed to enter as “free” states. Senator Stephen Douglas, a Democrat from Illinois was the architect of the Kansas- Nebraska Act which allowed for either of those new states to enter the Union as slave holding states. The Kansas- Nebraska Act led to fighting between the Republicans who were against slavery and the Democrats who wanted slavery in the new states. The fighting which lasted ten years from 1855 to 1865 earned Kansas the names "Bleeding Kansas" and "Bloody Kansas.” It was in this environment that the events of May 22nd, 1856 occurred in the United States Senate. With the fighting between the pro-slavery and anti-slavery groups in the new Kansas Territory, the issue took center stage in Congress. On May 19, Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner, Republican and ardent abolitionist, began a two-day speech on the Senate floor in which he expounded on the "crime against Kansas" and named two Senators as the perpetrators of the crime. In a book written by Sumner’s private secretary Moorfield Storey, “American Statesmen: Charles Sumner,” published in 1900, Sumner is quoted describing Senator Stephen Douglas, Democrat from Illinois as "a noise-some, squat, and nameless animal . . . not a proper model for an American senator." He saved much of his vitriol for Senator Andrew Butler, Democrat from South Carolina. “The Senator from South Carolina has read many books of chivalry, and believes himself a chivalrous knight, with sentiments of honor and courage. Of course he has chosen a mistress to whom he has made his vows, and who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight I mean the harlot, Slavery. For her, his tongue is always profuse in words. Let her be impeached in character, or any proposition made to shut her out from the extension of her wantonness, and no extravagance of manner or hardihood of assertion is then too great for this Senator.”

Republican, Sumner’s attack on the two Democrats, Butler and Douglas did not pass without incident. Moorfield Storey described that “incident” of Thursday, May 22nd, 1856 in the book, American Statesmen: Charles Sumner. “On Thursday, the 22nd, the Senate adjourned early, but Sumner remained writing letters. While he was thus engaged, with legs stretched out under his desk, which was firmly screwed to the floor, Preston. S. Brooks, the son of Senator Butler’s cousin and a representative from South Carolina, came up and said, “Mr. Sumner.” Sumner looked up and saw a perfect stranger, who said, “I have read your speech twice over carefully. It is a libel on South Carolina and on Mr. Butler who is a relative of mine.” Then, without completing the sentence, he struck Sumner a heavy blow on the head with a gutta-percha cane, and followed it by a series of blows until the cane broke. Sumner struggled to rise and in so doing wrenched his desk from the floor and gained his feet, but, by the time he had done so, his consciousness was gone and beneath the continuing blows he fell senseless on the floor.”

The brutality of that cowardly attack made Brooks an instant hero in the South and among Democrats who sent him several replacement canes to show their approval of his actions. It was three years before Sumner recovered from the violent attack. This is the convoluted history of race politics in the USA. The Democrats, the party that in the past supported the enslavement of Africans is now viewed as the party of African Americans, the descendants of those enslaved Africans. The Republicans, the party that historically did not support the enslavement of Africans is today the party that African Americans view with suspicion because of the white supremacist racist policies of Republican leaders who began courting the Southern voters in the 1960s. Neither party has fully supported the civil rights of African Americans. In the 1960s, it was the racist white supremacist southern Democrats who were brutalizing and murdering African American protesters, denying African Americans their civil rights including the right to vote and desperately trying to prevent them from accessing education.

It is ironic that in 2008 as the Democratic Party is close to choosing an African American as its presidential candidate the Republicans are courting African American voters. The presidential candidate of the Republican Party certainly seemed to be making an effort to court the African American voters when he attended the Martin Luther King Jnr Day event. In 1983, McCain was one of the Arizona Republican politicians who voted against the Martin Luther King Jnr Day. In his speech in front of the Lorraine Motel (where Dr. King was assassinated) on Martin Luther King Jnr Day, McCain apologized for voting against the holiday in 1983 and said he supported the holiday later. It was not the politicians who approved the holiday in Arizona, the Arizona voters approved the holiday in 1992. Arizona was losing money because African Americans had launched a successful tourist boycott campaign against that state.
Written in May 2008


We must challenge, skillfully but resolutely, every sign of restriction or limitation on our full American citizenship. When I say challenge, I mean we must seek every opportunity to place the burden of responsibility upon him who denies. If we simply accept and acquiesce in the face of discrimination, we accept full 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 in the newspapers, on the radio, in the movies that smacks of discrimination or slander.

Mary McLeod Bethune 1875 – 1955 Excerpt from “Mary McLeod Bethune: Building A Better World” published 1999

On May 18th, 1955, Mary McLeod Bethune, founder of Bethune Cookman University transitioned to be with the ancestors. Bethune Cookman University is one of the 105 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the USA. McLeod Bethune was born Mary Jane McLeod on July 19, 1875 in Maysville, South Carolina the 15th of 17 children to Samuel and Patsy McLeod. Her parents had been enslaved Africans and she was the first child in her family who was born after the emancipation of Africans in the USA. Some of her siblings had been sold by the McLeod family that “owned” them. After the abolition of slavery, Samuel and Patsy McLeod were able to secure their children from the various plantations where they had been sold. They eventually bought five acres of land where they built a home and raised their family of 17 children. Patsy McLeod continued working for the McLeod family doing the same work she had done as an enslaved woman (African women could only work as maids or other similar work they had done during their enslavement,) while Samuel McLeod cultivated cotton on the five acres the family then owned. The 17 McLeod children also worked on the family’s land but Mary Jane McLeod also wanted something that most Africans could not afford, an education. When she was 11 years old she was allowed to attend the one room school for Africans in Maysville. She was an eager and brilliant student who impressed her teacher and she earned a scholarship to attend Scotia Seminary in North Carolina. After graduating from Scotia Seminary, McLeod was awarded a scholarship to attend the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. She planned to go to Africa, the land of her ancestors, to minister to the spiritual and educational needs of her people on the continent. She was disappointed when she was told that African American Missionaries were not allowed to go to Africa as missionaries.

Undaunted by the fact that her dream of becoming a missionary in Africa was not realized, Mary Jane McLeod instead went back to Maysville to begin her teaching career. She also taught at Augusta, Georgia and at Sumter, South Carolina. While teaching at Savannah, Georgia in 1898, she met and married Albertus Bethune and had a son, Albert, a year later. In 1904 she moved to Daytona, Florida where she established a school for African American girls. Bethune McLeod believed that if African-American women were given the opportunity to vote, they could bring about change. In 1920, after passage of the 19th amendment, which allowed women to vote, she went door to door raising money to pay the poll tax. In Southern states, African Americans had to pay a poll tax and pass a literacy test before they were allowed to vote. Her night classes provided a means for African-Americans to learn to read well enough to pass the literacy test. Soon one hundred potential voters had qualified. The night before the election, eighty members of the KKK confronted Bethune, warning her against preparing African-Americans to vote. Bethune did not back down, and the men left without causing any harm. The following day, Bethune led a procession of one hundred African-Americans to the polls, all voting for the first time.
The night before the election in November, 1920, while McLeod Bethune worked late in her office, she noticed that all street lights had gone out. Then there was the sound of car horns and horse hooves, soon she saw a procession of about 100 people masked in white sheets following a burning cross. The students at the school were all young African American girls, many of whom boarded on campus. The terrifying sight recalled images of the brutality and violence perpetuated against Africans since their enslavement. Thinking quickly McLeod Bethune ordered the lights turned off on campus and all outdoor floodlights turned on. The Klan was left standing in a pool of light watched by the terrified students, as the principal (McLeod Bethune) rallied her students to sing the spirituals that had comforted and imparted courage during the dreadful years of enslavement. The Klan soon dispersed and scattered into the night. The following day, McLeod Bethune led a procession of 100 African-Americans to the polls, who were all voting for the first time.

McLeod Bethune was a national leader in the civil rights struggle. She was the highest ranking African American in the Roosevelt administration and played an important role in the integration of America’s armed forces and the founding of the United Nations. McLeod Bethune was recognized for her hard work during her lifetime, receiving the Spingarn Medal in 1935, the Frances Drexel Award for Distinguished Service in 1937, and the Thomas Jefferson Award for leadership in 1942. She received an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree from Rollins College in 1949, the first African-American to receive an honorary degree from a white southern college. She received the Medal of Honor and Merit from the Republic of Haiti in 1949 and the Star of Africa from the Republic of Liberia in 1952. On July 10, 1974, ninety-nine years after her birth, she became the first woman and the first African-American to be honoured with a statue in a public park (Lincoln Park) in Washington, D.C. Her portrait hangs in the South Carolina State House, the state capitol building in Columbia, South Carolina.

Mary McLeod Bethune founded a school for African American girls as an elementary school with five students on October 4, 1904. She had deposited five dollars as a down payment on a property FOR which the asking price was 250.00. Over several years the institute grew into a co-ed secondary school after a merging with Cookman Institute of Jacksonville, Florida. By 1931 it was a junior college and in 1941 had grown into Bethune Cookman College, with a four-year baccalaureate program offering liberal arts and teacher education. By 1947, the institution was mortgage-free, had a faculty of 100 and a student enrollment of more than 1,000. Student enrollment at Bethune Cookman University has tripled since then.

In Toronto, the proposed establishment of an alternative African centred elementary school whipped up a media frenzy and hysteria including a racist, white supremacist cartoon in the Globe and Mail. On Wednesday, May 7th, the trustees who sit on the Program and School Services Committee approved the staff recommendation to establish the Africentric school with grades from Kindergarten to grade 5 in a shared facility at Sheppard Public School. This fell short of what the community had requested, a stand alone facility with grades from kindergarten to grade 12. An amendment to establish another site from grade 9 to 12 by 2010 was approved by the trustees. While some Toronto residents including the Premier of Ontario and white media are still stuck in “black schools bad” mode, the 10th annual African Centered Educational Conference will be held in Philadelphia on May, 16th and 17th. We have some serious catching up to do.

Written in May 2008