Sunday, October 31, 2010


October 30th was the 60th anniversary of the 1950 Jayuya Uprising in Puerto Rico. This armed struggle led by a 24 year old Puerto Rican woman began in the municipality of Jayuya and extended throughout Puerto Rico, as the people struggled for their national liberation. Members of the Nationalist Party, determined to make their dream of an independent republic come true, engaged in armed confrontations with U.S. trained police and the National Guard.

In October 1950, the Nationalist Party obtained information of a secret government plan to eliminate the independence movement. The tactics included banning the Nationalist Party, attacking offices and homes, arresting all members of the party, especially Pedro Albizu Campos, the Harvard educated African Puerto Rican leader of the movement. Using "seditious conspiracy" laws to imprison dissidents, Washington officials tried to silence the most militant individuals in an effort to destroy the independence movement.

Knowing of the government plan to repress its existence and keeping in mind the experience of the Massacre of Río Piedras of 1935 (The Río Piedras massacre occurred at the University of Puerto Rico at Río Piedras, Puerto Rico and involved a confrontation between local police officers and supporters of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party on October 24, 1935. Four partisans of the Nationalist party were killed and one police officer wounded during the shooting) and the Ponce Massacre of 1937 (On March 21, 1937 (Palm Sunday), a march was organized in the southern city of Ponce, Puerto Rico, by the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party. The march, organized to commemorate the ending of slavery in Puerto Rico in 1873, was also planneed to protest the incarceration by the U.S. government of nationalist leader Pedro Albizu Campos on sedition charges. The peaceful march resulted in the death of 17 unarmed civilians at the hands of the Insular Police, in addition to some 235 wounded civilians, including women and children) the Nationalist Party then chose to take the initiative in striking the first blow.

On the morning of October 30, 1950, twenty four year old Blanca Canales Torresola (February 17, 1906 - July 25, 1996) led an armed contingency of Nationalists to the city of Jayuya where they attacked the headquarters of the colonial police. Once the Nationalists surrounded the police station, a brief gun battle ensued. The police were ordered to surrender their arms and leave the building with their hands raised.

The people of Jayuya welcomed the nationalists and surrounded by the residents of the town, the freedom fighters raised the Puerto Rican flag which was banned by colonial law. Blanca Canales Torresola addressed the crowd in the town plaza where she began her speech by shouting the fighting words of the struggle for Puerto Rico's independence, "Viva Puerto Rico libre!" She then declared the independence of the Republic of Puerto Rico.

The decision to liberate Jayuya first was because of its strategic location in the mountains at the centre of the island. It was thought that taking control of this municipality first and cutting the supply lines to the enemy would delay troop reinforcements to the western area of the island. Clashes between the police and nationalists also occurred in Utuado, Ponce, Mayagüez, Arecibo, Naranjito, Ciales, Peñuelas and several others towns. In San Juan, the police attacked the headquarters of the Nationalist Party. Pedro Albizu Campos, Isabel Rosado and others fought back until they were overcome by tear gas. The colonial government in San Juan imposed new repressive measures throughout Puerto Rico, including martial law. Military airplanes were deployed to bomb Jayuya in order to force the freedom fighters to surrender. 70 percent of the city was destroyed as a result of the aerial bombing. The National Guard immediately pushed to suppress the uprising and regain control of Jayuya.

Aware of the potential political impact news of the uprising would have in the court of public opinion throughout the world the U.S. government imposed a news whiteout of the situation in Puerto Rico. To silence the voice of the emerging struggle, there was a gradual but intense effort to distort the truth. Resorting to deception the hide the facts US President Truman characterized the uprising as a conflict "between Puerto Ricans."

Blanca Canales Torresola was arrested and accused of killing a police officer and wounding three others. She was also accused of burning down the local post office. Canales Torresola was sentenced to life plus sixty years. In June 1951, she was sent to the Federal Industrial Institution for Women in Alderson, West Virginia. Dolores Lebrón Sotomayor, another famous Puerto Rican freedom fighter was jailed there in 1954 after she opened fire in the House chambers (US House of representatives on Capitol Hill) as more than 240 US members of Congress debated an immigration bill. More about Dolores Lebrón Sotomayor shortly, who died at age 90 on August 1, 2010.

In 1956, Blanca Canales Torresola was transferred to the Women’s Jail in Vega Baja, Puerto Rico. In 1967, Blanca was given a full pardon by Puerto Rican Governor Roberto Sanchez Vilella. She continued to be an active independence advocate throughout her life.

Canales Torresola, interviewed in her 80’s though living a quiet life in a government housing project, still under surveillance, her phone tapped, her every move checked by an undercover agent, still unafraid and a Puerto Rican patriot is quoted as saying: "We have to keep working even if it takes a hundred years."

Blanca Canales Torresola died July 25, 1996 in Jayuya, Puerto Rico. The house in which she was born and raised was turned into a museum by the City of Jayuya.

Dolores Lebrón “Lolita” Sotomayor, born November 19, 1919 and passed on August 1, 2010 was an active advocate for Puerto Rican independence. She was born and raised in Lares, Puerto Rico, a town best known for a revolt, Grito de Lares, waged by Puerto Ricans against Spanish occupation in 1868. She was a leader of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party where she promoted ideals based on socialist and feminist principles.

In 1952, after Puerto Rico’s official status was changed to “Commonwealth”, the Nationalist Party began a series of revolutionary actions, including the Jayuya Uprising. As part of this initiative, Dolores Lebrón Sotomayor became the leader of a New York City based group of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party, who took their grievances to the United States House of Representatives in 1954.

Lebrón Sotomayor had moved to New York in 1940, leaving her small daughter with her mother. In New York, along with thousands of other Puerto Rican immigrants, she worked as a seamstress in the garment district, living in grinding poverty. Her second child, a son was born while she lived in New York. As an admirer of the independence activist, Harvard educated African Puerto Rican Pedro Albizu Campos, who advocated armed struggle, she became a member of his Nationalist party in 1947, partly because of the anti-Latino racism she encountered in New York City. She never forgot the signs outside bars that read: "No blacks, no dogs, no Puerto Ricans". "They told me it was a paradise," Lebrón Sotomayor recalled in a 2004 interview. "This was no paradise." She and Pedro Albizu Campos corresponded and Lebrón Sotomayor began to take on more important tasks in the party's US branch. In 1954 Albizu Campos ordered her to organise an attack on "strategic targets". She settled on the US Congress and decided to lead the group herself.

Lebrón Sotomayor bought a ticket from New York to Washington on March 1, 1954. She and three other members lunched at Union Station and then walked to the Capitol. They made their way to the House gallery. A security guard asked if they were carrying cameras. They were not carrying cameras but they did have guns. In a crusade for Puerto Rico's independence that Lebrón Sotomayor saw as no different from the uprising by America's 13 colonies against England in the 18th century, the four nationalists opened fire in the House chambers as more than 240 members of Congress debated an immigration bill.

"Viva Puerto Rico libre!" Ms. Lebrón Sotomayor shouted as she unfurled a Puerto Rican flag. The four nationalists were eventually arrested, handcuffed and photographed outside the Capitol in an image splashed across the front pages of numerous newspapers. Police found a handwritten note in her purse which read: “Before God and the world, my blood claims for the independence of Puerto Rico. My life I give for the freedom of my country. This is a cry for victory in our struggle for independence . . . The United States of America are betraying the sacred principles of mankind in their continuous subjugation of my country . . . I take responsible for all.”

Ms. Lebrón Sotomayor was fearless in her efforts to draw attention to the cause of independence for her home island which had been claimed by the United States as spoils after the Spanish-American War and was claimed as American commonwealth in 1952.

The shooting and its aftermath was the talk of Washington for weeks.
Lebrón Sotomayor sat quietly during most of the subsequent trial, breaking her silence to tell the jury in a fiery 20-minute speech that she was "being crucified for the freedom of my country." She was sentenced to more than 50 years in prison. On the morning of July 8, 1954, Lebrón Sotomayor was notified of her son’s death, minutes before her sentence was handed down. The child, her second born, was barely into his teens and was living with his grandmother in Lares. The news threw Lebrón Sotomayor into a state of shock and she didn’t speak for three days. Her first child, Gladys, died in 1977, while her mother was in prison. This time Lebrón Sotomayor was allowed to return to Puerto Rico for her daughter’s funeral.

In a move widely suspected to have been part of a prisoner swap to release CIA agents jailed in Cuba, President Jimmy Carter granted clemency to Ms. Lebron and the other two jailed Puerto Rican freedom fighters. Released on September 10, 1979 after serving 25 years in prison, Ms. Lebrón Sotomayor embarked on a tour of areas with large Puerto Rican population in the United States. She was also received in Havana as a guest of President Fidel Castro.

The action she led gave Lebrón Sotomayor a place among the most famous of Latin American revolutionary figures, including Che Guevara and Pancho Villa. "I am a revolutionary," she said at the time. "I hate bombs, but we might have to use them." Lebrón Sotomayor in turn inspired other nationalists and between 1974 and 1983, Puerto Rico's Armed Forces of National Liberation continued the fight in Chicago and New York.

After returning home to Puerto Rico, Lebrón Sotomayor became a symbol of nationalist pride. She continued to protest U.S. involvement on the island. In 2001, at age 81 she was arrested while protesting the U.S. military's use of Vieques, Puerto Rico's smallest island. Two years earlier, David Sánchez, a civilian security guard had been killed by an errant bomb dropped during a U.S. Navy training exercise. After she and others cut through the fence of the naval base to protest its use as a bombing range, she was sentenced to 60 days in jail for trespassing. When freed, she walked from prison hand-in-hand with another protester, Hollywood actor Edward James Olmos. The bombing range was later closed down.

In 2005 when the FBI shot and killed Filiberto Ojeda Rios, the Puerto Rican leader of a pro-independence group Ms. Lebron spoke out. "She had a tremendous impact," Juan Manuel Garcia Passalacqua told the Chicago Tribune in 2006. "Young people were protesting in the streets, and there was talk of getting revenge. But Lolita told people, 'No violence!' -- and there was none."

She was a Puerto Rican nationalist and independence advocate who died on August 1, 2010. Her life has been detailed in books and a documentary.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


You stole my history destroyed my culture
Cut out my tongue so I can’t communicate
Then you mediate and you separate
Hide my whole way of life so my self I should hate
Took away my name put me to shame
Made me a disgrace as the world’s laughing stock
Think of me as show you jeer and to mock
But your time is at hand
From the shores of Africa to the mainland of Haiti
Caribbean and the Pacific, Central and South America
Brother what a price I’ve paid Sister what a price I’ve paid
Mother what a price I’ve paid Father what a price I’ve paid

Excerpt from Price of Peace by Jimmy Cliff from the album Unlimited (released August 1973)

Jimmy Cliff was born James Chambers on April 1, 1948 at Adelphi Land, a village in the District of Somerton in the parish of St James, Jamaica. He is currently the only living musician to hold the Order of Merit, the highest honour that can be granted by the Jamaican government for achievement in the arts and sciences. The Jamaican government under Prime Minister P.J. Patterson honoured Cliff on 20 October 2003, by awarding him The Order of Merit, the nation's third-highest honour, in recognition of his contributions to the film and music of Jamaica.

Professor Ralston Milton “Rex” Nettleford used the lyrics of Jimmy Cliff’s Price of Peace as part of his address on the occasion of the United Nations Observance of the Commemoration of the 200th Anniversary of the Abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, at the UN Headquarters in New York, on March 26, 2007. Nettleford, an African Caribbean griot and scholar was born on February 3, 1933 at Falmouth, Trelawny, Jamaica and transitioned to join the ancestors on February 2, 2010 the day before his 77th birthday. In his address Nettleford said:
“I come from that part of the Americas, the Caribbean, which is arguably the living laboratory of the dynamism of the encounters between Africa and Europe on foreign soil, and of both the Native American who had inhabited the real estate of the Americas, time out of mind, during periods of conquest and dehumanisation, along with the corresponding process of struggle and resistance.”
In 2007 when Professor Nettleford spoke about the African Presence in the Caribbean he included the lyrics of Cliff’s Price of Peace to illustrate the great harm that was done to Africans during the 400 years of enslavement which manifests itself in self-destructive behaviour today. This is the kind of behaviour that results from what African American Professor Dr Joy DeGruy Leary terms Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome. All Africans were affected by the slave trade not only those who were kidnapped and dragged out of the African continent. The forced removal of millions of Africans who were transported across the Atlantic and enslaved caused the debilitation and destruction of African societies and civilizations and led to the eventual colonization of the African continent by European nations. As Guyanese historian Dr. Walter Rodney documented in his 1972 published book How Europe Underdeveloped Africa this also led to the impoverishment of Africa as the European nations’ parasitically accumulated wealth.

Nettleford also acknowledged that there was exploitation of indentured labourers who arrived in the Caribbean after slavery was abolished and their experience of labour exploitation, which although oppressive did not strip them of their language and culture. Although exploited the indentured labourers were not bought and sold as chattel as the enslaved Africans who had been treated as if they were not human. Nettleford said:
“The advent of later arrivants to the Caribbean after the abolition, first, of the trade in the enslaved Africans and, later, of slavery itself, did not save them from labour exploitation. But those new arrivants did enter as free men and women into a society which by then had the promise of decency and civility informing human, if not an altogether humane, existence. This has been made distinctive by the catalytic role played by the African Presence in social formation within a psychic universe, a great part of which has been plunged, wittingly and unwittingly, into subterranean and submarine silence, to mix a metaphor.”

The subterranean and submarine silence which existed for centuries after slavery was abolished was lifted somewhat at the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in 2001 when African descendants voiced the demand for reparations. Although it was not the first instance of Africans mentioning reparations for the centuries of inhumane treatment of their enslaved ancestors and the free labour that they were forced to provide which enriched Europeans and their descendants, it was the first global outcry.

In the USA formerly enslaved African Americans had been demanding reparations since they were freed. The Johnson v. McAdoo cotton tax lawsuit is the first documented African American reparations litigation on the federal level in the United States. In 1915 the National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief, Bounty and Pension Association filed the class action lawsuit in federal court for $68 million against the U.S. Treasury. The lawsuit claimed that this amount which was collected between 1862 and 1868 as a tax on cotton was owed to the appellants because the cotton had been produced by them and their ancestors during their "involuntary servitude." The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia denied their claim based on governmental immunity and the U.S. Supreme Court, on appeal, sided with the lower court decision.

We are still suffering the effects of the centuries of enslavement of our ancestors and reparations are overdue. As we approach the year 2011 which has been designated the International Year for People of African Descent by a proclamation from the United Nations General Assembly we need to remember the words of Professor Rex Nettleford and shatter the “subterranean and submarine silence” of the continued oppression of Africans.



Friday, October 22, 2010


I can still smell the spray of the sea they made me cross.
That night, I can not remember it.
Not even the ocean itself could remember.
But I do not forget the first seagull I saw.
The clouds above, like innocent witnesses.
I have not forgotten my lost coast, nor my ancestral language
They brought me here and here I have lived.
And because I worked like a beast, here I was born again.
Many a Mandingo legend have I used
I rebelled.

The Master bought me in the square.
I embroidered the Master's coat and I gave birth to his son.
My son did not have a name.
And the Master died by the hand of an impeccable English lord.
I wandered.

This is the land where I suffered the whippings and degradation.
I traveled the length of its rivers
Under its sun I planted and gathered harvests I did not eat.
My home was a barracoon/hut
I myself carried the stones to build it.
Yet I sang the song of the native birds.
I rebelled.

In this land I touched the damp blood and the rotting bones of many others,
Some brought to this place like me, others not.
And I never again thought of the road to Guinea.
Was it to Guinea? Or Benin? Was it to Madagascar? Or Cape Verde?
I worked harder.

Here I built my world.
I established my ancient song and my hope

From the poem Black Woman by Nancy Morejón published 1975

Nancy Morejón was born in Havana, Cuba on August 7, 1944 and is the first African Cuban woman to gain a BA from the island’s post secondary education system. Morejón’s poem could come from the experience of an enslaved African woman from any country whether the enslavers were British, Danes, French, Portuguese or Spanish. Usually the images of the population of Spanish speaking countries like Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and the countries of Central and South America do not contain much if any representations of Africans. Even in Brazil (former Portuguese colony) with its large population of Africans there is not much representation in that country’s popular culture (including soap operas) of an African presence. So much so that one of the many “Bushisms” attributed to former US president George W. Bush is that he reportedly asked Brazilian President Fernando Cardoso in November 2001 "Do you have blacks, too?" Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice reportedly came to Bush’s rescue by replying: "Mr. President, Brazil probably has more blacks than the USA. Some say it's the country with the most blacks outside Africa." Some reports have the Brazilian president commenting later that: regarding Latin America, Bush was still in his "learning phase." While it may have been surprising that the man who was then leader of “the most powerful country in the world” did not know of an African presence in Brazil he has lots of company. Unlike the documented African presence in the USA and the Caribbean islands that were colonized by the British, the Africans who were enslaved by Spaniards in the New World (which includes islands in the Caribbean and countries in North, South and Central America) have been rendered invisible.

The fact that Africans were enslaved in every territory colonized by the Spanish is a surprise to many people who are astonished when they encounter Africans from places like Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Paraguay etc., In Paraguay there was official denial of an African presence in spite of the fact that Africans were enslaved by the Spanish in Paraguay until a gradual emancipation beginning in 1842 with the Law of Free Womb in 1842. The Law of Free Womb was supposed to free any children born to enslaved African women in Paraguay after 1842. However those children, classified as Libertos were not free because they were compelled by law to work for their mothers’ owners until age 25 if they were male and 24 if they were female. In 1862 there were approximately 17,000 enslaved Africans and 20,000 Libertos in Paraguay. Slavery in Paraguay was declared abolished on October 1869 and Africans in Paraguay were finally freed in 1870. It is therefore strange that the official story was that there were no Africans in Paraguay until a group of Afro-Paraguayan activists led by Lazaro Medina and Jose Carlos Medina organized a census of Paraguayan Afro-descendents in 2007.

The census which was supported by the Interamerican Foundation of the United States and Mundo Afro from Uruguay focused on three communities with an acknowledged African population: Camba Cua, just outside of greater Asuncion; Kamba Kokue, on the outskirts of Paraguari and the city of Emboscada. The census, which was formally presented to and accepted by the Paraguayan government and representatives of the United Nations in Asuncion identified 8,013 acknowledged African Paraguayans in the three communities. This figure is not entirely accurate since the census did not reach everyone, especially in Emboscada where some individuals approached by the census takers preferred not to identify as African Paraguayan. There are other groups of African Paraguayans scattered throughout the country that were not reached by the census takers. It is impossible to estimate the total number of African Paraguayans but Lazaro Medina feels that the figure of around 8000 presented in the 2007 census could easily be doubled. Rodolfo Monge Oviedo identified a much higher number, 156,000, in his article Are we or aren't we? published in the February 1992 NACLA Report on the Americas: Black Americas 1492-1992 volume 25, number 4.

Argentina is another country that has officially denied the presence of Africans in spite of historical documentation of enslaved Africans in the country. Africans were taken to Argentina beginning in 1534 and colonial Argentina was largely dependent on slave labour. Census information compiled between the years 1778 and 1836 shows Africans as 29% of the population. Slavery in Argentina was finally abolished in 1853 after a law similar to that in Paraguay which gave limited freedom beginning in 1813 to the children born to enslaved African women. The Law of Free Womb in Argentina compelled the children of enslaved African women to work for the mother’s owner until they were 20 years old. The much publicized disappearance of Africans from Argentina after 1865 is a myth engineered by the government and upper class white population who wanted Argentina to become a white country. The history books eliminated the presence of Africans to such an extent that African Argentineans were told that they did not exist.

In 2001 when Maria Lamadrid presented her new Argentine passport at Ezeiza International Airport (located in Buenos Aires, Argentina’s capital city) she was detained with accusations that her passport was a fake because according to the immigration officials at Ezeiza International Airport: “This can’t be your passport. There are no blacks in Argentina.” The immigration officials did not know that the African Argentine woman they detained for six hours was the President of Africa Vive (Africa Lives) an organization founded in 1997 by Lamadrid to “defend the rights of African descendants.” Africa Vive was also founded: “to combat poverty, lobby for jobs and educational opportunities in the black community and raise awareness of African culture and history in South America’s ‘whitest’ nation.”

In spite of Argentina’s attempt to whiteout African history and presence in the country, information from Africa Vive puts the population of African Argentineans at approximately 1 million. In 2001, “Grupo Cultural Afro”, "SOS Racismo", and "Africa Vive" united and persuaded a national deputy to organize a ceremony in memory of the African soldiers who died fighting for Argentina’s independence. On 18 December 2009, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed the year beginning on 1 January 2011 the International Year for People of African Descent (résolution 64/169.) If you do not already know of the history and contributions of Africans from the African continent and those of us in the Diaspora, now is a good time to start in preparation for 2011.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


The American Tea Party Movement held its first convention during the weekend of October 8 - 9, 2010. The Movement which began in 2009 after President Barack Obama was elected is considered by some to be a populist political movement.

On April 14, 2010 CBS News published the results of a survey it had done in conjunction with the New York Times. They surveyed 1,580 adults, including 881 self-identified Tea Party supporters, to get a snapshot of the Tea Party Movement. Their survey found: 18% of Americans identify as Tea Party supporters of which 89% are white and 1% is African American. Three of four are 45 years old or older, including 29% who are over 65 with more men (59%) than women (41%)
Thirty six percent hail from the South, 25% from the West, 22% from the Midwest and 18% from the northeast. The majority describe themselves as conservative with 39% describing themselves as very conservative. Sixty percent say they always or usually vote Republican. They are more likely than most American adults to attend religious services weekly (38%) and to call themselves evangelical (39%). Sixty-one percent are Protestant and 22% are Catholic. Fifty eight percent keep a gun in the household.

The name Tea Party is a reference to the Boston Tea Party, a 1773 protest that was part of a movement throughout the 13 British colonies in America against the Tea Act, which had been passed by the British Parliament in 1773. American colonists objected to the Tea Act because they believed that they should not have had to pay taxes to the British government without the right to elect representatives to the British Parliament. The Boston Tea Party was a direct action by colonists in Boston, a town in the British colony of Massachusetts, against the British government. On December 16, 1773, after officials in Boston refused to return three shiploads of taxed tea to Britain, a group of colonists, dressed as Native Americans, boarded the ships and destroyed the tea by throwing it into the Boston Harbor.

The Boston Tea Party was the culmination of the resistance movement. Protesters had successfully prevented the unloading of taxed tea in three other colonies, but in Boston, British Royal Governor Thomas Hutchinson refused to allow the tea to be returned to Britain. Although Hutchinson (1711-1780) was born in Boston he was loyal to the British crown. Six months after the Boston Tea Party Hutchinson sailed for Britain where he lived in exile until his death in 1780.

The group that has named itself after the Tea Act protesters of 1773 invited 15 speakers to their October 2010 convention. The speakers included two African American men, Herman Cain and Bishop E.W. Jackson Sr.

Herman Cain hosts The Herman Cain Show on Atlanta talk radio station News Talk 750 WSB and is a commentator for Fox News Business. In 2009, he founded a leadership consulting company "Hermanator's Intelligent Thinkers Movement" (HITM). Cain is a Republican who attended Morehouse College (alma mater of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.) one of 115 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the USA. Cain who has a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Morehouse College and a master’s degree in computer science from Purdue University is an associate Baptist minister at Antioch Baptist Church in Atlanta and is considering a run for president of the USA as the Republican candidate in 2012.

Bishop E.W. Jackson Sr. is the founder of “Exodus Faith Ministries, a nondenominational ministry headquartered in Chesapeake, Virginia with a satellite church in Boston, Massachusetts.” The good Bishop, a Republican, is very unhappy with the politics of African American Democrats and is declaring political war on the Democrats and the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). He reportedly said of the two groups:
"It is a 'Coalition of the godless.' Black Christians do not belong in a 'coalition of the godless,' and should not vote for those who are.”
On July 4, 2009 Jackson founded the organization; Staying True to America's National Destiny (S.T.A.N.D.) which he describes as “a national grassroots organization dedicated to restoring America's Judeo-Christian history, faith and values and preserving its Christian culture." Its signature project is establishing January as "'American History Month', a time for celebrating the nobility of our nation's founding and history.”

Jackson who is a 1978 graduate of Harvard Law School and practiced law for several years believes that he has a mission to unify Americans around the Judeo-Christian principles “which can save our country, because they are the principles which built it.” It is astonishing that this African American man, the descendant of Africans who were enslaved in America thinks that he should trumpet the “Judeo-Christian history and values which make America great” and he subscribes to the belief that “we must again celebrate our Judeo-Christian foundations.” This is a serious case of someone under a cloud of “the illusion of inclusion.”

The irony of these two African American men attending and speaking at the convention of a group of mostly white people who hate the thought of an African American family living in the White House is overwhelming. Some Tea Party members are practically foaming at the mouth with hate: complete with their rabidly racist signs and comments. On March 20, 2010 two African American congressmen Andre Carson, Democrat-Indiana and John Lewis, Democrat-Georgia (an activist of the civil rights movement) reported being spit on by a group of Tea Party members who were also chanting “the N-word, the N-word, 15 times.” The fact that a seemingly educated and intelligent African American can forget his history and write:
"We are bringing this country back to our Constitution and Godly values. Jesse, Sharpton & NAACP can get on board or get out of the way.”
is beyond sad. The Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey said: A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.

It is very possible that the good African American gentlemen who spoke at the Tea Party Movement convention do not know that their ancestors were taken from the African continent and enslaved by the good Christian white people who “laid the foundations of Judeo-Christian history and values that make America great.” It is also very possible that they do not know about the back-lash on October 17, 1901 after President Theodore Roosevelt invited African American educator Booker T. Washington to the White House for dinner on October 16. They need to read the words written in the October 17, 1901 edition of the Memphis Scimitar and then take a second look at that coiled, poised to attack serpent they have embraced (Tea Party symbol.) The Tea Party Movement has bamboozled some African Americans into thinking that it is a movement exercising democratic right to criticize an American government with which they disagree. However the words written in the October 17, 1901 edition of the Memphis Scimitar is a more accurate reflection of the mindset behind the rise of the Tea Party Movement:
“The most damnable outrage which has ever been perpetrated by any citizen of the United States was committed yesterday by the President, when he invited a n--ger to dine with him at the White House.”
Imagine the rage of the American Tea Party Movement the descendants of the people who wrote those words in October 1901 that in 2010 African Americans live in the White House as America’s First Family.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


While we celebrate African Heritage Month in February, our counterparts in Britain celebrate African/Black History Month in October. Many Africans in Britain can only trace their ancestry as far as the Caribbean where their ancestors were enslaved by Britain’s white population and stripped of their names, languages and culture. Africans whose land was carved up by European tribes, including the tribes of Britain, can trace their ancestry back to specific areas of the African continent but they also inherited a legacy of European domination which destroyed or at least contaminated their culture (as described in several books including Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.) Achebe, an Igbo from Nigeria was born in 1939 several years after the British had colonized much of the African continent including Nigeria. He has written extensively about the effect of colonization on the Africans.

Surprisingly during the celebration of Britain’s significant population of African and African Caribbean people, the history of African Americans play a significant role. Although Africans have been a part of the island’s history even before the English, this is not a major part of the recognition of African history in Britain. In 1984 Peter Fryer a white British author published Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain in which he wrote:
“There were Africans in Britain before the English came here. They were soldiers in the Roman imperial army that occupied the southern part of our island for three and a half centuries. Though the earliest attested date for this unit’s presence here is 253-8, an African soldier is reputed to have reached Britain by the year 210.”
One writer, who describes the history of October as African/Black History Month in Britain, bemoans the fact that the focus is on a few figures of historical significance. Afua Hirsch writes in a column published on October 1, 2010 in Britain’s Guardian newspaper:
“The original motive behind Black History Month was to redress the dishonest way history was taught in British schools: airbrushing out black people except for their role as slaves or colonial subjects. There is equally a dishonesty in elevating people such as Muhammad Ali and Mary Seacole into simplistic figures of black pride.”
Mary Seacole (1805–1881) born in Jamaica was an army nurse during the Crimean War. Seacole’s services as a nurse were refused by Britain’s War office but she persevered, travelled to the war zone and eventually became a heroine of the Crimean War through her unselfish work caring for wounded British soldiers. Seacole’s work and name is not as popular outside of Britain and Jamaica as the names of African American heroes and sheroes. While I agree that the celebration of a few people’s lives should not be the focus of recognizing our history, it is important that we call their names and remember them as our people who have achieved in spite of adversity and can serve as role models.

In 1999 Fryer, the author of Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain (which in some quarters is considered the definitive written history of Africans in Britain) published The Politics of Windrush. Fryer had been a young reporter when the Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury in Essex on June 22, 1948. Although there had been an African presence in Britain for centuries, the arrival of the Empire Windrush carrying 492 passengers from Jamaica and Trinidad changed that history. The image of the large number of African Caribbean passengers disembarking has become an important landmark in the history of Britain, symbolising the beginning of modern multicultural relations which has significantly changed British society over the past 60 years. In 1998, an area in Brixton was renamed Windrush Square to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the arrival of the Caribbean migrants. In commemorating the 50 th anniversary of the arrival of the Windrush and celebrating African/Black History Month, Fryer was invited to speak at the Mandela Centre at Leeds on October 10, 1998 and an edited version of his speech is the text of the book The Politics of Windrush.

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

Immigrants from Britain’s other Caribbean colonies joined the exodus in what Jamaican poet Louise Bennett Coverly (Miss Lou) described in her popular poem as colonization in reverse.

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

The presence of the immigrants from the Caribbean and the African continent may have increased the numbers and visibility but we know that there has been an African presence in Britain for more than 18,000 years. The Oxford Companion to Black British History by David Dabydeen, John Gilmore and Cecily Jones published in 2007 documents African Presence in Britain from as early as the 2nd century A.D.

Saturday, October 2, 2010


October is Women’s History Month in Canada. Proclaimed in 1992 by the Government of Canada, Women’s History Month provides an opportunity for Canadians to learn about the important contributions of women and girls to our society – and to the quality of our lives today.
From Status of Women Canada

According to information from the Canadian government:
Status of Women Canada (SWC) is a federal government organization that promotes the full participation of women in the economic, social and democratic life of Canada. SWC works to advance equality for women and to remove the barriers to women's participation in society, putting particular emphasis on increasing women's economic security and eliminating violence against women.

The establishment of the SWC came out of the activism of Canadian feminists in the 1960s. In 1966 the Committee for the Equality of Women in Canada was founded and successfully lobbied for the creation of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women. When the Royal Commission on the Status of Women published its report in 1970 it led to the formation of the National Ad Hoc Action Committee on the Status of Women in 1971 which eventually became the National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NAC). The organization’s primary mandate was to ensure the implementation of the Royal Commission's recommendations which included birth control, day care, education, family law, maternity leave and pensions. NAC eventually grew into the largest national feminist organization with a total of 700 affiliated groups and its mandate grew beyond the implementation of the Royal Commission's recommendations to include issues such as poverty, racism, same-sex rights and violence against women.

Although the membership of the organization was diverse its leadership of white, middle-class women was not diverse until Sunera Thobani was elected in 1993. The election of a racialized woman as the leader of the most important and influential woman’s organization in the country made some people very uncomfortable. Things became ugly when John MacDougall Progressive Conservative Member of Parliament rose in the House of Commons on April 23, 1993 to accuse Thobani of being an illegal immigrant. MacDougall is quoted as saying:
Earlier today I learned that [Thobani] first is not a Canadian, and second does not have a work permit for this country. Does the Deputy Prime Minister believe that the taxpayers of Canada should be funding such an organization with an illegal immigrant as its head?
There was an outcry from members of the public since Thobani was a landed immigrant. MacDougall did not seek re-election in the federal election held on October 25, 1993. However, MacDougall was not the lone voice against Thobani’s election to lead NAC.

In July 2007 when Sharmeen Khan interviewed Thobani for Upping the Anti she addressed this issue when she asked:
There was a backlash against your leadership of NAC framed in terms of how well you could represent Canadian women. How did you respond to this?
Thobani replied:
Who was this “Canadian woman” that I couldn’t represent? That was my question at the time. It was of course my “immigrant” status that people found so objectionable. If women activists like myself who come from immigrant communities and anti-racist movements can’t represent Canadian women, then who can? Is it just elite or privileged white women who can speak for Canadian women? One of my responses was to challenge this construct of the “Canadian woman” who was the subject of the women’s movement.

Thobani’s experience was not unique and even today in the 21st century we grapple with the same question. Who is a Canadian woman and has the “right” to represent the views of Canadian women? Unfortunately it is not only immigrant women who are not considered Canadian, it is any racialized person even if they were born in Canada. African Canadians are routinely challenged on their Canadian citizenship even if they can trace their lineage in Canada to the 1600s. In spite of the continued attacks Thobani and the other racialized leaders at NAC did not shy away from addressing the “isms.” Joan Grant-Cummings, who followed Thobani as the leader of NAC, wrote in her farewell message:
"Sistahs, Sistrens, Sisters, Soeurs... My message over the past four year has not changed and it will not change now - feminism is an equality-seeking revolution - non-violent, persistent, tenacious, consistent, inevitable in its success. For feminism to be successful and meaningful to women it must put women who are pushed to the margins in the centre, it must bring women who are being trampled upon and suffocated at the bottom of the heap up for air - these women must be the priority now. If patriarchy, racism, ablism, ageism, classism, heterosexism seek to marginalize, disempower, ravage and violate women, then feminism must turn these 'systems' on their heads.

NAC was one of the few national organizations where racialized women achieved leadership positions. Racialized women are almost non-existent as representatives in the three levels of government. It will be interesting to see how many racialized women will be elected in the municipal election on October 25.

During the Toronto municipal election of 1980 Fran Reid-Endicott an African Canadian woman made history when she was elected as trustee to represent Ward 7 (now part of Ward 14 where I am a candidate.) Reid-Endicott, the daughter of esteemed Jamaican writer Victor Stafford Reid (author of The Young Warriors 1967; The Jamaicans 1976 and Nanny-Town 1983,) became the first African Canadian woman elected trustee at the Toronto Board of Education. She was not the first African Canadian elected to the position of trustee at the Board, that distinction belongs to Pat Case who was elected in 1978. While serving as trustee she chaired several committees, including the Affirmative Action Committee and the Race Relations Committee. She was also a member of the Ontario Ministry of Education Advisory Committee on the Development of a Race Relations Policy.

The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) has honoured Reid-Endicott’s memory by establishing the Equitable Schools Fran Endicott Equity Centre which according to the TDSB houses
“a diverse collection of equity-focused resources and houses equity-based student art work which provides a warm welcoming space for meetings and events. The collection includes print and non-print resources on equity and human rights education, including curricular materials that challenge discrimination based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, ability, and age. The collection is available for loan to TDSB parents, students, and staff.”

Endicott-Reid was an advocate for equity even before she became a trustee. In his 2005 published book Race to equity: disrupting educational inequality Tim McCaskell writes of Reid-Endicott:
Her work at OISE’s Third World Project led to her engagement with issues facing inner-city Caribbean youth, such as the teaching of Black and West Indian history in Ontario schools. She immersed herself in community work with the Immigrant Women’s Centre and Black Education Project.

Endicott-Reid certainly qualifies as a woman who has made important contributions to our society and to the quality of our lives today. Her activism, dedication to equity in education and passion are some of the qualities we need to look for in the trustee candidates when we go to the polls on October 25 to elect the people who will be responsible for steering the course of the public education system in Toronto for the next four years.