Saturday, February 26, 2011


On February 26, 1885 the three month long Berlin Conference came to an end with the signing of a document which the participants signed: “In the Name of God Almighty. Her Majesty the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Empress of India; His Majesty the German Emperor, King of Prussia; His Majesty the Emperor of Austria, King of Bohemia, etc, and Apostolic King of Hungary; His Majesty the King of the Belgians; His Majesty the King of Denmark; His Majesty the King of Spain; the President of the United States of America; the President of the French Republic; His Majesty the King of Italy; His Majesty the King of the Netherlands, Grand Duke of Luxemburg, etc; His Majesty the King of Portugal and the Algarves, etc; His Majesty the Emperor of all the Russias; His Majesty the King of Sweden and Norway, etc; and His Majesty the Emperor of the Ottomans.”

The conference began on November 15, 1884 where a group of white men representing 14 countries, parceled out portions of the African continent for their exploitation. No African was present as these men divided African communities and families, established new borders, entrenched injustice and colonial exploitation. Ironically the group signed this pact to destroy the lives of millions of Africans, for generations; “In the Name of God Almighty.” The Belgians would eventually blame their King for the atrocities they carried out on the Congolese. Admittedly Leopold was the ruler but it was the ordinary Belgians who were committing the horrendous acts of chopping off the hands of men, women and children in the Congo when they did not produce rubber fast enough to please the greedy Belgians.

With the wholesale colonizing of the African continent (except Ethiopia) the Europeans forced the Africans to speak the language of the colonizers and to adapt their culture and belief systems. Those Africans who quickly learned to speak the European language of their colonizers were rewarded with 2nd class citizenship in their countries (Europeans awarded themselves 1st class positions.) Those Africans who did not speak the European languages, gradually became 3rd class (and lower) citizens. The European languages began to displace African languages and there are “educated” members of these now formerly colonized African nations who choose not to speak the language of their ancestors.

As they did during the centuries of chattel slavery, Africans resisted the occupation of their land. However they were tricked by the wily Europeans who in some cases first sent in their missionaries and traders pretending that they were concerned for the Africans’ “immortal soul” or that they were there to trade. The military and the adventurers always followed in those cases. In other cases the Europeans were very up front that they were on the Africans’ land to exploit and pillage. In such cases the Europeans had the advantage being better equipped with the tools of destruction. Most Africans who had access to weapons were hampered with ancient front loading muskets which fired three rounds per minute and had to be loaded while the shooter was standing. The Europeans had the advantage of the new breech loading guns which had up to four times the firing capacity of the old muskets and could be loaded while the shooter was in a prone position making him less of a target while he was re-loading.

With the Maxim automatic machine gun, patented in July 1883 and unveiled in October 1884 the Africans were seriously out gunned in any fight. The Maxim could fire 600 rounds per minute, equivalent to the firepower of approximately 30 of even the new breech-loading rifles. Therefore by 1914, the year of the first European tribal conflict, also called the Great War or World War II, 29 years after the signing of the Berlin Conference document, white men and women occupied the African continent except for Ethiopia. The Italians had tried to colonize Ethiopia but were soundly thrashed in 1896.

The Europeans were determined to exploit the Africans and the natural resources of the continent. The Europeans swarmed into the continent occupying the most fertile land and establishing plantations coercing the Africans into supplying cheap labour. Africans were also forced into providing cheap labour as Europeans extracted the minerals from the African soil and sent the wealth to enrich Europe and Europeans.

Africans were systematically stripped of their land and in some cases of their sense of self as the colonizers taught them that their beliefs and culture were inferior and should be abandoned. They were inundated with alien beliefs, cultures, religions and languages leaving many Africans psychologically damaged.

Chinua Achebe in his 1958 published book Things Fall Apart writes of the disintegration of the Igbo (of Nigeria) society when the British colonized Nigeria and forced Africans to adapt to European culture and Christian beliefs. Africans suffered psychological damage when Christianity was introduced into their indigenous culture and belief systems. This is not surprising when people were told of a loving supreme being that the white Christians worshipped which was very much at odds with the brutal violence of some of the white practitioners of the Christian religion.

During African Heritage/Black History Month and this year of the International Year for People of African Descent we can think of ways to deal with the internalized stuff that we all struggle with to various degrees. Enough with the dancing, singing and only providing entertainment as examples of who we are as a people. As survivors of enslavement and colonization there is a bit of that enslavement of the mind/colonization of the mind that we imbibed, or received through a process seemingly similar to osmosis, because this has been handed down through generations of ignoring the physical and spirit injury our ancestors suffered. Many of us are ashamed of our history not recognizing that the enslavement and colonization to which our ancestors were subjected is not our shame to own, it is the shame of the perpetrators and those who continue to benefit.

It is important, imperative for us to write our truth so that our descendants do not continue to view themselves through European lens, through a white supremacist lens. The African belief systems are as valuable as any European systems. Various beliefs from European pagan culture are normalized while African beliefs are trivialized or ridiculed. When Europeans write about civilizing missions to Africa we must challenge and deconstruct those myths. Europeans went to Africa to exploit. European greed continues to haunt the African continent in the form of mining companies exploiting the minerals and the people of the Congo.

There has been a movement during this month to honour “One Ancestor A Day” which does not have to stop now that we are at the end of February. George Washington Williams (October 16, 1849 – August 2, 1891) and William Henry Sheppard (1865–1927) were two African American men who travelled to the Congo and worked to expose the atrocities that the Belgians visited on the people of the Congo. Which ancestor are you learning about today?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011



On February 23, 1970 the former British Guiana became the Co-operative Republic of Guyana. Guyana had gained its independence from Britain on May 26, 1966 but became a republic on the 207 th anniversary of the beginning of the Berbice Revolution. On February 23, 1763, 207 years before Guyana became a republic, a group of enslaved Africans led by Kofi, an Akan man from Ghana who had worked as a “house slave,” (so much for the myth of the docile “house slave”) and his lieutenants struck their first blow for freedom. Africans had no say in which positions they were put to work; so being forced to work in “Massa’s” house or “Massa’s” fields was never an indication of the enslaved African’s state of mind.

The Berbice Revolution began on Plantation Magdalenenburg up the Canje River and soon spread to other plantations on the Canje River and eventually up the Berbice River. As the victorious Africans conquered plantation after plantation, the European slave holders fled until approximately half of the white population who had lived in the colony remained. Within one month, the Africans took control over almost all of the 19 plantations in Berbice. Some of the Dutch soldiers fled while others were killed in battle with the Africans.

Kofi and his lieutenants Akkabre, Akkara and Atta are the acknowledged leaders of the Berbice Revolution and led enough freedom fighters to eliminate the Dutch. However in spite of having enough numbers and the strategic advantage to retain ownership of Berbice the Africans instead chose to negotiate with their former enslavers to share the colony.

While the Africans were negotiating in good faith, the Europeans were marking time until troops from neighbouring French, Dutch and British colonies arrived. Once reinforcement arrived in the colony and the Europeans regained control of Berbice many of the Africans were brutally killed as a warning. Forty were hanged, 24 broken on the wheel and 24 were burned to death. Some fled to neighbouring Suriname while others were re-enslaved, but Kofi was never captured. Many of the Africans preferred to die fighting, rather than surrender and become re-enslaved.

There are many instances of enslaved Africans fighting for their freedom that are generally not known outside of the countries where they waged these struggles. Most of the armed struggles of enslaved Africans in the USA are documented and readily available but those of enslaved Africans in the Caribbean, South and Central America are not as well known. There are a few fairly well known names outside of their respective countries like Bussa of Barbados, Nanny of the Jamaican Maroons, Toussaint L’Overture of Haiti and Zumbi of Brazil. The enslaved Africans of Haiti were the only group to successfully overthrow their enslavers and retain their freedom.

The struggle for freedom and eventual triumph of the enslaved Africans in Haiti has become better known since 2004 when the citizens of that country observed the 200 year anniversary of their freedom from slavery. Haiti is the sole country where enslaved Africans, led by a former “house slave” Toussaint L’Overture successfully overthrew their enslavers. L’Overture, like his counterpart Kofi in Guyana, trusted his former enslavers and lost his freedom and his life when he accepted an invitation to meet with the treacherous French who kidnapped and transported him to a prison in France where he remained for the rest of his life. The kidnapping of their leader did not faze the Haitian freedom fighters and on January 1, 1804 they declared their freedom as an independent nation; the only group of Africans to successfully defeat their enslavers.

The European world has never forgiven this challenge to their supposed superiority and the people of Haiti have been the target of successive attacks on their sovereignty. The Americans and the French have been at the forefront of these attacks and the 1992 documentary Haiti: Killing the Dream ( narrated by the late African American actor Ossie Davis looks at the nearly twenty-year occupation of Haiti by US Marines beginning in 1915. The French began the process of killing the dream when they subjected the fledgling nation to a forced reparation payment of what would amount to billions of dollars in today’s Canadian currency, for the loss of French property (which included the Africans who had seized their freedom.)

The success of the Africans on Haiti terrified the white slave holders in the Caribbean, Europe, Central, North and South America and began a process of gradual end to the 400 year enslavement of Africans. Britain abolished its slave trade March 25, 1807 and slavery 27 years later on August 1, 1834. Chile abolished slavery in 1823, while Brazil (1888) and Cuba (1886) were the last to end chattel slavery.

In Guyana, the freedom fighting Africans held the colony of Berbice for more than a year until March, 1764. The enslavement of Africans in what was then British Guiana ended on August 1, 1834 (completed in 1838 after “apprenticeship” period) as it did in all British “possessions” including Canada.

Although Kofi’s struggle to free himself and other enslaved Africans from the Dutch in the 1763-1764 Berbice Revolution was not successful, he has been recognized as a heroic revolutionary figure and is Guyana’s National Hero. He lit the torch that was passed on to subsequent generations of Guyanese until Guyana gained its independence from the second colonialists, the British, on May 26, 1966. The day that Kofi struck a blow for freedom is immortalized in the Guyanese constitution with a public holiday (Republic Day) on February 23rd of each year since 1970. The highlight of Republic Day celebrations is the Mashramani festival and parade, reminiscent of Toronto’s Caribana Parade.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


A BLACK WOMAN, named Peggy, aged about forty years; and a Black boy her son, named JUPITER aged about fifteen years, both of them the property of the subscriber.
The woman is a tolerable cook and washer woman and perfectly understands making soap and candles.
The boy is tall and strong of his age, and has been employed in County business, but brought up principally as a House Servant - They are each of them Servants for life. The price for the Woman is one hundred and fifty Dollars - for the Boy two hundred Dollars, payable in three years with interest from the day of Sale and to be properly secured by Bond &c. - But one fourth less will be taken in ready Money.
York, Feb. 10th, 1806

Peter Russell was at one point considered the successor of his friend and colleague Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe. When ill health forced Simcoe to leave Upper Canada (Ontario), Russell was appointed the provincial administrator. Russell was a member of the Executive Council of Ontario and the “Family Compact” (small group of officials who dominated the executive and legislative councils, senior bureaucratic positions and the judiciary of Upper Canada until the 1830s) before he was appointed provincial administrator in July 1796. He remained acting in the position of administrator until 1799 when Simcoe's permanent replacement as Lieutenant Governor (Peter Hunter) was appointed. Russell and his sister Elizabeth were also slave owners who for many years enslaved Peggy, her son Jupiter and her two daughters even though Peggy was married to a free African Canadian man, Mr. Pompadour. The law designated that children born of enslaved African women were also enslaved at birth even if (as in many cases) the children were sired by the white owners of the enslaved women. Since Peggy was the property of Peter Russell and his sister Elizabeth, her children at birth automatically became the Russell’s property.

Peggy occasionally practiced what Dr Verene Shepherd in her book I Want To Disturb My Neighbour: Lectures on Slavery, Emancipation and Postcolonial Jamaica terms “petticoat rebellion.” Dr. Shepherd writes that the term was first used by Matthew Gregory Lewis, the owner of Cornwall estate in western Jamaica in a January 26, 1816 entry in his diary as he described the resistance of an enslaved African woman who when confronted by an abusive overseer on the plantation: “flew at his throat, and endeavoured to strangle him.” Although Peggy Pompadour in Upper Canada was never accused of physically defending herself or her children against the brutal slave system they endured, she and her son were accused of and were punished for being “insolent.” Peggy and Jupiter occasionally left the Russell’s property to assert some form of ownership over their own bodies, as a form of their resistance to their enslavement. On one occasion a notice from Peter Russell appeared on September 2, 1803 in the Upper Canada Gazette stating: "The subscriber’s black servant Peggy not having his permission to absent herself from his service, the public are hereby cautioned from employing or harbouring her without the owner’s leave. Whoever will do so after this notice may expect to be treated as the law directs."

The lives of Peggy, Jupiter and Peggy’s younger children Amy and Milly were not an anomaly in Canada. Even though Canada was the destination of thousands of enslaved Africans fleeing their enslaved status in the USA, slavery was also practiced in Canada. The first named enslaved African to reside in Canada was a six-year old boy who was kidnapped from his home in Madagascar and was first owned by David Kirke in 1628. The child was sold several times, was baptized Catholic and given the name Olivier Le Jeune; one of his owners was Father Paul Le Jeune. There is no record of the African name of the kidnapped and enslaved child renamed Olivier Le Jeune by his enslavers.

Slavery in Canada was just as brutal and dreadful as slavery in Brazil, Cuba or the USA. Enslaved Africans were sold away from their families, were beaten to death, enslaved women were raped by their owners, their owners’ relatives, colleagues and friends. Thomas Thistlewood documented his systematic rape of enslaved African females on his plantation in Jamaica. His diary was published in the book In Miserable Slavery: Thomas Thistlewood in Jamaica 1750-1786 by Douglas Hall. Thistlewood like Russell left England to seek his fortune in the “colonies.” While he went to Jamaica, Russell came to Canada. Unlike Thistlewood, Russell did not leave a diary of his abuse of the Africans he held in slavery; although his sister Elizabeth did keep a diary of sorts (housed at the Baldwin Room, Toronto Public Library.) In her 2007 published book The Hanging of Angelique: The Untold story of Canadian Slavery and the Burning of Old Montreal Dr Afua Cooper surmises on page 96; “Who knows what was going on in the Russell household that led Peggy to run from it. Was she sexually abused by either owner? It seems that her relationship with Elizabeth Russell in particular was strained.” Enslaved Africans were regularly advertised for sale in the Upper Canada Gazette. When Peter Russell died in 1808, his sister Elizabeth inherited his property including the Pompadour family, Peggy and her children. Elizabeth Russell eventually gave away Peggy’s child Amy to her goddaughter Elizabeth Denison as a gift.

One of the most well known life stories of an enslaved person in Canada is that of Marie Joseph Angelique. Her life story is documented in Dr. Afua Cooper’s 2007 published book The Hanging of Angelique: The Untold story of Canadian Slavery and the Burning of Old Montreal.Marie Joseph Angelique was an enslaved African woman who had been born in Portugal but sold a few times before ending up in Montreal as the property of Quebecois merchant Francois Poulin de Francheville and his wife. After his death de Francheville’s widow planned to sell Angelique again. She had already been sold from her birthplace in Portugal, to the USA then to New France (Quebec.) In the space of a few short years she had to learn English (in the USA) and French (in Quebec). Enslaved people were brutally beaten when they did not understand the language of their enslavers and needed time to decipher instructions, commands and demands made in the strange new language. Angelique was accused of setting fire to her owner's home to cover her attempted escape from the de Francheville widow on April 10, 1734. Raging out of control the fire destroyed forty-six buildings. Angelique fled during the commotion of the efforts to contain the blaze but she was hunted and captured. She was tried, found guilty and sentenced to have her hand cut off before being burned alive. The sentence was reduced to hanging and burning. On June 21, 1734, she was tortured until she confessed, she was driven through the streets of Montreal in a rubbish cart, then publicly executed by hanging, her body was burned and her ashes scattered in Montreal. She was 29 years old.

The lives of enslaved Africans like Peggy Pompadour, her son Jupiter and Marie Joseph Angelique are part of Canadian history that is becoming better known. In the 1980s when I bought Daniel G. Hill’s book The Freedom Seekers the stories were not as well known. During this month; African Heritage/Black History Month and this year the United Nations declared International Year for People of African Descent (IYPAD) we need to read and educate ourselves, our children, family, friends, colleagues, co-workers about our history. Our history did not begin with slavery but we did suffer four hundred years of enslavement and disconnection from our roots and the effects are felt to this day.

On August 24, 1833 the Slavery Abolition Act was passed by the British Parliament and became law on August 1, 1834. The mindset that allowed Africans fleeing slavery from the USA to be free once they reached Canada and continued to allow enslaved Africans in Canada to remain in bondage until August 1, 1834 when slavery was abolished by the British Parliament is still in operation today.

The police celebrate “Black History Month” with great pomp and ceremony yet are guilty of racial profiling and in some cases horrible brutality of African Canadians. Police officers in some areas regularly play basketball games with African Canadian youth yet in those same areas will target and brutalise African Canadian youth. The more things change the more they remain the same.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


The families, Board members and staff in the school district of Copley-Fairlawn in Akron, Ohio can sleep better at nights knowing that the threat of two female African American students attending a school in their overwhelmingly white school district has been removed. The Copley-Fairlawn school district removed that threat with a vengeance and the whole law and order weight of the American justice system. On January 18, 2011 an African American woman Kelly Williams-Bolar who sent her two daughters to a school in the mostly white school district was sentenced to 10 days in jail, two years of probation and ordered to perform 80 hours of community service.

Essentially her crime was sending her two African American children to a school in an overwhelmingly white district while having a home in public housing. Willams-Bolar’s 64 year old father Edward Williams was charged with "one count of grand theft for aiding and abetting his daughter in her alleged deception to obtain educational services from Copley-Fairlawn schools." He maintains that his daughter and grand-daughters lived at his home during the two years the girls attended school in the Copley-Fairlawn school district. In an interview with WJW-TV he was quoted: "She had 12 police reports that her house had been broken in, so what am I supposed to do? Just leave them there? I mean, I can protect them better if they was with me."

Now that the African American single mother is a convicted felon her employment as a teacher’s assistant at a secondary school is at risk and she has no hope of working as a teacher because of her recently acquired criminal record. It could have been much worse but the very kind and considerate judge who handed down a sentence of five years in prison for each of the two felony counts to be served concurrently, in consideration of the African American mother’s lack of a police record, suspended the sentence and placed her on probation for two years. However, this good white woman, Common Pleas Judge Patricia Cosgrove who sat in judgment of the African American woman felt that some jail time was appropriate in the case and she sentenced the defendant to 10 days in the Summit County Jail. The judge even empathized: “I understand trying to do the best for your children, but the ends don’t justify the means” and sympathized: "Because of the felony conviction, you will not be allowed to get your teaching degree under Ohio law as it stands today, the court's taking into consideration that is also a punishment that you will have to serve."

Apparently this long and winding road to becoming a convicted felon is paved with good intentions; the good intentions of an African American woman determined to ensure the safety of her two young daughters and “avoid a latch-key situation.” In a supposed post-racial society this mother whose home in a government subsidized housing project had been burglarized several times decided to move with her children into her father’s home in an overwhelmingly white and considerably safer suburban neighbourhood and was punished with a jail sentence and criminal record. One newspaper reported that her father had suffered a stroke at the time and she was his sole caretaker. Her daughters were 8 and 12 years old at the time and she was employed as a teacher’s assistant studying to become a teacher. Living in her father’s home she enrolled her daughters in a school in the local school district which is overwhelmingly white so of course the two little African American girls attracted the attention of all and sundry.

At some point between August 2006 and November 2009 when she was arrested on multiple felony charges this woman must have spent some time in her home in the subsidized Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority project but she and her father maintain that his home was also her residence. It is not hard to understand that not feeling safe in a home that had been burglarized a few times but not wanting to entirely lose the home, she would have returned with some trepidation but maintained residency in the safer neighbourhood (her father’s residence.) It is also not difficult to understand that since this mother was working full time and attending university at night she would not have left her daughters alone in an apartment in an unsafe neighbourhood but at their grandfather’s home, proving that it was a legitimate residence for them to attend school in the district.

Even the 64 year old grandfather has not escaped the long and heavy law and order arm of the American justice system. This African American grandfather who “colluded” in ensuring his grandchildren’s safety was found guilty in a joint trial with his daughter and is awaiting his sentencing. Probably the very family oriented system decided that they should not send mother and grandfather to jail at the same time thus leaving the children to the tender mercies of the state’s “child protection” services. So it is possible that the grandfather will be sentenced to jail now that his daughter has served her time.
The mother has maintained that sending her children to the Copley-Fairlawn schools was not based on a belief of her children receiving a better education in suburbia; however the records show that in wealthy, overwhelmingly white suburbs, children study in brand new schools which lack nothing, in personnel, equipment or support needed for a high quality education while poor, mostly racialized children study in de-facto segregated, poorly equipped and overcrowded inner city schools. The 2009-2010 report card issued for the school the elder daughter attended in the Copley-Fairlawn school district has it designated as “Excellent with Distinction.” The 2009-2010 report card issued for the school the younger daughter attended has it designated as “Excellent.” Other terms used to describe the schools in the Copley-Fairlawn school district are “high performing” and “highly ranked” while schools in the lower income areas are often described as “dropout factories” and “failure mills.” The school district spent about $6,000 to pursue the African American mother and grandfather eventually bringing them to a criminal trial, a sum that included hiring a private investigator to monitor and videotape the movements of the mother and her children.

This case was the first residency challenge to reach a criminal courtroom although at the trial school district officials testified that some 30 to 40 similar residency issues had arisen with other families during the two years (2006-2008) the two Williams-Bolar daughters attended school in the district. No one else faced criminal prosecution or civil court action, the school officials said. Not surprisingly the prosecutor's office refused to consider reducing the charges to misdemeanors during numerous pretrial meetings to resolve the case outside of court which would have at least prevented the threat to the mother's job and to her hopes of becoming a school teacher.

Since the trial and jail sentence there has been much support for the family including at least two sets of petitions. There have also been several articles written in support of the family including one entitled Parenting While Black: Ohio Woman Jailed for "Stealing an Education" where the writer commented: ''If Ms. Williams and her children had been white would the school have gone to this trouble to expose them as supposed 'criminals?' and this comment on one blog: "It's interesting that the judge wanted to send her to jail for her crime, but there are Wall Street execs who got less time for stealing millions."

A coalition of activist groups delivered 165,000 signatures collected from around the country Governor John Kasich on Monday, February 7, 2011 urging him to pardon Kelley Williams-Bolar. The groups seeking Governor John Kasich's pardon for 40-year-old Kelley Williams-Bolar are, and Iris Roley, a member of and chairwoman of the Cincinnati NAACP, said the groups believe the case highlights inequities in Ohio's education system.

However, the persecution of this African American family continues. A new attorney has been appointed to represent the father of Kelley Williams-Bolar in connection with two felony charges that were severed from the joint trial of Williams-Bolar and her 64 year old father last month (January 2011.)

Edward L. Williams was accompanied by a court-appointed lawyer, Joe E. Perry, during an appearance on Wednesday morning (February 9, 2011) before Summit County Common Pleas Judge Patricia A. Cosgrove. Williams was required to fill out a sworn affidavit of indigency and answer a series of questions in open court before Cosgrove appointed Perry as his lawyer. Cosgrove set April 19 as the trial date for Edward L. Williams.