Friday, October 21, 2011


I wrote this piece a few hours after Amma was born on Bob Marley's 60th birthday. The twins Taiwo and Kehinde were born almost three years later. We were still fighting to get the Toronto District School Board TDSB to establish an Africentric school. And what a fight it was!! There was resistance from the provincial government, there was resistance from white people who did not care that 40% of African Canadian students in TDSB schools were being failed by the education system. Then the racists came out of the woodwork with their vitriolic attacks. There was a dreadful white supremacist cartoon in one of the white newspapers and a senior police officer (Inspector) from the city of Barrie police force sent out an equally white supremacist e-mail to his colleagues with a math problem he thought would be appropriate for an Africentric curriculum. The subject line was: “Afrocentric math for Toronto’s new black only school” and the body resembled a math test with 10 “problems” based on firearms use, drug deals, pimping, theft and other crimes. In 2005 the school was still a dream. We kept fighting to get that school established. Today in 2011, the school is a reality, established in 2009, still suffering some growing pains but Amma, Taiwo and Kehinde are students at the school.

AFRICENTRIC SCHOOL written on February 7, 2005

There has been a great deal of discussion about how our children function in the public schools they attend. The suggestion of Black-focused or African-centered schools has been put forward as a solution to counteract the high dropout rate our children experience.

Black-focused schools, Afrocentric curriculum, African-centered schools, whatever term is used, we need these schools. These schools should have been a reality for at least 20 years now. However, better late than never.
For years, parents, grandparents, caregivers have advocated for schools where our children will learn about themselves and what their ancestors have contributed to the world and the society in which they live. In many of the schools in which our children are educated and often mis-educated, they are subjected to emotional and sometimes physical abuse. Many parents do not know where to go for help when this happens. Some determined parents eventually find the Organization of Parents of Black Children, the Black Secretariat, the African Canadian Legal Clinic, the Black Action Defense Committee or the many other advocacy groups that are either not funded or under-funded.

There are arguments against African-centered schools. Some schools claim that their staff recognize and respond to the multicultural makeup of their school. In many cases, however, the African presence is only recognized during the month of February. For this one month during the year it is acknowledged that we have done "something". In many cases, February is the time people choose to invite Africans to dance, share food and their stories. Sometimes the invited are instructed not to do anything "heavy". It is okay to watch us entertain, but just don't talk about slavery in Canada. Do not mention racism or White supremacy.
It is quite alright for our children to learn all about the exploits of White people. It is very wrong when we want our children to learn about what our ancestors have contributed. Our civilizations are well kept secrets. How many of our children know about Matthew DaCosta? How many know about the Sankore University in Timbuktu? How many know that Lucie and Thornton Blackburn started the first taxicab business in the city of Toronto in 1836? Children thrive in an environment where they are valued, respected, loved. They become withdrawn or belligerent where they are disrespected and abused, whether physically or emotionally.

In an African-centered school the students' culture will be taken into account in every subject and at every grade level. The curriculum will reflect the authentic voice and the lived realities of the students. The concepts in the history, science, mathematics and social studies lessons will reflect African consciousness and contributions. A positive environment reflecting the African-centeredness of the students will encourage them to strive for and achieve excellence. Pride in themselves will encourage the students to take pride in their environment. This will be reflected in the cleanliness of the school, and the images, artwork, posters etc. will be African-centered to reflect the student population. The entire school environment -- including each classroom -- will be an invitation to learn for each student and teacher.

In an African-centered school, discipline will be based on respect for knowledge that reflects and respects the students. The students will respect themselves, the teacher and the other students based on knowledge that they are respected as valued human beings capable of learning and excelling. An African-centered school will be a school where the African culture is respected and celebrated. Students in African-focused schools will understand the historical role Africans have played in world events.
While we label the schools that would be ideal for our students, we do not label the schools they now attend as Eurocentric, and in many cases, White supremacist. The curriculum that is taught in the public school system glorifies European culture, but it is done in a manner that says 'this is mainstream.' It has become so "normal" that we do not question why any culture that is not White is spoken about as the "other". Most illustrations in textbooks are of White-skinned people. The contributions of Africans in the fields of mathematics, science, etc. are not acknowledged.

In an African-focused school our children will learn who they are. They will learn what their ancestors contributed to the world. They will learn about the world travels of ancient African navigators. They will learn that excelling in mathematics and science is very African. They will know that their history is important and central to who they are and not a footnote to European history. These are just some of the reasons why we need African-centered schools, Black-focused schools and Afrocentric curriculum in schools that value our Africanness.
© Written February 7, 2005


George Junius Stinney Jr. was born on October 21, 1929. He would have celebrated his 82nd birthday on Friday, October 21, 2011 but he did not live to see his 15th birthday. He was executed in South Carolina ’s electric chair on June 16, 1944. The 5 foot 1 inch 95 pound 14 year old African American male child was arrested on March 23, 1944 accused of killing two white girls (11 and 8 years old) with a rail-road spike.
His trial, including jury selection lasted one day. The authorities said that he confessed to killing the two girls although there are no written records of a confession. Stinney’s court appointed attorney was a tax commissioner preparing to run for office. There was no court challenge to the testimony of the three white police officers who claimed that the 14 year old had confessed although that was the only evidence presented. Three witnesses were called for the prosecution; a white man who “found” the bodies of the two girls and the two white doctors who performed the post mortem of the two girls. No witnesses were called for the defence. The trial lasted from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. One report about the trial stated: “The jury retired at five minutes before five to deliberate. Ten minutes later it returned with its verdict: guilty, with no recommendation for mercy”

No legal appeals were filed on Stinney’s behalf although the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP,) some church groups and labour unions appealed to the governor of South Carolina to stop the execution. No African Americans were allowed in the courtroom for the trial. Stinney’s father was fired from his job and his parents were given the choice of leaving town or being lynched. The family was forced to flee leaving the 14 year old child helpless with no support and in the clutches of a white supremacist system bent on his demise. According to the records it was standing room only in the courtroom (on April 24, 1944) with well over 1,500 white spectators. This was reminiscent of scenes where African American men, women and children were lynched for the entertainment of white men, women and children who gathered to watch the black bodies twitch as they swung from trees until the life left them. It may just as well have been a lynching with his body hanging from a tree. Instead this African American male child, small for his age, was made to sit on a stack of large books in the electric chair so that electrodes could be attached to his head. Stinney at 14 is the youngest person executed in the U.S. in the 20th century. It has been reported that during the electrocution, the electric shock that shook his small frame knocked the adult size mask off Stinney’s face while his executioners watched as tears streamed down the child’s face contorted in the death throes.

As in the case of Lena Baker who was executed by the state of Georgia in a dreadful miscarriage of justice and received a posthumous pardon in 2005; now 67 years after his execution there is a campaign to clear Stinney’s name. In an article published January 18, 2010 by the Associated Press the story of the attempt to exonerate Stinney included this information: “A community activist is now fighting to clear Stinney's name, saying the young black boy couldn't have killed two white girls. George Frierson, a 56-year-old school board member and textile inspector, believes Stinney's confession was coerced, and that his execution was just another injustice blacks suffered in Southern courtrooms in the first half of the 1900s.” South Carolina lawyers Steve McKenzie, Shaun Kent, and Ray Chandler, are supporting Frierson in the fight to obtain a posthumous pardon for Stinney.

In 2011 Canada , young African Canadian males may not be at risk of execution in the electric chair but they are overrepresented in the criminal justice system. Many African Canadian youth who should not have been captured by the system are trapped there because of their race. The recent case (August 12, 2011) of a 6ft tall 60 year old African Canadian man who was aggressively interrogated by a white female police who thought he fit the profile of a suspect described as “black, 20s and 5ft 6” illustrates this. Although the 60 year old showed the police officer the long scar from his recent (May 2011) heart transplant surgery she refused to believe he was not the suspect. If this is happening to a 60 year old imagine what the youth experience. Those in our community who work with youth trapped in the criminal justice system have told some horror stories of what they have witnessed. With this happening in 2011 imagine what happened to African Canadians at the time Stinney was executed in South Carolina and even before. While White Canadians believe the myth of a post-racial Canada and point accusing fingers at their relatives in the USA, the reality is very different for racialized people in Canada especially African Canadians. Even if Stinney had been born in Canada the chances are that he would have met the same fate on this side of the border.

In George and Rue, (published in 2005) Dr. George Elliot Clarke has written a novel about the execution of brothers George Hamilton (23) and Rufus Hamilton (22) in Fredericton , New Brunswick on July 27, 1949. The Hamilton brothers were found guilty of killing a white taxi driver as they robbed him. George and Rue is a fictionalized work about the lives of two young men who travel from their birth place in Nova Scotia and end up in Fredericton, New Brunswick a town that even though there were African Canadians living there was found to be “too suspiciously white to be trusted.” The character Rue was so disturbed by the whiteness of the town that he “schemed to apply black paint to the statue of Bobby Burns on the Green — either that or smash it to bits.” In telling the story of George and Rufus Hamilton in the novel Clarke humanizes the two young men whose lives were reduced to a criminal act and the revenge of the white society that surrounded them. At the end of the book Clarke writes of a similar crime committed by two white men in Quebec just 6 months (December 1949) after the Hamilton brothers were executed in New Brunswick. However these two white men went a step further, they bought guns and ammunition with the stolen money and went on to rob a bank. The two white men were not executed because as Clarke writes in George and Rue, “Ninety minutes before their hangings, word came their sentences’d been commuted to life in prison. George and Rue – black – had no such white luck.”


During this month (October) Africans in Britain, whether they were born on the African continent, in the Caribbean, in Britain or elsewhere are celebrating African/Black History Month. There is much to celebrate, commemorate and remember because the history of Africans in Britain is lengthy. As quiet as it is kept, there has been an African presence in the British Isles at least since the Roman occupation of Britain in 43 AD. In the publication Antiquity which is a quarterly review of World Archeology an article written by five archeologists from Britain’s University of Reading published an article: A Lady of York: migration, ethnicity and identity in Roman Britain about an African woman who lived in York during the Roman occupation of Britain. These British archeologists through their research and after studying her gravesite have determined that this African woman was a member of a wealthy family. The young woman who they think was between 18 and 23 years old when she transitioned was not a servant as has been assumed whenever Africans are mentioned from those ancient times. The Ivory Bangle Lady as she was christened by the archeologists was buried in a sarcophagus made of stone which was a sign of immense wealth in Roman occupied Britain . The discovery of a perfume bottle, a mirror and jewellery buried with the young woman suggests that her family was “absolutely from the top end of York society” according to a quote attributed to archeologist Dr. Hella Eckardt, reported in an article published in the British newspaper The Sunday Times. Dr. Eckardt also reportedly said: “Multicultural Britain is not just a phenomenon of more modern times. Analysis of the ‘Ivory Bangle Lady’ and others like her, contradicts assumptions about the make-up of Roman-British populations as well as the view that African immigrants were of low status, male and likely to have been slaves.”

There is also evidence of African soldiers in the Roman army during the occupation of Britain. In Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain published in 1984, Peter Fryer a white British author 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.” Africans did not disappear with the end of the Roman occupation of Britain. Fryer also mentions John Blanke an African trumpeter who was a regular performer at the courts of British monarchs Henry VII and Henry VIII. Blanke is even listed as performing at the special tournament Henry VIII hosted at Westminster to celebrate the birth of his son in 1511. By the time Elizabeth I inherited the throne from her father (Henry VIII) the presence of Africans in Britain had increased to a level that made the monarch uncomfortable. Although she was happy to have Africans entertain and clean for white Britons, the thought that not all of them were in those subservient roles seemed to give the British monarch some heartburn.

In an "open letter" dated July 11, 1596, Britain’s Elizabeth I wrote to the Lord Mayor of London, aldermen, other Mayors, sheriffs and other public officers expressing that "there are of late divers blackmoores brought into this realme, of which kinde of people there are allready here to manie," and ordering that they be deported from the country. Apparently enough of the people she referred to as blackmoores were not deported out of her realm because in 1601, she complained again about the "great numbers of Negars and Blackamoors which are crept into this realm." The fact that by 1601 the British elite including her majesty had made a fortune buying, selling and working enslaved Africans to death in the colonies did not seem to bother her. In Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain Fryer makes the case that only a few Africans were deported and a number of Africans remained in Britain and by the middle of the 18th century were between 1 and 3% of the population of London . Africans were enslaved throughout the British Empire until August 1st 1834 (1838 in the Caribbean.) The famous decision by Chief Justice Lord Mansfield in 1772 in the case of enslaved African James Somerset Somerset v. Stewart against the slave holder Charles Stewart did not free enslaved Africans in Britain, that decision made it illegal for owners to forcibly remove enslaved Africans from England. It is estimated that at that time between 14,000 and 15,000 enslaved Africans lived in England most of them taken there as personal servants by white men and women who owned plantations in the British colonies.

In 2009 the number of Africans in Britain was 1,521,400 at 2.9 % of the population. This number includes those born in Britain and immigrants from the African continent, the Caribbean and elsewhere. The largest wave of African immigrants from the former British colonies in the Caribbean landed in Britain between 1948 and 1962 in what Jamaican poet Louise Bennett Coverly (Miss Lou) termed Colonization in Reverse immortalized in a poem of the same name

Britain also colonized several countries on the African continent before and after the infamous “Scramble for Africa” and Africans from those countries immigrated to Britain, many considering Britain the “mother country” and were shocked when they encountered a white supremacist culture and rabid racism. Sadly, although Africans have been living in Britain for centuries they continue to face racism. They are stopped, searched, arrested and imprisoned at an alarming rate. In an article published in the British newspaper The Guardian on Monday, October 11, 2010 Randeep Ramesh wrote: “On the streets, black people were subjected to what the report describes as an "excess" of 145,000 stop and searches in 2008. It notes that black people constitute less than 3% of the population, yet made up 15% of people stopped by police.” Ramesh was writing about an Equality and Human Rights Commission report How Fair is Britain? Ramesh also wrote: “The commission found that five times more black people than white people per head of population in England and Wales are imprisoned. The ethnic minority prison population has doubled in a decade – from 11,332 in 1998 to 22,421 in 2008. The problems may start at school. The commission points out that black children are three times as likely to be permanently excluded from education.”

Africans in Britain have every right to celebrate the fact that they have a long history in Britain and have contributed to the society (which is mostly ignored.) There are also plans to address other issues that concern Africans living in Britain . On Friday, October 14, the group National Afrikan People’s Parliament plan a community action including a demonstration at Downing Street (British Prime Minister’s residence) to address the unlawful killing of Mark Duggan and the resultant uprisings, ongoing ‘Black Deaths in Custody’ and the reactionary state assault on our Community, especially our youths (and the wider social, political and historical context).

It would seem that regardless of where we live Africans are subjected to the same oppression. That is why we need to know our history so that we can learn from those who went before us and struggled to get us to where we are today. The Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey, father of the modern Pan African movement taught us to remember that we are a mighty people with this quote: "Up you mighty people! You can accomplish what you will!!!"

Written October 9, 2011


The lynching of black America is taking place in the criminal justice system where nearly one-third of black men between the ages of 18 and 28 are in prisons and jails, on parole, or waiting for their day in court. One-half of the two million people in prisons are black. That is one million black people behind bars, more than in colleges. Through private prisons, whites have turned the brutality of their racist legal system into a profit-making venture for dying white towns and cities throughout America. One can lynch a person without a rope or tree.

Excerpt from Strange Fruit: The Cross and the Lynching Tree

On October 19, 2006 James Cone, Charles A. Briggs Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Theological Seminary presented the 2006 Ingersoll Lecture at Harvard Divinity School, the title was "Strange Fruit: The Cross and the Lynching Tree." Although James Cone gave this lecture in October 2006 he could very well have been talking about the case of Troy Anthony Davis when he spoke about the similarity of the cross and the lynching tree

Troy Anthony Davis was born on October 9, 1968, grew up in Savannah, Georgia and executed by the state of Georgia sanctioned by the US government on September 22, 2011. He was a 20 year old youth on August 19, 1989 when the criminal act for which he was accused was committed. In 1991 Davis was tried, convicted and sentenced to death for the fatal shooting of a white police officer although he has maintained his innocence of this
crime since he was arrested. There was enough doubt about his presumed guilt to garner the support of celebrities, very important people, ordinary folks and human rights groups. Among those calling for a re-trial and/or clemency were Amnesty International, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) former President of the USA Jimmy Carter, Reverend Al Sharpton, Pope Benedict XVI, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Bob Barr a former federal prosecutor and a former member of the United States House of Representatives (Republican representing Georgia.) Davis’ case garnered international attention especially because of the obviously racially charged overtones. Here was an African American male who was accused of shooting a white police officer and found guilty even though there was no physical evidence to link him to the shooting. Of the nine witnesses from 1991, seven have recanted their statements citing police coercion at the time and at least one witness has confessed that he was illiterate and was forced to sign a document he could not read. A group of white men in power turned deaf ears to the pleas of the world to reconsider their determination to kill this African American male in what seems like a modern day lynching.

In an opinion piece published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on September 15, entitled Should Davis be executed No ( William S. Sessions former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations FBI, former federal judge and federal prosecutor wrote: What the hearing demonstrated most conclusively was that the evidence in this case -- consisting almost entirely of conflicting stories, testimonies and statements -- is inadequate to the task of convincingly establishing either Davis' guilt or his innocence. Without DNA or other forms of physical or scientific evidence that can be objectively measured and tested, it is possible that doubts about guilt in this case will never be resolved. However, when it comes to the sentence of death, there should be no room for doubt.

Following the killing of Davis by the state of Georgia on Wednesday September 21, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said that killing Davis may have violated international law, citing serious concerns that the rights of Davis to due process and a fair trial were not respected. Three independent United Nations human rights experts had called on the United States Government to stop the execution amid concerns that Davis did not receive a fair trial. UN Special Rapporteur on arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns; the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul; and the Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan Méndez – deplored that the case mainly relied on the testimonies of witnesses which contained “serious” inconsistencies. The US Government was reminded of its obligation to ensure that anyone under its jurisdiction receives a fair trial, as required under article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR.) The experts stated in their appeal to the US government: “Not only do we urgently appeal to the Government of the United States and the state of Georgia to find a way to stop the scheduled execution, but we believe that serious consideration should be given to commuting the sentence. We recall that the death penalty may only be imposed when the guilt of the person charged is based upon clear and convincing evidence, leaving no room for an alternative explanation of the facts. Given the irreversible nature of the death penalty, it is crucial that fair trial standards are fully respected in all judicial proceedings related to offences punishable with the death penalty.”
Davis is not the first African American killed by the state of Georgia whose
presumed guilt is in question. His story reminded me of a woman I wrote about in 2005 when she received a posthumous pardon from Georgia 60 years after she was killed in the electric chair. On March 5, 1945 Lena Baker became the only woman to be killed by Georgia in the electric chair. Like Davis whose reported last words were “those about to take my life, may God have mercy on your souls, may God bless your souls,” Baker who maintained her innocence to the end said: “What I done, I did in self-defence or I would have been killed myself. Where I was, I could not overcome it. I am ready to meet my God.”
Baker had been repeatedly raped by the white man (23 years older than she was) who was killed with his own gun during a struggle as he tried to rape her again. She had been hiding from this man who had kept watch at her house overnight and grabbed her when she went home the following morning to take care of her three children who had been left in their grandmother’s care overnight. It is a dreadful story illustrating the manner in which the lives of African Americans were constrained by white people. After dragging Baker over to a barn on his property where he raped her again, the white man went to a prayer meeting with his adult son, locking her in the barn. When he returned from his prayer meeting and attempted to rape her at gunpoint there was a struggle during which he was killed. Baker was sentenced to death by a white all male jury after a four hour trial. Although Baker was the victim in more ways than one her family was forced to uproot their lives and flee their hometown. Her community was refused the right to bury her properly and mourn her passing. They were terrorized by the white community. In 2001 Baker’s great nephew Roosevelt Curry began the campaign to clear her name and a pardon was granted by the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles on August 30, 2005.
Although Canada no longer has the death penalty, the rate at which African Canadian males are incarcerated is indeed alarming. The racial profiling of African Canadians is a reality in spite of the many studies that have been done, the many reports that have been written and recommendations that have been made to address this scourge. During this International Year for People of African Descent we need to recognize that the oppression continues and must be addressed.
Written October 2, 2011


On October 1, 1960 Nigerians gained their independence from Britain . Nigeria is one of the many countries from which our (Africans in the Diaspora) ancestors were taken (into enslavement in the West) during the Maafa. After centuries of enslaving Africans and profiting enormously from their labour the British abolished chattel slavery then began an exploitation of the Africans who remained on the continent, their land and whatever was found on and below the land. Nigeria had been colonized by Britain since 1885 after a group of white men carved up the African continent during the infamous “scramble for Africa” following the Berlin Conference (November 15, 1884 - February 26, 1885.) The British and members of other European tribes had been covetously eyeing the African continent way before the Berlin Conference. Since the Spanish and Portuguese began trading with Africans in the 15th century in the ports they named Calabar and Lagos the aim was to exploit the people. By the time the British became involved in what was to become the most egregious crime against humanity the Spanish and Portuguese were building their empires on the backs of enslaved Africans.

The British soon monopolized the brutal and inhumane practice of enslaving Africans and destroying their homes and communities. The following centuries saw the British building their empire on the coerced, unpaid labour of generations and millions of brutalized Africans. When the British eventually abolished chattel slavery on August 1, 1834 (August 1, 1838 in the Caribbean) they had caused untold emotional, physical and spiritual damage (still felt today) to Africans in Nigeria and elsewhere. Each group of Africans in Nigeria was touched by this barbaric European exhibition of greed and inhumanity. There are more than 200 groups of people living in Nigeria, the three largest groups are the Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo, with smaller groups including the Edo, Ijaw, Kanuri, Ibibio, Nupe, Igala, Jukun, Itsekiri, Urhobo and Tiv. In her 1986 published book The Ibo People and the Europeans; the genesis of a relationship - to 1906 Elizabeth Isichei writes Iboland was one of the areas of West Africa most seriously affected by the slave trade. Ibos were exported as slaves throughout the whole period of the trade, from the first recorded Ibo slave – one Caterina Ybou, sent to San Thome – until the slave trade came to an end in the middle years of the nineteenth century. Over the centuries of the slave trade, Iboland lost large numbers of its strongest members, in their prime.

To their credit, the people of Nigeria resisted British occupation of their land when they realised the true intent of the interlopers. As usual with all the European occupation of other people’s lands, they had first sent in their missionaries to convert the African people to Christianity. Amazing that these good Christians could not seem to live “Christ like” lives! The people of the Aro Confederacy were one of the groups who resisted the British encroachment on their land. The British government had already annexed Nigeria using their tried and true methods for stealing and occupying land. They had done the trade thing, the Christianization thing and then finally on January 1, 1901 Nigeria became a British protectorate (just another word for thievery!) and part of the British Empire. However the Aro people in southwestern Nigeria refused to cooperate and become Christians, they were determined to preserve their culture and belief system. The good Christian white people from Britain were determined to beat the Aro into submission even if it meant murdering some of them. The British army populated by good Christian white men attacked the Aro people on December 25, 1901 while their countrymen, women and children back in jolly old England and the rest of the British Isles were probably singing in church or at home depending on their level of piety: Oh Come All Ye Faithful or Good Christian Men Rejoice. The Ayo people must have been very impressed at the level of dedication the British soldiers displayed in their determination to convert them away from their indigenous beliefs. Maybe the British soldiers even tried to coax the Ayo fighters into laying down their weapons and relaxing by singing “God rest thee merry gentlemen.” If they did, it did not work, the Ayo were determined not to surrender their belief and culture to live as British gentlemen, women and children. The British army and government displayed such amazing Christmas spirit that when the Ayo-Anglo War ended in 1902 the leaders of the Ayo Confederacy were hanged by the British.

It was not only the Africans who resisted British domination that were victimized; even those who cooperated with the British did not escape their treachery. King Jaja of Opobo had to learn about British treachery the hard way. After cooperating with them including signing treaties, he was betrayed when he was invited for a social evening on a British ship and instead was kidnapped and exiled to the Caribbean . This happened in 1887 so there was no fear that he would be enslaved unless he was sold to Brazil where slavery was abolished in 1888. However, from 1887 to the time King Jaja transitioned while he was held prisoner in Barbados on July 7, 1891 he was assured by the British government that he would be returned to his home. Instead the British transferred him from one Caribbean island to the next. According to Sylvanus John Sodienye Cookey, author of King Jaja of the Niger Delta: his life and times, 1821-1891 published 2005, King Jaja arrived in Barbados on the British warship HMS Pylades: When the warship docked in Barbados on March 1, 1891 and Jaja appeared the black population at the quayside gave him an enthusiastic welcome. Interviewed later he sought to make the best of the situation by disseminating information relating to his capture and deportation as well as the latest promise of release which had turned to his being transferred from one West Indian island to another. The governor of Barbados Sir Walter J. Sendal, was sufficiently apprehensive that Jaja’s story might lead to hostile demonstrations by the black population to warn that it was “not desirable to prolong his residence.”

In spite of the oppression of being under British occupation for 60 years Nigeria like every other colonized African country eventually gained their independence. On October 1, 2011 Nigerians will celebrate 51 years of Independence. Many of us in the Diaspora can also celebrate because even though we may not know definitively that our ancestors were Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba or some other group from Nigeria, the scattering of us throughout the West makes it very likely that at least one of our ancestors was taken out of that area during the Maafa.

Written September 25, 2011


The Provincial election is two weeks away and there are some people in our community who still do not know who the candidates are in their riding. This is one of the reasons that even though African Canadians have been voting in elections at least since 1837 we are still not a force to be reckoned with in 2011. Information from the Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia states that: Although black men in Canada received the right to vote on March 24, 1837, it did not mean, by any stretch of the imagination, that they were equally involved or fully engaged in the electoral process. However having the right to vote in this country was not always a “right.” At one point it was a privilege granted only to rich white men. The privilege became a right after a series of struggle by various disenfranchised groups. Therefore the right to vote in elections and have a hand in choosing who will govern us for the next four years is not to be taken lightly. For centuries our ancestors did not have that opportunity and some of us now squander this hard-fought-for right. It did not come easily especially for our brothers and sisters in the USA and in South Africa.

To vote in any election, Municipal, Provincial and Federal you have to be a Canadian citizen at least 18 years old. There are many of our young people who were born in this country and are citizens by birth yet they are apathetic about voting. It is sometimes disheartening to observe the apathy of some members of our community during elections at whatever level of government is being elected. Even some of us who do exercise our right to vote seem to vote without educating ourselves about the candidates who are running for election. Recent conversations have had me shaking my head if not in despair at least on one occasion in “shock and awe.” I walked away wondering if I had just left a parallel dimension because I was told by a brethren that his reason for voting Conservative since becoming a Canadian citizen is the fact that when he immigrated to Canada in 1984 Brian Mulroney was Prime Minister and the Conservatives were in power. This poor misguided soul is convinced that Mulroney is personally responsible for his success in immigrating to Canada. It made no difference when I pointed out that he had never met Mulroney, the man would have no interest in meeting him even if he knew of his existence and that he needed to investigate the platform of the Conservative candidate and all the other candidates in his riding before making a decision on who to support in the election on October 6, 2011.

I was mostly surprised by this stance because when I immigrated to Canada many Caribbean people supported the Liberals because they were convinced that (former Prime Minister) Pierre Elliot Trudeau had been responsible for their success in immigrating to Canada. The fact that it was the previous Conservative government led by John Diefenbaker (1957-1963) who through the passing of the Canadian Bill of Rights in August 1960 opened the door to African, Asian and Caribbean immigration was lost on most immigrants. Canadian immigration policy had long discriminated against racialized people until Diefenbaker’s Canadian Bill of Rights reduced bars to most types of immigration on racial and ethnic grounds, making the skills of immigrants and family reunification the major criteria for admission. Canada then began accepting large numbers of African, Asian and Caribbean immigrants. People forgot or did not know that the previous Liberal governments led by William Lyon Mackenzie King (1935-1948) and Louis St. Laurent (1948-1957) were just as white supremacist as the Conservative and Liberal governments before them stretching as far back as John A. McDonald in 1867. There was not much to choose between these governments as far as having the interest of racialized Canadians at heart. Somehow Trudeau seemed to capture the imagination of the new immigrants arriving after he was elected. Similar to the descendants of enslaved Africans who for years sang praises to England’s monarch Victoria in the mistaken idea that she was responsible for the abolition of slavery on August 1, 1834.

Some political parties have begun their campaign with mud slinging instead of addressing the issues. When or if the candidates arrive at your door seeking your vote, ask them about their stand/platform on issues that affect you, your family and your community. The municipal government is bent on eliminating subsidized day care spaces and suggestions have been made that the provincial government should take up the slack. If the candidate in your riding is elected will they support giving money to keep those subsidies for lower income families? Ask about their stand on raising the minimum wage and on employment equity. While you may have habitually voted for a particular political party because you thought that party had served the interest of your community at some point in the past do some investigation and get the facts. Then ask like Janet Jackson in her popular 1986 released song: “what have you done for me lately?” Depending on their answers make a decision on which candidate you will support on October 6.

The numbers of African immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean joining the African Canadians who can trace their ancestry back several generations swelled our numbers but the increased numbers do not seem to make much difference in our influence on the politics of Canada. Maybe knowing of our history in this great white north might make a difference in this lackadaisical attitude to voting. We did not just arrive here although that history is not documented as much as it should be and that might be one of the reasons many of us feel we have no history and do not belong. In a recent conversation with Ms Wilma Morrison (African Canadian history activist and advocate) of Niagara whose ancestors arrived in Canada many generations ago about the first recognized African Canadian elected to political office in Canada (Burr Lockhart Plato) we acknowledged that it is unfortunate that there are no books written about this man. It was not until 1998 that Plato was honoured by the City government of Niagara Falls even though he was elected to the Council of the Village of Niagara Falls in 1886 and held the position until he retired in 1901.

Whether you are a recent naturalized citizen, a descendant of Africans who were enslaved in this country since the 1600s, a descendant of Africans who fled slavery in the United States during the 18th or 19th century and arrived here seeking freedom or a descendant of Africans who arrived here from the continent or the Caribbean after the passage of Diefenbaker’s Canadian Bill of Rights in August 1960, if you are over 18 years old, get out and vote on October 6 or earlier during the advance polls September 21-30.

Written on September 18, 2011