Thursday, November 22, 2012

“Since 1970, Native Americans have gathered at noon on Cole’s Hill in Plymouth to commemorate a National Day of Mourning on the US Thanksgiving holiday. Many Native Americans do not celebrate the arrival of the Pilgrims and other European settlers. To them, Thanksgiving Day is a reminder of the genocide of millions of their people, the theft of their lands, and the relentless assault on their culture. Participants in a National Day of Mourning honor Native ancestors and the struggles of Native peoples to survive today. It is a day of remembrance and spiritual connection as well as a protest of the racism and oppression which Native Americans continue to experience.”
From a plaque erected by the Town of Plymouth on behalf of the United American Indians of New England.
The Town of Plymouth did not erect that plaque out of the goodness of their hearts or to foster inclusion. They were forced to do so by the continued protests of the group the United American Indians of New England (UAINE.) African American abolitionist Frederick Douglass is credited with this quote: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” When Africans were kidnapped from their homes on the African continent enslaved and taken to what is now the USA by Europeans, the Native people of the land were fighting for their survival against those same Europeans. Over the centuries several myths have been written so often that many people believe those myths are facts. Apart from the myth of Colombus discovering the New World which includes the Caribbean and Central, North and South America one of the biggest myths is that of the American Thanksgiving story. The truth has been whitewashed over the centuries, even taught as history in the schools. The story is told of the peaceful Pilgrims fleeing religious persecution in Europe who befriended the people they found in the new land and shared their bountiful harvest with the “Indians” sometime during the Fall of 1621. The myth was repeated often over the next 200 years until in 1863 then President Lincoln declared the last Thursday of November “Thanksgiving Day” with the mythical story of the Pilgrims and the “Indians” celebrating thanksgiving as the centrepoint. In 1939 then President Roosevelt changed the date to the fourth Thursday of November in 1939 to accommodate store owners who wanted to begin selling Christmas items earlier in the year. In 1941 the American government passed into law that the fourth Thursday of November would be Thanksgiving Day whether November had four or five Thursdays. Ironically the day after most Americans celebrate Thanksgiving they engage in an orgy of shopping and consumerism called Black Friday. Stories abound of Americans lining up in the wee hours of the morning ready to inflict bodily harm on anyone who gets in their way of bringing down a bargain item on Black Friday. It was only 4 years ago on 25 November 2008 that an African American Wal-Mart employee 34 year old Jdimytai Damour was trampled to death by a rampaging horde of Black Friday shoppers. Other employees of the Long Island Wal-Mart store were injured even though they quickly sprinted out of the way some reportedly scrambling on top of vending machines to save themselves from the stampeding foraging horde. Some people have tried to distance themselves from the shameful true story of Thanksgiving Day by claiming that it is a day to be thankful for good things in their lives and not about the story of Pilgrims and Native Americans. The excesses of Black Friday does not say much for Thanksgiving Day being about reflecting on one’s good fortune.
Since 1970 the fabricated Thanksgiving Day story has been challenged by Native Americans who on the fourth Thursday of November hold a Day Of Mourning in protest. In 1970 Native American Wamsutta Frank James a member of the Wampanoag people was invited to speak at the Commonwealth of Massachusetts' 350th Anniversary Banquet celebrating the landing of the pilgrims at Plymouth Rock. Wamsutta agreed to speak but was asked by the organizers to provide a copy of the speech he intended to give. When the organizers realized that James would not be praising their Pilgrim ancestors perpetrating the myth about Thanksgiving Day they asked him to revise his speech. In his 1999 published book “Native America Today: A Guide to Community Politics and Culture” Barry M. Pritzker writes: “James refused and did not attend the event. Instead, as word of the incident spread, he and others gathered at Cole’s Hill in Plymouth and declared Thanksgiving to be a National Day of Mourning.” Since then Native Americans and their allies have gathered in Plymouth on the 4th Thursday of November to observe a National Day of Mourning. On November 26, 1998 at the 29th National Day of Mourning Moonanum James, Co-Leader of United American Indians of New England said during his speech to mark the occasion: “Many times over the past year we have been asked, what is the true history of Thanksgiving? This comes as no surprise. The truth has been buried for over 375 years. The first Thanksgiving did not occur in 1621 when the pilgrim survivors of the first winter sat down to dinner with their Indian friends. The first official day of thanksgiving and feasting in Massachusetts was proclaimed by Governor Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1637. He did this to give thanks for the safe return of men from the colony who had gone to what is now Mystic, Connecticut to participate in the massacre of over 700 Pequot men, women and children.” November 25, 2010 Native American Day of Mourning address delivered by the son of Wamsutta Frank James.
In 1997 Plymouth police used pepper spray to disperse the gathering at that year’s National Day of Mourning and arrested more than 24 people. The case was finally resolved in October 1998 in a historic settlement where the protesters agreed not to sue the town of Plymouth for the injuries they sustained during the police action. The town agreed to pay $100,000 dollars for education about Native American history, $20,000 as payment for UAINE legal fees and $15,000 for two plaques one of which has these words inscribed: "Native Americans have gathered at noon on Cole’s Hill in Plymouth to commemorate a National Day of Mourning on the US Thanksgiving holiday. Many Native Americans do not celebrate the arrival of the Pilgrims and other European settlers. To them, Thanksgiving Day is a reminder of the genocide of millions of their people, the theft of their lands, and the relentless assault on their culture. Participants in a National Day of Mourning honor Native ancestors and the struggles of Native peoples to survive today. It is a day of remembrance and spiritual connection as well as a protest of the racism and oppression which Native Americans continue to experience."

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


"On behalf of the Nova Scotia government, I sincerely apologize to Mrs. Viola Desmond’s family and to all African-Nova Scotians for the racial discrimination she was subjected to by the justice system in November 1946. The arrest, detainment, and conviction of Viola Desmond is an example in our history where the law was used to perpetuate racism and racial segregation - this is contrary to the values of Canadian society. We recognize today that the act for which Viola Desmond was arrested, was an act of courage, not an offence." Excerpt from official apology by Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter on April 15, 2010
On November 8, 1946 Viola Davis Desmond a 32 year old African Canadian businesswoman was arrested at the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. At 32 years old Viola Desmond was a successful entrepreneur and owner of a beauty parlour and beauty school. This kind of business success was almost unheard of for women in Canada at the time and especially for African Canadian women. On November 8, 1946, Desmond was traveling on business from her Halifax, Nova Scotia home when she experienced car trouble in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. She took her car to a garage and while the car was being repaired she decided to see a movie at the Roseland Theatre. She bought a ticket for the main floor of the theatre, went in and sat down. She was unaware of the theatre’s policy that the main floor was a “Whites only” seating area because unlike the blatant White supremacist Jim Crow laws of the USA, there were no “Whites” and “Colored” signs posted and she did not know that African Canadians were relegated to the balcony. When Desmond was ordered to move she replied that she could not see from the balcony, that she had paid to sit on the main floor and that she would not move. The manager left the theatre and came back with a policeman. Together, the two burly white men dragged the slim, 4’ 11” Desmond into the street, injuring her in the process. The White supremacist culture in Canada is much more subtle than in the USA and Desmond was charged with defrauding the government of one cent instead of the reality which was “sitting in the White people’s section” of the cinema.
She spent the night in jail in the same block as male prisoners. Next morning she was tried and found guilty of tax evasion. She was found guilty of not having paid the entertainment tax (one cent) that was the difference between the “White” section and the “Colored” section of the cinema. The White woman who sold her the ticket refused to sell her a ticket for the first floor which she had requested but instead had sold her a ticket for the balcony. The sentence was 30 days in jail or a fine of $20, plus $6 to the manager of the theatre, one of the two men who had injured her as he dragged her out of the cinema the night before. She paid the fine and then challenged the guilty verdict in the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia. Desmond was supported in her struggle for justice by fellow African Canadian and civil rights activist Carrie Best who publicized the case in The Clarion newspaper. The Clarion was established in 1946 by Best and was the first African Canadian owned and published newspaper in Nova Scotia.
In spite of their efforts and the support of the Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NSAACP) the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia upheld the guilty verdict. Desmond remained guilty of defrauding the government of 1 cent until April 15, 2010 when she was granted a posthumous pardon. A press release from the Nova Scotia Premiere’s office read in part: “The province has granted an official apology and free pardon to the late Viola Desmond. Mrs. Desmond, of Halifax, was an African Canadian wrongfully jailed and fined in 1946 for sitting in the white peoples' section of a New Glasgow movie theatre. Mrs. Desmond passed away in 1965. On the advice of the Executive Council, the lieutenant governor has exercised the Royal Prerogative of Mercy to grant a Free Pardon. A free pardon is based on innocence and recognizes that a conviction was in error. A free pardon is an extraordinary remedy and is considered only in the rarest of circumstances. This is the first time a free pardon has been posthumously granted in Canada.” What the press release of Desmond’s eventual pardon did not include was the fact that Desmond left Nova Scotia and eventually settled in New York where she transitioned on February 7, 1965 just 5 months before her 51st birthday.
After 64 years, the government of Nova Scotia acknowledged what had been hinted at by one of the judges who dismissed Desmond’s appeal to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia in April 1947. Justice William Hall is quoted in April 1947: " One wonders if the manager of the theatre … was so zealous because of a bona fide belief there had been an attempt to defraud the Province of Nova Scotia of the sum of one cent, or was it a surreptitious endeavour to enforce a Jim Crow rule by misuse of a public statute." The White supremacist seating policy of the Roseland Theatre was never acknowledged which is typical Canadian racism at work; instead of signs indicating segregated seats in the theatre, tax laws were used to disguise bona fide segregation. The Nova Scotia government at the time insisted on arguing that the Viola Desmond case was a case of tax evasion.
Viola Desmond’s case did not receive much publicity outside of Nova Scotia, unlike the similar case of Rosa Parks to whom she is compared although her struggle took place more than 9 years before Parks’ case. Since then Desmond’s story has been told in several books including Sister to Courage published in 2010 by Desmond’s younger sister Wanda Robson. Her story is also told in the “Long Road to Justice - The Viola Desmond Story” In 2012 Desmond was honoured with a Canadian postage stamp. In spite of this most Canadians know more about Rosa Parks than they do about Viola Desmond. This is due in part to the covert/undercover nature of Canada’s White supremacist culture with the myth of a successful Canadian multiculturalism. The history that is taught in the education system is Eurocentric not multicultural. We know about the enslavement of Africans in the USA since it is well documented but in Canada a discussion about the enslavement of Africans is mostly about those who fled slavery in the USA and sought refuge in Canada. We do know the names of some of the Africans who resisted their enslavement in Canada including Chloe Cooley, Marie Joseph Angelique, Peggy Pompadour and others whose names appear in “for sale” advertisements and bounty hunter type advertisements. Some of those Africans enslaved in Canada fled south of the border to states in the USA where slavery was abolished (e.g. Vermont 1777) before slavery was abolished in Canada on August 1, 1834. The resistance of enslaved Africans contributed significantly to the abolition of slavery. Viola Desmond did not win her case but her fight encouraged successive generations to continue the fight. In the 21st century the struggle continues on various fronts and freedom fighters emerge regularly. Like Desmond they may not win their battle but they inspire successive generations to continue the struggle.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


"I stand before you today as a candidate for the Democratic nomination for the Presidency of the United States. I am not the candidate of Black America, although I am Black and proud. I am not the candidate of the women's movement of this country, although I am a woman, and I am equally proud of that. I am not the candidate of any political bosses or special interests. I am the candidate of the people."
Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm (January 25, 1972)
On November 5, 1968 Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm became the first African American woman elected to the United States House of Representatives. She served 7 terms (re-elected 6 times) until 1982 when she retired. Shirley Anita St. Hill was born on November 30, 1924 in Brooklyn, New York. Her parents Charles St Hill and Ruby Seale St Hill were immigrants from British Guiana (father) and Barbados (mother.) The St Hill family struggled financially even with both parents working which eventually prompted Charles and Ruby to send their three little girls to live in the Caribbean. In 1927, the St. Hill children were sent to Barbados to live with their maternal grandmother Emaline Seale and returned to live with their parents in Brooklyn seven years later. On their return to Brooklyn in 1934 the St Hill children - now 4 since there was an addition to the family while the three older girls were living in Barbados - were academically ahead of their classmates as a result of the education they received in Barbados. In her 1970 published autobiography "Unbought and Unbossed” Chisholm stated: "Years later I would know what an important gift my parents had given me by seeing to it that I had my early education in the strict, traditional, British-style schools of Barbados. If I speak and write easily now, that early education is the main reason." Graduating from Girls’ High School in Brooklyn, New York she received scholarship offers to study at Vassar and Oberlin Colleges but choose to attend Brooklyn College. She earned her BA (Sociology) from Brooklyn College in 1946 and her MA in elementary education from Columbia University in 1952. She was director of the Hamilton-Madison Child Care Center in New York City from 1953 to 1959 and educational consultant for the Division of Day Care from 1959 to 1964. In 1964 Chisholm began her political career when she was elected to the New York State Legislature. In 1968, she ran as the Democratic candidate for New York's 12th District congressional seat and was elected to the House of Representatives defeating Republican candidate James Farmer. In 1971 she was one of the founding members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Chisholm would eventually make a bid to run for the position of President of the United States in 1972, ( becoming the first African American to do so. During her campaigns to be elected to the New York State Legislature, as Congresswoman and her Presidential bid Chisholm’s campaign manager and chief of staff was Guyanese born Wesley McDonald Holder (June 24, 1897- March 17, 1993) fondly known as the “Dean of Black Politics” in Brooklyn. Chisholm first met Holder during her student days in the 1950s. Not surprising since Chisholm’s father and Holder were both Garveyites (members of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association.) Holder was born in Buxton on the East Coast of Demerara in 1897 and immigrated to the USA in 1920. In an interesting coincidence, like Chisholm he had a Barbadian grandparent. His grandfather Samuel Holder (1827-1912) was born in Barbados and migrated to British Guiana as a young man. Holder was so much a part of the Brooklyn political scene (managing the campaigns of several politicians from the 1930s onwards) that in 1995 part of Schenectady Avenue between Lincoln Place and Park Place in Bedford-Stuyvesant was renamed "Dr. Wesley McDonald Holder Avenue."
Chisholm and Holder were obviously an unbeatable combination, probably that combined African/Barbadian/Guyanese work ethic and intelligence. Chisholm achieved several firsts and published two autobiographies both yielding many memorable quotes. In her autobiography “The Good Fight” published in 1973, she wrote: “In this country everybody is supposed to be able to run for President, but that's never been really true. I ran because most people think the country is not ready for a black candidate, not ready for a woman candidate. The next time a woman runs, or a black (person), a Jew or anyone from a group that the country is 'not ready' to elect to its highest office, I believe he or she will be taken seriously from the start. The door is not open yet, but it is ajar." That was the case in 1972 and we marveled and celebrated when Barack Hussein Obama was elected the first African American President of the USA in 2008. The door was no longer just “ajar” it was “wide open” or so we thought. Mistakenly many of us thought it was the beginning of a post-racial American society. No such luck as we have witnessed the constant White supremacist attacks on the American First family including the attacks by the Tea Partiers and the Birthers. On November 6, 2012 America may re-elect its first African American President to a second term. Shirley Chisholm pushed the door in 1972 and left it “ajar.” Here we are 40 years later and it seems that it may need a battering ram to ensure that it is finally left open and not just “ajar” for future generations of those who do not fit the description Chisholm gave in one of her famous quotes: “The United States was said not to be ready to elect a Catholic to the Presidency when Al Smith ran in the 1920's. But Smith's nomination may have helped pave the way for the successful campaign John F. Kennedy waged in 1960. Who can tell? What I hope most is that now there will be others who will feel themselves as capable of running for high political office as any wealthy, good-looking white male.” Past Presidential candidates may have been “wealthy” but seriously if Americans were really using the criteria of “good-looking white males” to elect as Presidents many of those who have been seeking to run in this election would be laughed out of the place and many who served as Presidents would not even have been nominated.

Saturday, October 20, 2012


Now that you have touched the women you have struck a rock, you have dislodged a boulder, you will be crushed! Song from the 1950s Women’s anti-passbook struggle in South Africa
On October 27, 1955 approximately 2,000 women took part in a demonstration against the White minority regime which had seized power in South Africa. The women were demonstrating against the passbook laws that the White supremacist regime had announced the month before (September 1955) that it would begin instituting in January 1956. Beginning in 1950 the regime had been planning this “more efficient” pass book system which would further restrict the lives of African women. Restricting the movement of Africans in South Africa was nothing new in 1955. Since the first group of White people arrived in the area their aim was to steal and occupy the land and use Africans as unpaid labour. They enslaved Africans and after slavery was abolished in 1834 the abuse of Africans and the restriction of their movement continued. The stringent control of Africans by the government of the White settler class made it possible to manipulate Africans into providing cheap labour for White businesses and households.
In 1913 the passing of the “Black Land Act” allocated 7% of the land to the African majority and the remainder (93%) was covetously claimed by the White minority. Africans were therefore forced to become migrant labour in their own land. In 1913 the regime first floated the idea of African women carrying passes in the Orange Free State of South Africa. The women protested and the regime caught up in the melee of the first European tribal conflict (1914-1918) was not in a position to strictly enforce that law. At the end of the so-called “Great War” the authorities tried to reinstate the law to a very resistant opposition by African women led by Charlotte Maxeke, first president of the Bantu Women's League (changed to African National Congress Woman’s League in 1948) who organised and coordinated passive resistance in 1918 and 1919. In 1922 the regime conceded that African women did not have to carry passes. The victory was not total because country wide legislation was introduced which curtailed the rights of African women. The “Native Urban Areas Act No 21 of 1923” restricted African women’s entry into urban areas allowing only African women who were domestic workers into those areas. The urban areas were designated “White” reserved for White people where African men in cities or towns were at all times to carry pass books failing which they would be arrested and “deported” to a rural area.
The Natives (Abolition of Passes and Co-ordination of Documents) Act, Act No 67 of 1952 required that all Africans older than 16 carry a pass book if they were outside of their restricted 7% land space and in a White area. This meant that since the jobs were in White areas every African would need to have a pass book at all times if they were employed. The pass included a photograph, fingerprints, place of origin, employment record, tax payments and encounters with the police. It was a criminal offence not to have a passbook. The protests against the pass laws requiring women to carry the passbooks resurfaced with renewed energy in 1952 and continued throughout the 1950s.
The two largest demonstrations in October 1955 and August 1956 were organized by the Federation of South African Women (FSAW) which was founded in 1954. In her 2006 published book “Women's Organizations and Democracy in South Africa: Contesting Authority (Women in African and the Diaspora)” Shireen Hassim writes: “The FSAW was formed at a meeting attended by the ANC Women’s League, the Communist Part, and trade unions. The federation was a nonracial coordinating body to which different groups affiliated. The ANC remained the ultimate source of authority. In 1955 the federation launched an independent militant campaign against the extension of passes to women that would regulate their urban mobility.” On August 9, 1956 there were 20,000 women demonstrating against the pass laws, 10 times the number of the October 27, 1955 demonstration. Twenty thousand women stood singing “Now that you have touched the women you have struck a rock, you have dislodged a boulder, you will be crushed!” as four women took signed petitions to the authorities. Describing the August 9, demonstration in her 2007 published book “Women in South African History. Basus'iimbokodo, Bawel'imilambo / They remove boulders and cross rivers” Nomboniso Gasa writes: “The great crowd of women, 20,000 having secured about 100,000 signatures – women who dared to go where no one had gone before. The sheer size of the march and the spirit of the women – women from different backgrounds and social strata (some had gone without even informing their husbands of where they were going, for fear of being stopped or exposing the men to danger) - make the march larger than life in the collective narrative psyche of feminist activists in South Africa.” In 1957 several thousand women were arrested for demonstrating against the passbook laws. In post-apartheid South Africa August 9 is designated Women’s Day.
The various demonstrations by the women of South Africa did not in itself bring an end to the passbook laws. The passbook laws were not repealed until June 1986. It is estimated that over the life of the passbook laws more than 17 million Africans had been arrested for “violation” of the laws. Throughout the 20th century African women in South Africa resisted the policies of the White supremacist settler colonizer regime during British and Boer domination. The women led struggle against the pass laws sparked a mass movement during the 1950s that encouraged later struggles which eventually brought an end to White domination in South Africa.
In spite of racism, patriarchy and sexism African women on the continent and in the Diaspora have been involved in every struggle of the race from slavery, to colonization, occupation of their land and everything in between. During October Women’s History Month in Canada remember our sheroes those who are with us and those who have transitioned.


The Thanksgiving weekend has passed and we had so much for which to be thankful. Two of the most important people in my life celebrated their birthday. My grandchildren Taiwo and Kehinde are a year older and enjoying kindergarten for which I am very thankful. Appreciating school is so important for our children who face many obstacles in their adult lives if they are not educated. The Thanksgiving weekend also brought opportunities to connect with Guyanese elder Eusi Kwayana who spoke on Saturday night at New College at the University of Toronto. On Tuesday, October 2, it was my honour and pleasure to interview Elder Kwayana for Tuesday Word of Mouth at Elder Kwayana is a fount of knowledge about the history of Guyana. He arrived in Canada the week before the Thanksgiving weekend and spoke at St. John the Divine Anglican Church in Scarborough about the Village Movement. Researching the Village Movement of Guyana is one of my passions so I attended the session. Unfortunately I had to leave before the session was finished because not being familiar with the area and travelling by TTC I needed to leave before dark. Within the time I was there I learned much more about the Village Movement and Elder Kwayana added information about villages with which I am familiar. He spoke of the villages on the Courentyne in Berbice including the villages where my father and many of his ancestors were born (Courtland, Fyrish and Gibraltar.) He also spoke of the villages where my mother and many of her people were born (Brothers, Sisters and Friends) on the East Bank of the Berbice River. After slavery was abolished in 1834 and before the final emancipation of 1838 there was an apprenticeship period imposed by the colonial government which compelled Africans to remain on the plantations of their former owners and work eight hours every day without pay. Any work after the forced unpaid eight hours they were paid a pittance. During this “apprenticeship” period the enterprising Africans saved the money they earned and in groups of upwards of 30 they pooled their money and bought abandoned plantations where they established villages the first of which was Victoria Village on the East Bank, Demerara. The colonial government soon took advantage of the Africans’ expressed need to own their own land and raised the price of the land. They also passed laws that restricted the number of people who could pool their money and buy these plantations in an effort to thwart the village movement. Elder Kwayana spoke about the villages that were established throughout the coastal regions and about one of the villages on the West Coast of Berbice (Lichfield) which was bought by one African person instead of a collective as with the other villages.
In a surprise turn of events during the weekend Elder Kwayana’s name came up at the National Conference of Black Lawyers (NCBL) another event I attended on the weekend. The NCBL was in town having moved their annual conference from Memphis, Tennessee to Toronto to honour the late activist lawyer Charles Roach who transitioned on Tuesday, October 2. At the NCBL conference one of the presenters was Margaret A. Burnham who is a law professor at Northeastern University. Ms Burnham has an impressive biography including representing activist and civil rights icon Angela Davis during her trial in the 1970s. In an interview with Professor Burnham on October 16 for Tuesday Word of Mouth at she told me that she has known Angela Davis since they were children growing up in Birmingham, Alabama. They were childhood friends. Ms Burnham is also the cousin of the late Guyanese Prime Minister and President the Honourable Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham. She shared a photograph of her visit to Guyana in the 1970s in which there is a very much younger Eusi Kwayana. Talk about “six degrees of separation!” What an amazing co-incidence! Apart from the coincidence of meeting an African American relative of Prime Minister Burnham who also knew Elder Kwayana the NCBL conference provided an opportunity to meet African American, African Caribbean and African Canadian activist lawyers. These lawyers are using their education and expertise to: “serve as the legal arm of the movement for Black Liberation, to protect human rights, to achieve self-determination of Africa and African Communities in the Diaspora and to work in coalition to assist in ending oppression of all peoples.” The NCBL was founded in 1968 ( when “young people of African descent in America were growing impatient with the slow pace of social change.” The organization had its beginning at the time the freedom fighting Black Panther Party members were subjected to: “police brutality, frame-ups and a vicious counter-intelligence program that targeted scores of militants for harassment, prosecution or assassination.” Not surprisingly those early members of NCBL: “began to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with rifle-toting revolutionaries.”
There remains much of that spirit in the present members who are involved in work such as ( Professor Burnham’s Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project (CRRJ) which: “addresses harms resulting from the massive breakdown in law enforcement during the civil rights movement, from the 1950s to the early 1970s.” Information from the NCBL website gives information about some of the other projects in which their members are involved including: “The National Conference of Black Lawyers’ (NCBL) Michigan Chapter is responding to recently published findings by the American Civil Liberties Union that demonstrate consistent racially disproportionate suspensions and expulsions of black public school students across the state. There is also a demonstrated correlation between exclusion from school and dropout rates. Additionally there is a correlation between dropout rates and imprisonment.” The New York chapter is addressing: “The terror that is perpetrated against predominantly blacks and Latinos in the streets of New York by the police “force” should be checked at the steps of the courthouse, but it is not. We call it Judicial Obstruction of Justice because one should expect to find justice in the courtroom, but it is obstructed and further frustrated by judicial attitudes and actions.” During one session NCBL members decried what they described as the “racial violence of incarceration” against African Americans and the “manifestations of genocide from the criminalization and mass incarceration” of that community.
My Thanksgiving weekend was not complete until I saw the documentary “Akwantu: The Journey.” The 87 minute film documents the struggles of Jamaica’s Maroon community to live as free people after they fled the European plantations established on the island since Columbus lost his way to India and stumbled upon this “New World.” This is a must see film, a work of love written and directed by Roy. T. Anderson. Meticulously researched it is imperative that it is viewed and discussed in our schools as a balance to the history that is taught now. The connection of African Caribbean people to the African continent and to each other is palpable. Listening to the rhythm of the drums and watching the movement of the Maroon dancers I was struck by the similarity to African ceremonies in Guyana. We are connected as Peter Tosh sang in his song “African” Don’t care where you come from as long as you’re a Black man you’re an African. The cold Thanksgiving weekend was made warm by the opportunities to share thoughts, ideas and space with brethren and sistren.
On another note: I read in one of the Toronto daily newspapers that Jason Kenney the Canadian Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism is courting/encouraging/wooing young Irish immigrants to come and live here in the Great White North. I thought: “Wait a minute isn’t this the same government that was almost foaming at the mouth and seemed ready to chuck into the sea a group of Sri Lankan refugees fleeing persecution just two summers ago?” What is the difference here? Oh yes, now looking at the two groups I do see the difference. One group looks like Kenny, the other does not. Maybe he was thinking along the lines of the Sesame Street song: “One of these things is not like the others; one of these things does not belong.”


Coleridge Jackson had nothing to fear. He weighed sixty pounds more than his sons And one hundred pounds more than his wife. His neighbours knew he wouldn’t take tea for the fever. The gents at the poolroom walked gently in his presence. So everyone used to wonder why, when his puny boss, A little white bag of bones and squinty eyes, When he frowned at Coleridge, sneered at the way Coleridge shifted a ton of canned goods from The east wall to the warehouse all the way to the west, When that skimpy piece of man-meat called Coleridge A sorry ni—er, Coleridge kept his lips closed, sealed, jammed tight. Wouldn’t raise his eyes, held his head at a slant, Looking way off somewhere else. Everybody in the neighborhood wondered why Coleridge would come home, Pull off his jacket, take off his shoes, And beat the water and the will out of his puny little family. Excerpt from the poem “Coleridge Taylor” by Maya Angelou published October 1, 1991.
Popular and internationally well known African American author and poet Maya Angelou included the poem “Coleridge Taylor” in the anthology of poems entitled “I Shall Not Be Moved.” Angelou (born Marguerite Ann Johnson on April 4, 1928) has published six autobiographies which includes experiences of growing up in a segregated White supremacist southern town (Stamps, Arkansas.) In the poem “Coleridge Jackson” she has captured the pathological effect that living under a White supremacist system has on African American families. Coleridge Jackson’s violent behaviour towards his family after being subjected to his employer’s White supremacist taunts - for several hours of every day - is something even he cannot understand. Angelou writes of Coleridge Jackson’s and even the African American community’s reaction to the violence unleashed on the Jackson family: “Everybody, even Coleridge, wondered (the next day, or even that same night)” However Jackson’s employer knew exactly what was happening and why: “Everybody but the weasly little sack-of-bones boss with his envious little eyes, he knew. He always knew. And when people told him about Coldridge’s family, about the black eyes and the bruised faces, the broken bones, Lord how that scrawny man grinned.” Coleridge Jackson’s employer/tormentor delighted in keeping his employee in a state of anxiety and torment apparently enjoying the Jackson family’s plight and the power he wielded over their lives. “And the next day, for a few hours, he treated Coleridge nice. Like Coleridge had just done him the biggest old favor. Then, right after lunch, he’d start on Coleridge again. “Here, Sambo, come here. Can’t you move any faster than that? Who on earth needs a lazy ni—er?” And Coleridge would just stand there. His eyes sliding away, lurking at something else.”
Coleridge Jackson’s reaction to the White supremacist baiting to which he was subjected daily was to become violently abusive to his family. In many cases when someone is subjected to abuse their reaction is to in turn abuse those over whom they have power. Angelou’s Coleridge Jackson although fictional could be based on an actual person or a composite of several such men. Witnessing human nature and reaction to certain situations can be fascinating and sometimes scary. There are various reactions to the kind of oppression to which Coleridge Jackson was subjected. Some people fight back, some turn their anger and shame into violence against those who cannot fight back while others succumb and internalize the abuse. The late South African freedom fighter Steve Biko is credited with this statement: “The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” The results of at least two experiments have demonstrated the effect of continued abuse on the psyche of the abused.
Beginning in 1968 following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr (April 4, 1968) a White elementary school teacher in Iowa conducted an experiment with her students which powerfully demonstrated these effects. Although elementary school teacher Jane Elliot intended to teach her students the effects of racism on African Americans there were some “side effects” of this experiment. Elliot divided the third grade class of all White students along eye colour and ascribed negative traits to children based on eye colour. First the brown eyed children then the blue eyed children. The reaction was the same for both groups when their eye colour was designated the “undesirable” colour. The children who up to that point were fairly well behaved, co-operative and friendly with each other were fighting and bullying each other depending on which eye colour was considered superior or inferior. All this happened within a few hours of the experiment. Since then Elliot has conducted this experiment with adults with the same results (
Many people take on the role that is assigned to them by society. The other experiment that demonstrates this is the Stanford Prison Experiment conducted in 1971 by psychologist Philip Zimbardo. With 24 male university students who were paid $15.00 a day the experiment began on August 14, 1971. In less than a week the experiment had to be abandoned because even though the students were mostly White middleclass males they very quickly internalized their roles. Two of the “prisoners” were emotionally traumatized in a very short time and the “prison guards” very quickly became sadistic bullies. Some of the “prisoners” became rebellious and fought back and the entire experiment degenerated as these University students bought into the roles they were assigned for the experiment. Like Angelou’s fictional character Coleridge Jackson, the third grade students in Iowa and the university students in Zimbardo’s experiment some of us who immigrate to this country internalize the roles this society ascribes to us. We need to resist internalizing the roles that are ascribed to us in this culture, this society. We know who we are and must resist the dominant culture which includes the media redefining us. And most importantly, especially for our young people, never live down to the lowered expectations!


On September 28, 1829 African American abolitionist David Walker published “ Walker ’s Appeal, in Four Articles; Together with a Preamble, to the Coloured Citizens of the World, but in Particular, and Very Expressly, to Those of the United States of America .” In his pamphlet he urged enslaved Africans to defend themselves against their enslavers. His words although written during the time when African Americans were enslaved must have resonated with later generations of African Americans who organized against White domestic terrorism. A famous quote from “Walkers Appeal” was: “The whites have had us under them for more than three centuries, murdering, and treating us like brutes. They want us for their slaves, and think nothing of murdering us in order to subject us to that wretched condition - therefore, if there is an attempt made by us, kill or be killed. Now, I ask you, had you not rather be killed than to be a slave to a tyrant, who takes the life of your mother, wife, and dear little children? Look upon your mother, wife and children, and answer God Almighty; and believe this, that it is no more harm for you to kill a man, who is trying to kill you, than it is for you to take a drink of water when thirsty.”
Walker was born on September 28th, 1785 in Wilmington , North Carolina to a free African woman and an enslaved African man. David Walker was born a free person because it was the law throughout North America that children inherited the status of their mother. This law ensured that Africans retained slave status because it was very rare for an African woman to gain her freedom. Most free Africans were men who were skilled in a trade, were “rented” out to work for people other than their “owners,” where they were allowed to keep part of their wages and eventually bought their freedom. There were occasions where the “master” promised that an enslaved African could buy his freedom and reneged on that promise after the unfortunate enslaved African paid the agreed sum of money. Moses Grandy whose lifestory is documented in the book “Narrative of the Life of Moses Grandy, Late a Slave in the United States of America,” (published 1843) was cheated by three white men after he paid each of them the agreed price for his freedom. The father of Sylvia Stark, one of the pioneer African Canadian women of British Colombia, was also cheated by his “owner” after he paid the man the agreed price for his freedom. In Ontario , the case of Peggy Pompadour who was advertised for sale along with her son Jupiter in 1806 is evidence of the children of Africans in North America inheriting the status of the mother. Peggy Pompadour was married to a free African man but she and her children were owned by Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, Peter Russell and his sister Elizabeth Russell.
Even free Africans in North America were at the mercy of their White compatriots. In some states (e.g. Delaware and California ) any White person could claim that a free African was their slave and the African would not be allowed to counter that claim because they were not allowed to give evidence against a White person. In California this law was extended to include anyone who was not white being prevented from giving evidence against a White person. In 1854 the California Supreme Court overturned the conviction of a White man, George Hall in the murder of Ling Sing, a Chinese man because the three witnesses who had testified were all Chinese. The law stated that African Americans, mulattoes and Native Americans could not give evidence against White people and since Chinese were not White they were included in the group who could not testify against White people in a court of law. George Hall was set free even though he was guilty of murdering Ling SingWalker as a free African living in an American slaveholding society was therefore not entirely free. He witnessed the degradation of Africans and the injustices to which they were subjected. He wrote about the horror of witnessing an enslaved African man forced to whip his mother to death by a sadistic slaveholder. Walker eventually left the Southern state where he was born because as he said, “If I remain in this bloody land, I will not live long. I cannot remain where I must hear slaves' chains continually and where I must encounter the insults of their hypocritical enslavers.”
Walker traveled throughout the USA then settled in Boston where he opened a clothing store close to the waterfront. Many of his customers were sailors whose patronage would be very important in his most important venture. Walker became a member of organizations that denounced the enslavement of Africans in the Southern states and the discrimination to which Africans in the Northern states were subjected. He was a regular contributor to the abolitionist newspaper “Freedom’s Journal” and by the end of 1828; he had become Boston 's leading agitator against slavery.
“Walker ’s Appeal” was considered militant because of his denunciation of slavery, those who profited from it, and those who willingly accepted it. To reach his target audience, the enslaved men and women of the South, Walker relied on African American sailors who worked on ships that traveled to the southern states. Walker used his clothing business which, because of its location close to the waterfront, was patronized by sailors who bought clothing for upcoming voyages. He sewed copies of his pamphlet into the lining of sailors' clothing. Once the pamphlets reached the South, they could be distributed throughout the region.
Slaveholders already worried by the success of the Haitian Revolution were panicking because an African man had articulated what they feared most, an uprising of enslaved Africans in America . The White slave holders were not the only people who panicked when they read “ Walker ’s Appeal.” In 1829, when 50 copies of “ Walker ’s Appeal” were delivered to an African American minister in Savannah , Georgia , the minister informed the police. The police informed the governor of Georgia which led to the state legislature passing a bill making the circulation of materials that might incite slaves to riot a capital offense. The legislature also offered a reward for Walker ’s capture, $10,000 alive and $1,000 dead. Other Southern states took similar measures. Louisiana enacted a bill ordering the expulsion of all free Africans who had settled in the state after 1825. By 1830, White authorities in the Southern states had begun a campaign to suppress “ Walker ’s Appeal.” In New Orleans , four African men were arrested for owning copies and vigilantes attacked free Africans in Walker 's home town, Wilmington , North Carolina . In Savannah , Georgia , the White authorities seized dozens of copies and banned African American sailors from going ashore at the city's port. The mayor of Savannah demanded that the mayor of Boston arrest Walker and outlaw the pamphlet. White slave holders offered a $3,000 bounty for Walker 's death, and a $10,000 reward for anyone who brought him to the South alive. In June 1830, shortly after publishing the third edition of his “Appeal,” Walker was found dead on the doorstep of his home.
Walker’s words ( although written 183 years ago still resonates when the “stop and frisk” policies of the New York Police Department (which disproportionately targets African Americans) and the notorious “stand your ground laws” in several states are taken into account. In spite of the fact that America now has an African American President, African Americans like 17 year old Trayvon Martin continue to be victims of the ingrained attitude of what Walker described in his “Appeal”: as “more than three centuries, murdering, and treating us like brutes.”

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


“I was born here, and here I stay, with the people of Trinidad and Tobago, who educated me free of charge for nine years at Queen's Royal College and for five years at Oxford, who have made me whatever I am, and who have been or might be at any time the victims of the very pressure which I have been fighting against for twelve years... I am going to let down my bucket where I am, right here with you in the British West Indies."
Quote by Dr. Eric Eustace Williams made during his Public Lecture at Woodford Square, 21 June 1955 excerpted from his autobiography “Inward Hunger: The Education of A Prime Minister” published 1969
Eric Eustace Williams (Trinidad and Tobago’s first Prime Minister) was born on September 25, 1911 in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. He was the first of 11 children born to Thomas and Eliza Williams. As an 11 year old Williams entered the prestigious Queen's Royal College which is recognized as Trinidad and Tobago’s oldest secondary school established in 1859. He gained an Island Scholarship in 1931 which meant that he had the highest score of all students in Trinidad and Tobago at the Senior Cambridge Certificate examination. An Island Scholarship was a coveted prize on any island in the British controlled Caribbean and even in Guyana (formerly British Guiana) where the prize was a Guiana Scholarship later a Guyana Scholarship. The ultimate reward of winning one of those scholarships was the opportunity for the winner to study at either Oxford or Cambridge University in London, England. It was the dream of many a colonial family for their child to become an Island Scholar or a Guyana (Guiana) Scholar. It certainly was the dream of Williams’ father (a junior civil servant) who desperately wanted his son to accomplish what he could not. In “Inward Hunger: The Education of A Prime Minister” Williams explains his father’s dilemma. “The lack of social qualifications was an impediment to the progress of thousands of Trinidadians, inside and outside the civil service. My father was one of them. The necessary social qualifications were colour, money and education, in that order of importance. My father lacked all three. In colour he was dark brown. His three great expectations of money failed him.” In gaining the Island Scholarship the younger Williams validated his father’s existence as he explained in his autobiography. “His twenty-year-old dream had come true. Underpaid, tired, demoralized by the sight of younger people promoted out of turn over his head, because he lacked the necessary pliancy to ingratiate himself with the powers who controlled his destiny, he looked upon my victory as decisive proof of his manhood. He often told me that whatever his rivals had they had not an Island scholar as their son.”
Williams gained his undergraduate and graduate degrees including Doctor of Philosophy (December 1938) from Oxford University. The title of his doctoral thesis was “The Economic Aspect of the Abolition of the West Indian Slave Trade and Slavery.” In his autobiography he writes of the racism he experienced while he was a student at Oxford. In spite of all the wealth the British harvested from their colonies and their rhetoric encouraging the “colonials” to consider themselves British the reality was very different for those who ventured off to live or study in Britain. Like many before him Williams found that singing “God save the king or queen” and “Rule Britannia” did not make a racialized man from the Caribbean welcome even if he was well educated in the British tradition. The Dean of his college made that very plain when he said to Williams who was seeking employment after earning a Doctor of Philosophy degree: “Are you still here? You had better go back home. You West Indians are too keen on trying to get posts here which take away jobs from Englishmen.” Williams unsuccessfully tried to get his thesis published but found that even Britain’s most revolutionary publisher would not publish the book that eventually became “Capitalism and Slavery.” It was a revolutionary thesis that turned British historians’ version of the abolition of the slave trade and slavery on its head. The view among British historians at that time was “that a band of humanitarians – The Saints, they had been nicknamed had got together to abolish slavery, and had after many years succeeded in arousing the conscience of the British people of man’s inhumanity to man. Britain had repented and given an earnest of her contribution by voting twenty million pounds sterling to the slave-owners for the redemption of their slaves.”
Williams argued that Caribbean sugar plantations funded British industrialization which made slavery an outdated mode of production. In “Capitalism and Slavery” he wrote: "The commercial capitalism of the eighteenth century developed the wealth of Europe by means of slavery and monopoly. But in so doing it helped to create the industrial capitalism of the nineteenth century, which turned round and destroyed the power of commercial capitalism, slavery, and all its works. Without a grasp of these economic changes the history of the period is meaningless." Even Britain’s most revolutionary publisher refused to publish such a revolutionary book and according to Williams told him: “Mr. Williams, are you trying to tell me that the slave trade and slavery were abolished for economic and not humanitarian reasons? I would never publish such a book, for it would be contrary to the British tradition.” Eight months after receiving his doctorate and with no prospects of a job in Britain Williams left for Washington D.C and a position as lecturer at Howard University – one of the 105 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the USA - which he dubbed the “Negro Oxford.” At Howard University Williams was promoted to assistant professor and then professor; meanwhile his book “Capitalism and Slavery” which was too revolutionary for British publishers was published in 1944 by the University of North Carolina Press.
Williams returned to Trinidad and Tobago after resigning his professorship at Howard. On January 24, 1956 he launched the political party – The People’s National Movement (PNM) - which he led until he transitioned in 1981. Now considered the “Father of the Nation” Williams’ PNM successfully won the election of September 1956. In his autobiography he writes of the moment of triumph: “On September 25, 1956, my forty-fifth birthday, the day after the triumphant election, the Governor sent for me and asked me to form a government.” On August 31, 1962 Williams led his country to independence from British rule ( When Williams transitioned on March 29, 1981 he had been at the helm of his country for almost a quarter of a century. He served as Chief Minister, Premier and then Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago from 1956 to 1981. Williams is not here to witness and celebrate the 50th independence anniversary of his beloved Trinidad and Tobago but the citizens of the twin island nation certainly owe this brilliant and dedicated scholar and politician a debt of gratitude.

Sunday, September 16, 2012


If we must die, let it not be like hogs Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot, While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs, Making their mock at our accursed lot. If we must die, O let us nobly die, So that our precious blood may not be shed In vain; then even the monsters we defy Shall be constrained to honor us though dead! O kinsmen! We must meet the common foe! Though far outnumbered let us show us brave, And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow! What though before us lies the open grave? Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack, Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!
Poem If we must die by Claude McKay originally published in the July 1919 edition of the The Liberator
Festus Claudius McKay was born on September 15, 1889 in Nairne Castle, Clarendon, Jamaica. He was the last of 11 children born to Thomas Francis McKay and Hannah Ann Elizabeth Edwards. McKay was educated by his older school teacher brother Uriah Theophilus McKay. Between the ages of 17 and 22 (when he immigrated to the US) McKay worked as a carriage and cabinet maker and as a member of the Jamaican Constabulary. In 1912 he published two volumes of poetry written in Jamaican patois: Songs of Jamaica and Constab Ballads considered the first poems written in the Jamaican language. That same year (1912) McKay immigrated to the US and entered Tuskegee University in Alabama. Tuskegee University was founded in 1881 by Booker T. Washington to educate African Americans who were refused entry into White post-secondary institutions and today remains one of the 105 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the USA. The rabid racism he encountered in the southern United States including the segregated facilities and other Jim Crow laws (don’t look white people in the eyes and step off the sidewalk to let them pass) were too much for the proud Jamaican. McKay left and enrolled at Kansas State University, Kansas being a state where there supposedly were no signs or sight of Jim Crow. Kansas had entered the Union as a free state (no slavery) and after the American Civil War there was an exodus of African Americans from the southern US to Kansas; so many of them that they were called the “Exodusters.” McKay was definitely following in their footsteps. In 1914 he was on the move again, this time to New York where he spent most of his American sojourn.
McKay wrote “If We Must Die” amid the violence and bloodshed of 1919, encouraging his community to fight back against the oppression (76 African Americans were lynched in 1919) they suffered at the hands of white Americans. The so-called “race riots” of 1919 involved the brutalization and murder of African Americans by white Americans in several cities including Chicago, Omaha and Washington. African Americans had returned from fighting in Europe (1914-1918) to preserve “freedom” but nothing had changed for them or their communities, they were third class citizens in their country of birth, subject to lynching at the hands of their white compatriots. McKay left the USA in 1919 and until 1934 lived in Africa, Europe and Russia. In 1922 he published a book of poetry “Harlem Shadows” which included the poem “The Lynching”
His Spirit in smoke ascended to high heaven. His father, by the cruelest way of pain, Had bidden him to his bosom once again; The awful sin remained still unforgiven. All night a bright and solitary star (Perchance the one that ever guided him, Yet gave him up at last to Fate's wild whim) Hung pitifully o'er the swinging char. Day dawned, and soon the mixed crowds came to view The ghastly body swaying in the sun The women thronged to look, but never a one Showed sorrow in her eyes of steely blue; And little lads, lynchers that were to be, Danced round the dreadful thing in fiendish glee.
In The Lynching McKay captures the emotions, the nuances of the lynching of African Americans by white Americans. America is supposedly a “Christian” nation where white Christians murder and terrorise African American Christians. The image at the beginning of the poem of the lynched African American in a Christlike manner being gathered up to heaven into the bosom of the “father” is a very powerful symbol of the crucifixion of African Americans. Another powerful image in the poem is that of the white women showing no sorrow in their “eyes of steely blue” as they thronged to look at “The ghastly body swaying in the sun.” This image is very reminiscent of the women who lined up every day to howl and shriek with rage, swear, threaten death and throw objects at six year old Ruby Nell Bridges as she bravely integrated the William Frantz Elementary School at 3811 North Galvez Street, New Orleans, Louisiana. A truly heartbreaking sight captured for posterity in the Norman Rockwell portrait The Problem We All Live With With mothers like those as role models no wonder there were: “little lads, lynchers that were to be” who “danced round the dreadful thing in fiendish glee.”
It is indeed ironic that the Rockwell painting The Problem We All Live With is on display at the White House where the first African American President and his family live. When McKay wrote his poem The White House in 1919 when 76 African Americans were reported lynched by their white compatriots, (that number was most likely very conservative) such a scenario was unthinkable almost in the realm of science fiction.
The White House by Claude McKay published 1919 Your door is shut against my tightened face, And I am sharp as steel with discontent; But I possess the courage and the grace To bear my anger proudly and unbent. The pavement slabs burn loose beneath my feet, A chafing savage, down the decent street; And passion rends my vitals as I pass, Where boldly shines your shuttered door of glass. Oh, I must search for wisdom every hour, Deep in my wrathful bosom sore and raw, And find in it the superhuman power To hold me to the letter of your law! Oh, I must keep my heart inviolate Against the potent poison of your hate.
McKay also published America in 1919
Although she feeds me bread of bitterness, And sinks into my throat her tiger's tooth, Stealing my breath of life, I will confess I love this cultured hell that tests my youth! Her vigor flows like tides into my blood, Giving me strength erect against her hate. Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood. Yet as a rebel fronts a king in state, I stand within her walls with not a shred Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer. Darkly I gaze into the days ahead, And see her might and granite wonders there, Beneath the touch of Time's unerring hand, Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand.
This poem demonstrates his feelings of ambivalence living in this totally white supremacist culture yet with the optimism and vigor of youth intending to remain and fight the good fight for equality and equity. However even youthful vigor can become depleted in what was seemingly a never ending tide of attack on the personhood and humanity of African Americans. No wonder McKay fled the USA in 1922 and did not return until 12 years later.
McKay returned to the USA in 1934 and continued to write poetry and prose addressing the plight of Africans from the continent and in the Diaspora. In the 2000 published A Fierce Hatred of Injustice: Claude McKay’s Jamaica and his poetry of rebellion author Winston James writes: “Just as McKay hated to see misery and oppression, so did he hate cruelty. His extraordinary sensitivity and aversion to suffering and cruelty were important impulses that led to his deepening radicalization over time. Class, color, gender and racial oppression in Jamaica started him on his socialist journey while, more than anything else, while the gigantic horrors of racism in the United States – especially lynching – deepened his Black nationalism.” In his first autobiography A Long Way from Home published in 1937 McKay wrote about the inspiration for his composing If we must die. At the time he wrote the poem (1919) he was working as a railroad porter one of the few jobs available to African American men. “The World War had ended. But its end was a signal for the outbreak of little wars between labor and capital and, like a plague breaking out in sore places, between colored folk and white. Our Negro newspapers were morbid, full of details of clashes between colored and white, murderous shootings and hangings. Traveling from city to city and unable to gauge the attitude and temper of each one, we Negro railroad men were nervous. We were less light-hearted. We did not separate from one another gaily to spend ourselves in speakeasies and gambling joints. We stuck together, some of us armed, going from the railroad station to our quarters. We stayed in our quarters all through the dreary ominous nights, for we never knew what was going to happen. It was during those days that the sonnet, "If We Must Die," exploded out of me.” McKay also addressed the subject of “Belonging to a minority group” in “A Long Way from Home” as he contemplated the attitude of the White “liberals” he encountered: “It is hell to belong to a suppressed minority and outcast group. For to most members of a powerful majority, you are not a person; you are a problem. And every crusading crank imagines he knows how to solve your problem. I think I am a rebel mainly from psychological reasons, which have always been more important to me than economic. As a member of a weak minority, you are not supposed to criticize your friends of the strong majority. You will be damned mean and ungrateful. Therefore you and your group must be content with lower critical standards.”
McKay is acknowledged as one of the giants of the Harlem Renaissance and his work is considered to have been a great influence on Senegalese poet Leopold Sedar Senghor and Martiniquais poet Amiee Cesaire who pioneered the Negritude Literary Movement. The term Negritude was reportedly coined by Cesaire who defined it as: “the simple recognition of the fact that one is Black, the acceptance of this fact and of our destiny as Blacks, of our history and culture.” McKay’s work also influenced African American poets including Langston Hughes who wrote the poem My People.
Although he never returned to Jamaica McKay’s second autobiography which was published posthumously in 1979 was entitled “My Green Hills Of Jamaica” where he reminisces about his childhood and youth in Jamaica. He transitioned on May 1948 while he lived in Chicago. McKay is buried in Calvary Cemetery Woodside in Queens, New York. Inscribed on his headstone are the words “Peace O My rebel heart

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


Basically the South African white community is a homogeneous community. It is a community of people who sit to enjoy a privileged position that they do not deserve, are aware of this, and therefore spend their time trying to justify why they are doing so. Where differences in political opinion exist, they are in the process of trying to justify their position of privilege and their usurpation of power. We are concerned with that curious bunch of non-conformists who explain their participation in negative terms: that bunch of do-gooders that goes under all sorts of names – liberals, leftists etc. These are the people who argue that they are not responsible for white racism and the country’s “inhumanity to the black man.” The role of the white liberal in the black man’s history in South Africa is a curious one. True to their image, the white liberals always knew what was good for the blacks and told them so. The wonder of it all is that the black people have believed in them for so long.
From Steve Biko I write what I like A Selection of his writings edited by Aelred Stubbs C.R published 1979
On September 12, 1977 Stephen Bantu Biko was murdered by the White supremacist minority regime which occupied Azania (South Africa) at the time. Biko who is considered the father of the Black Consciousness Movement of Azania was born on December 18, 1946 in King William's Town, in the Eastern Cape Province. He was the third of four children born to Mzimgayi and Nokusola Biko. On August 18, 1977 he was detained under section 6 of the Terrorism Act of 1967 and taken to Port Elizabeth where he was kept naked and shackled, brutally beaten and tortured to death. He had been detained for 101 days the previous year (1976) from August to December under section 6 of the Terrorism Act and released without being charged. The Terrorism Act No 83 of 1967 was a law of the white supremacist apartheid regime. Section 6 of the Act allowed the detention of anyone “suspected” of engaging in terrorist acts to be detained for a 60 day period (which could be renewed) without trial on the authority of a senior police officer. Terrorism was broadly defined as anything that might "endanger the maintenance of law and order." Since there was no requirement to release information on who was being held people detained under this Act tended to disappear. It is estimated that approximately 80 people died while being detained under the Act. In Biko’s case he was interrogated for twenty-two hours (including torture and beatings resulting in a coma) by officers of the Port Elizabeth security police. He suffered a major head injury while in police custody and was chained to a window grille for a day. Biko was kept in leg irons and handcuffs, severely beaten and tortured from the day he was arrested (August 18, 1977) until the day he succumbed to the injuries (September 12, 1977.)
Biko defined Black Consciousness as: “An attitude of mind and a way of life. The call for Black Consciousness is the most positive call to come from any group in the black world for a long time. It is more than just a reactionary rejection of whites by blacks.‎ The philosophy of Black Consciousness therefore expresses group pride and the determination of the black to rise and attain the envisaged self. Its essence is the realisation by the black man of the need to rally together with his brothers around the cause of their oppression - the blackness of their skin - and to operate as a group in order to rid themselves of the shackles that bind them to perpetual servitude.‎” Biko established the Black Consciousness Movement in December 1968 with the founding of the South African Students’ Organisation (SASO.) In July 1969 Biko was elected president of SASO. During his presidential address to the 1st National Formation School of SASO (December 1-4, 1969) Biko explained some of the reasoning behind the opposition of “liberal” white students to the founding of SASO: “The idea of everything being done for the blacks is old one and all liberals take pride in it; but once the black students want to do things for themselves suddenly they are regarded as being ‘militant.’”
As a medical student at the University of Natal, Non-European section, Durban, Biko had been active in the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS) which although it tolerated African students was under the leadership of White students. In the 1978 published biography “Biko” Donald Woods a white journalist wrote: “Apartheid, designed to suppress a unified Black response, had created precisely such a response. In denying validity to any claim by Blacks to even the slightest share in a common multiracial society, the racists had driven the most articulate young Blacks into claiming not merely a share but the dominant share in such a society – on their own terms. The young Steve Biko and his colleagues had seized the shoulder of the sleeping giant of Black awareness in South Africa to shake him from his slumber. And more than that: to raise him to his feet, to stretch him to his full height, and to place him for the first time into the attitudes of total challenge toward all those who had sought to keep him prone. Black Consciousness was born, a new totality of black response to white power, and with it a new era in the racial struggle in South Africa.”
In August 1970 one month after he was elected Chairman of SASO Publications Biko began writing a series of articles published under the pseudonym “Frank Talk” in the SASO newsletter under the heading “I Write What I Like.” In March 1973 Biko was “banned” which meant he could not travel, speak in public or have any written work published. Obviously Biko’s writings greatly troubled the white establishment. He wrote about integration which was illegal under an apartheid regime and even more troubling it was not the integration favoured by white liberals. Biko wrote: “The myth of integration as propounded under the banner of liberal ideology must be cracked and killed because it makes people believe that something is being done when in actual fact the artificial integrated circles are a soporific on the blacks and provide a vague satisfaction for the guilty-stricken whites.” He wrote of the hypocrisy of the “liberal” whites’ attempt to salve their consciences: “First the black-white circles are almost always a creation of white liberals. As a testimony to their claim of complete identification with the blacks, they call a few ‘intelligent and aticulate’ blacks to ‘come around for tea at home.’ The more such tea-parties one calls the more liberal he is and the freer he shall feel from the guilt that harnesses and binds his conscience. Hence when he moves around his white circles – whites-only hotels, beaches, restaurants and cinemas –with a lighter load, feeling that he is not like the rest.” He offers a scathing indictment of the White liberals’ idea of integration in these words: “Nothing could be more irrelevant and misleading. Those who believe in it are living in a fool’s paradise.” As a critical thinker and community worker Biko was a threat to the white supremacist regime that eventually murdered him.
The five white men (Harold Snyman, Daniel Siebert, Rubin Marx, Johan Beneke and Gideon Nieuwoudt) responsible for the brutal killing of Biko applied for amnesty from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of South Africa. Biko’s family contested their application. On Thursday July 25, 1996 South Africa's most powerful court rejected the family’s attempt to prevent the killers being pardoned if they confess. A 1998 study by South Africa's Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation and the Khulumani Support Group which surveyed victims of abuse during the Apartheid era found that most felt that the TRC had failed to achieve reconciliation between the black and white communities. Most believed that justice was a prerequisite for reconciliation rather than an alternative to it and that the TRC had been weighted in favour of the perpetrators of abuse.
Today Biko is an international hero whose words are quoted in books and elsewhere: “Colonialism is not satisfied merely with holding a people in its grip and emptying the native's brain of all form and content. By a kind of perverted logic, it turns to the past of the oppressed people, and distorts, disfigures, and destroys it.‎” ( There are several musical tributes to his life and work including “Biko” by Beenie Man.

Monday, September 3, 2012


The marshals had their hands full pulling together the three thousand workers who converged on Market Square in London, Ontario on 3 September 1894. It was the first nationally recognized Labour Day in Canada, and the local labour movement was out in full force. Eventually the first union contingents headed off down the city’s main streets under the blazing noonday sun. Leading the way was a group of seventy-five butchers on horseback, who set the tone of respectable craftsmanship with their crisply white shirts and hats and clean baskets on their arms. Several other groups presented themselves in identical outfits – the firemen from the railway car shops in their white shirts and black felt hats, the printers in their navy blue yachting caps (the apprentices wore brown), the barbers in their plug hats and white jackets. From “The Workers' Festival: A History of Labour Day in Canada” authored by Craig Heron and Steven Penfold published in 2005
Although the official recognition of Labour Day with a Labour Day Parade in Canada began on September 3, 1894 it was not until the 1950s that African Canadian workers made an appearance in these parades. There were individual African Canadians who had been used as comic relief in these all-White Labour Day Parades before the 1950s. According to Heron and Penfold in “A History of Labour Day in Canada”: “There was rarely any space for African and native Canadians. On the few occasions when people of colour appeared in these marches, they were presented as curiosities, not fellow workers.” The authors cite a few occasions when racialized people were used during these Labour Day Parades of yesteryear. “Plumbers’ unions sometimes used black youngsters as comic accents to the gleaming white-enamel fixtures on their float. In one case in Toronto, the tableau was an older woman trying to scrub the “dirt” off a black boy. In a similar vein, a float in the 1911 Calgary parade depicted what a newsman called ‘a big black ni---r wench’ trying to do her laundry amid domestic turmoil, in contrast to the electrical appliances on display at the other end of the float. The few native people who appeared were incorporated as exotic athletes and as circus clowns.” Acknowledging the racial prejudice to which racialized workers were subjected even after African Canadian and other racialized men had made the ultimate sacrifice during the two European tribal conflicts (World Wars I and 11) Heron and Penfold write: “The struggles of minorities for acceptance within the house of labour were not over after the Second World War, but the appearance of representatives of minority groups on Labour Day signaled their determination to be admitted as full members. Two contingents of marchers in Toronto Labour Day parades of the 1950s symbolized their own triumph over racist indifference and hostility inside unions – the all-black Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and the so-called Brandon Group of residential construction workers.”
Now in the 21st century unions and their members (the working class) are under attack internationally. Although some modest gains were made by workingmen (and women) in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, conditions remained exploitative. Child labour was targeted by the passage of the 1884 Ontario Factory Act that mandated a 60 hour week for children; no boys under 13 or girls under 14 could work, and a 1 hour lunch break was compulsory. However it was sporadically enforced and violated by employers with impunity. On March 25, 1886, the Trades and Labour Congress (TLC) in 1886 got the Ontario government to pass a Workman's Compensation Act. It was the first of its kind in Canada. People forget that every right that working people enjoy today was fought for by the labour movement. Management never gave up anything without a fight. Even those working in non-union jobs owe their standard of living to the men and women who fought to be treated fairly. When you take a sick day, submit an expense form for drugs or glasses, go on vacation, enjoy that well deserved pension, all these things and many more have become normal not because of the generosity of management or even due to how hard you may work but because they were fought for by the men and women of the labour movement. Many of the rights workers enjoy today came about because of the labour movement. The eight hour work day, public holidays and the right to strike were not given to workers by the bosses and capitalist captains of industry. Those were attained after decades of struggle. An example of the struggle against the “capitalist captains of industry” occurred in Toronto when the Printer's Union joined the Nine Hour Movement advocating for shorter work hours - 58 hours per week. The owners of the printing shops including George Brown owner and editor of “The Globe” thought the demand ridiculous. The Printers Union went on strike against the print shops in Toronto on March 25, 1872. The bosses brought in replacement "scab workers. Brown sued the Printer's Union, and under the “Combination Act” of 1799 which prohibited trade unions and collective bargaining the picketing workers were arrested and jailed. Many printers lost their jobs. Brown’s political enemy John A. Macdonald who was the Canadian Prime Minister at the time seized the opportunity to embarrass Brown and gain some political advantage by championing workers’ rights. On June 14, 1872 Macdonald passed the “Trade Union Act” which legalized and protected trade unions making it legal for workers to band together to improve their working conditions. Workers were able to negotiate and win a 54 hour work week.
Here is the conundrum, George Brown, strike breaker and erstwhile enemy of the White working class in Toronto was seen as a friend and supporter of enslaved Africans in the USA. He is listed as a founder of the Anti-Slavery Society of Canada and there are several plaques scattered around our fair city of Toronto where the man is honoured One of the plaques even states that he mentored William Peyton Hubbard who became the only African Canadian in Toronto’s history to achieve the status of Deputy Mayor. In their 1990 published “The Underground Railroad: Next Stop, Toronto!” authors Afua Cooper, Adrienne Shadd and Karolyn Smardz Frost write “William Hubbard a baker by trade was elected to the City Council in 1894 and served as Deputy Mayor of the city from 1904 to 1907.”
A more recent conundrum was presented with the slaughter of striking African mineworkers from the Marikana Platinum Mine in South Africa. These mineworkers were slaughtered by police in a South Africa governed by an African National Congress (ANC) government, the organization/political party famous for its struggle against a White supremacist apartheid government. The slaughter of Africans occurred frequently during the illegal rule of the former regime but it is a shock to see this happening under an ANC led government. It leaves us wondering if apartheid has been replaced by something equally sinister where striking workers can be slaughtered with impunity and the mine owners are allowed to order the survivors to immediately get back to work or lose their jobs. It leaves us wondering if in this 21st century and 18 years after Mandela was elected President of a “post-apartheid” South Africa the changes for working-class Africans (the vast majority) was just window dressing. This is the conundrum; with Africans in the leadership of the country, a mining company owned by White people in Britain (Lonmin Platinum Mine) seems to be calling the shots. However this happens, the responsibility to uphold the laws of the land including the labour laws belong to the government of the land. The responsibility to protect its citizens from exploitation by foreigners ultimately rests with this government. One labour activist at Saturday’s Toronto demonstration in support of the mineworkers (both slaughtered and survivors) named this atrocity “state sponsored terrorism.”
Concerned people internationally have expressed their dismay and disgust at the slaughter of striking mineworkers (44 at last count) at the Marikana site in South Africa. On Monday, September 3, 2012 when we march in the Labour Day parade the mineworkers of Marikana will be remembered as the latest martyrs in the labour struggle.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

EMMETT TILL JULY 25, 1941 – AUGUST 28, 1955

We know some of the story of African American Civil Rights activist Rosa Parks’ arrest for refusing to give up her seat in the "Colored" section of a Montgomery, Alabama bus to a White man who could not find a seat in the "White" section of the crowded bus. Over the almost 57 years since then (December 1, 1955) there have been various stories written about her reasons including that she was tired after a hard day’s work as a seamstress. However Ms Parks debunked that myth when she said: "I thought about Emmett Till and I could not go back. My legs and feet were not hurting, that is a stereotype. I paid the same fare as others and I felt violated." The impact of the brutal murder on August 28, 1955 of the African American teenager Emmett Louis Till was felt by African Americans of all ages and is considered pivotal in the Civil Rights struggle. Famous African American boxer Muhammed Ali shared his memories of the impact: "Emmett Till and I were about the same age. A week after he was murdered. I stood on the corner with a gang of boys, looking at pictures of him in the black newspapers and magazines. In one, he was laughing and happy. In the other, his head was swollen and bashed in, his eyes bulging out of their sockets and his mouth twisted and broken. His mother had done a bold thing. She refused to let him be buried until hundreds of thousands marched past his open casket in Chicago and looked down at his mutilated body. [I] felt a deep kinship to him when I learned he was born the same year and day I was. My father talked about it at night and dramatized the crime. I couldn't get Emmett out of my mind." Ali and thousands of African Americans had read about and seen the grisly photographs of Till’s gruesomely mutilated body in several issues of African American owned Jet Magazine (September 15 1955, September 22, 1955, September 29, 1955, October 6, 1955, October 13, 1955, November 24 1955, January 26, 1956, June 21, 1956, June 28, 1956 and February 28 1957.) The late celebrated African American lawyer Johnnie L. Cochrane also shared his memories of the impact felt when he heard of Till’s murder: "I was a senior at Los Angeles High School in California. It had a profound affect on me because I understood that it could have happened to any of us. It shook my confidence. It was as though terrorists had struck -- but it was terrorists from our own country. It made me want to do everything I could to make sure this event would not happen ever again." Similar to the murder of 17 year old unarmed African American Trayvon Martin, Till’s lynching garnered international attention (the story of Till’s lynching was reported in the international press including newspapers in Belgium, Germany and France) even though countless African Americans had been lynched by White Americans. For example on May 7, 1955 the Reverend George W. Lee (52 years old) a Baptist minister, grocery store owner and NAACP field worker in Belzoni, Mississippi, was shot and killed at point blank range while driving in his car after making an unsuccessful bid to vote. On August 13, 1955 in Brookhaven, Mississippi, Lamar Smith, another African American man (63 years old) who was a farmer and World War I veteran was shot to death in broad daylight at close range on the lawn of the Lincoln County courthouse in Brookhaven, Mississippi in the presence of several witnesses, after casting his ballot. Both victims had been active in voter registration drives. No one was ever arrested for either murder even though Jet Magazine in its May 26, 1955 issue reported on the lynching of Reverend Lee. There are countless instances of African American men, women and children lynched by white Americans who were never held accountable for these inhumane crimes against humanity. Many of the lynched African American men were accused like the 14 year old Till of looking at White women or just being in the presence of white women.
Emmett Till was a 14 year old African American male born in Chicago on July 25, 1941 the only child of Mamie Till Mobley. During the summer of 1955 Till Mobley sent her son to Money, Mississippi to spend time with her uncle Moses "Mose" Wright. There are differing versions of Till’s interaction on August 25, 1955 with the 21 year old white woman who worked in the neighbourhood grocery store “Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market.” The stories range from Till smiling at the white woman, whistling, winking or merely looking her in the eye all of which apparently were hanging offences in the southern states if you were an African American male. Keith Andre Beauchamp who is the driving force behind the documentary "The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till" launched August 17, 2005 reportedly found during his exhaustive investigation of the case that the white woman was "not the white-lily queen everybody says she was, and it was said that she made up the whole lie to teach husband Roy" – who had left her alone in the store – "a lesson." There are countless instances of African American men throughout the history of the USA who were lynched on flimsy "evidence."
The 14 year old Till was dragged out of the house of his great-uncle Mose Wright around 2:30 a.m on August 28, 1955 kidnapped by Roy Bryant the husband of the white woman (Carolyn Bryant) from the grocery store who had returned from his out of town jaunt. Bryant was accompanied by his older half-brother John William "J.W" Milam and they both dragged Till out of the house despite Wright’s pleading. Three days later on August 31, 1955 Till’s horribly disfigured nude body with a 70 pound industrial fan fastened around his neck with barbed wire was taken out of the Tallahatchie River. The 14 year old had been so brutally beaten and tortured that his face was unrecognizable where he had been shot above the right ear, his nose broken and his right eye gouged out. Surprisingly for that time and place there was a trial where not surprisingly Bryant and Milam were acquitted of the murder of Till. A few months later both murderers gave an interview published in Look Magazine (January 24, 1956) where they admitted to committing the heinous crime against Till. The article entitled “The Shocking Story of Approved Killing in Mississippi” was written by William Bradford Huie.
It was Mamie Till’s determined advocacy that contributed to a second investigation many decades later. It was also this feisty African American woman’s determination that prevented her son’s body being buried in Mississippi where no one would have seen the evidence of the brutish, barbaric white supremacist culture which permitted and condoned his murder. Instead she fought the system including the sheriff and other Mississippi politicians insisting that her son’s body be returned to Chicago where the world saw what Bryant, Milam and white supremacy had done to her child. In an interview just before she transitioned in 2003 Till Mobley spoke about the day she saw her child’s body: "I looked at the bridge of his nose and it looked like someone had taken a meat chopper and chopped it. And I looked at his teeth because I took so much pride in his teeth. His teeth were the prettiest things I'd ever seen in my life, I thought. And I only saw two. Well, where are the rest of them? They had just been knocked out. And I was looking at his ears, and that's when I discovered a hole about here and I could see daylight on the other side. I said, 'Now, was it necessary to shoot him?'" ( and
Mamie Till Mobley never gave up fighting for justice for her only child. On January 3, 2003 she transitioned to be with the ancestors. The men who lynched her child both supposedly died of cancer Milam in 1981 and Bryant in 1994. Carolyn Bryant at 78 years old (born 1934) is still alive and lives somewhere in the USA where according to an article published in New York Times on July 31, 2005 she is guarded by a man who claims to be her son and threatened to kill the writer of the article if he “ever tried to contact his mother.” In 2007, Tallahatchie County issued a formal apology to Till's family which read: "We the citizens of Tallahatchie County recognize that the Emmett Till case was a terrible miscarriage of justice. We state candidly and with deep regret the failure to effectively pursue justice. We wish to say to the family of Emmett Till that we are profoundly sorry for what was done in this community to your loved one."

Friday, August 17, 2012


Jamaica has enjoyed much international publicity lately because of the 50th anniversary of its independence from British rule and the exemplary performance of the Jamaican athletes at the recent Summer Olympics in Britain. However the man who started it all was the Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey who was born 125 years ago on August 17, 1887 in St Ann’s Bay, Jamaica. Garvey who is Jamaica's first National Hero is a descendant of Jamaica's Maroons who fought the British colonizers and enslavers of Africans. Garvey born a mere 49 years after Africans in Jamaica and other British colonies were fully freed from chattel slavery (August 1, 1838) is considered the father of the modern Pan-African movement. At a time when the African continent was being carved up and distributed among European nations there was this African man born in one of the British colonies who was brave, brilliant and determined to unite Africans at home and abroad. His rallying cry: “Africa for the Africans!” It is truly amazing that at a time when Europeans and even some brainwashed Africans in the Caribbean and elsewhere believed implicitly in the superiority of White skin and all it entailed and the inferiority of non-whites that Garvey bravely stepped forward and declared that Africans were the equals of Europeans Generations later Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaking at the “Marcus Garvey Memorial” at National Hero Park in Kingston, Jamaica on June 20, 1965 recognized Garvey as: “the first man of color in the history of the United States to lead and develop a mass movement. He was the first man on a mass scale and level to give millions of Negroes a sense of dignity and destiny and make the Negro feel he was somebody.” Garvey’s opinions and philosophy which he shared with all who would listen influenced leaders in the international African community as well as other racialized people. It has been written that the Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh was a regular attendee at Garvey lectures in New York City.
Garvey founded an organization that in less than 10 years boasted an international membership of millions located on 5 continents. In a statement published in September 1923 Garvey wrote about the establishment of his organization: “I boarded a ship at Southampton for Jamaica, where I arrived on July 15, 1914. The Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities (Imperial) League was founded and organized five days after my arrival, with the program of uniting all the negro peoples of the world into one great body to establish a country and Government absolutely their own.” Garvey’s influence just in the USA can be traced through various major organizations and leaders. Elijah Muhammad the founder of the Nation of Islam was a member of the UNIA in Detroit and his organization bore many similarities to Garvey’s organization. El Hajj Malik El Shabazz (Malcolm X) was influenced by the teachings of Garvey since both of his parents were local UNIA leaders in Omaha, Milwaukee and Lansing Michigan and it has been said that Garvey visited their home a few times. The late Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm (first African American to run for President of the USA) was a child of Garveyite parents. Carlos Cooks of the African Nationalist Pioneer Movement was also influenced by Garvey’s philosophies. There are Garveyite symbols and ideas throughout the Black Power Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Garvey’s influence can be seen and felt in the Pan-African movement of the 21st century. Several African leaders over the decades of struggle to free themselves from European oppression and gain independence for their countries acknowledged their debt to Garvey and his opinions and philosophy. Those leaders include Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Nnamdi Azikewe of Nigeria and Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya. Versions of Garvey’s red, black and green flag can be seen in the national flag of Kenya, Ghana and the flag of the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa. The strong influence of Garveyism on the ANC of the 1920s and 1930s continued in the ANC Youth League of the 1940s and is evident and acknowledged today in the Pan-Africanist Congress of Azania (South Africa.) Garvey himself wrote: “My name was discussed on five continents. The Universal Negro Improvement Association gained millions of followers all over the world. By August, 1920, over 4,000,000 persons had joined the movement. A convention of all the negro peoples of the world was called to meet in New York that month. Delegates came from all parts of the known world. Over 25,000 persons packed the Madison Square Garden on August 1 to hear me speak to the first International Convention of Negroes. It was a record-breaking meeting, the first and the biggest of its kind. The name of Garvey had become known as a leader of his race.”
In ( “The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers, Vol. X: Africa for the Africans 1923-1945” edited by Jamaican born UCLA Professor Robert A. Hill (published in 2006) Garvey’s unrelenting advocacy to spread the word of Pan-Africanist ideas is chronicled. “After moving to London, Garvey became a regular speaker in Hyde Park. A 1935 observer described his oratorical powers as “magnificent” and noted that he used a good deal of humor and ridicule in defusing opposition from his audience. Garvey left London on August 12, 1937 to conduct the second regional UNIA conference in Toronto, Canada which met in the last week of August. Garvey inaugurated his School of African Philosophy, a training course for UNIA regional officers in the first week of September. He afterward toured Canadian provinces and left Nova Scotia in early October. Arriving in Bermuda on 11 October 1937, he was denied permission to leave the ship. He travelled on to Trinidad, St Lucia, Barbados, St Vincent, British Guiana and again to Barbados, before retracing his return north. He sailed for England from Nova Scotia and arrived back on 20 November 1937.” Garvey’s two day visit in October 1937 to then British Guiana was documented in newspaper articles published by the Daily Argosy which reported that there was a “crowd of nearly a thousand along a distance of over two hundred yards on both sides of the streets.” Garvey had attempted to visit the British colony in 1921 but it was clear from the diplomatic correspondence between British Governors in British Guiana and Jamaica, that he would have been detained had he set foot in the colony that year. However on his visit to British Guiana in 1937 after an enthusiastic welcome at the Bookers wharf he was taken by car to the home of his host, Dr. S.I.T Wills at Lot 190 Charlotte street. Later in the day, Garvey was given a reception at the Georgetown Town Hall where he was greeted with the Ethiopian National Anthem. Garvey also paid a courtesy call on the Governor before proceeding to the Fraternity Hall on Robb Street to address his followers.
During this month (August 2012) Jamaica is celebrating its 50th year of independence from British rule and also celebrating the four gold medals, four silver and four bronze gained at the London Olympics. Pan-Africanists in Jamaica and elsewhere are celebrating the life of a famous Jamaican who brought international attention to Jamaica before Bob Marley, Rastafari and reggae. On August 17 we celebrate the birthday of the Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey. His words are recorded by several actors in sites on youtube including: and