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.