Friday, March 29, 2013


Onward Christian soldiers Into heathen lands Prayer books in your pockets Rifles in your hands Take the happy tidings Where trade can be done Spread the peaceful gospel With the Gatling gun From “Africa: A Voyage of Discovery with Basil Davidson - The Bible and the Gun” a series of articles/videos produced in 1984.
The Gatling gun was patented in 1862 just in time for Europeans who had mostly ended the enslavement of Africans in the “New World” to turn their attention to possessing and exploiting the African continent and those Africans who lived there. Not being content with brutally robbing the continent of its people and their talents for centuries these evil, covetous, unconscionable people left their homes in Europe to invade and seize vast amounts of African land. The invention of the Gatling gun gave them an advantage of superior firepower to slaughter Africans who resisted their encroachment. The Gatling gun and later the Maxim gun were used to steal and occupy African land and subjugate Africans on the continent. The Africans armed with rifles were no match for these machine guns which could outfire any rifle of the time. Some Europeans also used the excuse of Christianizing the Africans to explain their presence on the continent. Davidson in his series of videos debunks that myth. His research as presented in the videos show that these Christian missionaries in some cases used brute force to “convert” Africans to Christianity. These good Christian White people destroyed and stole African art, culture and property in their efforts to “Christianize” the Africans. However as Davidson points out the missionaries in spite of the supposed Christian zeal to convert Africans held fast to the White supremacist belief that Africans were not their equal. From the song that Davidson mentioned in his presentation it is obvious the real purpose of the missionaries as an advance army was to culturally, emotionally and spiritually subdue as many Africans as possible before the European settlers arrived like locusts to occupy African land. With Africans forced or volunteering to accept the new religion which included worshipping a White superior being and by extension White skin people as superior the task of subjugating the Africans and stealing their land was made a bit easier.
Many Europeans had moved into the African continent disregarding the Africans, behaving as if they did not exist and taken possession of their land, cattle and other property. Any resistance by Africans was met by the most dreadful, barbaric violence from the European invaders of their land. Davidson quotes from a British army officer’s diary where the man describes in detail and with much satisfaction his role in murdering Africans and occupying their land. Davidson describes the colonial period as: “Prolonged interlude of destructive subjection and foreign occupation [of Africa] whose main achievement was not to carry Africa into a new world order but merely to complete the dismantlement of the old.”
The most egregious and presumptuous act of theft against the African people had its beginning during a two month meeting from November 15, 1884 to January 20, 1885. Known as the “Berlin Conference” because of its location in Berlin, Germany, the meeting included representatives from 14 White tribes who carved up the African continent and parcelled out land among themselves with no thought to how their actions would affect the Africans, owners of the land. The Europeans arrived on the African continent and swarmed throughout the land bringing destruction and mayhem to the lives of Africans. They occupied the most fertile land and by force and trickery using “the Bible and the gun” they coerced Africans into labouring to enrich Europeans. Africans did not sit quietly and allow the White interlopers to reign supreme. There were several acts of African resistance.
One of the most famous acts of resistance was led by an African woman in Ghana. Nana Yaa Asantewaa is considered an African freedom fighter who led her people in resistance to the oppression of the colonizing British. Following the “Scramble for Africa” where members of 14 white tribes decided to carve up the African continent to colonize and exploit the people living in those places (Ethiopia being the sole African country they were unsuccessful in colonizing) the British tried to subdue the Ashanti nation of Ghana. In the first Ashanti/British war in 1823, the British were soundly thrashed by the Ashanti warriors. Keeping in mind that there was no invasion of Britain by the Ashanti or any other African nation, the British were at an advantage because they could keep importing soldiers from a country where people lived in virtual peace while the Ashanti and other African nations were in a constant state of turmoil with Europeans invading their territories, slaughtering, kidnapping and enslaving their citizens. The British driven to extreme greed by the knowledge of gold in the Ashanti Empire (which they later named the Gold Coast) attacked the Ashanti in 1826, 1873, 1893-1894 and 1895-1896. In 1896, the British government annexed the territories of the Ashanti after the 24 year old Asantehene (king) Prempeh I, supposedly directed his people not to resist, which is hardly surprising since by this time the Ashanti had been resisting British attacks for 73 years. In 1900 not only did the British exile the kidnapped Asantehene to the Seychelles islands, the British governor demanded that he be allowed to sit on the sacred Golden Stool of the Ashanti, which not even the Asantehene was allowed to sit on. This was the final insult and after the meeting with the British governor (which supposedly took place on March 28, 1900) when some of the chiefs of the Ashanti were reluctant to fight the British to rescue their king, Nana Yaa Asantewaa took matters into her own hands. She is credited with rallying the men of Asante with this speech: “Now I have seen that some of you fear to go forward to fight for our king. If it were in the brave days of, the days of Osei Tutu, Okomfo Anokye, and Opoku Ware, chiefs would not sit down to see their king taken away without firing a shot. No White man could have dared to speak to chief of the Ashanti in the way the Governor spoke to you chiefs this morning. Is it true that the bravery of the Ashanti is no more? I cannot believe it. It cannot be! I must say this: if you the men of Ashanti will not go forward, then we will. We the women will. I shall call upon my fellow women. We will fight the White men. We will fight till the last of us falls in the battlefields.”
Davidson a White man from Britain is considered an Africanist and has written extensively about African history and although he was not an academic (left school as a 16 year old) he was acknowledged by academic institutions as an authority on Africa and Africans. He published more than 35 books mostly about Africa and in the obituary published in the Guardian newspaper on Friday July 9, 2010 his books are described: “These were mainly about African history and included classic textbooks still in use in both east and west Africa.” I think of the battle, challenges and scepticism African Guyanese academic and scholar Ivan VanSertima encountered when he published “They Came Before Columbus” and remember the words of Susan McIntosh the author of “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” She lists several advantages and unearned privileges of White skin and one she lists is: “If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege.” How many Africans have had the privilege of their work being published regardless of their talent and knowledge about their lived experiences compared to White people who write about Africa and Africans? We need to seek out and encourage our educators to support African authors so our children are exposed to the work of African authors as a balance to the overwhelming White supremacist culture to which we have been subjected since and even before the “Christian soldiers” invaded Africa.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


"Racism (White Supremacy) is the local and global power system and dynamic, structured and maintained by persons who classify themselves as white, whether consciously or subconsciously determined, which consists of patterns of perception, logic, symbol formation, thought, speech, action and emotional response, as conducted simultaneously in all areas of people activity (economics, education, entertainment, labor, law, politics, religion, sex and war), for the ultimate purpose of white genetic survival and to prevent white genetic annihilation on planet Earth - a planet upon which the vast majority of people are classified as nonwhite (black, brown, red and yellow) by white skinned people, and all of the nonwhite people are genetically dominant (in terms of skin coloration) compared to the genetic recessive white skin people." From “The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors” by Dr Francis Cress Welsing
March 21 is the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and Dr. Francis Cress Welsing is one of the recognized voices that have defined “racism.” She is an African American psychiatrist whose definition of racism has been explored and documented in “The Cress Theory of Color-Confrontation and Racism (White Supremacy)” published in 1970 and “The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors” published in 1990. Cress Welsing was born on March 18, 1935 during the time when African Americans were forced to live, study and work in a segregated USA. Even though she was born and raised in Chicago which was the destination of thousands of African Americans who fled the Jim Crow south Cress Welsing would still have witnessed the racist practices of White America. Emmet Till the 14 year old African American child who was brutally beaten and lynched on August 28, 1955 (for supposedly whistling at a White woman in Money, Mississippi) was born and raised in Chicago. As a 20 year old African American woman at that time Cress Welsing would have known about Till and the many other African Americans lynched by White Americans ( Just 15 years before she was born (July 27-August 3, 1919) White American mobs in Chicago lynched African Americans and destroyed their homes. In spite of the atrocities that White Americans committed against their African American compatriots for more than 400 years, the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is hardly recognized in that country.
The date March 21 was chosen to recognize and address the scourge of racism because of the massacre of Africans in South Africa during the apartheid era. On March 21, 1960 a group of Africans in Sharpeville, South Africa were peacefully demonstrating against the white supremacist apartheid "pass laws" when they were murdered by white police. The Sharpeville Massacre where 69 Africans were killed and almost 300 wounded (shot in the back as they fled the murderous police gunfire) led to worldwide condemnation of the white minority who had seized power in the African nation. The government in South Africa at the time was in power because Africans were denied the vote in their own country. In the wake of the Sharpeville Massacre where the white minority government declared a state of emergency and arrested more than 18,000 people even the very conservative United Nations (UN) was forced to take a stand and condemn the action of the state sanctioned massacre of peacefully protesting Africans.
In 1966 the General Assembly of the UN proclaimed March 21, the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The UN called on the international community to redouble its efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination. Although condemned by the UN many of the world powers continued to trade with the apartheid minority White supremacists who ruled and oppressed Africans in South Africa. American President Ronald Reagan had to be forced to sign the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986 into law. He vetoed the Act which was sponsored by African American U.S. Representative Ron Dellums in 1972 with support from the Congressional Black Caucus and Representative Howard Wolpe, chair of the House Africa Subcommittee. Reagan’s veto of the law was overridden by Congress (the Senate 78 to 21 and the House 313 to 83.) The Canadian government and various institutions in Canada including Carleton University and the University of Toronto, colluded with the White supremacist apartheid government of South Africa by refusing to divest and continuing to trade with the government and South African companies long after the UN called for sanctions.
Africans in Canada whether they are the descendants of Africans who were enslaved by the French in the 1600s or by White United Empire Loyalists after 1776 or fled slavery in America and sought freedom in Canada or immigrated from the Caribbean beginning in the 1830s after slavery was abolished by Britain are subjected to a White supremacist culture. The African Canadian Legal Clinic (ACLC) in a report dated January 24, 2012 wrote as part of its submission to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD): “Canadian society is still affected by racism and racial discrimination. Because of its history, Canadian society, as in all the countries of Northand South America, carries a heavy legacy of racial discrimination, which was the ideological prop of trans-Atlantic slavery and of the colonial system. The ideological aspect of this legacy has given rise to an intellectual mindset which, through education, literature, art and the different channels of thought and creativity, has profoundly and lastingly permeated the system of values, feelings, mentalities, perceptions and behaviours, and hence the country’s culture. Racist stereotypes are the result but also the cause of racist practices. In the past, stereotypes of Black people were used to justify slavery and segregation. Today, they provide the basis for discriminatory policies and practices such as over-policing of African Canadian communities, police brutality, disparities in sentencing, disproportionate discipline of African Canadian students, and failure to implement equitable policies to address disparities in employment, economics, and education. These phenomena reveal a legislative, administrative and judicial focus on the perceived deviance of members of the African Canadian community and ignorance of their underlying socioeconomic and historic causes.”
Usually when the word “racism” is mentioned there are denials and excuses. Some of the more famous and ridiculous pronouncements: “I am not a racist. I have friends of all races. I treat everyone the same. I do not see colour.” Racism is more than one White person making derogatory comments about a racialized person or a group of racialized people. It is more than some random White person deciding not to give a job to a qualified racialized person. Racism is the White supremacist culture that allows and in many cases encourages White skin people to act out their prejudices and negatively affect the lives of racialized people. It is the power invested in White skin which allows the discrimination and the prejudice to cause harm to racialized people. In recent years there have even been White people who recognize and acknowledge the existence of White skin privilege and the scourge of racism. When Peggy McIntosh ( writes in her well publicized piece “White Privelege; Unpacking the Knapsack” about the unearned priveleges of White skin colour she knows what she is writing about being one of the privileged. After listing all the unearned priveleges of her White skin McIntosh writes: “Disapproving of the systems won't be enough to change them. I was taught to think that racism could end if white individuals changed their attitudes. But a white skin in the United States opens many doors for whites whether or not we approve of the way dominance has been conferred on us. Individual acts can palliate, but cannot end, these problems. To redesign social systems we need first to acknowledge their colossal unseen dimensions. The silences and denials surrounding privilege are the key political tool here. They keep the thinking about equality or equity incomplete, protecting unearned advantage and conferred dominance by making these taboo subjects. Most talk by whites about equal opportunity seems to be now to be about equal opportunity to try to get into a position of dominance while denying that systems of dominance exist.”
Dr. Cress Welsing who will be speaking about her definition of racism at York University on Saturday March 30 as an African American who has lived in a racist White supremacist society her entire life says: “The system of Racism (White Supremacy) utililizes deceit and violence (inclusive of chemical warfare, biological warfare and psychological warfare), indeed Any Means Necessary, to achieve its ultimate goal objective of white genetic survival and to prevent white genetic annihilation on planet Earth. In the existing system of Racism (White Supremacy) when the term is undefined and poorly understood there is general confusion and chaos on the part of the victims of that system (local, national and global). It then becomes impossible for the victims of racism (White Supremacy) to effectively counter the global system of Racism (White Supremacy). The African enslavement, imperialism, colonialism, neo-colonialism, fascism, etc., are all dimensions and aspects of Racism (White Supremacy.)”


March Break afforded me the opportunity to spend extra time with my three grandchildren (Amma Malia, Taiwo and Kehinde) teaching them about Guyanese culture which included the art of making mango achar. It began with a trip to the grocery store where among several items we bought one of their favourite fruits, mangoes. It was a bit of a surprise to discover that in spite of their outward appearance none of the mangoes were ripe. This led to a conversation about my childhood in Guyana where the subject became “Eating green mangoes with salt and pepper.” At every school I attended in Guyana including Kitty Methodist School in the greater Georgetown area, Agricola Methodist School on the East Bank Demerara, Providence Congregational on the East Bank Berbice and even Berbice High School (the joy of having a police officer father whose job description included moving around the country) whatever the difference there was one constant. At every school there could be found several ladies sitting on benches in front of the school selling green mangoes accompanied by salt and pepper. The women would have other wares for sale including boiled channa, fried channa, various fruits like genips, guavas, dunks, plums but peeled green mango with salt and pepper was a staple. Friendships were made and broken over green mangoes with salt and pepper. Naturally my grandchildren were eager to taste this Guyanese delicacy so I obliged. However it soon became obvious that we could not eat all those green mangoes even with salt (I did not include pepper) so the topic of what else green mangoes were useful for came up. “Ah achar” I intoned, “that is something else we used to make with green mangoes.” They had seen my jars of achar that I brought back from my visit to Guyana and the jars I regularly buy from Jan Kyte of Jan’s Catering here in Ontario. Now here was an opportunity to not only tell the tale of achar but to demonstrate the making of achar. I peeled, seeded and diced the remainder of the dozen green mangoes until my hands were sore and tired from the unaccustomed labour (who could have guessed that it would be such a task.)
The children took turns putting the diced green mangoes through the final preparation stage including adding some mild pepper (could not find any of our famous Guyanese wiri-wiri pepper in the grocery store,) salt, garlic, olive oil and mangreil to the mixture (there was some more eating of the tart flesh of the unripe mangoes.) Then it was time to “set” the achar by putting the jar on the window sill where it could get some winter sunlight (you have to work with what is available.) We ate some of the achar the next day. My granddaughter started it all by asking for some achar as part of her breakfast. I had never eaten achar for breakfast but there is a first time for everything so I let her have some for breakfast. I waited until lunchtime. It tasted really good considering that it has been years since I made mango achar. As much as I loved making achar with my grandchildren it cannot compare with the achar made by professionals like Jan Kyte of Jan’s Catering who I am in the process of contacting for my regular jar of achar (the achar from Guyana long gone.)
We also did homework and discussed the Maroons of Jamaica because my granddaughter recently saw a performance at school about the Maroons. We talked about the connection between Africans from the African continent and Africans in the Diaspora and how that connection was almost broken for several generations. The connection of Africans in the Diaspora and those on the African continent was almost broken during slavery but tenuous holds and fragments remained in the areas of culture, language and names. The Africans who fled the plantations after the Spanish were attacked by the British in Jamaica on May 10, 1655 were the basis of the Maroon communities. These mostly enslaved Africans from West Africa founded communities in the hills of Jamaica and resisted re-enslavement by the British, the new colonisers of Jamaica. The many stories of fierce, tactical African resistance to European enslavement especially led by heroes and sheroes like Nanny and Cudjoe are wonderful stories for our young people to hear.
There were Maroon communities established in almost every country to which Africans had been transported and enslaved by Europeans. In Suriname the Djukas, in Brazil the quilombos of which the famous community of Palmares whose leader Zumbi is formally recognized as part of Brazilian history today, in Colombia the Africans established walled communities called palenques the most well-known Palenque de San Basilio still existing today and many others throughout the region is proof of our ancestors’ resistance to their enslavement.
Outside of these Maroon communities where the people guarded their freedom and their culture there are families who managed to hold on to some of their African culture in the Caribbean and other parts of the Americas. Because the European enslavers worked many of the Africans to death within five to seven years there was a constant replenishing of Africans from the continent. In an article published in 2007 entitled “Britain, slavery and the trade in enslaved Africans” Marika Sherwood a White professor (Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, London) who has written several articles and books about the history of Africans wrote: “Plantation and mine-owners bought the Africans – and more died in the process called 'seasoning'. In the British colonies the slaves were treated as non-human: they were 'chattels', to be worked to death as it was cheaper to purchase another slave than to keep one alive. Though seen as non-human, as many of the enslaved women were raped, clearly at one level they were recognised as at least rapeable human beings. There was no opprobrium attached to rape, torture, or to beating your slaves to death. The enslaved in the British colonies had no legal rights as they were not human – they were not permitted to marry and couples and their children were often sold off separately.” Even after the British abolished the transportation of Africans from the African continent in 1807 (they did not abolish slavery in their colonies until 1834 -1838) they “rescued” Africans from other slave trading and owning nations and instead of taking the unfortunate captives back to Africa “settled” them in British colonies as indentured labourers. From the website of the National Archives of the United Kingdom ( “Between 1808 and 1869 the Royal Navy's West Africa Squadron seized over 1,600 slave ships and freed about 150,000 Africans but, despite this, it is estimated that a further 1 million people were enslaved and transported throughout the 19th Century.” The fact that Africans from the continent with their culture, history and language intact were added to the communities well into the 19th century (Cuba abolished slavery in 1886 and Brazil in 1888) it is not surprising that there are Africans in the Americas who retained some of their African culture and language.
Not all of this information was imparted to my grandchildren during their March Break visit but we will get to it over time. I felt very close to my late grandfather whose knowledge of African history I still draw upon. I could feel his energy with me as I interacted with my grandchildren. This is one of many ways that we can “pass on” our culture, our stories to the next generation. This all began with mango achar (which although a recognized part of Guyanese culture is not African) and became a story about our history as part of March Break activities.


I believe the children are our future Teach them well and let them lead the way Show them all the beauty they possess inside Give them a sense of pride to make it easier Let the children's laughter remind us how we used to be Excerpt from “The Greatest Love of All” recorded by George Benson for the 1977 movie “The Greatest” about the life of famous heavyweight boxer Muhammad Ali
Friday March 8 is the last day of school before the week long March Break. From Monday March 11 to Friday March 15 all students attending Toronto District School Board (TDSB) schools will be away from school. One week away from the daily school routine and formal studies our children still need a routine to prepare them for their return to school work. While many families will leave home to spend time with relatives or visit warmer places like the Caribbean or Florida others will remain in Toronto. Not everyone can afford to go off to warmer climes on vacation for one week and some people’s jobs would not allow them the time off to do so. March Break can be enjoyable right here in Toronto even with the cold weather. There are several programs available at branches of the Toronto Public Library and at Community Centres.
Reading is fairly inexpensive and something all children should be encouraged to enjoy. Whatever a child’s interest there are books that can be found to foster that interest. Caregivers and parents can foster an interest in and enjoyment of reading in very young children by reading to infants (less than one year old.) It has even been proven that a child still its mother’s womb can benefit from a parent reading to him or her. Older siblings who can read could be encouraged to read to younger siblings. In those long ago days before video games and 100s of television channels reading was a pleasurable activity for many children. Imagine if all our children read about their history and knew (from their parents reading to them) even before they were sent off to kindergarten that they are valued and valuable coming from people who were the first on this earth and from ancient cultures, empires and kingdoms. What a great antidote to the racism that many of them experience from as young as 4 years old when they first enter the education system. It is unfortunate but a reality that some of our children encounter a White supremacist culture as soon as they enter the school system. From the images on the walls of the classroom and the school building to the books in the classroom there is a lack of inclusion in some classrooms and definitely in the curriculum. Some teachers prejudge children and have lowered expectations because of the child’s economic reality which because of the society in which we live leaves many African Canadian children either living in poverty or borderline poverty. Because of racism in the education system many of our young people have been pushed out of school and labour in low paying jobs where they barely eke out a living. Many are raising families in areas described as low income communities with “high crime” label. Warehoused in Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) buildings where they are over policed, sometimes abused by security guards and disrespected by other staff many of our young men turn their anger and shame (which is not theirs to own) on each other in violent acts that in some cases result in loss of lives.
The 1997 “Reconstructing 'Dropout' A Critical Ethnography of the Dynamics of Black Students' Disengagement from School” was published by authors Professor George J. Sefa Dei, Josephine Mazzuca, Elizabeth McIsaac and Jasmin Zine after a three year study/investigation of the experiences of African Canadian students in the Ontario Public School system. The book is introduced with this information: “It is common knowledge, supported by a large body of research, that in Canada and the United States, Black students constitute a disproportionate number of those who leave school prematurely. This book is an important study of the problem in the Ontario public school system in Canada. The work examines how institutionalized structures and processes of schooling lead to premature school-leaving of Blacks, from the perspectives of Black school drop-outs, Black students, Black parents, non-Black students, and school personnel.” In chapter four the authors write: “This chapter will examine the various factors identified by students, drop-outs, parents, and teachers as contributing to student disengagement. The narratives point to the ways in which school structures and policies can facilitate a student′s decision to leave school. It will further illustrate the difference between students who leave school prematurely because of pragmatic reasons, such as pregnancy or the need to work, and those characterized as ′push-outs′: students who, for various reasons, feel forced out of school.” In chapter 7 the authors conclude: “Students unable to find relevance to their own lives in the curriculum find it difficult to connect with the educational experience. Black students see a lack of curriculum content devoted to their history and experiences. For example, Black students had strong feelings about how the inclusion of Black history in the mainstream curriculum would enrich their educational experiences.”
As parents, grandparents, relatives, caregivers of African Canadian children it is our duty, our responsibility to ensure that our children have the best start in life to cope with what will be thrown at them as they try to navigate their way through a White supremacist system which does not value them, their culture or their lived experience. Suffering emotional and spirit injury miraculously some do manage to maneouver through a system that is not African friendly and come out on the other side with a degree and a good job. We must protect our children from the harm of growing up in a White supremacist culture. We must ensure that our children develop coping skills for those times when they are overwhelmed by the feelings that can arise when they are subjected to the spirit injuring practices of some educators. It can be especially shocking and hurtful when those educators are racialized people and even Black. Internalized racism can manifest itself in self-hatred even in educated people who are in charge of educating the next generation. Internalizing the White supremacist image of people who look like them as “less than” these educators would not see the beauty or the genius in a child who could be their younger self and so they perpetuate a White supremacist thought process. The importance of teachers’ attitude towards their students is addressed in “Reconstructing 'Dropout': “As ′front line′ workers in the education system, teachers were considered by students and parents as critical to the schooling process. Teachers′ styles, personalities, and skills were closely scrutinized by their students, who looked to them for guidance and knowledge. They felt their teachers could make a real difference in their education, and, whether positive or negative, teachers′ influence was seen as lasting. In this chapter, we examine how teachers′ practices in regards to labelling and streaming are experienced by Black students.”
All educators are in schools to ensure that children live up to their potential regardless of the child’s race, economic status or family structure. Their purpose should be to work with all children believing that every child is valued and capable of learning. They are not there to engage in bullying or blame and shame practices based on their biases. Educators have an important role to play in helping young children to self-regulate by modelling appropriate behaviour and guiding them appropriately. The disengagement of African Canadian students begins long before they eventually “drop-out” or are pushed out of the education system mostly by the time they are in high school. The process begins in elementary school sometimes as early as kindergarten. Without an education there is no hope of gaining employment and then a downward spiral into possibly criminal behaviour to make a living, incarceration and a vicious cycle with no escape in sight similar to the enslavement of our ancestors where their bodies provided the means of enrichment for other communities. The recent headlines in the mainstream newspapers should act as a wakeup call for everyone in our community regardless of where we live our educational or economic status. Our children are our future.


There’s a woman who walks this mighty land With a queenly grace goes she In her struggles she never stands alone For look at her company Harriet Tubman is at her side “Good cheer, Claudia,” cries she “The slavers also wanted my head, But our brave people still fought free.” Fred Douglas and Garrison are here with her too, And the people of every land Stand shoulder to shoulder with Claudia Jones She speaks and they understand Excerpt from “A Ballad to Claudia” published in the “Daily Worker” written by Label Nibur
Claudia Jones who is recognized as one of the founders of the Nottinghill Carnival in London, UK was born on February 21, 1915 in Trinidad. In the 2008 published book “Left of Karl Marx: The Political Life of Black Communist Claudia Jones” author Carole Boyce Davies has documented the life and times of this little known but very important activist. Boyce Davies writes of Jones: “The only Black woman among communists tried in the United States, sentenced for crimes against the state, incarcerated and then deported, Claudia Jones seems to have simply disappeared from major consideration in a range of histories.” Jones was born Claude Vera Cumberbatch on February 21, 1915 at Belmont, Port-of-Spain, Trinidad to Charles Bertrand Cummberbatch and Sybil Minnie Magdalene Logan Cummberbatch. Twelve days before her ninth birthday, on February 9, 1924 Jones arrived in New York on the SS Voltaire with her sisters Lindsay, Irene and Sylvia accompanied by their aunt Alice Glasgow to be reunited with her parents (who had immigrated to New York in 1922.) As a 20 year old in 1935 Jones (who is described as “Black, woman, Caribbean born, pan-Africanist, antiracist, anti-imperialist, feminist”) became involved in social justice activism organizing to support the Scottsboro Boys. The case of the Scottsboro Boys (who were also supported by African American activist Rosa Parks) began on March 25, 1931 when 9 African American young men were accused of raping two white women. Despite strong evidence of their innocence an all-white jury convicted the young men and sentenced eight of them to death. The accusation of rape came after a fight broke out between a group of White men and African American young men who were riding on a Southern Railroad freight train. The train was stopped by a White mob in Paint Rock, Alabama and the African Americans were arrested for assault. Rape charges were added when two White women who were also on the train accused the African American youth of rape. It was speculated that the White women accused the African American youth of rape because they feared they would be arrested for vagrancy. One of the women had been arrested for adultery and fornication just two months before in January 1931. Whatever their reasons for the accusations the women stuck to their stories until April 7, 1933 when under cross examination a different story was told. The Scottsboro boys eventually gained their freedom but the process took almost 20 years. As editor of a youth newspaper for the Federated Youth Clubs of Harlem Jones wrote a regular column “Claudia’s Comments” and so had a platform for her activist work.
Between 1936 and 1937 Jones joined the Communist Party and Young Communist League, became Associate Editor of “Weekly Review” a newspaper of the Young Communist Party League and served as Secretary of the Executive Committee of the Young Communist League in Harlem. By 1938 she was the New York State Chairperson and National Council member of the Young Communist League. In 1949 Jones wrote an article entitled "An End to the Neglect of the Problems of the Negro Woman!" which was published in the June issue of “Political Affairs” and addressed the intersectionality of race, class and gender in African women’s lives. This is an excerpt from the article which has been reprinted in several books including “Let Nobody Turn Us Around: Voices of Resistance, Reform, and Renewal: An African American Anthology” by Manning Marable and Leith Mullings 2009, “Words of Fire: An Anthology of African-American feminist Thought” by Beverly Guy-Sheftall 1995, “Notable Black American Women, Book II” by Jessie C. Smith 1996 and “The Business of Black Power: Community Development, Capitalism, and Corporate Responsibility in Postwar America” by Laura Warren Hill and Julia Rabig 2012. “The bourgeoisie is fearful of the militancy of the Negro woman, and for good reason. The capitalists know, far better than many progressives seem to know, that once Negro women begin to take action, the militancy of the whole Negro people, and thus of the anti-imperialist coalition, is greatly enhanced. As mother, as Negro, and as worker, the Negro woman fights against the wiping out of the Negro family, against the Jim Crow ghetto existence which destroys the health, morale, and very life of millions of her sisters, brothers, and children. Viewed in this light, it is not accidental that the American bourgeoisie has intensified its oppression, not only of the Negro people in general, but of Negro women in particular. Nothing so exposes the drive to fascization in the nation as the callous attitude which the bourgeoisie displays and cultivates toward Negro women.”
As a result of her activism and rise in the Communist Party Jones became a target of “aggressive” surveillance by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI.) She was the latest in a long line of Africans in America targeted by the FBI including the Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey who was an especial target of J. Edgar Hoover. Jones was arrested for the first time on January 19, 1948 and imprisoned on Ellis Island under the Immigration Act. As a woman who had spent most of her life (24 of her 33 years) in the USA she was threatened with deportation to Trinidad. On December 5, 1955 she was ordered deported to Britain where she arrived on December 22, 1955 having left the USA on December 9 ironically aboard the “Queen Elizabeth.” Deportation from the USA to Britain did not curb her activism and once she settled in London Jones co-founded the West Indian Workers and Students Association in 1958 and founded the “West Indian Gazette.” She was active in political organizing of racialized communities in London and was instrumental in organizing the first London Caribbean Carnival on January 30, 1959 at St. Pancras Hall, London which eventually became the Nottinghill Carnival of today. The initiative came out of a response to a White supremacist British culture that saw White youth rioting through African Caribbean neighbourhoods from August 30 to September 5, 1958. At the time senior White police officers lied in their reports and laid the blame on “ruffians both coloured and white.” However a report 44 years later exposed the lies and in the British “Guardian” newspaper in an article published on Saturday August 24, 2002, Home Affairs editor Allan Travis wrote: “While senior officers tried to play down the racial aspects to the riots the internal Metropolitan police files released this month at the public record office confirm that the disturbances were overwhelmingly triggered by 300-to 400-strong "Keep Britain White" mobs, many of them Teddy boys armed with iron bars, butcher's knives and weighted leather belts, who went "nigger-hunting" among the West Indian residents of Notting Hill and Notting Dale. The first night left five black men lying unconscious on the pavements of Notting Hill.” In “Left of Karl Marx” Boyce Davies writes “The intellectual, cultural, and political work of Claudia Jones, in my estimation, offers one of the best models of African diaspora available. For Jones, who emerged as a leading member of the developing London Caribbean community in the 1950s and early 1960s, carnival carried, in its cultural practice, resistance to Euro-American bourgeois aesthetics, imperialism and cultural hegemony, and political and racial oppression. Carnivals, in the African diaspora tradition, demonstrate the joy that its people experience in “taking space.”
In the preface of the book Boyce Davies writes: “Claudia Jones was a Black woman and a communist, clear about her ideological orientation, as she was about her identity as a Black woman writing and doing political work simultaneously. Jones was a Black communist woman very conscious of her location in history and her contributions to advancing her particular understandings of anti-imperialism. But her Trinidadian origin, identity and Caribbean diaspora belonging are also always present, as is her African diaspora experience, all gained through a series of migration and lived experiences.” Although I knew of Jones previously I first heard of this extensive study of her life when I attended the “Black Women and the Radical Tradition”: National Conference at City University of New York (CUNY) in March 2009.
Until Boyce Davies resurrected Jones in 2008 her story was ignored even by the communists. Since the publishing of “Left of Karl Marx” I have attended several community events where communists and other socialist groups have books on display and never have I seen “Left of Karl Marx” among those on display. Asking about the book and even mentioning her name elicits puzzled looks, heads shaking and “No, never heard of her or the book.” The book is available at the Toronto Public Library and at our community bookstores including A Different Booklist and Nile Valley Books. Jones one of our mostly unsung sheoroes is buried left of Karl Marx’s grave in Highgate Cemetery, London the inscription reads in part: “Valiant fighter against racism and imperialism who dedicated her life to the progress of socialism and the liberation of her own Black people.”


On February 23, 1763 a group of enslaved Africans in Berbice, Guyana seized their freedom from the Dutch men and women who for more than a century had kept them enslaved as an unpaid workforce. At the time Guyana was a Dutch colony occupied by men and women from the Netherlands who bought, sold and brutalized enslaved Africans. As a child growing up in Berbice, Guyana I heard stories from my elders about the brutality and barbarism of the Dutch slaveholders who they deemed worse than the British. Not that the British were not brutal and barbaric in their treatment of enslaved Africans but the elders were unanimous in their condemnation of the Dutch as worse. From the pen of the Dutch governor of Berbice Wolfert Simon van Hoogenheim: “On 14 April 1764 Rebel Pikenini captured I listened in the greatest astonishment as his captors explained why his back had been cut up hanging in pieces. They stated that just to amuse themselves they had cut his back up with a saw.” George Pinckard a doctor visiting Demerara in 1796 described his observation of a Dutch woman brutalising an enslaved African man: “We suddenly heard the loud cries of a Negro smarting under the whip. Mrs ____ expressed surprise on observing me shudder at his shrieks and you will believe that I was in utter astonishment to find her treat his sufferings as matter of amusement.”
It is not surprising given the barbarity of the slaveholders that the enslaved Africans in Berbice decided as a group to seize their freedom. The story as told in many history books identifies the Africans as “rebels” instead of freedom fighters and their struggle as a “rebellion” instead of a revolution. It is interesting to note the words used by Henry G. Dalton, a British author who, in 1855, published two volumes of “The History of British Guiana, Comprising General Description of the Colony.” Writing of the Berbice Revolution, which started on February 23, 1763 and lasted until March 1764, Dalton notes: “1763, a terrible insurrection burst out, which convulsed the whole colony, and threatened its very existence.” Some writers have tried to position the freedom fighters of the Berbice Revolution as a group of disorganized Africans who were forever squabbling with each other. However, even Dalton in his telling of the story acknowledges that “the Negroes had organized themselves into a regular government, had established a complete system of military discipline, and had chosen Cuffy, a young slave of courage and judgment, as their governor.” Kofi whose name has been distorted and Anglicized as “Cuffy” for generations was an Akan man from the area of modern day Ghana. His name identifies him as an Akan male who was born on a Friday. He was chosen as the leader of the revolution and the African governor of Berbice on par with the Dutch governor van Hoogenheim with whom he corresponded during negotiations for the freedom of the enslaved Africans. This correspondence was one of the reasons the Africans were not successful in gaining their complete freedom. While Kofi was negotiating with van Hoogenheim in good faith, the Dutch governor was biding his time until he could gain reinforcements to destroy the Revolution and the Africans.
The Africans were superior in numbers and could have crushed the Dutch and either driven them out of what is now Guyana or exterminated the lot of them. The Dutch did not hesitate to brutally supress the Revolution and displayed extreme barbarity in destroying the revolutionaries when their reinforcements arrived in the region. At the time of the Revolution on February 23, 1763 there were in the entire colony of Berbice (which at the time was separate from Demerara and Essequibo) 346 White residents and 3,833 enslaved Africans. Imagine if those Africans had done to the Whites what the White population eventually did to the Africans. Africans in Guyana would have been completely free since 1763. At least by the end of April 1763 the colony would have been free of the White enslavers. However while the Africans were negotiating in good faith, the Europeans were marking time until troops from neighbouring French, Dutch and British colonies arrived. Once reinforcement arrived in the colony and the Europeans regained control of Berbice many of the Africans were brutally killed as a warning. Forty were hanged, 24 broken on the wheel and 24 were burned to death. Some fled to neighbouring Suriname while others were re-enslaved, but Kofi was never captured. Many of the Africans preferred to die fighting, rather than surrender and become re-enslaved.
The occupation and settlement of Guiana began in earnest with the founding of the Dutch West India Company which was chartered in 1621and through this company the Dutch were encouraged to settle in numbers first in Essequibo, Guyana. There were Dutch settlers in the region before the founding of the Dutch West India Company. For instance in 1613 a group of Spaniards surprised the members of a Dutch settlement on the Courentyne in Berbice and destroyed that settlement. To ensure the successful operation of their plantations the Dutch were involved in the kidnapping and transporting of enslaved Africans to their colonies in the New World which included Guiana. The Dutch had been involved in the trading of Africans for a few years before they established the colony in Guiana. In 1598, the Dutch began building forts along the West African coast in competition with the Portuguese. In 1637, they captured ElMina from the Portuguese. Members of other European tribes including the Danes, English, Spanish and Swedes, also became involved in the exploitation of Africa and Africans. It eventually became a free-for-all with the Europeans fighting each other for the opportunity to make their fortunes on the backs of Africans.
The Africans resisted their enslavement in various ways from the time they were captured on the African continent and continuing with struggles on board several slave ships. Once they were transported to the plantations they continued the struggle for freedom including fleeing the plantations and establishing Maroon communities. The Dutch expeditions to capture the members of these Maroon communities were also exercises in displaying the barbarity of the White colonisers. A visitor to Guiana in 1796 wrote of witnessing the capture and destruction of some of the Maroons in what is now the capital city Georgetown: “Most of the ringleaders were taken and brought to Stabroek, where they were afterwards tried and executed. One in particular Amsterdam was subjected to the most shocking torture, in the hope of compelling him to give information but in vain. He was sentenced to be burnt alive, first having his flesh torn from his limbs with red hot pincers; and in order to render his punishment still more terrible, he was compelled to sit by and see thirteen others broken upon the wheel and hung and then, in being conducted to execution, was made to walk over the thirteen dead bodies of his comrades. Being fastened to an iron stake to be burnt alive. When the destructive pile was set in flames, his body spun round the iron stake with mouth open, until his head fell back, life extinguished.”
In spite of the White slaveholders’ attempts to keep enslaved Africans docile and oppressed through such barbaric acts the Africans continued to resist. Although the Revolution which began on February 23, 1763 in Berbice is the most well-known because of its extent and the longevity it was by no means the sole attempt by Africans in Guiana to seize their freedom. There were actions in Demerara and Essequibo by Africans determined to be free of chattel slavery. Today Guyana is a Republic having gained its political independence from Britain on Thursday, May 26, 1966 under the leadership of then Prime Minister the Honourable Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham. The country which encompasses the former Dutch colonies of Berbice, Demerara and Essequibo later (taken from the Dutch 1814 became one colony in 1831) the British colony of British Guiana became the Co-operative Republic of Guyana on February 23, 1970 on the 207th anniversary of the Berbice Revolution. Guyana which is located on the northeast of the South American continent is the only South American country where English is the official language. Slavery was abolished on August 1, 1834 but after four years of “apprenticeship” the Africans were finally free on August 1, 1838. Guyana is known as the Land of Six Peoples which includes Africans (kidnapped, enslaved and taken to Guyana by the Dutch beginning in the 1600s) Amerindians (the native people of Guyana) Chinese (immigrated as indentured labourers from January 12, 1853 aboard the SS Glentanner) East Indians (immigrated as indentured labourers from May 1, 1838 aboard SS Whitby and SS Hesperus) Europeans (first the Dutch1600s, then the British seized the territory 1800s) Portuguese (immigrated as indentured labourers from May 3, 1835 aboard SS Louisa Baillie.) The nation celebrates February 23 Republic Day with a Mashramani celebration reminiscent of Trinidad’s Carnival and Toronto’s Caribana. It would be helpful if the Berbice Revolution was also recognized on that day.


TO BE SOLD A BLACK WOMAN, named Peggy, aged about forty years; and a Black boy her son, named JUPITER aged about fifteen years, both of them the property of the subscriber. The woman is a tolerable cook and washer woman and perfectly understands making soap and candles. The boy is tall and strong of his age, and has been employed in County business, but brought up principally as a House Servant - They are each of them Servants for life. The price for the Woman is one hundred and fifty Dollars - for the Boy two hundred Dollars, payable in three years with interest from the day of Sale and to be properly secured by Bond &c. - But one fourth less will be taken in ready Money. PETER RUSSELL York, Feb. 10th, 1806
The infamous 1806 advertisement offering Peggy and Jupiter Pompadour for sale is proof that slavery was a Canadian institution. Although our history did not begin with slavery the enslavement of our ancestors is very much a part of our history and affects how the descendants of those enslaved Africans are treated today wherever they live. It affects how they think, how they behave how they view themselves and others who look like them. It also affects how they are treated in places like Canada where the people in power are White and their mindset is influenced by that history. In the movie Django Unchained the character played by Leonardo DiCaprio is convinced and uses the flawed White supremacist reasoning popular during that time to explain why he is convinced that Africans are inherently inferior and exist to be enslaved by White people. A popular school of thought bandied about by a “doctor” Samuel Adolphus Cartwright around 1851 was that any enslaved African who resisted their enslavement was suffering from a mental illness he identified as “drapetomania.” Cartwright and the vast majority of White people believed in the inherent inferiority of anyone who was not White. That any intelligent person can assume that a whole race of people existed to serve and be used as chattel boggles the mind. However when we read some of the skewed reporting in the White newspapers today when reports are written about our community that mindset can emerge between the lines. The many studies and reports on racial profiling in the justice system, policing, in the education and health systems certainly point in that direction.
Usually when the history of Africans in Canada is told those who recognize that Africans have been in this country for several centuries will point to the Underground Railroad history of enslaved Africans fleeing slavery in the USA to be rescued by kind-hearted White Canadians. Hardly ever is the enslavement of Africans in Canada part of that narrative. However Peter Russell who advertised Peggy and her son Jupiter for sale in the Upper Canada Gazette dated February 10, 1806 was not unique. There are numerous advertisements of enslaved Africans for sale in Canada and also for help in recapturing those who managed to escape the brutal system. The history of the African presence in Canada is not part of the curriculum at any level of the education system in this country. Perhaps that is why I recently heard a White woman telling an African Canadian to go back to the ‘Island’ where they came from. She was ignorant of the fact that the person to whom she was referring was an eighth generation African Canadian. As quiet as it is kept Africans have lived in Canada at least since the 1600s as free and enslaved people (Matthew Da Costa member of the Champlain expedition1603.) Some of them were enslaved by the French (beginning with 6 year old Olivier LeJeune 1628) when they settled on this land and others enslaved by the British who retreated to this land after they were defeated by their American brothers during the American War of Independence (1775–1783.) There were African men who gained their freedom during that war and came to Canada as members of the United Empire Loyalist. However many White Loyalists brought their “slaves” with them and continued to enslave those Africans in Canada. Slavery in Canada was eventually abolished on August 1, 1834 and slaveholders throughout the British Empire were compensated for losing their “property.”
Peggy Pompadour and her three children (Jupiter, Amy and Milly) were owned by Peter Russell and his sister Elizabeth Russell. Russell was a member of the Family Compact of Upper Canada. The Family Compact was a group of men who controlled the government in Upper Canada (Ontario) and included Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe, William Jarvis, William Osgoode and Peter Russell. Russell was appointed to act in Simcoe’s position when Simcoe left Upper Canada in 1796. Peggy Pompadour’s husband was a free African man who worked for the Russells but his family was owned by the Russells who had complete control over their lives and could sell members of that family at will.
Slavery existed throughout Canada and was just as brutal as slavery in America or anywhere else where Africans were enslaved by White people. Enslaved Africans were not allowed to name themselves or their children, they were not allowed to speak their languages or practice their spiritual beliefs. They were forced to bear European names, speak European languages and adhere to European religious doctrines. After several generations of this forced disconnection the names, languages and spiritual beliefs of Africans had almost disappeared from the consciousness and memories of the enslaved Africans and so from their descendants who today will deny that they are African. Fragments of the culture remained in specific communities and some families.
In the movie Django Unchained there were several comments about the name of the Kerry Washington character Broomhilda von Shaft. It may seem unusual to hear an enslaved African woman bearing a German name but that should not be surprising since Europeans of all stripes enslaved Africans. The names that Africans of the Diaspoa have borne and still bear is proof of that. We Africans in the Diaspora have been named Edison Arantes do Nascimento (Portuguese,) Nicomedes Santa Cruz Gamarra and Álvaro José Arroyo González (Spanish,) Toussaint L’Overture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Olivier LeJeune (French,) Joseph Hughes (Welsh,) Kelly Murphy Jonas (Irish) all names that came from European enslavers and testament to the pervasive custom of renaming Africans. Some enslaved Africans were renamed several times during their lifetime depending on the language spoken by the White person who bought them.
The fact that Africans have been here since the first White occupiers of this land came here is carefully ignored until sometimes during February if people can take their minds off of the entertainment that they tend to associate with our community. While we think about that history of the enslavement of our ancestors it is important to acknowledge that they resisted their enslavement in various ways. Enslaved Africans did not quietly accept that White people were in control of their lives. Their resistance was in some cases blatant (fleeing and in some instances establishing maroon communities) or more subtle malingering, breaking tools, destroying crops. Even Stephen/Steven the character played by Samuel L. Jackson in Django Unchained was a malingerer and ably manipulated his “intelligent” owner. The unpaid labour of enslaved Africans which even today contributes to the wealth of many European nations and families must be acknowledged with reparations for the descendants of those enslaved Africans. It will happen in spite of naysayers because the universe continues to cry out against that dreadful inhumane crime against African humanity.