Saturday, August 31, 2013


People only talking but they really don’t know What’s the proper meaning for Trinidad and Tobago Cipriani start the ball rolling Now the Doctor doing the bowling So leh we help Uncle Eric to perform a real hat-trick. Because this is your land, just as well as my land This is your place and also it’s my place So leh we put our heads together And live like one happy family Democratically, educationally, we’ll live independently. 31st of August, the year 1962, Will go down in history for every one of you Forget racialism and nationalism Let discipline, production, and Tolerance guide us through Independence
Excerpt from calypso “Independence” performed by Kade “Lord Brynner” Simon for Trinidad and Tobago’s Independence August 31, 1962 (
The twin island republic of Trinidad and Tobago gained its independence from Britain on August 31, 1962. Dr. Eric Williams (revered as “Father of the Nation”) was the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago at the time and not only did he lead his country to independence but he was Prime Minister for 25 years as his party was re-elected into government during his lifetime. Williams was a brilliant historian as well as politician and his 1944 published book “Capitalism and Slavery” turned conventional wisdom and history of the time on its head. Before Williams’ book it was thought that slavery was abolished because a group of White people of “conscience” had finally persuaded their fellow citizens to “see the light” that the enslavement of Africans was an inhumane system. Williams’ work was a revolutionary thesis. The British story about abolition was “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.” In the same year that Trinidad and Tobago gained its independence the Prime Minister also published “History of the People of Trinidad and Tobago.”
Although the British were in power in Trinidad and Tobago at the time independence was granted they were not the first Europeans to occupy and colonize the two islands. They were not the first Europeans to transport and enslave Africans on those islands either. Columbus and his crew are documented in the history books as the first Europeans to sight the islands on their 3rd voyage on July 31, 1498. In typical European “explorer” fashion in spite of the fact that the island was already the home of indigenous people Columbus claimed the land for Spain. Research by Archaeology professor Dr. Basil Anthony Reid has unearthed material that indicates a group of indigenous people settled in Trinidad and Tobago 7000 years ago: “Migrating from South America the Ortoiroids arrived in Trinidad and Tobago 7000 years ago, and settled in the Lesser Antilles to as far as Puerto Rico until 200 BC These early natives are named after the Ortoire River on Trinidad's east coast.” Information from the National Library of Trinidad and Tobago: “Our historical records show that Amerindian Peoples have existed in Trinidad for as many as six thousand years before the arrival of Columbus and numbered at least forty thousand at the time of Spanish settlement in 1592.” Between 1530 and 1592 the Spanish made several unsuccessful attempts to colonize Trinidad which remained in Spanish hands until 1797. In “History of the People of Trinidad and Tobago” Williams wrote “After the discovery by Columbus in 1498, Trinidad remained almost completely neglected by Spain until in 1530 a Governor was appointed from Puerto Rico by the name of Antonio Sedeno. Trinidad remained in Spanish hands from July 31, 1498, until it was surrendered by the Spanish Governor to a British naval expedition on February 18, 1797.” Tobago was claimed by the British, French, Dutch and Courlanders but eventually became a British colony. In 1888 the two islands were incorporated into one crown colony which gained its independence in 1962 and became a republic in 1976. In his “History of the People of Trinidad and Tobago” Williams described the European settlement of Tobago: “It was a never-ending free-for-all in Tobago. Britain claimed the Island on the ground that it formed part of the acquisition of Sir Thomas Warner in 1626. France claimed it as part of the grant made by Cardinal Richelieu to the French West Indian Company some twenty years later. Holland, grant or no grant, asserted its own claim to the Island. Spain lived in constant apprehension of an attack from Tobago on Trinidad. The Duke of Courland, ruler of a principality in the area which is now Latvia, claimed it on the basis of a grant from the King of England in 1664. And even the buccaneers, operating on a commission issued by the Governor of Jamaica.”
Even though the “discovery” of the Americas was a boon for Europe it was anything but that for the indigenous people of this new land and for the Africans who were kidnapped, dragged away from Africa into the holds of “slave ships” and forced to labour to enrich White people. In “History of the People of Trinidad and Tobago” Williams wrote about the changes for the Europeans and the indigenous people: “The discovery of the West Indian islands by Christopher Columbus, acting as agent of the Spanish monarchy, in 1492 and subsequent years was the culmination of a series of dramatic events and changes in the European society in the 15th century. The arrival of the Spaniards in Trinidad entailed the same clash of cultures that had been induced by their arrival in Hispaniola and the other islands of the Greater Antilles. The Spanish conquest of Trinidad represented the victory of armour over roucou paint, of the sword and lance over the bow and poisoned arrow, of horsemen over foot soldiers who had never seen a horse, of a society whose diet was wheat over a society whose diet was cassava.” Williams wrote this about the Africans: “Who were these Africans? They were dragged by the millions from their native land in Africa to the Western Hemisphere. What began as a mere trickle in 1441, with twelve African slaves captured by the Portuguese and taken to Portugal, became a roaring torrent in the 18th and 19th centuries, and one estimate, almost certainly on the conservative side, is that the slave trade cost Africa at least 50,000,000 souls. Africans became important elements in the population in all the Caribbean countries, in Brazil, and in the United States of America. They constituted also an important element in the population of Trinidad and Tobago, and were automatically resorted to, as in other parts of the Spanish dominions, as soon as the decimation of the Amerindians by the Spanish conquest was recognised. It would therefore be in any case important to identify this new addition to the population of Trinidad and Tobago. It is all the more important today because of the historical lie of African inferiority.”
When the enslavement of Africans ended on August 1, 1834 the European enslaver (because of the apprenticeship system) had four years to keep African workers labouring on their plantations. The experience in Port-of Spain on August 1, 1834 as described by Williams made the Europeans aware that they would most likely need a new supply of labour after full emancipation: “August 1, 1834, faced the colony of Trinidad with its greatest social crisis until June 19, 1937. The half-emancipated slaves marched into Port-of -Spain from all parts of the island, wending their way to Government House to inform the Governor that they had resolved to strike. The Governor sought to remonstrate with them. They abused him, laughed at him, hooted him, and behaved in what the Gazette recorded as a most outrageous manner. Many of them were arrested, and seventeen of the most prominent ringleaders were condemned to stripes and hard labour.”
Prime Minister and historian Williams wrote of the arrival in Trinidad and Tobago of a new supply of labour following the abolition of slavery in the twin island nation: “Some came in from Portugal in 1834 and 1839, others came in from France in 1839, and some additional European immigrants in 1840.” This new supply of labourers was indentured labourers who signed up to sell their labour for 5 years with the option of returning to their homeland or remaining in Trinidad and Tobago where they had the option of settling on crown land. In the 1986 published “The Book of Trinidad” White British professor Bridget Brereton wrote: “From 1869 it became possible for ex-indentured workers to obtain land, either through free grants from the Crown, in lieu of a return passage to India, or through purchase of lots of Crown land, or through buying land in the private market.” The largest group of indentured labourers settling in Trinidad and Tobago first arrived there on May 30, 1845 from the Indian subcontinent on a ship that left Calcutta on February 16, 1845.
At the time of independence when he wrote “History of the People of Trinidad and Tobago” the Prime Minister’s documented his vision of a united Trinidad and Tobago, enshrined on the nation’s coat of arms (Together we aspire, Together we achieve): “A nation, like an individual, can have only one Mother. The only Mother we recognise is Mother Trinidad and Tobago, and Mother cannot discriminate between her children. All must be equal in her eyes. And no possible interference can be tolerated by any country outside in our family relations and domestic quarrels, no matter what it has contributed and when to the population that is today the people of Trinidad and Tobago.”

Thursday, August 22, 2013


“The Vodun ceremony of Bois-Caiman on August 14, 1791, conducted by Boukman Dutty and a female priest, was attended by 200 people and led to the general insurrection of August 22. Like his predecessor, Plymouth, Boukman had been born in Jamaica. After the death of Boukman, his principal lieutenants, Jean-Francois, Jeannot, Biassou and Toussaint L’Ouverture crossed into Spanish-held Santo Domingo to continue the struggle.”
From “Haiti: the Breached Citadel” published in 1990, written by Dr. Patrick Bellegarde-Smith professor of Africology at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee
The Haitian Revolution which began on August 22, 1791 created the second independent nation in the Americas after the United States became independent in 1783. The enslaved Africans in Haiti rose up against the White people who had brutalized and worked many Africans to death. Writing of the brutality to which the enslaved Africans were subjected by the plantation owners and their White employees, Bellegarde-Smith noted: “At the bottom of the pyramid were the slaves who were continually being imported to make up for the high slave mortality rate and brutal efficiency of the plantation system. Between 1697 and 1791, the slave population of Sainte Domingue grew from 5,000 to about 500,000, a hundredfold increase. The fact that more than half of the slaves at the time of independence had been born in Africa indicates that ill treatment and early death of slaves were very common. From the moment of capture, the life expectancy of a slave was only seven years.” The “brutal efficiency of the plantation system” to which Bellegarde-Smith refers led to the French colony of Saint Domingue (Haiti) becoming known as the “pearl of the Antilles.” At its height of production as a “slave society” the coerced unpaid labour provided by enslaved Africans from Saint Domingue contributed to the extraordinary wealth of the French, especially the monarchy and aristocracy. The brutality of the White plantation owners also led to the enslaved Africans rising up and seizing their freedom. The struggle for freedom on the island the liberated Africans renamed Haiti lasted several years. The Boukman-led rebellion where 50,000 enslaved Africans seized their freedom was the beginning of the end of slavery in Sainte Domingue. According to Bellegarde-Smith, “One-third of the 30,000 Whites in Saint-Domingue fled to the United States, where they settled permanently and later worked against an independent Haiti.”
The government of the United States (a slave owning nation until January 1, 1865) refused to recognize the new republic. Ironically, Haitian soldiers had contributed to the freedom of America in its fight against Britain during the American rebellion (1775-1783). Haitian soldiers took part in one of the bloodiest battles when Americans were fighting to be free of British rule. More than 500 members of “Les Chasseurs Volontaires De Saint Domingue” including a 12-year-old drummer boy named Henri Christophe who became one of the leaders of the Haitian Revolution and eventually ruler of Haiti, fought in the Battle of Savannah on October 9, 1779. The ungrateful Americans invaded and occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934, unleashing a reign of terror that incited Haitian resistance which was brutally suppressed. White American professor Mary A. Renda in her 2001 published book “Taking Haiti: Military Occupation and the Culture of U.S. Imperialism, 1915-1940” writes about the American invasion and 25 year occupation of Haiti: “The United States invaded Haiti in July 1915 and subsequently held the second oldest independent nation in the Western Hemisphere under military occupation for nineteen years. While in Haiti, marines installed a puppet president, dissolved the legislature at gunpoint, denied freedom of speech, and forced a new constitution on the Caribbean nation - one more favorable to foreign investment. With the help of the marines, U.S. officials seized the customshouses, took control of Haitian finances, and imposed their own standards of efficiency on the administration of Haitian debt. Meanwhile, marines waged war against insurgents (called Cacos) who for several years maintained an armed resistance in the countryside, and imposed a brutal system of forced labor that engendered even more fierce Haitian resistance. By official U.S. estimates, more than 3,000 Haitians were killed during this period; a more thorough accounting reveals that the death toll may have reached 11,500. The occupation also reorganized and strengthened the Haitian military.
The Africans who were taken to what was then Sainte Domingue by the French beginning in the early 1600s, were kidnapped from various nations including Ashanti, Igbo, Mandingo and Yoruba. Africans from these nations were taken to colonies owned by other Europeans which meant that Africans enslaved by the British, French, Spanish, etc., shared kinship, so it is not surprising that Boukman a recognized leader of the Haitian Revolution was born in Jamaica which had been colonized by the Spanish, followed by the British. Africans were sold to various Europeans across national borders e.g., Marie Joseph Angelique (who was accused of burning down half of Montreal and hanged in 1734) was sold by a Portuguese slave holder from Portugal to America and then across the border from America to Canada by a Flemish American to a French Canadian.
From its inception, the Haitian republic had to deal with invasions and occupations by Europeans. The Africans in Haiti after their initial bid for freedom on August 22, 1791 were compelled to resist re-enslavement from a Spanish invasion in 1792, a British invasion in 1793 and “the little Corsican” Napoleon sending a force of 86 ships carrying 22,000 French soldiers in 1802. Napoleon’s army was defeated but the then leader of the Haitian revolution, Toussaint L’Ouverture, was captured through trickery and treachery of the French government. L’Ouverture was taken to France and imprisoned in the Jura Mountains where he transitioned on April 7, 1803. On May 18, 1803, the Haitian flag was created and on January 1, 1804, the Africans were finally free from chattel slavery.
The Africans living in Haiti became the first group (and are the only group of formerly enslaved people) to successfully overthrow their enslavers and establish a republic. Gaining their freedom from slavery did not free the Haitians from European oppression. The French demanded that the fledgling nation pay reparations for the loss of French property (the property being the Africans themselves.) The final payment of 60 million francs (estimated at $22 billion in modern U.S. currency) was made in 1922. This extortion, the cost of France recognizing Haiti as a nation, was supported by other European nations who also refused to recognize or trade with Haiti and has contributed to the impoverishment of the nation.
The earthquake on January 12, 2010 gave European nations and the American government the perfect opportunity to once again invade and occupy under the guise of helping the Haitian people cope with the devastation of their country. Ironically just a few days after the 2010 earthquake the French government accused the American government of “occupying” Haiti (
Three years after the devastating earthquake the people of Haiti are recovering not only from the effects of the earthquake but also from a cholera epidemic which allegedly came from a group of United Nations (UN) “peacekeepers.” So far the UN has refused to recognize that they have “legal and moral obligations to remedy this harm.” Researchers at Yale Law School and the Yale School of Public Health have authored a new report “Peacekeeping Without Accountability - The United Nations’ Responsibility for the Haitian Cholera Epidemic” ( ) which addresses the harm of the cholera epidemic that has “killed more than 8,000 people and sickened more than 600,000 since it began in 2010.” The report states that: “In October 2010 only months after the country was devastated by massive earthquake, Haiti was afflicted with another human tragedy; the outbreak of a cholera epidemic, now the largest in the world, which has killed more than 8,000 people, sickened more than 600,000, and promises more infections for a decade or more. Tragically, the cholera outbreak – the first in modern Haitian history – was caused by United Nations peacekeeping troops who inadvertently carried the disease from Nepal to the Haitian town of Méyè.”
The UN is responsible for the cholera outbreak and in shirking its responsibility “has failed to uphold its duties under international human rights law.” In November 2011 Haitian and American human rights organizations filed a complaint with the UN on behalf of over 5,000 victims of the epidemic, alleging that the UN was responsible for the outbreak and demanding reparations for the victims. Not surprisingly in February 2013 the UN invoking the Convention on Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations summarily dismissed the victims’ claims. The people of Haiti, the descendants of Africans who seized their freedom from their enslavers, established a republic and whose actions were the catalyst of the eventual freedom of all enslaved Africans deserve the support of us all as they struggle to recover and hold the UN accountable for the killer cholera epidemic.

Saturday, August 17, 2013




Old pirates, yes, they rob I. Sold I to the merchant ships Minutes after they took I from the bottomless pit. But my hand was made strong by the hand of the Almighty. We forward in this generation. Triumphantly! Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery. None but ourselves can free our minds. Have no fear for atomic energy, 'Cause none of them can stop the time. How long shall they kill our prophets while we stand aside and look? Some say it's just a part of it we've got to fullfil the book. Won't you help to sing these songs of freedom? 'Cause all I ever have: Redemption songs!
From “Redemption Song” by Bob Marley released in 1980 on the Bob Marley and the Wailers “Uprising” album.
Marcus Mosiah Garvey born on August 17, 1887 is considered the father of the modern Pan-African movement. Garvey was a man before his time who urged Africans worldwide to be proud of their skin colour, the texture of their hair, the fullness of their lips, the shape of their noses, bodies and everything about their perfectly made selves as Africans. He urged Africans to see themselves through their own “spectacles” made in the image of the God they worshipped. In one of the numerous speeches Garvey made urging Africans to have pride in their Africanness he said: “If Negroes are created in God's image, and Negroes are Black, then God must, in some sense, be Black. If the White man has the idea of a white God, let him worship his God as he desires. We have found a new ideal. Because once our God has no color, and yet it is human to see everything through ones own spectacles, and since the White people have seen their God through their white spectacles, we have only now started to see our God through our own spectacles. But we believe in the God of Ethiopia, the everlasting God, God the father, God the son, God the Holy Ghost, the one God of all the ages. That is the God in whom we believe, but we shall worship him through the spectacles of Ethiopia. For two hundred and fifty years we have struggled under the burden and rigors of slavery. We were maimed, we were brutalized, we were ravaged in every way. We are men, we have hopes, we have passions, we have feelings, we have desires just like any other race.”
Garvey recognized the importance of images not only in the worship of a divine being in whose image we are made but also the effect on the psyche of an oppressed people. He urged African Americans to give their children dolls made in their image so they could recognize their worthiness as human beings. In the 1987 published book “Marcus Garvey Life and Lessons: A Centennial Companion to the Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers” written by Marcus Garvey and edited by Robert A. Hill and Barbara Blair Garvey is quoted: “Never allow your children to play with or to have white dolls. Give them the dolls of their own race to play with and they will grow up with the idea of race love and race purity.” With a scarcity of African American dolls Garvey established a doll making factory in New York City to make those dolls. As part of his vision to make African Americans financially independent he established the Negro Factories Corporation and through that corporation established several businesses including restaurants, grocery stores, laundries, a hat factory, printing press, tailoring establishment, a trucking business and a hotel.
Garvey understood the value of Africans seeing themselves as the equal of all other human beings and not inferior as they had been taught for generations by a White supremacist culture. Many Africans had internalised those lessons and regarded White as superior because of the propaganda which began as a White rationalization for the evil and brutal system of chattel slavery. Quoted in “Marcus Garvey Life and Lessons” Garvey urged his followers to: “Tear from your walls, all pictures that glorify other races. Tear up and burn every bit of propaganda that does not carry your idea of things. Treat them as trash. When you go to the cinema and you see the glorification of others in the pictures don't accept it; don't believe it to be true. Instead, visualize yourself achieving whatever is presented, and if possible, organize your propaganda to that effect. You should always match propaganda with propaganda. Have your own newspapers, your own artists, your own sculptors, your own pulpits, your own platforms, print your own books and show your own motion pictures and sculpture your own subjects. Never accept your subjects as of another race, but glorify all the good in yourselves. Keep your home free and clear of alien objects, on other races of glorification, otherwise your children will grow up to adore and glorify other people. Put in the place of others the heroes and noble characters of your own race.”
Garvey’s words, thoughts and philosophies have influenced generations of Pan-Africanists including leaders like El Hajj Malik El Shabazz (Malcolm X,) Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael,) Nelson Mandela, Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Jomo Kenyatta, Alhaji Ahmed Sekou Toure and Patrice Lumumba. Garvey also influenced artists including Bob Marley, Burning Spear, Max Romeo, Stevie Wonder, Paul Robeson and Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Garvey, Burning Spear (Winston Rodney) and Bob Marley share a connection because of their birthplace, St Ann Parish in Jamaica. Marley and Rodney have both paid tribute to Garvey in their work. The lyrics of Marley’s “Redemption Song” come from a speech Garvey gave in Nova Scotia, Canada on October 1, 1937. The speech was published in Garvey’s “Black Man” magazine, Vol. 3, no. 10 (July 1938.) “We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery because whilst others might free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind. Mind is your only ruler, sovereign. The man who is not able to develop and use his mind is bound to be the slave of the other man who uses his mind to good advantage.”
Garvey the first of Jamaica’s seven National Heroes is admired and has been honoured in other countries. A statue of Garvey is located on the Harris Promenade, San Fernando, Trinidad and a bust of Garvey is housed in the Organization of American States' Hall of Heroes in Washington, D.C. Nkrumah who led Ghana to independence from Britain in 1957 named the national shipping line of Ghana the “Black Star Line” in honour of the shipping line Garvey established as part of his plan to make Africans financially independent. The national flag of Kenya sports the colours (black, red and green) chosen by Garvey as the flag of his United Negro Improvement Association and African Communities (Imperial) League(UNIA-ACL.) Garvey influenced the Rastafari movement and the establishment of the Kwanzaa celebration. The 1960s Black Power and Civil Rights movements with the rise of groups like the Black Panther Party and African Americans who were “Black and Proud” owe much to the Garvey philosophies and his UNIA-ACL which was established in 1914.
Garvey was a threat to worldwide White supremacist culture and the White supremacist US government was bent on destroying him and his positive international influence on Africans. That coveted job fell to an enthusiastic young John Edgar Hoover whose notoriety was built on the destruction of Garvey’s life. As he would do with successive generations of African American leaders, Hoover hounded Garvey manufacturing “evidence” that eventually led to the waning of the influential UNIA-ACL and the destruction of Garvey’s plans for an economically self-sufficient African American population. In “Redemption Song” Marley asks “How long shall they kill our prophets while we stand aside and look?” It has been 73 years since Garvey transitioned on June 10, 1940 due in no small part to the machinations of Hoover and the US government body that would eventually become the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI.) Hoover began targeting Garvey since at least October 11, 1919 as shown in correspondence that can be read at: or in the 1983 published book “The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers, Volume II, 27 August 1919 - 31 August 1920.”
Burning Spear (Rodney) released in 1975 “Old Marcus Garvey” with these lyrics reminding us never to forget Garvey: “Children, children, children, children Humble yourself and become one day somehow You will remember him you will”
In 2013 we have to remain vigilant to counter the continued White supremacist propaganda that seeks to kill our prophets and set up their false prophets to lead us astray into the land of self-hate.

Friday, August 9, 2013


“Black people in Toronto celebrated the liberation of enslaved Africans throughout the Americas before the first mas band ever jumped in 1967. In the west end of Toronto in the old fashion district, black people celebrated the Emancipation Day Parade marking the 1838 liberation of slaves throughout the British Americas. Archival newspaper photos from the Toronto Telegram indicate that the parade occurred around the same time period as the CANEWA Calypso Carnivals, 1952 - 1964. The Emancipation Day Parade was the most visible black event in the city. This role was eventually relinquished to Caribana. Contemporary Caribana organizers forget the importance of the Emancipation Day parade. The Eamcipation Day Parade and Caribana suggest the historical complexity of black expressive arts.”
Excerpted from “Trinidad Carnival: The Cultural Politics of a Transnational Festival” published in 2007 edited by Garth L. Green and Philip W. Scher
The 2013 Caribana has come and gone and as usual the City of Toronto was awash with tourists who came here just to experience the Caribbean culture and to see the largest Caribbean festival in North America. The hotels, the restaurants, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) even the police benefited from the tourist dollars as they have all done for the decades that the Caribbean community has volunteered its labour to make Caribana a reality. Tourists were awed by the elaborately lavish costumes designed and crafted by Caribbean people as those costumes were pulled and pushed by the volunteers along the area where the festival has been contained and constrained for the past 12 years. I chatted with several people some who were visiting Canada for the first time. A few of them had read about Caribana in an Essence Magazine article in 2010 but only made it here this year while others had heard about the spectacular sights and sounds from relatives and friends who had attended the festival in previous years.
Visitors to our fair city could be excused for thinking that Caribana and by extension the Caribbean culture is all about gyrating to music while dressed in as little as possible. I was very pleased to overhear a young African Canadian woman educating visitors to Toronto about the history of Caribana. On the crowded Bathurst streetcar as we were travelling from the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) grounds back to Bathurst subway station the young woman was explaining Caribana’s connection to Emancipation Day. She told the visitors about Caribana’s beginning as the Caribbean community’s gift to Canada for its 100th birthday celebration in 1967. She told them about slavery in Canada and the emancipation of enslaved Africans in Canada on August 1, 1834. There was a further four years of “apprenticeship” for those Africans who had been enslaved in the British colonized Caribbean islands (except Antigua and the Bahamas) and British Guiana on the South American continent.
Caribana began as the Caribbean community’s contribution to Canada as it celebrated 100 years of nationhood. The 1967 gift from the Caribbean community in 1967 has become the City of Toronto’s top grossing festival. An Ipsos Reid Economic Impact Study released in April showed that Caribana brought $438 million to Ontario’s economy in 2009 with approximately $200 million going to the government in tax revenues. The money came mostly from the 1.2 million people who attended Caribana in 2009 with 170,000 visiting from the United States and a further 130,000 came from overseas. Caribana has even been described as the “crown jewel” of Toronto’s tourist attractions. The other festivals (including Toronto International Film Festival, Luminato and Pride Week) which receive much government funding do not attract the visitors and money to this city that Caribana does.
Caribana in spite of the money and visitors it brings to our fair city has been disrespected by the wider White community. Over the years there have been derogatory remarks made by White people at least one infamously caught accidentally on an open microphone. There has also been blatant disrespect of the community by politicians who have grabbed this “cash cow” away from the people who originated the celebration and it is now a government and corporate creature. There is a cash grab in making the festival inaccessible to people who do not have the money to pay to enter the CNE grounds where the festival is now contained.
The costumes worn by the people “playing mas” for the most part were simply panties (in some cases thongs) and brassieres in bright colours topped by feathers and in many cases lacked imagination. Many of the costumes could be interchangeable year after year with just a change of colour. Caribana which is supposed to be modelled on Trinidad’s Carnival is more than exposing flesh for an audience to ogle or be scandalised. The beginning of Carnival in Trinidad was the freed Africans’ opportunity once a year to dress up and mock the people who oppressed them year round. The costumes are supposed to tell a story. Trinidadian born Michael La Rose who is Chair of the George Padmore Institute in the United Kingdom (UK) writes: “The Caribbean Carnival consists of masquerade, dance, music and song. It is unique as a festival as it incorporates the fine arts, street theatre, artistic and musical social organisation, spectator participation, political commentary, spectacle and fantasy. We are all familiar with images of Notting Hill Carnival in London. They are of masquerade (costumes), music, dancing and happy people. But what is behind the masquerade? There is a rich history, culture, language and a lot of hard work and struggle. The Caribbean Carnival described here is a celebration of the end of slavery as well as an affirmation of survival. Carnival is where Africa and Europe met in the cauldron of the Caribbean slave system to produce a new festival for the world. The four elements of Carnival are song, music, costume and dance, which translate as calypso/soca, steelpan, mas (masquerade), and 'wine' (dance) in the Caribbean Carnival. Trinidad is the island in the Caribbean with the most developed and well-known Carnival. Wherever the Trinidadians go they transplant their Carnival culture.”
This year’s Caribana did get some of the elements of the carnival right. There was the “calypso/soca, steelpan and 'wine' (dance).” The “wining/dancing” part of the Caribana festival provided much hilarity for me and some other Caribbean people as we watched some of the costumed people playing mas and attempting to dance to the music. It boggles the mind that the music that can be felt in every part of your body could not move some people to dance in tune. It was hilarious watching some rhythmically challenged people of all races as they tried to move to the beat of soca and calypso music with Machel Mantano encouraging them to “Make that thing just wiggle wiggle. Left to right gyul make it giggle. Bounce it round and make it swiggle” while JW and Blaze encouraged “palancing.”
I live in hope that next year the people who design the costumes for the “mas” players will go back to their roots and design costumes that do not all look alike with bikinis and bare skin topped by feathers. There are sites online including with examples of traditional costumes there is no need for everyone to dress the same except for a difference in the colour of the costumes.


On August 1, 1834 enslaved Africans in Canada and elsewhere in the British Empire were freed from chattel slavery. While the Africans in Canada, Antigua and the Bahamas were immediately freed on August 1, 1834 the Africans in the other British colonised Caribbean islands and British Guiana on the South American continent were informed that they had to endure up to a further six years (domestic workers 4 years and field workers 6) of semi-slavery before they would finally be free. Instead of complete freedom the Africans were in effect indentured labourers tied to their former owners. They were compelled to provide 40 hours a week of unpaid labour on the plantations where they had been enslaved. Any work after the 40 hours was supposed to be paid labour but who was there on the plantations to ensure that this was done? The British government called the system an apprenticeship. In theory the apprenticeship period was a time for the Africans to be “trained” for a life of freedom. In reality it was a system rife with abuse of the Africans and more exploitation of their labour. The terms of apprenticeship was made for the planters which included the fact the plantation owners had no responsibility to provide the “apprentices” with food, clothes, medical care and housing. The Africans were compelled to pay rent for the inadequate housing on the plantations and feed and clothe themselves and their families from the pittance they were paid for work over 40 hours per week. Naturally the plantation owners ensured that the work to run the plantation was done during that 40 hours so not much paid work was available. The Africans resisted and eventually the six years apprenticeship was reduced to four years and they were finally freed on August 1, 1838. One of my favourite stories of resistance starting on August 1st 1834 is the resistance of enslaved Africans in Trinidad.
On Friday August 1, 1834 a group of Africans gathered at Government House in Port of Spain to listen to the British governor George Fitzgerald Hill proclaim their freedom. Instead the Africans were told that they were obliged by law to serve as “apprentices” for up to six more years living on the estates and plantations where they were enslaved. The Africans were not amused and loudly voiced their displeasure and disagreement with being subjected to six years of “apprenticeship.” Fitzgerald Hill sent the militia out to intimidate the group but the furious Africans stood their ground recognizing that the“apprenticeship” system was a scam used by the white plantation owners and the government representatives in the Caribbean to use free African labour for a further 6 years. In spite of the presence of the militia, the protest continued until nightfall when the protesters strategically withdrew because they were not allowed to be in the town during the night. On Saturday August 2nd, when the group of protesters returned to Government House, Hill gave the order to arrest them. There were scuffles with the militia and some of the protesting Africans were arrested, tried, sentenced to “hard labour and flogging” and taken to the Royal Jail. Their incensed compatriots were forced to flee but returned on the Monday to continue the protest. The numbers had swollen by Monday and there were more clashes with the militia. Some of those who were arrested on the Monday were publicly flogged in Marine Square. The protests continued the entire week before it was quelled, but several of the Africans refused to return to the plantations and instead “squatted” in districts known today as Belmont and East Dry River. It was such protests that forced the British to abandon their plan to coerce the Africans who had worked in the fields to endure 6 years of apprenticeship. Africans throughout the region protested their continued enslavement under the Apprenticeship system and on August 1, 1838 slavery was abolished in all the British colonies. On July 25th, 1838, Governor Hill called an emergency session of the Council of Government to seek approval of a special proclamation he had drafted which ended the apprenticeship period for Africans in Trinidad on August 1, 1838 whether they worked in the fields, homes or were skilled workers. The plantation owners received reparations for the loss of their property due to emancipation. The British government paid the plantation owners 20 million pounds an amount which is estimated to be the equivalent of 200 billion pounds today. A report from a recent gathering of Caribbean countries ( where “Reparations” was the topic includes this quote: “Caribbean officials have not mentioned a specific monetary figure but Gonsalves and Verene Shepherd, chairwoman of the national reparations commission in Jamaica, both mentioned the fact that Britain at the time of emancipation in 1834 paid 20 million pounds to British planters in the Caribbean, the equivalent of 200 billion pounds today.” Dr. Verene A. Shepherd is Professor of Social History and University Director of the Institute for Gender and Development Studies at the University of the West Indies and Chair of the United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent (WGPAD.) Ralph Gonsalves is prime minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
The British government has resisted calls for reparations to be made to the descendants of enslaved Africans whose ancestors’ blood, sweat, tears and unpaid labour enriched generations of White people who continue to enjoy those riches into the 21st century. The evidence is there that the British and other European tribes benefited financially from the slave trade. Although the British did not begin the trade in Africans (the Portuguese began this barbaric trade, quickly followed by the Spanish and other European tribes) it was the British who almost monopolized this dreadful system for centuries supported by the British monarchy. Guyanese historian, Dr. Walter Rodney, has powerfully portrayed this in his 1973 published book, “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa” where he has written: “Some attempts have been made to try and quantify the actual monetary profits made by Europeans from engaging in the slave trade. The actual dimensions are not easy to fix, but the profits were fabulous. John Hawkins made three trips to West Africa in the 1560s, and stole Africans whom he sold to the Spanish in America. On returning to England after the first trip, his profit was so handsome that Queen Elizabeth I became interested in directly participating in his next venture and she provided for that purpose a ship named the Jesus. Hawkins left with the Jesus to steal some more Africans, and he returned to England with such dividends that Queen Elizabeth made him a knight. Hawkins chose as his coat of arms the representation of an African in chains.”
In Canada where slavery was abolished on August 1, 1834 there is a lack of recognition that Africans were enslaved here. Many Canadians are ignorant of the fact that Africans were enslaved in Canada beginning in 1628 with the sale of a 6 year old African child who was given the name Olivier LeJeune by his enslavers. The lives of enslaved Africans are not well documented but we do know about Peggy Pompadour and her children Amy, Jupiter and Milly who were owned by Peter Russell (acting Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada 1796–1799) and his sister Elizabeth. Marie Joseph Angelique who was hanged in Montreal on June 21, 1739 is probably the most well known because of the work of Dr. Afua Cooper who brought Angelique’s story to life in her 2006 published book “The Hanging of Angelique.” Africans were enslaved throughout this land and the many advertisements for buying and selling Africans as well as for their capture and return to their “owners” are documented in the Canadian newspapers of the time.
August 1, Emancipation Day was the end of chattel slavery for Africans in Canada and the day has been celebrated for more than a century here in Canada as well as in other former British colonies. Not many books have been published about that history; however for those people interested in learning about this history one of the more recently published books (2010) is “Emancipation Day: Celebrating Freedom in Canada” by author Natasha Henry which documents the celebration of August 1st in Canada.


“The eight men who are survivors of the syphilis study at Tuskegee are a living link to a time not so very long ago that many Americans would prefer not to remember, but we dare not forget. It is not only in remembering that shameful past that we can make amends and repair our nation, but it is in remembering that past that we can build a better present and a better future. And without remembering it, we cannot make amends and we cannot go forward. So today America does remember the hundreds of men used in research without their knowledge and consent. Men who were poor and African American, without resources and with few alternatives, they believed they had found hope when they were offered free medical care by the United States Public Health Service. They were betrayed. To the survivors, to the wives and family members, the children and the grandchildren, I say what you know: No power on Earth can give you back the lives lost, the pain suffered, the years of internal torment and anguish. What was done cannot be undone. But we can end the silence. We can stop turning our heads away. We can look at you in the eye and finally say on behalf of the American people, what the United States government did was shameful, and I am sorry. I apologize and I am sorry that this apology has been so long in coming.”
Excerpt from official apology made by US President Bill Clinton on May 16, 1997 about the 40 year syphilis experiment (1932-1972) on African Americans in Macon County, Alabama.
On Tuesday, July 25, 1972 the “Washington Star” carried the headline "Syphilis victims in U.S. Study Went Untreated for 40 Years" and Americans learned that their government had been using African American families in Macon County, Alabama as guinea pigs. The infamous and racist “study” of the effect of untreated syphilis in African American men was exposed on July 25, 1972 after 40 years of torture for hundreds of African American men. This “study” affected the men, their community, their partners/wives/lovers and their children. It is one of the many shameful stories of the American government’s ill will towards African Americans. The experiment may very well have continued into the 21st century if a young employee had not become a “whistleblower” in 1972. According to information in the book “Bad Blood: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment” written by White author James H. Jones (published 1993) Peter Buxtun was a 27 year old employee of the United States Public Health System (USPHS) when in 1966 he discovered that African Americans in Macon County, Alabama were being used as guinea pigs by the American government. Buxtun wrote a letter to Dr. William J. Brown director of the Division of Venereal Diseases "expressing grave moral concerns about the experiment." Buxtun was told that the affected African Americans would not receive any treatment to cure them of the disease or even to alleviate their suffering. Even worse they would not be told that they had syphilis but their lives would be followed by the medical personnel using them as guinea pigs until they died and their bodies autopsied. Their partners/wives/lovers were infected with the sexually transmitted disease and many of their children were born with congenital syphilis which led to blindness, deformities, developmental delays, damage to bones, teeth, eyes, ears and brain. The untreated syphilis also caused miscarriages, premature births, stillbirths and death of newborn babies.
In November 1966 Buxtun filed an official protest with the United States Center for Disease Control (CDC) but the National Medical Association and the American Medical Association agreed with the CDC and Brown that the subjects of the study should not receive treatment but left to deteriorate and eventually die of syphilis and their bodies used for further experimentation. The medical authorities recruited the African American men for this horrific “study” by promising them free medical care. None of the men knew that they were infected with the potentially deadly sexually transmitted disease. Penicillin (a cure for syphilis) had been discovered in 1928, three years before the government began their experiment but the authorities refused to allow the African American men to receive penicillin. By the 1940s penicillin was being widely used and even available in Macon County, Alabama but the authorities were determined that the African American men who were part of their “study” would remain untreated. During World War II, 250 of the men registered for the draft (to join the military) and would have received treatment for syphilis but the USPHS successfully attained exemption for those men. They were not allowed to join the military and did not receive treatment that would have cured them of syphilis.
The experiment continued in spite of the Henderson Act (1943) a public health law requiring testing and treatment for venereal disease and in spite of the Declaration of Helsinki (1964) by the World Health Organization which specified that “informed consent” was needed for experiments involving human beings. The Declaration of Helsinki was a follow up to the Nuremberg Code which was intended to prevent mistreatment of research subjects such as had been practised by Nazi physicians. The USPHS was therefore treating the African American subjects of their experiment in the same manner as the Nazi doctors who experimented on those they considered inferior during the Nazi reign of terror in Germany during World War II and in Namibia from 1904 to 1908. Even the Surgeon General of the United States was involved in this horrific and inhumane experiment encouraging the men to remain part of the experiment by sending them certificates of appreciation after 25 years in the “study.” By 1969 (after 37 years of the experiment) 128 of the African American men were dead from syphilis and its complications (which included tumors, heart disease, paralysis, blindness and insanity) 40 of their wives had been infected and 19 of their children had been born with congenital syphilis.
Buxtun the eventual “whistleblower” of the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment resigned from the USPHS in 1967 and in 1968 filed another protest with the CDC. The authorities at the CDC ignored his concerns and continued their experiment. In 1972 Buxtun spoke to Edith Lederer a reporter from the Associated Press and on Tuesday, July 25, 1972 the story appeared on the front page of the “Washington Star” written by Jean Heller. The following day July 26, 1972 the story was published on the front page of the New York Times. The following day an official from the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) held a press conference where he expressed regret about the length of the experiment. On August 24, 1972 HEW Assistant Secretary Merlin K. DuVal announced the appointment of the Tuskegee Syphilis Ad Hoc Advisory Panel to investigate the horrific experiment. The advisory panel decided that the Tuskegee Study was "ethically unjustified" and on October 25, 1972 the panel advised that the experiment end. On November 16, 1972 DuVal announced the end of the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment. In the summer of 1973 Fred D. Gray an African American Civil Rights lawyer and author of “The Tuskegee Syphilis Study: The Real Story and Beyond” (published 1998) filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of the African American men and their families who had been duped into becoming experimental “guinea pigs.” In 1975 the law suit was settled for $10 million dollars. As part of the settlement, the U.S. government promised to give lifetime medical benefits and burial services to all living participants. The Tuskegee Health Benefit Program (THBP) was established to provide these services and in 1975 wives, widows and offspring were added to the program.
Following much advocacy and agitation by the African American community including the Congressional Black Caucus US President Clinton agreed to issue an official apology for the racist and inhumane Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment. During his apology speech on May 16, 1997 Clinton acknowledged that the experiment was racist: “To our African American citizens, I am sorry that your federal government orchestrated a study so clearly racist. That can never be allowed to happen again. It is against everything our country stands for and what we must stand against is what it was.” After 65 years the American government finally offered some measure of closure for the African American families who were affected by the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment. With the seemingly heartfelt apology from Clinton in 1997 there was hope that nothing like the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment would happen again. The recent scandalous story reported in the “Daily Mail” of women prisoners being coerced into undergoing surgery to prevent them bearing children is proof that not much has changed since July 25, 1972 when the story of the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment was made public.


The photographs were always horrifying: shirtless black victims, their bodies bloodied, eyes bulging from their sockets. Of all the lynching photos Marshall had seen, though, it was the image of Rubin Stacy strung up by his neck in a Florida pine tree that haunted him most when he traveled at night into the south. It wasn’t the indentation of the rope that had cut into the flesh below the dead man’s chin, or even the bullet holes riddling his body, that caused Marshall, drenched now in sweat, to stir in his sleep. It was the virtually angelic faces of the white children, all of them dressed in their Sunday clothes, as they posed, grinning and smiling, in a semicircle around Rubin Stacy’s dangling corpse. In that horrid indifference to human suffering lay the legacy of another generation of white children, who, in turn, would, without conscience prolong the agony of an entire other race.
Excerpt from the prologue of “Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America” written by Gilbert King published in 2013
On July 16, 1949 in Groveland, Florida, four African American men were falsely accused of raping a White woman. Gilbert King is a White author who wrote about the miscarriage of justice that led to the murder of three of those young men (one of them just 16 years old) in “Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America.” Groveland, Florida is a half an hour drive away from Sanford, Florida where 17 year old Trayvon Benjamin Martin was gunned down by Neighbourhood Watch volunteer “wannabe cop” George Zimmerman. Even though over the past year Zimmerman and his family have tried to make him non-White, claiming all kinds of racially diverse backgrounds, he obviously enjoyed White skin privilege all his life. This was an attempt to nullify the “racial undertones” of the killing of the young Martin. Watching and listening to Zimmerman’s brother as he was interviewed several times before and after the verdict made that very clear to me.
Zimmerman was found not-guilty of the second degree murder charge and the hastily offered last minute manslaughter charge which the prosecution offered on Friday July 12 when they closed their arguments against Zimmerman. He was found not-guilty by a jury of his peers, five White women and one Hispanic woman. None of the jurors were the peers of the 17 year old African American who was killed by Zimmerman on February 26, 2012. The events of February 26, 2012 are very clear; Zimmerman stalked unarmed Martin and shot him dead with a gun that was prepared to kill with a bullet ready to be fired in its chamber. One has to wonder how much has changed in Florida since members of the “Groveland Four” were lynched by White men in the 20th century to the killing of Martin in the 21st century. Although Zimmerman was tried in a court of law for the murder of Martin, he was found not guilty even of manslaughter by a jury of five White women and one Hispanic woman. Many of us were stunned at the verdict. However we should not have even been surprised given the history of violence against African American men throughout North America and specifically in Florida. In the 2013 published book “The Beast in Florida: A History of Anti-Black Violence” African American author Marvin Dunn writes: “A black male unwise – uppity - enough to believe, or even appear as if he believed, that he was more than a second-class citizen and had improved his prior station as ‘three-fifths of a person’ lived in mortal danger from the Beast of racism – a beast that was to prowl Florida for nearly a century.” Is that what Zimmerman saw when Martin dared to walk through that Sanford neighbourhood which Zimmerman seemed to consider his turf? Did Zimmerman consider Martin “uppity” or “three-fifths of a person” and thought killing him would carry no consequences? If so he was partly correct in his assumptions because he suffered no consequences except for a few inconvenient months of scrutiny while Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton will never again see or hold their child.
I have spent the last two weeks immersed in the Zimmerman trial for the second degree murder of Trayvon Benjamin Martin. Zimmerman was found not-guilty but definitely he is not innocent of the killing of Martin. Many questions remain in spite of the verdict rendered by the jury of five White women and one Hispanic woman. The choice of the jury members in itself was stunning and raised red flags for many of us who were watching or reading about the upcoming trial which to my mind was a travesty. How could the jury not understand that Zimmerman had no right to stop and question the 17 year old African American who was walking to the home where he was visiting with his father? How could the jury not understand that Zimmerman who is not a member of any law enforcement organization put himself above the law and in direct counter to instructions (from the authorities) not to follow the African American youth did just that and ended up killing the child? Why could the members of the jury not empathise with the prosecutor’s appeal/question that: “Isn't that every child's worst nightmare, to be followed on the way home in the dark by a stranger? Isn't that every child's worst fear?" Why did that heartfelt appeal not resonate with those five mothers? Many people have asked why those six women (five of them mothers) could not put themselves in the place of a grieving mother who merely sought justice for her dead child killed by a vigilante Neighbourhood Watch volunteer. Maybe they could not because their children are not African American and the victim was. And this state of mind most likely goes back to that quote from Gilbert King’s Pulitzer Prize winning “Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America” when he wrote: “In that horrid indifference to human suffering lay the legacy of another generation of white children, who, in turn, would, without conscience prolong the agony of an entire other race.”
The jury has been praised by the two White men who defended Zimmerman because they rendered a verdict favourable to their client. Zimmerman’s lawyers declared that Zimmerman at no point showed ill will, hatred or spite during his confrontation with Martin. They ignored the fact that Zimmerman killed the unarmed 17 year old. Don West one of Zimmerman’s lawyers said: “The prosecution of George Zimmerman was a disgrace.” However those two men did not stop there they vilified the prosecution and in one instance the African American community. Mark O’Mara declared that if his client was African American he would not have been charged. I had to wonder what world O’Mara was living in. Does he really think that if a 28 year old African American man had followed a 17 year old White male and shot and killed him he would not have been arrested? Zimmerman appointed himself judge, jury and executioner of an unarmed African American youth. Zimmerman violated the rules of what a Neighbourhood Watch volunteer should do which is observe (watch and listen) and call the police not act out as a vigilante and accost and kill someone after racially profiling that person.
All the evidence in the case pointed to the fact that there was a dead child who was unarmed when he was confronted and killed by a man armed with a gun. Zimmerman killed Martin and he has been freed. Zimmerman can again carry a concealed weapon. With Zimmerman’s acquittal, what message does this send? The verdict rendered by the jury seems to suggest that killing an unarmed African American has no consequences. Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin sat through the nightmare of listening to and watching the trial of the man who killed their child. They were dignified throughout that ordeal of the cameras capturing almost every moment of their grief as they heard two White men defend the indefensible and inexcusable actions of another who killed their unarmed child. They listened as their child’s terrified screams for help was played repeatedly. They listened as a doctor explained that their child suffered indescribable pain for possibly ten minutes as the blood drained from his heart until there was no life left in his body. Those two parents never verbalized their pain, their grief, their understandable anger as they sat through the testimony of dozens of witnesses.
Now this family (including Trayvon Martin’s older brother) is left with the memories of their loved one who is no longer with them and the fact that there has been no justice for Trayvon Martin in the Florida justice system.