Saturday, December 6, 2014


“The Women’s Political Council will not wait for Mrs Parks’s consent to call for a boycott of city buses. On Friday December, 2, 1955, the women of Montgomery will call for a boycott to take place on Monday, December 5.”
From “Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It: The Memoir of Jo Ann Gibson Robinson” by Jo Ann Gibson Robinson published 1987
On Monday, December 5, 1955 Rosa Parks an African American woman who had been arrested on Thursday, December 1, 1955 was put on trial for refusing to give up her seat in the “Colored” section of a Montgomery City bus to a White man. The White supremacist Jim Crow law demanded that African Americans give up their seats in the “Colored” section of buses to White passengers if there were no vacant seats in the “White” section of buses. When a White man could not find a seat in the “White” section of the bus the driver insisted that Parks and the other 3 African American passengers give up their seats for the White man. The other 3 gave up their seats (at that point the White man had his choice of 3 seats) and Parks refused. The police were called and Parks was arrested. The arrest of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) secretary Rosa Parks was the "last straw" and time for African Americans to demand better treatment from bus drivers in Montgomery, Alabama. Parks was the third African American woman arrested in 1955 for refusing to give up her seat on the Montgomery bus. On March 2, 1955 Claudette Colvin a 15 year old African American was dragged out of a Montgomery city bus and arrested for refusing to give up her seat in the "Colored" section of the bus to a White man who could not find a seat in the crowded "White" section of the bus. On October 21, 1955 an 18 year African American woman Louise Smith suffered a similar fate. Some concerns expressed by some of the religious and respectable members of the African American leadership about supporting the 2 young African American women. It was discovered that the teenage Colvin was pregnant and not married and it was mentioned by one of the fine upstanding religious African American leaders that Smith’s father had been seen in a drunken state in his front yard. In chapter 3 of the 1999 published “Gender in the Civil Rights Movement” addressing “Respectability, class and gender in the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Early Civil Rights Movement” there is this quote about the decision not to support 18 year old Louise Smith: “When E.D. Nixon went to her house he reputedly ‘found her daddy in front of his shack barefoot and drunk.’ Nixon duly rejected Smith, not simply for her actual lower-class background, but because of her links, in Nixon’s view, with all manner of dissolute lower-class black stereotypes - a drunken father, an unkempt house.” E.D. Nixon born Edgar Daniel Nixon on July 12, 1899 was the President of the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP and Rosa Parks was the secretary. When Parks was arrested the leaders of the African American community thought she was the ideal person to support in their fight to demand better treatment on the Montgomery City buses. Parks was middle aged, employed, educated and married, there were no skeletons in her closet that the White media could use to criticize/denigrate the campaign.
On August 12, 1950 Hilliard Brooks a 23 year old African American who had served in the US army during WWII boarded a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, paid at the front of the bus. Instead of disembarking and entering through the back door Brooks bravely walked through the "whites only" section of the bus to the "colored" section of the bus. The bus driver demanded that Brooks get off the bus for breaking the law which demanded that African Americans enter through the back door. Brooks refused to leave the bus until the bus driver returned his fare. The bus driver refused to return Brooks bus fare and instead called the police who kicked Brooks off the bus and when Brooks did not stay down the police M.E. Mills shot him dead on the spot. The police board found that Mills had acted in "self-defence" when he killed the unarmed 23 year old African American veteran. The board in its ruling stated: "We cannot say the police officer acted other than in sell defense when he fired his weapon after the unprovoked assault upon him and after his warning to the deceased not to advance further had been ignored." This was the reality for African Americans who used the bus in Montgomery, Alabama and this was the toxic environment which eventually pushed the African American community of Montgomery, Alabama to support the bus boycott after the arrest of Rosa Parks on December 1, 1955 and her trial on December 5, 1955.
Following Parks’ arrest the Women’s Political Council (WPC) decided that they would organize a one day boycott of the Montgomery city buses. The WPC included African American women who were professors at the African American Alabama State College and some African American public school teachers. The WPC was founded in 1946 and the members had been involved in voter registration and lobbying city officials on issues affecting African Americans. The group had met with city officials to complain about the ill treatment of African Americans on city buses including: “Continuous discourtesies with obscene language, especially name calling in addressing black patrons. Bus drivers’ requirement that Negro passengers pay fares at the front of the bus, then step down off and walk to the back door to board the bus. In many instances the driver drove away before the patrons who had paid at the front could board the bus from the rear.” On Friday, December 2, 1955 Jo Ann Gibson Robinson the President of the WPC drafted a flyer to distribute to the African American community which read: “Another Negro woman has been arrested and thrown in jail because she refused to get up out of her seat on the bus for a white person to sit down. It is the second time since the Claudette Colvin case that a Negro woman has been arrested for the same thing. This has to be stopped. Negroes have rights, too, for if Negroes did not ride the buses, they could not operate. Three-fourths of the riders are Negroes, yet we are arrested, or have to stand over empty seats. If we do not do something to stop these arrests, they will continue. The next time it may be you, or your daughter, or mother. This woman’s case will come up on Monday. We are, therefore, asking every Negro to stay off the buses Monday in protest of the arrest and trial. Don’t ride the buses to work, to town, to school, or anywhere on Monday. You can afford to stay out of school for one day if you have no other way to go except by bus. You can also afford to stay out of town for one day. If you work, take a cab, or walk. But please, children and grown-ups, don’t ride the bus at all on Monday. Please stay off all buses Monday.” There were 52,500 flyers made by 8:00 a.m. on Friday December 2 to be distributed to African Americans in Montgomery. To ensure that as many people as possible received the information the WPC members had to get the religious leaders on board. In “Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It” Robinson writes: “On Friday morning December 2, 1955, a goodly number of Montgomery’s black clergymen happened to be meeting at the Hilliard Chapel AME Zion Church on Highland Avenue. When the Women’s Political Council officers learned that the ministers were assembled in that meeting, we felt that God was on our side. It was easy for my two students and me to leave a handful of our circulars at the church. Many of the ministers received their notices of the boycott at the same time, in the same place.”
On Sunday, December 4, 1955 African Americans who had not received a flyer on Friday received notice of the planned boycott as they attended church. On Monday, December 5, 1955 the day of Rosa Parks’ trial the Montgomery Bus Boycott began. Rosa Parks was tried, convicted and ordered to pay a fine. African Americans were united in their determination to stay off the city buses in protest. All day the buses were empty of African Americans who made up approximately 75% of the passengers. In “Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It” Robinson writes: “Before Monday was half gone Negroes had made history. Never before had they united in such a manner.” On Monday, December 5, 1955 a meeting was held at Holt Street Baptist Church the largest African American church in Montgomery. Approximately 6,000 African Americans attended that meeting to decide the next step after a very successful one day boycott. “Six thousand black people along with local reporters packed Holt Street Baptist Church that night December 5, 1955 for the first mass meeting of the bus boycott. Before the meeting adjourned the masses organized themselves into a new association.” That night Martin Luther King Jr. the 26 year old African American minister of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church was elected as President of the newly founded Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA.) King successfully led the Montgomery Bus Boycott which lasted for more than a year. At that time no one could have imagined the impact of that decision on the history of the USA and the Civil Rights Movement. In spite of arrests and many cases of police brutality and physical injuries by White people who were determined to undermine the boycott African Americans stayed off the buses. King as leader of the boycott had his home firebombed but resisted the intimidation tactics.
The boycott ended successfully because the bus company was on the verge of bankruptcy. In his 2007 published book: “Let My People Go!: The Miracle of the Montgomery Bus Boycott” African American professor Robert J. Walker wrote: “The African American community was literally keeping the bus company in business and paying the salaries of bus drivers who were treating them as less than human.” On December 20, 1956, the US Supreme Court ordered an end to segregation on city buses and on December 21, 1956, the buses of Montgomery, Alabama were officially desegregated.

Friday, November 28, 2014


Mauritania is a country on the African continent which gained its independence from France on November 28, 1960. The French colonized Mauritania in 1850 when Louis Faidherbe the leader of the French military presence in Senegal decided to expand France's occupation of land in Africa. France had long coveted territory on the African continent and at one point colonized/occupied territory in Central, East, North and West Africa. The French colonization/occupation of the African continent began when the French invaded Algeria (North Africa) in 1830. According to White American Professor John Douglas Ruedy writing in his 1992 published book "Modern Algeria: the origins and development of a nation" about the aftermath of the French conquest of Algeria: "A French commission in 1833 wrote that "we have sent to their deaths on simple suspicion and without trial people whose guilt was always doubtful ... we massacred people carrying safe conducts ... we have outdone in barbarity the barbarians." The French and other European tribes seized the opportunity to continue exploiting Africa and Africans after slavery by holding a 3 month long meeting to formalize the thievery of African land. The White men had been stumbling over each other in their covetous rush to claim African land which sometimes led to physical confrontations with each other so they decided to meet and agree on who should control what part of Africa. That first "Scramble for Africa" where several White men representing 14 countries spent 3 months (November 15, 1884- February 26, 1885) carving up the African continent and sharing it amongst members of European tribes which led to years of occupation by Europeans of every part of Africa except Ethiopia. In his 2010 published book "From African Foreign Policy and Diplomacy from Antiquity to the 21st Century" African Professor Daniel Don Nanjira a member of the Luhya from Kenya wrote: "Europe's interest in Africa was prompted by the dictates of the new imperialism. The Berlin Conference on the Partition of Africa (November 15, 1884-February 26, 1885) mainly was held to create international guidelines for territorial acquisitions, control, exploration, and administration. It was not for the good of the colonized Africans, but was intended to protect the interests of the home countries in Europe."
In that first "Scramble for Africa" at the "Berlin Conference" White men from 14 countries spent 3 months drawing random borders with no consideration for the African people they would inconvenience or traumatize. These White men greedily divided the African continent among themselves because they were seeking wealth for their countries. With the strength of their armies and the recently invented machine gun White men and women occupied the best parts (most fertile and mineral rich land) in every African territory they invaded. In many cases they first sent in their missionaries like so many "Trojan horses" to "Christianize" the Africans in a devious "divide and conquer" strategy. When the European armies descended on these newly created "countries" there were Africans who had already succumbed, been brainwashed or coerced into accepting the new religion and were used to spread dissension among their people. Many of these Africans had been convinced of the "superiority" of the Europeans and were very susceptible to accepting without question the "rights" of the conquering hordes. Any Africans who resisted the European occupation/thievery of their land were barbarously and cruelly dispatched by the "superior" weapons used by the European occupying armies. In every case the Europeans claimed the best land, displacing the Africans and forcing them to become a cheap source of labour whose work was exploited to enrich the Europeans. This quote from the 1997 published book "Geography: Realms, Regions, and Concepts" by H.J. de Blij and Peter O. Muller sums up the aftermath of the Berlin Conference: "The Berlin Conference was Africa's undoing in more ways than one. The colonial powers superimposed their domains on the African continent. By the time independence returned to Africa in 1950, the realm had acquired a legacy of political fragmentation that could neither be eliminated nor made to operate satisfactorily." It is no coincidence that this outright greedy grab for African land was formalised by White men after the invention of “machine guns” the Gatling gun in 1861 and the Maxim gun in 1883. Armed with the Maxim which could fire 600 rounds per minute the African resisters of colonization hardly stood a chance.
Mauritania was not only colonized by the French but had also been occupied and colonized by Arabs before the advent of the Europeans. The indigenous Africans were first enslaved by the Arabs who claimed the land in modern day Mauritania and even after the French colonized the country the practice of enslaving Africans continued. The French although they had abolished slavery in their Caribbean colonies since 1848 obviously turned a blind eye to the continued Arab enslavement of Africans in Mauritania during the colonial period. The last two countries to abolish slavery in the west were Cuba (1886) and Brazil (1888.) Although Mauritania gained its independence from France on November 28, 1960 the institution of slavery (enslavement of Africans) was not legally abolished until 1981. However it was not a crime to enslave Africans until a new law criminalising the practice of enslaving Africans was adopted by the Mauritanian Parliament in August 2007.
In spite of the law criminalising the practice of enslaving Africans in Mauritania the practice continues in 2014. In his 2012 published book “Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy” White American author Kevin Bales writes: “As in the nineteenth-century American South, in Mauritania race matters intensely. Racism is the motor that drives Mauritanian society. White Moors generally disdain their black slaves and regard them as inferior beings. The ruling White Moors’ deep cultural and economic vested interest in slavery makes them as ready to fight for this privilege as the southern states of the United States fought for theirs.”
In Mauritania an African country where Africans are in the majority, a minority group (30%) of non-Indigenous people who call themselves “White Moors” hold (40%) of people who are identified as “Black Moors” in slavery. This “Moor” designation seems to come from the fact that both groups are members of the same religion, Islam. The “Black Moors” have traditionally “belonged” to the “White Moors” so this designation continues into the 21st century and change is fiercely resisted by the “White Moors.” The remaining 30% of the population are Africans (many are Christians) who are not members of the dominant religion of Mauritania and have never been enslaved. One would think it would be so easy for a “Black Moor” to escape their enslavement and pretend to be a free African but that is not the case. The majority of “Black Moors” have been conditioned to believe that it is their natural state to be “slaves” to the “White Moors” who physically, emotionally, spiritually and sexually abuse them and their children. These enslaved people work from dawn to dusk in the homes and businesses of their enslavers and are never paid. In some cases their children are given away as gifts to other enslaver families very reminiscent of the experiences of Africans who were enslaved by White people in this part of the world (the Caribbean, Europe, Central, North and South America) up to the 1880s.
There are a few brave souls who put their lives on the line in an effort to end the enslavement of those unfortunate Africans who are enslaved in Mauritania. Mr. Biram Dah Abeid (a descendant of the so-called “Black Moors”) is the president of the IRA (Initiative pour la Resurgence du Mouvement Abolitionniste) and representative to the “Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization” which is an international organization that facilitates the voices of unrepresented and marginalized nations and peoples worldwide. Dah Abeid has been beaten, imprisoned and was sentenced to death by the Mauritanian government because of his activism. As a peaceful advocate for the formal abolition of slavery in Mauritania Dah Abeid has been likened to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. One of the biggest threats to the Mauritanian authorities is Dah Abeid’s efforts to unite the “Black Moors” and other African communities in Mauritania ( His non-violent activities, challenging the Mauritanian authorities to enforce the anti-slavery legislation in the country have been met with violence. It is ironic that a group of people “White Moors” who invaded and occupied African land advocated for their independence from the colonizing French yet continue to enslave the majority of people who are indigenous to Mauritania and Africa. This is very similar to the minority White population of South Africa who kept Africans in abject poverty and refused them basic human rights for decades. On November 28th when Mauritanians are celebrating 54 years of independence and freedom from French colonization unfortunately not every Mauritanian will be celebrating freedom.

Thursday, November 20, 2014


Angola, Congo, Benguela Monjolo, Cabinda, Mina Quiloa, Rebolo Here where the men are There’s a big auction They say that in the auction, There’s a princess for sale Who came, together with her subjects Chained on an oxcart To one side, sugarcane To the other side, the coffee plantation In the middle, seated gentlemen Watching the cotton crop, so white Being picked by black hands When Zumbi arrives What will happen Zumbi is a warlord A lord of demands When Zumbi arrives, Zumbi Is the one who gives orders
Excerpt from "Zumbi" composed and sung by African Brazilian singer Jorge Ben released in 1974
“Black November” is celebrated in the city of Salvador in the Brazilian state of Bahia which has the largest number of African Brazilians. Black Awareness Day ("Dia da Consciência Negra") has been celebrated in Brazil every year on November 20, since 1960. On November 20 the enslavement of Africans and other injustices since the abolition of slavery are discussed and the contributions of African Brazilians are recognized and celebrated. November 20 was chosen as Dia da Consciência Negra/Black Awareness Day to remember the transition of Zumbi a famous Brazilian Maroon leader. Zumbi dos Palmares (1655-1695) the last leader of the famous Palmares Quilombo was beheaded on November 20, 1695 by the Portuguese and his head publicly displayed both as a warning to enslaved Africans and proof that Zubmbi was not immortal. In 2011 Dilma Rousseff the President of Brazil signed into law a bill that makes November 20 a Brazilian National Holiday although many Brazilian states had previously recognized November 20 with a public holiday.
Zumbi who posthumously has risen to the status of National Hero to many Brazilians and even has a Brazilian airport (Zumbi dos Palmares International Airport) named in his honour and a postage stamp (2008) commemorating his memory was once the bane of the Portuguese colonizers/enslavers in Brazil. Zumbi was born a free African in the community of Palmares where Africans had established a free Maroon community (quilombo) in 1594. Palmares was the most successful community of quilombos established by Africans who fled enslavement in Brazil and survived and thrived for 100 years. Combined forces of Dutch and Portuguese attacked the Palmares community as the presence of Africans living free in a country where White people enslaved millions was a beacon of hope to enslaved Africans. During one of these attacks 6 year old Zumbi was kidnapped by a group of Portuguese who sold him to a Catholic priest. When he was 15 years old Zumbi escaped and returned to Palmares where by the time he was in his early 20s he was a respected military strategist and a leader in the community. In 1678, the Portuguese governor negotiated a deal with the leader of Palmares. The deal was a cessation of hostilities between the White inhabitants and the people of Palmares if they would agree to move from the location they had settled since 1594 and that they would capture and return any enslaved Africans who fled to their community seeking freedom. The leader of Palmares agreed but Zumbi wisely refused to agree to those terms. The Portuguese proved to be deceitful and enslaved the Africans who believed their promises and left the safety of Palmares. Mary Karasch a White American historian wrote in her article “Zumbi of Palmares: Challenging the Portuguese Colonial Order” published 2013 in "In The Human Tradition in Colonial Latin America" edited by Kenneth J. Andrien: “The Portuguese were not to be trusted, and to live in peace with them would only lead to reenslavement. To preserve their freedom they had to resist and fight for their people and their own way of life.”
With Zumbi’s refusal to leave Palmares (where Africans had lived as free people for more than 80 years) and his supporters’ determination to defend their territory and their freedom the Portuguese renewed their attacks on Palmares. Zumbi as the new leader of Palmares led the fight against the Portuguese. In her 2013 published article “Zumbi of Palmares: Challenging the Portuguese Colonial Order” Mary Karasch also wrote “What is clear from the documentation is that a newly unified and revived Palmares under the leadership of Zumbi took the offensive. One wonders if the particularly raided plantations where their former comrades had been reenslaved. For a period of thirteen years (1680-1693) Luso-Brazilian expeditions were ineffectual in stopping Palmarino attacks.”
On January 6, 1694 Palmares suffered a surprise attack because of a careless sentry who failed to warn Zumbi of an approaching army of Portuguese. Although Zumbi and his followers from Palmares fought valiantly, they were surrounded and outnumbered. The Portuguese destroyed the Palmares Quilombo, captured 510 Africans and sold them in Bahia.
Zumbi and a few men escaped and continued the fight. Zumbi was eventually betrayed by one of his trusted men who bargained Zumbi’s life for his own with the Portuguese. Zumbi was killed in the ensuing fight on November 20, 1695 and his body was delivered to the officials of the city council of Porto Calvo. In her “Zumbi of Palmares: Challenging the Portuguese Colonial Order” Mary Karasch writes: “An examination revealed fifteen gunshot wounds and innumerable blows from other weapons; after his death he had been castrated and mutilated. The last degradation by his enemies occurred in a public ceremony in Porto Calvo, in which his head was cut off and taken to Recife, where the governor had it displayed on a pole in a public place. His objective was to destroy the belief that Zumbi was immortal.”
Although Palmares was one of several quilombos established by Africans in Brazil, the Quilombo of Palmares was the largest with a population of 30,000 and lasted longer than any other (100 years) from 1594 to 1694. Some of Zumbi’s followers who escaped the carnage visited upon them by the Portuguese attack on Palmares escaped to live in other quilombos and enslaved Africans also continued to flee until slavery was abolished in Brazil in 1888. Some of the quilombos were so well hidden that they were never discovered by the Portuguese and the inhabitants lived in freedom and seclusion. In one case the inhabitants of a quilombo (Remanso, Bahia) were unaware until they were discovered in the 1960s that slavery had been abolished for more than 80 years! Since 1988, the quilombos have received protective status under Brazil’s constitution in an attempt to maintain the distinctive culture, history and language developed by these communities.
During the November 20 recognition of Zumbi’s contribution to Brazilian culture and history many events take place at Zumbia National Park which has a monument created in his honour. In spite of the special day to honour Zumbi and the recognition of his place in Brazil’s history, African Brazilians continue to experience oppression in a White supremacist culture.
In his 1989 published book “Brazil, Mixture Or Massacre?: Essays in the Genocide of a Black People” African Brazilian scholar and historian Abdias do Nascimento wrote: “On the whole in this pretentious concept of ‘racial democracy,’ there lies deliberately buried the true face of Brazilian society: only one of the racial elements has any rights or power – whites. They control the means of dissemination of information, educational curriculum and institutions, conceptual definitions, aesthetic norms and all other forms of social/cultural values.” Nascimento who transitioned on May 23, 2011 was a Pan-Africanist who played a significant role in raising awareness among African Brazilians and also wrote "Racial Democracy in Brazil, Myth or Reality?: A Dossier of Brazilian Racism" (1977), "Race and ethnicity in Latin America – African culture in Brazilian art" (1994), "Orixás: os deuses vivos da Africa" (Orishas: the living gods of Africa in Brazil) (1995) and "Africans in Brazil: a Pan-African perspective" (1997.) Recognition of Zumbi would not be complete without recognition of Nascimento as the African Brazilian activist scholar who has been described as a “militant Pan-Africanist” and spent his life raising awareness of the struggle of African Brazilians to navigate a White supremacist culture/system.

Friday, November 14, 2014


People say that if you find water rising up to your ankle, that's the time to do something about it, not when it's around your neck. The last four or five hundred years of European contact with Africa produced a body of literature that presented Africa in a very bad light and Africans in very lurid terms. The reason for this had to do with the need to justify the slave trade and slavery.
Quotes from Chinua Achebe Nigerian (Igbo) author of the classic novel "Things Fall Apart" published 1958
Chinualumogu Achebe was born on November 16, 1930 in Ogidi, Nigeria. He was the fifth of 6 children born to Janet Anaenechi Iloegbunam and Isaiah Okafo Achebe. The name "Chinualumogu" means "God will fight on my behalf" and since Achebe was born during the British colonization of Nigeria his parents probably thought their child would need the intervention of the Almighty to survive the imposition of a foreign power in their land. Achebe who transitioned on March 21, 2013 was an acclaimed novelist who published several books about the negative effects of European colonization, domination and exploitation of Africans.
In his first book "Things Fall Apart" published in 1958 Achebe introduced Okonkwo the Igbo leader whose life and the lives of his people are devastated by the arrival of the Europeans and the destruction of the traditional way of life. In chapter 7 of "Things Fall Apart" in this allegory of the arrival of the colonizers from Britain, Achebe writes: "And at last the locusts did descend. They settled on every tree and on every blade of grass; they settled on the roofs and covered the bare ground. Mighty tree branches broke away under them." At the end of "Things Fall Apart" as "things are falling apart" for the Igbo leaders facing the domination of the White colonizers, 2 of the central characters (Obierika and Okonkwo) have this conversation: "“Does the white man understand our custom about land?” “How can he when he does not even speak our tongue? But he says that our customs are bad; and our own brothers who have taken up his religion also say that our customs are bad. How do you think we can fight when our own brothers have turned against us? The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.”"
Achebe's depictions of the social and psychological damage that accompanied the imposition of Western customs and values upon traditional African society are probably the reason he was never awarded a Nobel Prize for Literature. When asked by Onuora Udenwa of "Quality Weekly" how he felt about never winning a Nobel Prize, he reportedly replied: “My position is that the Nobel Prize is important. But it is a European prize. It’s not an African prize. It’s not a Nigerian prize. Those who give it, Europeans who give it are not responsible to us. They have their reasons for setting it up. They have their rules for determining who should get it. Literature is not a heavyweight championship.”
Achebe was uncompromising in his stance on challenging conventional Western perceptions of Africans and provided alternatives to the negative stereotypical images of Africa constructed by European authors. On February 18, 1975 while he was a professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Achebe presented a Chancellor’s Lecture at Amherst entitled “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’” where he deconstructed the racism in Conrad’s novel and described Conrad as “a thoroughgoing racist” ( That lecture has been described as “one of the most important and influential treatises in post-colonial literary discourse.” In "Things Fall Apart" Achebe describes in vivid language through various characters the damaging and ruinous effects of European imposition on African culture, civilization and society which continued in the 1960 sequel "No Longer at Ease." In his 1964 published book "Arrow of God" Achebe also wrote about traditional Igbo culture clashing with European Christian missionaries and colonial government policies as the British Empire prevailed in Africa. "A Man of the People" published in 1966 and "Anthills of the Savannah" published in 1987 are also powerful stories told by an African about Africans and African culture. In one of his essays published in "Morning Yet on Creation Day" in 1975, Achebe explained in "The Novelist As Teacher": “I would be quite satisfied if my novels (especially the ones I set in the past) did no more than teach my readers that their past – with all its imperfections – was not one long night of savagery from which the first Europeans acting on God’s behalf delivered them.” Achebe also wrote in an essay entitled "The Role of the Writer in a New Nation" which was published in "Morning Yet on Creation Day" in 1975: "The worst thing that can happen to any people is the loss of their dignity and self-respect. The writer's duty is to help them regain it by showing them in human terms what happened to them, what they lost. There is a saying in Ibo that a man who can't tell where the rain began to beat him cannot know where he dried his body. The writer can tell the people where the rain began to beat them"
With the publication of “Things Fall Apart” in 1958, Achebe revolutionized the telling of African stories and set the standard for successive generations of African authors/writers, including Buchi Emecheta and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Achebe was the founding editor of the "Heinemann African Writers Series" (established in 1962) which provided a forum for many African writers who came of age after their countries’ independence from European colonizers. His collection of poems "Beware Soul Brother" was published in 1972 and won the Commonwealth Poetry Prize.
Achebe born on November 16, 1930 was born during a time when Africans were agitating for their independence from European colonization. Nigeria had been occupied by Britain since the arrival of the “Royal Niger Company” which was founded by a group of White men in 1879 as the “United African Company” renamed the “National African Company” in 1881 and then the “Royal Niger Company” in 1886. Whatever name the group gave themselves their purpose was always to exploit the Africans and the resources. On January 1, 1900, the “Royal Niger Company” transferred the territories it occupied to the British Government and was paid £865,000. No Africans were consulted during the transaction. In the 1920s several Nigerians joined other Africans on the continent and in the Diaspora began organizing in a Pan-African movement to liberate Africans from European domination and the attendant racism to which Africans were subjected in White supremacist cultures. The Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey founded the “Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League” (UNIA-ACL) in 1914 in Jamaica and expanded the organization after immigrating to the USA in 1916. The influence of Garveyism with his (Garvey’s) philosophy of “Africa for Africans at home and abroad” galvanized the Pan-African movement and influenced generations of African and Caribbean leaders. In 1923 Olayinka Herbert Samuel Heelas Badmus Macaulay established the Nigerian National Democratic Party (Nigeria’s first political party) which successfully contested three Lagos seats in the Legislative Council. Macaulay came to be regarded as the “father of modern Nigerian nationalism" in spite of the British colonialist efforts to suppress the movement. Macaulay was jailed twice by the British as he agitated for African self-rule in Nigeria. Macaulay led protests in Lagos over water rates, land issues and exposed British corruption of their “mishandling” of railway finances. In 1918 Macaulay successfully handled the cases of chiefs whose land had been taken by the British in front of the Privy Council in London. As a result of his campaigning, the colonial government was forced to pay compensation to the chiefs. On June 23, 1923 he established Nigeria’s first political party the “Nigerian National Democratic Party.” Macaulay like many other African leaders who campaigned for independence from European domination was a Pan-Africanist.
In a letter to Garvey in June 1919 ( expressed his support of Garvey’s initiative to establish a shipping company “The Black Star Line.” Macaulay ended his letter to Garvey with these words: "With the most heartfelt prayer for the success of "The Black Star Line," and in the fervent hope that the undertaking will be conducted upon lines based on strict moral rectitude, fair and healthy competition qualified by the most scrupulous and resolute Self-determination, I remain Your Fellowman of the Negro Race, H. Macaulay"
Although he was not a politician Achebe was as much an activist as the people who agitated for African freedom from colonization. He used his talent as a writer to educate and agitate and his work has been recognized by universities in Britain, Canada, Nigeria and the United States with honorary degrees.

Saturday, November 8, 2014


“The province has granted an official apology and free pardon to the late Viola Desmond. Mrs. Desmond, of Halifax, was an African Canadian wrongfully jailed and fined in 1946 for sitting in the white peoples’ section of a New Glasgow movie theatre. Mrs. Desmond passed away in 1965. On the advice of the Executive Council, the lieutenant governor has exercised the Royal Prerogative of Mercy to grant a Free Pardon. A free pardon is based on innocence and recognizes that a conviction was in error. A free pardon is an extraordinary remedy and is considered only in the rarest of circumstances. This is the first time a free pardon has been posthumously granted in Canada.”
Excerpt from “Late Viola Desmond Granted Apology, Free Pardon” a press release from the office of the Premier of Nova Scotia on April 15, 2010
Most Canadians know the names of African American Civil Rights activists like Angela Davis, Mohamed Ali, El Hajj Malik El Shabazz (Malcolm X) Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. Not too many know the name Viola Desmond. Viola Davis Desmond was an African Canadian Civil Rights activist. On November 8, 1946 Davis a 32-year-old African Canadian businesswoman was arrested at the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia for refusing to move from the “white section.” While White Canadians pride themselves on being different from their American counterparts and proudly proclaim Canada’s “multiculturalism” the treatment of African Canadians and other racialized people is very similar to those who live in the USA. The White supremacist culture of the USA is well documented and displayed but the White supremacist culture of Canada is well hidden. Canadian students can pass through the education system from elementary school through post-secondary without learning about the enslavement of Africans, the internment of Japanese Canadian families, the exclusionary Chinese head tax or the capture and abuse of First Nations children in residential schools. I was extremely surprised while attending a class at a post-secondary institution where the lecturer during a discussion of “Components of Racial Discrimination in Immigration” had no knowledge of the incident involving the racist treatment of the passengers of the Komagata Maru in August 1914. To survive at post-secondary institutions sometimes racialized students have to “bite their tongues” or risk victimization and unnecessary extra stress.
On November 8, 1946, Desmond was traveling on business from her Halifax, Nova Scotia home when she experienced car trouble in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. After taking her car to a garage and having to wait for her car to be repaired she decided to pass the time at the Roseland Theatre. She bought a ticket for the main floor of the theatre as she was unaware of the theatre’s policy that the main floor was a “Whites only” seating area. Desmond did not know that African Canadians were relegated to the balcony at the Roseland Theatre because unlike the blatant White supremacist Jim Crow laws of the U.S.A there were no “Whites” and “Coloured” signs. To this day many White Canadians practice a subtle/polite kind of racism where they can pretend/proclaim that their target was mistaken, that their actions were “taken out of context” or misunderstood. It is not surprising that Toronto’s recently elected Mayor declared that White skin privilege does not exist. It will be interesting to witness how he deals with the racial profiling to which African Canadians and other racialized Torontonians are daily subjected within our fair city.
On November 8, 1946 when Desmond was ordered to vacate her seat and move to the balcony she refused. She was after all a Canadian whose ancestors had lived here for generations why should she be treated differently because of her race? She was a successful business owner a respectable hardworking woman who had paid her hard earned money for a seat on the main floor and she was not going to move. Although she explained that she could not see from the balcony and that she had paid to sit on the main floor the manager insisted that she move. Following that stand off the manager left the theatre and returned with police force. The slim, 4’11” Desmond was unceremoniously lifted out of her seat by the two burly White men and dragged out of the cinema. Desmond suffered hip and knee injuries while being dragged out of the cinema. She was taken to jail, arrested and charged with attempting to defraud the provincial government of a one cent amusement tax. After spending an uncomfortable and terrifying night in jail with no opportunity to contact relatives or even a lawyer, at the trial next day Desmond was found guilty and ordered to pay a fine or spend more time in jail. She paid the fine but determined to fight to clear her name and change the segregationist law.
Desmond was supported in her fight by the Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NSAACP) which raised money for her cause. Desmond also received support from Carrie Best, African Canadian journalist and founder of “The Clarion.” In 1942 Best and her son Calbert were arrested and charged with disturbing the peace for sitting in the "white section" of the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow. They were convicted and fined with no mention that their crime was sitting in the “white section” of the cinema (that subtle underhanded version of Canadian racism at work.) Best had unsuccessfully filed a civil suit against the management of the Roseland Theatre. She supported Desmond throughout her fight using the newspaper “The Clarion” (founded in 1946) to publicize the case. The two African Canadian women (Best and Desmond) working together organized other African Canadians to lobby the Nova Scotia government which finally 8 years after the November 8, 1946 incident repealed the segregation law of Nova Scotia in 1954 one year before Rosa Parks was arrested in Montgomery, Alabama.
It is important to note that on December 1, 1955 when Parks was arrested on the Montgomery city bus she was sitting in the first set of seats at the back of the bus that were designated for “colored” people. Over the years there have been erroneous accounts that she was sitting in the “white section” and refused to move. No! Rosa Parks refused to move further back when a White man could not find a seat in the “white section” of the bus and the driver demanded that she and 3 other African Americans find seats further back or stand. Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat at the back of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama and the subsequent year long boycott (December 5, 1955 - December 20, 1956) saw the end of segregation on public transportation in Montgomery. Viola Desmond’s battle to bring an end to segregation in Nova Scotia took a 9 year fight.
At the time that Desmond, Best and other African Canadians in Nova Scotia were fighting to end segregation, African Canadians had recently returned to Canada from fighting in Europe in what was described as the second World War which was supposedly fought to bring freedom to the world. Canada at that time was a dominion of the British Empire whose Prime Minister Winston Churchill made his famous “Finest Hour” speech on June 18, 1940 which included these words: "Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire." Obviously Churchill’s “Christian civilization” did not include White Canadians being “civil” to African Canadians or considering their “Civil Rights” of any importance. After all their “war efforts” African Canadians in 1946 did not have the “freedom” to sit where they wanted in a cinema. The men who came back from Europe after fighting for “freedom” could only expect to get “good” jobs as sleeping car porters. African Canadian author Stanley Grizzle wrote about his experiences as a soldier in the Canadian armed forces and as a porter on the Canadian railroad in his 1998 published book “My name's not George: The story of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters : personal reminiscences of Stanley G. Grizzle.” On May 18, 1945 the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in Canada signed an agreement that represented the first unionized agreement for African Canadian workers with an employer. The men were porters working with the Canadian Pacific and the Northern Alberta Railway. The May 18, 1945 unionization meant that for the first time African Canadian Sleeping Car Porters could bargain for better wages and working conditions and lobby federal and provincial governments to create legislation prohibiting discrimination in employment and housing. It was not until 1964 that African Canadian porters were finally employed in other positions at the Canadian Pacific and Canadian National Railways (CPR and CNR.)
Viola Desmond was honoured with a Canadian postage stamp in February 2012 but her status as a Canadian Civil Rights activist is still not widely recognized.

Friday, October 31, 2014


What shall I tell my children who are black Of what it means to be a captive in this dark skin? What shall I tell my dear one, fruit of my womb, of how beautiful they are when everywhere they turn they are faced with abhorrence of everything that is black. What can I do to give him strength That he may come through life's adversities As a whole human being unwarped and human in a world Of biased laws and inhuman practices, that he might Survive. And survive he must! For who knows? Perhaps this black child here bears the genius To discover the cure for... cancer Or to chart the course for exploration of the universe. So, he must survive for the good of all humanity. He must and will survive. I have drunk deeply of late from the fountain of my black culture, sat at the knee of and learned from mother Africa, discovered the truth of my heritage. The truth, so often obscured and omitted. And I find I have much to say to my black children. I will lift up their heads in proud blackness with the story of their fathers and their father’s fathers. And I shall take them into a way back time of kings and queens who ruled the Nile, and measured the stars and discovered the laws of mathematics. I will tell him this and more. And knowledge of his heritage shall be his weapon and his armor; It will make him strong enough to win any battle he may face. And since this story is so often obscured, I must sacrifice to find it for my children, even as I sacrifice to feed, clothe and shelter them. So this I will do for them if I love them. None will do it for me. I must find the truth of heritage for myself and pass it on to them. For it is the truth that will make us free!
Excerpt from the poem “What shall I tell my children who are Black” by Dr. Margaret Burroughs published 1992
The woman who would eventually become Dr. Margaret Taylor Goss Burroughs and establish the “DuSable Museum of African American History” was born Margaret Taylor on November 1, 1917 in St. Rose, Louisiana. In 1922 when she was 5 years old her family moved north to Chicago as millions of African Americans from southern states were doing at the time. In the case of the Taylor family they fled after a relative was kidnapped and murdered by a gang of White men. Known as “The Great Migration” the period between 1910 and 1960 saw a mass movement of African Americans from Jim Crow southern states to northern states. In the southern states where Jim Crow laws ruled and segregation was a fact of life African Americans could not vote, were forced to accept menial jobs working for White people and were at risk of being brutalized, maimed or killed if they did not “know their place.” African American children were forced to attend schools that were housed in little more than tumbledown shacks and accept third and fourth hand school books after the books had been used and abused by White students in well kept schools. Many African American children in those southern states were forced to leave school for many months of the year to help their families pick cotton to sustain their livelihood as tenant farmers (sharecroppers) where they dwelled on land owned by White farmers.
Two White American professors in the 2011 published book “The Muse in Bronzeville: African American Creative Expression in Chicago” write about Burroughs’ early life: “Educational opportunities were scant, as black children missed large parts of each school year to pick cotton or chop cane. In 1922, sometime after a gang of whites kidnapped and murdered a family member, the Taylors moved to Chicago. They moved many times always searching for better living conditions. Moving up meant moving south as the Black Belt expanded slowly, block by block, into formerly all-white neighborhoods. When the family moved into a house on Sixtieth Street, a transitional area, racial taunts were hurled, bricks were thrown through windows and finally their front porch was firebombed.” Obviously it was not a “bed of roses” for African Americans even in northern cities like Chicago but at least they did not have to live legally segregated lives.
In her 2003 published autobiography “Life with Margaret: The Autobiography of Dr Margaret Burroughs” Burroughs remarked that although she attended an integrated school in the northern city of Chicago the lack of information about Africans in the curriculum negatively affected her academic achievement. Burroughs wrote that while she attended “Englewood High School” she would doze off in class until the teacher mentioned something about African Americans and she would become fully alert when there were discussions about the accomplishments or failures of African American women. After graduating from Englewood High School in 1933 Burroughs attended the Chicago Normal College (now the Chicago State University) where she earned a teaching certificate in 1937 and in 1939 an upper-grade art certificate. In 1939 Burroughs co-founded the South Side Community Arts Center to serve as a social center, gallery and studio to display the work of African American artists. She also married the artist Bernard Goss in 1939 and they divorced in 1947. In 1946 Burroughs earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Art Education from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a Master of Arts degree in Art Education in 1948. In 1949 she married Charles Gordon Burroughs and in 1961 they co-founded the “Ebony Museum of Negro History and Art” in their home at 3806 South Michigan Avenue. The historic building had at one time served as a boarding house for African American Pullman porters and other African American railroad workers.
“Ebony Museum of Negro History and Art” was the first of its kind; an African American self-governing museum designated to collect, interpret and preserve the achievements, experiences and history of African Americans. In 1973 the museum moved to its new home at the former South Park Commission headquarters in Washington Park at 740 East 56th Place. The museum also acquired a new name with the move; it was renamed the “DuSable Museum of African American History.” The name DuSable chosen to honour the African American Haitian born Jean Baptiste Point DuSable who is recognized as the founder of Chicago when he settled there in the 1760s. This information about DuSable was published in the March 18, 1996 edition of the Chicago based African American Jet Magazine: "Jean Baptiste Pointe Du Sable was born in San Marc, Haiti, in 1745. His mother, an enslaved African woman, was killed when he was about ten years old. His father, who was his mother's 'owner', sent Du Sable to be educated in France, then later employed him as a seaman. Du Sable was 20 years old when he was shipwrecked near New Orleans and had to go into hiding for fear of being enslaved on U.S. soil. He eventually made his way to the area now known as Chicago and was the first African settler as well as the first 'non-native' settler in that area."
The museum which appropriately bears DuSable’s name remains the only independent institution in Chicago established to collect, interpret and preserve the achievements, experiences and history of African Americans. The museum became a center and resource for teaching about the African Diaspora as well as African American history and culture. African American communities and groups in the USA (including Boston, Detroit, Philadelphia and Los Angeles) have replicated its model. The museum expanded in 1993 with a 28,000 square foot addition named after late Mayor Harold Washington (he became the first African American Mayor of Chicago in 1983) featuring new galleries and a 450-seat auditorium. On its website at the description of the museum includes: “The DuSable Museum is proud of its diverse holdings that number more than 15,000 pieces and include paintings, sculpture, print works and historical memorabilia. Special exhibitions, workshops and lectures are featured to highlight works by specific artists, historic events or collections on loan from individuals or institutions.”
Dr. Margaret Taylor Goss Burroughs who transitioned on November 21, 2011 achieved what she wrote in her poem “What shall I tell my children who are Black” she wanted to: “find the truth of heritage for myself and pass it on to them. For it is the truth that will make us free!”

Thursday, October 23, 2014


“Zambia will be celebrating its 50th Anniversary on 24th October, 2014 enjoying 50 years of Peace, Stability and Prosperity.”
From the website of the “High Commission of the Republic of Zambia in Canada”
On Saturday October 24, 1964 Zambia became an independent country. Zambia today with a population of over 15 million is a landlocked country in Southern Africa with the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the north, Tanzania to the north-east, Malawi to the east, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia to the south and Angola to the west. Between Zambia and Zimbabwe is the Zambezi River from which the country is named. The “Mosi-oa-Tunya” meaning “The Smoke that Thunders” (Victoria Falls) is part of the Zambezi River. The Zambezi River is the fourth longest river in Africa, after the Nile, Congo, and Niger Rivers. It is the longest east flowing river in Africa flowing 2,700 kilometres through six countries from its source in northwestern Zambia to the Indian Ocean. The "Mosi-oa-Tunya" Falls are considered the boundary between the upper and middle Zambezi.
The history of Zambia goes back to the beginning of humanity with evidence of human habitation in the country presented by archaeologists. Information from the "Encyclopedia of African History and Culture: Ancient Africa (Prehistory to 500 CE), vol. 1." states that: “Archaeologists trace the origins of humanity to the Great Rift Valley, which extends to the Lower Zambezi River, in southern Zambia. Artifacts unearthed at sites in Zambia suggest that early humans lived there between 1 and 2 million years ago. The most significant of these sites are at Kalambo Falls in the north and "Mosi-oa-Tunya" Falls in the south. At Kabwe, north of Lusaka (the capital city of Zambia) archaeologists have found evidence of activities by humans that dates back 100,000 years. Early Iron Age peoples settled in the region with their agriculture and domestic animals about 2,000 years ago. By 350, copper came into use both for currency and for adornment. The Bantu-speaking ancestors of the present-day Tonga people reached the region between 800 and 1000 CE. These newcomers kept cattle, made pottery and metalwork, and lived in lathe and plaster houses.”
There are several ethnic groups living together in Zambia today because of the European colonization of the continent with arbitrary assignment of borders. The main ethnic groups are Bemba, Kaonde, Lozi, Luvale, Ngoni, and the Tonga with the Bemba the largest ethnic group in the country. Present day Zambia was colonized by the British beginning in 1840 when missionaries (including David Livingstone) descended quickly followed by colonizers (including Cecil Rhodes.) The countries that are now Zambia and Zimbabwe were at the time governed by the “British South Africa Company” which was owned by Rhodes. The White colonizers/settlers who accompanied the “British South Africa Company” took the best land and became farmers. Any African who protested the stealing of their land by the White colonizers/settlers were brutalized or killed by the “British South Africa Company” police. The stolen lands were named Southern and Northern Rhodesia to honour Rhodes. Today these countries are Zimbabwe and Zambia. In 1923 the British government took control of the territory. The administration of Northern Rhodesia was transferred to the British colonial office in 1924 as a protectorate. A legislative council was established with 5 members elected by the 4,000 White people while no African was consulted or had a vote.
During the 1920s and 1930s the discovery of copper saw the arrival of more Europeans in the area. By 1938 the mining of copper in the area produced 13% of the world's copper. Two large companies monopolized the industry the South African Anglo American Corporation (AAC, North-American) and the Rhodesian Selection Trust (RST, South African) with predominantly American shareholders; both controlled the sector un-till independence.
In 1953 Southern and Northern Rhodesia were combined with Nyasaland (now Malawi) to form the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. Africans had resisted European colonization and after two wars (1914-1918 and 1939 to 1945) where Africans had been conscripted into fighting or at least fetching baggage and ammunition for White military personnel, White men no longer seemed invincible even with their “superior” weapons. They were just men some brave some cowardly and they died from bayonet wounds and gunshots. Africans began armed resistance in some instances and they also were demanding a say in the governing of their countries.
In 1955 Kenneth Kaunda and Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula who were leaders in the independence struggle in Zambia were imprisoned for two months with hard labour for distributing “subversive literature.” They were both members of the African National Congress (ANC) but Kaunda broke from the ANC and formed the Zambian African National Congress (ZANC) in October 1958. The ANC was willing to negotiate with the White minority on the issue of African majority rule. The White minority were advocating that only educated Africans who owned property should be allowed to vote instead of one man/woman one vote. Kaunda’s ZANC was banned in March 1959 by the British colonial regime.
In June 1959 Kaunda was sentenced to 9 months in prison. On February 3, 1960 British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan made his famous "There is a wind of change blowing through Africa" speech in South Africa. Speaking in the Houses of Parliament in Cape Town Macmillan said: “In the twentieth century, and especially since the end of the war, the processes which gave birth to the nation states of Europe have been repeated all over the world. We have seen the awakening of national consciousness in peoples who have for centuries lived in dependence upon some other power. Fifteen years ago this movement spread through Asia. Many countries there, of different races and civilisations, pressed their claim to an independent national life. Today the same thing is happening in Africa, and the most striking of all the impressions I have formed since I left London a month ago is of the strength of this African national consciousness. In different places it takes different forms, but it is happening everywhere. The wind of change is blowing through this continent, and whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact. We must all accept it as a fact, and our national policies must take account of it.” On December 31, 1963, the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was dissolved and Northern Rhodesia became the Republic of Zambia on October 24, 1964. Kenneth Kaunda became the country’s first president.
On Friday October 24, 2014 Zambians will be celebrating 50 years of independence from British colonial rule. The Zambian Canadian Association in Toronto is hosting a 50th Independence celebration on October 25th, 2014 at the North York Memorial Community Hall at 5110 Yonge Street. Tickets are $35 for adults and $10 for children. For more information contact the organization at or 416-880-6758 or visit their website at Happy 50th year of independence to all Zambians as they celebrate 50 years of peace, stability and prosperity!!

Friday, October 17, 2014


On Wednesday October 16, 1968 two African American athletes raised their fists in the Black Power salute as they stood on the podium to accept their Olympic medals and they remain icons of the Civil Rights struggle. The action of then 23 year old John Wesley Carlos and Tommie Smith then 24 years old was a protest against the oppression of African Americans who had been struggling to claim their rights as American citizens since the abolition of slavery in 1865. It is surprising that there were any African American athletes representing their country at the Olympics in Mexico City in 1968. The Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR) organized by a then 25 year old African American professor Harry Edwards (now Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley) advocated a boycott by African American athletes of the 1968 Summer Olympics if the “Whites only” athletic teams from the White supremacist controlled African countries South Africa and Rhodesia were allowed to participate at the Olympics. The OPHR had four demands: “withdrawal of South Africa and Rhodesia from the games, restoration of Muhammad Ali’s world heavyweight boxing title, Avery Brundage to step down as president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the hiring of more African American assistant coaches.” After the IOC strategically withdrew invitations for South Africa and Rhodesia to attend games the boycott failed to achieve widespread support. However Carlos and Smith as members of the OPHR decided to stage a protest when they received medals. Many years later when asked if they had planned the protest at the 1968 Summer Olympic Games Tommie Smith reportedly replied: "It was in my head the whole year. We first tried to have a boycott but not everyone was down with that plan. A lot of athletes thought that winning medals would supercede or protect them from racism. But even if you won the medal, it ain't going to save your momma. It ain't going to save your sister or children. It might give you fifteen minutes of fame, but what about the rest of your life? I'm not saying that they didn't have the right to follow their dreams, but to me the medal was nothing but the carrot on a stick."
There was no doubt that these two athletes would be successful at the Olympic Games since Tommie Smith was one of the greatest sprinters in the world in 1968 (he is the only man in the history of track and field to hold 11 world records simultaneously and had equalled or broken 13 world records) and at the 1968 Olympic Trials, John Carlos won the 200-meter dash in 19.92 seconds surpassing the world-record of Tommie Smith by 0.3 seconds.
After finishing first (Smith) and third (Carlos) in the 200 meter dash at the Mexico City Olympics the two African American athletes chose to put their lives and livelihood on the line to make a profound political statement. Smith adorned with his gold medal and Carlos with his bronze medal bravely bowed their heads as the American national anthem played. Both African American athletes were shoeless as they stood on the podium only wearing black socks to represent the economic disadvantage of African Americans. The athletes also wore one black glove each; Smith wore his on his right hand, Carlos wore his on his left hand. Smith later said that his right handed demonstration was meant to represent Black Power in America while the glove on the left hand of Carlos represented unity among African Americans. After the protest there were boos and racist name calling from the White American spectators. When asked for a reaction to the abuse Carlos said: "When we arrived at the award stand there was a lot of applause. When we left there were many boos and thumbs down. Well, John Carlos and Tommie Smith want the people who booed to know that black people are not lower animals like roaches and rats. ... We're not like some sort of a show horse who does its job and then had some peanuts tossed at it. We'd like to tell all white people that if they don't care for things black people do, they should not go see black people perform." Speaking of the treatment they received during the 1968 Olympics Smith said: "It is very discouraging to be in a team with white athletes. On the track you are Tommie Smith, the fastest man in the world, but once you are in the dressing rooms you are nothing more than a dirty Negro.”
Avery Brundage got his revenge on the two athletes who were members of the movement (OPHR) that had called for his removal as president of the IOC. The IOC decided to strip the 2 African American athletes of their medals and expel them from the Olympic village. As president of the IOC Brundage issued this statement: "The basic principle of the Olympic Games is that politics plays no part whatsoever in them. US athletes violated this universally accepted advertise domestic political views." Carlos and Smith were suspended by the American Olympic Committee and ordered to leave Mexico City.
When questioned during an interview about their reason for not wearing shoes when they stood on the podium to receive their medals on October 16, 1968 Carlos said: "We wanted the world to know that in Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, South Central Los Angeles, Chicago, that people were still walking back and forth in poverty without even the necessary clothes to live." Carlos speaking on the significance of the beads that were worn said: “The beads were for those individuals that were lynched, or killed that no-one said a prayer for, that were hung and tarred. It was for those thrown off the side of the boats in the middle passage. We were trying to wake the country up and wake the world up to.”
Their principled stance on October 16, 1968 in Mexico City took a toll on the lives of both Carlos and Smith. In his 2011 published book “The John Carlos Story: The Sports Moment That Changed the World” Carlos writes about leaving the podium: “I was ready to get off that track, proud that we’d said our piece. But I had no idea the moment on the medal stand would be frozen for all time. I had no idea what we’d face. I didn’t know or appreciate at that precise moment, that the entire trajectory of our young lives had just irrevocably changed.” The abuse they had experienced in Mexico was nothing compared to what awaited them on their return to America. In the 2005 published book "What's My Name, Fool?: Sports and Resistance in the United States" White American sports writer David Zirin interviewed Carlos who spoke of the negative effect of the racist backlash on his and his family’s life which he partly blames for his wife’s suicide in 1977. Speaking of his struggle to support his family following the 1968 protest Carlos said: “We were under tremendous economic stress. I took any job I could find. I wasn't too proud. Menial jobs, security jobs, gardener, caretaker, whatever I could do to try to make ends meet. We had four children and some nights I would have to chop up our furniture and make a fire in the middle of our room just to stay warm.” His family was subjected to abuse from the CIA and the FBI including surveillance and emotional harassment. In an October 2011 interview with Amy Goodman of “Democracy Now” Carlos spoke of his phone being tapped, he, his wife and children followed by members of the FBI and CIA. His wife was sent anonymous letters accusing her husband of various types of misconduct until she suffered a breakdown and eventually committed suicide.
Both men survived the attacks and today Carlos and Smith are recognized as heroes of the Civil Rights movement and both have written autobiographies: “The John Carlos Story: The Sports Moment That Changed the World” published 2011 and “Silent Gesture: The Autobiography of Tommie Smith” published 2008. Unfortunately you would have to search far and wide to find an African American athlete who would be willing to speak out or stand up against the abuse of fellow African Americans today. African American sports writer Shaun Powell addresses this in his 2007 published book: “Souled Out? How Blacks Are Winning and Losing in Sports” where he writes: “Every once in a while a lonely cry in the wilderness from the rare black athlete who chooses to speak out on issues. Otherwise muffled by wealth and softened by a fawning society black athletes today share a common role model and mentor. They’d rather not be like Tommie Smith and John Carlos. They’d rather be like Mike.”

Tuesday, October 7, 2014


October is Black History Month in the United Kingdom. There has been an African Presence in Britain for centuries although we are led to believe that Africans arrived in Britain as enslaved people during the dreadful Maafa when millions were kidnapped and dragged out of the African continent. Guyanese historian Dr. Ivan Van Sertima and African American historian Dr. Runoko Rashidi published "African Presence in Early Europe" in 1985.
The documented African presence in Britain according to White British author Peter Fryer goes back to the year 210. In his 1984 published book “Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain” Fryer wrote: “There were Africans in Britain before the English came here. They were soldiers in the Roman imperial army that occupied the southern part of our island for three and a half centuries. Though the earliest attested date for this unit’s presence here is 253-8, an African soldier is reputed to have reached Britain by the year 210.” African historian and anthropologist Dr. Cheikh Anta Diop in his 1974 published book “The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality” wrote about the megalithic culture of Africans which can be found replicated in Britain proving the presence of Africans in ancient Britain. Writing of the construction of megalithic structures Diop states: "These are found only in lands inhabited by Negroes or Negroids, or in places that they have frequented, the area that Speiser calls “the great megalithic civilization,” which extends from Africa to India, Australia, South America, Spain and Brittany. That megalithic civilization in Brittany belongs to the second millennium, the period when the Phoenicians frequented those regions. This combination of facts should leave no doubt on the southern and Negro origin of the megaliths in Brittany."
Anthony Richard Birley a White British historian has written about the African presence in ancient Britain in his 1971 published book “Septimius Severus: The African Emperor.” Britain had been invaded, conquered and was part of the Roman Empire from 54 BC to AD 409. Britain was part of the Roman Empire when the African Emperor Septimius Severus was in power (AD 193 to 211) and there were Africans living in Britain. Information from the UK National Archives state: “In Roman times, Black troops were sent to the remote and barbaric province of Britannia, and some of them stayed when the Roman legions left Britain. Africans have been present in Europe from classical times. In the 2nd and 3rd centuries Roman soldiers of African origin served in Britain, and some stayed after their military service ended.”
The 2012 published book “Black Salt: Seafarers of African Descent on British Ships” by Black British historian Dr. Ray Costello is a source of information about this group: “In this fascinating work, Dr. Ray Costello examines the work and experience of seamen of African descent in Britain's navy, from impressed slaves to free Africans, British West Indians, and British-born Black sailors. Seamen from the Caribbean and directly from Africa have contributed to both the British Royal Navy and Merchant Marine from at least the Tudor period and by the end of the period of the British Slave Trade at least three per-cent of all crewmen were black mariners. Black sailors signed off in British ports helped the steady growth of a black population.” In spite of such information about the African presence in Britain most of what is acknowledged when the history of Africans in Britain is recognized is the British enslavement of Africans and the aftermath of emancipation. The most recognized, acknowledged and documented group of Africans in Britain are the descendants of enslaved Africans from the Caribbean who immigrated to Britain on the MV Windrush (June 22, 1948) known as “The Windrush Generation.” According to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) “The arrival of the SS Empire Windrush in June 1948 at Tilbury Dock, Essex, in England, marked the beginning of post-war mass migration. The ship had made an 8,000 mile journey from the Caribbean to London with 492 passengers on board from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and other islands. Most of the passengers were ex-servicemen seeking work. This marked the beginning of post-war mass migration. When they walked down the gangplank onto British soil they could not have imagined that their journey would begin an important landmark in the history of London and the rest of country. The passengers on board the Windrush were invited to come to Britain after World War Two, to assist with labour shortages. Many of the passengers had fought for Britain during the war. They later became known as the 'Windrush Generation.’”
Jamaican poet and educator Louise Simone Bennett-Coverley (Miss Lou) immortalized that experience in her poem Colonization in Reverse In his poem Inglan is a Bitch UK based Jamaican dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson has addressed the plight of the Windrush Generation and those who followed.
Even though there has been an African presence in Britain for these many centuries there still remains a need for a British “Black History Month” because the history is not part of the curriculum and many British are not aware of that history.

Monday, October 6, 2014


On October 6, 1976 thirty eight years ago 11 Guyanese lost their lives in an act of terror committed by a United States trained agent Luis Clemente Faustino Posada Carriles. On October 6, 1976 Guyana lost several potential doctors, all of them 18 year olds on their way to Cuba on scholarship to pursue medical studies. The bombing of Cubana flight 455 on October 6, 1976 remains the worst act of terrorism aboard a commercial airline in the Americas in the 20th century. It was historically the worst act of terrorism aboard a commercial airline in the Americas until the plane that brought down the twin towers on September 11, 2001.
The United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) trained the terrorist Luis Clemente Faustino Posada Carriles who planted two toothpaste bombs on Cubana flight 455 which carried 78 people (73 passengers and 5 crew members) all of whom perished in the blast. Luis Clemente Faustino Posada Carriles who lives in Miami, Florida is the notorious terrorist who is responsible for the bombing of the Cubana Airlines Flight 455 in which 78 people including 11 Guyanese were killed on October 6, 1976.
With the USA declared "war on terror" which George W. Bush declared with much fanfare on September 20, 2001 one has to wonder why the American government is harbouring a known terrorist who is feted in the Miami Cuban community. In a speech on September 20, 2001, Bush said: “And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation in every region now has a decision to make: Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.”
Yet on October 6, 2014 thirty eight years since the CIA terrorist Luis Clemente Faustino Posada Carriles destroyed the lives, the promising futures of 78 people including 11 Guyanese (several 18 year old potential doctors, a 9 year old and a young mother who left her 2 month old baby with the grandmother) there has been no offer of compensation to the families who lost their loved ones in what has been recognized as the most deadly terrorist airline attack in the western hemisphere in the 20th century.
On October 6, 1976 with the bombing of Cubana flight 455 irreparable damage was done to the people of Guyana by a terrorist trained by and harboured by the American government. Should Guyanese demand compensation from the American government for this act of terrorism? Guyana cannot kidnap the CIA trained terrorist Luis Clemente Faustino Posada Carriles from American soil and put him on trial for the brutal assassination of 11 Guyanese. Guyana cannot invade America for harbouring terrorists.


Since 1992 October has been designated Women’s History Month. October was selected to commemorate the “Persons Case” in which the British Privy Council (then Canada’s highest court of appeal) ruled in October 1929 that women were persons under the law, a decision that contradicted an earlier ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada. Five White Canadian women took the case to the British Privy Council and won the right to become members of the Senate. Even after that “victory” not all Canadian women were considered equal. A quote from the CBC website ( informs that: “Most women of colour - including Chinese women, "Hindu" or East Indian women, Japanese women - weren't allowed to vote at the provincial and federal level until the late 1940s. And under federal law, aboriginal women covered by the Indian Act couldn't vote for band councils until 1951, and couldn't vote in federal elections until 1960. So, there you go - it wasn't until 1960 that ALL Canadian women finally had the right to vote.” The article entitled “Women & The Right To Vote In Canada: An Important Clarification” was published on February 26, 2013. It is not surprising that the “Famous Five” led by Emily Murphy did not pay attention to the fact that there were groups of women in Canada who could not even vote much less hope to sit in the Senate. Emily Murphy in her 1922 published book “The Black Candle” made her disdain for racialized people very clear. In her book she attacks “Chinese, Hindus, Mexicans and Negroes” as people unfit to live in Canada. Some people have sought to excuse her White supremacist diatribe as being a product of her time. To give Emily Murphy her due she did fight for the rights of White Canadian women.
While planning to write about Women’s History Month I thought about the more than 200 schoolgirls who were kidnapped by a group of men in Nigeria who call themselves “Boko Haram” which supposedly means “Western education is a sin” in the Hausa language. Some scholars have argued that is not a literal translation. Whatever the two words mean the group that bears that name has done irreparable damage to parents, siblings, friends and community members of the kidnapped girls. Even the girls who managed to escape are traumatized. Following the April 15 kidnapping of the more than 200 girls from their school there was a flurry of activity including the “Bring Back Our Girls” publicity campaign. The campaign garnered international attention and participation. For a few weeks it seemed the fashionable thing to do was organize a “Bring Back Our Girls” event with much media hype and even politicians seeking publicity eagerly agreeing to address the crowds that gathered. Even the celebrities were out in numbers displaying their “Bring Back Our Girls” signs posing for the paparazzi. Social media lit up; facebook, twitter, hashtag, everything imaginable was used during the few short weeks that posing with a placard reading “Bring Back Our Girls” was fashionable. The First Lady of the United States was photographed somewhere in the White House with her placard reading “Bring Back Our Girls.”
On May 6 US President Barack Obama accompanied by US Secretary of State John Kerry held a press conference where it was announced that the US government would commit military resources in an effort to find the kidnapped girls. Kerry announced: "Our embassy in Abuja is prepared to form a coordination cell that could provide expertise on intelligence, investigations and hostage negotiations and to help facilitate information-sharing and victim assistance. And we are immediately engaging in order to implement this. We remain deeply concerned about the welfare of these young girls." Well here we are almost 5 months later and the girls have not been rescued plus the US government seems to have forgotten all about them including Kerry in spite of the “deep concern about the welfare of these young girls” that he expressed in May.
Now it is almost as if the world has forgotten about these unfortunate girls, even here in Canada as we prepare to “celebrate” Women’s History Month there is no mention of “Bring Back Our Girls” of whom approximately 200 remain missing. The group that kidnapped the girls may be considered a lunatic fringe of the society in which they dwell. Here in Canada there is no such lunatic fringe (that I am aware of.) Yet there are hundreds of missing Aboriginal women and not much of a public outcry by Canadians. The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) in a report “NWAC's response to the Special Committee on Violence Against Indigenous Women (SCVAIW)” released in March, 2014 wrote: “NWAC has been addressing the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls in Canada for many years and remains deeply concerned that this issue is far from being resolved. NWAC documented 582 cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls in Canada through the Sisters In Spirit project, which ended in 2010; however, we continue to hear of “new” cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls from various regions in Canada. Just recently, research carried out by an Ottawa University Doctoral candidate, revealed that number to be well over 800. NWAC is the only organization to have systemically collected data on this issue and in doing so, was able to identify the many factors and commonalities that put these women and girls at risk. ” The report also includes this statement from NWAC president, Michèle Audette: “This would have been an opportune time for the Government to demonstrate to all Canadians, and to our International colleagues as well, that it truly is committed to ending all forms of violence against Aboriginal women and girls. This report fails to show the needed commitment and resources to adequately address this ongoing tragedy – a tragedy that is a reflection on Canada as a whole.” On Friday March 7 the federal Conservatives rejected appeals for a national inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women.
In the United States where President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry promised to support the search and effort to rescue the kidnapped Nigerian school girls there are thousands of missing African American girls. According to the founders of the organization “Black and Missing” although African Americans are 12% of the population they account for 34% of people who are missing.
October is Women’s History Month and we should be concerned about all the women and girls who are missing. There should be an outcry and a campaign to find them all instead of creating a show for a few weeks about the kidnapped girls who do not live in North America or any developed nation and can quickly be forgotten. Every life is valuable and should be equally valued. Women’s History Month can be used as the starting point to put more effort into investigating and searching for all missing women.
In Toronto there will be a "Sisters in Spirit Week" held at the "Native Women's Resource Centre of Toronto" (NWRCT) which is located at 191 Gerrard Street East. The "Sisters in Spirit Week" includes a letter writing campaign with Amnesty International and Button Making with Native Youth Sexual Health Network from 10:30 am to 12:30 pm at NWRCT on Thursday, October 2. There is also an NWRCT presentation and teach-in: "Dispelling Stereotypes about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women" from 5:00 to 7:00 pm at NWRCT with Dr. Suzanne Stewart and Lee Maracle. On Friday, October 3 a "Social Media Campaign" to raise awareness about Sisters in Spirit and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women using twitter, Facebook, etc. The week's activities will culminate in a "Sisters in Spirit Vigil" on Saturday October 4 in Allan Gardens (Sherbourne and Gerrard Streets) from 6:30 to 8:30pm.

Friday, September 26, 2014


Guyana is an Amerindian word which means Land of many waters. September is Amerindian Heritage Month in Guyana and has been officially recognized as such since 1995. The word Amerindian is a combination of the words American Indian. This is the name that was given to the indigenous people of the Americas, the Caribbean and the Guianas by the European colonizers who arrived in this part of the world on the heels of “explorer” Christopher Columbus and others of his ilk. We know that Columbus did not “discover” any new lands when he arrived in this part of the world since these lands were already populated. What many people surprisingly still do not know is that Columbus was lost when he happened upon these shores. He was on his way to India and with the arrogance of Europeans, on landing and deciding that he was in India named the people he met “Indians.” The name obviously stuck and more than five hundred year later the indigenous people of the “Americas” remain “Indians.”
Guyana formerly “British Guiana” also fondly known as “BG” or sarcastically sometimes referred to as “Bookers Guiana” in days of yore is the only English speaking country on the South American continent. Guyana is also home to nine groups of Amerindians who mostly live in Guyana’s interior area of rainforests and savannah land. The Guyana census of 2002 puts the Amerindian population at 9% of the country’s inhabitants. The vast majority of other Guyanese (90%) live on the narrow coastland. Guyana’s 83,000 square miles is home to less than 800,000 people, the 2012 census puts the number at 795,369. The petroglyphs found near Kurupukari in the Iwokrama rainforest in Guyana prove that Guyana’s indigenous people (Arawaks, Arecunas, Akawaios, Caribs, Macushis, Patamonas, Wapisianas, Warraus and Wai-Wais) have lived on the South American continent since at least 5000 BCE.
As a child attending Primary School (Elementary/Grade School) in Guyana we read about the Arawaks in our “reading books.” Those “Caribbean Reader” books were a series which began from the Preparatory Division A (Grade one) with Mr. Joe a farmer and his animals Miss Tibs (a cat) Mother Hen and her chick Percy, Mr. Dan (a dog) Master Willy (a pig) Mr. Grumps (a goat) Miss Peg (a donkey) and Mrs. Cuddy (a cow.) In Book 2 which we read in Standard 2 (Grade 4) we read the story of Rainstorm – an Arawak story explaining the reasons for rainfall. The story told of an Arawak woman who became stuck between the sky and earth and when it rained she was crying because she could not return to the sky or come down to earth. In the series of Caribbean Readers there were other stories about some of the indigenous people of the Caribbean and South America (the Arawaks and Caribs.) These stories did not include the other native people of Guyana (Arecunas, Akawaios, Macushis, Patamonas, Wapisianas, Warraus and Wai-Wais) who I did not know about until my father (a police officer) was transferred to the Rupununi. In the Rupununi Savannahs where we lived for several years we met several groups of Amerindian people and learned of their culture and their history.
In the Rupununi which was somewhat isolated from the mainland of Guyana, the Amerindian people frequently crossed the border which Guyana shares with Brazil because families lived in both countries and spoke English, Portuguese and their native languages. Amerindians and their culture thrived in the Rupununi where every year at Easter while Guyanese on the coastland celebrated with kite flying the Amerindians celebrated with a rodeo. The vaqueros (cowboys) who worked on the various ranches scattered across the Rupununi would display their skills at staying seated on a bucking bronco, fastening a lasso on a wild bull and riding same, milking wild cows, racing and subduing greasy pigs and many other entertaining activities. The Rupununi Rodeo was the highlight of the year for everyone living the region. The staple food for the Amerindians was farine and tasso. Farine is made from grated cassava the after the cassava juice has been squeezed out; what is left is sifted and then parched in a heated flat pan leaving grains which is eaten with tasso (dried beef.) The Amerindian culture was also expressed through dance performances and language. In 1977 African Guyanese linguist Dr. Walter F. Edwards now a professor at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, did a study of the Akawaio and Arecuna languages through the University of Guyana. Together with another African Guyanese linguist Dr. Kean Gibson who is now a professor of Linguistics and Anthropology at the University of the West Indies they published An introduction to the Akawaio and Arekuna peoples of Guyana.
Interest in Guyana’s indigenous people and their inclusion in the Guyanese society also led to the Guyana government including the Amerindian word Mashramani as the celebration of Guyana’s Republic Day on February 23. Mashramani means "the celebration of a job well done." Timehri which means “paintings and drawings on the rock” was the name of Guyana’s national airport (named by the then Guyanese government to honour the indigenous people of Guyana, changed from Atkinson in 1969) until 1997 when the new Guyana government elected in 1992 made another name change eliminating the Amerindian name.
In 1972 the Umana Yana which means "Meeting place of the people" was commissioned by then Prime Minister of Guyana Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham. The Umana Yana was built by a team of about 60 members of the Wai-Wai people. The famous benab which was modelled on the traditional home of the Wai-Wai people was located on Main Street, Kingston in Georgetown, Guyana’s capital city. This historic landmark stood 55 feet (16.78 metres) high and was made from thatched allibanna and manicole palm leaves and wallaba posts lashed together with mukru, turu and nibbi vines. There were no ladders, nails or hammers used in the construction of the Umana Yana and when it was finished it occupied an area of 460 square metres, which made it the largest benab in Guyana. The Umana Yana was specially constructed to serve as a V.I.P. lounge and recreation spot during the Non-Aligned Foreign Ministers Conference held in Georgetown in August 1972. Over the 42 years that the Umana Yana stood in majestic splendour and a testament to the skill and representing the recognition of Amerindian culture in Guyana, it was used as an exhibition and conference centre.
Unfortunately the historic Umana Yana is no longer standing in pride of place in Georgetown. In the midst of celebrating Amerindian Heritage Month in Guyana the historic building was which was a testament to the high regard in which Guyana’s Amerindian people and their culture are held, was destroyed by a mysterious fire. On September 9 the building burned reportedly with 15 minutes. There is of course great hope and anticipation that the Umana Yana will be rebuilt. Representatives from the Peoples National Congress Reform which is the political party of the late LFS Burnham who commissioned the construction of the Umana Yana issued a statement following the destruction of the historic building: “The PNCR has a proud association with this historic landmark, which was commissioned by our Founder Leader Forbes Burnham in 1972 and was erected by a team of about sixty Wai–Wai Amerindians, one of the nine indigenous tribes of Guyana. Everything must be done to ensure that this historic and iconic landmark is rebuilt as soon as possible.”
The Guyana government has promised to rebuild the Umana Yana. A representative speaking on behalf of the Guyana government is quoted as saying: “We are happy that no one was injured and we will be working along with the fire service to determine the cause of the fire…we have to include this in next year’s budget because this is an important heritage building for us and we would want to see it erected back as fast as possible.”


On September 25, 1992 several newspapers scattered across US cities (including Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Orlando, Philadelphia and Washington) carried articles about a movie portraying the African experience in apartheid South Africa. Even Roger Ebert America’s best known film critic had an article published in the “Chicago Sun-Times” on September 25, 1992 about the movie “Sarafina.” The movie was an adaptation of the musical based on the lived experience of an African school girl, “Sarafina” during the brutal apartheid era. Sarafina is set in Soweto a township in South Africa which became internationally known on June 16, 1976 when White police opened fire on a group of African students during a demonstration. The demonstration was organized to protest the decision of the apartheid regime to force African students to learn Afrikaans. The compulsory teaching of Afrikaans which was the Dutch derived dialect used as the language of choice of the descendants of the Dutch settler/colonizer class living in South Africa was resisted by the African students. Africans already forced to speak a European language (English) did not look kindly on being forced to speak a European dialect (not surprisingly Afrikaans is now considered a language) borrowed from Dutch with a sprinkling of German and Portuguese.
The result of the Soweto demonstration/protest of African students was brutal police retaliation with reportedly two African students killed and many injured. The photograph of a wounded and dying 13 year old Hector Pieterson carried in the arms of another student Mbuyisa Makhubo as Hector's obviously distressed 17 year old sister Antoinette Sithole ran alongside them went viral. That photograph became the symbol of the White police brutality against African students in South Africa in much the same way as the brutally beaten and disfigured body of 14 year old Emmett Till became the image of White supremacy and brutality during the Civil Rights era in the USA. Today the body of Michael Brown lying uncovered for hours on a street in Ferguson, Missouri after being killed by a White police officer stands right alongside that of Emmett Till.
The deadly savagery of the White police attack against demonstrating African students in Soweto gave rise to more protests from African students and international condemnation of the White minority apartheid regime. The brutal crackdown including the killing and injuring of African school children by White police led to more protests across South Africa which resulted in approximately 1,000 African students killed by White police. The “Bantu education” sought to not only force African students to learn Afrikaans but also to mis-educate African students so that they could only aspire to work in menial jobs that would benefit White people living in South Africa. The “Bantu Education Act No 47” authored by Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd (then Minister of Native Affairs, later Prime Minister) is described on the South African History Online (SAHO) website: “Its stated aim was to prevent Africans receiving an education that would lead them to aspire to positions they wouldn't be allowed to hold in society. Instead Africans were to receive an education designed to provide them with skills to serve their own people in the Bantustan ‘homelands’ or to work in manual labour jobs under white control. This legislation was condemned and rejected as inferior from the time of its introduction. This cornerstone of apartheid ideology-in-practice wreaked havoc on the education of black people in South Africa, and deprived and disadvantaged millions for decades. Its devastating personal, political and economic effects continue to be felt and wrestled with today.” The Act is also described as: “A pillar of the apartheid project, this legislation was intended to separate black South Africans from the main, comparatively very well-resourced education system for whites.”
The musical “Sarafina” was first presented in June 1987 at “The Market Theatre” in Johannesburg, South Africa. Sarafina premiered on Broadway on January 28, 1989 at the Cort Theatre and closed on 2 July 1989 following 597 performances and 11 previews. The movie Sarafina starring Whoopi Goldberg as an African teacher in Soweto opened in American cinemas in September 1992. The movie brought the South African student protests of 1976 to Americans in 1992 the same year Nelson Mandela was negotiating with Frederik Willem de Klerk in an attempt to steer South Africa into becoming a democracy where the African majority would for the first time have the right to vote and enjoy other Human rights.
On September 26, 1992 a “Record of Understanding” was signed at a meeting between F W de Klerk the “State President of the Republic of South Africa” and Nelson Mandela the President of the African National Congress (ANC) held at the Kempton Park World Trade Centre in South Africa. The signing of this important document resulted in a commitment to a multiparty system of government and to the writing of a new Constitution for a democratic South Africa. Almost 2 years later over a 4 day period from April 26-29, 1944 South Africa held its first democratic elections where all citizens 18 and older regardless of race had an opportunity to vote. The ANC with Mandela as its leader won the election and South Africa had its first democratically elected government and President (Mandela.)
On September 25, South Africa's parliament elected Kgalema Motlanthe a former trade unionist, freedom fighter and deputy leader of the ANC as interim President when South Africa’s second democratically elected President Thabo Mbeki resigned just 9 months before the end of his presidency. In 2014 as South Africa celebrates 20 years of democracy there is an entire generation of African students for whom the term “Bantu education” are words in their history or social studies/social science books.