Sunday, February 23, 2014


“On the 4th July 1762, the Dutch slave-ship de Eenigheyt slipped over the bar at the entrance to the Berbice River, and taking the deeper eastern channel past Crab Island, dropped anchor in front of Post St. Andries. Among the two hundred and eighty-six slaves packed in her reeking hold was a young man named Atta, who was destined to become one of the great leaders of the 1763 Uprising. Chained near to him was his ship-brother Quabi, who was to follow him loyally to the end of his life. At this point, Atta had less than two years to live, but before he met his death, he and others would rock the Dutch plantation system in the Guianas to its very foundations. Before the Dutch would be able to reassert control over their colony, they would have been forced to mount the most massive military expedition against their former slaves ever seen in that part of the hemisphere. Never again until 1791 would any European nation come so close to losing an entire colony to its slaves.”
Excerpt from “The Berbice Uprising 1763” by A. J. McR Cameron published in 2013
On Wednesday, February 23, 1763 a group of Africans who had been enslaved by Dutch men and women in the country now known as Guyana struck a blow for freedom that is remembered in 2014, more than 250 years later. Articles and books have been written about the freedom fighting Africans who seized their freedom from the Dutch and became the first revolutionaries in the Americas. These Berbice revolutionaries made their bid for freedom before the American revolutionaries (1775–1783) or the Haitian revolutionaries (1791 - 1804.) Led by Kofi an Akan man kidnapped from present day Ghana who was enslaved on Plantation Lilienburg up the Canje Creek the Africans held the colony of Berbice for more than a year.
In 1762, the population of the Dutch colony of Berbice included 3,833 enslaved Africans, 244 Amerindians and 346 Europeans. The Dutch apparently kept meticulous records of the numbers in the colony. In the 1888 published “History of the Colonies Essequebo, Demerary and Berbice; From the Dutch Establishment to the Present Day” the author Pieter Marinus Netscher writes of the numbers occupying Berbice: “Thus the total population amounted to; 346 whites, 244 Indians and 3,833 negroes or 4423 souls.”
With the numbers at their disposal compared to the number of White people in the colony complete victory of the African revolutionaries was possible. However the Africans showed human compassion and instead tried to negotiate a settlement of sharing the land with their White enslavers. The Dutch like the proverbial fox were cunning and crafty luring the Africans into a false sense of security as they pretended to negotiate. The Dutch were actually waiting for reinforcements to arrive from other European colonies in the area as well as from Europe. When those reinforcements arrived in the persons of European soldiers the Africans were hunted, rounded up and put to death in the most horrifically barbaric manner. In “History of the Colonies Essequebo, Demerary and Berbice; From the Dutch Establishment to the Present Day” the author Pieter Marinus Netscher writes about what happened on April 28, 1764: “Next day the abominable execution took place: 17 of them were hanged, 8 broken on the wheel and 9 burnt, seven of them by slow fire. These last and most painful punishments which were inflicted on the rebel leaders displayed an ingenuity of cruelty which shows that in this respect the administration of criminal justice in 1764 since the execution of Balthazar Gerards had not become much milder. Almost all the negroes without a scream or groan suffered their punishment with steadfastness and really showed more dignity than some of the white spectators flocking to the execution.”
The most recent published book about the freedom fighting Africans in Berbice was written by White British author A.J. McR Cameron as a text book for secondary school students taking the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) examination. In her 2013 published book “The Berbice Uprising 1763” Cameron gives some reasons for the Africans decision to make a bid for their freedom: “Perhaps the most important single factor was the breakdown of Dutch authority, and the loss of administrative confidence which accompanied it. From 1762, the planters were nervous and panicky, seeing the shadow of revolt in every slave movement and whispered conversation. They were firmly convinced their slaves were on the brink of revolt and, in the end, their expectations were not disappointed. Their almost fatalistic attitude is illustrated by Burgher-Captain Kunckler, who fled immediately on receipt of the news of the 1763 Uprising, saying to his neighbour: “my dear neighbour, it is over for us and the Colony.” In “The Berbice Uprising 1763” A.J. McR Cameron continues: “The second reason the slaves gave for the Uprising was the cruelty of particular planters whom they named. These included Anthonij Barkeij and his overseer of Lelienburg; Widow Janssen of Nieuw Caraques, Van Staden of Elisabeth & Alexandria, Gysbert De Graef of Hoogstraaten, Burgher-CaptainVan Lentzing of Margaretha, Christina and Johan Dell of Juliana.”
In the 2007 published book “Encyclopedia of Slave Resistance and Rebellion, Volume 1” edited by White American history professor Junius P. Rodriguez the beginning of the Berbice Revolution is described: “At the start of the revolt in February 1763, the Cuffy-led rebels captured several plantations, among which were Magdalenenburg, Juliana, Mon Repos, Essendam, Lilienburg, Elizabeth and Alexandra, Hollandia and Zeelandia and Fort Nassau. On March 3, 1763, the rebels took over Perboom.” In “Encyclopedia of Slave Resistance and Rebellion, Volume 1” reasons why the enslaved Africans attempted to seize their freedom are also explained: “Some claim the revolt was a direct result of harsh and inhumane treatment of the enslaved but historians of the slavery period see this revolt as one element of the endemic nature of protest against slavery using violence, the highest form of protest.”
The thought that no human being would willingly submit to enslavement regardless of how “good” the enslaver treated them does not seem to enter the minds of White historians. Resisting enslavement is a natural human reaction. Although at one point in the United States any enslaved African who resisted their enslavement was diagnosed as suffering from a mental illness known as “drapetomania.” In 1851 a White physician Samuel Adolphus Cartwright wrote an article entitled “Diseases and Peculiarities of the Negro Race” where he explained that “the Bible calls for a slave to be submissive to his master, and by doing so, the slave will have no desire to run away.” In Cartwright’s estimation any enslaved African who refused this “natural condition” of being enslaved by a White man or woman was suffering from the mental illness “drapetomania.” The thousands of Africans who rose up against the Dutch enslavers in Berbice would have been considered to be suffering from mass drapetomania.
The Africans in Berbice in February 1763 began a movement that culminated in the eventual abolition of slavery in Guyana. Although the majority of those freedom fighters were eventually captured and cruelly executed the spirit of freedom seeking was not extinguished. There were several resistance efforts made by individual Africans and one major resistance from August 18 to 20, 1823 by enslaved Africans in Demerara. The spark lit by Kofi and his followers as freedom fighters who inspired Guyanese to struggle for freedom from colonization was recognized with a public holiday to commemorate February 23, 1763. Republic Day is celebrated in Guyana on February 23, the day chosen by the former President of Guyana, Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham. On February 23, 1970, the 207th anniversary of the beginning of the Berbice Revolution the former British Guiana became the Cooperative Republic of Guyana. Burnham also honoured the memory of Kofi and the freedom fighting Africans of the Berbice Revolution with a monument. The 1763 monument is located at Square of the Revolution in Guyana’s capital city Georgetown, stands 15 feet tall and weighs two and a half tons. Kofi (Cuffy) the leader of the Berbice Revolution was also enshrined as Guyana’s National Hero by then President Burnham.

Monday, February 17, 2014


What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sound of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants brass fronted impudence; your shout of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanks-givings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy -- a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.”
Excerpt from speech given by Frederick Douglass on July 5, 1852, Douglass gave a speech at an event commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence held at Rochester's Corinthian Hall.
In his 2010 published book “The State of the American Mind: Stupor and Pathetic Docility Volume II” African professor Amechi Okolo has included this information about Douglass’ July 5, 1852 speech: “On July 5, 1852, Douglass gave a speech at an event commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence, held at Rochester's Corinthian Hall. It was biting oratory, in which the speaker told his audience, "This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn." And he asked them, "Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day?"”
During this month of February when many acknowledge/celebrate the contributions, culture and history of Africans there are several events around and about the city, the province and the country. At these events oftentimes Africans are invited to speak. I say “oftentimes” because even though this is supposed to be Black History Month/African History Month/African Liberation Month you will find that sometimes the speaker can by no stretch of the imagination be described as African or Black. Take for instance Tim Wise a White man who is considered an authority on anti-racism and is invited to speak at Black History Month events. On such occasions I am reminded of Fredrick Douglass’ July 5, 1852 speech. In that speech Douglass took to task the White people who were so insensitive as to invite a formerly enslaved African to hopefully give a glowing speech in praise of American Independence when slavery as an institution was very much a part of the American society. Similarly it is at least insensitive to invite a White person who would never have experienced what it is to be an African living in a White supremacist culture to speak at a Black History Month event.
Black History Month/African History Month/African Liberation Month began as Negro History Week in 1926. This month was chosen by Carter Godwin Woodson because he wanted to honour Frederick Douglass who chose February 14 as his birth date. Douglass like many other enslaved Africans did not have their birth date documented. Douglass chose February 14 because he remembered his mother referring to him as her little “Valentine.” Douglass thought that he was born on February 14, 1818 but there is no documentation of his birth. In his autobiography Douglass wrote: “I was born in Tuckahoe, near Hillsborough, and about twelve miles from Easton in Talbot county, Maryland. I have no accurate knowledge of my age, never having seen any authentic record containing it. By far the larger part of the slaves know as little of their ages as horses know of theirs, and it is the wish of most masters within my knowledge to keep their slaves thus ignorant. I do not remember to have ever met a slave who could tell of his birthday. They seldom come nearer to it than planting-time, harvest-time, cherry-time, spring-time, or fall-time.” Douglass wrote in his autobiography that he only saw his mother about four or five times in his life before she transitioned when he was 7 years old. She was sold when he was an infant and would walk about 12 miles to see her child because she was sold to people who lived in the same area. Many enslaved Africans never saw their children or other relatives once they were sold. In “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself” which was first published in 1845 Douglass wrote: “It is a common custom, in the part of Maryland from which I ran away, to part children from their mothers at a very early age. Frequently, before the child has reached its twelfth month, its mother is taken from it, and hired out on some farm a considerable distance off, and the child is placed under the care of an old woman, too old for field labor.”
In his autobiography Douglass wrote about the horrors of slavery he had witnessed as a child as an adult. Douglass wrote about witnessing his aunt being brutalized by the White man who enslaved many of his relatives: “He was a cruel man, hardened by a long life of slaveholding. He would at times seem to take great pleasure in whipping a slave. I have often been awakened at the dawn of day by the most heart-rending shrieks of an own aunt of mine, whom he used to tie up to a joist, and whip upon her naked back till she was literally covered with blood. No words, no tears, no prayers, from his gory victim, seemed to move his iron heart from its bloody purpose. The louder she screamed, the harder he whipped; and where the blood ran fastest, there he whipped longest. He would whip her to make her scream, and whip her to make her hush; and not until overcome by fatigue, would he cease to swing the blood-clotted cowskin.” Douglass’ autobiography was used by abolitionists and the anti-slavery movement in which he was very actively involved. He is credited with playing a major role in the eventual abolition of slavery in the USA.
Douglass (February 14, 1818 – February 20, 1895) was an abolitionist, human rights and women’s rights advocate. He was definitely a man before his time. When the history of the abolition movement is written the heroes are invariably White. Not surprising as Chinua Achebe, the late Igbo author is famous for this quote: “Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” Fortunately Douglass wrote his autobiography and much of his work is archived at the American Library of Congress. It is important for us to know our history not only during February but very day. Because our names and languages were taken away from us during the centuries of enslavement many Africans in the Diaspora are lost and disconnected. Now is a good time to start reconnecting. Attend African History events and read, read, read!!

Saturday, February 8, 2014


Africa, Unite 'Cause we're moving right out of Babylon And we're going to our father's land How good and how pleasant it would be Before God and man To see the unification of all Africans As it's been said already let it be done We are the children of the Rastaman We are the children of the Higher Man Africa, Unite 'cause the children wanna come home Africa, Unite 'cause we're moving right out of Babylon And we're grooving to our father's land Unite for the Africans abroad, unite for the Africans a yard Africa, Unite
Excerpt from “Africa Unite” by Bob Marley and the Wailers released in 1979
Africa Unite is Bob Marley’s Pan-African anthem. For those who want to remember Marley as merely the man who sang “One Love” the image of a Pan-Africanist Marley is hard to take as reality. Similar to the whitewashed image of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., there is a movement to strip Marley of his Pan-African reality in spite of the many songs he wrote and sang that clearly shows the man’s philosophy. Listen to the lyrics of any of the songs from his “Survival” album and you will hear his protests against “Babylon System.”
Listening to the lyrics of Marley’s “Babylon System” you are left in no doubt that the man adhered to the philosophies of his fellow Jamaican and Pan-Africanist, the Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey. “We refuse to be, what you wanted us to be. We are what we are. That's the way it’s going to be (if you don't know) You can't educate I, for no equal opportunity. Talking 'bout my freedom, people freedom and liberty. Yeah, we've been trodding on the winepress. Much too long rebel, rebel. Babylon system is the vampire. Sucking the children day by day. Me say the Babylon system is the vampire Sucking the blood of the sufferers.” The “Babylon System” to which Marley refers is the same system that racially profiles Africans in Canada, the USA, the UK etc., Those people who claim to love Marley’s music yet are part of the system that racially profiles our youth here in Toronto need to listen to Marley’s “Uprising,” “Survival” and “Confrontation” albums. The lyrics of Marley’s “War” where he uses the words of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I will certainly give them something to talk and think about.
Part of His Majesty’s speech reads: “That until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned; That until there are no longer first-class and second-class citizens of any nation; That until the color of a man's skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes; That until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race; That until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained” His Majesty made his speech to the United Nations in 1963 and the speech was published in 1972 in the book “Important Utterances of H.I.M. Emperor Haile Selassie I 1963-1972.” The lyrics of Marley’s song “War” from the album “Rastaman Vibrations” which was released in 1976: “Until the philosophy which hold one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned Everywhere is war, me say war. That until there’s no longer first class and second class citizens of any nation, until the color of a man's skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes. Me say war. That until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all, without regard to race. Dis a war. That until that day the dream of lasting peace, world citizenship, rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion to be pursued, but never attained. Now everywhere is war.”
Nesta Robert Marley was born on February 6, 1945 in St Ann Parish, Jamaica which is also the birthplace of Garvey. Marley transitioned on May 11, 1981 when he was 36 years old. During his relatively short life span Marley achieved superstar status internationally performing reggae music world wide. Marley also became an unofficial ambassador of the Rastafari faith. He inspired many Africans on the continent and the Diaspora to proudly wear their natural hair in locs. Even those who do not adhere to the Rastafari faith proudly sport their locs.
Some of Marley’s lyrics also educated about the history of Africans. Marley’s “Buffalo soldiers” tells the story of enslaved Africans throughout the Americas. “Buffalo soldier, dreadlocked Rasta. There was a Buffalo Soldier in the heart of America. Stolen from Africa, brought to America. Fighting on arrival, fighting for survival. If you know your history then you would know where you're coming from then you wouldn't have to ask me who the heck do I think I am. Driven from the mainland to the heart of the Caribbean.” Our ancestors were stolen from Africa, kidnapped and transported in the filthy holds of ships to work their entire lives enriching the White men and women who worked them to death in places like Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Chile, Guyana, Jamaica, Peru and Suriname. The wealth that the coerced, unpaid labour of those enslaved African ancestors generated for the White families is still being enjoyed by the descendants of those families in the 21st century.
Bob Marley would have celebrated his 69th birthday on February 6, 2014. His birthday is celebrated wherever his music is heard. For more than 20 years there has been a Bob Marley Day proclamation from City Hall beginning with former Mayor Art Eggleton. Marley is one of our heroes who contributed to the cause of Africa and Africans worldwide and deserves to be remembered.

Sunday, February 2, 2014


If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated. Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history.
Carter Godwin Woodson (December 19, 1875 – April 3, 1950)
Carter Godwin Woodson was the founder of Negro History Week in 1926 which eventually became Black History Month and now African Heritage Month, African Liberation Month etc. Woodson was an African American historian, author and journalist. He was one of the first scholars to study African American history. He founded the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) on September 9, 1915 to address the lack of information on the history, culture and accomplishments of African Americans. The organization is 99 years old in 2014 and the theme the organization has chosen for this year’s Black History Month is "Civil Rights in America."
When Woodson established Negro History Week in 1926 he chose February to honour African American abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Woodson had attended Frederick Douglass High School in West Virginia and admired Douglass who fought his way out of slavery and wrote about his life as an enslaved African man in America. Douglass published three autobiographies, an amazing feat for a formerly enslaved African American. Douglass chose February 14 as his date of birth because he remembered his mother referring to him as her "little Valentine." Like the majority of enslaved Africans the date of his birth was not documented since the White people who owned the Africans considered them property and not quite human and would sell them at whim. This happened even when a White man (owner) was the biological father of the enslaved African person. Douglass documented February 14, 1818 as his birth date. He escaped from that "peculiar institution" (as slavery was politely termed by some White people in America) on September 3, 1838. In Canada White people politely referred to the Africans they enslaved as "servants for life." Douglass famously said: "Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have the exact measure of the injustice and wrong which will be imposed on them." He reached the end of submitting when he was 20 years old while many lived their entire lives submitting.  
In 1915 when Woodson decided that he would educate Africans in America about their true history and not what they had been force fed by White people he published "The Education Of The Negro Prior To 1861 A History of the Education of the Colored People of the United States from the Beginning of Slavery to the Civil War." In the preface of his book Woodson acknowledged that Africans in American went to great lengths to educate themselves: "the accounts of the successful strivings of Negroes for enlightenment under most adverse circumstances read like beautiful romances of a people in an heroic age." The following year 1916, Woodson began publishing "The Journal of Negro History" which is now "The Journal of African American History" (JAAH) On their website ( the states: "Now in its 98th volume, The Journal of African American History publishes the latest research on the history of U. S. reparations movements, the life and legacy of Malcolm X, African American women in slavery and freedom, and other significant topics." Woodson continued to educate African Americans about their history through his books and journal (which was published four times each year) from 1916 to present.
  Woodson made the documentation and promotion of the history of Africans his life’s work. He wrote and published 19 books about African history and culture. His most popular book is The Mis-education of the Negro which was published in 1933 where he addresses a problem that plagues our community to this day: "When you control a man's thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his 'proper place' and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary." Woodson was also a regular contributor to the publication of another African who was very passionate about educating Africans about their history. Woodson frequently wrote articles for the weekly publication "Negro World" which was owned by The Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey. The two men shared similar values and thoughts on the condition of and how to improve the lot of Africans.
In February 1926, Woodson decided that devoting an entire week to the celebration of the achievements of African Americans was another way of educating African Americans about their history. On February 7, 1926 Woodson launched the first "Negro History Week" and the rest is history. The one week celebration became an entire month celebration 50 years later in 1976. Today 98 years after Woodson initiated a one week celebration and recognition of the history of Africans there remains a need for this month of acknowledgement as our history and achievements continue to be ignored and marginalized in the curriculum and the history books.
  In Canada the celebration of Black History Month began in the 1950s when the Canadian Negro Women’s Association introduced the celebration in Toronto. In 1979 the Ontario government officially recognized Black History Month because of the tireless advocacy of the Ontario Black History Society. In 1995 the Honourable Jean Augustine brought forward a motion to recognize Black History Month nationally before Canada’s Parliament. Augustine who at the time was a Member of Parliament serving as Parliamentary Secretary and incidentally the first African Canadian woman to be elected a Member of Parliament was successful in gaining unanimous support for the motion. The House of Commons declared a national Black History Month, which went into effect in 1996. Black History Month is now recognized across Canada. However we can name the month African Heritage Month, African History Month, African Liberation Month etc., as we practice the second Kwanzaa principle Kujichagulia (Self-determination.)


The air is the only place free from prejudices. I knew we had no aviators, neither men nor women, and I knew the Race needed to be represented along this most important line, so I thought it my duty to risk my life to learn aviation and to encourage flying among men and women of our Race who are so far behind the White race in this modern study.
Quote from Bessie Coleman (January 26, 1892 - April 30, 1926)
Long before the Civil Rights Movement which reached its zenith 50 years ago in 1964 with what many considered radical changes, African American men and women like Elizabeth "Bessie" Coleman were striving for the betterment of the race.Elizabeth "Bessie" Coleman was born on January 26, 1892 in Atlanta, Texas to Susan and George Coleman. Coleman is part of the aviation history of America as the first African American pilot with an international pilot's license. This historic achievement was during a time when most African Americans male and female were relegated to less than second class citizens.
Like many African American families in the southern United States at that time the members of her family were tenant farmers on land owned by a White family. African American tenant farmers did not fare a whole lot better than when they were enslaved by White landowners. Many of them lived and worked on the property of their former enslavers. In 1892 when Coleman was born Africans in American had been freed from chattel slavery a mere 27 years. “Passed by Congress on January 31, 1865, and ratified on December 6, 1865, the 13th amendment abolished slavery in the United States and provides that "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
Growing up in the shadow of slavery and the reality of the rabid racism, White supremacist culture and laws of Jim Crow it is therefore amazing what Coleman was able to achieve in her 34 years of life. As tenant farmers the Coleman family were forced to pick cotton to make a living. Bessie Coleman was an excellent student whose education was frequently interrupted at cotton picking time when the children of tenant farmers were forced to leave their studies to pick cotton alongside their parents. Coleman also helped her mother with the domestic work she did for White families in order for the family to survive financially.
After completing secondary school and unable to find work other than as a domestic worker serving a White family, or the backbreaking work of picking cotton as a tenant farmer, Coleman eventually moved to Chicago. She moved to Chicago in 1915 during the time when many African Americans were leaving the southern states and moving north. Coleman was one of the estimated 6 million African Americans who moved to Chicago from Southern states in what became known as “The Great Migration.” As the first European tribal conflict (1914-1918) was in full swing, African Americans were needed to feed the war machine in various capacities. In his 1989 published book: “Land of Hope: Chicago, Black Southerners, And the Great Migration” White historian James R. Grossman writes: “When asked what they liked about the North, nearly all black newcomers interviewed by the Chicago Commission on Race Relations in 1920 mentioned ‘freedom.’ This freedom cannot be neatly defined. It meant different things to different people as it had fifty years earlier at emancipation. For nearly all who left the South during the Great Migration it embodied some combination of rights, opportunities, dignity and pride. In Chicago black men and women did not have to truckle to whites. They could vote, a right that symbolized their full citizenship and the legitimacy of their participation in the affairs of the broader community. They could work in factories, where they earned high wages, envisioned the possibility of promotion and made meaningful choices on the crucial issue of unionization.” This was a far cry from the life African Americans in the southern states were living. In her 2013 published book “The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration” African American Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist and historian Isabel Wilkerson writes that African Americans living in the south “had to step off the sidewalk when a white person approached, were banished to jobs nobody else wanted no matter their skill or ambition, couldn’t vote, but could be hanged on suspicion of the pettiest infraction. In everyday interactions, a black person could not contradict a white person or speak unless spoken to first. The consequences for the slightest misstep were swift and brutal.” This was the life that Bessie Coleman and the estimated 6 million African Americans fled when they migrated to Chicago. Of course with the end of World War I the need for the labour of African Americans in Chicago was over and there were brutal attacks by White mobs on African American communities.
Coleman joined her brothers who had moved to Chicago previously and instead of working as a domestic (one of the jobs many African American women performed in Chicago) she trained as a manicurist and worked at a barbershop. Coleman was enthralled by the stories she heard from African American pilots returning from World War I and her brothers' stories of French women pilots. During that time in America only a few wealthy White women were pilots. That did not stop the young African American woman who worked as a manicurist in a Chicago barber shop from determining to become a pilot. Coleman tried to enroll in aviation schools, but was rejected because she was an African American woman. Finally with the support of Robert Sengstacke Abbott, African American businessman and owner of the popular newspaper “The Chicago Defender” and Jesse Binga an African American real estate mogul and banker (owner of the Binga Bank) Bessie Coleman headed to France to learn how to fly. She had met Abbot when she gave him a manicure. He researched the feasibility of an African American woman being accepted into aviation school in France and found that she stood a better chance of being accepted in a European aviation school. Coleman studied French, saved her money and with financial support from the two African American businessmen travelled to France to learn how to fly.
In the 2005 published book “Bessie Coleman” authors Philip S. Hart, Martha Cosgrove write: “In December 1920 Bessie Coleman began taking flying lessons at the Ecole d’Aviation des Freres Caudron. The Federation Aeronautique Internationale issued Bessie’s pilot’s license on June 15, 1921.” In September 1921 Coleman returned to America as the first African American woman with an international pilot’s license. After a second stint of training in Europe (advanced training) as an acrobatic pilot Coleman returned to the USA where she became a stunt pilot performing exhibition flying.
Touring the country as a barnstorming pilot, where she insisted that she would not perform for segregated audiences. She was an inspiration for many young African Americans, who began to view flying as a possible career. She lectured at schools, churches and recreational facilities in the African American community, encouraging African Americans to enter the aviation field and she planned to open an aviation school for African Americans.
Coleman did not get to realize her dream of opening an aviation school in the USA where African Americans could learn to fly. In the 2004 published book “Hidden History - Profiles of Black Americans” White author Walter Andy Hazen: “On April 30, 1926, she was killed in a bizarre crash in Jacksonville, Florida. A wrench had somehow jammed the controls of her plane, causing to go into a dive and flip over. She had neither buckled her seat belt nor taken a parachute with her. Consequently she was thrown from the plane to her death.”
Bessie Coleman’s pioneering spirit and her determination not to let American racism limit her ambitions served as an inspiration for African Americans to pursue aviation as a profession. As a tribute to her inspirational life, in 1931, African American pilots from Chicago instituted an annual fly over of her grave. In 1977 a group of African American women pilots established the Bessie Coleman Aviators Club and in 1992 a Chicago City council resolution requested that the U.S. Postal Service issue a Bessie Coleman stamp. The resolution noted that "Bessie Coleman continues to inspire untold thousands even millions of young persons with her sense of adventure, her positive attitude, and her determination to succeed."


“It is impossible to create a formula for the future which does not take into account that our society has been doing something special against the Negro for hundreds of years. How then can he be absorbed into the mainstream of American life if we do not do something special for him now, in order to balance the equation and equip him to compete on a just and equal basis? What will it profit him to be able to send his children to an integrated school if the family income is insufficient to buy them school clothes? What will he gain by being permitted to move into an integrated neighborhood if he cannot afford to do so because he is unemployed or has a low-paying job with no future? In asking for something special, the Negro is not seeking charity. He does not want to languish on welfare rolls any more than the next man. He does not want to be given a job he cannot handle. Neither, however, does he want to be told that there is no place where he can be trained to handle it. Few people consider the fact that, in addition to being enslaved for two centuries, the Negro was, during all those years, robbed of the wages of his toil. No amount of gold could provide an adequate compensation for the exploitation and humiliation of the Negro in America down through the centuries. Not all the wealth of this affluent society could meet the bill. Yet a price can be placed on unpaid wages.”
From "Why We Can't Wait" by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., published 1964
Dr. King's birthday will be recognized with a National Holiday on Monday, January 20, 2014. On Monday, January 20, 1986 the first Martin Luther King Jr., day was officially recognized as a National Holiday. Dr. King is the only person who was never an American President to have a National Holiday named in his honour. It is an honour which he richly deserves since he put his life (and the lives of his family) on the line to fight for change to the brutal oppression of living in a White supremacist society. At that time African Americans (the descendants of the enslaved Africans whose unpaid labour built America) were relegated to living on the periphery of American society. They were third class citizens in the country of their birth. Dr. King was the face and body of the Civil Rights Movement, an easy target of the White supremacist American government and society. Dr. King was the target of a relentless campaign organized by the government carried out by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) under the leadership of John Edgar Hoover. Hoover had a long history of tormenting African American leaders beginning with his targeting of the Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey who he hounded for five years (1919 to 1924) until he railroaded Garvey into jail. Hoover described Garvey (one of our most recognized freedom fighters) as a "notorious negro agitator" who he was determined to destroy. Decades later, Hoover would use the same methods of harassment he practiced on Garvey against other African American leaders including Dr. King, El Hajj Malik El Shabazz and members of the Black Panther Party. The Schomburg Centre for Research in Black Culture has a list of many of the African Americans who were targeted by Hoover: (
As the recognized leader of the Civil Rights Movement and the target of the FBI, Dr. King was arrested 30 times. On one of those occasions when he was incarcerated Dr. King wrote his famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail." He wrote the letter in response to an open letter written by a group of White (8 Christian and Jewish) religious leaders (published April 12, 1963) who expressed concern that the “Negroes” wanted too much too quickly. In his reply to the good White religious leaders Dr. King wrote in part: “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied. We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, "Wait." But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society …. when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness"; then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.” The book "Why We Cant' Wait" began as "Letter from Birmingham Jail" written April 16, 1963 as Dr. King responded to the open letter written by 8 White religious leaders. The letter ( was written on scraps of paper while Dr. King was in jail for demonstrating without a permit (which the court refused to grant.) Dr. King and 50 others were arrested as they peacefully demonstrated on Good Friday, April 12, 1963. In his book “Why We Can’t Wait” Dr. King described the writing of the letter: “Begun on the margins of the newspaper in which the statement appeared while I was in jail, the letter was continued on scraps of writing paper supplied by a friendly black trusty, and concluded on a pad my attorneys were eventually permitted to leave me.” The letter was reprinted several times including the August 1963 edition of “Ebony Magazine on pages 23 to 32 entitled “A Letter from Birmingham Jail.”
Dr. King was born on January 15, 1929 and assassinated on April 4, 1968. In his 39 years he achieved more than many people who lived twice as long as he did. He was just 25 years old in 1954 when he became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama and at 26 accepted the leadership of the Montgomery Improvement Association eventually becoming the recognized leader of the Civil Rights Movement. As leader of the Montgomery Improvement Association Dr. King spearheaded the Montgomery bus boycott which lasted from December 1, 1955 to December 21, 1956. During the boycott Dr. King was arrested, his home was bombed and he was subjected to the wrath of the White supremacist system. In 1963 Dr. King was named Man of the Year by “Time” magazine and in 1964 became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. The recognition of Martin Luther King Jr., Day came after a long struggle beginning in 1968 the year in which he was assassinated when Congressman John Conyers, Democrat from Michigan, first introduced legislation for a commemorative holiday four days after King was assassinated. The bill was stalled until petitions endorsing the holiday containing six million names was submitted to Congress. Conyers and Representative Shirley Chisholm, Democrat from New York, resubmitted King Holiday legislation each subsequent legislative session. Public pressure for the holiday mounted during the 1982 and 1983 Civil Rights marches in Washington. Congress passed the holiday legislation in 1983 and Martin Luther King Jr., Day has been a National Holiday in the USA since then. The holiday is recognized on the third Monday in January and this year on Monday, January 20 Dr. King will be remembered across the USA with a National Holiday.
Dr. King supported Affirmative Action and Reparations for the descendants of enslaved Africans. Reparations have been on the minds of Africans since slavery was abolished. In America there was the idea of 40 acres and a mule for African Americans which was never realised. Africans in the Caribbean have also sought Reparations. In 2013, a National Reparations Committee was established by the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) with the intent of pursuing the issue of Reparations from the former slave owning European nations that benefited from the unpaid labour of enslaved Africans. Dr. King (as we remember him on what would have been his 85th birthday) would have supported his Caribbean brothers and sisters (14 Caribbean countries including Haiti and Suriname) as they seek Reparations from Britain, France and the Netherlands.


African Americans have traditionally been subjected to prejudice and bigotry. We have been stereotyped as Aunt Jemima, Sapphire, Uncle Tom and Sambo. We have sat at the back of buses and up front in curtained-off cubbyholes in trains. We have climbed stairs to the balcony in theatres. We have cleaned, cooked and entertained in clubs and restaurants in which we could not be served. We fought to defend our country and make the world safe for democracy in a segregated army.
From the 1996 published book “A Matter of Black and White: The Autobiography of Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher” written by Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher
On January 14, 1946, the University of Oklahoma Law School rejected an application for admission made byAda Lois Sipuel Fisher, a highly qualified young African American woman. Born Ada Lois Sipuel on February 8, 1924 in Chickasha, Oklahoma to Bishop Travis Sipuel and his wife Martha Bell Smith Sipuel she was an excellent student and graduated from Lincoln High School in 1941 as valedictorian. On March 3, 1944, she married Warren Fisher and on May 21, 1945, Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher graduated from Langston University (the only one of the 125 Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the United States that exists in the state of Oklahoma) with honours. Sipuel Fisher’s parents along with hundreds of other African Americans had been forced to flee Tulsa, Oklahomain 1921. This is acknowledged in the introduction/foreword of “A Matter of Black and White: The Autobiography of Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher” written by Robert Henry: “Racial tension reached its zenith in 1921 in Tulsa. The Greenwood area of Tulsa about two square miles of thriving property owned by African Americans was left a smoking rubble. Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher knew this and more. Her parentsleft Tulsa as a consequence of the riot, one of the worst in American history. They moved to Chickasha, a more bucolic setting, but still a place shadowed by racism. After all the Ku Klux Klan was the dominaant power in Oklahoma in the 1920s.” It was in this White supremacist culture of 1946 Oklahoma that a brave 21 year old African American woman recently married and pregnant with her first child decided to challenge the Jim Crow laws that prevented highly qualified African Americans from attending law schools. These government funded law schools benefitted from the tax dollars of the oppressed African American citizens who were relegated to low wage jobs and lives of poverty.
African Americans before Sipuel Fisher had challenged the segregation laws which prevented them from entering law schools with disastrous results. One of the more famous cases is that of Lloyd Lionel Gaines who mysteriously disappeared on March 19, 1939 and whose body was never found after that night. Gaines had successfully challenged the University of Missouri Law School’s refusal to admit him as a student. According to an article published in “The New York Times” on July 11, 2009, entitled “A Supreme Triumph, Then Into the Shadows” written by David Stout: “On Dec. 12, 1938, the Supreme Court ruled that the segregated University of Missouri Law School had to admit Lloyd Lionel Gainess, who was qualified except for the color of his skin, if there was no comparable legal education available to him within Missouri — and there was not.”Sipuel Fisher eminently qualified to enter the Oklahoma Law School volunteered to be the person to challenge the segregation law of the time. Sipuel Fisher challenged the legal fiction of "separate but equal" with the support of the NationalAssociation for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and a team of lawyers led by famous African American lawyer Thurgood Marshall. The team filed a lawsuit alleging that the failure of the state of Oklahoma to provide a comparable law school for African American students required that Sipuel Fisher be admitted to the University of Oklahoma College of Law.
In her autobiography “A Matter of Black and White” Sipuel Fisher described the January 14, 1946 morning when she ventured out to apply for admission to the University of Oklahoma College of Law. “The day to apply for admission to the law school in order to initiate the legal battle finally arrived. The day, January 14, 1946, was a cold one. While I expected to be rejected, I did not expect a hostile mob awaiting us or that officials would be insulting in any way. We were making a dignified request, and I expected we would be received in a dignified way. I did not know how people would react in the town or around the state. I did not anticipate they would be happy about it, but I was not dealing with them that day.” On January 14, 1946 Sipuel Fisher was refused admission to the University of Oklahoma College of Law even though after reviewing her credentials, the president of the university acknowledged that there was no academic reason to reject her application for admission. However the Oklahoma statutes prohibited Whites and African Americans from attending classes together. It would take a three year legal battle before Sipuel Fisher was admitted to the University Oklahoma College of Law. Following the rejection of Sipuel Fisher’s application for admission to the College of Law the SIPUEL v. BOARD OF REGENTS OF UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA et al, 332 U. S. 631- law suit was launched. The case was settled in the United States Supreme Court after the plaintiffs lost in state courts. Thurgood Marshall argued Sipuel v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma before the United States Supreme Court that the state law school must open its doors to Sipuel, because it offered no comparable facility and that the entire doctrine of "separate but equal" should be abandoned. On January 12, 1948, the United States Supreme Court ruledd that Sipuel was entitled to a legal education and that Oklahoma must provide instruction for African Americans equal to that of White Americans
Following the successful challenge at the United States Supreme Court level Oklahoma state officials quickly constructed “Langston University School of Law”a makeshift “law school” in room 428 of the state capitol building in an effort to continue denying Sipuel Fisher entry to the University of Oklahoma. Further litigation was necessary to prove that this law school was inferior to the University of Oklahoma law school. Before a lawsuit challenging “Langston University School of Law” was resolved, the law school ran out of funds. The “Langston University School of Law” closed in 1949. The president of the University of Oklahoma law school finally admitted Sipuel Fisher on June 18, 1949, making her the first African American woman to attend an all white law school in the Southern US. That was not the end of her challenges. Inside the law school classroom Sipuel Fisher was forced to sit in a segregated seat at the back of the class marked” “colored” that was roped off from the rest of the class. She also had to eat in a separate chained-off guarded area of the law school cafeteria. She stayed the course and graduated in 1951 with a law degree from the University of Oklahoma. After passing the bar, Sipuel practiced law until 1956, when she left legal practice to work as the public relations director for her alma mater Langston University. In 1981, the Smithsonian Institution designated Sipuel Fisher as one of the 150 outstanding Black Women Who Have Had the Most Impact on The Course of American History. Ironically in 1991, the University of Oklahoma honoured her with an Honorary Doctorate and in 1992, she was appointed to the University Of Oklahoma Board Of Regents.
Fourteen years into the 21st century Africans in North America (Canada and the USA) continue to face challenges living in a White Supremacist culture dealing with racial profiling on many levels. We may no longer be “stereotyped as Aunt Jemima, Sapphire, Uncle Tom and Sambo” but we continue to struggle against the negative images that lead to racial profiling. The brave stance of the Black Action Defence Committee (BADC) filing law suits against police forces in Ontario that have engaged in racial profiling must be commended and supported as we go forward in this new year.


I am a woman who came from the cotton fields of the South. From there I was promoted to the washtub. From there I was promoted to the cook kitchen. And from there I promoted myself into the business of manufacturing hair goods and preparations. I have built my own factory on my own ground.
Quote attributed to Sarah Breedlove McWilliams Walker (Madam C. J. Walker) from the 2002 published book “On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C. J. Walker” written by A’Lelia Bundles
Madam C. J. Walker was born Sarah Breedlove on December 23, 1867 two years after slavery was abolished in the USA. She was born in Delta, Louisiana to Owen and Minerva Breedlove and was the first freeborn person in her family as her parents and older siblings had been enslaved until 1865. Madam C. J. Walker as she came to be known after her third marriage to Charles Joseph Walker on January 4, 1906 is acknowledged as the first African American woman millionaire. Her story is one of “rags to riches” by dint of hard work and entrepreneurship. Her parents who lived and worked on the plantation where they had been enslaved both transitioned before she was 7 years old leaving her and her siblings orphans. The uncertainty of being shuttled between relatives after losing her parents is speculated as the reason Sarah Breedlove married Moses McWilliams in 1881 when she was only 14 years old. Four years later she gave birth to her only child, a daughter A’Lelia McWilliams and two years later at 20 years old Sarah Breedlove McWilliams was a widow and her two year old daughter fatherless.
Several sources claim that Moses McWilliams was lynched by a white mob in 1887. In her 2002 published book “On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker” author A’Lelia Bundles who is Walker’s great, great grand daughter writes: “With no death certificate and no dependable oral history from Sarah Breedlove herself, it is unlikely that anyone will ever know whether Moses McWilliams was one of the ninety-five people whose lynchings were documented in 1888.”The fact that Breedlove was never recorded speaking about her husband being lynched is hardly surprising. If she had witnessed the lynching she may have been so traumatized that she could not speak of the horror of witnessing such an event. The absence of a death certificate for an African American lynched by a white mob is hardly likely to have concerned the white supremacist government. In January 1892 the Chicago Tribune published a list of the numbers of African Americans who had been lynched from 1882 to 1891 and 70 African Americans had been lynched in 1887. Whatever tragedy led to Breedlove McWilliams being widowed in 1887 she and her two year old child were left without a husband and father and she had to provide clothing, food and shelter for herself and her child. She moved to St Louis, Missouri where she worked as a washerwoman to support her family of two. Following a second marriage to John Davis (August 11, 1894) where she was subjected to domestic violence she fled and eventually married her third husband Charles Joseph Walker on January 4, 1906 and changed her name to Madam C. J. Walker.
In 1906 Walker founded the “Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company” in Denver and her first two products were “Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower”and a vegetable-based shampoo. She traveled across the USA, the Caribbean and Latin America marketing and promoting “Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower” eventually establishing Lelia College in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which trained women to sell her products door-to-door and provide hair-care for African American women. By 1910 she had more than 1,000 sales agents and had moved to Indianapolis where she established the headquarters of “Madame C. J. Walker Laboratories” to manufacture cosmetics and opened another training school to train her salespeople. As a pioneer of the modern cosmetics industry and an advocate of women's economic independence she provided above average wages for thousands of African American women who otherwise would have been relegated to working as farm labourers and domestic labourers.
Walker is known as the woman who made a fortune encouraging African American women to straighten their hair. In “On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C. J. Walker”: Bundles writes: “It would be years before I would learn that her Walker System was intended to treat the scalp disease that was so rampant in the early 1900s, when many women washed their hair only once a month. "Right here let me correct the erroneous impression held by some that I claim to straighten hair," she told a reporter in 1918 after she had been called the "de-kink queen" by a white newspaper. "I deplore such an impression because I have always held myself out as a hair culturist. I grow hair." Walker was also a philanthropist who gave back to her community including $1,000 in 1911 to build a new YMCA in Indianapolis for African Americans. Shortly after moving to Harlem in 1916 she contributed $5,000 to the NAACP’s anti-lynching movement. As a political activist, in July 1917 when a white mob massacred African Americans in East St. Louis, Illinois, Walker joined a group of Harlem leaders who visited the White House to present a petition advocating federal anti-lynching legislation. At her “Madam C. J. Walker Hair Culturists Union of America convention” in Philadelphia in 1917 considered one of the first national meetings of businesswomen Walker reportedly said to the gathering: “This is the greatest country under the sun, but we must not let our love of country, our patriotic loyalty cause us to abate one whit in our protest against wrong and injustice. We should protest until the American sense of justice is so aroused that such affairs as the East St. Louis riot be forever impossible.” The story of Madam C.J. Walker finding fame and fortune with a business plan encouraging African American women to straighten their hair began more than a hundred years ago when we felt compelled to confirm to a European standard of beauty. Not much about our hair experience has changed since then. In the 2001 published book “Tenderheaded” bell hooks, one of the contributing writers reminds us: “Despite many changes in racial politics, black women continue to obsess about their hair, and straightening hair continues to be serious business. Individual preferences (whether rooted in self-hate or not) cannot negate the reality that our collective obsession with hair straightening reflects the psychology of oppression and the impact of racist colonization.” Even in 2013 there have been various stories in the media about African American women and girls who have experienced negative reactions when they choose to wear their natural hair. The most recent is the story of Melphine Evans, an African American woman who was reportedly told that she should warn her colleagues whenever she planned to wear her hair in braids because: “You intimidate and make your colleagues uncomfortable by wearing ethnic clothing and ethnic hairstyles” ( Evans who worked for British Petroleum (BP) in an executive position was fired and has filed a law suit against BP: “According to the suit, filed with the Orange County Superior Court this week, Evans says that her supervisors told her that her dashiki and braided hair made other employees 'uncomfortable.” Celebrate Madam C.J. Walker’s birthday and in recognition of her entrepreneurial spirit and her success in business support African Canadian businesses in the spirit of the Kwanzaa principle Ujamaa (Co-operative economics.)


O come all ye faithful, Joyful and triumphant, O come ye, o come ye to Bethlehem; Come and behold him Born, the King of angels: O come let us adore him Christ the Lord. Adeste Fideles laeti triumphantes, Venite, venite in Bethlehem. Natum videte, Regem Angelorum; Venite adoremus, Dominum!
Excerpt from "Oh Come All Ye Faithful"
"Oh Come All Ye Faithful" is one of the older and popular carols that are sung by the faithful at Christmas time. The Latin version of the carol "Adeste Fideles" is said to have been written by a music teacher John Francis Wade and first published in 1760. The English translation was done by Frederick Oakley and William Brooke in 1841. The history of this carol has been disputed with various other people named as composer including a Portuguese monarch. The origin of "Adeste Fideles/Oh come all ye faithful" has evolved over the centuries like the occasion for which it was composed. Christmas is supposed to be about the birth of Jesus the founder of Christianity but the celebration has evolved over the centuries to today where for some people it is a time to spend more than they can really afford. With the commercialization of Christmas and the various pagan symbols the true meaning of Christmas seems to have been lost. Christmas now is more about Santa Claus and the gifts he will bring for “good little boys and girls.” The celebration of Christmas has been adapted and shaped by various communities and cultures. The Christmas tree (originally German) which is now an established part of Christmas celebrations was introduced and became popular in the former British Empire (which included Canada and the Caribbean islands) during the reign of Victoria when Britannia ruled the waves. In 1846 an illustration of the British royal family Victoria, her German husband Albert and their children appeared in the “Illustrated London News” standing around a decorated Christmas tree. The fashion caught on not only in Britain and the British Empire but also in the United States of America. In many homes today, a decorated tree is an essential part of the Christmas celebration.
Santa Claus in America, Canada and elsewhere, Father Christmas in Britain and many former British colonies is also established figures in the celebration of Christmas. However, the jolly, white haired, bearded figure with the hearty laugh is mostly an American invention. Although legends abound from Turkey and various European countries of Saint Nicholas/St Nick, Kris Kringle and Sinterklaas, the modern version was popularised by Coca-Cola in the 1930s to boost sales of their product. Since the days of the popularised Coca-Cola image of Santa Claus the celebration of Christmas has become less a religious observance/holiday and more a secular and highly commercial celebration/holiday. Christmas as a secular and commercial celebration is celebrated worldwide even in countries where the main religion is not Christianity. Christmas, many centuries old has moved from its supposed roots (many pagan rituals are included) of the celebration of the birth of Christ.
In the Caribbean islands that were colonized by the British and in Guyana, the Christmas celebrations were at one time patterned after the colonizer but over time the celebration has become uniquely Caribbean with decorations, food and music. Steel pan music as accompaniment to the traditional carols, calypso, reggae and soca versions of those carols and Caribbean composed songs to celebrate Christmas including the spirited and popular “Drink a rum” by Lord Kitchener and “listen mama I want you to tell Santa Claus” by Nat Hepburn. A Guyanese Christmas is not complete without a pepperpot (made with casareep from the cassava root) breakfast.
Recently there has been some controversy about the Dutch celebration of Christmas which includes White men in “blackface” cavorting with “Sinterklaas.”While the British and American “Father Christmas/Santa Claus” is accompanied by little elves as helpers “Sinterklaas” is accompanied by “Zwarte Pieten or Black Petes.” These characters dress in Dutch colonial costumes and are “made up” with black faces and big red lips which they top off with afro wigs and gold earrings. Apparently this is a treasured part of the Dutch celebration of Christmas where leading up to Christmas, White people in the Netherlands paint their faces black and dress up to enact “Zwarte Piet” to“entertain the children.”
Ignoring the white supremacist image of White people dressed to caricaturize the people their ancestors held in slavery for centuries this spectacle is used for the entertainment of the Dutch. These “Zwarte Pieten/Black Petes” which are now touted as “entertainment” were historically used as figures to scare “disobedient” White children in the days leading up to Christmas. Reportedly for the past 10 years at least (since 2003) there have been active attempts by African, Surinamese and Antillean communities who joined forces to demand that the House of Representatives take action against this White supremacist characterization of Africans. With the commercialization of Christmas and the mostly lost reason for the celebration some people choose not to celebrate Christmas with all the pagan trappings. They attend church and spend quiet times with their relatives and friends. Others choose to celebrate Kwanzaa which at 47 years old is still true to its roots as a Pan-African seven day celebration from December 26th to January 1st. Kwanzaa serves as a means of reconnecting Africans to their roots and celebrates family, community and culture. Kwanzaa is a celebration for all Africans regardless of their religion or country of birth. It is a time to celebrate our culture, learn about our history, honour African ancestors and traditions, spend time with family and friends and look to our future as a people. Africans of all beliefs, faiths, religions or lack of celebrate this cultural reconnecting event.
The Kwanzaa celebration inspires racial pride in Africans whose ancestors had been brainwashed into thinking that European culture was superior. The values articulated in the seven Kwanzaa principles “Nguzo saba” resonate with Africans and the celebration which began with a few people in the USA in 1966 is now an international celebration. In 1998 it was estimated that Kwanzaa was celebrated by 18 million Africans worldwide.
The Nguzo Saba (seven principles) are Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity) and Imani (Faith). Each principle is represented by a candle (mshumaa). The colours used during Kwanzaa (red, black and green) are the Pan-African colours chosen by the Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey. Black represents the African people; red represents the blood shed in our struggle for freedom and green is the symbol of our future and the richness of the African continent.
Celebrating Kwanzaa encourages making or buying educational African centred zawadi (gifts) for children to practice Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics) ensuring that money circulates in the community at least seven times. There are excellent books written for African children about heroes and sheroes who can serve as inspiration and role models. Mathieu DaCosta by Itah Sadu; The Kids Book of Black Canadian History by Rosemary Sadlier; To Be a Drum by Evelyn Coleman, The Sound that Jazz Makes by Carole Boston Weatherford; In Daddy's Arms I Am Tall by Javaka Steptoe; Jambo Means Hello: Swahili Alphabet Book by Muriel Feelings; The Friendship, Song of the Trees, Mississippi Bridge and The Well by Mildred D. Taylor are all excellent Kwanzaa zawadi for children. The decorations for the Kwanzaa table, including a beautifully carved wooden kinara (candle holder), kikombe cha Umoja (unity cup) and kente cloth can all be found at African Canadian owned stores. The seven principles can serve as a guide throughout the year and do not have to be relegated to the Kwanzaa celebration from December 26th to January 1st.
An important part of the Kwanzaa celebration is the recognition of those who went before us, remembering those who paved the way for us, those on whose shoulders we stand because they never stopped striving for their freedom. Those freedom fighting ancestors include Kofi (Guyana’s National Hero who led the Berbice Revolution of 1763) Nanny (Jamaica’s lone female National Hero) Nana Yaa Asantewa (who led the last Ashante battle against the British in Ghana) Queen Nzingha (who battled the Portuguese in Angola) Mbuya Nehanda (who led the Shona resistance against the British in Zimbabwe) Viola Desmond who defied Canadian segregation practices and was arrested on November 8, 1946 for sitting in the white section of a New Glasgow, Nova Scotia cinema and Carrie Best who publicized and supported Viola Desmond’s fight. Regardless of your choice of celebration for this time of year, enjoy!! Kwanzaa yenu iwe na heri! May your Kwanzaa be happy!! Merry Christmas!!


On December 12, 1963 Kenya gained its political independence from Great Britain. Jomo Kenyatta (bornKamau wa Ngengi) led the fight for independence and was elected the first Prime Minister of the independent nation. The Kenyans gained their independence after years of bloody struggle during which they were brutalized by the White people who had invaded and stolen their land. Following the European “Scramble for Africa” (Berlin Conference of 1884-1885) the British moved into Kenya, occupied the most fertile land and forced the Africans off the land. They passed laws that disenfranchised Africans, even forbidding them ownership of land in certain parts of the country. With the White interlopers occupying what they dubbed the "White Highlands" of Kenya, the Africans were displaced and some were forced unto reserves. With the fertile land in Kenya reserved for White people and Africans forced to subsist on mostly infertile land, the White settlers became increasingly wealthy while the Africans lived in poverty. The White farmers needed cheap labour for the large scale farming that enriched the minority White population but the Africans refused to work on the farms. To ensure that Africans were a cheap source of labour for the White colonial settler population of Kenya, the British government passed laws which forced the Africans to work for the White people who now occupied their land. The British army was on hand to ensure that White farmers and the stolen African land they occupied were protected. The passing and enforcing of the “Masters and Servants Act” (1906) ensured that a caste system of all White people as masters and all Africans as servants was firmly in place.
The history of the area was re-written by the White interlopers who to rationalize their immoral seizure of African land and exploitation of the rightful owners of the land portrayed the Africans in decidedly unflattering terms. After all there were these good Christian White people who left Europe and travelled for miles to the African continent to enrich themselves at the expense of Africans who they mercilessly, savagely and brutally exploited. Because of what psychologists term cognitive dissonance the White Christians had to find a way to justify/rationalize their covetousness and theft of the Africans' land and their savagely brutal exploitation of the labour of the Africans. There were claims that they were there to Christianize the Africans, that the Africans had never really settled on the land but lived a nomadic life, that White people were a civilizing force. They convinced themselves that they were somehow superior beings based on the colour of their skin so had a God given right to the land. They even pretended that they had"discovered" the land. Today in the 21st century it has been recognized that there was a "doctrine of discovery" during the European colonization of the lands of racialized people when the "Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues" issued this statement as part of its report on May 8, 2012: "The Doctrine of Discovery had been used for centuries to expropriate indigenous lands and facilitate their transfer to colonizing or dominating nations, speakers in the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues stressed today, urging the expert body to study the creation of a special mechanism, under United Nations auspices, to investigate historical land claims." Meanwhile in the 19th and20thcenturies the exploitation of the Africans in Kenya and elsewhere on the continent went full force ahead with the blessing of the British (and other European tribes) crown and government. There were even books written by some of the "famous" British writers whose propaganda helped quiet the cognitive dissonance that must surely have raged in the minds of the Europeans who continued to live and grow rich on stolen African land.
The history of Kenya however began long before the first European arrived in the area in the 1840s. In the 1981 published book "Kenya’s Past: An Introduction to Historical Method in Africa" Thomas Spear writes “The history of eastern and central Kenya stretches more than two million years from the initial emergence of mankind itself to the present. The archaeological record of mankind in Kenya is the oldest in the world, stretching back some four to five million years to the earliest men and women and their immediate forebears living on the shores of Lake Turkana.” The White colonists/occupiers of African land destroyed and displaced the indigenous African communities in Kenya and occupied the land of well-established African communities which included, farmers, fishermen, hunters and ironworkers who supported the economy with agriculture, fishing, metal production and trade with other countries. Mombasa (Kenya’s capital) was the major port city of Kenya in the Middle Ages from where ships left to trade with other countries. In the 16th century, Duarte Barbosa a Portuguese writer and trader visited several countries bordering the Indian Ocean and documented his findings in “The Book of Duarte Barbosa: An Account of the Countries Bordering on the Indian Ocean and Their Inhabitants” which was published in 1518. Of his visit to Mombasa, Barbosa wrote, “This is a place of great traffic and has a good harbour in which there are always moored small craft of many kinds and also great ships, both of those which come from Sofala and those which go thither, and others which come from the great kingdom Cambaya and from Melinde and others which sail to the island of Zanzibar.”
For centuries beginning with the slave trade the British among other European tribes systematically stigmatized Africa as the‘dark continent’ in need of enlightenment as they rationalized/justified the theft of natural and human resources. The savage brutality of the occupying British forces and the British civilians is well documented and was well hidden (some documents destroyed by the Colonial powers) until the 21st century. Last year a group of elderly Kenyans who had been brutalized by the representatives of the British crown and government successfully brought a law suit (to the British High Court) against the British government and won millions of dollars in compensation. Their suit was supported by documents that survived the destruction order ( of the British government. As Kenya recognizes the 50th anniversary of their political independence some 5,228 victims of the British occupational torture will receive a total of £19.9 million. In June 2013 the British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in the British House of Commons: "I would like to make clear now, and for the first time, on behalf of Her Majesty's government, that we understand the pain and grievance felt by those who were involved in the events of the emergency in Kenya. The British government recognises that Kenyans were subject to torture and other forms of ill-treatment at the hands of the colonial administration. The British government sincerely regrets that these abuses took place and that they marred Kenya's progress towards independence."


Sisi ni watu wa Afrika Sisi ni watu wa Afrika Penda Afrika Tunai penda Afrika We are an Afrikan people We are an Afrikan people Love Afrika We love Afrika
From “Penda Afrika”composed by Charles Roach and sung at several Kwanzaa celebrations in Toronto
It’s beginning to look a lot like Kwanzaa! Yes African people it is that time of year again. Time to celebrate, celebrate, celebrate Kwanzaa! I was very fortunate to celebrate Kwanzaa in Georgetown, Guyana in December 2011 and December 2012. This year I find myself without the prospect of visiting Guyana to celebrate Kwanzaa. In 2011 while visiting relatives and friends and reacquainting myself with the country of my birth I was pleasantly surprised to find a group of African Guyanese who celebrate Kwanzaa. The African Cultural and Development Association (ACDA) hosts an annual Kwanzaa event on December 26 (the first day of Kwanzaa to observe Umoja “Unity”) at its Thomas Lands, Georgetown headquarters. So during my visit to Guyana in 2012 I knew exactly where and when the Kwanzaa celebration was happening. If you are planning to visit Guyana in December get some information about the ACDA Kwanzaa celebrations and attend.
Kwanzaa is a Pan African celebration of African culture and history, commemoration of African achievement, recognition of African ancestors and a time for us to gather, reflect on the past year and look forward to the future. Kwanzaa comes from the Kiswahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits.” An extra “a”was added to the end of the word to make it a seven letter word since the number seven is repeated in the theme surrounding the celebration. During the celebration of Kwanzaa, we can take the first step to learn the Kiswahili words that are used during the celebration of Kwanzaa. Kiswahili is the most widely spoken African language just as English is the most widely spoken European language. As African people in the Diaspora we should strive to at least know the words of an African language since most of us only speak European languages.
The Kwanzaa celebration lasts seven days during which seven principles are observed. During the celebration seven symbols are prominent on a decorated table. The seven symbols are the mkeka (mat,) kinara (candle holder,) mishumaa saba (seven candles,) mazao (crops/fruits and vegetables,) muhindi (ears of corn,) kikombe cha umoja (unity cup) and zawadi (gifts.) The seven symbols are laid out on the Kwanzaa table with the mkeka (mat) as the base. The other six symbols are placed on the mkeka. The kinara (candle holder) is placed in the middle of the mkeka and the mishumaa saba (seven candles) are placed in the kinara. The black candle is placed in the middle of the kinara with the three red candles to the left and the three green candles to the right. The muhindi (ears of corn) represents the children of the family or the children of the community. One ear of corn for each child in the family is placed on the mkeka and if there are no children in the home two ears of corn are used in a symbolic representation of the African proverb “it takes a village to raise a child.” Children play an important role in the Kwanzaa celebration and here an amazingly articulate group of African American children explain Kwanzaa at and The kikombe cha umoja, mazao and zawadi are added to complete the Kwanzaa table setting. Zawadi (gifts) are given to the children on January 1st when the seventh Kwanzaa principle Imani is celebrated. Zawadi given to children for Kwanzaa are usually books and heritage symbols. Handmade gifts are recommended to avoid the commercialization of the holiday. Appropriate gifts for the Kwanzaa celebration are also available at several stores in the community including A Different Booklist, Nile Valley Bookstore, Accents on Eglinton Bookstore and Knowledge Bookstore.
The celebration of Kwanzaa is a time of ingathering and unity for Africans who celebrate Kwanzaa. It is a time for us to realize that we can achieve much when we are united. This is an African tradition as illustrated by the Ethiopian proverb: “When spiders’webs unite they can tie up a lion.” There are numerous examples of united Africans’ achievement even during their enslavement. The various Maroon societies established throughout the Diaspora (including Brazil, Guyana, Jamaica and Suriname) established by Africans who escaped their enslavement is proof of this.
On December 26the first day of Kwanzaa the principle Umoja (unity) is recognized by lighting the black candle. On December 27 the second principle which is Kujichagulia (Self-determination) is recognized by lighting the red candle next to the black candle. On December 28 the third principle Ujima (Collective work and responsibility) is recognized by lighting the green candle next to the black candle. On December 29 the fourth principle Ujamaa (Co-operative economics) is recognized by lighting the second red candle. On December 30 the fifth principle Nia (Purpose) is recognized by lighting the second green candle. On December 31 the sixth principle Kuumba (Creativity) is recognized by lighting the third red candle. On January 1st which is the last day of the Kwanzaa celebration the seventh principle Imani (Faith) is recognized by lighting the third green candle.
During community Kwanzaa celebrations all the candles are lit on whichever day the event happens but for those of us who celebrate Kwanzaa in our homes, the candles are lit one day at a time. On the final day of Kwanzaa January 1 when we celebrate Imani, all the candles are lit. On December 31st a Karamu or feast is usually part of the celebration for Kuumba. Celebrations include pouring of libation to honour and remember those who have transitioned to be with our ancestors. The celebration closes with a unity circle and chanting of harambee (let us all pull together) seven times.
During the Kwanzaa celebrations I attended in Guyana in 2011 and 2012 the community spirit was evident with the sharing of groceries donated by various African Guyanese businesses and individuals. The skilled drumming led to an impromptu kwe-kwe session where the uniquely Guyanese pre-wedding ceremony songs and dances ruled for more than an hour. The young, not so young and young at heart put there best feet forward and it was truly an African celebration by the descendants of those who were kidnapped, separated and enslaved. As a people who were torn away from their language, their culture, their belief systems it is truly amazing that we have survived. The celebration of Kwanzaa is proof that we have managed to re-group and in many cases prosper. We are an African people, we are a talented people we are a creative people. Yes indeed, we are all that! Kwanzaa yenu iwe na heri! Heri za Kwanzaa!


Shirley Anita St. Hill was born in Brooklyn, New York on November 30, 1924 to immigrant parents a Guyanese father and Barbadian mother. She spent her formative years from 3 to 10 living in Barbados with her maternal grandmother while her parents worked in New York City without having to worry about childcare. Chisholm would eventually become an Early Childhood Educator before entering politics. In her autobiography “Unbought and Unbossed”published in 1970 she wrote: "Years later I would know what an important gift my parents had given me by seeing to it that I had my early education in the strict, traditional, British-style schools of Barbados. If I speak and write easily now, that early education is the main reason." Chisholm attended Vauxhall Primary School in Christ Church, Barbados while she lived with her grandmother. In New York City she attended Girls' High Schooland later Brooklyn Collegewhere she earned her BA in 1946. She continued her education at Columbia Universitywhere she earned her MAin elementary education in 1952. She was director of the Hamilton-Madison Child Care Center in New York City from 1953 to 1959 and educational consultant for the Division of Day Care from 1959 to 1964.
While she was pursuing higher education Chisholm was involved in politics as a young adult. She worked for the Assembly District Democratic Club and the Bedford-Stuyvesant Political League during the 1940s and 50s. In 1964 Chisholm began her political career when she was elected to the New York State Legislature. In 1968, she ran as the Democratic candidate for New York's 12th District congressional seat and was elected to the House of Representatives defeating Republican candidate James Farmer. On November 5, 1968 Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm became the first African American woman elected to the United States House of Representatives. She served 7 terms (re-elected 6 times) until 1982 when she retired. In 1971 she was one of the founding members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
As the first African American woman elected to the United States House of Representatives Chisholm experienced sexism and racism. During a speech at the Conference on Women’s Employment Hearings before the Special Subcommittee on Education of the Committee of Education and Labor, House of Representatives, 91st Congress 2nd session Chisholm is recorded as saying: “I am, as it is obvious, both black and a woman. And that is a good vantage point from which to view at least two elements of what is becoming a social revolution: the American black revolution and the women's liberation movement. But it is also a horrible disadvantage. It is a disadvantage because America as a nation is both racist and anti-feminist. Racism and anti-feminism are two of the prime traditions of this country. For any individual, breaking with social tradition is a giant step -- a giant step because there are no social traditions which do not have corresponding social sanctions -- the sole purpose of which are to protect the sanctity of those traditions.” Her speech can be read in “The Columbia Documentary History of American Women Since 1941” published 2007, edited by Harriet Sigerman.
Shirley Chisholm opened the door for the eventual election of America’s first African American President when she made a bid to run for the position of President of the United States in 1972, ( becoming the first African American to do so. At the time Chisholm said: “The United States was said not to be ready to elect a Catholic to the Presidency when Al Smith ran in the 1920's. But Smith's nomination may have helped pave the way for the successful campaign John F. Kennedy waged in 1960. Who can tell? What I hope most is that now there will be others who will feel themselves as capable of running for high political office as any wealthy, good-looking white male.” And several African American men followed her example including Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and Barack Obama who in 2008 walked through that door Chisholm had opened in 1972.
Even with the election of the first African American President the racism to which Chisholm referred in her speech more than 40 years ago is still rampant in the USA. The murder of 17 year old Trayvon Martin where his killer was set free is so similar to the murder of 14 year old Emmett Till in 1955 it is as if time stood still. The recent expose by the American news program “Democracy Now”about the overwhelming number of African Americans serving life sentences without parole for non-violent crime is reminiscent of the 1930s and the infamous Scottsboro Boys case. ( On November 15, the Democracy Now program included this description:“A shocking new study by the American Civil Liberties Union has found that more than 3,200 people nationwide are serving life terms without parole for nonviolent offenses. Of those prisoners, 80 percent are behind bars for drug-related convictions. Sixty-five percent are African-American, 18 percent are white, and 16 percent are Latino — evidence of what the ACLU calls "extreme racial disparities." The crimes that led to life sentences include stealing gas from a truck, shoplifting, possessing a crack pipe, facilitating a $10 sale of marijuana, and attempting to cash a stolen check.” The Scottsboro Boys were wrongfully accused of rape in 1931 but were eventually exonerated (
Meanwhile here in Toronto the recent shenanigans of the Mayor of Toronto show that White skin privilege is alive and well in the Great White North. If any African Canadian male was seen doing even some of the things the police have alleged that Rob Ford was seen doing over the past year that African Canadian male would be arrested, charged, dragged through the courts and jailed. The Black Action Defence Committee (BADC) has recently filed a class action law suit against the Toronto Police for racial profiling of African Canadians after decades of this mistreatment. The racial profiling of African Canadians is well known and well documented it is about time that those who engage in that vile practice were held accountable.