In the sixteenth century on the island of Hispaniola lived a group of people called the Tiano. The Tiano were indigenous to the Caribbean islands of Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, The Bahamas and the Northern Lesser Antilles. They were the first Americans to defend themselves against Christopher Columbus; they also spoke an Arawakan language that was commonly found in the Caribbean and the Lesser Antilles. Hatuey was a Taino chief from the island of Hispaniola during the early stages of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Thirty Spanish ships arrived on the shores of Hispaniola, one of the ships was occupied by Governor Nicolas de Ovando, the ships also brought a large population of Spanish colonizers and African slaves. The enslaved Africans began escaping from the Spanish quarters fleeing into the interior of the island and connecting with the Tiano people. The Tiano were thought of as people who negatively influenced the Africans, in turn, the Africans escaped slavery. The Spanish first arrived in Hispaniola around 1502, bringing with them death and destruction for the Tiano and the Africans they captured. The Tiano were forced to defend themselves if they wanted to survive, and or, keep their lands.
For over a decade, Hatuey led the Tiano people into combat against the Spanish to defend their freedom. Around 1511, Hatuey and four hundred of his soldiers traveled to Cuba on a mission to mobilize the people of Cuba against the Spanish. He warned the Cuban leaders about the vile nature of the Spanish, he urged them to unite and fight. It is said that the Spanish colonizing Priest Bartolome de Las Casas, recorded Hatuey speaking the following words to the Cuban leaders; “the intruders worship gold, fight and kill, usurp our land and makes us slaves. For gold, slaves, and the land they fight and kill; for these they persecute us and that is why we have to throw them into the sea”. A number of the leaders in Cuba did not take heed to Hatuey’s message, a few did join him in his fight to remain free from Spanish domination. As the Cuban forces were being organized to defend themselves the Spanish invaded Cuba led by Diego Velasquez.
The Spanish had superior weaponry and outnumbered the Tiano, but they didn’t have half of the heart and tactics the Tiano possessed. Using guerrilla warfare, the Tiano was able to attack the Spanish and became a legitimate threat. The Spanish were held under siege in for a while in a fort because of the attacks Hatuey led against them. Eventually, the Spanish were able to overtake the Tiano, capture Hatuey and his men, and publicly executed Hatuey on February second of fifteen-twelve. Before Hatuey was murdered, he was asked by a Franciscan Friar if he would repent, become a Christian, and accept Jesus as his lord and savior. Hatuey did not have any knowledge of Jesus, heaven or hell. The Friar was doing his best to convince Hatuey to follow Jesus so he could “go to heaven”. Hatuey asked the Friar if all Christians went to heaven, the Friar told him that all Christians did go to Heaven, Hatuey then told the Friar he would rather be in hell. To one of the first freedom fighters in the Americas, Hatuey, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
Click here to learn more about the On the Shoulders of Giants book series!!!
In 1761, a baby girl was born to an enslaved African woman and a British Naval officer in the British West Indies. The baby was Dido Elizabeth Belle, the daughter of Maria Belle an African enslaved woman and Sir John Lindsay. Sir John Lindsay was a member of the aristocratic Lindsay family of Evelix of the Lindsay Clan; Sir John was eventually promoted to an Admiral within the British Navy. It is said that Sir John Lindsay met Maria Belle on a slave ship coming from the Caribbean, Maria Belle became the concubine of Sir John Lindsay and they produced Dido. In 1765, Sir John Lindsay returned to London bringing Dido with him to be raised by William Murray the 1st Earl of Mansfield and his wife Elizabeth Murray Countess of Mansfield. The Murray family adopted and raised Dido as one of their own even though she was of mixed races and considered a slave. Dido was baptized in 1766, educated, and groomed to be an aristocrat. She was freed from being considered a legal slave in 1793, when the Mansfield family granted her freedom from slavery.
While being raised by the Murray’s at the Kenwood House outside of London, it is believed that Dido was brought into the household to be the playmate of Lady Elizabeth Murray, but was not considered her servant. Most of the English aristocrats were not used to seeing a person of African descent treated like the white aristocrat, possess a great deal of intelligence, articulate, poetic, and an asset to the family. Dido was able to enjoy several luxuries of the aristocratic lifestyle, she was viewed as an equal to Lady Elizabeth, but she was reminded from time to time that she was a slave. Dido was given the duty of maintaining the poultry yards and becoming the secretary for William Murray; a position that was usually reserved for males. Dido was able to earn up to one-hundred Euros annually from her secretary duties, a salary well over that of the typical African person in Europe at that time. Dido’s social position was unique, she was not relegated to servitude even though she was considered one of the illegitimate children of Sir John Lindsay.
Dido was able to gain monetary stability when Sir John Lindsay died and she inherited a piece of one thousand Euros. Lord Mansfield gave her five hundred Euros after granting her freedom from slavery, one hundred Euros were inherited from Lady Margery Murray, and she was given a share of ten thousand Euros from William Murray. In 1793, Dido married a Frenchman named John Daviner, the couple produced three children. Dido died in 1895, her body being buried at St. George’s Fields, not the typical burial grounds of Africans or former slaves. Dido is one of the glaring examples of African people existing in Europe as more than slaves. She was famously depicted in a painting along with Lady Elizabeth Murray as her equal, not as a subordinate. That painting is one of the rare depictions providing proof about Dido’s status in English society, a status that challenged the overall ideas of the existence and status of African people. Her life is depicted in the films Dido Belle and Belle; in the plays, Spirit Songs, Spirit of the Middle Passage, Let Justice Be Done, An African Cargo; and in the musical Fern Meets Dido. Authors such as Caitlin Davies, Paula Byrne, Zadie Smith, and Emma Donoghue have written extensively about her life and impact. Dido Elizabeth Belle, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
Click here to learn more about the On the Shoulders of Giants book series!!!
On July 13, 1934, Akinwande Oluwole Babatunde Soyinka was born in Abeokuta, Ogun State, Nigeria, during the time the British controlled Nigeria. His parents were Samuel Ayodele Soyinka and Grace Eniola Soyinka. Samuel was an Anglican minister and headmaster of the St. Peters School, Grace was a Nigerian entrepreneur and political activist. Grace was also the cousin of legendary Nigerian singer Fela Kuti and Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti and was considered an important member of the Ransome-Kuti family. His family was Anglican but lived in an area where the Yoruba tradition was the dominant spiritual system. His early education included attending St. Peter’s Primary School, the Abeokuta Grammar School, and then he attended the Government College in 1946. As a student at Abeokuta Grammar School, Soyinka won several literary awards for his outstanding writing which would help to set the stage for his future as a writer. The Government College was considered one of Nigeria’s best secondary schools, he graduated in 1952 then went on to study English literature, Greek and Western History at the University College of Ibadan, which is connected to the University of London. Soyinka used his writing skills to create a radio play named Keffi’s Birthday Treat that was broadcast in 1954. That same year, Soyinka along with several colleagues created an anti-corruption student organization named Pyrates Confraternity.
In 1954, Soyinka moved to London, England to further his collegiate studies at the University of Leeds, he also published several written works and begin writing a column for a magazine called The Eagle. He graduated from The University of Leeds in 1958 and remained in the city of Leeds to begin his career as a professional writer. His first pieces of work as a professional writer were the plays The Swamp Dwellers and The Lion and the Jewel. The plays were so good that they were performed throughout the UK and Nigeria. After moving to London, his next step was earning money as a play reader while he established himself as a writer. Two of Soyinka’s poems were published in a Nigerian magazine titled Black Orpheus, simultaneously, one of his plays The Invention was being performed at the Royal Court Theater. Soyinka moved back to Ibadan, Nigeria after receiving a Rockefeller Research Fellowship to research African theater, he also became the co-editor of the Black Orpheus magazine. The Black Orpheus magazine was a satirical magazine that led Soyinka to create works such as The Trials of Brother Jero and A Dance of The Forest that poked fun at the elite in Nigeria. A Dance of The Forest became Nigeria’s official play to celebrate their freedom from the British. In addition to becoming a successful play-writer, Soyinka founded an acting ensemble called the “Nineteen Sixty Masks” to train future Nigerian artists.
In 1960, My Father’s Burden the first play to be produced for Nigerian television was written by Soyinka and directed by Segun Olusola. The play was a satirical look at the Nigerian government’s continued occupation of the people homes. In 1962, Soyinka became a university professor of English at the Obafemi University in Ife, he also published an essay titled “Towards a True Theater”, released the full-length movie Culture in Transition in 1963, published the novel The Interpreters in 1964, and founded the Drama Association of Nigeria in 1964. In 1965, as an act of protest Soyinka quit his job as a university professor, later that year he was arrested and charged with taking over a radio station with guns and forcing the programmers to play a speech with information about political scams ran by the government. Soyinka spent a number of months in jail before being released due to Nigerian people protesting for his release. Being incarcerated did not stop his writing, he published Before the Blackout, Kongi’s Harvest and The Detainee before and after his arrest. 1965 was also the year Soyinka’s play The Road debuted at the Commonwealth Arts Festival in London. Despite his setbacks and opposition with the Nigerian government, the University of Lagos made Soyinka the headmaster and senior lecturer for their English department. Political activism was a big part of Soyinka’s life following the military coup of 1965. Soyinka held a secret meeting between himself and the military governor to ensure that a civil war did not occur. After the meeting, Soyinka’s life was in danger causing him to seek refuge from the public. He was eventually arrested and jailed for twenty-two months while a civil war began. During his imprisonment, he continued to write his poetry and continued to produce plays. His plays The Trials of Brother Jero and The Strong Breed were so good that they were able to debut in New York. Idane and Other Poems is a collection of poems that were published during his troubles with the government and it highlighted traditional Nigerian spirituality.
The Nigerian civil war ended in 1969 freeing Soyinka and other political prisoners. After his release, he lived in France for a while to reestablish his foundation and continue his writing. Soyinka published The Bacchae of Euripides in 1969, he then published Poems from Prison, before regaining his position as the Headmaster of the Cathedral of Drama in Ibadan. In 1970, his play Kongi’s Harvest was made into a film, he produced a play titled Madman and Specialist which premiered at the Eugene O’Neill Memorial Theater Center in Waterford, Connecticut. He published a poetry collection titled A Shuttle in the Crypt in 1971, before traveling to Paris to play the role of the legendary leader of the Congo Patrice Lamumba. Soyinka’s political activism began to regain its energy, he also gave up his university position to focus on fighting what he considered as a corrupt government. He lived in exile but continued to use his writings and his plays to fight the Nigerian government and bring awareness to the conditions of his people. In 1972, Soyinka was awarded an honorary degree from the University of Leeds, his novels Season of Anomy and Collected Plays were published in the same year. Soyinka was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986 making him the first African to win that award; he dedicated his acceptance speech to South Africa’s Nelson Mandela.
Soyinka became a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for the protection of African people in 1994. In November of 1994, he was forced to flee from Nigeria to the United States because he was charged with treason. He became the second president of the International Parliament of Writers in 1997, the organization was created to support writers who were in opposition to their national governments. He received nineteen awards and honors throughout his life, wrote over thirty plays, published two novels, three short stories, five memoirs, eight poetry collections, fourteen essays, and produced three movies. Soyinka dedicated his life to writing and to the liberation of his people from a corrupt government. He was one of Nigeria’s greatest writers and one of the world's greatest contributors to literature. This man is a true example of one using their pen and becoming more powerful than a person with a weapon. With the Ransome-Kuti revolutionary blood running through his veins, Soyinka was primed to become the man that he is today. He was not pleased with how his people were living and being treated so he did something about it. We all have gifts and a means to fight oppression, we must recognize who we are, what we bring to the table and act. Mr. Akinwande Oluwole Babatunde Soyinka, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
Click here to learn more about the On the Shoulders of Giants book series!!
In 1974, on the island of West Papua, in the Pyramid Village of the Bailem Valley, a boy was born who would become the man to lead his people in a fight against Indonesian oppression. Benny Wenda is a member of the indigenous Lani people of West Papua, as a child he enjoyed gardening and living a peaceful life with his mother. The lands of the Lani were invaded by the Indonesian military in 1977; they constantly terrorized, beat, and raped the Lani people to keep them under control. The Lani women were forced to become servants to the soldiers bringing them food and catering to their individual needs. The vile treatment of the Lani people led to an uprising against the Indonesian military. 15,000 Lani people fought against the Indonesian military to regain their freedom. The military countered their attack by dropping bombs on the Lani villages, killing many people and injuring many more. Benny was one of the children who were injured by the bombings. His leg was severely injured and he did not receive treatment because of the oppressive conditions. The Lani people that survived were forced into the jungles to escape persecution.
The surviving Lani living in the jungles were helpless against the attacks of the Indonesian military. Once, Benny and his family were traveling through the jungle when they were attacked by military personnel, the men ripped a baby from its mother’s arms breaking its back as they threw it to the ground, they then proceeded to rape Benny’s aunt forcing him to watch. The living conditions in the jungle were bad and forced the Lani people to surrender to Indonesian rule. Benny’s family remained in the jungle a bit longer but was forced to surrender after his grandmother died. A decision was made by his grandfather and other adults to surrender to the Indonesians to ensure the survival of the children. During their surrender, the Lani had to present themselves holding the Indonesian flag, pledge their allegiance to Indonesia, and vow to live under Indonesian law. After his family surrendered, Benny was placed in an Indonesian school and immediately indoctrinated to view the Indonesian as superior and his people as inferior. He was only taught about the history of Indonesia, forced to eat Indonesian food, forced to dress and think like an Indonesian, all while being terrorized by Indonesian youth.
As an inquisitive child and a victim of constant terror, he would ask his mother why the Indonesian people treated them so bad, she would never answer his questions, she would just say he will learn one day. Benny went on to attend the University of Jayapura earning a degree in sociology and politics, an education he would use to help his people. As a natural leader, Benny began to organize the Papuan people and students to start talking, educating and strategizing to take a stand against the oppression they were experiencing. One of the main things Benny wanted for his people was for them to know who they truly were and where they come from. As mentioned earlier, the Indonesian education they received only taught them that they were savages. Benny was not satisfied with the lack of information about his people, so he began to search vigorously for any information he could find. Every resource he used did not help him until he was exposed to the oral history of the Papuan people. He learned that the Dutch gained control of Papuan land in 1945, they then promised the Papuan people independence but never delivered on their promise. He learned that his Papuan people and their culture were declared sovereign, they even had a flag and a national anthem. In 1969, the Act of Free Choice was a bogus tactic by the Indonesians to get a group of sell-out Papuans to agree to the Papuans assimilating into Indonesian culture.
Around 1999, the Indonesian military were not as aggressive in their oppression of the Papuan people, so talks of independence ensued among the Papuan people, the Papuan flag was being raised and legal independence was being demanded. Between 1999 and 2000 was known as the “Papuan Spring” because of the spirit of rebellion and independence growing, also the Presidum of the Papuan Council was created to represent the Paupan people during negations with the Indonesian government. Benny became the leader of the Demmak Koteka Tribal Assembly. The Assembly was created to fight for independence and preserve the customs of the Papuan people. The mission of Demmak was compromised in 2001 when Magawati became the organizations president. His views aligned more with what the Indonesian government wanted instead of working to help the Papuan people gain independence. A Papuan elder was murdered by soldiers as the military once again tightened its oppressive grip upon the Papuan people. Even though Benny was facing what seemed like insurmountable odds, he never gave up on working to liberate his people. Paupan people lost their right to protest their oppression and anyone who spoke against the Indonesian government was arrested. In 2002, Benny was falsely arrested, jailed, tortured and blamed for crimes that left two police officers dead. Benny was facing 25 years in prison for crimes he did not commit, while the judge and the prosecutor were collaborating to convict Benny because he was fighting for the independence of his people.
The Paupan people were certain that Benny would be convicted and killed by the Indonesian government. His odds of survival were so bad that he was advised to not eat the prison food because it could have been poisoned. With the courts against Benny and his ruling coming soon, he was able to escape prison with the help of a friend and flee to the UK. When he arrived in the UK he was able to reunite with his wife, they were able to create a home where he still resides to this day. Benny now travels around the world bringing awareness to the constant oppression the Papuan people experience daily. The Indonesian government attempted to have Benny arrested through Interpol as a Red Notice was placed upon him. The Red Notice made Benny a wanted man internationally and restricted his travel. Through the work of Fair Trials International the Red Notice was removed and Benny was once again able to travel the world and campaign for the freedom of his people. In 2014, the United Liberation Movement for West Papua was created and Benny was appointed its international speaker. The organization was designed to help the Papuan people gain and retain their independence from Indonesia. This led to the Melanesian Spearhead Group using its resources to helpitp protect all Melanesian people and prevent their oppression from being ignored.
Benny was able to speak about his people during a TedX talk in 2013, in 2015 he toured South Africa speaking about the oppression his people are experiencing. He became the Chairman of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua and awarded the Freedom of Oxford in 2019. In 2013, he was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for his lifetime work to free his people. Benny’s fight for his people continues today and will continue well after his last breath, because he has most certainly left a legacy to build upon. He is a consistent and powerful voice for his people despite the Indonesian government working to silence him and other Papuan liberators. We salute Benny for his bravery and commitment to the liberation of his people. Mr. Benny Wenda, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
Click here to learn more about the On the Shoulders of Giants book series!!!
The Nubian or Kushite Kingdom of Meroe produced a succession of African Queens called the Kandake or Candace. The Candace’s were brilliant, tactical, strong leaders of their kingdoms, and also known as fierce warriors. I previously introduced you to the four most popular Candaces Amanerinas, Amanishakhete, Nawidemak and Maleqereabar; Amanitore is the granddaughter of Amaneras and the daughter of Amanishakhete, she was the perfect woman to continue the legacy of the Candaces. Amanitore like her predecessors was the sole ruler of Meroe, a Warrior Queen, and it is said that she was accompanied by a man named Natakamni who served as the co-regent of Meroe. Amanitore’s name is depicted as Merkare in hieroglyphics or Medu Neter (words of the gods); she ruled the area we know today as Gebel Barkal located in the Sudan between the Nile and Atbara rivers. The exact time of her birth is unknown, but we do know it was before the first century BCE. Her reign as Candace begin in the first century BCE, she was known as a great builder/restorer of pyramids, a builder of reservoirs and helped to usher in a time of great prosperity for Meroe. Her restoration of temples came after they were destroyed by Romans in conflict. The most well-known temples she built was the temples of Amun at Naqa and Amara.
During Amanitore’s reign, over two-hundred temples and pyramids were built, which reflects the wealth the Kingdom of Meroe possessed. She oversaw the importation of goods and the exportation of textiles, gold, jewels and exotic animals. Her reign lasted from 1 BCE until 20 CE. She was succeeded by the Candace Amanitaraqide who helped complete the building and expansion of Meroe until 50 CE. Her name is included in several Nubian and Egyptian texts, it is even said that she is the Candace that is mentioned in Acts 8:26-40 of the Bible. During her time as Candace she not only built up the nation, she was a true Warrior Queen that led her army into battle. One thing that is important about Amanitore for our current culture is her image. She was not built or depicted as a European woman, she was full figured with wide hips; this is important because it represents an African standard of Beauty. After her death she was buried within her own temple and recognized as a true ruler of Meroe. I love to tell the stories of African Queens, and I am very fond of the stories of the Candaces. It reminds us that Europeans did not give or inspire African culture, they stole and destroyed African culture. Black women have held positions of rulership before any European Kingdom was built. To the great Warrior Candace Amanitore, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
Click here to support the On the Shoulders of Giants book series!!!
On September 15, 1945, Jessye Mae Norman was born in Augusta, Georgia, to parents Silas Norman and Janie King-Norman. Janie King-Norman was a school teacher and pianist, Silas Norman was an insurance salesman. Jessye’s family was musically inclined, her grandmother along with her mother were pianist, while her father sang in their church choir of Mt. Calvary Baptist Church. As a seven-year-old elementary school student, she enrolled in her first singing competition, unfortunately, she placed third in the competition because she didn't remember some of the lyrics of the second stanza. Her early musical influences outside of her family were two women by the name of Mrs. Golden and Sister Childs. From an early age she showed that she was a terrific singer; to help enhance her musical abilities her mother enrolled her into piano lessons helping keep her family’s musical legacy intact. She was introduced to the world of opera as a nine-year-old, her birthday present was a radio and on Sundays, as she cleaned her room she listened to a broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera. She was introduced to two incredible black women opera singers, Marian Anderson and Leontyne Price. These two women were her early opera influences; the best part about these women is Norman could see herself in these women and as a successful opera singer.
While attending middle school she began her lessons as an opera singer with vocal coach Rosa Harris Sanders. As a high school student, she received vocal lessons from a woman named Lucy C. Laney. She continued her opera training as a young teen with a non-profit organization named the Interlochen Center for the Arts located in the state of Michigan. At the age of sixteen, she earned a full scholarship to attend Howard University after she competed in the Marian Anderson Vocal Competition, which was held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. As a student at Howard, she studied voice with Carolyn Grant, sang in the Howard University choir, became a soloist in the choir at the Lincoln Temple United Church of Christ, and became a member of Gamma Sigma Sigma. In 1965, as a twenty-year-old, she became one of the founding members of the Delta Nu chapter of the Sigma Alpha Iota sorority. A year later she won the National Society of Arts and Letters singing competition. The following year she earned her bachelor's degree from Howard then enrolled in the master’s program at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, Maryland, before transitioning to the University of Michigan School of Music, Theater and Dance. She earned her master’s degree from the University of Michigan in 1968, while simultaneously studying voice with Opera singer Elizabeth Mannion and vocalist Pierre Bernac. She was also fortunate enough to receive vocal coaching from the legendary Sylvia Olden Lee during her career.
In 1968, Norman moved to Europe to begin her career as an opera singer, little did she know this was the beginning one of the most successful opera careers in history. She would win the ARD International Music Competition in Munich, Germany, despite an attempt by a racist judge to suddenly change the rules of the competition to prevent her from winning. She then made her debut as a professional opera singer in the opera Tannhauser as the character Elisabeth, after signing a three-year contract to perform with the Deutsche Oper Berlin. Following her performance, critics rated her performance and her voice as the greatest since Lottie Lehmann who was a German soprano singer. Norman experienced massive success as a black opera singer in Europe, her voice was outstanding, and she didn’t have the traditional look and size of the average opera singer. She performed in Germany and Italy with the most successful companies; she even often appeared as a European princess or a noble. Norman was outstanding, perfectly singing all the voice ranges from contralto to soprano. She sang in her first Italian performance in 1970 in Florence, Italy performing in the opera Deborah by Handel, the following year she performed as Selika in L’Africaine by Meyerbeer at the Maggio Musicale. Her star was shining bright and she wasn't slowing down any time soon. She followed her performance at the Maggio Musicale by staring in the role of Countess Almaviva in the opera Le Nozze di Fargo by Mozart at the Berlin Festival. She even recorded her role as Almaviva with the BBC Orchestra which became a finalist for the Montreux International Record Award, her performance made her a household name in Europe and the United States.
In 1972, she performed the lead role in the opera Aida in Milan, Italy at La Scala, next she performed in London at the Royal Opera and the Covent Garden as the character Cassandra in the opera Les Troyens. She made her American debut as a singer at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, California for its 50th anniversary in the concert version of the opera Aida. She then performed in Lenox, Massachusetts in the All-Wagner concert at the Tanglewood Music Festival. She toured the United States performing before she returned to Europe to continue touring. In 1973, she performed in New York City with the “Great Performers” series in the Alice Tully Hall at the Center for the Performing Arts. Norman moved to London in 1975 but found it hard to find local performances, however, she continued to perform internationally, she even was able to perform throughout North America and the United States further building upon a legendary legacy. Norman continued to perform as a singer but didn’t perform much as an opera singer much between 1975 and 1980. In 1980, she earned the title role in the opera Ariadane Auf Naxos at the Hamburg State Opera in Germany. In 1982, she made her debut as an opera singer in the United States with the Opera Company of Philadelphia as the character Jocasta in the Opera Oedipus Rex and the opera Dido. In 1983, she returned to New York to perform at the Metropolitan Opera in the opera Les Troyens as the characters Cassandra and Dido. Norman was so spectacular that she was considered as the world’s best soprano singer. She was also invited to sing at the inauguration of then-President Ronald Regan in 1985. In 1986, she sang for Queen Elizabeth at her sixtieth birthday celebration, later she became the soloist in the opera Four Last Songs with the Berlin Philharmonic while touring in the United States.
Norman continued to perform as an opera singer but she also began producing songs and performances during the late 1980s and the early 1990s, several of her production won her awards and critical acclaim, she even earned a television performance. In 1989, she featured as the soloist with the Indian conductor Zubin Mehta and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra as it opened its 148th season. She even performed in Hong Kong at the opening of the Hong Kong Cultural Center, as well as performing in Taiwan’s National Concert Hall. Later in 1989, Norman sang the French National Anthem for the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution. Norman eventually moved back to the United States and lived in Croton-On-Hudson, New York, and in 1990, she was able to perform at the one hundred fiftieth birthday gala for the legendary Russian composer Tchaikovsky held in St. Petersburgh, Russia. She also made her debut in the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s performance of the opera Alceste before singing at the seven hundredth celebration party for the Swiss National Day. Norman had a stellar career as a singer and became an international opera legend; sadly she died in Manhattan, New York at the age of seventy-four on September 30, 2019. During her career, she earned thirty-five honors and awards, twelve honorary doctorate degrees, thirty-eight notable leading opera roles, and performed in over twenty-six notable oratorio and orchestral performances. She was a true legend with a voice so pure that even the gods were envious to her. Ms. Jessye Mae Norman, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
Click here to learn more about the On the Shoulders of Giants book series!!!
On January 24th, 1874, Arturo Alphonso Schomburg was born in Santurce, Puerto Rico to a free black Caribbean midwife named Mary Joseph; his father was a German merchant residing in Puerto Rico named Carlos Federico Schomburg. As a young child in school, Schomburg was having a discussion with one of his teachers, who went on to tell him that African people had no history and contributed nothing to humanity. Schomburg did not believe his teacher and was determined to find and display the history of African people to the world. He completed his formal education in San Juan, Puerto Rico at the Instituto Popular studying commercial printing. He also studied African literature at St. Thomas College. In 1891, Schomburg moved to Harlem, New York where he became a member of the Revolutionary Committee of Puerto Rico, a committee founded by Puerto Rican exiles who united with Cubans to fight for their independence from Spanish rule.
Unfortunately, the Cuban Revolutionary Struggle was unsuccessful and Puerto Rico became a territory of the United States, Schomburg focused on uncovering the history of Africa and its many accomplishments. In 1911, Schomburg co-founded The American Negro Society, as well as renamed the El Sol de Cuba #38 Lodge to the Prince Hall Lodge #38. "Afroborinqueño" or Afro- Puerto Rican is the term Schomburg used for himself after experiencing racism; he wanted America to know he was proud of who he was and his ancestral heritage. While studying as much of African history and culture as he could, Schomburg worked as a clerk in a law firm and as a Spanish teacher. In 1895, Schomburg married a woman named Elizabeth Hatcher, the couple produced three sons before her death in 1900. Two years later he married Elizabeth Morrow Taylor, they produced two sons before her death. He then married Elizabeth Green and they also produced three sons.
In 1906, Schomburg worked for the Bankers Trust Company before becoming supervisor of the Caribbean and Latin American Mail Section. In 1904, his first article was published in the The Unique Advertiser titled "Is Hayti Decadent?” He then published a pamphlet titled Placido, a Cuban Martyr about Gabriel de la Concepción Valdés, a Cuban independence fighter. In 1914, Schomburg became a member of the American Negro Academy, serving as the last president from 1920 to 1928. The academy was created to unite African scholars who disproved racist scholarship, while promoting the vastness of African history, culture and contributions to humanity. Enveloped within the cultural richness of the Harlem Renaissance, Schomburg was heavily influenced by other black scholars while in turn influencing them to study and promote the history of Africa. In 1912, he was the co-editor of the Encyclopedia of the Colored Race written by Daniel Alexander Payne Murray. In 1916, Schomburg published A Bibliographical Checklist of American Negro Poetry. In 1925, Schomburg published the essay "The Negro Digs Up His Past” in the Survey Graphic magazine; the essay was powerful enough to influence the esteemed historian Dr. John Henrick Clarke to seek out Schomburg and become a historian himself. “The Negro Digs Up His History” was also in the essay collection titled The New Negro by Alain Locke.
In 1935, a librarian named Ernestine Rose who represented the New York Public Library purchased Schomburg’s extensive collection of African historical information and artifacts, for the Schomburg Collection of Negro Literature and Art housed in the 135th street branch of the New York Public Library. Schomburg was so impressive and influential a whole cultural center was named after him. The Schomburg Collection of Negro Literature and Art was eventually renamed the Arthur Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Schomburg was the curator of the Arthur Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. He also served as the curator for the Negro Collection at Fisk University’s library from 1931 to 1932. He became an honorary member of the Men’s Business Club, became the treasurer of the Loyal Sons of Africa, he became the past master of the Prince Hall Lodge #38 Free and Accepted Masons and Rising Sun Chapter Number 4. Schomburg died in 1938, but inspired many African people to learn about the greatness of African history and culture, and the many accomplishments African people brought to the world. Schomburg traveled the world collecting African historical artifacts and information to display to his people and the world. He was named one of the 100 Greatest African Americans in 2002 by Molefi Asante. Hampshire College and the University of Buffalo both have scholarships named in honor of Schomburg. He is one of the many African historians who laid the foundation for On the Shoulders of Giants to exist today. To the late great Arturo Alphonso Schomburg, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
J. A. Ward
Click here to learn more about the On the Shoulders of Giants book series!!!
On September 27th, 1935, Mamie Belton was born in Ridgeway, South Carolina to parents Della Belton Havelow and Gentry Harrison. Her parents separated when she was a child, she lived with her paternal grandmother while her mother worked in Washington D.C., during this time her love for baseball developed by playing with her Uncle Leo “Bones” Belton; Bones was close in age to Mamie and they both improved their baseball skills together. They created their own bats, balls, and bases out of the materials they were able to find. Throwing rocks at crows regularly helped her develop a strong pitching arm. Her primary schooling was in a two-room building called the Thorntree School, before moving to New Jersey to live with members of her family, following the death of her grandmother. Mamie’s grandmother was one of the first people who supported her baseball ambitions. Confident in her abilities, Maimie honed her baseball skills playing against boys before she decided to become a part of an organized team.
Living in New Jersey allowed Mamie to play baseball as much as she wanted; she even had her choice of playing with women or men. She attempted to play for an all-girls team, but it is reported that she quit in frustration because she was not used to playing softball; she learned to play baseball by playing with boys so the game of softball was not thrilling to her. She would later join an all-white boy’s baseball team where she quickly became one of the best players, she helped to lead the team to two championships behind her strong right arm and crafty pitching. Around 1947, Mamie moved to Washington D.C. to live with her mother and began studying to become a dietician at the Freedman’s Hospital, which is now Howard University Hospital. Even though she was pursuing her academics, she never gave up on her dreams of playing baseball. She joined two semi-professional baseball teams, the Alexandria All-Stars and St. Cyprian's, in hopes of creating a baseball career for herself. Her next step was to try out for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League but was not allowed to play. She was angry and determined to show the world that she was a great baseball player. Mamie met and married a man named Charles Johnson. The couple produced a son before they eventually divorced.
By 1953, the Negro Leagues were in decline due to the Major League Baseball luring the best of the black baseball players to their league. This was not good overall for the league, but it opened a door for Mamie to shake up the world. During this time Mamie was playing baseball part-time and working at an ice cream shop, she was spotted by a scout named Bish Tyson who worked for the Indianapolis Clowns, which was a Negro League team. Tyson was able to introduce Mamie to Buster Haywood and McKinley 'Bunny' Downs, both managers of the Clowns. This meeting led to Mamie gaining a tryout for the Clowns and eventually making the team, joining two other women who were already a part of the team, Toni Stone and Connie Morgan. She became a starting pitcher for the Clowns from 1953 to 1955; she won her first start as a pitcher and went on to post an overall record of thirty-three wins and eight losses. As a member of the Clowns, Mamie traveled to Tennessee, Arkansas, Georgia, Alabama, Kentucky, Missouri, and many other states, showing off her special talents as a pitcher. Along with her stellar record as a pitcher, Mamie posted a batting average of around .284. With Jim Crow being the law of the land, as the Clowns traveled to various states to play their games, the male players would sleep on the team’s bus while Mamie and the other women players slept at houses of local black families for safety.
Mamie was aware of the racial tension in America and how it stifled black baseball players, but she was still determined to play and determined to show the world that black male and female baseball players were as good as, or even better than their white counterparts. Mamie earned the nickname “Peanut” from a Kansas City Monarch player named Hank Bayliss, he would constantly tell her that she was small and looked like a peanut pitching on the mound. Though Mamie was successful playing baseball in the Negro Leagues she began to set herself up for life after sports by studying nursing on the side. As a member of the Indianapolis Clowns, she made no more than $700.00 a month in a league that was on its last leg. She had an exciting an enlightening encounter with baseball legend Satchell Page, who gave her some tips on how to throw her curve ball better. By 1955, the Negro Leagues was struggling to stay afloat and Mamie had her son to raise; she did not make enough money playing baseball to properly sustain herself and her son. Mamie Johnson left baseball in 1955 as one of the Negro Leagues most successful pitchers and the only woman to pitch in the Negro Leagues.
After leaving baseball Mamie earned a degree in nursing from North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University and sustained a nursing career for thirty years. Though she was not actively playing baseball, she still had a love for the game which she used to coach teams in youth baseball leagues; she also worked for her son at his baseball memorabilia shop in Maryland. Though Mamie Johnson’s name is not mentioned when people speak of the baseball greats, she was honored by Bill Clinton during his presidency, earned the Mary McLeod Bethune Continuing the Legacy Award, a book titled "A Strong Right Arm" was written about her life and, a one-woman show about her life titled "Change Up" was performed in various theaters. She was honored in two-thousand five by the Washington Nationals and the mayor of Washington D.C. Anthony Williams, in the inaugural game for the Washington Nationals. Mamie Johnson died in 2017 as an unsung baseball pioneer. Her contributions to baseball may not be talked about much, but she is just as significant as any male baseball legend, black or white. She helped kick the doors wide open for women who wanted to play professional baseball. Her intelligence, skills, heart, and love for the game helped her become the legend that she is. Mrs. Mamie "Peanut" Johnson, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
Click here to learn more about the On the Shoulders of Giants book series!!!
From the sixteenth century through the ninetieth century, slaves, soldiers, and domestic workers from East Africa were bought to Sri Lanka by the Arabs, Portuguese, Dutch and the British. Kaffir is a name used to label this particular ethnic group of Sri Lanka. We are familiar with the term Kaffir because it is a racial epithet in South Africa. In Sri Lanka, the term came into being via the Arabs as Qafr meaning unbeliever or mystic, because they refused to convert to their oppressor’s ways, later the Portuguese adopted the term and pronounced it as Cafre. The British began to label this particular group of people as the Kaffir when they counted their census between 1871 and 1911. The Kaffir continued to pass down their African history through oral traditions as they were enslaved by the Arabs and Portuguese, as well as, their enlistment as soldiers, slaves, and domestic workers by the Portuguese, Dutch, and English.
Culturally, the traditions of the Kaffirs began to fade as time passed and the people were introduced to new traditions from other cultures. The culture they do have was brought with them from East Africa and is mostly maintained by the elders. Outside cultural influences have also had an impact on the Kaffir’s religion; their elders have somewhat maintained their original religious traditions, while most of the Kaffir are now Roman Catholic, Buddhist, and Muslim. Music is another facet of the Kaffir culture that has changed as their elders continue to hold on to their African traditions, Kaffrinha/Bailas is a popular form of Sri Lankan music created by the Kaffir which includes African, European and Asian elements. Today the total number of Kaffir is estimated to be around fifteen hundred people, they can be found throughout the Sri Lankan island in various cities. It is believed that when the Kaffir was brought to Sri Lanka their numbers were around 20,000 people, numbers that are vastly different from the number of Kaffir living today.
The Kaffir originally spoke a form of Portuguese creole which included linguistic elements from Africa, Asia, and Portugal. The Kaffir has contributed to Asian culture and Sri Lankan culture through their music and craftsmanship; the assagai is a metal tip spear that was widely used in battle and is an example of the Kaffir contribution to Sri Lanka. These people were brought to Sri Lanka by force or as a source of labor, either for war, cleaning or building; like many other African people, they also were victims of Arab and European colonization. The Arab slave trade has existed for over two-thousand years and it still exists today. The slave trade is one of the reasons the Kaffir from Ethiopia, Mozambique and various other East African countries exist in Sri Lanka today. Similar to African people being dispersed throughout the Americas via the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, African people were dispersed throughout the Asian continent via the Arab Slave Trade, as well as, European colonization. The Kaffir are another example of the extent of the African diaspora; African people have traveled and civilized the world on their own or by force. To the Kaffir of Sri Lanka, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
Click here to learn more about the On the Shoulders of Giants book series!!!
On July 24th, 1802, Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie was born in Villers-Cotterêts, France, to parents Thomas-Alexandre Dumas and Marie-Louise Élisabeth Labouret. Thomas-Alexandre was the son of a French nobleman and an African woman enslaved in Haiti. Dumas began his writing career in 1822 after moving to Paris, France, he became the scribe for the Duke of Orleans, Louis-Philippe during the revolution of 1830. While working for Louis-Philippe he also began writing his magazine articles and plays; in 1829, at the age of 27, he produced his first play Henry III and His Courts. His play was well received and critically acclaimed by his audiences and critics. In 1830, he produced his second play Christine which was also met with critical acclaim and allowed him to make money as a writer. Dumas followed in the footsteps of his grandmother and father by changing his last name from de la Pailleterie to Dumas to connect more with his family’s African roots.
Following his success as a play writer, Dumas began writing novels, essays and short stories surrounding the topics of crime and humiliations and became known as a serial novelist. In 1838, Dumas publish his first serial novel Le Capitaine Paul, which was a reworking of one of his plays, he also created a production studio to help him write many more novels. Celebrated Crimes is an eight-volume essay collection written by Dumas and others between 1839 and 1841. The novel The Fencing Master was published in 1840, it highlighted the Fencing Master Augustin Grisier and what he witnessed during the Russian Decembrist Revolt. Because of the content and popularity of The Fencing Master, Dumas was banned from Russia, and The Fencing Master was outlawed by then Czar Nicholas I. In 1844, Dumas published some of his most famous works The Count of Monte Cristo, The Corsican Brothers, and The Three Musketeers.
In 1843, Dumas published the novel, Georges, to address the many issues associated with his African heritage; Dumas became knowledgeable of his African ancestry and was proud of who he was. The popularity of his novels led to them being translated into many different languages and mountains of money coming in. He was able to support his lifestyle which was said to include many women and much spending; his homes Le Port-Marly and Chateau de Monte-Cristo were examples of his opulent lifestyle and gregarious nature. The downside to the way he lived was he spent a lot of his money entertaining people, when financial troubles arouse, he was forced to sell his properties and his "friends" were nowhere to be found. Soon Napoleon Bonaparte came to power in France and was not fond of Dumas' writings; by that time Dumas published his widely read travel books, Dumas left France in 1851 for Brussels, Belgium before moving to Russia in 1859; some people say Dumas escaping from creditors was part of the reason he left France. Because the Russian elite spoke French as a second language Dumas was able to continue earning money from his many writings. It is believed that Dumas wrote over one hundred thousand pages in his life. In 1861, Dumas traveled to Italy after Victor Emmanuel II became the King of Italy. Dumas became involved in the unification of Italy and founded the newspaper the Indipendente before returning to France in 1864.
Alexandre Dumas died in 1870, was buried in his hometown of Villers-Cotterêts as a literary giant, who at the time was being overshadowed by the political climate in Europe. Over time his contributions to literature became greatly appreciated by the world. The Alexandre Dumas Paris Metro was named to honor his works in 1970, along with the restoration of his home the Chateau de Monte-Cristo. Over his lifetime, Dumas wrote twenty-eight high adventure fiction works, three d’Artagnan romances, seven Valois romances, eight Marie Antoinette romances, and three entries in the Sainte-Hermine trilogy. He also wrote five dramas to round off his long list of fictional works, writings that further helped him to cement himself as an iconic writer. As far as nonfictional works, Dumas wrote over thirteen nonfiction books, which included his numerous travel novels. Dumas is best-known for writing the books The Three Musketeers and the Count of Monte Cristo, but as we have learned his literary contribution was vast, and this came from a man of African ancestry. I make that last statement because it was and is still believed that people of African descent are inferior to Europeans, but from my studies, I have learned that Europe and all other Western nations would be nothing without black people. Dumas was second to none as a writer and his writings have stood the test of time on an international stage. Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie aka Alexandre Dumas, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
Click here to learn more about the On the Shoulders of Giants book series!!
Click the button below to support On the Shoulders of Giants on Pateron!!
On August 21, 1932, Melvin Peebles was born to parents Edwin Griffin and Marion Peebles in Chicago, Illinois. Edwin Griffin worked as a tailor in Phoenix, Illinois, the same suburb where Van Peebles attended Thornton Township High School, graduating in 1949. After high school he attended West Virginia State College then transferred to Ohio Wesleyan College, graduating with a degree in English Literature in 1954. Thirteen days after his college graduation Van Peebles joined the Air Force where he served for three and a half years. In 1956, Van Peebles spent time in Mexico, where he married Maria Marx who was a German actress and photographer; the couple produced Van Peebles’ eldest son actor and director Mario Van Peebles.
While living in Mexico Van Peebles earned a living as a painter, in 1958 he moved to San Francisco, California where he found work as a cable car grip man. In 1957, Van Peebles made his first short films Sunlight and Three Pickup Men for Herrick as a new filmmaker. With no previous experience in film making and his first two short films in hand, Van Peebles set out to Hollywood to become a film director. Unfortunately, his films were not well received and he didn’t find anyone who wanted to work with him. While in New York City, he was offered a chance to screen his films in France, this meeting led to him and his family moving to the Netherlands and Van Peebles working for the Dutch National Theater. While living in the Netherlands Melvin Peebles changed his name to Melvin Van Peebles, to help him find work. Van Peebles was starting to gain recognition for his films; he was invited to work in Paris by Henri Langlois a French film archivist and influential film figure. Langlois hired Van Peebles to translate Mad Magazine into French, to do so, Van Peebles learned French and began to change the course of his career and film history.
Van Peebles began writing plays using a French style of songwriting that mixed singing and speaking. Van Peebles began writing novels in the 1960s; his first four novels were The Big Heart, A Bear for the F.B.I., The True American, and Harlem Party. He also wrote a collection of short stories in French before releasing his French short film Cinq Cent Balles in 1965. In 1968, Van Peebles made his first feature-length film titled The Story of a Three-Day Pass, which was successful enough to attract Hollywood producers; because of his name being Van Peebles the Hollywood producers thought he was a white man. In 1968, Van Peebles also released his first studio album as a recording artist titled Brer Soul. The success of The Story of a Three-Day Pass led to Van Peebles being selected by Columbia Pictures to direct the film The Watermelon Man in 1970. Van Peebles was also selected to direct the filming of the Powder Ridge Rock Festival before it was canceled by a court injunction.
In 1971, Melvin Van Peebles rocked Hollywood and the black film industry when he made his groundbreaking film Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song. Van Peebles along with a fifty-thousand dollar loan from Bill Cosby funded the film. Van Peebles wrote the script, directed the film, edited the film, wrote the score for the film, and he also developed and directed the marketing campaign for the film. It is considered a groundbreaking film because it created the “Blaxploitation” era in film, its message resonated with the Black Panthers and other groups fighting for black liberation, it grossed over ten million dollars, and showcased the brilliance of Melvin Van Peebles to the world.
In 1972, Van Peebles wrote the composition for the theater adaptation of his novel Harlem Party titled “Don’t Pay Us Cheap”, his work on the music and the book led to Van Peebles being nominated for two Tony awards. Van Peebles was also nominated for a Tony award as a composer and lyricist for the play “Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death.” In 1976, Van Peebles wrote the theme song for the television series "Just an Old Sweet Song", in 1977, he wrote the screenplay for the biopic "Greased Lightning", in 1978, he wrote the pilot for the television show “Down Home”, before making his television debut as an actor in the 1981 series “The Sophisticated Gents”. Van Peebles began working in the American Stock Exchange as an options trader in the 1980’s, where he would ultimately find success. In 1986, he wrote the book Bold Money: A New Way to Play the Options Market, and in 1987 he opened Van Peebles and Hayes Municipal Securities, which was a municipal bonds firm. In 1995, Van Peebles co-starred in the live-action version of the Japanese comic Fist of the North Star, in 2005, Van Peebles was the focus of the documentary How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company, later in 2005, Van Peebles along with Ossie Davis and Gordon Parks were featured in the documentary Unstoppable.
As a professional creator Melvin Van Peebles wrote thirteen books; directed, wrote, scored or produced over 13 films; earned ten extra writing credits working on films in various capacities; has 16 credits as an actor; wrote six plays; released seven studio albums; and four movie soundtrack albums. Van Peebles was truly a man that refused to be held back by the racism in America. He earned a chance to make films in Europe but ended up changing the film industry in America and around the world. He helped Hollywood and the rest of the world see that black people could write, direct, act, produce films, create the music, and even perform the music. He made his first two short-films not understanding how to make a movie, but in the end, he fully understood that he must take control of his career to truly make a difference in the film. Mr. Melvin Van Peebles, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
J. A. Ward
Click here to learn more about the On the Shoulders of Giants book series!!!
On July 6, 1914, Viola Irene Davis was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, as one of ten children to parents James Albert and Gwendolin Irene Davis. James was a barber and Gwendolin was a homemaker; Gwendolin was seen as an uncommon woman, she was a white woman who made a family with a black man and she was active in fighting for black rights. As a young girl Viola wanted to be a hairdresser, she also noticed a need for black hair care and beauty products in Nova Scotia. Racism in Canada was prevalent and would deny Viola her human right to attend beauty schools in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Determined to get the training she needed, she moved to Montreal to attend the Field Beauty Culture School, before attending beauty school in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and New York City; in New York, she was able to develop her skills attending one of Madame C.J. Walker's beauty schools. She would complete her training and earned her diploma from the Apex College of Beauty Culture and Hairdressing in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
After completing her beautician training, Viola returned to Halifax where she opened her own beauty salon in 1937 to served black clients. Her salon was very popular and even attracted notable black Canadian women such as opera singer Portia White and Nova Scotia’s first black nurse Gwen Jenkins. Returning to Halifax also afforded Viola the chance to meet and Mary a man named Jack Desmond, who was integral in helping her become a successful businesswoman. Viola drew from her own experience as an aspiring beautician, she remembered the discrimination she faced and didn’t want any other black women to face discrimination, so the Desmond School of Beauty and Culture was created to serve and educate the future of black women beauticians. Viola Desmond was truly standing on the shoulders of black hair care pioneers Annie Malone and Madame C.J. Walker.
Annually the Desmond School of Beauty and Culture would graduate up to fifteen women fully equipped as master beauticians and business women. Black women from all over Canada and parts of the United States attended Viola's school. Black women who were rejected by white-run beautician schools found a place at the Desmond School of Beauty and Culture. Entrepreneurship was in Viola's blood and professional training, so it was no surprise that she created her own line of beauty products, VI’s Beauty Products. Later in her entrepreneurial journey, Viola and her husband Jack joined forces and opened a beauty and barber salon to serve the black men and women of Halifax. Viola Desmond became a notable woman within the communities of Halifax, but her success would not shield her from the ongoing racism experienced in Canada.
In 1946, Viola took a business trip to New Glasgow, Nova Scotia to sell her beauty products. She was experiencing car trouble and took her car to be repaired, informed that it would take a day to fix her car she decided to see the movie “The Dark Mirror” at the Roseland Theater. Unaware that the theater was segregated she proceeded to sit on the main floor instead of the balcony that was reserved for black patrons. Viola was said to be nearsighted and sat in the main floor section so she can see; she was also sold a ticket designated for the balcony; tickets for black moviegoers were taxed higher than tickets for white moviegoers. The manager of the theater quickly demanded that Viola leave the main floor and sit in the balcony. She refused to move because she could actually see the screen from her main floor seat. The theater called the police and Viola was removed from the main floor by physical force and injured in the process. For her refusal to leave the “white section” she was arrested and charged with tax evasion; it was a one cent difference in tax between black and white movie tickets. Viola was forced to pay a twenty dollar fine along with six dollars in court fees to be released from jail.
After her release from jail, Viola and her husband discussed her arrest, he attempted to encourage her to drop the matter and move on with her life, encouraged by her minister she followed her heart and took the case to court to claim her justice. Black Canadian journalist Carrie Best wrote about Viola’s case in The Clariton which was a black-owned Canadian newspaper. The story running in the newspaper helped the case to gain momentum and support; the Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NSAACP) learned of her case and decided to help her fight the case. Viola was able to hire Frederick William Bissett as her lawyer but was unsuccessful in filing a lawsuit against the theatre. Tax evasion was the crime that the Canadian government was set on charging Viola Desmond with, even though Viola tried to buy a main floor ticket, but they were not sold to black patrons. The language of the Nova Scotian statues did not help Frederick Bissett’s argument against tax evasion; many people believed that he failed her as a lawyer for trying to argue the tax evasion angle instead of the angle of racial discrimination.
Even though Bissett was unsuccessful in his defense of Viola Desmond he did not charge her for his services, the money he would have charged her was used to support the Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NSAACP), which was in its infancy stage. Following her loss in her trial, she closed her business and moved to Montreal, Canada and enrolled into Business College. Later she would settle in New York City before she died of gastrointestinal hemorrhage in 1965. In 2010, Viola was pardoned posthumously by the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia for her wrongful arrest and conviction in the movie theatre. Though Viola Desmond was no longer with us physically her legacy was set; a scholarship was created in her name at Cape Breton University. In 2012, her likeness was displayed on a commemorative Canadian stamp. In 2016, a Halifax Harbor ferry was named and her name was included in her honor. In December of 2016, her likeness was chosen to appear on the Canadian ten-dollar note. In January of 2018 she was named a National Historic Person, and June of 2018 she was given a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame. She was an outside-the-box thinker and black Canadian pioneer, she was not afraid to face Canada's racist systems even if it was not a planned event. She created the black hair care industry in Canada while creating opportunities for other black people to succeed. Mrs. Viola Irene Desmond, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
Click here to support our On the Shoulders of Giants African history book series!!
On January 11th, 1902, Evelyn Dove was born in London, England, to parents Francis Dove and Augusta Winchester. Evelyn’s father Francis was a barrister from Sierra Leone and her mother was a British woman. From an early age, entertainment was a path that Evelyn had chosen for herself; she studied singing, the piano and elocution at the UK’s oldest conservatoire the Royal Academy of Music, from 1917 to 1919. In September of 1919, Evelyn married a man named Milton Alphonso Luke; she also hoped to gain her footing performing in the various London concerts as a contralto. Despite her professional training, her skin color was a deterrent to a number of London based concert organizers. The worlds of Jazz and Cabaret would welcome Evelyn with open arms and offer her a place to start her career as a performer. “Norma Winchester” was the name that Evelyn initially used as a performer when she joined the Southern Syncopated Orchestra (SSO), an orchestra comprised of British West Indian, West African and Black American musicians. Black American Jazz music was taking America and the world by storm; it was also being recreated and performed by black artist in the UK.
Tragedy struck the SSO in 1921, nine members of the band drowned as their ship the SS Rowan collided with another ship and sank. Evelyn was fortunate to survive the crash; she along with other survivors participated in a Survivors Sacred Concert on October 14th of 1921, to honor their band members who didn’t survive the crash. Evelyn’s career and her popularity were building as she was able to join the American all-black review Chocolate Kiddies in 1925, she replaced the American performer Lottie Gee, as the revue toured Western Europe and the USSR (Russia). Evelyn Dove was becoming a household name in Europe from 1920 to 1930; she performed with London's Mile End Empire in 1926, as well as, Her Plantation Creoles. Her Plantation Creoles was unique at the time because of the style of singing and dancing they presented to their audiences was unfamiliar to the masses; they traveled Europe extensively performing in Berlin, Italy, France, the Netherlands and much more. During their time in France Evelyn was able to replace Josephine Baker in a number of performances. In 1936, Evelyn traveled to the US to perform as a headliner at the famous Harlem nightclub Connie’s Inn. While in New York she was photographed by the famed photographer and writer Carl Van Vechten; Van Vechten’s photographs of her helped to boost her notoriety.
In 1937, one of Evelyn’s performances was reviewed by The Evening News of India as she performed in Bombay, India. Her performances were so great that she received standing ovations and was being compared to the greatness of Josephine Baker; the two women were exposing the world to the greatness of black performers no matter what part of the world they came from. British writer Stephen Bourne stated the following about Evelyn Dove: “She is an artist of international reputation, one of the leading personalities of Europe's entertainment world. She is described as the closest rival of the great Josephine Baker herself. Evelyn didn't get just the big hand. She got an ovation, a roaring welcome.” Between 1939 and 1949, Evelyn worked extensively with the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) as a singer and personality on a variety of programs during World War II. She performed mostly “negro music,” but it was understood that she was more than capable of performing many different genres of music, and could outshine her competition. She was a guest feature on the CD compilation Negro Spirituals – The Concert Tradition 1909 – 1948, performing the Negro Spiritual "Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray".
BBC radio offered her the opportunity to appear as a regular on music radio programs such as Rhapsody in Black, Calling the West Indies, Variety Bandbox, Music For You, Caribbean Carnival, Mississippi Nights and Serenade in Sepia. Evelyn performed Serenade in Sepia with Edric Connor, a folk singer from Trinidad; the program was so popular that a television series was created from the radio broadcast. BBC offered their platform to broadcast the television series “Variety in Sepia” featuring Evelyn Dove, Edric Connor, and many other black artists in 1947. The television series was created for the black talent that was heard on the radio or performed in theaters. Now black, white and other audiences were able to see the amazing black artist behind the music they enjoyed on BBC radio. In 1949, Evelyn left BBC and London to perform in India, Paris, Spain and other countries until the late 1950's. She returned to London but found it hard to find work despite her extensive resume as a performer and singer. She became a part of the cast of the London television series “London Melody” in 1951.
In 1956, she played the mother of Eartha Kitt in the television drama “Mrs. Patterson.” Following her performance in “Mrs. Patterson” she was able to become one of the performing stars in Langston Hughes’ Simply Heavenly, and a few other acting or singing jobs until her star faded. In 1987, Evelyn Dove died of pneumonia as a pioneer in black British singing and acting. To be mentioned in the same breath as the legendary Josephine Baker proves how talented Evelyn Dove was. Her voice was unique and brilliant, BBC radio producer Eric Fawcett stated the following about Evelyn Dove: "She is a contralto with a perfect microphone quality and although I have used her mostly in music of negro origin this has ranged from spirituals to Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. She is, of course, a highly trained singer. She is an extremely charming person with a very attractive personality. I would rate her the best-colored contralto in this country." Mrs. Evelyn Dove, we proudly stand on your Shoulders.
Click here to learn more about the On the Shoulders of Giants book series!!!
Abu Uthman ibn Bahr al-Kinani al-Basri, also known as, Al-Jahiz, was born in the caliphate (Islamic State) of Basra, Iraq in 778. It is said that he was born with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge despite his family being poor. The name Al-Jahiz translates to “The Goggle-Eyed”, a name that was given to him because his eyes were larger than normal. According to scholars and testimonials of family members, physically, he was described as a dark skin man, the grandson of a black cameleer. Not much is known about his early life, but information suggest that he would sell fish to help his family earn income, when he wasn’t soaking up knowledge from reading or attending lectures. Al-Jahiz and other youth of the day would gather at the main Mosque of Basra and discuss several topics to seek as much understanding as possible. In addition to the gatherings at the Mosque, he would attend various lectures on several scientific topics; zoology, language, philosophy and writing were the topics that interested Al-Jahiz the most. He consumed information as if his appetite could never be satisfied over a twenty-five year period, helping to set the foundation for a man who is considered the greatest of the Arabic writers.
Writing would change Al-Jahiz’s life and help him earn his place in history. He began his career as a writer after he wrote an article about the Caliphate of Basra; the massive amounts of knowledge he obtained over the years helped him become a very knowledgeable writer. Over his lifetime, Al-Jahiz wrote over two-hundred books covering subjects such as zoology, poetry, philosophy, lexicography, rhetoric, etc. Al-Jahiz was a person who would be considered a genius and ahead of their time; he suggested that the Arabic grammatical system become overhauled two-hundred years before it was actually overhauled by Ibn Mada. In 816 AD, Al-Jahiz moved to Baghdad along with many other scholars due to the encouragement of the Abbasid Caliphate Dynasty; the Caliphate wanted to expand the popularity of his library, the “House of Wisdom”. Al-Jahiz was considered to be a very knowledgeable person and a very capable teacher. His reputation was so respected that Caliph Al-Ma’Mun wanted him to teach his children. Unfortunately, the Caliph’s children were afraid of Al-Jahiz’s eyes and he did not teach the children.
Of the two-hundred books written by AL-Jahiz, only thirty have survived the years. His most famous book is the Kitab al-Hayawan or Book of Animals. This book is the reason Al-Jahiz his considered “The Father of The Theory of Evolution”. The Book of Animals is seven volumes of anecdotes and descriptions of over 350 animals; Al-Jahiz was studying evolution and natural selection before Charles Darwin. Al-Jahiz’s book Kitab al-Bukhala or the Book of Misers is where he showed his prose style of writing, a style that influenced modern Arabic writing. Book of Misers is one of the reasons Al-Jahiz is considered one of the greatest Arabic prose writers in history. The Book of eloquence and Demonstration and On the Zanj are two other popular books that Al-Jahiz wrote and survived the times. After living in Baghdad for a considerable amount of time, Al-Jahiz moved back to his hometown of Basra before he died between 868 and 869 AD. A lifelong scholar turned writer would not only influence the Abbasid Caliphate Dynasty, but he influenced the Arabic world and beyond. He became the “Father of The Theory of Evolution” just because he had a love for zoology, writing and teaching. He is a giant within the Arabic world and an unknown influence to the rest of the world, until now. Abu Uthman ibn Bahr al-Kinani al-Basri aka Al-Jahiz, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
Click here to learn more about the On the Shoulders of Giants book series!!
Roders, J.A. (1946). World’s Great Men Of Color Volume 1 New York, New York: Simon & Schuster
Francis Nwia-Kofi Ngonloma was born on September 21, 1909, in Nkroful, Ghana, to parents Kofi Ngonloma and Elizabeth Nyanibah. As a young boy Nkrumah had a love for education, a passion that would help him excel in school. He received an early education attending mission schools in Accra, Ghana before completing his grade school education at the Prince of Wales’ Achimota School in Accra, Ghana. Nkrumah graduated from Achimota in 1930 and worked as a teacher until 1935, during this time he was introduced to ideas of Black Nationalism, liberation and anti-colonialism. 1935 was also the year that Nkrumah left Ghana for the United States to earn a college education. He would attend the historically black institution Lincoln University located in Oxford, Pennsylvania. Nkrumah earned his Bachelor of Arts in Economics in 1939 and his Bachelor of Theology in 1942 as a Lincoln University student. Following his time at Lincoln, he enrolled into the University of Pennsylvania where he earned a Masters of Philosophy and a Masters of Education by 1943.
During Nkrumah’s time as a college student, he experienced the rise of black consciousness in America through Garveyism, Black Nationalism, Pan-Africanism and the African American response to the Jim Crow laws. Nkrumah was a co-founder of the African Students Association of America and Canada, helped to create of the West African Student’s Union, and played an important role in organizing the 5th Pan-Africanist Congress. As a believer in a united black Africa, Nkrumah often convened with various black thinkers, educators, leaders and idealist throughout the African diaspora, trading ideas and learning new information about liberation. In May of 1945, Nkrumah left the United States for London, England where he studied as a PhD. student at the London School of Economics; later in 1945, Francis Nwia-Kofi Ngonloma officially changed his name to Kwame Nkrumah. He did not complete his studies to earn his PhD. because he was embarking on a mission much greater. Even though he left his formal educational setting he never stopped learning, he became well versed in politics, organizing, leadership, nation building, etc.
In 1947, Nkrumah returned to Ghana as an intellectual, political and tactical weapon his people could use to liberate themselves. Before his return to his homeland Nkrumah earned a reputation around the world as fierce force fighting for freedom, justice and equality for black people. Nkrumah was well equipped to contend with white supremacy. After returning to Ghana, he became the general secretary of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), an organization that created strategies to help gain their independence from England. As a member of the UGCC Nkrumah directly challenged British rule and their oppressive laws against the people of Ghana; Nkrumah and the UGCC were awakening a fire of freedom in the people of Ghana. By 1949, Nkrumah and the UGCC parted ways due to differences in philosophies, he then created his own Convention People's Party (CPP). Under the banner of the CPP Nkrumah and the people were putting immense pressure on the British who ruled Ghana.
The Nkrumah led CPP lobbied for self-government, universal franchise, a separate house of chiefs, and many more constitutional changes. Nkrumah’s ideas and organization was not welcomed by the British, he was imprisoned for his political activities and given a sentence of three years. During his incarceration the CPP continued to challenge British politics by protesting and also winning the 1951 political elections. With members of the CPP making political decisions, Nkrumah did not have to serve his full three year sentence. In 1952, the political landscape of Ghana changed when Nkrumah was elected as Prime Minister; his presence meant that the British could not influence the leaders of Ghana. A five year plan was created to rid the Gold Cost of British rule and to strengthen their mission by working together with their fellow African countries. In 1957, Ghana officially gained its independence from the British due to the efforts of the CPP and Kwame Nkrumah. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr befriended Nkrumah and the two shared philosophies during King’s visit to Ghana in 1957. Both men admired many aspects of the other and were able to grow as leaders within their respective countries.
The New Republic of Africa was formed three years into Nkrumah’s tenure as Prime Minister of Ghana. With ideas of African unity rooted in Pan-Africanism and Black Nationalism, Nkrumah created alliances with as many of his neighboring countries as he could. In 1963, the Organization of African Unity was formed with the goal of creating a league of African states, a collective that would improve the conditions for as many African people as possible; later in 1963, Nkrumah was awarded the International Lenin Peace Prize by the Soviet Union for strengthening peace among their comrades. By 1966, what is described as economic and political instability was present within Ghana and the CPP led government.
Nkrumah and the CPP were overthrown by a Joseph Ankrah led coup d’état in 1966, driving Nkrumah and his family into exile. Sekou Tuore offered Nkrumah refuge in Conakry, Guinea as a friend and as a means to continue their mission of African liberation and unity. Nkrumah died of cancer in 1972 in Bucharest, Romania as an African leader who has his imprint on history. Fueled by his basic human right to be free and receive equal treatment, Nkrumah and the CPP led Ghana to their independence from the British and helped inspire other African nations to seek their independence. He was not only an inspiration to people on the continent of Africa but he inspired African people around the world. Francis Nwia-Kofi Ngonloma aka Kwame Nkrumah, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
J. A. Ward
Click here to learn more about the On the Shoulders of Giants book series!!!
On April 4, 1928, Marguerite Annie Johnson was born to parents Bailey and Vivian Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri; Angelou was nicknamed "Maya" by her older brother Bailey Jr. As a three-year-old Maya and Bailey Jr moved to Stamps, Arkansas to live with their grandmother because their parents divorced. Their grandmother’s financial situation was more favorable than their parents because she owned a general store and could provide them with what they needed. An eight-year-old Angelou was raped by her mother's boyfriend while visiting her mother in St. Louis, Missouri. Eight-year-old Angelou testified against the man that raped her, as a result, a number of her uncles caught the man and beat him to death. Too young to fully understand why the man was beaten to death, young Angelou felt his death was her fault and did not speak a word for five years. During her high school years, she would attend schools in both Arkansas and California before she dropped out to become the first black woman streetcar conductor in San Francisco, California. She eventually re-enrolled into high school and graduated at the age of seventeen, three weeks later she gave birth to her only son.
Angelou would marry a Greek man named Tosh Angelos who was an electrician, once worked as a sailor and aspired to become a full-time musician. Angelou’s marriage to Tosh Angelos lasted only a few years before the couple divorced. Angelou would continue pursuing dance and even found herself a contemporary and dance student with the legendary Alvin Ailey. They grew a friendship that led to the two forming a dance pair called “Alvin & Rita” which performed for collegiate black Greek organizations. At the time Angelou lived in San Francisco, she remarried before moving to New York to study African dance under Pearl Primus, a notable Trinidadian dancer, a year later Angelou and her family moved back to San Francisco. Angelou was laying the foundation as a dancer and singer to one of the most extraordinary and influential careers a person could have. In 1954, Angelou divorced her second husband but found work as a Calypso dancer and singer in the Purple Onion nightclub. Following a suggestion by the owners of the Purple Onion, Angelou created her stage name "Maya Angelou" to use as a performer rather than her birth name. The uniqueness of her name helped her stand out from the other performers she was competing with.
Angelou was a very talented performer and even earned a role in the opera Porgy and Bess which allowed her to travel the world. The opera appeared in twenty-two countries exposing Angelou to a plethora of opportunities her career can offer. While visiting the various countries Angelou had a goal of learning as many languages as she could, as a result, she learned a number of different languages and cultures. In 1957, she recorded her first album as a singer titled Miss Calypso, following her success as a calypso singer and dancer. Angelou was finding success early as a performer, she appeared in plays on Broadway and through other vehicles, one play she appeared in was the inspiration behind the 1957 film Calypso Heat Wave, Angelou was the composer of the songs she sang in the film. She also acted in the play Cabaret for Freedom which she co-wrote with a man named Godfrey Cambridge.
In 1959, Angelou was inspired to become an author and even joined the Harlem Writers Guild where she learned from some of America’s most prolific authors; the incredible historian Dr. John Henrick Clarke was one of the writers Angelou learned from. The inspiration from the writers guild helped her become published within newspapers such as The Arab Observer and The Ghanaian Times, she also appeared on the Ghanaian Broadcasting Corporation programming which was produced in Accra, Ghana. While living in Ghana, Angelou became a feature editor for the African Review from 1964 to 1968, she also worked as an assistant administrator for the School of Music and Drama at the University of Ghana. After being inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, she became the Northern Coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Angelou would also work with Malcolm X to build his Organization of African American Unity until his untimely death.
In 1968, Angelou wrote, produced and narrated a ten-part documentary titled Blacks, Blues, Black!, which helped connect the Blues to the black people who created the music and the conditions they lived in. In 1969, Angelou published her first book “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” which is a memoir of her early life. The book was a major success and led to her having a plethora of opportunities as a writer, performer, speaker, etc. She would write a number of books that told her story from various stages of her life; Gather Together in My Name, Singin' and Swingin' and Gettin' Merry Like Christmas, The Heart of a Woman, All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes, A Song Flung Up to Heaven, and Mom & Me & Mom are the names of the books. She wrote around thirteen poetry books, And Still I Rise is her most-well known poetry book.
Angelou wrote the screenplay Georgia, Georgia in 1972 which was produced by a Swedish film company, she also wrote the soundtrack for the screenplay. In 1970, she was nominated for the National Book Award, nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1972, two Tony Award nominations in 1973, one Tony Award nomination in 1977, and she received the North Carolina Award in Literature in 1987. She was named Woman of the Year in communications by Ladies' Home Journal in 1976 and regarded as one of the most influential women by the Ladies' Home Journal in 1983. As a writer, she produced scripts for television shows Sister, Sister and Brewster’s Place. She wrote and produced her full-length film Sister, Sister before directing her first movie Down in the Delta in 1998.
Later in 1998, Angelou was inducted into the Women’s Hall of Fame, in the year 2000 she was awarded the National Medal of Arts, eight years later she received the Lincoln Medal. In 2014, Maya Angelou died as a legend that will never be forgotten. Her contributions to writing, music, film, television and public speaking are still felt to this day. Her historic poem And Still I Rise has inspired black women to become the greatest versions of themselves for decades. Angelou was a multi-talented blessing to black America and the world as a whole. Miss. Marguerite Annie Johnson, also known as Maya Angelou, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
Click here to learn more about the On the Shoulders of Giants book series!!
Born on the Gold Coast of Africa in modern-day Accra, Ghana, in 1944, to parents Dr. George Busby and Sarah Busby, Margaret Yvonne Busby would become a literary pioneer for the United Kingdom’s black community. She attended high school in Sussex County until the age of fifteen before continuing her education at Bedford College at London University. Her concentration was English and journalism, she became the editor of her college’s magazine and graduated with an Honors Bachelor’s degree as a twenty year old. As a college student she met a man named Clive Allison who she would partner with to make history.
As a college graduate Busby would search for and find work at the Cresset Press, a London based independent publishing company. While working for the Cresset Press, Busby and Clive Allison were creating Allison & busby, their groundbreaking independent publishing company. Allison & busby officially opened for business in 1967, the company’s first three published books were The Spook Who Sat By The Door by Sam Greenlee, Behold the Man and The Final Programme by Michael Moorcock, all three books were published in 1969. Busby served as the editorial director for Allison & Busby from 1967 until 1987. During her time the company published books from authors such as H. Rap Brown, C.L.R. James, Ralph de Boissière, Rosa Guy, and many more. At the time of the founding of Allison & Busby Margaret Busby became the youngest person and the first black woman in the United Kingdom to found her own publishing company.
Busby did serve as the editorial director of the publishing company Earthscan for a short period of time, after working for Earthscan she would work as a freelance editor and writer. As an Earthscan employee she published books for Frantz Fanon, Han Suyin, Carolina Maria de Jesus and many others. Busby’s writing career wasn’t confined to editing; as a journalist she wrote for specialist journals, The Observer, The Independent, The Sunday Times, New Statesmen and The Guardian. When Busby wrote for The Guardian she was in charge of writing book reviews and obituaries for known or respected artist and social activist. In addition to writing, during the 1960s, Busby begin her career in television and radio, London Line, Break For Women and Talking Africa are some of the programs she appeared on. She was sought after to appear on a plethora of television and radio programs as her popularity increased. Radio broadcast would often invite her on their programs to entertain their audiences with various dramatizations based off of novels. In 1999, her dramatization of the novel Minty Alley by author C.L.R. James won the “Race In The Media Award” presented by the Commission for Racial Equality.
Busby used her immensely talented writing skills to write celebrated stage plays such as Sankofa, Yaa Asantewaa – Warrior Queen and An African Cargo. She was trusted with writing the logistics for the 2014 Maya Angelou: A Celebration tribute, held at the London Literature Festival. In 1992, she published her book Daughters of Africa: An International Anthology of Words and Writings by Women of African Descent, a groundbreaking book that gave insight into the plight and the triumphs of women of African descent. During the 1980s, Busby was a founding member of Greater Access to Publishing, an organization who fought for more black representation in the publishing world. As a member of the Independent Black Publishers she has represented blacks working in the publishing world for over three decades. She was named one of eight black women whose contributions have helped with the development of Britain by The Voice newspaper in 2018. The newspaper Evening Standard named Busby as one of their fourteen inspirational black British women throughout history. Her pioneering work was recognized during the Rights for Women: London’s Pioneers in their Own Words exhibition in 2018.
Busby won the Society of Young Publishers Award in 1970, became an Honorary Member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha International Region in 1998, was given the Ghanaian traditional honor as Nana Akua Ackon in 1999, received the Officer of the Order of the British Empire for her services to Literature and to Publishing in 2006, received the UK African Heritage High Achievers Recognition Award and many more awards. She decided that she would use her voice and her pen to help make the world a better place. She was creative and brave enough to found a publishing company that still exist to this day. In the process of following her dreams, Margaret Busby managed to change the publishing industry in the United Kingdom. Black women are one of the main reasons many industries in this world are able to continue to thrive. Margaret Yvonne Busby, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
Click here to learn more about the On the Shoulders of Giants book series!!!
On November 30, 1912, Gordon Rodger Alexander Buchanan Parks was born in Fort Scott, Kansas, to parents Andrew Jackson Parks and Sarah Ross. Andrew Jackson Parks was a farmer who supported his family though they lived in humble conditions; Gordon Parks was the youngest of his parent’s fifteen children. The Jim Crow laws ruled America at the time so Gordon and his family faced racism on a regular basis. As a child he attended segregated schools which denied black students the opportunity to play sports and attend school functions. The white teachers often tried to discourage the black students from going to college or pursuing professions that was outside of serving servitude. At the age of eleven, Parks was assaulted and threw into the Marmaton River by three white boys, they knew he couldn’t swim and hoped he drowned. Gordon had the presence of mind to use the water to screen himself from the white boys and make it safely to land.
Gordon’s mother Sarah Ross died when he was fourteen years old, twelve months later Gordon went to live with his sister named Maggie Lee and her husband in Minneapolis -Saint Paul, Minnesota. Maggie Lee’s husband was not fond of Gordon living with them and later kicked him out of their home. Gordon was forced to make a living for himself as a fifteen year old in a Jim Crow America; he did enroll himself into Central High School to further his education, but later dropped out to make a living for himself. He worked a number of jobs to help himself such as, working in a brothel, working as a bus boy, a piano player, water, semi-pro sports, and other odd jobs. Parks could write music and was overheard playing one of his songs on a piano by a Jazz band leader, the two became acquainted and the Jazz band was performing Parks’ song on the radio, shortly after Parks was a singer in the band.
In 1933, Parks married his first wife Sally Alvis and supported his family as a singer in the Jazz band. Parks’ time with the band did not last long as it disbanded in New York City, Parks needed to be able to support his family so he begin working with the New Deal Civilian Conservation Corps clearing forest land in New Jersey. Parks and his family eventually moved back to in Minneapolis -Saint Paul, Minnesota and Parks begin working on the Northern Pacific Railroad as a train porter in 1937. While working on the Northern Pacific Railroad trains, he would see magazines that were filled with photographs of migrant workers and was inspired to become a photographer. He was twenty-five years old when he brought his first camera and began teaching himself to become a professional photographer. From the beginning, Parks had a gift for photography; during the development of his first roll of film he was praised for his work and encouraged to look for photography work at a women’s clothing store. Marva Louis, the wife of legendary boxer Joe Louis was blown away by Parks’ work and pushed for Parks and his wife to move to Chicago to further his career.
In 1940, Parks begin his photography business in Chicago, which at the time specialized in photographs of notable women. Along with photographing notable women, Parks had a keen eye for capturing the black American experience; this led him to receiving the Julius Rosenwald Fellowship in 1941. The fellowship paid him two-hundred dollars a month and he was able to choose his employer. He was later asked to join the Farm Security Administration and help them capture the true conditions of America and its people; the project was led by a man named Roy Stryker. Parks and his family lived on the South Side of Chicago; his work as a freelance photographer helped him gain the Farm Security Administration fellowship. Parks gained recognition for his legendary photograph titled American Gothic, Washington, D.C., which was a black adaptation of the American Gothic painting by Grant Wood of the white farmer and his wife. Parks’ photograph depicted a black woman named Ella Watson who worked as a janitor for the Farm Security Administration. The photograph is showing Ella Watson standing in front of the American flag, holding a broom in her right hand, with a mop in the background behind her left shoulder. The photograph was showing the segregation and racism that was very prevalent in America.
The Farm Security Administration eventually disbanded while Parks was in Washington D.C., because of the opportunities he remained in Washington D.C. and became a photographer for the Office of War Information, photographing the all-black 332nd Fighter Group. Parks and Roy Stryker connected again and Parks became the photographer for the Standard Oil Photography Project located in New Jersey. Parks’ most memorable photos were Dinner Time at Mr. Hercules Brown's Home, Somerville, Maine, Grease Plant Worker, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Car Loaded with Furniture on Highway, Self Portrait, and Ferry Commuters, Staten Island, N.Y. In 1948, Parks was able to publish his first photo essay in Life Magazine, making him the first African-American photographer for Life magazine. Parks noticed that Life’s descriptions of his photos did not describe what he was photographing so he insisted on writing the descriptions for his photos. From 1950 to 1951, Parks was working in Paris for Life Magazine’s Paris bureau after showing his adaptability as a photographer to Wilson Hicks, the editor of Life magazine at the time. He was able to move throughout Europe photographing people from all walks of life.
Back in America, Parks was able to capture pictures of the Civil Rights movement and black leaders from Malcolm X to Stokely Charmichael. His talent was on full display around the world and was capturing photos of many well-known artist and celebrities. Parks also worked in the film industry as a director and consultant; some of his movies include The Learning Tree, Shaft, Shaft's Big Score, a biopic of the blues musician Huddie Ledbetter, and a number of other films. Parks was an ultra-talented person; he published fifteen books and even dabbled as a painter. He died in 2006 as a result of liver cancer, leaving behind a long list of works that changed the Photography industry, the world of art and, inspired generations of artist. He and his first wife Sally Alvis divorced in 1961, he then married Elizabeth Campbell in 1962, the couple divorced in 1973 before he married his third wife Genevieve Young. Parks was an amazing man with a great eye to be able to capture the true existence of black America through his photography. He was an artist that other artist admired, he used his talents to show what was really happening to black Americans and the people considered the upper echelon of their society. He believed in himself despite being told he was only good enough to serve white people, when he was a child. Mr. Gordon Rodger Alexander Buchanan Parks, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
Click here to learn more about the On the Shoulders of Giants book series!!!
On October 24, 1958, Nokugcina Elsie Mhlophe was born in KwaZulu- Natal, South Africa, her mother was of Xhosa origin and her father was of Zulu origin. In 1979, she enrolled in the Mfundisweni High School where she found her love for writing, theater and creating. After high school, she enrolled in Rhodes University located in Grahamstown, South Africa, at the university Gcina partook in a cadet course for journalism. During her time in college, she also took part in a film making course as a community project with the Interchurch Media Program that lasted six months. Her career as a professional began as a domestic worker before she worked at the Press Trust as a newsreader. She also worked as a writer for Learn and Teach Magazine around 1983, as well as, working with BBC radio. Gcina was getting off to a good start as a journalist and writer.
Gcina was not only a journalist but she immersed herself within theater and performing which led to her becoming the lead actress in the 1983 play The Nurse. In 1984, she had a leading role in the workshop play titled The Black Dog. Joining the theater along with writing helped Gcina travel South Africa, throughout the African continent and the world. From 1985 to 1987, she wrote an autobiographical play which she also stared in titled Have You Seen Zandile; the play took her to the United States where it was performed in Chicago, Illinois and Knoxville, Tennessee. She was noted as a visiting director in conjunction with the Chicago Theatre Co. and at Knoxville’s Carpet Bag Theatre. Gcina was inspired to use her writings and her voice to tell her stories by an Imbongi, or a Xhosa Praise Poet; this was a title that was traditionally held by men. She also received support to move forward as a play writer and performer by an African poetry legend named Mannie Manim, who was the director of the Market Theatre located in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Her travels allowed her to learn to speak five different languages, Zulu, Xhosa, English, Afrikaans and Sotho. Because of her travels, popularity and work ethic, her works were translated into German, French, Italian, Swahili and Japanese. She not only traveled to perform in plays and for journalism Purposes, she held storytelling workshops for the people of the cities she visited. This was a long journey from performing for black-only audiences in South Africa hoping an audience would show up. Between 1987 and 1998, Gcina performed in and or directed several plays such as, Inyanga, Somdaka, The Good Person Of Sechuan, and Love Child, which gave her an opportunity to perform in Japan. She received four theater awards from 1987 to 1988; she also performed in at least ten television shows and movies from 1986 to 2007. She was either fully responsible for or a part of twenty-eight publications. She has received over twelve awards for writing, publishing books and storytelling.
With a career that spans over thirty years; Gcina is not only noted for her excellence as a writer, director, performer and storyteller, she also made a name for herself as a South African anti-apartheid activist. She found a way to be successful in an industry that was male dominated, because her light could not be dimmed. She traveled the world, told the stories in her heart and was a part of the storytelling of other authors. She gave her time to her people through theater, storytelling and writing, as well as, used her voice and platform to fight apartheid and white supremacy. She inspired women all over the world to believe in themselves and their abilities. Her legend is cemented but her work is not over; she was last known as the patron of the International Association for Theatre for Children and Young People. Ms. Nokugcina Elsie Mhlophe, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
J. A. Ward
Click here to learn more about the On the Shoulders of Giants book series!!
In 1964, the Deacons for Defense and Justice were formed by black men in Jonesboro, Louisiana to protect the black citizens and civil rights activist from the Ku Klux Klan. Armed self-defense was inconsistent with the non-violent philosophy adopted during the civil rights movement. Two military veterans named Earnest “Chilly Willy” Thomas and Frederick Douglass Kirkpatrick were the original founders of the Deacon for Defense. The organization grew in popularity because it appealed to sections of the civil rights movement who no longer believed that non-violence was a sound strategy. Thomas and Douglas created an organization that would discourage Klan attacks, as well as, help prevent activist and black community members from police and fire hose attacks. The Deacons made headlines when their defensive activities forced then Louisiana Governor John McKeithen and Jonesboro city leaders to compromise with civil rights activist.
As the Deacons grew in numbers and popularity they begin to open chapters in different cities. In 1965, Thomas and Kirkpatrick established a second chapter of the Deacons for Defense and Justice in Bogalusa, Louisiana. After working with the black leaders in Bogalusa, Thomas and Kirkpatrick left the chapter under the leadership of Robert “Bob” Hicks, Charles Sims, and A. Z. Young; the Klan was attacking the blacks in Bogalusa so the people organized to defend themselves. The first black Deputy Sheriff of Washington Parish, Louisiana was assassinated by racist whites; the murder increased the tension between the Klan and the Deacons. The tension grew so tough that federally regulated reconstruction-era laws were instituted to protect civil rights activist. In 1966, civil rights activist James Meridith was embarking on a march from Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi called the March Against Fear. Meridith was shot and severely wounded by white supremist, Stokely Carmichael and many other activists completed the march for Meridith but the idea of self-defense was more prominent.
Charmichael was instrumental in convincing Dr. Martin Luther King and other leaders that the Deacons can be integrated into the movement, provide protection and the unity of the movement would be maintained. By 1965, the Deacons were being investigated by J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI, COINTELPRO tactics were unleashed upon the Deacons enabling the FBI to obtain substantial information about the organization. Disloyal black FBI informants were feeding the FBI information about the activities the Deacons engaged in, these tactics helped members of the Deacons become continuously harassed, arrested and questioned by the FBI. As the years passed, other organizations emerged and began to overshadow the Deacons as far as public attention. The presence of the Black Panther Party took away much of the FBI attention that was usually reserved for the Deacons. By 1968, the Deacons disbanded but in their short time they made a huge impact.
The Deacons helped change the ideas and strategies of civil rights organizations and helped lay the foundation for organizations such as the Black Panther Party to exist. They understood that non-violence was a tactic that can be used, but non-violence is not always the best course of action. They often challenged the KKK and Louisiana police who were looking to harm black people. In all, the Deacons were able to organize twenty-one chapters and forty-six affiliate chapters across the country. Historian Lance Hill wrote the following about the Deacons; “the hard truth is that these organizations produced few victories in their local projects in the Deep South—if success is measured by the ability to force changes in local government policy and create self-governing and sustainable local organizations that could survive when the national organizations departed … The Deacons’ campaigns frequently resulted in substantial and unprecedented victories at the local level, producing real power and self-sustaining organizations.” The Deacons were not fully accepted when they were created, over time it was understood that they were not organized to incite violence but only to protect their people from white supremist. To the entire Deacons for Defense and Justice, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
Gina Maria Prince was born on June 10th, 1969, inNew York City, New York. At three weeks old she was adopted by Bob and MariaPrince, Bob was a computer programmer and Maria was a nurse. Gina was a child who grew up in a culturally diverse home, Bob was a white man and Maria was a woman of El Salvadorian and German ancestry. Gina’s birth mother was white and her father was a black man; Gina’s birth mother gave her up for adoption because her family didn’t want her to keep the baby. Growing up as one of five siblings in Pacific Grove, California she was interested in filmmaking as well as track and field. Gina graduated from Pacific Grove High School in 1987 then enrolled in UCLA’s film school while running track. Gina was an excellent student, her supreme skills as a film director earned her the Gene Reynolds Scholarship, and she went on to earn the Ray Stark Memorial Scholarship for OutstandingUndergraduates before graduating from UCLA in 1991.
Gina’s film career began in 1992 as a writer for the television show “A Different World,” three of the scripts she wrote for “ADifferent World” were aired as episodes of the television series. In 1994, she was a story editor and writer for the television show “South Central” before she became the story editor for “Sweet Justice” which was a courtroom drama series. In 1995, Gina began writing and co-producing for a television series titled “Courthouse” on the CBS network. Later in 1995, Gina made her television debut as a director with a CBS special titled “What About YourFriends?” which gave a new look into the lives of black teens growing up in America. The script was so successful that it opened the door for Gina to begin working on the television show “Felicity” as a consulting producer and a writer. All of the work Gina did over the years prepared her for her Hollywood debut that would inspire a generation of movie watchers and future moviemakers.
The film industry was put on notice at the 2000 SundanceFilm Festival when Gina debuted her first film “Love and Basketball”. The film was a cult classic and won twelve overall awards including best film and bestfilm poster at the Black Reel Awards, the film also won best first screenplay atthe Independent Spirit Awards. After the final numbers from the film weretotaled it was the ninth highest grossing basketball movie of all-time andearned over $27,728,000. Later in 2000, Gina directed the HBO movie”Disappearing Acts” starring Wesley Snipes and Sanaa Lathan, whichwas based on a novel by Terry McMillian. In 2003, she became a producer for themovie “Biker Boys” which went on to gross more than $25,000,000,later that year she wrote an episode for the television series “The BernieMac Show.” In 2005, she wrote episodes for the televisionshows “Everybody Hates Chris” and “Girlfriends”, before becoming a producer forthe documentary “Daddy’s Girl” in 2007.
In 2008, Gina wrote and directed the feature film “The Secret Life of Bees” which grossed over $42,000,000 in the US and Canada and won three awards. Expanding her career and her filmography she made another splash in Hollywood with the film “Beyond The Lights” in 2014 staring Nate Parker and Gugu Mbatha-Raw. She became a writer for the 2017 film “Before I Fall” and the 2018 film “Nappily Ever After.” Information suggests that Gina will be working on creating a film based off of the novel An Untamed State that was written by Roxane Gay. Gina met and married her husband Reggie “Rock” Bythewood who is a film writer, director and producer; the two met on the set of “A Different World.” In 2017, Gina and Reggie created a show for the Fox network titled Shots Fired. Gina Prince-Bythewood was either directly or partially responsible for movies and television shows that directly impacted children growing up in the 1990s and 2000s’. Films such as “Love And Basketball,” “Biker Boyz,” “The Secret Life of Bees,” and “Disappearing Acts” as well as television shows such as “A Different World,” “Everybody Hates Chris,” “Girlfriends” and “The Bernie Mac Show” literally helped to shape generations of children across cultural, racial, gender and economic lines. Mrs. Gina Prince-Bythewood literally was the voice of a generation and for that, we proudly stand on her shoulders.
Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-George was born on the island of Guadeloupe in the French West Indies, on December 25th, 1745. His father was a plantation owner, slaveholder, and nobleman named George de Bologne Saint-George, his mother was a Senegalese slave woman named Anne Nanon, she was the mistress of de Bolonge. de Bologne was particularly fond of Saint-George, he treated him and his mother better than he treated the other slaves he owned. Seeking a better life for his son, de Bologne moved Saint-George and Nanon to Paris, France along with his legitimate family in 1753. Upon Saint-George’s thirteenth birthday he was enrolled into France’s premier fencing boarding academy led by the legendary swordsman Nicolas Texier de La Böessière. Saint-George was a well-rounded student holding interest outside of fencing which included several sciences, literature and horseback riding. Within two years of enrolling into the fencing academy, Saint-George’s progress was fully noticed by La Böessière and everyone at the academy; he was tall, strong, fast and held an uncanny ability to learn quickly.
A Fencing-Master named Alexandre Picard decided he wanted to duel with Saint-George, Picard often publically called Saint-George La Böessière’s mulatto as an insult. The match was highly anticipated and highly attended; many people placed high wagers on the swordsman they favored to win. Saint-George would emerge victorious only adding to his legend as a master swordsman. His was rewarded for his victory by his father with a horse and buggy. He was truly one of Europe’s greatest swordsmen only suffering one defeat in his extraordinary fencing career. He graduated from the fencing boarding academy in 1766 earning the titles of Officer of the King’s Bodyguard and Chevalier (knight). Despite being the illegitimate son of a slave woman, Saint-George the “god of arms” was a well-respected fencer and horseback rider who’s future was about to shine brighter than he may have imagined. Music would be Saint-Georges new realm that he would soon conquer, the violin and the harpsichord (an early piano) would become his new weapons. It is believed Saint-George studied the violin with Jean-Marie Leclair-The Elder, a Baroque violinist, composer, and founder of the French violin school.
It was revealed that Saint-George was a violinist when he performed two concertos composed for him by violinist Antonio Lolli, and a set of François Gossec’s six string trios, Op.9. Saint-George’s musical talents indicated that he studied with great teachers but there is not enough information available to validate who the teachers were. In 1769, Saint-George became a violinist for the Le Concert des Amateurs orchestra which was directed by François Gossec. Saint-George was so good that he was the first violinist and eventually became the director of the orchestra succeeding Gossec. He was somewhat of a legendary figure in France because of his success as a fencer and violinist. His first compositions, Op. 1 a set of six string quartets were among the first quartets to be played in France. Saint-George was successful but he was still a mulatto and considered by some a second-class citizen. King Louis XVI opposed the abolition of slavery, interracial marriages were illegal and black people in France were looking for a change. Racial ignorance would rear its ugly head as Saint-George was denied the opportunity to become the director of the Paris Opera in 1775. It is believed that two of the opera’s leading soprano’s felt insulted by the notion of being led by a mulatto. Saint-George would compose six opera’s and several songs in manuscript between 1771 and 1779 along with many other pieces of music and opera.
There are claims that Saint-George was sometimes called the black Mozart and the black Don Juan because he was just as popular as Mozart. I do not have the information to confirm that he was considered the black Mozart, but we do know he was a musical legend. Race seemed to play a critical role in some of the most important or questionable situations Saint-George would face. In 1779, he and his friend were attacked by people believed to be policemen because of his relationship with Marie Antoinette. In 1781, Saint-George began composing and conducting music with his new group Concert de la Loge Olympique after the Concert des Amateurs stopped playing together. In 1787, he conducted one of six of the “Paris Symphonies” created by composer Franz Joseph Haydn. Saint-George’s ability to bounce back from adversity was uncanny; he wrote the opera’s The Girl-Boy and The Chestnut Seller, he also defeated the Chevalière d’Éon a French diplomat in a fencing exhibition.
He would spend time in England supporting the blacks in their anti-slavery movement; his actions were deemed as inappropriate and troublesome by British slave dealers and owners. While in London five men would attack Saint-George in retaliation to his anti-slavery work but his swordsmanship once again allowed him to fight off the attackers. He would go on to continue his anti-slavery work as well as create a French anti-slavery group called the Society of the Friends of Black People. He would also become France’s first black Free Mason reaching the 33rd degree. Injuries and age did not slow Saint-George down a bit, during the French Revolution he became captain of the National Guard. As France and Austria engaged in war Saint-George became the colonel of an all-black French legion which was often called the “Saint-George” Legion. The Saint-George led legion helped the French defeat Austria, he and his legion also helped to stop a French general from conspiring with Austria to defeat France.
Saint-George was publically condemned by Alexander Dumas, the father of the literary giant Alexander Dumas, due to Dumas’ allegiance to the revolutionary leader Robespierre. Saint-George spent a year in jail because of Robespierre but was released in 1794 because Robespierre was no longer in power. Saint-George witnessed the impact of French and Spanish colonization of the black people of the island of Santo Domingo; black people were fighting each other as enemies even though they are only separated by a river, languages and European ideas. His name as a composer was still drawing large crowds in France which led him to become the director of The Circle of Harmony orchestra. Saint-George would die in 1799 due to a bladder infection but was a legendary figure until the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte. The African presence of France was erased for over two-hundred years because of Napoleon and his racist views of African people. Like here in America, France had a rediscovering of African history, culture, and art which helped the people of France become reintroduced to this historical titan. Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-George, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
On January 23, 1899, Ora Mae Washington was born in Caroline County, Virginia, to parents James and Laura O. Young-Washington. In 1912, her family moved to the Germantown area of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania looking for better working opportunities. For the first twenty-five years of her life, she was not seriously engaged in sports and never participated in an organized sport. Tragedy would striker her family when one of her sisters passed away; she struggled with grieving and sports was suggested as a means of therapy. Tennis was the original sport that Ora chose to play and she began her career at the Germantown YMCA. A year into playing tennis, she improved so much that she won her first national championship and entered a national tournament for black tennis players. Ora’s skills were on full display and she put the tennis world on notice that the reign on “The Queen of Tennis” was upon them. She became the dominant black tennis player of her era, winning the American Tennis Association’s national crown in 1929 and holding the crown until 1936. She was so much better than her opponents that she would go full seasons without losing a tennis match.
From the mid-1930’s through the early 1940’s Ora would win eight national singles crowns, twelve doubles crowns, and three mixed doubles crowns. She was the darling of the black sports world and was unknowingly inspiring future black tennis champions. Hellen Willis Moody was the best white female tennis player in the world at that time and Ora had her eyes on a match with Hellen. The Jim Crow era was alive and well in the United States and Ora’s tennis success did not shield her from the racism. Because Ora was a black woman Hellen refused to play her in a match to determine who the best female tennis player in America. Ora was disappointed but not deterred. She would continue to dominate tennis until the 1940’s. Unlike most female athletes of that era, Ora was not just a one sport woman, basketball was her second love.
The Germantown Hornets is the name of the team Ora played basketball for during the 1930’s and 1940’s. The Hornets were originally sponsored by the local YMCA before they became good enough to compete as a professional team. Ora helped lead her team to a 22-1 record and the female national championship. The Hornets followed up their national championship by winning thirty-three games in a row. What was unique about the Hornets is the team was composed of black women but they competed against black women’s teams, white women’s teams and, men’s teams; defeating them all. She would leave the Hornets and begin playing with the Philadelphia Tribune in 1932 as the team’s center and coach. The team was sponsored by a black-owned newspaper The Philadelphia Tribune which allowed it to travel across the country competing against a wide range of opponents. Not only was Ora the team’s best player but she was their leading scorer. The Tribune played any team that was not afraid to face them; Ora was considered the best black female basketball player in the world, she led her team to eleven consecutive championships demolishing their competition.
The 1940’s was the time period that Ora retired from playing both tennis and basketball; The “Queen of Tennis” set the basketball world on fire. To supplement the little pay she earned from tennis and basketball she worked as a domestic to make ends meet. After retiring from sports she became an entrepreneur, brought an apartment building, and secured herself financially for the rest of her life. She used her free time to hold tennis clinics for the Germantown youth to expose them to the sport. She was truly a titan within the sports world, over her career she won 201 championships from tennis and basketball but was virtually unknown outside of the black sports world. She would die in 1971 at the age of seventy-three as a pioneer in the world of women’s sports.
In 1976, she was inducted into the Black Athletes Hall of Fame for her accomplishments. In 1986, she was inducted into Temple University’s Sports Hall of Fame. And in 2009, she was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. She is often forgotten but her impact on tennis and basketball is still felt today. She opened the tennis doors for future black players like Althea Gibson, Author Ashe, and the Williams sisters. Her dominance on the basketball court helped pave the way for black female basketball players such as Cheryl Miller, Lisa Lesley and Maya Moore. The WNBA is able to thrive today because she helped black women understand that not only can they play sports but they can dominate the sports. To the “Queen of Tennis” and women’s basketball legend Ora Mae Washington, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
On February 26th, 1943 a baby boy named Leighton Rhett Radford Howe was born in Moruga District, Trinidad, to parents Cipriani and Lucille Howe. Early in Howe’s academic career he attended the Queen’s Royal College (QRC) on a scholarship. Upon graduating from the QRC he traveled to London, England to study law at The Honorable Society of the Middle Temple (Middle Temple), he attended Middle Temple for two years before developing an interest in the field of journalism and returning to Trinidad in 1969. While in Trinidad Howe was heavily influenced by his uncle C. L. R. James to use journalism and political activism as a tool for liberation. C.L.R. James was an Afro-Trinidadian historian, journalist, socialist and pioneering voice in postcolonial literature. Following his passion for journalism Howe worked as the assistant editor for the Vanguard, a Trinidadian newspaper owned by the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union.
Howe learned about a US based black empowerment organization called The Black Panthers whose message was spreading to black people around the globe. In 1970, Howe moved back to London, England and became involved with the British Black Panther Movement; this is also the time he gained the nickname “Darcus”. The summer of 1970 brought about Howe, The Black Panthers and Althea Jones-Lecointe organizing with their communities to protest the British police’s constant raids of a Caribbean restaurant called the Mangrove Restaurant. The Mangrove Restaurant was owned by Frank Crichlow a black entrepreneur and activist the British police labeled as an adversary. Howe was employed at the restaurant and the establishment was used as a citadel for black organization and empowerment; the restaurant was raided at least twelve times by the police. The community protested of the constant police raids of the restaurant, one protest grew into one hundred and fifty people descending upon the police stations to protect their community members. The protest was peaceful until the people were attacked by a large number of police officers leading to many injuries and arrest of the protesters.
The trial of the Mangrove Nine was a high profile landmark trial which placed black empowerment for black Britain in opposition with the local police force and the legal system. The Mangrove Nine consisted of Barbara Beese, Rupert Boyce, Frank Critchlow, Rhodan Gordon, Darcus Howe, Anthony Innis, Althea Jones-LeCointe, Rothwell Kentish and Godfrey Millett. The Mangrove Nine were arrested and charged with inciting a riot during their protest even though they were attacked by the police. Howe commanded that the Mangrove Nine be given an all-black jury for the trial but his command was denied. In 1971, the Mangrove Nine were forced to endure a trial that lasted for fifty-five days ultimately ending in all nine people being acquitted of all charges. The judge presiding over the trial acknowledging that the police officers who opposed the protesters were motivated by racial hatred was a pivotal moment within the trial. Later the judge was forced to retract his statement of motivation by racial hatred; by the time of the retraction the impact of his original statement was greatly felt. In 1973, Franco Rosso, John La Rose and Horace Ové teamed with Howe to produce the documentary film The Mangrove Nine which provides background details of the protest and trial.
Later in 1973, Howe served as editor of the Race Today magazine which was established in 1969 by a black think tank called the Institute of Race Relations. Under the control of Howe the Race Today magazine was moved to Brixton in South London and became known as a black radical newspaper because it focused on the issues that were concerning black Britain. Howe recruited black activist to write for the magazine such as Farrukh Dhondy, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Barbara Beese and Leila Hassan; Hassan eventually succeed Howe as the editor of the magazine in 1988. Howe would use the magazine as an instrument to help deliver messages to the masses and to bring political and community change. They supported the Asian female worker strike, as well as, helped to organize a community squat in that resulted in the community members gaining housing and benefits. In 1977, Howe was wrongfully arrested and sentenced three months in jail for an assault charge. The charge was appealed and protest broke out to clear the name of Darcus Howe. Eventually the charge was dropped and Howe was released from jail.
Howe and the Race Today magazine took on their biggest story when they became involved with the New Cross house fire. During a house party in the New Cross district of London thirteen young blacks were killed in a house fire that was believed to be started by white racist. The mainstream media used its power to convince the masses that the fire was a result of carelessness by the teens and was not racially motivated. In retaliation to the media’s side of the story Howe and others used strategies that were learned from black political heroes in the US to organize black Britain’s largest demonstration on a Monday. Over two thousand people showed up to voice their frustrations with racism and the media that supports it. After the demonstration the British police responded by using systematic racist tactics and the stop and frisk terror was intensified against black Brits. The tension between black Britain and the police led to three days of violence called the Brixton Riots. Black people in Britain took their frustrations against the police to the streets and faced their oppressors head on. Howe and the Race Today magazine was able chronicle the ordeal and tell the story from the standpoint of the oppressed people.
Howe’s journalism career led him to appearing on television starting 1982 with the television series Black on Black. Howe co-edited the series with a man named Tariq Ali; both Ali and Howe would collaborate on two other television series’ Bandung File and White Tribe. In 1992, Howe hosted a television show title The Devil’s Advocate for the local channel 4 British television. He also was a writer for The New Statesman, a British political and cultural magazine. In 2005, Howe was a keynote speaker and debuted his documentary film Who You Callin’ a Nigger? at the Belfast Film Festival’s “Film and Racism” seminar. Late in 2005, Howe produced another documentary titled Son of Mine about his uneasy relationship with his son.
On April 1st, 2017, Darcus Howe died of prostate cancer at the age of seventy-four. He was married three times, produced seven children and left behind a legacy of activism, organization and empowerment. Howe was a brilliant man who knew how to get his community involved in its own liberation. He understood the power of the media and why he needed to have black people documenting and telling their own stories. If it wasn’t for him and the Race Today magazine team, many more stories that impacted black Britain would have gone unknown but still negatively affected the lives of the people. Mr. Leighton Rhett Radford “Darcus” Howe, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
When we think about the Wild West, the cowboys and the lawman that existed in that era, they are always white heroes. It has been proven that our black figures are left out of history even though they made great contributions to America over the centuries. The Lone Ranger character has its roots in the tale of a man named Bass Reeves who literally was the most feared man in the West. Bass Reeves was born into slavery in 1838 in Crawford County, Arkansas, on a plantation owned by the farmer and state legislator William Steele Reeves. Bass Reeves was named after his grandfather Basse Washington but was given the last name of his slave master William Reeves. In 1846, William Reeves moved his family and businesses to Grayson County, Texas while Bass was still a young man. Bass worked on the Reeves plantation as a water boy until he was old enough to work as a field hand. William Reeves was the principle owner of his plantation and the slaves but his son George R. Reeves was given ownership of Bass. George Reeves served as a sheriff, legislator and a Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives.
Bass grew into a fine well-mannered young man standing six feet two inches tall, but his reputation was about to change and he was about to become an American legend. During the Civil War Bass was able to free himself from the ownership of George Reeves because he beat up George after a card game. Information also suggests that Bass ran away from slavery after he learned about slaves receiving their freedom. Bass escaped into territory controlled by the Creek, Cherokee and Seminole tribes. While living with the various tribes he learned how to speak several tribal languages, track his targets, master the rifle, master the pistol, and improve his hunting skills. He became so accurate with his rifle that he was prohibited from participating in shooting competitions. After the passing of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th amendment slavery was legally abolished in the United States; these changes meant that Bass was no longer a slave and a fugitive of the law.
Bass moved to Van Buren, Arkansas as a free man where he became a farmer, a rancher and he even started a family. He met and married a woman named Nellie Jennie and the couple produced ten children. To help support his family Bass often worked as a scout and a guide for the U.S. Marshals tracking fugitives in the territory owned by the native tribes. Many fugitives ran into tribal territory to escape being arrested and jailed but the Van Buren Courts’ jurisdiction extended into the tribal territories. In 1875, a man named Isaac Parker became the federal judge over the tribal territory, Judge Parker named James Fagan as the U.S. Marshall, and Fagan’s first job was to hire 200 deputy marshals to help arrest the growing numbers of criminals. By this time Bass was well known for his exceptional shooting abilities, his knowledge of many tribal languages, and his tracking skills, so he was highly recommended to become a deputy marshal. Bass accepted the job and became the first black man to serve as a U.S. deputy marshal in the American west.
As a deputy marshal Bass served in Arkansas territory, Texas, Muscogee territory and several other tribal territories for thirty two years. He was very successful at capturing his targets which were some of the most notorious criminals in very dangerous areas. Bass could not read or write but his memory was exceptional, he would have an assistant read him the arrest warrant and he remembered how the warrant looked so he never pursued the wrong target or lost the actual warrant. Bass was successful and classy as a deputy marshal, he rode on a white horse and dressed in his finest clothes carrying two pistols on his side. He wore his pistols backwards so he could draw them from their holsters faster in a gun battle. A no nonsense man, he became known for capturing all the criminals he targeted, dead or alive. As a master of disguise he used his tricks to capture two outlaws near the Texas, Oklahoma Red River Valley. He dressed as a homeless man looking for refuge as he approached the house the outlaws occupied. At the time a woman that accompanied the outlaws welcomed Bass into the hose, she did not suspect Bass to be anyone other than who he portrayed himself as. When the outlaws arrived at the house the lady convinced them that Bass was safe and just passing through. When the outlaws fell asleep Bass was able to capture them and lead them into jail. Once again the original lone ranger completed his mission and collected his five hundred dollars.
Bass’ most famous capture was the outlaw named Bob Dozier who had a reputation for committing various crimes and escaping capture. Bass pursued Dozier for several months then captured him by killing him in a shootout. An ironic twist of fate led to Bass being arrested and placed on trial from the murder of a cook. He was eventually acquitted with the help of United States Attorney W.H.H. Clayton who spoke favorably about Bass to Judge Isaac Parker. Bass went on to be reassigned to work in Paris, Texas where he apprehended Tom Story of the Tom Story Gang, the outlaw Greenleaf, and outlaw Ned Christie. His wife died in 1896 at Fort Smith, he was later transferred to the Muskogee federal court in tribal territory where he met his second wife Winnie Sumter. Bass’ toughest manhunt was tracking down his own son who had a warrant for murder. As the greatest deputy marshal in the entire west, Bass delivered his son into the hands of the law, he was convicted and sentenced to serve life in prison. One of the last jobs Bass held was a patrolman for the Muskogee and Oklahoma Police Department; it is said that no crimes were committed while Bass was on patrol.
In 1910, Bass became sick and eventually died from the sickness as the greatest deputy marshal in the west. In his thirty five year career working with various law enforcement agencies he apprehended over three thousand criminals and killed fourteen. To say Bass Reeves was exceptional would be an understatement, he was one of, if not, the most successful deputy marshal of all-time. It is highly believed that the television show “The Lone Ranger” was based off of the life of this man. Who would have ever thought that a black man would inspire a white television hero? We are learning more and more that our black heroes have inspired a great deal of American culture. The Wild West wasn’t so wild while Bass patrolled the areas. A black man struck fear into the hearts of the most dangerous criminals of that time. Mr. Bass Reeves, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
Click Here to join our mailing list