One of the most notable Afro-Puerto Rican advocates, Sylvia del Villard, was born on February 28, 1928, in Santurce, Puerto Rico. She was the daughter of Agustín Villard and Marcolina Guilbert, parents who recognized their daughter was talented from a young age. Not only was Villard a very talented young girl, but she was an excellent student as well. She was one of the top students to graduate grade school in Santurce, Puerto Rico, her academic achievements earned her a scholarship from the Puerto Rican government to attend Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. As an Afro-Puerto Rican attending college in the southern United States in the late 1940s, she faced blatant racism on a regular basis, so much so that she decided to leave Fisk and attend the University of Puerto Rico, where she earned her bachelor’s degree. Following her graduation from the University of Puerto Rico, Villard returned to the United States and enrolled in the City College of New York. During this time, Villard’s life would change for the better.
While living in Puerto Rico, Villard would start her professional career as a singer and poet in nightclubs, but her career would peak when she began receiving voice lessons from opera voice coach Leo Braun and Russian pianist Sonia Redd, as a student in New York. Villard joined a song and dance troupe called “Africa House” and she also became a member of the Carabalí Dancers. Being a part of these troupes exposed Villard to African history and culture. It was during this time she received her historical and cultural awakening. She was awakened to the beauty and richness of her African ancestry. From then on, she began integrating African poetry, music, dances, clothing, and culture into her performances. In 1979, Villard was invited to perform at the Pan-American Association Festival of the New World in Lagos, Nigeria. She also used her time in Nigeria to trace her family’s roots attempting to learn if her lineage traces back to Nigeria.
In 1968, Villard founded the Afro-Boricua El Coqui Theater, an organization that was recognized as the authority on Afro-Puerto Rican culture by the Panamerican Association. The organization earned a contract to visit other countries to spread Afro-Puerto Rican culture. As a theater actress, she played a leading role in more than 14 productions. She was able to play a role in 3 movies that were professional productions. As a dancer and choreographer, she was able to star in 10 productions in Puerto Rico and the United States. During the 1970s, Villard founded the Luis Palés Matos Theater after her favorite poet, a theater she used to impact her community until it was forced to close down. It is said that the theater closed down because of Villard’s promotion of Afro-Puerto Rican culture.
Following the closing of the theater, Villard moved back to New York where she founded the Soninke Company and became a teacher. In 1981, she became the first and only person as a director of the office of the Afro-Puerto Rican affairs of the Puerto Rican Institute of Culture. Sylvia del Villard died on February 28, 1990, due to lung cancer in Puerto Rico. She is remembered as one of, if not, the most outspoken people about Afro-Puerto Rican culture. Her spirit of activism was felt throughout her lifetime and is still being felt today. Her strength, courage, and tenacity are what helped her to live a legendary life. To Sylvia del Villard, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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On November 24, 1947, Phillip “Felipe” Luciano was born in East Harlem, New York. His parents were Aurora Olmo Luciano and Joseph Luciano, Jr. Aurora was a first-generation Puerto Rican born in America who worked as a factory worker and a practical nurse. I don’t have any information on Joseph Luciano, Jr., other than he wasn’t involved in Felipe’s life, according to my sources. Felipe lived with his mother in housing projects which was not the best environment for them to live in. Despite the conditions of their community, Aurora was a devout Pentecostal who prioritized reading to her child. Felipe’s teacher Ethel Schapiro, introduced him to the works of William Shakespeare and Earnest Hemingway, he also learned about Judaism and how to speak Yiddish. Although Felipe’s learning environment was rich, he was also influenced by the environment outside of his home. He became involved with a gang called the Canarsie Chaplain Gang. As a member of the gang, Felipe was involved in an incident that caused him to spend two years of his life incarcerated. During a scuffle with a rival gang, one of the members of the rival gang was stabbed to death. Felipe did not stab the boy, but he was one of the people charged and convicted of manslaughter. During his incarceration, he earned his GED and placed himself on a path to further his education.
After Felipe served his two years in prison, he began attending Queens College where he majored in political science. On May 19, 1968, Felipe Luciano, Gylan Kain, and David Nelson became the original members of the legendary Last Poets. The Last Poets were musicians and spoken word artists who created the foundation for Hip-Hop music. As a member of the Last Poets, Felipe’s first performance was held on May 19, 1968, the birthday of Malcolm X, in Harlem, New York. Felipe was beginning to build a reputation as an advocate and activist for the upliftment of his people and other communities. In 1968, Felipe co-founded the New York chapter of the Young Lords with a number of other young Puerto Ricans. The Young Lords were a Puerto Rican ally of the Black Panther Party that fought for human rights, civil rights, and empowerment for Puerto Ricans, Latinos, and colonized people. Felipe eventually became the chairman of the Young Lords. Under his leadership, the Young Lords changed their name to the Young Lords Party and became an asset to the communities they served. Like the Black Panther Party, the Young Lords Party provided food, education, and resources to their community. The Young Lords Party was becoming quite popular, attracting the attention of prominent black leaders, they also got the attention of their local mafia. It is believed that the mafia placed a $20,000 bounty on Felipe because of his community work.
Felipe was a member of the Young Lords Party from 1969 to 1971. After leaving the Young Lords, he began producing his award-winning radio shows, “Latin Roots” and “The Third Bridge” on the WRVR radio station. In 1976, Felipe became the first Puerto Rican news anchor for WNBC News as a weekend anchor. He served as the weekend anchor until 1980. During his time as the weekend anchor, Felipe won several Emmys for his excellent reporting. He was one of the original anchors for the Good Day New York Fox tv program and was one of the founders and original hosts of the Good Day Street Talk with Mayor Ed Koch program. In 1997, Felipe served as the commissioner of the New York City Task Force on Police and Community Relations. In 2006, he became the Air America vice president of news. He challenged Phillip Reed to represent Manhattan’s 8th District but lost twice. He co-founded the Eagle Academy, became a member of the 100 Hispanic Men, and traveled to China representing the Black Workers Congress in 1972. Felipe Luciano dedicated his life to the upliftment of his people and went about contributing to that upliftment in many ways. To Mr. Felipe Luciano, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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Between the 1627 and 1792, the Dutch West India Company colonized a region between the Berbice and Canje rivers called Berbice, in the country of Guyana. Berbice was a small colony populated with around 3,800 enslaved Africans, 244 Indigenous Americans, and 346 white people, on 135 plantations. In addition to being a small colony, it was not very profitable, and resources were scarce at the time due to global European conflicts. In 1762, several of the Dutch soldiers patrolling the many plantation became sick due to a disease outbreak. The disease reduced the number of Dutch soldiers controlling the enslaved Africans. In July of 1762, plantation owner Laurens Kunckler traveled to Nassau, Bahamas. During his absence, the enslaved Africans raided his plantation and escaped into the interior of the country. According to my sources, a few of the Indigenous Americans helped Dutch soldiers attempt the recapture the Africans. A month later, the Africans were forced to relocate due to a lack of provisions.
1762 was also the year a number of the enslaved Africans attempted to rebel against the plantation owners and Dutch soldiers, but the rebellion was suppressed quickly. Though the rebellion was suppressed, the spirit of rebellion spread through Berbice. In 1763, due to the continued inhumane conditions and treatment, the enslaved Africans of Berbice revolted against the Dutch plantation owners. From plantation to plantation, Africans attacked and killed the Dutch to free themselves from slavery. Several plantations were set on fire as the Africans began revolting. The Magdalenenberg Plantation was burned down by the Africans enslaved on the plantation. They then traveled to fight the Dutch aligned with several Indigenous Americans along the Courantyne River. The Africans were defeated, but the rebellion was not over. At this point the Dutch had the advantage, that was until an African man enslaved in Berbice enters the picture. In February of 1763, Africans were leading a revolt at the plantation Hollandia, this revolt was a bit different because the Africans were organized as if they were a military. These Africans were led by an enslaved man born in Ghana named Coffy. Under the leadership of Coffy, the Africans began to gain victories and an advantage over the Dutch.
Coffy and the African rebels were able to take control of the southern portion of Guyana while the Dutch took control of the northern portion of the country. The Africans controlled southern Guyana for 12 months. Dutch control of Guyana was being threatened by the growing number of African rebels. Dutch reinforcements arrived in the form of 100 soldiers. The soldiers and the rebels battled, the Dutch were able to recapture a portion of the southern territory they previously lost. By this time Coffy declared himself the political leader of the rebels, and a man named Accra was the military leader. On April 2, 400 rebels led by Accra attacked the Dutch soldiers and regained the southern territory lost to the Dutch in the previous battle. The rebels were better equipped for battle than the Dutch expected. In response to the rebel victories, Dutch reinforcements were brought in along with a plan to retake all of Guyana. While the Dutch were formulating their plan of action, internal strife was brewing between Coffy and Accra. They began to have opposing views on how to manage their relationship with the Dutch. Coffy wanted to formally create a truce between the Dutch and the Africans, Accra disagreed with the truce. Coffy contacted Governor van Hoogenheim to negotiate peace, the Dutch responded by saying that Coffy would have to wait 3 or 4 months for a response from Amsterdam.
The attempt for peaceful negotiations caused a further rift between Coffy and Accra, so much so that the rebels split into two groups. Accra and his rebels were still attacking Dutch soldiers. Shortly after, Accra and his rebels attacked Coffy and his rebels. Following the battle between the rebel groups, Coffy ended his own life, leaving Accra as the official leader of the rebels. The Dutch continued to battle the rebels until the Dutch ended the rebellion in January of 1764. Soon after, Accra was overthrown and enslaved by the new rebel leader Atta. The irony in the story is that even though the rebels were fighting to free themselves from being enslaved by the Dutch, they still practiced slavery for status within their free colonies, according to my sources. Coffy was a leader with the idea of Africans being able to live in Guyana among the Dutch in peace, Accra never brought into Coffy’s idea. His idea was to gain freedom from the Dutch through war. Maybe Accra had a more realistic view of the Dutch, and his clash with Coffy was in line with gaining true freedom? Maybe Coffy’s idea of living in peace with the Dutch was something to help spark racial harmony? The tension between Coffy and Accra was detrimental to the success of the rebels. And the splitting of the rebels made them a weaker opponent to the Dutch. Without unity, we cannot gain true victories. Thank you for listening to the story of the Berbice Slave Rebellion.
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In 1810, the Kingdom of Waalo was a vast and robust West African kingdom that existed near the lower Senegal River area, in present-day Senegal and Mauritania. The Waalo Kingdom was one of four Wolof Kingdoms, Cayor, Baol, and Jolof were the other three kingdoms. Brak Amar Fatim Borso Mbodj was the powerful king who ruled Waalo. His queen was Lingeer-Awo Fatim Yamar Khuri Yaye Mbodj. In the Waalo Kingdom, Brak was a title that meant king, Lingeer meant queen, and Lingeer-Awo meant the queen who was the king's first wife. Ndate Yalla was the youngest daughter of Brak Amar and Lingeer-Awo Fatim Yamar, they also produced an elder daughter named Ndjeumbeut Mbodj, who would later become Lingeer of Waalo. As young girls, Ndate Yalla and her sister learned how to rule a kingdom and were trained to fight with the Waalo army. When the men were away, the women were formidable opponents to any challengers. Like a number of other African nations, the Waalo women warriors were a part of their army. The women were seen as skilled and fierce. On one occasion in 1820, Brak Amar Fatim was away from his kingdom, a group of Moors attempted to invade Waalo, they were met and defeated by the women warriors of Waalo, led by Lingeer-Awo Fatim Yamar. Unfortunately, Brak Amar Fatim Borso Mbodj died in 1926. Shortly after defeating the Moors, the women warriors of Waalo were forced to fight the invading Moors again who returned with more soldiers. The number of soldiers the women were facing was too great and they were defeated. Before the defeat, Lingeer-Awo Fatim Yamar was able to escape with her two daughters.
The death of Brak Amar Fatim was significant for the Waalo Kingdom because he was known for resisting the Islamic faith and culture, he was also labeled as anti-Islamic for his rejection of Islam. Ndate Yalla married Brak Yerim Mbanyik Tigereleh Mbodj at the age of 16. Brak Yerim was her cousin, but the marriage occurred to maintain their family's dynasty. She later married the warrior and prince of Cayor Marosso Tassé Diop. Ndate Yalla would appoint Marosso Tasse as the commander of her army because of his immense skill as a warrior. Around the year 1846, Ndjeumbeut Mbodj was the Lingeer of Waalo until her death. Ndate Yalla was officially crowned Lingeer later in 1846. It didn’t take long for her to show her skill as a warrior, and intellect as a ruler. As Lingeer, Ndate Yalla enlarged the women warriors of Waalo, she would need the might because the French and the Moors would become her enemies. Lingeer Ndate Yalla had a disagreement with the French who occupied a French colony called Saint-Louis, over the taxing of the Soninke people as they passed through Waalo lands. The French accused Ndate Yalla of stealing a number of oxen as they taxed the Soninke. The French sent a letter to Ndate Yalla stating that if she doesn’t return the stolen oxen she would be treated as an enemy. Ndate Yalla did not appreciate being accused of stealing oxen and being threatened. Ndate Yalla reigned from 1846 to 1855, and from 1847 she was constantly at war against the French and the Moors of Trazar.
The Battle of Dioubouldy begin in 1855, Lingeer Ndate Yala and Marosso Tasse led the kingdom of Waalo against the French, who were determined to destroy the six main kingdoms of the Senegambia area, which included the four kingdoms of Waalo. Waalo was the first of the six Senegambian kingdoms to be attacked by the French, one because of its close proximity to Saint-Louis, and two, because it was led by a woman. The French saw Waalo as weak because Ndate ruled the kingdom. The warriors of Waalo were fierce and brave, they were outmanned and outgunned by the French but were still able to fight off the French for several months. Eventually, the French overwhelmed the Waalo warriors, men and women, fighting for their freedom. The kingdom was falling, but Marosso Tasse and his soldiers were still fighting the French. Ndate Yalla was able to escape with a few of her family members, upon her escape, she stated the following words to her soldiers: Today we are invaded by the conquerors. Our army is completely routed. The Tiedo of Waalo, valiant warriors though they are, have almost all fallen to the bullet of the enemy. The invader is stronger than we are, I know, but should we abandon Waalo to the hands of foreigners? The kingdom of Waalo had fallen, Ndate Yalla and Marosso Tasse were forced to relocate to the city of Cayor where they received protection from family members. The French threatened to invade the family if they did not surrender Ndate Yalla and her husband. The family refused the French and chose to protect their queen. Ndate Yalla died in 1860, she is remembered as one of the most powerful and legendary queens in the history of Waalo and the Senegambian region. She is highly revered and loved by her people. So much so that a statue of her was erected in the city of Dagana, Senegal. To Lingeer Ndate Yalla Mbodj, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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